The Geek Emporium

The Great Geek Revolution is NOW!

We’ve Got Staff!

With the coming of the new site, we’ve got tons of new stuff I’m hoping to do.  It’s a big deal for me, and I want to give you the very best I can.  In many cases, to do that means letting someone else do it something.  There’s avenues I either know nothing about, or I just plain suck at (like video games).  I could write about them, but it wouldn’t be a fair appraisal of the game.

Well, I’d like for everyone to welcome Liambic and his wife Lilyth (screen names obviously).  Many of you have read Liambic’s comments on many of my posts.  He and I go way, way back and I’m trilled to have him as part of the “staff” that will be part of the new Geek Emporium experience (I feel like Jimi Hendrix when I say that)! 

Liambic and Lilyth will be writing mostly on role playing, video games, and anime.  However, there will be articles from them on anything I can get them to write.  So welcome aboard guys!  I’m glad to have ya!

September 9, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Walking the Walk, Talking the Talk

The brilliant Ravyn has gotten my wheels turning yet again. Over on her blog, Exchange of Realities, she has an interesting article called How They Say It about how characters recount a deed.  Like many of Ravyn’s posts, it got me thinking.  I’ve been pretty fortunate to have met some real bad asses in my lifetime, ones that help me shape how I play those same types of character.  Having been raised by a cop, served in the military, shooting pistol and rifle competitions, backpacking, and a whole host of activities have shown me plenty of real life bad asses to use as examples.

Unfortunately, I’ve met far to many blowhards in my life as well.  You know them too, though you may not realize you know them.  They portray themselves as bad asses.  They tell you how good they are at something, and often see no reason to back up all their talk.  They talk like they’re a computer hacker, but in reality they’re not sure how to attach something in an email.  If you think about it, you’ve encountered at least one in your life.

We portray heroes within the context of the game, but what are heroic characters like in real life.  Well, take a look at combat veterans.  Many will quietly hide medals, choosing not to talk about what they did to get them.  They are humble about their actions.  After all, they just did a job, nothing more.  The heroes are the ones who died.  They, they’ll argue, aren’t heroes.

The real bad asses I know are all like this.  They don’t talk about how bad ass they are, but they don’t take on false humility either.  They’re good and they know it, but why talk smack about how bad they are.  They don’t need to prove it here and now, they’ll prove it later if necessary.  However, they’ll help you become more of a bad ass if you want.  In my experience, they’re the first to share information and make you better.  The thinking seems to be, the badder you are, the better for everyone.  Again, they’re confident without a hint of false humility.

Here’s the thing to keep in mind.  The blowhard often has so much crap going on that they can’t possibly be good at everything (well…unless you’re playing a 3.5 rogue who has a billion skill points, but I digress) but they’ll tell you they are.  I had a boss who I mentioned in a comment on Ravyn’s blog.  To go into more detail about him, there was nothing any of us tried that he wasn’t more skilled and more proficient in.  I was planning a canoe trip down the local river, from end to end?  Oh, he even had a story to relate to that one (luckily, that story was tame…just tubing down a river for the afternoon).

Allegedly, he had been an MP in the Air Force, worked with SAC (Strategic Air Command), had shot pistol competition in the Air Force, had been a private detective (with a whole host of stories that made him sound like Mike Hammer or Thomas Magnum), owned a forestry company, worked air conditioner and refrigeration, and been a cattle rancher.  The thing was, none of the dates worked out.  Blow hards tend to fall into this trap.  Things don’t seem to quite fit.

Meanwhile, the guys who’ve done all that won’t feel the need to flaunt it.  I’ve known Navy SEALs who don’t talk smack, but instead they give off an air that they can handle themselves.  One of the biggest bad asses I know in real life is about my height (I’ve 5’8″), maybe a little taller.  He’s heavier than I am (I’m 230 lbs) and just seeing him walk up, you wouldn’t think a thing.  However, he’s lightning quick and a damn good shot.  He’s spent a lifetime acquring skills that could keep him alive.  He’s a small town cop but trains more than most NYPD officers from what I understand.  He does it by choice because it may keep him alive.

I think it’s important to remember that the bad ass walks the walk, while the blowhard talks the talk.  Keep that in mind for your next game.  Both can be good role playing points, but really shouldn’t be mixed together.  In my experience, there just aren’t that many people who talk the talk but can actually walk the walk.  Those who can do the walk, tend to keep quiet about it.  Makes it harder for people to know they’re coming! ;)

September 8, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 4 Comments

Busting Stereotypes Part 3 – Elves That Don’t Bake Cookies

For 4th Edition readers, remove elf and insert Eladrin, since they seem to fit this stereotype better than 4e elves do.

