Another ADA Gaming Salon

Last Saturday, we hosted another gaming salon at the ADA gallery in Vienna. Under the headline ‘Hunting Humans’, the evening was dedicated to monsters. We had two games for the visitors to play. The first was a pen-and-paper RPG ran by Alex. He used D&D and had prepared a couple of characters to choose from. The twist was that this time, the players were the bad guys: As a small band of Orcs, they had to help their tribe to raid a human settlement.

I had set up Zombicide, the cooperative Zombie game we have played a couple of times lately.

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Unfortunately, we made a scheduling mistake, as we completely missed  that there were two other events on that day which drew off potential visitors. We only had a handful of attendants, but at least we got in a couple of games ourselves. And those people who came were quite enthusiastic to play. Zombicide was a smash. We played three missions, each one with different players, but only succeeded in winning one of them.

The RPG also sounded like a lot of fun. K. joined in and told me she had enjoyed herself playing a tough female Orc, the leader of the raiding party consisting of another Orc, a goblin and an Ogre called Einstein (armed with a stone in a sack).

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The RPG in full swing.

Even though it was quieter than last time, it was a fun and inspiring evening. Hopefully, we’ll have another one soon!

Dungeons & Dragons

Role-playing has now become a regular thing for us. Apart from running the occasional game for the nephew, the group that started out almost exactly a year ago still meets. However, we recently changed from Dungeonslayers to the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

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This move was motivated mainly by watching Critical Role. For those of you who never heard of it, Critical Role is a series broadcast by Geek&Sundry where you basically watch a bunch of voice actors play D&D. This is surprisingly fun and after listening to a couple of episodes, K. and I got completely sucked into the story. Highly recommended if you want some background to your painting!

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Critical Role is also a great advertisement for D&D, as it shows the system at its best: engaging characters with clear profiles, dramatic stories and exciting battles. Fortunately, my mate Alex also liked what he saw and had already started to buy the books. After a quick deliberation, the group decided to take the plunge and we converted our Dungeonslayers characters into D&D characters.

Now the first thing I realised is that RPG books don’t come cheap! The next time someone complains about the price of wargames rules, I’ll point out how much one of the D&D books costs. Mind you, I don’t think RPG books or wargames rules are overpriced. Considering the amount of work that goes into them and, more importantly, the amount of gaming you get out of them, I actually think the price is fair.

And the production value of the D&D books is very high. They’re nice hardcover volumes with a clear layout and lots of inspiring illustrations. The rules are presented in a well structured and concise fashion and they even have an index.

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There are several things I especially like: For one, I like how they incorporate diversity without making a fuss about it. The illustrations show male and female characters, the latter clad in sensible clothing, and they also show characters with different skin colour. Second, the rules stress the importance of the narrative and of story-telling. Take the Dungeon Master’s Guide’s advice on running a campaign, for example: Instead of presenting a semi-educated treatise on how to model the economy of the country your campaign is set in (something that was abundant in my roleplaying youth), it gives clear and concise hints about how to structure and develop the narrative of the campaign. In a word: it gives you the information that matters for playing the game, not for inventing a world for its own sake. I also like character creation. The addition of a background is a great thing to give your character profile and it really encourages role-playing.

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We’ve now had a couple of games and while we are still a bit shaky with some of the rules, it’s been great fun for all. We’ve even been joined by two new gamers. I’m looking forward to having many more games of D&D!

First ADA Gaming Salon

Introducing new people to gaming is something I really enjoy. Last Sunday, I had the chance to help organising an event at a Viennese art gallery called ADA. A friend and member of our roleplaying group, writer Barbi Markovic, had the idea to host a gaming salon there. Another of our roleplayers joined in and we decided to stage two games: One roleplaying game and a miniatures game.

The roleplaying game was organised and prepared by our pal Alex. He used Dungeonslayers, as this is a quick and accessible system. It’s easy to explain and learn and it’s available for free, so if someone wants to try this at home, they don’t have to shell out the money for rule books.

Although I enjoy RPGs, I wanted to make the case for miniature games and decided to run a game of X-Wing. X-Wing is a perfect gateway drug: It’s easy to learn, combines fast action with clever mechanics and most people can relate to the back story (although I met someone who hasn’t seen a Star Wars movie!).

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I’m happy to say that the event was a success: We had a number of enthusiatic people who wanted to try out the games. As Alex had to leave earlier, I took over the RPG and K. ran the X-Wing table.

When we first had the idea, I was a bit uncertain if this format would work. I was afraid that people would only watch, too shy to get involved. I also feared that the whole gaming thing might be way too nerdy for the audience. However, when talking to people, I was surprised about how many had played RPGs or even Warhammer in their youth and were happy to give it another go. Others were new to the games but got into the mood quickly. Especially the X-Wing table was buzzing with excitment!

A huge thanks to the gallery people who were friendly and helpful from the start! A huge thanks also to the visitors, whose enthusiasm and willingness to get involved made the evening a pleasure. People kept asking if this was going to be a regular things, so let’s see – maybe this was just the start of a series of ongoing Gaming Salons.

Mass Battles for RPGs

As you know, I’m DMing an RPG group at the moment. Recently, our intrepid band of adventurers ended up helping to defend a village against a small army. They organised a militia, collected allies and prepared for battle. And now I had to think of a way to play out this battle in the course of an RPG session.

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There is an old D&D supplement called Heroes of Battle which deals with just such questions; however it solely concentrates on the characters’ actions and treats the course of the battle as a narrative controlled by the DM. On the other hand, there are of course lots of fantasy mass battle rules out there, but those focus on the units and don’t leave much space for role-playing the actions of heroic individuals.

I wanted something that was very easy and quick – learning detailed wargames rules would interrupt the flow of the narrative and would be too much effort for one small game. I also wanted to have the players’ characters in the center, so their actions would have a crucial influence on the outcome of the fight, while still making it feel like a unit-based engagement.

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After some pondering, I decided to use Neil Thomas’ One Hour Wargames for this task. The rules are very simple and therefore easy to explain, but they also leave a lot of room for amendments.

What did I add? First, I allowed the players’ characters to take command of individual units. The activation was changed from IGO-UGO to an initiative-based sequence like in RPGs, the initiative of the character in command of a unit deciding when it would be activated. Also, characters could make an action each turn, such as attack or do magic, and the effect of their roll would give the unit a bonus for its attack roll (or, if the character made a healing spell, it would restore a couple of hit points).

Those effects were not overwhelming – a +1 or a +2 if the character made a successful attack action. For a critical hit, I decided that the unit would get a +2 and could roll two attack dice, chosing the best one. Successful healing would not restore more than 2 of a units hit points.

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After the players laid out their plans, I made a small sketch of the terrain. I’d already prepared small cardboard markers for the units, spontaneously adding some for the allies the players had made – they managed to convince a band of Orcs to fight in their side!

As far as I can tell, the game was a success. The rules were easy enough that they didn’t distract from role-playing, but the whole thing still made the players feel that their tactical decisions mattered. And, thanks to a well-planned ambush and their orcish allies, the villagers beat the numerically superior enemy!

Experimenting with One Hour Wargames has been great fun, and I can highly recommend to give it a try.