Gaming Snobbery – My Flaws!

Gaming snobbery. I’m a gaming snob: I admit it. Well, to a certain extent. I’m sure that a lot of people would claim they’re not.

I don’t play LARPs (Live Action Role Play). I occasionally play video games (both PC and console). I play wargames or boardgames sporadically. I don’t play collectible card games at all. I play RPGs largely and don’t have much interest in the others. To all intents and purposes that makes me a party to gaming snobbery. When you get down to it, Batman (who’s 75 recently) gets it right:

It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me  – Batman Begins

I don’t like LARPs for the simple reasons that I cannot suspend my disbelief enough. Plus I’m not entirely convinced this is something I should be doing at my age and don’t consider dressing up fun. It’s why I don’t cosplay either – not even for Halloween! I know people put a lot of work into their costumes and the like but LARPs just don’t float my boat. Plus, I’m not totally comfortable with how some of the local LARPers come across “out of game”. Don’t get me wrong – many LARPERs are friends. There’s something a bit creepy about a 40-year old man (to my mind anyway – that’s my age!) hanging out with teens and 20-somethings in costumes. Gaming snobbery? Perhaps.

In the case of PC and console games, the main obstacle to me is the time involved. I already have to ration my time during the week and at weekends. I can’t really spend more than a couple of hours playing, if that. I also find some sequences of repetitive button mashing to be extremely frustrating, especially if you have to respawn and spend 15 minutes doing the same thing again. Multi-player games are hard-going for me – Half Life 2: Deathmatch and Aliens vs. Predator are the ones I’ll go back to play. Subscription games or others (like World of Warcraft) that rely on hours of quests are a waste of money for me – again, time! Gaming snobbery? No.

When it comes to wargames, it’s more the logistics involved. I’m all too aware that moving a number of miniatures across town is somewhat tricky if you don’t have a car! I used to play wargames – wh40k and Warhammer Fantasy Battle, plus a homebrew Airfix soldiers game(!) and have Deadzone and Battletech. However, to a certain degree there’s a part where I have to rein in my nature. I’m not competitive usually but I don’t like losing, especially if my opponent(s) denigrate me for it. I tend to resent losing, and although I try to be a good loser, it’s difficult. Conan gets it right – and it pretty much sums up my wargaming mentality.

Mongol General: Hao! Dai ye! We won again! This is good, but what is best in life?

Mongol: The open steppe, fleet horse, falcons at your wrist, and the wind in your hair.

Mongol General: Wrong! Conan! What is best in life?

Conan: To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.

Mongol General: That is good! That is good.

This is why I don’t play them very often. It brings out the worst part of my nature, a nasty competitive streak. I’ll literally focus on destroying the enemy. There’s also a certain amount of respect needed – if I’ve painted my army (or not), I don’t want to hear an opinion unless I’ve asked for it. Gaming snobbery: No.

Boardgames are tricky, because there’s some convergence with wargames. I’ve less of an issue with boardgames are they’re usually fun to play, but I still have to consistently try to resist the urge to be a sore loser. I don’t have many, but I do love some Attack Wing, DungeonQuest or Talisman. The biggest obstacle is the set-up time and time needed to play. Also finding an opponent can be a bit tricky at any given time. Boardgames are always a go-to option if I can’t do an RPG. I always feel they’re a kind of second-rate option as a result. Plus if its my boardgame you’re playing, respect the pieces. Don’t chuck ’em down. If you’re interested in the game, ask first before pawing through it. Gaming snobbery: Yes, to a minor degree.

