Tuesday, July 28, 2015

It's time to go!

The boarding pass is printed and time to leave work to go and pack...

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

13th Age After-Action Report

On Sunday, I had my test run for the 13th Age tables I'm running at GenCon. I'm scheduled to run 8 sessions at GenCon: the first three sessions of The Shadowport Shuffle, sessions 2-4 of Wyrd of the Wild Wood, and two sessions of Caverns & Creepers. So, some kind friends came over on Sunday and we went through character creation and ran the first session of The Shadowport Shuffle.  There were seven players and I used the pre-gens from GenCon 2014--partially because I think they are easier for new players than the ones for this year, but mostly because that set has nine pre-gens and I had seven players. 

First I went through very high notes on races, classes, ability scores, and other concepts like armor class and physical defense. Only one of the seven has any RPG experience. I decided that we'd keep it light and zero in on concepts when we needed to. I'd gone ahead and made a "playmat" that has the Dragon Empire map and had some system and campaign world information. It was a hit, so it's definitely coming to GenCon with me. 

Character background game up. Everyone had eight points and I got the kind of wild options that only come from totally new players. One girl ended up creating not just a rebellion but a political thriller feeling when she decided she had background as a double agent. We also had the tattooed daughter of an assassinated elf lord, a gypsy fortune teller, a bodyguard, a professor of magic, a dragon trainer,  and a teleporter.  The last two were a little out there but with new players I let that slide--it's all about fun, after all. 

Next we did one unique things. I'm 50/50 on these. To some degree, they helped the players get in role, but they kept wanting to make some that would have mechanical effects. Bastard daughter of the Dwarf King who acts as his fixer was my favorite, I think. 

I knew Icon Relationships were going to be difficult, so I modified them a little bit. Instead of every character assigning 3 points, I just had them pick an allied icon and one that they had a negative relationship with. This resulted in only two die rolls per person. Positive relationships had to be with a heroic or ambiguous icon and negative relationships had to be with an ambiguous or villainous icon. And then everybody rolled 5s and 6s. Of seven players, I had sixes from the Archmage, the Dwarf King, and the Elf Queen (twice) as positives and the Orc Lord twice for negatives. The High Druid came up twice as 5s in a positive role so those guys got a modified mission from everyone else (which they succeeded at, to the Prince of Shadows' dismay). 

Gameplay was fun but a bit challenging. People pretty quickly got the handle of making skill rolls and matching backgrounds to what they wanted to do. They mostly succeeded, but I did get a few chances to work on failing forward. This was challenging with a group of primarily non-gamers because they haven't been socialized to never split the party so sometimes a social impact on one player was dealt with by everyone else not as a challenge but an opportunity to slip away. I need to work on making sure that the fail forward results affect everyone. 

Despite there being 3 combats in the scenario as written, we only did one. People had really avoided their combat options and the different types of actions were confusing to them. A lot of that's on me. When we were first going into the game. I felt like things were getting a little technical, so I decided to skip combat. By the end of combat they got it, but two people told me that combat was their least favorite part of the scenario. Another said she wished she'd had better background on her character's combat abilities because she could have used that knowledge to inform her background and other choices. 

We ran a little long so had to do a little bit of rushing at the end. But, I feel like three of them had a really good time, two to three enjoyed themselves and only one to two did not enjoy the experience overall. All in all, I'm feeling good about my prep. A lot of issues will be solved just by having people with d20 game experience at the table. That's not just because they will know but also because there will be other players that can help them as they go. 

Where I need to improve:
Make it clear that backgrounds relate to history and not powers
Failing forward should affect all players
Consider how 5s and 6s can be implemented in each scenario before running it

I've had two of the players ask about whether I'm going to do another run through next Sunday. I just might!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Whither Gaming?

ICv2 has released its quarterly update about the hobby gaming market.  But this one also comes with articles about their yearly market survey.  They estimate that the total hobby games market climbed to $880 million in sales a year in 2014.  They updated their methodology and reestimated the 2013 market at $735 million.  For those of you that haven't already done the mind-blowing math in your head, that means that the market as a whole has grown 20% in one year.

