Con on the Cob – Retrospective

One might think that with the little time I spent at Con on the Cob (especially in comparison to the multi-day affairs that were my other convention experiences this year) that I wouldn’t have anything to offer in terms of a look back at my experience. The truth is, I learned as much from my time at CotC as I did at any of the other conventions.

Don’t short-change yourself

This is probably the most important thing that I learned. As I mentioned in my previous posts on the convention, I came into CotC in a rushed, hurried manner. I didn’t even arrive at the convention until about 8pm on Saturday night of a convention that began Friday and would end mid-afternoon on Sunday. I went in with no plan, and really, with no idea of what I was going to do when I got there. The once exception to that was the Savage Saturday Night Bar and Grill, and frankly, that party saved my convention experience.

Know what’s going on

The fine folks that put on conventions work to build event schedules so schulbs like me will have a chance to know what events they can look forward to when attending. Don’t take their hard work away from them! If the convention you’re attending has a list of what’s going down and when, then print it out and have it handy. This is especially important for smaller conventions. Big shindigs like Origins and GenCon have things going on right and left, and if you can’t find something to do, you’re not looking hard enough. At smaller conventions like KantCon and Con on the Cob, though, all you might have is a set of tables with numbers to indicate to the GM where they should play. Do your best to take a look at the posted schedules and, if all else fails, ask someone what’s up.

The people make the difference

This was true at all of my other conventions as well, but it went double for Con on the Cob. If I hadn’t met the people I met at the Savage Saturday Night Bar and Grill, then I wouldn’t have had nearly the good time that I had. I mean, how often do you get a chance to play Deadlands with folks who have helped write and edit Savage Worlds books? If you’re me, not often. As well, my day two was salvaged thanks to a group of great gamers who basically said “you’re playing a game with us” as I wandered by their table.

At every convention I have attended this year, the people I have met and spent time with have contributed greatly to the good times I have had. From David and the crew from The Cheese Grinder at Origins to the Gamer’s Haven folks at KantCon to an improbable mash-up of all of the above, the people are what make conventions great. Con on the Cob proved this rule, and I am sure that I will find the same to be true at every convention I attend.

Final thoughts

I really wish that I had done things differently in relation to Con on the Cob. That having been said, I had an amazing time and I would’t change the way things went down for anything. I am, however, going to do my best to keep my own advice in mind and plan more throughly to make sure that I can get the most out of my convention experiences. If you’ve got thoughts to add to the conversation, please feel free to comment or, as always, you can follow me on Twitter.

This isn’t quite the end of my coverage of Con on the Cob, either. I got some good interviews and two full game sessions, so look for those to post in the coming weeks.

[tags]rpg, rpgs, role playing games, conventions, Con on the Cob[/tags]

Metagame, RPG Web Series

Via, I just discovered a great new gamer web series called Metagame, that focuses on the out of character comedy that transpires at a typical game table, with little dips into character done in some fun, cheesy cartoons.

Their first episode, below, is the best place to start.  Though it’s only picking up in the latest episodes, these short little tabletop humor vignettes actually do seem to link up to an ongoing story, so make sure to watch them all and watch them in order by visiting their channel HERE.

Anyone who has been behind the DM Screen knows that last shot so well.

The Metagame Group

[tags]RPG, role playing, gaming, video, funny, humor, youtube[/tags]

Gaming in the Classroom – an interview with Pete Figtree, teacher, gamer, innovator.

Pete Figtree is a teacher with a mission.  He is bringing gaming in to the classroom in a way that will positively influence his present and future students.  He is doing something real and important with real students.  I get a neat, shiny and warm feeling whenever I think of this.  Pete has designed coursework to encourage creative thinking, which moves beyond the boundaries of a typical class, particularly those that I was attending in High School.  Pete brings elements of gaming into his English classes, and he’s working overtime with his school’s gaming club.  What exactly is he doing? Check this out for a good frame of reference, and ponder why you couldn’t have taken this class in school.

Pete and his class are thoroughly enjoying their forays in to gaming.  If you are interested in learning more, please read on, as I had a chance to ask Pete a few questions.  If you’d like to help out, Pete and his classroom would love any donations of PDFs, hard copies and boxed games.

On to the interview!

