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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gaming on the Road

I'm doing a game based on the road by Cormac McCarthy because it's what must be done. To get it all right I turned the AC to full power and closed the curtains so it'd be real cold and real dark and I talked real slow about how the world's dying and there ain't no hope left for nobody and how sun's smaller and weaker each day and ain't no more animals around and trees are dying and soon there'll be no nothing left at all but if kids play their cards right they could save this world still is what I told them.

Now imagine this without daddy
This is still D&D, mind you, with magic, fantasy races and wandering monsters. The main difference is the focus of the campaign will be traveling, survival and isolation rather than exploration of specific points in the world followed by insane shopping sprees in nearby cities.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ship or Planet as Mirror of 21st Century Society

An interesting exchange had taken place on the Facebook DNDkids (which way too little of you like, btw!)

I've made the following post:

Now there is a curious thing; I had a huge group (17 kids) explore a colossal spaceship. Then came the time to divide this group into two. I decided to do this inplay and asked each kid if he'd rather stay on the ship or go to the planet below. All kids aged 8-9 went to the planet while all kids aged 10-11 stayed on the ship. Theories anyone?

To which a learned gentleman by the name of Ramiel offered the following comment:

Aside from social structure conformity - kids tend to do what their friends do, and they tend to have friends the same age as they are.
I guess younger kids get board faster, and crave change of pace and seek stimulation by changing locale, while older kids tend to explore their options more thoroughly, to maximize their gain, before moving on.
Also, I think youngsters are more drawn to fantasy and planet exploration is a more familiar territory in that respect, while older kids begin to discover the appeal of sci-fi.
Lastly, I think young kids prefer a sandbox environment (where their imagination can run wild more freely), while older kids like the feel of a dungeon crawl better (where they have more control - or the illusion of it)


Now I don't accept the last point, sandbox obviously offer more freedom than dungeon crawl. But otherwise, the guy definitely raised some worthwhile points.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Gamma World - so far so good

Today I created Gamma World characters with one of my more experienced groups (aged 11-12). I can't say anything about the actual gameplay yet, but the character creation is certainly much more exciting, lively and  easier on the throat of the DM than in classic D&D. Instead of speaking for almost an hour about some 30 classes and races, while the kids look at you skeptically, you get to roll mutant origins, which is fun and exciting in itself, then you get to draw powers from a deck of cards, which is also awesome, and lastly you get to describe, or rather, to justify, your character before the rest of the group, which is fun and encourages creativity!

Also, the previous sentence was obscenely long. Good thing no one edits this blog.

DM: So, how does your character look like?
Kid: Dunno. Incredibly ugly I suppose...

Lo! for the words of the prophets are true!

So far Gamma World was awesome. Next week, we'll see how it works in actual gameplay. My campaign is based on Brian Aldiss' Non-Stop, by the way, so it won't be classic post-apocalyptic adventuring.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Of Vampires, Treason and Internal Decoration

One of my more enthusiastic players decided that he wanted to play a vampire this year. Now, since I didn’t have Heroes of the Shadow handy at the time, I told him that he’ll begin the game as a mortal and we’ll role-play his transformation when the book returns to me.

Today presented itself with a wonderful opportunity to make his vampirization memorable. The group is currently engaged in a mission to steal the home stone of an opposing city which they managed to infiltrate after the hero d'jour managed to get a hold of enemy uniform and impersonate a slain officer. The rest of the group posed as his prisoners, except for the shardmind, who posed as his bold choice of internal decoration.

After dark, he was to secretly release them, unwrap the shardmind and go on a commando mission to steal the home stone. He failed to take into account one thing. Namely, that I’m an ‘orrible bastard.

A few minutes shy of midnight, just as he was preparing to leave, there was a knock on his door and a pleasant young man came in and started talking with our hero. Soon, the player had realized that the young man was the son of a man who participated in a secret mission with the player’s current assumed persona. That officer was the only man to return alive... with the others’ equipment. Then came the inevitable question, “did you murder my father just for the money, or there were other reasons?”

