Chicago Geek Guy

Comics, Cosplay, LARPs, RPGs, Fiction, and more... all from Chicago

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Squirrel or Die

There’s always a demand for games that are good for stocking-stuffers, White Elephant exchanges, or office parties. I’ve been making an effort to put at least one on my list each year, so for Day 4 of my 12 Days of Holiday Gift Exchange I present Squirrel or Die.

Squirrel or Die is a memory/press-your-luck game for two to four players. Players take the roll of Squirrels preparing for Winter. There are two distinct phases in each game, which I’ll discuss below. Hope you like your games with a touch of black humor, because the goal of the game is to seed the Yard with Food for you, and Death to your fellow fuzzy animals!

Cards in Squirrel or Die are either Food, Death, or Special. In the Autumn phase, players start each game with three secret cards in hand. The grid (aka the Yard) starts with one card face down, and three cards face up. On a player’s turn they take a card from the draw pile, and add it face up to the Yard. Then the same player swaps any face up card from the Yard with a card from their hand, which will go face down. Eventually all cards will be face down in the Yard, which signals the start of Winter.

When Winter comes (shush, I don’t watch the show) players will take turns drawing a card from the yard, publicly showing off their choice. Each Food card drawn contribute to that player’s victory while making the Yard more dangerous for everyone else. If a player collects three Death cards, they’ve been eliminated from the game. The winner is either the last player standing (most likely outcome), or the player who finds the most food once the last card is drawn from the Yard. Special cards have a variety of effects; such as forcing you to take another turn, or sending Death to another player.

Squirrel or Die is a great small-box game. It’s easy to teach, plays in about 10 minutes, and has a good replay value. Just be aware that the semi-bleak humor won’t be for everyone, though the theme could definitely be used in a classroom to teach students about winter survival in the animal world.

Squirrel or Die is by Fight in a Box, and distributed by Atlas Games.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Last Days: Zombie Apocalypse

Welcome to Day 3 of my 12 Days of Holiday Gaming Suggestions, and hopefully the start of me writing at a faster pace now! Night of the Living Dead turned 50 this year, so we’re gonna talk about zombies.Today’s game is Last Days: Zombie Apocalypse by Osprey Games.

Last Days: Zombie Apocalypse is a miniature game that manages to stand out in a gaming market over saturated by the undead by doing a few key things. Firstly, all of its rules are in a single book. It’s a slim book (by the standard of other minis games); barely passing a hundred pages.Nearly all of that space is devoted to the rules of the game. There’s no need write a bunch of fluff about a world overrun by the undead when so many movies,books, shows, and comics have already done that!

This isn’t to imply that there aren’t story elements to the game despite its relatively small book. On the contrary, Last Days knows that the most interesting zombie stories are about the human conflicts that the undead just make worse. Therefore, it’s completely designed continuous,campaign-style play. Zombies are governed like nearly-mindless obstacles rather than controlled by a single player. The human narrative, meanwhile, starts right when a player designs their group of survivors. Will their leader be selfless, or selfish? The choice affects what kind of followers can be recruited. Where does the group take refuge? The abandoned prison presents a strong start with fences and an infirmary, but it can’t be customized much in long-term play like the more initially-vulnerable farmhouse or mall can.

(And yes, leaders, followers, and bases all improve over the course of play. And zombies are always the same.)

Last Days actually uses the overwhelming number of other zombie games to its advantage by being completely miniature agnostic. In other words; “USE WHAT YOU WANT” is part of the rules. (This is a great feature of nearly all of Osprey’s miniature games.) If you know someone who already owns games like Zombicide, Last Night on Earth, or Zombies!!!!!, then Last Days will work with what they already own! (And if that person is you, mention the book to someone who needs a gift idea for you.)

Check back soon (hopefully tomorrow) for a non-miniatures gaming suggestion.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Fallout Wasteland Warfare

Day 2 of the 12 Days of Holiday Game Recommendations, and only [*checks notes*] four days after the first. Oof. (Don’t worry, I’ll be done well before Christmas.) Today I’m going to get an obvious game out of the way with Fallout Wasteland Warfare by MODIPHIUS.

