Today’s installment of the Firing Squad welcomes +James Introcaso , proprietor of the World Builder blog and all-around fun guy to talk with. We chat about the next edition of Dungeons and Dragons, his world-in-progress called Exploration Age, the edition wars, and other fun topics (like grappling!) having to do with RPGs.

We spoke for nearly two hours, and if nothing else, this interview taught me that while I might not stick with my list of questions, not having one makes for some scattered topic coverage! 

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Good evening and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing
Squad. We are joined today by . . . James Introcaso?
James Introcaso (World-Builder Blog): Yes.
Doug: Very
good! James Introcaso. Proprietor of the World-Builder Blog, and I believe that
you got a few publishings to your name, and you also run the Roundtable – a
regular podcast on . . . all-things role-playing, or all-things Dungeons and
Dragons, or both?
James: It’s
all things Dungeons and Dragons, but we do often delve into other systems and
topics as well. But it’s very role-playing centric for sure.

Doug: I
listened to at least one of your episodes, and it was kind of fun. There were
three or four people, and all had definite opinions, and you’d have one person
saying “This rule is the greatest thing ever,” and this other one said “This
ruins the game for me.”
So it was a good [James
laughs] friendly, but really you had all kinds of opinions on the topics you
were covering.
James:
Absolutely, but that’s kind of the point of the podcast.
In the Dungeons and
Dragons community there is a division, the edition wars as they say. With the
old school grognard gamers sticking to 1st and 2nd
edition [Dungeons and Dragons], people who prefer 3rd [Dungeons and
Dragons], and there is a whole new group of gamers who prefer 4th
[Dungeons and Dragons].
And on the Internet, and
message boards is want to do in a virtual anonymous space, people can get
pretty nasty.
We’re hoping to have more
intelligent, thoughtful debate about the new rules coming out, particularly for
the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons which is supposed to be
released this summer.
The whole point of that
podcast is to bring people to the table and have a civil debate about things.
It remains pretty civil for the most part, though it does degenerate sometimes
into wackiness – which is sometimes fun.
Doug: Yeah,
indeed. I’ll offer up a couple thoughts on that.
First of all my system of
choice, where I play most often, and contribute most often, is GURPS.
So to a certain extent,
some of the edition wars are kind of funny to me, largely because I’ve played
Erik Tenkar’s Swords & Wizardry campaign, which is about as old school as
old school gets.
I grew up with the Basic
and Expert, I never had Champion or Epic. But I had the 2nd edition
[Dungeons and Dragons] Player’s Handbook with the statue and all that [James
laughs].
[Note I got this wrong: The PHB with the statue was
obviously AD&D.]
I played in one game that
I think was 3rd edition, and I have played extensively, recently, in
Pathfinder, which is a 3.5 modification I believe.
I know not a thing about 4th [James
laughs].
James: 4th
is very close to 3.5 and Pathfinder; in fact it even does some of the same
things Pathfinder does. But it’s also very different, in that characters have,
instead of spells, and fighting feats that allow you different maneuvers,
everybody has power sets.
You have powers you can
use during encounters, and you have you powers that you can use daily, and you
have powers that you can use at will. It takes its cues from modern day MMOs,
and I think that sort of turned people off, because it felt a little two
constricting. It became very combat focused.
And Dungeons and Dragons
has always been heavily focused on combat, that is where most of its rule set
lies. But this is really . . .  laser
focused that in, and there wasn’t as much to do rule-wise with your
role-playing aspects.
I think that turned a lot
of people off, which is why 4th edition came out, four . . . six
years ago, and you’re already seeing the release of another edition.
This time they brought
everybody in. Hundreds of thousands of people for a big, open playtest. The
point of that was to get everybody’s opinion, hopefully they get to a point
where everybody likes the game and will buy it.
I think they actually lost
a lot of business to Pathfinder when it came out, because Pathfinder still had
a lot of the role-playing aspects. It still had spells that could be used
outside of combat for wizards. And the fighters had some crazy moves that make
them feel a little more magical mechanically.
And I think it was, rather
than you starting as a regular guy who gets better and better and better, it
was you started as a really great hero, and then by 30th level your
heroes are definitely superheroes. They had these ridiculous abilities that
begin with the phrase like “Once per day, when you die, you’ll come back from the dead, and be even better than you
are.”
Doug: “I got
better” [Monty Python Black Knight voice]. There is the gratuitous Monty Python
joke for the podcast.
James: Yes.
That’s fun.
It can be fun. I played
two campaigns with people with the group from level 1 to 30 and that has its
own appeal as well, flying around the battlefield, and shooting lasers, and
farting, and killing orcs with that fart. It has its own appeal as well.
Doug: One of
the more memorable characters from Mystery Men: The Spleen . . . had that ability.
It’s part of the nerd canon so to speak.
A couple of questions. A
couple of things about that I guess. One is . . . a hundred thousand people in
a playtest. That is bold.
James: Yeah,
I think it’s obviously an unprecedented move, particularly for Wizards of the
Coast, to show us how the sausage is made – so to speak – and to invite people
in on that process.
And it has changed, if you
look at the first packet and the rules that were in there, and the way things
have changed from this final packet, and now the playtest has since closed, but
you can…but there is a friends and family playtest that I’m not actually a part
of.  But you know they’re continuing
along up to this August release date that has been leaked. And not officially
announced.
They really have been
listening to people, it seems, like up until the playtest closed. I have high
hopes.
Certainly at first it was
a very simple, basic game like you would expect the first round of a playtest
to be. But they really did have some things in there that could be considered
game-breaking. They’ve gone through and found a way to please the min/maxers,
but to also please all the role-players, so they don’t feel like their characters
are nothing compared to the people who enjoy min/maxing, you know?
And hopefully everybody
can sit together at a table, or convention style setting and get along.
Because I have players who
were in a theater troupe with me in college, so they love the role-playing
aspect, but then I have a couple of guys that we know that are somebody’s
brother, and they went to see all the shows, and they want to build the min/max
characters . . . and it’s a hard balance, sometimes, to please everybody at the
table.
Doug: Sure.
Sure. The other part of that is, do you think that having it so large actually
generated a useful amount of signal to noise ratio, or do you think that you
could have done better with…at least with the playtest of the book that I did,
I had about 12 to 15 people, and the one thing that I regret, and has come up a
couple of times later, is we didn’t get enough opportunity to actually play games. We did have some
good fights, and it was a grappling book.
I looked over the 5th
edition grappling rules…ehhh, I don’t know [James laughs].
James:
They’re much simpler probably.
Doug: Where
they are, is the grappling rules in most games actually up until . . . I’m sure
it was Riddle of Steel, or Burning Wheel . . . I know that there are games that
have done more detail in everything.
But the original GURPS
rules are fairly similar to original Dungeons and Dragons rules. You roll to
hit, if you hit you are grappled or not grappled, and it’s an event state.
Whereas the system I came
up with is…“Well isn’t it fun to hit…” and in GURPS if you fail to
defend, or you roll under your armor class in D&D. And then you roll some damage, and the damage counts for
something.
I’ve actually been
noodling in the back [of my head] with something like that in a D&D paradigm,
because I think it would be useful and fun for people who wanted to have more
detail about that.
The flip side of that,
though, is I don’t know of a venue in which house rules are published.
James:
Right. Well you can find a lot of house rules/suggestions on the message board,
but one of the things you’re going to see, supposedly, we’ve been promised, are
modules.
You’re going to see a lot
of optional rules modules they’re
going to publish. I would love to see something like that because whenever I
think about grappling, I think about the climactic scene in every action movie,
the hero or the villain are wrestling on the ground, one of them has a dagger,
and they’re trying to turn it around. You don’t really have that option in the
Next rules.
Doug:
Because that scene at the end of Saving Private Ryan wasn’t tense or dramatic at all.
James: Right
[both laugh].
Doug: Or a
little more action hero-ish, the first of the two recent Sherlock Holmes movies,
with Robert Downey Jr, had a great Technical Grappling scene where there was an
arm bar, legs, all kinds of stuff. It was very much period as well because I
know that Conan Doyle studied fighting and wrestling and he studied the
Bartitsu stuff, so he knew about it.
It was a accurate
depiction of what Arthur Conan Doyle was trying to put into his stuff, there
was judo or jiu-jitsu or Bartitsu or whatever. The kind of stuff can be really
cool, but having it be a “state thing, grappled, not-grappled,” is…
Let me give you the flip side
of that though: Grappling is slow. Grappling is slow.
A typical grappling match
(you can see I’ve got my Hwa Rang Do sweatshirt on), a typical grappling match
is – what we do is two minutes, a championship match is five minutes. In
Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, and no offense to any BJJ practitioners since I’m not
deeply experienced in it. The kind of the joke is, maybe it’s their testing, is
they grapple forever. They just work,
it and work it, and work it, and they are very patient. They are very good
offensively, and they’ll break you in half like a pretzel, but they are very
cautious, deliberate grapplers, and you can be wresting out there for 10
minutes.
In GURPS at least, 10
minutes is 600 turns.
James: Huh [Laughs
as he realizes the implications]. It’s the same way in D&D.
Doug: Yeah.
In D&D it would be…let’s see, 600 seconds is a hundred turns. And if you’re doing a die roll a hundred times, with
just two guys. I mean, you’re going to get pelted with d4s and beaten with the
Player’s Handbook. And you’ll deserve it.
James:
[laughs] Exactly.
And that’s one of the
things that they wanted to do, was to be able to have combat be very speedy and
expedient at the base level with this. I think they definitely achieved that.
4th edition
combat was really fun, because you had so many choices and options, but combat
at first level took an hour.
So you never had a random
encounter, because it would slow down your story.
Now, a random encounter
can take about five minutes. It’s super-lethal right now, 5th
edition.
I think you are going to
see options for more facing rules, and they’re really going to get into, with those
rules modules, into the nitty-gritty, again.
What we’ve been promised.
I don’t speak for Wizards.
But it would be great to
see that kind of thing. But it is nice to be able to do a theater of the mind
style – four goblins are guarding the door, the party comes in and they waste
some of the party’s resources, but ultimately the party wins overall, and
continues into the dungeon or whatever it is.
You want to see for the
bigger encounters, I want to have those grapple rules because I want to see
that action take place, I want to see Solid Snake, from Metal Gear Solid, get
into a close-quarters battle with a knife and handgun.
So hopefully that kind of
stuff is available, that’s the dream [crosses fingers].
Doug: It
should be kind of fun, because one of the complexities of, for example, playing
GURPS
with close combat, is if you ever throw somebody down on the ground, it
actually…playing with a actual face-to-face group with cardboard heroes or miniatures
it’s actually pretty easy, but on Roll20 or MapTool all of a sudden they are a
two-hex figure, so you better have a second token prepared [laughs].
James:
That’s one of the challenges. Or if you’re in a battle when someone is flying,
that’s really hard too . . . [laughs] on a virtual table, how do you express
that? Or even on a regular table that can be hard to express.
Doug: Right.
Squadron Strike. Ad Astra games. Ken Burnside has a really neat system where
you stack up 3D tiles or cubes and it gives you facing, orientation, and
everything, and gives you vectors because he uses vector math for where the
ships go. And it’s all visually intuitive at the blink of a eye.
So theoretically you could
show that your red dragon is banking at a certain acceleration [James laughs].
That would be kinda fun. The Dungeons and Dragons extension to Squadron Strike.
James: Well
I actually heard that they’re making…so they just released news that there is
going…WizKids is going to be making miniatures for them. There is going to be a
dogfighting dragon minigame that’s going to come with those minifigs.
Doug:
Because why not? [James laughs more]
So let me back up a little
bit and ask a little bit about yourself: It sounds like you’ve been gaming for
a bit.
James: Yes.
Since…I guess I was in about 2nd grade when I joined my brothers
AD&D game in our parents basement. So very stereotypical: little brother
wanted to tag along and play D&D in the parent’s basement, and they gave me
a Halfling thief, and it’s been my favorite class/race combination ever since.
Doug: So I
actually just started reading the Forgotten Realms book, with Cale, and the Slaad,
and Riven…I’m going to have to look it up because now I’m irritating myself.
Erevis Cale I think. Cale
Forgotten Realms. There we go. Erevis Cale thank you, by Paul Kemp.
Paul Kemp. I finally got
around to that, I was forwarded the books by a friend, but it wasn’t a great
copy, so I bought ‘em online anyways.
So it’s part of the
original D&D mythos, so in a way it’s like reading history to see how that
works.
But one of the things that
is interesting about those books to me, at least in the beginning of the first
book and this really does get to your point, it’s not as random walk as it
seems.
Your point about D&D 4th
edition actually has a strong resemblance to the initial character types if
you’re doing a GURPS Dungeon Fantasy campaign, which start at 250 points, or
about a 100 points more than a typical action heroish starter character.
The guys…and then there is
Monster Hunters which is 400 points, which is even more over-the-top, because
you’re playing in that particular genre, you’re playing Monster Hunters International,
or whatever, or Laurell K. Hamilton’s character at the middle of her powers
before she got really out there, and was mostly soft porn. [both chuckle]
But these characters start
badass, and they get more so.
And so the interesting
thing was, in a lot of this stuff, and the Halfling and whatever – it showed
that you could start off…it felt to me and I don’t know what the character
types were, there must have been a cheat sheet – but it felt to me they started
at 10th level and got more awesome from there.
James: Yeah.
I’ve heard that book described as these guys are power-leveling through, and
they just keep getting crazier and crazier, and more and more epic, as the
story goes on. Which is definitely true. It’s a very like manly sort of adventure too. There going into planes to fight demons
and all that kind of stuff. It’s really over-the-top with the action and with
their ability it’s pretty crazy.
Doug: It
kept getting more and more and on the flip side you’ve got a book like Elizabeth
Moon’s Paksenarrion. First of all, as I’ve said at least one, if not two or
three of these interviews, is my favorite paladin story: it’s not the lawful
goody-two-shoes that everyone wants to see die [James laughs]. [garbled audio]
and I don’t know if there was
…I’ll come back to this,
this is what happens when I don’t have my cheat sheet.
The thing was, very
clearly that Paksenarrion started off as a first level fighter, went through
mercenary training, you could see her getting a couple levels there,
multi-classing to ranger for a little bit, and then came into a full-on paladin,
and it really did feel like walking through the first half of character
progression, like going from a level one to a level twenty character,
And Elizabeth Moon used
the terms, and you could see the fighter, and the cleric, and the different
races, and the dark elves made an appearance and all kinds of stuff.
It was a great series of
stories, but you really got to experience the novice, to intermediate, to
professional, and the character progression, and it sounds like in 4th
edition you started a little bit more badass, but maybe in 5th
edition they dialed it back?
James: Oh
yeah, absolutely. It’s a very…not to the point where you are useless, but to
the point where you feel useful cleaning out a cellar of goblins.
Whereas if you were doing
that 1st level in 4th edition it was more like “Where’s
the real action, I didn’t feel threatened at all?” And I didn’t feel…
Whereas in this one,
you’re back to smaller hit points, you have a lot more hit points in 4th
edition at first level. You have smaller hit points, you have less options for
what you can do in combat. It seems like your starting equipment that you can
afford is as not as good as it was in 4E and that’s great, I like that feeling.
Because by the time you
hit twentieth level in any fantasy RPG it seems like you’ve reached that
superhero status. This is definitely less so.
To give you an example, I
have a player at my table who is a rogue and your back to…rather than point buy
being the standard, you’re rolling for abilities scores. Point buy was the
standard for 4E, and so he rolled a 6, and rather than put his 6 in Charisma
which is sort of a dump-stat for a lot of classes in D&D, he put it in
Constitution. He began the game with 3 HP.
Doug: There
is a motivation to play cautiously.
James: Absolutely!
It was so interesting to see that. You don’t normally see that in a
combat-focused game like D&D.
You don’t see that guy who
is constantly being cautious, and he really did have to play smart.
And kudos to him, it took
him a good four sessions before his character actually died [laughs] as it was
bound to happen at some point.
He had a lot of fun doing
it, and you know they have a lock of his hair, so a resurrection spell is in
the future perhaps.
Doug: Could
happen.
James: But
that’s a example of the lethality of 5th edition. You’d never have a
character at 3 HP at first level. It’s just impossible to do in 4E.
Doug: Okay.
I want to talk a little bit about yourself, because I know you got this World Builder
blog, and you’re into doing, it seems, adventures and world building.
Walk me through how you
started gaming, what games you played, and how you started into…whether it’s
the pro or semipro- or playtesting, writing, or authoring or offering opinions
on a blog.
Just go through that
history a little bit for those who are curious.
James: Sure.
I started with my brother, way back when we were in the basement. And I had
some other friends over, and I was young enough that it was kind of like “You
want to do that? Now roll this die. Now roll this die. And here’s what
happens.”
AD&D is difficult for
an eight year old to understand. I invited some friends over, and we were
deciphering it, and trying to play it, and it was hard for me to translate for
my friends and everything. So one of my friends went home and told his father
and his father said “Oh, I have this other game.”
We played a game called The Fantasy Trip that is a old and
definitely in print anymore. It’s a d6 based Fantasy game where you have three
attributes – Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence.
It’s the kind of game
that’s not built very well. Your Strength score is also your hit points, your
Dexterity is used any time you want to something, and your Intelligence
determines your spell casting ability. And if you want to be able to cast
spells, you have to be able to hit with them, and spells use up your hit points,
so to be a spellcaster you have to have high all three. And every time you
leveled up you got to put a point in another one of them, and that was kind of
how the game worked.
And we played that for
years, until we were in middle school, and then we started played Dungeons and
Dragons again, and then the 3rd edition game out, and we stuck with
that.
And then I, in college,
introduced a lot of people to that. I have been playing D&D and kept
current with whatever the current edition was since then. But I also play
Mutants and Masterminds. I’m a big fan of the Ghostbusters RPG from the 80s
[laugh].
Doug: Do you
remember what system was that? A d6-based?
James: It
was d6-based. I’ve played a couple of iterations of the Star Wars role-playing
game. I dabbled in GURPS, I’m trying to find people who want to play it. I think
it’s a awesome system.
One of the reasons I’ve
stuck with D&D is I’ve had a rotating group with people, and I find people
latch onto that one pretty easily. It’s the easiest to understand, it’s the
easiest to find materials for, although now with DriveThru RPG you can find
anything, man.
I also, in my life, my like
day-job is I’m a television writer and producer. Promos, mostly. And I have
traveled around, I was in Atlanta working for Cartoon Network for a while, I
did a year-long stint there, and I was long for people to play with, and I
didn’t know anybody and that was how I met people.
I went to DragonCon which
is a big media/gaming convention down there. I met some people and started to
game with people that way.
And that’s sort of what
happened. I have submitted a lot of article proposals to Dungeon and Dragon
magazine in the past, but I’ve been very busy. My job is sometimes a 60-hour a
week job.
I recently decided I
wanted to take this to the next level. I wanted to start my own podcast and
several months ago, I reached out to a guy named Mike Shae who runs a blog
called Sly Flourish, he’s published numerous books and adventures for a lot of
different systems, dungeons and dragons included.
He told me I should talk
to a guy named Jeff Griner, who hosts a podcast called the Tome Show. Jeff has
a lot of followers and subscribers, and he talks about D&D, and it’s really
his passion.
So I emailed Jeff and said
“Jeff, do you have any advice for someone starting a podcast.” And he said
“What’s your idea?” so I pitched him my idea for the roundtable and he said
“Ah! That sounds really cool, why don’t you do that and I’ll host it for you.”
I had a built in several-thousand
subscriber base and everything. His podcast is really great, TheTomeShow.com if
you want to check him out. Tome Show.com is a weird Asian blog that pops up,
which I’m sure is also really good if you want to check that out too.
And I’ve also wanted to
design my own world from scratch. I’ve played in Eberron, Forgotten Realms,
Dark Sun, which are all pre-built Dungeons and Dragons settings.
But it’s probably been
since college that I had my own setting. So I thought a great way to make sure
I’m using my free time to create a setting, rather than sit around and play
video games, which for me is a good thing, it’s a fun thing to do, but it’s also
. . . I can spend hours. Like a entire Sunday doing nothing else, but playing
Arkham City.
So I thought it would be a
good way to hold me accountable for
writing and designing stuff, and putting out work. So that’s what World builder
blog is.
For creating exploration
age, which is a PDF which I’m eventually hoping to put out, and depending on
the people who are interested, it will be available for a moderate or free
download. So that’s the abridged version of the story.
I’m very passionate about
gaming of all kinds. I love Kobold Press puts out a lot of good stuff, but I
really want to step into the world of publishing. I really want/hope to be
putting out stuff that is canon if you will, but until then, I really just
enjoy making it, so I’m going to do it whether or not I’m getting paid to do
it.
That’s what Worldbuilder
blog is all about. I’m sort of discussing the techniques I use sometimes to
create something, and sometimes I’m just putting out ideas I have there, and
it’s a hodgepodge of stuff, some of it’s stolen.
Doug:
Leveraged. Leveraged. It’s leveraged.
James: Yeah,
exactly. Like any good idea [chuckles].
Some of it is weird
brainchild stuff that I’ve had over the years. Which I’m sure is probably
subconsciously leveraged from somewhere else.
Doug: That
was one of the fascinating things about talking with Kenneth Hite. We spent
almost two hours yakking it up. The process that he goes to to connect…it’s
like “Here is something you can look at in a history book” and “Here’s
something you can look up in a mythology book” and “Here is something that occurred
to me (him) while drinking heavily one day.”
We’re going to put these
three things together, and go to the logical extension of that idea. And that’s
for example, I think, where Day After Ragnarok came from. Which is World War
II, I don’t know if you are familiar with it: you’re in the middle of World War
II . . . and Ragnarok happens.
You take this two huge,
cataclysmic events, World War II and Ragnarok, and just blend them together and
you get three or four parallel mythologies going on there.
Because he wanted to have
a world, to make this connect a little bit. He wanted to have a world where one
part of the world was sword and sandal, Robert Howard Conan the Barbarian, and
the other part of the world was Norse mythology, and then you had other things
at other places. He had these turning points where it went off.
It’s exactly where you
take your sources, and you have your variations, and you borrow where you can,
and invent where you must, and take it to a logical conclusion.
James: Is
that the kind of place where you can have fun? Can you have a Nazi riding a
T-Rex that kind of thing [laughs]?
Doug:
Possibly. I don’t know about the T-Rex and the dinosaurs, but certainly you could
have a Nazi wielding the Spear of Destiny, or Valkyries flying into battle, or
something like that. I know that he had this thing where the giants – the Jotunn
return to Earth in the steppes of Russia . . . and stuff! There is a lot to it.
James: Well that’s
fun right?
I think D&D is one of
the last places – not just D&D, tabletop RPGs in general – are one of the
last places where you can collaboratively put crazy things out there and people
say “Yeah, I’m on board with that.”
You don’t necessarily have
box office appeal to do it. One of the classic Dungeons and Dragons monsters is
a beholder, which is a floating mass of eyes that all shoot different kind of
rays. What was someone thinking when that came up?
And it’s nice to know that
you can go there, and you can try something new. And that’s what it’s all
about.
I invite people certainly
on the blog. I want to know if they think, “Ah…that’s a little too close to
something” “Not as original as I hoped” or “That idea is so crazy and here’s
why I think it would never work.”
I’m all about the debate,
I definitely want to see that, and I want to see if people say “This is cool.”
That always makes you feel good.
But I think it’s great to
explore new avenues. To play on archetypes. So, for instance, in Exploration Age
elves, one of their main industries in this nation that the elves run, they cut
down trees – and sell the lumber. They’re like lumberjacks. Which sort of goes
against everything you’ve ever known about elves, and that was on purpose. Because
I was like “What would it be like if elves were actually cutting down trees and
slaughtering and herding cattle and selling burgers? What would that do?”
Doug: Invert
the trope, and see what breaks.
James: It’s
all about playing.
And Exploration Age, the
big idea is…there are big, blank spots on the map. Particularly…it’s based on
the Age of Discovery.
Australia had just been
discovered by Europeans, and the Americans had just been discovered by
Europeans. It’s based on the idea that all of a sudden these people’s world has
doubled in size. And they have a whole, hopefully rich, history of war with one
another, that war has translated into land grabbing over in this other place.
But oh, wait, there’s people who are native to this world. There like… “You
can’t come in here and just start grabbing up land.”
Doug: “What
do you mean you annexed this in the name of the king? I’m going to kick your
ass for that.”
James:
Exactly. Instead of Native Americans, maybe a civilization of intelligent
minotaurs, so that could go very
differently
for the people settling the land.
Doug: I’m
resisting nine different puns. This is very difficult for me. There’s no bull
about it. Bull in a china shop. I just can’t. I just can’t.
James: I
love the puns, bring them on.
Doug: Puns
and Monty Python jokes . . . they are like two of the fundamental base proteins
in the DNA of gaming.
James: That’s
right! Because it’s all about fun, and it’s all about fun that people aren’t
going to judge you for having. I feel like, no offense, I feel like the
community overall is awesome, but I feel within the D&D community there are
these fissures that are forming that don’t need to be there.
Play the game you want to
play. That’s what Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson were all about. They were saying
“Here is a book of rules we’re hoping you change. We’re hoping you modify for
yourself.”
Do that, with any system.
As long as you’re sitting around a table, or going online at some sort of
virtual table with people, hanging out and having a good time. It doesn’t
matter how weird it is or crazy like, get out there and have fun, if someone
thinks it’s lame, that’s their problem.
Doug: Right.
And they don’t have to sit down and play with you.
That’s actually one of the
things where I feel very much a kinship, and frankly the two interests do
overlap. I’m into martial arts I do this very eclectic art called Hwa Rang Do,
which no one has ever heard of it, well, they’ve occasionally heard of it.
James: What
is it?
Doug: It’s a
eclectic Korean style that is a blend of striking, and grappling, and joint
manipulation and all kinds of weapons, and notionally it dates back to the Silla:
the Hwarang knights, which are these noblemen, who were kind of like the
samurai, but except a thousand years before the samurai hit it big.
The Silla, Hwa Rang in
Korea, so when Silla unified the Korean Peninsula during the Three Kingdom
period there were these groups called the Hwa Rang which were a noble and the
rangdo, which were a bunch of knights and there were all kinds of crazy.
James: this
is awesome!
Doug: It’s
really neat. The history of these guys is really cool. You know you can start
fights over whether it’s accurate or not accurate, or whether the history is
made up, or only recently recovered, because the Chinese and Japanese destroyed
a lot of the records of Korean history purposefully, regardless of that it’s a
great story.
I visited Korea with the
Grandmaster, the person who reintroduced this to everybody, to the West. And
you go to this Buddhist shrine in Korea, and there is this massive immovable
bar around the statues eyes, because it was a guardian spirit, a guardian
temple, and the (I think it was the) Japanese put this bar in front of the eyes,
so that it couldn’t see the threats that it was supposed to protect against.
James: WOW.
That’s going in a dungeon!
Doug: They
were messing with the ki of this Buddha, so that it could not bring it to the
harmony that it needed to be.
In any case, it’s a very
eclectic art that does striking, weapons, and whatever. You were supposed to be
an awesome archer, and a horsemen, and a poet, and a general, and calligrapher,
and a scholar. There are these six disciplines, and all kinds of stuff . . . so
it’s a great rich history, someone, maybe me, really ought to do something with
that, and it doesn’t’ have to be a carbon copy, but it would make a very fun
class. A Dungeons and Dragons class or something.
Or a template or a fun
variation on the knight template for a Dungeon Fantasy campaign.
So Hwa Rang Do is very
eclectic, maybe a thousand black sashes ever.
It’s very small. But it’s growing, and if you really want to see Hwa Rang Do go
to insane levels, go to Italy. The Instructor
Mattiucci has got this thing going and they’re all gung ho and they go up into
the mountains and go and fight in the snow and stuff.
James:
Arghhh, that’s so cool!
Doug: And
Instructor Mattiucci is really cool, and there is a lot of that because the
people who stick with this are really dedicated and it’s a unique thing. The
thing is, you could say “It’s not this style” or “It’s not that style,” but one
thing that a lot of these styles have in common, that a lot of these martial
arts are f****** bizarre relative to people playing pickup football.
And so the schisms between
D&D, OSR, 2nd edition, 3rd edition, 4th
edition, and now 5th edition, the schisms there are every bit as
counterproductive as a lot of the schisms between the BJJ guys and Tae Kwon Do
guys, and the aikido guys, and Hwa Rang Do, and whatever the fact of the matter
is until it really is “What martial art do you do?” “Oh, of course I do this
one.” Instead of “You punch people for fun?!”
Until it’s sort of
accepted into the mainstream society, as not an oddity, and role-playing is
that same thing. We are best saying “Yes, we do this collaborative story-gaming
thing, it’s creative and it’s fun, and it’s pizza, and beer, and Monty Python
jokes, and yeah there is a rules framework, as long as you’re playing you can
have fun. And if you’re playing the type of game you like to do you can have
fun. And if you don’t like that particular style. Try something else.”
Until it’s more that then
“This sucks!” or “That sucks!” or “This breaks the game!” we’re not going to
ever break out, and make it so that “Of course, everybody…” you grow up
watching 90210 or Star Trek, or something really mainstream like Desperate
Housewives (I’ve never seen a single episode, but . . .) or Seinfeld! Best
example, right.
Something that crosses
everything. I have roomed with those guys. I roomed with a guy who reminded me
so much of Kramer that I could never watch the show. The George Costanza
character is yes, I’ve had to work with someone like that, so why would I watch
it on TV. It was one of those things that hit to close to home. Growing up in
New Jersey and working in New York City and Philadelphia, it was never my thing
because it was like “Oh God, I lived with some of these people. I don’t need to
remember” [covers eyes in shame].
James: Yeah,
you lived the show. You didn’t need to watch it [laughs].
Doug: Jerry
and Elaine were the only people you could tolerate. None the less, I will
always remember the pirate puffy shirt. So value has had.
James: And
you’re absolutely right, the deck is already stacked against you. When these are
the things that you enjoy. Why would you fight amongst yourselves, when what
you’re doing is already looked upon as taboo, out there, or weird. Until we
have reached that critical mass point like football. Until we’ve reached that
level of pro-sports fanaticism for these things, having those debates doesn’t
make any sense.
Doug: You’re
a TV writer/producer right? We need to do a little mockumentary that is like
the World Series of Poker . . .  but for
D&D.
James: I
would love to do that.
Doug: You have
like the announcer. “The fighter is moving around. I think he’s going to use
the Cleave feat. Yes! He’s doing it and the orcs are going down.” [whispery
voice followed by a sudden and very loud elated voice].
James: “He’s
going to need a 17 here – or higher – otherwise his game could be very…”
Doug: With
the appropriate extra…
James: I’m
in. Let’s do it.
Doug: That
just sounds like a awful lot of fun to me. Coming back round, you said that
