On Being a Better Con Gamer


Here in the snowy wilds of Canada, winter is loosening its grip on the land. Which means all the introverted nerds like me can come out of our winter hibernation and start taking in that most glorious of gaming activities: the gaming convention. Locally, GOBFest was just this past weekend, a mighty collection of board gamers gathered together to share the hobby we love dearly. With the gaming con season starting back up (not that it ever really ends, but spring is as good an arbitrary starting point as any), I thought I’d share some tips on being a good con gamer.

Keep it Clean – Every convention is a busy place filled with nerds. And where there are nerds, trash is sure to follow as we consume our snacks and drinks, scribble on scraps of paper or character sheets, and generally just live in the convention space for a few days. While no one is expecting you to clean up someone else’s trash, you should always pick up your own. I can promise that no convention has enough volunteers that they can dedicate them to constant trash policing. Looking after your own mess makes the con space a much friendlier place to be.

And especially at a board game convention, cleaning up after yourself means helping to pick up the game you just played. Don’t be that jerk that figures out his/her final score and then walks away from the table. You played it, you clean it up. If you’re old enough to be going to game conventions, you’re too old to need to be reminded to help put your toys away.

Don’t Be a Downer – You’re at a gaming convention, and of course you want to talk about games. But there is a right way and a wrong way to start that conversation. One wrong way: walking up to a table with a game just being set up or already in progress, and saying any variation of, “This game sucks!”

It is a fact of life that not everyone is going to like the things you do, and vice versa. No where is this more true than in the gaming hobby. Tastes, preferences, and play styles can vary greatly from gamer to gamer. Just because you don’t like a game does not make it a bad game. Let me break that out on its own, because it’s important:

Just because you don’t like a game does not make it a bad game.

So making a table of gamers feel bad for liking a particular game when you don’t is just a dick move. Don’t do it. If you can’t manage to say something positive about it, follow Thumper’s Law and say nothing. And if you do find yourself talking to gamers who are playing a game you don’t like, maybe try asking positive questions. “What do you enjoy about this game?”, or “This game isn’t my bag, but could you recommend anything similar?” are questions which will lead to actual useful conversation. Which is a good thing, unless…

Don’t Be an Interrupting Cow – I’m sure you’re familiar with the old joke:

Knock, knock. Who’s there? Interrupting cow. Interrupting co– Moo!

There is a right time to ask gamers questions about a game, and a wrong time. The wrong time is right in the middle of a game, when it is quite obvious all the players are focused on playing; the right time is just about any other time. While I’m sorry you are waiting for your game to start, or haven’t found a game yet, I’m busy doing the thing I came to the con to do. Don’t spoil that by engaging me in an interrogation mid-game. If you have questions, wait until the players are taking a break or have finished and are cleaning up, we’re happy to talk then.

The exception to that rule is when I am officially demonstrating a game in my capacity as an organized play volunteer or con volunteer. Then I’m happy to give you a brief bit of information about the game. Emphasis on brief, though, as my attention belongs to the people for whom I’m demoing.

Thank the Volunteers – I’ve said it numerous times before and I’ll keep saying it: without volunteers, cons can’t happen. No convention can afford to pay wages to every person needed to make a con run, and if they tried they’d have to jack the ticket price so high no one could attend.

The volunteers at your con have given of their free time to help put on an event for your enjoyment. They do it without the benefit of pay and with no thought of getting thanked. So thank them. When you see a volunteer picking up garbage somebody left on a table, thank them (and help pick it up, you jerk). When a volunteer gives you your badge, a program book, directions, opens a door for you, thank them. If you see a volunteer, period, thank them. Thank your volunteer game master, thank the room monitor. Just thank every volunteer too slow to get out of your reach, and then shout thank-you to the fast movers. Trust me, they can never hear it enough.

Volunteer – Just like volunteers never get enough thanks, conventions never have so many volunteers they won’t take one more. Most cons have perks for volunteering, which at minimum is usually a reduced price or free badge, depending on how many hours you volunteer. Beyond that, volunteering for your local events is a great way to meet new people, grow your hobby locally, and give back to the community of gamers to which you belong. Plus it can be metric buttloads of fun.

