Friday, August 18, 2017

#RPGaday2017, Day 18: Which RPG have you played the most in your life?

Second time in a row blogging on the day in questing; gonna try to keep this brief-ish.
Let's blog, homies.

#RPGaday2017, Day 17: Which RPG have you played the most in your life?

Well, this is probably going to come down to which metric we use for "most1." So eff it; let's do it by category.

By calendar time

Gotta be V:tM, right? I LARP'd for multiple years, many of which were in the same game. I wound up running some tabletop games, and then playing in a lengthy one years later. So if we're going by that metric, then it's gotta be my angsty spookfriends, and it's not terribly close.

I can earnestly say that this damn setting has given me more frustration than pretty much any other - so very, very much of it doesn't work for me, from the mechanics, to the politics, to the overbearing "but we have to make it daaaaaark" of much of the tone. That's even before we start getting into some of the questionable representation of real-world cultures - historical and otherwise - in earlier sourcebooks.

So yeah, it stumbles a lot. But a large part of that is due to trying. Honestly, it'd never have been frustrating if I didn't love the damn thing so much. I have as many - if not more - of the same complaints with say, Rifts, but I don't have any kind of real attachment to that property, so it doesn't really affect me much2.

So yeah. V:tM is a prime example to me of loving something deeply, while being keenly aware of its flaws, and unwilling to simply accept them3.

By Hours

If we include GMing, it's probably the Gehenna Engine by now, or getting close. Playtesting is a thing! Beyond that, I've never really been in a group that has "their system" that got stuck with. Shadowrun (if you combine 3rd, 4th, and 5th editions), D20 (if you combine D&D 3X and Pathfinder) probably make a strong showing, for ubiquity's sake if nothing else. 

By Number of sessions

Can we count "scrabbled-together, close-enough-for-jazz" systems? Because across my time as a player and GM, that's probably what I've seen the most of. 

This, let's be clear, has been a Good ThingTM.

All things being equal, a bespoke solution will outperform an off-the-rack one, and in a gaming style that heavily de-emphasizes use of the system, things get close to being equal pretty quickly. This has assuredly influenced my design style, as I'm very cognizant about giving people tools, and ways to ignore them. To my use case, a system needs to be really enjoyable at its core mechanic, with little else to support it - because many groups will throw everything else out the window, using as little as possible so that they can get on with the part of the game they're enjoying. 

Deep engagement with mechanical complexity is fun too! I can enjoy that quite a bit. But for my 2d6 worth, if a system can't be effectively streamlined, that greatly limits its utility, and likelihood of being used.


* * *

1 - Also, which metric we use for "play," but that's another can of worms.

2 - Not to knock Rifts! A lot of people dig it, and that's cool - people should like things! I bounced off it once, and never felt compelled to give it a second look; but I'm certain it has a lot of merit as well, and I'm not opposed to attempting to find it for myself someday. But there's no emotional attachment there.

3 - I should probably note that the Onyx Path 20th Anniversary stuff is lovely, and goes an immensely long way towards addressing any and all of these issues; I've just never had the opportunity to play the thing.

Getting Started With Merch — Step Two: Wearables

Continuing the series discussed here. Part One is here.

If it seems like we're a broken record with our discussion of merch, that's not an accident; it’s an integral part of how modern artists get paid. A lot of these articles assume that you’ve already got some merch, and you want to make it better. That’s all well and good, but what about artists who are just getting started with merch?

This guide aims to make monetizing your band a painless process. Today, we’re going to talk about wearables – t-shirts, hoodies, and other gear for the human form. Getting started can be daunting, but never fear: we’ve already made the mistakes (and talked to those who have), so you won’t have to.

