Humpday Links for June 26

As our nation’s birthday approaches (Oh, Canada! What do you get for the country that has everything?) we say goodbye to the links of June, and welcome the warmer and hopefully drier links of July. If I don’t get a chance to share a Timmie’s and a brew with you on the day, Happy Canada Day, nerds!

– When I am independently wealthy, this will become my new home.

– As part of the online gaming convention ConTessa, Venture-Captain Nani Pratt gave an Intro to Pathfinder Society panel. Hint: skip the first ten minutes, they’re just dealing with technical issues.

They’re making a Lego movie. True story.

– There are many articles on how to be a better GM; I’ve written a few myself. Here’s one on how to be a better player.

– An interesting interview with Jim Sterling, about sexism in gaming.

– Because a ska version of the Game of Thrones theme is what everyone needed. That’s not sarcasm, I have this on a loop.

– I’m not trying to be the boy that cried Weeping Angel, but…

– If my players ever see this, I might have to rewrite how Diplomacy checks work.

– Waiting for a Fables movie? Here are some thoughts on casting.

– What, no Yoda?

– Great PBS documentary short on the influence of role-playing games. Focuses a lot on D&D, but otherwise pretty balanced.

That’s all for now, folks! Enjoy the day, and as always if you have a link to share drop it in Comments.

3 Tips for Running a Con Game

Summer con season is in full swing, and that means con gaming! I love playing and running RPGs at cons. It gives me a chance to try out new ideas and game with folks I don’t see or have just met. If you’ve never tried gaming at a con, I highly recommend it as a great change of pace from your usual table(s).

I’ve GMed a number of games at cons, both as a Venture-Captain running Pathfinder Society and just a schlub running his own creations. A convention RPG event is a different beast than a home game, and you have to approach it differently to pull it off. Here are my top three tips for running an exciting con game (which players love) and doing it in the time the con gave you (which the con organizers love).

1) Preparation, preparation, preparation! – Gaming conventions set aside a certain amount of time per game, usually referred to as slots. Slots can be anywhere from 2-6 hours in length, with most shaking out at 4 hours. Four hours is not enough time to create characters, look stuff up in your books, scribble out an adventure etc. That might fly in your home games, but gamers come to a con to game so it’s important not to waste their time. If you are running your own creation, get it in shape before the con. If you are running a prepared adventure (say, for Organized Play), make sure you have read it cover to cover at least three times. Have your maps pre-drawn (if you just stick to drawn maps, see below), tab your books , hardcopy or PDF, so you can find any monsters, treasure, special rules and so on you might need. If you are not running for some sort of organized play, where players will generally have their own characters, provide pre-generated characters. And even if it is organized play, have level appropriate pre-gens in case you get a new player at your table. In short, do everything you can before the con, so when your slot starts you can just sit down and roll dice!

2) Put the “Special” in your Special Event! – At a con you are generally running a game for new people, and they’ve come to your table to be entertained. So this is the time to pull out all the stops! If you have 3D terrain to use, use it instead of flat maps. If all you have are flat maps, no worries; try to pre-print some good looking colour ones, or add colour to your hand-drawn maps with markers, paints or art crayons. Print any hand-outs (player hand-outs, pre-gens) in colour on good paper, and laminate if possible (lamination will not only keep the pages, especially character sheets, in good shape longer, it gives surface player’s can use wet/dry erase markers on). If your game uses minis, provide good looking minis for the players to use, and put effort into finding the appropriate minis for your monsters and NPCs.

But the special doesn’t stop with the materials. You have present your adventure or scenario in a fun, positive, and exciting manner. Any text you have to read allowed should be practised out loud before the con, so you can get a feel for the words and pick out any points that should be punched up. Keep energy in your voice, don’t mumble, don’t talk into the page, and try to make eye contact with the players as you read to keep them engaged. If you have any acting skills at all, or even just a selection of funny voices, this is the time to bust them out! Keep the energy up and the action moving, and don’t let the rules bog you down. I have never once remembered a con game because of the GMs slavish adherence to the rules.

Okay, I have. But not fondly.

