Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Talisman! Hero Quest! Marital Awesomeness!

Man, I love Talisman. It's probably my favourite boardgame of all time. Yeah, it's not particularly balanced, and a lot of it relies on the luck of the cards, but it's a heap of fun.

My wife expressed some interest in playing it, so who was I to say no? Easy pickings, thought I, but as we prepared to play my worst fear was realised - she drew the Prophetess as her character!

Now, there is one sure-fire method for winning Talisman - play as the Prophetess. It's almost impossible to lose. As far as I'm aware, about the only way to beat her is for all the other players to do their best to kill her at the beginning. Otherwise, she'll just merrily go on her way taking all of the good cards and avoiding the bad, and you will lose.

Nevertheless, I didn't want to go totally cut-throat on my wife for her first game. I would trust to my experience to see me through! I drew the Priest, and we got going.

I had a bad start. Turned into a toad three times! Raiders stole my stuff! Killed by Bandits! It was a while until I started to build myself up. My wife was steadily acquiring nearly everything, but eventually I got close to her and made a dash for the Crown of Command. I made it with one life to spare, but she was close behind and in no mood to surrender as I blasted her with my mighty crown. Alas, she got to the middle as well, and utterly killed me. My Talisman reputation was destroyed!

But revenge, as always is sweet. The next night she drew the Wizard, and I drew the Warrior - both very viable characters. Without the precognitive powers of the Prophetess, the laws of the universe were righted! I had all the luck with the cards, and when she looked like she was getting a bit too powerful, I mugged her and stole her mule. In revenge she hunted me down for a little psychic combat, but my Warrior must be some kind of mental giant, because he even managed to win that. In the end I made it easily to the Crown, as my wife was killed by a Goblin.

After the foray into Talisman (which my wife is dead keen to try again) we tried Hero Quest - but more on that tomorrow!

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Play Report: GaryCon I

As mentioned yesterday, my contribution to worldwide GaryCon was a trip through the Random Dungeon Generator tables in the back of the Dungeon Masters Guide. As those tables are in a 1st Edition AD&D manual, I opted for the 1e rules, and went at it.

My character was Ravel Utharien, an elf fighter/magic-user of chaotic neutral bent. I decided to powergame it here with the elf f/mu combo, as any character adventuring alone is always in for some trouble. I also got totally lucky with my random spell selection - my offensive spell was the much-coveted sleep! So, donning studded leather, and wielding longsword and shortbow, Ravel ventured into the depthless dungeons!

The first foray was a success. Ravel encountered a skeleton in the second room, guarding a whole lot of gold and platinum coins. He took a couple of minor wounds, before destroying the foul thing (it had 1 hit point, luckily). Ravel took the coins and made a hasty retreat, some 600-odd gold pieces richer.

One week later, rested and refreshed, Ravel returned for a second go at it. While trying to force open a door in the first chamber, he copped a random encounter with an adventuring party - 9 of the bastards lead by an evil cleric! One lucky initiative roll and a sleep spell later, the whole lot were asleep. Ravel took the opportunity to get out of there, as there was no obvious treasure to be had.

At this point, I really should have bought Ravel some plate mail, or had him hire a few men-at-arms. But I was getting cocky, and figured I could take care of anything with the almighty sleep. Also, I wanted to stay with the studded leather so that I could take advantage of the elf's increased chance of surprise, which he wouldn't get in plate.

The next day, sleep spell restored, Ravel made his final journey into the underworld. After a brief exploration he came to a dead end - only to be cornered by a ravening pack of 14 giant rats! The sleep spell was deployed, but five of the rats were unaffected. Ravel fought bravely, killing one, but the rest bore him down and tore out his throat. And so Ravel died, and the rats feasted on his corpse.

I've never actually played with the 1st Edition rules before, and the first thing that struck me is that the rules are very poorly organised. Character creation took me forever. I was flicking from one end of the Player's Handbook to the other, and I even had to venture into the DM's Guide a few times. Item weights were in the DMG, which threw me for a loop.

Actual play was pretty smooth, but there was a lot of paging back and forth. Mostly that's because everything in 1e requires a chart. The Random Dungeon Generator did the job, but there were a few instances where it didn't quite make sense. Mainly, I wonder how often you're supposed to roll on the Periodic chart. And I couldn't find how often you're supposed to roll for Wandering Monsters, so I went with OD&D's 1-in-6 per turn.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Gary Gygax, RIP

Gary Gygax is dead.

I still can't wrap my head around that. Gary, father of the game, mentor to a generation of nerds, is gone. I've been feeling totally bummed out about it since Wednesday. My childhood neighbour passed on a week earlier, and it didn't affect me in the slightest. But the death of Gary, who I never met, has genuinely touched me.

Now, it would be wrong to say that it feels like I've lost a member of my family, or a close friend. That would be a complete disservice to what Gary's actual friends and family are going through right now. I was thinking about how I felt yesterday, and it struck me that what I'm experiencing is similar to what happens when one of my favourite characters dies in a story.

Because that's what Gary was to me - a character. (Bear with me here.) I didn't know him as a person, but through his works I knew him as GARY GYGAX, Dungeon Master supreme, foe of player characters and kindly mentor of beleaguered referees everywhere. This was the guy who designed the Tomb of Horrors - how could he be but a mere mortal? He was larger than life, he WAS D&D.

And not only that, but the influence that Gary had on popular culture is staggering. Just think about how many people right now are playing games based on his work. Everyone playing D&D, everyone playing Magic: The Gathering, every single person logged on to World of Warcraft. They're all playing Gary's game, in one form or another. Add it up over the years, and it must be millions, maybe even billions.

To put it in perspective, in comic book terms he's Stan Lee. In rock and roll terms, he's Elvis Presley. Everything in fantasy gaming draws from Gary's imagination on some level. Even in terms of fantasy fiction, there's a mere handful of authors who've impacted the genre as much as he has. Few people outside the hobby know his name, but I can guarantee they saw his influence at some point.

Although I never met Gary in the flesh, I was lucky enough to trade a few posts over the message boards with him. It's so cool that he made himself accessible, answering page after page after page of questions. And to him it was just conversing with fellow gamers. Gary placed himself among us, not above us, and that's a genuine rarity for celebrities (which Gary was, at least in gamer circles).

The influence he had on my life was strong. I had already made my foray into fantasy gaming before I found D&D - Fighting Fantasy gamebooks had taken over my life by that point. But D&D was a far more profound experience, and better yet a shared one. To this day I feel closer to the friends that I gamed with than I ever have to those I didn't. Coincidence? Probably, but the many fun afternoons (and frustrating rules arguments!) with my friends are some of my most treasured memories, and I have Gary to thank for that.

I desperately wanted to game this weekend, but none of my friends are available. So, my contribution to worldwide Garycon will be a solo expedition into the random dungeon generator in the back of the AD&D Dungeon Master Guide. It's a poor substitute for gaming with my buddies, but we must make do.

So goodbye Gary. I didn't know you, but I miss you. The game won't be the same with you gone.