Archive for the ‘Role Playing’ Category

Still Working On It

The effort is ongoing.  I stopped by one of the local game stores that happens to also have a rainbow flag in their window, but sadly the owners were not there to talk.  Their website speaks about wanting to be more community center than store, so it seems like a promising avenue.  I sent them some email, haven’t heard back yet.

Also sent emails today to a couple of my local librarians to ask for help.  I’m hoping they don’t read it as just “can I use your space.”  I need partners on this effort, people with real ties into the community to double check that the need is real and help me get people to show up.

In the meantime, Jenn shared this with me on Facebook and it spoke to me:

Looking For Group

Over on FB, my old pal Scott posed the question:

Finally – any advice on how to get 1 more (female) player to my pathfinder game? I’m thinking about buying and wearing a D&D T shirt around – seems like it has been working for you!

I think we’ve discussed diversity enough so I’m going to broaden this to just the plain and simple, how do you find players?  I guess you could try just wearing a t-shirt around town, but I kind of suspect that’s the worst way to go about it.  So, in no particular order, here’s how I’ve met players in the past:

  1. Work – Yeah, that’s the biggest one for me these days, recruiting coworkers.  Maybe that’s because I’m in the video game industry, which is full of gamers.  But I also worked for a security software company once which had a fair share of gamers as well.  Culturally I think there’s a strong intersection between tech and gaming, but also as many have pointed out gaming has just become much more culturally acceptable these days than it ever was in the past.  I guess I’d say if you’re comfortable hanging out with your coworkers outside of work, why not ask them if they’d be interested in a little D&D?
  2. Clubs – Do clubs exist outside academia?  I have no idea, but certainly in college this is how I met most of my gaming friends.  Heck, it’s how I met most of my friends period.  If there’s a gaming club you can join, I’d say do it.  If not, maybe you can form one?  That sounds like a whole separate topic.
  3. Gaming Stores – When I first moved up to this area I wanted to start a game and so just went to the local game stores and pulled names off the bulletin boards.  Do stores still do that?  Maybe these days the store has a website instead.  Anyway, my friend Adam and I cold-called maybe a half dozen or so people, of which I think we actually played with three and to this day I’d say one remains someone I consider a good friend.  Coincidentally, that someone was the one woman we called.  But if those old cork boards are a thing of the past, I’d say go to the local game store and just ask the person behind the counter.  He or she can probably point you towards something.
  4. Conventions – Go and play games at conventions.  Better yet, run games at conventions.  I’ve met a lot of great gamers this way.  And best of all, it’s a great way to vet potential players.  Having played a convention game with them, you know what kind of gamer they are and have a pretty good idea if they’d be fun to have at the table regularly.  One clever gamer I played with at a convention had business cards with her email on them, to hand to people she enjoyed playing with to stay in touch.  You don’t have to be that formal about it, but definitely stop to get contact info from someone you had a good time at the table with rather than just getting up and disappearing into the crowd.  
  5. The Internet – I know the least about this approach, but I’ve heard good things about meetup.com.  I bet there are others.  I’ve never personally used this so perhaps others can comment here.

As for general recruitment advice, I’d say start small.  Invite someone over for board games.  Run a one-shot convention style game — they’re not just for conventions!  It’s a great way to kind of get a feel for someone without immediately slamming them with a weekly obligation.  Play a couple one-off games, figure out who you like gaming with, then discuss plans for bringing them in to your regular game or starting up a new one.

I guess that’s all I have.  Who else has some advice for Scott?

My Motivations

Thanks everyone for replying to yesterday’s post.  I keep forgetting that I have turned on the Facebook integration of this blog and must opt-out when desired.  I had a moment of uncertainty when I realized yesterday’s post was going to Facebook.  I knew the topic might be sensitive enough that discussion on Facebook could degenerate, but I figured at least that would be encapsulated in Facebook.  I could always moderate the blog comments themselves, and for what it’s worth I do think we stayed much better focused here than what happened over on Facebook.

I am though a little disappointed in how much the conversation seemed to become about whether or not what I was proposing should be done at all, rather than answer the question I was asking: how to do it.  There’s little doubt in my mind that I actually have a good idea here, so mostly I was looking for input on the logistics.  It seems though perhaps I took too much for granted, and maybe I should lay out why I’m so confident that holding an intro D&D game aimed at including a diverse audience is a good idea.

