Archive for the Tabletop Thursday Category

Tabletop Thursday – The Pick-up Group, Part 2

Posted in Tabletop Thursday with tags , , , on May 21, 2009 by hergeek

For those of you joining us late, part one of this epic adventure can be found here.)

The GM laid out the map, and handed us our miniatures to use for the game, and gave us the scenario briefing…weary adventurers, walking to the nearest town, rain pouring down, dark, yadda yadda yadda.  We find the town deserted, walk to the center of town, and find two giant mutant bears ridden by little demon things.  Weird, but I’ve seen worse.

Initiative is rolled, and we engage the enemy.  I got the highest initiative, and I do the brave, bold and stupid paladin thing and charge the first bear I can get to.  It’s my job.  Other characters act, and then it comes time for the 13 year old kid.  The DM announces it  is his action.  And the kid sits there, staring at his sheet.

And sits there.  And sits there.  I glance at the DM.  He glances at me and shrugs.  He makes a couple of possible suggestions about what to do.  He still sits there.  His dad is busy complaining about how he doesn’t like his spells, and doesn’t step in.  So finally I walk around the table (we still don’t have a regular table to sit at, we are all still standing around a wargaming table) and show him what he could do.  He still sits there.  So finally I just tell him what to do, I move his miniature for him, and hand him the D20 to roll.  At least he did do that, and roll his damage.

Dad’s turn, he bitches some more about his spells, but at least he moved.  It was kind of a stupid move, but he moved.    Uncle’s turn, he actually is paying attention and gets through his turn with a good move, helps me out a bunch by taking on the second mutant bear with his warden.  Then the little girl goes, and she doesn’t do what I would do, but she delights in rolling the dice.  Then the new guy, who knows absolutely nothing about the game, so the DM pretty much helps him out with his actions, but the whole time is talking about 1st Edition D&D and how this is nothing like that.

Second round?  EXACT same things.  Emo kid does nothing.  Dad bitches.  Uncle does good.  Little girl rolls dice with enthusiasm.  New guy talks about 1st edition.  We work through this encounter, and it takes us FOREVER to even get the first giant mutant bear taken down.  And the players are using their daily abilities up right and left!  On the first encounter of the night!  I exchange many sympathetic glances with the harried DM who is trying to hurry us along.  Eventually he ends the encounter, cause we are getting our butts handed to us and if he didn’t stop it would be a total party wipe.

And the evening progressed pretty much exactly this same way.  Emo kid got sulkier.  Dad complained more when he couldn’t be effective.  1st edition guy talked about 1st edition.  A lot.  And the little girl?  She about halfway through decided that her enjoyment for the evening was to roll her dice as far and as hard as she could, most of them bouncing off the table.  And then she decided she wanted to try and knock over the minis with them, bowling as it were.  Dad and Uncle did nothing to curtail this behavior.  We had to end each encounter early, before we all got our asses handed to us.  I was counting the minutes, waiting for time to run out…

So, I really didn’t have any fun.  I did get a nice Dragonborn Paladin mini out of the deal, so that was sweet.  But it re-affirmed my belief that in most cases, pick up groups suck.  I swore never to do it again.

But now, this Saturday, Worldwide D&D Game Day once again rears its ugly head.  And I find myself preparing to go to not one, but TWO different stores to play.  The first store is going to just run the 1st level Dungeon Delve…you have 45 minutes to go as far as you can.  Kind of an iron man survival thing.  The second store is going to be running the standard adventure for the day, so I’m going to try and do both of them.

Why?  Why in the world would I expose myself to the chance of not one but two really bad sessions?  Cause I love this game.  I just can’t get enough of it.  And I want to play, not just DM.

I think I need an intervention…

Tabletop Thursday – The Pick-up Group

Posted in Tabletop Thursday with tags , , , on May 14, 2009 by hergeek

I’ll be the first to admit, I am somewhat xenophobic when it comes to new gamers.  I think it all stems from having a bad experience with a group in college once.  In general, when I go to cons, I never play in games, only shop, because I just don’t enjoy playing with strangers.

