Comparison of tabletop roleplaying games (RPG)

Not all RPGs are the same..

There are different themes, different play styles, different universes and different mechanics (how to calculate how I grow as a character, fight, solve, etc). Next to each game, I have added an overall complexity rating (Simple, Intermediate and Advanced).

Consider the following as a work in progress I will keep adding comments, and updating from other peoples comments. And yes I will listen to all opinions.

IMG_1758

Overall Rating

Overall ratings are my perspective on how easy the game is to “get into” and I mean from a combination of Universe, Mechanics/Rules and support materials.

For some they will understand a lot from a set of movies or famous books which will make the transition much easier e.g. if you have watched the Lord of the Rings (LOR) it will be easier to play Dungeons and Dragons or Middle Earth.

Systems that are more crunchy/complex often take longer to get characters created and sometimes can become bogged due to mechanics, of a course a good GameMaster will take what they need and ignore the rest, but either way Legends of the Five Rings or 7th Seas are really easy mechanics (maybe too easy/simplistic) compared to RoleMaster.

Breakdowns

This has grown a lot since I started.  In part from people asking what is this game like to play.  With the advert of Boardgames really explore what is collaboration?  It seems that we started with very private collaborative systems for players, which is upto the GM to reward and punished, could their be better ways i.e. Coriolis  asking the group to choose its group Talent together or Ars Magica exploring both Troupe Playing and sharing a character i.e the convent.

I know I have to build out the complexity and give specific examples of rules, which I will do over time.

How do you compare RPGs? I would love your thoughts?

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – What is the universe like, what are the common themes
    • Combat – Abstracted or realistic, including healing
    • Religion –
    • Magic – How Common?
    • Races – More than Human?
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – D&D Alignments etc?
    • Personalty – Are traits defined? Are they for the roleplaying or are they part of how characters success/failure
    • Group/Individual orientation – Does the game encourage or is it upto the GM?
    • Official Music – Adds to the emotional atmosphere
    • Overall –
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Overall how are they
    • Dice – Which Dice?
    • World/Universe – How simple or more of a stretch
    • Campaign World – Examples
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? –
    • Companion Rules –
    • Multiple Editions –
    • Solo Scenario –
    • Card Decks –
  • Community
    • People Playing – Size
    • Scenarios – How many
  • Players/Characters
    • Character Generation – How Simple?
    • Character Growth – How dow my chapter grow
    • Plays well with 4 -6 players
    • Character Mix – For the player team
    • Character Death – How common?

These are different for each grouping i.e. Fantasy vs Present vs Sci Fi

Fantasy RPG

Fantasy includes Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Conan, Pirates, generally medieval time with Swords/Bows and often Magic.

Wipe map and miniatures

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition – Simple

Lord of the Rings (LOR) kind of world with hope

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – High Fantasy
    • Combat – Abstracted not very real e.g. HP for whole body, Damage not to specify parts of the body.
    • Religion – Lots of Gods
    • Magic – Common
    • Races – Lots
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – defined
    • Personalty – Non existent
    • Group/Individual orientation – No rules, depends on players
    • Official Music – no
    • Overall – Can become more tactical play than role-play – depend on DM emphasis
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Simple
    • Dice – d20
    • World/Universe – Simple for people who know LOR
    • Campaign World – Forgotten Realms
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Large
    • Scenarios – Small for 5th, but loads for other versions
    • Boardgames – yes, a bunch
    • Computergames – yes, a bunch
  • Players/Characters
    • Character Generation – Simple
    • Character Growth – defined in class and levels
    • Plays well with 4 -6 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Rare

WarHammer Fantasy Role-play 3rd Ed – Simple

LOR kind of world with NO hope

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Dark High Fantasy
    • Combat – Abstracted not very real
    • Religion – Lots of Gods, with a lot of hands on demonic gods
    • Magic – Uncommon
    • Races – Lots
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – undefined
    • Personalty – undefined doe shave insanity rules
    • Group/Individual orientation – No rules, depends on players
    • Official Music – no
    • Overall – Can become more tactical play than role-play – depend on GM emphasis
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Simple
    • Dice – Percentiles + mix for damage
    • World/Universe – Simple for people who know LOR
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – No
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Large
    • Scenarios – Intermediate number
    • Boardgames – yes, a bunch
    • Computergames – yes
  • Players/Characters
    • Character Generation – Simple
    • Character growth – Defined in careers
    • Plays well with 4 -6 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Uncommon

7th Sea 2nd Ed – Simple

1400 AD with Magic, pirates

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Renaissance swashbuckler fantasy
    • Combat – Abstracted not very real
    • Religion – Earth like
    • Magic – Small, is actually advanced technology
    • Races – None – creates difference through country of origin
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Undefined
    • Personalty – Virtues/background
    • Group/Individual orientation – No rules, depends on players
    • Official Music – no
    • Overall – Encourages role-playing and rewards in mechanics
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Very Simple
    • Dice – Percentiles + mix for damage
    • World/Universe – Simple for people who have some earth history
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Companion Rules – Minimal for 2ed
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Large
    • Scenarios – Small for 2nd Ed
    • Boardgames – no
    • Computersgames – no
  • Players/Characters
    • Character Generation – Simple
    • Character Growth – Archetypes to start than free + Advancement Points
    • Plays well with 3 -6 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Uncommon

Ars Magica 5th Ed – Intermediate

1150AD Medieval Wizards, Faeries, Demons and God.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Grimy Dark Medieval fantasy
    • Combat – Lethal
    • Religion – Medieval Religion
    • Magic – Rare, the most flexible system
    • Races – Multiple
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty – Traits, Virtues/Flaws
    • Group/Individual orientation – Group oriented rules encourage
    • Official Music – no
    • Overall – Encourages role-play, multiple characters per player
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Intermediate, Magic can get Complex
    • Dice – d10s
    • World/Universe – Simple for people who have some earth history
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – No
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Large
    • Scenarios – Small for 5th ED
    • Boardgames – yes one
    • Computer games – no
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Simple – you will create multiple characters a mage and companion
    • Character Growth – Experience/Aging/Decrepitude/Warping/Reputation
    • Shared Characters – The Covenant and Grogs
    • Plays well with 3 -6 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Grogs – Common, Companion – Uncommon, Mage – Rare

Shadows of Esteren – Intermediate

Medieval, Dark, Horror, Gothic, Celtic

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Grimy Dark Celtic fantasy
    • Combat – Lethal
    • Religion – Medieval Religion
    • Magic – Rare
    • Races – Human
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty – Rules centered around psychology, driven by a balance of personality traits “Ways” and sanity rules
    • Group/Individual orientation – No rules, depends on players
    • Official Music – yes
    • Overall – Encourages role-play
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Intermediate
    • Dice – Mix
    • World/Universe – Simple for people who have some earth history
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Companion Rules – some
    • Multiple Editions – no
  • Community
    • People Playing – Small
    • Scenarios – Small but growing
    • Boardgames – no
    • Computer Games – no
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Intermediate
    • Character Growth – Archetypes + Experience
    • Shared Characters – None
    • Plays well with 3 -5 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Not Uncommon

Other Fantasy I need to add:

  • Pathfinder
  • Legend of the Five Rings

Present with Twists RPGs

These include modern day or in the last 50 years, something we would maybe have learned about in history class at school, if you were awake.

Call of Cthulhu RPG Session

Call of Cthulhu 7th Ed – Intermediate

Find it.. Much Detective work.. Run away! anddd… you’re dead.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Horror and  investigation 1920s (many Variants)
    • Starting Location – Boston, Arkham
    • Combat – Lethal, especially SMGs/Assaults
    • Religion – Earthlike
    • Magic – Rare
    • Races – Human
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty – Encourages deep character background and focus on sanity rules
    • Group/Individual orientation – One rule on working together
    • Official Music – no
    • Overall – Encourages role-play and fear if a “good” Keeper
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Simple
    • Dice – Percentiles + mix for damage
    • World/Universe – Simple for people who have some earth history
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Solo Scenario – Yes
    • Card Decks – Yes – Characters, Events, Weapons, Phobias
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Medium
    • Scenarios – A lot
    • Boardgames – community is large i.e. Mansion of Madness, etc
    • Computergames – yes
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Simple Archetypes
    • Character Growth – Built around skills used, get better
    • Shared Characters – None
    • Plays well with 3 – 6 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Not Uncommon

Games to add:

  • Vampire (Simple) – Surprise surprise!… it’s about vampires
  • Werewolf (Simple) – You are guardians of the earth protecting it from Wrym who uses toxins to destroy the planets and humans
  • Dresden Files (Simple) – Detectives with Magic in Chicago
  • Unknown Armies (Intermediate) – You are armed with magic or a gun, slightly insane and you have to stop them.. you know them.. they are real
  • Hero System
  • Gurps
  • Twilight 2000

Science Fiction RPGs

Most of these would be 50 years plus in the future

Star Wars RPGS ession

Eclipse Phase 1st Ed – Advanced

Dark future of mankind, AI, Corporations and technology. Get the backup of you ready, let’s jump through Stargates to take on the evil robots. A favourite.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Dark Future can be Horror, or cyberpunk or Stargate
    • Combat – Lethal
    • Religion – Not Really
    • Psionic’s – Uncommon
    • Hacking – Yes
    • Ship Combat – no
    • Races – Human
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty – Sanity rules
    • Group/Individual orientation – No rules, depends on players
    • Official Music – yes for 2nd Ed
    • Overall – Encourages role-play
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Intermediate, crunchy or can be ignore or use Fate
    • Dice – Percentiles + mix for damage
    • World/Universe – A lot but well thought out
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Solo Adventure – No
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes, currently working on 2nd Ed
    • Cards – Yes – Morphs
    • Boardgames – No
    • Computergames – No
  • Community
    • People Playing – Small
    • Scenarios – Small but growing
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Intermediate, unless using Transhuman packages
    • Character Growth – Free/no class + Experience
    • Shared Characters – None
    • Plays well with 3 -5 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – Common, but you have a backup right

Shadowrun 5th – Advanced

Elves, Dwarves and humans in our future with guns, magic and cyber gear

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Sci Fi + Fantasy + CyberPunk
    • Combat – Can be Lethal
    • Religion – Earthlike + Mysticism
    • Psionic’s – No
    • Magic – Yes
    • Hacking – Yes
    • Ship Combat –  No
    • Races – Lots -> Elves Dwarves
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty –  None
    • Group/Individual orientation – Individual
    • Official Music – No
    • Overall – Encourages tactical play
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Advanced/Crunchy
    • Dice – d6s
    • World/Universe – Big, a lot of different sources
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Solo Adventure – Yes
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Cards – Items
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Medium
    • Scenarios – A lot in all versions
    • Boardgames – yes
    • Copmputergames – yes
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Simple
    • Character Growth – Karma
    • Shared Characters – None
    • Plays well with 3 -5 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – UnCommon

