Hex Generation

Being a game designer and small press publisher wasn’t enough for my friend James. Now he’s launched Hex Generation, by means of which he can hold forth on game design, role-playing games, 80s-90s goth and pop culture. So you can tell it’s going to be a variegated tapestry from the get-go.

James kicks it off by posing a pair of queries: how do the GMs out there use dice in their games beyond their intended use and how would you modify the grappling/overbearing mechanic for Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons described at the end of the post? The person who makes the best suggestion wins a copy of Ann Dupuis’ Night Howlers.

Hailing from the Fashionable Upper Cambrian

Just in case you needed a strata of rock of a particular antediluvian vintage from which a hibernating monstrosity may spring or creature may be reconstituted, here’s a list of known fossil sites around Vermont and the geological eras in the history of Earth to which they belong.

[via Geek Mountain State]

Fudge RPG as a TiddlyWiki

The FUDGE SRD is available for use as TiddlyWiki. That’s a clever use of the format.

More games with SRDs ought to get this treatment. I know d20 and Pathfinder have. I embarked on a similar project for Opening the Dark, but got cold feet about brazenly reposting someone’s work when they took it down, OGL or no OGL.

Also, TiddlyWiki as a wiki farm? That’s damn handy, as one of the “features” of TiddlyWiki is it only works locally.

Loot Addendum

Following up from yesterday’s post on Loot, proprietor Ed Healy has set up a coupon code for readers of Held Action. From now until April 30th, plug AAB211 into the coupon code field when buying something from Loot to take 10% off the price.

That code is good for any and all purchases from now until April 30th, so make hay while the sun shines.


Daily deal sites have become more than a bit of a thing lately. Woot! is probably the best-known of them, selling just one item per day until their supplies run out or the day is over. I particularly like the one-off T-shirt sites, if only for the variety of designs that go through their RSS feeds.

Boardgamegeek visitors are probably already familiar with Tanga, which often has board games and other geeky products at pretty good clear-out prices. Now Ed Healy has opened up Loot, a daily deal storefront focusing exclusively on games, and maybe an emphasis on role-playing games, which I appreciate. In the last week or two, Loot has offered a Dying Earth three pack and a bundle of Dungeon Crawl Classics from Goodman Games, among other things.

Being a frugal gamer, I’m always on the look-out for a deal. Daily deal sites usually have some random stuff, but it never hurts to drop their feed in your reader of choice. It takes a second to skim past. Some day, you’ll see something there you’ll find useful.

April 7th, 2011 Update: Proprietor Ed Healy has set up a coupon code for readers of Held Action. From now until April 30th, plug AAB211 into the coupon code field when buying something from Loot to take 10% off the price.

That code is good for any and all purchases from now until April 30th, so make hay while the sun shines.


I’m going to let you in on a source for cheap role-playing books: Paperbackswap.com. Like the name implies, it’s a website that abstracts swapping books. You list the books you no longer want and create a list of those you do. As people request books from you, which you mail off to them, you get credits, which can be spent to get the books on your wish list or you find via browsing. Think of it as turning one book into another for the cost of packing and postage.

In addition to my fiction and non-fiction reading, Paperbackswap has turned out to be a resource for picking up role-playing books on the cheap. Plus, a couple titles I threw on my list for fun — GURPS Technomancer and GURPS Voodoo — both appeared. Battle-worn, well-loved copies, but still there. Most of what I’ve picked up are GURPS supplements, but I also acquired Uresia: Grave of Heaven.

There are, however, two provisos. This is not a speedy process. Most of the role-playing books I’ve acquired through Paperbackswap sat on my wish list for a year or more before someone happened to list the book, or it became my turn to receive a copy. You have to be prepared to play the long game. It doesn’t hurt to have GURPS Places of Mystery in my queue, no matter how long it takes to show up, if ever.

Two, these books are typically not in collection-grade condition. In fact, if a role-playing book has gotten to the point that the owner is willing to list it on Paperbackswap, it’s probably seen a lot of action. Which can work out great, if it’s a title that normally demands high prices. You get the content with none of the worries about maintaining the book’s condition or feeling bad about how much you paid.

Paperbackswap isn’t a guarantee of getting cheap role-playing books, but it never hurts to set up that wish list. You even get two credits to start off when you sign up.

