Episode 33: Too Extreme For the Spotlight

AlbumCoverWe are back! Jake is filling in for Ed, Jake was just on Gamers Tavern, We play a little catch-up, an update on the actual play recordings, we get political (ads) for a bit, ThanksGaming is coming up, Knight of Injustice talk, how do you make good use of the spotlight in gaming, we finish up talking about our game of choice to play at Halloween and the challenges in running a horror game.

 The Gamers Tavern episode Jake was on

ThanksGaming registration

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What’s up?

Justin Suzuki

Justin Suzuki

I swear we have a good reason this time. I know, we haven’t released anything nor said much for a while now. I would apologize but I would rather just say, life happens.

If you follow us on Facebook you know that Derek posted something mysterious about some serious family health issues I was going with. Well that kept me quite busy for a month. My Mom was in the hospital/hospice care for that time and in the end passed away. A lot of you sent me kind words and thoughts and I truly appreciate that. You don’t realize how strong your community is until you are faced with what I was faced with.

I had hoped that I would be able to release the audio from our experience with Tenra Bansho Zero, which was a blast, but there were technical issues with the recording and we had to ditch that. Don’t worry, we will be talking about this game in an upcoming episode. I highly recommend playing this game.

We have some actual plays we want to do as well, but time keeps marching forward. If we can work it out we will record an AP of Dread this month and release it in time for Halloween. I will also say we will do our best to record a normal episode. We will also do our best to record some of the other AP’s we said we would do this year.

Derek, Ed, and I are committed to continuing providing you content and I have some cool things planned for the upcoming months.

Don’t count us out just yet.

Game on!


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Enemy at the Gate

Justin Suzuki

Justin Suzuki

Be fair warned, this post is more serious than the usual fare you have come to expect from yours truly. But I think one must take on the serious even in a hobby that is all about fun.

I’ve been taking time to consider the issue of gender equality in the hobby of tabletop gaming. Really the issue of gender has become an issue in all of geekdom. I’ll be honest and tell you that, at first, I was shocked to learn just how much gender has become an issue within the gaming hobby. Why am I being so naive? Well, I always viewed gaming as the hobby of inclusiveness. One does not need to provide credentials at the door to get in on a game. They simply need to follow Whedon’s law: Don’t be a dick. And I hadn’t walked a mile in my sisters’ shoes. I never witnessed harassment or discrimination. Of course I see inequality in every day life, but I was ignorant that the problem existed all around my favorite passtime.

As the issue of gender politics announced itself to the gaming community at large, I decided to talk to my sisters in the hobby. I learned of the discrimination and harassment women I know experienced at gaming tables all around. One of the founding members of RoleplayDNA, Veronica Blessing, used to tell me stories of how she wasn’t taken seriously as a gamer simply because she is female. I’m sure there were more stories but Vern, despite her capacity to tell it like it is, never regaled me with more tales of the creep. Even more women told me tales of being propositioned at the game table. I was told of Game Masters who would depict scenes of violence against female PCs, in which the violence was of a sexual nature. Players who would go out of there way to make a woman feel uncomfortable around them.

For the past few years I have tried to listen, I became concerned I was part of the problem. Some may know me to be quite the jokester. I believe humor is a good tool to point out the absurd and to allow people to laugh at something that society may frown at. It takes the issue from the negative side of the ledger and exposes it to the harsh light of truth. Humor is empowering, but without proper context and understanding it can be damaging. There is a time and place for jokes. I had to ask those around me if they felt my jester like nature at the table ever offended anyone. So far, everyone I know seems to understand that my jokes are just that and they understand that they are nothing more than a method to incite laughter. Of course, some may just not want to confront me about it. I hope if they are hesitant to say something this article gives them the open door to inform me and allow a dialog to happen.

In public settings, such as a gaming convention, I tone the jokes down to PG levels and I welcome all to my table. I try to treat each player equally. But I do remember a game at a convention where a younger woman was playing a character whom made brash decisions (well roleplayed for the pregen I had created) and at one point this player apologized to me for her actions. I shrugged it off as everyone was having fun with the trouble and success she was having, and asked why I would be upset. Her response, “Well, I have had GMs and other players who don’t like when girls play aggressive like this.”

