PDF vs Dead Tree RPG Books

I have been thinking about this for lately due to a release of Edge of the Empire from Fantasy Flight Games. The plan is not to release a PDF version on the game. As such, I have decided not to purchase the game. Some friends have questioned why that is. Therefor, I wanted to formulate how I use both forms of gaming books.

Dead Tree

For the most part, if I really think I will play the game and I would like to learn how to play, I buy the dead tree version. I like it for all the reasons people like dead tree versions of things. I like to be able to flip through it. I enjoy the smell of paper and I like the look of it on my shelf. I like my books signed by the authors.[1] You cannot get a digital version of the book signed. I guess you could have them sign your reader but that would get ridiculous after a while.


I use this version to play the game. With the exception of just one game [2], I have learned every game I own either through play or by reading the dead tree version. I have had almost every version of the iPad and as such I really enjoy the app, GoodReader for working with PDFs. I search for rules with it. I love it when they hyperlink the PDF so it’s easy to navigate.

The other use I make of PDF is for a game that I just want to look over and either steal setting material, mechanics or just don’t know about the game. I have backed a lot of Kickstarters at this level just to get the PDFs.


I want my cake and eat it too. I want both versions of a gaming book. I don’t even need it free. I will even spend money buying them both as I recently did with Ennie Award nomintated Broken Rooms.[3] If you want me to be interested in your game, release a PDF as well as the print copy.

  1. I know a lot of people in the gaming world and it brings me enjoyment for them to sign my books. Sometimes they write cool things in there as well. I’d say over most of my games are signed, I even have one book signed by Gygax himself.  ↩
  2. 13th Age since it still hasn’t been printed yet. An amazing game that if you love/hate d20 you should check it out. Has the sensibilities of the recent Indie titles with the approachability of d20.  ↩
  3. Review coming soon to a blog near you.  ↩


I have been away from blogging for sometime now. Many reasons exist for this[1] but I want to get back to practicing writing. A friend, Rob Dongohue[2] introduced me to an app that directly accesses my blog and makes it easier to publish posts. I am going to commit to one post a week either about gaming or reviewing a gaming product that I have been using. Look forward to posting and writing on a consistant basis.

  1. Getting laid off, switching jobs. Then switching jobs again. Traveling a ton for the current job and working on my health. Dropped 30lbs. Been busy little bee.  ↩

  2. His most wonderful blog  ↩

Review of Bulldogs!

Bulldogs! A FATE game that isn’t able to stop a bullet? Check. This book checks in 166 pages and is a standard RPG size. Does the book have an index and a Table of Contents? Yeppers. I personally have never seen the need for both, but that’s just me but people like to hear if that is the case. It doesn’t read like a text book does it? Nope, not at all. Some RPG books read like that and it annoys me. This doesn’t read like that. Does it really kick ass as it’s tagline says “Bulldogs! is sci-fi that kicks ass” ? Totally.

The quick review is that I like it. Quite a bit actually and I will get into more specifics. One more thing, I am going to assume that anyone reading this review is familiar with other FATE titles. If you are not, then I would check out one of the free versions out on the web or look at the FATE SRD over on Evil Hat's website.

One of the things I love about this book the size. Since it smaller it is much easier to carry around to games. One of the main reasons I bought an iPad was to stop carrying so much weight when I went to game. This book is one which I could easily carry. It still has all the sections of a normal gaming book as well as typical sections of the various FATE books out there. Yes there is still art and the layout is not a text book, but it condenses the information. The aspect chapter is nine pages, compare that with Dresden Files RPG that has nineteen pages. Not that I am knocking Dresden (or other gargantuan size FATE books) as I love that game as well, I just like the size of this game.

The other cool thing is the default setting is more frame work than complete deal. It is set in a galaxy where two empires are in somewhat a cold war state with neutral space in between them. This makes all sorts of adventures possible but the default campaign is one in which the players work for a large shipping company. This doesn’t sound that kick ass, I admit; but it goes further than that. The company insures the hell out of your characters and ship all the while loading it with dangerous cargo going to dangerous locations. Does this mean the rules are tied to the setting? Somewhat but that doesn’t mean you could use the rules for a FATE Firefly game or a FATE Star Wars game; if you wanted to use it instead of the RPGs already out there covering those games.

A few other note worth things in this book. One, I really enjoyed the Alien Species section. The game gives nine default races with rules to create your own. Currently, my favorite race is the Urseminites. A race of ill-tempered teddy bears who are universally hated throughout the galaxy. Two, the why skills are handled is very simple but eye-opening. The skills are broken down to how they are used by within the game. Meaning if a skill has the ability to be used as a block, it has a sub-heading under the skill called block. In this sub-heading, it discusses how this skill can be used as a block and gives examples. Very nice. Crew creation, aka character creation, is also slightly different than other FATE games. The characters don’t have group character creation as this game wants a bit of party tension.

The book uses the character advancement methods first detailed in the Dresden RPG. It also has a stunt chapter and a gear chapter. Now, since this is a sci-fi section ships get their own chapter. This is great because it simply extends other portions of the FATE rules to ships. This chapter is 13 pages, compare that to Starblazer Adventures ship chapter which is 64 pages. Again, I am not knocking that book, it just that I like the brevity of Bulldogs!

