Cartography: Where do All Those Maps Come From?

This post is a submission from Mark Richardson about cartography – making the maps we use to ry to navigate to our friends’ houses and inevitably get lost. Don’t tell Mark I said that.


 

Cartography is broadly defined as the art, science, and ethics of map making and map use. The art of Cartography draws upon the research and practices of graphic design blended with the scientific knowledge of geography. The ethics are about avoiding misrepresentation and creation of falsehoods in the information.

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Some Brief History

The art of Cartography goes back as far as human history. People have always been making maps, of varying accuracy, to try to navigate and understand our place in the world. Early maps were crafted by hand using pens and brushes and did not become widely available until the printing press. The advent of the compass, telescope, sextant and other devices allowed the accurate surveying of land and the creation of accurate sea navigation charts. For a long time cartography was only viewed as a field to map the world; however, as technology and science advanced, people began to use maps to analyze what was happening in the world around us.

The best known and most widely cited first use of analysis in the field of cartography was during 1854 when a Dr. John Snow depicted a Cholera outbreak in London. Dr. Snow mapped out where cases occurred and his study of the distribution led to determining the source of the disease at a contaminated water pump.

Technological Development

Cartography has advanced by leaps and bounds with the creation of computer technology and the founding of Geographic Information Systems (G.I.S.). GIS is a specialized computer system designed to manage, create and analyze geographic information. GIS technology was founded in Canada during the early 1960’s by Dr. Roger Tomlinson who just recently passed away (I met him once at a recent conference; it was weird to meet someone who invented your career).

GIS technology has led to standardized data formats and advanced tools to manage and analyze geographic information. In the modern world GIS is used in a variety of fields such as natural resources, environmental assessments, land surveying, business management (logistics), utility management etc… If you want to learn more about modern GIS systems and/or try some freebie software.

Cartographic Principles

Whether the map maker is using modern computer systems or pen and compass, there are a number of key concepts that must be understood in order to create effective and accurate maps: Projections, Scale, Generalization and Symbolization.

Projections

Whether or not we treat the earth as a sphere or a spheroid, we must transform its three-dimensional surface to create a flat map sheet. This mathematical transformation is commonly referred to as a map projection. The easiest way to understand this concept is to visualize shining a light through the earth onto a surface. Imagine the earth’s surface is clear with the major lines of longitude and latitude (a grid) drawn on it. Wrapping a piece of paper around the earth and placing the light at the centre of the earth would cast shadows of this grid onto the paper. If we then un-wrapped the paper and laid it flat, we would then see that the shape of the transformed grid is different than that on the earth: our map projection has distorted our original grid.
The earth’s spheroid can’t be flattened to a plane any more easily than a piece of orange peel can be flattened – it will rip. When we represent the earth’s surface in two dimensions we can cause distortions in the shape, area, distance and direction of points.
Modern GIS computer systems use mathematical formulas to relate spherical coordinates on the globe to flatten maps. Different projections cause different types of distortions. Map makers take care to use projections that accurately represent the area or activities that are being mapped. One projection may accurately reflect the shape of Canada but poorly reflect the shape of the United States for example. Most regions and countries of the world have developed specific map projections to ensure that local area/distance calculations are more accurate. If you want to see some samples of different Map Projections, click here.

Scale

Map scale refers to the size of the representation on the map as compared to the size of the object on the ground. Scale is usually represented as a representative fraction or proportion for example “1:63,630” “or one inch on the map is to 63,630 inches on the ground (1 Mile)”. Scale in maps is often referred to as either Large or Small scale; this is referring to the size of the representative fraction, ie: a 1:10,000 or 1:50,000 map is considered large scale and small scale maps would be like 1:500,000 or 1:1,000,000.
When making a map it is important to pick a scale that will allow you to display information at a meaningful level of detail without overwhelming the reader. I recently blogged at Length on the topic of scale and fictional worlds.

Generalization

Cartographic generalization is the method whereby information is selected and represented on a map in a way that differs from the real world. Generalizations are made to adapt information to the scale of the map, while not necessarily preserving the precise geographic detail.

If you look at most road maps you’ll notice generalization is very common. If you see a road that is next to a river there is often space provided between the two objects so that you can clearly follow both features where as in the real world the river and road may be directly adjacent to each other. Another example of common generalization is making roads thick enough to place street names within them, it aids the map interpretation but distorts the size of the actual road. Many high quality GIS datasets come in both generalized formats for use on small scale maps and highly accurate (even sub-meter accuracy) formats for use in large scale mapping.

Symbolization

Symbols are the graphic language that a cartographer uses to communicate common elements on a map. Over time symbols and their use have been standardized to varying degrees of success. Symbolization includes the use of colour and annotation to denote features. For example, Colour is commonly broken into blue for hydrographic features, green for vegetation, brown for relief and black/red for human activities. However, depending on the purpose of the map the use of colours can vary wildly, such as on geological surveys.
The use of symbols generally necessitates a legend which is placed on the map to explain any and all symbol elements. For some standards that the United States Geological Survey uses, check here. All of these topics can be expanded upon at much greater length and detail but the above is a good crash course on Cartography and hopefully I’ve piqued your curiosity to learn more on the topic.

