I’m Back!

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…and boy do I have some exciting articles\plans incoming over the next few days, weeks, and months!

I know I’ve been gone a while, but I needed the break. I’m a lone writer out here folks and though I endeavor to keep the posts flowing week to week I needed the downtime to recharge. You probably want to hear more about the teased plans mentioned above though right? Well, I can’t spill all the details just yet but I can offer a taste.

  • in just TWO days the Kickstarter for AcadeCon 2016 will launch. Most of you are aware that I am a proud member of the RPG Academy Network. Due to this I am heavily interested in seeing this convention fund. Though honestly I’m probably less involved in the process than you’d assume due to my membership and I stand to gain less than you likely believe from its funding. When I write my article later this week know that my cheer leading for Michael & Caleb’s little-big convention is coming more from a place of love for the convention and its leadership itself than from anything I actually stand to gain from its funding. I want it to succeed so I have an awesome convention to go to in November, and I want to see you there. As many of you as can make the trip. Let’s sell this thing out folks! I’ll be putting some of my hard earned money toward it even though I don’t have to, I believe in seeing it succeed that much!
  • I have an article to write for Wizards of the Coast. It has taken me a while but I finally finished looking over Curse of Strahd. You may have caught some of my thought’s on Twitter recently but they deserve a full spread.
  • Privateer Press is rolling out a new edition of Warmachine and Hordes. This is huge, the latest edition was released back in 2010 people, it is time for an update. Details are flying around about this new edition and I want to get on top of things and begin to parse down the nitty gritty that you need to know in case you’re interested in how it’ll effect your factions now or, even better, you are just taking notice of this tabletop skirmish game and want to know the best time to get into it (hint: soon).
  • Speaking of WarmaHordes. I’m currently embroiled in an exciting Map Based Campaign titled “The Battle for the Athanc” (basically a high octane version of Risk where actual battles are fought using our WarmaHordes factions). I and my buddy who is running the Campaign have been keeping some battle report type notes and if we actually get our business together I hope to set up a bit of a battlelog for what we’ve done thus far and for how the remaining turns play out. It’s been a blast, even if I’ve had some of the the worst die rolling luck ever throughout.
  • A few fastballs here. I’ll be back at Gencon this year, once more rising with the Gamerstable crew. I’ll be rocking some games at Geekway to the West with Toby from Roll and Groove. I hope to get a bit more serious about writing some helpful essays on how volunteering and\or just gaming with the youth in your community can help foster growth in our hobby. I might even sneak in a post about The Division since that game currently has its talons in me.
  • This last one is going to be vague and for that I’m sorry (well…only a little sorry). I have some plans for the site, I want to become a little more polished. The one thing I can say is I want to drop that pesky little “dot wordpress dot com” from the tail end of my web address. Other than that there are just some things I want to work at for making this site a better place to get gaming information, and more frequent information. Hopefully I can fulfill these self-imposed demands, but one good thing about not running a Patreon or some other form of “actually getting paid for any of this” is I am only really beholden to myself eh?

So there you have it folks. Hope you’re excited to have me back, I’m at least excited to be writing again whether or not you all are happy to have me! 😛

-Melvs

 

 

 

 

Lessons From the Library

Starter Set

So I had the esteemed pleasure of running a Dungeons and Dragons game for a rare breed of gamer over the weekend. Hank, and his three awesome kids, came to game day at the library in an effort to get even more role-playing under their collective belts than they had been able to at home, and Hank himself wanted to get some experience from another DM. You see, Hank may have played D&D a bit when he was his kids’ age but he didn’t stick with it. Now, decades later, he and his kin came across the D&D Starter Set and did something I didn’t think was honestly happening out there. They picked it up and tried to teach themselves to play. I can likely count on one hand the amount of people I know who have come across D&D\RPGs in the wilds and have attempted to learn them with little to no guidance. It’s practically unheard of honestly, and after speaking with Hank I came to the understanding that his long ago playing of the game had very little measurable effect on his ability to parse the Starter Set. Essentially he was starting from scratch.

The whole experience was enlightening. While I was running the game there kept being these interesting moments where Hank would say something to the effect of “of course! I should have been doing that all along!”. These were not situations where he just liked my style of running the game either, these were things I had always considered common knowledge DM facts. The most glaring was when one of the players asked me for a monster’s Armor Class and I simply mentioned that I wasn’t going to tell him that, I mean c’mon! everyone knows the DM Doesn’t share that kind of information right? Well, turns out Hank had been pretty open about monster details and when I thought on it (and after a little post game look through the rules) I couldn’t really figure out where that information would have ever been mentioned. It’s just kind of something we experienced DM’s know, and certainly something we’d pass along to anyone learning to run games. It made perfect sense to Hank in hindsight but it also makes sense to me why he would have made that mistake. To be fair, nothing says you can’t share that information either though.

It all speaks to what I’ve been saying for a while now. D&D, and I’d argue most RPG’s out there, require that close friend or relative to really teach the game. Hank struck me as a smart guy who’d obviously been doing well enough because his kids were really into getting to play but, by his own admission, he was still struggling to polish his ability. There is a large barrier of entry into our hobby and I don’t know if there is an answer on the game creators’ side of things to lowering the barrier, and if there is I don’t know yet what it would be. However, if that’s not a call to arms to become a fiercer advocate for tabletop gaming I don’t know what is.

I might find myself doing a little more “here’s how to do it” work in the near future honestly. From talking to Hank it sounds like he had the chance to catch helpful videos and podcasts, and I certainly know a few podcasts I’ll send his way. I think I’d like to add to that category out there. If I make a video that helps even one person learn a bit more about running or playing an RPG, I think I would like that. In fact it seems like an organic progression from my current level of advocacy. I’ve planted the seed in my hometown, why not get a bit more widespread!

