Ramblings of a Girl Gamer

Archive for December, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Favorite Quote: from Bridge to Terebithia
(Leslie, the protagonist’s best friend, whose parents are atheists, says this after going to church with the protagonist’s family, and they are complaining about how boring it was.)

“I don’t get it. You have to believe this stuff, and you hate it. I don’t have to believe it, and I think it’s beautiful.”

Whatever you believe in this holiday season, don’t let the details get you down. Find the beautiful parts and let them inspire you with hope!

LARPing with 4-year-olds

A little while ago, I went home to visit my parents and my 4-year-old adopted brother Teddy.  (I only clarify that he is adopted because, as a 31 year old, when I tell people I have a 4 year old brother they give me funny looks like they’re doing math in their heads about my parents’ ages.)  Teddy had been watching “How to Train Your Dragon” obsessively, and was absolutely in love with anything related to vikings or dragons.  So one afternoon he wanted to take me dragon hunting with him.

The first thing to do was to properly equip ourselves.  Being a little boy, my brother collects sticks, and he had claimed the very best stick in the whole yard as his own.  It was about an inch and a half thick and shaped like a question mark.  It was his dragon-slaying axe.  I wanted to use a whiffle-bat, but Teddy did not approve of that weapon, and I was handed a stick.  He wasn’t quite satisfied with my stick, and kept finding me new ones as we went along.  “Here,” he would say.  “This is a better sword.”

My parents own a small farm in East Tennessee, so there were a lot places to look for dragons.  We went down by the creek, to the big tree by the back porch, and fought a few dragons in each place.  (By which I mean we hit tree branches and bushes with our sticks and yelled a lot.)  We stopped by Teddy’s “house ” (a pile of logs), went into the “dark woods” (a strip of trees and brush above the garden), got on a “boat” (the filbert tree, which is really more like a giant bush than a tree), and into a “sea cave” (under the same tree, we just went around it once to change locations!).  In each location there were new dragons to fight.

I don’t live in Tennessee anymore, so I don’t get to spend much time with my brother, so that afternoon was really special.  To be honest, I probably had as much fun as he did.  And my parents encourage Teddy to use his imagination, but I don’t know how much they actually join him in games of pretend.  I’d like to think he was thrilled to have somebody around who knew how to play!

It got me thinking about the real roots of gaming.  We all learn at a very early age how to create imaginary worlds around us, and if we are lucky enough to have playmates, how to bring them into our imaginary world or go into theirs.  I have been told that one phrase RPG designers use for this is “Shared Imaginary Space.”  It is how a group of people at a gaming table can all be imagining the same thing (or close enough to the same thing that they can interact with the imagined world and still understand each other).  As adult RPG players we use a lot of verbal descriptions to make this functional.  So we may not be so aware of all the nonverbal cues that we also use.  This covers everything from pantomime and hand gestures, to the voices we use as our characters, to subtle things like posture and eye movement.  For example, one of my characters was a shy teenager, so I would hunch when I played her and avoid eye-contact when speaking in character.  Another example: Jason, the GM, is introducing an NPC to us and he says “so this really big guy walks up to you, and wow, he’s really tall!” and he looks up, as if he’s looking at the guy.  And we’re all looking up too, because Jason has just told us, not nearly so much with his words as with his eyes, exactly how tall this guy is and where we must look to make eye-contact with this giant of a dude who exists only in our shared imaginary space.  Favorite example of shared imaginary space:  We’re gaming, and our characters have found this widget (I can’t remember now what it was, or in fact, what we were playing –  Earthdawn maybe).   So Jason’s character has it and Myles wants his character to hold it so he can make some kind of roll to get more information about it, so he says, “Here, give me that.”  So Jason pantomimes passing it to Myles.  But the thing is, they are on opposite ends of the table and can’t physically reach each other, so Chris, who is in between them, without missing a beat and just as instinctively as if there had been a real object there, pantomimes passing the widget from Myles to Jason.  At this point, our GM (who shall be spared by remaining nameless) flips his wig.  He swears he has never seen anything like that.  He’s been gaming for years, but not with us, and I guess his other gaming group wasn’t as comfortable with shared imaginary space as we were!

