Barbarians at the Table: Exploring Hack and Slash Gaming

Gaming is a form of escapism. A way to leave the dull confines of our day jobs, school and life in general. Even though we humans have conquered disease, viruses, mass genocide (in a significant portion of the world) and our own madness, we still desire to leave behind our boring lives and explore. It is our unbridled lust for exploration of new places and desires to act out our inhibitions that powers the gaming movement.Gaming has swept the modern world, even putting other forms of entertainment to shame. We humans desire to hack and slash. We want control over our world and to rule ourselves by the sword.

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It is when we escape through gaming that we often “do” things we normally would not even consider in our modern society. Acts of power and violence are tossed around as we delve deep into the game we want to explore. We do not hold back from pickpocketing the town guard. Our trigger finger is ready to blow apart Stormtroopers, Nazis and the nearest obstacle in our way. In Table-Top fantasy games we often slaughter wholesale orcs and trolls without a care for consequences. It is this, shoot first and ask questions later many game masters have a problem with. The barbarians are at the table and ready to play. Can you game master with people whose primal instincts are in full swing?

We will explore in this article several reasons why we should entertain these barbarous gamers. Also we will look at the dark side of humanity, shunned, but still there in all of us. In our last few paragraphs we will explore ideas on how to incorporate consequences and alternatives for our barbarian gamer friends.

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Artwork by Frank Frazetta

Noted psychiatrist Carl Jung spoke about “the shadow” in each and every person. This is something we deny exists in ourselves and we project on others. It can take on a life of its own called “The Other”. Anthropologist have found in every culture we humans portray some very dark elements. This list includes

 

  • Aggression and Proscribed Violence
  • Jealousy
  • Lies and Manipulation
  • Shame

 

The Greeks had a term for outsiders and people who acted primarily on the dark side of their nature, barbaros “barbarian” which is an antonym of the word polites or citizen. Often Greeks would hurl insults at each other with this term. We can see the barbaric nature of man is in all of us. Yet we strive to be good citizens, not giving in to our dark nature. But early man could not survive without these traits.

It is therefore good for humans to explore the dark side of their nature. You cannot know what to resist if you have no idea what you are resisting. Our highly civilized society has no room for random acts of aggression that lie within all of us. But growing up we find no outlet for our dark selves. Gone are the days of playing cops and robbers in the neighborhood. Gaming, can and should be used as a healthy, modern outlet to explore the dark nature of man and ourselves.

Game Masters should entertain tabletop barbarians for several reasons.

 

  1. It is a healthy outlet and exploration of the dark part of our nature.
  2. Our better selves can know what these acts feel like without actually performing them in real society.
  3. Healthy role-play of different personalities leads to empathy.

 

The last part must be emphasized. In order for us to be great citizens of the country we belong to, we must learn to practice empathy. What is empathy?

Noun: The ability to understand and share the feelings of others.

It comes from two Greek words, em- in and pathos –feeling.

Why do we need more empathy?

So we can understand each other and live in a civilized society. You can find a great article about empathy here.

While it is good to understand our dark nature, it is not good to have players run around without any consequence of their actions for many sessions. We are creatures of habit and game masters who constantly allow for players to do what they please without consequence miss a great opportunity for exploring our inner selves.

Just as in real life, if we rob a liquor store, we should expect jail time. In our table-top role-playing games we should allow consequences to happen. Players who go into a dungeon, kill all the orcs and leave with the loot should know there will be reprisal. The orcs should have relatives and clans with kin. They will be looking for blood. Also if the orcs robbed the dungeon from someone else, like a necromancer, this necromancer will come back to get his gold. This can be played off as cursed gold, marked by the necromancer and it allows the party to be tracked. The entire point is, make sure actions have consequences. This way you can show all sides of a player’s actions. Too often we get into a kill zone and just play out a slaughter-fest. If this is what you intend, then by all means go for it. But if you want your games to impact a player’s life, bring consequences into the game.

