Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Thoughts on 2015 Gaming

Planning for gaming is posing challenges beyond the simple who, what, when, where, why, and how as Huckle says.

A couple weeks ago we had an informal get together. I sent out an invite to likely board gamers. I expected better than half to decline. Instead, 80% not only said yes, but showed up. We have a 2 bedroom apartment. Things got crowded very quickly. Several people sat around hoping for a slot in the secluded back room while socializing and heckling. At several points there was space for a second or third game to start up; it just didn’t happen. It was quickly apparent that between the people who wanted to talk more than game and the people who didn’t want to game in the midst of the social mosh-pit of our living room, the high intensity gaming I envisioned wasn’t going to materialize.

I love the fact that so many of our friends are game groupies. As problems go this is a great one to have. That said, I’m going to handle things differently next time. While I love hosting the big events, I prefer a low-pressure scene when it comes to board and card games.

Going forward I’m going to invite people one at a time—keeping track of the total so as not to over-recruit. This policy is likely to create some hard feelings—several of our friends expect to be on every invitation list regardless of practicality. Some games call out for specific players. There are certain people who I know will sit down and play for 6+ hours at a time. There are people who are very low-drama. These people are going to get preference. Since our circle of friends is interconnected on multiple levels, word is going to get around. I’m hoping I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill. If not, I’m just going to be up front about the situation.

That brings me to the second looming issue—Gencon. After a couple years off, it looks like we’ll finally be able to attend in 2015. The brunette loves, loves, loves, Gencon, almost as much as the Jew—who would sell body parts to attend. It’s something of a personal validation for them to dive head first into the deep end of gaming once a year. I_like_Gencon. The magic wore off when I realized that the system is rigged against people getting the top-tier event tickets. You can often walk up with generics and get in on the exclusive stuff, but it’s very difficult to get in on the ground breaking material in the initial bidding. I was distinctly unimpressed with my access to quality RPG sessions on our last go-round. I’m happy to attend if the stars align, but it isn’t something I obsess over.

The first question is who’s going? We have an unspoken pact with Wmtrainguy, Ceri, Squish, and the Jew to split costs and share transportation when the opportunity presents itself. The Jew is going, even if she has to ship herself there. Wmtrainguy and Ceri seem like they are going to attend. Squish can’t make up his mind. It’s not worth it for us to cram in a sub-compact and slum it for 12+ hours to Indiana. Flying is logistically prohibitive even if we could get good pricing. The upshot is that if we can travel in Squish’s van, split a room with Squish and the Jew, or find comfortable cost effective alternatives we’ll attend. Unfortunately, until we can confirm those arrangements, we can’t commit. Registration is coming up fast. I’m not sure how to broach the subject in a way that doesn’t guilt trip the other parties. I’m going to wait till after Friendsmas and just lay it all out in an email.

Depending on how our 2014 tax returns work out, we’re going to set aside funds from our return or pay off my 401k and save the money incrementally. Either way, we need to decide by the end of January. Financially, we can’t afford to wait till March or April. We have to plan for food, vender purchases, some new duds, and the host of little expenses that an undertaking like this inevitably generates. I wish money wasn’t an issue, but we can’t do this one off the cuff.

Assuming we are going, the next question becomes what am I going to run? Gencon is a unique opportunity for GMs. You have 50,000+ potential players at your fingertips. You can show new and obscure games to a near-unlimited audience. You can test concepts your normal group wouldn’t touch. So since I’m out of the competitive war gaming market, Gencon’s main draw is the chance to run a couple old style one shots while shamelessly plugging some of my favorite products.

