Pokemon Go a great chance to explore Cleveland and other cities

By Long Shot contributor Tim Simko

For the past few days, children and adults alike have gone crazy over the long-anticipated release of Pokémon Go.

pokemon go logo

For the first time, The Pokémon Company has provided Android and iOS users the chance to have a classic Pokémon adventure through the use of a free app. While the app has had it’s expected bugs following the release, it has brought a lot of good for Cleveland and other cities nationwide.

The app is simple to use once it is downloaded. After creating an account and customizing a character, the user is immediately taken to a screen showing a map – but the map is much more unique than those in Pokémon Go’s Nintendo console counterparts.

Rather than a pre-made map, this app utilizes the same technology used in Google Maps or the Tom Tom GPS system to recreate the real world and surrounding areas.

pokemon screen shot

Utilizing this technology, the Pokémon Go app has created an adventure that is based in reality.

Lake Erie features a plethora of water Pokémon, walking to local churches and parks can provide a user with supplies and libraries double as gyms where a user can leave a Pokémon and defend it. While providing a unique experience, the Pokémon Company has successfully created a new phenomenon.

Since the app’s launch, many people – myself included – have walked the streets in hopes of capturing their favorite Pokémon. Friendships were formed and people began documenting their experiences through the use of social media.

While some may see it as funny or strange that people of all ages are walking around trying to collect Pokémon with a smartphone, I see it as a new way to promote the city and its businesses.

Businesses and universities that provide Wi-Fi can give Pokémon fans an even more unique experience. When I was in college, I would’ve enjoyed seeing a Vulpix pop up at my table as I sipped on my coffee. It would’ve also been great to search for a Pikachu on the Cleveland State University campus between classes.

While some see this new mobile game as a waste of time or silly, I see it as a way to explore the world. I’ve seen my friends explore places they would never normally go to, I walked to the library just for a chance to catch Pokémon I couldn’t find anywhere else, I’ve even seen people bond on social media in a time where the nation has been divided on social issues.

There will be issues with the app: there are still bugs in the system at times, users have been warned to pay attention to surroundings and not to trespass, and some of the gym locations – such as the White House – are not ideal.

After working out the kinks, this could be a great way to bring togetherness in the community and build friendships and bonds between those who seek the nostalgia of Pokémon and those who are just joining this unique world for the first time.

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Tabletop for one: Don’t get too attached

If i’m honest, the death of my first solitaire RPG character, Jindra, was rather deflating. She wasn’t min-max, and she didn’t make it too terribly far into the Lost Mine of Phandelver, but it was still disappointing and left me wondering what i should have done differently.

“Play with a full group!”

Yeah, yeah, i know.

A couple of things in the intervening time made the character death easier to swallow. For one, it’s a made-up character in a fantasy scenario in my imagination. So there’s that.

Further, i hadn’t gotten too attached to the doughty dwarf, and besides, if i wanted i could just fudge things, continue on and gloss over her unfortunate demise.

It was while listening to the Mines of Madness podcast that i got past the inertia and settled on rolling up a new character. In that recorded play session, one of the PCs bit the dust within about 15 minutes, to be replaced by the sudden arrival of a new character to the team out of nowhere. This practice continued throughout the game sessions, as the brutal encounters felled several adventurers along the way.

It occurred to me then that, of course, there’s no limitations on how to run a D&D game. Unlike a video game that’s constrained by its programming, in a tabletop game even the rules as given aren’t really holding anyone back from doing whatever they want. So, yes, i could simply continue on with Jindra. Or, i could insert the sudden arrival of an ally to revive her and keep going, or rescue her, or replay the entire encounter, or a million other permutations.

But, i also really enjoy the narrative of games, regardless of genre or format, and so i settled on continuing the quest, with a new character, but picking up where i’d left off more or less.

My first inclination was to min-max a new character. After all, wouldn’t it be prudent to reduce weaknesses as much as possible while exploiting strengths? Players do this all the time, even in group settings where the other party members are meant to compliment each other and win the day through teamwork.

Some sort of spellcaster was my initial plan. Clerics seemed like a good choice. They’ve got decent combat abilities, armor and weapon proficiencies, and magic that included healing. With the right domain option, too, they’re pretty customizable.

Wizards, on the other hand, have immense variety through their arcane magic. Single-target and AOE spells would definitely come in handy, as well as the wide array of utility spells that can provide crowd control or, hopefully, avoid combat altogether. Because let’s face it – wizards are squishy and a single solid hit from an enemy could fell one, especially at low levels.