The figures are also broken down into 5 sub-categories: collectible games, miniatures, board games, card and dice games, and roleplaying games.  My interest is, naturally, on roleplaying games.  But, we'll take a look at the miniatures numbers as well.  Although its the smallest of the 5 categories, roleplaying games had the best growth with a 67% increase in sales.  That's wonderful news for roleplayers out there--for every dollar that was being spent on gaming in 2013, $1.67 is being spent today.

I went ahead and ordered a copy of the full report, which is fascinating.  It's got an article called "D&D Juggernaut Rolls On As Pathfinder Slides."  One retailer recounts that Pathfinder had a 75% market share in the RPG market in the dark 4th Edition days and that in the last year Pathfinder has lost 75% of its sales to 5E.  I'm not going to list the total sales amount in the RPG category (ICv2 has not posted that figure online, so I'll leave it as a secret).  But, that reduces Pathfinder's sales from 75% of the market to only 19%.  The bulk of the sales (which are also the majority of sales in the roleplaying games category overall) have gone not just from Pathfinder but from Pathfinder to 5E.

Fortunately, continuing to hold on to nearly 20% of a market that's grown by 67% is still pretty good.  But, how has the market shifted amongst the roleplaying games?  We know that D&D and Pathfinder remain the two best sellers in the category.  But, this is where some of the other information from the report comes in.  The report also notes that growth in the miniatures category was 0%.  So, people are spending the same amount of money on minis for their RPGs that they were spending in 2013.  But, D&D and Pathfinder are RPGs that focus on players using miniatures.  So, it seems odd that those two games would be doing well but that miniatures sales are flat.

A few possibilities present themselves.  Maybe people are changing editions from 3.5/Pathfinder/4th and therefore they already have a lot of miniatures.  If you're going to make the investment to purchase a new edition's Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual, maybe you don't have cash to throw out on minis.  Or maybe 5E and Pathfinder are cannibalizing against each other and the growth in the RPG title overall is in other systems.  Numenera had a good run and Green Ronin's AGE system are popular--and neither of them require minis.  I'm thinking that maybe the growth we are seeing is not growth in just the big guys, but roleplaying games in general getting more popular?

Friday, July 17, 2015

Rules-Creativity Matrix Implementation for Sunday's Test Game

The Setup
On Sunday, I have a group of friends coming over to play 13th Age.  They are helping me get some gaming experience under my belt before I run several games for Pelgrane Press at GenCon at the end of the month.  To the best of my knowledge, only one has any role-playing game experience.  The other five are complete newbies to the hobby.  So, in addition to making sure that I’m able to efficiently run the system, I want to make sure that they have a good time.  They are all highly creative people: a lawyer, a high school principal, an event planner for a museum, an engineer, a scheduler for a member of Congress, and a real-estate entrepreneur (the one with the gaming experience).  The entrepreneur’s experience runs to Pathfinder, so I’m hoping that he’ll find 13th Age’s more freeform style to his liking.  I’m attracted to how it is story-driven.  I’ve recently finished reading Karl Bergström’s Creativity Rules: How rules impact player creativity in three tabletop [games] from the 3rd issue of the International Journal of Role-Playing.  Consequently, I want to consider how implementing different types of rules in my game can help my friends have the best time as we play 13th Age.  Of course, I’ve got to run the basic 13th Age engine—it wouldn’t make much of a training session for me if I didn’t—but that engine is flexible enough for me to play a little fast and loose.

