two happy people

5 and 5: One to One Gaming

We’ve all been there; you’ve just picked up a shiny new RPG that you’re really excited about, but you’re currently in the middle of an extended campaign with your current group, so getting to try out this new amazingness is impossible. Or maybe you’re not already in the midst of something, but getting your players to buy-in is proving difficult. Or perhaps something else is getting in the way of you playing this new game; regardless, you aren’t getting the chance to play something you want, and it’s frustrating you.

What is one to do?

Luckily we live in an age where a plethora of options exist to facilitate our gaming; today, I’m going to address some of the pros and cons of an option you have perhaps not given a lot of thought to: gaming with a GM and a single player, otherwise known as one to one gaming.

One to one gaming seems to be gaining some traction in recent years, with Pelgrane Press’s recent release of Cthulhu Confidential, Sine Nomine Publishing’s Scarlet Heroes, and Expeditious Retreat Press’s 1 on 1 Adventures line for the Pathfinder RPG coming to mind.

Kelly and I engage in one to one gaming on a regular basis (minds out of the gutter folks, we’re talking dice and character sheets here), and find it to be a great way to enjoy time with one another, but there are a few pitfalls to keep in mind as well.

The Good

1. Scheduling

Getting a group of four to six people together to play a game regularly is challenging, especially as players get older and their priorities and responsibilities shift. My group is comprised of six players as well as myself, all in our late thirties or early forties, and it is rare that all of us are attendant at a game session with work and family obligations understandably taking precedence. Finding time to get together to game with one person is undeniably easier.

2. Character Arc

How many times have you had a killer character concept that either didn’t work at all because of the other characters in the party, or just fell short of its potential due to being lost in the crowd, or for some other reason. This shouldn’t happen in a one to one game. The PC is the protagonist. There is no sharing of the spotlight because the campaign is all about them. In a one to one game, the two people playing should be able to focus on the aspects of the campaign that really appeal to them. Want to play a game that focuses on debate and intrigue, where the mere act of drawing a blade means something has gone horribly wrong? Do it. Want to play that campaign where the PC wanders the countryside on a quest to become the best swordswoman in the land? There’s no other players there to stop you.

3. Less Conflict

We always get along with our fellows, right? We’re adults after all. Sure. The more people there are in a group, the more likely that tensions will erupt. Everything from varying rules interpretations, to interpersonal issues, to resentment over who grabbed that last Dr. Pepper can lead to arguments. While there will certainly still be disagreements over some things in a one to one game, it is much easier to be reasonable and discuss things when it is just you and one other player rather than having a myriad of voices jumping in to add their two cents, or just as bad, have the rest of the group just sit there awkwardly while two people verbally (hopefully just verbally) spar.

4. You Can Just Play

I sometimes think that my gaming group spends three minutes goofing around for every minute they spend focusing on the game. In reality it probably isn’t so bad, but I still feel frustration when someone interrupts to tell a joke, or show another player something “hilarious” on Youtube, or spends more time looking at his phone, or my admittedly awesome collection of comic books than listening to what is happening in the game. One to one gaming doesn’t allow anyone to do that though. With only two players, the focus is primarily on the play experience. While there will always be small interruptions, an anecdote here, a brief discussion of some errand there, one to one play offers a much speedier experience.

5. Inspiration Abounds

Anywhere you look, you can find inspiration for a one to one campaign. Did you love playing through Dead Space? Me too. And translating that video game into a tabletop experience for one player is as easy as finding the game maps and a walkthrough online, and deciding which monsters you’re going to reskin as the game’s necromorph enemies.  Are you a big Harry Potter fan? One to one gaming allows you to be the Boy that Lived without having the rest of the group pouting that they aren’t as special.

So that’s all good, right? Well it isn’t all puppies and unicorns…

The Challenging

1. Heavy GMing 

One to one play can be awesome, but it has a heavy load for a prospective GM. With only one player, the GM needs to prepare more material than for a group, because it can be played through rapidly. The GM also has little downtime in play because there are no other players to discuss matters with; The GM is almost always “on.” While one to one games can be very rewarding, they can also be exhausting.

2. Paradox of PC Choice 

Similarly, the player in a one to one game needs to make every substantial choice; there isn’t anyone else to bounce ideas off of, and a GM rarely wants to use an NPC to tell the player what the best option is. Players that have difficulty making decisions may find a one to one game gets bewildering and stressful.

