Tuesday, July 26, 2016

MK Tackling Tough Topics: From Concept to Creation; Character Building


The time has come. Your group has slayed the dragon ...or defeated the wizard ...or saved the princess ...or whatever. Your next Epic campaign has been decided. How do you go about building your next character? There are many paths, I can only walk you down mine.

MK Tackling Tough Topics: From Concept to Creation; Character Building

I am not going to go into system specific details. I will assume that you have spoken with your GM and have the basic dos and don'ts discussed. You know what game you will be playing, the basic lay of the land and the rumors that cause your character to decide to take action. 

This is about building the character you will be playing; from first concept, to playable personality. So put your dice away. Let's instead take a look at who you are going to play. Not what race, class or skill set you will provide, but who is this person you will become when your group meets and the role play begins? Answering this question will help you make all of the other stat/ability related decisions.

Every person in the world has the six basic pillars of character to varying degrees. These are what we are going to look at today in our fictional persona. Keep your pencil out and make notes if you are like me and forget "where was I was going with that" more often than you like to admit. 
Your bullet points will be the six pillars. For each of these I suggest using a scale to give an estimate of the trait within the character you are creating. It could be as simple as a 1-5 scale, one being the lower impact to actions/reactions and five being the one thing this character will never bend or break on their path. I would never go too high on all of the pillars. Have a couple of them lower on the scale. Every character has their flaw, their weakness. 

Another option: 1 - 6 Each pillar can only be assigned one number and each number can only be assigned once. This makes your character play quite uniquely and lays a foundation of morals on which to build your actions and reactions to the game that will ensue.


This covers not only how trustworthy your character is, but also how easily they trust others. I have one character who is very young, fourth generation military (Sable Company for those who know) and was raised to trust in the words of his elders and superiors. All hell brakes loose and he soon finds out that he has been lied to and betrayed by most of the people he has been trained to defend. He now lives by the old "Trust is Earned not Given" motto. 
Another character I am playing has been around for a while. Battle worn and used as a pawn by his leaders he fled into the life of a mercenary. Over time, with the crew on the ship he travels, he has come to trust and respect many of them. He is more of the "Trust Until Proven Unworthy" type. Both started one way but due to the game they have headed a different direction. All you need right now is how easy do they trust, and are they worthy of trust?


This is a question of how important Respect is to your character. Is it something you desire? Something you demand? Whom do you give it to? Is giving it as important as receiving it? 
If your character struggles with giving others respect because he is obviously above them, it might mean your character acts arrogantly. It might mean he has a hard time getting information out of the common folk, but is able to appropriately banter with the court nobles. If your character goes out of their way to assure they respect others in an attempt to earn their respect, they will most likely fit in well with the peasants, laborers and soldiers, but when the shadowy parts of town see her they assume she either wants something, or is hiding something. Respect both given and received will have a huge impact on what actions and reactions the character you build will live.

 How responsible is your character? If they see a pick-pocket in the town market would they stop him? Bring him to justice? Take what he has stolen for themselves? Does your character take responsibility for their actions? If they brake a wagon while slaying the attacking Orcs, do they feel obligated to pay for the damage they inflicted? Or is that just the cost of having your life saved? 
Questions like these will help you determine just how important responsibility is to the person you are creating. Responsibility is measured both in what actions you take and what actions you do not take. If you let the thief in the market go without any actions taken and he then turns into the right hand of the big bad you are up against, it was your un-taken action that allowed that plot point to form. Had you stopped him and brought him to justice, he might have died in prison. You inadvertently caused his death. If you took the time to mentor him and show him a better path he might become your co-hort. You would be responsible for helping him become something more than a thief. All based on different views of responsibility. What view does your character have?


Again you get to look at the spectrum of importance. How fair is your character? Do you assure everyone gets their share equally? Do you rationalize reasons for getting bigger payouts than others? Does necessity have an impact on that outcome?
If everyone is given 2000 credits an an equal split, would they be alright with giving another PC a bigger cut to get the arm they lost on the job replaced? Or does your character just consider that a job hazard and decide how to spend your cut? This can go on many levels. If the Moff is holding back funds from the citizens and giving larger portions to the Soldiers and Title Holders is he paying fair wages based on skill needed of tasks preformed, or just lining the pockets of the friends he has appointed into these positions? How would your character look at it?

