Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Gen Con 2012

Gen Con.  The Best Four Days in Gaming.  They ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie.  J

So here is my perfunctory Gen Con post. 

Day 0 (Wednesday):
Woke up entirely too early to catch my flight.  Slept on the plane.  Arrived in Indy and took a limo to the hotel.  (They really aren’t that much more than a cab from the airport).  Ate some lunch.  Unpacked.  Gave a small tour of the area to my friend who had never been to Gen Con before.  Got my badge and tickets.  Helped my other friends set up their booth.  Waited a long time to get seated for dinner at Weber Grill, but the yummy food was yummy and we had a big group.  Went to sleep.

Day 1 (Thursday): 
Got up early to line up for early VIG access to the Dealer Hall.  Went straight to Three Geeks and aNeedle, where I bought a Tardis bag similar to the one shown below.  My most expensive purchase of the trip, and I love every fiber.  Walked around for about 20 minutes before leaving to go to my 10am game of Cthulhutech.  Still love that system, and I will run a game in it someday.  Went to an okay seminar on “Better Adventures” which mostly was stuff I knew already.  Sat down for a bit in the VIG lounge.  Went to my 4pm Game of Thrones game, which was a short adventure to familiarize one with the system.  I had never played GoT before, and I did like the system.  But really I think it was more my (and the other players’ and GM’s) enthusiasm for the series of books and shows that made me want to play.  I could see setting a campaign in that world without necessarily using that system.  Got some dinner.

It's not actually bigger on the inside.

Then enter Fiasco game #1, using the Gangster London playset at Games on Demand.  First of all, our organizer/pseudo-GM Travis was most excellent.  Second of all, we had a complete blast.  I laughed more in that 2 -2.5 hours than at any other point I’ve ever gamed, period.  Third, all of the players were first-timers who really put their all into it.  Fourth, the creator Jason Morningstar was running a game at the next table, and I still felt like our table was the best place to be – that’s saying something!  It was a blast – and as you will see I played it a bit more over the weekend. 

Afterward, I tried out some Sentinels of the Multiverse card game, which is basically comic book heroes brought to life.  It was fun, but I was tired and left about halfway through the game.

Day 2 (Friday):
Woke up and took my turn working the ENnies booth.  I think most of the traffic that came by stopped because there were two non-intimidating women at the booth who seemed friendly, but there were a couple of people genuinely interested in the nominees.  Then I played some Eclipse Phase, another system I adore.  I will run that someday too.  Afterward I went to a seminar about novel writing, which had valuable information about setting up your novel, but wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be.  Still good though.  And then it was getting ready and going to the ENnies.  It was a lot more fun after the judges’ announced their spotlight awards, because up to that point I was nervous.  Afterward, I went and played some Cards Against Humanity with a friend & his friends, then off to sleep.  Also, this was the day the Star Wars RPG was announced, and one of my friends snagged me a copy (yay!).

Day 3 (Saturday):
Woke up and spent an hour in the dealer hall before playing Giant Seafarers of Catan, during which I may have stood in line to meet Wil Wheaton.  I hadn’t ever played seafarers, and I did a bad job of selecting locations appropriately.  However, I love Catan even when I’m losing badly, so it was fun.  And the details of the Giant Tiles was great.  Then I had some lunch, talked to some friends, and went to the ENnies judges panel, which had essentially no attendees.  It was the first year to try it, and I don’t anticipate that it will ever be held again.  However, it was a nice time to chat with the other judges and gain a sense of closure on judging.  Afterward, I took a nap and then woke up to eat some dinner and then go to True Dungeon, which was awesome.  The draco-lich at the end looked like the cover of the Neverwinter Nights campaign book come to life – and the new location inside the ICC was really atmospheric.  Then played game #2 of Fiasco with friends, using the Vegas playset.  It was a late night!

Day 4 (Sunday):
Slept in.  Packed up, checked out of hotel.  Went to Games on Demand.  Thought about playing Hollowpoint, but ended up playing game #3 of Fiasco, using “At Regina’s Wedding” playset.  The first game was still the best, but I had fun all three times.  Afterward, spent a bit more time in the dealer hall, made a couple of purchases (fate dice, Dragon Age Set 1, an Eclipse Phase dice bag, and some normal dice – nothing too crazy or spendy).  Then it was lunch/dinner at the Ram – yum – and then off to catch the plane home.

