History and Games

by Jay Law

The Bard wrote, “What’s past is prologue.” To the mind of this GM, that can be taken quite literally when planning a game. The thing is this: No matter how creative, exceptional, or brilliant any one person can be, they are still just that. One person. Throw some more minds into the mix, toss ideas into a collective hopper, and you’ll see more variations on a theme, more permutations, and more brilliant ideas rise to the fore that you possibly could with just one of those folks holed up in a dark closet, rocking back and forth while summoning concepts out of the ether.

Now look at the past. How many minds were involved? How many schemers plotting? How many brilliant plans have been laid out, how many tried—win, lose or draw? And it’s all out there, waiting to be plumbed for use in your games, if only you leverage them.

This has been done to great effect in fiction. One of my personal favorite authors is a cat by the name of Tim Powers, author of books like “The Drawing of the Dark”, “The Anubis Gates”, “The Stress of Her Regard” and “On Stranger Tides” (No, not the movie. Forget the movie. Really. Please. It has nothing to do with the book). What these titles, and so many of his others have in common is that they take a historical jumping off point and weave fantastical fictions around them, creating a whole new web of nuance and recontextualize the mundane (if fascinating) history into something all new, something all his.

For my own part, I tend to chart a similar path. Take for example one of my favorite scenarios—“Operation Fat Rat”. It’s a one-shot for the Wild Talents system that asks the question “What if the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 had a cause different than that which history offers?” Without giving anything away that’s not in the blurb, suppose there was a singular, non-descript American citizen that was so intensely important that the Soviets would risk war with the United States to spirit her away from her family in Minnesota to an airbase in Cuba, for a flight back to Moscow. Suppose then that NATO shared the thought that perhaps this one woman was just that important, and would plan an actual invasion of the island nation as a diversion to the real mission—a black op to retake her, and bring her back to the US. What is so special about her? What steps would the USSR take to protect their prize?

This approach can be taken with virtually any event, with any wrap-around pretext you’d wish to build it on. The reasons can be all yours, 100%, just like Powers’ are his, and Fat Rat is mine. There’s still a lot of room to build a concept and exercise creativity, but by basing the game in known events, it allows the players additional context to buy into the game, and understand the setting.

And that, friends, is how the past can be your prologue.

Characters and Con Games

by Thomas J. Howell

One of the things I think I do particularly well as a convention Game Master is have well designed pregenerated Player Characters (pregens). I mostly run Shadowrun games at Total Con and Carnage, and for every Shadowrun con game I run I use one set of pregens. I do this because it means that I am intimately familiar with the skills, the gear, the motivations and the relationships of the pregens. I know, for example, that one character suffers from a drug addiction, so it’s not hard to remember to tempt her when things get tough. Another character was a famous actor once, so lots of NPCs are eager to talk and reminisce. Using these same pregens repeatedly also means that I spend more of my time planning time other elements of the game.

Another benefit to me as GM is that all my convention games can exist in a single timeline. It can be fun for repeat players (who may remember what happened in a previous game and like how the world reacted to that), of course. Even beyond that, though, it allows me to add in details from previous games that layer texture onto the characters and world. Maybe in one game the face will finally pay off his debts, but that doesn’t mean people won’t continue to talk about it or that it won’t be relevant in some way to the current game. Perhaps a character began a new romantic relationship and details of how that happened come up as flavor or even become integral to the adventure’s plot.

This technique is easier to use if the GM takes a few moments immediately after the game ends to jot down important events and interactions that took place (ex: the team’s local bar was sold to a new owner; the hacker made a new enemy; they now owe favors to a corp exec, etc.). These notes then become a goldmine of ideas for planning future con games!

One often overlooked aspect of creating pregens is the character sheet itself. How does one present the pregen in a useful manner? It is important, particularly in a game like Shadowrun, to avoid overwhelming players with information. The minimalist approach is best: show only what is necessary to make informed decisions and die rolls, or information important to characterization of the pregen by the player. Combat information is all in one spot and things are alphabetized. Game mechanics such as advantages, equipment and special abilities get a brief explanation about their function. In my convention games, each pregen also gets a one paragraph backstory, some notes on personality and motivation, and a short piece on how that character relates to the other characters on the team. If this handout goes longer than the front and back of a single sheet of paper, it is too long and time to seriously consider whether everything on the sheet is really necessary.

It is ideal if at least one item from each player’s sheet is important to the actual game session or adventure you are running. It could be an important contact, an ability that will be critical to the group’s success, or something that plays to the main or side plot of the story.

Regarding the physical presentation of the pregens: I suggest a tri-fold with the character’s name, a picture of the character, and a defining statement (similar to a Fate RPG style Aspect). For example: Morry Dash (name), a pic of Morry’s mug, and “Former child star in debt to the Triads”. On the player facing side I include a few quick adjectives and phrases for playing the character (ex: hangdog, jaded, bleeding heart, etc...) and a short list of factions, locations, or other elements likely to appear in the adventure whether the character is positive or negative on those elements. The pregen itself is ideally laminated or put into a vinyl protector. Players can then use wet erase markers or wax pencils to write on the sheet.

Whether you are running at a convention, a pub game night, or a school game club, well designed and accessible pregens will make your job as GM easier and get the players, even completely new ones, into the game more easily and with more enthusiasm.

What’s Going On With Dark Phoenix Events

Hey all, it’s been a great summer where we had several private events, a couple of our all weekend extravaganzas and another awesome Murder Mystery under our belt. Summer ended with another amazing Cthulhu Camping Con, a private event we do for our GMs and friends and this year continued to exceed expectations with all the new games, new Saturday morning cartoons in the woods, amazing food and some of the best gaming around that I get to actually play in.

Coming next we’re heading full tilt into Con season, with Carnage (Carnagecon.com) coming up in November.  Held at the beautiful Killington Grand Resort, Carnage is a great convention representing all kinds of gaming run by some wonderful people. Check them out at Carnage.com and we hope to see you there. We’ll be running dozens of games and once again will be headlining events for Xtra Life raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network. Stop on by and say hi and think about buying raffle tickets, we have some great items for the charity raffle this year!