Other than simply bringing gaming into the classroom (either during class time or after school as a gaming club) what are your goals?  In other words, could you describe what you’re hoping to accomplish and why you’ve chosen role playing games?

Well, implementing games effectively in the classroom is a lofty goal, so that’s a good enough goal in and of itself.  It is one thing for a gamer to play games in class; it is another to make the games being played a vital part of achieving state goals and objectives in the classroom.  So, being reflective and honest about the effectiveness of gaming the classroom is an ongoing process that will never end, particularly as it relates to Layered Curriculum, a style of running a classroom masterminded by a smart lady named Kathy Nunley.  Her work and ideas can be found at  Layered Curriculum fits perfectly with a desire to game the classroom, so I cannot speak highly enough of it.

But, in addition to this, I would love for the kids in the gaming club to get so good at running games that we could run a school mini-con.  This would be a fun way for the kids to show off the coolness of the games they play and to showcase their GM skills.  Once that is accomplished, I would love to use the same kids to run a TEACHERcon in which they run games for teachers in order to show them the educational value of games.  This is a project very dear to my heart and would be a good bridge for me to do professional development sessions with teachers about practical and convincing ways to implement gaming into their classrooms.  Yes, I love games like any other gamer does, but I also honestly know that they are powerful vehicles for educating people.  They just need to be used wisely.  I am working on mastering the practice.

As far as only choosing role playing games, I haven’t.  I have recently blogged about the use of the Back to the Future Card Game in the classroom and am planning to use two party games very soon, Say Anything with Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Smash or Trash in my rhetoric course.  I am open to any type of games, but I have found role playing games easier to use with larger groups; all you need are rules and a character sheet, and you are ready to go.  And the new story games—forget about it—are simply tailor made for an English course.  And, of course, somewhere in the middle are the Engle Matrix Games from Hamster Press, which I find very useful and ready to go straight out of the box.  I love Engle Matrix Games enough to enjoy playing them outside of class for recreation by email.  Right now, I am in the middle of a PBEM Star Trek matrix game.

You’ve recently put out a request for help – asking for donations of role playing game PDFs, so the kids in your class can have actual gaming materials to play with.  How is that going?  How has the reaction of the gaming community in general been?

It has been overwhelmingly awesome.  The number of PDFs and hard copies I have received has blown the kids’ minds.  Board and party games have also been donated.  I am so thankful for the outpouring and have been putting together a little game library in my classroom that allows kids to check out games.  It is so rewarding and would not be possible without the generosity of those who donated.  I wish everyone could see the look on the face of a kid who realizes she has access to a fifty or sixty dollar book filled with sweetness.  The gaming community is a group of passionate and generous people always ready to teach and share.  I think the community aspect of gaming is one of the most attractive parts of it.  It’s as if we all know we have some great secret that needs to be shared and can’t wait to share it with others.  Everyone I have met in the gaming community has been nothing but kind to gaming insiders as well as to new players.  I cannot express how impressed I am with the spirit of gamers and gaming.  Gaming is a universe full of good, interesting, and smart folks.  I will be playing for the first time at a con soon and am very excited to meet some of the people I really admire face to face.

Do you find your students lean more towards the role playing aspects or the combat aspects in game?  How do you attempt to balance out pure dungeon delving with actual role play?

It’s a mix.  Some kids just don’t realize that there is anything outside of dungeon delving, but once they do, they are generally into whatever scenario you throw at them.  Of course, a little combat here and there and everywhere is usually welcomed by the kids, but they are by no means shallow in regard to new ideas and methods of role playing.  I watched a kid at my last school gaming meeting run Don’t Rest Your Head like a pro and   was so impressed with his knowledge of the rules and his storytelling chops.  Using the games in class naturally helps with the balance of role play and pure hack and slashing.  I have used PDQ and The Soap Game with success in a class that was acting out the lives of small town characters.  This was to enrich a reading of Spoon River Anthology, and I cannot remember any violence in the game, but there was plenty of drama.

What do you find draws kids to role playing?  What keeps them interested?

The same things that draw most of us to role playing are the same things that attract the kids.  They are immersive and fun.  We all love the escape and creativity that rpgs bring into our lives.  Kids are possibly even more into these elements, and they love the idea of developing a character over a period of time.  They love being an expert about a set of rules, and the community and friendship one builds over time with a gaming group is great for anyone, young or old or in-between.  There is nothing quite like role playing in regard to capturing the imagination and holding it in a place of awesomeness over a lengthy span of time.