Card games. Oh boy, have I been wrestling with this subject. I love Munchkin and simple games like Top Trumps! Like boardgames above, I believe it’s fine when you’ve a closed set as it were (Munchkin), but it’s CCGs (Collectible Card Games) like Magic: The Gathering that usually arouse my ire. Ironically, it’s not the game itself – although any game that encourages the buying of extra pieces of card to enable you to beat an opponent smacks of an Evil Empire to me. Ironically, it’s the not the games themselves – it’s some of the players. Before I go any further, this is a small minority that ruins it for anyone else. My prejudice against them comes from a small minority of idiots here in Edinburgh. Not all card gamers in Edinburgh are idiots but these are “poisoning the well”. This small minority has alienated gamer-friendly venues (bringing food and drink to pubs that sell food), are noisy and disruptive; assume they’ve a right to take over any (or every table) in a venue. Also many of this minority have a casual approach to personal hygiene: they stink, or look like they’ve not washed in months. It’s a small minority, but I saw the same thing at Q-CON too, so it’s not just Edinburgh. Gaming snob: Yes, sorry – a toxic few have alienated me from this part of the gaming fraternity.

And finally, there are RPGs themselves. There’s a huge amount of snobbery within the RPG community itself. I’ve heard it said that if you play D&D, you’re not a proper roleplayer. Nonsense. Totally and utter nonsense. Or that Vampire players want to be their characters (isn’t that the whole POINT of RPGs?). FATE or GURPS is the only system that works. Or that World of Synnibarr is a good system for newbies (SNARK ALERT!) – well, in the case of that one, take it with a healthy dose of sarcasm. Ultimately, take any RPGers opinion: they’ll be convinced that the current system that they’ve been playing for X number of years is the best EVAH! There’s those who claim D&D4e is a wargame/boardgame and denigrate the GM because of it – personally, I’ve run 4e as a GM. It works if your players ARE ENJOYING IT. Anyone willing to GM has put a significant amount of time and effort into the game, so it’s worth remembering that. Criticise the system by all means, but not the GM – or players – unless they’ve asked for it.

So ultimately: I’m only guilty of gaming snobbery when it comes to CCGs, and even then, that’s not down to the hobby. I do admit to a certain elitism when it comes to RPGs though.

Gaming Adults – We’re Grown Up

Recently I read an article on how RPGs (notably D&D) had helped writers become better at their craft. However, once I finished reading through it there was an implication that the interviewees had largely grown out of the hobby. Unfortunately it’s a common media assumption. It’s a childish pastime, played by those who are socially inept, single, and who bathe occasionally. Likewise, there’s also this (from the article’s end):

As for Mr. Díaz, “Once girls entered the equation in a serious way,” he said, “gaming went right out the window.”

I’m 40 and a gaming adult. I’ve playing RPGs for a long time. Over 25 years in fact. That’s longer than some of my players have been alive. I’m sure as hell not going to call myself an Adult Gamer. A Gaming Adult is far more PG (and safe for work)! I don’t do cosplay or LARP (and have no wish to).  I don’t own large amounts of Anime. For me, RPGs aren’t my way of dealing with a humdrum reality, they’re a creative outlet.

So here’s my thoughts on what a Gaming Adult is perceived as these days (and comments I’ve heard when I take about my hobby). I mostly ramble on about RPGs, but it covers wargames, boardgames and card games to an extent. It’s perhaps a rebuttal? Focussed towards someone who may be curious about RPGs.

Gaming adults are immature

We’re not children, and we’re not immature. Nor are we slackers hanging around in a basement. Gaming Adult RPGers have jobs that are often not only highly skilled but also professional, often both emotionally and intellectually. I’ve played games with radiologists, police officers, and lawyers – as well as higher-functioning individuals working in intellectual think tanks.

Sometimes its easier to call it “interactive” or “improvised fiction” when dealing with folks unfamiliar with RPGs or other tabletop gaming. As long as you don’t start a rambling discourse about your character shooting the head off a troll with your Uzi during the last Shadowrun game in a shopping centre.

World of Warcraft, Skyrim and other MMOs pretty have their roots in tabletop RPGs. Most adults have a console or play online games (even if its on their phone) – so, to a certain extent the majority of adults are adult gamers, and are “one of us”. They just haven’t accepted it yet. Also tabletop RPG is far less expensive than a Playstation, X-Box, or Wii.

