Game Night Blog Carnival: Dutch Blitz

Welcome to the new Game Night Blog Carnival!  This is a new feature Roving Band of Misfits is running once each month with numerous roleplaying game blogs.  Visit their site for more information about the blog carnival initiative.

When I was asked by Roving Band of Misfits to contribute to their Game Night Blog Carnival, the first game I thought of was Dutch Blitz. To be honest, I never heard of or played Dutch Blitz until February of this year while on vacation in Mexico. Our friends brought the game with them and introduced us to the rules. After a few rounds and learning the basics, I was immediately hooked.

I asked my friend, a veteran player of the game, to offer a brief synopsis of why Dutch Blitz is such an enjoyable game to play with friends. He responded with the following:

To me, Dutch Blitz is a fast-paced card game that is easy to start, but hard to quit.  Don’t let the childlike cards fool you, this game is difficult to master and can make even the most experienced player break out in a cold sweat.  Once the basic ground rules are learned it only opens the door to the game’s true complexities which often leaves you asking ” Play again?

I cannot echo the addictive quality of the game nearly enough, and I found myself wanting to play the game even when it was probably a better idea to shift to another activity or go to bed. As I mentioned, I first played the game while on vacation in Mexico. The trip featured a 24-hour flurry of activity including a delayed cruise ship because of thick fog, a scramble to find another destination option, a flight to Mexico and a tense 10 minutes after we got to the resort in Mexico when it wasn’t clear if we had a room or not. Even with that craziness to start the trip, playing Dutch Blitz was one of the more memorable things about the vacation.

Much of the following text is pulled directly from the Dutch Blitz website. However, I have
interspersed their description of the rules with my personal commentary on the
experience of playing the game.

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I’m A Bad DM. Now What?

A question was raised this week by Randall Walker that led me to reflect back to my time as a career counselor, “What happens when I suck at being a DM?” The question is intriguing to me for many reasons, and the article below represents my thought process on how to provide an answer.

Many years ago, I worked as a career counselor at a large university. The role entailed meeting with undergraduate students and assisting them with career development. Often this would include the administration of a career inventory to assess how well the individual fit into a wide variety of occupational fields. For example, it takes a different set of skills and interests to excel as a firefighter than it does to excel as a business manager. My work allowed me to discuss career paths with the students, weigh the benefits and consequences of certain courses of action and form a plan for future career development.

The Above-Average Dungeon Master

First, ask yourself if you believe you are an above-average driver. Like most people out there, you probably consider yourself to be a better-than-average driver of an automobile. However, everyone out there driving a vehicle cannot be an above-average driver. It’s statistically impossible! If you were to assess the driving ability of everyone in the world, then you’d likely discover a normal distribution in the results. Some drivers would be horrible, most would be about average, and some would be Jason Statham. Everyone cannotbe above average. There are many drivers that are below average, and you might be one of them.

Are some people not meant to DM?

How does this relate to gaming? Imagine you are now assessing the ability of all Dungeon Masters instead of drivers. We first must develop a measure that is valid to rate the skill of a DM; this is an issue I will return to in a moment, but for now, let’s assume we have a measure that accurately assesses DM skill. We should expect to find a normal distribution in the results. A small percentage of DMs will perform poorly, most will fall close to the middle of the pack, and a small percentage will be outstanding. Which brings us back to the original question, “What happens when I suck at being a DM?”
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Ego Check: Carl Bussler, Host of Flagons & Dragons

It is my pleasure to bring you the second installment of Ego Check. Over the last few weeks, I was able to interview Carl Bussler, host and producer of the Flagons & Dragons podcast series. He was kind enough to answer a wide variety of questions about his gaming background and creative process. Below, we discuss some of the challenges inherent to designing and creating adventures for our campaign. Carl describes his enjoyment of Gamma World and how it allows him to design an “anything-goes” setting for his players. Finally, we discuss the genesis of the Flagons & Dragons podcast in addition to unique aspects of connecting with other gamers through podcasts.

