Gen Con 2016

Just like that the thunderous rolling of thousands of dice has finally ceased as the 49th Gen Con has come to a close. Once again I had the privilege of attending, and once again I more than enjoyed myself as I dabbled in old traditions and fresh wonders. Every year has its reasons to be memorable, and maybe it’s simply because I am fresh from attending but this one feels like it may go down as one of the best ever, well… for me at least. I’ll try to unpack everything as best I can but to be honest, with so much having occurred, I’m certain to leave a few things out.

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WEDNESDAY

Once again I had the pleasure of hooking up with the gang from the Gamerstable Podcast (whom I understand will be ending their podcast run in roughly 20 episodes WHAT!?) for some shared driving, room, and board. After a lengthy goodbye to my wife and two lovely kids (I missed them terribly all con), I made the trek to Illinois for the carpool. We left mid-morning and made Indianapolis in good time and the first thing we noticed was dear sweet Drowzee was Indy a hotbed for Pokestops and ‘mons! After a quick check in at the Sheraton we were off to The Ram!

The Ram has become the go to watering hole for the yearly Gamerstable meetup, and historically I’ve always had something else to do that night. This year I was free and clear to join the festivities though and I’m certainly glad to have done so. Getting the chance to catch up with the guys and gals of Gamerstable was a highlight for me the entire convention. I live within and hour or two of most of them but typically during the year life gets in the way of spending all that much together. I spent the night meeting up with old friends and made a number of new ones. Highlights include having the entire Of Dreams and Magic (ODAM) team come by to pay a visit, meeting Pete Petrusha in person finally, and Toju…TOJU my awesome buddy, and fellow Vagabond Gamer, from Australia that I finally met in person as well!

The Ram was highlighting the new EATdition from Privateer Press this year! ;P

The Ram was highlighting the new EATdition from Privateer Press this year! ;P

The Ram was an awesome hangout spot but that was the only place I needed to stop by Wednesday night. So I took a leisurely walk down to the Union Station Ballroom to catch up with Michael Ross from The RPG Academy. It felt like I was walking into a pocket plane wherein AcadeCon lay within Gen Con. I happened to walk into numerous games already in progress and, not seeing an opening anytime soon, I made due with some brief “nice to see-yas” and made my way back to The Ram to finish the night. I had kind of ditched the ODAM team anyway, so I wanted to get back and resume chatting with them, and others.

The night ended with a glance at the Will Call line and a hearty “Hell no I ain’t standing in that!”. I made my way back to the hotel and collapsed, ready to awaken in like 4-5 more hours to jump in the Press line!

THURSDAY

Thursday morning came real early for me. I woke at 5 a.m. and quietly stole from my hotel room into the dark morning. This year someone made the decision to limit press access to the con floor to just the first 90 press badge holders to jump in line that morning at the press room and I wanted that early access. As I was walking to the line I noticed there was an absence of a line for Will Call so I walked up and got my tickets in less than five mins (looks like skipping it the night before was the right call). I was fortunate to get in line as the number 29th line guy and Michael Ross was number 27! He willingly slid back a spot in line so we could chat about our excitement for the convention. The press line is always a fun time, I get to see a lot of familiar faces. Later on a few other buddies showed up further down the line so Michael and I had some fun tweeting back and forth with Rohit from Gamersplane and Bryce. Bryce made a crack about my beardless face & it hurt me deeply.

Press Badge in hand I realized I left my camera back at the room (I’m really good at this “reporting thing”) so I hoofed it back to the hotel. The trip back and forth from the hotel clocked in at .6 of a mile one way. Perfect distance in my opinion, just far enough away to dissuade me from spending too much time there but close enough for a walk.

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The early access line(s)

After grabbing my camera I made it back to the early access line just in time to discover the snafu that had occurred regarding it. Two lines had formed, I had no way of discerning which was the “true line” so I made the call to just sit near a wall outlet and charge my phone figuring I’d get in early no matter what line I was in. This marks the only time at the convention I ever noticed people actually seeming frustrated enough to cast aspersions on others. I totally got it too, see most of the early access folks were VIG’s (Very Important Gamers), they had paid good money for the privilege of early access and they wanted to ensure they got to the booths they were interested in in order to buy the games they feared were limited. So this two line business meant that effectively many were cutting in front of others. I wanted no part in that, had no interest in buying things right away anyhow.

As and aside, and I’ve struggled with whether or not to even bring this up, I feel Gen Con has an issue with the various access levels that they give Press. Now, being a member of the press pool at Gen Con it may seem like I’m complaining from a bit of a “first world standing” but hear me out. Right now the best access the press has to those on the exhibit room floor is the one hour early access on day one of the Con. We are given the same one hour that the VIG’s and various other specialty groups are given, and this year only 90 of us were even given that. The VIG’s are there to shop, they are going to storm the doors and fill up lines and time with the biggest names out there the second they get through those doors. While I have no qualms talking with some of the smaller groups out there, this is an impediment to our ability to catch some of the bigger fish ad hoc. We are certainly capable of setting up our own interview times, mine you, but it just feels like we should have a bit more access. In my opinion Press should be allowed in an hour early or an hour later on some other day. Give the VIG’s their initial day and let press have a day all their own. Maybe even one hour early on Sunday. Right now, other than the novelty (though I really love and appreciate that novelty!), there isn’t a lot of reason for press to be in there with the horde of VIG’s.

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So lovely

Moving on. That first hour on the floor was nice, if not particularly useful. I got to take in the sights without the crush of people you usually run into. I also noticed immediately that the fine folks of Gen Con made huge efforts to lower the crowds with a large increase in exhibit hall space! Later on in the con weekend I noticed the extra space made for a much more open exhibit floor.  I did get to speak with the creators of one particularly interesting game I’d never seen before. Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok has actually been around in some way since 1993 but it’s most current edition originates in 2005 and now has a second edition that came out in 2012. The books are gorgeous and the mechanics rely on the pulling of runes rather than die rolls, this style is called the “Runic Game System” or RGS. Looks like they were there repping their new book FotN:Ragnarok: Denizens of the North on top of their older, core books. Man these books looked very cool and I wish I’d been able to lay down cash right then and there!

The early access hour evaporated very quickly and after watching the hordes descend onto the con floor I grabbed some lunch, headed back to the hotel to chill for a bit, and then grabbed my Orc Stomp 5k packet! I’m always excited about the 5k, despite some thinking I’m nuts for even doing it. It’s fun just chatting with others getting ready for it too, so packet pickup is a nice easy going experience. After that I hit the exhibit hall floor for just a little longer and then it was back to the hotel yet again to get myself all dressed up for the annual Gamerstable Award Dinner at St. Elmos Steakhouse.

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Eric presenting Monte Cook the coveted Gamerstable Award

This year’s award recipient was Monte Cook, and his plus one was none other than Shanna Germain. I am consistently impressed by the ability Eric Austley has to draw in big names for this award, his recipients all deserve the accolades too. Monte and Shanna were excellent dinner table companions, despite the fact Monte convinced Shanna and I to try a Sichuan Button.  Don’t get me wrong, I like trying new things but… let’s just say it was not for me, not big into “electrocuting” my tongue. There were numerous folks I enjoyed chatting with in attendance as well. I got to meet Chris Hussey, in fact I sat next to him having a pleasurable conversation for about an hour before I finally realized who he was! I was able to catch up with my buddy Scott, The Angry GM. Running back into Michael Ross & Pete Petrusha was great too. Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this was the prime spot to run into Eric (and of course most of the Gamerstable crew; Shannon, Jayson, Mike, Dan, etc.) who was apparently super busy all con because he disappeared like a ghost after that night!

