Tag Archives: Dungeons & Dragons

Hellboy vs Cthulhu: A Storytelling Moment (and Stuff)

People play different games and they play for different reasons. Sometimes simply because they’re competitively-natured, sometimes it’s just to kill some time, sometimes to be entertained, and sometimes to be social. (These aren’t mutually exclusive reasons.)

Recently, my wife and I were over for dinner with friends, and we decided to play a game of Munchkin Cthulhu.

Our friends’ names are Chooch and Viv; I’m telling you this to make this anecdote flow. Allegedly.

At least one of those names is definitely a nickname. That would be Viv. Chooch might be a nickname. He looks like a Viking, so let’s just roll with this, shall we?


Everyone here knows how to play the basic set of Munchkin, right? If not, for a full introduction please check out Wil Wheaton’s YouTube episode of TableTop, where Wil plays the game with the lovely Felicia Day, the lovely Sandeep Parikh, and the legendary Steve Jackson – the creator of Munchkin.

MunchkinGame

If you don’t have 28 minutes to spare, I’ll give a super high level breakdown. It’s as if you were playing a game of Dungeons & Dragons (or the equivalent) but without a map or character sheet. Everyone starts at level 1. Each turn someone kicks down a door in a dungeon (not literally, a “door” card gets turned over and then the player might fight a monster.) Winning fights against monsters results in gaining combat levels and treasures for the player.

First person to level 10 wins. Often, everyone else in the game tries to prevent this from happening.

It’s GREAT FUN! (In this context, munchkins are not residents of Oz nor the delightful donut-holes that can be purchased at a specific donut shop, but refer to people who play non-competitive games in an aggressively competitive manner.)

We were playing the Cthulhu version of the game (Munchkin comes in many many different genre versions) so we weren’t elves or dwarves, fighters or wizards.

MunchkinCthulhu

This was Lovecraftian. (I hope I don’t have to explain Lovecraft or his literary creation, Cthulhu.) This version of the game includes 1920’s tommy guns, mystical tomes, and tentacles.

The particular gaming session with our friends was a typical Munchkin run: some easy fights, some empty rooms, some running away from Things Men Were Not Supposed To Know, some team-ups when it was mutually beneficial, and many occasions of trying to make the current player’s combats go badly.

Along the way, Viv, my wife Lisa, and I were turned into cultists (a character class.)

CultistMunchkin

We didn’t realize what effect this would have at the end. We cultists were just happy to have a +4 combat bonus.

Soon Chooch, Viv, and Lisa were all at level 9, so the game was close to being over since one of them was bound to win a fight sooner or later and hit level 10. (I was level 6 or something, so it was very unlikely that I was going to win.)

It was Chooch’s turn, and when “kicking open the door” to start his turn, he opted to play a monster from his hand to fight. This wasn’t some easy creature. This monster was Cthulhu.

CthulhuMunchkin

The issue was this: if Chooch fought Cthulhu and won, he wins the game. All of us cultists would lose. (It didn’t matter that we were cultists, we’d lose if we were professors or monster bashers or investigators.)

But if Chooch could not defeat Cthulhu, and was caught by the big bad… he’d be killed and his new character would be a cultist.

That would make everyone a cultist. Munchkin Cthulhu has a rule, if all players end up being cultists, all the players lose and the Great Old Ones (or Elder Gods, one of those) win.

Things suddenly got weird. And familiar.

I’d recently re-watched the first Hellboy movie, starring Ron Perlman as the eponymous demon with a heart of gold and a fist of stone.

Hellboy

Hello Hellboy

The movie’s been out forever, so if you’ve not seen it, I apologize for spoiling the ending where the good guys win.

The climax of Hellboy centers around the mad monk Rasputin planning on summoning something equivalent to Lovecraft’s Elder Gods (or Great Old Ones, I don’t want to split hairs.) He’s assisted by some crazed Nazis (as if there are any other kind) and has some leverage over Hellboy which serves to ensure compliance and assistance from the big red devil.

HBAndRaspWe’ll just say everyone is at level 9. Just like Chooch, Viv, and Lisa. (My level 6 movie analogue would be one of the dead critters, probably. I’m not even in this fight.)

Hellboy eventually turns the tables, the summoners are all killed, but there’s a complication. Hellboy has inadvertently caused the materialization of a huge, tentacled, rapidly-growing creature. That can’t be good.

Just like Chooch choosing to play Cthulhu in a bid to win the game or have everyone lose.

monster and hellboy

To deal with this growing threat, Hellboy allowed the nightmare to swallow him along with the belt of grenades he was carrying.

BOOM! Game over. Good guys win.

Speaking of games…

In our game, Chooch numerically could not defeat Cthulhu. Until he played this…

TNTMunchkin

BOOM! Game over (literally.) Good guys win? Well sure, since Chooch wasn’t a cultist, we’ll say he was one of the good guys. (He’s actually a great guy.)

As it turned out, none of us cultists had any cards suitable to help Cthulhu (and had we helped, we would have been risking a fate worse than losing. I think? Maybe?)

And this is why I like to play games. For all of the reasons that were outlined in the beginning, but also I like being told a story.


