Jul 292013
 

I will happily admit that this is another of those posts that I start while knowing full well that there’s a whole lot I have to say on the subject, and it probably won’t fit into just one post. I make no promises as to when I will get back to the rest of it though, as right now I have one particular element of the character generation process on my mind.

I am a few short months away from creating a character for a game that I will play in for roughly 9 months, and providing I don’t go and get myself perished, I will play said character for the duration. So I should be thinking about playing the kind of character I would happily be stuck with for a good long while. But here’s the kicker; there’s every chance that I won’t get to play that character. There are several factors determining whether or not this is the case, and I’ll deal with a few below, but I’m popping the advice for any gamer out there right here: Be prepared to play a character that you never planned on playing.

The game I will be playing has a character generation system that mixes dice rolling for attributes and a points system for skill levels. Lets look at the dice rolling though, as this is the most obvious way that your finely considered concept could be turned on its head. I wish I could share with you all the character creation system, but it is still a work in progress and as such they have asked me not to share it. To sum up, each attribute is decided by three 20 sided dice, but certain nationalities roll more dice and the player chooses the three they would prefer. Dice being what they are, it is totally possible for a character who really wishes to play a hard as nails Northern pirate raider, but when she rolls the dice, ends up with a strength score of seven in a percentile based game.

I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of people out there who will tell you that they have had amazing games with characters that sucked. I know there’s at least a couple because I’ve read about them. What I’ve found to be more common though is people who would much rather ditch a character build as they’d got their hearts set on something that is now unfeasible based on the stats they’ve rolled. My advice here may not be popular, but in its simplest form it is thus: change the thing you want to play.

People may be tuning out now, thinking what the hell is this crazy person talking about?! I don’t mean change the entire concept, just change the bits that no longer make sense, A little while ago I wrote a quick little plot seed up about the start of an adventure that I think would actually be a lot more typical of starting character’s jaunts out into the wild away from their homes and families. You may want to be a huge viking warrior, but if can’t, re-imagine her as a younger woman. Starting out with nothing but a knife and a rotting leather jerkin, it may not matter how she strong she is right now, but the character you want her to be, becomes a promise to yourself of the hero that the character will become.

Of course you also have the more extreme option to just change your concept. I have never yet been in a position where I have felt the need to do this, but that doesn’t mean this situation doesn’t exist. The closest I have come came down to a series of random rolls for backgrounds. What started off as a pretty cool idea for a conman character, would have been hamstrung by poverty and a drug addiction. Either of which is far from ideal, but both together meant that I had little I could bring to the character other than these facts when starting out. Rather than start from scratch, or struggle with a character concept that I had very little interest in, I spoke to my GM, and we decided to just re-roll the things that had such a negative effect.

Talking about issues is the biggest tool you have at your disposal when it comes to a bad result on the dice during character creation. Most GMs are at least open to a discussion if you’re thoroughly unhappy with what you’ve got on the rolls, but be prepared to not get your own way. Compromise is key at this point, and if you are able to really sell your concept to the GM they might be willing to allow a bit of wiggle room to get you closer to where you want to start.

Of course, there are times when talking about the character is exactly what leads to you not playing the type of character you have in mind, and this for me is slightly more important. I dislike creating characters in a vacuum, and for me this means doing it without any sounding board. I have in the past as a GM ended up having to create an entire group of characters one at a time with only myself and one player in the room. Sadly it was a necessity because of scheduling clashes before the game that I wanted to get started by a certain date. If I could go back and change it though, I would start a week later and let the players sit together in the room and make their characters as a group.

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That’s not to say that the characters necessarily needed to be part of a gang that already know each other, but I really like the idea that some thought has been put into making a group that when they do get together, are able to function. Now, I’m not saying that you need to sit around and worry about having the absolute correct balance of healer/fighter/mage/McGuffin, but avoiding the loneliest of lone wolves problem is worth taking some time to think about.

A party of characters needs to be able to work together and even if you don’t set out to create a lone wolf, it is totally possible to have one or more members of the group with characters that just don’t mesh with the party as a whole. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as societal class or criminal leanings, none of which should be a reason for a party not to work, but will need talking about. To look at a game that really does social classes well, lets focus on Unhallowed Metropolis. Why would a high ranking nobleman spend his evenings hanging out with a working class pick-pocket and whore? Sure there may be reasons, but take the time to work these before hand, and sometimes this means you might have to make some changes.

