Friday, January 29, 2016

The End of the World as We Know it

Gaming in 2016: January
My year in gaming has begun. As I said in a previous post, I want to try and report on new gaming events and activities that I try each month this year. This is partially to expand my experience as a gamer but also to give me something to write about with more regularity. To both ends, I recently got a group together to play a one-shot RPG.
I’m going to supply a bit of context for those unfamiliar with gaming terms. An RPG is a Role-Play Game. It’s a tabletop adventure game that usually features one player, called a Game Master or GM, telling a story and the other players taking the parts of characters in the story. Characters are created through a series of rules that give them representations for physical and mental statistics, skills, special abilities, and any unique powers they may possess. The GM will give the players a scenario and ask how the player’s characters will react to the situation. Once that’s established, they use the games rules and mechanisms to determine the outcome. This usually involves comparing various numeric values for all the characters involved and rolling dice.
Some of you unfamiliar with gaming might be asking what’s to stop the players or GM from making stuff up that lets them do or not do whatever they want? Simply put, there is an unspoken agreement between everyone at the table to adhere to the spirit of the story being told. If we’re playing a western that takes place in the 1800 you’re unlikely to have your character try and invent a car because it’s not fitting with the theme of the game. If we’re playing a fantasy setting you’re most likely not going to try and have your character suddenly figure out the exact formula for gun powder and a method for forming steel into a Colt Peacemaker. Of course these things aren’t necessarily going to not happen. You will on occasion come across a player who decides that they want to do this and should be allowed to because they can find an obscure rule that lets them. These players tend to never get invited back to play again. Similarly, if a GM abuses his players, never lets them deviate from the story, or discourages creative ideas, they will quickly find themselves without players.
Having said all of that, I want to talk about Sunday. My group decided to meet at my house and play a game we’d never tried before. I narrowed it down to two games: Maid and The End of the World: Wrath of the Gods. I prepared a rough outline for both games. I did this partly because I wasn’t sure which game we would play and also because I’ve discovered over the years that by setting up to rigid a story I would be preventing both myself and my players from having fun. I prefer to allow my players to explore the world and their options. I want them to come up with creative solutions that force me to quickly think up the results and responses from the various monsters and villains.
My group choose the End of the World. I had set up a quick romp through Ragnarok. The End of the World is a series of rule books from Fantasy Flight Games. Each book outlines the rules, enemies, and timelines for various apocalyptic scenarios. There are four books in the series, with there in publication at this time. I choose the one with Deity based world ending horror, the others were zombies, aliens, and machines. In the book were five detailed sections on different religious endings. From nature rising against man to Revelations to Cthulhu. As stated earlier, I choose Vikings.
One of the things I like about TEotW is the system for character creation is, to my knowledge, unique. The players play themselves. Their stats and skills are based on what they can and cannot do. Their equipment is what they have in their pockets at the time of the game. Their motivation is what they would do if this occurred right now.
The adventure was simple, using the set up and time line in the section I had the group experience a vivid dream that showed them their own deaths. They now knew exactly how they would die, though not when. They had a view of maybe a minute before the event occurred, but they couldn’t know exactly when the event would occur. Maybe five minutes, five years, or fifty, there was no way to be sure. With this knowledge the group began checking on family and friends. They wanted to make sure everyone was okay. For the purposes of making my life as a GM simpler, I had an event occur. After making sure it was okay with the two players it concerned, I had their seven month old baby kidnapped by his grandmother. Mostly because I didn’t want to run a game where I had to worry about a baby. I was willing to do it, but it seemed like a bit of a problem for a new system.
While the events of Ragnarok began unfolding the group was trying to find a safe place to stay, get family and friends to shelter, secure housing, get food, obtain gas, and generally prepare for the worst. They had to deal with things like earthquakes, a massive Tsunami in the Pacific, (we’re in Ohio, so not a huge problem) then the sun and moon disappeared completely. Other problems began to come to light, local police and military were in chaos as they dealt with the fallout from people reacting to how they were going to die. Some people were running in an attempt to escape it, some people were attempting murder, to prevent the person who they knew would kill them from getting the chance, and some people just disappearing.
The worst of this was politicians and world leaders who responded to seeing how they would die by moving troops and declaring war on other nations. Under these conditions World War three was inevitable. The group managed to settle down into an easy routine, chasing away looters, fighting the occasional monster, and then a massive earthquake struck. Shortly after that, a bright light appeared on the horizon. At first they thought the sun was returning, but they quickly realized it was noon and the glow was in the west. With a little research, radio communication, and a bit of internet hacking they learned Indiana was on fire. This was mostly due to Surtur and his fire giants rampaging across the state.
The groups life was further complicated when they managed to warn Heimdall as Loki was about to stab him in the back. Heimdall recognizing the group as fated asked them to complete a task that could help Freyar, who was battling Surtur. Loki had stolen Freyar’s sword and Heimdall was attempting to retrieve it. If the group could go and find four heroes to aid in Freyar’s battle then it could give Heimdall enough time to find the sword and possibly sway the battle. The group agreed.
Using the winged mounts of Valkyries they traveled across the globe seeking legendary heroes who had been released from Valhalla to fight in the war. They ended up joining forces with Robin Hood, Fa Mulan, Kalunga, and John Wayne. Returning in time they were able to help Freyar buy time for Heimdall to return with the sword, and allow events to unfold in the manner they were foretold.
Overall the day was fun. I wish I had a better handle on the rules. I think I made some mistakes with how things were done. For example, three Duregar, Viking zombies, were far more difficult a fight than a troll. Beyond that, I like the system and how everything worked. We did skip one step in character creation. The rules call for a moment where everyone votes on what each person has chosen for their stats. I found this to be a bit mean, and decided to skip it.

