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Getting Comfortable with RPGs

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Getting Comfortable with RPGs

So you’ve decided to get started with RPGs! Congratulations! Whether you’re getting ready to play your first session, or you’ve played a bit and you’d like some tips to feel more comfortable at the table, look no further. We’re going to give you a few basic suggestions to get you feeling more comfortable, and then one for those overachieving, extra credit types (like me).

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The Basics

1. Get familiar with the rules

There are a LOT of RPGs out there, and each one has different specifics. Dungeons and Dragonsa nd Pathfinder both use the same 5 attributes, but D&D uses different ability checks than Pathfinder. Vampire: the Masquerade uses a D10 base system. Overlight uses “tests” instead of ability checks. Whatever system you choose, when you decide you’re ready to start a new RPG system, make sure you take the time to familiarize yourself with the rules, game mechanics, and your character sheet. You should always feel comfortable asking questions at the table, and the people you play with should be willing to help you out, but the game will flow better, and you’ll feel more comfortable the more you prep. That doesn’t mean you have to read the entire rulebook cover to cover (Pathfinder 2E’s is 640 pages), but you should definitely check out specific chapters, chat with your game master (aka your GM), or watch some helpful videos to get you started.

 

2. Use the phrase “yes, and”

“Yes, and” is the very basis of improvisation, which is what RPGs essentially are: a very structured, longform improv. The idea is that when someone says something, you agree and then add to it.

The GM may say something like, “The local guard approaches your party. ‘Where were you all last night when the mayor’s daughter went missing?”

One player at the table thinks fast and replies, “We were at the pub, having a pint with friends!”

You can then add to that by yes, anding: “We won the drinking competition! That we invented, but that’s not the point. We are champions!”

Think about how many choices you’ve now given your team. They can now talk about how they did in the contest, who they competed against, what the contest was, and more. Now players have more to talk about to make your story believable (whether or not you’re lying to the guard). You’re saying “yes, we were at the pub, and here are some things we did”. It helps move the story forward faster than simply agreeing with your teammate, and it encourages you to make on-the-spot decisions that can lead to something funny, exciting, or influential about your character. You don’t have to literally say “yes, and,” but keep that phrase in mind as you play. 

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3. If you don’t say it, no one else knows

It’s easy to think of RPGs as a book you’re all writing together. But while in a book you get insight into a character’s thoughts and motivations that the rest of the characters don’t have, at the RPG table there is no way for the other players to know something about your character unless you tell them. Sure, in a book the normally timid character hauling off and punching the leader of a dogfighting ring made sense because we knew that he had a beloved pet as a child. Or perhaps that’s the moment in the book where we’re treated to the flashback. But if your character does that and then offers no explanation for it (maybe your character doesn’t trust their party with that information yet), the other players are just going to be left confused. It’s totally okay if you’re not ready to reveal parts of your backstory. But again, think about the clues a book will give you that a character is hiding something. Maybe afterwards you point out that your character clenches his fists, or tries to wipe his eyes without being noticed, or stares off into the distance when someone tries to talk to him. Show, don’t tell. It will make for a more interesting story. Remember, if you don’t let the players know your intention, there’s no other way for them to know.

4. It’s ok to mess up

Not only is it okay for you to mess up, you’re going to mess up. You’re going to flub a rule, or forget an ability, or make a choice you regret. It’s 100% okay. Everyone has done it. Literally. I feel pretty confident saying literally everyone who has played an RPG has messed up at some point. Join the club! The best thing to do is acknowledge it, fix it if you can, and move on. Don’t harp on it, don’t beat yourself up over it, and please don’t stop playing! 

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The Extra Credit

Take an improv class

This one sounds pretty intimidating to a lot of people. Isn’t improv just for actors? Not at all! Improv at its core is just practicing how to “yes, and”. Some people at the class will be actors, some may be people trying to get comfortable with public speaking, some may be teachers practicing thinking on the fly; there are a lot of reasons to take an improv class. Practicing for a role-playing game is an absolutely valid reason. You’ll probably play a lot of games that help you practice making big choices, listening to your scene partners, and thinking quickly. These are all skills that are indispensable for RPGs.

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 We say this is extra credit because it’s certainly not necessary in order to play an RPG. You’re already spending money on a rulebook, and dice (shiny dice!), and maybe minis, or playmats, or other accessories. But if you find that this is something you love, and you want to get better, definitely consider it. Then let us know how it went!