3) Stand Up! – This could probably be a subsection of point two, but I think it’s important enough to warrant special mention. A con is a busy place, and you are usually in a hall with a bunch of other tables, all noisy and distracting. The single best way to keep the players’ focus on you is to stand up. Placing yourself higher in their line of sight forces them to look up from the table and pay attention. If you stand up your players can also see and hear you better, and are less likely to get distracted. And standing puts you in a more dominant position than your players, which allows you to control the events and energy of the table better.

Standing also energizes you, and forces a certain urgency into what you are doing, which in turn keeps the action flowing. It also allows you a good view of what is happening on the table, and gives you more space to cut loose with actions and gestures. Remember what I said about busting out those acting skills? Only so much you can do from a chair!

Of course, if your are physically unable to stand for long periods, then pick your moments: combat, or important NPC interactions are good times to stand. And if you can’t stand at all, maybe find a way to raise your seat, or make sure there is some separation at the table between your space and the players’ space. Though not as effective as standing they will help keep the focus on you when you need it.

Those are my big three “best practises” for running a con game. I have other tips and tricks, depending on the game I’m running, the venue, number of players, and so on. But following these three will get me (and you) through just about any con game you care to run. Just remember the most important thing: keep the fun! If it isn’t fun, for you and the players, you’ve missed the point of running the game at all.

Have con GMing tips of your own? Share them in the comments!

My Dice Obsession

I love dice.

“Well duh, Brent. You’re a gamer, of course you love dice.”

Well sure, but I reeeeeally love dice. When I was 12 I typed a program into my VIC 20, in Basic, that allowed me to apply a chi-squared test to my dice. I then rolled each of my dice 100 times, entering each result into the program, to see whether my dice were returning unbiased rolls. Also, the gamer gene that makes a gamer prefer one colour of dice over another? I don’t have that gene; I will play with any dice of any colour. I also lack the gene that tells me I have enough dice. Because I Never Have Enough Dice! I could be swimming in a room full of dice, Scrooge McDuck-style (and thank-you, Wil Wheaton and Hijinks Ensue for capturing that image) and I would style want more dice. And while I respect your quaint myth regarding the touching of another gamer’s dice, I don’t personally believe it, so you can use my dice any time. Because science.

So I’m always on the lookout for cool, special and/or unusual dice to add to my collection. I thought today I’d highlight a few dice I have that are special to me for one reason or another, or just plain neato.

Of course I have d20 of various sizes…

The d20 on the left is about the size of a baseball; the right-hand d20 is regualr size.

The d20 on the left is about the size of a baseball; the right-hand d20 is regular size.

I have themed dice, depending on what type of game I’m playing:

Pictured: Steampunk d6 (left), Elvish d10 (centre), Elvish d6 (right)

Pictured: Steampunk d6 (left), Elvish d10 (centre), Elvish d6 (right)

I have dice that don’t even use recognizable numbers, because adding that layer of complexity to dice-rolling is fun!

Centre: A d10 using oriental-style calligraphy, with Yes/No markers, below.

Centre: A d10 using oriental-style calligraphy, with Yes/No dragon markers, below.

I have a set of spindle shaped dice that were a fad a while back. While I like them, I think they’re really only practical for d10 and lower; you need a really level surface to make the d12 and d20 work.

20130621_114632

d20 on the left, down to d4 on the right.

One of the prides of my collection is a die I made myself. When I was about 13 or so I came across a piece of gravel while digging out my Mom’s garden. At first I thought Mom had

A battered reminder of good times.

A battered reminder of good times.

thrown out one of my dice, but it turned out to be a piece of rock shaped almost perfectly like a d4. So of course I cleaned it up, painted pips on it, and used it until it became a little too banged up to be considered truly random (if it ever was). But I keep it as a reminder of my early gaming days. Every once in a while I even sneak it into use when I’m GMing. Don’t tell my players.

Okay, that’s all I’m showing off today. I was trying to figure out a way to properly take a picture of my Flashing d20 (courtesy of Think Geek), but I couldn’t capture it flashing with my simple camera phone technology.  So I’ll hold that back, along with some other special dice, for another post.

In the meantime, why not tell me about your special dice. Do you have any dice superstitions or rituals? The comments are there, just waiting for you…

Free RPG Day Reviews, Part 2

In Part 1 of my Free RPG Day Reviews, I looked at my three favourite small press offerings.  Today I want to look at what the big publishers brought to the table. If you are sitting comfortably, and even if you’re not, we’ll begin.

