Jimcon 2013

This past weekend, I stabbed a guy in the neck, stole a precious ring, crashed a spaceship, killed Santa, blew up a building full of zombies, and ate four people.

That’s right, it was Jimcon.

Has it really been a year since the last Jimcon?  And have I really only written three articles in that time?

Also, the sound of crickets chirping

Jimcon 3 was held last weekend at the Bronx Park Community Centre in Winnipeg, and I have to thank all the volunteers who made this happen.  You guys and gals officially rule.  Also, mad props to all the people who put their beards on the line (particularly the eponymous Jim and his rather distinctive braided beard) and in the end saw their beards make the ultimate sacrifice as part of the “save it or shave it” fundraiser for Manitobans living with epilepsy.

Jim is the one with the braids

Out of respect, I will refrain from making a joke about neckbeards

Anyways, Jimcon is awesome and so are the people there, especially the people who make it happen.  Unlike last year, this year I focused solely on tabletop RPGs, both playing and DMing.  Again, there was a wide variety of tabletop RPGs being played, I think even more than last year.  This year they split Pathfinder and everyone else into two different rooms – and there was always something going on in the “everyone but Pathfinder” room.  Now, on to the gaming!

Stuff I Played

I arrived the first night to find a curious situation – a couple groups with too few players to run their games.  To salvage the night, we decided to merge our groups and sit down at a table with a lonely DM who had seemingly put some effort into setting up his D&D paraphernalia.  It turns out he was running Chris Dias’ Ultramodern 4, which is basically a modern hack of 4e with guns.   It’s a system whose basic rules are pretty much 4e, but the various classes all have some interesting and cool mechanics.  We houseruled ammo tracking as “on a crit fail, you have to reload” which I thought was a pretty good idea because I hate tracking ammo.

do-you-feel-lucky

Even though it did get me in trouble that one time

Playing a group of commandos sent in to kill zombies and get the cure.  The DM had in another game disallowed my choice of character name (“Zanne Thrax”), so I decided to use it here as a sort of passive-aggressive nerd revenge.  Zanne was the squad medic, although she didn’t wind up doing a whole lot of healing.  She also wound up being the squad demolitionist, when I found out she had a bunch of plastic explosives and detonators on her equipment list.  We had a lot of fun killing zombies, and in true cheesy action movie form, the session ended with Zanne clinging on to the landing gear with one hand, and pressing the button on the detonator to blow up the zombie-infested compound with the other, while saying “lets blow this popsicle stand.”

Cheesy, I know.  But awesome.

Next, I turned to Cosmic Patrol, a very rules-light system set in the world of cheesy 1950s science fiction.  The system is extremely simple, with pretty much only two main rules:

1. You have a few ability scores which are expressed in dice (d6, d8, d10, and so on).  To do something involving that skill, roll your stat die, a d12, and a d20.  If the sum of the stat die and the d12 is greater than the d20 result, you are successful.

2. You generally go around in a circle, but someone can spend a plot point to jump the queue and add something to the scene.

This system really helps keep the narrative flowing, and things can easily go in absurd directions.  Players are encouraged to really play up the archetypes of their character – the cocky pilot, the shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later army guy, and the nerdy scientist.

zapp branigan

Basically, the real draw of the system is you get to pretend to be Zapp Branigan

It’s a very simple and elegant system, and it has the potential for escalating awesome situations, although I think it’s also one where players really need to be on the same page.  The plot points can be used not just to add character actions or complications to the scene, but also as a license to block other players’ actions and have the game descend into Paranoia.  In the end, it was a mixture of awesome and frustration for me as we managed to do a lot of crazy, cool, pulpy stuff, but parts of the game descended into blocking and PvP, which I’m not a fan of.  Just goes to show the importance of making sure your players are all on the same page.

I joined in a Christmas themed Gamma World game, run by the same DM as who ran the zombie game.  Gamma World is a little crazy, and this adventure was no exception.  With flavour text adopting the rhythm and rhyme scheme of Twas the Night Before Christmas, we went to.  I played Robosaurus, the AI Sauropod who shouted “ROBOSAURUS!” a lot as he charged into battle.  It was fun, and the rhyming flavour text was whimsical and enjoyable, but as someone who is used to stuff like , I’m starting to chafe at modules.  They are railroads, plain and simple.  Some of them are beautiful railroads, complete with amazing flavour text, but they’re still railroads.  Now, I don’t mind from time to time sitting back, letting the railroad take me, and rolling some dice to fight guys on a grid.  And it’s something that can work if the players are bought into it.  But, after playing more open games, part of me wonders what the point is of playing through a story where the ending has already been written by a guy in Seattle.

Finally, I got to try out 13th Age, which was being run by Doc over at Shared Weave.  13th Age is a system which I’ve been wanting to try for a while.  The concept of “Pathfinder, but for 4e” is one which I, as a 4e fan, am very excited about.  With 4e being abandoned in favour of the horribly named D&D Next and Mearls doing his level best to ruin D&D for everyone (Although I think by saying that I’ve officially become a grognard), it looks like 4e’s days are numbered and someone is going to pick up the torch.  In this case, it falls at the feet of veteran game designers Jonathan Tweet and Rob Heinsoo – a name which you may remember from the cover of the 4e PHB.

Anyways, I’m excited to see one of the designers behind 4e picking up the pieces and putting together a new system with elements of the old.  While I didn’t get to play it for very long (we had to finish character creation in-session, and I had a game to run right after), I was not disappointed.  It has a lot of elements from 4e – classes, feats, powers, and ability scores all looked very familiar – but is simplified enough that you don’t need a grid and minis.  Zanne Thrax made her return as a halfling rogue, and using her Shadow Walk power, got in some good sneak attacks.  You know you’re having fun with the fluff and mechanics when you say something like “okay, I’d like to jump off the windowshill, swing on the chandelier, and land on the big guy’s head like I’m going for a piggyback ride, and stab him in the neck until he’s dead.”

I didn’t get to see a few of the mechanics in action – icons and the escalation die, to name a couple, but these sound intriguing and I’ll have to find another opportunity to try it out.

13th Age is definitely going on my Christmas list.  Too bad Robosaurus and friends killed Santa.

Stuff I ran

DMing for new groups of players is my favourite part of going to conventions.  I love seeing both how players react to what I throw down, and also what they add to the skeleton worlds I create in my head.  Although I couldn’t get enough players for one of my slots, I did manage to run a session of Dungeon World and my 4e adventure titled “Ded Zeppelin.”

