Friday, April 12, 2024

Honor Among Fans

My wife Julie and I enjoyed a rare date night out last night. We went to dinner at our favorite local restaurant, a place called Colby's Cafe. Should you ever find yourself in White Hall, Michigan you should give the place a try. (Oh, and reach out. Julie and I would be happy to join you.) Normally, we bring a small board or card game with us to play while we wait for our food, but we forgot this time. So, we just had to spend the time enjoying each other's company. That was nice too.

I had the stuffed burger special: a half-pound burger stuffed with cheese and bacon, topped with lettuce, tomato, homemade onion rings, and BBQ sauce. It was awesome! Julie had the Cobb salad topped with green goddess salad dressing. It's her usual anytime we come here. She loves it! We also had the flavored house blend coffee of the day, and dessert. Julie had a homemade lemon sandwich cookie and I had a piece of apple walnut cake. (Gosh! We love Colby's!)

When we got home, we ended the night by snuggling on the couch and watching Star Trek: Discovery. It was the perfect end to a perfect evening and I even said as much in a post on Facebook. This brings me to what I want to blog about today.

Julie and I are major Star Trek Fans. We have especially been enjoying the new Star Trek, all of them. If pressed to rate our favorites, it's probable that Star Trek: Discovery would end up somewhere closer to the bottom of the new Star Trek pile, but we love it just the same. We love it. We are fans. If you aren't. If you don't like the new Star Trek stuff, that's cool. 

It's not cool to stifle my joy for something that I love. 

I thought this was common knowledge and common practice among fans. Apparently, I was wrong. Time for a crash course in fan etiquette that I'm going to call, "Honor Among Fans."

Lesson 1: A Conditional Fan Post versus an Unconditional Fan Post

A conditional fan post says something like, "I really enjoy this thing, and here are my reasons why." When a person writes a conditional fan post, they have taken the time to write not only about what they enjoy, but why. If someone has taken the time to consider and share the reasons behind their position, they are likely open to some polite debate. (More on that in a moment.)

An unconditional fan post says something like, "I really enjoy this thing." When a person writes an unconditional fan post, they don't care about the why. This is a rallying call to others who love the thing that they love. This is a share my enthusiasm post. Opposing comments are not welcome here.

Lesson 2: Responding to an Unconditional Fan Post

Time for some context. I posted that my wife and I enjoy Star Trek: Discovery. This prompted a friend of mine to comment that they hated the show. Alright, fine. Everyone has an opinion, but I had posted excitedly about the season premiere last week, and that same friend had told me how they felt then. Message received. 

I don't need or want to hear something negative everytime I post about something that I love. (Unconditional fan posts aren't and never will be intended for negative Nellies.) So, I got mad and told my friend that they didn't need to follow me on Facebook if they didn't want to.

His response was something along the lines of: he thought that we were good enough friends that we could share a little banter, but if he was wrong, that I should let him know.

Okay, this made me really mad. His response makes this about our friendship and turns the "blame" around on me. The implication is that I should get a thicker skin. This is classic bully tactics. It's the way that people who bully others and spread hate justify their actions and make their victims feel small. I can't even tell you how wrong this is.

When someone shares something that they love with the world through social media and their post is one of unconditional fandom, they don't want to hear any negative comments. 

This isn't about your friendship with that person or their inability to partake in a little friendly debate.

This is about them sharing their joy for something and having that ruined, not just for them, but for others who might have wanted to share in their enthusiasm, but won't feel comfortable doing so, because potential commenters don't know you the way that the original poster does. 

  • When someone writes a: "Yay, this thing!" post. It is an invitation to others to share in their joy for that thing. 
  • When someone else then writes a: "Boo, this thing!" comment, they create a hostile environment for others who might want to share in the original poster's joy. 

Sure, some posts might be able to share a little healthy "The Thing I Love" pro and con back and forth, but the poster didn't ask for that. They put out an open call to like minded lovers of "The Thing I Love" by writing a: "Yay, I love this thing!" post.

Unconditional Fan posts are not open to debate. Learn to read the room. And if someone seems unhappy or uncomfortable about a comment that you left, apologize and bow out. Any other response is bullying, plain and simple, and that is never okay.

*Deep Breath* Okay …

Lesson 3: Responding to a Conditional Fan Post

As I mentioned above, a considered conditional fan post should be open to a little friendly debate. Some fans like debating their positions on their favorite things. When this is the case, your criticism of their thing should be just as well thought out and considered as theirs. This is healthy debate.

