Between GenCon and TactiCon 2012

Just a quick update since I haven’t written in a while.

GenCon was an awesome experience. The highlight was getting to meet so many of my friends from the online D&D world, mainly from Twitter (d20Monkey, Jennisodes, LawOfTheGeek, deadorcs, FELTit, GeekyLyndsay, d20Blonde, Squach, TheIdDM, SlyFlourish… the list goes on and on). A lot of these were at the Thursday evening GenCon Social, with more coming at the Saturday evening recording of the Tome Show and dinner afterward.

I sat in on several seminars during the convention, with the highlights being a Kickstarter panel, the Law of the Geek panel and a panel on board game design.

I was on an episode of This Just In From GenCon as a sponsor.

I did some informal demos of Chaos & Alchemy in the general gaming areas with some good success. I was only able to do about 30 or so demos over the course of the weekend (not having a booth makes it hard to do that sort of thing), but 10 people did end up buying the game after playing it – a pretty good conversion rate! It was enough to make me want to keep going with this thing, and I’m currently talking to some small publishers and also doing the research about maybe running a Kickstarter for a big print run.

I’ve learned that my Wednesday bowling league that usually keeps me from running D&D Encounters in the fall and spring is going to be on Tuesday instead this year, which means that I’m DMing Encounters again. Yay! No write-up for this week, except to say that my table full of evil drow did a good job of role-playing. They’re scheming and backstabbing and having a lovely time.

Now I’m on the eve of TactiCon, one of the two local conventions each year. I’m running Fiasco tonight, followed by two days of Ashes of Athas (the D&D 4e organized play set in Dark Sun). I’m going to try to find time on Saturday between Dark Sun games to demo some Chaos & Alchemy as well.

So, I’m still out there, still gaming, just very busy!

-Michael the OnlineDM

OnlineDM1 on Twitter

Monster Stock Art and Minions Do It With One Hit Point

Here’s a quick post to highlight a couple of cool things I’m supporting on the RPG internet this week.

Monster Stock Art

As you undoubtedly know if you read my blog, I run lots of D&D games using MapTool (both online and in-person with a projector). One of the reasons I love MapTool for in-person games is that I don’t need to buy monster minis; I just use monster images on round tokens in MapTool to represent the bad guys.

I generally just use Google Image Search to find cool monster pictures online, but I’d love to have an all-in-one source for monster images. So, I was happy to discover and support Joe Wetzel’s Monster Stock Art project on Kickstarter.

Basically, he’s paying for a whole crapload of monster art to be delivered in either PDF or higher-resolution image form, with the option to also get monster stand-ins for physical tokens (which I obviously don’t need). Yay for cool monster images! Coming soon to a MapTool game near you (if you’re one of my players).

Minions Do It With One Hit Point T-shirt from d20monkey

I’m not a major reader of webcomics, but I do follow a few. These include the Order of the Stick, xkcd, The Oatmeal, and d20monkey. The latter of these has been coming out with nifty merchandise for a while, and he’s finally gotten me to bite on an item:

How awesome is that? This was featured in one of Brian’s comics in July 2011, and it’s finally available as an actual shirt. Get yours here! (Note: Man, did I have a hard time tracking down the comic where this idea originated!)

-Michael the OnlineDM

Interview with OnlineDM on Skyland Games

Here’s something fun: I was interviewed on another blog!

Thorynn over at Skyland Games reached out to me for an interview about online gaming. I thought he asked some great questions, and I enjoyed answering them.


Gee, I feel like such a celebrity now. <blushing>

-Michael the OnlineDM

D&D community follow-up discussion

Little did I know that sharing my feelings about my little place in the online D&D community would lead to so much discussion! I think most of the discussion was really generated by Adam Page’s guest post after my original post, but still, it’s been very interesting to hear this issue discussed on the Haste podcast and the Dungeon Master Roundtable / 4 Geeks 4e podcast.

Here are a few clarifications and follow-up thoughts I wanted to share.

First, the “three tiers” structure of the D&D blogging / Twitter community was Adam’s phrasing, not mine. I can take neither credit nor blame for that description! I did talk about feeling like there was an active community that I thought I was a part of until I met people in that community and realized that they didn’t know me, so I did imply the existence of two groups, but I didn’t express it using tiers.