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5 Fun Cooperative Games to Play at your Next Game Night

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5 Fun Cooperative Games to Play at your Next Game Night

While it is certainly fun to leap from your chair, point at your friends and laugh in their face as you celebrate your victory, sometimes your friends don’t like that. Sometimes you want everyone to celebrate a victory, and you win or lose together. Here we have 5 fun cooperative games that are all about working together and being a team.

5 Minute Dungeon (Spinmaster Games)

This game is a cooperative, real-time dungeon delver. In order to defeat a monster, players must match symbols from their hand with ones on the monster’s card. At the end of each dungeon is a boss, and you can keep playing to defeat hard and harder bosses. There are ten heroes and the game plays up to five people, so there’s a lot of replayability built right in. Plus, it moves so quickly, you can get multiple playthroughs at once, or just use it as a palette-cleanser between bigger games. It’s easy to learn, plays quickly, and you’ll be working with your friends instead of against them like other real-time games. Its expansion: 5 Minute Dungeon: Curses, Foiled Again! releases this month. Definitely worth checking out.

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Legends of Andor (Kosmos)

Legends of Andor is an adventure game in which a band of heroes (you, the players) work together to defend a fantasy realm from invading hordes. You can play good guys or anti-heroes, humans or mythical creatures. Even the character cards are reversible so you can play as a male or female-identifying character. This is a cooperative game, but it doesn’t require tons of commitment, because it’s not a campaign the way a legacy game or an escape room game might be. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll appreciate how the game is so user friendly and helps teach you how to play the game as you play. (If you’re interested in different ways to learn to play a game, check out our article about that here) There are a LOT of expansions, and a lot of customizable options, so it’s a great choice for people to find a good game and stick to it.

 

Gloomhaven (Cephalofair Games)

If you haven’t heard of Gloomhaven you’ve been living under a rock, or you don’t play a lot of board games (in which case, welcome! Glad you’re here). It has been on the Board Game Geek Top 10 list every month for what feels like forever, and it has won tons of awards including the 2018 Origins Game of the Year award. This is NOT a light and easy game. This game has some heft, both in size and in gameplay. It has a lot of mechanics and a lot of minis. It’s awesome. You’ll be playing various campaigns as wandering adventurers forced to work together to survive, and your actions have consequences on the future of the game. It’s hard to summarize this monster of a game in less than a paragraph, but I will say if you don’t know anything about it, and you like Euro-style, complex games, but want something more, you’ll like Gloomhaven. Finally, if that’s not enough for you, its expansion, Forgotten Circles, was released this summer with 20 new scenarios and 7 new monster types. 

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The Mind (Pandasaurus Games): 

You know how close friends can kind of read each other’s minds? Want to put that to the test? In The Mind you and up to 3 other players will be trying to lay down cards in ascending number order without talking or otherwise communicating. It’s like that game you used to play in school where you had to line up by birthdays, but you couldn’t talk to each other. Well now you can’t gesture or grab and yank either! It’s all about just knowing what the other people are going to do. This game is highly-awarded, including a 2018 Spiel des Jahres nomination, a 2019 Origins Awards Best Card Game nomination, and the 2018 Golden Geek Best Cooperative Game winner. Find it at your FLGS!


Escape Games: Escape Tales (Board and Dice), EXIT the Game, Adventure Games (Kosmos) 

We’ve talked a bit about these types of games, and I’m about to do it again. These games are awesome. You get to hang out with your friends, problem-solve, make choices, and maybe roleplay, if your group are those types of players. Or even if you’re not. Tom from Kosmos said even he felt like he was getting into character when he played through Adventure Games. Some of these games can be played in one sitting, and others are so long and in-depth that you’ll want to break it up into multiple sessions. This is great for a single game night, or recurring; family gatherings or date night. And with certain games like Escape Tales and Adventure Games, they’re replayable! Some have different endings, some just allow you to take a different path to victory. So play it with different groups of people, and enjoy a different experience each time.

 

Which of these games do you want to try at your next game night? Have you played any of them before? Let us know in the comments!

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Different Ways to Learn a New Board Game

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Different Ways to Learn a New Board Game

Picture it: You’ve returned from your FLGS with a brand-new game that you’ve heard great things about (perhaps from Active Player Network?), you gather your friends for a game night, you present the game box magnificently upon the table… and no one has played the game before. Now, rather than a fun-filled 3-hour venture into a new game, it’s a confusing 3-hour slog through the rulebook with a lot of “no, wait” and “are you sure?” and “let me check”. Granted, even seasoned players have those moments, but too many at once can definitely affect table morale. 

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So how do you avoid this? Ideally, someone at the table already knows how to play the game. But how do you learn a new game? Do you read the rulebook? Do you watch a video? Do you learn by playing? And do you have friends that learn differently than you do? That could be because of Multiple Intelligences, which is a learning theory created by Dr. Howard Gardner in 1983 and is used a lot in schools to advocate for different teaching styles.

 

Long story short, different people learn differently, and knowing how you learn best can help you both in the classroom and in life. the 8 intelligences are: Linguistic (word), Spatial (visual), Interpersonal (people and interactions), Intrapersonal (self-awareness), Logical-mathematical (numbers/reasoning), Bodily-Kinesthetic (body awareness), Musical (music), and Naturalist (nature).

 

I could do a whole other article about different games that highlight these different intelligences (and perhaps I shall!) but for now we’re going to focus on how knowing how you learn in general can affect how you learn to play a new game. Some of these don’t really apply (I mean, I guess you could just go play the game outside for those Nature-inclined learners), but I’ll be covering as many as I can.

 

Verbal learners: Read the rule book

This one is the most traditional way of learning a game. You open the box, pick up that rulebook, read it cover to cover and emerge victorious and ready to play. Seeing everything laid out in front of you step-by-step with the designer’s words and intentions can be super helpful, and it serves as a great reference if there is ever a question while playing. Publishers have gotten so good at condensing their rules to something as concise as possible, so even the heavy euro games aren’t a slog to read anymore.

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Visual/Spatial learners: Watch a How to Play video

Visual learners around the world rejoiced when YouTube How to Play videos began emerging. From what board set up looks like, to seeing how a turn plays out, or just being able to follow along with the video. How to Play videos are like having someone teach you only they’re not in the room. And you can’t ask questions. For that you have to turn to…

 

Interpersonal learners: Have Someone Teach You

This is the go-to method for game nights. Someone comes in with a game they love, and then they have to wrangle everyone’s rapidly shortening attention spans long enough to teach it. People who teach others to play board games are saints, so if you’re someone who learns well by being taught, be sure to thank your teacher.

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Kinethsetic learners: Learn While Playing

You have to touch the pieces to remember what they do. You have to perform the actions to understand how they work. Kinesthetic learners are a bit rarer, but they’re definitely out there, and they can find themselves the most frustrated when being talked at or trying to read a new game.  These learners do best with a trial game first, just a few rounds to get the feel of everything and test actions without consequence. Then you can go back and start the game for real.

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If you have trouble learning a new game, maybe you aren’t leaning into your learning style. Try changing it up and see if a different way to learn eases that frustration.

 

If you already know what your best way to learn a new game is, let us know in the comments!

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Great Games for the 4th of July

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Great Games for the 4th of July

Hey Active Players! The Fourth of July is upon us, and you know what that means: America gets to get even more America-y. Barbecues, fireworks, and the tradition of throwing tea in the swimming pool. Was that last one just me? Anyway! Any holiday is a holiday for gaming, so here are 5 games with a focus on American history!

 

Century: A New World- Plan B Games

The last installment of Century from Plan B Games takes place in the Americas where you are exploring frontiers, interacting and trading with locals, and establishing trade houses. It’s an awesome worker placement game with a twist, a fantastic theme, and a lot of expansion opportunities and replayability when combined with the other Century games.

 

 

Axis and Allies- Wizards of the Coast

You’ve almost definitely heard of this one. It’s like Risk, but more complicated, and more rewarding. You’re playing as a country involved in World War II (of which the US is one) and your goal is to get your team to control the necessary amount of cities across the globe. This was one of the first strategy games ever made and it is definitely not for the new gamer. The board is as big as the rules, and it is a very cool board indeed. 

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Freedom: The Underground Railroad- Academy Games

The goal of this game is to move as many slaves as possible out of America and into Canada. Heavy stuff, there’s no doubt about that. But sometimes games are a great way to address hard topics. This was a huge part of American history that can’t be ignored just because it makes people uncomfortable. This is a fantastic game to use in a small group in a classroom (or homeschooling) both because it includes a lot of historical events and persons, and because it creates a discussion amongst players. This is a great game for families with pre-teen or teenage children for the same reason. 

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Superfight: The History Deck- Skybound Entertainment

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And now for something completely different. Let’s yell at each other over which historical figures would win in a fight: Alexander Hamilton riding an armored bear versus Andrew Carnegie who breathes fire! That’s it: that’s the whole game. Argue with your opponent about why you’re right, and let the other players choose the winner. This expansion also includes blue location cards (in case you want to fight at the Grand Canyon) or purple attributes which are a requirement to use. Nothing says America like yelling about how right you are; so embrace it and get to fighting!

 

Marvel: Legendary Deck Building Game (Specifically the Captain American 75th Anniversary Expansion) - Upper Deck

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The star-spangled man with a plan wants YOU to save the world! Legendary is a deck-building game with a very strong theme and tons of expansions. It’s a great choice for fans of Marvel, fans of deck-builders, and fans of cooperative games. And it’s Captain AMERICA so you have to play it on the 4th of July, right??

 

Will any of you be playing games on this holiday weekend? Comment and let us know!

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Happy Pride Month, Active Players!

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Happy Pride Month, Active Players!

Happy Pride Month, Active Players!

 Queer representation in the gaming community has always been significant, and in a lot of ways, this seems natural. Like people who are LGBTQ+, people who game feel that they are just outside of society’s “accepted” view (though to our credit this is changing), and gamers find community together through FLGS, online communities, and conventions. And of course, manymany people who game also identify as LGBTQ+, and the combination of these two communities means a safe space for people to be who they are without fear or intimidation. Both communities talk greatly about chosen families, and that really speaks to the depth of love and acceptance we find together. Naturally, with more and more LGBTQ+ individuals not only playing games but making games, we’ve seen an encouraging increase in representation within the games we play.

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RPGs have really been leading the way, with both player characters and NPCs providing a much-needed amount of diversity. Here you can find a list of 50 LGBTQ+ characters in Pathfinder. I recently finished DMing Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and the scripted NPC characters included a gender-neutral elf, a same-sex genasi couple (male in the book, changed to female in my campaign to include more female representation as well), and a trans drow. Both homebrew and official campaigns are becoming more and more inclusive, and as they should be. We’ve got worlds with magic, spaceships, shapeshifters, and fey. It’s not like you can say a queer character would be “unrealistic”. The question that seems to be on people’s minds is “Why not? If being cishet isn’t integral to this character’s story, why not write them as something else?” And in that way we are seeing a wonderful increase in both flat and round characters (“flat” meaning just-here-to-drop-a-quest-and-then-I’m-out, “round” meaning dynamic characters with growth and character arcs) that are just as representative and diverse as the world we live in. 

It is admittedly a bit harder to include LGBTQ+ representation in board games because a lot of times the characters just aren’t as well developed, if they are true “characters” at all. For example, in Hanabi, you play “absent minded firework manufacturers,” but no more is said about your characters, in Tsuro, you’re abstract pieces of stone on a path, and in Sushi Go! you’re just you. There is nowhere to include representation because who you’re playing just isn’t important to the game! But for all of those examples, there are certainly times where character identity is a vital part of the game, giving you different abilities, stats, jobs, etc. Sometimes you get to flesh it out yourself and create your own character, so including representation is easy, like in Betrayal: Legacywhere each game you’re playing another member of a family through generations.  However, there’s no reason that when characters are laid out for you that game developers can’t include LGBTQ+ representation. Like in the original Betrayal at House on the Hill, there could be a mention that Flash Williams has a crush on a boy in his class. I have seen the argument that in Pandemic, the Dispatcher represents a trans person through both the gender-neutral character design and the pink totem matching the shade of pink in the trans flag. Why not? It hurts no one and helps everyone who longs to see themselves represented in the games they play. Fog of Love has two alternate covers for same-sex couples. Sentinels of the Multiverse contain several LGBTQ+ characters, as noted in their bios. We’ve come a long way but we can always go further. It’s up to us as gamers to insist we go further. 

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For more information check out Tabletop Gaymers, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to address homophobia in the tabletop gaming community; I Need Diverse Games, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing awareness to diverse games, game designers, and intersectionality; this list of queer tabletop resources; APN’s feature on the PAX Diversity Lounge that exists at every PAX event and, of course, check with your FLGS to see if they offer any LGBTQ+ game nights or events (and if they don’t you should tell them to).

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