In a comment on a previous post, +Jeromy French brought up the oft-cited statistic that if a knife-wielding assailant is within 21 feet of a person with a holstered pistol, by the time you could draw your gun and ready it, you’re likely to have been stabbed. Possibly a lot.

OK, forget reality for a moment. Is there a rule in GURPS about that? What’s the danger zone.

Well, like the original work, there are a lot of assumptions that come into play.

First, the speed of the attacker. Most human attackers will wind up Move 4-7, and 7 will be an outlier, as it requires DX and HT of 14 each, or more likely DX 12, HT 13, and +0.75 points of Move. Move 4 (Joe Average suffering -1 for encumbrance), Or Move 5 are much more likely, maybe 6.

On the defender’s side – or the gunman’s, really – you will need to Ready your weapon. For normal folks without a lot of practice, drawing the weapon takes a Ready maneuver. If you carry it in Condition Three (chamber empty, hammer, if there is one, down) it’ll take another. On the flip side, you can Draw with a Fast-Draw roll, and simultaneously rack the slide while you’re doing it, readying the gun in effectively no time.

So the attacker’s window is 0-2 turns.

If he’s faster than the gunman

He goes first. He can move and attack within his typical 4- to 6-yard range. So within 12-18 feet, he’s a threat even with the Gunman knowing Fast-Draw.

If the gunman carries with a round lowered in the chamber, it will take a second to draw the weapon, then he can shoot. This technically gives the knife-wielder two turns to close in, meaning he’s a threat from 8-12 yards.

If he decides to carry with a basically unloaded gun, the attacker gets three turns. You’re in trouble from a whopping 12-18 yards.

If the gunman is faster

The short version: subtract a second from the above.

If you’re faster and you know Fast-Draw well enough to draw and rack the slide as a Free Action, you are more or less fine unless your knifer is already in close combat with you.

If he’s more than one move away, you can even take a turn to Aim (and Brace, and AoA (Determined)) and pick up something like +4 to hit for your trouble.

Parting Shot

I guess the moral of the GURPS story is “learn Fast-Draw” if you might get caught with a holstered gun. No surprise there. The other obvious piece of advice is if you see a threat coming, utilize a Wait maneuver. Assuming that you can’t just whip out your gun for no reason, of course. That guideline applies more in real life than many games, so you never know.

But for the 7-yard rule . . . in GURPS, as long as you’re somewhat self-aware and carry your gun with a round in the chamber, you’re probably mostly safe. At 4- yards, you’re well advised to back up a bit.

Of course, all bets are entirely off if you have your weapon loaded and to hand. Then you’re still subject to the “who’s faster?” question, but if the answer is either “I took Wait” or “the gunman,” then you’re going to get a shot off at 1 yard. But beware – that 4-6yard range is still a danger zone with a drawn and loaded gun if he gets to move first!

March 2014’s RPG Blog Carnival is focusing on Virtual TableTops and Online Gaming. I invited VTT creators to chat with me briefly about the state of VTTs, and what’s the future of online RPGs.

This evening I sat down for a brief chat with +John Lammers, creator of Epic Table, and we spoke for just shy of an hour.

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming

Good evening and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad. Today we are
joined by John Lammers, the primary content creator for the virtual tabletop
EpicTable. John , thanks for joining me this evening.
John Lammers (EpicTable

Yeah, thanks for having me.
Doug: Great. This is part of a
bit of a continuing series of interviews regarding virtual tabletops and online
gaming for the Role-Playing Game Blog Association March Blog Carnival (and that
needs a much shorter name) which is involved, oddly enough, in virtual
tabletops and online gaming. I wanted to start by asking you a couple of
questions, since this is a interview it would not make sense for me to just
talk. So what led you to develop a new virtual tabletop?

