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Since we have a lot of stuff, we tend to take a lot of stuff with us when we attend conventions. And when we go on vacation. And when we go away for the weekend. Actually, we end up hauling board games or RPGs pretty much everywhere we go. It’s not like that’s necessarily easy; board games are heavy, especially since we like Fantasy Flight games with tons of bits. RPGs can be as easy as a dice bag and a few books, but as you can tell from the blog, that’s not really how we roll; we go in for box sets and lots of props. That being said, we’ve perfected the art of carrying game stuff with us over the past few years. Here are some protips:

  • Useful Bag #1: the LL Bean XL Boat and Tote bag. I got one of these from my work a few years back, and it’s a lifesaver. The thick canvas ensures that it won’t break under the weight of your heaviest games, and the sides stay upright and sturdy to keep your boxes from sliding around in transit. These have a kind of uncool middle-aged mom-vibe which I don’t love, but if you can get your games to fit in them, they’re probably the safest way to go. Tuck a rain jacket in on top to make sure that nothing gets wet on the way into the building.
  • Useful Bag #2: the IKEA bag. Those big-box FFG games won’t fit in an LL Bean tote, but they’ll fit in one of those huge, tarp-material IKEA bags. (I learned while writing this post that they’re called FRAKTA bags. I will now insist on calling them “the FRAKTAS” in an annoying voice from here on out.) Since they’re designed to fold up after use, the IKEA bags have flimsy sides and won’t keep your stuff from sliding around in the car, so make sure you Tetris anything you put in these bags into the back of your car carefully so your stuff doesn’t go flying when you take a left turn.
  • Useful Tip #1: Keep your dice separate from everything else in a handy dice bag. I like the FFG bags, although many people I know swear by DragonChow bags. Little dice bags can get lost in the mess of everything else you’re carrying, so stash them in a smaller bag that you mean to take with you. Lots of games use standard sets of dice, so having a set handy means you’ll have your own handy.
  • Box it: Staples carries Really Useful Boxes, which are my favorite way of carrying little bits and organizing them at the table, but any crafting store will have an assortment of plastic boxes ideal for carrying bits in their beading section. If you store your things in crafting boxes when you put your games away, you’ll have a handy way to keep them tidy on the table, too.
  • Take the right equipment: I’m fond of my cardstock buildings, but they don’t travel well. Pulling out Paizo or D&D map tiles allow for a variety of quick scenery changes without taking up a ton of space.
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Yay! Rodeo games announced recently that they are developing an iOS version of the classic board game Warhammer Quest. I played the original version during a session in which a local board game collector pulled out a whole bunch of his “classics”; it’s a quirky and fun little game, partly because it’s so hilariously perilous. I’m looking forward to seeing it again in an electronic version, and as always, I’m delighted to see more Warhammer products for iPad. Here’s IGN’s scoop with a bit more info. A detailed description of the original board game can be found here on Board Game Geek.

So, FFG now offers a POD Dreadfleet-themed NPC expansion for WFRP 3e, Legends of the Warhammer High Seas. As usual in the Warhammer FRP fandom, some people immediately experienced searing chest pains because this is a “shameless corporate tie-in” and, you know, Warhammer is the Bible and Jesus action figures are sacrilegious. Or something.

I’m being snarky, but I do get the criticism. Is this a rather gimmicky marketing attempt to get some crossover love between minis gamers and WFRP fans? Sure. Is it a necessary or even particularly useful item for most GMs? Not at all. Will it be awkward to stick these NPCs in the middle of most WFRP campaigns? Of course, especially since the Captains skew towards higher-fantasy content than a lot of the rest of the WFRP canon. Will the product make ridiculous completist fangirls like me rush out and buy it in a frenzy of “gotta catch ’em all” in a way that makes 1e/2e players cringe? Yep, although to tell the truth, I’m a bit behind on my WFRP-purchasing fanaticism at the moment.