My goals for my session:
·        Everyone has a fun time
·        Players feel actively engaged and that they have agency in
o   Designing a world and
o   Telling a story in it
·        Players feel that they quickly achieve “systems mastery”
·        I master the rules

How the Article Will Help Me
Bergström’s article studied six groups of role-players who each played sessions of three different games.  Bergström then considered how the games’ different rule systems affected the play experience.  The games were Dungeons & Dragons 3.5/Pathfinder, World of Darkness (new edition), and Legends of Anglerre (FATE).  2 groups were chosen as most familiar with each system but each group also played games in all three systems (that’s 36 games in all for those counting).  Through watching live play, one-on-one interviews, and interviews with the play groups, Bergström considered how the rules interacted with different types of creativity.  Bergström’ identified six types of creativity and nine rules functions.  By looking at how the two interact, I’m hoping to use this knowledge to get an idea about how I can best tailor my game for Sunday.

Types of Creativity I Want in My Games
·     Narrative (story) creativity: Ability of potential to create a good story, usually going outside your specific character and looking at the story as a whole.
·        Acting creativity: Being creative in the portrayal of your character
·   Game-world creativity: Used to create the setting and elements within, including characters backstory, geography or inhabitants of a region, organizations in the game world.
·     System creativity: Creativity required to adapt rules system to the specific group and its needs and wants.

I role-play to tell stories and that’s what the types of creativity I prize most are focused upon.  I’ll take a look at what the rules elements are that best help to encourage these types of creativity and try to emphasize them in my play.  I’ve added systems creativity to this list to remind myself that one of the best points about systems creativity is that I can take systems that might not emphasize these types of creativity (or actively emphasize the types I’ve outlined below) and modify those systems to better reflect the result I’m looking to achieve.

Types of Creativity I Feel Are Creative Outlets for Players Otherwise Constrained by the Rules
·    Gaming creativity: Creativity in using the rules towards a specified outcome.  This includes optimizing characters and choosing the correct action rules-wise at any given moment.
·      Problem-solving creativity: Relationship between the player’s ability to solve puzzles, etc. and the character’s ability to do so.

To me, these two are somewhat related.  Honestly, I am not sure that I’d even have considered problem-solving creativity as a category in and of itself.  To me, it’s the result of friction between the forces that push towards gaming creativity and acting creativity.  As such, I’ve marked it in yellow and am content to ignore it.  I am not a fan of gaming creativity (which is ironic, since the game I play most often is Pathfinder).  This is likely because of my day job.  As a government affairs representative for a trade association in Washington, DC (I’ll leave you to puzzle out what that’s a euphemism for), I’m often working the rules to my advantage in my day job. 

I certainly find it useful to have an understanding of how rules underpin systems.  But, that’s my work.  Role-playing is my play.  So, it’s not a judgment call that systems that encourage players towards gaming creativity are bad, per se.  Rather, it’s the fact that I have to do gaming creativity with the rules I work in all day long.  So, I’m less inclined to want to do so when I’m on my free time.  Similarly, I don’t much enjoy talking about politics after hours.  Ironically, my favorite role-playing games are the ones that are focused on skills and role-play versus combat.  Political intrigue is always a good draw.  But, if I’m going to get involved in those things, I want to do it in a setting that isn’t Washington, DC in the current day.

Flavors of Creativity / Role of Rules
“Narration first” vs. “rules first”
Rules as arbitrator
Rules as creative coolant
Rules as consistency provider
Rules as inspiration
Rules as support
Rules as communication
Rules as randomness
Rules as diegetic control mechanism
Narrative (story) creativity


Acting creativity


Gaming creativity



Problem-solving creativity


Game-world creativity


System creativity
Meta and uninfluenced by rules

A Few Rules to Rule Them
So, now that I’ve got this information, how should I implement rules in a game?  As I look across the green bars, there are no Xs that appear in more than one bar.  If there were, I’d focus on that rules element most.  Instead, I’ll work at it from the other angle.  Rules functions that relate only to green should be emphasized; those with green and yellow results should receive less emphasis; those with green and red results should receive even less emphasis; and those that have no green results should receive the least emphasis.  At that point in time, we bring out the meta-rule of system creativity to make the tweaks in the next section. 

Considering how to teach the game and make it enjoyable for my players, in a nod to gaming creativity, I’ve optimized the rules functions.  Having done this, I can go ahead and look at mapping what I want out of my game in the way that I use the rules to define the gaming experience.

