The 24 Hour Rule

When I became a freelance RPG writer in the early 90s, the internet was young. When you had something published, it might be weeks or even months until reviews started to appear. Of course, as a creative person, I was always interested to see how the work was being received. I wished the reviews happened faster, so I could get that feedback.

You know what they say: be careful what you wish for.

Now, feedback happens with frightening speed. And most of it is not thoughtful reviews based on careful consideration. It’s off the cuff impressions, honestly emotional but often not factual. I have, on more than one occasion, released a new gaming PDF and started to see bitching about it 10 minutes later. I can’t tell you what a drag this is.

When you are working on a creative project of any sort for months, there is a feeling of triumph and satisfaction when it goes live. At last the thing you’ve been toiling on will get in front of an audience. Hooray! And you’d like to, at least briefly, feel good about the accomplishment of finishing a creative work and getting it out there. So when (often well-meaning) fans immediately pounce and start cataloging your perceived failures, it totally deflates you. It can make you feel like shit. Make you feel like you should be doing something else. That there is little appreciation for the work you put into that brand new thing.

I would thus like to propose the 24 Hour Rule. It is simply this: save your criticisms of a new creative work for at least 24 hours. More, ideally, but I know that’s asking a lot of the current internet. Give the people behind the things you like a brief period to bask in that feeling of accomplishment. Criticism will surely come (it’s the internet) but at least there will be one day they can savor the completion and release of their work. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

RPG a Day, Part 2

19th – Favourite Published Adventure: I’m still quite fond of Shadows Over Bogenhafen from Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay’s Enemy Within campaign. This is a great adventure I’ve had fun both playing and running. And writing a sequel to!

20th – Will still play in 20 years time…: D&D and Call of Cthulhu I’m sure. 

21st – Favourite Licensed RPG: James Bond 007: Role Playing in Her Majesty’s Secret Service by Victory Games. Great game. We dusted this off a few years ago with my Monday night group and had a fun time with it. 

22nd – Best Secondhand RPG Purchase: Last year I ran across a Craig’s List ad for a huge pile of BECMI D&D modules for a super reasonable price (including a mint copy of X10: Red Arrow, Black Shield). The seller was local to Seattle, so we agreed to meet up. It happened in the parking lot of the Renton Transit Center and I’m sure it looked like a drug deal. Me pawing through things in a bag and then producing cash in exchange. Thankfully, no cops were watching. :)

23rd – Coolest looking RPG product / book: The Underground RPG from Mayfair Games blew me away with its great art and innovative layout when it was first released. I just got the two volume Guide to Glorantha and it is a seriously impressive piece of work too.

24th – Most Complicated RPG Owned: Aftermath by Fantasy Games Unlimited. We actually tried to play this in college and it was a disaster. I believe this hit location graphic says it all. So granular it turns your brain to dust!

25th – Favourite RPG no one else wants to play: Sadly the same as my all time favorite game: Pendragon. You need to have the right group for a Pendragon campaign. None of my regular groups have had the right temperament for it. 

26th – Coolest character sheet: AD&D had these awesome golden character sheets. I only had one pack of them, so I ended up erasing a lot of characters so I could re-use them. 

27th – Game You’d like to see a new / improved edition of…: Towards the end of Green Ronin’s time on Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Rob Schwalb and I talked over the way we’d want to do a Third Edition of the game. We thought we could take what we had built in Second Edition and improve upon it. That was never to be and Third Edition, when it appeared, was done by another company in a very different way. Sometimes I still think about what I’d do if I had another crack it it. 

28th – Scariest Game you’ve played: I played a Call of Cthulhu game one GenCon in the early 90s. The set-up was that we played 10-12 year old kids who have been dared to go into the creepy house at the end of the block. The GM was terrific and it felt like we were playing through a horror movie. 

29th – Most memorable encounter: I was running a playtest of a Freeport adventure for my Monday night group. In the scenario the PCs get a treasure map on which X marks the spot. It’s a lie, of course, and what’s really going on is that a necromancer is luring adventuring parties to his island to kill them. So the PCs get near the location and pause. Jess Lebow, playing a shaman, decides to make the whole party invisible. Then, rather than go to the spot with the X, they decide to go past it an investigate a cave they can see. Turns out this is where the necromancer is lurking, so at the start of the adventure they walk in invisibly and cap the guy. So much for that cunning plan! This is exhibit A in any discussion of players doing things you don’t expect. 