In the afterglow of the dinner I offered to run a pickup game of Savage Worlds: Sundered Skies for a group of us in attendance and I had a blast doing so. I witnessed a new friend of mine, Jason Butz, roll up one of the biggest exploding die continuations ever. His sorcerer meant to just freeze a railing in order to bust it and the grappling hooks attached to it but ended up freezing the entire side of the ship! They lost the cannons on that side of the airship but the pirates who were after them lost 3/4 of the men attempting to board. It was crazy!

Realizing it was midnight and Shannon and I both had to be up at 5 a.m. to run a 5k we called it a night.

FRIDAY

A mere 4-5 hours after going to sleep I found my eyes creaking open and somehow willed myself from my bed to get out the door and head to the Orc Stomp 5k. The second I was out in the cool morning air I found myself waking up instantly, it was a damn fine morning. As with every other time I walked to and from the hotel I casually had Pokemon Go running to grab stops and the myriad of Pokemon that crawled across the city streets of Indy. Many feel like you can’t truly enjoy your surroundings while playing the game but I find I can easily glance at the game off and on while taking in the sites quite well. not to mention I was made aware of some cool historical markers in Downtown Indy that I would have never paid any mind to before. Somehow I wasn’t even aware the Capitol building was right there near the convention center but, I know now!

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The Orc Stomp 5k was held, once again, along the White River Trail. Honestly this is one of the most gorgeous 5k runs I do every year. I met up with a fellow blogger friend of mine, Rob, who two years ago introduced me to the race by letting me run it under one of the free passes obtained by his sponsorship of the run. It was great catching up with him while we all prepped for the race. We had a few laughs about the last time I ran, where I overslept, drove frantically to the race, and then posted my best 5k time ever (something like 27 mins) just trying to finish the already started race! I enjoyed all the costumes immensely and reminded myself I’d like to dress up one year, I then found out that one of the costumed groups actually had a role in the run itself. The “Raptors” were associated with Exile Game Studio, specifically their game Hallow Earth Expeditions. As you can see in the image they dressed up like Raptors and “chased” us throughout the race. Essentially there were two main raptor types, fast and not as fast. If you beat the faster raptor you’d get a gold ribbon, and if you beat the next fastest you’d get a green ribbon. I loved this concept because I’m never going to win a 5k but I can sure beat at least one of them raptors!

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Waiting for the race to start was pretty fun. We discovered the starting line camped two Pokestops and we made use of them while chatting with fellow racers. I never got the name of the racer wielding the giant mallet, but I learned the next day after speaking with my buddies at Dog Might Games that the mallet was theirs, it was pretty damn heavy, and the guy who held it through the entire race had won the 5k the year before. Needless to say he didn’t win this year but man what an achievement to run 3.1 miles carrying that monstrous thing! Soon, the race was off. I made the mistake of running the thing as if I were actually in shape and earned myself a pulled calf muscle for my hubris. Still, I clocked a time of 33 mins, only three mins longer than my average. I was a blast and I even earned myself a green ribbon! I stuck around for the rest of my buddies finishing the race and then we headed back to the hotel.

I was very fortunate to have plenty of time to shower and ready myself for a very exciting portion of my day, the RPG Academy Network Panel.We had a decent crop of network folks at the con so Michael had decided to set up an open panel. It was a lot of fun, the podcasters fielded the majority of the questions early on because, let’s face it, podcasting is sexy as hell. Later in the session though we started delving into some blog, game mastering, advocacy, and regular old gaming questions that I was more than happy to jump in on. Little pleases me more than chatting with others who hold a reverence for this hobby and I enjoyed every moment of it (finally got to meet @theworstDM in person too!). Not to mention after the panel we got to get a little bit of gaming in as Senda and Emily introduced us to their 5 min RPG concept, and by “introduced” I mean slaughtering us mercilessly one after another…in 5 mins or less! This was recorded so you might later hear our downfalls.

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Left to right: Chris, Lucas, Senda, Michael, Emily, Myself

After lunch I stopped by the press room to debate drinking coffee or going back to the hotel for some sleep. While there I ran into Michael Long from Tribality and had a nice chat, then saw Rob Stith in the hall. By then the general lack of sleep had finally caught up to me and I trudged back to the hotel for a nap. Sadly this meant I ended up sleeping through the Phoenix Dawn Command & Shes’s a Super Geek panels that I wanted to attend but I know I needed it!

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I did make it to one of the panels I scheduled that day though. Privateer Press put on a development panel regarding Warmachine and Hordes. In years past I’ve attended panels by these folks regarding new upcoming products so it was interesting to listen in on one that comes on the heels of the major release of the third edition of the game. Many in the crowd, myself included, were hoping for a reveal of the newest faction that has been teased for some time now but we were left wanting. The majority of the panel consisted of some discussion regarding the way they go about creating a concept and the various channels it then goes through before becoming a retail piece. I could tell the room wanted to know more about upcoming items but frankly they didn’t have a ton to show off. If you recall two years ago, in the Unleashed panel, they had computer issues and luckily were able to use my computer to show off their images and such. Well, they had computer issues again and this time I did not bring my own so i couldn’t save the day. One tease we got for the new faction was that they intend to have them use feats completely differently from the other factions, but this is all still in development.  I asked about the Roleplaying Game (because of course I did) and I learned they want to expand on Piracy some more, which sounds fantastic!

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One thing I knew I had to do at Gen Con this year was visit with my friends behind Trapdoor Technologies and the Playbook app. In case you are unaware they have now aligned themselves with Paizo and Pathfinder (their app is even more polished  now than ever before). They were holed away in the Sagamore Ballroom with the rest of the massive Pathfinder realm. The place was truly daunting in size. It was great catching up with Chris and

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The last scheduled event I had for the night was the big one for me, the ENnies. If you are a regular reader you know this but this year I had the esteemed pleasure of actually being nominated for the Best Website category. I was pretty damn certain I wasn’t going to win even the Silver ENnie but I knew I needed to go to the event if only to see my site’s banner flash across the big screen in the front (which I totally neglected to get a photo of… luckily someone else did)! The best part for me was when my site popped up on the screen Kevin Kulp made the comment that my banner was the “Happiest he’d ever seen”, high praise to Wes of Nameless PC’s! Well folks, I didn’t win anything but I am certainly excited that I’ll forever be an ENnie nominated writer. Can’t take that from me eh? I sat there just long enough to see if Michael won Best Podcast for The RPG Academy (sadly he did not), and decided to catch the rest of my group at Giorgio’s Pizza for some excellent deep dish.

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We finished the night with a pick up game of ad-hoc Pathfinder run by Mike Bridges, of Gamerstable fame, where I was so slap happy tired that I ran a rogue modeled loosely after Emperor Norton , the first and last Emperor of these United States. His name was Vernon Lundman, he dressed in the finest of rags, knew everyone, and even minted his own currency known as the “Lundmark”. It was an awesome ending to a crazy day.