Have any tips of your own for being a better con gamer? Share them in the comments below. And if you liked this article, please share the link on your social media de jour.

Many Happy Returns


Life can be funny sometimes. In this case, not a ha-ha funny; more of a “didn’t expect to be here” funny. I have a new, permanent, full-time job in a field I love (I know, boo-hoo-hoo, right?), which has required me to put just about everything else on the back-burner as I get settled in and figure out my new work/life balance. Now that I’ve figured that out, mostly, I’ve started adding back the other things I enjoy. Like this blog.

So I’m happy to finally return and I hope you’ll be happy with it as well. I have a plethora of gaming articles, campaign advice, and game reviews (something new for the site) coming. Starting today, actually…

Several months ago my friend Scott celebrated his birthday. He and I game together a lot. I mean a lot a lot. So I knew I wanted to get him something game-related, but I didn’t want to just buy him another sourcebook or boardgame. I’ve been warming to the idea of making things for my friends these days; it’s more personal and I know I love getting something a friend has made for me.

Since I am Scott’s GM in at least one game, I hit upon the idea of giving him player coupons which he could redeem during the course of the campaign. A few gave innocuous enough advantages and bonuses, but most gave some pretty amazing benefits (both for himself and other players), balanced by some pretty nasty penalties.

Below is the text for the 12 coupon set. I printed them out on nice card-stock, with a graphic design behind the text, but if you decide to use the idea you are free to present them however you like. You’ll also notice that the text is pretty Pathfinder/d20 specific. That’s because we primarily play Pathfinder together, but the coupons could be modified easily enough to fit any system.

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1. Thanks, Community College! – Make a check in a skill in which you have not trained, as if you were trained in it at your current level. Apply any bonuses from items, abilities, etc. Put a check mark in the top right corner. Once the coupon has three check marks it’s expired.

2. As You Give, So Shall You Receive – Give another character a magic item or items, with no recompense. At some future date the GM will give you a magic item of equal or greater value. Asking the GM when this will happen nullifies the coupon. When you receive your item, the coupon expires.

3. Ultimate Sacrifice – When another character has died, present the GM with this coupon and say, “I wish to make the ultimate sacrifice.” The dead character is restored to life. However, at the GM’s discretion, something which your character desperately loves/wants will be taken away. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But soon, and for the rest of your life…

4. Laughter is the Best Medicine – If you make the GM laugh at the gaming table, receive one of the following: cure light wounds (1d8+5), lesser restoration, remove curse, cure blindness/deafness, channel positive energy (30’ diam. burst centred on you, 5d6), stabilize, restoration. When you use an ability cross it off; it cannot be used again. Coupon expires when each ability is crossed off.

5. Sometimes You’re the Statue, Sometimes You’re the Pigeon – For one session, you may add any bonus you like to your d20 rolls, even going so far as to ask the GM what you need to succeed on the roll. This cannot be used to generate critical threats but can be used to confirm them. However, in your next session the GM will apply matching negative modifiers to your d20 rolls, in order. The coupon expires after this session.

6. Big Bad-a-Boom! – Apply any three meta-magic feats to the spell you are casting without changing its caster level. At some future time, a spell you cast will go catastrophically astray, likely when it is most useful/amusing to the GM.

7. One Shot, One Kill – You may, in place of your normal attacks, make a single attack as a coupe de grace against a creature your are fighting. The creature does not have to be helpless. However, this earns you infamy as a foe of that creature’s kind. Any future creature of that type you encounter begins with an attitude of hostile (once they know who you are) and automatically confirms critical threats against you.

8. Nobody’s Good at Everything – At character creation, pick one racial or class ability. You are twice as good at it (darkvision/low-light vision range is doubled, you get a +4 instead of a +2 to an ability, etc). However, some other skill suffered; choose another race or class ability and reduce its bonus by half.

9. Bleed for the Cause – You can spend hit points to gain bonuses to your rolls, on a 1-to-1 basis. However, these hit points cannot be healed by any means until your character has dropped into negative hit points for any reason. Once your character falls into negative hit points the coupon expires.

