Still Alive!


So selling a condo and buying a house is a lot of work! Who knew. We’re inching closer to selling our current home and buying a new home. Which means half our lives are packed up in boxes, and the other half has to be packed up during this week. Over the next month we’ll be staying at relatives houses, so posts might still be spotty.

But the good news is that after we move I get a room to decorate as I please! ‘Larp Cave’? Yes! Workbench, raw material storage? Yes! The finished basement room itself is 22 feet by 16 feet. It has wood paneling with a fireplace. I plan on making a workbench, in the unfinished part of the basement, an armor stand (that can display my armor and the helmet I never use). Decoration will mainly be banners that can be used for NPC houses.

So needless to say, I am super excited about the move. It’s a ton of work, but changing from a condo to a house means I can have space to get crafty! So, despite not having time to blog, I am still working on larp stuff, and once we get moved in there should be a ton of content to share here. In fact I have to cut this post short, it’s time to practice!

1 Free Charter for your Non Profit Larp

Larp is a resource intensive activity. Developers take time to write and edit a game system at their own expense. Event holders find locations and run logistics. Players build or buy their own gear. Everyone puts in time, money or both. Like all things in the hobby category there are few monetary rewards for spending all this time and money. Camaraderie, excitement, suspense, separation from modern stresses. The rewards of larp are emotional, not financial. Which makes a non profit structure perfect as the business model for a larp.

I’ve had this charter kicking around for a while now, and it hasn’t changed much lately. Which indicates to me that it’s ‘done’ for all intents and purposes. As my wife and I are selling our condo and buying a house that precious resource time is in scare supply. Hence posting a document created a while ago. I can think of no better way to express what a larp should be about, then what I’ve included in this document. But it can be polished even more. Tweet me, comment on Google+, or post a message on the Facebook group. Our first 2015 practice event is posted as well, so check that out while you’re on the FB page.

And now, below the break, the charter.

Larp Non Profit Charter ( link to a google doc) Comments are turned on in the document so you can also just leave a comment in the document.

“Make Good Art”
-Neil Gaiman

Organization Title:
[Your Title Here]

Organizational Goal:

Create a nonprofit organization, in the form of a club, to support and grow a community of people who can practice the art of Larp as a lifelong hobby. Lacking infinite time and resources the club cannot support all forms of art that would be relevant to a larp. The community shall focus its efforts in a few areas key to larp.

  • Have fun while becoming better at a martial art
    • Safety
    • Combat
    • Physical fitness (personal skill)
  • Have fun while becoming better at creative art
    • Garb/sewing
    • Weapon/Armor Construction
    • Other fun stuff like Cooking, making props.
  • Have fun while becoming better at theatrical art
    • Storytelling
    • Improvisational Acting
    • Event execution

Organizational structure:

The organization will hold ‘events’ which are a place to practice art as a group with structure and context created by the organization and by the players. Past experience has taught us that Larp events are not profitable monetarily. They require resources in multiple categories chiefly time expenditures from the players, and organizers. They require special goods the modern world does not provide cheaply. Time, effort, and money are all needed to produce an event.

Despite the resource costs LARPs are profitable emotionally. Therefor the system must be created as a nonprofit. Even better if the system can be created as a 50(c)3 charity organization. Volunteers working for the system could be compensated with tax breaks. Donations could be accepted from the players and the external community. The system could seek grants for the above tenets (hence having them well articulated is a good idea).

The initial organization will include 2-3 members who, while maintaining gainful employment, organize the larp community. They will be responsible for recording the rules, publishing any rule books (electronically or physically as needed), scheduling no less than 2 but no more than 4 events per year. The members will need to gather, store and move materials and resources to run those events, recruiting volunteers as needed. To facilitate these activities the organization will collect dues from members, and fees from attendees . These funds will be used to pay the costs for the organizations activities, and to facilitate getting members and players to and from events.

Members of the organizational body will not be able to play active characters in the game world. They will be able to play NPC characters, marshal events, and run the game system. They will create event concepts together that the community can experience.

