Category Archives: Tabletop Games

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 – Munchkin

Yesterday (or, rather, the day this will claim this was posted) was a Thanksgiving dinner before Thanksgiving dinner for me. It’s actually the largest Thanksgiving dinner I’ve ever been to, with 28 people in attendance. Two turkeys and a metric crapton of sides, including eight cans of cranberry sauce that were not as voraciously devoured as I had originally expected considering my family’s cranberry sauce-eating habits. After the dinner, some of us stayed to play Cards Against Humanity. I didn’t get home until 2 a.m. So that explains that.

I’ve finally played a real game of Munchkin. In the $170-plus worth of board games I recently bought, four were purchased to double as Christmas gifts for my family, gifts which I believe I will be giving to them early so we have things to play over Thanksgiving this week. By the way, I won’t have internet when I visit my grandmother on Thursday, Friday and probably Saturday, so I’ll have to come up with at least two posts to auto-post ahead of time. It’ll be interesting to see what they say. (One will likely be random factoids about the original Thanksgiving. Sue me.)

Anyway, one of the games I bought in that big spending spree was Munchkin. That one I bought for my own pleasure, and so I could finally play the darn thing correctly. Before, I had played the Axe Cop expansion – and since the rules weren’t included and I was trying to remember the rules from my reading a different expansion pack/watching “Tabletop,” we played it very wrong – and the Cthulhu expansion, which had extra rules and stuff probably not intensely suitable for new people. Also, there were only three of us playing then. But, finally, a group of friends and I got together to play actual original Munchkin. It’s pretty fun (and completely impossible to be strategically good at in a way where you guarantee a strong showing every game).

Basically, Munchkin is a card game parody of Dungeons and Dragons, a game wherein cheating and screwing over the other players is actively encouraged. Everyone starts off as a Level 1 human with no class. The goal is to reach level 10, with the tenth level requiring you to kill a monster to reach that level. There are two piles of cards: The Door cards and the Treasure cards. Each player is dealt four of each pile of cards before the game starts. Possible cards to appear include equipment/item cards (which have gold values I’ll explain later), class cards, race cards, curse cards, monster cards and I’ll call them action cards for lack of a better term. A player, on their turn, can play whatever equipment, class and race cards they want. Unless they have the Super Munchkin, Half-Breed or Cheat cards, a player can only be one race and one class at a time. There are different benefits for each. A player can also, unless cards specify otherwise, only use two hands total for equipment, have one big item, and have one piece of headgear, one piece of armor and one piece of footgear. You can carry stuff you don’t want to use at the moment in your backpack by putting them on the table, but sideways to indicate non-use. That only works for item and equipment cards. Players can also play action cards (such as Level Up cards) whenever they want unless the cards specify otherwise. They can also trade cards with other players or sell items. If you sell 1000 gold-worth of items, you go up a level.

Then a player must Kick Down the Door. That’s when you flip a door card face-up for everyone to see. If it’s a monster, you try to fight it. If it’s a curse, you’re hit by it. If it’s some other card, it goes into your hand. If you don’t flip over a monster card, you can either Look for Trouble by playing a monster for you to fight from your hand or Loot the Room by taking the next Door card and putting it directly in your hand. If you fight a monster, the monster has a certain level at the top. Your fighting level, which is your actual level (1 at the beginning) and your equipment and item bonuses (they’ll say at the top), must be greater than the fighting level of the monster in order to win. If you win, you get the treasure the monster says you get from the treasure pile, as well as go up a level unless otherwise indicated by the monster (some are tough enough to give two levels).

And here’s where the backstabby stuff comes in. Other players can interfere in your fight by, say, making the monster a higher level or throwing in a wandering monster. You can also ask players to assist you in the fight. Usually, they’ll demand some of the treasure for assisting you. If they assist you, their levels are added to yours, and they can play helpful cards to make the battle easier. If you and anyone else assisting are unable to defeat the monster/monsters on the table, then you have to run away. You roll a d6 die and, unless there are other cards that indicate otherwise, try to roll a 5 or 6 to escape. If you don’t roll a 5 or 6, then whatever Bad Stuff is indicated on the monster card affects you, which can include death. Fun times.

At the end of your turn, if you have more than five cards in your hand, you’re supposed to donate them via charity to the player with the lowest level (or discard them if you’re the player with the lowest level).

Really, that’s about it. The game is pretty self explanatory, as instructions are laid out on the cards. There are a few things, like death, that you’ll want the instructions for. It can be frustrating and make you hate the people you’re playing with, but I think it’s just a fun game, backstabbing and screwing friends over or not. You can mix up any and all of the Munchkin expansion packs together to make the game different every time. Just give yourself about and hour to play the game with a few friends and have fun with it.

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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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Tabletopping It – Settlers Of Catan

Last night, it seems I missed my post due to too many game playings. I also missed the presidential debate. Whups. I’m going to backlog this and write my review on the debate later today.

Okay. So, instead of watching the first presidential debate (or presidential debate drinking game like my friends kept suggesting because apparently they hate me and want me to die of alcohol poisoning), I ended up going to ABXY’s Tabletop Night for the first time ever. I was, I admit, hoping to play Munchkin. We’ll see about doing that next week or something. Instead of Munchkin, I ended up playing a big (and screwed up, that is important) game of Settlers of Catan. And now, I’m here to tell you about it.

Settlers of Catan is, in summary, one of the most boring sounding games of all time. In actual playing, however, it’s super fun. It just doesn’t sound like it would be. Here’s the basics: You build settlements and cities across the board in strategic areas to obtain resources necessary to build roads, settlements and cities and get development cards. You can also trade those resources – wood, sheep, brick, ore and wheat – with other players on your turn. The goal is to eventually get 10 development points through the expansion of your civilization. First one to do that wins.

