48 hours left

In just under two days, the Big Bad Con Kickstarter will close. We’re really close to hitting our 20k stretch goal and I’m feeling very confident as well as very loved.

Big Bad Con has changed a lot for me, from an event to host great games, to a place to foster community and growth. I love the event and I love even more that the attendees, the GMs, the volunteers, and all our backers support it as it evolves and improves.

Thanks to everyone who has supported the con in any way so far. Without all of you, this would just be my blue sky dreams.

If you’d like to have a hand in the process either by attending yourself or pledging so that others who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford the costs can make it out, I welcome you to participate. I hope that the work you do, and the work you help us do, is as rewarding to you as it is to me.

Here are some ways you can get involved:

* GM a game on the schedule: http://www.bigbadcon.com/volunteer/run-a-game/
* Run in Games on Demand: http://www.bigbadcon.com/volunteer/be-a-god/
* Volunteer to work at the con: http://www.bigbadcon.com/volunteer/join-the-wolf-pack/
* Back the Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1157274964/big-bad-con-2016

Once again, so many thanks for all your contributions. Seeing your support inspires me!

Falling Sky

COIN Overload

I feel like every time I play a COIN game, my brain has to destroy old memories to make room. I think Falling Sky cost me second grade. Eh, no big.

This one feels way different than any other COIN I’ve played. The big difference is that there’s no shared frenemy victory condition. In Liberty or Death for example, both the British and the Indians benefit from Support in the colonies. Falling Sky is a free for all! The synergies and interdependencies between the factions are very subtle.

The other difference, which is neat, is that there are three Gaul factions and then Rome all by its lonesome. All the Gauls use the same commands, and are differentiated by special abilities and victory conditions.

Edit: another big difference is the presence of an automated fifth faction, the Germanic tribes, which the Belgics can kind of use to their advantage (not really) but mostly exist to wreck everyone’s shit each winter. There was an event card that required we pencil out how they actually worked (something along the lines of “muster in the middle of Belgia and then romp!”) and I confess this was thirty minutes of not-fun.

So we played the short version of the medium scenario, which is kind of the default setup. I played the Belgic tribes, which are poised to win right out of the gate if Rome doesn’t hoof it north and put a boot in their ass. The Arverni want to straight murder legionnaires but they’re not set up to do that right away. The Aedui are allegedly just kind of Roman boosters and traders, but the sequence of event cards meant that they were terrifying at swapping other Gauls for their Gauls. But while Aedui was hitting Arverni, Rome was turtling and my Belgics ran away with it by the first Winter.

I don’t count learning games as victories and I can already see the next time we play that setup, the Belgics are getting a boot in their ass.

I had a really hard time connecting with the game, I think, because I don’t really know the history that well. The leader names are hard to pronounce, the locations look familiar (western Europe) but it’s hard to figure out where things are by their Latin names, and the game feels mostly political, not fighty. It’s gonna take a couple more plays to hash it out I think. 

I’ve seen a couple people talk up Falling Sky as the new best introduction to COIN. I’m not so sure! Might be true if you love ancient warfare. And it is objectively true that the map is much smaller and the rules are simpler (specifically, there’s no support/oppose element and no LOC rules). But lordy…I thought it was the most difficult of all the games so far to suss out how you actually win.

A minor indulgence to celebrate the sale of my old home.

Couldn’t quite escalate it to the nicest-paper version, though. Hopefully the just-okay paper will be okay. Am I going to regret my decision?

Also: decks of issue and quest cards, anyone buying/using them or are they not actually necessary?


Low-key gaming night last night, sadly The One Ring will be on hold a couple weeks, but I got to play Codenames finally!

I didn’t know my bestie Vlaada Chvátil designed it when I first saw it! It’s a really neat little party game, but it’s about being smart with word connections rather than mandatory silliness, embarrassing yourself or your party guests, or being gross.

It’s pretty easy: there are two teams, and each team has at a minimum a spy and a spymaster. The spymaster can say a single word and a number; the spy then tries to pick out which of 25 words the spymaster is trying to aim them at. So the spymaster might say “skull: 2” hoping his spy susses out CROWN and HEAD. If you hit a bystander or an opponent’s word (careful not to inadvertently point your spy at words that aren’t yours!), the turn is over. If you hit the assassin, you’re dead (super-duper avoid that one).

There are a lot of neat emergent strategies you discover in the course of play, too, which is pretty rewarding. Anyway, party game for smart people. Very worthy and affordable.


How to write about your session

Several people mentioned that they’d like to hear my thoughts on how to talk about their game sessions online. I’ve had pretty good luck talking about my game sessions. It’s not easy! So let me warn you about that up front. You’ll fail a lot, but you won’t even know it because folks are generally polite. Think about what your goals are: better conversations, self-improvement, bragging, pluses, social cred, relationship building, therapy. They’re all legit.

Know Your Audience

Who exactly are you talking to when you write up your AP? If you’re keeping notes for yourself (which is a great idea) then you’re the audience; anyone else who happens along and likes what you have to say is gravy. That’s not what I do, and since folks are asking me to tear down my methods let’s just get that out of the way.