Organizational Limits:

In the past Larps focused on writing a rule book, and hosting events as the key to creating an organization. This organization shall instead focus on building a community. This changes the focus of day to day activity, and where this system allocate resources. It is a radical departure from our previous outlook on creating a guidebook, and hopefully will address the core reasons why our previous attempt failed. Additionally modern technology allows the formation and maintenance of such tribes, or communities of people much more easily than in previous decades.

We are not making a company to write a rule book, although we will have to write rules. We are not creating a company to host events, although we will have to host events. We are creating a club to support a community and that community LARPs. The main focus day to day of the organization should be finding people who would enjoy being members of the club, adding them to the membership. Hosting practice and events where the community can have a good time expressing their skill at art of the game together and help each other get better at that art. Much like a burn or poi format.

Do not over produce anything. Things will change over time as the community grows. The rules for the Goblin War can be rewritten (the combat section is all copied) and expanded over time. For the number of people attending the current page count of the rules is fine. For 16 players a 6 page rule book with basic information is just fine. Once the system hits 30 players, it will have to be rewritten. Once the game hits 90 players many things will need to be updated to support the higher number of players.

Every time the organization triples in size, the systems to support that organization must be reevaluated. All Larps change over time, this one will to.

No more ads.

Since 4/5/2011 my blog earned over $120 in AdSense Revenue. But the bulk of that came when the blog was more about computer game design. Now that I’m pursuing a fringe hobby (larp) the numbers are way down. But salary at the Day Job is way up in comparison… So I don’t really need the ads/affiliate programs anymore.

So the blog is focused on larp and game design with no ads. I feel better already.
Happy Adventuring!

Questions and Answers about Dormouse Games.

Josh at Pixels or Death asked me some questions about my experience with Dormouse Games. First off, it was a ton of great experience, it was absolutely worth doing. Eric and I had a blast giving it a go. Eric is great to work with, and awesome to sit down with and just have brunch and talk about games, sci fi, writing, anything. And he hosts some killer cocktail parties too. So my writing doesn’t necessarily reflect how I feel. It’s a statement of fact, and how I look at things at this moment (therefore subject to change over time). Keep that in mind while reading.

Here are the raw questions, and answers. Maybe they will use it for an article? Maybe it’s just useless venting. A good idea would be to swing by my post about Scott McMillians talk “Death of an Indie Studio”. All of the thoughts there are entirely applicable.

–So you mentioned “we suck at marketing bad games.” Did you have a feeling going into whatever your marketing attack was that this game was not up to snuff?

Yeah, marketing is a skill all it’s own. Really though you don’t have to market great games. You only have to market games which are good or below. A great game will take care of marketing for you, assuming you passionately talk about it in places where people can find it (reddit). Every successful game has this in common. Great games get found and shared. Bad games get marketing budgets. Really the marketing sucked because we didn’t have any experience doing it. We could have either had a better game, or better marketing skills and had better results.

–What made the game bad? Was it mechanically busted, or just uninteresting/not well-designed?

The game is extremely narrow in focus. It’s fun for a play through. But once you move through it, you don’t really want to pick it back up. We assumed that people would enjoy a mental challenge more than somewhat mindless levels (like . And boy were we wrong. The levels are all manually crafted. And actually making the levels was a ton of fun. But that creates an issue where it takes tons of time to make a level, but not much time to figure it out. Really for puzzle games algorithmic level generation is a must. Even if you curate that, or edit it. Also it can’t really beat the player. Some of the most fun games out there can put the player in jeopardy, or appear that way. In a puzzle game… that doesn’t happen. So even more levels are needed.

–Would more dev time have helped? –Why wasn’t more dev time given if it was your company?

More “Dev” Time would not have helped. Less Dev time would have been better. That cliche ‘Fail faster’ is so true. Especially on web and mobile. We set down a 6 month development cycle, for a 20 level puzzle game, that had a sub tens of ten thousand dollar budget. We thought, “This is small! This is Fast!” It was not nearly small nor fast enough. We should have spent 1 month on 6 games each with a $0 budget. Vlambeer was just becoming a thing as we were starting. Unfortunately not a thing we were in on. We should have done that. Release ‘polished prototypes’ via third party websites. Then finish the games people like.

–Why did you think your marketing sucked?

