April TTRPG Maker Challenge, Day 2: Where ya At?

Geophysically, I’m in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, on the northern prairies. Because I live in Canada I’m also on Treaty 6 territory, a traditional gathering place for diverse Indigenous peoples including the Cree, Blackfoot, Metis, Nakota Sioux, Iroquois, Dene, Ojibway/ Saulteaux/Anishinaabe, Inuit, and many others whose histories, languages, and cultures continue to influence our community.

Edmonton is a vibrant city in many ways, and tabletop gaming is no exception. I think we may have more tabletop cafes per capita than any other city in Canada, and recently I’d be willing to say that about Friendly Local Game Stores as well. There are four very active tabletop gaming cons locally, two focused on board games, one on just TTRPGs, and the last tries for a mix. And just this year we added a tabletop game prototype con and a computer and tabletop gaming con, so there are no shortage of events. In fact, if you’re in Edmonton and have the weekend free a few weeks from now, you should check out GOBFest, running April 14 and 15. Always a good time!

As to where I’m at in my making? I’m just starting out, really. I mean I’m a GM, so I’ve been making for over 35+ years. But as far as making for general consumption goes, I’m a newbie. I’ve learned a bunch editing other people’s projects, though, and I have that experience to draw upon. I’m actually really excited to take this next step and start putting more of my stuff out in the world.

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April TTRPG Maker Challenge

I’m taking part in the #AprilTTRPGMaker Challenge this month from @kiranansi. While I’ve been blogging about and editing TTRPGs for a few years, I am just easing a toe in the water of writing and designing my own material. This looked like a good opportunity to talk about that process, as well as solidifying some of my thoughts around making game material. I hope you enjoy, and if you’re taking part I look forward to reading your posts.

#1: Who Am I?

My name is Brent Jans and I’ve been a table top gamer since 1980, when I started playing Dungeons & Dragons at the tender age of ten. Since then I have played many games, more often as the game master than not. About five years ago I started blogging semi-regularly about the hobby as Renaissance Gamer (a play on the term “renaissance man”). About three (four?) years ago I hung out my shingle as a freelance TTRPG editor, mostly trying to provide editing services to other freelance or small press TTRPG writers and publishers who might not otherwise use an editor; you can find links to some of the work I’ve done on my Need an Editor? page.

Here on my blog I talk about whatever gaming-related idea or topic pops into my head, though I do have semi-regular articles on food at the gaming table, campaign inspiration, and inclusivity. I also blog a bunch about local gaming events and stores, because supporting the local gaming community is important to me. My blog posts are also where you’ll find a bunch of my creations/ideas for my home games, posted to share with other gamers. I also post an editorial once a week over at The Rat Hole, an excellent site for both board game and TTRPG reviews (which you should totally check out, hint hint!).

About a year-and-a-half ago I started a D&D 5e campaign (the first time I had played actual D&D in almost ten years), then I started a second one. I created my own campaign world for that, and my players are currently exploring various parts of one of the main areas, Cotterell. I’m excited, because the campaign has me writing new game material on a regular basis, and I’m eyeing some of that for publication. I have wanted to publish for years, but never put my focus into it the way I should have until very recently.

I also recently pulled the trigger on a project I’ve had in my head for many years. The Canadian Library of Roleplaying Games is my project to collect, preserve, and discuss gaming material from the start of the hobby until now. It’s very early days, but my meager collection is growing and a number of folks locally have come on board to help. It’s probably the thing I’m most excited about, moving forward.

And that’s me. If you have questions, feel free to drop them in the comments below. In the meantime I’ll see you tomorrow!

 

Read an RPG Book in Public Week

I’ll have a longer post later in the week, but I wanted to take a moment to remind everyone that it’s Read an RPG Book in Public Week, from March 5-9. Time to fly your hobby flag and be seen reading something role-playing related in public, as a way to raise awareness and show your love of the hobby. You can do it anywhere with any RPG book you’d like. If you’re an introvert like me, I recommend tracking down a local introverts reading event. It’s the perfect location to read up on your favourite RPG.

Come back Wednesday for a new article!

D&December Catch Up

Work has been a bear, and a few things came up besides, so I’m a little behind on my D&December posts. So today is a little bit of catch up, with another catch up post tomorrow to get me up to date.

Day #5: A Moment of Triumph

This might be slightly different than what was intended for the question, but one of the moments I had around characters was the day I outgrew the “lone wolf” style of character. As a young gamer and a lover of fantasy and sci-fi film, the stoic character who makes his own path was well-known to me. And on the screen it looks like an exciting character to play. The problem, of course, is that D&D is a group activity. If you’re playing a loner (or as was often the case, everyone in the group is trying to play a loner) you don’t really fit with the dynamic needed for a successful adventuring party. So the day I figured out how annoying and boring the lone wolf character is for the other players and the GM, was the day I really started to grow as a player and GM.

