Chicago Geek Guy

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

Category: Stop Chop and Role (page 1 of 5)

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.

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.

The Search for My Next Campaign – Star Trek (Mis) Adventures

It’s time for me to start a new campaign. While I greatly enjoyed Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, the group had lost too many members and finding new players for a relatively unknown game posed challenges. Our group had decided on the system on the fly when we reached an ending point of our last story. This time, I wanted to take some time and find something that really suited me in terms of genre and system.

I launched a plan to play a new system every other month. I wanted to explore current offerings and see what would attract players. This month, I brought together four players to try out Modiphius’ recent release, Star Trek Adventures, and their living universe scenario, Tug of War.

Vulcan BeckieOne of my regular players dug out her Star Trek uniform

The game generated a lot of excitement among my stable of players and group of friends. One person came out of a two-year role-playing hiatus and the session convinced a longtime friend to finally join me at my table. One of my regular players dug out her Star Trek uniform and dressed up her ears to play a Vulcan science officer.

Tug of War puts an away team in position to investigate the mutual destruction of two interlinked species. Ancient weapons complicate the story when the crew and their starship attempt to break orbit. The adventure offers a fascinating puzzle without combat encounters. It struck me as a module in the spirit of Star Trek and I looked forward to giving the story and the system a try.

While we had a great time together, I don’t think I’ve found a new campaign in Star Trek Adventures.

It felt like the system played against the narrative

Star Trek Adventures describes itself as a narrative system, allowing players to add to the story with their descriptions and actions. The system allows a party to build momentum through the being of a session to match the building of dramatic tension present in an episode of the famed science fiction show. In general, especially at the climactic moment of the second act, the system worked well. However, at times, it felt like the system played against the narrative, especially when making rolls for ordinary tasks and what I considered unnecessary complexity. The structure of this particular adventure did not suit my players particularly well.

The party builds momentum by achieving additional successes on rolls. To build up a pool for use later in the session, the system encourages players to make rolls for zero difficulty tasks. Instead of just describing an action, players will interrupt the flow of the game to make a roll.

Honestly, I’m still not sure I got it right.

From the character sheet to receiving damage, Star Trek Adventures the party found itself confused by different, similarly named game elements. The system defines characters with attributes, disciplines, focuses, talents, and disciplines. Each of these items interact in different and confusing ways. Figuring out damage to a starship looked so intimidating, I decided to figure it out in advance of the session to prevent a major interruption to the flow of the game. Honestly, I’m still not sure I got it right. Figuring out personal damage looks just as puzzling.

The game also requires a sense of dramatic timing more akin to a television episode than gaming “reality.” Divided into three scenes, my players and I struggled with the pacing Tug of War. From a story perspective, the first scene serves as exposition and a set up for main conflict. If watching it on television, it would last until the first commercial. The first scene engrossed my players and extended much longer than subsequent acts. Quick thinking by our Vulcan science offer rendered the third act completely unnecessary. Great timing and action for a gamer, but not really fitting a three-act story.

(Don’t worry about us. We used the extra time to play a game of Flashpoint.)

My search will continue. Not as smooth as many of the narrative games out there, such as FATE or PDQ#, nor as easy to understand as something more simulationist, with an adventure structure out of sync with my player, Star Trek Adventures will go back on my shelf.

Flood at Bucket O’Blood

Never underestimate the damage of a possessed washing machine. After owners Jennifer and Grant McKee closed up Bucket O’Blood Sunday night, the malicious spirit set to work. The foul device leaked bucketfuls of water through a crack in the ceiling to wreak havoc. When the owners returned to open the Avondale book and vinyl shop on Monday morning, they returned to disaster. Water had inundated the store during the night, soaking brand new and used records in tons of water, decimating the retailer’s collection of 7″ records, soundtracks, jazz, punk, and part of the metal collection.

Jen and Grant set to work drying out records and sleeves, mopping up the floor, and assessing the damage. It took three days before they could re-open. Support from local fans poured in. People offered to come by to help clean or to just drop off food and beer for the owners. They finally opened their door after three days of lost sales and a tremendous loss in inventory.

“The best thing people can do is come in and shop. We’ve lost a lot of money and we need to generate new inventory.”

“We’ve gotten a lot of warm wishes and offers to help,” Jen told me. “The best thing people can do is come in and shop. We’ve lost a lot of money and we need to generate new inventory.”