In the end I’m glad we played. I’ll go over the rules once again before playing a second time. I would like to try this game again in the future. I look forward to running my friends through some other vicious, world ending escapade. Maybe with aliens next time?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Gaming in 2016

I’m always looking for something to write about in my blog. I want interesting pieces on a topic I feel I can add to. I think nonfiction would be interesting and I get a lot of suggestions about doing it. The problem, I’m not particularly good at writing nonfiction. I also like to have a goal or schedule. It helps to give myself a deadline that I must follow.
Putting all of that together, I’ve decide that I’m going to write at least one article a month featuring my interaction with a gaming experience. By that I mean anything new or interesting I’ve done in regards to gaming. I have three events planned for this year so far. In February I’m going to a Malifaux tournament in Columbus, Ohio. In May, I’m traveling to Atlanta, Georgia to attend the CMONexpo. Finally, in November, I will take part in the Extra-Life Marathon for the fourth time. I hope to add more events or tournaments as the year goes on. In 2015 I got to road trip to Michigan for a Malifaux qualifying tournament for the National Championship. I hope to be able to attend something similar this year, though no events have been announced yet.
Each individual event has its challenges. The tournament in Columbus for example isn’t a particularly new thing. I’ve been in tournaments before, I will be again. This one isn’t a major event, it’s a local tournament for maybe sixteen people. However, the act of driving to Columbus, taking part in the event, and spending the day with friends feels special to me. I also hope that this will be the only event that is a local tournament. Though, I’m not discounting the idea. Local events can be spectacularly fun and unique.
CMONexpo in May is a challenge as well. I’ll have to drive to the event. That will end up being an eight to ten hour trip. As of the writing of this, I am going alone. That is a long drive to take by myself. I can do it, I just wish I didn’t have too. Cost will also be a factor. I’m staying in a hotel, renting a car, and having to buy food for six days on the road, trying to avoid fast food as much as possible. Still, it will be something new, I’m going to a different state, one that I’ve never visited. I’ll get to take part in a small event, no more than five hundred participants. I hope, I’ll get to tweet, post pictures, and thoughts from the expo.
Finally, the Extra-Life Marathon. While not a new experience, it will be amazing. I’ve enjoyed every year I’ve taken part and I look forward to it every year. It’s long, exhausting, involved, and to some extent nerve-wracking. It’s also an amazing, fun, wonderful, inspiring, and humbling experience. It was one of the highlight from 2015 and I expect it to be so in 2016.
There are a few events in limbo. It is possible that I will take part in a qualifier tournament for Star Wars Imperial Assault at the end of January. Though I’m not sure at this point. I’d love to attend Gencon in August, but the expense and amount of prep work on getting a hotel room, tickets, and the cost may prove insurmountable.
There is also the matter of January, I want an event for January. I think I will try and have friends over to play an RPG one-shot and attempt to record the event for either my blog, as a podcast, or a video for my YouTube channel. It may not work, but at least I will try. What RPG I will play is currently bound to three different choices. I’m considering The End of the World: Wrath of the Gods, Fiasco, or Maid. I realize these are wildly different style of games. However, they are each, in their own way, a story-telling experience.