Most Important
·     Rules as inspiration: I want the rules and options to help my players come up with character concepts.  As such, I will want to help inform players without overwhelming them.  In 13th Age I’m trying to do this by using semi-pre-generated characters.  Mechanically the characters are all done except for a few parts.  The characters’ background/skills, one unique thing, and icon relationships have not been chosen yet.  I think that creating backgrounds and one unique things will help the players better identify with their characters.  I’m hopeful that the icon relationships will do so as well, but worry that they might be a little too confusing for newer players.  To make this happen, I’m engaging in a little bit of system creativity.  Rather than giving each player 3 dice to assign under the assumptions in the book, I’m going to ask them to pick a heroic or ambiguous icon that they have a positive relationship with and to pick an ambiguous or villainous icon that they have a conflicted or negative relationship with.  We’ll do two dice rolls instead of three.  I feel like this simplifies things while allowing some level of control over the story.
·        Rules as creative coolant: The last time I was explaining playing Pathfinder to a new player, a lawyer was in the room and remarked that knowledge of the rules was remarkably similar to having to know case law.  In fact, I feel like this is very true.  So, I want things to run as simply as possible.  I’ve made a single page poster that presents skills, one unique things, 1-3 sentences about each icon, and very basic information about the 13th Age setting.  Where possible, there are examples.  At the same time we use the rules as inspiration, I want to reinforce that they all fit on a single (albeit small poster-sized) page.
·      Rules as communication: This one is easy.  I just need to remind my players that the rules are abstractions and exist to help them envision concepts that are inherently unquantifiable.  We’ll talk a little bit about failing forward, envisioning your character from your stats, etc.  But, we’ll also talk about how the rule of cool trumps the rules as written (see “rules as arbitrator” at the bottom down there?).  But, because I want my players to feel like they have agency, we’ll talk about how the rule of cool is what everybody at the table thinks is cool rather than what I, as the GM, think is cool.
·   [Rules as support] / [Rules as diegetic control mechanism]: These rules didn’t have any creativity functionality in any categories.  But, I feel like they are important for establishing player agency.  I’ve covered this in the section above, but I want the players to know that the rules give them some level of control from my arbitrary whim and that when we ignore the rules, we do so as a group.  It’s my hope that emphasizing that will reinforce their agency as active participants in the story.

Less Important
·        Rules as consistency provider: This actually links into the above thoughts, except that it focuses more on internal consistency.  That’s more important for a long-term campaign where the goal is more about simulating a long-term story.  Here, the goal is actually about teaching the game and having fun.  Internal consistency has its place (and I admit that it’s mobile on this list), but for Sunday it’s on the lower end of the spectrum.
·        Rules as “narration first” vs. “story first”: I don’t care much if my players narrate their actions before applying the rule or announce the rule and apply it before narrating their action.  They are first time players.  In fact, I’m throwing out both and focusing on “intent first.”  What my players intended to do is what matters most.  That gives them the opportunity to play into the story, but without feeling burdened by adhering to the rules.
·        Rules as randomness: Dice rolls create randomness.  I like randomness.  But, dice rolls are not rules.  Also, dice rolls are a great opportunity to allow players to be creative.  Failing forward will be important here.  In fact, at first I was surprised to see rules as randomness to land here.  But, upon reflection, even for 13th Age, this makes sense.  Since most of a player’s rolls will be skills, the optimization that occurs is the push to design a character that’s able to make the skill roll in as many situations as possible.  I hope my players don’t feel the need to do that.  Ideally, the 13th Age more generic adventure design system that allows the GM to focus in and customize the situations to the one unique things, backgrounds/skills, and icon relationships that the players have chosen will help leave the illusion of randomness without pushing my players towards feeling overwhelmed and like they need to master a system that is unmasterable.
·        Rules as arbitrator:  Least important—this is the rule of cool issue.  If I and the players at my table think that what the player wants to do or whatever else might happen is the best idea for the story, it happens.  This may be less applicable at GenCon because better rules knowledge often means that someone has to act as arbitrator.  That means either rules as written or GM fiat.  While those can be necessary, I pray that they won’t be.  For Sunday’s game, I’m almost sure that they won’t be.