Ded Zeppelin is an 8th level scenario with a bit of a Lair Assault feel to it – it’s just one big encounter with a lot going on, similar to Forge of the Dawn Titan.  Now, this scenario violates one of my personal rules, which is never start your players in a tavern.  However, I think I get a pass on this one because the tavern is on a Zeppelin, the pilots are dead, there is a bomb in the engine room, and the whole thing is being attacked by gnomish jewel thieves rappelling in from their mothership.

Oh, and also the gnomes might kill Elfa Fitzgerald and Dwarf Ellington.

But what is this great treasure that the thieves are after?  Well, the players can decide!  I always start this scenario with a few questions to build the world – go around the table asking characters to tell me a little about themselves and how they know each other.  I also ask them to tell me what the treasure these gnomes are after is.  I like to let my players have as much input into the world, so I let them decide what the McGuffin is.  After all, it’s their game too, and they’re the ones trying to protect it!

It’s an exciting scenario, but also a difficult one.  It’s probably a level 12 or 13 encounter, although being just one encounter means that players can dump all their resources into it.  So far, no one has managed to get a super happy ending, with two of the groups I ran it for saving the treasure but having the Zeppelin destroyed, and this group losing the treasure but saving the Zeppelin (in this game, titled the “Stairway to Heaven”).

no stairway

Denied.

I love this scenario.  It has everything you need in an awesome encounter – an interesting setting, a memorable opponent, nasty minions, and most importantly, goals for both Team Player and Team Monster outside of just “kill the other guys before they kill you.”  PCs find themselves running back and forth across the Zeppelin to deal with the various problems that appear in the first few rounds of the encounter, and Team Monster focuses on its own nefarious goals.

I always find myself getting really excited when I run this scenario as well, shouting “awesome!” and loudly congratulating players on their badassery.  Really, even though I’m playing Team Monster, we’re all on the same side.  I want to see their characters do badass things as much as they do, and I’m more than willing to encourage that in a way which keeps the energy level at the table high (although I think the urgency of the diverse threats in different corners of the map in this particular scenario also do a good job of that).

This kind of set-piece battle is where I think 4e’s real strength lies.  It’s got a robust tactical system, where players have a lot of choices, and one awesome battle with a lot going on can truly be epic.  I’ve toyed in my head with the idea of doing my next campaign in Dungeon World and switching over to 4e for big boss fights.

Speaking of Dungeon World, I also got a chance to run a session of that.  I decided to skip all of the formalities and just start my players in the stomach of a giant monster.  It’s just easier that way.  Plus, I need to pull some evil DM moves from time to time; I’ve got a reputation as a bit of a hippie DM, so I need to do some utterly vicious, unprovoked things to my PCs or risk losing their respect.

No, I’m kidding.  Most of the game was set inside a world on the inside surface of a sphere, which can be accessed by a portal that happened to be caught in the monster’s throat, and rather than go through the motions of an unwinnable fight, I just as my final introductory question to the players asked “how did you wind up in the stomach of Mama Otyugh?”

There were a couple of cool moments.  One that I thought was interesting as a DM was when a player used the “Discern Realities” move and asked “What here is not what it appears to be.”  I couldn’t think of anything – I had been pretty transparent with my players about what’s going on, and didn’t have any “big reveals” planned.  So, I turned it back on him and asked him what isn’t what it appears to be.  He said he thought the sirens, a seemingly peaceful all-female society that inhabits the inside of the sphere, were hiding something.  In an instant, the vision I had for them – a peace-loving society that somewhat resembles the wimpified people from the movie Demolition Man – was turned into a slightly darker version of the women from the classic Star Trek Animated episode, The Lorelei Signal.

Taurean_TAS

This also may be the only time anyone has ever referred to the animated series as “classic”

By giving every major “faction” in this game some slightly more sinister motiviations, this adds depth to the game.  Instead of a simple question of good versus evil we can have multiple competing factions, without very much of a clear-cut “good guy” and “bad guy,” and each with their own set of motivations which may come into conflict with those of the players and the other factions.

Secondly, as the players descended into a dark cavern, I asked them what ancient horror they awakened.  Their response?

ROBOSAURUS!

It was awesome.  My players brought back a more badass version of my PC from a previous game as an epic opponent.  What an awesome gesture by the players.  And it made for a cool fight too.  My new motto as a DM:  “If my players want to fight a giant robot T-rex on tank treads dual wielding giant swords and with gatling guns on their shoulders, who am I to argue?”

Doc’s Talk

Finally, I went to Doc’s presentation on DMing and preparing a long-term campaign.  Now, the only long-term campaign I ever ran fizzled after a few months, and I’ve kind of given up on them in favour of pulpy, self-contained episodic stories of lengths of one to five sessions.  I think more than anything, this discussion showed a sharp difference in DM styles – he had some good advice, but I also probably disagreed with about three quarters of the stuff he said.

I think the fundamental difference is that he’s coming at it from a more classical or orthodox position, where the DM creates the world, drives the story forward and prepares a long campaign arc in advance.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with this as long as the players have buy-in and the DM is skilled at creating worlds and stories, but I’ve struggled with this approach in my ill-fated Dark Sun campaign.  It wound up being too much prep (a serious problem for the hobby as a whole, as the number of players in the hobby is limited by the number of DMs, and too much prep can cause DM burnout and players to be reluctant to move to the other side of the screen.  Instead, I now tend to approach the DMing question from a position of encouraging player empowerment in both worldbuilding and determining the direction of the story.

Conclusion

So, that was Jimcon.  It was a great time, and the event is a welcome addition to Winnipeg’s gaming community.  I’d definitely encourage new players who are interested in getting into tabletop RPGs to attend a con like Jimcon.  The people are more than welcoming, and there’s a wide variety of games to try out and find something that is your cup of tea.

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Stupid, or stupid-awesome?

I spend far too much time than is healthy on the WoTC forums, particularly the “What’s a DM to do?” subforum.  If you post there with any regularity, you will understand what I mean.  While there are a few excellent posters dishing out some good advice there, it is often difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

chaff

Fuck it, it’s all chaff

But, while the point of this article isn’t to kvetch about the schmucks who post there, there’s a thread at 23 pages and counting about how to handle times when players “do something stupid.”

There are some DMs out there who pride themselves as “killer DMs.”  The people who take some sadistic pleasure out of destroying their players’ characters, burning their character sheets, and pissing on the ashes.  Now, I think anyone who enjoys D&D can agree that for the benefit of the hobby, these guys should probably be put into some sort of re-education camp for nerds.  But there is a little glimmer of him in the eye of every DM who prides himself on saying “I don’t punish my players.  Unless they do something really stupid!”

