REVERB GAMERS 2012, #9: Have you ever played a character of the opposite sex. Why or why not? If yes, how did the other players react?
Yeah. Anyone who knows me knows that 90% of my characters are male. I have a two pronged answer to why this is.
By time I started gaming in earnest in college I was busy climbing to the crest of a grand and beautiful wave of open-throated misogyny. The sand kicking in the face started back in High School with small but poignant reminders of the Harsh Reality (“you cannot take the AP Computer class because there’s only one slot and, well, you’ll never do computers anyway…”). In college it began to reach that glorious crescendo of assholery. I’ve told these stories before so I shant rehash them again. Suffice they are legion and they are tiring and, back then, I made the mistake of living with it instead of doing what I do now, calling the bullshit to the carpet and not standing for any of it.
When it came to Fun Time Pretendy Games which were, above all, supposed to be fun, I had little interest in bringing all the baggage to the table. So I made male characters. In my world, men weren’t questioned why they wanted to be engineers or physicists or Starship Engineers in Starfleet or Jedis or Deckers. Men didn’t have to justify why they were picking up a sword and going off to adventure or throwing around fireballs. And to me, who had grown up on a steady diet of novels starring almost exclusively men in science fiction and horror, it was just easier. It was an escape from having to deal with the stupid all the time.
To all of their credit, my long suffering friends have put up with my quirk for many years.
I prefer female characters in precisely two settings: one-off con games and Cthulhu. At a con, I will not force random strangers to deal with my weird psychological hang-up from years of a faceful of crap.
Online is different. I will never play a female character in an online game unless it is in a private, closed chat room. I know the Internet. I know it is an open sewer. This is one of many common sense protection measures, like firewalls and anti-virus and using non-Windows machines. I’m on to it, I know its tricks, and I take proper procedures to protect myself and others from the jerks.
In 1992, I was exposed to the wonderful world of MUDding. Hey, I was on the University of Michigan Engineering UNIX boxes! They could talk all over the world! I just needed to type:
telnet blahblahdyblah.net 12345
Bingo! Midgaard! The game in question was a Diku. It was named Alpha. It was hosted in Finland. This was miraculous. I could go play a game in Finland. With crazy Finnish people.
I made a female character and it was ~ two days before the propositions began. And they were constant. I suppose at the time they assumed, and rightly, female characters were men looking for online hookups and TS. Why else would anyone make a female character? I logged out, logged back in, made the exact same character with a different gender and… presto!
I achieved Enlightenment.
I played Alpha for a little while but, like all Dikus, it got boring real quick, especially in the face of LPMuds. And MUSHing and MOOs. And chatroom-based games, my very favorite. We grow. We evolve. The Internet is what it is — the home for arguments and cats.
When people do meet me in person I guess it’s a bit of a jolt. But hey, it’s the fucking Internet. Here’s your beanie — it has a propeller! For all you know, I’m a well-designed bot who spews out random blog postings via scraping up bits of this and that from other blog postings and rearranging them in mildly readable ways.
Or, more likely, I’m a sentient can of Folger’s Crystals. How could you tell otherwise?
REVERB GAMERS 2012, #8: What’s the one gaming accessory (lucky dice, soundtrack, etc.) you just can’t do without? Why?
Two objects must come to the gaming table: the iPad and post-it notes.
Post-it notes come from Rob, from whom I’ve seen it in action. It’s a pretty simple system: during a session, when a player or the GM invokes a noun (person, place or thing), the noun goes on the post-it and the post-it sticks to the table. As the players reveal new information or arbitrary attach new information to the noun, the post-it note gets a note with the update — a new Aspect, a note about a relationship, dice, some fact, etc. Everyone sitting at the table can see what nouns are in play without having to remember them or make frantic notes. When players use up the noun or it becomes irrelevant, the GM pulls the post-it and throws it away, or hands it to a player. It’s a great system.
The iPad has on it:
– Goodreader for gaming book PDFs
– Note software like Penultimate or Note Taker HD
– Various dice rollers
– iKeepScore, a fantastic die rolling/game score keeping app
We use iKeepScore for a bunch of board and card games. It can sit in the center of the table and everyone can reach forward to update their scores as they take turns. It’s great.
