Tuesday, 23 May 2017


I want to state here and now so that there is no confusion, I would have a tough time surviving the apocalypse.  I'm OK with it, I just thought you should know.
This weekend we were without power due to a windstorm which thwomped its way through the area last Thursday.  We dealt with it fairly well, but power wasn't restored until Saturday evening and there was much work to be done to get back into a civilised existence.
Also, a few weeks ago I ran into Brent, the player mentioned in this article.  An enthusiastic and thoughtful gamer, Brent unfortunately has no time for the hobby these days.
However, I hope you enjoy this one from the vaults and barring anymore special occasions or weather wonders, we will return to our regularly scheduled blatherings next week...

Life is full of little surprises, learning experiences, and constant change. This might be one reason why humans as a general rule are so resistant to change and so in love with routine. We crave the familiar, and wallow in habit, even if or habit is to constantly reject the habitual and move towards chaos. Yes, even doing things differently every day is a habit.

A couple of things occurred this week which reminded me that change and the unknown are good.

First, one of our longtime members who due to school has become a sometimes member started returning to game night. Now, he maintains that each week will be a crapshoot as to whether work and school and family commitments permit him to show up, but he is adamant that he would try his best. Mostly, because everyone needs to indulge in that thing that helps make the rest of the things tolerable, and for Brent, gaming is one of those things.

He had mentioned in previous weeks that he had been doing a lot of reading on the savage worlds system, and was pretty stoked about the whole thing. I have never had the pleasure of playing that system, but have heard many good things. And to fit with the theme of the article, one should be willing to try new things.

I mentioned to Brent that he was welcome to run a table, but he demurred, pointing out his potential for an inconsistent schedule. I totally understand his reluctance. One thing you must maintain when running a community gaming group is consistency. As I said earlier, people love routine and familiarity, even when playing games which remove them from the familiar. If they keep showing up each week and the game is called off for whatever reason, they start to reexamine where they spend their time and money.

I could tell by the end of our conversation though, that Brent really wanted to play savage worlds. He spoke of the streamlined simplicity of the system, and how much was left in the player's hands to design and flesh out. I'll admit I was more than intrigued. He's a passionate salesman.

In the end, I suggested to him that on any given Thursday, he was more than welcome to show up and take over my table. I have players who are very open and kind and live to try new things. We are of course, knee deep in our Princes of the Apocalypse campaign, but for Brent, I would be happy to suspend that for a week or two if it meant that he got to share this gaming system with us, and be able to give it a shot for his own fulfillment.

Last week he came good on our agreement. While I only know so much of the plot, he decided to run an RPG day adventure set in modern day Wisconsin. Not wanting to spoil things for others, I will say that bad things happen to people on buses in remote locations…

As people arrived, they sat down and looked generally unsure. I was obviously on the wrong side of the screen, and Brent had all the pregens laid out with his other player props for everyone's perusal.

As the basics were explained however, the mood began to change. We still use the same dice, the character sheets were fairly clear and easy to understand, and the system was not an intimidating coagulation of rules and charts and page references. In fact, the core system is often explained on three pages.

Overcoming everybody's initial nervousness, we sat down and got right to it. As a quick review of first impressions, we all thoroughly enjoyed it. It is easy, it is fairly quick, and the simplicity of the design necessitates player creativity. What that facilitated was a raucous session of hair raising adventure which had our grown up table being shushed by the young ones. Of all the nerve.

The lesson here is that sometimes you need to just jump on to the unfamiliar. Start cold on something unexpected and out of the norm and just let it wash over you.  None of us were quick to point out any shortcomings, or to immediately start to compare it to other systems such as D&D or Star Wars, which are played quite regularly at our community group.  We just let it happen, and it was well worth the adventure.

I’ve often pointed out that humans fear change and the unfamiliar.  I am no different.  I am a big time routine guy.  I have a mental schedule of daily activities that I practice the same way every day, in every way.  And if that routine is upset, it can throw me so far off track, I wonder if I’m going to make it back to the realm of sanity.  My wife is the perfect foil for that, often and I think sometimes intentionally throwing wrenches and boomerangs and lemmings into the spokes of my habit regime just to see what colour I turn.  And for that, I love her.

So the next time someone brings up a new game or system or LARPing, don’t immediately balk or turn up your nose at the suggestion.  In fact, don’t think about it at all.  So what if you’re
D&D game is about to face the ancient red bad thing of evilness for the last time and rescue Princess Maguffin.  It’s nostrils will still be smouldering next week, and it gives her high fancy pantsness-ness another chance to adjust her royal attitude.  Dive into deeper waters.