I spent most of Monday asleep, which was lovely. And now back to reality.  :(

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ennies judge, part 4 (finale)

My responsibilities for the 2012 ENnies have concluded.  The ceremony happened on Friday, 8/17.  Congratulations to ALL the winners – you can find the complete list here:  2012 ENnie award winners

Being a part of this process was very rewarding, to say the least.  Attending the ceremony as a judge felt great.  I was genuinely thrilled for all the winners, and not knowing which products won before-hand made for a very exciting evening.

Among the winners, I was probably *most* excited for Gaming As Women,Masks: 1,000 Memorable NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game, and Stealing Cthulhu.  Gaming as Women is a blog written by a collection of women about their experiences, good and bad, in the gamer community.  Though I can’t relate to everything they post, I am happy in the knowledge that there is a place to discuss any issues openly and honestly.  Masks is a product I will be using for the rest of my gaming career.  It is full of rich NPCs that would add depth to any encounter, session or campaign in any system.  And Stealing Cthulhu provides new ways to incorporate Cthulhu into your campaigns.  They are all worthy of their wins. 

Now, to highlight a few other products.

As a judge, I was given the privilege of awarding a Judge’s Spotlight ENnie award.  My choice is Edge by Outrider Studios: 

[gush/]  I absolutely, positively love the world that was created for Edge.  There are beings with preternatural powers that humans call “angels” and “demons,” though they are not exactly as we think of them here on Earth.  These angels and demons exert power and influence over humans, and they are diametrically opposed to one another – and compelled to destroy their counterparts.  This leads to conflict, and occasionally full-scale war.  There are Edgemasters, who are magically powerful warriors, Dreamweavers, who are able to bring ideas to life, and Chosen, who are soldiers bound to Angels or Demons.  The game uses the Rapidfire system, which encourages quick combat and more roleplaying. 

On another level, as much as I love-love-love this game, I want to point out that it treats women very well.  What do I mean by that?  Looking through the book, there is very little exploitative art (ie, women are fully clothed, and there is little cleavage to be found).  There are two badass characters in the historical timeline, Rowan (a man) and Camille (a woman).  It is a welcome change. 

I can’t wait to get this on the table.  You can purchase Edge here:

And if you prefer Sci-Fi to fantasy, I would recommend taking a look at Remnants, also by Outrider studio.  [/gush]

There are also some products that I would have loved to have seen nominated but didn’t quite make the cut (there was some fierce competition!).

The Faerie Ring:  Red Jack – this is a very clever little supplement for Pathfinder.  It is the second installment of six in Along the Twisting Way, and provides a rich backstory for an adversary that could pop up in any campaign.  I will be searching out the other five installments.

Assassin’s Amulet – another fantastic supplement for Pathfinder.  This is an incredibly rich source of information about assassins that could be incorporated into any campaign.  And there is a free sample available online:  It’s worth your time!

All in all, I was very excited for all the nominees, and happy for the winners as well.  Though I may have my personal preferences, I felt very proud at the ENnies ceremony about the high standard of quality in roleplaying games over the last year.  Can’t wait to see what next year holds!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Ennies judge, part 3

Nominees have been announced!  So now I can talk freely without breaking any rules, right?

Well, to some degree, yes.  I’m not going to disclose information about an individual judge’s likes or dislikes.  (At GenCon, there is a Ennies Judge Panel – feel free to come out and ask us all pointed questions there!)

Now that the judging portion of the program is done, where do the Ennies stand?  Well, judges have selected the nominees for the Ennies.  However, the public (you!) actually decides who the winners are.  Everyone gets to vote among the nominees – so the judges are just as curious about who will win as the rest of the gaming public!  (Voting starts this Friday, July 20).

First off, let me address some of the commentary I’ve seen on the nominations.

I am quite pleased with the nominations.  The final list reflects the collaborative process that the judges went through – no individual judge had all of these nominated products on his or her list.  But, all of us are satisfied with the list on the whole.  Would I change anything on the list of nominees?  Yes, there are a couple of changes I personally would make to the list, but that is due to my taste.  The reason there is a judging panel is so that the nominees represent a spectrum of gamers’ opinions, rather than anyone’s individual taste.

There has been some drama around the Best Free Product nominations, with some individuals feeling that the list of nominees is questionable.  Specifically, the complaint I’ve seen is that most of the nominees are not games in and of themselves, but rather products that require additional purchases to use.  (For example – We Be Goblins! is a free Pathfinder module, but it benefits from having the Pathfinder core rule book, which is not free.)  The judges were evaluating quality of work – not what sort of product was submitted.  I think this variation in product is what creates gamer frustration.  “Why didn’t my game get nominated, when it’s a full game, and you nominated something that is just an adventure” questions inevitably lead to the not-so-popular answer:  because collectively the judges felt the 12 page adventure was of higher quality.  Not comforting, but there you have it. 