My audience is imaginary me, fifteen years ago. I think a lot of trad-rooted players in my life (atoms and bits) are in a similar place. They’re fans of different games than me, but they’re walking a similar path. That’s who I write for. I’m not actually writing for myself but for those players and GMs.

More broadly, I’m writing for roleplayers with an active interest in self-improvement. I bring a hyper-critical eye to my play that probably most people don’t. I speculate that most GMs are satisfied with where they’re at, and most players don’t really think about what they do as a particular craft. And that’s absolutely fine. But for those who want to improve, I’m sharing my war stories. That requires honesty about your fuck-ups. It also requires a level of introspection/navel-gazing that borders on narcissistic. (Borders?)


Welcome to high school! Your first writing assignment goal is to identify your thesis.

What salient points do you want to get across? I usually focus on a specific thing that the session brought to mind: an observation about gaming in general, or about a particular dynamic at your specific table, or something about the human condition – no really! If I’ve got several points I want to hit, the very first thing I’ll do is list them out, just words, then backfill and try to connect the ideas. For example I might think through my last The One Ring session and quickly doodle down:

* Player who wants to beat the system
* What are incentives for winning?
* Incentives other than winning?
* Are Tolkien characters incentivized or are they just following along where the writer points them?
* Is avoiding Shadow an actual incentive? For everyone?

You can probably see the beginnings of one of my posts just from those bullets. Well, that’s how I do it. I start with freeform bullets, start looking for connections, then start filling in. (Yeah, I’ll probably write that post at some point.)


Facts about your game’s storyline are not interesting to anyone but the participants; roleplaying is not a spectator sport. There are some detail-oriented APs out there that are inspiring, but I guarantee they don’t inspire through blow-by-blow recounting. The reader needs to relate to what they’re reading.

This is where you need to stake out your Opinions (capital O, it’s important). Those might be contentious, or they might just be wrong. Whatever, doesn’t matter. You need an editorial viewpoint here: I think playing within a license has this effect on players’ decisions (oh yeah, when I played Doctor Who I saw the same thing!); I think my ongoing games burn out because my players stop doing emotional labor at the table (oh yeah, I haven’t checked in with my players for a while!); I think roll-under sucks the joy out of play (oh yeah, nobody in my group likes that either). I think, I think, I think.

Find the experiences you’ve had you think others can relate to, and talk about that.

But you need to establish context, right? So look at those relatable themes you want to hit and think through the bare minimum you need to talk about that. Don’t be like that funny dude in Ant-Man who can’t explain his caper.

So: use the broad outline of your session as an illustration of your theses, your salient points. Did your last session of Dresden Files make you think about how the session doesn’t really reflect what’s in the books? Talk about that, not the details of the session. The details are boring. Are you finding it really hard to get characters pulled together in Urban Shadows? Use the at-the-table experience, not the in-the-fiction details, to illustrate that point.

Get Woke

This is more related to my personal goals in writing about my gaming, but I think it matters: learn about RPGs. That means playing more than what you’re used to, playing stuff outside your comfort zone, really learning about the scope of gaming. Stretch. If you think you’ll reach a place where your experience will become unrelatable, you’re wrong. Stretch forever.

The reason you want to do this is to increase your relatability (above), therefore expand your audience (also above). If you only know how to talk about a particular sliver of gaming – D&D-style or metaplot-splatbook style or Fate or freeform or whatever – anyone who lies outside your points of reference won’t have anything to hook into. That of course means it’s on you to relate your experiences back out in a variety of ways.

Be Concise

This means not only keeping it short, but keeping it information-dense. For practice, try this:

1) Write your thing the way you want, following my audience, structure and relatability ideas above.

2) Cut it in half, still keeping your audience, structure and relatability in mind.

Believe it or not, this is the method I used on this very piece. For my bigger pieces, I absolutely draft in Word, let it percolate a while, then start cutting, and then post.

Like I said in the intro, it’s not easy work. If you want easy likes/pluses/upvotes, post funny gifs. I also have many decades of professional writing experience (games, feature writing, marketing, etc.), and I don’t want to downplay that. But I’m convinced the vast majority of AP writing out there would be improved by taking into account:

* Audience
* Structure
* Relatability
* Experience
* Concision

Go forth and be awesome.


Third time playing and the best so far. This was the first time we used the actual non-demo version of the setup, and lordy is it challenging for the Rebels! I played the Rebellion (second time for me) and I just couldn’t get anything to line up. My first few Objectives were fighty, the Empire was covering more of the map than I remember from the demo. Tragic loss!

Apropos of the theme, I’m planning on selling my plasma when the bill comes due (in fact I’ve already sold it but in the future). Dang it.

Backed. Very simple backer levels plus a “give us $20 extra to reach stretch goals and we’ll give you a $3 sleeve for your box” level, which for whatever reason I feel like is squarely in the crosshairs of the Kickstarter ethos. I’m sure they’re not the first ones to come up with that but it’s the first time I’ve seen it.