Not so fun when you're on the receiving end...
Then came a bad Diplomacy roll.

Then came the young man’s seven brothers, daggers flashing in their hands, their knuckles white with cold rage.

Then came eight stabs by eight fighters who didn’t spare their daily powers.

Then came oblivion.

Half-dreaming, half-dying, the dying PC remembered being dragged by the brothers to an abandoned garbage dump where an open coffin awaited him. “Tell your excuses to earthworms and dust, traitor,” they said before they nailed the lid shut and earth started pouring on the coffin. This is not a situation one can escape... alive.

The rest of the group, meanwhile, waited and waited and waited until a most terrible realization downed on them – no one was going to release them. The plan had failed spectacularly and they were now truly stranded in a POW camp without weapons, allies or even precise knowledge of their location.

All hope now lies in the hand of an extremely bold choice of internal decoration gathering dust in a warehouse and a dead man whose black blood is now pumped by madness and hate as his claws his way from a cold, damp grave.

Welcome to the rest end of your life!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Just another post...

Some people told me they were very eager to hear about the curious results of my bigotry experiment. Keeping this in mind, I decided to wait some time before I publish them (yeah, I'm kind of a bastard, although my parents are legally married).

Instead, I'll remind you that I have a very cool FB page full of funny table talk and not enough funny people and a new G+ account (Uri Kurlianchik) dedicated almost exclusively to gaming talks. Would love to see you in both.

Anyhow, so that you won't completely bummed, I'll post a picture from the RPG I'm working on. A mutant Rat!

Art by Stav, master of Rats and a damn good artist!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Teaching Hate #1

As you probably know, racism is a very funny and lighthearted subject. It is completely harmless and highly entertaining. Because of this, I had conducted a small social experiment last year I would now like to share with you.

I had picked several older groups that had a considerable dragonborn minority and placed them in a city where dragonborn were the largest racial group, but significantly smaller than all other groups combined. Most dragonborn were honest mercenaries or craftsmen, but being honest, they never came into the PCs' radars. Instead, the PCs got roughed up by dragonborn ruffians, injured in dragonborn terrorist attacks and witnessed a bloodbath in dragonborn street riots.

The dragonborn are an ancient race of honorable warriors - what right do these soft newcomers have to force their laws on us? Oh, it's their city and we're the newcomers? Well, screw them, we're stronger, we're the offspring of dragons, they're furless apes!

Dragonborn kids want to LARP too. Also, sexual harassment suit coming in 9,8,7...

A small but vicious group called "Sons of the Dragon" was sweeping the masses and dragging the whole city into hell. Meanwhile, angered, the dictator of the city took harsher and harsher steps against the dragonborn, culminating in the Massacre in Heroes' Square in which the PCs had the dubious honor of participating.

On any side they chose.

I did not express my personal opinion on the issue even once. Instead, I gave the players total freedom and watched how they dealt with this situation. The result was... curious.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

When two men DMed thirty kids...

Last year, I was informed quite late in the evening that I was to run a game for about 30 kids the following morning. I objected, saying that D&D simply doesn’t work with such large groups, but was told that the alternative was being boiled alive, which at the time seemed worse than playing with a large group. Furthermore, I was to co-DM with a colleague who’s a real life Shadar-Kai, but also arguably the best DM in all of Asia – so there was hope. Hastily we developed a plan to save our throats and dignity.

We would break the class into three groups, each group representing the crew of a fantastic ship returning home after a long voyage. Before class, we arranged the tables in three blocks to represent three distinct vessels. For some time, the kids sailed toward the whiteboard, their home port nearing--

But woe is them! Suddenly they encounter Moby Dick AND the Kraken, deftly drawn by my partner on the whiteboard. Soon, blood and ink stain the water as a battle for survival insures.

"I'm so happy that you're back, let me hug you!"
"NOOOOO!"