Take care, and good gaming,

-Melvs

P.S. If for some reason you read this Hank, I hope you don’t mind I shared your story. I had an absolute blast running a game for your family this past weekend. You all have taken to Tabletop RPGs like fish to water, you gasped in all the right spots and I felt very humbled by your constant admiration at my DM’ing skills. I hope I get the chance to run a game for you all again soon! Or maybe, you can run a game that I play in ;P . Feel free to hit me up with any questions you may have! This goes for anyone honestly.

RPG Academy Network Panel

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A few Fridays ago a number of the excellent folks within the RPG Academy Network got together to do our first ever YouTube panel. Titled “The RPG Academy Network: A GM Summit” the panel was dedicated to the minds within our Network discussing, and oft times debating, their different methods for being a Game Master. Through pre-prepped questions and some excellent audience involvement they were able to give some great advice. If you haven’t seen it (or heard it in my case), and have two hours to kill, I’m embedding the link right here:

Sadly, as you may have noticed, I was unable to attend the GM Summit so you didn’t get any of my right\wrong opinions on some of the questions. Well, I copied down the questions as I went along so I can answer them right here. Hopefully I can offer up some advice just as useful as my peers!

What is my favorite system and why?

Savage Worlds Logo

Things began with this nice little warm up question, one I find very difficult to narrow down. Should I focus on pure nostalgia and go with Dungeons and Dragons? It has been the staple system in my core group and certainly the game I’ve played the most. However, I think if I really had to choose a system to dedicate the rest of my gaming on I’d go with Savage Worlds. I’ve spoken on it many time in this blog so if you’re a committed reader, you know I love it. It’s just the best little generic system money can buy, and it slips oh so perfectly into damn near any genre.

What are some tips on handling feedback from your players?

I think most of the group hit the nail on the head with this one by mentioning that if you are honestly looking for feedback you need to be ready to receive it. This doesn’t mean you need to sit there while someone lambastes your game but you should certainly take the time to consider if their critiques might actually hold some constructive value. In the past I’ve been very easy going with how I sought critiques and I get them but they are almost always positive in nature, I may need to be a bit more formal with my requests if I plan to get any true feedback.

How do you set expectations for your games?

I rarely run something that is limiting to my group. I choose a system and let them pick from all available options. The only time this will change is if whatever group I’m planning to run a game for collectively with me decide we want to run something very specific. For example I ran a one shot game where the players were all Bullywugs trying to protect their swamplands from humans. Obviously my players would need to know going in that they are restricted to that race. I can’t really point to a time where I sprung a long list of expectations on anyone. To me deciding the next game is highly collaborative.

For a first time GM how much should be planned/not planned. Thoughts on houseruling?

I am a terrible person to ask about planning anything. From day one my games have been highly improvisational, and I plan very little beyond a core concept of the first adventure. I will usually have an idea where that first game will go, and usually have a group of enemies set aside, but I am blessed with being very quick on my feet in game and few can even tell I’m flying completely off the cuff. True story, one night my entire set of notes for the upcoming adventure were the words “Giant Vultures seem cool”.

This approach is not for everyone, and certainly not a beginner, unless you have a solid knowledge of the game world you are playing around in. I’m hardly perfect either last year I had the players fight against a werewolf as a random encounter in my Eberron Campaign only to recall midfight that the Church of the Silver Flame had long ago eradicated lycanthropes (and all other –thropes for that matter). Most of the time I do a pretty good job though!

With this approach I usually take copious notes during my games and utilize the direction the players are driving the story to set up for the next adventure so I can avoid any plot holes by omitting some info (or an NPC’s name) the next time around. The best use for this method, if you’ve a solid grasp of it, is to use it during one offs. You don’t need to worry about plot holes there!

As far as “houseruling” I would avoid actively houseruling prior to starting the game. Meaning during PC creation and the like. During the game though, don’t be afraid to break a minor rule here and there to do what makes sense to the group if you can’t immediately recall how to do something. Just make a note of the confusion and come back to it during a break or something. Lengthy rule searching can bog things down and your table might even adapt the new style of doing things after all.

Improv Game, scenes from a hat.

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I wish I’d been on the panel for this question. As mentioned above I love improv, I have a lot of experience with the theatrical improv scene on up to the collegiate level and honestly RPGs are a way I specifically scratch the itch I have to act and play an improv game. I think the creation of a game using a “Scenes from a Hat” method could be fun but it would really depend on the system and if the players are also game.

There are games that essentially do this anyway, Fiasco specifically comes to mind. You could easily draw a scene at random there and then the rest is practically random generation anyway. If you’re hell-bent on doing this with D&D recall that there are a lot of random generation tables in the DMG this time around.

What keeps a game from falling apart?

I’ve GM’d a lot, and I’d call myself a strong GM. This does not keep every game I run from falling apart though. Sometimes it just happens and you need to be prepared for it. It happened far less when I was a teenager and a college student naturally because a big part of the problem these days can simply be attributed to having to adult. You will never be able to fully stop this from happening and really you shouldn’t try. I feel people need to be honest with themselves whether they have time to game, and it is a commitment. If you feel shaky about the group just do short stories or one shots.

Beyond the unavoidable pitfalls of life keeping the player’s interest in your game mostly boils down to player investment. If even on player isn’t invested they have the capability to bring exciting moments to a dead stop and even sour the rest of the players’ excitement levels for the game. The next question seems like a good place to expound on this!

In a long Campaign how do you keep things fresh?

So how do you keep things fresh, for everyone, all the time? Well… you likely won’t but you can sure as Hell try! I really attempt to work a player’s background into the game early on and make their character’s choices from that background and in game going forward matter. It usually does the trick for some of the more story loving types, and it’s why I usually suggest at least a bit of a background (and love seeing the 3 pager backgrounds!).