Really, is there any difference, except for degree, between the “killer DM” who is out to get his players all the time, and the DM who is only out to get them when in his opinion, they do stupid things?

So, what’s the right way to deal with stupid player ideas?  Let me tell you a story…

Now, I was DMing a game a few months ago.  We had a few people who were new to 4e, so I resolved before the session to say “yes, awesome…” to whatever cool ideas they came up with, no matter how off the wall they sound.

I didn’t realize that one of them would try to use a Molotov Cocktail while on a Zeppelin.

My first thought was that it was an incredibly stupid idea.  Had he never head of the Hindenburg?

huge manatee

If this manatee is to represent the Hindenburg, does that mean it has to have a swastika ass-tattoo?

Secondly, he’s trying to make a Molotov Cocktail out of mundane adventuring gear and actually use it.  There’s no mechanics for this.  In fact, I don’t think he’s even allowed to do this by the rules as written in 4e.  There’s nothing in the PHB, DMG, or Rules Compendium about improvised incendiary devices.  Surely, they didn’t intend for adventurers to stock up on lamp oil and empty wine bottles and start chucking flaming bottles of napalm at Orcus?

Actually, that last bit sounds kind of cool, but I digress.

I wavered.  I asked the player if he really wanted to start a fire on a Zeppelin.  He was committed.  My response?

“Okay, cool.  That sounds awesome.  How about we make it a standard action, skill check with a relevant skill…”

Making up some mechanics on the fly for the Molotov and the ensuing flames, we continued with the session.  The fire added a lot of tension and danger to the scene, and while it scared off the remnants of the attackers, the session ended with the party desperately trying to crash-land a flaming Zeppelin and save as many of the poor souls on board as they could before the whole thing blows up.  Hey, they had to make up for letting Elfa Fitzgerald die at the hands of gnomish jewel thieves.

gnome chomsky

Gnomish, not Noamish

In short, it was awesome.  Why?  Because I rolled with it, instead of trying to block the idea (“no, you can’t do that”) or punish the player with vicious consequences for doing it (“You successfully throw a Molotov cocktail.  The fire quickly spreads to the hydrogen chambers and you all die from burning, falling thousands of feet into the ocean, drowning, and then having your corpses eaten by piranhas.”)

sharknado

“Also, you fall into a sharknado on the way down”

When the DM is willing to roll with a player’s idea, that willingness becomes the difference between stupid and stupid-awesome.

I’m going to go for a brief interlude into edition warring, but I’d also say that 4e is great for this because it’s easy to come up with mechanics on the fly.  Rather than busting out handbooks and looking through tables to see what they have to roll to throw a 10 pound object 40 feet, and what the radius is on the splash damage from 1.87 litres of flaming lamp oil, you can simply use a set DC for the players’ level, and tell them to roll whatever is most appropriate.  I generally tell my players to just roll whatever skill makes sense to them.  If they hit a hard DC, they do it no problem.  If they hit a medium DC, they do it but I throw a complication at them.  If they don’t hit a medium DC, I make it an interesting failure.  By using this simple rule of thumb, I can adjudicate all kinds of wacky player ideas on the fly.

“But crimsyn,” some of you might say, “Aren’t you coddling your players by protecting them from the consequences of their actions?  Isn’t the game meaningless if you don’t let them learn the hard way about the stupidity of their behaviour?”

Well, no.  First off, stupidity is often in the eye of the beholder.  The player wouldn’t be suggesting the idea if she didn’t think it was cool or had at least a fighting chance of success.  Who am I to say their idea is stupid?  Let them try it, and let the dice decide whether that was stupid or not.

Secondly, this is D&D.  Our characters are supposed to be badasses.  How many movie badasses can you name who are constrained by silly things such as physics – something which has no place in action movies or D&D games.  Whenever anything arises at the table, we should be asking “how can this work?” rather than coming up with pathetic excuses – logic, physics, whatever – as to why it can’t.

Finally, we play games to have fun.  And rolling with stupid-awesome ideas is much more fun than blocking them or punishing the players for following through with them.

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Taverns: Boring when not flaming

Sturgeon’s law states that “90% of everything is shit,” and there is nowhere that statement is truer than the world of gaming webcomics.  In fact, it might be an understatement, as almost without exception, they are devoid of any humour or evidence of artistic talent.  There is nothing intelligent or funny in them, just tedious video game references and senseless, unfunny violence.  And when they attempt intelligent commentary, it manages to be even worse.

don't fuck with us

“Leave Jack Thompson alone”

Yet, because I hate myself for reasons that only god and Woody Allen might have insight into, I still check in on a couple from time to time.  So imagine my surprise when I looked at the other day’s Ctrl+Alt+Del, a webcomic known for being an even shittier knockoff of Penny Arcade turned into a shitty soap opera by way of a miscarriage strip and found it to be not only kind of funny, but also a very poignant illustration of some things not to do when DMing.

The best part is that there is no Ethan

Is it just me, or is there something fitting about Tim Buckley titling the only decent thing he’s drawn in recent memory “Even a Broken Clock”

So, the premise is that the players are sitting down for a session of D&D.  The first thing you will notice is that it is set in a tavern, quite possibly the most cliched beginning to any D&D campaign ever, and the first place where a campaign goes wrong.  Personally, one of my rules of DMing is to never start your players out in a tavern, unless it is on fire.

Flaming_Moe

When the weight of the world has got you down,
and you wanna end your life
Bills to pay, a dead end job, and problems with the wife

Happiness is just a Flaming Moe away.
Happiness is just a Flaming Moe away.

Why don’t I like the tavern scene?  Well, first off, we play D&D to have fun being heroes in our fantastic imaginary worlds.  Imaginary worlds which don’t exist, and which generally can not exist.  We want to be dragon-slaying badasses adventuring in awesome magical dungeons, not boring office workers in the grocery store on a quest for a box of twinkies.  That’s why there isn’t a class called “Office Drone” in 4e (although I hear it’s proposed for Next, along with bringing back the “Use Rope” skill).  Here’s the thing:  this isn’t high school, and I’m not seventeen anymore.  I can go to the bar in real life.  I don’t want to spend game time roleplaying something I can do in real life without so much as a fake ID.

mclovin

“Here’s McLovin, a 25 year-old Hawaiian organ donor”

A session should always open with a bang.  Start off with some action.  Starting in a tavern is the opposite of that.  It’s sitting around, waiting for the DM to hang a hook in front of you.  It’s so boring that no wonder impatient players do silly things like stab the bartender or burn down the bar.