Don’t feel like you need to completely re-write something from the concept up, but there are things that can be altered that will make the group more playable from the starting sessions. As a group plays together then party friction will cause interesting relationships, but to start with, try your best to come up with concepts that will at the very least be able to play nice with each other. Again, compromise is going to make everyone’s lives easier here. If one person is totally unwilling to back down from an overtly disruptive character concept, it might be time to have a chat with the GM as a group, but for anything other than that talking between players should  be enough.

Jul 262013
 

After recording our latest podcast a week ago, it got me thinking about yet another stereotype that seems to get applied to gamer geeks everywhere: that we don’t like going outside and doing active things, and don’t enjoy sports. Well, straight off the bat, if gamer geeks are active outdoors men/women please explain the following.

But what I really want to get the hub of is the thought that we can’t enjoy more mainstream activities like cheering on a sports a team. Well, myself and co-host Rich spent a good long time discussing the various merits of that most noble of sporting pursuits; Test Match Cricket. in fact, we may have on about it for a bit too long in a podcast that’s only about 50 minutes long, but there is a whole lot that can be said about the game.

But I for one am also a Rugby League fan, and my fellow podcaster is a fan of the far inferior Rugby Union. In our gaming society, sport is often up for discussion, along with sailing, which one of our old guard has been doing for decades. We also have a whole bunch of us that go geocaching for a laugh. So please can all the non geeks please just drop this stereotype. We love sports and enjoy getting out and having fun just as much as anyone else does.
Unless I’m totally wrong in this. Any thoughts from my fellow geeks?
Jul 232013
 

5117mwAhWcL._Yeah, not so much a gaming blog post right now, but this entire series would certainly make it into my own Appendix N, along with the works of Joe Abercrombie, so here we go. To bring you up to speed, it’d be better if you’d already read Mister Lynch’s first two books, so I’ll just wait until you’re done.

How amazing was that? The bit with the Spider? I mean, just wow! Ahem, anyway.

Imagine that instead of waiting for the official release of The Republic of Thieves in October, you would have to wait seven whole years. That’s how long I’ve been waiting for this bad boy. Mister Lynch has had some reasonably well documented problems with depression and anxiety, and as such he has been taking just as long as he needs to finish the third part of his Gentlemen Bastards series. I don’t hold it against him; I am lucky enough to have his problems, but I am still very sympathetic.

What made the wait all the worse was that because I work in a bookshop I was constantly seeing publication dates that were never honoured, just extended. But I never gave up hope. I checked weekly on Mr. Lynch’s website, started following him on Twitter and bugged the hell out of the rep who came into the store. Eventually my patience was rewarded, and not long after that I managed to grab hold of an advanced proof copy.

And last night I finished it.

Before I get into the meat of the review, I will say that I will do my damndest to steer clear of spoilers from this latest novel, but I make no such promises about the first two. If you haven’t read them yet, you’ve been warned.

As you can imagine, I had built up a lot of expectation for this one. Seven years is a long time to get excited about a novel. I can say without hesitation though that it lived up to and beyond all my expectations. The return of Locke Lamorra as the self indulgent whiner we know he can become from his time during Red Seas… was handled excellently. After refusing to let his closest friend Jean die at the close of the last book, we begin this one with Locke at death’s door, and Jean doing everything possible to keep Locke firmly ensconced within the land of the living.

Breaking the law is of course included in this, and leads to the opening of the adventure; a story of politics and betrayal, love and loss, crime and vengeance. Throughout all of that, what this story is rally about is relationships. In the last book it was all about Locke and Jean and the deep trusting friendship they share in spite of the troubles that they never seem able to shake. Although this friendship is still very much evident throughout this third installment, the focus rests more on Locke and the woman he loves: Sabetha.

