Dungeons and Dragons at summer camp

The party of campers prepares for battle against several giant spiders and skeletons.
The party of campers prepares for battle against several giant spiders and skeletons.

I get paid to play Dungeons and Dragons.

Ok, that’s a bit of an overstatement. The summer camp I work at, Greenwood Trails, in Winsted, CT, is letting me run a D&D activity with several kids a session. Regardless, it’s still pretty awesome.

I ran the activity last week with a group of the older campers, ages 13 to 16. We were using Fifth Edition and it went about as well as could be expected with nine kids who’ve never played a table-top RPG. We spent a day making characters and the next few running an adventure set, where else?, at a summer camp for aspiring adventurers! They didn’t get all that far in the four days, but they dealt with a giant rat infestation and a sahuagin problem in the lake and a good time was had by all.

This week, though, I have seven kids ages eight to 12. We are using a HEAVILY modified version of F*cking D&D, mostly to simplify it even more and remove the gratuitous profanity.

We’ve only been through one day, and it’s already one of my favorite activities to run. The kids have made their characters and started their trek through a mysterious forest to find a group of missing villagers.

We have a party of three rogues, two rangers a wizard and a druid. They all started out kind of clueless, as we all do with a new game, but only an hour in, they’re starting to utilize their character’s abilities and work as a team. One thing I was pleasantly surprised at was the level of role-playing they got into. Instead of just blindly smashing forward through the enemies, they utilized the rangers’ tracking abilities to scout out an abandoned camp and the druid’s shape-changing to scout ahead. So far, they are doing okay against a few skeletons and giant spiders.

It’s awesome seeing them work together and explore a creative new hobby. Dungeons and Dragons, and other collaborative story-telling games, are a great way to get kids to explore lateral thinking, problem solving and creative writing. Many of the kids playing in my games this summer have begun developing backstories for their characters outside of the game.

It’s awesome for me to see a group of kids getting into a hobby I enjoy so much, and doing it at a place like summer camp, where the whole point is to try new things and learn from each other, is just the icing on the cake.

Hopefully the boys make it out of the lair of the Weaver Queen and her hoards of spider minions with a fun new hobby to bring home to their friends.

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Acquisitions Inc. series to bring more live-streamed D&D to the masses

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Omin (Holkins), Jim (Krahulik), Binwin (Kurtz) and Viari (Rothfuss) adventure under the name Acquisitions Incorporated in a Dungeons and Dragons game run by Chris Perkins.

Millions of people play Dungeons and Dragons on kitchen tables across the globe. The publisher, Wizards of the Coast, claims over 20 million players. Increasingly, gamers have been turning to online platforms for their games, whether connecting with a party over Skype or through services like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds virtual tabletops. Despite this, D&D has always been a niche hobby, shunned in the mainstream as a “nerd’s game,” and is the constant butt of jokes in television and movies.

That perception, however, is slowly changing, thanks in part to the many options to view live games with experienced and dedicated players.

Earlier this week, the cast of Acquisitions Incorporated, a celebrity game played at PAX video game conventions, announced that the yearly event will become a running show with episodes starting in June.

The players, Penny Arcade creators Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, PvP comic artist Scott Kurtz and Kingkiller Chronicle author Patrick Rothfuss, and their Dungeon Master Chris Perkins, principle story designer for D&D, will be continuing the epic saga of Binwin Bronzebottom, Jim Darkmagic and Omin Dran in their half-baked business ventures. The game started as a podcast in 2008, and has hosted many celebrity guests since its inception, including Wil Wheaton and Morgan Webb.

Other games like Acquisitions Inc. have earned acclaim in mainstream media already. Critical Role, a game on Geek and Sundry featuring a cast of eight professional voice actors, was featured in a Slate article by Ryan Teitman in February.

The talent in Critical Role takes the game to a new level. As Teitman said, “they aren’t just performing for each other; they’re winkingly performing for us.” After 50 episodes and thousands of devoted “Critter” followers on Twitter, they’ve shown that this formula works.

