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What is PAX?

You can’t delve into the origins of the PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) without first excavating the history of the webcomic known as Penny Arcade.  Penny Arcade is a webcomic written by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik based around video games and video game culture.  The comic originally debuted in 1998 on the website  Jerry and Mike have since established their own website at which is updated with a new comic strip every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  The comics are accompanied by regular updates on the website’s blog.

The website receives over 2 million page views a day and I can say without hesitation that I am quite green with envy- almost as green as Kermit the Frog.  After spending a lot of time on their website, I can see what all the hype is about.  Not only does the comic have engaging artwork and characters but the references to everything in nerd culture cause me to laugh out loud at my desk at work which in turn causes my co-workers to fire looks of confusion and disdain in my direction which cause me to become distracted and write run-on sentences like the one you have just completed.  If their comic can do that, it can accomplish anything- even time travel without a flux capacitor.  Here’s one of my favorites:

Jerry and Mike are two of a handful of artists able to make a living off webcomics.   Originally Jerry and Mike supported their artistic endeavor with donations through their website, now they have switched to providing advertising and merchandise to support their ongoing comic.  In addition to the comic the two nerds have launched a slew of other projects including Child’s Play (a children’s charity), 2 games – Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness episodes 1 and 2, and of course the now famous PAX.

PAX is essentially a throng of excited tabletop and video gamers intent on spending three days completely plugged in to console and computer video games and tabletop RPGs.  In addition there is an inside keynote speech, game inspired concerts, panels on game industry topics, game publisher exhibition booths, tournaments, free-play areas, and after-hour parties.  PAX also features the Omegathon, a weekend long tournament of randomly selected attendees competing for a grand prize!  The final round of the tournament makes up PAX’s closing ceremony; past games have included Pong, Halo 3, Skee ball, and my absolute hands down favorite- Tetris!  PAX is a semi-annual festival that takes place in Seattle and Boston.

For a real look into what PAX is all about check out this video:


Jerry Holkins has said that the effect of PAX and Child’s Play on gaming culture will outlast that of the Penny Arcade webcomic “substantially”.

NERD TREK has requested media passes to attend PAX 2011 and will be covering all 3 days of the festival with a team of 6 of our nerdiest journalists.  Stay tuned to for full coverage of PAX Seattle 2011.


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My first Pathfinder game

Yesterday I was finally able to sit down with some friends and try out the game that seemingly everyone from AD&D 2nd edition to D&D 3.5 has migrated to.  I have had a borrowed copy of the Pathfinder book kicking around my house for a couple months but haven’t really had the chance to crack it open for more than a few minutes at a time.  When I had the chance I flipped through the pages and was immediately attracted to the colorful illustrations, high quality background and Pathfinder logo at the top of each page.  Although aesthetics should not necessarily be considered when weighing the quality of a RPG product, it is still something people look at and could perhaps be the deciding point on if the book makes it to checkout.  Thus, I am taking into account the attractiveness of the illustrations, backgrounds, logos, and character illos.

Before I get too deep into my personal review of Pathfinder let me explain a bit about my gaming past.  I come from a background of over 20 years DMing AD&D 1st and 2nd edition and the transition to 3.5 was admittedly a little forced.  I basically had no choice as everyone in my player lineup now plays the newer systems.  I had been a steadfast hardcore 2nd edition gamer owning every single 2e book as well as the entire collection of Forgotten Realms books and boxed sets- thanks Ed Greenwood!  One concept I quite enjoyed about 3.5 was the elimination of Thac0 which had served only to confuse new players and those who failed basic math.  Also, more strategy was introduced into the combat system along with an extremely set of detailed rules which served to help solve almost any dispute at the table quickly without much room for argument.  With this new book of rules also came a few annoyances to me as a DM.  Since when did 1st level characters become insanely powerful individuals who could already wield a surprising amount of power?  In 1st and 2nd edition it really felt like you would have to earn those abilities through many gaming sessions and although sometimes frustrating and difficult, you appreciated your earned powers that much more.  Also there are so many books for customizing your character in 3.5 that you basically can make any kind of character class you can imagine.  Although this is great for the players, the DM has a huge headache on his hands trying to figure out how to challenge a group who has a warrior who can psionically recharge and focus his attacks causing massive amounts of damage and slaying almost any enemy you throw at him.  Another challenge is overcoming the rule lawyering that comes into play with the advent of all these new and detailed rules.  Although useful when solving certain scenarios the rules sometimes get in the way of the story and when they do I try and remind my players that we’re here to have fun, not scrutinize every little detail and rule of the game.  That’s just a couple examples of the many challenges I have come across running 3.5 games.  I know that as DM I have the final say on these things, but honestly- who has time to keep track of all of this and scrutinize everyone’s character sheets?  Perhaps in high school on summer vacation, but I’m older now and I want to fill my precious free time with writing and DMing adventure, not being a rules lawyer over your characters.  Would Pathfinder be much different?  I had heard that some of the great annoyances of 3.5 had been removed and some new ideas introduced that would simplify a lot of the silliness that went on.

