Last day for Otters! And how to run a humble Kickstarter campaign.

Today is the final day for my Otters Kickstarter campaign, so if you haven’t checked it out yet, please go do so! The project is almost 500% funded, which is wonderful and humbling.

Speaking of humbling, I also wrote a blog post on my board game site, Clay Crucible Games, about my experience in running what I’m calling a “humble” Kickstarter campaign. While it’s mainly written from the point of view of a board or card game publisher, it could be relevant for RPG folks as well.

Thanks all!

Michael Iachini

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

Board game club for high school: First meeting

Halloween 2013 saw the first meeting of the “nerd out” club at the local high school, which I have volunteered to help with. While the kids are talking about watching movies and sharing other nerdy fun at future meetings, the first meeting was all about board games.

And since it was Halloween, costumes were welcome! I went as a minion from Despicable Me.

When I arrived, the “meeting” was already in full swing. There were about 20 kids on hand, plus the teacher who is supervising the club. I spotted a game of Settlers of Catan getting underway along with a war game that I didn’t recognize. I had brought a stack of games like Carcassonne and Ra, along with a box containing my own designs.

The teacher introduced me to the class as a local game designer, and I had about six kids come over to the table where I was sitting, interested in trying out a game with the designer. I taught a bunch of them to play Chaos & Alchemy.

A couple of kids had to leave after a few minutes, while some others drifted in, so we had a bit of a fluid composition of players at the table. It turns out that Chaos & Alchemy was an excellent choice in that environment, since it’s easy for a player to leave and have someone else take their place (or just continue with fewer players if need be).

We played once with the base game, and then a couple of times with the Apprentices expansion I’ve been working on. It went great!

After that, I was down to just myself and one guy who wanted to play more of my games, so I broke out my super-early prototype of a game I’m calling Otters. It’s a quick and very simple card game, and I had only tried it solo before this, but it played pretty much the way I wanted it to. I’ll be writing more about this one soon, I promise; I think I might make it my National Game Design Month (NaGaDeMon) project.

The club meeting only ran from 3:00 to 4:30, but that was enough time to meet a bunch of the kids, share some love of gaming, and get some play testing done.

Next time, I’m probably not going to bother bringing games aside from my own designs; that’s what the kids seem most interested in. I’ll also go with a more structured plan in mind next time. I was expecting that I would be going around to different tables and teaching people to play different games, but the kids were already doing their own thing in many cases. I’ll go with the plan to teach / play test one particular game and let the kids who are interested in that game come to me.

Michael Iachini – Clay Crucible Games
@ClayCrucible on Twitter

Board game club for high school: Prep for first meeting

A few months ago, I noticed several online posts in the board game community where people were talking about their involvement with board game clubs at local high schools. Most of the time it was a teacher, but there were some cases where students were talking about these clubs, too.

My own high school years ended just before the era of modern board games began, but I would have loved this sort of thing when I was in school. I decided to see if any club like this existed at the high school near my home so that I could volunteer to help out. Helping to build the next generation of board gamers seems like a great idea!

Getting involved

The tricky part of this plan is that I’m not a teacher, nor am I even a parent. I discovered that you have to be sensitive when volunteering to help out at a school when you’re just a resident of the community (especially when you’re a man, I think).

Ultimately, I had some good luck. I called the local high school and was given the email address of their volunteer coordinator. After I emailed her, she wrote back to let me know that she had heard that one of the teachers had agreed to coordinate a new “nerd out” club at the school, which would include board gaming. She gave me the teacher’s email address and let me know that I would need to fill out a volunteer application (which included a background check and references; pretty intense, but okay with me).

I met with the teacher in his classroom one afternoon, along with a couple of the kids who were behind the idea for the club. Basically, the teacher didn’t really know anything about gaming, but the kids were so enthusiastic that he agreed to help out. I had brought a copy of my first game design, Chaos & Alchemy, and the kids wanted to play it on the spot. Fortunately, the game is quick, so they were able to try it and had a good time.

Chaos & Alchemy play area

Chaos & Alchemy play area

The date was set for the first real club meeting: Halloween 2013. That’s today!

Preparing for the first meeting

My main job at this point is to decide what games to bring. The kids are interested in my own designs, so I knew I would be bringing some of those. Beyond that, I want to bring games with certain features:

  • Quick to teach
  • Not too complicated rules-wise
  • Quick to play (90 minutes at the absolute maximum; preferably shorter)
  • Variety of styles (co-op, competitive, thematic, euro, etc.)
  • Portable (I have to carry all of these at one go)

I went through my collection and thought about games that I’ve taught to new gamers. I ultimately decided on this line-up:

Club games 1

I may trim this down by a game or two before I head to the school this afternoon, but this is my current planned line-up.