I’ve done a fair amount of LARPing (that’s Live Action Roleplay if you don’t know), where interacting physically in a shared imaginary space is how you play the game. How much of your environment is real and how much is imaginary depends mostly on what kind of locations your group has access to and how much money, time, and talent they are able to dedicate to setting, props, and costumes. I’ve played in the Camarilla (a White Wolf / World of Darkness LARP), where we played pretty much anywhere they would let us, including various University buildings, parks, bars, and for a short time, an aparment lobby. Some of us had costumes and some didn’t, and weapon-like props, no matter how unrealistic, were banned. The GM’s pretty much had to describe everything that was happening around us. I have also played in the Shadowmoor LARP (SOLAR), where costumes are mandatory and the plot team really goes all out on settings and props. We take over part of a state park, and run around in the woods whacking each other with foamy “weapons” (some of which look really cool!). In a way LARPing requires less imagination than table-top roleplaying, since you are really acting out what your character is doing and its not just all in your head. But in a way, it takes more, since you really have to know what is going on all the time and everyone will see if you don’t as you do something completely inappropriate. You can’t zone out, look up unrelated info in a rulebook, or (gasp!) play with your phone under the table.

Teddy is only four, and while he communicates pretty well for a little kid, he just doesn’t have the vocabulary to properly describe the things in his imagination. So we had to fall back on all those nonverbal cues. I found myself, without really thinking about it, following his movements, his hands, his eyes (and his stick!) to tell me where the dragons were, and I know he was watching me in the same way. It made me realize something else. The most important element of roleplaying is trust. Teddy didn’t ask me if I saw the dragons he was imagining. He didn’t ask me if I believed that the filbert tree was a boat, and he didn’t ask me if I understood that my stick was a sword for stabbing dragons. He just trusted that I was playing in the same imaginary space as he was. As adult roleplayers, we do the same whether we realize the importance of it or not. We trust that we are all imagining the same things, and that everyone will accept what you say your character is doing as valid. You have to trust that everyone is playing the same game. It’s when players stop trusting each other that things break down. Little kids know that. Why have some grown-ups forgotten?

So at the end of our adventure, Teddy was talking about the movie.  (If you haven’t seen “How to Train Your Dragon” I highly recommend it!)  “Hiccup had to make a choice,” he said.  “He had to choose what side he was on.”

This is actually a pretty important turning point in the plot of the movie, and I was impressed that Teddy was paying attention to the plot and not just watching the dragons.  “And what side did he choose to be on?” I asked him.

“The right side,” Teddy said proudly.

Wow.  He was paying attention.  So I tried to challenge him, to see how far I could push our little game of make-believe.  “So what about us, Teddy?  What side are we on?”

“The left side.”

Oh well.  I love my baby brother.  He makes me laugh.

Game Review – Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

So my friends and I played this game the other night.  Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, created by Daniel Solis and published  by Evil Hat (those great people who brought us Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies and The Dresden Files RPG).  It’s got a really cool setting heavily inspired by Avatar the Last Airbender.  It also has good art.  It’s not strictly an RPG; its a story-writing game.  Players take turns writing sentences to create the story.  When it is your turn, you are the “storyteller”, and you write a sentence about your character helping someone.  The other players are the troublemakers and they write about the storyteller’s character getting into trouble.  You draw black and white stones from a bag, keep all of one color, and the number of stones you keep determines whether the storyteller, the troublemakers or both get to write, and who goes first.  Each session begins with a letter from someone who needs help, and the story goes from there.  It’s lots of fun.

Other perks of this game:  Character creation is really fast.  It has no GM, and  lots of starting letters are provided in the book, so there is no prep-time.  The game is marketed to tween and teen gamers, and the characters are teenagers.  It is recommended for age 12 and up, and the book is definitely on a challenging (6th grade +) reading level, but the concept is so simple there’s no reason younger kids couldn’t play it.  As for the occasionally challenging vocabulary, I admire kids games that treat kids with respect and aren’t afraid to challenge them.  It’s definitely the kind of game that appeals to kids and adults alike.  And did I mention it has good art?

Here is the story we wrote:  (FYI the words in all caps are Goal Words.  They come with the intro letter, and you have to use all of them to “win” and get the good ending.  We were down to the wire on that, by the way.)

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple

Example of play: “A Matter of Roses”

Characters:

Pilgrim Rolling Squirrel:  Gets into trouble by not knowing when to quit and helps people by talking to small animals.  (Me!)