Warlocks are a solid option. Decent hit dice, a really strong, reliable damage cantrip in Eldritch Blast, and in general they’re just a cool class that i’ve always enjoyed.

A strong case can be made for druids as well, with their early access to wild shape giving them a ton of options for scouting, avoiding combat and, if need be, becoming a powerhouse like a bear.

Sorcerer didn’t really cross my mind. I’ve never really liked them all that much. To me they seem too focused on elemental damage spellcasting. In a group, they always come across one-dimensional to me and, in a solo situation, they’d lean too heavily towards magical glass cannons for my purposes.

A jack of all trades, and master of none, is oft-times better than master of one.

A strong case can (and has) been made for bards as a single-player option, which is kind of weird since they’re also the ultimate support class. While they do exemplify one of my favorite sayings, and i’ve played many a bard with immense fun, this option wasn’t clicking with me.

Then we’ve got the martial-minded classes.

Paladins are really strong. As a big fan of this class, it was a really strong contender. Paladins have a ton of great abilities, and as a roleplaying option made a good bit of sense. A single paladin on a quest, relying on their divine connection to see them through danger is not difficult to imagine.

In a similar vein, the ranger is not only a classic loner and a perennial favorite class even in editions where their power isn’t so great, but also a really solid combatant with nice utility spells and decent skill capabilities. Despite 5th editions relatively weak beastmaster archetype, in a solo situation that could be incredibly useful.

In the end, despite all the pros and cons or the core classes that i considered, i went in a wholly different direction.

Although in development as a playtest version only, Unearthed Arcana’s Awakened Mystic class struck me as a fun alternative to the core classes. Currently only scaled up to level 10, and not an official release, it looked like a fun possibility to try out. For one thing, they have several interesting abilities that seem like they could really come in handy. Most notably, Conquering Mind feels like it could really help in a large variety of situations.

Another change to my approach at solo play was realizing that i wasn’t attempting to playtest the game or the particular adventure – i was simply trying to have fun rolling dice and coming up with my own narrative along the way. There’s nothing holding me back from altering the content, taking the story in different directions or injecting some of my real-world sensibilities into the plot or characters.

With all that being said, a very unusual character came into existence to replace Jindra in the Lost Mine of Phandelver.

As-yet unnamed, the character is a human with the sage background. Since psionics are far from prevalent, the sage background felt like a good choice to represent the character’s research into the power of the mind. As such, he is a discredited academic researcher. The way i saw it, more conventional magicians and scholars discounted his work as fruitless, and basically ruined his reputation in academic circles. The image of this character that was emerging went down a dark path, and i decided that he would not be a good-aligned person.

Dexter-doughnuts

Taking inspiration from some of my favorite television shows, i concluded this character would operate much like Dexter Morgan, or Hannibal Lecter (the TV version).

Polite, well-kept and classy, this mental mastermind in everyday life was a regular fellow, a normal member of society under the guise of a scholar. He would enjoy speaking in layered truths that only he understood, and beneath it all would be a coldly logical, emotionless person whose only pursuit was becoming his perfect self.

As to what he might one day evolve into, i gave him a motivation of being compelled to kill those who had discredited him and leaving tableaus behind with subtle clues. In essence, a serial killed (but without the cannibalism). As such, the character’s bond was easy to choose: don’t get caught.

Going with the sinister scholar theme, for his human bonus feat, i chose Keen Mind. This feat has absolutely no combat application, but from a roleplaying perspective it stood out as very useful (which would come into play almost immediately during my first session with the character).

Hannibal-Postmortem-083115

As to how that first session went, that’s the focus for another post. But as a prelude to it, i needed a reason to involve this character in the goings-on with the Lost Mine of Phandelver. After all, it was a simple caravan guard job that hooks characters initially, and that was over and done with.

What would bring a sinister psionic scholar to Phandalin?

Since Jindra was killed assaulting the Redbrand hideout, i used the gang of ruffians themselves to hook this character into the quest. It seems that Iarno Albrek was one of the magical colleagues who’d had a hand in discrediting my anti-hero’s research into psychic power.

After tracking him down to Phandalin and learning of his masquerade as the Redbrand leader Glasstaff, whose gang had amongst other crimes started a slave trade, the character got himself captured by slavers and taken to their base to await sale. What the slavers didn’t know, however, was that he’d used his Blade Meld power to conceal a weapon by dissolving it into his body.

