Friday Mea Culpa: No Excuse Edition.

Mea culpa, mea culpa…

Okay, look. I know going over two weeks between posts is total bullshit. I know I’ve let down my tens of readers, and for that I’m sorry. I don’t really have a good excuse, not one that holds water anyway. Let’s just say that I took a little hiatus, and I’m in good company, but now I’m back. Instead of boring you with what I did on my hiatus, I’ll just skim some important points, starting with what caused my absence, the train-wreck that was Origins.

So, I had this long-ass post all ready to write when I got back from Origins, then once I started I just couldn’t finish. I didn’t have the heart, didn’t have the energy, couldn’t be arsed, etc. So, I’ll give you a taste of the opening. This is how it was to go down…

Cthulhu was my co-pilot

I have returned from the hinterlands, brothers and sisters. I’ve returned from the state of my birth with a full report on the absolute train-wreck that was Origins 2010. Marvel at tales of scheduling cock-ups! Gasp at the sheer audacity of running a major convention like a pack of Ritalin addled tweens! Look on in horror as no one shows up and attendance numbers go in the toilet! All of this and more were the wonders that awaited me when I rolled into Columbus on Wednesday night.

 Good, eh? Okay, so maybe it wasn’t that bad. It was pretty disorganized, though. I won’t go into the details, since I’m pretty over it now. I’ll say this, though.


GAMA needs to get their shit together, and pronto. Whoever is running that chicken shack needs to hitch up their pants like a big boy and make some major changes. Origins and the Gama Trade Show need to be rolled together into one big party. GAMA needs to hire a goddamned web developer who can get a navigable and easy to read website with a usable event sign-up live more than a month before the con. Origins is a good con, a great con, a con with over thirty years of good will and positive feelings attached to it by the hordes of people who usually attend. GAMA seems to be unable to leverage this into anything meaningful, and is apparently content to dither around like a pack of hens while they piss their con away.

Whew, now that that’s over, lets talk about some other stuff. In no particular order, here’s what’s been eating up my time lately.

  • Pandemic - The wife and I and our friends play a shitload of board and card games along with our dice-throwing trad games. Usually it’s Settlers of Catan or Flux or one of the brazillion versions of Munchkin, or something like that train game that Mayfair does. Recently though, we can’t get enough of Pandemic. Seriously, ZMan games hit it out of the park with this one. It’s one of the best designed games I’ve ever played. The gameplay is fast and brutal, it requires the ability to work quickly and smartly with other players, and punishes you for a lack of planning and foresight. Seriously, there are more ways to lose this game than there are to win it. Also, there’s a version where someone gets to play an invisible bio-terrorist wherein hilarity invariably ensues. Go out right now and get the game and its expansion, you won’t regret it.
  • Holiday Travel - Over the Independence Day holiday, the wife and babby and I all packed up and headed out to the west side of the state for a weekend at ace GM Munin’s folk’s place. Once there we had a hard few days of fireworks, shooting guns, going to the beach, floating down the river, playing airsoft, playing disc golf, eating a lot, playing, well, shitloads of board games, watching Zombieland, and generally having a good time. While there, I took the opportunity to talk game design with Munin, Selnaric, Namaimo, and the wife, and familiarized with Dream Pod 9′s interesting mech game Heavy Gear. Of course, that leads me to…
  • Design/Book Stuff - So, remember that novel I keep telling you about? I’m currently in the process of getting the world, which is a hard-science real world setting set 400 years in the future during the human diaspora, straight so I can write in it. I’m also toying with making some of my other settings (AEGIS vs. SPIDER and my Paranormal Police games) into ruleless settings and selling some PDFs. There’s also a non-fiction book about gaming that I’d like to write, and I’m looking into that as well.
  • Bringing up Babby - The Kid is nearly four months old now, and dadding is becoming increasingly labor intensive. Eventually we’re going to have to get some kind of daycare so that I can actually get work done during the day. Speaking of…
  • Work - I’m down to only one Rogue Trader assignment for Fantasy Flight, but more are probably on the way along with (hopefully) more stuff for Deathwatch. Despite Origins being mostly crap, I did have an opportunity to talk with Tara from Catalyst Games about some possible freelancing for Shadowrun 4, along with the guys who do Cthulhutech. Fighting the great old ones? In space? With lasers? Sign me up! I also need to get back into doing those quick essays for Demand Studios, no matter how bad their editors are.
  • Rogue Trader - Since our Shadowrun/Cthulhu/In Nomine game finally ended, now it’s time for me to run my Rogue Trader game. My man Zorak has put a Wiki together for us, wherein we’re putting our characters and ships and NPCS and lots of other background stuff to give the game some flavor, as if Rogue Trader doesn’t already have enough flavor. 