Another area to explore while delving into our dark selves is our ability to care about others. Motivating new players to care about their actions goes with consequences. Often we think still in family terms and keep our ideas about who counts as family at a tribal level. Give players a tribe to belong to. Even if it is a society of misfit adventurers it gives a sense of belonging. Often the dwarf berserker will not care about the elf minstrel. If the dwarf berserker joined a league with the elf whose uncle is a necromancer, that will give some reason for the dwarf to care about his elf friend. Bringing family and friend groups into a game raises the whole role-playing session to another level. It helps us practice empathy and find reasons to practice caring.

We all have a barbarian lurking inside of us. Denying this will not vanquish the dark part of our nature. It is healthy to explore this aspect of us through table-top games. The theater of the mind is a great simulator of life. With the right game master and players, a collaborative environment of storytelling and exploration can commence in a simulated place. Do not worry about new players smashing through everything. Encourage them to feel comfortable in their role and allow for them to explore who they are role-playing. Without this discovery within table-top games we cannot grow as mature, empathetic beings. Role-playing games can be a great way to create bright, empathetic citizens of our world.

 

 

Character Death

The Heavy Metal GM

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Photo credit to Motifake.com

It’s a showdown with a big adversary you have been chasing for a time, and they brought A LOT of their friends with them. Their friends are a bit whimpy so you leave’em to the magic casters, no problem. You run up to them to strike at the only opening you can see, and WHAM! They blast you with an unexpected fireball leaving you at… oh, no… NEGATIVE HALF MY HIT POINTS?! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

Character death can be traumatic at times but it can be very refreshing too. This is going to be a blend between talking about the 13th Age rules for character death and general advice on how to handle this on either side of the screen. Let’s get to it, shall we?

Simplicity! It’s what this game lives for, right? No difference here. For your character to be dead, he/she has to reach negative…

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Lack of Productivity

The Heavy Metal GM

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Hey all…

So this week has been a drag for writing. Ever since I went to that Underoath concert last Sunday, I had what I thought was allergies and now has developed into a full fledged cold. Going to an Amon Amarth show the Saturday that followed… well… that certainly didn’t do me any good either. I’m hacking up a lung while typing this and needless to say, I’m not in my happy place.

Being a bit of a whimp when it comes to being sick, I have had a total lack of creativity and drive to do much of anything. Just last night though, I did play a game with Richard Leon, a fruit of his own creation, called New Gods of Mankind. Pretty fun system and if you haven’t checked out his page, I do recommend it for sure.

Other than that, I’m not exactly sure when…

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The Red Woman: Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 1 Recap

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The Red Woman gave a solid start to season 6, setting the mood for the series with an ample dose of cunning, death, and mystery. It acted as a brief catch-up with a few of our favourite characters, as we joined the episode only moments after the shocking events of the season five finale.

In classic Game of Thrones style, the episode posed far more questions than it answered, and the writers have made it clear from the offset that this season is not going to be an easy ride.

Warning: the night is dark and full of spoilers (as is the rest of this article, so please don’t read ahead unless you’ve already watched the episode).

melisandre-spoilers.gifFans who expected to see the season open with the rumoured “Tower of Joy” flashback may have been disappointed, but their complaints were quickly silenced when the episode took us directly to Jon Snow’s…

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International Table-Top Day April 30th!

Ladies, Gentlemen, Gamers of All Ages,

April 30th is a special day set aside for Table-Top games. Come and get your game on at one of many marked and unmarked locations. Everything from Board Games, Card Games to Table-Top RPG games will be covered. Just about every game store will be doing something for that day. If you are looking for an international location participating with Geek and Sundry’s Table-Top Day you can click on this link here.

Geek and Sundry will be live broadcasting on their website. You can hit their Twitch Feed here. For more information on Geek and Sundry, go here.

Why do we need such a day?

So we can celebrate a hobby that unites the world in game. For one day millions of gamers will rise up and role dice, drop cards, move tokens, place miniatures and flip through rules. It is a day to wave your geek flag high. If you love games, it is nice to have a special day set aside for Table-Top RPGs.

This blog and the writer has his own personal reasons to love this day.