How did you get into RPGs?

I remember sitting around with friends as a teen playing D and D fast and loose.  I have no idea if we were playing correctly, but I do know that I was carried away with it.  I remember the graph paper filled with dungeons and the weird dice that we got to roll.  That experience got its hooks into me and never left even though I didn’t game for years after that group of friends stopped playing.   Fortunately, though, before I took my extended hiatus, I had brief stints playing other genres of rpgs as well as D and D and realized early that role playing games do not always have to be fantasy games.  Then I was asked to sponsor my school’s Chess Club which organically morphed into a full-fledged gaming group.  While this was happening, I was reading and learning and downloading free stuff like a man possessed.  I was amazed and intrigued by the developments that had happened in the gaming world since I had last played role playing games.  Around this same time, I found a boxed set of the original Star Frontiers for one dollar at a yard sale and I was fully back into the hobby more than ever.

What knowledge do you consider vital to pass along to future GMs and Players?

I think it is important to know that there is probably a role playing game out there for everyone if it is presented well.  A person doesn’t turn on the radio, hear a lame song, and say, “I hate music.”  That person turns the dial or puts in a CD that he or she likes, but many people tend to react to games in this knee-jerk way.  It’s not on purpose, though.  Most people don’t know what is out there.  It does require a little bit of digging.  That is why I love some of the new games that are written for new people in mind.  I guess I would love people to see games as more enriching than passive activities like watching TV or movies.  I love these things as much as the next guy, but I know that the brain is firing on all cylinders when it is playing a game and making up stories.

Snacks are important to gaming.  Do you serve snacks?  If so, what?

Ouch!  I do not, but I should.  The gaming group is going from one day a week to four possible playing days, so I probably better get these kids some grub.  Perhaps, we will have to set up a snack rotation.  Teachers are not rich, you know, and kids are some hungry humans.  Another consideration is the school wellness goals.  School systems are tightening up on what teachers can provide in regard to food to kids, so I assume it should be something that passes as healthy.  We ran a tourney a couple years ago fueled by string cheese, pretzels, and juice.  I guess that’s not all that bad.

What do you think the kids hope to get out of this?

Curiosity, creativity, and a hunger for knowledge are all things that make up good students.  Ultimately, I want gaming in the classroom to be an effective way to engage students in my units and to help them master the objectives that I am supposed to teach.  Getting curious about the world and having a desire to learn can only aid in this process.  It’s also great to see the kids having.  Looking across a classroom full of chatting, laughing, and dice rolling kids is an experience that is priceless, especially if you know the kids are learning from it.  Showing the kids another type of gaming that they are not familiar with is also very rewarding, especially when there are so many wonderful, free games to which I can point them. In short, I hope my class will help my students embark on a life full of awesome.  That would make me happy.  Awesome kids with awesome brains living awesome lives full of awesome.

How many other teachers, that you know of, are bringing gaming in to the classroom? How successful have they been?

All teachers do the whole test review type of games, but I want to go deeper than that, so I don’t know any other teachers personally who are trying to do what I am trying to do.  However, a teacher came and observed my kids playing the Frankenstein Engle Matrix Game the other day and was sold on the idea.  It is not hard to recognize the level of thinking and concentration that games can evoke in students.  I know from belonging to Sam Chupp’s kids and rpgs yahoo group that rpgs are popular among parents that homeschool their children.  And, I know that a man named Dave Millians has been gaming his classroom long before the idea crossed my mind.  Millians and Chupp were definitely at the forefront of all of this talk about the value of gaming for kids.  Both of them have valuable info on the internet about these issues.  As far as success goes, when a lesson inspired by a game or game theory is in play, it seems to generate attention as much as any other method that I have used.  The teacher just has to realize that for the most part he is teaching non-gamers some new things.  Sometimes that is good, though.  The newbies do not have anything to unlearn.

Are you still accepting PDF donations?

Of course, I will accept donations on behalf of my present and future students and school gaming group members.  I want these kids to know all about games and the fun and learning they can produce.  I also want them to know that all of the stereotypes of gaming and gamers do not hold true across the board.  At the same time, I want my gaming group to have a sizable portion of Geek Pride, confident in the knowledge that they have found a very cool way to spend leisure time with smart, interesting people who share similar interests.

