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Role-playing Rants: Mastering the fine art of gaming with your friends

Friendship is a cool thing. It lets you get through tough times, and help others in the same manner, makes you feel, like you belong somewhere and generally incites the feeling of happiness. But is it wise to role-play with your friends?

My first, real RPG experience was with a group of so called "randoms", people whom I've met in work, and who introduced me to the world of casual role-playing. "Vampire: The Masquerade" was the first RPG that I've partook in, with that particular group, followed by WFRP ("The Enemy Within"), "Dzikie Pola" (polish historical game) and a couple of other titles. I've had great fun with those people, and even tough we're not in touch anymore, for various reasons, I always remember my time with them, as a very happy one.

Happy times
Sometime later a good friend of mine asked me, if I'd ran a game for him and the rest of our pack. It was back in 2009, and our crew was really tight. Our main hobbies included rooftoping, urban exploration and generally goofing around, so I though: "why not include some role-playing into the mix?". I was a little bit afraid if I'd manage to run a weekly RPG group in a manner, that my first GM did, but in the end I've decided to give it a try. After buying a couple of books for WFRP 2nd edition, getting hold of a laptop, from which I could play climactic music, I've gathered the team in a basement of a residential block and the rest was history. We are still playing, after all these years, altough there were a couple changes in the team, as life tends to get in the way, and people also change, one way or another. In the end, however, it was a great experience, albeit one with a few bumps along the way.

Playing with your friends seems like a no brainer. You have a ready-to-go group of people, whom you know well and spent a lot of time with. You can almost always count on them, so setting up games is much easier, than with a bunch of random players. You generally know them really well, both their strong and weak points, their character quirks and manierisms. For a GM this kind of readily available info is simply priceless and really helps in setting up games, creating adventures and developing interesting encounters for his players.

Of course, one of the most important thing, if not the most important, is the fact that you are playing among people whom you really like, and who also like you. Thanks to that little fact, the atmosphere during sessions will be greatly improved, as common sympathy and friendly camradiere will be felt all around the table. If you'll manage to infect your friends with a passion for role-playing games, you'll get a bunch of great people, sharing your enthusiasm for the hobby. That's a lot in itself, but there are many more benefits of gaming with your friends, too many in fact to write them all down. Needless to say, it is worth it, and if any of you thinks about trying out RPG's, then gather a bunch of people, who are close to you, and give this hobby a shot. Together.

Awesomeness will ensue
However every coin has two sides, and while gaming with your friends can be great (it usually is!), it can also be a real pain in the ass, if you're not careful.

What I'm talking about exactly? Well, it is quite simple, really. Being friends with someone, means that you can usually get away with a lot more shit, than when you're dealing with a simple colleague, or a completely random person. This means that your players (as usual, I'm talking from a perspective of a Gamemaster) can, and probably will, get on your nerves and try to have things their way, from time to time. Ok, maybe even more often. I've seen it all, and lived through it to tell the tale. Emotional blackmail, shouting, getting at each other's throats (metaphorically speaking, of course), cheating and many, many other shitty behaviours, were all a part of my experience of gaming with close friends. You see, friends always think that they can get away with more things, than others. It dosen't matter if they've arrived 30 minutes late to the game. No big deal, surely the rest of the gang will understand that it happens. It dosen't matter if they've canceled their schedule, at the last moment, beacuse of some stupid-ass reason. Friends won't mind. Maybe some of them had a really bad day at work, and wish for nothing to piss their co-players off, and tell the GM that he sucks, and not in a friendly, light manner. What? What do you mean, that it's a shitty way to deal with people? We're friends, after all!

Yeah, that's the other, not so nice, side of playing with your friends. Be prepared for a LOT of shit flying your way, for hard talks, which will be inevitable at some point, if you want to avoid being smothered by the rest of your group, and generally for a lot of nasty things. From my experience friends think that they can get away with a lot more, than others. This is probably true for most people, but frankly I've found out that it's a lot easier to deal with this kind of behaviour, outside of hobby. These games are all about having fun, mutual fun, and I always got pissed the fuck off, when one of my friends decided to take it out on me, or the others, for a crappy day that he had at work. For starters - it's not my bloody fault, nor any of the others at the table, and secondly - we came here to have fun. Leave your frustrations and bad attitude at home, for they are not welcome here. That last part is actually targeted towards anyone, who thinks that weekly/monthly/quarterly etc. game sessions, are his private therapy sessions. They're not and fuck you for thinking otherwise.