Between the ages of around 12-14 years old I was pretty aggressively bullied, so much so that I ended up changing school systems.  My parents were divorced since before I can remember, and when I was about to enter eighth grade my mom remarried and bought a house about half an hour’s drive from where I was currently living.  The opportunity to move in with her and make a whole new start was exactly the escape I needed.

But before that happened, I discovered D&D.  In fact, I remember reading the label on the red basic book that said “for ages 10+” and thinking I might get in trouble for reading it.  I had no real mentor in this hobby.  There were no gaming stores anywhere near me, the best I could ask for was a shelf in the back of the local comic book store.  I certainly never discovered any kind of gaming community there, they just sold the books.  I asked for those D&D books at pretty much every birthday and Christmas, and read everything I could get my hands on.  It sounded like an amazing game.  Despite all that interest, I could never get a game together at this time of my life.  I was a shy kid, and had very few friends, and this is around when the bullying started.

Now I had my escape, I moved in with my mom, I made new friends, and eventually later in high school I started finally playing with a regular group.  I recognize though that there was a lot of random chance involved in getting me that opportunity.  If I hadn’t moved, would I have eventually found a group to play D&D with?  Maybe.  But when I then project onto my own personal experience what it would have been like had I been a girl, or black, or gay, or anything else that could pile on even a little more sense of being an outsider, I’m sure it would have been an insurmountable task.

Gaming has shaped my life.  I am now a professional video game developer, an industry that itself was totally inspired by and built on top of tabletop gaming.  Most of my friends I have through a shared love of this hobby.  I am certain that life would have been radically different for me had I not eventually found some friends to play D&D with.

So when people recommend to tell someone “just buy the books, find some friends, and play” it breaks my heart.  I know how hard an ask that is.  Sure, you can learn the rules from reading a book.  It’s not as easy as just sitting in a game but it does work, that’s how I did it.  But I’m not talking here about just learning the rules.  I’m talking about giving someone an opportunity to experience what playing the game is actually like.  One game could be all it takes to change a mild curiosity or interest into a real passion.  And maybe it introduces some potential players to each other who wouldn’t have found each other otherwise.  I mean, part of me is desperate to go tell the grocery store clerk about the Dunkin Donuts girl.  They work not 100 yards apart!

My plan is to continue do some research.  I’ll talk to the local game store owners, and the YA librarian at our local library, and anyone else plugged into my local community.  It’s possible that these two interactions were just a fluke, but honestly, I’d do this for just those two people if I could.  I suspect though that I will find more.  I’ll post back and tell you all how it goes.

Diversity & Dragons

I have this t-shirt that just has this pretty plain D&D logo on the front:

I think I actually got it free at GenCon when they announced 4th edition.  Being the actual words written out so clearly it’s pretty recognizable for what it is.  So a few weeks back I was wearing it while Jenn and I were getting breakfast at Dunkin Donuts.  The cashier was a young meek looking Indian girl, and despite being hidden behind huge glasses and a layer of bangs, I could see a certain excited sparkle in her eyes as we placed our order.  

As she took our order she told us effusively how she really wanted to play D&D but never had the chance, and how much she was looking forward to starting college in the fall where they had a real gaming club she could join so she’d get to play.  Groggy as I was and with this sizable chunk of her life story coming out all in one breath, my reaction was as subdued “Cool” as I grabbed my coffee and made way for the next customer.  It was cool though, and I wish I had been more on the ball or the store less crowded and I would have happily nerded out with her.

Cut forward to this evening as Jenn and I are grocery shopping (in the same shopping center as that very Dunkin Donuts) and I happen to be wearing this shirt again.  This time the cashier who I guess to be a similar age, or possibly slightly older than the Dunkin Donuts girl, told us about how she too wanted to play D&D but could never find a group.  Maybe I think she’s older simply because she had a harder punk edge to her look, with a mostly shaved head and a little ink showing, but she went on to say something like “it’s hard to find a cool group that’s, you know, not just a bunch of CIS white boys.”

I knew where she was coming from.  Certainly all of my own gaming groups have had a majority of white male players.  Also we cannot deny that gaming has a certain reputation for attracting people with a kind of 12-year-old boy personality type, regardless of actual physical age. While I’m sure that like all stereotypes there are countless examples that countermand this reputation, it does not make it any less intimidating for an outsider to try and join in without worrying about being judged for not quite fitting in.