Find a New Game App

Find a New Game is a website application designed to help you find new board games that might suit your tastes. By telling it what games you love and hate, Find a New Game suggests a short list of games that may be to your liking, based on ratings pulled from Boardgamegeek.com‘s user population. This is an iterative process; the more likes and dislikes you feed into the app, the more useful its suggestions should be.

There are three ways to rate a particular game: love, ignore and hate. It’s not an application with the ability to distinguish fine shades of sentiment. After a couple dozen clicks, I generated this list:

Others who love Puerto Rico, Ticket to Ride, Dominion, Pandemic, Dominion: Seaside, Dominion: Intrigue, Small World, Pandemic: On the Brink, Arkham Horror, Dominion: Envoy Promo Card, Dominion: Prosperity, Dominion: Stash Promo Card, Tales of the Arabian Nights, Carcassonne: Traders & Builders, Arkham Horror: Dunwich Horror Expansion and hate Agricola, The Settlers of Catan, Power Grid, Memoir ’44, Caylus, El Grande, Chess, Bohnanza, Dominion: Alchemy, Race for the Galaxy: The Gathering Storm, Last Night On Earth: Growing Hunger, Space Alert, Bang! The Bullet!, Le Havre, BattleLore, War of the Ring Collector’s Edition, Chaos in the Old World, RoboRally, Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization are passionate about the following (ignoring Galaxy Trucker, Ticket to Ride: USA 1910, Lord of the Rings, Tigris & Euphrates, Small World: Cursed!, Small World: Grand Dames of Small World, The Settlers of Catan – 5-6 Player Extension, Battle Cry):

  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Steam
  • Warhammer: Invasion
  • Thebes
  • Talisman

[Portions bolded above to improve readability. In the original, text color is used to pick out titles from the sentence structure.]

You can click and click as long as you want, trying to build up a better picture of what games you might like, based on the ratings of other game players. I could click like on Talisman, ignore on Steam — since I’m not a huge rail fan and have heard it’s a heavy game — to get a further refined offering and so on.

It’s a neat little app, but it reminds me of the fact that the suggestions are only as good as the data used. The ratings come from users on Boardgamegeek.com. So it’s a small portion of the game-playing population, not only because it’s people who made an account on Boardgamegeek, but it’s people who made an account on Boardgamegeek.com and bothered to fill out ratings. Of those people who bothered to rate games, most of them probably haven’t done so comprehensively or consistently. I know I certainly haven’t.

There’s also the question of whether Find a New Game pulls individual user ratings or overall ratings, as Boardgamegeek reportedly uses weighting mechanisms to keep users from unfairly skewing the aggregated rating of a game — this, apparently, has happened with a few titles; a selection of the population decides something deserves to be at the top, so they deliberately underrate other games to drive it up the ranks.

But anyway, it’s an interesting way to see what games are out there that are probably worth me trying. Unfortunately, everything Find a New Game has suggested so far, I’ve at least heard of. I’m looking forward to the time it throws up a brand new title.

Social Networks and Vermont Gaming

I may have accidentally drunk the Kool-Aid.

Back, way back, in the summer of aught-six or aught-seven, some folks I know launched RPGBomb.com. At the time, it was one of many attempts at tying together the social networking phenomenon and the broader gaming community. I remember one of the hosts of Dragon’s Landing Inn had plans for a site called CritOrMiss. RPGLife.com took off in the same time period; that one’s still going, it seems. There’s also been a host of player finders utilizing the same technologies of social networks, like tagging and Google Maps — Nearby Gamers is a key example.

At the time these sites were taking flight, my primary point of contention with all of them was they were duplicating structures that already existed in social powerhouses, namely Facebook. My thought at that moment was: “Instead of spending time building a whole new site, why not hook into an established user base, otherwise known as Facebook, and build a killer app for social gamers?”

There are several good reasons why you wouldn’t want to do so, the least of which are not protecting user’s privacy and maintaining control over the platform which runs your network — the latter being a lesson spectacularly well-taught by Ning when it pulled the plug on free social networks this past summer. Even so, it seemed to me that the thing a network owner would get in return, drastically lowering barriers to entry to a mere click of a “Become a fan” button, as liking something was known back then, was probably worth the trade-off.