I couldn’t find the time

There’s a huge groundswell of gaming adults returning after a long time away, usually to RPGs. As you get older, the biggest challenge is the challenge of time. Not only are there increased social and professional pressures (find a job, get a mortgage, raise a family, increased responsibility), it can become harder to commit to a regular game.

For example. As a gaming adult, I pretty much can only do RPG stuff once a week.I run two RPG campaigns on alternating Saturday afternoons. With everything going on in my life, I can’t play during the week. Most of my players can only make that afternoon.

Since the Wizards of the Coast “drank” TSR (to quote Conan, badly), there’s been something of a gaming renaissance. Many gaming adults who played in the 90s or earlier have found new groups to play in thanks to the dawn of the digital age. Communities like ORC or Scotland Tabletop have sprung up and encouraged many “old timers” back to the hobby. Usually they can find themselves a group of like-minded individuals who can commit to play on a fortnightly basis for a few hours.

However, there’s plenty of games that allow for simple one-shot (or one-off) games like D&D Encounters. If you’ve never played an RPG these are great to introduce you to the hobby. Demo games in Edinburgh are also run at both Black Lion and the Games Hub of wargames, boardgames and card games. See my Edinburgh Gaming page for details of these, and other venues.

You’re all weirdoes!

This is the one I hear most from those have never played an RPG, or only play First Person Shooter (FPS) games. And it’s the most common aspect portrayed by the media, with the GM usually dressed up, and the players getting way too carried away. There’s even a whole Futurama parody (Bender’s Game).

It’s also perceived that gamers have poor personal hygiene and don’t bathe. As with any activity involving a large number of people often sitting in a confined space, it is the minority that give the rest of us a bad name (and smell). Most gaming adults I know certainly bathe and shower regularly and do their own laundry!

There’s also the myth that RPGers are socially awkward. That’s only true for a minority of gaming adults, often below the age of 30. Consider this:  a GM meets his group of 6 players for the first time, none of whom know each other. The social interaction in a group of this kind, particularly working towards a shared goal will certainly make even the shyest individual get involved. Trust me, I know!

I was never the most outgoing person at school and was pretty much a misfit like a handful of others. RPGs have since got me to become far more outgoing, be more organised, and have helped me become far more sociable. Right now, I run ORC Edinburgh’s website of 300 members (currently) most of whom I’ve met and consider friends. I attend the ORC pub meets where I’m often meeting people for the first time in large numbers. In June I went to Q-CON in Belfast knowing only a couple of folk there and ran three games for complete strangers, and we all had a great time.

And of course there’s subject of the opposite sex – and the attraction of them. Sorry, but all genders play RPGs – not just the male gender! I’ve never liked the term “girl gamer”. It’s a redundant phrase, otherwise I’d call male gamers “boy gamers”, etc. Many adult gamers are comfortable enough with the opposite sex, despite the way the media often portrays adult gamers as geeks (Channel 4, you should be ashamed of Geeks and Beauty & the Geek. Gaming adults often have partners and children in most cases (who can often be gamers themselves). Gamers tend to be far more tolerant to others –  regardless of politics, sexuality or skin colour. I’m not saying bigotry and sexism don’t exist in gaming adults – they are  just far more infrequently encountered. There’s room for everyone at the gaming table.

Often we look, and dress just like anyone else. Like the rest of humanity, gaming adults appear in all shapes and size not just the 9-stone weakling stereotype in glasses and Moss/Dwayne Dibley hair. The chances are that you’ll not be able to tell if somewhat plays tabletop RPGs. Obviously LARPers are different – and they’re what most people equate with RPGs outside of computer gaming. You don’t need to dress up to play a tabletop RPG (in fact, you’ll get funny looks turning up to a venue or game dressed as an Elf). The GM doesn’t need to wear a fez or cloak. A game doesn’t need to be held in a basement in the dark (it can be but you can’t always see what you’re rolling or reading!).

As for me? Well, until recently I was in a relationship of 5 years. I’m not overweight and wear contact lenses. I do wear geeky t-shirts. I shower and shave daily. I may not turn heads, but I don’t turn stomachs.