Sticking to his tried and tested formula of interweaving the past with the present, we’re shown how the two love birds first managed to get over their stubbornness and shyness and get together (a long clumsy and embarrassing tale that nevertheless captivates from beginning to end), while also watching their stumbling steps as they try to re-kindle that bright flame of adoration after a five year gap. All this done to either the back drop of young criminals finding a place in the world, or experienced confidence tricksters and thieves rigging the election of a massively powerful city state.

Mr. Lynch knows how to write relationships well. Friendship and betrayal seem to come easy to him, and he easily draws you into the lives of his protagonists. For this reason alone, this book should be required reading for gamers everywhere. We will all remember that time when our wits were as whip-crack fast as Locke and Sabetha’s, and the probably more common times we came up with a perfectly dry zinger that would have put Jean in his place, but just a few seconds/minutes/years too late.

The humour is another great reason to read this book. I lost count of how many times my girlfriend gave me a funny look as I burst out laughing as she sat on the sofa playing the Xbox. Sometimes the humour comes out nowhere and knocks you for six in an otherwise serious scene, sometimes it builds up perfectly until your sat giggling away like a school child. But there are even more reasons to read this book!

It is just full of ideas. Plot fodder galore lines the pages, from subtle ploys to long-game cons that could shape the future of an entire city state. So many things to do in a fantasy city, and with very little effort could lead onto massive plots in pretty much any genre. While we’re here lets talk about genre shall we. The Gentleman Bastards series take place in a Renaissance level world in terms of technology, with a few notable advances to near Victorian levels, and magic filling a few other gaps along the way. The magic, or rather almost total lack thereof, is one of my favourite things about the series. True, we once again get to see some action from the world’s only magic users – the Bondsmagi – but they are so powerful, and so few, that they’re more plot device than set dressing, but not so overpowered that they act as omnipotent MacGuffins. They are used perfectly as a driving force behind the scenes, without much being known about them, even after a very curious Locke starts to ask questions.

As proven in the last book, a quick wit and a good plan is enough to bring at least one of them down. And so we finally come to my favourite reason why you should read this, and all the other books Mr. Lynch has written; they’re stories about human triumph in the face of overwhelming odds. They show the human spirit at its finest, while never shying away from shining a light on its darkest times too. All the better to show the effort and struggle put in to move beyond the depths and once more shine.

To sum up then; buy this book. True, as a role player I can think of a few extra reasons why it’s worth picking up, but everything good about it works no matter who the person is that’s reading it. It is from start to finish a work of wonder, and I say again: very much worth the wait.

Jul 222013
 

I understand that it is widely known, understood, and lamented in games mastering circles that plans do not survive first contact with players. True, it makes for an interesting game, keeps us on our toes, and means we rarely run the risk of being thought of as predictable, because we’re often just making it up as we go along, but it can be a little tiresome at times. After many years as a GM, this is something I have not only come to accept though, but to look forward to. At it’s absolute worst, it can be highly frustrating, and today I want to talk about one facet of this issue that has struck me twice in succession; never knowing who the players are going to trust.

When I create NPCs, I don’t just make up a bunch of antagonists. At the start of any campaign, it’s quite nice to know that there’s at least one person who has the best interest of the player characters at heart, and might just be able to keep them out of trouble for a while. This isn’t some catch all plot device to steer them away from mistakes; they are more than entitled to make as many as they would like. This is the person who gets them an early contract, maybe even gets put on retainer by their boss to help keep them supplied. Not every trip down to Guns & Ammo needs to be part of the adventure, so having a valet or some such to nip down and pick up things that could eat up adventuring time should be a good thing.

Since I also like creating interesting NPCs just for the fun of it, I tend to make them more than just two dimensional caricatures, but instead give them a reason to be involved in the plot for more than because someone higher up tells them to be. This has in the past been because of a desire to find answers about a missing relative – that the PCs have some information on already – or the need to get a particular voting block on side in time for a Presidential Primary. On both of these occasions, the NPCs in question went above and beyond the call of duty in assisting the player characters in any way they could.

So of course, the players thought they must be up to something, and promptly began to suspect their every action as having sinister undertones. *sigh*

Not the end of the world though, as I got to role play out some rather righteous indignation, and storm off – figuratively, as I was still the GM – when the players continued to call into question the motives of one of the these NPCs. While admittedly fun, it can get in the way, and cause massive delays to the game, which sucks when you GM on a yearly schedule. What is there that can be done about this situation then?