(But first, let’s be obvious about my biases. Yes, I’m a big Fallout mark. Yes, I’ve been hyping this game most of the year. Yes, I clearly want the community around the game to keep growing. Proceed with all of that in mind, because I still think this is a great game!)

Fallout: Wasteland Warfare is a miniature game based around the Fallout video game series. But you will not need to be a Fallout fan to enjoy the game, nor do you need to be an experienced miniature gamer. I’ll be talking almost exclusively about the game’s starter box, which was designed to be as accessible as possible for the beginning miniature player (while still providing enough content for people ready for a more complicated experience).

Given that I’m talking about a miniature game, let’s start with the minis themselves. Everything in the starter box is fully assembled, and manufactured out of colored PVC plastic. (Humans and their dog in grey plastic; mutants and monsters in green.) Each of the 12 miniatures are also on their own decorative base, giving the each model a nice visual pop.

Having fully-assembled miniatures is a nice step for the beginning player, but the Fallout Starter Box doesn’t stop there. It also has an 8 page “Getting Acclimated” guide written specifically for someone who’s never played a miniature game before. The guide walks new players through the basic ideas of playing, and includes simple scenarios after each concept to help reinforce them.

The Rules of Play guide continues the teaching trend. Here rules and concept are introduced in greater detail with plenty of examples and more involved tutorial scenarios. Fallout is a game with a lot variables, and they are introduced a bit at a time to avoid overwhelming players.

“Enough of why it’s a great product for the beginning gamer, how does it play?” you may be wondering. At its core, Fallout Wasteland Warfare is “skirmish” miniature game rather than an “army” miniature game. Players typically will use 6 to 10 models per team, rather than dozens upon dozens of miniatures. Additionally, most games will be based on a scenario with a goal other than “beat up the other team”. A victory condition could be to hack terminals (or lock people out of them), search for the best loot, or keep invaders out of your settlement. The game also features a detailed “A.I.” system which can put any number of models under the control of dice. This allows for cooperative player, or scenarios where two opposing players have to avoid monsters while battling each other.

There’s lots more that I could get into (like the myriad of free content online, the resin minis, or the campaign play), but I won’t yet. Suffice to say that Fallout Wasteland Warfare Starter Box is a great miniature game for the absolute beginner, especially if they’re a fan of the Fallout video games. And if you’re not yet convinced, head over to Modiphius’ webstore and download the rules for free!

And for those miniature gamers who aren’t beginners, come back after my 12th entry for a detailed breakdown as to why Fallout Wasteland Warfare is a great choice for more experienced players, too!

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

A Klingon Christmas Carol Delivers Geeky Fun!

A Klingon Christmas Carol takes a holiday classic into decidedly geeky territory. Not withstanding some shortcomings in terms of costuming, EDGE of Orion Productions and director John Gleason Teske have delivered an interesting and entertaining view of the holiday season’s good spirits.

Predating the Dickens version of the tale by several hundred years, as we are told by a Vulcan Narrator (Elise Soeder), the play follows SQuja (Scrooge, played by Tony Bunnel) through the events of the annual, Klingon winter solstice celebration, tlhIngan ram nI’ bom (Klingon Long Night’s Song). A cowardly money lender, the ghost of his old partner, marlI’ (Marley, played by Kent Joseph) and three Spirits of Kahless lead SQuja through an exploration of his life and the discovery of his courage, passion, and honor.

Tony Bunnel as SQuja,

Tony Bunnel as SQuja,

Returning for his second year at the titular character, SQuja, Tony Bunnel delivers a transformation the role deserves. The character seems small at the beginning of the play, shoulders hunched, gestures small. A money lender who cheated during his ascension ceremony, SQuja stands empty of honor and all too full of spite, apathy, and jealousy. Bunnel, under the direction of Gleason Teske, slowly grows the character as the Ghosts of Kahless guide him through his life. By the last moments, SQuja stands larger, full of Klingon passion, without the cowardice the character displays at the beginning of the production. He has not yet claimed the full honor due to him, but ritual fights with his nephew, vreD (Justin Blankenship) and his guests, and a commitment to train along with tImHom (Liam Walsh) leaves the audience with a sense that SQuja will make a warrior, yet.