In August we started a cooperative event with ASKEW (Askewprov.com) the wonderful Bistro and Entertainment Venue in the heart of Providence.  We’ve had two Gamer Café’s now at this awesome location, which by the way has some kickin’ southern style food, running a full variety of RPGs from fantasy to horror to Fiasco and DCC’s newest release MCC.  Join us there for October’s Gamer Café on October 28 which in honor of All Hallow’s Eve will be Horror themed and we’ll also be dusting off some chilling boardgames for your gaming pleasure in addition to our RPG tables! Look for our event listings at Dark Phoenix Events on FB!

Looming in the calendar distance is Totalcon (Totalcon.com), our home Con and once again we’ll be there in full force running over 40 games again for you. Preparations are underway for some special treats this year for our players, possibly including a multi table game. Keep watching our site and Totalcon’s for status updates!

We want to thank all of you, our players and fans, who continue to make everything we do more and more fun every year! This could be the year that we run that event you’ve been dreaming of for years. We’re here, we’re ready and would love to make those dreams come true!  Game Hard!

Peace,

Scott

On Destiny and Chance: The Storyteller’s Dilemma Part I

by Alex Jackl

 As a Game Master (GM) we have many roles: storyteller, director, author, and sometimes even armchair psychologist. There are many areas that we can discuss in terms of pulling apart the things that a GM does. In this blog I would like to focus on the nature of the stories we are engaging the player in.

 To set the context, let’s look at where Role-Playing Games came from. Fundamentally they came from board games, which morphed to strategy/war games. These games had some consistent structures:

1.    They tended to be a “setting” about either:

a.    a single event or series of events: a battle, World War Two, the Christian assault on Jerusalem; or,

b.    A type of event like knights fighting over terrain, assaulting a fortress, buying stuff and making money.

c.    This scope is the opposite of what we would call an “open world” like most role-playing gaming scenarios and campaigns now a days.

2.    They resolved conflict through some mechanism of randomness - usually dice.

3.    You won by beating someone else in a conflict of some sort.

 These structures are woven into the fabric of role-playing games. There are many modern games that attack these structures and break free of them but the vast majority of role-players are playing games still dominated by this way of thinking.

 Now we get to the Storyteller’s Dilemma: most players use movies or great books that they have read as their model for what they are looking for in a game. I always wanted to be Ged from Earthsea, or Darth Vader. Those movies and books tend NOT to follow the structures of war games:

 Oops - Luke Skywalker rolled a “1”. I guess Vader wins.

The question becomes: how much of the game do you let be driven by rules and dice, and how much by a storyline created and woven together by you and the players.

I am a fan of dice. I believe randomness helps break up a GM’s tendency to tell the same stories given the same stimuli. Randomness brings a sense of spontaneity and challenges the storyteller to weave events together in a way that more profoundly models how real life works: stuff happens, then you react. However, if you feel that it is your job as a GM is to create a great story you need to constantly make choices about when you use dice, when you empower the dice, or when you flat out ignore them.

I think dice are powerful for deciding which player notices something, or to resolve contests of skill, or to just drive a plot decision where you could go either way. Despite the importance of dice, I believe the story is paramount. It is the duty of the GM to know what the character’s are trying to achieve and then deliver a path for them to achieve it. You cannot let the Emperor win because Luke rolled a “1”. Not that it couldn’t be interesting to run the rebel Jedi’s fleeing underground in the Emperor's Death Star dominated empire. You can turn failures into fascinating plots. In fact many of the best plots are driven by failure. But the player’s must be satisfied and grinding their hopes into dust because a dice roll was 5 instead of 15 is a nonsensical way to run a campaign.

However we storyteller’s are full of bias. Of course we have favorite player-characters (shhh- don’t tell anyone), favorite NPCs, and favorite kinds of situations. The rules and the dice are a way to manage some of those biases.

There are no clear answers. It is critical for a GM to know what kind of story they are telling and, more importantly, why?

Leaving the Nest

by Eric Loren

I am a curmudgeon. To wit: After reading a recent Bloomberg piece about the side gig of professional GMing, I have a crotchety philippic to deliver, and my thesis is as follows: You are not a baby bird.

Before I proceed farther, Caveat #1: As long as your effect on other people’s fun is at worst null, you can play however you want. There is no BadWrongFun. The intent of this piece is to recommend strategies to enhance your and others’ table’s experiences. If they don’t work for you, that’s fine: fun is an ineffable, mercurial beast.

Caveat #2: It is assumed that you can be a basically civil person. When I harangue you about all the ways you should play differently, take it as implied that you should listen to others, respect their comfort, etc etc. In this way perhaps we can avoid the truism “all you need for a good game is a good group.” It is correct but if you don’t know what constitutes good play it is useless.

 So: to the birds.

Baby birds, as science class and sunny afternoons by the window birdfeeder have taught us, spend most of their time peeping and holding their mouths open in the hopes that someone will puke a worm into them. Charming. By analogy, I think too many players, even experienced ones, approach tabletop RPGs like baby birds. Including me. I can be a very loud, squawky little bastard when I’m really into the game.

 By this I mean that those players:

●     Expect to be fed fun by an essentially superior creature

●     Make as much noise as possible in order to maximize allotted fun

●     Ignore other birds in favor of clamoring for space

Even if we don’t do so rudely, or don’t manage to utterly dominate table play, many of us still essentially operate in this mode, even if with a modicum of restraint. We cheep more quietly, or less often, or use our phones when not being fed, but our basic attitude is that we are there to share a zero-sum amount of spotlight with other players, awaiting a chance to do something. All the more so, I fear, when we have paid a GM to “entertain” us. What purer expression of baby-birdness could there be?

Caveat #3: Not all games encourage or even allow this style of play. I’ll leave classifying various games as an exercise for the reader, but obviously [your pet game] may be exempt from this model.

For the rest, I implore you, or at least lightly exhort you: Share ownership of the table. Acknowledge and observe other players. Are their actions signaling that they have a certain kind of story in mind? Listen and push that ball forward. Do their narrations imply interest in a particular subplot, mystery, or peril? Help them cultivate it. Has a slow-starting player been excluded because they can’t or won’t jump into any quiet moment in order to act? Draw them out.

I hypothesize that you are giving up nothing by doing so. It is not merely arithmetic; I am not merely lending you X of my Y table time out of pure beneficence. This is not a redistributionist ethic. Quite the contrary: by creating a play culture of ownership, of symmetry, buy-in, proactivity, and responsibility, I believe we will increase the total amount of (unit-agnostic) fun had.