I know what you're probably all thinking right now. Is playing with your friends really worth it? Is it actually worth all the effort, nerves, frustrations and arguments?

Yeah, I think that it is. Some of my best memories in life are from playing with my closest friends, and even tough more often than not it was a real pain in the butt, I wouldn't trade those memories for anything else in the world. It wasn't always easy, but in the end it was worth it. Just as gathering your closest people around the table with you, handing them a bunch of funny shaped dice and some character sheets, and describing to them that damnable inn, in which they all meet, is. It really is. Take my word for that.

It is here that so many wonderful tales began, after all
Until next time!



Role-playing Rants: another 5 video games, which should become RPGs

I know, I know - same thing? Really? Yes, because there are a few more titles, which I would really like to see on a tabletop. And if I won't write about them now, they'll surely slip from my mind.

You know the drill guys. We'll start from the last one, and gradually make our way to the very top. Here are another 5 vidya titles, fit for a role-playing table. In my opinion, of course.

5. "Killzone"

Despite losing the battle with Microsoft's "Halo", "Killzone" series remains a fairly popular one and with a good reason. I always preffered it to its rival, since it portrayed military conflict in a much more realistic and gritty way. Tomas Sevchenko was a much more grounded character, than the god-like Master Chief. I also liked the fact that neither Vektans nor Helghasts could be considered purely good or evil. Both factions presented with themselves different shades of grey, and neither one of them were 100% right in their actions. "Killzone" asked player some rather uncomfortable questions, especially in the latter installments, while "Halo" was simply a well done shooter, where the bad guys were aliens.
I'm envisioning a RPG which relies heavily on military themes, with various options for players. Thos who preffer covert-style gameplay could become Shadow Marshalls, others might like to grab their heavy weapons and go all Rico Velasquez on their enemies. A base management option would also be available for those, with a nack for RTS-style gameplay. In essence it would probably be rather similar to FFG's "Only War", which is a great game itself. "Killzone" RPG would certainly be a interesting title, especially for fans of down-to-earth and boots on the ground-style role-playing.

4. "Heroes of Might & Magic"

Simply because I love this series, especially part 3. Early "HoMM" games constitute for a lot of my childhood memories, and "Heroes V" is definetly my favorite of the newer iterations of these games. I've spent countless hours in Erathia, usually with friends, and it was glorious. Hotseat for the win! The fantastic world of "Heroes of Might & Magic" is a glorious example of a high fantasy setting done right, which presents endless posibilities for both Gamemasters and players alike. Classic dungeon crawls, treasure hunts, social and political-type adventures and, of course, military campaigns - "HoMM" offers all of this and more. As for player characters, the variety of races is so huge in these games, that everyone would find something for themselves. Aside from the classic trio of humans, dwarfs and elves, there are also kobolds, genies, gnolls, goblins, various undead and many, many more. I'd love to run a game set during the Succession Wars. What a blast that would be!

3. "Silent Hill"

Oh yeah, now we're talking horror! "Silent Hill" games (well, at least the early ones) are masterpieces of psychological terror and dread. No shitty jump scares here, nor cheap, scary gimmicks - "Silent Hill" 1 to 3 are all about the darkness and evil within one's soul and mind. I personally think that this would probably the hardest transition from the video game format to tabletop, simply because it would require a lot of cooperation from the players, for it to work properly. Imagine "Call of Cthulhu" pen and paper, but with even bigger emphasis on doom and gloom, not to mention despair and a sense of lost cause. I'd certainly love to see it raise some serious questions and demand a certain mindset and emotional reactions, both from players and the narrator of their adventures, set in the city of Silent Hill.