3. Some Game Aspects Are Problematic 

When you only have one player, certain things need to be avoided. Commonly used fantasy tropes such as mind-affecting magic and fear need to be designed around or avoided entirely. Any effect that takes the control of the character away from the player can only be used sparingly as a plot device if it is used at all.

4. Most Adventures are Designed for a Group

Most published adventures, regardless of system, are designed with an expectation of a group of players and altering them for one player can often be more work than just designing your own scenarios from scratch. GMs that want to be able to just run a game from published material with minimal fuss may have difficulty doing so in a one to one game.

5. It Can Get Real

I’ve found that one to one gaming can occasionally trigger unexpected reactions in one or both players. It shouldn’t be a surprise really, there is an opportunity to really delve into the characters and world in a one to one game that I rarely find in typical group gaming. Players that really get into character, so-called method actor players, can find themselves dealing with real emotional trauma as a result of situations in game. One to one gaming can demand that the two players involved trust one another more than typical group situations do.

Grab a Dance Partner!

I personally recommend gaming with one GM and one player, at least some of the time. It has been very fulfilling for me, and has offered me the opportunity to play some campaigns that I wouldn’t have been able to with a group.

Have you played an RPG with just one player and one GM? If so, tell us how your experience was in the comments below.

Wish

Ken’s Gaming Bucket List – Campaigns

I turned forty this August. Despite it being a landmark of a sort, at my request it was a quiet day spent with immediate family and a couple of close friends and their kids. It was near perfect.

A birthday like this, of course, has led me to assess my life to date, to revel in the victories and throw another coat of spackle over the parts I’d rather put far behind me (in reality, I’m prone to constant self-critique, but for the purposes of this piece, let’s pretend that isn’t the case). While I’m certain that a reckoning of my neuroses and an itemized list of things I have yet to accomplish would be a riveting read, let’s get to the meat of this article: the RPG campaigns I want to run but have not yet had the chance. What has made this storied list? Well, for starter’s there is:

Eyes of the Stone Thief – Pelgrane Press (13th Age)

I’m not a big fan of megadungeons. A series of keyed encounters heavy on combat but light on role play just doesn’t do a lot for me. Eyes of the Stone Thief is a different beast though. The Stone Thief is a megadungeon, certainly. But it is also its own character, and if the GM does their job even reasonably well, their players will hate this vindictive and evil place.  The fact that Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan is one of the best adventure scribes in the business helps as well; if it will help make the GM’s task easier, he has likely included it. From adventure hooks, to icon relationships, to campaign structure, to dungeon configuration changes, to a chart that makes it easy to track when the titular living dungeon will/should dive back into the bowels of the earth, the tools are close to hand.

Chance of Playing: Good. Eyes of the Stone Thief will be conquered by my players one day. Or it will consume them. It is just a matter of time.

Zeitgeist: The Gears of Revolution – EN Publishing (Pathfinder RPG)

Zeitgeist is likely the most ambitious campaign produced for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game to date. In its twenty levels, the player characters will advance from being lowly constables attempting to prevent dockside riots to key players in their world, defeating nigh-godlike fey titans and, ultimately setting the course for the next age of the world. The world deserves some mention as well; despite the relative brevity of the Campaign Guide, Zeitgeist’s world, calling it a fey-steampunk marvel doesn’t do it justice, is compellingly well drawn. Zeitgeist is a campaign full of heavy themes, that will demand the best of the GM and players, but if it plays half as well as it reads, it will provide one seriously epic campaign.

Chance of Playing: Excellent. I will likely run this as a solo game; the intrigue and emphasis on role play over dungeon crawl will appeal to Kelly.

The Darkening of Mirkwood / Tales from Wilderland – Cubicle 7 (The One Ring)

When it comes to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien (other than The Hobbit), I prefer the films to the books. Yes, I am a godless philistine, I’ve come to terms with it. My current favourite fantasy RPG, The One Ring, however, hews much more closely to the literary source material than to the shield riding shenanigans seen on the big screen. While it may seem to be a bit of a cheat to list two adventures here, there is a good reason: The Darkening of Mirkwood is a sprawling campaign frame full of lightly sketched adventures that cover thirty years (!) from 2947 through 2977. Tales from Wilderland, on the other hand, offers a handful of discrete, excellently designed scenarios that a Loremaster (GM) can slot into the above campaign. There’s a lot to like in these books, but I think my favourite aspect is the expectation that the PCs be heroic. After playing RPGs with largely the same group of people for twenty years, I’ve seen every flavour of douchebag mercenary behavior (“I’m just playing in character, Dweazel the Hamstringer would totally burn down the orphanage just so the populace could see him rescue the orphans from the blaze. How else is he supposed to get a special ladyfriend…) it would be nice to have them actually be the good guys, just this once.

