May 29, 2013 / by A. J. Asplund

A few Sundays ago, I had a gaming opportunity that not everybody gets a chance to experience. It was crazy! It had costumes! It had demons! It had possession! It had well-known game designers! It may have been the craziest four hours of role-playing in all of Seattle that weekend! Well, maybe not the craziest role-playing…

Bacon Roleplay?

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a little bit. A few months ago, I was commenting to Rob D, one of our D&D Encounters DMs, that I should do a 13th Age introductory session sometime. You see, 13th Age is this new fantasy role-playing game by Jonathan Tweet and Rob Heinsoo, two of the mighty lords of modern Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a wild mix of story game, indie RPG, and classic D&D. Thinking nothing of the conversation, I went home thinking about cool ways to promote the game at the store. I was quite surprised to find that DM Rob had emailed Rob Heinsoo personally and suggested my plan to him.

Surprise!

This was my first lesson: You never know who people know.

After getting over the initial shock, I realized this could be an interesting opportunity. I began a dialogue with Rob Heinsoo and the fine folks of Fire Opal Media (the creators of 13th Age). Doing introductory 13th Age events at the Raygun Lounge seemed like a really solid idea. Everything seemed to be going well. During the discussion, Ash Law, the fellow responsible for the 13th Age organized play program, made the following comment: “We have been working on some Gamma Ray Games exclusive stuff for you.”

GAMMA RAY GAMES EXCLUSIVE STUFF?!?! WHOOOOOHOOOOO!

Gamma Ray Beholder?

I know that Gamma Ray Games has been “secretly” featured in role-playing games before, but this was officially designed content! At this point, I felt like we’d hit the victory condition. Not only had we decided that we’d be the only folks in town doing intro sessions of 13th Age BEFORE ITS RELEASE but that there would be some sort of game content exclusive to Gamma Ray Games. It’s like that moment of elation when you realize the only positive outcome in Gary Gygax’s classic adventure Dungeonland was to never play at all.

Fast forward a month or two. After some more discussion, the 13th Age organized play coordinator, Ash Law, sent me the Gamma Ray Games exclusive content: Lair of the Ludomancer. Here I had an adventure chalk-full of thoroughly entertaining references to Gamma Ray Games, fully prepared to be unleashed upon players at the Raygun Lounge. But, shortly after sharing it with me, Ash made this comment: “I’d like to pop by GRG and run it for you.” Wade Rockett, the 13th Age social media guy, responded with, “I’ve just confirmed that I’m also free this Sunday, and would love to play.”

Seriously. Gamma Ray Exclusive.

At this point in the story, I found myself scheduled for a session of an upcoming fantasy RPG that I am super excited about with two of the people that work on it in an adventure specifically designed for my local gameshop. It’s like a nerd fanboy fantasy. I suppose, at this point, it could only be more exciting if the actual guys who make the game showed up. But, of course, that is ridiculous. Either way, I was ready! I was excited! This was going to be a real thing and I was going to be part of it! WHOOOOOOOOO!

Very excited!

Eventually, the big day arrived. We all gathered around the table. We chose pregenerated characters. Ash looked at each of us and asked what our “One Unique Thing” was. It did not take long for it to get serious. There was the dwarf cleric who was haunted by the demon that killed his necromancer parents. I played the half-elf fighter who had been given a magical clockwork heart after losing his in an unfortunate tavern brawl. There was the dark elf sorcerer that gave him the magical heart, also the runner-up in the ever-popular Mr. Known World competition. Rounding out the group was the human paladin, the last living paladin in this part of the world, and the gnome bard who was on a secret mission for the Elf Queen… but couldn’t remember what it was. After laying some more groundwork, Ash handed out props to some of us.

The adventure commenced as the party proceeded into the Bitterwood. It did not take long for me to realize that we were not actually going to Ray’s Tavern, the popular venue run by Ray and his wife Gemma in the town of East Pine. Yet, it did not bother me. We were pursuing a goal relevant to our characters, and it did not take long for us to come across a pack of vicious gnolls in the night. Well, to be honest, two of us were quite convinced that we were hearing ghosts, but that’s a question up for debate at another time. We had found these gnolls and their repugnant master, a filth demon. Well, more appropriately, a poop demon. An Excremental, if you will. The party engaged these horrible monsters and fought bravely to drive off the vile beasts.