SATURDAY

Saturday was much more laid back than the previous two days. I spent most of my time running into friends and chatting a bit. Forgive me if you’re one of those I ran into and you aren’t getting a mention! I really had nothing planned until early afternoon. I ate an awesome Gyro from the Ali Baba’s food truck, which is starting to become a tradition for me. Then I spent some time in the park near the JW Marriott catching Cubones on Pokemon Go until I could evolve to a Marowak, as one does. Soon it was time for me to head to my scheduled game run by none other than Chris Hussman!

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Michael claimed this guy looked like Freddie Mercury

I was joined by Michael Ross and one of his podcast’s faculty members Brad. It ende dup being just the three of us as we weaved our way through a story filled with heartache, high adventure, and good old fashioned “end of days” stopping. I don’t want to go into too much detail, just in case some of you have the chance to ever play in this specific game. I really wouldn’t want to ruin it’s many twists. Suffice it to say it was my favorite game of the con. Michael, Brad, and I played really well off one another and in the end Chris even had some high praise for our roleplay and decisions throughout. I really got into character and loved every moment of it. Reminded me of why I love these games in the first place.

After the game we ran through a playtest of a neat game concept Michael is working on and I went looking for my crew for dinner. At this point, basking in the glow of completing all my scheduled fun I got to be a bit homesick if I’m to be honest. I missed my family a ton but knew I still had some fun times in store.

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Dinner was fun, we sat with the incredible Anna Myers at Champs where she had hung up her massive map of Greyhawk that she had crafted on her own. She is truly a master Cartographer. It was at dinner I where I was convinced to go to the Gencon dance, namely because Toju was going and I hadn’t spent nearly enough time with him. It was one Hell of a way to end the day, I’ll tell you that. The Union Station was filled to the brim with scores of us nerds just dancing (and drinking) the night away. Tons of fun, I only wish my wife could have been there, some of the most fun we have together is hitting the dance floor!

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The dance ended and I hit the hotel, instead of going to sleep I sat up with a number of my roommates. Shannon’s boyfriend Brandon and I chatted about how Goku is kind of a jerk among other awesome anime talk. After that it was lights out.

SUNDAY

Hard to believe the con ever really came to a close. I wandered around aimlessly with Shannon, Brandon, and Jason B. for a bit, then tracked down Michael at his Post Con deal where I ran into Dani and John. We sent a little love via snapchat to our buddy Pierce, who should have been at Gen Con running a Ravenloft game for us (had some weak excuse about buying a house). I then headed back to the con floor to debate once more if I’d make my one purchase of a Hirst Arts Mold but decided against it as I figured I’d spent plenty that weekend already. Thus, I made it through all of Gen Con purchasing nothing but food and lodging.

Lastly the gang and I met up with Toju, where we quietly chatted in the back of the exhibit hall until they shut the thing down signaling the end of another great year. After that the car ride home seemed to take forever as I yearned to get back to my family. Man, what a great time though.

Last thought? Sure wish Wizards of the Coast had been there this year…

Feel free to share Gen Con stories in the comments! Also, if you’ve got a hankering for another con, check out AcadeCon (meet me there!)! There are still passes availiable

-Melvs

PICTURES!

So there were a number of things I now realize I forgot to mention, namely because I can’t recall what day they occurred! I’m going to be lazy and simply put the pictures up with some blurbs.

 

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The Porkchop Express was in town for the event

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Some cool cats eh? Left to right The Carpe DM, myself and Rohit from Gamersplane

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Always awesome catching up with author Hans Cummings

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The RPG Academy Podcast pre-con meetup

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Finally worked up the nerve to shake Jolly Blackburn’s hand

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The ODAM team drops by The Ram

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TOJU! We look eerily similar in the face in this picture.

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Toju and Shannon

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More shots of the Gamerstable meetup at The Ram

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One of many fine brews I had the pleasure of sampling

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Dan and Mike strike a cool pose

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Pete and Jayson.

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Shannon and Rob

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Be proud of carrying that thing man!

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THE RAPTORS!

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The Pathfinder room was HUGE

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Got to the ENnies early enough to get a picture of the empty hall

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Had great fun with this crowd all weekend

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I witnessed the CarpeDM win a goblet scoop of dice from these guys

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Dogmight Games always has me salivating over their products

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My actual roll at the Crit for Success booth

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Cardhalla

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Anna Myers’ full map!

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Brandi & Toju

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The dance was most excellent

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Toju & Mike

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Shannon and Babs got to meet Andy Looney!

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Shannon’s Ash Ketchum was great!

COSPLAY PICS

Here are some great cosplay pictures that Shannon’s cousin Brandon was more than happy to pass my way.

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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

 

 

 

 

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?

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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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RPGaDAY 2015!

rpg-a-day-2015

Last year I dutifully posted a single post dedicated to this topic daily, even during my trip to Gen Con 2014. Well, last year’s Kevin apparently had time on his hands because it didn’t even register as a possibility this year. No worries though, I’m feeding you all the info you need today. I know you’ve been waiting for this with baited breath (my answers to this…not who won the contest right?). So let’s get to it!


AUGUST 1ST: FORTHCOMING GAME YOU’RE MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO

Pheonix dawn command

That would be Phoenix Dawn Command by Keith Baker. The premise excites me the most, player characters expected to die heroically and return from the dead to fight once more. It’s been kickstarted and I for one can’t wait for the final product!

AUGUST 2ND: KICKSTARTED GAME YOU’RE MOST PLEASED YOU BACKED

Spirit of '77

I actually missed out on Phoenix Dawn Command so I can’t reiterate that campaign. However, it’d be hard pressed to out-due my love for Spirit of ’77 anyway! I’ve had some immense fun reading through the rule-book ever since it arrived. Easily the most groovy Kickstarted I’ve ever been a part of.

AUGUST 3RD: FAVORITE NEW GAME OF THE LAST 12 MONTHS

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Has to be Unleashed. I wrote about it extensively here on the blog, and you should certainly check it out for yourself. The game uniquely places its players in the boots of some of the most savage “heroes” you could muster up. The concept works on all levels, and I can’t wait to run more of it at my table.

AUGUST 4TH: MOST SURPRISING GAME

gamma world

I’d go with Gamma World, the version made with a hack of the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition rule-set. What surprises me the most is how well it actually works. I’ve always been a fan of 4th Edition but I think some of the gaming concepts the edition brings to the table actually work best in Gamma World. A really fun, quick to set up, game. Still a go-to for me when I need something last minute.

AUGUST 5TH: MOST RECENT RPG PURCHASE

I don’t purchase a lot of RPG’s from the established companies these days, perk of being a blogger. I do back some of the Kickstarters I believe in the most though as they don’t have the resources to simply gift me a review copy. Some of the Kickstarters I’ve back recently have been Spirit of ’77, BattleBards, Of Dreams and Magic, Feng Shui 2, Karthun, & Fae Nightmares. I realize BattleBards isn’t preceisely an RPG but I like them enough to put them on the list.

AUGUST 6TH: MOST RECENT RPG PLAYED

I took a jaunt over to Illinois recently to hang out with some of my buddies over at the Gamerstable Podcast to… help with something I’m not at liberty to discuss. Anyway, I got to play Pathfinder for the first time. I played a ton of D&D 3.X back in the day so it wasn’t anything I found myself being “introduced to”, it’s the same game really. I did get to play Greyhawk for the first time ever though. It was a huge pleasure playing games with those folks, always a good time.