Chance of Play: Moderate. Though ToR is not a difficult system to learn and use, it isn’t D&D or a derivative thereof; getting my players to buy in will likely be difficult.

 

Eternal Lies – Pelgrane Press (Trail of Cthuhlu)

 Eternal Lies is a monster that spans generations as well as continents. While I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, it is a horror-mystery after all, it is safe to say that the sins of the fathers (and mothers) come home to roost, forcing subsequent generations to fix their forebears grave mistakes… or die trying. The nice thing about this campaign is not just that it’s a compelling story; this book is laid out in a way that makes it easy to use. Information is clearly called out. Keeper (GM) material is clearly delineated from player information. Designer notes and anecdotes are copious. The campaign is also open, so while there is definitely an overarching plot, the investigators are free to go where the clues take them without worrying that they’ll miss out on something important.

Chance of Play: Good. When the stars are right, I will run this. Depending on her leveI of interest, I can run it solo for Kelly if necessary; Pelgrane Press does have rules for one Keeper one player play after all…

 

The Dracula Dossier – Pelgrane Press (Night’s Black Agents)

Pelgrane Press hits my bucket list for a third time, as does designer Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan. There’s a reason for these trends: Pelgrane Press makes fantastic system-seller material for their games, and Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan is a top-tier RPG designer. The Dracula Dossier is two books, The Director’s Handbook, which, as the name implies, contains all of the material an NBA director (GM) needs to run the campaign, and Dracula Unredacted, which is the “real” story as transcribed by Bram Stoker. The two books are extensively cross referenced and both serve to build not just an epic GUMSHOE campaign; they are simply the best RPG adventure I have ever read. I’ve read a lot of adventures over the last thirty-two years, and none of them matches, let alone exceeds this. Honestly, nothing else even comes within spitting distance. The best part isn’t the extensive research the authors obviously did. It isn’t the almost excessive work done to make such a sprawling sandbox easily playable for the director. It isn’t even that whoever gets to play in this campaign is in for something truly epic. The best part is that I could hand (or more likely send a PDF) a copy of Dracula Unredacted to my players and say, “Read this in whole or in part… and tell me where you want to start.” This campaign can be completely driven by the investigators, and the material is presented in a way that the director won’t have any real trouble in adapting to their moves. I’m not sure how Pelgrane Press, or any other company for that matter, will be able to top this.

Chance of Play: High. One way or another, I will run this campaign eventually.

 

So there it is…

While there are other campaigns I’d be happy to run, these five are the ones I’d be most excited to. I was hoping that Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition would have produced something to add to the list, but no luck so far. Not that there aren’t good campaigns for 5e, all of the ones Wizards of the Coast has produced so far have been good, some very good, but none of them are superb in my opinion. This is still better than 3.5 or 4th Edition which had one excellent adventure each (Red Hand of Doom and Madness at Gardmore Abbey respectively) and a bunch of dreck otherwise. Despite producing some of my favourite campaign settings, 2nd Edition AD&D has no memorable modules or campaigns I can think of off the top of my head…

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Which campaigns are on your bucket list? Let us know!

Inclusivity… It’s a Good Thing

I recently read this article, which coalesced a lot of thoughts I have about parenting and geekdom. The TL;DR is that a mum took her Dr. Who loving daughter to a convention and some middle-aged jackanapes took the opportunity to… um… ensure that said daughter was geek enough to show her love for the Doctor.

Which, What or, Who is Best?

Sadly, in my experience, this isn’t an uncommon occurrence, nor is it a new one, though I feel that, as geek culture increasingly becomes pop culture it is becoming more widespread. I remember being snubbed by an older comic enthusiast as I eagerly bought back issues of Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, and Uncanny X-Men when I was twelve years old. Apparently I should have been reading Swamp Thing and Love and Rockets instead (incidentally, I have rarely been impressed with the work of Alan Moore… coincidence? Who’s to say). I remember being ridiculed for purchasing the Tome of Magic for 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Apparently only losers played D&D; all the cool geeks were playing RIFTS. Yes, I said “the cool geeks.”

