Games Workshop at the 2013 GAMA Trade Show

Painted miniature terrain from Cities of Death in foreground before Games Workshop banner displayGames Workshop had a much stronger presence at the 2013 GAMA Trade Show than the previous year. Still represented at GTS by North American Director of Sales Andre Kieren, GW hosted two Premier Presentations for retailers on Tuesday, March 19, ran a table at Wednesday’s Game Night, as well as exhibited in the Bally’s Convention Center.

Games Workshop Premier Presentation

Andre Kieren began his presentation by remarking that Games Workshop is “having a great year”. He asked for a show of hands from attending crowd, revealing that an overwhelming number of retailers attending already carry GW products. Most of the hands remained in the air when he asked whether they also run GW tournaments. The company has recovered from a dip in retail stores carrying GW products, going from a low of 700 independent gaming stores in 2006 to over 1400 now (presumably in North America). Kieren attributed the mid-decade dip to “poor customer service in the past”. One area that Andre Kieren touched on is Games Workshop’s new focus on running events for newcomers and he pointed to Wizards of the Coast’s consistent success in that specific arena. Even Escalation Leagues can be too much for newer players who may not have the resources or time to paint even a squad of Space Marines, so hosting events like Space Marine Paintball or a Kill Team activity could involve them further in the hobby, Kieren suggested.

GW Employee Andre Kieren addresses seated audience during Power Point presentation

Andrew Kieren Addresses Retailers at the Games Workshop Premier Presentation

The Modules and Retailers’ Unused Product Support

According to Andre Kieren, over 450 independent stockists have yet to use their product support which will expire in May, and which will not roll over.

The meat of GW’s presentation was a slideshow detailing the costs and benefits of each of the first three module racks that GW encourages retailers to carry. Module 1 consists of their best-selling products such as Space Marine Tactical Squads, Warhammer 40,000 Dark Vengeance boxes, Lord of the Rings starter boxes, and so on. The modules make it easy for stores whose specialty is perhaps board games or card games to diversify out into tabletop wargaming. Each module also comes with product support from Games Workshop, with Module 1 offering $300 of unrestricted product support. A store can use the unrestricted product support to claim more merchandise from GW for whatever product they would like during the course of the year. This support can replace older product such as obsolete codexes, be used for prize support, or to create store terrain. Rather than being a regular calendar year and ending in December, the product support year ends in May, since GW’s fiscal year begins in June. According to Andre Kieren, over 450 independent stockists have yet to use their product support which will expire in May, and which will not roll over. Additional product support is offered for each increasing tier of module ordered with Module 2 offering $300 in restricted product support and $300 in unrestricted product support. The essential difference is that restricted product support should only be used for events.

And the Horus Heresy of Disgruntled Retailers: Terms & Conditions

Before Andre Kieren and company could even get to the matter of unused store credit and top-selling modules though, they endured a hail of verbal bolt pistol fire concerning changes to their Terms and Conditions, as well as other retailer complaints. Kieren first reassured retailers that if they qualify as stockists, that the updated terms and conditions would not change the free shipping that already exists on certain orders.

When asked though whether GW was trying to eliminate online sales by other businesses, Kieren smiled and pointed out “We’ve been trying to do this for 10 years.” With the changes, GW has made “a renewed attempt to effectively enforce” the pre-existing terms and conditions that have been in place before, Kieren added. He then put it in management-speak and said that Games Workshop wants to “reserve the online channel to ourselves.”

Part of this is due to the practice of shelling, in which other companies or individuals shuck GW’s packaging and sell the plastic sprues directly or part them out, thereby “erroding” GW’s brand. Another assault on GW’s intellectual property Kieren cited was the drop-casting and selling of Space Marine shoulder pads. Unfortunately for consumers, GW does not like the practice of people clipping plasma guns and selling them separately. Will GW be going back into the bits business itself? Kieren’s answer: no. When a retailer asked for clarification on shelling, pointing to online website Battlewagon Bits, Kieren responded, “Yes, the way you are describing what Battlewagon Bits is, we would not want that.” GW has subsequently followed through on that.

At this point, one retailer complimented Games Workshop’s response, saying that “We’ve been getting screwed for so long by these guys [Battle Wagon Bits and other shellers]” He was met with a smattering of applause. When another member of the audience joked “So there’s an Errata coming, right?” it broke some of the tension in the room.

Someone in the back of the room pointed out that he had liked the Games Workshop Outriders program that was active over a decade ago, as a useful tool in helping him to run events and sell GW games. He went on to add that his store is now selling more Privateer Press products and that Flames of War is about to overtake his GW sales. Are there any plans of reviving the Outriders program, he asked. Kieren’s response was a firm no, because GW had done a cost-benefit-analysis which included a huge tax fine incurred in the early 2000s because the corporation had not paid its Outrider volunteers for what amounted to actual work. Consequently it discontinued the program.

Another question posed concerned the new requirement for retailers to actively separate GW merchandise from obscene and pornographic materials. Kieren didn’t think that a store carrying the Walking Dead would be an issue. As for consequences for violators of the terms and conditions and whether GW would “blacklist” distributors or retailers in a retailer’s words, Kieren answered in the negative. GW will “not blacklist. I wouldn’t use that term… yes, [there would be] consequences.”