[tags]role playing games, rpg, pdf, classroom, interview[/tags]

Teaching RPGs to Corporate Co-workers

So I had a pretty awesome opportunity last week, and I’ve been trying to decide just how to share it.

For the past 8 months or so, I’ve been in a program at work designed to help corporate environment folks become… better corporate environment folks.

We take classes on topics like communication, innovation, and most importantly for this post, presentation.  Wednesday and Thursday we had a guest come in and educate us on public speaking, at the end of which everyone was required to give a short (10 minute) presentation to the class that put to use some of the skills we had learned.  Things like, “When presenting, don’t talk to your notes”, or the ever repeated, oft forgotten, “Make good eye contact”.  The list goes on.

The thing about this was that was were told to make a presentation on literally anything we wanted to (within reasonable limits).  We were not rated on content but on presentation, so the door was pretty open.

I struggled.  I’m in Information Technology, talking to nerds about gaming would be one thing, but these are people from all over a very well known organization in a class that actually requires a fair amount of effort to get into, it isn’t something to take lightly.  But I had a message I wanted to share.

I wanted to break stereotypes and bring information to those who might otherwise never know about tabletop role playing games.  Far too often we shelter our hobby away as some dark secret, never letting anyone know what we do with our nerdiest friends on the weekends.  The problem is that if we don’t share the hobby, then it will never grow.  So I shared.  I opened up to a room of 25 or so of my corporate co-workers.  I told them the basics about gaming, I broke myths about devil worship, I told them how passionate I was, I discussed the benefits of gaming for creativity, communication, and problem solving.  The room was locked in interest.  I found out that some, about 3 or 4, had played before.  Others had children who play, but never really knew anything about their son or daughter’s hobby.  But what surprised me the most was that I found an incredible interest throughout the room.  Everyone had questions and was genuinely intrigued by the concept.  I used props; they loved playing with dice and little figures I set out on the tables during my speech.  They had questions on how you could play a game that was cooperative, not competitive and asked how they can start, where they can go to get materials, what kinds of stories can be told, and so many more.

In short, I was amazed, and then something really cool happened.  I offered to run a game, I told the room that if any of them want to try it, I’m more than happy to bring them into one of my games or even run a game of just our own employees at the office some night.  In the hallway on a brief break, I was approached by two guys immediately, they wanted in right away.  Shortly thereafter a third and potential fourth.  Of this group, three of them have never played any pen and paper games, they don’t even understand the concept really, but they know that it sounds fun.  So, if everything goes well,  in a couple weeks I’ve got a one-shot getting started in one of the conferences rooms right after I get off, and I can’t wait.

It really is funny how we can become so afraid of judgment that we stow away something so downright cool when you give it a chance.  I can’t encourage everyone to do exactly this, obviously you have to know your audience and make the timing right, but I challenge those who haven’t spread the word yet, to bring someone else into the hobby.  Both the Play in Public and Read and RPG Book in Public Week campaigns are helping with these very concepts, and I think that’s a great way to start.  But really, if we want this hobby to thrive we need to make ourselves visible.  I know that can be difficult, but my attempt turned out pretty well.

Corporate Gaming

[tags]Gaming, Teaching, Role Playing, rpg[/tags]

Aruneus – Where it’s at and what’s coming – or – zombies, goblins, haunted mines and two new classes

A lot has happened since my last official update in late July, so lets dig right in and see what’s new!

Last December I sat down with a good friend and we talked a bit about what a standard high fantasy world would be like if a worldwide zombie apocalypse were to happen to it.  What would happen to the various nations, empires and races?  Who would be affected most?   How would it change the political structure, the formation of cities, or just going for a stroll between adventures?

We’ve come a long way since then, starting with a little guy named Mirkmoot.

Initially developed before the whole Aruneus project got funded, Mirkmoot was a sort of diversion for myself.  He’s a crusty old Goblin, who against all of the odds was able to master (and I use that word in the loosest sense possible) the mysteries of wizardry.  He focused at first on creating magical items specifically for Goblins and other smaller races.  His items were quirky and fun, particularly when a party of PCs has not experience Mirkmoot’s particular blend of magical items.  He’s also a lot of fun to write.