Star Wars Edge of the Empire RPG Quickstart/Shadows of a Black Sun – (Shadows of a Black Sun is an adventure set in Fantasy Flight Games’ Edge of the Empire RPG. Edge of the Empire, as the name suggests, focuses on characters and role-playing on the outskirts: the thieves, the scoundrels, the down-but-not-quite-out. And the FRPGD adventure backs that up by throwing the supplied pre-gens (not a Jedi or Sith in sight) against the scum and villainy of the Star Wars universe. To my mind it’s an approach long overdue, and I can’t wait to see other adventures in the same gritty style.

But what intrigued me the most were the mechanics presented in the Quickstart rules.  For ease of play you will need to buy the special dice especially for the game, though there is a chart for converting from regular polyhedral rolls to the new symbols if strange new dice don’t do it for you.  Whatever dice you use, every important action is resolved as a challenge rolled using the player’s pool of dice against the game master’s.  Certain things cancel each other out and the end result tells you not only success, but degree of success and whether there are consequences regardless of success. At first glance it seemed complicated, but after I tried a few practice rolls it became pretty intuitive.

You did your job, Shadows of a Black Sun: I’m picking up this game.

We Be Goblins Too!We Be Goblins Too! is the sequel to Paizo’s amazingly popular We Be Goblins! adventure module from FRPGD 2010, and all the feedback around the web says this one will be just as popular. Written for the Pathfinder RPG, the adventure focuses on the literal trials and self-inflicted tribulations of the four goblin characters supplied with the adventure. Having lost their tribe to filthy adventurers, the four buff goblins (level 3, practically heroic for goblins) seek to join a new tribe. And a new tribe wants them, but wants one of them to be chief as well. Hilarity ensues!

Honestly, there is nothing not to love about this adventure. Another chance to play the barely lovable, fire-flinging sociopaths of the Pathfinder universe? Yes, please! Loads of fun for gamers new and old, and a great way to get new players into the game (though maybe start with We Be Goblins! to get the full goblin experience). Seriously, you’re playing goblins, so knowing the rules is secondary; goblins are as ignorant of how things work as new players often are, so it’s a perfect fit for newbies. And I can’t say this enough, you get to play goblins! Goblins!

Okay, I sort of tricked you. There were three in my last post, you had every right to expect three in this post. But I wanted to talk for a moment about a big publisher I was disappointed wasn’t there this year: Wizard’s of the Coast.

Given how hard at work they must be on D&D Next, one could maybe understand why they’d want to take a year off from FRPGD. Except that WotC scheduled their World Wide D&D Game Day for June 15. Why yes, that is the same date as Free RPG Day. So not only did they decline to take part in an established and successful community-building event, but they pulled the super douche move of running a competing event on the same day. I have no idea how popular an event it was elsewhere, but to the best of my knowledge no local stores ran a WWD&DD event at all so I’m unsure what this was meant to accomplish.

I don’t want to turn this into WotC bashing. I’m excited about D&D Next and some of the stuff I’ve seen in the open playtest. But I do think this was a missed opportunity on their part, and a serious misstep with the gaming community. I’m not privy to the details of their production schedule, but they could have pushed their thing back a week. Heck, running an event the week after a successful FRPGD could have brought them more players. Instead they chose to fracture the gaming community with pointless competition. I’d understand if they were launching a new game that day, but D&D Next isn’t even going to be available for Gen Con this year. So why the pointless big brother bully tactics?

Okay, that’s enough from me. If you have a favourite FRPGD find or any thoughts on my post, leave them in the comments below. And if you hit up World Wide D&D Game Day, tell me about it, I’d be interested to hear how it was for you. Next time, dice talk!

 

Humpday Links for June 19

Another week, another Humpday. And that means links! At least it does if you’re here, I have no idea what it means anywhere else.

– Chuck Wendig wrote a great piece about sexism in publishing, and then some follow-up pieces.

For shame, Kickstarter! For shame!

– I’d read these pulp Star Wars books. I’d read ’em good!

– How to pass the love of D&D (and gaming in general) onto the next generation.

– A great article on using duplication to hone your game design skills.

– Like Dark Dungeons, this BADD publication is a wonderful piece of hysterical nostalgia.

