Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Early this year, I had that minor issue with someone using one of my images without permission (and without following the terms of its Creative Commons license).  In that post, I mentioned that I had requested a $50 donation to Child's Play.

Since then, I have received a number of e-mails from folks asking about game-related charities. At the time, I only knew of Child's Play and Toys for Tots. A few more have shown up since then.

Since it's now well into September, we are nearly to the holiday season. This is when charities start to gear up for their busy season, and I want to encourage you to give to charity.

These are the charities I know of who are either game-related or are tied in some way to gamers which I can recommend to you:

Childs Play - Originally started by the Penny Arcade guys, Child's Play initially focused on getting video games and video game systems for low-income or otherwise disadvantaged children. Over the years, it's grown well beyond that. I can, without hesitation, recommend Child's Play as a charity worth supporting.

Jack Vasel Memorial Fund - Tom Vasel is one of the internet's best-known and most prolific board game reviewers. Over the years, he's done an excellent job of letting us into his personal life in bits and pieces. Tom is also an amazing human being. In 2010, his son, Jack, was born too early. After struggling for longer than anyone had expected, he passed. The boardgamegeek community rallied and raised tens of thousands of dollars to help with the medical bills. Tom wishes to pay that forward. The Jack Vasel Memorial Fund gathers funds which are then given to gamers who are in need.

Foodmachine - I only recently became aware of this one. Apparently, a bunch of New Jersey-based Warmachine players formed it to give money to the local food bank.What started small and local has snowballed, with prizes now provided by Privateer Press. It's a great idea.

Toys for Tots - The USMC's annual toy drive also accepts games. My FLGS participates every year by putting out a big box for donation collection. They collect year-round, however, and also accept cash donations. Check the website for the local chapter near you.

And not game-related, but relevant to me, is Movember. I've decided to participate this year.  Those of you who know me know that I have facial hair. In fact, I have had this facial hair since the mid nineties. I shaved it off for one month a few years back (and was paid $300 to do so). On October 31, I will be shaving it all off again, and then regrowing just the mustache, with normal facial hair to begin resuming in December.

I don't get any kickbacks or prizes for any donations to any of these charities. I support the missions of all of them (in one or two cases, I do so financially).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cursed Items for D&D

Apparently Wizards of the Coast does listen to its fans.

Remember when I ranted about a lack of cursed items in 4E?

They're now available.


It probably sounds weird that I'm so excited about this, because I'm not currently a 4E DM.  I'm a player.

It's not as odd as it seems. I promise.

Currently, I know that every time I slay a foe, I can (and should) grab anything they drop that I can carry. I don't need to worry at all about drawbacks - it's a matter of, "Is this stuff better than what I already have or not?"

I miss the mystery of, "Is this safe to use?" or "Will this item have a drawback of some sort?" I miss powerful items that forced PC's to remove their armor. Or which had a risk associated with them - the Wizards article linked above makes it sound like the curses are added to the existing awesomeness of an item - so you might get a Dragon-slaying Backbiter blade +4 that has the power to do significant damage to Dragons (and nearly anyone else), but inflicts half-damage on its wielder in the case of a critical.

It means that PC's will need to think before mindless grabbing handfuls of loot. It may be that that blade +4 is better than my Longsword +2 - but is it worth the critical effect?

I, for one, can't wait to start seeing some of these items in play.

Jim and Jason: I'm not kidding. I'd love to see a few cursed items in our games from time to time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design

The Kobolds did it again: They've released another Kobold Guide. And offered me a free PDF to read.

The previous Guides had loads of solid information on writing and publishing RPGs and RPG Adventures. How to approach publishers, various models of design, and so on. I really loved them - enough that I purchased print copies after reading the free PDF copies.

The new one, however, hit me in a particular weak point missed by the others: Board Games.

The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design is structured similarly to the three RPG-flavored volumes - that is, there is one "core" author, who does the interstitial work as well as an essay or two.  This time, it's Mike Selinker who fills this role. There are also essays by Richard Garfield, James Earnest, Matt Forbeck, Jeff Tidball, Andrew Looney, and several others - all of whom I recognized (which says something about me).

It's divided into four parts: Concept, Design, Development, and Presentation.

Part 1: Concepting is just what it sounds like - working on coming up with an idea for a game, and it includes some thoughts about game design in general. I especially recommend reading Richard Garfield's essay in this section, in large part because I agree with him. I don't always like his games, but I do like what he has to say more often than not.

Part 2: Design overlaps a great deal with Part One. It does include the first thing in the book that made me actually laugh out loud - Andrew Looney's chart detailing his creative process.  It ends with PUBLISH and then START FAQ FILE. It was an excellent reminder that publication is never done.

I particularly enjoyed Rob Daviau's essay from this section, where he discussed how a small rules tweak can clear out multiple paragraphs of rules text and make a game easier to learn.

For those of you who don't know, Mike Selinker has a Livejournal account dedicated to the "most beautiful" things.  Each time he posts, he picks a category, and discusses what he finds to be the most beautiful example of that category. So it was not a surprise to find an essay here called, "The Most Beautiful Game Mechanics."

Part 3: Development has (no surprise) some overlap with the previous section. Rob Daviau's essay could easily have fit into this section. It's all about taking your game and then polishing it some more - generally it's polish that is out of the hands of the designer, too.  Dave Howell's essay could easily have fit into Part 2, as it outlines a series of design rules.

