Posts Tagged ‘Table Top’

Board games. A social endeavor that many children encounter as some of their first games. They can be used to learn colors and counting and even just social skills. But as with many other kinds of games, there are the good, the bad and the ugly. Today I will discuss 5 of the classics from the “adult” category : Scrabble, Monopoly, Yahtzee, The Game of Life, and Sorry. When I say adult here, I mean not a game meant for preschoolers. Also, this Best of the Best will be a two parter. To find out which is truly the best of these 5, tune in Wednesday of next week.


First up, Scrabble. Scrabble is based on the idea of crossword puzzles, where you have words connected to other words in a grid pattern. The major difference is that instead of being given clues about the word, you just have letters and have to come up with the best word out of those letters that you can. So I suppose its more like a Fill-In puzzle without a word bank. Either way, each letter has a point value and certain squares on the board have bonuses to points. Scrabble is a great game for practicing spelling and really rewards people who know obscure words, especially if it has an X or a Z. The one major downside is that this tends to result in the adult players scoring way, way more points than the kids unless the kids have excellent vocabularies.

I’m a fan of Scrabble. The rules are simple and it rewards the player for being smart and creative. There’s a strategy to it and while there’s randomness to what letters you have, there is also a lot of skill involved. Scrabble gets a 4.5 out of 5 hearts.

4.5 out of 5 zelda hearts


Monopoly. How to explain my feelings towards Monopoly. We own something to the tune of six different versions of the game at my house, most of which date from when I was in elementary school or prior. I can’t really remember a game of Monopoly that didn’t end with flipped tables and tears, unless it was being played by my parents and grandparents. Even then, it got competitive to a terrifying level. The story of Monopoly is that you’re a real estate tycoon in the twenties (Read as landlord scumbag) and you’re trying to get a monopoly by putting the other players out of business. If you’re playing by the actual rules of Monopoly, there’s no trading and the items belonging to a player who has declared bankruptcy go up for auction. Monopoly is one of the most house-ruled games in existence.

You can probably guess that I think rather poorly of Monopoly. If there is one thing that the game really has going for it, it has to be that there is just so much history, so many people learn to play Monopoly as one of the first games they encounter. For that, it ends up getting 2.5 out of 5 hearts.

c. 1298-1235 BCE

Ancient Egpytian Board Game c. 1298-1235 BCE (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Boardgames are a centuries old classic, a cultural go-to for fun. Almost every culture around the world developed some form of board game to amuse themselves once the work was done. From the far east we have such classics as Go and Mahjong. From Europe we have both Checkers and Chess. From the near east we have an entire category of games known as Mancala. In the modern day board games are still a wildly popular hobby, with clubs popping up devoted to playing the various types. But board games are also a mystery to some people. For most of the American audience, if you say board game, they think Monopoly and Scrabble and don’t get much beyond there. Maybe checkers and chess. But these days those are only the surface of a great and wondrous mountain of games. Games have fallen into 3 major categories: War Games, American Games and German Games.

War Games

War Hammer 40K, De Bellis Antiquatatis, Babylon 5 Wars and Troops, Weapons and Tactics are all examples of miniatures based wargames that take place throughout history, alternate history and science fiction futures. All of these games simulate large scale battles using the weapons of the age they take place in but tactics determined by the players. Some people like to set them up to start out like real battles and see if they can win where the great generals of history lost. Generally speaking, these games use lots of miniatures, detailed fields and lots of dice. Wargame miniatures can be acquired either pre-painted or unpainted to be painted by hand. For some players, that is a lot of the fun. Unlike a lot of other board game types, War Games aren’t designed to tell the same story or play the same way every time.

War Games are also the forebear to table top roleplaying games. It was a wargames ruleset known as Chainmail which Gary Gygax modified to create Dungeons and Dragons. For a comprehensive list of miniature wargames, you can look here. There’s something for everyone interested in taking up the hobby.

American Games

American board games have a strong tradition to them. Starting early on with handmade chess and checkers sets, they evolved only slightly over time. There are periodic booms of new games, but for the most part there are Parker Brother and Milton Bradley leading the charge. Most of their games are re-skins of the old traditional stand-bys. What kid growing up in America hasn’t played Monopoly? Scrabble? Chutes and Ladders? As far as the board game community is concerned, American games are this style, old games that have been around for decades, very few of which involve real skill. Take a look at Chutes and Ladders (or Snakes and Ladders as some people know it). First off, the roots of the game are actually found in India, not 1950s America as most people would tell you. Second off, its purely randomized using either a die or spinner. The Milton Bradley version includes a spinner rather than a die since at the time of its production, dice were considered sinful. Out of all of the games considered to be American style board games, Scrabble is probably the best. My feelings about Monopoly…well, that’s best left for another post. I tend to find that this style of game is very hit or miss, with a lot of the old “classics” being dry. They do offer a wide variety of games for kids though, which does redeem them some.