After this you must think that I thought the book was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Well, I do have some quibbles about it. First, the campaign frame work that I like also could use a little more to it. Second, I wish there would have been an adventure included but since there now is a free adventure on Drive Thru, that’s cool. Third, the game has each character have 10 aspects. I really think that is over kill in all the FATE games. As a GM, I have enough to worry about that it is hard to keep track of all the aspects the characters have. Now, to be honest, the game encourages self-compels as well as other player compels, but if you have a group that has a hard time doing that, this makes it difficult. The last complaint is that my post man didn’t like me and damaged my book, nothing major but it still irks me when I look at my copy.

I have played the game with the designer at Gencon 2011. I played the free adventure that is currently up on Drive-Thru RPG. It was a great adventure that was only two hours of which my character was cryo-frozen for 45 minutes of it. I have also started this up with my gaming group, we have just created characters.

Overall, this game is a great implementation of FATE. If I was going to own only one FATE game that would be Dresden Files RPG; but if I was going to own two, this would be the second one. I really enjoyed reading it and frankly it is less intimidating than other larger versions of FATE. I recommend checking it out, especially since the PDF is only 10 bucks.

Getting an emotional response to NPCs from PCs.

How does one get characters to actually care about NPCs? I have been struggling with this for some time in my current groups. I think it must be one of my faults as a GM. It isn't that I try to force an emotional attachment to any particular NPC, the problem is that they don't seem to care about any of them. It doesn't matter if they are a good, bad or neutral character in the game. They kill the bad guys but it feels like they don't respond to it. The other NPCs in the game, they couldn't care less.

I have tried many different ways to try to get PCs buy-in on NPCs. I have tried getting them to making NPCs they care about on notecards before the game as in my current L5R game. I have tried the long game where the NPCs are around for several sessions helping the PCs and then get in trouble asking the players for help. I have read blogs all over trying to figure out if there is anything I could be doing better. I have tried several different suggestions. Therefore, I am going to try my blog. I know I haven't posted in a while, I am not going to make an excuse, but I am going to try to post more.

If anyone has any ideas, please post them as I could use some help.

Review of Kingdom of Nothing.

Can you spare some change? You don't have any? Okay, how about a bite of food? No to that too? How about a role-playing game where you play beggars? Seriously? You think that would be fun? All right, I will give it a try. This is a game that is written by Jeff Himmelman who happens to also do some killer art for this thing. I know what you are thinking, the writer did the art? What is it going to be? Stick figures? Nope, these are full illustrations that are simply amazing. I think I'd have boughten the book on just art. It is put out by Brennan Taylor's imprint, Galileo Games of Mortal Coil and How We Came to Live Here. Brennan also does the editing for the book.

It is an eighty-two page softcover black & white book with art throughout. It has the standard form factor most of the small press books have, 8 x 5.5 inches. There are several full page pictures so the page count of actual text will be less. It does have a table of contents and an index, so the index police will be appeased. Granted with how small the book is, I figure a decent table of contents would be sufficient. It has a character and relationship sheet in the back. It is a quick read and took me less than a day at work to finish it off. I have a hurry-up-and-wait kind of job at the present moment, don't be judging me. Let's not get side tracked, lets get back to the book, it's why you are reading this in the first place. The book retails for around 15 dollars and from what I learned after I purchased, years in the making. How many? I have no idea, but the wait is over.

What is this game about? Beggars. Granted if that was all it was about, it'd be a very boring game. I wouldn't blame anyone for not wanting to look at it. This book is to beggars as Don't Rest Your Head is to insomnia. If you don't know about Don't Rest Your Head, well, check it out, simply amazing premise for a game. Well, back to your regularly scheduled review. You are one of the Lost, a beggar who has literally nothing and since you have nothing, a supernatural force known as the Nothing comes to get you. Stop that right now, it isn't the Never-Ending Story. There isn't a flying doggy-dragon. I digress yet again. The only way to free yourself of this hunter is to work through your issues and figure out your past. You see, since you're a Lost, you don't remember your past.

Character creation is one of the places where this game truly sings. When you make characters after all of the number crunching (there isn't any since there are only two stats: Lucidity and Survival), picking stuff (the GM is encouraged to not let you have much, you're a beggar, duh!), pick your skills (free-form), pick your echo (an interactive object of what you want to guide your character) and burden (what's holding you back); you hand out a sheet of paper with the character's name in the middle along with the character sheet. Each person then takes something on the character sheet, say the skill Negotiation and writes a secret about it. The juicier the better since this will not be known to the player who owns the character at the beginning. The object of other players is to help drive the story to reveal this in play.

The core mechanics revolve around loose change. Yep, that metal stuff that's returned after you give the restaurant fancy paper things. You need some of that and a beggar cup. You wager your character stats which have pennies on them equal to their value at the beginning of the session, by putting them into a cup. Each penny is worth one success. Skills give you a nickel which is worth two successes and your echo is worth a dime which is three successes. Your burdens have a quarter associated with for when you are really desperate. You then have the chance to ask your fellow players if they can spare change. In which case, they can add their own coins to the pot and they can lose these coins just like the acting player. Then shake the cup and slam it down to the table. All right, it might not have said slammed, but who cares, if you gotta go, go with gusto. All heads are successes and it is versus a target number the GM sets for you. This is another game where the GM gets the chance to roll dice or mechanically act in the game. It bothers some people but to me it doesn't matter. Successes you keep the coins and gain some new pennies.