There you go. Two items I could not live without: post-its and iPads. It’s gaming…. in the future.
REVERB GAMERS 2012, #6: Describe your all-time favorite character to play. What was it about him/her/it that you enjoyed so much?
I lean heavily toward nerdy dps characters — wizards, shamans, deckers, nerdly smart people who use their brains to do massive damage to the enemy through overly-complex plans. I also create artistic non-combat sort of characters: bards, artists, musicians and the like. I enjoy taking role-playing games and figuring out the singular most useless and/or goofy and/or idiosyncratic build imaginable and making that character because, why not? Anyone can win with a mini-maxed out tank (fighter, street samurai, your big one-on-one damage dealer) but it takes work to be effective with a D&D 3rd edition bard all the way up through 20th level — which, to be honest, I never did.
I was never completely satisfied on the answer of the perennial and fundamental question: Could a bard could use Summon Monster IV, summon a whale, and drop it on someone from 100′ up? Ever had a whale drop on your army? Because that would rule.
Favorite character of all time: Ezekiel Moonstartulip (it sounds better in Elvish), Ship’s Engineer and Navigator of the Royal Flush, Half-Elf, Mage, and AD&D 2nd Edition Spelljammer Character. Wearer of a Fabulous Coat, Snarker of Snarks. He was completely out of tune with nature. Zeke once watched FRITZHOLM HAMMERMILL eat 50 pancakes in one sitting!
Here’s an image of Zeke in attractive LEGO form navigating the Royal Flush through MAGIC. And a mighty battle on the deck with skeletons!
Second favorite character of all time (but only by a single amazing hair): Terry “Teraphim” Jackson, an NPC for my In Nomine game, the Balseraph of the Media, consumed completely by greed and burning need for good shoes, whom I did play a bit on a play-by-post board for a while. He was the demonic partner of my demonic PC Daimon Lightner, whom I played in Fiat Justitia, run long ago by the lovely Genevieve Cogman. (Daimon comes in at a cool #3, beaten out by Terry because that’s how one rolls when your best friend is a giant serpentine sunglasses-wearing demon.)
Sadly, it looks like the Fiat pages have been lost through time and the dissolution of io.com.
We have tried straight-up role-playing games. In our experience with multiple attempts, we learned the games designed “for kids” are too simplistic. The dull rules result in bored children after a while. After abandoning the for-kids games, we tried the D&D Red Box Starter Set. That turned out to be too complex even with the simplified ruleset. We have a copy of the beautifully crafted Mouse Guard Box Set — and it is gorgeous (a birthday gift from Rob) — we are itching to try. Reading through Burning Wheel, it holds promise.
We’ve learned a couple of important factoids while teaching Katie how to game:
o Board games and card games are a big win because they’re contained and social. Games need a good beginning, middle and clear ending to keep interest.
o She easily can play any game rated “Ages 8 and Up” and try any game “Ages 10 and Up.”
o Rule sets can be complex (see 7 Wonders) but she’ll keep up fine with adults if the rule sets are clear and concise with clearly stated objectives and winning conditions.
o She is a fiercely competitive card player who likes to shark opponents. (You have been warned!)
o Kids come up with crazy ways to win games you, an old and boring adult, never imagined.
o A typical RPG session of 3-4 hours is too long for a 6-7 year old. A good session is 1-1.5 hours. After that, she loses her attention span and gets fidgety. This is completely normal. It’s the same with board games: if Ravenloft is dragging on, she will leave the table at the one hour mark to go do something else.
o RPGs need streamlined and easy to understand rules with enough flexibility to be fun but simple enough to get playing immediately. A kid needs to understand how to roll the dice to kill d00ds in about five minutes. This is a hard balance to find.
o Stabbing orcs is lots of fun. Getting stabbed is not so fun. Power balance is less important with kids than you think. Also, trying to “role play out” scenes more complex than a dungeon crawl tend to be failures. Condensing games down to their essentials and planning for minimum time yields a maximum result.
o Dungeon crawls/missions/games with clear goals work much better than opened ended games. Kids need goals or boredom sets it quick.
o Kids make awesome playtesters for board and card games. If the kids find the rules boring, the game has structural issues. If the kids play through one game, it’s a pretty good game. If kids play two games, the game is a winner. If you’re making a card or board game, find a kid to beg, borrow or steal and make them play. What you learn about how the game is played and how well the rules work will surprise you.
