Originally published at Ramblings from the Flip Side (Site under construction). You can comment here or there.
As I was prepping for my Shadowrun game last Friday, I rediscovered an interesting tidbit that I wrote for the Shadowrun Storm Front’s Seattle Shakes chapter. In a fit of “evil gamemasterness,” I printed it out and took it to the game.
As each player arrived, I pulled them aside and asked them about their commlink setup (PAN, associated devices, how many commlinks they have, etc.). Then I said “As you go through your morning messages, you find this in your inbox” as I handed them the below message.
On behalf of my husband, Governor Brackhaven, I am pleased to welcome you and your kin to Seattle. As you know, we recently passed a law that brought all residents of the Ork Underground into the Seattle metroplex family. Welcome to your brand new life as a legal and contributing member of society.
What you may not know is that Kenny has opened up a fund to give all new citizens of Seattle a 600¥ tax credit for the next 5 years. This tax credit will be sent to your bank account immediately, and on the first of every year thereafter. Think of it, my friend. 600¥ with which you can pay medical bills, buy groceries, or put a down payment on a new apartment. But you can only receive this credit if you register with the online census committee. Click this LINK here for more details.
Again, Kenny and I are thrilled to add you to our ever-growing family of friends and constituents. We look forward to speaking with you and don’t forget to register to vote!
“What do you do?” I asked after they read it.
So the decker (the first player I talked to) was wise enough to do research on the message before touching anything. Another player said “I forward it to the decker and ask him to check it out.” The other four players, much to my evil dismay, decided to ignore the message, declining to click the link.
But their reactions were more hilarious than I counted on. They didn’t ignore the message because they recognized the SPAM factor (despite seeing spam every day IRL). They ignored the message because 600¥ was NOT enough money for their runner characters to risk putting themselves on the grid by registering with the Seattle metroplex government. On the other hand, one player admitted if I’d put 10,000¥ in the message, he’d have known it was suspiciously spam-like.
And as soon as I permitted them to talk to each other about it, the decker immediately yells out “Don’t click the link!”
Ah, well. It didn’t work on my players, but maybe your Shadowrunners won’t be quite so clever or greedy. Give it a try and see what happens. If you haven’t already clicked the link above, it takes you to an otherwise unlinked page on my website with stats and scenario details. Check it out and let me know what you think. Before you ask, I admit to fudging things on the Matrix Actions.
Originally published at Ramblings from the Flip Side (Site under construction). You can comment here or there.
My gaming group has convinced me to run Shadowrun again. This time we’re doing Shadowrun 5th edition, but then we playtested it too, so that’s not too far of a stretch. I just have to remember the rules (and reread the book to find all the fixes from when we play tested). We all need a refresher on the various bits and pieces, so we planned on the first few sessions being a slow ramp up. Unfortunately RL (sickness, overtime at work, other writing assignments) have “intruded” on my so-called free time. I just didn’t have a whole lot of time to actually build a whole mission from scratch. Fortunately, Shadowrun 5th edition has this wonderful random run generator in the back of the book (page 478).
As the group finalized their characters, I pulled out my “dice” and rolled the following:
Meet Locations: 2 – At a warehouse, loading dock, or other underused location
Employers: 5–6 – A minor corporation
Job Type: 1 – A data steal
McGuffin: 4 – A bioengineered life form
Twist: 5 – Target has been moved or is being moved
With these rolls, I ran into my first problem. The group had already decided pre-game that they were an unlicensed “private security” team. They didn’t do data steals and we didn’t have a decker (hopefully that problem will be solved in a week or two). So time for some quick thinking.
I decided that the data steal and the bioengineered life form were the same thing. I once read an article about scientists encoding the junk DNA of cockroaches with the works of Shakespeare (can’t find the original, but another reference is here), which provided the impetus for this adventure. The cockroaches were the data steal (junk DNA stuff), and then I threw in a little Easter Egg from Sacrificial Limb that will come back to haunt the team when I run that campaign for them. Nobody caught on to that so… (insert Evil GameMaster Laugh Here).
