Big Bad Con 2016

BigBadConThis was the second year that I have attended Big Bad Con.

It was, like last year, an excellent experience.

As I was leaving the convention this year, I was contemplating how to talk about my experience. My feeling about this convention are complex which made jumping right in a bit difficult.

Big Bad Con is both a convention and an experience and I was torn on how best to present this. I’ve tossed out several ideas while I was processing everything and decided to go with talking about it as a convention, as an experience, and as a learning moment.

Let’s start with looking at Big Bad Con as a convention. From a high level perspective, Big Bad Con functions like most conventions. It has a period when you can buy your badge online, a time period when you can sign up for games, and then the time period when everything has to take place at the convention itself.

Big Bad Con stands out from ordinary conventions in many different ways.

The first major difference is that it is centered around charities. The convention supports a local food bank as well as Doctors without Borders. In further pursuit of this charitable outlook, Big Bad Con has become a 501(c)3 organization. This charitable focus starts the convention off in the service to others and this feeling is carried through to everything else at the convention.

The next way that it stands out for me as a convention is the staggered way it allows for game sign-ups. I am most familiar with GenCon which has a lottery style game registration system. You create a list of games you want to play in and submit them when registration opens. What you get is determined by your place in line. thus, some never get any games they want. Big Bad Con’s staggered roll-out of sign-ups allows everyone to get two games in the first session and reserves the teen games for age appropriate attendees. The second wave allows everyone to sign up for two more games. The third wave allows everyone to register for whatever you like. I love this idea! It ensures that you should be able to get at least two games that you have your heart set on.

Big Bad Con also stands out for being an inclusive convention that strives to make everyone welcome. It has a community standards page on the convention website. These same standards and the no harassment policy were posted as a large banner fight in front of the registration desk for all to see. In addition to this, there were pronoun ribbons available at the registration desk to make all feel comfortable when speaking with each others. The convention also designed a social metagame for the convention in the vein of PbtA games. Each play book rewarded convention-goers with experience for getting to know someone, checking in on people, working to make others feel comfortable, and so on.

What an excellent idea!

I also love how Big Bad Con has private game rooms. If you have been to a game convention, you will have been put into a large room filled with tables. Your game will be competing with the conversations of several other games which creates a wall of noise that can be distracting to downright alienating. The private game rooms create the intimate experience of gaming at home at a convention. You have your own space in which to create a game unhindered by the other games around you. This makes the games that more fun without having to exert all the more energy just to be heard by those at the table.

Big Bad Con also crafts a wonderful experience.

It is a small intimate convention where you have the ability to get to know the people that you are gaming with. There is this feeling of camaraderie that seems to permeate every activity that happens there. I was volunteering this year and worked at Games on Demand and was granted a brief glance behind the curtain as well. As I expected there was plenty of frenetic energy as the staff and other volunteers worked to get things up and running as well as making sure that everyone had a good time. Despite this elevated anxiety and activity level, everyone remained friendly and caring. Sean took the time to check back with me on one of my shifts to ensure that he hadn’t left me feeling overwhelmed or unneeded. This meant a lot to me.

Another way this stood out for me was on Thursday night before the convention began. I had went to Endgame Oakland with a friend and we had returned to the convention hotel to find many games taking place. We did not make it far into the lobby before someone came up to invite to join in a game that was taking place. Being a shy person, It was amazing to be asked to participate in a game. I ended up getting to play in a game of Ravenloft using the Saga system with Renee Knipe. It was a great time and wonderful to get to talk to her about projects she was working on as well as getting to game with her.

These were small moments in the convention but they loomed large for me. They had a large impact as I am a shy individual and always worried that my presence is not wanted or appreciated so I hang back. It was nice to feel included, and accepted.

Big Bad Con also provided me with a teachable moment. At this convention, I see groups that get together and play games. These groups are diverse and accepting of others despite their differences. There are designers here that work to create games that also have this same aim. It makes me want to see this community to the greater hobby as a whole. It made me take a step back to look at the tables that I play at both at the convention and at home and view them more objectively. I asked myself a question, would I feel comfortable bringing someone new to this game? Would the new person feel welcome at the table? At Big Bad Con, the answer was yes. The GM’s running the games took the time to be welcoming and open to other ideas, used lines & veils, and the X card to create a more welcoming environment. I could not say the same for all of my home groups. big Bad Con gave me the impetus to try and change my home games to be more welcoming and inclusive. It also made me want to try and find a way to make the hobby as a whole more welcoming to those of us that don’t fit the stereotypical gamer mold.

Big Bad Con 2016 was once again a rousing success from my perspective. I had a wonderful time with old friends and met new people whom I hope to call friends soon. I was able to play in fun games with a great groups of people. I was able to play games that I don’t get to play at home. I was able to help out at the convention which made me feel like a part of the community. Big Bad Con is definitely a convention you need to get to at least once if you are a gamer and want to feel welcome and include.

Four bear paws out of four from this Geek Bear!

National Coming Out Day

240px-Rainbow_flag_and_blue_skiesOctober 11th is the day that has been chosen for National Coming Out day.

You may wonder why there is even a National Coming Out day when it seems that things are coming up Milhouse for those of us in the LGBT community?

It is because we still live in a society where those in the LGBT community are marginalized and looked down upon. This is changing but it is slow and filled with terrible extinction bursts that leave teenagers homeless, adults beaten, and transgendered people murdered. Until this changes, there will be a need to acknowledge that we have to come out and that it isn’t just once that we have to do this. We do this all the time and  how difficult this is depends on the individual and the time and place.

