The Decoupage Dungeons & Dragons Gaming Table

Before moving away from my Dungeons & Dragons gaming group, I enjoyed the unique privilege of routinely playing sessions on The Ultimate Gaming Table. The purveyor of the “Avenger” table also hosted a huge assortment of miniatures and terrain, and I no longer have those tools at my disposal. The task I set for myself – now that I’m firmly on the ground in my new surroundings – was to purchase or build a gaming table for my house.

My new gaming nook.

My new gaming nook.

I briefly flirted with the notion of buying one of the amazing Geek Chic tables for the targeted gaming space. Even their “less-expensive” models are north of $2,000 so while it was fun to daydream about the Emissary in my house – it was never a realistic option. As I was lamenting the cost of a gaming table in a conversation with my wife she provided the following support, “I will help you decoupage our old table.” I began to think about how her idea might provide a “gaming” table that was not just a space to draw grids and maps but a proclamation of my nerd interests and a celebration of artwork I adore from old D&D modules. The following post provides a step-by-step guide for how to build your own eye-popping, inexpensive gaming table for less than $50 through the wonders of decoupage.

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Game of Thrones: By The Numbers

SPOILER WARNING: The following post contains massive spoilers for the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series of Game of Thrones novels in the form of an analysis of the books’ content. As such, it also contains massive spoilers for future seasons of the television adaptation of Game of Thrones seen on HBO. Anyone who is not interested in learning about major plot points and the progression of the characters from the series should not read the post below. You have been warned.

You Know Nothing, Id DM

Original art created by Grant Gould. Arya Stark is awesome. Carry on.

Original art created by Grant Gould. Arya Stark is awesome. Carry on.

Numerous friends have encouraged me to read George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones novels for several years. After holding out, I picked up the first novel leading up to Season 1 of the show appearing on Netflix (we do not have HBO). I enjoyed the writing and some of the characters although I could not believe that Eddard was killed – off camera no less. I kept waiting for him to reappear later in the book – perhaps the execution blow was a literal feint (keep this sentence in mind later). But poor Ned did indeed die and I ventured on to the sequel, A Clash of Kings. The second novel followed the same basic template and culminated in the riveting Battle of Blackwater. However, by the time I got to the third novel, A Storm of Swords, I was in the midst of moving cities and changing jobs.

The following conversation actually transpired about one year ago:

Grant Gould: So did you finish the books yet?

Me: No, I’m on the third one. It just got really boring.

Grant: Boring? That is the best book in the series!

Me: I dunno. I stopped reading a while ago. They were at some wedding and it was just dragging on and on. I lost interest.

Grant: <private heart attack>

Me: Are you there?

Grant: … yeah, just trust me and start reading again. The second half of that book is insane.

Yes, I stopped reading A Storm of Swords for several months because I was bored about 66% through the Red Wedding chapter. When I finally did pick up the book again to read it, Robb was executed maybe a page or two from where I stopped reading. I find that hilarious, and I can only imagine Grant was secretly dying inside when I told him where I stopped reading. He was kind enough to allow permission for some of his artwork to be included in this post. Please check out his latest sketchbook featuring a terrific Game of Thrones mash-up cover, Djorah Unchained.

I devoted the last few months finishing the series and concluded A Dance with Dragons while vacationing in South Dakota last month. I was able to enjoy the books spoiler-free but I after I finished the series, I had numerous questions and challenges regarding commonly held assumptions about the series.

When in doubt, compile data! What follows is numerous charts breaking down the content featured in the Game of Thrones novels. The data demonstrate how the structure of the story has changed over time, and how George R. R. Martin’s reputation for killing major characters is completely inaccurate.

And seriously – if you want to avoid spoilers – STOP READING NOW!

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Flashbulb Memories: The Pinnacle of Gaming?

September 11, 2001.