About Mark:
My name is Mark Richardson, I’m 36 years old and live in Ottawa, ON, Canada. I’ve been making maps professionally for over 15 years and recently started my own company “Green Hat Designs” to develop my own RPG and to provide my cartographic skills to the field of game design.

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What is The World of Greyhawk?

Here’s Brian with a submission about his favourite Dungeons and Dragons setting, Greyhawk. In D&D, a setting is a world you can put your game into. It comes complete with monsters, places to visit, people to meet, etc.


greyhawkFor many gamers, The World of Greyhawk (or just Greyhawk) is the beginning of it all when it comes to role-playing games and while it is not technically the first-ever campaign setting (that was Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor setting by a few months), it is arguably one of the most iconic settings ever created.

A brief history lesson…

In the early 1970s, The Grand Poobahs of Nerddom, Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax agreed to co-create and produce a set of variant rules based on the popular wargames of the era by allowing players to take control of a single character and advance their skills over time in a fantasy setting (rather than legions of nameless, faceless soldiers). Gygax was already incorporating fantasy elements into his wargaming experiences by introducing magic and fantasy creatures (dragons, giants, etc.), but Arneson first struck upon the idea of taking a small group of heroes into monster and trap-filled dungeons beneath castles for fun and profit. Gygax fell in love with the idea and both began word on the game that would become Dungeons & Dragons and pretty much change the lives of hundreds of thousands of gamers for generations. No biggie, right?

To playtest the rules in the early days, Arneson used his setting, The Barony of Blackmoor while Gygax began with a simple dungeon level located beneath the ruins of a castle he dubbed “Greyhawk”. The very first session in the World of Greyhawk featured a dungeon infested with giant centipedes and scorpions. Gygax acted as the DM for the session while his two children (Ernie and Elise) acted as his first players.

That’s right, the World of Greyhawk, the granddaddy of them all, began with two kids, a simple dungeon level, and giant centipedes.

Roots, kids. Roots.

From there, the group expanded with a few new players and Gygax added more levels to the dungeon to increase the difficulty. Soon after, he created a nearby city, also named Greyhawk, as a safe haven for the player characters to rest, re-supply, and sell their hard earned treasures discovered in the perilous dungeon complex. This concept in itself is huge, as the model of looting dungeons and returning to a home base is present in games across every genre.

Word spread locally about the new game and if you believe the stories, dozens of gamers crammed into Gygax’s house nightly to take a turn at the table and brave the dungeon. Such was the demand that one of the original playtesters, Rob Kuntz took up the role of co-DM with Gygax, adding his own levels to the dungeon, and took groups of players (including Gygax himself) on adventures in the World of Greyhawk.

The dungeon and city of Greyhawk expanded every week with every new session and eventually the players did what all players do and asked what waited beyond the walls of the city of Greyhawk. Eager to expand his creation and the playtest, Gygax took his players out of the dungeons and into the open world. As the players journeyed outward, Gygax created new regions and fantastic locations for his playtesters to explore. He populating this new world with NPCs (non-player characters), gods, exotic treasures, monsters, and villains all while developing a rich world history.

Player characters from the original groups went on to become iconic NPCs in not only the World of Greyhawk but also in the core mythos of Dungeons & Dragons. Names like Robilar, Murlynd, Tenser, Mordenkainen, and Bigby appear in books across every edition. Spells associated with wizards such as Tenser and Bigby remain player favorites to this day because come on, Tenser’s Floating Disc made everyone’s life easier and who doesn’t like Bigbys “Hand” spells (Crushing, Imposing, Condescending… okay I made that last one up)?

The World of Greyhawk introduced concepts like political intrigue, war, neutrality, balance, and the epitomes of good and evil.

War played a huge role in the development of the campaign setting, drawing from the wargaming roots of the game as nations collided over power and political squabbles, often with players caught in the middle. For young gamers (myself included) this was a first look at high-concept themes. The game and Greyhawk could be a lighthearted or as serious as needed.

As for iconic locales, Greyhawk really set the tone for establishing environments as important set pieces or characters themselves in adventures. Many of the classic dungeon adventures, The Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, The Ghost Tower of Inverness and The Temple of Elemental Evil were all created in the World of Greyhawk. If you invoke the Tomb of Horrors in certain company be prepared to have a box of Kleenex and a sympathetic shoulder to cry on. Many were called in that adventure module but few returned.

Greyhawk is near and dear to my heart because it is the first campaign setting I ever played in and when you look at the influence and iconic ideas that came from Greyhawk it is easy to see why so many gamers sing its praises. When I meet gamers new to Dungeons & Dragons, I always suggest taking a trip down memory lane with one of the classic adventures I mentioned, specifically the Temple of Elemental Evil. Everyone should play Temple at least once in their lives.

By remembering where Dungeons & Dragons came from, we have a greater appreciation for where it is now and where it could go in the future. Many fine campaign settings came along after but for me, it all goes back to where Dungeons & Dragons began and the World of Greyhawk: the first homebrew setting.