These days we don’t even need to go to the local game store or a convention to be taunted or mocked for our loves and enthusiasms, we just need to go to our favourite website of nerdity and there will faceless people with silly names who, emboldened by their online anonymity, mercilessly troll any and everyone that doesn’t agree with their point of view. I’m not saying that everyone online is like this, of course, or even that most people are. I imagine that the vast majority of online geeks are just as awesome as I am. But we all know about bad apples and the effect they have on good apples.

Anyone who has read this blog before knows that Kelly and I are gaming geek parents looking to bring our rugrats up in the culture, and nothing makes that less likely than having some… uber-geek start questioning why they like something and suggesting they’re wrong to like it. Not everyone has a skin thick enough to shrug off the slings and arrows of self-appointed geek gatekeepers, and they shouldn’t have to.

Live and Let Love

It’s time to take the gates down and let everyone in, because there isn’t a right answer to who the best Doctor is. Or which issue of Action Comics has the most emotional value. Or whether or not Luke is too whiny in A New Hope. Or even if you should take a feat or an ability score increase in 5th Edition D&D. It’s just awesome that more people than ever before have access to the sundry geek properties that we love, and hopefully, will help ensure that we still have them in the future. Continuing to pretend that geekdom is some members-only club, however, will eventually have the opposite effect.

Sound off!

If you have any thoughts on this week’s post, or want to know why Wildats Version 3.0  is one of my favourite comic series’ produced in the last 20 years, or want to politely disagree with me that Veronica Mars was television gold (quality and story-wise if not in viewership) please do so in the comments below.

Human Star

Reviews Matter

Reviews matter!

They help writers write what you like.

They help game companies produce materials you like.

They help other potential customers discover a product you like.

They help.

And they help you since with your feedback, more products you like will potentially be created.

Ask any small 3PP company and they will tell you the same thing.

(Seriously – even as I wrote this toward the end of July, Fat Goblin Games was thinking the same thing and released a similar post before this one published!)

Ratings are great, and they do help.  They are a great confidence boost to the creators, and they might help potential purchasers make a decision, but even better than a rating is a rating with a few quick notes about what was great, what you’d like to see more of, what you’d like to see less of, etc.

But there’s already reviewers out there…

Yes, there are, but isn’t more than one person’s opinion better than a single opinion? Maybe there’s a review of a product, but you have a completely different point of view than that reviewer, or the review is skewed?

Would you rather buy a product that has one 5 star rating? Or one that has one 5 star rating and two 4 star reviews detailing what the reader liked and didn’t like?

There are lots of 3PP companies out there.  It doesn’t hurt to have lots of people writing reviews.

Reviewers like Endzeitgeist do a fabulous job of pouring over dozens and dozens of game files in a month and producing just as many detailed reviews.  Not everyone can do that (and hey, speaking of help and reviews – he can’t do what he’s doing without help, so if you love his reviews consider backing his Patreon). Not everyone should even think of aspiring to that size and volume of reviews.

Every little bit helps.

Little reviews are good too.  Well written concise reviews.  A few random thoughts.  A play account. A deep look at one aspect of the file.  Constructive criticism or praise for well written work.  All of these help the game industry.  And if you are a gamer who loves 3PP work, that means it helps you.

Bonus? Lots of 3PP companies are happy to give out review copies, especially to people who consistently follow through on their promise of a review.  (It’s something we touched on in a previous post.)

So Write a Review!

If you read one of our products and haven’t written a review yet, think about writing one!  As a special thank you from us to you for taking the time to write a review, we’ll send you a copy of any one of our products.

Seriously.

Write a review, post it to Paizo or DriveThruRPG, and then contact us with the link to the review and a request for one of our other products.  We’ll send it on over, and you will have one more resource for your game night!

How do you contact us? On our website, by email, or even over on Facebook.

But don’t just think of us.  If you have read something you loved, write about it! The little guys like us will thank you!

Ruined Fence

Our World Ended (Not Really)

Our world ended. Well, not really.

Dire Rugrat Publishing has been really quiet lately, and not because of any tragedy.

What happened is this: there were day jobs taking up a lot of time (and still are), we got overwhelmed on a project (it’s still in the works, hang tight), a family vacation happened, and I (Kelly) started binge watching Z-Nation.