Unconditional Hate (like my friend commenting that Star Trek: Discovery makes him want to throw-up) is never welcome in the comment section of another person's post. (Unless that comment supports the original poster's position - see below.)

What if you hate something and really want to vent?

The Internet is great at letting you do that! Create your own Unconditional Fan Post about hating something: an Unconditional Anti-Fan Post. Those are cool! And, just like Unconditional Fan posts, Unconditional Anti-Fan posts are a rallying call to like minded people to share the hate! (And these tend to get a much greater response.)

Like Unconditional Fan posts, Unconditional Anti-Fan posts are not open to debate. Only comment on an Unconditional Anti-Fan post if you are also an anti-fan. And like a Conditional Fan post, a Conditional Anti-Fan post is open to debate if the comments are well considered and polite. An Unconditional Anti-Fan post only wants to share negative comments. Your love of the topic isn't welcome there.

Bottom line: comments are there for the support of the poster. If the poster requests a debate and you can give them one respectfully, and you feel that you are supporting the poster by doing so, then by all means go ahead and comment. If there is any doubt in your mind that your comment may not be supporting the poster, keep it to yourself or create your own separate post.

This is Social Media 101 - I shouldn't have to say it. We've been doing this long enough. This stuff should be second nature by now.

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Thursday, April 11, 2024

Dragonbane Bestiary Review

I am on a Dragonbane kick at the moment. So, I thought it might be fun to review the Dragonbane Bestiary. I'd like to start off by stating that I made a mistake in my previous post about the Dragonbane Core Rules and the Dragonbane Bestiary. I stated that all the Dragonbane products were illustrated by Johan Egerkrans. This is incorrect. The core rules are illustrated by Johan, but the bestiary (with the exception of the cover) is illustrated by David Brasgalla. Sorry for that, David. (Hopefully, sharing some of your beautiful works here will make up for my oversight.) It's a testament to Free League's design aesthetic that I mistakenly assumed that both books were illustrated by the same person. The look of the Dragonbane books is very consistent, and they're beautiful.

The book opens with an introduction that's written as if representing the point of view of a person in the Dragonbane world who has made it their life's goal to travel around and catalog all of these creatures. Each chapter and each entry in the bestiary have a similar introduction. While it might seem like fluff, these entries do a great job of creating a vision of the Dragonbane world. The Dragonbane rules don't include a default setting. The boxed set does include a campaign with a setting, but honestly, I wasn't inspired by it. Fortunately, the same can't be said for the bestiary. The short bits of fiction create such a vivid picture of where and how the creatures described in the bestiary live, that the world is created as you read each one. I love this.

The creature stat blocks have the same format as those presented in the core rulebook, and zero time is spent reviewing that material. The book jumps right into the creature entries after the brief introductory fiction that I mentioned above and a sidebar about playable kin. Oh, yes … Dragonbane divides its NPCs into monsters and non-monsters. Non-monsters are humanoid creatures that play by the same base rules as the PCs, while monsters have their own special rules. (I talk about how this is a good thing in my previous post.) Every non-monster in the bestiary is presented as a kin. That is, it can be chosen as a player character option during character creation. (Kin is what D&D used to refer to as your character's race.) This expands the list of kin available to players from 6 to 15.

Every listing in the bestiary features one creature on a two page spread. The stat blocks are simple and most creatures require little detail. Each entry has a large beautiful illustration. In addition to the mechanical information about the creature, there is the flavor text that I mentioned before, and an example encounter as well as an adventure seed. The example encounter presents a single situation under which the players might find themselves faced with the creature, while the adventure seed sets up a plot that could involve the players with the creature over a number of play sessions. Every single entry in the bestiary includes both of these!

Entries in the bestiary are broken up into categories of creatures. First is the Nightkin. This entry includes: goblins, hobgoblins, ogres, and orcs. This was an interesting one for me. All the Nightkin share an aversion to sunlight and come out only at night. I never thought of this particular group of creatures that way. Goblins and Orcs run around in the sunlight all of the time in other games that I have played. In Dragonbane, they are nocturnal. So, already I find myself imagining a different kind of world. Also, as often as not, the flavor text for a creature paints a picture of a non-violent encounter. Often a creature in the bestiary might be personified as ill-tempered or difficult to get along with, but creatures in Dragonbane aren't necessarily good or evil. As an example, look at this excerpt taken from the entry for the ogre.

"My great-grandmother had an ogre. It came to the farm one day, hungry and alone. Before long it had moved into the barn and started helping with everything from pulling the plow to ditching and heavy lifting." – Julinel Garpe, farm wife

See what I mean about the flavor text helping to paint a picture of the Dragonbane world? Text like this appears on every page.