 This one is tough for some people. I have seen so many characters built with a base concept of "I don't care" as the common thought. That can not be an actual truth. If you not only want to have fun yourself, but allow everyone involved to enjoy the game they have to care. Everyone cares about something. If nothing else, there has to be a reason you adventure. You are not jumping from space-port to space-port with this motley crew just to survive. You could pick almost any planet and do that. 
Something has made you chose the life. You cared about something enough to get on that ship. Maybe what you care about is living so you stay on the run with a group skilled enough to protect you. Maybe you care about defending those who can not defend themselves so you always find yourself fighting for others. The question here is what do you care about? More importantly how much do you care? Are you driven? Are you motivated? Are you just mildly interested? Find a good reason to care. Not only about why you are out with the group, but what keeps you with this group? Find that reason and do it early. Just some advice. Everyone has to work together during the game in order to succeed. So find a reason to care enough to want to pull your own weight.


In every game you will play there is some sort of entity. It could be an Empire that rules with an iron fist, or just a small village that takes turns being in charge when the need arises. What you need to decide is what is your place in all of this is. Are you a lawful person? Do you side with the government based on what they tell you? Are you a conspiracy theorist that refuses to believe anything "they" tell you? Are you aiming to remove a tyrant from rule in your kingdom? Are you defending the old fat king who is wasting the kingdoms funds on whiskey and women because he is the king? 
I really like the quote "It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen." It reminds us in these creation moments that what type of citizen you are does not effect your characters alignment. It will only effect how you perceive the establishment in charge, and will help you to dictate your actions and reactions surrounding it. So decide how your character feels about being a citizen.

The Wrap Up:

These are the pillars of character. They are widely accepted and taught all over the world. While they may not have been written down and designated as pillars for the purpose of RPG character creation, I personally like to go in depth with the personality I create. After this first step, most of the feats, skills, or XP to spend tends to drop into place as an obvious choice for who this character is becoming.

Next time on MK Tabletop Talk we will look at the next step in my character creation process. We will be building weak by weak! If you have ideas, thoughts or preferences on what direction we go please feel free to drop a line in the comments section! The direction that gets the most likes will be the one we run with to start the next step. So for this week, what pillars would you rate high? Which ones would you rate low?

Until next time ...Game ON!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

MK Q&A: What do you look for when making a game purchase decision?


This week on MK Tabletop Talk we answer another MK Q&A. This one was tough! 

What do you look for when making a game purchase decision?

I must first point out that this answer is in response to the question, as worded! So before you say something is wrong, keep in mind the question is what I look for in making a purchase decision on a new Tabletop Game, not what the definitive list of qualifications are. With so many varying interests, opinions and personal preferences, there really can not be a "definitive" list. So here is my personal input!
We are going to skip right over the basic stuff like the way a game is marketed, because that has very little to do with the game itself. The box can make the game look great but still be a dud when it hits the table. The description on the back does little more to help. Most of the time it is just flavor text written to fit the theme of the game to further entice you to buy. I personally have a few things I look for specifically knowing what my gamer life is like as well as few things that grab me right away based on my own preferences.

Play Style 

What I look for in the play style stems from the life I live as a Tabletop Gamer. First question I have is how many players? Whenever I get the chance to sit down for a game it is always either just myself and the wife, or a group of four or more friends. The most common of these would actually be five or six people. So when I look to see how many players it supports I look for a minimum of 2 with an upper cap of six-plus.
Next I look at the actual style of play. I love Risk. At one point I owned four different versions of it including Basic, 40th Anniversary Edition, Lord of the Rings Edition and a Star Wars Edition in Spanish. While I love Risk, my wife does not. I have been able to play Risk a total of two times in the last fourteen years. I now own only the 40th Anniversary Edition. Why buy a game that is heavy strategy if you are the only one who will want to play? 
I find that using more than one style within the game play invites more interest from different players. Strategy with a Luck element? It is awesome knowing that you could have a flawless strategy and be set to win the game in one or two more moves, only to draw a card that destroys your army and makes you scramble to survive the next few rounds. These mixed style games are fun! For me, knowing that I will get to play the game (hopefully often) has a huge place in deciding if I will add it to my shelf or not. 