AUGUST 7TH: FAVORITE FREE RPG

OSH

Nothing has changed from last year, my favorite free RPG continues to be Old School Hack. A fantastic little pick up game with some great support on it’s website. An honorable mention does go out to FATE though. I need to dig into that a bit more.

AUGUST 8TH: FAVORITE APPEARANCE OF RPG’S IN THE MEDIA

I imagine this was meant to be “popular media” and I generally don’t care for how it’s portrayed honestly. I think Role-Play Gaming is just too personal a thing for me and any time I see someone trying to portray it they just get it wrong somehow. It can be the smallest quirk in how they decide to play and I’m out. I don’t get angry though, a poor portrayal isn’t going to ruin the game for me anyway.

AUGUST 9TH: FAVORITE MEDIA YOU WISH WAS AN RPG

Steven Universe

I kindof just let my brain leap to the first thing I’d love to play and I think I’d love an expanded world of Steven Universe to play around in. For those not familiar with the show I’d check it out. Has a great mix of comedy and an utterly intriguing world. Would be awesome to play a character as some form of Gem. I’d also love to play a crazed Rick and Morty RPG.

rick and morty

AUGUST 10TH: FAVORITE RPG PUBLISHER

I’d have to go with Pinnacle Entertainment Group. They make Savage Worlds and a number of the Campaign Settings I love from the rule-set. I’m also a huge fan of Privateer Press these days, I mean Iron Kingdoms and Unleashed are amazing.

AUGUST 11TH: FAVORITE RPG WRITER

This one’s tough but I’ll go with Keith Baker. The guy is just so friendly to fans and he made my favorite D&D setting of all time, Eberron.

AUGUST 12TH: FAVORITE RPG ILLUSTRATION

Currently I’m digging the bar fight from the cover of the Unleashed book.

unleashed bar fight

AUGUST 13TH: FAVORITE RPG PRODUCT

My most go-to RPG Product would be my dice I guess.

My three strongest sets of rollers!

My three strongest sets of rollers!

AUGUST 14TH: FAVORITE RPG ACCESSORY

I’ve always been really excited by the prospect of what the folks at Trapdoor Technologies keeps trying to bring us and they seem to have found their place lately with their app Playbook. It’s a soft launch of the product with more to come but go check it out!

AUGUST 15TH: LONGEST CAMPAIGN PLAYED

Back in high school our main DM Mike “The Meatfist” ran a D&D 3.5 game set in the Forgotten Realms that lasted years and took us from level 1 to level 18. Solidly long game. Wish we’d actually tied it up with a true ending.

AUGUST 16TH: LONGEST GAME SESSION PLAYED

Honestly this could be represented by any number of games I played back in college. There were times we’d start in the afternoon and leave the house with the sun peeking out for sunrise. I can’t name one single time that was the longest though.

AUGUST 17TH: FAVORITE FANTASY RPG

It’s Dungeons and Dragons, it will probably always be.

AUGUST 18TH: FAVORITE SF RPG

I love the concepts in Numenera, and would love to play it more, I just can’t run the game. I have a mind built for fantasy and Numenera is too weird for me there!

AUGUST 19TH: FAVORITE SUPERS RPG

Eh, never been a huge fan. Maybe I just need a GM who can introduce me to a game where I actually enjoy it.

AUGUST 20TH: FAVORITE HORROR RPG

Dread. I love the added thrill of the Jenga tower. I do need more exposure to other horror games though.

AUGUST 21ST: FAVORITE RPG SETTING

EBERRON!

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AUGUST 22ND: PERFECT GAMING ENVIRONMENT

With friends. Cheesy as Hell, but there it is. I do prefer an in person game to one over the net.

AUGUST 23RD: PERFECT GAME FOR YOU

One where everyone is involved with only slight distraction for cutting a few jokes. Plenty of role-play with characters that everyone wants to play, and interesting combat.

AUGUST 24TH: FAVORITE HOUSE RULE

Not worrying about stuff like arrows or food and water.

AUGUST 25TH: FAVORITE REVOLUTIONARY GAME MECHANIC

The 20 sided die.

AUGUST 26TH: FAVORITE INSPIRATION FOR YOUR GAME

Conversations with friends and colleagues. I love tapping into resources like The RPG Academy Network I’m a part of or The Vagabond Gamers G+ group I helped start. We are all gifted creatives and bouncing ideas off one another rocks.

AUGUST 27TH: FAVORITE IDEA FOR MERGING TWO GAMES INTO ONE

Can’t say I have tons of experience with this one but I do enjoy taking a gaming style from on area and making it work in Savage Worlds. For example when Gamerstable took Conan and used Savage Worlds to run it.

AUGUST 28TH: FAVORITE GAME YOU NO LONGER PLAY

My Eberron game from a few years back. Loved the players’ characters, my NPC’s, and where the story was headed. Sadly it fell apart. Non-Revivable.

AUGUST 29TH: FAVORITE RPG WEBSITE/BLOG

You mean other than Melvin Smif’s Geekery? I’m a huge fan of everyone in the RPG Academy Network, you should certainly check them out. Other than that I like The Angry GM‘s stuff, Gamerstable Podcast, Monkey in the Cage, and Dyvers.

AUGUST 30TH: FAVORITE RPG PLAYING CELEBRITY

Probably Steven Colbert. He wears it on his sleeve pretty heavily and I think the more you see that the more likely others are going to want to try the games.

AUGUST 31ST: FAVORITE NON-RPG THING TO COME OUT OF RPG’ING

Video Games. Without RPG’s most of the things people really dig in video games would have been less likely to ever show up. Hit Points, Experience, Levels. You can thank RPGs for that.


There you have it folks! Let me know some of you answers below! As an added note, I’ll have the winners of my contest posted by Friday September 11th! Don’t forget about the AcadeCon Kickstarter either! It’s winding down but there are still badges to pick up. Would love to see you there.

-Melvs.

Gen Con a No Go

Ah Gencon 2013, my first ever Gaming Convention

I love Gen Con and if I had my way I’d be there every year. Last year I was teetering on the ledge of attendance vs. non-attendance and was more than fortunate to have attendance win out thanks mostly to my friends over at Gamerstable. Well, this year I was met with equal levels of teetering but this time I knew ahead of time that even if I were to go I’d only have two days to take in what I could (wasn’t going to miss the wedding of my esteemed Sister-in Law now was I?). Met with these facts and the opportunity to simply help my wife and her family prepare for the impending nuptials I’m opting to miss the event this year.

It saddens me because Gen Con truly is one of my favorite events of the year. For me it’s never been about the games directly, it’s always been the friends I get to see year after year. This year it would have meant meeting a few folks, I’ve gotten to be buddies with via twitter, for the very first time and I’m loath to miss that opportunity. However, I get the feeling that’s going to be a recurring theme!

For those going this year have a dose of extra fun for me (if you’ve room to spare). For those not going like me, try to arrange to go next year. I mean it. It’ll take quite a bit to stop my attendance next year and I’d love to meet up with anyone who shares this wonderful passion of mine!

I’ll likely have someone reporting on my behalf and if I get a name I’ll clue you all in. Plus, I will be attending #AcadeCon in November so come to Ohio if you want to see me.

I’m holding out hope that next year is the year of the #VagabondGamers! If you know what that means I’m calling for the group trip, you know who you are! If you don’t know what that means, look us up!