After the Nightkin are a group called the Rare Kin. These are communal creatures (hence the "kin") who are more rare and isolated. First here are the Cat People and I know more than one of my players who will be excited to see this as a playable option in Dragonbane. Also in this group are: the Centaur, the Fairy, Frog People, the Harpy, the Karkion, Lizard People, the Mermaid, the Minotaur, the Naiad, the Satyr, the Swan Maiden, and Tree Kin. Other notable kin from this group are the Frog People and the Karkion. I mention the Frog People because they have a leap ability that can end in an attack, and it reminds me of the Barbarian from the Diablo computer game. (Also, my daughter loves Frog People.) The Karkion are something that I've never heard of, and they seem to be unique to Dragonbane. (This assumption is reinforced when a quick web search finds that Karkion is also the name of a dedicated Dragonbane fanzine.) They are some kind of alien species that hunts demons. Their illustration makes them look like cat people with bat wings, and they can fly. Karkion and Frog People are character options as playable kin.

The other categories in the bestiary are: Insectoids, Trolls, Giants, Beasts, Undead, Dragons, and Demons. None of the creatures in any of these categories includes playable kin. The beasts section is interesting because it begins with a discussion of good and evil, and again emphasizes that such concepts can't really be applied universally to any being in the Dragonbane universe. 

Beasts include all manner of creatures that are predators. The category isn't for "animals," but for monstrous predators. Beasts are monsters motivated by their own survival first and foremost. Beasts regard other creatures as either a threat to their survival or as food.

Dragons and Demons are the most powerful beings in the Dragonbane world, and both are extremely dangerous. These creatures are described as having powers and motivations beyond mortal understanding, except that it is clear that Dragons and Demons hate each other. In Sweden Dragonbane is called, "Drakar och Demoner" which stands for Dragons and Demons. These creatures are central to the myth and legend of the Dragonbane world.

Every page of the Dragonbane Bestiary helps create a picture of a unique fantasy world. It's gorgeous. It's evocative. It's pure in its presentation. It's a perfect example of how these kinds of source books should be written. If Free League continues to support the Dragonbane product line with works like this one, Dragonbane is leveraged to push out 13th Age as my favorite fantasy RPG, and that is high praise indeed.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Can Any Game Dethrone D&D

Last post, I mentioned how 13th Age helped keep players engaged in later levels by providing combat rules that were different for the GM than those being used by the PCs. I mentioned how Shadowdark was trying to keep players engaged in later levels by providing more manageable growth as PCs leveled up. What about a game that does both of these things?

I've already written a detailed review of Dragonbane. Since that review, a hardcover book of the core rules has been released as well as a hardcover bestiary. As mentioned in said previous review, the art by Johan Egerkrans is stunning and features prominently in both books. It seems that Johan is the exclusive illustrator for the entire Dragonbane line, and I couldn't be happier. The look of all the DB books is consistent and beyond gorgeous.

I am looking for an alternative to D&D that I can bring to my table, and I find myself giving Dragonbane another look. Its DNA isn't D&D, it's Basic Fantasy (the Chaosium system that RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu are built on.) While most RPG systems, and especially an old school system like Basic Fantasy do share some lineage with D&D, these games have been growing independently for over 40 years. I dare say that they have seen more growth and evolution than D&D itself has.

The newest version of Dragonbane is being published and distributed by Free League Publishing. Free League is a relative newcomer to the RPG space, and they are making a real splash. Free League is a Swedish company and they have been around since 2011. For many, they are the company to watch. I think that it's awesome that they have acquired the rights to Drakar och Demoner (Dragonbane in English) which was at one time Sweden's most popular fantasy RPG, and I think that they are leveraging it to become a challenger to D&D.

Since the Hasbro / Wizards of the Coast OGL debacle, there has been a lot of talk about moving on from D&D. Can any RPG ever replace D&D? Right now? I don't think so. In a few years? That's an entirely different question. If any game does it, it might be Dragonbane. It looks better than D&D. It's easier to play and more accessible than D&D. Its combat is more interesting than D&D. And at least right now, it doesn't seem to have the "power creep" that poisons long campaigns of D&D.

Toppling D&D's monolithic dominance might seem impossible, but people felt the same about IBM Computing before Apple came along. Free League Publishing is the Apple of the RPG world. If an upset is coming, I believe that they will be the source. Free League Publishing is the young upstart. They already have a sizable RPG catalog, including some high profile IP properties. Their IP RPGs include: Alien, Blade Runner, The One Ring (Lord of the Rings), and The Walking Dead. Other original and acquired properties include: Twilight: 2000, Vaesen, Mörk Borg, Tales from the Loop, The Electric State, Forbidden Lands, Mutant: Year Zero, Coriolis: The Third Horizon, and Symbaroum.