Each kid got one of four below roles:

Helmsman
Ram (standard; at will) Navigation vs. AC, 40 damage and the target is stunned until the end of its next round.
Dodge (immediate interrupt, when an enemy melee attack hits the ship) enemy re-rolls attack. This ability can only be used once per round.

Gunner
Magic torpedo (standard; at will) Artillery vs. AC, Before firing declare how much damage you want to cause, for each 10 points over 100 you suffer a -1 attack penalty, for each 10 points under 100, you gain a +1 attack bonus.
Self destruct (minor action; daily) Automatic hit, 1000 damage in a 20 square radius. Ship and crew are destroyed.

Engineer
Repair (standard; at will) make an Engineering check, for each point you score over 20, the ship regains 5 hp.
Upgrade (standard; encounter) make an Engineering check, if you roll above 20 you get a minor bonus, if your roll above 25 you get a major bonus.

Healer
First Aid (standard; at will) make a Heal check, for each point you score over 20, each crew member regains 2 hp.
Prayer (standard; encounter) the ship either gains +2 to attack rolls or +2 to AC for the reminder of the encounter.

The monsters had a variety of attacks, which sadly I failed to record. However, these targeted both players and ships. I recollect the Kraken covering an entire vessel with ink and Moby Dick tail whipping several crew members to a watery hell. Yarrr!

All in all, we had to shout ourselves hoarse, but that was an enjoyable experience. Should you ever find yourself needing to DM to an epic-sized group, consider putting a ship under them.

Suprior Races (and Classes)

Unlike in previous years, this year I offered all races and classes available to all age groups. Some translation won't kill me and I am curious to see which would be the most popular. While it is difficult to point at a leading class, a very clear racial favorite is the Shardmind, whom I call Crystalman, because shardmind sounds very silly in our language, which is quite silly to begin with. The shifter is also worthy of note, while not very many kids chose it, the ones who did were very passionate about it. Alarmingly so...


While PHB 1 races are still popular, especially the Eladrin and the Dragonborn, practically no one had chosen any PHB 1 classes, even groups playing for the first time and not having any stigmas against the book as "old and boring." It should be noted that my PHB 1 book is in Hebrew and the others are in English, which might give them a mysterious and exotic air and sway impressions a bit. The Shadar-Kai, my favorite race, failed to interest even a single player ;(


I like to call Shadar-Kai, the October people and stress out that they are to Autumn what Eladrin are to spring. It seems this is a poor argument to pick this race next to "I can breathe fire!" or "I don't have to breathe at all!"


Two kids had invented races of their own - one had invented an elemental of darkness (which needs revision since it's WAY overpowered) and the other an apes that shoots five kinds of energy balls (balanced but lacks flavor.)


Not surprisingly, of almost a hundred kids, not one had chosen the Bard class or the Human race. Typical.


P.S
I think that in real life, I'm a human bard whose media is RPGs, no?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sexism in RPG art?

I googled "sexism fantasy art." These two pics appeared on the first page:

RPB

I don't ordinarily use this blog for self-promotion (although you should really read my stuff, it's awesome), but for reasons that will become apparent after reading, this RPB story is highly appropriate for the blog.

Wait! You don't know what RPB is? All the more reason to take a look... ;)

99% of random encounters start with a red phone box, didn't you know?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Table Talk: when Uri was young...

This is some table talk I'd been keeping since I was a kid myself.


***

Player: I use my Sense Motive skill to check if the scroll is lying.

Player 1 (explaining why she killed someone): He called me a whore! That's offensive!
Player 2: Unless you consider yourself a whore...

Player 1: I have things holier than you coming out of my butt!
Player 2: You're not the bringer of holy shit!
 
Player: I feel like in a very intelligent conversation between two Pokemons!

DM (ushering someone to play faster): Just roll the fucking die, you either hit the table or you don't!

Player (during a pitched combat against a mob of peasants): I try to intimidate them, defensively.

Player: I never presume to know more in anything than anyone.

Player (first session): I'm just a confused blond orc in the middle of the jungle.

