Gone Expoing!

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgThis is a light week for me, blog-wise. I’m the Team Lead for the Tabletop Games area at the Edmonton Expo, which runs this weekend. I’ve been busy sorting out my volunteers and events, then I’ll be busy setting up the gaming area and preparing for the weekend which starts at 3pm Friday. If you’re a nerd in Edmonton you’re likely already coming to the Expo already, so this is my call to stop by the Tabletop Gaming area and play some games. Besides the library of board games we have for you to try, we also have volunteers on-hand to help you learn a game, or give you an extra body for the game you want to play. You can also take in one of the scheduled events run by our gaming sponsors, and you are welcome to bring a game you just bought and give it a play.

Posts will return to their regular schedule next week, when my life gets a little less busy. In the mean time, play games!

Extra Life is Come Again!

extra-life_blueAfter supporting a number of children’s charities over the years, I adopted Extra Life as my charity of choice about four years ago. It’s the perfect pairing: supporting a cause I believe in by doing something I love. As someone who was sick a lot when he was a child, I know how much that can suck. Adding in the suckage of it being a disease which is not easily curable (or even incurable) is something I wouldn’t want for any child. The money raised by Extra Life goes to helping hospitals in the Children’s Miracle Network, and in my case, the local Stollery Children’s Hospital. Besides helping children in immediate need, they also conduct research which will someday reduce and hopefully eliminate the diseases which strike at children.

If you aren’t familiar with Extra Life, you might wonder how I raise the money. Simply put, folks can pledge a certain amount to my fundraising effort (I’ve set a $1000 goal this year), and in return I pledge to game for 24 hours. This year I’ll be game mastering a Pathfinder game over the course of the day; for a seat at the table you either have to be running your own Extra Life fundraising effort, or make a minimum $25 donation to mine. Taking a cue from some other great tabletop campaign pages I’ve seen on the Extra Life site, I’ll also have ways people can donate at different levels in order to have an effect on the game throughout the day. I may also be live-streaming the game for the first time, but I haven’t confirmed the details on that for myself, so we’ll see.

It’s also a great social event for my friends. My buddy Devin started Team Knifeshoes for Extra Life, and I’ve been a proud member for the last three years. On the day we all gather at a single house, computers and snacks in abundance, and game our way through the 24 hours. It sort of has the feeling of a LAN party, for those what gamed in that era. It’s an event tailor-made for the introvert in me; being with my friends in a social environment without the pressure to converse (GMing doesn’t count, though is an inherently verbal endeavor). And by November 5th we usually have some snow on the ground, so it also feels good to snuggle up together (metaphorically or not) against the cruel winter winds outside.

There will be future posts with details regarding the game I’m running and how you might, if you’re in the Edmonton area, sign up for a seat at the table. But if you’d like to make an early donation, please check out my secure donation page. While I will collect donations in person, donating through my page is the easiest for all concerned; the money goes directly to Extra Life and you get a receipt from them right away via email. You can even donate anonymously if you wish. And if you’d rather wait and see what I have in store for the game before donating, that’s cool, too. Stay tuned in the coming months for those updates.

And I’ll be saying this a bunch between now and the end of the campaign this year, so get used to it now: Thank-you to everyone who has already donated this year! Between online and in-person donations I’m already a fifth of the way to my goal, and looking forward to hitting and maybe even surpassing it. If the past generosity of my friends and fellow gamers holds, I have no worries on that score.

GM Advice on YouTube

I’ve become a huge fan of tabletop content on YouTube and other video services. I’ve certainly extolled the virtues of shows like Critical Role and The DM’s Craft in previous posts, and I’m always on the lookout for new shows in “GM Advice” vein. I’ve got three new ones which I watch regularly, and if you’re a busy GM like me I think you’ll find them a useful addition to your viewing library.

