Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Post Comic Expo 2012 thoughts

Is the week over? Dear Jebus it feels like I've been run over by a herd of nerds!

On April 27-29 was the 2012 Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo. We have been at this event for 5 years and have seen it grow! Our booth has went from a single table, to double, to corner and then the past 2 years a full End Cap. This to me is quite an acomplishment. It's not cheap to say the least, but what we get back from it is sooooo worth the cost.

I need to start by thanking Gwen, Andreas and Tracy for working my booth with me the entire weekend. We got to the BMO center at 9am on Friday morning for set up and left Sunday at 6:00pm. There are a lot of hours involved in the convention and through years of experience we have learned that chair cushions and floor mats are keys to comfort!

My minions were at the store all weekend working their collective asses off to run pre-release events for MtG as well as taking shifts at the convetion. I have always been proud and happy with my staff, but their level of commitment to the store went above and beyond this weekend. I'm sure they are all still trying to catch up on sleep, I know I am.

This year was an added twist to the chaos, a second booth! I purchased an "economy" booth for our Alliance LARP. We stuffed all the LARP gear into it and we had several dedicated volunteers manning it, JP, Keith, Shauna, Abbey and Lorne! Those guys again went above my expectations and really helped push our little LARP into a spotlight I did not expect (more on that next week).

We also had the privilage of selling Expo tickets this year. I have been bugging the Expo folks for a couple years about this. We are the only NE store and getting tickets over here was a big thing. We make no money off of the sales, everything goes back to the Expo. But what we do get is exposure! Getting the Myth Games name 'out there' is very important and this advertising let many people know about us that had not heard of us before. We are on their website a few times, and with links back to the store the click throughs were huge.

We must have fielded dozens of calls per day leading up to the event from people wanting tickets. Many came in and grabbed up their tix, but even more wandered around our store, grabbed a game or two, then picked up a ticket as well.

The Friday was as expected. Lots of people, lots of fans and lots of sales! We handed out coupons to the store, spoke about all of the events we do and really pushed some information out there. It was a long day for us as it started around 6am and after the convention was over I had to head to the store for our Midnight pre-release. The low-point of the night was getting in line for a Wil Wheaton photo op and being turned away because they undersetimated his popularity. Geez, you think a guy with 2M Twitter followers may be considered popular? Oh well, there was a 10:30am Sunday Photo OP scheduled so I had to wait. Thanks to my wonderful minions, I was able to head home and get some sleep while they ran the 70 player event (2 off of a full event!).

Saturday was the "day from hell" as many poor convention goers found out. Lots of overcrowding, long lines etc. Luckily our vendor area was not the crush of people in the Photo/Food area. Minion A and myself pushed our way through the throngs of people to get a couple autographs (hey, I'm a fanboy just like the rest of you!) and I got Katee Sackoff to sign her Starbuck card for my Battlestar Gallactica board game. Then I realized that Richard Hatch (the original Starbuck) was across from her and I had a game piece for him as well. It took me longer to get back to my booth and grab the card than to get his signature. The day was very busy. Lots of sales, lots of flyers and lots of walking between the LARP booth and Myth Games' Booth.

Saturday was also a pretty bad day emotionally for me. Many of you know I have cats. I love my boys. My youngest, Loki, was battling Amemia. He had been on some steroids and his red blood cell count was back to normal and so was he, or so he appeared. Unfortunatley he took a turn for the worse during the week and when I woke up at 5:30am I decided to go check on him. He couldn't move. When I picked him up he cried. I have never heard him meow like that before and I knew something was terribly wrong. So off to North Animal Emergency. After a couple hours I received the news that his condition was critical and just the diagnostics alone (just to find out what was wrong) would cost close to $3,000. As much as people believe that owning a store means you have tons of disposable cash, this is not the case. So with a very heavy heart I had to put my boy to sleep. Saturday and Sunday were VERY hard days to keep my composure. I did not tell anyone because I knew that if they were to give me a hug, or try to console me I would have completley melted down.

