Archive for July, 2011

The Horror

Ordinarily I write about role-playing games, but today I’m making an exception. Strangely one of the grandest nerdfests takes place every year on a mock battlefield in a tiny town in pennsylvania. Skirmish USA annually holds the largest paintball game in the world, and the last game took place just last weekend. There are thousands of participants, and a surprising number coming from abroad. Now I don’t know a ton about paintball, honestly I’m not that great at it. Im actually more of an airsoft guy. But I don’t think any other paintball experience could even compare to the absolute madness of this particular weekend.

Sure you’ll see plenty of bare-chested heroes with mohawks, scowls, and bruises. Give those kids a wide birth. But the real treat, and the reason I go every year, is because it’s sort of difficult to distinguish this experience from a massive LARP (live action role play) experience. As soon as the Dday boats drop, you are no longer Jerry Johnson whose behind in high-school calculus, you’ve suddenly become a second lieutenant barking orders as though you’ve got a whole platoon at your back. Oh wait you actually do, these woods are insane. Combat is a constant, and when it isn’t thick it usually means you’re about to walk into an ambush. You half expect Martin Sheen to walk out of the brush with a SAW machine-gun at any moment. Not convinced? You might just have to see it for yourself. Real military camouflage and gear is sold at extremely reasonable prices. Much of it actually comes from the countries represented in the mock battle.

[photo courtesy of Daniel Wald]

I had to talk my way out of getting shot multiple times by my own Ally teammates this year who pointed out that my camouflage was German. I actually had no idea. The second time someone brought it up I explained that I always play team USA. Their faces unmoved, I tried to make a joke of it. It turned out these guys didn’t find it so funny when I said I was a spy. A couple of years ago my buddy, his cousin, and I snuck behind enemy lines. We never expected the front line to break, but when it did the Germans forces swept past en masse. Without exaggerating in the least, there must have been a hundred of them just twenty feet from the bush I was hiding behind. I didn’t get legitimately scared, until I heard some of them speaking fluent German…

But off the field there usually isn’t any hostility between the Axis and Allies. Everyone is simply too exhausted to carry on with any bickering, though there are definite exceptions. A group of about ten long island buddies playing for the Axis apologized to me after a night of raucous rambunctiousness that apparently lasted till four in the morning a foot from my tent. Honestly I was so exhausted I had no idea. I can’t recommend this experience enough. But if you come next year, you better be playing as an Ally, or else I’ll be coming at you.



Yesterday I finally had the chance to play-test Arrowflight 2E. This game is one of the finest fantasy role-playing games I’ve had the opportunity to game-master. Arrowflight offers just the right amount of game-world fluff. It’s there, but its kept to a minimum so as not to infringe on any game-master ideas. Arrowflight offers a world, or perhaps a foundation, but demands that the game-master sharpen the edges to fit personal tastes. This is perhaps what most impressed me about Arrowflight from the start. Forums have deemed Arrowflight an “alternate fantasy” game, but without knowing exactly what that means, I will say that this game is freshly imaginative across the board; player races, magic system, monsters, etc. If you don’t mind something a bit unusual, and can appreciate a tinge of anime-influence you’ll probably really dig the setting. Arrowflight claims that it is a game of “cinematic grittiness,” which I think attests to the game’s surprisingly dark undercurrent. One of the undead creatures is particularly horrendous, I can’t remember the last time I was legitimately disturbed participating in a fantasy RPG (which I intend purely as a compliment by the way). The system is solid and thankfully simple with an impressive amount of depth if one wants to get into it. But usually 2d6 is the standard roll over the course of play.

 [Artist: Gustave Dore depicting S. Coleridge’s, Rime of the Ancient Mariner] The game allows for a tremendous amount of creativity and inspiration. I’m particularly fond of Arrowflight’s focus on a breadth of martial arts styles, something I will miss in other combat centric games I play. If you are looking to play a particularly inventive and fast-paced fantasy game with excellent character building options you’ll be missing out if you overlook Arrowflight. Even if you are someone who demands a lot of specifics and detail at the game-table, this is a game that will probably appeal to you also. This game practically begs to be played in a sandbox style.

Arrowflight offers plenty of tables, including an especially impressive adventure generating one. In our game thus far, a pirate’s ghost has united the PC’s to find an ancient treasure that their blood claims inheritance to. And yet, the character’s are not sure they fully trust their damned patron. It didn’t take  long before our session took on the form of a “sandbox,” with the characters steadily moving towards their overarching goal of finding the treasure, but with no shortage of “side-quests.” But if the heroes continue to push their luck in the “Dark Lands” they’ll soon have to decide between siding with a band of war-worn savage elves, a nefarious goblin necromancer, or the islands ruthless colonial presence. Regardless of the choice, enemies will be made… I hope to turn this game into an ongoing campaign. I’ve always wanted to run a fantasy-pirate game. Play of the Session goes to the character Vinny, who always managed to pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat just when the group needed it most, and yet with such unexpected mobster-gusto.