So there you have it.  I’m hoping to get a good post-mortem post up on Sunday night as well, highlighting what I feel like went well and where I need to improve.  Come back and see how things went down!  This article drew on many pieces for support and I’d like to thank the authors and presenters whose thoughts and words have been useful to helping me get to this point of comfort as I prepare for this weekend’s game:

Karl Bergström, Creativity Rules: How rules impact player creativity in three tabletop [games], International Journal of Role-Playing Vol. I, Issue 3.
Jessica Price and [sorry, I couldn’t catch her name], Introducing New Gamers to Pathfinder, http://knowdirectionpodcast.com/2015/06/paizocon-2015-introducing-new-gamers-to-pathfinder/.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Behold! The fearsome lava guppy!

The real fish still looks pretty damned fearsome!
io9.com is running an article about tiny, fanged fish that can actually live in underwater volcanic rifts.  Per usual, this made me want to design a monster.  I know that lava-spitting fish aren't terribly original (hello Metroid), but sometimes you just feel the urge.

There were a lot of things that I found really cool about this fish from the article, like:
  • We don't know if this is an adult fish or just a larva;
  • Everyone thought the coastal cousins of these undersea volcanic-based fish were just getting swept into the open ocean and dying;
  • They thrive in acidic waters (I was tempted to give my version some acid resistance, but decided that with being immune to fire--how else do you swim in magma?--this would be overkill.  That said, change the damage types and it still works.)
  • There are also volcanic lobsters!  You could also flip the Cold-based template from the first Reign of Winter AP to make some of these as well.
Honestly, I like these guys more as traps than I do as combatants.  Imagine that the PCs need to cross a small bridge across a lake/river/other liquid body of lava/magma.  Suddenly, the lava guppies surface and begin pummeling dripping blocks of magma at the PCs.  Those PCs will either have to run like hell to get across the bridge or do some real creative thinking about how to freeze the lava and take out their enemies.  I guess a really nuts barbarian might just charge in.  Hopefully even through his rage he'd run out after burning himself on the molten lava.  Stats for both 13th Age and Pathfinder are below.

13th Age 
Lava Guppy
A waxy red fish pokes its head out of the magma.  Opening its mouth, a dark red glow illuminates a row of razor-sharp teeth from within.

2nd Level Archer [(magical) beast]
Initiative: +4

R: Firespit +7 vs. PD, 7 damage
   Miss: 2 points fire damage
   Natural even hit: Magma sticks.  Target must use their standard action to clear off the magma or take another 7 fire damage on its next turn.

C: Spiky Teeth! +9 v. AC, 10 damage

Resist Fire (18+): Fire attacks against the lava guppy must roll an 18 or higher or do only half damage.

Nastier Specials
Acid loving fish: Underwater volcanoes have acid as well as magma and this fish love both.  These fish switch between fire and acid resistance as a quick action.
Once bitten: With a successful spiky teeth attack,

AC 18
PD 16               HP 36
MD 12

(c) Unknown
Archmage: Are lava guppies a natural creation or a magical experiment gone horribly wrong?  If the Archmage knows, he's not telling.  Either way, their magma-producing glands can be used to empower spells for throwing fire or for heating the Archmage's floating islands and the upper reaches of Horizon.  But what happens if the Blue or the Lich King finds a way to turn those glands into flying fire-spitting fish?
Crusader: Word has it that when the Crusader reclaimed one hellhole into one of his fortresses, the lava guppies transformed into golden fish that sing.  The Prince of Shadows could find a buyer for one of those.  In fact, he could play several buyers off against each other.
Diabolist: Rivers of magma guarded by lava-spewing fish.  Check!
The Three: Rumor has it that the Red uses a specially-trained school of lava guppies to clean him when bathing.