30th – Rarest RPG Owned: The one that springs to mind is 23rd Letter, a game about psychics fighting a secret war in the modern world. It was published by a company from Northern Ireland called Crucible Design, which I know nothing about. I found it in a Bay Area game store in the late 90s, and I’ve never talked to anyone else who owns it. 

31st – Favourite RPG of all time: Still Pendragon after all these years!

25 GenCons Later…

It is strange to think that I’ve just come back from my 25th GenCon in a row. There are few things in my life I have done as consistently as attend GenCon. I’m not really certain at which point going was just something I took for granted. The 10 year mark maybe? That year, 1999, I was working at Wizards of the Coast and it seemed I had “made it” in the game industry. If not that year then certainly by 2002, when it was clear that Green Ronin was going to be much more than a short-lived side project.

Here I am playing a minis game at GenCon, 1990.

Here I am playing a minis game at GenCon, 1990.

I’ve written about my first GenCon before, so I won’t repeat all that here. It is funny to think about that first year and how I literally knew no one at the show though. Now I just don’t have enough GenCon to catch up with all the friends that attend each year, but that first time I was on my own. In a way I miss that freedom. I just did whatever I wanted for four days. I didn’t have to worry about running a booth or having meetings or pleasing anybody but myself. I just played a lot of games, spent hours in the auction, and attended seminars. These days there are certain cons I go to just for fun and I try to recapture some of that magic there. Here’s the thing though: there is no con like GenCon. Not for gamers. And that’s as true now as it ever was.

So how was my GenCon. It was…good. It wasn’t a stand out year, but I had a fun time. Green Ronin had two new books for the show: the Icons RPG and Gadget Guides for Mutants & Masterminds. Icons: The Assembled Edition was the clear hit. There was much interest and we sold a bunch. We did not, sad to say, have Dragon Age Set 3 there. The printers just could not do it in time, which was disappointing to me and many people who came by our booth looking for it. We did host a puzzle for the Dragon Age egg hunt, which was cool. This is something I’ve been working on with Mike Selinker’s Loan Shark Games. Basically, Mike and his team make the puzzles and I provide the Dragon Age lore. This is a year long event that’s happening at multiple conventions.

Most of my con was spent working the Green Ronin booth. I like to be there as much as possible, so people can find me easily. I did four seminars, took a bunch of meetings, and did many interviews. I usually try to set aside a couple of hours on Sunday to walk the exhibit hall and see what other companies are up to. This year I had a flurry of last minute interview requests so I only got 15 minutes to walk around right at the end. That was good for my wallet, as I did not have time to pick up much stuff, but I do wish I had had more time. This may be the first GenCon ever I brought home no miniatures. Zero. Zip. Not even one. Inconceivable!

The best part of GenCon these days is seeing friends. I caught up with so many people, but still missed some folks I would like to have had a drink with. For me GenCon is sort of like a class reunion, except it’s people that I want to see (for the most part) and it happens every year. One friend has been working on a new RPG and I got to playtest it one night. That was the one bit of actual gaming I got to do and it was a good time. I can’t tell you who or what game now but I’ll be posting about when he makes it public.

I am really looking forward to next year. Not just because it’s GenCon but because we have some exciting stuff planned for 2015. We have two things getting started now that are super cool, though I can’t talk about either of them at this time. Trust me when I say, you will hear about them. Also trust me when I say that neither one of them is Mass Effect*.

Big kudos to the Green Ronin staff and volunteers for all their hard work at GenCon. Our booth crew was so efficient, in fact, that they had packed up all the books at show’s end before I pulled copies of Icons and Gadget Guides for myself! That’s OK though because we are exhibiting at PAX Prime here in Seattle next week and we’re shipping in the new books for that too. I must say, I’m not quite ready for another big, four day convention, but such is life in the game industry.

25 years of GenCon. Damn. Do I get a silver watch or d20 or something? :)

 

* I’m just throwing that out now as a matter of course, because if I say anything vague people jump right to Mass Effect. Like to do it, can’t, end of story.

