Why I Gave up Video Games for Tabletop Role Playing

Don’t get me wrong. I used to get excited about video games. My first system was an Atari 2600, followed by the Nintendo NES, Super Nintendo, GameCube, Wii, Wii U and the Switch. I’ve owned a Saturn, a Dreamcast, an X-Box, X-Box 360, a Playstation, a PS2 … 3 … 4, not to mention the ten grand I’ve plopped down on gaming computers. Among my favorite series is The Legend of Zelda and Street Fighter. But my feeling of tediousness has been steadily growing over the years, and now unopened games just sit on my shelf for months. At some point in time, gaming became a chore. When I look at an inventory screen to get bombarded by a hundred little empty boxes, I just think to myself . . . work.

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After almost four decades of tapping away at controllers, I feel that I’ve seen and done it all. There are very few original ideas in gaming, and even when you come across the occasional weird indie title (Typoman comes to mind) the question then becomes: why would I want to play that? Almost all games fall neatly into a genre: platformer, action, role-playing, racing, fighting—and they are ALL, with little exception, painfully similar. For someone who immerses themselves in gaming culture, the slightest innovations appear to be groundbreaking, but more often than not, these are little more than tweaks. Nintendo’s Wii, with its motion censors, was perhaps the only genuine revolution in recent memory, but then for some reason it was abandoned. Virtual Reality has also failed to wow the general public, because really, who wants to pretend to go to work?

The biggest new idea in shooters, to my knowledge, is auto-cover, a mechanic made popular in Gears of War, and it felt fresh and exciting upon its release, but looking back at it now, much of what you actually do in the game is the same as in every other shooter—running, taking cover, and shooting—just like in Doom, Duke NukemRed Faction, HaloMass Effect and in about a thousand other clones and sequels. RPGs, if you can even call them that, are no different. Whether it’s World of Warcraft, Dragon Age, Oblivion or The Witcheryou are like a hamster on a spinning wheel, repeating the same actions over and over ad nauseam: killing monsters to collect XP, so you can level up to kill more monsters. Rinse and repeat until the boss is dead and a cut scene comes up to let you know the game is over. Sometimes there’s a decent story in there, but for every Eternal Darkness, The Last of Us or Deus Ex, there are about a hundred titles with zombies/demons/aliens invading [insert fantasy realm here] for no damn reason. Even when the story is passable, I am forced to do so much grinding that my life feels wasted. A few years ago I gave up on a game with great animation, engaging characters and a lot of unique ideas, Ni No Kuni. Beautiful though it was, I simply could not play it. After spending the better part of a night trying to kill the first boss, I realized that I needed to grind to progress in the game, and for those of you not in the know, grinding is the process of fighting the same repetitive creatures, in the same repetitive way, while watching the same repetitive animation, sometimes for hours or even days, just to become powerful enough to win. It’s like trying to watch The Lord of the Rings, and having your Blu-Ray player breakdown so that the same scene plays ten times in a row before moving on to the next scene.

The last game I had the patience to sit through was Star Wars: Battlefront for the PS4. Now I know this isn’t the best example of great game design, but it really isn’t so different than any other FPS, where you are ducking behind walls, taking aim and shooting, like I’ve been doing for the past two decades. Quite frankly, I am sick of it. I AM BORED!!!

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Now I won’t go into why tabletop RPGs (real RPGs) like D&D are superior to video games, nor bother explaining how they are tangible, or allow you infinite freedom, or are more social. You can read that here if you want. But I do want to explain why D&D excites me, because with D&D, I get to do different things. Really different things!

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Fun with real people!

Part of the fun for me is creating the game. I get to be a storyteller, an artist, and a level designer. Our current campaign is set on Middle Earth, and the first thing I did was research Tolkien’s world, picking up The Silmarillion, Beren and LúthienThe Children of Húrin and The Fall of Gondolin. Keep in mind, nobody was telling me to read these books. I read only so much as I was enjoying it. To simulate the war against the Witch-King of Angmar, I bought a 3D puzzle of Middle Earth. Again, I could have bought a simple foldout map from Amazon, but I wanted the 3D mountain pieces. Then I went to a hardware store to get a custom cut of plexiglass, and after careful measuring, added squares to the glass using ribbon tape, resulting in a clear chess board. Placing the board over my Middle Earth map, and chess pieces to track the movements of each unit, I ended up with a layout of the war. This was a personal quest I had set out to achieve. Nobody had told me what to do or how to do it. And it involved a lot more thought than simply following an arrow on a screen. The final product is something I truly feel proud of—an actual, real-life achievement.

To invite my players to our game, I wrote a letter imitating Tolkien’s writing, urging them to send reinforcements for the impending war. It was printed on faux-aged paper, and sealed with the Tree of Gondor, before being sent through the mail. This was a real letter, dripping with ink and melted wax, that you could actually hold in your hands. Unfortunately, I received zero response from my hardcore gamer friends, because when a real letter comes in the real mail asking to embark upon a real-ish quest, I suppose they got confused because there was nobody there to tell them what to do.

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A real letter!

For our most recent D&D session, I made a fort and a giant stone head using styrofoam, caulking, Play-Doh and paint. I am always on the lookout for things to make, or unique things I can do, to play outside the box, and by box I mean X-Box.

 

Now you may be thinking, Nick, I don’t really like making things. I don’t like painting, or sculpting, or being creative in any way. And that’s fine. TRPG’s aren’t for everybody, and I suppose there will always be those who prefer multiple choice gaming: Picking between Door A or Door B. Me? I’ll choose to break down a wall every time. The thing about D&D, and tabletop games in general, is that they can be whatever you want them to be. You can even incorporate video games into it, if you want. I actually did this once, using Super Smash Bros. for a Zelda themed campaign. But D&D never forces you to slog through the same repetitive actions over and over, unless you have a bad DM, in which case you can tell him, “Hey, this is boring. Let’s do something different.” And the best part is, every game is unique. NOBODY else is playing your adventure but YOU. Millions of kids have been Link and Mario and Master Chief and Geralt of Rivia. But only I have been Sir Marek the Brave! And this makes for a truly special experience.

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Sir Marek the Brave

In a few weeks, I am planning a kayaking trip with my players. Yes, a real life kayaking trip, and this is going to be part of the game, because we need to get down the Anduin River somehow. Anything goes in my games, and that will always be more exciting, for me at least, than pressing buttons.

D&D in the Faerie Tale Kingdom

As I’ve focused my attention away from The Writer’s Disease, I’ve been spending more time on gaming with my kids. Aside from family, my chief love remains storytelling. If I could not write books, I would make screenplays for TV or movies. Barring that, I could settle for a good campfire.

Story gives life meaning. It defines who we are, what we believe, and provides an answer to the deepest questions of existence. History, religion, even the memories we have of our own lives, is little more than the stories we tell ourselves. Before YouTube, Netflix or PS4, there was fire, and the images our minds formed from the heart of the flame. Playing D&D with the family is a continuation of this old age tradition, and it beats any other entertainment medium IMO, because other mediums lack the human connection that comes from sitting face-to-face with your storyteller.