sort of the conceit of Exploration Age is that there are giant areas of the map
that haven’t yet been discovered, whole new civilizations. In a way, is it a
Dungeons and Dragons version…oh, sorry, is it D&D-based or systemless?
James: The
plan right now is to depending on the Open Game License to put it out as
D&D, but it will be systemless too. There is going to be a lot of tables
you can use no matter what edition you’re playing. No matter what game you’re
playing. As long as you have some dice, you can use Exploration Age for your
campaign.
Doug: That
seems like, in a way, it’s like the Civilization game, and there are
civilizations there, and you can either work with them or against them, it’s
really up to you.
James:
Exactly. And part of the fun of the blank spots is, I’m hoping to provide what is
a DM-only sort of packet, with secrets about the world, and what is within
those blank spots.
However, part of the
appeal of blank spots for people, I know, is you can put in whatever you want
there. And I highly encourage…you don’t have to listen to me, you can put
whatever you want there. And I would love to see what people actually come up
with, because I think those blank spots…you could have something completely
different and your idea is probably why more awesome to me.
Doug: That’s
actually something that Steve Jackson Games did with their Banestorm world, the
world of Yrth, the primary continent that they detailed is Ytarria. And
everything else in the world . . .is blank.
James:
That’s awesome, that’s great.
Doug: You
have a start, here is where the campaign starts, but everything else around it
might as well be Exploration Age, because it’s just not detailed. It’s there
for the GM to flesh out.
James: And
that’s awesome. I like that kind of flexibility, because then if you want to
stay and have your whole campaign in a area where you can see, that’s mapped
out, the party has that option. There is going to be plenty to do in those
areas that I’ve mapped out.
Political intrigue is one
of the big things, I’m hoping that sort of the problems of the real world can
also translate well enough with a good fantasy twist. Political leaders don’t
always have black and white decisions to make…
Doug: Hardly
ever.
James:
Exactly. I’m hoping to bring that to the table. It’s not just “This guy is evil
for the sake of evil, and so he needs to be destroyed, because his goal is
world domination.” I’m hoping that it’s more nuanced than that, I’m hoping that
the bad guys don’t think they’re bad guys. They don’t see themselves as evil.
That’s sort of a writing
101 kind of thing to say, because there are bad guys for the sake of evil in a
lot of fantasy literature. Sauron is a pretty awesome bad guy. The Emperor in
Star Wars is a pretty awesome bad guy.
But I think that you can
get deeper with those things other than they’re power hungry and crazy.
That’s when it gets
interesting, and players can have hard choices to make, and really influence
the outcome of what’s going on in the world. It’s not a coin toss. There are
multiple options that could happen here. There isn’t just A and B. There is A
through Z, and none of them are completely white and none of them are
completely black.
Doug: And
one of the people who’s done…two things leap to me with that kind of thing
built in. Probably not ironically, they are both Joss Whedon.
One is the core worlds
from the Firefly series. The operative. He’s like “Look. This is not the evil
empire, this is what’s going on.” There were two sides, and you can see the
point in both. And yet, he was like “I’m not going to live there. I can’t live
in that world. I do evil. I am Lawful Evil.” You could just see: ‘The
Operative. Lawful Evil.’ He was going to do anything to preserve the order.
The other is, as a friend
of mine said “You had Thor, the Avengers, or Thor: The Dark World. Or Loki 1,
Loki 2, and Loki 3.” Loki is a complicated character who is mainly reaching
into a toolbox of manipulation, and trickery, and deceit, for reasons, by the
end of those three movies, that you really get.
James: Yeah.
You feel for him. People keep saying, no matter what you think of the movie it
seems like in Thor 3 [Dark World] he is complications are interesting. The
complications, and layers of his character, are so fascinating because you are rooting for him.
Doug: In a
lot of ways you are. You’re rooting for the bad, you want him to lose, but you
don’t want him to lose so badly that it strips him of his dignity as a
character.
James:
Exactly. When you think about it, I’m a younger brother. I have an older sister
and a older brother, so I’m the youngest.
So when you think about it
from the perspective of the beginning of the first movie Odin is saying “One of
you will be king some day.” And then the very next scene, Thor is at his
coronation. I think to grow up as Loki, with your brother being Thor in the
public eye for all of these people to see, that’s bound to mess you up a little
bit.
And then to find out that
your dad isn’t your dad. Spoilers, I guess Thor has been out a while so statute
of limitations.
Everything progressively
that happens to him from that point on is downhill for him. He’s had a tough,
tough way of it. You can relate to that. Not that I…I love my brother and
sister and parents. I did not have a hard time like that. But you can related
to that. Living in someone else’s shadow.
Doug: Sure.
And I don’t know if you’ve seen all the deleted scenes from the first Thor
movie, but right before that coronation is a deleted scene, where you actually
see some of Loki’s “I’m so going to mess with his head this day.”
James:
That’s awesome. I haven’t seen…I’ll have to check it out. I have it on iTunes,
so I can check out the special features.
Doug: It’s
worth watching. I go on and on about that particular movie, and I will again.
It’s one  of my favorites. First of all
it’s beautiful, second of all because it’s so wonderfully epic.
This is sort of the same
kind of thing you’re talking about in Exploration Age. You take a base human thing,
like being jealous of an older brother, or a struggle to reach power, and you
span it over five thousand years with a mission of protecting the Nine Realms
instead of your local shire, or being the mayor of your town or whatever.
You take normal human  events and you amp them up. That’s what epic
fantasy is all about. It’s taking some of the little stuff and making everyone
have the opportunity to participate in these Earth-shattering world-shaking
events and feel like you made a difference. And you were creative and there was
pizza and beer and dice.
James:
Exactly. That’s the thing. You have the interactions are happening very
intimately, so that people can understand them. You can understand the jealousy
of that, and for the things that you can’t understand, like living for five
thousand years, that just amplifies what I do know. I hate to be jealous of
someone for 30 seconds, let alone five
thousand years
. I think that helps play all of that out.
It helps play out . . . the
other day on the podcast, this actually…this hasn’t come out yet. But somebody
was saying that when you think about fantasy realms, priests are given magic
powers often in fantasy tabletop games. If that were true into today’s world:
you would get all magical healing powers and shoot radiant light. Every single
person, the line on Sundays would be out the door because everybody would pray
to a god to get powers.
Doug: That’s
actually a great point. One of the funny things about D&D, especially, at
least in my experience with the people who have gravitated towards certain
types of roleplaying arena. Nobody in
a D&D world is an atheist. If they are, they are deluded. They are absolutely insane.
When the gods walk among
you and give you powers, the word miracle probably wouldn’t exist – or maybe it
would exist as a miracle, a true blessing from God. You wouldn’t really have a
concept for the kind of intervention that happens, as having had it not happen,
probably because it’s just part and parcel of the fabric of all those realities
that these monstrously powerful beings are mucking around with you at all
times.
James: Yeah,
and exerting there influence in mortals, and sometimes fighting them by end of
campaign sometimes. They’re calling you up, because they need help with the god
of death over here, “He’s at it again he’s trying to take over the realm of the
living.”
One of the things we’re
doing in Exploration Age is we are, I say we
like I have a team of designers, one of the things that I’m doing . . . I do
have my friends though who often comment and I’ll brain storm with them.
But one of the things
that’s happening, is the gods are not so interventionist if you will. The
cleric class still exists, and the paladin class still exists, and they still
get powers, but the gods don’t walk among people. They don’t have avatars that
they’re sending down, or heralds. Demons have never met up with evil gods, and
angels have never met up with good gods.
The idea to the common
folk then is that priests are just kind of like mages. They just kind of
practice a different kind of magic. They don’t necessarily…there are going to be atheists who think that
priests have gotten their magic the same way that wizards have – praying is
just another form of memorizing your spell book every day. So we are trying to
bring a little bit of that edge to it.
Also this idea often times
in fantasy campaigns, there is one pantheon. There is obviously exceptions to
that, but Exploration Age is going to have a lot of different pantheons. There
are a couple of polytheistic religions, there is a dualistic sun and moon
worshipping religion, and there are going to be a couple of monotheistic
religions – people who believe there is just one creator god. There are plenty
of people who are lapsed in their faith. They’re going to church, but maybe
they don’t necessarily believe in what they’re doing. They are doing it more
out of traditional values. And then there are people who believe it’s all a
bunch of hooey and people are deluding themselves.
Doug: but in
to have that you need to make sure that the priests or whatever…it’s
interesting, because if you’re going to say…one could go the other way and say
“Well, mages are just finding a different way to tap into divine power.” So, there
needs to be something that identifies that “tap” that “power tap.”
As an example, if you are
familiar with the Wheel of Time series, Robert Jordan’s epic . . . eternal
lengthy…sorry. I started reading those bad boys in 1990 or so and
unfortunately – I read through the first three books, because that was all that
was published at the time, and then I was just waiting. I would read it, and I
would stay up, and I would read all the book. When the Shadow Rising came out,
I read the whole thing in a couple of days, and then you’d wait, and wait, for
years and then the next one would come out. It seems like the large part of my
life from 1990 until last year I think – 2013 was basically waiting for the
next Wheel of Time book to come out to come out.
Then the gentlemen had the
unfortunate happenstance to pass away. Which was really ripping the needle off
the record player, and then fortunately Brandon Sanderson did a masterful job
of finishing it up. I told you that story, so I could tell you another one.
The point of that was that
the wizardry, the sorcery, called Channeling was a direct tap into the power
that drove the universe. It was scientific, almost, you had the male side, and
the female side and they were admissible, but worked together and against each
other in a very yin-yang or in Korean Um-Yang. And there was a Creator and there
was a Dark One and they were outside of creation. That was the point. They had
minions and stuff, but it would be like, in your world, it would be if the gods
of this pantheon (let’s say they do exist), but if they ever face down the gods
of this other pantheon, all of this local creation comes to an end . . . and
that doesn’t serve their purpose.
So there has to be a proxy
fight so you have the humans and all that stuff, and it’s like this infinite
series of chess boards.
James: Yeah.
That’s what I like to imagine. Maybe all of these gods are real, all of them exist,
or none of them do. I think that makes it hard for people to wrap their heads
around.
But the real world
religion and theology is very hard, if you want to wrap your head around all of
it.
That’s the hope is to make
a rich world that feels real, but at the same time there is dragons flying
around, and there is this divine energy, and arcane energy and I think that
that’s key here in this specific problem. If some people think that priests get
there magic from one source and wizards get if from another, some people
believe it’s both…
Doug:…some
people believe it’s neither.
James:
Exactly.
Doug:
Something’s going on because the dude
just chucked fire at my face
. There are few things as visceral as fireball.
You can’t explain a fireball in the face with hypnotism or chicanery or whatever
in a fantasy setting.
James:
Right. How did this ball of bat guano and sulfur, which is the standard
material component, how did this become a huge explosion. The idea then would
be kids trying to combine those two things. “Can I make this explode like old
crazy grandpa?”
I think that that’s fun,
that’s part of where the fun is that thinking about “Okay, if this is a real
world situation and there were people who were able to shoot fireballs. How
would those people be treated?”
Doug: I have
to imagine respectfully.
James: Yes!
Respectfully, in some places feared, in some places with extreme caution. If
you go into your local tavern they demand you hand over your crossbow and sword
in a lot of places. So maybe they demand you hand over your spell component
pouch. You could blow up the whole bad. Stab another guy and then the guards
can come and break it up. But this guy is a liability to your entire business.
So it’s thinking about
things like that too, that we get to do as gamers. Think about the minutiae of
it. So I want to introduce a little bit of that as well and go beyond the
standard fantasy tropes. Find the spins. Find the details.
My boss often says that
when you’re writing a good script you should get your overall idea down and
then look at it again and have fun with the details. I think that’s where we
get to have our most fun as gamers. When you get to read a new setting or new
rulebook you’re never like “The overall feel of this is so…” you’re usually
after your friends and you’re like “Look at this one little paragraph here!
This is how I feel about this expressive of everything else.” So that’s what
I’m hoping. I’m hoping people have fun.
We just did a big post
that got more traction than any other post than I’ve done that is about
mind-controlling parasites that live in a swamp and feast upon citrus fruit
that is being exported all over the world. There are small green beetles crawl
up into your brain and latch onto your brain stem and control your body.
Doug: I
think that’s been done in Star Trek a couple of times.
James: Yeah.
The inspiration from it came it from the old Animorphs books that I read when I
was in 1st or 2nd grade [laughs].
They were books for little
kids about alien slugs that went into your brain and took control. But I
thought “Okay, so when you’re a little kid this is interesting. But how can I
make it terrifying?” Because, really what it would be would be terrifying if
that happened to you, and that’s what I tried to do, and hopefully it is scary.  And my adventurers whenever they met somebody
they will be second-guessing themselves if they see them with a bowl of citrus
fruit. “Oh no, what happened here?”
Doug: The
forbidden food group.
James:
Exactly. It’s a lot of fun and that’s really why we do this, right? It’s fun.
Doug: I do
want to return, this has been fun, I want to cover broadly. I am one of the
kings of tangents, because we started with it, and we talked about world
building and that’s good, and we got a couple of plugs for you podcast, which
is also good.
But I also do want to talk
a little bit about the next edition, the 5th edition of Dungeons and
Dragons. Having looked over it, a little bit, you sent me the playtest packet
and it was public and that’s cool, and I looked through it.
It is very clearly and
recognizably D&D. It does not feel to me, as someone who’s dabbled over the
course of 1980 to now – over the course of about 35 years of roleplaying. I
started with Dungeons & Dragons. I can recognize it, I see the d20, I see
the hit points, I see the hit dice, you have attacks, you don’t have defenses.
Armor Class is still recognizably present. You still have spell lists
So it seems to me, as
someone who makes his gaming living in a system that is designing around
tinkering: You can use this set of rules, you can use the basic grappling rules
or the Technical Grappling rules? Are you going to use the rules from martial
arts or the ones in the basic set. Are you going to use ritual path magic or
one of the different magical styles from Thaumatology or the Basic book or the
entirely cool Divine Favor rules?
Which is if you’re into GURPS
and you’re looking at it and you want your priests and clerics to have
something that feels very different from spell casting, Divine Favor is your
drink. It’s really neat. So instead of casting spells, what you have is a prayer.
You have…two rolls. One is a reaction roll, can you get your deity’ attention
and does he feel well disposed to you on what you’re asking.
James:
That’s awesome.
Doug: You
can ask for whatever you want, but you usually define it in the framework of
power, but it’s basically like “I’m going to make the prayer and if I
successfully contact my patron/power source, how well disposed is he?”
I might say that the
specific prayer would be “Me and my party I want to be teleported away from
this battle or whatever.” Or it might just be “THOR HELP ME!!!” [whiny voice].
But if you get a really
good reaction the GM is encouraged to improvise wildly about what happens.
John: That’s the best.
Doug:  It’s really very flexible and it feels very
different than “I cast a 3d[6] Fireball spell,” which is a very 9mm kind of
effect, right? Casting a fireball spell in regular GURPS magic is almost
identical to cocking, point, and firing a .45 ACP. It’s really: I mean you cast
the spell, you throw the spell, and if it hits, it hits you for however many
dice of damage. And if it’s an explosive fireball it bursts and if it’s not
it’s not. It’s a very “defined contribution” plan, you spend however many
fatigue points and if it’s successive “Boom! Your Dead” whereas in Divine Favor
it’s more like “I call upon the power of…oh yeah, you’re right I forgot to pray
. . . yeah, you know, that thing with the bar wench. Alright. Fine. Here’s a
sword because I forgot to pray.”
Or I asked Thor to help me
out and all of a sudden Mjolnir showed up or he can show up and he can just
show up and kicked people’s ass, right? It really depends on how well your
reaction roll is and what’s happening at the time.
So all the pieces of
D&D 5th edition feel like D&D to me, and yet from listening
to the podcast I know that there is great umbrage being taken with some of the
choices. And I happened by a blog post talking about a rule that I guess has
disappeared: Damage on a miss. Which apparently has come and gone.
So I guess what I would
ask is: tell me a couple of things that are like “Yes, this is D&D, and it always
will be D&D, and it hasn’t changed. Tell me the top three things that have
changed for the better, and what three things are going to happen to make
people hate it.
James: Sure.
Absolutely. So as far as new goes, when they did the playtest, one of the goals
for this edition was they wanted it to feel like D&D so the word iconic was
a big buzzword around it and they didn’t want to stray too far. Which I think
sometimes happens to their detriment.  
Which might be too weird to
make a classless system or something like that.
But because of these rules
modules, there are a lot of modules we haven’t seen yet. But they’ve talked
about crafts like a classless system and that kind of thing. I think if the
modules, if they deliver on this, they are going to be a huge strength of the
system. I’m really excited to see it.
They have a couple of
healing modules, so you can dial into…it’s as good as whenever you sleep all of
your bad conditions are gone. Just like resting in a video game. Or you can
dial it back to way gritty where there is a wound system and things like that.
I think those modules are
a huge strength of the system which D&D has always kind of had and it’s
come out in supplements, but they seem to really be pushing it with this
edition.
They have a new mechanic
that really speeds up gameplay at the table. The advantaged/disadvantaged
mechanic. In previous editions you got some sort of mathematical bonus usually:
if you were attacking someone who was prone, or you were flanking, or they were
paralyzed with poison whatever the reason is you would get these bonuses that might
stack up, but then of they are behind cover so you need to subtract and…
So to speed up play
they’ve introduced this mechanic which is if you have advantage you roll two die
and you take the higher result, if you have disadvantage you take two die and
take the lower result. It really has sped up play, in the sense that you’re not
trying to constantly figure out…there is always the classic “Oh, I forgot this
guy. He’s blind in one eye.” Three turns after the fact, would 31 have hit as
opposed to a 30? It’s really sped up play and really canceled things out and
from the playtest feedback a lot of other people have liked it as well.
Doug:
Interesting. I did the math: it’s equivalent to a ±4, I think.
James: Yeah.
Exactly. I actually posted up a chart on my blog that one of my players named
Andrew Timis made and it’s like …
Doug:
Probability distributions?
James: Yeah,
the probability curve that happens.
Doug: The
histogram, yep.
James: Yeah,
and that’s really interesting to see because it is at some points, depending on
what you need it’s equivalent to a +4 on average, but sometimes if you need to
roll really high it’s only equivalent to a +1.
I really like that
mechanic too and I think people are going to like that. And I think overall
people are going to enjoy the speed of combat, it’s really great.
I can already tell you
that at the table the lethality is one thing that’s making my players a little
unhappy and I also think that they’re going to need to provide an alternative
to Vancian spellcasting which is I know is a big stable of D&D. It really
wasn’t in existence in 4th edition. It’s also one of the things that
since I began playing for me personally it never really made a lot of sense.,
And I like that they have
at-will spells. They finally have a system where your wizard doesn’t run out of
spells after the first battle and is sitting in the back using a crossbow that
he can’t fire at first level like that. That was on big frustration.
I know a lot of people
like the Vancian casting system, but for me I definitely want to see an
alternative to that. I’m hoping there is a rules module for that, but I think
they’re going to turn off a lot of 4th edition players if they don’t
have that kind of option.
Another thing is in 4th
edition, the martial characters, your fighter, your rogue, had a lot of really
great options. They didn’t feel like they were just swinging a sword or
shooting a bow and D&D was not a system that really provided a lot of
options beyond that. You could try a grapple or a disarm occasionally, but if
you’re fighting an ogre who is bigger than you and using his bare hands there
is nothing to disarm and that grapple is not going to go well for you.
They have some
alternatives, I think I’d like to see a few more alternatives for martial
characters than are currently in the last playtest packet because I think
that’s where you’re going to lose people. A couple of your options for combat
and with that Vancian casting system really.
Those are the things…and
the lethality, that’s always sort of up to the DM. You can dial that up or turn
that down as needed.
Save or die is back, which
I think is great used sparingly. I don’t think a save or die monster needs to
show up every session. But it is great for that occasional fight when the save
or die monsters are in there. That’s great. Everybody’s adrenaline is up
because they know that gaze attack is coming and they got to be careful.
So those would be the
things I’m calling out specifically good and specifically bad.
Rules modules I think can
fix a lot of those problems so let’s see some rules modules for those.
Doug: It’s
funny though…the thing where I like . . . I’ll pick on Pathfinder because it’s
the thing I’m most familiar with in the D&D world. By the time, you get to
whatever level – high – ten, fifteen, twenty: Yes, you’re a superhero, but you
have this trail of feats or spells or whatever that if you inflicted that on a
player at level one there would be one word that would be used to describe it
which would be “GURPS-like.”
[both laugh] Because the
knock against GURPS and it’s fair, even Sean Punch, the line editor says yes,
the complexity is front-loaded.
Where I think that
Dungeons and Dragons, the OSR, or level one Pathfinder do right is “Here’s an
archetype, you’re going to play that archetype,” this is your chance to get you
to the rules because at level one . . . I had an old game where my friend Carl
Hinman was game mastering and my other friend Ken Capelli (who went on to
design videogames for Accolade, and now is doing other things). Ken was playing
the 1st level Cleric and in old D&D I think clerics did not have
a first level spell.
So we’re going around the
table, hold on, I got to find a black pen that actually writes. Naw, that does
not work, let me find a marker.
And it was every time . .
. it was one combat after another, every time poor Ken’s time would come around
he would like [holds up paper pad] with this sign that said “Hit him with my
mace,” because that was the only thing that he could do. There was nothing
clever or nothing whatever, yes, of course, I hit him with my mace.
Now, in a way that’s
boring, but I did notice that the number of experience points that you need to
get from 1st to 2nd level in 5th edition is
like 3 – it’s tiny. Getting out of the cellar so to speak seems to happen very
quickly. Which is probably a good thing.
To at least get a few more
options, but the nice thing about that first level character is that it denies
the opportunity for the complexity to be front-loaded. You’ve got one or two
spells, maybe a couple of cantrips – I do my homework – maybe a couple of
cantrips, I can hit them with a sword and maybe there are a couple of combat
options that anybody can do.
I don’t know if fighting
defensively or offensively or whatever.
But it’s not like “Oh!
WHAM! He’s the GURPS Martial Arts book,” and in order to make not owning that
– what they tried to avoid in 4th edition GURPS is that when the
Martial Arts book came out in 3rd edition [GURPS], if you didn’t
have the book and you had a character who wasn’t designed with the book it was
significantly disadvantaged to a character who did have the book.
Because there were things
you could do, but they cost you points. So if you had a character and a martial
arts character with all this rules stuff where you can bend the rules, break
the rules, or alter the rules and you had the “hit him with my mace” on the
other side.
What 4th
edition [GURPS] said is everybody can do almost everything. So if you’re
a Karate guy you can punch, strike, kick somebody in the nuts, you can do a
jump spin kick or whatever. Everybody can do everything for zero points, but
here are the penalties. And good martial artists buy off those penalties.
So anybody can do a jump
spinning kick it’s just a -6 or something like that. People who are in Hwa Rang
Do we do jump-spin everything. We do jump-spin sit down and have dinner. We do
jump-spin everything, it’s just part of what we do, a lot of spinning. So you
buy off that technique and all of a sudden you can spin kick at full skill
while somebody has to accept the penalties. Lots of choices.
The nice thing about the
D&D paradigm is that the complexity grows with your experience with the
game. Is that still basically present?
James: Yes,
it is. In fact what you said about first level is true. First, second, and
third level are being referred to as “apprentice tier.”
So you don’t even get
like…you used to be that you would get all of your base class abilities dumped
in at first level and now they’re spread out across those first three levels.
So really experienced role-players could start at 3rd level in
D&D and it’s only supposed to take you one session to level up from one to
two and two to three so that does exist. Really there is not a lot of
difference, though.
The trade off is, in GURPS,
two “first level” thieves can be completely different. Where that’s not really
the case for D&D mechanically, your two first level rogues are not going to
be all that different from one another. By the time you get to 3rd
level there is a little diversity and that continues to branch out.
But essentially your
choice of weapon maybe or your choice of a few spells and your race make a big
difference and then the rest is all going to have to be role-played as far as
what makes your character truly unique at those levels. But yeah, complexity
definitely scales up as it always has.
Doug: So
Pathfinder had, I’ll have to remember, twenty or thirty individual skills. GURPS
of course has several hundred. But Pathfinder had a very – it was pared down –
but you could do a lot of stuff with skills in Pathfinder, especially if you
were the rogue class, which is basically the “skill class.” [James laughs] Has
that been retained? Or are there ten core skills or a hundred or five or six
different skills, but each class has its own skill, how did they break that
out?
James: Yeah,
they did break that out. So the big thing in this is they want skills to be
optional because there are people who believe that skills were introduced in 3rd
edition and it shouldn’t be part of the Dungeons & Dragons experience. So
at base, your ability scores and their modifiers are sort of the things that
you latch onto. So you have ability rolls that are the standard base for
everything.
Doug: Those
are your proxy for skills.
James:
Dungeons & Dragons has what’s called, this new edition has what’s called a
bounded accuracy system. You don’t get…by the time…the difference between a
first level character and a twentieth level character in their bonus to hit
something is probably not going to be in what it would be in previous editions.
This is something else
that I think is really great. You actually get better. It used to be you had a
table so if you’re thirtieth level, the DC to pick a lock is 45, like a hard
lock, because you’re have to make it a astral crazy diabolical lock that people
are picking.
Whereas now what they are
saying is at twentieth level should be better at picking locks and your chance to
succeed should be greater. It shouldn’t be that the difficulty is scaling with
you. So that’s interesting.
So skills…the idea of
skills comes in again as this optional system that I think most people are
going to play with and they give you bonuses to those ability checks like they
had in previous editions and Pathfinder.
There is a core list of
[he counts] eighteen skills that I think is one more than it was in 4th
and certainly les than it was in 3rd edition which more resembled
the Pathfinder skill list. So you also have, you add what’s called your
Proficiency, so a slow-scaling bonus. But you’re also Proficient in various
pieces of equipment that aren’t skills. You’re Proficient on mounts so anytime
you’re on a horse and trying to pull off something fancy with a horse, you make
ability roll and if you’re Proficient in mounts you add your Proficiency bonus.
Any time you’re using thieves tools, so like Pick Lock isn’t a skill anymore,
but if you’re using thieves tools you add your proficiency bonus to pick a
lock, use a disguise kit, or something like that.
Doug: And if
you’re not Proficient then you’re disadvantaged as I recall so you have to roll
twice and take the lowest.
James:
Exactly. What it does is it allows…because you’re DCs in previous editions of
D&D were set with the assumption that if you’re going to attempt to do this
it’s because you’re trained in this skill.
It no longer assumes that.
It assumes you have an ability bonus. So that means a wizard can actually try
to climb a cliff now. It means that the fear is gone of the “Oh, I’m not
trained in this so I’m not going to even try.”
And that’s one of the
things that’s great about this Bounded Accuracy System and the way they’ve set
up skills.
The other thing that’s
really cool is so your class can grant you some skills, but your skills are
also tied to your background. So at first level, you either pick or create a
background and that’s where you get your proficiencies and stuff.
You could have a druid who
before they were a druid made their life as a scholar so they have all these
crazy lore like Urban and Arcana lore bonuses that they get because that was their
background.
It’s nice to see D&D
doing a little bit on that. Focusing on those story aspects because then you
can have a guy who was a wizard, but he was a spy for the army so he’s great at
disguise or diplomacy and bluff. I think that that’s going to be one of the
more fun things and that’s going to be a way at 1st level you can
have that sort of customization and make your character different.
Doug: So
just to repeat that was at 1st level you can make the customization
of the character different? I got a little bit of reverb there.
James: Oh,
sorry. Yes. [Doug sneezes] So at 1st level, we were talking about
mechanically they’re the same, but that’s not necessarily true With this
background system you could take the spy background or take the charlatan
background, they’re a little different.
And you can build your own
which is really great. There are already guidelines out there for how to build
you on. So that’s fun. I’ve had people already come to me and [say] “This is my
background! I’m human who was raised by elves and this is the background that I
want to have.” So, it’s cool.
Doug: One of
the knocks I’ve seen occasionally thrown at Pathfinder is you really kind of
had to map out your feat progression from 1st to 20th
level and hope your character doesn’t get killed before you can execute on that
plan and get maximally awesome. There was also a case, I think, (again I’m not
a Pathfinder expert. There were also cases where you could kind of be stupid
about your feat selection and really get some non-optimal series of picks which
might be fun, but another character who chose to be optimal would wipe the
floor with you. Has that been toned down in the latest edition, first of all is
that a) accurate assessment and b) is that some easier to tone down in the next
edition.
James:
Absolutely. And it’s certainly not just Pathfinder – that’s been true of all
sort of things based on the d20 system it seems like. 4E that was true…
I think yes that that has
been as far as the playtest package suggests I do think that and I’m sure there
are people who would disagree with me, but I do think a lot of that has been
taken care of…I think Wizards had a particular eye towards that and that was
one of the goals on the open playtest was to see like, “Okay, what can people
exploit that we’re not thinking about because we’re not necessarily designing
the game with that in mind.”
Looking at every single
feat . . . and one of the ways that they’ve done that is, feats are optional.
They are a optional part of the game and you get them less often than you have
and you have to give up…so you can either take every four levels, a character
can take a +2 to bonus to a ability or a +1 bonus to two ability scores or they
can take a feat.
As a result your feats are
way better because they need to be equivalent to that. So your feats do things
like “Whenever you wear heavy armor you get damage resistance against piercing,
bludgeoning, and slashing damage.” What would have been four archery feats in
past editions is one feat now.
Doug: I
remember seeing that as Master Archer or something like that. Took all the things
that a really cool archer ought to be able to do and said “Bam! Here you go.”

