RPG a Day: Giving back to the community

6. What is the most amazing thing that you know a game group has done for their community?

Big Bad Con logoI don’t know about the most amazing, since gamers organize lots of beautiful things like fundraisers to help send cash-strapped gamers to conventions, holiday toy collections, food drives, games for enlisted personnel, etc.. But I’m awed at what Big Bad Con has become in just a few years. Right from the beginning (2011) it was always about community, with all proceeds left after paying for hotel,, supplies, etc. going to the Alameda County Food Bank, Doctors Without Borders, and Child’s Play. The goal of the convention itself was to build up the gaming community by offering “great games for awesome gamers.”

By the third or fourth year, you could already feel the event had moved further into community building by focusing on diversity, making gaming more welcoming to everyone, promoting new voices, supporting game designers, inviting game community organizers more than celebs, organizing workshops and demos, and establishing formal community standards. As a result, it has become the safest, most welcoming game convention in the already diversity-friendly San Francisco Bay Area.

#RPGaDay2016

 

 

Filming gamer habitat

In more fun activities yesterday, we toured the Walnut Creek Marriott with Big Bad Con and filmed raw footage for a Kickstarter video. As announced a few days ago, Big Bad Con will take place at the Walnut Creek Marriott this year; we were pretty much bursting at the seams after five years of growth at the smaller Oakland Airport Hilton. The contract was signed so it’s official. I’m using a stock photo here but soon the footage will be available. The hotel has lots of nooks and crannies like this where you can chat, exchange stories, or set up a private game. It’s a beautiful space, the personnel was nice and helpful, we’ll have more space, people are coming up with new ideas — it’s going to be another fantastic convention.

wcmarriott-02

Convention Report: Big Bad Con 2015

Big Bad Con 2015 badge
Badged and proud of it.

I recently attended — and helped with — my favourite game convention in the world, Big Bad Con.  I can’t believe it was the fifth edition already!  And Edmund and I have been to every instance — and have a ton of souvenir pins to prove it.  (You can read Edmund’s description of this year’s event starting here.)

Every year has been better than the previous, an amazing feat of continuous improvement of an already superb convention.  But this year was also organized differently.  Because of a SNAFU with the hotel, negotiations were difficult and a contract did not get signed until mid-May 2015, for a convention that takes place in October.  If you have ever tried to put on an event of this scope, you know that they take the better part of a year to organize, so this was a challenge.  Plus, organizer Sean Nittner had been putting on the convention with a handful of staff for the first four years through sheer personal energy, and I think exhaustion was setting in.

The Big Bad Wolf and the Wolf Pack

So this year Sean started with a call for volunteers which Edmund and I answered, followed by a Kickstarter campaign to make up for the hotel’s increased fees. The KS campaign was a runaway success, with 205 backers pledging $14,050 or seven times the sum of $2,000 Sean was asking for.  He used the extra money to bring in a bevy of guests selected among enthusiastic community builders and diversity champions in our hobby.  Continue reading “Convention Report: Big Bad Con 2015”

The Joys of Hosting Role-Playing Games

FAE: at the game table
On Google+ this week, Larry Spiel asked:

Why don’t we see more women gamemasters? […] In both my gaming at home and at conventions I have seen genders getting closer to even, but most of the games that have GMs still see the men more likely to fill those roles.  I’d like to see more women doing it.

He went on to ask about possible deterrents and roadblocks, and ideas for encouraging more women into the role, focusing on presence at conventions. This was a public thread, so everyone should be able to view it and, if they have a G+ account, to comment.

Because the first several posts were from men, I didn’t initially feel like chiming in but then John Stavropoulos re-shared the question privately to his circles and, for those who wanted to answer, established some ground rules requiring that men listen in only and women be the ones to answer. That conversation took off beautifully. And after Kira Magrann re-posted her answer to the original thread, several of us decided to contribute there as well, so it got better in terms of target respondents, but John’s protected thread out-commented it by four to one. And a variety of interesting additional threads sprung from this on ways of encouraging people who are not the usual suspects to try game-mastering. One was a a series of “Why do I GM?” posts where people described what they get out of the role.

