Welcome, 2017!

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgWhile I don’t believe in blaming a discrete measurement of time for any particular ill, it can’t be denied a lot of unfortunate things happened during 2016. As irrational as it makes me, I’m excited to get 2017 underway. I don’t really make personal resolutions, but I’ve been thinking of my gaming resolutions for the coming year and I thought I’d share them with you. Some relate to the blog and other creative endeavors, some to games I run or play, and the rest are sort of a wish-list for the coming year. In no particular order:

  1. Learn and Play 3 New Tabletop Games Every Month – Even though I read many new games last year, I found that I actually played very few of them. So my goal for the coming year is to play three new tabletop games a month. I’m not fussy about the type of game, as long as it’s something I haven’t played before. Of course this is driven by a desire to just play more games. But I’m also hoping this will get me out to more gaming events through the year, whether those are private events run by friends, gaming conventions, and anything in between. I plan to blog those experiences as well, so you’ll be able to see my running tally through the year.
  2. Attend More Gaming Events – A combination of health and personal issues kept me away from many of the gaming events I was invited to over the last year. With my new-found health, one of my goals for 2017 is to attend every local gaming con (attendee or volunteer, depending on availability), and get to as many small events as my schedule will permit. Hopefully this one will contribute to the prior resolution; a number of my invitations were for play-testing developing games, and I look forward to any of those which come my way.
  3. Self-publish – With the writing and design I’ve put in to my new D&D campaign, the urge is with me publish some of the more refined bits. So I’ve got plans in place to get something up on Drive-Thru RPG and/or DM’s Guild in the coming year. Possibly several somethings, but we’ll see how the first one turns out and adapt from there. I’ll still share the occasional item here on the blog, of course.
  4. Be a Better Player – I’ve referenced this saying before, and I can’t remember where I first heard it. But it goes, “If you’re playing a game and you can’t see the asshole at the table, be careful. It might be you.” I hope I’ve never been the asshole at the table (recently anyway, I can only apologize for my teenage self and move on), and certainly no one has called me on it. That might just mean they resolved to suffer in silence, however. So moving forward I’ll game with the conscious intention of not being That Guy.** No one likes playing with That Guy, and I think our hobby would be vastly improved by calling That Guy on their bullshit at every opportunity. This one will apply to all my games, player and game master, role-playing or board.
  5. Collaborate – This one is mostly blog-related, but it could spill out to other aspects of my gaming as well. I enjoy creating content for the blog. I think I’ve worked out a plan which will allow me to get content up on a regular basis, without straining my schedule. As part of that plan I’d like to collaborate with other game bloggers, in whatever form that shakes out to. One blogger has already been in touch, and you’ll see the result of that in January. But I’m open to working with others, whether that’s a blog post exchange, something co-written, or even game material. So if you’re reading this and you might be interested, drop my a line.

Do you have any gaming resolutions? Share them in the comments!

**That Guy is the person at the table who is sucking the fun out of whatever you’re playing. They’re fastidious rules lawyers, or they bitch about how poorly they’re playing (whether they are or not). Or they mock and question what everyone else is doing or playing. Or they’re playing yet another Brooding Lone Wolf character, and get pissy when you won’t warp your RPG game to include them. You get the idea. That Guy takes many forms and can be any one, regardless of gender, race, sexuality, or creed. (Because of that last, I find the term That Guy less than perfect, but unitl I come up with a better one I’ll stick with it for now.)

The Watchlist: Girls’ Game Shelf

I’m always on the lookout for nerdy things to watch, and one of my favourites are play-through shows. Once upon a time they were few and far between. Now, with how easy it is to record and upload to the Webz, there are a plethora of shows of varying quality from which to choose. This can mean slogging through some shaky-cam and audio poor examples to get to the really good stuff. But it makes it all the sweeter when you find a great show.

Recently I came across Girls’ Game Shelf, a relatively new YouTube series out of Los Angeles (side note: I’ve been coming across a bunch of great gaming shows out of LA recently. They see to have become the nexus point for gaming media). They shot a pilot season of seven episodes out of their own pocket, then ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to have a Season Two (currently two episodes in). Each episode features a particular game and a returning cast of women gamers, who play through the game and give one-on-one impressions of the game and game play. At the end of each episode they decide whether the game will stay on the shelf.