Starting With Nothing, Working With Designers

First of all, starting with your logo is probably the way to go. If you don’t have a logo, or any other existing designs, you can usually get someone to make one for you on the cheap. Friends, family members, art students at the local university — odds are, you already know somebody who can:
·         Make you a killer design, and
·         Do it way more affordably than hiring a graphic design firm, professional graffiti artist, etc.
·         Will generate a bunch of hype for you, by telling all of their friends and family about the awesome band/emcee/DJ they’re making sweet art for

At the indie level, it’s all about relationships. Don’t abuse them by trying to take advantage of people — but as an indie artist, even though you’re not as established as a chart-topping mainstream star, you’re still a professional, and you still get paid for your work. Treat artists the same way, and you’ll both blow up together. Be respectful, and pay them for their work. 

Once you’ve got a design (or several), it’s time to put it on some wearables.


The classic. You’ve seen them, you probably have a couple, and you know you need at least one for your merch stand. Let’s dive in.

The iconic black music t-shirt is a classic for a reason; most people can find room for a black t-shirt in their wardrobe, and they’re pretty easy to manufacture, and most designs look pretty fly on black, as opposed to other colors.

Having said that, don’t write-off the idea of having multiple designs just yet. If you’ve got some cool art that didn’t make it into the album, or a proposed logo that you didn’t like as much as the final product, here’s a great place to use them. Fans LOVE t-shirts; if you give them the option to buy different designs, many will.

However you go, you can often get shirts that feel better and cost less if you go with a lighter shirt, something in the 5.3-5.6 oz. range.


Another standby, especially if you live somewhere cold. Zipper hoodies are the standard, but cost a little more to produce than pullovers. Having said that, it’s best not to rock the boat when starting out; get a black zipper hoodie with your logo on it (front or back), and your fans’ll buy them.

Simple is Good

Lastly, don’t overdo it. Merch options are good, but when starting out, a lot of artists waste money on a variety of unpopular designs. Start with a few solid offerings, and slowly build up your options; soon enough, you’ll basically be a clothing line unto yourself.

Getting Started With Merch — Step One: Your Music

Continuing the series discussed here.

We talk a lot about merchandise here, and for good reason; it’s an integral part of how modern artists get paid. A lot of these articles assume that you’ve already got some merch, and you want to make it better. That’s all well and good, but what about artists who are just getting started with merch?

Bottom line; you’re a musician. People have come to hear you perform your music, and you owe it to them — and yourself — to make it easy for them to not only listen to it later, but for you to make some cash off the deal.

In the modern era, people tend to buy music in three ways:
  1. CDs
  2. Vinyl
Let's break it down.

Compact Discs

Of these three, CDs are still your best bet1. Even if your fans take them home, drop them in the computer, and immediately turn them into .mp3s, people like the tangibility of buying something that they can take home. Additionally, they’re super-easy to sign (if you’re not autographing stuff for free at your table, you’re either missing out, or playing stadiums), and still portable enough to fit in a purse or pocket.

When it comes to getting your CDs, Cravedog and Discmakers are the industry standards2, but there’s a ton of options available.

Vinyl Records

Having said that, don’t sleep on vinyl; it sounds great, it's got value as a collectible, and if you’ve got a hip(ster), millennial audience, odds are they’ve got some nice turntables among their ranks. If you can move vinyl, it’s a great way to get your band noticed – when somebody puts your record on at a party, it’s an event. That’s great publicity; anytime you can get people buzzing about you when you’re not presentis a win. Vinyl’s usually less profitable than CDs or downloads, but the people who use it tend to love it.

Gotta Groove Records, based out of Cleveland OH3, is our favorite, but again; Google is your friend. Find something you’re happy with.

Digital Downloads

“But wait,” you say, “how am I gonna sell digital goods at my merch table?” A fine question, my friend.

Here’s how.

Step One: Set up Your Downloads

If you haven’t already done so, set up your music store of choice. Soundcloud, iTunes, Bandcamp, Google Play Music – pick one. Or, if you’re using several (which you really should), pick your favorite — ideally the one with the highest profit margin for you, and the lowest price for your fans.

Step Two: Get a QR code

There’s a ton of free QR code generators online; pick one, and generate a link to your storefront of choice. Now, people can buy your music on their phones while standing in line to buy a t-shirt. Done.