Results. We could get small trickle of hits to the game, and even smaller number of plays. Not even ‘play to completion’. Just play more than one level. Whether you like metrics or not everything gets measured, and at the end of the day, when the money doesn’t come in the door, that’s a pretty big indication that something (probably multiple things) are not working. When people don’t engage with the game they are sending a message by lack of communication.

–Do you think no one (including other devs) cared because it was bad?

Yes, and they were too kind to be blunt about it. They were attempting to spare our feelings. They should have been brutal. It would have made us ‘upset’, but that is fuel for development, not angst. There is nothing more creative than a pissed off artist. Be brutally honest with indie games you look at during development. Be overly kind after release, if you like the game. Now ultimately interacting with other indies is our issue, not theirs. We didn’t really hold them to it to get a good answer. We didn’t really follow up enough and get to the real answers.

–The indie community is usually so helpful… did you ever reach out to anyone?

Dormouse Games rents a desk at Intrepid Labs. We talked to lots of folks there. Had access to arguably some of the best indie devs out there. We went to Boston Indies Demo Nights, showed the game around. We reached out to a lot of folks. But not really in the right way. Not in a way that forced them to be blunt with us. To be honest and direct. They didn’t really apply their experience and say “This will not work in the marketplace.” Which would have been way more helpful than “Wow it looks great!”. It’s not their fault. They have tons of shit to do. They have small success, which just brings nightmare loads of email, and events, and trips. Scheduling becomes a nightmare. It’s hard to meet for an hour and get people to really be brutal with you. We felt like we were interrupting people. We let meetings get pushed off, and again didn’t follow through. So again, this was our issue, not others.

–Most people will just make games in their spare time, but you make it sound like you had money for your initial start-up. Where did that come from?
Yup, most people do make games in their spare time to start. And that is absolutely what we should have done. But Eric had an opportunity to get funding from investors and roll the dice. So he formed a company, got start up capital and we gave it a go. In perspective we did really well. As a counter example see Scott McMillan’s fantastic presentations called ‘Death of an Indie Studio’. [My blog post with tons of links here] He went into debt failing to make a game. We just lost the investors money, and not even all of it. Which they were ok with losing (they themselves being internet entrepreneurs). I got a day job and right now Eric is doing contract work and considering the same. We’re not in worse positions because of what we did. But I have to wonder if we really were that invested. Maybe if we really put everything on the line, wife and house and financial futures it would have turned out differently? The answer is definitely no it would not have.

–Was this your first ever game? I just want to make sure–but either way, it sounds like this one experience soured you completely. No drive to get back into it?

This was my first game which went from start to finish. Eric, the company founder/CEO, has built games for companies in the past. But never in such a position of control. My lack of experience is game development wasn’t really a problem. I never got the feeling like “Oh man, I can’t do this.” I’m a business and computer science major; a recent graduate of BU. I was there to talk about the business end of things and had input on game mechanics, story, theme, art. I feel that I held my own. But one huge issue, is I am not a writer, and I could have been so more helpful if I was better at writing.

Well I would not say that I’m soured on the idea of game design. Just computer/mobile/web game design. Recently I came up with a mod for a board game call Caverna (Agricola 2.0). Another for Lords of Waterdeep. Mods for board games keep popping into my head. I design game like things because I have no choice. It just happens when I’m bored. If find it really entertaining and just can’t stop. I’m modding Fiasco (the indie RPG) into a character generation system for improvisational story telling larp. Slow worlds like Board games and Larp just interest me more now. The fast pace of games is a real turn off. And I want to get back into larping. I’m starting a practice this month. Trying to have fun losing weight (going to the gym is a chore, but I’m always up for combat larp).

Larp was my original passion. I started in the mid 1990’s. I only stopped larping because the game I was playing/helping run broke up. I lost my passion for years when that happened. During that time I needed some kind of creative expression, and so I thought “hey computer game design!”. Started the Zorts Project. Ha. Man that looks like crap now. Technically that was my first failed game project. Slightly embarrassing to look at, but then aren’t they always?

3 recent respectable news stories about larp.

Larp has gotten some media coverage lately. Just minor stories. But notable for lack of sensationalism. Fox News reports on larp, and it’s not what you think. And Kotaku talks about Warhammer at a Castle in the Czech Republic.