John: Well actually it started
back when my friends and I were having a reunion game. It was a face to face
group that I had gamed with for many years and we’d all kind of drifted apart
and gone to live in different states.
this was a while ago, so at the time I wasn’t aware of other virtual tabletops
out there, there may have been some. I became aware of them shortly after I had
started the effort, but really I was just looking for a way to play. We had
tried playing over Skype and we just didn’t really have the toolset that we
I started to develop EpicTable and I started to see some of the other virtual
tabletops pop up. There were just things I wanted to do differently. Things I
wanted to focus on with EpicTable that weren’t really the focus of things I was
seeing out there in the market place.
Doug: So with that in mind, so sort
of two questions. One sort of personal and one more directed at your
development efforts. What led you to say…are you a software developer, did you
become a software developer or is that something you’ve been doing?
John: I had been a software
developer for years, that’s what I do professionally. I had always worked on
little side projects and things like that. It was the kind of thing where any
project, I would get going on for a weekend or two, and then it would dawn on
me “Gee, I can’t really do something like this in my spare time.” It’s not
something that just takes a couple of weekends.
I had all these series of failed personal projects due to lack of time, because
I had a day job that I liked. Then one day I was missing around with the
EpicTable idea and I found that I had been playing World of Warcraft at the
time, and I was like “I have proof that I have time to do something else” [both
I canceled my World of Warcraft account and started EpicTable.
Doug: Nothing says “I have time
like either X-Com: Enemy Unknown” or one of the innumerable MMOs out there.
quick: EpicTable, how did you come up with the name?
John: So EpicTable started out as
this horribly named thing “VXP Roleplay” which was, like, “Virtual Experience
Roleplay” and it was almost embarrassed to say when I talked to my friends
about it.
I was looking for something that was better, so I had started to look along the
lines of terminology from the games that I was playing and right about that
time, I think that the 3.5 set was coming out with their Epic Rulebook. And I
was like “Yeah, that kind of works.”
Doug: Okay. Going right into the
game part of it. So, in general, what are the best and worst features of a VTT.
if you’re designing a virtual tabletop, what are the things you want to avoid?
What are the things you want to provide?
John: It’s hard to say in a way
because the VTTs that are out there, they all have different focuses, and
obviously there are things that I see as important, and things that I’ve
consciously stayed away from.
doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s something you must stay away from, or
something that isn’t good for some of the people out there.
favorite example is rules automation. EpicTable doesn’t do rules automation.
are dice rolls that you can define and there is a dice-roll builder, but that’s
about as far as it goes. It doesn’t try to automate the rules for you, and
depending on who you are that’s a strength or weakness.
me it’s a strength, because I play a lot of different games, and even the games
that are really mainstream like Pathfinder or D&D we use a lot of
houserules, my players are kind of always going off the rules [Doug chuckles].
Doug: What rails? Surely there
aren’t “rails” in a roleplaying game. [joking]
John: I had found I had started
out wanting to do rules-automation in experimenting on this thing called co-GM.
It was all based on rules automation.
I found was it was just…I didn’t have a lot of time to prep. When I wasn’t
prepped, or even if I had prepped, and my players went and did something else,
the rules-automation kept getting in my way.
need to stat up this thing, and I can’t quite do that on the fly because I
haven’t quite had the time to develop a custom feat for this thing that I want
to use, or can’t get him in the tool without defining some minimum set of
things. It made it just really hard to wing it.
one of the core values of EpicTable is that its completely prepless. You can do
stuff ahead of time, but the presumption is your going to be pulling things in
dynamically, and you’re going to be
the guy running the rules. So it’s not trying to replace the GM, it’s trying to
replace the table and the stuff off
on the table.
Doug: Right. I think it’s funny,
because I was just looking off to my second monitor.
was looking for a 90-some-odd message thread that I had. I am trying to start
my own game and that shouldn’t necessarily be hard, but you got to set the
ground rules. I’ve got some core players that are going to join me.
have written some rules: in Pyramid magazine and I have a grappling book out.
okay I want to play this game. My god, I just spent the last five years
rewriting GURPS in various ways. So which of this huge list, well not huge –
Sean Punch has a huge list of contributions. A small list, a handful.
almost everything I’ve written has been rules. Here’s a grappling rule. Here’s
a rule for breaking swords. Here’s a new rule for aiming differently. Here’s a
different rule for doing dodging. I did a whole rewrite of a fatigue system.
And I was like “Wow, I have so many of these I’m no longer playing the game as
written and I really need to do less.”
I’ve started eliminating some of my own stuff. Not because any one of them is a
bad idea, but all of them together….Dear God in heaven. [John laughs].
not necessarily a story about me, it’s more like okay let’s say someone wanted
to come up with GURPS rules support, or Pathfinder support: Say I don’t like the
way that Dexterity is only to ranged weapons. I want Dexterity to apply to all
hits and I want Strength to apply to all damage.
you have coding to do so I hope you are a scripter, or it’s easy or the
developer, yourself in this case, anticipated your rules needs.
John: I’m a developer, and I don’t want to spend my time doing
that kind of stuff. And my group is almost always playing off the books to some
extent. There is always some custom weirdness going on.
Doug: Right. In a way I suppose,
if I understand it at all, the less rules-support you build into a virtual
tabletop the better you support the Old School Renaissance.
John: Yeah, I think that that’s
true to a certain extent. Basically, if you can do it at the table, you can do
it in the virtual environment, if it’s one that has that philosophy.
Doug: So tell me a little bit
about your mission statement mentally (or if you ever wrote it down. . . I
don’t care). What was your mission statement was for EpicTable. Just tell me
what you were trying to do, tell me what you were trying to do with your
tabletop experience on the computer. You probably had a list of features you
really wanted to have. So what drove you?
John: Basically I wanted to be
the Apple of virtual tabletops, or the iPad of virtual tabletops.
wanted something that anybody could use, that was polished and easy.
there are a lot of things in EpicTable that aren’t features because they’re not
ready to be exposed to people yet. Occassionally, I get asked about chat logs.
All the text chat is actually saved in a log, but it’s not ready for
publication to the user. It’s not a done feature and one of the core values of
EpicTable is it is not a hacker’s platform. It’s not a DIY kind of thing. It’s
a finished tool. That means that that feature’s not available yet, it will be
at some point, but it’s not yet.
what you get in return for that reticence to release stuff, it’s really core to
me that you never write XML, you never write scripts, and have to place files
in certain directories; that kind of thing.
should be able to sit down with this who’s not a developer and doesn’t want to
be a developer, and doesn’t want to spend a lot of time learning the tool and
just work with it.
Doug: Sounds like you’ve written
it for the over 40 set.
John: [John laughs]Yeah, maybe.
Doug: I’m being self-referential.
I’m 42 years old. I have a kid. My time is incredibly limited and a lot of it
is spent on transpacific conference calls for work. So, when I’m going to do
gaming I want to sit down, I want to boot something up, I want it to work, I
want it to not mess with it. If I pull in a map, great. I want to go “Click,
click, click, here is a bunch of characters or whatever, and rock it.”
I don’t have time for the rest of it.
John: Right. I just didn’t want
any conversations like “How do I configure my router?” “Oh, what’s a router” or
“Take these files and put them here and restart.” That kind of stuff.
wanted to make sure that wasn’t part of the experience.
was part of it, and initially, fog of war was a huge thing for me . . . I
thought. I thought fog of war was going to be a huge huge deal and I spent a
lot of time back in 2006 writing this Ray Trace based fog of war and part of my
mission was: part one was to be the iPod of VTTs, but part two was and have the
best fog of war out there.
what I found in the course of developing fog of war was two things. There were
a lot of things I had to have before fog of war to make the environment really
part two was in the course of doing it, I didn’t really want fog of war in the
same way  that I thought I did.
thought that I wanted something kind of hyper realistic and what I found was
doing that put a certain tax on the machine itself in terms of horsepower, but
it also took a lot of my time. I had to prep the maps.
one point I remember I spent a lot of time trying to optimize the process for
marking up a map, and even planned a series of videos where I was going to have
a timer in the corner, and show how quick it was to mark up a given map.
Doug: So you realized you’d
become your own worst enemy.
John: Yeah, it dawned on me that
this wasn’t what I wanted to do as a guy running a game, and so that’s where
just most recently in EpicTable 1.2 I released my sort of revamped concept of
fog of war that’s based around this concept of zones.
really really ultra-simple, almost embarrassingly so. You basically just draw
zones on the map and hide and reveal them.
in some ways it almost harkens back to the way you used to throw a piece of
construction paper over part of the map at your table or throw a cloth over
part of the map at the table.
has the advantage of the zones sticking in place and you can flip them on and
off like a light switch. The nice thing is that when my players do the
inevitable off the wall thing like blast a hole through the wall I don’t have
to worry that they just screwed up my lighting model – I just draw a zone that
represents the area that they blasted.
Doug: I’ll give you an
opportunity to walk you through the features of EpicTable.
went to your website and walked through the quick tutorial, and to your credit,
I think you accurately described (at least what’s on the website), you click,
you click and it’s very visually straightforward piece in a user experience it
looks like.
couple of more…I did get a question, actually, from one of the people watching
sent a question to ask about cross platform support.
this something that’s straightforward to run on different platforms or PC only
or how does it work?
John: It’s Windows only. Which is
a question I get all the time at GenCon. The cheat answer is that you can run
it on Parallels. One of my guys in my gaming group is a Mac-guy, swears it runs
better on Parallels than it does Windows. Which I think is…[laughs] I think
that’s a Mac thing.
Windows only, there is no way around it. But the guys that are used to dealing
with Windows-only on Mac tend to just run it under Parallels.
Doug: Parallels is a specific emulator
John: Parallels is a like a
virtual machine for the Mac.
Doug: Okay. I’m a GURPS guy and I
was wondering if it were possible for you to do 3d6 roll under in a fairly
straight manner. I want to do this in a visual way: Can share your screen and
walk us through the program and maybe let’s do a attack defense structure. Is
that something that’s quick and easy?
John: Sure. Yeah. Let me switch
over. I think this is what you want? [shares screen]. A few things about this
so if you just want a real quick 3d6 you can click on the d6 down here at the
bottom and hit 3. You get the 3d6, sorry, I hit a 2d6 there too. Fat-fingered
can get a quick roll that way, but if you are looking for something more
interesting though, there is this dice-rolls tab and we can really quickly
build the dice roll. So if I want 3d6 I just hit that 3 times and I can name
these things so if I want this to be…
Doug: Kind of like “attack roll”
or something.
John: I can do that.
can do things like say that I want to reroll ones I just throw that in there.
Say that I want to explode on 6s I can do that. With no scripting and very
little effort I can put together a roll like that.
