Another cool FLGS: Rogue Robot

About a month ago, I was going through Duluth again, so I stopped at another well-known FLGS: Rogue Robot.

Photo of the entrance to Rogue Robot games

Don’t let the basement location fool you. Rogue Robot is quite a large space, with multiple rooms. The store is connected via back hallways to the other offices in the building. The restrooms are also on this hallway.

Rogue Robot sells a wide and deep range of things. They have a good selection of comics, including tons of back issues; a decent selection of RPGs; lots of minis; a big selection of boardgames; and tons of HeroClix. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that much HeroClix on sale in one place.

They have a fairly huge gaming room in the back. In terms of total area, I think it’s about equal to the Source’s back gaming area — plenty of room for multiple minis games, a bunch of boardgames, some RPGs and card games all to go on at the same time. They also have a large selection of minis scenery on the shelves. The temperatures here seemed fairly high on the day I visited, but maybe that’s an aberration.

Near this gaming area, they had lockers. Is this a Duluth thing? I’ve never seen lockers in Twin Cities FLGSs, but now both the stores I’ve been to in Duluth have them.

As I breezed through, I bought a copy of the card game Timeline (more on that in a later post), a few dice (they had some nice d12s, good for use with Blade & Crown) and a pop. Rogue Robot has the usual snacks on sale, a fridge of pop, etc.

The woman working behind the counter hit just the right level of customer service: friendly, open to helping without being obnoxious, etc.

Rogue Robot doesn’t seem as huge or as RPG-focused as Dungeons End, and parking wasn’t quite as convenient. But it seems like a pretty good FLGS nonetheless.

A statement of principles

Photo of a rainbowI have gotten the message, at times, that one of my biggest potential selling points for my game(s) is that they’re written by a trans woman. I feel pressure to publicly appeal to that fact in order for them to succeed.

Why don’t I discuss that part of myself more? Well, first, I don’t like discussing it, because I think — I know — that it opens me up to a lot of abuse. Abuse that I get enough of from other aspects of my life, and don’t want to invite more of. Because of many things going on in my life, I try to — I need to — steer clear of those issues. The result is that I am forced to be silent, and to lose opportunities, because safety is a pressing concern.

Second, I don’t like discussing those things because I don’t want my games to need to be about such narrow foci. Those aspects of my identity are important to me, of course, but so are other aspects of myself. I don’t want to be, as Elizabeth Sampat puts it, “professionally female”.

A lot is going on right now in fandom: D&D 5′s active but non-ideal inclusion of gender diversity; the handling of harassment in fandom (WisCon, skeptic circles, San Diego Comic-Con, various online fora and many, many other settings); confronting video game publishers who treat women characters as afterthoughts, at best; and so many other loci of change. (I would like to include background links here, but I honestly don’t think I could come close to summarizing everything that’s going on right now.) We are coming up against a lot of deep-seated, insidious issues in fandom — issues that a lot of us have been experiencing for a very long time, but which haven’t gotten enough airplay until now. I’ve personally put up with a lot of crap that is part and parcel of all of this.

As a result, I feel like I should express where I stand. I’ve been working on an essay about feminism, diversity, exclusion, marketing, identity and other issues. But it’s getting too painful, convoluted and long.

I’d like to see, instead, if I can boil it down to the basics. I’d like to make a brief(er) statement of principles:

