Category Archives: Random musings

From my reading list: ChicagoWiz’s RPG Blog

I really, really want to run a new game for my friends, but I am still not sure if I am a) ready for it and b) what I should pick. You know, I majorly burned out on running games. I tried to take up the gamemaster’s mantle several times during the last months and it always ended in me cancelling the whole thing after a few sessions.

So, instead of making concrete plans, I am looking for advice which might help me to get into running roleplaying games again and I also want to try out new things which will hopefully help me avoid old mistakes. One thing I have been eyeing for a while is a D&D-based sandbox campaign. Since I found 5th Edition too much of a hassle for me, I decided to give BECMI a try. I picked up a POD copy of the Rules Cyclopedia a while back, and I own the various boxed sets in digital form, so at least the mechanics side is covered.

I haven’t really run a sandbox campaign yet, but I’ve played in a long-running Mutants: Year Zero game, which has strong sandbox elements. I’ve also read various posts about how to run hex-crawls and sandbox campaigns, but I am still not sure how and where I should start with my preparations.

This is where I stumbled upon some posts written by Michael S. aka ChicagoWiz. He’s a veteran D&D GM and I worked with him in the past. Here are the posts I recently put onto my “to read” list, and I am pretty sure some of you could also learn from them:

By the way, these posts are on his old, inactive blog. For newer posts including a couple of three hexes campaign starters, check out his new blog!

F*ck the ENnies

Please excuse the click-baity nature of the title, but I thought it was the best way to get your attention. So what is the issue I am having with the ENnies? First let me state that I don’t have any beef with the people running the ENnie awards. But I think the ENnie awards are basically worthless. Let me explain.

Usually when someone gets an award you think it’s because of excellence in the field. Just think of the Nobel price. The best and brightest are rewarded for furthering human knowledge, culture, or working towards peace. It is not a popularity contest. Sure, even the Nobel Price committees got things wrong from time to time, but in general if you won this award you’re an expert in your field and you achieved something worth of merit.

The ENnie awards don’t work that way. Every person or company can enter their products as long as they were released in a certain time frame. Out of all the entries a small number of judges pick a couple of nominees the public then votes on. So, it’s a popularity contest. Usually the game, blog, etc. which wins an ENnie award has been highly successful and popular before. RPG products of excellent quality but which are not well known, usually have almost no chance to get an award and the publicity that comes with it. Even if the judges try to nominate niche products with excellent quality, in the end the public still votes for what’s popular.

Another issue is that companies or persons with a large following can easily make sure their products get the votes they need. I also assume that it should be quite possible to have people vote several times, or to automate voting, so the results get skewed even more. Personally I think the whole idea of having such a popularity contest is wrong. People already vote with their wallets, why should we – as the RPG community – then give awards based on popularity? Shouldn’t we instead promote quality?

Don’t get me wrong, some of the products winning an ENnie might actually be of extremely high quality and deserving an award. There may have been cases where the ENnies even managed to put an underrated product into the limelight. But in general the same companies, game lines and products get rewarded. For example, can you remember a year in which Gnome Stew didn’t win an ENnie? Sure, they have put out quite a few great articles over the years, but are there no other blogs worthy of an award? Or think of all the WotC and Paizo products nominated.

So in the end, an ENnie award is basically not that different to having a Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum Seller badge on DriveThruRPG. It’s just a more complicated and expensive procedure to get one.

In the past I submitted my blog to the ENnies a couple of times. When I tried for the first time I was actually hoping to at least get an honorable mention. Is it possible that I am now biased against the ENnie awards because of that? Yeah, that’s possible. But even if I were, my arguments still hold up. The message is clear: the ENnie awards are a popularity contest – nothing more, nothing less. Do we really need it? No. Is there a better alternative? I don’t think there is.

By the way, this post was inspired by the Grumpy Old Gamers podcast by jim pinto and Richard Iorio which recently had an episode talking about awards in general and the ENnies in particular. If you haven’t done so, you definitely should listen to it!

Critical Role KS Criticism

I have to admit I haven’t really followed the discussions surrounding the Critical Role Kickstarter project. Heck, I haven’t even checked out the project itself until recently. So what is all the fuzz about? Matthew Mercer and his motley crew of voice-acting friends, famous for their D&D actual play series Critical Role, are raising funds for the production of a animated TV series called “The Legend of Vox Machina”. In no time, they reached the set goal of about 666.000€ and at the time of this writing they have raised over 6 million euros. This is HUGE! I don’t think any roleplaying-related fundraiser had ever raised that much money.

Quickly criticism was raised (Check out this article on Kotaku). At first people from the industry were obviously miffed that streamers like Critical Role make more money off of RPGs than the people actually designing those games. In a way I can understand the frustration. Making money in the RPG business is extremely hard. There are only a few designers out there who can live off RPGs alone.

But in that case it’s IMHO an apples versus oranges situation. Critical Role is raising money for an animated TV series. A lot of the people interested in this series might not even be roleplaying game fans themselves. I have watched a couple of episodes of both seasons of Critical Role and I can see the appeal of taking part in their adventures as a spectator. It is possible that some of the backers have never played a roleplaying game in their lives. Perhaps they heard from friends about the show, or they know Vox Machina from their cameos in the Pillars of Eternity 2 video game. Will some of the people backing Critical Role now eventually throw money towards roleplaying game creators? Possible. My point is that the show might have a larger appeal than just people playing D&D 5th Edition or Pathfinder at the moment. In the long run the success of Critical Role will probably lead to more sales in the RPG industry.

The second criticism raised is about diversity. While this particularly group of friends is not entirely male, like way too many roleplaying game groups, the lack of persons of color is noticeable. We all know that representation is important. Critical Role has become a kind of ambassador for the roleplaying hobby, and so it would be great if their cast included persons of color.

But things are not that easy. Before Critical Role was a hit show on Twitch and YouTube, the members of the group were just friends enjoying the game. There have been several guest players on the show and perhaps they might actually add a non-white person to the cast. Since the show evolved from a fun past time to something greater, calling for more diversity and more representation of minorities on the show might not be unreasonable, but it’s not something we can force. Change is slow. But I think we are on the right track.

With their popular and financial success comes a certain responsibility. The future will show if they use their power to do good for the whole community or if they are more interested in increasing revenue for themselves. From what I’ve heard so far, Matt Mercer and crew are good people. They’ll hopefully do the right things. And if not, we – as fans and fellow roleplayers – can nudge them into the right direction again. It’s the same in live as it is in roleplaying games: It’s not only one person’s job to ensure everyone is having a good time. This responsibility falls to all of us.

What are your thoughts on the criticism regarding the Critical Role KS? Please share your thoughts below!