At best, you will discover yet another reason why this pastime is so awesome, at worst, you will find another dark corner of game design to shun in quiet circles.  If you never try, how will you know?

The other thing I wanted to point out this week goes hand in hand with the above:  If you are the person leading your group down the garden path of this amazing new game, for the love of Gygax, know your stuff and be prepared.

While Brent had to look up the occasional tidbit of information, he was overall VERY familiar with the rules.  He explained the core mechanic to us and the spirit of the system quite succinctly and then dove into the game, not giving us a chance to complicate things with our adultness and ideas.  He had all of his maps drawn and laid out for his (and our) convenience, yet he also left areas of his battlemat blank, so that we could add to the environment; a very fitting choice for a system that promotes player creativity and influence.

His bus prop was pre constructed, and he did quite a wonderful thing with “minis.”  Because the game relies heavily on simplicity and creativity, he cut wooden dowels for the PCs and enemies.  The enemies were grey and two different sizes, and the PCs tokens were coloured in six different hues, to match the six pre-gens.  The kicker is, that he also coloured the “Benefit” tokens (Bennies) the same as the PCs, creating instant and simple association for the players.

There was also a troubleshooting chart that he had found somewhere in the webworld.  It operated under the flow of “If you are having trouble doing A, try B, C, or D, and if you do so, those actions will benefit X, Y, or Z.”  This prop came in handy for just about all of us at one point or another during the evening.  Brent even printed out a couple of rule summary handouts, but we didn’t use them.  Reason is, Brent knew the system well enough that if we asked about whether we could do a thing, he would just tell us, and the rules sheets stayed where they were laid.

We enjoyed ourselves because it was a good game, but the important thing to remember that even the best game in the whole damn ‘verse can be brought low and left wanting in the wrong hands.

So if you are going to try something new, make sure one of you knows how to drive the bus.

A final note to those who endured the recent Blizzardodominonipicus in the United States:  I follow Board Game Geek on the Facebooks.  So many gaming enthusiasts got together with their friends and family and groups to game out the storm.  Many of them were playing favourite games, but just as many seemed excited to use the weather as the perfect excuse to trap their groups into trying new things.  I think that’s great.  I don’t envy the cleanup that all you lovely folks are having to deal with (of course, living where I do my sympathy only goes so far), but I greatly admire the optimism and palpable excitement and enjoyment you all seemed to exhibit as you posted your updates and summaries.

Except the ones playing Dead of Winter.  You all seemed a little...nervous.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

From the Depths: Speak softly, but carry a Big Stick

This week, I was far too interested in helping my wife and family have a productive and enjoyable Mother's Day. For the first time in a while, the weather was gorgeous, and we got outside and did the things, as well as visit with family like my own mother, who had just returned from a trip through Ottawa and the province of Quebec.

Here is an article of mine from the Mad Adventurer's Society which caught my eye. Not because I currently have any new members to the BTGC which require special attention, nor am I feeling particularly fed up with the world. Part of having a healthy community is how you as a leader or person of influence deal with the people within said community.

So here you are. Please enjoy responsibly...

Sartre said “Hell is other people.”  In many ways, he isn’t wrong.  Relationships and social interactions complicate our lives to no end, and our responsibilities to these other people fill up our schedules and throw our routines into constant turbulence.  In my job as a carpenter building and renovating homes, I often lament that it would be a lot better if it weren’t for the customers.

Some people simply can’t deal with the world at large.  Others can only deal with small groups at a time.  I am not a fan of crowds, myself.  I find myself increasingly uncomfortable and nervous when around a large group of people with whom I am unfamiliar.  Crowded malls may take a little longer to get to me, but a bar where my band is playing causes me no end of stress in a short amount of time, and I tend to go from the extreme of flitting from group to group seeking small talk, or end up sitting at a table tuning my bass and feigning intense focus.  Really, I just want to get on with everything and go home.  Not to say that I don’t want to be there entertaining people with our performance, just that I break out in social hives when I am lost in a sea of unfamiliar faces.  

I have it pretty easy, and my social issues are pretty mild.  I have developed some natural talents to deal with my challenges, and people are often surprised when I express my fear of social situations.  “But you’re so good with people!”  That may be true, but is that because I want to be, or because I have to be?

I must pause briefly and give credit to RPGs in general and D&D specifically for helping me develop the more complex social skills that aid me in the above environments.  I don’t think I’m alone in the belief that by taking on diverse characters with a broad range of morals and motivations, we can explore the deeper aspects of humanity and its accompanying conditions to better understand what makes us tick.  In so doing, our empathy for others is enhanced by truly putting ourselves in another’s shoes.