Justin Blankenship’s portrayal of vreD (Scrooge’s nephew Fred in the Dickens’ version),  delivered with exuberance and enthusiasm, provides a solid yardstick against which to measure SQuja’s progress. The effervescent vreD dominates the stage with his boisterous laughter and swagger, and never-ending confidence in his uncle.

The entire company of performers, each cast for “heart,” deliver solid performances, deftly negotiating around the Klingon language. Coach Dr. Jeremy Cowan spent extra time with the actors to ensure their understanding of this fictional language; pronunciation and syntax. It was not enough to merely recount the words phonetically. The cast honed their Klingon to speak with knowledge of words and often deliver meaning through gestures and reaction. For those who don’t speak conversational Klingon, the production also projects super-titles in English.

In this third year with EDGE of Orion, the costuming and makeup efforts disappoint. Compared to the Commedia Beauregard production from 2010 to 2014, outfits look amateurish, not quite the level of common con cosplay. I heard another member of the audience refer to the Klingon ridges worn by the actors as “Looking like a flesh toupee.”

It provides a stark contrast with the well designed, minimalist set. The sparsely appointed stage, and excellent if unobtrusive light design, draws the audience’s attention to the characters and the action.

Director John Gleason Teske stressed the cross-cultural appeal to the work when I had a chance to talk with him at the press preview. “Star Trek fans should come. Christmas Carol fans should come. People who want to see something different should come. Fans of staged combat should come. It’s an old story told in a new way.”

Language coach Dr. Cowan added, “It’s a show for the people that always get dragged to the nerdy stuff. Even they will have a good time.”

Having seen a preview of the show, I’m inclined to agree. By the end of the show, I was ready for some blood wine! (But I will pass on the gagh!)


A Klingon Christmas Carol runs November 29th-December 16th at the Edge Theater. Purchase tickets at edgeoforion.com/purchase-tickets/ for $22.

On December 15, Star Trek fan band Five Year Mission will visit The EDGEfor a pre-show concert. Learn more about the group at  http://fiveyearmission.net/.

Photos courtesy of Jennifer Photography and Photography with Heart.

A Klingon Christmas Carol Opens Tonight!

A Klingon Christmas Carol opens tonight at EDGE Theater in Edgewater. Produced by EDGE of Orion and directed by John Gleason Teske, A Klingon Christmas Carol returns to the Edge Theater for its third year, continuing what’s become a Chicago tradition.

A Klingon Christmas Carol is the first play to be performed entirely in Klingon, a constructed language first appearing in Star Trek. It is the Charles Dickens classic tale of ghosts and redemption, adapted to reflect the Klingon values of courage and honor, and then translated into Klingon (performed with English supertitles).

Director John Gleason Teske talks with local bloggers.

Director John Gleason Teske stressed the cross-cultural appeal to the work when I had a chance to talk with him at the press preview, last night. “Star Trek fans should come. Christmas Carol fans should come. People who want to see something different should come. Fans of staged combat should come. It’s an old story told in a new way.”

Language coach Dr. Jeremy Cowan added, “It’s a show for the people that always get dragged to the nerdy stuff. Even they will have a good time.”

Having seen a preview of the show, I’m inclined to agree.

To celebrate opening week, EDGE Theater is offering a host of entertainment and informative sessions:

Thursday Night Nov 29th

Join the Klingon Pop Warrior for a special mini-concert before the show begins! Meet board and troupe members as we mingle over drinks in the beautiful EDGE Theater Lobby before the show! 7:15 doors open! Learn more about The Klingon Pop Warrior here: https://www.klingonpopwarrior.com/

Orion Couling will lead a class on Klingon Martial Arts.

Friday, November 30th

Watch the nationally renown Raks Geek take the stage in our pre-show entertainment. Raks Geek is legendary in blending nerd with belly dance and burlesque. You’ve seen them with their belly dancing Wookie, now catch an all-new Star Trek Inspired dance! 7:30 doors open! More about Raks Geek here: http://raksgeek.com/

Saturday, December 1st

Klingon Curse Warfare with Dr. Jeremy Cowan! To Klingons, cursing is an art form. To truly understand the Klingon culture, you must understand Klingon curses. Our Klingon Language Coach will teach you a few prime curses! Doors open at 7:15 pm

Sunday, December 2nd

The Bat’leth and Martial Arts. Join EDGE of Orion’s Executive Director and international stunt coordinator, Orion Couling, as we explore the martial components of the sacred Klingon Weapon. Learn its deadly secrets and revel in a live demonstration! Doors open at 2:15 pm

On December 15, Star Trek fan band Five Year Mission will visit The EDGEfor a pre-show concert. Learn more about the group at  http://fiveyearmission.net/.

