Chicago Geek Guy

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

So… You Want to Build a Character in D&D

Turns out, there’s help for that. Christopher Green put his knowledge of Graphics Arts into good use to come up with a handy chart for those new to the experience. This graphic walks a reader through character creation in an interesting, thought provoking, and meaningful way. Meant for folks brand new to RPG’s, I think it will help those with a lot of experience in the game.

You can find more useful resources like this over in the Facebook Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition group.

 

Come Get Some! Midwest Convention Schedule

Earlier this week, a friend asked me if, as the Chicago Geek Guy, I knew of local gaming conventions scheduled for the near future. I had to confess. I didn’t. Undaunted, I reached out to groups on Facebook and Reddit to compile a convention schedule of events in the Midwest.

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

October

November

I consider this a work in progress. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below.

Anime Midwest Cosplay – Day Two!

Some more astounding work and creativity from #AnimeMidwest.

Anime Midwest 2017

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Anime Midwest Cosplay – Day One!

I saw some great work on the first day of Anime Midwest. Here’s just a small sampling.

Anime Midwest 2017

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Back at Anime Midwest!

Trinity and I have made it back to Anime Midwest for another year.  I’m looking forward to the convention as an attendee as opposed to a presenter. I want to see what other people are doing and the information they’re sharing with others:

My first-day schedule looks like:

  • Linkara and the Geek Talk Comics
  • Worbia workshop
  • Cosplay Creeps and How to Handle them
  • Con Parents
  • V is for Villians Concert

Trin and I also brought two costumes each. We’ll be out on the floor getting seen. I promise lots of pictures for the social feeds and future galleries.

If you see a WWI Pilot Batman or Pirate Deathstroke, be sure to say hi!

Wolfcon: The Little Con that Could

I can’t say I had ever heard of Wolfcon. In the 13 years I lived in Lombard, Illinois, little did I suspect the nearby College of DuPage hosted this little gem of a game convention. I didn’t learn of Wolfcon until Robert Lindauer reached out to me via Chicago Geek Guy looking for judges and GM’s. I took the opportunity to talk with him about the convention.

CCG: Let’s start with your personal history of gaming? When did you start? What have you played? When and how did you decide to run a convention?

I couldn’t imagine how something like that could come from a game

Robert Lindauer: My father owned a number of Avalon Hill war games, and we used to play them together. These were the old games with little cardboard chits signifying military units. We played Luftwaffe, Tactics Two, Stalingrad, Squad Leader, etc.

Then one day in High School, some friends of mine were talking about a game they played where they were battling centaurs – and they described what happened in great deal. I couldn’t imagine how something like that could come from a game, so I accepted the invitation to play D&D. That was my first introduction to RPG’s. That group of friends and I played for many years and attended GenCon when it was in Wisconsin, regularly.

So, I was introduced to gaming at a young age, and played a wide variety of games, from Risk to Diplomacy, to Star Feet Battles, to Top Secret and Gamma World, to Magic – about every game that I have come in contact with over the years. Lately, I have been playing a lot of Pandemic and Codewords.

Running a convention has introduced me to many new games.

But I also play Puerto Rico every so often, Times Up, and Settlers of Catan. It all depends on the group of friends participating. I was even playing Heroclix for a little while with my nephew. Running a convention has introduced me to many new games.

At Wolfcon, I run Call of Cthulhu and an ongoing D&D campaign set in ancient Rome that I originally started while in college.

Wolfcon itself was predated by a game day run out of a local church by John Kavain, the other principle organizer. I was introduced to him by a mutual friend. He needed judges to run some RPGA events, and I was a passable GM by that point. He convinced me to join a local game club, GB7, of which the Wolfpack was a chapter. I remember that the thing that sold me. He gave us all free t-shirts with the word “Wolfpack” and picture of a wolf.

We had a sort of “your uncle has a barn, and I have these old costumes – let’s put on a show” moment.

About 14 years ago give or take, the key members of the Wolfpack, 5 friends, John Kavain, Bill Murray, Rob Reichel, Jeff Stein and myself were sitting around talking about GenCon wondering why there wasn’t something closer. We had a sort of “your uncle has a barn, and I have these old costumes – let’s put on a show” moment. GB7 had an extensive games library we could use. We knew lots of judges. We had experience running a game day. We had connections to sponsors. Perhaps most importantly we had a venue thanks to John’s friend at the church, Father Claiborne.

We’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the years. We lost several of the original members, but also made great connections, and great discoveries. Wolfcon could never have existed without the support of judges, vendors, Mayfair Games, Days of Wonder…. There is a long list of people and organizations that gave us what we needed when we needed it.