I bring this up for two reasons:  Reason one is that for some people, going to an unknown social gathering is a huge deal, and reason two is that we as GMs or hosts of a social event or gaming community have a responsibility to accommodate those people and make them feel comfortable and welcome.

Gaming in the wilds of reality means you don’t get to pick and choose who comes through the doors and sits at your table the way you get to do at home.  You have to put up with every type of person just the way any proprietor of any business ever.

I know that for some of those reading this article there may be the puffing of chests and the declaration that you are in charge, and that if somebody rubs you the wrong way, then you are well within your rights to lock the doors and declare that none shall pass.  That is true, and you can do that, but what it will get you is a shortened lifespan for your group, and awkward conversations with most of your members as they question your motivations, and fear your wrathful banhammer.

There are those individuals who don’t fit in, it’s true.  They are disruptive and disrespectful of property and other people and they need to be dealt with, because the rest of your group are starting to feel uncomfortable, and that is dangerous.  They make racist comments and thinly veiled threats against NPCs that have the other players squirming in their seats.  And they feel justified for all the usual reasons.  That’s how they built their character.  Those people aren’t real, so what does it matter?

These people often don’t get the social cues that the rest of the group is throwing at them.  Eyes are cast down at the table or glances are furtive and thrown to every other player seated, wondering if they find the behaviour just as inappropriate.  The laughter starts off as merely polite and uncomfortable, but shortly there is no laughter at all, and lips become creased as people don’t want to rock the boat.  Through all of this, the player is pressing on, clearly not understanding that this isn’t acceptable.  That is there world.  What makes you think their behaviour is any different anywhere else?

You as the GM/Organizer have to step in at this point.  If you don’t address the situation, you will lose your players.  I have always maintained that you are creating a safe haven for people to come and explore their hobby.  If that place becomes poisoned by that one bad apple, the bunch will simply disappear.

So here is what you do:  step up, communicate with respect and tact.  And don’t attack.

Always pull that person aside and have your conversation away from everyone else.  No good will ever come from chastising someone or pointing out their faults or mistakes in front of their peers.  Remember public school?  That teacher that paraded the shortcomings of others in front of the whole class to make an example?  That is embarrassing at best, and humiliating at worst.  Don’t be that guy.

Never have this conversation via text or email.  I am thirty-seven years old, which means I stand on the edge of the modern age of social communication and the former one.  I still see the faults of an exchange of verbiage via the written word that can be so easily misconstrued.  Type one wrong word, or choose to use a tone that is a little too business-like, and this person will feel attacked.  I guarantee that if you attempt to face the issue with the bravery of being out of range, there will be unwanted collateral damage, and you will be the one who loses.  So take a deep breath, look that person in the eye, and speak calmly and clearly.

Start off with a compliment that will let them know that they don’t completely suck.  You are about to tell them that everyone thinks they are a jerk.  This will emotionally wrench them from the group and make them feel alone and rejected.  So butter them up a little and let them down easy.  If the character they have created is a perfect example of min/maxed, OP, twenty-level feat planning, let them know that.  If they are always coming up with brilliant and left-field solutions to the problems the party faces, share that and let it be known how that player has helped the party out of some pretty sticky jams.  If they weren’t there, I don’t know what would have happened.  This lets that person know that they are part of the team, but there is one little thing that is becoming a problem...

Give this person the benefit of the doubt.  They may not know that their behaviour is unacceptable.  In previous articles, we have discussed that people are on their own path, and it is not the same as yours.  This also does not make you more right about things, just because you and the rest of the group see things the same way.  In this individual’s world, it is perfectly acceptable to behave in this way.  You are not going to change that.  That is how they grew up, and when they go home or back to their other social circles, they will slip right back into that behaviour.  You are not their parent, or their mentor.  It is not your job to force them to fundamentally change their perception of the world or how they live in it.  All you can do is address how they behave in yours.  And perhaps that influence will cause a subtle change in them over time.  After all, we are all variables in somebody’s world, as they are for us.  You hang around with tigers long enough, you will get some claws.

So, they may have no idea that their comments and so on are not appropriate for your group.  So give them the benefit of the doubt and explain your feelings not as an attack on their character, but as a social misunderstanding.  Identify some examples of incidents to show what they have done that is not acceptable, but don’t beat them over the head with exhaustive stories of their dickishness.  A laundry list of don’ts is like a hammer beating them down into a pool of shame, and that will result in one of two reactions: self-loathing or anger.  You don’t  want either of those.