German Games

German style board games are wonderful. High quality games, designed to require thought and skill with added randomness. There are also always new ones coming out. Its quite wonderful. Now of course, German style is something of a misnomer. The trend for these new style games like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride started in Germany and spread to the rest of Europe. These games tend to be light on conflict and drama, don’t kick players out of the game before the end and emphasize strategy over luck. Another great thing about them is that they largely use symbols rather than words so they can be played internationally. This genre leads to lots of new games, with only a few continuing to be published. The style is also starting to get adopted in America now, leading to wonderful things like Arkham Horror from 2005 and Merchant of Venus.

For more information on this type of board games, you can check out the wikipedia page on the topic. Its a bit sparse, but helpful and contains a list of publishers.


I hope you find yourself more enlightened about board games in general. Consider starting a board game night with your family. Its a great way to have fun together and to work on math, logic and reading skills with young children. For even younger children, there are even games that teach colors and shapes.

Whether its your first roleplaying game or your millionth, you’re still going to need to come up with a character concept and sometimes that can be hard. Creating believable, interesting characters who can play nicely with the other party members is a challenge, but one that can be very rewarding if tackled. That’s where I come in, I’m going to break everything down into a nice, simple step by step process to creating your character. To demonstrate I’m going to follow along, making a new character.

1. Alignment

Alignment isn’t normally the first thing people think about when making a character, but in a lot of cases it should be. Alignment is basically the believe system of the character boiled down into a few words. Generally speaking, roleplaying games use the old 3×3 alignment grid from Dungeons and Dragons, sort of like pictured above. The reason that people should think about alignment earlier in the character creation process than they tend to is because it effects party dynamic. It also can matter if the GM has disallowed certain alignments. If you decide you’re going to create a chaotic evil character in the same party as a lawful good character, it may not end well. I’m not saying that all the characters should be the same exact alignment, but try to be nearby or at least capable of getting along. In a lot of systems, a lawful good character such as a paladin can’t knowingly be in the same party as an evil aligned character.

DEMO: Well, lets say that my hypothetical GM isn’t disallowing any alignments, but told me that one of the other players usually players paladins. I tend to like a bit of chaos in my actions so I’ll go with chaotic good.

2. Concept

Concept is basically what you want your character to be. This can include race and class, or could just be an archetypal idea. Archetypes are things like undead destroying paladin or snooty elven noble, or things like thief who grew up on the streets and just suddenly developed magic. Despite the fact that this is more or less a one-line description, this is the step you should spend the most time on. In most cases, the concept is the character and if it isn’t something you’ll enjoy then you should just keep trying this step until you make something you do like.

Now, look at your concept. Does it work well with a team? If it can be described like the picture below, the answer is probably no. Your character should be good at some things, bad at others and have character flaws. And most importantly, take a good long look at your character concept and make sure you actually want to play this. There are some character concepts that sound really great on paper but turn out to not be so awesome after all. As tempting as it can be, I highly suggest having freewill and all of your limbs.

DEMO: So, I’m chaotic good. I think a good concept would be a wood elf who has never met anyone but other wood elves before coming to this city where they meet the party. This leads for great roleplaying potential, and it also means that I can play them as curious and somewhat naive.

3. Motivation

Motivation is just as important as concept, but in a different way. Motivation is what your character does what they do. And here comes the thing I have watched singlehandedly destroy roleplaying games. Why does your character adventure? A lot of people don’t think about this little detail and it results in characters who seem to be dragged through adventures, really making no progress. If a character has no reason to be adventuring, or maybe wants to get home, when they get a chance to return to their normal life, it makes no sense not to take it. So make sure your character wants to be exploring the world or has some other goal that can’t be reached by sitting at home.

DEMO: A chaotic good wood elf who has never left the forest is what I’ve built so far. Lets add in some motivation. First I need to decide why they left the forest. The easiest motivation to go with is that the little elf was bored and curious and wants to see new things. To add to it, elves are a long lived race with very little adventure, so maybe this elf heard stories about human adventures and wanted to go have some of their own.

4. Flesh Out the Details

So now you have your base concept. the next step is to fill in anything you missed. Remember, this isn’t about creating a character sheet, that comes later and might involve numbers. This is just the matter of creating a character. Where were they born? Are they from this world? Who are their parents? Do they know their parents? Are you already friends with people in the party? This is also the part where you come up with their name, and maybe appearance if you want. This is the where all the fun fiddly bits come in where you really get to decide that maybe your character really likes cheese or doesn’t like spiders come in.