Your attempts to contribute to the game will be more fruitful, as other hear and accept your “offers”, in the parlance of improv. You will have fewer game moments undermined, ignored, stymied, or needlessly drawn out. The GM will no longer be a benevolent deity, but just the person who’s chosen an interstitial or organization role in the story. When GMing isn’t a part-time job as a stage actor and novelist, it will be less terrifying. You will be able to get someone to run games for you without pizza bribes (or wages).

Caveat #4: There is of course a definitional vulnerability here: You may define “sit back and engage in a hybrid of dinner theater and board game” as an activity, which is perfectly embodied by baby-bird play. Again, if that’s what you aspire to, enjoy yourself. You have my blessing.

If not, if games sometimes seem to fall flat and you’re not quite sure why, ask yourself: Could I be puking worms into other players’ mouths? Could we be willy-nilly swapping mashed-up worm spit in a welter of glistening annelid flesh and damp feathers? I think you could. I believe in you.

A Dark Phoenix Summer!

Dark Phoenix Events has had an amazing summer with multiple private events booked but still some slots left to book some fun events before summer is over! Contact Us at darkphoenixevents.com, take a look at our website and drop us a line.. sign up for our mailing list to keep up to date on what is happening!

Our monthly Gamer Cafe at Askew (askewprov.com) in Providence RI has been going great with our largest turn out last month so come out on July 28, show up at 11a with games staring at 12p lasting until 4-5p. Brunch/lunch is available as well as a full bar. Come try out some new games, old favorites and have a great time!

Remember “We Take the Work Out of Your Fun!”

There and Back Again: Gaming Anthropology

By David Clarkson

I am a 50+ gamer; with that mantle I am expected to possess perspective and wisdom on how to best pursue our shared hobby. On closer examination all I can really report is that I have personal opinion, subjective observation and undeniable experience just for being there when this all happened.

Within that experience I have developed my own point of view that shows me a rhythm in the popular culture that is RPG gaming - a pattern I try to share when newer players come to my table proclaiming the idea of the moment is “the right way” to game.  While ideas have shared time in the spotlight and in shadow, it is my strong opinion that the two often opposing forces of mechanics and storytelling have always been there. I advise all GMs, DMs, ST’s & Judges to determine where their personal style fits if they wish to do well at their craft.

Looking back, I feel I saw gaming grow up, albeit through the lens of Dungeons & Dragons, but with the rest of the craft in a loose orbit around the Tiamat of RPG gaming. As a young 7th grader I learned Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first; I devoured the Player’s Handbook and celebrated my ability to penetrate the High Gygaxian within. Weapon speed stands out in my mind as a particular esoteric piece of the rules that gained my focus at that time. The idea that with a small amount of organization you could game the system and get to act faster in an initiative tie seemed like magic because I was able to hold my deeper D&D lore over my fellow gamers like a wizard of ill-thought-out rules. My fascination was more about how I would play the game than why I would play the game. At that time the mechanics of the game were the one thing we all felt was the secret of a good game. The core thesis of D&D was soon franchised to many other settings: D&D in the Old West, D&D spies, and, like all horror movies eventually; D&D in space. Better systems for better gaming was the zeitgeist. Soon the gaming world doubled their bet and generic gaming like GURPS or Hero Games became entrenched. In those systems anything could be reduced to the atomic structure of points. Numbers make the game fair and better, right? My schooling was complete, or so I thought.

Soon, into this high schooler’s life came White Wolf Games: the 800lb, leather clad, chainsaw wielding, perverted gorilla in the room.  More than the awesomeness of being able to play a character who was a monster, a vampire, the game promised to blow the doors off of gaming by saying “Screw mechanics, the story is all that matters; we think that so much that you should call your vampire dungeon master a storyteller!” All game stuff was rated on five stars like a newspaper restaurant review, all rolls used the same dice; you don’t even need six-sided dice. The gaming world was making a collective Sanity Check to handle the brash upstart. The game did provide some of what it promised. Storytellers were encouraged to “hand-wave” dice results and “make sure the outcome supported your original story idea”. Then every new game to come down the pike had more and more fancy ways to let the player write the game in some manner. Some even encouraged the players to agree on the next point in the story after rolling some die as if no one had to figure out the game in advance? “What about my graph paper maps?” the 7th grader in me proclaimed. “Why have rules if they don’t matter?” Soon, either by repetition or perhaps just because being able to game without preparation was helpful, I found myself entertaining and then espousing the idea. Soon I was looking at the dice and silently saying, “You’re not the boss of me!” when the roll didn’t suit the way I felt the story was going.

As an older adult; I found that I started thinking, “If a system-less game is the ideal; why am I moving 1 metric ton of gaming books to each new home?” A restlessness had taken root, looking for a game with enough boundaries to make the game matter, but not so much the game, it became about the charts and dice rolls.  I stumbled into the Old School Gaming movement, and it seemed like I was returning to the start. On the surface these throwback games became self-inflicted hazing rituals where you endured game rule requirements that defied logic. You shrugged and said; “When I was young and free, I liked calculating encumbrance numbers!” As I participated in these silent debates, even I thought that I must be a little mad. So, what was the appeal? Soon it dawned, I had learned that the rules are optional, the dice roll should support the story, right? Playing these games that looked like rulebooks unearthed from under a dusty pyramid did not mean that you were not doing it right if you didn’t follow each rule to a “T”, but the well-defined rules gave you a framework to hang the flesh of your story. If you don’t like the results of a spellcasting backlash roll, you don’t have to find yourself stuck with “everyone turns into a chicken”; instead, the botched roll can reveal a window into an alternate world where the dominant race is evolved from avian stock. Looking through that window are doubles in avian form and they can see you looking at them! Now you have the start of the Quest for the Great Chicken, instead of a dumb roll you never planned on having. Wow, this game can write itself. I felt that by bringing the two ideas together I would have my ideal method of delivering a fun story.

