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!