Article by Daniel Dacombe, Manitoba, Canada
Intro - What is Paper and Pencil Gaming?
If you're reading this issue of the SBG Digest, it's extremely unlikely that you've never heard of a single "Paper and Pencil" RPG. For decades geeks of all varieties have wrapped themselves in imagination, grabbed a set of dice, and sat down with friends to play a game that exists only in their minds. A Paper and Pencil RPG is any kind of game that can be played without a board, without cards, without anything - except the minds of the players involved. And math, of course (one reason to pay attention in math class kids - you're going to need it to calculate THAC0 someday...). At its core a Paper and Pencil RPG is a form of collaborative storytelling where one person - typically called a Dungeon Master (DM) or Game Master (GM) - guides the other players through a fantastical quest. Said quest usually involves brilliant adventures, daring escapes, magic swords, beautiful prince/esses, and exciting adjective/noun combinations of all kinds! Think of it as a "choose your own adventure" book - except instead of a book, it's a friend of yours going on a (hopefully minor) power trip.
Nowadays, though, "Paper and Pencil" RPG gaming includes computers in a number of ways. Popular character building software such as Herolab has simplified character creation, while programs like Roll20 allow players to remotely connect
Paper and pencil gaming has been a source of joy, of friendship, of moral panic, of flexing improvisational theater muscles, and of stress relief for many people. And this month the SBG is celebrating those people and their awesome hobby - because (no surprise here) there is A LOT of overlap between paper and pencil RPG gamers and the sort of folk who collect swords... so if you want to know more about these kinds of games (and get introduced to some GREAT people in the industry) by all means - read on!
By far the most famous game in this genre is Dungeons and Dragons. Created by a pair of brilliant gamers - Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson - it was first published by a company called TSR in 1974 (later by Wizards of the Coast), and it absolutely took the world by storm. From its humble beginnings with a few nerds working on combat algorithms with one hand and a copy of Lord of the Rings in the other, it exploded into a media empire that has sold over $1 billion in books and materials to date. Influenced by popular high fantasy and sword-and-sorcery novels, players create a character based on a class (a pseudo-medieval job, like a fighter, wizard, or thief) and a race (typically something Tolkien-esque) and then portray them on paper and through acting around a table with other players.
As it is the most popular gaming template, it is also the most complex - and has gone through numerous incarnations through the years. There was Dungeons and Dragons (which had several revisions), then Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (which also had several revisions), then Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2.0, then Dungeons and Dragons 3rd Edition, then Dungeons and Dragons v. 3.5, then Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition, and now finally the current version - Dungeons and Dragons 5e. In case you were keeping track, that's a lot of versions. While each new revision added or changed elements of gameplay the goal has always been to have a streamlined, accessible game that is easy for newcomers to pick up while also being advanced enough to have the depth to keep it interesting.
In 2009, publishing company Paizo - who had a long history with Wizards of the Coast - utilized the Open Gaming License system and released a modified, simplified version of Dungeons and Dragons v.3.5. Pathfinder adds different mechanics and alters the gameplay, allowing for more incentives for players to take a character to the highest levels possible. Instead of releasing different versions, Paizo has taken the step of simply releasing more supplementary materials - constantly adding to the possible races, classes, and diverse options used to fully flesh out a character. While the decision to release a competing brand to the popular Dungeons and Dragons name had a divisive effect on the gaming community at first, many players use both systems and find each to be a fine experience.
So that's some basic information about that gaming systems, which are familiar to many of you. But if you want to learn more, there's no better way than to observe a game in action. You may not know of any gaming groups in your area, but never fear - we have a solution for you...
The Glass Cannon Podcast (GCP)
Podcasts have been a popular form of media entertainment for years. But what the heck is an "actual play" Podcast?
The Glass Cannon is an actual play podcast, which means listeners get to tune in weekly to hear professional actor/improv comedian Troy Lavalee run a Pathfinder campaign for four of his equally talented friends - Joe O'Brien, Skid Maher, Matthew Capodicasa, and Grant Berger. And talented they are - the podcast is listened to in more than a hundred countries worldwide, and has operated continuously every week for over two years! This extremely popular podcast follows the players as they run through the Giantslayer Adventure Path, an adventure published by Paizo that showcases the incredible storywriting talents they have at their disposal. Through the story, the interactions between the players, the detailed explanations of the rules and gameplay by experienced gamers, and the incredible voice acting, listeners tend to feel like they are a part of the story in the best possible way.
The beauty of this actual play podcast is that it is accessible to a wide range of people. Long-time gamers will enjoy it, newcomers will enjoy it, and it will give those of us who used to game (when we had time) nostalgic feelings on an epic scale. The adventures of the characters that the players created are often hilarious, sometimes heart-wrenching, but always wildly entertaining. Take it from us - we've been listening for a year now, and are not even close to tired of it!
If you are interested in learning more about paper and pencil RPG's, we can think of no better way to get introduced than to listen to the Glass Cannon Podcast. Check it out below!
Editors Note: At this point we had originally planned to include an interview with the guys behind the podcast - but as the deadline was missed we will include it in another edition of the digest.
Patreon is an online platform that allows individuals to directly support artists they care about. Musicians, writers, models, all sorts of people have been able to crowdfund their work and produce excellent entertainment for their fans - and it allows their fans to have a way to directly give back to artists they enjoy.
In March 2017 the Glass Cannon Podcast crew launched their Patreon page, and we aren't sure what they were expecting... but it absolutely took off. Just two months later they sit at almost $6000 a month in donations from their fans. That is a testimony to the incredible talent they have and the incredible fan base they've been able to cultivate. And we at SBG want to help!
Patreon supporters of the GCP will get special perks depending on how much they donate, including artwork, tshirts, and early access to content that they produce. As Patreon supporters of the GCP ourselves, we can definitely confirm that it is very worthwhile to contribute - so please check out their Patreon page and, if you like what you see, consider supporting them like we do. You won't regret it - and don't forget to tell them the SBG sent you!
Finally, if you are looking for a way to connect with other gamers - maybe to pick up Dungeons and Dragons again after a long hiatus, or play Pathfinder and see what all they hype is about - there are a number of places you could go. We recommend
The Glass Cannon Podcast subreddit
as a good point of first contact. You can get to know other gamers, see the fandom, and maybe even connect with other gamers over Roll20 to start gaming. We hope you have many great adventures of your own!