Day #6: A Moment of Despair

About two years ago, I almost gave up the hobby for good. I was having health issues, both medical and mental. There were health issues elsewhere in my family that were a drain on my time and energy as well. My work was suffering as a result of all this, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to fix that. Tabletop gaming, which had been my escape from all of this, was becoming harder and harder to organize, and I couldn’t work up enthusiasm for it anymore.

It was around this time that I discovered the show Critical Role, and got hooked on watching the adventures of Vox Machina. It didn’t happen all at once, but over multiple episodes I felt my enthusiasm for gaming return. I was reminded of what was truly important about the hobby: shared experience and friendship. It wasn’t a magic bullet, and I still had a bunch of other things to fix. But I was saved from giving up on the hobby which gave me support and strength through the bad times.

Day #7: Your Player Character

I have a longer piece planned for this, so stay tuned. I’ll post it out of order later on.

Day #8: Favourite Creature

I talked about them in another post, but I’m really fond of slipping mimics into my campaigns. I enjoy the idea of the “classic” mimic, disguised as a treasure chest to gorge on the greedy adventurer. But I also love the idea that, like other ambush predators, mimics will use whatever works best for their current environment. So a mimic could potentially show up as any inanimate object that might attract prey. And the strength of the creature can be pretty easily adjusted for any party, so they are a wonderful “evergreen” monster to throw at your party at whatever level.

Day #9: Draconic

I don’t think dragons get used nearly as often as they should, as an encounter, NPC, or main villain. You have a creature which, barring mishap, will live for centuries and likely has done prior to meeting the adventurers. They are stronger, faster, more cunning, and generally smarter than the party. They can prepare their lair to “properly” receive visitors, and have usually hired or bullied a screen of lesser beings to wear down the party. My favourite way to reveal a dragon in a campaign is to have the characters interact with an NPC who they think is humanoid  for a while, and eventually learn that that NPC is actually a dragon in disguise. Always fun!

See you tomorrow, as I get myself up to day twelve.

D&December Day 4: Favourite Villain

I feel like I may have answered this yesterday with Strahd as my NPC, but since it would be boring to just write, “See yesterday’s answer” I’ll pick another.

Instead of a specific character, I’m going to go with type of villain. And my favourite villain type is the true villain. I can have fun with a “shades of grey” villain, who is maybe a little sympathetic or actually has good reasons for their actions but goes about them in the wrong way. But sometimes I want to just let slip the dogs of evil and confront the party with a hold nothing back, scenery chewing, evil to the core villain. The kind of villain who actively chooses to do the selfish, nasty thing all the time. And maybe they play on the “I’m just misunderstood” trope to confuse the characters or string them along. But they are dastardly and evil through and through. And the only thing they love more than crushing the innocent is crushing the party of adventurers who dare defy them.

* * *

My first post is up over at The Rat Hole, and it would be swell if you went and checked it out. It’s sort of a mission statement for the next several weeks of posts, and I’m excited to research and write those articles. Plus you can check out the news and reviews posted by Dave; this month is all about Christmas themed games so you should check that out.

D&December Postings, and News!

Between work and getting into the swing of things with my seasonal depression, I’ve been away for a bit. That’s all about to change, as I’m taking part in the D&December Art Prompts (seen left) and I’ll be posting every day this month. As is tradition I discovered this just after the beginning of December, so today is catching up.

But first a few pieces of Renaissance Gamer news. First up, if you just can’t get enough of me here, I’m a new weekly contributor over at The Rat Hole, a gaming news and reviews site newly minted by my buddy Dave Chapman. He’s been at the game reviewing biz for a while, and I am shamelessly riding his coat-tails as he begins this new venture. I’ll be posting an article every Monday on topics relating to the role-playing game hobby, starting with a series on getting into the hobby. And even if you’re a RPG veteran, these articles will discuss ways to make our space welcoming to new gamers. And you should go there anyway to read Dave’s reviews and news, because he’s got some good things to say.

Second piece of news: in January I’ll be hosting the RPG Blog Carnival. Started by Johnn Four over at Roleplaying Tips, the carnival invites one blogger to host each month and provide a topic. Other bloggers then post their own takes on that topic, and comment back on the host site so the links are all in one place. It’s a great way to get myriad perspectives on a subject, as well as being highly entertaining. My January topic, fitting after the holidays have lightened our collective wallets, will be “Roleplaying Games on a Budget”. I know a few things I plan to write and I can’t wait to see what other folks come up with.

But now the main event: D&December!

Day 1: Favourite Race

My favourite race to play in D&D is a plain old vanilla human. I know, I know, all those wonderful races to choose from, I go with the “round ears”. I’ve played other races and enjoyed them. But if I’m going to settle into a character I plan to play a while, I’ll go with human every time. Versatility is certainly one of the reasons, but it isn’t the main one for me. As a player, I want the DM to reveal a world of wonders and terrors, and I want the feeling of exploring that world and discovering those wonders and surviving those terrors. And so I will tend to pick a character which is, well, me. Playing human lets me focus on that experience without also having to juggle the lense of another race. I’m happy to explore that in other games, but for D&D human is how I roll.

