Category Archives: Role Playing Game

Writers: Play Some D&D

It’s been pretty well established by this point in my life that I am a nerd of many sorts. Theatre, sci-fi, fantasy, board games, video games, math, logic, philosophy, mythology, religion… there’s a lot of nerdy in me. So it shouldn’t come even remotely as a surprise that I have played a LOT of Dungeons & Dragons in my day.

My first introduction to the game, though it was ultimately not an accurate representation at all, was back in the summer after my 7th grade year when I was 12 years old. It was, I believe, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition… I don’t remember much of it at all, but again. Not very accurate. Still, somewhere in my room right now is the first character sheet I ever had.

Since then, I’ve played 3e, 3.5e, 4e and am currently in a group playing the D&D Next edition. I’ve been the Dungeon Master for two different (ultimately falling apart) 3.5 campaigns. I’ve played Pathfinder, Iron Kingdoms and even a d20 system a friend of mine created. I’ve done some role-playing online and have oodles and oodles of ridiculous stories to tell about the various campaigns.

Most people find the game to be instantly associated with the nerdiest of the nerdy. I suppose that’s a little fair… while high fantasy and the like have been becoming more and more acceptable over the years (just look at the successes of Peter Jackson’s interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” books, as well as HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), it’s more acceptable to observe fantasy, not attempt to live it out. D&D and other role-playing tabletop games are predicated on the notion that one designs a character with a story and interjects themselves, via that character, into a fantasy world. Granted, not every tabletop RPG is set in fantasy, but that’s where D&D began.

Even so, despite it being “super nerdy,” it has seeped into our culture just a bit. You have the people that seem to think D&D is something where people learn witchcraft and are members of the occult… As well as the people that know how laughable that is and like to point out how sessions of D&D usually go. Season 2 of the absolutely wonderful TV show “Community” has a fantastic, hilarious and kinda accurate episode titled “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” that is well worth the watch (you need Hulu Plus for that link, sadly).

The point is, though, whether you think it’s crazy nerdy and has some ridiculous stigma on it or not, if you’re a writer… I think you would do well to play this game.

I realized the other day, when writing the background for my character in the current campaign I’m playing, I’ve written more detailed character story and background for some of my D&D characters than I have for some of my characters in my stories and scripts. That’s not to say that I don’t have good backgrounds for the non-D&D characters… I just don’t tend to write them out and consider all the aspects of their previous lives. However, in D&D, I tend to tell very detailed stories about their pasts and how they came to where they are now.

It’s a really good writing exercise, especially when you limit yourself. As someone that tends to prefer the classics of poetry and art, where the product must conform to a certain style or limitation, I feel that talent, skill, creativity and thought are more thoroughly applied and utilized than in styles where slapping anything together counts. Anyone can buy three blank canvases and call it art or take random paragraphs from random books, tape them together on a page and call it poetry. But how many people can write something truly heartbreaking and moving with only 140 syllables in 14 lines of iambic pentameter and a rhyming scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG? I refer of course to the sonnet, of which some guy named Shakespeare wrote several.

It’s not easy to make something conform to limitations. But it is certainly an exercise worth trying, especially if you find your characters lack depth. Here’s my suggestion, as these are the ways I’ve found the most character work: Find some people to play D&D with. Find other writers or friends that know what they’re doing. You can do a preset campaign or let yourself/another writer write a story/world for you all to play in. But when you’re making your character, give yourself restrictions. In most versions of D&D, you can give your character flaws, which detriment your character but allow for extra benefits to balance it out. A lot of people will do this to make ridiculously powerful characters, but don’t focus on the game play so much as the character. People are flawed. How does that affect your character? Alternatively, ask your DM if you can bend certain rules, so long as you get a good story out of it.

For example, the current campaign I’m playing is in D&D Next, which is still basically in beta, so there’s a lot missing. My favorite class, the cleric, only has three domains to choose from at the moment… and none of the gods of Faerun in the domain I want to use have the right alignment for my character. I could have just changed my character’s alignment, but I decided to write a story behind it. Why would someone that disagrees with a certain deity’s way of life be a priest for that deity? And so, my story was written.