The Excremental

At one point, the cleric blasted the Excremental with his Javelin of Faith. The player, Rob D, had missed, but was close. Ash asked if he’d be willing to make a compromise: the attack would hit and do a lot of damage, but it would hurt another character. He agreed, of course, and the blast was so powerful that it ejected the Excremental’s demonic heart, throwing it across the battlefield and into the face of the brave paladin. Quickly, the demonic heart squirmed its way down the paladin’s throat, beginning a demonic corruption that would spell certain doom for our brave friend.

Another important lesson learned: Keep your mouth shut when fighting poop demons.

As the battle neared its end, a new person approached the table. “Hello, Jonathan!” Wade and Ash seemed to know this new fellow and welcomed him to the table. It did not take long for me to realize… This guy was Jonathan Tweet, one of the creators of 13th Age. He spoke to Ash briefly, offering to take the part of whatever silly-voiced NPC was available. It did not take long for that character to be Werdna, the demon that haunted the dwarven cleric.

Jonathan Tweet the Demon

The Paladin’s fate required an exorcism, something only the priest could perform. Quickly, the situation descended into madness as Werdna the Demon (as played by Jonathan Tweet) provided nefarious direction. After poor choices by both the sorcerer and the cleric, things had run afoul. Before anybody could realize what had happened, the party had descended into an infernal hellscape, with the demon Werdna now residing within the body of the dark elf sorcerer. Trapped in a hellish arena and surrounded by the spirits of countless lost paladins, the heroes found themselves engaged by flaming demons content to tear them asunder.

The demon Werdna began offering the characters an opportunity to change fate. At the table, this was represented by Jonathan Tweet allowing us to reroll our attacks. Although it was difficult, it did not take long for the battle to end in victory for our adventurers. However, the deal with the demon had a price! We each had to roll a twenty-sided die, hoping to roll a number greater than the number of times we had invoked the demon’s favor. Unfortunately, our sorcerer, who had called upon the demon nineteen times, did not make it. Neither did the dwarf cleric who had tricked him. With the gnome bard gone (Wade’s character, who escaped into the underworld as Wade had to leave slightly early), only the half-elf fighter and the paladin managed to wrench their soul’s from this maniacal hellscape.

From this, several of us at the table learned another important lesson: Jonathan Tweet is our personal demon.

Isn't that... the other guy?

So, that was my 13th Age experience: over-the-top, collaborative storytelling with exciting battles against vicious monsters where the heroes get to truly feel like heroes. Players contribute to the narrative in ways rarely (if ever) seen in popular role-playing games. This is the game that accomplished from the start what took my own Dungeons & Dragons game years to reach. I cannot recommend it enough.

May 22, 2013 / by Margot Martell

I am at home in filth.

Not in the sense that I’m dirty. I’m not a slob. I hate being sweaty and I hate grime and trash, and I’d never let my apartment devolve into literal, physical filth. By all accounts, the bachelor pad I share with my roommate is delightfully free of grossness, and I hold that as a point of pride.

But I am at home in filth. I fear sterility; the idea of perfectly manicured lawns is truly frightening to me. I’m drawn to Seattle precisely because of its dinginess. I find comfort in the litter-laden streets, in the droves of homeless people, in the light haze of smog that permeates both rainy and sunny days. That is the filth I’ve grown so fond of in the seven years I’ve spent in the Emerald City — the filth that reminds us all that nothing is perfect, that wear and tear is natural, that blemishes are beautiful in their own way.

In that sense, I must say I was quite unimpressed by this last weekend’s trip to Portland for GPPDX; Portland was decidedly not filthy.

Maybe I just wasn’t looking in the right places, but the City of Roses just felt a little too well-kept for my tastes. The streets were largely devoid of refuse; the punks and the bums and the general riffraff were quarantined to very specific, out-of-the-way locations; the people were quiet and well-behaved. Perhaps what they mean when they say “Keep Portland Weird” is: keep Portland less city-esque than every other city.

Put a bird on it!
But at least they know how to put a bird on it?

I promise I’m going somewhere with all of this, so just bear with me. I’ll talk about Magic: the Gathering for a bit now so you don’t all leave in disdain.

So, this weekend for me as a Magic player. Well, I made top 8, so that’s pretty awesome.

… not of the main event. But it was still a top 8.

I made top 8 of the free DGM Mini Masters tournament that was included with registration for the main event if you showed up early enough Friday morning. And I did so precisely because a friend and I accidentally practiced the format the weekend before.