While I was pleased with the results of my discovery, I soon realized that my approach wasn’t a one-size fits all solution. Some players at my table seemed to show that while they liked the game itself, they were bothered by the fact that they could not always predict or at least piece together the logic after the fact and see the story unfolding according to a pre-determined set of rules. It’s almost like some players wanted to be able to determine the outcome of the story like it was a math problem! The truth is, either, both, and a combination of the two are the reason we all game. While we want to tell any story, we also are creatures that love to put structure onto our world, even ones that only exist in our imagination. The trick is for the person responsible for facilitating the experience to understand where they fall between these magnetic poles of gaming. The important point is knowing your style and then, both play to that style and make sure you make it clear to your players like the social contract that it is. Everyone at the gaming table will have a better experience including you. iIf you like to know that you can count on the movement rules restricting your tactical melee choices and you like the creativity of finding a pay to success in that maze of limited choices, go for it. If the idea of tracking miniatures on an oversized graph paper gives you hives, toss that paper map into the river! Find your sweet spot of how many rules you love, play within that sandbox and make sure you put up some signs so that no one is unaware that the sand may be deep. Everyone should have fun, that’s the point after all!

Lighting Basics for Role-Playing

By Andre Kruppa

Lighting is one of the most important elements that can be controlled to influence the experience of the participants in scenarios and adventures. The reason for this is that it has a substantial conscious and subconscious effect on the players as they perceive the environment. Game lighting works the same way as the lighting for a play. A dim blue light often signals night or dark spaces, a bright white or yellowish light can signal a bright day or a brilliantly lit room, the absence of light can feel very claustrophobic, and so forth. Compelling lighting techniques can be achieved with anything from a few basic pieces of equipment to an elaborate setup.

A good example of how effective lighting can be in influencing mood is the arrangement of a romantic dinner for that special someone. Typically, lights are turned down or off, and a few candles are placed upon the table to create an intimate atmosphere. Anyone who has done this can immediately feel the difference in mood as the environment changes from brightly lit to gently illuminated with warm and intimate candlelight.

There are a number of atmospheric effects that can be achieved with simple lighting techniques. A simple dimmable light, like that over many dining-room tables, can be very effective by allowing some control of the brightness of the room. It can be left at the brightest setting for a daylight scene and bright interiors, and reduced accordingly for darker scenes. A few flashlights can be placed on the table, and some parts of the scenario can be played in the dark. Scenes played in the dark can strongly signal feelings of mystery, fear, and claustrophobia. Most people have some latent fear of the dark, and this plays to that, helping to set the mood.

The Game Master can benefit highly from a book light and a book stand to create a screened space for keeping notes, dice, and hidden reference materials in the form of a book or tablet. Laptops and similar self-illuminating devices are, unfortunately, a poor choice for this, as they throw a lot of light and can distract from the look that is being created. A book light ensures that needed information can be seen and is easily turned off when unneeded. It even can be turned to light the face of the Game Master for a scene or effect.

To allow full control of the light in a room, curtains and blackout shades are very helpful. For those who prefer not to take this step, games can be played at night. Alternatively, windows can be temporarily blacked out with black trash bags taped with painters’ tape (which usually won’t pull paint off of walls) or can be covered with blankets. Preparing the room or choosing a time to run that allows control of light in the space is important. For those who black out spaces often, like myself, a roll of black plastic tablecloth material, available at most event and party stores, can be very helpful, along with rolls of narrow and wide painter’s tape and a pair of decent scissors. This material can then be cut to fit and taped in place.

One way to add a blue wash of light for night scenes, which still allows players to see, is to clip a blue floodlight over the table onto an existing fixture. The bulb can be mounted in a clamp light of the kind with a simple rubber-covered clamp and removable shield; these can be found at most hardware stores and are commonly used for work lights. The blue floodlight can be left on; it is unlikely to be noticeable when the rest of the lights are on, but it becomes increasingly apparent as the lights are dimmed.

If the space does not have dimmable lights, a number of fixtures can simply be turned on and off as needed. Playing with flashlights and changing the light for different scenes has a profound physiological and psychological effect. Even the most basic lighting goes a long way to frame the scene, setting the mood and creating atmosphere.

This is an excerpt from the Lighting Basics chapter of Bringing Theater to the Mind: A Guide to Using Theatrical Elements in Role-Playing available on both Amazon and RPGNow!

https://www.amazon.com/Bringing-Theater-Mind-Theatrical-Role-Playing-ebook/dp/B00N6XQYE4/

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product_info.php?src=2077&products_id=137261&

Yes and…

Jason Marcure

In my lifetime I’ve seen gaming go from a secretive hobby to a massive industry with extensive public acceptance. I’ve also see gaming go from a strict set of tables and rules to something else: collaborative story telling.

Often a GM will invest much time and effort in writing a game, even going so far as to build entire worlds, continents, kingdoms and personalities dwelling within. So much effort goes into a game that sometimes a GM will referee to the game as “their game”. That’s only part of the story.

GMs don’t have a monopoly on creativity. Players are often a hand’s-breadth from certain death, and will on the fly come up with some really wild and creative ideas. Players also see the game world from a unique perspective; their own.  So why not embrace that resource?

“Yes and” Is a collaborative approach to gaming. In its simplest form it’s when a player tries to do something and the GM replies with agreement and then adds to the player’s action. It’s not only a great way to tell a collaborative story, it’s also a great way to let players succeed or fail spectacularly. “Yes and” can be so much more than that. I often run games at conventions. When I do, I run 4 hour games in a persistent game world. It is the same characters, but with different players. This has given me a chance to see some creative players at work surviving and exploring an environment I’m familiar with. After I run a game for a couple of conventions, no more than three, the story progresses, and I incorporate the changes the players made based on the actions they took. In this way I have seen some wild results from Yes and.

What kind of results exactly? A fish market in a city, a secret ledge concealed from casual observation where the players could hole up for a few hours. A dry-dock chop shop that dismantled stolen small water craft, a techno night club that ended up being the site of an epic battle that spurred on the resistance to a terrible dictator, the list goes on.

The trick to using “Yes and” is to look at three things: character, setting and will it add to the game/story. When a player tries something in -game, like throwing a grenade to bounce off a sign post to land in a get-away vehicle, that’s one thing, but if a player tries to role-play some new element to the game, and this element will become a fixture, just answer the three questions. If it makes sense for the character to know this, and it fits the setting, and it adds to the game or moves the story in a positive direction for everyone involved, why not?

If the player is in a city they are familiar with, would it make sense that they know where the fish market is even if you didn’t “write” a fish market into the city? Of course! The GM doesn’t need to write/create every element of every location. Does a character with a background in less than law abiding activities? Sure they know a guy who can sell something pilfered.

