Review of Gamma World Box Set: Playing with Kids

Scene Opens

A young woman is sitting at her computer, browsing the internet with glazed eyes. Around the room, there are scattered heaps of half-knitted sweaters and stacks of gaming books. A tall young man approaches:

Young Man: “Whaddya want for your birthday?”

Young Women: (opens amazon wishlist and points to Gamma World boxset) “IwannaitIwannaitIwannait!!

Young Man: “OK.”

 I am the lucky young woman and my older brother obligingly purchased the newly released Gamma World box set for my birthday. I just received it yesterday and ran my first game that evening. OK, so maybe it was because I roped three of my younger siblings into playing, but hey, a game is a game. The player gen was…let’s just say that when I wasn’t quite sure of the numbers, I either erred towards the higher numbers or ignored them. Turns out you can fudge like crazy if none of your players have ever played before. I can work on this.

 Our line-up of freaky mutants included

  • Grumble: the stone yeti with the strength of 20, played by our family artist
  • Zuko: The doppelganger hawkoid, played by our gentle and very undeceptive D
  • Azula: The gravity-bending giant, played by the youngest girl who I suspect really wanted to be some kind of catwoman.

Yes, we’ve been watching marathons of Avatar at our house. Don’t judge ’em; they’re kids.

I ran the opening scenario out of the handbook and it went mostly smoothly. I really had to push them to use any of their cards or powers. They usually just wanted to hit the porkers or badders with their hammer, rock, bazooka, etc. My only complaint, which could be my fault, is that the fight took too long. I probably should have removed one of the badgers but instead, let them die before their time (ie: before their HP actually ran out).

 Oh, and everyone ended up with canoes. Seriously. We incorporated the 1D4+1 roll on the table of random gear and everyone seemed to end up getting a canoe or keelboat or something boaty. That was a bit weird.

 What was most interesting was dealing with the fact that this was the first time any of them ever played an RPG. It was funny to simultaneously tell them that they couldn’t say “I run up and kill him!” (my sister) and watch them incorporate video game ideas into it. They instinctively wanted to ‘save up’ their cards, I guess for the future, just like you stockpile that big weapon/power for the boss in a game. Grumble the yeti even noticed the space for utility powers on his sheets and immediately wanted to know what that meant. I told him that he got one of those when he leveled up, by killing stuff.

Grumble: “How many guys do I have to kill???”

Heh. I guess we’ll see.

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October 20, 2010. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Playing D&D Essentials: Exploring the Red Box

I was very excited to finally be able to get my hands on the 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons Essentials in the retro red box edition. While I own the core set and some other books, it’s hard to haul out a stack of thick, intricate rulebooks and tell a newbie “Hey, this is easy!” It looks scary. So this Monday, I picked up the red box at Borders for about 14 bucks with a coupon.

I’ll admit, I was a little surprised at how empty the box seemed after I opened it. I’m sure pretty much every major DnD blog has already cataloged the complete contents of this game to the most minute detail but I’ll give a brief rundown of what’s included before I launch into telling you what my experience was.

  • Player’s Guide: Basically a massive tutorial that allows you to play a solo adventure while simultaneously creating your character. This played out in some good ways and some weird ones
  • Dungeon Master’s Guide: Haven’t explored this as much but it has the continuation of the solo adventure when you presumably form a party with more than one player
  • Power Cards: Very basic, paper cards with the powers listed. I’m thinking of laminating these because one soda spill and they would be toast
  • Tokens: There are Hero Tokens and Bad Guy tokens. These were surprisingly useful once gameplay started but confusing at first. Each side has a different baddie, which basically doubles their usefulness. Win.
  • Map: There’s a map for your adventures included in the box. Glossy, pretty, nothing new.

