2019 ENnies Nominations

Today is a big day for the 2019 ENnies and for me. The 2019 nominations and Judges Spotlight winners were announced this morning, which means my work as an ENnies judge is 95% complete. If I weren’t going to Gen Con I’d be completely finished. Since I am attending there are the small matters of spending some time at the ENnies table while I’m there, as well as giving a short speech about my Judges Spotlight pick, plot ARMOR.

That short speech is why I’m not going to wax poetical about the game here. Except to say, if you want to check out a smart, challenging, single-player story game by one of the smartest folks in the industry right now, head to itch.io at the link above and pick it up. Then grab everything else dungeoncommandr has available. Then follow them on itch.io (which I realized I hadn’t done and hastily fixed) so you don’t miss anything else. You won’t be sorry.

A big congratulations to everyone nominated this year. Submissions were excellent this year and there was some pretty fierce competition out there. Our job as judges was tough as a result, but I think we put together a solid nomination list. Now, of course, it’s up to the members of the hobby to cast their votes and see who wins. I’m looking forward to the announcements at the award ceremony.

A huge thank-you to Hans and Stacy, and all the volunteers that keep the ENnies ticking along. As hard as we judges may have worked this year, all of them worked as hard or harder keeping everything running smooth so we could focus on the judging. I hope the ENnies continue to grow under your stewardship.

Last but not least, thank-you to my fellow judges, Alex, Ben, Brian, and Chris. I’m going to miss our Sunday morning conversations about gaming and the submissions. I learned a great deal talking with you all and I hope my fifth of the conversation was at least as interesting. Best of luck to those of you hoping to continue on for another term!

And now I’m going to take a little break from reading gaming books, maybe get started on some novels and comics that have gone by the wayside over the last year. After all, I need to cleanse the palette for all the new games launching at Gen Con.

It’s Been a While

The annual nerd festival I run is over for another year, and a number of other impediments have fallen by the wayside. So this is me getting back in the saddle. Sorry for the long silence, but expect to see more from me more often.

I haven’t been entirely idle, of course. I wrote some things over at The Rat Hole, and you can catch up there. I’ve been jumping in on the monthly RPG Blog Carnivals, which has been excellent fun. Not only are the subjects interesting, but it has helped connect The Rat Hole with other TTRPG bloggers. And I highly recommend checking it out if you just want a curated list of good bloggers writing about good topics.

In addition, work has proceeded on the Uncaged Anthology, and Volume Two drops on Tuesday, July 2! Of all the projects I have recently worked on I think Uncaged Anthology is the one of which I’m most proud. I am forever grateful that Ashley Warren allowed me on board as one of the editors, and I look forward to the adventurers I’ll get to work on for Volumes Three and Four. And if you haven’t picked up Volume One yet, I recommend getting on that.

I’m also excited to take part in Ashley Warren’s RPG Writer Workshop this July. I’ve needed to get some focus on my own creative efforts, and I’m hoping this workshop will help me get a handle on better managing my adventure writing. The people and resources involved are impressive, and I look forward to coming out the other side of July with a publishable D&D adventure.

Editing proceeds apace, of course. My June was full, but I have time in my schedule July onward. So if you or someone you know is looking for an editor for an upcoming project, check out my page and get in touch. I’d love to talk to you about your project.

And one scant month from now I will be at Gen Con! I’m running a few games of Crossroads Carnival in the Magpie Games room (which have already sold out, so thank-you to my players!), and I will be at the ENnies Award Banquet on Friday night. Otherwise, I’m there to take in excellent panels and play some games. I’ve scheduled a few things each day, but I also have a mitt full of Generic Tickets so I can try to jump in on games or panels that catch my eye. If you’re running something, or have a panel, drop it in the comments so I can check it out. I can recommend the Uncaged Anthology panel if you want some behind-the-scenes info on how an anthology comes together. It’s also a great opportunity to get your copy of Volume One signed, if that sort of thing appeals to you.

And that’s my summer! Expect me to post more regularly here over the next couple of months, as I keep you up to date on my writing, editing, and playing. It’s looking like a good summer for TTRPGs, and I can’t wait!

ENnies Thoughts

As I’m spending my Easter long-weekend reading through the many, many ENnies submissions we have received so far, I thought it was a good time to take a break, drink a coffee, and talk about a few of my thoughts for this year.

First, the deadline for submissions this year is May 4 (details on the ENnies website). That means the office has to have your digital submission by end-of-day, or your package has to be postage/shipper marked that date in order to still qualify. We get so many submissions every year that this is not something the office makes exceptions about, so if you’re planning to submit please don’t play chicken with this deadline. As busy as I am cramming everything in my eyeholes, I’d hate to miss out on something amazing because it missed the deadline.

