Archive for the ‘Caught My Attention’ Category
Cam Banks is one of the most talented RPG developers I know of, and have had the privilege of working with on some Cortex Plus projects — the Leverage line and parts of the Hacker’s Guide, notably us teaming up together to forge Cortex Plus Action. When he announced a few months back that he took a full-time position at Atlas Games, I was happy for both him and Atlas, since Atlas is awesome and he is fearsome.
While he is a good game designer, his greatest talent is in fostering collaboration and curating the very designs he’s working on. If you’re wondering what the hell that means, I first say that you should work with Cam. Barring that, though, what Cam does is take input from various sources and weighs them with a careful eye, which tempers more aggressive and boundary-pushing designers that may disregard some player experiences. It’s that melding that made the iterations of Cortex Plus the celebrated games that they are.
Along with that, Cam’s a great faceman for a game company. He’s personable, kind, and will listen. He takes time to explain things, even to people who don’t want explanations but just to complain. And he’s a calming force on social media, sometimes jokingly (or not so jokingly) called “Twitter’s Dad.” All in all, he’s a great person to know — as a game designer, as a project wrangler, and as a human being. He’s a person to emulate.
I should also confess that I have not always treated Cam with the respect he deserves, partly due to my mishandling of business decisions that both he was involved in and were completely out of his control. That Cam handled those moments well, and that he even worked with me afterward, is a testament to his patience and forgiveness. I, for serious, am not a quarter of the person he is — which is a further, and perhaps most significant, reason that I admire him.
P.S. Cam has asked me to make sure you all know that his wife, Jess Banks, is smarter than he is. I will (with no sarcasm or malice) agree with him. She’s also pretty fucking awesome.
 On occasion, Cam, my memory actually works.
 Which is a thing I need to remind myself of.
It’s been twelve months since I last did a Folks I Admire post, so let’s fix that. This month, I plan on doing a Folks I Admire post every Friday.
The two people I’m going to talk about today are two project managers in the RPG world: Sean Nittner and Jessica Price.
Man, Sean Nittner. Dude does everything, dips his toes in many different arenas. When I met him, he was one of the guys who ran the SF Bay Area GM troupe known as Good Omens (which, at one point, I was in). He ran one of the four yearly EndGame Oakland mini-cons, the July “Good Omens con.” And that’s the start of this story.
See, Sean’s dealt with logistics and planning around gamers for a long time. A few years ago, he decided to take that to the next level by planning his own regional hotel con, Big Bad Con — a fantastic Oakland-based convention that offers a nice alternative to the older and somewhat calcified conventions in the area. Sean saw something he didn’t like (that these older conventions didn’t have room for new blood and new games), and he threw his energy into making something new. However, unlike others who do the same thing, Sean is a planner. Sean calculates, plots, charts, and other verbs that can mean “plan.”
There’s a lot I admire and respect about Sean, but foremost is that very combination of zeal and calculation. Dude gets passionate about something, but doesn’t blindly throw himself into it. And that makes him able to be successful where others who have the same passion and throw themselves at the same problems fail.
Today, Sean’s the Project Manager over at Evil Hat Productions, and he’s doing a great, bang up job there, just as he does with so many things in life. I’m happy that he’s doing that, and happy that Evil Hat is thriving with him.
Happy enough that, in fact, I can share with you a story: see, I’m sort of Evil Hat’s first attempt at a project manager. Sort of. I got brought into Dresden at a moment of crisis. I handled the crisis by telling everyone what to do, and Dresden got done. But it turns out that when we’re planning for stuff that isn’t a “get it done yesterday” crisis, I have no real skill for that — especially when I’m also one of the creatives involved in making a project happen. So watching Sean succeed at the job I failed at has been humbling, but more importantly it’s been an education. I watch what he’s doing studiously.
But Sean isn’t the project manager I deal with every day. That “honor” goes to Paizo’s Project Manager, Jessica Price. You might have seen her Tumblr post on convention harassment and how to help, since friend-to-woodland-creatures Wil Wheaton reblogged it.
Part of why I have respect for Jessica’s job is because, as I mentioned with Sean, I’ve tried it and I know that I’m not good at it. I know how important it is, though, because I see a whiteboard every day that foretells the future. It tells us when a project’s going to be late, when we’re in a weird point where one part of the chain either is getting hit with everything (like everyone sending the art team files at once) or a weird slowdown (like the editors waiting on other people because there are weird hold-ups). And as much as this seems like some sort of oracular mystery, in truth, Jessica is able to predict the future simply by being able to see all the pieces — pieces the rest of us individually don’t see in the same way, because we live in our separate worlds.