Star Wars 3rd Ed – Simple

Star Wars Movies background

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Sci Fi Fantasy
    • Combat – Can be lethal
    • Religion – The Force
    • Psionic’s – Uncommon – Force Sensitive/Force
    • Hacking – sort of
    • Ship Combat – yes
    • Races – Lots
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty –  None
    • Group/Individual orientation – Individual
    • Official Music – From Movies
    • Overall – Encourages tactical play
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Simple, except the dice
    • Dice – Special Star Wars dice + mix for damage
    • World/Universe – Big, a lot of different sources
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes multiple for different time periods
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes
  • Community
    • People Playing – Medium
    • Scenarios – Small but growing
    • Boardgames – Multiple Games
    • Computergames – yes
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Simple
    • Character Growth – Class + Experience
    • Shared Characters – The ship
    • Plays well with 3 -5 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – UnCommon

Polaris 3rd Ed – Simple

Far future under earth’s oceans. Amazing artwork.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Earths land is radioactive, the only place to live is under the water
    • Combat – Err towards survival
    • Religion – Part of the background but not rules
    • Psionic’s – Uncommon + Polaris Effect
    • Hacking – not really
    • Ship Combat – Underwater Vehicle combat
    • Races – Genetic types/Mutations
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty – No
    • Group/Individual orientation – Not in the rules
    • Official Music – No
    • Overall – Encourages Tactical Play
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Simple
    • Dice – d6, d10 and d20
    • World/Universe – Small but well thought out
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – Yes – Now 3rd
  • Community
    • People Playing – Small
    • Scenarios – Small but growing
    • Cards – No
    • Boardgames – no
    • Computergames – no
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Simple Archetype or free use of creation points
    • Character Growth – Starts with Archetypes + Experience
    • Shared Characters – None
    • Plays well with 3 -6 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – UnCommon

Coriolis – Simple

Space Arabian Nights. For me this is number one in terms of artwork in the science fiction category followed by Polaris.

  • Style/Theme
    • Theme – Arabian Nights, Old vs New, Mysticism, dark between the stars
    • Combat – Err towards survival
    • Religion – Yes – Uses Muslim Faith as foundation, as impact all of the game
    • Psionic’s – Uncommon
    • Hacking – yes
    • Ship Combat – yes
    • Races – Human
  • Roleplaying
    • Ethical framework – Un-defined
    • Personalty – Sanity rules
    • Group/Individual orientation – Very group oriented, rules encourage and rewards group, even share a group talent
    • Official Music – Yes
    • Overall – Encourages role-play
  • Complexity/Rules/Mechanics
    • Mechanics/Rules – Simple
    • Dice – d6s
    • World/Universe – Small but well thought out
  • Expansions
    • Quickstart? – Yes
    • Companion Rules – A lot
    • Multiple Editions – No
  • Community
    • People Playing – Small
    • Scenarios – Small but growing
    • Cards – Yes – Icons+
    • Boardgames – no
    • Computergames – no
  • Players/Character
    • Character Generation – Simple
    • Character Growth – Starts with Archetypes +Experience
    • Shared Characters – The ship
    • Plays well with 3 -5 players
    • Character Mix – Important to have a mixture
    • Character Death – UnCommon

Games to add:

  • Traveller (Intermediate) – At least a 1,000 years
  • Rifts
  • Rogue Trader/Dark Hersey
  • Star Trek

Summary of things to consider for RPGs

  1. Complexity- Often referred to as how Crunchy (in terms of lots of numbers and arithmetic) the game is.
  2. The size of the Community of the game – the bigger the community, the more resources will become available
  3. If you are a first time GM -> the number of adventures published for the game
  4. How far from reality – The further away from reality takes a longer investment i.e. no humans or science fiction or very different universe
  5. The Number of Players 5 to 6 are best
  6. The Player Mix – A mixture of decisive and support players is good.
  7. Will others GM/Story Tell -> Troupe Style
Advertisements

Running your first RPG gaming session/campaign

Roleplay group

Whether you are a Dungeon Master (DM), Game Master (GM), Keeper of Arcane Lore (Keeper) or a Story Teller, creating a new world/universe with a group of friends, through Roleplaying Games can be an amazing thing to behold.

Why am I telling you about RPGs? I’ve been playing over 30 years, and have tried at least 42 different systems (with additional 30 different versions/editions/variants of all those games). I have kickstarted about nine of these games. Each one has taught something.

I often end up running sessions more than playing, as I’ve usually formed the RPG group from a mixture of “Semi Retired players” and newbies. I’m writing this blog for  “leadership development” to help players run their first sessions, which allows me to play.

This blog post is for three first time Storytellers Stephanie, Adrian and Bill.


You are a Story Teller, first and foremost.

I have broken this down into several sections:

  1. RPG Basics
  2. First Time GM Basic guidelines
  3. Running your first scenario
  4. Making your games immersive
  5. Writing your first scenario
  6. Creating your own campaign
  7. Basic Host things
  8. Getting good at Gming
  9. RPGs I have played
  10. What has Roleplaying Games given me?

RPG Basics

  1. The Game Master describes/narrates the environment/surrounding and sets the scene – Story Telling/Narration
  2. The Players describe what their Characters will do – a mixture of Acting and Improv
  3. The Game Master explains what is the result of the players actions, through both world reacting and the Non Player Characters – Applies the “reality” using the mechanics or rules of the system, Acting and Improv. Improv because the players will often do the unexpected.

Together you and the players weave a tale


First Time GM basic guidelines

Make it as simply as possible. Use everything from published works, I suggest not creating your own scenario at first. Search for online beginning kits. Watch others doing it.

  1. If the game system has a solo adventure that teaches the rules, start there e.g. Call of Cthulhu has Alone against the flames.
  2. Start with with a starter pack, Quickstart or beginning pack e.g.
    1. Star Wars
    2. Dungeons & Dragons 
    3. Call of Cthulhu
  3. Run a couple published scenarios before writing your own and use the Pre generated characters. Make it simple.
    1. Hint – look at the back of the core rulebook, sometimes there are scenarios there
  4. Read the rule book, start with a beginner version, write a list of rules that you know will become important. The act of writing will help you remember better and the list will be useful. This will take more time than you expect.
    1. Hint – Read the sections that interest you first and eventually read it all
  5. Find books or written stories based in the Universe you wish to play, this will help you imagine this place and thus describe it better.
  6. Watch other GMs/Storytellers/DM run sessions – try out gaming conventions, RPG shops or meet ups.
  7. A good old internet search will give you answers to most questions you have, with both reddit RPG channel and RPG stack exchange

Keep your first few games really simple


Running your first Scenario

Wipe map and miniatures

Read the scenario multiple times, when it references rulebook, bookmark them in the rulebook. Read as many examples of how the rules are applied as you can. If you have time play through the scenario on your own.

  1. Add bookmarks to the important sections of rules and/or get a Gaming Screen for your game
  2. Read the scenario at least twice and once a day before
  3. Know how combat works, know how the dice work
  4. Know the descriptions from the areas of each part of the scenario, read them at once out loud before delivering to players
  5. Have a notepad and record, key moments in the players actions, ideas for future games and which rules you are weak on
  6. Bring spare pencils, dice, and paper

Free extra resources and materials

  1. Check online to see if there is an Errata or FAQ, or extras from the publisher of the scenario, or maybe there are extra pre gen characters
  2. Looking online for materials the community may have created your scenario. For Example
    1. The Haunted scenario for Call of Cthulhu I found:
      1. Sound effects for this scenario
      2. Maps for each scene for miniatures for this scenario
      3. Handouts converted onto newspaper articles, police reports, etc
      4. Google 1920 photos to get photos for each of the NPCs
  3. Check online for recorded run-throughs of the published scenario, some people play through Google Hangouts and its not hard to record from there – there is a bunch on YouTube

For your first time, start with published scenarios and pre gen characters

Understanding where people are

  1. Miniatures or even counters, are really useful for really understanding where people are on the map and where they are compared with the party
  2. Use a transparent plastic sheet and put any maps underneath, allowing you to draw on the plastic with a pen (check its not a permanent pen)  to mark things of interest. Or use a washable matt and draw the maps on it. Have something to clean sheet or matt with.

Ensure all players get to be the key to success

  1. Note the skills/interests and ensure they are are needed during your scenario, if they are not make something up
  2. Establish the background with each player. Listen and suggest hooks for each player that you can use later. Use any contacts they have and create a character for each.

You will make mistakes, accept them and learn from them

Be flexible and improvise

  1. For both the GM and players there is a lot of improvisation – you will have make stuff up – use common sense to guide you. Do not worry about getting things wrong
  2. You do not need to (nor can you) control everything – players will often do the unexpected
  3. Do not become a slave to the rules, make common sense judgements rather than spending 15 mins finding/reading the rules
  4. Adapt the plot and the characters (NPC) to the actions of the players (but only if the NPCs should know)
  5. Grow your NPCs from their experiences i.e. they learn from their mistakes too!

It is not GM versus players

GM Hints

From Call of Cthulhu- Keeper Rulebook – Sandy Petersen

Rules/Mechanics

  1. Know the the rules, read that book multiple times, make notes, create summaries as if you are revising for an exam
  2. Do not let the rules get in the way of a good game
  3. You interpret the rules, not the players – but do listen to advice from players
  4. Be fair
  5. Be consistent (at least most of the time)
  6. Every game has some crappy rules, over time your group will build better ones i.e. “House Rules”
  7. A good old internet search will give you answers to most questions you have, with both reddit RPG channel and RPG stack exchange

Use Common Sense first. The scenario might not include a light switch, yet you know there is one. Rules are there to help guide you, keep you consistent not control you

Advice from other GMs on your first Session

Dan Murnaghan Be ready to change things at a moments notice! The best laid plans can and will be subverted by your players!

Paul Doerfling “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” – Moltke. Your players will do unexpected things. The best DMs learn how to roll with it and use it as a springboard for consequences and new adventures. Also, ask players what they think is going on. Then steal the most interesting ideas and weave them into your game.

Work with players on expectations for the game. If they expect a light-hearted dungeon romp and you give them political drama or horror, no one is going to have a good time.

Jack Graham Don’t be too in love with your own storylines. Adapt to what the players think is fun. (Don’t be too in love with the storylines in the published thing you’re running, either. I once ran _Masks of Nyarlathotep_, often considered one of the best published campaigns of all time, and it ended up sucking because I didn’t bend the storyline enough to make it fun for my group).

Tim Rudloff 1st session advice: expect things to go wrong. Memorable debacles can be just as fun as triumphant victories. Be ready to laugh at your own mistakes. Listen to what your players want. Make things up as you go.

Lachlan Harman “I need to pee” = “How did they get HERE?! I need a moment to figure out WTF I’m gonna do now”

Justin Birt Have one random encounter planned out in case things go short or go wrong.

Keeth Ar Ostrich-Watsun This would have to be adapted a bit for the genre, but I find this pretty inspiring and pared down to the essentials: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTD2RZz6mlo

Lonnie Harris If you’re running a one shot: Try to run it like a convention game. Keep to a time limit. Feel free to move the story forward if they get too bogged down. Make some prep sheets on the obvious gear they carry so they know what stuff does without having to stop and look at the rule book every five minutes.