They’re just silly games

They are games, yes. But “Silly”? No. I’ve learnt a huge amount from RPGs.

RPGs have taught me a lot about creativity, whether it is improvising a NPC or building a world – and to be consistent and organised. Not only has it encouraged me to bring out my creative side, it has taught me a lot about writing and structure, much like the New York Times article describes.

Research for RPGs has fired up my intellectual curiosity far more than school ever did. As well as historical research I’ve needed to do for games like Achtung! Cthulhu (set in WW2), I’ve learned a lot about politics and world building. To the extent where I have to resist the urge to point out errors in other created worlds.

I’m also far more outgoing socially than I was when I was younger and far more adaptable in such situations. I’ve a huge amount of self-confidence from the GMing I’ve done over the years, plus I’ve learned quite a bit about diplomacy!

Plus, it gets me out the house.

A GM’s Duties

GMs put a lot of effort into running  an RPG – some more than others. All too often, folk regard GMs as the ones that should be doing EVERYTHING for a gaming group. So I started think of what we, as GMs, are responsible for; before, during, or after the game. And a few a misconceptions people have about a GM’s duties – from both players and GMs. This is probably going to turn into something of a rant!

Finding, and booking a venue should be a group activity, not just relying upon the GM (who may be too busy during the week). If the venue charges to play then the cost should be shared among the group. In the same way, clearing up afterwards should be done by both GM and players – especially if it involves moving furniture or clearing tables!

Getting a group organised often falls to the GM. There’s a certain amount of practicality involved in that, but it can also easily be accomplished through a meet-up (ORC Edinburgh, the Pathfinder Society, the ENworld forums are some examples). Ideally the GM should have some of  the contact details of all his players – if the game is cancelled or he’s running late, he can let them know.

And that brings me on the next topic: timekeeping. Unlike Gandalf, GMs should be punctual. Turn up at the arranged time, or earlier. Don’t keep your players waiting, and be realistic about start and finish times – not everyone can play for 12 hours for example (nor should that be expected). Four hours is best, but a window on either side is a good safety margin – usually to take care the tardy players, rambling conversations, displaying of cool stuff just bought, etc.

Providing rulebooks, miniatures, and food is not down to the GM. They have already invested a certain amount of time in planning the game. Even the most basic of games require a GM to at least read ahead and perhaps anticipate what the players may do (good luck with that). The GM shouldn’t have to carry a ton of books, and the players should have access to their own books (or on tablet etc), especially if they’re constantly being referenced during the session (Pathfinder!).

Writing up the session is not just a GM’s task. Session write-ups are not something I do any more – instead I give XP rewards to players who write up the session. There’s a number of reasons for this:

  1. It is incredibly time-consuming.
  2. Your players (in committee) usually have a better memory than you do.
  3. The players were there.
  4. Writing it from the PC’s perspective can really add to a game’s sense of inclusion.

I look at session write-ups as something of a vanity endeavour on a GM’s part as a result. Actually planning the gaming session and/or writing are far better uses of my time.  The players (those who turned up!) will largely remember what happened. There’s probably those who’d say “But it keeps the group immersed in the game!”. And that’s the problem right there. Immersion. Or the perception of it. RPGs are, by nature, already “immersive”. Part of being a GM is to keep the players “immersed” in the first place!

The GM has a duty to keep everybody involved, even the quieter players. Letting everyone have their turn and occasionally getting the more excitable players to calm down and let the other players (and possibly the GM) get a word in edgeways. Being a GM means being an adjudicator and referee, but be fair. Don’t sideline a player simply because they’re not doing what you want as GM.

Poor player attendance is a tricky one that all GMs have to deal with at some point. There’s no easy way to deal with a player who frequently fails to turn up or cancels at the last minute. There’s no hard and fast rule to deal with this. You take the player aside and find out if there’s an underlying issue regarding the game (but see below!) or the group. The GM (or another player) could also play the PC. With that in mind no player’s attendance should be critical to your game – if you haven’t got enough players, and have enough time to prepare, run an Interlude – perhaps featuring The Other Guys. I usually aim to have 6 players for my games, as there are usually two who drop out later or decide the game isn’t for them. If you game is running with 50% players every session  you may want to get some more or look at your game schedule (weekdays are especially bad for many regular games).