Brian Patterson cartoonist and GM behind the webcomic d20Monkey.
d20Monkey.com / @d20Monkey

WONDER WOMAN …And why I love loving her

Tabetha’s a major Wonder Woman fan. Are you ready to learn all about what makes her so great? There are also Wonder Woman facts in here that are fascinating!


 

wonder womanBefore I word vomit all over this blog and fan girl out about my long time love of Wonder Woman I need to start with a brief history on how and why she was created. I’ll follow this all up by letting you know more about her in the comics and where to start if you would like to read some of the better Wonder Woman stories.

A brief history of Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman – created in 1940 by psychologist William Marston with his wife, Elizabeth. Marston, famous for inventing the polygraph, wanted to create a hero who would not triumph with fists or firepower, but with love, justice and truth. A strong woman, not only physically but in morals and her beliefs of fighting for what is right and just in the world.

Elizabeth was a huge inspiration for this character as she helped collaborate to develop this character into who she has become today. Marston wrote: “Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.” He went on to say in a 1943 issue of The American Scholar

“Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”

So, as you see, even from the original idea behind Wonder Woman, she was meant to empower and ignite passion in us to become more than what we are or seen as. A role model for young female readers.

About Wonder Woman Herself

Born on the Paradise Island of Themyscira (pronounced Them-mes-skera) to a race of Amazon Warriors, Princess Diana, daughter of Queen Hippolyta, was (in the more widely accepted origin stories) birthed out of clay. Granted divine powers by the Gods of Olympus, she was given super strength comparable to Superman as well as an array of mental and psychic abilities (depending on which comic incarnation) including ESP, astral projection, telepathy and mental control over the electricity in her body.

Princess Diana comes to America, donning the alias Diana Prince and becomes Wonder Woman. She has been described in past comic issues as being “[as] beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, as swift as Hermes and as strong as Hercules”. Sounds like a pretty rounded superheroine to me!

From Marston’s invention of the polygraph came the idea of the magic Lasso of Truth. The only weapon wielded by Wonder Woman, Princess Diana of Themyscira, which she uses to extract confessions and compel obedience in whoever is captured in its grasp. Made from the girdle of Aphrodite, it is impossible to lie under the effect of this infinitely long and unbreakable rope.

Some other amazing items in Diana’s arsenal is her magic tiara which functions as a deadly boomerang (what woman wouldn’t want this item, I know I do!), her utility earrings that allow her to breathe in outer space and her unbreakable bracers that not only deflect bullets but if removed will send its owner into a berserker rage of anger.

Wonder Woman’s introduction into the Justice League of America comics started her out as the Leagues awkward “good woman” secretary of the 1940’s, but in the 70 years since, Wonder Woman has become an icon of the liberated woman.

Over all, Wonder Woman is a powerful force of feminism to be reckoned with. A woman who has fought dragons, dinosaurs, aliens, Nazi’s and has even bruised Superman himself. Regardless of how she has been drawn or written, one incarnation has become the basis of comparison for all that is Wondy, the TV series starring Linda Carter. Linda Carter has always been a big influence for me and why I got into reading the WW comics… but that’s a story for another blog.

Start Reading Wonder Woman!

There are SO MANY Wonder Woman comics (70 years’ worth) it would be impossible to just jump right in. So here are my top 5 places to start depending on when in her history you’re looking to start. Some of these may be out of print but there are digital copies to buy out there.

Wonder Woman Chronicles Book 1 – Back to the beginning. If you are looking to start back at Wondy’s very beginning from the 1940’s and on, this is the book to read. Plus she kicks a lot of Nazi ass!

Wonder Woman – Spirit of Truth – Here is a simple yet powerful modern story of Wonder Woman. It serves as a quick recap of Wonder Woman’s origin from Hippolyta’s perspective then gets right into the heart of who Diana/WW is and her relevance in the modern world. This story is particularly strong in how Diana struggles with whether or not she can truly affect how women are still treated in parts of our world.

JLA – A League of One – This one-shot is a standalone story and I pick it solely for character portrayal reasons. If you ever thought Wonder Woman was not comparable to the likes of Superman or Batman, this comic shows you how wrong you are. The story highlights Diana’s keen intellect and battle prowess and shows us what she is willing to face to save the people she loves. Plus, DRAGONS! Seriously, she fights an ancient dragon in this one.

Wonder Woman – The Hiketeia – This graphic novel is set in Gotham City and features the Dark Knight himself. This is a darker story but one of my favourites. Batman is in pursuit of a woman suspected of murdering her sister’s killers and she pleads for Wonder Woman’s oath of protection with the ritual called Hiketeia. This pins Bats and Wondy against each other climaxing at an epic roof top fight between the two heroes. It has some pretty compelling scenes between WW and Bats and is worth the read if you can find it.

Superman/Wonder Woman (The New 52) – If you’re looking to catch up before the movie then this is where to start. Gal Gadot is playing Wondy in the new Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie and I’m praying to the comic book gods that she does the part justice. We need a good WW movie and I hope this is the start of a beautiful big screen adaptation.

My one regret is not adding any of Gail Simone’s Wonder Woman comics to the list but I will end this saying that if you enjoy any of these stories above than check out The Circle by Gail Simone as it also serves as a re-telling of her story. And if reading isn’t your thing check out Wonder Woman: The Animated Movie as it stays true to the original story while still making the characters fresh and interesting.