Anyhow, I decided that between all of these threads I had written enough to consolidate this as a blog post.

Obstacles

I started gaming in 1983 when I was a fresh(wo)man in engineering school. I was used to seeing 2 to 4 men for every woman in all my classes, so gaming was just an extension of this (it was at an official university club.) I started GMing a year or two later, taking turns with the rest of my gaming group. I didn’t go to a convention until 1994 or so, but again I started running games at conventions the following year. I married a gamer (so we’d always have a GM in our house), in fact the very one responsible for my early conventions fun. In 2006 we started organizing game day events and working as staff on conventions. We still do.

All this to say I’m a childless older woman, with a long habit of the milieu, attending with an ally at my side, in metropolitan West Coast areas (Seattle and San Francisco Bay) where there is a big pool of gamers. That makes everything so much easier. There are many challenges on the path, but here are the top three from my perspective.

Barrier No. 1: The Jerk Factor. For me GMing was always easier for friends than strangers; I wager that is true for most GMs regardless of gender. But as many commenters pointed out, it’s worse for women because a lot of people talk over women or address only men (yes, “people” because it’s true that I’ve met one or two women who did this, but they’ve been rare). In my early years, I looked for gamers and hoped they would become friends; but eventually I decided that I had it backwards. Now I invite nice people because I think we can be friends and I hope we can game.

At conventions, though, you take the luck of the draw. Fortunately, I usually have my husband and several friends around, that offers some social scaffolding even if they’re not playing in my game. But just like you can pick the gamers in your regular group, if you’re in a good gamer area like I am, you can pick the conventions that are most likely to be women-friendly. Do they have a policy on harassment? Alcohol? Emergencies? Giving back to the community? etc.

In my experience, smaller conventions with an indie/story/hippie game and community focus (like Go Play, Nerdly, Good Omens, Big Bad Con) have a higher quality of staff, game-masters and players. They may sometimes be tone-deaf just like any other, but your odds are better.

Barrier No. 2: Family + Money. I’ve noticed when we organized free family-friendly game days, we got entire families and near numbers parity between men and women (forgive me if I don’t have clearer gender breakdown here.) But when I worked on staff for the regular, weekend-long conventions that charge a fee, I saw mostly the males of the species. When I had a chance to talk to some of the people I kept seeing, I asked and the women all told me they could afford neither the time nor the money for both to attend so the ladies largely stayed at home with the kids or at best bought only a day-pass.

Barrier No. 3: Exhaustion. When mothers DO show up at a convention, this is their weekend to relax and have fun. They haven’t had time to prepare a scenario, and they don’t feel like playing hostess to a bunch of ingrates; they want to play some nice escapist fantasy, by gum! As others have pointed out above, acting as GM has an awful lot in common with traditional women’s roles; in fact, I’ve said on occasion that three quarters of what I know about GMing boils down to what my mom would call “being a good host.” So when you’re tired and want your gaming fix, this may sound like work, not fun.

What to Do?

Some ideas for encouraging GMs among those who are not the usual suspects:

  • Establish and post a zero-tolerance policy on harassment. There are good models online.
  • During the year, form a local club and encourage new games and new GMs.  (I once wrote a wiki entry on how to do this on RPG.net.)
  • For the convention, recruit GMs personally, by invitation.
  • Organize a women-only workshop event (best if actually organized by women.)
  • Invite women GMs as panellists and ask them to share tips, to talk about why they do this and why it’s fun for them.
  • Have a special “merit badge” or other trinket for women who sign up to GM a game. (I love collecting buttons or ribbons at conventions!)
  • If you have a newsletter, social media page, podcast, or website which you use to publicize your event, invite women (and non-binary, non-white, disabled, etc.) gamers to write or talk about the hobby and the event.
  • Ask all the women gamers you can find in your area to ping their women gamer friends. (While you’re at it, ask them about their previous experiences at local conventions, and whether there are known problem-gamers that haunt the circuit…)
  • Make it easy for couples and families to attend: discount, day care, kids’ events, etc.

