Category Archives: Gaming

Princess, Jock & Nerd: John Bender

Here you go, the draft character sheet for Bender. If you know how to play Lady Blackbird, you’ll understand how the pieces work. Of note, you’ll see there’s references to conflict between players; this will be a main feature of this hack, unlike in Lady Blackbird where there are no explicit rules for it. The conditions are also different to fit the theme and setting, and at least one of them can be suffered multiple times (in Bender’s case, 8 times – you figure which one out). I will keep working on the others; they are a bit harder to figure out than Bender.

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1 Year of rpgKids

Today is the first anniversary of Enrique “NewbieDM” Bertran’s rpgKids, the child-friendly fantasy roleplaying game.

In that time, the product has gone Electrum at RPGnow, Silver at DriveThruRPG, and been featured on BoingBoing.net. In short, a fantastic year for a little game. We want more kids playing RPGs, more parents sharing their love of storytelling and adventure gaming with their young ones, so we’re doing a special sale.

For the month of September, rpgKids is on sale for $0.99 cents!

Download it today and enter a world of fantastic adventure: the imagination of a child.

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[Githyanki Therapy] The One (Character) That Got Away

After my last post I am due for some Githyanki Therapy, a practice I am borrowing from my friend Judd Karlman.

Judd has been playing a game of Burning Wheel (which I’ve been wanting to play for a long time) set in the Forgotten Realms (which I love) and not an update of his goes by without me wishing we had Star Trek transporters, so I could go play with him in New York and then come back home to Miami. Judd asked me on G+ if we were to play a BW game in the Realms, where and what I would like to play. My reply to him took me a bit by surprise and it leads me to my therapy post.

Hal Whitewyrm is the character that got away, the one character I really wanted to play and never got the chance to.

Hal Whitewyrm is a half-elf bard living in Highmoon[ref]Yes, this is where my online nickname comes from.[/ref], in Deepingdale, in the area known as the Dalelands. He has somewhere in his heritage a trace of weredragon[ref]In the D&D 3e edition of the campaign setting, they were renamed Song Dragons.[/ref] blood which gives him orange eyes. He’s a joyful fellow who honestly loves adventuring.

Hal is the character I created back in the early 90s, when I first started to get into AD&D in high school. He’s the character I would constantly recreate during class, the one I would write short stories about, the one who was my avatar in the world of high adventure that are the Realms. He was a shallow character concept[ref]He was originally called Daniel Stephaln Whitewyrm–yeah, talk about transposition–which then changed to Daniel Whitewyrm, and eventually to Hal Whitewyrm.[/ref] with cool orange eyes and a weredragon girlfriend who existed mostly in my 5-subject spiral notebook in story after story. And I loved it.

I just never got to play Hal. My D&D group played Basic D&D/Rules Cyclopedia and we had a fairly regular schedule, so, little time to try out new ideas. Then we played less and less, then I moved, etc. Aside from the fact that I used the name as an email address for some time, I have not gone back to this character in over a decade. Which is why I surprised myself when I answered Judd’s question about what character I would play in a Burning Wheel Realms game as follows:

* I’d play the character I’ve carried with me for years, Hal Whitewyrm, a half-elven bard with weredragon blood in his ancestry (weredragons are a race of female-only shapeshifting wyrms from the Moonshaes – see the thread there?). He’s the guy I wrote stories about in my teens yet never got to play. Hal is all about the romantic journey (as in literary genre, not mass market Harlequin titles), facing adventure in a large world, ideally of the legendary danger kind, with fast friends at his side, a love life to look forward to, and death around him to put it all in perspective. Think Aragorn’s journey, but with a bard who also deals with issues of identity.”

Wow, I’d never really put those ideas into words before but yeah, that’s what Hal is all about for me: exploring the high fantasy romantic character arc; less about killing monsters and taking their stuff, more about zero-to-hero who saves the princess and loses friends along the way.

So, what about you? Which is your character that got away? The one you always wanted to play but didn’t? And what’s their story like?

Princess, Jock & Nerd: Late Night Musings

I’ve been swamped at work due to the start of the semester (I work at the university bookstore, so imagine the scenes of chaos) and applying to a new Nursing program, which means I’ve had little time to spend at home with my wife, let alone to write. Which isn’t to say I haven’t written, but it hasn’t been as much as I would like. What I have had time for, as I process endless textbook rentals and returns, is thinking, and that thinking has gone in great part towards the PJ&N Blackbird hack. It’s late, I’m half asleep and need to be up early in the morning, but I wanted to throw a couple of musings out there.