In ye olde dayes, my dad would eye me skeptically as I was graphing out a dungeon to be a setting for the weekend Dungeons & Dragons game with my buddies.

My dad did like games and he liked playing games with me. Provided that game was Chess.

His view of my awkward teenage chums and me rolling a lot of dice was this: random chance wasn’t interesting or worthwhile. There was nothing skillful about it.

(He also liked playing cards, but even though poker and its ilk are games of chance, they’re also games of skill. But that’s not my point.)

I didn’t have a good grasp at the time on why I enjoyed playing D & D so much and so I didn’t have a good counter-argument for my pop, but now in my wizened and enlightened adulthood, I realize that I wasn’t gaming as an exercise of skill or competition or just to waste time.

I was in it for the moments of storytelling.

Sometimes those moments came from the dungeon master and sometimes from the players. (And sometimes from the dice. I won’t be lying. We teenage DMs and players were clownish noobs when it came to narrative import.)

And even though the particular story being told to me by the events of Munchkin was a story I already I knew (i.e. the climactic plot of Hellboy) it doesn’t change the fact that my imagination was being engaged. I feel that I could have appreciated the story of Chooch, with his backpack of dynamite, fighting an eldritch horror with the fate of the world on the line, regardless of if I’d seen Hellboy or not.

hellboy1

This probably isn’t world-shattering news to anyone. I assume anyone reading this has had similar experiences where the turn of a card or the roll of a die has the emotional echo of a good book’s plot twist or a movie’s big reveal.

I’m sure we all have similar stories to tell.

This post was written by Patrick Sponaugle, who couldn’t possibly be wrong all the time. Hey, do you like Game of Thrones? Pat is my go-to Game of Thrones blogger. Hey, did you like this post? Also a great reason to check out his blog! Oh, and leave your stories to tell in the comments below!

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What Would You Like to See an Alignment Grid of?

One thing we would like to do more of are alignment grids. They’re fun, they’re popular, they fit a lot of thought into one image, they get found on the Internet a lot. They also seem like a perfect sort of thing to put together for a Friday fun post – they take a lot of work, but once you have it, there’s not much else to say.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, click here for the original post we did with these. After the poll I’ll link to several we’ve already done.

Just some thoughts off the top of my head from worlds big enough to solidly do the nine D&D alignments… probably… without forcing anyone. It’s a fun thought experiment to make, but you help us decide which to do! And links below for ones we’ve already made!

Oh, and why not… here’s the first one!

The Nine Alignments by Comparative Geeks David

First Impression, Roll20.net

David and I play D&D with a group of 6 people including the DM. One of the people does not live in the same state as us so we have been trying various ways to make sure that they can still play. For a long while we were using Google Hangouts with some decent success and having multiple computers set up to show various angles. One for the camera to the whole group and to show us the distant player and then others for the DM and to show the board for battles. This was often complicated and we were having to move the board camera around so that the person at a distance to see where their character was in relation to everyone else. This worked, but was not a great system.

Recently, the DM discovered a service called Roll20 that allowed you to have a map where players could actually move their pieces and the DM could move the enemies all online. This at first just seemed like a great way to be able to do the combat or additional map features, but as we looked more into it the service is much, much more. Roll 20 allows for a completely online gaming session including video chat, group and private text chat, shared map, extra DM features, saved handouts, saved character sheets, and more. Now the base offerings are free and there are some added features if you want to go with a paid subscription. The base offerings are great for a single campaign, but some of the paid features might be worth it for someone investing in multiple gaming platforms. The greatest thing is that Roll 20 is for any d20 based gaming system and not just D&D specific. Continue reading

Catching Up on our Big List of Things

After we ended the A to Z Challenge in early May I did a post about how we had so many things to talk about, so many games to play, so many movies to see and shows to watch.

Now we’re in summer, and while the blockbusters have hit (especially a lot of the LitFlix), the shows have ended (even Game of Thrones!), and we have time to breathe. We also have some of the time-sinks in our personal lives past us. So where are we at? What are we up to? 

I thought I would highlight some of our thoughts on topics moving forward, and some of the things we’ve crossed off that ambitious list of topics. Onward!

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Specialization in Role Playing Games

This is a post idea I’ve had for a long time. My initial thought is this: lately I feel like there has been an increasing move towards specialization in characters in role playing games (RPGs). Meaning that before you often had characters who needed to be able to handle a multitude of situations, need to be able to heal and do damage and take a hit – all in one character, or all in each character.

However, that has been decreasing of late. Instead, we see the rise of roles like Tanking, Healer, and DPS. You see it in party-based online situations especially, and with the rise of MMORPGs, there’s a lot of this going on online and in big-name games people are putting a lot of time into. However, a further place you see this happening was in Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, which was built to in many ways play like an MMO.

So I will look a bit at both of those – MMOs and D&D 4th Edition – but what really has me thinking about this is that I now have an even better case study. the Final Fantasy games. In Final Fantasy XIII, they hit the most specialized that they ever have; however, in breaking away from that in Lightning Returns, they are moving back to a place where you have far more control over customizing your character. So have we hit the far extent of the trend? Are we moving back away from specialization? That’s the question I will close with!

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