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Oresan’s Magnificent Foes: The Bloodsail Scavenger!

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Arrrr me matey! You be seeking some sunken treasure in the depths of the deepest darkest oceans? Well pirate captain Oresan has a story for you… ::cough:: ::Clears throat:: Weird. Sorry about that. Sometimes national talk like a pirate day is every day…

If you couldn’t tell I’m going to talk about a foe I used in an adventure of the High Seas variety. This is my first entry in a series called “Oresan’s Magnificent Foes” in which I will be detailing entries in a personal Monster Manual of sorts. Each entry will include a little blurb about What the foe is, Why it exists, and How I went about creating it. I hope you enjoy it, and if you have any suggestions, comments, or would like to see me create a foe based off something you love (or loathe) please let me know in the comments below.

Bloodsail Gnoll

What? What exactly is a Bloodsail Scavenger?

 

Imagine sailing the open ocean. Your comfortable with the systematic rocking caused by the endless rolling waves. Your not far from shore, trolling along the coastline for schools of fish. You do; however, find yourself scanning the horizons  as the sun begins to set. You know that these waters are infested with the Bloodsail Gnolls, horrific humanoid hyenas that capture forlorn fishermen and merchants. Rumor has it they take those that live back to their bone filled dens and sacrifice them to their god, the Ever Hungering. They keep their prey alive so they are fresh when they are devoured by the Bloodsail clan.

Its said they attack ships near the coast during the early hours of the night. The row out on speedy longboats, using red sails that seem to blend in with the light from the setting sun. By the time you see them coming, it’s already too late. They hulking beats, standing nearly 8 ft tall, have already boarded the boat. They attack with gnarled spears capable of piercing through heavy armor. These sadistic creatures carry nets used for ensuring the capture of living meat. They kill the strong mercilessly and capture the weak; the children and the old. If you have the foresight to give up before they get a chance to fight, your fate is sealed and far worse than a quick death by being run through.

 

Why? Why did I create these Abominations in the first place?

 

I have always loved Gnolls as a foe in my campaigns. They are sadistic and nasty and have a great tribal feel to them. As such I often try to include them in some way. I took it upon myself to run an island hopping adventure in a homebrew setting called “The Shattered Isles” for a few strangers online. Early on in their adventure I wanted to introduce them to something that was going on in the world around them. I wanted this to be subtle and not necessarily centered around something they would have empathy for.

Why not Gnolls? I could have just thrown some regular old Gnolls at the party, however they were level 1 at the time. So i needed to scale them down and give them a bit of High Seas flair.

 

How? Everybody has a process, what was mine?

 

The Bloodsail Scavengers are at their core a standard Gnoll, however they do not share the CR of one. (A Gnoll in the Monster Manual has a CR of ½ whereas the CR of a Bloodsail Scavenger is ¼) I took the hit points and lowered them by about a ⅓. The other abilities are nearly identical in damage and scope, however; I took away their Longbow and replaced it with a net.

The Longbow needed to go. This weapon alone could take early fights and make them significantly lopsided in favor of these ferocious beasts. These Gnolls still have a ranged weapon by throwing their spears as well as the addition of the net. They can use the net to restrain characters and drag them into the depths causing them to drown or to simply restrict their movements.

(Important note about nets: Though they are ranged, their distance is 10/30 which means if they throw the net any distance 10 or beyond they are at disadvantage. This means that their effective range is 5 ft with net without suffering disadvantage; however, to 5 ft is melee range and when you use a ranged attack in melee it suffers disadvantage. All attempts to net a creature are at disadvantage!)

Once again this was the inaugural entry into Oresan’s Magnificent Foes, an evolving Monster Manual of sorts. If you have any comments, suggestions, or have a foe you’d like to see created please let me know in the comments below.

Dungeon Crawling: Warlocks

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Three months ago, I had surgery on my dominant hand.

Do you realize how much of a limiter that is? How difficult it was to do basic functions? How impossible it was…to roll dice?!

Unfortunately, I had to tell my fellow DMs in the Adventurers League that I would be unable to run games, let alone play until my hand was more capable. After a month, I returned to work which is mostly typing. I also began looking again for more AL games.

Recently Crymson asked ever so sweetly, “WHERE ARE MY D&D ARTICLES?”

Okay, perhaps she didn’t type it in all caps, but that’s how I (t)roll.

