Category Archives: Gen Con

Gen Con Schedule

I’ll be at Gen Con! Here’s what my schedule looks light right now.

WEDNESDAY

I come in before noon. I have a few informal things planned, but you might be able to catch me someplace (like the Omni hotel lobby) if you want to.

THURSDAY

I’m open most of the day! I might try to Meet and greet hour someplace, if folks express interest (and yes, that would be a good time to have me sign stuff).

I mysterious disappear around 7pm, and likely for the rest of the night.

FRIDAY

I’m on several seminar panels!

Starfinder 101

11am   Location: ICC room 212

Introduction to the new Starfinder RPG. Learn the story of the Starfinder universe, what you need to start playing, & where to begin your own character’s legend.

Starfinder Rules Q&A

12pm   Location: ICC room 212

An up-close look at the rules of Starfinder, including differences between the Starfinder & Pathfinder rules. Ask questions & discuss the philosophy behind the Starfinder game system.

ENnies  (6pm)

I’ll be at the ENnie Awards! A great time to meet a lot of your favorite game designers, especially those with products up for awards!

SATURDAY

More seminars!

Starfinder Rules Design workshop

10am   Location: ICC room 212

Participate in a hands-on workshop focused on rules design in the Starfinder universe & assist in developing original rules from concept to execution.

Designing Starfinder Aliens

12pm   Location: ICC room 212

Learn the secrets of monster making & everything that goes into creating a truly terrifying foe.

Secrets of the Pact Worlds

1pm     Location: ICC room 212

Come explore the inner region of space in the Starfinder universe. Learn about Absalom Station & discover alien species.

Starfinder – The Digital Tools Horizon

2pm     Location: Crowne Plaza Victoria Stn B

What does the digital destiny of Starfinder look like? Leading companies answer your questions & outline their visions of the future!

I mysteriously disappear again in the evening. 😀

SUNDAY

Currently wide open!

This is the OTHER day I might schedule an open meet-and-greet, if there was interest.

MONDAY

I fly out in the afternoon, and I suspect I’ll watch the Moon eat the Sun from the airport.

On Game Industry Professionalism

I’m surprised how often this comes up, but there is often a sad lack of professionalism in the game industry. It’s not all one-way, and it’s not all intentional, and it’s not all unique to this industry… but some of it is, and that causes issues throughout the hobby. Especially as some big conventions are coming up, and those often mean new contacts and new work deals, I wanted to talk about it a bit.

I’m certainly not the gatekeeper of gaming professionalism, but there are some things that seem to be common among the industry folks I look up to who are better-known, smarter, and more graceful than I am, and I do my best to emulate the. This list isn’t comprehensive or absolute – there are important things I and missing and side cases that might be rare exceptions to these principals. But in general, this is a fair baseline for what I see as the start of game industry professionalism.

Oh, and I want it to be fun to read, so it’s broken into movie quote section.

Break a Deal, Face the Wheel

No, no one will actually put a fiberglass mask on your head and send you off to die in the desert… but if you get a reputation for not doing what you have contracted and agreed to, you may end up in an allegorical desert when all the available work dries up.

Look, the industry is often brutal. Pay is too low, deadlines too short, respect too uncommon (especially among some segments of fans). Some years not only would I have made more money spending the same amount of time doing minimum wage fast food jobs, but my main reward was to be called out and attacked by people with less experience and understanding of games than I have. It can suck.

But leaving people in a lurch makes it suck more.

If you agree to do a job, and the other side holds up their end, you need to do your best to hold up your end. I have had people I thought were promising freelancers, who I took a risk on, mentored, said nice things about and introduced to other publishers, take a contract, ask me to push back the deadline by months, then stop communicating at all, then tell me they can no longer do the project at all and give me some half-assed outline in way of recompense. All while continuing to do work for other companies.