You don’t necessarily have to play D&D or any tabletop RPG to pull off this exercise. But I think D&D is a good template with a lot of creative options you may not consider… and playing the game will let you see how honest you can be to your character and keeping him or her consistent in certain situations. Plus… D&D with the right people can be LOADS of fun. 🙂 Give it a try some day.

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Tabletopping It – Dungeons And Dragons (V. 3.5)

…okay. So, today, I went and saw “Cloud Atlas.” I started to write a review about it, but events throughout the rest of the day distracted me from that task. Also, I’m not 100 percent sure about what to say about the movie for a review… Go see it, I think, is a definite inclusion, but it’s a pretty big movie with a lot to talk about. So it may take me a little bit of time to flesh out a review. More than the 45 minutes I have left in the day right now, for sure.

Instead, I’m going to talk about what took up a big chunk of that time: Dungeons and Dragons. That’s right. I’m nerdy. Deal with it. Nerds are sexy (or at least passably handsome in my case).

Anyway, tonight, my roommate’s D&D group met here at our apartment. As several players in their regular game were absent today, they decided to play a one shot, and my roommate invited me. I haven’t played D&D since school started in August, so of course I wanted to play. Their only stipulation was that I wasn’t allowed to play as Kiev.

…Okay, before I explain Kiev, I’m going to explain D&D. Dungeons and Dragons is a tabletop role-playing game. Not a sexy one, unless you want it to be. Rather, it’s a game wherein players create a character of some sort of race and class, or defining occupation in a sense (Except not really?), and act out those characters within the realm of a story created by the Dungeon Master, or DM. Most often, D&D is placed in a high fantasy setting, similar to Lord of the Rings. All the decisions’ and actions’ results are decided by dice roll.

Now, some people keep playing the same characters throughout different campaigns, having the character level up through each campaign. I do that, sort of. What I do is I have a character, Kiev Svbodny, that I’ve kept mostly the same over the years. He is usually a half-elf, sometimes a half-drow (dark elf), who is a divine spellcaster, either a Cleric or a Favored Soul. He usually has a profession as a bartender, and sometimes has a profession as a librarian as well. Whenever possible, he worships gods of Trickery and Luck, whoever they might be (usually Olidammara). And he’s pretty much always been Chaotic Neutral.

…Okay, to non-D&D players, that likely made no sense. Really, in order to play D&D and understand it, you need to simply play D&D. Find a group of friends that have played the game before and ask to join in on a low level campaign. Have an experienced player help you roll up a character based on what you would like to do (fight with weapons, use magic, steal things, be evil, be good, whatever) and what the dice will let you do. Then just pretend to be that person you just created.

Tonight, I decided to go way off base (partly because they told me to). A regular player in campaigns I’m in has often been… bad at playing. And keeping his characters alive. He goes through several. So, last campaign I played with him, we said his next character would have to be a bugbear evangelist.

Well, I decided to play a bugbear bard/wannabe evangelist/prostitute tonight in honor of that.

Really, that’s the fun of D&D. Depending on the group and the DM, you can either have a serious night of high fantasy orc slaying or whatnot, or you can have a fun, humorous, ridiculous night that really doesn’t go anywhere but is quite entertaining. And either can be a great experience.

D&D is a great experience. I suggest everyone try it out sometime. I still have a campaign I want to DM for a newbie friend of mine, though she’ll likely never have enough free time to do so… Anyway, if you’re new to the entire D&D scene, you should probably try 4th Edition, or the upcoming 5th Edition. I haven’t tried 5th, but I hear it’s like 4th except a bit better. I don’t really like 4th all that much, to be honest, which is why I said version 3.5 at the top. In my opinion, 3.5 gives a bit more freedom for character creation and, thus, roleplay than the 4th Ed. I’ve experienced, but there are others that disagree with me.

