Episode 97 – Gen Con 2013

Gen Con LolthWell, we actually managed to do it!  We got half of the Monkeys to Gen Con 2013 to represent the podcast, and not only was it “The best four days in gaming,” it was likely to be the best four days of the entire year!  Matt and Robert packed up their dice, grabbed all their cash, and shipped out some recording equipment to bring the MITC community a special episode straight from Gen Con, complete with special guests and fellow gamers Kevin and Sarah Smith!  So, butch up on your 80’s action flicks, make some room in your luggage, and prepare for a whole shuttle full of teh awesome as you get ready to listen to a brand new, limited edition, foil wrapped episode of Monkey in the Cage!

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Episode 80 – What’s in Your Closet?

skeletons-in-your-closet-demotivational-poster

If you’re a gamer and a geek, then undoubtedly you’ve amassed a grand collection of wondrous treasures, from boxes and books to cartridges and discs.  While some of these items may be considered mundane or even relics of geek ages long past, we all know that it goes against our very nature to part with such great gifts of enjoyment, even if we’ve never taken the shrink wrap off yet!  Join us this week as we delve into our geek closets and discuss games of all types – purchased, played, and otherwise.  Clear off the table, charge up those controllers, and for God’s sake read some damn instructions as you prepare for a brand new episode of Monkey in the Cage!

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Episode 43 – Uncaged Part 2

It’s that time again!  We like to keep it fresh, so it’s time for round two of our monthly uncaged episode.  What’s our topic?  We don’t have one!  What are we talking about?  That’s a surprise!  Are you going to enjoy what your hear?  Abso-farking-lutley!!  Join us this week as we talk about whatever the hell we want as well as fielding the burning questions from our loyal Monkey Lovers out there.  Do some ab exercises, get that bikini wax, and be sure to go crazy with the spray tan because it’s about to get wild and crazy up in here on an all new summer time bonanza episode of Monkey in the Cage!

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GMing INCEPTION: A GM’s Paradise is a PC’s Purgatory and Vice Versa – Part 1

With Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight Rises coming out this year, I can’t help but think of another one of Nolan’s films adapted into a game.  When my wife and I saw Inception the first time, we were both blown away.  Between the writing, the acting, the score and the directing, it has been, for us, hands down one of the best and most complete films either of us have ever seen.  On top of the film being incredible, the gamer in me sat through the film completely intrigued as to how best to translate the ideas presented in the film into the d20 setting.

Writing for an Extraction/Inception scenario as either a one-shot adventure, a side-trek or a full-blown campaign could potentially be the greatest risk/reward endeavor a GM could pursue.  As I’ve said in earlier posts, the greatest challenge a GM faces is the ability to sell the game world to the Players.  Once you start throwing multiple dream layers, architects, kicks and the compounded time differential experienced in subsequent dreams, you better damn well hope your players are hooked or they’re going to walk.  My experience around the gaming table, both as a Player and a GM, has taught me that Players want to think, but sometimes they don’t want to think too much.  Additionally, in writing a scenario as presented by the Nolan film, getting too deep in (from a GMing perspective) may cause you to lose absolute focus and leave your game like the ancient Saito, trapped in Limbo, waiting to die.

If I were to personally write an Inception-based module for a game (which is very likely to happen), I would drop it into either a d20 Modern or Spycraft rule-set campaign.  Given the emphasis in the film on military-grade technology and the undercurrent of corporate espionage, the formula just seems a more appropriate fit to a modern setting.  However, that is not to say the same dream invading effects couldn’t be achieved through psionics or high-level wizardry in a fantasy campaign.  My opinion is that it wouldn’t feel organic enough, but that’s just me.  In order to appropriately present the setting, it’s important for both the GM AND the Players to understand the roles each of the character archetype’s plays.  Based on Nolan’s character’s (and the film’s marketing campaign), they are as follows:

  • The ArchitectAriadne, played by Ellen Page, is responsible for creating the dreamscape that the other character’s will invade.
  • The ExtractorCobb, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, serves as the team leader and the individual responsible for ultimately retrieving or implanting information in the target subject’s subconscious.
  • The Pointman – Arthur, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, acts as Cobb’s primary support and the ying to DiCaprio’s yang.
  • The ForgerEames, played by Tom Hardy, serves a secondary support role, providing necessary smoke and mirrors in order to help complete the illusion of reality.
  • The TouristSaito, played by Ken Watanabe, delves into the dream in order to observe and protect his investment, also providing support to the mission success.
  • The ShadeMal, played by Marion Cotillard, serves as the foil to DiCaprio’s Extractor, a vicious x-factor capable of anything.