If mental health issues has you down? Yes, that’s no different that backing out of a running job because you broke a leg. You need to be up-front and honest, and tell me as soon as possible, but I get it. But do it early, be frank, and don’t immediately prove it’s not about that by taking even more work from other people. If you need a break, take a break.

But if the job you are doing for me just got pushed back to the back of your queue so often because of better work coming along that you’ve decided it’s not fun anymore, or no longer a good use of your time? Tough. You agreed to do this project. We have a contract. Do it.

You’re not just making a publishers life more difficult when you just throw a project aside. You are boosting their missed opportunity cost, adding stress, and preventing them from paying everyone else who would be involved. It’s unprofessional, and it’s way too common among way too many freelancers.

The reverse of this is ALSO true. If you tell someone you’ll publish their work, and there’s no formal timeline, and five years alter you still haven’t? You are screwing with them. And, obviously, pay what you say you will pay, when you say you will or before. Giving feedback is optional, but smart to improve the whole industry. Bad-mouthing a freelancer to other publishers for some behavior you never told THEM was an issue/ Unprofessional. Cancelling a project and just never telling people working on turnovers? Unprofessional. Sitting on a manuscript for years? Unprofessional… and I’ve been guilty of that one.

Keep it Secret. Keep it Safe.

We rarely have information as crucial as the location of the One Ring, but there certainly are things you shouldn’t let the (various) Dark Lords know.

What information is exchanged between company and employee or freelancer as part of a work arrangement should be kept between those two, unless there’s a crime involved or an agreement that says otherwise or it’s become common knowledge. If you get to work on Ultimate Sentient Weapons, a major book that hasn’t been announced yet, you SHOULD NOT then use that information to write a book that does the same thing but better, and sell it before USW comes out. That’s screwing over your partner who got you that info, and it’s not cool. Similarly if a freelancer tells a publisher the freelancer is already working on something similar, the publisher should not take steps to trademark names involved, or change publishing dates, or badmouth them to damage their reputation, or change the project to cover the idea the freelance admitted to having.

Even without an NDA, don’t do this.

Once things are all out in the open, normal intellectual property rights can apply. And if the publisher is giving the info to lots of folks to do associated projects, there’s no reason not to ask if you can be included in that set of folks. But you can’t use info you were given to do a job for A Corp, then leverage it to sell a tie-in to B Corp before anyone even knows it has happened. Similarly, don’t leak files, even just to your friend Josh. Because you may trust Josh… but Josh may trust Wilhelm, and Wilhelm may trust Jerry, and Jerry may be an asshole. Don’t take the risk.

It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

What you do and say as a representative of yourself is your business. But if you wrote for a company’s new book, and you go to that company’s forum, and you take sole credit for things that were developed, edited, and worked on by 7 folks? Not cool. And if you badmouth it as crap the developers ruined? Not professional. And if you attack and insult customers who are annoyed? Way unprofessional.

If you can at all help it, don’t escalate conversations people who work with you are going to have to deal with. It’s like leaving a dead fish on the counter. If it’s your counter that’s gross, but you have to deal with it. If you leave it on my counter, you are making my life harder as the reward for me working with you.

Also, you will build a reputation. It will get around. Consider what you want it to be.

Be Kind. Rewind.

This industry is a meat grinder all too often. People with great talent and love of games leave both for more money, and for less stress and grief from fans.

So, try to be nice.

Yes, this is a vague hand-wave at professionalism, but give it some thought. If it takes only a tiny bit more effort to be nice to folks, why not do that? Yes, sometimes people are attacking you, or actively damaging your company or your reputation, and “nice” may not be a reasonable reply.

But if we were all nice whenever we could be? That would fix a lot of issues too.

Give more credit that you take.

Tell people when they make a positive impact on your life. Thank them.

Consider if you are being needlessly cruel in feedback. Saying you hate a game mechanic is very different from saying it’s idiotic and you don’t understand how anyone could ever think it was a good idea, and even THAT is different from saying a game’s writers are idiots who clearly only have their jobs because they are friends with the developer and the boss is so checked out he doesn’t care what gets published.

