Still Chasing that Extra Life

Logo for Extra Life fundraisingI had big plans for my Extra Life fundraising this year. After raising over a thousand dollars in 2020 I was primed to make 2021 an even bigger year. But life had other plans, and between family issues, illness, and injury, I lacked the bandwidth to even try to properly fundraise.

But Extra Life is my primary charity for so many reasons and I didn’t want to just let it slide this year. So as late as I am to the party (three weeks to the November 6 gameday! Yikes!) I am launching my hard push for Extra Life fundraising today! If you can, please donate to help me raise funds to support sick kids. If you’re a gamer, I have donation incentives starting at $5, all the way up to $125. Details below:

$5 – This amount gets you a special item (magic, tech, etc) designed by me for a game of your choice. Negotiating with your GM/Storyteller to use it in your game is up to you. 🙂

$10 – $10 gets you a custom monster or GM character for your TTRPG of choice.

$25 – This amount gets you an encounter location designed by me for a TTRPG of your choice.

$50 – This gets you all three of the previous tiers, unified into a single encounter for your TTRPG!

$125I’ll run a TTRPG for you and your friends! You pick the game, I’ll figure out the rest. This can be one big donation or your group making individual donations that add up to $125; just let me know when you message me.

It’s just that simple!

And look, I know I am starting waaaay late, but I would really love to hit a goal of $1000 again this year. To that end, I will match every donation that comes in, up to $500. So you early adopters, you keeners who show your love early, get to double the effect and reach of every dollar you donate! And should we somehow reach $500 before the November 6 Game Day, I will increase the goal to $1000 and match donations for the next $500 as well. So if you absolute beauties can get us to $1000 this year, guess what, no you didn’t it’s $2000! And that’s going to work out pretty well for everyone.

So please donate if you can, and help spread the word on social media. That last is an excellent way to help out if you can’t afford a donation.

Thanks, nerds, you’re the best!

 

Clockwork Vines: Growing Kindness

Season 2 of Clockwork Vines: Alstromeria Alley wrapped last night. When I joined the Clockwork Vines cast almost two years ago, I had no idea how much this game and these people would affect my life. I had heard good things about the GM, Honey, so I figured it would be fun. That it turned out to be so much more is something I treasure.

A little history. Back in late 2019 I was poking around, putting my name forward for actual plays looking to cast for a campaign. At that point I had played in a handful of one-offs. Those were fun and wet my appetite for a longer campaign, but since I was still a relative nobody in the AP space I wasn’t finding much success. I wasn’t a known entity. I think that, coupled with the fact that I was a beardy white guy, kept a lot of groups from wanting to cast me (for which I don’t blame them, given the way most beardy white guys were and are acting out). But I kept going, adding my name to the pile whenever a group was casting and accepting the fact that I likely wouldn’t hear from them again. As someone who trained as an actor and endured the theatre audition mill, it was an all too familiar process.

But my patience paid off! I got an email from someone named Honey about my application to join something called Clockwork Vines. Session Zero was [date] and could I fill out this questionnaire ahead of time. Woot! I’m going to be in an actual play, Ma! And for Call of Cthulhu, no less, one of my favourite systems. I wasn’t sure what “flower punk” was exactly, but it sounded intriguing.

At the Session Zero I met the other six players with whom I’d be exploring the world of Alstromeria Alley. Yes, you read that correctly. When most casts were in the 3-4 player range, there were enough of us to play rugby. Honey explained that fourteen people had responded to her “seeking players” notice and, not wanting to turn anyone away, she decided to run two tables of seven. This was the first example I had of Honey’s kindness; it would not be the last by a longshot.

And that was out first season. Two tables of players, our characters unknowingly facing the same threat albeit from different vantage points and little coordination. I settled into the role of Doctor William Lindsay, a Scots medical doctor modelled loosely after my grandfather. Skilled medical practitioner and amateur culinary enthusiast, Dr. Lindsay fit in nicely with the rest of our rather eccentric cast of characters. Sadly, most of the VODs for Season 1 were lost to the aether but Episodes 1 and 2 still exist, they’ll give you a taste of our merry band. While I am sad the Breakfast Episode was lost, it does make it that much more special for the folks who were there.

