A Hoard of Hearthstone Videos

As I return to playing tabletop roleplaying games more often, I have also been experimenting with creating videos about Hearthstone. In recent weeks, I’ve posted four different videos to my YouTube channel. I may start to stream while playing (if I ever get a computer worth a damn), but for now I’m tinkering with how to best present content. The first of the videos is most certainly influenced by my time playing RPGs.

Opening 126 Old Gods Packs

Since the newest expansion, Whispers of the Old Gods, was announced, I started to save gold so I could spend it all on new packs when they were available. I also purchased the 50-pack preorder, which resulted in 126 packs of Old Gods. I recorded the pack opening but I wanted to add a fun wrinkle for myself. Each pack of cards contains five cards, and I decided to roll a d6 to determine the cards that I would reveal first. If I rolled a six, then I would reroll until I got a result that was between 1-5. I recorded a second video with my cellphone of the dice being rolled and synced them so they match up in the video. My phone was resting on a stack of RPG manuals while filming the dice tray. The low-tech approach worked, and I opened a few Golden Legendary cards along the way!

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A Celebration of Predator

I saw Predator in a delightful micro-theater this week, and it has triggered a flood of warm thoughts and nostalgia.

Predator Movie PosterBefore DVDs, Blu-rays, videos-on-demand, and streaming services, the easiest way to watch a movie over and over again was to get it on a VHS tape. For this, there were two options; the first was to buy the movie from a place in the local mall (like Suncoast Video because Best Buy Amazon did not exist yet) or record it onto a blank VHS tape when it played on HBO or another cable channel. The VHS tapes could hold up to 6 hours of content, which allowed for a triple feature of action movies or comedies since those tend to clock in under two hours each. As I was starting high school in the early 1990s, a weekend pastime was watching my cobbled-together collection of VHS movies while falling asleep on the floor of our den. My adult self laments the terrible sleep-hygiene behaviors that I had during this time in my life!

(And really, I slept on the floor falling asleep to DVDs some nights well into graduate school years. The last gasp of this behavior was watching and listening to commentaries for A Knight’s Tale and Fellowship of the Ring. Good times!)

The triple feature VHS that got the most rotation during those years was the lineup of Predator, Action Jackson, and Blind Fury. I would throw this tape into the VCR and doze off as it played. As a result, it is safe to claim that I have seen the first 20-30 minutes of Predator at least 100 times in my life. The other movies on the tape were also favorites. Action Jackson was an effort by Carl Weathers to become an action star after his run as Apollo Creed in the Rocky films; it features Sharon Stone in one of her first performances, has Craig T. Nelson doing some heinously evil things, and climaxes with the hero driving a sports car through a house during a cocktail party and up a flight of stairs. It was fast and furious before that franchise existed! I also enjoyed that it featured “bad guy” actors that appeared in films like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, not to mention Mac and Billy from Predator. Meanwhile, Blind Fury was a Rutger Hauer vehicle with the featured him as a wounded soldier that is blinded in Vietnam during combat, trained by a small village to acquire fighting skills with a sword (even though he’s blind), and then returns home years later to help the son of John Locke from Lost. He’s basically Daredevil!

Movies like Action Jackson and Blind Fury are now cranked out by the likes of Jason Statham and other action stars. But I feel like action movies these days are missing what they had back then, and it’s why Deadpool was so successful. Deadpool – now that I think of it – reminds me of those late 80s/early 90s action flicks that had a simple premise,  relied on humor, and did not take themselves seriously. If you have never seen Action Jackson or Blind Fury, find them and give them a view. They’re bad in all the good ways.

Getting back to Predator, watching it this week gave me the same thought as watching Jaws last year in the theater. This movie is outrageously flawless and well-executed. There isn’t a wasted moment. Every shot and line of dialogue accomplishes multiple things in terms of moving the plot and developing characters. And it does not rely on huge, 15-minute set-piece battles like the endless stream of superhero flicks (which I also enjoy); the majority of Predator is sneaking around in the jungle and planning ambushes.

It’s so good!

Below, I highlight three aspects of Predator that can apply to running roleplaying games in terms of character development, pacing, and conflict resolution.

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Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Earlier this week I sat down with some friends for the first time in many months (if not years) to play a session of Dungeons & Dragons. I prepared the players ahead of time to start the Curse of Strahd (CoS) adventure, and decided to use the Death House mini-adventure (CoS, Appendix B, pg. 211) to introduce the players to the flavor of Barovia. In reading through Death House, I was impressed with the gothic horror elements of the story. At the same time, I was concerned about the pace of the story and the lack of combat early in the house. This article provides some ideas on props that can be used to add more player engagement to Death House without simply adding more monsters to fight.

*** If you are a player (especially a player in my campaign), then I suggest stopping now. Spoilers for Death House are peppered throughout the article. ***

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Add More Life to the Party

Strahd

Count Strahd von Zarovich

A combination of newfound free time and fresh blood has resulted in realistic plans to get a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign running amongst my friends. Of all the new D&D adventure settings, I selected Curse of Strahd. I remember the old Raveloft module, although I never got to play it. I did win a sealed copy – that was handed to me by DM-to-the-Stars, Chris Perkins – at GenCon 2012, and it remains sealed in a box of D&D 4th Edition materials in the “Harry Potter” room under the stairs of our house. My excitement to start a campaign and get back into the DM chair is fun to embrace, and I am eagerly cooking up methods to hit the ground running with our new group.