There are players who are just there for the boardgame aspect of the game though and it is important to shake things up mechanically from time to time. If you run the same combat over and over (doesn’t matter if it’s against different monsters) you won’t grab these folks’ attention. Mix it up, be sure to have a fight that really showcases a certain PC’s style sometimes. You’ll catch their eye!

How do you deal with being thrown for a loop by the players?

I think you can likely surmise my method for this. It’s hard to be thrown for a loop when you go into a game expecting the players to do a lot of driving the story for you. I run into the opposite issue sometimes with newer groups that expect me to drive things exclusively so that’s something I personally need to be aware of.

Where do you start writing a campaign?

So my style doesn’t allow for pages upon pages of prepped material going into a campaign but I have gone into a new game with a minimalistic view of the story I’d like to tell. I might conceive of a big bad for example that I want to be the final showdown and then let the game organically include them. I sometimes make a bit of a plot point graph where I want certain events to occur and, as stated above, let the game pull me to them (or sometimes change them completely). I just don’t spend a lot of time on prep unless it’s an encounter, a trap, a skill challenge I want to add in, or maybe even an NPC. Even then I sometimes don’t know when those items will show up until it just feels right.

What’s one extra piece of advice for new GMs?

Take notes during the game, especially when something appears out of nowhere. Some players are really interested in continuity so if you called a last second crafted innkeeper Mac last session and described how he spit polished a glass with only 9 fingers gripping the rag you don’t want to accidently forget these facts. Some will certainly call you on it.

Most of all, have fun with it and be ready to be a bit self-deprecating. When I admitted my error with the werewolf my players started calling my campaign setting “SmEberron” (Smith’s Eberron) claiming, in a tongue and cheek manner, that I wildly detract from the setting all the time. I got a good laugh out of it as well.

Essentially Tabletop RPG’s are ultimately games. They can be very personal games and hold some powerful sway in our lives if you’re one of the die-hard fans, but if at any point you aren’t enjoying yourself, the majority of the time, take a step back and analyze why that might be. Things should be fun. As the flagship folks of The RPG Academy Network say “If you’re having fun, you’re doing it right”.

You know what, I say one more thing. Bring folks into the fold, be open to new players. The impetus to grow our gaming community lies with us for the most part. So if you’ve a gift for sharing this awesome hobby of ours, do so please!

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I can honestly say it has been a very rewarding experience for me!

Take care folks, have a blast, and feel free to hit me up with any other questions you may have!

Hope to see some of you at AcadeCon!!!

-Melvs

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The Future of WotC

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Yesterday I heard that Wizards of the Coast planned to shut down their forums, including those for Dungeons and Dragons. The cited reason was basically that other versions of Social Media were so prevalent that the forums were essentially redundant and that sites like Reddit were handling discussions of the product better than the WotC forums could. So basically, “Why are we paying all these costs associated with running the forums when people can just chatter about our stuff elsewhere?” Does that seem like a cold reason to shut down a place that’s been around since the early 2000’s? A little bit, but given the current course of the most popular Tabletop RPG out there I really don’t find it surprising.

Everything about the Dungeons and Dragons brand of late has been a consideration for the almighty dollar and less about anything resembling community involvement. Oh, Mike Mearls gets out there and does an “Ask Me Anything” once in a while but that’s about it. The level of desired feedback from us that we saw in the “Pre-5e” days is simply gone for the time being, and I don’t know if I blame them completely. The hard truth is that this model appears to be working for them. By all reports they are selling well.

Currently we see a model that slims down the internal content creation and farms out the bulk of it out to 3rd party groups like Kobold Press (Tyranny of Dragons) and Sasquatch Game Studio (Princes of the Apocalypse) for its product line post the core three books. In such an environment the removal of the costs associated with running forums on the site is hardly surprising. Unless you are a handpicked content creator, your voice is only mildly important to them. Keep in mind I speak in generalizations when I say this. I refer to the company as a whole, not individuals who may actually care a ton.

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Comic on loan from Steven Joy’s site “From the Whiteboard” http://www.fromthewhiteboard.com

 

The problem is this. Wizards seems to be Hell bent on being a company that simply sells a product, with no real community involvement on their part within a hobby that really thrives on community involvement. When you consider the fact that, with very little exception (the fact that I and other bloggers receive review copies), their entire advertising model depends on word of mouth from their own customer base retreating into a shell is frankly a dangerous long-term proposal. How do they plan to bring new people into the fold? Currently they rely on us to do so, there is no push for new players on their end, the impetus to create players and DM’s lies solely with people who already play the game.

Granted there is the Adventure League, that’s a bit of an advertisement where game shops are tasked with selling the idea to their customers to play D&D. Of course that’s like advertising a new fish in a fish market, everyone’s already there for fish, it’s not going to endear the beef lovers because they aren’t at the fish market that day… or any day.

The bottom line is that Dungeons and Dragons is a community driven product, it always has been and I can’t see a day where it won’t be. Sadly Wizards just doesn’t seem to know how to manage a community driven product line, or they don’t want to and they are content to see how long they can survive by being “the one and only D&D”.  Other RPG companies don’t get to do that, they have to actually endear players to them because they aren’t riding the coattails of being the first in the business. Only time will tell if Wizards can survive on its printed content alone. I mean, thus far 5e stuff has been excellent.

I doubt there will be any further push by WotC to foster more community development, they didn’t even have a booth at Gen Con there’s a ton of hubris there. Maybe I’m wrong and Wizards will do just fine becoming a printing press for its content, and maybe it will survive perfectly well relying on us to spread the word. I mean, look at me. I run Dungeons and Dragons for kids at the library despite receiving nothing in return for it beyond the satisfaction of spreading my love for the game. Maybe I’m the schmuck? Maybe the folks at WotC are nodding their heads sagely at each other saying “another one of our minions has brought in more sires!”. Good lord…maybe D&D is a cult…

I'M SO SORRY KIDS! ;P

I’M SO SORRY KIDS! ;P

-Melvs

P.S. If forum users are looking for a new place to hang out EN World has extended an invitation.