Thank you for agreeing to speak with me about your gaming influences and motivations. Can you please start off by introducing yourself, and talk a bit how and when you stepped into the world of roleplaying games?

My pleasure, I’m one of the hosts and the producer of Flagons and Dragons, a podcast in which we talk about tabletop games… and beer!

My introduction to roleplaying games was gradual, and until 7th grade, the Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks and the Lone Wolf gamebooks were the closest thing I’d seen to a roleplaying game. I grew-up in rural Pennsylvania and we didn’t have much in the way of comic shops or malls, but we did have a library and a book store. I loved the fantasy genre, and I’d read Tolkien, Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, and any other author who could offer me a temporary escape from reality.

Carl Bussler, Host of Flagons & Dragons

It was around the time I’d started reading the Dragonlance Chronicles that I discovered Dragon magazine and learned about Dungeons & Dragons. The idea of a roleplaying game was an easy sell, but I couldn’t actually find it, let alone find anybody willing to play it. After a year or so, fate stepped in. A friend’s older brother was going off to college and wanted to unload his old 1st edition D&D books. I happily paid the $20 for all three books, which I still have to this day.

I didn’t actually get to play much until college, but I made up for lost time during those wonderful 4 years.

Excellent, those Choose Your Own Adventure books were one of my first exposures to the fantasy genre as well. I loved those books, but I always made the wrong decision and ended up eaten by monsters! It sounds like you had quite a few years between first getting your hands on the D&D books and actually getting to play regularly. How did you cultivate your interest in roleplaying games in the meantime?

On the few occasions in high school when I was able to pull a group together, I was the Dungeon Master. But between those rare and wonderful moments, I found myself writing adventures, developing NPC’s, drawing maps of dungeons and continents, and even sketching magic items.

I think in the beginning it was denial, or perhaps hope that I’d find some willing players. But in the end it didn’t matter, since I was having fun. I found that creating the places, the people, and the stories that tied them together, was just as enjoyable as experiencing those worlds as a player.

And, rather than exploring Middle Earth or Hyperborea, I was exploring places that were the product of my own imagination. This was, and still is, incredibly rewarding for me. I relish being the creative force behind a memorable game.

Continue reading “Ego Check: Carl Bussler, Host of Flagons & Dragons”

F#*k You, Die!

I have been tossing around this idea for some time now, but tonight seemed like the perfect time for something goofy after my last quasi-serious post about errata and how it affects the relationship between players of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition and the game itself. Below, I’m going to spend a good chunk of space tackling a “problem” that the majority of gamers, myself included, deal with on a consistent basis. 

Our dice suck.

When I started playing D&D again a couple of years ago, I bought a set of dice that were black and orange. Those are the colors of my favorite ice hockey team, and orange is my favorite color. But then I wanted to diversify my dice collection, and since 4e has multiple points when multiple die are needed for a roll, I somehow justified buying four more sets. I play a Dragonborn Rogue and my green/copper dice seem to be a perfect fit for the character, and they have seemingly treated me well. I have another set of grey/orange dice that should be my favorite, but they are not.

"I see you rolling down 'round showin' a'nutha 1, and I'm like, F**k you!"

Those grey/orange polyhedral pieces of plastic are forged from a source of unholy energy, and the d20 from that set was banished from any responsibilities long ago. I swear it was cursed, and the d20 from that set loved to roll numbers less than 5. I set it aside whenever I play, and hope the taint doesn’t rub off on my other dice.

But I’m a rational human being and realize that die rolls are random. I’m sure I’m just having a selective bias in my recall of good and bad rolls with the die. Any d20 will land on any given number 5% of the time. It’s simple math, but if you’re like me – you don’t believe the math. The math is bullshit. Certain dice are made to torment you mind, poison your soul and shatter your dreams. You and I know this to be true.

I would like the grey/orange die to “work” for me and since I’m an educated person, I decided to give the d20 from this set another a few weeks ago. Surely I’m acting like a fool and the die is just like any other d20 rolling around out there. We come to the first encounter against an Djinn on a mountain-side path, and I decide to spend a Daily Power and charge with a Handspring Assault. I push aside my self-doubt and grab the grey/orange die, and roll a . . .

