Saturday, July 30, 2011

Yet More GenCon Stuff

While this is mostly a blog about gaming, it is occasionally also a blog about me. And around travel time, it also becomes a blog about travel. This is one of the posts that is mostly about me and mostly not about gaming and a little bit about travel.

I don't really have normal relationships. At least, I don't have normal relationships if you consider a heterosexual, monogamous relationship the norm. I have, at present, two girlfriends. Those girlfriends are each seeing people that are not me. Autumnblade is seeing a lovely young lady from our weekly D&D campaign, and Bloodsong is seeing one of my co-workers and a business contact of mine she met through me. We all know about one another. We all approve of this style of relationship, and with one another's choices in partners. Google "polyamory." That's what we're up to.

That isn't to say that everything is always lovely all the time. There's drama, and it can be really tough to work through. Anything you do that involves more than one person's feelings runs the risk of being difficult. Any time you add more people to that mix, it gets exponentially more difficult. I'm serious when I say "exponentially," as well; it isn't a case of one person bringing enough drama for one person. Each new romantic relationship brings with it a new non-romantic relationship with every other person in the group. Things get sort of crazy sometimes.

But it comes with the territory, and everyone is generally in agreement that the good heavily outweighs the bad most of the time, and we struggle on like any other relationship or network of relationships might. Think of it sort of like an extended group of friends who occasionally sleep together.

This year, I'm bringing both of my girlfriends to GenCon. That's sort of like saying "I'm bringing two snarling wildcats to sit with me in a phone booth for three hours!" There's a lot of potential for things to go horribly, horribly wrong with this trip. I'm confident it's going to be alright, mind, the above comparison isn't meant to convey that they hate one another or that they're at one another's throats. I've met some very lovely snarling wildcats. But there is certainly the potential that everyone and everything in the direct vicinity is going to get mauled, I'm not ignorant of that fact.

So this is going to be something of a strange trip. Autumnblade is a fairly avid gamer, and has the entire weekend planned out. There have been a few moments where she's looked at me and said something akin to "Then, at midnight, I get to stop for a snack!" I'm not even really sure how much I'll see of her. Bloodsong's new to gaming as a hobby, and plans to mostly check out every single game in the exhibition hall and try out whatever anyone is playing near her. Honestly, I envy her a little, in that she is going to be exposed to so many games in one of the most incredible environments possible. If she doesn't like the game she's playing, she can stop, turn around, and start playing a completely different game at the drop of a hat.

I'll likely spend a lot of time in the exhibition hall myself, but more for buying purposes than anything else. The events I'm most keen on attending are seminars. There are a lot of cool talks going on this year, and I'm really excited to learn a thing or two about my various hobbies (and my business). I'm part of the Trade Day program this year, which is something I'd pushed for in my first trip, but the bosses were pretty solid that that first go-round was not to be a working holiday. I think they've figured out that I breathe this shit, though, and have stopped trying to pursuade me from working on my days off (I have been known to come into work occasionally just because I'm bored).

About the only gaming event I'm absolutely taking part in is the Yu-Gi-Oh! Championship Series. That might seem a touch strange, given my dislike of the game, but it's for a good cause.

I will be trolling.

I have built a deck that is older than God, and have every intention of having some kid look at me like I have a screw loose when I play it. A few kids, in fact. I will be wasting a good portion of my day fucking with Yu-Gi-Oh! kids. It will be very lol. I am considering blogging about it live. Maybe live-tweeting. If I can, with pictures of my opponent's faces when I lay down a card they haven't seen since people considered Hammer Pants a viable fashion choice and the Y2K bug was going to doom the planet. Yes, that's right, I'm playing Toons.

I also plan on buying things and doing some business networking. But the YGO game is going to be the highlight of the trip, I'm sure.

Monday, July 25, 2011

What Wizards is Doing Wrong, Part 86x10²³³

We all love to rag on Wizards of the Coast for fucking up our amazingly wonderful awesome incredible game. And to be fair, they fuck up a fair bit. Not enough that they’ve gone out of business, mind, but enough that they’re hurting us, and enough that they’re hurting their market share. According to ICv2 (which is brilliant), the good folks at Paizo are a close second in the role-playing game market, and they’re selling a game that Wizards of the Coast invented. Anyone looking at this should be able to understand the problem pretty quickly: Paizo is making nearly all of its money off of an intellectual property developed by their direct competitors, and they’re doing it legally, and it’s eating a healthy stack of Wizards’ lunch.