I had the original meet at an abandoned restaurant, and though the rigger managed to record Mr. Johnson’s face (and the faces of his body guards), none of the team ever thought to follow up on their employers. So that was a semi-useless roll. On the other hand, I can use this to haunt them later anyway.
I decided since we were talking bioegineered critters that the target would be megacorp Evo. I opened the book to the NPC pages (pp 381-384) and used professional levels 3 & 4. The Evo facility in question was a 2-story building in the front of a business park (surrounded mostly by landscaping), with a guard booth and a simple arm gate for in-and-out vehicle traffic. The building itself requires dermal RFIDs to get past security (if you don’t have a decker or technomancer), has about 9 LoneStar officers on staff, and Mr. Johnson provided the team with a general location of the McGuffin (a wooden box), a description of the box, and a known-employee list (including security) to the PCs.
Well, they didn’t have anyone with a good Computer skill, so I had to throw them a bone. They were warned, however, to do some research and verify all this data. And then they glitched the roll. So I had the rigger “accidentally” hack into LoneStar’s system and basically he had to toss his commlink as it started smoking and being tracked. To be honest, I didn’t bother with GOD rolls or marks or anything at this point. I was just trying to get the ball rolling.
The team decided the best way to get into the building was to kidnap a security guard and threaten his family. They managed to convince him to play ball and then turned around and offered him a couple of grand if he escorted them into the building. Mac Ceasre (a LoneStar employee with two kids and a dead wife) decided to go along with them because he didn’t want to leave his kids as orphans. As the PCs got to the facility, they found the box was being moved from the facility into an unmarked courier truck.
Facing 2 LoneStar security guards (a phys-ad and a mundane), a mundane scientist, and a fighting-trained courier, the team managed to take them out but broke the box in the process. Cockroaches flew everywhere.
The team spent several minutes chasing after little black bugs, putting them back in the box, then ransacking the building for other tech & such to cover up the box theft. They paid Mac his two grand, stole the van (which had about eight packages in it according to the 2D6 I rolled), and delivered the box to Mr. Johnson. Because of a glitch in negotiations, Mr. Johnson ended up paying them an early-delivery bonus so they each ended up with seven grand and 5 Karma out of the whole deal. And a potential new contact / pain-in-the-butt in the form of Mac.
Tonight I have finished my rolling and ended up with Mr. Johnson being a megacorp this time around. I’m leaning toward having Evo show up again, this time as the employer. Only… Well, bad things happen to those who steal from megas, don’t they? And the team didn’t bother to wipe the security feed in the last session because they didn’t think of it and didn’t have a decker.
Am I that evil?
Oh, dear. I think I am.
Originally published at Ramblings from the Flip Side (Site under construction). You can comment here or there.
Shadowrun Fifth Edition has officially been out for over 1/2 a year, so few would be surprised that Catalyst Game Labs will release new adventures, source books, and rule books for the product. That said, when a reject project spec came up, I decided to throw my hat in the ring and try my hand at writing hard-core rules. Usually I stick to fiction, metaplot fluff, adventures, and source material. But I really want to write for the current book because I have some specific things I want to see in there.
How does the proposal process work? Well, it varies from publisher to publisher. Since this is such a lengthy post, I’ve hidden the project spec crunchy bits inside the cut.*
At CGL, the line dev notifies the freelancers that a new project spec is available. The freelancers have until X date to decide if they want to submit proposals. After the deadline passes, the line dev makes the final writing assignments based on what was proposed and what the company wants out of the project.
To the publisher, the most important parts of the project spec are project title, lead developer, final due date, target total page count, and target total word count. Page count, word count, and final due date are crucial pieces of information. Let's look at each of these in reverse order.