This isn’t to say you should let your players run wild. On the other end of Yes and is another term often lampooned “Are you sure?” I have replaced “Are you sure?” with “Yes and” to hilarious and sometimes disastrous results.

So next time the players are stuck and one of them comes up with an interesting idea, even if at first you think it’s not in their best interest, try replacing no with yes and. You’ll be amazed at where your story can go.

Spring Fun with Dark Phoenix

Things are blooming and new things are sprouting up at Dark Phoenix Events. We are booking up but we still have openings available for events so contact us now to am up your fun for birthdays, cookouts and all around gatherings. Visit our website at www.darkphoenixevents.com.

Gamer Café at Askew (www.askewprov.com) is happening one Sunday per month from 11a-5p with the next date on April 28. Come check out new games or play some old favorites for the cost of a roll on d10 ($1-10 dependent on roll). May 19th has already been scheduled as well so put it on your calendars now. There is always amazing food and drink as well!

Exciting news for all gamers in the New England area! There is a new gaming convention coming April 2020 in the Central Massachusetts area….Dark Phoenix Game Convention will bring you RPGs, minis and board games with the same attention to detail and professionalism you have grown to know this crew for. Visit us at www.Darkphoenixgamecon.com for updates and to sign up for our newsletter so you don’t miss any exciting news!

A Tale of Two Tables, Part Two

Colleen Nachtrieb

As if on purpose, since I started this journey with the Old Skool Gang and the Adventure Time D&D campaigns, there were scheduling dilemmas. I have run three sessions for the Old Skool Gang and eight sessions for the Adventure Time table. For whatever reason scheduling the Old Skool Gang has been difficult and they won't be able to play until March. They are currently in Chapter Three of the Waterdeep Dragon Heist plot, hot on the trail of the plot line. Meanwhile the Adventure Time table is at the beginning of Chapter Four, but this train has no rails.

Adventure Time

Adventure Time has thrown the prewritten plot to the curb and have seeded themselves deeply into the side quests and personal plots I have thrown at them. It has not been for a lack of trying to tie them back into the main storyline of the Waterdeep Dragon Heist; I have incorporated NPCs from their past, their friends, and even blackmail into the mix to drill home the importance of finding this very large pile of money beneath the city. They simply have no sense of urgency on the matter. At this point any time something ties or loops back around to the main plot, the Players are keenly aware of the attempt. They even go so far as to make jokes, "Oh right the plot line!" whenever the Stone of Glor is mentioned. We all drink our wine/mead/stout, and laugh about it at the table and then gleefully return to murder, mayhem and the occasional shopping trip. Thus far the players have avoided the larger issue at hand but greatly entertained me by:

  • Attempting an insurance fraud scheme involving a runaway carriage and a well positioned leg.

  • Making a deal with the King of Devils

  • Sneaking into the Waterdeep Prison and sought revenge by murdering an assassin before he could go on trial. (This had great fallout)

  • Subverting and then avoiding the Law

  • Confessing to a murder (because they felt bad lying to a truly helpful and kind NPC)

  • Asking to make an Arcana check to determine why a party member was depressed, and failing.

  • Commissioning fancy armor.

  • Harboring a known member of the Zentarim Gang and begining a romantic relationship with her.

The Story Continues

Overall their sessions remind me of running games when I was younger. It's been a wild and sometimes ridiculous journey. When we started this campaign the players stated that all they cared about was getting rich, but over time they have shown there is much more depth to their characters' motivations and goals. Eventually I'm sure they will end this plot, but more importantly they will create their own story that is closely linked to Waterdeep's history. They might even stop harassing elderly men. Unfortunately they also read this blog, leaving me unable to post all the future thoughts I have in store for them. I am concerned about the fourth chapter of the campaign only because it is a long chain of encounters, and in the past this group has not dealt well with chains, rails or following directions.

Both Tables

The Old Skool Gang meets next weekend, and I will put personal hooks into the story we are weaving there as well. I'm hoping to catch them up and end the session at the start of Chapter four. Depending on what Adventure Time does we might continue on after the Dragon Heist into our own campaign of Waterdeep or try the Dungeon of the Mad Mage.

Unfortunately because the Old Skool Gang couldn't meet before having to write this blog post I could not put together another side by side comparison, but I hope you've enjoyed some of the journey.


The Beginning of Something Amazing!

TotalCon was phenomenal, with 42 games full of smiling players and the sound of laughter and screams reverberating down the halls!

Our wonderfully awesome and devoted players filled our tables to capacity and then some! We honored our arch nemesis and frenemy James Carpio of TSR with a T-shirt to his delight. TotalCon outdid themselves and showed why they are a Top Tiered Convention!

Speaking of Conventions we at Dark Phoenix have the most exciting news! 

Coming  to New England April of 2020:

DARK PHOENIX GAMING CON!!!!!

We at Dark Phoenix will be hosting our very own premiere gaming experience! For updates and news go to our website at darkphoenixevents.com and sign up for our mailing list!! 

Can’t wait to see you there! Woot!

A Tale of Two Tables

By Colleen Nachtrieb

 I must preface this post with a little background information on my GM style and history. I have always been the sort of GM that tosses the rules out the window and focused on the player experience first. I see my role at the table as an enabler of my players to create a good story and conflict in each session. I gravitate towards systems and games like Apocalypse World, Lady Blackbird, Fate, Kids on Bikes and others in which the mechanics rely on the player driven narrative. So, it came as a great shock to me that several people I knew requested that I run Dungeons and Dragons for them.

 D&D is a classic, and a game that has gone through many different iterations in the last several years. It is a game driven by brutal, random chance. Up until recently I have played in many D&D games but never as Dungeon Master. I steered clear of DMing it in fear of rules lawyers. But recently I played in a 5th edition game and had a blast, which in turn resulted in me running the Waterdeep Dragon Heist Campaign. This would also be the first time I had run a prewritten campaign; the closest I had to running anything prewritten was Lady Blackbird (just a page and a half of suggestions and paragraph on the setting!).

Not only did I commit to running D&D 5th ed for a group of new players but I also agreed to run the same campaign with a group of experienced players at a different time slot. The following is the first part of my journey running this campaign for these two very different groups. I will cover the differences in the first chapter between both of the groups and main takeaways when running for these different groups. In an attempt not to spoil the story of Dragon Heist for those who have not played it, I won’t be going into great detail on the events or structure of the campaign write up.