Bucket O'Blood Beer Raffle

3 Floyds Brewpub has donated a wood-aged Baltic porter created for Corrosion Of Conformity for the raffle.

This Friday, fans of Bucket O’Blood will have their chance to help the store at a massive Flood Sale and Party. “What we need most is cash to buy more inventory,” Jennifer explained. “We were closed for 3 days (i.e. not making money) and we lost a lot of inventory that we have to reorder. We’re hoping people come out Friday and buy the discounted records so we can recuperate some of our losses and move forward.”

From noon until 9:00 pm, customers will have the opportunity to purchase deeply discounted items damaged in the flood. The vinyl is fine! It’s just the sleeves that got trashed. Cheap Kiss Records has donated a room full of records to help Bucket O’Blood get back on their feet. This is the chance to get some choice records at rock bottom prices.

The shop will also raffle off some amazing artwork, rare beers, signed collectibles, and rare vinyl. And, like nearly any Bucket O’Blood party, local brewers will have samples on hand to share for a small donation.

Come on down to support local business and get some great music!

Bucket O’Blood Flood Sale and Party, Friday, September 22, 12:00 pm to 9:00 pm. Bucket O’Blood Books and Records, 3182 N Elston Ave, Chicago, Illinois 60618

Bucket O'Blood

There’s some really great records getting marked down for Friday.

Orion Couling: At the Intersection of Geek and Activism

His name is Orion Couling.

Orion CoulingHis very first memories are of The Empire Strikes Back. His hard working, often absent, police officer father tried to make up for lost time with a string of presents: Star Wars toys. He spent his childhood in the boondocks of Michigan looking for a lost father figure he knew was fighting for justice. As he grew, so did his love of sci-fi: A Wrinkle in Time, Narina, Ray Bradbury, Star Trek. The genre provided excitement the rural area where he lived lacked.

At college, he discovered activism. He learned he could use this love of science fiction and theater to help drive social change.

His name is Orion Couling. On Saturday, September 2, he’ll combine his love of all things geek and his activism to lead Hope and Light: A Chicago Nerd Vigil Against White Supremacy. The Chicago Geek Guy had a chance to chat with Orion about the intersection of nerd and social justice.

CGG: What is it that you do now and how did your love of sci-fi shape your day job?

Orion: I run a mid-sized, not for profit theatre company in Chicago. Our focus is on marginalized communities, primarily differently abled people and kids to learn in alternative ways. This work is augmented by our semi-professional troupe who performs to raise money for our educational work. I also run a cosplay company that works in libraries and a children’s hospital. You see a sci-fi theme in all of this work. From our Star Wars Shakespeare MacSith to Peter and the Starcatcher, we are the company embracing the imagination. I am blessed that this is my day job. So, whether I’m teaching light saber at a library or writing a play about Minecraft with homeschoolers I get to live my dorkiness.

Orion Couling“I’m always honored to play Captain America.”

CGG: What’s been your favorite cosplay experience?

Orion: Oh wow. I’m not sure. I love doing Bumblebee from Transformers. It’s stilted so I’m 10 feet tall. I’m always honored to play Captain America. The kids love him so much; him and Spidey. But I’m premiering a book based cosplay at the renaissance faire next week that I’m thrilled about. The character is an Abhorsen from Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom Trilogy

CGG: Can you remember a moment when you really made an impact with cosplay?

Orion: Nothing surprising. But when a 5-year-old looks at you and sees their hero in real life, it’s pretty amazing. When I get to teach nonviolent crisis resolution at a library while doing a light saber workshop I feel like I’m making a difference.

“Becoming a nationally recognized stage combat instructor gave my resume the boost needed to justify someone hiring me to teach wand or lightsaber.”

CGG: How did you make the transition from fan to a professional fan?

Orion: A combination of a really good network of friends and a lot of hope. Learning the history that was the foundation for my fandoms was essential. Becoming a nationally recognized stage combat instructor gave my resume the boost needed to justify someone hiring me to teach wand or lightsaber.

CGG: What can you tell me about the path to becoming a nationally recognized stage combat instructor? What have you worked on?

Orion: I am an instructor through Dueling Arts International. It’s an international stage combat organization. I have been a recognized instructor since I was 26 (I think). I’m 39 now. I have over 50 professional production credits in mostly stage and some very limited film work. I have nearly 100 youth productions that I’ve worked on. Sci fi highlights include Predator-the Musical, Tammy (a coming of age story about a girl who was part T-Rex), Star Wars of the Roses, and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

CGG: I first “met” you through the feminist Facebook group, The League of Ordinary Gentlemen. What drove the transition from fan to activist?