Space Marine Paintball and Paint and Take

When he reached the end of his slideshow presentation, Kieren asked the attendees whether they were familiar with Space Marine Paintball. When only three raised their hands, Kieren invited volunteers to come forward to learn the mini-game, while another GW employee ran a Paint and Take on another small table at the front of the room. This effectively ended any further GW-bashing or debate from the audience, but also left the rest of the retailers who could not possibly participate at the front tables to disperse or talk to one another.

Retailers cluster around Games Workshop realm of battle board to learn Space Marine Paintball

Retailers at the Games Workshop Premier Presentation Learn Space Marine Paintball

GW in the Exhibitors’ Hall and at Game Night

Beautiful painted Warhammer 40k miniatures in GW display caseIf there was anything new and shiny in GW’s spacious booth in the Exhibitors’ Hall, it was carefully hidden away. Instead there was the usual amount of brilliantly painted miniatures in glass display cases that any GW retail store should boast. Andre Kieren and his staff were on hand to answer any retailer’s or distributor’s questions and to possibly enroll any new retailer in Games Workshop’s program.

In a like manner, Games Workshop ran a table at Wednesday night’s Game Night with some of the same activities from the Premier Presentation on offer including what looked like another round of Space Marine Paintball and some Hobbit-related gaming at a well-attended table.

GW Employee Andre Kieren speaking with GTS Attendee at GW booth in Bally's Convention Center

Andre Kieren Speaks to a GTS Attendee in the GTS Exhibitors’ Hall

2013 GAMA Trade Show Exhibitors’ Hall: Impact Miniatures

Impact! Miniatures was exhibiting again at the 2013 GAMA Trade Show. Since speaking with company owner Tom Anders at the 2012 GTS, the Impact City Roller Derby game successfully Kickstarted and was on its 16th backer update while at the 2013 show. Anders confirmed that the roller derby girls were off the docks at Boston and on the jam, heading towards Impact Miniatures’ warehouse. Game Salute will be offering the game in April with Impact! itself following in May.

Chibi Dungeon Adventurers: Chibi Crawl

The first of the new products that Impact Miniatures was highlighting is its line of chibi dungeon figures for the upcoming Chibi Crawl game being designed by Glenn McClune. The Chibi Dungeon Adventurers range has 103 spin-cast plastic figures ranging in price from $5 for adventurers up to $12-15 for larger monsters and tops out at the $25 five-headed Hydra. While the Hydra is already available for purchase online at the Impact! website, the rest of the lineup will be available in May.

Five-headed plastic chibi Hydra with wings on display stand at GAMA Trade Show

The Flagship Chibi Dungeon Figure: The Five-Headed Hydra for $25

Among the $12-$15 monster crowd, fans of chibi cuteness can expect to find a Djinn, a Troll, a Chimera, a Basilisk, Cthulu, and an adorable Balrog. More startlingly though, fans of the 1980s Dungeons and Dragons cartoon may recognize the one-horned, winged form of Venger and the distinctive fat head of Dungeon Master. A club-wielding Barbarian and a female Acrobat are also among Impact!’s offerings.

Three plastic Impact Miniatures, Dungeon Master, Barbarian with Club, and Unicorn in display case

Chibi Dungeon Cuteness: Smug Dungeon Master, Barbarian, and Unicorn Pegasus

As Krosmaster Arena continues to exceed funding on Kickstarter and with successful expansions of Super Dungeon Explore from Soda Pop Miniatures, the sub-genre of chibi fantasy is beginning to swell. Anders has capitalized on the market perfectly. In looking over the figures on display, Impact has also offered at least three sculpts sure to delight any brony, including a feisty Unicorn Pegasus and a larger more fiendish Nitemare.

Miniature display case in foreground with tentacled Cthulu and pony while Tom Anders is in background smiling

Anders Smiles Behind Just a Fraction of His Chibi Range Including Unicorns and Cthulu

New Dice

Tom Anders also had new dice to show, including the rarer breeds of d5s, d7s, d14s, d18s, and d22s. Anders has an “if you build it, they will come” approach with these new dice, pointing to Freeblades’ use of the d14 as a potential application. A major selling point for the opaque dice is that Impact! Miniatures has arranged for them to be color matched to a variety of Chessex opaque dice sets for color purists.

Five-sided dice, seven-sided dice, and a D12 and D14 on red background

Selection of New Dice from Impact! Miniatures: d5s, d7s, and a d14 next to a d12

Heavy Gear Blitz Lightning Tournament – 03-08-13

Heavy Gear Blitz players in a gaming shop playing a tournament

The March 8 Heavy Gear Blitz Lightning Tournament

On March 8, ten Heavy Gear Blitz fans converged on Avatar Games and Comics in Las Vegas for a 285 Threat Value (TV) tournament. Local Pod Squad god Mark Perre collected the $5 entry fee, refereed the event, played the ringer army, and supplied many of the armies and most of the terrain. With the restrictions of Priority Level 1, 285 TV, and a single squad, fielding my elite Black Talons would be impossible. A week or two before the tourney, I asked Perre to help construct a list for me from either the Northern squad or Southern squad I have, but he did me one better and offered to create a list from his own miniatures. I was almost all set.