We HAVE lost people from the industry from such behavior. We’ll never stop it all, but if I can have one rock thrown at me each day or twelve, I’ll pick just one.

Self-Promotion Done Right

You can build up yourself without tearing anyone down. For example, I have a Patreon, and I’d love if you backed it.

Clinton Boomer has a Patreon. It’s awesome. You should back it too.

Liz Courts has a couple of Patreons. All worthwhile.

So does Jacob Blackmon!

I’d rather talk about how awesome these all are, and let you decide where to spend your money.

This entire post was sponsored by the Open Gaming Store. It’s awesome, too.

More Ways I Have Failed

I have, far too often and far too seriously, failed to use my position of privilege, protection, and visibility to improve the hobby I love so much. These are completely true examples where the fault is entirely mine. The list began here, but it’s not like I magically stopped failing people in this industry when I listed just the examples that leaped readily to mind.

It’s 2015. I am asked to suggest some freelancers who have done good work for me. Instead of going through actual notes or records, to create a list from complete and factual information, I rattle it off from my impressions, allowing all my biases and failings to color that list, instead of being diligent about at minimum making sure it’s robustly considered.

It’s 2016. A woman asks if she can get my opinion on the behavior of her superior in another company. I happily agree. She is being emotionally abused. I point this out, and act as a shoulder to cry on as she realized how terrible her situation is. I knock ideas around on how she can maybe eventually escape or at least mitigate her situation, since financially she can’t immediately leave it.

I do nothing to warn the next woman he might hire. I do not follow up with her. The abuse–which I entirely accept as real and serious–is out of my sight, and falls out of my mind.

It’s 2017. An industry professional at a casual gathering dismisses a broad category of claims of unsafe, biased geek behavior. I am too tired to argue, or even mention I disagree. I leave, with no suggestion I took issue with the statement.

There remains terrible, focused, often premeditated prejudice, bias, and actual abuse in my hobby. Not seeing it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Not creating it yourself does not protect those who are vulnerable.

My One Gygax Story

My one and only Gygax story.

Overheard at Gen Con 2010

I can’t do an overheard at Gen Con this year, because I didn’t go.
So, reruns!

Here’s my list of things overheard at Gen Con 2010!

Overheard At Gen Con

One of the amazing things about Gen Con is being completely and constantly surrounded by gaming culture. Restaurants offer you meals with Apocalypse Ale or Black Pudding for dessert. Random people in the elevator opine on the likely ENnie winners. And everywhere you go, people are talking games and geek culture. Every year, I hear snippets of conversations I wouldn’t hear anywhere else, and I do my best to write them down. It often takes a few minutes to get pen to paper, so these may be more paraphrased than quoted, but the gist is intact. (I’d say the intent is clear, but ofttimes I have no idea what the intent was!)

These were al jotted down on my Guest of Honor schedule. In no particular order, Things Overheard at Gen Con.

“My waitress just gave me the bird.”

“It was the most heroic death I’ve ever been cheated out of.”

“If you can’t get rich with a time machine and Orac, you just aren’t trying.”

“Yes, I’m a girl. Yes, I know how to play. No, you can’t touch them.”

Voice 1. “Can my paladin be weary of all humanity, and believe the gods are cruel assholes perpetuating a lame joke?”
Voice 2. “Man, just get the divorce already.”

“You boys need to be taking that plastic weapon stuff to your mother. If you need dice or minis I’ll buy you some, but I ain’t got no money for larping crap.”

“The wish has now been vetted by twenty people, and is more than twelve pages long.”

Voice 1. “The problem is, none of the campaign’s female NPCs are believable.”
Voice 2. “Wait, isn’t your GM a woman?”
Voice 1. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“Next year, we need to try the Sailor Shoes on before we hit the costume contest.”

“The DM said we could use any sources, so I went all Mongoose on his game.”