    Welp, that’s it. That’s how I spent my hiatus. Now I need to get back to, you know, writing so that I can pay my bills and buy The Kid shoes. In the coming days I’ll probably post to elaborate on all that stuff up there, or maybe I’ll just talk about spaceships and motorbikes and space-motorbikes.

    On my way to Origins

    Okay kids, I’m out of here. Time to load up the car and hit the road. I’m off to Origins to shmooze, see old friends, make new friends, and generally have a larf. Hopefully I’ll see some of you there. If any of you are going to be there as well, drop me an email, my address is in my profile over there at the left. Sorry this note is so brief, I’ve been buried under con prep. Perhaps I’ll do some on-site blogging from Origins, or at least some tweeting. I’ll surely have a lot to talk about come Monday. So, have a good week/weekend y’all. We’ll talk next week.

    Putting the Pro in Procrastination

    If writers are, in the words of the inestimable Chuck Wendig, procrastinating shitheads, then I am their high-priest. Origins is six days away. Guess who has two thumbs and has only one of his four games ready for Origins. This guy. Right. Six days to port three games into new systems, build characters in those systems, and get familiar enough with those systems so that I don’t look like an idiot. But that’s not really what I came here to talk about today. Not really anyway. There’s something else I’ve been putting off. Something in regards to Origins, and something that I need some advice on.

    Now, amongst my tens of avid readers, I wager there are a few who actually make a living in the trad-games industry in one fashion or another. So, like I said, I need some advice. One of the main reasons I’m going to Origins is to grow my brand as it were. I’m hoping to wander around the dealer hall, meet some people, make some contacts, and hand out cards, resumes, and writing samples. What I want to know is this, what’s the best way to go about it? What can I do to set myself apart from the thronging masses of neckbeards who want to parley their 9,000 page masterwork werewolf Star Wars slash-fic into a lucrative career in the games industry? Should I go clever? Should I play it straight? When is the appropriate time to start this conversation, right there at the booth or maybe an after hours meeting? Obviously I probably need a resume. Do I need to have a writing sample? My bibliography? What can I do to make an impression, and make sure my inquiries don’t get shuffled into the trash? What else should I do/know?

    Since I’m at a loss, I turn to you Gentle Readers. Help me internets, you’re my only hope.

    Anatomy of a Con Game

    Okay, you guys are here, this door is open but it’s dark inside. Who’s going first?

    Hot damn, two updates in as many days! I might just make it in the high-stakes game of RPG blogging after all. What I need now is a montage of me typing, staring into space, drinking coffee, changing diapers, and doing push-ups or jumping jacks or something backed up by the A-Team theme. Anyway, I woke up this morning in a cold sweat with a terrible realization. Origins is twenty days away! Twenty! Know how much of the prep I have done for my games? None. Well, hell. This is pretty typical, for me at least. I’m a terrible procrastinator, why put off ’til tomorrow what you can do next week? So, I’ve got a lot of work to do. A lot. But I figured I could procrastinate just a little longer and make a post about what goes into a good con game.