 

How do I Run a Tabletop RPG?

This post is about a fun and scary nerdy rite of passage: running a tabletop RPG for the first time. It’s scary and rewarding. How do you do it? Brian’s here to take us through the process!


2014-02-22 21.19.39At the risk of making asses out of umptions, I’m going to assume a couple of things if you’re reading this article.

Assumption 1: You’re familiar enough with roleplaying games to want to run one. Probably you’ve at least played one, though maybe you haven’t.

Assumption 2: Actually, yeah, the first assumption kind of takes care of it. I guess I’m only making one assumption.

Not An Assumption: Because I won’t assume that you know all the lingo, here’s the lingo I’ll be using this article. An RPG is a roleplaying game. An RPG has players, and usually has a GM (game master, game moderator, referee, storyteller, or other, similar term); that’s the person who runs the game. That’s who you’re going to be.

Running a tabletop RPG for the first time can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. There are ways you can mitigate the stress involved, and it’s one of those things that gets easier and more natural the more you do it. And here’s a secret: it’s super fun.

I enjoy playing a specific role in an RPG; I enjoy inhabiting that role and figuring out what makes that character tick. I enjoy pushing him or her, finding the point at which dramatic stuff starts to happen.

But what I like even more is helping that happen for other people, and that’s what being a GM is all about. There are really two things you have to overcome if you’re going to run a game for the first time: the prep work and the fear.

The Prep Work

Different RPGs require different levels of prep work in order to facilitate smooth play at the table. A game like Pathfinder is going to require a larger amount of prep, as you plan encounters, stat up monsters and other characters, figure out what kinds of treasure you want in the adventure, and so forth. A game like Apocalypse World, on the other hand, requires relatively little prep work; you make your characters, talk a bit about what you’re going to be doing, and then you start.

Prep work is important for a first-time GM. It’s good to have material to fall back on when things don’t go the way you expected, and it’s good to have an idea of how you want to respond to your players when they make decisions. More important than that, though, prep work helps you get in the right frame of mind to run the game.

When you prepare for a game, you force yourself to think about it, to run through possibilities, to immerse yourself in the world. A trick I like to use is to play out important scenes that I think might happen in my head. I imagine the dialog, the action, the setting, the way the characters move. Then I go back and I imagine it going a different way. It helps me run through possibilities and learn to adapt to changing situations, but it also helps me get enthusiastic and excited about the game.

You want to be careful not to over-prepare. I’ve done that in the past. I remember one time, prepping for a session of D&D: I statted out every encounter that was going to happen in the upcoming session, planned every room, placed every monster. Then, in the first encounter, my players made a decision that took them in a completely different direction. It happens.

Prepping too much can foster rigidity of thought when it comes to your game. You want to be prepared, but you also want to be flexible and adaptable, and you don’t want to be frustrated by spending hours preparing material that nobody will ever see now.

The Fear

Running an RPG for the first time is scary. Maybe it’s scary in a good way, maybe it’s just plain scary, but either way there’s a hurdle you have to jump over to do it that first time.

You can mitigate this somewhat by playing with friends you feel comfortable with, people who will support you and work with you and engage with your game in good faith.

Even if you’re still scared, here’s the thing to remember: it gets easier. I don’t just mean that it gets easier the next time you run a game (though that’s also true), I mean that it’s probably going to start getting easier partway through the current game. You’re going to be nervous at first but, somewhere into the game, you’re going to forget how nervous you are and just start having fun.

And that’s what it comes down to: GMing a game is fun. It can be demanding and it can be pressure, but it’s also rewarding as hell to run a game and look at a table full of smiling faces and people high-fiving each other and talking about that awesome thing that happened when you overhear them a week later.

That’s why I do it.

Brian Engard is a game designer and marketing dude who lives in Texas, but don’t let that fool you because he’s really an okay guy. He designs Fate stuff, mouths off about games and diversity and feminism online, and is hopelessly addicted to Storium. Please send help.

Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, Great About LEGO.

Today we’ve got a submission that came to us without a question! Randall is an incredible LEGO fan, and he’s written the blog post to show it. 


 

legoLEGO.

If you haven’t heard that word, you might have been living in a cave somewhere on Mars. LEGO is, of course, a building block system that has been around for some time. A lot of you reading this probably had LEGO sets as a kid. For me, however, I was only able to get into LEGO as an adult. As a result, it’s become a hobby of mine.

Any walk down a toy aisle in any major department store will show you worlds of LEGO product. If you’re new to wanting to put little plastic bricks together, the choices can be intimidating. Fortunately, there are some great tactics to enable just about anyone to embrace that satisfying “click” of LEGO bricks.

First, let’s get something out of the way. While I love LEGO, their marketing is a bit antiquated. They like to split their product offerings by traditional gender expectations. It’s pretty much an old fashioned way of doing things. So let me make this next point clear:

ALL LEGO IS FOR ANYONE – GIRLS, BOYS, and ANYONE IN BETWEEN.