What do you think? Are any of these bad choices for new gamers? Any obvious choices I’ve left out?

Wish me luck!

I’m hoping that this ends up being a fun experience for the kids and a fulfilling experience for me. I’d love to teach young people about how much fun board games are, and if any of them are interested in learning to design their own games I’ll be happy to help teach them that, too.

Has anyone else out there been involved with kids and gaming, especially in schools? Any advice for me?

Michael Iachini – Clay Crucible Games

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

Kid-Friendly RPG at TactiCon 2013 – Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about the preparation and starting schene of the Kid-Friendly RPG (KFRPG) game that I ran for a group of six young boys at Con Jr. for TactiCon 2013. They were on a quest to find and take out an evil wizard known as Kalor the Terrible, but first they had to take care of the rat problem in the basement of the Rusty Lantern Inn.

Scene 2: Rats in the basement

I moved to a basement map and put a bunch of rats on the map (once the party had sorted out their light situation, of course). We rolled for initiative (one player versus the GM), and the rats won.

Rats are wimpy monsters (even big 50-pound rats like these), so they have a d4 for attack and defense (a standard monster in KFRPG gets a d6 for both). This let the players learn how combat works without being seriously threatened.

As the rats started dropping, a couple of players wanted to heal the rats and train them. Sure, why not? I had them roll some hard heal checks once combat was over, and they were able to heal and train three of the rats. Now they had pets! Pseudo-zombie pets, sure, but at least they were loyal (if a bit gross).

Scene 3: Back to the inn

Back upstairs, the players decided they wanted to go see a blacksmith. However, it was night time, so they would have to wait until the next morning.

What about Kalor the Terrible, you may ask? What indeed! No mention of him from the players. They needed a blacksmith, for some reason! (I still have no idea where this notion came from.)

They decided to get a good night’s sleep (recovering the few hit points they had lost).

Scene 4: Meet the blacksmith

In the morning, the party went off to see the blacksmith. I brought up a map of a town and indicated which building was the smithy.

Village map

Village map

Using Masks, I named the blacksmith, and I decided to pull out the token for good old Sir Oakley from Madness at Gardmore Abbey to represent the smith. He was heavily armored; sure, why not?

The players started shopping, talking about the cool stuff they wanted to buy. Then one of the rangers declared that he was just taking one of the blacksmith’s swords.

Naturally, the smith shouted for him to drop the stolen sword, whereupon the ranger decided to toss a dagger at the smith.

Yes, the heated battle was on!

Some of the players decided to join the battle, even as the smith’s apprentices came out of a nearby house to join the fight.

Some PCs decided to steal some armor and put it on, right in the middle of battle.

Others decided to get out of there to go check out the festival tent with gnomes in it on the other side of town.

Some changed their minds in the middle of the fight, going back and forth between fighting and paying for the stuff they were taking.

Eventually, the ranger who started the fight, along with the wizard he had dragged into it, got themselves subdued and arrested. The magistrate would be in town the next day to hear their trial.

The other four members of the party debated what to do. Two of them decided to just hang out at the inn. The other two waited for nightfall, then went for the jailbreak.

Scene 6: Jailbreak

The would-be rescuers (paladin and wolfman) decided that they needed to know the exact layout of the jail (or at least as much of it as they could reasonably discern from outside), so I sketched a quick map in MapTool (amazingly, I was not expecting to need a jail map; go figure).

After dark, the jailbreakers went around to the narrow windows high up in each wall of the jail, peering in to try to find their allies. This involved the acrobatic wolfman standing on the shoulders of the athletic paladin. Eventually, they found the right cell.

Wolfman called out to the prisoners, who started to wake up, but at the same moment the paladin heard someone coming around the building. Wolfman and paladin hid in the bushes as a couple of guards came by on rounds. The guards didn’t see them, and walked on by.

Meanwhile, the captured ranger and wizard were now awake, and they had seen the wolfman’s face for a moment before he dropped out of sight. They decided to make a big ruckus to draw the guards – which worked.