Matthew Colville – I found my way to Matthew’s channel through Matthew Mercer and Critical Role, and I count it as just one more good thing Critical Role has brought to my gaming life. I enjoy Matthew’s videos for a number of reasons: he’s my age(ish), he has a similar attitude and style of GMing to my own, and he has an obvious love for the hobby. That last might seem obvious; why else would he be posting videos on tabletop gaming if he didn’t love it? But a number of channels I’ve come across post a lot of videos which focus on negative aspects of the hobby, or spend a lot of time ranting about everything they see as bad. I’m not opposed to watching videos of criticism, but I don’t want it as a steady diet and I prefer videos which offer some suggestions on building up after they’ve been tearing down. Matthew’s videos focus very much on the things he likes about the hobby, and when he does bring up aspects not to his liking, he doesn’t tend to spend a lot of time on them. He just goes back to the things he likes and builds on that. He has a friendly, no nonsense style which I find not only appealing, but worthy of emulation. He’s just an entertaining speaker as well, bringing a sense of humour to his videos without stumbling in to wackiness. Great for the beginning GM, and perfect to listen to/watch in the background as you do something else.

Web DM – At just a year old, judging by how far the videos go back, Web DM is the youngest of the shows I’ve found. It does not suffer from that youth, however, and the two hosts (Jonathan Pruitt and Jim Davis) have obviously been gaming for a while. The show definitely focuses on D&D and specifically 5E, so if that’s not your game your mileage may vary. But as someone getting back in to D&D after a  4E hiatus, I actually really like that focus. It’s helped me get a quicker handle on the system and various aspects of the new rules. They also spend a lot of time discussing fluffier topics, like how to use giants or angels in your campaign, which I have enjoyed a great deal. Excepting the gameplay videos, the episodes all range between 10-20 minutes long, which is a comfortable length. And the I really love the conversational tone of the videos. It is very much like listening to two of your gaming buddies discuss your hobby, minus the arguments and edition war rants. If you are thinking of getting into D&D 5E, this is definitely a series you want to stick in your playlist. And even if you aren’t as D&D focused, a lot of the episodes will still give you ideas for your game of choice.

A Fistful of Dice – A YouTube channel which I just subscribed to yesterday, actually, but I’ve caught videos from the channel through various other sources for a while. I really enjoy the rough, “vlogging on the go” feel of the episodes, as if he’s just taking a break from his busy day to tell us something important about gaming. The cool thing is, he usually is telling us something important about gaming. The episodes cover a wide range of topics, from Gaming with Kids, to his “Five Ways” vids on various subjects, to episodes on how to start your own YouTube gaming vlog. An affable guy who is obviously enthusiastic about the hobby, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen so far enough to recommend the channel to others and I look forward to working through the back catalogue. Plus, how could I not love the Sergio Leone reference in the title? And he keeps it going with a series of vids called “For a Few Dice More”. Love it!

Kickstarter Picks for September

kickstarter-logo-lightStandard disclaimer that I can quit Kickstarter anytime. Generic assurance that it is not an addiction, and that I don’t have a problem. Boisterous invitation to peruse the latest offerings.

Invisible Sun – Okay, this is the big one, and it has turned out to be surprisingly divisive. It seems that many folks were not only dismayed at the $197 buy-in, but were actively angry about it. Angry to the point of posting long screeds and the like. And I sort of get it. The game is so very beautiful looking (and beautiful sounding, based on the backer updates) that I can understand some gamers being upset that they can’t afford its price point. But as I pointed out to a friend the day it came out, being a gamer is a lot like being a scotch drinker; you can be quite happy drinking $30-50 bottles of scotch, but if you want the really good stuff you have to be prepared to pay. That doesn’t make the less expensive scotch (games) worse in any way, but special costs. And as Monte Cook himself has pointed out in numerous posts and interviews, this is a game which could be bought by a gaming group as a whole. Given the average group is 4-5 people, that drops the cost down to $40-50 per person, which is what each person would pay if your group were getting the books for a new game anyway. And this is not a game you want to buy and not play, so knowing you’ve got a literally invested group of players is a good thing.

Villains & Vigilantes 3.0: The Mighty Protectors – After a tedious legal battle to regain the rights to the game they created, Jeff Dee and Jack Herman are Kickstarting to launch the third edition of the iconic superhero game. V&V was hands-down my favourite superhero game in the Eighties, and I’ve owned several copies of the 2nd edition over the years (each mysteriously going missing after lending it out). I’m excited to see what the third edition will bring, and get a look at the Mighty Protectors Universe, one of the early settings for the game. It’s already blown through a bunch of stretch goals as well, so there’s a bunch of additional material coming with the main rules.