All that being said, though, I think a good GM could use these cards for some excellent crossover gaming if his group plays both RPGs and board games. I’d arrange the sessions something like this:

Let your players pick boats via a lottery system or somesuch; I’d probably let a player who had contributed a lot of intangibles or gotten a lot of kudos for RP in my main campaign pick first. Give everyone a week to read the background for his captain and the rules of the game. Play the “one player per boat” variation of the Dreadfleet game. Document what happens to each boat over the course of the session.

Now go back and pick a boat that played a particularly dramatic role in the battle. A GM might choose the winning ship, or he might choose the ship that got destroyed near a rock, leaving its passengers adrift in the ocean. Did the crew make it to that rock, or did they get devoured by sea creatures? With your play-by-play of the “big picture” from the Dreadfleet session, set up a one-off or a couple of one-off sessions in which your players roleplay through what happened on one or two of the ships. What was it like for that captain and his crew during the sea battle? What occurred before the ship sailed? If the ship and crew survived, what happened afterwards? Perhaps they experienced something even more horrifying than the ferocious sea battle itself!

Now, here’s the thing: your players will already know the outcome of this particular scenario, since they ‘lived’ it the session before. If you have a group that loves to enact character drama, the chance to act out what happened behind-the-scenes might make for enough fun to keep them busy. If you’ve got a more tactical or puzzle-oriented group, give them a secondary objective. Sure, they “know” (on a meta-game level) that their ship will eventually sink, but they’ve got to save MacGuffin X before it does. Alternately, you might have the chosen captain experience the Dreadfleet session as a dream, and the players must work hard to keep the tide of battle moving in the right direction. Players react differently when they think they know the outcome of a story, and a skilful GM can use that to his advantage as he plans the session. Surprise excites players even more when they don’t expect it. You’ll also get to delight some players by allowing them to play high-level NPCs as PCs; in fact, I would envision breaking up the retelling of the story into short “chapters,” letting a different player take the role of the captain in each chapter so that everyone gets a chance to play a badass.

Either way, I see this expansion as a way for players to experience a different aspect of the WFRP universe in their storytelling. It won’t present quite the same level of oppressive misery as the majority of traditional WFRP scenarios in which PCs have to slog through knee-deep manure in the freezing rain while being chased by orcs and carrying a small child who might turn into a chaos beast at any moment, but let’s face it…any Warhammer GM worth his salt can find a way to make the PCs miserable on a boat.

GM hall of fame, by the way, goes to anyone who can work a Chaos-tainted nautical-themed pashmina afghan into his scenario.

I’ve been too swamped at work this week to have thought about RPGs much, unfortunately. Here’s the news from my end of the earth:

#1: Like everyone in the whole world, I want one of these. The ePawn is just awesome, and I’m glad they’re keeping the price down so that it’s within reach of many gamers. If you haven’t seen the ePawn in action, do go look at the videos on their website; it’s definitely an interesting product.

I’m also hoping that the fact that they use Mansions of Madness in some of the promo materials means that they’re working out some deals with FFG.

#2: Speaking of FFG, I’m a little miffed that we haven’t heard anything about the release date for the Black Crusade Collector’s Edition. I ordered that thing, oh, I don’t know, about a bazillion years ago, and there’s been no word for months about its release date. I guess it turns out that it’s going to be “sometime in February,” but for such a pricey item, it’d be nice if they were a bit more forthcoming about how they’re calculating release date schedule. Oh, well. It’s FFG. I can stay mad at them until I go to their website, then I see their great art direction and end up forgetting what was making me mad in the first place.

Oh, my God.
There’s this, the Locus from Geek Chic.

We have dithered for about a year on whether or not to buy a GC table. Several of our friends have them, and they’re beautiful pieces of furniture. Since my husband and I GM, we both drool over the GM station add-ons; how great is it to have the GM screen be part of the table!? We live on the third floor of an historic building, though, that “features” no elevator and narrow doors and hallways. Although GC comes and assembles the table for you, the thought of getting the table back down those stairs when we move in a few years gives us a heart attack, so we haven’t yet ordered one.

