Big Bad Con signups: More to do

The first phase game of signups for Big Bad Con 2017 opened at noon today. That means that everyone can register for two scheduled games, plus any number of quota-exempt events, usually the larger events.

As is now customary when Big Bad Con opens the floodgate to game signups, the team was monitoring the server for response and signs of failure. Since its inception in 2011, Big Bad Con’s game offerings and attendance have increased steadily; in the early years, signup time became a sort of self-inflicted DDoS attack. Every year there is increased effort to do better and limit the chances of server failure as well as booking collisions, when extremely popular events become overbooked.

This year I got a lodge seat to see the process handled by Big Bad Wolf Sean Nittner and Back-end/App Developer Jeremy Tidwell (Webmaster/Front-end Developer Colin Fahrion was on a plane at the time). They had secured extra computing power for the expected onslaught, and we had more registered guests than ever at this point.

We did have about 15 to 20 overbookings for a handful of events that filled up quickly, particularly the big four-table event of Night Witches. I had managed to snag a spot, but as staff I cancelled out to let someone else enjoy it when I saw how coveted the tickets were. (To be honest, if I had had the logistics available, I would have had this event run by four women and have given priority to women and non-binary players. But I don’t know how I would have managed it.)

We contacted the victims of overbooking to apologize and let them know they could book something else, all within the first few minutes of signups.

What Now?

Next Saturday, September 23 at noon (Pacific time), everyone gets access to two more games in their quota. And in two weeks, on Saturday September 30 at noon, quotas will be lifted; in addition, games in the Teens room will now be accessible to all. The signups are rolled out gradually like this to give a chance to everyone to get into games that appeal to them, not just to the people who were available for a short and specific period.

In the mean time, if you booked your two quota events: remember that there are several events that will not count against your booking quota. These are mostly larger events (usually for 10 attendees or more) such as:

Micro-games and party games such as:

Of course there will also be drop-in events at the convention, such as:

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The Watch: Game Setup

So yesterday I spoke about our game of The Watch. This was our kickoff, where we got to create characters, clans, and even our great enemy, the Shadow, in its broad strokes. Edmund, Dani and I had all played in Bryanna’s playtest games last year but Fish was new to the setting.

I felt much more relaxed about a friendly series set up for love of the game than I did about the playtest. I love playtesting and I try to give useful, constructive feedback, but I tend to tackle it as a more goal-oriented, must-meet-scope-and-deadline task than regular games. Yesterday I felt free to explore the setting and work on the detail of character relationships, unpressed by deadlines.

Gaming via VoIP has its technological and emotional drawbacks, but it does let you assemble the most wonderful gaming groups that could not possibly meet face-to-face, and it allows the use of nifty tools in real time.

For example, in our online games we usually prepare a Google Drive folder or other sharing point, and collectively take game notes during the game. Yesterday was no exception. You can also look for images of people, places, and objects right when they’re mentioned. Our GM Bryanna is very proficient with Roll20 and sets up great sites with backdrops, maps, character tokens, counters, card decks, etc.

We opened with a discussion of everyone’s comfort level with varying levels of darkness, violence, etc., and the use of the X-card, followed by a brief tour of the game’s themes and tone, and the Roll20 tools.

We then discussed the Shadow, our Sauron-equivalent, and basically what we’d like to punch in the face the most for this . From the options available, we picked:

What the Shadow Is :
Reality Warping
Terror Inducing

What the Shadow Wants :
Pervert the land and all its creatures
Submission without resistance

What the Shadow Does :
Turn women into objects
Crush autonomy and grind down the willful

The Shadow’s Servants:
Men twisted into unnatural creatures of war
Cogs in a devastating machinery of war

The Shadow’s Moves
 Terrify its opposition
 Attack en masse
 Eliminate support
 Make you doubt yourselves
 Snuff out ambitions and dreams
 Corrupt memories into twisted facsimiles

We made four characters:

  • Otac the Bear, our Corporal; from Clan Toltho, known for their crafts folk and farmers (Fish); and three Wardens:
  • Reule the Spider; from Clan Dothas, known for their mystics (Edmund);
  • Papho the Lioness; from Clan Richti, known for their nomads (Dani); and
  • Teyka the Wolf; from Clan Molthas, known for their rugged mountain folk (me).

We asked each other questions and established our characters’ relationships, generating a good deal of setting seeds in the process. Here is a relationship map I made today on Google Draw with what we generated yesterday; there is actually much more detail in our campaign notes, but I like visual tools. Relationships can be edited on the fly.

