Hump Day Links for June 6

Wow, a hump day and it’s cold, raining and thundery.  You might need these links more than ever…

– Frodo had The One Ring; I have this.  My birthday is coming up, that’s all I’m saying…

– In addition to stairs, Daleks were apparently stymied by buses.

– Would you believe Wright, Pegg and Frost are getting together again to make an apocalypse movie? Excellent, your credulence calibration is complete…

– An ode to every gamer’s friend, the Natural 20.

– For Game of Thrones fans: I think they should hand out a copy of that book to so many characters

– If the zombie-proof homes I posted last week didn’t suit you, maybe this evil villain starter home will.  I’d want it for the submarine port alone…

– This is so awesome I don’t even have a clever thing to say:  The Last Unicorn is getting another theatrical release.  And Peter S. Beagle will be at each of the screenings.  @britl, keep your calendar open…

– Ever wonder if freelancing is for you?  Here’s a check-list to see if you’re right.

– For those that spend some time in Photoshop, here is a handy graphic of keyboard short cuts.  You’re welcome.

– Andrew Peregrine would like to dispel some myths about the gaming industry.

– Another one for Game of Thrones fans: look, if 300 of us just chipped in $100 each

– If you like modding Nerf guns (and why wouldn’t you?), here’s a list of the best ones to get you started.

– I’m excited to see Prometheus.  But I’d also watch the paper version

– I’d want to be reeeeeally sure of the navigational software before I’d fully trust a robotic lawnmower.  “Huh, who keeps bumping against the front dooaaAHHHHHHHH-”

– If you follow nothing else on Tumblr, you need to follow Text from my Dog.  Some of the few laugh out loud moments I have on the ‘net.

Okay folks, go splash in some puddles and then run back inside for hot cocoa; repeat as necessary.  Why yes, I do have the rest of my morning planned, why do you ask?

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Enjoying the Con Game

I am GMing this weekend at Underground Con, a one day gaming convention in Calgary.  I am running two slots of Pathfinder Society Organized play, and taking part as a GM in the Iron GM Local competition.  Underground Con is a great grass-roots gaming con, and if you are in Calgary or environs, I recommend you check out their site and maybe stop by for some gaming.  At this time they are about 75% sold out, and pre-reg deadline is this Wednesday, June 6.

It’s no secret I’m a fan of conventions in general; I think they can be one of the best experiences for gamers.  In honour of UGC, I thought I’d share three suggestions on how to get the maximum fun from your con gaming experience.

Try Something New – When you’re at home you usually game with your friends.  You have the games you like to play and while you might try something new occasionally, generally we all tend to stick to what we enjoy.

But a con is the perfect place to try out a game you’ve never played before.  First off, you can do it with no cost to yourself (other than the cost of the convention, of course), since either the con or the game runner have supplied the game.  Many gaming conventions run special beginner-only events and/or demos.  And if they don’t, the games are usually set up to accommodate a variety of skill levels, so you don’t have to worry too much about getting thrashed and can just enjoy learning the game.  Role-playing games at cons usually (should always, in my opinion) have pre-gen characters available so you can just sit down, jump into the story and start slinging dice.  With all that, there really is no excuse not to give something new a try.  Who knows, you might just find your home group’s new favourite game.

Let Everyone Have Their Moment – I think we have all met That Gamer, the one who needs to be the center of attention in every moment.  And you can’t blame them.  There is nothing sweeter than the moment the story rests in your hands, and it all comes down to your roll of the die.  And in your home game it’s likely okay if the focus is on your character for an entire session.  After all there will be more sessions, and a good GM will make sure that all the players get some spotlight time.

But con RPGs are a different beast.  They are usually one-offs and only last about 4-5 hours.  If you keep the spotlight on you that entire time, how much fun do you think the other players are having?  And they paid to be there, same as you.  Don’t they deserve to have just as much fun?  So yes, take your time in the spotlight.  But once you’ve had your time, let someone else have theirs.  And if you want to go a step further, keep your eyes open for the player(s) at the table who might be wallflowering.  Help that player get their awesome shiny moment.  Trust me, there is a lot of fun to be had by making sure other people have fun.

Be Good to the Volunteers – I am generally a calm and friendly sort of guy.  It takes a lot of provocation to get me angry, because anger rarely achieves anything in itself.  But one of the few times I ever got angry was at Gencon 2010, when the guy in line in front of me to pick up event tickets did his best Irate Douche Canoe impression on the volunteer helping him, because his tickets had been misplaced (turns out they were one envelope out of order in the file box).  Not only did I and several other gamers tell him his impression was not appreciated, but we made sure to apologize for him and thank the volunteer for his time.