Dragonlock 2: Fantasy Village Terrain for 3D Printers – I don’t yet own a 3D printer, but with the price coming down and quality going up on consumer models, I likely will in the next year. Against that day, I am excited to get my hands on a bunch of files for printing 3D terrain for my tabletop gaming. I see this as an investment in where I think 3D terrain building is going to go. And besides all that, the terrain looks gorgeous and well-designed. I know, I shouldn’t be distracted by pretty. But damn it’s pretty! And I don’t even have to wait for a printer of my own for this stuff; my local library has 3D printers available for public use for a very nominal fee. If you have a similar resource where you are, or own a 3D printer of your own, you want to get on-board with this now.

Those are my Kickstarter picks for September. What have you got your eye on these days? Let me know in the comments below.

Should You Buy It? – Kobold Guide to Plots & Campaigns

Product reviews are something I’ve never really done on the site before, but I’ve decided to dip the toe and see how the water feels. I think the title I’ve chosen for these reviews gets to the heart of what I’ll be evaluating. My reviews are going to be very much about the usefulness of the items I review and which type of gamer they’d appeal to, if any. I don’t think every gaming product is going to suit every gamer, and money can be tight these days, so I’d rather steer my readers towards products of actual use. I’m not a mouth-piece for any company, and on that far-off day when I might get review copies given to me, I still promise to give my honest opinion of the product in question (and I’ll always tell you if I was given a review copy, because that’s just good manners). With that said, let’s jump to the meat of the post.

If I were going to offer a university degree in tabletop games, the Kobold Guides would be the text books for an entire stream of courses. Each volume contains a number of essays from experts and veterans in the field, writing about the things they love and know. Besides doing the thing, I can’t think of a better way of learning about a subject than to absorb the words of people who are better at it than you.

The Kobold Guide to Plots & Campaigns, the sixth book in this series, is like taking a master-class in designing a role-playing campaign. The essays collected here are by some true masters of the craft: Zeb Cook, Jeff Grubb, James Jacobs, Amber E. Scott, and Margaret Weis just to name a few. All are names I’ve encountered in any number of my favourite Dragon Magazine articles, gaming sourcebooks, and adventures over the years (and in one case, at the gaming table a few time, much to my continued delight), so I know there is a wealth of experience in the pages of this book. And they deliver that experience to you in nineteen essays covering a wide variety of campaign design topics, curated and edited by Michele Carter. The essays cover everything from how to start a campaign and how you might incorporate published adventures into your campaign world, to slightly more esoteric subjects like running an evil campaign successfully, or running a campaign which spans generations of characters.

If I gushed about every essay this post would get stupid long, so I will limit my gushing to just two, hard as that is. “Choosing an Ending First”, by Wolfgang Baur, is a great look at how to design your campaign around the climactic end-scene you envision for the characters. On the surface it sounds very rail-roady to reverse engineer your campaign based on how you want it to end. But Wolfgang does an excellent job of explaining how your ending can inform your campaign design without stamping train tickets for your players. It was a way of looking at campaign creation I had never considered before; usually I figure out how I want to start things, and the end-game is nebulous. His suggestions and ideas gave me a lot to think about, and have already influenced two of my campaigns.

I’d been lucky enough to actually meet and somehow befriend Amber E. Scott a number of years ago. We’ve gamed together a few times, and I always enjoy speaking with her and hearing her on panels. You know how, when you have a smart friend, you think you know how smart they are? And then they do something, and you realize you only thought you knew? That was my experience reading Amber’s essay “Using Cliffhangers Effectively”. I’d been using cliffhangers in my campaigns for years, (I thought) properly and successfully. Amber’s essay corrected my thinking on that, and I realized I’d been using them like a cudgel when they could really be more of a rapier. A stand-out moment for me, and one of the reasons I love reading collections like this.

So who would I recommend buy this book? Any game master who wants to get better at running their campaigns should read Plots & Campaigns at least once, and ideally enough times for it to get dog eared.  If you are a new game master this book will serve as an invaluable toolbox for years to come. Heck, Richard Pett’s “Crooked Characters” is going to keep you hip-deep in NPCs for the foreseeable future. If you’re a veteran, you’ll discover things you never knew as well as refinements of topics you thought you understood fully. And “Crooked Characters” is also going to serve you well.

If you’re a player but not yet a GM, I’d say it’s worth it to borrow a copy if you want to get a peek behind the GM screen. The book is definitely not written with the player in mind, and that’s okay. But as a way to get insight into what your GM is doing for you every week, it’s a good read.