Again I must look at the game not only for myself, but for those whom I will sit down to play with. I have played D&D since the original version was the only option. I now play Pathfinder, Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, FATE & many other RPG Tabletop games. Most of these have complex rule systems that require a certain level of understanding, math and situational rules/options. To me the complexity of the game is not always a deterrent. That being said, if it even pretends to look confusing or like it needs complete focus, my wife instantly begins to lose interest.
We have found a solid middle ground for this as well! While it is never a guarantee that she will want to learn a new game, if the rules seem tough, but the game play is easy she is willing to give it a try. Best example? Munchkin from Steve Jackson Games
When I first tried to teach my wife Munchkin, we were sitting with her mother around our kitchen table. I was accused of making up the rules as we went along so that I could win. I hadn't played in years. I had read the rules out loud and was trying to now play the game as if they knew the rules (mistake number one). We never quite got through more than a turn or two before I recollected the cards and sent the game back into the game cabinet for a few more years. The next time we broke it out (with some convincing and a bribe or two) I instead did a play-through teaching. Not only did it make much more sense to the new players, but the ease of play became more apparent than the complexity of the rules. We now own almost every version of Munchkin on the market, and enjoy playing them all.


How long does it take to play? The game most likely to hit the table in my life plays in an hour or less (not including RPGs). Generally fifteen to forty-five minutes is the "sweet spot". This seems to be the preferred game length within my group of Tabletop Gamers. It is easy to pop in or out of a game if you know there will be another one coming soon. This helps my wife and I take turns playing as we tend to our two girls who are both currently under three. It makes it easier for someone to show up late and still get to play. It makes it worthwhile for the person who can only come for the first hour or two of play. It also helps to keep the group interested as the game will change and if you don't like the current choice, it won't last all night!
I own and have wanted to play Firefly: The Board Game for quite some time. The main reason I always look at average playtime now is due to this purchase. One night, all of us being Firefly fans (truly, who isn't?) the level of interest was large! I grabbed the game out of the cabinet, placed it on the table & double-checked the number of players to see if it could support the big group we had... that is when we noticed the average game time ...two hours. Toss rules complexity with everyone learning the game into the mix and we were looking at a three to four hour sitting just to see if we liked the game. It is sad to say that this game will not likely be played anytime soon and I wasted money and am using prime game storage space on it all because I failed to look at the time it takes to play.

Personal Preferences

Despite all of the elements that I have mentioned above, there are a few things a game can offer or include that draw me in instantly. This section of the answer is solely the Dork within me making the rest of me shut up because...
Theme: Yes, I wanted and purchased Firefly: The Board Game because it was Firefly. Themes are one sure way to draw me in. I am a true Dork in that way. I love almost everything superhero. I own Sentinels of the Multiverse, almost in its entirety. The chosen theme can follow a specific show or just be set within the same category. Dark Matter, Star Trek and Firefly are all considered to be Sci-Fi, and carry different approaches to one theme. Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and Xena: Warrior Princess all occupy the Fantasy world, but are three very different stories. Placing any game with an obvious theme in front of your players gives them not just a game, but it offers an experience. Consider it an interactive storytelling device. I like that in a game.
Miniatures: I am a sucker for minis. This probably goes back to my young gaming days. My first Tabletop RPG introduced me to miniatures like never seen before. Little figures that don't just represent a player or a villain, but actually look like them! I love the visual component. It helps to further draw you into this story you and your friends have sat down to enjoy. I will openly admit that it is not a necessity. Board Games didn't really do minis back then. The closest you got (outside of color) to a noticeable difference in player pieces was either Monopoly, or the standing cardboard cut-out kids you get in games like Chutes & Ladders. My how times have changed! Such amazing art going into the pieces these days.
I like them not only because they add visual appeal. I truly enjoy moving the pieces around like the pieces on a chess board. I like that the position and placement to mean something. I was a huge fan of Heroscape for this very reason. I have backed a Kickstarter or two because of the mechanical use of quality miniatures. Dark Souls The Board Game was the most recent. (Side note: can't wait to get a hold of it, review to follow)
Co-Operative Play: This has become one of my absolute favorite play-styles for Tabletop Games. If the rules are a bit more complex, players are more willing to learn because you are not playing competitively. The "Over-competitive" player card is nullified. They can be as into winning the game as they like without making the folks wonder why they agreed to play in the first place. 
There is something to be said for a group working toward a common goal. People become more engaged. You are just as happy to see another player succeed as you are yourself. When you take a hit that sets you back, everyone feels it. The whole idea of win or lose together, gets me all warm and fuzzy inside. Even if the game looks cheaply produced, doesn't have any noticeable theme and might even just be a bad knock-off of another game, if you add a co-op play variation, you have my attention.