NPC: Surrender! There is no point in surrendering. (he was LE...)

DM: Do you turn off the chainsaw?
Player: I never turn off the chainsaw!

Player: We stand in a circle and touch each other (preparing for teleportation)

Player 1 asking Player 2: You gain a level as a fighter or as a dwarf?

Player: How much damage do 40 rifles do? Never mind, the problem is the Concentration skill check... (last words)

DM: He is too high to be a Wild Elf and too wild to be a High Elf.

Player: I try to hide my Charisma and disappear into the crowd.

Talking about a new campaign, "the builders"
DM: You don't fight and you don't talk.
Player: What do we do?
DM: You make Skill checks.
Player: And we don't talk?
DM: What's there to talk about?

Player 1: So, you worship a potato?
NPC: No, a dead frog.
Player 2: It's the same, they're both under the ground and slowly grow...
Everyone looks at him, dumbfounded.

Player 2 (later on): Jesus is actually a walking walker!
More dumbfounded stares.


Group is talking with a potentially hostile NPC, Player 1 wants to attack him.
Player 2: In Parentheses, kill him after we talk, O.K?

NPC: So, you want to see my boss?
Player: Only his soul.

Player (out of the blue): It isn't fair, they are too strong.
DM: Who?
Player: Everyone!

Player (playing a dwarf cleric in pseudo-historic setting): Jesus was a dwarf!

Player 1 suitably rolls a 1
Player 2: You idiot! Why did you do it?!

NPC: My dungeon was designed to stop fools and weaklings.
Player (after passing through the dungeon):Well, it failed!
NPC (examining the PCs with disgust): I see...

Player (playing a Catholic priest): I kill and destroy in the name of Jesus.

Player: Wood... doesn't burn that well... (after being told his fireball set his village on fire)

Player: So, what's your name?
Elf NPC gets very nervous.
Player: O.K, no need for panic, where do you live?
Elf NPC kills himself.
Player: What? What did I say?!
Craziest DM ever!

NPC (flirting): Hi, where are you going to?
Player: HELL!
NPC: What are you looking for there?
Player: DEATH! Wanna come?

DM (to players preparing an ambush): So, what DO you do in the bushes?

Player (before a dangerous assault): Wait! Someone has to stay behind and guard the camp...

Player (describing encounter with the undead): They didn't actually eat my soul... more like licked it.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Release the girls from the Dungeon! #1.5

Surprisingly civil and fruitful discussion over G+, Twitter and Facebook had followed my previous post. For future reference, I’d much rather see it concentrated here instead of scattered all over the net. I think it's more productive this way and helps good people meet and share good ideas (evil and chaotic people are welcome too, btw). Also, I want you all present in the same place, a place under my control, so that I could-- well, never mind. Back to the quest to get young players to play...


Girl Gamers - maybe it's all the attention that scares them away?

This is a brief summary of the points raised today:

Name: Change the name of the activity from “Dungeons and Dragons” to something which including “fantasy” and implies “teamwork.” I strongly support this idea. However, the new name should be one that wouldn’t scare away boys. Any suggestions?
Flyers: When handing flyers describing the activity, have them portray a male and a female character. The female should be a nature-related character, possibly some sort of a feline humanoid. It seems most young girls favor this sort of characters and those who do not are not hostile toward them.
Girl Groups: Promote “male” D&D and “female” D&D separately to defuse the potential social pressure applied on girls not to participate in male activities. Girl game should be promoted and ran by female DMs and stress the theatrical and dramatic aspects of the game over its military aspect. While I'm not a fan of segregation of the sexes, my personal exprience shows that boys do seem to out-scream girls (at this age at least...) and that the two sexes generally get along very poor, so perhaps there is merit to this idea. Next year, we'll probably give it a shot.
Horses: One suggestion I value very highly since it was the only one actually made by a young gir: horses. There should be horses on the flyers. Horses are cool. I'm all for it because I like horses too. I like donkeys even more, but that is only because I'm an ass.