A waxy red fish pokes its head out of the magma.  Opening its mouth, a dark red glow illuminates a row of razor-sharp teeth from within.
Lava Guppy CR 1
XP 400

Neutral Small Magical Beast
Init +4; Senses low-light vision, darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +4

AC 16, touch 15, flat-footed 11 (+4 dex, +1 size, +1 dodge)
hp 13 (2d10+2)
Fort +4, Ref +7, Will +0
Vulnerable cold
Speed swim 40 ft.
Melee bite +1 (1d4-1 plus sharp tooth)
Ranged firespit +6 (2d6 plus magma)
Special Attacks sharp tooth
Str 9, Dex 18, Con 12, Int 2, Wis 11, Cha 8
Base Atk +2; CMB +1; CMD 15
Feats Dodge
Skills Perception +4; Stealth +8;Swim +7 Racial Bonuses +8 Swim
Languages none
Environment magma
Organization solitary, dual, school (3-12)
Treasure None
Special Abilities
Fire spit (Su): As a ranged attack, a lava guppy can spit a blob of magma with a range increment of 30 ft.  Creatures hit by the blob must make a DC 14 Reflex save to avoid the liquid sticking to them.  Those who fail take damage as exposed to lava (Core Rulebook 444).  Pouring water on the affected person or fully immersing them ends the effect immediately.
Sharp tooth (Ex): On a successful bite attack, the victim must make a DC 9 Fortitude save or be subject to bleed 1.  A successful DC 15 Heal check (costs a standard action) or receiving magical healing ends the bleed damage.

Descended from fish that acclimated to living in oceans near volcanic rifts, lava guppies have evolved to swim in rivers of magma.  Lava guppies are frequently placed as guards by those immune to their fiery spit and who have access to rivers of lava, trusting in intruders inability to attack their magma-based guards from land.  Born as tiny tadpoles, lava guppies grow to measure 2 feet long and weigh 35-50 lbs. as adults.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

RPG Interest Remains High

Late last summer, I threw up a post noting that the recently released Dungeons and Dragons 5E Player's Handbook had shot into the top 10 sellers at amazon.com.  I'm a pretty prolific Kickstarter backer and had been really impressed with the way people were queuing up to throw money at a lot of projects, specifically Legendary Games' Mythic Mania and Kobold Press' Southlands projects.

But, lately I'd noticed the Kickstarter projects are losing steam.  Kobold Press' Advanced Race Compendium didn't raise nearly as much as I'd expected and Legendary Games' current Legendary Planets Kickstarter, though quickly funded, hadn't picked up as many people as I'd thought that they might.

Date Closed
Total Raised
# of Backers
Funding per Backer
Mythic Mania
May 6, 2014
October 18, 2014
Advanced Races Compendium
May 17, 2015
Legendary Planets
(as of 7/14/2015)

Similarly, I've felt a little more gaming fatigue myself lately.  I mainly focus on Pathfinder and 13th Age.  In the Pathfinder world, the RPG line is moving into more and more niche products with this month's Occult Adventures and next spring's Ultimate Intrigue.  I'm enthused about both of those releases, but they don't have the wide appeal of something like an Advanced Race Guide, Ultimate Combat, or Advanced Player's Guide.

13th Age remains something I love, but right now we have only the core book, 13 True Ways, and their Bestiary (which is up for an Ennie--vote for it!)  There's a lot of room to expand in the 13th Age universe, they've got Glorantha and Midgard-related products from Kobold Press, among others.  But, there's not a lot of space to really expand on the 13th Age default setting simply because it's designed to be so free form.  Fire Opal and Pelgrane Press have put together something awesome, but pinning things down in their world means that it loses some of it's freeform power.  That said, my reviews of the their 13th Age Monthly releases this year show that there's endless space to expand, if not necessarily in a large, hardcover release.

I'm considering picking up Eyes of the Stone Thief at GenCon this year (gotta use that discount for GMing 13th Age at GenCon on something fun!)--especially if the group of test gamers I've lined up for this weekend decides that they really like playing 13th Age!  But, it just doesn't seem like there's a lot coming out right now.

