For the longest time, I spent my time in the roleplaying game fandom on its fringes. The only community I was an active participant in was one dedicated to games from Japan. Don’t get me wrong, the folks in that community are great, but after an ugly encounter with a newcomer (that stemmed partly from a lack of tact on my part), I figured it was time to go out and refamiliarize myself with the larger RPG fandom.
I spent the following months becoming more active in other Discord servers, as well as connecting with other folks of the TTRPG Twitter-sphere, and even attending some Dungeons and Dragons panels at the Kentokyocon anime convention in Lexington, Kentucky. I’ve always known I was an oddity and the worst possible example of what’s normal, so this mission was to give myself a point of comparison: to better understand what IS normal.
What I learned in that time will no doubt be obvious to some of you, but I still believe it bears saying, if only so there’s a snapshot of the scene at this point in time.Since this is still an article about a leisure time activity, though, I believe it deserves an element of whimsy, so I will be including some dragon slaying metaphors.
With all that said, I present to you all: 5 Things I Learned Reconnecting With The D&D Fandom!
1) Dungeons and Dragons Is Still King Of The Hoard
Attention and participation are gold, jewels, and other fine treasures, while Dungeons and Dragons is a dragon sitting atop a giant pile of it.
The statistics that Roll20 used to publish on a yearly basis is the largest set of data we have on what games are being played. It’s far from a perfect dataset, since it’s only one platform, and it doesn’t list every possible game one could use the platform for, nor allow users to “fill in the blank” if their game isn’t listed. Rigors of the data aside, it does paint an unsurprising picture of the top dog: Dungeons and Dragons or some derivative thereof.
A quick look through the #ttrpg tag in Twitter adds to this picture: even though the tag is an acronym for “tabletop roleplaying game,” much of what you’ll find is geared towards Dungeons and Dragons. From pictures of the 7 piece polyhedral set, fantasy artwork, and memes alluding to situations that could only happen in D&D.
For a tag that uses such a broad term, it certainly has a narrow scope. One of the next biggest franchises in the RPG fandom, Shadowrun, doesn’t look like it’d fit in with this tag. It’s a near future, cyberpunk, urban fantasy, it only uses d6s, and while magic items and talismans exist, they’re almost exclusively used by magical characters.
2) There Is A Hope For A Dragon Slayer
Be they driven by curiosity, or a desire to see their world be the best version of itself, they want the dragon slain, so that the hoard can be shared by all. This, I had in common with some of them all along.
If you dig around enough in some of the dialogues that take place on Twitter, you will occasionally find a few dissenting voices: people who want more attention to be paid to other RPGs besides Dungeons and Dragons, and others who would gladly oblige them. Their reasons vary and range from an acknowledgement of D&D’s flaws, to wistful expressions of not wanting to miss out on everything that the RPG fandom has to offer.
These are the people I naturally gravitated towards, given my background of having divorced myself from D&D many years ago. The community I was in had a very strong distaste for Dungeons and Dragons; we were aware of the flaws, and we knew they could be fixed, we in fact played other games that did!
Our frustrations lead to some fairly cruel jokes we would tell at the expense of Dungeons and Dragons players, often in the format of “Why would you play that game? You can get the exact same experience by playing Pathfinder with these splatbooks and my homebrew system.”
Though, stepping outside of the bubble I was in made me realize: it may not necessarily be out of stubbornness that people cling to Dungeons and Dragons; but rather just not knowing how great other games can be. I had always known this might’ve been the case, but it was a different thing to see it for myself.
3) Everybody Wants To Be The Dragon Slayer
Many are confident in their abilities, believing they’ll be the one to slay the dragon, or that their efforts will contribute to its downfall.
The indie roleplaying game scene is huge. There’s numerous new games, splatbooks, and scenarios everywhere, created by all kinds of people. There are also scores of people recording and broadcasting their own games for the enjoyment of others. Many with aspirations of being the next big voice.
These modern days of the Internet Age also constitute a creative Golden Age: we have a huge collection of information, tutorials, and software available to us at our fingertips. If you have a computer and an internet connection, you can feasibly learn how to make anything. The Dungeons and Dragons fandom is just another example of this.