When Season 1 came to a close Honey had already hinted there would be a Season 2. The pandemic, of course, was in full swing by this time, so it took a bit longer than originally planned to come back together. But come back we did, sadly missing some of the cast from both tables dues to life and scheduling. That was okay; Fearless Leader Honey decided that, if two tables of seven were doable, one table of nine was also doable! And so we launched Season 2 of Clockwork Vines with not only a rugby team but a few spares. Which is good, it turns out we would need them before the end.

Season 2 took a lot longer than Season 1 for many reasons. I think primarily it came down to us being in the second year of pandemic isolation, whatever that meant to the individuals at the table. In general 2021 did not start great for any us, and going into play we were a lot more cognizant that, if we weren’t at out limits, we were damn close. So we practiced a lot more care for one another, opting to reschedule games rather than try to play when we just weren’t there mentally or emotionally. As a result, episodes in Season 2 went up more sporadically than Season 1. But everyone involved was better for the waiting, I think.

I could (and probably will) write an entire separate post about Honey. How amazing she is as a storyteller and GM, how generous a worldbuilder she is, creating a setting as evocative as Alstromeria Alley while leaving room for us players to inhabit that world and create personal bits of it. In fact I think if I needed another word to describe Honey beyond kind, it would be generous. Not just at the table, but in organizing fundraisers like Honey Bunches of Hope and the myriad other supports she organizes for the groups she believes in. If I told you Honey is one of the best people I have met through TTRPGs I feel I would still be underselling her as a person. But if you’ve been lucky enough to game with Honey, you know. If you haven’t, I envy you still having that possibility in your future.

It’s fair to say that Clockwork Vines, both the game itself and the people involved, helped get me through a couple of bad years. I’m a simple man and if it had “just” been a good game that might have been enough. But it was more than that. My fellow players were excellent people and I’m better for knowing and playing with them. Thank you to Aras, Vey, Chase, Margaret, and Jess for making Season 1 such a memorable and fun experience. You’re all outstanding and I hope to play with all of you again. Thank you to Rowan, Bella, Velvet, Ryan, Paul, and Nikki for making Season 2 just as special as Season 1 but in a completely different and distinct way. And thank you for the level of support we showed each other this past season. It wasn’t easy but so worth it in the end.

But if you get a chance to play with any of these folks, take it. That goes doubly for Honey.

To anyone reading this who has worked in theatre, here’s a hint at how much this game meant to me: I’m having the same post-production sense of loss I used to have when we closed a really good production. I’ll get over it, of course, and we were already talking about a possible Season 3 so I know Alstromeria Alley isn’t closed to me forever quite yet.

But that doesn’t stop me from missing it.

Time for a Revolution!

revolution-book-mockToday is the day! Unbreakable: Revolution is available in PDF form over on DriveThruRPG! I was privileged to work on this Unbreakable volume as an editor and it was one of the best experiences I have had on a project. If you’d like to hear more about what the project was like, please check out my interview with Jacky Leung (Creative Lead & Managing Director) and Jazz Eisinger (Editor In Chief) over on The Rat Hole’s YouTube channel.

Why was Unbreakable: Revolution such a good experience? Much of it came down to consistent communication. Not just how often the production team was in touch, but the foresight to know what we needed to know, what questions we might have, and making sure that information was either available, or that it was on the way. I knew at every step of the project what was expected of me, what my timelines were, and what I should expect from my fellow editors and the writers.

But communication was only part of it. The production team brought in sensitivity readers early enough in our processrev-spread-mtn to be useful to the writer and myself. I think that was key to allowing Arisia and I room to take the feedback from our reader and incorporate it into the work. If this process was more rushed, or worse came near the end of the proofreading phase (as sadly sometimes happens on many projects), I know we wouldn’t have made effective use of our reader’s notes.

As the cherry on top, there was also the sense throughout the project that we were a team and the producers were looking out for us. From how our contracts were set out through the entire production process, I felt like the producers had my best interests in hand. As a for instance, U:R was intended as a Q1 release initially. But we’re in a global panini and that makes things rough on us all. So the producers opted for a “no crunch” approach, which prioritized the health and safety of the artists, writers, and editors over rushing a book to publication. I would argue this approach made for a better book, and if I ever produce a project of my own it is certainly the way I’m going.

So all of this is to say, go get you a copy of Unbreakable: Revolution. It is filled with excellent adventures for your non-5e games and while each adventure is optimized for a specific game, each is (by design) easily adapted for whatever fantasy system you happen to be using. I don’t want to talk in too much detail about what you’ll find, as I have a review coming out on Friday over at The Rat Hole. But I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by telling you it is all very good. Much like Unbreakable Volume 1, you will want these stories at your table as soon as possible.