I binged this show in a morning and I’m now impatiently waiting for more. It has a production style which I particularly enjoy; just enough production value (good sound, good camera work, well lit) that it isn’t annoying to watch, but not so heavily produced that it feels like a corporate training video. Each episode has the feel of sitting down to have a friend explain a game to me, with the ensuing game play and commentary adding to my understanding of the game. Episodes are between 10-15 minutes on average, so you aren’t seeing every move step by step. And I think that’s a good thing. While I occasionally like to watch longer board game play throughs (the Tabletop unedited videos are some of my favourites), most of the time I just want a bite-size look at a game, especially a game I’m considering buying.

The two things that I love most about this show each relate to the cast. First, as the title suggests, it’s an all-female cast. Which is great! I love having a break from the “guys with games” monotony of gaming videos. I game a lot with my friends, and currently I’d say the gender split on my circle of gamers is about 70-30 men to women. Nothing wrong with that, but it means that if I want the male perspective on a game I don’t really have to work very hard to get it. I certainly don’t need another game play video hosted by another dude to get that perspective. But a show like Girls’ Game Shelf affords me new and different perspectives on my hobby, and that excites me. Especially when, to the second thing I love, the cast is so obviously enthusiastic about tabletop games. The best gaming videos, to my mind, are when the players are not just enjoying themselves but are visibly excited to be playing. Nothing will kill my desire to watch a video (or my desire to purchase and play a game) faster than a group sitting quietly around the table moving meeples. I want to see the excitement, and this series does a great job of hitting the highlights of the game and showcasing the players’ joy.

And on a completely different note, it is extremely satisfying to watch them fill up the gaming shelf over the course of the series. I’d honestly watch just for that.

So I’m going to keep Girls’ Game Shelf in my regular watch rotation for as long as they keep making episodes. It’s a fun series with a great cast who are obviously having a blast doing what they’re doing. If you’re in the market for a new or different game play series, I can not recommend this enough.

Extra Life 2016 is Nigh!

extra-life_blueExtra Life is nigh! This Saturday I’ll take part in 24 hours (actually 25 hours, due to Daylight Savings) of gaming, all to support the Stollery Children’s Hospital. With my team mates from Team #Knifeshoes, I’ll be playing a mix of computer games, board games, and RPGs throughout the day. I’ll be live tweeting all day long, and possible live-streaming sections of the day as the mood strikes.

Extra Life is a fundraiser near to my heart. Of course the gaming aspect of it appeals to me, and I’m glad to have something that allows me to use nerdery for good. But I know first-hand how much it sucks to be sick, really sick, as a kid. When I was 14 I came down with pneumonia and was laid up for months at home. Under doctor’s orders I couldn’t leave the house, so I didn’t get to do much of anything except read and occasionally have the gang over for RPGs. I spent a lot of hours alone in my room, sick and bored out of my mind.

All of that is to say, if I can raise money that helps keep a child’s stay in hospital shorter, or at the very least help buy things to keep them entertained while they’re going through a stressful and/or boring hospital stay, I’m on board.

I hope you’ll support my Extra Life fundraising by donating. Or donate to a person or group near you, there are thousands taking part and likely one of them is close by. Donations of any size help, and every donation is appreciated. Maybe this is the time you go back through all those pre-paid Visa/MC gift cards and donate the dregs that have been sitting there unused. It all adds up.

But if you aren’t able to help by donating, you can still help by getting the word out. I’m going to be posting and tweeting through the day, and I know others will do the same. When you see those tweets and posts, consider RTing or Sharing to help us spread the word. Your reach can be a great boost to our Extra Life fundraising efforts and help whoever you’re boosting reach or surpass their funding goal.

Thanks in advance for any donations or boosting that comes my way, and stay tuned on November 5th for more Extra Life fun!

DnDtober the 17th: Dragon

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgThere is a plethora of dragon lore in D&D. I mean, dragon is in the name of the game, so you have to expect there would be plenty written about them over the years. Rather than try to add to that lore, I’m going to talk about how I’m currently using dragons in my campaigns.

Inspired by the 2nd edition Council of Wyrms box set, there is a continent in my home campaign which has been ruled by dragons for thousands of years. Because they’ve had a stable empire for millennia, the dragons are incredibly advanced in both magic and magic-based technology. Currently the dragon empire seems to be very isolationist, for reasons my players have not yet discovered (and may never discover). There is trade between the dragons and other nations, all funnelled through the single coastal city the dragons have opened to foreign contact. There are also embassies scattered across the world, but even those have limited contact with the countries in which they reside. There are reasons for this, which my players may discover in the course of their campaigns. For now, there are two aspects of dragons in my campaign which are common knowledge to the players.