If you dig deep enough, you can find those same people who want D&D to be taken down a peg, wanting to rally people together so they can collectively have their fair share of the market. Whenever one of these calls goes out, it usually ends the same way: parties show up talking about what they’re doing to that end, how they’re different and how they believe they’re going to be the one to make a difference.
4) Conformity Is What The Dragon Wants (And Gets)
The dragon has its methods for maintaining its hoard: let a few people take from it, and collect tribute from others. Then the dragon won’t need to fight the people or try to stop them, but rather let human nature defend the dragon’s hoard.
There’s a lot of market forces at work that keep Dungeons and Dragons on top. They’re the biggest name in the industry, and for better or worse, being that big reinforces its top position. Anybody who wants to make some kind of living creating for the RPG fandom will likely need to make something catering to Dungeons and Dragons. The predictability of computer algorithms makes it impossible to be discovered if you’re not on a known tag or keyword, and if your end goal is to make money somehow, your best bet is to aim for the biggest market share and hope you’re noticed.
One of the major selling points of Dungeons and Dragons is the sheer volume of content there is; when one sees so much, it’s easy to come to believe you don’t need anything else. Somebody else likely has already made what you’re looking for. Wizards has even created a marketplace specifically for content for D&D and D&D alone.
Most damning to those that would want to topple D&D is this: humans are creatures of conformity. Being like everybody else is soothing to us, even if it’s ultimately detrimental. Newcomers come in, see it’s all D&D, and come to believe D&D is all there is, or that anything else is in the tabletop RPG fandom going to be similar to D&D. (Even though D&D’s genre, Dungeon Crawl Fantasy, is fairly unique in what it does.)
It also leads people to believe that since D&D is a complex game with several specific rulings that must be known, every game is. That since most people play D&D before they run it, they must play other games before they can run it. That since so much of the onus is on the DM, the same must be true in every other game. This leads to trepidation that is then soothed by remaining in line with what’s familiar, even if it ultimately falls short.
5) There’s More Than One Dragon
The dragons are everywhere, and thrive in this world. Wherever there is treasure to hoard, there is a dragon to guard it jealously, often with the same tactics.
I originally set out to write an article about roleplaying games and human nature when we gather around media. As I added to these points, I realized that a lot of what I had seen as I put myself back out there into the D&D world were things I had seen everywhere else.
Even though comics are now mainstream and cool, it’s weird to like anything that isn’t DC or Marvel, and if there’s any issue that needs to be addressed in the comics fandom, the onus is only placed on those two juggernauts to resolve it. (Even if a different company had already taken steps to address it; it may as well not exist.)
The only way to be recognized as a fan or critic of comics is to work with the larger companies; it might be possible to claw your way to recognition through other means, but the faster route is often to get lucky placing your bets in the oversaturated market.
This is a phenomenon across all kinds of media, and arguably even other industries, too. A throng of titans control the lion’s share and dominate both the market and a space in everybody’s mind.
If this article veered a little too far off the rails for your liking, just remember what I said at the start: this is a little more than just an experiment I made when reconnecting to the mainstream. It’s also a snapshot of how I see the world right now.
Aaron der Schaedel spent his 31st birthday writing this article; which would also have been Gary Gygax’s 81st, were he still with us. Sharing Gary Gygax’s birthday has granted Aaron no special powers or abilities, and he is still, in fact, really salty about that. You can tell him to get over himself via Twitter. You can also check out his YouTube Channel, which is his own attempt to slay the metaphorical dragon.
Picture Reference: https://www.facebook.com/pg/kentokyocon/posts/
Nashicon 2018 was the first time I was explicitly invited out to be a GM at a convention. While this isn’t the first time we at High Level Games have covered a first time experience as a con GM, I find it worth noting that my experience is different from what we’ve covered earlier. Primarily because Sean was at the longest running gaming convention in the world, while I was at a comparatively shorter lived anime convention that happened to have a tabletop gaming room.
While I believe I did a competent job as a GM at Nashicon, I’d be a fool to believe there wasn’t areas I could improve. So for your reading pleasure, I have compiled this list where I reflect on what went right and where I screwed up as a GM for an anime convention’s tabletop room.