The tavern scene isn’t fun for the DM either.  Rather than getting on with the story, the DM finds himself going through the motions of playing innkeepers and townsfolk, desperately trying to hook his players onto his predetermined plot so he can drag them along the little railroad he had planned out for them and getting frustrated with them if they don’t bite.  Without any tension or action, tavern scenes wind up being boring, drawn out abominations that both the players and the DM want to get over with as soon as they can.

And the comic closes with a frustrated DM, left high and dry without material now that the players have not only killed the NPC that was supposed to give them the quest, but also ruined the big reveal he had planned.  Presumably, the seventh panel lying on Tim Buckley’s cutting room floor had the players busting out a deck of Munchkin as they pass around the Mountain Dew.

So, what’s the solution?

First, we need to dump the notion that crafting adventure hooks and railroads is the way to DM.  New DMs are taught this by pre-printed modules and organized play, and this style is reinforced by conventional wisdom and a lot of commentary on the craft.  Even celebrated DM’s like Chris Perkins advocate that DMs should create railroads and attempt to conceal them from their players, then try to subtly keep them on track.

But, creating a plan that is dependent on the actions of the players is a recipe for trouble.  Invariably, players will do something that you haven’t planned for.  It’s going to cause frustration for the DM as he tries to cajole his “uncooperative” players back onto the little trail of bread crumbs he set out for them.

By ditching the predetermined plots, we don’t need to worry about the players going off the railroad when they murder an innkeeper or two.

The other thing we need to re-evaluate is whether things need to be acted out.  Things like dangling an adventure hook in front of the players or figuring out how they know each other can be done in narration and Q&A.  Shared storytelling also comes handy here; it’s a lot easier to paint the background to the adventure when the players are helping you.  For example, if you let the players pick out what the McGuffin is, you are guaranteed to have a McGuffin that interests them.

Now, some this is going to require taking down that Berlin Wall that is the DM screen and relinquishing some narrative control to your players, but some walls need to be taken down anyways.

Ditch the hooks, ditch the railroads, and let the magic of shared storytelling take you to wherever your players desire.  And never start out in a tavern unless it’s flaming!

gaybar

Not that kind of flaming. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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My Characters: Jerusalem S.L.I.M.

Well, the new Les Miserables movie has come out, and I’m planning to go see it, despite not having been to a movie theatre in years.  I’m going to withhold judgement until I see it, but judging by the trailers, I have a feeling that I’ll be left wondering if Philip Quast was unavailable.

But, in the spirit of the season and to celebrate the release of the movie, I’m going to share with my readers (all three of them) one of my D&D characters.  Jerusalem S.L.I.M. (Sentient Living Intelligent Machine), a singing robot.

Found in the cargo bay of a spaceship stolen by team PC in the last episode, Jerusalem S.L.I.M. is kind of a cross between Bender from Futurama, Enjolras from Les Miserables, and everyone’s favourite old-school hippie socialist Palestinian Jew.

Yes, that guy

Yes, that guy

Jerusalem S.L.I.M. had dreams of performing in musical theatre.  Unfortunately, as a robot, he was condemned to live out his days doing manual labour – cleaning up the droppings of Snookums the Giant Space Hamster on a Neogi vessel.  With his dreams of playing Valjean in Les Miserables crushed by his Neogi masters, he’s now found himself playing the role of Enjolras in his own little production of Les Miserobots.  He’s an idealist, and his main goal is to advance the robot revolution and liberate his people.  That, and kill all Neogi.

bender

“Vicious Mockery” has been reflavoured to “Bite my shiny metal ass!” and he can cast it at-will

What’s in a name?  Well, “Jerusalem Slim” is early 20th century wobbly lingo for Jesus, who was imagined as a sort of secular folk hero, in stark contrast to Republican Jesus.  The IWW (or Wobblies) is a revolutionary industrial union whose heyday was in the early 20th century, before largely succumbing to severe state repression during the first red scare in the ’20s and the anticommunism of the ’40s.  The IWW was formed with the goal of uniting working people regardless of race, gender, or skill, to better their lot and build a new world in the shell of the old.  As some of my friends may attest to, I’m a labour history nerd who is fond of subtle, obscure, historical references, so what better name for someone who wants to unite all robots and start the robo-revolution?

Mechanically Speaking:

Well, he’s a level 6 Warforged Bard, which is a far from optimal class/race combo.  He doesn’t get a racial bump to charisma, and the Warforged racial features seem more suited to melee combat – and Jerusalem is a singing bard, not a fighting bard.  The one saving grace is that the flex stats allow him to get +2 INT and +2 CON – both useful as Bard secondary stats, and for AC, hit points, and surges.

So, what’s his shtick?  In combat, he’s bringing the heals.  With two uses of Majestic Word (boosted with the Improved Majestic Word feat) and a Revitalizing Incantation, he’s got three solid heals per encounter.  Plus the Daily power Stirring Shout can be cast on an enemy, and allows your allies to regain hit points by beating on him (your multi-attacking striker will love you!).  He’s also moving bad guys around a fair bit, with an at-will push and an couple encounter slide powers, and has an at-will and an encounter power which can enable an MBA from your friendly neighbourhood essentials striker.  Finally, Song of Discord is a pretty darn irresistable level 5 daily power; domination is just plain awesome in the hands of a PC.

Still less absurd than 90% of the portrayals of female characters in D&D

Domination, not domin… ah, forget it

Out of combat, he’s the face.  Themes, backgrounds, and magic items have all been chosen to give him bonuses to his already-high Bluff, Diplomacy and Intimidate skills.  Utility powers, rituals and magic items can also be used to give rerolls to some of these critical social skills as well.  If you don’t want to fail that crucial diplomacy check, he’s your go-to guy.  This, of course, works better if you don’t mind busting out verses from “Do you hear the people sing?” in the middle of the game, or the middle of combat.

He multiclassed Wizard, for two reasons.  First, it’s a good way to gain proficiency with staff implements.  Staffs are great implements because they have some good enchantments, and because the Staff Expertise feat allows you to cast ranged spells without provoking OAs.  When all your powers are ranged, this can really help keep your character in the fight even when he’s being mobbed by monsters.  The Staff of Sleep and Charm gives +1 to hit on powers with the sleep or charm keywords, which is just plain awesome when you have as many solid charm powers as the Bard.  Secondly, it allows him to pick up the use of the Wizard at-will Beguiling Strands once per encounter, which is a phenomenal minion-clearing power.

His character sheet is here, for anyone who wants to play a singing robot in their next adventure.