If you’re running a campaign: Most everything up there except for the time limit. Also have a Session Zero and take copious notes for plot hooks. Make general objectives and/or cool scenario ideas, but don’t flesh them out much beyond some basic encounters/objectives, because all that work just sits if the dumb bunnies go to Venus instead of Mars.

Patrick Fisher Have a session 0 for character building/world building. Saves a lot of hassle and gets everyone excited to be part of the collected story

Cory Vincent Your players will go off your rails. They will do things in ways you didnt plan. It is up to you to reward creativity, punish stupidity, and be ready to go with one or two extra “there was nothing here but you made it a big deal so heres a bossfight”


Making your games immersive

Dire wolf

Become good at setting the scene

The players understand from you what the world looks like, feels like, smells like, sounds like.  That is a lot of description. Practice and put the important description on cards. Practice the descriptions. Do not deliver in a monotone.

Good handouts

Take time to prepare handouts for newspaper clippings, reports, wills, etc

  1. For old print out rub lemon juice on and broil or grill to get the aging effect
  2. Use Newspaper templates
  3. Make handout into puzzle pieces and leave one missing
  4. Have pictures or drawings for each of your NPCs
  5. For encrypted/decoded give reports with whole words missing or strange words or just junk words. Or just blacker marker word as in a redacted file. Make it a puzzle to figure out.

fullsizeoutput_222b

Use all the senses

  1. If you can find music that will be good background use it, it’s a great way to evoke emotion
  2. A friend Luai pointed me here for great sound effects -> https://tabletopaudio.com
  3. Pictures and artwork can help set the scene too. Are your characters wandering the woods? Do a google image search for “abandoned house in forest”
  4. Pictures, cards, drawings of the “monsters” will be really helpful.  If there is a card set for your game get it, this is always a great investment.
    1. Example card decks -> Eclipse Phase: Morph Recognition Deck, Call of Cthulhu Keeper Deck, or Coriolis Icon Card Deck
  5. Example -> for Horror get candles, horror music, get some sound snippets for footsteps, wailing/moaning, surprise the players.. make them scared, occasionally whisper
  6. You want people to feel cool or damp get a humidifier in the room and let it run and watch them wrap up..

Call of cthulu

Play NPCs differently

  1. Choose one characteristic to “ham up” for each NPC
  2. Change how you speak – accents, cadence, pitch, tone, and vocabulary can all vary
  3. To make NPC characters more dimensional and interesting, connect them with someone you know and use similar characteristics/backstory/motivation — that way you don’t have to create backstories for every character and can still make NPCs feel different

Writing your first Scenario

Local map

Most core rulebooks for each system will have a section on how to write a scenarios. Read it. They often will describe the themes of the system and how to show them.

To start my own, sometimes I draw a map and ideas come to me. Other times I will have a plot or idea and I will build it out.  Sometimes in a session players will suggest a plot idea that may not apply but would be good to use later, so take notes.

Copy the format of a published scenario

This will help you not miss anything. The order may differ depending on how the idea emerged, but here is a rough draft on how to put together a scenario:

  1. Start with a summary
  2. Create the main NPCs. Understand their motivations, their end goals and how they will achieve them.
  3. Create a timeline
  4. Map each of the scenes
  5. For each scene/room have a clear list of clues and or items the players can find
  6. Understand the layers of information that the players can discover, where, how and any difficulty ratings/skills
  7. Have cue cards for each block of description for each scene
  8. Create player handouts, the more authentic the better
  9. Make sure you have the stats for each of the “things” the player can interact with.

Visualize each scene/chapter

  1. Draw Maps of the local area and buildings/locations they will venture to
  2. Imagine the NPCs –  what they look like? Sound and speak like? How do they act? Do they have a quirk? What sets them off? Spend a couple minutes with each, yes even talk to them!
  3. Imagine the pathways the player may choose to follow, and what they would see/feel/hear/smell on the way
  4. If you are giving a lot of information, work out a way to make it a handout. This will allow the players to process it and understand it much better. Also helps players who like to touch things.

Handouts for The Haunting scenario

Creating Plot ideas

  1. Idea Creation -> Brainstorm, Mindmap, steal/copy
  2. Steal ideas from other RPG systems, Books, Films, etc. Do not be limited by genre – you can take a science fiction plot and design how it would work for fantasy.

Add Depth and Detail

  1. What is the history?
  2. What other information could they find, where would they find it?

Clear Hooks

  1. Make sure you know how the players will “hear” or “see” the hook
  2. Remind them, maybe with urgency or different information

Adding twists

Once it’s all written consider the story from all angles, look for areas where you can add twists or surprising revelations..


Creating your own campaign

Campaign Map

Start with a small part of the world. You do not have write a 1,000 years of history and design all the maps and extra dimensions.

Build teams not individuals

  1. If you are letting players create their characters, get them to do it together and talk through the process, helping the players fill out the necessary skills to survive. Encourage each player to choose something that other characters are not good at, for balance and to make sure each player has a moment to shine.
  2. Have a conversation about how much inter player conflict you will allow
  3. Limit the ethics framework within the game
  4. Create (or print from book) empty character sheets for players to fill out, with space for stats and background information (and anything else)
  5. If your players choose to create their own characters, take photos of them as a backup – you never know when a character may lose or accidentally destroy their character sheet.

Limit the Universe and slowly expand

Limit your geographic playing space. Choose a small part of the Universe e.g. a county or a town or a neighborhood in a city to start with.

  1. This allows you time to build your knowledge of the Universe and Mechanics
  2. Set time each week to read about the Universe and examples of the mechanics in use
  3. Create multiple Non-Player Characters, some may start just as a name and what they do.
  4. By limiting the Universe you will let the characters be comfortable with it like a baby staying near its mother. When ready or not, expand it further
  5. This will help avoid overwhelming new players

Stories to Arcs

Start simply. Start with small stories that are quick to complete (1 – 3 Sessions), growing to longer stories and than expand to Arcs (Several interconnected stories). Later weave several Arcs at the same time. Grow to be complex but not too quickly unless they are experienced players.

  1. Start with singular sessions i.e. they complete the story in one gaming session.  The sense of completion is important at the beginning and gives the motivation for players to carry on.
  2. Look for opportunities to define long term “enemies” who may escape to appear later
  3. Listen to what the characters/players state they hate during the sessions for ideas
  4. Eventually players will want complexity to their games, multiple arcs will help

Balance the scenarios

  1. Do not kill all the players, think of alternatives i.e capture, etc.
  2. Do not hesitate to punish stupidity
  3. Increase conflict levels, so that you can establish the necessary level of conflict to challenge the players, you can do it through waves of reinforcements
  4. Push the players’ buttons, know what they like and dislike, push them as a means to heighten emotion and distract them from being rational. The best story’s memories are emotional..
  5. Pay attention to the energy level of the players
  6. Have a “Thoughtful path”, a path that may avoid conflict

Town map

Change the scenario styles/themes

  1. In some scenarios you will have time to plan, others drop them into thick of it, occasionally make them desperate
  2. Some scenarios may be be detective work, puzzle solving, combative, politics/influence, a setup/con, Horror, thriller, maybe even romantic – cover all the human emotions

Let players change your story

  1. Listen to them for ideas and even change your ideas to match them

Understand Your Universe

If you are playing an established Universe e.g. Star Wars, work out what you want and do not want from the Universe.

  1. Be clear on the time e.g. after this movie, things change,
  2. Understand where the “hero” characters are in relation to to players

Basic Host things

  1. Find a space that works for a couple hours, that has enough space
  2. Make sure everyone is agreed how you pay/contribute for food, snacks, drinks – not everything should rest on the Storyteller
  3. Share clean up after game
  4. Consider rotating locations, to share the load
  5. Try for 3+ hours. I tend to find shorter times make it hard to keep momentum over several sessions
  6. Consider Weekends. RPGers after work have less energy and can struggle to concentrate

Feeding your players


Getting good at GMing

We all start bad, whether it be we do not know the rules, or our descriptions are not inspiring or we are not good at managing our players’ expectations. Overtime you will get better and grow. You will never be prepared enough, there is simply too much to know.

  1. Find books or written stories based in the Universe you wish to play, this will help you imagine this place and thus describe it better
  2. Watch other GMs/Storytellers/DM run sessions – try out gaming conventions, RPG shops or meet ups.
  3. Keep notes and maps from every scenario and keep making them better. You may move to a new area or change groups and be able to run the scenario again for different players.
  4. Have a scenario for new players for your favorite system, and keep upgrading it.
  5. Run sessions for strangers at a convention
  6. Play and run different games, don’t get stuck on one system.  I have learned so much about Horror from Call of Cthulhu, or how to integrate passions from Pendragon, or how to rethink humanity from Eclipse Phase or how to use Troupe Story Telling from Ars Magica
  7. Create a blog of the campaign and add background details here. Consider it a backup and a way to record your journey, but also excite players in between sessions. Here is an example of a short Eclipse Campaign -> To be Something Better or here is an Ars Magic campaign Crann Eireball. I created NPC posts for players to read in-between sessions. I also put rules, hooks for the players to follow and reports of exhibitions/missions.
  8. Ask for feedback from your players after a couple sessions. Asking the right questions are important e.g.
    1. Do you like your character?
    2. Do you like the setting/Universe?
    3. What is your perspective of the mechanics/rules?
    4. Are you getting enough description from me the storyteller?
    5. Do the NPCs feel real to you?
    6. Is the physical environment comfortable? Table, Chair?
    7. What have you enjoyed so far? (Be specific and give an example)
    8. What do you not enjoyed so far? (Be specific and give an example)
    9. What would you like to see more of?
    10. What would like to less of?
    11. Do you feel you are contributing to team?

13932891_10157188228870545_6326010070941764624_n


RPGs I have played

(That I remember):

  1. Dungeons & Dragons (Red Box , AD&D 1 & 2, 3rd, Pathfinder, 4th and 5th)
  2. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1st, 2nd and 3rd)
  3. RuneQuest (3rd)
  4. PenDragon
  5. Mega Traveller
  6. Paranormal
  7. Teenage Mutate Ninja Turtles
  8. Star Trek RPG
  9. CyberPunk
  10. Chivalry & Sorcery
  11. Paranoia
  12. RIFTS
  13. Twilight 2000
  14. Traveller (1st and 5th)
  15. Marvel Super Heros
  16. RoleMaster
  17. Middle Earth RPG
  18. Amber Diceless Roleplaying
  19. GURPs
  20. Star Wars RPG (2nd and 3rd)
  21. Call of Cthulhu (1st, 7th)
  22. Vampire (Masquerade 1st and 2nd, The Dark Ages)
  23. Werewolf (The Apocalypse 1st, 2nd, Forsaken)
  24. Mage
  25. Wraith
  26. Changeling
  27. Ars Magica (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th)
  28. Shadowrun (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th)
  29. Eclipse Phase (1st and 2nd*)
  30. Rogue Trader
  31. Polaris*
  32. 7th Sea (2nd)
  33. Shadows of Esteren
  34. Legends of the Five Rings
  35. MindJammer*
  36. Coriolis*
  37. Dresden Files
  38. Unknown Army (3rd)*
  39. Interface Zero*
  40. Numenera 2*
  41. Elite Dangerous RPG*
  42. Trudvang Chronicles*

*Kickstarted


What has Roleplaying given me?