So, I’m back. After another 4-hour speed run at a local shop (have I mentioned that AL games really don’t emphasize Role-Playing?) I figured it was high time I started pumping out words for the RWOG again. So here I spew…

Warlocks

With previous editions of D&D, I was all over the melee board: Fighters, Barbarians, Twin-weapon wielding Rangers, Rogues, Paladins, and on and on. I avoided squishy casters. I relished getting right up in a monster’s face and dishing out loads of damage.

5th edition’s Warlock, however, has to be my favorite class now. Sure, most people see it and think, “Oh, he’s gonna spam Eldritch Blast. How boring.” I must say it is. Just a little. But it’s the other features of the class that are the exciting bits. What type of patron? What type of pact? What invocations? The ability to customize so much within one simple class structure had me addicted at first Hex.

Initially, in the Player’s Handbook, there were only three Patrons to choose from: The Fey, The Fiend, and The Great Old Ones. In our home-brew game, I chose to roll up a GOOlock. At least, that’s what the internet calls it when you sign a deal with some Cthulu-esque elder thing that falls into the Great Old One category.

For the price of admission, you get to talk to anyone with a language, that you can see, mentally. You also get access to other spells along the Crowd Control spectrum as you level, and the sub-class capstone at level 14 lets you create a Thrall from anything you defeat. Creepy and fun. I started as an Ex-Pirate from the alternate Sailor background and away we went.

That campaign fell apart. Meh. No harm. I love creating new characters as I’ve stated in other articles.

More home-brews elicited no more Warlocks because I wanted to try something different. Then I joined up with the AL to see what it was about and to play with a buddy of mine I don’t see too often anymore. For that, I created another ex-pirate Warlock, however this one had signed his soul away to a fiend.

Dropping Hex-ed foes yields temporary hit points, and the spells available included all manner of fire and blasty and commandy type stuff.  Mad Dog with his unnecessary eye-patch (explaining his low Intelligence and Dexterity), and fiendish polearm has become a rather tanky melee grunt. He still throws the occasional Eldritch Blast but it’s only filler as he closes in to hack-and-slash.

His progression has slowed due to my surgery and foray into actually being a Dungeon Master for the AL. Now that I’m back with a mini-dice tower to assist my crippled rolling techniques, I blew off the dust with a new Warlock from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything: The Celestial Warlock.

Izzy the Healer is an off-healer. His patron, some benign entity that has gifted him some daily healing dice and clerical spells to supplement his Warlock blasty-ness, chose to rescue him from the battlefield and send him forth as a Combat Medic adventurer. Shield and tome, with enough different attack cantrips to fit any situation he may run across. His last foray into the field had him working as the only healer amidst a team of level ones. His Guidance spell was put to great use as we snuck into a fancy dress masquerade to force a confession from our target… after some pretty trying party games.

Waiting in the wings, as well, is Chenzo, a crossbow specialist that has been taken under wing as a Hexblade; or should that be Hexbow? He’s fit and ready for Tier 2 gaming (that’s levels 5 to 10) in the AL, but circumstances have yet to pass that would bring him to another table. His hand crossbow is magical, bonded as his pact weapon, and can be used as a focus for his magic. It also relies solely on his Charisma stat for combat. He hits because he looks good doing it? *shrug* Works for me.

I still don’t really like the time constraint that the AL seems to enforce upon DMs and players, but I like the game and love Warlocks, so I’ll put up with it.

How do I find a Dungeons & Dragons Game?

Written by: Paige of the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Facebook
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tumblr_npvpsuixei1roy0lqo1_250The 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Facebook
group is about 85,000 people strong, and the number one question we see in that group is, “How do I find a game of Dungeons and Dragons?”  Over the last year and a half, I’ve been collecting the advice that people have given each other, and have a standard list of hints and tips on how to find a tabletop game.  Considering the source, this is focused on D&D, but the advice also works for many other games. As always, when meeting new people, meet somewhere public and be sure to take the steps you think are necessary to stay safe.

 1. Start with a Friendly Local Gamestore.

Wizards of the Coast, the company that publishes D&D, has a listing of local stores by zip code. You may have to make friends at store games before people are willing to invite you to home games.
http://locator.wizards.com/#brand=dnd

2. Try looking for Facebook groups for D&D or games in your area.

(If you use the search below, add your city or state to search in YOUR area).

https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=dungeons%20dragons

3. Look for local conventions in your area.

Obviously Google is the way to go, but also
check Warhorn and the Wizards convention finder.
https://www.warhorn.net/conventions
http://dndadventurersleague.org/ConMap

4. Reddit and EnWorld have dedicated “looking for group” sections for both online games (see below) and offline games (face-to-face).