It's also nice that Free League is a book publisher. They produce high quality physical books, not just digital PDFs. Others may argue that Paizo, the publisher of Pathfinder, which is arguably D&D's greatest competitor in the Fantasy RPG space, would be the one to dethrone D&D. Pathfinder is very much a "gamer's game," and Paizo seems very happy in that lane. I feel like to match D&D's saturation in the American consciousness, any game is going to need to be easily accessible to the average consumer. Dragonbane is just an easier game to learn and to play, and it has the word "dragon" in its name - that might seem like a silly detail, but it's a thing.

Whether Dragonbane dethrones D&D or not, it's a fantastic game, and Free League seems to be on fire right now. It's worth your while to check out Free League and the games that they have to offer. Hasbro doesn't need your money.

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Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Avoiding RPG Burnout (Is it possible)

Are RPG's Transactional In Nature? I mean, is the point that the Game Master and the Players are exchanging services in order to "get something" out of the experience? Maybe that's not the right question. Role-playing is supposed to be a shared experience where everyone at the table is having fun. Believe it or not, this isn't always the case, especially for the GM.

As a GM it's a blast to create something and then watch as the players "live" inside that creation. It's fun to react to what the players do. It's fun to improvise narrative responses to unexpected actions. It's fun to watch an idea take on an entirely different form than the one that you had imagined inside your head. It's all fun. Well, it's almost all fun.

I posted previously that I was tired of "fighting" in role-playing games. Not, player bickering. I don't mean that. (Although, I've certainly seen my share.) I am referring to the combat mechanisms and processes that are prevalent in most RPG's. These have overstayed their welcome, for me. 

I want to take a closer look at this. Combat in games can be fun. But, I will admit that it's almost always more fun from the player's perspective. (Meaning, I have more fun as a player engaged in a combat than as a GM engaged in a combat. YMMV.) At lower levels, at the beginning of a new game with new characters, the combats are rarely a problem. It's later that things get cumbersome. That's a good word … cumbersome. As players gain in power and utility the amount of bookkeeping required from the GM increases exponentially and this game changes from fun to work. 

On the player side of things, the opposite happens. As you gain more power and utility as a player, the game becomes more and more fun. Or, so it seems. This is where RPG's become transactional. At this point the GM isn't really playing for fun, but rather out of some sense of obligation to the players and to the campaign. (This might actually be an example of a codependent relationship.) At this point the GM is working for the players. And, yeah there are actually people out in the world who get paid to be a professional GM. I don't ever want to go there. This is supposed to be a hobby. It's supposed to be fun. This isn't supposed to be a job.

This is not a new problem, and there are RPG's out there that are trying to address this in their own way. The RPG, "Shadow Dark" by Arcane Library is based on 5th Edition D&D, but it has taken strides to smooth out the player character power curve, allowing characters to advance, but not so much. Is character advancement and power creep the problem? Maybe? But, look at 13th Age.

I only mention 13th Age because it remains my favorite D20 based RPG. One of the things that I love about 13th Age is that the characters feel so powerful and epic. You can tell really big stories with 13th Age and they've always been fun. I don't think that I have ever experienced burnout with 13th Age. In fact if anything, the opposite has occurred. I think it was maybe the players who burned out because they had too much to keep track of. The same thing happened with the 4th Edition of D&D. How did that happen?

In both 13th Age and 4th Edition D&D (13th Age is actually based on 4th Edition D&D) a great amount of effort has gone into streamlining the combat experience for the GM. In these games, the GM and the players aren't really playing by the same rules. The players get all the crunch that they want, and the GM gets shortcuts (This is why I often use 4th Edition monster rules no matter what version of D&D I am playing.) and it works, until the players burn out. Is that what has to happen? Do games just go until one side or the other burns out? Maybe? I have heard stories about D&D games that go for decades. My hat is off to those GM's. I don't want to play the same game for decades, but it would be nice to enjoy a game for just as long as my players do.

I have this superhero RPG called, Supercrew. It's an awesome little game presented in a comic book format and it's "designed" for one-shots. The author says that Supercrew is designed for one-shots, I suppose, because the game has no method for character advancement. Nor do the rules really support one. I have considered trying to houserule this, but have decided that that would be a bad idea. The rules of Supercrew are perfect as written. A big part of this is because they don't try to leave room for character expansion. Because they are self contained, they can be balanced and never have to worry about breaking. (If you don't own Supercrew, you should. It's awesome!)