Have fun this weekend folks!

-Melvs

P.S. I’ll still be paying attention to the Con, expect at least a post on what I learn from it!

Kickstart That GEEK! BattleBards

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There are countless ways to spice up the gaming experience at the table, 3d models of dungeon tiles, miniatures, or maybe a dice tower or two. One way to really set the tone for an evening is to set the mood with music and sound and if you’re like me your efforts to do that have been minimal at best. Many of the other enhancements to the game experience I mentioned have companies dedicated to producing the products mentioned, not so with audio enhancement of gaming.

Enter the folks behind BattleBards, a new application dedicated to bringing these audio enhancements to your fingertips. I had the pleasure to speak with the folks regarding what they have to offer us, and just why we may want to get in on the ground floor through their current revamped Kickstarter campaign!

NOTE: During this Q&A process the BattleBards team made a major descision, they dropped their original campaign that focused on a subscription model of their work and changed to a purchase and own model based on the reactions of their investors. I mention it below but I feel they were well on their way to funding their original run but decided to restart under a different model simply because the community spoke, and they listened. The gamble seems to have paid off as they have already funded the new Kickstarter day one.

The BattleBards Team

Alex Jarzebinski

Kyn Chaturvedi

Mike Adams

Mridul Pandey

Melvin Smif: First, I want to thank you all for speaking with me today. I’m a big fan of music and sound effects at the table. Well, in theory I am, I’ve never actually done a lot beyond ambiance music in the background. I suppose that could be my first question actually. What makes you such a proponent of Music and Sound at the table? How would you sway someone who’s never really considered adding something like this?

BattleBards: No worries, it’s an incredible opportunity for us to discussion our passion with dedicated gamers!

The best example of the power of audio at the gaming table that I love to use requires the following YouTube video.The reason this video has such impact is because it shows the glaring hole made by removing the wonderfully evocative music by John Williams necessary to drive home the impact of the scene. It’s the same with gaming. Narrating, say, the loss of a major NPC can pull some heartstrings but accompanying the narrative with a touching piece like Dumbledore’s Farewell from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince allows the GM to dial in his/her players’ emotional state through audible context. In truth, many GMs use audio quite a bit at the table but as you pointed out, its use is normally restrained to providing some narrative backdrop or ambiance.

There’s a whole world of audio out there that can help make gaming more immersive beyond its use as a background such as NPC and Player interaction through voiceovers, accenting important moments through timed sound effects, and the use of what’s called “Source Audio” which provides a whole new way of interacting with the actual characters, living and breathing in these worlds composed of collective imagination. All of this just scratches the surface of how audio can plunge players even deeper into the worlds tabletop gaming creates.

MS: Do you feel audio is too frequently left out of tabletop gaming?

BB: Too often, it is left out. We’ve lost count how many times a GM runs players through an otherwise deep, thought provoking, or exciting sequence only to have it fall completely flat since the appropriate moods between player and GM were way out of sync. Given the power of audio, a GM need not score every second of a game, but even a dash of thunder, an NPC greeting, or the sounds of an exotic language being spoken by someone in town can add that immersive element to a game that’s tough to get any other way.

Like using minis, tile sets, illustrations, and props, audio is just another tool in the GM’s arsenal to paint a world that players can lose themselves in. In fact, given the tie between sound and emotion, it’s by far the most powerful tool any GM has at his or her disposal.

MS: Along that same line of thought, I often feel like introducing technology to the Pen and Paper scene can feel threatening to some, just look at what happened to Codename: Morningstar (aka Dungeonscape) for a reference. Have you experienced any backlash at all from people claiming this isn’t something “we” need, or have you been met with largely positive responses?

BB: When our last Kickstarter, Realmsound Project was starting up we did get a few folks who questioned the value of bringing audio into the game, thinking that it will detract from the gaming experience. Since the success of Realmsound, we’ve been working hard to show how audio, like any other tool; can add to the gaming experience, providing a context for the scenes the GM unfolds during the creation of a story. With even a dash of audio used at the right moment can add a very real sense of immersion in the game where ever the GM feels it most appropriate.

MS: The first project I can recall your group funding through Kickstarter was the Realmsound Project, a similar project that helped bring gaming sound effects and music to the table. What are the major differences between that first successful run and Battle Bards?

BB: BattleBards is our attempt to take the little experiment of sourcing a batch of professionally created audio and make it into an engine, providing not just a random, one-time collection of music, sound effects, and voiceovers but a vibrant marketplace where top tier composers, sound designers, and voice talent continuously add to this new universe of tabletop specific audio.

MS: Talk to me about your two key fixtures, the Soundboard and Mixer. How will access to them be structured?  Are they first downloaded as apps and then logged into or will you have to access via the web?

BB: The Soundboard is the lynchpin to the BattleBards service. You can have the great audio ever composed but without the means to seamlessly integrate it into a gaming environment, it’s useless. Using a system of modular customizable playlists, GMs will be able to setup their own “audio command and control” center, bringing at the ready whatever they need for the coming session.

The Mixer is a tool of endless possibilities (sorry for the cliché). Using nothing more than click and drag, users can layer any and all kinds of audio (think iMovie but purely Audio-based for TTRPGs) to create narrative backdrops with synched sound effects to go with the ebb and flow of the script. Provide ambiance to voice overs in order to command the setting. Create complex sound effects able to describe any event in-game from the rise of a towering earth elemental culminating in a sky-shaking roar to a pack of goblins beating down a weakening wooden door. Without needing to be a sound engineer at all, users with a bit of imagination have a new world to explore here.

Everything will be accessible from the web from any device. Every track purchased will be available for download as well as unlocked on the BattleBards service for streaming. Combine this with the ability to upload and store your own audio on our cloud and you can carry around all of your gaming audio with you anywhere you game with an internet connection. With Sync, you can even carry around your library without an internet connection, just sync the audio you want to take with you and BAM, instant customized gaming audio available in the deepest dungeon.. er.. basement.

MS: Can content made using the Mixer be made freely available to other users? To further that question is there a consideration to having an open sharing area for user generated content?

BB: Yes. Some of the best mods in the video game industry are made by the community and we want to bring that same creativity and passion in with a community of our own. Users will be able to assemble mixes using BattleBards audio and share them with their fellows, quickly earning fame for mixes that get a ton of downloads. As far as publicly sharing mixes created using non-BattleBards audio, it’s yet to be hammered out since that often gets into the murky depths of validating and protecting copyrighted material.

MS: If you can upload to the Mixer couldn’t that allow for some wholly original pieces of audio? If someone user the mixer for that kind of project could they then reach out to you and see if they could sell it through BattleBards rather than give it away freely? I suppose on that note, Mixer aside, how would someone approach you with something they think you could sell?

BB: The BattleBards Mixer is a wonderful tool and is very user-friendly. However, it has purposefully been designed for simplicity in mind to aid GMs at the gaming table. It has not been created for the aspiring professional artist. For artists, they would be much better served using a professional audio suite to put together an original composition. Anyone interested to throw their hat into the gaming audio ring should email us directly and we’ll hook them up with the details for the auditioning process.

MS: Ever thought of teaming up with any of the big name publishers out there to produce audio in combination with a release of theirs?

BB: Oh yeah! We would love to work with a number of publishers for sure. Once we have found our footing post-launch we will be reaching out for sure.