Another interesting point I’ve seen floating around the web is that “the judges are clearly fans of <insert publisher / system here>.”  Nope.  In fact, without going into detail, the five judges have somewhat different gaming palates.  For myself, I will say that I tend to be more interested in “fluff” – that is, setting or characterizations or things related to role-playing.  A couple of the other judges are more interested in rules or “crunch,” and then the other two I would characterize as hybrids – interested in both.  As for systems, we each have systems we like, and systems we don’t particularly care for.  But none of that was as important as the quality of individual products.  Pelgrane Press, Wizards of the Coast and Paizo products received the most nominations because we respected the quality of their products.  The quality of the work speaks for itself, regardless of the system.

Overall, my response to all of these sorts of questions has been and will continue to be -- run for Ennies judge yourself!  Obviously you’re passionate about gaming.  If you don’t agree with the nominations, the only way to change them is to participate in the process!  It’s not the reason I myself ran for judge, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be yours.

Also, I’m sure we will discuss all this and more at the Ennies Judging Panel at GenCon, Saturday afternoon at 2pm.  judges panel info

Moving on…

Though I heartily congratulate all nominees, I would like to highlight a couple of particular products that were nominated.  (After the Ennies awards, I plan to do this with a couple of products that were not nominated, but I can’t go giving away my judge’s pick just yet!)  All comments below are simply my opinions, and not meant to detract from the worthiness of other nominees.

Dragon Age: Set 2
·         Nomination:  Best Interior Art

This is a supplement to the Dragon Age RPG.  It is a dark fantasy setting, and if you enjoy the Dragon Age video games, then you will most likely enjoy the RPG.  This supplement did a great job at re-invigorating the fan base of the Dragon Age RPG after the lackluster fan-reception for the Dragon Age II video game (which I happened to enjoy).

Panopticon (Eclipse Phase)
·         Nomination:  Best Writing

This is a supplement for Eclipse Phase.  The Eclipse Phase team consistently produces some of the most well-written books in the RPG industry.  The hard-core Sci-Fi setting may not be everyone’s cup of tea (I’m looking at you, fantasy fans), but if you want to be inspired by high quality work, look no further.  (Plus, the pdf is only $10!)

Lorefinder (GUMSHOE/Pathfinder mash-up)
·         Nomination:  Best Rules

Want some more sleuthing in your fantasy campaign?  This book has you covered.  A well-designed way to add some spice to a Pathfinder campaign – or a way to set a mystery in a fantasy world – this is a clever combination that should serve GMs and players well.

Invasive Procedures  (Trail of Cthulhu or Fear Itself GUMSHOE)
·         Nomination:  Best Adventure

This adventure scared me.  I have not done much horror role-playing, but this adventure was one of the handful I wished I had played before reading, so that I could experience that fear as a player.  Maybe one day I’ll run it for others.  Definitely creep-tastic.

There are approximately 100 Ennie nominations – see the full list here: list of 2012 ennie nominees.

And don’t forget to vote – voting starts on Friday, July 20 and runs to Sunday, July 29.  The Ennies ceremony will be held on Friday, August 17 at GenCon!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ennies judge, part 2

Have you ever been a part of a book club?  Where you read a book, and then meet to discuss the book?  Maybe one book a month?  Or remember in college or high school when your entire class read a book, and then would discuss in class what you thought of the book and so forth?

Well, judging for the Ennies is not quite like that.

First, the scale is such that there is no way we could discuss every single submission in detail.  We received 366 submissions – most of which were books that arrived at my doorstep and probably made my mail carrier and UPS driver cry a lot.  There were a lot of e-submissions as well, which arrived in PDF format (searchable – yay!).  And then there were podcasts to download, websites to peruse, and the occasional piece of software.

Second, the judges for the Ennies do not meet like you would with a book club or a class.  I have yet to meet any of the others in person, for one thing.  For another, the vast majority of our year was spent in solitary efforts to read and form opinions about submissions.  It was punctuated with the occasional email with questions or comments.  But 95% of the effort involved is individual and self-motivated.

The Ennies organizers let the judges be – aside from answering the occasional question or helping with problems – to maintain the independence of the judges.  We had an agreed-upon deadline to provide our list of nominations to them, but they in no way stepped in to shape our opinions.