In a professional sense, yeah, the real world, Roleplaying helped me evolve my Leadership Skills, Problem Solving, Conflict Management, Big Picture/Strategy skills, Story Telling for Pitches and Presentations, my understanding of Ethics and without a doubt my Empathy. All fundamental core skills for any leader in the modern world and I am a successful leader because of it (My Linkedin Profile).

It has also grown some acquaintances into friends who I care for and have shared many fun moments with. For me RPGing refreshes my soul.

I am a better a human for this fun “past time” hobby and yes it is fun 🙂

Why games are good for you – Board, RPG and War

IMG_4270

Without a doubt I love playing games. They grow my skills, they help me evolve as a human and they can even be fun.

“You learn more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”

Plato

I have broken this blog post into several sections:

  1. What does gaming give you?
  2. Getting started – boardgames for you
  3. Getting started – roleplaying for you
  4. My gaming journey

For the last three decades, I have been playing games. I own over 250 board games and 400 Roleplaying books(RPG). You can see what I own here at boardgamegeek.


“What does gaming give you?

IMG_4274

As a teenager, board games gave me confidence, problem solving skills, pattern recognition and little fear for failure.  Roleplaying Games (e.g. Dungeons and Dragons) gave me the ability to step into someone else’s shoes and imagine what they would do, as well as developing my leadership skills.

Board games can teach or improve important social skills to all ages (especially for children and teens), such as communicating verbally, sharing, waiting, taking turns (i.e. patience), and enjoying interaction with other humans. They can also encourage the ability to focus, and increase your attention span. Even simple board games like Snakes (Chutes in the US) and Ladders offer meta-messages and life skills: Your luck can change in an instant — for the better or for the worse. The message inherent in board games is: Never give up, have tenacity. Just when you feel despondent, you might hit the jackpot, if you stay in the game for just a few more moves.

Many people, when they first start playing games, are surprised at the level of brainpower that board games use. Modern games are often highly strategic and tactical, requiring you to constantly make calculated choices, where you to weigh the alternatives. While all board games are different and each one challenges in a different way, I would suggest that, in general, board games are very effective at testing your problem solving abilities, decision making skills, and tactical capabilities. And some that involve more player interaction bringing out the your negotiating, charm or persuasion skills.

IMG_2091.jpg

Studies on Games

I am a man of science. So what does science say? Here are a couple studies:

IMG_4120

What do I get from Boardgames?

Boardgames tend to be abstract and there is often no continuation from one gaming session to another.

  1. Continuous evolving Strategy and Tactical experience
  2. Improved problem solving under different environments
  3. A better understanding of people under stress
  4. Learning to gracefully fail/lose
  5. Learning to win, and when not to
  6. Learning to understand the nature of chance/probability
  7. Teaching others simple/complex rulesets and tactics/strategy
  8. Learning different game mechanics and how to maximize them
  9. Socializing, Fun and Laughter

What do I get from RPGs?

While similar to boardgames, there is continuation from one gaming session to another. Players become heavily invested in their individual characters, and the skills learned tend to be more about humans than mechanics.

  1. A better sense of Good and Evil, and ethics in general
  2. Team Planning
  3. Leadership
  4. Continuous evolving Strategy and Tactical experience
  5. Ability to walk in someone else’s shoes
  6. Improved Problem Solving under different environments
  7. Investigation skills
  8. Better understanding of people
  9. Teaching others simple and complex rulesets
  10. Socializing, Fun and Laughter

What do I get from WarGaming?

In some ways Wargaming is more mature than boardgames, as you tend to view each games as an experience to learn from.

  1. Having a strategy and sticking to it
  2. Paying attention to opportunities and recognizing when they are a trap
  3. Recognizing when you have lost and should retreat
  4. Understanding the importance of logistics
  5. Understanding Combat Strategy and Tactics and the impact of different weapons systems
  6. The importance of morale on the battlefield
  7. Using terrain to your advantage
  8. Improved Problem Solving under different environments
  9. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses and comparing them to competitors

IMG_0995.jpg


Getting Started – Boardgames for you

So where should you start? It depends on how many will play with you and how adventurous they are.

Most start with the Family games e.g. Monopoly, Clue, and Apples to Apples. Those with a bit more adventure may start with Settlers of Catan, Smallworld or Pandemic (this game is collaborative i.e. you work together). If you are not affected by crossing the lines of political correctness than Cards against Humanity would be a good start for a small group.

If there is just two of you there are many varieties of card games to get you started, such as Settlers of Catan card game, Gloom or Herbaceous. Or if you like word games, Moot or Quiddler are good.

If you want a good database of games, the best is at BoardGameGeek where you will find ratings, photos, reviews, FAQ, pdf manuals etc.

If you want to learn a game without reading the manual checkout Geek and Sundry as they may well have a review of a game, which will get you up and running faster.  Of course there are lot of videos out there, but remember its Internet, quality is mixed.

If you are worried about what to buy, head to your local Gameshop and ask them, the best game shops will let you play a copy of the game, or give you a good breakdown of how it works.

IMG_4142.jpg

Finding a Gaming group

If you are alone here are some suggestions of how to find people to play with.

  1. Gaming Shops – That is what google is there for
  2. Meetups – there a lot of gaming groups across the US
  3. Gaming Conventions
  4. Work Colleagues
  5. Friends

Finding the right people for your group can take time, and finding people that reliably come to regular sessions is harder. Be patient.

One Hint -> Watch how people play and lose, that will give you deep insight into the their character as a person.

IMG_4196

Not all boardgames are the same

How does a game play? Where is it set? What are your goal? How do you achieve them? These can differ dramatically from game to game. Here’s a list of the different board game categories, or “styles” of play:

Conflict orientated

Some games, like Risk, Dustor X-Wing challenge your tactical skills and invite aggression, pitting you directly against other players. You have to make decisions on who to attack and why. You also have to know how to anticipate losses, as well as how to recover from them.

Detective/Investigation

Some are about finding the clues and solving the “problem”. Clue is an obvious example, and a really good modern one is T.I.M.E. Stories. Murder Mystery dinners are also a lot of fun and easily played with non gamers.

Dungeon Quests

These are often collaborative games, where a group of adventurers (the players) head somewhere dark and try to survive whilst achieving some goal. These are often RPG/Boardgame hybrids, such as Mice and Mystics, Mansions of Madness, Arkham Horror, or Castle Ravenloft.

Resource Management

Games like Monopoly, Firefly, Civilization, Twilight Imperium and Scythe challenge your resource management skills, as well as your ability to make decisions in the present that can yield exponential gain later. Some games are primarily economic games, and you may even learn about investments i.e Planet Steam or Tesla vs Edison or Startup fever.

IMG_1508

Strategy & Puzzle orientated

DominionCastles of Burgundy and Puerto RicoYou don’t compete much with the other players, instead building up your own area and trying to score points. These games challenge your ability to weigh decisions against each other and calculate opportunity cost.

Collaborative or Team orientated games

For those who do not like conflict there is now a whole range of games that encourage collaboration i.e. Pandemic, Spirit IslandShadows over Camelot, Robinson Crusoe, and Dead of Winter.

IMG_4166

Other types of games:

  • Legacy Games -the board and game evolves after or during play (Risk Legacy, Pandemic Legacy)
  • Political games (Diplomacy, Junta)
  • Search & Gather (Merchants & Marauders, Pirates Cove)
  • Betrayal Games – They start off as collaborative but it turns out during the game someone maybe working against you, in some cases this an optional version of the game in others not e.g. BattleStar Galactica, Shadows over Camelot, Pandemic with the Terrorist. Check with your group that they understand what will happen, also make sure that you have several copies of the rules, so the “Traitor” can understand their rules without letting on who they are.

Summary of things to consider for Boardgames

For reviews check out BoardgameGeek, Geek & Sundry or Starlit Citadel video Reviews.

Here is how I compare and contrast boardgames, when choosing to play or buy.

1. Complexity

How big is the rule book? Is it easy to read? Do the examples make sense? That said some games are great just the instructions suck.

Hints:

  • Look at PDF of the instruction manual online, so multiple people can learn the game at once
  • Watch a YouTube video How-to-play walkthrough Geek & Sundry is a good start

2. Setup time

How many pieces are there? How do you record impact on your “empire”? How many cards or counters need to be setup? Twilight Imperium can take 30-40 mins to setup, where as Dominion may take less than 10 mins.

Hints:

  • Buy extra bags or one of the organizing kits, this will get you up and running faster
  • Put cards in an order that makes sense

3. Competition vs. Collaboration

Some players do not like conflict and others do. Check in with the mood of the group, sometimes you just want to fight the game and other times you are up for a fight with your friends.

Hints:

  • Having a variety of games will help with this, as well as knowing your fellow players.

4. Chance/Random

Some games like Chess are all player choice, there is no randomness. Others, like Snakes and Ladders, is all chance and no choice. Settlers uses a die to determine which resources will be given out each turn, so it’s a combination of both. Combat games use a variety of choice and chance mechanics to determine the outcome.

5. Player Interaction

If you like your friends, and if you want to spend the evening talking (instead of in silent concentration), games that encourage interaction are good. Some games only encourage attacks between players e.g. Scythe and not trading. Others have minimal if any interaction e.g. Puerto Rico.

6. Growth and Snowball effect

Some games have what is called a snowball effect, where the powerful get more powerful and the weak will die off.

So players might be eliminated, e.g. Risk, or end up feeling bored and frustrated, e.g. Settlers of Catan. Other games are kinder and allow players to restart e.g. Pirates Cove, but the chances are you will be so far behind you will never catch up. It’s important to see if anyone gets left behind in the game, and if you have a player who reacts badly to falling behind or being eliminated, it may be best to avoid these games.

The other aspect of the Snowball effect is that if you make mistakes at the beginning, the whole game could suck for some or all players. This can happen if you are deeply unlucky with the die, or if you suck 😉  The reality is you can learn and improve so watch and absorb, you will get there…

7. Number of Players

A lot of modern games limit the number of players to four. Is that a tribe? (I don’t think so). Some delight you with an expansion to extend to five players for a bunch of dollars or pounds.

Again, it’s definitely worth a collection that has a different number of players. You never know how many people will show up for games night!

8. Time per player

The first time you play a game, expect the initial time to double, until you figure out how the game works.

Hints:

  • Read the rules once before you play and if you have time play against yourself or with a friend.
  • Teaching rules all the time can become exhausting, share the load: Get all the players to download the PDF to their phone. Having access to more rulebooks will help the game move faster.