Learning a Game Through Tournaments

Red Resin Outpost Building in 10mm scale from Dream Pod 9

A DP9 Outpost: Part of the Terrain We Fought Over

While this may anger some players, I believe that the best way to learn a competitive game and get good at it is to play it in tournaments. In theory, you will face competitive, well-balanced lists. Your opponent will not have tailored his army to either crush yours specifically or to let you have an easy win. Most tournament players’ lists will also be free of experimental ideas and goofy or silly themes. Bragging rights are on the line and an entry fee has been paid. Because of this, I have played many more games of Warmachine in tournaments than I ever have casually. With the elimination of sportsmanship scores in most tournaments, another objection to noobs playing tournaments is removed. Even if horribly beaten and dismembered, the newbie can’t mark his opponent down, so there should be no concern for holding back on the new player. With all this in mind, I had RSVP’d for the tournament, intent on improving my game.

Southern Gearhunter Cadre

The list Perre handed to me was a Gearhunter Cadre from the South. I had two offensive Striking Jagers with Light Bazookas. These both had an extra Sturdy box coming from Field Armor for +10 TV each. My Army Commander (AC) was in a Command Jager and had 3 Attack and 4 Defense. He was supplemented by a regular Jager with Light Auto Cannon and Field Armor as well as a Brawling Jager. All of my Jagers had Light Rocket Pods.

Game 1: South on South

Having briefly reviewed my Field Manual and paid the entry fee, I faced my first opponent, Tony Sandoval. Sandoval was also using a Southern Army. Sandoval has been playing Heavy Gear since he was 16, when it was a card game. He has a number of the older Ral Partha HO-scale gears which are out of scale with Dream Pod 9’s modern figures. I tried to place my five Jagers conservatively against him, hoping for some Cover bonuses knowing that Heavy Gear is action-packed from the get-go. We chose to spend our Support Points on more Command Points. I only learned later that we were required to do this by the tournament rules. I was also surprised to learn that tournament games were limited to 3 Turns. It turns out that I needed a lot of refreshers, but I had an excellent teacher in the form of my opponent.

Heavy Gear Southern Mamba Takes Cover Behind Building in Tournament

One of Sandoval’s Southern Mambas Lurks Behind a Building Ready to Strike

When the dust settled, I was victorious because the Mamba I managed to take out cost more points than the sole Jager Sandoval had eliminated. Speaking about the match later, Sandoval said, “I thought it was a good game. It was fast like Heavy Gear should be. It was just a little weird teaching somebody how to beat me.” Sandoval’s “lessons” were mostly in the form of bonuses and penalties. If I would move that Hunter just a bit further up, I would get a Crossfire bonus. If my gears were at Top Speed, they’d be harder to hit. We both agreed that bad dice were not a part of my eventual victory. Sandoval’s plan had been to headhunt my Army Commander, but his Hand Grenades’ shrapnel found nothing but air against my AC who boasted 4 Defense dice. Since I was going last, at the bottom of Turn 3 I was able to throw aside any defensive considerations and concentrate fire on one of his exposed Mambas. In this case, I believe Sandoval pointed out that I could go to Stop to get a further +1 to my Attack rolls, which ended up making the difference. After the fight, Sandoval also pointed out that my Brawler Jager with a Light Grenade Launcher spent 90% of the game out of the action, in part because I had placed him far back behind a building. More importantly, I had not realized I had the x15 Light Grenade Launcher until midway through the game.

Overhead view of miniature battle with Heavy Gear Blitz Southern miniatures

5 Gears Still on Each Side With One of My Jagers Stranded Out of the Battle

Despite the loss, Sandoval was excited about the upcoming updated releases for the North and PRDF, though he will have to wait a bit to enjoy them in person. The next morning after the tournament, Sandoval relocated to Afghanistan as a civilian contractor, but he plans on starting a Heavy Gear blog or podcast once he returns. His parting advice to me was, “Just remember to stack your modifiers. Always try to gang up on one guy; concentrating fire is very helpful. The biggest thing is to figure out how to best stack your modifiers against your opponent. Taking a crappy shot with one guy is good if you can get a great shot with another guy.”

Game 2: Battling the Ringer

I began Game 2 when some others players were wrapping up their second games. With the other players tied up, I played organizer Mark Perre who was running the Northern ringer army, a Western Frontier Protectorate Army Veteran Dragoon Squad. Determined not to leave any of my squad out of the action and to be harder to hit from the get go, I positioned my Jagers forward, all at Top Ground Speed.