What really pained me about this interaction though was the fact that I do pride myself on being pretty plugged in to the gaming scene.  Normally if anyone said “I’d really like to try D&D”, I’d have tons of suggestions on how to get involved.  But when presented with the extra constraint of “and not have to worry about being judged by my gender / sexuality / physical appearance” I found myself nonplussed.  What could I suggest?

There are two gaming stores in town that I’m sure run local events, but they do have that typical creepy basement feel many game stores have, and are usually full of, well, young white males.  Attend a local convention?  Yeah, there’s some diversity there and I know for a fact a lot of very cool gamers.  Also though I’m sure plenty of intolerant jerks that you’ll have to sift through as well.  Never mind that a giant hotel full of strangers well versed in an activity that you’re just trying to learn a little about can be crazy overwhelming.

I was struck dumb.  With Jenn and a couple other cashiers all chatting the conversation quickly moved away from the topic, and we left with our groceries and me not having said a single word about D&D.  It’s stuck in my craw now, and I’m trying to figure out what exactly could I do to help this?  And in fact, I find myself really kind of interested in finding some real practical way of encouraging some more diversity in this hobby I love.  I mean, clearly there are people in my very neighborhood just dying for a helping hand to introduce them to the game.

I could easily find a location to run some kind of intro game.  There are those two gaming stores I mentioned, but there’s also the local library which maybe presents a more neutral ground that’s less intimidating.  Finding something to run is easy.  How to present it strikes me as the hardest part.  How would you market this kind of thing to coax these proto-gamers out into the open?  What words could you put in a flyer or on the internet that would encourage them to see it as a safe place?  Where would you post the information, I mean besides that one shopping center down the road which is apparently a hot-bed for neophyte gamers?

I’ve seen attempts at this kind of thing completely backfire.  I remember Tim Kask ran a game at a local con that was billed as being for “Ladies Only.”  I know in his heart Tim was after the same kind of things I’m talking about here — he just wanted to introduce the game to a wider audience.  He got a lot of backlash on it though, and from all sides.  Perhaps his mistake was doing this at a convention, where presumably most attendees are already pretty comfortable with the hobby as a concept, and much of his target audience perhaps felt the tone a bit patronizing.

I’d love to hear thoughts.  What do you think people of the internet?  How would you go about setting up an introductory event for new players that have perhaps felt excluded from our hobby?  What if anything can you do to encourage a more diverse attendance?

Tablets

I noticed during our game last weekend that Dan uses a tablet or e-Reader of some sort when DMing.  The DM of my regular game actually has a full-on computer at his side (no really, giant monitor and everything, it’s like the great wall of DM screens).  Incorporating some kind of into my DMing is something I’ve tried many times in the past.  Geez, this blog entry from 7 years ago (7 years!  holy crap!) is probably my most recent attempt where I put some crazy HTML-ified version of a module onto a netbook.  That lasted, well, not quite as long as netbooks.

So I started thinking maybe it was time for another try.  While to date I’ve found nothing quite as versatile and easy as paper, I do use a lot of it, and that always feels just a tad wasteful.  Especially with longer material like the Stonehell PDFs, or the DCC book, etc. I’d love to have a lighter / faster method to have more of that material on hand quickly.  So I did a little poking around on the inter-webs.  I was curious to see what was out there for tablets or similar that would be useful specifically for gaming.

My primary requirement was a long battery life — it’s got to last through an entire gaming session, even better if it could last a whole day of gaming at a convention without needing charging.  The actual software requirements are pretty light.  Mostly I just want a good PDF reader and access to my cloud data (I run a personal owncloud server, because I like my bits where I can see them and the cloud is just someone else’s computer).  In fact, inability to play games or run other fancy/expensive software is probably a good thing here, so I’d be less tempted to multi-purpose the device and then be frustrated that it doesn’t do everything amazingly well.  

Honestly I wasn’t really considering buying something, it was just mild curiosity and boredom driven web browsing, but I made a startling discovery.  In most reviews I read, after the very expensive latest iPads in positions #1 and #2 for best battery life, many rated #3 as the humble Amazon Fire HD 8, which retails for a pretty conservative $80 on Amazon right now.  I guess this makes sense, Amazon’s target has always been the e-Reader market.  Kindle has more brand recognition than Fire I would think.  Also, as the Fire is ultimately an Android, I know I can get access to the software I’m already used to for my phone and/or develop my own.  On that point, while Amazon is pretty lacking in apps (and as a developer I know too well how crappy the value proposition is for supporting Amazon devices) I did find that it’s pretty easy to just install the Google Play store onto a Fire device.