Second, a lot of the follow-up discussion seems to have implied that people think Adam or I were saying that we feel excluded, that people ignore us when we reach out to them, etc. I can’t speak for Adam on this point, but this is NOT the case for me at least. I’ve never felt excluded or ignored. My revelation was that I was unknown without realizing I was unknown.

I think because it’s so easy to listen to and read people’s work online, it’s easy to forget that reading a blog or listening to a podcast is mostly a one-way street. I “knew” the folks from the DM Roundtable, for instance, but they didn’t know me. I wasn’t putting out a podcast for them to hear, and none of them had ever read my blog. Yes, this is a, “Well, duh!” revelation, but worth noting. Just because I’d been blogging for over a year and was on the various RPG blog networks, I mistakenly assumed that people in the relatively small RPG blogging community (and the even smaller D&D 4e blogging community) had read some of my stuff and knew who I was. And that simply wasn’t the case.

I didn’t feel excluded – I just felt that I was unknown (because let’s face it – I was!). And it’s not even that I desperately wanted to be known before that; it was that I never considered that I might be unknown, and it was jarring to discover. I tended to think of people whose 4e blogs I read and whose podcasts I listened to as people I “knew”, but I don’t actually know these people, and they don’t know me. They haven’t read my blog. There’s no reason I should have thought any of them did, just to be clear here. It was a little bit silly on my part.

Third, for me it wasn’t about Twitter. I only joined Twitter the week of GenCon because I wanted to hear about what was going on while I was there. I didn’t have any followers, nor did I especially feel the need to have any; I signed up mostly to read other people’s stuff. So, any conversations about people worrying that others feel excluded because they’re not replying to everybody’s tweets – that’s not an issue for me, personally. I know this is something @SarahDarkmagic has worried about, and I can tell Tracy that for me at least, it’s not a problem.

Finally, I will say as I mentioned on my earlier follow-up that talking about this community issue ended up changing things for me. I’m still not a “top tier” blogger (Adam’s term, not mine!) and I doubt if I ever will be. But some of the people whose blogs and podcasts I follow now know I exist and have mentioned my name. Maybe I’m not known for the reasons I wanted to be known, but, well, at least I know I’m part of the community now! And that’s all I was looking for.

Okay, back to my regular D&D adventures and MapTool talk now. Anyone want to play-test the adventure I plan to submit to Dungeon? I’d love more feedback! 🙂

-Michael, the OnlineDM

Speak Out With Your Geek Out: D&D of course!

It’s Friday night, but since I’m in the Mountain time zone it’s not midnight yet. Thus, I’m not too late to Speak Out With My Geek Out! #speakgeek

The basic idea is for bloggers to celebrate their “geeky” hobbies without shame, celebrating that which others may consider uncool.

I’ve written about this topic before. Originally, I was in the RPG closet, especially among co-workers. Now I’m out of the closet, and even farther out than I was at my last post. Today, even the people I work most closely with know that I play role-playing games and that I spent the first weekend of August at GenCon and Labor Day weekend at TactiCon.

I’ve only been playing D&D for less than two years, but it’s become my number one hobby by far. I still enjoy board games, too, but I spend the vast majority of my hobby time on Dungeons and Dragons. I mainly run games as the dungeon master, whether at a home game for friends, an online game for strangers who have now become friends, an online game for family members, or public games at the local store or at conventions.

I run published adventures, and I also write my own adventures. I’ve even published adventures on my blog and am planning to submit my next adventure to Dungeon Magazine! If that adventure ends up being published (a long shot, but you never know), my actual full name will be linked online to this geeky hobby. When co-workers or clients Google my name, they will see not just my work profile and articles I’ve written professionally, but also a Dungeons and Dragons adventure by this otherwise serious finance guy.

And I’m okay with that. I’m having fun with D&D, and I’m proud of it!

Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle of the online D&D community

Well, I’ve gone and ruined things now, haven’t I?

On Wednesday, I put up a post musing about the online D&D community and the fact that I didn’t exactly feel like I was a part of it. This was partly because I got to meet several well-known D&D bloggers and podcasters at GenCon, and they had no idea who I was.

I concluded that I needed to do a better job of reaching out to the community.

Apparently this topic touched a nerve with other people like me – bloggers and online community members on the fringes of the group. Adam Page (@blindgeekuk on Twitter) asked if he could put up a guest post here on Online Dungeon Master on the same topic (my first ever guest post), which went up on Friday. More commentary followed, including on Twitter (where Adam is much more active than I am, and he did a great job of drawing attention to the post).