Three Southern Jager miniatures for Heavy Gear Take Cover Behind Building

My Three Jagers Bunched Together for Cover on My Right Flank: None Survived

Like Sandoval’s Southern squad, Perre had me beat on Comm Events, so I rejected even trying to Forward Observe for the rest of my squad’s Light Rocket Pods. Instead I tried to get the Crossfire bonus from shots coming from greater than 90 degrees apart. My gears ran right up to the board edge, bunching up, trying to get their Light Bazooka shots in. Then metal started getting mangled. One Jager collapsed into a heap, blood oozing out. He became terrain. “Hot metal-munching mama!” I whispered to myself. The rest of my squad avoided a similar fate by simply being obliterated by Perre’s Anti Gear Missiles (AGMs) which were raining down. In the end, I was left with a single gear standing and had only taken out one of Mark Perre’s gears. Part of the reason I had survived even to Turn 3 was due to Perre providing three of my squad members with that Field Armor which added Sturdy boxes to my damage capacity.

Dream Pod 9 Pod Squad Members Mark Perre and Walter Childs at comic shop

Pod Squad Members Mark Perre and Walter Childs at Avatar Comics and Games

Results

Walter Childs won Best Painted for his Southern gears and received a Nu Coal Strike Squad, which he will have painted soon, no doubt. Childs went 0-3 in his games, but was in good spirits. As he pointed out, “For me, the hobby’s about painting, so I felt like I won. That’s all I care about. If I put my models on the table and they get smoked, I’m ok with that.”

5 Grey and Black Southern Heavy Gear Miniatures Crowd Around Building

Walter Childs’ Best Painted Southern Gear Squad

The Overall Winner came down to Kill Points. Though he lost his first game against a Southern player’s Naga striders which were hunkered down behind buildings, Randy Guintivano won his next two games against Northern armies with his beautifully painted Peace River Defense Force General Purpose Squad. Guintivano is a relative newcomer to Heavy Gear Blitz, yet has racked up a lot of games in the two months he has been playing the game, even joining the Pod Squad as a play tester. But Guintivano had done his research; he spent two years reading the Dream Pod 9 forums before moving his first miniature.

Peace River Defense Force Squad for Heavy Gear in front of resin outpost buildings

Overall Winner Randy Guintivano’s PRDF Squad with Chieftain and Four Warriors

Guintivano packed two Rapid Fire Bazookas into his squad, carried by Warriors, the workhorse gears of the PRDF. Yet it was his other two Warriors who had the greater glory on the battlefield, armed with Fragmentation Canon/Shotguns and HHGs. HHGs, as his opponents were quick to learn, are Heavy Hand Grenades. Instead of having a x15 Damage multiplier, they boast a x25 and Guintivano’s MVPs had three each. In his battles, he split his force into flanks in an effort to gain the Crossfire bonus. Then maximizing cover, he ran his close-combat Warriors up at Top Speed, spending Command Points to lob HHGs into the opposing gears’ surprised faces. Guintivano’s tactics on the field were rewarded with a $35 gift certificate to Dream Pod 9’s web store as well as a Peace River Strike Squad.

The tournament had other gains as well. One Warhammer 40K player who witnessed the tail end of the fighting, the ten armies, and the turnout for Heavy Gear is no longer on the fence about Heavy Gear: Blitz. The North has gained a new recruit in Las Vegas.

Vegas Game Day – January 19

On January 19 Vegas Game Day began its new schedule now falling on the third Saturday of every month and running from 9:00 AM until 7:00 PM at the /usr/tech library in the Emergency Arts building. Jerrod “Savage Daddy” Gunning ran a packed table of Savage Worlds My Little Pony in the morning slot while games of Shadowrun and Settlers of Catan took place. Jerry Grayson brought out his Hirst Arts sci-fi set for his game of Colonial Marines using Fuzion rules, but I didn’t get to experience the 3D terrain directly as I had signed up for Pathfinder Society and Starcraft on Warhorn.net.

GM Jerry Grayson with 3D Hirst Arts plaster science fiction corridors at Vegas Game Day for a game of Colonial Marines

The Elaborate 3D Hirst Arts Sci-Fi Corridors of Colonial Marines GM Jerry Grayson

Pathfinder Society: PSS 04-01 Rise of the Goblin Guild

Properly supported by a cleric, I was like a god myself as I strode through the passageways under the city of Magnimar. Each hit of my great sword splattered goblin guts and heads. Pathfinder isn’t like World of Warcraft or D&D 4E where fighters get a taunt mechanic; instead I always have to verbally taunt the creatures into trying to attack me. While I wasn’t exactly tanking, I did attract the enemies’ attention. I shrugged off blow after blow and the damage I did take was healed by the wand of cure light wounds I had loaned to our party’s cleric. The five of us overcame all the obstacles that GM Ethan Cline threw at us with only one character ever down and dying, in part because we had chosen to play down on Rise of the Goblin Guild.

Pathfinder Society Players Cluster Around a GM at Vegas Game Day

The Downfall of the Goblin Guild: Indignant Pathfinder Society Members

Playing Up or Down

Many Pathfinder Society modules are multi-tiered, capable of being played up or down. Rise of the Goblin Guild is for adventurers 1-2 in level and 4-5. Our group spent a good chunk of time debating playing up or down at the start of the game. If we played it for levels 4-5, there would be more treasure at the end of the adventure, but the opponents would also be much tougher. Since I only have my second level fighter Asir Al-Nimr, I voted to play down. Consequently, besides the Level 3 Wizard or Sorcerer, even at 2nd Level I was much stronger than the Level 1 PCs of the other players. Veteran players inform me that ideally a Pathfinder Society player should have a different character every four levels to make the most of PFS advancement and leveling. With a level 12, 8, 4, and 1 a player can play any PFS adventure.