This will be my fourth year out of the closet. I am glad I came out and regret that it took me so long to make the choice. So, I thought I would take a moment and share my story here on Geek Bear’s Den so that you would understand a bit about this Geek Bear and hopefully encourage others in coming out.

The impetus to come out was pushed by my own health issues four years ago. I was at 325 lbs. I had diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. I was on over eight pills for all of these conditions. I went in for a quarterly check up and was at the point that I was going to be put on insulin.

I was terrified.

I sat down and put in some time with analyzing what was keeping me in that place. I knew I didn’t want to be on shots and that there was something preventing me from improving my situation. I can be very myopic and it was no more evident than at this moment. I had used weight and health issues as a convenient way to hide that I was gay from myself and, I thought, from others.

It took a bit of time to come to this level of self-acceptance. A person incorporates the hatred they see for themselves out in society and this makes them not accept who they are and. After this epiphany, I began the work to take better care of myself as well as accept this part of me that I had kept compartmentalized and hidden away.

It was like a weight was lifted and I could breathe.

This was back in 2012. I didn’t really tell anyone that was close to me at the time. I did go to the seminar Queer as a 3 Sided Die at GenCon and began using the apps like Growlr to try and meet people.

It was not until 2013 that I decided to begin telling my friends and family.

I had a plan. The objective was to start with the people that I felt safest telling and work my way to the ones that I felt the least safest. I would tell them over dinner so that I was in a public space and would have a way out.

I was very lucky.

All of my friends who I told were very accepting. There was no need to have gone through all of the worry that I had done and the need for an escape route ended up being effort without reason. It was a relief to come through the first round of coming out with minimal repercussions.

The process of telling my parents was different. I sat them down and had the conversation about being gay. Saying their reaction to the news was different would be an understatement. My father cried and my mother said things such as “What have I done to deserve this?” “You’re going to die of AIDS!” “I can’t live with this!”  They asked me to not tell my brother until they had time to process the information themselves and then told him a day later without my knowledge.

It was rough.

I came out the experience rather well.

I still had a place to work, to live, and, despite their reaction, I still had my family. There are many that are not so lucky. In the end, I only ended up losing three friends coming out. It was not easy accepting it but I realized that I was better off without them.

I also still learn about reactions to my coming out as people feel more comfortable sharing their initial reactions now or share the reactions of others with me now that time has passed. These revelations though are bit rough to take when people are revealed to have been uncomfortable around me or disgusted and then they got over it.

On this National Coming Out Day, I hope that those out there that are thinking about coming out are lucky enough to have friends that will listen to them when they let go of the fear and share the truth about themselves. I hope that they are lucky enough to be safe and supported when they take this big step. I also hope those that fear this action understand that this is okay as well. I understand that fear and know how difficult it is to overcome. I hope that they keep working on themselves so that they can overcome the fear soon enough to enjoy their life and not succumb to the fear and pain that living in the shadows can bring.

If you are still struggling with the idea of coming out, Check out the Human Right’s Campaign’s Resource Guide to Coming Out. It is a very helpful guide.

Zombies, Run! Fall 2016 Virtual Race

zr-vrI am a runner.

I am not the fastest nor can I run the farthest, but I am still a runner.

One of my favorite apps for running is Zombies, Run! I did a review of the app earlier and you can find it here.

One of the recent trends for runners has been the advent of the virtual race. They allow runners that may be self-conscious about their speed, pacing, or the sheer number of people that show up at 5 and 10K races participate. These races very on the amount of tracking that they provide for your participation and what you receive for the money you put into the event. I was interested in the idea but put off participating until recently.

The note that comes in the race package from Sam Yao.

The note that comes in the race package from Sam Yao.

I love the Zombies, Run! app as it provides and excellent story line mixed with music for any length of run. I saw that they had done two virtual races and saw that both had been well received by the community. When I received the notice on the app about the fall 2016 race, I finally decided to take the leap and give it a try.

The price for the fall 2016 Virtual Race was not prohibitive and is inline with the prices for a normal 5 to 10K run. The basic race was $35 and this gets a runner the race, training missions, access to the race forums, a medal, bib, badge and certificate. The next price point is $55 and includes a tech shirt. The third tier of pricing is $65 and includes a long sleeve pro-spec shirt with zip collar. There are further tiers which allow for multiple race entries at multiple levels. I chose the third tier as I wanted the long sleeve shirt to see what it’s quality was like.

The shirt for the mission.

The shirt for the mission.

I have to say that I am impressed. The forums that they provide for the race are filled with people that are discussing the story line that is running through the game. They are also supportive of each other in their quest to become more physically fit and active. This type of community is an excellent addition to a race as it helps one build up to the race as well as providing a community in which to participate for an activity that is normally done alone.

The first training mission dropped the same day that I received my race packet. I complete the mission before I opened it. The training mission dovetails nicely with the items that you receive in the package and makes the race feel more immersive. I don’t want to spoil it but was cool to open up the envelope and to see the spoils of the training run there before me!

The long sleeve shirt is a of excellent quality. I wore it on a mission one cool evening at it kept me warm for the beginning of the run and did an excellent job of wicking the sweat away after I had been running for a bit. I especially like the thumb holes in the cuffs as they kept my hands warmer and less sweaty to make it easier to access my phone during the run.

I know that they sounds small but it is really helpful.

All in all, I am very impressed with the Zombies, Run! virtual race. What you get for the money is very nice and the sense of community that builds around the race is a great thing that I wish every race had. If you are wanting to try out a virtual race, I have to say that you should give the Zombies, Run! virtual race a try. An excellent story line, wonder props, and a great community that makes it well worth the money.