Most of the time, I don’t give business advice to the folks at Wizards of the Coast, because they’re supposed to know what the fuck they’re doing. These are some smart folk, the best and brightest that the gaming world has to offer. They’re supposed to understand that there is a very simple solution to this problem: they need to sell what Paizo is selling, and they can make more money selling it than Paizo can.

Back when 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons came out, a lot of people were pissed off that the company was replacing the best role-playing game in the world with some new, weird thing. They complained and they argued and there were some solid edition wars going on, but eventually most of the 2nd Edition folks came around to the new way of doing things. Why? Because they had no choice. It was getting harder and harder to find Dungeons & Dragons material for the edition they liked the best, and this new version was still Dungeons & Dragons, right?

This Edition War has a different flavor, though. There’s a new factor, and that factor is that you can still find material for the version of D&D you like better. You can still find 3rd Edition support from the folks at Paizo and their allies, and that means that the grognards of 3rd don’t need to eventually filter over to D&D4. I think what Wizards was hoping for was that the Dungeons & Dragons name would carry through for them, that people would rather play “Dungeons & Dragons” than “Pathfinder.” And to a degree, they’re right. I get a lot of waffling in my store. I have a set of the three core rule books for 3.5 sitting on my shelf, and it’s priced at a whopping $275. I don’t think I’m going to get that much for it. Yet. But eventually someone is going to come down to my store hoping to find some D&D3.5 core books, and I’ll say “Well, there’s Pathfinder over here…” And they’ll let me know that $275 is a steal for the Dungeons & Dragons name on the edition of the book they’re looking for. But a lot of people walk away, think about it, talk to their gaming buddies, and decide that they’d rather pick up Pathfinder than 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. The name means something, but if it’s the same product in a different wrapper, a lot of folks are going to buy. If it’s the same wrapper around a new, different product, they’re not so sure. Obviously, this is doing Paizo fairly well.

If Wizards wants to capitalize on this shitty situation, the solution is pretty simple. They need to open up their backlist. They need to put the entire collection of 3.5 D&D books on the idevice book apps for a dollar a piece. They need to print black-and-white perfect bound versions of the core books and put them back in circulation at a much lower price point than Pathfinder’s core book (say $25; it works for Palladium). They need to put 2nd Edition and 1rst Edition books up as .pdf files for free, and run that site on advertising packages. The most expensive part of making 3.5 D&D is paid for; all Wizards needs to pay for right now is reprinting and inventory, and both of those things are super-cheap compared to the loss of market share Paizo is currently representing.

Then they need to change how they’re doing 4th Edition entirely. Their focus is currently divided between online content and published content, and that hasn’t been doing them any favors. My coworker Ian and I were discussing the myriad ways Exalted and White Wolf have been sucking donkey balls for the past few years, and one of the ideas he put forth sort of struck home with me. Wizards of the Coast needs to put out two different versions of Dungeons & Dragons. On one side, they need printed product to support their organized play initiatives and to get most of their new playerbase involved. People become involved with D&D because someone passes them a book and says ‘This shit’s great, let’s give it a go.’ People need to have a thing in their hand before they become properly invested in the product you’re selling.

But Dungeons & Dragons isn’t a product as much as it’s an idea. It’s information, and if nothing else has been proven in the last few years of gaming, it’s a fluid idea. It’s a living idea, and the print medium is not best suited to that sort of document. Wizards should by all means continue to publish print books, but only the print books that fucking matter. Core rule-books. Setting information. Monsters. Things you need to sit down and play with your friends for a few hours.

Then they need to publish the most comprehensive online role-playing game experience ever attempted. They need to build the Google+ of role-playing games: huge online database with every word of every book, organized, searchable, integrated with a new character builder, an adventure designer, a monster-builder. Every power, every character, every dungeon tile, every sentence, all living in the cloud. The game’s errata occurs immediately. Characters are updated as the rules are. Player-built content lives side-by-side with official data so that every player can draw from every other player that uses this new set of tools. Online chat with video and audio capabilities, as well as an online table built in java allow for online play. Charge us more money for an actually robust online game, and we will gladly fucking pay it.