CCG: What do you look forward to the most when the con comes around?

They are the nicest, most accepting, inclusive people I can think of, anywhere. Every year when they come together – it feels like a reunion.

Robert Lindauer: By far, interacting with the people who make up the gaming community. They are the nicest, most accepting, inclusive people I can think of, anywhere. Every year when they come together – it feels like a reunion.

CGG: What did you want to accomplish when you first started working on the convention? How far have you gotten in those goals?

this year is looking to be a growth year

Robert Lindauer: When we first started, we just wanted to see if we could do it. Still, I have always wondered if we could turn it into something larger. I always thought it would be nice if there were a family friendly convention in Chicago that matched its thriving geeky/game community in scale. By that measure, we are a failure, or at least the jury is still out. While we have had as many as 240 attendees in the past, over the last few years that number has gone down dramatically.

Though, this year is looking to be a growth year.

But as I think on it. I haven’t ever really measured success by size. Whatever scale we run at – I am satisfied if the people who come out have fun.

Miniatures at Wolfcon

Miniatures at Wolfcon

CGG: How many attendees do you expect this year? How many events total and of each type?

Robert Lindauer: My best conservative guess is that we’ll have around 80 attendees this year, give or take a dozen. We have about 30 role- playing (Pathfinder, Sparks, Call of Cthulhu, D&D) events, and a couple of different board game tournaments scheduled. There will likely be several dozens of board game sessions – but these aren’t typically scheduled. We’ll also run our collaborative computer starship simulator non-stop through the convention. I’m also hoping that we add a few more events in the next few weeks as well.

CGG: What do you hope for the future of the convention?

Robert Lindauer: I am hoping to attract more people and groups interested in collaborating on putting the convention together, and for the convention to be a nexus for the various gaming communities in the Chicago area to connect with each other.

CGG: What would you like to say to someone considering going or attending the con for the first time?

Robert Lindauer: Give us a try! We have a full slate of fun events (most free with admission) – role playing, board games, prize tournaments, a puzzle hunt, giant Jenga, a games auction, a starship bridge simulator, and perhaps most importantly, a chance to connect with some of the nicest people who play games in the Chicago area all in air conditioned comfort with free parking. AND – If the very affordable $10/day or $20/weekend cost is too much for you – send me an e-mail we always need volunteers.

Starship simulator at Wolfcon

Starship simulator at Wolfcon

Wolfcon at College of DuPage
Student Resource Center (SRC 2000),
425 Fawell Blvd , Glen Ellyn, IL 60137 
Fri, Sat, & Sun, July 7th, 8th, & 9th, 2017

Introducing Chicago Geek Guy Studios

I just couldn’t find what I was looking for.

I kept looking, without any luck. Sometimes, I just don’t understand how a rule mechanic is supposed to work from reading the rulebook on its own. I didn’t want to watch a video from a whole playthrough of an RPG session in the hopes that it would answer my question. I wanted something that could help me with a table top RPG the way The Rules Girl helped me with board games. I couldn’t find what I needed. Time for Chicago Geek Guy Studios.

While prepping to run a one-shot Eclipse Phase session, I kept puzzling over a concept called Measure of Success. Once an understanding finally sunk in, I realized other people likely suffered from similar issues. As I am planning to deliver a series of one-shots using different systems over the next year, I also needed a way to introduce my players to different rule sets without taking too much time from actual play.

After talking the idea over with a few friends and buying some green fabric, I made the first video in a series I’m calling “That’s How We Roll.”

That first video taught me some important things:

  • Green screens need a lot of light and hate wrinkles. I eventually built a wooden frame and stretched out my background to even out the color.
  • iOS has applications that act like a teleprompter. I can look right into the camera and still read a script.
  • The image shakes a lot when trying to record while holding the camera. Tripods are the way to go.
  • It’s easy to speak too quickly while recording. Speaking at a reasonable speed will seem slow, but it’s much easier to understand.
  • Good lighting takes time to set up (or a ring light)

With these fresh ideas in my head, I bought a ring light, a teleprompting app, and a tripod to start another video. This time, I also roped in a collaborator. Trinity brings a great sense of humor to filming and I hope she’ll join me in more of them.

Here’s some work we did for That’s How We Roll: Tales from the Loop:

Got any tip for video production? Leave them in the comments below! I can sure use the help!

Exclusively Bad for Customers – A Dark Alliance Indeed

Friend of the Chicago Geek Guy, James Nettum returns to offer some thoughts on a recent shift in the game industry.

[OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: The following is my opinion alone, and doesn’t reflect that of places I work, or the people I work for. I’m writing this on my free time, after all.]

