Saturday, August 27, 2016

Resources for Gamers

I recently stumbled across a fascinating twitter account. It's a bot designed to generate a new fictional map once per hour. These maps are designed to resemble the maps you'd find in the back of cheap paperback fantasy novels. It occurred to me that these maps can easily be adapted for use in original game worlds.

This started me thinking about other resources that GMs can use for their games. So here is a list of a few useful websites. Click on the images to be taken to that site!

Uncharted Atlas

A screen cap of the twitter feed. Click on it to be taken to the page.

This is the aforementioned map generator bot. Once per hour, it tweets a new randomly generated map, complete with city names. You can easily use a photo editor to change the city names and use these maps for any setting you might wish. This is a great way to find maps that will work for any game you might want to run!

Seventh Sanctum

The Seventh Sanctum logo, a stylized 7 and capital S, with the text, Seventh Sanctum, the page of random generators.

This site is packed full of generators. My favourite is the Envisioner (in the 'Writing' section of the 'Generator Types' drop-down menu). It takes classic stories and legends and mashes them up. A few examples include:
  • The legend of Gilgamesh being about a group of taxi drivers.
  • A fusion of the story of Tannhauser and the legend of Oedipus, set at a bookstore.
  • The tale of the Good Samaritan envisioned as a for-the-gentlemen tale.
  • The tale of William Tell envisioned as a modern-day natural disaster tale.
  • A fusion of the story of 'Treasure Island' and the story of 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf' envisioned as a sword-and-sorcery gender-bending tale.
This was where I got the idea for a game I ran last year: the story of Ilmarinen set in a dystopian sci-fi setting.

But there's so much more here! Other writing generators give different sorts of suggestions for inspiration when you need story ideas. There are a variety of generators for alien and fantasy races, for characters and names, items, and much much more! You could easily lose hours here just clicking on the various generators to see what they do!

Fantasy Name Generators

A screen cap of the Fantasy Name Generator website, with links to the various types of names that can be generated
This site is really useful if you need a character's name. I've most frequently used the 'Fantasy Names' option, which creates brief lists of ten names for a variety of different fantasy creature types. These include not only the usual elf, dwarf, goblin, etc, but also names for aliens, treefolk, liches, dryads, demons, angels, werewolves, sea creatures, and many others besides. There's another set of generators for realistic names, drawn from many different cultural traditions around the earth. There's a section of generators for place names, and names for 'other' categories, like political parties, drugs, afterlives, pirate crews, and so forth. 

This site also has a number of guides to creating societies, planets, buildings, characters, histories, and fictional technology. There's lots of other things to find here as well!

Springhole

The header image for Springhole's website, with the title surrounded by stylized wings, underneath which are links to the various parts of the site

This website has a lot of useful stuff as well. Aside from hints on roleplaying and world building, my favourite part of this site is the character personality generator. This page takes a list of 19 character traits and randomly assigns frequencies to them (Typically, Sometimes, Generally, Often, Never, etc). This lets you easily come up with NPCs and give them dynamic and vibrant personalities. This is what I used to create the personalities of several of the NPCs that my Friday night Changeling group has encountered already.

There are several other good generators here as well, such as the Basic Character Premise generator, a number of animal and monster generators, and the backstory generator. This one is another one that's worth a few hours of exploring!

Random City Map Generator

A map generated from the website. It shows various buildings, the city walls, and a river with a bridge and some piers.

For my last resource, I will share a useful tool that generates fantasy city maps. These maps aren't the greatest; the roads tend to follow a grid pattern more than historically appropriate for the supposed time frame, and the images aren't the prettiest. But they get the job done if you need something quick and easy. And if nothing else, once you have the basic map, you can tweak it as necessary to get a more authentic feel. This generator, coupled with Uncharted Atlas, above, can be very useful in world building!

So there you have several tools that may be useful to GMs of many games. I hope you enjoy them! Have fun playing with these tools, and playing games in general! Until next time, remember to

Game on!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Streaming Changeling Is a Go!

I've just finished recording a test run at twitch.tv. Ok, technically, I've recorded several test runs, but the last one was the only one that worked as I had intended, so the others have been deleted.

But the point is, it looks like we're a go for streaming our first Changeling session this coming Tuesday! That's the 23rd of August, 2016, just in case you're reading this post in the future and the date has already passed. Sorry, future boy, you missed it. But you can watch the archived video for as long as twitch.tv keeps it up!

Anyway. This session will be chargen. The group will discuss how their characters are connected, and then I will guide them through the process of creating those characters. If you're interested in watching this video, you can tune in at 6:00 PM CDT (on the off-chance that you're watching from somewhere else in the world, you can check this handy time converter to see what time that will be for you).

The second session will be the following Tuesday, the 30th of August. After that, sessions will be the second and fourth Tuesday of every month, unless someone's schedule requires that we change a date on occasion. All sessions will run from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM.

Keep in mind that this 2nd and 4th Tuesday schedule will normally mean that we meet every two weeks, but on occasion, there will be a month that has five Tuesdays. In such a case, there will be times in which there will be two weeks between sessions. I had to do this in order to accommodate certain monthly obligations that I have.

