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August 30, 2008

RPG Spring Cleaning

We’re doing some spring-cleaning here this weekend, and I decided it was long past time I made some more room on my shelves. To the local second-hand bookstore went my Dungeons & Dragons v3.5 core rulebooks and the Eberron Campaign Setting, Star Wars Revised Core Rulebook, the Serenity RPG, my Amazing Engine core and supplements, HERO System 5th Edition and the Sidekick supplement, Systems Failure, The Shadow of Yesterday and Nine Worlds. Into the recycling bin have gone Traveller: The New Era, Brilliant Lances (the T:NE starship combat strategy game), Car Wars Deluxe Edition and Shatterzone, as well as reams of character sheets, system summaries, campaign notes and printed PDF rulebooks, stuff I’ll never need to use again and, in all honesty, probably never actually put to any practical use in a game in the first place.

Am I giving up on the RPG hobby? No; I still have almost a shelf full of RPG product, including the D&D 4th Edition Player’s Handbook. Also, John Wick’s latest game, Houses of the Blooded, will be on its way to me as soon as John sorts out some unfortunate shipping issues. But if you’re a regular reader of this web log you’ve probably noticed the sense of gnawing dissatisfaction in my posts about gaming as far back as the Black Talon campaign, especially those games that I’m GMing.

I’ve made the odd cynical comment about how Cairns is pretty much a D&D town, and while Dungeons & Dragons might be fun to play in on the odd occasion, it’s not a game that I want to play regularly, let alone Game Master. The same goes for a lot of what are considered traditional RPGs. All the expected prep work doesn’t give me anywhere near the payoff that it ought. I honestly doubt I’ll find anyone in Cairns willing and able to take a punt on playing Houses or Lacuna or The Shadow of Yesterday or Burning Empires or even InSpectres.

So what’s the alternative? Well, I’ve been reading over and over again lately that RPGs should be enjoyed with friends. There are two problems, though.

Firstly – and this will read harsh, so my apologies in advance – with the exception of a few, the hobbyists I’ve met since moving to Cairns have been acquaintances instead of friends; I probably wouldn’t bother to know them if they weren’t in the hobby. Hell, since I wound that Star Wars Saga Edition game down and left the Feng Shui one, I’ve barely exchanged a word with any of the people I played with. In the past I’ve called them just to see how they were doing and they’ve seemed surprised, while the odd contact I’ve had from them was almost always to find out when the next game was.

Secondly, while it’s easy to talk about making friends into gamers, we don’t really have enough people we’re close enough to up here whom I’d be willing to try and introduce to the hobby, even if I were suggesting a game of InSpectres.

I’ve come to accept that I wasn’t getting a great deal out of the hobby, and given my current circumstances I’m unlikely to get what I want out of it. The thought of never being in another RPG session used to drive me up the wall. Nowadays, I’m happy with my current circumstances and there are areas of improvement other than gaming that I know will yield results if I invest my time and effort into them. My RPG books can sit on their shelf without eliciting pangs of longing in me.

I’m not giving up on the hobby, just setting it aside for the moment – regardless of however long that moment may turn out to be.

August 25, 2008

MLG Toronto: Following the Coverage

Back in April, I posted about how I’d followed a link from the Bungie website and discovered a televised professional video gaming league in the states. I’ve been following the Halo 3 part of the Major League Gaming 2008 Pro Circuit on and off since; I’ve come to know the names of commentators Sundance diGiovanni and Chris Puckett, and I always look forward to the next ESPN/MLG Top 10 (one mistake I made in the last post; MLG isn’t a division of ESPN, it’s a company on it’s own which has a broadcast contract with ESPN). Scarier still, I now know the name Stride Gum about as well as I do that of Powdermilk Biscuits.

I came in at the tail end of the Meadowlands Championship, catching up via the website's online rebroadcasts of the event. Two more events were conducted, one in San Diego in June and another in Orlando in July. A few hours ago, though, the fourth Pro Circuit stop in Toronto came to an end. For the first time I found myself not only following the Halo 3 tournament (there were also Gears of War and Rainbow Six Vegas 2 tourneys) closely across the weekend (when my bloody connection would allow me to load the MLG website and, if I was lucky, stream video) but also barracking for a couple of teams.