“It’s a lot like playing at home, but with less bugs and poop.”

“If I can’t cheat, I don’t play.”

“If that next card is what I think it is, I will eat your face. With ketchup.”

Voice 1. “Is it savagaed?”
Voice 2. “Very savagaed.”
Voice 1. “The most savage?”
Voice 2. “Well… it’s pretty dang savage.”
Voice 3. “What the hell are you two talking about?!”

“Oh my god, your napkin is yellow. Ours are all white. You’ve been marked for death!”

“Satanism must not be as profitable as it was in the 90s.”

“If I put it in my cleavage, do you think he’ll sign my dice?”

“What’s the over/under on being eaten by rats?”

“If your gnome isn’t a spellcaster, you’re doing it wrong.”

“The GM didn’t cry until the second hour. With us, that’s a record!”

GOLEM CHESS (1.1)

Since almost no game design is perfect with just ten minutes of work:

GOLEM CHESS (1.1)

A chess variant with 20 minutes of design time. (Traditionally played on a black-and-purple checkerboard)

Each side has one golem, one hero, and one wizard. These are determined randomly, and have special powers. Other than that, the game is played as normal chess.

Each player should do the following:

Number you rooks, bishops, and knights each, 1-2.

Create a deck of cards (index cards work). This is your “court deck” that has two rook cards (1, 2), two bishop cards (1, 2) and two knight cards (1, 2).

Before play, shuffle the court deck. Then, without looking, deal one card each in the golem slot, hero slot, and wizard slot. Remove the remainder of the court deck from play without anyone looking at it.

You may now look at the cards in each slot. Do not reveal them to your opponent.

Golem: The top card in the golem slot determines which of your pieces is a golem. A golem can only be permanently captured by specific opposing pieces. When a golem is captured by most pieces, it is removed temporarily from play. You may, as your entire turn on any turn thereafter, return it to a space on your back row. The space must be one from which no opposing piece can immediately capture the golem, and from which the golem could not capture a piece if it were to move immediately. Also, the golem cannot be placed in a space that would prevent the king from being in check.

A pawn can never permanently capture the golem. The king, queen, and hero automatically permanently capture the golem if they are used to capture it. For any other piece, the golem is captured only temporarily unless a piece of the same type (bishop, knight, or rook) has previously captured it.

Hero: Once per game, before or after its normal move (or in place of its normal move), a hero may move as a knight. If a hero captures a piece, its turn ends with no further movement. Each time a hero captures an enemy piece, it gains the ability to move as a knight in this way one additional time during the game.

Wizard: A wizard may do do one of the following things during the game.

Fireball: The wizard captures one adjacent enemy piece. This cannot be used to capture the king, and the threat of this ability does not place a king in check. This counts as the wizard’s move.

Polymorph: The wizard becomes any one normal chess piece, and then moves as that piece. It captures as that piece. After moving (and capturing, if appropriate), the wizard goes back to being its normal piece. This counts as the wizard’s move.

Summon: The wizard summons a pawn into any adjacent space. This counts as the wizard’s move. The pawn can move, capture, and be captured normally (but cannot move two forward on its first move). You must have lost a pawn to use this ability. If the pawn reaches the row that allows it to be promoted, it can only choose to be a bishop, knight, or rook.

IN PLAY

You do not have to reveal that a piece is a golem, hero, or wizard until it does something a normal piece of the same type could not. When a pawn is promoted, it cannot choose to be a golem, hero, or wizard.

Patreon

I have one. Maybe you’d like to support me?

Golem Chess!

Since a bunch of people asked me for the rules after an offhanded comment this morning:

GOLEM CHESS

A chess variant written on a 10-minute break. (Traditionally played on a black-and-purple checkerboard)

Each side has one golem, one noble, and one wizard. These are determined randomly, and have special powers. Other than that, the game is played as normal chess.

Each player should do the following:

Number you pawns 1-8, your rooks, bishops, and knights 1-2.

