20 years of ORC

Twenty years ago today I was in the long-departed Ottakar’s Bookshop, in Edinburgh, wondering if anyone would come and play games with me.

It was not the best time for tabletop roleplaying games. They had fallen off the cultural radar completely during the 1990s, with an aging player base and no signs of transformation ahead. But I still loved them, more than ever in fact given the exciting experimentation of the indie scenes in the UK and the US, and when I found a high street retailer who wanted to make space for the games, I saw an opportunity.

Only a handful of people turned up to those first meetings of what became the Ottakar’s Roleplaying Club, but they kept coming back, and slowly the numbers grew. Soon my Saturdays had a reliable date: we’d meet at the bookshop, wander over the road to a giant internet cafe with lots of empty tables, and then play games all afternoon.

In time, the Ottakar’s Roleplaying Club morphed into the Open Roleplaying Community, and other people stepped up to steer it as I departed to the other side of the planet. (Dave! Bill!) And it’s still around today! Although it is very different in form these days, it still does the same job: it’s a welcoming hub for all people who want to come together and play these wonderful, ridiculous games together.

And of course, in that same time, tabletop roleplaying games have become a legitimate cultural phenomenon, attaining a level of cultural presence that would have shocked me that day in Ottakars!

I’m really proud of ORC (the acronym was entirely accidental!), and grateful for the wonderful friends I made there, many of whom I’m still in touch with today. I learned a lot. Some of those lessons are top of mind right now in fact, as I’m busy community-building in the TTRPG space again, this time for the glorious KiwiRPG. Just can’t help myself!

Monstrous News

Very pleased to own two brand-new Monster books by some excellent friends!

The storytelling game Monsters of the Week by Mike Sands is a lovely, elegant way to sit down with your friends and tell some tales of Buffy-style monster-fighting. It’s a great game, and a lovely book, deserving of the widest possible audience! Find out more, and how to order, here!

Also: Mansfield With Monsters, by the lovely Debbie & Matt Cowens! Unlocking the secret early drafts of NZ’s greatest writer Katherine Mansfield, it will give you a new way to look at those classics… And yep it’s one of those literary mashup thingamies, but as a short story collection it won’t wear out its welcome, and of course Debbie and Matt are very clever people indeed. Marvellous! Spot it in bookstores around the region, and find out more, and how to order, here!

Huge congrats to the pair of you!

D&D for MMP

On Saturday I helped out for a few hours at the D&D for MMP fundraiser, in which some very game folks embarked on a 24-hour D&D marathon to fundraise for the Campaign for MMP.

MMP, for those outside of NZ, is our current proportional electoral system, which is coming under the eye of a national referendum. I think it’s likely to romp comfortably home, but complacency is not a good idea when there are some well-funded opposing forces with an interest in decreasing the fairness of our democracy.

My role was to sit down with my friend Ben and run the social media for 4 hours, 4pm to 8pm – a live update stream, Twitter, Facebook, and the blog. We had a good ol’ time, and reviewing the 24 hours it is clear our stint was, er, the least reverent.

(I can’t access the livestream right now to find it but I recall being particularly pleased by a comment speculating that the monstrous Owlbear was created after an owl and a bear sat down for a cup of tea in Epsom.)

The event raised about $2000 which is very nice for a grassroots campaign to have. It also seemed to get some nice profile-raising media out of the event – hopefully that translates into a few more dollars and votes.

It was a fun time, and nice to contribute to the bigger picture for a change, something that’s been very hard to do while having adventures in nappyland.

How to raise $60,000 for ChCh

After the quake in Christchurch, I started thinking about what I could do to help. I think most New Zealanders thought along the same lines. One of the first things I thought of was the OneBookShelf fundraiser bundles that had worked so well for Haiti and Pakistan.

It works like this. The tabletop role-playing game community, due to a range of factors, some years ago developed a marketplace where people pay for copies of books in PDF form. (The whole e-book revolution going on in traditional publishing? The TTRPG crowd have been there, done that and bought the ironic t-shirt.)

Due to another set of factors, the marketplace is heavily concentrated around one vendor, OneBookShelf, which has two linked storefronts, DriveThruRPG and RPGNow. This isn’t a huge commercial sphere – tabletop roleplaying is a hobby long past its cultural prominence. A side effect of this is that the RPG community does feel like a community – in some sense it is small and knowable.

Now all of those conditions mean that when the Haiti disaster arrived, the OneBookShelf team could launch a very effective fundraiser. Publishers donated books to a special bundle. About $1300 retail value of electronic books was sold as a charity bundle for just $20. The sale ran for about a week and raised $175,000 for Haiti.

It was an incredible success, and a lesson in how a marketplace of electronic products can make everyone win. The publishers got to help with a charity effort and got samples of their product into the hands of many, many people who might never have seen them otherwise. The purchasers got the genuine satisfaction of helping and also walked away with a huge stack of cool stuff. And the people of Haiti got a whole lot of money they would not have otherwise got. (I blogged about the Haiti effort a year ago, and talked a bit about what it means for electronic marketplaces.)

Walking down the Terrace I decided that it was time to check in with the NZ-linked RPG publishers I knew to see if they were keen in following the logic of the bundle to raise funds, either on our own or as part of a formal OneBookShelf bundle. I also decided to contact Gareth at Adamant, publisher of much RPG stuff with my name on, to ask for his support.

