Thursday, 31 October 2013

Cursed Item Horror Stories

As I've posted previously me and horror don't really work that well together and given that this post is going out on Halloween I felt I should post something with the word Horror in the title.

This post could so easily have been about horror stories of games that have gone horribly wrong and been memorable for all the wrong reasons but I wanted to focus more on player character disasters rather than gaming disasters as it were.

For those old school D&D players amongst you there may be a shiver down your spine when you read this but please hang in there!

Back in D&D and AD&D 1st Edition (the latter especially I feel) cursed magic items were very much a part of the game.  Now these came in a variety of formats and in many respects were just variants (dangerous variants granted) on a normal item which if the PCs weren't careful would backfire on them.

One such cursed item that has stuck in my memory all these years is the Horn Of Collapsing.  A cursed item so vile and malicious that it was deemed too risky to include in the Queen Of Demonweb Pits scenario.  So what makes that item stand out from all the others?

Easy - It resulted in my first ever total party kill (TPK).  Ok so it wasn't really the Horn itself that did that, more the recklessness of the player who thought "Hey there's a bugle, I wonder what will happen if I play a tune on it?" and ultimately resulted in that TPK.

Now I no longer own the 1st Edition AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide but through the power of Google I was able to find a version of the rules for this despicable cursed magical item...

The horn appears to be a normal musical instrument, perhaps a bugle or warning horn of some sort. If it is sounded improperly (e.g., without first speaking the proper command word) or 10% of the time in any event, the following will result:

  • Out-of-doors: A torrent of fist-sized rocks will strike the individual sounding the horn, 3d6 in number, each causing 1d6 hit points of damage.
  • Indoors: The ceiling overhead will collapse when the device is blown. The character suffers 5d12 points of damage.
  • Underground: The area immediately above the character sounding the horn will fall upon him. The damage is 5d8 points base, multiplied by one for each 10 feet of height which the material above drops (i.e., twice damage if a 20-foot ceiling, three times damage if a 30-foot ceiling, etc.).

Proper use of a horn of collapsing enables the character to sound it while it is pointed at the roof overhead from 30 to 60 feet beyond the user. The effect is to collapse a section of roof up to 20 feet wide and 20 feet long (10-foot radius from the central aiming point) which inflicts damage as noted above if indoors or underground only.

The horn can be used once per day.

Some versions of this horn have charges. These kinds can be used as often as desired until the charges are used up. They cannot be recharged but also do not require attunement. They will usually have 2d6+2 charges.

I just remember explaining the result and back then I didn't really cater for rewinding the clock or anything like that to give the players a 2nd chance.  The decision had been made to blow the horn and now all that was left was for lots of dice to be rolled.  The character in question was being played by my good friend Craig Milne who was part of my original gaming group back in the day and some 25 years later this episode is STILL cast up even though none of the original group (other than me of course) still play games.

I can't even remember what class Craig's character was playing back then or anything like that.  I simply remember that they were in a cave/underground complex and Craig's character discovered the Horn and decided to blow it.  The resulting dice roll killed the entire party in one foul swoop.  Needless to say that for many future games to come Craig was never again allowed to pick up random objects to see what they would do...

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

When Retailers Go Bad

On my recent family break in London we did some of the tourist trap stuff and also did some shopping. Some of that shopping involved a trip for me out to Leisure Games for the first time and I had a great visit and plan to go back next opportunity I have.
However there was one particularly negative shopping experience that has been niggling at me since that break.

We went to Hamleys in London solely for our daughter to have a look and spend her holiday money.  She decided to get a new Build-A-Bear and whilst she waited in the queue I did some investigation into the "hobby games" section they had.

Pretty decent selection all in all.
Pandemic, Ticket To Ride, Settlers Of Catan, Carcassonne, X-Wing and a few others that I can't recall.

What struck me though was the price of the games...

Taking 1 specific example - Pandemic RRP is £29.99. Hamleys price £40.  I stood there for 5 minutes looking at it and picking up multiple copies just making sure it wasn't an error in case the wrong price tag had been put on it.  However all that happened was that the price was confirmed.  £40...

Ok so I know it's Hamleys and I know it's on Regents Street in London etc etc but a 33% markup over and above the RRP!?

Then I got to thinking a bit more and maybe this is something more core to the financial model of the hobby market.  Using the markups I had in my previous post on the 4 Party System that £29.99 RRP translates to a Distributor price of £20. So by pricing it at £40 Hamleys are putting a 50% markup over the Distributor price that they're buying it at (assuming they don't get a larger discount).
Maybe, just maybe, that's the correct price?  What I mean is I bet the majority of non-hobby games that Hamleys carry have a larger markup than 33%, indeed I'd be surprised if that markup wasn't 50% across the majority of non-hobby games that they sell.

I'd also have to say that Pandemic is likely worth £40.  Although I'd rather give my £29.99 to my FLGS!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Cheating in games...

I'm kinda surprised that it's taken me so long to cover this topic but then again it's not something I've encountered (to my knowledge) recently.  One of my hobby principles is to have fun when playing games and I've also touched on how unimportant winning is in achieving that fun.  I however haven't cover cheating in games.

So what do I mean by cheating?

It can be blatant cheating either through fabricating dice rolls, illegal deck builds, fudging stats in games or something more extreme.

Now I'm not referring to the GM fudging a dice roll to ensure the party stays on the railroad.  That's permissible to a point, isn't it?  Suppose that depends on your gaming group and whether "dice as rolled" is part of the mantra.  I've been known to fudge a situation to ensure that the game doesn't end early as a result of total party kill or indeed to provide the party the opportunity to find something out that they otherwise wouldn't learn.  Now is that cheating?  I suppose technically it's "cheating the game" rather than "cheating the players"; unless of course that fudging results in the PCs missing out on something...

Cheating your fellow gamer is wrong and I don't think anyone will disagree with me when I say that but why do some people cheat?  I suppose it's similar to the "must win" attitude that comes with some from my fellow gamers to the point that they forget that it's a game which is supposed to be fun...

People might also cheat because of the nature of the contest.  Any game that has a "pro" circuit brings with it a highly competitive environment.  That environment is, in the main, very cordial and fair but there are some gamers out there who take the competitive element too seriously and are prepared to cheat to win.

Tolerance levels of cheating vary from community to community.  I know game store owners who ban players for life on the basis of cheating during a tournament irrespective of whether it's a first offence or not. That may sound extreme but I understand why they do that.  Similarly I know clubs who have had disruptive individuals due to persistent foul play during games and those individuals have been excluded from participating in tournaments and at times been ostracised by other gamers.

Have you encountered cheating when playing games and if so what happened?

Monday, 28 October 2013


When writing a framework for a campaign you generally have a trigger that helps you shape the overall plot.  That trigger can come in a variety of forms and it usually isn't fully formed when it first comes to you.
One of the best triggers in D&D games for me has been names.  These usually turn into NPC names or location names but sometimes they turn out to be something more.

I ran a campaign called Kilranthia at +ORC Edinburgh which had elements from a previous campaign that I'd ran; specifically I took the names of PCs from an old campaign and built them into the pantheon of Kilranthia.  Now that was the easy bit and wasn't actually the trigger, it just helped me to refine the trigger into the fully formed one that Kilranthia needed.

The trigger became known as Dimura's Prophecy and this is what it said -

The life of the world began when the light of the sky first shone upon the child of the land.
From the heart of the forest came the hand of the destroyer and he stole the eye of the mountain.
The mouth of darkness tried to remove the jewel of the ocean and block out the light of the sky.
From the child of the land will come those to face the hand of the destroyer and free the eye of the mountain.