    Running games at cons can be a tricky business. You want to do it right. You want to leave your players, who are all a bunch of strangers, feeling like they got their money’s worth when they leave the table. How, though? Is there some magic formula that you follow to ensure that a bunch of naturally nit-picky and pedantic strangers from all walks of life pass an enjoyable four hours under your fine GMing skills? Eh, not really. With the weirdo mix of people and personalities at every con, just as in real life, you’re not going to make everyone happy all the time. What you can do is make sure you’re ready, have a good idea where you’re going and a good idea of how you’re going to get the players there. Here’s a few things to keep in mind when you’re living life four hours at a time.
    First you want to make sure you’ve got a strong concept. Most of my con games start from a single idea like, “demon possessed camera steals souls” or “CSAR team boards friendly derelict.” The concept should be short, to the point, and attention grabbing. Once you have a good idea you think you can run with, use the old journalism tool of the Five Ws and ask yourself a series of questions.
    • Who: Who is involved? In particular, who are the player characters, and who are their allies and adversaries? Using the CSAR team in the above example, in a team of eight (your typical number of seats at a con game), you’d have some medics, some comms guys, a scout, and some marines maybe. When you make characters for your con game, make sure they fit both the story and with each other. Make sure each has specific skills and/or talents that will have a direct impact on the game. No one wants to pay a couple bucks to play a game and then sit around picking their nose for four hours because you only made one hero and seven hangers-on for the game. As for NPCs, typically a name and a few stats will do. Don’t over-do the NPCs, you really don’t need to. My NPC enemies are typically a few lines on a 3×5 note card. The basest combat stats including any weapons or powers, useful attributes, and a couple notes about their personality.
    • What: This is where your story goes. Continuing with the CSAR example, say that a carrier battle group was in transit through hyperspace, and one of the ships developed a problem with its FTL drive. That ship drops out of transit, and the rest of the group carries on with promises that they’ll send a CSAR ship back for them. Okay, good. What happens then? What happens when the CSAR team (our players) finds their lost ship? Is she okay? Still intact? Crew alive? Since this is a con game the answer to all of those questions is probably no.
    • Where: This question deals with your setting. The where is typically dictated by your system/game of choice, and not specifically the con game itself. A good con game, one with a good enough premise, can be run in any setting. I have a con game whose premise is “Ambassador is murdered at gala opera opening” that was actually inspired by that time Chechens took a whole theater hostage and the Spetsnaz gassed the whole place to catch them. Since it doesn’t say anything about specific setting, that adventure could be run with any game from a hyper-modern near future game like Shadowrun to an old-west setting like Deadlands to even a higher-tech fantasy style world. In fact, I first ran that game as an Iron Kingdoms game set in the dwarven capital city.
    • When: Honestly, the when isn’t that important. The when is essentially now, with now being whenever you run the game. Check your events guide for run times.
    • Why: The why explains the story’s set up. In the above “ambassador killed” scenario, the why begs the question, “Why was the ambassador murdered?” Well, there could be any number of reasons, and it’s up to the players to find out. 

    Once you’ve got those questions answered, you’re pretty much ready to go. Some other things a con game GM needs to keep in mind are:

    • Pacing: Let’s face it, con games are artfully designed railroad games wherein the GM leads the players around by the nose. To mitigate the players’ feelings of lack of control, the GM needs to walk a fine line between railroading and allowing free play. This makes sure that the players can affect the story through their actions, and that you can finish on time so you can get to the dealer hall before it closes. The way I do it is that I have a set opening, like the opening credits of a movie (Ambassador is killed, theater is locked down) and a set ending (players uncover identity of murderer) and everything else in between is the players’ responsibility. I make sure there are checkpoints along the way, goals I want them to achieve to move the game along, and players typically get to them no problem. If not, I’m there to give them a gentle push via clues or NPCs. Lead you players to the game’s conclusion, don’t push them, no one wants to have a GM just tell them a story for four hours and not get to do anything cool. Trust me, I paid money to be in a game like that once. 
    • Prep: Do your homework. Roll up strong characters, give each one a little bio to help introduce them to the players, have your NPCs ready, know where the story is going, and above all, be ready to think on your feet. Even though a con game is pretty linear, players can and will go off the reservation and you’ll need to be ready. Hell, at the end of one of my modern horror games, the players, who were all cops mind you, turned on one another like jackals and engaged in a firefight in the basement of an old hotel that was under construction. I certainly didn’t see that one coming, and neither will you when everything goes all sideways and the players start messing up your narrative. Be flexible and let them run. Encourage creativity at the table, but make sure you still get where you’re going at the end of the story. 
    • Presentation: I’m a sucker for props. Character dossiers, maps, photos, charts, you name it I’ve probably used it in a con game. Hell, I even have a specific Iron Kingdoms GM Kit I use when running an IK game. They help set the tone and immediately get the players in the proper headspace that usually takes weeks of sessions in a regular game. If you’d like to know more about using props, check this post out.