So, today's notice from ENWorld that voting for the Ennies is up over 18% this year came as a wonderful surprise!  There's still a whole day left and they've already received 19,000 votes, which is 3,000 more than they received last year.  We could see an increase of up to 25% if heavy voting happens on the last day.

So, it seems like people are interested, but might also just be spending less money.  What does everyone else think?

Monday, July 6, 2015

First time as a regular PFS GM

So, I ran my first Pathfinder Society scenario.  Technically, I'd run a Pathfinder Society scenario back during the winter during GadCon, but I was a last-minute fill-in GM, so I don't really feel like it counts.  Plus, the GadCon scenario was a convention special and this one was a regularly-released scenario, so the types of players and the expectations were totally different.

I ran Out of Anarchy on the Monday after it came out. I was not expecting a scenario so long or so convoluted. While I hadn't had a lot of time to digest this scenario, I had reread the Pezzack entry from Towns of the Inner Sea, which really helped with the background. Without that base to work with, I would have had a MUCH harder time GMing this thing.  There are some PFS scenarios that require almost no background.  For instance, I introduced a gaming group to Pathfinder using [druidy scenario] and it didn't require much background knowledge at all.  In the Pezzack scenario, I'd have had no idea what was going on.

So, what are my takeaways from GMing a regular old PFS scenario?  First of all, GMing is all in the art of presentation.  I'm a lobbyist by trade during the day, so faking it is something I'm trained to do anyway.  But, while you can fake a lot of things, players have certain expectations.  And, unsurprisingly, how your players see you changes how they play at your table.  What caught me out?  Well, I was running short on time.  I'd printed color copies of the mad grids, but I hadn't had time to cut them so that they connected without white paper overlap.  One of my players caught me, called it a rookie mistake, and everything changed--at least as far as that player was concerned.  It wasn't bad or anything and fortunately we both knew what the rules were in all the situations that game up.  But, if there had been a disagreement, it would not have been pretty.  That said, I hope that he still had a good time even after I hadn't cut the edges off of things.

PFS in DC is also a lot more roll-playing focused than it is role-playing focused.  I don't mind that--both mixed together are what make for a fun game.  That said, there's a lot of role-playing going on in this scenario.  It was over an hour before the PCs got into their first fight (some parties might consider getting into a fight at all a liability, but not I) and everyone was excited when the time to actually roll something more than skill checks came about.

All in all, I really, really enjoyed this session.  The scenario as written gives GMs and players the opportunity to do a lot of roleplaying.  PCs should also expect to have to do some critical thinking, which was fun for a scenario.  They also tried to design a scenario that was as sandboxy as possible.  That's where knowledge of the previous, underlying gazetteer product was so helpful--I was able to lean on the knowledge (that's mentioned as being cannon in the scenario, for all you PFS rules lawyers out there) that was used to build the scenario and therefore fill in some of the plugs.

I think I enjoy convention GMing more.  For one thing, convention players are just so damned grateful to have someone running their game.  For another, there's much more time to prepare!  Also, at conventions, I don't feel as rushed (which is ironic, because you actually have a time slot at a convention).  I also feel like people really appreciate GMs that get into having terrain and real miniatures rather than just having to fly through hand-drawns maps, flip maps, and map print outs.

I've got 8 more games till I get my first GM star.  I have decided I can really opine with thoughts about PFS after that.  Until then, these are impressions based upon just two instances.  One thing I am sure about though: I'd always rather play outside of organized play at all with a set of players dedicated to telling a long-term dedicated story.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Obergefell Properly Decided: The Gaymer Plays Supreme Court Justice

So, after my Obergefell decision rant, David Ross did what I hoped someone would do and asked the next question, "Okay, if you're unhappy with how Obergefell was decided, how should it have been decided?  What would you have done differently?"  And, although I answered him in the comment thread, about 7 paragraphs in I realized that there was enough content in my response for a full post...so I reprinted it here!  There are a few slight changes moving from the comment space to the posting space, but overall content is the same.