Play style. Complexity. Time. As far as the basics go, that is what I look for. 
Personal preferences? Theme. Miniatures. Co-Operative Play.
So there you have it. 
Until next time... Game On!

What do you look for in a game? Is there something that you can't pass up when it is included? Maybe something that turns you away from a game instantly? We want to hear all about it!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

LS: Let's Talk Travel

There are certain words in the English language that, while they seem like they would mean the same thing to everyone, somehow have slightly different connotations.  Gaming for example. 

Here we are referring to tabletop games, but others may assume all gaming takes place on some sort of video gaming console.  Even tabletop games can mean something different to everyone.  One may assume that only role playing type games are included, while others count anything that can be played on a table and do not care who stares at them strangely as they set up Candyland for a tabletop session.  But today, I am going to talk to you about a different word, a word that at first glance has absolutely nothing to do with gaming.  


My family has spent the last few years living in Europe.  There have been many wonderful things about it, not the least of which is the opportunity to see a large variety of places.  Sometimes we took a road trip, other times it was a short flight.  Either way, we would have limited space to carry anything we would need for the duration of the trip.  

So what does this have to do with gaming?  I mean, we are traveling, as a family.  Who needs a game?  Well, picture this.  You have traveled to your dream destination.  You check into your hotel, get your comfortable clothes and your camera and prepare to do some site-seeing, only to look out the window and see the rain pouring down.  Sure, you could still go out and hope it passes, or check out the local cable.  Or, you could pull out a game.

Let’s take another example.  You just spent the day site-seeing.  You come back to your hotel (or whatever) exhausted, happy, but a little too keyed up to sleep.  Wouldn’t it be great to play a game or two to relax?

For the last few weeks, my family has been traveling.  We’ve been living out of our duffle bags, and hotel rooms.  I’d like to say it’s all for fun, but no.  It’s a work thing, and sometimes we have been exhausted and stressed out.  These are the times when we have been happy we brought a couple of games with us.  As soon as we sit down, and pull out that game, we forget it all.  We are no longer on the road, or worried.  We are just a family, playing a game.  In that moment, we are home again.

So yeah.  Take a game when you travel.  Anywhere.  Go to see the Eiffel tower, or to Graceland.  Stay in a five star hotel or a pup tent.  But bring a game.  

There are a lot of options as to what kind of game to bring of course, and what you choose depends on a lot of factors.  First of all, what kind of games do you enjoy?  How much space to you have?  How old are the players?  Will you be meeting up with someone you don’t normally see?  How long do you want to spend playing each day? Will you be upset if you bring the game and never play?  Think about these things before you make your selection.  There are no wrong answers here.  It’s all for fun.  But here are a few suggestions, no ‘travel’ versions of games required.

1)  Fluxx

 This is defiantly a family favorite at home, or on the road.  We own several different versions, though our younger one prefers Zombie Fluxx.  If you have never played this game, check out MK’s post and you will see why.  This game is perfect for travel.  Fun, compact, and can take anywhere from one minute to an hour to play.


2) Basic Deck of Cards

Flexible, compact, and versatile.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking these cards are just for playing poker.  Everything from solitaire, spoons, bullsh*t, garbage.  Seriously, what can’t you play?

Okay, I am not even going to pretend to be an expert at Dungeons and Dragons.  I have played a few times, and I know, there are lots of books.  The Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manuals, pre-done adventures, books I do not know.  But I also know you can create your own adventure.  

This one might take a little advance work, but if you plan right you can do this with some graph paper and some dice.  Simplify your game if you need to for your crowd.  The more you leave to your imagination, the less you need to bring.  You can also plan this game around the time you think you will have.  Make a short game if you don’t want a big commitment, or a longer game if you think you want to play a little every night.  You can even play in the car on a road trip, as long as you do not distract your driver.  Get a dice rolling app or bring along a plastic cup.

4) Trivia 

Take your favorite trivia board game.  Pull out the trivia cards and leave the rest at home.  Count points, don’t count points.  Play it in the car as you drive.  Turn it into a drinking game, just not as you drive.  Come on.  Be sensible. 

5) Consider this Shameless Plug

There are lots of card games in the world.  I haven’t played anywhere close to all of them, but any of them could be your perfect game and there are quite a few through MK Tabletop.  Looking at the games is free, so there is really no reason not to at least look.

And now, if you will excuse me, I have people waiting for me.  The cards are laid out, and I have a game to play.  Happy gaming, and happy travels.