You can search by city or state name. Just ensure you format your post according to their guidelines.
https://www.reddit.com/r/lfg/
http://www.enworld.org/forum/memberlist.php

5. A lot of stores and groups use meetup.com.

Try finding a suitable group in your area.  If there are no local D&D or RPG group, look for board gaming groups or Geek culture groups as a starting point to make friends with similar interests.
https://www.meetup.com/topics/gaming/

6. Consider online games.

The basic Roll20 platform is free, and many DMs have a Fantasy Grounds Ultimate License, which lets you join their game with a free basic Fantasy Grounds license.
https://app.roll20.net/forum/category/22
https://www.fantasygrounds.com/forums/forumdisplay.php

7. If there are no Friendly Local Gamestores in your area, try posting an old-fashioned “Looking for D&D Group” ad at a video game store or public library.


8. Here are a couple of good articles on finding groups:

http://io9.gizmodo.com/how-to-find-people-to-play-d-d-with-1732749132
http://geekandsundry.com/finding-a-dd-group-how-do-you-want-to-do-this/
https://nerdarchy.com/2014/12/find-gaming-group-tabletop-rpg-games/

9. There are some websites that offer gamer locator services.

http://www.theescapist.com/findinggamers.htm (page of options)
https://www.obsidianportal.com/map
http://nearbygamers.com/
https://www.findgamers.us/
http://www.penandpapergames.com/

10. There is often a shortage of DMs. Consider starting your own game!

The easiest way is to start with an adventure module. The DM’s Guild has many cheap adventures you can buy to get started (http://www.dmsguild.com/), or you can buy one of the official hardcover campaign books from Wizards of the Coast.
Best of luck out there! And you’re welcome to come ask who’s in your local area in the D&D 5th Edition Facebook group any time! https://www.facebook.com/groups/DnD5th/
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~Paige was amazing in putting this article together for us & you. She is one of the many moderators of the DnD5th group

My First TPK | OMG THE FEELS!

my-first-tpk

In 20 years, I had never lost a character in any of my tabletop games.

Twenty years! Please, let that sink in for a moment. Twenty years. Depending on your age, that will hold different weight.

Any character I had previously lost was part of the story or because I left the campaign, but never for these reasons… and I lost two in a month. The second loss was the result of my first ever Total Party Kill (TPK). A TPK, to me, was a that myth that happened to other people. It was that cautionary tale that meant you should be more aware, think things through, be cautious. Let me rewind a bit.

It was like a birthday present as we sat around the table, trying to figure out what we would play next and who would run it. Colleen, Thia, Vel and Orsen. Orsen pipes up: he can run us through Ravenloft. My eyes lit up as if I’d just unwrapped my big Christmas present or loaded up a game that just came out. Crymson Pleasure, Vampire Goddess (self proclaimed) has NEVER been to Ravenloft.

When it was mentioned prior, my party mates always said it was too hard. It was unforgiving and relentless. I scoffed at every single one of them, essentially calling them noobs. The realm of vampires is where my character longed to be. Take all of my angst and goth and put me into a realm of the undead, I beg of you.

I created Tereza Lupei and fashioned her after Gretel from the most recent adaptation of Hanzel and Gretel, the one with Hawkeye (at this point in her editing process, I’m sure Vanri is rolling her eyes. I know his name is Jeremy Renner, but he’ll always be Hawkeye to me).

Anyway, I created a fighter class character and gave her archery and handed her a crossbow. I even created an order around her family, but that will come later. I dressed her in  black leathers with a thick dark braid and off she went.

She wandered into the thick fog with her new friends in tow. A mad scientist/tinkerer, a barbarian, and whatever Thia was playing (you’ll understand later). So, we went through several encounters and quickly we were given a taste of how hard it was going to be. Several of us dropped to zero HP as we struggled to try our hardest. We learned to react a bit smarter. Orsen reminded us that he wasn’t going to pull punches. It’s Ravenloft, after all. It’s meant to kill the players. We smiled and nodded, but none of us really understood what that meant.

We lost Thia’s first character. We were overwhelmed and she dropped to zero. In order to save the rest of us, Vel created a ring of fire which burned her character to a crisp. She couldn’t be brought back.

Our group traveled on and encountered another group in the woods. With that group was an NPC: Isabella. She was Reza’s sister and Thia’s new character, a druid. Both from The Lupei clan (a group of vampire hunters, so to speak – centuries old). They continued on and Vel also created a new character, a Blade Dancer with whips. Orsen told us that we moved through more fog as our new group moved along, this time transported to the campaign, The Curse of Strade.