New Gods of Mankind

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Check out the full line of PDFs for your next table-top game on RPGnow and find our new sets on Roll 20. We have a free sample PDF you can download now here.

If you have no friends nearby to game with, just log into Roll 20 or Fantasy Grounds and find a group.

5 Reasons You Should Be Watching Game of Thrones

Unless you hid in a cave or buried yourself on purpose you heard of Game of Thrones. With a huge fan base and a 9.5 rating on IMDB it is hard to deny this behemoth TV series. Even with great reviews, millions of unenlightened persons living on earth still have not seen this series. Possible you know a close relative, coworker or even yourself might fall into this group of unconverted viewers. This could be due to lack of interest in fantasy or a dislike for all the graphic blood and sex scenes. Still if you are holding out for a reason why you should be watching Game of Thrones, here are five reasons why.

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A well written series of books. George R.R. Martin delivers some of the best fantasy fiction to date on this show. If you read books, this should be in your collection. If it isn’t then you must look in the mirror to see if you are still human. If you look at all of the awards George has won you can see all five novels for A Song of Ice and Fire received nominations or win awards. The TV show based on this aforementioned book series deserves all the praises it gets. Currently Mr. Martin’s series is the fourth bestselling fantasy series of all time with over 58 million books. Only C.S. Lewi J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling hold higher all time sales.

 

According to the Los Angeles Times:

 

“Martin’s brilliance in evoking atmosphere through description is an enduring hallmark of his fiction, the settings much more than just props on a painted stage.”

 

Let us be clear. The show is excellent and SO ARE THE BOOKS. Yes some details changed. But you are translating a device called a book into a totally different format for consumption. No, you do not have to be a reader to enjoy the TV show. That is why they made the show. But if you read, then your eyeballs need to sink down into the words and see what is truly going on in George’s head.

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Excellent actors and casts. Currently the show and its cast have over 510 total nominations on various award shows with 86 of them being Emmy nominations. The critical praise and support alone should tell you something. Peter Dinklage holds 35 nominations and eight awards including Outstanding Support Actor in a Drama series TWICE. Other actors such as Emilia Clarke, Maisie Williams and Lena Headey all took home awards in various categories. Watching these actors deliver their lines is a treat alone. But a treat reserved for people who watch the show. Fans of the book watch with awe as their characters leap to life. You could too if you subscribed to HBO. Their character portrayals are unlike any other TV or movie series to date.

 

The most infamous character on the show is Tyrion Lannister. A noble dwarf, shunned by his peers from birth, he seethes with rage at the world and uses his wits and desires to overcome his foes. One scene from season one stands out to this day, illuminating the character and his philosophy.

 

“Never forget what you are, the rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor and it can never be used to hurt you.”

 

And this line here.

 

“A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.”

 

As the show progresses, Tyrion’s part in the game shifts from whoring nobleman to a loftier position under the king. By season 4 he goes on trial for his life and his best speech comes out of him. This line below burns right through you like a fiery pepper.

 

“I wish I was the monster you think I am! I wish I had enough poison for the whole pack of you! I would gladly give my life to watch you all swallow it!”

 

The casting directors deserve all the praise for bringing such a talented cast together. The cast make the series what it is. And you must watch it to find out.

 

Great suspense. If you are a fan of suspense and intrigue, this show has it in spades The twisting plots stem from the prose of George R.R. Martin. So if you want to read his books and cannot stand the idea of hot sauce on your food, maybe you should go read Harry Potter again. The writers and cast do an excellent job bringing George’s special spicy dish to HBO. Walking Dead, another show you should watch, also has its own spices that might be too hot for some viewers. Both shows deliver an air of ambiguity towards the life expectancy of each character. It is this dangling on a thread of fate which packs the potent punch of suspense. Anyone can and possibly will meet a horrible fate. Some fans decry several plots twists in the show such as Eddard Stark’s Fate and The Red Wedding.

 

A show with gritty realism needs to have this suspenseful atmosphere. No character is truly sacred. Even main characters such as Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow could meet a cruel fate. We all want to know what happens now with Season 6 upon us. Go get caught up now on HBO Go.

