Charming & Open: Board Games!

Power up Players for today’s collaboration with Ian from Adventure Rules! The Charming and Open event is where Ian accepts questions from the community and attempts to answer them in a single post. He has recently started including the community in these questions and here we are!

What are the questions?

We have decided to talk about board games for this post.I have asked Ian:“In a tabletop RPG, which character do you like playing the most (type and favorite character)?”

 

You can read my question for Ian by clicking here!

 

My challenge is to answer:

What parts of playing tabletop are you best at? Where can you improve?

 

This is a pretty interesting question. As I am fairly new to tabletop gaming, I asked the help of my gaming buddies for this question. Jaysen told me that I excel at picking up the rules quickly and that he really likes that I am open minded about the type of games we are playing. A few times a month we get together for a game night and select a game from their massive collection that only seems to continue growing in size. My bucket list has become to play every board game that they own.

 

So I’ve started thinking more in depth about the type of role that I normally play. We played a co-op dungeon game called Gloomhaven and I was immediately drawn to the mage character for several reasons. I’m a creature of habit so choosing the female or the purple tokens are a given, just as much as choosing Yoshi or Daisy in a Mario game is for me. The mage was a female purple caster so I was immediately drawn to her.

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It looks more complicated than it is lol

Mages are great characters to use when you want to deal out a ton of damage from a rather safe position (normally behind your teammates lol). Gloomhaven was my first experience with a dungeon diving game and I was super happy to play it cooperatively with my team. My co-worker and his husband have game nights where I am a frequent guest. What I love is that they have a ton of games to play and each with more intricacies than then the previous game.

 

Root is a board game that I’ve recently played with my friends during our weekly game night. In Root, characters battle for control of the land using the resources of their kind. What I have found fascinating about Root is that every faction has different strengths and ways that they can win the game. I played as the Woodland Alliance where my main objective was to spread sympathy to rally supporters for my cause. Once I was able to build sympathy on a designated clearing, I could take control by moving my soldiers into that space.

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The more areas of the forest that your character controls, the more options you have when attacking or initiating an action.

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My Secret Cards!

 

Root is my example on a way that I know I can improve my board gaming experience. I came in 2nd in Root having played a great game where I was seemingly last until the final few rounds where my plan started coming together. I am the type of player that loves the flashy plays and this tendency pushes me to play “The Long Con” game. A long con is basically looking like I’m always a step behind because I am playing for the huge playoff at the end of the game. Long Cons are super fun to play when they pay off and you see the reaction of the other players in the room ( which happened the 2nd to the last round where I lept into first place).

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I’m the green!

All was looking good for me except for 1 fatal flaw… my long con plan to release a large scale attack and score points was thwarted by my miscalculation. When I pulled the move I added my points incorrectly placing me 1 space from winning. During that same round after my turn, my friend Carl who played Marquis de Cat was just 3 spaces from the end and casually walked past me to score his final points and win.

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Root isn’t the only board game where I failed at the long con, falling just shy of the victory. Because this strategy requires you to think several moves ahead, one mistake and you can find yourself in 2nd place or worse, still in last waiting to make your final move. I believe I can improve on the timing and farming needed for long cons to really play a well rounded game.

 

My game nights with my co-worker has really opened my mind in the possibilities of playing board games and playing outside of my comfort zone. I am eager to learn and willing to try any and all games to see if I enjoy them or not. Have you played any board games recently? What are your go to roles and where do you think you can improve? Let’s talk board games!

-Luna 🙂

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Creating a Compelling RPG Villain

“Don’t talk like you’re one of them! You’re not… even if you’d like to be. To them you’re just a freak, like me. They need you right now, but when they don’t, they’ll cast you out. Like a leper. See, their morals, their “code”… it’s a bad joke, dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these “civilized people?” They’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.”

– Joker, “The Dark Knight”

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Godblood2It’s said that no one ever sees themselves as the villain, merely the hero of their own story. In the world of tabletop gaming, however, the heroes and villains tend to be rather distinguishable. Heroes wearing shining armor and stand for honor and virtue, while villains wear black and are covered in blood as they spout threats in a quest to destroy all life. Sympathy for the villain can be rare or so minor it becomes a nonfactor, and sometimes this is alright. However, when you create a story that may take months or even years to unravel, this black-and-white portrayal can seem a little bland and the adventure eventually redundant.

Every creative venue has methods for creating engaging protagonists and antagonists. There are countless books and videos detailing what makes a “great” novel or movie villain, but tabletop gaming is a different animal. Players aren’t just readers or spectators; they are active participants in the story. Every good campaign should have a strong force of opposition, whether it’s a large force or – more likely – a primary individual that must be stopped. The road to get to that end need not be a straight line, and below are a few suggestions on how to fashion a compelling and interesting villain against whom your heroes will do battle.