Gamma acquired a box of Japanese Dragon’s Maze during release weekend, and I naturally bought a bunch of packs because I’m a whore for weird foreign things. A friend of mine ended up crashing at my place for a few days the week before the GP, and she wanted to crack said packs with me, so we decided doing Mini Masters was going to be far more fun than simply opening and sorting them.

So I went into this completely fake format with six different pools worth of experience, making me strangely favored against the field, since I knew the four-color special with infinite Cluestones was completely and totally the right way to go.

So I built said four-color special (UWRB), and I somehow, more or less inexplicably, finished 8th out of 307 participants. I ended up losing to the Ral Zarek, double Unflinching Courage, double Warleader’s Helix, Progenitor Mimic UWRG special because he mimicked my Ascended Lawmage. It was pretty brutal, but my friends and I all agreed he very much deserved the win — not because his deck was the stone nuts (it was), but because his wizard beard was far superior to mine. Apparently he’s a Tacoma-ite (IS THAT EVEN A WORD????), so hopefully I’ll see him again soon and worship at the altar of his Merlinliness.

(Quick aside: that is the most strangely homoerotic sentence I’ve ever written.)

Gaaaaaaaaaaay

As for the main event… well, I scrubbed out. Hard. My final record was 1-3 drop. After reviewing all my options, I settled on a homemade four-color monstrosity that was high on raw power but a little low on consistency (you can view the list here). In keeping with the Buddhist undertones of this particular tournament report, I’m going to deliver my mostly uneventful match-by-match recap in the form of four haikus. Because I fucking can.

Round One vs. Brandon Remley
Faced UWR Twin
Many creatures were exiled
I died to a Geist

0-1 in matches, 0-2 in games

Round Two vs. Tyler Loomis
A Grixis homebrew
Attempted to grind my mind
The mind persevered

1-1 in matches, 2-2 in games

Round Three vs. Taylor Harris
Played against Scapeshift
I never drew Countersquall
Was promptly melted

1-2 in matches, 3-4 in games

Round Four vs. Michael Woods
Faced down Gruul aggro
He drew many Tarmogoyfs
I drew only one

1-3 matches, 3-6 in games, drop

And that was the end of my tournament. I was mostly devastated, but I had three friends who were X-0/X-1, so I stuck around to cheer them on, as well as to play a 2HG sealed event with my friend Jen, who missed the main event after unfortunately contracting food poisoning the night before. The 2HG tournament was also disastrous, as Jen was still recovering from a rough night of food intoxication and I was just playing like a total donk. We punted an unlosable round 3 because we didn’t take the four seconds it would have required for us to re-read Guardian of the Gateless. It was incredibly embarrassing.

Fortunately, three of my friends made day two at X-1, X-1 and X-2, respectively. My friend Travis’s only losses on the day were to Paul Rietzl and John fucking Finkel, so I’d say Team Gamma performed pretty exceptionally on the whole. We crunched the numbers at one point and determined the team win percentage for day one was something like 63 percent. That’s pretty respectable by most standards.

This is a photo of a man you do not envy.
Travis McKinney, I do not envy you in this photo.

I capped off day one by taking a cold shower — wherein I curled myself into a ball for five minutes as the water crashed over me — before hitting the bars for the night. I realize now it was something of an unconscious homage to the Buddhist film Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring.

From Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… And Spring
MFW I scrub out of a big tournament.

In the film Why Has Bodhi-Dharma Left for the East?, the viewer learns about the nature of filth. A significant portion of the movie is devoted to exploring and ruminating on the ontology of shit. My favorite quote from the film relates to precisely that issue:

I became a hermit to free myself from the dust and the dirt of the world, looking for perfection. But I realized that it was impossible without loving the garbage and the dust of the world, even life’s passions.

This is truly how I feel about life most of the time. The idea of personal cleansing — of metaphorical self-immolation in order to burn off personal impurities — can be ever so tempting sometimes, but the actualization of that notion comes at the real cost of no longer being able to fully wrestle with vile, base pleasure.

Until mid-March, I had spent the last two and a half years of my life working a job I absolutely despised because I had no sense of direction and no understanding of anything outside of work. Except Magic. Magic: the Gathering was my means of escape; it was the thing I did to interact with friends, the game I played to feel validated as an intelligent human being — since I certainly wasn’t feeling that sort of fulfillment from my dead-end job.