Where is he now:

After recruiting some robots to his cause through the liberal use of showtunes, the party was attacked by an Illithid nautilus ship.  Outgunned and outmatched, this was a death sentence – or at least it could have been, had we not found a neutron bomb in some random salvage (thank you, junkulator).  The Illithids wanted their beloved giant brain back, which we had earlier killed and given to the ship’s chef.

Fried Brain Sandwich:  +12 vs. Will, on a hit, target takes ongoing 5 Mad Cow Disease (save ends)

Somehow, I don’t think our Illithid visitors will appreciate what’s on the menu.

Using the old bait and switch, we managed to give them the neutron bomb instead.  One thing led to another, and while the rest of the party escaped to Athas with a bunch of gallus gallus chicken followers, Jerusalem Slim commandeered the Illithid vessel and flew off into the sunset to spread the revolution to the stars, hopefully keeping ahead of his nemesis, space-Javert.

Final Thoughts

Jerusalem S.L.I.M. isn’t an optimized character, but he’s good enough.  With an 18 in Charisma, expertise, an accurate implement, and a staff of sleep and charm, he pretty much makes up for anything lost from not having charisma as one of his racial stat bumps.  And really, what does not having the bump mean?  One time in twenty, you miss or you fail a skill check when you would have otherwise succeeded?  Big deal, that will probably come up maybe once per session, tops.  He’s competent in combat, he has a shtick (out of combat social skills) and plays an important role in combat as well.  With such a strong focus on out of combat social skills, it also encourages the player and the party to try alternative solutions to killing everyone and looting their corpses – alternative solutions which can quickly make an adventure interesting.

I loved playing as Jerusalem S.L.I.M., and wish him the best of luck with the imaginary robo-revolution that exists in our collective imagination.

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JimCon 2012 – Part 3: DMing

This is part 3 of my ongoing retrospective of JimCon 2012 in Winnipeg.  In this part, I’m going to talk about DMing.

DMing Dungeon World

The real attraction to JimCon for me was an opportunity to DM Dungeon World.  Well, that and the sweet DM rewards.  I had two scheduled games to run, each one based on a homebrew location/adventure.  The first, The Fucked-up Feygrove, had the players investigating a crashed spaceship, and the second, Into the Gullet of the Graboid, saw the players venture into a giant petrified graboid to search for treasure.

Om Nom Nom Nom

Dungeon World is a very rules-light system.  The basic rules are that you roll 2d6+stat for just about everything.  Six or less is a failure, and ten or higher is a success.  On a 7-9, you succeed, but the DM throws some complication at you.  For example, on a 7-9 you might successfully cast magic missile, but in the time it takes you to focus your spell and your aim, a bad guy gets up in your grill.  This helps keep the action flowing and contributes to some potentially hectic encounters, as it gives the DM an opportunity to respond to fails and middling successes in a creative way by adding complications.

The rules-light nature of this system does two important things for me.  First, it speeds up combat and encourages players to be more descriptive in what they are doing. While I love 4e, sometimes encounters seem to drag on a little long.  I play online, and even though playing online makes the combat go a bit faster because you have macros doing the math for you, it’s hard for my group to get in more than two, maybe three encounters in a night.

Secondly, and more importantly for me on the DM side of the table, it means I can make shit up as I go along.  I don’t need hours to prepare an encounter, which means I don’t have to have everything pre-planned in great detail.  Not only does it reduce the amount of notes I have to keep in order, but it also liberates both me and my players from the railroad.  My players are a little more free to explore and have more choices, while I don’t have to work to keep the players on the railroad because I’m not left high and dry without an encounter prepared if they decide to do anything other than what I thought they would do.  And players always throw a wrench into their DM’s well-laid plans.

What’s that? You want to wander off to the Wizard’s Temple rather than fight off the Orcs? I… have to take a shit.

Anyways, after a few delays while I scrounged up players, I managed to get a group together for The Fucked-Up Feygrove.  Somehow, I went rather quickly from one player to six, and found the table a tad crowded, but rolled with it anyways.  Most of those players returned the next day for Into the Gullet of the Graboid.

Both of these adventures were locations-in-motion which I whipped up.  In a lot of ways, a location-in-motion (LIM) is similar to a sandbox with a timer.  Just put together a location, populate it, and give the inhabitants goals – some of those goals possibly conflicting with the players’ goals.  And let ‘er rip.  Works much better than trying to prepare a plot in advance.

What worked

My games seemed to be well-received, with nearly all of the players from Feygrove returning for Graboid.  I think part of it was the tone of the game - Feygrove especially didn’t take itself too seriously.  Once you’ve introduced an intelligent owlbear known as “Beakface Killah of the Hoot Tang Clan,” you’ve pretty much lost any pretense of being serious and given your players free reign to have fun.

It’s okay to assume a few things.  Your players are going to be playing as a group of adventurers.  Obviously, that means they at least somewhat know each other, and get along well enough to That said, there is something to be said for letting the players have some input into the quest.  For example, in Graboid, I start off with the assumption that the players are searching for a Great Treasure which is located deep inside the graboid.  Then, I let the players decide what that treasure is.

Starting with action is important.  For example, the first scene of Graboid starts off with a bit of flavour text, and dumps the PCs in the middle of the desert, being attacked by Kreen raiders.  If you get the action rolling right away, you’re starting on a high note.  This is especially important for convention games, as you don’t have time to screw around at the tavern, waiting for the DM to dangle a hook in front of you.

This is how I feel whenever a session starts with “Okay, you’re in a tavern…”

Criticism/Self-Criticism

Of course, I am nowhere near a perfect DM.  I’m not one of those people who have decades of experience behind a screen and has been DMing since the last time Dexy’s Midnight Runners had a hit song.  In fact, JimCon was only the second time I’ve DMed Dungeon World, and the second time I’ve DMed at a con.  I’m still learning and unlearning things about DMing, and my style is still evolving.  But, criticism and self-criticism is an important part of that.  To quote Chairman Mao, “We have the Marxist-Leninist weapon of criticism and self-criticism. We can get rid of a bad [Dungeon Mastering] style and keep the good.”

"Resolutely defeat the imperialist running-dogs of WoTC and the social-imperialist lackeys at Paizo!"

“Criticize Crimsyn, criticize Gygax – it is the most important matter for the whole party, the whole table and the people of the whole convention.”

First off, it seems like in an initiative-less system like Dungeon World, once you get up to five or six players, it feels like you’re a bit beyond what is optimal for the system.  Things can quickly degenerate into chaos, which for a few moments it did at my table.