A Klingon Christmas Carol runs November 29th-December 16th at the Edge Theater. Purchase tickets at edgeoforion.com/purchase-tickets/ for $22.

12 Days of Holiday Gaming – Nut So Fast

Welcome to Day 1 of the 12 Days of Holiday Game Recommendations, now think fast! My first suggestion this year is Nut So Fast, by Smirk&Dagger. (Published under their Smirk & Laughter product line.)

Nut So Fast is a reflex card game for 3-6 players. Each player begins the game with roughly the same amount of cards in a facedown pile. At the center of the table is a collection of cartoony nut tokens. On a player’s turn they draw the top two cards from their pile. If a total of four of the same nut is shown between that player’s two cards, everyone races to grab the corresponding token. The walnut and cashew tokens are distributed like musical chairs; a token for every player but one. Whoever fails to grab one of those tokens has to collect the cards from the player who revealed the set of four. (Points are bad in this game!) Meanwhile, there’s a single pistachio token, and the quick player who grabs that gets to choose the poor soul who gets stuck with the points.

(There’s also a single almond, but I won’t tell you how that works. You’ll need to play to find out for yourself.)

Complicating matters are the three “Nutty Pose” cards. At the start of each game, three poses are randomly assigned to 1, 2, or 3. (Poses vary from finger guns, self bunny ears, peace signs, and other silliness.) If a number card is relieved, forget the nuts and strike the correct pose! Whomever was slowest gets the points.

The goal of Nuts So Fast is to have the least points after three rounds of play. In between rounds, a new trio of Nutty Poses gets dealt out. Careful about those reflexes you just developed over the last round, because suddenly they’re wrong!

Nuts So Fast is a great combination of mental and physical reflexes, making it a game for groups who enjoy the likes of Pit, Slap Jack, Jungle Speed, or Set. You can download the rules at the Smirk & Laughter website, and get it from most Friendly Local Game Stores.

About the Author

James Nettum started playing RPG’s while in fourth grade, sneaking in sessions of AD&D on the playground of his Catholic school. He went pro at the age of 25 when he took a position at Pegasus Games in Madison, Wisconsin. He’s been there 10 years and plays every sort of game, except collectibles.

James started posting a 12 Days of Holiday Gaming via Facebook on Black Friday in 2016. I enjoyed the recommendations and wanted to share them. With his permission, I’m reblogging the series here at Chicago Geek Guy.

Titans Forever! (Well, for at Least Two Seasons)

I was recently gifted a subscription to the new streaming service DC Universe. Like Marvel Unlimited, DC Universe offers access to digital content such as movies, TV shows, and comics. While the comic library is not quite as extensive as Marvel’s library, DC’s service includes their massive collection of animated shorts, older films, and complete series of Wonder Woman, Constantine, Lois & Clark, and Young Justice.

Nigthwing Tail

Some fashion questions are better unanswered.

Overall, I’m enjoying the service. I’ve been able to catch up on some series I’ve always wanted to read and have been reminded that the 90’s were just not a good time for comics. (I had completely blocked Nightwing’s ponytail from my mind. Now, I can never un-see.) Unlike Marvel Unlimited, DC Universe offers exclusive access to new television series. Promised shows include Doom Patrol and Swamp Thing. They released the pilot episode of their first effort, Titans, last week.

It’s easy to forget just how much Teen Titans pushed the limits of comics.

Titans jumps off the pages of the comic book of the same name. Former members of the Teen Titans, Robin, Wonder Girl, and Beast Boy, as well as some newcomers like Raven and Cyborg, team up to fight super baddies, all while navigating the angst of their early 20’s. Not only do they have to deal with the evil forces of Brother Blood, but they also must keep their day jobs.

Yes. DC Comics went there.