When I had the chance to sit down yesterday and dig a little further than skin deep I found basically the same rules for character creation as D&D 3.5, but a lot simpler.  We all decided to create characters and although I usually DM I requested the chance to try out this new RPG from the player position.  A fellow player agreed to take the DM throne and run a short and simple game, but first came character creation.  I rolled my stats a couple times and finally decided on a character with one strong stat, a few average and a couple weak.  I like characters that vary a bit and are not powerful across the board.  In fact I believe there is a strong advantage in playing a character that has a handicap.  It requires you to come up with some interesting ways to overcome that weakness.  So, I made a halfling bard with 3 STR named Cardamon Jolst along with a slew of other aliases, his true name being a secret that even he doesn’t remember after all his years traveling from village to village working the locals and extracting information and plundering coin.  The first thing I noticed while generating my character was that the character generation information was all laid out for me similar to the way 3.5 was presented.  If you’re coming from a 3.5 background Pathfinder should be a welcome change of pace without throwing you out of your realm too much.  I followed the directions for my race which were all neatly presented in a little box at the bottom of the page.  Once that was in order I moved on to my class of bard and started from the top working my way down.  It seems that they spent a lot of time narrowing down just the right balance of lore and game rules.  I was able to glean a few ideas for my character while at the same time writing down all my skills and special abilities.  When I filled out my skills one of the first things I noticed was that the Search, Spot, and one other ability I cannot recall but obviously do not miss were absent.  In their place was a familiar skill called “Perception”, something we had come up with on our own when running 2nd edition games all those years ago.  Perception in our games had been obtained by adding up INT, WIS, and CHA, dividing your result by 3 and using that number as a basis for checks involving anything requiring a perception check- the equivalent of spot and search checks in 3.5.  Now in Pathfinder they finally eliminated all those unnecessary redundancies and replaced them with the Perception check.  Simpler is smarter, I like it.  Also when you place a rank in a class skill you automatically get a bonus 3 points in that skill the first time you plug a rank in that slot.  This is nice because you can instantly begin using your new abilities without worrying about constantly failing.  When starting out a new character this is nice because instead of having a sleight of hand of say 5, you end up with an 8 which is much more likely to actually succeed should you decide to use that skill.  You can really concentrate of specific skills and customize your base class character without going bonkers with prestige classes like they did in 3.5.  There is definitely something to be said about the core classes and honing their abilities so that each is unique and a required presence within the party.  You can’t survive without your fighter, priest, thief, or mage.  All four must be present or at least skills distributed equally so that all ground is covered and exploration can take place with each person holding a very specific set of skills or abilities that allow the group to succeed by working together.  I love the group dynamic and I think Pathfinder has found a way to work that in quite well.

After our characters were rolled up (which despite my ignorance in the Pathfinder system didn’t take as long as I would have thought) we started a short intro game to get us accustomed to this new system.  A couple of the guys had already played and run Pathfinder games in the past and were really excited that the rest of us were willing to give it a shot.  Hell, I’ll try anything at least once!  What do I have to lose?  So, we started our adventure of which I must spare the details as this was a pre-made adventure and I do not wish to spoil it for any of my readers.  Throughout the adventure I utilized my skills and special abilities.  As a bard it was very interesting realizing that in combat I was mostly ineffective at causing more than a couple points of damage (if that!) per round.  In fact, I was mostly a support character singing my silly songs (which I made sure were contextually correct and quite emotionally abusive to the goblins we were combating, as well as rhythmically engaging) and buffing up my fellow adventurers.  The Paladin and Monk were tanks while the cleric and I helped keep the party alive and successful in combat.  I had a couple spells of 1st level which I decided to save in case there was a more difficult battle on the horizon which never did come in our short gaming session.  I did not get the chance to use my abilities for adventuring or exploration purposes on this session, but my first experience playing Pathfinder left me with a good enough taste in my mouth that I decided not to rinse and came home, hopped online, and promptly ordered the core book through Amazon.

If you too have been sitting on the fence in regards to the Pathfinder RPG I suggest hopping down on my side and grabbing a copy of this book.  Give it a shot, what have you got to lose?  You’ll be out $30 for a used copy that you could pass onto a friend should you not enjoy the game.  Although if you like everything that the original TSR and WOTC authors produced, I think you will find Pathfinder a welcome addition to your RPG collection.