Building the characters continues to be the hardest part. I’ve managed to create more Keys for each character, but Secrets remain elusive. This actually ties to the other two thoughts I have to share now.

Sean Nittner, in a comment left in my previous post, brought up something that I also had noticed when I last saw the movie in prep for writing: there is very little action. The Breakfast Club is a talky movie, not an action movie, which means a lot of the events are conversation-based. That’s great for the movie, but it means there’s a distinct lack of external pressure to do anything in a game that needs to be addressed.

Lastly, I continue to vacillate between making this an actual The Breakfast Club game or an inspired one.

Answering those last two questions will make my job of building the characters easier. In terms of the external push to action, it is very easy to notice in the film how Bender is, essentially, an agent of plot: he has to find a way to keep things happening, keep the situation fluid, keep everyone moving. Bender gets a Key that rewards him for doing just this, and a clever player will use that ability to drive play and rack up advancements. In addition, I am toying with the idea of having an external force that opposes the characters and which they can only defeat by the use of advancement XPs. This could be used to simulate the overarching goal of “proving the stereotype wrong” the kids face during their day in detention.

Choosing whether I’m making a TBC game or an homage to the style will also help me in fleshing out the characters. At the moment I am leaning towards making it as close to the movie as possible and letting the players decide the events from the basic premise laid out in the film. I also would like the basic framework to allow groups to explore beyond the day of detention, like, what happens when they all meet again in school on Monday?

These are some thoughts that I have been mulling over and over in my head as I get ready to make final decisions and put the game together.

Gen Con 2011 Recap

TrollsThe best four days in gaming have come and gone and I can say that this ranks as one of my top Gen Cons ever. I mean, I’ve only been to five, but still, this was right at the top. It wasn’t perfect, I left with some regrets, and yet I enjoyed it so thoroughly that even now as I write this two weeks later, to think of it puts a smile on my face.

Since I started going to Gen Con Indy, each year I have done it as part of something, never as a regular attendee. Last year I went as an Exhibitor to help out Rogue Games. This year I went back to being Press, as I’d done in 2007-08, but not for my own show/blog. This year I went as part of the team putting together This Just In… From Gen Con, along with my friend and co-host Rich Rogers (you can read about how that happened here). I knew it would be a lot of work, but it provided a great new window through which to view this awesome convention. Rather than go day-by-day, I’m doing thematic recaps.

Games

Despite all the time devoted to the podcast, I did manage to find the opportunity to play a few games and do a few demos on the Exhibitor’s Hall. I ran a game of Lady Blackbird for five people, three of which had never played it. It wasn’t a planned game, just something to that came together when all of us found ourselves standing around without a game to join. It was the most interesting Lady Blackbird session I have played as I was able to put into action a few ideas about that game I had been mulling over for a while (skip the boring setup, force the agendas out in the open, get to the Pirate King!). One of my players, Amanda Valentine, wrote about it on her blog, and I am very happy that she and the entire group had a great experience (Steampunk Jane Austen FTW!). I also played in another game of Lady Blackbird on Sunday evening, and in a game of Shelter in Place, an upcoming zombie LARP game which was laugh-out-loud fun. Rounding it out were a few sessions of Martian Dice, which I bought, and two games of unpublished prototypes: Feed the Birds by Tim Rodriguez, which is really done and needs to be published, and Battletech Deckbuilding Mechfighting Game by Thomas Denagh, which needs tweaking but was actually fun and a great idea in the making.

Lastly, I got to do Sagefight, a one-on-one duel with Ryan Macklin which I won. You can see the entire duel below.

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Princess, Jock & Nerd: The Lady Blackbird Hack

Last week at Gen Con, I had a chance to both run and play Lady Blackbird once more, which was just great. I played this little game extensively a couple of years ago and it never ceases to amaze me how much a few pages can deliver. After running it, I was talking to some friends at the lobby of the Embassy Suites about the game, comparing notes on how we ran the game, and I made the observation that for me, Lady Blackbird really sings when you have all the characters in one location, with their agendas out in the open where they can see how much at cross-purposes they are. After that it’s just a matter of seating back and enjoying the ensuing show.

