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I was in a not-so-local but still friendly gaming store the other day where they had a table dedicated to Wyrd Miniatures/Worldworks Games Terraclips for Malifaux. These sets feature lovely, full-color building pieces in modular sheets on hefty punchboard (1.7mm thick, to be exact.) You can clip the sections of wall, flooring, and roof together with the little terraclips made of transparent plastic so that they don’t mar the overall look of the terrain. I only got a quick look, but they seem high-quality and versatile enough to fit multiple scenarios. Best of all, a disassembled and boxed set takes up about the same space as a couple of RPG rulebooks. The Malifaux set would work well for any dark-ish city setting, (general WFRP and Mordheim both leap to mind,) and Worldworks has several dungeon sets coming soon that includes lava pits, rooms full of gold, and sarcophagi. These strike me as a nice compromise between easy-to-damage cardstock buildings and difficult-to-store plastic or resin models. I hope they plan to keep expanding the line! In fact, if this product line keeps growing and the space in my apartment keeps shrinking, I might end up replacing my own shelves of cardstock scenery with these.

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My husband and I often end up at the mall. We live in the sort of area where most people think they’re too good for mall shopping, but we both have a raging technology habit to support, so continual trips to Best Buy are simply unavoidable.

I assume everyone does this, but I just want to check: you continually search for NPCs at the mall, right?

There are two kinds of NPCs at the mall. The first simply adds local color. If you asked these NPCs about the town, they’d ply you with a bunch of junk lore and maybe throw in a couple of tidbits relevant to the overarching plot, but it’d be next to impossible to tell the two apart. These NPCs are mostly dressed normally–in fact, hyper-normally for your area–but always have that single ornament that signifies their character type. Look: check out that man standing next to the Brookstone in the perfectly boring collared shirt, the brown leather jacket, and the nondescript jeans, who just happens to have a deflated inflatable plastic fish sticking out of his pocket. If you roll particularly well, perhaps he’ll give you that fish and you can use it in a future encounter.

The second kind of NPC at the mall is the plot hook. She’s outrageous. You literally can’t miss her. In fact, the Great GM in the Sky generally gets so desperate to make you take the hook that he makes it awkward not to interact with the plot hook. Behold! There’s a forty-something woman in a Hello Kitty sweatshirt and a tiara carrying a large Target bag entirely stuffed with leopard print slippers. Which part of that mess will begin your adventure? The tiara? Is it magic? The shoes? Are there twenty five missing children who need those slippers to turn them back into humans after the evil wizard made them orangutans? Is the woman being forced to wear the Hello Kitty sweatshirt as a punishment for something she did long ago? When you investigate her crime, will it turn out not to be that bad after all?

My husband and I spend an inordinate amount of time in public playing “spot the NPC.” Often we supply the lore that we think “local color” NPCs would give. If we locate our plot hook, we spend another chunk of time writing the adventure around him.

Naturally, I assume that this is what everyone sane does at the mall. That fact may not reflect well on my own sanity, now that I think about it.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

 
Although I do love my gaming stuff, I’m always most thankful for all the wonderful gamers I’ve met during my lifetime. I fondly remember days at the dining room table with my first set of gaming friends from high school, with whom I played DnD; we had to hide the books from my GM’s mother because she thought the game was Satanic. I’m grateful to the players who taught me to love GMing Vampire and Changeling and built characters with too many points in Knowledge: Art History. I was lucky to meet the wonderful GM who ran Traveler for us and let us pretend we were werewolves and vampires in his space world without losing his temper–in spite of the fact that we kept derailing the game to get silver bullets for our guns. I’m grateful for the awesome gamers I’ve met at conventions who have improved my GMing and RPing and to the game designers who have been happy to discuss their love of design with me. Most of all, I’m so happy to game with my current group of players, who put up with my silly gobbo voices and my penchant for art-directed player handouts–and who are at least willing to entertain trying out any weird indie system I scare up. (Wait until you guys see what I just ordered!) 
 
It’s good to have a life filled with so many articulate, interesting, thoughtful people who want to tell collaborative tales. May all of you have lives equally filled with excellent storytelling!

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.

Whew! It’s been a busy week, but I managed to squeeze in a quick trip to the gaming store tonight. Although it’s been available for awhile, I was pleased to see Gale Force 9’s outstanding Dungeon Master’s Mat set on the shelf. I’ve already discussed how impressed I was by the map of the Welcome Wench. Made of high quality materials with great graphics, the GF9 mats are sturdy, attractive, and easy to write on/wipe off.

