Friday, February 25, 2011

My Convention Adventure

I had expected my Thursday to be very boring. Our transportation would be leaving Thursday night rather than the Friday morning I had rather hoped for, but I had all day to prepare, right? Wrong.

I woke up at 10:30 that morning (I slept in) to find a message on my answering machine that I was due to work at 8. Which was a surprise, since I had believed that I had the day off. I usually get Thursdays off because it's my game night with my friends. Quickly throwing my uniform on, I hurried in to work. They let me finish out my shift (very nice of them) and I was back home by about 5. I expected my friend Mike to come pick up me and my fiancee at around 7, so I still had time, right? Wrong again.

Shortly after I got home, I got a call from Mike warning me that his sister (who was tagging along for something else) was in a bit of a hurry and they would be leaving just as soon as she was ready. So now we had no real idea when we would be leaving, so we had to hurry on our final packing (and wound up forgetting a few things). We still wound up leaving around 7 PM, but we did it with more adrenalin and less done than we had originally intended.

We were traveling in the dead of night, so I don't have any traveling pictures this time. We did wind up seeing a little bit of snow, but it was too dark to consider getting a shot of it. Since our hotel reservation didn't cover Thursday night (and I'm not sure I want to consider paying full price for a room there), our friend arranged for us to sleep on his parent's couch. (He didn't have the money to attend the con himself, but he did have family business to take care of).

We arrived on Friday rather early, which is good, since we had been warned that the hotel had overbooked and we might have to be accommodated at another hotel. I much prefer it when my commute to convention activities is simply the elevator.

It wound up being a pretty boring day, all around. I wasn't running a game, there weren't any games that I was particularly interested in playing, and the Dealers Room didn't open until Saturday. My fiancee and I attended part of one seminar on online resources for RPGs, but found it rather dry and wound up leaving early.

We also managed to replace some of the items we had left behind, like a digital camera, at the local Target. Hey, if the Nikon Coolpix is good enough for Ashton Kutcher, then it's certainly good enough for me. (And thanks to the nearby Borders going out of business, I picked up inexpensive copies of Son of a Witch and Lion Among Men.)

Saturday was a bit more exciting for me, as I was scheduled to run "The Jaded City of Oz" as part of the convention's Kid's Room. Thankfully, I had time to visit the Dealers Room beforehand, because I wasn't fully set on six-siders and gaming stones (I know I bought them years ago, but those wound up buried in the boxes during the move and we haven't had time for archeology).

I was a little worried, because nobody had showed up by the time my game was scheduled to run at 10 AM. It took a while, but I did get a pretty full group for the game. Check them out!

And yes, I was pretty impressed that I had so many grownups show up for a kid's game. Though that might have been because the con organizers decided to double-bill it as a "Demo game" in a separate part of the program. Either way, I had players and they had fun.

I spent most of the rest of the day shopping in the Dealers Room and the Buyers Bazaar. The Buyers Bazaar is more of a swap meet with individuals selling off their old games. I found a significant deal on a lot of old Talislanta stuff (It's a very cool setting. Check it out!) including some stuff that isn't available on that site.

That night was a city-building seminar which I was very happy I didn't miss, what with me being a Ken Hite fanboy and all. While I had been hoping for a chance to say hi to him this con, things wound up taking an interesting turn. My fiancee and I wound up chatting (and eventually having dinner with) Kevin Andrew Murphy, who was another panelist.

I even wound up giving him a print copy of AiO that I had been planning to give to Ken Hite. He seemed to like the idea of the game, and I'm hopeful he likes the implementation. He was good enough to let us get pictures with him. My fiancee took this one, and I took one with Kevin and her. (If you're a fan on Facebook, you can see that shot, as well as several others that won't make it here.)

The next morning was another game of Oz. The amazing thing was that people actually signed up to play. Though before we settled in, one of the players bowed out. So another player volunteered to call in a friend (on his phone, not by using an Oz Point) to round out the group.

In general, the players liked the scenario. There was some disappointment that the final scene wasn't as awesome as I had pitched it. You see, the final scene is the Jaded City of Oz, a place so magical that its inhabitants have literally seen everything. The challenge of the scene is very much about lateral thinking, as you must show these people something that they haven't seen before.