Back in March, I decided to break this long standing rule for myself, and go and particpate in the Worldwide D&D Game Day.  As I had been bitching about back in this post, I’m always the GM, and never a player, and I wanted to try my hand at playing.  So I called up my FLGS and checked to see if they had any openings for any of the sessions.  As luck would have it, they had slots open in the last session of the evening.

So I arrive at the apponted day and time, and check in.  The store owner said to just relax and do some shopping, the rest of the group hadn’t arrived yet and they didn’t have a table open.  I asked if we had a full group, and he said yes, the rest of the party was filled out by a family.

[Cue Trumpets of Doom]

So the family arrives.  A dad, his brother, their @14 year old sulky emo teenage son that didn’t want to be there, and their perky @10 year old daughter.  And then they added another player, that was apparently David Cross.  (OK, not really, but it could have been his twin.)  A table still wasn’t available, but the store owner got us over around a taller wargaming table and we discussed which characters we wanted to run.  I almost got into a tussle about running the Dragonborn Paladin with the 10 year old girl.  Despite the fact that I got there first, and as such had first choice of characters, SHE wanted the dragonborn pally.  Rather than cause a scene, I graciously offered to let her play the Pally, and she was very excited, but then, like all 10 year old girls are, she got distracted by the shininess of running a new type of character and gave the Paladin back to me.  Yay me! 

Soon after that, the DM showed up, and then the game got underway.  And the game exemplified everything about WHY I dislike pickup games. 

(continued next week…)

Tabletop Thursday – The City of Death

Posted in Tabletop Thursday with tags , , , , on May 7, 2009 by hergeek

Since we’ve been deeply entrenched in our D&D game, our tabletop minis games have been neglected even more than ever.  And quite frankly, we miss setting up cool looking terrain and pushing figures around the tabletop.  So after some deep discussions with my fellow grognards over snifters of Pepsi and bowls of Doritos, we decided to make the first Monday of every month “Minis Monday.”  

Next was picking out a game.  We love the idea of connected games, making a campaign of some sort, but to be successful with those, almost as much work needs to go into them as with creating and running an RPG.  So after a lot of discussion, we settled on breaking out our Mordheimwarbands, and trying out an extended Mordheim campaign.  This had a lot of things going for it. 

  • We had the minis already painted up
  • We had lots of terrain for it
  • Games were short, usually no more than 1.5 hours, so with some good time management we could get in a couple of games a night
  • It had a built in simple campaign system that needed no prep time or refereeing


Sides were decided, with me taking the Sisters of Sigmar (warrior priestesses with big ass hammers!), another player taking Witch Hunters (puritanical heretic burning fanatics), a third taking Skaven (giant bi-pedal mutated rats), and a fourth taking Reiklanders (Germanic warriors with big swords).

Our first game was run Monday night.  Through the luck of the draw, we had Witch Hunters vs. Skaven for the first game, and the scenario they rolled up was  “Breakthrough”, or as I now like to call it, “The Skaven Player Did Not Read the Scenario Rules.” The Skaven player, as the defender,  was supposed to keep the Witch Hunter player from getting 2 of his figures to within 2 inches of the Skaven’s end of the board.  Simple enough, let the carnage begin!

The ruined buildings were all set up, and then the Witch Hunter spread his wardband out across the board. The Skaven player bunched his warband up on the right side. I looked at the Witch Hunter player, shrugged, and said OK.   The game started, and the Witch Hunter player sprinted five of his figures down the left side of the board, while the entire Skaven warband went after a small detachment of hunters.  The Skaven player watched, confused, as fully half of the witch hunter force was ignoring him.  As the Witch hunters came within about a foot of his end of the board he asked, “Am I missing something?”  The Witch Hunter player and I just laughed and flipped open the scenario for him to read again.  Next turn, the Witch Hunter hounds loped to an easy victory, with only 1 casualty taken from both sides.

So, it wasn’t exactly an auspicious start to our campaign, but it was a funny one!  I’m going to try and take pictures of future games to post up here as I look for something to write about document the campaign.