Doug: Is it possible to do a roll
against a target, or I guess in Dungeons and Dragons, it would be roll against
X greater than whatever… or really it’s the greater than whatever rules that
you don’t want to code?
John: Exactly. It’s…yeah. I don’t
do “hit determination” the closest thing to that is some games do “success
counting” so I can throw like…what is it. Mouseguard? Burning Wheel?
Doug: Shadowrun.
John: So you can do that kind of
thing where you do success counting and it’ll do the eval for that kind of
thing for you.
Doug: Okay. What about characters
and stuff? Is that something that…or is this literally the character sheet is
something you’d put on the table top and therefore the game doesn’t really
drive to that?
John: I can show what the
characters look like today.
the basic info that you need within this environment. His map size, the name,
you can have a separate map token and portrait. So behind here you got the
portrait bar. A lot of times what I’ll do in a role-play heavy game is I’ll
have a sort of face up portrait, and then top down map token.
 And then you have notes here you can, like in
a old school game, in that kind of thing. Keep track of your stats here that
sort of thing.
Doug: So it’s basically a word
processor, sort of an online version of a wiki.
John: Yeah. And then you can come
in here, so maybe I create myself a tab for gear, and a tab for stats and that
kind of stuff.
you get sort of a quick easy, ability to manage your character here within the
Doug: Okay, you got your tabs,
you got . . . every time I talk you lose the screen. [both laugh] Every time I
talk you lose the screen and I’m looking at myself.
you got tabs that you can create on the fly. Can you import pictures into those
tabs if you wanted to?
John: You can. One thing I’ve
cautioned people about, and I guess a feature-in-waiting here, that when you do
inline pictures I found this out the hard way, RTF (Rich-Text Format) doesn’t
compress pictures, so these end up being enormous.
for small things – if I want to throw in…not that small…throw in a little pic
like that, that kind of stuff is fine.
I found was someone right off the bat backed up one of these tabs with a full
8×11 character sheet – which is a awesome idea, but it’s just that that blows
up to a enormous size in a RTF file.
I plan to do is to strip the images out, and manage them myself, rather than
let RTF manage them.
the meantime I went in and put some things in here to help you out. If you select
a huge image it’ll warn you “Hey, this is a huge image, this may be a problem
for you, if you have a lot of players.” At a certain point it’ll say “You can’t
pull in an image that large it’ll wreck your game.”
Doug: So you just alluded to the
player thing. Every player has to have a copy of this running on their PC?
John: They do, the deal is,
though, they don’t have to have a license.
So it’s what I’ve been calling “Kitchen Table Licensing.”
you own the table it’s yours, other people can come over, sit down, play. They
don’t have to bring their own table with them. You don’t have to tell me who
they are. You don’t have to buy a certain number of players’ licenses or swap
them out or anything like that. It covers your whole group.
makes things a lot easier. It avoids the whole conversation of “Hey, do we all
want to chip in and get a bunch of licenses?” or get some license pack or
Doug: So really if I purchased
the EpicTable, downloaded it onto my computer, and I got five players I can
invite them to the game somehow?
John: Yup. Essentially…
Doug: Could you invite me to this
game? You’ve got a game running there you could send me a email or something?
John: Yeah. You go to this invite
button, and it generates a passphrase that I then mail you. There is a
copy/close thing, it’ll copy the passphrase and I can put it into the G+ window
or mail it to you or whatever and then from your end you just do “Accept
invitation,” paste in that phrase, and from then on that’s the only time that
handshake is done.
in my list, it’s in your list, and you don’t have to bother with that.
Doug: But you have to have a copy
of the game, and I have to have a copy of the game, and the networking, so to
speak, is just odne by invite?
John: Yep. All the networking in
EpicTable, all the communication goes through the cloud, so no one is the
client. You might host the game, but it’s in the sense of “host a party,”
you’re not running the server. The servers are all central, that way everyone
only has outbound connections, and the beauty of that is that you don’t have
firewall issues, router issues, that kind of stuff.
Doug: Cool. And once you buy it
do you just download free upgrades…some programs are pay by the month, some are
kind of buy it once and you’re done. So if you buy EpicTable v1.0, EpicTable
v2.0…how does that work for this one?
John: So it’s you buy it and you
own EpicTable v1.0, someday there’ll be EpicTable v2.0 when I feel like there
is enough new content to warrant that and EpicTable v2.0 will be an upgrade that
 existing owners of EpicTable v1.0 will
have some sort of deal.
Doug: So speaking of EpicTable
v2.0, which gets into a couple of questions on the present and future of
virtual tabletops and playing online, what sort of upgrades would you say would
merit a version two. What is it that you got in your mind, your works, or your
vision that says “At this point, this is EpicTable v2.0” It’s cool enough that
it’s new. It merits a new version.
John: Yeah, the kinds of things
I’ve been thinking about…the heuristic that I’ve been using for the line
between one and two:
that are EpicTable v1.0 are things that make the current feature set better. So
fog of war was something that was part of the initial EpicTable vision for quite
some time. Fog of War had to be a v1.XX feature.
of the things I’m doing surrounding the…I have this feature coming up called
“Cloud Caching” where I’m going to be taking some of the load off of the host’s
machine, with respect to image distribution. EpicTable doesn’t pass out things
head of time, everything is on the fly, it’s cached, but it means – especially
if you’re the GM – it means you’re introducing a lot of images, sometimes big
ones. Everyone’s hitting your machine, and it’s kind of a drag if you’ve got a
slow connection.
there is this feature coming up called “cloud caching” where I’ll automatically
take care of posting that up through Amazon S3 or something, so that you don’t
have that drag on your machine for distributing those resources.
a example of making EpicTable better. That’s v1.XX kind of stuff.
features are making EpicTable different
or broadening what EpicTable is, so for instance, you saw that in EpicTable
v1.0 a way to simply manage characters.
v2.0…and dice rolls are…you have a very capable builder, but you have no
ability to bring in character variables.
EpicTable v2.0, one of the things on the slate is allowing you to build dice
rolls that incorporate live character data and to manage that live character
data, probably both through a fairly general and simple EpicTable character
data manager.
also I’ve been talking to the guys at HeroLab about some sort of integration
there, so if you’re using HeroLab anyway, then why not manage your characters there and yet have all the dice rolls
appear here.
Doug: Would it be an impossible
or IP-illegal task to say: you have a user-fillable character sheet, like a
PDF, you can bring it in or…? If you have something with names and spaces and
spaces associated with the names, it may not be pretty, but you can access that
John: Yes. I think that that’s
totally reasonable.
know the . . . one of the philosophies with EpicTable is “you can use what you
instance if you’re a Pathfinder AP subscriber, it’s easy to pull in your map
images, your character portraits, that kind of stuff. It’s easy to get them
shared with your players, and naturally though the users need to think about
what constitutes fair use and that kind of thing.
keeping with the sort of ease of use kind of thing, what I would envision is
maybe you pull in a PDF of the character sheet and tell EpicTable where are the
fields. Then it takes it from there.
Doug: Right. I want to bring up
one screenshot from your website, if you don’t mind. Here, I believe, we have
the fog of war delineation of hallways and rooms. Can you see that okay?
John: Yeah.
Doug: Okay, great.
question I’m going to ask you, and I’m 
going to ask this of everybody, and this is the hard part for me, in
terms of time management.
say I have a picture or whatever and I want to bring it in and I want to use.
box delineation you’ve done here has some clear advantages in time. Do you ever think it would be
possible to pull in an image and ask it to find the open spaces, so it does
this kind of thing for you.
John: I think that that is a
possibility, to tell you the truth that is one of the things I was looking at
when I had the Ray Trace approach, is that I was looking for tell EpicTable
where are the walls. Or at least where are not the walls, so I had these tools
for doing kind of a flood-fill kind of approach to let you designate walls and
is not real trivial to do that. It gets time consuming for both of us. I’m not
sure whether that’s a route I would go.
cardinally worth considering. Let me flip over to my map a second, which is
interestingly the same map that you were showing.
you look at these are pretty clearly defined. This was done on the Campaign
Cartographer, my both was next to the ProFantasy guys that do Campaign
Cartographer one year at GenCon.
had a little bit about how they represented walls in their world, and it was
remarkably close to my internal format for designating walls back when I was
doing the Ray Trace thing. Clearly there is some opportunity there.
don’t know – I’d have to think about what do those mean, what’s the EpicTable thing to do with that
information. Is it automatically define the zones. Is it to do something else
with it?
had dawned on me that you know that the zones in EpicTable. Let me show you one
of these really quick since you’re looking at my screen anyways.
I flip over and enable fog, it looks like that. If I go to the fog layer, these
zones are like this. I can delete some of these just to show you how easy they
are to deal with. Let me turn this guy on.
Doug: How are you doing that?
You’re just clicking?
John: I can either right click
and select it from this menu, or I can control right click. Toggles it on and
off. I can resize this, everything.
me get rid of some stuff. Hide the chat. Hide the dice tray, and give us some
more room. And I can even zoom out so I can see more of the map.
the characters are here talking about whether they should listen at the door, I
can drag in a new zone and flip it on. So it’s real quick to do. Which makes me
think twice about anything that’s real automatic. The one thing I have thought
about. Are you familiar with the game Tanhouser?
Doug: No I’m not.
John: Tanhouser is a Fantasy
Flight boardgame, and it has this really cool mechanic that is for handling
line of sight that really was the inspiration for zones.
color the board different colors and if you’re on the same color as someone
else, then you two have line of sight, you can shoot each other.
are overlapping things. So if I go down here and grab this, notice it stops at
the door. If it didn’t, if it came all the way up here, then you’ve got this
notation of if this guys standing here…
Doug: … he can see everything in
that box.
John: He should be able to see
everything in this box, but also in this box, and everything in this box. Once
you start to think about these zones as potentially line of sight zones, then
it’s not a stretch to say “What if we want to limit his ability to see by the
radius of the light source he’s carrying with him.” Then it becomes another
level of complexity here . . .
Doug: That would just be a zone
that moves with the token.
John: Yeah. Exactly. Suddenly you
have lighting added to this model in a way that’s very in-keeping with the rest
of the simple no-prep philosophy, but I think would work pretty well. You know,
so that’s another thing that I’ll be experimenting with.
Doug: What I would look at doing
(in terms of my “copious” software experience) because I really do like the
zone model that you have there is if I brought in a map what I would probably
ask to do is to see what rectangles, ovals, and certain size shapes…First, I’m
going to look all over for rectangles, and you set these up, then I’ll look all
over for pattern matching ovals. So this one on the center here would turn into
a oval, everything else would have squares.
it would even say, “Okay, I’m going to highlight everywhere where two zones
intersect and I’m going to ask you if there is a door or space at each one.”
And then you say “Yes, yes, no, no.” you do a Boolean thing and then boom,
instant map from an EpicTable perspective.
John: And I like that sort of
machine-augmented-human approach, where you’re not trying to make the machine