I knew about Bob Ross And James Doohan, but the others were interesting.

– If this comic doesn’t hit at least part of your feels, you are dead inside.

– Some damn fine ideas on a gender-swapped LotR.

Craig Ferguson talking with Stephen Fry. You’re welcome.

Guinea Pig Armour. Enough said.

– For whenever you want to complain about slow mail.

– If Game of Thrones is a bit heavy for you, I present Game of Hodor.

One of many reasons I think Patton Oswalt is a swell guy.

That’s it for this week! If you have a link to share, slip it into comments. Next time will be Part 2 of my Free RPG Day Reviews. Feeling nostalgic for Part 1? Go here.

Free RPG Day Reviews Part 1

If you aren’t a gamer, you might not be aware we just celebrated the closest we get to Christmas this past weekend: Free RPG Day. Inspired by Free Comic Book Day and started in 2007, Free RPG Day works with participating gaming retailers and RPG publishers to put new and exclusive RPG quickstart rules and adventure modules into the hands of gamers.

I love FRPGD, I really do. I think it’s a great opportunity for game stores to celebrate the hobby, and get players new and old through the doors. Sadly, FRPGD events have been sporadic here in Edmonton; no stores have regularly taken part on a yearly basis.  And this year the two stores listed on the FRPGD site, Warp 1 and Red Claw Gaming, had product but no events. Don’t get me wrong, kudos to both of them (especially Warp 1, where I picked up my samples) for taking part and bringing in the product. But I think product without event is a missed opportunity, for both gamers and stores.

That said, I picked up some great free gaming product and that’s what I want to focus on here. Every FRPGD is always a blend of the established publishers and interesting small publishers, and this year was no exception. I’m going to focus on my favourite three “small” press publishers today; I’ll post my favourite “big” publishers in another post.

Cosmic Patrol: Quick-start Rules/The Eiger Agenda – Published by Catalyst Game LabsCosmic Patrol is a retro sci-fi game, inspired by the pulp sci-fi era. It is a rules-lite storytelling game, with play led by a Lead Narrator that switches throughout play, instead of a set game master.  The book packs a lot of information in a 24-page package formatted very close to a pulp sci-fi mag.  Rules take up only ten pages, the rest is given over to pre-gens, maps, and the included adventure, The Eiger Agenda.

I’m only just getting into storytelling-style RPGs, via games like Fiasco and Microscope. As a lover of classic sci-fi, Cosmic Patrol fits into a very specific and potentially enjoyable niche for me. I liked the book overall, and I am definitely going to find a time to play this with some friends as a one-off.

Better Than Any ManBetter Than Any Man is an OSL-style offering from Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  In a break from the tradition of small publishers including quick-start rules, LFP opted to publish a rather hefty adventure offering instead (though they note the rules are available for free download on their site). Rules aren’t really necessary, of course; if you have a fav OSL rules-set you can play through this adventure. An important thing to note, and it says this right on the cover: this is an 18+ Explicit Content product. I won’t go into details, but a quick glance through the art will show you why, and reading the adventure definitely drives it home. It isn’t for everyone, but if you like some hardcore OSL horror, this product is going to be somewhere in your wheelhouse.  And it’s so substantial, it’s hard to believe they gave it away for free.  Definitely a treasure.

Hall of BonesHall of Bones is another OSL offering, from Frog God Games for their Swords & Wizardry RPG. There are quickstart rules included, but if you played any of the original D&D box sets, including up through Basic, the rules are covering old ground.  You really can sit down and start playing this adventure in minutes with the supplied pre-gens, and the adventure is hefty enough to last you at least one session of dungeon delving.

I loved the old-school design and feel of Hall of Bones, and it brought me right back to reading my first modules like Keep on the Borderlands and Village of Hommlet.  I also liked that they included a little primer on old school gaming, sort of a “back in my day” section that I got a kick out of. And what I really liked was how “portable” this adventure could be. Because it’s written for a very simple OSL style game, it would be so easy to strip out the mechanics and drop it into any fantasy RPG you want. For a busy GM like myself it makes Hall of Bones worth its weight in electrum.

That’s it for the small press finds. In Part 2 I’ll give my top three picks from the Big Guys.  Until then, drop a note in the comments and tell me what you thought of your FRPGD finds. Anything catch your eye? Share!