So, could I run something more than a one-shot with Supercrew? Can we ignore character advancement and just play for fun? Are the players expecting to be paid for their time in experience points and levels? Isn't experiencing and telling a shared story from game to game enough? Characters grow through the course of the narrative. They gain memories, contacts, friends, enemies, possessions, etc. Isn't this enough? Why do the numbers, and the dice, and the complexity have to grow? As players inflate these things, the GM must do the same. A player's chance for success or failure doesn't really change. These games are a Cold War of escalation where nothing ever really gets better, just more complicated.

In 13th Age and 4th Edition D&D players start out feeling pretty powerful. I could just play a game to level 3 and stop. The problem is, we aren't generally "done" with those characters yet at that point. Maybe slowing down player character progression is the answer. I'm not really interested in the approach to storytelling that Shadowdark takes. (It's all about the dungeon crawl.) But, I am interested in the changes that it has made to the way 5th Edition D&D levels its characters, and I will be following the game as people continue to play it, to see how it holds up.

It's crazy. D&D turns 50 this year. The RPG hobby is 50 years old, and we are still talking about the same problems. I suppose that ultimately, this is an economic issue. Player options sell products. These options tend to run out of control and create power creep. D&D and every other commercial RPG is produced and presented to the public in order to make money. Books full of player options make money. Therefore, power creep makes money. 

Perhaps it's more correct to say that greed (or you know, just the need to put food on the table) means that publishers must produce books full of player options for their games. It doesn't take long before too many of these options warp the game. But, even the core game suffers because it's skeletal framework has to be designed with the eventual addition of countless new rules and options in mind.

Will games like Shadowdark, that turn away from this model, sell well enough to make a difference? It's been 50 years and we haven't gotten there yet. Time will tell. Maybe we're chasing a white whale?

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Monday, April 08, 2024

Twenty Questions

These 20 questions were from the "Introduce Yourself" section of the BG Hub on Discord. Not sure if this is "cheating" when it comes to forcing myself to write something here everyday. I realize that I won't be able to contribute equal levels of content all the time, and there will be times when I won't have any idea what to write about. 

So, I am giving myself permission to include posts that are "less inspired" from time to time. I might write about my cat, or what I had for dinner. That will be okay. I just need to write every day.

These questions are focused on the board game hobby. The BG Hub, which stands for Board Game Hub is a discord channel run by some board game review content creators on YouTube. This was one idea for a "getting to know you" exercise.

1. Name, age and location?

     Jeff Moore, 57 ¾, Muskegon, MI, USA

2. Favorite childhood board game?

     Barnstormer (1970)

3. When did you REALLY get into the board game hobby?

     Around 2012.

4. First game you purchased? Do you still own that game?

     If you don't count MTG, probably Robo-Rally. In 2012 it was either King of Tokyo or X-Wing. Do not still have any of these.

5. Any hobbies other than board games?

     Role playing and designing role playing games. Blogging.

6. Your breakthrough game?

     King of Tokyo

7. A theme that always draws you in?

     Fantasy Adventure

8. Favorite mechanism(s)?

     Tile Laying, Exploration, Pick Up and Deliver, Deck Building

9. A mechanism you don't like or that you aren't good at?

     Closed Drafting, Auction, Memorization

10. Newest game(s) in your collection? Have you played it/them?

     Cosmoctopus, Fisheries of Gloucester, DorfRomantik: The Duel. Yes to all.

11. Favorite player count?

     Two. Just me and my wife.

12. What is your board game pet peeve?

     Tiny pieces or tiny print. (I'm getting old.)

13. What player color do you use most often?


14. Read the rulebook or watch a how to play video?

     Listen to Julie (my wife) read the rulebook.

15. Favorite snack to eat while playing board games?

     Pretzel sticks and peanut M&M's.

16. Have you ever been to a board game convention?

     Gencon when they first moved to Indy, but I was there for the RPG's.

17. An unreleased game you are most looking forward to?

     Cities from Devir by Steve Finn and Phil Walker Harding.

18. What is your favorite thing about the board game hobby?

     The many ways to experience it. From playing the games, to the videos, to the community, and the way that my wife and I are  able to bond while experiencing it all together.

19. Open and punch a game right when you get it or wait until you play it for the first time?

     Punch it right away.

20. Others you would like to see do this tag.

     Wil Wheaton

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