  • Gaming fandom should be for anyone who’s interested in gaming, and who isn’t a jerk.
  • Because of the missing stair problem, we need to be open about jerkiness in our midsts, and work openly to get rid of it. Jerkiness won’t get rid of itself, much though it should.
  • It’s good that we’re starting to openly discuss the jerkiness in our midsts, and beginning to get rid of it.
  • Fandom is about being interested in things, and enjoying those things. It should not require a particular budget, nor a particular level of fame, to be involved or accepted within it.
  • Fandom should not be about geek hierarchies of who’s more fannish, acceptable, out there, famous, wealthy or whatever. So long as we’re decent people, we’re all equally worthy of fannish respect.
  • Gaming and fandom in general should not have to, nor try to, gain social acceptance by elevating famous exemplars, pushing arguments that appeal to “productivity” or by dumping on other nerdy hobbies.
  • If we always put our attention — money, time, conversation, whatever — into those who are already famous or conventionally successful, we won’t break down oppressive structures. (Remember, tabletop roleplaying gaming can be one of the most revolutionary art forms/hobbies out there, and it has never required fame or even wealth to be enjoyable. ) If the same old elements put on new hats and continue to speak for us, things will not improve, at least not fast enough.
  • A game can be inclusive or exclusive, regardless of whether it’s old school or new school or something wholly other. System matters, but not absolutely; it’s possible to do a game about any topic with any system. Some systems make it easier to do some topics, certainly, and some may carry bad baggage; but it’s entirely possible to (for example) run a game about trans issues using a relatively old-school approach like Blade & Crown.
  • It’s great when oppressed people feel comfortable enough to speak up about what we’re enduring.
  • It’s also great when we practice self-care and give ourselves time away from the front lines (to the extent that we’re able).
  • It can be great when our gaming addresses social issues.
  • It can also be great when women, people of color, LGBT people and other marginalized folks can get a breather from having to address social issues. Many kinds of gaming can be good.
  • It’s terrible when cis, hetero, white guys try to make gaming exclusive to people like them, or when they operate under the notion that women, people of color, LGBT people, etc. are somehow encroaching on ‘their’ turf. (As if anyone owns fandom; and as if we haven’t been here since the beginning.)
  • It’s nice when cis, hetero, white guys…
    • …remember that they are not the default.
    • …remember that women, people of color, LGBT folks and all the rest of us exist, and use language and actions that reflect this.
    • …form groups (podcasts, editorial boards, web fora, panels, boardgame clubs, etc. etc.) that don’t consist solely of cis, hetero, white guys.
    • …realize that “woman”, “person of color” or “LGBT person” is not and cannot be a person’s sole defining characteristic.
    • …understand that having (for example) more than one woman in a group is not somehow more than necessary, nor is it a passing or occasional fancy. You don’t round out your gaming group, podcast, editorial board or concomm by occasionally having one woman, or one gay guy, or one person of color. Treating it that way is tokenism.
    • …work for including marginalized folks, even when it’s not easy.
    • …note it loudly when women, LGBT people, people of color, etc. are being excluded.
    • …argue in favor of inclusion.
    • …realize it isn’t their place to “allow” or “include” diversity. Diversity doesn’t come from the top down.
    • …know when to stand down and get out of the way so women, LGBT people, people of color, etc. can get our voices heard.
  • Gaming and fandom in general can be great places to have fun. We should make sure that the largest possible number of people get to do that, without harshing anyone else’s squee.

Those are my principles, such as they are. That’s what I try to live by and work for these days in fandom.

Hmm, still not all that brief. Well, these issues are complex. Hopefully I’ve said it all clearly enough.

I love gaming, and fandom in general. I enjoy many aspects of this great family of hobbies, in many different ways. I intend to keep enjoying them in all the ways I can, as long as I can. And I intend to keep working to make sure lots of different people get the opportunity to do the same, in all the ways I can.

Con of the North 2015: What to run?

A compass roseAs with last year, I’m wondering what to run at next year’s Con of the North. Somehow the submission deadline always comes up too quickly!

Here’s what I’m thinking of so far:

  • The Dooms that Came to Chaegrae. This is kind of an experiment in high-powered Blade & Crown — PCs who are truly unafraid of mundane death, because they know their fates are glorious. There will be a tomb to explore and hopefully some good intra-party goofiness.
  • The Year-Song. A group of priests and their escorts travel against a background of civil war to learn an important religious ritual. What will test their faith?
  • Microscope. This is always fun, and sometimes very intense.
  • Og. Goofy, low-vocabulary fun.
  • Something else. Maybe The Quiet Year? Or Fiasco?

What do you think? If you plan to be at Con of the North and have preferences, let me know!

B&C errata

I just noticed a couple small errors in Blade & Crown. That means errata!

From page 68:

Combatants declare in order from lowest Initiative Phase to Initiative Phase to highest. Therefore, those with the highest Initiative Phase get to react to what everyone else is doing. If someone wants to bid for a higher Initiative Phase (see Initiative Phase & Turn Order, below, for more on this).