If much of this sounds grandiose, my apologies, poetic license is a bad a habit. On a more down-to-earth note, I am learning the ways of YouTube, how to stitch audio and video together to give my fans more Aenya-related content in a new way, and so that I may reach out to those unfamiliar with the Aenya-verse. The story below may also, in a loose way, serve as inspiration for upcoming novels. It is a bit long for YouTube, admittedly, but it recounts our seven months of gaming. Enjoy!

 

Lilliea and Rose Mathonway continue their adventures through the multiverse in the Faerie Tale Kingdom! This is the complete retelling of our seven-month fairytale themed D&D campaign, featuring the fifth setting in the three years I have been DMing for my family and friends. I’d like to give a special thanks to my players: to my two daughters, who play Lilliea and Rose, to my wife, who plays Kalima, and to our closest family friend, Elgy “Mimi” Marie, who rocks it as Sekhmet. I would also like to thank my nephews for their occasional contributions, to Fonda, who gave life to Kraktock, and to Arthur, who shamelessly took on the mantle of Alabaster, daughter of Snow White. Without you guys, this otherworldly experience could not have been possible. I would also like to thank all of the people who’ve contributed art and inspiration to this project.

 

5E D&D Race: Ilmar

thelana_2015_by_alexey_lipatov_by_ageofaenya-d8ait4hThe ILMAR (plural) or Ilmarin (singular, descriptive) go by many names: savages, barbarians, wild humans. Though few true Ilmar exist, they are viewed by most civilized people as more animal than human. This view is perpetuated by the little that is known of their culture. Due to fear and misconceptions regarding their humanity, Ilmar are often forced into wars or labor camps, or become beggars. A small number become wives, adopting local customs, while keeping their heritage secret.

Ilmar are great survivors, and can make their homes in the harshest of environments. They exceed at hunting, foraging, and making simple tools from the simplest of resources. Due to their primitive natures, Ilmar can go without food and water, and endure extremes climates better than most other races.

 

ILMAR TRAITS:
Ability Scores. Strength and Dexterity increases by 1, Constitution increases by 2, and Charisma decreases by 1.
Primitive Survival. The Ilmar can survive one cycle (ten days) without water and 3 cycles without food, can walk across the most rugged terrain without footwear, and can survive (without clothing) in temperatures close to freezing.
Armor of Flesh. Ilmar abhor clothing. In light, medium or heavy armor, you have Disadvantage on all attack rolls and Dexterity based skill checks. While going completely nude, you have a heightened sense of awareness, adding your Proficiency modifier to Perception checks. Wearing no clothes and carrying no shield, your (natural) base Armor Class is 13.
Alignment. Ilmar tend toward chaotic and neutral alignments.
Size. Ilmar are human sized, weighing between 100 to 180 lbs. and standing between 5′ and 6′ tall, tending toward more muscular and slender physiques.
Speed. Base walking speed is 30 feet.
Languages. The Ilmar speak common and their own unique dialect, but literacy is uncommon.
Preferred Classes. Ilmarin characters are limited to the following classes: barbarians, fighters, monks, rangers and rogues. This is due, primarily, to the setting, in that magic is virtually unknown to Aenya. Monks and rangers draw their power from “spiritual” and “quantum” sources. In a different world, Ilmarin PC’s may choose a spell caster class, but they lose connection to their deity in any other setting, and consequently, any special racial abilities.
Starting EquipmentNone

 

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An Ilmarin barbarian fighting a Yuan-Ti

PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES: Once subsumed by other cultures, Ilmar are difficult to distinguish from other humans, aside from their light, almost translucent eyes. Despite evolving in an ideal climate, their skin is thicker than most humans and the soles of their feet can be hard as leather.

HISTORY: The Ilmar are believed the last vestige of proto-human, the earliest humans to have evolved on the planet. According to an inscription found within a Septheran ruin, the first word for human was ‘ilma’, which the Ilmar use to denote their species, as they do not recognize themselves as a separate social group. The proto-human lived peacefully for one hundred thousand to one million years until the arrival of the Septhera c. 10,000 BGM. Finding the dominant species of Aenya defenseless, the Septhera conquered the planet with ease, enslaving all of humanity except for a small population hidden in a region in the mountains of Ukko. There, the proto-human continued to thrive, oblivious to the changes occurring beyond his borders. It was not until 5 BGM that the people in the river valleys of Ukko were discovered by a Zo researcher. Known as Kjus, the researcher became so enamored by their simple way of life, he abandoned his own society to become one of them, naming the people ‘Ilmar’ and the land ‘Ilmarinen,’ meaning ‘land of ilms’ after the unique flower of orange and violet growing in abundance there, or possibly, ‘land of humans’. Kjus taught them of Zo science, history, philosophy and medicine, but made certain to not pollute their way of life with the excesses of his own civilization. Kjus later built a monastery high in the mountains, and before his death, founded the Order of Alashiya, who are also known as the Keepers.

CULTURE AND SOCIETY: Knowing nothing of war, crime, or government, the Ilmar live a simple agrarian life. Since everything in their community is shared, they have no concept of currency or wealth or poverty. As one saying goes, “No man is poor who wants for nothing.” Much of their day is spent farming and gathering, though Ilmar are known to hunt during food shortages. In their leisure time, they enjoy singing, dancing, and conversing. Through song and dance, they relate their myths and their history. The holiest time is the Solstice Night, the longest night of the year, when families throughout the land join to celebrate life, love and creation. It is during this time that boys and girls of a certain age, showing hair about the loins, pair off to jump the sacred bonfire, after which the pair is forever joined. It is believed that during this ceremony, the souls of lovers from past lives find one another again. Contrary to what many believe, the Ilmar do not engage in orgies or fornicate recklessly, but only with those with whom they are joined. When Solstice Night ends, it is expected that the female move into the male household, and by the following year, that she bear him a child. Having many children is regarded the highest honor for women. Despite their duty as mothers, however, females are given greater status than males, since it is the female that has power to create life.

The Ilmar lack many technologies, but are skilled woodsmiths and clay workers. Their artifacts include elaborately carved farming tools, throwing spears, atlatls, and pottery. They also excel in the shaping of trees to produce “living homes.” Giant camphor and oak are hollowed out to make bedrooms and kitchens, though eating, bathing and grooming is typically an outdoor activity. As they are without any concept of crime, the Ilmar typically do not have doors or locks, though partitions may include curtains of bead or bone.

LANGUAGE AND CUSTOM: For the Ilmar, nudity taboos do not exist, and for this reason, they do not typically wear clothing of any kind, nor produce material that may be used for clothing. The Ilmar are not, however, without a sense of style or individuality, and will decorate their bodies with flowers, bones, semi-precious stones like jade or lapis lazuli, and with elaborate mud patterns called henna. Neither sex cuts its hair. Women wear a single braid which can reach down to their ankles, while the men can grow their locks to the middle of the back, either loose or done up in multiple braids.

RELIGION: To the Ilmar, all life is sacred, from the smallest insect to the greatest camphor tree. They make no distinction between human or sentient life and animal or non-sentient (plant) life. All are part of a singular essence known as the Mother Goddess, or Alashiya. The goddess is thought to exist everywhere and in all things, even in non-living matter, such as in the wind, in sunlight, and in the earth. Alashiya is never seen or heard, but can be “sensed” through the skin. According to myth, the Goddess was born of two elder gods, Anu and Eru. At the beginning of time, these primordial deities danced through the astral void, singing to one another and making love continually, birthing new worlds in the process. After Aenya and Alashiya were created, the elder gods moved on.