The binge watching happened right around the vacation, and I had an idea – set aside the campaign we have been playing for awhile and trade it in for an alternate world with similar characters.  We’ve done this sort of thing before, when a long standing campaign got to be a very high level and it became clear the story had been taken as far as we could go. Exploring alternate worlds briefly, or taking a more in depth look, is a fun way to explore a character.  I enjoy all of the “what-if’s” big time.

We thought this time, given that the world was inspired by things like Z-Nation, The Walking Dead, the Resident Evil game series, and the Fallout game series, that it wouldn’t last long. Depressing world, lots of potential for a grisly death by a swarm of zombies, plus what’s the point really, right? (Isn’t that why The Walking Dead isn’t nearly as good as it used to be?)

Turns out, it’s amazing.  We’re still not sure how long we’ll play for, but in the words of one of the NPCs: “You just have to ride that wave.”  We are playing Pathfinder with some homebrew rules thrown in to make it modern; there are some game systems built specifically for a post-apocalyptic world (Ken shared his experience running one back here), but I didn’t want to learn a new system for what was meant to be a quick and gritty long weekend campaign. We’ve been playing it more hours than I want to calculate, but we are enjoying every minutes of it.

So, we are still here.  We are just busy gaming instead doing anything remotely productive.  But in keeping with what our interests appear to be this month, you can expect a series of post-apocalyptic focused posts. Hopefully they inspire you and your gaming group.  We’re also thinking of sharing a bit more about our current campaign. In the meantime, be safe out there!

Comments? Questions?

Have your own post-apocalyptic obsession? Sound off in the comments below.

Van Helsing: A TV Show Worth Watching

A post apocalyptic world where vampires rein and mankind is little more than feed bags, Van Helsing is inspired by Zenescope Entertainment‘s graphic novel series Helsing and originally premiered on Syfy, but was picked up by NetFlix in December 2016. I checked it on a whim last week as I often enjoy some background noise while I work, and I was hooked.

Van Helsing Promo PosterIt reminds me of The Walking Dead – in a really good way. Like so many people I find TWD to be depressing now (yes, now – it used to be more intriguing). There is no hope. No chance. It’s a matter of filling time, scraping by, and watching everyone you know die until you eventually bite the bullet as well.

I have heard Z-Nation is a more enjoyable approach with a character whose very existence could be a game changer, and I think that makes it more comparable to Van Helsing, but I have not yet checked it out.

Van Helsing Promo PosterWhat I am enjoying about Van Helsing is how easy it is to see as an RPG adventure. Vanessa, or Sleeping Beauty, as she is known in the first few episodes, suddenly awakens from a coma and finds herself in an unfamiliar world with strangers. She has her own mission – to find her daughter – but the people and the world need her for something much bigger. She is immune to the poison of a vampire bite and cannot be turned. What’s more, she may hold the secret to turning vampires back into humans. (That’s a lot of pressure!)

As the show progresses, the assortment of people around her have skills as varying as you would expect to find in a party. From a coroner with limited medical knowledge, to a capable solider with a decent ability to set traps (and vows to protect Sleeping Beauty), to the kind and understanding deaf man almost everyone trusts, to a newcomer who has the tag name “Flesh” – go ahead and guess why.

With a good deal of action, compelling plot lines (including trouble among the group and between other surviving parties, plus some peeks into the BBEG’s world), and character development, this show has a little something for everyone, and while Vanessa herself is far from sexed up, Rebecca (the sexy vampire with her own plans) fits the bill for those needing that role filled.

Note: Those who like iZombie will notice a familiar face.  Aleks Paunovic plays a capable vampire lackey in Van Helsing and a simliar, but more zombie-like role in iZombie.

For the sake of honesty, I have only watched Season One. Like many shows, it could take a serious downturn, but for now, I whole heartily recommend that any GMs looking for a little post-apocalyptic inspiration, or some good old fashioned vampire storylines, check out this mother sucking tv show.

Don’t just take my world for it though: the series’ pilot episode received 4.5 stars from Den of Geek last September.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to anxiously await Season Two’s arrival on NetFlix…

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Have you seen it? What did you think?
Did you draw any inspiration for your own gaming sessions?
Ever played a character like one of the ones on this show?