The parentheses there got placed wrong. It should probably say something like:

Combatants declare in order from lowest Initiative Phase to Initiative Phase to highest. Therefore, those with the highest Initiative Phase get to react to what everyone else is doing. If someone wants to bid for a higher Initiative Phase, they may do so; see Initiative Phase & Turn Order, below, for more on this.

And on page 69, a smaller typo:

Your Initiative Phase is 7, meaning you go before everyone else, but also meaning that you have to take a penalty of (Initiative Phase = 3) — 7, or ­-4, to all your physical skill rolls this round. Let’s hope being first was worth the effort!

That em-dash should of course be a subtraction symbol, so it should read something more like:

Your Initiative Phase is 7, meaning you go before everyone else, but also meaning that you have to take a penalty of (Initiative Phase = 3) – 7, or ­-4, to all your physical skill rolls this round. Let’s hope being first was worth the effort!

It seems like B&C is pretty error-free, but I’m sure there are a few others lurking in there somewhere. Let me know if you find any other mistakes.

Roll 2d6

The header image for Roll 2d6

The header image for Roll 2d6

One of my favorite podcasts of all time is Roll 2d6. Or, to give its fuller title, “Roll 2d6, a Podcast about Games, Gaming and Gamers, with Adam and Nate.” (Note that that website is currently dead; I’ll explain more below.)

Roll 2d6 has had 23 episodes (that I know of) so far. They deal with all sorts of tabletop gaming. They’ve covered Car Wars, gaming at cons, Dwarven Forge resin scenery, D&D, Champions, Runebound, gaming setups, Star Trek miniatures games, computer mapping software, playing miniatures wargames with plastic soldiers, and lots more. A lot of the topics are very dear to my heart. I think their episodes that deal with gaming on the cheap have inspired a lot of my own desire to find low-cost gaming options.

And even when they’re talking about games that I’m not personally interested in, their sheer enthusiasm and friendliness make the show extremely enjoyable. The show is very well-produced, with good sound quality and great writing. Adam and Nate seem like a couple of nice guys you’d easily want to have join your gaming group, regardless of what you’re currently playing. (But especially if it’s a Star Trek game.) They’re sometimes downright hilarious, like when they riff on the Ultimate Gaming Table (The Ultimate Gaming Table? The Ultimate Gaming Table? No, The Ultimate Gaming Table!) and how fun it would be to have trained hamsters who run messages back and forth. Adam and Nate’s enthusiasm is very infectious. In at least one case, they’ve actually convinced me to get into a game. (More on that in a later post.) For sheer fun value, listening to them talk about games comes close to actually playing games.

Shut Up & Sit Down owe them a debt, at least in spirit if not in actual inspiration. “Two guys talking about all sorts of tabletop games with great, funny writing, honest reviews and genuine enthusiasm” describes both shows quite well.

In recent years, they’ve posted less and less frequently. Most of their recent output has been semi-annual reviews of what they played at KublaCon. Still worth listening to.

In even more recent years, they actually lost the domain “roll2d6.com”, and both apparently got very busy with Real Life. (Edit: As Adam very gently corrects below, they didn’t lose the domain; it just isn’t working as it used to.) It sounds unlikely that they’ll restart the podcast, but who knows? A couple months ago, in a spate of re-listening to their podcasts, I wrote to the Roll2d6 email address on the chance that they’re still around. Adam wrote back with his usual kind enthusiasm and said he “still has inklings to start it up again sometime.” So I’m not giving up hope.

If you’d like to listen to the Roll2d6 podcast, Archive.org still has a quite good set of snapshots of their website, including the podcast downloads.

High-powered Blade & Crown

Arcs of electricity in a containment vesselThe default for Blade & Crown is definitely on the ‘realistic human’ end of the scale, and that’s as it should be — that’s what I designed it for. But it can work with higher power levels. Traits are critical here.

One nice side effect of Trait ratings in Blade & Crown is that they’re a very direct ‘dial’ with which you can tune the power level of your game. When Traits get higher, the things that players can accomplish in the game get wilder, more amazing and probably more gonzo.