Since scoring systems seem to be popular, I’ll give the Kobold Guide to Plots & Campaigns four frothy mugs of ale out of five, and drink the fifth one myself while re-reading the book.

Have you read the book? What did you think? Drop a comment to let me know.

RPGaDay August 31

Best advice you were ever given for your game of choice?

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgThe best piece of advice I was given was for GMing in general, and it was a “lightbulb” moment for me as a younger game master. That piece of advice?

“The Game Police Don’t Exist.”

Which is to say, the gaming company is not sending Game Police around to make sure you’re following The Rules. There is no wrong way to play your game. If your players and you are having fun, you’re doing it right. If you have to house-rule the crap out of the rules to get there, do it. Every RPG is open to tinkering and adjusting and house-ruling to make the game work the way you want. Do the thing you need to do to get the game to where you find it fun and exciting. The same goes with settings, or modules/scenarios, or any other RPG books. Use what you need, put the rest aside for later.

This touches a bit back to Gatekeeping and the idea that there is some mystical Right Way of gaming. When I was younger, yeah, I was one of those annoying gits who thought that way. But if I can tell you one thing, after 37 years of gaming, it’s this: there are many paths to a great game. Talk to your players and figure out what your group needs, then get rid of everything else. It can take work, and trial and error. But it’s worth the time you put in; no one has time to waste playing games which aren’t fun.

And thus ends RPGaDay for 2016. I hope you found some of it useful and/or entertaining. We resume a three posts a week schedule starting this weekend, so if you tuned in for the month I hope you’ll keep coming back.

RPGaDay August 30

Describe the ideal game room if budget were unlimited.

PFS Dice CroppedMy ideal game room, and one I’m currently working away at as time and budget allow, is best described as “Retired Adventurer”. I want the room to look like the den/library of a retired adventurer. So a fantasy medieval look overall, decorated with keepsakes and treasures from a life spent adventuring. I have plans to build a goblin dogchopper, for instance, to hang on a wall plaque. I’d decorate the walls with maps of fantasy locations, interspersed with the bits of artwork I’ve collected over the years. I’d install a fake hearth with an electric fireplace, and the lighting would be faux torches. What shelves weren’t covered with game books would have artifacts of a long and varied adventuring life; cups, crystals, urns, and various treasures of a life spent on the road.

And of course the table would be a good, solid wooden table. I’d have some under-shelving so books could be kept off the surface, leaving more room for the maps and dice rolling. Comfortable chairs, with just the right amount of padding. Mini-fridge in the corner for drinks and perishables. A cupboard for snacks and dishes. Basically I’d want to set the room up in such a way that, once you’re in the room and ready to game, there’s no reason to leave except to use the washroom.

Like I said, it’s currently a work in progress. Haven’t worked on the overall look too much, but the bones of a good game room are there. Have a mini-fridge, for instance, and that has made things better. Need some more shelving, but that’s an ongoing and never-ending concern. All in all it’s coming along.

What’s your ideal game room look like? Let me know in the comments.

RPGaDay August 29

You can game anywhere on earth, where would you choose?

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgI’ve had to break the answers to this question down by type of game, because of course the RPG makes a difference.

Fantasy (D&D, Pathfinder) – I’d pick any of the dozens of still standing castles throughout Scotland or Wales. I’d prefer something on the coast, in a room with a great view out over the ocean. Transform that room to double as a fantasy-medieval tavern, because every great adventure starts in the tavern! Big wooden tables, torchlight, fire roaring away in the hearth! And the beautiful Scottish or Welsh countryside and seaside to complete the feel.

Call of Cthulhu – If we’re going for classic 1930’s CoC, then I want to set-up camp next to the pyramids in Egypt in a style as authentic to a Dirty Thirties archaeological dig as possible. Or, since I know Egypt is rightfully protective of their heritage sites, I’d want a run-down old house somewhere in New England, preferably overlooking the ocean. Of course it would need to be in a sleepy, seemingly quiet New England village, so I could stash clues all over and make the Investigators have to poke around and, you know, investigate.

Shadowrun – Tokyo, in a glass-walled boardroom overlooking the centre of the city. Some might say it should be Seattle, but I think Tokyo already embodies what many imagine as a typical Shadowrun city. This would also work for Feng Shui, of course, although we could also reset to Hong Kong.