Step Three (optional): Get Fancy with your QR Code

There are a couple ways to do this: individual strips (that you can autograph), a banner at your merch table, or just a cool concert poster with the QR code incorporated into the design. Printing out a setlist with the QR code for your night's concert is cheap, and provides a unique, autographable tangible artifact to go with your download.

Your Fans Want to Buy Your Music

At the end of the day, your fans are looking for ways to support you, and if they're your fans, they probably like your music. That means they'll want to buy it, so they can listen to it. Simple, right? Make it easy, make it fun, and it’ll make you money.

* * *
1 - It's worth noting that CD duplication was one of the services my former employers had monetized. That said, I don't feel like this is disingenuous; tangibility matters.

2 - No pitch here, these are the old standbys. Also, Google is your friend.

3 - As long as you live in the continental US.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

#RPGaday2017, Day 17: Which RPG have you owned the longest, but not played?

Oh wow, I guess I can do these on the actual day, huh?


All right! Let's blog, homies.

#RPGaday2017, Day 17: Which RPG have you owned the longest, but not played?

So, as has probably come up by now, either in the archive or in conversation, I came into the hobby in the early aughts, via White Wolf LARPS. An acting student who had very little interest in D&D1, I was actually tricked into my first gaming sessions as a way to work on my improv skills. Once I got over the initial strangeness, 20-year-old me thought that dressing up and engaging in collaborative, semi-structured improve was just the coolest effin' thing ever, and I loved WW's Angsty Edgelord games.

Years have passed. And you know what? That was really cool. Not even in an ironic, "I love it because it's so dumb" kind of way, but there's some good stuff there. Judge me, but I like it.

Anyway. That's subtext. Here's an answer.

So hot, the book itself is on LITERAL (not literal) FIRE.

Hunter: The Reckoning

God damn, did I think this was cool. I didn't even realize that Hunter was a White Wolf property, watching my homie play the Xbox game; that is, until he rolled up on a Lasombra from V:tM. Man, that was validating; I felt cool for liking White Wolf games. It was nice.

Also, Hunter was slick as hell. Action hero Van Helsings in the objectively terrible World of Darkness? I was so very, very sold. I knew exactly the sorts of terrible people who inhabited that setting; I played with them - hell, I was some of them - and humanity needed protectors. I wanted to play this game so badly. I bought a copy as soon as I realized it existed, so this would be sometime in 2002. 

I've owned several copies since then. 15 years, and I've never played it once

I tried to run a game once, but everybody wanted to play Vampires, so things changed quite a bit by the time the game started. Nothing wrong with that; me and the ladies involved (and eventually, a few boyfriends brought along) had a grand time, but it sure as hell wasn't a Reckoning. The video game's sequels would prove to be the closest I ever got to playing. 

I Reckon the Moment's Passed me By

It's just not the same.
Nowadays, the chances of me getting my Hunter on are so laughably low that I won't waste numbers on them. This sort of thing has been relegated to the world of Katanas & Trenchcoats2-type satire games. And while Onyx Path's 20th Anniversary Kickstarter Machine might come around next year, I somehow doubt it - this game just didn't seem to capture people's imagination in the same way.

Good! Also not the same.
And in fairness, it's not hard to see why. If you're a fan of WW games, you probably have some strong positive associations with some of the presumed primary antagonists of Hunter; who wants to play a game about destroying all the interesting, flawed, beautiful immortals that you love so much? The idea of taking a flamethrower to these critters couldn't have been less appealing to my gaming group, and I bet that's not a unique experience. Never mind that it tried to place itself in a pocket universe, where you're not actually using the other WW critter types as antagonists; that's how people used the game, and that's kind of what it became in people's minds. 

Modern games like the excellent Monster of the Week fill the niche to a degree, letting people get their Buffy/Supernatural on, and I've really enjoyed my experiences with that system. 

But its success makes me just the tiniest bit sad. The game is good enough that anyone looking for something in that space will look no further. Meanwhile, it's been so long since I cracked open my copy of Hunter, that I barely remember its contents. Doubtless, 2017 Killstring would be frustrated by its mechanics, and immediately try to port the thing to Gehenna or something. There's no way it matches up to the grandeur in my head.