Now here’s where the uncertainty principle comes in. One way Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is sometimes phrased is that you can’t observe something without changing it. In this case, I observed that I felt that I was a bit on the outside of the online D&D community looking in. In the process of discussing this phenomenon, I inadvertently changed it.

By the end of the day Friday, I had a guest post on my blog, lots of blog comments, and some new Twitter followers. This started with @NewbieDM, whom I’d exchanged messages with before on Twitter but who hadn’t actually followed me back. Then Adam’s tweets ended up getting @ThadeousC to both follow me on Twitter and comment here on the blog. Finally, I got a message telling me that @SarahDarkmagic herself was now following me on Twitter.

What is the world coming to? 🙂

Honestly, I didn’t put up my original post as a way to fish for attention or to convince people to follow me; I was just trying to share my thoughts. Apparently I’m not alone in feeling like an outsider, and after all of the discussion in the last few days I actually feel like less of an outsider.

In any case, if there any podcasters out there who want to talk about this as a future topic, I’m happy to join the conversation – and clearly lots of others are as well.

As always, you can find me on Twitter as @OnlineDM1 or on Skype as OnlineDM. And I’m certainly open to the idea of more guest posts here on Online Dungeon Master in the future.

Thank you for reading!

Guest post from @blindgeekuk: Becoming One of the Community

Editor’s note: My post on my feelings about my place (or lack thereof) in the online RPG community from Wednesday sparked a fair amount of discussion, most of which made me feel better! As part of that discussion, Adam Page (@blindgeekuk on Twitter and a contributor to Daily Encounter) asked if he could put up a guest post here on Online Dungeon Master talking about his feelings regarding the online RPG community. I was pleased that he asked. His post follows.

Becoming One of The Community

I wanted to write this post to tie it into OnlineDM’s comments from Wednesday, touch on my experiences, and emphasise why an existing member of the D&D community, like @ThadeousC getting the job at WotC is not only important, but is crucial.

I’ve been a gamer for 20 years. I was writing my own 2e and SLA Industries stuff before I knew that mailing lists and BBS hosted fan books existed for these games. It was only when I got a data connection for my cheap nokia phone, that let me dial up to the internet at a staggering 9.6 kbps that I was enlightened.

I only recently got involved in the D&D 4e community, but for most of the 00’s was a major figure in the SLA industries fan scene, publishing, at my last count, about 600 pieces of material for that game, and helping to form Team8, a group of UK rpg’ers that support the hobby. At the time, that community was effectively lead by a couple of well known names, and the goal of Team8 was to publish material without the stigma of a name attached to it… everything would be anonymous… The theory lasted 1 issue of our fanzine, before the names stepped in again to promote it and take control of the group. I left/was forced out, and to be honest, it was one of the best moves I made, because it showed me that I wasn’t after the glory or recognition, I just wanted to support my favourite game.

Having missed most of 3e, and the rumours of 4e, I checked it out when it hit the torrent site’s and I loved it, and have picked up pretty much everything since, spending several thousand dollars on minis and books in the 3 years i’ve been DM’ing. I reformed my old 2e group, I started up a roleplaying group at my FLGS because there was nothing for gamers there, and I heavily promoted that. In order to do so, I built a website…

And suddenly, unbeknownst to me, I was part of the community, people would google stuff and end up at my site, which I had intended just to be for my local players. When the rumours about Dark Sun started to hit, I collected them, and people like @Alphastream linked to them. I posted some rough ideas for content on there as well.

But it was the Encounters program, with it’s Twitter buffs that was the final transition. I’d checked out @wilw’s timeline a few times, and watched #gencon tweets flood in each year, but Encounters convinced me to create an account, and follow a few well known uk tweeters like @symatt and @greywulf. From there, the #ff system gained me followers, AND people to follow, and Twitter is all about the interaction with these people. I was starting to tweet to people whose blogs I read, and they were tweeting back… I was becoming one of their community.

After a year of this, I suffered a serious case of depression, and I decided to stop tweeting as me, and tried an experiment: was quantity, or quality a factor in getting recognised in the community, and how quickly could someone get accepted as being a contributing member of the community. I created a fake persona, twitter account, email, wordpress blog, and started filling it with content, from themes, to mundane descriptions to encounter summaries. I was surprised by the response. While it wasn’t the amazing ‘welcome to the community’ I was hoping for, some content did get discussed by people that most of us consider to be important tweeters (e.g @ChrisSSims).