One of the spin-off threads resulted in Emily Care Boss creating a site called Our Many Games where people can post useful starter kits and convention playsets to make the GM’s job easier while showcasing “games have been created by people of color, women of all ethnicities, people with disabilities, trans folk, queer creators and other people from under-represented groups.”

At Tony Lower-Basch’s suggestion, she also started a Google+ community to promote these same games and provide resources for convention organizers to include more of them on the roster.

Why do I GM?

  • Because a game catches my eye and my brain and won’t let go.
  • Because I love to see the magic happening at the table, when we get together to create a story never read or seen before.
  • Because I love to introduce new gamers to the hobby.
  • Because I love giving back to my gaming group so other GMs can have a turn at playing.
  • Because I love giving back to my community by helping make conventions a success.
  • Because nothing is more exciting than hosting a game for a group of enthusiastic, creative, and generous people. (Generous because it’s best when everyone is trying to make others shine.)

Sure, I still get the jitters. I run events at every convention I attend but to this day, I’m still nervous before every game, especially the first of the weekend — something I know also happens to many of my male friends who GM. But by now I know things generally go better than I think they will, and I can accept the occasional “Meh” game without completely destroying myself over it.

I love this hobby and I want more people to get good experiences with it, whether as new players or new game-masters.


Credits: The top picture is an illustration by Claudia Cangini for Evil Hat Productions’ FATE Accelerated.

 

Saying Yes: Firefly RPG

Firefly RPG coverIn recent weeks I wrote a series of posts on game-masters who say “No” to player ideas, and how GMs can dramatically increase everyone’s fun at the table by learning to listen and say “Yes.”

Then came Big Bad Con 2014, where I was scheduled to run events using three different games: Atomic Robo RPG, Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade, and Firefly RPG. Let me be honest: after all these years, I’m always jittery about my convention games right before I run; but this time, I had just increased the pressure by kvetching about bad habits of GMs, and how it should be done instead… Thankfully, Big Bad Con is particularly notable for the incredible calibre of players it attracts. Three tables full of superb players was just what I needed to restore my nerve, and we had great adventures. I can proudly say that I successfully stuck to the advice I’d been giving, and things worked out magnificently.

So I thought I would turn the experience into posts where I would share mini-reviews of the three game systems, step-by-step examples of my game preparation and GMing, and my original game notes for anyone who might want to use them.

Firefly: The Baboon, the Browncoat, and the Chrysanthemum

1 – Prepping

A few weeks before the convention, organizer Sean Nittner was looking for someone to run the Firefly RPG, so I volunteered. Sean puts a lot of effort into lining up a good variety of games and recruiting GMs so that there will be plenty of choice for attendees. He even lent me his beautiful autographed book, then contacted Margaret Weis Productions to ask if I could get a PDF convention kit. Thanks to David Robins and Monica Valentinelli at MWP, I got everything I needed to run a game.

So I had to add my game to the schedule ASAP but I did not have a plot in mind yet, so as for my Atomic Robo game, I went for a title that would sound intriguing, and a generic game pitch:

The Baboon, the Browncoat, and the Chrysanthemum
They can’t take the sky from you, but the Ching-wah TSAO duh liou mahng sure can make it ruttin’ uncomfortable. How were you to know this little job would blow up like that?

(If anyone noticed that I had sneaked the Big Bad Con initials in the title, no one mentioned it.)

My first decision to make: use the characters from the television show, or some of the many customizable templates provided in the book? I asked around in my online circles and received much useful advice. In the end, I agreed with the majority who recommended using the Serenity crew in order to build on  players’ shared understanding, but set the adventure a little prior to the television pilot and limit the cast to Mal, Zoe, Wash, Jayne, Kaylee, and Inara. Continue reading “Saying Yes: Firefly RPG”

Saying Yes: Tianxia – Blood, Silk and Jade

Tianxia Front CoverIn recent weeks I wrote a series of posts on game-masters who say “No” to player ideas, and how GMs can dramatically increase everyone’s fun at the table by learning to listen and say “Yes.”