Without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to both groups, which I have lovingly named:

Table - Old Skool Gang

 The Table Composition: A group of experienced D&D players who have played through most editions of D&D and have a solid understanding of the setting material such as the Sword Coast and Waterdeep. Careful and meticulous in their actions, they are rarely surprised by spell effects, but relish in figuring out what tactics are being used by various NPCs.

The Party:

The Rock Genasi Barbarian, goals include: Protecting their Grandmother, Escape being in the fit pits/debts

The Half elf Rogue, goals include: Making a profit, Finding information on his father

The Half elf Fighter, goals include: Helping his half brother (the other half elf), Finding information on his father

The Gnome Warlock, goals include: Understanding magic and becoming a grand illusionist

Table - Adventure Time

The Table Composition: A group of first time D&D players and inexperienced roleplayers. One player had played a few other games but never in a full campaign. All players were used to playing video games and had played World of Warcraft or console games. They know nothing about Waterdeep or the D&D setting. They are often rash, impulsive and wonderfully surprised by the story’s turns and twists.

The Party:

The Halfling Fighter, goals include:Being drunk, Owning a tavern, Drinking and being swole

The Dwarven Druid, goals include Transforming into every creature he sees, Being intimidating

The Half elf Rogue, goals include: Stealing, Not taking any lip, Finding her Dad

Chapter One:

The Old Skool Gang immediately lunged at the hook of the prewritten campaign, and oftentimes when I would describe locations such as the Yawning Portal, they would excitedly add their own knowledge of the setting to the table. Within the first session of the game they completed Chapter One and advanced to first level. They searched every room in every map I threw at them, and the questioned NPCs on related subject matters that would then become rolls of investigation. I found that running the pre-written campaign for this group led to them easily following the outline of the adventure. They jumped to similar conclusions that the author did in what possible actions they would take or skills they would use. The only hitch I found in  designers’ expectations was the assumption that the some of the players would be good aligned or predisposed to doing “the right thing.” This was not true in either case. All my PCs fit squarely into the Neutral category. The result was that I made the City Guard more of a conflict than a point of contact for information, and I ended up making an additional faction of thieves that they could work with if needed. The game remains focused on politics and close encounter combats.

Team Adventure Time finished the first Chapter in two sessions. They beat up the hook and stole his money. In fact, every elderly man they have encountered has been either pick pocketed or lit on fire in some fashion. I found using the prewritten campaign for this group to be a hindrance to the style of play they inherently display. I ended up falling back on a lot of my narrative “Yes, and…” tactics to give them agency.

To Be Continued…

What both groups have in common and my main goal in preparing this game for all of them is the players’ need to tell their story. The Waterdeep Dragon Heist is a great story that has little to do with the player characters personally. My real work as a GM is to make the story about them. Both groups can follow the story along but it won’t be impactful unless I make it personal. Tune in next time for Chapter two where the campaign attempts to give the players agency, and I give them personal hooks.

 

Winter 2019 With Dark Phoenix

It may be cold and icy outside but things with Dark Phoenix Events are heating up!

We continue with our monthly game days at Askew (askewprov.com) in Providence, RI. Doors open at 11 and games start at 12p. Food, coffee and even mimosas are served with various gaming events held for your enjoyment. Here is the schedule for the next few months:

January 27, 2019

February 17, 2019

March 24, 2019

February is going to be a busy month! On February 16, 2019 we are running in the Revival Brewery Game Day with Revival Brewing Company (revivalbrewing.com) in Cranston, RI to benefit Amos House, a nonprofit organization that provides food and support for our homeless population here in Rhode Island. Come down for fun and gaming for a good cause!

February is also the time for our favorite home convention, Total Confusion (totalcon.com) running from February 21st-24th. We will be running 52 games and events over the weekend in the Westborough Room. The flea market is open on Thursday to get some of those gaming items you always wanted but couldn’t afford. This year’s TotalCon theme is ROME, and there is a costume to celebrate. Come in your togas and gladiatorial wear! New this year will be an Ask the GM event run by our very own amazing Dark Phoenix GMs, held Friday and Saturday nights from 10p-12p in the bar of the hotel! For details on all things Dark Phoenix at Total Con go see our DPE Total Con Page by clicking here.

March we will be hosting an annual private mini-convention for approximately forty people.  If this sounds like something you would like to do for your group of gamers, drop us a line and let us know (darkphoenixevents.com)!!

We have started a Dark Phoenix Events information list which will provide you with access to invitations to public events, blog posts and you will occasionally receive special content from our master GMs and event professionals. Please visit our website to sign up

We Take the Work Out of Your Fun!!

Helping Your Players Be Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

by Sean Murphy

Maybe after your last dungeon crawl you are interested in having your players visit a village being terrorized by a demon cult known for unspeakable acts.  Or it might be time your Mythos investigators faced a real-world horror ripped from the headlines.  Or you wonder how the crew will react when they hear of the strange sex acts of the alien race they meet on a distant planet.  In this post, we’ll explore some actions to take when going into previously uncharted and potentially uncomfortable territory.

The first step is to know your players as people and as a group.  Some players are ready to face whatever dark situation you want to throw at them.  Ritualistic torture?  Weird sex stuff? No problem – all part of the fun. I also know groups who try to outdo each other in terms of their murdering hobo violence – they will cheerfully set an entire town on fire to flush out one hated foe.  These groups didn’t start off this way but over time developed a particular playing style, as well as trust in each other.   If you know what you are going to present is consistent with the sorts of extremes they have seen before, maybe you feel safe with your new direction.

But if you are unsure you should take a moment - out of game - to talk about player expectations in terms of the potentially disturbing experiences ahead.  Sometimes this discussion should be broad, as in “Are there any topics that you would prefer I not introduce into the game?”  You will likely hear themes like violence against women and suicide, but you might also encounter unexpected topics like needles and medical procedures.  At other times the conversation should be specific because you know it is a sensitive area: “Without going into specifics, would anyone be uncomfortable if the topic of child abuse was introduced into the game?” 