But the Locus? Sheer awesome. As of today, we are officially saving for it. I’m ultimately glad we held off on buying a GC table after the first Pax East, because we wouldn’t have been able to justify buying two–and we couldn’t ask for a table that better fits our multimedia style of running RPGs than this one.

In other news, I was just reading (another) WFRP3e post complaining about how much room the system requires if you use all of the components in the RAW. We have a pretty tiny apartment, and we solved this problem (and the problem of playing other FFG big box games with expansive maps and a billion plastic men) by buying two Nordens and using them side by side.

At $179 each, the Nordens won’t break the bank, but they provide a large surface for gaming (about 35″x60″); four to six people can easily sit around the table and play a game, and if you put two Nordens side by side, you have plenty of room to display a large map in the center of the table while you put each PC’s components around the edges. Best of all, when you’re finished, the Norden folds up into a tiny set of drawers, perfect for storing cards, dice, or minis. We have had ours for over a year, and the wood surface cleans easily…and since they’re our gaming and craft tables, they’ve seen their share of soda, food, glue, and paint.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with how we currently store and deploy our metric ton of gaming stuff, but I have to admit that everything’s better when it comes with a touch screen.

Just a tiny post tonight because I have a long presentation to give at work tomorrow (Four hours! Whee!) and am getting ready for Mepacon this weekend. It’s not a convention we’ve been to before, but we have a handful of friends going, so even if it’s not perfect, we’ll be able to play board games ourselves. Besides, we tend to get nervous if we go too many months without attending a gaming convention, and I had to miss Metatopia last weekend due to work.

I’m planning on taking my Mouse Guard Box Set and running a game for my friends; I toyed with the idea of officially GMing a session there, but I knew work was likely to be hellish this month, and I didn’t want to obligate myself to prepping a convention scenario and setting up for teaching rules to possibly nitpicky strangers. Ultimately, I’m glad I didn’t. It’s kept me down to three nervous breakdowns this week instead of the usual 5.8/week that I usually have this time of year.

All that being said, I’m going to spend some time tonight putting together some player kits and aids like I did the last time I ran MG, although I may make an even more robust set of player aids. That way, if I feel like running MG for complete strangers, I’ll have what I need.

Anyway, I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. I’m off to fret over the most efficient way to pack my RPG stuff, which will allow me to avoid fretting over the presentation I have to give tomorrow. There’s more than one reason they call our hobby ‘escapism!’

I have a love/hate relationship with Worldworks Games. I love them because they make the most beautiful cardboard models on the market, but I hate them because their kits always reveal the shameful limits of my ability to make things with my hands. I once bought one of their kits, printed the whole thing out, and got so frustrated just reading the instructions that I boxed the whole thing up and shoved it to the back of a shelf.

Granted, that probably says more about my psychology than about their models. Most of the difficulty of making their stuff comes from the fact that so much of it is modular, so you must construct every piece with utter precision so that the doodad can fit neatly into the slot and the whatsis can swivel freely on the thingamajig. Unfortunately, when I feel that I have made a part of a paper model “precisely,” it usually means that I managed not to glue the X-acto to my face in the process.

It was therefore with a bit of trepidation that I bought the Roll Arena. I LOVE this kit–it’s a little dice-rolling table with awesome divided drawers underneath that hold cards. I could certainly see a GM using it for his dice and, say, a critical hit deck. It gets better, though: the bottom of the rolling surface has several interchangeable inserts, all of which are divided differently and decorated with unique imagery, and the kit comes with blank cards that correspond to the imagery on the inserts so you can create your own dice games. The piece’s rather Warhammery look and its Unblinking Eye-esque insert pushed it from the “that’s cool” category over into “I’ll buy” for me.