10. There’s No Place Like Home! – Present this coupon to the GM when an encounter is going horribly wrong. You and your party are instantly teleported a safe distance away from the encounter, to a location determined by the GM. Of course, it may not be safe where you end up, just safer…

11. Charity is Its Own Reward – Write the name of another character on the coupon, and hand it to the GM. He will ensure that character gets something he/she really wants. He may even throw in a little something for you…

12. You Ain’t Never Had a Friend Like Me – Spare the life of any one intelligent living creature you are trying to kill. That creature now considers you a friend, and becomes a companion NPC under the control of the GM. Becoming your friend does not necessarily change the creature’s basic nature; the goblin who likes you, for instance, is still an amoral psychopath. But who knows, you might be a good influence.

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There you are! Feel free to use them or let them inspire coupons of your own.

Trail Rations: Healthy Dips


Replacing junk food at the gaming table with healthy, home-cooked options is a big part of my group’s attempt to game healthier. But let’s face it, sometimes you want chips and nothing else will do. When that craving strikes you can still make your chips a little healthier by making the dips and salsa yourself. Heck, if you have the time you can even make the chips yourself.

Below I have three recipes for healthier snack alternatives you can make at home. Two of them don’t even require cooking! And if you know how to turn on your oven the third will be a snap.

Basic Salsa


  • 2 cups seeded, chopped tomatoes (6-7 medium tomatoes)
  • Leaves from one bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped*
  • 6 cloves fresh chopped garlic
  • 1/2 an onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Juice from ½ a lime

*You can leave out the cilantro if you aren’t a fan; substitute parsley instead.

Directions: Mix all ingredients until well incorporated. Refrigerate overnight for maximum flavor. If you want a cooler salsa, remove the seeds from the jalapeno before chopping. If you want a hotter salsa, add more jalapeno to taste.

Simple Garlic and Chive Yogurt Dip**


  • 3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried dill
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions: In a small bowl, combine Greek yogurt, minced garlic clove, chopped chives, salt, pepper, dried dill, and lemon juice. Mix well and chill for at least an hour; overnight for the best flavor.

**Feel free to experiment with flavors for this dip; you can substitute other herb/spice combinations for other flavors quite easily.

Homemade Baked Potato Chips


  • 6 Yukon gold potatoes, washed and unpeeled
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

Directions: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Brush 2 large baking sheets lightly with oil. Use a mandoline or hand held slicing machine to cut the potatoes lengthwise into 1/8-inch thick slices. Arrange the slices in 1 flat layer on the baking sheets. Brush the slices lightly with oil and bake until golden throughout, 15 to 20 minutes, checking often since they brown at different rates. Transfer to paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper while hot.

For a little extra crunch, add the sliced potatoes to a pot of boiling water for about 5-7 minutes, then brush with oil and put in the oven.

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And that’s it! Three recipes to sate your group’s junk-food lust while keeping it healthier than store-bought. These basic recipes have plenty of room for experimentation, so you can play around with flavours to suit your table. Try sprinkling your chips with garlic powder, for instance, or substitute capers and black pepper for the garlic and chives in the yogurt dip. Have fun with it, and let me know in the comments what combinations you come up with.

Extra Life 2014


Facebook-cover-AlbertaOnce again I am taking part in Extra Life, raising funds for the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Alberta with Team #Knifeshoes. If you’d like to make a donation, please do so through my secure donation page. I’m really excited to be taking part again this year, and with your donations I’m hoping I’ll beat last year’s total.

With the expansion of Extra Life in to the table-top realm, I’ll be heading up Team #Kinifeshoes’ board and role-playing game special teams. I’ll start the day at a local gaming convention, InrigueCon, running a table of Kobolds Ate My Baby! Then a quick run over to Team #Knifeshoes HQ (a friend’s house) to set-up in their game room for the rest of the 24 hours. I’m going to use this as an opportunity to take D&D 5th out for a spin, and run through the basic box material. Assuming that doesn’t last us the entire rest of the time, we’ll intersperse with board games to cleanse the palette.

I look forward to a whole lot of fun being had (tired, tired fun), all in a great cause. Please make a donation if you can (you can donate from anywhere, by the way; it will credit you according to your country’s donation laws) of any amount. Every $5 helps, and adds up to get us closer to our goal. And if you live in Edmonton, contact me if you want to play in the D&D 5th at least part of the day. I’ll let you know what time we’ll start and where Team #Knifeshoes HQ is located. My only stipulation (if you aren’t already on Team #Knifeshoes) is that you make a donation to me. It is a fundraiser, after all.