So I imagine it'll sit on my shelf, burning in perpetuity, forever alone3

* * *

1 - And a family that was convinced it was somehow satanic, which had left a weird, unearned taste in my mouth. 

2 - Which is awesome, let's be clear on that. #YOLF

3 - Which is kind of fitting for a White Wolf game, now that I think about it. Have some angst, little book! :D

RPGaDay 2017

Hello, internet friends! I decided to do the #RPGaDay thing, but I started... in the middle of the month. Needless to say, not everything's going to be coming out on the proper day. Having Said That, I went ahead and back-dated them anyway, because I like things to be vaguely orderly.

This can all get a bit confusing, so here's a handy1 guide to my entries. Periodically updated until it's filled out. I'm hoping that doesn't stretch into September?

No promises.

#RPGaday 2017

* * *

1 - Handiness not guaranteed. No refunds.

The Tour Survival Guide — Part Two

Continuing the series discussed here, and the branch from here. This is basically a shorter version of my Con Survival Guide, but it's reprinted here for the sake of continuity.

Adrenaline alone will not sustain you — spend long enough on the road, and fatigue is inevitable. So how do you avoid it? To answer that, friend of the blog Jonathan Killstring has some tips from his time touring the Midwest with artists like Sworn Enemy, MC Chris, and Foxy Shazam; he’s made mistakes, so you don’t have to.1

Follow the 3-2-1 Rule

This is a classic guideline — whether you’re going on vacation, tour, or a grand adventure to save the world, follow the 3-2-1 rule, and you’ll make it out ok.

The idea is simple. Every day, you should get a bare minimum of:


More is better, obviously, but this is your floor.


With real food and everything. Cheetos don’t count. Gas station jerky doesn’t count. Your body will thank you.


Often tricky to manage, and requiring some forethought, planning, and willingness to shower super-quickly, this is nonetheless incredibly important. Not just because you’ll be sweating your butt off under hot lights every night, but because when hygine goes, sickness sets in. Nothing is worse than cancelling dates because you got a nasty cold; so use that hand sanitizer, and don’t neglect your hygine.

That goes double if you’re touring in a van with other people.

Hydrate Yourself

Water is your friend. Beer and soda don’t count. When you perform, you’re gonna sweat. Even if it’s the dead of winter, you pack people in a club, and hit the lights, you’re gonna sweat more than normal. And if you don’t hydrate properly, you’re going to wind up getting sick, or just not having the energy to perform. These people were good enough to see you out on tour; you owe it to them to make each show memorable, and you can’t do that if you’re parched.

A quick test to see if you’re dehydrated; grab a sports drink — Gatorade is the classic, but anything will do — and down it. If it tastes amazing, and you drink it in one gulp, congratulations; you are officially dehydrated.

You might want to repeat that last step a couple times.

Talc Up

Another thing to keep in mind with all that sweat, is that you’re going to get drenched. I heartily recommend preempting those problems with some talcum powder, like Gold Bond.

Laugh all you want, but you’d be surprised how many guitarists’ low stances were the product of nasty rashes. Make sure you can perform — both on-stage, and in the, ahem, after-parties — by powdering up at the beginning of your day, and maybe before you go on-stage.

A word of caution: don’t apply the highly-medicated stuff to anything resembling an open wound. There is a special sort of hell awaiting anyone so foolish.

Hydrate Yourself

Whether you're gearing up your summer tour schedule, or just prepping for an outdoor festival, you want to make it through to the end in one piece. And ideally, you want to make a good impression on people. In my travels, I haven't always managed both. Occasionally, I've managed neither.

Do better than I have done. Be the Superstar you were destined to become. Barring that, maybe just don't get sick.


We couldn’t have said it better ourselves2.

* * *

1 - Disclaimer: this is not actually why I made the mistakes in question.