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday! I met up with Shauna at the Will Wheaton line and so the wait began for photos. Once the line started moving it was pretty quick to get in take a snap and get out. It took longer for our photo to be processed as the machine printing them had a problem. Oh well. Then it was into the line to get his autograph. He was genuine and engaging. It was pretty cool. I offered him the store to play some games at, but he was exhausted and was heading to bed after his grueling weekend. His schedule was insane, but he still managed to keep smiling and chat with everyone. That is the mark of a true professional.

So the day went along, more photo ops for the staff and my freinds. Luckily we can all take turns "roaming" the convetion floor and get out of the booth. It helps to break up the days. The highlight of the event for me was getting in line to see John Noble (Walter from Fringe). We overheard him commenting on his lollipop he had. It was such a "Walter" moment that both Gwen and I started giggling. His line was full, but we arrived early enough that once they started to sign there was not a huge wait. Again, we were happy to find him very engaging. He chatted with everyone and really was just a great guy. I asked him if we could snap a quick photo with Gwen's iPhone and he obliged! What a great guy. It's great when you really like an actor (or any "famous" person) and you find out that they are genuine and nice in person. It just maked the weekend a bit better.

Sunday night was unpacking the truck, grabbing some food and collapsing on the couch. Monday was putting everything back on the shelves, re-ordering and gearing up for the next big event: our LARP weekend event!

No rest for the wicked!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Some days I really love my store!

As many people know I always wanted to open this store. Yup, I am a true geek. I have wanted to open my own store since I was in highschool (and let's not start counting candles)! When I was growing up being a geek was a stigma. We had to endure "Mazes and Monsters" (kids ask your geek parents), "devil worship" and even more. My how things have changed!

Years later I got the store up and running! My main goal was to give us geeks and nerds a place to congregate and not be judged by the non-geeks out there. So each day we try to set up an event (or two) with a variety of different things for each person to try out. We have RPGs, Board Games, Minis and more scheduled.

We come to Easter Friday. I really did not know what to expect. It was a holiday afterall and that can mean we are either busy, or we are dead. You really can flip a gp and have a shot at figuring it out. So I got in right around noon. Minion C had opened the store and set up the day. We had a daunting task ahead of us. A SEALED MtG event. Now the problem was that we had been shorted by one of my suppliers on MtG product. It happens. I order it and they do not have it in stock. They did try to get me some other stuff, but with the holiday and shipping being down for the day I was not expecting anything. So we had enough Core 2012 boosters for only 15 players. Again a dilema as we could (and have) go well over that number. We had a lot of Dark Ascension and some 2012, but neither had enough to create a sealed event for over 20 players (something we have been hitting regularily for many weeks). EEP!

So as we my Minion and I were banging our heads together wondering what to do one of our regular players, Stephen overheard our problem and said "just combine them". I, not really being an MtG player asked "will that work"? "It will be interesting" was his response. So we went with a mash up of 2012 and Dark Ascension. The players all thought it was a weird mix, but it seemed to work. 20+ players arrived, grabbed their packs and made it one helluva fun event! It went from a disaster in the making to a really fun event that everyone seemed to enjoy! A huge relief!

Some days, I just love my game store! It's the players that make me truly proud of what I have worked on for 5 years. Sure, we get the occasional ass-hat, but normally 99% of the players are freindly, helpful and a ton of fun. It makes my 70 hour work week easier to enjoy.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Live Action Role-Playing Part Two

Last week I posted about the beginnings of our little Alliance LARP. Just a bit more about this one and some of the things we are doing!