But as many sci-fi stories tell us, being able to predict or see the future doesn’t mean shit if you can’t do something about it. And that’s where Jessica shines: she foresees problems and works to fix them before they become critical. And when they’re about to become critical, she gets folks involved to make bargains as to which project they’re willing to let slip or what limited resources can be tapped to make something happen. Sometimes, these bargains feel like dark blood-pacts — it’s not secret that we sometimes have to take work home in order to catch up because of some weird hiccup in the schedule, but for all I’ve been told, it was much worse, and routine, in past years.
In my time working as a government IT guy, we rarely had project managers, and when we did they had no power, so I know what work looks like without one. So to state as I have above that Jessica has some sort of mystical demonic-bargaining powers is, sure, a bit much (since I’m sure demon-binding is how she unwinds after a day of work), but it’s as close as I can come to conveying my respect for what she does.
And that’s nothing to say of her work in dealing with sexism and other bigotry in the gaming community. She’s a strong advocate, and she’s pretty awesome at it. She’s a feminist tank. Check out her tumblr for more.
 I am also not ashamed to admit I have a mancrush on him. He’s goddamn pretty.[1a]
[1a] Wait, is that creepy?[1b]
[1b] Probably. I’ll let Sean be the judge.
If you haven’t checked it out yet, take a look at the Spark RPG. You may have heard about it on Twitter or whatever, but weren’t drawn in because the title isn’t THE SPARK OF DEATH or Emotional Sparks Galore or Sparkender or anything like that.
The title is simple. It’s a bit like a zen onion, with layers but chill about it. I’ll use the game’s on text:
In Lord of the Rings, Samwise pledged his loyal service to his friend Frodo. He was driven to uphold his word and lighten the heavy burden that was crushing his friend, and he braved incredible hardship to help Frodo. He explored the values of loyalty, bravery and sacrifice, which taught us a bit about ourselves.
He doesn’t talk about playing Aragorn, all ass-kicking. He doesn’t talk about playing the emo, tragic Frodo. Spark is about Samwise.
You have to understand that this is important to me, personally, because when I watch The Lord of the Rings, Samwise is the hero. He’s the one who makes the heroic choices without the benefit of being a great warrior or adept wizard.
I’ll let Jason take it from here.
If you back, you’ll get immediate access to the game’s pre-layout draft: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/Jagash/the-spark-roleplaying-game/posts/426079. So give it a test-drive. You might like it.
My friend Tony Dowler has made something breathtaking:
The Seattle Doomsday Map is a huge painting of downtown Seattle devastated. Buildings have collapsed. Cars lie abandoned on I-5. Neighborhoods have been consumed by fire, water, and returning nature. Civilization has dwindled to a few scattered enclaves, but in those refuges, life carries on with full vigor. This vision haunts me constantly, but it also gets my imagination going, which is why I was compelled to create this image.
Check the poster out in full — it’s fucking amazing. And he’s making a survival guide to go with the poster. Seriously, if you’ve ever wanted to set a game in a massive, apocalypse-ravaged city, you must get in on this.
If you haven’t checked out the Fate Core Kickstarter campaign, it’s got a few hours to go. And I have three reasons that I think you should back this if you like RPGs:
(1) From a design standpoint, the major and most of the minor changes in Fate came from weeks of conversations and debates between Leonard Balsera & I about language in Fate, what we found ourselves explaining around or avoiding bringing up in con games, how language choices affect emotional resonance in a moment of story, etc. It’s one of my best works — if not by best work — even if I wasn’t there to finish it at the end. (Seriously, “obstacles” alone took I think three Skype calls to suss out.)
(2) $10 gets you a mountain of content. Go check it out.*
(3) Pledging means you believe in the following people: Leonard Balsera, Mike Olson, Jeremy Keller, Brian “Lord Danger” Engard, Fred Hicks, Rob Donoghue, Clark Valentine, Amanda Valentine, Brennan Taylor, J.R. Blackwell, Sarah J. Newton, Jason Morningstar, Shoshana Kessock, Lisa Steele, John Rogers, Filamena Young, Rob Weiland, Daniel Solis, Jess Nevins, Chad Underkoffler, Kenneth Hite, Justin D. Jacobson, and many others I’m sure whose names I don’t have readily on-hand.
To be entirely clear, I get absolutely nothing for pimping Core. This isn’t a cash grab for me. I just fucking well believe in the game I reforged with Lenny, and think the people above are pretty cool, so maybe Fate’s for you.
* Hell, I pledged at the $10 level.