The Ilmar do not consider dreams separate from reality. Each and every dream is a literal experience. By grinding the ilm flower into a fine powder and drinking it, ritual leaders embark upon purposeful dream journeys across time and space, into other dimensions, and to worlds beyond death.

In death, the Ilmar become one with Alashiya, as they were before birth. The body is marked by a cairn close to home, typically under a tree, which is then absorbed into the soil to become new life. Due to limited medicine and nutrition, the average lifespan for the Ilmar is sixty years.

ILMAR and other races: The Ilmar tend to be loners, in that they are shunned by most other races. Humans and dwarves in particular find their constant state of nakedness off-putting, whereas elves, gnomes and halflings are more accepting. In a party of heroes, an Ilmarin will keep to him or herself, dressing appropriately where the culture demands it. Others may find the Ilmar to be the best of companions, in that they are fiercely loyal allies, trustworthy to a fault. Perhaps more importantly, an Ilmarin has little interest in possessions (rogues steal to survive) rarely partaking in their share of treasure.

ILMARIN NAMES: To foreign ears, the Ilmarin language sounds hard and clipped as they often use conjoined consonances.

Male names include: Xandr, Baldr, Heimdl and Borz.

Female names typically avoid the conjoined consonant and end in an ‘a’. Examples are Thelana, Aliaa, Amina, and Anja.

NOTABLE ILMARIN HEROES: Xandr, Thelana


Starting character sheet:

Featured Image -- 14252Thelana

Strength: 12 +1
Intelligence: 11 +0
Wisdom: 11 +0
Dexterity: 18 +4
Constitution: 17 +3
Charisma: 12 +1

Race: Ilmar
Class: Ranger
Level: 1 (+2)
Armor Class: 17 (nude)
Hit Points: 13
Duel Wield: +6 / 1d8 +4 (short sword) + 1d4 (dagger)
Longbow: +6 / 1d8 +4 (range 150/600)
Alignment: Chaotic Good

Saving Throws: Strength +3, Dexterity +6
Skills: Athletics +3, Nature +2, Perception (nude) +2, Stealth +6
Special: Natural Explorer, Favored Enemy: bogren (goblins), horg (orcs)

Equipment: Short sword, dagger, longbow, quiver, arrows, cloak

BACKSTORY: Thelana is born in the river valleys of Ilmarinen, the middle child in a family of twelve. Her eldest brother, Borz, is sold into slavery when she is very young. As the dark hemisphere continues to creep eastward, the resulting famine forces Thelana into the wild. Her life is spent on the edge of survival, hunting for prey while hiding from predators. Wounded by a cannibalistic half-man, she is rescued by Captain Dantes and taken to a nearby military encampment, where she proves her archery skills and is recruited into the Kratan army. Years pass until, on the Plains of Narth, their forces are decimated by the bogren and horg, and Thelana, torn with longing for the life she knew, abandons the battlefield. In Ilmarinen, she finds the crops and ilm flowers have withered. There is no trace of her family.


 

To learn more about the Ilmar, please check out the Ages of Aenya.

Aenya News Update: 11/29/16

A few months ago, I put out a request for artists for the upcoming 2017 edition of Ages of Aenya. After a bit of vetting, by which we produced the Avian and Horde (below), I settled on the talented Zhengyi Yu.

I chose Zhengyi for his painterly style, which better suits a novel, I feel, than the more cartoony styles of my other, albeit equally talented artists. Mr. Yu also impressed me with his landscapes. When I see a book with some impossible, otherworldly terrain, it draws me in, igniting my imagination, and I hope to capture readers in the same way. More importantly, Zhengyi has been wonderful to work with, being attentive to my needs and more than willing to brainstorm and make changes. If you’re looking for a talented illustrator, look no further! Also, be sure to check out his awesome gallery at Zhengyi Yu

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Thelana overlooking Hedonia

Here we find Thelana overlooking Hedonia. The massive pyramid temple of Sargonus eclipses the background. Depicting our heroine in her natural state, without triggering any censors, was a challenge. I wanted her in a normal looking pose, not too sexy or bashful, and without any comically placed leaves in the way. And she had to be dynamic, to show her power and fearlessness. She’s naked in a city of thousands and yet she does not feel vulnerable! That being said, Zhengyi and I are working on an alternate cover, with Thelana draped in her trademark jade cloak (hey, she gets cold sometimes). That way, you can read about the Ilmar on the subway without getting any weird looks!

OK, you may be thinking, all this is fine and good, but when can I read it? Glad you asked! As the old adage says, you can’t judge a book by its cover, and while I don’t believe this to be 100% true, story remains the most important thing, seconded only by the quality of the writing. Without those things in place, you can’t hope to sell a million copies, unless of course you’re writing bondage porn.

I’ve spent more than a decade building this world, its history and geography; fleshing out its races and its characters. Nine years alone I spent editing, as I ran a restaurant and helped my wife raise our two kids, but even the best of us need another set of eyes. If I could give myself amnesia, I could do it all myself. But it’s impossible to judge yourself objectively, to judge any story really in a non-biased way. Nobody can. But finding an editor you can trust isn’t easy. An author’s story is their baby. Giving it up, I am forced to wonder, will the editor tear it up for the sake of tearing it up? Will they maintain my voice? Avoid their own biases? This is a legitimate concern for me, as I’ve had professors try to “correct” my work in the most inane ways. One of my teachers actually suggested that the nun in my short story, Anna and the Devil, masturbate. After all, Satan can’t touch you so long as you abstain from carnal thoughts. His PHd, not surprisingly, was in religious studies.

Then I met Ava Coibion. Ava offered me a free sample edit, of my prologue, and we talked over the phone about our favorite writers, literary styles, and the best way to edit without encroaching on the author’s art. I found her to be intelligent and sensitive. And also, she had this to say,

 

Nick,

There are a thousand praises I could sing here, and with your permission, I’d love to at least give my friend Frank Beddor a sample of your novel to review, or perhaps put you in touch directly with him. But for now, here is the edit for Book One. I was determined to complete the work before Thanksgiving, in hope that you might have a little down time to review my suggested changes. In truth, I devoted this last week and a half solely to the completion of the edit, not because we are on a deadline, as I know you aren’t concerned with a timeline on this, but because I simply couldn’t stop! The prose is intelligent, poetic but often nicely spare/concise, and full of emotion. A true pleasure, and even if you don’t take me on for Books 2 and 3, I will read forward on my own because I simply must know what happens next . . .

Let me know what you think of my comments. I do think the final chapter could be split up into 2 or even 3 separate chapters.

All best,

Ava

 

I know I know, mere flattery. And I might be thinking the same thing, if it weren’t for the fact that, all of my beta readers have given me a similar response. Still, it’s great to get this from a professional, who no doubt has to trudge through literary swamps of poor storytelling.