Female DMs signalling their Venus overlords

This is just an intermediate post, I’m still researching and experimenting in this field. So far with little success; today I promoted D&D in a local school. Twenty-two kids came from nine classes – all boys. Girls looked excited and interested during my visit, many had asked for flyers, many even spoke about characters they’d like to play... but not one girl came to the introductory game.

Oh well, back to the drawing table.

At the end of the day, from high above, we all look the same.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Release the girls from the Dungeon! #1

A thought had occurred to me today. A thought which I believe might be of value to educators interested in getting young girls to play Dungeons and Dragons, a task we all know is quite formidable

I don't think there are any biological, historical or even cultural reasons why girls should be averse to D&D - these games are not physically violent and not overly competitive. Quite the opposite, they are highly cooperative, social and fantastic, the latter appealing to girls even more than to boys, who always look disappointed when I explain to them that no, their character can’t have a machine gun and drive a tank. Girls on the other hand are less keen on steel and petrol. One girl, who was only mildly interested in the game, became quite passionate once I told her paladin can have a magnificent white horse one day.

Furthermore, the inherent connection of tabletop gaming to fantasy literature, a field that girls are more interested in than boys would suggest that D&D should appeal to girls even more than to boys. And yet, in every class I visit to promote our afterschool program, I hear young girls saying, "This thing isn't for girls," ignoring all my attempts to interest them in the game.

A girl having a fantastic encounter. Not in picture: blood, gloom and chain bikini.
Art by Lucas Pandolfelli

Perhaps it all boils down to the name of the game - Dungeons and Dragons. Dungeons are not sympathetic places, and dragons are not sympathetic creatures. Even the trochaic name sounds aggressive and belligerent, like the beating of a drum, DUN-geons AND dra-GONS, or DEE-an-DEE. It is a name that screams a challenge at the listener, a warlike and harsh name that promises blood, pain and aggression, a barbaric quest ending with epic violence. This message is conveyed both on a conscious level and on a subconscious level. Yes, it is very appealing to the competitive and aggressive nature of young boys, but it is also antagonistic for most girls, who would love to go on an adventure, but not one based on crawling through filth and old bones and ending with the spilling of entrails in a damp and dark cave.

It is also something of a misnomer. D&D is also about exploration of fantastic terra incognita, about talking with people, about claiming treasures and buying cool stuff in the market, about meeting memorable NPCs and uncovering mysteries. It is about making friends among the denizens of the forest and thinking of ways to save your town from a plague. It is not an FPS but a grand adventure, offering all the diversity and richness of life, peppered with fantasy and the freedom to be whatever you want to be minus the paralyzing fear of failure.

So, the question which is now obvious is how the game should be called to be more appealing to girls. Let us rub brains and think...

Facebook!

Did you know that DNDkids has a Facebook page where you can find the latest funny table talk, brief updates and-- oh you know. Then why on earth are you not liking it?!

Hmmm... this post is too short. I guess I'll have to make a real one tonight. Meanwhile, roll high and spot far, ye gamers!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Lawful. But is it Good?

I didn't plan to post today. I'm working on a major post right now, something that will hopefully expose some of the deeper flaws of our education system, but I hadn't quite found the words to plead my case yet. But sometimes, one just can't deny the urge to write. Please look at me with pity, graphomania is a serious condition.

Today, after I bit a dry marker in two to squeeze a little more ink from it, a boy commented, "the thing I like about you is that you don't care about manners, only about doing what you want," without the slightest hint of sarcasm. Was my action wrong? No, merely unorthodox.
Later that day a boy from a school all the way across town came to one of my classes. He said he didn't like his new instructor because, "she doesn't like noise and mess, like you do." Are noise and mess inherently wrong? No, merely unorthodox.

Some months ago, a girl had asked me if she may go to the bathroom. I asked her if this question was an inquiry as to whether she possessed the physical faculties needed to perform this basic anatomical function, or an examination of the socio-cultural norms concerning this activity. She looked at me queerly and went to the bathroom.