Then came Big Bad Con 2014, where I was scheduled to run events using three different games: Atomic Robo RPG, Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade, and Firefly RPG. Let me be honest: after all these years, I’m always jittery about my convention games right before I run; but this time, I had just increased the pressure by kvetching about bad habits of GMs, and how it should be done instead… Thankfully, Big Bad Con is particularly notable for the incredible calibre of players it attracts. Three tables full of superb players was just what I needed to restore my nerve, and we had great adventures. I can proudly say that I successfully stuck to the advice I’d been giving, and things worked out magnificently.

So I thought I would turn the experience into posts where I would share mini-reviews of the three game systems, step-by-step examples of my game preparation and GMing, and my original game notes for anyone who might want to use them.

Tianxia: To Live and Die in Băo Jiāng

1 – Prepping

On Saturday afternoon I ran my first game of the wuxia fantasy Tianxia: Bood, Silk & Jade from Vigilance Press, which builds on the Fate Core system from Evil Hat Productions. I believe this was the only Tianxia event at the convention. I decided to expand on one of the story starters provided in the book, setting it during a big Moon Festival for colour and action. Here is what I wrote for my game summary in the program:

To Live and Die in Băo Jiāng
Forgery, theft, treachery, ambition. Diplomats, courtiers, and Imperial scions. A holy day and a parade. And kung fu. All of Băo Jiāng is topsy-turvy when a secret treaty is negotiated under cover of the Moon Festival — while daring thieves plan to rob the Imperial Seal. And did we mention kung fu?

The scenario in the book includes a premise (the imperial seal which is in the hands of Princess Ju, travelling incognito, will be “borrowed” and counterfeited by a master forger), suggestions of ways to entangle the player characters and possible consequences, and the stats for the two main non-player characters (the princess and the forger). While I liked this beginning a lot, I needed a backdrop that would incite to action as well as additional story hooks, because I had to drive all this to have lots of action and some sort of resolution in a four-hour time frame with a group of relative strangers at the table. Hence, adding the secret treaty negotiated under cover of the Moon Festival. Continue reading “Saying Yes: Tianxia – Blood, Silk and Jade”

Saying Yes: Atomic Robo RPG

Atomic RoboIn recent weeks I wrote a series of posts on game-masters who say “No” to player ideas, and how GMs can dramatically increase everyone’s fun at the table by learning to listen and say “Yes.”

Then came Big Bad Con 2014, where I was scheduled to run events using three different games: Atomic Robo RPG, Tianxia: Blood, Silk and Jade, and Firefly RPG. Let me be honest: after all these years, I’m always jittery about my convention games right before I run; but this time, I had just increased the pressure by kvetching about bad habits of GMs, and how it should be done instead… Thankfully, Big Bad Con is particularly notable for the incredible calibre of players it attracts. Three tables full of superb players was just what I needed to restore my nerve, and we had great adventures. I can proudly say that I successfully stuck to the advice I’d been giving, and things worked out magnificently.

So I thought I would turn the experience into posts where I would share mini-reviews of the three game systems, step-by-step examples of my game preparation and GMing, and my original game notes for anyone who might want to use them.

Atomic Robo and the Invisible Invaders of Inverness

1 – Prepping

On Friday afternoon I ran my first game of the pulpy action science game from Evil Hat Productions, Atomic Robo RPG. It is based on the Atomic Robo  comic book by Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener, who were also involved in creating the game along with Mike Olson.  I confess, I had never read the comic until Evil Hat started announcing the upcoming game, so I caught up by reading the free samples on the Atomic Robo website, then buying a few of the collected trade paperbacks. When it was time to schedule games for Big Bad Con, I thought this would be a good choice since the RPG would only be a few months old and a lot of people might want to check it out.