It’s easy to forget just how much Teen Titans pushed the limits of comics. The book depicted the clearly middle aged Deathstroke in a sexual relationship with a fifteen-year-old Terra. An image of Starfire and Nightwing naked and in bed together raised eyebrows. Think about it. The 80’s didn’t take kindly to un-married, extraterrestrial couplings. 

Titans uses titular characters from the comic series, Robin, Starfire, Raven, and Changeling (aka Beast Boy), and places them in Detroit, Michigan. Like the comic, it looks like it’s going to push some boundaries. I’m can’t say I was a big fan of hearing Robin utter, “fuck Batman,” in the trailer. Gritty for the sake of gritty doesn’t really excite me. Still, I was looking forward to watching the series pilot.

It didn’t suck, but….

The character’s oft stripperific costume works in context.

It’s an adjustment. Given how far the CW’s Arrow wandered from the original source material, you’d think I’d be over “interesting” takes on some of my favorite characters from comics. I survived and am enjoying the re-imaging of Black Canary, for example. Still, certain characterizations of Titans will take getting used to.

This is not the Starfire I’m used to, yet.

Visually, I think Anna Diop, the costuming and special effects crews nail the physical appearance of Starfire. She appears unworldly and they even made the character’s oft stripperific costume works in context. I also know that passions drive the warrior trained Koriand’r and New Teen Titans #1 shows her blasting away enemies. However, watching the rather bloodthirsty Titan’s version of the character snap someone’s neck then incinerate a baddie jarred me. My last exposure to Starfire came courtesy of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner. The cute yet capable “fish out of water” from that story looks nothing like what I saw on the screen.

Teagan Croft portrays a character barely able to function, paralyzed with fear and trauma.

Teagan Croft as Raven

Teagan Croft as Raven.

Likewise, Titan’s vision of a young, frighten Raven shook me. In the comic, the semi-demonic Raven must control her emotions to suppress the evil within. Teagan Croft portrays a character barely able to function, paralyzed with fear and trauma. Here, the special effects crew won another victory. The evidence of Raven’s empathic powers emerging in reflections and dreams feels spot on. As in the New Teen Titans #1, it’s Raven who reaches out to Robin in his dreams with the goal to unite the team. Titans makes that all too common trope work and the character believable.

Brenton Thwaites as Robin.

Titans adds nuance to the character of Robin. Like Starfire’s costume, his “fuck Batman” line makes sense in context. Brenton Thwaites offers us a character in conflict. Dick Grayson struggles against becoming another Batman yet feels hinders by the relative ineffectiveness of his role as a city detective. He can arrest the bad guys as a police officer. He can’t always make sure they get put away. As Robin, he can at least ensure they face some kind of justice. Overall, I get the feeling this is a character due for some serious development. I would love to see a Nightwing emerge from this Robin.

I can’t speak much for Changeling. He only showed up for a moment at the end of the episode. I can’t say I’m a fan of his breaking and entering a big box store to steal a video game, but, once again, the special effect crew did a great job with a CGI, green tiger. I’m willing to watch what happens next.

It’s certainly more like Arrow then Supergirl.

It’s certainly more like Arrow then Supergirl. So far, Titans looks willing to show us a fresh collection of brooding, young superheroes on the small screen, characters we might not always recognize from their recent comic book depictions. The show also offers up some decent production values and top-notch special effects, and a talented cast. It’s already been renewed for a second season. I’ve got to give it at least one more episode, if only to see what they do with two of my favorite characters, Hawk and Dove.

You can find Titans at DC Universe.

Always in Moderation

“I have a weird, collie-like instinct to herd gamers.”

Professional Paige

She might be weird, but Paige acts the consummate professional.

A self-described “weird kid,” Paige Leitman literally didn’t know what she was in for when she convinced her mom to buy her the red box set of Dungeons & Dragons during the early 80’s. “I thought it was a book about monsters. I was perplexed to find it was a game. None of my girlfriends would play it, so I essentially bullied my younger brother and some of his stinky friends into playing with me.” Little did she suspect that beginning would lead to moderating one of D&D’s largest groups of fans.