Okay, with that cleared up, let me tell you the one big secret about getting into LEGO. The secret is this – do you have another geeky interest? Comic books? Mecha? Star Wars? Lord of the Rings? Undersea Adventures? Minecraft? Architecture? Miniatures? Terrain? THERE’S LEGO FOR THAT THING!!

It’s true. In the last fifteen years or so, LEGO has greatly expanded the licensing properties they own. They build sets for all kinds of other geeky interests. That’s how I really jumped into the hobby. See, I’m a huge Dungeons & Dragons geek. I wanted to somehow mix my love of that game with the cool offerings from LEGO. In the past, they only had a few castle sets that would fill this need. Not too long ago, though, they began offering sets from Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I was sold. Since then, I’ve acquired all but one of the sets in those series (I might have a problem).

Today, I use LEGO for miniatures in my Dungeons & Dragons games. I’ve collected so many sets that I have orcs, goblins, skeletons, dragons, horses, spiders, and a whole host of other cool LEGO that are reasonably scale appropriate for my game. That doesn’t even include being able to allow my players to customize their own LEGO mini-fig to use as their player character miniature! In addition, I use a lot of the architectural elements found in some of my acquired sets for actual terrain on the game table. In fact, I even built a fancy dice tumbler out of LEGO.

Admittedly, that’s a bit of an endgame example. LEGO can be an expensive hobby. The product is in great demand, and that commands a premium price. Fortunately, LEGO offers sets at a number of different price points. If you’re just getting started, then start small. Find a small set in the genre you enjoy and see how you like it. If you’re like me, you’ll save your allowance and your collection will begin to grow in no time.

So here’s the deal. If you think you’re interested in LEGO, think about what other kinds of geeky things you’re in to. Then, do some research on the LEGO.com website. They have a great site, that while geared to the younger set, does a great job of showcasing their latest offerings. I recommend going straight to their online shop. It’s easy to browse, and you can filter your search for just the things you want to look at. You can even buy individual quantities of selected bricks to build your own thing!

That last statement reminds me. There’s another big secret for LEGO enthusiasts. Check out a site called Bricklink. It’s basically an eBay for after-market LEGO. You can find rare bricks and even discontinued sets on that site. It’s got a great search engine for finding exactly the kind of LEGO bricks you want.

LEGO is everywhere. From Mini-figs to expansive $100 plus sets, any place that sells toys will have some LEGO offering. There are now LEGO branded wearables, video games, books, and even an enormously popular movie!  The whole LEGO multiverse can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Simply find your geeky center, find the LEGO that best fits it, and get to building!

Have more questions about LEGO? Ask me on this site here, or contact me directly on Twitter (@deadorcs)! I’ll be happy to share more!

R.M. Walker

X-Men: Where do I Start?

Brianna asks:

So, I want to get more involved in comic books.

I know that is a BROAD blanket so let me help you out. I think I’d really like X-men, to start, but I’m really overwhelmed. You’d think from working in a comic shop for 2 years I’d know where to start, but I truly don’t.

So, if I were to get into X-men specifically, where would be a good place to start?


Answering this question is the great Shoshana Kessock! She’s a LARPer, game designer, writer and scholar. Learn more about her on her website!

wolverineGetting into a comic book after years and years is sometimes an overwhelming prospect- especially withs something as long-standing as X-Men! I have a few suggestions about how to get into the series, and you can try it whatever way feels best for you.

1) Start From The Beginning: Sounds terrifying? It’s not that bad. Marvel has collected the beginnings of a lot of their comics and X-Men is no different – you can find the first adventures of the X-Men in a graphic novel called X-Men Vol. 1. Now, that’s delving into some old (and sometimes dated) issues, but I would suggest with X-Men at least reading the very first one of these to get the idea of the X-Men’s first adventures. They’re still quite good and gets you in the mindset of what the X-Men are all about. If you are already familiar with their whole ‘Children of the Atom, fighting against a world that hates and fears them’ thing and want to skip over? Head down to…

2) Chris Claremont’s X-Men: When Chris Claremont came aboard the X-Men, he created and introduced a number of characters that are now considered staples of the X-Men world, like Nightcrawler, Wolverine and Storm. Their first storyline started in Giant Sized X-Men #1 from 1975 and can be a great place to get into some of the most iconic story lines of the X-Men. The upcoming movie Days of Future Past? That was a Claremont storyline from this time period. Giant Sized X-Men #1 is part of the graphic novel called Second Genesis and is a great place to start. From there, you can go on to…

3) The Greatest Graphic Novels: As I said, Claremont’s run started a period of amazing story lines in the X-Men universe, many of which are influences over the movies that are coming out right now and the awesome cartoon that went on in the 90’s as well. There is an extensive list here but the story lines I would say to read would be:

  • Days of Future Past
  • The Dark Phoenix Saga
  • From The Ashes
  • Asgardian Wars
  • Mutant Massacre
  • Fall of the Mutants
  • Inferno

These are the basic story lines that I consider the pre-90’s awesome story lines to be read. If you want to skip over all these, however? Check out the Wikipedia entries on these story lines and then skip right to-