Tell them how they can solve the problem.  Don’t just dump a list of failures and issues in someone’s lap and walk away.  Give them some clues as to how they can make things better.  If their character is their crutch, point out changes they can make to background and current personality traits that will inform how they play that PC.  If they are making inappropriate or unknown references to things that people clearly are not interested in, help inform them about things the whole table finds interesting so that if they really don’t know the people at all, they can get an inkling of who they are and adjust their topics of conversation accordingly.

If you want to keep people at your table, you have to work with each person and the table as a whole to find the right balance so that everybody is having a good time.

Listen to what they have to say.  After all is said and done, you have to let them speak their piece, and you have to listen.  They have stood there and listened to you spout off, it is only fair that you hear their side of things in return.  They have experienced things from a different point of view, and you may not be aware of the whole story.  Acknowledge their side of things, and then amend your proposed solution in return.  This refers to the previous paragraph about helping them solve their problems.  Compromise is always a solution, especially if it leads to balance overall.

Conclude on a positive note.  Express your excitement about your continued adventures together, and thank them for their attention in this matter.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with being polite and expressing gratitude.  If more people did this everywhere on a daily basis, everybody’s lives would be a little brighter, so say thank-you.  It doesn’t take long, and it will help to rebuild that person’s confidence just a little.

Don’t make a big deal about it to the rest of the group.  Don’t come back to the session declaring that you have yelled at Bob, and he’s promised not to be a big jerk ever again.  You are now holding up a big sign over Bob’s head that just reiterates to him and the group that he was being a jerk, and forces all of those uncomfortable moments back to the surface.  Congratulations, you are now a big jerk, too.  If you feel that it is important to inform the group that steps have been taken, then do so when that person isn’t present.  State that there was a discussion and that you have every confidence that things will get better from this point on.  They don’t need to know every detail.  Simply put, that side of things is none of their business.  All the group needs to know is that something is being done.

Make a group effort.  Part of helping someone adjust their conduct lays on the shoulders of the group.  Enlist them to work with that person to re-establish a positive vibe.  It can be as simple as asking them to just give another chance and be patient.  Alternatively, a player or two can step in to engage the person in conversation outside the session.  Getting to know them or including them in pre-game chit-chat, or talking shop about character building or adventure themes will help rebuild the gap that is created when someone gets a talking-to.

So what do you do if it all just keeps spiralling down hill?  Keep an eye on things as your sessions continue.  Things may be a little strained for a while, but that is expected.  This person is going to be making a conscious adjustment to how they behave, and everybody is going to be a little apprehensive, waiting to see if the other shoe is going to drop.  Be positive and push on.  Bring focus back to the game, and let things settle for a bit.  This is part of giving the benefit of the doubt.

If after a reasonable amount of time it is obvious that things are not working out, you have only a few options left.

First, you can revisit the issue, and try again.  Some issues may be minor enough that a little kick in the pants is not out of the question from time to time.  Especially if things are generally swimming along.  Again, you have asked someone to consciously alter their way of behaving and interacting with those around them, and everybody slips up from time to time.

Secondly, you can attempt to find them another table.  If you are running a public community, cast an eye across the room and have a listen.  Talk to the other GMs and see if maybe this person is just the wrong personality type for your particular group.  There could be a group they would better fit in with just across the way.  Your table may lose a player, but your community will not lose a member.

Lastly, and as a last resort, ask them to leave.  You don’t want to do this unless it is the only solution remaining.  If this person refuses to work with you and the rest of your group, or if their behaviour simply cannot be adapted for the benefit of all, then it’s time to address the problem in a permanent fashion.  This is what you have a code of conduct for.  This is what they refer to as the Social Agreement that really applies to everybody everywhere.  You have all agreed to show up and have fun.  In return you have also agreed to do nothing to erode that fun.

Just remember that in most cases, the person you are ousting will not accept that they were at fault.  They do not see their behaviour as inappropriate or wrong, because it is part of their personality.  This has already been evidenced in their unwillingness or inability to change.

Therefore, in the future when they talk with others about why they no longer attend your game nights, etc.  they will invariably paint you and your group in the darker light, and from a practical point of view, that is bad for business.  If you rely on membership to keep your group going, you don’t want that.

That is not to say that you can’t refuse people at the door.  As I said earlier and in previous articles, that is why we have rules.  A code of conduct that presents a reasonable set of expectations is all the justification you need to address these issues.  Make use of it where it is needed, and as long as you feel that you have exhausted all other avenues in your attempts to resolve the issues on a positive note, you can feel justified in your final decision to ask this person to stop coming.