autonomous. Make it perfect. You’re trying to take some of the load off the
Doug: Exactly.
instead of putting every box in, making me
do every box, there is some obvious box-like shapes. I’m not going to try and
find the table and the shield and the items and say “Oh! Do you think this is a
small dagger?” No. I just want the
big outline.
what you can do is if you’re bringing in something for example like fractal
terrains. A hex-crawl map. Maybe it’ll do…that one you could probably do by color, but that’s the kind of thing. You
have Campaign Cartographer, you have Fractal Terrains you can import in a
certain format. You’re not going to say “Anything Fractal Terrains can do, I
can handle.” But if you export it in this
way, I can help.
John: Yeah.
Doug: Cool!
John: I think that kind of stuff
is pretty cool.
Doug: And that sounds like
version two stuff, maybe version three [chuckles].
John: Certainly. There are other
things that to me…there is the HeroLab integration that I want to look at. I
want to look at some sort of conflict management.
say conflict management instead of initiative tracker, because a lot of the
games that I play, initiative isn’t really a thing.
for instance, if you’re playing Primetime Adventures, you don’t really
have…it’s not a thing. But you still have this notion of wanting to designate
who’s in the conflict, who’s not, what side they’re on.
I’ve been thinking about conflict from a general perspective and how do you let
somebody…so EpicTable is not just maps. You have tabletops too.
how do you let someone throw up a tabletop and designate it as an encounter
workspace and visually move stuff around. These guys are in this faction, those
guys are in that faction. Deal cards out on the table – EpicTable doesn’t
support cards yet, but that’s certainly a v2.0 thing.
Doug: That would be interesting,
because then you could almost structure out . . . the game master of the game I
played in only briefly because I had sound problems.
couldn’t get my sound to work with Hangouts and Roll20. I was having a problem,
as it turns out it’s a conflict between Skype, Hangouts, and multiple windows.
If I have Roll20 in one and a Hangout in the other, my computer just freaks
that was a problem and I wound up having to not play.
he would do is have this cool social construct thing. You got the king who has
these goals, this faction who has these goals, it was almost like a mind-map,
if you’re familiar with those.
you could move people along the mind-map, and that’s a conflict space that has
almost nothing to do with dice, doesn’t have to do with armor class, it
definitely has something to do with
GURPS reaction rolls and Social Engineering by William Stoddard.
it’s not hit, defend, parry, damage, grapple, throw, bite, whatever. I had Jazz
Hands going on there, I have to stop that [John laughs].
was a very much different kind of thing, a facilitated roleplaying discussion.
John: Right. That’s…if I show for
a second, the EpicTable, just Tabletop. Here is a tabletop, here is the kind of
thing I’ve been thinking.
can do things like dragging index cards around on here, so I’ve got a example
where I do a Fiasco set up, with index cards and dice and things like that.
thinking a conflict manager that’s based around this kind of thing, and then if
I pop the dice tray back in here a second, you can throw dice on the tabletop
as well and roll them here.
games like Dogs in the Vineyard, where it does have a tabletop mechanic for
conflict resolution, where you are bidding essentially. Pushing dice forward
against your opponent and that kind of thing. I think you could add cards to
this and you give GM an ability to set up a pretty interesting conflict area.
And a way to manage conflict for a lot of different kinds of games.
said I get asked every single year GenCon about initiative trackers. So yeah, I
think part of whatever live character data solution I think there has to be a
initiative tracker at that point. There are too many people interested in it.
I’m thinking of that, I want to be thinking about it in more general terms. The
ability to handle different games is really important to me personally because
I play a lot of different kinds of games.
I think it helps for things …the Hero system folks visit me every year at GenCon and their
initiative is different, right? They may appear at several places in
initiative, it’s not just my guy first or third, he might be first and third.
the ability to have some more general space where you can manage the conflict
in a way that doesn’t presume that everything is happening in a grid is
Doug: Right. That’s neat.
of the things that GURPS does do right now, is there is a advantage called
Altered Time Rate that allows you to take multiple maneuvers on your turn. And
a maneuver is a 1-second action declaration.
it doesn’t do is space the maneuvers out. Because…you go in descending order of
Basic Speed, fastest to slowest. And if you have altered time rate, then when
it’s your turn you go twice and you can do some pretty cool things.
what you don’t do is go at your Basic Speed slot of 7 and 3.5, where you take a
turn and then you can do it again at 3.5, which is what Hero does, or it did
when I played it. It’s gone through a couple of editions since I played it in 1988.
pretty neat.
me ask you a couple of questions and then I’ll give you the floor for the
famous parting shot. I always give my guests that last word so they can close
on the topic of their choice.
do you think of the importance, if any, of video? Obviously we’re talking on
video and social gaming is a social medium and I think that the face-to-face
interaction, even if it’s digital face-to-face is important. Is that something
you’re thinking about or is it “Run Hangouts offline.”
John: I think for me at least for
the foreseeable future it’s always going to be run Hangouts or Skype.
don’t want to try to compete with those, because first of all those are pretty
established environments. In my games, we’ve been using both. We’ll have Google
Hangouts or Skype and we’ll also have EpicTable.
the interesting thing that I’ve found, is it really depends a lot on the group,
as to how much time they spend with video vs. how much time they spend with the
one game that I was in where we were using video a lot and we were using
EpicTable a lot, it was kind of nice because I’m in another game where we were
using Hangouts and we weren’t using EpicTable. When you have this ability to do
drawings and stuff like that in Hangout, but when you do the video is gone.
like when I was flipping to screenshare, my video was gone.
really like having them both there. The video is kind of omnipresent and then
you have your tabletop surface that’s separate, and so far I’m not seeing a
problem with that model, except for it would be really nice if some of the G+
folks would not have to install a separate thing. Even though that separate
thing has some advantages, I think it’s that initial hurdle of “Oh, gee, it’s a
separate thing I have to install” which can be a stopping point for somebody.
Doug: Which begs the question, do
you ever foresee a time if you’re going to ask Google to integrate EpicTable as
a app?
can do that with Roll20, I can just go to the left side of my window, and click
on it and boom, here is Roll20 and Hangouts. Is that something that…is that
exclusivity there or is that something you can do.
John: No they don’t. It’s
something that I’ve been looking at, and experimenting with different ways of
bringing EpicTable functionality into G+.
Doug: Right. The next question
is: Do you ever foresee multiple window or monitor support to avoid that
problem, so you have your index cards or your dice pools on the right hand
monitor and your map and characters on the left or multiple windows or anything
like that?
John: It’s actually supposed to
be in v1.2 and fellout to basically to get fog of war out there, but in v1.3
which is setting on my machine upstairs, you can drag these tabs off the sheet
and drag them to another monitor which is great for the guys who use it for the
face-to-face games where they want the player view off on the big monitor and
keep the GM view on their own laptop or whatever.
Doug: That’s a great segue into
the last couple of questions I think. You got online gaming, you’re playing
with someone in Australia, Hong Kong, and Minneapolis and those crazy guys in
New York City or whatever. You’ve also got facilitated face-to-face gaming and
it sounds like EpicTable is useful for both.
John: Yeah. A couple of EpicTable
customers at least use it exclusively for face-to-face games. One has a
projector-based set up and another has a big screen and they run it that way,
right now because you can’t tear these tabs off, what they are doing is running
a separate instance. They run one instance for the basically headless player,
and another instance that is their GM box.
yeah, it’s nice way to basically share handouts especially. I used to always
print out handouts on a inkjet so I could throw them out on the table and say
“Haha! This is the thing you see.” It’s really nice not to have do that [laughs] the night before the game. And instead
just have the images sitting there and throw them up as handouts or throw them
on the tabletop.
Doug: Sure. Sort of last thing,
and then the parting shot for you. So what’s the future of virtual tabletops
and tabletop role-playing. Project five or ten years into the future and tell
me what you see.
John: Wow. [sighs]
know, increasingly, I think that the notion of being able to play when you are
not necessarily face-to-face is going to be a durable one. It’s almost the only
way I play anymore, and it’s not that I don’t like to play face-to-face, but
finding the time is really difficult.
with some people that are local to me I end up playing online more than I do
face-to-face, but especially as I’ve gotten into the indie game community.
There are a lot of games that I just don’t have anyone around here to play
with, so online gaming has been really important and I think will continue to
be really important.
think the augmented realty kind of stuff, or augmented physical gaming will
continue to be important.
I do think will change is over the
next five years, is that there will be a lot more variability in terms of
devices. I think that the big, big LED displays are getting cheaper, so you’ll
see more people that can afford to have a game on a big screen, or even lay a
big screen down on a tabletop.
Doug: A true virtual tabletop!
John: I think there will be a lot
more hybrid games, where you might have the big screen, but you’ll have your
character sheet in a tablet.
think that’s going to be a challenge for me with EpicTable because it is
Windows-based, what is the future for EpicTable, given that I believe that the
future is lots of different kinds of devices and the game isn’t in on one PC,
but is spread out across a number of devices. Different parts of the game run
on different devices. What does that mean?
it mean that it’s all HTML5 and Java script?
kind of hope not, because I’m not that guy today, so there is a lot of ramp up
for me to put it into that kind of environment. That’s a possibility.
is also the Windows Surface devices and Windows 8 devices that are not
Microsoft that are actually in a lot of cases pretty nice.
I don’t know. I’m not sure that the future is Microsoft, but I’m sure that the
future is heterogeneous devices and some online component.
Doug: You kind of had this thing.
This is a metronome, not a phone. You bring up your little dice thingy and you
shake it and throw it at the screen and three six-sided dice roll across the
screen because it knows where you are[John laughs]. You got that kinematic
thing going on.
want to think you for your time, but I also want to give you the last word. So
what do you want to leave anyone who watches this with?
John: Wow.
think mainly if there is one thing, it would be that if you haven’t tried
online gaming, find a way to.
I found – in particular the indie game community – there is a lot of really,
really interesting stuff going on there. It’s a very inclusive community. Lot
of very cool people.
can be kind of intimidating, to think about going out and getting involved in
games you’re not familiar with, people you’re not familiar with, but it’s
really a worthwhile thing.
think the one thing the online gaming really opens up is: certainly use it to
get your game back together. Game again, if you haven’t been gaming because of
geography, but also think about some of these games that maybe you’re group at
home doesn’t play.
are people out there that do play them, and there is a lot of cool stuff out
there to try, that really virtual tabletops open up a great avenue for
broadening your gaming experience.
Doug: Alright. Thank you for your
time and I’m glad you came onboard the Firing Squad for the March Blog
John: Thanks for having me, it
was a lot of fun.
Doug: Absolutely.