1) Limit Yourself
Nashicon’s Tabletop Director invited me to run games for them because I’m knowledgeable about various Japanese RPGs. In my excitement to show all that I knew and was capable of, I prepared to run every such game in my repertoire and then some. This turned out to be a mistake.
I was prepared to run seven different games. By the end of the weekend, however, I had only run three of them, and each of those games was only run once. Having a wide assortment available did spark a lot of conversations, as well as attract many curious attendees. However, my broad selection worked against me when it came time to ring these attendees in; I couldn’t decide for myself what it was I wanted to run.
What was more important to limit was how much I wanted to convey in a game. The staff overseeing me at the convention suggested that I try to keep my games to just two hours if I could. While I wasn’t keen on the idea initially, as the weekend went on it became apparent to me why: it’s a lot easier to sell somebody on a game if it’s only 2 hours of their time they’ll be spending.
2) Handouts Are Your Friend
Familiarity is a boon in tabletop RPGs. Rules explanations can be kept to a minimum, or even done by other players at the table, lessening the GM’s burden to do so. By running less familiar games, I couldn’t rely on this, but I otherwise had a plan to work around this limitation.
Said plan was to prepare printouts of vital rules to use as a reminder for players. This alleviated a problem I’d often have running personal games when there was only one copy of the rulebook to go around: the players could have a quick reference to how the game worked.
To make these reminder sheets more interesting, though, I printed some images on the backside of these handouts. When I set up my table for a game of Ryuutama, I spread out two sets of my reminder sheets. One side with the artwork of the character classes displayed, and the other side with the abilities of that class. An unintended side effect of this was that it made it made my table much more identifiable, and also drew the attention of passers-by.
3) Pregen Characters Are Too
I didn’t have any pregenerated characters for any of the games I ran over the weekend; every game I ran we made characters for on the spot. By contrast, my Dungeons and Dragons playing neighbors had an entire table dedicated to displaying pre-made characters so that they could quickly jump in on a game that still had room.
From the glimpses I got of these character sheets, it seemed like many of them were the official pregenerated sheets provided by Wizards. For the uninitiated, these sheets have class feature explanations reprinted from the rulebook, as appropriate for the level. Functionally, this made them similar to handouts I created Ryuutama.
4) Assistants Are Your Best Friend
One challenge that I consistently encountered was gathering players. It wasn’t that there was a shortage of interest. That was far from the case. The difficulty was that I couldn’t get enough people gathered at one time to play a game. Towards the end of the weekend, though, the idea came to me to use my fellow staff to fill out the roster. (After they had done the same with me for another game.)
In fact, I would be inclined to say that help from the other staff was instrumental in making the game room successful. There were members of staff who were keeping tabs on which GMs were doing what, and would guide the players to the GMs they were looking for. These staff helped coordinate both D&D games, as well as independent RPG GMs such as myself.
5) In The End, It Comes Down To You
You can have the best support network and all the preparation in the world, but when push comes to shove, it’s exactly as the the title of this point says: it all comes down to you. Tabletop RPGs may be part collaborative storytelling, but getting one off the ground without a GM is more or less impossible.
As a GM for Nashicon, I was expected not only to run the games, but also to do the legwork to find players and organize these games. I didn’t expect this to be difficult, and it was the one thing I didn’t really brace myself for. (By contrast, I had literally hundreds of pages of character sheets and handouts at the ready.)
It turns out that selling somebody on a game they haven’t heard of that belongs to a genre they’ve only scratched the surface of (if they’ve even heard of it) takes more than showing up and having a sales pitch ready. I wasn’t able to get people to play anything until I or other staff insisted they sit down.
Once I got my players around the table though, it wasn’t much different than any other time I ran a game. I knew how to entice players to participate and let themselves be involved in the creative aspect of gaming. I knew how to keep things moving along and when to take short cuts: I was back in my element.
Even though it was a familiar activity in a familiar setting, being GM staff for this anime convention was a much more novel experience than I expected it to be. It made me more aware of some shortcomings of mine, and thus gave me plenty to work on should I continue down this path.
