26 January 2015

2015 and My Gaming Aspirations

  Well, I let December get away from me and here we are at the end of January.  The holidays were ridiculously busy, finishing up my last full semester before thesis work starts, dealing with my son's newly developed behavior issues, driving to Georgia to see my Mom and Stepdad, then the cruise for my wife's 40th.  BUSY.  We get home, I hit Chupacabra Con II in Austin, get back to work, then deal with revolving flu at the house- first Zane, then me, then Kaylee.  Mary dodged the bullet thanks to an iron constitution and some help from pre-emptive Tamiflu.

  I'll start with Chupacabra Con.  This is the second year for this small gaming convention here in Austin, and I'm very, very glad I made it.  For such a moderately sized con, the guest list was long and distinguished.  I was totally jazzed to meet a lot of folks who are game designers and authors and even make connections with a few toward my future work in the industry.  The panels were the best part of the con for me- I got to listen to folks like Ken Hite, Shane Hensley, Ross Watson and Sean Patrick Fannon impart wisdom on world building, indy games, GM pointers, making memorable NPCs...  There were more guests than you can shake a stick at.  Jeff Dee and Manda were there talking Tekumel, Robin Laws was in attendance... and that wasn't all of the writers and designers and artists.  There were new protoypes being playtested right there on the convention floor, old favorites being run and new hotness being put through its paces.  This was *MY* kind of game con- but most dearly, especially the panels.

  So what did I learn from the panels that I'll be taking to heart?  Well, there's a few nuggets of wisdom that are now burned into my brain that I'll be heeding once I have the time to work on our project for publication.  Here they are, straight from the panel of the already published:
  • Stick to a system that's already published if you can.  It has the advantage of a pre-existing audience for those players who are not inclined to learn new systems.  It can also open up distribution avenues for your game that would not otherwise be open.  Savage Worlds seemed to be a popular choice with folks. 
  • Stick to Earth if at all possible, and go from there.  I found this piece of advice surprising, but it makes a lot of sense.  First, your players have a common frame of reference.  Second, your map is already laid out for you.  A lot more background and explanation goes into this, and Ken Hite said it better than I ever could, but using Earth and familiar cultures gives the players that much to hold onto when you start throwing the unique attributes of your game world at them.  It removes the sort of barrier to entry that an entirely alien (to 21st Century Westereners anyway) setting like Tekumel tends to have.
  • Publish your first (maybe every) product as a PDF, and use DriveThru RPG.  Electronic publishing prevents the cost and overhead that physical printing involves.  DriveThru is the go-to for 90% or more of the PDF market.  If you're not on DriveThru, folks wonder why you're not on DriveThru.
  • The best way to make a Small Fortune in the game business is to start with a Large Fortune.  Don't expect to get rich, or even to have a hefty sideline.  If you make a profit, it's great, but making a living as a game designer is difficult work.
  Armed with those ideas, I left the con with some more to think about and a nice compliment from the creator of Savage Worlds, Shane Hensley, on some of my thoughts during the panels.  That jazzed me.  Being realistic, I know I can't dive into a great product for publication with the last 9 hours of my Master's program hanging over me.  So I've set a couple of personal gaming goals in 2015 that don't involve me writing my magnum opus.

  • Play a Champions/Hero System game at least once.  Many of the game designers who I listened to at the con had wonderful memories of Champions - especially when Aaron Allston was GM - and spoke highly of the game.  I own many of the books, but the system was never popular around here.  I need to rectify this hole in my education.  As I become more and more fascinated by the history of our hobby, I feel the need to make sure I experience all the major game systems from the golden age, and Champions seems to be the big one that I've missed.
  • Run some out-of-print games for people who weren't born when they were in print.  Gamma World.  Gangbusters.  Marvel FASERIP.  Star Frontiers.  Metamorphosis Alpha.  Classic Traveller.
  • Play some miniatures games - we're looking at Stargrunt II right now.
  • Run something *I* want to run as a campaign or mini-campaign once a month.  At least half the group needs to be people from outside my current gaming circle.
 So, we'll see how this goes.  I know the minis goal will be met by our Royal Manticoran Army gaming.  If I can balance family, kids, job and school and still fit these in I will be a happy camper indeed.