The other cool mechanic is that there is a concept of plot coins. You gain these by introducing cool things into the game or by helping characters with their issues. The reason these are important is that they are how you buy scenes for the game. This allows the players to choose what the next scene is going to be. You start the game with three and will need a lot more to finally get your character the life he always wanted.

This is one of those small type games that I think could have the danger of too much awesome at the table, especially in the right kind of group. This can also be really dark since it covers dark things that drive people to homelessness. There are supernatural elements to it that I didn't cover in great detail as I think you should discover that in play. As I said, the art is amazing, worth the 15 bucks alone. If you are looking to add a nice focused game to your groups list of games, you should check it out.

Review of Happy Birthday, Robot.

I get distracted by looking at this beautiful little book, so if I stop typing for a bit, that's what happened. This game is written by Daniel Solis with illustrations by Rin Aiello and published by Smart Play Games and Evil Hat Productions. I was fortunate enough to get in on the Kickstarter and therefore have a signed copy by the author. I didn't spend the extra to have a custom illustration, just the autograph. Another thing that I thought was cool was that the Kickstarter was fully funded in only a couple of days so Daniel decided that for every three copies he sold, he'd donate one to school. He wrote this with children in mind. I thought this was awesome and almost bought another copy just for that.

It is a 40 page hardcover about 8.5 inches wide and across. It has a full color cover and interior on glossy paper, so it's just as pretty on the inside and the out. It doesn't have an index but has a very thorough Table of Contents. But before you "Index Police" go all ballistic, there is something you should know. The final page where an index would find its home is the complete rules to the game. Yes, that's right people, Daniel made it easier for all of us by just giving us the entire rules on one sheet. The back cover tells you what you need to play the game and time it'll take, etc., very similar to a boardgames now-a-days. It says it's for three to five players. I remember hearing that Daniel likes to make game rules read like a boardgame ruleset as it is easier to follow.

Well, what about the rules? Glad you asked. As with most games of the role-playing bent, you need a sheet of paper. One sheet should do it unless you write really big or have really interesting luck also if you were following along, you'll realize that a pencil/pen would be needed as well. You will also need around 20 coins. And lastly you need a custom set of dice you can only get made from a Tibetan monk. These are beautifully handcrafted and are relatively inexpensive. The only problem is that you need to go to Tibet. I guess you can get away with about fifteen dice of the d6 persuasion. If you are lucky enough (or stupid enough, as my wife says) to own enough of them to sacrifice fifteen to the greater good, there are stickers you can get to replace those passé numbers or dots. I guess you can buy blank dice, but I had a ton and therefore didn't mind the sacrifice. These dice have two BUTs, two ANDs and two BLANKS. Put all this stuff in the middle of the table.

It is implied that the current storyteller is the scribe for his part and passes the paper around, but I like to have one person be a scribe. Once that person is armed with paper and pencil, pick a person to start the story. The youngest player starts the story and can select up to three dice to roll. Any blanks he keeps and he passes the BUTs to his neighbor on his left and the ANDS to the right. He can then roll more dice, up to three or pass. If at anytime either of his neighbor gets four dice, then the player cannot roll again. He writes a sentence where each die is a word. He can use a Robot once for free. Then the neighbor on his right uses his dice on the same sentence with a free AND followed by the person on his left who can use a free BUT. The storyteller player collects coins for each blank dice he used in the sentence, head side up. Then the storyteller role passes to the left. What are the coins for and why do they need to be heads up? You can give them to other players to give them more words to be able to use in the sentence, at which point they are put tails up in front of them. The game ends when a player has ten or more coins and there is the epilogue.

I just described the basic rules. There is plenty of more stuff in the book, including optional rules as well as some great stories written by various people that play-tested the game before its release. It has tips on how to play this with children and how to use in a classroom environment. Did I mention it is a very pretty book? Back to the point, it's a really great little game that isn't quite a role-playing game but fits more to that then a boardgame. Granted as mentioned, the rules are laid out in a fashion very similar to a boardgame. If you have kids that are somewhat interested in our little niche hobby, you owe it to yourself to pick it up. It is available from Indie Press Revolution and you get the PDF if you order it, so that's an added bonus.

By the way, I have played this with kids and adults with everyone having a great time. Granted when it was all adults, Robot turned into a dirty little robot that did things that Robots shouldn't, but that is for another post someday down the road.

Uber Dice Tower

I have a friend who is into wood working and I off-handedly asked him to build me a dice tower. I gave him a half a case of beer for supplies for he said he had spare wood. Here is what I got.

There is a damn light in the thing. This is the most awesome dice tower that I have ever seen. Did you notice the working drawbridge with counter weights. He also made a moat. The dice tray separates so you don't need the dice tower or moat. I have some amazing friends. Thanks Dave!

Ending a scene

I've been gaming a lot lately playing a mixture of story and adventure gaming as defined here, by my friend Ryan Macklin. With all that gaming, I have noticed a trend that I think is consistent across both types of gaming styles, how to end a scene. There are tons of articles on the Internet about framing a scene which means to start a scene. But I haven't seen many articles on where to call a scene done. The ones I have seen have said, when it feels right which I feel is just vague enough to not be useful Here is my rules on the subject,

  1. End the scene on the awesome.
  2. If not awesome, end it on a cliff hanger, which is itself awesome and thereby fulfilling rule 1.
  3. Not everything needs to be resolved.

Let me give you an example of what I mean.

