Here Be Monsters

When you ask most anyone to think of a fantasy setting or adventure, they tend to arrive at a fairly similar mental image. A mixed bag of swords and sorcery, in a medieval European-like setting, off to save the world from evil. It’s one of the greatest failings of the genre, really, just how predictable and oft-treaded many campaigns are. For some people, that’s all they've ever known.

And hey, if that’s what you enjoy, there’s nothing wrong with it. The chance to play hero has obvious appeal. But two weeks ago I played a game that was decidedly unheroic, and it was one of the most entertaining experiences I've had at any table.

Let me tell you about We Be Goblins.

We Be Goblins is a Pathfinder one-shot (meaning you finish the adventure in one sitting), starring a rag-tag and eccentric band of the titular little creatures. All the heavy lifting’s already been done for you: the characters are all pre-made, the setting, adventure path, and non-player characters have already been set for the GM. This is something that you can set up in no time if you’re familiar with the system, and a good place to learn if you’re not.

The goblins are bursting with personality, with illustrations, little songs, funny back-stories and all manners of strange personal items decorate their character sheets. From pet toads to a bottle of perfume (half-drunk), a lot of fun can be had just trying to find creative uses for these seemingly-useless odds and ends. And you’re going to have to be creative: as first-level goblins, everything in the world is bigger and stronger than you.

Can you really blame the horse, though?

And that’s what’s so great about We Be Goblins: it forces you to look at a relatively standard fantasy setting from a completely new perspective. Without spoiling too much from the story, we at one point found ourselves fighting for our very lives when we accidentally spooked a lone, riderless horse, who took one look at our overlarge heads and decided they needed a stomping. Not exactly standard fantasy fare, right?

I've found that, for some people, this can make all the difference. A friend of mine, and one of the more recent additions to our gaming group, is just about the nicest person you’d ever meet. She’s unfailingly kind and bubbly, with a penchant for baking huge quantities of delicious treats. Yet the typical “do-gooders” narrative simply didn't engage her. It took a particularly bloody-minded assassin before she really caught the gaming bug, and she put that character to such alarming effect that it still sets the standard for “chaotic evil” at our table today.

At the end of the day, how you play will be up to you. But when considering your options, don’t be afraid to look at the unconventional. Because, like a fire-obsessed goblin who just discovered a big cache of fireworks, sometimes all it takes is a willingness to ask yourself “I wonder what’d happen if…”

Photo credit to Paizo


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Sian Walton

A steadfast avatar of failed potential, Sian took up writing when he discovered he didn't have the attention span to stick with anything else. A one-time optimist with a penchant for games of every description, he now sails the internet on a constant quest to slay his own towering cynicism.

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Sian Walton

A steadfast avatar of failed potential, Sian took up writing when he discovered he didn't have the attention span to stick with anything else. A one-time optimist with a penchant for games of every description, he now sails the internet on a constant quest to slay his own towering cynicism.

On the Importance of Mistakes

There I was. In the heart of the sorcerer’s ruined keep, mere feet from the fiend. Wounded, he smiled triumphantly at our little band of would-be heroes. We’d come so far, besting trap and beast, and nearly struck him down. But he’d turned the tables: a desperate spell had paid off and held us paralyzed, weapons frozen mid-swing, unable to stop him from completing his ritual. Soon, the portal before us would open, unleashing armies from a far-off nation the likes of which these peaceful lands had never seen and could not hope to withstand. We’d failed, and the country would burn.

Or had we?

Through stubbornness or simple luck, I’d resisted the spell. I stood now in mock stillness among my incapacitated friends, waiting for my chance. Our last chance. As the mage turned his back on us, I leapt into action. Knife flashing, I rolled to confirm the hit. Everyone held their breath as the 20-sided die clattered across the table.

Disaster

Disaster

For those unfamiliar with tabletop RPGs, two occurrences cause more excitement than any other: a natural twenty – which in many games indicates an automatic success no matter the odds – and a natural one, which is exactly the opposite.

Groans and disbelieving laughs erupted simultaneously. “The weight of the moment gets to you,” the GM intones, “the dagger slips from your grasp and clatters across the stone floor.”

Alerted, the sorcerer spun and hit me with a blast of magic, sending me tumbling hard down the steps. Dazed, I could only look in dismay as the completed ritual snapped the portal into existence.

No thunder of steel boots greeted us, no bellowed orders. A single, stooped figure appeared in the gateway.

“Kal?” called a hesitant voice.

“Valerie,” came the mage’s wearied response. The two embraced, and around them streamed a procession of ragged figures. Not soldiers.

Refugees.

Facepalms all around

Facepalms all around

These are the moments I play for. The highs and lows, the twenties and the ones. The surprises. The plans that come together against all odds or come apart spectacularly. Stakes and uncertainty I’ve never found in any other medium. Video-game veterans come to tabletop and discover an appetite for storytelling they never knew they had. Storytellers realize the nature of the dice breathes new life and spontaneity into their character arcs. Because that’s what systems like Pathfinder and D&D are: bands of people coming together to tell grand, unpredictable stories.

Had all gone according to plan, my blow would have struck true. The "evil" sorcerer falls, the land safe once more. And thousands of miles across the sea, a band of refugees would wait desperately for a rescue that was no longer coming, with enemies closing in.

Instead, hundreds of lives were saved, including those of the mage’s wife and child. Language barriers and miscommunications eventually overcome, we reconciled and found shelter for his people. In the end, Kal would become a staunch ally and asset in the trials ahead. All because of one failed, five-percent shot at a roll.

So if you've ever considered giving tabletop RPGs a chance – or if I’ve piqued your interest here – take my advice and do it. Find a group or start your own. Most resources are available online, and many are free. Whether you’re a gamer or just love a good yarn, you’ll quickly find yourself at home, building stories to be fondly recounted for years to come.

And when it looks like the dice have forsaken you, remember: Nothing sparks engaging adventures and compelling characters like a little failure.

Photo credits to Scott Ogle and Tony Shek

A great resource for newcomers: http://learntabletoprpgs.com/


Sian Walton

A steadfast avatar of failed potential, Sian took up writing when he discovered he didn't have the attention span to stick with anything else. A one-time optimist with a penchant for games of every description, he now sails the internet on a constant quest to slay his own towering cynicism.

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Sian Walton

A steadfast avatar of failed potential, Sian took up writing when he discovered he didn't have the attention span to stick with anything else. A one-time optimist with a penchant for games of every description, he now sails the internet on a constant quest to slay his own towering cynicism.