You know, it’s interesting that the name of most of these teams don’t sound particularly gamer-ish; I almost expect to find teams named Carbon, Classic, Empire and Legendz in a neighbourhood bowling or indoor soccer comp. But Final Boss, there’s a name that not only sounds unusual to the un-initiated, but screams “Gamer!” to other gamers. I’ve liked these guys ever since they took out Meadowlands; I've since learned that they’ve been The Team To Beat in the MLG leagues since Halo 2 launched.

But then, there’s Instinct. Not only does one of the team have the most fun name of the league (that name, by the way, is Lunchbox), but since Orlando they’ve also had one of the most well-known faces on the MLG circuit. Walshy was captain of Final Boss until the team placed a shock seventh in San Diego and was only able to claw its way back up to fifth in Orlando. It seems the other three team members decided a team change was needed and gave Walshy, who’d been with the team since 2004, the pink slip.

Instinct, though, themselves also in need of a change, pounced on Walshy and up-and-coming player Soviet (yeah, he was born in Russia) to replenish their roster (it’s interesting to note that Walshy went from playing with twins, Ogre 1 and Ogre 2, to playing with another set of twins, Lunchbox and Roy).

Of course, this set the stage for a grudge match, and did Toronto deliver.

MLG organises its Pro Circuit comps along a double-elimination format. In a regular (single elimination) championship format, your team is knocked out of the running as soon as it loses. In double elimination, though, losing once gets you bumped down to what’s called the “losers' bracket”, a second tree giving competitors another shot. Instinct won every match it played until the Winners' Bracket final, where they were beaten by Str8 Rippin and bumped to the Losers' Bracket final – where their opposition turned out to be Final Boss (a double irony, as Walshy’s replacement Neighbor had himself quit Str8 Rippin to fill Walshy’s spot). Now, as I like both of these teams I wasn’t really going for one or the other – but when Instinct pulled a 3-1 win, I couldn’t help but be pleased for Walshy and his team (including Lunchbox).

Still, there’s a certain arrogance to the otherwise-charismatic Walshy (I originally made a backhanded remark here, but the guy can talk to an interviewer without stumbling, and he knows how to work a crowd when on the main finals stage) – when asked his opinion on the FB/Instinct match before the Champ Final, he replied, "It was like taking candy from a baby… but I think the baby would’ve put up a better fight.”

Unfortunately, Instinct couldn’t carry their victory over into a Championship win. In a double elimination tournament, the top team of the Winners’ Bracket meets the top team of the Losers’ Bracket for the championship final. As mentioned before, Str8 Rippin had defeated Instinct 3-1 in the Winners’ Bracket final , which meant Instinct, as Losers' Bracket winners, had to face them again in the Championship Final. Per MLG rules the scores from the WB Final carried over, making the Championship Final a Best-of-11 match and giving Str8 a two-game advantage. The match turned out to be a repeat of the Winners’ Bracket final; although every game was close, with Walshy turning a two-nil score in a game of Capture the Flag on Narrows into a win by bagging three flag captures in a row, Str8 pulled ahead in three games to take the Championship crown.

I’m not fond of Str8 Rippin. I mentioned Walshy’s arrogant streak earlier, but team captain TSquared is just too aggressive for me. After Str8 won the fifth game in the Championship Final in Orlando, he leapt to his feet, yelling “You want to win? This is how you win!” at opponents Triggers Down (thankfully they followed his example, winning the next three games and the Orlando Championship). So I was a bit narked when Str8 beat Instinct at Toronto.

Sometimes, I find myself wishing these wound-up players would concentrate on entertaining through skill than through trash talk. It’s a game tournament; the audience is entertained by displays of skill, not by this crap. But I know they won’t stop trash talking – because bloody hell, it’s just so damn entertaining when someone pulls the drama tag out!

I feel so ashamed for buying into it - and yet I can’t wait for Dallas and the ’08 final…