 

My GenCon Schedule

Below you will find the list of the panels I’ll be on at GenCon. Other than these seminars, I’m most likely to be found at the Green Ronin booth (#1517) between the hours of 10 am and 6 pm. I will be ducking out for meetings and such at various points, but I try to spend as much time in the booth as I can.

Friday

10-11 am: The State of Superheroes at Green Ronin

Crowne Plaza : Victoria Stn C/D

3-4 pm: Pathfinder and Green Ronin

Crowne Plaza : Pennsylvania Stn A

Saturday

12-1 pm: Emerald Spire* All-Stars

Convention Center, Room 231

* This is a Pathfinder super dungeon I wrote a chapter of for Paizo Publishing. It’s a two hour seminar but I can only be there for the first hour.

1-2 pm: What’s Up at Green Ronin Publishing?

Crowne Plaza : Conrail Stn

See you in Indy!

RPG a Day, Part 1

David Chapman started a thing on his blog called RPG a Day. It’s basically an excuse to talk about RPGs so, hey, let’s do that. August is my busiest month of the year, with GenCon and PAX happening. I’m thus going to do this in two parts instead of daily. Part 1 will take me through GenCon.

1st – First RPG Played: Dungeons & Dragons. This was 1979 and I was 10 years old.

2nd – First RPG Gamemastered: D&D again. I cannot not tell you what I ran. Probably a dungeon of my own devising. 

3rd – First RPG Purchased: The original D&D white boxed set. I can’t say I played it though. My brother and I brought it home and tried to make sense of it. There was obviously something cool there but as a 10 year old with no background in wargaming (yet!), how you actually played was unclear to me. We got the Holmes Basic Set and then the AD&D Player’s Handbook in short order and that’s when I really started to play.

4th – Most recent RPG purchase: I backed a Kickstarter from my pals at Pagan Publishing. It’s for Horrors of War, a collection of Call of Cthulhu scenarios set in World War 1. Backing that was a no brainer for a history nerd like me.

5th – Most Old School RPG owned: OD&D white box. I might also add the original Chainmail game. It’s a minis game, not a RPG, but its “fantasy supplement” was the genesis of D&D.

6th – Favourite RPG Never get to play: That’s an easy one: Pendragon. Love that game, but I never have the right group to play it with. 

7th – Most “intellectual” RPG owned: Aria, Canticle of the Monomyth. I think the title says it all.

8th – Favourite character: Finn, my halfling rogue from my friend Bill’s long running AD&D campaign from college. Freeport fans may know him as the Crime Lord of the Eastern District. I decided that he had retired to Freeport after his adventuring days ended. :)

9th – Favourite Die / Dice Set: The recently released Dragon Age dice that Q Workshop did for Green Ronin. These are the first custom dice ever done for one of my RPGs, so they’ve got to be my choice!

10th – Favourite tie-in Novel / Game Fiction: The Horus Heresy line of 40K novels is better than it has any right to be. I do worry about it finishing in my lifetime though (30 novels and still going…). 

11th – Weirdest RPG owned: Many options, but I’ll go with Khaotic, a 1994 game from Marquee Press. This was a scifi game with a wacky premise. Player Characters were members of a “jump-team” that projected their minds to an alien planet. The twist is that the entire group inhabits the body of a sort of living war machine. Only one character can control the body at a time though! Much of the game takes place within its mind, as the characters debate about what to do and who gets to control the body. 

12th – Old RPG you still play / read: Well, I recently wrapped up a two year AD&D campaign set in Greyhawk. I started it because I wanted my step-daughter to get a sense of what D&D was like back in the day. One day she was looking through the 2nd edition Monster Manual and she asked me, “Is there a more recent version of this book with better art?” I had to laugh. 

13th – Most Memorable Character Death: I was in college and we were playing the module X2: Castle Amber. I had played it once before, when I was 12 or so, but I didn’t remember much about it. The GM describe the room we had just entered and it seemed familiar. I said, “Hmmm, I think I died in this room.” And then I proceeded to do so again!

14th – Best Convention Purchase: I got copies of the original Greyhawk and Blackmoor books (supplements 1 and 2 for original D&D) for $10 each in the bring and buy area of a con once.