Since it’s my birthday, and it was so inexpensive, I figured what the heck and ordered one.  It came in yesterday (on my birthday, what a happy coincidence!) and so far I’ve not played with it very much.  One immediate downside I’ve found is that it’s a bit smaller than I anticipated.  Perhaps I’m just used to iPad size of tablets from work, but the 8″ 16:10 screen seems pretty small and narrow for a tablet.  On the plus side I was happy to discover that it has an SDHC slot, so there’s no good reason to pay the extra for the 32 GB size.  In fact, I had a stray 32 GB SDHC card just lying around that I was happy to chuck into it.  

Here’s the software I’ve installed so far, I’d be curious to hear any other recommendations from DMs used to using a tablet behind the screen:

  1. ezPDF Reader – First and foremost I need a good PDF reader.  I’ve tried a lot of them, and the free ones are fine, but this one is my favorite so I forked over the $4 for it.  Features I love:
    • Fit Text to Column – this is amazing for D&D modules.  You double-tap on a page containing multiple columns of text, which is a classic and much-used module layout, and it zooms the view to fit one column across the entire screen.  Then it gives you navigation buttons to page along by column, moving between columns correctly to give an even flow of text.
    • Annotations – ability to write/draw on top of your PDF is pretty common feature these days.  I’ve never really used this, but I think this may be the time I start.
    • Text to Voice – silly I know, but sometimes if I’m in the car or painting minis or something it’s nice to have someone read a module to me.  As this uses the device’s built-in voice software, it appears Alexa is reading modules to me, which is actually much better than other computer voices I’ve heard.
    • Page Turning Animations – another silly one, but I love the verisimilitude of a nice page turning animation that looks like real pages in a book.
  2. ownCloud – Access to all my stuff.  You probably want DropBox or GoogleDrive or whatever Amazon has.  Everyone has cloud storage these days.  Personally, I’ll pay the $1 for access to the 12 TB raid array I have plugged in at home.  Yet another reason 16 GB on the device really isn’t a limitation.
  3. Inspiration Pad Pro – Best table rolling app out there.  I’ve written a lot of tables for this thing, from an adaptation of my favorite fantasy name generator, to the OD&D treasure tables, to a complete character generator.  It’s super powerful and a great tool, and amazingly the desktop version is completely free.
  4. DiceShaker D&D – No, I totally prefer real physical dice, but in the rare case I don’t or can’t use real dice, this is a reasonable substitute.  I’m sure there are plenty of free dice apps out there that are just as good.  What can I say, I’m a sucker for good digital emulation of real physical objects.
  5. Evernote – This is a new one for me, I found online someone saying they used Evernote behind the screen and its laissez-faire attitude towards collecting scraps of information does strike me as pretty well aligned with DMing.  I haven’t yet had the lightning stroke that makes me think this is a totally required DM tool, but I’m giving it a shot.  I’ll make sure to follow up on this one in the future, even if it’s just to say that I’m abandoning it.

Back to the Well Once Too Often

OK, time for some analysis of Rappan Athuk. As before, this will contain all manner of spoilers, so if you intend to play this module and want to be surprised, turn back!

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Rappan Athuk

The dungeon Dan brought us this weekend was none other than Rappan Athuk, which appears to have quite the old school pedigree.  I had never heard of it before, but it’s one of a few mega-dungeons to actually see print, and it has quite the history from inception in the late 70’s, to printings for d20 (aka 3.0 D&D), Pathfinder, and Swords & Wizardry.  You can find more details of its history on boargamegeek.

What follows is an account of our game, and I’ll hold off on any analysis until a later post.  That said, this will be rife with spoilers, so if you think you may some day play Rappan Athuk, maybe you don’t want to read this.

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Happy Birthday to Me

This year for my birthday I received the dearest gift I have ever received — my brothers Max and Christian and my good friends Dan and Isabelle drove up from NY to stay at my place and play a 3-day marathon D&D game.  In fact it’s the same gift I’ve gotten for the past four years running, and I couldn’t dream of anything better.  I invite some local gamer friends to pop in for an hour or an afternoon or a day, whatever they have time for, and we punctuate the gaming with some good meals and the odd dip in the pool.

