Crimson Mystical Mages Chapter One Listening Party

Following on from this morning’s post, this is the official conversation post for the December 27, 2010 listening party of the first episode of Live from SModcastle‘s Crimson Mystical Mages silly role-playing campaign, as “SMastered” by Kevin Smith. The fun starts at 9:00 PM EST, so if you’re a late comer, try to sync up the episode as best you can.

I’ll be tweeting using the hashtag #cmm0 as well as keeping up with comments here on Held Action. After the fact, I’ll compile the tweets here as well for posterity.

Whatever else, this should be funny!

Join the Crimson Mystical Mages Listening Party Tonight

My neck of the woods is receiving a bit of snow at the moment — nowhere near as bad as more southerly regions, but enough to make one rethink going anywhere at a distance. As always, these are the moments I most want to get out and interact with people. So what can I do?

How about a Crimson Mystical Mages listening party?

Kevin Smith’s sprawling podcast network includes Live from SModcastle, shows recorded in front of a live theater audience in Los Angeles. In the most recent episode, they embarked on a role-playing campaign of sorts called Crimson Mystical Mages, the first chapter of which is titled “The Adventures Of SMiddle Earth (as taken from the Journal of the Whills),” in which “Dungeon SMaster Kev leads Scott Mosier, Jason Mewes and Malcolm Ingram into a world of sorcery and sodomy.” So it’s totally in keeping with the usual what-if and role-play scenarios Smith and his friends have concocted before — and also guaranteed to be explicit, so use your best judgment if you want to follow along.

Tonight at 9:00:00 PM EST according to the clock maintained by the NIST and USNO, I’ll start the MP3 of the episode playing on my computer. If possible, you should do the same to keep in sync. For the next fifty-five minutes or so, I’ll comment live on the nonsense via Twitter using the hashtag #cmm01. If you’re already a Twitter user, feel free to comment along there. If not, I’ll set up a separate blog post to appear tonight as the official conversation post for the listening party. Once it’s all over, I’ll compile any tweets using the hashtag in that conversation post for posterity.

For best listening results, you can download the episode file directly from the SModcast website, or via iTunes. If you prefer, you can also use the embedded player in the SModcast website. The episode in question is number eight of the Live from SModcastle series, currently at the top of the page.

I hope some folks will participate, crack a beer and enjoy the show with me!

When Do You Correct the Game Host?

Well, when? RPGs invite house-ruling more than board games. At the very least, board game house rules tend to be stated upfront, perhaps with somewhat more clarity and directness, as they change one or two things, where an RPG GM’s interpretation of the rules as written can be substantially looser.

Often when playing a game, someone in the group takes the role of resident guru. They may own the copy being used. They may simply be the most well-versed in it. They may be the GM, if the game calls for such a thing, such as most role-playing games. At any rate, they get a certain amount of deference when it comes to interpreting and remembering rules. This guru, though, is not always the game host, the person who owns the copy or did the legwork of getting everyone around the table.

This situation happened to me over the summer, playing Arkham Horror at a friend’s house. He’d invited folks over for an afternoon’s game. As the raving Arkham Horror fanatic, I found myself often teetering on the edge of uncertainty in the course of play: should I mention that technically, a rule worked one way, rather than the other, or not worry about it?

In that instance, I think I corrected more than I let it go, which doesn’t say much for my ability to lean back and not worry about the rules as written — at least when it comes to board games. In role-playing games, I manage to be much more laissez-faire, particularly when GMing.

At the role-playing table, it’s at least a social faux pas and more likely an astonishing breach of courtesy to quibble with how the GM interprets the rules. Or I think so. I’ve been in a few groups where interpreting rules is a god-given right to anyone who plays. And honestly, listening to the back and forth gets downright miserable. Take for instance one table discussion I sat through about Raise Dead versus Resurrect in Dungeons & Dragons. None of the characters at the table could cast either of those spells, but the bickering over what they could do went on for forty-five minutes.

So role-playing games are a situation where I’m almost always going to defer to the GM’s interpretation, simply because they’re so prone to house rules and modifications that arguing for “rules as written” is wasted time, taken away from playing. Even in board games, though, I try to defer to whoever owns the game or proposed they play it; usually because they know it best, but also for expediency’s sake. I’d rather just play the game than quibble fine points of proper play. During the game, that is. After the game ends is the appropriate time to debate those questions of rules interpretation and, when feasible, look up any online errata that may exist.

Broken Spokes Finally Leaves the Station

I am trepidatious. Tomorrow evening we are scheduled to start this Broken Spokes campaign that we initially made characters for . . . well, at least three months ago. Embarrassing as it sounds, it’s been three solid months of missed opportunities.

The core problem is there’s only one feasible night of the week for the three of us to meet, due to requirements of family and work. If anything with overriding priority — and there are many; role-playing’s a fun way to spend some time, not serious business — happens, then we can’t meet for that week. Then the cycle begins again the next Sunday evening: “So, are you free for gaming this week?”