MS: Why do think no one has really done much with this type of gaming enhancement in the past? Or have they and I just never noticed it?

BB: There’s a ton of incredible audio out there but we think it hasn’t hit the mainstream for a couple of reasons. First, the tools. Beyond simply using a music track as a backdrop, integrating audio in any kind of an extensive way is a huge pain in the neck. The GM has enough on their plate as it is and needing to queue up 4 different media players and YouTube windows for anything beyond putting up simple loops detracts from the gaming experience. For this reason, we’ve spent a great deal of time researching just what tools would be needed to bring audio close enough to the GM to allow its use at the table to be practical, enter The Soundboard.

Secondly, sourcing movie-quality music, sound effects, voice overs, and the like is EXPENSIVE, and to build a network of great talent is even harder to pull off. See, we don’t have just a single composer or voice talent on staff. We work with dozens of accomplished artists who have serious cred in film, video games, tv shows, animation, etc. That gives us a lot of variety to work with. And, though they are all super talented, no one individual can do justice to every genre of audio. Each artist has a niche where they truly rock and so we play to that strength to get the best we can out of everyone.

MS: Your Kickstarter plug states “BattleBards – Fantasy Audio for Tabletop Gamers Done Right”, is your focus solely on fantasy gaming or have you collected audio for other genres? i.e. Science Fiction, Steampunk, Gothic Horror

BB: For right now, we’re diving deep into fantasy in order to give gamers a solid base from which to provide audible gaming candy to almost any session possible. However, to offer a bit of a tease, we know what genre is coming next and it’s related to a major, MAJOR movie being released this coming Christmas…

MS: Ha! Nice tease. I can see tons of applications beyond the table for this kind of audio. Podcasts, the rising popularity of “radio” dramas, what restrictions will users have on using these sounds for their projects? Can they be used beyond the table?

BB: There’s a ton of ways to use this audio and we want to work with everyone. Let’s get this level of gaming audio to every passionate gamer out there and what better way than to broadcast it on the air/cyber waves? All of the audio that BattleBards purchases from talent (The Audio Vault) we want to make available to podcasters, radio shows, and whoever is willing to share what we offer in a credible way. For all of the other audio that we don’t own, but’s offer on BattleBards, it will be up to our talent, that’s providing the audio, to allow for non-personal use. In short, for those out there who want to use our audio over a public channel or for interesting media projects, shoot us an email!

MS: Very recently you canceled your first Kickstarter for BattleBards before it reached its end to favor a different style of final product. Why did BattleBards decide to switch from a subscription model to a purchase model? How will this affect how the soundboard and mixer will be available to users?

BB: We launched the first BattleBards Kickstarter Campaign with a subscription model hoping to offer gamers a colossal library of audio as a streaming service. However, as the campaign gained steam we collected more and more feedback from gamers. It became clear that they loved the audio, but not the subscription delivery method. They preferred the ability to select the audio they wanted for download specifically.

It came to the point where we had to ask ourselves if we were really offering a service that most gamers wanted. As we reached 74% funded with 18 days remaining, we decided to do something quite unorthodox and cancel mid-campaign in order to start over with a more desirable pay-to-download model.

Like the Realmsound Project that came before, we’re giving concrete products. The Soundboard and Mixer, critical components for integrating audio in a game setting are all browser based now so there’s no need for actual apps and the like, use it anywhere!

MS: Looks like its paid off! Hey, plan on hitting up any Cons during the upcoming Con Season?

BB: Oh yes. Mike Adams is our Cons Colonel who is mapping out what we can hit and where. Since we’re just getting our start, we’ll likely just be wanderers in the sea of Cons like everyone else but it would be a dream come true to actually have a bigger role in them.

MS: What is the future for BattleBards? Where do you see this application going down the line?

BB: Already, future feature additions to the Soundboard and Mixer are being drawn up to give gamers a chance to play around with their creations in an intuitive manner, as well as some innovations in the works to bring audio even closer to the GM than a click. Eventually, we want to be able to offer native mobile applications to further increase the portability aspect of BattleBards. Lastly, as we mentioned already, we’re looking into bringing the same insane level of quality of audio into new genres beyond Fantasy, and we have some plans in the works to make that happen sooner rather than later.

MS: A few final words from me here. First I want to thank you again for speaking with me, and I want to commend you on switching your project from a subscription model to what you’ll be doing now. While I don’t know yet which I personally would have preferred, it seems you are really listening to the majority of your backers. 74% with 18 days remaining is a strong indicator of a project that likely would have funded so kudos for taking this leap of faith based of the desires of the community. I feel it shows a strong commitment to our hobby. Do you have any parting thoughts?

BB: We can’t thank you enough for giving us this time and platform to talk about what we’re working on. With regards to the move from subscription to purchase, thanks for the kudos. It was an agonizing decision that left several of us in the Team with sleepless nights. Ultimately, we’re gamers. Gaming is where we live and we want to introduce top tier audio to the entire community. If that means we need to tear things down in order to rebuild, then so be it.

Finally, for those of you who really like what we’re doing at BattleBards, we are telling you right now, don’t be shy. Reach out to us and tell us what you want. Let’s join forces and create the best sound library the tabletop gaming community has ever seen.


Here you can find the revamped BattleBards Kickstarter

Currently they sit at 124% funded and climbing so I’m excited to see what sort of stretch goals they roll out. I’ll be throwing my hat into the ring and backing these fine folks, can’t wait to try things out!

Other places to see BattleBards info:

-Melvs

P.S. Big thanks to Toby (author for the blog Roll and Groove) for reminding me of these fine folk and their product! We’ll have to got to more concerts together so you can get me more content.

Long, Long Ago I was Actually Excited for Star Wars Battlefront 3

My interest level can be summed up by the action portrayed in this media pic...

My interest level can be summed up by the action portrayed in this media pic…

I loved Star Wars Battlefront 2, still do. My friends and I have been known to fire it up on the older systems and give it a run to this day. So naturally I was excited when rumors started to trickle out regarding the production of a third addition to the franchise, but now I’m less than enthused. It seems EA Games, and the subsidiaries attached to the product don’t really get what made the predecessor such a beloved game. Hell, this game looks like a step backward in so many ways I can’t help but wonder if it’s merely a cash grab.

EA is such an odd animal to me. On one hand the flagship and its subsidiaries can generate some truly great games. We’ve seen that recently with games like Mass Effect, the Dragon Age series, and I’m a fan of what little Garden Warfare I’ve seen. However, more often EA earns its reputation as a “ruiner” of sequels and a largely blah game maker in general. We’ve got more than enough examples of that on hand in that regard. The more I hear about SWB3, the more I fear it is going to land in the latter category and it saddens me greatly.

There is a long list of things I’ve found troubling about the latest reveal for the game. Mostly, it seems they are focusing almost exclusively on Player vs. Player multiplayer, and they aren’t even doing a great job with that! At this point we have been told there is a max player count of 40 players on the battlefield, presumably a 20 v 20 setup, and when asked if there were going to be any AI “bots” to supplement any missing players the response was “no comment”. So it looks like if you can’t get enough players you’ll have even fewer people fighting in what already feels more like a skirmish than a battle. It’s not like EA is incapable of more players either! Just look at Battlefield, they have a max limit of 64! Battlefront id supposed to highlight the massive battles that often went on behind the scenes in the beloved movie franchise but instead we’ve got some tidily little throwdowns between two groups of 20 people. Not to mention if you get to roll as one of the super powered “general” types (Vader, Boba Fett) you’ll probably dominate a measly force of twenty…

Space fights in a game about space fights? Forget it!