We ended up having several other Atomic Robo RPG events at the convention, but I think mine may have been the only one set in the current day. Anyhow, at the time I put my games on the schedule I did not have a plot in mind yet so I went for a title that would sound in-genre, and a generic game pitch:

Atomic Robo and the Invisible Invaders of Inverness
TESLADYNE INDUSTRIES IS HIRING! All departments — Armory, Intel, Research & Development, and Transport. We need capable young Action Scientists who have what it takes to get the job done! From its humble beginnings in Nikola Tesla’s lab on Houston Street in New York City, the company formerly known as Tesla Heavy Industries has grown into the global phenomenon it is today. Tesladyne offers competitive salaries, a matchless benefits package, and the opportunity to travel while working on cutting edge Science!

This is actually important to my approach to GMing. If I have a more specific idea for a story hook, I will certainly throw it in; but I try not to go too far down the scripting path. Continue reading “Saying Yes: Atomic Robo RPG”

Fate: A Tale of Conversion-on-the-Fly

Randy's truckThis tale is late, but my writing time in the last quarter has been spent primarily on the War of Ashes RPG. Despite the lateness, I want to share this gaming experience because I think it may be useful to others. It’s on my mind because I’m wrapping up one of the last details for the draft of the War of Ashes RPG, the creation of short sample adventures.

When I was on Games On Demand duty at Big Bad Con in October, I had two options prepared: a FAE Muppet Show game or an octaNe game. Players sat down at my table, interested in trying Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) for the first time but not too hot about the Muppets. Two were actually in the wrong age bracket, too young for the original Muppet Show and too old for the Disney re-launch; and one was my husband, who had recently played the Muppets game and had not played octaNe in a long time, so was ready for some post-apocalypse mayhem.

I wanted to give my players the game that would entertain them most, and somewhere in the back of my mind I had been making connections between the two systems; the spark went ZzzaPP! and I decided to run the game I had planned for octaNe but using the FAE system.

I’ve already talked about the game premise here: Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, USA contract employees, hired to retrieve the pets left behind by policy holders who were Raptured. The game writes itself! I had prepared an EEBP_brochure which I asked the players to fill; this would obviously be our adventure, the pets they had to save. The key points were these: Continue reading “Fate: A Tale of Conversion-on-the-Fly”

One A.M. Ideas: Fiasco — The IT Crowd

The IT CrowdYeah, I keep doing that.  when I can’t get back to sleep in the dark of night, I come up with great ideas for wasting more time I don’t get paid for.  This time, it’s a playset for Jason Morningstar’s game Fiasco (Bully Pulpit Games), using the setting of the British comedy “The IT Crowd.”

Naturally, I’d want to use the “soft tilt” table from The Fiasco Companion, since there are relatively few deaths on this show.

Yeah, another great idea for next year’s Big Bad Con!

One A.M. Ideas: Fate of Bayern

Castle Falkenstein CoverYeah, like I need more ideas.  As I was trying to get back to sleep last night, I was thinking about things I like and didn’t like about R. Talsorian’s game Castle Falkenstein (1994).  It provided inspiration for a lot of other games and I loved it from day one, but it always suffered from a problem I’ve encountered in, I think, all the RTG games: the skills’ magnitude was overwhelmed by the randomizing element.  In this case, randomizing was provided by playing cards rather than dice since, of course, genteel society would not stoop to dice!

Because Castle Falkenstein used the narrative descriptors that would later inspire Fudge, Fate, PDQ, and similar systems, it ought to be an easy match for a Fate conversion.  But what of the use of Fate dice?  Wouldn’t it go against the setting?

Of course it would.  Fortunately, as of this week Evil Hat Productions has us covered: the lovely Fate Deck has been released.  Instead of dice, you can use the Fate Deck to provide the random element, as well as a slew of other narrative uses!  So hey, this is one of my games for next year’s Big Bad Con.
Fate Deck -- three views