 

Fantastic special effects. This show relies more on its drama and acting than special effects. But sometimes you need a dragon, an undead army or even a giant! This show would not reach its lofty heights of adoration without an excellent feast for the eyes. This Game of Thrones team won several Emmys including Sound Editing, Sound Mixing and Special Visual Effects in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. They also won several awards with the Visual Effects Society. If you are not convinced, check out this awesome scene of the Undead Army fighting the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch in Season 5 Episode 8.

 

 

Now you should be hungry for more GoT.

 

If you are still not convinced to watch this show then here is the sixth and final reason.

 

It is a show about the human condition. Game of Thrones earned its popularity because the show does not hold back on the graphic, sometimes barbaric nature of humanity. People die in droves. Treachery broods in the hearts of over 90% of the characters. Humans are complex, dramatic creatures, not following a script but moving randomly through life. Often we follow our passions and go where we must, at the cost of many things we love. Letting go of the past is painful and this show brings the drama to life. George R.R. Martin’s prose draws heavily from the patron saint of theater, William Shakespeare. We find love, hate, revenge and betrayal running rampant through the show. Sometimes the show gets ugly, but we cannot look away. To turn your head from the horrors of this show makes you question how human you are. We all suffer and go through highs and lows in life. This show shows that often we have to bring our own meaning to life. We must give our word and keep it.

 

Now you have tasted some of George’s Special Recipe for making awesome, memorable stories. If you are sitting around, bored and want magic in your life, rent Seasons 1-5 on DVD, or online. Do not skip around and start with season 2 or any other episode. Head straight for season 1 episode 1, turn off the lights, get some popcorn and watch the magic of Westeros unfold.

How to be yourself.

Thinkdigest

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To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment. __Ralph Waldo Emerson

Spider Man, Batman, The Red power Ranger, Green Lantern, Flash, Superman, Ben10, and X-men Did those names ring a bell? We all wanted to be this… Or that… that sometimes, we forget to be ourselves.
As a mater of fact, Since the time we were very young, we begin to experiment with a variety of different identities. Because we are impressionable. It is only natural that we try out new versions of ourselves at fairly regular intervals. The less inhibited we are, the more readily we will try to imitate whatever appeals to is at the moment. At that, we still tend to want to be like people we truly admire (me included I wanted to be superman, flash). I only wonder who the people we want to…

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Ironman – Joseph Campbell’s 12 stages of a hero’s journey

Awesome summary of Iron Man following the Joseph Campbell Hero Journey here.

My blog Is better than Sean's

Ironman is a 2008 blockbuster based on the Marvel Comics superhero of the same name. It stars Robert Downey Jr,Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges. Tony Stark, (Robert Downey Jr), an industrialist, playboy, billionaire and master engineer builds a technologically advanced super suit and becomes the superhero known as Ironman. This film is the perfect example of Joseph Campbell’s 12 stages of a hero’s journey and in this post i shall go through each step and how it relates to the action packed blockbuster.

1. Ordinary World.

The movie starts off showing Tony Stark on a business trip (so to speak) in Afghanistan with the United States Army, showing us the normal world of which Stark is accustomed to. In this scene we are given an insight into the character of Stark, his textbook narcissism and his flamboyant public image.

2. The Call to Adventure.

Stark is captured and held…

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How to Recover Your Creativity

Additional thoughts on recovering creativity. Worth a look for any writer.

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Dear creators: there will be days when you’ll wake up so inspired and so full to the brim with ideas that there simply isn’t enough time in the day to get them all down on paper. Those are the best kind of days. But then there are other days, days when you can’t bring yourself to type a single word, draw a single line, or imagine a single idea. These days are the enemy of any creator.

“Writer’s block” is a well-known problem for authors, but they’re not the only type of creator who can find themselves in a creative slump. YouTubers, visual artists, podcasters, gamemasters, poets, designers, bloggers: we all have those days. And that’s just something that comes with the territory.