Final Due Date: The company is making a very specific hole in its publishing schedule for this book. If the due date is not met, then the entire schedule slips. Printers have their own needs and schedules. Not only do they have a limited number of employees, but the printers accept work based on when their equipment is free. When a publisher goes to a printer, the publisher gets put on that schedule, sandwiched in between all the other clients. If the book schedule slips, then the publisher misses its opportunity to get printed, then has to wait for all the other clients that got their work in on time.
Page Count / Word Count: Not only is this information crucial for the printer (so it knows how to allocate machine time, employee time, and supplies), but these numbers are vital for the publisher. RPGs are printed on such a thin margin that the publisher has to account for every single penny of the budget. If they go over budget, they probably won't make any money off the product. If they go under budget, then something else is going wrong. Budgeting for books is an art form and a science. Businesses that constantly overestimate or underestimate their needs often end up closing.
After the company-relevant information comes the writer-focused crunchy bits. These include a high level description of the book (the "what this book is" bit), project milestones (due dates for the individual portions of the book), references (a list of past books for proposal research), vision (the "why people need this book" bit), the format (how this book will be laid out), and a detailed synopsis.
The "references" section can be misleading. It is rarely intended to be a complete list of everything needed for a project. Some books are put on the list as a base knowledge library (recent themes, events, and rule changes). Some books are added because they are style references (we want the book to follow this format or be written in this voice). The references section is intended only as a "quick and dirty" resource for proposals. Once writing assignments are handed out, the authors are expected to do more research and use the entire library of Shadowrun products for their work before they hand in the final drafts.
Finally, the detailed synopsis is a section-by-section and chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the book itself, including word counts for each chapter (very important!) and the general idea of what each chapter is expected to include. Catalyst likes to share the love among multiple authors, so each chapter is essentially a separate proposal. While authors can propose for the entire book, it's not likely that one author will get the whole thing unless A) it's an adventure module or B) it's a very small source book.
The detailed chapter bit, BTW, is the thing that tripped me up when I first started freelancing. I took those details too literally and that’s why my very first proposal was rejected hands down. I didn’t take enough of a risk. Keeping that lesson in mind, my entire freelance career has been one of “I’m going to suggest adding this one tiny crazy-a$$ thing in the middle of all this not-so-crazy stuff and see what Jason says!”
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But I’ve gotten a heck of a lot published under this theory. In fact, Sacrificial Limb was one huge risk. It touches on an old Shadowrun plot that shocked fans when it was first introduced before the plot ran its course and fell out of favor (around when Third Edition came out). I proposed SL to Jason Hardy knowing it was 90% likely to get rejected. Then he approved it. Really, if he keeps approving my ridiculous notions, I may one day actually get my dragon colony on Venus and my Awakened penguins in Antarctica! (If anyone sees flying pigs and ice in hell before I do, please let me know. That’s when these ideas are ripe for real pitches! @=)
I’m extraordinarily excited about the current project. There are certain ideas I’ve long wanted to add to the core rule set. As I starting playing with the spec, there were two sections I definitely wanted to add my voice and ideas to. I started a “spitball” list, writing down every crazy and new idea I could think of. Then I scanned the Fifth and Fourth Editions books to match the spitballs against existing items. The obvious stuff (ideas I thought were unique but I found existed under a different name) were removed from the list. The non-obvious stuff I left in.Then I came up with three items that may break the new system. Oh My Gosh! I was dancing when I found those ideas hiding in the nooks and crannies of my brain. Okay, so they break the system as an initial idea, but that doesn’t mean they are bad ideas. I played around a bit with them, came up with possible counter measures, then added them to my proposal. What’s the worst that can happen? Jason rejects my entire proposal. But then there’s the possibility that he accepts my proposal and says “no” to those three items or that he accepts my proposal wholesale and lets me play with AWESOME NEW STUFF.
Yeah, I’m a little excited about this project. Perhaps way more than I should be. That’s the thing I love most about writing, though. Throwing spitballs at the wall (publisher) and seeing what sticks.
