My Video Game Schedule Is Full Through Next Winter

I played a lot of video games during my two-week vacation over the winter holidays this year, but I feel like I barely scratched the surface of all the games I got and want to play. This feeling isn’t entirely based in reality, since half the games I currently want to play are games that I don’t own. I put a bit of an embargo on buying things in the latter half of the year, specifically on games I would be alright waiting to play but definitely wanted to play eventually so I’d be able to give people ideas for what to give me as a gift. Now that the holidays are over and I’m not expecting any more gifts, I’m looking to buy everything I wanted and didn’t get. It’s not a huge amount of games, to be sure, but it’s enough that I’m probably going to be busy for months, especially with all the other games coming out this year.

Continue reading

The Unhinged Quartet and the Crystalline Honey Scepter

I ran a game of Honey Heist for the first time last weekend. It hadn’t even played it before but my players were demanding it (I mean, we were all excited by the idea of playing it, so it wasn’t some one-sided thing) and the two times I’d seen it played (once on Critical Role and once as a live-show by The Adventure Zone with special guest Eriak Ishii) gave me enough confidence in its simplicity that I decided to run it. Plus, this was going to be the first thing my new Sunday group played together and I wanted something with very little preamble so we’d all be awkwardly uncomfortable together. Since this was one of those games meant to be picked up and played in a single play session, the only prep work I did was buy the game, read through it once, and then come up with a pun for the heist.

As the players made their characters, I rolled on the various scenario tables provided in this excellent one-page RPG (techincally two if you count the GM tables which aren’t necessary for play) and spun up a scenario as I went. “Madame Beesaud’s Wax Museum” featuring the “Crystalline Honey Scepter” was eventually built up into an elaborate heist featuring security gaurds armed with tranquilizer guns, a complex CCTV system, live bears as part of the entertainment, honey-coated decor, and a figure I described as “Lady Gaga-esque but with honey.” Everything else beyond those data points I made up as I went along using my in-depth knowledge of the heist-movie genre, my player’s excellent character creation skills, and just enough prompts to get most of my players asking the right questions to flesh out this scene.

If you’d told me that was all I was going to need to create one of the most memorable hour and half tabletop gaming experiences of my life, I’d have probably nodded politely while cussing you out in my head considering I’d spent the entire day prior to the game fretting about how I was going to make it happen since there is aboslutely no structure provided for how a heist should play out. The game has a simple pass or fail mechanic, two stats that fluctuate based on passes or failures, and a system clearly designed to end every heist in a spectacular and hilarious disaster. And tons of costume and bear suggestions for creating your characters, of course. It is not a great system for someone who struggles to put something together without any amount of structure to build off. I have, for most of my life, been such a person. I’ve always struggled to improvise without leaning heavily on something I know well and the only reason I was able to do that for D&D over my years as a DM was by making sure I knew the game well enough to improvise within its realm.

Turns out I’ve grown. What a surprise. All of that listening to actual-play podcasts featuring improvisation and shared storytelling games over the last couple years has actually taught me something useful. Plus all of my own writing and movement away from the more stilted, pre-planned story beats of my old Dungeons and Dragons games towardzs a more “reflecting the players actions in real time” style of storytelling has given me plenty of practice. It also helped, once I settled in to run the game and stopped fretting, that my most memorable tabletop gaming experience prior to this game was the D&D game I’d run about forty-eight hours prior where I eventually entirely abandoned everything I’d prepared and the rules of D&D itself in order to respect the fiction as we’d established it during a dead-world moment with two of my players. Something else I’d entirely improvised in the moment when one of the players took an action I didn’t expect but that had interesting narrative implications given the way we’d talked about their character’s relationship with their powerful, partially sentient magic item.

Turns out, I am actually pretty good at this, thanks to all of that practice and the excellent examples I’ve had of how to ask the right questions. It also definitely helps that both groups are full of creative, expressive people who aren’t afraid to push the boundaries and try something new or daring. Sunday night’s game of Honey Heist went off in spectacular fashion, starting with the coincidence that all of the players rolled “unhinged” as the description of their bear, passing through a bear doing muscle-based seduction, reaching a high with the introduction of a rival team of thieving bears that I’d been hiding in plain sight the entire time, and then blowing past that high point with the introduction of a river following one of the players betraying the party right when doing so would result in the players failing the heist only for their bear to be tackled out a window into the newly introduce river by a polar bear which brough the game to a conclusion with a tumble over a waterfall and an ambiguous final shot showing an unknown bear grabbing the prize in a way that firmly established there would definitely be a sequel to this game.

Honestly, even that belabored, overly-detailed sentence doesn’t do it justify. I wish I’d recorded the entire game because, with the right editing, it would make for an amaing hour-long audio drama. What a great experience that was. My players were all clever and inventive, I got to pull of a twist by building off details they’d established, and we all laughed so much that the game took almost two hours instead of one. It was one of those moments that made me realize and appreciate the group I’d brought together. I’ve been confident that they’ll all get along, but I knew that they’d need some time to adjust to each other. With this single game of Honey Heist, I think they all see the strength and potential of this group in the same way I do. I can’t wait to keep playing games with these people!