    That’s about it. Honestly, while it seems daunting, prepping and running con games is a breeze. Intellectually taxing sure, and hard on the voice, but fun and rewarding too. Just think of it like directing a long movie with a lot of improvised dialog. Also, I’d recommend having a stock of con games available. I’ve got a big ol’ binder full of pregen characters and plot notes that I can whip out at a moments notice if needs be. So, go for it. Get yourself a good idea, gin up some characters and have a blast.

    No! Sleep! ’til Columbus! Living Life Four Hours at a Time for Five Days Straight.

    Oh, look! It’s February already. That means we get to begin the run up to convention season. Early on in January, Wife and I were talking about the fact that I need to get my name out there. Get more eyes on my resume, shake more hands and make more contacts in the industry at large, and we felt that there was no better way than this than to make the rounds of this year’s big cons. So I pulled out the calendar, dusted off my pregens and sat down to figure out my plan of attack.

    It was a short planning session. The first thing I did was look at what I consider the three biggest and most important cons, PAX, Origins and GenCon, and see how I could fit them into my schedule. Turns out I can’t, at least not all of them. First, I find out that PAX is the weekend of March 26th, which is when babby is due. Wife and I figured it’d be inappropriate to be throwing dice with Gabe and Tycho while my first-born daughter comes into the world. Then, I discover that GenCon falls squarely in the week we spend with the family in North Carolina because apparently the powers that be at GenCon LLC can’t be arsed to pick one weekend and stick with it. So, that leaves me with Origins which, all things considered, isn’t bad at all.

    Origins is a nice little con in a town I really like and I’ve had a great experience every time I’ve gone. Once the decision was made or, well, made for me I guess, I needed to figure out how to actually, you know, pay for the trip. I’m not sure if you’re aware Gentle Readers, but being a freelancer, or “journeyman writer” as I’ve started calling myself, is pretty much like being professionally unemployed. The lack of a steady paycheck and the fickle nature of freelance work makes budgeting and planning more difficult than normal. It is, in a word, for suckers, but it’s what I’ve got. Anyway, after surfing through Origins’ frankly poorly designed website looking for registration info, I came across their policy for reimbursing Game Masters.

    That’s right kids, if I run enough games I get to go to Origins for free. I thought, hell, I can do that. I did it at GenCon a couple of years ago. Then I did the math and realized that I’ll have to run eight games to have enough credits to get in for free. No problem, I thought. I’ll just stretch it out over the course of the four days of the con and I’ll be good. Wife smiled and nodded, knowing full well that I’m an idiot for even considering it. But, consider it I did, and I’ll be running eight, four hour games at Origins this year. The pros are A: I get in to Origins for free and B: I get a voucher to buy delicious food at North Market, which is worth the price of admission alone. Cons are A: that’s a lot of games and B: seriously, that’s a lot of games.

    Anyway, here’s my plan. For starters, I’ll be running four zombie games using All Flesh Must Be Eaten 1st ed. These will all be part of the same story arc taking place in the Pacific Theater during WWII, starting with Seabees building an airbase on a recently secured island and ending on a major forward base of operations. I’ll leave you to ponder the details, but hilarity is bound to ensue. Aside from the zombie games, I’ll be running an Iron Kingdoms game, a Rogue Trader game, an AEGIS vs. SPIDER game which is a cold war super hero/super spy game using a combination of Spycraft and Mutants and Masterminds, and one of my Detroit Police games, probably using Unisystem. I’ve got a lot of work to do between now and the end of June.

    So there you have it. If you’re coming to Origins this year, keep an eye out for my games and come throw some dice with me. You won’t be disappointed.