Kotaku shows off some images from a Czech Republic larp. It’s a great gallery, check it out. They have amazing terrain to battle on, and a ton of people. Their garb is awesome, and fits the WH Fantasy style very well. Kinda jealous. Check out even more on the Smrtihlav 2014 facebook page.

Embedded above is a Fox News story about larp, and it’s not the kind of coverage you may expect from a Fox affiliate. It helps that the central character of this story is a Veteran and Ambulance driver, which is territory Fox is familiar with. He uses larp as therapy for ptsd from his past and from his present. This is an interesting window into larp, from a point of view not often expressed. We all use larp as therapy in subtle ways. If this is how the population at large has to view larp in order to accept it, then I’m fine with that.

Larp and the Flash!

From a week or two ago, a news article about a Vampire the Masquerade player who is running for the Florida State House of Representatives. The coverage has been fairly neutral. The comments section is a bit more biased. It’s good that someone is out there in the public eye. Even better that his family is supportive and understanding. Of all the kinds of rpg and larp players out there, V:TM players are uniquely suited for politics. I think he’ll do great.

From Computer Game Design to Board Game Design

Agricola and the idea of playing Caverna have completely hooked me recently. These amazing games add so much depth, and are great games to learn. There is so much to learn, and so much fun to be had from playing these games! Check out why game developers of all types and genres should play these games.

Myself (left) and PopeTom (right) playing Agricola. As you can see we just upgraded the dinning room to Clay.

THE worker placement game by Uwe Rosenburg. This is a very popular game in the worker placement genre, and games like Lords of Waterdeep would not exist without it. There are plenty of design choices for game developers of all sorts to learn from in this game. If you haven’t given the game a shot yet, definitely do so. My wife played the game at TempleCon, and got hooked.

Anyone interested in building a tense game without the crutch of violence, should play a few games of Agricola. The game does a great job of building tension, by providing tons to do, and many ways to do them, but limited time to do it all in. There are some odd choices as well. Players draw a hand of 14 cards.

It makes me wonder though, what would ‘Worker Placement’ become if instead of a generic agent, each agent was unique? This would be a good area for a computer game based on work placement to explore. ‘Agents’ could become a bit more literal. In an Agricola style setting for example, the Professions cards could be integrated more directly into the workers themselves. Specializing a particular worker into a wood cutter for example, might increase the yield when collecting wood.

A great game with tons of inspiration. There have yet to be any truly compelling tablet (a nature choice for board games) or PC games to take advantage of the good and the bad of Agricola. However check out the iStore for the Agricola App.

Suburbia and Suburbia, Inc (Amazon Link)
Another fantastic game, although not worker placement. The mechanics are simple, the game is easier to learn, but the effects of some tiles can be a bit mind bending. Carcassonne with economics is as close an example I can give.

I have not played Caverna, but I really, really want to. So much so that I’ve already designed a mod for the game. The game is expensive, hard to find, and absolutely sold out. You cannot get this game easily (but if you do, let me know and I’ll play it). Although that link will take you to the Amazon page for the game, it will be tough to buy. MSRP on the game is $80.00 (US). If you’re lucky you can buy it for $140.

Take a look at Rahdo playing Caverna. (Beware shaky camera) There are some really important mechanical changes to the game play. Fences and clearing land were both streamlined. A lot of annoyance was removed with a couple simple changes. It would help to have played Agricola to understand the changes in Caverna.

In a creative industry you have to take inspiration from all kinds of sources. It baffles me that more companies from the computer game development side of conventions (say, Pax East for example), don’t wander over to the board game side for inspiration. There could be a lot to gain for electronic game developers checking out board games. After all card and RPG games have definitely crossed into the digital domain.

And if you’re going to buy the games, buy them through my links at Amazon. Help support the blog.  And let me know if there’s a game you think developers should play.

Larp Notes.

A quick note. Got one practice in this past Sunday. It is a little to cold in New England to really get out there. Fortunately ‘official’ practice is starting on the 30th! I am super excited to get the season underway. And very sore from only an hour of practice. Larp definitely requires different muscles than those worked at the gym. Or maybe I haven’t figure out the gym yet.