Three years ago there wouldn’t be a question; I’d be running dragon storm. The last time I attended Gencon I ran a series of demos. I wrote my own adventure, produced my own materials, and bought my own cards. It was expensive in time and money, but the pay off was worth the cost. I was heavily invested in DS back then—running 2 or 3 games a week, buying multiples of every release, working with other players on drafting and play testing elemental betas, writing a rogue book, running a DS fiction page, and critiquing beta submissions for Mike. Mark occasionally ran ideas and editing by me—which was a huge compliment. Years later, after Mark’s tragic passing, the DS landscape has changed dramatically. Sue is out of the picture indefinitely due to medical concerns. Game management and production has been taken over by a few of Sue’s trusted friends. The Skype group and local collective have dried up—I can’t even get 3 players to give me a firm commitment any more. I haven’t received a submission for the DS Quill in months. The lapse between Mark’s passing and the new management’s assumption of control and the resulting uncertainty has cooled my ardor. Friends, who used to have an active trusted part in DS management and development have quit the game or have been quietly shut out of operations. I’ve had several run INS with the current leadership that have left a bad taste in my mouth—they aren’t bad people, we just don’t see eye-to-eye. All this to say that while DS has a special place in my heart, I’m not sure I want to carry its torch any more. I remain deeply conflicted on the subject.

That leaves me with four alternatives, assuming cope doesn’t talk me on to the dragon storm train. I just backed the Onyx Path Wraith the Oblivion 20th edition KS. It’s hugely unlikely OP will come out with this PDF before event registration, but stranger things have happened—this is wraith after all. We have been awaiting the 3rd edition exalted book, also from Onyx Path, for three years now. The book is supposedly in final editing; so theoretically I could have a PDF in hand in the next couple months. I doubt either of these games will make it in time. OP is slow but steady—at this point a year behind its projected completion date for exalted 3. I’ll keep them in mind but plan for alternatives.

I’m currently running a swords and sandals campaign using the updated Shadow, Sword, and Spell system. Over the last two sessions we’ve made characters, built the world from scratch, and introduced the group members to each other. SSS is spirit of the century light. It uses a 2d12 mechanic—not as clean as 2d6, but it has more potential variance. So far SSS has impressed me with its simplicity. It takes very little effort to jump in as a GM or player. The setting and mechanical underpinnings are built around a classless Conan/Lovecraftian foundation including insanity, dark sorcery, alchemy, divination, feats of strength…etc. Unfortunately the editing is atrocious. I would buy the updated materials, less than $150, before bringing it to Gencon and really taking it for a spin. So the overall investment wouldn’t be that much in cash. I’d need to do a lot of work creating cleaned up materials—sample characters, an introduction sheet, promotional materials, a quick start story, Gencon registration—the normal stuff. The producer provides free PDFs with any print purchase; so there is some built in accessibility—though the documents I’ve seen so far have not been in the greatest format. This is my back up option. If my first choice doesn’t come through, I’ll work out a SSS game and run with it.

Most gamers remember that one game—the one that opened their eyes with child-like joy for the first time. For me that game was exalted first edition. It hit all the right notes from setting to mechanics to writing. It’s hard for other games to compete—often the memory is gilded to the point of unobtainability. So when I found a second game that hit the happy switch I was overjoyed. The closest I’ve come to recreating my first blush with exalted came with Hellas—ironically an acquisition of my first Gencon trip. Hellas is one of those games that is so perfect that you know you’ll never achieve the ideal. It sits on your shelf and taunts you. “You know I’m the game you always wanted to play/run. Too bad you’ll never be good enough/find the right group/have the right adventure.” It’s maddening. Godsfall is the perfect fantasy game in a neat clean workable package. It sits on your shelf and says “I’m user friendly. There’s something here for everyone. I take all your fantasy tropes and turn them on their heads. Love me. Run me. Play me.” I found it while wandering through kick starter and have been infatuated ever since. The book is supposedly at the printer. I have a PDF version now—soon to be joined by a book, GM screen, and dice bag. It’s a simple system designed to avoid the scaling problems of most experience-based RPGs balanced with an imagination grabbing world. I’ll do a full review once I’ve read through the book, but as of now Godsfall is my first choice. I spoke to the designers during the campaign and they have no plans to run it at cons and such. I really enjoy sharing quality RPGs with fellow gamers. Especially if I can get some promo swag for con-goers, Godsfall might be my next big thing.

There’s a lot that’s up in the air. I’m still not sure we’re going to Gencon in the first place. We have to look at our finances and make sure it’s something we can afford—I’m hopeful but numbers care nothing for my optimism. Lots can happen between now and then. Still, 2015 is looking like a good year for gaming.

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