What problems does this solve? It means that product printed a year ago isn’t out-dated, it’s just the introductory product and it doesn’t represent the game as a whole. It means that errata can happen at the drop of a hat when something is proven to be broken. It means that you no longer have to pay scads of cash to publish high-quality book when you can pay less money by far to have a game that constantly reproduces itself, constantly updates itself, and never goes out of print. It means you stop having to deal with distributors, because you can send the logins that grant you access to this new and wonderful game to the same people running the D&D Encounters and D&D Dungeon Delve initiatives (which means that people who don’t have credit cards can still buy and enjoy your online offerings). It means you make more money, you spend less money, you increase your market share substantially, you make a lot of players much, much happier with you, you stop dividing your attention between print and online media, and you have improved the public opinion of your company with a huge division of the folks who currently hate you.

If someone at Wizards would like to hire me to fix their busted shit, they can reach me at I’m not cheap.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

D&D Confessions

This one was a little too long for twitter, so it turned into a blog post instead.
When I first started laying Dungeons & Dragons, I was doing it wrong. This lasted for a really, really long time. Well into my high school years, and I started playing between grades three and four. See, my buddy Landon had this awesome box of stuff he’d discovered at a cousin’s place, and he brought it over one day, and it was basically the best thing I’d ever seen. It was the Red Box of D&D, and it literally changed my life. From that moment on, I was playing D&D.
Except that I wasn’t playing D&D. The version of the Red Box that we’d gotten our hands on had a rolodex of cards that taught you the rules (which is, by the by, completely ingenious, and why people aren’t using it as a method to teach games today is completely beyond me). So one of the cards would have stuff like “Climbing a Wall:” writ huge on the header, and then it would go into the rules for climbing and falling and ability checks and the like. And we were missing some cards. Also, we were eight years old, so we ended up reading all sorts of ridiculous bullshit into the rules. Eight year olds are not masters of literal reading.
So what we ended up playing was some insane amalgamation of the make-believe games all kids play (“Okay, so this GI Joe is going to be the big bad villain, and this group of lego guys is a bunch of dwarves. And they’ve kidnapped this princess that we… stole from your sister? Yeah. Okay. And then we’re gonna come in and kick their butts!”) with some of the rules of D&D haphazardly tossed over them. I think the one thing that we really took from D&D was the idea of dice as a way to mediate dispute. Whenever one of us would try to do a thing that we weren’t sure we could do, we’d toss some dice and see how it went.
I played this version of Dungeons & Dragons until Landon moved to Calgary in the mid-nineties. Then I tried to teach other people the only version of D&D I knew how to play, because it was a game that I wasn’t about to give up on.
It actually took a group of Palladium Fantasy players to straighten me out, and show me how other people played role-playing games. It was an eye-opening experience for me; it showed me exactly what I’d been trying to do, refined to a story-telling art. It was, again, life-changing.
Anyway. Out of all of my D&D Confessions, the fact that I played it all wrong for some seven years is probably the most personal and embarrassing. ^_^