I was laid off from said job on March 19. Some would argue the loss of such a long-term, time-occupying life fixture would be accompanied by a profound, overwhelming sense of sorrow and directionlessness, but for me it was quite the opposite. My layoff prompted an understanding that my purpose was renewed. For the first time in two and a half years, I had something to aspire toward. I finally had a real goal, a tangible raison d’être. The socioeconomic poverty of unemployment instilled in me a feeling of spiritual richness I had long assumed I’d never feel again. In many ways, the five weeks I spent unemployed felt more like a dream than reality.

The night before the Grand Prix, seven Gamma Ray regulars (myself somewhat obviously included) decided to go to Henry’s (the Henry Weinhard restaurant) in downtown Portland for dinner. Suffice to say, when you take seven people who regularly congregate on Capitol Hill and foist them upon a bizarrely sterile city, the conversation flows in fascinatingly fucked up directions. We discussed goat blowjobs; how a certain bisexual male friend had terrible taste in men; what we would list as “previous accomplishments” were we to top 8 the Grand Prix; and so, so many other things I can’t even fully recall because I was too busy laughing hysterically to trouble myself with the details.

After 1,000 days without mirth, I laughed until I cried. The experience was cathartic in a way and on a level I’d never experienced before. And I realized during that dinner that Magic — the activity I had used for almost three years as a means of escape from the mostly miserable reality that was my life — had become so, so much more than simply a scapegoat for my sadness and personal frustrations; Magic had become my home. Gamma Ray regulars are my family; Gamma and the Raygun are my shelters; and Magic will always feel like an old friend.

This was all brought home to me by a message I received from one of my best friends, Kevin Kwong, shortly after scrubbing out of the Grand Prix. I had contacted him to whine about my poor performance in the main event, expecting something resembling sympathy re: my run-bads, and instead I was presented with the following response:

“Dude, don’t be like that man. Look on the bright side: you have a sweet new gig. You’re hanging out with friends, playing your favorite game. You’re young, you’re healthy. Just relax, have a good time. Losing sucks, sure. But you can’t let it get to you.”

This pep talk plus the Buddhist waterfall shower was precisely what I needed to put me back in my place. I wasn’t really tantrum-ing or tilting after my poor GP performance, but I was undeniably defeated.

And he’s right. I had just been hired on for a great new job. And I was with all of my best friends. And even as I was losing horribly, I was playing my absolute favorite game.

Kevin’s reality check and the amazing, hilarious, unforgettable dinner I shared with my best friends the night before really brought home the absurdity of my mood at that time. Who gives a fuck that I did poorly? Pros scrub out all the time. Luis Scott-Vargas is probably the most technically proficient player active in the game, and he’s only day 2’d one pro tour in the last YEAR. Sometimes you run bad; you get mana screwed or mana flooded or you draw the wrong spells or you face your worst matchup all day. But who really gives a shit? Even when you’re a hardcore spike, there’s so much more to Magic than winning.

And in that sense, I actually feel like I won the GP despite going 1-3. Congrats to Sam Pardee for his actual win, but I don’t believe for a second that his friends are better than mine. And there’s no way in hell his local game store is better than Gamma Ray. Gamma Ray is a conglomeration of a bunch of people who are best friends who have no basis for being best friends. But they’re best friends precisely because they all met at an amazing place, playing an amazing game they all love. I’m hard-pressed to believe there’s anything better in the world than just that.

… oh, right. I also traded in all the slag in my binder for a prize payout of my own that weekend:

VALUE.

Everything I’ve ever abandoned or given up on in life, I’ve abandoned or given up on because it just didn’t feel right anymore. Relationships, hobbies, classes, jobs — I’m a man guided by feelings and emotions. I quit Magic for SIX YEARS because it ceased to be a meaningful thing to me. But I’m back now, and I realize — thanks to the connections I’ve made through this phenomenal game — that it’s without a question the most meaningful thing I’ve ever done.

There’s an old Buddhist proverb that goes something like this:

“The Buddha left home because he no longer felt at home. The Buddha returned home because he was always home.

I quit Magic nine years ago because Magic no longer felt like home. I returned to Magic three years ago because I realized Magic was always home. And I absolutely cannot imagine that feeling of home changing any time soon.

Matthew is Gamma Ray’s resident Magic snob. Follow him on Twitter and Google+!