And there is a lot of amazing this year! I prided myself on a wide and varied diet of TTRPG reading before becoming an ENnies judge. But this past year has been a rich smorgasbord of game material, both from the usual industry contributors, as well as independent writers and publishers. To everyone who submitted: thank-you for that. As a judge, it has been an absolute joy to read everything we have received. As a Game Master, everything we received has and will continue to inform my gaming sessions for a long time to come.

Thank-you especially to the folks in our community who are or feel marginalized, and submitted. That couldn’t have been an easy decision to make, and I know many have chosen not to submit to the ENnies for various good reasons. But I appreciated the submissions we did receive, and I can say that without exception your submissions not only broadened my perspective on what TTRPGs can be, but brought me such joy to read. The imagination and fierce vulnerability on display is a an example of the best of TTRPGs.

So if you are a marginalized creator in our hobby, and you have something that otherwise meets the ENnies submission criteria, please please please send it in! We want to see it, and speaking for myself, I’m hungry for it. Please note, I’m purposely not defining what “marginalized” means in this context. I don’t feel it’s my place to do that, and if I were to just partially list the groups I think are marginalized, someone could take that as a reason to self-exempt themselves (“Well my group isn’t listed, so I guess the %&$hole didn’t mean me!”).

One thing I’m finding it the hardest to select for is the Judges Spotlight. Every year at the ENnies, each judge gets about 10-15 minutes to talk about a single product that was a stand-out for them. It can be for any reason, and that freedom is actually the problem. There is so much that stands out to me for various reasons and I’m having a hard time narrowing it down to just one. I mean, I’m going to have to, but ugh! Why did you all have to make such good games?!

Okay, I came up for air long enough to urge folks to get submissions in. Now it’s back to cramming TTRPG goodness in my eyeholes. And earholes, a good chuck of today is giving the podcast submissions a good listen. If you want to shoot me questions or comments, you can do that below, or over on Twitter. My DMs are open, or you can publicly message me and I’ll respond as best I can.

 

Uncaged Volume One: Updates

I was just going to add this to my previous post regarding Uncaged Volume One, but there was just too much!

The hardcover version is now available through Drivethru’s print-on-demand. And there is a special bundle price if you want the PDF and print copies together. Which is what I did; the PDF is easier to use at the table, and the print copy is easier for me to pick up and read through. Plus it’s way easier to get the print copy signed at cons. Sharpie is just so hard on my laptop’s screen.

Also, a huge thank-you to everyone who purchased a copy so far. Thanks to you, Uncaged Volume One is currently a Platinum Best-seller on DM’s Guild, and steadily working its way to Mithril. That’s all down to the support you have shown this amazing project. If you have purchased Uncaged, please also leave a review on the product page, as active reviews help keep it in everyone’s eye. It’s not a surprise to me, having read through it, that Uncaged is enjoying an average of five stars.

If you have a moment, stop by and tell Ashley Warren how much you appreciate the work she has done in pulling these anthologies together. And if you are so inclined to thank her in a more tangible manner, you can check out her website for other things she has worked on, and purchase whatever strikes your fancy.

As well, Uncaged is partnering with Non-Toxic Gaming to host a charity stream benefiting RAINN. The community around the Uncaged Anthologies is so wonderful, it’s probably one of the best parts of being part of this project, to be honest. Details at the link, but keep your day free and your wallet full for that.

What else? Uncaged Volume Two is on track for its April release, so get ready for more adventure goodness. And if you’re going to Gen Con, keep your eye out for an Uncaged panel on the schedule; no details yet but it will be a good time and I plan to be in the front row with all the enthusiasm of a winning sports team’s biggest fan! I’ll leave the airhorn at home, however.

Uncaged Anthology

Good morning! I won’t bury the lead: I edited a few of the adventures featured in Uncaged Anthology, which is available today over at the DM’s Guild!

I was lucky enough to see this project come into existence in real time on Twitter. It started as a question posed by Ashley Warren about a series of mythology-based one-shots. The response was amazing, and Ashley took the wheel and brought the massive ship that is any anthology project onto an even keel, and it was underway. When the call went out for editors I eagerly put my name in, and was lucky to be asked to take on some of the adventures.

I only grabbed my copy this morning, so expect an in-depth review later. But if the two adventures I work on were any indication of the overall quality (and I have every reason to believe it is so), you will want to grab this book post haste. It is a beautiful book packed with one-shot D&D adventures which could be dropped with ease into your campaign. Given the mythological theme which binds them, they could even form the basis of a campaign, as your players explore the myths and legends of your world.

I’m really excited to read this and get some of these adventures on the table. Even more exciting, this is only Volume One, so expect even more adventures to come!

Once you’ve had a chance to pick up a copy and look it over, I hope you’ll stop by and let me know which are your favourites. And should you be looking for an editor for your TTRPG project, well, I have a page about that. Let’s talk!