Games like this show new initiates to D&D what the game could be. On its surface, it looks like just a bunch of nerds crowded around a table rolling dice, but the casts of Acquisitions Inc. and Critical Role show what happens when a group of people transform the game into a storytelling experience.

Audiences laugh, cry and gasp along with the players, becoming truly invested in the characters presented. Game sessions are hours long, and play out like a feature-length improvisational comedy show. Acquisitions Inc. and Critical Role both have professional production value, which makes them a bit more attractive than other live games, usually played online or as a podcast.

Gaming broadcasts are becoming a massive business. ESports, or professional video gaming, is a multi-billion dollar industry, with fans and players coming from all over the world to competitions that fill venues like Madison Square Garden. If these commonly solitary hobbies can be treated like sports, why can’t they be held to the same level as traditional entertainment like movies and television?

I’m excited to see what the Acquisitions Inc. crew can do with a regular series, and I’ll definitely be tuning in for the premiere in June. To hold you over until then, check out Critical Role or Chris Perkins’ other live-streamed game, Dice, Camera, Action.

Do you watch live-streamed RPGs? Tell us which ones are your favorites in the comments.

Eternal Could be the Next Great Online Trading Card Game

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(Eternal/Facebook page)

Trading card game fans have always gotten kind of a raw deal when it comes to online games. Sure, there are plenty of offerings available, but all suffer from serious flaws that prevent them from becoming real classics.

eternal logoEnter, Eternal, a new digital TCG developed by Direwolf Digital.

After nearly a month of radio silence, Direwolf announced today that the closed beta will be launching this week for those who signed up at PAX South or with a promo code. The beta was supposed to go live Monday, but according to its Facebook page, the game still had some bugs to work out.

As for those who didn’t get a beta key at PAX, “it will come down to how the first wave goes, what we learn and what questions we still have to answer,” Direwolf Digital responded to a Facebook post. They will spend the closed beta seeing how the game holds up to increasing numbers of players, and will let players still on the list know on the timing of the release.

A first look at the game was presented almost two months ago, with almost nothing in the meantime. Some demo videos were released showing the user interface and gameplay by Luis Scott-Vargas, Magic: the Gathering pro and one of the designers of the game. Patrick Chapin, another noted MTG pro, also worked on the game.

The production pedigree and first impressions from the video make me really excited for this game. On its face, it looks a lot like Hearthstone, one of the current leaders in the online TCG market.

In play, however, Eternal looks a lot more like Magic. Unlike Hearthstone, the resource used to play cards, called Sigils, are drawn and played, much like lands are played for mana in Magic. This variance adds an extra level of resource management that isn’t found in Hearthstone, and is something I’m excited for in Eternal.

Another difference is the inclusion of “Fast” spells, which can be played at certain points during an opponent’s turn. Mid-attacking interaction and reactionary spellcasting is not included in Hearthstone, so this could make games a lot more complex than just lay down creatures, buff them before an attack and swing away. Combat tricks and end-of-turn shenanigans were always some of my favorite parts of Magic, and their inclusion in Eternal is a good sign.

As far as the aesthetics of the game, its a little early to tell at this point. Art design is something that’s so subjective that its hard to make a definitive ruling on it anyway, but I’m liking it so far. The game has kind of a steam-punk vibe, especially with the “Fire” and “Justice” aligned cards. The promo art shows what appears to be either a revolver-wielding knight, or a magical gunslinger. I’m good with either. The style is a little more cartoon-y than Magic, closer to Hearthstone.

Eternal seems to have the best of both worlds when it comes to online trading card games. It has the bright and dynamic user interface of Hearthstone and the complicated card interactions and turn structure of Magic: the Gathering.

What are you looking for in an online trading card game? Tell us in the comments!

Magic: The Gathering 2016 Ban-lists

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Eye of Ugin, Ancestral Vision, Sword of the Meek. (Art from Wizards of the Coast)

It’s Magic banlist season everyone!