Whatever you end up playing, just remember to have fun, whether you’re a half-elf cleric for the trickster god Olidammara, or a bugbear prostitute bard with great oratory and hiding skills. …I think I’ll clean up the bugbear for a later campaign. Prostitution and frost whip for laughs aside, he wasn’t that bad.

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about “Cloud Atlas” to you. Until then… sorry for all the bugbear.

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A Treatise On Geek Culture

Recently, Felicia Day retweeted a post by author and geek John Scalzi. In this post, he writes a rather forceful, but sensible, post on who gets to dictate what makes someone a “geek.” This post, somewhat emotional, is a response to a column written on the CNN website by a guy named Joe Peacock.

In Peacock’s post, he claims that there are women out there who are not “true geeks.” There are women out there who go from convention to convention and dress up in some form of geek-related outfit to garner attention for themselves. Scalzi disagrees. Perhaps a bit intensely, but rightly so.

I’m not going to say there aren’t attention-mongers in the nerd world. Nerds are people, too. There are geeks that will try to talk Klingon to you, or show off their mint condition original holographic Japanese Charizard. People sometimes like to show off. But to attempt to segregate the “true geeks” from the “false geeks” seems rather disingenuous to the entire culture.

Reading Scalzi’s article reminded me of a conversation I had recently with a few friends about the definitions of and differences between being a geek or a nerd. It was a very clear, logical, intelligent conversation that I’ve since forgotten most of. I will try to remember how it went as best as I can.

On the outer level of the entire culture, consisting of concentric circles, is “dork.” This one’s a bit hard to define and is not that much bigger than the next level, but it can really be defined in two ways. First, it can be defined in relation to people existing outside the circle. A dork, or someone being dorky, is someone who is slightly socially misfit. They do something a bit “out of place” from the social norm, typically in their action. The second way is defined by the people being dorky. In that sense, they do something somewhat out of place or silly… but they’re okay with it. It’s not a negative, and something that someone can be a bit proud of sometimes. Other times, it’s a moment of slight chagrin, but nothing massively crushing.

The second level, a slightly smaller circle inside of dorkiness, is nerdiness. In the level of nerd, there is a massive gamut of topics and possible inclusions. You can be a history nerd, a science nerd, a video game nerd, a theatre nerd, a movie nerd, et cetera, et cetera. For any category in which there is information to know, you can be a nerd. Nerds are people who proudly wield a library of knowledge on some subject or another. A history nerd, for example, would likely be able to tell you some interesting facts about the Normandy Invasion during World War II. How there were five beaches the Allied troops invaded, Gold, Sword, Juno, Utah and Omaha. How the majority of the German military heads felt the Allied forces would come across the shortest distance on a day of good weather, and only Erwin Rommel predicted they would take the longest path on a rain-soaked, crappy day. They could tell you which beaches were invaded by which country’s forces, which beaches held the biggest losses, et cetera, et cetera.

…I have a bit of history nerd in me for some things.

Still, the nerd has information that is not so unbelievably outside the subject’s knowledge. It’s understandable that they could have garnered this knowledge through some focused study. The more specific the subject, the more understandably specific the knowledge. The nerd will fall under the realm of dork at times when the nerd produces this information at the slightest provocation, but the nerd is most distinctive in being somewhat more academic than the next level.

That level is geek.

The geek is a smaller group, a subset of nerd. A geek takes some subject, some category, and becomes slightly obsessed with it. They will be able to tell you extremely specific information about certain subjects. These are the people that can tell you how much specific Pokemon weigh, or can rattle off exactly what feats are best for a summoning-focused cleric in a game of Dungeons and Dragons, 3.5 edition. These are the people that will spend hours on end looking at mods for “Baldur’s Gate,” or the people that will meticulously watch every single available episode of “Doctor Who,” then watch them with commentary, then watch them again. They will make timelines for the Zelda franchise and write fanfiction for “Chrono Trigger,” making a sequel better than that awful thing people pretended is a sequel, “Chrono Cross.” Geeks can be terribly opinionated and extremely defensive about the things in their fandoms. FFVII versus FFVIII. D&D 3.5e versus D&D 4e. Star Trek TNG versus Star Trek DS9. Batman versus Superman.