No one has yet successfully produced a good kid’s RPG. The rules are either too simplistic or too complicated for kids, both which bore kids in the first few minutes. This opinion may change after we playtest through Mouse Guard but, so far, none we have tried have hit that 1st-3rd grader demographic well.
What shocks me is the lack of a kid’s supers game. No one loves supers the way kids love supers and they get supers. Kids toys, kids comics, kids video games, kids tv shows, kids movies — supers! The ruleset for most Supers games are too complex (even for me). The thought of playing Champions or GURPS Supers or Hero with a 7 year old gives me the Fear. Mutants and Masterminds isn’t too bad but it has that D&D 3rd Ed flavor. Silver Age Sentinels may be slimmed down to a core BESM set but the book, being out of print for ages, is now hard to find. The new Marvel RPG might come close with a simplified Cortex system but I don’t know. Can you make a character in under five minutes? Does it have a spot to draw the hero on the character sheet in crayon and marker? Does one have to know the universe?
A good kids easy-to-play goal-based supers game is the Holy Grail.
I’ll post a lengthy follow-up to this question when we finally play Mouse Guard.
REVERB GAMERS 2012, #4: Are you a “closet gamer?” Have you ever hidden the fact that you’re a gamer from your co-workers, friends, family, or significant other? Why or why not? How did they react if they found out?
I’m a serious geekgrrl nrrd. I’m a chick with multiple engineering degrees from a school that bills itself as “the public ivy league” who is a huge booster for girls to get their geek on. I am not a closet geek.
I’ve had some pretty weird and uncomfortable experiences with gaming and gender — are there any questions in this list on gaming and gender? I do have some horror stories coming up. But anyway. My parents knew I had a major video game and comics addiction. Later when the sourcebooks showed up it was “stuff I liked.” I met Eric through gaming. Most of my friends (although not all) game in some way — RPGs, board games, video games. Mostly video games. I work in a pretty deep geek industry so video gaming conversations are normal watercooler/hallway daily convos every day.
I’ve walked around with a big old “you weirdo” Mark of Cain on my forehead many times for many, many different reasons for most of my life, the least of which is: “You play D&D? NERD.” You like math? NERD. You like literature? NERD. You like computers? RICH NERD. Etc. etc. etc. We need to dig to discover I also enjoy rolling dice and by time we get there, we have so much ammo it’s small fry. We are who we are, man, and live it or lose it. Be a geek grrl and be proud or go home. No closet nonsense. No need to proselytize to other people. Just be who you are.
I don’t like this question much. I’ve rewritten this post three times and not come up with a satisfying answer. It’s annoying me because writing this post on the Internet in public where it shall be stored in the WayBack machine and in search engines evermore and can be trivially found with a google search sort of belays the answer. As it’s starting to work me into a “pro girls in science/engineering” froth which, to my mind, is a much tougher issue with larger social implications than “someone said something mean once about my game” I’m moving on to the next question.
REVERB GAMERS 2012, #3: What kind of gamer are you? Rules Lawyer, Munchkin/Power Gamer, Lurker, Storyteller/Method Actor, or something else? (Search “types of gamer” for more ideas!) How does this affect the kinds of games you play? For example, maybe you prefer crunchy rules-heavy systems to more theatrical rules-light ones.
A highly-placed well-informed anonymous source claims I play RPGs to win. This is most likely true, although I would classify it a bit more diplomatically as a “Narrative-based Goal-Oriented Explorer/Achiever.” Who likes to win.
I’m not a PvP gamer. I do not like to pw0n n00bs. Halo holds no interest for me. I’m an obsessive Civilization player who carefully opens the entire map with packs of scouts, takes all the goodies, and then aggressively expands until reaching a turtled civilization I can only cap with a stomp stack. I’m that guy who looks at big lists of achievements in Steam games and has to open them all no matter how stupid because they are there to be opened. I like to have little DINGs on computers when I reach some sort of new apex of awesome.