Space fights in a game about space fights? Forget it!

That’s just the start of the issues I’m seeing. We also have –

  • No indication there will be space battles, merely air/ground units planetside. The AT-AT walker shown somehow navigating Endor’s heavily forested terrain? Not player driveable. (as a fun drinking game check out the @EAStarWars twitter handle and take a drink every time they respond to someone with “We’re focusing on air battles and dogfights that take place on the vistas of our planets rather than space“)
  • Only four playable planets
  • No single player campaign, just a couple of missions you and one other person can play
  • No Galactic Conquest mode…

The last two items bother me the most. Actually, no, the last item bothers me the absolute most. It is almost enough to get me to completely ignore this game altogether. For those not in the know Galactic Conquest was the best part of Star Wars Battlefront 2. There is no way to argue against that fact, so don’t bother. It is what my friends and I play when we pick it up nearly a decade after its launch. Essentially Galactic Conquest mode allowed you, or you and some friends, to play a “Risk-like” game against the computer or other players where you fight battles on planets and in space to gain footholds in the galaxy, obtaining perks that help you further dominate, and eventually conquering the galaxy. I can safely say that absent Galactic Conquest mode or something similar SWB3 remains a shell of its former glory.

Granted the game isn’t even out yet so I can only base my interest level on what I’ve heard second-hand. What I’ve heard though has removed it from a “must have pre-order” to an “I may not even buy this game“. Honestly the game they are trying to get us excited about baffles me (for a sci-fi game called “Star Wars” you’re telling me we never even see space!?). The framework for how to make this game successful was already available for review. You take Star Wars Battlefront 2, you slap some fresh graphics on it, you add more maps and player options (not remove them), you ship it out. It was a task any rookie game developer could probably have handled but EA seems to have failed. I sincerely hope they allow people to mod this game. EA rarely impresses me, but this is just sad.

-Melvs

Skeleton Team Mericana

Children astound me with their severe levels of passionate creativity.  I’m honestly curious where a lot of that goes as we age, though the majority of those reading these words likely maintain a lot of that same childlike passion.  My daughter Allouette, Alli for short, often displays some pretty bizarrely advanced levels of imagination, even for a five year old.  Mainly she has an aptitude for just plain making things up off the top of her head that often has me and her mother in stitches.  Though this happens a lot around here I thought you all may particularly enjoy her latest obsession with a bunch of Skeleton miniatures that I let her paint while Sarah and I were working on some of our own painting jobs.  I had originally planned to describe her creations second hand but while posting the pictures she went crazy telling me all about her Skeleton team!  So, I just started jotting her words down verbatim.  Here you go folks, I introduce to you Skeleton Team Mericana!

I have no idea where she got the name "Skeleton Team Mericana" from.

I have no idea where she got the name “Skeleton Team Mericana” from. Set pieces brought to you by Melvin Smif via Hirst Arts molds!

Skeleton Team Mericana likes to go on Monster Fights, mostly in Dungeons and caves.  There are two leaders a boy skeleton named Lyng and a girl skeleton named Nalita, they are friends too.  The biggest monster they ever fought was a big troll, not the grumpy troll from Dora cuz he’s wimpy.

Nalita

Nalita

 

NALITA: GIRL LEADER

“Nalita loves to fight bad guys with her spear staff. Her and Lyng, the boy leader, love to use their brick spears to throw dirt at monsters until they die. And she is rainbow colored.”

 

Lyng

Lyng

 

LYNG: BOY LEADER

“Lyng is a leader because he is blue and has a spear staff with a shield that is also blue.  His bones don’t fall off as easy as the other skeletons’ bones do.  He is also a leader because he is sitting in the chair.”

 

Rina

Rina

 

RINA: SHE LOVE AXES

“She loves axes and uses them to cut holes, bad guy worms in water pipes, and trees. She’s a girl and she always likes to take a rest after all her work. She eats snacks before hunting.”

 

Reng

Reng

 

RENG: GOES TO BED WHEN TOLD

“Likes to go into dungeons and likes to fight bad guys. With her sword she likes to slice brick monsters and she always does what the leaders tell her to do.  She doesn’t go to bed until her leaders tell her to go to bed.”

Langus

Langus

 

LANGUS: LOVES TO DO STUFF

“She likes to cut bad guys with her axes.  She listens to her leaders.  Her favorite bad guy to cut with axes are bad guy snakes.  It is so fun to cut down monsters with the leaders, it is her favorite thing to do.  She also loves to do stuff.”

 

Granto

Granto

 

GRANTO: EATS SNACKS AFTER LUNCH

“This boy likes to freeze monsters with his magical freezing sword. He likes to slice bad trees and make them ice. He always counts to 15 when he messes up and he loves to eat snacks, even when he’s already eaten lunch.”

 

There you have it, feel free to use the NPC concepts for your next game.  I imagine they would prove a tough adversary against your Players. Just imagine trying to deal with Granto’s freezing sword or the leaders’ dirt weapons. Hope you enjoyed this little trip into my daughter’s brain, I know I did.  She continues to surprise her mother and I daily (as does anyone’s child but DAMMIT MINE’S A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE!!).  Won’t be long my son will be right there with her, of course he’s only two at the moment so his painting style is globbing huge portions onto small objects.

He fit four shades of color on each brick piece.  Only on the bottoms too.

He fit four shades of color on each brick piece. Only on the bottoms too.

They sure do have a lot of fun painting together though.  Man I hope that continues, whether they ultimately choose to play the games I love or not it has, and will continue to be, a joy to introduce them to it.

wpid-20150115_191827.jpgHave a good week everyone!

-Melvs

 

Icy Conditions Ahead

I’ve got winter on the brain. Mainly, I just find myself wishing for a nice fluffy snowfall to have fun in with my wife and kids but I also ran a game this past weekend that included freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall as key danger elements in the game. I feel like I represented some of the pitfalls inherent of such conditions but I really wanted to look into what someone could potentially face when they are up against dangerous arctic conditions and, how a DM/GM might go about challenging the table. Figured I’d take you all along for the ride.

TRAVELING IN THE DRIFTS

When your players are traveling in winter-like conditions it might be tempting to boil any complications you have in mind down to a series of checks to see if they “survive” the trip intact. Instead, I urge you to think about all the opportunities to turn the environment itself into an enemy to harass the group! Simply having them “check” their way through the trip robs you of the pleasure of having them inwardly beg to survive it at all, and may make them think twice about accepting further adventures up in the frozen portions of whatever realm you play in.

THE COLD

The biting winds of an open plain or the raw fear of daylight bleeding away too quickly can be a very real complication for anyone traversing frozen tundra. The cold is something to be feared, like any extreme. Characters on the move may not face this as readily as those camped (more on that in a bit) but if the area they need to cross provides little in the way of shelter from the wind they could experience conditions like Frostbite or even hypothermia.