As for what happened next, that’s a tale to be told another day.

In the meantime, how do you decide what sorts of RPG characters to play? Do you like to come up with a concept and background first? And how do you react to character deaths? Do you look forward to rolling replacements? Did you ever play a game with lots of character deaths? How did that go? Let me know in the comments below.

Good gaming!

Heeding the call of Drinking Quest’s Jason Anarchy

On Wednesday, June 22 my Twitter feed showed something i’d never seen before: a creator’s call offering interviews to any interested parties.

How could i pass up this opportunity? @DrinkingQuest was one of the very first Twitters i followed when i created my account years ago, due in no small part to Jason Anarchy’s clever use of the platform to grow awareness of his then-burgeoning tabletop RPG, Drinking Quest.

“It’s still my favorite social media medium. Content is rewarded on Twitter,” Anarchy said. “If you’re funny then the mechanism works and it keeps going.”

journey into draught

Full disclosure: i am not much of a drinker, and i have not actually played Drinking Quest. But i am a gamer, and interviewing independent creative types is my favorite type of writing, but enough about me. Let’s learn more about Drinking Quest and the man behind the innovative tabletop RPG system.

Before becoming a full-time game designer, Jason Anarchy worked in the newspaper business, which of course immediately endeared him to me despite (perhaps rightly so) pointing out the decline of the industry.

hero quest

Like many a gamer, over the years he had tweaked existing games as well as made up his own for the entertainment of friends at his gaming table. This practice began as a child with the Hero Quest game, which he cites as inspiration due to its inclusion of a blank, create-your-own-quest section of the rulebook.

In a nod to the game that inspired him, for the Drinking Quest trilogy edition, which Anarchy said contains enough exclusive new material to be considered a fourth game, he was given to option to add a 220th card to the 219-card set at no extra cost.

“At the last minute, I’m like ‘okay, I need a filler card,'” Anarchy recalled. “I’ve got to make it good, though. I ended up putting in, similar to that blank quest in Hero Quest, it was a card that had nothing to do with game play. It was like ‘make your own quest.’ It was kind of corny but at the same time it had some great artwork that I hadn’t used anywhere else. It ended up looking really cool – all the heroes marching off on their drinking quest.

“I got to use this great artwork, and, I don’t know, possibly inspire people,” he said. “That was probably my most sincere in all my games actually.”

It was a simple statement from a friend that led Anarchy to where he’s at today, helming his own game design company with the latest release, Drinking Quest: Journey Into Draught just around the corner as well as a new game, Haiku Warrior, recently released.

“Well, you’re always drinking and playing these RPGs you made – why don’t you make one that combines those things?”

That was in 2011, and the premise is something Anarchy takes very seriously. The hook was there, but he says developing a game with real depth was the key to Drinking Quest’s success – it had to deliver more than a clever gimmick. And based on the game’s growth and Anarchy’s own status going from a guy with a table at cons to being a featured guest and panelist at conventions like Gen Con.

Unlike most game designers and publishers, Anarchy does not run games at conventions (because of the game’s drinking mechanic).

“The first time I ever did a public game with Drinking Quest in five years was a couple of weeks ago in Atlanta,” Anarchy said. “Out of 60 or 70 conventions I’ve done, there are like three of four where you can drink at them. At Southern Fried Gaming Expo, they were really great people to me and really wanted to run a public game.

“People had beers in the audience, and they picked a favorite player. When that player had to chug, they also chugged with us. It was a lot of fun. Also in that game, John Kovalic who does all the artwork for the Munchkin games, he was at that convention, he ended up in the game, which is awesome because he’s an industry legend. And, he can drink more than anyone there – he’s pretty hardcore. I was impressed. He really showed us up, and he’s a really funny dude. So it was a really cool game.”

The game itself is innovative in that there is no GM required to play. Unlike traditional RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, which require a referee and principal storyteller, Drinking Quest uses a system of cards to guide players through the mechanics that involve combat against all manner of monsters and a hefty dose of comedy along with it.

“I’m definitely more of a workaholic than an alcoholic.”

The basic idea is that, everyone gets to play the hero, and the mechanics keep it simple. There’s four piles of cards – those are your quests. Players pick a pre-made character card, fill out the stats on a character sheet, and you’re ready to play.