IMG_4101.jpg

Getting Started – Roleplaying games for you

If you have no idea where to start, try the Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set or Star Wars RPG Beginner Game, unless you find another world you want to really play. Starting with a simple game will get you unfraid and ready to explore other games/universes. Also, starting with a starter set saves on spending a lot of money on books until you are ready.

If you have not run a session before, keep an eye out for my post for first time Dungeon Masters / Game Masters.

Not all RPGs are the same

There are different themes, different play styles, different universes and different mechanics (how to calculate how I grow as a character, fight, solve, etc). Next to each game, I have added an overall complexity rating (Simple, Intermediate and Advanced).

Fantasy –

Fantasy includes Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, Conan, Pirates, generally medieval time with Swords/Bows and often Magic.

Present with Twists

These include modern day or in the last 50 years, something we would maybe have learned about in history class at school, if you were awake.

  • Vampire (Simple) – Surprise surprise!… it’s about vampires
  • Werewolf (Simple) – You are guardians of the earth protecting it from Wrym who uses toxins to destroy the planets and humans
  • Dresden Files (Simple) – Detectives with Magic in Chicago
  • Call of Cthulhu (Intermediate) – Run away! anddd… you’re dead. Horror and  investigation
  • Unknown Armies (Intermediate) – You are armed with magic or a gun, slightly insane and you have to stop them.. you know them.. they are real

Science Fiction

Most of these would be 50 years plus in the future

  • Eclipse Phase (Advanced) – Dark future of mankind, AI, Corporations and technology. Get the backup of you ready, let’s jump through Stargates to take on the evil robots. A favourite.
  • Shadowrun (Intermediate) – Elves, Dwarves and humans in our future with guns, magic and cyber gear
  • Star Wars (Simple) – You should know this
  • Polaris (Simple) – Far future under earth’s oceans
  • Traveller (Intermediate) – At least a 1,000 years
  • Coriolis (Simple) – Space Arabian Nights

Summary of things to consider for RPGs

  1. Complexity- Often referred to as how Crunchy (in terms of lots of numbers and arithmetic) the game is.
  2. The size of the Community of the game- the bigger the community, the more resources will become available
  3. If you are a first time GM -> the number of adventures published for the game
  4. How far from reality – The further away from reality takes a longer investment i.e. no humans or science fiction or very different universe
  5. The Number of Players 5 to 6 are best
  6. The Player Mix – A mixture of decisive and support players is good.
  7. Will others GM/Story Tell -> Troupe Style

The first game experience really defines whether someone comes back to RPG. So no pressure but… choose the game wisely and make sure everyone gets the opportunity and space to participate.


My Gaming Journey

 

Family Boardgames

Like most, I played card/board games as a child e.g. MouseTrap, The Game of Life, Super Cluedo Challenge (Clue in the US), Monopoly, Chess, Backgammon, Mah Jong, Casino, etc.  Good games for passing the time with family and friends. As a teenager I played Risk with friends taking a whole day to complete the world conquest games.

WarGaming

I played a couple war-games as a teenager, some counter, some miniature, some rules coming from magazines, mostly based in the Second World War.  Around 1983/4 Warhammer Fantasy Battle was released.  This is a miniature war game in which two armies fight against each other, but fantasy based, Lord of Rings mythology e.g. Elves Dwarves, Orcs, etc.  I played with friends and in tournaments with a Wood Elf army – They favored fast movement and range attacks, but had some specialized Heavy Infantry.

Later I discovered Advanced Squad Leader, a WWII counter tactical-level board war-game. Extremely complex and thorough. It’s interesting redoing tactical situations that actually happened during the second world war.

Space Marine was created by Games Workshop Ltd and consisted of Epic scale (6 mm) miniatures games. Later they were replaced by Warhammer Epic 40,000 which worked at the same scales but had all new mechanics. I built a large Eldar army and played a lot of games again both with friends and in tournaments.

Other war-games I played at this time included Flat Top, Harpoon, Air Superiority, The Hunt for Red October, and Supremacy.

War gaming taught me a lot about military strategy and tactics, the importance of logistics, a lot of history, how to cope with the unexpected i.e. dice rolls, how to predict your competition and their likely moves, and how to learn from failure and success.

Board Games

Finding friends who would play war-games was tough, especially because war-games are such a big investment (i.e. a couple hundred painted miniatures, a BIG table, scenery and a day to play).  This led me to explore boardgames which took less time to setup, learn the rules and play.

Some of my favorites from this time period 80s – 90s are Kings & Things, The fury of Dracula, Block Mania, Talisman, Axis & Allies, Shogun, Twilight Imperium, Dragon Masters, Mighty Empires (this was a strategic version to Warhammer Fantasy Battle). These were all produced by Game Workshop, which I feel was its peak in creativity at this time.

Board gaming for me was mostly a fun and social thing to do with friends and new people. That said I learnt from them in terms of problem solving.

Roleplaying

Through Warhammer Fantasy Battle and Games Workshop I learned about Warhammer Fantasy Role-play. We played The Enemy Within campaign led by Shane Johnson. Later, through a University student (I was still at College i.e. 16 years old) and part-time shop keeper (Gaming shop) Alan, I learned about a new D&D campaign, just starting.  This was redbox D&D and I started with a level 1 Mage through to something double digits level. It was an amazing campaign which relied on a lot of roleplaying. The Dungeon Master (Steve) really opened by mind to acting the character, their motivations and conflicts e.g. Roleplaying rather than just tactical play i.e. surviving and getting Gold.

Later I discovered at Exeter University (UK), a big RPG group. This expanded my playing into new RPG games such as AD&D Second Edition, Mega Traveller, Vampire, Amber, etc. At some point I attended my first RPG Convention, where I played first edition Ars Magica. The way the game dealt with personalities and emotions, it blew my mind. My regular gaming stopped after I left Exeter, UK 1992.

Roleplaying has continuously opened my mind to different possibilities, new worlds, and new ways to solve problems. The people I played with were also important, I learnt a lot about them through how they played and how they reacted to successes and failures. For most it was pure escapism from their lives, for others it was the opportunity to be something better in their minds, and for others it was the opportunity to be something worse than society would allow them to be. For all it was a moment of freedom.

Gaming Again after 16 years

I started Gaming when I moved to Vancouver, BC, Canada in 2008 (from the UK) and I met new gamers. Most of my games that had survived this time period had progressed through several editions/versions.

I met a LOT of boardgames and RPGers in Canada. I wonder if cold prairie nights encourages more people to play games, rather than simply watching TV like in the UK.

My modern boardgames favorites are Risk Legacy, Eve Conquests, Middle Earth Quest, Eclipse, Merchants & Marauders, T.I.M.E. Stories, BattleStar Galactica, Starfarers of Catan, Shadows of Camelot, Terra Mystica, Civilization, Village.

My modern RPGs favorites are Eclipse Phase, D&D 5th Edition, Coriolis, Ars Magica 5th Edition.

My modern Wargame favorites include Warhammer 40,000K, Advanced Squad Leader

Playing with adults is different to playing with teenagers, in part it’s less emotional, except for those adults who never learned how to fail. RPG characters that people play as adults, are generally more complex and games have kept up with this multiple layering of personality.

I think gaming will add a lot to your life, your experiences, your skills, and your friends. And I think it’s a worthy investment. I hope it brings you as much joy, frustration, and laughter as it has brought me. 

IMG_1030


First Job in the USA

Taking it by the horns

Eric riding a bull

Here is a presentation that I presented to some of my colleagues at Enova about what it was like to move to the USA.

The Journey of an immigrant from UK, via Canada to US

  1. Why am I talking about this?
  2. How did I get a job at Enova?
  3. Why did I come to work for Enova?
  4. Cultural adjustment/shock
  5. Eric arriving in the US
  6. American/Chicago Culture
  7. Making friends with Americans
  8. Working With Americans
  9. Leading/Working with first job immigrants – What can you do?
  10. Why employ someone diverse?
  11. Who is Eric as a person?
  12. Making Eric stronger/Surviving Immigration

You can look at the Slide and Speaker notes on slideshare here

GenCon 2017

GenCon is a gaming convention where 60,000 people appear in Indianapolis, Indiana, US to play board games, participate in role-play games, show off cos-play and many other types of fun, each year. This year was the 50th Anniversary. There were 19,000 events and 500 exhibitors.

This was my second time at GenCon.  I have been playing board games and RPGs since the 1980’s. You can see most of my collection at www.boardgamegeek.com/user/ericbrookeBoardgames (221) and RPGs (289).

If this is your first time I have broken tips and hints out at the end of each section and put top eights things to do at GenCon, at the bottom of this section.13932891_10157188228870545_6326010070941764624_n

Getting Organized

Sales for tickets started in January and Housing (all the Hotels become available in February). We bought tickets (April 2017) and discovered there were no hotels and then we searched the web and still no hotels. Thus we cancelled within 2 hours, and of course lost money (cancellation fees). I consider this an actual con as you cannot see what hotels are available before you buy the tickets, easily solved by sharing this information upfront. Have to say I have little trust of the organizers but it is a good event.

A couple of friends bought tickets earlier, and found hotels in January and they noticed in July that Hotel spots started appearing. So we bought new tickets and booked a Hotel near the airport (Wyndam) at $500 for three nights.  This also meant we would have to rent a car ($339) to get to the Hotel and drive into the conference each day, parking ranged from $10 to $30 per day depending how much walking you wanted to do.

Ticketing & Housing Tip

My suggestion is to get your ticket in January at Pre-Registration. For Housing be there (on the web) the moment the housing opens up, know your group and book together.

Here is the dates laid out for 2017:

Key Dates

  • Sunday, January 29, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Badge Pre-Registration begins.
  • Sunday, February 12, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Housing reservations open.
  • Sunday, May 28, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Event Registration begins.
  • Saturday, July 2, 2017 at 11:59 pm (Eastern) – Pre-Registration ends. All shipping method changes must be completed by this time.
  • Sunday, July 2, 2017 – Registration begins. Badge prices increase. All purchases fulfilled through Will Call only. This is the last day to cancel badges for 2017.
  • Monday, TBD at 5 pm (Eastern) – Housing cut-off date, the last day to make new hotel reservations.
  • Wednesday, August 16, 2017 at noon (Eastern) – Onsite Registration begins.
  • Thursday – Sunday, August 17 – August 20, 2017, Gen Con 2017 happens live at the Indiana Convention Center.

Booking Events

My preference for events is writing seminars/workshops and RPGs sessions.

The website sucks. It’s hard to navigate 19,000 events some which are good and some which are not. You really have no sense who your GM/DM is going to be and how much experience they have. A lot of events had sold out by July, so we were playing mostly evening sessions.

tickets

Event Tips

  1. Book Events early, so you can plan your experience better and match to your preference e.g. mornings/afternoons/evenings
  2. Some people recommend getting the “Generic tickets” and just turning up to sessions, a lot of people bail at the last moment, so there is often empty spots.
  3. The Writing group does have a booklet which is a lot easier to navigate. It is usually available with some goodies at the conference.
  4. Pay attention to which search options you have selected

Search

Exhibit Hall

This is kinda of amazing, its big and there is a lot of booths, many, many games and a lot of people. Not only is there an opportunity buy many games, but there is a lot of play testing available, to try out games.

