Ego Check: Andrew Nerger & Jeff Chin, Creators of Galactic Debate

Unless you are living under a very big and sound-proofed rock, then you realize this is a Presidential Election year in the United States. It is a challenge to escape political commentary in pretty much any forum at the moment. Even I devoted some space to a few political tangents in a recent article on Pokémon: GO. So when I was scrolling through Twitter a few weeks ago and saw a link to a new game titled, Galactic Debate, I was immediately intrigued. The idea of having players debate imaginary issues as candidates from different alien races seemed like a perfectly-timed idea. I reached out to the creative team behind the game, and Andrew Nerger and Jeff Chin were kind enough to participate in an interview. Below, we discuss the concept of Galactic Debate, how the game was designed, and how real-life political tensions and squabbles could bleed into gameplay.

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Andrew Nerger & Jeff Chin

Thank you for sharing some time with me to talk about your new game, Galactic Debate. I first became aware of the game’s Kickstarter campaign through Twitter, and the premise immediately grabbed my attention. What were your sources of inspiration for Galactic Debate?

 

Andrew: Jeff and I have always enjoyed playing improve games and having heated late-night debates on everything under the sun, so the idea developed pretty naturally. The concept of debating fictional issues really intrigued us, and soon, we began to study storytelling games and figuring out what worked well mechanically and where we thought we could make changes to support a game we would really want to play.

I think almost everyone enjoys arguing, but nobody wants to get into a confrontation with friends or family. When debating, players are actually taking on the role of Galactic Candidates like General Mindu of the proud warrior race, so feelings aren’t hurt when players try to debase one another. Everyone realizes they’re playing a role.

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Ego Check: Andy Hand of Limitless Adventures

Andy Hand

Michael Johnson and Andy Hand

Earlier this summer, I was contacted by Andy Hand, the creator of Boccob’s Blessed Blog and co-owner of Limitless Adventures, which is a new endeavor by him and Michael Johnson. He contacted me to ask if I would be interested in reviewing the 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons products that are now available for purchase through Limitless Adventures and other outlets. Rather than a product review, I thought it would be more fun to interview him about the challenges and opportunities involved in self-publishing D&D content. Below, he speaks about he long history with roleplaying games and how the Open Game License has evolved over the years including the recent introduction of the DM Guild through Wizards of the Coast. We also delved into design philosophy between editions and entered a bit of a debate around issue of Dungeon Masters “fudging” die results for reasons. Enjoy the interview leave a question below if you have any thoughts or reactions.

 

You started Boccob’s Blessed Blog over six years ago, which was during the upswing in attention to all things Dungeons & Dragons based on the release of 4th Edition in 2008. What were some of the key motivations to start writing about gaming back then?

I started Boccob’s in response to 4th Edition. I started playing D&D with Basic in 1990; I still think the Rule Cyclopedia is the greatest D&D product ever written. Our group quickly evolved to 2nd Edition, and then moved to 3rd in 2000, so suffice it say, we’ve played a lot of D&D. We loved the changes that came along with 3rd edition and played it zealously for years. When 4th came out we didn’t care for it and started to archive as much 3.5 material from the Wizards of the Coast website as we could, knowing that they’d clear out the old to make way for the new – which they did, and a lot of great content was lost. I wanted a place to post new 3.5 material and continue the conversation started by the Open Game License.

Your experience is quite different from my own; I started writing in 2011 after falling in love with 4th Edition. I took a long break after playing some 2nd Edition as a teenager and still have yet to play any form of 3rd Edition D&D. The Open Game License first came about in 2000, and it has gone through a variety of forms over the years. How has producing D&D content through the OGL changed over the years and editions?

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What Itch is Pokémon: GO Scratching?

PokeStops

I never did find the Ninetales!

It’s 10:30PM on a Friday night in a quiet suburb north of Minneapolis. A friend and I have come voluntarily to walk around an American Legion parking lot – and we are not alone. We are first encountered by two teenagers that appear to have fallen out of the pages of Scott Pilgrim; tattered jeans with brightly dyed, floppy hair. The boy wipes his blue hair away from his eyes and gives us a knowing nod as I inquire, “Hey, find anything good around here?”

He easily responds, “There’s an Evee by that water tower. Somebody set a lure off so we’re waiting to see what comes by from that.” We thank him for the tip and swing by the Howitzer Statue to refuel on PokéBalls before hitting the Water Tower. We find the Evee and return to the parking to in time to be approached by a vehicle transporting a family. The driver slows down next to us, “How’s it going?”