Tabletop Tuesday – Gaming Soundtracks

Posted in Tabletop Thursday with tags , , , , on April 30, 2009 by hergeek

This past Monday I used music to enhance my D&D game.  I loaded up my Zune with a few appropriate soundtrack albums and plugged it into my stereo and had it playing softly in the background.  Having a few new gamers playing this campaign, it was a new experience for many of them, and they really seemed to enjoy it.  And that made me think back to how I’ve used music for games in the past.


The first time I can recall using music in a game was when we were playing Iron Crown Enterprise’s Space Master.  My ship’s crew were on a planet, attempting to get back to their ship and escape, when a House Devon battlecruiser came dropping out of orbit towards them.  Right at the moment that I described this, I reached behind me and hit play on my CD player, and started up Gustav Holst’s Mars, Bringer of War.  It was perfect, the looks on their faces as I am describing this huge dropship coming out of the clouds, with the brass swelling behind me.  It led to a very memorable gaming session.


After that, I started up a series of FASA’s Star Trek RPG sessions at a local con.  We would run one game a year, and I had the same players come back every year for the next episode (one even flying in from Denver every year!)  At the time, I had a couple of the Star Trek soundtrack albums that I recorded (almost said ripped there…heh) onto cassette tapes and some small portable speakers for a Walkman.  I also used music for a small-scale “Battle of Hoth” minis game that I ran at a couple of conventions, using the soundtrack from The Empire Strikes Back.


As we move to more minis gaming, I would try and match the music with the game we were playing.  When we were doing The Great Rail Wars, I used Copland and Leone to set the mood.  When we were doing Space:1889 minis, Gunga Din was always on tap.  The Sea Hawk was used when we were playing Man O’ War for a short period of time.  And Warhammer was whatever fantasy soundtrack album I could lay my hands on.

Now, using technology that is available to us, it is even easier to have a varied soundtrack, thanks to playlists and shuffle on MP3 players.  My current soundtrack for my D&D session consists of:

  • Excalibur
  • Conan The Barbarian
  • Prince Valiant
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
  • Lord of the Rings:  Fellowship of the Rings
  • Henry V
  • The Sea Hawk

I’m not overly happy with the inclusion of The Sea Hawk and Pirates of the Caribbean in this list, because the sudden switch to a snappy nautical theme was kind of jarring, so I think those are going to be yanked from my D&D playlist.  But I’m on the lookout for more suggestions for good music.  Also, once I have my Xbox 360 network connected, I’m hoping to use Windows Media Sharing from my laptop to let me actually key specific tracks at specific moments through the course of the adventure.


So…any good gaming music suggestions?

We-View Wednesday and Tabletop Thursday – Faery’s Tale

Posted in Tabletop Thursday, We-view Wednesday with tags , , , , on April 23, 2009 by hergeek

Captain of our fairy band,
Helena is here at hand,
And the youth, mistook by me,
Pleading for a lover’s fee.
Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be
! – A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare

(Kind of appropriate to be writing about faeries on The Bard’s birthday, no?)


This past Saturday night I dusted off my copy of the Faery’s Tale Deluxe Role Playing Game from Firefly Games, with the intention of playing it mostly with my younger daughter.  Truth be told, she had been pestering me to play it ever since I picked it up several months back.  I had explained the game to her, and we had made characters, but we never actually got around to playing it.  So on Saturday, I told her that if she did all of her chores for the day, we would play that night.

I asked my barely teen-aged daughter if she would like to play, and she cocked an eyebrow at me (she has very talented eyebrows) and said “Isn’t that a little kids game?  I think I would be bored after playing D&D.”  I convinced her that it could be quite fun (and followed it up with a bribe that if she didn’t like it, I would empty the dishwasher for her the next day.)  She reluctantly agreed.

Since this was our first time playing and i hadn’t prepped much, I decided to use the free adventure that Firefly games had on their site, “The Tournament of the Fey”, since that had a nice progression to teach how the game is played, as well as pre-created characters.