In a default, low-power game, start the characters off with 2, 1, 1, 1 as I describe in the rules. But if you want a higher-power game, you can start with other ratings. I’ve experimented a little with 3, 2, 1, 1 and it’s worked fairly well, albeit with a caveat.

The caveat is that players need to really understand what they can accomplish with those high-level Traits. When running a higher-powered game, it’s probably a necessity to explain, level by level, what the different ratings can actually do, in terms of narrative. (Actually, it might be necessary to explain them anyway, because players often use Traits only in mechanical ways, staying away from narrative uses. I’ve noticed this even with players who are quite experienced in games with player narrative control, so I don’t think it’s just a hesitance to take control of the story. It may just be the very human tendency to cling to what can be quantified. It may also be the difficulty of applying a particular Trait to a particular situation.) Describe this to the players, going through at least the first four rating levels. Then, perhaps, put out a table tent reminding them of what they can use their Traits to accomplish, or add an explanatory note to your GM screen, or start each session with someone recounting a cool thing they did for each Trait rating.

I’ve never tried a game with Trait levels higher than 4. Seems like it could get very high-powered indeed! Might even work as a superhero-level game. I wonder: At this level, would the Traits start to get more narrative use, since they’re less valuable in a mechanical mode? (Less valuable? Yes, because at very high levels, skill + characteristic + Trait all tends towards the same range of die rolls, such that one extra die doesn’t make that big a difference. But one extra level in terms of narrative power can be huge.) It’s certainly an interesting thing to think about.

I have a scenario in mind for Con of the North 2015; high-powered Traits might be a good addition to it. I’ll have to explore this.

Have you ever played B&C with high-rated Traits? I’m curious how it’s worked for you!

Skill 0?

Expertly-balanced rocksWith a mechanically grainy game like Blade & Crown, there can be a very large difference between unskilled and skilled. If you don’t have a skill, you might be able to use just your applicable characteristic, so long as the situation doesn’t require training. If you have skill level 1, suddenly you’ve got your applicable characteristic, and your skill level, and you can attempt trained-only tasks. That’s a big difference.

Normally, it’s not a big deal. I don’t think this has been a significant problem at all in my games. Has it ever been a problem for you?

But still, it’s interesting to think about. A situation where it’s come up in play, for me — not as a problem, but as a sort of curiosity — was where a character had spent a few weeks learning a language. Not enough to get an actual skill level out of it, but enough to express completely rudimentary concepts. If I wanted to deal with this situation, how would I cover it?

As usual, the ultimate rule is “whatever’s dramatically appropriate”. So when this came up in the game, I think we just said that the character was able to express some very simple ideas, but couldn’t say anything complex. Sentences with much more than a verb were off-limits.

Along the lines of surprise as a stance, though, what if we want a mechanical approach? What if it comes down to a skill roll?

An idea I recently had was to allow skills with a level of 0. There’s space on the sheet to write in a skill and then give it a rating of ’0′, after all.

How would this work? It allows you to use that skill with your native ability — your appropriate characteristic — but you don’t add anything to that. And, I think, this means you can then attempt trained-only tasks. Pretty simple!

I haven’t yet play-tested this variant, but it seems like a potentially useful one. If you use it, let me know how it works for you!

Towards a perpetual calendar of Minnesota-area cons

compass_2aAfter some discussion on Steve Brust’s blog, I’m wondering if it’s possible to list all the cons in this area. There really are a lot of them, and it’s very easy to lose track. I’ve seen various attempts to concatenate all the cons in this area, but they seem to come and go, and to quite often miss some important cons. Kevin’s listing is one of the best, but it’s hard to keep up to date.

For those reasons, I’ve decided to compile a list that doesn’t list specific dates, but rather general tendencies, so that hopefully this list won’t become incorrect too quickly. In other words, I’m aiming for a perpetual calendar, not a single year’s specific listing.

Criteria:

  • A physical, face-to-face con, not online.
  • Within a 5-6 hour drive of the Twin Cities.
  • Concerned with SF&F and (what I consider) closely related hobbies.
  • Open to the public.
  • Persistent. Has been run consistently, within the above limits, for a few years, and usually occurs every year. (Thus I’m not — yet — listing things like Berserkon, BritCon, Furry Migration, GameHoleCon, Gaming Hoopla, Gaylaxicon, or MantiCon.)