9/11

If you were born prior to 1990, then you likely remember this date in history. You probably recall what you were doing that morning and throughout that day. At the time, I was in graduate school and woke up from my telephone ringing. My girlfriend (now wife) called and said a plane hit the World Trade Center. Groggy and slightly disoriented, I ambled out to the living room and turned on the television to see live footage of two smoking towers. We stayed on the phone because her father was flying into Washington, DC that morning, so she had no idea if he was safe (he landed safely in Detroit). The clearest memory I have from that morning is being on the phone with her and watching the first tower collapse and being dumbfounded as she gasped in an agonized and empathetic voice, “Oh my god – all those people!?”

This is called a flashbulb memory – “a highly detailed, exceptionally vivid ‘snapshot’ of the moment and circumstances in which a piece of surprising and consequential (or emotionally arousing) news was heard.” In addition to 9/11, other commonly referenced flashbulb memories are events such as the JFK assassination, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and the night O.J. Simpson drove his white Bronco down the highway. These specific memories are reinforced and strengthened because they are based on a shared experience – and in the examples above, they are shared with an entire nation.  

Flashbulb memories are a type of autobiographical memory. For example, most people may not remember what they did on October 30, 2009. But I know I flew from across the country to visit family and attend a Pearl Jam concert. My friend and I went to Tony Luke’s before the show, ate in the parking lot, found a way to upgrade our tickets and watched Pearl Jam blow the roof of The Spectrum. It’s an experience that I can recall with accuracy and reinforced by the fact that I shared the experience with a friend. (Side note, they showed footage from this concert in PJ20, which blew my mind when I first saw the movie!)

On this smaller scale of autobiographical experiences, tabletop RPGs provide a unique environment for flashbulb memories for those in the gaming group. One of the first things I noticed when I joined a long-running gaming group was the sheer number of shared stories about prior adventures they celebrated. The level of detail in the stories was interesting because they were routinely talking about earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons (that I never really experienced) and it was so nuanced. I cannot do the stories justice – perhaps one of my former gaming cohort will share a tale or two in the Comments below – but moments from gaming sessions taking place many years ago were recalled as vividly as if they just happened yesterday. And the memory was rehashed and enjoyed by others in the group who experienced the same unique event.

To put it another way, the players enjoyed telling their war stories. Below, I talk about a recent event in our Blade Raiders campaign that will live on for many years and how a DM can set the stage for flashbulb memories to “pop” for his or her gaming group.

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My 4th Edition Mindset

Outside a smattering of voyages into a few modules from earlier editions of Dungeons & Dragons when I was still a teenager, my tabletop roleplaying game experience has been shaped by 4th Edition D&D. It was not until this past weekend I realized how much 4th Edition has influenced my view of how games should play and run.

Readers of the blog will note that I have spent some time playtesting a new roleplaying game called Blade Raiders. The game is very different from 4th Edition D&D and it still feels great to play. During the start of a new campaign with the system, I found myself slipping into a “4e” mindset – for better and for worse. Below, I process a few observations about habits learned while playing (almost exclusively) 4th Edition over the past two-plus years and discuss our first session of a Blade Raiders campaign.

Building a Badass

When I created a character for our playtest earlier in the year, I experimented with the Blade Raiders system and chose a combination of non-magical and magical talents. I certainly wanted to create an effective character but I was more interested in learning the system and trying new approaches to character design. But for the campaign, the “4e switch” flipped in my head and I was dissecting the various talent options in a surgical fashion.

  • How can I get the greatest bonus to hit? 
  • How can I max out my damage per turn?
  • What talents will be most useful to me in the most circumstances?

Character optimization is not unique to 4th Edition D&D, but it is where I learned that craft! The Character Builder was (and remains to be) a wonderful tool to experiment with character creation; with a few clicks, one can see just how effective his or her character will be in combat and non-combat situations. It teaches the player the importance of statistical bonuses from a combination of skills, feats, traits and powers. And perhaps more importantly, it encourages and rewards that type of optimizing behavior. After all, why wouldn’t a player choose the options that produce the most damaging effects in combat?