Sexual Orientation as a Protected Class

Sexual orientation as a protected class would have been the right way to resolve the issue.  Sexual orientation hits all of the issues that make a protected class make sense: immutable characteristic, characteristic is unrelated to issue in question, etc.  I understand that Kennedy didn't want to open the floodgates to all of the other protections that would come along with protected class status (workplace discrimination, housing discrimination, adoption/child custody rights, etc.), but that's the whole reason I found the decision to be intellectually vacuous.  If "dignity" is the reason that I should be allowed to marry my same-sex partner (should he ever appear), it pretty necessarily follows that "dignity" should also underpin my rights in all of those other arenas as well.  

Of course, at that point you are moving away from substantive due process towards an equal protection argument.  Creating new protected classes judicially is frowned upon (and I believe that a legislative solution would have been best and was, in fact, inevitable absent the ruling), but there's a good argument for doing so here.  My challenge to Kennedy regarding the ruling is to explain the discrepancy.  Why does my dignity compel granting marriage recognition but none of the others?  It just doesn't make sense!

Gender Discrimination
I'm 50/50 on a gender discrimination perspective.  On the one hand, it isn't obviously a gender discrimination issue.  On the other, not recognizing it as a gender discrimination issue throws you into the Pace v. Alabama mindset, and that obviously wasn't good for anyone.  Ultimately, I prefer the granting of protected class status for just these reasons.

But, the gender discrimination issue also circles back to where I felt the ruling had its shortcomings.  When considering gender discrimination from a trans- perspective, it's so much easier to win because the standards for violating gender norms are so much easier to prove.  When it's from a sexual orientation as opposed to gender identity perspective, things get a little muddier.  All in all, we should be out there advocating for true equal rights and ONLY non-discrimination legislation is going to move that ball across the goal line from a political/legal perspective.

Yet Again, Rich, White Males Were the Real Winners
And, ultimately, that's my other big headache with the ruling.  Look, marriage was the signature issue.  We played an ace early in the game and now the rest of our hand isn't looking too hot.  Because marriage was a great signature issue for the GLBT movement in a few ways that other salient issues aren't.  Everybody at least considers the possibility of marriage.  It's something that everyone can relate to.  Number one, that means that straight people were natural allies because they could identify with the issue.  That's huge and that's why there were so many straight people out there supporting the GLBT community on this issue.

But, when you consider the GLBT discrimination issues from a socio-economic perspective, marriage was also the issue that was important to everyone in the GLBT community.  You know WHY Kennedy cares about gay marriage rights but not about sexual orientation discrimination?  It's because he can see (and, if some rumors are true, actually did experience) the discrimination.  But, guess what, employment discrimination isn't something that happens to educated and affluent homosexual men--especially white homosexual men.  To quote a senior staffer from the Human Rights Campaign on the issue of GLBT rights, "Twenty years after we get sexual orientation equality, there will be a mass exodus of white, gay men  from the Democratic Party."  And she's right.  So what happened WAS a huge victory is you're "lucky" enough to be the part of the minority that's well-educated and affluent and not going to suffer the other types of discrimination.  If you're not?  Well, the people who essentially only faced the marriage discrimination issue took their win and left you holding the bag on all of the other issues.

We probably could have gotten a general non-discrimination act related to sexual orientation passed in the next 5-10 years before this ruling.  That would have covered marriage AND everything else.  With the ruling we got today, I'll push my estimate on when we could see something like blanket non-discrimination protections closer to 25 years.

To summarize: Protected class would have been the way to go and then use equal protection analysis.  Marriage is a pyrric victory though because it leaves behind the other discrimination issues that affluent members of the GLBT community are unlikely to face (and therefore care about) and that most non-minorities don't face (and therefore can't empathize with), leaving those who do face workplace, adoption/child custody/etc. discrimination waiting for even longer.  I'd hold off on my ability to get married to protect them across the board.