It can be easy for a Narrator to make this scene too hard, by countering everything the players propose with something wonderful and magical from the city itself. This group only stumbled for a little bit before a player decided to present their unique and interesting character, Bungle the Glass Cat for inspection. I couldn't come up with a good counter to that. So things were over rather quickly in what was supposed to be the "boss fight" of the adventure (although I've never had to use the combat rules in one of these games)

I sat in on two rather boring seminars on designing and publishing RPGs. They were very broad overviews of the process, with no real meat.

That evening, I wound up signing up for the one game that I played in: Spaceballs Back in Action. It was a lot of fun and everyone got a kick out of recreating roles from that classic film. I was Yogurt the Wise, who I played as this kind of dirty old man character with plenty of merchandising jokes. To the point of hitting a bad guy upside the head with Spaceballs: The Frying Pan. I don't know if I would play with the rules they were using again, but there was some fun to be had.

And of course, I spend a good chunk of money every year on all of that stuff that I've been holding out on for the whole year. Like Volume 2 of the Dresden Files RPG. And before you start dissing me for being an emo teen and picking up the Smallville RPG, I actually heard very good things about it on RPG.net. In order to make super-powered characters compare favorably with normals, they shift the balance point of the game to focusing on the relationship drama. Which is exactly the same as what I did in Adventures in Oz: Fantasy Roleplaying Beyond the Yellow Brick Road.

The other major item of note (I mentioned Talislanta earlier) is FantasyCraft, a d20 successor system, of which Pathfinder is the most successful. It does have the advantage of a lot more flexibility in terms of characters and campaign options than Pathfinder, but it looks like the d20 audience is mostly crying for their D&D fix.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Cost of Gaming

I apologize for missing my usual Thursday blog last week. Thursday wound up being an insane day (I'll tell you more about it in my official con post), so I didn't get a chance to get anything together.

But one thing that's been bothering me, and the con has helped bring it into focus: The cost of RPGs has steadily risen over the last several years.

When I started gaming around 12 years ago, I like to think that things were relatively inexpensive. My typical purchase back in those days was a GURPS supplement. 8 1/2 x 11, 128 pages, Black and white art for around 20 bucks. If the book was bigger, hardcover, or a core rulebook for a game, it was more expensive. Box sets full of booklets, handouts and gewgaws were also in this more expensive category. If something was particularly cool, I would cough up the 30 bucks. When the Forgotten Realms setting book for D&D 3rd edition came out, it was right around $40. It was cool, but it took my fiancee breaking out the puppy dog eyes for me to break down and buy it.

Lately, though, this has been increasing. The 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons has rulebooks that cost $35 each and 3 of them are required to play (a Player's Handbook, a Dungeon Master's Guide, and a Monster Manual) for a total of $105 before dice and minis. Pathfinder is only slightly better. They only require 2 books (the Core Rulebook and the Bestiary) to give you the same level of information with a total required investment of $90 ($50 for the rulebook and $40 for the Bestiary).

This even seems to extend to indie games. Books only slightly larger than my own AiO were selling for $20-$30 at the con. The Dresden Files RPG main rulebook sells for $50 and the setting book is another $40 (and I will admit, not a necessary purchase. The rulebook comes with enough stuff to keep you busy for quite some time. The setting book is mostly a nice big reference to the series with game stats included).

I wound up swallowing my pride and buying a couple of newer games full price. It felt slightly wrong though. Maybe I'm being a crotchety old man on this. Which is funny, because I'm not that old (I swear!).

Here are a couple of reasons that I can think of why prices may have gone up.

Inflation: What with the economy as a whole going down the toilet in recent years, a dollar may not buy what it did just a few short years ago.

POD: While Print on Demand presents itself as cheap, it's still not quite on a par with traditional printing. It's pretty close and getting closer, but it's not there yet. While it may be only a buck or two difference, that adds up when you need to fit your entire operating budget into 40% of your retail price.

Production values: I'm sure people are going to bring this up. While more books are going the full-color hardcover route and doing some really interesting things visually, I'm not sure it really justifies the prices people are charging.

Capitalism: It may simply be that people have realized that they can charge these kind of prices and the average gamer will cough it up.

While this (among other) phenomena has kept me from buying as much new gaming books as I'd like, my main concern is for the hobby itself. These prices may be nothing new to the typical gamer, but I think they are growing to the point that it's choking out the new blood.