Here’s a thought experiment:

Pretend that the Walt Disney Company makes a deal with AMC Entertainment that gives AMC theaters exclusive screening rights to all future Disney movies and re-screenings shown in the United States. Naturally, this would affect all Disney holdings, like future pictures by Lucasfilm, Marvel, and Pixar. I think that getting tickets to see the next Disney Animation/Star Wars/Avengers/Incredibles entry would get a lot harder. AMC may be the largest theater chain in the USA, but they aren’t everywhere. Wikipedia says that AMC has 7,852 screens, but that won’t nearly be enough to seat everyone who wants to see Episode 8. A deal like this would make Disney’s distribution a lot easier, and would definitely make absolute bank for AMC. And just as definite would be how much worse it would make life for everyone who wanted to go to the movie theater.

Here’s my thought process on that last part: Want to see a non-Disney movie at your local AMC? Too bad

Here’s my thought process on that last part: Want to see a non-Disney movie at your local AMC? Too bad, all screens are currently showing Toy Story 4. Don’t live near an AMC? Looks like you’re going on a road trip. (Hope you got your tickets in advance.) Want to make a complaint against some really bad customer service you got from AMC? They aren’t going to listen, because Disney, Marvel, and Pixar movies sell themselves. Your ticket money won’t be missed. This imaginary arrangement is seriously anti-consumer!

Thankfully, the above is just a thought experiment. (And as side note: I only picked AMC because they’re the largest theater chain in the United States. I don’t actually have anything against them. They’re okay in my book.) Unfortunately, something similar actually happened in the gaming industry today, when Asmodee North America announced an exclusive hobby distribution deal with Alliance Games Distributors. (ICv2 has a good summary here: https://icv2.com/articles/news/view…) Asmodee North America handles all North American distribution for Asmodee, Catan Studio, Days of Wonder, Fantasy Flight, Plaid Hat Games, Space Cowboys, and Z-Man Games. Alliance, meanwhile, is the hobby games distribution arm for Diamond Comic Distributors, Incdistributor to that part later.) My initial thoughts on this pairing are fluctuating between “this isn’t good” and something comprised of 90% obscenities that I will not type out.

I feel that both the Friendly Local Game Store, and the end user are going to suffer a lot under this arrangement.

Given how my mind isn’t currently stuck on the obscenities, I’m going to explain why I think this is a bad thing. And I’m speaking both as a lifelong gamer, and a ten plus year employee of a brick-and-mortar game store. Because I feel that both the Friendly Local Game Store, and the end user are going to suffer a lot under this arrangement.

Let me start off by addressing exclusive distribution deals in general (at least in terms of the gaming industry): I don’t like them. Currently brick-and-mortar stores have several distributors available to them. If one distributors is out of an item, a store isn’t out of luck because they have other options. If a high-demand product is going to release soon and shortages are anticipated, a store can put preorders in with multiple distributors who will carry the product, helping to ensure availability. But when one distributor has an exclusive, that flexibility is gone. Every store in the nation now has the same one option, and if that distributor can’t help them, the store is screwed. Which, in turn, means its customers are screwed.

Speaking of highly demanded product, in my experience exclusive deals don’t actually help shortages at all. When multiple distributors are putting in orders for a hot item, more options open for the manufacturer. They have a better idea how much of a product to make; they have multiple warehouse to store the product; they have multiple sources of income to fund the printing, and shipping. If a manufacturer goes though one distributor only, the paperwork probably goes down. But they also lose multiple buyers, multiple warehouses, and multiple sources of revenue. Less product gets made because less product can be stored and distributed effectively. Which, in turn, means customers are screwed.

Of all the distributors I’ve worked with, Alliance has been the biggest source of trouble.

This brings me to Alliance. Of all the distributors I’ve worked with, Alliance has been the biggest source of trouble. In the interest of fairness, will first say everything nice I can about them: All of the sales reps I’ve worked with have been extremely friendly. … That’s it.

As for the troubles, I will attempt to be brief. Rarely have I checked in a shipment that isn’t damaged somehow due to poor packing. Only slightly more rare are the shipments with incorrect quantities or flat-out incorrect items. Fixing all of those problems in a long process. It takes days to get a call tag to ship out the incorrect/damaged goods. It can take weeks to get the credit applied to your account. Hope you have more money to reorder the items you didn’t get, or didn’t get in salable condition. Hope your customers are forgiving and don’t demand refunds.