I was still utterly excited by all of this. We lost someone, but it was only the one so we’ll be just fine. Of course, this is the lie that we told ourselves. We proceeded with some caution, but we were still a group of murder hobos, as most D&D groups are. We had a few close calls and I shaped Reza in such a way that she became my most loved character ever. She embodied more of me than any other character before her.

They reached level 8 and it happened, the utterly unthinkable. The barbarian decided to see what was really in a crate labeled junk. It appeared that the junk was vampires… lots and lots of vampires. Trying to ensure that everyone got out safely, Reza distracted them. Everyone except Isabella got away. Isabella ran straight into the fray and was devoured by vampires along with Reza. The rest of the party decided to burn their bodies to prevent them from becoming undead themselves. This was the end of the sisters.

I cannot tell you how upset I was. I loved Reza more than any other character and now she was gone. I was hurt and angry, but there was nothing I could do. There was no magic, no hope. She was dead and I actually had to grieve a little bit. I have no idea why I connected so much with Reza, but I had and now that was gone.

So, it was time to make a new character. This time I made a Blood Hunter (thank you, Matthew Mercer, for creating this class). I made Demetrea, Reza’s mother. She had received news of her daughters’ death (I created the family/house so that, upon death, an important article of theirs was returned to their home) and traveled to join the party. With the way the timeline was set up, Demetrea had gotten the two articles weeks before the event actually happened in Ravenloft. However, by the time she came to the rest of the group, not even a full day had past.

They continued on and I had more trouble connecting with this character. She has a great build, but I couldn’t find her personality. I didn’t want her to be Reza, but Reza was all I felt, so I struggled with her. I roleplayed the best I could but tried to keep quiet because I didn’t know how to act.

Then it came, I finally found her voice and it was snuffed out. I connected with her anger over the death of Reza and Isabella right as they went up against the most powerful creature they had yet to encounter and no, it wasn’t even Strade. We had all made a grave mistake that we didn’t know about until this very moment. When our lives literally depended on it, we lost.

Everyone was killed. This had never happened to me before. I sat in stunned silence, waiting for some miracle, but none came. I felt a bit numb. This had never happened and two streaks were ruined in a month. I was devastated. I swallowed that feeling and dove into the creation of my next character for our new campaign.

How could this happen? Easy, we made the wrong decisions, several times over. We were too careful at the wrong times and reckless at the worst possible times. We tried our hardest but, in the end, Ravenloft won and we learned a few things from it. Hopefully we learned the right things, but mistakes will always be made when you don’t know the outcome. Like life, everything’s a gamble.

However the most important thing I take from this is… 

Ravenloft… I’m far from done with you. We will meet again and I will best you.

Do Tabletop Games Reflect the Same Gender Bias as Video Games?

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A playable character from the game Boss Monster

My brother and I have always loved games.  When we were young children, we used to put all of our board games together, forming one mega-board game that stretched across our family room.  When we were older, we discovered Magic: The Gathering, and the Pokemon trading card game.  My brother spent many weeks worth of allowances at the local hobby card shop.  I rarely did.  Even as I kid, I hated to part with money. Every now and then, he would participate in store-run tournaments.  I didn’t.  I didn’t think I was good enough, and interacting with the adult men who often played in them made me uncomfortable.

 

Anita Sarkeesian and the Gamergaters have brought sexism in video games to the forefront of public consciousness.  But what about tabletop games?  Both families of games have been pillars of nerd culture for decades.  They both shape the culture and are shaped by it, and this cross-pollination can make their influences very difficult to separate.  However, while the misogyny that pervades the video game industry often infects the tabletop world, it is less entrenched, and, as I argue, less insidious.

To understand why, we need to first look at the differences between the two media.  Tabletop gaming has been around in some form since before there were tables.  Ancient civilizations played with dice, cards, and boards.  Modern board games like Monopoly date to the early twentieth century.  Conversely, the technology that allows video games to exist has only been around for a few decades.  Video games started out being marketed to a diverse audience, but without thousands of years of history saying otherwise, it was relatively easy for advertisers in the 1980s and 90s to create the narrative that video games were always meant for boys and young men.