15th – Favourite Convention Game: Before I got into the game industry, I spent four years running an Ars Magica tournament at GenCon. I put a ridiculous amount of work into it each year, but it was worth it.

16th – Game you wish you owned: TSR’s Empire of the Petal Throne RPG from 1975. I never even saw a copy until 1997. I was at a small con in British Columbia and a copy came up for auction. I thought, “This is a small con and maybe no one knows what it is.” I had recently moved to the West Coast and was trying to make a living by freelance writing, so I had little money. I thought I could I could go as high as $50. The bidding started at $20. Before I could even raise my hand, it was up to $200 and ended up going for close to $500. Turns out plenty of other people knew what Tekumel was!

17th – Funniest Game you’ve played: When Nicole and I used to attend DundraCon more regularly, we would play in Steve Long’s Special Violence Task Force game. The PCs were a group of especially violent law enforcement officers from various organizations who teamed up for ridiculous adventures. It was a hoot. This was technically a Hero System game but we barely even rolled dice.

 

A Lesson from D-Day

There are a lot of lessons one might take away from the D-Day landings 70 years ago today. In a time when ugly nationalism is once again on the rise, the one I’d like to bring home is that the defeat of Fascism was a team effort. We know well the roles of British and American soldiers, sailors, and airmen. In recent years the Canadians have finally been getting their due for Juno Beach. It goes beyond that though. There were Dutch, Belgian, Polish, and Norwegian sailors in the Channel; Czech, Polish and Norwegian pilots flying support missions; and French commandos and partisans on the ground. Two months later, when the German army was on the run, it was tankers of the Polish 1st Armoured Division who closed the Falaise Gap. And of course none of this would have been possible if the Soviets had not torn the guts out of German armed forces in three years of savage fighting on the Eastern Front. We would do well this day not to honor just the dead of our own nation, but all those who died to end fascism.

Dave A. Trampier and the Art of Inspiration

One of the few local places that sold gaming stuff circa 1980 was a mall bookstore called Lauriat’s. They had D&D and Traveller books, and a small selection of Grenadier and Heritage miniatures. I had started playing D&D at age 10 and I would go browse that section whenever my family went to the mall. I had little money, so I mostly just looked. After my birthday or Xmas, I could usually splurge and get something. Deciding what to buyu was difficult. I could not pop on Google and find reviews. If there were gaming fanzines in Massachusetts at the time, I never saw one. I was left to judge by flipping through the books…and looking at the art. And one cover piece always drew my eye: module T1 The Village of Hommlet.

DAT_Hommlet

I came back to this image time and again. It was such a great evocation of D&D: a crazy monster to fight, an evil cult to smash, and the mysterious ruined moathouse to explore. When I finally scraped together $5, I bought that module and it was largely because of the cover art.

It was the first time I noticed the initials DAT on a piece of D&D art but certainly not the last. DAT was Dave A Trampier, one of the great artists of D&D publisher TSR. You may not have known his name but if you played the game in the early 80s, you knew his work: the iconic cover of the AD&D Player’s Handbook, the beautiful GM Screen panorama, the classic monster illustrations like the lizardman and fire giant, and of course Emirikol the Chaotic in the DMG.

trampier - lizardman

Tramp’s story was a strange one. After doing all that amazing work, he disappeared from the game industry and from the world of illustration in the late 80s. No one knew what had become of him for years. About a decade ago he was discovered driving a cab. Yesterday, he passed away.

I don’t know why such a great artist left a promising career behind. Rumor has it he was bitter about the way TSR treated him. It’s a shame he stopped doing art altogether. It’s tragic that he never had his second act, as many of us hoped he would. I do hope that before his passing, he had some understanding of the impact of his work on a generation of gamers and dreamers. For many of us, our careers as creators began with D&D and the inspiration we drew from it. The game, the ideas, and the art set our imaginations on fire. Dave Trampier was a big part of that and gaming is poorer for his lost.

Thanks for everything you did, Dave. You will not be forgotten.

1979-DM-screen-back-art

January Convention Appearances

January is not usually a big convention month for me, but in 2014 I’ll be a guest at two.