People can get excited during games, and often players can lose their tempers (as can GMs! A GM should never lose their temper and shout or berate their players.). As such a GM, should be prepared to step in and try and defuse these situations – you don’t have to put them in a “time-out”, but should be adroit enough to ask them to calm down. Remember if you’re in a public venue such as a cafe or pub, local staff may get complains or become concerned enough to intervene. Any physical threats should be treated seriously – it’s rare, but has happened in some groups I know. If it gets physical – give them a verbal warning and call the police if  need be. If you have to, get the arguing players split up, and come back to them when they’ve calmed down.

GMs and their players are often friends, but some GMs just want to turn up, run a game, and go home. They don’t want to obsess about the game they run or be stalked by their players during their lunch hour. Respect their boundaries; and as GM, respect your players. If one player is making inappropriate suggestions  or making other players uncomfortable, have a private word with them. If they make you uncomfortable, chances are the players are feeling it too.

Gamers have the reputation of being socially awkward. This is completely wrong in my experience – six strangers meet in a pub for the first time, with no idea as to who the others are. The tradition of adventurers meeting in a tavern holds true in real life. Relationships can be formed in games, not just friendships! However as a GM, don’t abuse your position, and don’t play favourites. Seriously. Or a player and GM have an epic falling-out mid-game due to their actions in real-life or in-game.  I’ve also seen GMs hit on players in the past during games. Their interest isn’t always appreciated and it usually makes ME uncomfortable. You’re a GM, not a cult leader, so let people have private lives outside your game.

Well, that was something of a rant. Hopefully I’ve not offended any of my players past or present – no one should be harmed by the reading of this post.

Wildfire LLC – the “Firefly” of RPG makers

I’m feeling a little disappointed from news I’ve seen about Wildfire LLC, the makers of Cthulhutech and The Void.

Sadly, from discussions I’ve seen on the Wildfire forum, it looks very likely that they are heading away from RPGs, and plan to focus on boardgames and card games. There’s only going to be a few books to wrap up the line of each in all likelihood. Cthulhutech and The Void are both among my favourite RPGs, lavishly illustrated and with a great setting. You can read my review of The Void here, and information on running Cthulhutech here. The books (at least the later ones, not the Mongoose one!) are excellent quality with amazingly evocative illustrations.

There’s always been problems with Wildfire bringing out their products, not necessarily as a result their own actions. It seems like they’ve been cursed, and suffered a catalogue of misfortune:

  • They have parted company with a number of publishers over the years – Mongoose Publishing, then Catalyst Game Labs, then Sandstorm. They seemed to have the worst luck with publishers. Of course each time they changed it would delay print runs, royalty payments, legalese, and of course the take-down of PDFs on sites like DriveThruRPG while the change took place. Not their fault though.
  • The Cthulhutech website is never updated, likewise their Twitter feeds. Why isn’t there a link to their PDF products on DriveThruRPG or RPGnow? It isn’t difficult to have a news feed. There’s been no activity on the website for ages.
  • The Wildfire Forums moved from yuku.com, but because there was nothing to engage the community (like news or a new product) the forums are largely inactive. There used to be dozens of posts daily, now its more like once a week.
  • A miniatures game, mecha book and other products were talked about then apparently shelved, even in the current Kickstarter culture. Like vaporware.
  • Staffing changes at Wildfire LLC pretty much left the community hanging. Fair enough.
  • Wildfire saying that they are running Wildfire as a “hobby”, not as a business. That doesn’t really impress the fans like me. They could be a little more professional, or perhaps take the lead from other companies.
  • No new product pretty much killed the fanbase, not just on the forums. There was nothing for us to be excited about.

I might be wrong of course, but I’ve got the strong feeling that I’m looking at the end of both games. If so, it should be a lesson to all “hobby” companies. Neglect your fans at your peril.