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At The Rat Hole, August 16

Good morrow nerds! Last week was a good week because I got to interview two of the three producers behind Unbreakable: Revolution for The Rat Hole. You can see that interview here! It was great time talking with Jacky and Jazz about the Unbreakable project and what the future holds. Spoiler: it holds plenty of amazing books, among other things.

Then stay tuned, because I’ll have a post about Unbreakable: Revolution for launch day tomorrow, plus a review for The Rat Hole going up on Friday! It’s an Unbreakable week, folks, so buckle up!

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TSR – New Doesn’t Mean Better, or Good

Hell Inc Staff Picture - Brent JansBy now you have likely heard about Ernie Gygax and others raising TSR from the dead. I have some thoughts on this, and if you think you know what they are based on my white skin and long beard, well, brace for disappointment.

When all I had were the bare details, that TSR was coming back to publish TTRPGs, I was moderately interested. I didn’t know who was involved yet so I had some vague ideas that a newly resurrected TSR could bring back some older games that were strong in concept but hampered by the early hobby’s mechanics and execution. They could find new life with updated mechanics and inclusive writing, finding a new audience for these classic games. This was a beautiful ten minutes of dreams and speculation.

Then I dug just a smidge deeper into who was involved and…hoo boy. Never mind, that will teach me to hope and dream.

The link I used above takes you to EN World’s selections from a full video in which Ernie Gygax is interviewed about a number of topics, including the new TSR. If you don’t want to watch the entire video (and while I did there is no reason you have to suffer) the excerpts, along with links to related articles, give you enough sense of what’s going on in Ernie’s head. And it ain’t good.

Most indie TTRPG publishers I know make games because they love them. They are inspired to put in the work in order to bring something they love into the world. When asked “Why a new TSR?” Ernie had this to say:

TSR has been gone. There’s a ton of artists and game designers and people that play….. and recently they were dissed for being old-fashioned, possibly anti modern trends, and enforcing, or even having the concepts of gender identity (laughs).”

Nothing about loving games or any talk of underlying design ideas or a direction for the company overall. Nope, it appears the new TSR will be a safe haven for all of Ernie’s (well, his father’s, really) old pals, folks who couldn’t adapt to an increasingly inclusive TTRPG space. I mean, thank goodness there will finally be a safe space for all those white grognards in the hobby! [/sarcasm]

Sadly, none of this surprises me. This isn’t the first time Ernie has tried to raise something from TSR’s past. Some folks may remember the extremely short lived (six issue) Gygax magazine, an attempt to cash in on the nostalgia around the old TSR Dragon Magazine. I have the first five issues of it tucked away in the Canadian Library of Roleplaying Games collection; I’ll get the final issue when collector’s have stopped inflating the price. But a quick comparison between the contributor list for those Gygax issues and the folks Ernie is bringing on for this new venture is almost a perfect overlap. And Gygax featured a whole lot of “yikes!” as far as bad actors in our hobby go. It seems Ernie has learned nothing since Gygax crashed like a space ship in the Barrier Peaks.

Add to this the fact that Ernie has talked about Kickstarting initial projects despite having a…let’s call it “poor” reputation on that platform (a game that is five years late will do that for you). Also add the fact that he is being cagey about how exactly a new TSR is going to work, since there is an existing TSR in play, which he and his brother Luke supposedly burned bridges with over a Top Secret release. Frankly, I don’t see this new project lasting much longer than Gygax did, especially since Ernie himself envisions it being supported by a large cadre of volunteers to get the work done. Which is an amazingly ignorant attitude given the ongoing conversation around equitable pay in the TTRPG space.

All in all, this looks like the business version of a “fantasy heartbreaker” which will be noted only for whatever damage it does in its death throes. I hope that damage is minimal. So far the only folks I see truly excited by this are the gatekeepers and grognards I and many others have curated out of our spaces, so hopefully there won’t be too much splashover.

And I think that is a bit of a shame. That with so much Ernie could have chosen to do, he settled for this. This could have been a great opportunity, with the right people on board, to use the notable TSR name to revive excellent older games. Instead we’re going to get a bunch of the same-old, same-old from designers who manage to shamble along on outdated personal operating systems.