UPDATE: The Shadowrun Introductory Box Set, one of the very first projects I worked on for CGL (way back in the day) has finally come to light and will be published soon. Amazon even has a page bookmarked for it. Be prepared for amazing, folks. This thing ROCKS.
*Since I’m bound by NDA, I can’t discuss particulars about projects and project specs, however, I did get pre-posting permission to discuss CGL’s project specs in generic terms.
Welcome back to Shadowrun Sundays!
Playing games is fun. So is writing for them. I’m of the mind that if you want to write for RPGs, or games in general, you should actually play the games. Taking a page from my own advice, I have a weekly gaming group. Right now we’re playing Earthdawn, with the GM mixing up the best of second and third editions. My character, Akane, is a Sword Dancer from the Cathay book. We’ve all reached third circle at this point (the lower the circle, the easier it is to advance levels) and are working on fourth.
A few weeks ago, some cultists dropped some Shards (elemental monsters like golems) into the middle of Vivane and we had to fight them. We learned that Shards are vulnerable to wood, but my character refused to switch over to a staff because, you know, that’s peasant weaponry. Swords are the way to go even if all I did was make the Shards mad.
Despite gamemaster hints that we should really go on this different other quest, the other party members decided to chase down the cultists and put an end to them. So this session we spent running around after an eighth circle illusionist and his cronies. I ended up in jail after thwacking a troll city guardsman who was quite the bully and so the team went on their way until the archer shot a city guardsman’s horse and got herself thrown in jail with me. We got sprung by a navy captain who wants our help on the quest we were supposed to be following, but the other two party members insisted on chasing up the cultists.
Finally we found the cultists in a bar down in an orcish area of town, and that’s when it happened. Willpower check! And me, I am betrayed by my 12-sided die as I roll a 1. Of course that’s the only low roll I get for the rest of the night. Instantly I see my teammates joining the cult, turning into monsters themselves. The windling (think pixie) grows almost seven feet tall, everyone starts chanting and threatening to drop Shard “eggs” all over the place.
I have no choice. I can’t let my friends destroy the city. So I try to take them down with the wooden sword someone carved up for me in the meantime. Instead I pull out my Dew of the Lotus sword (D8 + D6 damage) and start thwacking away. I don’t know why none of them go down easily, but I keep trying. I even spend Karma on the attack (it gives me an extra die) and hit every single time.
Honestly, if I’d been playing fair, I would have been Air Dancing and Blade Dancing and using my second weapon, but I thought I was using my wooden sword and trying not to actually hurt anyone. Regardless, every damage roll ended up being over 20 points of damage each and every time.
My poor confused teammates heard me screaming like a blood-thirsty lunatic and saw me attacking thin air. The only reason the rest of the cultists didn’t attack them was because the illusionist was having such a fun time pulling my strings and all of them were doubled over laughing at my antics.
At the end of it all, poor me is exhausted and panting while the illusionist is laughing so hard he has to drop the spell. At which point an anime-style bar brawl breaks out when (as he leaves the bar) he tells his cronies not to hurt us “too much.” And so we have an role-played fight (no dice are rolled) where many tables, chairs, bottles and windows are broken. Bruised in both body and pride, we limp out of the bar for our meeting with our real client.
And this is how a gamemaster gets the team back on track without railroading the party. Thing is, he told us later that it would have been a TPK if we’d succeeded on our Willpower checks. The cultists didn’t have high skills, but there were over forty of them and only four of us. Their numbers would have taken us down in a real fight. But because I failed my saving throw, I inadvertently saved the party.
Yay, me! (I think.)
So what are your recent game session stories?
A few weeks ago, I announced a Shadowrun contest for winning one of two PDF copies of the Shadowrun Fifth Edition roleplaying game. And today, I am announcing the winners.
In a random drawing, we have frontal_bread and PierceKenton.
Congratulations on winning the PDFs! I will be contacting you shortly. I need you to respond within a week, though, to make sure I have the correct contact information. If I don’t hear back, the prize will be awarded to someone else.
Thank you everyone for telling me your Shadowrun stories. I look forward to hearing more stories in the future.