Other than taking two years to pursue her masters, she’s been playing and DM-ing non-stop ever since that time. “It was just something I did,” she explained. “I have a weird, collie-like instinct to herd gamers.” In the days of the 3rd edition, she devoted considerable time helping run local meta organizations in Living Greyhawk, a massively shared campaign running from 2000 until 2008 that included thousands of published adventures and tens of thousands of players.

When 3.5 came out, she ran conventions all over the southeast; in Tennessee, Florida, and Georgia. She wrote her first adventure for 4th edition and ran even more conventions. She met her husband, then 5th Ed came out, and they ran even more conventions. They wrote Convention Created Content, custom made adventures unique to a specific convention and part of the shared world of the Adventurers’ League. The “I” had become a “we.” “I say ‘we’ because my husband and I are a team. You don’t get one without the other.”

“A community manager is in the unlovely position of trying to balance out that quiet majority against a few loud voices.”

Those collie-like instincts served her well as she managed one community after another. Her activity in the approximately 130,000-member 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons group didn’t go unnoticed and she quickly rose in the ranks to become a moderator. Paige drew from the wisdom of the comic and film series Men in Black to guide her hand:

Well, it’s like that line from MiB.

A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you’ll know tomorrow.

I like people.

But you put ’em in groups and they tend to get run over by a small community of really vociferous jerks. A community manager is in the unlovely position of trying to balance out that quiet majority against a few loud voices, so that the community can be a nice place for tolerant people.

Fuzzy Hazard

Some of the hazards of moderation are more furry than others.

For all the insults hurled at her, Paige finds staying on top of the comments the most challenging part of moderation. “It’s often like whistling in a hurricane. You get overwhelmed. Finding good help so that you don’t burn out is the toughest part.” The relatively large staff in the 5th Ed. D&D group helps to provide enough coverage to take a break, regain composure, and, of course, run more games.

“Like, don’t fight with these people. Call us in and let us do our jobs.”

Frustration does build, however. “When someone who is normally a good citizen has a bad day and gets in a nasty fight and you end up having to moderate them – that’s rough,” she told me. “What is SUPER frustrating is when people argue with each other over the very dumbest of things instead of tagging a moderator. Like, don’t fight with these people. Call us in and let us do our jobs.”

The job offers some satisfaction. “The 5E group mods get a fair few private thank yous. ‘I didn’t want to get involved in that last difficult discussion, but I wanted to say thank you for making this place a nice place for new players/women/POC/LGBT+ folks.’ That’s pretty satisfying.”

See Paige’s work in action by joining the Facebook Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition group.

Thank you to Mimsy Dorsey for her help in editing this story.

The Pull List for October 10, 2018

It’s been a long time since I’ve done one of these and I’m happy to get back in the groove. I’m looking forward to putting these three comics on the top of my stack when they arrive in stores on October 10, 2018.

Domino #7Domino #7

Story by Gail Simon, art by David Baldeon

I can’t say I’m familiar with Domino. Her first appearance happened while I lived in Japan. Her appearance in Deadpool 2 first exposed me to her. I picked this book up on the promise of a fun romp from Gail Simon. It has not disappointed, and I’m not usually a fan of more “mercenary” characters.

Simon and Baldeon have started to develop a charming character, emerging and gaining comfort with her own power. The first few issues of the series provided an excellent foil in the form of the villain who benefits from her suffering. This leads Domino on a path to discover herself. A common superhero trope, right? Maybe, but it’s rarely ever told with this much humor and panache.

I’m not a big fan of the spine twisting, boob enhancing cover art, but Baldeon does solid work on the interiors with a minimum of fanservice.

#7 kicks off a new story line. A great opportunity to pick up a fun book.

Plastic Man #5Plastic Man #5

Story by Gail Simon, art by  Adriana Melo

Got to love two books from Gail Simon in one week!

Where an ongoing series allows Simon to develop a character over time, this six issue mini-series lets her have a lot of fun and establish one of DC’s more eccentric characters firmly in the modern continuity.

The mini-series started with the origin of Plastic Man, formerly known as petty thug Eel O’Brian. It’s taken some odd twists and turns. I have no idea how he will end up facing Bubblebee. At the hands of Simon and Melo, I’m happy to sit back and enjoy the ride.