First example, your party has made it through the entire dungeon and thereby to the big bad and his billion mooks. You are fighting and fighting and managed to kill the big bad but a ton of mooks are still left.

Not Awesome: The GM makes you finish off rest of the mooks and then you must take time to searches of bodies adding another half hour (at least) of real time to the scene.

Awesome: The GM describes the final blow of the big bad and takes everyone takes narrative leeway to finish up the mooks.

I play some 4e and many of those people want to make sure the resources are used and such. Well, I say just make a cost of a healing surge or two, if it's that important.

My second example is a little less clear cut. Everyone is a character in a village being attacked at night by some creature. People are paranoid and believing each other the culprit searching for answers about what's going on. Two PCs are talking to each other.

Not Awesome: The two PCs have an argument with each other for 10 minutes of real time. Each of them accusing the other but neither player calling for a roll or end of the scene stating that they continue arguing. While the rest of the players are watching as nothing gets resolved and there is no drive to conflict.

Awesome: One of the PCs calls out the other stating he has proof of his consorting with the demon and ends the scene on a cliff hanger with PC asking for a trial scene next.

The problem here is that people are sitting and watching instead of playing. Even in story games which don't necessarily have a ton of mechanics, people need to be cognizant of others and try to get to the point and end the scene.

I just want to stress that don't be afraid to end on the Awesome, it will make your game that much more memorable.

The Bones Blog Carnival : Necromunda Dice.

When I read The Bones and saw they were doing a Blog Carnival, I figured I could contribute a story. About fifteen years ago, I used to play Necromunda, a Games Workshop game, with a couple of friends. One of these friends used a set of dice from the Necromunda box set, a pair of d6s. For those of you that don't know, Necromunda is a miniature game dealing with gangs set in the Warhammer 40k universe.

My friend was the least superstitious of the group, so when his dice went bad he never thought about it. After about six sessions where no matter the advantage in numbers or status effects, he couldn't win a match he began to have doubts. When the seventh match came and again he couldn't roll, he could no longer deny the dice were BAD. He set out to do something about it. He took the dice and put them in the bottom of an empty coffee tin. He then put an inch of lighter fluid in it and proceed to light it on fire.

When we met for the eight match, he pulled them out of his dice bag: a sludge of black and white plastic. He then used some new dice he bought for the occasion which worked better. The following session though I noticed the plastic sludge still in the dice bag. I asked him about it and he responded, "It teaches the other dice a lesson."

I have been enjoying reading other people stories of dice. I would recommend you check out The Bones, Us and Our Dice with a number of stories from various people in the gaming industry.

Experience Points and why they sometimes suck.

I was listening to the recent Return to Northmoor podcast and they discussed the topic of experience points relating to Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition. Well, on the podcast they said that the plan of 4e is to level after approximately 13 encounters. I am the typical busy family man and we play 4e every other week and at most get through 3 encounters during a session. That would mean it play a year and not miss a week, the party would be around 7th level. I know the Dungeon Master Guide describes a couple of methods to increase this, like doubling XP. That still means the party only makes 14th level. That sucks.

On the show, they discussed leveling ever session, especially when you only meet ever other week. I think this is an awesome idea. I used to be against this philosophy since it was breaking the designer's intention. But considering it this morning during my workout, I have come to the conclusion that it is a lot cooler for the players to experience the more advance level than to bow to convention. Therefore at tonight's game session, I am going to tell my players they can level at the end of ever session. That way they will get to experience higher level stuff.

Yesterday I alsoread, Rob Donague's post about RPGs should be hard. He discusses that gamers only enjoy things they have to work for. Does changing the dynamic of experience points make the game too easy? Does it ruin their experience at the table? I guess we will find out.

Readable, Presentation and Usable

A wise manager once told me when it comes to projects, "Cost, Schedule, Function... Pick any two." He meant that it's possible to bound two of those items, but the third will always be unbounded and won't be within the limits that your interested in. I think that role-playing game books or manuals have a similar pattern but different three items. These are Readable, Presentation and Usable.

Every book is readable if it's in a language you understand, right? Well, that depends on your point of view. I personally have trouble finishing a book if it reads like a college Calculus book. If the book is boring or difficult to understand, it is hard to finish that book. Some examples that I have had difficulty reading are Diaspora and Burning Wheel. With Diaspora, it is just difficult following the writer's train of thought. It could really use an editor going through it with 100 red pens. As for Burning Wheel, the text is just boring. Now to be fair, Luke Crain, the author states that you don't want to read it cover to cover. An example of a game that I love the readability of is Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies.

Most game books need to be usable during play at some point, so usability is a key component. Some take it to an extreme, for example, Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition; the game's books are really meant to be referenced at the table. Usability is critical part of the function of those books. One of the games that I find difficult to use is Song of Fire and Ice(SIFRP) from Green Ronin. A specific example in that book is armor. The cost is in one section and the stats are in another. This really bugs me and makes it not fun for me to use.

Presentation has to do with the whole package. Is the book pretty? I have been known to buy an RPG book simply cause it's beautiful even if I never plan on reading it. A number of examples are Aces and Eights and Dark Heresy. Both games I own with no intentions of playing unless some else runs it.

There are books that do only one of these well but are still fun game. Take SIFRP, in my opinion, it is very pretty presentation but has very low usability and readability, I still enjoy the game a friend is running for me.