While two guards were outside on patrol, the other two guards came to check on the prisoners who were making the noise. The ranger made a fantastic roll to reach between the bars to grab one guard by the neck while the wizard shot a bolt of electricity at the other. They were able to grab the keys off a guard’s belt and make their escape, locking the guards in the cell.

Meanwhile, the patrol had passed by the back of the building, so the paladin decided to try to toss a hammer between the bars of the window to give his allies a weapon – not knowing that they were already escaping. By the time he got the hammer through the barred window, it ended up landing on a locked-up guard as his friends were heading out the front door, dealing with the patrol.


Scene 7: On the run

Now that everyone was free (and outlaws), the group decided to go get their two sleeping party members and hit the road.

They talked about their general plan – staying within sight of the main road into the hills, but keeping off the road itself. Walking by night, sleeping by day. Going nowhere in particular – just to a faraway town.

Kalor the Terrible? Who’s that?

At this point, we were about 90 minutes into our two-hour session, so I decided it was time for a final battle.

Silly players; in their haste to get out of town, they had unwittingly set up camp in a dragon’s hunting grounds.

A few kobolds came upon the party and started talking about “the Master.” After combat began with the kobolds, the Master – a dragon – showed up.

Now the party got to toss out their big, special blue chip powers, as the dragon flew around and breathed fire.

Eventually the good guys (?) were victorious and the dragon was defeated. The only tricky part was how best to skin the dragon to make awesome armor from its scales.


Thus ended Kid-Friendly RPG at TactiCon 2013. As expected, it was a pretty crazy game, but I was ready for anything and just rolled with it. Sure, these kids became bloodthirsty, jailbreaking outlaws and completely forgot about the evil wizard menacing their country, but they got some cool dragonskin armor out of the deal. All’s well that ends well!

The kids seemed to have a blast, and I enjoyed their unpredictability. If you keep the rules simple and your mind open, kids can create a rollicking good time in an adventure game.

Michael the OnlineDM

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

Kid-Friendly RPG at TactiCon 2013 – Part 1

Labor Day weekend in Colorado is a special time. Sure, it’s a great time to enjoy outdoor activities as summer wanes, but for me it’s exciting because it’s TactiCon time!

There are two big local gaming conventions here in Colorado each year. The bigger one is Genghis Con, which takes place over Presidents’ Day weekend in February. The smaller one is TactiCon. Both have lots of RPGs, board games and miniatures games, complete with a good-sized exhibit hall.

They also have Con Jr., which provides kids of con-goers with gaming of their own. I don’t have kids,so I’ve never been involved with Con Jr., but this year I decided that I’d run a game for kids.

You may have seen my post about the Kid-Friendly RPG (KFRPG), the simple game I designed when my young niece and nephew were visiting last Christmas. I figured I should bring this game to Con Jr.


To get ready for the game, the main to-do was to create more characters. I said I could have up to six players, and I only had eight character sheets prepared from last December’s game. I wanted to make sure the kids in my game had more choices.

Basically, I created male and female versions of the existing eight characters, with a few tweaks to make the characters match the pictures I found online.

As a recap, KFRPG characters are pretty simple. They consist of:

  • Race and class
  • Attack die and defense die
  • Three skills
  • One special power

I always include a big picture of the character (using a Google Image Search, for personal use only) and a spot for the player to name the character.

I put my copy of Masks in my bag for the game. This is a cool book in general, but I keep in on hand because of the running lists of random character names at the footers of the pages. What is that NPC’s name? Let me look that up (flip, flip, flip…).

I also had to make sure I had the physical supplies on hand that I would need:

  • The printed character sheets (half page each)
  • Three red poker chips (hit points), one green poker chip (healing potion) and one blue poker chip (special power) for each player
  • Dice that I didn’t mind giving away (I bought a pitcherful at Gen Con)
  • Minis to represent the player characters (I bought a bunch of plastic ones on day 2 of TactiCon)

Finally, I had to make sure my projector setup was ready to go. The projector and rig still work great after three years. As for a MapTool file, I use this one. It has a bunch of different maps on hand, so that my players can go wherever they like. I also have tons of monster and NPC tokens set up in MapTool that I can drop onto the map at any time.

KFRPG is intended to be very free form, letting the players go to bizarre places. And as you’ll see, they did!


My game was scheduled to start at 11:00 Sunday morning. On  Saturday afternoon, I found the room where I would be running the game, just so I would know where to go. I made sure I arrived about 20 minutes before the scheduled start time on Sunday, so that I would have enough time to set up.