Thursday is GURPS-Day, and you should never bring a knife to a gunfight, and a pistol is a defensive weapon, not an offensive one.

Truisms, of course, but still true nonetheless. As I was washing dishes this morning, I remembered a study, not sure why, about the older 55gr 5.56x45mm M193 cartridges, showing that the jacketed lead rounds actually overpenetrated less in common household structures. Fairly sure I read it at the Box O’ Truth, though other studies have shown similar results. The high energy rifle rounds tend to destroy themselves on hitting just about anything, while pistol rounds tend to keep coherent, if deformed. But a pistol bullet is a squat beast anyway, and you can only deform it so much.

Naturally, my thoughts turned to GURPS, and I thought “what would a sidearm that qualified as an offensive weapon look like?” Stats-wise.

Well, you’re really talking something with a Bulk like a pistol, -2 or so. Accuracy like a rifle or carbine: Acc 4 or Acc 5. And of course the ever-popular damage, and in this case, I think you’d really want about 6d to 8d in GURPS terms, because those give you an ability to drop dead an unarmored foe of HP from 10-12.

But at the Incapacitation Station we also decided that instant death is overkill, and 4d is probably enough to do the job, especially for a low Rcl weapon that might achieve 2-3 hits.

But to really qualify, you want that big damage, and that says Ultra-Tech.What qualifies?