The point I wanted to make, and which I felt may have been lost on the polite young lady, is that I don't care if one is in the bathroom or not. There is no need to ask me. Just do it!

Now, don't get the wrong impression of me. Discipline in my classroom is not lax. If anything, I view myself as an old-school, possibly even an authoritarian, figure. I uphold the rules of the game and the rules of courtesy to the highest standards and if you don't play nice, you're not going to play at all.

However, I don't have needless rules. I don't care if a kid is sitting by the table or on the table. I don't care if he's wearing a hat in class. If the class is hot and the air conditioning is broken, I won't hesitate to go all McGuiver on the secured windows to get some air into the classroom. All these things would make a teacher faint. Why, just today a school principle phoned to scream at me that I left one of the classes in a mess. What kind of mess? The tables were all wrong, some of them were shifted almost a foot to the left.

I decided one of us must be insane. I just don't know who.

This can't possibly be fun! There aren't any perfectly aligned tables in this picture!


And yet, despite not measuring the table locations with an atomic ruler, if someone interferes in my game, I go Gygaxian on their ass. My tyranny on this subject had even earned me significant controversy in the past. The discussion of my DNDkids article on discipline had covered dozens of message boards and blogs and generated a discussion longer than longcat on the Wizards forums. But this harshness is justified in my eyes. It is needed. Needed for the game to be fun and for me not to throw myself out of the window I had just unscrewed.

And a guy standing on his head? Why, if it not his turn, he might as well climb the walls like Spiderman or fly around like Superman. He might even fight criminals like Batman - it's none of my business, now is it? He's not interfering with the game and he's not going to harm himself or anyone else, why should I rob him of his right of self-expression?

On the other hand, there is the education system. It screams at you for moving a table several inches. It screams at you for anything unorthodox. They would even scream at you for repeating the previous sentence.

This had led me to a revelation that struck me like an ACME anvil today as I drove back from my first day of work this year. Most laws are not meant to safeguard freedom or defend life or property in the schoolyard - they are meant to humiliate, dehumanize, and make slaves out of freefolk. They come from the same place as the endless and often comically absurd regulations of basic training - to show you you're nothing but a cog in the system. To make you nothing but a cog in the system. In a place which raises cannon fodder, it is right and proper. In a place which claims to create thinkers and virtuous citizens, it is laughable.

People say my classes looks like a jungle, maybe they do. I hope they do.

A jungle is such a nicer place than a prison.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Science Fiction for the Masses!

Friends say I'm addicted to exclamation marks. I say NOOOO!!!!

Anyhow, one of my kid groups had specifically asked for science fiction adventures for this year (well, I kinda brainwashed them for 10 months, but never mind that...). I'm quite excited about this, since this group consists mostly of older kids (12-13) who are voracious consumers of pop science and golden age sci-fi.

I didn't choose a system or a setting yet, but I'm presently leaning toward this one:


If we're going old school, we might as well go ALL the way. It's got mutants, it's got cybernetics, it's got generation ships - sounds like my kind of heaven.

Also, an announcement: my next post is gonna deal with general education and it's gonna start a major REVOLUTION!!!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September 1

OMG! OMG! OMG!

On Sunday we start a new year. New adventures, new LARPs, new website, new table talk, new everything!

Unlike last year, when LARPs were few and far between, this year we plan to do them a regular affair with an ongoing plot and a recurring setting. Kids being kids, it's still gonna be very militaristic. However, this year there will be  non-combat professions for guys and gals who don't fancy getting smacked on the head with foam swords for several hours. Current roles include clerics in charge of resurrecting the dead, bankers in charge of commerce and of course the DM's little helpers, the bureaucrats.

A question that still lies heavily on my mind is whether tabletop games or LARPs should be linked or left separate. On the one hand, creating a consistent universe over table, computer and field is totally full of win. On the other hand, it's still a blow to diversity...

OMG! OMG! OMG!

THEY ARE COMING!