Four bear paws out of Four for the 2016 Fall Virtual Race from Zombies, Run!

Wasteland King

wastelandkingI have talked about the Gallow and Ragged series before. I have reviewed both Trailer Park Fae and Roadside Magic. Wasteland King brings the trilogy to it’s conclusion.

Wasteland King begins where the Roadside Magic left off. Robin and Gallow are struggling to survive while trapped between two worlds. They are both half-blooded fae whom are capable of living in this reality as well as the more real sideways realms. The machinations of the two courts have put in motion a tsunami of violence that awaits the declaration of a time and place to come crashing in.

Robin and Gallow each move through the story struggling with their own pasts as well as attempting to envision a future beyond simply surviving the next encounter. Gallow, in his battle to ensure the safety of Robin, his dead wife’s sister, looks behind for the future. He is caught in his head as he tries to determine analyze the feelings he has for Robin. Bundled with this are his own self recriminations about his relationship with Daisy and how he had failed her. His plans are laser focused and leave little room for his own survival. Robin looks to the future, though through a glass darkly. She seeks revenge on the Queen of Summer for the death of a child, the manipulation of her life, and the torture undergone in the white tower. This vision in not all consuming as survival is the main barrier to her success and her resources are put into this endeavor.

Saintcrow continues her exploration of the Fae from those marginalized by the court. Instead of the grand pomp and circumstance trotted out in fairy tales, the reader is given the view from the cheap seats. The beauty of these nigh immortal creatures is shown to be the illusion that hides a deeper darkness that is smoothed over in more modern stories of faeries. Instead of tinkerbell, the pixies are revealed to be ephemeral creatures of light and magic with sharp teeth and pricking knives. Robin gives some perspective on how they are always around those of great magic yet none deign to take the time to notice them let alone understand these tiny beings.

I love tales of the Fae and find Saintcrow’s perspective on them and their society refreshing.

Robin is my favorite character of the book. She is called Robin Ragged by puck and others throughout the series. Her status a half-blood is brought up and thrown in her face at every turn. Her use to the Queen of Summer is in her ability to perform real-making which is a magical ability that is both rare and much sought after. Despite suffering these many slings and arrows and lacking the strength at arms displayer by Gallow, she still takes a stand against Summer. Despite the forces arrayed against her, she never truly gives up. Robin will struggle with finding the path forward and succumb to the crushing doubt that comes with such grand foes yet still get up and pull herself forward. In Wasteland King, I loved watching Robin struggle with her feelings surrounding both Gallow and Wren. Her distrust of other Fae runs deep and yet these two have both strived to protect her and have failed at this task as well. As she push forward with her desire to have vengeance on Summer, these thoughts serve as both a distraction and goad. Her concern for their motives helps her overlook the insurmountable odds she faces. These same odds give her the ability to work through her own issues and see Gallow and Wren’s actions as something other than crass manipulations for their own ends.

I also love that Saintcrow continues interlacing the story with vignettes about how the random mortals whose paths cross with those of the fae are affected. on the one hand, we are given the story of the truck driver who stops to give Wren a ride after he was deposited in the desert far from anything civilized. The journey is not long but the conversation is pleasant and provides a bit of perspective to the assassin about the nature of home. This chance encounter and bit of kindness to a fae in needs leads our trucker to find a more permanent home that allows him to find a deeper happiness. In stark relief is the story of the child and the oak tree. Robin is fleeing pursuit and happens upon a piece of the sideways realms anchored in the desert by a majestic oak. Here she finds a bit of solace and rest. A poor girl in a nearby trailer park leaves her home to find food which is not present their due to her mother and her friend’s drug habits. In her wanderings, the child is led to this same island in the more-than-real. She is brought in by the image of the sleeping fae and beauty of the tableau before her. She seeks shelter as well amongst the roots of the giant tree and falls to sleep there on the earth and surrounded by pixies. When Robin awakens, our view of the scene changes to show the skull of a child sinking into the loam surrounding the roots of the tree.


I love Wasteland King. The characters are so well done. From Robin and Gallow down to those that only are give a few brief moments on the stage. They are given given a depth that is welcome in the genre of urban fantasy. Saintcrow is a master of pacing and showcases her abilities in this realm with Wasteland King. The story feels like a boulder rolling down hill. The pace builds and builds while still allowing the characters time to breathe and grow. Despite the path of destruction being foreshadowed, there are surprises aplenty in both the journey and the final battle.

Wasteland King gets four bear paws out of four. It is a wonderful cap to this story. It only makes me sad that I will not longer get stories of Robin, Gallow and Wren. This is a world I would like to revisit and hope that we will be given this opportunity. Definitely a book and a series you should try.

Pathfinder Horror Adventures

horror-adventureAt GenCon 2016, I had the pleasure of interviewing wesley Schneider. He is the editor-in-chief at Paizo but also a contributor to their newest release, Horror Adventures. He was kind enough to give me a copy of it and the book, Bloodbound. Life has been busy but I have finally had the time to dig into Horror Adventures and share my thoughts on the book.

The book itself is a gorgeous artifact. It is a 254 page hard bound book. The interior is full color and continues in the tradition of the other books using the iconic heroes as the subjects of the art throughout the book. I always love the art in the Pathfinder books. It is well done and evocative of the themes and mechanics that are found throughout the tome. I especially appreciate the work done on the index. It makes finding specific things much easier and in a book this size it is important.

Horror Adventures is a tool box. It gathers together game mechanics, character options, spells, monsters, and advice to allow both players and game masters to run horror games using the Pathfinder system. The book is filled to the brim with useful information and tweaks that can be made to run a great horror game or campaign.