I ended the blog early, scared of the implications if people found out, and because @SarahDarkmagic gave me a perfect opportunity. She had finally gotten the recognition she deserves with Lost City, and articles in Dragon, and she was discussing how she had become accepted into the community by basically introducing herself to people. My fake persona, and the real me grilled her on this, and we came to the summary that to be acknowledged in the community you need to:

“you have to write a regular schedule of good quality material, which shows attention to detail and a clear understanding of the game world/rules, it needs to show your passion for the game, you have to promote yourself in various places including twitter, the forums (enworld and wotc) and be heard on podcasts, and you need to build relationships with other bloggers by guest posting for them”

I closed down the persona, and started up my own blog, again, posting content until another bout of depression saw me slim down my online presence. However, prior to that, I was spotted doing stuff with Hirst Arts bricks by @mikemearls, opening up the chance to make the 3d version of Lair Assault.

Since closing down my own blog, I’ve taken that summary to heart. I’m posting here, there, and everywhere. While I don’t want the massive recognition, or to be named as one of the top ten D&D twitter people, I’d like to know that what I write is read and appreciated, and if anything, that’s something we fail in as a community, thanking each other and praising each other on a good blog post.

So yeah, thats my summary of how I became a member of the D&D community.

OnlineDM’s comments about not feeling part of the community mirror my own feelings until very recently. To me, there seems to be 3 levels in the community. You have your big names: @NewbieDM, @SlyFlourish, @SarahDarkmagic, people whose opinions are listened to and who are respected. Then there’s a middle tier, full of people who post regularly, but who don’t get the recognition they deserve: @ObsidianCrane, @PaulBaalham, @WastexGames. Finally, there is an outer tier, which is where many like OnlineDM feel they are. In this tier, you post but people never seem to respond, you tweet replies at people and never get re-tweeted etc. To me, it is important that people in here are supported, because there are a lot more of them than there are big names, and often, it’s these people who have the best content, but it’s just never seen…

At the start, I mentioned that I think a member of our community, like @thadeousc being WotC’s new social/community manager is important… There are lots of reasons why someone who understands twitter should get the job, but Thad is a known member of the community, and trusted by us all. If it came down to a situation that the community had reacted to, such as the announcement of Essentials, him saying ‘Trust me about this’ in a tweet would probably calm most of the raving fans down.

WotC have acknowledged that they lost touch with the fan base, that they have failed to communicate with us properly, and I think that reaching out to the community and hiring someone from there, who knows how we perceive things, and has the contacts amongst the twitterverse and blogosphere is the right thing to do.

Being a part of the online D&D community

I’ve been writing about D&D since April 2010, and I’m quite happy with my blog. Not a ton of people read it, but some do, and that’s enough for me. I blog for myself, not to please others, and when I look back at what I’ve written and ahead at what I’m planning to write, I feel proud.

However, I’m starting to become more aware of the broader RPG community online… and the fact that I’m not really a part of it. At GenCon this year I wanted to meet several of the people whose D&D blogs I read or whose podcasts I listen to, and I was happy to meet them. It was clear, though, that none of them had the foggiest clue who I was after I introduced myself.

Now, if I were talking about meeting celebrities in film or music or something like that, I would expect that the people whose work I follow wouldn’t know who I was. But in the RPG blogging community, well, we’re a smaller group. I thought of myself as being part of that community, but I later realized that I’m on the outside fringes.

It’s a bit of a strange feeling. The feeling is magnified now that I’m on Twitter (OnlineDM1, in case you were wondering). I see conversations go back and forth among RPG bloggers, and I occasionally toss in a comment here or there, but I realize that I’m an outsider in that community.

Ultimately, if I want to be a part of this community, it’s up to me. I’ve reached out to a fellow blogger whose work I admire to help out with an adventure he’s writing. I think that’s the kind of thing I need to do if I’m going to be anything other than a fringe member of the community. I need to make myself available to help others. People don’t notice me just because I write and am on the RPG Bloggers Network and the RPG Blog Alliance. To be a part of the community, I need to offer something to that community. They’re not going to just invite me in.

I guess my goal is to look back on this post a year from now and laugh. “It’s so funny to read how I used to feel like an outsider in the RPG blogging community! Ah, how times have changed.” Making that happen is up to me. I’m always open to advice, though!

Why does dislike for an edition get so heated?