James: Yeah!
So I think they’ve taken that out in that “you get it all” with that feat now.
If you want to do that you’re giving up the +2 to Strength in an attribute
based game could also be really helpful.
One other thing they’ve
done to encourage people to take feats is all your abilities cap at 20, so you
can’t exceed that. You can with magic – finding a magic item or that kind of
thing – your base physical ability score can’t exceed 20.
So if you’re a fighter and
you get your Strength up to 20 pretty quickly – maybe 8th or 12th
level – you do start to take those feats because they’re more interesting than
boosting your Charisma if you want to. Or maybe you are going to boost your
Charisma because there is still a benefit to that too if you’re a fighter.
Doug:
That’s…oh, go ahead, sorry.
James: Oh,
not I was just going to say it boosts Saving Throws and some Defenses.
Doug: I
actually brought it up on my screen so I can pronounce his name right. Gerard
Tasistro [spelling?] at Saurondor, he writes a blog and he talks about…he’s
working on a modern game using the d20 resolution. He’s got a some really neat
articles on guns and bows and arrows type stuff using a d20 resolution.
One of the things that we
got into a little bit on my blog when I was going through the Pathfinder
core-rules and I made it through chapter 11 before I got distracted. It’s a 600
page rulebook so there was a lot to go through and I was going through every
section, I got to magic and lost my steam because after 110 pages of spells my
eyes glazed over.
The point is that Pathfinder
characters especially seem to be mostly one or two attribute dependent. If you
were a fighter you cared about Strength and you wanted your Strength to be
between 20 and 30 and between your natural attributes and your class and your
magic items and your gauntlets of strength, bracers of strength, and your
braces of strength, and your earring of strength you could get like a +15 bonus
to hit and to do damage with a melee weapon and the assumption that that’s what
you were going to do was built into the rules.
One of the things that we
were flirting with in this house ruling party that we were having was to say
all to-hit bonuses or ranged weapons or melee or whatever were Dexterity. All
damage bonuses are based on Strength including for a bow. Because if you’re a
big freaking guy you can pull a big heavy bow and do more damage.
Then you’d have fatigue…you
could only swing a sword so many rounds without taking a break unless your
Constitution was a particular bonus level or whatever. Which was sort of
hearkening around an article that I wrote for GURPS called The Last Gasp which was…I’ll get into
that later or maybe I won’t.  
It’s not important, but
the thing was when someone came back to me and said “You need to stop this
crazy talk because to have this where you have three or four or five attributes
that matter out of six is a bad thing because of the way that the game was structured.”
But I always thought there
would be no such thing as a dump-stat if you took that 6 in Charisma. It was going to matter. It wasn’t “Oh, I’m
a fighter so I don’t care how bad my Charisma is”
It means no one wants to
heal you, you don’t get any followers, you get bad prices at the whorehouse or
whatever so it all comes back to that. That would be a great example…sorry,
that’s not a great example, but what I’m going to is a great example – I get
myself in real trouble – a fighter
with a lousy Charisma has to pay more for all his gear . . . because he’s a
asshole.
James: Isn’t
that the way the real world works too? If you walked around and treated
everybody terribly and you were big, dumb, ass and you were mean . . . people
wouldn’t like you and there would be consequences to that and I like to see
that in a game.
You still have your
dump-stats certainly in this edition, but I think that one of the things that
you touched on is it assumes you have all your magic items – this game the
math…because of that bounded accuracy system in combat as well, doesn’t assume
that. So if you find a +1 sword, that +1 sword is still going to be just as
good for you at 20th level as it was when you found it at third
And that’s really cool
because it also means finding magic items is more special. As a DM, you don’t
have to constantly give them out to make the math in the game work. You can
give them out whenever you feel like. “Ah, this is an appropriate time for
someone to get something” and it feels more special and they cherish that item
instead of “Oh, this is my +2 sword, when am I going to get my +3.”
Doug: When
do I get my next piece?
I did a…it’s funny…let me
see if I can find it really quick. I was writing about something, and I was
using Pathfinder as an example. “Fighting People Better Than You” there it was.
We do this thing on my
blog, and I started it and then a bunch of others got into it. We do two
things. One is called Melee Academy and the other is called GURPS
101. Melee Academy is a series of posts, front-loaded right? So Melee Academy
was something . . .
So that one was…I’m
surprised you saw. So that was the thing if you look at the iconic…I was saying
“oh he’s a example of a Pathfinder character or whatever.” I was like “I want
to make a good example.” Cause I had a 6th level rogue and his name
was Pel and he was a pretty good archer and that was all cool, but I was making
examples, but I was like “I’m not really good at this so can someone provide me
with a Pathfinder character.”
As it turns out, on the
SRD they have the iconic characters at multiple levels, so you can click on
Valeros the 12th level iconic fighter, and I’m looking at this thing
and I’m going “I am utterly incompetent at designing Pathfinder characters,”
because this guy has a +6 this and +5 that the amount of stuff that went into
it.
Or Merisiel the 7th
level iconic rogue, which was just one level more, would just wipe the floor
with my guy because we didn’t have enough magic items or the right kind of
design or feat structure.
You really had to know
what you were doing. And the difference between a high level character and a low
level character was…the ultimate capability if you were a 5th level
fighter and going up against a 10th or 15th level fighter
you were just deader than hell.
There is nothing that you
can do because your hit points are lower than his, it doesn’t matter how many
criticals you get, his typical stuff is just going to cut you in two.
Whereas in GURPS
you can get lucky, if you get behind someone who is really awesome and they
don’t have something that gives them vision in the back you can totally crit
their brain with an All-Out Telegraphic Attack [James laughs] and they’re just
dead. If you can punch through the armor or whatever.
That was always the
difference. It sounds like the…
So what would happen if a
5th level fighter fought a 10th level fighter in this
next version of D&D, how one-side is it? Or how far apart do the levels
have to get before it’s really just a one-sided beat down.
James: I
would say that probably…it’s probably closer to the Pathfinder example that
you’ve described. I don’t know if it’s a big as difference as one level to one.
But I would say that if you’re three or more levels above another character you
could probably easily take them out
However, I do think that
if that character…if the lower level character is a magic-user, because there
is a variety of spells that are back, you can probably play certain things to
your advantage.
And I also think that
they…one of the things they’ve done well is that a dragon…if there is a army of 1st level guys they
stand a chance against a dragon and in previous editions it was like “These 1st
level guys will never pierce the dragon’s armor class. They will never get
through his damage resistance, and he’s got a breath weapon that can kill all
of them at once.”
Doug: Fifty
of them at once, right, yeah.
James: That
is one of the interesting things that they’ve done. One of the things you might
face in a lower-level is something like a big monster attacking a town and you
need to rally all the townspeople to help you defeat this thing.
Doug: And there
is a point to that.
James:
Exactly. It will mechanically make a difference in your battle.
Doug:
Instead of getting together 15 chew toys to distract the big beast.
James:
Right. We need meat shields for when we run away. Yeah, and I would like to
see…I love that example you gave in getting lucky in GURPS and planning
something out.
Doug: Make
your own luck.
James:
Exactly. So if you can have like an A-Team style planning montage, you can go
up against a force greater than yourself. That’s what all fantasy is about,
right?
So I would like to see
that aspect come into it. I think, again with the right magic spells and
everything you can probably pull that off.
Doug: And
that’s probably true if you can’t get behind a really good…it’s true and it’s
not true.
The one thing that GURPS
has is the critical hit which bypasses all defense rolls.
The flip side of that is a
really good cinematic fighter should have one or more advantages of Luck which
allow you to reroll. So if I roll a critical hit, if I’m a 150-point schleb a
500-point experienced Dungeon Fantasy character, if I swing my sword at you and
I roll a 4 it’s a critical hit and it’s going to bypass you…you get no active
defense. You may have awesome armor that I may not be able to penetrate
through, but the GURPS damage model is, armor subtracts directly from points of damage.
James: Oh,
wow.
Doug: You
have to defend too. I think the Fantasy Trip had it. You rolled to attack and
rolled to defend.
Fantasy Trip is a lineal
descent of GURPS. Steve Jackson, it was the whole lineage thing.
But if you bypass defense
you got the armor. And if the guys like 
[affects a deep voice] “Yes, I’m a mighty fighter, I don’t need armor.”
His skin is every bit as vulnerable to a broadsword as yours is. So you can get
lucky, and you have to watch the critical hits and stuff.
So let me give you a parting
shot. What do you want people to know or anticipate about the Next edition of
Dungeons and Dragons that you feel like, because your view in the playtest or
people who haven’t done it. Or because of your interactions and whatever with
people who have been actively debating this.
What point do you want to
leave people with for the next edition of Dungeons and Dragons?
James: So
the point I want to leave people with is come try it out.
If you’ve been away for a
while I would come, give this one a shot, but do not change whatever you’re
game of choice is. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m not saying “Oh, this is
better.”
This is a different
experience, that it’s going to remind you certainly of old dungeons and
dragons, and you’re going to have a great time at the table with this one. Because
it is flexible and there are a lot of really great mechanics that are coming
out with it and building a character with it is super-fun [laughs].
Come check it out, check
out the background system, I guess my big plea would be that if you don’t like it
play your other game of choice, but let’s just stop the edition wars. Because they’re
done. There is plenty of information 
available, go play it, have a good time, that would be what I say.
Doug: All
right, very good, thank you for joining me this evening and thank you for your
time.
James: Thank
you, Doug. I really, really appreciate it.
Doug: I’m
sure that when you get closer and closer to having Exploration Age either get
into a beta for playtest or whatever you can come talk about it and see what
interest we can scare up.
James: Thank
you very much, that would be great. Check me out [points to his blog link].
You’re already checking out Gaming Ballistic but it’s awesome.
Doug: Thanks
a lot.
James:
Thanks, Doug.