Well, the simplest seems to be to stop using friendly NPCs and let the players flounder around without help, as that is exactly what they deserve. Yeah, read that back and realise just how petty it sounds, so we won’t be doing that will we? We’ve all (hopefully) moved away from a generally antagonistic relationship between players and GMs by now. What we can do though is cut down how important these friendly and helpful NPCs are, and it shouldn’t make too much of a difference. But as I mentioned earlier, that could mean missing out on some great opportunities to role play while GMing, and also run the risk of these characters being the two dimensional puppets we were hoping to avoid.

Instead, I think it could be time to subvert the players expectations, by giving them almost exactly what they expect. Let the NPC get mad, let them storm off with the players feeling proud of themselves for getting one up on their presumed enemy. An enemy who will now be looking for ways to strike back at them, but subtly. Let the NPC maintain the charade of a good working relationship after apologising for leaving in a bad mood, and continue to have them help out wherever possible. But things start happening a little later than the players would like, and substandard help is all that is now provided. The players will soon complain again, that much is a certainty but now the NPC just meekly apologises, biding their time.

They have been inside the machine of the player character’s organisation, and could jam any number of spanners into the works, all while being the most contrite bugger in the world. And when enough damage has been done, and the PCs really need some help to get their arses out of the fire, the friendly NPC who wanted to help is nowhere to be seen.

That’s just one idea of course, and I imagine that this has happened to a lot of the readers of this blog, so why don’t you share those stories below, either from a Gm stand point, or what any payers out there might think about this.

Jul 172013
 
Click to download the free pdf of pre-generated characters for Victoriana 3rd Edition

Click to download the free pdf of pre-generated characters for Victoriana 3rd Edition

As mentioned yesterday, I have been working my way slowly through the latest edition of Cubicle 7‘s excellent work of Steampunk fantasy, Victoriana. This has slowed down a little due to being sent a new novel to read by Gollancz that I’ve been waiting almost seven years for. That being said, I took great pleasure today going through some pre-generated characters for the game in question.

Since I’m not that far through the rule book so far, I can’t go into too much detail, but what I have seen; I like. The little bio style write ups for each character are inventive and interesting, giving a wonderful insight into the world of Victoriana and the type of story that could take place there. Each character has its own hooks that could easily be extrapolated into a full adventure, but for now I’m just looking forward to taking a shot at some Spring Heeled Jack fun! With any luck I should get the chance to run this for a group by the end of summer, so will write up a full actual play report by then.

There’s still a little bit extra to to go, so come back tomorrow for some extra shiny. Until then, don’t forget to head over and grab a copy of the main book, which you’ll need to play with any of the freebies available so far.

Jul 162013
 
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Click to download the FREE Penny Dreadful “The Spring Heeled Menace”.

I have barely scratched the surface of this impressive tome, and so don’t want to jump the gun and start reviewing it until I know what’s actually under the skin of this bad boy. I can tell you straight off the bat that it has my attention though. As mentioned in my Kuro review, I’m a big fan of using fiction to open a rule book. It does a better job of giving the players an idea of what to expect than any number of pages talking about what role playing is, and make for a darned sight more interesting read too. As I said though, I don’t want to jump straight into a review just yet.

Instead I’m going to be sharing with you some fun little bits and pieces and the smashing folks over at Cubicle 7 have on offer to entice people to pick up this lovely looking book. Today we have a totally free adventure for the game. The title of this one grabbed me straight away, as my favourite bit of steampunk fiction has a similar name. This story goes down a  different route, and one I’m not going to spoil for you here. I will say though that it’s a very well put together adventure, with plenty of scope of follow on investigations, and there should be no problem bringing in any group of characters to solve this little mystery.

Click the image to download it, and pop back here tomorrow for a set of pre-created player characters to hand out, just to save you the bother of making them yourself. Oh, and if you don’t have it yet, better go and pick up the actual game too. You’ll totally need it to run the adventure, and so far, I’m pretty damned impressed with it.