3 Things for Young Gamers to Read

My love of roleplaying games was ignited when I received the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set (Mentzer/BECMI) for my eighth birthday. I imagine my mum picked it out for me because she knew how much I had enjoyed reading The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia the previous year. The truth is, while I truly had enjoyed these newly discovered (by me) fantasy classics, I was not a fussy consumer of the written word. I could, and did, read almost everything I could get my mitts on, from Greek myths, to The Great Brain, to the Babysitter’s Club, I read it all. And once I was introduced to D&D, all of it informed the kinds of games and characters I wanted to play.

Our eldest rugrat is approaching the age I was when that iconic red box with the Larry Elmore painting was seared into my psyche, and he is as voracious a reader as I was. We have played a few, mostly successful, sessions of Pathfinder RPG, and I am eager to keep him enthusiastic between adventures. The following is the first in a series of musings about stories that are universally excellent, and will appeal to both kids and their RPG loving parents – in my opinion at least.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

L. Frank Baum

The Wonderful Wizards of Oz coverLong before Narnia, Middle Earth, Prydain, or Hogwarts, were committed to paper, Lyman Frank Baum introduced the world to the land of Oz. Bordered on all sides by desert that will reduce anyone who sets foot upon it to dust, Oz is a kitchen sink land wherein Baum mashed together fairy tales and fables with a healthy dollop of imagination and a pinch of good, old-fashioned psychedelia.

I’m not going to write at length about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; you likely already know the story (or at least the classic film’s version of it). It makes my list because it is the first of a fourteen book series Baum wrote about the setting. That’s right. Fourteen. (Not including the dozens written by other authors after Baum’s death.) Each of which is better than this first one (in my opinion, of course), and all but one of which have numerous beautiful illustrations by John R. Neill.

It is also worth noting that, for a series written in the last years of the 19th and first years of the 20th centuries, the Oz books are remarkably progressive with regard to gender equality. There are numerous female protagonists, among them Dorothy, Ozma, the Patchwork Girl, and Betsy Bobbin, all of whom are the equal of any of the males in the series. In the interest of full disclosure, however, the human characters are largely, though not entirely, white and there are a few troubling ethnic stereotypes evident (which have been stripped out, along with those gorgeous illustrations in many modern editions of the books).

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the series that followed, offers young readers hours of reading that will ignite their imaginations and give them plenty of fodder to fuel their roleplaying adventures.

Bone

Jeff Smith

Bone cover imageJeff Smith’s Bone is a marvel from its hilarious beginning to its heartbreaking conclusion. The series begins with the titular protagonist, Phone Bone, travelling through a wasteland with his cousins, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone, after being run out of their hometown due to Phoney’s most recent scheme. The Bone cousins soon find themselves driven into the Valley by a massive locust swarm, where they meet one of the best casts of characters ever evidenced in a comic book, and get drawn into a tale of legacy and destiny.

Bone introduces its plots very deftly, drawing the reader in with humour and appealing artwork, but peppering the trail with questions and mystery. Who is the Lord of Locusts? Why is he obsessed with Phoney Bone? Why is the Great Red Dragon watching over Phone Bone? Where did the rest of the dragons go? Why does that one rat creature love quiche so much? How did Kingdok get so BIG?

Further, from the perspective of a role player, the protagonists model the general dysfunction of every single party of PCs I’ve ever experienced. Phone Bone (neutral good) wants to help Thorn (neutral good) and Gran’ma Ben (lawful neutral) but scheming Phoney Bone (neutral evil) ropes Smiley Bone (chaotic neutral) into his capers and inevitably leads everyone into danger.

I have no criticisms of Bone. It is one of the few comic series’ that I have purchased as individual issues, collected black and white trade paperbacks, the massive black and white one volume edition, and the colour Graphix/Scholastic trade paperbacks. I don’t have the colour hardcover collections, but there is still time – don’t test me. Better yet, go get them for your kids (and read them yourself if you haven’t already).

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories

Carolyn Keene (pseudonym for various authors)

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories coverYou could replace this with Hardy Boys Mysteries if you wish, but I always preferred Nancy Drew. She was the gateway for my lifelong love of girl detectives (shout out to Veronica Mars and Liv Moore). Like many of the books I read in my childhood, I stumbled upon my first Nancy Drew mystery, The Clue in the Crossword Cipher in my grandparents’ pool (as in billiards) room. Nancy was talented, intuitive, and sassy; it was love at first read. In my first exposure to her, Nancy solves a number of mysteries, via means that would likely be considered quaint, if not antiquated, by modern standards, that eventually lead her to the Nazca Lines in Peru.