I am just going to hit the pieces here that stood out for me.

The first thing that I love about this book is that it takes the time to address expectations from both the player and the game master side. From the game master’s perspective, it addresses the need to understand whom you are trying to scare or creep out. Are you trying to scare the characters or the players? Both are viable options but require different ways of handling the game and a different level of consent. I like that the authors of the book make this distinction. Trying to scare your players can crossover into territory that can be very uncomfortable. Taking the time to talk to the players about what they can handle and having a system in place to just stop if things become unbearable it important in games like this. From the player’s perspective, it addresses the need to give up a level of control on the character. Your character has to be afraid of something and react poorly to situations or the power of a horror game is muted or lost.

The authors also take the time to address the differences between a fantasy adventure game and a horror game. In horror, the process is loss and degradation of resources. This leads to the loss of most of the characters in a horror setting save the few lone survivors. In Fantasy, the progression is the opposite direction. Characters get stronger and stronger an collect more and more resources. The authors point out how this does not make horror impossible. They show how the threats scale despite the inevitable triumph of the player characters. There are several techniques highlighted in the book for making this possible. In particular, I like how they call out players to give their characters family, friends, and goals. These things create more in depth characters and also give them things to lose in a horror game.

Another thing that stood out for me was the addition of Corruptions. These are templates that you would add to a character after they have been exposed to something horrible in the world such as Vampirism or Lycanthropy or due to choice, Lichdom. Corruptions provide a system whereby characters have certain benefits and drawbacks from these conditions. This allows for the player to struggle with both the power that comes from the whatever they have garnered as well as fight against the descent into darkness. These formalize processes that are more vague in the standard Pathfinder game or are easily overcome with a single spell. Thus, a series of games is strung together to overcome this path of destruction.

A great idea!

The books provides plenty of options for making changes to player characters. There are new racial benefits that fit better within a horror setting as well as class archetypes that create some terrifying villains for players to face. My favorite player facing changes are the story feats in this book. Twisted Love is my favorite. This is a feat that is very much a riff on Strahd from Ravenloft. You are mistaken for a monster or villain’s lost love. You gain a certain benefit for having this feat and an additional feature for completing the storyline. I love that there is this call out in the book and that this trope is something mechanically supported by this book. I can not wait to give it a try!

The book also provides a plethora of mechanics around fear, madness, curses, and setting to help create an environment that is inimical to the lives of the heroes. In particular, there are rules for creating domains for powerful evil creatures. This dovetails nicely with the story feats allowing game masters to recreate Ravenloft or any domain of dread that they may want to utilize. The rules give directions on how the domain is formed, the rules that would hold sway within it and how the borders are closed and ultimately how to destroy one. It allows cooperative group to come together and craft a story together to explore a specific trope of horror for a while within their own heroic fantasy game.

Paizo has created a great toolbox for for horror fans with Horror Adventures. It provides players and game masters with plenty of new bells and whistles to add to the game along with excellent advice on how to run any type of horror game you would like in Pathfinder.

Four bear paws out of four! A definite must have for any fan of horror or fantasy gaming.


Scarlet Witch No 10

Scarlet Witch 10Much like Doctor Strange, I had not mentioned the Scarlet Witch in a while.

After reading the 10th issue in the series, this is something I must remedy.

As always David Aja does the regular cover for this issue and it is stunning as usual. This issue features a winter scene in front of a Japanese pagoda. The title is written in the Japanese style next to Kanji and the names of the creators on this issue. Aja use of three colors to create such striking images is just breathtaking. His simple artistry on these covers makes me wish for lithographs of these covers to hang in my home.

The interior art on this issue lives up to the gorgeous cover. The first page is a simple one page piece. It is a snow covered field with a small fox wandering across the forlorn landscape with a few twigs the only other relief from bright white of the cold snow. A simple haiku is featured in the upper right corner.

Simple, elegant, and gorgeous.

The rest of the art throughout this issue has a definite edge to it. The way that Zama does the faces of all the characters, save for Scarlet Witch, adds gravitas to each of them. These are characters with a history that we are only glimpsing a single encapsulated moment. In addition, we are seeing these character as they deal with the grief of losing a loved one which also echoes from each line on a character’s face.

The story of this issue is also fascinating. After the gorgeous opening page, we get to see an aged man writing Kanji while contemplating the things that he has not done. We learn that he has learned of his coming demise and, despite all of his accomplishments, can only worry about what he has missed. Then his fate comes for him.

Wanda comes to Japan to investigate the death of the Aoi Master, Hiroshi Tanaka. She did not know the man but felt his death on the other side of the world. This is a mystery that can not be left unanswered. So, like a good detective, she begins asking questions. Through these questions we learn about the life of the Aoi Master and what he meant to this part of the world and these people. His loss has left a whole, but the hole also is a clue. Wanda learns sometimes it is the piece that is missing that provides the answer as opposed to finding the piece itself.

I’ll not spoil the ending for you.

I have to give this issue of Scarlet Witch four out of four bear paws. It has gorgeous art and excellent storytelling. Everything works together to create a one and done story that I could not ask for more. Scarlet Witch is a title that has not faltered in either of these arenas, even when it was forced to participate in the Civil War 2 story line. You would be remiss to not pick up this issue of Scarlet Witch.

Doctor Strange No. 11

doctor-strange-11-2016It has been awhile since I have talked comics and a bit longer since I have mention Doctor Strange. With the new Doctor Strange movie coming out in a couple of months, I thought now would be a good time to revisit his comic.