I laughed a little. I remember voicing the idea that I could care less, and I just wanted everyone to have fun. Some of you might be applauding right now, in a way that is a sad statement on the state of things. This young woman’s approach to gaming should not relate to who she is as a person (unless she broke Whedon’s law) and can’t be judged on a sliding scale of her identity. And I should not be considered “evolved” for not caring about what her reproductive organs are in relation to a game.

None of what I say makes me feel brave or heroic. If anything I feel like I am saying, “Make sure you breathe air.” Yet we have people who have to take a stand on these issues to show support. Wizards of the Coast spent ink (pixels) to make sure we understood that with an excerpt from their rules just released for Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition. In a hobby I got involved in because it was so welcoming to a goofy kid such as myself, we are actually having to deal with those who dare to stand at the entrance and try to stop some from getting in to play these games of wonder.

Like the rest of our society these issues exist. Those who stand in the way of progress seem to always be around no matter what we do to correct that. To those who stand at the gate trying to place labels on everyone and decide who gets in, I say this…Get out of the way or leave. We gamers, those who find community by telling stories, do not want or need you here. You disrupt the pure awesome aspects of our hobby every time you succeed in bullying a person out of gaming.

Through my formative years gaming helped me find my tribe. Most of the people I call friends are ones that I found through this silly little ritual of ours. They did not bat an eye at my unusual ideas, instead embraced my oddness and helped me forge them into the games I play today. I became the successful individual I am today because I was given an outlet to express myself. I was allowed to have fun with fellow geeks. Let us always be welcoming to those who will treat others with respect and not rank them based on their gender, race, beliefs, or choice in pastries.

In this odd world let gaming be a shining example of how to treat others. Don’t let the geeky hobbies be a sad mirror of society.

Game on!


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Episode 32: More Than a Feeling

AlbumCoverWe talk about our gaming life, Talk about Justin’s game “Knight of Injustice” selling out quickly at TactiCon, give a review of Conclave of Gamers, Initial thoughts about the Dungeons and Dragons starter set, We then talk about imagery in a game, Justin tells a story about making someone feel some real emotions in his Dungeon Crawl Classics game, we answer a listener’s question about her character.

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Dungeons and Dragons Next Starter Experience

Justin Suzuki

Justin Suzuki

I got a chance to run the newest Dungeons and Dragons starter set last Saturday for my regular game group. Right off the bat I need to say this…Bravo those who worked on this edition of D&D!

I will not delve into the differences between versions but instead focus on what worked, what didn’t, and undiscovered.

What worked:

I am in love with the advantage/disadvantage die. This is a great way to hand out the bonuses or negatives to players that give a great feeling that anything can happen. In a lot of games the bonuses can really put a player in the can’t fail or succeed corner. But with the A/D die you never know what could happen. The times it came up on my table it was a fun way to see how the situation played out.

The PCs feel powerful. We mentioned this in episode 31 where we talked about how it seems like the game is putting the bonuses on the PCs and not their gear. Playing through, this couldn’t feel more true. The bonuses to the core attribute to the PC who gets to a certain level really firm up the idea of power PCs, not equipment.

The combats are quick. Gone are the days of the 4th edition hour long encounters. My group was able to get through around five combats in three and a half hours. This allowed them to get to more of the plot points than you might have seen in the previous edition of D&D and spend more time dealing with the plot.

Combat is deadly! I had one player jump ahead into the fray on the first encounter. He suddenly found himself on the end of a strike that nearly took him out. Those old 4e habits are hard to break but you had better learn quickly, or else you will become familiar with the death save table.

What didn’t work:

Just in the starter set there isn’t much to complain about. I’m not being a fanboy, but rather saying there isn’t enough to chew on to know if there is something that could be improved on.

I will say this much. Healing feels a little off balance. This is only highlighted in the module included in the box set has multiple quests which reward PCs in healing potions. I’m not sure if this is an overcorrection from 4e and they are trying to up that deadliness factor, but you have to let the cleric be the healer even at level 1.


Character class progressions/trees, available races beyond the core, and what tools the Dungeon Masters will have to run games. Let’s face it, we have a long six months ahead of us to get the answers we all desire.