I hope this helped you in your efforts to create fun and interesting characters that your party (and you) will enjoy. Have any advice you’d like to share or stories you’d like to tell? Feel free to leave a comment!

Table top roleplaying as we know it has existed since the early 70s. Naturally, this means that some people picked it up before others did (or before others were born). And while there have been a lot of changes over the years, this still means that there will come a time when, as a GM, you may encounter players who are more familiar with the system than you are. If you’ve already been in this situation, as I have, you know it can be hard. There are different ways that kind of game can go, and I will cover them to the best of my knowledge.

Players As Rules Helpers

The optimal case for you as a young GM is that your experienced players will support you and help out. If the players know the rules well and can tell you the rules that apply in a given situation, they can really streamline the time the game takes. After all, how many people know off the top of their head how to handle a player vaulting across a pool of lava, hitting a wall and falling 20 feet down into a pool of lava by the rules in 3.5 D&D? And how long would it take to look up all the pertinent rules to figure out how much damage the player should take, by the rules. The best rules helpers, however, will offer the knowledge of the rules and then roll with it if the GM decides that no, you fell in the lava, you’re just dead. Rules helpers are also nice for streamlining character creation if you have new players or players playing more complicated characters than usual. My favorite use for the rules helpers is to partner them with a new player to help them through their turns. That really really helps to make it so that the newer player can learn the rules without having to occupy the time and attention of the GM.

Players As Rules Lawyers

Rules lawyers are annoying. There, I said it. Imagine if you will that you’ve written custom rules for a scenario only to discover that there were already rules for that particular situation partway through the session when one of your players informs you about them in full detail. Rules lawyers can be useful if you want to run a game completely by the book, and again for teaching new players, but can be very irritating. If you encounter a rules lawyer, make sure they understand the level of rulesiness your game is going to have and how much lawyeriness you are willing to tolerate. While it isn’t always possible to lay down ground rules for your players in this fashion, it can be useful to at least warn them that you’re going to be running fast and loose with the rules at times. If they can’t deal with your way of handling the game such that the rules make sense for the game rather than the other way around, then you may want to encourage them to find a different GM.

One think that can really help with rules lawyers is that if you know ahead of time that you’re going to be using an alternative or homebrew rules, then tell them what those rules are. In a lot of cases, this will give them the same warm fuzzies of there being logical rules which can be followed that they expect in a tabletop. Just remember that in the end, you need to make sure that what you’re running is what you want to run and not what one or two players are pushing you into running.

Players As Rules Manipulators

Rules manipulators are the worst kind of more experienced player you could have. Everything they do will either be entirely within the rules, or appear to be so, but is something that a more experienced GM would recognize and disallow. For example, an undead with a ring that turns all damage he takes to bashing damage…which undead are immune to. If you suspect that something your player is doing is fishy, ask to see the books they’re getting it from. Do some research on your own, ask other people about it. They may have misinterpreted things or they may be purposefully taking advantage of your lack of experience and knowledge. If you think one of your players is purposefully doing things that are against the rules or going against the spirit of the rules, they are cheating and you should deal with them appropriately. I suggest talking to them one-on-one without any other players there and requesting that they change their behavior. If they are good, give them some kind of reward to let them use their powers legitimately awesomely.


Hopefully this will help you with your endeavors in the future. Remember that you are the narrator of their story and that ultimately the rules are what you make of them.

Hey guys! So I found this Kickstarter project when I was looking around to see what kinds of neat things were available. I think you should all check it out.

Pulse Dice

There comes a time in every tabletop rpg where an encounter is at least partially scripted. It might be your opening quest hook, it might be a later encounter, or in the case of introducing a new player or a player’s new character, getting the party to play nicely with someone new. Depending on your game, this can be a challenge.

I’m going to have to lay out a bit of background to start with. I tend to think of people playing roleplaying games in two categories: Games and Roleplayers. Gamers think about stats, work on the META (out of game) level and expect story cliches to happen. Roleplayers think about character, ignore the META level and act in the moment, thinking about consequences only on the in-game level. They’re actually pretty familiar to the Stick Jock and Paste Eater of Live Action Roleplaying. I much prefer to run games for Roleplayers, particularly since my preferred system is diceless, but also because I am one myself. However, Roleplayers are problematic. For a Roleplayer, actions need to be justified with character.