Leaping into the “Hidden” Trap

The game also accidentally became an example of role-players deliberately ignoring out of game knowledge during a player’s movement on the square grid. As a player’s miniature was moved up by a different player, the GM announced that he had triggered a trap in a particular square. The player pointed out that he was not moving up that far and instead completed his action in a different square, which the GM accepted. Now we all knew where the trap was and I planned on entering it once my turn came up.

I had already mentally planned my route through that particular square to get up close to the enemy, I reasoned. Also as a GM, I would hate for the trap to be ignored or negated. However I made this decision at a full 20 Hit Points. If the game were very close or I was down to 4 HP with no healing available would I be so cavalier? Not only could I lose my character to permanent death, but I could arouse the real life ire of my fellow players by spoiling the mission or causing a Total Party Kill. I don’t know that I would enter the square in those circumstances.

As it was, the decision was taken out of my hands by the actions of our party’s rogue, who maneuvered into the square, falling victim to the trap. Had he forgotten that it was there or was he falling on the sword as I had planned to do? I really don’t know, but there was at least one angry sigh at the table at the rogue’s actions. It ended up not mattering much, but he acted with integrity, meeting with both approbation and disapproval.

Pathfinder Miniatures, Pawns, and other miniatures on gridded map with dry erase borders for game of Pathfinder Society

A Mixture of Pathfinder Miniatures and Pawns Take To the Gridded Sewers of Magnimar

Same Pathfinder Society, Different Day

In PSS 00-01 Silent Tide I encountered the wet slippery world of the Puddles, an evocatively-named slum of Absalom, the central city of the Pathfinder Society where so many Pathfinder Society adventures take place. But aside from the Puddles, the world setting of Golarion begins to blend together in PFS modules. We were in the kingdom of Varisia for this module, but it didn’t feel any different than Absalom. One of the rewards I’ve received in my five adventures thus far is a boon from the Chelish Embassy of Absalom granting me “one free use of the divination spell from a Cleric of Asmodeus.” The catch is that I have to be in Cheliax’s capital Egorian to use it. It’s a great concept and incentive to go on PFS modules that will take me to Egorian, but will Egorian really be all that different? But back to Varisia. What is Varisia? How is it different than any other setting? Rise of the Goblin Guild provides little idea so I turned to the Pathfinder Campaign Setting World Guide: The Inner Sea which is one of many Pathfinder books available at the /usr/tech library thanks to Paizo’s donation. It turns out that Varisia is more of a frontier sort of region, but even the Varisian entries in the guide were the stuff of generic fantasy.

The Temple of Empyreal Enlightenment offered a great deal of flavor owing more to its setting in a temple of the peace-loving god Korada than anything Tian-related. The Tian seem to be Chinese analogues in the world of Golarion, but in the five adventures I’ve played in so far, Paizo has stopped short of creating any meaningful differences between ethnicities and nationalities around the Inner Sea. Aside from the S&M-practitioning Cheliax faction, Pathfinder plays it safe and boring with a conglomeration world akin to many areas in D&D’s Forgotten Realms and World of Warcraft’s Azeroth.

The joy of cultural differences and subtle thematic nuances fade when compared to the sheer glory of a master-worked great sword though. I dispatched goblin after goblin with the clock ticking down and finally managed the killing blow on the weakened big boss. With the end of the mission, Asir Al-Nimr is just one adventure away from Level 3.

Starcraft: Lost Detail, Once More

The last time I played the Starcraft video game was maybe back in 1998, but many of the game’s details are hard to forget. I knew I didn’t want to play a scummy Protoss or Zerg. In the RPG there are also Mutates, which I quickly dismissed. I’m Terran all the way. I repeated “Fire it up!” to myself a number of times during the quick character generation, but instead of a flamethrower-wielding Firebat, rolled a basic Marine, Private Mark Robbins.The Alternity rules from 2000 were quick, dirty, and random. I diced for some basic stats, got three skills (Rifle, Intimidate, and Brawl), and then even diced for weapons and gear! I wound up with a nasty radiation weapon, the Fusion Rifle, plus a Stun Ray Pistol, CNC Power Armor, and a Combat Shield.

GM Kris Anderson filled me in on my background story. I was a conscript who had been twice-imprisoned if not more. I had escaped human prison and been on the run when recaptured by Protoss bounty hunters, escaped again, and then been captured yet again by a different Protoss. I awoke with my gear shackled in the hold of a drop ship and was furious as the other PCs and my captor telepathically messaged me. The purpose of my captivity became clear: the assassination of the prisoner General Wayne Havelin within the walls of the prison on the frosty planet below. Think of Hoth from Empire Strikes Back and you have Daloth.