In any case, you can watch the broadcasts on my channel and see archived broadcasts on my profile for as long as Twitch keeps them up.

Just FYI, we will be using a couple of house rules. I describe the house rules in a test video that I recorded partly to test the equipment, but partly to introduce the game to new viewers. You can see that video at either of the above links.

Also, we are happy to share our game with the world, but we (the other players and myself) are there to have fun playing this game first and foremost. As such, we will not be watching or participating in the chat function. Viewers are free to chat amongst themselves, but we will not be responding during the course of the game. If you want to send us questions and comments, then I will happily reply once the game is over. But during the game itself, we will not be paying any attention to the chat feed.

One more thing: as you likely know, I attended Gen Con 49 two weeks ago. Since I was there primarily as a representative of http://pinkfae.com/ I am doing all my blogging about the con at that site. I have two entries up so far: an overview of the convention (which also serves as a beginner's guide, introducing new people to what to expect when they've never been to a con before; this is partly because I desperately wish there had been such a guide to help me in preparing for the convention myself) and an interview with game designer Emily Whitehouse. There will be lots, lots more, however. I have plans to do an article on crossplay/gender bending, an article on Gaymers, an article on MetaArcade, an article on the Diversity Panel I attended, an article on Zombie Orpheus Entertainment, and reviews of several newly released games that debuted at the con.

So be sure to check back over there for updates! And in the meantime, I look forward to hearing about how many of my awesome readers tuned in for our Changeling chargen session on Tuesday! Until then, remember to

Game on!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Board Game Review: Dead of Winter

A few years back, Wil Wheaton launched his web series Tabletop. This was very exciting to me; I like Wil Wheaton, and I like board games, so a series based on showing people new games to convince them to try them sounds like a great idea!

I'm beginning to realise, however, that the series is imperfect. I wish I had some advice on how to improve it; the one thing that I know is, in watching the show, I decided that there are some games that don't look interesting to me. Some episodes made me think that I'm just not interested in trying the games showcased in those episodes.

This can be a bad thing, because at least twice now, I've tried a game that I had previously thought I wouldn't like, only to find that I did like it. I'm not sure why that is, but with both of these games, I saw the Tabletop episode and thought, 'That just doesn't sound like it'd be very enjoyable to me.' Then when I had a chance to actually play the game, I found it was actually a lot of fun.

The first such game was Ticket to Ride. It's still not high on my list of favourite games; I doubt I'll ever feel a need to own it. But I won't be opposed to playing. The second game? That's the one I'm going to review today. That's right: Dead of Winter.

Strategy: 4
Randomness: 3
Complexity: 3
Humour: None
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Game Play: 1 ½ hours

The game board in progress. The main game board has several human characters in the shelter, surrounded by a number of zombies.

In Dead of Winter, players control humans trying to survive the Zombie Apocalypse. I know, I know, zombies are overplayed. Pop culture has reached such a ridiculous level of zombie saturation, why do we have to have another zombie game?

Bear with me, though.

For starters, players have more than one character each (usually). Each character has a combat rating, a search rating, and a special ability. These characters start out in the shelter, which is shown on the main board. Around the board are several smaller boards representing other locations, such as the grocery store, the school, the police station, and so forth. Each location has several spaces for characters, both humans and zombies. Players take turns moving their characters between locations and taking actions in an attempt to reach the goals.

What are those goals? Well, it depends. There are two decks of cards that have goals listed on each card. One of these decks is group goals. Whatever the goal is on the card drawn for this game, everyone must work together to make it happen. One example of a group goal is that, by the end of the game, there must be at least two locations whose deck of search cards has been completely exhausted.

In addition, each player is dealt a random individual goal card. In order for a specific player to win, the group goal must be complete, and that player's individual goal must also be complete. In the game I played, my individual goal was to be in control of a single character when the game ended. That is, if I gained more characters under my control during the game, I had to find a way to either kill off all but one of my characters or get them to defect to another player's group.

This means that it's entirely possible that you'll accomplish the group goal and still lose the game because you didn't complete your individual goal.

As if that weren't enough, some of the individual goals are betrayal goals. If a player receives one of these goals, he is a traitor. In order for him to win, he must not only accomplish his individual goals, but also prevent the group from completing the group goal. One example of a betrayal goal is: You must complete all of the following:
  1. Morale must be at 0.
  2. You must control a single character.
  3. That character must have a (gun icon) card equipped.
  4. You must have at least one each of food, medicine, and fuel cards in your hand.
If this is accomplished before the game ends and before the other players complete their individual and group goals, then you have won by denying possible victory to the others.

What's exciting about this is that there are more individual goal cards than players, and an uneven mix of normal goal cards and betrayal cards. This means that any specific player has no way of knowing for sure, until the game is over, if anyone is a traitor or not. In the game I played, there were three players, and by the third round, we were fairly confident based on the actions that had been taken thus far that there was no traitor. So imagine our surprise when the game ended with player Z revealing that he was in fact a traitor! He had simply not ever had a chance to betray us.