My tune has changed since then, but I can’t really pinpoint the changeover or even turning points. Now I look at the Connect with Facebook feature of many websites with distrust. I don’t even want to connect my Facebook account to a random blog’s comments section, let alone turn around and attach that same service to a website I manage. It’d feel too much like setting people up to get into some kind of privacy-related trouble.

Last November in 2009, Brennan, Alex, Sarah and I were sitting around the table at Vermont Pub & Brewery, talking about possibilities for publicizing what at the time we called Burlington Board Gamers, the thought of making it a Facebook page didn’t even come up, that I can recall. If it did, I probably discounted it because at the time Facebook was locked up pretty tight, in terms of search engines. Google’s crawlers couldn’t find much. So, because of that, we wound up going in contravention of my own cherished notion “tap into an existing user base and save the hassle of building it up from scratch.”

So we used Ning for a while and we hit up against the inevitable walls: software as a service sites make their money by commoditizing every little feature and point of customization and eventually the money runs out.

From there we moved on to an independently-hosted site with the kind donation of space and bandwidth from a fellow traveler. We also took the opportunity to transform and rebrand as Green Mountain Gamers, joining the social networking endeavor with a movement that rose earlier to have more frequent public opportunities to gather and play games in Vermont.

Unsurprisingly, it’s not easy. One’s still at the mercy of software developers, whether that’s waiting on an upgrade or dealing with the fact that some element just isn’t going to get better any time soon. That’s in addition to the usual job of community building and management. How do you encourage people to visit your website and participate in activity? We’re still working on that one.

Elsewhere, the Langdon Street Cafe uses Facebook to invite people to their Games Unplugged evenings. Zombie Planet in Albany, New York, uses Facebook statuses to announce the arrival of new product in the store, special events and whatever’s going on at the moment. Carnage and TotalCon are both on Facebook, as well. They’re all taking the tactic of tapping into an established audience with free tools.

Speaking of Carnage, I’m hoping that’s where Green Mountain Gamers makes its big splash. In low density rural areas without a lot of internet connectivity, the number of people online is an even smaller fraction of the whole than in more populated regions. We’ll be handing out cards and flyers for Winter Weirdness in Montpelier, which I hope will get the word around even more effectively than the usual routes. Getting the word out at Carnage did wonders for Northeast Wars the two years it was back. It’ll work just as well for Green Mountain Gamers.

Nonchalant Gnome Gaming Society Site Redesign

I see the Nonchalant Gnome Gaming Society launched a new website last month. If you hadn’t before — and even if you had, because the links have obviously changed — subscribe to their news feed to keep up with the board game doings in Clinton County, New York.

The Nonchalant Gnome site was one of the first I ran across when I first began looking around the web for online presences of gaming groups that met in real life in the Vermont region. They meet across Lake Champlain in New York state, so I haven’t been able to make a trip over there to visit one of their meetings, but I took some lessons away from their website. In short: make it personal so browsers can tell there are real, interesting people behind the web page, make it easy to find out where and when events happen and make it easy to contact someone who knows what’s going on.

Before now, I don’t think I realized quite how strong example the Nonchalant Gnome website has been to my efforts in making social media a useful tool for Vermont area gamers. So I tip my hat to Chuck Henry. If not for that quirky DokuWiki that was the first incarnation of the society’s website, I don’t know where or in what, if any, form the Green Mountain Gamers site, or Burlington Board Gamers before it, might have taken.

Burlington Board Gamers

A flying monkey basks in the sun of a late November afternoon. Shot by yours truly.

Following on from the successful trial run of playing board games at the Fletcher Free Library this past Saturday, Brennan and I have started Burlington Board Gamers, a social network on Ning.com. The site will serve as a place to coordinate and list all the board gaming opportunities in and around Burlington — and even further afield, as Vermont’s gaming population overlaps with other regions.

It isn’t necessary to register to view the site, which is why we chose Ning over a service with more widespread use, like Facebook. So even if you’re not interested in making an account with yet another social networking site, you can still use Burlington Board Gamers as a resource to visit occasionally to see what’s up in the local board gaming scene.

And if you’re a member of Nearby Gamers, consider joining the group’s iteration there. It’s not as featureful as Ning as a social network, but it’s a solid gamer finder I wrote about previously that can always benefit from a greater population.