Category Archives: life

The End of an Era

First, a little musical accompaniment.

On Monday, May 15th, I ran my last game for the Lewisville Public Library.  It’s been a place I’ve visited almost every 1st and 3rd Monday for around 10 years.  I started out with a group of 4 running 50 Fathoms with Savage Worlds once a month.  At its height, probably about 5 years ago, we were averaging 12 players each session and running a game every Monday night.

 

Over the course of the last decade, scores of players have come and gone.  I’ve seen some kids start out in middle school, only to leave for college.  It’s been amazing.

During my tenure, those players have explored the worlds of 50 Fathoms, Castle Ravenloft, Athas (Dark Sun), 17th Century France (twice!), the Weird West of Deadlands, the Sword and Sandals world of Aros, the pirate-infested seas of Théah, a mysterious monster-filled island, an abandoned carnival haunted by evil clowns, Pinebox, Texas and East Texas University, the world of Warhammer 40k, the dungeons beneath Hogwarts, and the forelorn peaks of Moldavia and the Palace of the Vampire Queen.  I may be forgetting a few.  Most of these were played under Savage Worlds, but we also explored Ubiquity, Rogue Trader, Cthulhu Dark,  7th Sea, 4th edition and B/X Dungeons and Dragons for a time.

Since we are right on their doorstep, Reaper Miniatures came out three years in a row to run miniature painting workshops.  Each one was well attended by an enthusiastic bunch of teens who got a look into a different side of the hobby.

It’s not something I’ve done alone.  All along I’ve had the assistance of my close friend and co-GM, Joe, who was given the terrible task of being the unbiased, heartless tactical brains of many of the monstrosities the kids faced.  I’ve also had other GMs take part in the program, running games on my off nights.  Despite what you might think, none of those other GMs ever stuck around.  I don’t know if it was the stress of having to run a large group of relatively green (and sometimes rules-adverse) players or just the drudgery of having to show up.  For whatever reason, they didn’t get it.  If they understood the mission of the program, they never fell in love with it the way Joe and I did.

We outlasted THREE youth librarians who were wonderful ambassadors and understood what we were doing and gave us all the space we needed to do it.  They were always eager to print something up at the last minute, provide some prize support for some crazy contest, or invest in materials for the program.  See, we had a policy: come as you are; no materials or experience necessary.  You could play our games from the time you turned 11 til you graduated high school and never buy your own dice or rulebook.  We had everything covered.  And chances are, after the second year of the program, the Lewisville Public Library was footing the bill.

And they weren’t the only ones!  During our decade-long run, we’ve enjoyed support in the form of encouragement and materials from Pinnacle Entertainment Group, Triple Ace Games, Reaper Miniatures, and 12 to Midnight!  Even when I thought they’d be too busy, these people gave up their time and efforts to help us pull off some big project or contest.  These guys and gals are fantastic folks – if you aren’t supporting these companies, you should be!

Another highlight was presenting with Youth Librarian Elizabeth Hanisian at the 2011 Texas Library Association meeting in San Antonio as part of a panel on gaming in the library, then running a Savage Worlds demo for those who attended.  While the attendees were supposed to sample a little bit of everything being demoed, we became a lot of people’s last stop as their valiant musketeers carefully made their way through an old tenement crawling with monstrosities.

But things began to wind down in 2010 with the birth of my daughter.  Then, in 2012, just days before the birth of my son, we moved from Lewisville to Dallas proper, turning my 5 minute commute to a 40+ minute grind through rush out traffic.  In 2014, my co-GM was married and moved west of Fort Worth, making his commute (already an hour and change) all but impossible.  Then my parents’ health took a turn that required more attention.  So when the previous Youth Librarian Liaison told me she was leaving to pursue a teaching career, I knew it was time to call it a night.   After all, if you couldn’t tell from the activity around here, the kindergarten school schedule is brutal!

So Monday was our last game session.  We had a full group: 10 kids and 1 adult (a dad who used to game), and of those we had two whole families playing.  They put an end to an Unseelie unicorn, captured the head of an anarchist cell in Paris, and learned the identity of perhaps the most dangerous sorcerer in France!  And thanks to a convenient Christmas Sale at Triple Ace Games, I was able to put a hardcover copy of All For One: Regime Diabolique into the hands of a very excited 12 year old girl (she won 1st place in our adventure writing contest – and no, I wasn’t one of the judges) and told her the rest of the adventure was in her hands.