Ms Marvel #35Ms Marvel #35

Story by G. Willow Wilson, art by Nico Leon 

Wilson and Leon continue to deliver one of the most consistently good comics on the shelves. The two capture teen culture so well, providing equal measure of angst, self-discovery, and humor. It’s Ms Marvel’s name on the cover, but the comic includes a full cast of well developed and believable characters.

The books sometimes wanders into the absurd.  A recent battle with villain, The Shocker, occurred in a Rube Goldberg designed liar. I usually prefer something a little more realistic out of an ongoing comic. However, this cast feels so real that I can’t say I mind the wacky very much at all.

 

Getting Paid to GM: A Man with a Dream, Two People with a Plan

“I love gaming,” he told me when I asked the question. “I am told I am a pretty good Game Master.”

Amanda Nichole and Acel Loren Jenkins how to open a game store one day.

Acel Loren Jenkins seems to have the chops for a career as a professional GM. His history with role playing goes back over 20 years. Like many of us, he started with Dungeons and Dragons. As a teen, he participated the Vampire: The Masquerade LARPs. Since then, he’s run tabletop or live action sessions for Shadowrun, Mutants and Masterminds, Aberrant, GURPS, and Iron Kingdoms. When he, and his then girlfriend, started reading about people making money from leading games, an idea started to crystalize in his head. With the support and encouragement from his friends and his now wife, he started sketching out a five to seven-year plan that included owning his own shop where he could run games for customers in virtual and meat space.

But how easy is it to make a living from something a lot of people do for free? What backgrounds to the pros have? What skills does GM-ing professionally require? What does a day look like in this world? What challenges do pro GMs face? Chicago Geek Guy took the opportunity to chat with two professionals in the field to talk about how they got there, how they plan to stay there, and their two very different approaches to the field.

What Did You Do Back in the Day?

Houston “StitchTheAlchemist” Robinson started with D&D in high school but quickly moved into Pathfinder. A roleplaying group on Skype introduced him to virtual gaming and The World of Darkness. After a few years of financial difficulties, a stable job afforded him to run regular campaigns, again. A local shop introduced him to FATE in the form of the Dresden Files RPG and even 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. He quit his “real” job seven months ago to focus on GM-ing and still makes enough to feel comfortable.

Tara M. Clapper (Photo by Heather Fesmire)

Tara Clapper followed a different path to gaming. A school trip to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia sparked an interest in history and storytelling. Challenged to journal as someone who would have lived in the town, she created a character with a rich backstory: an Irish immigrant, married young to a doctor, a midwife. Tara followed these ideas of characterization and imagination through the creation stories, plays, and sonnets landing a job as a production editor then freelance journalist.

Then Tara discovered Live Action Role Play, moving quickly from a theatrical player to a behind the scenes role as game marketer and blogger. She continued to cover local geek events, started The Geek Initiative, and embracing LARP as an opportunity for self-discovery. Her first LARP, “She’s Got a Gun,” embraced a Feminist message and embraced the differently abled. Erin “The Geeky Gimp” Hawly, credited Tara with coming up with solutions to enable the disabled to fully participate in the game and creating a space where other players could comfortably interact with her.

In addition to playing LARP in the meat space, Tara also writes and runs LARPs, such as First Bite, Second Birth: A Contemporary Vampire Digital LARP Experience and Chariot LARP in a virtual space.

Given the disparity between their backgrounds, these two GM’s experience the professional world differently. Houston never thought about accepting money for running a game until it was offered to him. Looking back, Tara told me this is what she should have focused on from the beginning and feels it’s what she’s meant to do.

Developing Mad Skillz

This burgeoning profession requires certain skills. Success in the field requires an ability to regularly provide constant and consistent entertainment. Houston considers himself “fluent” in four games and works to expand that a little bit every day. Tara writes; new material, articles, interviews, marketing documentation.

Both Houston and Tara rely heavily on word of mouth and the success of previous efforts to secure new gigs, but both also maintain a presence on social media. In addition to The Geek Initiative, Tara offers nearly daily reflections on the industry via Facebook Live. Houston’s social media presence is a bit more nascent.