My group was pleasantly surprised by D&D Next. The impression I got is this felt like going back to a favorite hangout spot and discovering that the new management has made some needed improvements without gutting the place. I will continue to run the starter module and I will get in on as many games that I can to learn how other players are doing things.

As I played this version of D&D I was transported a few years back to my youth. It may sound cheesy but it is true. Something felt right about this game and it felt like Dungeons and Dragons as it should be played. I hope this continues and we aren’t about to see past mistakes repeated. I will continue to play D&D, and I am sure I will struggle with buying the Players Handbook mid-August. Right now I am leaning towards buy.

What did you think about the Starter Set and what you have seen from this version of D&D?

Game on!


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Episode 31: Edition Next

AlbumCoverWe start off musing if Summer is the real campaign killer time for adults, Justin will be running games at Conclave of Gamers on July 26th and the whole crew will be at TactiCon on Labor Day weekend, We then delve into our thoughts on the Basic Ruleset for Dungeons and Dragons that was released as a free PDF.

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Special: Review of Unframed

AlbumCoverEd, Derek, and Chris (from Smiling Jack’s Bar and Grill) give you their review and thoughts of Engine Publishings newest book Unframed: The Art of Improvisation for Game Masters.

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D&D Is Coming

Justin Suzuki

Justin Suzuki

Wizards of the Coast has finally announced the release dates for D&D Next, or 5th Edition, or In Search For More Money. Before we move on let’s go down what has been announced to be released, when, and how much:

  • Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set (July 15, 2014) $19.99
  • Player’s Handbook (August 19, 2014) $49.95
  • Hoard of the Dragon Queen, adventure (August 19, 2014) $29.95
  • Monster Manual (September 17, 2104) $49.95
  • The Rise of Tiamat (October 21, 2014) $29.95
  • Dungeon Master’s Guide (November, 18 2014) $49.95
  • Deluxe DM Screen (January, 20 2015) $14.95

My first impression is this looks like a Kickstarter stretch goal list. But let’s move on.

Why are the core books being released so far apart from each other? My guess is so you don’t freak out when you see that to play with the “core” set of books will set you back $150. Add another $20 if you want to get a jump on the Starter Set and toss in another $15 if you like to keep your Dungeon Master needs to hide his dice rolls behind a screen. But let’s assume you stick to the basics, $150 for the core game…Wow! I’d split that up as well just so my fans could save up over time. This is an installment plan to game.

Are the prices and the strange six month release schedule a problem for the average gamer? I would think so. As gamers we want to jump right into it. The Starter Set is fine with me, I think this is a good way to help fence sitters decide if they want to invest their time and money into the future of D&D. But why not release the rest of the books at Gencon? Give me one large slip cover filled with the three core books so if I do decide to go forward, I can get everything I need. I’m not a fan of this release schedule.

The prices are another topic. Assuming this will be your primary game, the cost isn’t too bad. Just work out number of sessions you will play and the game starts to pay itself off in entertainment return value. But it is still a lot just to get you off the ground initially. Pathfinder got it right with their core rulebook, everything you needed between two covers and at the price of $49.99 (cheaper than that on Amazon) your dollars to hours of entertainment seems like a great deal compared to what Wizards of the Coast listed for 5th edition.

And we all know this isn’t where it ends. I’m pretty sure if looked at all the editions of D&D I own and if I tallied up the total cost in books I would be quite shocked. Again, I don’t think this is a huge deal considering the amount of fun I got out of D&D. And once you have the core books you need not stray any further, in theory, and your purchases should be done.

I can’t review the game at all as I have just played the initial beta rules that came out quite a while ago. But I am willing to give the Starter Set a try and give this newest edition of D&D a test drive. From what I have heard from people who have been participating in the beat, things are looking up. There is cautious optimism out there for my fellow geeks who were introduced to gaming via Dungeons and Dragons.

What do you think about all of this?

Game on!


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Justin Suzuki

Justin Suzuki

A friend of mine, Mikey B, was pondering using an iPad to handle his game mastering responsibilities during convention games. He posted this query of the ages to his Facebook page and Mikey, having lots of gamer friends, got a fair number of responses. But this question and the answers got me to thinking about using tools, like an iPad or other tablet, for a tabletop game.