We then fleshed out our clans, and discovered more secrets, ties, and rifts! I think this is shaping up to be The Lord of the Rings + The Black Company + Fury Road.


Credits: Cover of The Watch by Claudia Cangini. Relationship map’s background image CC-BY-3.0 by David “Deevad” Revoy, obtained from Wikimedia Commons. Picture of Otak is actually of Photo of We’wha, a Zuni Lhamana,CC-BY-3.0 Wikimedia Commons. Picture of Reule is actually model Nicola Griffin, demo’ing the Winter 2015 collection for Caterina Wills Jewelry. Picture of Papho is actually of a Hawaiian woman with face tattoos, Getty Images. Picture of Teyka is actually of actress Zhang Jingchu in “Jade Warrior,” 2006. Picture of Miri is actually of a Tibetan girl, copyright Adele Stoulilova 2010. No copyright challenge intended.

RPG a Day: Wish I was playing…

Note: Yesterday (July 31), S. John Ross came up with a great hack for #RPGaDay2017, which I will be using. That’s really pretty much how I treated the prompts in previous years, but I like that it’s made explicit. 

1. What published RPG item do you wish you were playing right now?

Ugh, ask me again in five minutes! We’re starting directly with the kind of question that is difficult for me: narrowing things down to one title.

This very minute, I would be really pleased if a good gamemaster offered to run Blades in the Dark for my husband and I and a few more brave rogues. I have the glorious Special Edition, I’m itching to play. I love stories of clever heroes, ensemble casts, moral dilemmas, and daring plans.

Scrivener Lesson: Setting Up

This weekend I spent some time jotting down some ideas for the easiest writing prompts, drafting a few answers (Screenshot #1). I also made sure to set up properly, for example, choosing a cloud backup location, Dropbox, for safety (Screenshot #2).

And yeah, yesterday I saw this great idea from S. John Ross for reframing the writing prompts and I decided to add it to my project Research section. There were a couple of ways to do this. First, I could just add it to the list of links (Screenshots #3 and 4).

But I decided I wanted to be able to access it from within my Scrivener project, so I created a new file in my Research folder, and pasted John’s text with a source reference (Screenshots #5 and 6). That way, I can have it open in the bottom window area as I write (Screenshot #7).

Then I decided I need to write a Scrivener lesson for all this, but I want to be able to locate it separately from my prompt. So I converted the first entry from file format to folder, and added a new file in it to contain the Scrivener lesson (Screenshot #8). You can easily switch between Scrivener file and folder formats and back again (Screenshot #9), the difference is pretty much just conceptual for our purposes.

It’s a useful thing to do if I want to be able to create collections of related text. In this case, I want to be able to group only the Scrivener tutorials at some point, so I will create separate sections for each. I will also change the icon (Screenshots #10 and 11) for easy reference. In a subsequent lesson I’ll show you how that serves my purpose.

 

 

 

 

Mashup: Scrivener + #RPGaDay2017

Hey, it’s that time once again! Thanks to an initiative launched by David Chapman, for the fourth year in a row August is #RPGaDay in the Google+ circles I follow and on Facebook. How it works: every day throughout August you get a writing prompt related to roleplaying games.

It’s a good way to share what we love about our hobby rather than kvetching about geek world annoyances, and an encouragement to write more often for bloggers and authors who can use the practice.

For me, the secret to completing this challenge is to write several entries in advance. On previous years I drafted them directly on Google+ (2014) or in WordPress (2015 and 2016). But this year I had an idea: since I was just talking about how useful Scrivener is, resulting in a number of questions on the software’s features and how to use it, I thought I would write my drafts in Scrivener. This will allow me to plan and compare entries more easily.

More importantly, though, this will allow me to share this mini project. I set up a Scrivener project with 31 sections showing each day’s prompt, and I added the graphic version of the prompts and a list of useful links in the Research folder.

A zipped version is located on Google Drive, feel free to use it. You can see I jotted down quick ideas onto the index cards; I could have removed them from the version I’m sharing, but I thought they would serve as examples of how I use Scrivener in planning my writing. I hope this will encourage people to participate in #RPGaDay2017 and/or try Scrivener.

I expect this little project will result in 6,000 to 12,000 words for me throughout August.

How to discourage me from playing your game: Part 3

AaaarghThis is the third of a three-part rant discussion on things publishers do that turn me right off their role-playing games.

[Edit: Traduction française disponible chez ptgptb.]