2. "Resident Evil"

On the other end of the horror spectrum we have "Resident Evil", one of my favorite game series of all time. Now I know that "RE" games are neither written well, nor do they have a particulary chilly atmosphere. Even the first titles were action games with horror elements, while the latter editions could not be called "horror titles", even in the loosest, possible sense. However that's why they're so riddiculously funny and entertaining. You boot them up, turn off your brain and enjoy a Jill sandwich. They're not meant to be scary, nor deep. They are simple pleasures, meant to provide cheap, yet effective fun to the people who are playing them. That's why I love them so much, because they're not pretending to be something else, something which they're not. I envision the "Residet Evil" RPG to be fast, deadly, combat-oriented fun, offering gameplay during the various events of the games. From the fall of Raccoon City to Ethan Winters' search for his missing wife, all of the main plots of "RE" games would be present and available to both GM's and players to use, in their fight against the Umbrella Corporation and its deadly B.O.W's. For a light-tonned, tabletop experience, I honestly think that this venerable Capcom series would work really well.
Oh and fuck the movies, seriously. They suck so bad.

1. "Deus Ex"

It's not my favorite video game of all time (that title belong to "Heroes of Might & Magic 3"), but I honestly think that first "Deus Ex" is the best game of all time. Its plot complexity, dialogues, the way that it allows the player to immerse himself in its world, various philosophical and ethical questions that it rises, the fantastic OST - it's a bloody masterpiece. Anyone who says that video games can't be considered art, should play the first of these cyberpunk pieces of art. Yes, I even consider "Invisible War" to be a very good game, altough the weakest of all in the series. I'd love to see a mature, conspiracy-themed role-playing game, set in the "Deus Ex" universe, with players being thrown in the middle of the shadow war, waged between the Illuminati and those, who wish to free humanity from their influence. Oh and Majestic 12, let's not forget about these evil buggers. Warren Spector's magnum opus is just too good a game, to NOT become a unique, fascinating and one-of-a-kind role-playing experience. I imagine the rulebook being about the first "Deus Ex", with various expansions allowing players to take part in the events, presented in "Human revolution", "Mankind divided" and even "Invisible War". If it'd ever see the light of day, I honestly think that the "Deus Ex" RPG would probably become my favorite role-playing game of all time, dethroning even "WFRP" and various cWoD games, that I love so much. A man can dream...

So that's it for this top 5, and next time I'll be writing about a very specific issue with RPG's - playing with your closest friends.

Until next time!



Role-playing Rants: my top 5 video game universes, which should have RPGs based on them

There are many, great RPGs out there, just waiting to be played. But what about fictional universes, which don't have a tie-in role-playing game?

I'v just returned from my vacation, which was great. I've managed to charge my batteries, relax and find a new perspective on a couple of things - you know, enjoy life. So now I'm back with a list of some of my favorite fictional, video game worlds, which I'd love to run a few games in. Bear in mind, I'll only write about the settings themselves, and not mechanics. I believe that without a good, interesting setting, even  the best game system dosen't matter a single bit. Anyway, without further ado, here's the list. Read and enjoy.

5. "S.T.A.L.K.E.R."

I'm a huge fan of the "S.T.A.L.K.E.R." series. The idea of a bunch of people, running around Chernobyl, collecting strange artifacts, fending off mutants and bandits and generally having a grand, merry time, always appealed to me. Brutal, visceral combat, mixed with well developed economic system, travelling through the Zone, coupled with horror and a sense of the unknown - what more could you wish for? Of, I know - the anomalies of course, "S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s" signature, paranormal weird shit! I'm aware of a couple of fan-made RPG's, set in this world, but I'd love to get my hands on a official "S.T.A.L.K.E.R." tie-in game. It's one of my favorite worlds, and I'd love to see it in a pen-and-paper format. Such is life in the Zone.