That being said, some of the previous mats had strange graphic details that made made me leery of using them. The King’s Road map seemed, at first glance, to be infinitely useful; how many times a game does a GM need a plain path with a few rocks strewn here and there? Yet the handful of graves alongside the road had me cringing. I could get away with ignoring them once, but by the second time the mat came out, my players would be harping on the repetition like an insidious Internet meme: “My God, these roads are deadly! Is it a pothole epidemic? Should we stop drinking the water? And why do the people always die in sets of three?” If you have a group like mine, minor details in the art can lead to the players asking a major NPC in the next town about “all those graves,” and then you have to make a GM call about whether or not to roll with it and bring their metagaming into the fiction by having the NPC respond–and God help you if they decide to ditch the quest you had planned and instead go after the metaquest, which you’ll now suddenly need to create on the fly. Ugh!

That’s why I was glad to see the plain DM’s mat set available. One mat has a plain grassy background; the other has stone tiles. They’re perfect for placing under cardboard scenery, and since you can write on them, it’s easy to set up the buildings ahead of time, mark where they should go on the map, and wipe the outlines off after your session ends. Further, these mats would be great to throw in a GM’s convention gaming kit, as they have a bit more flair than plain brown grid maps.

I generally prefer detailed and evocative art, but sometimes, simple is best, especially if simplicity serves to focus your players on the details you want them to see.

(Warning: this post might contain a couple of minor spoilers for An Eye for An Eye and For Love or Money if you look too closely at the photos. If you’re playing in either scenario, just don’t peer at the maps/stat blocks below for an extended period of time.)

It’s probably because I spent so much time in academia, but I have a tendency to prepare for games with the same intensity that most people prepare for their dissertation defenses. (Actually, come to think of it, I prepare way more carefully for games than I did for my dissertation defense, but that’s a story for a different sort of blog.)

When I decided to run WFRP, the first thing I did was to go out and get a new binder. Then I decorated it, because apparently at heart, I am still in seventh grade–although I didn’t really do this stuff in seventh grade.

I ran a bunch of premade adventures first. Naturally, I read them over multiple times, highlighting the important bits and making notes in the margins, just so I wouldn’t miss anything. (Generally, I end up forgetting the notes in the margins, so I miss the things I thought I would miss, anyway.)

Later, I branched out and wrote some of my own material. Here are the notes I took for a bit where the party visited a sinister pig farm. Even though this was my own work, I ended up having to notate it, because apparently I don’t know myself well enough as an audience to get everything I need on the page the first time.

Often, I worry about wasting time by flipping through the books looking for stats, so I make nitpicky stats blocks for each adventure. Luckily, Apple’s Pages makes it easy to be obsessive and graphically appealing at the same time!

And what’s an adventure without a map? I spent some time learning Campaign Cartographer so I could have some of those, too. Here’s the pig farm:

If I end up using someone else’s map, I have to add some serious notation.

Player handouts are great for giving the GM some down time while the PCs pass the paper around the table and mutter at each other about some trivial tidbit of information you’ve delivered that now seems monumental because it’s in writing. I store those in my binder, too.

Let’s not forget the part of the binder where I catalog useful information gleaned from my favorite Warhammer sites. I could, of course, just print out the web page that contained this info, but that wouldn’t really fit the aesthetics of the rest of the binder, so I went ahead and just photoshopped the relevant information onto a Warhammery background. (As an added bonus, this let me avoid doing serious work for about an hour.)

So, that’s how I prepare for games. For me, a lot of it is about getting the storyline stuck firmly in my head so I have to spend minimal time consulting anything but the basic stat blocks during the game. I’m not sure it works–I end up forgetting half of what I learned and often just give my extensive notes a miss and wing it when things come up. Still, I suppose that being so prepared tends to help the party end up in the right place, even when my ‘winging it’ has us flying way off course. Plus, I just kind of like to do it.

It looks like our group will be moving to Mouse Guard for a bit. That system is very different; all of the techniques I learned for WFRP won’t prove quite so useful. That means I’m going to have to buy another binder and start the whole process again from scratch.

Yay!

The only thing is that Mouse Guard doesn’t quite require this level of preparation, so I might not need to make quite so many handouts/maps/notes.

Boo.

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