So now, dear reader, you may be itching to get your hands on this bad boy. Well, the next step is working with Ava through the 170+k words, about 500 pages, until every “T” is crossed and “i” is dotted. Then I get to slap Zhengyi’s contribution over top of it, and last but not least, skedaddle on to the printers.

Ages of Aenya should be available sometime in 2017. In the meantime, my wife will be querying my latest effort, The Princess of Aenya, and I will be dutifully pursuing The Children of Aenya, the third book in the Aenya series, partly based on the Dungeons & Dragons campaign I have been playing with my friends and family these past two years. If you’d like to learn more about The Children of Aenya, and the game we are playing, feel free to join us on Facebook at The Hub of All Worlds.

 

 

 

The Witcher 3 vs. D&D

A while back, I wrote a post regarding my preference for tabletop role playing games to video games, and the ten reasons I feel D&D is the real deal. Today, I’d like to address the flaws I find in electronic RPGs like Dragon Age and Skyrim. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve loved video games since the NES days. But when I switch from the real thing, with dice and paper, to a console, the effect can be jarring. The most noticeable thing I find is that, with an electronic RPG (let’s call them VRPGs) there is no sense of realism. Now it might be unfair to compare D&D to Diablo, which is little more than a mindless hack n’ slash, so let’s look at the cream of the crop, a game IGN gave a 9.3: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

What I find particularly perplexing about most VRPG’s is the canyon-wide dichotomy between the visuals (and audio) and basic logic. The Witcher is breathtaking in its detail, from the varied plant species to villagers going about their daily chores. Such sights and sounds are difficult, if not impossible, to convey in a dice and paper game. Stirring music and voice acting further enhance the immersive feel, and the end result gives the player the sense of really being there. Tabletop or digital, immersion is a sign of a great RPG, when you feel transported to another reality. So it boggles the mind to see how little attention is given to logic. The contrast is so stark as to pull me out of the experience every time. It screams artificiality. What does it matter that you can count the leaves on every tree, when a pack of wolves runs right past a peasant doing laundry and she doesn’t even notice?

My character, Geralt, is a legendary warrior with a storied past, a monster slayer for hire, a witcher. Villagers and soldiers alike speak to me with reverence and a measure of trepidation. Surely, I am a bad ass, right? Wrong! The first wolf I came across killed me, and it wasn’t even a close fight. I was eviscerated. By a lone wolf. Now, I’ve played enough of these RPGs to understand how they work. I am certain that by the end of the game, I’ll just look at a wolf and it’ll explode in a shower of blood and fur. But here’s the thing: this is not the story the game is telling me. If I had started off as a peasant farmer learning the ropes of swordsmanship, a solitary wolf might be a credible threat, but Geralt the Witcher, bane of monsters everywhere? The same thing happened to me when a random guard caught me looting. He killed me in two hits. TWO!!! This, despite my whacking him for about five minutes, with a two-handed sword no less. If this had been anything like real life, he’d have been on the ground bleeding and bruised, with deep gashes and broken bones. Sure, we have hit points in D&D, but I never imagine my hero just standing there like some invincible deity, taking hit after hit. Now I realize games aren’t meant to simulate life. Nobody wants to role play sleeping 6-8 hours a day, suffering the occasional bout of dysentery, doing menial tasks to pay taxes, having to quit adventuring over a herniated disc, and finally dying of the flu. But the goal of any RPG is to approximate reality enough to suspend disbelief. With my PS4 controller in hand, however, I am constantly being beaten over the head with the fact that THIS IS A GAME! You must level up before you can fight a wolf, never mind what the story says!

Now, after stabbing this damn wolf about a hundred times, my sword breaks. I find this odd. Historically speaking, weapons of iron and bronze broke much more frequently than games and movies let on, but this had less to do with usage and more to do with physics. Whack your gladius hot off the forge against a rock and it’ll shatter. Smack it against a soft furry pelt and you can pass it on to your grandsons. OK. So my sword is broken. This is a serious problem, my being a witcher and all, so how do I fix it? Does anyone in town know a good blacksmith? Well, if this were medieval life, or D&D, I could ask someone. Later in the game, I meet General So-and-So, who needs me to take care of a griffon that is eating his men. But here’s the thing: his men are far more powerful than I am! Which brings to mind Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. The guards in that game kept chasing me through hell—literally hell—over an apple. One, lousy, apple. Tamriel is being overrun by demonic forces, and all anyone cares about is shoplifting, random guards who could, for some reason, kill the entire fighter’s guild. This was a story-breaking design flaw for me, turning Oblivion into the tale of the poor thief (me) fighting to feed himself.

So General So-and-So asks me if I need anything to kill this griffon. Yes, I need my damn sword fixed! But I am forced to watch an irrelevant cut scene instead. And here’s another problem I have. Scripted events. You do as the game dictates, not as you want. When it comes to consoles, I sometimes wonder whether I am actually playing the game or if the game is playing me. More often than not, any sense of control or decision making is illusory. Sure, I can choose which way I run up the hill, but I still need to get up that damned hill. Dragon Age 3 was the worst in this regard. Like playing a train simulator, you’re just stuck on the tracks, going along for the ride. Even in The Witcher, I have no sense of embodying my character. In D&D, I could truly be Geralt, or come as close to it as possible without a holodeck. I could, for instance, decide not to look for Yennefer, get hitched to the barmaid instead. And why the hell am I collecting plants? I am sure they’ll come in handy somehow, otherwise the game wouldn’t let me collect them, and yet this further breaks the illusion of reality. I do things simply because the game lets me do them, which clues me in to the fact that I should be doing them, whether it makes sense or not. Now imagine walking out of your house and grabbing every random thing in sight: sticks, small lilies, dollar weeds, the neighbor’s mail . . . Am I a hero or a hoarding kleptomaniac?

Video RPG’s like Skyrim, Dragon Age and Witcher are my surrogates for the real thing, been playing them since the mid-80’s. Games like Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder and Black Crypt for the Commodore Amiga. It’s often a poor substitute, and yet there’s no one who will drop my house at 2:00 in the morning to roll dice, and most of my friends and family think me deluded for preferring pen and paper over billion-pixel graphics. So . . . it’s back to the Witcher for me and, fuck, I just walked off a bridge and died. Time to reload.

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A classic!

 


 

UPDATE! 

OK, so I’ve put over 100 hours of play into The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, and think I know enough about the game to make a fair assessment, and my original impression stands. While The Witcher 3 serves up an impressive feast for the eyes, it pales in comparison to the genuine sense of adventure you get from a traditional role playing game like Dungeons & Dragons.