The important thing is that if someone identifies a topic as upsetting you should accept that it is off limits and remove it from your game without further conversation.  Period.  Opening up about a real fear is a deeply personal act and should be taken as a sign of trust.  Following up with a series of questions (“When you say “drug use”, is it all drugs? Is marijuana ok?  Is it just drug overdoses that bother you?”) may pressure that person to go places they would rather not, and no matter how amazing you think your new plot is it isn’t worth alienating one of your players.

Once the game begins, your group needs to continue to be on alert when uncomfortable parts of the story unfold.   One tool I’ve started seeing at conventions is the X-card – an index card marked with an X sits in the center of the table and if anyone taps it the GM and players move away from that unpleasant topic with no questions asked (for a full explanation, see John Stavropoulos’ discussion at http://tinyurl.com/x-card-rpg). 

But be aware that even tapping the card might be difficult for some. They may not want to draw attention to themselves, or be seen as the problem player in the group. (As a side note, the player with the real potentially debilitating trauma may be the last one you would have expected.) So, even with an X-card on the table, you need to monitor your players. And if you see someone  starting to withdraw from the action in the scene you should move to change the topic or take a break, even if you don’t understand the source of their discomfort.  Any inconvenience in terms of game play is a small price to pay for making gaming a positive experience for everyone in the group. 

Words Are Better

The craziness of the holidays brings stress along with the joy! Take time to celebrate the holiday the way you enjoy it the most and here is hoping it includes some Fantasy and Imagination!!

We want to wish all our fans, old and new, joy, happiness and warmth in this Holiday Season. We are turning our eye toward the New Year and are excited for all the amazing things it will bring. TotalCon promises Roman sized fun in February. As always, we are going to bring our own Dark Phoenix style to the Con, so we hope to see you there! 

We continue our monthly run of the Gamer Cafe at the fantastic Askew in Providence with our next event scheduled for 12/30/18 from 12 to 5 PM. Come see your favorite GMs and take a break from the holiday chaos.

Happy Holiday from all of us at Dark Phoenix Events!! 

Compressed Campaigning

by Ian Eller

It started about eight years ago, following a long hiatus. Prior to that unintended break, I would travel out to Pittsburgh, PA from the Northeast a few times a year. We would visit and party and manage to get in a few days of gaming. But then my son arrived and I did not go back out for seven years. When I did, it was just once a year. What had started as a more-than-weekly college age campaign in Savannah, GA and had evolved into a few-times-a-year game became then a Once-A-Year-If-You-Were-Lucky game.

Back then, we did not play on-line (although we tried some play-by-email without success) so this group that had been together for years and years tried to cram a full year’s worth of gaming into a single long weekend. Amazingly, we kind of succeeded. I would arrive and we would have non-gamer friends converge and do the visiting and whatnot, but the next day we would get going. Over the course of a long weekend (4 or 5 days) we would get maybe 36 or so hours of table time in. It both recalled marathon sessions of old and also created something new -- the compressed mini-campaign.

Fast forward a few years and the Pittsburgh annual mini-campaigns (all still continuations of that now two decades old game) were still going strong. I started running games at both Carnage on the Mountain in Vermont and TotalConfusion in Massachusetts. Something did not sit quite right with me those first couple years, though, and I could not put a name to it until I ran my first two part, continuing event at Carnage (a little Mutant Future piece called Out of the Fridge and Into the Freezer, for those of you that may recall it). Even though it was only two sessions long, it clicked: single slot games at cons weren’t for me. I needed something more, something with continuity and stakes and player investment. I needed to run mini-campaigns at conventions.

Now these style of games are a staple for me. I generally dedicate my entire convention schedule to a single ongoing game, four or five or six slots throughout the weekend. It has taken some fiddling with the format, but these games allow traditional con players to drop in for a single session, while those looking for more can sign up for multiple or even all of the slots and get a deeper, more complete experience. It is very rewarding for me as a GM to run these kinds of games and see players -- especially those without regular home campaigns -- get excited to explore the Valley of Tombs or the Isle of Dread, or get entangled with a rogue AI as the Dropship Murphys or fight for galactic freedom as Rebel Scum.

But this is not my super power, and it isn’t a style of game that belongs only to me. The purpose of this post, in fact, is to convince you, dear reader and GM, to give it a try for yourself. I don’t mean necessarily at a convention (although, of course, you should do that too) but rather I want you to try it with your home group. In particular, if your group is one of those that has been together forever and has trouble getting a regularly scheduled game going, I implore you: run a compressed campaign. You and your players will thank me.

Here’s how it works: first, you set aside a long weekend to get together. I suggest finding a venue where you won’t be an imposition on your spouses or roommates, maybe even renting a place by way of AirBnB or a similar service. Bring everything you need, from racks of ribs to cases of beer to extra toilet paper. Pick the right game for your group, either your long stalled campaign from college as I did or a game you have been dying to play. Whatever it is, make sure everyone is one board for some intensive play. Then, play it. All weekend. Take breaks to cook, shower, maybe watch a single favorite movie together, and sleep, but that’s it. Of those 96 hours you have (minus travel time) put in 40 at the table. Game like you were 19 again.

If you consider that you are managing to squeeze in maybe a single monthly four hour session over the course of a year, and half of those sessions’ play time are eaten by catching up and getting back into the game, then 30 or 40 hours of continuous play is essentially what you would get out of a full year’s play, but with the added benefit of everything being fresh and immediate and continuous.

One shots are fine. Weekly campaigns are really great. But nothing quite matches a marathon compressed campaign for a sense of accomplishment, camaraderie and immersion.

Good Gaming!

What Your Kids Can Learn From Gaming

By Steve Wilcox

We started my children gaming as soon as they could recognize the numbers 1 to 10. We used a very simple rules system, three classes/characters, and a number line on top of the page. Without realizing it they quickly mastered simple addition and subtraction as they were slaying monsters and rescuing innocents from certain doom. This was also the beginning of the idea that actions have consequences (a major theme in our house). Characters could and did die, sometimes heroically and sometimes comically. Even today when dealing with discipline issues I will occasionally say, “You ran at the dragon again” before handing out a consequence.

As the kids aged we slowly introduced more complicated rules until we were playing Dungeons and Dragons 3.5. As before, they were required to look up rules and be prepared (or have their character stand staring dumbly doing nothing for a round). This is when their problem solving and social skills really started to take off. Watching them develop a plan and defend it logically to the group was great to see. The idea that not every problem can be solved by using force and the idea of sometimes you need to fight the good fight started to appear. I like to use gaming to explore the human experience and playing with my children did not change this.