Pilgrim Telling Field:  Gets into trouble by telling inconvenient truths and helps people by being a great farmer. (My husband Myles)

Pilgrim Black Wave:  Gets into trouble by making people sad and helps people by controlling water.  (Our buddy Del)

The Letter: A Matter of Roses

The Three of Spades writes to the temple for help because the Queen is having a party to show off the red roses in her garden. The problem is, the roses are white and as soon it stops raining, she will discover this, and then he and his mates will be in big trouble.

The Story:

The Pilgrims arrive at the PALACE and the Three of Spades runs out to meet them. Pilgrim Rolling Squirrel is rather put out by not being addressed as “YOUR HIGH AND MIGHTY MONKNESS”. Joining the spirit of the moment, Pilgrim Telling Field intones “Dear Three of Spades, we have come in answer to the letter you BURIED. Telling Field then reminds the Three of Spades and his mates that HER MAJESTY will be here shortly to view the roses and will surely order their heads struck from their bodies. Pilgrim Black Wave reminds Rolling Squirrel that she is not a monk yet and as a good pilgrim they are here to help the Three of Spades before the Queen finishes with her TEA AND CROQUET PARTY and comes to view the roses. The Three of Spades says, “They didn’t even send real monks?!” and starts crying on Black Wave’s shoulder, sobbing, “I will surely be fertilizer for the ROSES!”

Rolling Squirrel, not knowing when to quit, had raised her voice during the argument, drawing the attention of HER MAJESTY. Telling Field also points out that the rain has just stopped and the Queen is on her way to view the RED ROSE BORDER. The rest of the deck comes into the GARDEN, and at the sight of their crying comrade, all burst into tears, smothering Black Wave in damp cardboard.

Pilgrim Rolling Squirrel talks to the Doormouse who lives in the garden, convincing him to run into the palace and distract the Queen. Noticing their dire situation, Telling Field decides to demonstrate that all is not lost by growing a sunflower to give heart to the beleaguered Spades. Black Wave makes the rain, which is no longer falling, begin to rise and fly into the sky, making the Queen think it is still raining and turn around.

Rolling Squirrel, not certain the upward rain will work, urges the Doormouse to continue to try to get HER MAJESTY’S attention, and she turns back toward the garden. Before the Queen can notice the roses, Rolling Squirrel runs up to her shouting, “Oh, thank you! You found my pet!” Her Majesty sees the giant yellow sunflower and yells, “Why did you PLANT that in my rose garden?” To which Telling Field replies “Because, your Majesty,” one must demonstrate one’s skills to be hired for them.” The cards realize they are about to be replaced, and the three of Spades is so angry that he dumps an entire bag of rose SEEDS on Black Wave’s head, crying, “This is all your fault!” Black Wave causes a water spout to hit the Three of Spades in the face, causing him to cough and sputter quietly.

Losing all patience, Rolling Squirrel calls out to the birds of the sky, calling upon them to nest in the Queen’s PALACE and peck out her eyes! Horrified by what she did in her exuberance, Rolling Squirrel sends a raven (who knows human speech) to fetch the Queen’s physician before she is left permanently blind. Telling Field points loudly that that if they leave her blind she won’t be able to see that the roses are still WHITE! Realizing his error, Telling Field proceeds to command the roses to go to seed. The distraught card guards stare at their ruined GARDEN and their injured Queen, then together they grab Black Wave and drag him into the tool shed.

Rolling Squirrel and her animal friend gather up the petals from the dying ROSES and bring them to the Queen, saying, “I know you can’t see them, but they still smell nice, don’t they?” Inhaling too deeply of the supposedly RED rose petals, the Queen gets one lodged in her airway and starts to choke. Seeing that the Queen is not long for this world, Telling Field decides to grow the vines on the GARDEN shed to the point where it ripped apart, freeing Black Wave. The rain falling upward comes to an abrupt stop as Black Wave realizes the red rose SEEDS were in the shed the whole time. The card guards forget all about Black Wave as they drag the bags of red ROSE seeds out into the garden, but the door slams shut behind them, locking Black wave inside.