2 - Because Killstring is our ghostwriter, but it's all good. I may have been getting a little testy about the whole "not getting paid" thing by this point. :)

The Tour Survival Guide — Part One

The series discussed here continues. 

It's time to go out on tour. You’ve booked the dates, polished your set list, and found someone to feed your cat. The only thing left to do is hit the open road, and embrace the spirit of adventure, right?


Whether it’s your first tour, or you’re a veteran road warrior, there are always some factors to consider before heading out on tour.

Have a Sleeping Plan

Getting to sleep on the road is difficult in the best of circumstances, and if you (or a bandmate) likes to party, it becomes even more important. Money is tight, and hotels add up quickly, so many artists work out sleeping arrangements with friends, local acts, and occasionally even fans in the cities where they’re performing.

And 50 ft. of rope couldn't hurt.
Pulling this off requires advance planning, a willingness to improvise when things invariably fall through, and above all else; sleeping bags.

No, seriously. Make like a D&D character and pack a bedroll.

“I slept on so many floors — hotel and otherwise — on my first tour, my back was killing me by the end1,” says Jonathan Killstring, former tour manager (and occasional touring musician). “I always tell new bands to bring a sleeping bag or two; and they’ve always wound up needing them.”

If you’re not sleeping, you’re not going to be performing at your best. So plan ahead.

Over-Prepare Your Budget

Figure out how much cash you’re going to spend on things like gas, food, and the occasional bit of lodging. Then budget a little more for performance-related expenses.

“I was a drummer before playing guitar, and I broke a lot of strings until I learned some technique,” says Killstring. “That was an expensive first tour — but at least I got a nickname out of it2!” If your concerts involve a live band, you can assume the worst; broken strings, missing drumsticks, etc., so bring spares with you so that you don't have to scramble mid-set. This goes for props, too; if you always wear sunglasses onstage, bring a couple spares. If part of your onstage persona is a hat, scarf, whatever, bring a couple; worst-case scenario, you can toss some into the crowd for a memorable memento.

Your budget should include cash, supplies, and — this part is important — shouldn’t count on money coming in. If you’ve never toured before, you don’t really know what your cut of the door is going to be like, nor what your merch profits will be.  And even if you have guarantees, that doesn’t mean that every venue will hold up their end of the bargain3. Sure, you’ll probably get the money eventually — after the right legal threats — but that doesn’t put gas in your tank today.

Never put yourself in a position where you can get stranded.

This involves saving a lot of cash before you head out. Hopefully it’s not necessary, but a few extra shifts at your day job beats the heck out of being stranded in the middle of Iowa because you ran out of fuel.

Consider the Weather

While it sounds mundane, never ignore the effects of Mother Nature on your tour.

Driving in blizzard season? Don’t plan to travel the speed limit on freeways; odds are you’ll be going much slower, increasing your travel times. Gearing up for a summer tour? Well, you’d better make sure you’ve got working A/C, lest you arrive at the venue in need of medical care. And if you've never driven on mountain roads in fog, don't expect to make good time coming back from high-altitude venues.

Embrace the Adventure

No plan survives contact with a tour, and that’s ok. Touring is an adventure – stay flexible, open, and be ready to embrace the challenge, and you’ll have an experience like no other. “Even at its worst,” says Killstring, “I was still getting to live my dream. That’s something not everybody can say.” Touring can be grueling, but there’s nothing else quite like it. Enjoy the ride.

Seriously though, pack a sleeping bag.

* * *

1 -  FACT. I was also the guy driving. Let me tell you, nothing sucks quite like playing the drums in a punk band when you've got a sore back and haven't slept, except maybe driving all night afterwards.

2 - It was bad. At my big return home show, I called up musician friends of mine, and asked them to bring some extra guitars. By the end of the show, I was playing an acoustic with a soundhole magnetic pickup through my amp, wailing away on the 4 remaining good strings. Guitars strewn across the stage, my bassist proclaimed "Johnny Killstring, everybody," and the crowd ate it up. 

It's been my name ever since. (I did eventually learn some subtlety.)

3 - Sad, but true.