So once December rolled around we had most of our racial "packets" ready. These are the backgrounds for each race that a person can play. And there are a lot of races! Elves, Dwarves, Hoblings, Saar, Ogres, Orcs and more. Each one has its own package that when a player build their character they get emailed to them. This one was always a mystery to me. Why after? Well there are some specific reasons for it. Some races are a mystery after all. An Orc will know thier heritage, but why would they know about a Saar's? Some races have some "secret" background information that only they would know (or care to share) and others will have to learn that In- Game (IG).
Now for the PLOT. We spent (and still spend) hours and hours building up our story. We have built an outline for the next 6 years of story. Mind you it is all "entry and exit" points for our story arc. But as JP always says "You have to start with your ending and work backwards". That is a pretty solid writing statement (go ahead, use it! You're welcome!) and it always takes me a bit to remember to do this. I'm kinda a "point a to b to c" guy and starting at C and working your way back seems so.... wrong. But it's not and I just have to learn to do it (learning is FUN kids!).

So with our 6 year arc prepared (and completely ready for PCs to throw a monkey wrench into it) we started with our Monthly PLOT and events. Again, this takes hours of work, even for something as "simple" as our evening events that we are currently running until our weekend events start in May.

We have so far run 2 events, a tavern night and our Masquerade. Although that sounds fairly simple, it isn't. We have PLOT meetings every 2 weeks to keep ahead of the events. Tavern was full of games so players can intermingle with new characters and get to know one another. So we had to design a few games, grab a couple off the shelves and figure out how they played into the night. We had to create NPCs (non-player characters for those that have never played a RPG before, give them a reason for being there and how they will interact with the PCs. So each NPC needs a back-story, some rumours to pass along and understand the other rumours that we are spreading to get our PLOT moving.
So currently we have several "core" NPCs. Myself, JP, Andreas, Kristen, Shauna, Abbey, Dayna and a few others. For the Tavern I was a big Ogre:
Gwen built me the vest and the hammer was all MINE! That thing was awesome. Over 5' long. Luckily, with the foam head on it, the impact is not as bad as if it was a solid piece (Gwen will argue that point.) Talk about taking one for the team, that yellow paint took me several showers and nearly a box of baby wipes to clean off. Needless to say I am testing out other paints from other suppliers.

So my NPC was an ogre who was not happy with the King, not realizing that the king was present (but in disguise...ooooooh). We had a gypsy fortune teller, a couple of orc NPCs and a Home Guard recruiter.

The culmination of the night was the storyteller (Andreas) regaling all with tales of King Ulric claiming the throne of Calandonia. Meanwhile, I, as the Ogre who hates the king, heckled the storyteller and made references to the King's sexual exploits and prowess. JP of course countered. Lots of improv between us and Andreas. Then the final fight was staged. I tossed JP over a table (one I brought from the store just in case it was damaged). That got some gasps from the players. We had our fighting routine choreographed and it went well. We fought, I died, and the crowd went wild. My cohorts (Abbey and Kristen) jumped to my defense and died as well. Fun was had by all.
Our Masquerade was in February. This was an important event as both the 2 "prominent" casters in Calandonia were present (The Archmage, me, and the Fatespinner, Gwen). We get to hate each other as the Archmage is technically in line for the throne should something sinister happen to the king and Gwen is the head of the Healer's Guild, whose rise to power "upsets" me.

As I entered the Hall, Dayna, playing the Home Guard Sergeant, announced me incorrectly as the "High Mage". Infuriated, I "Prisoned" him (a high level spell that completely freezes the player) and loudly corrected his error. Apparently that set the tone for my NPC and everyone was afraid to approach me for the evening. I was wondering why, and found out later. It gave me a good chuckle at any rate.

Our event ended with the death of the King's nephew, being poisoned, TWICE. Man someone really did not like him. Andreas really played up the nephew as a pompus self absorbed mama's boy. I'm fairly certain most will not lament his death. Shauna, who was playing his mother, has a great plotline that has sprung from the events. As well as Kristen, our "wench" who suddenly has another NPC that has a plotline emerging from her brilliant portrayal and she really brought the NPC to life.