Now that I had an easier way to introduce some of my friends to the game, I took the box when I went to campus today. Tonight, I had the novel experience of helping a new player set up her character and play through the solo adventure. It was novel mainly because I’d never created an Essentials character before. I set up in the college lounge and I took the top of the red box and set it upright on the edge of the table. The fierce dragon on the front attracted quite a few people. Most of them assumed that it was the vintage edition and had no idea that WOC had created a boxed set for 4.0. Some of them were simply gaping because the two people actually playing were female.

Because my friend Brie had never played before, I walked her through the tutorial. She decided right away that she wanted to be a male elf cleric and that she wanted to be Lawful Good. (She is familiar with the concepts of the game) While this was convenient, it also meant that I basically fast-forwarded through parts of the adventure that were designed to help you figure out what you wanted to be. Maybe it’s just engrained but I helped her to figure out her character stats before playing because all the flipping back and forth meant that it would’ve been clumsy to play at the same time. Now, I could see someone who already played DnD picking this up very quickly but it has its confusing aspects.

The adventure opens with the noble Cleric riding on a wagon with a dwarf. I decided to mix things up right away by making the gender of the dwarf a mystery. I figured it would be more interesting. The goblins attacked but I ran into the first problem. I couldn’t find any place that said how many goblins should attack. I arbitrarily decided to throw 3 of the little minions at her and found the goblin tokens. The amazing genderless dwarf took an arrow to the shoulder. The Cleric pulled out his mace and proceeded to completely pound the minions to pieces. That was pretty awesome.

I did have one goblin flee and he took the dwarf’s chest with him. My friend chose to talk to one of the goblins to gain information so I had to backtrack and change one of them from ‘dead’ to ‘pretty near’. This create a minor road-bump because some of the skill-checks were basically useless because she is trained in Heal and Diplomacy and so rolling was basically just a nod to game rules, rather than a necessity. Because she had decent Charisma and rolled a *19*, she not only managed to get information from the goblin, but the goblin considered her a friend. However, she chose to let him die peacefully rather than using her heal skill to save him.

From there, she basically went straight to the Evil Hideout and found 4 other goblins there. However, this time she faced a problem. As far as I could see, she only possessed melee attacks, so the archer goblins were able to hit her for a solid 4 points of damage while she had to get close and personal to get a hit in with her mace. She managed to take out 3 of the goblins before falling unconscious. When that resulted, the story says that she wakes up in an Inn because she was rescued by a kindly stranger. I decided that the genderless dwarf, while not brave enough to steal back hyr box, was brave enough to drag her to safety.

Altogether, I found it pretty enjoyable and I’m looking forward to meeting up with a few other people who want to play so we can assemble a party and then continue on the adventure outlined in the DM’s guide. I’ll list what I’ve enjoyed and not enjoyed so far.

Good Stuff About the Red Box

  • Themes: It was really easy to tell my friend “OK, do you want to be a Sun Cleric and protect your friends, or be a Storm Cleric so you can smite your enemies? She chose the Sun Cleric and that instantly let me figure out the power cards that she needed.
  • Scores: Everything is laid out for you. It might be more rigid but it is simpler. Your most important score is predetermined-so, as a Cleric, her Wisdom score was 18. This ensures that most characters won’t be crippled by someone making a bad choice. For example, the rogue that choses a 9 in DEX. You then have a set of scores that you can assign to the rest of the abilities like Strength, Charisma, etc.
  • It’s Lightweight: You really can run the game just from this box. It feels stripped down and raw but in a very good way
  • Feats: Easy to chose and the choices are pretty obvious depending on your class. They all seem useful and worthy of taking.