I enjoy leveling up.
In traditional RPGs, I like to consume all information possible (strange tomes, source material, in-game references, bits of hallucination pulled from my feeble mind) and, once I have exhausted all resources and attained a bit of mastery, find a way to achieve, achieve, achieve. If my character has no mountain to climb, no challenge to overcome, no power-up to get and no foozle to defeat, I’m done and wandered off.
I am, what you might call, a Call of Cthulhu player.
Nothing gets the molars a-grindin’ faster than being cheerfully told “the role playing is the reward!” I will run in tiny circles of madness being told there’s ultimately no goal and I should enjoy the character interactions. I am not a killer — again, I don’t want to simply roll dice and cap orcs — but to me, stories have dramatic structure, they have a climax, and cultists should maim someone in the end. We win, we all get advancement and we’re set up for a sequel.
To get a better feel for me as a gamer, here are Games I Feel are AWESOME (for me):
o Leverage RPG
o Trail of Cthulhu/Esoterrists/GUMSHOE-based games
o D&D 3rd Edition
And equally, Games I Feel are NOT SO AWESOME (for me):
o World of Darkness*
I am currently reading nWoD and this opinion may change. I have discovered a bizarre fondness for Vampire: the Requiem I lacked in all earlier versions of Vampire. Introspective moping did nothing for me.
o Smallville RPG**
Great game, great relationship mechanics. I need to be able to shoot Lex Luthor, not hug him.
o D&D 4th Edition
I am flat-out not 4th ed’s audience. It’s the other direction — too much munch, not enough narrative. Crazy! I like 4th ed more when I stop thinking of it as an RPG and as a tactical board game with no hope of story.
The best games for me are those that can be run episodically. Tiny highs and lows with a season finale. Encapsulated stories, a super cool setting with lots of information to explore, and seriously hated bad guys who get away. Trail of Cthulhu-like games with research, mystery, exploration and sudden action are my apex, my all, my perfect game.
REVERB GAMERS 2012, #2: What is it about gaming that you enjoy the most? Why do you game? Is it the adrenaline rush, the social aspect, or something else?
What I enjoy most about gaming:
My house is full of the damn things. They’re packed in boxes in the basement. I just carved out a new niche in a bookshelf for brand- brand- brand-new hardcovers. I own a fair number in PDF on my iPad.
Most of them are awfully written but I’ve wised up over the years and now I check the credits page for QUALITY. I know who writes these things. I have my list. I know who you are.*
I have read an order of magnitude more games than I will ever play.
Second to reading the sourcebooks is going on to the Internet and arguing about said sourcebooks. I’m unclear what else the Internet is for other than funny pictures of cats and inane arguments about meaningless topics. I keep hearing things about expansion of consciousness and great collections of knowledge and freeing oppressed societies but as far as I can tell? Gamer arguments and cats.
Why do I game?
It’s my blog so I’ll cough up an honest answer to this one — because my friends game. If my friends didn’t game, I wouldn’t game. I’d play video games or write my Magnum Opus or write music or do something that contributes to society. It’s that simple. When my friends aren’t gaming, I’m not playing either.
Not everything falls under this aegis. I don’t do everything because my friends are up to no good. I can get up to no good on my own — as has been suitably proven. Yet, gaming needs people participation and if my friends are doing it, I want to do it, too.
This is how I get hooked on MUSHes and other online outlets. My friends are online playing, so I am online playing. My friends are scening, so I am scening because that’s what my friends are doing. When my friends take off, as they inevitably do, I’ll linger around to make sure they’re good and gone and then wander off myself.
Gaming isn’t some great paean to some higher existence or greater consciousness or a way to get in touch with my inner self. I’m not in search of some greater literary drama enacted through playing, say, Vampire. Honestly, guys, I’ve read James Joyce. I’ve read the collective works of Tom Wolfe. I’m good with the highest in English Language Drama. I want out of gaming to hang with friends, eat some doritoes, and roll a bunch of dice to do crazy things and maybe shoot something Cthulhuoid in the face.