I’m not much of an Edition Warrior. I only started playing D&D in earnest in early 2010, and I spend most of my time playing 4th Edition. I’ve had the chance to play AD&D First Edition as well as some other games like GURPS, Savage Worlds and Call of Cthulhu, and I’ve enjoyed them all. I look forward to trying out Pathfinder and more games in the future. I’m firmly in the “Can’t we all just get along?” camp.

Mxyzplk over at Geek Related put up a link to a post he wrote in 2009 that I found fantastic and enlightening. Basically, he explains that people who like older editions of D&D have a legitimate reason to express their concern about the direction of D&D 4th Edition even if they don’t play the game. The reason is that new players and new published material will tend to gravitate toward the currently supported edition of D&D, and thus it will become hard for people who like a different style of game (less emphasis on minis and battlemats and tactical positioning in combat) to find groups and new material in the future if the current edition is too different from what they enjoy. It was a very well-written, well-reasoned post.

However, just today the same author put up a post in which he described the newly announced Lair Assault program (which, to be clear, was first announced in January without the official name) as “4e Wallows In Its Own Filth” and causing him to “throw up in [his] mouth a little”. That’s a lot of hate.

Similarly, Greyhawk Grognard describes Lair Assault as confirmation that “4e is aimed at min-maxing twinks” and derides 4e as being an adaptation of mindless MMORPGs; it’s not really a role-playing game.

Here’s my take

Lair Assault doesn’t look like much fun to me. I feel dirty when I min-max a character. I enjoy story and role-playing, and Lair Assault promises to have as little of those as possible. It requires Fortune Cards, which I don’t personally enjoy.

However, that doesn’t mean that D&D 4th Edition is all about Lair Assault. The D&D Encounters program that I’m currently DMing does a good job of introducing story and opportunities for role playing – a better job than I would expect from an organized play event. My home games are tons of fun and involve maybe half of the session time (maybe less) spent in combat, which works for me. The Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond boxed set is a rich adventure setting with tons of ideas to help inspire DMs to create interesting stories. I expect more of the same with the Feywild boxed set that’s coming out later this year. Those have nothing to do with min-maxing and ceaseless combat and tactics.

The passion

I’m completely comfortable with criticisms of 4th Edition. I personally am not thrilled with the Lair Assault announcement, either, and I think that if Wizards of the Coast pours its D&D resources into programs like that, I probably won’t enjoy the game as it evolves over the next couple of years compared to where it is today. I think it’s reasonable for me and others to speak up and let WotC know that we’re not big fans of that type of program.

Where I get uncomfortable is when I see hate. The posts from Greyhawk Grognard and Geek Related about Lair Assault come across as very hate-filled toward 4e. Maybe that’s intentional on the part of the authors; maybe not. But the tone really matters a lot, at least to someone like me. When I see such hate directed at 4e in general, and I’m a person who enjoys the game, I feel that the hate is directed at me by extension, even though I’m sure that’s not the authors’ intent.

I fully support the Old School Renaissance, Pathfinder and independent RPGs, even though I spend most of my gaming time with D&D4e. I respect that fans of older editions of D&D are concerned about the direction of the game because a bad direction could mean that it will be really hard for them to find new players and new materials for their preferred style of game in the future. I think they SHOULD make their voices heard on these topics, even if I don’t feel the same way they do.

I don’t support hate. Reasonable people can disagree about things in a civil way without using such strongly negative, passionate language. I loved Mxyzplk’s 2009 post. It was strongly anti-4e, but I didn’t feel hated or that there was unreasonable negative emotion in the post. If more posts (on blogs and on message boards) that take aim at something unappealing about an edition were written in that way, I think we’d have much less fretting over edition wars. I think that would also lead to a stronger gaming community.

Recruiting new players – like me!

Think about it this way: If you’re a fan of an older edition or Pathfinder, wouldn’t you WANT someone like me to read your thoughts and think, “Wow, this is good stuff. This is someone I’d want to game with. I should check out that game because the people who play it seem to be awesome.” That’s a completely reasonable possibility! I’m still in the discovery stage of role-playing games, and I could very well settle on games other than 4e in the end.

But when someone like me sees such hate from supporters of other games, well, it makes me nervous about joining those communities. Do I really want to game with people who are filled with such passionately negative emotions about a different version of the game that they play? Honestly, I don’t want that.

Keep in mind that hate can turn people off, people whom you might really want to join your community. Is it really necessary?