I’ve been having issues for a while updating certain parts of my Blogger page. I’d try and add a link or something, and get a javascript(0) error – the only browser I use for posting and editing is Chrome. I’d click Save once, and . . . nothing.

I accidentally solved this – as have probably many, many before me – by simply double-clicking in the OK or Save box. This works 100% of the time. Click once, javascript(0). Double-click rapidly, works fine.

If anyone else is having this problem, this is how you solve it. If it was only me, well, some posts are bound to be useless, and thus this would be one of them.

Hope it helps someone out there.

A reader noted that I seem to, almost always, wear the same red sweatshirt whenever I do interviews.

This is true – if it’s clean, and I try and make it so that it is, I like to wear it. Sort of a signature look. That was, in fact, the reason I re-skinned, albeit very temporarily, my blog to have that red background.

In the future, you’ll see something new. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I was able to easily digitize my logo and get it embroidered on a sweatshirt thanks to Logo and Team Sportswear. I can also (much more cheaply now that it’s digitized) get this on t-shirts, collared shirts, etc. Should I ever find time to go to a convention, you know what I’ll be wearing.

I will probably also do the logo with a white reticle and writing, so I can put it on dark shirts as well, such as the aforementioned red. Because I do like red.

Gaming Ballistic’s welcomed ConTessa founder +Stacy Dellorfano to the Firing Squad, and we chatted for well over an hour. As mentioned previously, my lack of headset caused issues with Stacy’s audio feed, which was recorded to the Hangout On Air. Nonetheless, we managed to get a good transcript from the interview, which is below.

I’ve still gone through and edited the video to match the transcript, and you can watch it if you like – but I strongly suggest that you have the transcript to hand if you do. It’ll help.

Thanks again to Stacy for a very engaging conversation! We cover how she started gaming, her founding of +ConTessa, online gaming in general, and the always engaging subject of, well, read, listen, and find out.

Enjoy the discussion. I did.

Douglas Cole (Gaming
Ballistic):

Welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad. Today we are joined by Stacy
Dellorfano, the founder ConTessa, an online gaming convention which has a
couple of unique attributes that we will get to a little bit lady…errr later
[both laugh] Ha! I gave it away right there, getting to it a little bit lady,
as Freud just leaps into the fray
[both laugh].
So
Stacy, thank you for joining us and giving us some of your time today.
Stacy: Thank you for having me.
Doug: Absolutely.
So
tell me, just before we get into the convention and some of the things that you
are doing with it…tell me a little bit about who you are and how did you get
into role-playing games it’s still, much as we’re trying, not exactly as
popular as the NFL [Stacy laughs].
Stacy: Well, my name is Stacy
Dellorfano, and I’ve been gaming for over twenty years – which is painful to
say.
I
started when I was sixteen, and I was a band geek and we would all gather in
the foyer, or the actual band room, before band and between lunch. Boyfriend,
he actually became a boyfriend later, he was a friend because both of our
parents were cops . . . and that happens.
He
always kept talking about AD&D. Constantly.