This hobby is about fun at it’s most basic purpose.  Nobody will willingly put themselves in a situation that is supposed to be fun, just to feel uncomfortable.  It is your job as an organizer and a GM to make sure that people are getting the most out of their time and money.  This is one way to deal with the myriad of persons who you will encounter in your real life adventures.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Not at MyTable

Writing about the elements that make up a healthy and productive community of any kind, I have actively avoided touching on negative influences.  However, there was an occurrence this weekend at a premier level tournament that has made it clear to me that sometimes you have to talk about the bad side of things.  The seedy underbelly of tabletop hobby gaming that unfortunately also applies to everyday life and our interactions with the wild…

If you want to have a successful gaming community, you need a lot of variables to fall into place.  Over the last couple of years, I have gone through quite a few of them including what to look for in a venue, location, and about the importance of consistency in all things.  One of the things that those of us have rarely had to deal with is dishonesty and problem players.  And I do count us as lucky.  I read online all the time about groups with problem players or problem GMs.  I have heard the woes of those with alpha gamers, rules lawyers, phone addicts, and a host of other stereotypes.  At the BTGC, we have grown accustomed to absenteeism, and it no longer strikes us as a problem, just another foible of running a twenty plus member community based open gaming group.  We deal.

One thing we have never (to our knowledge), had to deal with are cheaters.

Cheaters come in all shapes and sizes, and run the gamut of degrees of dishonesty.  They try and flub rolls, argue ridiculous attempts to get away with murder, and interpret rules only to their advantage.  They employ misdirection, manipulation, and generally create a bad scene as they try and win at everything, with no sense of conscience, or perspective that these are only games.

This weekend at a certain world championship event in Roseville, Minnesota, someone cheated.  They were probably not the only one.  I don’t need to name names, or point fingers.  I’m not here to talk about how the game company handled things or what the right punishment should be.  I’m just here to offer my two cents on what trust, honesty, respect and fair play do for a community of any kind, let alone gaming.

Really it’s about respect.  Respect breeds the rest of the above qualities.  I only ask for respect when it comes to those who inhabit my life and the membership of the Bracebridge Tabletop Gaming Community.

I view things as a matter of respect on different tiers.  First and foremost, you respect your fellow gamers.  Whether you are playing competitively or cooperatively, casual or tournament play, for an in store game night or a big event day pre-release invite only, secret handshake type of thing, you demonstrate some common respect for your fellow person.

This means saying please and thank you, offering help without a sense of superiority or condescension, listening to what people have to say, and not forcing your agenda on others.  There is a whole list of other things that make up the attribute of respect, but as it applies to cultivating a successful gaming community, these are a great place to start.

Respect those who sit down at the table with you.  They are there for the exact same reason you are, to have fun and play games.  So be nice.  The rest will fall into place.

Next, you need to respect the establishment.  This is slightly unrelated to cheating, but if you want to have a place to play, it is probably the second most important thing.  Look after the place and treat it well.  Clean up after yourself, don’t abuse the facility, leave things as you found them.  Believe it or not, somebody works really hard to keep a place well maintained, clean and up to code so that those who rent a room or such find it reliable and up to a standard that they can accept.  Those same people probably rely on patronage for their livelihood, and don’t want to be putting in extra time and money fixing or otherwise dealing with things that could have never happened if you and your companions had just exercised some common sense and self-control.

Apply this to your FLGS.  They really rely on your spending money to keep them open, clothed and fed.  That doesn’t give you the right to abuse their hospitality.  My old FLGS was constantly trying to repair broken chairs and tables and clean up after inconsiderate patrons.  That is a disrespect nobody deserves.  And eventually all of those events you love attending get cancelled, as it’s just not worth the hassle anymore.

Now here’s the meat of the article.  You need to respect the game.

Yes, this includes the physical components.  Break stuff, bend and tear cards, lose bits, and eventually you make the game unplayable.  And games these days aren’t cheap.  If somebody drops $135 CAD on an Imperial Assault core set, they don’t want anything to happen to it.  They want that return on investment of hundreds of hours of good times.  Just because you didn’t spend the money doesn’t give you the right to treat the game like crap.

However, what I want to point out is respecting the rules.  Respecting the spirit of the game itself.  To get together with a group of people to live out an escapist fantasy where things happen and there is a winner and a loser.  To chat about your day, your strategies, things you are excited about and things you are stressed about.  To put a bunch of things on the table and come together over them for a finite length of time.