A Day in the Life

The days of these two pros also differ. Houston usually runs two, four-hour games a day, preparing between 30 minutes to two hours for each. He spends days without games negotiating with new clients, learning new rules systems, and studying to GM better. On a day off, he tries to get as far away from gaming as possible, choosing to take a break from the table.

Tara spends her days editing rulebooks, scouting locations, consulting with game companies, and securing the next event or commission. An effective marketer and self-promoter, it’s not unusual for private organizations to hire Tara to run one of her games or another game. People seek her out for industry guidance and advice and she’s started to offer more official mentoring programs. When she gets a day of holiday, it’s usually spent playing in a LARP or hiking.

It’s Not All Fun and Games, Literally

The relative newness of the field poses challenges to these pros. The idea of paying a GM rubs many people the wrong way. Many gamers still view tasks involved in running a session or campaign as a labor of love. With interest in role-playing exploding, any number of GM’s still provide their services for free, or for a few bucks on the side. “A lot of them,” Houston told me, “haven’t considered that people expect professionalism from paid GMs and it can really turn the clients off of the whole idea.” As both a game designer and marketer, Tara explained the dichotomy:

Marketing does require you to sell your soul and it’s generally an unethical business if you want to make money.

Game design is not something you get into for the money, but the number one complaint people will have is that you charge for it.

Marketing your own games is a demoralizing process because of the above combo.

Technology offers assistance and resistance to the professional GM or storyteller. Both Houston and Tara rely on digital mediums to run games. However, improvements in player matching applications make it more likely for potential clients to discover someone who will provide these services for free, if not as well, professionally, or consistently.

Outside of succeeding in a new market, both Houston and Tara struggle with the obstacles facing any entrepreneur in the United States. It’s still very difficult and costly for the self-employed to secure health insurance. They handle it with a combination of “I just hope nothing happens,” carefully rationing the medications they can afford, and efforts to find part-time jobs that provide some benefits and protection.

Is there a future?

Tara and Houston hold two very different views on the future of the field. Tara firmly believes the future of LARP lies in virtual space and has committed to the field as a lifelong career. “Things are about to explode and large companies are taking notice. We’ve seen steady growth in interest in the last decade and probably beyond,” she told me. “There is especially a need for inclusion; for GMs with a variety of voices to make inroads. We need to do better there. It’s a big challenge not just for marginalized designers, but for the emerging industry.”

Still, her future as a professional GM hinges on whether she can secure health insurance.

Houston doesn’t see the profession as sustainable or well suited outside of a few individuals with a massive online presence or people already big in the business with other sources of revenue. “I get to do my favorite thing for a living right now, which is amazing. I am happy with my earnings and my situation now, and I have plans on expanding the business. I just also have a nice fallback if this doesn’t work out. I believe I can keep this sustained for five years or so, without any major improvements.”

Words of Wisdom

“It’s really rewarding but a lot of work!” said Houston. “Not everyone realizes that playing the game as a hobby and doing it for money is a totally different ball game. Whereas in a regular game it’s everyone’s responsibility to have a good time, in a paid game the GM has to be the one making everyone else have a wonderful, memorable game. There’s no more ‘I’m not feeling inspired’ or ‘I’d rather do something else today.'”

“All that said, if someone wants to do what I do, just keep trying! If you’re a good enough GM, someone will be happy to be a client. And don’t worry about not taking off at first, nobody does. Be reasonable, get the money up front, and do everything in your power to run the best game you can.”

Tara offers more practical advice. “Establish the basics first – day job, stability, etc. Your work has value — don’t feel bad about getting paid. The right community isn’t going to complain about it (for the most part), either. I have a much easier time getting paid by gamers than businesses who hire me for other freelance work. Make storytelling an integral part of your life. For me, that meant integrating marketing jobs and innovations in LARP. For you, that could mean observing Critical Role or reading a lot of books. Storytelling is key; being secure and comfy with players having agency is mandatory to a great experience.”

It is a huge change in the gaming market that some folks are able to create a space for themselves as professional GM. Although its unclear what the future holds for the field, Tara and Houston forged their own paths, a path that Acer might follow. For those of you who are dreaming about a professional GM career, creativity, hard work, professionalism, comfort with uncertainty, and a backup plan may hold the recipe to success.

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