  • The Heavy Laser Pistol (UT, p. 115) gets it done. Acc 6, 4d (2), Rcl 1. That’s TL10. Same thing with the TL11 Rainbow Laser Pistol variants (p. 117).
  • The TL11 and TL12 big brothers of even those, the heavy X-Ray lasers and grasers work too, same reasons, higher armor divisors, staggeringly high range. All Acc 6.
  • The Heavy Blaster pistol works, but is a bit high in bulk, low in Acc.
  • The pulsar pistol (UT, p. 124) is sweet. 6d(3), Acc 5, Bulk -2, Rcl 1. That works. 
  • The TL11^ plasma pistol delivers the goods
  • An odd choice, but effective, seems like the Force Pistol
  • You can’t go wrong with a disintegrator pistol. 36d(infinity) and Acc 6 means not even having to apologize to vapor.

The Ultra-Tech guns in the book aren’t terribly impressive. None of them make the list in any form.

Parting Shot

While you can certainly find a sidearm that is as powerful as a current-day rifle if you look into the futuristic beam weapons in the Ultra-Tech book, you will, of course find even more accurate and powerful weapons in the longarm variety. Still, unless armor is very common, comfortable, and appropriate to the sensibilities of whatever society we’re dealing with, the above weapons will serve well as things that blur the distinction between a defensie weapon (a pistol) and an offensive one (a rifle).

It’s been a long time coming, but I feel like things are steady enough that I can apply myself properly to a campaign.

It’ll be modern, probably monster-hunter-ish. It will start with templates and characters from Action 1, Action 3, or Monster Hunters 4: Sidekicks. I’m not going to be slavish about that, though.

It will be modern, TL8. For now. Mwa ha ha.


The rules for character generation are in flux, but will likely revolve around:

  1. All characters have to show that they’ve kept their head in a crisis in the past. This need not be “I was in the military,” but it could be.
  2. All characters must either belong or have belonged to an organization that sends you to potentially dangerous places around the globe. Oil exploration, private security company, military all might qualify
  3. The first 4-6 adventures will be somewhat introductory, giving the team a chance to gel as a team, while also killing monsters. It will set up the future plotline. 
  4. The first adventures, then, may well have some finagling and social stuff – and see below for campaign options.
  5. The characters shall be mundane. No sorcerers, psions, robots, or werewolves.

Notes on the notes

I’m playing in two DF campaigns, or will be. I have a great outlet for sorcery, magic, and divine stuff. I want to run a modern-day campaign that lets me play with stuff I’ve written and enjoy. +Jeromy French ran a one-session GURPS Sci Fi campaign that started to scratch that itch, and resulted in quite a few fun posts about the futility of dodging lasers. And two articles, one published, one not.
I’m not sure how valuable social skills will be, or if the campaign will morph into something more resembling Night’s Black Agents, which still works with the theme.
Some of this will be decided by my core player group. I’m chatting with some not-surprising people, and will be morphing the overall game and theme to fit what we all want to play. Once that’s settled, other players will be invited.

It’ll be online, will be video-based, and will use a Virtual Table Top. My personal experience is with Roll20 as a GM, with MapTool as a player. Since I’m interviewing lots of VTT guys this month, if I see something that’s more user-friendly and GURPS-compatible than either of those, I’m in. 
We’ll be using GCA to make characters, and I’ll want to be emailed copies of the file so I can upload it. Not sure if campaign management and tracking will be a big deal or not. +Nathan Joy‘s game uses a Wiki (successfully), while others try to use Obsidian Portal (less successfully for me). I’ve seen some other game aids out there that might be fun to try, but “come join my game, and spend $500 to do it!” isn’t a goal here.
The video thing is a must for me. I play games to be social, and I find it easier to be social if I can see people’s faces. It’s also a lot faster, I find, and I’ve gotten more done in a two hour session with video than in four-hour sessions with chat-based only. And since I get to GM, it’s my call to make, and I”m making it that way.
I may wind up using Snaggit to grab video of the sessions, in case there are fun things that happen or as tutorials for in-play stuff, because . . . 

House Rules

I’ve written a lot of stuff. Some published, some pending. Some of these rules would make good additions to any game, and some will make particularly good additions to this style. Stuff for consideration:
  • The Last Gasp – long term fatigue and action points
  • Technical Grappling – in one form or another is almost guaranteed
  • Dodge This! – I wrote it do deal with oddities involving guns and beams
  • Delayed Gratification – might not matter in a game mostly involving projectile weapons, but ditching Feint might be a good thing
  • The Deadly Spring – I rather suspect no one will be carrying a bow or crossbow. Might be wrong.
  • Rescaling Melee Damage – maybe, maybe not. If you dare to get up in a monster’s face, doing more damage than a .45 ACP is your reward
  • A couple articles I can’t talk about yet – sorry. FNORD. 
  • Armor as Dice – almost certainly, but can be talked out of it
  • Tactical Shooting – lots of stuff from here, though most of that is gear rather than rules; some rules, though, like requiring AoA(Determined) for sighted shooting and aimed fire. MoA rule. Maybe even bullet travel, but maybe not.
  • Partial wound channel modifiers – this will depend on whether the VTT we use can handle it. If I can say Injury is 3d+2 x 1.2 and just drop fractions, then this is attractive. If we have to do the math ourselves, it’s not.
Thing is, too many of these and the game might be unplayable. So my prospective players will get a heavy vote in what’s going on.
Parting Shot

It’s been a long time since I’ve GMed anything, so this will be a re-learning experience for me. It will also be the first time I’ve sat in the GM’s seat as a driver of the VTT technology I’ll be leveraging to run the game, so the first sessions will likely be shorter in included content due to my own issues with the medium. 
But with some trepidation, I’m looking forward to starting something here.

I blame my kid. As someone who used to do gold evaporation for my PhD thesis, I was always shocked at just how heavy it it. We always talk about uranium and tungsten as being dense, and they are. They’re also hard, high-melting refractory materials, so they do occupy a unique place in the hearts of ammunition designers everywhere.

Gold, on the other hand, actually has remarkable atomic mobility even at room temperature. It’s malleable – almost the definition of malleable – since it can be pounded and drawn to remarkably thin or fine layers.

But most of all, it’s heavy. The density of uranium is about 19 g/cc, and tungsten and gold are both 19.3 g/cc. There aren’t many heavier, and these are all about 2.5x heavier than steel.

At my desk at work – well, next to it – I have a chunk of titanium. Ti-13-11-3 alloy, specifically. It’s maybe 3″ tall and perhaps a foot square. I barely remember why I have it, but there it is. It weighs about 67 pounds – metal is remarkably heavy in big chunks.

Well, that same size piece of gold? 286 lbs.

Fort Knox?

  • Highest gold holdings this century: 649.6 million ounces (December 31, 1941). 
  • Size of a standard gold bar: 7 inches x 3 and 5/8 inches x 1 and 3/4 inches. 
  • Weight of a standard gold bar: approximately 400 ounces or 27.5 pounds. 

That’s 18.2 million kg, or 943 cubic meters of gold. A block 9.8m on a side, or roughly 30′ x 30′ x 30.

18,200 tons. Or enough to build two solid-gold Arleigh Burke class destroyers, if one were inclined.

Which you wouldn’t be.

The value of that giant block? About $800 billion.

Now that’s enough to build a giant honkin’ castle.

March 2014’s RPG Blog Carnival is focusing on Virtual TableTops and Online Gaming. I invited VTT creators to chat with me briefly about the state of VTTs, and what’s the future of online RPGs.

This evening I sat down for a brief chat with +Keith Athey of RPTools, and we spoke for just shy of a half-hour.

Unlike the usual Firing Squad interviews, this one, and hopefully others to follow, is only posted when I have a complete transcript up. This will occur, but I’m posting it right away.

With that: enjoy the interview!

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Good evening and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing
Squad. This evening we are joined by Keith Athey from RPTools. This particular
interview is a sort of an extra bonus interview. I’m trying to conduct
interviews about virtual tabletops and online gaming as part of the RPG Blog
Association Blog Carnival for March.
I suggested the topic and
I’m trying to support the event by bringing in content creators and innovators
and people who are actually running, using, and developing online systems for
role-playing games.
So Keith thank you for
joining us tonight.
Keith Athey (Content Creator for RPTools): You’re welcome. Glad to be here.
Doug: So
tell me a little bit about RPTools. I’ve personally used MapTool as part of a
GURPS Dungeon Fantasy campaign, where we were actually playing the Jade Regent
adventure path, but we played using Dungeon Fantasy. So I’ve had some
experience with the system.
But for those who don’t,
or for those who have never had a virtual tabletop experience at all why don’t
you tell us a let bit about what RPTools does, and tell us a little bit about
what VTTing is about.