One aspect of running a campaign that I thoroughly appreciate is weaving in the backstory elements of each player into the game sessions. Whenever a player takes the time to create a backstory, I want to reward that in a meaningful way. The nice thing about 5th Edition D&D is the Player’s Handbook gives players reference tables to craft a backstory through Backgrounds, which provide ideas for Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws. My hope for the new campaign is to add another layer to the character creation process to increase the interconnectedness of the party.

And to accomplish this I borrowed from my recent experiences playing the terrific boardgame, Pandemic Legacy.

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Hearthstone Session #4 – Father Gabriel, Silence Priest

TWD Gabriel

Father Gabriel Stokes

My last video focused on Netdecking and one piece of advice I offered was that it is useful to go online and find out what decks are currently competitive in the Ranked format. This time around I decided to go 180 degrees and create a deck that I have yet to run across as a significant template in today’s meta.

The result is Father Gabriel, Silence Priest!

The idea for this deck began with trying to determine the best way to make a different type of APD (Annoying Priest Deck), and find a way to use the Silence mechanic against my minions as a weapon to bludgeon the opponent.
I collected some of my games below for you to see the deck in action; there is also an explanation of the deck’s strategy. There is likely room to improve on the deck’s design. I encourage people to experiment with the deck and let me know how your games go as well as what changes you’d make to the deck.
wailing soul
Father Gabriel’s Strategy
There are only a handful of Silence cards in the game, and Priest has two of the only options in Silence (0 mana) and Mass Dispel (4 mana). The Silence spell targets one minion while Mass Dispel targets all enemy minions while also drawing a card. Meanwhile, there are four minions in Hearthstone that use the Silence mechanic: Ironbeak Owl (2 mana), Light’s Champion (3 mana), Spellbreaker (4 mana), and Wailing Soul (4 mana).
Ironbeak Owl sees quite a bit of play as it is a low-cost minion that can significantly affect the opponent’s strategy by removing buffs or a Taunt. Light’s Champion can only silence a demon as a Battlecry, which seems extremely weak to include in most decks, and Spellbreaker also silences a single minion though it costs more at 4 mana and is less likely to be a good fit for most decks. Which brings us to Wailing Soul – a card that I honestly forgot existed because I never see it in Ranked play and ignore it whenever it pops up as an option in Arena. Wailing Soul is a 3/5 for 4 mana and as a Battlecry is silences YOUR other minions. One thing I learned (by accident) in my games is that Wailing Soul obliterates Freeze Mage. Being able to unfreeze all your minions at once is glorious!
Now we’re cooking with gas!
father gabriel

Silence (x2) not pictured.

Wailing Soul is a card that can be played as early as Turn 3 (with the Coin) to alter the minions on your side of the board. There are numerous minions that could be played early and then benefit from Wailing Soul being played later:

  • Ancient Watcher (4/5 for 2 mana that cannot attack)
  • Ogre Brute (4/4 for 3 mana that has a 50% chance to attack the wrong target)
  • Eerie Statue (7/7 for 4 mana that can only attack if its the only minion on the board)
  • Fel Reaver (8/8 for 5 mana that triggers 3 cards being burned for each card your opponents plays)
The cards above feature above-average statistics though they each have a problematic drawback. The purpose of Father Gabriel is to play these cards in a way that eliminates their problems before they affect the game. The deck has six cards that can Silence one or more of these minions, in addition to copies of Sunfury Protector and Defender of Argus. These cards can apply Taunt to minions like Eerie Watcher, so even if you don’t draw into a Silence card, you can still get some value from it be forcing your opponent to clear it out of the way.
In testing out this deck, I had some humorous moments when opponents did not know what to do – even when minions such as Ancient Watcher an Eerie Statue are not silenced yet. Once I was able to attack with the first copy, they typically (after much thought and delay) responded by using resources to clear those minions off the board. Watching a Face Hunter shift gears midgame to clear minions was delightful.
Meanwhile, Sir Finley Mrrgglton can give you a different hero power if you draw him early. For example, there are several games when I was able to switch to the Hunter hero power and that helped to wear down opponents quickly. Other fine powers from Sir Finley are Druid, Mage and Warlock, as the first two can help with board removal and the last can assist with drawing the cards you need to facilitate the Silence or Taunt combinations.
ancient watcherIn terms of Mulligans, it is great if you can get an Ancient Watcher in your opening hand. Being able to play this on Turn 1 (with Coin) or 2 sets up good value the rest of the way – as any Silence or Taunt cards can make it something the opponent has to deal with. The card is tough for opposing Priests since it avoids both Shadow Word: Pain and Shadow Word: Death with its 4 attack. Games are a bit more strenuous if you’re not able to get an early Ancient Watcher on the board, so certainly prioritize getting this or Ogre Brute in your opening hand.
At first, I tried to incorporate the Shadowpriest options to deal damage to the opponent’s minions and hero through Auchenai Soulpriest and Shadowform. I have been on the receiving end of the Turn 4 or 5 Auchenai Soulpriet + Circle of Healing boardclear to know how that combination works, so I tried to employ it for my own devices for a change. Sadly, those cards seemed to interfere with drawing tools I needed to get my minions off and running – so I removed them from the deck.
I continue to experiment with Father Gabriel. It is fun when that is started to yield some success in Ranked. Enjoy, and let me know your thoughts!
ps. Priests are the worse!