Players truly drive our plot. The things they do completely affect where PLOT goes. They do things unexpectedly and that is what brings people back. Knowing that what they do shapes the world bit by bit. Now that is not saying that we just sit back and see what happens. Far from it. We just had a 2 hour PLOT meeting last Sunday where we worked out the April tavern and how that leads into May, June and beyond. I love the creativity and hate all the work! But when you create something and you get such a great response from the PCs that really makes all the work worth it.

LARP is taking the US and Canada by storm. What once was only thought of with that horrible "Lightning Bolt" video (google-fu or Youtube-fu it) has become more mainstream and accepted by the geek sub-culture.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Live Action Role-Playing?!?! Part One

So a year back I started to become more interested in Live Action Role-Playing (LARPing). You know, dress up in a costume, grab a "boffer" (foam weapon) and go play D&D out in the woods. Except you are your character, you don't roll to hit or have saving throws. You swing your boffer, call your damage and hope you hit the other guy more times than he hits you.

There is intrigue, a PLOT and fighting. Right up my alley. A good friend of mine, Abbey, hooked up with a crew in Edmonton called "
Underworld". Their LARP is gothic horror/ dark fantasy. I play a Garglyn (a Gargoyle for all intents and purposes). So I have a set of horns, big ass wings and I fire a bow (a real bow with foam tipped arrows). It's pretty fun. It's a weekend away from the store and we are out "camping" which I do truly love.

Last summer I had a few people approach me (cause apparently, I seem to be a go to person) and thought it would be fun to start our own LARP for Calgary. Now Calgary does have a Vampire LARP and out in Airdrie is Belegarth, but both of these are not anything close to a "High Fantasy" LARP that everyone was craving. Vampire is a very specialized LARP and if you are not into the whole "White Wolf" genre of RPGs, this may not be your cup of blood. Begarth is strictly combat oriented. So if you are interested in just the combat portion that may suit you well. But I digress (oooh, SHINY!). I started to look around at the numerous LARPs out there. Believe me there are a ton of them. Over in the UK and Europe LARPing is a serious pastime. Players can number in the THOUSANDS for a weekend battle. That number makes my head hurt. Again, numbers like that are for combat oriented LARPs such as
dagorhir and others. So I was looking for something more story oriented. Although I love to play in Underworld, I really do not enjoy the writing for gothic horror or dark fantasy and those that were interested in starting up a LARP were on board with me with that respect. Besides, there was already Underworld in Edmonton and we wanted "our own thing".

The websearch began in earnest! I spent days looking up different systems. And for those that know the google-fu, that is a lot of searching and reading. I stumbled upon NERO/ALLIANCE. There is a ton of backstory and drama with the organization and if you are really interested you can use your google-fu to find out the history as well. At any rate, NERO and ALLIANCE had a nasty falling out and the organizations split up. I contacted both (the systems are nearly identical) the "owners" and waited to hear back. Michael, from Alliance was first. His reply was quick, well written and very helpful. We spent several days sending emails back and forth. It was almost a week before NERO replied. The reply was cordial, but I felt like it was more "all business" than working with me to understand the organization. The second email I received from NERO looked like it was written by a 10 year old. My head hurt with the misspelt words, bad grammar etc (and for those that know me, I HATE that crap!). Spell check works for most things people! Use it! (ooooh SHINY)

Anyway, we eventually decided upon Alliance. My team consisting of two very close friends, Andreas and JP formed the "committee". PLOT, General Manager and of course me, the OWNER (and head of Operations". There was a fee involved (but that also covered our first set of coins, rulebooks and several helpful databases) and we got a great deal on that as the CDN dollar was 1.1 to USD! We decided that starting in 2012 was where we wanted to be. That gave us months to prepare, advertise and get our ducks in a row. There is so much involved that people would not think of.
#1 was site selection. It took us a month to narrow down the sites in Alberta. We contacted the Lion Youth Camp out in Cremona and were very lucky to get our LARP out there. That entire part took 4 months to nail down (when you deal with volunteers it is to be expected!) all the details and get the contracts signed.