Stacraft RPG GM behind GM's screen at Vegas Game Day with two RPG players

Starcraft GM Kris Anderson Checks His Notes Before Things Get Brutal

Unlike most other RPGs at Vegas Game Days, the Starcraft game had continuity and was picking up the action for the two other players in the party, a Terran Spectre and a Protoss Dark Templar. As we were about to begin we were joined by a fourth player who quickly rolled a four-armed Mutate who looked more like a Zerg than anything remotely human. Like the other two PCs, he also had major psionic abilities including telepathy and we eventually encountered him in his native habitat, burrowing in the snow.

Quadrupedal mechanical Starcraft Protoss suit for Dragoon

A Deadly Protoss Dragoon

We also quickly met a Protoss guard patrol and my Fusion Rifle was soon irradiating the crap out of them. Having taken my combat drugs, my Dexterity shot up to 20, which in turn boosted my Rifle skill to 21. I needed to roll less than this on a d20 to hit. Scratch one Protoss Zealot. The Fusion Rifle was less effective on the quadrupedal Dragoons and our GM had me making Intelligence check after Intelligence check each time I continued to shoot at one with my Fusion Rifle. The rest of the party all had crazy psychic powers including tornado creation, clouds of darkness, and maybe something like a red insect swarm of rage that would devour the Protoss units. The Protoss had their revenge when a second patrol showed up and got the drop on us. Armored suits exploded. I went flying through the air when a ball of plasma struck me from behind. PCs were killed, including Pvt. Robbins The two original PCs had alien artifacts though, rare amulets that could restore a person to life, but those too were soon exhausted in the furious firefight. Finally our Dark Templar actually used a Reverse Time ability to jump back a minute or two and we fought the battle again, this time with everyone surviving.

The second melee was no cakewalk though. Private Robbins had lost his armor, his Fusion Rifle rounds, and his sanity. I decided he’d had enough and was freaking out. I cowered under the smoldering remnants of one of the armored suits for several turns and then made a break for it, channeling Bill Paxton from Aliens. It was freezing and he’d had enough. My party members thought otherwise and successfully attacked me, knocking me out for quite a while.

Starcraft RPG player rolls dice with graph paper map of prison world in foreground

Stay Frosty: GM’s Map of the Prison’s Locale with Plateaus and Frozen Lake

After coming to, we headed towards the base, climbing a plateau and spotting more guard patrols and the base’s considerable defenses. We would need a clever plan of attack to get inside the prison.

The Ignored Voice of Pvt. Robbins

I thought I had some clever plans of attack, even if one was a major cliche:

  • When I suggested our Dark Protoss and other Terran pose as bounty hunters and turn me, the escaped prisoner, in to the prison all I got were blank looks, before the other party members went back to talking about how hard it would be to get into the prison. It worked in Star Wars, but maybe it wasn’t being creative enough.
  • What if, I proposed, our Dark Protoss dressed up in the Zealot’s yellow power armor, pretending to be one of the Zealots returning from patrol? This was shot down.
  • I had another suggestion. Maybe the Dark Protoss could use his Mind Control power to take control of a Zealot and then have the Zealot punch in the code to enter the underground prison. Yes, his Mind Control would lapse once the Zealot was out of sight in the entrance tunnel below us, but the stealthy Spectre could drop in behind him and dispatch him with a quick strike. No, this too was ruled out.
  • There was a huge orbital turret near the prison landing pad. Maybe the Dark Templar could teleport into or onto it and we could use it to target and destroy the Protoss units guarding the prison. Of my suggestions, this one actually was infeasible because such turrets are unmanned and automatic.

Now as I was suggesting these, I did find success with one listener: the GM. The GM actually had the other players make an Intelligence check or a Perception check or some other sort of check to listen to my ideas. There was even a bounty hunter ship on the landing pad tarmac! As trite as it would be, posing as bounty hunters probably would work. But I failed my real life Charisma check and the other players went back to their own discussion.

Ignoring Out of Game Knowledge Again

There was another plan that I had to simply ignore because it was based on out of game knowledge. While the four-armed Mutate was being rolled, I noticed that he had gotten a Feign Death ability. We could also infiltrate the prison by having the bounty hunters turn in the mutate’s corpse. Or the mutant could be left with the dead Protoss patrols and possibly be brought into the prison to be dissected and studied. Of course, while I knew this, my character did not, but it didn’t stop me from awkwardly hypothesizing about one of us playing dead. Sadly even this went ignored and unheeded.

In the end we had to leave the mission hanging because it was time to vacate the building in real life. The GM invited us new players to continue the adventure in the group’s regular campaign. While I was frustrated at not being able to assassinate the general or convince the party to go along with my plans, I had a blast playing a new game and meeting other gamers.

