Tag Archives: Vampire

Top 5 Things I Learned From D&D (or Gaming in General)

Tabletop Gaming at PAXI felt like I wanted to write a gaming post this week, but couldn’t decide what to write about. After Mondays gaming session with Brandon, Crista, Dave, and a couple other friends, I’ve been thinking about how I learned to be a “Dungeon Master” – or for a more general gaming term – “Storyteller.”

A little background: I started gaming when I was in middle school, about 13 or 14 years ago. I know people who have been gaming much longer than that (since before I was born, in fact)… but to me that seems like a generous portion of my life. And like most teenage nerds, I started off with good ‘ole Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D 2.0. A very, very heavily modified version, which included many features from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series… and the fact that I was a “half dragon, half water-elemental” with an intelligent, talking bastard sword didn’t help either. It was an interesting game, I’ll leave it at that.

After that game finally went the way of the Dodo, I discovered World of Darkness, specifically Werewolf: The Apocalypse. While I really enjoyed the game world, Werewolf wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. Yes, it’s fun and all, but I’m not big on the “yay, I can turn into a giant monster and rip things in half” aspect. So I looked into the other systems in the World of Darkness, and found Vampire.

Vampire: the Masquerade was definitely my cup of tea. A subtle blend of politics, power-struggle, and dark, brooding angst. Perfect for the socially awkward teenage nerd who likes metal and punk music… Moving on… So I started to devour Vampire, and ran a game for 4 years. The same game. It was epic, and I had players crying at certain plot twists. This is where I really learned how to run a game. Then I went off to college. End of gaming career for 3 years.

During my fourth year of college at Northeastern I moved into this mildly-crummy apartment with my then friend-who-is-no-longer-a-friend-and-shall-not-be-named, and Brandon, whom I had never met. Eventually, Brandon and I got to know each other and became good friends, and he invited me to play D&D with the group he gamed with. I had not played D&D since my early introduction to gaming, so I read up a bit and tried to get into the swing of things very quickly. 3.5 was the edition at the time, so it was a drastic change from what I had learned on, but much easier to comprehend, so I fell back into things very quickly.

Metal DiceTo wrap up this story, since then I haven’t really stopped gaming, except for a few months here and there when I’ve moved and whatnot. It’s become a staple of my life once again. Sadly, when I was living in Delaware the group I gamed with changed games more often than socks… so we never stuck with anything long enough to get a good story going. But now that I’m back in Boston, let the epic gaming commence!

So, now that I’ve ranted for a while about my gaming background… on to the actual point of this post! So, through all of this thinking I’ve realized that I’ve learned five, very important, lessons from gaming. Lessons that, in most cases, translate well into the rest of my life. These lessons are as follows:

5. “Lawful Good” people are dicks. It’s true. Every gamer, at some point in their gaming history, has been in a party with at least one Lawful Good character. And he (or she) is a Dick. With a capital D. Lawful Good characters are the most likely to start an in-party fight. They are the most likely to completely ruin a perfectly good strategy. And they are the most likely to impose their belief system on everyone else around them. Starting to sound like anyone you know in real life? Exactly…

4. Good plot twists generally involve people dying, or at least making everyone think someone died. Look at any Soap Opera. 99.9% of the time the plot revolves around everyone thinking someone is dead, or discovering that they aren’t dead, they’ve just been living in Aruba for 15 years. In any good story, someone dies. It’s bound to happen. It pretty much has to happen. Basically, kill off a major NPC, kill off a minor NPC, kill off your players. Hell, kill off GODS if you want. You’re the Storyteller, do what you want. When in doubt of a good twist in the story, kill something. It usually works. Though, on that note…

3. Combat sucks. Combat is both the most rule intensive and time consuming part of any game. Combat is also, usually, the most liked or disliked part of any game. I know gamers who refuse to play D&D because it’s “combat oriented” and I know gamers for whom D&D is the only game worth playing for that exact same reason. And guess what? Take a step outside and what’s the biggest problem you’re likely to encounter (next to maybe poverty)? Violence. War, gang violence, domestic violence, crimes of passion, etc. So guess what? Violence (combat) sucks. But I do think it’s healthier to deal with it with dice and numbers on paper than with a Glock or Stinger missile…

2. The Players Rule. You might be the all-mighty, all-powerful Storyteller… but without players, you have no story to tell. Or at least no one to tell it to. And important thing to remember in any game is that if your players are unhappy, and I don’t mean “hey, you killed my character” unhappy, I mean “this game is boring and your plot sucks” unhappy, then you won’t be happy. You have to cater your game to the players. Your players love combat? Don’t play a low-combat game. Your players love political intrigue? Play Vampire: The Requiem or some, similar, politics based game. Cater to your players. The same can be said in real life. If you want to actually have, you know, friends, you have to be open to what other people like/want to do. You can’t control every little aspect of your life, because if you do, don’t bother trying to form any lasting bonds or relationships…

And finally…

1. “Don’t be a Dick.” Wil Wheaton said it best. I don’t think I even need to explain how this applies in gaming and/or real life. Just don’t be a dick. DM/GM/Storytellers have the greatest reputation for making or breaking a game based on how much of a dick they are to the players. Give your players some leeway. Don’t force plot points if the players don’t want to go in that direction. Don’t railroad your players. And don’t change the rules at your whim because things aren’t going your way… or rather… are going too easy for the players. If you can’t make a game that challenges the players, maybe you’re the one that needs to fix something. Plain and simple – Don’t. Be. A. Dick. And I really don’t think I need to tie this one in to “real life.” Seems self-explanatory to me…

Thank you, and goodnight.