As it turned out, there was a Ticket to Ride game that lasted all the way to 11:00 AM in that room, so I had to set up the projector and my supplies quickly when that game ended. The organizer gave me a few extra minutes to get this in order before sending in the kids.

I had a table of six boys, ranging in age from about 7 to 11. All of them had some familiarity with fantasy role playing, many having played D&D before. I had never met any of these kids before.

I started by passing around the character sheets, letting the kids pass them back and forth and swap with one another until they were happy with what they had.

One kid had this gigantic dragon mini that he wanted to use for his character. I told him that he could be a druid and the dragon could be his animal companion that he could call upon with his special power.

The other kids picked a wizard, two rangers, a dwarf paladin and a wolfman warrior (although I didn’t have a wolf mini, so he was really an elephant man).

Scene 1: The Rusty Lantern Inn

Since I’m going for a straightforward game when it comes to KFRPG, we all began in an inn, the Rusty Lantern. There were a couple of dwarves in one part of the inn, a couple of elves in another part, a human woman (Val) running the place, and a burly human man fetching food from the outdoor kitchen.

Web of the Spider Queen Session 1 - No Grid

The Rusty Lantern Inn

I had an adventure hook ready for whenever the kids needed it: An evil wizard known as Kalor the Terrible is rumored to be active in the area. No one ever sees Kalor himself, and accounts vary as to exactly what he looks like, but he leaves his signature in flaming letters in places where he has wrought havoc.

But rather than forcing this on them, I asked the kids what they wanted to do. Some wanted to chat with the elves, so I had the elves tell them that they were fleeing their homeland because Kalor the Terrible had been there.

The dwarves had heard of Kalor, but said that he was more of a legend from hundreds of years ago.

Val the innkeeper said she had some information about Kalor being active in the same region as the Rusty Lantern, which freaked out the elves.

The kids thought this sounded pretty good, so they wanted to press Val for more information. But before she was willing to trust them, she had something she wanted them to do for her first:

Kill the rats in the basement of the inn.

Yes, I wanted the adventuring cliches to flow thick and heavy! Let’s kill some rats.

Time for a cliffhanger!

Since this post is getting so long, I’m going to break it into two parts. Tomorrow, the battle begins!

Michael the OnlineDM

@ClayCrucible on Twitter

Online DM’s Kid-Friendly RPG

For Christmas 2010, my wife’s brother and his family stayed with us for a couple of weeks. We introduced my brother in law and his wife to Dungeons & Dragons, and they became big fans, continuing our game online via MapTool over the next couple of years.

My brother in law’s family also includes two kids, a girl who is currently 8 years old and a boy who is now 5. They’ve been really interested in D&D, so when the family came back to visit for Christmas 2012, I knew it was time to introduce them to role playing games.

Now, I love playing D&D 4th Edition, but I knew that there was no way my 8 year old niece and 5 year old nephew would be able to handle the game yet. I went searching for a version of D&D that could work for the children, and I took a great deal of inspiration from Newbie DM’s RPG Kids. Ultimately, though, I ended up going with something of my own creation, which I’m uncreatively calling my Kid-Friendly RPG (KFRPG if you need an acronym).

The rules

Each player has a half-page character sheet (see below). When you’re not in combat, the Kid-Friendly RPG works just like any other role-playing game – you tell the game master what you want to do, and the GM tells you what happens.

Character sheets

Feel free to use these character sheets yourself (note that there are two characters per page). I’ll note here that I do not own the character illustrations; if you own these illustrations and want me to take them down, just let me know. If you’re creating your own character sheets, I highly recommend having a big picture of the character on it for the kids.

Character sheets for half-elf ranger and human druid

Character sheets for halfling thief and dwarf paladin

Character sheets for human barbarian and wolfman warrior

Character sheets for zombie wizard and elf cleric


If a character tries something that might not work, the GM will ask for a d20 roll. In most cases, a 10 or better will succeed, but the GM is free to set the target higher or lower for harder or easier tasks.

If the character is trying to do something that’s connected to one of the three skills on their character sheet, they can roll the d20 twice and take the best result.


When combat breaks out, the party chooses a player to roll a d20 and the GM rolls a d20. If the party’s representative wins, their team will go first. If the GM wins, the bad guys will go first. Ties go to the party (ties always go to the players rather than the GM).

Rather than tracking initiative, each member of the party takes a turn, starting with the player to the GM’s left and proceeding clockwise around the table. The GM has the monsters take their turns in whatever order the GM wishes.