In the heart of the forest hope remains.
In the eye of the mountain hope depends.
In the child of the land hope relies.
Without the light of the sky hope dies…

In the mouth of darkness despair waits.
In the hand of the destroyer despair triumphs.
In the jewel of the ocean despair fears.
Without the life of the world despair nears.

Reading it back after quite sometime it still has a lot of meaning to me.  Essentially the prophecy tells of a moment in the future where The Big Bad will win.  There is a chance, a slim chance, that this moment can be prevented but the terms in the prophecy are not simple to translate.  During the campaign it became something that the players leaned on and revisited many many times to justify their actions and determine their next steps.  I'd be interested to know what others make of it other than perhaps it being some poorly written poetry.

Let's take 2 of the "names" that are referenced and see how I used them in the game.

"Eye Of The Mountain" - Represented in the game by an eagle named Lóthdor.
Lóthdor was an avatar of one of the ancient and forgotten gods. This god was largely nature based and had created Lóthdor to be his Eye so that he could watch over the world and help guide those in it.  Essentially all that happened here was that one of the PCs had a companion who was an eagle named Lóthdor who also just so happened to be an avatar of a once dead god.
Lóthdor was both a distraction and a focus for the characters at different points in the story and became a key device in reminding the players that the prophecy was tangible and could be used to influence them.

"Hand Of The Destroyer" - Represented in the game by a big time Wizard named Weston who worked both angles whilst at the same time looking to grab all the power for himself.
Weston was nobodies fool and someone who worked all the angles to get what he needed.  He was both the saviour of the PCs and their enemy.  Ultimately he was manipulating the world so that when that moment of The Big Bad winning was upon them he was ready.  Essentially he was there to emphasise the doubt the PCs had in what they needed to do and no matter what The Big Bad did, Weston was always going to win.  If The Big Bad won then Weston was the reason for that success.  If The Big Bad lost then Weston again was the reason for that failure.  This really came down to who the PCs trusted which in the end it all came down to a coin toss...

Some of the above will read like railroading and at times I'm sure that did happen however I'd suggest that those instances were more about demonstrating that forces beyond the understanding of the PCs were involved in the plot.  The role of the PCs was to change the balance of any outcome, to be that thorn in the side of The Big Bad and the prophecy gave them the means and opportunity to do that.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Hobby Market: Selling Direct

So in the 4 Party System I walked through the various tiers of the hobby market and how each tier adds a layer of cost to the price the consumer pays.

So what would happen if the manufacturer sold directly to the consumer only?  Stress the ONLY part here.

The biggest change in a manufacturer to consumer approach is the level of stock and so in turn investment that the manufacturer has to do.

If the manufacturer was still to create 500 units for sale then they need to confident that they would make a quick return through Direct Sales to consumers.

Let me break that down -

So the manufacturer still spends £2,500 on producing those 500 units.
Do they continue to sell them at the RRP that was previously used?  Definitely worth exploring.

At £17.50 per unit - To reach a break even point on that £2,500 investment the Manufacturer would need to sell 150 of the 500 units.  Which is a pretty amazing mark up but what has to be remembered is that the Manufacturer is now dealing with individual Customers (potentially 500 of them) rather than a few select Distributors or Retailer (<50?).  This adds a management overhead around storage and distribution and of course means it's down to the Manufacturer to sell all 500 of the products directly.  Well I suppose they could only sell 200 and make a gross profit of £1,000 but why create 500 then?  Other than to get the production price down to £5.

At £7.50 per unit - This brings a different dynamic.  To get to a break even point the Manufacturer has to sell 335 of the 500 units.  This is the same markup we used in the example previously of 33% except in that scenario this was selling the product to a Distributor.

But if the product is £7.50 rather than £17.50 they'll sell loads more!  Right?
Hmmm, maybe.  I mean sure selling more of the product because of a lower price is likely but we're talking about moving from selling 150 to 335 to break even.  That's double the sales to make the same amount of revenue.  Why would you do that?

In the scenario where the Manufacturer only sells to the Consumer there's definitely an element of price elasticity available to the Manufacturer when setting the "RRP".  The balance has to be between the overheads of managing the fulfillment, achieving profitability to re-invest into the business and of course setting a price that the product will actually sell at.

If an equivalent product sells at £20 then why would you sell at £7.50?

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Character Creation: Edge of the Empire

So we recently went through character creation for EotE and I really felt this was one of the easiest and most interactive character creation processes I've ever taken part in.

To set the scene - I've got about 9 people interested in playing and that number might increase so looks like the Active/Passive approach is going to be a must have here.

On the night that we got together for character creation only 5 of the players were able to make it.  Some of the players had fairly strong concepts in mind whereas others were largely winging it.  Lots of good chat followed and the players settled on the following.

Human Explorer (Fringer)
Human Smuggler(Scoundrel)
Human Smuggler (Pilot / Scoundrel)
Rodian Colonist (Politico)
Wookie Tech (Outlaw Tech)

What was most interesting though was how the characters changed as the players went through the process of creation.

One of the mechanics of EotE is called Obligation and this brings a very simple narrative measure of what connection the character has to the fringes of the galaxy.  Within the rulebook the player has the option of rolling d% or choosing an Obligation from the list; or with agreement from the GM they can develop another Obligation entirely.  There are other narrative components to the creation that develop the character's origin, journey to the fringe and their motivation.  All of which help to hone that initial character concept into a more rounded playable character.

The other thing about Obligation is that it matters how heavily obligated the whole party is to those fringe elements.  e.g. The higher the parties obligation the less likely that respectable (if only publicly seen that way) connections might be willing to do business with them.  The counter to that though is that if their obligation isn't that high then certain parts of the underworld might not take them seriously.

What was of particular interest here and something I was keen to do, was how the players started to knit their characters together through shared Obligations and other elements of their backgrounds. Alongside that those players with fairly strong concepts at the start of the process were happy to revisit and adjust them to create those links between the characters to ensure that the party had a strong foundation to work from.

When it comes to creating the other characters those same links will need to be woven into any underlying plot for all the characters that will be taking part in the game.  That's one of the challenges of the Active/Passive approach - involving all the characters in the game.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Hobby Market: 4 Party System

So the hobby market works in mysterious ways or more precisely that's how it may appear to the consumer. Let me turn back that curtain and give you a view of what goes on behind the scenes of the hobby market.

So as a consumer you buy a hobby product from a retailer and 99% of the time that's all you need to know.
As a retailer you sell that product to consumers and buy it either from distributors or (particularly in the wargames category) the manufacturers themselves.
As a distributor you sell that product to retailers and buy from the manufacturers or in some cases buy from other distributors worldwide to bring that product to your market.
As a manufacturer you sell that product to distributors, retailers (as I say particularly in the wargames category) and on occasion directly to the consumer.

What does all that mean then?  It's all about money surprisingly enough, for each layer or "party" involved in the end to end transaction there is an amount of money allocated to that product.  Aligned with that money element is a quantity which as you move down the tiers listed above the quantities involved increase.  Taking a fictitious example moving from Manufacturer to Consumer and fabricating the margins that exist for simplicity it looks something like this.

The Manufacturer
Manufacturer creates a new product for market and the cost of production is £5.
The Manufacturer produces 500 units of this new product and sells them in bulk lots of 100 units per lot at a Sell Price of £7.50 per unit.
Total potential revenue is £3,750 which would give a Gross Profit of £1,250 for the Manufacturer based on those 500 units all selling.

The Distributor
Distributor becomes aware of new product from Manufacturer and arranges to buy 100 units of the product for onward selling to Retailers.
The Buy Price for the Distributor is £7.50 per unit and they order 100 units for a total Buy Price of £750
The Distributor then sets their sell price at £11.50 which is approximately a 35% markup.
Total potential revenue is £1,150 which would give a Gross Profit of £400 for the Distributor based on those 100 units all selling.

The Retailer
Retailer is contacted by Distributor (or in some cases Manufacturer) and orders 10 units of the product.
Distributor (and Manufacturer usually) agree what the Recommended Retail Price is for the product and set it at £17.50.  This enables the Retailer to apply approximately a 34% markup onto their Buy Price.
The Buy Price for the Retailer is £11.50 per unit and so 10 units is an investment of £115 with a potential maximum Sell Price of £175.  This would give the Retailer a Gross Profit of £60 based on those 10 units all selling which as I've said is roughly a 34% markup.

The Consumer
Consumer buys product from Retailer for £17.50.

So a product that costs £5 to produce in turn has to sell for £17.50 to give each party a slice of the action in the region of a 34% markup. As I've said above this example is based on fabricated margins each time to represent the nature of the beast.  In reality the margins are different across the tiers but as a model this explains how these things work.

Now each of these tiers has an overhead above and beyond the acquisition of the product itself which is where the markup has to be sufficient to
a) cover those purchase costs
b) cover all other overheads that business has
c) enable an element of profit to improve each business in the chain

So the question is what?
Why doesn't the Manufacturer just sell direct to the Consumer?  They could charge more than £7.50 per unit and make a healthier profit.  This is true but will they shift 500 units?  Keeping in mind that to go into production they had to produce that many for economies of scale.

The tiered system has flaws but it also has a number of key benefits.  But that's for a different post I feel.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

100 Days and Counting

Without letting this turn into one of those Oscar speeches where there are tears and lots of meaningless thank yous.  I wanted to talk a little more about how I got this 2nd Chapter up and running and to thank those who've helped me to rediscover the fun.

Before I decided to do this blog I had to decide whether I wanted to start the 2nd Chapter and as I went through the process of making that decision I kicked off some gaming that in all honesty was more about testing the water than it was about having fun.  Back in those first few posts I explained the process that I went through to test that water.  With hindsight I probably made it harder than I needed to as I could have slipped into running that safe option and likely reducing the benefits I've had from the path now taken.

Jeez that sounds quite cerebral when I read it back but then I suppose that reflects just how important my hobby is to me and the level of breakage it had gone through towards the end of the 1st Chapter.

So, some thank yous.

I'd like to thank John Laurie, Paul Laurie and Tom Russell specifically for giving me that "in" and gently nudging me to re-engage with my hobby.  Granted the games played back then (Battletech tabletop and RPG) are games that have fallen by the wayside now but what I was playing wasn't what was important, it was the actual playing of games with people I was comfortable to play games with.

I'd like to thank John Harper, Simon Harper and Brian Forrester for their friendship and encouragement to make DWARF my gaming venue.  Additional thanks to John and Simon for their enthusiasm in trying new games particularly RPGs.  Brian - I will get you playing a RPG one of these days!

I'd like to thank Douglas Hamilton, Ant Purdie and +Ross Hendry for their interest and high levels of enthusiasm to play games every week especially the board games and if nothing else you're each to blame for my growing collection of board games!

Finally I'd like to thank +Erik Langskaill for his unflinching resolve in making sure that his mate Dave rediscovered his hobby.  Erik more than most knows just how much I'd been missing my hobby and his involvement in getting my re-engagement with it to where it is now is not to be underestimated.

There are others I probably could thank but that's bordering on the Oscar style speech, most notably my wife for "letting" me spend money on my hobby!

So here we are, 100 days and counting.  With many more posts to come and hopefully a lot more fun to come too.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

That 100th Post

100th Post but not 100th Day as there were 2 on my birthday.

So to do this properly I'll be be splitting this into a duologue on the 100th post and 100th day.

This post is more of an overall status check of how things are going in the world of A 2nd Chapter.  Tomorrow's post is a little lighter.

So how are we doing?  I refer my esteemed audience to this post here from 23rd July 2013 where I ask "What's the point?"

Talking about the hobby - Yep I've done a fair bit of that over the last 100 posts and I think I'm really only scratching the surface on a lot of the topics that I've covered and of course there are many more topics that I have yet to cover.
To turn it around though - what haven't I covered that you think needs a bit more discussion about the hobby as a whole?

Broadening my hobby - Well I'm playing games and I'm posting a fair bit about how I see my hobby developing and growing with some luck.  The key struggle here is finding more opportunities to play games, something I keep trying to move forward but so far no such luck.

Talking about hobby ideas - Less posts here than I'd like and if there was an additional objective for the blog it'd be to post more of my ideas.  The trouble here, I suspect, is that most of my thinking for the blog falls into the other 2 categories.

So overall, the blog is active and it's continuing to act as a way for me to express my thoughts on the hobby, my hobby and (if less so) my ideas.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Not Collecting or Trading

So as I've referenced in a few previous posts I have an interest in Magic: The Gathering but that interest only extends to casual play which seems to be counter intuitive when you're talking about a collectable card game...

I'm almost the perennial "starting out" player when it comes to Magic as I particularly enjoy playing core set decks with the exception of my blue/green deck that's got a lot of Zendikar block cards in it.  Not least of all is the wonderful Scute Mob which so long as you can protect it is a simple but annoying card for your opponent when you add Enchantment after Enchantment onto it!

My toe dipping into the pool of Magic is usually through buying things like Deck Builder toolkits and the odd Intro/Fat Pack although of late it's primarily been through the Deck Builder toolkits.

Another way to enjoy playing Magic without being dragged in to the world of collecting/trading of cards to build ze uber deck of uberness is to pick up Duel Decks.

There have been a fairly good variety of these over the past few years and the decks themselves are pretty good "starting out" player material.  The most recent of these is the Heroes vs Monsters Duel Deck which intro'd some of the cards from the now released Theros set.

You can compare these Duel Decks to many 2-player card games out there as they are complete out of the box with no additional cards required which for me is one of the attractions.  Of course you can buy more cards and customise the decks but that's not what we're talking about here.

The title of this post however should really be changed slightly to append "or Playing" as I've not played any Magic for a long time.  It's not really that big a deal given the other gaming I am getting in but I'm pondering some options around fixing that whilst keeping it to a casual toe dipping level of involvement in the game.

Monday, 21 October 2013

A Touch Of Class

When you're creating a character for any RPG you tend to come into that process with a bit of a plan.

I think the majority of games tend to you lead you down the path of choosing a class, archetype, career or other type of character label.  For ease throughout this post I'm going to refer to this as "class".

Why have a class based system?

Class based systems take some of the pain out of creating new characters and provide a toolkit to create that character.  Want to be a swordsman who likes to take risks and wears light armour?  Sure here's the -insert appropriate class for X system-.  The weakness is that there is an element of shoe-horning the character concept into the class.  Now that's not always to the detriment of the character but class based systems can be restrictive because of their toolkit approach.

Some systems enable you to blur the lines between classes or enable the character to belong to 2 different classes at the same time and helps to offset the shoe horning.

What about non-class based systems then?

The only system that really springs to mind is the Hero System which used in the Champions RPG.
This really gives you the blank sheet of paper and a vast array of options and says "Go, make anything you can possibly imagine!"  For a new player that can be daunting and indeed for some who have been playing class based games for most of the gaming lives (that'd be me) it does sound a little off putting.

The key thing you have to consider when choosing class v non-class based game is whether the player characters are going to fall into archetypes?  If not then before ruling out a class based game, question whether there's a way to give the player what they want without breaking the game.  If ultimately the players want to play in a fresh sandbox with no limits then a non-class based game might be the answer.

Of course there's always the 3rd route.  Play both!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

And so it begins...

I referred in my visit to Leisure Games in London that the advice given to a customer wasn't handled as I would have like it.

I've been thinking it over since that visit, reviewing the advice given and de-personalising it from the individuals involved and I think I understand a bit more of what didn't work...  The customer had already bought a rulebook for a game but didn't know what to do next.  Rather than invalidating that first purchase the staff member tried to expand on it.  Understandable but maybe the better option would have been to recommend a beginner's set.

Beginner sets for games are a must.  This isn't just about RPGs, although if any format needed them most it would be RPGs.  Why?

Well, RPGs carry a larger commitment of time from 1 player than the others and in many respects are harder to get into than other formats of the hobby.  To reduce that "barrier of entry" the life of the new GM can be made so much easier through a good quality beginner set.

A good quality beginner's set isn't just for people new to the hobby it is also the perfect introduction to a game.  It gives you everything you need to be able to play the game and leave you wanting more.

The best example of this that I've experienced is that Star Wars: Edge Of The Empire Beginner's Set.

There are other beginner sets out there for other games but these tend to be less common than ever before in the RPG market in particular.

Wargame manufacturers are particularly good at producing starter sets in particular 2 player starter sets and CCG companies have "intro packs" as largely standard items.  Why is it then that the RPG publisher tends to not use the beginner set as the gateway to the hobby as much as the other formats?

Saturday, 19 October 2013

October / November and beyond "ish"

So we're now over mid-way into October and having sustained my attendance at my Friday night gaming club for a number of consecutive weeks I am going to up my commitment a bit.

If I work on the basis that I can attend every Friday then I want to ramp up to having 2 Friday's with RPGs and 2 Friday's with Board/Card Games.

This will enable me to run -

  • Star Wars : Edge Of The Empire - Now I've already ran this a number of times that but that was all with the Beginner's Game version of the rules so now I have the chance to use the full game. Plus seeing as I bought Beyond The Rim I now have a pre-written scenario that I can use as a framework to a plot.
  • D&D Next - This will be using the final Beta that WotC are releasing and so far I've been really happy with a lot of the aspects of the new system.  I have a number of ideas for a story arc here but want to sit down with the players and work out what they want their characters to be like first before setting out my thoughts.
Plus still be able to have my board/card gaming variety.

The length of the story arcs will be entirely dependent on the demands of the players and obviously so long as we're all still having fun I would see no reason to stop playing.

So that's my Friday nights sorted, now I just need to work out how to do more with more...

Friday, 18 October 2013


Conventioneering isn't a real word but it probably should be!

I've blogged about my plans to go to GenCon Indy in 2014 and I've blogged about previous GenCon UK attendances.

I also posted about what I believe a Convention organiser wants.  In that same post I also said "I know why I attend conventions but that's not the purpose of this post."  This time however I am going to write about why I attend conventions and how that's evolved over time.


When I first went to GenCon UK it was all about (for me that is) celebrating the hobby and being part of it. Yeah sure I played some games and bought some games and chatted to random people but in the main it was to be part of it.
A convention experience needs to a positive one about your hobby after all some people may just want to go to conventions to play 1 game all weekend, others may want to go to play no games and just socialise but either way I believe you're likely there to celebrate your hobby alongside others which results in you celebrating the hobby as a whole.
When I first went to the Edinburgh gaming convention - +Conpulsion - it was about celebrating the localised hobby in Edinburgh.  This was also about promoting +ORC Edinburgh  at that time and there was a pretty decent contingent of ORCers who went.  I'll likely do a general post on Conpulsion in the future so won't talk too much about it here.


So by participation you may suspect that this means to play games.  Obviously that is part of it but initially this was more about participation in the convention itself.
At GenCon UK 2005 I signed up to be part of the team of volunteers who set-up and break-down the site. There were financial incentives for doing things like this but that wasn't what motivated me to do it.  I wanted to experience the set up, the atmosphere of conventioneering from the point of view of the organisers.
Essentially I wanted to look behind the curtain of the convention and see what it was like.  What this gave me was an appreciation of the effort that went into creating and running an event of this scale.  It also gave me the chance to speak to traders/retailers who were there as part of the break down to glean some information about what worked for them at the con etc.
The other key way in which you can participate in a convention is to run games.  I did this at Conpulsion on two occasions (I think, might have been 3) and this was to support the organisers in having another game to add to the schedule and one of those games was my Prison Break Star Wars game.


Another new word I've invented.
One of main reasons I go to a convention like Conpulsion now is to socialise with friends that I don't see as often as I used to during my ORC days.  I remember one such Conpulsion I spent more time in the bar than anything else just chatting with friends I'd not seen for a while.
That might sound a bit odd to go along and not really do anything hobby related but it was the hobby that brought us together as friends in the first place and so it just seemed to make sense that we'd sit and chat and drink and maybe, just maybe, play a game.
This is after all a social hobby so socialising at a convention seems like a logical step.

As I look forward to GenCon Indy 2014 a lot of the sensations I have are under the Celebration heading but who knows maybe there will be Participation and Mingleation too!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Growing the Dice Pool

So a few weeks ago I wrote up my post on Clubs, Societies and Community.

My comrade in gaming goodness +Morgan Davie and I have a similar thought process about how gaming is made good in a club environment.  To explore that a bit further I thought I'd pick on some of the more difficult elements when it comes to a club, society or community.

As a club grows in size it needs to be able to work within the confines of the space it utilises and it also has to retain the things that make it a club.

Space wise there are different kinds of requirements depending on the format of the games played.  e.g. a predominantly wargames club may have storage space in the venue that it uses.
Number of tables and chairs available for players may be a restriction, particularly in a public space where there may be no dedicated set of tables/chairs that are used by the club.

By "retain the things that make it a club" I'm focussing on elements such as cliques and the club potentially turning into an assortment of smaller clubs that co-habit the same space.  Attaining and retaining that status of being a single club is difficult particularly if the growth is strong as the sense of identity will change in parallel with the growth of the club itself.
e.g. the club that I attend on a Friday has traditionally been a predominantly wargames club and more specifically a Warhammer Fantasy wargames club.  Yes it's had a RPG element and other wargames have been played but the dominant game has always been Warhammer Fantasy.
In recent times (last year or 2) the club identity has shifted slightly with a lot of younger members joining and a lot of Warhammer 40,000 players in particular playing games.  Flames Of War, Warmachine and other wargames have there moments at the club as do CCGs like Magic have player bases but the dominant games are now 2 fold with Warhammer 40,000 being played more than ever before (that I'm aware of at least).  Protecting and managing that identity of being "one club" is necessary to ensure that the clique doesn't form and also helps to manage any situations of conflict or similar at the club.

In any environment where you get a varied group of people in age and interest there is always a potential for conflict.  The challenge for any club, particularly if it has a "leadership", is how to manage conflict.  It's not something I've witnessed as my Friday night club but I have experienced it in the past where players just can't/won't get on.

I tend to deal with conflicts like this in 2 ways - Monitor and Address.
Monitoring provides the opportunity for the parties in conflict to resolve it themselves or with the help of 1 or 2 others.  This is the best way all round to protect relationships within the club.
Addressing essentially involves another member of the club intervening in on the situation.  Not a case of taking sides, unless of course there's been a real breach of civility, more a case of stepping between both parties and forcing them to resolve it between them.

Getting the word out about a club and enabling it to grow is best achieved through word of mouth.
Other ways that a club can develop it's reputation which in turn promotes itself include -
Attendance at tournaments as club members - This happens a lot in relation to wargames in particular but I've also seen it with CCG tournaments.
Hosting events such as tournaments and inviting other clubs to attend those events.
More direct promotion can also exist through social media by having Facebook Groups and forums etc etc.
These each add to the profile of the club and help to promote it as a whole.

There are other factors to consider here when it comes to the natural development of any club.  What have I not covered that goes on at your club?

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Price vs Choice

In case you haven't gathered from previous posts I'm a pretty big proponent of FLGS' and RRP pricing for products.  This isn't just for tabletop games, this is in general.

Well I'm keen to support brick & mortar retailers, even "big box" retailers who in some respects get a bad rep.  Plus, I rarely buy anything online.  In fact the most recent thing I bought online was some ink for my printer and that's only because I have an uncommon printer (apparently) which means I can't simply pop into PC World or similar to pick up some new ink.  Oh and I don't buy "compatible" inks because I've never found them to be all that compatible...

But why pay more?
That's not the question.  The question is "Why pay less than what the product is worth?"
Recommended Retail Price (RRP) is there for a reason.  It provides a breakdown in price for a product that enables each layer of the manufacturer/distributor/retailer to make money.

Just think of how many more games you could buy though if you paid less!
That doesn't stack up for me.  On a £40 board game I could save what, £4? Maybe even £8 if I really wanted to support a deep discounting online only business.  But then all sorts of things happen.

My FLGS (or equivalent retailer of something other than games) loses the sale which in turn impacts on their ability to make money which in turn (given sufficient volume) impacts on their ability to remain in existence.

Yeah but what does that matter?  I mean you get all of those services from an online retailer, right? I'm going to go with "No" on that one...

There's a recent news article on a situation in France in relation to "independent book stores" which helps to highlight this a bit for me.  In simple terms Amazon (not their biggest fan but that's verging on a discussion about tax and politics...) are in a very different market in France compared to other countries when it comes to books.  This is because France limits the amount of discount off RRP that an independent bookshop can apply to a product to 5% OR supply free shipping.  This limit is being applied to Amazon as it does to every other retailer.

Amazon's argument is that this impacts on consumer choice.  Which I kind of half buy into after all having choice is key to any consumer based decision making.  Oh but wait. Amazon's only talking about a price based choice...
My (and from what I can tell the French government's) counter argument is something along the lines of "By limiting the pricing discount options on products we protect the existence of consumer choice of retailer."  Or in other words it levels the playing field for ALL retailers and enables the consumer to make the decision based on factors other than price alone.

But companies making a profit is bad!
Wrong.  Companies not making a profit go out of business.  The only exceptions to this are high volume companies who likely still don't make a profit, have benefactors who bankroll them or have questionable (at least morally) tax regimes...  Stepping away from the tax topic...

Imagine your employer makes it corporate policy to reduce their profit margin.  Will they still be able to pay you the same salary with the same benefits?

Think of this another way (and to paraphrase Gary Ray of Black Diamond Games) -
Don't discount = Have resources to grow.
Don't cheat customers = Customer growth.
Hire good people and pay them well = They grow the business.

It's not rocket science, it's offering a great customer experience which in turn enables your business to grow because your customers are happy to pay RRP.  Note I say "pay RRP" not "pay more".  It's only more if you inflate your prices.  RRP is NOT price inflation, it's THE price.

Anyway... I'm putting my soapbox away for now.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Spoiling the Ambassador

After I'd made my post on Tabletop Ambassadors I got to thinking about when that pro-hobby stance can go too far in 1 direction almost becoming a Zealot about the hobby or more specifically a particular part of the hobby.

When does the Tabletop Ambassador go too far and tip into being a Zealot who achieves nothing other than decreasing the ability of the hobby to reach new audiences?

That's a pretty big question but then again it has to be if the role of the Ambassador is to be a real one.

Promote rather than Preach
Talk about, demonstrate and generally make positive noises about the hobby.  Do not be so enthusiastic about the hobby as to suggest that nothing else compares to it.
Something I am prone to do is provide a superiority emphasis on tabletop games over any other form of gaming, most notably video games and in particular online video games.
I'm happy to debate the pros and cons of each for reaching new players and the social interactions that both hobbies provide but I suspect that my "preach" element is something that stems from my enthusiasm for the hobby.

Show rather than tell
This is a bit of an old chestnut but it's also true.  To convince people of the merits of anything you need to be able to demonstrate it.  The beauty of tabletop games is that demoing a game is pretty easy to do.  The challenge with this from a balance perspective is to ensure that you're showcasing the pros of the hobby as a whole.  That can't be done in a oner, sure you can pick a game that's most appealing to the target audience and provide a demo of that game but to show off the hobby as a whole that needs multiple demos or perhaps something larger like a convention...
Alternatively the "demo" can be simply watching a group of gamers or indeed several groups enjoy their hobby.  This works especially well in FLGS' that have gaming space but moreso at clubs where multiple formats of gaming are embraced.

What else can spoil the role of the Ambassador?

Monday, 14 October 2013

London Games

I posted a while back about there being a lack of "holiday guides" for gamers when travelling.

Before anyone gets excited this is not where I announce my plans to launch a new blog with that sort of information...  instead I'm going to reflect on my recent visit to London through a gaming lens.

We opted to travel by train for a number of reasons and this gave a real opportunity to try out some family board/card games that I've picked up.

Hey, that's my fish! - I have the Android app for this as well as the board/card game and it's becoming a favourite of my daughter.
I'd also managed to pick up 2 games by Playroom Entertainment in one of the local charity shops. Unusual to see anything hobby related in those shops so I picked them up given the opportunity.  Those games are - Monkey Memory and Top Dogs.  The first is a simple memory game (hence the name) whilst the other is an arithmetic based game with some strategy involved.
Each of these games were played on the way down to London with varied success but ultimately were popular enough for us to play them on the way back up too.  Along with one of the new games that I picked up in Leisure Games - Rat-A-Tat Cat which is a bit of a memory and arithmetic game.

Speaking of Leisure Games...  On Wednesday I took the trip out to Finchley to check out Leisure Games, a shop I've planned to go to for quite some time.  It's always interesting walking into a FLGS for the first time to see the layout and the way the staff operates.

First the good (and it's almost all good) -
I spent a good hour in the shop having a look around.  The staff greeted me on arrival and were happy to let me browse for the time that I was there.  The selection of games available (particularly board / card games) was fantastic.  I found myself walking up and down the shop thinking "maybe I should get this one or maybe this one instead" a lot which probably frustrated the staff!
So what did I buy?  Well, in addition to Rat-a-tat Cat I managed to pick up the 3 mini-expansions for Sentinels Of The Multiverse that I missing. Ambuscade, Unity and The Scholar. New game wise I finally decided on Panic Station.  Why did I opt for that?  Well it looked cool and I wanted a cooperative game with a sci-fi theme.  I also picked up Atomic Robo dice for FATE that were released recently by Evil Hat Games.  I didn't expect to find these so they were a pleasant surprise.
When buying the games the guy at the counter was friendly and helpful.  He mentioned their upcoming Sentinels Of The Multiverse Game Day on the 20th October which if I'd been in London at the time I would have gone along.

Now the not so good (like I said it was almost all good) -
Layout wise it could do with some changes.  The boardgames didn't really seem to be arranged in any particular way which on some levels I don't mind but it didn't make it easy for me to find anything or indeed know if they had anything I was specifically looking for.  Yes I could (and perhaps should) have asked for help in looking but browsing in any new shop is part of the experience.
Also layout wise the play space at the back of the shop also appeared to be the staff hangout area which just felt wrong.  Staff were only on the shop floor when helping customers and serving behind the counter. This made them feel a little detached from the retail space.  If I had been the only customer in the shop and needed help it would have felt like intruding on a staff only area.
I also have some minor gripes with how the customer service was handled.  Not with me, my service was great, but with another customer who was in asking for RPG advice.  The staff member was enthusiastic and giving lots of information about products but to me it felt like information overload and the staff member didn't seem to be giving the customer the chance to absorb any of the advice.  From what I picked up the customer was new to hobby games and in particular new to RPGs.  None of the advice was "wrong" more that there was too much variety and quantity of information for a new gamer.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Dice Bags or lack thereof.

The hobby has a lot of accessories as I've posted about previously. Most of these are probably extras that you aren't going to use or need in the main.  The thing with this hobby though is that now and again you come across something that you didn't know you needed and other times you notice a lack of choice when it comes to other accessories.

For me any accessory has to pass the Only buy it if you're going to use it test.  Well ok so there are exceptions to that but the principle still stands.

One accessory that has peaked my interest in recent months is The Noteboard.  I personally have no use for this as I never draw maps to scale (it's become an in-joke in my games...) but I recognise the value of something so simple and effective as The Noteboard that I had to mention it.

The one accessory that I've been looking for more and more of late is a quality dice bag.  Unfortunately this isn't something I've been able to find including during my visit to the London game stores (a separate post coming soon).  I think I know why this is but I still find it disappointing that there isn't a better range of dice bags out there. Yes I can order a semi bespoke one online but that only highlights the lack of selection from the FLGS.  This is not a slam at the FLGS though, more aimed at the manufacturers and distributors.

Chessex are the biggest dice company, particularly to those in the UK, and they have a fairly large selection of dice to say the least. However the only dice bags available from them are plain velour bags in 2 sizes... Yes you can get some others from FFG and every so often from Q-Workshop but those tend to be limited supply and selection.

Why is that? Is that a UK thing?

Can retailers in the USA get access to a greater range of dice bags through distribution? Judging by the dice bags available from Koplow (who have no UK distributor from what I can tell) it would appear so.

So is there just no demand or is this a gap in the UK distribution market?

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Science Schmience

One of the things that tends to come up in modern day games or more precisely any game where the environment is borderline "normal" is whether science works the same as it does in the real world.

This is usually something I gloss over as part of the "suspension of disbelief" aspect of hobby games tends to rely on things not being the same as they are in the aforementioned real world.

Things like ricochets in scifi worlds are a cool element of combat but there is usually 1 player who's sitting there thinking "But that wouldn't happen due to the laws of physics!" My challenge back is that if you're sitting there questioning the game environment and comparing it to the real world then I'd have to question your involvement in the game.

Them's fighting words!

Well no not really. All I'm saying is that if you're spending more time thinking about whether gravity is being represented correctly than how your character is going to get from one docking platform to another when all that's between them is clear space because you're currently docked at Bespin with stormtroopers firing on you from above then I think you're not giving the game and in turn your fellow players the right level of attention.

But Dave this is science! 

One of the great things about this hobby is that ability to escape to new worlds and new situations and in many respects the ability to do the extraordinary. Only in these games can you leap across to that other docking bay, dodging blaster fire and still have time to shoot back whilst in mid air!

Be creative and be engaged in the games you are playing in and encourage others to join you in embracing your collective imagination.

Otherwise, for me at least, you're not actually playing you're only participating...

Friday, 11 October 2013

RPG Time Management Part 2

So yesterday I covered the more abstract elements of managing time within RPGs.  Today's post is where the time requires a bit more robust management or perhaps tracking is a better word.

Today's elements are Combat and Real-Time.

I'm pretty sure this is covered in the rulebook of the majority of RPGs that I own but if in doubt revert to D&D.
Combat in any RPG is an abstraction to give it structure.  Some combat systems provide mechanics to influence that structure but for here I'm going to give it the high level view of what is actually involved in tracking time in Combat.
Situation - 5 smugglers (characters in the party) facing off against 4 Minion groups of Stormtroopers on the streets of Nar Shadda, Tatooine.
Measurement - For me the number of players influences the overall time measurement here but to keep it simple the easiest way to measure Combat is as follows.

  • Round - Combat Rounds are where the actual Combat takes place.  So these tend to be between 6 and 10 seconds long and are to represent a complete sequence of combat involving 1 character.  This is also used to timebox any non-Combat actions that a character may take during Combat.  e.g. To buy them more time the tech decides to try and lock the door of the docking bay the characters are in.
  • Turn - A combat Turn is to capture the completion of every character (and non-player character) having their turn within combat.  Using the example of the 5 smugglers and 4 Minion groups of Stormtroopers above this would mean 9 rounds are required to ensure that that they have all acted during a round of Combat (in the case of the Minion groups these would act together depending on what system you're using).
    Combat would then continue (assuming there is still someone left to fight with) with a new Turn composed of Rounds.
  • End - Once all the combat Turns are completed there is mop up time which is normally used for healing, rummaging through the supplies of the fallen and other stuff.

I like this measurement for when the party are in a pressure situation as it applies that same pressure onto the players to ensure that they remain focussed!  It can also be used to shine the light on a particular character to demonstrate their skills.  Plus I like to use it to strengthen the collaboration between the players .
Situation - John Summer is frantically trying to get this safe open as in about 3 minutes the alarm is going to go off after his sister, Jenny, failed at shutting off the alarm system.
Measurement - So the way I'd do this is quite simple.  Explain the situation to the players, ensure they understand this is real-time and also (optionally) let them collaborate "out of character" to build that team feeling around what they're trying to achieve.  Once I've explained things I set an alarm for 3 minutes and start the countdown.  This is really to recreate that shot in the movies where the heroes save the day with 3 seconds to spare.  The GM might also want to give the players a number of "pauses" if what's they're trying to do isn't working, especially if it's the dice that are acting against them!  These pauses are just that, a pause for normally 15-30 seconds for the players to get the plan back on track.  No actions can be taken during these pauses, only planning for actions!

So that's the fine tuning elements of time in RPGs.  Let me know if I've missed any situations where time could be managed differently.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

RPG Time Management Part 1

When playing RPGs the handling of time within the game is something that shifts from 1 mode to another depending on the situation in game.

I'm going to cover this over the next 2 posts and use 4 headlines to cover the spectrum of how time is managed in game.

Those are General (that catch all), Exploration, Combat and Real-Time.  Today's post is about the first 2 of those.

There are many many flavours to how this can be measured in game but General covers situations where the measurement of time isn't important other than to say "time passes" and it's now the next hour, day, week, month etc.
There are going to be occasions when the party has a set range of time to complete a task.  This can be handled in a variety of ways but for me the simplest has always been to assign chunks of time to elements of the task and vary that depending on how well the party tackles that particular element.
Situation - The city of Rusteria lies 5 days travel by horse from where they are now.  Once the party arrives they will have less than 48 hours to complete their task.
Measurement - So unless you plan to roleplay your way through the next 5 days of travel (through encounters or side treks or whatever) the simplest method is to say "4 days later you arrive on the outskirts of Rusteria".  If of course the party try to shorten that journey time either through riding harder or perhaps even going without sleep then you can give them the bonus of getting there perhaps 8 hours early but with the consequence of some form of penalty until they rest which likely depletes the 8 hours they've gained.

Situational time where the party are exploring an area such as a dungeon, palace, spaceport, ruined army base etc etc is similar to General above in that simply assigning an arbitrary time to the task makes sense with a variable depending on how the party achieves that task.
Exploration is further complicated by it normally involving a number of Combat slots throughout, particularly if that's a dungeon crawl.  For me the simplest way to handle Combat within the overall time for Exploration is to ignore it.  Combat shouldn't take up a large element of time except perhaps for the "big bad" at the end. So the simplest way to accommodate it within the time allocated to Exploration is to give each area of the situation a value of time which can be modified depending on how you and the rest of the party are approaching this.
Situation - Having now reached the entrance to the lost Tomb Of Durthal the party less than 24 hours to get in, recover the Sceptre Of Nurache and get out again.  Oh and perhaps have to take on the hordes of Lizardfolk that lie within and whatever "big bad" awaits.
Measurement - So the party have 24 hours.  Assuming they plan to sleep within the Tomb (which may or may not be a good idea...) the simplest option is to time box the exploration into those 24 hours with some variables depending on what they do.  So the 24 hours would be the maximum time they have available.  So unless the GM wants this to be a mad scramble to the finish this could be as simple as saying "This will take 24 hours to complete, including a 6 hour rest period and assuming the party explores each area of the Tomb Of Durthal."  If the GM really wants to track this then simply break that down into chunks based on the number of rooms that will be explored and the number of combat encounters that will erm be encountered. It's not meant to be scientific just something arbitrary to suggest that time passes when the party are in the Tomb.  If there is a desire to have some of that measured in Real-Time then I'll cover my thoughts on that in the next post.

So that's the coarse tuning elements of time within RPGs, the fine tuning elements will be 
in tomorrow's post.  Any thoughts on how you'd do this differently?

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Objective status...

So a month or so ago I posted about what I saw as my Hobby Objectives at that time.

Let's do a checkpoint -
  1. Sustainable and regular gaming.  Big success here as I think I've managed to go to the games club every Friday for 4 weeks in a row and at the moment that doesn't look like changing (except the week I'm in London that is).
  2. Play more with more.  Ok this is sort of working, the group I play board games with has expanded a little so the "pool" of players is growing.  The real test of that will be when I kick off the D&D and Star Wars campaigns and whether that will expand the network even further within the Friday nights.
  3. Home based gaming.  No progress here, largely down to my available time.
  4. Play something new at least one in every six gaming sessions.  I think this is being hit very easily just now with the variety of board games being played.  Over time this might be more challenging to sustain but let's keep trying to have that freshness of games.
  5. Visit more game shops.  I checked out one of the newer shops in Scotland recently and it was closed... Or more precisely it was closed to the public as there seemed to be a group of people in the shop playing a board game.  All very odd.  When I'm in London though I plan to visit Leisure Games and if we have time Orcs Nest too.
The larger challenge for 1 and 2 is the current limitation to Friday night only gaming.  If I can expand that, even slightly, then I think I'm onto a winner.

More updates in a month or so.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

GenCon UK

In my planning and thinking about going to GenCon in Indianapolis next year I'm reminded of having attended 3 different GenCon UKs over the years.

There is no real comparison between GenCon Indy and GenCon UK.  Other than it's all formats tabletop gaming in 1 venue for a 4 day convention.

So which GenCon UKs have I been at?

Loughborough – 1998
This was my first ever games convention and I only attended for 2 of the 4 days.
My memories of the event are sketchy pretty much because it was 15 years ago!  What I do remember is watching a Black Lotus MagicTG card being burned on stage to increase the rarity of an already rare card.  This was part of a charity auction and the attendees had to bid to either save the Black Lotus or (I think) a copy of Red Box Basic D&D.  The Black Lotus had more money bid on it being the one to be burned.
I also remember the dominance of Vampire The Masquerade in the RPGs that were on offer and I think this was the first GenCon UK after Wizards Of The Coast had bought TSR.
Highlight of the weekend had nothing to do with Tabletop Games as I came 4th in the Quake tournament.

Manchester - 2000
I attended just the 1 day for this as I was in Manchester that weekend for other reasons.
The key reason for me to attend was to pick up the Player's Handbook for 3rd Edition D&D.  I also picked up a number of other things whilst there including the first published d20 Scenario for D&D - Death in Freeport from Green Ronin Games.  Didn't take part in any games at this one as it really was a drop in visit.

Butlins, Bognor Regis – 2005
This time I was there for the full convention.  I had a great time at this convention for a number of reasons but mostly because of the friends who went with me in what was a bit of an ORC Edinburgh outing.
A lot of what I did at this GenCon was with opening a shop in mind.  Not all of it was with that in mind but I started to really analyse the games on offer and where the excitement was and spent a fair amount of time quizzing the traders that were there on the business of retail.
Now it was a convention with a number of problems but all in all I had a great time.  One of those problems was a game of D&D that I played in where the DM unfortunately seemed to have a very poor grasp of the rules...  Still I managed to play a very impatient Dwarf Paladin who in one scene vaulted over the Elf Ranger to attack the Minotaur beyond.

After that GenCon UK had 2 more iterations in 2007 and 2008 in Reading but through a variety of reasons the con ceased to be.
There was a time when I thought this was a very bad sign for the future of the tabletop hobby in the UK but in hindsight I think it's actually enabled other conventions to take over not least of which is UK Games Expo which is one of the conventions that I want to attend in the future.  With 3,500 unique attendees over the 3 day event it's really showing what can be achieved in the UK when it comes to all formats conventions.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Power and Influence

In some RPG settings the power and influence level available to the characters is fairly fixed.

Power level is something that’s largely controlled through the system mechanics that are available to the players whereas the influence level is more associated with the actions of the characters and the constraints of the story.
When you kick off a new campaign or set out to play a shorter term game the group will set what the Power and Influence levels will be going in.  As a campaign develops though the opportunity is there to revisit those levels either through organic change or through a larger step change.

Give us an example Dave!

Ok so to give an example I’m going to choose the journey that Han Solo has in the Star Wars movies.

Power level - At the start of the movies Han is a smuggler and a pretty good one at that, sure he’s had some bad luck and made some poor choices but he’s good at being a smuggler.
As the story moves on his power level really doesn’t change that much, sure his “abilities” and “skills” develop as time moves on in the movies.  This is organic change within Han’s power level.
Influence level – At the start of the movies Han is a smuggler who is down on his luck and so his influence level both within the smuggling world and elsewhere is pretty low.
As the story moves on and in particular what happens in between each movie his influence grows in larger steps that what would be normal.  There’s an obvious reason for this, he’s Han Solo and a lead character in a plot.  He moves from being a smuggler with a tarnished reputation to a General in the Rebel Alliance in the space of a few years.

Ok so that’s an Influence step change with a Power organic change.  Can it work the other way? Absolutely.

Superman is an interesting character to walk through this with.

Power level – This continually grows with every day that he spends on Earth.  He gets stronger, faster, smarter and just better overall.  Arguably this is actually an organic change but it’s only organic because he’s Superman.  In any other scale it would be a step change of power level growth.  The largest step is as he’s growing from a child to a man but it doesn’t stop there.
Influence level – From the first moment that he wears the costume to several years later his influence does grow but it’s such a gentle organic growth that it’s almost negligible.  That’s largely offset by the fact that his influence is so high from the starting point.

Which other characters can be used to demonstrate this?  Plus which characters have their Power and Influence scaling the same way?

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Active/Passive Characters in RPGs

I had planned to be kicking off a Star Wars EotE game by now but due to a number of factors that hasn't happened.

So for October what I want to do is complete character creation likely using this fabulous character generator (and so much more) created by OggDude on the FFG Forums.

Now as I've said previously in my Railroad Stations post I plan to use the Beyond The Rim adventure set as the core of the campaign. To get to that point of kicking off the game though there are a few things that I need to be clear on.

How many players?
The comfortable maximum number of players for any RPG for me is 6.  I can manage a game with more than that but it becomes more unwieldy and I'd add that it becomes less fun for the players when there is less opportunity for them to play in each session.
Given that this is likely to be part of my Friday nights and we're really talking about 2.5 to 3 hour slots that number becomes more and more of a maximum.  If the interest level is what I think it is then we're looking at a minimum of 8 people being interested with another couple of people on the fringes of that.

Dave, that's more than 6 players...  How do you do that then?
Cap it at the 6 and let the other players down? Not my style really and my preference is to do the following.
Take the 8 (or however many) players and go through Character creation.  What this does is builds contingency around the available players to take part in each session.

Yeah but you said only 6 players...
And I mean it too.  Ok so I'll likely make the odd exception to that rule but the approach is to cap the number of characters actively participating in games to 6.  That 6 isn't necessarily static and in my experience it's unusual for it be static for any more than 2 consecutive 2 sessions anyway due to other commitments that players have.  Which is where the other players and their characters have the opportunity to take part.

So what about the players who don't play?
Thematically I tend to use a passive/active character approach which essentially says that all the characters are progressing through the scenarios but some of those are passive characters in that they are not in the scenes taking place.  So in a RPG with a level based system like D&D I would artificially control the level of ALL characters to that of the party.  There are exceptions to this where particular players warrant the exception but in the main this mechanical flattening enables the sessions and story to the be the focus rather than any individual character progression.  Some players might find this unfair but it is the only real way that I've found to have a pool of players who can take part in a limited space game.
Story wise this is probably the hardest part.  The only real way to address any story gaps in the player knowledge is to have brief re-caps of where things are (by the rest of the players) at the start of each session.  This enables the formerly passive player and their character to jump in to the action.

Does that work?
I've been running games using this active/passive approach since I first used it at ORC all those years ago with good success.

Of course the right answer for some people is to just set the cap and leave it there.  That just doesn't feel like the right answer to me....

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Nearly Gamer

I was recently away with work and whilst waiting for the flight home I sat at the airport with one of my colleagues at work who I don't really know that well.

So we cover the usual topics of family, work history, holidays and then she asks what I do for fun...

Now, I've never been one to hide my hobby as for me that path leads to the dark side...  erm what I mean is that there is nothing positive to gain from hiding it so by embracing it you provide an opportunity to introduce someone to it.

The flip side to that though is that I can (and do) talk about The Hobby and My Hobby for hours given the opportunity.  Which is probably why this blog exists to some extent, it's an outlet.  Anyway, back to the post.

So anyway I talked primarily about board games and named a number of the "flagship" games like Settlers Of Catan, Ticket To Ride, Carcassonne and Pandemic.  Blank stare which was followed by "My family have a board game night once a week where we play ..." and she listed a number of mainstream family board games.

Most of the games she listed were as unfamiliar to me as the "flagship" games were to her but what this did was demonstrate that this Nearly Gamer was playing games for the same reasons that I do.

Social experience, Fun, Learning (she has 2 kids) and once again Fun.

So what is all this about then?  Why does it justify a post here?

Simple really.  Never stereotype a tabletop gamer.
Also!  Don't diminish the possibility of introducing someone new to the hobby especially when that someone may already be open to the reasons to play.

I've since pointed my colleague to some games that might be good at bridging the divide between mainstream and hobby games.  I don't expect to see any real change other than perhaps her family trying games like Hey, that's my fish!

Friday, 4 October 2013

Tabletop Ambassadors

Way way back (well ok 2 months ago) I wrote up my gaming principles and one thing I didn't put down back then is something I think might be a new principle or maybe it's something else.

So what does the post header of "Tabletop Ambassadors" mean then?  Are they some sort of political envoy of the publisher/distributor elite?  Well no, not exactly.

An ambassador for anything performs a number of roles to support the things they are there to represent.

So in the case of a Tabletop Ambassador their role is fairly simple really, "Promote the hobby as a whole" which mostly translates into -

Always speaking positively about each element (games, players and community) of the hobby.
Always consider the inclusion of people to the potential player list.  Except where due cause has existed (inappropriate behaviour etc).
Always be open minded about new formats and new products.
Always speaking positively as to why the FLGS is important for the hobby.
Always understand that people are well people and they can't all play together.

There's more to this than just what I've got above but I think you get the jist of what I'm saying.

The 5 bullets above are things I believe that I at least attempt to do when gaming and being around gamers and non-gamers.  Does that make this a gaming principle?  I don't think so as I feel it's more general than the other principles I've posted about.  So what is it then?

I suppose I relate to it in the same way I relate to a work ethic or a "be excellent to each other" mantra.  It's just how I believe you should act when participating in what is a social hobby where community is key. Trying to be exclusionary about the who/what/where/when/why elements of the hobby just ends up be counter productive to your enjoyment of the hobby as a whole.

Are you a Tabletop Ambassador?

Thursday, 3 October 2013

A GenCon Schedule Part 2

So when it comes to the weekend at Gen Con I suspect I will be starting to have Con fatigue so figure best to play it safer with the games I’m playing and keep it a bit more flexible to give me a chance to just browse and wander the corridors a bit.  Also I’d like to think some socialising will be part of the experience!

Time / Slot
Bang! The Bullet
Board Game
9am to 10am
Dread Curse
Board Game
1pm to 3pm
Dresden Files: Headless Coasts - Legends of the South
5pm to 9pm

Bang! Is a fun game even if the rules read like they’ve been translated from Italian to English by Google Translate of 5 years ago…
Dread Curse is a game I’ve been looking to pick up as it’s suitable for up to 8 players.
Dresden Files intrigues me.  Never read the books but have “read” the audio books and watched some of the TV show.  The main reason to try this out at GenCon though would have been to experience playing more FATE which I just don’t know enough about.

Time / Slot
Playtest a Board, Card, Role Playing or Story Game
8am to 10am
Inside Tabletop
2pm to 4pm

Playtesting is something I’m intrigued by and whilst some of the games on offer might not be that great there will likely be a few gems in the mix that I’d be interested in trying out.
The Inside Tabletop seminar would have been a great thing just to sit through an d soak in the enthusiasm for the hobby that it most likely would have generated.

So that completes the scheduled events.  I’m not sure whether the con goes into complete wind down at this point or whether there’s still “stuff to do”.  I suspect that there is still stuff to do although I also suspect that the demo teams, traders and manufacturers will have started their process of packing up.

What this does though is gives me an opportunity to look back at the event and also review all the purchases I will no doubt have made over the weekend.  It also means I can go back to my apartment/hotel/whatever and just relax ahead of the long journey home.