“It’s a 50/50 drinking game/roleplaying game,” Anarchy explained. “The way it works is that the cards are the DM, nobody has to run the game. Everybody’s a hero. It’s a really simple setup. Everyone’s on an adventure. You’re fighting monsters, you’re leveling up. Dice, character sheets – all that stuff. But when your hero dies in the game, you have to chug your drink in real life to continue. So the whole game is kind of built around that real-life sense of danger. It’s about an hour and a half for a game, depending on the speed of the group. As far as drinking games go, it’s a light drinking game. It’s paced out and designed so no one’s going to do ten shots of tequila in ten minutes and go to the hospital.

“And it’s a light RPG, it’s probably the simplest you can get while still fitting the strict definition. Beyond that, I wanted it to be a really strong comedy game…It’s just really fun to skewer gaming and drinking – two things I love quite a bit. It finds humor in both the positive and negative aspects of drinking. It can get pretty dark once in a while, in a way I think people are responding to. They’re liking it and coming back for more,” he said.

Each iteration of the game (Journey Into Draught is the fourth in the series) consists of four themed quests, with each quest getting more difficult than the last and the heroes gaining power and skill along the way. They’re all different stories within the same world with its own loose continuity.

For Journey Into Draught, Anarchy wanted to add some new game mechanics to both streamline the system and mainly to expand and make the game bigger and better. Part of this plan involved having a team of ten artists working on the release, compared to the previous editions having a single artist each.

kega man

There are now six quests, including an optional one with a set of tea-stained cards about sobering up the next morning. There’s another Kega Man quest with pixel art where the characters fight eight different alcoholic robot bosses. And of course there’s the same mix of fan affection and parody of classic fantasy RPG creatures and tropes that have helped the Drinking Quest fan base grow and fueled its Kickstarter campaigns.

beer holder

For non-drinkers out there, Anarchy has several times gotten questions on game design and self-publishing advice from gamers working on variant games like marijuana-themed games (Smoking Quest, anyone?) on how to break into the industry.

“There is no simple answer,” Anarchy said. “Rule of thumb: become obsessed with it and work all the time. I’m definitely more of a workaholic than an alcoholic.

“Make sure you’re working hard at it, and don’t expect instant fame or some sudden rise. I’ve been really proud of the fact that over five years there’s been a good, steady increase of popularity the whole time. It’s not like I got one lucky break then that was the entirety of everything. I feel like there’s a loyal fan base there.”

Although he doesn’t hold anything against people who use marijuana, and is happy to offer advice, he’s happy with Drinking Quests’s place in the gaming strata.

“I’m already the drinking guy,” Anarchy said. “I like the fact that I have probably the most responsible drinking game on the market, in as far as that goes. I don’t want to go much beyond that point. I don’t want to start adding other vices onto that. I’ve got other directions I want to go. Being the guy who explores all the vices isn’t really the thing I want to do.”

With Drinking Quest’s cards-as-the-DM engine, Anarchy realized the concept can make for an excellent single player experience. (“Not Drinking Quest…drinking alone – that’s bad.”)

While signing a card for a fan, Anarchy noticed it was written as a haiku, something he considered a throwaway joke from the first Drinking Quest. He thought it was funny, but not executed as well because it was a one-off and didn’t quite fit the loud, obnoxious flavor of Drinking Quest.

Haiku Warrior

The culmination of Anarchy’s desire to use his card engine for a one player game and that chance card-signing resulted in Haiku Warrior. Quiet and introspective, compared to the boisterousness of Drinking Quest, Haiku Warrior’s cards tell their story through ambiguous haikus written on each of the cards (“No repeat cards!”) [This sounds like a perfect game to explore for my solo RPG play series!]

Built into the Kickstarter for Haiku was an expansion of sorts, which involved getting industry celebrity guests to contribute their own haikus that Anarchy converted into cards for the game. With Anarchy donating $17 to each guest’s charity of choice ($1 per syllable), contributions came from people like Jim Zub (“Dungeons & Dragons”), Ryan North (“Dinosaur Comics”), Becky Cloonan (“Gotham Academy”) and more.

 

“I have a lot of fun with game design, and I just like the creative element of it because there’s writing, and artwork, and there’s the economy of how the game works – there’s a lot to it. If other people can be inspired by that in some way, that’s awesome.”

If you’re heading to Gen Con in August, be sure to stop by Jason Anarchy’s booth (#2801) to say hello and pick up a copy of Drinking Quest and Haiku Warrior, and remember…

Please quest responsibly!