We update him on our progress and share some stories from earlier in the day, “We found a Jigglypuff down the road, but that was a few hours ago.” The driver is not impressed, “Oh, I already have one of those anyway. I’m just going to hit all the PokéStops to get more balls.” A few more pleasantries are exchanged before we go our separate ways, “Well, good luck!”

My friend and I continue our laps around the American Legion to hit the four PokéStops. Our last encounter is with a taxi driver and his fare for the evening. The couple exiting the vehicle remarks that they have not started to play yet and advance inside the Legion Hall; so far, they are the only two people we’ve seen that are on this property for something other than Pokémon: GO. The taxi driver expresses his curiosity about the roamers around the building, “You think if I advertised to drive around PokéStops, people would be willing to pay for that?”

We informed him there is likely a market for such as service considering there are already drones available to cheat the game. He hopped back into his car while letting us know, “Yeah, I think I’m going to try that. Thanks, and have a good night. And remember my name if you need a ride for more Pokémon or whatever.”

We get back into my car, laughing at the absurdity of the past 30 minutes. We just spent quality time on a weekend wandering around a parking lot speaking to strangers that in no other context would we encounter.

What is happening with Pokémon: GO? Why did it become more popular than pornography in less than a week?

What follows is my attempt to answer those questions, and to discuss the benefits of Pokémon: GO.

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Our Exercise in Fertility

tacojohns

Livin’ large!

My wife and I recently celebrated our 12th anniversary; it was a lazy Sunday and our big event that day was getting comfort food at Taco John’s. We have simple tastes, and nothing says twelve years of successful marriage more than a Six Pack and a Pound! Emily and I have known each other since 2000, when we met at – what was, ostensibly – a Star Wars Prequel party. Like any couple that has persisted through 12 years of marriage, we’ve had a number of challenges and an abundance of joy. It has been a wonderful journey, and I look forward to the rest of our lives together.

We do not have children.

And here is where the story becomes a bit more complicated. We have always considered having a child. There has never been a point in our lives where we told each other, “Yeah, we’re never doing that.” We would talk about “starting a family” (more on this phrase in a moment) every 3-6 months to discover if the other person was ready for that phase of our lives. Neither one of us ever felt compelled to voice strongly, “This is something I want now.” So we agreed to wait while we enjoyed our lives together. I graduated with my doctoral degree and we moved to Texas in 2005, then bought a house there in 2006 figuring it was a good investment. (Hah!) She started working and then went back to school to earn her MBA in the following years. We developed an amazing network of friends while living in Houston and visited family in New Jersey and Minnesota whenever possible.

Life settled into a routine.

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Iddy Approved: As You Wish by Cary Elwes

As You WishI’m breathing life into the Iddy Approved series, which until this week had been mostly dead for far too long. Each Iddy Approved article has highlighted a game, book, or product that I find delightful and interesting. Today, I am strongly recommending that (after you finish reading this article, of course) you stop what you’re doing and pick up the audiobook of As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes. If you for some strange reason have not seen The Princess Bride before, then stop everything (including reading this article), and correct that immediately. The film released in 1987 and is quickly approaching 30 years of being a timeless classic. It’s a laugh-out-loud hilarious, touchingly sweet movie that truly never gets old.

I had the good fortune of seeing The Princess Bride several weeks ago in a small theater in town, which was showing films featuring performances by professional wrestlers; the same theater where I recently watched Predator for the first time in many years. Watching The Princess Bride on the big screen reminded me that I should finally seek out the book by Mr. Elwes, as I’ve heard nothing but good things from those that have consumed it. My thoughts on Mr. Elwes’ book follow.

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My Patreon Campaign: Who’s Coming With Me?

In recent months, I have experienced several things in my personal and professional life that have provided additional clarity as it pertains to my creative efforts with the blog. That sentence is incredibly vague, but the summation is that my job and health seem to have stabilized to the point where I can spend more time on creating content. I started The Id DM over five years ago – and while the content has ebbed and flowed – the goal has been to write articles that I could not find anywhere else. Gathering an audience over the years has been rewarding, and I hope new people find the site as my plan now is to write more often once again.

One thing that helps me to produce more content is to play games more frequently. I’m now running a monthly D&D campaign based off the material in Curse of Strahd. I already started to provide some thoughts on increasing player character relationships for such a campaign and adding props to bring the introductory adventure to life at the table. I am also involved as a player in other games such as a Game of Thrones adventure with a solid group of gaming friends, so it seems like I’ll be rolling dice more frequently. Playing and running games keeps my mind working on RPG dynamics, and that typically leads to more articles.

