Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Tale of Two Items, or Why I'm Not A Superstar

by Randy
@coffeeswiller on Twitter

Hey there! Has anyone out there entertained the idea of writing for their favorite roleplaying game? I have no doubt that a majority of you just said a huge "YES!" to yourselves. Well, I got news for you. Paizo Publishing, makers of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, have an annual talent hunt called RPG Superstar.

RPG Superstar is an excellent event, not just for the opportunity it provides, but also for the chance to see the creative contributions of other RPG enthusiasts. I have watched it from the sidelines in previous years, but this year I decided to jump in and try it out.

I'll bet you're asking, "Randy, how did you do? Are YOU a superstar?", to which I'm going to smile and reply, "Not even close!". And that's actually cool with me.

The competition is divided into several rounds, the first of which is to design a Wondrous Item. The actual rules are pretty simple. The item needs to actually be a Wondrous Item. It needs to be mechanically sound. It needs to be costed correctly. And it needs to actually be superstar material. Sure, every roleplaying game needs staples like crystal balls, belts of strength and what-not, but this isn't about making those things. It's about standing out. I'm paraphrasing the rules, of course... they're right here if you want to read them.

Anyway, here is the item I submitted:
Inspires the imagination, doesn't it? 

Orb of Aggravation
Aura strong transmutation; CL 10th
Slot none; Price 500 gp; Weight 1 lb.
This Orb of Aggravation is a 3 inch sphere of dull iron, favored by rogues (many of whom refer to them as Orbs of Escape). It is activated by throwing it at an enemy, to whom it flies unerringly. It then bobs and weaves around the target, striking sensitive areas and occasionally sprouting a hook to pull down trousers or sword belts, or ejecting dust to inhibit eyesight. It performs the Dirty Trick combat maneuver that round and for each of the following four rounds. It attacks with a CMB of +15, randomly bestowing one of the following conditions (roll 1d6): 1-blinded, 2-dazzled, 3-deafened, 4-entangled, 5-shaken, or 6-sickened. Each effect lasts for one round plus one round for each 5 points the CMB roll exceeds the opponent's CMD, and each may be removed with a move action. The orb does not provoke attacks of opportunity, but may be attacked. It has an AC of 16, a hardness of 5 and 10 hit points. After the last attack roll, the Orb of Aggravation crumbles into dust.
Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, Improved Dirty Trick, telekinesisCost 250 gp

I was going for something I considered a "design hole". In this case, it was taking a mechanic introduced after the core rules, the Dirty Trick combat maneuver, and using an existing item, the Whip Feather Token, as a template for a new one. I think I was moving in a good direction with this, but the end result was a rather lackluster item. Especially since it was practically devoid of meaningful, interesting description ("3 inch sphere of dull iron"? Come on!). I rushed my writing a bit, and discarded some good ideas (more later) that would have made it more eye-catching. Additionally, I should have more closely followed the sage advice of Sean K. Reynolds, one of the judges of the competition, a Paizo employee and an all-around nice guy, if you get the chance to talk to him in person.

So, that being said, if I could hop back into a time machine and re-submit this item, here what it would look like:
Scribbles by the author.

Harpy Egg
Aura strong transmutation; CL 10th
Slot none; Price 750 gp; Weight 1 lb.
A Harpy Egg appears to be an iron ingot the size and shape of a goose egg, criss-crossed with grooves in no apparent pattern. When thrown at an enemy within fifty feet, requiring a successful ranged touch attack, the egg separates at the seams to reshape itself into a rough-cast harpy figurine the size of a human fist. It then flies around the target, striking sensitive areas, pulling down sword belts, or spitting iron filings in eyes. For five rounds, beginning the round it was thrown, it executes the Dirty Trick combat maneuver against the creature it was targeted against with a CMB of +10, bestowing one of these conditions (roll 1d6):
The condition persists for one round plus one round for each 5 points the CMB roll exceeded the enemy's CMD, and may be removed with a move action. The harpy does not provoke attacks of opportunity, but may be attacked. It has an AC of 16, a hardness of 10 and 5 hit points. After the fifth round, the Harpy Egg crumbles into dust.
Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, telekinesis; Cost 375 gp