Updated lists of the cards banned, restricted and unbanned  were released Monday for Modern, Legacy, Vintage, Commander and Duel Commander formats from Wizards of the CoastMTGCommander.net and DuelCommander.com.

Some of the biggest changes came from the updated Modern bans. Most notably, Eye of Ugin was banned. This card is an incredible accelerator for colorless Eldrazi decks by reducing all of the creatures’ casting costs by two and also allowed the player to tutor for a needed creature. This, combined with Eldrazi Temple and the many strong creatures released in Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch made for what many players called “Eldrazi Winter.”

Playing a Temple on turn one into an Eldrazi Mimic and an Eye and a Thought-Knot Seer turn two leads to a four-power attack and hand disruption for the opponent’s next turn. Even more Temples and the Urza “Tron” lands, Mine, Power Plant and Tower, can accelerate into a massive Endless One or Ulamog, Ceaseless Hunger very early in the game.

It’s no wonder that six of the Top Eight decklists from the Oath of the Gatewatch Pro Tour were some form of Eldrazi.

Banning Eye of Ugin allows Wizards to reduce the impact of an overpowering deck while still allowing other decks that rely on colorless mana acceleration, like Urza Tron, to remain usable. By banning the Eye and not the Temple, Eldrazi is still an archetype that is possible to play in Modern, but will be sufficiently weaker to make other archetypes viable.

Other changes to the Modern banlist include unbanning Ancestral Vision and Sword of the Meek. Visions gives blue control players a new tool that has been severely needed. Watch out, though, Eldrazi processors are still a thing, which could mean your suspended Visions could end up hitting the graveyard without having an effect.

Sword has many people talking as a support for a Thopter/Tezzeret artifact deck. It has been banned since Modern’s inception because of its impact in the Extended format in a combo with Thopter Foundry, and its unbanning finally gives control players a shot in modern.

I should mention, both of these unbannings has led to a spike in demand for Visions and Sword, and they have both shot up in both price and rarity among online sellers. Ancestral Visions has already reached a nearly $50 price tag on TCGPlayer.com and Sword of the Meek is nearly $20. If you were looking for a cheap pickup, or a way to jump into the format, that time may have passed as both of these are on their way to becoming premium cards in Modern.

Lodestone Golem has been moved to Restricted in Vintage. This effectively shuts off Shops decks that use it and Mishra’s Workshop to lock down other decks that rely on turn one artifacts.

As far as Commander, only Duel Commander, or one-on-one received any bans this time around. The list is still probably reeling from the recent banning of Prophet of Kruphix (I know I am). Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Yisan, the Wanderer Bard were both banned as Commanders in the format.

In a dedicated self-mill or Delve-based deck, Tasigur is often a one-mana commander. Getting rid of it is almost always a losing battle, due to his ease of returning to the field, quickly exhausting your opponent’s resources trying to deal with him. Players can simply stack a deck with responses and swing away with the usually undercosted 4/5 creature for the Commander Damage win.

Yisan is a combo-commander that can quickly win games on his own. With only a bit of extra mana and an untap trigger, which is not hard to do in an green deck, it can be an explosive form of card advantage and board-building. Paired with a Scryb Ranger, Quirion Druid or a Wirewood Symbiote, Yisan can have multiple activations, leaving your opponent unable to recover.

Also banned in Duel Commander is Gaea’s Cradle. The land is an absolute blowout in mono-green decks and enforces control decks, since they are generally the only ones that can handle the amount of creatures it makes.

DuelCommander’s watchlist, a list of cards that may see bans in the future, include Marath, Will of the Wild, Narset, Enlightened Master, Animar, Soul of the Elements and Jenara, Asura of War as Commanders.

According to DuelCommander.com, less than ten percent of decks placing in the Top 8 of recent events had neither Blue or Green in their color identity, and Green, Blue and a combination of the two each took 30 percent of the meta each. It’s worth noting that all of the cards on the ban- and watchlist except for Narset have green in their color identities and blue also features prominently, save for Marath and Yisan.

What are your thoughts on the newest bannings? Leave what cards you’d like to see banned or unbanned in the comments.