Create a deck of cards that has 8 pawn cards, numbered 1-8. (Index cards work)
Create a second “court deck” that has two rook cards (1, 2), two bishop cards (1, 2) two knight cards (1, 2) and a queen card.

Before play, shuffle the pawn deck. Place one pawn card at random in your court deck. Do not look at which pawn it is. Remove the remainder of the pawn deck from play without anyone looking at it.

Shuffle the court deck. Then, without looking, deal two cards in the golem slot (the one on bottom upside-down), one in the noble slot, and one in the wizard slot. Remove the remainder of the court deck from play without anyone looking at it.

You may now look at the cards in each slot. Do not reveal them to your opponent.

Golem: The top card in the golem slot determines which of your pieces is a golem. A golem can only be captured by one specific opposing piece. When any other piece attempts to capture a golem, the piece fails (and shares the same square as the golem until one of the two pieces moves). The first time this happens, the player of the golem must reveal both that this piece is a golem, and which piece can actually take it (by reveals the upside down card in the golem slot). A golem must move into an enemy piece’s space to capture it – it cannot capture a piece that moved into the golem’s space on the opposing piece’s move.

Noble: A noble may move as its normal movement, or as a knight. Each round it can only move one of these two ways.
Exception: If your knight is the noble, it may take two knight moves in a single turn. If its first move captures a piece, it cannot make a second move.

Wizard: A wizard may do each of the following things once per game.

Fireball: The wizard captures one adjacent enemy piece. This cannot be used to capture the king, and the threat of this ability does not place a king in check. This counts as the wizard’s move.

Polymorph: The wizard becomes any one normal chess piece, and then moves as that piece. It captures as that piece. After moving (and capturing, if appropriate), the wizard goes back to being its normal piece. This counts as the wizard’s move.

Summon: The wizard summons a pawn into any adjacent space. This counts as the wizard’s move. The pawn can move, capture, and be captured normally (but cannot move two forward on its first move). You must have lost a pawn to use this ability.

IN PLAY

You do not have to reveal that a piece is a golem, noble, or wizard until it does something a normal piece of the same type could not. When a pawn is promoted, it cannot choose to be a golem, noble, or wizard.

 

 

 

Adventurer-Formal

Quick story, as Gen Con looms.
When I went to interview for a staff job at Wizards of the Coast in 1999 (they flew me from OK to Seattle), I wore a suit. Slacks, dress shirt, tie, jacket, black shoes, the whole 9 yards.
One of the things everyone made VERY clear to me during those interviews was that WotC had a casual atmosphere, and there wasn’t really a dress code at work. I felt overdressed.
OTOH, I a: got the job and b: later heard that another candidate showed up in a fast food uniform. No one ever told me that made a difference… but no one said it didn’t. And one person tad me that the fact I showed up in a suit proved I was taking the job seriously. I have never regretted wearing a suit to that.
When I went to a dinner at GenCon that Sword & Sorcery was having to see who they wanted to work on the EverQuest Tabletop RPG, I wore a polo and jeans. I didn’t feel either overdressed or underdressed, and I got a lot of work from that meeting. I have never regretted wearing a polo to that.
I always recommend looking professional and tidy, and give the impression you take every opportunity professionally and seriously. If you later get told you can dress down, feel free.
But first impression really can count.