#2 was insurance. Yup, we have to carry insurance just in case something goes horribly wrong and something bad happens. Again, because this is such a specialized thing it took me months of contacting my insurance, and they in turn having to contact the sports insurance guys etc. Again, glad to have contacts from my business that I can use for other things!

#3 was back story and creating our "world". As I understand it, all the "Chapters" in Alliance are all on the same world. We just have our own "continents" that are surrounded by MIST (thing Ravenloft if you know what I mean). So our areas do not connect with each other. I cannot run a plot that has monsters invade the Oregon Chapter (although that would be fun), and they cannot do the same. BUT our characters can travel to these lands. It's one of the major reasons we chose Alliance. I loved that about Living Greyhawk in that for your D&D PC to travel to Nyrond, you had to go to a convention in Utah or Nevada (ROAD TRIP!).... ooohhh SHINY.... anywho, we were lucky to recruit Kyle, the driving force behind the VAMPIRE LARP and his imagination is staggering. All of us started writing the back-story of Calandonia. Our land (CALgary, cANada) was a world recovering from a Great War between the races. Mostly it gives is the ability to "fill in the blanks" of our long history, while concentrating on the "current" history. Lots and lots of writing. Did I mention a lot of writing? Like MONTHS of writing, editing, re-editing etc.

We had to come up with back story for all the races. Each one had to feel unique, but that it belonged with the rest. Again we were lucky to get a couple more writers on board.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I got a HORSE!!

So, it's been a while since I posted anything. Far too long. Luckily I am back in the mood to write a bit and have a lot to chat about. So let's start with something fun!

Anyone who knows me and the store will know I love RPGs. They are my first passion. I have played a ton of them over my 28 years of playing them. I started on the end of D&D Red box and delved right into Advanced D&D. I still have my original PHB, DMG, Monster Manual and Fiend Folio (with the Elder God stat blocked!) I have played twilight 2000, Top Secret SI, Marvel Superheroes, WhiteWolf, Gama World (both Editions) and many, many more.

We have been playing 4E since it came out 4 years ago. I play and DM with the Pirates of the Plains Fellowship. This group has been playing "Living" games since 1999. Yup. 13 years. Damn that's a long time. We have run Living Greyhawk (to the point where we petitioned WotC for our own "region"), Living Arcanis, Living Spycraft etc. Currently the system is Living Forgotten Realms under the 4E banner.

The unfortunate part with LFR has been the lack of new adventures. WotC has taken a complete "hands off" to the LFR campaign and it has suffered. Before there was reporting your results after an adventure so the authors and PtB could move the campaign along a plot using the "majority" of decisions to steer new adventures. So for instance, 100 tables played an adventure and 75% of them killed the main bad guy. Although 25% may have saved him, majority rules and the bad was killed off. Nowadays, the LFR group is completely volunteer run and that always leads to problems. The largest is authors lack of motivation to get their adventures out on time. There have been adventures late by nearly a year. And I completely understand. People are busy and if there is no "real" motivation for getting these done (like cash, or saying you are a published author) then their enthusiasm wanes. Sure we can replay adventures, but how many times can players be expected to replay the same adventure? I personally lost interest in LFR last summer when the adventures were late and we were trying to slot LFR tables at Myth-a-Con*. What a headache! DMs had to be reassigned adventures with little to no prep time etc.

So the Pirates decided in September to expand their offerings from just LFR. We added in Shadowrun, Savage Worlds, Arcanis and Pathfinder Society (PFS) play. Recently these tables are bringing in more players than the LFR tables and I completely understand. The new systems have fresh adventures. They change every time. They are not repeated (okay, I ran the Pathfinder Into Adventures twice for brand new players) and the stories are linked into an overall arc. it "feels" like a real campaign you would play at your house. And that I have missed. LFR just seems like a hodgepodge of random adventures that leave continuity on the back burner. LFR does have "larger" story arcs, but they are so inconsistently released that you forget what the heck was happening last time as it may be months in between adventures that have the same story arc.