GenCon50Map

Exibit and buying tips

  1. Break up the Exhibit Hall into several time chunks and search by block, its big and a lot of people. You will literary get emotional exhausted if you try to do it in one go
  2. Note some games do sell out on the first couple days. For example Spirit Island and Twilight Imperium sold out on Saturday.
  3. Some studios you will have to line up for i.e. Fantasy Flight Games.
  4. I generally find games are cheaper bought on-line, there are some deals to be found at GenCon, but they are usually used on the first couple days.

Your First Time at GenCon?

Some advice for first time attendees:

  1. Do things at GenCon that you can’t do at home
  2. Don’t over schedule
  3. Food pack – bring a water bottle, nuts and dried fruit, protein bars
  4. Remember Dice, Paper & Pencils
  5. Lunch – Take it early or late – There are a lot of food trucks, but the good ones build up big lines fast.. eat 11.30 or after 14.00
  6. Choose one or two games a day
  7. Attendance – Thursday is by far the lightest day of attendance, and is a good day to see the dealer hall.  Friday is busier, and Saturday even more so.  Not as much happens on Sunday

My Experience at GenCon 2017

Eclipse Phase GMing

So I love Eclipse Phase RPG for many reasons. Thus I offer to GM for them at the Convention. I did last year (my first GenCon) and this year. Posthuman Studios will pay you to do so, though I do not care about the money and instead do it to introduce new people to the game and help out a small Studio.

Pre Convention we played two sessions via Google Hangouts.  Marc Huete ran both sessions and they were a lot of fun.

I have to shout out for David Cooper who does a lot of organization to get GMs from all over the US, to fill 37 Sessions, 6 Scenarios, with 3 different rule systems (1st Ed, Fate and 2nd Ed) and 14 GMs. Thanks David.

Why you should run sessions

One great reason for helping a studio run sessions is that it automatically gives you a group of people to give you advice on GenCon, as well as challenging you to be a better story telling and good drinking people to talk about games. Some like PostHuman pay for your time, give you a free pass to the convention and buy you a couple of drinks.  Also you also get into an early play test group.

Things always change

The first day I could not go, so I delayed my arrival by a day and arrived Thursday. But my partner could not go to end of day so I took a GrayHound (4 Hours) and she drove down later that evening.

20863644_10159114445925545_5521442560906023721_o

Thursday

13.00 Pick up Pass an event tickets – super fast

13.05 Get GM Pass

14:00 Legends of the Five Rings RPG – Open Library – 4 Hours

New game to me, interesting and simple mechanics. The scenario was very ritualistic, with etiquette being very important, pulling heavily on Japanese culture.

The fictional setting of Legend of the Five Rings is similar to feudal Japan, though it also includes aspects of other Asian cultures, as well as magic and mythicalbeasts. There is no given name for the entire world which the setting describes, so “Rokugan” is used alternately to refer to the specific nation within the setting or to refer to the entire world.

20861510_10159114960640545_5657437764692948986_o

18:00 Ars Magica RPG Seminar

I have been playing since first edition 1987, the current versions is fifth. Good news a New version is being worked on, I was worried that they had given up on Ars Magica.

20900814_10159115593195545_453774871914023752_o

Ars Magica is a role-playing game set in ‘Mythic Europe’ – a historically-grounded version of Europe and the Levant around AD 1200, with the added concept that conceptions of the world prevalent in folklore and institutions of the High Middle Ages are factual reality. The players’ involvement revolves around an organization of magi and their allies and foes both mundane and supernatural. The game was originally developed by Jonathan Tweet and Mark Rein·Hagen, with its first edition published in 1987.

The current edition (the game’s fifth) was written by David Chart, and published in 2004 by Atlas Games, who continue to develop new material for it.

Ars Magica was one of the first examples of a Troupe system. Early editions recommended that the players collaborate to create the campaign world and story.

Each player has an opportunity to be Story Guide. (e.g. alternating by-play session, ‘chapter’ of a story, or at the whim of the troupe)
Each player has more than one character; when the primary character lacks opportunity or reason to participate in a session (typically due to laboratory or library activity), a secondary character is played.
To enhance the ‘authenticity’ of the historical setting, the game uses medieval Latin for a number of key terms, particularly in the game’s most prominent feature, a system of Hermetic Magic.

19:00 7th Seas RPG – Heroes of Altamira – 4 Hours

7th Sea is a “swashbuckling and sorcery” themed tabletop role-playing game set in the fictional world of Théah. The mechanics are very simple.  We had a fun game.

20863661_10159115845605545_7221111031899426538_o

Friday

Breakfast -> Wild Eggs -> Good

Writings Craft -> How to Write an Amazing First Page

The first page can make or break a book. Whether you’re trying to impress an editor or hook a reader, we’ll show you how to wow them! Featuring Toni Weisskopf, Leigh Perry, Marco Palmieri, Dan Wells

Here are my notes from this session:

  1. What are your promises to the reader?
  2. Who is this character?
  3. What is coming?
  4. First draft  -> Is what you want to say
  5. Final draft -> How do I want to say it
  6. Introduce magic or technology elements
  7. First page advertise your book
  8. Remember those Promises
  9. Write the first line after you know your story

“I like to be dropped in it, Grab the reader by the throat, Give me dramatic imagery”

  • Allows for discovery
  • Total immersion
  • Author wants me to keep up
  • Emotion and visceral

Eclipse Phase RPG – GM – Dog Star – 4 Hours

Doom metal laser whales on a helioseismic crusade tackle a high-tech dungeon crawl in the heart of a star.

All five were newbies to the game, and fun to lead in a story.

morphs

Eclipse Phase RPG – Sympathy for Uncle Silence – 4 Hours – Tim

Jovian trade negotiations with the fiercely independent city-state of Hyoden conceal deadly intrigue as Firewall operatives hunt a dangerous weapon.

This was probably the most effective and efficient random group of people who played together, that I had ever experienced at GenCon. Tim was our GM and did a great job.

Saturday

20901749_10159118108520545_4154736505729534202_o

Breakfast -> Wynham -> Awful

Writers Craft: No Room for Ego – How to Take, Give, and find Critique for your writing

  1. Find good critique partners
  2. Have people who are different to you
  3. Avoid people who can only tell you how great you are

GM Session Get Together Eclipse Phase

Posthuman Studios (Rob, Jack and Adam) get together with most of the Eclipse Phase GMs who ran sessions for Posthuman Studios. We talked how the sessions went, made comments on scenarios, and talk about life, GenCon and games.

Writers Workshop: Wrinkles in Time

The strategies and rewards of tense, pace, time, and memory in fiction. This writers’ workshop includes specific discussion and exercises on tense (the many variations even of “present”), control of pace (including full-throttle tips), the various functions of fictional time, and the chance/means to mine our own memories for more honest stories. For writers of all genres and levels.

Here are my notes:

  1. Readers should know when. Every page must have 3 senses. And each page must have time
  2. Readers recognize breaks and new chapters mean time has gone by, so you need to reestablish time
  3. Look for simple ways to show change in time ex. First day of school. Next chapter, Christmas, or thanksgiving.
  4. Always try to avoid comments like “3 months later”. Be more clever and subtle with your time marker ex. “A week ago you told me this”.
  5. You can also set up time at the end of the scene ” next time I’ll see you you’ll be married”. Author used classic events before and after a wedding to set time for readers without ever saying time.
  6. Fiction time montage is possible ex Stephen king’s the last stand directors cut
  7. How does character mark time? Ex. A kid marks time by “Brady bunches”– this also teaches you about the character. Character with heart problem, how many heartbeats? It builds character and articulates time in interesting way.
  8. Pace: should be fast-paced– most publishers want this. Ex. Author started with 3 months, got it down to 15 days
    1. ex. “A bomb in this room going off in a month vs. 5 min” time makes everything more exciting. Time fixes everything. To make things hard for your character, you have to take away time. Be mean to your characters, put the pressure on. Don’t give your characters time
  9. Start your story in the middle, shit is going down, ignore the backstory. The first sentence must grab you. Need to catch attention of agent, editor, reader
  10. End chapters to cut out bullshit. If you nail it, don’t keep talking. Shut up, end chapter. Every book should start in the middle of action and end with “do something cool”, mic drop. 1 chapter could be 2 pages. Also, get rid of scenes you don’t need
  11. Exception: Slow down for the emotional stuff. 2 pages on coming to terms with tough shit is okay
  12. You can make backstory interesting by making it a scene. “I was there…”. Gatsby is great at backstories as scenes
  13. Who is telling your story and why. Depending on how long ago it was, different perspective on their own story. Time affects characters’ perceptions too
  14. Learn how to play with tenses. Because we live in all tenses, our characters should too.

Whats up with Eclipse Phase & Posthuman Studios? Seminar

A lot about second edition – Simplified character development, updates to Asyncs,  33/66 rule, update background to reflect the U.S. present day and what science has discovered in the last seven years.

Dinner -> Cerulean Restaurant – Really good

The Bad Trip – Call of Cthulhu RPG – 4 Hours – GM -> Tony Messerges

Life is always grooving at Professor Green’s pad. As he likes to quote Kerouac, “All things are like visions beyond the reach of the human mind.” Freaky man, freaky.

Last time I played Call of Cthulhu was in 1987.  This was an amazing session which ran over by about 90 mins.  60’s music playing and hypnotic setup. A lot of great props. A fun random group with one guy who was using GenCon as is Bachelor party.

21014222_10159125646030545_5204615327455106210_o

After the session we went for a few drinks @scottys, with Dan (Eclipse Phase GM), Adam, Jakob and others. We had some great conversations about games they were playing.

Sunday

The Anatomy of Action in Writing: The Craft of Storytelling

Join award-winning author Maxwell Alexander Drake as he takes you deep into the action, breaking it down piece by piece, and giving you tips for creating more realistic and exciting action scenes.

  1. Your plot needs to be tight -> Your plot is a Jenga tower with the last piece before it falls
  2. Draw everything, map it all out
  3. Use photos for each character, google them
  4. Ask every character their motivation, even the guard who dies right away
  5. Five stages of grief e.g. PTSD Buffy
  6. 70% of book readers are female
  7. Make people uncomfortable
  8. Dialogue is not just a conversation it fills out dev, motivation
  9. Words have weight, power
  10. Avoid adverbs
  11. Setup plot – Plant. Tend, Reap
  12. Scene openings – Macro to micro
    1. Micro opening starts with singular description
  13. Paragraph size determines pace
  14. Small paragraph adds weight
  15. Avoid speech tags
  16. Italics in their head
  17. POV rule stay in one persons head, unless you are certain

The Anatomy of Action in Writing: The Craft of Writing

Join award-winning author Maxwell Alexander Drake as he explores when and how to use physical conflict and using words to craft action. Action that your readers will not simply read, but experience.