I’m trying not to make judgments about what’s fannish and what’s not, at least within broad bounds. And I’m not trying to limit it to fan-run, non-profit cons, because it’s actually kind of hard to define those criteria precisely. This is not a list of recommendations, just an expansive list of cons.

So, within those limits, cons I know of are:

Name Approximate time Location Overall focus
SuperCon Superbowl weekend (Late January?). Hastings, MN Relaxacon
Con of the North Usually mid-February Twin Cities Gaming
Gamicon Late February Iowa City, IA Gaming
Minicon Easter weekend Twin Cities General SF&F
MarsCon Early or mid-March Twin Cities General SF&F
GaryCon Late March Lake Geneva, WI Gaming
Odyssey Con (aka OddCon) Early April Madison, WI General SF&F
DemiCon Early May Des Moines, IA General SF&F
Anime Detour Late March Twin Cities Anime
NoBrandCon April Eau Claire, WI Anime
AniMinneapolis May Twin Cities Anime
WisCon Memorial Day weekend Madison, WI Feminist SF
CoreCon Mid-June Fargo, ND General SF&F
Fourth Street Fantasy Last weekend in June Twin Cities Writing & SF&F
Convergence Fourth of July weekend Twin Cities General SF&F
AnimeIowa Late July Coralville, IA Anime
Diversicon Early August Twin Cities General SF&F
Mnstf fallcon (The name changes every few years, but the con is very consistent.) Usually October Twin Cities Relaxacon
Fallcon (the comic book one) Early October Twin Cities Comics
Arcana Mid-October Twin Cities Horror
Crypticon Late October Twin Cities Horror
ValleyCon Late October Fargo, ND General SF&F
MetaCon Early November Twin Cities General SF&F
Icon Early November Cedar Rapids, IA General SF&F
OmegaCon Appears to be at varying times Northwest WI Relaxacon

That’s already 25 cons, averaging more than two per month. And considerably more during the summer months. And not even getting into more far-flung cons, like the ones in Chicago. I knew there were a lot of cons in this area, but listing them out, I’m amazed.

Also, I am quite certain I’ve missed some. I know, for example, that I’m missing some university gaming/anime/comic/fandom clubs’ local cons, which still meet the criteria I’ve laid out. Which cons am I forgetting?

If possible, I’d like to keep this listing up to date, so feel free to give me updates, either via email or in the comments.

Convergence 2014, part 4: Wrap-up

Screenshot of the Convergence Sched pageOverall, this year’s Convergence was pretty good.

It was, very interestingly, slightly smaller than last year’s. This may have been due to the loss of the Sofitel for this year, or because people are staying away due to crowding, or whatever else. Regardless, it was interesting. I didn’t feel jostled walking down the hall, and I didn’t get hit by a wall of heat entering large programming rooms. It was easy to bump into people I know (although texting was still a necessity to really plan anything).

Still, the lack of programming space due to the Sofitel not being available meant that there was less programming going on. There were occasionally slots where nothing in particular interested me. And there were only a handful of gaming panels. (I’ve heard similar complaints about other kinds of programming, so it sounds like Convergence handled the cut in programming very equitably.) I hope that getting the Sofitel (or whatever it’s going to be called) back next year will allow for more programming while not bringing back the hot, uncomfortable crowds of 2013.

Convergence is doing better with moderators. There is still a long way to go, but it’s definitely improving.

It looks like the Sched webpage and app is working really well for gaming purposes. In previous years, RPGs usually seemed to be hit or miss; the paper sign-up forms, only available at the con, made it hard for information to travel fast enough to actually arrange things. There would often be people (including me) wandering the 22nd floor, looking for but not finding games. But this year, I think most of the gaming tables were occupied most of the time. The ability to sign up ahead of time, and digitally, seems to mean that events are that much more likely to successfully occur. I may have to start running games at Convergence!