I started Shadowrun Sundays to talk about the basics of RPG writing, but today I’m going to discuss rewriting. Specifically (in case you haven’t heard) my upgrade of Sacrificial Limb from Shadowrun 4A to Shadowrun Fifth Edition.
Sacrificial Limb was proposed at GenCon 2011, written in the last half of the year, and came out in 2012. Even as I wrote it, Catalyst Game Labs was planning 5e. All the freelancers were involved in some level of those discussions. But we were bound by NDA and couldn’t discuss it. What was worse, was I couldn’t write it as a dual-statted adventure because there were no rules for 5e at the time. So I wrote SL using Fourth Edition Anniversary rules using Unwired, Street Magic, Runners Companion, and Arsenal for some really kick-butt spells, gear, and rules.
About a year after SL came out, it became defunct. For those who embrace 4A rules, it still works. It’s still a grand campaign. But I hated the idea that people who upgrade to the new rules wouldn’t buy it because it was “old material.” So I came up with the brilliant idea to upgrade the adventure myself. I just didn’t realize what a massive undertaking it would be.
Rewriting an RPG adventure requires meticulous attention to detail. Not only do stat blocks need to be updated, removing old skills, adding new skills, fixing gear stats, changing out spells and weapons, but the document has to be combed for page references to other books, Opposed Test notations, nuyen (Shadowrun money) and karma (experience point) declarations, and miscellaneous typos that managed to pass by the proofreaders the last time this was printed. This is not a task for the faint of heart. My printed version is dripping with red ink. It looks so bad, that if it were a person, it would crying out for emergency aid.
Here’s a few examples of what I’m doing.
In the spells department, the following spells have not yet made it into Shadowrun 5e:
Hot Potato (one of my favorites, sigh)
Eyes of the Pack
Some of these spells are used by multiple NPCs in the book, and some NPCs have almost nothing but these spells. That means I have to come up with completely new spells for these NPCs to take their place.
The new Matrix rules do away with nodes. Now we have grids and hosts, and currently no slaved hosts (only devices). Additionally, programs no longer have their own stats, and some of the programs in question have become actions instead. So I get to clean up issues like this:
Knight Errant Node Security (Visible)
Response Signal System Firewall
4 4 5 5
Knight Errant Node Security (Hidden)
Response Signal System Firewall
5 0 5 6
Black IC: Three Musketeers Suite
This suite from NeoNET is actually three IC programs used in conjunction: Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. Each IC program has a different task. The Athos program runs a Track program on the user, while the Aramis program runs Attack against the intruding icon and Porthos runs its own Attack program to crash the invader’s programs (selected at random).
Loaded Programs: Attack 5 x 2, Track 5, each with the Ergonomic option.
I don’t even remember what the Ergonomic option was! Now I have to go look up all the 4A stuff, compare it to the 5e stuff, and see what can be substituted.
I’m nearly done with this rollercoaster ride, which is good because it’s giving me a non-metaphorical headache. Still, I think it’ll be worth it to know that Fifth Edition players will still be able to play Sacrificial Limb. Fifth Edition Sacrificial Limb will be available as PDF Only (though a big enough sales surge might see it printed, hint, hint). And if you don’t yet have the Fifth Edition Shadowrun core rulebook but have been wanting one, there’s still one week left in my SR5e PDF contest. You can enter on Blog1 or Blog2.
You know you’ve made an impact when people start coming up to you asking where you’ve found your full time writing gigs.
It’s been an interesting roller coaster ride for me since 2004. From hearing an editor refer to me as a veteran writer in 2009 (when I felt like I’d barely published anything yet) to having a friend ask me for advice on creating games to having people ask me actual writing advice, the past five years have been the weirdest series of firsts for me. I don’t consider myself one of the Big Wig Writers. Yes, I’m a member of three professional writing organizations. Yes, I blog about writing. Yes, I try and pimp my brand when I can. But I haven’t yet noticed that I have a substantial fanbase.