The royal physician arrives just in time to stop the Queen from choking and applies some healing salve to her eyes, and Rolling Squirrel sighs with relief. Telling Field, seeing that all is well, laughs merrily, and flies off into the sunset to tell the tale to the Monks. The guards are able to replant the red rose seeds, and with Telling Field’s farming ability and Black Wave making the rain fall the roses grow and bloom and the people are happy.

THE END

By the way, that thing with the birds pecking the Queen’s eyes out?  Yeah, they did that to me while I was in the bathroom and couldn’t protest.  After that, I also had to argue them out of having the Three of Spades commit sepuku.  (Yeah, my husband has been playing Legend of the Five Rings, and it shows!)  They’re pretty crazy, but they make things interesting for sure.  Anyhow I highly recommend this game!

Gaming Explained

So, this is an article I wrote for SCARAB, which is a gaming convention that I help run.  I got some pretty good feedback on it.  I figure since this is a blog about gaming, I should have something like this here explaining what its all about.  So here goes.

What is Gaming?

Many people have asked SCARAB what we mean when we say that we are a gaming convention. Hopefully this will set the record straight, and help to clarify just what it is we are all about.

Gaming is Entertainment

The term gaming covers a wider variety of activities than you may realize, including, but not limited to, board games, card games, miniatures games, and roleplaying games. First and foremost, the purpose behind gaming is to have fun with friends. Most gamers will tell you that it matters less to them what they are playing than who they are playing with. Whether its catching up with old friends or breaking the ice with new ones, gaming is meant to be social, and if you’re not having fun, you’re missing the point.

Gaming is a Challenge

Whether you are planning out your strategy on the chessboard, figuring out the longest word you can spell in Scrabble, collecting cards with powers that you can use to score points against your opponents, or pretending to be a thief who must figure out how to sneak into the wizard’s tower without getting caught, the element of challenge is always exciting. Games can be competitive, collaborative, or a combination of both. All games have a goal. Sometimes, that goal is to accomplish something before the other players, or to obtain the highest score. Some games have sides or teams that compete together. Sometimes, players work together to achieve a common goal before time runs out or something else happens in the game, such as in many of the story-based board games. Most roleplaying games do not have winners or loser. Instead, the goal is to work together to create an interesting story. No two games are alike, but all of them enjoy some element of strategy, cleverness, creativity, and out-of-the-box thinking.

What is Role Playing?

In a roleplaying game (also called an RPG), the players imagine themselves into the roles of other people in situations that are very different from their real lives. For a lot of non-gamers, when they think of RPGs they think of fantasy-based games like Dungeons and Dragons. But in actuality, there are as many kinds of RPGs as there are kinds of stories. There are RPGs set in the cities of the future, in the Old West, in a range of historical to fantastic versions of Medieval Europe and Asia, and even in modern-day America. Characters in an RPG can be anything from knights and wizards, to vampires and werewolves, to secret agents, gunslingers, superheroes, spaceship captains, or anything else imaginable. There is usually a person (sometimes called a game master, narrator, or story-teller) who creates and controls the setting and the other people the player’s characters encounter. The characters portrayed by the players interact with each other and their imagined world to enact and create a story in which the characters may succeed or fail, but ultimately live through a series of events that affects and changes them and the world around them.

What’s Up With the Dice?

Most RPGs employ some mechanism to give an element of randomness to the game. Dice are most common, but cards are also common, and a few games use more exotic methods such as rock-paper-scissors or even a Jenga tower. However this is done, the purpose is to lend surprise and unpredictability to the story. Why? Just imagine how boring a superhero movie would be if you knew whether or not every single punch was going to connect before it was thrown, or if the hero always won (or never won), and if people could predict in advance whether or not the would be knocked out and tied up in the villain’s secret lair at the end of the fight. Chance and risk make stories more exciting, and make the victory at the end that much sweeter.

To Sum It Up

Gaming is about having fun and spending time with friends. It is about challenge and imagination and stories. It may seem kind of strange. (And it is! But in a good way!) But don’t knock it ‘til you try it. You just might enjoy yourself.

So I have a blog now……

I’ve been thinking,

Several of my friends have blogs, and it might be fun to have a place where I can write things and they can read them.  I could talk about wacky things that happen to us when we are gaming, or talk about game systems that I like to play.  Stuff like that.  I do not plan to take this blog too seriously.  I’ll leave the professionalism to my buddy Sara over at “thewriterblocked”.  I’m just doing this for fun, so just chill out.