CONTEST! From Me to You on my Birthday

Hey all, it’s my birthday! I turned 30 today and I’ve got gifts on the brain, but not for me, for you! Not only that but this is my 100th post! I’ve been wanting to hold a contest for a while now and figured today would be the best day to roll it out. So with out further adieu I present:

Melvin Smif’s Pitch Me a Game 

(Just imagine I put some picture of me throwing a 20 sider to a baseball catcher or something. I…I really didn’t feel like doing that.)

RPG Academy Logo

So I’m very excited for AcadeCon, and the Kickstarter, as you may recall from my most recent post. I plan to run a number of games while I’m there and have some great ideas for all of them but I’m willing to bet some of you might have some better ones so I’m going to ask you to pitch me your best concept for a Savage Worlds: Deadlands and/or 5th Edition D&D (bonus points if you use the Eberron setting!).

The pitch can be as brief or as lengthy as you wish it to be (though I’ll admit the more creative you get the more I’ll likely dig it) and I’m going to pick two winners. One for the best Deadlands pitch and one for the best 5th Edition pitch. The winners will be receiving some source books.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen

The winner for the best 5th Edition D&D pitch will receive a copy of the adventure Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

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The winner for the best Savage Worlds Deadlands pitch will receive a copy of the Savage Worlds Explorer’s Edition signed and personalized for them by Shane Hensley himself!

If I really like the pitches I’ll probably write those adventures up and they may feature at AcadeCon with your names mentioned as Co-Authors of course. After you win you are welcome to continue helping me polish your games if you can;t make it to AcadeCon, or if you can I will run the game for you. After AcadeCon I will feature the adventures on the site.So here’s how you enter. Send an email to melsmifcontest@gmail.com. In the subject line give me “YOUR NAME – ADVENTURE NAME/CONCEPT – SYSTEM” after that it’s all you, give me a sentence, paragraph, word doc, etc. put as much into it as you want! Like I said above, more effort will earn the best chances but hey, who knows you may line up the best couple of words I’ve ever seen so don’t let that discourage you ;)!

Contest will run for two weeks and I’ll have the winners within another two weeks tops!

Feel free to ask questions below or even share your ideas. Good luck folks!

-Melvs

Playing it Forward

When I was just starting Junior High I was on the cusp of truly beginning my path into tabletop gaming. I had already been introduced, thanks to my good buddy Nick, to Dungeons and Dragons. We barely knew how to actually play that game though and it wasn’t until a few years later that we’d really get into it. However, we had also discovered Magic the Gathering, and the barrier to entry for the trading card game was quite a bit lower. Assuming you had a place to play, and people to play with.

This Logo meant a lot to me in my younger days.

This Logo meant a lot to me in my younger days.

Our town didn’t have a game shop. I had to beg my parents to drive me to one that was roughly 30 mins away, and it would only be to buy things I could certainly never expect them to wait around while I played with other kids. I mean, my mother had lived through the days when games like D&D and Magic the Gathering were considered anti-christian so she had reservations about the whole business anyway (To her credit, she and I had a long conversation about it and she opted to trust my judgment over simply putting the kibosh on it). Needless to say, finding a place to play Magic the Gathering was tough. Enter Mr. Reeb. He was an art teacher at my Junior High School who, to my knowledge, knew nothing about Magic the Gathering beyond that it was a card game a few of us enjoyed, but he was willing to sacrifice his time every Thursday after school to let us play. Due to his volunteering spirit we had a much larger pool of fellow players, and it was during this time I really got to meet a larger swathe of kids who loved the same games I did. Of the many moments that led to me really loving tabletop games, Mr. Reeb’s MtG Thursdays can easily vie for top spot. It made for some really good times, I even got to know my first true Dungeon Master at those games (Shout out to Mike “The Meatfist” Bortz!).

I’m well over a decade removed from those days but the memories have obviously held a little permanency within me so last year I started thinking of a way I could “Pay Forward” the good deed done unto me by Mr. Reeb, even though he may not even know what it meant to me (Looking forward to Thursdays helped me get over much of the drudgery associated with Junior High). It’s obvious I hold a candle for this type of gaming, and how it’s helped me over the years, so when I looked into doing something for the youth of my city I knew it would involve tabletop gaming of some sort, I just didn’t know what it would be. So I made a move to do so, and it has been really succesful thus far. I’ve mentioned it a bit on the blog but didn’t want to come across braggadocious, or make it look like I wanted some claps on the back, so I’ve largely held what I’ve done close to the chest. Recently though I had a friend tell me that I should talk about it, not to garner praise (as I’m not interested in touting myself) but just in case it inspires others to try what I’ve done and my experiences starting the program could help them do so. So, let me tell you how I’ve been going about “Playing it Forward”!

I should probably apologize for this…:P

I should probably apologize for this…:P

Last year I reached out to my local library with an idea to start a club that met either once monthly or bi-monthly to create a safe place where kids could come and play games. Not that game shops are unsafe mind you, but I recall being intimidated by the adults who played there when i was younger and felt other kids may feel the same. It was as simple as that, I imagined they could come and play trading card games, use my board games or bring their own, or use my various roleplaying books to learn and play Tabletop RPG. I heard back a bit later from the Teen Outreach leader, Maggie, who told me that my timing was impeccable. It just so happened that in a month

Last year's Panel

Last year’s Panel

or two they would be holding their 1st (hopefully annual) Teen Fandom Convention. It was her idea, and you have seen me write about this, for me to come and do a panel on tabletop gaming. This way we could see what sort of interest was out there. The panel was a hit, as was the con actually, and we started making plans to start the club I’d initially envisioned.

 

Neither Maggie or I were sure what to expect initially. In fact Maggie, despite displaying a strong nerdy slant herself, had never dabbled too much into tabletop gaming beyond some board games. So this was mostly an experiment. Day one arrived and I only had a few signed up, I didn’t know what they wanted to play so I brought most everything I owned. That was the day I first met PhandelverKaleab and Kya, two kids who would become the backbone of the group. I pitched everything I had brought to the group just to see what they would be interested in and it was soon apparent they wanted to try out Dungeons and Dragons, they’d heard the name before but knew nothing about it. I was ecstatic, I love D&D obviously and they wanted to play. Honestly I was thankful for the small group because it meant I could just open the 5th Edition Starter Set, containing the adventure “The Lost Mine of Phandelver”, and get right down to business. To my great joy they were smitten.

For the next year I continued to run the adventure, the kids battled the goblins who’d been marauding along the road, they removed the scourge of the Red Cloak gang in the town of Phandalin, and they even gathered information from the likes of Banshees and Necromancers to help find their missing dwarven friend. Kya and Kaleab were always there, and there were occasionally a few other kids who would show. A girl named Deva had become a regular by December as well. For Christmas I got three sets of dice for my three regulars, I wanted to buy them all Player’s Handbooks but it just wasn’t something I could afford to do. However, gifted dice are always the best dice as I’ve been told.

During the last year my little group inspired another branch to open their doors to gamers, this time specifically with tabletop roleplaying in mind, and not limited to teens. I attended the first session just to say hi to some fellow gamers I’d never met and I left it at that and simply advised a bit through email with the library employee in charge of that one, Melissa.  soon it became apparent that there was more interest than there were Game Masters so Melissa asked me if I’d come be a GM for a session or two. Months later, I’m still sitting in! To my delight I found out that Kya and Kaleab were some of the new attendees that drove up the numbers. Add to that some adults named Gary and Bill would become regulars as well. We are now four sessions into a story I came up with on my own and Kaleab has even told me he likes my adventure more than Lost Mine (sorry Wizards of the Coast ;P!).

Last month Kaleab, Kya, and Deva lost their PCs in The Lost Mine of Phandelver to a TPK (Total Party Kill). I didn’t want it to happen any more than they did, but sometimes the dice fall where they fall. I did let them know that this wasn’t all bad though, it just meant we got to make new characters and start a brand new adventure! Trouble is, they wanted to make their own this time and with only two hours a month to play I knew it might take a while to make three characters, with three newish players, using one Player’s Handbook. So I did what any social media addict would do, I put my lament on Twitter. I received a lot of good advice, most of which I already knew, regarding the free rules out there that WotC was kind enough to give us but I knew that wasn’t enough. They’d had a taste of the full spectrum of options and the characters they wanted to play were simply not available in the free set of rules. Out of nowhere I was sent a Direct Message from my friend Jerry Behrendt (@Dungeonleft), he dismissed all pleasantries and simply said “what’s your address, I’m buying and mailing you a Player’s Handbook”. I was floored by his kind offer and quickly took him up on it. I gave him praise on Twitter and, not to be outdone, @TheAngryGM himself, Scott Rehm, immediately asked if he could also supply a book. I was once again touched by the generosity of our community. I realized that though I couldn’t afford to buy three books I could certainly afford one so I bought the remaining PHB and completed the set.

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I received the books in the mail. The Angry GM even supplied three sets of dice, mirroring my own belief that gifted dice are special things. Inside the cover of Scott’s book he’d even written a very un-Angry message to the kids, though don’t spread that around too much, the man does have a reputation to uphold.

I was all set to present the books to the kids yesterday. I was honestly giddy about it and, admittedly, a bit misty eyed (I’m a big softy). Turns out though, I didn’t just have my three regulars, I had in attendance for the first time EIGHT KIDS! Turns out when school lets out kids and their parents tend to look for things to do, I hadn’t even considered I’d see an uptick like this. I was… well, I was a bit unprepared. I didn’t have time to generate pre-mades, or even use the ones already out there, plus I didn’t even know what game(s) they would want to play. There came a moment when all eight pairs of eyes were on me that I actually got a bit nervous, a rare thing for this ex Theater guy, what kind of games were they expecting from me? Once again, like I had roughly a year ago, I’d brought everything. Board games, all my RPGs, even some card protectors in case there were some trading card lovers in attendance. I knew Kaleab and Kya still wanted to play D&D (Deva couldn’t make it), and we’d picked up another player from Saturday named Aaron but I wanted to let the other kids know that they could play whatever they wanted. Well, one kid saw Kya’s character sheet and asked what they were getting ready to play. I told him about D&D, his eyes lit and he simply said “I want to play that!” Just like that I had eight kids, four PHBs and a lot of explaining to do.

Hard at work crafting legends.

The kids are hard at work crafting legends.

Mostly I’m going to just finish up the kids’ characters for them, with the exception of a few who know a bit more about what they are doing, and we are going to play next month. I’ve toyed with the idea of bringing Topher along with me so we run two games, he’s expressed plenty of interest in helping, but figure I’d see if the new kids stick around first. I’ll also have the added benefit of seeing most of them next Saturday at the 2nd annual Teen Fandom Con, hopefully it helps keep their interest sparked!

So glad to see year #2!

So glad to see year #2!

I want this to grow, I’d love to see it grow. One day I’d love to see a huge group of kids playing games, and even see the older kids running games for the new batches coming in. As much as I adore running the games myself the next step is seeing it all become self-sufficient. If that means I become more like my inspiration, Mr. Reeb, where I simply hang back to act as a mentor and overseer of the whole deal I am more than willing to step away from the actual table. I’ll never forget the early days running games for just Kaleab and Kya though, or the generosity of those first two donated books (I’ll get mine to Deva eventually I hope, or it may find itself in the hands of another young recruit). If I can help even one kid have something cool to look forward to the first Thursday of every month that helps them forget some of the struggles they face, I feel like I’ve done enough. Plus, my favorite hobby gets to grow, and I love that!

For those wondering this is Kaleab and Kya with their new books! Sadly Deva didn't make it but I still have hers.

For those wondering this is Kaleab and Kya with their new books! Sadly Deva didn’t make it but I still have hers.

Good gaming to you all – Melvs

P.S. If you have any desire to mirror in your community what I’m doing here and think I could help you do that in some way, please let me know. I will help in any way I can!

Gaming in 2015

I’ve made no secret that ever since I joined Twitter in March of 2012 I’ve entered into my own kind of gaming renaissance.  2013 was a year for growing my knowledge of new Tabletop RPGs and board games I’d never played.  Then finally this last year was one for growing my professional association with the hobby I love, utilizing this blog, my many connections through Twitter, and even a bit of Google+.  Of course, beyond all that, every year has been one of making new connections and, more importantly, friends.  So let’s just say I’m very excited to see where 2015 takes me, the industry, and my good buddies.  Let’s see what’s planned in the new year!

FOR THE INDUSTRY

By far the biggest story of last year was the release of the 5th Edition rule-set for Dungeons and Dragons and I am certainly looking to the future for what they have planned.  As of right now we know that Wizards of the Coast (WotC) plans to release two items in early 2015, currently March 17.  There will be the Elemental Evil Adventurer’s Handbook and it will be herald of another large adventure series called Princes of the Apocalypse.  At this time I’m not seeing a second adventure following PotA the way they handled Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat but perhaps it just hasn’t been announced yet.

What we know is that WotC has once again teamed with an outside company to craft both the handbook and the adventure.  This time they will be utilizing Sasquatch Game Studio LLC.  They are relatively new on the scene, having launched a successful Kickstarter back in the beginning of August for their Campaign Setting Primeval Thule, but the company houses industry veterans Richard Baker, Stephen Schubert, and David Noonan (I’d also be remiss if I failed to mention that my friend Scott, the Angry DM, helped out on Primeval Thule so I’m hoping to see his name in the credits once more).  I had the pleasure of speaking with the folks behind the studio at Gen Con last year and walked away impressed by not just them but their product.  I’m currently awaiting the 4th Edition version of their Primeveal Thule setting but considering their current partnership they might be busy.

Dungeons and Dragons may be the big dog in the room but there are certainly other companies and games I’m keeping an eye on.  One of the releases you may recall me being excited for is Iron Kingdoms Unleashed from Privateer Press.  I wrote about the Press Panel I attended at Gencon for the product and I’m hoping to get my review copy any day now.  I’m all geared up to read about this interesting foray into Role-playing.  It seemingly promises to be very different from most games I’m used to.  If you’re a fan of Pinnacle Entertainment Group’s Savage Worlds system, and especially their Deadlands setting, keep an eye on their news feed as just a few days ago they announced that the long awaited third Deadlands plot point is soon to be launched called Stone and a Hard Place.  Monte Cook Games had a strong 2014, winning numerous Eenies for their RPG Numenera and I expect to see some great things in 2015.  Also, we can be certain Paizo will continue to put out quality items, I’ve just never paid much attention to them.  Maybe I’ll try better for 2015.

One last bit of industry I’m wildly interested in, that doesn’t have a firm future, is Trapdoor Technologies and their amazing product Codename: Morningstar.  Sadly their Kickstarter doesn’t look promising at just about 18% of their fund amount with only three days left.  Obviously I’d like to see them fund, and their is still time if anyone wishes to go support this product I yearn for, but I have to admit I’m not hopeful at this point.  I’m still hopeful we’ll see something from them though, they have a vision for the future of how we game that I certainly support and, despite what some say, is nowhere right now.  I’ll continue to keep in contact with them even if their Kickstarter fails to fund and will continue to support them in any way I can going forward.  They are good people and I think they have something special to share with us.

MY PERSONAL HOPES FOR 2015

Obviously I plan to try and grow my impact with this blog, and possibly through some other channels.  I am upping my Con attendance, having been invited to a few in a press capacity.  Currently I plan to attend Origins in June and certainly Gen Con in August but there may be more in the future, I’ll let you know.

One of the things I was most proud of in 2014 was dipping my toe into mixing volunteerism with my love of gaming. It started with running a panel at the local Teen Fandom Con on tabletop gaming then culminated with running a game once a month for teens interested in learning the hobby.  I fully intend to continue running my once a month game, as the kids and I are loving it, and am hoping to bridge this into something more eventually!  What I would love to do is see if there is a way to partner with some volunteer groups that deal with either at risk kids or individuals with illness that may like to escape for a while into a world of fantasy.  Another idea is to run games for charity where people donate to be a part of the game.  These are bigger picture ideas though and I may not get to them in 2015, but I may start laying the groundwork!

Another little concept of mine is to perhaps do either a bit of Vlogging or finally start up that Podcast my buddy Topher and I always talk about doing.  If I don’t start my own podcast I at least hope to take a little time to visit with my good friends at Gamerstable across the state line and do a little guest work, if they’ll have me.  I’d love to see the Vagabond Gamers G+ group we have grow some, great group of gamers there if you want to meet with some online folk!  Who knows, maybe I’ll do some sort of collaborative work with Toby Gee over at Roll and Groove, he’s family so he might be honor bound to accept any proposal I through at him anyway.

I plan to get fit!  Maybe I’ll bring back a bit of geeky exercise information, like when I wrote a piece on my mental/physical prep work done to get ready for the Marathon I ran.  I know a few people who use apps to play out scenarios while they run.  I should probably check those out, maybe I’ll review a few for you all.

If nothing else, I hope my year is full over gaming. Hope yours is too!  Let me know what you have planned below if you so wish!

-Melvs

P.S. Keep in mind 2015 is the year they visit in Back to the Future II so you can expect all of that stuff too.

Like... Jaws 19

Like… Jaws 19

Teen Tabletop Gaming

You may recall that I attended a local con, the Teen Fandom Con, as a panel speaker on tabletop RPGs.  If you don’t recall, here’s the post.  At Teen Fandom Con a number of the panel attendees expressed interest in another chance

Teen Fandom Con Flyerto look at some of the RPGs I’d brought along and it got me thinking of the reason I’d been invited in the first place.  I had reached out to the library months before inquiring whether I could set up a monthly Game Night where, ideally, those who didn’t have a place to game, or had never experienced Tabletop Gaming, could come and play\check things out.  So I decided to speak with the Teen Outreach representative to see what we could set up.

The end result is not originally what I had in mind, since I had no idea what to expect with all this.  I think it is better though.  Now I’m focusing solely on Teen Outreach with Tabletop RPGs rather than just anyone who wants to walk in.   I think if I can reach anyone to teach them this style of gaming I love, I love that it’s kids.  It’s when I was first introduced to the game and it has certainly stuck with me.

Yesterday marked the second night I’ve put this on.  So far I only have two kids that are repeat attenders (apologies for that play on words) but they seem eager to play and have expressed a lot of interest in returning.  I’ve been having a lot of fun running the D&D 5th Edition Starter Set’s adventure “The Lost Mine of Phandelver” for them.  Hell, they’ve actually made it to the town of Phandalin, which is more than I can say for any of the other groups I’ve run it for.

They are a brother and sister and for two kids who have never played any kind of Tabletop RPG they’ve picked up on things quickly.  Their play style has been cautious, as there are only two of them, and it has been paying off.  One of my favorite moments from last night’s game was when they snuck up on the big Bugbear leader in the first cave and the sister let loose some Burning Hands, more than halving his hit points, only to have the brother stroll in and clobber him across the head with his warhammer.  The Bugbear never even got to swing his Morningstar.

Another cool tidbit was their decision to bring the few goblins they left alive and their Bugbear leader back to town with them as prisoners.  This netted them some reward money that wasn’t strictly written into the adventure but I thought was well deserved for thinking to bring these brigands in for a “fair” trial.  I do think I’ll allow the punishment to the goblinoids to be dolled out off screen though.

Even if I’m only an advocate for the game to them I’ll mark it as a win.  Two more brought into the fold.  Though, of course, I’m hoping for more.  If nothing else this may serve as a challenge to you all out there.  Perhaps their’s a library near you that might let you do something similar!  Give it a thought, teaching others about this game we love can be very rewarding.  I speak from experience!

-Melvs

After the Con: Teen Fandom Con 2014

So I survived my first time being involved with a con rather than just attending. I have to say the experience was incredible, and more than a little humbling. I remarked about this on Twitter but I’ll easily reiterate that any adults out there who feel they have a strong passion for their favorite hobby or fandom have forgotten the fervor teenagers can have for theirs. If nothing else, it was a shot of reality about how pervasive the enjoyment of geek culture has really soaked into our youth. It was incredibly fun seeing the kids immersing themselves into their favorite things and standing side by side with others and their fandoms to experience those as well. All of this fun was had with zero judgment.

The first thing I noticed upon arriving for set up was that our venue was much larger than I expected. Honestly, my expectations for this entire thing were on the small side. I had never been to this particular library branch but the sister branch in my area, though not tiny, isn’t what I would call spacious for a con. Well, turns out that they have a large space at the Spencer Branch off of the actual library with large meeting facilities. So my fear of “where are we going to house the over 250 pre-registrants” was unwarranted. I was shown to my booth in the exhibit hall and was then shown my Panel Room.

The Welcome panel filling up!

In hindsight, asking for a booth in the exhibit hall was something of a misstep on my part. I didn’t fully grasp what that hall would be, again an underestimate on my part…I had this issue a lot. It was a true blue Vendor Hall, and there wasn’t a shortage of Vendors either. I had nothing to sell and my intention was to just be available for anyone to continue conversation on a one on one basis after my Panel ended. This worked out great, mind you, but it also caused a little confusion for some as they assumed all my awesome RPG stuff was for sale and I had to keep clarifying that it wasn’t. I felt bad that I kept disappointing folks.

My Panel Room.  Kevin Smith's Introduction to RPGs

My Panel Room. Kevin Smith’s Introduction to RPGs

My panel was pretty awesome. Unfortunately, it was housed in one of the smallest conference rooms but at first I didn’t consider this an issue because I had this nagging feeling that not a single kid would show. Because I felt like my panel would utterly fail, I was actually kind of happy to be hidden away in the smallest room. I was wrong (thankfully) I ended up not only having a full room, but they even had to bring in more seating! I think it was at this point I decided to stop inwardly second guessing myself and just go full fledged into enjoying whatever came my way here.  

Before the attendees' arrival. I thought it would stay this empty

Before the attendees’ arrival. I thought it would stay this empty

The room, though small, ended up being pretty close to the perfect size. I started out just explaining what Tabletop RPGs are, using my typical comparison of a board game mixed with acting and cooperative storytelling. After that I realized pretty quick that everyone just wanted to sort of dive in so I let them all know they could page through the books at their leisure and I walked around answering questions about different systems and got a little more in depth about certain rules and even the different tools certain games utilize to work. They found it pretty cool that the game Dread, for instance, uses a Jenga tower rather than dice. The whole thing was far less formal than the larger panels I’ve attended at cons in the past but let’s be honest, these teens didn’t really want to just sit there and listen to me talk. They wanted to pal around with their buddies while checking out this “RPG stuff” to see if it was any fun.

As the room was filling up!

As the room was filling up!

My panel was first thing in the morning so I then headed to my booth where I fielded more questions from some of the kids who followed me out there and even met with some kids who didn’t get the chance to make it to the panel but still wanted to chat with me. I had a lot of fun sitting there, and it gave me a good chance to look around at some of the other vendors & con guests as well. I can say with certainty that roughly 70% or more of the attendees were there for Anime. I’m an anime fan as well, I certainly enjoyed my fair share of it growing up and still do to an extent but I do not recall knowing a ton of other kids liking it all that much growing up. Another strong showing were the many Dr. Who fans. That show has a serious following among our youth. It’s actually kind of crazy how many Cosplay Doctors were there! Honestly, the many many cosplayers at this con were awesome.

Cosplayers and Vendors

Cosplayers and Vendors

I ended up leaving around midafternoon as the kids interested in my shtick had waned away and, like I had mentioned, my booth was confusing to some since I had nothing to sell. Some of my more unique experiences include meeting one of the co-creators of Geekway to the West, who’s name I either failed to get or (to my shame) forgot, and meeting Mike Wilkerson of 2 Guys Talking, a local Podcasting network. There’s a lot of great Podcasts on his site, you should check them out. By far though the best thing about the con was interacting with some really great kids and hopefully introducing them to this hobby I enjoy so much.  Allthough, I know at least one girl knew about D&D, she was excited to let me know that her grandfather loves the game ha ha! Who knows maybe they’ll give it a try some day. I already have some ideas for how I’ll handle next year, were I to be asked to return (here’s hoping)!

Lastly before I leave this post to rest I have to thank the event’s coordinator and creator Maggie Melson. Thank you Maggie for giving me a chance to do something as unique as this, it was honestly a blast!  If anyone wants to check out the Twitter feed from the con the hastage was #TeenFanCon.  There are a bunch of cool pics people took there too! If anyone has any comments or suggestions for what I could bring to the table next year feel free to hit me up below!

Teen Fandom Con – June 14, 2014

I’ve remarked a bit on this upcoming convention on Twitter, but only in passing.  So I’ve decided to give a more detailed update on this exciting opportunity that has come my way.  Not to mention some of the things it has taught me about how great many of the business’ associated with Tabletop Roleplaying Games can be.

Not long ago I was contacted by the head of the Teen Outreach Committee for the St. Charles City/County Library District at the Spencer Road location regarding the County Library’s first ever Teen Fandom Convention.  She wanted to know if I would be interested in manning a panel on Tabletop Roleplaying Games, and to a lesser extent boardgames.  Of course I jumped at the chance and even offered to stick around for the entire day to run a booth of sorts where I will be on hand to answer any further questions anyone had.

The Teen Fandom Con will focus on a myriad of hobbies and pop culture items that creates popular fandoms within our community, specifically geared toward the teen age-group.  It started out just being an anime con, as that seems to be a strong interest in today’s youth.  Heck, I was a fan myself growing up and still am to an extent.  Never saw the popularity it seems to enjoy these days though, although we had to search a bit harder back in my day and…(right about now the rocking chair starts to creak so I’ll just move on).  Now, along side my particular interests, the con will focus on things like Anime, Cosplay, Comics, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Dr. Who etc.  Sounds like an neat little event, almost like a Comic-Con on a smaller scale.

As a self proclaimed ambassador for Tabletop RPG’s (If anyone else wants to call me that, maybe I’ll put your quote on a business card or something :P) this is just the type of thing that excites me.  Introducing new blood to our club of pen and paper gamers is something I’ve always enjoyed, and here is a chance to do it on a bit of a Macro scale.  I’ll run my panel for an hour, answering questions people might have, and then I intend to camp out at my booth with most, if not all, of my library of RPG systems for people to peruse.  I’ll also be on hand to answer more questions or even show people how to play the various systems if they have interest.

At some point during my prep for this I decided to try my luck and reach out to some of the gaming companies for the various systems I owned and let them know what I was doing.  I wanted them to know about it and to give them the chance to get involved if they wanted to and offer up a bit of SWAG to hand over to those who develop and interest in their system.  The response has been better than I even expected.

When I reached out, I wanted to be careful I didn’t oversell the Con.  Last I saw we were likely to get well over a hundred folks to pre-register.  Not a small number to us, as it will be the first of it’s kind, but ultimately not the thousands these companies usually see at conventions.  That didn’t seem to matter though, I’ve gotten all sorts of great responses from companies like Privateer Press (Iron Kingdoms), Pinnacle Entertainment Group (Savage Worlds), Monte Cook Games (Numenera), and Pelgrane Press Ltd (13th Age).  I’d also be remiss if I failed to mention some great responses from a few Friendly Local Gaming Shops.  In the end it has been great just getting the time of day from some of the creators of these fine games I enjoy.  If I get my hands on some stuff to help promote their products to some potential fresh faces, it can only help to encourage more interest!

I know that most of my readership hails from Twitter, and thus very few of you are local enough to help spread the word of this con, but I’ll be posting this blog post’s address to my Facebook page to hopefully get some local folks interested as well.  So if you’re in the St. Charles County Missouri area, or one of it’s surrounding counties, and want to help out a bit I’ll have the flyer attached and you can put it up somewhere if you’d like.  Here’s the link to the preregistration page as well.

Email me if you'd like it as a .pdf

Email me if you’d like it as a .pdf

I can only hope that this brings further opportunities for me to advocate for this hobby I love.  Not to mention I can only hope this event is a rousing success so it can be embellished on in the coming years to be even bigger!  One day I hope to branch my enjoyment of gaming into charity work as well, but that is a topic for another time.  Of course, feel free to ask me about it and I’ll chat your ear off.  Thanks for reading folks!