Another example is Burning Wheel, it concentrated on usability but is a boring read and doesn't have that much in presentation. Granted, it's only 25 bucks for the core system, so it's still a bargain.

Diaspora has been getting a lot of love out in the Internet. This is what got me thinking of this post. It fails in all three categories. Some might argue that it has charts at the end of the book which increases it's usability, but if you need to go through the text, you're going to be at it for a while. I really enjoyed the ideas in the book, but it's really hard to get to them. I kept hearing a large number of FATE fans say this is an awesome book, so I ended up finishing it, but it took me a month and some sections I had to reread.

What games do you enjoy reading? Do you buy games just cause attractive layout and art? How important is usability to you?

Josh Con 2 Post Mortem

As another year passes, as does my birthday and with it another Josh Con. This one managed to be a lot bigger than last years. I managed to fit 25 people in my house at the peak and since I have a multi-level house, it worked. I managed to invite a number of designers as well and they each ran their games.


Melissa and I picked up Ryan Macklin at the airport around 1. While we were there, a friend of mine, Jesse Hafemeister made a massive batch of chili and was assisted by Garret Narjes. Jesse offered to take the day off and make chili for everyone, who am I to refuse? Ryan was amazed at the cold and snow. We made it back to the house without losing him to hypothermia, which is always a positive, when someone visits the frozen north of Minnesota for the first time. Ryan wanted to freshen up a bit, so the rest of us played Dominion and helped where we could on Jesse's chili. A majority of the guests didn't show up till 6pm, so a number of hands of Dominion were played.

After they arrived, we ate and bullshitted for a while. When we finally broke up, Jeremy Keller ran a group for Chronica Feudalis. A game he wrote that has been getting a lot of attention lately. I took the rest and ran a game of Dread, centered on a family cruise gone horribly wrong. There was a Power Grid going on in the basement which I heard about but didn't get down to see how it went. Those games took most of the evening and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. After those finished up, some people had to leave, but Ryan offered to run a game of Don't Rest Your Head and who are we to refuse. There wasn't enough room, so I bowed out. Everyone played children stuck in the Mad City, it was really awesome. I decided to catch some sleep, but i heard in the morning that a science experiment occurred at 230am, where my wife boiled water and threw it outside which was in the negative teens to show Ryan how cold it really was.


It started with pancakes. Seth Nelsen offered to come over with homemade batter and kielbasa. Again, all this generosity, you would think it was my birthday or something? The day started out right is all I can say. People broke off and played some boardgames, I played Tribune which is a great worker placement game. About 1pm, everyone showed up and since I have four levels to my house, we had four games going on. Dan Bayne ran his hard boil detective RPG, Keller ran another game of Chronica Feudalis and two boardgames went down. I played a boardgame that Jeff Tidball worked on and brought, Chaos in the Old World. A game that each power is asymmetrical, but I enjoyed the hell out of it. Macklin won playing Khorne and figured out his race out before the rest of us.

While we gamed, my wife made a batch of S'more cupcakes and finished making the pulled pork. We took a break halfway through the game and ate. That was some good eats. Chronica Feudalis and Chaos finished about the same time, so Ryan offered to run his game, Mythender and as the host, I played the God that everyone got to kill. We even had spectators, I guess instead of spanking the birthday boy, people wanted to stab him in the eye. Oh well, it worked!

There was a bit of a lull after that which was filled with a game of Fury of Dracula and a game of Penny for My Thoughts. I played in the Dracula game after wanting to play it for a couple years now. Neat little game, even if the combat seemed to be a bit wonky. I managed to kill Dracula as Dr. Van Helsing which is the way it should be, damn it.

Then at nine o'clock, the game that everyone wanted to be in kicked off. Ryan Macklin ran a game of Dresden Files RPG which was amazing. I really enjoyed what I could out of the game, even though most of us were dead on our feet. Jeremy Keller took off since he had to drive 30 minutes to get home and was afraid he might fall asleep at the wheel. The game ended on a cliff hanger but so do the Dresden Files books, so it was in theme. Overall, I really enjoyed the weekend, most likely the best birthday celebration I have ever had.

Designers in Attendance

Ryan Macklin, Jeremy Keller, Dan Bayne, Jeff Tidball


  • Jesse Hefmister--> huge pot of chili for everyone on Friday night
  • Seth Nelson--> pancakes, kiebasa and bacon on Saturday morning.
  • Wife--> kick ass s'more cupcakes.
  • Myself--> pulled pork sandwiches


  • Everyone chipping in to make this a birthday to remember.
  • Ryan Macklin's visit and running a game where I died.
  • Trying a number of games I have never played before.
  • Science experiment, 'nuff said.


  • I spent too much time worrying about other people's fun. I need to remember that everyone can watch their own fun.
  • Basement was cold, need to get a space heater for down there.
  • Going to bed and missing the science experiment.


Join Toastmasters to help your Gamemaster skills.

I am constantly working to be both a better player and better game-master. I read anything I can get my hands on in order to increase my skills at role-playing and thus the fun for everyone at the table. I am not content with mediocrity; I want to constantly bring my A game. Many places have suggested the techniques learned in an Improv troupe. These can greatly improve your aptitude at the gaming table, but it is sometimes difficult to get involved with one. I wanted to let you know there is an organization out there that is easier to get involved with and will help you be a better player and GM, Toastmasters. For those of you that don't know, Toastmasters (TM) is an organization that is all about making you a better speaker.