I spent a couple of hours on it this morning, but didn’t complete it yet because work I’m actually paid to do got in the way. I’ll save the rest of the construction for another day when I have less work to do. Suffice it to say that like all WWG products, this kit presents a challenge, but it doesn’t seem insurmountable.

Here are some pictures of my process this morning. (Do head over to Worldworks Games to see the results of a competent model-maker building this.)

Setting my stuff out neatly (ie, throwing everything on the table in such a disorderly fashion that Tzeentch himself would be proud):

Feel the imprecision (and the cat fur!):

The structure of the top partially completed:

I may actually end up printing and redoing this part of the model again now that I know how it works. As you can see, though, it’s decorated with lovely graphics. I’ll let you know how it goes as I finish it up–and of course, I’ll be completely truthful about gluing my hand to the floor or whatever mishap will inevitably happen.

I love Really Useful Boxes. I love them so much it’s almost embarrassing. They’re made of durable plastic, they come in cool colors, and they have awesome little clips attached that snap them securely shut. Plus, they hold game stuff well! What’s not to love?

I have such an incredible love for this product that I’d originally considered writing this piece as a formal ode celebrating its awesomeness. Luckily for all of us, I have too much work to finish this weekend to make that practical, so you’ll just get a regular post. Although you can order Really Useful Boxes online, they can also be found at your local Staples if you’re a fan of instant gratification. At our Staples, the Boxes tend to be kind of a come-and-go item, particularly in the smaller sizes. Yet Back to School always means they’re in stock, so I thought I’d remind you now so you can go grab some if you have any loose stuff that needs storing. (At our stores, the small RUBs are up front in a bin, while the bigger ones are at the back of the store with the luggage and the file cabinets.)

IMHO, the best thing about RUBs is that the 0.3 liter boxes hold those tiny Fantasy Flight Game cards securely and without giving them room to slide around. If left loose, those cards can get easily bent, and if you’re a fussbudget about your games the way I am, you know that a bent FFG card is a full-blown disaster. Not only do the boxes keep the cards safe, but the boxes themselves are relatively small, so you can easily fit them back into the cardboard game box from whence the cards came. My Warhammer FRP cards nestle cozily inside the original Core Set Box encased in one of these:

The clip locks on the sides of these secure them well, so you don’t have to worry about the cards coming out if you jostle the box or sit it upright on a shelf. Plus, you can see through the top and the sides, so you don’t have to waste time opening boxes until you find the set of cards you need. Look! Everyone’s favorite: Wound Cards!

Larger boxes can be used to transport and protect books and character sheets. Here’s the short 4 liter-sized box carrying my Rogue Trader stuff:

I’ve also found the miniscule .14 liter boxes useful for storing FFG counters and such. The RUBs come in about four billion sizes and shapes, so you can probably find one that will fit almost any bill–even those bills not directly related to Fantasy Flight. If you’re looking to get your hands on the small boxes, you might want to go to your local Staples before Back to School ends. Beware, though–these things are addictive. You might find yourself hoarding extras in a drawer for when you pick up your next FFG game. Or maybe that’s just a mark of my own personal lunacy.

Sometimes, PCs get stuck in an inn for an extended period of time. They might be waiting for an NPC to arrive or for something specific to happen, or they might all be breaking up to do different tasks of their own while they’re in the city. You might also have a metagame reason for stalling, if you only have so much time left in your gaming session and want to keep the PCs from starting a new major storyline. As a GM, any of these can leave you with some odd narrative time to fill.

At times, I like to use games within the game to fill that narrative time. There are a number of reasons for having your PCs sit and play out a card game instead of just rolling for its outcome:

  • It can be a fun change of pace.
  • If most of the party has personal business in a city but one or two PCs don’t, a quick game can give them something to do and give them a chance to shine.
  • Games can let you distribute treasure or information as a reward for winning, and games can give your PCs a chance to get to know some NPCs who might not otherwise be available to them.
  • Games can give NPCs a good reason to pick a fight with PCs who otherwise might not warrant it.