Again, the standout feature in The Witcher 3 are the jaw-dropping visuals. Even after a hundred hours, I can’t help but want to stare at it. It’s hard to believe that a team of programmers added that much detail, from a stray cat prowling the streets to kids playing in a field of sunflowers, to a family of geese crossing a dirt path or an old lady sweeping her front porch. But for all its vast beauty, there simply isn’t much to do. As a player, you feel stripped of options, a passive onlooker. Gameplay boils down to two things:  1) Kill something  2) Buy something. Sure, there’s an epic story to explore, but it’s a convoluted mess, like a hundred different authors got together to write one book, with hardly any agreement between them, so what happens in one chapter becomes meaningless in another. For example, I helped elven master smith, Hatori (from Kill Bill, apparently) in exchange for a sword of unparalleled quality. Turns out, when he presented me with this weapon of ultimate craftsmanship, I owned a dozen better swords already. And this leads me to the problem of realism, because while the creators of the game felt it necessary to showcase a hundred different flowers, they failed to make the mechanics of play echo that same realism. Why is it that I still, even at level 36, cannot use a god damn sword made by the village blacksmith? What magic prevents me from just picking it up and swinging it? If the developers didn’t want me having a weapon that deals 500 damage, they should not have put it in the game, or have those weapons sold all over town. It makes me wonder, if the guy who saves the world can’t put on a pair of gloves, who the hell can? Who’s buying all these god level-items? And don’t get me started on the random guards, who are far more powerful than the demonic elf gods invading the world!

None of this would be such a problem if at least I had some agency, some sense that I am making decisions for my character. Geralt is in love with Yennefer, not Triss. If this were Dungeons & Dragons, I would’ve dumped that bitchy sorceress for the sexy red-head without a thought. The Witcher forces you to do things, and in a very confined, particular way. We call this railroading in D&D, and it’s the mark of bad DMing. Last night, I nearly fell asleep playing, I was so bored.

So why play at all, you may ask? Mainly, it gives me something to do, and it’s still more engaging than watching TV. And that really seems to be what the Witcher is, not a game per se, but an interactive show.

Now if you enjoyed the Witcher and you really want to take control of Geralt’s story, here he is in D&D form:

geralt

 

For a Dungeon Master, these games are inspiration, so I also made rules for playing as a Witcher in D&D (you’ll need this to play Geralt!), in this easy to reference PDF. Enjoy!


Witcher Class for D&D 5th Edition

 

 

 

 

D&D and the Fantasy Author

Roleplaying games, and by that I mean “real” roleplaying games, the kind with dice and paper, can be a powerful resource for any writer of fantasy, a great source of ideas and inspiration. My most recent novel, The Princess of Aenya, was inspired by a one-day 4th edition D&D campaign. In the game, my wife played Queen Isadora, a cleric. One of my nephews was a ninja/assassin sent to kill her, and my other nephew her protector, Demacharon. I imagined an enormous stairwell spiraling down a chasmic tower, with arrows raining down on them from all sides. Years later, that exact scene made its way into the first chapter of my novel, except Isadora was now Radia, and the ninja assassin appeared later in the story. Incidentally, Radia and Demacharon would later come upon a monster in a crypt, the tetra-claw beast. I first drew the tetra-claw beast when I was twelve, for a 1st edition campaign, and there it sat in my brain for 30 years, waiting to emerge on the stage of chapter 3 to pounce on my heroes!

The beautiful thing about roleplaying is that it allows you to create without having to worry about being judged. Too often, writers are discouraged by the literary world. Want to write a story about a knight saving a damsel in distress? No way! That’s both cliche and “sexist”. Want to have a ninja teaming up with a robot for a swashbuckling adventure? Not if you want to appeal to older, more jaded readers of “serious” fantasy like Game of Thrones. But in D&D, you can do whatever the hell you want. Write like nobody’s reading. Dream like you’re twelve again. And then, as is often the case, lightning strikes. An idea is born that germinates into something great. All it took for Harry Potter to happen is for JK to board a train.

Sometimes in this hyper-competitive market, we forget just why we read, why we write, and why we play. And the reason, in case you’ve forgotten, is because life is just too short and the world just too small for our human-sized brains. The fantasy enthusiast craves more than one planet to explore, longs to step outside the boundaries and limitations of this one-time existence. This is what novels and RPGs have in common; they are the gateways to something more.

If you’re a gamer, or just curious to read an adventure in a different way (this is where the oft-disregarded second-person narrative thrives) you can download the file below. Whether you’re new to D&D or a seasoned veteran, you may find it useful. And, unlike in the literary world, everyone is free to steal!


 

Heraldo the Great

5th Edition D&D Adventure

DMT and D&D

I’ve been sitting on this post for years. Part of me really didn’t want to write it. And as a non-drug user, I felt unqualified. But the story has been nagging at me, ever since a friend told me about his DMT experience.

Now, I don’t do drugs. Never have. I grew up in the 80’s, with the “Just Say No” campaign, and the message really hit home. Except I took it to the extreme. I avoid anything that might artificially affect my brain in any way. So I abstain from alcohol, and I mean, ZERO alcohol. Haven’t had a sip of Bud Lite in my life. Nothing. Zilch. (OK, maybe whatever’s in Nyquil). My brother spent most of my teenage life trying to convince me otherwise, that I’d never find friends who don’t drink, or end up with a wife who doesn’t drink. Well, jokes on him, because my closest friend doesn’t drink and neither do our wives! By extension, to think that I could ever be pressured into pot or crack cocaine was hilarious. I was beyond peer pressure. Then again, I never felt any real pressure to do drugs. Sure, a few people asked me, but I said “No thanks” and that was it. It got to the point where I often wondered how anyone could end up an addict. Weren’t they forced to watch the same anti-drug videos I did? Now I know better, that drug-use is more often a symptom of depression or trauma or anxiety. But it’s not like I didn’t have opportunities. Working in a restaurant, you’re pretty much surrounded by users. If you’re in your mid-thirties and scrubbing dishes for minimum wage, chances are you made some bad decisions in life, or you just really, really like washing dishes. But here’s the odd thing: a lot of people over the years, including some crack heads, assumed I was an addict. One time, after taking a break outside, an employee asked me, “How was it?” I hadn’t had a hit. But, I am slowly starting to realize, I may have been doing drugs all my life without knowing it.

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Truth be told, we can’t escape drugs no matter how hard we try. A “drug” is a general term for chemicals, and we’re pretty much made of chemicals. It’s in everything we eat and drink. If you enjoy chocolate, caffeine, or the high that comes from exercise and sex, you’re enjoying the drug-like endorphins produced in your brain. And this brings me to DMT. If you don’t know what that is, I suggest you read up on it. The stories are amazing. It’s a hallucinogenic, but far, far more powerful than LSD. One LSD user described his DMT experience as somewhat terrifying, and you would be too, if you’re action figures started talking to you and dancing on your desk. A close friend told me the same thing. To paraphrase, “You don’t realize you’re hallucinating. There’s zero difference between what you know is real and what you are experiencing. Sight, sound, smell … it’s all there, utterly convincing.” And it’s not just seeing some funny things bouncing into your living room. Far from it. When you take a DMT trip, you’re entering another universe. You meet sentient beings, commonly referred to as “machine elves,” and there’s a great sense of time dilation. So what takes only a few minutes in reality might feel like days or weeks by the DMT-clock. OK, Nick, you may be thinking, this guy was probably pulling your leg. So I did my homework, and everything I read confirmed my friend’s story. In his book, Waking Up: A Guide To Spirituality Without Religion, neuroscientist Sam Harris posits that many religious experiences, including visions of life-after death, can be attributed to hallucinogens. The “light at the end of the tunnel,” is just a symptom. Now, this might not make much sense, considering how little the drug is known. Where did Abraham or Moses or Buddha get a hit of this stuff? But here’s the thing: DMT is naturally produced in the brain. The chemical has been associated with dreaming and imagination. When we die, DMT is released from your brain in a torrent, offering powerful, convincing manifestations of the after-life. Eben Alexander, neurosurgeon and author of Proof of Heaven, converted to Christianity after being pronounced brain-dead for “a week.” His description of Heaven sounds a lot like an episode of My Little Pony, with lots of colors, flowers and enormous butterflies. But, as Sam Harris points out, Eben’s experience closely mirrors those of DMT users.