If you enjoyed these Pathfinder character images you will love the artwork provided in the Pathfinder Core Rules book as this was gleaned from that source!  Well, all of them save one- this last picture is Jenny Poussin, a gorgeous gal who enjoys Pathfinder almost as much as she does modeling!  Check her out on Facebook and add her to your friends. You’ll love her cosplay pictures of various RPG and video game characters!  While you are on Facebook make sure you “like” NERD TREK which will automatically enter you in all of our future contests and giveaways!  Check out our Facebook page or homepage to see what kind of Nerd goodies we’re giving away today!

Here’s a link to some great prices on new and used copies of Pathfinder on Amazon.  When I last checked there was still a brand new copy for $31 with free shipping!  Enjoy!



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Death of a Gaming Shop


Yes, this time it’s personal.  My local gaming shop- “Cascade Comics & Games” is closing and imploding into a flurry of 50% off sales and depressed gamers and comic nerds.  When I stopped by the shop yesterday, the owners brother was manning the counter looking dreary reading a comic book.  After spotting the “50% off Store Closing Sale”, I asked “Is this for real?”  He nodded solemnly.  After talking for a bit I perused what was left on the shelves, lots of great deals here… but I would rather have the gaming shop than these deals, hell- I would rather have the gaming shop than all the free gaming merchandise in the world.

Jack, the owner of Cascade Comics & Games has had his shop now for about 5+ years in North Bend, WA.  He found ways to stay afloat when other businesses would have closed.  It looks like the economic downturn coupled with recent personal life issues have finally caught up with Jack.  Sadly at the end of the December, the local game shop will be no more.

I started thinking about the reasons that businesses all over the US are failing and a few different concepts came to me.  The poor economic times that our government has blessed us with have wiped out so many small businesses I fear there will be little left by the time the double dip recession (depression) hits rock bottom.  Hard financial times also put a huge strain on marriages.  The #1 reason for divorce in the US are spouses arguing over financial issues, and with these hard times almost 90% of Americans are dealing with financial issues one way or another.  With divorce comes not only the division of assets, but income- thus destroying the local business in the mess.  My last reason is the advent of internet businesses; There are so many online stores where you can get insanely low prices, why would you ever go to a local shop and pay twice the price for their goods?

Internet stores have VERY little overhead and thus are able to mark many products so low that they make only a couple bucks off each sale.  If local shops try and compete they will lose so much money they might as well not be selling anything at all.  I’m not saying the internet is bad, it’s just shifted the way things are bought and sold to a different format where real local people have less interaction with their community.  The problem is gaming and comic book shops not only sell goods, but create a gathering place for nerds and geeks to come together to work on model scenery, play strategy games like magic the gathering, and role-playing games like D&D.  Without this local gathering place, nerds have no real way to meet and interact on a local and personal level.  Some may argue that the internet is a great way to meet people, but I beg to differ.  Have you ever tried to find gamers to play with online and met in person only to regret ever offering to host a session or join their session?  You are already obligated to spend an entire day with these people who maybe the most annoying group of people you have ever met in your life.  Maybe they like to complain all session long, or just joke around and don’t actually play, or perhaps their DM never gives detailed descriptions and just runs battle after battle.  The point is, if you had met at the gaming shop you would have had the opportunity to see them in action firsthand and make a decision accordingly on if you wanted to spend an eight to ten hour day with them and their friends.

On many occasions I was able to meet other gamers by playing a game of Magic with them or just talking about old school RPGs.  I was given the chance to get to know some of the members of my community.  I even had the chance to bring Jack and some of his friends on an excursion with my friend Todd Gamble to tour a hugely popular company that makes miniature games (and they don’t even give tours!)   Todd had worked with the owner at Wizards of the Coast, thus was able to make this happen- something that never would have occurred were it not for the gathering place Cascade Comics and Games!

Since we are already in great danger of becoming an online society where we rarely communicate face to face and instead rely on technology, the closing of a local gathering place just pounds another nail into the coffin which gets tossed in the ground amidst hundreds of others.  The camera pans out to show thousands, and then millions more where contained within each was a neighborly community of individuals who once gathered and shared their lives, in person with each other and vested in common goals, ambitions, and entertainment together for the sake of the enjoyment and sense of community it brought.

Try and remember this next time you visit a local business that is original, artistic, or unique- this isn’t Starbucks and supported by millions of other shops the world over, this is a local business and the lady behind the counter might be eating Top Ramen tonight for dinner so that you can enjoy her business.  (Heck, to run NERD TREK I spend over 100 hours each month and on average make 25-50 cents a day!)  Just remember that if you appreciate your local businesses, make the extra effort to get out, meet people there, and purchase something for a little more $, knowing that the money will go in the pockets of a fellow American, a fellow American who is your neighbor.