Drakmar: A Vassal’s Journey

14-year old Colin Taylor with longbow on cover of Drakmar A Vassal's JourneyDrakmar: A Vassal’s Journey is a heartwarming documentary from 2006 about 14-year old Colin Taylor. Colin loves dragons and plays Halo, Sonic, and D&D. Recorded in 2004-2005, the film follows the bright but alienated Colin at school, home, and at Adrian Empire events. Though much of the documentary revolves around Colin’s vassal relationship as the squire Drakmar to his knight Sir Cledwyn, the film shifts focus to the possible renewal of Colin’s relationship with his biological father in Arizona. Film students Lowell Frank and Destin Daniel Cretton shot Drakmar on the cheap, but it doesn’t impact their storytelling at all. Within the first few minutes Colin will endear himself to the viewer who will later share in Colin’s nervousness at the prospects of reunion with his father. If Colin and older brother Corwin fail to tug at your heartstrings, there’s also Colin’s grandfather, an inveterate ham, who provides occasional comic relief. These human elements are Drakmar’s strengths and should be compelling to any person on the fence about the possibility of putting on armor and pretending to live in another time, whether it be the Adrian Empire, the SCA, or a LARP.

The Adrian Empire: Kingdom of Terre Neuve

Less famous than the SCA, the Adrian Empire has a narrower time frame for its personas, from 1066-1603 compared to the SCA’s generally accepted 600-1600. Geographically the Adrian Empire is exclusively Western Europe in its historical focus, whereas the SCA is global. Perhaps more importantly, the heavy end of Adrian Empire fighting is done with real steel instead of the SCA’s rattan. Colin Taylor is not old enough for these real steel battles, instead fighting with a shinai, a bamboo sword. But he boasts, “I’m actually a better archer than I am a shinai combatant. You give me a bow and I can shoot a penny off of your head.” Both Colin’s mother Kathy Taylor and his brother Corwin Taylor participate in Adria, respectively known as Mistress Aileen Bristow and Corrwyn Ardwulf. Living in San Diego, their Adrian region is the Kingdom of Terre Neuve. In the SCA, knights wear white belts with no other colors restricted to other fighters, but in Adria, knights like Sir Cledwyn wear blue belts, pages like Colin wear yellow belts, and men at arms wear green. Colin desperately wants his green belt.

Chivalry: Alive and Well in the Adrian Empire

Known mundanely as the jewelry store owner Scott Mallory, Sir Cledwyn is much more than a lord to his vassal Drakmar, also serving as Colin’s father figure (as well as Corwin’s). Mallory’s feudal ideals run deep. Speaking about Colin, Mallory says, “He does something wrong, it’s my responsibility to fix it. It’s my responsibility to equip him and to make sure that he’s not lacking for anything.” It’s not hard to imagine that Mallory is speaking both in game and out of game. In fact, the Taylor brothers recount Cledwyn’s very physical defense of his vassal’s honor owing to a belt-pulling incident that happened in the Adrian Empire. That the perpetrator of the dishonor was himself a knight says something, but in general other Adrian members captured in Drakmar seem to echo Mallory’s fondness for chivalry. “We are Adrian; that means we do things for honor,” one official reminds the Adrian populace before battle.

Belly dancers flank a knight in armor from the Adrian Empire at San Diego Comic-Con 2012

Kingdom of Terre Neuve Members at San Diego Comic Con 2012:

The Rush of Battle, Being Who You Want to Be, and History Re-Imagined

The documentary captures several fighter practices, including one involving rapiers at night near tennis courts. For Corwin, fighting in Adria is “a total complete adrenaline rush.” Others are attracted by the desire to recreate a different time, complete with wooden stocks and a wooden gaol. For Colin, each fighter practice and weekend trip to Adria, is “a break from reality” and far preferred to the complexities of our modern world. For another Adrian, it’s more about the freedom. Stan says:

“Out here, where these guys are finding themselves out and beating themselves silly, you can be a knight, you can be a lord, you can be a king (if you get elected). Anything you want and you can imagine, you can sit there and be in Adria. We call it mundane out there. This, for some people, is the real world. They get to come out here and do what they really want to do and be who they really want to be. I think that’s really what it’s all about.”

The Crown War for Terre Neuve

The climax of Drakmar: A Vassal’s Journey as far as the Adrian Empire goes is the Crown War, fought in March at the Potrero County Park. Because progress towards knighthood in the Adrian Empire depends on a combination of skill at arms, artisanal skill, service to others (ministry), and archery, Colin finishes a belt pouch in order to get his green belt but must also supply documentation about its crafting and historical accuracy, before facing an oral panel who grill him about its construction. Fantasy gaming is only hinted at in Drakmar. Colin reveals around the Crown War campfire that he “had seven draconic items: the Draconic Orb of Doom, the Draconic Lance of Greatness, the Draconic Greatsword of Light, I had a Shield of Dragon Might, and the Boots of Dragon Speed, just to name a few. ” Yes, Colin loves dragons. The Crown War seems to be fought with 30 armored men or less on each side, but the action is intense as one warrior bashes his gauntleted fist over and over into another’s helm, following him down to the ground.

Hope is Here: The Real Vassal’s Journey

The real climax of Drakmar is much more touching than knights battling or even an oath of fealty. The knightly virtues of mercy, generosity, and courage come alive on screen, embodied in the form of a scrawny 14-year old. Role-playing can be about much more than identifying four-armed greater demon-dragons as Colin does at one point. Occasionally in a tabletop RPG, a player can so identify with his paladin PC or another character’s high morals as to transform his interactions in the real world. Drakmar presents evidence of fighters who learn the meaning of honor and courtesy on the fields of Adria. Many other participants though, like Colin Taylor and Scotty Mallory, already possess those virtues and the Adrian Empire merely refines them and lets them share them with the rest of the world.