So we sat down and started discussing which characters they wanted to play.  They both immediately dismissed the brownie (housework?  EWWWW!) and the pouka (because the picture of the pouka was a boy and ugly.  Soon the eldest, P,  went with the sprite warrior, but made him female and named him, um, I mean her Oggie.  My younger daughter, E, went with the pixie.

Now my son, O, wanted nothing to do with the game.  After all, it was about faeries.  Ew.  (My kids say “ew” a lot.)  But then I showed him the sheet for the pouka, Gimlock.  I pointed out that it was an ugly boy fairy, and that they played a lot of tricks on people, and most importantly, they can change into animals!  Well, that sold it!

We settle in to play, and I must say, we all had a great time.  I had to help my son out a bit, coaching him a bit with some things.  My younger daughter fell right into it, roleplaying with all her heart and imagination, adding tons of details and story background to her character, and carrying on all of her conversations in character.  The tournament scenario worked out well, giving each player a chance to let their character shine by using their abilities in various contests…O changing into a frog and winning the frog hopping contest, E winning a singing contest (and she actually sang an impromptu song about butterflies on the spot), and P winning a jousting contest (riding on the back of O’s pouka, changed into a dragonfly).

The climax of the adventure was quite thrilling, with a evil dark fairy, the Redcap Sir Grim, arriving at the tournament and claiming the hand of Princess Joy in marriage.  Of course, challenges were issued, and the sprite engaged the redcap in single combat, while the pouka and pixie used their skills and abilities to keep the goblins that Sir Grim brought with him from cheating.

Needless to say, our heroes won the day, and saved Princess Joy from having to marry the evil Redcap.  The kids had a ball, and are asking when we can play again…which in my book is the best sign that they had a good time.  As far as the game itself, it is a wonderful gateway game into structured role playing for kids.  An extremely simple flexible system using six sided dice and only a few stats to keep track of. 

If you are interested in trying out Faery’s Tale, download the introductory pack that has characters, an adventure, and basic rules for the game.  Grab your young ones (or some young at heart ones) and give it a try.  I give Faery’s Tale Deluxe 4 crits.


Tabletop Thursday – The Quest for the Gelatinous Cube!

Posted in Tabletop Thursday with tags , , , , , on April 16, 2009 by hergeek
In my next D&D session, my players are about to enter a series of warrens that have a gelatinous cube wandering around the hallways. Not having a mini for it, I was just going to take a dice cube and put that on the map and be done with it. I’ve done lots of substitution before, goblins for kobolds, orcs for hobgoblins and the like.

But I’m not really happy with this plan. I wanted something that looked a little cooler, something to surprise them when I plopped it down on the table. So I went searching to see if there was a mini from the D&D minis game. Sure was.


Next step, hit Ebay and see how much they are going for. Hmm. With shipping, they are running around $30. No thank you!

Well…what about a Lucite cube of some sort? Fake ice cubes? No, they were too small, and didn’t really look the way that I wanted. Hmm. Found a 2″ cube golf ball display at the Container Store for $2. That should be OK. Oh! And I could stick like some skeleton bits and swords and shields and junk inside of it, like the cube actually consumed it! That would be neat!

Then I started thinking…I should go ahead and cast my own using clear resin! That would be really cool! And I could have the skeleton bits suspended inside of the cube! Someone has to have done this! So I did a google search or two, and found a few ideas from people that had created these. Looks pretty straightforward, but I had never worked with clear resin or with mold making compound before.

Yesterday, a quick trip to Michaels to price out the components to pull this off. I had my list…Sculpey to make the cube model. Mold making silicone. 2 part clear resin. Mold release. Browse through the aisles, find the stuff. Ye gods and little fishes! This stuff is expensive!

First off, the mold making compound was going to run me about $20. The casting resin was about $15, oh, and you need to buy the catalyst that hardens it separately…that was $8. Mold release was another $5. Sculpey was the cheapeast part, I would need about $4 worth of that to make my mold. I was looking at $50 to get started! I left the store, dejected. It was such a cool idea. But I wasn’t going to spend that much money on a single use project.