And I'm clearly not alone in this. While experienced gamers have been wondering about the D&D Essentials line from Wizards of the Coast, I very clearly saw it as reaching out to new players. The new Starter Set resembles the classic Red Box D&D to bring in those old school, potentially lapsed, gamers, while the box more clearly says "game" than a book does, and the lower price points clearly make the line more accessible to people who haven't jumped on the D&D bandwagon yet.

The scary part of this line of thinking is that I'm debating raising the price of the print version of AiO up from $15 to $20. My gut is telling me "Hell No!" but my brain is steadily finding it more compelling. The new price wouldn't be hideously unreasonable and would allow me more profit per sale. It would also make getting into distribution a bit easier.

Just a few paragraphs up, when I mentioned fitting your entire operating budget into 40% of your retail cost, I was talking about distribution. When a distributor buys your book, they require a 60% discount. So AiO, which should sell for $14.99, would have to be sold to the distributor for only $6. But my manufacturing cost per book from Lulu is around $7. While Lulu does offer bulk discounts, a quick check reveals that I'd have to order in volumes of 300 or more to make any kind of money in distribution at my current price point. Which would cost more than my tax return this year.

But with a retail price of $19.99 that 60% discount means I'm selling them into distribution for $8, making profit possible at much smaller (more affordable) volumes.

Just to be clear, I am still working on getting OneBookShelf set up for POD with a much lower manufacturing cost, but this would allow me to do this sort of thing right now.

What do you, my loyal readers, think of all of this?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

And now for our regularly scheduled blog

Don't worry, I'm still keeping on my regular Thursday schedule. That little bonus blog a few days ago was just a spark in my brain that I had to get out.

Although I haven't talked much about it, DunDraCon is a go. I'm running "The Jaded City of Oz" twice (deliberately this time), once for adults and once for kids. I wanted to run it for adults for a couple of reasons: 1) I wanted to see if other adults would have fun with it like my playgroup did, 2) Kid's games are walk-up, while adults have to make an effort to sign up, and 3) because parents are really the ones with the money and if I want to use this event to rack up sales, that's who I really need to impress.

DunDraCon is typically close enough to Valentine's Day that my customary gift to my fiancee is a room in a nice hotel with a swimming pool and a restaurant and tons of gamers. Yes folks, if you didn't know before, my fiancee is a hot gamer chick. She's even creative enough to try to design her own campaign world for the Pathfinder RPG. Check out her blog here!

So what are you doing for your Oz/geek sweetheart?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Playing Internet Connect The Dots

Op-Ed: The Licensing Trap.

Interesting Article on Generation Y , Today's Job Market and their Expectations—Draw Your Own Connection to D&D's Game Design of Recent Years.


Steve Long says that licensed games signal a lack of unique IPs in the gaming industry.

JoeTheLawyer says that modern gamers expect their fantasies to be spoonfed to them.

Sign of the times?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Oz Character of the Month: Ojo the Lucky

I know that I didn't post a character last month, as I wanted to start out with some New Year's Resolutions and then I got distracted by some other stuff and went into cynical mode (which I do a little too often lately). But this month, there is definitely a character for you, as well as a slightly amusing story.

You see, as I was acquiring artwork for my character pack, I asked S. P. Maldonado for some illustrations. He came through grandly, with some really neat stuff. He also gave me a little more than what I had asked for. Namely, an illustration of Ojo the Lucky.

I was sorely tempted to use him, but I already had the two examples of the "Child in Oz" template that I needed, and I wanted to make sure that every template got fair representation. So I resolved to make him my next Oz Character of the Month. And so, without further ado, here's Ojo!

Name: Ojo the Lucky
First Appearance: The Patchwork Girl of Oz
Template: Child in Oz

Size: 3

Athletics: 3
Awareness: 3
Brains: 1
Presence: 2
Sneaking: 4
Wits: 4 (helping others)

Traits: None

Friends List: Dr. Pipt OR Unc Nunkie

When choosing Friends for write-ups like this, I tend to go with the most invokable option. In this case, it would be Dr. Pipt who gives Ojo a basket of vaguely defined goodies. I even used that as an example in the rule book (page 28 if you don't believe me) of how Friends and Oz Points work. But there are those who prefer to stick with Friends that the characters have a clear closeness with, in this case Unc Nunkie. So I give you a choice with this one.
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