I don’t want to see another gaming shop close.

Please stop by Cascade Comics and Games before it closes at the end of December 2010 and purchase something to support Jack.  If you really want to help, please drop some extra money into the cup on the counter once titled “baby fund” that now reads “college fund” to help his cute little baby girl.

Here’s to Jack and all his years of hard work and dedication, you will be sorely missed by many and never forgotten for what you did here.  Viva Cascade Comics & Games!  You shall live on in Elysium.

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Retro Role-Playing: The Keep on the Borderlands

The first time I held this module in my hands I was 8 years old. My friend Khidr had been gifted some red basic Dungeons and Dragons books by his Aunt and Uncle. There was the coveted Red Set with the Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide. They seemed intimidating at the time, but now I think back and laugh at how short they were compared to most RPG rulebooks. We also received what I truly believe got us involved in role-playing games to begin with- a set of polyhedron dice. Completely alien to us, these dice were like little treasures that required diligent safeguarding.  Strange shapes and of all different colors, this was what caused us to pull up chairs to what would become our gaming table and dig through these newfound books.  As soon as I found that there was a “Dungeon Master” who controlled the monsters and wrote the storyline I knew that’s what I wanted to be. I have always loved creation, being a creative creature at heart I get excited about writing songs, building model scenery, creating websites- these things give my life purpose and get my gears turning. I grabbed for the purple book which contained information FOR THE DUNGEON MASTER ONLY!

The Keep on the Borderlands was filled with plain black and white pages with a few poorly drawn pictures and descriptions of the interior of a keep and some nearby caverns. The cardboard exterior of the book came completely off from the bound pages and on the inside had a blue and white map of the keep.

It would provide the players with many adventures whether they realized it or not.  I could reuse different sections of this adventure to spawn ideas for future quests that would throw the Player Characters into dangerous situations and exciting sub-plots.  It would be many years later before I realized how influential those first books were to myself and my gaming group.  Now that I am an adult I decided that I would do a little more research on that old module since I find myself a bit more interested in the history of D&D.

The Keep on the Borderlands (B2) was a Dungeons and Dragons module created by the Father of D&D- Gary Gygax.  The module was first printed in 1979- a strangely reoccurring year in gaming products for me.  In the module, players are based at a keep and investigate a series of caves that are filled with a variety of monsters.  Designed to be used with the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set, it was included in the 1979-1982 editions.  It was designed in mind for those new to the game.

This module went out of print in the early 80’s, but has since been reprinted two time, and a sequel was also made.  The Keep on the Borderlands was ranked as the 7th greatest D&D Adventure of all time by Dungeon Magazine in 2004.

In the adventure, the PC’s arrive at the Keep and can make it their base of operations.  Then they may investigate a group of caves in the nearby hills which are teeming with monsters.  The Caves of Chaos are home to multiple species of hostile humanoids.  Plot twists include a treacherous priest at the Keep, hungry lizardmen in a nearby swamp, and an angry hermit in the surrounding wilderness.  This is a typical “dungeon crawl” D&D adventure with a few outdoor treks.

In September of 2010, the module was re-released for D&D 4th Edition by Wizards of the Coast for use in the weekly D&D Encounters sessions. Like the original, this revised module is designed for use with a boxed set oriented towards the beginning player: “Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game”, the starter set for D&D Essentials, also released in September of 2010, which sports the red cover of the 1983 “Basic Rules” revision of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set.

Things have finally come full circle.  The Red Classic D&D Basic set is back, as is our beloved Keep on the Borderlands.  Ironically enough, my good friend Khidr who started this D&D journey with me has returned to our gaming group.  So now, Khidr and I continue to explore our medieval  fantasy worlds together, and yes- I am still the Dungeon Master as I once was over two decades ago.


Check out this shirt Wil Wheaton created! Click the link below to visit J!nx Gamer Apparel!

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HTML, Salt & Vinegar, and Punk Rock

Another day spent editing text and html on the website. I can’t wait until the arduous work is through! Our true passion is creating fantasy worlds, drawing maps and illustrations, and crafting fine adventures to share with YOU and our own personal gaming group!

Soon I’ll be play testing these adventures with my friends gathered around the gaming table, eating way too many Tim’s Cascade Salt and Vinegar chips and drinking soda while laughing, talking, and rolling dice. I hope you enjoy the adventures as much as we do crafting and testing them!

You probably won’t be reading this for a few months, but I wanted my first entry to be some ramblings during the construction phase of this site so we can look back at the days when I was all by my lonesome listening to bluegrass and punk rock plugging in code all day and night.