Bad Stuff

  • Misleading Stuff: The player’s guide says that you will use the map in your solo adventure…but you don’t actually use it until the very end. So basically, you play blind until you get to the final encounter, which seems odd to me.
  • Missing Info: I couldn’t find anywhere that laid out what damage the cleric’s implement dealt. Seriously. I flipped through the pages many times, trying to find somewhere, anywhere that just said IMPLEMENT DOES X. As far as I’ve seen, it never does
  • Incomplete Character Sheet: There is nowhere on the sheet to list your passive perception and passive insight, only how to calculate it. But it sounded like it should be on the sheet somewhere. I finally listed it under character notes
  • Hard to Simply Create a Character Without Playing the Adventure: If you don’t want to play through the solo adventure, it’s kind of a PITA to create the character. It’s basically like a giant choose your own adventure book so you will be turning a lot of pages. Not as intuitive. Maybe the Rules Compendium will address this

All in all, the experience was a positive one and it made me excited. My complaints are more minor bugs that might disappear once I hit the DnD forums and see if any of this has been addressed. In any case, I look forward to running Essentials in the future. Like I said, it’s a lightweight system that feels quick on its feet. I don’t feel intimidated by it at all and best of all, it didn’t seem to overwhelm my friend, either. In the end, I think the Red Box is hitting the mark.

September 15, 2010. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Gaming Environment: Smoking

A post from Newbie DM about less-than-ideal gaming environments made me think about where I game. Honestly, my problem actually has little to do with location because this problem sort’ve follows our group around. See, almost everyone in my D&D group smokes. Often heavily. So while I’m rolling sneak attack damage for my rogue, I’m also dealing with the fact that my body dislikes cigarette smoke. It’s like I develop an instant cold and congestion is never fun. It’s only exacerbated by the fact that we’re usually playing in a small apartment room with pathetic AC and just generally bad ventilation.

On the other hand, the other players are adults and it would definitely be more of a pain to smoke outside and it could potentially disrupt a game in progress. I don’t have a moral problem if they want to smoke and after all, it’s not my house. However, the secondhand smoke definitely affects me. Not only do I deal with my body’s physical reaction at the time, I have to shower and change all my clothes when I go home because otherwise, the reaction continues. Oh, and I also smell like smoke.

Essentially, I’m caught in a hard place because I’m not going to stop gaming but I’m uncertain as to how I could deal with this. I could suck it up and say nothing but it’s really started to bother me. Last time I started to feel rather ill because of the smoke.

June 28, 2010. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Eberron Campaign

I’ve really fallen in love with the Eberron world in 4th ed D&D. Airships, lightning rail, the Mournland, everything. So when Borders issued one of their 40% off coupons, I picked up the Eberron Campaign Guide and the Eberron Player’s Guide.

What I haven’t seen yet is any feedback on the encounters that are included in the back of the Campaign guide. They look pretty solid but I’m looking for ideas on how to go on from there once the players have defeated Aric Blacktree. I want to start and run a campaign set in Eberron but due to my lack of experience, I’d like to start with some premade modules. I’m looking at Seekers of the Ashen Crown.

I’ll type up individual reviews of each of the Eberron books in the next few days.

June 27, 2010. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Gaming as a Female

The fact that I’m female influences my D&D gaming style much less than you’d think based on frantic forum postings over at the WOTC D&D forums. Apparently, possessing a vagina and a set of dice throws some male DMs into quite a tizzy. I’m not certain why. I’ve always been a competitive, ambitious person and so I work pretty hard at optimizing my rogue. I’m not a munchkin or a powergamer but I would be frustrated if the game never allowed me to show off some of my neater tricks. I like being able to punch holes in bad guys occasionally and I love being so slippery that while the tanks are spending their healing surges like its water, I  waltz out of combat with nary a smudge on my well-tailored clothes.

What I don’t understand is how frequently I’ve read posts that say if you game with women, then you must be careful to include a lot of fluffyness. Personal interactions. Cute little companion animals. Picking their own outfits. My biggest complaint about Shelly Mazzanoble’s book about women and D&D, Confessions of  a Part-Time Sorceress, is that it seems like she concentrates entirely on dispelling the stereotypes that surrounded D&D. She almost never addresses the way that female gamers are often treated. In fact, she frequently perpetuates a sexist view of women that portrays them as consumerist, clothes-obsessed shopaholics that only enjoy D&D if they can take their character to the nearest medieval shopping center.