When I’m choosing a game to play within my game, I look for a few things. The game should be:

  • Easy to learn and easy to explain. Having to spend twenty minutes of your RPG session explaining another game isn’t a good use of session time.
  • Thematically possible. Your favorite game may be a joy to play, but if it’s got a twenty-first century spy/tech theme, the players will find the mismatch jarring.
  • Relatively quick. Again, you want this to be a quick distraction from the storyline, not the main activity for the day. If your players don’t like the game-within-a-game thing, at least a short game will be over quickly. If they do like it, they can opt to play again or ask you to do it in another session.
  • Something you know well. Often, you’ll have players opt out of the game, and you may want to be running a scene about what’s happening elsewhere in the inn while you’re playing the game. At the very least, you’ll want to be playing the NPCs also participating in the game in ways that drop hints about who they are and what they want convincingly. You’ll be most effective at that if you know the game well.

With that in mind, here’s a short list of quick and easy games that you could insert into your campaign–with you controlling one or more NPC players, of course. At the moment, I’ve only included card games, since they require less setup than board games and make the most sense in a tavern setting. None of these games will amaze the serious board gamers or card players in your group, but all are fun and would work for a quick interlude. I’ll talk in a later post about how to reshape an existing game to allow for betting and/or to allow an NPC to cheat or use magic to manipulate a game.

Slugfest Games’ En Garde! simulates a fencing match between 2-6 people. It takes 20-45 minutes, depending on how many players are participating. Players play cards to attack their opponent, but must manage to keep “poised” while doing so; attack cards reduce your opponent’s poise, but heavy attacks may reduce yours as well. Luckily, adjusting your clothing or wiping your brow may help you get some of your poise back! With only a handful of rules and all of the important information on the cards, your players can easily pick up En Garde! and play a quick round.

Looney Labs lets you play dominoes with cards in Seven Dragons. In it, 2-5 players try to make a set of seven dragons of the same color touching one another; a player wins if she can finish a set that matches the color on her Goal card. Unfortunately, other players can force her to trade Goal cards, so that string of dragons she’s been building may get rendered useless at any point! This game takes between 10 and 40 minutes depending on number of participants and luck of the draw.

In Fantasy Flight’s Letter of Marque, 3-6 players use their cards and little plastic ships to steal and secure treasure. Players must decide how heavily to defend their own shipments of cargo, and they must guess whether their opponents’ ships are guarded or unguarded when they attack. This game often takes over half an hour, but it tends to move fairly quickly, so it’s a good choice if everyone at the table wants to play. It’s also easy to determine first, second and third places if you want to give out prizes to your PCs.

Z-Man’s Grimoire is undoubtedly the most challenging of the games on this list. In it, each player gets a tiny spellbook and secretly chooses one spell each turn to help him get gold, items, or companions. Players may also attack other players by keeping them from using certain types of spells each round. Each round, the number of spells from which you can choose gets longer, so later turns have more strategy. Again, though, all relevant info is clearly marked on the cards and in the spellbooks, so new players can easily participate without feeling left behind.

I have to include FFG’s Dragonheart, even though it’s just two players, because…I love it. (If you know me, you already knew this was going to make the list. Sorry.) It’s an embarrassingly simple game for a regular gamer to love, but I can’t help it. Of course, nobody else I know is as crazy about this game as I am, so you may want to disregard this suggestion altogether. In Dragonheart, players place cards on a game board, creating sets; when a set is complete or a card is played that has “dominance” over another set, (white dragons capture treasure cards, for instance,) the player who played the last card takes the set and scores it. All of the sets are laid out on the board so that you can easily see which cards take which other cards. Once you’ve played it, this game’s quick–maybe 15-20 minutes.