What bugs me the most is the attention something like this will take away from Indie TTRPG creators who could actually benefit from that attention. So here is my call to action. When you see a Tweet about this new TSR, or Ernie Gygax, or anyone involved, take a moment to do one or more of the following:

  • Tweet about an Indie TTRPG designer, writer, artist you love
  • Retweet some tweets of the above, especially if they are about new projects or link to their work
  • Go to their Itch or DriveThruRPG page and rate their games (five stars only, else the algorithm punishes them)
  • write a tweet thread or a blog post (if you’re a dinosaur like me) about your favourite Indie TTRPG person or projects.
  • If you can, and the person has one, through a few bucks into a creator’s Ko-fi

Not a complete list, but you get the idea. Consider this the social media version of, “They pull a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.” Let’s make this the TTRPG Way.

 

The Rat Hole for May 3 and Announcements

Logo for the RPG Blog CarnivalWell, it’s May. Hard to believe the year is a third gone, but what even is time these days? At the very least I plan to be better of posting here when I write over at The Rat Hole, so you don’t have to go hunting if you want to read my stuff.

This month is all about celebrations and holidays at the RPG Blog Carnival, so I dusted off and updated something I wrote several years back about birthday traditions for your campaign. Slipping a different birthday tradition into your character’s backstory is a great way to create a roleplaying moment in your game. Check it out and see what you think.

And now for a few updates!

ChairMy current desk chair, my faithful writing and editing companion of the past fourteen years, is finally ready for retirement. As you can see from the picture it is quite worn. I don’t mind that; if it were the only issue I would just recover it, fix it up, and carry on. Sadly it also has mechanical issues which make it painful to use for extended periods. So I shined up my Ko-Fi page and am accepting coffees to help pay for a new chair. If you have ever enjoyed what I do, here or over at The Rat Hole, or have enjoyed any of the several projects I have helped edit, and would like to help out, please consider buying me a coffee. I’m currently at 45% of my goal, which is frankly astounding to me. I plan to do something special for all donors once we reach 50% and again when we reach the final goal, as a thank you for their generosity. Don’t know what that is yet, but I’ll sort it out.

Last year I was part of my very first livestream as a player, Clockwork Vines: Alstromeria Alley. We started our second season on Sunday, May 2, and it was a blast! It felt so good to return to this world with this cast under the guidance of Honey (of Honey and Dice). If you would like to catch up, I’ll link here as soon as the YouTube upload is available, or you can catch the VOD and give the channel a follow over on Twitch. We play using Call of Cthulhu rules, minus the sanity mechanic, which makes for an exciting, fast-playing game which is a bit more wholesome than one might expect from CoC. I hope you’ll stop by and check it out, Sundays at 6pm CST.

I have a few other things but I am saving them for a more in-depth post later in the week. Take care and talk to you soon!

The Rat Hole for April 5

Logo for the RPG Blog CarnivalWe’re into April and so it’s time for another RPG Blog Carnival! You can find details and my first post over at The Rat Hole today. Stay tuned through the rest of the month, both there and her, for more magic item goodness!

And keep your eyes here for some exciting Extra Life 2021 announcements! Thanks to everyone’s generosity I was able to raise just over $1000 last year, which is amazing! Never one to rest on my laurels (they really aren’t as comfy as you would hope) I have set my 2021 goal at $2500. That’s going to take a some work, so I’ll talk about what I hope to do to achieve that soon. Enjoy the day!

#iHunt: Under the Influence

Last year I got a chance to play in an actual play campaign for the first time, and it was amazing! Since then I have been working to get the tech and skills in place to host and run some streamed games for charity this year. While hosting has to wait on some needed tech upgrades, I have been given an opportunity to GM an actual play for the first time!

I am so excited to run #iHunt: the RPG, one of my favourite games, for this wonderful group of players. Not going to lie, I feel very much like a hockey player brought up from the farm team for a shot at the big time. I think I have an interesting game planned, the chemistry between everyone at the Session Zero was excellent, so I anticipate a good time for all. I hope folx come out and support The Trevor Project and enjoy themselves. Much like when I stage managed, I will emulate the duck: calm and collected on the surface, paddling like f*** underneath.