So when did people start thinking I knew what I was talking about?
Not that I mind being considered the wise hermit on the hill. It would just be nice to know when the transition from “wanna be writer” to “oh, hey, people actually want my opinion” happened.
To be clear for those who don’t know much about me yet, I am not a full time writer. Never have been and might never be. Why? Well, because I value my financial security too much to take that leap. I like paid vacation days, health insurance subsidized by my employer, and a paycheck that means I can indulge in random road trips and my comic & novel habit (which is now an honest to goodness research investment as well as an addiction!). My day job (SQL Server database administrator) lets me play with computers all day, solve problems, and program. I work for a wonderful company at an excellent division with fantastic people (including my immediate management team). It’s a stable paycheck.
Writing is not a stable paycheck. I put more effort in my writing than I earn from it. My current work in progress (wip as it’s called) is an original fiction novelette. Today is Day 8 of writing and I’ve rewritten the opening scene just as many times. I haven’t gotten past 1000 words, though I’ve put a lot of work into my worldbuilding and the background of “current events.” If I’m lucky, the publisher this is targeted to will accept it and I’ll get paid pro rates for the story. But to be clear, pro rates will NOT cover even a fraction of the time I’ve already put into the story. If I’m lucky, the paycheck will give me just enough money to buy lunch off the dollar menu for a week.
So if I’m not a bestselling author, why do I field questions from people who are asking for advice?
Most of my experience not only comes from doing but from asking. I have had a fantastic series of mentors both on the SQL Server side and on the writing side who had no problem sitting down with me and sharing their wisdom. So I teach and blog and answer questions whenever I can because I strongly believe in the concept of paying it forward. I do what I can to pass on the things I have learned to those who are truly interested.
A person doesn’t have to be a big wig to have valuable knowledge. DBA work and writing work is NOT a competition. I will not treat them like one. If people want to learn and contribute to the industries, more power to them. Do you have a question? Then ask. There is no such thing as a stupid question except the question that wasn’t asked.
All I ask in return is that when people are turning to you for answers that you pay it forward too.
On today’s Shadowrun Sundays, it’s contest time!
During GenCon, I had occasion to purchase the Mayan Edition and regular Collector’s Edition of the Shadowrun Fifth Edition rules. As part of the occasion, Catalyst Game Labs was giving away certificates for a free PDF version of the Fifth Edition core rulebook with each purchase of a special edition copy of SR5. Only now I’m in a bit of a bind.
As a freelance writer for CGL, I already have a PDF version of the book for research purposes. So I don’t actually need two more copies. Then I hit upon this wonderful idea. Why not give away these certificates to a good home?
Hence this Shadowrun Sundays contest. Two lucky people, randomly drawn from those who respond to this post on either of my blog locations (LJ or brandietarvin.com, will get themselves a free copy of the PDF version of Shadowrun Fifth Edition rules. Here’s the catch.
Your response must contain one of the following:
1) Your favorite part of the Shadowrun world (and why it’s your favorite thing).
2) Your favorite gaming group Shadowrunning story (what you and your fellow PCs did and why it was so wonderful).
3) For new players (or those who haven’t played Shadowrun before) what it is about Shadowrun that makes you want to play it.
You only have to pick one of the three. Entries will be accepted through Sunday September 15th. Winners will be announced via my blog on Monday September 16th. Only one entry per person will be considered, though you can post as many stories and thoughts as you want.
So what are you waiting for? What do you like most about Shadowrun? Why do you want to play it?
No, it’s not Shadowrun Sundays, but hey, as long as I’m whining about writing…
As I’m ramping up for my GenCon appearance, I blithely posted on the freelancer’s forum “Hey, I’ll run Sacrificial Limb for the team if anyone has time for a game. I’ll even upgrade it to 5th edition.” To which the line dev says “Hey, if you upgrade it, send to me and we’ll post it as a PDF before the con.”