And part of that is the rules.  The game is designed to work best when all of the rules are not only observed, but followed.  Sure nobody is perfect, and not every game is awesome, but you can say that about a lot of stuff in the universe.  I don’t pretend for a second that house rules don’t exist or aren’t useful, but they are still rules.  A set of strictures conceived and agreed upon by all of those involved.  All knowledge is open and available to all parties.

When somebody cheats at a game, they disrespect not only the game, but everyone playing it.  And to what end?  To win?  It’s a game!  How does that actually impact your life?  You don’t suddenly drive a fast car or have gobs of money.  You don’t gain access to hidden areas of our world where everyone smells great and ice cream isn’t fattening.  When you cheat, you gain nothing.  And the victory you have achieved is hollow and worthless.

And worse yet is what happens if you are caught.  Communities are built on trust and support.  Bringing people in and lifting them up, so that they in turn lift the group as a whole.  When they find out that you cheated, something breaks.  Trust to be sure, but also respect, affection, camaraderie. There is a space between the untrusted and the rest of a group.  A fracture occurs, and it is very long in healing, if ever it does.  And you are known by that moniker ever after.  People are hurt by those who cheat.

In any hobby, community, relationship or otherwise, someone who has been found to be dishonest is vilified, no matter what they may do or say to atone for their crime.  And to gamers, cheating at a game is a crime.  It’s an insult, a trespass.  And while someone who cheats may be forgiven, there will always be a stain.

And if you cheat on a live stream where everyone can watch it happen, you unleash the grand fury of the internet, and woe be to you who calls it upon yourself.

Perhaps this is a rant, and that is why I have resisted putting a spotlight on the negative.  I love games and gaming, and I understand the importance of fair play in that world in particular.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s a tourney or a casual game, playing by the rules only enhances the experience.

When a group of players are at a table and trust each other whole-heartedly, the game is so much more fun.  Even better if you look out for each other.  There’s much to be said for helping your opponent do all that they can to play the best game possible.  That way if you win, you know that your victory was earned, and if you lose you know that you played the best game possible.  Both of those things offer a deep sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, and tell you that your time was not wasted.

So please think about that when you play.  And when you are out there interacting with whoever you may meet.  Forgive those who make the mistake, and try and show them how much better it is on the light side.  We may not have cookies, but sometimes there’s beer.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Come Together

Last week I spoke somewhat on how a community needs the support of its members to help it not only survive, but to grow.  This week I want to touch on another essential aspect of a successful gaming community…

I am an X-Wing player.  It is a somewhat addictive and can be a highly competitive game to those who know where to look.  You race pre-painted plastic miniatures of famous (and obscure), Star Wars ships around a 3’ x 3’ play mat making pew pew noises and try to destroy the other fellow.  There are podcasts galore that pour over the latest expansions and discuss in detail the viability of said expansions and their included pilot and upgrade cards in a tournament environment.  I love that aspect of the game, and look forward to the three small tournaments we organise every year, as well as the Ontario Regional events that we as a small group of Muskoka players travel to attend.

I recently found a podcast on the subject of the game that intrigued me.  It’s called Shuttle Tydirium Podcast, named after the ship used by rebel forces in The Return of the Jedi to reach the surface of the moon Endor, where an awful lot happened for a such a small space mostly occupied by massive trees and tiny bears.

The Shuttle Tydirium Podcast concerns itself mainly with every aspect of X-Wing that is NOT competitive.  They represent the casual players, the ones for whom tournament play is too stressful, too competitive, too exhausting.  The players who want to play all of the ships, regardless of their viability.  This group of people want to write out and test their own thematic scenarios based on the vast and epic universe that George created.  For them, creating new game modes such as an actual trench run, or making prop turbolaser batteries from cardboard or paper and using them to play over a couple of drinks is way more fun than testing out the latest and greatest and most vicious list the meta has to offer.

And they came together over that shared interest.  And they started a grassroots community in their city that has spread to the internet, and they are doing quite well, thank you very much.  It would seem that there are a lot of hobby gamers out there who share their interest in the casual side of the game.

In December of 2015, I decided to join a theatre company to play bass for a small, local production of the Rocky Horror Show.  I have always loved the film version, and would have loved to play the role of Frank N Furter.  I was quite happy in the end to fill the bass chair.

After Rocky ended in August of 2016, I had the opportunity to work with the Huntsville Theatre Company again on another production, The Wakowski Brothers.  I chose to audition, but not just because the play seemed like a lot of fun, which it is.

I chose to go out for a role because of the people involved.  They all possess this amazing focus and devotion to creating top quality community theatre shows and sharing them with the area.  Like the podcast guys, the started small, working hard to find others who felt the same way.  They put on small productions and gradually increased their scope and vision as the community grew.  These days, their shows can draw a few hundred people over a svene to nine show run, which is pretty darn impressive.