Aaron der Schaedel, despite his love of conventions and festivals, has yet to attend any dedicated specifically to tabletop gaming. He can’t be there, but thinks you should totally check out HLGCon. If you do go, you can gloat to Aaron about how much fun you’re having there and he isn’t via twitter: @Zamubei
We sat down the the staff at BrigadeCon, to see what their convention is about, and why you should attend this year! (Some slight editing occurred for clarity.)
1) First off, what is BrigadeCon and why is it important?
What is BrigadeCon?
BrigadeCon is a 100% free Online Roleplaying Game Convention and Benefit in which the online tabletop and virtual roleplaying gaming community the RPG Brigade hosts live gaming events, interviews, gaming panels, and art demos in order to raise funds for the Child's Play Charity. Sponsors that support BrigadeCon (and its mission) donate digital books, physical books, dice, playmats, minis, and much more for the raffle held the day of BrigadeCon. Simply signing up as an attendee and providing a valid postal mailing address qualifies anyone for these Sponsor prizes.
Why is BrigadeCon important?
BrigadeCon attempts to accomplish various important purposes.
2) Why did you make the jump from a community to hosting your own convention?
I think at some point all communities grow to a capacity in which they want to work and do some good for the community that they love. Four years ago when Michael Barker called for the creation of BrigadeCon, the RPG Brigade exploded with excitement. We all wanted to do our part to make BrigadeCon something fun and exciting to be a part of. Now, four years later, I look back on that excitement, and I still feel it. I think the entire RPG Brigade does too. It's a very special day for us all to re-converge as a community and have fun together while supporting a great cause like Child's Play.
3) Could you tell us more about Child’s Play and why you decided to partner with them?
The Child's Play Charity is "a game industry charity dedicated to improving the lives of hospitalized children" by raising funds to purchase video games, toys, books, and other fun stuff for them while in recovery. During the preparation for the first BrigadeCon, we didn't have to look far to find a wonderful cause to support. The Child's Play Charity already had a strong presence in the gaming community and it was (and remains) meaningful to many in the RPG Brigade who were previously, or still are, hospitalized children that survived both the pain and boredom.
So we partnered with Child's Play and never looked back.
4) How can attendees donate to Child’s Play?
In the months leading up to BrigadeCon, the RPG Brigade (and those that find interest in BrigadeCon) can donate to the Child's Play Charity using two methods.
5) What is the format of BrigadeCon and where can players, GMs and others sign up for events?
As of the date of this interview, Event Hosting Requests are being accepted by those who want to host Live Gaming Events, Interviews, Gaming Panels, and Art Demos. The form to register is here: http://www.brigadecon.org/eventrequest/ .
On October 15th, 2017 a new page will be revealed on BrigadeCon.org showing all of the events that are open.Simply review all of the events you would like to participate in, then buy the ticket (it is 100% free) and you will be able to correspond with you GM/Host from there.
BrigadeCon supports YoutTube Live and Twitch Live Streams
6) Finally, what was your favorite moment from the previous BrigadeCons?
Personally, there are so many, but one stands out to me right now. During BrigadeCon 2014 GM Chugosh ran a one-shot of Slipstream for three players. It was really a neat game. Everyone thought it was over .... but a young Russian player, Vlad, was trying really hard to tell the guys that he wanted to finish off the session with a song "Taking Home." He finally got a word in. Then, "something magical" happened, as is the case with all Bards. The players were lost in the song and so was the whole convention. It was beautiful. Everyone was texting each other, "THERE IS A BARD IN GM CHUGOSH'S GAME SINGING!" All of the volunteers that stayed up for 24 hours just watched it together in silence. It was a special moment.
Here is the game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yr2M8hTBktk
Once again, thank you,
Thank you and High Level Games for supporting BrigadeCon!
Phil Pepin is a history-reading, science-loving, head-banging nerd, who would like nothing more than to cuddle with his pups and wife.
It’s convention season! Woo! I know GenCon isn’t until August, but it’s never too early to start preparing, especially with this convention, as it requires a bit more planning than usual even for old hats like me. GenCon has a lot of unique systems and traits -- some of which leave me scratching my head and others that make me wish they were the norm across more conventions. Without further ado, let’s hop on into it!