Here’s all the details for those using a screen reader:

What: #iHunt: Under the Influence, A charity one-shot Actual Play

When: Sunday, February 14, 2021, 1 pm PST

Where: It’s Probably OK Twitch Channel [https://www.twitch.tv/itsprobablyok]

Who: Players: Aabria (@quiddie), Kimi (@GoldenLassoGirl), Persephone (@Persephiroth), Kandi (@DiceyAmazons), GM: Brent (@DorklordCanada)

Why: To raise funds for The Trevor Project

Updates and addendums: We have prizes! The fabulous folx at Roll20 have generously donated three codes for the FATE Starter Bundle on their site, to giveaway during the stream! One will go to the top donor of the day and we’ll draw from all donors that day to pick the other two winners. Likewise, we also have two $25 DriveThruRPG Gift Certificates that will go to two lucky donors! And still a few more surprises to come!

Also, I want to give a huge shout-out to Francita, who worked up our event graphic for us. Francita is the graphic designer over at Machine Age Publishing, the geniuses behind the #iHunt game, so she was the perfect person for this. I couldn’t be happier! So if you need some graphic design or layout work done, please check her out.

Wrapping Up 2020

Okay, here we go, wrapping up 2020! “But Brent, it’s almost the end of January 2021, aren’t you a bit late?” Look, imaginary naysayer, 2020 was a thousand years long, I think I have a bit of leeway.

I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that 2020 did not go the way any of us expected. Gaming wise, for instance, 2020 was going to be my Year of the Con! I was going to hit up so many gaming conventions, meet new people, visit with friends, play new games and old favourites…

So, yeah.

We all have the shared experience of 2020 tanking our plans to one extent or another. We also have our shared grief. Many of us lost friends and family this past year, whether to COVID-19 or racist/police violence (the Venn diagram on that is pert near a perfect circle), and those losses rippled hard through our friends and acquaintances online. I lost a dear friend I’ve known since high school and her absence, knowing that even when COVID is done and I can leave my home I can never see her again, has left a hole in my heart I may never fill.

But…

But there have been little joys, little triumphs as well. And while life is not a ledger and these do not serve to balance any sort of imaginary books, they still happened and deserve to be acknowledged. In a sea of grief sometimes the best you can do is cling to joy like a life preserver. In no particular order, here are some joys I cling to:

  • I played in my first ever actual play livestream, Clockwork Vines. It was a whole new group of people I had never played with before, and it was one of the best things to happen to me in 2020. I consider all of them friends (and hope they feel the same way, but do not ask it), and our Story Keeper, Honey, inspires me to be a better person to this day.
  • Together with Francita and Hector we formed the RPG Catalyst Project, helping creators who can’t afford layout, graphic, or editing work get their work ready for publication. It was a rocky start but so far we have helped three creators get their work into the world, with more on the way.  I’m excited for us to keep helping folx and seeing what else we can help people create.
  • I dipped my toe into video creation with two series of YouTube videos to help promote Indie TTRPG creators. That’s going to continue in 2021 and hopefully beyond, with some edited weekly videos as well as the months of daily videos in June and December.
  • I was asked to do Twitch channel moderation by Jason over at Its Probably OK. Jason and I only knew each other from Twitter and me sounding off in chat during their games, so it was surprise when he asked me if I wanted to be a mod for him. But it’s been a great experience, and probably as gentle an introduction to moderation as I could have asked for. Of course it helps to have such good content to watch over.
  • I started running a campaign for the Dragon Age RPG for some local friends and it has been excellent. I didn’t realize how much I missed the challenge of organizing a campaign for a game I hadn’t run before, so this has been a treat. And the group is amazing, up for all sorts of shenanigans.
  • I again dipped my toe into something I had never done before, this time publishing, by taking part in a few Jams over on itch. Nothing major so far, but it has nudged me into my own game design thoughts and work, which is exciting. I definitely have more things planned for this year, so we’ll see how it goes.

I’m not providing links to anything, because this list isn’t me trying to promote anything I’ve done. I made it to remind myself that some good happened in and came out of 2020. Grief and loss, yes, but also some things to which I can cling to buoy me through.

So as 2020 fades in the rearview mirror I hope to approach 2021 with those joys firmly in mind, even as I grieve for those who did not make it out of 2020. I am reminded of a quote from G’Kar, one of my favourite characters on my favourite show, Babylon 5:

We are all the sum of our tears. Too little and the ground is not fertile, and nothing can grow there. Too much, the best of us is washed away.

May our tears be just right.