And
it sounded so much like the kind of free-form writing/roleplaying that my
friends and I would do. We had these notebooks filed with loose-leaf paper and
we would take turns writing in between classes.
And
I was “Oh! This is awesome. This is a game that does the same thing, except
there are dice involved and there is actual stuff instead of us making
everything up, and that sounds really cool.”
So
I kept trying to get him to lend me his books and to run a game so I could
play. None of my friends…they all promised that they would, they kept saying
that they would, but nobody ever actually did.
So
I finally said “All right, fine I’ll step up and do it.” And that was kind of
how it started and it really hasn’t stopped since then.
In
the nineties I lived in San Francisco for a while and a big part of the Vampire
scene there. What else? I run MUSHs and MUXs, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard
of them, but for anybody else who’s listening who also hasn’t heard of them,
they are online text-based role-playing games. A lot of it is free-form and a
lot of it has stats associated with it where you’d have a character sheet and
actually have rules systems put in place. There is code put in place to
actually handle basic rolls and stuff like that. It did all of that.
I
played Magic [the Gathering]. I played weird, all sorts of card games here and
there and it just been part of the fabric of my life.
Doug: So it sounds like you took
passing notes in class to an entirely
new level.
Stacy: Totally. We had like the
huge 3 inch binder completely full.
Doug: That’s not subtle. You
can’t just like sneak around and pass that to the person behind you.
Stacy: No [laughs] In the halls
between classes we’d be passing it. Okay! Or we’d meet each other in the
hallway, “Now it’s your turn.”
Doug: So at least you got the
espionage thing going on. You can do the brush pass like nobody’s business.
Stacy: Definitely.
Doug: Well hi!
Stacy: hi [waving to Doug’s
daughter]
Doug: We’ll have a visitor [both
laugh].
So
it sounds like between the freeform fiction and the type of games you were
interested in, were you more of a rules-light, rules-heavy, did you just play
whatever? D&D you can go either way with.
Stacy: Yeah. The D&D games
that I ran were pretty rules-light, but I don’t really have a preference one
way or the other to be perfectly honest.
It’s
more like one of those things where I play what is interesting to me at the
time. I’ve played both.
I
have to say that if we have to talk about rules-light and rules-heavy, say
between D&D 3.5/3.0 and old school D&D, I prefer more the old school D&D
approach because I don’t have any miniatures, and it just sounds too
complicated. I have never gotten through any of those books actually, entirely.
Doug: I started to do a review of
the Pathfinder Core Rules set and I got to the 110 pages of magical spells, and
just hit a wall.
So
. . . I’m a GURPS player I get it, it’s just…and to be fair, that didn’t
have so much . . . it’s a great platform, and the detail that you can get with
that many spells…I wasn’t going to do a page by page review…so I was going to
pick out a couple of them. And I did do a “How to structure magic” and then I
was going to move on, but I got distracted.
[looks
right, smiles, throws hands into the air] Squirrel!
[Stacy
laughs].
So
you sort of alluded to it in terms of complexity, or what you have to keep
track of, or what feels good at the time for a game. Is there anything that
makes you run screaming in terror from a way a game is played or a rules set
up.
Stacy: A large number of story
games make me run screaming. Mainly because…just the ones that are centered
around exploring your feelings and your emotions on a particular subject. That’s
not really what I game for.
So
when I see those kinds of things it’s kind of a alien world to me entirely and
not one I terribly want to visit.
Doug: [Doug impersonates Darth
Vadar] “Search your feelings: You know it to be true.” Bite me, Dad.
Stacy: Right. [both laugh].
Exactly.
Doug: If I wanted angst I’d go to
work!
Stacy: I think I got plenty of
that in my days MUSHing and writing fiction. That’s all we were about. I played
a lot of X-Men games too, and the X-Men are very angsty. Very.
Doug: It’s something that…you
don’t really see…Oh, I guess there have been a couple iterations, and I’ve
never been that into comics, although I like them.  Though I am getting more into comics with
Short Stack (who was behind me). Who really loves the comic books.
I
think she would turn herself into Wonder Woman if she could. Occasionally she
has tried to turn me into Wonder Woman which is slightly more problematic,
because I don’t fit well into the suit. My wife on the other hand, a little bit
better [both laugh].
That’s
the one thing about the Marvel guys they’ve got real psychologies behind them, usually
they’re complicated and occasionally painful. Batman has I guess taken that a
whole different way, but I’m not really qualified to do literary criticism on
comic books. I just occasionally enjoy reading them I suppose [Stacy laughs].
Stacy: Yeah, me neither really.
Doug: You did sort of give me the
opening, so I’m going to take it. It sounds like you get into game mastering
early on largely because you couldn’t find someone to play with.
Stacy: Yeah. There is always that
person that’s Always The GM™ – yeah, that was me.
And
I always wanted to play. I always got mad. I’d go to the game store and find a
new game I wanted to try out, and I always wanted to play in those games, but
then I couldn’t find anybody to run them, so I’d have to run them myself.
Which
kind of annoyed me because I wanted to have the experience of playing it . . .
Doug: Did you bring out the old
GMPC [Gamemaster Player Character] or did you know that that was a bad idea or
how did that go?
Stacy: Oh, I have a GMPC in every game that I run pretty much.
Sometimes it actually happens without me trying to. Most of the time it happens
without me trying. Most of the time it’ll be like a NPC that I’ve introduced in
the game, usually one of the first things that they do they’ll for some reason
they’ll latch onto that character and that character will stick with them for
the rest of the game.
Doug: It’s always kind of fun
when the players will somehow promote a barmaid, or bar owner, and she’s the
innkeeper, and all of the sudden she’s coming frying pan in tow like Sam in The
Hobbit and just bashing people in the head.
Which
is a character-type which Sean Punch deliberately wrote into one of the Dungeon
Fantasy volumes. The innkeeper who hits people with the frying pan – just to
show that he could, I think. [both laugh]. Combat innkeeper I guess.
It
sort of leads into . . . did the…what lead you to start ConTessa.
Actually,
let’s back up. What is ConTessa, and what led you to start it?
Stacy: ConTessa is a completely
online convention that is run exclusively by women.
And
by that, I mean that every event there is either GMed or moderated by a woman. Somebody
who identifies as a woman. We’re not picky about that part of it.
It’s
apolitical in nature, and by that I mean we don’t ever have any panels or
discussion that fall into the broad category of “Women In Gaming,” which tends
to be discussing the more political aspects of both feminism and gender
politics, and those kind of things.
The
whole apolitical purpose of it is those discussions can get so fired up, and
they can get so negative, and they can get so downright mean, that it takes a
lot of the fun out of what gaming actually is, out.
And
it’s supposed to be…it’s like an oasis, an island in the middle of everything
where everyone can come together in one place and we’re going to agree not to
talk about these things. We’re just going to have some fun, we’re gonna play
some games, and talk about some cool stuff.
Doug: Was ConTessa the first all-online
gaming convention? I’ll be honest with you, I’ve heard of GenCon and other
stuff, and I saw it on the G+ feed and I saw “ConTessa, roleplaying game
conventon.” No, wait . . . an online roleplaying
convention.
And
I’m like “click-click click-click oh that’s really interesting” because I don’t
get out much these days because, you know: Short-Stack. It’s hard.
And
to say “Well oh, I’m going to go to GenCon for a weekend” or ComicCon, or
anything like that. Or heck, even to have five or six or seven people over,
when they have kids and I have kids and whatever, is challenging.
But
to do an online convention like that…it seemed very convenient, and I was wondering if ConTessa was the first? The
only?
Stacy: No. There were a couple
before. IndiePlus ran a convention before. They don’t do it anymore. They don’t
do it anymore, they ran two versions of their convention before ConTessa. There
is one called L-U-G Con or LugCon, that Trey – I can’t remember his last name –
I think it’s Grisby – runs, I think the last I heard was they were on hiatus. The
last I heard they were running one every there – four months or something along
those lines. They were doing a lot more often.
Then
EtherCon happened, but that wasn’t actually on Google+ that one was run via a
different…it was a virtual table top system – I can’t remember which one it is
that they used.
So
there was EtherCon, which happened off of Google+, and then a few months before
us, RPGGeek ran theirs which was called VirtuaCon – and they had a pretty big
one actually. No, it was after ours that they ran it. Right around the same
time, we were all kinda planning the same thing.
There
had been a few before, and I think it’s really blown up a bit more since then,
and it’s also calmed down a little bit more. We’ve all experienced the same
kind of problems.
Doug: So that actually leads me
to the next kind of question, and just to cover it, in case people are joining
Gaming Ballistic Firing Squad for the first time, I always provide my guest
with a copy of some of my questions, which is a discussion guide and, well,
it’s also polite.
I’m
a gamer. I’m interviewing gamers, or authors who game, or gamers who author,
and we’re here to boost the hobby. Talk about things that are interesting. But
. . . the next question is:
First
of all, it seems that maybe all of these gaming conventions came up sort of all
at once because the technology matured all at once. You have massive video
conferencing, you had all of the webcams get cheap, bandwidths got high enough
to where it wasn’t “Just laaaaaaggggging” [mimes slowed speech]. And it became
possible to do something that wasn’t entirely crazy. Do you think it was just a
convergence, so to speak?
Stacy: I think so a bit, but
Google+ introduced Hangouts, and it’s free,
unlike a lot of the other video systems. Even Skype if you want to have more
than one other person on, you have to pay to use their service. It’s a very low
barrier to entry.
A
lot of people who actually don’t have webcams will still game, they don’t have
a webcam so you can’t see them, but you can hear them and it works just fine.
I
don’t know what was the catalyst other than “Hey let’s do this convention
thing!” There was something called ConstantCon actually which still runs – a
little bit – it spawned something called “Flail Snails,” Have you heard of
Flail Snails?”
Doug: I’ve played in a Flail
Snails game with John Henry once. It was almost like bring any character, and
we’re going to battle monsters for an hour or two.
Stacy: Right. Right. Flail Snails
kind of came from ConstantCon, and that was the idea that a Con that runs all
the time, forever. And you can do this thing where you can take your character
from game to game to game and system to system to system, and they’ll adapt to
each one.  I think that probably was what
started it.
Doug: Interesting. I wonder if
it…it seems like with the convention that runs all the time, that eventually
someone would make the connection to +Steven Brust’s Dragaera series, and the
party that is always going on at Castle Black. Maybe that’s a little obscure.
That’s really a reference for +Peter V. Dell’Orto  who loves all that stuff [both
laugh].
So
you decide to run a online convention, and you’re going to do it on Hangouts.
It can’t be “that simple,” because I know it’s not that simple. But what did
you do to first figure out how to do it, and then get it done, and what
challenges did you run into staging it? Technologically, Organizationally,
getting the word out?
Stacy: Herding cats is a lot of
what we end up doing when we’re actually preparing for the convention.
It’s
tricky, because you have to agree to do something online months before they
actually do it. They have to be able to remember that the thing is coming up,
so you constantly have to remind them about it.
As
well it can be kind of difficult to get people to commit that “In four weeks,
on a Sunday, I’m going to be at home and online and ready to do that kind of
thing.”
That
we got over. Mostly by being constantly communicative, constantly talking to
people right up to the beginning of it. Reminding people that it’s happening
and verifying that they’ll be there.
That’s
part of it. But the more difficult part of it – and it’s a tiny little detail
that bugs me, but it’s still there – is that what we had to do first, was we
had everyone create these Hangout events so that people can sign up for the
event by having people going to it.
The
difficult part of that is that a lot of people say that they’re going to it,
when they really just want to watch it. It’s hard to tell who’s actually
signing up. And . . . it’s just a thing with Google+, you can’t tell who signed
up in what order . . .which is really weird. Because you’ll come into your
event, and see a bunch of people signed up, but you have no idea what order
they’ve actually signed up in.
Doug: Coming back to the
technology challenges, because it sounds like a combination of getting artists
to organize, and getting organizers to be artistic, which is kind of a great
Catch-22 for you [Doug laughs]. You summed it up initially with herding cats.
Stacy: Yeah, it’s getting everyone
in one place, at one time, ready to run everything, and especially in a online
environment where it is easy to forget things, easy to space out on it.
It
can be tricky to do that. It’s probably the hardest thing we had to deal with.
And all our technological fixes that we put in, really had to address that. To
make sure that the GMs know who signed up, and that they are actually signed up
for the game, and even if they’ve been approved for that game.
This
last time we went with TavernKeeper, who actually became a partner of ours, and
they wrote out an entire API so that we could connect from our website to
theirs. And we could actually  send in
the information where somebody registers for a game as well as people who come
up and sign in for a game. They actually have a real sign up process instead of
this weird kind of “You say yes to the event” and if you want to go, and we ask
you if that was really what you meant in the first place.
It
worked really well.
They
worked really hard to get all of it done I think we got it done by the skin of
our teeth. There was a Hangout App we made so that it would be really easy for
the GM. They could go in and click one button and invite everyone who’d been
approved into the Hangout. Which is another problem: If you go into a Hangout
and you don’t have someone in your Circles it’s hard to actually find them to
invite them specially if they have a common name.
Doug: Yes!
Stacy: It can be…
Doug: Even a not so common name.
I was trying to give some props to a famous author, maybe it was Elizabeth Moon
or something like that. And there are a lot of people with that name, or they
have a group called Elizabeth Moon because they love her so much. They just
decided to name themselves after this person. So lather, rinse, repeat. I have
no way of…linking in to Jim Butcher or Elizabeth Moon or (who did I just drop a
nice note to?) Lois McMaster Bujold. Really hard to find unless you already have
been friends with them.
Stacy: That’s really hard to do,
especially now.
Imagine
that with GMs who were…some of them at least who are brand new to GMing. Many
of them are brand new to doing it online. So trying to get over those technical
barriers to make sure they knew how to do things, was difficult.
And
this year we actually made it so that we didn’t have to worry about that so
much, because they could just go in and click a button and it’s done.
Doug: That’s really handy. Do you
have any other, kind of a wishlist for other developments that would make
online gaming, or online gaming conventions even easier?
Stacy: The event preparation part
could use a lot more support around it. Since Google+ changed the way that
Hangouts On Air is done – it’s even caused a few more problems in that now if
you share a Hangout On Air event it asks you if you want to watch it, rather
than attend it – which is a little bit different.
Doug: I read into that today for
the first time.
Stacy: Yeah, it’s interesting how
it is like that.
Some
of the other ones are…oh! Because of that . . . we have a ConTessa community.
Because I don’t like spamming everybody with inviting them to all of the events
and the whole public, what we do is invited everyone to the ConTessa community.
And
anyone who wants to be invited to a ConTessa event, and wants to participate
and come and game, they can join the community. And then they get invited to
all the games.
But
what I found this year, was that the way that they scheduled the Hangouts, if
you don’t invite the ConTessa community as
you’re creating the event,
you can never go back and reinvite the community,
and it’ll never show up in the events list.
That’s
something that Google would have to fix [laughs], because there is not much I
can do about that.
Doug: It is interesting, because
this kind of virtual presence, whether is like telepresence, like we do in my
company where you get these awesome three 72” TVs where it’s basically, they’ve
got the cameras set so that the people are actually 1:1 scale, so it’s huge. It’s very expensive. It’s got to be.
But
it’s like a couple rows of conference seats, and as your looking at each
individual person, it’s true fidelity, so it really works out.
Stacy: Wow.
Doug: It’s a bit of a step forward
from kind of the “at the desk” thing, but it is that sort of thing, where you
say “Hey, in order to make this work, you need to feel like you’re there . . . with
the addition of being able to do maps
or die-rolling, or have people observe, but not eat up too much bandwidth. So
it is kind of an impressive wishlist.
There
is an old joke when I was consulting, that pornography drove technology,
because it was the first online secured…
Stacy: It totally did.
Doug: …right…
Stacy: I did a paper on that, in
fact!
Doug: Oh! Okay. It was secure
online e-commerce, it was video streaming, livechat, all kinds of stuff that
are now kind of a part and parcel with the business climate, and business
communications today.
I
almost wonder if this kind of massively parallel communication, online
convention, virtual convention, will just get bigger and bigger, until this is the type of event that drives
the technology . . . because honestly a virtual orgy just wouldn’t work.
Stacy: True. Maybe . . .
Doug: I’m sorry if I just broke
your brain. I apologize.
Stacy: [muses] there’s ways to . .
.
Doug: Any sufficiently advanced
technology will eventually get
squicky.
Stacy: Yeah, that’s true.
Doug: [Arthur C.] Clarke never
wrote that, but he should have [both laugh].
Stacy: The one thing that I miss
the most, I think, about face-to-face gaming is that you can have people go off
and have side conversations.
You
know, they go off into the kitchen to get some Doritos™ (if I’m being
stereotypical here), and they can have a conversation about whatever is
happening, but you can’t really have those kind of side conversations in a
video setting, because everyone hears it, because the volume is up all the
time.
You
could do it in chat, but it’s not the same kind of experience.
I
don’t even know if that’s possible.
Doug: You know it would be
interesting, because I bet you could do it. Because you’ve got the video
streams along the bottom, you could probably “tap” somebody, click on them, and
say “Invite to Sidebar.”
Now,
it would be obvious you’re having a sidebar, but you could go into a
mini-Hangout that would form just for the two of you, until one or both decide
to end it.
Between
passing notes, and sidebar conversations, and stuff like that, it seems it
would be doable.
Stacy: Yeah, I’m sure it would. It
would be nice to see that.
The
difficulty is that the stuff really evolves on what sort of games you want, and
conventions evolve on what businesses want, or whoever is making money on it.
When there is no money…
Doug: Yes. That’s true. I was
having a conversation with somebody else, and someone was saying “Somebody
should do [write] this or this or this…” and it happened to be for Steve
Jackson Games.
And
I replied: “You know, go onto e23 and download the reports and look at what
they’re doing [for revenue] and…yeah…No.”
I’m
just happy that they’re really still interested in doing the stuff. Because, honestly?
Do the math.
Stacy: Right. It’s amazing that anybody
is still interested in doing this stuff at all. And I say this as somebody who
is writing a game right now.
Doug: I will get to that!
But
I do want to talk to you a little bit about…we did talk a little bit about the
challenges. So you decided to run it . . . was 2013 the first year?
Stacy: Yes. I started planning and
designing it at the end of 2012.
I
think it the idea came when I was on a trip to Phoenix with my husband over
Thanksgiving, and there was another huge online gender wars happening at the
time.
It
would be so great if women could get together and run games, and run an event
like this without all the heaviness of the politics, and without this
expectation that if you’re a women in gaming that has any feminist inklings at
all, that that’s the only thing you want to talk about.
And
for a really long time I started getting invited in on all these conversations
on Google+, which was mid-2012 or maybe early-2012. I was there longer, but I
started actually using it in mid-2012.
I
started getting plussed into nearly every conversation that had anything to do
with gender politics. And getting invited to panels talking about gender.
I
didn’t want that, I’m a gamer, I write games, I run games. I want to talk about
gaming.
And
I’m a developer, so that’s another field I have to deal with being in a
male-dominated environment, and even there I want people to see me for what I
can do and what I have done not necessarily what my politics are, or what my views
are, or any particular gender-associated thing.
It
was right around then that I just got fed up with it, and I wrote this document
that was . . . really raw, and it showed my emotions far too much.
But
I kind of got the idea out there, and seeded it . . . and I actually called it
“LadyCon” which is a horrible name.
Just awful. Awful.
Doug: I guess it’s hard to step
away from politics with a name like that.
Stacy: Very. It was a working
title more than anything, and I had people actually come up with ideas [to
replace the working title], and somebody actually come up the name “Contessa”
and then somebody else came up with the idea of capitalizing it like we do now
(ConTessa).
It
was pretty awesome. I liked it.
Doug: That’s cool, and it does
get into something that’s going to be hard to talk about, in a way.
On
the one hand you say: All right, so you’re in a situation where potentially
everything has to do with gender politics. So, you’re trying to create a
environment that is something where people – women – can be gamers. Not women
gamers…but gamers.
And
yet, by saying that we’re going to create an environment where women can be
gamers, it’s going to wind up being political, even though…or it’s going to seem political.
It
can be identified political because “Why if you are just being gamers can’t you
just go be gamers?”
And
the answer is “We can’t. Because we haven’t
right?
If
every time I go online to game it’s as a ‘woman who games’ rather than a gamer
who happens to be a women, it’s not relaxing. It’s no longer a game and it’s
not fun.
So
the other thing it seems to me that’s interesting about ConTessa is that you
find yourself saying “Okay, damn it! I’m going to run games.” And so you did.
And
ConTessa, one of the nice interesting things about it is that it says “Okay,
we’re going to offer that opportunity up to everybody. Any women who wants to
run a game who can meet the schedule, who can be creative, who can commit the
time, bring it on.”
Stacy: Right.
Doug: How many games were run in
2013 and 2014?
Stacy: 2013 we had…I don’t know
all the breakdowns, but we had 42 or 43 total events.
Of
those, 38 or 39 of them actually went off. There were only a couple of them
that got canceled and they were mostly technical difficulties that caused the
cancellations. Somebody’s Internet went down and somebody’s computer’s
microphone stopped working altogether.
Doug: I have no idea what that’s like.
Stacy: [laughs] Right. So these
were the only real problems that we had. The only games that didn’t get enough
people were those on Monday. Nobody wants to play on Monday for some reason [both laugh].
Doug: It’s like the technical
talk at the convention that’s Thursday after lunch.
That
was the very first paper that I ever gave. It was at TMS – I can’t remember
what it was – it was in Denver, and it was my talk, and I was an undergrad, and
I was giving a talk on metallurgy and it was twenty minutes at 1:30 the last
day of the convention. And if I was talking to myself, it would have been
crowded [Stacy laughs].
Stacy: Really? Only two people in
the room?
Doug: Yeah. And one of them was
the professor that I had collaborated with. It was not exactly something to
give you the warm feeling that you’re making a contribution to the sciences.
Anyway,
so there is a challenge in running a convention that is basically all women in
the captain’s chair – I don’t have a problem with it, it’s a great opportunity.
But it is saying “To discriminate is to choose” and you’re choosing to have
people running those games who are women.
Stacy: That is one definition of
discrimination, yes.
Doug: One of the reasons that I
became aware of you was because of the most recent brouhaha over the
interpretation of monitoring the games so that people who were unruly could be
kicked out, and there is always going to be someone.
One
of the things I want to compliment you on [teasingly] because I’m sure that you’re fishing for them  [Stacy laughs] is that you really handled it
well. People were slinging a lot of crap your way. Some of it more rational
than others.
Some
people were trying to draw meaningful distinctions, some people were just getting’
their troll on, and some people were on your side. Those things, like any
political conversation, never end well.
But
I thought that you came in, said what you needed to say, and when things got too
heated, you were like “I got a Con to run. Thanks.”
As
someone who has a little bit of thin skin, occasionally (that would be me): I
was impressed. You kept your flame retardant suit on for an awfully long time.
How
do you draw the distinction . . . is ConTessa always going to be a venue for
women to sit in the captains chair?
Stacy: As often as exists, as long
as it exists yeah. Really . . . I’ve been attacked from both sides.
Doug: [barks a laugh] That’s just
mean.
Stacy: It’s actually both – I’ve both
been attacked by both sides and both sides have attempted to use ConTessa as a
point in their discussions against each other, and it gets old quick.
Doug: I guess one of the definitions
of being apolitical is “able to be used as a offensive weapon for both sides.”
Stacy: Right.
There
are some people who are like “this is how feminism is done right!” and others
are “stick it to those feminists!” “This is why we need something like
ConTessa” and I’m like “Okay…we’re in the middle of a political [waves arms in
denial].”
Doug: Somebody roll 3d6 please.
Stacy: Yeah. Exactly! [Doug
laughs].
The
worst thing that happens when those things happen is I have to spend a lot of
time correcting the misinformation. That’s probably the most hurtful thing for
me, is that it takes time away from me working on the Con if I have to sit
there and answer people saying “No. Being on air, kicking out creepy guys isn’t
the only reason we want to be on air. That’s just the reason I happened to talk
about.”
At
the beginning of the year, someone had insinuated that ConTessa had denied
access to or left purposefully out prominent women in the industry because of
their politics.
That
never happened. We’ve never done that or anything like that, and they’re
perfectly welcome to come just like everybody else is. We don’t do that.
If
they tried to put in a “Woman in Gaming” event then I’d say no, but as long as
everybody participating put in and followed the rules, and they have, then it’s
really not a problem.
It’s
really kind of a tricky thing to deal with, and it can be painful at times. I
don’t understand –one of the criticisms that we got was (and you kind of
touched on it a bit) a gaming convention that’s specifically made to be run by
women cannot be apolitical. That it is a political act in and of itself to
create a convention that was made to be run by women.
Nobody
has ever really explained that to me, or why they feel that way, they just say
that, and everyone around them nods their heads and say they’re right. And I
really don’t understand it.
ConTessa
doesn’t care what your politics are. ConTessa doesn’t care where you came from,
or what your views on gender equality are. It doesn’t care that last week you
got into a fight with somebody on the internet with someone about it. It
doesn’t care if you do it tomorrow as long as you don’t do it on our forums or
anywhere on our games. It doesn’t matter who you are outside of ConTessa, as
long as you abide by the rules. And you have to do that at any convention you
go to.
There
is absolutely no difference in our convention and a lot of others. This is an
anime convention, you’re not going to come in and talk about westerns. This is
an anime convention.
Those
kinds of things are a little bit weird.
To
get back to the discrimination issue a little bit: the thing that bothers me
about that a lot is that in no way is ConTessa denying opportunity to people.
Discrimination…the
worst parts of discrimination – particularly when it affects women – is it
denies them opportunity.  Whether that
opportunity is getting a home loan, or it’s getting a job, or it’s being
knowing the right people. That kind of discrimination stops women from living
their lives fully. And that has a truly, really big impact on someone’s life,
when they can’t get the financial things that they need or cannot support their
family because they cannot get a job that pays them enough. All of these kinds
of things roll into that.
ConTessa
does not deny anybody an opportunity
– that’s not the point of ConTessa – ConTessa’s point is to celebrate women. To
bring women together, and to give them a space where they can do whatever it is
that they want, any event that they run is totally their event. The only thing
that we ask is that it’s not a political event. That’s it.
Anything
else they want to do, if they want to do an event, or show some art, or a game,
or run a panel. We had a group of people who came in, actually, a bunch of
people who came in and ran board games this last ConTessa. It was awesome, it
was brand new, and it was something that hadn’t been thought of. I didn’t even
know there were systems that were out there that let you play board games
online. So they did it. It’s awesome and I loved it.
That’s
the great thing, is that you open it up to everybody, and you say you can do
whatever you want and come up with really fantastic ideas.