William Heron’s 40, ‘K?

It was my 40th birthday earlier in the week. The last twenty years seem to have passed so quickly, but its quite a long time when I think about it. In that time I’ve changed careers form Audiovisual to Computing – I probably wouldn’t have been the best AV guy anyway given that I was diagnosed with a sensorineural hearing problem. I’d probably had it for years, perhaps when I had the mumps or a fever as a child. Basically, it means that I can’t hear mid-range frequencies like human speech as easily a normal person, but the rest of my hearing is pretty good. I’m definitely not the same person I was 20 years ago. Hard times make for hard lessons, but I’ve managed to stay upbeat over the years. I’ve stayed relatively healthy, although I think my sanity has undergone a stress test occasionally. All things considered,  despite a few bumps in the road recently, I’m pretty good. Plus I still have all my hair – and also 100% free of preservatives, colourings, or additives.

I’ve travelled around a bit. I’ve never felt the temptation to go backpacking, but I do like arriving in a new city, and more often than not getting lost in it. I’ve been to both sides of the Pacific,  but never crossed it. I’ve been to Las Vegas, Vancouver, Tokyo, Antigua, Prague, and Rome so far; and I’d love to visit more, in the EU and elsewhere. As usual, as is so often the case, its expensive!

Speaking of new experiences, I’ve done a lot more gaming in recent years, as this blog illustrates. I’ve not been much of a console gamer, but do own an X-box 360, although that’s largely consigned to running DVDs these days. I prefer the cooperative kind of game, where you can work together – or short arena games with friends, like Left4Dead or Halo. Loved Batman: Arkham Asylum too. I don’t think there’s anyone who wouldn’t want to play Batman…

Ironically my two RPG campaigns that I’m running these days are from the 1990s. The Enemy Within campaign for WFRP, and also AD&D 2nd Edition. You’ll find some of my suggestions for running these elsewhere in my blog, too. Its ironic that these games still work well for modern players, despite today’s insistence on catering for munchkins and power gamer style games. In the last ten years I’ve run a lot of other RPGs too: D&D (both 3.5 and 4e), Call of Cthulhu, Cthulhutech, Marvel Superheroes, Pathfinder, the Wh40k RPGs, and Star Wars (both D6 and Star Wars). Some I’ve enjoyed more than others, some my players enjoyed more than I did!

The biggest problem I find these days is time: I’d love to run games like Shadows of Esteren, The Void, Eclipse Phase, Star Wars Edge of Empire, Werewolf, and 13th Age. I’d love to play these too, but as well as the time, its often the case that I can’t find someone to run. It takes a time commitment to be a GM, and to be honest, not many folk can do that. I’ve seen it happen a lot at ORC unfortunately. Someone starts a game, then can’t find the time, or they find themselves over-committed. For this reason I try and tell folk to keep to 1 or 2 games a week, be they a player and/or a GM.

I’d hoped to start writing a novel this month, but although I have a notebook of ideas, and hoped to start using the Scrivener software to get it organised. I’ve failed to begin NaNoWriMo again! Having said that, some of my stuff has been published, in THE SECRET FIRE RPG, and the first supplement, THE WAY OF TREE, SHADOW, AND FLAME. That was also the first time I did some proper freelancing. I also did some voluntary proof-reading for ACHTUNG, CTHULHU! from Modiphius Entertainment. Proof-reading maybe the way forward for the time being, as the time needed to develop my own games just ain’t happening. If I can get the custom, it might also be a good earner.

I’ve no idea what the next few years will be like. There’s nearly always something for me to do. There’s likely going to be a few DEADZONE, BATTLETECH, and possibly even BURNING SUNS games in the pipeline. I’m not much of a boardgamer, but reckon I should be able to get into those games without too much hassle. WH40k is too expensive! I suspect I’m going to be busy over the next few years, so things are going to be interesting! I’ve been a gamer for over 25 years now. Gonna keep rolling those dice for at least another 25 with any luck 🙂