Jul 152013
 

Choose-Your-Weapon-Dice-TabletopOnce more I find myself taking inspiration from the writing process, as work continues apace on my Steampunk RPG: Rise of the Automata. I’m still chugging away nicely on it and have almost finished the section I will need to try a play test of the combat system out. I’m not going to go on at length about what this will entail, as I have a different blog for that, but it has made me think about the kind of combat system I wanted to create, as it would be the kind I also wanted to play.

In the past I have made note of how much I love the Cyberpunk 2020 role playing game, but still felt the need to tidy up the combat system a little bit, as it wasn’t quite what I wanted. There wasn’t a great deal wrong with it, but there was just a bit too much dice rolling for my mind. And that’s what this post boils down to, and what I want to talk about; I want a combat system that truly is fast and fun. In the CP 2020 combat rules, when you attack anyone in close combat, either with a weapon or without, both combatants roll off against each other. Since this should happen at the same time, it technically shouldn’t slow thing down, but it does. There’s an awful lot to take into account when making a combat roll in CP 2020 anyway, two people doing it just takes that little bit longer. And the fact that what you have is a fluid target number also means a heavy degree of unpredictability, so people spend a lot longer thinking about whether or not luck should play a role in this moment.

So I removed the need for people to roll against each other by creating a very basic way of characters to have a target number that represents their ability to either parry or dodge an attack. It worked pretty damned well; the only failing being my own as I forgot to write down what I had used to make this number, or tell the players how to do it either. It was based on a combat skill, and as they were putting points into it, the parry/dodge score should have been going up too. My bad. So in the game I’m working, I have done something similar, but made a special box for it on the character sheet, so that it should be easier to track.

Another combat system I generally like, but could do with streamlining, is Savage Worlds. For a system that claims to be Fast and furious, combat can sometimes drag. Mainly down to two reasons based on my experience: initiative order changing every round, and being Shaken. Initiative first; I understand that combat should be fluid, but changing the order each round by the draw of a card is not the best way to go about it. I have recently been involved in play test sessions for 6D6, and I love one of their ideas about initiative. If there is a narrative reason for one character to go first, then they do – as long as it is agreed upon by all participants – and then they nominate the next active character. This means that the order is fluid, and the players can make tactical decisions in how they operate. A lovely idea, and one I thoroughly enjoy. I’ll be sticking with good old fashioned rolling once then setting the order though, as it’s simple and quick.

Being Shaken in a combat round is a big pain in the ass. I know why the rule is there, but it just means that a player has the potential to be a damned big hero who just lays there for several rounds as they fail test after test to regain their senses. I personally would like to just ditch this rule, but it would make player characters a bit too powerful, and they really don’t need any help in that area. if anyone has any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them.

So far then, it seems the best thing to do to speed up combat is to reduce the number of dice rolls. Before anyone points it out, I know that Amber does that job spectacularly well, but I’m still a bit too much of a fan of random chance to go full dice-less. So I have a parry/dodge mechanic to cut down on one set of dice rolls, and I am also trying out something that should do away with damage and hit location rolls. This idea has not yet been tested out, but it should be fun.

At its heart, the game uses a 2d10 system. So, you roll to hit, adding the two dice together and checking against the target number. If successful, you choose one of the results for hit location, and the other for damage. This works for all characters, so it isn’t just the players who get more control over how they deal damage. This could still be broken, and I may need to insist on different colour dice so that one will always be location, the other damage, but I’d like to try this out first, and see how it goes down.

So there you have it, some thoughts on speeding up the flow of combat, and a crazy idea i want to try. If you have any thoughts of your own, please feel free to share them below. If you think my ideas stink, please keep the raging torrent of bile down to about two paragraphs. I thank you.

Jul 082013
 

OK, he may actually have been legendary for ages, but since I’d never heard of him until this evening, I really couldn’t say. This is going to be a very short blog post, and only really RPG related at the peripheries of the hobby, but it still needs attention drawn to it.