So what does all of this mean?  It means the vast majority of my judging duties was sitting in a quiet place, reading reading reading.  I would use my lunch hours at work to read.  I would read on the weekends.  Not every day, but in May and June pretty darn close to it. 

We kept a spreadsheet where each judge could note his or her personal candidates for nomination in each category.  I changed mine frequently, as I read more things.  I would revisit items another judge ranked highly but I hadn’t cared for particularly.  It was an ever shifting process.

Occasionally, I would have to remind myself that the Ennies were not about what my “favorite” products were, but what the “best” products were.  It didn’t happen too often, but there are still a couple of products that I loved that didn’t make the cut for other judges.  And that’s okay.

So … after lots of preparation and re-evaluation, the actual judging process went fairly smoothly.  It consisted of the judges in a Google Hangout, looking over the list of items each judge would put forward for nomination.  There were many products that overlapped between judges, and that made selection easy.  But once past those initial items, we would essentially debate amongst ourselves – very respectfully and politely I might add – what deserved to be nominated.  It took a few hours, and then after further consideration in the following days we changed two of the 100ish nominations.  It sounds simple because it was simple.  There were some categories where a judge or two would have very strong opinions, and then other judges had strong opinions in other categories.  It worked out because we were all prepared, we listened to each other, and we kept emotions out of it for the most part.

That in and of itself was a revelation to me.  I had been anxious about the judging process because I didn’t know the other judges (you can’t read tone into emails), and I didn’t know how being the only girl on the panel would go.  What I learned was that the judging process in and of itself was all about building consensus.  It was almost like a group of five people mediating themselves.  I will give you a (fake) example.  Say, judges 1-3 really liked Book Lasagna, but judges 4-5 really liked Book Enchiladas.  Well, perhaps the negotiated result of that conflict would be nominating Book Lasagna in this particular category, but recognizing that Book Enchiladas was also a quality product by putting it on the short list for nominee discussion in a different category that would be discussed a bit later.  It worked out rather well.

So after a few hours, we had a list of nominations.  We slept on it, and further refined a couple of nominations, but all in all we are very satisfied with our decisions. 

Ennies nominations will be announced July 13, after which I will give you some details to chew on (though not gossipy who-liked-what stuff – just my opinions or products I want to highlight).

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Ennies judge, part 1

This year, I had the unique opportunity to judge for the Ennies.  What are the Ennies?  Well, short-version, they are awards to Role-Playing Game related products that are given annually at Gen Con. 

Anyone can run to be a judge, and judges are elected for one year by the same fans voting on the awards.  The judges’ job is then to read / view all entries and select the nominations for the Ennies.  Those nominations are then put to fan vote, which decides the winners.

So, long story short (too late), I have had over 300 books/websites/podcasts/etc to read and evaluate since Gen Con of last year.  The vast majority of submissions were received in April and May, so I’ve been a bit busy!

Though at times I felt overwhelmed by this process (and had the resultant whining to my friends), overall it has been very gratifying.  I wanted to share some things with you, and also document them for myself.

So why did I get involved in judging?

First, my main goal in this process was to learn more about Role Playing Games.  I play and enjoy them.  I like GMing.  But I don’t have a breadth of knowledge about the games available.  Most of my experience has been with systems that my friends know and enjoy playing.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  But I like to learn, and I wanted to educate myself about other systems and basically come to a more holistic understanding and appreciation for the industry.

Second, I really enjoy reading.  I wanted to see what inspired me about different worlds and settings.  I wanted to learn more about myself through discovering what I gravitated to.  I hoped to spark creative thinking within myself by taking this journey.

Third, I am a girl (duh) in a hobby that is male-dominated.  Now, I am not male-bashing.  But there are a couple of underlying issues here. 

One, the RPG community tends to be viewed by “outsiders” as a bunch of nerds without social skills being dorks together.  While some of that is true (I’m a nerd and a dork), there is more to the community – and role-playing – than awkward people trying to have a good time.  [Aside --The couple who introduced me to role-playing consist of a brilliant, beautiful woman and perhaps the most socially adept man I’ve ever known.  Hard to beat that for non-stereotypical.]   So, being a woman in this hobby, I was hoping that by being a female judge I could draw attention to some products that might be more female-friendly so to speak.  Did I succeed?  Who knows.  But it was a thought in my head.

Two, when I applied to be a judge candidate, there were zero other females who had done so.  None.  But about 15 guys had applied.  Now, a couple of other women applied before the end, but it really pushed my buttons at the time.  I had hesitated about applying, knowing how much work would be involved – and how seriously I take my commitments.  But this basically pushed me over the edge from “thinking about it” to “okay, do it.”   Does that mean I was the token girl on the judges panel?  Probably.  But I will take that and run with it.