I’ve decided that above and beyond what is already planned for the first Aruneus source book, Mirkmoot will be included as well.  As both an NPC and as the source of a number of interesting magical items.  Why?  He’s there to add a bit of light-hearted humor should the GM wish to include him.  He won’t be appearing specifically in either of the adventures to be included in the source book but he will be listed with the NPCs.

On that count, I’d like to introduce the face and the ample body of Mirkmoot, as composed by our new artist, Tim Reardon.  You can click him to make him even larger.

Tim will be illustrating the entire Mirkmoot II expansion and will also be contributing to the Aruneus project as a whole.  The new Mirkmoot expansion will be available in just a few weeks, barring anything major getting in my way, and I can’t wait to get it out in to the world!

Next, we’ve begun official play testing with the World of Aruneus.   We’ve instituted play test Challenges – events that GMs and their players can take part in and complete to earn points.  The number of points earned in total will determine where and how each group of play testers are recognized in the Aruneus source book, and may even lead to a few other neat things.  You can hit that link to read more about the Challenges, and sign up if you’re interested. We’ve just begun, so you haven’t missed anything yet.  Also, you can see another bit of artwork from Tim, in the form of a zombie there.

More cool news, I’ve been asked to attend Total Confusion XXV, in Mansfield MA as an industry guest! I’m very excited to be attending my first con as an industry person.  I’ll be running two sessions of the introductory Aruneus adventure, The Haunted Mines while there.  I’ll also be running a Talisman game and I plan on playing the heck out of a bunch of other stuff while there too.  If you’re going to be in the neighborhood, please let me know and we can say ‘hi’ at the con.

Work continues on the Haunted Mines, with more artwork coming in for that after Mirkmoot II is finished.  Then it’s on to two new classes, which are fairly well statted out and getting close to play-test ready.  After that, we’re looking at the long neglected Gods of Aruneus for which I already have a bunch of art.  Next the Herbal Supplement, on which I’m waiting for some art.  There are also going to be a number of NPCs in addition to Mirkmoot included in the source book, several of which are created and just rearing to go.

As you can see, things are moving along quite nicely! Questions or suggestions, let me know, or head over to the forums and ask away.

[tags]rpg, role playing games, pathfinder, aruneus[/tags]

The Rule of Three

Making an interesting, evocative  scene that invokes the senses of your players is the holy grail of GMing, and it can be made a bit more achievable by following what I call the “Rule of Three.”

Simply put, the Rule of Three involves picking at least three things to describe to give a bit more realism to a scene or NPC and is particularly useful for improvisation.  It need not be difficult, and just a few words for each thing you pick can go a long way, and it might even inspire you to add even more details.

For a scene or encounter, pick three senses and describe what the characters experience with those senses.  While the sense of sight is the most common sense, don’t forget about sound, smell, taste and touch.  For example, consider the following scene, a high-end potion shop.

“You enter the shop, the bell above the door giving a little ring as the door swings past it.  Sunlight passes through the brightly colored vials on the shelf by the window, spraying the inside of the tidy little shop in multi-hued light.  A strange scent is in the air, like vanilla possibly mixed with sage.”  Here you’ve invoked sound, sight and smell, and maybe even introduced a detail that the PCs might want to follow up on.  What potions are in the vials, and what is causing that unusual aroma?  Perhaps you can use a detail later, such as the big bad that the PCs are following having that same aroma, showing that he or she had recently visited the same shop.

A similar treatment can be applied to NPCs.  Give the NPC at least three traits, either ones that invoke the senses or show some unique or different traits   Take, for instance, the town gravedigger.

“Malaki is advanced in age, his face a deep maze of wrinkles set into weather-beaten skin.  He walks with a perpetual stoop, his spine and legs popping and cracking every few steps.  The cloying stench of dirt and the earth clings to him, somehow comforting.”  With just three small sentences here, we’ve given a ton of information about the NPC.  Obviously, he works outside a lot, doing what is likely manual labor that has taken a toll on his aged body.  By invoking the smell of dirt and the earth, we have even created an unspoken trait that your players’ minds are going to fill in; old Malaki is not likely to be the cleanest of individuals.

By using the Rule of Three, you can easily create well-remembered scenes and NPCs with a minimum of difficulty, even if improvising.  Try it sometime, you might like it.

[tags]Game Mastering,gaming,gming,role playing games,rpgs,world building[/tags]

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