I think that makes it a pretty neat item with a reasonable amount of flavor. The orb was originally almost a "clockwork harpy", but I didn't want to address the "don't you need to wind it?" question, or add a "spend a move action winding it" clause. As it is now, it may still not yet be superstar material, but I like it. It's a straightforward one-shot item designed to harass an enemy briefly, then go poof! and leave no meaningful trace of its existence. I envisioned it primarily as an aid to escaping (imagine hitting a pursuing guard with it!), but it would also be very useful in combat to interfere with one opponent's action economy. I think that if you're a player of Pathfinder, you can come up with a few clever uses for it. By the way, if you do use it, tell me! 

Here's a great image I found on deviantArt that I thought would be a great illustration of how the Harpy Egg might look deployed (although good luck getting one to hold still long enough to confirm!). This is a work-in-progress piece by deviantArt user edsa-m, who was kind enough to give me permission to show this piece. For the miniatures enthusiasts among you (like me!), he made a great video on sculpting feathered wings here. I encourage you to check out his stuff!

Mcc Monster girl Harpy WIP by deviantArt user edsa-m

Another great harpy sculpture I saw is below by artist deviantArt user EvanCampbell. What I like about that one is the action and the face. The expression on the face is a lot closer to what I imagine the harpy looking like while doing her work. He was also kind enough to allow me to display his amazing piece here. Please consider popping over and seeing his work, as well!

Harpy by deviantArt user EvanCampbell

I would like to thank the wonderful members of the Paizo community who took the time to critique my item and offer constructive feedback. I'm not sure exactly how many items were submitted, but many active people spent a lot of their time looking over all those items and giving their thoughts. Even those of you like me who didn't make the Top 32 for RPG Superstar, you're all rockstars to me! I would also like to thank devientArt users edsa-m and EvanCampbell for allowing me to share pics of their Wondrous Items! Thanks, guys! Thanks and appreciation also goes to the site d20 PFSRD, to which all game rule links are pointing to.

Did any other readers participate in the RPG Superstar, either this year or in the past? Let us know in the comments!

The sculptor of the first piece above, edsa-m, liked my Harpy Egg sketch and decided to incorporate that into a piece he did! Here is a work-in-progress look at that piece:

MCC Monster Girls-Nagja the Gorgon WIP-details by deviantArt user edsa-m

So just to say it again... Edsa is a great guy, and I love his work. Please pop over and check out his stuff on deviantArt!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Game, Interrupted.

By Randy

"Why am I not playing a game?!?"
This one is for the gamer parents out there. Sharing the love of gaming with your kids reeks of awesome. It brings me great joy to game with the kiddos. But sometimes, I just want to play games with my adult gamer friends. I imagine if you are a parent gamer, you probably feel the same, too. Over the years, I have made some observations and implemented some strategies that help me to be able to game with the adults, too. Here are some of those tips, tricks and cautionary tales that might just help you play a game without massive interruptions. 

The Seven P's

Have you heard of the Seven P's? Here they are: Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance. That means if you're going to get this right, you're going to need to plan it a little. This gets easier each time, so don't stress that you have to put some thought in ahead of time. Gaming with the kids around and minimizing interruptions of gametime requires a plan. 

Joint Playdate

"Let's get crafty!"
Start by telling yourself: you're organizing a joint playdate. No, you don't have to drink juiceboxes. Get over the term, because that's what you're doing. This is more literal when the other adults you are gaming with have kids that are coming over, but even if no other kids are involved, you need to have activities in mind for your kids as if this is an organized playdate. Which it is.So think about successful playdates that you have attended with your kid. Was there some sort of structure? What activities were involved? How much did the kids need direct supervision? You need to get this part right. As much as you want to engage in your activity, the kids need to feel like they're engaged in theirs. They should feel that they had a choice in what that activity is going to be to be invested. You probably already know what your kids like, and how to "sell" them an activity. You need to sell this one hard and ahead of time. If it is a DVD, it should be a new one that they are excited about. If it's a craft project, make it something new (preferably one that's not too messy and doesn't involve use of sharp implements helps, too!).  If it's just playing in the yard, suggest a game or provide some new challenge. Even a sheet of butcher paper taped on a table and a bucket of crayons can be fun.