But
to claim it’s discrimination, to claim that we’re denying men the opportunity, puts all of the focus on men. It’s
again, why are you not letting me do
something, rather than we’re celebrating women.
ConTessa
is about celebrating women, it’s not for the men, it’s not for anybody else who
are watching, it’s for the women who participate, and it’s for the guys who
play the games too. But really, the purpose of it is for the women and it’s to
give them that space that they don’t always get.
Even
a lot of the panels I see, a lot of the “Women in Gaming” panels . . . are
moderated by men…which is weird to me.
Doug: [both laugh] I suppose so.
I
guess I harken back a little bit, because you asked a question, so I’m going to
attempt to answer, or give an answer:
Why would something like this be called political.
I’m
going to go back to whatever grade, maybe it was junior high school, where Mr.
Mullholland – I actually remember his name – where he says “What is politics?”
where I cynically offered up the answer of “Politics is getting somebody to do
what you want them to do, and make them think it’s what they what to do.”
And
he laughed and said “that’s not bad.” But then he said that politics is just the
distribution, management, and allocation of power.
That’s
it.
And
to say, well, what we’re going to do is to give power, control . . . we’re
going to give the GM chair to women – is allocating power and therefore
political.
From
a definitional stand point, if that’s where you want to go, you can do it that
way.
Personally,
I don’t have a problem with it. If you want to give somebody an opportunity to
something unusual – great. It’s not like there aren’t quite a lot of
role-playing conventions…
Stacy: Right.
Doug: …everywhere that can do
that. To say “Look, we’re not going to have something where the fact that
you’re a women that wants to run a game is going to make someone look at you
like a talking dog.” [both laugh] [Doug mimics a character from Shrek:] “Oh,
look, isn’t that interesting. It’s a talking flying donkey.”
Stacy: If you look at it, there
are a lot of conventions out there, and they’re all open for women to come in
and GM at those conventions, there is not a single one that says you are not
allowed, yet last year at GaryCon there was no women GMing and this year at GaryCon
there is going to be one.
Even
online, is there is kind of the same experience. If you look at VirtualCon they
had over 80 events, and they had I think two women. You look at these kind of
things, it’s not that they’re not being told they’re not allowed to come in and
GM – they certainly are – it’s that the environment isn’t always friendly and
it can be really terrifying, and I can understand why because I felt the same
thing myself.
Doug: That actually brings up something
that I want to talk to you about. I know you said you get pulled into all of
these “women in gaming” conversations, and you’re a little tired of it, but I’m
going to do it anyways for which I apologize. [Stacy laughs]
But
only a little bit.
So
I’ve been playing roleplaying games since 1981, about. But really in any
serious way since high school. But when I got to college, at Rice, I can’t
remember a gaming group that didn’t have women in it. And eventually we had
like 20 people playing Star Wars game and there were girlfriends and
not-girlfriends, and who cared because that seemed a way to do it.
But
the biggest part about playing that particular game was you were a Star Wars fan, and that’s not exactly uniquely
gender-specific.
But
ever since then, I’ve always had women in my gaming group and I’ve seen all
sides.
My
wife, when she played games, she wasn’t the character with Flower-Arranging –
she was the character who shot people in the head from 1,600 meters – and she’s
still that person really [both laugh], unfortunately I’m just the one in the
target. She’s a martial arts instructor.
Stacy: Oh that’s awesome!
Doug: We were going together and
I injured myself a little bit, and then she gave birth, and then she still came
back worked to come back as a instructor [Stacy laughs]. So she wins that overall – that competition.
Stacy: She’ll kick your ass.
Doug: It’s like you say I have to
wake up every morning I have to bow her because I am still training. The usual
response is “don’t you do that anyways?”[Stacy laugh] If I know what’s good for
me, yes I do.
Anyways,
people say women play differently, or men play differently. I’ve not seen it.
Have
you experienced the kind of blatant discrimination or “Girls only game this
way” or “Get out of my game” or whatever, that seems to be the prototypical
fear of what women would expect to see in a hostile environment? Or is it more
a kind of a soft thing, where if a women is playing a role and she’s playing to
type, are they going to force her to be a exaggerated part of that type. Or if
a women is wanting to take on a feminine quality it’s an eye roll and here
comes the woman doing this.
What
have you seen that has made you say “Damn it! I’m going to run, not just my own
game, but a national convention for women in gaming.”
Stacy: I haven’t seen the overt
stuff, not in role-playing, not tabletop games. I worked in the videogame
industry for about a decade, and I saw a lot of the real visceral, immediate
“Girls don’t play games” reaction, but even then, it was still kind of…it was
almost tongue in cheek. You know, they knew that girls played games, but I had
a marketing director once (and it was a woman) tell me that they know their
marketing is always 18-35 males and they have no reason to attempt to market to
women. Which is funny.
Doug: There’s a bit of a vicious circle,
there, probably.
Stacy: Yeah, but this was for a
MMO and I’ve seen more women in the videogame world playing MMOs then I’ve seen
pretty much anywhere else. It’s kind of a weird thing to say for that.
I
haven’t really had that experience because, maybe partially because I sit in
the GM’s seat an awful lot. I always tell my husband, it’s so easy to deal with
guys who are overtly sexist, because they’re simple to dismiss.  In this day and age, if someone acts like
that, most people are like “What is wrong with you?” and if they’re not and
there are people who insist on hanging out with them, they’re definitely people
I want to have nothing to do with. It’s easy to figure that out, and say “Okay,
you’re completely clueless, and I’m going to find somebody else to play a game
with.”
What’s
harder is the softer stuff. What’s
harder, is the kind of things that you see, like for instance:
If
I post a question on Google+, and I do this frequently because I’m in the
middle of designing a game, where I ask for people’s opinions on how they liked
[whatever].
For
instance, I’ll ask “In games with combat systems do you prefer games with dice
pools or do you prefer games where you only roll one or two dice? Which do you
like better?”
I’ll
get a few people who actually respond to the question I asked, which is to
actually ask their opinions “Here’s what I like.” But I’ll always get quite a
few guys who come in, who think that they’re being helpful, but what they
actually do is patronize me by telling me “this is what you should do with you
game.”
They
don’t answer the questions you ask they answer the question that they think I’m
asking. and the reason I’m asking the question. “Oh, you’re designing a game,
so let me tell you how you should do it.”
But
if you look at it, when I see a lot of the men asking the same questions, the
answers are completely different, there’s a little more of a camaraderie. “I
was in this game and they did this,
and I hated that.”
And
in many cases because we’re in such a small community, it’s the exact same
people responding differently to two different genders really.
So
that’s one of those little “soft” things that you hear.
And
there are other things like a guy will swear or he’ll do something crude or he’ll
swear, and then he’ll suddenly stop himself and say [Stacy whispers softly]
“I’m sorry.”
Like
women can’t possibly handle somebody swearing or being crude in a game. I hate
that, and it’s something that I have to deal with all the time. Some of the
smaller things are being marginalized so you’re not actually listened to when
you talk, being talked over, having to really assert yourself when you act. Or
you’re being annoying when you assert yourself. I’ve had people argue with me
about the mechanics of my own game.
Doug: Just so you know . . . that’s
not unique to you. [Doug laughs in a painful way]
I’ve
had people tell me…I had to reply on a forum post once saying “Are you really
trying to tell me that the game I wrote, and the rules that I developed…that
when I’m speaking with Authorial Voice, saying that
this is how I intended it to work,
that I’m wrong?” [both laugh] You may
do it a different way, but don’t tell me that what I’m saying about my own
rules . . . is wrong.
Stacy: And that’s true. I think
one of the things that scare women from GMing that we hear stories about that all
the time from the guys that introduce it to us. Two of my best friends would
constantly tell me about rules-lawyers and the worst people that they’d ever
had in their games that would argue about them with anything or the people that
are plain anti-social and would make those characters that would never do
anything with the party. And you hear about them….
Doug: Had a couple of those,
yeah.
Stacy: The thing is, they happen
to both genders, but when they happen to women it’s a little bit more –  it feels a bit more personal because that
happens in every other part of our lives as well. And a lot of times it’s very
patronizing and very condescending and as soon as you start feeling that it takes
you out of the fun entirely.
Doug: I think that’s, one thing
that you did say that struck me a little bit is saying a curse word and then
saying “I’m sorry.” I think some of that . . . it is a little bit weird, but on
the other hand it’s one of those perverse things where it’s supposed to be
taken as a bit of a compliment, I’m supposed to be on,  you’re going to be on better behavior in front
of people of the opposite sex than not.
It’s
sort of the last vestiges of chivalry or manly behavior. Whatever you’d want to
call it. I guess what you’d really
like to see is people on their best behavior all the time or none of the time,
and it’s the oscillation that is jarring.
Stacy: Right. It comes from the
whole idea of “Why do you need to be more polite to women then you are men? Is
it because we’re the gentler sex? What is it? Why do you act differently around
me, than the rest of your male friends?
I
don’t want to be treated special. I wanted to be treated like your friend. I
want to be treated the same way you treat your other friends. That’s part of
it.
I
started out as a systems administrator, and I worked my way into a software
engineer and I’m a front end developer now. But through all my stages of my
career in tech, I’ve experienced every single time coming in having my boss
talk to the other men and say “Now, a woman
is going to be joining this team” and other guys who I become friends with on
the team would tell me these things. “This means you got to be less crude. You
got to be nicer. You can’t say the things that you do normally. You have to
tone it down.”
I’ve
got labeled as “one of the guys,” because when that happens, I tell them I
don’t want you to act any definitely around me than you would anyone else. I’m
a person just like everybody else here. We’ll all a part of the same team, and
I want you to treat me equally in every possible way, and that means not toning
down you language just because I’m in the room if that’s the way you’re going
to talk.
People
who know me when I’m not on the air. I swear like a sailor, it’s F-bomb this
F-bomb that, it’s constantly all over the place and I say nasty things all the
time. When people tell me they’re going to tone down their language for me, it
seems more hollow. Fine, I’ll be the one swearing up and down, and you can just
sit their quietly.
Doug: I’ve actually had sort of
the opposite experience, in that I’m a manager and I was giving a female
employee of mine a team lead position. I was like “Now look, you talk over these people if you need to.”
Stacy: Yes. I’ve had to do that
lots. And I always get looked down on when I do that too. A guy can yell at
everybody in the room about whether or not you’re following this standard or
that standard. But I raise my voice and the guys look like…
Doug: And all of sudden it’s “shrill.”
I
told the same person “Look, I may come to your meetings that you’re going to
hold, but don’t expect me to do a lot of talking and don’t expect me to sit at
the table. I’m going to be in the back. You get your authority from your skill,
not from me sitting in the back of the room. If I’m absent it’s not because I’m
not interested – it’s because you don’t need
me there” and I don’t want people turning from the team lead to me, the manager,
and saying “What do you think?”
“I
think I delegated this for a reason.”
Stacy: That’s really good. I’ve
had a lot managers who don’t do that and then question everything or override
me whenever possible.
Doug: I may question her, but I’m
just not going to do it in public.
Stacy: That’s the thing. That’s
exactly it. If you need to question somebody’s ability to do something you do
it in private, not in front of the team where it’s going to undermine their
authority to do their job. Not everybody actually gets that. [Doug laughs].
Doug: I feel like we’ve done this
one. I feel the horse has gotten mostly skeletal.
Stacy: You want to do about
something else?
Doug: So, you have mentioned a
few times that you’ve got a game underway, and we’ve got the playtest guide
here.
So
“Precious Dark” is what you are developing and you’ve got a playtest guide. So
is this your first effort?
Stacy: this is the first thing
I’ve written from the ground up.
It’s
my game, as it’s everything I’ve ever wanted in a game, and it’s a setting that
has gone through several iterations, and the first of which was when I ran
MUSHs in the 90’s was a World of Darkness MUSH set in post-apocalyptic world,
where, the . . . I can’t really remember how it all happened, but California
fell into the ocean basically. And that couldn’t happen, but we’re in a fantasy
setting so it’s possible.
But
a city grew on top of this very large mesa and then went underground and since
it’s World of Darkness there are vampires, werewolves, mages, and all sorts of
things which got progressively worse the lower you went.
The
rest of the world was almost uninhabitable and there are like islands of
civilization and this was one of them.
And
I loved playing around with the idea all the different levels of the
underground so what I did was took World of Darkness and I hacked it together
with Cyberpunk 2020 . . . which I loved the hell out of, but never played or
ran Cyberpunk 2020, but I knew the books in and out. That’s for sure.
So
I added in the abilities to have tech
and there were all of these kinds of things in a World of Darkness kind of
setting. So I hacked the game together, and created all sorts of houserules for
the games that I ran – usually I create them on the fly. This was the first
time I spent building something completely from scratch that I hope to actually
publish.
Doug: Have you contributed to
magazines, or playtested, or what other sort of pseudo-industry experience. I’m
not looking for your resume so much as I just want to see where you’ve dabbled.
Stacy: I’ve done some playtesting.
I have a regular Tuesday night group that we play via Hangouts and we’ve
playtested a few things for Lamentations [of the Flame Princess], I think it
was all for Lamentatons . . . no, we did also Machinations of the Space
Princess. It’s always a lot of fun doing that kind of thing.
It’s
one of those things where I’ve never actually thought of doing this in a way
that was more than me and my friends hanging out and making stuff. Coming
online was a catalyst for me.
I
just finished a article – but I don’t think I’ll be allowed to talk too much
about – it’ll be published in another book.
What
else have I done? A lot of little things. Right now the big thing that I’m
putting a lot of effort in is a zine I started and published called Randomosity.
It’s
pretty cool. It’s all full color, full professional print, and it’s more than
your average zine and I wish I’d realized that after I published it. “No, zines
are usually photocopies and all kinds of stuff.” That’s fine. I just wanted it
to be all color.
Doug: You sent it to me. It’s very impressive.
Stacy: Oh, cool.
Doug: It’s very impressive. The art…I remember reading through it, and I got
to one page and I was like “that is one of the best pieces of artwork I’ve seen
in any roleplaying publication ever.”
It was a full face lizardman or dragonman or something like that, and it just popped! And she threw this together and
graphically very well laid out. It’s very well done.
Stacy: I have a great lay out
editor and she’s also one of my best staff members on ConTessa. Her name is +Sarah Richardson  and she is absolutely incredible. She has donated so much time
to me that I feel guilty a lot, because we don’t get any money off it.
But
it’s gotten her freelance jobs, and it’s kind of one of the goals of Randomosity is to pull people out and
show them to other people who might not have otherwise seen.
That
was our first issue and quite a few people have actually gotten work out of
that issue – which is fantastic.
What
I do is I handpick the people who contribute to it and I go to them and ask
them if they would like to contribute to this particular issue. The issue has a
one word theme associated with it. The first one is “horror” because we put it
out at the end of October so it generally fit.
And
then the next one we’re doing is “lust” and it actually was supposed to come
out at the same time as ConTessa. But, I overestimated . . .
Doug: Too much.
Stacy: Way too much.
But
we’re in the final stages of layout and I think Sarah is really waiting for my
contribution which is a letter and a setting which I hope to put in there but
haven’t finished it yet.
So
that one features all women contributors, every contributor is a woman and that
was to align with ConTessa, a kind of nod to ConTessa, we’re going to do this
too.
The
next one after “Lust” will be “Resurrection” and after that will be
“Revolution” and we do a quarterly so at the end of the four quarters we’ll put
together a book with all those in it so you get a compilation.
Doug: Interesting. I watched it a
long time ago, and it was Red, White, and Blue, the movies . . . you could sort
of think of it as, you’re almost at the seven deadly sins but not quite.
Stacy: Yes. Almost.
Doug: It would be kind of fun to
have…role-playing is storytelling and storytelling is conflict. At the core of
most stories you got something that it revolves around, and there are those
classic seven archetypes that usually work where things go off the rails and
lust comes in or horror or whatever. Well, horror is not one of the seven
deadly sins, it’s probably what happens afterwards.
Stacy: Horrifying. Resurrection…definitely,
yeah,
I
like that idea because then you can look on your shelf and say…the purpose of
it is to be inspirational more than anything, because when I ask somebody to
contribute, all I tell them is make something that applies to horror and is
something you can use in a game.
That’s
it.
I
don’t give them any other directions other than how many words they get. We got
to have that.
And
then I let them do whatever system they want or no system. Christopher Helton,
the first one, wrote a game. He had only 5 pages and in those pages he wrote a
whole game.
+Meguey Baker has an article in the lust one, and she wrote a whole essay about
bringing sex into your games, so some really fantastic stuff came out of it.
Not
only that, the art is amazing, and there are tentacles all over the place
[laughs].
Doug: I don’t know that…I suppose
that lust and tentacles … I’ve heard of lust and tequila … lust and tentacles,
just, seems like . . .
Stacy: In a gaming sense!
Doug: Okay.
Stacy: The art is incredible. The
things that people come up with when we said “lust” is just incredible, and
there are a couple of monsters in there. I haven’t even read all of it, because
Sarah has had it for layout and she hasn’t shown it to me yet.
I’ve
read some of the submissions that came in, but some of them she got, and I
haven’t gotten a chance to see yet and I’m kind of excited to see it myself.
So
really cool stuff. Resurrection, I planned to release around Easter, but it’ll
probably come out a little later, because Lust was supposed to be released on
Valentine’s Day. It didn’t hit the mark.
Doug: So “I meant it for Easter,
but it came out three days later?”
Stacy: Something like that, so
yeah. [laughs]. It came out after Easter, yeah. That’s when we ship.
Doug: Forget gender politics,
we’ll just go right into religion as well. We’ll just get totally in trouble
with everybody.
Stacy: One of the things they
actually put into the submission guidelines for Randomosity is that we like
controversial, avant garde,
off-the-cuff things that you’re not going to see in the typical book. So I hope to see something like that.
Doug: Mission accomplished, then.
Right?
Stacy: Yeah. We want to shake
things up a little bit.
Everything
that everybody contributes, they keep the rights to their work. It doesn’t even
have to be the first publishing that we’re asking for. If somebody already
matches something they’ve already written us and they want to give it to us,
fine. And that way they can take their work and actually get it published for
pay or they can use their artwork elsewhere. Emily has these two, if you saw
them, these two images of this serial murdering queen and princess in there.
She takes those and built greeting cards on those.
Doug: Which ones are those?
Stacy: The silhouettes I forget
which pay they’re on…Smack dab in the middle I think. That’s actually
Christopher’s thing in the middle. I had one here but I’m not sure where it is.
Doug: Here we go. I got to throw
this one up, do you mind? This picture, right there [shows a screen shot of a
lizardman in profile]. That one, I just stopped at it and I stared at it for
about 60 seconds.
Stacy: That is a good one.
Doug: I was like “Wow. Okay.
That’s not your typical staple it
together zine.”
Stacy: Yeah. Were are they… [flips
through a book]
Doug: What were you talking about?
Stacy: The two silhouette thing.
[garbled audio]
Doug: The ones with the…
Stacy: Page seventeen.
Doug: Page seventeen? I went to
page eighteen. This one here was a little disturbing. Let’s through that up
there for a little fun. [shows screen shot of a young princess and the
decapitated head of a queen on a chopping block].
Stacy: Yes. She has those printed
on Greeting Cards she sells.
Doug: Because nothing says “Glad
to see ya” like a women beheading another woman with a convenient spiked mace
under the table.
Stacy: Right! [laughs]
Doug: This one was…I think…what I
found most interesting and twisted about that, is these two feet down here.[
shows another screen shot, this time of various body parts and a hacksaw with a
young woman sitting on a table] They’re almost the classic trucker mudflap babe
leg thing. That’s about as twisted as you could possibly get! Mission
accomplished.
Stacy: Emily’s awesome. She
actually runs the International Geek Girl pen pal club and two of them came on
and talked about it at this year’s ConTessa, which was really cool little
awesome set up they got going.
Doug: Out of curiosity, people
love to talk about +Wil, but I notice +Felicia Day  has like five times the
number of people in her circles. She’s got like 5.5 million people in her
circles, I think Wil was pushing about 1.5 or 2 [million]. Have you reached out
to Felicia? It seems like she and your event would be made for her.
Stacy: I haven’t attempted to
reach out to her. It’s not really hard, there is this kind of thing that women
find hard – like asking for these kind of things and I actually fall under this
stereotype really well.
I
get really anxious sending emails to gaming industry professionals and asking
them if they would just donate their time to use.
Contacting
Felicia Day is like [looks nervous] terrifying to me even though I would love for
her to support it and be a part of it.
Also
a part of it is thinking…I spent a long time letting the controversy stuff get
to me and this isn’t the first time it happened. It happened the first time I
announced I was going to do it, then for the first ConTessa, and it happened
for this one and none of the things that have been said are  new. By the way the people who have spent a
lot of time talking about who we are and talking about what we are have talked
to me for any reason. Especially in regards anything they’re going to post so
there seems to be a lot of confusion around. It’s strange to me that if you’re
confused about something, wouldn’t you ask
the person who is responsible for it?
Doug: That’s crazy talk.
Stacy: I know right? Nobody ever
has. But it’s basically the same thing that comes up every year and I try to do
my best but I let it get to me too much.
The
last thing that happened, I don’t know what happened, but I suddenly came calm
and collected. I was not as cool and poised in real life as I force myself to
be in comments. I kept my opinion about all these things to myself for the most
part because I want ConTessa to shine on it’s on merits and I don’t want it to
be about me or my feelings – I don’t want to take away from what ConTessa
already is so I’ve been pretty quiet about things.
Doug: Well, you know I have a
personal thing that I do – or specifically don’t do. I absolutely don’t put any
political opinion ever – left, right,
center – I don’t put it on my blog or the interviews . . . I just don’t do it.
It’s not that I don’t have them, but it’s just that I don’t want to talk about
them. This is my hobby and I don’t
need to get spun up about something, or not, and it’s gaming. I’ve sat down
with people from all kinds of political stripes and orientations and opinions
or whatever, and you know what? We go and kill orcs together, damn it. That’s
the point. [both laugh]
Stacy: Me too. The things that
brings us all together: orc-killing.
Doug: ‘Cause they had it coming. It was the way they were dressed [Stacy
laughs].
Sorry,
sorry. I’m going to get us in so much trouble [Doug and Stacy are giggling]
Stacy: You are. That was the best.
Doug: I’ll just put it right out
there.
Stacy: It’s their own fault.
Doug: The fact was, they were
dressed in human skin. It was the way
that they were dressed.
Stacy: Oh, okay, okay.
Doug: See. It’s understandable,
you know, it was . . . anyway. [laughs].
Stacy: I let it get to me a little
too much, and I don’t think I reached out to the amount of people I should, as
a result. They’re going to read the controversy and have negative opinions of
me as a result and I don’t want to deal with it.
Doug: [laughs] It is funny though,
that it is something that I started to do recently. I sent out three emails
recently, that have all been politely declined – which is as I expected. The
one thing I realized in gradschool – and I’m not trying to be patronizing or
anything – there was this woman who was running the food services.
And
the first time I ever saw her, I just stopped walking. My heart stopped. I’d
just never seen anybody who just….and I was like “wow.” You know what? Whatever,
I came up and said “Hi, I noticed you’ve been running this place for a while and
do you want to go get dinner?” And you know what? She was interested, and then
she realized I didn’t have a car, and she wasn’t interested.
Stacy:
Awwww.
Doug:
And it was a real big difference between  “Hey I’ll pick you up at 8” and “Hey can you
pick me up?” It just didn’t have the right thing going on, but I got over that
when I got a job.
You
know, if you don’t ask you don’t go to the dance.
So
I was reading some stuff that was inspiring me, the Vorkosigan series, or I was
rereading the Paksennarrion series, which is my favorite paladin story, ever. You finally get to see them done
right, and not be goody-two-shoes about it. Or I love the Dresden Files.
All
of these things have been influential to my gaming and how I game and I’d love
to talk to the authors. So I sent an email that said “Hey would you like to do
a Firing Squad interview?” and they were all busy and way famous. But I don’t
get told no . . . I can’t even have the opportunity of getting told “yes”
unless I ask.
Stacy: Yeah. That’s something…it’s
one of those things that if something scares me then I need to do it. And I
need to do it as often as I can until it doesn’t scare me anymore. And I must
have sent hundreds of emails about things for ConTessa and I’m beginning to get
over it a little bit, but it’s rough and I haven’t really got a lot of
rejections and most people are willing to help out, and donate something and
sponsor these sorts of things. I’ve had a couple of people who I’ve wanted to
run things say no, but it’s always been “I’m too busy” or “I’ve got other
plans” or “I’ll be on vacation.”
Vacation?
So
I don’t worry about it too much.
Doug: Yeah. I think it sounds
like we’re winding down and I’ve enjoyed talking to you, and I hope you’ve
mildly enjoyed the experience.
But
I always give my guest the last word so is there anything you want to close
with?
Stacy: Oh my goodness, the last
word? I don’t know.
There
will be a next ConTessa, I think we’re going to change the format a little bit.
The physical items and we’ve done a crowdfunding campaign for all the stuff we
had. We’ve got physical items I’m still getting in so that I can actually get
sent out again. All of the contests and all of the kind of things – the extras
we’ve been doing, I’m going to get rid of the frills, just because it takes me
and my staff a ridiculous amount of time in order to administer that kind of
stuff or put it together and get it all done and there is the fact that I have
to do the physical work, and get all the books that I’ve got to mail and I’ve
got t-shirts and I’ve got like 70 Lamentations of the Flame Princess t-shirts
that I have to find a way to give away to people. [laughs].
And
I’ve just got a ton of stuff to do, and I can’t keep up with this pace, and the
thing is that between the first ConTessa and the second ConTessa there is about
six months worth of time and it felt to me when I started the second ConTessa
that it had been long enough for people to have forgotten about the first one,
and so it was like starting all over again and trying to get people interested
and excited.
I
feel like if we had a more continuous presence throughout the year – little
things here and there – that would have worked out.
So
we might try to do on a six-month basis. And I haven’t told my staff yet, but
I’m trying to see if we can do a ConTessa weekend, at the beginning of August?
Before GenCon? Come warm yourself up for GenCon, and we’re going to try to have
a kind of meet up at GenCon, to see how many people we can get together for
ConTessa.
And
just before your call came through to start the Hangout, one of my GMs
contacted me and said “You know what would be great if we had a community for
women in gaming that was connected to ConTessa, but people could come in and
talk about that.” And I was like “That’s fantastic! Do it!” And I actually
convinced her to be a staff member.
Doug: “Just don’t ask me to do it.”
Stacy: [both laugh] Yeah, she’s excited
about doing it, she’s come up with a great name and then she went on to say
“What if we did something monthly?” And she wants to do an event monthly, and
I’m all for it and we’re going to see where it goes and it’ll change format a
bit more. You’ll see some things coming up ConTessa as soon, as I tie up
Randomosity and I tie up the last ConTessa [laughs].