When you go to your first meeting, you will realize they love to have guests at the meeting. Most TM clubs have a typical flow for the meeting and meet anywhere from once a week or once a month. The meetings themselves run anywhere from an 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on their frequency. There is also speciality clubs that work on anything from humor to evaluations.

Once you become a member, they will ask you your goals. There is typically two things they work on in the beginning. First thing is to get you comfortable with talking in front of an audience. This may not be much of a hurdle if you are a GM; especially if you are one used to running at gaming conventions. A scenario where you never know who your players will be so you get comfortable very quickly. If you ever have aspirations to be a convention GM the ability to speak in front of strangers will be required.

The second major thing they work on at the beginning is removing crutch words from your vocabulary. These are the "ahs," "ums," double words, etc that people use to fill in when they are either nervous or are trying to think of something to say. I think the GM, especially in the traditional GM role, is as much about story telling as acting. Nothing hurts a storyteller more than a distracted audience and being a poor speaker can be distracting. Simply removing the crutch words will give you a leg up on your GM skills.

You set your own goals. These are just two most common goals for people who recently join TM. I personally work on my swearing which my wife would like to see less of. One member in my club is a trainer and joined to become a more concise speaker. Another wanted to make sure that he had the confidence to give a speech at his daughter's wedding. Whatever your goals are as a GM, Toastmasters can help. Find a club near you.

Social Contract is only part of the solution.

Gaming by its nature is a social activity. Any social activity has a set of rules that govern the gathering, a standard agreement of social niceties. Every gaming group has not only these rules, but another set of rules that detail the group's expectations. An example would be a group trying to play heroes of the realm. Typically, it is expected that there are no characters that happen to be serial killers. Gamers across the Internet have labeled this concept social contract. These can be explicit or implicit depending on the group. This is not about defining social contracts, but if you are looking for more information here are some links.



This is a great concept for a gaming group, it levels the understanding of everyone in the group. The difficulty happens when someone in the group doesn't want to abide by these rules. This makes it uncomfortable for everyone. This is what I want to talk about.

Recently, I joined a gaming group already in progress. Which seems to happen to me a lot lately. The GM told me what the game was about and asked me to create a character that works within guidelines, that the group had a social contract of sorts. The first session was just one big combat so it was hard to understand the group dynamic from that limited experience. The second session was an eye opener for me. The GM described a campaign about freedom fighters and trying to make the world a better place. The party was varying degree on the freedom fighter theme with one anomaly character. One guy created a character who only wanted to murder/pillage. His character would help the group as long as he was paid. Also his character was the loudest player/character in the group, and thought it was his job to threaten every NPC we met. This made the session a disaster from my perspective. I thought of quitting, but the GM assured me that I was the type of character that he wanted. Another player came up to me and told me the same thing. I still play in this game which isn't really as fun as I would like even though the GM has a lot of good ideas and runs a decent game.

The reason I wrote this is that I wanted to warn people who think that a social contract will solve their groups problems. It will only solve the problem if everyone in the group is on board with it. The minute you have someone who feels they don't need to abide the social contract, you will have problems. Make sure everyone in the group is committed to it.

Review of Chronica Feudalis

I missed the boat at Gencon '09; I didn't pick this game up there. I saw Jeremy Keller running demos at the IPR booth and it wasn't on my radar so I didn't take a chance and try it. I had Pendragon, why do I need another chivalry game? Shame on me. A week after the jaunt to Gencon, I received a call from a friend of mine at my FLGS in which he demanded that I buy this game. He had one copy left at the store, so I rushed down and picked it up. Yes, I already spent a billion dollars at Gencon and yes, I still hadn't finished my stack of reading acquired at Gencon; I still bought the game. I started reading when I made it home.

CF is 128 pages, has both a Table of Contents and an index. There are five chapters and three appendices. It uses artwork similar to a 12th century artist and side scroll on each page by Miguel Santos. It is standard digest size, a great size for bedroom reading, which can't be said for the full size RPG books out there. There is a good amount of white space which enhances the ease of reading.

The first section, which isn't a chapter per se, is Foreword of the Translator. This sets up the idea that this game was originally written by a 12th century monk. It reminds me of Penny for My Thoughts and Dictionary of Mu, both of which are written as an artifact in the game. This isn't an artifact in the game, but it still gives off that feeling. Some people will like it, some won't. I personally enjoy it as it is a nice change of pace from the normal instruction manual that happens with typical RPGs. To keep with that feel, there is a little bit of Latin throughout; not where you will miss anything if you don't understand it.

Imagine is the title of the first chapter. It gives the basic overview of the game, very traditional in that it has a section of what a RPG is, what dice you will need and some basic terms in the game. Informing the reader how to read the dice, it uses a step dice system similar to Savage Worlds. It adds aspects from Spirit of the Century(SotC) and some character creation steps from Burning Wheel. Three games that I have enjoyed as a GM and a player, so I was psyched by the mash up. I wanted to see how he did it.

The second chapter is titled Create. It is all about character creation for both players and GMs along with the list of the skills that are in the game. Player character creation revolves around a life-path system, called Mentors. Each player selects three mentors from their lives. Each mentor has a list of three skills that they teach and equipment that they give to the character. A character starts all skills in the game at a d4, as they select mentors the skills go up a die type, so d4 becomes d6 and d6 becomes a d8, etc. Each tool a character gets is assigned a die as well. When you use a skill, you can use a tool related to it as well or you can use a tool unrelated as long as you come up with reasonable narrative and spend Ardor, the games version of Fate points from SotC. It finishes up with Aspects. These are very similar to SotC's save that they have a die type assigned to it, a d8 to start. I am going to assume the reader has some passing familiarity with aspects, if not, check out the SotC SRD here.