Post-Apocalyptic – I’m thinking games like Gamma World and the like. I’d want to pick one of the large-scale abandoned places, like an abandoned amusement park, or the massive airplane graveyard outside Tucson.

Now, it can be difficult to travel to all these places, not to mention getting your gaming group there as well. So I’ve also though about what I’d do with a chunk of property to turn it into a super-cool gaming location. But I think this might fall under a future RPGaDay category so I’ll leave it for now.

I’ve definitely left some games off this list, so what would be your choice of game/dream location? Let me know in the comments.

RPGaDay August 28

Thing you’d be most surprised a friend had not seen or read?

cropped-cropped-me-and-the-eyeball3.jpgFifteen or twenty years ago, I used to be shocked when I’d discover someone who hadn’t seen or read something I’d been enjoying for years. Like Star Wars. How do you be a geek and not see Star Wars?! As it turns out, pretty easily, but in my younger days I was quite the proficient little Gatekeeper, follower of the Tao of ‘No True Scotsman’. I’d insist they would have to make up this horrible deficiency, or else turn in their Geek Card (never mind that I didn’t have one either). Ah, the arrogance of youth.

These days it’s different. Not only do I not judge my fellow nerds for what they watch and read, I actually understand their plight. There is just so much! We’re in a time when the networks, speciality channels, streaming services, and YouTube have all figured out that nerdy content is, if not king, definitely in line for the throne. Concurrently there is an unprecedented ease to self-publishing, which has partially contributed to a wider than ever selection of fantasy and sci-fi books for hungry readers. Of course in both cases there will be a “quantity over quality” issue, but that is largely self-correcting as audiences and readers gravitate to their favourites.

But what this means is, there is no longer any way any one person can be expected to reasonably stay on top of every show, every movie, or every book. I am constantly running into folks who have not read or seen things I love, and vice versa. And that’s great! To my mind, discovering a new show or book through the passionate excitement of someone who loves it is the best way to find new things. In the end, I may not end up liking it as much as them, or at all. But that’s okay. What they love tells me something about them, and so when I want to talk about what I love I know who my best audience will be.

And I stopped being a Gatekeeper and never looked back. Took down the gates and turned them into shelves, for all the sweet new books and games I’ve got coming my way. Seems like a much better way to be a nerd, to my way of thinking.

RPGaday August 27

Most unusual circumstance or location in which you’ve gamed.

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgI’ve run and played RPGs in a variety of unusual locations over the years. I have, in years past, taken the Greyhound to Gen Con which works out to a three day trip. One year, encountering other gamers on the bus, I ran a D&D game that lasted for most of the trip. We added players and lost players depending on connections and such, but had a rollicking good time and even managed to entice some new players. Maybe they jumped in because what else are you going to do on a bus for hours and hours? But hopefully they had fun and kept playing.

I’ve run games while camping, and I always find those to be a heck of a lot of fun. Sitting around the campfire is great for playing fantasy games, as well as setting the mood for horror/Cthulhu games. Back in my Living Greyhawk days, a group out of Calgary organized CampCon, a weekend of Living Greyhawk and camping in the Rockies. It was a great time, and especially educational for players who thought you could just toss a blanket on the ground and sleep in the great outdoors. And the mountains being the mountains, it was also an education on why you might want warmer clothing when camping (snowstorm in July? Don’t mind if I do, Rockies!).

For a brief time I was involved in a vampire LARP, and we were lucky enough to have the empty three floors of an office building to play in. We had a large boardroom set aside as the Prince’s throne room, and different offices assigned to each clan as their territory. It made for some interesting situations, and the team running the game did a great job making up the space for various special events inside the game.

Among the many odd places I have gamed or run games, where perhaps we shouldn’t have been: a church belfry, a disused water tower, an empty light-rail station, steam tunnels under the local university (I know, how derivative!), steam tunnels under West Edmonton Mall (with occasional pauses to play hide-and-seek with Wandering Security Guards), an abandoned hospital, and a defunct and desanctified church. That last was especially creepy, and perfect for the horror game I ran. It was a rural church, down a road lined with semi-leafless trees (it was autumn), and a bell which rang at random moments as the wind blew through the belfry and caught the clapper rope. Everything about the location screamed “horror movie”, and crouching in the centre of the room with a rickety table and flickering lanterns only enhanced the mood.

What’s the oddest location you’ve gamed? Let me know in the comments.