Now imagine combining the problems with exclusives with the problems with Alliance. Actually, stop imagining it because it’s happening now, has happened before, and will happen again. Alliance has the exclusive deal on Attack Wing, Dice Masters, HeroClix, Mayfair Games, and others. They used to have (and soon will again) the exclusive deal on Days of Wonder, and Z-Man Games. (In a painful twist of coincidence, it was originally Asmodee who broke that exclusivity when they acquired Days of Wonder, and Z-Man.) Now that list is about to grow on August 1st. Supply problems were bad for Star Wars Destiny in the past. I can’t see them getting any better now that every store in North America only has one distribution channel to get it through. Combine this with Alliance’s history of damaged and/or misshaped product… Hello once again, customers getting screwed.

You cannot run a comic shop without dealing with Diamond.

And this leads me straight to Alliance’s parent company, Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. For those of you who don’t know, for years now Diamond has been the exclusive distributor to the comic book specialty market for Dark Horse, DC, Image and Marvel. You cannot run a comic shop without dealing with Diamond. And if you want to know about Diamond’s customer service, sit down with a roomful of comic store owners and ask about their experiences with them. I can practically guarantee that you’ll far more complaints than praise.

After all, why should Diamond change? Comic stores have no choices besides dealing with them, or going out of business. And now Alliance has just taken a big step into holding that same threat to any hobby gaming store. I cannot imagine running a store without Catan, Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, Splendor, or the myriad of Star Wars games that FFG makes, among other products that have become staples of the industry. Therefore I cannot see Alliance’s customers service to those stores improving any time soon.

And once again I see the end user, the final customer, the gamer, getting screwed the worst. I hope I’m wrong, but my experience doesn’t leave me feeling positive.

And now the obscenities are creeping back into my brain. I’m going to vent them on video games now. Friday the 13th is the likely choice.

 

[REPETITION OF OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: The following is my personal opinion, and mine alone. It does not reflect that of places I work, or the people I work for.]

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.

 

 

 

Record Store Day at Bucket O’ Blood!

Record Store Day at Bucket O’ Blood!

I ignored the social media site’s first suggestion for an event near me that I might enjoy. About the zillionth time it recommended the same location to me, I finally took a look. I confess. It was Buffy and Facebook that got me there. Was I interested in watching two fan-chosen episodes in a room full of geeks at a genre book and record shop call Bucket O’ Blood on a Friday night? I had a friend living in the neighborhood. I could always crash there if needed. OK, Facebook. I’m interested.

I’ve been back to three events in the last month. I’ve moved past interested. I’m committed.

The huge, graffiti inspired sign identifies Bucket O’ Blood as somewhat of an unusual bookstore. Open since 2010, and at its current location in Avondale since 2015, the shop serves up an eclectic mix of fantasy, horror, science fiction, graphic novels, vinyl, and community.

Jennifer Kilgore and Grant McKee bought the store from Marc Ruvolo in the summer of 2013. A musician, Ruvolo opened the record/book shop to sell his labels and favorite genres. When he needed to sell the store in 2013 to tour Europe, Jennifer and Grant were there to take over. “My interests were already in line with the existing store,” Grant told me, “but we felt we could build on the groundwork that was there. It was a good shop that had a lot of potential.”

“It was mostly just a gut feeling and being in the right place at the right time,” Jennifer added.

“I’d pretty much always wanted to own a shop…”

Store co-owner Grant McKee

“I’d pretty much always wanted to own a shop,” Grant explained. “I’ve always been into geekier media: horror movies, science fiction, comic books, and lots of music. At times, I had various plans, but Bucket O’ Blood ties together a lot of my interests. Like Jennifer said, there was a huge ‘right place at the right time’ factor, but I would have done something similar at SOME point.”

Taking over someone else’s shop posed more than a few challenges for the couple. They had to balance maintaining Bucket O’ Blood’s customer base while making it their own. “We wanted to keep it a genre bookstore and punk/metal record store but infuse it with our personality and cultivate a welcoming atmosphere and community for people to gravitate towards,” said Jennifer. Grant wanted to expand into more of his interests and grew the metal vinyl selection, bulked up the graphic novels section, added horror movies, and ditched the CDs.

“We always worried about the records freezing and getting ruined in winter with no heater.”

Beyond repositioning the store’s target market rebranding, the condition of the shop came as a surprise to the new owners. Jennifer described the building as “typical Chicago,… tiny dingy and nothing worked.” No heat. No AC. A host of electrical issues. “We tore out the gross carpet and painted all the walls,” Jennifer told me. “We did the best with what we had. We always worried about the records freezing and getting ruined in winter with no heater.”