Given all the pre-con prep going on at Catalyst I doubt anyone has the time or brainspace to actually get the PDF fixed up before the convention next week. Especially as I looked at the file and had a huge “ERK! What the HECK was I thinking?” moment.
One would think an edition upgrade would be easy, especially as I was one of the playtesters. But that doesn’t account for the fact that I haven’t read through SR5′s core rulebook since I playtested (meaning things have been added, rules have been modified, and some things that were in the playtest version no longer even exist). Plus it isn’t just a matter of changing over the NPC stats. I have to comb through SL and find every instance of an Opposed Test, a drone / vehicle / Matrix node, and gear stats, then update all those numbers as well. Then I have to verify that Karma rewards and Nuyen payouts are still appropriate to the adventure or change those (lower or higher).
Not to mention that it takes me upwards of 4-5 hours to create characters from scratch on a good day, and that doesn’t include the work of streamlining them after the initial build points spend. To be fair, I haven’t created many characters using the new Priority Table system. So I don’t know how long it’s going to take me this time around. The task, however, is a daunting one.
So I’ve gotten all the way up to page 14 of my adventure and suddenly realized the fastest way to actually make these changes is to print off the damn PDF, highlight every number that needs to be touched, and then (and only then) start restatting things. If I do it like this, I’m less likely to reinvent the wheel on shared objects by searching for those ridiculous Opposed Test tables fifteen times between searching for gear stats and sensor ratings. So this is my plan, then. To minimize the back and forth between PDFs by getting a dead tree copy and actually writing some of this crap down.
Also, it will increase my chances of finding every number that needs to be changed and not needing an errata for the SR5 version of the adventure.
And no, I’m not actually getting paid to do this (that I know of), but since Sacrificial Limb came out as we were discussing SR5 (yes, we did know that long ago), I feel the need to make sure it’s current enough that people will still want to play it. I also really hate it when RPG product is unusable one year after it’s been published.
So an SR5 edition of this adventure is forthcoming (soon, I hope) and maybe I’ll convince Mr. Line Dev to add in an extra bonus or two so everyone knows the difference between the two versions. What do you think of that, gamers? Any suggestions on bonus material?
Wish me luck on the rewrite.
Welcome back to Shadowrun Sundays. Yesterday I discovered a local game store, Hammer Hall, had shuttered its doors last weekend after about 2 years of operation and one location move. HH’s owners posted notice of the closure on their Facebook page the week before, but didn’t give much of an explanation. Not that they needed to. To be honest, I saw this closing coming from the first time I walked into the store.
Gaming is a hard business, whether you are a manufacturer or reseller. Gamers grow out of fads just as quickly (sometimes moreso) than they grow into them. A company can’t just have one hit and expect to make money off it forever, they have to diversify. A reseller can’t just sell one game and expect that to make their monthly / quarterly / yearly budget either.
Let me tell you about the history of Hammer Hall. Once upon a time there was a game store called War Dogs. All the gamers loved War Dogs. It would get in all sorts of fun games from RPGs to strategy games to CCGs. In addition to its retail space, it had a large secondary room where gamers could play. But somewhere along the line, one of the cashiers decided to spend more time talking to his friends on the phone than actively helping his customers and another cashier was clueless about the product she was selling and the owner started buying stuff that he wanted to buy instead of purchasing what his customers wanted. (Or so I’ve been told, I’d only been to War Dogs once). At a certain point, the gamers still came to the store to play but didn’t buy anything. When the money stopped coming in, War Dogs couldn’t buy “the latest hot things” on the market and ended up with a backstock no one wanted to purchase. Finally, after years of struggling, the store closed its doors.
This is relevant because Hammer Hall’s owners had a love affair with War Dogs. The owners of this store wanted to recreate the War Dogs experience while doing things the right way. So the first thing they did was buy War Dogs’ fixtures, furnishings, and backstock. The second thing they did was open up a store at a different location, a smaller location because that’s all they could afford, then post a sign that no gamer would ever be turned away for any reason. Not even for hygiene issues. Because apparently it offended them that War Dogs (or maybe other gaming stores) turned people away for not bathing and having body odor issues. When I saw that sign posted on the front door of the store, a store with very poor ventilation, I knew they’d just signed their death warrant.