Doug: Excellent. And again I want
to think you for your time and I enjoyed talking to you.

We’ll see if people like it or hate it. I hope it grows on y’all.

I wanted a logo that would look good on a red background, because I’d like to get a GB sweatshirt designed, and the red dice weren’t going to work.

So I recreated the dice using powerpoint (yeah, yeah) and put them in blue. Then I picked out a Blogger style with a red background.

I then used a program called Pixie by Nattyware to pick out the RGB colors of the pre-determined fade, and let PowerPoint match them, putting it behind my logo.

Upload, and it’s not bad.

I’m a few posts short from 300 posts, so it seemed time to make a change.

This session of Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad has me sitting down with +Erik Tenkar of Tenkar’s Tavern. I first became aware of Erik through a few links to his blog, and rapidly realized that he puts a lot of content on there, as Dyvers estimated in his Great Blog Roll Call: an average of 85 posts per month.
As a side note: Hero Press updates a shocking 115 times per month!
In any case, I was encouraged by +Peter V. Dell’Orto to apply to Erik’s “B-Team” Swords and Wizardry Complete campaign, and I asked, was accepted, and had a great time.

After playing his game and reading his blog, I realized that the over eight thousand people in his Google+ circles knew something, and given this sort of success, I wanted to know more.

Click for MP3 Audio File

Text Transcript

(as always, this transcript was provided with extraordinary speed by +Christopher R. Rice. The transcript was in my mailbox about a day after the video was available on YouTube. If you have transcription work that needs doing, you would do well to send it to him.)

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Alright, welcome to Gaming Ballistics’ Firing Squad.
I’m here with Erik Tenkar today about blogging. Erik is a blogger of no small
repute . . . with a fairly substantial following. I’ve been blogging for about
a year, but with far less attention than yourself.
Erik Tenkar (Tenkar’s Tavern): Thank you.
Douglas Cole:
Yeah. I wanted to sorf of just grill you a little bit on how you gathered over eight thousand people in your circles
and a few other details.

 

Erik Tenkar:
Oh, well, people…eight thousand people to my circles. I’m not a hundred percent
sure. The first four thousand was very gradual and that last four thousand,
kinda from four to eight thousand, took place over the course of like four
months last summer to early fall. So somebody of more repute than me obviously shared
me out to their followers . . . which I’m not complaining. Yeah, it’s slowed
down now, but it was a wonderful ride while it went on. It was nice to log in
every day and see how it changed.
Douglas Cole:
Indeed. How long ago did you start your blog?
Erik Tenkar:
I reserved the name in like spring of 2008 and made like one post and I didn’t
go back until the following May.
I didn’t go back, because
I didn’t . . . I wanted to blog, but I had no idea what to blog about. So when
I came back I didn’t know what to blog about. I was blogging about the Amazon
Kindle, which had just come out, and gaming PDFs, and [sighs] RPGs . . . but I
was out of focus.
I learned one thing very
early on: nobody wants to hear about your basic “crap” for lack of a better
phrase until they get to know you. And since nobody knew me, nobody wanted to
hear about you.
So I visited other blogs
and forums and I posted and became part of the community, but I didn’t start
seeing real traffic till I reviewed
Grinding Gear for James Raggie’s Early Releases over at Lamentations of theFlame Princess. That was a spike of activity, I got like sixty hits that day as
opposed to normal ten which was probably me
hitting my blog a few times to look at it.
That was the point where I
was like “Oh, wow, I can actually do this. I can actually enjoy this.” You
start finding your feet so to speak.
Douglas Cole:
Right. But at some point you started posting what seems like every ten minutes
. . .
Erik Tenkar:
Yeah, I think I averaged about three and a half posts a day for 2012 and 2013.
Or something like that. Someone actually edited it up and figured out what I
did.
Douglas Cole:
Dyvers when he uhh, he had the huge list. [The Great Blog Roll Call]
Erik Tenkar:
Yes. At some point I hit my stride. And part of the way my brain works. It
works in the times between. I might put up three or four posts that day, but
it’s not like I’m spending an hour at each point in time, writing up that post.
I’m already, in my brain, writing them up while I’m in the shower, on the
crapper, on the commute, at lunch at work, listening to one of my supervisors
drone at work at me.
My head’s…part of my brain
is always working, so when I sit down to type it out, nine times out of ten
it’s done in ten or fifteen minutes because I already have it prewritten.
It’s just how my brain
works now; it didn’t work that way when I was first blogging. I wasn’t able to
use my time effectively and the worst thing you can do is sit in front of your
keyboard for a hour and a half because you have nothing.
Douglas Cole:
Right.
Erik Tenkar:
When you have nothing, no matter what you put out, people are going to know it.
Douglas Cole:
Right, right, right.
Erik Tenkar:
And I don’t have much to blog, those days where you see maybe one post. I’ve
had weeks I’ve had maybe eleven posts all week, which for me is slow, which for
other people is not as slow, I admit that.
I find that as long as I’m
putting out something people are reading then I’m doing something well. If I
see I’m losing the views, obviously I’m spreading myself to thin. Sometimes
life happens. I don’t believe I’ve missed a day of posting in probably a year
and a half.
Douglas Cole:
Wow. That’s impressive. I’ve managed about…I think I’ve got about 265 (or
something like that) posts in about 365 days. Largely I think because my
viewership, such as it is, is low enough that if I post and post and post…Peter
Dell’Orto, who runs Dungeon Fantastic, once made fun of me for putting up a
really cool post and following it up that day or the next day with some little
trivial thing that overwrote the
impact of the previous day. And my readership is not large enough that people
are going to go back and track it.
Erik Tenkar:
Right. And I know what that’s like because I’ve had great ideas hit me
one-two-three and you put up the one, and you happen to check your traffic and
it’s really going. And you have this stuff you want to say, you got to hold off
on it. Cause you will lose it.
You don’t want to do that
to your readers or yourself, you don’t want to hit them with so much stuff that
it isn’t . . . A lot of times, I didn’t used to: if something occurs to me at
night, I’ll save it at night and post it in the morning when I wake up or when
I get to work, hit send and post it up. It spreads it out a little bit.
Douglas Cole:
Yeah. What I wound up doing, and this actually interesting and gets into the
next question I want to ask you: How much is your blogging is informed by
scoping out the ‘Net and how much of your blogging is informed by games you
play, and how much of your blogging is inspired by flights of fancy in the
shower.
Erik Tenkar:
The flights of fancy in the shower is a little bit of all of it because, when
I’m surfing the ‘net or when I hit G+ . . . At the same time I have readers
that will send me emails and give me a heads-up on what’s going on, things I
might have missed.
And it’s a lot of times it’s
things that I’m reading for review purposes that strike me. Like the d30 sandbox
companion, which I’m all about right now, and I got my hard copy in the mail
today which was nice.
And sometimes…I try to
force myself to do things outside of my normal routine. I’ve done 30 days of
content, where for 30 days in a row, I’m putting out content, whether it’s a
new race or a monster or it’s spell.
And that to me, it forces
me to think in a different than I normally would. When you’re blogging, it’s
one thing: it’s news or opinion or talking out of your ass, whatever you’re
doing. Creating content is a different mindset that you got to put yourself
into and I wanted to see if I could do that thirty days straight, and I did.
Would I put myself through
that again? I don’t know, it was really hard and there were times that were
where I stared at the keyboard for an hour and had to walk away, but I didn’t
have it, but I wanted to meet that challenge.
Douglas Cole:
With the good news is, with the d30 Sandbox Companion you will never have to do that again.
Erik Tenkar:
Oh no, it is awesome. [both laugh] I picked up the GM companion, but no I’m
sure I’ll have more posts using that for inspiration becaue one of the cults I
designed, I used on Saturday, and that was from the d30 companion. I can’t
really sing its praises enough. It’s a lot of inspiration for a small price.
Douglas Cole:
I agree and I have interview scheduled with +Richard LeBlanc and he’s gonna
bring some of his guys on there along with.
But the one thing that was
nice, and I purchased it online in PDF version: the way its formatted, I
dropped each of the ten tables from the game into Excel and so at the push of
F9, it randomizes all ten and I get all ten rolls of an adventure.
Erik Tenkar:
That’s awesome.
Douglas Cole:
It took me five minutes to do it; maybe ten. And I could just hit F9 and there
is a new adventure seed. I’m going to start doing it every Sunday or Monday or
something like that. Every week I’m going to hit F9 and come up with an
adventure seed based on that, I’m going to try and make it a little more
generic because I’m positive you could take something that says “Oh, it’s a
level 3 fighter, or a low level fighter” into a 62-pt henchman using Peter
Dell’Orto’s and Sean Punch’s Dungeon Fantasy Henchman for GURPS.
Erik Tenkar:
Oh yeah, definitely.
Douglas Cole:
It would be trivially easy to do, to use that for inspiration. That was one of
the things that really struck me about it, is that I estimated that it’s 80% to
85% generic out of the box, and could be made 90% to 100% generic with just a
tiny bit of work.
Erik Tenkar:
And that’s the great thing about it. Historically, I have the Tome of AdventureDesign, by Matt Finch. I love it; I have it in PDF and hardcover. But it’s huge
and sometimes it’s intimidating to go through, and when I do go through it, I
tend to look at it more like for inspiration and I’m picking through a Chinese
menu.
But with d30 Sandbox
Companion, I told myself I was going to use it for the post, is whatever comes
up is what it is and I’m not gonna…again, it was a exercise I put myself through
to see what I can come up with when the dice fall. It was damn good.
Douglas Cole:
Yeah, it was really neat and I did the same thing when I reviewed it. And sort
of spoiling the [upcoming] interview, I generated randomly three different
adventure seeds and sent them to New Big Dragon Games. And I’m going to write
some stories based on the three adventures and I think Richard is going to do the same thing and we’ll see what the
same random number seed, so to speak, how similar or really how different a
potential adventure could be.
Erik Tenkar:
That’s pretty cool. I’m looking forward to seeing that.
Douglas Cole:
I think in the next week or so we’re going to have our interview and I think
next week I’ve got +Kenneth Hite [chuckles ominously]. No, I’m sorry, it’s two
weeks, two weeks, he has so much content that I want to talk to him about that
I don’t want to disrespect him by saying “Ken, I want to talk about Night’s
Black Agent’s which I have never seen.
Erik Tenkar:
[laughs]
Douglas Cole:
From what I understand all I have to do is say “Night’s Blank Agents” and
[mimes zipping gesture of mouth] zip my lip closed and Ken will talk
entertainingly with great erudition about stuff. I feel it would be a better
use of his time if I actually knew what I was talking about.
So other than the swords
and wizardry game I played with you once and it was a hoot. What other games do
you play?
Erik Tenkar: Right
now, I’m running Swords and Wizardry.
When I got back into GMing,
which was almost two years ago, it was because we’d been playing the D&D
Next playtest and basically we burned out in the playtest and our DM burned out.
So I stepped up and I took the reins and I ran ACKS.
Which was fun and we had some split up in the group and had some turnover.
From X we moved over to
Osric AD&D and ran that for a bit, but I really wanted to play Swords and
Wizardry
As a DM and a player, it’s
the closest to, in my opinion, AD&D first edition as we played it. Not saying
as it was written, but as the groups I was part of played it, it’s Swords and
Wizardry Complete . . . maybe not the illusionist, but who took an illusionist?
[Doug laughs]
It evoked that for me and
it brings it out in my players. I’m very happy with the way its worked with
both groups. It’s something I can for the most part without looking at the
book. If I can run something without looking at the book it means I can spend
more time running the game, as opposed to rereading rules.
Douglas Cole:
Right, right.
That’s actually one of the
things I like about families of games.
GURPS obviously is its own family of games. If you’re a Hero person you can do
generic stuff that way.
GUMSHOE, though there is a
mechanical issue I have with it, I’ll talk about that later maybe – there are a
couple of things about the mechanics that kind of rub me a little bit the wrong
way – but the fact of the matter is that once you know the GUMSHOE system you
can play Trail of Cthulhu, or Night’s Black Agents, or any one of those
varieties. Although they do a lot of what looks like great work tailoring the system for the game. They
effectively rewrite it, it’s almost a new . . . but it’s based on the same
framework . . . and if you really want to start fights, you can propose, for
the ninth time, on the Steve Jackson Games Forums.
But Discworld Roleplaying Game
is that.
Erik Tenkar:
Right. I have that, and both of those, there are two books or three. The
Discworld GURPS system, I picked it out because I love the game.
Douglas Cole:
This is a new one, the new one for Fourth Edition. It’s not out yet.
Erik Tenkar:
Oh shoot, I didn’t know that.
Douglas Cole:
Yeah.

Erik Tenkar:
I played GURPS back in my early days when I was in high school and college and
you played everything and I was younger and could understand the rules for
everything I picked up. Whether it was Rolemaster, or GURPS, or Hero and
Champions, or Warhammer, nothing fazed you.

Douglas Cole:
I loved Warhammer Fantasy Role Play.
Erik Tenkar:
I got that when it first came out. That huge book you could kill somebody with.
I ran some great games, you know, Death on the Reich. And threst, there were
some really great campaigns in that. I had a lot of fun with that.
Now  I’m older, I’m 46, my brain has limited
capacity to learn, and Swords I didn’t have to relearn.
Savage Worlds, I wanted to
be able to fully grok it and I had to run more than session. I know it’s not a
hard system, but I got to change my mind set, your mind gets set in its ways
after a certain age and it is not as easy as it was when you were younger.
Douglas Cole:
I’m forty-two, so I’m right there with you.
Erik Tenkar:
Yeah, you’re catching up.
Douglas Cole:
So, we just talk about games that we like. What, either games or game systems,
or mechanics: what rubs you the wrong way?
Erik Tenkar:
You know, I want to like FATE, I supported the Kickstarter, I have the Dresden books. And it’s something that I can’t wrap my head around as much as I try,
and I’m sure it’s a very thin wall I’m banging my head into. I’m sure with a
proper group I could figure it out, but I’m sure I want to so much at this point.
Again, I started with
AD&D when I was 13 or 14, we didn’t have the Players Handbook, my friend
had to call another friend to see if I leveled. [Doug laughs] I had a first
level fighter named Cyrus who made second level before dying.
It’s that what I grew up
on, the games I grew up on, again with Warhammer and Rolemaster and MERPS and
Hero. There is a certain mentality behind those games, A lot of it is, say,
hack and slash or whatever it is, it’s combat oriented.
But a lot of the new indie
games, I want to, like Spirit of the Century, I love the book, love the
setting, I love the idea of playing it. But I really don’t understand the play,
and that’s my mindset and I don’t know if I ever will.
I…Spirit of the Century –
I would probably make that into a Swords and Wizardry variant that I would have
fun running as a DM. I don’t think I could run that setting as the FATE setting
because I just can’t wrap around it.
Douglas Cole:
Okay. I had a great conversation with Leonard Balsara about FATE and GURPS and
I think we both came to…and actually Sean Punch said the same thing. In a way,
FATE and GURPS are two sides of almost the same coin.
There is a lot of work
that you have to do in both systems to create a character, a lot of
front-loaded characterization. And whether it’s numerical characterization,
which I think is how people would hit GURPS, or method acting or narrativistic setup
which is a fair point at FATE, there is a lot of work you have to do. And there
is certain ways to play each game for different effect. If it works for you it
works, and if it doesn’t you gotta look somewhere else.
Erik Tenkar:
GURPS you’re designing your character, with FATE everybody’s designing the way
the world works with the aspects with input from the other players. And well
with the groups I generally play with I don’t think that would work, it’s like
herding cats in the first place and I don’t think I could herd cats into a FATE
system very well.
Douglas Cole:
Right.
Okay. I’m going to change
gears for a bit if you don’t mind.
Erik Tenkar:
Sure.
Douglas Cole:
So you have a lot to say about Kickstarter.
Net good thing? Net bad
thing for the hobby?
Erik Tenkar:
Net good, but I’m gonna [sighs exasperatingly]. . .
…it adds visibility for
the hobby and funds projects which might not get funded prior . . . and it gets
abused.
It gets abused by people
who have what they think is a great idea, and they can sell their idea, they
are great pitchmen, but they don’t bother writing
their idea before it funds.
So they have nothing ready,
but they’ve taken the money, or . . . there are a lot of examples.
Dwimmermount. Great pitch,
James had some great ideas, but he had notes and outlines that you and I would
make for our campaign that we would understand, but wasn’t publishable ready. And
that’s part of the downfall/death spiral.
You have Mike Nystul who
had some great ideas, but oversold
himself, and just got himself in a deep hole, and he went beyond the
projects and decided to make it into a whole career and a company.
I think that’s part of the
problem with Kickstarter is that it allows people to overreach. You see that
money coming in and some people, I’m not saying the purposefully forget, but
they get money coming in, isn’t a paycheck . . . it’s people paying you for a
product. And until that product is over and done with, you owe people
something.
Companies treat it like a
preorder – and that’s a big argument I’ve had with people on my blog and G+ – It’s
a preorder, no it’s not . . .
The fact is, that if the
company treats it like a preorder, then it’s a preorder. I don’t care how sell
it behind the scenes, you’re taking money for a preorder. You’re not telling
anybody “ths might never come. If I decide not to finish this I’m sorry it’s
not going to happen.”
Nobody’s selling it that
way. They’re selling it like a preorder: that’s effectively what it is, treat
it as such.
My long term fear is that
the bad apples are going to rot the rest of the cart. And there are games out
there or supplements out there that deserve to get published that wouldn’t
under normal circumstance, or might only come out in PDF or POD, that will
never have a chance to reach greater audiences.
But people that abuse
Kickstarter creators, and I don’t think people going into it thinking they’ll
abuse it or can’t complete their projects on time or can’t ship their product
because they ran out of money or misplannned things. I don’t think anyone goes
in with that idea behind them.
The thing is people are
going into and raising $30-, $40-, or $50,000, and they’re not business people.
It’s not they’re…they might be creators, they might be great at writing stuff,
or selling stuff, but they’re not publishers and they don’t know the business
sense of it. I certainly don’t know the business sense of it or run a
Kickstarter because God knows balancing those books is a big thing.
Douglas Cole:
I almost wonder if one thing would help. So I’m a manager at a R&D company
and one of the things we do as we set contracts, or whatever, is we have
milestones, which is the Kickstarter equivalent of stretch goals. And they’re
‘pay for performance.’
So if I’m buying a piece
of 5 million dollars equivalent – and not like Hoover Vacuum, but a vacuum
process, ion beam deposition and stuff.
They frequently will give
a little bit of money up from, what we call a nonrecurring engineering charges:  you’re paying people to think . . . but then
after that you have milestones.
So it would be something
like: the first $5,000 dollars is seed money so I can eat for the couple of
months it takes to incubate this.
The second stretch goal or
whatever – all the money that would be raised you’d prorate – it’s sort of in
escrow. If we can’t release this first stretch goal by such and such a date, we
eat the first pool of money, but the rest goes back to the givers.
Right? So if I donate, if
I pledge $100 and there is something like $10,000, $20,000, $40,000 goal and
they only get to ten, well, I get $75 back. So that you’re only really claiming
that money as you consume it.
That would be a phased preorder as opposed to right now,
the model is to, use your own words: it is sold like a preorder, but it’s run
like venture capital. Which from back in my consulting days…5% of VC projects
break even or better. So the fail rate for VC is 95%. So you either you go in
there expecting to lose your money or you’re going in there with the wrong
attitude.

