As Winter Draws Nigh

Another year is drawing to a close. December in Canada means the cold closing in. Normally this would mean a shift from playing in person to playing online, as we hibernate and stay warm. With the global panini still in effect there’s no real shift in how I’m playing, it’s just colder when I answer the door for my food deliveries.

This past year was a bit of a let down from what I had planned. Back at the start I had envisioned so much more for myself, for the site, and for the channel. More and better videos, more posts here, a more active TTRPG year all around. None of that happened. Illness (both my own and my family’s), more aggressive depression, some personal stumbles–all of that led to me having a year in a much lower key than anticipated. Not going to lie, at times I didn’t really feel like I had a place in the TTRPG hobby anymore, not the one I hoped for myself, anyway.

Not that 2021 was a loss by any means. I worked on some truly excellent editing projects, I got to play with the Clockwork Vines folks again, I kept moderating over at Jason Mills’ Twitch channel and having a blast. So definitely lower key, but not a waste by any stretch. I guess what I missed most this past year was creating. I consumed a tonne of really great stuff, I helped out on other folks’ creations (which is fulfilling in its own way), but I didn’t produce anything of my own this year. The ideas were there but the drive was not.

And I could beat myself up over that, but I’m not going to. Re: the aforementioned global panini, maybe it was enough to just take a knee this past year, get my work done, and rest up as best I can for better things ahead. The plans and ideas are all still there, waiting for me to take one out of the box and get to work. They’ll keep until I’m ready to start.

So if you found yourself in a similar position over the last year or two, be kind to yourself. These are stressful, uncertain times and maybe, just maybe, it’s enough that you made it through. Rest, look after yourself, and what you choose to do will come in its own time.

Indie TTRPG Preview: Meanwhile, in the Subway

Next week, as part of The Rat Hole’s ongoing hosting of the November RPG Blog Carnival, I have an interview with game designer Côme Martin and a review of his game Two Summers. But Côme already has another game in the works, currently crowdfunding over on Itch, called Meanwhile, in the Subway. As the crowdfunding ends this Sunday I would feel like I wasn’t doing my job if I failed to draw your attention to this gem of a narrative TTRPG.

If you live in a city with a light rail transit system, you’ve likely spent some time in subway stations, travelling through the dark between stops. Like many liminal spaces, the subway system has an unreal quality to it, detached from the rest of the world. Meanwhile, in the Subway delves deep into that surreal feeling, adding a layer of magic for good measure. You and your fellow players are passengers, technicians, or what have you, travelling on the subway in a fantastical 1920-30s European city. Something goes amiss, an odd event occurs, and the players tell the story of their investigation.

The game itself is elegantly simple and gives itself over to directing narrative play. When I flipped through the PDF for the first time I was surprised to see that only two of the forty three pages had play instructions. The rest of the pages are lists of prompts for things like Characters’ Occupations, Characters’ Hobbies, Characters’ Odd Details, and Unforeseeable Events. Which actually makes sense. The number one thing that slows down a narrative style of game is a player with a block; giving over so much of the game book to helping players past that issue is an excellent use of space. And truly, every list is filled with enticing, evocative entries. For instance, I particularly like “Private Seasoner” from the Characters’ Occupations list. What does a private seasoner even do? I don’t know, but I want to play just to find out.

On its own Meanwhile, in the Subway is a lovely and surreal story game to play with your friends. But I would also suggest that MitS could serve to add an extra dimension to your already existing campaign. The narrative rules are light enough they could slot into next to any other ruleset with no issue. And even if you didn’t want to add the subway system as presented, the prompt lists are an invaluable resource for any Game Master looking to add a surreal tinge to their campaign.

As mentioned, Meanwhile, in the Subway is crowdfunding until Sunday on Itch. It has already reached its initial goal so it will deliver the base game to all backers as promised. While it’s still a ways away, I hold out hope it might reach the $2000 stretch goal; I would love to have a print version of this game for my collection. No matter, I have the current PDF and I’ll get the updated version as well. I would highly recommend picking up a copy for yourself at the Itch funding price, if price is a concern. Barring a sale or bundle I don’t think you’ll see the game this low priced again.

If you pick up the game and like what you see, join me next week over at The Rat Hole! On Monday I’m posting an interview with Côme Martin, and on Friday I’ll have a review of his game Two Summers. And check the comments section of the November RPG Blog Carnival’s launch page for more excellent articles on Indie TTRPGs!

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!