Why the long silence?

Well, It’s 2014. Some old projects have ended, and some new projects are about to start. It’s an exciting time, and things have been happening. Unfortunately this blog has been the thing to be put on the back burner. Thanks for sticking around, I have not abandoned writing about games and gaming. There are exciting things coming up, and I want to share them.

The most rewarding endeavor for the year was trying my hand at game development. Cofounding Dormouse Games was an amazing experience. Getting to help Eric start a company, and learn about the nitty gritty of more than just the design of games was well worth every minute of time spent. It was also the convergence of two things which up till 2013 have always been a bit divergent in my life. Games and Business. Then again that is what this blog has always been about, so in the context of this blog that divergence might not be as obvious.

An experiment in sales went well. Although being in sales (real sales, not marketing) was not my thing, it was an amazing learning experience. Working in the highest grossing office of the highest grossing mutual insurance company was an amazing experience. I got to rub elbows with some amazing sales people. And I learned that I am just not suited to that environment. So it went well in the learning sense, not the monetary compensation sense.

The day job goes well.  Working in financial services operations during the day is a great way to support my family and pay off the loans I took for that business degree. Attending BU and furthering my degree (adding Business Administration to Computer Science was a good idea), was personally very rewarding, and informative. Paying that back without a reliable source of income was extremely stressful. But working at the new company brings that stability which lets me advise Eric and help with Dormouse. It has all been worth it.

And I survived a merger. The new firm is a bit more strict about working at outside companies, which meant having to step away from Dormouse Games. But Eric and I continue to meet regularly for games, mechanics discussions, inspiration and bouncing ideas back and forth. Eric is also going to check out the new project.

Looking forward to the future, a longtime friend has asked me to assist him with a project. While also business development in the game space, it’s an entirely different medium of games. Steve Lafond asked for input on starting a larp. My suggestion was a nonprofit subscription based business model. Larp is a labor of love. The returns of which are emotional, not monetary. It’s been about 5 or 7 years since the last game we helped run ended. And it’s well past time to get back to an old passion.

There are two trends which indicated that LARP may become interesting to a slightly wider audience. The first are the fitness activities people are doing these days. Cross Fit, Tough Mudders, Bootcamp, these things are all two steps away from being a larp. Additionally the general population is tuning in and enjoying Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings in huge numbers. There are plenty of folks looking to get healthier and live a less stressed life. More people might be interesting in getting healthy while being crafty. We’re going to run a little experiment and find out.

So despite not posting, things are pretty interesting around here. News might be sporadic, but I want to write some posts about helping run a nonprofit game development company.

Hearthstone; the death of CCG’s.

Hearthstone is a good game. It’s great fun. Quite enjoyable. You should play it. But when the meta game changes on a weekly basis, what’s the point? A deck that was passable good last week looses frequently this week. Why does the meta game change so rapidly? The game was created in the age of streaming internet.  We watch, content, pick up some deck ideas, play those. Wash, rinse, repeat each week. The real question “Is that fun?”

Hearthstone will be played by 1.) CCG Elites. Kripp, Trump, et all. 2.) People looking to break into their ranks. Those players who can devote the amount of time to keep up with the Meta Game will be the only players deriving any entertainment from the game. When you have to spend 50% of your ‘play’ time researching the environment of literally that day, where’s the fun for the ‘amateur’ player?

Tonight I lost my interest in the game after having played for about two weeks. The open beta was really exciting, and great to watch before getting in. But the game evolved quickly as the hype increased. We watched the meta game accelerate exponentially through and beyond the Invitationals. Magic the Gathering had the same cycle, but at least the game got out of beta before it accelerated beyond the point of something an ‘average’ player could follow.

What is the attraction for the average player if your win ratio is slightly higher than average chance? The really sad thing is that unless a card game is obscure, this is how its going to be from now on. Any CCG that launches in the internet age is going to have this terribly fast meta game. There is just something sad about that. Collectible card games will never be something that can be played at a level anything less than ‘professional’. Perhaps it just means that you can never be passingly interested in a CCG. Your either all in or left in the dust. Or maybe it means that there will be two kinds of players; ‘Spectators’ and ‘people who can devote their professional lives to playing a game’.