I will admit, for a few days after hearing this story, I entertained the idea that maybe—just maybe—DMT acted as a gateway into another world. I truly wanted to believe. Who wouldn’t? Then again, the notion of other dimensions lurking beside our own can get pretty freaky. So I asked my buddy, “Is it real?” No, he didn’t think so. As a philosophy major, logic prevailed. Sadly, all evidence points to the fact that we only have one life to live. Unless you’re a fundamentalist, you know this is it. And it’s precisely because of this realization, I believe, people are drawn to imaginative endeavors. It’s our only escape from this mundane, everyday existence. Even if you’re the Dos Equis man, you’re going to want to step into someone else’s shoes, live someone else’s life. Why else do we spend so much time and money on movies, TV shows, books and video games? While there may not be an after-life, we can choose multiple lives within this one, and DMT, or some chemical like it, makes it all possible. After talking to my drug-venturing friend, we both came to the conclusion that the brain is far more powerful than either of us could imagine.

I am not a scientist, and even if I were, I think a lot more research needs to go into creativity and imagination and into how the firing of neurons activates those functions in our brains, but I know from experience how real the mind can make things seem. As a child, I managed to convince myself of some pretty impossible things. I could, at times, see and hear things I knew I’d just made up. It got me to worrying, for some years, whether I was on the verge of schizophrenia. My dreams have always been particularly vivid. I sometimes wake, feeling like I just watched a movie’s worth of content, enough to write a novel. Users of DMT report similar experiences, living lifetimes in the span of minutes, but the information quickly vanishes from memory, just as my dreams fade before I can get to pen and paper.

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This brings me back to books and the imagination. For much of my life, I have understood the technological drive to make things look and feel real. CGI effects, in movies and in video games, work to push reality away, to give the player the sense of really “being there.” I love what Lucas did with Star Wars, and what Jackson did with Lord of the Rings, and Skyrim just looks amazing on PS3. And still, we keep pushing the boundaries, desperate to throw more pixels on the screen to hide the fact that they are just pixels. By the end of this year, we will have affordable VR headsets to further the illusion. And yet, given the opportunity, I’d go with a tabletop game, like D&D, every time. Some people only see the pen and the paper. It never becomes real for them, and in their case, who’d want to sit around a table for eight straight hours rolling dice? But for me, D&D feels more real because my brain makes it real. The brain is, after all, a vastly more powerful computer system. The trick is learning how to activate it, how to bring it to its full potential. Am I suggesting taking a hit of DMT before a game? Hell no. That would be terrifying. But I do think we can learn to exercise that part of our brains—the part that makes the magic—through meditation, as Sam Harris suggests, or by simply turning off our screens and the endless everyday distractions tugging at our senses.

demogorgon

Demogorgon

 

In the Netflix original, Stranger Things, a girl with psychic powers is put into a sensory deprivation tank to focus her abilities. I believe this illustrates something we can all do, to hone the untapped resources of our own minds. Interestingly enough, the show references D&D and a monster called Demogorgon. When I was twelve, I was pretty sure Demogorgon was lurking in my bedroom. That never happened to me playing Diablo or Resident Evil. That’s the power of imagination. Nothing can match it.  It’s why I play, why I read, and why I write.

 

 

 

2014 Year End Review

Radia Noora, the Princess of Aenya

Well, folks, this is it, another year gone at the Writer’s Disease. I would like to say this was the year that my dreams came true, that I found a publisher for my work and sold millions, but alas, Fate has yet to smile on me. Like Frodo Baggins, I continue to ascend Mount Apathy, surrounded by naysayers, and worse, friends and family who pretend I have no writing ambitions, that I am, like them, resigned to being less than special. Worse still are those who fawn over Game of Thrones or Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling or the current fad author of the day, never considering that someone in their midst may someday be fawned over in the same way. But I remain hopeful, adamant even, because like Frodo I have my own Samwise Gamgee in David Pasco. I also have Lady Galadriel to lift me from my darkest moments, my wife, Hynde. Lastly, I’d like to thank my beta readers, my Merry and Pippin, Devon Aursland and a teacher from Germany whose name belongs in Middle Earth, Tobias Tholken.

Twenty-fourteen, it seems, was the year of the memoir. I reached out to Felicity Jones and Jordan Blum, founders of Young Naturists America, who premiered my five-part series Least Likely to Become a Nudist, a memoir about my discovering and growing up naturist. This was also the year of the Role Playing Game, with 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons being released, which gave rise to my 3-part series on RPGs and how they’ve inspired over the decades. Most importantly, I started my most ambitious and, I believe, most important literary work, The Princess of Aenya. My beta readers want me to write faster, and my most ardent critic, my wife, even suggested she work for me so I can spend more time on it. So without further ado, I present the best of the Writer’s Disease 2014:

The Princess of Aenya: Check out the first three chapters of my latest Aenya novel.

Altruism, Cracked.com, and the Dangers of Pop Philosophy: Are people essentially selfish? Is every action we take for our own well-being, and conversely, do we only value people for what they can do for us? The writers at Cracked.com seem to think so, but I believe in a little something called, altruism, and here’s why.

Definition: Obliviate: To describe this new world of social media, we need to update our vocabulary. I offer my suggestions for new words that we need, like obliviate, which means to disregard someone or something as if those people or things do not exist.

Least Likely to Become a Nudist: Part one of my five part memoir, about my early childhood, growing up in a strict household and strict Baptist school, and how I was once too embarrassed to shower with other boys my age after P.E. class.

Marrying Sci-Fi and Fantasy: What defines the Sci-Fi genre and how does one separate it from fantasy? To my mind, there can be no fantasy without science. Magic cannot supplant the fundamental laws of physics. Borrowing heavily from Clarke’s Law, part of my goal as a writer is to marry these two genres, which differ only in how the characters in the story understand and perceive the world around them.

Is “Tarzan” Racist?: What started out as a review of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic novel turned into a critique of its titular hero, and of the uglier, and often shocking parts of the story that Disney would have us forget.

Dungeons & Dragons: A Memoir: Part 1 of my 3 part series dedicated to D&D, telling how my fundamentalist Greek Orthodox teacher convinced my mother that my friends and I were worshiping Satan.