I’m a big fan of geeks, being one, it’s probably a good idea. but sometimes they can be douche bags. Not all of you, but the ones I’m talking about are mainly dudes – some women too, so if you are a douchy women geek, pay attention too – who think they have a right to comment on the geek credentials of others, just because they have one less penis than you seem to think is a prerequisite for true geekhood. This story isn’t specifically about that, but touches a lot of the same bases. Cosplayers are awesome, and it shouldn’t matter one jot as to who they are, what their gender is, or what they look like; they’re kicking ass and taking names in any number of awesome ways.

Some people will fell the need to belittle them though, for whatever small and petty reason occurs to them. Matt Fraction has their number though. And I for one support him, and invite the whole lot of you misogynistic geeky elite pricks to follow his advice. Click the image for the full story, courtesy of Tor.

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Jul 082013
 

I have a game design blog that I’ll be cross posting this to, but since I have discussed money and keeping track of it in games before, I thought I’d pop this here first for people to take a look at. Expect the idea to be more refined by the time I put it into the actual game.

I have commented on forum threads, and other blogs on such subjects, and waxed lyrical about how much I enjoy the spending of money in games where it makes sense. My favourite example is from my most recent GMing history, and that was running Cyberpunk 2020. With the emphasis of the game being all style over substance, it makes sense for the shopping side of things to take a prominent role. There are splat books full of nothing but things to buy, and I think they’re great for adding flavour to the setting.

But in almost every other game, I would be happier if less time was devoted to the book keeping involved in keeping track of money and flicking through books to find things. In a game I have played in repeatedly – and hope to play again soon – they have a nice mechanism for dealing with day to day monetary spending while still allowing for shopping to take place for specialist items and the like. Basically, money is put to one side to cover your character’s living expenses. If you have little money then your lifestyle will be poor; living in a flop house and surviving on two cheap meals a day. This means more for buying fancy things like armour and weapons, but means you have a higher chance of picking up something contagious. Put more money aside, and you have a better lifestyle. Staying in a single room in a hotel, with meat in at least two of your three meals, plus a few pints of beer a night too.

This works for the game in question and adds to the flavour of it, which is one of the biggest things I look for. So with that in mind I have been thinking about how to handle it for my RPG. The Automata that the players will be taking on the role of  have just as much diversity of personality as do the Humans who made them. They are just as likely to be covetous of the belongings of others, and unwilling to share. As a society though, the Automata have sought to move away from the weaknesses of their creators. After the war the most valuable resource for them was fuel, but since it was necessary for the survival of the Automata, it is available to all, as long as there was enough supply.

I wanted this attitude to permeate most of their society. A socialist state as it were, especially with regard to trade. The only value of objects is how hard they are to create and how useful they are. What this means for the game is that each item has a score that modifies the dice roll required to convince the owner to part with it. This will make the Bargain skill a lot more useful to people, and hopefully stop the Interface Attribute being used as a dump stat quite so much. As a side effect it might also stop players thinking that treasure is so important. Unless something has a use, it has no value. As an example of play, the characters find themselves at an Automata settlement where they make an additive that prolongs the burn time of fossil fuels. One of the Automatons they meet has a lovely pneumatic sniper rifle, that one of the players could really use. This is a rare item, so the base chance to convince any Automaton to give it up would be pretty high, and the two characters would make opposed Bargain checks to see who can be the most convincing about who should own the weapon. If the NPC is a guard of the town, then he would get a bonus, as he has more use for it, but if it was a scientist or production worker who lacked the skills to use it, the player character would have the advantage as they were often in dangerous situations dealing with Human aggressors.

When it comes to character creation, each player character will have a set number of points which they can use to get access to items. Each item is worth a number of points equal to its Bargain modifier, and I’m playing around with the idea of allowing players to spend some of their character points to increase the number of points they’ll get for equipment. Based on a character creation session I ran, one player did ask of there was anything else they could spend their points on as they had picked up all the skills they wanted, and had a point left.

I’m not one hundred percent sure on any of this yet, but I would like to try it out. I know that a lot of gamers are happier without micromanaging equipment and money, and although this will not get rid of such concerns in their entirety, it should minimize them some what. As always sound off below with your own thoughts on the subject.

Jul 012013
 

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I will try and keep the review elements of this post to a minimum, because I have already touched on how much I like the basic game in the past. Instead, this is all about how the hobby I love is represented in something a little bit more mass media. I will also draw comparison to two other attempts to bring role playing to the attention of the masses, in the Big Bang Theory, and Community.