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Et tu, Errata?

I have happily sat on the sidelines during most conversations about Errata in Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. However, I finally feel like I have something to say on the topic after the latest Update from Wizards of the Coast. My goal is not to classify errata as “good” or “bad.” I want to understand it, and specifically want to understand how it affects the mechanics of D&D 4e and the players that use them. Perhaps more importantly, I want to understand how errata alters the relationship we have with a game like 4e. This final point is what I find the most interesting, and I’m going to attempt to explain why below.

First, what is the definition of Errata? I went to Dictionary.com and pulled the following definition:

A list of errors and their corrections inserted, usually on a separate page or slip of paper, in a book or other publication

Errata fix mistakes. They are more commonly known in everyday life as Corrections. Your local newspaper, the New York Times, peer-reviewed scientific journals, broadcast news and other such media run Corrections all the time. For example, the media makes an error in some fashion and later posts a Correction to fix it. The Correction alerts their audience that the media source was wrong. The Correction reduces the likelihood that the audience will be misled by the information moving forward.

Should the current system for Errata be trashed?

So if errata list errors and make corrections, then someone or something must be wrong. But who is it? It would seem the company, in this case Wizards of the Coast, is acknowledging that their were design flaws in the game anytime a piece of errata is released. However, it’s not that simple to me. It seems that whenever D&D 4e Errata is posted by Wizards of the Coast, there are a percentage of players that lose the ability to play the game the way they have been playing it. Errata in this case does not apply to errors, but to individuals.

Continue reading “Et tu, Errata?”

Solving The Extended Rest Riddle

I started to listen to the Exemplary DM podcasts while driving this week. One of the hosts briefly mentioned the idea of Endurance Checks to replace or build upon the Short and Extended Rest mechanics. I found the idea intriguing because I have run into so many situations as a player and as a DM when it does not make any sense AT ALL to take an 8-hour Extended Rest in the story. However, moving forward with more combat is a death sentence for one or more characters. So I find that I spend a good deal of my time thinking about resource management, both for my own resources (as a player) and considering my players’ resources (as a DM).

"This appears to be a fine place to camp."

As a player, the drain on my Daily powers throughout combat encounters is a factor, but I’m not overly concerned about it. Yes, they are powerful and useful, but the more worrisome problem for me is running low on surges. I play a rogue, and I took Durable (2 more surges) right away because I’m more of a front-line striker in our group. On Saturday, I was fully charged to start the night and after two encounters, I was down to no Daily powers and 3 surges (from 9). Two of the other players in the group were down to 1 surge by the end of the night. (We are playing through the Scales of War campaign if you are curious). Our group is just starting a big dungeon delve, but three of us are on death’s door. It does not make any sense to rest in a hostile environment, but we pretty much have to before or after the next encounter or we are likely to die. When playing, I would like to focus on more on the story and encounters than resource management. 
 
As a DM, the current mechanics limit the type of story I can tell. Even if I run encounters below the party’s level, they still use up Daily powers and surges. The party in my group is currently assaulting a tower. They had two relatively easy encounters (at their level or below) but have several more ahead of them. It will not make sense for them in the story to rest for 8 hours before taking the tower, but forcing them to go through a few more encounters without an Extended Rest is not terribly fair. I’ve been thinking of ways around this for several weeks, and one possible solution is presented below.

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Snake Week At StufferShack.com – Cheating Prevention

“Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?”

I had the pleasure of participating in the Snake Week Theme over at Stuffer Shack. They asked contributors for snake-themed articles. I assumed most people would discuss monsters and traps, and since I just posted a detailed NPC at their site, I wanted to write something different.

A topic that came to mind was cheating at the gaming table, which is a snake-like behavior your players may engage in from time to time. Visit Stuffer Shack to read my thoughts about motivations for players to cheat and how to prevent cheating from slithering around your table. And also check out the other great articles featured during the Snake Week Theme.