That's just the winning conditions! I've not talked about game play itself yet!

In general, players may take actions such as using cards, moving from one location to another, using their characters' special abilities, fighting zombies, and so on. Some of these actions (most notably fighting zombies and moving between locations) require you to roll a special 12-sided damage die. About half the faces have no effect, but some cause a character to take a point of damage, some cause a character to get frostbite (which does one point of damage each turn), and one dreaded die face has the 'bite' icon, which means the character dies outright, and risks infecting other characters in the same location.

There's a lot more to game play, such as the need to collect food to sustain the colony, and the proliferation of zombies that occurs at the end of each round. But you get the general idea. If you want to know more about how the game works, you can always check out the Tabletop video.

What you really want is my opinion, right? Why do I like this game? What made me change my mind after playing it from what I thought when I saw the Tabletop episode?

First, I don't remember clearly what made me think it didn't sound fun when I watched the video. Maybe it was because the complexity of the inter-related mechanics of the game don't translate well to video format. Maybe the interplay between the players on the show overshadowed the game itself.

Whatever the cause, now that I've actually played it, what I like about it is that it's both a co-operative game and a competitive game. Players have to work together, but also have specific individual goal that allow them to win separately from the other players. It's also a very thinky-thinky game, as players must weight the risks and benefits of each action, and also try to conceal their secret personal missions from each other whilst still working to achieve those goals. It's also a very suspenseful game, as you're never certain how your risks are going to pay off, and what the next crisis card is going to reveal...

Anyway. I recently took a survey that rates my gaming profile. It measures people on four different aspects: Conflict, Fantasy, Strategy, and Social Fun. That is:
  • Conflict: how much you enjoy the competitive nature of a game. High conflict ratings mean that a player enjoys taking direct hostile action against other players (preferring combat games over co-operative games, for example).
  • Fantasy: how much you enjoy games that transport you to another world. High fantasy ratings mean that a player likes to be totally immersed in a detailed game world.
  • Strategy: how much you like thinky-thinky games. High strategy ratings mean that a player enjoys games that make him think, vs social or improvisational or physical games.
  • Social Fun: how much you like playing games based on spending time with other people. High social fun ratings mean that a player sees a game primarily as a prop around which to organise social experiences.
Here's my profile, in case you're curious:
A graphic representing my ratings on the four scales: Conflict - 29%. Fantasy - 4%. Strategy: 65%. Social Fun - 65%.


So to rate Dead of Winter along these lines, I'd say that it is:
  • Moderate on the Conflict scale
  • High on the Fantasy scale
  • High on the Strategy scale
And it's not really possible to rate a game on the Social Fun scale, as that depends far more on the players than the game itself.

I hope you find that information useful in deciding if you want to give this game a try. Until next week, have fun playing games, and always remember to

Game on!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Upcoming events and ...things

This summer kicked my butt. It's nearly over, but there's not end in sight for the butt-kicking. Which is not the same as the Butt-Kicker player type... anyway. My summer job did not go as planned, and I ended up having many other obligations on top of that. Most notably, a trip to Denver to see the Sting/Peter Gabriel concert (which was amazing, by the way). Next week, I'll be in Indianapolis for GenCon (about which I'm both excited and terrified). The week after, I start back at my normal job. This year, my responsibilities at this job will be expanded. Needless to say, I'm very scared of what this will entail.

In addition to all of this, I've started a new Changeling group. It's hard to make our schedules meet; too many people have had too many things going on this summer. Trips and holidays and family get-togethers and other similar obligations... we started back in May, and have had three total gaming sessions so far (no counting the chargen session). But it's still been a challenge to prepare the story for them.

And now, I've apparently decided to show just how crazy I really am, by starting up a second Changeling group. Two of my co-workers at my summer job have gamed with me before, and really enjoyed it, and wanted to start gaming with me again. Plus, a new person at the summer job that wasn't there last year has expressed interest, as has his wife (whom I've met and thought was pretty awesome). So we began discussing getting a new group going.

But wait! There's more!

Most of the work that I ended up doing at my summer job was voice-over video projects. Apparently, according to many people in the world who aren't me, I have a very pleasant voice. I've experienced a truly baffling number of encounters in which people tell me that I should work in radio, or that they enjoyed hearing my 'soothing' voice on their voice mail...

I was talking to my co-worker/gaming friends at work about this bizarre phenomenon at one point. They suggested that we should stream our game sessions. 'People will tune in just to listen to your voice!' they told me. So we're planning on setting up a camera and one or two microphones. We're looking into streaming via twitch.tv or possibly on YouTube Live.

I'm not sure what exactly this will entail. But if people are interested, I can keep you posted about when and how to tune in.

This all seems very strange to me. I don't understand the appeal of watching other people play games that I could be playing myself. And yet, thousands of people watch other people playing games on twitch.tv every day. So what the heck, I guess we'll give it a try.

In the meantime, I won't be able to post next week (being as I'll be at GenCon). So look for another post the week after. Until then, have fun playing games. Remember always to

Game on!