Picking Through Spelljammer Like A Content Vulture

Just as I was getting to the point in my Science-Fantasy D&D campaign that might include fantasy-flavored space stuff, the long-awaited Spelljammer expansion to Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition came out. For the entire time I’ve been playing fifth edition, I’ve seen people posting comments on every Wizards of the Coast announcement that amount to “Spelljammer when?” and, frankly, I’m pretty happy for that to finally be done. I bet it’ll continue in some capacity, of course, because that’s how people are, but I’m glad to finally have this out so I can inject some fun space-themed fantasy bullshit into my science-fantasy game and so people will finally shut up about it. I am a complex, multi-faceted being and I can enjoy things for multiple reasons.

Continue reading

I Love Running Dungeons And Dragons Games

I ran the first session of a new Dungeons and Dragons campaign last week. This was the game I was building while I wrote last month’s posts about how to do interesting worldbuilding for your Tabletop Roleplaying Game, and that resulted in me spending more time than usual reflecting on the place that TTRPGs have in my life. It went well, thanks to the efforts of myself and my players working to get everything ready and the world built for an engaging first session. It was a lot of fun to run for such a roleplaying-centric group! It’s not that my other groups aren’t interested in roleplaying, it’s just that they aren’t always super invested in roleplaying at the same time. Which is fair, you know? Not everyone plays Dungeons and Dragons so they can do a bunch of roleplaying. Many people play because they want to enjoy the mechanics and mix in some roleplaying between chances to roll dice. Some people just want to roll dice and do math. All of these are valid and acceptable reasons to play TTRPGs.

Continue reading

Open-World Situation Building In Dungeons & Dragons

After nearly two months, I got to run my Sunday night Dungeons and Dragons campaign again. After side-sessions, many missed sessions, and a whole lot of tumult in everyone’s life, we were able to gather again and return to the dark fantasy and mild horror stylings of the world I’d spent over a year slowly developing. I had fun, my players had fun, there was a lot of lucky rolls, the player characters survived a lot of nasty damage, there were some clutch reactions and actions, and only one player character died in a boss battle they were absolutely unprepared for! That’s the danger of open-world scenarios, you know. You can accidentally wander into the desecrated temple to the not-evil gods right as a priest of what is essentially malicious entropy completes a ritual that temporarily grants him a huge deal of power in a side-realm. All without any of the information that contextualizes any of that so even when you do win, you’re not sure if it matters or not, or even how to do anything as a result.

Continue reading

The Horror Game Is Off To a Great Start!

After approximately a month and a half, I got to return to my main weekly D&D campaign and run the next session (the first full session) in the extra-universal domain I built way back in 2020 when I was bored due to only working alternate weeks. I set up a whole mystery thing I was going to unveil for a different campaign since one of my core players loved mysteries, but she wound up withdrawing from the campaign because only doing stuff online became too much for her, so I recycled it into a different D&D campaign. Now, one kidnapping and a side character later, my players have fully immersed themselves in a world of betentacled eyeball sunrises, screams instead of clock chimes to mark passing hours, and a massive mystery to solve before the constant wear of terror and nothingness grinds down their very souls.

Continue reading

I Never Wrote About Valheim

I have been updating my blog for two months and eleven days. A more merciful schedule means that I have posted sixty-one times in those seventy-two days. Things have progressed to the point where I no longer feel like this is something I need to do every day. This isn’t a task to fulfill, though writing and editing are on my daily to-do lists, but so is making my bed, washing my masks, and driving to work. Updating constantly, unless I need a break (and I guess I’m just taking Sundays off, since that is the pattern that seems to be emerging), no longer takes up psychic space.

Continue reading

A Verbose Guide to Vexatious Villain Introductions

It is always dangerous (and frequently difficult) when introducing a villain in dungeons and dragons, especially a big villain meant to last a while. If they’re near the players in power initially, there’s a good chance the players might just take them out immediately, bringing their villany to a premature end. If they’re too powerful, the players might take a shot at them and be wiped out by the response. Additionally, there’s the stretch in credibility that comes when a super-powered entity doesn’t just lay waste to the plucky young heroes at their first meetting. You can make a good story out of the villain taunting the weaker protagonists, egging them on for some dramatic final confrontation, but that requires a certain style of story and it is difficult to smoothly employ in a shared storytelling medium like a tabletop RPG.

Continue reading

Playing Outside The Session

I’ve been experimenting with different ways of playing Dungeons and Dragons lately. Not in a “these are the rules of the game” kind of way, but in how the sessions are formatted, how time passes, what kind of activities are available during those times. That sort of thing. I was prompted by my desire to run three d&d groups combined with my inability to run three groups every week. One game stayed weekly, another is monthly, and the third is sort of every two or three weeks, depending on people’s availability during the one time each week we all had available.

Continue reading

Dawn of the Second Play

After over three years, I’ve finally returned to Horizon Zero Dawn. I bought it back in 2018, started playing it, and then stopped because of some overly critical comparisons to Breath of the Wild (which I had just finished replaying) and a significant frustration that it LOOKED like I could climb anywhere if I did it right, but the game wouldn’t really let me do that. I never really got back to it because one of my roommates played through it and I dislike playing anything that he’s played where he can watch because he is terrible at not spoiling things. Just the worst. He makes a lot of comments and they’re all revealing rather than clever, plus he has very particular opinions about plotting and world building that I don’t necessarily agree with.

Continue reading