Issue Eleven picks up after the Fall of Magic storyline. The Empirikul had swept the earth destroying as much magic as it could. Many masters of the mystic arts and seats of power were destroyed in their wake. In the final battle, magic was able to survive by Doctor Strange accepting that he could no longer proceed in the way he had. He had to accept the mistakes of the past as well as their consequences.

This issue begins with Stephen meeting with dealers in a back alley. They are peddling mutant growth hormone. Doctor Strange is attempting every avenue to find a way back to his former power. This last ditch effort ends even more poorly than all the others. He is left for dead in a dumpster, only to be revived by the touch of an ethereal watcher that appears to be the Ancient One. Stephen returns home where his librarian, Zelma Stanton, is working at discovering which spells work and which don’t in this new age of magic. He then goes for a walk to see how the city fares since the threat has now passed. The imagery is of a much more subdued magical environment. Subdued, but not safe.

Unlike earlier issues, his attempt to assist a passerby suffering from a magical parasite ends poorly and he returns to his now dilapidated Sanctum Sanctorum to better arm himself. As he attempts the rescue again, we are treated to a flashback. Stephen is offered an elixir by Mordu to heal his hands. Stephen refuses and violence ensues. He then returns to the Ancient One to begin learning. Stephen picks himself up and returns home to recover and begin learning magic again in this world after magic was pushed to the brink.

The art in this issue is good. Nowlan and Romero do an excellent job at capturing the rough and beat down look of a world that is recovering. I like how the give a desperate and battered appearance Stephen throughout the book, even in flashback. In particular, I like how they handle the last page of the issue. We return to the bar with no doors for the reveal of the next big bad. They bring Mordu out of the darkness without bringing him fully into the light. I liked how they accomplished this.

Issue 11 does an excellent job of wrapping up the Fall of Magic storyline. It sets up a new status quo while still maintaining the weirdness factor which I came to love from the first issue. The art is good but is a bit outside of what I enjoy seeing in superhero comics. A solid three bear paws out of four. Well worth a read for comics fan as well as a nice series to help you get ready for the movie.


7th Sea

7th_sea_cover_V17th Sea is a game that captured my imagination when I first played it. The idea of a game that revolved around piracy, intrigue, romance, and swashbuckling adventure was something that I loved. I wanted to play in games where I could swing from chandeliers and rescue my paramour, race to the side of my comrades in peril, and slide down the sail of an enemy ship to defeat the villainous captain. It was something my group played for awhile but then drifted back into Dungeons & Dragons.

The kickstarter for 7th Sea reignited these passions and I quickly backed at the level to get myself a print copy of the book. I was also able to interview Rob Justice, one of the designers behind this new version of 7th Sea, at Gen Con. After some time with the book, I thought I would give my thoughts on this new iteration of 7th Sea.

Let’s start with the book itself.

This is a prodigious tome at 303 pages all of which are glossy full color. The layout is done so that it presents the information without being cluttered or distracting. There are two things that stood out about the book. First, the cover piece is phenomenal. It is a dynamic piece that captures the adventure and flair that is the heart of 7th Sea. The piece also places the female character front and center. I Loved that they made this choice for the cover piece. Second, there are two page illustrations for the start of each chapter. These pieces are beautiful as well in addition they capture the tone and purpose of the chapter they precede.

Now to the meat of the book.

7th Sea leads off with some short fiction to give you an idea of how ideas that can be found within it’s pages. A Day’s work does this admirably.

My standard edition of the book which I have signed.

My standard edition of the book which I have signed.

It provides a nice framework with which to view the ideas that are going to be presented throughout the book. This was important for me as I tend to refer back to the fiction, when present, in a roleplaying book as proof of concept. I ask, “Can my players do what happened in that piece of fiction that I just read?” If the answer is yes, then I am happy. The answer for A Day’s work is also a yes.

The book has the standard introduction to the game. In 7th Sea, this consists of breaking down the game into what types of adventures can be found within. These are broken down into pairs; Swashbuckling & Sorcery, Piracy & Adventure, Diplomacy & Intrigue, Archaeology & Exploration, and Romance & Revenge. Each of these pairings give a brief description of how this pertains to the game. I appreciate that it calls out the tropes that you can expect to find supported within the game. It sets a new player or game master up with a solid idea of what types of games can be played and help them to plan accordingly. This section also provides a brief overview of the important parts of the game world. It creates a nice foundation for understanding the setting material that follows and sets up the reader to better understand the world of 7th Sea.

Before getting to character creation, the book takes the time to introduce the world of Theah. The first section of this deals with the Nations of Theah. It takes each nation in turn and talks about it’s makeup. It goes through and talks about, the politics of the land, the recent past, current situations, as well as delineating how daily life for the different stratas of each nation appears. Special attention is gent to how each nation is special and what this means both at home and on the geopolitical board. The nations are the bulk of this section. The rest is dedicated to the other powers that are found in Theah, the Church, Pirates, and Secret Societies with the lion’s share of the information being given over to the church as it’s influence is so pervasive. I liked descriptions of the different nations. I have a few quibbles which I will bring up later. In particular, I like the breaking down of Avalon into the separate nations that make up this Kingdom. Instead of a united front, it creates a nation with more depth that I want to explore. I also like the addition of the Sarmation Commonwealth. It brings a new flavor to the Theah. The commonwealth has a prussian feel that is refreshing to see in a roleplaying game. It is nice to see Poland and surrounding countries being given some exposure.

On to the important part, character creation and game mechanics!