A big challenge in role-playing games is that they are usually read several times in greatly differing circumstances. In this section I focus on their ease of use at the game table. I’m not talking about system choices and mechanics, but strictly about how well the book supports game play.

3. Use in Play

At the game table, the reader will be trying to find specific information quickly, particularly rules information.

Continue reading “How to discourage me from playing your game: Part 3”

How to discourage me from playing your game – Part 2

Aw-noThis is the second of a three-part rant discussion on things publishers do that turn me right off their role-playing games.

[Edit: Traduction française disponible chez ptgptb.]

Naturally, a single mistake probably won’t do it unless it’s ginormous and egregious, but a few too many and I’ll move on to the next game on my long wish list.

2. Readability

A big challenge in role-playing games is that they are usually read several times in greatly differing circumstances.

  • The leisurely reading you do on the bus when you just received your book from a Kickstarter campaign.
  • The selective reading you do to familiarize yourself with the setting and make a character for next Friday’s meeting with your gaming group.
  • The studious reading your friend is doing to prep for that same game as game-master.
  • The frantic reading in the middle of a game session to locate a particular piece of information or interpret a rule.

I know first-hand how difficult it can be to address all these needs; for example, a book may be perfectly well organized to present the setting information in an orderly fashion, but make it a nightmare to retrieve in a hurry at the game table. Today, I want to examine the ease of reading proper, all the kinds of reading we do when we are not actually playing.

Continue reading “How to discourage me from playing your game – Part 2”

How to discourage me from playing your game – Part 1

Scary-BookI’m a gaming junkie, especially where it comes to role-playing games. I’ve been gaming for decades, I have played or run at least 177 RPGs as of this writing, not counting different editions, playtests, or homebrews, and my shelves are overflowing with more I have yet to play. All this to say, I want to love your game. But it’s amazing how many published games still turn me right off because of mistakes that could be avoided with moderate effort, and sometimes even quite easily.

Not that that writing games is that easy, I know! There will be competing objectives, budget and schedule considerations, and so forth. But there are also some elements that can be incorporated in the planning, and hurdles that are make-or-break. In our cottage industry of devoted hobbyists, some mistakes are being made over and over. Even free games can be ruined so thoroughly by some of these mistakes that they lose the chance for a good review, which can’t be why you’re putting them out there!

One big challenge for game publishers is that there are several ways to approach the reader or, if you want, several opportunities to lose a gamer, so let’s look at them separately.

I’ll post the other sections over the the next few days.

[Edit: Traduction française disponible chez ptgptb.]

Continue reading “How to discourage me from playing your game – Part 1”

How to tell the candidates what to do

 BSanders-HClinton2Last night my husband and friends voted in the California primary in what was dubbed this year “Super Tuesday IV” of the U.S. presidential election, then we watched the returns with friends. (I don’t get to vote but my naturalization process should be complete in time to vote in the November elections.)

Early in the evening I started seeing acrimonious posts on social media between friends who supported Bernie Sanders and friends who supported Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination. Some are saying “It’s over, Mr. Sanders, get behind the presumptive nominee;” which really means “STFU Bernie supporters, support my candidate.” The latter answer with “Our candidate said he was in until the national convention in July, he’s not going to fold now,” which really means “No you STFU, I’ll support who I want to.”

I understand both sides and they both have good points, but I find the bickering infuriating. Besides, the votes and in the candidates have announced their decisions — social media rants are not going to change that. So I’m going to tell you what to do too, and it involves reaching out to your candidate instead of antagonizing your friends. Continue reading “How to tell the candidates what to do”

Preparing for chemotherapy

Cancer constellation in a circleIf you have been diagnosed with cancer as I was in March, you may face the prospect of saying yes to chemotherapy — and going from whatever aches and pains you’re currently dealing with to several months of misery in the hope of killing cancer before it kills you. Here are some things you can do to prepare so this awful time can be weathered as well as possible.

Get help

You will need help, and for many of us, it’s very hard to ask for help. So think back on the times friends or family needed help, and how you wanted to be able to do something, anything. Tell the people around you what you need. Some will be able to give one small boost, and it may be just what you needed at the right time. Others will be incredibly generous, and you will feel awkward about it. That’s okay.

And yes, a few may be clumsy, overly directive, or factually wrong about the way they try to help you. Don’t take a friend’s miracle cure over your oncologist’s directions, and don’t let a well-meaning relative kindly bully you into anything. But accept the love that inspires this wrong kind of help.

Things you can get help with: Continue reading “Preparing for chemotherapy”

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”