Later, as I went back to thinking about Princess, Jock & Nerd, it occurred to me that the Lady Blackbird format would be a really amazing and simple way of doing this The Breakfast Club game since that is exactly what the movie is about: putting these characters in one location and letting them interact with each other. This was confirmed in my mind as I played the game on the last day of the con and then spoke about it some more with more people, including some of my players from the weekend.

I mentioned this on Twitter and immediately the idea was both liked and supported. It makes sense; Lady Blackbird is an experiment on character interaction at its core and fits well the theme and format of the movie.

So that’s what I’m doing now, turning The Breakfast Club into a Lady Blackbird hack that can be played quickly and in a short period of time, which fits my design goals to a T. In addition, Sean Nittner of the Narrative Control podcast issued me a challenge to have this done by the end of September so he can run it at Big Bad Con in Oakland, CA, which works for me as it lights a fire under my butt to get this done quickly. To that end, I’m just gonna go straight into writing, as opposed to blogging the process as I go along.

I’m starting it all by cheating, though.

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On My Way to Gen Con

I’m off to Gen Con in a couple hours. If you want to know what I’m up to there and my schedule, just head over to This Just In… From Gen Con and check the show schedule, because that is the one place where I will be for sure each day of the con. Other than that, I will be roaming and having a great time.

If you have my phone number, feel free to text me to get in touch with me. If not, use Twitter or email.

Gotta run!

My Experience Using IndieGoGo: A TJIGenCon Campaign Post-Mortem

On July 17 the IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign for This Just In… From Gen Con closed and we successfully managed to reach our goal, which made both Rich (my co-host) and I extremely happy.

There has been a lot of attention this year on crowdfunding gaming projects, with Kickstarter being the overwhelming choice of crowdfunding swervice provider. For TJI we decided to go with a different service, IndieGoGo, and given there hasn’t been that much talk about this website I wanted to talk about my experience using it.

Both Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are crowdfunding sites giving project managers the tools to hold such campaigns. The biggest difference between them is in the manner in which they handle funds contributed: Kickstarter is a pledge-driven site where unless the set goal is met no funds are disbursed to the project creator, while IndieGoGo is a donation-driven site where funds are disbursed immediately to the creator, with a small bonus if the goal is met before the deadline.

Why IndieGoGo?

The first question I get asked is, why did we go with IndieGoGo? Kickstarter has a lot of brand recognition in gaming circles due to some high profile projects having reach record-setting funds.[ref]Daniel Solis’ Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple and Happy Birthday, Robot; Jeremy Keller’s Technoir.[/ref] This decision was one Rich and I discussed at length, trust me. In the end we chose IndieGoGo for one big reason: every gaming-related crowdfunding campaign so far has been for a book, ours would be for a media project.

In short, I wasn’t 100% sure that we would be able to meet our funding goal. With Kickstarter, if we hadn’t, we wouldn’t get any of the pledged funds, meaning our entire strategy of going for fan support instead of corporate backing would’ve backfired and quite likely TJI would not have happened. With IndieGoGo, even if we didn’t meet our goal, whatever was donated was immediately given to us, so we could count with some funds at least.

Did using IndieGoGo hurt us? Hard to say. I know I had to do a lot more explaining about what IndieGoGo was than had we used Kickstarter (and usually I defaulted to, “It’s another website like Kickstarter.”), though the fact that Graham Walmsley had recently completed successfully a campaign on IndieGoGo for his book, Stealing Cthulhu, meant there was some name recognition out there already. I also don’t know to what extend the way funds are handled by IndieGoGo affected our campaign. I have heard/read comments that people prefer the pledge model to the instant donation, but I have no concrete evidence to support that and no comment was ever said to me to that effect (though I’d love to know if that is the case).

Goal Met!

In the end we met our goal and even passed it by 33%. I was pleased as punch, honestly, and humbled that people did believe in us enough to give us their money for a product that is topical and of limited duration (unlike, say, a game book). We set a number of reward levels so there would be something for everyone (a lesson I have learned from seeing other crowdfunding projects), and even so on the first day we had a suggestion to modify one of our levels (Sponsor) to make it more affordable and in the end better for us.

The pattern learned from other campaigns, a lot of action at the beginning and the end with a slow-but-steady stream in the middle, held true. We got our first backer in less than an hour after launching and our first Sponsor on the first day. We picked up our Patron before the first week was over. Along the way we had a good number of backers in the default $10 level and the “deluxe” $50, and right at the end, with two days to go, we picked up three Sponsors, including a local Indy business! We even had one backer upgrade to Sponsor level (see below about upgrading) and then cede that slot to a favorite company.