Aloof and often arrogant, the elves are one of the most played races in most fantasy games.  Now, how do you break the monotony of your typical elf?  I’ve seen them play almost every class, and use almost every skill.  They’re the rare example of a race other than human who is good at almost everything.  However, by breaking it down to the details, we can find plenty of places to have some fun busting the stereotype.

First, elves are graceful, right?  So, why not give yourself a low DEX.  Granted, I’d do this only if I were a fighter or some other armor wearing class, if nothing else for your own survival, but it would go a long way toward breaking the stereotype.  “I fail my DEX roll.”  “But you’re an ELF!”  “Yeah, but I’m a clumsy one!”  It would be hysterical.  Almost as hysterical as an elf named Keebler ;)

Elves are also typically aloof, so why not role play him as a hothead or as someone who’s passionate about something even the human characters things is pointless, like tavern chairs.  Elves are often seen as emotionless, not because they don’t have them, but because they don’t show them.  Give them some flair and passion, make them like the artist from films who seems beauty and art in everything.  Not necessarily flighty or flaky, necessarily (though those work too), but playing a fighter like a bard in role playing situations can be extremely fun.

Elves are also typically patient, so busting this one is easy.  A tapping of the feet, a constant check on the son, the occasional question “are we there yet?” and POOF!  Instantly busted stereotype.  Elves are patient because of their long lives.  They’re OK with the idea of thinking taking a while.  But not all elves have to be that way.  After all, if your elf character has something else he wants/needs to be doing, he can and should be impatient.  That other thing could be world changing, or it could be trivial.  It doesn’t really matter, so long as he’s impatient!

So there you go, a few ways to bust the elf (or eladrin) stereotype.  I hope you try this and let me know how it goes!

September 5, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 2 Comments

Alignment Part 9 – Goodie Two Shoes

In the realm of role play, good alignments make up the vast majority played.  Many DMs only allow good and neutral alignments, and prefer good.  It’s easier to justify a character taking a plot hook and running with it.  Frankly, it’s easier for many players to actually play a good character, since that is part of the nature of their own make-ups.  Many people role play to become heroes.  Heroes are the good guys.  It’s just that simple.

In the last section of our look at alignments, we’ll delve into the good characters.  What makes them tick and what mistakes to many players make when playing them.  And yes, there are plenty of players who make mistakes when playing the good alignment, or at least in my opinion.  They aren’t as severe as the evil and neutral alignments generally, but they are still there.

The problem with many players portrayal of the good alignment is they tend towards the wrong one.  I know I did early in my gaming career, so I hope to empart a bit of wisdom along the way here.  I’ll also offer a bit of advice about how you and your GM can possibly add some meat to the alignment part of a class like the Paladin.

Hopefully, by the conclusion of this section of the series, there will be a place where GMs can send players with advice on how to play various alignments, and this final section is probably where most will need to be.  So sit right there and I’ll tell you a tale, a tale of a tiny ship…no wait, that’s not right…on yeah, a tale of alignments.

OK, so maybe the tiny ship story would be more awesome, but it’s been done.  I still don’t see how they could have power and houses, but couldn’t fix the boat or build a new one.  ;)

August 27, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Gleemax is Dead…is WOTC feeling OK?

OK, so I’m a bit behind the curve here, but Wizard’s of the Coast’s version of MySpace, better known as Gleemax, is officially dead.  I got the word over at Chatty DM’s yesterday.  And, the thing is, I’m a bit sad it didn’t work out for WOTC.  Yeah, I’m no fan of 4th Edition, but that doesn’t mean I want to see the company fail.  I’ve been a big fan of D&D since the TSR days, and I used to play Magic too.  That game was a lot of fun as well.  WOTC has brought a lot of fun into my life between those two games they own, so why would I wish them ill?

The idea behind Gleemax is a good one, only that could work if developed properly.  I never spent any time there, so damned if I know what all the problems were, but apparently there were plenty.  It’s a shame too, because a MySpace without the cliquey “popularity” BS that was designed for and by gamers would be a blast as well as beneficial to the gaming community.  As things stand, it’s mostly a bunch of disconnected blogs and forums with links between one another.  A Gleemax could serve as a central hub of all that, and provide hundreds of other gamers with their own voice.

In possibly related news, WOTC is shutting down all novels not D&D or Magic.  I say “possibly related” because, according to WOTC, Gleemax is being shut down for non-economic reasons, but I can’t help but think that, despite the surge in sales of 4th Edition, something is wrong at WOTC.  Of course, they could also be focusing on their core brands in an effort to prevent a recession from affecting them (or is it effecting?  I always get those confused).  It’ll be interesting to see what will happen.  For what it’s worth, I only wish Wizard’s of the Coast the best of luck.  Luckily, being owned by Hasbro will help them, but only so much.