I’m not sure how many of these kids will still be rolling dice at the table in six years, but that really isn’t the point.  The point has always been to give a group of teens the kind of gaming experience I wish I had been able to have at their age.  Back when I was futzing around with world building for D&D but had no real idea how to run a game or manage a campaign.  Joe felt the same way, and we led by example.  We always encouraged, always looked for ways for the kids to contribute, and always tried to introduce them to different aspects of the hobby.  We showed them miniature painting, skirmish level wargaming, adventure design and world building.  We rewarded ever step.

Do I think some of these kids will become life long gamers?  I know at least one will.  That at least one person will fall in love with the hobby and build on it because of something we built.  And that makes all the hard work, all the late Monday commutes, all the collaborative sessions, all the investment worth it.

To all of you who helped, contributed, or managed a game for our program, THANK YOU!  To those of you who sat at the table, rolled dice and helped us tell some amazing stories, BRAVO! We hope you enjoyed every minute as much as we did.  To all of you who I’ve spoken with on this subject over the past decade, who was inspired to take a turn at running games for kids at the public library, ROCK ON!  To anyone who is reading this and thinking, damn that sounds like something I should do, DO IT!  It’s a labor of love that pays off if you have patience and drive to nurture it and grow it.

It has been a fantastic and fun 10 years.  But that era must now give way to something new.

riding_off_into_the_sunset

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Diversity in Gaming

This post started out as a comment to an unrelated thread on the RPGsite.  At the advice of Mr. Hat, I’ve expanded on it here.  Because I feel it’s an important story.

In the past few years there has been schism in geek fandom.  Gamergate.  Sad Puppies.  Rabid Puppies.  The HUGO Awards.  Like so many other facets of our culture, we’re becoming increasingly Balkanized.  Ugly people on both sides saying ugly things to one another until everyone stops listening.  The lines are drawn, the trenches are deep, the cannons are set.

Hmm…I feel a song coming on.  Take it away, Jerry!

Geez!  Was that song really released back in 1970?  The more things change…

All of this has of course bleed into RPG fandom was well.  You have the Social Justice Warrior contingent on TBP and elsewhere that regularly elicit swift and venomous responses from those who don’t subscribe to their way of thinking.  You are starting to see some strange independent games that address all manner of taboo topics and those games may be applauded or trashed and pilloried (even censored) depending on what side of the line you are on.

Now, none of these games really sound like a whole lot of fun to me.  I like my gaming with a side of heroic escapism.  If I want to explore the dark, disgusting side of the human psyche, I’ll read a book or watch Law & Order:SVU.  KULT is about as far down that hole as I’ll go.  There are more mainstream games and settings, like the Queen’s Cavaliers and Blue Rose, that are accused of pushing an ideological agenda.  And while I get the audience these types of games are trying to appeal to, I personally feel that, from the boiler plate back cover text, they’ve bled so much conflict out of the setting in their lofty goals of creating an imaginary Utopia, what’s the point in playing?

815577e1bffbdc49cf0b0333f8c6be3dBut as a response to this sort of stuff, there seems to be a growing chorus that increasing representation of women, ethnic and gender minorities is just paying lip service to the SJW crowd and is little more than panhandling.  After all, if only women make up a drop in the bucket of GMs, why go through the trouble of alternating pronouns in your game.  If LGBT players a tiny fraction of your audience, do we really need art depicting these relationships (and all the baggage that comes with it?  Geez, we just got over the whole demon worship thing, for crying out loud!).  Does it make sense to have images of black and brown people in games set in medieval Europe?

Now that’s probably a bit of a straw man argument.  The number of gamers who are adamantly opposed to all those things is probably more minuscule than the people who identify with those things.  But the US vs THEM mentality that is being fostered by both sides makes it very difficult to take a nuanced stand.  And since its easier just to lump someone into the wrong crowd than actually listen to what they are actually trying to say, we probably shut out a lot of voices just because of the noise on the fringes.

F*&$ing SJW!  I’m out!