Another strange view is that women possess some mystical power to instantly transform a game table to a higher plane. Apparently their vagina rays tame the savage natures of the men around them. Cheeto’s no longer litter the floor. The munchkin begins to roleplay. Jesus wipes away a single tear of pure joy. Putting women on a pedestal in this way is just as much of a disservice.

Ultimately, what I wish I would see is that women are treated just like people. Like regular old gamers. Some of them will be great. Some of them will suck. Some will love a story-oriented game. Others will fall asleep until they can hack-n-slash some bad guys. Women are gamers, too.

June 15, 2010. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

DMing for the First Time

So one of our players is away for a few weeks and so our normal D&D campaign is stalled. Maybe we could come up with some plausible way to play without him…then again, no. He’s too much a part of the group.

Then, because I’m stupid and idiotic and rash, I mentioned that I had an idea.

(this is a big mistake. never, ever let anyone know that you have talents, ideas or resources. because then they expect you to use them or share them.)

I was inspired by the old Robin Hood TV series that has that cheesy theme song and it’s in black and white.

Yeah, this one

It’s heroic and romantic and cheesy and the Sheriff of Nottingham is improbably evil

Sheriff: Killing babies, you say? Must ponder this brilliant scheme

and the heroes are white as snow

Robin Hood: Outlaws without Borders? That sounds brilliant!

but it’s great TV and I thought it would be fun inspiration for a brief little D&D campaign. Nothing serious.

My plan is for the Sheriff to hire the PCs to kill the terrible evil bandits that are harassing his town. If I can play my cards right or my fellow gamers are exceedingly kind and pretend to not realize…well, anyway, the plan is for a twist. Surprise! You’re working for the bad guys!  Oh, and Robin Hood has been captured, oh noes!

It sounded (to me) to be fairly simple. Sadly, I play with interesting and varied individuals who have decided to create wonderful characters with detailed backstories and in short I am terrified out of my mind WHY DID I EVER THINK OF DOING THIS! Now I must live up to these amazing players!

(whimper)

June 9, 2010. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Knitting & Crafting During Gaming

I knit during D&D sessions. Sometimes it’s a simple afghan square but it’s usually very simple socks. I find that it helps control my tendency to fidget. I also get, er, rather passionate about what’s happening in-game and knitting helps to keep me from attempting to destroy the dice when they are rolling horribly. I’m a somewhat ADHD person so it actually helps me to balance multiple activities at once.

Thus far I’m the only crafter at the table, as well as the only woman. The other gamers smoke (a lot) and one of them paces excitedly and waves his hands around so I’m hardly the only fidgety person there. Still, I’ve heard from other crafters (usually women) that they’ve run into hardass DMs that ban crafting during the game as being ‘distracting’ while ignoring the 5 other people continuously texting.

What do you do during downtime in a game?

June 8, 2010. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

My Gaming Background

My gaming background, to be frank, is quite pathetic. At least if you define it in traditional terms. I’m not interested in computer or console games. Pacman is about as sophisticated as I get when it comes to computer games. Storytelling has always drawn me, though. I loved making up stories and acting them out with my siblings.

My brother and I used to enact vicious battles between Captain Cardinal and General Bluejay, sworn enemies. If we had been smart, we would have written a glossy handbook and sold sets of randomized miniatures. Instead, we would continue to play until we were bored and declared a tie. We never admitted defeat. It was always a tie.

So when I first tried out a roleplaying game just a few months ago, it felt strangely familiar. Yes, there were more dice involved and a few more numbers to track. But it wasn’t anything I hadn’t done before. Unlike board games or computer games, this world was so much freer and open. I could really do anything I wanted to do and it felt instantly freeing.

Now that I have a serious case of the RPG bug, I figure that I might as well chronicle my adventures into gaming..dom. I’ll see how it goes!

June 5, 2010. Uncategorized. Leave a comment.