That said, we’re finally on track to play this week. I have to admit, it’s been so long, I’m not really sure what to do for a starting adventure. Most of the time I’ve spent thinking about Broken Spokes between conception and now went to big picture world-building — or mashing, in this case — and mucking with the Ten Foot Wiki approach. I have some nuggets of ideas of where I want to begin — particularly since I plan to use the opening sessions of this campaign as a testbed for one of my Carnage adventures — but they require thought and work.

To that end, I’m blocking out Wednesday evening for writing time. I shall go to Muddy Waters, where there’s no wireless access to distract me, get a glass of something tasty and bang away at an Open Office document. Ten Foot Wiki’s fun for world-building, but when it comes to adventures, I’m going back to my traditional bullet point format. I have a much easier time formatting, inserting new thoughts and reorganizing a simple word processor document than I do a wiki, in which it can be so easy to lose information.

Nearby Gamers

Nearby Gamers is a website designed to help tabletop gamers find each other. It’s a fine purpose, one which many other website owners have given themselves to since this internet fad caught on. For a hobby like tabletop games, which relies so heavily on in-person interaction, it can be amazingly difficult to find fellow enthusiasts in real life.

Given there are so many different sites intended to bring gamers together, what makes Nearby Gamers stand out? Two things in particular; the first of which simplicity. Rather than lots of check boxes and categories of interest for a user to fill out, Nearby Gamers uses a wiki-like system of tagging. A new user inputs their name, geographical location and list of games they like to play. This list can be as straightforward as “AD&D, Cosmic Encounter, Rifts, WitchCraft.” All tags are editable, so they can be given explanatory text and outbound links, as well as redirected to other tags, which is the really awesome part. That user who put “AD&D” on their profile can, through the magic of tag redirection, be included in the larger “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” tag without any work on their part, thus improving their odds of finding a fellow user who also enjoys that game, leading us to the second stand-out element of Nearby Gamers.

Where other tabletop networking sites use a series of nested geographical category containers — nation, state or province, etc — Nearby Gamers takes advantage of Google Maps to display graphically users by their location. This way, a user can tell by glancing at a map who’s physically nearby, which I find much more helpful than staring at a list of entries sorted by user name that reel off information like city and state without putting it in relation to my own location. Nearby Gamers can also pull together a list of users within a certain distance of your account’s given location, made helpful as it’s sorted by distance, rather than user name or some other less relevant criteria.

One of Nearby Gamers’ strengths is also its greatest drawback. The tag cloud is enormous and unwieldy. Anything typed into the preferences field becomes a tag, typos and bad copy-paste jobs alike. I’ve spent a fair bit of time myself helping redirect bad tags to their correct counterparts, but there are always more mistaken duplicates and nonsense tags to clean up. It’s a Sisyphean task, but that’s the nature of wiki-based tagging. It’s indefinitely expandable, but it’s also especially susceptible to “Garbage in, garbage out.”

The lesson here is: when you make an account, make sure you’re putting in good tags other people use. After that, Nearby Gamers is a great resource that presents a very straightforward way to find other gamers.

You Don’t Know the Future

I spend what can be fairly called “too much time” reading the forums at It’s become habit over the last seven years, since I first found the place in 2002. As I first explored the roleplaying hobby, was an amazing one-stop shop for reviews and interactive discussion. Every topic and opinion was new, shiny and required thorough investigation.

I feel differently now. Seven years later, the recurring questions and cyclical patterns of a discussion forum make themselves apparent. Someone always wants to know what is the best system for a particular game concept. Another person has an extensive alternate take on some published setting. And rancor is always, always fomented by asking questions that can’t be answered with any degree of satisfaction.

Take, for example, this thread about Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition. The game only had a preview display case at Gen Con and people are already concerned about whether its $100 price point will set a new standard for core roleplaying materials. And that’s not even getting into the needless debates over whether the play style could somehow bastardize the pastime of roleplaying by introducing board game-like components.

For questions like that, the only sensible answer is it’s much too early to tell. In fact, the only time it will be possible to tell will be a year or so after Fantasy Flight Games publishes their edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Only then, after consumers have or have not bought into the game in numbers making the model worthwhile, and other publishers have or have not followed suit in mimicking the game design, can a person come up with a useful analysis of how the game design and price point affected the market. Until then, it’s all hand-wringing and guesses of varying degrees of education.

So Goes the Game Group

The Geek Social Fallacies, formulated by Michael Suileabhain-Wilson, outline “ideas about human interaction which spur their holders to do terrible and stupid things to themselves and to each other.” Geek Social Fallacy No. 5, for instance, says “Friends Do Everything Together.” This becomes problematic in a variety of circumstances, but today, I’m thinking specifically about how it applies to the context of playing games.

Primarily, I’m thinking about the notion that a game group requires constant unanimity, that everyone must like and participate in every game. In the context of board games, this can particularly problematic as the styles of play, and individual’s tastes for those styles of play, span a very wide spectrum. Some people go for regimented games of building economic engines, other people go for wacky, random “take that”-a-thons and still more fall at different points between the extremes. Variety of preference is good, but it can make finding mutually acceptable common ground in a group difficult. In my experience, insisting on picking a game everyone likes to play often leads to a very limited selection of choices. There are, generally speaking, two main ways of dealing with this.

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