We also sweetened the rewards by reaching out to friends in the game design community. I first reached out to Jeremy Keller, whose Technoir RPG was just about to close when we launched, and asked if he would be interested in helping us out. Jeremy agreed and we added an exclusive Indianapolis Transmission for Technoir[ref]Though this Transmission is indeed exclusive to our campaign, all Technoir Transmissions are released under Creative Commons licensing, so there will be ways to get it even if you did not participate in our campaign.[/ref] to our $10 reward level. I then reached out to David A. Hill, Jr, whose Guestbook RPG provided the perfect opportunity for a neat exclusive reward given its single-page-character all-you-need format. Rich’s co-host on The Voice of the Revolution, Brennan Taylor, then jumped in with a new adventure for his new sci-fi RPG, Bulldogs!, and a new campaign frame for Mortal Coil. These were all added to the $10 reward level in order to make that level enticing. Lastly, Chris Perrin offered a full PDF copy of his MECHA RPG to all $50 reward level backers, as well as a custom-made setting supplement to the Patron level.

We ended up with 48 backers, broken down by levels as follows:

  • Fan of the Show ($5): 4 [one upgraded to Friend]
  • Friend of the Show ($10): 26
  • Supporter of the Show ($50): 9 [one upgraded to Sponsor]
  • Sponsor of the Show ($125): 6/7
  • Patron of the Show ($500):  1/1

The Tools

I have not used Kickstarter so my comparison here is based on what I have seen as a backer of other campaigns.

Overall IndieGoGo was very easy to use and provided good tools to manage the campaign. Setting up the campaign was a matter of filling out a series of blanks over a number of tabs/categories, ensuring I hit all the necessary information. The hardest part was coming up with all the reward levels but that’s gonna be an issue for any campaign regardless of site used, I think. Financial info setup was extremely easy as I was using PayPal as my account; I had also the option of using a bank account but PayPal just made things a lot easier, especially as final funds for the campaign would be divided among three people. This is one of the biggest differences with Kickstarter, which uses only Amazon Payments.[ref]For non-US residents, IndieGoGo is the only option, as Kickstarter also requires a US-based bank account.[/ref]

Once the campaign launched, I had tools to promote it right from the campaign page, including sending out notices to social media, embedding widgets (see the image above), and sending emails. I could also create Updates that would post on the site and go out via email to all backers, as well as a section for Comments, which allowed us a way to interact with our backers more publicly. The dashboard has a little To-Do link that keeps you updated on things to do to promote your campaign when it launches and as it progresses, which I found handy. We also received some help from IndieGoGo via their Twitter account, which both re-tweeted one of our tweets and then featured us as the Twitter Campaign of the Day on July 7th.

The dashboard let me track all funds by backer/reward level and also kept track of all the backer’s info which I could then export to a CSV spreadsheet. Since funds donated are immediately disbursed, I could keep track of all backings as they happened via email. The funds would go into my PayPal account,[ref]E-checks, of which we got one, take a couple days to clear, but that’s a PayPal end-of-things issue, not an IndieGoGo one.[/ref] the fees to IndieGoGo would be automatically paid via PayPal as well, freeing me from having to calculate and remember to pay them. IndieGoGo’s fee is 9% of any funds donated; if you meet your goal before deadline, they give you back 5%, effectively making their fee only 4%. PayPal charges its own fees on all payments as well, which would vary whether the payment was made via PayPal balance or credit card. In general, we got about 90% of the funds donated, the other 10% being fees.

There were two drawbacks that I found dealing with IndieGoGo:

  1. No Way to Upgrade: Because IndieGoGo deals with actual money disbursed and not pledges, upgrading between reward levels isn’t as easy as with Kickstarter. I offered the option to upgrade by telling people to donate the difference between their current level and the one they wanted to upgrade to, and making a comment about their intent. I had to keep track of that info myself, as the comments were not a field included in the info gathered by the dashboard. Thankfully there were only two upgrades so it was easy. I would like to see IndieGoGo address this. The system can track what you already funded, so it would be a matter of adding the option to add the difference to a higher reward level.[ref]I say this not knowing a fig about what it would take to code this feature, but I am sure it can be done.[/ref] A lot of potential money is left on the table because this option cannot be exploited, and I have seen firsthand how effective it can be in some Kickstarter campaigns.
  2. No Way to Contact Backers Post-Campaign: Updates do indeed go out via email to all backers, but post-campaign you sometimes need to get in touch with them for info like their shirt sizes, mailing address, etc, which you ideally want to do in private. As a Kickstarter backer, I know that website offers the option of sending out an email with a questionnaire where all this info can be requested. IndieGoGo had no tool for this; actually, it had no tool to email all my backers, period. I had to download the CSV spreadsheet and gather the emails myself, then send out batches of BCC emails to my different groups of backers asking for their info. This was tedious, especially because I know it can be done by the service provider. This is another feature I truly hope they implement as soon as possible.