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Playing an NPC

One of the cool things about being involved in as many gamer circles as I am is that I get to occasionally drop in on someone’s game and play a single session or three, usually as a fill-in. I get invited a fair bit, but I only ever make it out to a few games, as my schedule is usually pretty ridiculous.
Being a drop-in character in a long-running campaign is different from playing a character from the beginning, or joining full-time. You aren’t there to play a character, really – at least not in the traditional sense. You’re there to fill a gap, or to make something happen, or sometimes both. In a lot of ways, you are a glorified NPC, an extension of the Game Master’s will. There are almost always plans for you.
So when I come into a situation where I might be filling in a gap, the first thing I do is put my Game Master hat on. I come up with some ideas about who or what the character I’ll be playing is, and how that is going to work into the overarching plot of the game. Sometimes that’s as simple as “My players need a healer for a few sessions while Jenny’s moving into her new place,” sometimes it’s as complicated as “I need someone who is not me to steer the group in a political direction that is better suited to the complete dissolution of the current regime in favor of one that is strongly detrimental to the player characters.” I treat the former like I’m a player. I treat the latter like a special sort of Game Mastering in Miniature.
One of the biggest benefits to this, I find, is that a fellow Game Master brings something new to the table, a perspective you don’t have. In my case, I bring a lot of plot. No character I create lacks a backstory. No character I create lacks goals or aspirations, and that can often change the dynamic of the table drastically. When my goals and the goals of the other player characters don’t exactly match up, all the better for the dramatic tension it causes. Then, when things hit a peak, I leave and let the Game Master figure out what happens next.
Where this helps other game masters is in the flexibility it offers. If one of the players sitting at your table is pulling the party towards a specific direction, the rest of the players aren’t going to jump down the Game Master’s throat for rail-roading. A lot of times, I’ve come up with the direction entirely on my own, or with minimal direction from the Game Master, which gives me a lot of flexibility in how I get that plot point to work. It also means that I can surprise the Game Master with a point of view he or she hasn’t considered previously, a plot point that might not work in any situation except as initiated by a player-character, or a situation that is much more dramatic because of the tension that comes from interacting with another person playing a single character.
It can also be a lot of fun, plotting and planning things that the other players may or may not expect. I’m looking forward to sitting in on a few sessions of Siobhan’s Changeling game, for instance, mostly because I don’t think anyone has any clue what it is they’re dealing with, and it has the potential to change the political landscape of the game forever.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Testing, Testing

This is mostly just a test-post to see how quickly the aggregator works on the new Warp One website. I am hoping it is faster than the old one. ^_^ I deleted the post once already, but it didn’t change in the feed thing at all, so I’m putting it back up.

In other news, you should go to and lavish me with praise for putting that shit together in my spare time for nothing but the satisfaction of a job well done. And praise. I’m also doing it for praise.

Have a picture of a pony:


On the Subject of Passports

I usually write a lot of blog posts while I’m travelling, because I consider travel to be one of the few adventures left to the suburbanite masses. If you want to go to a place, there’s a way to get there. If you want to go on a quest, someone’s got your hook-up. If you want to stab a dragon in the face, there’s a tour for that somewhere.
So when I travel, and I see things I’ve never seen before, I figure “Hey, maybe Tim in Cedar City Utah has never seen this before either.” I mean, everything I’ve seen, someone else has seen. But not everyone has seen all of the things I’ve seen, so there’s still someone who’s interested.
I’m not going to be travelling for another month or so, and when I do it will be back to Indianapolis, Indiana for GenCon. I’ll be taking much more comprehensive notes this time around, but it’s still not going to be nearly as impressive for adventure notes as, say, going to Amsterdam, Paris and London, or spending eight days living on seas.
My friend Zak, though, is supposed to be in Kenya right now. He’s not in Kenya, though. He’s in Edmonton, which is about as different from Kenya as a place can get. He forgot to renew his passport, which sort of got me to thinking about the passport as a thing.

To be honest, I’ve never really liked the idea of a passport; that I need to pay the nation of my birth for a piece of paper that says I’m allowed to leave it seems strangely restricting to me. I mean, in a free country, shouldn’t I be free to leave whenever I damned well please? But I have one. I’ve had a total of two in my lifetime, and the current is sitting in my filing cabinet as I write this.

There have been a few different sorts of passports in history. The first recognizable passport was given to Nehemiah by Artaxerxes I, the King of Persia in some 450 BCE. It was a letter requesting safe passage from the “governors beyond the river,” as Nehemiah travelled through their lands. The second was actually a tax receipt, proof that you had paid your taxes and had thus earned the right to travel to different regions of the Caliphate. King Henry V invented the first passport we might understand today as a way to help his people identify themselves overseas.

The first is sort of what one thinks about when we think “Passports and Adventures.” You are given a writ of passage by the king of a nation to travel across the lands of savages to rebuild a holy city and repopulate it with the chosen people of the gods. That’s a hell of a quest. The writ of passage is a fine way to manage passports in general, as it provides some level of legitimacy to one’s claims as a person on a quest given by someone important and/or awesome. It’s also almost-built-in railroading for your players, as they only have permission to be travelling out here for the sake of their ultimate quest.

That’s not the only way to use passports to restrict your players’ movement, though.