1. SECRET MOTIVES

In movies especially and novels to a lesser extent it is generally considered a good idea to present the motives, agenda, or at least affiliation of the antagonist fairly early on. This sets the stakes for the protagonists, plots their own goals, and helps compare and contrast the two forces. In the long-term pacing of tabletop gaming, however – in which players must piece together clues as they go – a good villain remains a mystery until the very end. If the evil Dragon King is set on destroying Goodville, you can bet the heroes will head for and make camp in Goodville for most of the campaign. They’d have no real reason to do otherwise.

Keeping players on their toes accomplishes two things simultaneously: it keeps the campaign from getting boring and it puts space between the heroes and the villain. A village on fire is certainly cause for concern and action on the part of the heroes, but was it intentional? Was it part of the villain’s plot? Is the fire merely a distraction as she maneuvers elsewhere? What secrets did she want to destroy with this fire? These are questions that make players think, and can turn even a simple plan of conquest into a far-reaching campaign of intrigue. In addition, having heroes investigate a burning town for clues and rumors allows the villain to continue on to her next task is relative safety, the fog of mystery becoming a smokescreen for her and her minions.

2. HINT OF HUMANITY

Building onthe “no one sees themselves as a villain” motif, a purely evil and destructive force – while certainly deadly – can become two-dimensional. Bringing even the slightest glimmer of humanity into the darkest heart can not only strengthen the character of the antagonist but throw your players into their own alignment quandaries. Maybe the villain saw his entire village burn down, and the authorities refused to help him. Maybe he had a loved one who left or died, fostering a deep sadness that soon became rage. Maybe he is cursed, and has no control of his actions. Maybe he is actually the unwitting servant of a greater evil. He could feel his actions are inevitable, and that redemption is impossible. Whether or not humanity wins out in the end, merely breaking the black-and-white mold may make some heroes second-guess their zealous quest to destroy them.

3. HONORABLE EVIL

Few things are as bewildering and alignment-challenging in an RPG as a villain who shows honor. This is a fantastic aspect in cultural campaigns such as Rokugan or Feudal Japan in which honor and dishonor replace typical notions of good and evil. An scorpion2honorable villain, though a bloodthirsty murder, could reach out to the heroes in a civil manner.

She could be honest in her plans and truthful in conversations, even if it’s at odds with the heroes. She could spare the lives of heroes who break into her abode, simply because she knows they were under orders to do so. She could congratulate the heroes on victories or even aid them against rivals. She could refuse to strike first and always greet the heroes unarmed until threatened.

Maybe the villain is actually in the right? What if the dark lord is the rightful ruler of the kingdom, even if he’s evil? What if the “good” King wrongfully accused and condemned the villain’s late sibling, prompting him to take up arms in retaliation? What if the Orcs were promised land, and when they weren’t granted the Chieftan waged war against the human squatters in his forest?

For heroes that are truly law-abiding and honor-focused, this can be a seriously difficult thing to deal with and makes for some very interesting encounters.

4. VILLAINS WIN, UNTIL THEY LOSE

A truly compelling and engaging antagonist always seems to be a step ahead. This can be difficult to balance, because too many losses can be frustrating or downright infuriating to the heroes. Tabletop gaming is an improvised art form, which allows for a unique opportunity to build up a villain as more crafty and ingenious than they actually are. The method for doing so is simple: you cheat.

Any situation, whether a victory or failure by the heroes, can be spun to be “part of the villain’s plan.” That village they liberated? They are secretly loyal to the antagonist, and once they leave the villain now has a stronger base than before. The random Orc patrol the heroes thought was a waste of time? They carried a powerful magical item that could’ve turned the tide of the war. The scrap of paper no one can translate? It’s now the password into the villain’s lair. While such spin-doctoring should be used sparingly, it can help build the dynamic that they are always playing into the villain’s hands – until the end, when the tables are turned.

A solid example is what I call the “Moriarty Effect.” It’s a classic dupe often perpetrated after the players fail to investigate something properly. For instance, a woman pleads for the heroes to find her children that ran into a dark cave. If no one bothers to roll for insight or check for illusions, suddenly that innocuous stranger could become the villain or her henchman in disguise – and a rather deadly secret is awaiting the heroes in that cave.

5. KILLING AN IDEAL

Drawing on real-world influences, one of the most seemingly impossible tasks facing the heroes is to combat an ideal. Villains can be killed. Beliefs are immortal. The villain could simply be the face of a culture, religion, social caste, or cult that is far-reaching and growing. Perhaps the villain champions a revolt against a king due to high taxes and an overreaching military. Suddenly the heroes must now contend with entire cities of like-minded civilians who see the heroes as villains themselves. Perhaps the Dark Priest is simply one leader out of countless throughout the world. Now the heroes must not only drop the Priest from destroying the land, but weed out the rest of the church as well. It is like a hydra, cutting off one head while two more take its place. Such conundrums prevent a relatively small or straightforward task (killing the villain) as the tip of the iceberg. The heroes must dig out the roots, or the felled tree will continue to regrow over and over.

OVERALL

Villains are vital to any campaign, and the stronger the antagonist the richer the campaign will be. While the story is important, without a compelling force to oppose the heroes their quest may well seem hollow.