Maybe the meta game will change once Hearthstone goes open beta. But probably not. If you want to play a game that demonstrates your skill play chess. There are a huge variety of levels of players, with a known meta game. It has rules which change extremely slowly. If you want to play a game that demonstrates your ability to watch youtube videos of other people playing, play Hearthstone.

5 Risks No kickstarter ever lists, but should.

Recently Reddit, and Penny Arcade Report cited a Kickstarter Campaign which was successfully funded, but failed to deliver the product.  Based on comments and  tweets the game had a lot going for it.  Backers say that the game mechanics were done, that playtest had gotten to final stages.  But the game was still not produced.  There are rumors that they were attempting to start a company using funding from the project.  The kickstarter campaign clearly states that it is to produce a board game, not found a company.  Unfortunately a project is not a company, and if I had to guess I would assume that not understanding this point led to their downfall.

On one hand I feel for the backers who lost their money, it sucks to lose money.  On the other hand I work in Financial Services during the day, discussing investment portfolios.  Portfolios in which you can lose money. Portfolios where past performance is no guarantee of future success.  That sentiment is on every document, every statement, and every prospectus.  It is all but stamped on our forehead.  Everyone knows that people lose money based on the outcome of the stock market.  For most investors its expected.  Why don’t backers of kickstarters feel the same way?  They should.

And maybe kickstarter should have a boiler plate statement as well.  Maybe, if people starting projects were really honest with themselves and the community, they would include the real risks.  At the moment most projects enter very little to no information in the ‘Risks’ section of their project.  It was very good of Kickstarter to include that section.  But it is very bad that no one fills it out honestly. At best this is the mark of a passionate team, who believe in themselves to the point of being overconfident.  At worst the risks section is an outright lie.  So here are the 5 Risks EVERY kickstarter should include if they were really honest.

Risk 1
We could be incompetent, amateurs, overly specialize professionals or overconfident professionals.  Due to our inexperience we could use all the money on doing something completely outside the scope of what we have stated above.  We might be really good at game design, or graphic design, or building kickstarter pages, but we might suck at running projects.  We could underestimate the cost of any of a dozen things including (but not limited to) concept art, back end systems, cardboard could make card stock too expensive to purchase.  We might be a risk.

Risk 2
We have to work with other companies, contractors, payment systems, support systems, dropbox, Google.  Our ability to complete this project relies in some part on our ability to work successfully with our partners.  We could be jerks, fight with our partners and lose all your money in the process.  There could be a systems crash, or network disruption.  There could be fire, theft, or earthquakes which destroys all our work, and wastes all your money.  Our partners might be a risk.

Risk 3
We could have greatly underestimated the scope of the project or the number of people it will take to complete the project.  Or ‘committed team members’ could leave, making our estimates of scope wrong.  This could lead to us using up all the money before anything gets produced.  Or we may have overestimated our ability to deliver swag.  We could end up spending everything on t-shirts and lose all your money.  The project itself might be a risk.

Risk 4
We have to continually report to [X] stakeholders.  Where [X] is the number of backers.  Plus media.  Plus new people that didn’t get in on the kickstarter, but want the thing we’re making.  That pressure of having to report and manage the relationship with our stakeholders could be overwhelming.  We could get distracted by ‘community management’, and lose all your money hiring PR firms, or starting forum boards or twiddling our thumbs on twitter.  Having your on board might be a risk.

Risk 5
We could do all of these things correctly.  We could manage ourselves, manage our partners, manage our resources and communication, and simply just fail.  We could toil for years try our hardest, do our best, and still you could lose all your money through no fault of our own.  An uncertain future is definitely a risk.

If a project was really honest with you, it would list all these things in the Risks section of kickstarter…  But if we, as backers were really honest with ourselves, we would realize already that it’s incredibly hard to complete a project, start a company, or get anything done in this world.  That doesn’t mean that we can’t hope, dream and support people who we think can really make it.  So go back those campaigns, but realize that you could lose all your money.  And check out this article about the successful kickstarter for Shadowrun: Returns for a team that has shit together.