I will discuss a little bit of the technical stuff first though. The humour that has marked both games out from the crowd is still well and truly present, and with jokes aimed very much at the readership of this blog – stuff for you to laugh along with, not making you the butt of the jokes – makes it a great way to spend an evening. Sadly, the fact that you can get through it in an evening is a bit of a let down. The other DLC packs were much bigger, but since they mostly just re-used elements from the base game, they didn’t take up much space. So much has been made just for this DLC – including frickin’ dragons – that the same space just doesn’t go as far. Still, it looks amazing, and there’s some really nice touches. The village setting looks amazing, and the Immortal undead look great, with glowing swords embedded into their skulls to set them apart from the other, easier to kill skeletons.

But what does it tell us about table top gaming? Mainly just how much bloody fun it is and how inclusionary, but also how flawed some of the people who play the game can be. To begin with, we have the fun of people picking their characters. Brick, the close combat nutter picks the Siren, claiming she is the most beautiful and graceful creature in the world, and that she’s great at punching people in the face. The Siren who’s actually playing the RPG – Lilith - seems to be the only reasonably experienced gamer of the group. A lovely touch when we consider the messed up humour of The Big Bang Theory, making light of the fact that no guys ever play D&D with their girlfriends, contrary to mountains of evidence saying otherwise.

She is also a true blue geek, and gives Mr. Torgue a hard time for wanting to play, questioning his geek credentials, since he is clearly a muscle bound jock. I hate to say it, but I have been this person. Not the jock, the one who wonders whether or not someone is really a geek, or just trying to join in with what they think is cool. I see people walking around my home town wearing “GEEK” emblazoned on their shirts, and always feel the need to ask them what class their first character to hit level ten was? Or if they have any recommendations for fantasy literature other than Game of Thrones (The works of Joe Abercrombie as an example)? I never do though, as it is a small and petty annoyance. It is harder sometimes though, when I remember the beatings I got through school that Lilith also claims to have received for letting her geek flag fly. To be fair, I didn’t help myself out. Not only did I wargame and read comic books, but I was also a fan of very heavy metal. Oh, and I was short with a pronounced overbite and wear glasses. I mean seriously, what was I thinking?

But Lilith embraces the big fella when it’s obvious that that he loves the game, and although he may be far from most people’s ideal of a good layer, his passion for the hobby is beyond question. And this is what I mean by inclusionary. The DLC makes it clear that the perception of gamers as nerds with hygiene issues is far from the actual truth, without letting us off lightly, by also showing how elitist we can be about the games we play.

Lets go back to Brick again now. As mentioned, he’s the close combat specialist, and his power move is to go full on berserk rage and punch things until they stop twitching. In the role playing game he has trouble separating this urge from what his character would do to move the plot along.  It gets in the way so much in fact, that at one point a very easy problem to solve gets trashed as he punches a Dwarven slave in the face instead of freeing them all to help in their quest. Every GM has had this moment, and has to decide just how much they want it to matter. Tiny Tina goes all out, and now every Dwarf wants a piece of the players. No matter how helpful they are in freeing the enslaved Dwarves, they’ll always remember that Brick was the one who killed their mate. But Brick learns from his mistake, and by the end of the game does change his ways to fit with the character rather than what he wants to do.

So, all very cool, and a great way to portray gamers in main stream media. But it goes one further, and shows how useful gaming can be as a coping mechanism. I know most people who rock up to the table are their to have fun, in whatever way they decide is fun for themselves. Sometimes though, you have a bad day, or week, or month, and just want to get rid of some frustration in a world where you have a bit more control. It’s not necessarily healthy to rely on the hobby for such things, but it is damned useful all the same. In an episode of Community that involves RPGs, we see the same thing. A problem is, maybe not solved, but worked on a little. And the group happens to have a great time while doing so, and talk about coming back to play the game again.

I can’t think of a much better portrayal of table top role playing in other media than this DLC, and if you have any interest in the series at all, it is by far and away my favourite bit of DLC so far, having played every last one of them. two very enthusiastic thumbs up.