The next two chapters are Play and Conflict. These are the mechanic chapters. I am just going to highlight some of the big things that caught my attention as there is a lot to cover and I think Keller does it a lot better than I could. When making a roll, the maximum number of dice a character can roll is based on it's Vigor which starts at 3. Vigor is not hit points per se, it defines how involved a character can be in influencing the narrative. I thought this was a great approach to abstract the damage and if the roll is strong enough, a permanent injury can occur, made possible by use of an aspect. Each rolled die over the target number is a success, so it is possible to take someone out with one roll of the die. It is pretty rare, but I would bet it would be very dramatic if it happens. Jeremy really wants to enforce maneuvers, the act of putting temporary aspects on either the scene or another character. He has significant portion of the Play chapter on aspects and how they work. The other thing I want to touch on is the advancement system, which I found really intriguing. A character selects a skill which is targeted for advancement, marking it as either self practice or some other character is helping with its advancement. At the end of any scene which the skill is used, the character can make an opposed roll against the skill using either the die value of the skill in the case of self practice or using the other character's skill die if someone was helping.

Explore is the final chapter. It details the various time settings the game could place in and how to GM them. I have just finished reading The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett so the time period of The Anarchy was familiar to me as Pillars takes place during that time. One of the major things that separates this from Pendragon is the lack of magic; I find this a good thing. Granted, Pendragon is about modeling Arthurian myth, so magic is a part of it; but if people want to play knights that represent the society back in medieval times, most turn to that game.

I was lucky to get into a demo that Keller ran at my FLGS. I was running an hour late, I have a 2 year old, 'nuff said. He handed me a pre-gen character and I jumped right in. I played a landless knight out on a hunt when my lord was murdered. I had some simple straight forward rolls to demonstrate the basics. Later on there was both a social combat called a Parley in the system and a formal duel to first blood. Both extended system worked very well and went the party's way. Now, it wasn't easy and it looked at times we would lose the conflict. Here is the actual play written up by the author.

Overall, I both enjoyed the read and play of this game. It is relatively simple matter to make a character that has depth with the Mentor system With the added benefit in that it doesn't run into the problem some people have with Spirit of the Century by limiting the number of aspects a starting character has to 3 instead of 10. Some people don't care for the step die mechanic, but I don't mind it and it works well in this system. If you are in the market for a game set in Medieval Europe, I would check it out. Also note, that I emailed Keller that I bought it at my FLGS and he gave me the PDF for free. It is available at IPR.

Re-wrote my events for Con of the North.

Well, I should have let my wife look at the events before I submitted them to the blog-o-sphere and to CoN website. They had typos and the second one didn't make sense. They have been updated. Here they are.


Title: The Shadow Out of Memory

Game: A Penny for My Thoughts

Description: You were discovered in the aftermath of a great battle against a terrible unknown beyond the understanding of normal men with no memory of yourself intact. Fortunately, there is the Orphic Institute for Advanced Studies whose break-through research into memory recovery has donated their time to helping you. The real problem is whether you want to or not. This is a story game with hints of Cthulhu in which players take the roll of amnesiacs recovering from an incident. Mature only.

Timeslot: Requested: Friday 6-10


Title: The Silver Sparrow

Game: Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies

Description: A crash landing has you stranded on what appears barren sky island, or is it? An ancient treasure from a dead kingdom may lead to salvation. Do you have the courage to use it? You know any kingdom in the Skies will kill for the artifact, so where do you go from here? Enter the world of swashbuckling, pirates, skyships and 7 Skies. A shared narrative RPG based on the PDQ system.

Timeslot: Requested: Saturday 10-2


Gen Con '09 in Review

My wife and I were lucky to be able to go to Gen Con this year. My daughter stayed with the grandmother and the dog with a neighbor so we had the whole week without much in the way of responsibility. I won't bore you with all the things we did but I figured I would touch on the highlights and disappointments, at least for me.



Ryan Macklin's Mythender game. Tony Dowler, Amy Garcia, my wife and I had the opportunity to take part in a playtest of Ryan's new game. It was a ton of fun to game with all of them. This game helped my wife understand why I love the various small press games like I do. It also helped her to be more descriptive in combat as that is an essential part of the game. This was a shorter game simply because it was late and people had to get up early to work their booths.

Shane Ivey's Monsters and Other Childish Things game, a game from Arc Dream Publishing. I don't remember besides my wife all the people that played but it was also very awesome. In it half of us were children and the other half was their monsters. My wife played my monster and as such tried to get me in trouble while we were on a plane to Washington DC. The real highlight of this game was when one of the other monsters decided it was best to eat the plane in order to save us. There was plenty of interaction between all the characters.

The last game was a demo of a recently new game on the market called Shard. It is available through Studio 2. One of the writers demoed it for us and he was simply amazing. He really got into descriptions and gestures that made the demo feel like a full fledge game. My wife fell in love with the setting and so we picked it up. In it you play anthropomorphic animals who have established a civilization on another world. Their culture is modeled after a mix of ancient China and India. There is vary little metal so the animals have turned to native insects as their weapons. My wife's whip was a centipede. 'Nuff said. When I find a chance I will review the game more throughly after I finish my stack of stuff to read.


