First things first: I hope you like the new banner. I figured some combination of how I’ve spent my life and how I spend my time works: all the money went into the “Dr.,” and all the time goes into the “DM.” Cue sad, droning music from Schindler’s List. Now, onto today’s topic.
In about twenty-four days, Rett, Justin, and I will be sojourning north to Bean Town to witness quite possibly the greatest thing that will ever happen to us: a large congregation of intelligent people proving they’re intelligent by talking about intelligent stuff… like, um, you know, uh, video games and stuff. IN ALL SERIOUSNESS, though, PAX East is going to be a riot. As the resident table-top guy, I am excited to note the inclusion of many panels at the expo that concern live gaming and RPGs. I thought I’d give a little preview of the panels as well as my extremely valuable thoughts* on each. As the expo is pretty huge, I’ll split this post up over two weeks to give you the full flavor.
1) PAX East 2010 Keynote
Best known for his role as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek The Next Generation and Gordie in Stand by Me, Wil Wheaton has since become one of the most prominent and vocal bloggers of our culture with topics ranging from his personal growth as a geek, to Star Trek, to naturally gaming. We are super excited to have Wil present the very first PAX East keynote. It’s going to be awesome.
Okay so, this doesn’t necessarily have to do with gaming, but Wheaton games with the boys from Penny Arcade, and I have all relevant appendages crossed that he highlights some information about what an EPICALLY amazing experience this has to be. Subsequently, I hope Gabe and Tycho let us know what gaming with a straight pimp like Wesley Crusher is like.
2) Design an RPG in an Hour
We’re making a pen and paper RPG, and you’re invited to the design meeting! During the panel, you’ll address the problem-solving and analytical questions required to design a successful game. During the discussion, we’ll cover the basics of game theory and how to outline, centered around an example you’re participating in.
Panelists Include: David Hill [Game Designer, Machine Age Productions], Filamena Young [Game Writer, Machine Age Productions]
So, game design is definitely something that intrigues me. I feel that once any DM or player goes “beyond the Matrix” he or she can truly understand why and how a game functions and why some nagging rules are the way they are. Gonna hit this one up like it’s mah job.
3) Storytelling in the World of Interactive Fiction
Text adventures have been quietly experimenting with narrative gaming for thirty years. Five authors from the amateur interactive fiction community discuss the design ideas in their games — reordered storylines, unreliable narrators, deeply responsive NPCs — and how they apply to other kinds of games.
Panelists Include: J. Robinson Wheeler [JRW Digital Media], Robb Sherwin, Aaron Reed, Emily Short, Andrew Plotkin
As a DM who relies heavily on storytelling in his campaigns, I feel this panel will serve me well. It can become a chore to round out every damn NPC in the game, but as someone who thrives on rich storytelling, I simply have to have these types of characters. And the “unreliable narrator” facet is one that makes me salivate more than the rest: the amount of stock we place in a narrator is staggering and so completely counter-intuitive to human nature. “Oh hello person I’ve NEVER MET before; sure, I’ll listen to your tale and believe it one-hundred percent! Hey look a dagger! My arm is its sheath! STABBY!” Gah.
4) Beyond Dungeons & Dragons
D&D is a great way to get into tabletop role playing games, and for most of us, it was our first foray into that world. As classic and dear to us as it is, however, it has certain limitations, some of which are surprisingly non-obvious. If D&D was your first step, then we’re here to give you your next. You’ve probably never heard of Dogs in the Vineyard, InSpectres, The Burning Wheel, or a whole host of other amazing games, but there is in fact an “indy” role playing game scene just as thriving and strange as with videogames. Broaden your gaming horizons, flex your role-playing muscles, and learn what comes after.
Panelists Include: Brandon “Rym” DeCoster [Producer, GeekNights], Scott Rubin [Host, GeekNights]
I am so very happy this panel exists at PAX East this year. While D&D is definitely my bread and butter, I must play other RPGs in order to satisfy my insatiable thirst for table top gaming. I can’t seem to ever get enough and would love it if every night was filled with RPG madness; other titles, especially the “indie” titles that this panel will expose, fascinate me with their complications and improvements on the paved road that Gygax started forty years ago (see: amazed that it’s forty years old). In fact, I’m playing a Paranoia
one-shot in a week or two and am chomping at the bit to play… mainly because it’s like the card game Mao, in which you can’t know the rules going into it your first time.
5) Movie: The Dungeon Masters
An evil drow-elf is displaced by Hurricane Katrina. A sanitation worker lures friends into a Sphere of Annihilation. A failed supervillian starts a cable access show involving ninjas, puppets, and a cooking segment. These are the characters, real and imagined, of the new documentary film “The Dungeon Masters”: Against the backdrop of crumbling middle-class America, two men and one woman devote their lives to Dungeons and Dragons, the storied role-playing game, and its various descendants. As their baroque fantasies clash with real lives, the characters find it increasingly difficult to allay their fear, loneliness, and disappointment with the game’s imaginary triumphs. Soon the true heroic act of each character’s real life emerges, and the film follows each as he or she summons the courage to face it. Along the way, The Dungeon Masters reimagines the tropes of classic heroic cinema, creating an intimate portrait of minor struggles and triumphs writ large. The film was an official selection at the Toronto, South by Southwest, and AFI film festivals; it’s the second feature from director Keven McAlester(nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for his first film, “You’re Gonna Miss Me”), features stunning cinematography by Lee Daniel (“Slacker,” “Dazed and Confused,” “Fast Food Nation”), and boasts a haunting score by the acclaimed New York band Blonde Redhead.
I honestly don’t know what to feel. The description simultaneously elates and horrifies me. More to come later.
*The thoughts of Dr. DM are equivalent to roughly one-one-millionth of a Turkish lire.