Hammer Hall had great ambitions. They had a chest of board games for free play to encourage gamers to get into board games (I like this idea). Their first stock purchases consisted of some dice and some Magic cards, but they kept trying to sell the 6+ years out-of-date stock that War Dogs couldn’t even get rid of. They opened up a little office in the back as a coffee shop selling lattes and microwaved Hot Pockets. They purchased food from local grocery stores and tried to sell it off piecemeal (cakes, cookies, etc.) for a bit of a higher mark up. Which might have worked if they understood the appetite of their gamers. But few people actually purchased anything from the coffee shop. I certainly didn’t. I didn’t like any of the food they were offering for sale.
When they moved locations, it was to find a cheaper location. They certainly found a bigger location and while there was much more parking, it was arguably harder to reach than the previous one. Still, they had more tables, more space for more product. They started getting in new product (board games, newer RPGs) and had a dedicated glass cabinet for collectible Magic cards. They started hosting tournaments for Magic, RPGs, Hero Clix (or the equivalent Marvel version), and Board Games. They added a cooler for more soda varieties, added more chips and candy bars to their available snackage (which I did purchase even if the price was a little high), and re-opened the coffee shop with a little more variety of food that I still didn’t like. Maybe if they’d put in a pizza oven back there that would have been different.
The ownership revised their rules on the hygiene issue, presumably after they lost a number of customers who were totally turned off by the “I don’t need no stinkin’ bath” gamers. They even limited their stock to games highly rated on BoardGameGeek.com. But it was, I think, too little too late. While the new place had better lighting and was much cleaner than the new place, the first location had set the rules for what people expected from Hammer Hall. And then there was the Magic tournament issue.
Jacksonville has a local group who likes to run Magic tournaments. While that doesn’t sound bad, the tourney runners pressure local game stores into selling boosters of Magic at a discount. See, Magic cards can be purchased off the internet for a very steep discount when bought in bulk. Game stores can’t buy those quantities because the regular customers aren’t that into Magic. The smaller quantity purchases cost more than the tourney runners pay. So game stores lose either way, whether they purchase in bulk and sit on those boxes until the next tourney or they sell their smaller quantity for a lower price then they paid for it.
The other option is for the tourney runners to bring their own unopened boxes and sell them on the spot to the tourney players, which I believe is what happened at Hammer Hall (though I have little evidence to back this up). The tourney runners threaten not to patronize the store if the store doesn’t play ball (a very Walmart bully economy rule set). Yet, looking at the numbers, most Magic players don’t patronize the stores outside of the tournaments. They chase the tournaments.
Any of these options means Hammer Hall made no money off Magic cards during these tournaments and, despite the players buying some snacks, may have actually lost money by hosting these tournaments.
While Hammer Hall was quite packed most Saturdays and Sundays that I went, the last few times there were so many open tables that my group had the pick of where we wanted to sit. The stock hadn’t done much of a turnover, the soda cooler ended up behind the sales counter (was there a theft problem?), and loyal customers were nowhere to be seen. This change happened over a few months. Gamers, fickle as they tend to be, had gone on to their next fad.
Maybe it was the four competing game stores that opened up on the same street on the other side of the river that did it. Maybe it was boredom. Whatever the reason, for all its grand ambitions and high hopes, Hammer Hall has gone the way of many a game store before it. There are lessons to be learned here. The only game store in town that hasn’t quickly died is Borderlands Comics and Games. But then again, Borderlands diversifies its stock, keeps its store clean, and hasn’t fallen into the local Magic Tourney trap. Regardless, Jacksonville now has a plethora of game stores, all of which seem to think they can do better than War Dogs and Hammer Hall. We’ll see what happens.
Do you have a game store story you’d like to share?