Here’s hoping for a brighter future.

July 30, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I Got Skillz

One of the biggest divides between us 3rd Edition folks and the 4th Edition people can be found over the issue of skills. 4th Edition streamlined the skills a great deal, and for some of us, that’s not a good thing. Now, I’m not trying to bring back that debate. After all, to each their own and all that stuff. However, skills can be an important part of your character.

One problem that most classed based systems have is the idea that a certain class has “X” skills. Fighters can intimidate, wizards and clerics have the knowledge stuff, and rogues are just jack of all trades. The question you should ask yourself is…why? What do you do for a living. Now ask yourself, do I only have those skills necessary for my job? My guess is probably not.

For example, I work as a subject matter exert on inventory control. As an SME, it would be easy to assume I only know inventory control. However, I’m also a student of history (love the subject). I’ve also studied medieval armor as a specialty. I’m a passable writer (at least Mom says so). I’m also a backpacker and avid shooter. None of these things add anything at all to my profession.

Why do I mention my interests? Simple…your character is more than a sword jockey or a spell slinger. He or she needs to feel alive. When skills are one dimensional, then the character becomes more difficult to bring to life. Can you do it? Sure. However, skill mechanics is one way the game gives us to add depth to those character.

So, how do you do it? When you write your character’s background up (you are writing his or her background, right?), include a little bit about some unusual skills. Perhaps your fighter trained under the Master at Arms of a powerful wizard, so you picked up a bit of arcane knowledge, or studied as a cleric for a time before taking up arms for a living. Perhaps your wizard spent time on the streets as a pick pocket before being caught red handed by a great wizard who recognized the greatness within.

Taking unusual skills is yet another way to create a character that’s memorable and fun to play! Try it…you just may like it! ;)

July 29, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments

Character Emotions, Player Expressions

Every character has some kind of emotions. They laugh, they cry, they definitely get angry at evil dragons who eat their friends. The question is, do you show these emotions as a player? In the gaming circles I’ve run in, there’s one moment that is passed along in hushed, reverent tones.

A fellow player wanted to play a new character, so he needed his old character to die. As a result, the DM had me put on a cursed item that forced my character to kill his own brother (the other player’s character). After the deed was done, the cursed item was removed and I saw what I had done. In game, as well as around the table, I collapsed on my knees and cried. Then, in a combination of tears and anger, swore to avenge my brother’s death!

Now, it sounds like I’m tooting my own horn here, and to some extent I am. However, the reason it is spoken of in this way was so few players really express their character’s emotions. One doesn’t need to be capable of winning an Oscar to let their emotions fly in game. As the GM (since this works for any system) is describing the scene, think about the necessary emotion. Is it fear, anger, sympathy, what do you need to do. Now, once that is decided, recall those feelings from your life experience. You have all the necessary tools, even if you don’t believe it.

Say, for example, you’re a really happy guy who’s never been angry at a single person you know. How can you recall anger then? Well, there’s definitely been some time when you were angry at something. If not something massive like 9/11, then perhaps when your dog pooped on the carpet. Most everyone experiences every emotion at some point, so why not use that to add some splash to your next game? Try it. You might be surprised by what your fellow gamers think!

July 28, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

The Race Race

Ever play with those guys who seem to want to play the exotic races of whatever D&D world the campaign is in, and never the normal, every day ones? I have, and what makes it worse is when they have difficulty playing a human, and still insist on playing the exotic races. On top of that, a recent forum post over and Pen and Paper Games this is discussed a fair amount and it’s amazing the number of people who have moved away from core races as time has rolled on.

Now, obviously, my brand of fun isn’t the same as everyone else’s. But my question is, to the players, why? And to the DMs, why allow it?

Even with the introduction of 4th Edition, the core races have enough “cool” in them to keep someone busy for quite some time. Also, the role play is regardless of race…or at least it mostly is, so why play something odd and unusual when you can do the same thing within the framework of the core rules? Of course, by way of answering my own question, one reason to do it is that it can open up some role play opportunities. For example, playing a drow should put the player in situations where they are attacked on sight and only his/her companions can calm the crowd down that this isn’t an evil drow!

As for DMs who allow this, again I have to ask why? Obviously, homebrew worlds will have some odd races. Mine has minotaurs, so I can relate. To that world, they’re core though. However, I’ve played with tons of DMs who say “if you can find it, I’ll let you play it” and while it was cool back then, now it kind of bugs me. After all, you’ll have to have every race on your world to make this plausible, and frankly some of them might not fit with your world concept.