Fandom’s Acceptance Problem

I think fandom has an acceptance problem.
I know, sounds weird.
At least when and where I was growing up in fandom, it was the place I felt accepted. I was fat, precocious, a thinker and dreamer rather than a doer and builder.
I was also a self-important little shit.
But fandom accepted me, at least insofar as it accepted anyone. My weird preferences, my social awkwardness. I meant no harm, though I sometimes did and said harmful things.
And I found my flavor of geek, and we hung out, and became friends, and grew up.
But for decades, when I saw someone saying or acting in appropriately, if they weren’t causing immediate harm, I was inclined to leave them alone. After all, they were clearly outcasts too. Awkward. And surely they meant no harm.
A wildfire means no harm. You still need to takes steps to prevent it from ravaging town.
So, I think too many of us ignored the problems of the misogynist few for too long. We allowed ourselves to be drawn in by people who liked military fiction, but were also racist, or transphobic. We overlooked their flaws at moments when we shouldn’t, and now they are a cancer growing among us.
I got used to accepting people in fandom, because where else did they have to go? And I never considered that accepting them meant condoning them. And it does.
I hate confrontation, but I’m not afraid of it anymore.
I dislike personal interaction with anyone but close friends, but I’ve gotten used to it.
And there are things I can’t just mutely accept anymore. Especially now that I have seen what that acceptance leads to.

Ways I Have Failed

*It’s 1982. My older sister and I are staying with my aunt and uncle for the summer while my parents go to Europe. I want my uncle to run D&D for us. My sister isn’t particularly interested in playing. I cajole. I beg. I pressure her into playing the game. She hates it. Despite being a brilliant part of fandom, she never touches rpgs ever again.

*It’s 1984. On another family trip, some older kids of friends of my parents invite me into their D&D game. It’s three other boys, and one girl. My character is encouraged by all the boys to rape the girl’s character – because they aren’t allowed to. I refuse, and get kicked out of the game, but tell no one. I don’t even remember their names anymore.

*It’s 1987. The woman who will someday be my wife recounts how her first game group sacrificed her first character to a volcano, then decided to gang-rape her character because their Twilight 2000 campaign got boring. She doesn’t play with them anymore. It doesn’t even occur to me that *someone* might play with them again.

*It’s 1992. At a live action RPG session, I am asked by still-underage women to stand in front of their tent while they change costumes, so they feel safe. I do. I feel good about myself. I don’t wonder why they don’t feel safe to begin with. I never investigate. I never try to find a way to make a safer environment,. I never even make sure there is someone they trust around in future games.

*It’s 1995. A woman tells me she doesn’t want to play in my paramilitary Hero System game anymore. I am offended. I let her know she is free to not play. I never ask why.

*It’s 1998. I get my first article published in Dragon Magazine. I feel great about it. A woman I know mentions she’s been trying to get published for three years, while I got published on my very first try. I assume it’s because I am better than her. I assume we exist on an absolute level playing field. I don’t even question that narrative in my head.

*It’s 2000. I write my first work as an employee of Wizards of the Coast. My manager calls me in. I have created a damsel-in-distress story. It’s clichéd and, worse, belittling. But he’s careful to make sure I know it’s good, and this is only a small concern. We change the gender of a single character. I’m annoyed my story won’t happen the way I saw it in my head.

*It’s 2002. I am running demos of Forbidden Kingdom at Gen Con. Two women come up and want to play together, but I only have one seat left at my table. There’s plenty of room. I refuse to seat them both. They leave the game room.

*It’s 2009. I’m part of Super Genius Games. I’m not even thinking about the art we use in our all-white, all-male game company, until someone calls us on it.

*It’s 2014. I’m developing an adventure. After I am done, an editor brings up that a major plot point concerns her. It’s super skeevy. She has to explain why.
She’s right. We change it.

I am sure there are scores of occasions where I was part of the problem that I don’t remember. Hell, in most cases I may not have noticed. And that’s a huge part of why this is such a big problem. I get to live in a safe version of the game world that the women who are my mentors, employers, colleagues, friends, patrons, and employees don’t.
And this is mostly a list of sins of omission, though that doesn’t make them any better. Like full-blown rapists, sexual abusers, and even common-variety bullies, the people who *actively* assault and harass women and minorities are amazingly good at knowing when they will, and won’t get away with those actions.

If you haven’t seen it that’s not because it’s not happening. It’s because they know to stay on the fringes of your vision.

Which means if you are actually dedicated to a safe and fair hobbyspace, not being an abusive asshole yourself isn’t good enough. You have to do more.