But sometimes these days can stretch on for too long. While it’s healthy to take a break from creating, and not to push yourself when you don’t…

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Actualizing Antagonists and Villains

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Creating memorable antagonists, be they heroes, events or villains, anchors your game or story with a personality. A foe in direct conflict with the players. Dungeons and bosses, storms and rivals vie for the chance to put an end to your player’s current state of livelihood. Often building an implementing such a fiendish creation requires much time and preparation. After creating a tavern and quest plot, this should be the main focus of any game master. When you create an antagonist, you should keep in mind their looks, personality, motivations, ties to the players (direct or indirect) and flash. This applies not just to evil liches, but a paladin from a rival order, a dungeon keep belonging to a dead uncle or a huge blizzard filled with horrible creatures.

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“The steam slowly showed her form incarnate within the Celestial Garden. A serpentine dragon, with folded wings and long sinuous arms and legs looked back at her. Beautiful, iridescent aquamarine scales covered her body, capturing the sunset’s eternal light here. Dark, electric plum eyes stared back at her with yellow slits, brimming with fire. Delicate fronds covered her long neck made of silver blue. Her long snout held a perfect symmetry and her two prominent fangs rested on her lower jaw slightly. Deep blue claws covered in an iridescent coating retracted and expanded. Draax knew her beauty for this meeting could not be matched. She worked hard preparing for each god and their personality. Her quips and barbs matched the temperament and mood of each dragon. Often she spent seasons having internal arguments, playing Fate, playing the role of one of her rivals, twisting logic, making sure everything, every thought was covered.

 Draax had nothing to lose and everything to gain at this meeting.” (Dragon Gods Rising A novel I am currently editing)

The physical description of the main antagonist must be accurate, detailed and evoke a response from your characters. Too often a storyteller will just describe the highlighted main bad guy as “a tall person dressed in black armor wielding a great sword.” Or a huge dungeon sprawling across the underbelly of a city. Color in your antagonist with feelings you want to illicit from your audience. Each color contains a lot of deep meaning. You can find a whole chart of emotions attached to colors here. I recommend throwing in the color red, orange or yellow somewhere, even if it is small. Make sure the personality you give matches the description you are about to relay to your players.

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Creating a personality for your antagonist often involves going into dark territory. Fear and hatred often come up along with greed and lust. If you want more information on dark personality traits go here. Even the most armored saint like paladin will show some type of negative trait which they try and justify. Objects and events can have personality as well. This should tie directly to the emotional reaction your party will have towards the event. This reactions colors the personality of the event or object.

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Motivations often come into play when dealing with main antagonists. Game masters should lists the goals of their main antagonists and ensure they are marching towards them in every game session. This allows the game to be more dynamic and not so player centered (although the players are the stars of the show, but the world must continue to grow and revolve). When you seek to give your antagonist a goal, make sure it is one many people will oppose. This will create the conflict needed to create interesting drama. An excellent article breaking down motivations lies here.

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Tying the characters to the antagonists can take your story to the next level. The scorned, necromantic uncle creating an army of undead can fuel many hours of game time. Giving your characters a personal stake in the game allows for players to follow the given plot course without railroading. This is important as too often players will complain of game masters ‘forcing’ them to do a dungeon. Sometimes even an indirect motivation helps. Let us say the necromancer is not related to any of the party, but has a need to destroy a town in which a player’s aunt lives in. Again this ties the players into the plot. Feel free to experiment with this but be careful of player’s emotional responses. Storytellers walk a fine line here.

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The final topping on this antagonist dessert is flash. Flash means an invoked magical, technological or appointed special use of an object, clothing, weapon or spell. This ties in to description but deserves its own special paragraph. Often one can remember a foe by the way they carried their beautiful dragon emblem sword. Or maybe a rival wizard loves to shoot dark purple fireballs that explode with a hellish screech. Maybe the cloak a paladin wears is corrupting the otherwise virtuous paladin and now has latched on with a life of its own. Do your best to create a dazzling idea your players will not forget.

Creating a memorable story is the goal of any game master or writer. Take care in creating your antagonist and you will be over halfway to creating a fun night filled with conflict and challenges. Feel free to send over your ideas for an antagonist to share with everyone.