Campaign Creation: What’s Dead Can Never Die…


Looking back through the logs, and it has been a while since I did one of these. So let’s start with a quick recap of what I’ve done so far:

Let’s have some fun, and figure out my first layer Big Bad Guy. ‘First layer’, you ask? I like to start with a nasty antagonist the party can grow into, sort of a ‘Starter Big Bad’. Depending on the system you use, this would be a villain who remains a challenge until about low-mid level.   Since I’m designing this primarily for Pathfinder, I want a villain that threatens into level 6-8. At that point, of course, the next layer of BBG will be revealed and the new threat will bring with it new, tougher adventures.

Maybe it’s the time of year, but I’d really like the villain to be undead. Intelligent undead, in my opinion, are some of the nastiest things in gaming canon. And with the exception of vampires and the occasional lich, horribly under-utilized in most of the games I’ve played. Plus a vampire or lich would be a bit too powerful for our party to deal with off the jump.

Looking down the list of intelligent undead (and taking note of useful non-intelligent undead for later), I’m torn between a ghoul or a wight. In either case I’ll be adding character levels to the creature, making it unique and powerful enough to be a threat. Both have the ability to create versions of itself, and there are enough low-level humanoids in the area for a steady supply of ‘instant minions’.  But I think the wight wins in that respect; while its created wights are weaker, they are at least under its control. The ghoul has no control over its creations, making them less-than-ideal minions and competition for food.

Wight it is! The party will definitely still run into ghouls at some point, and I haven’t ruled out a ghoul second-in-command for my wight. A steady flow of bodies from your master and all the mayhem you can create? What ghoul wouldn’t take that job? Having both a wight and ghoul present opens up encounters with both goblin and grippli mini-wights and ghouls, which could be fun.

Now to level up my wight, so he can be a proper BBG. I mentioned earlier that many of the undead would be centred in the Ruin’s Temple District. So it makes sense that my wight be tied to that area. It might be fun to give it some cleric levels, but looking through the Advanced Player’s Guide, I think I like the oracle better. Mechanically, oracle works better with a wight’s CHA of 15 (as opposed to a WIS of only 13). And I’m already seeing a backstory where the wight was once a cleric of Norgorber, and in undeath retained some vestige of its former power in the form of oracle abilities. It could be trying to regain its earlier abilities, sending minions out into the Ruin to discover and retrieve ancient texts and tomes toward that end.

Yes, loving this idea already. Okay, the CR of a wight is 3, and I want it to be a credible threat to a level 6-8 group. So I’m going to give it 7 levels of oracle, which will make it roughly a CR 9 creature. A lot can change between now and when the characters encounter it, but this gives me a place to start. Doubling down on undeath I’m giving it the Bones mystery, and tentatively I’m going to assign the revelations death’s touch, armor of bones, and soul siphon. Those will make it less squishy if the party makes it passed the wall of minions I envision the wight maintaining. And I like the potential look of panic on a player’s face as the wight inflicts negative levels on their character from a distance.

I’ll flesh out the details later, since the character won’t confront our BBG directly for a while. When I do put it all together, I’ll post a link to a PDF so you can make use of it for your own game. For now we’ll leave it alone, brooding in its ruined temple lair, waiting for its witless minions to bring it another scrap of text or ancient artefact. Soon, soon…

What do you think of my initial BBG? Have any suggestions or ideas? Drop them in the comments below.

This Blog is not a Gatekeeper


If you’re a gamer and have spent any amount of time on-line in the last few weeks you’re likely familiar with at least the basics of Gamergate. If you’re not, I’m not going to take space here explaining it. Others have done a better job than I could, and a few moments with your search engine de jour will find you that information. If you are unfamiliar with the recent goings on I think it’s a search you should make. I don’t think I’m understating things to say that how we, as the gaming community, deal with the issues surrounding inclusiveness in gaming, will decide whether our hobby grows or not.