Dan DMed for us a very difficult dungeon, and I think I was the only one to make it through the whole weekend with the same character.  My brother Max and I were the sole survivors of last night’s climactic encounter.  Our little party of 3 4th level characters and 3 1st level henchman managed to get themselves in way over their heads at a Temple of Orcus, facing off against a 12th level priest, a half-dozen 6th level priests, a type II demon, and a flesh golem.  By all rights it should have been a very quick TPK, but on the second round my invisible wizard managed to slide near the high priest and cast a simple Charm Person spell on him.  Despite his +15 bonus to resist, he rolled a 1.  Thus the high priest of Orcus was more than happy to call off his minions, pile his treasure up outside the temple, and wait for us to return to hatch the next stage of our amazing evil plot (spoiler: there is no evil plot, we took all the loot we could carry and high-tailed it.)

We returned to town to sell off all the treasure.  We found we were in possession of a particularly nasty evil artifact made of solid gold.  Max wanted to sell it at full value to the shady fellow at the bar and his unknown “master”.  I argued that half-value was fine if we just melted it down and sold it for the value of the gold.  With only two of us left we were at an impasse.  Finally I said “let’s dice for it!” and what gamer can resist that?

We both snatched up dice and shook our fists over the table.  We looked each other resolutely in the eye, and let the dice drop, clattering mere inches apart on the tabletop.  I won handily — 13 vs 3.  Of course, it helped that while Max had chosen a d6, I had rolled a d20.

Tears streaming down our faces from fits of uncontrollable laughter, I managed to convince Max to let it lie.  We agreed to dice for it without specifying the die type, and it was his poor strategic choice to go for a d6.  As a consolation prize I gave him a trading card I got a few years back at TotalCon, depicting and signed by Mr. Tim Kask, the epithet on the card reads “Never bring a d4 to a sword fight.”

New Game

I’ve joined a new gaming group and it’s quite a different experience for me.  I’m very used to being either the GM, the group organizer, or most often both.  In this game I am neither, I was invited into an existing group and was glad for the invite.  It’s a little different of a game from what I’m used to as well, we’re using the system DemonWars: Reformation based on the novels by R. A. Salvatore and developed by him and his two sons.  It’s definitely not my typical type of game, but I’m having a great time with it, mostly due to it being a great group of players.  Last night we had a near TPK, only one person made it out alive.  Clearly I’m with the right group.

I will post more details as the game progresses.  For now I just wanted to break the ice on never posting and introduce what I’m sure I’ll be spending more time discussing in the future.

Volo’s Guide to Monsters

Wizards of the Coast has once again firmly cemented for me the idea that I am not their target audience.  An article showed up today on Polygon titled “Dungeons and Dragons is changing how it makes books“.  Man, with an opener like that, it’s really hard not get super cynical on this.  And that’s reinforced with quotes like this one:

“I have this kind of personal philosophy for managing the product line,” Mearls said last month in Renton, Washington. “I don’t want to duplicate any product that’s come before. I think that if people have seen it, then it’s not really new and it’s not really exciting.”

Really?  And you’re doing that by making a book that has more narrative fiction in it and titling it “Volo’s Guide…”  Because we’ve never seen anything like that before.  Sigh.

But I’m trying not to be too negative on this, because honestly this book simply underscores what I’ve known for a long time, that I’m simply not their target audience anymore.  So who is it for, who wants 14 pages just on the beholder?  The answer I think must be people who are buying these books for the nostalgic factor alone, but don’t actually ever get to play the game.  Reading game manuals as a hobby in and of itself is definitely a thing.  Who am I to poo-poo that?

Honestly, I think my only problem is that D&D is still niche enough that friends and relatives will send me links to articles like this.  “Hey, you’re into Dungeons and Dragons, right?”  How can I explain to them that this is definitely not what I’m into?  The only arguments I can give are along the lines of “this is not Dungeons and Dragons” or “I’m only into early Dungeons and Dragons”, both of which really make me feel like a serious RPG hipster.  I wish Wizards would do me the favor of rebranding their product to stop the confusion, but obviously that makes zero fiscal sense for them.

I suppose ultimately what this means is that I really should just stop posting about stuff like this, as it’s basically not relevant to this blog.  In other news, Nike released their new Foamposite One sneakers today.