I will add more notes here later

Buying – Call of Cthulhu, Boardgames Planetarium

  1. Call of Cthulhu Books – Keepers Rulebook, Investigators Handbook, Quick Start Guide, Keepers Screen and Doors to Darkness (Beginning Scenarios)
  2. Coriolis – scenario
  3. Eclipse Phase, second edition Quick Start Rules
  4. 7th Sea Books – GM screen and Nations Volume 1
  5. Element Boardgame
  6. Planetarium Board Game (Tiger Stripes came with it for free)

21014025_10159129096785545_8822350851012264550_o

To Buy

These are games, I heard great things about from multiple people at the convention

  1. Spirit Island Board Game
    1. Jakob and Dan told us about this game they have already played a bunch of times and love it
    2. Bought it and played loved it
  2. Twilight Imperium Board Game
    1. Asked staff about the changes, they sound good – Greater politics, simplified technology ladder, better defined plastic pieces and box container.
    2. Pre-Ordered gam for $110, it was $150 at the Convention
  3. Expanse Board Game
  4. Get plastic covers for cards in my most played games.

13963004_10157185168970545_2020861474_n

Maybe Buy

Games to do more research on:

  1. Sid Meier’s Civilization: A New Dawn
  2. Photosynthesis
  3. Red Markets RPG

Games I would love to play at GenCon next year

  1. Ars Magica RPG
  2. Coriolis RPG

Thoughts from GenCon 2017

  1. Lots more Miniature war-games than previous years
  2. More Science boardgames

Next GenCon go to

  1. Lucas Stadium
  2. Board game library
  3. Second-hand games

Apple Worldwide Developers Confrence #WWDC17 #YearOfTheEngineer

Each year Apple holds a Developers conference called Apple Worldwide Developers Confrence or for short WWDC.  It is a great place to learn and talk about Mac OS, iPhone Apps, TV Apps and Watch Apps. This year it was in San Jose, CA, USA and lasted five days.

It was a fun conference, with an incredible amount to learn and absorb.

Overall I would say #WWDC17 was the year of the engineer, they have given us so many great new APIs and better tools so we can produce some great experiences for our users. The AR/VR and Machine Learning tools are really setting a solid foundation for a interesting and diverse future.

Background

Early 2016 after working on mainly Web application development for a bunch of years. I took leadership of the Mobile Team at Enova (FinTech), which started with just working on an iOS App. Later in 2016 we eventually added an Android Squad. Last year the whole iOS Team applied for WWDC and none got a ticket, its a lottery chosen on your Apple ID.

This year when we applied we expected to be lucky to get one. So of course we got three! Nick a Senior iOS Engineer, Dan our Mobile UI Designer and myself all won tickets in the lottery. I offered my ticket to our other iOS engineers at Enova, they declined. So I went to #WWDC with Dan and Nick.

12B19236-5829-4B55-99C2-51B57BBCB294

Nick, Eric and Dan from Enova

Pre Confrence

There was 5300+ people heading to this the conference, which made booking flights and hotels fun.  The Hotels are booked through Apple and you need to move fast.

We all downloaded the WWDC App. In hindsight we should have also downloaded the Parties App.

As a team we discussed what we wanted to get out of conference, what sessions we were interested and discussed what questions we wanted to ask the Apple Engineers – you can book sessions with them and discuss your Apps. Great for both your designer and engineers. Not all the session are revealed as they will show up after the Keynote.

Day -1 – Sunday

Up early to travel from Chicago to San Jose.

Getting a conference pass was fast and easy for me. We all got a pin to represent our country, and set of Apple icon pins and a Levi Jacket.   Arriving at the Apple conference they had set up a outside garden with music, food and drink. The rest of team came through different routes,  we met up for dinner at MOSIAC.

33AE936F-E161-483A-8D1C-16BD54105373

The Confrence

Day 1 – Monday

I got into the lineup at 6.02am. I figure there must of been 1000 people infront of me. I saw people lining up at 7pm the previous day. The reality is that first few lines are saved for VIP and the media.

So you will be stuck in a line up for hours, getting to know the people around you is a good thing and helped pass the time. I met some interesting people from a NewYork Agency, Calgary MRI scanning, Day of Wonders, German Bank, Domino Pizza, Danish FinTech, and Canada RBC.

We talked about many things but there was definitely a couple themes of frustration around a lack of customer research and respect for UX in most companies when working on mobile. Most people seemed to build for a generic user. Others talked about Product Managers who did not really understand the differences between web app and mobile apps.

Once we got inside there was a light breakfast and coffee.. thank you.. after a total of 3 and half hours later I sat down at 9.44. I was in a centre block but a ways back. If you were smart like Dan who lined up after me he got a much better spot by checking where there were gaps i.e. single seats up in the front.

The good news is the room was big enough for everyone all 5,300 to get into the keynote room. Though room is fairly flat so having a tall person in-front of you is going to add hours to your neck dancing skills.

The Keynote was fun, and full of energy. Things that jumped out included iOS 11, Xcode 9, Swift 4, Metal 2, Machine Learning, ARKit, VRKit, Apple File System, and HomePod.  From a hardware perspective it felt evolutionary more than revolutionary. with the exception of the 18 Core iMac Pro of course. The real meat and a lot of it was in the software releases. All the things I wanted to see heading in the right direction. A lot of important things to take Apple Engineering to the next level.

Lunch – 5300 people is a lot to feed, there were a lot of places though both outside and inside to eat your lunch.

The Platforms State of Union – this got a lot further into key software updates – it was awesome with lots of stuff we can use in our day to day as an iOS engineer i.e. Xcode catching up with Android SDK, machine learning and a lot to do with testing…

Xcode 9 – Rebuilt Source Editor, Refactoring in Swift, Codable, Language Modes, Faster Builds, faster indexing, GitHub Integration, ViewController update, No need for Mac OS X Server (fingers crossed one day you can build on a linux box), Testing multiple devices at the same time, Wireless Development and a lot lot more..

iOS 11 – Drag and Drop (iPad), new PDFKit, QR Codes, new Video and image formats, Machine Learning, Metal 2 and yea much more.

After the team headed out to a Taurinus Brazilian Steak House – Happy Hour.  We recommend it, the grilled pineapple was amazing.  Than we headed out to find some random parties

I met a lot of App developers at the Beacon App Party from Dark Storm Comics, Historic house overlays in New York, a couple of the scholars and Apple engineer. Beacon is meet ad-hoc people App and a bunch of people used to find people with common interest at WWDC.

Day 2 – Tuesday

Actually had a light breakfast, as opposed to multiple coffees and head out early (7am) to see Michelle Obama. Her talk was down earth and full of good advice.

In another great talk that day Dr. Christine Darden told us about her journey from Monroe to NASA. I learnt a lot about sonic booms and how to reduce them.

Sessions for the day

The links are to Apples Videos, I will add my summary notes as I transcribe them. Note that links take you to the video page, but there is also a resources tab which includes a pdf of the presentation and full API documentation where relevant.

  1. Michelle Obama
  2. Christine Darden – From Monroe to NASA
  3. Your Apps and Evolving Network Security Standards
    1. New developments in certificate handling, TLS, and certificate status checking
  4. Privacy and your Apps
    1. Love CoreLocation When in Use
    2. Safari ViewController
    3. DeviceCheck
    4. Intelligent Tracking Prevention
  5. Swift 4
    1. Faster, easier to use Strings that retain Unicode correctness and add support for creating, using and managing substrings (only keeps what you sliced), Multi-line string Literals
    2. New Generic Features – where clauses, subscripts (PartialRangeFrom)
    3. Smart key paths for type-safe, efficient, extensible key value coding for Swift types
    4. Enhancements to creating and manipulating Dictionary and Set types
    5. Extends support of archival and serialization to struct and enum types and enables type-safety for serializing to external formats such as JSON and plist
    6. Enforced exclusive access to memory (Ownership)
      • Make it easier to reason about local variables
      • Enable Better programmer opt
    7. Access Control – private and extension work better together now
    8. Composing a class and any number of protocols
    9. Improving Cocoa Idioms – Smart Keypaths, Swift Archival & Serialization
  6. Introducing Core ML
    1. Bringing Sentiment Analysis, Handwriting Recognition, Translation, Scene Classification, Predicting text, Music Tagging and more to your device
  7. Updating Your App for iOS 11
    1. UIKit Bars, Avoiding Zero-Sized Custom Views, Margins & Inserts, Extending Safe Areas, Scroll Views, Self sizing Table views, Swipe actions,

Many years ago I met an amazing CTO/engineer (David Dossot ) in Vancouver, he now works for Apple so we headed to the Infinity Loop to share dinner at Cafe Macs. We had some great conversation and awesome food.

In a previous life I had worked at Apple, as a Genius in the Applestore in Vancouver, BC. Our training at that time brought us to Cupertino and CaffèMacs was my favorite place to eat for several weeks.

After I headed to Buddy build party, than the GitHub social and than Apple Social with a  live band.  Engineers I spoke to today included from Tumblr, another Creative Agency, a UK Bank and a lot of engineers from Vancouver, BC Canada (where I moved from before working in Chicago).

Day 3 – Wednesday

Sessions for the day

  1. Natural Language Processing
    1. Some great examples to get you started
  2. Debugging in Xcode 9
    1. Wireless Development, ViewController Debugging, NS Progress, Thermal Notifications, Performance Updates, Key Paths
  3. Whats new in Foundation
    1. File Provider Communication
    2. Improved NSString ↔ Swift String range conversion
    3. Discrete NSProgress support in NSXPCConnection
    4. Thermal notifications on iOS
    5. Copy-on-write NSArray, NSDictionary, NSSet
    6. Data inlining
    7. Faster calendrical calculations with lower peak memory
    8. Faster bridging of NSNumber to and from Swift
    9. KeyPaths
    10. Key Value Observing
  4. Essential Design Principles
    1. Why all of theses are important to you -> WayFinding, Feedback, Visibility, Consistency, Mental Model, Proximity, Grouping, Mapping, Affordance, Progressive Disclosure, Symmetry
  5. Advances in Networking 1
    1. ECN, IPv6, Network Extensions, and Multipath protocols
    2. An essential change in URLSession
  6. Advances in Networking 2
    1. New URLSession APIs to better handle connectivity fluctuations, to schedule background session tasks, and to receive progress reports for session tasks

Today I met a lot Gaming App developers and learned about their challenges.

For dinner Dan and I hung out with Jaqueline from Calgary first at the Fairmont and than the Farmers Union.

Day 4 – Thursday

Women@WWDC Breakfast

This morning was a little harder to focus, as I headed for Breakfast an Apple employee asked me “Hey you care about Woman!, you should go this Women@WWDC – knowing when to do what I am told  😉 I joined the session. It was really good – why Woman should have male allies, how to invite them and how to support them.

One comment really rang true, I have to be invited to go to a Women’s event.. in part because I do not want Women not to have their safe space. But I do care and inequality deeply frustrates (actually it make me angry) me.