Keith: Well
virtual tabletops I guess I got involved in them when I was no longer able to
game with my friends, so I was looking at something that would allow me to
connect over a large distances.
So I stumbled onto MapTools,
and at that time it was still in its early phases of development. There was
Trevor Croft who did most of the coding, and the Rice brothers, David and Mike,
who participated as well.
It started out as three
tools that turned into four which then started coalescing into this central
program called MapTool.
What it does is it’s a
virtual tabletop, it allows dice rolling, maps, map creation, asset management,
and later on they added on the ability to develop custom frameworks in
something called MT script. Which is a language that is a entity into itself.
Although MapTool is on the
surface is basically a place you put your tokens to move around and it has a
lot of map functionality. The real strength, I think, comes from the MT script
of the user community and what they’ve developed in the way of frameworks for
different systems.
Doug: One of
the players in our particular game. She is, I think we have several who are
really good at the scripting, but she is a script-wizard
and has coded the GURPS critical hit tables, and the dice rolling, and it
automatically gives you Deceptive Attacks, which is a rule mechanic in GURPS
that if you have a surfeit of skill, you can take a penalty to skill to give a
penalty to your attack. It’s all in there.
So if you have a really
good skill, and you take some penalties and your skill is still 20, it’ll
automatically give you a -4 to Deceptive Attack. So you don’t waste your extra
skill, because you can always fail on a 17 or 18.
I know that the code tools
are really powerful. And honestly, one of the reasons that I’m interested in
VTT is exactly why you got into them. I don’t have a face to face gaming group.
I have kids, and a busy life, and I can’t get 6 to 8 to 10 to 12 people in the
same room on a regular basis or any basis for that matter. I can hardly arrange
to go to dinner.
Do you think online gaming
is a kind of flash in the pan or do you think it’s going to be replaced by
going back to face to face gaming, or do you think this is a new way for doing
Keith: I
think that they’ll always been room for both from this point forward.
I think what you’ve seen
from traditional tabletop gaming, where you have the paper, pencil, and dice –
I think you’re going to begin to see that move more and more to virtual tabletops,
even if those tabletops are inside the same room where the players are
gathered. The tools are just to powerful to ignore.
I think as – now I just
turned 50 so I’m past the half century mark, right? I’ve been gaming for 35
years. I think the younger generations of folks are going to demand what
they’ve seen in their X-Box. You’re going to see your tabletop move towards
your X-Box. Just like you’ve seen your X-Box move towards your tabletop.
I mean today’s gamers on
the X-Box demand a much more story rich environment then back when saw back
when I was first story-gaming with Doom and things like that. You know it’s a
first person shooter. They want a story. They want something they can immerse
themselves in.
That’s something that RPGs
have given folks forever. The reason we started playing was we needed this
creative outlet to have fun, and we wanted to recreate things we’d read, or
things we’d thought of. And the RPGs were a natural place for that.
So when you have the
online games they’re going to be…you’re playing the game that the game creators
made in the X-Box on the tabletop, you can’t get a experience like that because
it’s based on the imagination of your gamemaster as well as the imaginations of
that table or virtual tabletop, You co-create a story.
And I just think that’s
going to become…I don’t see that going away, but I do think that people are
going to move more towards virtual tabletops than tabletops.
I’ll be honest with you, I
don’t really roll dice anymore. I have – I use the virtual tabletops for that
because a) it takes into account all the modifiers. I’ve developed several
frameworks, the most complex has been Savage Worlds, which doesn’t have the
same game mechanics as other game systems like the d20s. I had to code a lot of
the initiative stuff myself as well as some of the modifiers you’re speaking
of. They’re handled different in Savage Worlds then they are in other game
So the MapTool allowed me
to do all of that.
Yeah, I can buy…there are
venders out there that are selling Savage Worlds virtual tabletops and some
that are selling generic virtual tabletops.
I think the main thing
about MapTools is that it’s free and runs on anything. It runs on Linux. It
runs on Mac. It runs on Windows. Which is very important for my gaming group.
So for all those reasons I think MapTools are a natural choice for me, and
virtual tabletops are the natural choice for me based on my situation which is
like yours. I’ve got children and a family.
Instead of driving a few
hours to get to a gaming group, you get up from the dinner table, you have
family time, and then you walk into your office and go online and begin gaming.
It cuts out some of the
pizza, but other than that it’s still a great experience.
Doug: I
remember that when I was gaming, I think it was at Rice, the pizza outlets were
Mr. Gatti’s, which was edible, and Dominos which we claimed could fax from
point to point with no change in taste, so [both laugh] that would be a case
where the digital pizza is of higher quality than the actual pizza. I know that
they’ve improved since then, but boy was it awful then.
Some of the things that
you’ve mentioned in terms of the power of the virtual table top . . . One of
the things…GURPS get a good knock for occasionally being  so front-end loaded. You have to do a lot of
work to get characters or a story. It doesn’t have to be that way, but that is
the perception.
VTTs are a bit the same,
in that to get the maximum utility out of it you have to have at least one
person in your group who is kind of a script wizard. Do you think…
Keith: I
would say MapTools is a little heavier than most in that regard, because it
runs a client side tool – meaning every PC has its own version of MapTool
running, vs. some of the stuff like roll20 and others which are all web-based.
It is a little higher end on
the technical scale for people to get it up and running.  But I’ve had complete novices get set right up
and running with no problem.
I’ve also had the complete
opposite, folks really struggle getting Java set up right, or their network set
up right. You don’t run into that with some of the web-based systems, but by
their nature a web-browser based system cannot be as functional as a
client-side system. It’s just apples and oranges there.
But there is a lot to be
said for a web-based front end for an ease of getting into kind of thing.
But that said, there is
nothing simpler than sitting at a table next to somebody and saying you got to
add these two together and don’t forget to add the die to this. That’s your
lowest common system.
I will say that however
with the scripting ability of MapTool and some of the others I find that game
speed increases dramatically, because you’re letting the framework do a lot of
the things for you that you used to have to dig through and argue over. At
least for me, my gaming actually sped up, I can get more done in two hours than
I used to get in four or six in the old days.
Doug: What I
have found in my experience, is that has been true for video-based VTTs, where in roll20 or MapTool, you’ve actually got
people talking – whether it’s a offline window or you run a Hangout or a video
tool – in a different window. I find that game speed is much faster.
When we’ve played MapTool
with chat only, because that group is not found of video, it crawled. So there
is a certain amount…the tool was not the rate-limiting step. That was not
MapTool’s fault. There is a certain amount of human interaction to go smoothly
and well to get the most out of a VTT.
Keith: I
agree. There is nothing like … I say as a GM I like to hear my gamers scream
[both laugh]. I find that still to be true even though a player…the voice chat
goes much quicker than just the chat.
I’ve run many chat-only
sessions of VTT, and like you say they are slower. But the nice thing is
everything is in the chat. And what I like about chat only is you can save that
chat and let people read it later. And that’s a nice feature of most of the
VTTs out there.
Doug: What
I’ve done. I like to transcribe – [laughs] as you’ll find out, I’m big into
transcriptions and I like the reading of things.
What I’ll often do is take
screenshots of whatever we’re playing and put them into the transcript of the
game I’ll do as we’re gaming, It does make for a wonderful session log.
I caught a little bit of
well-deserved humor after I was doing that with Erik Tenkar’s Swords and
Wizardry group.  Within 5 minutes of the
end of the game I had posted up a fairly substantial transcript with pictures
and all kinds of stuff. We were actually playing through Tim Short’s Gothridge
Manor #3 little adventures on the Virtual Tabletop. I had screenshots and they
were all they’re and they were like “You got this up already?!” and I was like
“It’s easy. It’s all there.”
It’s not like you’re
uploading camera pics and as things happen you’ve got your battlemap and you
just capture a screenshot.
And I’ve seen that done
very effectively, not just with my stuff. Lots of people will say “Here is a
cool thing that happened” and they’ll show a shot of the screen from a VTT, and
you can see the four hundred icons that are all coming in, and you know that
the end is nigh.
Keith: You
know a side effect of that is that recently we started a play-by-post game with
my old-old gaming group. And it’s based off a novella I published called “World
of Grey” – a futuristic sci-fi.
We wanted to do this and I
decided to go ahead and use MapTool for the map creation and to create those screenshots
you’re talking about.
I don’t know if this is
true of other tabletops, I assume it is, but MapTool also makes a great
play-by-post as well.
Doug: Yes.
Keith: It’s
not a virtual tabletop per say, but it’s a awesome tool for just playing by
post or doing email games like that. Especially with MapTools drawing
And the number of huge
image libraries out there in places like RPGNetShare. Devin Night makes some
great tokens as well. There are a large number of top-down tokens out there for
the virtual tabletops and I will say, for me who is artistically challenged
it’s been a great boon for my gaming. I can make good-looking maps, I can just
take work that others have freely given on the communities and putting them in
my games that way which is another big strong selling point in my opinion on
It is a open source
project. There is nobody making (at this point) any money off it. All the
donations of art, code, and everything that people have given was given because
they wanted to give it to the gaming community.
And see that as well with
other virtual tabletops as well, I think. It’s an amazing thing and it’s one of
the things that attracted me to MapTools from the beginning. The community
behind it, and I’ll say the same thing for Savage Worlds, Clint Black, and the
I’m attracted to nice
communities, communities that want to help you – and MapTools is one of those
and Savage Worlds is one as well.
I’d gather other gaming
communities are the same way. I think Fate has a good backbone of the community
going. Because as RPGers, what we’re attracted to is not just the game. If it
were just the game we’d be playing Skyrim or other things like that.
It’s getting together with
people and interacting and MapTool and other VTTs as well as game systems as
well have that same camaraderie going on.
Doug: So
what do think the future…I just had a chat with Stacy Dellorfano, who founded
and has run ConTessa, an online gaming convention, twice now. GenCon 2025 –
project ten years and what do you think is there going to be a online virtual
tabletop section of that? Do you think it’s going to be something where you can
easily have of your seven or ten gamers, five of them are there in front of you,
and the other five are in Australia, Hong Kong, Minneapolis, or Montreal at the
same time. So you have this sort of worldwide fusion of both face to face and
online PCs. Do you think that’s eventually where we are going to get?
Keith: Yes I
do. However.
I will say the thing about
conventions in general is that the gaming is part of it, and it’s a important
part of it, but much of that experience is just meeting your heroes and people
you think highly of in the gaming industry as well as your fellow gamers that
you may have met on forums or VTTs or whatever.
I have a group of friends,
I haven’t made GenCon yet, it’s still on my bucket list, I had four of my
friends who met and gamed at GenCon . . . and you know that that’s a different
And when you’re with that
many people you can sit around and get ten people on a screen and that’s fun.
But it’s nothing like actually outside of the game socializing, going to eat,
going for a drink or two, or just chatting about games outside of the QWERTY
My problem with the
internet is that many people are anonymous and they feel powerful behind that
anonymity. Face to face is much harder to do that. There is just a different
interaction and different social level you get by actually meeting people face
to face. That’s not to say I don’t have great online friends – I do. People
like Matt Jackson and a few of us like that, that are all over the internet,
and you interact with them often – even over videochat.
I suspect if he and I were
in a room together it would be a little bit different experience with thousands
and thousands of other gamers. It’s just a different thing. It’s more like a
happening versus a event if that makes sense.
Doug: No,
and I agree. I had the fortune of hitting GenCon when I was in grad school and
I happened to met Timothy Zahn there, and that was when his Thrawn trilogy was
busting out all over,  and I got to
interact a little with the West End Games guys which was a awful lot of fun
because I was running a Star Wars game and I still have very fond memories of that system.
And it was really cool,
and I can’t remember who I met at the Steve Jackson Games booth and I know I
met a couple of them, and I’m sure I didn’t make a impression at all at the
time [laughs]. It’s a lot easier to say “Oh yeah, I wrote one of your books”
then it is to say “Yeah, I play your game.” Oh, yes, nice to meet you, that’s
Keith: Steve
Jackson person knows that that’s a different thing then reading something he’s
written on line [laughs].
Doug: Yes.
So taking MapTool into the
future a little bit, where do you think it’s going to go?
And I’ll make a little
wishlist for myself too.
For someone who doesn’t
have time to write code or learn it, do you think that there’s room for some
kind of more . . . almost like a GUI or powerful script thing? Where you can
get some of the scripting down more through menu selection or graphicals. “Oh,
I want to build a events table” and you populate it, add rows and it sort of
codes it for you.
Do you think that there
are going to be scripting aids to make the power a little more accessible?
Keith: Well,
it’s like I said, the strength of MapTools is community, and there are so many
frameworks developed by different people who either wanted to see things done a
bit differently in their framework, or for game systems that did not have
frameworks put together in the past.
I think what you’ll see is
a strong look at the common elements in all of those. Some of the folks like Covered_in_Fish
and Wolf_42 is another one – I could list a bunch of them, but I know I’d
forget at least half, but I’ll put those two because they have been two of the
most prolific.
There are a number of
folks who have developed all these tools for the MT script language. I think
you’ll see a lot of these fold into the main product as time goes on.
Some of the common things
like character sheets. Just about every framework put together has a way to
display your character information, and I think you’ll see a expansion of the
initiative system beyond the sort of DnD(ish) initiative that you have now.
I think you’ll see more
potential expansion in the area of sound as well as animated artwork. Some of
the animated GIFs, I think you’ll see that rolling in.
What’s on the top for the
future is a reworking of the GUI, which is a little dated I think, which most
people would admit.
Some of that is waiting
for Java FX to get worn and more mature and cross platform. Java FX has been
out for a while, but getting it for Mac and Linux, getting all those stable and
ready to go has been a little bit of a waiting game.
Part of that is because
the industry players don’t necessary want to play well together [laughs]. They
don’t want cross platform tools. What they would tell you is go to the web.
And that’s nice. HTML5 is
getting much better. I think it will continue to get better, but there will
always be browser incompatibilities. You got to code for Chrome. Code for I.E.,
Safari, and all the rest.
Each platform has its own
issues. The problem with Java is that they had a few GUIs. One was Swing,
another was SWT. They settled on Swing. Then around the time Oracle took over
Java they sort of shelved Swing, which is what MapTools is written in.
So now the next great GUI
is going to be Java FX we believe and they’re making great strides and getting
that thing ready to go. But it will mean a rewrite of the MapTool GUI and none
of that will happen quickly. And so . . .
Doug: So I
guess that’s the hard part about a user-supported piece, is there is no CEO who
can say “Your priorities are now different, and you 15 coders are going to make
this happen and it’s going to be on this deadline.” Getting software guys to do
anything on a deadline is hard, getting them to do it free has got to be . . .
slightly more difficult.
Keith: Well
it is. There is a guy named Rhys and he really kicked up the whole MT script
thing – and it’s going to sound kind of funny – with an IF statement.
If you’ve ever coded a
spreadsheet and you’ve put a three-parameter IF:  “if this, then this, if not that, then this.”
And that started everything [both laugh].
And I think Trevor who was
the original coder, wasn’t a big fan of user build frameworks, user built code
and I showed him what I’d done one time and said “What do you think?” and he
said “You. Scare. Me.” [laughs].
Because it was outside of
Java, it was beyond his ability to control the performance or anything else.
But that said, that’s the
power of it as well, once MT script got in there and started getting different
developers adding more functionality it took off. There is almost nothing you
can’t do with MapTool at this point inside MT script.
It’s like any other thing,
it’s got its strengths and weaknesses. But by and large the guys that went in
there and started working with that thing made it into an incredibly powerful
Doug: Do you
think there is ever going to come a time when a Steve Jackson Games, Paizo, or
a Wizards of the Coast, or a Evil Hat is going to come one or more virtual
tabletops and say “I’ve got GURPS 6th edition”(we’ll just skip right
over fifth). I’ve got DnD 6th edition, or whatever and it’s going to
launch inside a co-developed virtual
experience that can either be done at the tabletop with tablets (or whatever)
to assist, or online with the power of a Google Hangouts video mated with a
fairly robust random number rule support, a character sheet, and by the way you
can pull in maps.
I got one other wish list
I’ll cover wholly separate later because I think it would be awesome.
Do you ever think they’re
going to be a partnership that way where the next editions of games are almost
going to be required to be supported
on a VTT?
Keith: [emphatically]
Doug: [laughs]
Moving on then…
Keith: And I
say that someone who’s 50 and in the software industry. What I’ve seen happen
in the gaming industry is that people that develop games do not know how to run
software projects, and people that know how to run software projects do not
know how to run games.
It’s not that the two
cultures are perpendicular to each other or anything, it’s just whoever the
management is is going to favor one or the other. So you’re either going to
have a strong RPG and a weak VTT or the other way around. It would take someone
that is strong in both communities to do it right.
Doug: Okay. Then
the last part of it is I guess my wish list – and this may be something like
“And this is what I’d really like to have” and you’re like “Yeah, that’s
already in there.”
Obviously, a lot of these
VTTs have a fairly powerful capability to bring in a map, a image, or jpeg, or
Is there a utility, or
could there be a utility that takes that map and then says “Okay, wherever
there is a light/dark boundary I’m going to put a wall.”
So you can not just bring
it in, but powerful features like lighting or sound or I’m going to set off a
fireball in this thing and it’s going to blossom into how many cubic feet.
Do you think there is a
capability there for taking a flat file, so to speak, a flat picture and
integrating it into some of the more powerful “Here’s where the walls are and
here is the door and here is the properties of said file.” Is that something
that is possible? Or a next step?
Keith: Yes.
In fact it’s partially solved now…
Doug: Okay.
Keith: …in MT
script. There have been some people that have created tokens or a vision blocking
layer and recorded it in a macro so that whenever you plop that token it’s
going to recreate that as you go.
I know that in the future
as people who don’t use MapTools won’t know this pain. The tokens are stored in
a special file folder with the .RPTok extension, and that will be a future hold
for animated file pieces, these virtual vision blocking layer inside the tokens
so that when you drag in these .RPTok it brings this stuff with it. Including a
animated .GIF, if you have an animated GIF of a fireball. It’s going to explode
out like a fireball, on a time schedule. I’m sure all that is not too far away.
Doug: Right.
And the maps themselves, as opposed to the moveable tokens, you think that’s
something where the walls will auto-populate. Essentially something like a cave
complex: here’s a map and I’m going to call this the open spot and it’s going
to follow a contour around and say “Okay, that’s the open spot. Do you want to
make all this the wall?”
Keith: I’re making me put my software developer hat on now. The way I would
handle that is through textures. You would have vision blocking texture that
you would lay down, and you’d leave the open spots as visible areas. And
wherever you drew that light-blocking texture would always be blocked.
Doug: I
guess what I’m looking for is something like “Oh! I saw a great map that
somebody uploaded!” And rather than having to sit down and spending hours
recoding it in your tool the package would say “I’m going to help. I’m going to
guess and hopefully that’s going to help in a good way rather than a Microsoft
way.” [both laugh]
“Really we’re going to
help you by doing everything you don’t want.”
If you’ve ever written for
Steve Jackson Games the first thing you do is turn the Microsoft Autoformatting
OFF, because if you really want to make Steven Marsh even more long-suffering,
send him something with the autocorrect on, because it wrecks the layout. Absolutely wrecks their ability to import it
into a file they use.
But anyways, that at least
for me, timestrapped and 40 some odd years old. If I drew a map or grabbed a
map and it says “I’m going to take my best guess into making this into
something that can be used.” Within the power of the machine, the code, would
be a real help for a novice user.
Keith: I
think that’s all doable via a colorpicker tool. I think the same thing we’re
talking about doing the light blocking layer via texture, you could do it
through a color-picking tool.
Doug: Okay.
Well I always give my guest the last word so if there is anything you want to
add or amplify or chat about. Have at it.
Keith: My
son is here. His name is Chaos Lord Zack [a child’s voice can be heard off
Zack Athey:
Hey! [garbled audio] [Doug and Keith laugh]. What are you talking about?
Keith: So
he’s often on my video chats, but he’s usually more vocal so thanks for helping
me out there bud.
Zack: That
just makes it a lot worse.
Keith: Other
than that I’ll say that from a MapTools standpoint, and RPTools standpoint it’s
the community that makes this really work.
I’m part of the RPTools
staff, but it’s really everybody that contributes to the forums every day and
everybody that submits artwork, everybody that develops new macros for folks,
all that stuff. That’s what makes MapTools great and will continue to make it
great going forward.
Doug: Well I
wanted to thank you for your time and thank Zack for being a gentlemen in the
Keith: You
bet [laughs].
Doug: Alright,
thank you very much.
Keith: Thank
you, sir.
Doug: Bye,