Bryce Brevard, The Brigand of Burnigon

Bryce Brevard, The Brigand of Burnigon

So I examined he options in Blade Raiders and based my choices on the questions above. I chose talents that gave me bonuses to attack and damage rolls. I basically created a 4th Edition Striker in the Blade Raiders system. And my character, Bryce Brevard, was absolutely death on wheels. While I racked up kills and rejoiced in my ability to slay foes quickly, I experienced a creeping doubt that I was being “that guy.” You know, that guy on a basketball team that takes all the shots and celebrates the win by himself while his teammates look on in annoyance. It dawned on me that other people around the table were playing Blade Raiders – but in many ways, I was still playing 4th Edition D&D.

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Blade Raiders Playtest: Gameplay & Game Management

Earlier in the week, I discussed the opportunity I had to play Blade Raiders, a new roleplaying game designed by Grant Gould. In the first segment, I outlined the step-by-step process of building a character in the system. The rules break away from many conventions such as “classes” and give the Storyteller (DM) and players a great deal of flexibility to customize characters. However, Blade Raiders was designed primarily with an eye toward accessibility – how quickly can players new and old create a character and get into an adventure.

Blade Raiders Banner

I encourage you to read the first part of the review to learn more about the character creation process. Below, I turn my attention to the experience of playing the game and my thoughts on what it would be like to run a group of players through a brief adventure or long-standing campaign.

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Blade Raiders Playtest: Character Creation

I was fortunate over the weekend to shake the dust off my stored-away-for-months dice and play a new game, Blade Raiders, which is designed by Grant Gould. You may recall that I interviewed Grant last year about his freelance illustration work for such companies as LucasFilm and Topps. In the interview, Grant provided details on the Kickstarter he organized to fund the design and art for the Blade Raiders Core Rulebook.  Grant has been playing roleplaying games for over 20 years and decided to build the type of game he wants to play. Many people talk about building a game from the ground up, but Grant has actually done it. Regardless of the outcome, I applaud that level of dedication. But it also turns out that Blade Raiders is really fun and introduces several unique components to typical RPG gameplay.

Blade Raiders Banner

This week, I will post my thoughts on our playtest of Blade Raiders. Below, I share my initial impressions on the specific topic of character creation and the components that are involved in character progression throughout the course of a campaign. Later in the week, I will present information about a variety of interesting tidbits on gameplay and game management.

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Ego Check: Justin Gary, Creator of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer

Last Spring, my Twitter feed became slowly infested with #Ascension tweets. I was busy playing in two Dungeons & Dragons campaigns at that time and did not know what the hashtag meant. But one thing became clear; people were having a great time playing a specific game called Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer. My first exposure to Ascension came at Gen Con 2012, where I was able to play the game at the Gary Games booth. As someone who only played a few rounds of games such as Magic: The Gathering and Dominion, the game play was familiar enough to quickly grasp the rules. I played several games of Ascension at the booth and soon after returning home from Gen Con, I bought the iOS version – I’ve been hooked ever since!

Ascension Immortal Logo
Recently, I learned that Gary Games – the company that launched Ascension and its numerous Expansion Sets – is now Stone Blade Entertainment. The company is in the process of releasing a new game, SolForge, and I was able to communicate with the CEO of Stone Blade Entertainment and creator of Ascension and SolForge, Justin Gary. In the interview below, I pry into the development of his self-contained deck-building game and how it is both similar and different to the Magic: The Gathering behemoth. I inquire about the mechanics of Ascension and how they have evolved throughout the expansion sets. He also discusses the collaboration with Dr. Richard Garfield, creator of Magic: The Gathering, on their new game, SolForge.

Thank you for agreeing to answer some questions. Diving right in, I became hooked on Ascension after playing it for the first time during Gen Con 2012. The game felt more alive and interactive than previous deck-building games I’ve played like Dominion or Thunderstone. How much of this was purposeful during your design process?
Certainly game variance and excitement were some of the key goals of designing Ascension. One of the problems I always had with games like Dominion, is that once the available cards are determined, there is very little excitement and drama left in the game. Every game of Ascension is different and card valuations change dramatically based on when they are revealed and what your opponents are playing.

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