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A gaming we will go…

Tabletop Gaming at PAXHello, my name is Ian, and I’m a geek. I’ve been gaming since I was young, probably since I was old enough to talk. My mother and I used to play board games and card games all the time. I was brought up on games, books, and music far more than television (hell, I don’t think we even had cable till I was in 8th grade…). Besides the usual suspects of Uno, Clue, and Scrabble, we played Backgammon, Checkers (also known as Draughts), Milles Bornes (a French card game), and Mancala, a game my mother learned where she grew up – Africa (and a game I used to know as “the bean game”). Now don’t get me wrong, I spent plenty of time outdoors also, I used to love playing in the woods, climbing trees, riding my bike, and swimming. But playing games with my mom is probably my fondest childhood memory, next to reading.
And then, probably a few years after its release, I got a Super Nintendo. Tons of fun, some of my favorite games of all time are from that console. Final Fantasy VI will forever remain the penultimate gaming experience for me… laughing at Gau’s antics, shedding a tear during the Opera scene… ah, the wonders that game introduced to me. And let’s not forget Mario, of course… ah Mario… the howls of laughter at watching my mother consistently drive backwards around the track in Mario Kart (and this is the person who taught me how to drive… frightening). And of course… Lord of the Rings. For Super Nintendo, this game was particularly frustrating, because not only was it almost impossible to figure out how to beat on your own, but many of the copies of the game were released bugged, so you couldn’tbeat the game. I was never able to figure out if ours was the bugged version or not… by the time we got the internet and I was able to look the game up I never got around to playing it again…
D&DAnd then… Middle School. A harrowing time for many boys just hitting puberty. School didn’t worry me. I made friends, I had fun. But this was the year it happened. I was placed in the high school band because I play trombone, and they needed a good trombone player. Here I met a guy named Kyle. Kyle discovered that I was pretty knowledgeable about computers, and told me about an issue he was having with a game he had bought. So after school that day I went over and showed him how to fix the issue he was having. And he showed me his Advanced Dungeons and DragonsPlayers Handbook. I was entranced. A version of Final Fantasy I could play with friends? Where I controlled my character? Where the story could go on forever, and I could change things far more directly through my actions than in any video game (at the time…)? Yes! Sign me up!

This was of course only one of many new games I encountered over the years. From AD&D I discovered White Wolf’s World of Darkness, specifically Werewolf: the Apocalypse, and from there Vampire: the Masquerade… Now, Vampire was I game I could get into. The mix of darkness (and by this point I was a teenager in high school, so I thought my life was pretty dark…), political intrigue, history, and ripping people’s faces off? I was there. I immediately devoured all the material on this game I could and started running a game with my friends. A game that I ran for four years straight. Now… those of you not familiar with gaming might not think much of that, but those of you who are familiar will know that four years is a damn long time to run a game. But I did, almost every weekend. For four years. And it was glorious.

Then came college. I changed a lot in college, as I’m sure most people would say. A lot. For one thing, I stopped gaming. I knew I wanted to do well in school, and focused on my grades. Well… I tried to anyway. Or at least I started focusing on my grades after I changed my major twice… but that’s another story. I stopped gaming. Sure I played the occasional computer game, a little Counter-Strike, but it stopped being the center of my free time. I hung out with people, did a lot of new things. I really dove head first into the whole college experience. Then a friend introduced me to World of Warcraft (thanks Will…). And I was, once again, immersed. A free-form RPG that I play online with thousands of other people? Wow (pun intended). Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games… $15 dollars a month starts to add up… and by the time I had moved off campus and delved into my final choice in major (Philosophy), I was done with WoW. Enough of the late night gaming sessions and wasted hours farming materials for crafting. No more!

And then my best friend, and roommate at the time, Brandon asked me if I wanted to come to his Sunday D&D sessions with him. A new version of Dungeons and Dragons (3.5) and a 10th level rogue/shadowdancer later… I was back in the game.

Now that I’ve graduated, moved away from Boston (for now), and jumped into the “real world,” I still game. Of course there’s XBox 360, and Wii, and PC games still… And I still run a World of Darkness game, or play D&D with friends. And once again I’ve discovered the joys of board games… now that I’m older I’ve discovered all the “adult” board/card games… Dominion, Munchkin, “We Didn’t Playtest This At All,” Catan… But when I look back over the years the thing I remember best is the thrill of a new game, a new character, a new adventure. In an age where children are brought up on television, watered down educations, and books like Twilight, it’s no wonder that geeks are the ones leading the way in innovation. When you think of the most important aspects of the last ten, twenty… even thirty years, what comes to mind? The internet… smart phones, GPS, CERN and their Large Hadron Collider. And who are the people behind these inventions? The guys and girls that grew up rolling dice and slaying dragons in their parents’ basements… in their college dorms. The kids that spent hours jumping on mushroom guys and turtles till three in the morning when they had school the next day. The teenagers who would have rather been learning the rules to that new board game than swinging a bat or throwing a ball.

Don't worry... this isn't mine.

Lately I’ve wondered what my life would have been like without games. Even if you leave the board games there, but take out the Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: the Gathering cards… Would I be the same person? I couldn’t tell you, because I don’t see how my life could have gone any other way. Would I still want to be a writer? Who knows… I don’t care.

As a final note… take a look over at Critical Table. Soon you’ll start seeing some articles written by me floating around on the site. I recently struck a deal with Courtney, the creator and owner, and I’m really looking forward to joining the team over there and writing for them. And if you’re looking for any advice on new games to try out, feel free to ask. I’m always looking to let someone know about that awesome card game I played last week…