4. "Call of Duty: Ghosts"

I know what you're probably thinking - what the hell does CoD has with role-playing? Well, quite a lot, if you take the setting of certain of its titles, into consideration. While most Call of Duty games have a paper-thin storyline and boring characters (looking at you, "Modern Warfare" series), there are a few with geunienly well fleshed-out worlds, or at least ones that have great potential. For me, "Ghosts" is one of those titles, that are just begging for a transition to a tabletop game. The idea is awesome - the United States are a shattered, former superpower, struggling against a newly risen Federation, a coalition of South American countries, hell-bent on wiping their northern neighbour from the face of the Earth. The last line of defense are the titular Ghosts, remnants of the US Tier 1 special forces. With limited resources, they must rely on their training, their wits and their determination in a doomed fight, against a stronger, ruthless opponent. Can they win, or just prolong the inevitable?
"CoD: Ghosts" would make for a great, mil-sim RPG, with a fast-paced, dynamic action. From raids deep behind enemy lines in Venezuela, to defending the ruins of Los Angeles, "Ghosts" could make a for a thrilling, intense military experience, and one, which I'd love to take part in.

3. "Metro 2033" and "Metro: Last Light"

Much like the "S.T.A.L.K.E.R." universe, from which it took a lot of inspiration, the Eastern European, post-apocalyptic world of "Metro", created by Dmitry Glukhovsky is simply meant for a PnP transition. This RPG could explore the politics between various, Moscow's underground stations, the relations between all the different groups, which took shelter in the tunnels, when the bombs fell. Combat against the mutated beasts that now roam the surface, and infest the tunnels, as well as bandits (for men are still the worst monsters of all) would be brutal, claustrophobic and utterly lethal. I personally envision this game to be very deadly to your average player, with a high mortality rate. However the exploration of the unknown, together with a sense of a world lost, and a glimmer of hoper, would make for a truly terrific role-playing experience. Just remember: if it's hostile, kill it.

2. "Illusion of Gaia"

Now that's a world, in which I'd immerse myself completely. "Illusion of Gaia" is an action role-playing game, taking place in a slightly fantasy-based version of our Earth, with historic themes, thrown in for a good measure. The ultimate quest for the Tower of Babel takes our heroes from one historical location to another. From the Izcan ruins to the great, Egyptian pyramids, Will and his friends travel the world and uncover its secrets. It's a very mystical, and at times, surprisingly mature and dark adventure, which would work really well in a tabletop-based game. Granted it would probably require a certain mindset of its players (playing as group of children can be strange and difficult), but I think that a potential is there and that the "Illusion of Gaia" could become a fantastic RPG system.

1. "Dark Souls" and "Bloodborne"

I love these two series. I adore them absolutely and with a passion. For me these two present some of the most interesting, fictional worlds of the past few years. Dark, gritty and utterly hopeless, but with an unlimited potential - both the "Dark Souls" and "Bloodborne" ask their players certain, not always comfortable, questions about what it means to be human, and never leave them unsatisfied. Despite the bleakness and horror of both of these settings, there are rays of hope in each of them, something which makes fighting everyday struggles a worthy task. Now granted, these would probably work better a comabt-oriented games, with some philosophy on the side, not to mention personall horror, but they'd still work. No matter if you're looking for the Lords of Cinder or are a hunter of the Beasts, both the "Souls" series and "Bloodborne" are more than perfect to be turned into role-playing games.

So that's it for this list. Thoughts, comments? I'd love to know what you think about my choices and I promise there will be more in the future. Next, I will present a list of my top 5 movies, which should find their way to tabletop. Stay tuned folks.

Until next time!



Food for thought, or how to feed your players the right way

Let's face it: we gamers tend to eat horribly. Your usual tabletop diet consists of crisps, cookies, soft drinks and a occasional fast food. Perhaps it is time to change it?

I know what you're thinking right now: "has Xathrodox went mad? I don't have time to cook!" If that is so, then it is truly regretable, but fear not - these few recipes are neither hard to use, nor time consuming. Some of them are definetly not, what one might call "healthy food", but they are certainly better than another pack of Cheetos.

For years, since I've begun my adventure with RPG's and tabletop war games, I never even considered eating differently. Until recently however, my stance on junk food on sessions, has changed. You see, one of the players in my new group is a cook, and a damn good one. He often brings all sorts of delicious things to our games. A certain session of "Death on the Reik", which we've played for a whole night in a friend's garden, will always be remembered with fondness, for the delicious chicken breasts, that this fine fellow brought with him, and which were put on grill, along with many other, choice meats.

I'm posting links to various culinary sites and blogs, so feel free to check 'em out and try out various other recipes, that they might have there. I'd also like to point, that I'm not sponsored by any of these sites, but I really wish that I would! It would help with the bills and my plastic crack addiction.

1. Blini (pancakes)

There's nothing better than a plate full of freshly made blins, which are traditional pancakes in slavic countries. You only really need water, eggs, flour and milk to make these babies, plus some kind of filling. I personally love spicy blins, filled with minced meat, cheddar and tomatoes but you can also make them with nutella or fresh fruit. It's a good idea to chop the ready pancakes, after filling them with your choice of goodies, so that they'll become a bite-size treat for all, around the gaming table.

2. Tarator (Balkan cold soup)

Delicious, refreshing and oh-so-easy to make. Tarator is a cold soup, which main ingridient is plain yogurt. Add some dill, a few fresh cucumbers, a spoon of crushed walnuts and you're ready to go! Skip the garlic tough, as RPG's tend to be a social thing, and it's not cool to breathe garlic fumes into other players faces.

3. Spaghetti Carbonara (a timeless classic)

This one's a true classic. Make a full pot of this delicious meal, and your players will stay full for the whole game session, even if you're running a lengthy dungeon crawl. Its preparation time is less than half an hour, and you only really need some pasta, a few garlic cloves (optional, for obvious reasons), some bacon, eggs and cream. It is a truly delicious, easy to make meal and you can't go wrong with it.

4. Chicken bites of various types (delicious and tasty)

Oh yeah, the ultimate party snack can also work wonders on a table, surrounded by funny shaped dice, and monster manuals. Tortilla wraps, chicken, some creamy cheese and lots and lots of spices - these are the basic ingridients of this kind of dish. I personally love 'em hot and spicy, with a nice dip on the side. You can always substitute tortillas with pancakes, but this will lengthen the preparation process. Still, cooking is all about having fun, so maybe spare an extra hour, before a weekend game and make some blin.

5. Shashlik (meat on a stick!)

This one's a traditional, slav dish, perfect for a weekend grill session. You can also make it at home, in your oven, tough you'll probably need to scrape it clean, afterwards. Shashlik consists of a various pieces of marinated meat, skewered on a stick, with addition of vegetables like paprika, onion, eggplant and zucchini. This one's a bit more time consuming to make, but the end results are worth the time and effort, put into them. Always prepare a creamy dip, for it works wonders with the shashlik and don't forget about preparing the meat first, in just the right way. It's often a good idea to let it stay in the marinade for a whole night, before putting it on a grill (or in the oven).

6. Ayran (cold, yogurt-based drink)

It's a well know fact that the RPG players can operate solely on Mountain Dew, but there are alternatives. Ayran is a traditional refreshing drink from Turkey, but it's also very popular in Balkan countries, Greece and Armenia. You only need 3 ingridients: water, yogurt and salt. Fresh cucumber and garlic are optional ingredients, as is crushed mint. Just mix everything in a shaker, or beat in a bowl, and serve in tall glasses. Ayran is wonderfully refreshing and tasty, and a great alternative to soft drinks. Try it out, you won't be dissapointed.

7. Sunflower seeds (author's delight!)

Ok, so it's not a recipe per se. Dried sunflower seeds, covered in salt, are a fantastic snack, for just about any occasion. Watching a football game, reading your favorite book or trying to bash a Troll's head during a session of Warhammer - the addition of sunflower seeds will defintely improve any form of spending one's free time. I personally suggest to always pick up your seeds with salt, they're just better that way, if a bit less healthy.

So there you have it, few ideas on how to improve your tabletop eating habits. In the future I might make a couple more articles like this one, we'll see. As for now, I'll visit my kitchen and prepare a whole bunch of tasty dishes for tommorow, to take with me to work. For there are a few, better and cooler ways to spend your time, than to cook and enjoy the effects of your kitchen labours.

Until next time!