The story kept me captivated throughout, and had me scouring my grandparents’ bookshelves for other Nancy Drew Mystery Stories… of which there were several, along with mysteries featuring those aforementioned Hardy Boys. Nancy has been solving crimes since 1930, so there are hundreds of novels featuring her just waiting to be placed in your kids’ hands. I was recently perusing the shelves at a local used book store when I noticed they had a massive collection of Nancy Drew mysteries; it may be time for me to go pick some of them up.

How about you?

So there there it is, the tip of the iceberg. What material do you recommend for kid gamers? And were any of the above favorites on your childhood bookshelf? Sound off in the comments below!

vintage type writer

Why I Love Writing For Other Publishers

Ken and I started Dire Rugrat Publishing because we had an idea we thought other gamers might find useful.  Our line of Tangible Taverns has developed a bit of following with some people and we’ve had a bunch of repeat business as a result. The first time we sold a tavern was exciting.  The first time we sold a second tavern to a previous customer was just as exhilarating.  There’s something satisfying about knowing people don’t just like what you write, they like it enough to buy something else from you.

After our second tavern was released, I ended up sick in bed for a few days.  Really sick.  With no energy to get up and do anything, my laptop kept me company.  My mind couldn’t function enough to do my normal job or write any game material, and so I Facebooked.  I ended up making contact with a couple of people in the biz, and then ended up being offered work.

That was scary, but also really exciting.  Writing for myself didn’t feel real.  It was fun, but felt a lot like a hobby. And just a hobby.  Being offered paid work… that was a different kettle of fish. I love working for myself (most of the time), but writing for other publishers is pretty amazing, and here’s why:

They Pay

Writing for a company you own (when the company is teeny tiny and doesn’t make a lot of sales) means you don’t see a lot of income from your sales. Most of what we make gets poured back into stock art and other resources.  Writing for another publishing company means you get paid for your work.  Pay rates vary, as does the the time it takes to get paid, but there is a lot less financial risk in working for someone else. Plus, money = nice.


Cool New Art

lonely pony coverWe often use stock art, and I have a hand in picking it out. When we have custom art Ken creates it, and I see it each step of the way. But when it comes to writing for another publisher, I hand over a word file and the next time I see the content I wrote, it looks pretty in a layout I didn’t create with art I may have never seen. Some companies go above and beyond here with custom art (shout out to Playground Adventures), and that is even more exciting – the characters I created are there in full colour! Art and layout being done without me ever touching it really makes me feel like a professional, or like I “made it.”


Bigger/Different Client Base

We have a couple of avid fans (and we adore you!), but Dire Rugrat Publishing is far from a well known company.  Our customer and fan base are minuscule compared to a lot of RPG companies.  Writing for different publishers means there’s a better chance of someone new picking up something I wrote and enjoying it.  (And hopefully returning to pick up something published under our own company name.)

Hand in hand with that, the promotion for a project I participated in with another publisher is so much bigger.  I see posts and shares on Facebook.  I see emails showing up in inboxes.  People talk about it.  It’s really cool that there is so much more hype.


Experience

I don’t want to say we are making this up as we go along, but we are kind of making this up as we go along.  Ken has a lot of experience gaming, and I’ve thrown myself into it head first; I’ve always loved writing, and Ken’s been GMing for years.  But it isn’t like either of us any experience designing content on a professional level before we said “Hey, let’s share this tavern with everyone.”

Writing for other publishers is a great way to fine tune some skills, or work on projects I wouldn’t be up for otherwise.  Having a developer look over my work, and make suggestions (or full on requests) steers the work to a different place.  Their experience can make for a much better project, as long as I’m willing to not take the input personally.


Set Deadline

For awhile, when I’d write for Dire Rugrat I’d write until I thought the project was done. We’ve since made set word counts we aim to hit, but either way, sometimes life is busy, and the project takes a backseat. Sure, I could set a deadline for myself, and we are trying to stick to a pre-made schedule this year (a new approach for 2017), but it doesn’t always work out.  (There are some projects that were in the works far longer than I’d care to admit.)  However, if I’ve committed myself to someone else, I make sure I get the job done.  Blood, sweat, tears: it doesn’t matter.  I. Will. Finish.

As stressful as that can be, it’s also awesome the project doesn’t (usually) drag on and on.  I write it by the deadline, I submit it, and voila! It’s off my plate (until they need revisions, which can happen depending on the publisher). And I get paid. Done.  Apparently I commit myself better to others than myself.