Character creation is a simple affair. It starts like most games do, with a concept. To help you refine this concept, there is a list of 20 questions to help you better understand the character you are creating. One of the important questions that needs answered is what nation does your character come from. The answer provides a few advantages further along in the creation process. You then put points into the traits; Brawn, Finesse, Resolve, Wits, and Panache. Each starts at a 2 and you may assign two more points at this stage. You will then apply your nationality bonus which provides a further trait bonus. The next step is to choose two backgrounds. This provides the player with a set of skills, personality quirks and advantages. The backgrounds range from y

My pirate edition of the book which arrived while I was at Gen Con.

My pirate edition of the book which arrived while I was at Gen Con.

our standard pirate to more nation specific things such as a Knight Errant from Avalon. Once you have made your choices for backgrounds, you then have 10 points to spend on further skills. This is where you will be able to buy a skill up to the starting maximum of three. This is advantageous in that is allows you to reroll a single die on a risk involving that skill. This could make the difference in having enough raises or not. You will then have 5 points to spend on Advantages. There are many choices in this arena with some being designed specifically with each nation in mind. You will then choose your character’s arcana. This is one of the ways that your character will generate Hero points throughout the game. They are presented in a fashion to resemble the Sorte deck that Fate Witches use in game as part of their sorcery. It is for flavor only though as you pick what you characters Virtue and Hubris to better reflect the concept you chose at the beginning of the process. The process is rounded out with Stories and Details. Stories are how a character improves. The player decides what they are trying to improve in the next few sessions of the game. They then create a one to three step story that addresses the steps to achieve this story and receive their reward. Details is somewhat self-explanatory as it deals with wealth, Secret Society Membership, and what-not.

The creation process is not difficult. If you have a solid concept, the choices just flow into place. If you do not, the twenty questions are designed to help to get a better grasp of the character and make character creation simpler. By far, Stories are my favorite part of character creation. They give players a level of narrative control that I like. The book does not say to work collaboratively on the stories but I feel that this would be a great way to get players invested in the story as well as get the game master invest in the player’s ideas as well. For me, this would take the responsibility of story generation off of my shoulders as game master and share it proportionately with the group. A good thing in my opinion.

The mechanics of 7th Sea are easy to grasp. If there is nothing at stake with an action, you do not roll dice. If the opposite is true, then what takes place is a risk. This situation can either be an action sequence or a dynamic sequence. An action sequence is a set piece where time is of the essence and the consequences are immediate. A dynamic sequence is piece where the drama is drawn out over time and each action takes up a large stretch of time, such as a state party. Once the scene is set, the players decide the approach that they will be taking to address the risk. This indicates the skill and attribute which will be used to create a dice pool for the risk. The game master then sets the consequences for not overcoming the risk as well as an opportunity that can be seized by the players in the scene. The player then collects dice equal to the number of his skill plus trait and looks to create collections of dice equaling 10 which are called a raise. A raise is used to lower consequences as well as take advantage of an opportunity.

Simple really.

I love all of these mechanics. The idea of each scene being a risk is nice. It sets up the idea of only rolling when things are important in a nice fashion. I especially like how the dice mechanic works. The player takes dice to create raises. Any leftover dice can be offered to the game master for purchase. This makes it so that the player can choose to make no raises and offer all the dice up for the exchange of a hero point and a danger point. This places more power into the hands of the players both for the level of opposition that they face as well as their ability to respond in kind. This allows for skill iterations that make higher skills important. For instance, at a skill rating of 4, the player has the ability to create two raises with dice adding up to 15. A definite advantage. The ability generate hero points is also nice. They are used for many things such as activating arcana, advantages, and as an extra raise. Definitely something that needs to flow freely to keep the game moving.

I have mentioned in a prior post that I love the diversity that can be found in the book. It takes the time to mention that different ethnicities can be found all across Theah. This makes it simpler for players to have a broad range of characters. In addition, the designers also note that women are just as capable of being whatever they wish in Theah as their male counterparts. The art, though still not completely balanced, presents women in as active participants within the world which is a nice switch from what the standard has been in the table top roleplaying game arena. It is in the art that 7th Sea soars for us in the LGBT community. There are two pieces that show same sex couples in a romantic kiss. These pictures are well done and portray the romance of the situation in line with the 7th Sea setting. I can not say that have ever seen pictures like these in any other game.

To be able to see myself in the art for a game is an important thing.

There are a couple rough edges that stick out. First is the index. I am happy that the book has one. The issue though, is that it is rather sparse. With the book tipping the scales at over 300 pages, a more thorough index would be appreciated. Second, despite the powerful imagery presented via the art in the book, this diversity does not appear as much in the text. We have a picture of two musketeers having a kiss and two lady sailors doing the same. Nowhere in the text does it address how this is taken by their societies. I know that space is limited but a few lines here or there addressing this would be nice. The same could be said of the treatment of women. The text states that women hold the same positions as men in Theah. Further reading shows that in places like the Highland Marshes and Vodacce seem to have the same backwards views about women as their historical counterparts. I would have liked to seen these ideas as things to kicked over. The lack of a map is annoying . I love the map that is at the front of the book but it is not easy to reference. They put a lot of effort into this beautiful piece of cartography to then not give it to us in the book.

Overall, I love 7th Sea. The art is gorgeous and the mechanics are inspired. Everything comes together to create a game that captures the look and feel of swashbuckling adventure. I want to get into a campaign and watch how the story mechanic unfolds over time.

7th Sea is definitely worthy of four bear paws out of four. It should be on your gaming shelf.

GenCon 2016: Paizo

Every year at GenCon I stop by the Paizo booth and talk to someone about what is new at Paizon. I never have set up an actual interview. Instead, I would use the hour early entry into the vendor hall as time to talk to one of the people that works the booth about the new release at GenCon.

