Starting a new Role Playing Game Club

Today was the inaugural meeting of the Superior Heights Role Playing Game club. Over the past two weeks I’ve asked interested students to create first-level characters that they would be interested in playing. I recommended orcpub2.com using the Point Buy system for stats to help ensure a “legal” character for each of them. To my surprise, fifteen students want to play.

That’s a lot.

Like, three games’ worth.

I’m the only GM available, it appears, so I don’t know what I’m going to do about that. I’m committing to spending two hours with them every Friday night after school, plus all the prep work between sessions. I’m considering rotating groups through, running two or three games on a cycle.

This afternoon there were “only” six players. Several students had other commitments or couldn’t get rides home after the game. Six was manageable, but only just.

Rules

Apart from the official game rules, I set out some rules for the club at school. Here’s a paraphrasing of them.

  • Everyone is responsible for ensuring the group is having fun.
  • You are not your character. In-game stuff (especially conflicts) need to stay in the game.
  • No foul language. You might be okay with it, but I’m not and the person beside you might not be.
  • No sex of any kind.
  • No violence towards children.

The students also added a rule to my list:

  • No player-versus-player (PvP) combat.

The Start

This was even more challenging than I expected. All six players were new to the game, but they had all spent time developing characters already.

My plan was to help them to build connections between characters by requiring them to answer questions about their pasts. “Sally, what serious event did your character and Mark’s character both witness?” “Jim, what is it about Jordan’s character that irritates your character?” That sort of thing.

There was a frustrating trend that began here and continued throughout the session. A player would suggest something (here it was an event in the backstory), and then another player would suggest a different and mutually exclusive idea, and then both players would be at a standstill. Both were invested in their idea, and neither wanted to work with the other’s suggestions. I didn’t know how to help them work this out, but I did the best I could. This problem slowed the game significantly.

I did my best to roll with (ha ha) the backstories the players had developed to set the initial scene. Players didn’t really know what to do, and I wished that I had forced them to develop a party before starting (instead I asked them to work at coming together in the first session).

Some characters took actions that helped the party come together, but other characters took actions that drove the party apart. Making decisions among six people was onerous.

When the session was wrapping up I recapped the major events so far to make sure we were in sync. I also talked with the players about how to play together instead of just making sure their characters did cool stuff for themselves. I guess we’ll see next time if my post-session pep talk was helpful.

Even though the game was super-challenging for me and not as successful (progressive?) as I’d hoped, it was clear that most of the players had fun. They left the classroom and stood in the hall, talking about what happened and speculating about what could happen next. They were intrigued, and some talked about tweaking their characters to make them more “playable” with the rest of the group.

Fingers crossed that I’m a bit better at this next week.

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Learning at Home: How to be a YouTuber

My son is 8, and he wants to be a famous YouTuber like DanTDM. Although I realize this aspiration may be short-lived, I’m open to the possibility. I also know that he probably won’t find this learning in the Ontario Curriculum.

So I decided I’d better figure out how this stuff works so that I can help him understand (and possibly realize) his dream.

I have a YouTube channel already. I post math and computer science videos, mostly, and a few more personal things. I don’t monetize the teaching videos since I direct my students to view them and that would be inappropriate. It was time to start a new channel.

I wanted a channel with a focus, but that was broad enough to allow for lots of content. The kids and I enjoy watching videos of booster box openings (Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon), and I watch more MTG videos. This is something I know a fair bit about, and I can produce content easily (if not always cheaply).

So Grasley Games was born. These aren’t games I’ve designed (that’s coming, though). Instead, “games” is a verb here.

Logo bold

I started by opening a box of Aether Revolt, the newest set of Magic: The Gathering available at the time. I practised for a while first, figuring out camera setup, microphone, lighting, and how to hold the cards effectively. I’ve done some video production work before, but I was still surprised at how challenging this initial planning was.

I also wanted to try some “actual plays”, recordings of playing games. I’ve recorded about 10 games, but only a few have been worth posting. Lots of camera problems with this stuff.

The channel is monetized, which means that some ad revenue accumulates over time. So far there’s $1.86 waiting for me. Another couple of lifetimes and I’ll pay for that box…

Now for the kids

This wasn’t just for me, remember? Both my kids want to participate too. Now that I’ve learned the basics of setting everything up, they’re starting to make videos for me to post. There are three so far on the channel:

What’s next

They keep asking to make more videos (I got enough stuff for them to make 6 videos each on these topics without any additional investment), so that’s pretty cool. I do want them to see how difficult it is to get eyes on your content when you’re in a fairly niche area, and that consistency is really important (they’re counting on me for this).

I’ve also made other spaces on the web for Grasley Games – we’ll see how these platforms pan out:

Grasley Games on WordPress

Grasley Games on Facebook

Grasley Games on Patreon

Grasley Games on Twitter

WotC shouldn’t put expensive cards in preconstructed products #MTG

I’ve seen a lot of commentary in the past couple of weeks about Wizards of the Coast’s decision to discontinue Clash Packs and Event Decks. While I have no particular interest in either product, I assume the people in charge have some good reasons for doing so. Lots of fans have lots of good reasons that they wish these products would still be produced.

One of those reasons that is often repeated is that it’s a way to bring down the cost of some chase cards by providing additional printings and a cheaper way to access those cards. For example, if Wizards puts a card that’s selling for $15 in a Clash Pack with an MSRP of $20 and a street price of $17, it’s going to get snapped up for financial reasons. An enterprising person could buy up a bunch of Clash Packs, crack them and sell that one expensive card from each, and then trickle out the remainder at a tidy profit (perhaps $5-10 per pack). As a result of this easy access the value of that costly card will drop, but there is another effect that is more problematic for the game:

The average customer won’t be able to walk into a store to buy the Clash Pack because it’ll already be sold out.

Who were these products for, really? From my comfortable armchair it seems these are mostly products for people who are new to the game or want to purchase a play experience, not the hardcore grinder nor investor. If that’s true, then making the cards too tempting to the latter types will be denying them to the former.

Last year I thought about buying a fat pack of Battle For Zendikar, partly for the packs and partly for the beautiful, full-art lands. Upon release, though, the price skyrocketed to about $65 USD, vastly more than the MSRP of $40 USD because the lands were desirable. The average player couldn’t get the product for its intended price at a game store, and department stores were instantly sold out. [Aside: you could still buy them at Walmart in Canada for $55 CAD, which was about $40 USD at the time. I thought about snapping them up and flipping them, or their lands, but I resisted the urge.]

If Wizards can make preconstructed products that are fun to play and easy to buy, while still being an okay value for the consumer, they’ll hit the sweet spot for those products. The new Blessed vs. Cursed Duel Deck is apparently just okay financially, but is fun to play. This is a win for Wizards because it’ll bring people into the game (for just $20 USD) but still be enticing to many existing players.

Best of all, it’ll still be on the shelf when you walk into your FLGS to buy it.

Theros Block simple [almost] Pauper cube

Before Theros rotated out I bought a playset of all of the commons in Standard, from Theros to Dragons of Tarkir (I got them from MetaGamingNW through ebay if you’re interested: http://www.ebay.ca/usr/metagamingnw*com).

I like the idea of drafting, but I don’t like the idea of spending $20 to play a couple of games of Magic. Besides, with all of these cards in the house, don’t I already have enough to play?

So I made a Cube. Apparently most people have carefully constructed Cubes – they consider which cards have good synergy, they allow for a variety of specific archetypes, and they try to include some choice cards which are exciting to play with. This is very time-consuming, popular, and probably a lot of fun.

I did something a lot simpler.

Deciding on the cards

First, I wanted a Cube with 360 cards (24 packs times 15 cards each) so I can draft nicely. Here are the number of common cards in the sets in Theros block:

  • Theros: 101
  • Born of the Gods: 60
  • Journey Into Nyx: 60

This is a total of 221. Of course, I have 4 of each common card in each set, so I have:

  • Theros: 404
  • Born of the Gods: 240
  • Journey Into Nyx: 240

This is a total of 884. These are not nice numbers. That Theros 101/404 is the problem.

By colour, though, things are interesting:

 Set  White  Blue  Black  Red  Green  Other  Total
 THS  19  19  19  19  19  6  101
 BNG  12  12  12  12  12  0  60
 JOU  12  12  12  12  12  0  60

Those “other” cards in Theros are 5 artifacts and one gold land (Unknown Shores). These aren’t nice numbers either (it would have been sweet if Theros had 24 per colour), but I had an idea to round things out without having to pick just a few cards to have doubles of within a colour.

I decided to include 2 of each card from Born of the Gods and Journey Into Nyx, and 1 of each WUBRG card from Theros. I also added in Unknown Shores to round out the numbers:

 Set  White  Blue  Black  Red  Green  Other  Total
 THS  19  19  19  19  19  1  96
 BNG  24  24  24  24  24  0  120
 JOU  24  24  24  24  24  0  120

Add ’em up and it’s 336, exactly 24 short of the 360 I wanted.

I dug into my Uncommons and found 4 of each colour from Theros block (I tried to have a mixture of types – creatures, sorceries, etc.), adding 20 and bringing me to 356 cards.

Those 5 artifacts bothered me, though. I didn’t have a way to put them in without unbalancing the colours. In the end I decided to leave them out, and instead I put in 4 uncommon artifacts from the block. This had the advantage of giving me exactly 24 uncommons, too.

Making the Boosters

After reading this post on MTG Salvation (link), I decided to do something similar with my Theros stuff to organize the boosters.

I shuffled the three sets of commons together by colour (i.e. a pile of White, a pile of Blue, etc.). The uncommon cards I spread out as starters for my 24 boosters, one uncommon per pack. It’s sort of like having a rare to choose from in the pack. Then from the shuffled commons piles, I put two of each colour in each booster (10+1=11 cards each now). To help increase the variability a bit, I shuffled each booster separately and took out one card. It’s possible the I removed the uncommon card, so maybe next time I will add the uncommon at the end. Ah well.

I now had 24 boosters with 10 cards each. I shuffled the undistributed cards all together (which included the card I just removed from each booster, the other colour piles, and Unknown Shores), and then put 5 cards from that stack in each booster pile. This brings each booster up to 15 cards.

Distribution

Because I put 2 of each colour into each pack at the beginning, there will be a good mixture of colours. For example, you couldn’t get a booster with a colour missing entirely. This does reveal a little bit of information, rarely: if you get a pack for the second pick and a colour is absent, you know that the person before you took that colour of card. It’ll happen pretty rarely, though, so I’m not worried about it. This is supposed to be casual, remember?

Also, because I may have removed uncommons and redistributed them, it’s possible to get more than 1 uncommon in a pack (up to 6, I suppose).

Packaging

I flipped half of each booster around so only the brown cardbacks are showing on each side, then jammed them into penny sleeves. 24 boosters fit nicely into a BCW 1-BX-400 box:

Now I need to put some land cards in there too. It’s going to be tough to have enough lands to work with, since my supply is kind of low. I’ll have to pick up some more sometime when I see them offered cheaply somewhere. The best I can find online is about $20 for 500 land (100 of each) or $30 for 1000 (both including shipping within/to Canada). I have a pretty good stack, but I like to keep my basic land mixed into decks I build, so having more would be awfully nice. (If anyone knows of a cheaper source I’d be grateful).

Playing

I haven’t tried it out yet, but I figure I should be able to get some kids at school to play, right?

Brewing for Pauper EDH (Commander) in Paper

I’ve been listening to Commanderin’, a podcast about the Commander/EDH format of Magic: The Gathering. It’s a great show with excellent production quality. 

Commander is an eternal format, meaning cards don’t rotate out (expire) over time. It also requires the use of Legendary creatures as commanders, which are typically rare and expensive. The rest of a Commander deck is comprised of 99 other unique cards and basic lands (not unique).

Sounds expensive, eh? It is. 

So I wandered onto the Interwebs and found this site, with rules for Pauper Commander:

Pauper and Peasant Commander
Sadly, the site and its successor are not being maintained, but the rules are there. Basically, it’s the Commander format with only common cards except for a possibly-uncommon Commander. The commander doesn’t have to be Legendary either, which vastly increased the number of possible choices. 

I dig into my miscellaneous, unsorted multicolour cards and found these six which seem to have fun effects:

  
I’m sure there are more powerful commanders in many sets, but I’m playing with what I have (i.e. I’m not buying more cards for this). Any thoughts about the viability of any of these cards for Pauper EDH?

Standard Pauper Battle For Zendikar, and the loss of Theros-M15

I play Magic: The Gathering (MTG or Magic) with my wife, my kids, a few friends, some students at school (hey guys!) and online.

New Magic sets are released a couple of times a year, and they are legal for Standard play for a while. Eventually they “rotate out” as they are replaced by newer sets, and the cards are only legal for play in other formats (don’t worry, there are many formats to choose from).

I have a bunch of paper cards which are “Standard” at the moment (they are from recent sets). I bought playsets (4 each) of common cards from Theros, Born of the Gods, Journey into Nix, M15 Core, Khans of Tarkir, Fate Reforged, and Dragons of Tarkir. This lets me play Standard Pauper, a format in which you can only use common cards (i.e. no uncommon, rare, or mythic rare cards).

Until tomorrow, that is… then Theros through M15 Core rotate out and aren’t legal for Standard play anymore.

For me, that’s not really a big deal. I’m not playing in tournaments. They’re perfectly good cards for a perfectly good game, it just won’t be Standard Pauper (unless I stick with just Fate Reforged and Dragons of Tarkir). I don’t need to buy more paper cards.

The Online story is different.

I started playing MTGO (username: bgrasley) a week or so ago. I now have all of the common cards from Khans through Origins (the one right after Dragons). I didn’t bother with anything before Khans because of the upcoming rotation. Battle for Zendikar comes out tomorrow (I think it’s the same time online), so then I’ll wait a few days until the common price is in line with the rest of the sets. I wonder if I might even be able to pick up Theros through M15 cheaply (right now, the price is 0.002 tickets per card, which is slightly less than a dollar for an entire set… “cheaply” is relative).

I’m most interested in playing Standard Pauper so I’ll definitely need to pick up BFZ’s commons soon so I have more cards to work with. It should be interesting.

The two card I’ll really miss

Triplicate Spirits and Raise the Alarm. Both of these white spells generate foolish numbers of tokens very cheaply. The 1/1 White Flying Spirit Tokens have won me several games.

I haven’t played with the Theros block cards yet (they’re still wrapped up in the box), so I won’t miss anything from there yet. I understand people who play other colours have some painful losses to rotation as well.

I’m going to read some set reviews, especially those focused on Standard Pauper, and see what I might brew up for BFZ.

What are you going to miss?

MTG Pauper M15 Core-only Mono-Red deck

Round two… I modified my BW deck from yesterday a bit (took out Divine Favor and Unmake the Graves, replacing them with Selfless Cathar, Necrobite, and Crippling Blight) then spent just a few minutes putting together a Mono Red Pauper deck again using only M15 Core commons. Here’s the (as yet unplayed) deck:

Creatures (24)
4 Borderland Marauder
4 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Generator Servant
4 Thundering Giant
4 Torch Fiend
4 Wall of Fire

Instants (8)
4 Crowd’s Favor
4 Lightning Strike

Enchantments (8)
4 Hammerhand
4 Inferno Fist

Land (20)
20 Mountain

I don’t know if I should have that many Thundering Giants, but I figure I can trade up my Generator Servants for them in round 3 or so. There are a bunch of cards in here I’ve never used, so we’ll see what happens. Comments and concerns welcome :)