Different Type of Work

Household Magic coverEvery company has a schtick. Or two. Or three.  But most companies aren’t all over the map.  There’s a cohesiveness to what they publish, often with specific lines of products.  Writing for other publishing companies means I can write content Dire Rugrat would never publish. Dinosaurs are awesome, but they have no place in our collection.  Magical items are super fun, but they fit better with someone else.  I loved ponies as a kid, but an adventure about them really isn’t Dire Rugrat material.  There’s some other fun stuff I’ve gotten to work on as well, and while it hasn’t been released yet, I look forward to the day it hopefully is.  These projects don’t fit inside the sphere of this publishing company, but they were a lot of fun to work on, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.

And so finally, if you want to check out other work by me, you can find a list of it here, broken out by publishing company.


Have you written for yourself? Or someone else?

What are your thoughts on it?

Piggy bank with coins

5 Ways to Game on a Budget

One of the things I love about roleplaying games is that they’re inexpensive. You only need a copy of the rules, your imagination, and a few friends to have a good time, right? But… most RPGs have supplementary rulebooks, setting books, adventures, miniatures, dice sets… the list goes on. And I want all the shiny preciousses. I needs them! My game can’t be complete without them! But I have two problems…. I don’t have time to read anything longer than your average kid’s book… and I don’t have nearly enough money to buy all the books for all the RPGs I’d like to have all the books for… finally, I don’t have space to store all the books for all the RPGs I’d like to have all the books for. I said I had three problems, right?

That out of the way, we know I’m only going to address one of my problems in this post because we all saw the title, so let’s get to it. Lack of funds doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get awesome gaming books for your collection. Sure, you may not be able to get everything in glorious print, but .pdfs will work almost as well, especially if you have a half-decent tablet. So, without further ado, here are my top five ways to game on a budget:

  1. Bundles. Number one by a long shot, are gaming bundles. While drivethrurpg offers countless bundles by countless publishers, my favourite two producers of big bundles of books for ridiculously low prices are Bundle of Holding and Humble Bundle. Bundle of Holding focuses specifically on RPGs, offering big chunks of specific publisher’s catalogues (such as Cubicle 7’s The One Ring or Catalyst Game Labs’ Shadowrun [various editions have been bundled]), or themed bundles, such as their annual Bundle of Tentacles or Old School Revival bundle. Humble Bundle originally focused on PC indie games, but has diversified into ebooks, including RPGs (such as their spectacularly successful Pathfinder RPG bundle earlier this year) and comic books. Both of these sites are awesome for gamers with limited cash flow.
  2. Raging Swan/Creighton Broadhurst‘s websites. There are numerous gaming blogs, of course, but I visit these two at least once per week. With a heap of GMing advice, countless lists of treasures, gear, locations, and other inspiring posts, both of these sites are a near limitless resource.
  3. Open Gaming SRDs. The Open Gaming movement is still going strong, and there is tons of content out there free for the taking. Paizo’s Pathfinder PRD and the Dungeons & Dragons SRD are the biggest names of course, but the inimitable John Reyst curates SRDs for Swords & Wizardry, 13th Age, and plenty of other games as well as the monstrous  d20PFSRD and more modest 5eSRD. All of these sites provide access to game rules and content, including monsters, NPCs, and equipment. For free.
  4. Eclipse Phase. This fantastic d100 based sci-fi/horror rpg is available for free under its Creative Commons license. This is wonderful for people who want to give material a try before committing their dollars to it. Additionally, the license allows homebrewers to use Posthuman Studios’ art and writing assets to create and distribute their own Eclipse Phase material so long as it is free and attributes the work correctly.
  5. Write Reviews. Publishers, particularly third-part publishers, often give out review copies of new products to get word out about their new releases.  Check out the product announcements on Paizo threads, request a copy when they are offered, and then write a review.  Often, reviewers who consistently deliver well written reviews in a timely fashion are offered the opportunity to review more products – for free.  You get to help shape future products, let your favorite publishers know what you love (and what needs work), and you get access to complimentary gaming products.  It’s a win all around.

Bonus: Your local library.  Depending on your area, and what you local library has on its shelves, this can be a great resource.  You might be lucky enough to find RPG books, but at the very least you should be able to find books, graphic novels and even movies that could be a great (and free) source of inspiration.

Have you found other great resources for gaming on a budget? Share them in the comments below!