Let’s get something out of the way, I love technology. I use e-tools at the game table, mostly to handle the game books and as a reference source. If I don’t print or I forget my game notes I will use my tablet or phone to go to my Google Docs folders to get what I typed. But I also see where technology can get in the way of a decent game session.

On the game master side of things, if you don’t have a good unifying tool to handle initiative, NPC/encounter management, game notes, books, etc. you will spend an inordinate amount of time just flipping through apps to find the information you need. If you tend to run games in my style, mostly from the seat of your pants improv, this can and does trip you up. I imagine if you spend a lot of time reading off your notes for reference, the impact of swiping through screens may not be as major.

On the flip side of the GM screen I have gamed with a lot of players who use their electronic devices as character sheets, dice rollers, and to just look up spells in the book. I’d say it works well most of the time. I have had a player who incorrectly programed all his rolls for his character and didn’t roll any higher than a 6 all night, turns out he programed every single roll to be a 1d6…oops.

Based on observations I would say using a tablet to manage what you do in a game session depends on the person a lot. Easy answer. But Mikey asked a question deep in his post that most of us didn’t catch on to at first…But do you think this would lose the spirit of the game? That the dice, paper, sourcebooks and so forth are part of the whole experience?”  These are questions I never bothered asking myself about this issue. 

I have had a few conversations with people about the topic of e-books. Traditionalists will tell you that you can’t get the same feast for the senses from a novel read off a screen that you get by holding an actual bound book in your hands. As I write this paragraph my brain is reminding me what it is like to feel and smell that book in my hands as I absorb the content from within. Meanwhile the techheads (such as myself) will speak of the convenience of being able to access your library from any of your devices. No longer do I have to carry a book with me to read during my down times. I can just pull up where I left off on my smartphone.

I find it difficult to pick a winner in the debate as far as e-books go. I can see both sides of the argument. But what about gaming? Let’s talk just dice for a moment.

Nothing stimulates the pleasure center of my brain faster than hearing dice being rolled on a table. I think that no app can replace dice for sheer tactile and audible enjoyment one can get from using them in a game. I have several dice apps on my phone, mostly just in case I find myself in a game without my dice bag. I think the ‘spirit’ of a game would be diminished if all dice rolls were boiled down to a program doing all the work in the background. Imagine a group of people just hitting a button then reading off the hit or miss result based on what the magic box told you?

Just based on the dice example you will think I am anti-tech at the game table. Well you will find yourself to be on the wrong side of correct. I think there is a balance to using tech in a game that every single person and group must find on their own. I do think once you start eliminating more and more of the human element, and this includes adding up the values of your own dice, you take away from the spirit of the game. A projected map on the table with 3-D elements is cool, but is it a better game than if someone draws a map that we put our hand painted minis on?

If you do use tech at the table I have some etiquette items to pass on to you:

  • Do not use the e-devices in question to the point of distraction. If a GM or player has to call your name more than twice to get you to look up from your phone to do something in the game, you are now breaking an unspoken social contract with the rest of the table. Life stuff happens and I’m not saying don’t answer a text from someone that needs an answer, but be polite to the the GM and other players at the table and be don’t let the shiny tech pull you away from the shared activity.
  • If the app/tool you are using isn’t improving the flow of the game then do not use it. What I mean by this is if you are GMing a game and it takes you more than a minute to input everyone’s initiative, it is time to go back to writing it down on paper.
  • Do not distract others with your tech. Showing the newest Godzilla trailer during the game is not cool. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

I’m sure there are more pieces of tech etiquette that I haven’t listed here or thoughts about blending tech in with the old school methods of tabletop gaming. If you have any feedback please post away!

Game on!


P.S. if you use your phone during a movie at a theater, you are what’s wrong with society.


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Episode 30: To Kill a Player Character

AlbumCoverToday we talk about the highs and lows of player character death. We then talk news about the Microsoft Deadlands TV Show, Engine Publishing’s release: Unframed: The Art of Improvisation for Game Masters! If you want to know where the cast of RPDNA will be: Free Comic Book Day, Spring Giving, Denver Comic Con, and Gator Con. 

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