Yes, some of those specific examples are me or people I know.

Geeks can be just as varied and numerous in category as nerds. And they are extremely passionate. Nerds will get academic and factual. Geeks will get specific and excited and will tell you all about some random factoid they noticed.

For example, have you ever noticed how the Star Trek and Stargate franchises followed the same path? …I can geek out about that later, if someone asks. I’ve been writing for a while and don’t want to lose you all as I get to the crux of my point.

Geeks are an inclusive culture. They are a culture filled with people just as strange and varied and different as every other group of people. The great thing about geek culture, however, is that you can make it your own. You can be a geek about whatever you can be a geek about. Whatever you want to be a geek about. So, like Scalzi says in his article, people can geek about cosplay and costuming without necessarily having intimate knowledge of the character they’re dressing as. I have a friend I went to high school with that competed in costuming and now goes to conventions dressed in home-made, high-quality costumes. I don’t know how much she knows about Wonder Woman. I know her costumes are well made and something she should be proud of.

So, to agree with Scalzi, there is no litmus test for being a geek. There is no litmus test for being a nerd. There is no litmus test for being a dork. There is no one who can say what makes anyone a true geek, nerd or dork. There is only what a person is, likes, loves. Perhaps, instead of attempting to segregate a community that is all about being free with the things you love, we should try to get others to love them, too.

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8-Bit Pleasures – “Dragon Age: Origins”

…huh. When I check Wikipedia, this game isn’t nearly as old as I thought…

Okay, so, remember how I mentioned a few (two) days ago that games are the bane of writing? Well, that’s still true. Thanks to a combination of my playing video games and my having a big pile of deadlines at work, I’ve not found much time to read or keep up with the political world. What I have noticed in the political world, such as Mitt Romney getting booed at the NAACP speech he gave today, hasn’t really been terribly intriguing… and my mind has been too distracted to come up with my own poignant subjects and discussions… So, instead, I’m going to talk about the thing that’s been distracting me.

Not nearly old enough to be an 8-bit game, and not so old that I can say something like “I know this game has been out forever, leave me alone,” “Dragon Age: Origins” is a Western-style RPG that was created by BioWare in 2009. For those unaware of any difference, there are generally considered to be two styles of role playing game. First is the JRPG, the Japanese role playing game. They tend to be defined first off by being made in Japan, but characteristically by having a set plot and character set. Conversation options are not always as expansive and the main playable character is predefined in accordance with the plot. The Final Fantasy series is perhaps the most well-known set of JRPGs. Options are available, but customization like alternate outcomes are often considered to be second fiddle to the plot and gameplay.

Then there’s Western RPGs. Western RPGs are pretty much Gary Gygax in video game form. Usually finding themselves quite similar to Dungeons & Dragons (particularly in the case of the Neverwinter Nights series of games), Western RPGs tend to allow for more customization in games to be made. There is an overarching plot, to be sure, but exploration and personal decisions, particularly in conversation, are often far more expansive than in JRPGs. Further, the main character is usually built by the player of the game and through their decisions. Whereas Cloud in “Final Fantasy VII” will always be the same person in every playthrough of the game, no matter if he takes Aeris, Tifa, Yuffie or Barret on that date in the Golden Saucer, each playthrough in most Western RPGs can find themselves vastly different.

Which, for people like me that like exploring every possible option, means hours upon hours upon hours of playing the game and, inevitably, never actually finishing. Sorry, “Neverwinter Nights Platinum Edition.” And “Neverwinter Nights 2.” One day, when I’m old and in a really awesome nursing home somewhere, I’ll get around to finishing you guys.