When a leak ruined hundreds of dollars worth of rare books, the two knew they needed to find a new location. They stayed there for two years waiting for the lease to end and they could move. In looking for a new spot, the two wanted the largest space they could afford as close to the old place as possible.
The new, well lit, leak free location afforded them significantly more square feet for product and an area for gatherings in the back. It’s a multi-purpose community center. During the party for the 20th Anniversary of Buffy, this back area acted as a comfortable screening room.

Nathan Shelton screens his movie Shadow Bound.

“We wanted to create a space for people to come together and enjoy being with each other.”

“We don’t think of it as a screening room.,” Jennifer explained. “We wanted to create a space for people to come together and enjoy being with each other. We have 2 book clubs that meet monthly. We do book releases, author signings, acoustic music, poetry readings, etc. We’ve had a one-woman show, stand-up comedy night, art show with live painting, a spiritual workshop, all kinds of stuff.”

“Oh yeah, we hosted a 24-hour theater project. I can’t even remember all the stuff we’ve done!”

“We always try to do what’s right and we are honest and fair with our customers.”

Store co-owner, Jennifer Kilgore

The couple credits their success to the character of the shop. Jennifer pointed out, “We are genuine people that are looking for genuine connections with other people. We always try to do what’s right and we are honest and fair with our customers. People appreciate that.”

Since opening in the new location, the shop started selling new books in addition to used. It carries inventory not found at other bookstores in the city and Jennifer and Grant can talk about the genres in a way very few others can. “We truly care about our community, music-lovers, book-lovers, geeks and nerds of all types.”

This Saturday, the shop will host their favorite event of the year, Record Store Day. “People get super excited for that day and there’s a huge turnout of music lovers and record collectors. We choose a theme each year and throw a huge party. Last year’s theme was political because of the election and we had red, white, and blue jello shots, and red, white, and blue cans of beer, hot dogs, apple pie, etc. and everyone got “I voted for Bucket O’ Blood” buttons. There was a Statue of Liberty photo booth cut out and just silly stuff like that. Everyone had a blast. A previous year we did a fiesta theme and had a piñata, tamales, Mexican pastries, margaritas, Tecate, etc. We get creative with it.”

This year, Bucket O’ Blood will be teaming up with Great Lakes Brewing, Beer Temple, DMen Tap, and Dr. Martens for a luau extravaganza. The shop will serve Great Lake’s Turntable Pils throughout the day. Someone will even have a chance to win a special, custom record player.”

Bucket O’ Blood Books and Records. Come for the great selection of genre fiction and vinyl. Stay for the great people you’ll meet there.

Bucket O’ Blood Books and Records, 3182 N Elston Ave.Chicago, IL 60618, 312.890.3860

A full house to honor the death day of H.P. Lovecraft.

The Gaming Table – Mark I.V

Building the Game Table

Last year, inspired by this post over on Board Game Geek, I constructed a gaming table. I had never tried anything like it before. Of all my father’s five children, I’m considered the least handy. I’ve called myself the “anti-Bob Villa” for years. I’m a big fan of the cross-eyed view. My completed projects look great, provided you look at them cross-eyed.

Mistakes were made, but I felt satisfied by the work. I learned a lot about measuring, cutting, and different types of wood. The table wasn’t perfect, but it worked out better than expected and I felt it added a lot to my RPG sessions. The mounted monitor in particular made it easy to share high quality maps and images with the folks seated around the table and added a nice level of detail to the sessions. Using HeroLab to share information during my Pathfinder sessions helped combat move much more smoothly. 

Certain elements didn’t please me. At the time, I didn’t feel confident enough to handle the electrical work, I didn’t care for the wood stain and finish used, a layer of neoprene I mounted under the felt made the dice bounce a little too high, and the counter height of the table made it a bit more difficult to navigate around and play larger board games on. When I had to move last fall, take down, and reassemble the table, I realized I could take the opportunity to make some improvements.

Wiring the Table

Gaming Table - WiringAfter some long conversation with my brothers and the kind sales person from Home Depot, I felt ready wire up the table. I chose four USB enabled outlets, placing one on a side. I also mounted a standard outlet on the underside of the table to power the monitor. I worked slowly and carefully, checking at each step to make sure everything was connected tightly and enclosed in conduit. I’m happy to say, I didn’t even get shocked once!

Time for a Fresh Coat of Paint

Three coats of semi-gloss, black latex covered up the stained wood quite nicely.

 

Cut it Down to Size

Changing the height of the table from counter to standard required chopping off seven inches from the legs.

Gaming Table - Height

A Final Touch

The bottle opener is a crucial feature for those late night sessions.

Gaming Table - Bottle Opener

Ready for Gamers!

Some new felt, sans neoprene, for better rolling.

I’ve got a couple of sessions scheduled for the near future. I will post some pictures of actual use, soon.

 

 

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