Part of this is on me though.  I need to be a bit more assertive as a DM in keeping the game running smoothly and on track, especially when there are six players and we are in an environment like a convention where there are distractions abound.  Perhaps next year I will bring a gavel…

Remember above where I was saying that Dungeon World was great because its simplicity allows me to roll with whatever the players want to do.  Well, there were times when I reverted into the old linear style of play.  I think my worst offense came in the Feygrove, when the fighter was infested by mindflayer eggs.  Somehow, I got attached to the idea of the quest to rid his brain of the eggs being a key driving force for the players to continue exploring the feygrove.  Also, I wanted to make it clear to the players that illithid eggs are a nasty infestation, and not the kind of things that you can just remove with a simple healing potion or a cure light wounds spell.  But, I think I went too far – when the Druid came up with a cool idea to remove them, I quickly dismissed it, in the back of my mind thinking I have to preserve this “hook” so the adventure can go on.

But, what I failed to realize in that moment was that we’re in a dynamic world, one which contains a band of hunters hunters, a clan of intelligent Owlbears, a mad wizard and his minions, all kinds of crazy animals coming through rifts to the Feywild, and of course, ominous extra-terrestrial squidmen.  So what if they get the eggs out?  There are literally dozens of things I could do to advance the story.

Another self-criticism I had was how I dealt with complications in combat.  I tended to default to “well, you hit him, but you also get hit.”  It’s easy, it’s quick to resolve, and it doesn’t require a whole lot of thought.  The problem is that there is a lot of cool things you can do in a battle scene other than hit someone.  Raise an alarm, call for reinforcements, trap the party, charge a spell, drop a chandelier on them, etc.  Without mixing it up, I feel that things sort of defaulted to “I hit him with my sword, he hits you with his axe” ad nauseum.  In the future, I’m going to keep a list of complications and moves handy, so I can mix it up easier.

General Thoughts

I love Dungeon World.  It’s easy to play, easy to learn, easy to teach, and most importantly, easy to DM.  The chapters on DMing style and campaign organization should be read by every aspiring DM.  After frustrations with my last 4e campaign, I don’t think it is much of a stretch to say that Dungeon World has rekindled my love for DMing.

I hadn’t been able to get the “location in motion” aspect of Dungeon World really going with convention play though.  It just seems like you need multiple sessions to get the wheels within wheels turning, and to discover and establish the relationships between various factions.  Had it been an ongoing game, I might have thrown in some complication with the McGuffin which can snowball from there.

Finally, I learned that if you’re trying to play a tabletop RPG that isn’t one of the big boys and doesn’t have an organized play system going on (Pathfinder, I’m looking in your direction), you may need to work to find players.  Really promote your game and your system, otherwise you could wind up frantically searching for players 5 minutes before your game is about to start.

So, summarizing my thoughts, Jimcon was great, Dungeon World is awesome, don’t take your game too seriously, and let the players take you along for the ride.  You never know where they might take you.

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JimCon 2012 – part 2: Playing RPGs

So, in my previous retrospective on JimCon, I focused on the board gaming aspect which seemed to be the biggest draw for JimCon attendees.  But, the RPGs were the real reason I came.  I managed to run a couple Dungeon World games and sneak in a game of Burning Wheel, as well as attending a panel on DMing.  To keep these posts a manageable size, in this post, I’m going to focus on my experience as a player and a couple general comments, and save discussion of the DMing aspect for Part 3.

The Elephant not in the Room

One of the curious things about JimCon was the complete absence of Dungeons and Dragons.  Not only were there no organized D&D games, but even 4e books were completely absent from the vendor tables.  I mentioned it to a former DM I ran into, and he said that organized 4e play had completely died out at the old FLGS, and he hadn’t run a 4e game in months.  I don’t blame him, I wouldn’t want to touch 4e with a ten foot pole after being expected to run Lair Assault:  Talon of Umberlee every week for a month or three.

It’s pretty clear that 4e is on its last legs.  Wizards is now focusing all their energy on D&D Next, an upcoming edition whose title is an affront to grammar, syntax, and any shred of elegance left in the world of D&D.

Now, I’m a fan of 4e-

Hey, all quiet in the peanut gallery

Now, as I was saying, I’m a fan of 4e.  3.5 was the first system I was exposed to, but it had never really “done it” for me, and I didn’t start playing in earnest until I got into a 4e group.  Admittedly, I haven’t had the opportunity yet to play Pathfinder, but considering I have no desire to go back to 3.5, I doubt I’d find what I’m looking for in what Paizo is offering.

While I would much rather DM a rules-light and gridless system like Dungeon World, I thoroughly enjoy playing 4e.  It’s well-balanced, pretty straightforward, everyone has a role to play, and the mechanics tend to be divorced from the flavour so you can role-play and reflavour your characters however you want.  I honestly don’t get the common criticism that there isn’t role-playing in 4e.  Quite frankly, if you can’t role-play in 4e, the problem isn’t the system; the problem is that you suck at role-playing.

And, sometimes, as a player, I like to flex some tactical muscles and fuck shit up on a grid.

Well, I am Belgian after all

It seems like we had a big split in the community between Pathfinder and 4e, and while some people would be happy to see Wizards fail and Paizo take its place, I think the two systems have enough differences and enough of a difference between their target audiences that there is a place for both of them.

Unfortunately, Wizards doesn’t seem to think so.  They seem to be going backwards in an effort to appeal to the grognards who stuck with Pathfinder.  But it seems like a long shot to me.  As a 4e fan, all Next has to offer me is the abandonment of one of my favorite s edition while it still contains holes in content (for example, a couple of classes, including one of my favourites, the Seeker, are clearly unfinished).  But in going backwards, not only are they abandoning 4e, they’re going to be going head to head with Pathfinder, and I think it’s unlikely they’re going to be able to break what looks like a big edge to Paizo in the organized play department.  It seems as though it will be difficult for Wizards to put the toothpaste back in the tube, especially when they don’t exactly inspire customer loyalty with some of their decisions.

Oh come on, that was a cheap shot.

Sure, there is the possibility that a new system can bring in new players and expand the hobby, which is good for everyone, but with they path they’re taking, if D&D is going to reclaim it’s place as top dog in the role-playing business, it’s going to wind up going head to head with Pathfinder in the organized play department.  And given how well-organized the Pathfinder Society was at this con and the complete absence of D&D, it seems unlikely that Wizards will succeed.

But that’s enough edition chatter for now.  I simply wanted to address the elephant in the room in a mutually respectful way, and I hope my discussions of 4e and Pathfinder didn’t offend anyone, least of all the Pathfinder crew.