1. Dat Hotel Lotto, yo
Badges go fast! You need to make an account before you can buy a badge. Pay attention to when that portal and the housing portal go live. If you’re going with friends (and you should) have them buy badges separately. GenCon buys out EVERY hotel in the Indy area before the convention, so you won’t be able to circumvent their hotel block before the housing portal goes live. This portal is based on a lottery system and assigns you a time slot to access the hotel booking. In order to maximize your chances of not having to pay exorbitant costs set by the hotels after the portal drops (GenCon also secures you cheap con rates for otherwise very pricey hotels), have each friend make a separate account, and you each will get a different housing portal time. Choose whoever gets the earliest one, and use their guide to make a shortlist of hotels you’d be willing to stay at.
2. Ticketed Events?! Say What Now?!
Unlike other conventions, GenCon also uses a ticketing system for panels, games, and other events. Larger cons typically do tickets for concerts and large events, but GenCon is unique in that each event is ticketed. You order these in advance of the convention and they’ll be sent to you in the mail with your badge. You can also purchase the tickets at the convention. You can either buy tickets for specific events (usually around $0-20), or buy “generic” tickets, worth $2.00 a piece. As events fill, everyone with a ticket for that specific event will be let in first, and then everyone with generic tickets will be let in after. In order to save yourself some cash, I’d recommend buying generic tickets (you can also purchase them at the con) for less popular events or ones with fewer seats (such as a panel on women in gaming), and specific tickets for more popular ones (Star Wars tabletop tourney or Cosplay Burlesque [psst: go see Cosplay Burlesque if you’re of age, it’s really great and there are a LOT of puns]) to ensure that you get your bum in a seat at that event.
3. It’s Really Big.
I know what you’re thinking “Ya don’t say, bird” – but seriously, this convention is huge. Like 60,000 people. It’s also REALLY HECKIN’ HOT. Last year they didn’t turn on the A/C until Saturday and even with it cranking, it’s still really warm because of all the bodies. Plan your outfits/cosplays accordingly. Hydration is also really important, and thankfully our merciful overlords provide water at strategic points throughout the con (read: bring a refillable water bottle, you’ll thank me later when you don’t have to pay $5.00 for Poland Springs in the food court). This many people in one place also means herd mentality and “walk around aimlessly” logic applies, so it can take you a bit to get from one side of the con to the other, especially when you’re short on time. All hail lawmaker Murphy. That being said, please walk with a purpose or at least stick to the sides of the halls if you’re meandering. I have kobolds to shank and you’re making me late!
4. Used to being treated like the scum of the earth by normies?! Fear no more!
Honestly the biggest culture shock of attending GenCon for me was the warm welcome from the city of Indianapolis. I’ve been attending conventions for 11 years, and the non-attendees, or “normies,” are usually pretty peeved about the presence of a large faction of nerds descending upon their city. More specifically, businesses seem to be particularly irked, which has always struck me as odd given how much money we funnel into their economy. Previously, my standard of a “nice” reception was people not being outwardly hostile – but GenCon really raised the bar for me. Local restaurants have GenCon specials, the craft breweries create special beers, and even some of the hotel staff dressed up in Star Trek uniforms for the weekend! It was really shocking to have such a warm welcome and it was nice to not feel on the defensive all weekend. Whether that’s the case for cons in the Midwest in general or if it’s exclusive to GenCon, it’s a pleasant change of pace.
This is not an exhaustive guide by any stretch of the imagination but my corporate higher ups like things to be short and sweet around these parts. While there’s probably a bunch of other things I’m missing, I hope you find this helpful! And if there’s anything else you want to know, hit me up here or on any of my social media platforms; I love giving advice!
FancyDuckie is a 20-something researcher by daylight, and mahou shoujo cosplayer by moonlight! She’s also known to play murder hobo elven clerics with a penchant for shanking twice a week. Also known as “science girlfriend” of The Heavy Metal GM. When she’s not chained to her sewing machine or doing other nerdy stuff, she enjoys watching ballet, musical theatre, pro hockey, and playing with any critter that will tolerate her presence. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, ACParadise, Facebook, Instagram, & Wordpress.
All blog materials created and developed by the staff here at High Level Games