I went to the Container Store and got my golf ball holder for $2. And am unsatisfied…

I haven’t given up the idea, but I am running out of time.  I need to have this table ready by Monday night, so that gives me a few days to do it.  One page I saw they used aluminum foil to make the mold for the model, and that I have in abundance.  Another idea suggested to me was to use clear silicone caulk and let that dry out.  That would certainly be cheaper than the resin, but I don’t know how hard it would actually set.  But the I could make the mold out of Legos lined with Sculpy, and squeeze the caulk directly in, and not worry about a mold release.
I’ll let everyone know next week what I settled on.  I’m going to be dropping by Michaels again, as well as Home Depot, and see what I can see.
But more likely than not, my intrepid adventurers will be fighting a golf ball display cube on Monday.

Tabletop Thursday – D&D Reunion

Posted in Tabletop Thursday with tags , , , on April 9, 2009 by hergeek

“The corridor is 10′ wide, stretching ahead of you into a lighted room.  You hear the sounds of high-pitched voices chattering with excitement, and an occasional loud crack, sounding like stone striking stone.  Brandis, you cautiously creep ahead and peer into the room.  You see three small draconic-looking humanoids, up on a 10′ tall ledge, whirling slings over their heads, firing stones down at a bloodied armored orc cowering behind a pillar.”  [Dice are rolled] Brandis, one of the kobolds has noticed you, and is pointing and chittering excitedly in your direction.  Everyone roll for initiative.”

At this point I looked up from behind the DM’s screen as the dice clattered across the table.  My best buddy, Joe, is sitting on my right hand side, where he always sits, mapping, as he always does.  Next to him is John, making a funny remark about his die roll, as usual.  And then the surreal hit me.

Because sitting at the head of the table, opposite me, was Joe’s 18 year old son.  Across from John was my daughter, and next to her was my brother’s daughter.  It was a reunion game, getting my D&D buddies growing up together to play again, some 30 years after we got started, and this time with our kids.

And it was funny how quickly we fell back into our roles.  Me as DM.  Joe playing a rogue, as always, and handling the mapping and note taking.  John as the fighter, and the comic relief.  It was amazing how comfortable it was.  The only thing missing was my brother, who couldn’t play because of chronic back problems.  But his teenage daughter was there, and she sat in for him.

I had been talking up D&D 4E to Joe for a while now, and on a whim I sent out an e-mail to all parties before leaving to visit, and the idea was enthusiastically embraced.  We convened at my parents, as always, but the difference was that instead of being banished to the basement as usual, we got to play in the dining room.    I took about 15 minutes to explain the new rules, and then we just embarked, with me and my daughter (so proud of her!) helping them through the various combat situations until about the 3rd encounter, when they finally had a good handle on how to play their characters.

Of course, some things were different.  There were plenty of snacks, but they were a bit better than our usual Doritos, Mountain Dew and French Onion dip (although we had those too.)  We were watching our language a bit more than we did in the past, since we had younger kids around.  My mom was amused to no end, watching us play.  At one point, she walked through and said “Well, at least I know where you all are, instead of running around getting into trouble.”  We got a big chuckle out of that one.  She also said “I can remember when I was nervous you were all going to go to hell for playing D&D.”  John, a 23 year veteran of the army, who served 4 tours of duty in Iraq, wryly spoke up and said “Some of us DID go to hell for a while.  But I got better.”

We played from 4 in the afternoon until midnight, when we had to stop because the grown ups had to get up early for work the next morning.  It was the longest marathon gaming session I have played in years.  All parties had a great time, and they all insisted that the next time I come down to visit my parents, that we continue the game.  My niece, who had never played before, fell in love with the game, at different times would exclaim “This is so intense!” 

The next day, she was talking to me and my daughter about the game, and she said “Is there any danger to becoming addicted to the game?  All I can do is think about playing now!”  I looked at her, smiled and said, “It’s 30 years since I first played, and I’m still playing.  Nah, I don’t see a problem with it being addictive.”

(This post is dedicated to Dave Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, who passed away yesterday.  Thanks, Dave, for contributing to all of the hours/days/weeks/months of fun I had, and am having.  RIP.)