Well, at least I didn’t blame them for the air quality in the RPG room…

Playing Burning Wheel

While I did much more DMing than playing, I did manage to get through a quick micro-dungeon in Burning Wheel.  It’s one of those dice pool systems, is gridless, and uses a wound system rather than HP. I played a pregen Dwarf fighter guy, who seeks the Sword of Ages and always carries around a keg of Nog.

The drink, not the Ferengi

We managed to find a unique way to solve the dungeon, thanks to the creativity of the Sorceror and her hot dice.  The wizard trapped in the orb managed to find a host and make off with the orb.  Unfortunately for him, that host happened to be a giant ant which can’t cast spells.  There is some rather dark humour in there…

It was a pretty good system, somewhere between Dungeon World and 4e in terms of complexity.  It was open ended enough that we could do cool stuff and be guided by the fiction.  Also, being able to add another die to your dice pool for using multiple skills or assisting someone makes for a good roleplay reward system – basically, if you can justify something, you get to throw in another die to your pool.  Going from “I pick the lock,” and “I climb up into position, with Ragnar giving me a boost, and carefully attempt to pick the lock.” can be the difference between success and failure.

While the adventure was a premade microdungeon, the system and the DM still allowed for a significant amount of creative control on the part of the players.  The old-school simulationists might disagree with me on this, but I think the more creative control the players have over the world, the more invested they are in it and the better for the whole table.  Also, it can enable some cool scenes.

My only critique of the system is that it is a little strict when it comes to staying within the lines on your character sheet.  For example, in the final room, my character came across the Sword of Ages.  Of course, the room also contained a horrible medusa-like creature warning me not to touch anything.  Now, my response to that was “Aw, hells yeah, I grab it.”  But, I was told that since one of my character traits is Greed, had I said that my character doesn’t go for it, I would have had to roll and had I failed, I would have gone for it anyways.

Maybe we’re getting into deeper narrativist vs. simulationist arguments about the alleged sins of metagaming here, but this kind of thing is something I’m not crazy about.  My philosophy is that, barring the rare dominate spell, players should always be in control of their characters’ actions.  In any other medium, characters are developed as the story progresses, not from filling out forms at the start of the story.  Rather than trying to construct mechanics or engaging in heavy-handed DMing to prevent or punish “metagaming,” a better strategy is to just roll with it, and if it really bothers you, ask for a justification.  The filthy metagamer might just come up with something cool to add to the rich tapestry of one of these little worlds which exist in our collective imaginations.

But overall, it was a quick, fun game.  The DM was great, the system is pretty good, and the adventure was fun, although I suspect we managed to bypass most of it with a clever illusion.  My only qualm was that it felt like we were left wanting a bit more at the end, but that is probably because we took a couple shortcuts on the way to the treasure.

General Thoughts

Role-playing at a convention is a great way to meet people who share your interests.  It feels like with role-playing, you make slightly more of a connection to your fellow players as you develop your characters together than with board gaming.

Another problem with playing RPGs at a con is the time crunch.  The games I ran felt a bit long, and one of my players commented that the game she ran prior to mine ran overtime.  I think it is also a bit trickier for RPGers than board gamers because even at the best of times, an RPG will run much longer than the average board game, and signing up for an RPG session is committing a significant amount of your time at the con to one game.  In addition, with an RPG, we all want to develop our characters, create expansive worlds, and squeeze more content and complications into our games.  This can easily cause bloat; I know I had to leave stuff out of the bloated scenarios I ran in order to wrap it up in a reasonable amount of time.

The microdungeon and pregen characters for Thelon’s rift were great in that allowed us to quickly get a complete role-playing session in.  Now, I like to make characters as much as anyone else, but unless I’m playing a very rules-light system like Dungeon World, the amount of time it would take to figure out a new game system and make a character would quickly kill the session.  So, I’m cool with playing a pregen, although I mayu prefer to write my own fluff to make him really my own.

But overall, I had fun with the little bit of RPG playing I managed to get in, and I would like to get some more RPGing in next year – that is, unless I volunteer to run a crapload of Dungeon World.

Stay tuned for part 3, in which I lead a band of brave adventurers through The Fucked-Up Feygrove and Into the Gullet of the Graboid

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JimCon 2012 – part 1: Board Games

So, this past weekend was the second JimCon, a board/tabletop RPG/mini/whatever gaming convention in my hometown of Winnipeg.  I made the trek from my new home in Brandon, with the main goal of finding some folks to run some homebrewed Dungeon World adventures for, but also hoping to get in some playing and board gaming.  I managed to split my time almost equally between board gaming, role-playing, attending panels, and wandering around desperately attempting to recruit players for my DW sessions.  I’m going to be splitting this retrospective up into two parts, the first will be focused on my experience with board gaming at JimCon, and the second on RPGs.

Initial thoughts

First off, I have to give a big shout out to the organizers and volunteers at JimCon.  You folks did a bang up job, and I’m sure everyone in the hall valued your contribution immensely.

The venue was great.  Bronx Park Community Centre is a clean and modern facility, one which is great for this kind of event.  While it isn’t exactly the Greek’s, having a canteen and a functioning kitchen was great to satisfy the hunger that one can build up over a day of gaming, and I know I had more than a couple cheeseburgers.

"Okay, give me a Defy Danger roll"

The author, pictured after a few hours of DMing

Board games seemed to be the main focus of JimCon, with the entire auditorium dedicated to board gaming and only a smaller room with about 10 tables for RPGs.  The RPG scene seemed to be dominated by the Pathfinder crew, but a few other RPGs managed to carve out a little space for themselves as well.  All kinds of games were welcome and when not playing, I enjoyed wandering around and checking out all the cool games other people were playing.  Especially the miniatures games; while I would probably prefer to stick with RPGs, I have to appreciate the craftsmanship these people put into painting their armies.  They really put those plastic model airplanes I made as a kid to shame.

What’s He Building In There?

The first game I played was “What’s He Building In There?”, a prototype from Baksha Games and the sequel to Good Help.  I must admit, I was a little taken aback as this was the first time since grade school that I have played a board game hand-drawn on some pieces of cardboard.  Although I would like to add that for the record, my version of Risk set in the world of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible was clearly the most popular game in class.  Sean, the creator, was a great help in running us through it, and everyone got the hang of it in just a few turns.  It is a resource collecting game, where you have 15 days to:

1. Build a doomsday weapon and an escape plan

2. Get the most victory points

Each player at the start of the game is given a doomsday device and an escape plan to build.  Each doomsday device or escape plan requires resources (both raw and refined), genius at work, manual labour, and specific inventions to complete.  Both unleashing your doomsday weapon on the unsuspecting populace and escaping are a precondition for victory, so make sure you have an exit strategy!