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Top TEN "Dungeons & Dragons" Movies

Whether you’re a gamer or a writer, we all need inspiration, and the cinema is a great place to find it. But for me growing up in the eighties, there was a real scarcity of Sci-Fi or fantasy at the theater. Go to the movies today, and there may not be even a single poster about the real world. I can only imagine how depressing it must be for seniors looking for a Casablanca. But if spaceships and aliens were a rarity back then, magic and dragons were almost nonexistent. I remember a time when it was difficult to explain to people the types of stories I wrote, or even what D&D was all about, other than Satan worship. Now I can simply say, “Have you seen Lord of the Rings?” and that clarifies things. But the scarcity of fantasy in the 80’s made me cherish those films, even the bad ones, all the more. It wasn’t until 2001, the year of the fantasy renaissance, when we got both The Fellowship of the Ring and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and studios discovered what publishers had long known, the horde of treasure that can be mined from the fantasy genre.

And so, with Dungeons & Dragons specifically in mind, I offer my picks for movies that will make you want to pick up that d20:

10. Mazes and Monsters: While technically not fantasy, the movie deals with the gaming phenomenon, dodging a direct D&D reference by calling it by another, albeit blatantly obvious name. Unfortunately, even Hollywood seems to have been taken by the RPG = Satanism/Suicide/Insanity hysteria, as a young Tom Hanks loses his mind and starts to wander the city “casting spells,” something that has never happened to anyone in the history of gaming. Eventually, he ends up in a mental institution, believing he is a wizard. While this may sound laughable today, TSR actually took the criticism seriously enough to tell their readers that the player was not to confuse himself with his character! So while teenagers in the 80’s were drinking and snorting cocaine, the real threat to their lives, according to this movie, is using your imagination! Thanks, Hollywood! As for me, the movie had the opposite effect, making me want to play D&D all the more.


9. Krull: Not a good movie by any standard, Krull was an attempt to cash in on the Star Wars phenomenon, borrowing many of the same themes from the Sci-Fi epic. You have your evil overlord (Darth Vader) moving around in a teleporting castle (the Death Star) with his army of faceless soldiers (Storm Troopers); there is also a young hero mentored by an old wizard, who bestows upon him a magic weapon (a spinning blade thingy). But it was also considerably D&D inspired, as the party of heroes, including a fighter, wizard, some thieves and a cyclops, attain items, get “scried” upon, seek advice from a giant spider, and capture “fire horses,” all in an attempt to reach the dungeon/castle and kill the boss monster. SPOILER ALERT: That spinning blade thing turns out to be useless, rendering the entire movie pointless.


8. LadyHawke: This is a great movie, actually my mother’s favorite movie, and she doesn’t even like fantasy. It may have been forgotten because of how unusual it is, in that it is a straight up, old fashioned romantic drama set in a world of magic. Teenage boys could have found it too sappy, and girls may not have thought to look at the genre. The cast is stellar, however, from Mathew Broderick (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), Rutger Hauer (Bladerunner) to a very young, very beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer. By day, Hauer is human, while his beloved (Pfeiffer) is a hawk. At night, she is human and he is a wolf. This curse was cast upon them by an evil priest, so that they are “forever together, yet always apart.” Since my wife sleeps around 9:00 PM and I go to bed at 2:00, I sometimes feel like the guy in the movie. D&D elements include a knight with a special, jeweled sword (Hauer), a thief who plays the crucial role of breaking in and out of the castle (Broderick), and the evil spell caster (the Priest).


7116aa2zkrl-_sl1166_7. The Princess Bride: If you have not seen this yet, what is your problem? Stop reading and go watch it now! While not straight up D&D, there are enough great RPG moments to warrant its inclusion, including a “giant,” played by Andre the Giant, one of the best sword fights ever put to film, a magic flaming “holocaust” cloak, and a “Fire Swamp” which consists of “lightning sand,” shooting fire traps, and my favorite, ROUS’s (Rodents Of Unusual Size). Best of all, the whole thing is a book being read to a sick child, a kid who, at first, just wants to play video games.

 


6. Legend: Conversely, this may be the worst movie on this list, a film in desperate need of CGI and a much bigger budget. Starring a baby faced Tom Cruise and directed by one of my favorite filmmakers, Ridley Scott, of Alien and Gladiator fame, Legend was a confusing mess, Scott’s fantasy Prometheus, but for 1985 it was extremely ambitious, and is to be commended for what it managed to achieve. It’s also one of the more D&D movies on this list, with unicorns, goblins, and of the coolest looking villains of all time, who is, basically, Satan. In fact, he’s the reason I remember the film at all. It’s a movie that makes Satan look awesome, and that’s what D&D is all about. Hail, Satan! Also, did I mention Tom Cruise is in it?


Clash-of-the-titans-1981-poster-25. Clash of the Titans: Never mind that awful remake, the 80’s version is the real deal. I watched this incessantly growing up. It is also one of the last great live actions films to utilize claymation, from legendary monster maker Ray Harryhausen. While the Greek mythological setting is a bit of a departure from the traditional Anglo-Germanic-folklore D&D is typically set in, the movie features enough magic items and monsters for any campaign, including a sword that cuts through marble, a mirror shield, and an invisibility helmet. It also boasts more pages from the Monster Manual than any other movie, with a giant vulture, a satyr, a two-headed dog, a Pegasus, a Medusa, an undead skeleton, and the KRAKEN!


4. Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer: No list of D&D films could be complete without these classics, one of the rare fantasy flicks from the 80’s to be popular (due to sex and muscles), the first of which also launched the career of one Arnold Schwarzenegger. While Barbarian is by far the superior of the two, with an unbeatable soundtrack by Basil Poledouris, you can’t help but feel that the sequel, Destroyer, was some Dungeon Master’s campaign turned into a script. All the elements are here, from your obligatory party members: fighter (barbarian), thief, and wizard, to your ice castle of evil illusionist, to door that can only open via magic, to your horn of demonic summoning. It all culminates, finally, with the birth of a monster god, whom the party must work together to slay. Hell, I want to play this right now!


3. Willow: Say what you will about George Lucas, but to me, he is a great filmmaker. Willow was directed by Ron Howard, adapting a story by the flanneled one, and while it failed to do for fantasy what Star Wars did for Sci-Fi, it’s still a great flick, with fairies, shape shifting sorcerers, magic wands, love potions, seeds that turn things to stone and a two-headed fire breathing “dragon.” Best of all, his dwarves are actually dwarves in real life, which makes one wonder why Peter Jackson couldn’t have done the same. Was Peter Dinklage unavailable? He could have made a great Thorin Oakenshield.

 


FOTR2. The Fellowship of the Ring: What should come as no surprise, the book that inspired D&D makes for the ideal D&D movie. But while Return of the King, with its 11 academy awards, makes for a superior film, the first in the series is the most D&Dish, with its gathering party members and a foray into the Mines of Moria, a dungeon crawl complete with orcs, goblins, and a fire demon! Unlike any other flick on this list, Fellowship proved that fantasy can make for serious cinema. It also ushered in a new era, as movies were no longer limited by special effects. Anything imaginable could be put on celluloid, and RPG nerds the world over could finally show people what the heck they’ve been doing for decades. Once the domain of lonely introverts, fantasy became part of pop culture, and after the superhero became the biggest blockbuster genre, girls started wearing “I Love Nerds” T-shirts.