So this documents why I decided to apply.  And low and behold, I got elected!  (And totally yelled “Holy Crap” in a restaurant full of people in Indianapolis when I found out.)

To be continued with a post about judging itself, and then eventually discussion of the nominees (which will be announced July 13).

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Tyrion, oh my

I think Peter Dinklage is a very attractive man.     

The hard copy of this edition of Rolling Stone is sitting on my desk right now, looking at me.

Yes, he is a little person – which I believe/hope is the politically correct term. 

At first I wondered if this made me weird or something, but after discussing HBO’s Game of Thrones ad naseum in the office, I realized I am not alone.

Most women in fact find him very handsome.

He is happily married to a normal-sized woman, and they have a daughter.

(If I said I wasn’t jealous, I’d be lying.)

In pondering this ever-so-important topic, I thought of something I'd heard at least 10 if not 20 years ago.  IIRC, An Asian actress was discussing race in Hollywood, and she said "I am just waiting for there to be a male Asian sex symbol."  I believe it predated Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon's release -- which probably made whichever actress very happy.

So, having a little person viewed as a sex symbol by many Americans - does this mean something good about people having open minds?  

That would be a good thing.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Sleep FTW

You know how some people fall asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow?  I’ve never been one of those people.

It takes me a long time to fall asleep.  Often I read myself to sleep, occasionally falling asleep with the light on and a book in my hand.

But about a month ago, I had a light bulb moment.

I love my Kindle fire.  And it plays music.

I searched on Amazon, and found a few meditation tracks that I can play on my kindle and fall asleep to.  It’s incredibly helpful!

After buying a couple of “help falling asleep” individual tracks, I bought a full album.

If you have a full album of material, you can just hit play and nod off.  The Kindle enters sleep mode after a few minutes, so it’s not using a ton of electricity.  And when the album is done, it stops playing.

I also bought a “white noise” album – the kind of thing you’d hear at a spa.  My cats aren’t fond of the rain tracks, but it works well too.

Audio books could probably also be used in this way, though I think I’d get caught up in the story and not fall asleep.

One more win for the Kindle team!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Suddenly I'm Dr. Seuss

I have good days

and bad days,

sad days

and mad days.

But I am trying to be grateful for just having days.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

My sister

I know not everyone is as fortunate as I am to have a good relationship with their siblings.  And no, it’s not like I fell out of the womb idolizing my sister.  That took at least until I was out of diapers.  I think.  It’s hard to remember.

But idolize my sister I do, and here are a few of the reasons why.

  • Whenever there is a pet around, she narrates what it does in a goofy accent.  Typically cats are Russian (I think because of the Russian Blue we had growing up), and dogs are a hybrid between Goofy and fictional “hillbilly” voice.

 I believe I smell some milk.  Oh yes, there is definitely milk in this vicinity.  I wish I had hands to open the cabinet and get out a bowl, then get the milk and pour it in.  But I do not.  I believe I will attack this piece of fuzz to express my frustration!

I sure would like it if you threw the ball for me.  Could you please throw the ball for me?  It would be ever so much fun.  Or you could pet me if you like.  Or maybe I will just lay down here.  Hold on, let me walk in a circle first.  And another circle.  Okay, one more.  Alright, now I can lay down.

  •  When I was little, when we were at McDonald’s, she would give me the pickles off her hamburger.  The day she started giving her pickles to her now-husband, I knew I was in trouble.  (Don’t make that dirty, people.)
  • The summer after she graduated from high school, we had just moved to a different state.  Neither of us had any friends yet.  And despite our 8-year difference in ages, she let me follow her around, hang out by the pool, sleep in her room, and generally pester her until she left for college. 
  • I love hearing her laugh.  On occasions of extreme laughter, she goes into this high pitched, hysterical laugh that I think dogs find annoying.  But I smile just thinking about it.
  • She collects poorly translated items – usually toys -- from dollar stores.  Because they are funny.  My favorite is the Smart Board, which instructed you to “hold pen erectly” to write on it.
  •  I credit a lot of my spectacular taste in music to her.  Which is not really much of a stretch, because it certainly wasn't my parents.  We survived road trips with Julio Iglesias and Neil Diamond. 
  • She reads more than I do, and that’s saying something.
  • She is a wonderful mother and has a meaningful, loving relationship with her husband.

So, she's practically perfect in every way.  Like Mary Poppins.  Except more awesome.  And I will stop bragging now.  :)