Part 4: Presentation is all about that final coat of polish and what to present to potential publishers.  Steve Jackson (of Steve Jackson Games) has the first essay in here, with a long list of "This is a bad idea and why." It's written interestingly, and demonstrates a solid understanding of gaming and gamers. Having been in business for as long as he has, it should come as no surprise that he has this depth of understanding.

Michelle Nephew's essay in this section seems to my (unpublished) mind to be the most useful. It summarizes much of the rest of the book, and does so clearly and concisely.

Even if you aren't thinking about designing a board game, I would still pick up a copy of this book - the sneak peek into the mind of some truly excellent designers is well worth the price of admission.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

ICONS Contest: Results

Sorry for the delay in posting - I got home late last night.

Here are the answers:

My favorite comic book character?  Lobo.  No-one got this one. Not surprising. Most of the guesses I received were fairly predictable - Batman, Superman, Wolverine, and Green Lantern led the pack.

My favorite superheroic system?  The old Marvel Super Heroes FASERIP system. After a brief discussion with my wife last night, I would also have accepted Smallville (which I think of as being a soap opera game, even though it is a super hero-genre game. FASERIP got a fair number of guesses. HERO system received a fair number of guesses. Mutants and Masterminds was the most popular guess.

No-one got both questions correct.

The winner was Uriah Otting, who did not have any correct guesses. Uriah, please check your e-mail and get back to me. Thanks to all for your participation.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Pax Prime 2011

I had an excellent time at PAX Prime this year. Like most conventions, it was a fair amount of work and a huge pile of fun.

I was there to help Mindspan Labs demo ZoxSo. Going into the weekend, I was filled with dread - it'd been a while since I'd played, and I wasn't feeling as sharp as I usually do. And - to be perfectly honest - I'd like the game, but I wasn't a huge fan.  So the prospect of playing a game like that over and over ... well ...

Friday morning, I met with Dave to go over our plan for the weekend.  He re-taught me the game (and managed to show off a few of the strategies in the process). Which helped a lot - suddenly, I wanted to play more.  He wandered off to check on something, and by the time he returned, I had an opponent at the table and was already mid-game.

I'll discuss the game in depth some other time - this post is about PAX, not ZoxSo - but it's fast-playing, fun, and has a surprising amount of strategic depth. Enough that I played it 70+ times this weekend, and I still want to play more.

I've been to GenCon and Origins. I even visited PAX a few years ago. And all three conventions have a very different feel from one another.

Origins is about playing games and teaching games. It's the focus of the con. It's the smallest of the three, but it holds the Fun of the Game above all other considerations.

GenCon is about selling the game. Sure, people are playing games all hours of day and night, and I play a lot of them there, but - at its heart - GenCon is much more mercantile than Origins.

PAX is ... different. For me, PAX is about the people. I had an opportunity to meet dozens of folks while teaching ZoxSo. I also got to teach the game to a number of good friends who I game with regularly.

I met a game store owner from the Midwest. I met a gentleman who works for Best Buy in the cellular phone department. I played with an insurance agent. I played with scientists and doctors and lawyers and game developers. I met the wife and mother of the designers of The Ares Project (coming soon from Z-Man games). I became re-acquainted with a friend I hadn't seen (or heard from) in over a decade.

And I got to keep an eye on the tournaments and board game area. And deal with the Enforcers.

PAX has the best volunteer team in the convention business. No question. They are unobtrusive, but omnipresent. And I saw them heading off problems before they even developed. Stuck in a long line and getting irritable? Odds are good that an Enforcer will be along shortly to entertain you.  Vendor stuck at a table? Enforcers will bring you water, if you ask politely.

At one point, a cookie seller came by - they were selling cookies to raise money for Child's Play. It was all up to us what we donated, but if we hit the $30 level, you could get a "Yo Dawg" cookie. The woman who was selling to us had bacon-wrapped Nutter Butter cookies which were inside an Oreo cookie brownie made me wish I had $30.  It also bears mention: Child's Play is one of two of my charities of choice.

In short: PAX was amazing.

If you have the chance to attend PAX at any point, I heartily recommend that you do so.

Also: If you haven't already entered my ICONS Contest, you still have a few days.

Friday, September 02, 2011

ICONS Contest

I recently purchased a print copy of ICONS from Cubicle 7.

As is their policy, when you purchase a print copy of one of their games, they will send you a free PDF from DriveThru RPG.

In this case, however, I already own ICONS in PDF. I bought it a few months ago, and very much enjoyed it.

This means that you can win my bonus PDF copy of ICONS.

All you have to do is answer a few quick questions that you probably don't know the answers to.

Here's the skinny (and it's much like my previous contest, also thanks to Cubicle 7 - keep distributing all the great games, guys!):

To enter, e-mail your answers to the following questions to by the time I check my e-mail one week from now (that is: On the 9th).

Your names, e-mail addresses, or other information about you will not be saved after the contest, and will not be shared, sold, saved, or used in any way that is not directly related to this contest.

You will receive one contest entry just for entering. Each correct answer also gains you an additional entry. As there are only two questions, no contestant will have more than three entries into the contest.  On the day of decision, I will use to determine a winner.

For the record: I don't think any of my friends know these answers. And I will not answer these questions if they come up in conversation with my friends until after the contest is completed.

Here are the questions:

Question 1: Who is my favorite comic book character?

Question 2: What is my favorite super-hero RPG system?

Good look, and I look forward to your answers.

Special thanks to both Cubicle 7 for offering PDFs with purchase and Adamant Entertainment for publishing ICONS.