I was involved for a few years in an online venture which was the birthplace of this blog, The Mad Adventurers Society.  What started as a plea for advice on how to start a gaming community in a small town became an offer to write about my experiences, and so Gaming in the Wild came to be.

And once more this thing appeared.  Focus, dedication, shared vision, mutual support.  A group effort concentrated on furthering the common goal.  A genuine affection for each other created by shared interest.

Over the last few years of the Mad Adventurers, BTGC, and the Huntsville Theatre Company, I have seen the fruits of a shared hobby, interest or passion.

Not only do you meet new people and get out of the house, but you forge friendships, sometimes with most unlikely people.  You spend time around those with whom you would not otherwise have had the opportunity.  And you’re not just hanging out.  You start to pour your energy into something.  You direct the enthusiasm and energy created by your interests, and you turn it into something.

What an amazing thing it is.

Perhaps you enjoy your weekly game nights.  You look forward to packing up your stuff and meeting your friends at somebody’s house, a local game store or a gaming cafe/restaurant.  For me, Thursdays are it.  I pack up my things in the morning and count the hours until quitting time.  Changing clothes after work, I don’t even go home, unless my kids are attending, which is an amazing feeling as well.

I know that when everyone shows up, they are just as excited as me.  And most of them I don’t really even know.  We have been lucky enough to gather so many people over the last three or so years that there are members I have never played with or run games for.  I feel really lucky.

And there are no egos, no pride or sense of entitlement.  Nobody is vying for position or standing.  We are all there to play games together, to focus our energy on a thing together.

Just like the HTC, we don’t get anything out of this except the chance to do something we love with people who love it just as much as we do.  Just like the shuttle Tydirium Podcast, we are trying to spread that joy around.  Just like MAS, we all work together to make it better, because that benefits everyone.  And we do it without ego or a vision of profit.

And that kind of selflessness and focus and dedication is essential to creating, expanding and sustaining a community of any kind.

When you step back and think about the people you share a hobby, interest or lifestyle with, do you see those same things?

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Those Who Lift You Up

After a welcome reprieve from pounding my face against the keys, it’s nice to get back at it.  There are a few things that I noticed, and ideas that I had over the last little while.  Let’s just how many of them I can remember, because making notes would have made too much sense…

First, I have to make note of what it is that makes a community based, public gaming organisation tick:  the community.

If it was just me trying to make this thing work it would have died before it hit the first year.  I say that because I am just one man.  When Michael and I thought of this venture a few years ago, we took on the mantles of grand gaming poo-bahs in an official capacity.  Yet I have never forgotten that our brainstorming sessions were held in the parking lot of Game On amongst our fellow gaming enthusiasts.  They helped to bring this thing to life.  We discussed location ideas, membership fees, format and a host of other ideas.

Jay, Sarah, Alex, and others were essential in those early days, and while I tend to point out the continued efforts of Michael and myself, I am constantly reminded that it is a far larger and more subtle team which exists and continues to help make this group a reality.

The most recent examples of that are found in my necessary hiatus from the BTGC to perform in the Huntsville Theatre Company’s production of “The Wakowski Brothers,” a Canadian conceived one act play about two brothers in the vaudeville era of Cape Breton and their struggles.  It had me singing, dancing, acting and pummelling my co star, and it was a lot of fun.  A very satisfying experience, to be sure.

Alex stepped forward once more, taking the responsibility of opening the Centre and setting up the tables for each Thursday evening’s events.  I still needed someone to run my table.

Shayne is an old friend from high school, I think I’ve mentioned him before.  His daughter Morgan used to attend our group, but adult life has swept her up in a sea of responsibility.  Shayne used to play in our high school aged gaming group, and it has been a great pleasure reacquainting ourselves.  He has taken the DM’s chair for me in the past, and volunteered to do so again for the three weeks I would be absent.

Such small gestures on the outside, but without finding someone to lend a hand when you need it, I wouldn’t have been able to open and my table wouldn’t have been able to play.  On the other hand, if I had no support from the community group, I wouldn’t have been able to take the opportunity to participate in the production, and it’s important to step back from your hobbies now and again.  Variety is the spice of life, after all.

I’ve always spoken about consistency in running a gaming group, and how important it is that when people take the time out of their lives to come and participate in a thing, you had better be open when you say you are going to be.  Otherwise you are seen as unreliable and uncaring, and people don’t come back.  The same is true of running a business.  You post your hours on your storefront to let people know when you are open for business.  You have to keep up your end and be there.