It’s kind of like Civilization: The Board Game, except you have no invading armies, no special projects or technologies, et cetera. Still, it’s a similar concept.

Now, there are other rules to the game. See, each hexagonal territory, which represents a resource, has a number placed on it at random (well, the territories are set up at random, the numbers are placed in a specific order, but the end result is a totally randomized board every time). There are two dice. On each player’s turn, they roll the dice. Whatever number comes up, any player with a settlement or city on the intersection (settlements are placed on the corners of three territories) of a territory with the number on the dice obtains the resource of that tile for that turn.

But there is another player, so to speak: The robber. If a seven is rolled, no one receives any resources. Instead, the player that rolled may move the robber to any tile. Wherever the robber is moved, that tile’s resources are blocked, and the player that moved him may steal a card from any player with a settlement adjacent to that tile.

Any player can crunch four of a resource to obtain one of a different resource, and there are ports along the shore where, if a settlement is placed there (meaning you only get two resources), the ratio of resource to crunch is lowered. There are 3:1 ports, which let you crunch any three resources for any other one, and 2:1 ports for specific resources, which let you crunch two of a particular resource into one of another.

…I feel like maybe I’m either making this sound complicated or boring or both. Not my intention. It’s really one of those games that you learn by playing a couple of rounds. It’s pretty easy to pick up and actually a load of fun.

Now, the reason I said it matters that we did it wrong is because, well, one, we did it wrong. We played with six people, which requires the expansion pack. The expansion pack adds tiles and expands the board. It also has its own set of numbers. Well, when unpacking, someone mixed the numbers from the original with the numbers from the expansion, which you’re not supposed to do. So, when we set up the game, our numbers distribution was off, and more people were getting resources on certain rolls than they were supposed to. I think there’s only supposed to be two of most of the numbers 2 through 12 (minus 7) on the board. Three of a few with the expansion, since that goes from A to Zc. And I only bring it up because I have never lost a game of Settlers (out of three I’ve played previously), except last night’s. And I refuse to count it. Because we did it wrong. So the streak continues!

But it was mostly for the fun learning experience, as we had several first time players. And Settlers really is a fun game, with several expansion packs and variations that certainly change the dynamics and strategy of the game. It’s definitely worth a play, perhaps even a purchase.

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Tabletopping It – Cards Against Humanity And Apples To Apples

I don’t know how popular Cards Against Humanity really is. I’ve heard of tons of people playing it, but I hang out with a rather nerdy crowd, so… I do know, however, that Apples to Apples is quite popular, so I’ll start with that.

Oh, this is a new thing where I’ll kind of review tabletop games, like board games, card games, role-playing games and so on. I’ve been spending a decent amount of time watching videos on the Felicia Day produced YouTube channel Geek and Sundry. It’s where the decently popular web-series “The Guild” is now hosted, as well as many other web-shows. Including one hosted by “Star Trek: The Next Generation” veteran actor and internet personality Wil Wheaton called “Tabletop.” In the show, Wheaton joins up with three friends, often celebrities, every other week to play a different tabletop game. And I really want to play a lot of the games he shows off. Like Munchkin, or Ticket to Ride. If only I could convince my friends to play these games with me. Sigh.

…Anyway, way off topic. This is inspired by “Tabletop.” I play a tabletop game, then I talk about it.

So, Apples to Apples. A lot of people have played this game. The way it works is you have a hand of seven, I believe, red cards that say various nouns. Things like The Simpsons, Japan, World War II, money, fame or whatever else. You go around the table and let people take turns as the judge. The judge, on their turn, draws a green adjective card, like beautiful, nerdy or awesome. Players then play a red card face-down they think the judge will pick. The judge may pick your card based on accuracy, hilarity, or some other factor. It’s all about each individual judge. Whichever red card the judge picks, the green card goes to whoever played that card. The goal is to get a certain number of green cards.

Apples to Apples tends to be pretty mild and family friendly, and can result in a lot of laughter. It can get weird, though. One time, I was the judge. The green card was tasty. My little sister played cocaine. Questions were asked.

Anyway, the reason I mention Apples to Apples is really to set up the discussion about Cards Against Humanity. Because, basically, they’re the same game. Except that Cards Against Humanity is very much NOT family friendly.

See, in Cards Against Humanity, the point is to earn the most black cards. You have five white cards in your hand that say various things… like milk man, the Ubermensch, Michele Obama’s arms… and more random and adult cards. Like, seriously, there’s some raunchy and crazy stuff. Testicular torsion won me a black card once.

There are, apparently, a few other rules in Cards Against Humanity. Such as being allowed to trade in a black card to replace your hand by any number of cards. Also, the black cards, instead of being adjectives, are usually sentences with blanks, or are questions people need to answer. Sometimes, there’s only one blank. Other times, you have to submit multiple cards. For example, one black card simply reads “[Blank]+[Blank]=[Blank].” In that situation, you’re supposed to draw two extra cards and then pick three.

This game can get pretty hilarious. And sometimes, you think you’ve picked a great winner, a truly awful and hilarious card, only to be one-upped by an even worse card. There’s pretty much always an even worse card. Other times, you might just toss in a trash card that you just want to get rid of and somehow win. It happens.

So, if you like Apples to Apples and want to play a more adult, raunchy (and often terrible) version, give Cards Against Humanity a go. That’s pretty much exactly how it works.

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