4) The Awesome 90’s: X-Men hit a time period of fantastic stories in the 90’s. This was the time when there were so many cool X-Men characters that they actually split down to having two teams of X-Men and spawned the age of the millions of different X-Men books that started making things so complicated for us. This time period started with the relaunch of X-Men as a title with X-Men #1 by Jim Lee. Those stories are collected in X-Men Visionaries: Jim Lee and is worth the read. From this time period, the graphic novels to check out would be:

  • X-Men Visionaries: Jim Lee
  • Days of Future PResent
  • X-Tinction Agenda
  • Mutant Genesis
  • X-Cutioner’s Song
  • Fatal Attraction

There’s also story lines that come after this, like Onslaught and such, but this is where it becomes very hard to keep track of what’s going on with multiple books. X-Men split in this time period into Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, X-Force, X-Factor, Excalibur and New Mutants, and there’s lots of great story lines in each. Lots of X-Men fans have favorite side books (I’m a fan of Excalibur myself) but going into the extensive side stories can be confusing.

In fact, even a list this long can be difficult. I’m even skipping over everything from the late 90’s into 2011, where there are years of great plots and writers.

But for a great, quick, and much easier entry point, I’d say there is a great place to get into X-Men that skips ALL of this if you’d like.

5) Just Skip To The Present Day: That’s right, I know that’s almost sacrilege to a lot of X-Men fans. However, the recent relaunch and streamlining of the X-titles have made them extremely accessible to entry right now. I point specifically to the titles Wolverine and the X-Men and All-New X-Men and the original title X-Men as three great titles to get in right now. They don’t have that many issues since their relaunch and each has a particularly strong story to their teams. Wolverine and the X-Men tells the story of the newly revamped mutant school with Wolverine as the headmaster, while All-New X-Men has the original five X-Men transported into the future (sounds wacky but it’s great reading), and X-Men being an exploration of an all-women team of X-Men under the direction of Storm. If you have the basics of some of the stories above to know more about the characters you’re interested in, you’ll be able to hop into these titles quickly. They might reference things that have happened in the past, but don’t be afraid to just Wikipedia or Google something if you don’t know what it is. (Like “When did Storm start wearing her hair in a mohawk?” or “Why is Wolverine headmaster? Where is Professor Xavier?”)

With the basics of those past graphic novels and a handy-dandy internet search as a glossary of ‘what are they talking about’ you can become X-Men savvy pretty quick.

Bonus: If you want to really get into some great X-Men stuff and learn more, check out the X-Men Cartoon from the 1990’s. That cartoon went out of it’s way to be as close to the comic books as possible in their story lines and made them super simple to digest. It was so popular that it introduced characters like Jubilee and Morph into the comic book world! It’s well written, though it has aged a little badly, but it’ll give you the short version of story arches like the rise of the Sentinals and the Dark Phoenix Saga.

Another Bonus: The X-Men are known for spawning multiple alternate realities. Why? Because they time travel and wibbly-wobbly timey-whimey, that’s why. They’re known for having story lines that are all about ‘what if’ and some of them are amazing, complex, and heart-breaking for our favorite mutants. I would suggest realities like Age of Apocalypse for reading, as well as House of M for a look at what the world would be like if the villain Apocalypse had taken over, or a world in which mutants ruled the world.

D&D and Pathfinder: What’s the Difference?

Cara asks:

What is Pathfinder and how does it differ from DnD?

I am a fan of both, and I know a lot of people who are! On this topic we’ve got Dave Chalker,  a tabletop RPG fan and game designer.


 

2014-02-22 20.37.02Dungeons & Dragons has had multiple editions, dating back from the 70s to, well, sometime this year. Each edition changes up the rules, has different authors, different options for what characters you can play, different monsters, even different styles of game that it supports.

Think about something like Windows having a bunch of versions, like how Windows 95 is different than Windows XP which is different than Windows 8. A lot of the broad strokes are the same between each one, generally support the same kind of use, but have different looks, feels, and things they’re better or worse at. Each of these ‘versions’ is called an Edition. See a list of D&D editions.

So one of D&D’s editions was 3.5 (just like a piece of software, it was an update to a previous edition, with just a bunch of stuff patched and a .5 added onto the end.) D&D 3 and 3.5 were (and are!) super popular D&D editions.

Once it was announced there would be a D&D 4, a bunch of the folks who worked on D&D 3.5 (the company Paizo) decided to take the underlying engine that powered it and patch it up some more, but not so much that you had to throw out all the books you already had from D&D 3.5. That game is Pathfinder.

That means Pathfinder is another version of D&D, just made by a different company than who makes the official game with the D&D name on it. (In this author’s opinion, a lot of games are D&D, which I’ll talk about later.) Pathfinder takes D&D 3.5, keeps most of the main concepts, character options, and mostly maintains compatibility between the two. At the same time, Paizo puts out a steady stream of many new books, supplements, adventures, and more.

At the moment, a lot of data points towards Pathfinder being the biggest RPG currently putting out new products, especially while D&D works on its next new edition. That’s one of the big advantages of Pathfinder: new books all the time, and not just official products, there’s also all kinds of smaller companies and fans publishing too.

Between that, and everything made for D&D 3 and 3.5 still floating around out there, there’s sourcebooks, tables, spells, and whatever other super-specific supplements you could ever want for your Pathfinder game. It’s also very well supported with organized play programs for those who don’t just want home campaigns with it’s Pathfinder Society having branches all over the world.