This year I decided to take a different tack.

When you are approved for a press badge for GenCon, you begin receiving email from the various publishing companies that come to the convention. One of the emails I received which caught my eye was the ability to request an interview with Paizo. I initially did not send in a request as I did not think that I would get accepted to interview someone from Paizo as my site is both small and niche. I finally decided to put in a request and was given a time on Sunday afternoon to speak with F Wesley Schneider.

I was both ecstatic and nervous. I was ecstatic because I was given an interview. I was nervous because I was given an interview.

This would be my second scheduled interview with a designer ever. So, I definitely had RuPaul’s line from Drag Race running through my head.

“Don’t Fuck it up!”

Wes Schneider is the Editor-in-Chief at Paizo, co-creator of Pathfinder, author of many of the Pathfinder game books including the new Horror Adventures, and author of the Pathfinder novel, Bloodbound. Wes is also one of the panelists on the Queer as a 3 sided die seminar at GenCon.

No pressure.

I don’t record during my interviews, I take notes. So any errors in information are my fault due to poor note taking or poor handwriting.

I arrived early to the Paizo booth on Sunday, the last day of Gencon 2016 because I am that guy. I took my time to wander around and look at all the neat things that were available from Paizo. My favorite purchase from past GenCons has been the Mythic Adventures book. A book that is right in my wheelhouse. The Mayfair booth across was having a final gathering of their gamers and were giving away many things so that the space right behind where the interview would be happening. The nearby space was filled with people and raucous with excitement.

Wes was very welcoming and let me know that he had checked out my site that morning. He mentioned that he remembered me from the Queer as a 3 sided die seminar earlier in GenCon. The Mayfair event that was going was very loud so we moved out into the hall by the Vendor Hall to make it easier to speak. I made to let him know that I appreciated the Queer as a 3 sided die event here at GenCon and explained that it was one of my first public events after coming out. I also gave a brief description of my connection to Pathfinder.

I know. This was most probably not the most professional thing to do but I wanted to say thanks and share how much I enjoy Pathfinder.

I was very interested in Starfinder. I have been wanting to play a science fiction game for some time and was happy to hear that Paizo would be launching something in the genre. I asked Wes which genres of Science Fiction that Starfinder would engender. Would it allow for play in the styles of Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly, or all genres. According to Wes, Starfinder is smaller project that will have the Pathfinder world integrated into it. Starfinder will have it’s own aliens but will hit on tropes like the strong warrior race. By virtue of integrating the Pathfinder world into it, Starfinder will be a blend of science fiction and fantasy but will not just be an add on like in Spelljammer. Wes stated that the designers tried to answer the question, “What would the golarion be like if it was able to reach the stars?” Starfinder would be Golarion 3000 years in the future. I enquired if Starfinder would continue in Paizo’s path of diversity within its work and Wes said that it would.

I asked Wes about his first novel for Paizo, Bloodbound. He stated he was very worried about writing a novel for the company that he was kind of the boss of. He made sure he worked his way up through the fiction process. Wes stated that he had pieces in several of the adventure paths including Guilty Blood and Carrion Crown. According to Wes, Bloodbound is a dark fantasy set in Ustalav. The two main characters are Larsa, a dhampir vampire hunter, and Jadaine, a priestess of the death goddess. The two are working together to maintain and age old treaty between the vampires and the humans to keep the city safe. Wes stated that the question that underlies the story in Bloodbound is, “How would Dracula react if Van Helsing stopped pursuing him?” Wes stated that he enjoyed getting to use Ailson Kindler, Golarion’s Bram Stoker, as well as Considine, The smug self-important bastard of a vampire. Wes gave the impression really enjoying get to write these characters and play with this idea in Bloodbound. His love for the book was infectious and definitely made me want to read it.

I followed up with a question about why the diversity in Golarion was something seen in the campaign setting but not in the actual rules books. Wes stated that at the beginning, the rules books were designed to be a toolkit. You take the rules and play in whatever fantasy setting that you wished. The elves and dwarves in the main rule books were meant to be stock fantasy tropes. It was when you got to the adventure paths and setting books that the true flavor and diversity of Paizo would shine through. Wes explained that from this starting point that Paizo has maintained this separation. It has caused some minor confusion when they would release a race book for the Inner Sea region and it would struggle to find traction when readers would assume it was just another elf book as opposed to giving you the society of these peoples in Golarion.

I asked Wes what would be a good starting point for someone like me that had not played an adventure path. His suggestion was Strange Aeons. According to Wes, this path starts in Ustalav and deals with the tropes of cosmic horror. He pointed out hat it has many H P Lovecraft characters scattered throughout. The initial attack of the path is that you are locked in an asylum and are seeking sanity. Wes states that it allows you to start at level one and go follow it through to high levels.

An interesting idea that I am going to have to try and play through.

Shardra Trans Dwarven Shaman

Trans Dwarven Shaman

I closed the interview by asking him what was a question that he wished I had asked. His answer was, “What are his favorite three queer characters in Pathfinder?” Wes listed Shardra, the trans dwarf shaman. He stated that Crystal Frasier created the tradition for what a trans dwarf is in Golarion. Wes mentions Shardra often in the Queer as a 3 sided die seminar as well. The lack of a trans character in Pathfinder was something that Shardra helped fix and has done an admirable job. Wes moved on to mention Merisiel and Kyra from the Pathfinder comic. He stated that he loves that these two are in a relationship in the comic and that it isn’t simple or reductive. He states that they have their ups and downs yet it still feels authentic. Finally, he loves Considine, the queer vampire from Bloodbound. Wes states that he loves that he got to write a character that was such a bastard yet still not a stereotype. A character that you just hate but love at the same time.