This first part will focus on the most important and (in my opinion) complex character:

The Architect

At first, the role of the Architect may seem pretty obvious, being in the realm of the GM’s responsibility.  That assumption is not completely wrong.  The GM creates and runs the game world that the PC’s exist in, so it only makes sense that whatever environment they plan to perform their escapade would have the GM at the helm.  Anyone who’s watched the film understands that the Extraction team operates within the subconscious of the target (ie; the Player’s playing within the GM’s setting) with their adversaries being the target and his/her Projections.  The whole point and key to success lies in the PC’s outwitting and/or defeating the Projections and getting out of the dream safely.  This, however, is where I turn things upside down.

An Inception /Extraction module is the exception to my rule of GM vs. PC’s.  The GM has ultimate control over the game world, but in this scenario, the power dynamic has shifted.  The PC’s are the conscious, proactive actors in a scripted drama, whereas the GM-run Projections are reactors.  By handing the reigns of Architect to the Players, the GM will actually be staying far more true to the spirit of the film and it’s themes while creating a new challenge for the players.  I know, you GM purists out there must think I’ve completely lost my mind, and perhaps I have, but what it really comes down to is trust.  If you REALLY trust your Players, it’s as simple as laying some ground rules of what the goal is as well as what is  acceptable and what isn’t.  You, the GM, control the subconscious of the target NPC, so it shouldn’t be hard to establish the limits that the PC’s must keep their subterfuge within.  A good portion of the film focuses on breaking down the target’s psyche in order to create the maximum chance for success.  This process should require plenty of role-playing for the Player’s as they prepare their Extraction.  The GM should provide enough information in the conscious game world for the Player’s to be successful in the subconscious one.  Let the Player’s create the set-up, build the maze and role-play their way through their own plan.  All you have to do is sit back and run your Projections and do your best to trip the players up!

Next week, I’ll delve into the other roles in the scenario, so be sure to check it out!

“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.” – Tom Hardy as Eames in “Inception”

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GameMastery Decks – Add a Little Fate to the Fire

While I’ve embroiled myself in the (very) long process of homebrewing my own campaign world, I have looked to many aspects of d20 and other game systems for mechanics and rule systems that I find appealing.  It’s natural for a GM to want to add as much flavor to a game, homebrewed or not, and the result is definitely more rewarding to the players, but what happens if the rule set becomes too familiar, combat bogs down, or everyone (players and GM’s alike) plain just draw a blank as to what to do next?  The minds behind Pathfinder over at Paizo Publishing seem to think that adding a little more fate and chance to a game seems just the thing.  Enter – GameMastery Decks!  This week, we’ll look at two of the decks I purchased for use in my upcoming campaign.

Critical Hit Deck

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, in a d20 system, there are very few things as rewarding as a Critical Hit. That moment when your dice decide to play nice and offer up that huge damage boost can turn the tide of any battle, and sometimes, all the Players really want is for the fight to be over.  The Critical Hit Deck can not only speed up the untimely demise of the latest mad scientist or Orc chieftain a party face, it also adds a little flair to the organized chaos that is RPG combat.  The deck offers a couple of variable rule options based on critical modifiers for weapons, which can either boost or reign in the damage and dismemberment achieved, but Paizo greatly urges that GM’s use caution when turning the deck on the players.  Those nasty effects go both ways, and unless you’re looking for a dreaded (and unappreciated) TPK, use against your players sparingly!

Chase Cards

Everyone loves a good chase scene, and they are often some of the most intense and action-packed aspects of film.  From the Nazgûl chasing Arwen and Frodo in Fellowship of the Rings to the Hummer vs. Ferrari chase in The Rock, chases add a whole new dynamic action.  I became enamored with the concepts of cinematic chases in-game after reading the rule set in Spycraft 2.0, but had trouble adapting them to a less-than-modern setting.  Wizards of the Coast introduced Skill Challenges in 4E which were capable of fulfilling the role, but still felt lacking to me.  My hope is the Chase Cards Deck will give this GM what he’s looking for.  Designed for three terrain types – city, forest, and dungeon – the rules are simple.  The GM establishes how many cards the chase lasts, lies them face down in a row.  Once each of the players complete one of two skill rolls listed, they advance to the next card.  Rinse, repeat, escape.  It seems to be a solid process with the chance for plenty of variation, and also appears to take some of the awkward guesswork out of the 4E skill challenge while still presenting PC’s with options.  I’m looking forward to introducing this to the group, sooner rather than later.

Paizo currently has 23 other decks released, everything from NPCs to Magic Items, and all are compatible with 3.5 OGL rules.  Check them out and add a little more spice to your ‘brew.

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