Another thing that motivates me to create is accountability; and this is an issue that I have sidestepped in the past. The blog has always been a leisure activity for me; a hobby. I have a full-time job that I love; I am dedicated to the people I work for and those I provide therapeutic services to each day. At the same time, the desire to create outside the realm of work is strong. Long before the blog, I created an Onion-like newsletter for my roommates and I during graduate school just for fun. I enjoy generating ideas and making them a reality. Getting feedback about articles through comments on the site or mentions on Twitter provides reinforcement to write something new and thought-provoking. At the moment, the only person I’m accountable to for producing more content is myself.

And that is something I want to experiment with going forward.

Starting today, I’m launching the above Patreon campaign for The Id DM. I’m doing this for multiple reasons. First, I’m genuinely curious to learn if some people are willing to support my efforts to write more often about gaming, psychology, and popular culture. Second, I have flirted with launching a Kickstarter or Patreon for years. I’ve had conversations with other creators about their projects and have sent drafts to some folks to get feedback on my ideas for a crowd-funding campaign. I’m tired of flirting with the idea and being anxious with questions like . . .

Should I do this?  I should focus on other things in my life.

Will anyone even care? I’m not a big-name game designer or anything.

What if no one supports it?

Are people going to be annoyed because I already have a job, and I’m asking for money?

It’s time to just move forward and find out. If the campaign does not go anywhere, then I can tell myself that I tried and keep going along as I have been since 2011. No harm done. At least I can say I tried it once and for all! Third, I want some accountability. I want a deadline. I want to know that people actively support the blog and expect an article each week. I want to be fueled by folks asking questions and giving me feedback about my ideas for content.

What are those ideas?

The first order of business is to return to writing more consistently. I have already started to do this in preparation for the Patreon campaign. As reminder, all of the content on this site will remain free. A successful Patreon would mean that I would create more content and maybe even start other projects including:

Interview Podcast. I have a couple of guests lined up, but don’t have the know-how or equipment to properly record. This is something I want to remedy going forward as it would be fun to take my Ego Check interviews and conduct them verbally instead of posting transcripts in an article form.

Interactive Streaming. My pie-in-the-sky idea is to build a call-in show while I’m playing a game like Hearthstone and take questions about gaming and/or self-help. Like the old television show, Frasier.

The Id DM Book. I don’t imagine in my wildest dreams that the Patreon will reach this level, but it would be fun to collect, edit, and repurpose my best articles into an attractive book for people to own.

To everyone that has ever read one of my articles, thank you. If you have ever commented on an article in the past or shared it on Twitter or Reddit, thank you. I hope you continue to stop by to consume the new content. If you can spread the word about the Patreon I’m working on, then that would be much appreciated!

And if you are willing to consider supporting me through the Patreon, then may you roll 20s until the end of your days!

jerry

 

 

 

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Clear Boundaries for Improvisation

I recently had the good fortune to play a session of Game of Thrones using Dungeon World rules. The experience was quite differently from playing or running sessions of Dungeons & Dragons because the Game of Thrones’ setting brings a different atmosphere to the game. In addition to traditional fantasy elements, the Game of Thrones’ world features a high level of political intrigue, tangled relationships, and short lifespans. It is entirely possible to run a Game of Thrones-style campaign in the Forgotten Realms. However, sitting down and inhabiting characters in Westeros a few years before the events of Game of Thrones take place forces the players into a different mindset than the average D&D session. Our game featured numerous social interactions, a brief flirtation with a combat moment, and a bevy of characters being introduced into the story.

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“I’m not sure of my next move.”

Cooperative storytelling is a part of every roleplaying game session, and it requires those around the table to be willing to jump in with ideas to shape the events. Many articles have been written about improvisation in roleplaying games, and Mike Shea’s interview with designer Steve Townshend really speaks to some of the points I discuss below. There are two approaches to shaping events in any given session. The first is to plan ahead of time what a character will do in a certain set of circumstance. The person running the session could prepare a specific quest to move the players in that direction while players can build characters that always respond to situations in a prescribed manner. For example, a Cleric in D&D may always take action to help those in need; it’s not so much a choice at the table as it is a personality trait that is created before the session begins.

 

The second approach is to improvise as a session goes along to take the story in an infinite number of directions. The person running the game gives an outline of the setting and situation, and the players can respond how they like. It requires all players (including the GM) to be creative, spontaneous, and accepting of the contributions and ideas of each player. Every session I’ve experienced of a tabletop roleplaying game has featured elements of preparation and improvisation. I learned through my Game of Thrones experience that I need to bolster my improvisation skills, and I imagine others out their struggle with this aspect of RPGs as well. The following article offers some ideas to increase the entire group’s willingness to accept and engage in improvisation, and how to improve individual improv skills.

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