Don't forget the food!

So... kids get hungry. True story. Adults do, too. And if you're going to be sitting down for long enough to play a boardgame, the likelihood of this happening is... yeah, it's going to happen. My advice is to have this scheduled and the food prepared ahead of time, something that can easily be eaten at the game table, that the kids don't object to, and that doesn't require a massive cleanup. Spaghetti? Bad choice. Pizza? Better. Add snacky finger food to the mix and you are golden. This all works especially well when a lunch/dinner time is scheduled and everyone knows there'll be crackers, apple slices and string cheese or something until then.

Be courteous!

Unsolicited deckbuilding advice...

Perhaps the most important part of this whole thing is courtesy. Be courteous to your guests (or hosts), be courteous to your kids, be courteous to their kids (if relevant), and be courteous in turn-taking. If you get this right, this smooths over just about anything that is going to come up. If you're playing a complex boardgame, don't assume that every other player's turn is an excuse to leave the table. If you have kids around, yes, you'll need to do this every now and then. But if your friends have to spend five minutes every time it's your turn telling you what happened, you may need to reconsider how you're going about things. And don't be snappy with your kiddo if they come to the table needing something! Stopping to take a minute and explain what the cards do may satisfy their curiosity so they will move on. Also, don't be afraid to ask players for a break to attend kids' needs. Everyone will be happier.

Adventures Nearby Babysitting

Do you know who kids think are absolutely amazing? Bigger kids! You know that 13 year old girl down the street who wants to babysit your kids for some extra cash, but is just too young to be responsible for the kids by herself? Why not hire her to watch your kids at your house while you game? We have done this before and it works out really well. And if other people are bringing their kids over, you can possibly arrange beforehand for the other parents to chip in. This is really an "everybody wins!" situation, but it does require a little cash.

Rotating Parental Duties

My wife Angie and I are both gamers, and when gaming is happening, we both want to be at the table. Sometimes, though, we know it's just not feasible for that to happen. Every now and then, one of us will take care of the kids while the other games. If you step this up a little, and you're planning a regularly occurring game day, one excellent way to have a satisfying game is to have one parent of however many participants to rotate being the one who hangs out with the kids. If there are three couples with kids, for example, being willing to sit out one in six games (or whole game days) gets you five others to relax and not worry too much about the parenting. That assumes everyone in the equation is a gamer; if there's a non-gamer spouse among the mix, making an arrangement with him or her ahead of time ("I'll watch the kids while you go out one night if you watch them while I game...") can really be a great setup. 

Know When To Hold 'em

"...and this is where Daddy crushes those other chumps."
Have little kids? Sometimes, they're going to need to be held. And it's okay to do that at the game table; your gamer buddies know you're a parent. So long as the kid is happy to be there, is quiet and not interfering with the game. There have been plenty of times that I've had a sleepy or curious little person in my arms at the table. But please keep in mind that this is not the same as giving your child your full attention. There will be times when your child needs your attention, and these are times when you need to excuse yourself.

Know When To Fold 'em

Ideally, you step away before this happens...
Then there will be times when you, as a parent, just need to know when to throw in the towel. Nobody likes walking away from a game, but a child's needs must come first. Identifying those times when a child needs your full attention are important. If your parenting  "spider-sense" tells you that your child is about to have a meltdown, you're probably right. I know from experience that ignoring those signs and trying to play through makes everyone miserable. So do everyone a favor and when that happens, bow out early. At the end of the day, the meeples won't mind and the people should understand.

Winding Down

After all is said and done, I recommend spending a little extra special time with the children. If you make this a habit, they will be more likely to behave during your gaming when they extra attention will follow. Snuggles, stories... whatever you do to show them you appreciate them.

I hope this helps! Adequate planning can get you back to the table and enjoying playing games once again. I don't think I even need to say that this isn't an exhaustive list. So... how do you make your game days fun for everyone? What are your best tips? I'll tell you what... leave a tip for making a game day great, and I'll tip you one GeekGold on BoardGameGeek. Be sure to leave your BGG username!