And that’s another piece of the community puzzle which the BTGC has been very fortunate to have working in its favour, the community itself.  We have had for the most part, very good people come through our doors.  Whenever I have spoken about the group, I have always tried to emphasize the idea that we are an open, inclusive, respectful and supportive bunch.  I feel that those qualities are extremely important to our success, because they are the spirit of what we have tried to do here.  

For some people, gaming is old hat, a thing we have done for years.  It’s second nature.  We know all of the references, read all the articles and memes, and have constant links to twitter pages and RSS feeds with all of the podcasts and product release articles for everything we love about this little world.  It’s an amazing life, but it can cause us to lose track of what it can be like for someone who is just beginning to explore this strange, new world of science fiction, fantasy and everything in between.

For some people, this is a very vulnerable experience.  They are not confident, worried they won’t fit in.  They are scared of feeling stupid for not understanding the rules, which veterans refer to offhandedly, as though speaking about lessons from kindergarten.  They desperately want to explore this new landscape, but for some it can feel like walking into a public place naked, and they need a community that will put a blanket around them and help them find their place.

Our community is fortunately very much like that.  The people who run the games have accepted that attendance can be spotty, that their tables can look very different from one week to the next, and they have embraced the idea of welcoming new players whenever they happen to pop up.  They also understand that sometimes those players want to shift to another table, or that this isn’t for them and that they just don’t come back.  And nobody takes it personally.

Our players are supportive and helpful.  When building or levelling up a player character, there is always someone at hand to lend some help or a handbook.  Nobody begrudges those who don’t have a handbook or dice, either.  Some people can’t afford all of the things that go along with gaming, but they love the hobby.  That’s what we are here for.  To provide a place where tabletop hobby gamers can meet and play, and where everyone has a good time.  I have seen friendships created and blossom in our hall, and it is a wonderful feeling.

It’s not to say that we don’t have our problems, every group of people does.  I just want to highlight some of the things that make our rural gaming community work.  I’ve drawn some of these same connections between other community groups, and I want to explore those ideas in the coming weeks.  What makes a good team, gaming group, or theatre company?  How does a local music scene survive and thrive?  There are common traits among them all, and I have had the time to sit back and observe.  It’s not all rainbows and unicorns, but in my small town-ish world, I have seen things, and they have given me pause...

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

One More Week

Over the past few weeks, I have enjoyed a break of sorts from this blog.  I say of sorts, because I simply didn't have the time to write for it.  Between plays and family and gainful employ, I could not direct any of my energies towards wordsmith-ing of any kind.

And the break has been refreshing.  I couldn't go to game night, either.  And that was as refreshing as it was frustrating.  However, it gave me the time to look at the world through muggle eyes.  I was a normy for a bit.

So with a weekend approaching that holds almost no plans beyond the mundane, I am excited to get back to the keyboard.  Next week there will be new content.  I have quite a bit that I could say, so I have no idea what will be said.  Isn't that exciting?

For those of you that have hung on, I thank you wholeheartedly.  Your faith in me is very welcome and appreciated.

Until next week, my mad adventuring friends...

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Stage Beckons

Over the next few weeks, I will be performing in a local community theatre production of a lovely Canadian play entitled "The Wakowski Brothers."

What does this mean for my blog?  I'm glad you asked.  What that means is that I am now in crunch mode.  I have very little on my mind besides the play.  Apart from my usual duties as a productive adult, I am using my twenty fifth hour to rehearse choreography and run my lines.

This is my first real return to the stage as an actor in about thirteen years.  While living in Calgary, Alberta I performed in a small production of Maskerade, a Discworld novel by the late Terry Pratchett.  One of many from the series that has been adapted for the stage.  In high school I was heavily involved in all kinds of stage productions as either an actor or as a musician, but after a couple of mediocre experiences with community theatre groups, I left the stage and went about my business for a while.

It has been very exciting returning to that world, and I look forward to writing about it in the future.  Theatre folk make great inspiration for a blog about gaming, especially role-playing games.  I have a few ideas, but am lacking the necessary free time to put them down in some sort of sensible form.

So I will take the next few weeks off from writing for you.  My table at the BTGC is being looked after by my friend Shayne, and I am excited to return in April to see what sort of chaos the party has wrought.  Alex is opening the centre up, and between he an Mike, the place will be locked up each Thursday as I parade around on stage, dramatizing and highlighting the world of Vaudeville in Cape Breton in the nineteen twenties.

I will miss you these next few weeks, but I will return.  The life of a middle aged, small town community theatre performer and gaming enthusiast calls.

Somebody has to do it...