First, a dragon’s alignment is not necessarily tied to their colour. While dragons of a particular colour will begin their lives the alignment listed in the Monster Manual, as they get older it is entirely possible for their alignments to shift. Dragons live incredibly long lives in relation to the other races, and in that time it is possible for their perspectives, desires, and attitudes to change. The younger a dragon is in my campaign, the more closely they are likely to fall within their “starting” alignment. But it is certainly possible to encounter metallic dragons who have slanted toward evil, and chromatic dragons who now tend toward neutrality and even good. For me, this makes dragons in my campaign more like inteligent, powerful NPCs, and less like monstrous sacks of XP who happen to get their name in the game’s title.

Second, the dragonborn in my campaign are a result of magical genetic manipulation developed by the dragon empire. While dragons are formidable in combat, it is still possible for them to be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. And really, constantly patrolling and defending their empire’s borders is just so boring! Thus the dragonborn were created as the empire’s shock troops, general standing army, and even as a source of income for the empire, hired out as mercenary companies. Not everything went as smoothly with their creations, of course. Unexpectedly, the dragonborn began to breed true; slowly at first, but especially after the Cataclysm the dragonborn found themselves able to procreate without draconic intervention. This has led to two strains of dragonborn, the naturally born and the created. The two strains are virtually identical in all aspects except one: natural born dragonborn have tails, while the created are hatched without. This difference means little to many of the other races, but is becoming an increasing point of contention between the two types of dragonborn.

That’s a little peek at dragons in my campaign. Do you do anything special with your dragons? Let me know in the comments.

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.

RPGaDay August 21

Funniest misinterpretation of a rule in your group?

The first one that comes to mind is from my Monday Knights group, back when we first started. This was in the Before Times, when we were still playing D&D 3.5e. One of the players, let’s call him Ben, had rolled up a ranger. Every time he would be asked to track something, he seemed confused as to why he was being asked to roll. The rest of us players, along with the GM, were confused as to why he seemed to be so bad at it, but we chalked it up to bad rolling. This went on for a number of levels, I want to say three or four? Finally someone (it might have been me) asked to see his character sheet. It turns out Ben had not put any skill ranks in Survival. You know, the skill tracking is dependent on? He had just assumed that rangers could just track anything, no roll required, and hadn’t seen survival as being important otherwise. The GM took pity and allowed him to backwards engineer his character, and suddenly Ben’s ranger went from tracking less like a blind-drunk halfling, and more like Strider on meth. To this day we always check Ben’s characters to make sure he’s taken the really obvious stuff.

Convention Time, Part Deux!

A longish while back I wrote a post about going to conventions, with some tips and tricks I use when conning around. Since then I’ve written a few posts on subjects touching on gaming conventions; if you search the convention tag I’m sure they’ll pop up. Since the Grand Daddy of all gaming cons, Gen Con, starts this week, I thought it was a good time to P1000011_smtalk about them some more.

I have long believed gaming conventions are one of the best parts of the hobby. They offer a way to try new things with new people, in a generally supportive and positive environment. Even playing your favourite game with new people can be eye-opening. I love discovering a new strategy for a game by getting my butt whipped, knowing I can take that strategy back to my regulars and unleash it on them.

If a regular gaming convention does this for you, Gen Con ramps that up to Eleventy-One. Let me start by reassuring you, you will never get to do everything at Gen Con at a single Gen Con. Why is that reassuring? Because you have an ongoing reason to go back, my friend. And you will want to go back. There is no other con in North America, possibly the world, which can offer as much concentrated gaming goodness in one location. Whether you’re on the hunt for shiny new thing in gaming, or an OG looking to relive the games of your youth, Gen Con has it and you can play it. I have never been disappointed.

So I wanted to offer some tips to make your experience as good as it can be. Some of these are specific to Gen Con, but most will make any con better.

Be Considerate – This covers a wide variety of situations at the con, and obviously isn’t limited to just Gen Con. But there are just so many people at Gen Con that dickish behavior can quickly spiral. However, considerate behavior can also spiral, so follow Wheaton’s Law and keep it wholly.

This includes but is not limited to: bathing and using deodorant; not blocking the aisles for too long as you look at the new shiny or take a picture of cool cosplay; asking the cosplayer if you can take a photo in the first place, and being okay if the answer is no; not arguing rules during the time-limited game event you’re playing in (yes, you’re very smart and likely right. Who cares? Shut up and let everyone play!); follow Thumper’s Law (“If you ain’t got nothing nice to say, don’t say nothing at all.”); play the demos, play all the demos, but don’t hog the demos. If you want to play more of the game, sign up for one of the events or buy the game; watch your language, Gen Con is a family friendly con; say thank-you, every chance you get, to anyone who deserves it (food servers, game masters, the woman who ran your demo, game designers and authors you run into…the list is Me and the Eyeballendless).