That is all to say: Pathfinder is very closely related to D&D. D&D (in all its editions) and Pathfinder all have their different strengths and fans. Likewise, there are plenty of other games that are great that are related to D&D, including (but not limited to) 13th Age, Dungeon World, Labyrinth, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and many more. Largely they share a lot of the trappings of D&D, even in many cases directly patching up a specific D&D edition, with a lot of the terms being common between them.

I hope that all that explains what Pathfinder is. As for how it differs from D&D… well, what D&D is in the first place varies depending on who you ask: even the original creators of D&D disagreed about it. My only advice on that front is to try as many as you can and see which one is the most D&D to you, and enjoy the heck out of it.

If you want to get started, you might check out ENWorld.org for a forum with people talking about D&D of all kinds.

Dave Chalker is a freelance game designer, game developer, and editor-in-chief of Critical-Hits.com. His RPG credits include work on Dungeons & Dragons, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, and the Firefly RPG. His other tabletop work includes Get Bit!, Criminals, and Heat (currently on Kickstarter.) You can find him at @DaveTheGame on Twitter or on Critical-Hits.com.

What is Magic: the Gathering?

Teresa asks:

I don’t know if I’m the first to comment on here because I haven’t seen any other things yet, but here we go. ^-^ Something nerdy I’ve always wanted to know more about is Magic: The Gathering Card Game. My soon to be brother-in-law loves it and it seems like fun from the one or two times I’ve tried to play it.


I love Magic, and Nate loves it more. He’s an M:tG judge, so he officiates matches at Magic events like tournaments.

So you want to learn about Magic: the Gathering (colloquially just Magic, MTG, M:tG, or mtg), huh? Cool!

First things first – what is Magic: The Gathering?

Magic CardsMagic is a card game, more specifically a Collectible Card Game, or CCG. These types of games typically mean that you buy random assortments of cards packaged as “booster packs” to add to your personal collection, and then build your own decks of cards out of that collection. You can also trade the cards with your friends, or sell them to third parties – either other players, or vendors who make a business out of the supply/demand needs of the individual cards for people who don’t want to try to get the cards they need randomly.

Some of the cards are more powerful than others, and so they show up less frequently in the random assortments, but these are often the most sought-after, so a secondary market has developed around providing these cards at their “expected” value.

The theme of Magic is that you are a powerful spellcaster known as a Planeswalker – you have the ability to travel from one fantastic world to another, challenging other Planeswalkers to a duel. When dueling, you harness the power of the world itself to generate the magic energy you need, known as mana. You use mana to cast the spells you know, which may be summoning powerful monsters to fight for you, or simply casting a basic lightning bolt at the opponent’s face. Sometimes, you can even call on the aid of other Planeswalkers as special cards in the game!

Okay, it sounds neat, but how does this actually work?

Short version: You and whoever you’re playing against bring some assortment of Magic cards to the table. Sometimes these will be decks that you have built and customized, other times they may be sealed randomized sets of cards meant to be either dealt randomly or to be revealed at the start of play and then you make decks “on the fly” based on what you see in that random assortment.

You’ll then shuffle and play a game (or two, or three usually) with these decks. Each player has 20 life, and the goal is generally to take the opponent’s life to 0, though there are other ways to win too. You have to rely on your wits, the strategies you’ve combined in your deck, a little deception, and a little luck to prevail!

Magic is a game of strategy first, and tactics second. You need to go into the game with a plan in mind, and then adjust the plan as you go based on what happens over the course of the game. It draws some light parallels to chess, in that you are constantly evaluating the relative worth of your “pieces” to your opponents’, and are trying to predict what will happen over the course of the next few turns to determine your best line of play.

Why would I want to play?

That depends! There are a lot of different reasons someone can get into Magic. Personally, I like the game because it makes me think, the art on the cards is usually pretty cool, and it’s a fun way to hang out with friends! Some people play for the thrill of competition, and the promise of great rewards for success (some of the largest tournaments offer thousands of dollars in cash prizes).

Other people like it for the “creative” aspect – figuring out interesting interactions between cards, and trying to exploit those interactions in interesting ways. There’s also a lot of different “types” of Magic you can play, with different unique little rules for each of them to make them special, but they all come back to some of these same core ideas. I also appreciate the fact that the game creates a sort of “universal language” for everyone who plays it – the game is played all over the world, and the fact that people from different nations can get together and play a game with only minimal difficulty is pretty awesome!

Is there anything dangerous about Magic?

The game itself is pretty innocuous – it’s a made up world that is ultimately built to facilitate a strategy game. That said, there are a few things that I think are worth bringing up so you can go in forewarned and forearmed.