I left a large amount of feedback for Convergence on their survey webpage, some of it bad, some of it good, some of it otherwise. Hopefully pretty balanced, and hopefully all constructive. Convergence is like a small town, both in size and in complexity, so of course there are bad and good things. It continues to be fun, and worth going to.

And speaking of going, I’m off again for about a week. See you toward the end of the month.
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Convergence 2014, part 3: Actual gaming

I didn’t do much actual gaming at Convergence this year, but what I did was good.

Thursday night, I played a little Zar. Usually pretty fun, and this was no exception. No idea who won, but that’s rarely the point.

While I’m on the topic, please check out the Kickstarter for Buzz, a Zar/Uno-like game. I got to playtest it and I can vouch that it’s lots of fun.

Divider illustration of a sword

My big dose of gaming was Saturday afternoon, when John ran his Tekumel game. This was lots of fun!

The time slot we’d worked out was very narrow — only two hours, from 3 to 5. And I think I arrived a few minutes late and had to leave a few minutes early, so it was even more compressed than that. But we made it work!

John started with a brief intro. We were all recent trial recruits to a Tsolyani legion, sent on a mission to test our worthiness. John gave a short intro the city we started in, Thráya: it’s located upriver from Jakalla, and it has a lot of river trade.

Then we collaboratively decided on a scenario. River trade suggested pirates. Perhaps some ex-recruits from the legion had taken to piracy? Or poor fisher-folk? Or someone else? We left the specifics up to John, but came up with a nice little scenario of pirate-pacifying. I have to note, this worked well. John trusted us to come up with some good ideas for a workable two-hour scenario, and I think we did. Different theories on how it might go gave flexibility. Most importantly, it got us making important decisions almost immediately — something that not enough games run at cons do.

Character creation was kind of simultaneous with the scenario creation. We had a grizzled old archery instructor (the “assistant to the assistant”, I think he was) as our leader; a mage, equipped with some pretty powerful spells; and my character, a stocky spearwoman whose tactics tended to be limited to “barge on in”. The three of us headed down-river, doing a tiny amount of investigating along the way.

Then we were at the island where the pirates (probably) were headquartered. We landed, my character noisily worked her way through some reeds, we found (and destroyed) some hidden pirate boats, and then a bunch of pirates attacked us.

We all got to contribute to the combat, but the mage had by far the most effective spell. He summoned up an illusory lizard monster (a feshenga?) that attacked the pirate-villagers. In Tekumel, if you believe the attack is real, you suffer real damage. So the pirates went down in droves. A very powerful spell!

In the end, we’d quelled the pirates and, I think, got ourselves admission to the legion. And we stayed far away from the teqeqmu (?) hiding in the forest.

The game basically consisted of a tiny bit of travel and investigation followed by one combat, but it worked very well. The collaborative scenario design was fun and useful, and we all got to contribute and get our moments in the spotlight. And we actually went all the way from character creation to finishing a scenario in less than two hours. Quite an accomplishment!

Divider illustration of a sword

Sunday morning was my last attempt at gaming. “Attempt”, because I wasn’t successful. I was danged impressed, though!

Last year, I played Artemis at the Royal Manticoran Navy room. They apparently had a lot of success with it, because this year they had a whole dedicated room for Artemis on the 22nd floor. And they went all out.

I didn’t try to get photos of the whole room, because photos wouldn’t be able to do it justice. It was amazing. They’d set up what looked like a full starship bridge, with the captain sitting in the middle of an elevated platform, with a a full-on Enterprise-appropriate captain’s chair, looking at a giant viewscreen; crew stations along the sides; and diamond plate wall coverings, and I-beam supports… It was pretty spectacular.

Investigating closer, I discovered that they even created dedicated control panels for each crew station. No fumbling with a keyboard or tablet, these stations have specific buttons for each of the things you’d want to do at your crew station. Wow.

Photo of the dedicated Artemis controls

I wasn’t the only person who noticed that how much the RMN folks had done with the Artemis room. The sign-up list filled up quickly, with only standby slots available. So in the end, I didn’t get to play it. But just seeing the amazing artistry and skill on display in that room was almost enough. And it’s also neat to know that more people are discovering how cool Artemis can be.

So, all in all, this year’s Convergence wasn’t filled with gaming, but what there was, was great.