Poverty is a full-time job. That’s not something I grew up with; that honor goes out to my mother’s mantra of “finding a job is a full-time job.” Recent events have given me reason to adapt her words into something a little more fitting, something with which many of us can easily identify. As someone who’s been struggling to make ends meet and keep the boat afloat, I can swear with all clarity that being broke is a full-time job onto itself.
Now before we get started, let’s make one thing perfectly clear. We’re here to discuss the availability, impact, and future of low-cost role-playing options. Don’t let the name of the Troll‘s new column name or the dour attitude of that first paragraph fool you, because this is through and through a role-playing column. Maybe even tabletop gaming in general, but we’ll cross that road when we come to it. When the Troll put out the call looking for additional columnists to join their Corner and pump out words of wisdom, advice, and recollection, I jumped at the chance. Then I had to come up with a pitch. What aspect of the role-playing community and industry remained uncovered by the countless other blogs across the internet and where could I put my experience and savvy skills with the written word to use? Luckily, I happened to have my online banking files open behind my Twitter feed and peanut butter collided with chocolate.
Writing this column does insinuate I have experience in shopping thrifty at my FLGS and while doing so does feel a bit awkward and uncomfortable, my “knowledge” of this field of consumer survival should be established. Around these parts, I’m called the Warden. For the past ten or more years, I’ve been writing and designing RPGs as a hobby and playing RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Earthdawn, Werewolf, and many others for the past twenty or more years. In the last three years, I’ve fallen on hard times and had to find alternate means to secure my gaming fix. Nothing illegal, let’s establish that right now. Everything you’re going to read about in this column is set up and permitted by the publisher/owner of the mentioned product or service. I’ve gone from having no money at all to just enough to cover my expenses to going on a splurge and grabbing a few books before I put on my banker’s hat and scold myself for wasting so much cash. (That never really happens, because I sold my banker’s hat to pick up a print copy of the Marvel Heroic RPG when it was still possible to purchase said game.)
Next year, role-playing will enter its fortieth year as a public form of entertainment and in those forty years, the market has grown and bled into others with more or less success. That growth has lead to staggering availability and a very crowded market, each core rule book or supplement vying for your time and energy to become not only a best-selling product, but a legendary force in the industry. There’s a lot to sample out there and that requires a fair bit of money.
I’m a fairly inclusive fella, but if you’ve never been short of the cash you needed to get what you wanted from the world, you can stop reading now. This column isn’t for you. If you have a room dedicated to your Dwarven Forge collection and you’re not its founder, just close this window and move on, okay? Not because you’re not welcome, but perhaps you don’t understand the conflict we impoverished role-players feel at the disconnect suffered when there are exciting tools and resources for our favorite and upcoming settings and systems. To see a copy of Eclipse Phase on the shelf of your FLGS and know the only way that’s coming home with you is illegally or with a prayer that macaroni is on sale this week.
While the influx of technology that has brought about a new era of original games, systems, and product lines, it has also opened the door to new avenues of appreciation and collection, including for those like myself who have always had to save and prepare. That’s what this column is all about: gaining access to the past, present, and future of the role-playing industry without having to spend copious amounts of money. Some of these stories will be about free products; others will be low cost. For example, if you were to say you’ve always been interested in trying out Fate, you could read about the influence of the Pay What You Want model recently implemented by OneBookShelf and how the new Fate Core PDF can be priced at zero bucks, if you want. Perhaps you’re a struggling game designer looking to get a good looking product on virtual shelves and want to learn about how to get hold of excellent artwork at no charge. There could be an article on the trials and tribulations of Creative Commons artwork in the self-publishing industry. At this stage of the game, there’s no telling exactly how many directions this ride will take, so there’s only one way to find out where it will take us.
Hop in. Let’s ride.
TAKING THE CON ONLINE
If the title of this new column is a play-on-words from the classic novel and film, The Grapes of Wrath, then its soup kitchen would be online conventions (or “on-cons”), a rather new concept in gaming conventions that has increased in popularity and feasibility with the creation of Google Hangouts, a free video conferencing service provided automatically to anyone with a Google+ account.
The traditional convention has exploded in popularity recently with events such as Gen Con and Comic Cons around the world attracting attention and devotion from movie studios viewing these events as golden opportunities to get the word of their new projects directly to the eager consumer. As much fun as they can be, they can also become a dire financial drain and there’s only so many of them around in a given week.
On-cons take away of the biggest expenses and hurdles involved with planning and launching such events: physical locations. Traditional conventions require floor space and that costs money, which is delegated to the guests with extra provided to cover additional costs such as marketing and setting a deposit for next year’s event. With on-cons, there is no physical location required, simply online access to promote and widen your net to attract as many gamers as possible on a given weekend.
As I’m writing this, there are four on-cons on my radar: Indie+, L.U.G. Con, ConTessa, and AetherCon. I have participated in two of these so far and in the middle of signing up for a third. Unlike physical cons, there is no registration fee and all that’s required is signing up, RSVPing your GM, and playing the game when it’s go time. Nearly every game you’ll find is just like you’d expect at a traditional con, save for the need to get dressed and walk out your front door, plus it’s an excellent chance to try out new games and meet new players who enjoy playing their games on Hangouts (which can be handy if your local group has been struggling to get together and you don’t want them to know you’re cheating with another group).
These are not only great sources of gaming for players, but hard-working and fresh-off-the-boat-of-hope game designers such as myself because, just like many physical cons, hosting games is a volunteer position. No charge. This means the only risk in setting up a demo or playtest session of your upcoming RPG is finding out no one’s signed up or attended (and that’s an issue we all have to deal with, regardless of playing online or not, but at least you don’t have to fret about the gas wasted to get to a physical con), but the benefit of reaching a new audience outside of your usual stream is fundamental to getting word of your creation out there.
To get an understanding of how on-cons play out and sample some of the games you’d be hard pressed to find at most local cons, you can check out some of the videos posted through L.U.G. Con’s recent weekend bout. Until next time, remember you can always use a traditional d6 to substitute Fudge dice.