A Lot to Enjoy: 3D6’s Space Fapping

Album cover for Space Fapping with letters 3D6 heading towards moonSpace Fapping is 3D6’s follow-up to 2011’s Damage and it’s almost out of this world. If Damage were an 18 on 3d6, then Space Fapping is a 17. The trio of Las Vegas gamers continue to satisfy with their brand of humorous, dirty, nerd punk throughout the album’s ten tracks. While the focus tends towards science fiction, 3D6 remains firmly rooted in fantasy RPGs, beginning the album with “Save Does Not End”, lifting the term from D&D. The saving throw is for the “18 ongoing rocking damage” as 3D6 promises to “fuck your ears with our nerd punk dicks.” It’s fair warning and a strong opener for the album, with the party facing spider-summoning drow in a dungeon in search of an axe. My favorite track on Space Fapping is the gamer anthem “I Killed a Dragon”, which at first listen could apply to any fantasy RPG. The narrator’s dragon-slaying goes unappreciated out of game as he repeatedly sings “I killed a dragon / and you don’t even care” and only later does it become clear that he’s not singing about a tabletop game, but instead about a video game (Skyrim), ultimately losing his wife to his gaming addiction. “I’d Rather Live in an R.P.G.” rounds out their gamer songs and is yet another sing-along gamer anthem. It’s for all the gamers tired of reality, who’d “rather live in an RPG / Creating who I want and how I want to be / There’d be no rent or power bills / I’d just go out and hone my skills / Defeating enemies for gold and XP”.

Stellar Songs: I Love Star Wars Anyway, The Whore of Enterprise D

Despite labeling George Lucas as the enemy and threatening to punch him in the face, “I Love Star Wars Anyways” is 3D6’s love song to the universe Lucas created, both tenderly nostalgic and humorous at the same time. Think of a more critical version of the film Fanboys as a song and you get “I Love Star Wars Anyways”. The main villains are the prequels and new editions with 3D6 rhyming, “When we were kids we used to watch those movies every day / Leia was the first girl that I thought about that way / And all the Gungans in the world cannot take that away”. The next track,”The Whore of Enterprise D”, is downright dirty. The song highlights 3D6’s lyrical genius with lines like “I just saw her leave Ten Forward with Deanna Troi / Carrying some synth-ale and a double-sided toy”. It’s probably 3D6’s raunchiest song and the most likely to offend as the whore makes her way through the Next Generation’s crew (with Picard notably absent). Wesley also doesn’t get any, but she’s not xenophobic; “Even after Klingons it’s not long before she’s healed / She can take a pounding like the ship’s deflector shields”. 3D6 offers up a pretty even contribution to the classic Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate because both “I Love Star Wars Anyway” and “The Whore of Enterprise D” are so awesomely good.


Of the space songs, the album’s closer “Red Shirt Requiem” is my third favorite. It’s a filk dirge that slowly builds with orchestral strains that I could see hardcore Trekkers wanting played at their funerals. The chorus is moving: “You were killed in service of Starfleet like so many brave women and men / And although you are are gone / You will always live on / In our Red Shirt Requiem.” The title is about the only humorous part, though I can imagine Trekkies lifting up cups of Romulan Ale and swaying with phasers out to it. “Satellite of Self Love” provides the album’s title with its chorus of “Space Fapping! Space Fapping!” and references Mystery Science Theater classics Eegah! and Manos! Hands of Fate. The song also features the sound of space fapping, a liquidy, squishy sound. When performed live at the Space Fapping release party, singer Dave replicated it by moving his cheek back and forth rapidly into the microphone. I prefer “Jerkin’ Off” myself.

Return to Parvo and Others

Space Fapping also regurgitates the topic of parvo in “Parvo Deuce” and the theme of not eating poop, with a mention of “don’t eat poop” in “Save Does Not End” earlier as well. The band sells T-shirts with the phrase, but the chorus of “Parvo Deuce” is dark and lacks the light charm of “That Parvo’s a Real Killer”. However the stanzas featuring Mario Brothers, Smurfs, and bantha poodoo are hilarious. “Stonerd” is possibly a bona fide stoner nerd anthem, but not being one, I can’t relate. “Part of me is Stephen Hawking / Part of me is Cheech and Chong,” is how the band explains the mixed love of weed and painting miniatures. “Why Do I Go Out in Public” is more compelling musically with attention divided between shopping, going out to the movies, and going to shows with the accompanying “dicks and morons, bitches, jerks, and assholes” found there.

“You love this band, call yourself a fan, want to see a show”

While I would steer new listeners to Damage over Space Fapping, 3D6 has successfully passed that important Sophomore Album saving throw that cripples many bands. In “Save Does Not End”, drow and dungeons dominate the first stanza, but there’s no fantasy in the second stanza as the band accurately predict that a listener will “love this band, call yourself a fan, and want to see a show”. To see them for yourself, check out 3d6band.com. Get Space Fapping on Amazon or iTunes.