Historians now blame the great video game crash of 1983 on the ubiquity of low-quality games in the late 70s and early 80s, which lead to the loss of consumer confidence.  However, regardless of the crash’s actual cause, video game marketers in the 80s scrambled to reinvent their product, to portray it as something they could sell.  Their analytics showed them that more boys than girls were playing games, so the advertisers ran with it: they doubled down on selling video games to that particular demographic, hoping that targeted messaging would lead to better sales.  The strategy worked.  The gaming industry slowly began to recover from the crash, but there was a dark side to the recovery.

When corporations began marketing video games exclusively for boys, it lead developers to design games specifically to appeal to straight, male, and generally white players.  More and more games portrayed male power-fantasies.  Female characters were scarce, and tended not to be playable.  After all, why should developers bother with female playable characters if only males play video games?  Of the few women who did appear in the games of the 80s and 90s, the majority were either damsels to be rescued, background decorations designed for sex appeal, or some combination of both.

The unfortunate result is an entire generation of men who grew up never knowing a world where they weren’t at the center of video gaming.  An entirely new medium for storytelling grew up around them, becoming more and more mainstream, and the only stories being told were about them.  Stories are everything.  They are the basis for our personal and cultural identities.  It’s not surprising that those aggressively gendered games at least perpetuated a deeply misogynistic gaming culture.  We’re still struggling with this culture today.  Game companies created games that catered to male players, who went on to become developers who created more sexist games and hired people like themselves.

While tabletop games exhibit the same sorts of sexist tropes that proliferate across all media, they simply don’t have the same history of ingrained sexism that video games do.  It’s hard to imagine Milton Bradley suddenly deciding that Monopoly is for boys only and covering the game board with scantily clad women.  Board games have existed relatively unchanged for millennia.  Gendered board games do exist, of course, resulting from the same kind of targeted marketing that affected video games.  The difference is that the medium itself is not gendered, despite what The Big Bang Theory has to say about Dungeons and Dragons.

I believe there is another reason that sexism in video games is more pernicious than it is in tabletop games.  Tabletop games can certainly be sexist; in fact, nearly every sexist trope can be found in one MtG card art alone (I’m looking at you ‘evil demon seductress’ and ‘why’s the girl always got to play the cleric?’).  The same tropes can be found everywhere we tell stories, from books to movies to television and beyond.  What is it about video games that makes their sexist tropes so problematic?

The answer is found in the very nature of the medium.  Modern video games, with their high-res graphic and real time decision making are quite possibly the most immersive form of storytelling humanity has invented.  The written word can come close.  Books let readers see through characters’ eyes and experience their thoughts, but they are not interactive.  They don’t allow their audience to step into the characters’ shoes in the same way that games do.

Furthermore, games do something that no other medium can: they incentivize particular behaviors.  Gaming can work a lot like a chemical addiction. Taking an addictive drug or getting an achievement in a game can both cause the brain’s reward pathways to activate.  The brain then reprograms itself to repeat that outcome, resulting in a behavioral shift.  So, when video games incentivize, for example, violence against women, there is a real risk of players’ brains physically changing in ways that could result in violent behavior in the real world.  While all games have mechanics that could incentivize certain behaviors, video games are particularly worrisome because of their immersive nature and the misogynistic history of video game culture.  While paper and pencil RPGs also have mechanics, and are also very immersive, the difference is that when the game is unlinked from graphics and technology, the stories are more open ended, games are more adaptable, and customization options are nearly infinite.  Ultimately, with TTRPGs, the players, not the gaming companies, control the content.  An individual campaign may be sexist, but the medium of tabletop roleplaying does not, itself, encourage sexism.

Both the video- and tabletop-gaming industries have a lot of work to do when it comes to combating sexism.  The in-person nature of tabletop gaming competitions can unintentionally exclude women who would prefer to cloak their identity behind a digital avatar.  Sexist comments can be found in the chat-channels of even the safest of online gaming spaces.  Writers and developers can help by consciously hiring diverse employees and writing three-dimensional characters of all genders and backgrounds.  The rest of us can help by looking critically at the games we play, and inviting our female friends and family members to play with us.  It will be a difficult journey, especially where video games are concerned, but the view from the top will have been worth it.

 

References:

http://www.themarysue.com/sexism-at-magic-tournament/

http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/bossmonster/images/c/c0/BMA006_Seducia.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20130211012442

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1154384/sexism-industry

http://www.polygon.com/features/2013/12/2/5143856/no-girls-allowed

Crash Course Games: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPqR2wOs8WI&list=PL8dPuuaLjXtPTrc_yg73RghJEOdobAplG

Feminist Frequency: https://feministfrequency.com/