Overall I was very happy with IndieGoGo when all was said and done, and would probably run another campaign using their service if their particular set of features were the best match for my project.

Observations

There were two holes in our reward levels we did not exploit: between the $10 Friend and $50 Supporter levels, and between the $50 Supporter and the $125 Sponsor level. That’s something to keep in mind for the future: don’t leave gaping holes like that open, offer something there as an option.

I was actually very surprised that we did not have more backers at the $10 Friend level. I set that one as default and piled on as many as the rewards as I could on that level because I wanted to make it an affordable and attractive option. In terms of net profit, the $5 was better for us, since with fees and rewards costs taken out the $10 was really netting us about $6-ish, but I also wanted to give something back to the backers. Yes, we did get 26 backers at that level, but I thought we would get a lot more.

We did end up with one Sponsor slot “unsold” which surprised us, given the relatively low price to promote your product to a fairly good number of listeners in a target market.

I would’ve loved to have seen our campaign soar over the set goal like many other ones have, but I wasn’t really expecting it as it goes back to the reason why we went with IndieGoGo in the first place. Rich and I also thought that we would get totally funded within the first week–two weeks tops–but it wasn’t until the end of the third week that we met our goal. Again, this goes back to the reason why we chose IndieGoGo at all.

It will be interesting to see how other non-book gaming-related crowdfunding projects do in the future. I don’t think we set any records or broke new ground here, but we did prove that it is possible to do with the right project.

Breakdown

Final Funding: $2025
IndieGoGo Fees: -$182.25
PayPal Fees:  -$78.03
IndieGoGo 5% Bonus: +$101.25
Rewards Expenses: -$683.90[ref]Shirts, stickers, artwork, shipping.[/ref]
Net Total: $1182.07

The Net Total is to be divided between Rich, Ryan and myself (I will keep the percentages private as I’ve not cleared with the other two). I don’t think we would have gotten this kind of funding had we gone with seeking traditional corporate sponsors, even though the work involved in making the show does deserve that kind of backing, if not more. Once funds are divided, both Rich and I are getting more than what Ryan did in previous years[ref]Funny enough, even though Ryan is getting a smaller percentage than Rich and I–I consider it a Licensing Fee for the TJI brand–he’s making almost as much as he made last year with a miniscule fraction of the work involved. That should give you a ballpark idea of how little was being charged for sponsoring TJI.[/ref], which, while it doesn’t cover our entire Gen Con travel & rooming expense, does help significantly.[ref]At least in my case, it accounts for about half of my expenses.[/ref]

Thanks to all our backers, from our hearts. I hope that you will all enjoy this season of This Just In… From Gen Con because I am very much looking forward to bringing it to you.

If there’s any other question you have about our IndieGoGo campaign, please just ask in the comments and I’ll answer it as honestly as I can.

 

 

Princess, Jock & Nerd: Adventures in High School RPG

I’m a child of the 80s, raised on a steady diet of romantic comedies and high school movies, king among them being The Breakfast Club. Movieland High School is as mythical a land for me as is Middle Earth or A Galaxy Far, Far Away; it bears little to no resemblance to my own high school experience, but it captures my imagination as if there were dragons or lightsabers. Naturally, it has always seemed to me to be a perfect setting for a roleplaying game.

I’ve been aware of fellow blogger Michael Wolf (Stargazer’s World) has a free game called Warrior, Rogue & Mage in which those three words are the characters’ stats as opposed to their class. MWP’s Leverage also does this with the roles of Hacker, Hitter, Grifter, Thief & Mastermind being also character stats. Given how in Breakfast Club the whole point of the movie is that the characters are/are not the stereotypes of a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal, it seemed riffing off the roles-as-stats idea in these two games was the way to go.

Thus I came up with Princess, Jock & Nerd.

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