 

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Build a Darkest Dungeons & Dragons

It is fair to say that Darkest Dungeon has captured my attention and imagination in recent weeks. The game’s aesthetic vividly portrays how exploring dungeons and fighting foul monsters is a dangerous business. Heroes suffer physical wounds, yes, but it is the mental strain and suffering that often causes more complications and difficulty. It seems to be a wonderful concept to merge with an adventure in Dungeons & Dragons, and the good news is the foundation for building a Darkest Dungeons & Dragons adventure is already there in the latest Dungeon Master’s Guide.

How can the Dungeon Master add a new mechanic that forces additional strain on the players while still increasing the enjoyment factor for everyone at the table?

That question is tackled in this article!

Failure Is An Option

Before launching into the mechanics of building a Darkest Dungeons & Dragons, a topic that should be addressed is failure. Colleagues have written about failure in roleplaying games for years. Scott Rehm (The Angry GM) defined failure as “the loss of a goal or opportunity” and discussed common (“stupid”) myths about failure in RPGs. Mike Shea (Sly Flourish) educated DMs on how to move away from mechanics and rules that result in only “either success or failure.” I previously wrote articles on how to roleplay failure for monsters in an encounter to make those setbacks for the DM more enjoyable and engaging to the players. The collective wisdom on this topic indicates that players of an RPG should be ready, willing, and able to continue with the story of the game regardless of success or failure.

Darkest Dungeon Madness

The mind cannot withstand such an assault.

That means DMs should avoid creating scenarios that can only be accomplished in a single, specific manner while players should be encouraged to continue playing their characters if they win, lose, or go sideways. This means that failure should remain an option for everyone at the table. As a DM, help the players be ready for contingencies. During game preparation, DMs often consider how to react if the players decide on taking one action or another. As a player, I was more of a straight-line thinker and struggled when the “next move” in an adventure was not clearly defined. The DM can assist players by feeding them possible options if they are greeted with failure – often through a timely NPC – and reward players for responding to setbacks with creative solutions. This atmosphere will eventually redefine success from “we killed the monsters, saved the day, and collected a ton of loot” to “we all got together and told one heck of story.”

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Hearthstone Session #3 – Netdecking

When I first started to play Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft more often, I sought out advice on how to improve my skill in the game. The popularity of Hearthstone has resulted in many outlets to learn about the game, which I will detail in a later post. One option for players is to look at successful decks and use those decks in his or her games. This process is known as netdecking, which Urban Dictionary defines as:

The process of stealing a tournament winning TCG/OCG/CCG decklist from a discussion forum and replicating it. Implies a lack of creativity and desire to do nothing other than win in the player.

Stealing! Lack of creativity! Desire to do nothing!

Netdecking has a strong negative connotation among some that play Hearthstone while others are supportive of it. In the video below, I present my thoughts on netdecking and return to earlier points I made about watching professional players at a higher skill level than me.

eggoAlso in the video is a game with a new decklist I found from a Legend-ranked Hearthstone player on Twitter. In recent weeks, I have been mostly playing a Secret Paladin and I felt it was time for a change of pace. I considered running an Egg Druid decklist, but decided to stick with Paladin. The decklist for Eggo the Paladin relies on several low-cost minions to get extreme value out of each turn, make efficient trades on the board, and stymie the opponent with Taunts and Secrets. I struggled with the deck at first, but have used it to move from Rank 10 to Rank 6 over the weekend.

When the deck is running well, the Dragon Egg and Nerubian Egg create additional minions to swarm the board. Minions such as Abusive Sergeant, Keeper of Uldaman, and Defender of Argus can boost those minions to make them more of a threat, not to mention the Blessing of Kings spell. Eggo’s minions should be able to trade favorably with most things the opponent can throw down and it sets the stage for finishers like Mysterious Challenger, Dr. Boom, and Tirion.

Perhaps my favorite moment from the weekend was beating a Priest (I have a terrible record against them) after they used all their clever Priest tools to negate my deck, only to have Tirion appear when I killed off their Deathlord and Tirion reappeared after their Shadow Word: Death because my Redemption secret was active. I always lose to Priest; it was nice to win one of those games!

In summary, expose yourself to experienced players that have likely spent a lot of time crafting decks and trying to make them competitive. However, instead of simply “stealing” the decklist, consider why the deck is effective. What problems does it cause for the opponent? What are the useful synergies in the deck, and how could you exploit similar synergies with other heroes or cards? By exposing yourself to new decklists and styles of play, the overall level of your strategy and understanding of Hearthstone is likely to increase.

Good luck!

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