First is ChupacabraCon on January 17-19. This is a new convention in Austin and Green Ronin will be well-represented, with Steve Kenson and Donna Prior also in attendance. I have not been back to Austin since leaving Vigil Games (which subsequently ceased to exist when THQ went bankrupt). It’ll be nice to see friends, eat good BBQ (!), play games, and do seminars.

The following weekend, January 24-26, I’m traveling all the way to Cork, Ireland for WarpCon! I’ve heard John Kovalic and other industry pals wax enthusiastically about Irish conventions for ages and now I’m getting the chance to see for myself. This will also be my first trip to Ireland and I’m excited to visit.

My step-daughter Kate just turned 18 and she was keen to come along, so it’s going to be a family affair. Kate asked friends and family for money to fund the trip for her birthday and Xmas this year and she’s just about paid for her ticket so far. This will be her first trip to Europe and I’m glad Nicole and I can share it with her. She was quick to point out that she’s old enough to go to pubs. Funny thing is, she is not interested in drinking (she got the straight edge). She’s just happy she can come out with us (something she can’t do at bars during GenCon, for example).

If you are local to Austin or Ireland, maybe I’ll see you next month!

The Time War in New Who Was Always a Terrible Idea

When Dr. Who came back on the air in 2005, I was as excited as anyone who had grown up watching the show. Tom Baker on WGBH in Boston–that was where it started for me as a kid in the 70s. I liked Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor a lot and was a ticked off when he quit after one season (seriously, don’t take the role if you can’t commit to a few years; you know what you are in for). What I instantly hated though was the idea of the Time War. As that was the subject of the 50th Anniversary show, I’m going to unpack that a bit.

Spoilers for new Who and Day of the Doctor follow.

When new Who started, we learn that the Doctor is the only remaining Time Lord. Not only are all the others dead, he killed them (along with their mortal enemies, the Daleks). This was always a terrible idea and here’s why.

  • First and foremost, it is totally out of character for the Doctor to resort to violence like that. In episode after episode, he always tries to find another way. It’s one of the core things that make the Doctor the Doctor. Yet we are told that not only did he use violence on a massive scale, he also committed genocide. Worse, he murdered his own people. This would be like a reboot of Willy Wonka in which we learn the eccentric chocolatier had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. 
  • Even leaving aside the moral side of this, it was a poor choice from a story point of view. It removed an entire type of Dr. Who story–the Doctor gets involved in the politics of Gallifrey. I liked those episodes in the Davison era and it was a shame they were lost in new Who. I guess we had to make room for more episodes in which the Doctor investigates the mysteries of 20 something year old women.
  • It was also a bad idea to get rid of the Daleks, as they were the classic Dr. Who villain. But of course they didn’t, did they? It wasn’t even one season before Daleks were back in the series. This was even worse, because it meant the Doctor committed genocide for no reason at all! The Daleks survived, but billions of his own people were dead by his own hand.

As you might guess, I was happy with the giant retcon that happened in Day of the Doctor. I’m glad–8 years later–they had the Doctor act like the Doctor in the defining moment of the character in new Who. It’s just too bad Day of the Doctor wasn’t better overall. The performances were good and there were some nice character bits, but the plot fell short for me. The saves-the-day idea was something out of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. At least they ended up in the right place though, with the idiotic conclusion of the Time War erased from history.

Art of RPGs Gallery Show Looking for Artists!

Krab Jab

Last year I co-curated a show at Krab Jab Studio (my “office”) here in Seattle called The Art of RPGs. It featured a lot of great art and was our most popular show of 2012. This year we are doing it again. The basic info is below. We do an opening reception as part of the Georgetown Art Attack and artists are encouraged to attend if they are in the area. If you are an artist and you’d like to participate, drop me a line at pramas [at] gmail [diggity dot] com.

November 2013: The Art of Roleplaying Games

Description: Salon style exhibition of art from RPGs. Art must have been published in a game or a game periodical (such as Dragon magazine). Interiors and black/white work is acceptable. Digital work (in the form of giclee) is acceptable.

Confirmation Deadline: September 30th

Art Dropoff/Ship Deadline: November 4th

Curators: Julie Baroh and Chris Pramas

Dates: Opens November 9th, thru December 5th

Commission rate: 20%

Let me know if you have any questions. And feel free to share this info with any artists you know who might be interested.