The Kiwis & expat Kiwis & Scottish honorary Kiwis were keen, with at least one of them already thinking along the same lines. Gareth, likewise, told me he was already investigating the possibility. Apart from my email conversations I saw someone online suggest a bundle fundraiser. So the idea was out there. Gregor Hutton contacted Matt McElroy at OneBookShelf, and Matt was totally on board – I don’t know, he might well have already had things in motion, but either way the bundle was launched. Publishers were invited to contribute and soon a bundle of ~$300 worth of cool stuff went on sale for $20. (A $5 donation option was also made available.) Every cent was destined for the Red Cross NZ appeal, chosen by Matt based on suggestion from me.

The sale just ended. US$46,125 was raised. That’s over $60,000 NZ. I’m astonished and delighted.

I had a role in making this fundraising happen, but just a small one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally taking credit for the part I played! But the vast bulk of thanks must go to Matt and team at OneBookShelf for developing this fundraising model out of nothing a year ago – I think it’s an incredibly innovative approach, one that deserves a huge amount of attention from people working in the charity sphere. And of course huge thanks are due to the publishers who contributed to the bundle, and all the people who blogged and tweeted and above all purchased it.

It’s been an emotional week. The success of this bundle gives me cause to smile.

Not least because, man, there are some cool games in that bundle, and I hope a lot of people play the heck out of ’em.

RPG bundle for Christchurch

Nearly $350 of RPG stuff for $20

All proceeds to earthquake relief in Christchurch.

Helping get this up and running has been a significant preoccupation in the last couple days. I’ve written before about similar efforts to help Pakistan & Haiti. The Christchurch quake isn’t on the massive scale of those disasters, but it has hit our small country pretty damn hard.

If you’re into tabletop games, drop US$20 on this bundle. You will be rewarded with some incredibly cool bits of gaming genius, and you’ll be directly donating to a good cause. Everybody wins.

Thanks to all those who purchase, all those who contributed products, and all those who helped make it happen.

ICONS: The Mastermind Affair

Warning: this post is about tabletop roleplaying games. Sorry if it makes no sense to you.

Mastermind Affair cover

Just released: The Mastermind Affair, PDF-format adventure for the ICONS RPG. (Written by me.)

It’s a hefty 45-page adventure suitable for most traditional-type Supers RPG settings – I guess it’s a bit more DC than Marvel in its shadings. It has a whole mess of villains, all with that great Dan Houser art – you can see some of them in the preview pages. It has a descriptive character aspect of which I’m inordinately proud, but I can’t tell anyone what it is because it’s a minor spoiler. It’s a neat adventure and if you like Supers stuff, you’ll get a kick out of this.

Best of all: it is only a buck ninety-nine, American. The publisher, Adamant Entertainment, has adopted an “app-pricing” model where everything costs just under US$2. This means you can get ICONS itself, the amazing full RPG game, for $1.99 as well. (Also my older stuff for the same price.) It’s a fascinating and exciting business move, and I think it’s the way all digital products will inevitably go – music downloads, e-books, online newspaper subscriptions, etc will all be getting massively cheaper as it sinks in that the value proposition is different to that of a physical product.

So, $1.99 for a fun adventure. That’s about $2.60 in NZ pesos. If you are of gaming ilk, do consider it.

(Sadly, although the playtesters are credited, their amazing characters are not included. You’ll need to ask them for descriptions.)

Pakistan Relief RPG bundle

US$700+ worth of RPG stuff, for $25

In a successor to February’s bundle for Haiti, this is a fundraiser for Pakistan flood relief.

Includes ICONS which has my name on it, friend-of-FTM Malc’s Hot War, and heaps of other goodies (Starblazer Adventures! Fear Itself! Wild Talents 2E! Contenders! Dragon Warriors! Exalted 2E! Covenant! Don’t Rest Your Head!)

Simply incredible amount of game creativity for a tiny price – and all for a worthy cause. What’s not to love?

Check it out here

What I’m doing this week

Part of my life is being manager of the Centre for Applied Cross-cultural Research. Every week the researchers get together and there’s a presentation of some sort or another.
This week, I’m doing one. I’m not a cross-cultural researcher, but I am a giant geek. So:

Playing culture: Dungeons & Dragons, fantastic ethnicity, and the undisciplined mimetic imagination

For several decades, intercultural education has made productive use of interactive exercises, role-plays and simulations. These “infinite games” offer a way to explore and practise cultural interaction in a way that is immersive, memorable and supportive of exploration. Such engagements are carefully managed with inductions and post-experience briefings to contextualise what has taken place.

However, there exists a vibrant strain of parallel activity that is purely informal. For forty years, small groups of people have gathered together and imagined intercultural experiences without any inductions, briefings, or contextual guides. Tabletop role-playing games use an infinite game structure for the shared creation of character-based narrative fiction, and intercultural engagements often feature. In this presentation, I’ll describe how these games have presented and explored culture, and how innovative techniques are opening new possibilities for playing culture. To explore some of these ideas, a prototype for a new game based directly on cross-cultural research will be presented for discussion and feedback.

Happening Thursday. Should be fun.