Anyway, BioWare, the generally undisputed king of console Western RPGs, made the first game of the Dragon Age series back in 2009, like I said. As part of that customization stuff I mentioned, you get to play as a human, elf or dwarf, male or female, and rogue, warrior or mage. I, as my friends might be able to guess, picked a male elf mage to start off. 30+ hours of gameplay later, I’m still an elf mage. And not that far in the game.

The game is rather extensive. Throughout gameplay, you can gather up a small, personal army through various side quests, some easier and more brief than others. No matter what, you will have two people in your party after the major events of the first act are through: the mage Morrigan and the warrior Alistair. You three, and any other of the 7 (technically 8, my reading ahead has told me) potential party members are off to defeat the darkspawn and their hideous taint spreading across the land. Along the way, you can do side quests, earn money, earn loyalty from your crew, make with the sexy times with certain people in your crew… et cetera. The options are practically limitless, and with every action you take, there can be a consequence. Some more desired than others, for sure.

Now, I’m sure the warrior and rogue have their own options in battle, but every time I switch to another party member, those classes confuse me. Probably because they’re kind of simple: attack it with a pointy thing. I prefer having many several options: Should I burn it, freeze it, zap it or drain its life blood?

Probably my biggest problems with “Dragon Age: Origins” are the time and the leveling. You can often find yourself taking long periods of time simply trying to enter or leave a town. It would be great if the game had a quick exit option for the town. Especially in that stupid Redcliffe Village. I swear, it takes forever to climb that mountain. As for leveling up, personal leveling up isn’t so bad. My problem with a game so expansive and choice determined is the apparent lack of world leveling. Certain events are just at certain levels, it seems, and if you’re not high enough of a level to match that, then you’re in trouble. Which is unfortunate, because some things are triggered by things you can do at a relatively low level. For example, I kept ending up in a semi-random battle when on the map traveling from town to town, fighting a load of bad guys and assassins. This event was triggered by my asking my party member Leliana questions about her past, something you kinda have to do if you want her loyalty. And bedtime company. Anyway, my party kept getting all sorts of murdered all the time for a while. Could be that I’m not using the party tactics system very well at all, but other battles have told me that there are just certain levels you have to be to do certain things. I feel like, perhaps, it would have been better for the challenge rating of battles to be oriented to your group’s current level. Battles could still be quite challenging, but not so impossible so often.

Still, minor nitpicks aside, I’m enjoying the game. Even if I can’t seem to work out my love triangle between Leliana and Morrigan just yet. We’ll make it work, though, I’m sure. The fact that I’m still playing, however, should tell you that the plot is at least intriguing, the subplots (like the romance) can be easily invested in, and the exploration and possibilities are vast.

Oh, the other thing that annoys me… SAVE YOUR GAME A LOT. The game will keep telling you it’s saving content, but don’t ever believe it. It’s a dirty rotten liar. I had to go back and play a full hour or so of game over again because I didn’t save and thought the autosave would have caught a much later part. Talk about tedium. Oy vey.

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And Now, The Dungeon Master

So, okay. I’ve been spending the entire day trying to prepare stuff for a Pathfinder D&D game. I went and spent a potentially regrettable amount of money buying my first set of miniatures, a couple of white boards and some new dice just so I can be the Dungeon Master for this campaign. It’s a campaign I started to do back my sophomore year of college, but it fell apart when people got busy and/or left the school.

Based in Terry Brooks’ world of Shannara, I’ve beefed it up slightly, paying more homage to the Shannara world, by creating themes for each of the characters similar to people in the books.

It’s totally going to be awesome. The only problem? It takes a while. I have to actually start coming up with monsters and the like… but I don’t really know how to do that, because the party can go pretty much anywhere. I don’t want to railroad them in a specific direction. Maybe I should, but for now, I’m just going to have to write out the big baddies and come up with a ton of minion baddies.

…so much wooooork. So, for now, again, so sorry… Just trying to do work and have a little relaxing time. By giving myself so much to do.

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