Day 2: Favourite Class

I’ve long been a fan of the wizard class, and that hasn’t gone away in D&D 5e. I like the way the school specializations have been handled, and I don’t think there is a “weak” school to choose from, depending on the campaign. My ideal build for my wizard is the “adventuring scholar”; always on the lookout for new spells, spellbooks, scrolls, and other magical gewgaws to enhance his art. The strength of the wizard, for me, comes from the sheer number of spells he can know, and the fact that he can store more situationally useful spells on scrolls while memorizing the more broadly useful ones. For instance, you may not need knock every session, but having it on a scroll gives you an option for when the rogue is all thumbs that day. And once the wizard can lay hands on a Handy Haversack, his scroll game become fierce.

Day 3: Favourite NPC

I wasn’t sure if this meant my favourite type of NPC, or a specific NPC from Dungeons & Dragons. So I’ll touch on both.

My favourite type of NPC is what I call the “web spinner”. This is an NPC which the players, through no fault of their own and possibly without realizing, end up opposing. They work behind a sometimes shifting screen of lieutenants and flunkies, maybe even working as the power behind a fairly Big Baddie to further hide their efforts. I love using them, because done well the big reveal when the party realizes who or what they’ve actually been opposing all along is delicious. Especially if they’ve been interacting with that NPC the entire campaign.

My favourite specific NPC in D&D is Strahd, which should come as no surprise (see above). Strahd is the master manipulator, working behind the scenes to choreograph a monstrous dance, delighting in watching the player struggle to learn the steps. And not because he’s afraid to confront the characters, but because the eventual confrontation will be all the more delightful when they realize to whose tune they’ve been dancing.

Creating a Library, No Big Deal

On Facebook yesterday I mentioned that I’m going ahead with an idea I’ve had milling about for a while now. I’m creating a roleplaying game library, mandated to collect, preserve, and share tabletop roleplaying games, as well as documents associated with the hobby. I’m not the first person to have this idea. Alexandria RPG and the Play Generated Map and Document Archive are both examples of what I’m trying to achieve, and they aren’t the only two. Which may beg the question, why? If things like this already exist, why start another one? Well I happen to have a few answers to that.

First, I don’t happen to think redundancy is bad when you’re endeavoring to preserve the history of something. Roleplaying games as an industry-supported hobby have been around for over forty years, and I plan to keep enjoying them for at least the next thirty. There is a wealth of knowledge, lore, and folklore tied up in all the time that all the people involved in the hobby and the industry have expended. It would be a little foolish to think one person, or even dozens of persons, could collect and preserve it all. Just by living in a different geographical location from other librarians and conservationists, I have a chance to collect and preserve a different set of materials, obviously with some overlap.

Which brings me to my second answer. I spent a good long while looking, and I don’t think there is anyone else living in Canada doing what I plan to do. If there is, I’d sure love to talk to them, but if so they are keeping a very low profile. And I think having a Canadian library for my hobby could be a good thing. Yes, mostly because I live here and this is where all my stuff is. But it’s unlikely that US-based groups doing this sort of work will make the trip up to many Canadian events, unless they’re just over the border. It’s just not cost-effective. And maybe this is a bit paranoid, but given the political and social climate in the US right now, I don’t think it could hurt to have a collection of this information outside the US.

But lastly, it’s something I’ve been doing for a while anyway, without what I’m now realizing is the very important public engagement portion. I’ve collected roleplaying material for a while, and I have a bunch tucked away on shelves in my game room, with a bit more tucked in boxes awaiting the light of day. And that’s all well and good, but at the end of the day these are games. They are meant to be out where people can read them and play them. I want people, at whatever point they entered the hobby, to have a chance to experience a bit of what the hobby was like before they joined. Or have a chance to see the hobby from someone else’s point of view.

So a few things are going to happen over the next while.

  • I’m setting up a not-for-profit Society, called the Canadian Library of Roleplaying Games; as small as this is now it’s going to grow, and I need a framework for that growth. A NFP Society is also the first step to attaining eventual charitable status, which I think will help us in getting larger donations of gaming material down the line. As it stands, a Society can’t issue tax-receipts, so all I can offer folks for donating material to me now is my winning smile.
  • But having a Society means I can officially donate my personal library of material to that Society, which will form the seed of the collection.
  • I’ve started on a website, and I have Twitter and a Facebook page in place ready for the official launch. The website is going to be a key player in all this, since that is where the collection’s database will live. I know some thing about creating a database and I’ll need to learn a whole bunch more, as well as finding like-minded volunteers to help out.
  • And then I want to get the collection out in front of the public, so I need to decide what that will look like and figure out the logistics. Currently I’m one guy with shelves of gaming stuff and no car, so how I get to events and which events I attend are non-trivial issues.

But for me, all of that is the first part of the fun part. I’m excited to get this project started and you’ll definitely be hearing more about it as I move forward. And if by any chance you’re interested in helping out, whether with time or a donation of material, feel free to email me at canlibrpg@gmail.com. Don’t be put off if I don’t know how to use you quite yet, it’s early days and I’m still figuring things out myself.