A couple weeks back I was GMing a Pathfinder Scenario. I have been quite enjoying GMing again (something I lost interest in with LFR) and I GM 2 PFS a month, one on each game day. This allows me to also jump into Shadowrun and Arcanis on the other "slots" that we run**. So the adventure takes place on a boat. Luckily I have some cool dungeon tiles from WotC that did just the trick. The group consisted of a rogue, samurai, cleric, and a monk. All sitting at 1st or 2nd level. So this is low level stuff which I do enjoy running as the characters are not all Feated up and have weird combos of prestige classes that can lead to several Advil when running an adventure. But I digress.

The players were fighting not only the creatures that set upon them, but the boat itself. Seems that the Pathfinder Society couldn't spare a trained sailor for this adventure so it was up to the PCs to steer during the battles. "So anyone have Profession: Sailor?" no response from the table. "How about Knowledge Nature?". "Our wizard with that skill is not here." was the response. "Okay, Wisdom score?" "15" was the answer from the Cleric.

So the first battle hits and time to start making those checks. Each round the Cleric had to spend a move action to steer. Brett never rolled that elusive "20" he needed and the boat was rocked, stopped and beached over several combats. Hilarity ensued! Players were tossed around (nearly overboard) and it added just a bit more chaos to the fights. Nothing deadly, but a definite twist to what the players were expecting. The adventure had a great RP section as well and they had a fantastic time interacting with the NPCs.

The final battle was intense. I knew that as written, the adventure would be nearly impossible so I dropped a couple of the bad guys. There was a few monks and a caster NPC to deal with now. A good blast of Color Spray dropped 2 of the party members. This basically took them out of the fight for 6 rounds. An eternity when you are facing 2:1 odds as the other 2 players realized. Dropping the first 2 just as the others were coming out of the Color Spray effect was more good timing on my part, lucky dice rolls and bad ones on their side.

As a GM I prefer to roll in front of the players, not behind a screen. I let the dice decide the player's fate, good or bad. I even have a flashing d20 from thinkgeek that lights up when you roll a 20. They love and hate that dice. I think it lends more drama to the rolls when the players can see it. They know I'm not "fudging" my rolls to either save or kill them. I let the dice fall where they may. So in doing this the players and I were down to the last PC and the Caster. I had all the others down and unconscious. The Samurai was the last standing. Low on HP and desperate he took what would be his last swing at the bad guy. It was either his Samurai or my Caster. Both were down to "one good hit" and the game was over. Dayna rolled.... and missed. You could see the players at the table slump a little in their seats. My turn. Caster rolls to hit with a ray. I think the number was 16 or higher. At any rate, it was a hit. Dayna had 1 HP left, so down he went.

The table was silent for a minute or so. I could see all the players trying to desperately figure out a way out of this. Then Dayna yelled "Wait! I HAVE A HORSE!!" Yes, his Samurai is a mounted combat type character. His trusty warhorse was in the bow cargo hold (the adventure even stated that the space was for player's mounts) and I started to giggle. The idiocy of explaining how the horse got onto the deck be damned! It was too great of an idea to say "neigh" to (yes, bad puns are free folks, line starts to the left). So the horse jumps onto the deck and proceeds to kick and bite in a fury of teeth and hoof! The horse managed to hit my caster 2 out of 3 times. More than enough to drop the caster to the deck.

Miraculously, the horse was "also trained" to administer a potion to the samurai (you can all discuss this at your leisure) but it fit the finale made the game a blast and I have not laughed that hard in a long time. The players won (well the horse did technically), they completed the mission and saved the day.

I think next time Dayna has to play the horse and his Samurai remains in the cargo hold.....

*Myth-a-Con: our annual RPG and Minis convention
**slots. We run 2 adventures per day. A slot is the 4.5 hour time period we have to play the adventure.