Ok, if you’re still reading, I’m going to try and give you my “nuanced” view.  I call it nuanced because there are still things certain geek sub-cultures demand in the name of inclusion that don’t make a lot of sense to me.  But that really isn’t important.  So here goes.

arrowindraMy Teen Roleplaying program at the Lewisville Public Library is closing in on 10 years.  During that time, we’ve had scores of kids come through of every stripe imaginable.  We take all comers.  I don’t care how big a socially awkward misfit you are, I’m a 40 year old guy who likes to play Advanced Cops and Robbers with dice and charts.  I’m not gonna judge you…unless you gush on the Twilight series or Sailor Moon, then we’ll have words.  Because we have to set standards somewhere.  But I digress.

The first year we started, I was using Savage Worlds and running the 50 Fathoms plot point.  Rather than let the players make their own characters, I created a stable of around a dozen different characters.  The rules were simple: each time you come to play, you pick a character.  If you played a character last session, you got first dibs on it this time.  If you want to change it up and play a different character, no problem.

One of these characters was a fiery swordswoman from 17th Century Spain. Think Catherine Zeta-Jones from The Mask of Zorro, but more willful and spiteful.  She was put into the mix because its just a cool concept.  I like strong women type characters, and we had a pretty decent parity between teenage boys and girls at the time (something, I’m proud to say, we’ve been able to maintain over the course of the program!  Yay, us!).  So if a girl wants to sit down and play a fighter archetype character, I’ve got it covered.

So one evening, a young Latina girl — She’s probably 12; maybe 13 at a stretch — picks the swordswoman to play.  She was new to the game.  This might have been her first or second game session, but she was excited to give it a try and had a couple of friends from school who were already playing.  As I always do when I’m explaining the game, I try to put it in terms of the player’s character.  So I’m giving her the boiler plate description of the character and rattle off, “she’s Spanish…” and the girl interjects, “like me!”

Now, I won’t lie.  Part of my brain wanted to correct her.  “No, she’s European.”  But the larger part of me realized that she was relating personally with this character. As in “Spanish swordswoman is a badass = Latinas are baddass = *I* get to be the badass!” And right then, at that exact moment,  my whole perspective on this diversity in roleplaying business changed.  Because of that one connection.  This young girl was looking at a piece of paper and seeing something bigger.  It was giving her, the person she saw every day in the mirror, permission to be a bigger than life hero.  And she embraced it and ran with it!

If that character hadn’t been there, she might have happily played some other character.  I don’t know.  She played the swordswoman character consistently for the next few months.

That singular moment brought in a sea change in my thinking.  I WANT kids to look at an RPG book and imagine themselves in those situations, and I don’t expect them to imagine themselves as european male knights in shining armor. I want them to imagine them as themselves, whatever race, gender, sex, whatever.  While I don’t think anyone really disagrees with me on this score, I’m not sure how many people have seen that connection happen right in front of their eyes.

223c49ed0df1d468a47bd758b3c8bf69Being a college educated white male from an upper-middle class family (Cis, is that what the cool kids are calling it these days?  Everyone has to have a label, right?), I will be the first to admit that I do not understand the formula behind all this. But I am smart enough to know that if I see a picture of two women kissing in the crows nest of a ship, that picture is not there for me. When a transgendered dwarf appears in a Pathfinder book, that’s not for me either.  It’s there for someone else to see it and think “holy shit, *I* get to be the badass!”

For me to complain about that or take that away from someone else seems kinda selfish.

Now that doesn’t mean I LIKE every game that puts it out there like that (see my previous comments on Blue Rose and Queen’s Cavaliers).  I certainly see how a publisher could over do it. (“I never realized there were so many Africans in 16th Century London. What gives?  Is there a convention in town?”).  But let’s not be dismissive of it as a whole.  Because if a kid somewhere in this world can pick up an rpg (or any book really) and find something of herself in it that sparks her imagination in such a way that she HAS TO GET HER FRIENDS TOGETHER TO PLAY THIS GAME NOW!, well that’s a win-win for ALL of us who play these games.

Back from Vacation

We packed up the whole fam-damily and drove to Nashville for a week of fun and games for the kids and grandparents.  We staggered back in on Sunday afternoon, happy to be back home and in our own beds.  The wonky summer schedule is coming to a close, so soon I’ll be able to resume regular posting again.  I managed to cook up a couple of new critters while we were away (nothing like a two-day road trip with toddlers to inspire visions of horror) and hope to have those sketched out and posted soon enough.

In the meantime, please enjoy the new Appendix N page!