On a character’s turn, the character can move up to its speed (measured in squares on the board) and take an action. Most of the time, the action will be an attack, but other options include administering a healing potion to themselves or a friend, using a special power or trying something creative.

Attacking and Defending

Each character has an Attack die and a Defense die, ranging from d4 to d12. When you make an attack, roll your Attack die. Your target will roll its Defense die. If a player character’s Attack roll matches or beats the enemy’s Defense roll, the enemy takes 1 damage. Most enemies only have 1 hit point, so this is usually enough to take the enemy out.

When an enemy attacks a player character, the enemy rolls its Attack die and the player rolls the character’s Defense die. If the Defense roll is at least as high as the Attack roll, then the attack misses. If the Attack roll from the enemy is higher, then the player character takes 1 damage.

Note that in both cases, Attacking and Defending, ties go to the player character. So, if the player is attacking and rolls a 3 and the defender rolls a 3, it’s a hit on the enemy. But if an enemy is attacking a player character and they both roll a 3, it’s a miss on the player character.

Hit points

Each player character starts with 3 hit points, which are tracked with some kind of physical object (I use red poker chips). When the character takes damage, the player gives one of these chips to the GM. If the player has no more hit point chips, then the character is knocked out (not dead, just not able to act).


Each character starts with 1 healing potion, tracked with a green poker chip. One of the actions available in combat is to drink the healing potion or administer it to a friend. If a character drinks their own healing potion, they regain 1 hit point (the GM gives back a red chip). If a character administers it to a friend, the friend regains 1 hit point. However, if a character has the Heal skill and administers the potion to a friend, the friend regains 2 hit points. Note that a character with the Heal skill who drinks his or her own potion still just gets the 1 hit point (your Heal skill only helps friends).

If a character is knocked out, a character with the Heal skill can use an action in battle to try to heal the knocked out character, even without a healing potion. The healer can roll the d20 twice, and if they get a 15 or better, the knocked out character regains 1 hit point. A character without the Heal skill can try this, too, but they only get one roll and still need a 15 or better.

If a battle ends with one or more player characters knocked out, those characters regain 1 hit point after laying there for a few minutes.

Special Powers

Each character has a special power, which starts charged up. This is represented by a blue poker chip. If the player wants to use his or her character’s special power, they give the blue chip to the GM and then carry out the instructions.

Range of attack

Most attacks are melee attacks, which means that the character needs to be next to the target. If a Range is specified, the character can be that many squares away from the target and can still attack.


If two player characters are both adjacent to an enemy, they have the advantage on that enemy (they do not need to be in flanking positions, just both adjacent). A player character with the advantage gets a one-size bigger die for attacks (if the attack die is a d12, just add 1 to the result of the roll). Having advantage doesn’t help on defense.

Enemies can benefit from advantage at the GM’s discretion (a good rule of thumb is that you need 3 or 4 adjacent enemies to get advantage for them).


Each character has a Speed number, which is the number of squares they can move on a turn in addition to taking an action. The default is 5, with fast characters having 6 and slow characters having 4.

If a character doesn’t take another action, they can move their speed twice on a turn.


Most enemies have 1 hit point and a d6 for both attacking and defending, and they only attack in melee. They do not have special powers or healing potions.

A tougher or easier enemy might have bigger or smaller dice for attacks or defense. They might have a ranged attack (generally with a range no more than 5 squares). They might have a slight twist to their attack, such as an attack that grabs a character and doesn’t let it get away until the enemy is destroyed.

A boss enemy might have 3 hit points and a special power, just like a character (though no healing potions).

Optional rule: Charging

If a character wants to charge a far-off enemy, the character can move its speed and then move its speed again with an attack at the end of the second move. This attack uses a die that’s one size smaller than the character’s usual attack die (since it’s hard to attack while running).

Optional rule: Opportunity attacks

If you want to teach your players about tactical movement, you can rule that moving past an enemy without fighting it will let the enemy take a free attack at the character (which can work both ways for player characters and enemies).


So, that’s the game. I ran this with two kids and three adults (which later ballooned to five adults as more people joined in). We played a short adventure that involved three fights and a trap (note: the kids just didn’t get the trap at all), plus a bunch of role playing at the tavern at the beginning. The game lasted somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours. The kids had a blast, as did I. The rules are simple and they encourage lots of improvisation all around.

If you end up trying this out with your own group of kids, please let me know how it goes!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter