Don’t you hate when six archers show up to a pirate fight?
“We did not have the problems you’d think we’d have,” Patrick Todd said last Sunday, remembering a previous game of Pathfinder Society in which players take on characters and move figurines on a scene drawn on graph paper.
During last weekend’s adventure at The Historic Haven in Frederick to save the missing queen of witches, the cast of characters the five players chose was more diverse, including an owl-bear, a warpig and a gnome. The characters use each other’s strengths and weaknesses to accomplish set objectives in each game, as well as defeat challenges as set out by the game master.
There is a large gaming community around such roleplaying games in Frederick County, said Brainstorm Comics and Gaming Manager Matt Payne. He runs introductory gaming events at the downtown Frederick store to teach things like Pathfinder Society and Warhammer 40K.
Groups get together at someone’s house or at a popular place like The Historic Haven to play and hang out on a regular basis, he said.
“It’s a social gathering,” he said. “It’s the same thing as a book club or meeting for tea, but for people who like games. ... That’s what we do to keep our fingers busy when we meet up with friends.”
A few miles away, in Adam Francis’ Frederick basement, about 15 people gathered last Sunday to play on five tables that Francis had built for the tabletop war game called Warhammer 40K. The six different terrains he created were made from Styrofoam, plastic and model buildings.
Francis moved his robot army, called Adeptus Mechanicus, between what appeared to be steam made of cotton balls and a building on a table depicting a fallen dystopian city. With a roll of dice, he destroyed the building that another player’s space marines were protecting, accomplishing his objective.
“Adam got a new army, and we don’t know how to destroy it yet,” Gordon White said on the other end of the 12-by-4-foot table, where he was playing a separate game in an icy forest setting.
Francis, said some people get into Warhammer 40K because they like the math behind the game. Others may favor reading the books that expand on the storyline. Some may have played a video game based on it. Players like Francis started by painting the figurines.
Francis’ grandmother painted ceramics and taught him how to paint the miniatures in the early 1990s when he was about 9, he said.
His favorite part now is making new friends and having a beer — preferably Flying Dog, the unofficial sponsor of the club, he joked.
“I don’t watch football, I don’t play golf,” he said. “My wife and I have an agreement that this is my day.”
Pamela Francis stayed upstairs Sunday and talked to a member’s girlfriend. Warhammer isn’t her thing, she said. Sometimes, she and the other members’ wives will go to the swimming pool with the children or plan a day out while the guys play out small-scale wars in the basement.
“We’ve made a community,” she said.
The members of the 21-and-over group range in age from 23 to 44 and work as everything from a firefighter to college administrator to lawyer, said Adam Francis, who works as a police officer.
“Most cops only hang out with cops,” he said. “I’ve got a friendship with these guys because of this game.”
Frederick resident Roy Englebach said the basement, with bookshelves full of all the rulebooks and display cases with all of Francis’ armies, is a special place for fans. Most other people who play the game at home only have one table, he said. “What you’re seeing is the exception.”
White said if he won the lottery his basement would look like Francis’. He drives from Alexandria for the “Beer and Bolters” biweekly get togethers.
Francis said he’s made makeshift tables before to accommodate large turnouts. Once, he put shelves on a bed in the basement guest room, he said.
“We’d like to get a space we could rent and move to an official club,” Francis said. “That’s one of the goals.”
The group that was playing Pathfinder Society Organized Play is recognized by the makers of the game and meets every other Sunday at The Haven.
Game master Thomas Haycraft read the storyline for an adventure at the beginning of play.
The objective: clearing out a clock tower to save Baba Yaga.
The challenge: There’s a white dragon somewhere in the clock tower.
“So what size is this white dragon?” said Todd, whose character was an unarmed barbarian.
There were five doors in the clock tower that had to be opened, Haycraft said. The graph paper in front of him outlined the rooms that the figurines were navigating.
“There’s five of us and five doors, I say we open them all,” player Dan Young said.
“Well we know the last time that happened,” Gary Stitely said, laughing and trailing off.
The group only plays with a maximum of six people, Haycraft said. This allows for each character to have speaking parts and not slow down the game, which lasts for about four to eight hours, depending on the type of game.
“Our characters have rapports just like we do,” said Haycraft, a Frederick resident.
Payne said that the setup of the two games, especially Warhammer, leaves room to chat in between turns, too.
Haycraft, who tells players the storyline and takes on the role of different protagonists in the game, said one of the advantages of the roleplaying games is it gets them together and out of the house. He also said he likes to have fun with the story, adding details, like giving characters a southern drawl.
“Video games, you can only do what they’ve programmed, but with this, you can do anything you want.”