1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: You just can’t get more D&D than this. Red dragon sitting on a mound of treasure? Check. Dwarves out on a quest? Check. A wizard with a tall hat and staff and a special key? Check. Random encounter with trolls and orcs? Check. Random loot and “+” swords like Glamdring and Goblin Cleaver? Check. Maps with hidden writing that can only be read by the light of a certain moon by a thousand year old elf lord? Check. Escaping an underground lair of raging goblins? Check. A wizard using his newly attained magic sword to make a critical hit against a goblin king? What more could you want? An excellent movie too? Check. Roll a d20!

 

 


Don’t watch this!

 

Dishonorable Mention: Dungeons & Dragons: You might think the most Dungeons & Dragons movie should be a movie actually called Dungeons & Dragons, but you’d be wrong. The movie, starring Jeremy Irons, is so horrendous, it momentarily stunted my imagination. I actually watched it with my friend after playing D&D, and it made us question whether our cherished hobby wasn’t some silly pastime, something for lonely geeks to grow out of. It’s that bad.

  

TOP TEN Reasons Tabletop RPGs are Better than Video Games!

Who needs a PS4 when you’ve got hoop and stick!?!

Getting my nephews to play Dungeons & Dragons is like asking them to play ‘hoop and stick.’ You’d think I was some out of touch grandpa trying to relive the good ol’ days, when soda pop cost a nickel and you could watch Mickey Mouse at the start of any movie, and all they’re thinking about is saving up for the next iteration of Call of Duty. Thing is, I love video games. My first system was an Atari 2600, which was followed by the Nintendo Entertainment System, Super NES, N64, Playstation, Sega Saturn, Sega Dreamcast, Playstaion 2, X-Box, Wii, Wii U, X-Box 360 and Playstation 3, not to mention the ten grand I’ve put down on gaming computers. I enjoy what people today call “RPGs,” from Final Fantasy to Elder Scrolls to Mass Effect. No doubt, you can and should enjoy both, as they offer different forms of entertainment, but stranded on an island with only one thing to do, my game is dice and paper, a real deal tabletop RPG, and here’s why:

10. THEY’RE EDUCATIONAL: I’ve learned many things from video games, the history of WWII from Call of Duty, the physics of racing automobiles from Gran Turismo and city planning from Sim City, but this kind of education is usually the exception and often limited by play mechanics. Call of Duty does little to teach the player the historical aspects that led to the war. Tabletop games, on the other hand, exercise the mind in every academic, from mathematics to creative writing to graphic design. I owe much to D&D for helping my writing career.

9. THEY’RE TANGIBLE: You can touch, smell, and taste. TRPGs deal with real objects: dice, miniatures, paper, and any number of props. Some people even dress up for their gaming sessions. I like to be able to physically give my players the items featured in an adventure. The magic wand? It’s right there, in your hand! Consoles have yet to simulate all 5 senses.

8. THE FUN NEVER ENDS: How many times have you watched the credits roll at the end of a great game and wished there was more? Say you love Halo, and just can’t wait until Halo Six comes out. Great. But eventually, you’ll get the game, marvel at all the new content, and in a couple of weeks you’re back wishing and hoping for another expansion. Some franchises, like Zelda, you might have to wait half a decade for something new. In TRPGs, there is no waiting. Every game is something new.

7. THEY’RE TIMELESS: Let’s face it, we live in a disposal culture. The greatest thing today is garbage the next. That is why I love D&D, because it is essentially the same since the 70’s. The newer editions are just tweaks. Video games rarely live up to the hype, and even if they do, the excitement quickly passes. Donkey Kong is still fun after 30 years, but my daughter treats it more as a curiosity than anything else. In another 30 years, I doubt the teenagers of that time will care about Halo the way the teens of today do. Consequently, I look forward to sharing TRPGs with my children.

6. YOU CAN ALWAYS IMPROVE IT: Every video game has something that just doesn’t work perfectly. The reason for this is simple: everyone’s tastes differ, and programmers can never make us all happy equally. We all wish that one impossible level would go away at the end of such and such game; we’ve all said to ourselves, “Wouldn’t it be cool if . . .” Well, in a tabletop game, you can! Don’t like the rules to 4th edition D&D? Toss them out. Think the rail gun in Red Faction is too cheap, or the end boss in Metroid Prime too hard, or that Princess Peach should be playable in New Super Mario Bros.? Too bad.

5. SOMETIMES THE HERO FAILS: This might sound like a bad thing, but when victory is assured, it’s meaningless. Will Nathan Drake find the lost city of gold and save his girlfriend? There’s no doubt, and for this reason, there can be no real tension, no genuine excitement. In a TRPG, you’re not always the hero. The universe does not revolve around your character. You are part of a group and must prove your worth, and even then there are never any guarantees. I played Dragon Mountain, a module for D&D, for three months with a friend until my party was obliterated by a red dragon. That was it. The end. More recently, MMORPGs have tried to address this issue, but the problem then becomes the opposite. Your actions are irrelevant. The next big expansion in World of Warcraft isn’t directly related to what YOU did and how you played. Failing a quest in WoW won’t affect the game for the millions of other subscribers.

4. YOU CAN BE ANYTHING: I tire of playing with other people’s ideas, in worlds created in other people’s imaginations. Tabletop games allows me to make the rules, the heroes, everything. Nothing can beat the hero that comes from your own mind! And just among friends, copyright infringement means nothing, so you can literally be anyone, from Conan to Indiana Jones to Homer Simpson.

3. THEY’RE SOCIAL: Never mind social networking. I could care less about the guy in China who’s kicking my ass in Street Fighter; I mean, it’s great that the technology exists to play with people from around the world, but why would I want to do that? I prefer the company of friends and family, face-to-face, across the table. The Internet still can’t replace real, genuine, human interaction.

2. ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES: My nephew, who is new to TRPGs, thought it a good idea to drink a bunch of vials he found in a lab, not even bothering to check what the liquids were. Doubtless, he would not drink whatever chemicals he’d find in my closet. But this is the video game mindset, because you can always respawn or reload with a console. You can die a hundred times in an afternoon without the slightest concern. But in a TRPG, you drink acid, you die, and die for good. Maybe the GM will take pity on you and find a way to revive you, but it will never be as easy as a reset button. It reminds me of a friend who ran a game where one of his players died. The player was distraught for days, until his mom called my friend up to ask, “Why did you kill my son!”

Death used to mean something . . .

1. ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN! Computer and video game gamers never realize the narrow parameters set upon them and their imaginations. It’s as if they’ve lived their whole lives in a prison, so they don’t really know they’re imprisoned. As much freedom as The Legend of Zelda, Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft give you, it’s nothing compared to the infinite possibilities you can have in a tabletop game, and the worst part is, people hooked on video games are trained to limit their thinking, imagination and creativity because of it. Often, I find that people with zero gaming experience have an easier time thinking “outside the box.” I remember playing a D&D campaign with a friend who simply could NOT understand what he was “supposed to do.” It never occurred to him that he didn’t have to fight the monster at all to save the girl. Say you like a sandbox adventure like Zelda . . . instead of fighting and killing every goblin in sight, why not subdue one, tie him to a tree, and force him to tell you where the hidden key is? And if he doesn’t listen, maybe you’ll break his knuckles? Of course, you can’t even think about doing something like that, because it isn’t programmed into the game.

There is no wrong way to play a TRPG!