Now, I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s fun here, but I honestly don’t see the fun in playing an odd race. Instead, all I see are the advantages that one can seize and create uber-characters. Frankly, I’ll admit that maybe the guys I’ve played with over the years has colored my opinion, but power gamers love these races, especially with inexperienced DMs who use the “if you can find it, you can play it” rule. They can run roughshod over the DM with something that the DM is unfamiliar with.

As I now seem to have more people reading this blog than just my Mom, I’d love to hear your opinions. What races do you play, and if they aren’t core races (and please mention what edition so I can tell what’s core and what’s not ;) ), why do you play them? I’d really like to get some serious input here, so comment away!

July 24, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 2 Comments

So…where are you from?

Character backgrounds are one of my recent developments as a player, and one I can’t imagine how I lived without before.  Sure, most of us do the “he’s a fighter who served in the King’s army before striking out on his own in search of fame and fortune”, but can’t we do better than that?  Now, that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with that character concept, but why not flesh it out a bit?

No one just spontaneously appears, so let’s make the most of it.  What is his/her parents like?  Where they even around?  How did the relationship with the parents affect the way he/she turned out?  Thinking about these things can greatly change the shape and style of any character.  Perhaps he’s an orphan who has a weak spot for other orphans, or his father killed his mother and now he can’t comprehend doing violence against a woman.  Any number of things can create great role play opportunities.

Something else to think about is where did you get your equipment?  After all, serving in the King’s army didn’t necessarily outfit you.  Issued weapons would need to be turned in after all.  Coming up with a plausible story for acquiring all those goodies should be an exercise in creativity all by itself, but a good hook could come out of something like that as well.

A good character background can give your DM a chance to really draw your character in, and also help him provide plausible motivation for your character to do something.  Going to the Magic Palace is all fine and good, but going to the Magic Palace to find information on the murder of your father is just to juicy to pass up.

Here are a few rules I try to follow when creating a background that may help you out as well:

  1. Parents had to have been somewhere, even if the character doesn’t know where.  Explain what the character knows of them early in the background.
  2. Try to be realistic and somewhat normal.  While having a father who’s a powerful wizard isn’t a stretch, saying your father was best friends with the King and all the gold dragons in the world is far, far to much.
  3. Humble origins are the most common, but they can be tweaked in thousands of ways to make them unique.
  4. Give the DM some friends of your characters, and even possible enemies.  I have a character who is seeking the murderer of his wife…who just happens to be a significant bad guy now.
  5. Be somewhat vague.  Saying a character is seeking the killer of his wife gives the DM lots of leeway to fit your backstory into the campaign.  Saying he’s looking for Jaques Mollins, the highwayman known for wearing purple forces the DM to either ignore this, or create a character just for this part of your character.  DMs have enough to do.
  6. Unless you know the world already or can easily get the information, don’t name a specific town as a birthplace.  This is mostly for those playing in homebrew worlds, but can be important for any player.  Working with the DM to find a suitable location helps him out a great deal, and still gives you the specifics you crave.
  7. Provide adventuring motivation other than greed.  To many times, players are adventuring for wealth and/or power and a lot of times it’s been played out.  Giving him something more personal than mercenary attitudes will make the character that much more special.

Obviously, there’s more than one way to skin a cat (or Britney Spears’ head for that matter), but this is what I personally do and it seems to work pretty well so far.  From my experience, DMs love it, though I can imagine that a pure hack-and-slash DM might not appreciate the work.  Still, at worst you’ll have a better grasp on the character, something that’s never a bad thing!

July 22, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments

Good Stats Rock!

OK, congratulate me! I just won the “No Shit Sherlock” award for blog post titles. However, it’s important to remember that I’m right ;). Now, I’m not talking about giving a fighter great strength, or a rogue good dexterity, those are a normal use of good stats. What I’m advocating is something different. Below, I’ll outline a few examples for ya.

  1. Bardek is a rogue. Like most rogues, he’s quick and agile. However, unlike many rogues, he’s known in the thieves guild for his incredible wisdom. In fact, he’s avoided falling pray to many enchanted traps that would beguile lesser minds.
  2. Merrick is a fighter. Born on the farm, he grew up big and strong. However, he’s as smart as many mages of the realm!
  3. Philamond is one of the great wizards of the realms. He’s capable of magics that that make the earth tremble. With all that in mind, it’s easy to overlook that he’s as strong as an ox!

All of these character concepts are unusual, because they don’t fit the stereotypical mold of what a particular classes strengths and weaknesses are. Coupling odd strong stats with odd weak stats can go a long way toward creating someone memorable in your campaign. Now, take these concepts and mold some role playing concepts on top of them and you’re way ahead of the role play curve!

July 21, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 7 Comments

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