Look, it takes a lot of work to put on a convention.  And generally all of that work is done by volunteers.  To make sure that you have an enjoyable day (or two, or three, or four), these folks have been working on their own time for months beforehand, organizing, planning and worrying over the event at which you’ve just arrived.  And yes, despite all this planning and organizing, sometimes things still go wrong.  Mistakes happen, because we are human.  Your tickets might be misplaced.  The schedule might shift, because one of the GMs (also a volunteer) has had a personal emergency come up.  Your game might be overbooked.  These things can suck, but they aren’t personal; no one with the con is purposely trying to mess with your fun.

So have patience, and try to meet these little setbacks with a smile.  And at every opportunity, acknowledge the volunteers.  Thank the person who gives you your pass and/or tickets.  Thank your game master.  If you see the volunteer collecting full garbage bags, thank them.  They aren’t getting paid in money, so make your sincere thanks your currency.

What are your tips for enjoying conventions?  What experiences have you had at gaming cons?  Share them in the comments below.

DnD Next: Three Things I Like at First Glance

With the start of the public play-test for the next iteration of Dungeons and Dragons recently, you have either been blissfully unaware (if you are not a gamer) or have read roughly a bazillion posts on gaming sites spanning the webz.  For those that have remained thus far ignorant, sorry to get my gaming nerd on you.  For the gamers: brace yourself, Princess, here comes bazillion and one!

I’m restricting this to just three things because I haven’t actually played with the play test material yet; that will come later in the week with my usual crew.  I’m also trying to set up a game with a pick-up group, so we can try it out with a variety of different play styles.  But for right now I’ll just touch on three things that struck me reading through the material for the first time.

Character Sheets – This particular point of play testing is not focused on character creation, so pre-gens were supplied.  The first thing I notice about the sheets is how uncluttered they are, with a very Basic D&D feel to them.  That said, the pre-gens are packed with tantalizing clues about what character creation might be like.  Race and Class are familiar territory, but the use of Backgrounds, Themes and Features is interesting.  Depending on how “plug and play” those components are, they could result in some interesting character builds.  I’m a little disappointed to see a return to Vancian Magic, but there’s no THAC0, so I’m willing to forgive a lot on that score.  And at first glance it seems that Background/Theme will take the place of cleric Domains, if the two pre-gen clerics provided are any example.  I’m sort of excited by the implied level of customization here, which is what I missed from 4th Ed.

Caves of ChaosB2: Keep on the Borderlands was the first module I played in waaaay back in 1980.  And I have had a crush on that module ever since.  It was a wonderful, if unlikely, collection of ancient underground passages, caves and temples, completely over-run by a host of goblins, bugbears, cultists and worse.  And the cool thing about it was that it actually made a weird sort of sense.  The Caves had an oddly balanced ecosystem all its own, right down to what the monsters did if the players left them alone long enough, and with whom they might ally.  This CoC update looks to follow in those footsteps, and I can’t wait to TPK my play-testers challenge my play-testers in the Caves again.

Advantage/Disadvantage – This is one feature of the play test rules that intrigues me.  The idea is pretty simple: characters can have abilities or situations that grant them Advantage or penalize them with Disadvantage.  In either case they will roll a second d20 when making a check or test; if they have an Advantage they take the higher of the two rolls, if Disadvantage, the lower.  What I find interesting about this is that it doesn’t necessarily have to result in amazingly good or bad things happening as a result of the dice roll, while also not getting in the way of amazing things still happening.  After all, you could be at a Disadvantage and roll a 16 and 17 on two dice; obviously your character wasn’t as successful as he/she could be, but still managed to pull through.  By the same token, being at an Advantage and rolling a 2 and an 18 is going to feel like Mardi Gras in situations where the player really needed to succeed.  Hopefully this mechanic will make the cut for the final draft of the game, because I think it adds a very cool flavour to the dice play.

I will write another post with my thoughts after we play with the material this week.  While I’ve remained generally neutral in the Edition Wars, it is no secret I wasn’t a huge fan of 4th Ed.  What I’m seeing so far with DnDNext (for the love of all that is holy and kittens, that name must change!) gives me some hope that the new version might be fun for me to play again.  I don’t think it will supplant Pathfinder as my first love at this point, but I’d be fine with keeping the new D&D to play on the side.

If you want to get involved in the play test, sign up on the website and download the play test material.

Are you taking part in the play test?  What are your thoughts about what you’ve seen so far?