Finally, The King Commands lets players try to take over the kingdom (and gain sacks of gold) by battling other knights with sets of sword cards or defend themselves with sets of shield cards. Different sets are more or less powerful, and cards like Excalibur (which you could rename for your own game) and the crystal ball make for simple rules-breakers. This game holds up to 6 and takes a little under a half an hour. Helpful cheat sheet cards let players look at the different hands as they play.

I haven’t listed Slugfest’s Red Dragon Inn trilogy here, even though it was created for use with RPGs. When my players and I tried it, we found the rules to take a bit too long to explain and the gameplay a bit too meta to fit neatly into our campaign. (Did the wacky things that went on in the game happen to our PCs or to PCs our PCs were playing? Was this the time to create dramatic irony by having the Warhammer PCs comment on D&D PCs?) I know others love it, though, so take our findings for what they’re worth.

And I can’t help but mention, too, that if you’re running a Steampunk game, Mad Zeppelin would make an excellent choice.

Sometimes we like to get away from it all. What I really mean by that, of course, is that we pack it a whole bunch of crap from our gaming room into the car, drive to the woods, and relocate all the things we were doing inside the house to the forest. Given that we have smartphones and bring half the house with us, it’s more like changing the backdrop of “it all” than escaping it, but at least it spares us from having to clean the kitchen after cooking hot dogs.

Traveling with gaming gear can get tricky. What do you bring? On what do you put it when you get there? There’s no sense in traveling all that way just to play games in your tent unless it’s raining (and if you’re as uptight about the condition of your games as we are, you tend to leave your games in the car when it rains so the boards and bits don’t warp.) Portable gaming tables are thus a high priority. We’ve ended up with two, one for board gaming in the wild and a different one for RPGs in the wild.

This little khaki table came from Amazon. It’s made entirely of canvas, but the side straps pull down so that the top stays nice and taut. It’s just the right size for most medium-sized board games (think Alien Frontiers,) and its solid plastic feet make it sturdy enough that your pieces won’t wiggle around. Best of all, the drink holders are under the play surface, making the possibility of spillage on your precious game board highly unlikely except by the most advanced klutzes. When you’re done, it folds up into a cylindrical bag just a bit bigger than that of a folding camping chair.

Of course, sometimes you’re idiotic enough to have brought a massive game with you–the kind with a million bits that just invites the rain as soon as you set it up (think Runewars.) Or maybe you’ve decided to get seven of your closest friends together to play an RPG out in the wild, but are still unwilling to give up your battlemat and minis. Roll-top aluminum tables make the ideal solution, as their light weight makes them easy to move even though they’re large. We went with the one at Gander Mountain, although it had one major drawback: an umbrella hole right in the middle that we had to cover over with electrical tape. The big wad of tape looks kind of stupid, but at least it keeps pieces from falling through the center of the table. One bad thing about these tables, of course, are the little spaces between the slats, but a plastic tablecloth secured under the edges will keep pieces from falling through if you know you’ll be playing all weekend. You can, of course, find bigger and non-slatted tables, but you may end up sacrificing portability in order to get a flatter or bigger surface.

Speaking of the sporting goods store, if you have a host of minis you want to bring with you for RPGs, consider a fishing tackle bag. (This won’t, of course, be a solution for WFRP3e, because you need a full U-Haul for the Core Set plus expansions, but for games like Pathfinder or DnD, it’s not a bad way to go. If you’re really smart and brought Burning Wheel, then bless you for being so sensible.) Small tackle bags with sets of 3-5 plastic trays can house organized sets of minis; as an added bonus, you can take out one of the trays and put in your core rulebooks.

One word of caution, though. Don’t stand in the sporting goods store debating whether or not your large Dracolich mini will really fit in the side pocket of the tackle bag. It turns out that other seasoned fishermen within earshot will look down on your for this kind of speculation. I guess you just have to be sure.

(Second tip: no matter how much you love your gadgets, do not jokingly tell the salesperson you will buy “whichever tent your iPhone will hook directly into.”)

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