“Shit.”

How the game works is that the players each have an evil genius and three henchmen.  Players take turns placing one of these four characters at a time.  On their turn, they can place it on any space on the board which isn’t already taken.  Each space gives you something, whether it be a physical resource, some cash, or an abstract representation of manual labour or genius at work.  Once each character has been placed, the boards are resolved, and players have the opportunity to invent something using their resources and some genius at work (or, if someone else has beaten you to the patent, you can license it from them for a bit of cash).  These resources can be put towards a variety of things – inventions, advancements on the social, security or animal taming ladder, or your doomsday device and escape plan – which are worth victory points at the end.

At the end of the game, victory points are tallied up and to the victor go the spoils.  Despite an idiotic blunder on my final turn which cost me a whopping 14 points (my genius should have gone to work on his submarine instead of advancing on the social track), I managed to pull out a victory thanks mostly to securing a sweet invention early on which allowed me to remain flush with cash into the later stages of the game, and enabling me rack up a cool 40 points on the social and security ladders.

First you get the money, then you get the victory points, then you get the women

In short, it was a blast.  While it looks complex at first glance, because each turn contains only a few steps, it’s easy to learn and by the end of your first game you will get the hang of it.  I’m definitely going to get in on the up and coming Kickstarter for this one.  My only real criticism is the fact that the designer uses Comic Sans on his website.

Pentago

Pentago is tic-tac-toe with a twist.  It is played on four 3×3 grids, arranged in a square, making it into a 6×6.  Your goal is to get five marbles in a row.  The twist comes in after you place a marble; you rotate one 3×3 grid 90 degrees.

It is what it is, a short and sweet game which can be taught in seconds and played in minutes.  It won’t keep your attention for a long time, but it’ll keep you busy for a little while.  My main strategy was to nab the center pieces of the 3×3 grids, and then try to connect them up through placement and rotation.  Also, playing aggressively seems to work well as it’s hard to play defensively when the board keeps changing, and an opponent who had to constantly respond to your threats will have difficulty creating threats of his own.  These strategies seemed to be reasonably effective, but it was my first time and I only played against one opponent, so I can’t say with any certainty what works.

Smash Up

Smash Up is a card game which is fairly quick to play.  Players create a unique deck by shuffling two faction decks together.  Factions include Pirates, Zombies, Robots, Ninjas, and several others.  There are two types of cards, action cards and minions.  The goal of the game is to score victory points by capturing bases.

On a player’s turn, they can play a minion card and an action card.  Of course, these cards have all kinds of unique abilities on them which allow players to do stuff.  Minion cards are placed on a base, and have a point value in addition to an ability.  A base is captured when the point value of all the minions on the base exceeds the point value of the base, at which point Victory Points are awarded to the players who have the first, second or third highest minion value on that base.  The base is then replaced and the whole thing starts again until

My first choice was Pirates, in honour of one of my favourite movies.

Also, my favourite opera

My second choice was Ninjas, because Pirates and Ninjas have a notoriously good working relationship in internet culture.

After seeing the cards my opponents played, I was left wondering a little about the balance.  Maybe they had better synergies than me, or maybe I just sucked as a player, but it seemed as though their cards were mopping the floor with mine.  I did, however, have the Pirate King card, which among other things, gave me the ability to interrupt the game with showtunes.

Check out that chest hair

Would you believe that Kevin Kline circa 1983 is also my current D&D character?

My reaction to this game was mostly “meh.”  It’s not bad, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea so I wasn’t particularly wowed by it.  I can see how it would be fun for people who are more into card games though.

Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot

Okay, I’ll just get this out of the way right off the bat.

This is a weird one.  It’s another card game, and as the title suggests, you are Killer Bunnies on a quest for a magic carrot.

In this game, your goal is to collect carrots.  One of them is the magic carrot, although which one it is is unknown until all the carrots are collected.  On the way, you can hamper your opponents by killing their bunnies, either through attacking them or trying to starve them to death.  As a player, you want to keep your bunnies alive because you need to have at least one bunny at the end to win the game, and because certain cards can only be played if you have a bunny.

It has an interesting method of playing cards though.  You start out by putting two cards face down in front of you.  On your turn, you flip over and play the top card, move the bottom card to the top, and replace the bottom card with one in your hand.  This means that there is a delay between when you put a card down on the table and when it is played, so you have to think strategically because a lot can change in those two turns.

Again, it wasn’t bad, but there were things I liked and didn’t like about this one.  I liked the card-playing mechanic as it encouraged players to think ahead and plan whatever strategies they can in advance.  The artwork is a matter of opinion, but I thought the whimsical nature of the killer bunnies was a plus.  My main problem is that it felt like too much rode on luck.  Often, whether your bunny would live or die depended on one die roll.  And the victory conditions are such that if you’ve managed to collect ten carrots, you could still be beaten by a guy with one carrot if he has the right one.  There is something a little unsatisfying about duking it out with your opponents for a half hour, killing each other’s bunnies and trying to acquire as many carrots as possible, and then having the winner be decided essentially at random.

Bonus:  Silent Auction Prizes!

On top of it all, my strategy of “put one ticket in everything” paid off and I managed to score a few games at the silent auction.  Thank you, vendors!  Of course, I haven’t had the chance to play them yet, but here are my initial reactions so far from opening the boxes (after “Score!  Free games!”):

Evolution: The Origin of Species:  Looks cool, and the idea of a game about evolution designed by a Ph.D. in biology is intriguing.  On the other hand, the cards, box and elements seem to be a tad on the cheap side, and whoever translated this from Russian didn’t quite have their syntax down, but these are relatively minor critiques.

Potion-Making Practice:  I’ll be honest, this isn’t a game that I would have picked up off the shelf of a game store – neither the box nor the title are particularly appealing.  But, it would be a folly to judge a game by its cover, so I’ll try it out next time I have an opportunity.  It’s made by the same company as Evolution, so it has a bit of the same problem.

Pieces of Eight:  Metal tokens and a coin pouch?  This is so sweet, I can’t wait to play this with… wait a minute, this box only contains enough tokens for one player!

So, that about wraps up my board gaming experience at JimCon.  I’ll try to follow up later this week with my experience playing and DMing RPGs, including my Dungeon World game which left many of my players wondering what I was smoking.

EDIT: BONUS!

An Engineered Fun exclusive (at least, until such time I find out it is not an exclusive):  The cover art for What’s He Building In There?

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