The medieval European passport didn’t work the same way ours do. Normally, it would be a document written up by the local authorities that would dictate which towns a person could go to or through overland. In a lot of ways, it didn’t just restrict the towns you could go to, but the path you could take to get where you’re going. If you need to get from Paris to Brussels, there are a few ways you can do that. The fastest of them crosses through seven different cities. What if one of those cities isn’t on your passport? Well, you’re not going through that town. Pick a different path. Sea ports, which were seen as a free trading zone, didn’t really suffer the same restrictions. You could go wherever you wanted by sea, but overland you’d need to get yourself permission.

This flies in the face of how things are done in a standard game of Dungeons & Dragons. I mean, travel documents rarely come up at all, and when they do, it’s usually for special occasions. You’re crossing the border into dangerous territory or something, not just travelling to the next town to kill some goblins. You don’t have to make nice with the local sheriff if you don’t want to because you can totally kick his ass, steal his girl, and make a pile of rubble out of his home. But if the next-town-over will only accept a passport as written by him or his...

And restrictions make for interesting play situations. If you can’t get a passport to the next town over, but there’s a vampire in there, and he’s killing people to death, you’ve got to make a choice: rush in and save the town anyway (probably having to break in, because the guys at the gate aren’t going to be opening the door), or sit on your hands while people are getting slaughtered - and the gold stolen, for those folks of an evil or selfish persuasion. If you need to get to Dunbastion, and the fastest road is through Gramerthay, but you can’t go through Gramerthay, you’re going to have to find a way around the city with the thieves and the rapers and such that live outside the city walls.

And if, by some circumstance, you forget to renew your passport before you leave, well then you’ve got a whole slew of problems that need fixing.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Prepping for GenCon

The last time I went to GenCon was in 2008, and it was a blast. I ended up bunking with Amber and Jason Scott, who are both the loveliest of people, and because it was my first time at the convention, I basically wandered around like an idiot and hit up as many interesting things as I could find. I did not, strangely enough, play any games. Well, that's not true, I played Katamari Damacy, which may be the worst thing a person going to GenCon should ever admit.

I did go to a lot of interesting seminars, though, and I think that's going to be my focus this time around, too. I can't really see myself joining any convention RPG tables; organizing short-term game events is sort of my job. Instead, I'm going to do a lot of seminars, learn as much as I can about as much as I can, and maybe invent a boffer sword with which to hit people in the store.

Both of my girlfriends are coming along this year, though. That sort of changes the game plan a bit, in that I'm not going to be quite as footloose and fancy-free as I was the last time around. I'm going to need to know where I am occasionally, and how to get to some places, and how to make my way from those places to where I'm supposed to be. That's going to take a bit more preparation than I'm used to. So there are a few things I'm going to need to figure out when I get to Indianapolis.

1) I'm buying a crappy cell-phone. A local one. I didn't have a way to get in touch with anyone last time around, and while that wasn't a huge problem, it will be this time. I'll be buying my crappy phone in Indianapolis at a 7/11. I will be leaving it there.

2) I'm going to sit down and actually map out some important shit in Indianapolis. Like where the cheap-ass restaurants are, the various halls, that sort of thing. They give you a map when you get into the con, and that map is pretty useful. I may end up scanning it, or getting a digital copy of it, and putting it onto my ipad.

3) Oh yeah, I'm bringing my ipad. There are few pieces of technology I love more than I love my ipad, and it is going to be something of a lifesaver next month. It's got an on-board scheduler. It's got a to-do list on it. It's got text-editing software so that I can take notes. It's got a doodling app so I that I can take notes FAST. And when I need REALLY fast notes, it's got an audio recorder. It's got maps on it. It's got an internet on it. It's like the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy lives in my satchel.

4) I'm planning ahead some. I know I missed out on some killer stuff last year because I was asleep for it. I didn't sleep through the whole show or anything, but I definitely did not make as great a showing at the seminars as I was hoping. I never made it out to the Fantasy Flight party. I didn't make it to the charity auction. So there are some things I'm going to get to, and I'm going to plan ahead to make sure I get to them.

That's all I can think of off the top of my head. I'm sure I'll think of more awesome things that will help me prepare later. After all, I've got a month. ^_^