The best benefit I can think of about having a gamer kid is as teens, I can get my kids to sit down and spend time with me simply by setting a game up. Whether a table top role playing or a more free form narrative type game, both of my kids happily disconnect from screens to play. After the usual parent vs teen arguments about chores or school I can quickly reconnect with my son by asking his opinion on an idea I have for a convention game.

Personally, I find gamers over all to be better equipped to deal with emergencies and other circumstances life throws at us. I believe this is because we spend so much time thinking through situations and thinking of a solution to problems quickly. Like an athlete who practices by visualizing, practicing problem solving makes you a better problem solver.

Recently at a child’s birthday party we had an unexpected visitor. A brown bear was in the neighbor’s yard behind a fence. As we moved all the 5-year olds into the house the bear was slowly moving towards the woods and the end of the fence. My 15-year-old son was walking toward the bear to get a better look. When I asked him what he was thinking he pointed at a group of 5 adults standing at the end of the fence and told me it was fine he can run faster then at least 3 of those people. A gamer answer if I ever heard one….

Bring your kids to the gaming table, you may need to start slow and simple, but I promise you won’t regret it.

Words from a Gamer Girl

by Petra Jackl

As quoted from that amazing fantasy movie Princess Bride: “Let me ‘splain. No, too long, let me sum up” ... I could discuss the subject of women and gaming at length but will keep this short, well short-sh.

LoL

I started gaming when I was 15 years old. It was a time when that term meant only Dungeons and Dragons and nerdy preteen/teen boys hung out in house basements dreaming of damsels in distress and hitting things with swords. Gaming has grown exponentially in the past thirty years and I have witnessed its growing pains and it’s incredible successes. Through it all I have proudly claimed the title Gamer Girl.

I was introduced to D&D by my older brother and from my first dwarf character I became hooked. The appeal of taking on a different persona and doing things I couldn’t possibly do was amazing! Quickly my friends and sister were drawn in and it became our social past time. It taught us how to resolve conflict, social skills and team work without us even realizing it was happening. Our creativity was stimulated and our imaginations soared.

In those days gaming art was woman in chain mail bikinis, gauzy dresses and proportions of fantasy sizes and, right or wrong, it was not questioned. There were not many of us Gamer Girls around and as our late teens and early twenties arrived it became evident to me that slowly this elite group was growing. The positive side of this was never a lack of someone willing to teach you a system or patiently explain the rules, as well as the ability to bring a new dynamic to the game by simply sitting at a table. The negative side was constantly being hit on, not taken seriously, always assuming I would play the cleric and even at times being told girls don’t game.

As time has gone on, gaming has become as increasingly diverse as the number of people that play it has increased. Tabletop role playing fits almost any genre and style you may be looking for. It continues to be played by children and teens and now by CEOs, all professions and even actors. It can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be. It has become a multi-million dollar industry being played in people’s homes to creating conventions that span a city.

With growth comes complexity and gaming is being faced with the same problems faced by the world at large: namely, how to handle the rampant sexism that gaming started with. This is not a blog about that but an acknowledgement toward this evolving issue. There are no clear cut answers at this point, but it is something that touches any woman in any environment where she spends time. I find gamers as a general bunch very open and accepting with no or little bias around sexual orientation or lifestyle. They honestly just want to game. Women have flocked to gaming. We no longer exist as just the girlfriend or spouse that sits around while her man games, but as a vibrant member of the party ourselves. It is never spoken any longer that women shouldn’t game and in my experience welcomed and accepted as is their right. Men play women and women play men with more games crossing all spectrums of gender and sexual orientation.

I have grown up gaming with my family and my kids have grown up gaming and I believe we are all better people for it.

Gaming has grown up with me and as we have both matured we have grown in knowledge and depth. Having spent my life as a Gamer Girl it opened my mind and imagination giving me skills and creative thinking I would never have achieved. It has made me a stronger woman and person, giving me a vast array of social experiences and exposing me to people and situations I never would have had otherwise. It has made me a better student, employee and even parent by teaching me patience and how to think out of the box.

As a woman Gamer we have had our trials and continue to stretch and grow in this world no longer ruled by men. While not perfect , tabletop gamers are one of the most accepting, fun, and kind group of people you could ever have the honor of spending time with and I still proudly wear the title Gamer Girl!


Dark Phoenix Events Update

Hey all, it’s been a great summer where we had several private events, a couple of our all weekend extravaganzas and another awesome Murder Mystery under our belt. Summer ended with another amazing Cthulhu Camping Con, a private event we do for our GMs and friends. This year continued to exceed expectations with all the new games, new Saturday morning cartoons in the woods, amazing food and some of the best gaming around that I get to actually play in.

Coming next we’re heading full tilt into winter Con season, with Carnage in November.  Held at the beautiful Killington Grand Resort, Carnage is a great convention representing all kinds of gaming run by some wonderful people. Check them out at Carnage.com and we hope to see you there. We’ll be running dozens of games and once again will be headlining events for Xtra Life raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network. Stop on by and say “Hi!” and think about buying raffle tickets. We have some great items for the charity raffle this year!

In August we started a cooperative event with ASKEW (Askewprov.com) the wonderful Bistro and Entertainment Venue in the heart of Providence.  We’ve had two Gamer Café’s now at this awesome location -- which by the way has some kickin’ southern style food -- running a full variety of RPGs from fantasy to horror to Fiasco and DCC’s newest release: the gonzo post-apocalyptic Mutant Crawl Classics.  Join us there for October’s Gamer Café on October 28 for horror themed gaming in honor of All Hallow’s Eve. We’ll be dusting off some old school chilling board games for your gaming pleasure in addition to our RPG tables! Look for our event listings at Dark Phoenix Events on FB!

Looming in the calendar distance is TotalCon XXXIII, scheduled for February 21-24 in Marlborough, MA. TotalCon is our home Con and once again we’ll be there in full force running over 40 games again for you. Preparations are underway for some special treats this year for our players, possibly including a multi table game. Keep watching our site and Totalcon.com for status updates!

We want to thank all of you, our players and fans, who continue to make everything we do more and more fun every year! This could be the year that we run that event you’ve been dreaming of for years. We’re here, we’re ready and would love to make those dreams come true!  Game Hard!

Peace,

Scott