It was great to speak with Wes Schneider about Starfinder, Bloodbound, Pathfinder, and diversity. He was warm and cordial and fun to talk to. His energy and enthusiasm about Pathfinder, Starfinder, and the characters that live there was astounding and infectious. I had a great time speaking with him about all things Paizo. I have a copy of Bloodbound and Horror Adventures and expect a review of these books when I finally get to finish them.



GenCon 2016: 7th Sea

7th_sea_cover_V1Earlier this year there had been a Kickstarter for 7th Sea. It was one of my favorite games by John Wick and there was no way that I was not backing this project. I initially backed at a level that would provide me a copy of the book but I changed my pledge later on to the Scoundrel level to get both the special edition of the book as well as pirate booty.

When I discovered that John Wick Presents was going to have their own booth at GenCon, I was excited. I definitely knew that I was going to get my book signed by all three designers.

A few weeks out from GenCon, I put a post up on FaceBook asking friends whom they thought I should try to talk to at GenCon 2016. I have mentioned that I am shy and tend to be hesitant about talking to designers about their games. Several friends made suggestions for people that I should talk too. The key one was Rob Justice. Rob is one of the designers of the new edition of 7th Sea and had done his own podcast for several years, The Bear Swarm. I had followed him on FaceBook and he was kind enough to respond to my question. Rob had posted his schedule at GenCon to make it easy to find him and let me know that he would be happy to talk with me about 7th Sea if I had time to drop by the booth.

I should mention that when I do interviews, I take notes. Any errors in information are my own due to either writing down the information incorrectly or due to not being able to read my own handwriting.

I arrived at the John Wick Presents booth not long after the Vendor Hall opened. My plan was to speak with Rob early so that I did not take up to much valuable time or space at the booth. I arrived as Rob was discussing possible demos at the booth except of the lamentable lack of dice to be able to do this. There were a few tall round tables set up to the right side of the booth and this where we talked about 7th Sea.

My first question for Rob was about the incredible turn around time that John Wick Presents had with this new edition of 7th Sea. The Kickstarter ended in March and the base books began shipping in August of the same year. Rob pointed out that a lot of the writing had been done before hand. He stated that work had been going on for the book for about eight months before the Kickstarter. Rob pointed out that the first book was completed and being delivered to the backers a little over three months after the Kickstarter closed. I pointed out that this was one of the reasons that I had backed 7th Sea. In addition to loving the game, I knew that John Wick had a reputation of getting projects done quickly and well and was happy to see the books at GenCon.

Next I asked Rob how his participation in 7th Sea came about. Rob stated that it went back to Podcasting. He state that he had found John’s game Houses of the Blooded. He loved it so much that he talked about it on his podcast and even had the symbol from the book tattooed on his leg. Rob ran into John at a convention that he was attending as a podcaster and showed him his tattoo and the two became friends not long after. Rob states that he has been friends with John for over 7 years and when 7th Sea came up that John asked him and Mike Curry to be system designers for him. I questioned Rob further on this and his answer was that he more akin to a consultant idea wise on the project. He would discuss ideas around the setting and mechanics with Mike and John as well as doing some writing on the project as well. Rob pointed out that he brought up his concerns around the fate witches and their magic and that they needed fixed. I asked Rob what were some of the things in 7th Sea that he had a direct hand in. He pointed out that he did a few fiction pieces throughout the book, the Knights of Avalon, Matushka’s touch, and a version of voodoo in the upcoming pirate book.

One of my concerns with table-top  roleplaying games has been the lack of diversity in them. This trend has been changing as can be evidenced in the Pathfinder products and 5th Edition D&D. I asked Rob about diversity in 7th Sea. Rob stated that they had long conversations about it. 7th Sea is set in a fantasy version of Europe in a era that is not known for it’s diversity. Rob mentioned that the conversations tended to orbit around this fact. Rob stated that he pointed out that it was not difficult to make diversity a part of the book and pointed out that it takes one line to give both players and the setting permission to be diverse. He also pointed out that the they tried to make the artwork in the book more representative of everyone that would be playing the game.

This made me very happy!

I asked Rob what his hope was for 7th Sea. He said he hoped that 7th Sea would be someone’s first roleplaying experience. Rob pointed out that the guiding principle behind this new iteration of 7th Sea was that Heroes succeed. He hopes that this change from an antagonistic playstyle will give these new players a wonderful introduction to the hobby as well as become a more pervasive element throughout the industry. Rob’s thought on changing this mindset is to lead the way which 7th Sea does.

I ended the interview with a question stolen from Rob Justice himself. I asked “what is something that I did not ask that you hoped that I would have?” His answer was that he wished that people would ask him about the changes made to the world. Rob stated that there were lots of little and big changes that are worth noting. He pointed out that the Sarmatian Commonwealth was a new addition. He went on to say that it was something that was near to his heart. This addition brought the people of Poland and Lithuania into the mythos of 7th Sea. These are the people from which he is descended and do not get much attention in roleplaying games here in America. It was something he was glad that they did and felt that it added much to 7th sea.

It was great to get to speak with Rob Justice about 7th Sea. He took time out of a busy day to answer my questions and demonstrate the basics of the mechanics of 7th Sea for me. His love of the game is evident and helped bring my love of the game even higher.

Expect a review of 7th Sea in the near future!

Edit: This piece was edited to correct an inaccuracy concerning the sale of Legends of the Five Rings.