Now, I’m not suggesting you nitpick what the characters choose to wear, unless you all are into that level of micro storytelling, but it is certainly something to keep in mind for those checks against the cold weather. Increase difficulty if they are on the open plain or maybe drop the temperature dramatically if they decide to travel at night. Be familiar with the conditions above and determine in game how they might affect your players. Certainly you could look into lost hit points, fatigue, or even death. Those suffering from such ailments may even need help from that long forgotten heal check. It doesn’t need to just sit around waiting to stabilize someone.

Try being descriptive though, while the cold tends to lean towards the “checks” framework more than anything else, that doesn’t mean you have to express a simplistic Pass or Fail approach. When they pass a check perhaps they were able to use survival instincts to hunker behind a dune of snow for a time or a failure might come from a player forgetting to stay hydrated in the cold, a lapse that could hasten hypothermia. Pull on your own memories for times when that burst of cold wind made you suck in your breath, describe labored pulls of frozen air into beleaguered lungs. Set that tone.

Or cast endure elements, that might help…but even endure elements can’t help with…

KEEPING THE TRAIL

Where's the Trail

One thing a heavy snowfall can certainly impact is a group’s ability to stay on track. As mentioned, a few survival checks could be used to represent the lead scout picking their way across the snowy wilderness but even the best scout will struggle at keeping the regular trail when it’s been blocked by an avalanche, covered in deep snow, or invisible in a whiteout.

An avalanche doesn’t always need to be something your players cause and have to survive, coming across the devastation of one blocking their path could be just as eerie. You can use it as an excuse to push them through the Mines of Morierrr… I mean the nearby cave system. Another option is they may need to get creative with spells to clear the way. Lastly, it may just impede them all together, causing them to turn back and use that nice air ship fellow they met back in town.

Like these new hungry wolf friends!

Like these new hungry wolf friends!

A whiteout certainly calls for repeated checks to keep the trail if the players decide to push forward but simply failing to find the trail might be a bit boring. Maybe some repeated failed checks lead to the front of the marching order to find themselves in an open slide down side of a small mountain towards a tremendous drop. Limited visibility can certainly impair the group’s ability to notice certain monsters that have no difficulty picking up the trail of new feet in their realm.

THE NIGHT’S WATCH

No...not these guys I meant...you know, like camping and watching the ...nevermind

No…not these guys I meant…you know, like camping and watching the …nevermind

It gets dark quick where it’s cold.  Keep that in mind when determining how often your players may wish to set camp, and the cold can be much less forgiving at night.  Don’t let the players simply say “we’re making camp” ask them where, make them figure out some safe choices.  Put that survival skill to good use.

I went backpacking over the summer in Colorado and discovered firsthand just how much wood it requires to get through even one night, and we were cold that night too.  We packed very well for every aspect of the trip except keeping ourselves warm enough.  It slipped into the 30’s (Fahrenheit) when we had expected it to stay in the 50’s.  We were awake, and by the fire, all night.  Every scrap of dead wood near us went to the flame and we were lucky as Hell that there were some greener pieces available to burn long.  So if your characters are somewhere without wood, they may wish they’d thought ahead.  At least they have magic to get creative with and once again endure elements or a bag of holding full of firewood can be a godsend.

Looks...safe enough

Looks…safe enough

The same creatures who can pick up the trail of fresh PCs can also easily harass those looking to camp.  If the players think a cave or a den of trees looks like a fine place to bunker down, why wouldn’t a small war-band of Orcs or our hungry wolf buddies? In the wild shelter is a commodity and even more so in severe weather. Don’t just assume the players have found safe sleeping arrangements because they decided it is time for their long rest, make them earn that sleep.

Now, I’ve had a lot of fun talking about winter conditions and what sort of challenges you can throw at the players but I’m sure many of you have some great ideas as well.  Feel free to post them in the comments and I’ll likely use them at some point.  If you really like the idea of a campaign set in conditions like this I would suggest you look at the Savage Worlds Campaign Setting Hellfrost, by Triple Ace Games.  I’ve written a few games using this world and it is by far one of the most well written fantasy settings for the system, and it is all about snow and ice.  If nothing else it would make a great supplement for any game with these extremes at the heart of them.  Goodbye for now and wish for some snow my way will ya?

-Melvs

Geekway to the West

I spend a lot of time talking about Tabletop RPGs.  Without a doubt those roleplay inducing, hit point crushing affairs hold the biggest piece of my gaming heart, but if I were to expose a little more of that beating flesh to you board games certainly cover a sizable portion as well!  This is why I would like to talk to you about Geekway to the West, the St. Louis hosted gaming convention that focuses on board gaming and board gaming alone.  With stunning results too.

geekwaylogoIf you visit the Geekway to the West site you will see that they’ve been at the Con game for 11 years this May.  I’ve attended the last two.  When I first attended I wasn’t sure what I would discover, my apprehensions were somewhat parallel to my good friend Toby’s, which he covered in an eloquent write up on his blog Roll and Groove, when he first attended GttW.  I was nervous about the whole thing, the crowds, not knowing the games, etc.  It was my first Convention and unlike Gen Con, which was at that time coming down the pipe, I’d be attending alone.  What I discovered was an entirely inclusive environment, full of gamers ready to flag you down if they needed one more for a game and readily help you understand the rules or, if no one knew them, pick your brain to assist the group in getting ready.  Four days of gaming flew by quick.

The next year I attended merely one day of the event due to a family function filling up the remainder of my weekend.  I had signed up to help with the library too, and sadly had to back out.  The one day I was there was very eventful though.  I fell in love with an odd little game called Space Cadets: Dice Duels, and even won a copy of the game just for playing it.  Last year I even helped out some would be game designers by being a volunteer game tester.  It was a cool experience especially because, as anyone who knows me well can tell you, I really love just talking to other gamers about their passions and few have more love for gaming than someone putting themselves out there as a designer.

This year I plan to attend all four days and will likely volunteer to work the library if they need me.  Speaking of said library, it is huge.  The folks who run the con have collected hundreds of games, many of them with multiple copies, to lend out to the more than one thousand attendees. Truly a board gamer’s delight!

A few things to note about this con if you intend to consider coming on down to play some games with me, you know you want to.

  • Date: May 14-17
  • Place: Westport Sheraton Chalet – St. Louis, Missouri
  • Price: For all 4 days
    • Early Bird: $35.00 until Monday 01/12/2015!
    • Online Post 01/12/2015: $45.00
    • At the Door: $50.00
  • Online badge purchasers also get a free board game at Check in! (Last year I got a copy of the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game)
  • Let me reiterate the above…Free Game folks, Hell the game I got last year retails for $30 and I paid $35 for my badge.
  • There is a Play and Win contest for some games, whenever you play them you are entered into a lottery to win that copy at the end of the Con.  Last year I won Space Cadets: Dice Duel.
  • There are contests
    • Game Design Contest
    • Certain games like Crokinole & other Attendee run games
  • Support for Designers
    • Prototype Lab
    • Playtest area
    • The design competition
  • Merchandise
    • Trade table where you can trade your old game for something new
    • Vendors can set up tables too.  Last year I met with William Mandry, creator of the excellent pocket game Survivalistic.

I could go on but at this point just visit the website here because you are obviously interested enough to maybe get a badge.  I’d love to see some of my readers attend.  Would love to meet some new folks and would love to see some old friends again.  Come beat me at a game, I’m abysmal at boardgames anyway (despite my love for them) so it should be easy.  Hopefully I’ll see you at the Con!

-Melvs