Orion: I started my journey as an activist during my sophomore year in college at Northern Michigan University. I took a class on the theater of cruelty. It focused largely on Central and South America. It basically used the theater to advocate for social change. I’ve been actively involved in that process since.

The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere, an album by Utah Phillips and Ani DiFranco from the 90’s, also spoke to me. It dealt with excepting the responsibility of privilege and action

“I felt it important to help push the cultural boundaries and responsibilities of Geekdom.”

CGG: When and how did you realize you could merge the two? Geekdom and activism?

Orion: That key element is relatively new. I’ve been thinking about this for a while. The proceeds from MacSith allowed me to support educational efforts. In some ways, that play was a soft sort of activism. Looking at Chicago’s growing geek culture and its organizations, like the inspirational Raks Geek, I felt it important to help push the cultural boundaries and responsibilities of Geekdom.

Orion Couling“Use light sabers instead of swords. Embrace the world of sci-fi but stay true to the script.”

CGG: Tell me a little bit about MacSith. Where did the idea come from and what challenges did you face implementing it?

Orion: MacSith sounds farcical. In reality, it was hard hitting Shakespearean action. It started out as a project to get kids excited about Shakespeare, about 10 years ago. It evolved into a professional production that received critical success. It was a simple concept: Use a very tight cutting of the play (75 minutes) without changing any of Shakespeare’s language. Use light sabers instead of swords. Embrace the world of sci-fi but stay true to the script.

CGG: After MacSith, what happened next in terms of geek activism?

Orion: Not enough. I continue my work in marginalized communities but this situation has really spoken to me about the need for much more.

I am in the process of planning a Wonder Woman styled workshop and all the proceeds will go to a local battered women’s shelter.

“…we are set into this world with all the elements that we need for fulfillment. We are like seeds. We must water the seeds of compassion and dialogue…”

CGG: What drove you to create The League of Ordinary Gentlemen?

Orion: I felt that men needed a positive community to discuss the transition from the version of masculinity most men I know grow up with, to a more supportive and equal place with women. I feel that important changes need nurturing. I hold to the Buddhist philosophy that we are set into this world with all the elements that we need for fulfillment. We are like seeds. We must water the seeds of compassion and dialogue and not water seeds of privilege. The fact is, I mess up, relentlessly, all the time. It has become a place where I can take my losses and stumbling blocks and seek advice from a group of people sworn to uplift the same values.

CGG: How do you think it’s working out?

Orion: It’s definitely been good for the sharing of resources and fellowship but I’d like to see us offering free workshops and lectures.League of Ordinary Gentlemen

CGG: Where and how did the idea for the Nerd Vigil emerge?

Orion: I was attending a candle vigil for Charlottesville and two quotes really stood out.

“Let our light of peace (candles) shine brighter than theirs of hate (torches)” -I put in the parenthetical words- but it got me thinking. What could I lift in peace that we shine light? Wands and light sabers were the clear answer. Who could I lift them with? My nerd sisters and brothers whom I care so dearly for in Chicago.

The other quote was “love is an action word.” It’s not enough to passive stand by or comment on social media. We also need time to grieve and grow.

I have three very dedicated speakers who will offer their peaceful perspective. I’m hoping to act on love

“If we even do one of those things it will be a success. If we do all of those things, it will be incredible.”

CGG: What are you hoping to achieve from the vigil?

Orion: Just as the description states. A peaceful resistance to white supremacy. To remember the fallen of Charlottesville and those who died before in this struggle. Finally, to encourage the nerd community to broaden their horizons in multicultural characters. If we even do one of those things it will be a success. If we do all of those things, it will be incredible.

CGG: What’s next for you after the vigil?

Orion: The Wonder Woman workshop! Most likely in October. Just got all the shields and swords!

Literally fighting for social change. Mixing high energy stage combat and stunt while raising money for women who have been put through hell.

Hope and Light: A Chicago Nerd Vigil Against White Supremacy occurs Saturday, September 2, 2017 at 7:30 pm at 50 W Adams, Chicago, IL 60603.

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

  • Dan’s Con of the Vale, Brookfield, WI – http://coldironconventions.com/
  • Mini-Hoopla, Janesville, WI – http://www.gaminghoopla.com/mini-hoopla.html

November

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

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

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Older posts

© 2018 Chicago Geek Guy

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