Do the Things! – With an event catalog the thickness of the average game manual, it can be easy to be stymied by analysis paralysis as you try to figure out what to do next. You can spend hours sitting around, pouring through the events, trying to find the Best One. But you didn’t come to Gen Con to read the con guide, pretty as it is. You came to get your nerd on!

Hopefully you picked some events early and pre-registered, so you’ve already got those on your schedule. But hopefully you also left holes in your schedule for picking games/events as they appeal to you or as you find things you didn’t notice before. If that’s the case, don’t get too bogged down trying to figure out the Single Best Solution, because there isn’t one. Honestly, pick the first event that looks fun and get in there! As I said before, you won’t be able to do everything at a single Gen Con. So just do everything you can, and save the rest for next time. As long as you are having fun you are Gen Conning correctly, so don’t worry about what you might miss.

Look After Yourself – Gen Con is an endurance race, not a sprint. Trying to do all the things all day and night will burn you out. By Day Two you’ll be a wreck, and by Day Three you’ll be curled up in your hotel room trying to recover. So:

  • Get sleep, at least six hours a night.
  • Shower every day. We touched on cleanliness under the first point, but it is also a good way to look after yourself. You’ll just feel better if you’re clean every day, fact.
  • Eat actual food at least once a day. Anything served from a kiosk in the convention centre barely counts in this category, but even the con food is better than a steady diet of chocolate bars, soda, and chips. However, within five blocks of the convention centre are a variety of excellent restaurants and food trucks, all wanting to exchange currency for delicious, fresh food.
  • Drink water. How much? Hard to say, since it depends on a wide variety of physical factors. But here’s a tip: if your urine is the same colour as any of the various Mountain Dew varieties, you aren’t drinking enough (and if it’s the same colour as Code Red see a doctor immediately).
  • Try one thing you wouldn’t normally try. Could be a game, could be LARP, could be anything. Try something outside your comfort zone, at least once. You might pick up a new hobby, but at the very least you’ll gain an appreciation for something you’ve never tried before.

Thank the Volunteers – They were there before you in the morning and they’ll go home after you in the evening. They are constantly in motion, doing things you’ve never had to think about, so your convention experience goes smoothly. No convention in the world, Gen Con included, could run without volunteers. So say thank-you. Takes a second and it can make a volunteer’s day. And they deserve it.

And if you can swing it, volunteer. You’ll work your ass off, but you’ll also gain an appreciation of how much work goes in to making a convention run well.

Those are my tips. I’ve also got a a page with suggestion on what to pack in your Convention Kit, so check that out. If you’ve got a con tip please drop it in the comments below.

Do It In Public!

readrpgs-anibuttonRead an RPG Book in Public, that is! Why, what were you…naughty!

Promoted tri-annually by The Escapist, Read an RPG Book in Public week is meant to raise the profile of the role-playing hobby and show our love for what is normally a behind-closed-doors activity. You grab a favourite RPG book, find a public area to relax for a little while, and get to reading. That simple.

I’ve done it when possible in past years, and always enjoyed it. I’ve endured very little in the way of any negative response to it; the occasional strange look to be sure, but nothing like actual harassment. Most of the time, when folks approach me it’s to tell me that they play or used to play, and occasionally we end up swapping stories of games gone wrong (or right). And I’ve even had a few people ask about how one gets in to the hobby, what they need to buy, where to find players, and so on. So if I’ve managed to inspire even one person to join our geeky ranks, it’s been worth it.

So get on out there and post your pics of you reading an RPG in public. Spread the nerd love wide this week. And please feel free to share your pics in the comments below, I’d love to see what you’re reading. I’ll be posting my pics here as I take them, so stop back and see what I’ve got on the go.

ENnies Voting is Now Live!

That’s right, fellow gamers, RPG award season is upon us and 2016 ENnies voting is now live. I don’t have a horse in this race at all, so this post is not an endorsement of any of the nominees. But it is an endorsement of voting for your favourite games. If you’ve really enjoyed a particular product and want to show your support, this is a great way to do that. The nominee’s list is also a great way to discover things you might have missed, as it has links to the nominated products and companies. I always find some games which have slipped through my radar on the nominee list, and the ENnies always manage to expand my game library.

Check them out, and let me know what some of your favs were in the comments. Maze of the Blue Medusa got a lot of my votes, for instance.