  • The art is questionable sometimes. They’ve gotten a LOT better about this, but you still get the occasional “escher girl” or inexplicable boob physics, or potentially very violent imagery. If you have extreme phobias of certain things, it could be bad; some of the art even skeeves me out a little when it’s super evocative (particularly spiders or gore, though gore has mostly gone by the wayside these days).
  •  The game can promote addictive behaviors in some people. A lot of the thrill of the random cards is opening something super valuable, and “making money” off it, or in the pseudo-gambling of entering tournaments and trying to win prizes. It’s colloquially known as “cardboard crack”, and with good reason.
  • The community has deep roots in “boys club” territory. A lot of magic communities work very hard to be inclusive, and the official policies that Wizards publishes definitely make it clear that discrimination will not be tolerated under any circumstances, but you’ll still run into the classic conditioning a lot – people with scantily clad ladies adorning their accessories, making remarks and jokes that are inappropriate, foul language, etc. The game has been around for 20 years, and since it started with the target demographic of men 18-35, that culture has managed to prevail throughout the game’s history.

I want to re-emphasize though that Wizards and many local Magic communities both work very hard in a lot of cases to make sure that inclusion is a big part of the game going forward, and if you get involved in a community where something doesn’t seem right to you, mention it – the staff who runs the events will generally be on your side.

How can I get started?

If you just want to pick up some stuff casually and learn on your own time, an easy way to get started is with an Intro Pack – this gives you a fairly balanced 60 card deck that tries to introduce some of the mechanics from the current “set” of cards (sets are released approximately once every quarter). It also comes with a booster pack to give you a basic look at some of the cards you can also open or build towards. Intro Packs can be picked up from most any hobby shop, or even larger supermarkets like Target and Wal-Mart.

If you want to get involved in a Magic community, try finding a local gaming shop (LGS) in your area that hosts Magic events! In particular, Friday Night Magic, or FNM, is designed as the gateway experience to Magic tournaments and competitive Magic.

I hope this helps! Feel free to contact me on twitter, @Nullzone42, if you have other questions or just want to chat!

What’s the Purple Wedding? HOLY SPOILERS.

Emily asks:

What in the world is the “purple wedding” from Game of Thrones?


I am not really a Game of Thrones fan. Here’s what I know: My friend Logan has a gif of Prince Joffrey on his computer that runs too fast. Here’s a vine of it. It’s my favourite thing. 

EVERYTHING THAT COMES AFTER FAST-CLAPPING JOFFREY IS SPOILERS. If you do not want Game of Thrones spoiled, just watch Joffrey clap and don’t click read more!

If you’re prepared, Amy is here to tell you about the Purple Wedding!

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Dungeon World: Tabletop RPGs Made Easy

Dungeon World Cover

NotAnNPC asks:

So…I want to know more about Dungeon World. I’ve seen several tweets about it and how easy it is to play. How is it different from other table tops like D&D and Pathfinder?

 To answer this question, we have Jason Pitre. Jason is an indie roleplaying games enthusiast and writer and he loves Dungeon World!

Thanks for asking! Full disclosure, I have been a fan of Dungeon World since the early iterations.

Dungeon World is the brain-child of Adam Koebel and Sage Latorra, who have worked together to produce a really fascinating game that reproduces all of the excitement of nostalgic, classic D&D. It’s a game where you play badass fighters, strange wizards, zealous paladins and devout clerics, fighting orks and dragons. The designers describe it as a love-letter to the way they remember playing Dungeons and Dungeons as kids.

The system behind Dungeon World is quite different from other tabletop games such as modern D&D or Pathfinder, for good reason. Dungeon World is inspired by and derived from the Vincent Baker’s brilliant post-apocalyptic game “Apocalypse World”. Vincent is well known for coming up with innovative mechanics, which Adam and Sage have refined and recreated to fit the dungeon environment.

The basic system is simple. The GM (Game Master, person who decides the story the players are in) asks you what you want to do. You describe your clever thief sneaking into the royal treasury, bypassing a couple tripwires and generally being stealthy. The GM describes the heavy footfalls and clanging of boots heading in your general direction and asks what you would like to do.  You describe hiding behind a bookshelf in the shadows, and everyone agrees that it makes sense that you could do that.  You didn’t roll dice for any of that.

The entire game mechanic revolves around these moves, which are always resolved by rolling 2d6 + your attribute modifier (2d6 means two six-sided dice).  If you get a 10+, you succeed with style. If you get a 7-9, the GM will offer you some hard bargain, drawback or other complication. If you get a 6 or less, then the GM gets to be mean to you, but you get an experience point that will help you level up.

Let’s say that you want to then sneak out of the shadows and steal the key from the passing guard’s belt. In such a case, you would roll 2d6 to use your move “Defy Danger”.  You roll a 7, +1 for your Dexterity modifier, for a total of 8.  The GM smiles and says that you can get the key firmly in your grasp, but you will attract the attention of the guard. Your life gets a little more complicated, but you did get most of what you wanted.

The system pretty much says that you only roll the dice when it’s interesting to do so. It means that you have free-flowing combat, players have authority to define parts of the setting and you don’t get bogged down in the record keeping of exactly how many arrows you have in your quiver. It’s lightweight, needing almost no preparation and supporting the GM with some excellent guidance text.


 

Jason Pitre is the owner, designer and barista at Genesis of Legend Publishing

Designer of the Spark Roleplaying Game and Posthuman Pathways

More information about Dungeon World is available here. For even more rules information, check out the Dungeon World SRD!

Do you have experience with Dungeon World? What do you like about it?