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

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].
Stacy, thank you for joining us and giving us some of your time today.
Stacy: Thank you for having me.
Doug: Absolutely.
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
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.
always kept talking about AD&D. Constantly.

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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
Doug: We’ll have a visitor [both
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.
more like one of those things where I play what is interesting to me at the
time. I’ve played both.
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.
. . . 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.
right, smiles, throws hands into the air] Squirrel!
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
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.
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].
Doug: If I wanted angst I’d go to
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.
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].
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.
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.
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.
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.
sort of leads into . . . did the…what lead you to start ConTessa.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
to do an online convention like that…it seemed very convenient, and I was wondering if ConTessa was the first? The
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
worked really well.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
could do it in chat, but it’s not the same kind of experience.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
I replied: “You know, go onto e23 and download the reports and look at what
they’re doing [for revenue] and…yeah…No.”
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
started getting plussed into nearly every conversation that had anything to do
with gender politics. And getting invited to panels talking about gender.
didn’t want that, I’m a gamer, I write games, I run games. I want to talk about
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
can be identified political because “Why if you are just being gamers can’t you
just go be gamers?”
the answer is “We can’t. Because we haven’t
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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
Doug: Somebody roll 3d6 please.
Stacy: Yeah. Exactly! [Doug
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
kinds of things are a little bit weird.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
he laughed and said “that’s not bad.” But then he said that politics is just the
distribution, management, and allocation of power.
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
a definitional stand point, if that’s where you want to go, you can do it that
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.
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]
only a little bit.
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.
the biggest part about playing that particular game was you were a Star Wars fan, and that’s not exactly uniquely
ever since then, I’ve always had women in my gaming group and I’ve seen all
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.
people say women play differently, or men play differently. I’ve not seen it.
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.
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.
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
harder is the softer stuff. What’s
harder, is the kind of things that you see, like for instance:
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
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?”
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
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.”
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.”
in many cases because we’re in such a small community, it’s the exact same
people responding differently to two different genders really.
that’s one of those little “soft” things that you hear.
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.”
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]
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,
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.
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?
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
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.”
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.
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.”
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?”
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
“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.
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.
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.
rest of the world was almost uninhabitable and there are like islands of
civilization and this was one of them.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
was our first issue and quite a few people have actually gotten work out of
that issue – which is fantastic.
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
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.
don’t give them any other directions other than how many words they get. We got
to have that.
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.
only that, the art is amazing, and there are tentacles all over the place
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.
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.
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.
Stacy: Yeah. We want to shake
things up a little bit.
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
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.
get really anxious sending emails to gaming industry professionals and asking
them if they would just donate their time to use.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
know, if you don’t ask you don’t go to the dance.
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.
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.”
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.
I always give my guest the last word so is there anything you want to close
Stacy: Oh my goodness, the last
word? I don’t know.
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].
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.
feel like if we had a more continuous presence throughout the year – little
things here and there – that would have worked out.
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
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.

OK, so yesterday we talked about loot. About $100,000 in loot, conveniently packed into a box no more than six inches wide, and maybe three inches deep and two high. More or less.

What about real treasure. The kind you imagine you find in a dark hole that took you months of delving?

Well, let’s consider the value, and then, how to move that value.

The pirates treasure chest diagrammed is a home-built design, for fun (not mine), and the base measures about 16x24x9″.

Let’s go with that figure, and look at the gold bars in the first image. They’re about eight wide, two deep. So figure about 8″ long, perhaps 3″ wide, and let’s go with about 2″ deep. Or for Canadians like +Tim Shorts, about 20×7.5×5 cm.

In short, that chest can notionally hold 2x8x4 = 64 gold bricks.

Each brick is 825 cubic centimeters – and again I use this number because I know the density of gold easily in g/cc, which is 19.3. So each brick weighs 35 lbs. And there are 64 of them. At about $70,000 a pop.

The hard part won’t be killing the monster. It’ll be the physical therapy from literally a metric ton of gold: 2,250 lbs in that one chest.

Hell, I wonder if you could even lift it? Without ruining the chest, I mean.

The good news, is that our established price of $44,000 per kg makes 1,000 kg easy to calculate – $44,000,000 in one not-terribly transportable box.

What about other metals? Well, an equivalent brick of copper would weigh 16.2 lbs, and sliver, at 19 lbs.

So silver would be $19,000 per brick, and copper? A measly $1,000 each, but it’s only a half-ton, with silver being only slightly more, tipping the scale at 1,200 lbs.

That chest full of silver ain’t bad, a cool $1.2M, and literally about 1,000 lbs of copper would be required to purchase Cadmus’ enchanted armor suit.

Of course, if you really want to go big on your treasure, consider the world’s largest solid gold statue. A golden buddha about ten feet tall. The statue isn’t all pure gold, but the higher up you go on the body, the more pure it is, likely for structural as well as spiritual reasons.

It is 5,500 kg, and if we assume the bulk of it is about 60% pure, we’re dealing with 3,300 kg of gold, plus other metals. $145 million. If it were pure, it would be $240 million.

How hard can it be to move a few tons of metal, or stone? I mean, the Assyrians could do it . . .

Not unusual, but today I was playing with my daughter, and she brought out her pirate treasure. It’s a small box, with metal stamped coins that are gold, silver, and copper colored.

At first, I just thought it was a fun little box. Then I got to thinking. How much gold could you really get in one of those?

I mean the box itself has maybe 3.5 by 6.5 x 10.5 cm of interior space in the bottom piece.

Each “coin” or imitation doubloon  is not round, but varies between 20-25mm in diameter, and is 2mm thick. This means it’s basically as big around as a gold Half Eagle, but basically twice as thick.

A gold half-eagle has varied in dimensions and purity, but was often just shy of 8.5g of gold, which was a 22-25mm disc about 1mm thick. I did a quick calculation, and figured if the gold coins were real gold, each would be about 0.8 cubic centimeters, or about 15g each. Since the box can probably handle 120-150 gold coins, that’s about 1.8 to 2.25kg of gold.

Gold recently has been something like $40-50,000 per kg. So that little box could be worth about $100,000 in coins, or if it were actually filled with a solid gold ingot, about twice that.

What about in DF? Well, gold is $20,000 GURPS dollars per pound . . . or about $44,000 per kilogram. Almost exactly the same as today, so that small box of coins could be worth a small fortune.

I was surprised at how portable that loot would be. You can get a sweet, sweet set of armor using the rules in Low Tech plus some house rules making plate more expensive for that (Cadmus’ kit was something like $60-65,000 if I recall, and is DR 12 on the head, neck, and torso, DR 9 everywhere else).

A treasure chest might be quite small.

Edit: Here’s a picture of some real gold coins found off of Florida. Regrettably, scale is not provided.

As noted, I interviewed +Stacy Dellorfano yesterday for Gaming Ballistic’s Firing Squad.

It was a good interview, but likely ruined because of issues on my end. In short, I couldn’t get my headset to work, and not wanting to be rude, I plunged right into the interview without it.

That . . . did not go well.

I figured it out, I think. I had used Skype for a video call with my mother earlier, and that reset the connections. When I closed down everything, actually shut down Chrome and  Skype, then plugged in my headset/mic, then booted up Chrome . . . it all worked fine.

So now I know, and can go through a ritual sound cleansing before such interviews.

Here’s the question for the peanut gallery: the video is unusable, but I can probably salvage a transcript by working really hard at it. Does anyone watch the video, or would an all-text interview be fine?

Stacy was an engaging guest, and so the video would be fun to watch and notionally listen to, but really: bad.

Comments welcome.

Edit: +Christopher R. Rice did a great job of salvaging the interview, thanks to a distortion-removing electronic device that I think was designed for musical instruments. The transcript is done, I’ve done my own edits, and I’ve got that version to +Stacy Dellorfano for her to read and comment. There are one or two things that need her input, since she was giving someone props for awesome art that neither Christopher nor I could figure out. So you should see the interview posted in a few days.