Palomino - We went there twice. On Wednesday night before the con, they had half price wine, so we ordered a really nice bottle. Their steaks are amazing. Reasonably priced save for the steaks, but I can forgive that due to how awesome it was.

Cafe Patachou - They are only opened for breakfast and lunch and are not the cheaper food that gamers like, but it's awesome. My wife had croissant french toast, seriously that sounds bad on so many levels.


Besides those I mentioned from the games I played with I got to meet Robin Laws, John Wick and Ken Hite. My wife and I attended Laws versus Wick in a GM seminar smack down. Wick was awesome and gave me a undamaged copy of Houses of the Blooded. My copy was bought off IPR and my mail man decided it could fit in my mailbox. Whoops!



Eclipse Phase by Catalyst Games. I signed up for a demo of this and from the start the game didn't go well. The GM was late due to grabbing some food, which I can understand, but it felt like we were unimportant. Second, the GM handed a stack of character sheets to everyone and said to pick one, but ignore all the bonuses since the circumstances of the scenario said to. Which is difficult since we are all new to the game. Third, there is a TON of skills on the character sheet and none of us had the complete set of them. And finally, when the GM just read from a script in between bites of food. I left due to boredom but I still think the setting looks wonderful. We will have to see how it all plays out.


Rudeness of people on the exhibit floor. Simply put people didn't really pay attention to where they were going or the fact that they have a backpack on. I really wish people would learn to pay more attention to other human beings.

Missed some people who I wanted to meet. That is a minor thing as I plan on going to Origins and I hope to meet some people there. I really wanted to meet Ben Baugh of Monsters and Other Childish things and various crazy rpg.net threads and some more of the podcasters/bloggers that I read and listen to.

Surprises Purchase of the Con

I picked up a copy of Realms of Cthulhu by Reality Blur Studio on a whim. Shane and Simon from Pinnacle was there along with Reality Blurs people, so I had people sign it. Wow, I was taken by surprise how solid of a book that was. I would check it out when it comes to a Gaming Store near you.


I am sure I am missing stuff but that is a quick overview of what happened. My wife was pleasantly surprised by how much fun she had at the con and I am glad she did. We ate good food, met some good people and played some wickedly fun games. Look forward to when I can go again. I think I will attend Origins before another Gencon, but who knows.

Difficulties with ADD and Personal Challenge.

Some of you may not know the fact that I truly enjoy having Attention Deficit Disorder. It gives me the ability to switch tasks at work on a dime and lets me think sometimes more quickly than my mouth can handle. I get tongue-tied on a regular basis. But there is one problem that I have when it comes to games, there are too many of them. I recently got the Eberron Campaign Guide and realized I want to run a 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons game. Well, I am slated to run S7S next which I am also looking forward to. That's the problem with liking so many different games and having my condition. I tend to start campaigns, but never finish them because I want to move on the next game.

Here is my own personal challenge and I would like someone to help me. I would like to run a campaign game that lasts six months and stick to it. Hey, baby steps, I don't want to fail so I best start small. That is my personal challenge. I don't know what game I will use for this, but I will keep this blog posted as to my progress and when I get a chance to GM again.

Review of A Penny for My Thoughts

Henceforth referred to as Penny. It was written by ENie Award winning podcaster, Paul Tevis and published by Evil Hat Productions. If you don't know who Mr. Tevis is, just check out the cover, he is all over it. This is a shorter book around 88 pages with the rules only taking up sixteen of them. The other parts of the book are meant to help if you get stuck. It is interesting in that the book is written entirely from the perspective of a Doctor Peter Tompkins and is able to be played without reading the book first. In fact, you read the "Treatment" section while you play. This took me a little bit of getting accustomed to reading, but once I did, the book went by fast.

In this game, you play an amnesiac who is undergoing treatment at the Orphic Institute for Advanced Studies; a fictional place in the game that is run by Dr. Tompkins. You are undergoing a new experimental treatment that allows everyone in the game to see your memories and gives them the ability to help you remember. Now, for the first thing to note, this is a GM-less game. The second thing to note, is that it doesn't use dice, rather pennies and last thing, there is no real random elements to this game, it is an improv/shared narrative type game. One other thing, that I forgot to mention, it is meant to be played in about a four hour slot and is not really suited for long term campaigns.

Now, there is some things I don't like about it. First, I think it really requires the right group of people to play it. It is much more advance than some games out there. Namely, you need people that like the story aspect of an RPG rather than then the combat part. That makes it a little more complicated. Second, this is just a nit pick on my part, is that Evil Hat Productions has a PDF guarantee, which means that if you buy the print copy from your gaming store, you will get the PDF for free. This is at IPR through their pricing, if you buy the physical copy of the book, the PDF comes along with it. Well with this game, it costs extra, so I am unsure if people will be able to get the PDF free. Right now it is only a penny, but I have heard that at the end of July the bundle goes up. I wonder what that means for the PDF guarantee especially since I tend to buy my stuff off of IPR. Is this a new trend for Evil Hat?

Overall besides that, I think this would awesome game with the right people. Those same people that you would play a game of Atlas Games "Once Upon a Time" or Mongoose's "The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen". If you have such a group or just like to check out interesting games, I would check this out.