RPG Blog Carnival: Making Deities

This month’s RPG Blog Carnival topic is Divine Worldbuilding, which comes at a fortuitous moment as I have had to begin designing a pantheon or two for my home campaign. I really should have given it thought much sooner, as I have two clerics and a paladin split across two groups. When it was just my home game, and I wasn’t looking at publishing the setting, I was fine hand-waiving the details and going with the gods as presented in the 5e PHB. But as I am going to publish this campaign world as a setting book, it seemed appropriate to make some decisions about the deities of my world. Not only is it better to do it now, before the characters get much higher in level, but these details can then inform and even form the basis of future plots.

Today I’m going to outline the first three big questions I ask when creating a pantheon from scratch, so you can see how you might get started. In articles later this month I’ll outline the next steps from there, and we’ll look at one of my finished pantheons, to give you an example of how to flesh out the pantheon for play. Let’s start!

1) Deities of What? – This question encompasses a bunch of more specific questions. In our own history, we can see that deities came into being to help explain aspects of the world we didn’t understand. So the usual starting place would be to look at the elemental forces of your world: fire, lightning, wind, water, and so on. Are there moons in your night sky? There’s probably a deity or deities associated with them. Is there an especially tall mountain, or an always smoldering volcano? Deity. Deities were also associated with common aspects of life which could be affected by unknowable or poorly understood influences. Thus we had deities of the hunt, for instance, because we needed someone to thank/blame when hunting was good/bad. When we later developed agriculture we had a deity for that, for much the same reason. Death deities are probably the most common across pantheons, as death and what happens when we die is probably the great unknowable.

Once you have a list of “primordial” deities, look at your campaign world and figure out where you are in your campaign’s history. If you’re running a campaign set in a rough, pre-history type setting, you might actually be done. But if the societies in your campaign world are more developed, chances are they’ve also expanded the influence and portfolios of their deities. That old deity of fire, for instance, may also be the new deity of the forge. Depending on the flavor of Death deity in your campaign, maybe its portfolio has expanded to include law and judgement in the mortal realm, as well as the hereafter. You may even need to create more modern deities. Early civilizations wouldn’t have needed a Deity of Trade or a Deity of Invention, for instance, but your current culture might.

And one final question, are you going to use a pantheon or not? While there may have once been primordial deities worshipped, perhaps there is now just a single deity encompassing all things to all people. But is it a true monotheism, or do folks also believe in lesser deities which support the main deity? The Catholic faith is a good example of this; while it is considered monotheistic (God), there is the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit), as well as what amounts to a pantheon of Saints, each a patron of some aspect of the world.

2) How do They Look? – This may seem superficial, but it can be an important question to answer because it will determine a lot about the visual aspects of faith in your world. Just think about how much art has been created or influenced by our world’s religions. As before, this question holds many more. Do the deities appear as paragons of the people who worship them? Do they appear gendered or non-gendered? Are they simply anthropomorphisms of the aspect they represent (ie, the Deity of Fire appears as a column of flame to their worshippers, the Moon Deity appears as a bright moon beam striking the ground or altar)? Do they appear at all? Maybe the deities in your campaign world are formless, and there are no direct representations of them.

As part of this, ask yourself if folks are even allowed to show representations of the deities. Maybe images of them are restricted in some way, or even forbidden. Perhaps the opposite is true, and everyone has their own personal idea of what their deity looks like, all equally valid. And does the deity in question have opinions on all this, or does it remain aloof on the question of its appearance?

The answers to these questions will inform aspects of your campaign world like: what do holy symbols look like? How are temples constructed and decorated? How do the clergy (and therefore your clerics, paladins, druids, and sometime warlocks) dress, both for everyday and for adventuring or battle? Can you tell the worshippers of one deity from another, simply by looking at them? Do any of the faiths engage in tattooing, branding, or scarification?

3) Who Worships Them? – The faithful, of course! But who is that? Is the deity species specific, and do they only allow worshippers from that species, or can anyone pay homage? Is the deity gender-specific? Is there a test to join the faithful, some aspect in which a potential worshipper must prove themselves to be a paragon? Or maybe you don’t choose the deity, the deity chooses you, and you can only be one of the “true faithful” if you have received a direct invitation from that deity.

And an even bigger question to answer: are the Deity and the Church on the same page? The Church may have some ideas about who can worship and who is truly faithful, divorced from the Deity in question. If so, what does that look like? Are ceremonies to that deity antagonistic, bordering on blackmail (“Look at this juicy faith we have for you! Give us spells and you can have it!”)? Does the deity sneak around behind the backs of the “True Faithful”, bringing those the Church considers unworthy into the faith? Maybe the situation is so antagonistic, ceremonies look very much like we’d imagine the summoning of a demon would, with the worshipper weaving protections and bindings to force power from the deity.

These three questions, and the little questions buried inside, allow you to piece together a framework for your deities. You can do this for each of the species in your world (and thus have human, dwarf, elf, etc pantheons) or do it once for all. Once you’ve put together this framework you can start adding to it, fleshing out the details for each deity. And that’s where we’ll pick up in the next article.

How do you go about creating the deities for your campaign? Comment below!