Looks like my answer is: “I game because I enjoy the social interaction with my geeky peers.”
REVERB GAMERS 2012, #1: What was your first roleplaying experience? Who introduced you to it? How did that introduction shape the gamer you’ve become?
When I was twelve, three friends (all girls) and I played the original Red Box D&D game at a sleepover when we were supposed to be painting our nails and giggling. To set the stage: This was a long time ago (mid-80s) in a land far far away (Brighton, Michigan), almost as distant as a Super Star Destroyer but twice as cold and less of a trap. It wasn’t my box set.* I know whose it was but I will not names to protect the nominally innocent.
No one had told us gaming was for boys and it looked like the sort of game one plays at a sleepover. It had books and manuals and dice and pieces of paper and half intelligible instructions. I dimly remember rolling up a thief. No one knew how to play. The walkthrough manual was worthless. We fought — something! Someone scored hits! Dice was rolled! Treasures were found! We played until nearly four in the morning.
And then, oddly, we never played it again. We just… never did.
I gamed a bit with a High School gaming group (all boys). D&D and a little Battletech. I dimly remember rolling a moose pilot for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game that was never played. I owned a very small number of well-thumbed D&D 2nd Edition splats by time I graduated bought from God knows where. That’s literal. I honestly do not know: God knows where those books came from.
I did not seriously get into gaming until I stepped into that open slobbering gaming maw, a college dormitory next to an engineering school. And then… and then… and then I had access to not only gamers, great insane piles and gouts of gamers, but a hobby store. Rider’s Hobby.** And you know what Rider’s Hobby stocked?
Honestly, I only ever bought a small handful of Shadowrun 2nd edition books — core book, the Decker book, another one I cannot recall as my Shadowrun splatbooks are packed away in boxes and eaten by weevils for years. How I got away with this small set of purchases over a four-year span I can chalk up to my core college addiction: music CDs. One only had so much money for Shadowrun sourcebooks when one needed Nine Inch Nails that much more. And once I laid my hands on money enough to blow on Shadowrun, I had been overtaken by Call of Cthulhu (5th edition, always 5th edition) and that demonic pox on all of humanity, Amber Diceless Roleplaying.
College was D&D 2nd edition until Shadowrun and then Shadowrun Shadowrun Shadowrun until it was overtaken by Star Trek (WEG) and CoC and ADRPG and a little Vampire and that awesome Star Trek game we played with the Shadowrun rules.
I’m left with a warm fondness for huge handfuls of dice, a vague notion in more than four stats, and a belief in a convergence between the Amber’s insane diceless dramafests and the need to quantify and roll dice to adjudicate results on a test of skill or combat. After suffering through AD&D 2nd Ed’s rules, the Shadowrun “roll a crapload of dice and use rule of sixes” was such a breath of fresh air it took over everything like a creeping cthuloid mass. Somewhere there’s an exciting table showing my gaming sweet spot: enough dramafest to keep coming back to the table, enough dice to make it feel like a game, and smooth enough rules I don’t need to read the rulebook. I tend to read RPGs through this lens and judge them all against the simplicity of “you have a 16 roll 16 dice use rule of 6s hit a target number of 30 to succeed.”
I think we’re getting there. I love FATE but it’s a little too complex. I dig Cortex but sometimes I want to roll more than 2 dice. I love GUMSHOE for the problems it solves. But what I want, at the end of the day, is to mash old Shadowrun rules up with ADRPG and have Brand hose down Caine in the Amber Tech ™ Arcology Throne Room with his two Ingram Smart Guns, enormous dice pool born of wired reflexes and an insane stim addiction and then stand there giggling and chanting “I’ve got all the BULLETS, SUCKER.”
* Until recently, I never owned a copy of the Red Box D&D set.
** Rider’s Hobby was by no means a great hobby store but it was a hobby store which was a great deal better than no hobby store whatsoever, my earlier condition.***
*** To get to Rider’s Hobby: “Walk down East Liberty until it hurts and look left. When your feet hurt, it will be before the costume store.” These instructions never failed me. What failed me was this route took me past Borders #1, then the 2nd greatest bookstore on Earth.****