Now, to your point: That’s
not the way people approach this, and certainly for people like myself or
probably you or most people who aren’t like I’ll throw a quarter of a million
dollars at this solar energy company or this green grass company or whatever.

If you’re doing that, not
only do you expect to lose, but you expect to reap 10x your profit, right? I’m
putting in ten thousand dollars in the hope that I get $100,000 or more, right?
I’m putting in $10,000 so I can get a book, right? Woo hoo.
You’re looking to make a
return on your investment, not effectively a preorder.
Erik Tenkar:
Right. And I don’t think anybody goes into with the idea that they’re going to
make this money and not produce the product. But I think they don’t really sit
down, the postage costs on the projects that ran long, and then shocked them
with how much postage went up . . . that hurts.
Again, they’re not
business people for the most part, they’re not planning that stuff in advance
and it’s not easy.
There are people that do
great jobs, Joe Bloch putting out the Adventures Dark and Deep, he was on time
and early. Spears of the Dawn from Crawford: that was early. These are people
who have a business sense, they budget and they’re confident these people.
Douglas Cole:
The FATE Kickstarter . . .
Erik Tenkar:
That was awesome, it was well run, but at the same time…it was well run and
what you have to remember is the stretch goals were not physical books. You
weren’t paying…you were getting PDF and the cost of PDF is in the writing of
it. But compared to the cost of giving somebody a physical book, is huge.
Douglas Cole:
That’s a good point because I remember reading on your blog recently, sort of
the tale of the tape of one of the recent Kickstarters, and it really seemed
like there had been some naïve – and I don’t mean that in a pejorative way – but
it was a “Oh! Of course we can get this…oh, no we can’t.”
This [Kickstarter] is a
lot harder to do business well than it seems.
Erik Tenkar:
Yes. These people are creators and everybody wants to get their baby out to
their world and places like RPGNow and Lulu allow you to do that in either PDF
or POD, but the idea of having physical books possibly in a store – you’re not
going to get that from Lulu or RPGNow, you need to get the project out.
And Kickstarter is a money
machine, at least that is its perception in a lot of ways, but they’re spending
the money before the baby’s grown up and that’s part of the problem.
Again, they’re not
business people and hopefully their will be a self-sorting of sorts that people
will do their due diligence and people will remember which folks were the
failures and weren’t able to produce and which ones produce well and on time or
nearly on time and came within budget and hopefully it’ll sort itself all out.
I couldn’t make a
prediction on how that’s gonna work. A lot of this stuff is going long.
There are projects like,
you know, Far West that are two years past what their projected date was.
Through a large number of issues . . .but that’s from somebody who knows the
industry!
You can’t always predict.
I understand there are variables that nobody has controls over, but again you
are taking money upfront. People took preorders before . . . Brave Halfling. John’s
a nice guy, but he’s never been quick at getting stuff out. He puts out quality
stuff, even when he was taking preorders, people were taking a long time – a
year, or a year and a half – to get their stuff that they put money in for.
And whenever you preorder,
whether it’s Kickstarter or regular preorder, there is a risk involved . . . and
I’ve taken that risk many a time [Doug chuckles]
Douglas Cole:
I almost wonder if, and I’m sure harkening back to my consulting days which
were brief and not terribly successful. But I learned a lot.
So I worked for 1998 to
2000 for a big management consulting company. And if you recall, 2000 was the
end of the Dot Com bubble.
Erik Tenkar:
I remember very well.
Douglas Cole:
But one of the things that was big then was these incubators.
You had people who knew
business and people who knew how to do planning of business, and how to get
ideas out and structured. These people with really interesting ideas for software
companies or internet businesses would come, but frequently they would be
missing something. These incubators would help them along.
I wonder if eventually
what is needed out of Kickstarter is a staff of people who are professional
project managers.
Erik Tenkar:
You are getting that to some extent. The Larry Elmore art book, the same guy
that helped him run that was the same guy that’s trying to run the Knights of
the Dinner Table web series.
So it’s somebody that has
a idea that puts together a Kickstarter, how to keep things moving, how to keep
within your budget, work out what your goals have to be, where you can stretch
without losing money on the stretch.
Which again, is a problem
for some of these Kickstarters when you start making your stretch goals a
physical product. Maybe you’ve raised it to $10,000, but you might spend 15
from what you added from the stretch goal. It doesn’t balance.
Douglas Cole:
Right. Right. So, for some of that if you, if a company like Kickstarter or
some new venture were to have people like that on staff where you have Kickstarter overhead so you pledge $100,
and $15 or whatever which would go to this management staff, I don’t know if it
would work…
Erik Tenkar:
I think Kickstarter likes to keep themselves a little distant from the projects
just so they don’t feel responsible for them.
Douglas Cole:
And that would make some sense, but it would be the kind of thing, from
Kickstarter’s perspective that would be where management . . . product and
project management companies could be hooked up like uhh…the dating service,
like Match.com for business ventures.
Where you have content
creators shopping around or building reputation with a project management . . .
and there are a lot of certified project managers out there who would probably be
pretty gleeful to try and make it into any kind of industry. Because they’re
freelancers every bit as much as the content creators are.
People who can structure
technical writing can’t always structure deals – or frankly have the time.
I wrote the one tiny book,
35,000 or 37,000 words, and that took a while, and it’s hard technical writing
. . . and I’ve got a day job.
So if I wanted to do
Pathfinder Grappling or something (which I actually do). So if I wanted to do
that I would have to fit it in and if I wanted to make that a physical product,
I’d have to print buy and all kinds of stuff, that probably being beyond my
capability just from a time perspective.
Erik Tenkar:
I can understand. Over the summertime I had a great idea to start up a zine as
I sat down to try to find the time do it, between work, family, blogging,
renovations around the house, I realized that something has to give and it’s
got to be the newest piece on the plate. That’s gonna have to be on hold for as
long as it needs be until I can find the time. I don’t have it.
Douglas Cole:
And that’s the trick, right?
And it may be, obviously
I’m not privy to any kind of real sales figures . . . But I can go on certain
websites that publish, how many of what product are sold at what price. And you
can look at the revenue streams for some of these small companies, and there is
nothing there, really. Relatively speaking.
Erik Tenkar:
I know that because I’ve spoken to a lot of them, what I probably make on my
RPGNow commissions, which I cycle back as prizes or gift certificates to my
readers or occasionally review copies of stuff I’m not getting as a reviewer. A
lot of times I’m making more than they are in a month.
Douglas Cole:
Okay. That was actually a question I was going to ask later. You have three to
five articles per day that you spit out there. Do you feel that you’ve
successfully monetized your blog and what are the keys to that, if any?
Erik Tenkar:
I think if you’re a blogger, a RPG blogger and you’re looking to make
significant money off it, you’re out of your mind.
That being said, there is
money to be made off it, but I’ve used AdSense, which made virtually nothing
except complaints from people who couldn’t read my blog at work, so I took that
out.
I’ve tried Amazon, and
that made me next to nothing.
So what I get is the
RPGNow/One Book Shelf referral sales. As my traffic on the blog has gone up the
referral sales have gone up, and I’ve been able to give more prizes out.  My opinion is this is money coming in from my
readers and they donate to my contests and I donate to my contests, it’s fun. Giving
away stuff is fun. But it’s easier when you don’t have to dig into your own
wallet to do it.
To put things into
perspective, in 2012 I think my blog made like $200 that year, no 2011 $200.  2012 it would have been about $400, of which I
didn’t cash anything out, it all went back into blog expenses. Last year I hit
about $800, which blows my mind that I even hit that much.
You’re not going to make –
when I got into blogging, you read books on blogging, because first off those
books are worthless. Blogging is not something you can learn from a book.
You gotta blog about what
you are passionate about it. If you’re not passionate it about you’re not going
to enjoy doing it. If you don’t enjoy doing it, whatever you write is not doing
good, it’s gonna drive you nuts to do it and you’re not gonna stick with it.
So, people want to find a
way to monetize it. You’re not going to get rich being an independent publisher
of a RPG – you might do well enough to even make your car payment. Supplement your
regular job. People like Louis Porter or Purple Duck Games – some of the larger
of indie publishers that aren’t hitting the levels of like Frog God.
Blogs…you’re not gonna…if you’re in it for making money off it, it isn’t there.
Which I have no problem sending it right back to my readers on the most part
because it isn’t there.
Douglas Cole:
And honestly I’m right up there with you, the three interviews, this one plus
the next two will…
I love talking to people
and it’s much more spontaneous, but I don’t like being forced to watch sixty
minutes of video with maybe questionable audio to get the content.
So I get these transcribed.
I have a friend of mine who is a ferocious
typist, and he is content creator of role-playing games and so he knows the
lingo and knows the people and whatever.
But when I did that with
CastingWords, the first interview, it averaged about $1.50 and $2.50 a minute
of transcription because it is technical and the audio isn’t professional with
all the microphones and super-clear quality.
So the market rate is
about $2 a minute for this kind of thing, and that’s what I pay this guy, because
that’s what would I pay any other going outside. And rah-rah capitalism and all
that stuff and I want to make sure I’m not cheating him.
Anyway,  these interviews are non-trivially expensive,
I’ll probably edit that out. This whole thing feels like I’m trying to…ahh..
Erik Tenkar:
No..
Douglas Cole:
. . . milk it for money, but . . .
Erik Tenkar:
My blog readers tossed in $10 today, that’s basically what it was. Y’know what
I raise on the blog, it goes back to my readers and it’s play money, stuff that
one way or another will influence what I post on the blog.
Douglas Cole:
Right
Erik Tenkar:
And that’s what I think my wife will be very happy if in the long run, my blog
can support my gaming hobby? She’d be thrilled.
Douglas Cole:
[laughs] So let me change gears one more time.
You review a lot of
products. You read stuff. You put stuff on there. I sent you a copy of
Technical Grappling, you’re going to look at that . . .
Are there themes on what
you review on what makes a good product or a bad product in your eyes?
Erik Tenkar:
Themes? I don’t if I can actually say themes.
I like some stuff that has
no art, has amazing art, has stock art, woodclipping art basically. There isn’t
a certain theme when it comes to art or presentation . . . the worst thing is:
Listen, I’m a blogger, I
type something out in ten minutes and proofread it once and I put it out there.
If you’re producing something and you read it once and don’t have a third party
or two third parties or three third parties and I’m not saying professional
editor because for the most part these are indie publishers and we understand
that.
But if you’re full of
typos, full of misspellings, you’ve ruined the reading.
There is stuff that I set
out to review and I wound up…I don’t really want to trash any product. Some
stuff might not appeal to me, but will appeal to others, but if it doesn’t
appeal to me I’m surely not gonna post about it on my blog. Because I’m not
going to be passionate about my writing and it’ll be very mechanical so what’s
the point to that?
So there have been things
that I’ve looked at and then started looking at, and just put aside.
But I couldn’t say that
there is one thing or another that makes me sing or not sing.
There are certain
companies that I expect more from, or certain people like, and I always expect
to hit. If I’m looking at Tim Short’s Gothridge Manor, I know him. Tim’s on my
wavelength so I know I’ll enjoy what I’m going to see.
Crawl Fanzines, I love the
fanzines. I know whatever Jack puts out there, I’m going to get use out of it.
Even if I’m not playing DCC right now, there’s stuff I can use in Swords and
Wizardry. A lot of times is how can I convert this, even if it isn’t for Swords
and Wizardry right now. How can I use it in my game? If I can use it obviously
I’m going to have a better change of actually reviewing it.
And that’s just me, but a
lot of times, there are times, where I like to go on a tangent and find
something that is outside of my box and step outside that and see what else is
out there.
Douglas Cole:
So where is Tenkar’s Tavern going next?
Erik Tenkar:
Damn good question. I’ve learned that I don’t have as much control over it as I
think I do. The 12 days of OSR Christmas was not my idea, and I had a reader
who gifted the package we gave off on the first day, and he’s the one who kind
of kicked it off. And I still have stuff I have to ship. I still have stuff
that I have to give away, because I was waiting for other stuff that was coming
in on the tail end, but after running that thing ran for 13 days straight and I
needed to take a break.
There should be either
later on this month or early February, there is going to be a competition or
contest if you want to call it that . . . it will basically be an OSR-themed
contest, probably Swords and Wizardry rules because it’s a nice grounded base.
I have, I don’t want to
call it a almost an OSR super-star contest. If you know the Pathfinder thing,
it’s going to be sort of around that kind of concept, and I’ve already got two
donors who pony-up $350 in cash prizes and I’ll see what we have in the Tenkar
Tavern till and we’ll add some more to that.
But again, this wasn’t
something I thought up,  someone else
thought up, “listen, I have this amount of money and I’d like to donate to the
cause and this is what I’d like to do.”
My community at the Tavern
influences a lot more than they think they do of where the Tavern goes. It really
does make me feel like I’m part of the community, I might be the tavern keeper,
it’ kind of like Cheers where everyone knows everybody else. It’s a nice
feeling to know that I have readers on my blog, people that follow along that
are willing to be a part of the community and give to the community.
Like 12 days of Christmas,
people donated stuff. It was amazing. I could never have planned it if I had
wanted to.
Douglas Cole:
Yeah, that seemed really neat. That seemed really neat. So anyways, this comes
more or less to the end. I always give my guest the last word and I want to
think you for your time.
Erik Tenkar:
Thank you for inviting me.
Douglas Cole:
It was good fun and look forward to seeing what’s on the Tavern in the future.
Several times a day.
Erik Tenkar:
[Erik laughs] I do try.

On December 28, 2012, I made my first post to this blog. Looking back, over the year, how did I do? Was it worth it, and is it still?

Content

Well, start with my own content. Including this one and one in draft form, I’ll have made 250 posts, or about two posts every three days. That’s not bad, and frankly my goal was about four posts every seven days (1.75 days per post), and I hit about 1.5 days between posts, so I overachieved.

For a while, I had a really good thing going. Two Actual Play reports, an Apropos of Nothing segue into entertainment, usually movies but sometimes other gaming inspiration, and two or three gaming content posts, with a GURPS-related post every week on Thursday, and other gaming-related stuff for the others.

As for content, well, I will admit that I’m fairly happy with the GURPS-related stuff I’ve put down here. The Melee Academy, GURPS 101, and Grappling Mat “features” are fun to write, and I’ve got some nice collaboration going on.

The interviews were a fun but late add to my repertoire. I’m still shooting for one per month, and I’ll gladly take suggestions. Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day have both been suggested, and sure, why not! I’d love to interview some of the Big Dogs at Paizo, Ken Hite and I are still trading emails. I’d love to talk with some fiction authors who also game, too, for a different take on things.

Response


Overall, it’s been great. Blogger puts me at just over 125,000 pageviews for the year (about 2,400 per week). Google Analytics, of course, puts me at just shy of 70,000 in roughly the same time period (1,350 per week). The truth is probably in between, which probably means about 250 readers per day, although Analytics also tells me that over 14,000 “unique visitors” have dropped by, which is way cool.

More fun for me are the almost 1,400 comments those posts have generated, which if you exclude my own, probably means an average of 3 comments per post. That’s not bad at all, though of course I’d love more!

I know I’ve been added to some really cool blog rosters, and struck up some fun conversations/internet friendships with people I’d never have otherwise met.

The Future


Well, more.

I’d like to get back to that schedule of one game per week for the writeups and “actual play” experience that brings. I’d also like to GM a game or two of my own, which I hope to sketch out real soon now.

I definitely want to do at least six interviews in 2014, ideally more in the nine to 12 range, though some donations to the transcript fund would help me make it twelve rather than six more easily.

As for content, as long as I’m playing and writing, I’ll still have stuff to talk about. I’m branching out into other games, such as +Erik Tenkar‘s S&W game. When the Daylight Saving’s Time turns again on March 9, my evening conference call should flip back to morning, which will hopefully allow me to jump back into +Nathan Joy‘s Jade Regent/Dungeon Fantasy campaign. I definitely want to start up my own game, probably with guns in it, to give those rules (and some house rules) a workout.

I suspect that much of my writing for at least the first quarter will be Pyramid. I’ve got something like four articles in the writing process now. Two with +Peter V. Dell’Orto, one on my own that’s in Development Hell, and one more that will hopefully be part of something pretty cool.

There are two e23 projects I want to write as well, but one will be very research intensive, and I don’t know if I’ll have the time.

Parting Shot

Thanks to all those who read (and share!) this blog with me. I’m certain had I not gotten such good feedback from everyone, I’d have just stopped doing it.

I love hearing from people, and even criticism is quite useful, as are suggestions of what to look at next. I’m always itching for more topics!

OK, so last post featured a note about a sorceress with tattoos.

No problem there. That seemed a good iconic image to search for.

So I went and did what I always do: hit Google for it. “Sorceress Tattoos images

So, I wind up picking this image of the iconic sorceress for Pathfinder: Seoni.

Here’s the trick, though. Go ahead and follow the link – but not at work.

I almost went with this one.  But, well, a lot of these are pretty much NSFW, and while I can appreciate cheesecake in many respects, I do try and keep this blog something that by and large I don’t have to turn off the screen when my preschool-aged daughter walks up.

This one is not too bad . . .

And seriously: is that dragon flying out of her butt?

Am I being overly prudish? Some of those images are quite nice, and might have fit even better than Seoni. But, on the other hand . . .

I like it when people come to visit. I love it when people make comments. I hope that the images make the posts more fun, alive, occasionally amusing, etc. And I think that eschewing stuff that might either get you sent straight to HR or having a too-early conversation with a young child is the right call. Do I overthink this one?

Not sure why, but my post on the movie Independence Day has, in the last week, climbed to my third  second  most popular post ever. Did not see that one coming.

Digging in a bit, it would appear that the inclusion of the term Area 51 had a lot to do with it, since that seems to be a direct search item.

Interestingly enough, a photo I’d linked to asking why Area 51 had a baseball team was not viewable by me yesterday morning. So “hi” to all you fine folks at the NSA.

Anyway, between commenting on movies and the Area 51 reference, the last few days have seen visits explode – much like the finale of the movie. Much like the entire movie, come to think of it.

Who knew?