Let me state a few points of my position on this whole thing, for clarity. I am not neutral on the subject of inclusiveness. I want my hobby to grow and I’m willing to fight for that growth. I am not going to give both sides of the inclusiveness argument equal weight because one side (wanting inclusiveness) is right and the other (anyone against it) is flat fucking wrong. If you don’t think the only pre-requisite for being a gamer is the desire to, and playing of, games, you are 100% on the wrong side of the issue. As far as I’m concerned, the only discussion worth having about inclusiveness in gaming is, how do we ensure the maximum number of gamers see themselves in a meaningful way in the games being produced?

Some may argue my view is unbalanced, because I’m not giving equal time to both sides. I don’t care. I see no point in giving equal weight to ignorance. Some might say I’m jumping on the bandwagon with all the other Gamergate posts, trying to ride the wave of the latest click-bait issue. Tough. At this point, and in light of recent events, what little voice I have must be raised. Silent support helps no one. If that gets me branded a White Knight or a Social Justice Warrior (two titles which sound bad-ass, so I’m not sure why the MRA trolls think those terms are pejorative), fan-freaking-tastic. I’ll slap those titles on my next set of business cards.

It’s worth noting, I haven’t always had these beliefs. To my shame, I have set myself up as a gatekeeper in the past. I have been exclusive, with all the ignorance that goes along with that. What changed? There is a saying I heard years back; if you look around the gaming table and can’t spot the asshole, it’s probably you. So I grew up. I decided that, whatever else I did in my hobby, I’d work to not be the asshole at the table. I’m not always successful, but these days I succeed way more than I fail and I keep the line trending up. Realizing it wasn’t my place to decide who’s at the table with me was a big part of that.

So if you continue to read my blog, you’ll have to accept that all are welcome here. Everything I write will have that vein of inclusiveness running through it, because it is important to me. If you don’t like that, feel free to save us a both some wasted time and go. I’m sure you can find a gaming blog with a tone more to your liking. Sadly.

That’s it. Short, not-so-sweet, and to the point. Feel free to add your comments below, and I promise we’ll be back to game posts tomorrow.

RPGaDay #28: Most Memorable Encounter


I was stumped on this one, until I decided to broaden my interpretation.

In 2010 I attended Gen Con for the first time in over a decade. I travelled down from Edmonton with a group of friends, and since it was my first time back in a while, chose to get the VIG, or ‘Very Important Gamer’, weekend pass. If you manage to snag one, I recommend trying it out at least once, it’s a pretty sweet deal.

One of the benefits of the pass is early admission to any of the big name panels; they jump us to the front of the line, and we sit in the front rows set aside for us. My friends and I were going in to see Wil Wheaton speak and read excerpts from his latest book (no, he’s not the MME in this case, though meeting him later would certainly qualify). As we were shown to our second-row seats (the very front row was reserved for industry and convention staff/volunteers), who should be sitting in front of us but Peter Adkison. Yep, Wizards of the Coast founding, Magic: The Gathering creating, Gen Con owning Peter Adkison.

A bit of back story. I was managing a gaming store during the period of TSR’s floundering and D&D’s near-death experience. I have a fine appreciation for what WotC buying TSR meant for the hobby at a retail level, because at that time we were staring down the barrel of a hobby without D&D. That was not a bullet most game stores could have survived, never mind the broader hobby in general. And beyond that, my favourite game of all time would go away (I hadn’t met Pathfinder yet). It was a bleak time.

Back to Gen Con. It meant a lot to me to meet the guy who unbleaked my hobby, and I really wanted to tell him that. Typical Canadian, though, I decided not to bother him and just bask in the proximity. Minutes after we sat down, of course, Mr. Adkison turns around in his chair and says, “Hey guys, enjoying Gen Con so far?” Buh.

Somewhere in the conversation which followed I managed to thank him for saving D&D from extinction, and went so far as to get him to sign my Gen Con badge. He was a very sweet, casual man, and a pleasure to talk with.

Now, that would have been cool enough. But over the next few days we kept running in to him at panels, and every time he would make a point to say hello, ask us how our con was going, and chat with us about…stuff. Most surreal moment: Peter Adkison talking to me about a character he’s playing in his home campaign. It was just such a perfect gamer nerd moment, and it’s one of many reasons I love this hobby.