Those are my plans. This is my promise: I will write at least one gaming related post each month in 2016. It will focus on at least one new event, experience, or special occasion. I will work to do this. If I break this promise to you, my readers, please hold accountable. I am asking you to come at me bro. If I screw up, harangue me, harry me with messages, comments, and generally cross glances. Give me what fore. Hopefully you won’t have too.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

2015 and Beyond

2015 and Beyond
By Steve Mayne
I’ve never been particularly good at introspection. The desire to look at my life, see how it’s going, and what it means, has never come easy to me. Still, I wanted to take a moment to look back at the past year and think about how things went.
I had a couple of big events. I got to take part in the Antioch Writers Workshop and become a part of one of the best…no, the best group of writers and creatives I’ve ever met. I can’t tell you how much I anticipate seeing each and every one of them on a shelf at my local book store. I got to read stories featuring dragons, summer camp, love, not-vampires, regret, envy, youth, family, and so much more. I was excited to show up every day. I got to hear their words and ideas. To see the work each of us had done. I feel privileged to still be in correspondence with them. It’s made me want to go back next year in hopes of meeting them again.
My YouTube channel is starting to gain ground. People are watching and responding to my videos. I get comments and likes. People I’ve never met are sharing my work on Twitter. It may not seem like much, but it’s special to me that people are sharing something I created.
After a year of work I finished the Ballad of Tractor John. I wrote a new entry every day for a full year and was so happy to see it fill out and become a glorious piece of fiction. Not every day was great. Some were short, one or two sentences. On others, I struggled to keep it under a couple of paragraphs. It wasn’t always easy to come up with a new and interesting fact or idea. I was still on the fence with how to end it until it actually came time to write it all down. Still, it is an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. I even choked up at the end when I put the piece away.
An article I wrote got published in the Antioch Voice. It was concerning all of the art vandalism that had been going on in response to the Confederate Flag being removed from government buildings. It was a fine piece and I’m proud of it and its message. I don’t know that it will effect anyone or change anything. It made me feel good to write it. I’m not typically a non-fiction writer because I find it hard to put reality into words without making it bigger and better. I wrote the Antioch piece from my heart and was thrilled to see it find life in publication. I’m grateful to Denny and Whitney for giving me a chance to be heard.
I created and finished my first ever individualized class for my Writing Master’s Degree. It was How to Write Complex Female Characters. I learned so very much in that class. Even with a few setbacks, which include one of the books I had chosen being useless to the topic, a paper that I wrote failing to take into account the purpose of the class itself, and the realization that the scope of the class, female characters, was far too narrow. I appreciate my advisor in the class, Nancy Moore, who was wonderful, supportive, thoughtful, and thoroughly unwilling to let me skate by on anything.
I spent twenty-four hours in November taking part in the charity gaming marathon, Extra-Life. I raised $390 for the Dayton Children’s hospital. I beat last year by five dollars. While not as much as I would have liked it was still a good amount and I was thrilled with the generosity of my family and friends. I was helped through my day by several wonderful people who showed up and took part in the event. We had so much fun. I got to play many new games and several old favorites. I intended to do this again next year. I look forward to it.
There were disappointments this year. My low points were infrequent compared to the highs so I can’t complain too much. Though you will excuse me if I indulge myself for at least a paragraph.
I didn’t make any conventions, though I did manage to road trip a couple of nearby tournaments with Keebler Powell. I miss going to Gencon every year. I want to go back and spend the whole four to five days immersed in gaming. There are times when I feel alone and times when I could not want for more love and support. I’ve missed a few important dates and events that I had not been able to take part in for one reason or another. I missed out on a couple of parties and celebrations, some of my own that I had to cancel because of people not being able to attend or unexpected house guests.
In the end 2015 was a good year. I will look back on it with fondness and joy. I wish I had a better gift for prose and inspiration as I look forward to 2016. I have a friend, Ron, who is very good at being inspirational and beautiful in his words. Because of that I think I will finish with something he wrote that I feel applies here.

I Suggest that We all be Brave in the Face of Pain, Be Courageous when Faced with Heartache, and Love Wholeheartedly those People who might need it the most in 16’. I Challenge You All to Remain Unselfish and to Act Different from the Status Quo of Today’s Misguided Populous. Even if that takes propagating self-love to find a more beautiful paradise in your stable minds. I say, hey, at least you have arrived my friends, so, go forth and be courageous, we must act brave for goodness sakes. Remember, our lives are but a dream… So, Dream Big! ~Ron Maynard