Xathrodox86 reviews: "Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide: Stromdorf"

I'm a huge fan of "Vermintide". This game helped to rekindle my affection for Warhammer Fantasy. A few weeks ago, the good people from Fatshark released another DLC for this grim and perilous title - "Stromdorf".

I really liked the previous two DLC's for "Vermintide". Both "Drachenfels" and "Karak Azgaraz" brought new content to the game and I did not felt that I've wasted my money on them. So how's "Stromdorf" looking in comparison to them?

Is it worth your money?
The titular town is a miserable, rainy place, which evokes that unique feel of Warhammer Fantasy. It's dark, gritty and generally depressing. I love it. As a side fact, the town of Stromdorf has been futured in "The Gathering Storm" campaign for WFRP 3rd edition. Check it out, if you want to learn more about this wonderful shithole. Anyway, the Skave are up to something, as usual, and Franz Lohner, the not-imperial-intelligence-officer, is sending our delightful party to investigate. Soon our heroes discover a sinister plot, involving human collaborators working with the foul ratmen, which could threaten much more, than just Stromdorf itself.

So here's the general premise of this DLC. I really like it, by the way. The excellent 2nd edition sourcebook "Children of the Horned Rat" has a rather extensive part of it, dedicated to humans, working with the Skaven. We also should not forget about the classic Gotrek & Felix book "Skavenslayer" by William King, which includes similar theme among its pages.

"Stromdorf" is very effective when it comes to visuals. Altough it starts on a sunny day, the weather soon becomes foul and rain begins to pour down from the heavens, threatening to drown both our heroes and the ratmen as well! This DLC was a bit more aggravating for my system, than the previous two, but I'm not surprised really. With all the particle effects, no one can blame performance issues on bad coding, but simply should understand that games like this will require more memory to run smoothly, as well as a better graphics card.

The rains of Stromdorf are constant and unforgiving in their intensity!
The Fatshark team created a true masterpiece when it comes to maps in this DLC. The first one starts outside the city, when the weather is still decent. Later, after a long trek through the hills surrounding the town of Stromdorf, the adventurers finally arrive in the titular place, only to become soaking wet, from the horrible downpour. The atmosphere of fighting Skaven in a heavy rain, during a climactic thunderstorm really is something, let me tell you. Eventually our heroes discover a corpse of the messenger, whom Lohner wanted them to find. After checking for clues, they uncover a possible Skaven plot, which includes a human collaborator, or even a bunch of them! Without hesitation they rush deeper into the rainy town, to intercept a meeting between the vile traitors and a clan Fester emissary. Navigating their way through winding streets of Stromdorf, fighting Stormvermin in tight alleys and using roof to surprise unsuspecting ratmen, were some of the best experiences that I ever had with "Vermintide". The final battle with the emissary, a massive Skaven Warlord, armed with a Warpstone Glaive, was intense and very satisfying. Naturally, after defeating the fiend, I wanted so much more to happen, like finding the collaborators and handing them over to Lohner for interrogation. Sadly, the game decided that enough was enough.

Yeah, that's right - "Stromdorf" consists of only two maps, and that is it's main (only?) weakness. For a price of 7 dollars I really expected more content for my buck. Sure, the maps are great, probably the best out of all DLCs so far. The presence of a new enemy is also really welcome, as well as the new weapon for Markus Kruber - the intimidating and mighty Executioners Sword. There are also a few, new achievements and lore pages, unique to this DLC's titular location. However all of that is just not enough man, plain and simple. They really could've added a third, final map, even a short one, to this DLC. I've managed to beat "Stromdorf" in less than an hour, with extensive roaming in search of tomes and grimoires as well as easter eggs and other goodies. In the end I honestly felt kinda ripped-off. Still, at least my money went to a developer who helps in keeping the Warhammer Fantasy alive, but... I seriously hope that their next, paid DLC will include much, much more meat, because despite my positive feelings, playing "Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide: Stromdorf" felt like recieving a light, fit meal, after going hungry for the whole day, in anticipation for a feast. Tasty and satisfying, but leaving a kind of need in one's stomach nonetheless.

At least Kruber finally recieved some love. This sword is awesome!
Until next time...which will also be about food, coincidentally.