So you’re probably wondering how this all connects. Think about it this way. You’re going along on a quest to stop an evil lich from taking over the kingdom and one of your friends gets killed. This new guy shows up the next time you go into town, or out there near the lich’s stronghold. Are you going to trust him and have him join your party? If you’re a Gamer, you know its your buddy at the table and welcome him in. If you’re a Roleplayer, you’re probably going to grill him about who he is before letting him join at best. We actually encountered this problem in my game just last night. The new character in the game is a shapechanger who was captured by a non-magical noble and was being kept in a cage in the form of a raccoon. In order for her to join the game, the other PCs had to go rescue her. The information I gave them involved a mysterious creature never before seen and the strong belief of the nobleman that it was a Faerie creature. The characters were like its an animal, why should we care? And I ended up having to flat out tell the players that they needed to care so I could get a new character in.

So here comes the real question: How do I solve this problem? The first step is to identify the problem. Its a matter of motivating your players properly. If your players are Gamers, they should be pretty easy to motivate. Generally speaking, get a little input about what kinds of powers they want to have and you should be able to provide either in-game monetary rewards or items as an inducement to go play your adventure. If your players are Roleplayers, it may take more effort. Figure out what kinds of characters they are playing. If you have a group of good characters pitting them against evil is generally speaking a good bet. Things tend to get more complicated. Figure out their personal motivations and you have the proverbial carrot to dangle to get their attention.

And all of this comes back to encounters you have to run. If you have to get the players somewhere for the next aspect of the plot, or to bring someone new into the game, you can figure out the proper inducements for your players to lure them there. Think about ways to run your encounter where the players already are or how to include hooks to new content in ways that will interest your players. And remember that sometimes, you have to pull back the curtain and tell your players to suck it up and do what you need them to.

…whether tis nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of that obnoxious paladin and the churlish bard or to take arms and beat them soundly about the head with your cudgel and by opposing end them.

There are two major types of games in the world: PVE (player versus environment) and PVP (player versus player). In terms of the table top experience, PVE is the players coming together against the world as created by the GM and PVP is inter-player fighting. In most cases, PVP is the result of having two characters in a party that disagree on matters of alignment, such as a paladin finding out that one of his new companions was a lich. In some cases, however, it is more the situation that the characters just have temperaments that do not mesh well such as a ranger or druid being thrown in with a scientist who destroys nature in the name of his research. In the campaigns I’ve seen or played in, PVP has racked up more character death than PVE ever has. So that begs the question: is PVP worth it? That depends. There are ways to make PVP be disallowed in world instead of just telling the players they can’t. You also might end up with players who want PVP to be an option. You need to come to an accord between the GM and the players. If everyone supports PVP, then go for it. You want to make sure that you don’t alienate anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable with PVP interactions.

So lets say you have decided that PVP is allowed. Lets cover some ground rules. First and foremost is for the players: do not let in-game PVP become out-of-game animosity. If you ever feel like your characters not getting along is proving to be a problem to your friendship, then either one or both of the players in question need to drop from the game or the game needs to end. Remember that you’re playing to have fun. The next thing that everyone should remember is that PVP should not be allowed to get in the way of the story the GM has written for you. If you ever find yourself in a situation where PVP combat or animosity keeps the plot from moving forward or combat lasts for more than a session, then you should stop and seriously reconsider why you are playing.

Now here are some reasons to consider why you might want to engage in PVP combat or allow it in your world. For one thing, I’ve seen some really interesting games that were based entirely around the concept that the players were gladiators and almost all combat involved some PVP. These can be amazingly fun games and it can be on the whole a great experience.  Another reason to include PVP is to add a level of verisimilitude to your world. I run a magical school setting for my game, and PVP is allowed, though discouraged. But I discourage it on the in-character level of sure you can fight some, but the Professors aren’t going to take it kindly if you kill or maim another student. Take a look at the real world, PVP is allowed but discouraged by things we like to call laws and morals. If your character is lacking on morals and flexible about laws, then logically speaking you should be able to punch the person who makes you angry.

Ok, so lets allow PVP but find in-world ways to discourage it. The easiest way is by having laws or rules and enforcing them. Particularly if the NPCs enforcing the laws are more powerful than the PCs. This doesn’t work, however, if they choose to have their PVP away from anyone who might stop them. But on that hand, why not let them go at it as a reward for finding a way to get around the rules. Its all up to you, oh GM, but remember to let the PCs have fun.

Whatever you choose to do, the most important thing you can do is to remember that all of the players are in this to have fun (including the GM). No matter what kind of game you’re playing, people should come to the table as friends (or strangers…it happens) and leave as friends.