Sessions for the day

  1. Core ML in depth
    1. Great Presentation with some simple examples that any engineer could play with
  2. Design for Everyone
    1. Learn how designing for accessibility and inclusiveness
  3. Advances in Core Image
    1. New ways to efficiently render images
    2. Custom CIKernels in the Metal Shading Language.
    3. CIFilters that include support for applying image processing to depth data and handling barcodes
    4. Vision framework can be leveraged within Core Image
  4. What’s new in Testing
    1. XCTEST Enhancements
    2. Async testing – XCTWaiter, XCTestExpectation
    3. Multi-app testing – App Groups
    4. UI testing performance – .first, Block-based NSPredicate
    5. Activities, attachments, and screenshots – XCTActivity, XCTAttachment, XCTScreenshot
  5. Whats new in LLVM
    1. API Availability Checking for Objective-C
    2. Static Analyzer Checks
    3. New Warnings
    4. C++ Refactoring
    5. Features from C++17
    6. Link-Time Optimization

Apple Bash

Fall Out Boy played at the Apple Bash, 5,000+ people in a park with alcohol and food. Not from the US I had never heard them but they put on a great performance.

IMG_1237

Today I met engineers from RBC, a Creative Agency, and several education App companies.

Day 5 – Friday

Women@WWC Scholars

A  number of the Apple scholars presented their ideas and answered questions from the audience.

fullsizeoutput_1fde

Maybe #woman would be more interested in coding if the examples for Computer Science courses were more interesting and not just calculators..

  1. Writing Energy Efficient Apps
    1. The cost for waking the radio is high
    2. Control retries and be mindful
    3. A number of specific examples
  2. Business Chat
    1. I can imagine a future where people could sell via chat, or we could support so much easier with customer taking a screen shot of what they are seeing, debugging will become so much easier whilst not awkward for customer and we could share videos of people solving common problems or take a screen shot or needed information. Or just pay with Apple Pay
  3. PDFKit – yes, yes, yes
  4. Design Session with an Apple Designer
    1. This was incredibly useful, we asked him to look at ourUK OnStride App

Talked to an iOS Engineer from Ticketmaster, two from Apple, and an education App.

Thank you

I deeply thankful that my company Enova sent me along with the team to WWDC and to all the staff at Apple that pulled together a most awesome event.

After Thoughts

Broad thoughts for the conference organisers:

  1. The quality of talks was excellent
  2. I love there were some all star woman i.e. Michelle and Christine and a lot of engineer woman presenting technical talks, as well as womane@WWDC breakfasts
  3. I deeply appreciate Apple is starting to sneak Peek future products
  4. I spent a lot of time in line ups – like hours and hours
  5. Meeting people was a little hard – some suggestions below:
    1. Ask when people sign up what they want to get out of conference for example I would love to meet up with other FinTech companies and learn from them. Make this public on a website or add it to our badges
    2. Or have a noticeboard for people to state what problems they are trying to solve, and types of people they want to meet
    3. Maybe support an App like Beacon to help the adhoc stuff happen
    4. Maybe have a recruitment board
  6. Maybe vary the music a bit
  7. Have big neon signs at the back of the hall so people know where they need to go when exiting or have the presenter tell people, it was very confusing on the first day
  8. Communicate more to people when they are lining up what the plan is and not just the front, maybe use your App?
  9. Overall the conference felt encouraging, positive and I learned a lot

Hints & Tips for Attendees:

  1. If you win the lottery, book your hotel and flight fast
  2. Book the parties fast – There is sometimes a list and there is a party App. Some of these go with 15 mins of becoming available
  3. Consider booking the place you want to have dinner as they fill up with 5,000 extra people in town. We just went to dinner early, where we could
  4. When booking appointments e.g. UI, App Store, they open at 7am (for that day) and they literary all go within 60 seconds. Be ready and ensure your internet is ready
  5. Use the Lab sessions to troubleshoot the new software release and your App
  6. Bring Business Cards, you meet a lot of people and maybe never seen them again
  7. Bring water and snacks for the line ups
  8. If you are alone do not be shy in grabbing those middle empty spots in the KeyNote
  9. The Platforms overview talk is the place that it really gets real for engineers
  10. Prepare for the appointment sessions, make sure your App is working so you can show them. Know and target you’re areas of weakness.
  11. Note all the extra conferences that appear around WWDC

San Jose

So a big plus the Airport is close to the centre. There are a lot of places to eat, most of the week the centre felt lacking people. Friday night was like the whole place was invaded. There were a lot of humans. Most of centre area was very walkable.

Call Outs:

  1. Social Policy offers good food and coffee, the seats rely on perhaps some extra cushioning you may bring with you
  2. Taurinus Brazilian Steak House – was good and has a happy hour at 5pm to 6pm during the week
  3. Farmers Union – good comfort food and we had great service
  4. San Pedro Square Market – A great range of food

Post conference

I booked my flights late so most of my options were 18 hour trips with connections. So I took the next direct flight leaving 10pm Saturday. This gave me the opportunity to update this blog, consider the upgrades that Apple presented this week for Enova and what we needed to do vs. wanted to do. I also got the opportunity to catch up with another Apple Employee and friend Jerry who works in Apple University. We spent a good six hours talking about AI, tech, education, science fiction and writing.

Moving to US from Canada

Lets assume you get offered a job in the US and you live in Canada. You are a Canadian. This was my setup. I writing this to help other avoid some of the pitfalls that I have so far learned.

moving

Summary of the things

  1. The type of Visa will impact on your and your partners freedoms
  2. You need to prepare for the boarder crossing to get your Visa, make sure you have enough time – maybe a week
  3. You need somewhere to live – ask how its done
  4. Pay attention to the Exchange rate – learn what is about to happen
  5. You need a Bank Account – The Patriot Act in the US, means you need a residential address in the US
  6. You need a Social Security Number – You will need this for Credit Card, Internet, Electricity, Mobile
  7. To move your things or not – Get estimates on the weight and add 30%-50%
  8. Documentation from Homeland – having my Canadian Credit Score was helpful in securing that I was a respectable person looking for a new place to live
  9. Doctors Documentation – Get it all
  10. Budget – Health is about to cost you a LOT more. If you have a domestic partner a LOT LOT more – unless your new company covers this.
  11. Having no Credit Score will limit you in a lot of ways. Some rental places will not take you unless you have a Credit score and it will take a longtime for you to get a useful Credit card limit.

Things to negotiate in your employment process

One month apartment paid for by the new company.

This saves so much pain, as you immediately have a place of residency which allows you to open a bank account, it allows you to take time getting to know where you want to live and choose somewhere, rather then have to take something in a rush. It allows you transfer monies without getting completely screwed by the exchange rate. Really understand the Health care plan the company offers. I would suggest a meeting with their benefits person.

Ask for more vacation

There will be times you will need to go back to support your friends and family, some of these will not be breaks or times of rest. You could even ask for more for the first year only, and then drop down to a lower amount.

The Company pays for Immigration lawyers

Some will do this without question. But what is your path? H1BN Visa to Green Card?  If this is a place you want to really grow 3 years (e.g. TN Visa) may not be enough.

Apply for your Social Security Number

Your Social Security Number(SSN) acts as your unique identity in the US for taxes, and is also used by your employer and for most on-going services.

It can take 2-3 weeks for your SSN to be processed and this number really is needed for most things. Do it as soon as you have your visa, if you can ask for it as part of the visa process, do this.

It can take up to 10 days for the information to be transferred from Homeland security to Social Security and then 2-3 weeks after that is processing time for Social Security – so this can take upto 5 weeks.

When you go to a Social Security Office, you need your passport (for identity and proof of age) and proof of Visa (the actual right to work). You will also need a place to send the social security card (this can be work or your living place).

Give it a couple of hours of free time, Social Security Offices are busy places.

Examples of what you need your SSN for

  1. Credit card
  2. Internet
  3. Electricity
  4. Phone

For both Electricity and Internet I had to go to physical stores (show identity) and I had to pay a “security fee” as my credit score was so low (actually non-existent). Because I was  a new customer to ComEd (Electricity) I had to pay an extra $20 per month for the first 18 months, which I will presumably get back when I leave (we’ll see about that).

Open a Bank Account

Choosing a bank account, I asked my future work colleagues and local friends what they thought. Chase came up a lot and their mobile app was very good.

You need a US residence first :

  1. You need a lease
  2. a letter stating you are living in a residence with signature stating you live there
  3. Some work places will let you use their address, some will give you an apartment for the first month, maybe make a friend, or get to know your new work colleagues really well.

Sometimes you need a Social Security Number, depends on the bank. You need to get open an account as soon as possible so you have a place to deposit your US paycheques and an account to start paying bills from.

Exchange Rate

Man this sucked for the move, since I was still earning Canadian dollars and paying in US dollars. So my initial costs were really high:

7 December 2015
Foreign Currency Amount: USD 5,000.00
At a Rate of 1 CAD equals: USD 0.7361
CAD Cost Excl. Fees: CAD 6,792.56

I used Forex to transfer my money, my Bank in Canada does not do Wire Transfers. Forex gave a great exchange rate and only took 34 hours. That said it could take a lot longer.

I needed enough money for my rent, security deposit, and first two weeks living (until I got my first pay). Also for the places that wanted me to put a security deposit down due to a very low credit rating e.g. Credit Card, Electricity, Internet.

Somewhere to Live

This will depend on the market. In Chicago you get an Agent for free, who will take you around multiple apartments. They get half the first months rent from the landlord.

Exploring the neighbourhoods was a combination of asking all my friends in Chicago, book research, walking around them, looking at google maps and using the “Nearby” function.

My filters were within 45 mins walk from work, 5-10 from CTA (Train), good light, good kitchen and about 1000 sq ft.

I worked with two very different agents. Travis Smith from Homescout Realty and Warren Smith from Chicago Apartment Finders. Both were amazing and very different, this reflected in the places I saw. I saw 19 in all. It helped to get a sense of the areas in Chicago, and the prices.

Advice is to find out who which utilities. In Chicago heating and air conditioning is a big cost (it has cold winters and hot humid summers) so watch who pays for that. I was clear I only wanted buildings that paid for that.

The biggest problem I encountered here was getting the money to them. They wanted Cashiers cheques, now! I nearly lost a place because I did not realize how long it could take to wire money.

Transfer money from Canada to US

Movers

As soon as you are considering moving to the US, make sure you have home insurance for current address that covers your property during a move. Movers charge a ridiculous rate to insure your property. I found it very difficult to find a good third party moving insurance.

What does it cost to relocate?

  • Getting rid of things you will not take
  • Storage
  • Flights to explore and find a place
  • Accommodation whilst exploring
  • Extra weight baggage costs for the flight to move
  • Large number of deposits (because you have no credit score)
  • Moving Cost (See below)
  • Packing takes much longer then ever expected
  • Getting rid of things you can not take and replacing those things
  • Replacing thinks that get damaged in the move

Losing your stuff

You cannot ship a number of things to the US:

  • Alcohol – I gave it to friends. That was about $400.
  • Food – I had a lot of food which I gave away to friends. That was about $500 right there (I packed my spices and some tea into my luggage and that was it)
  • Any flammable things e.g. camping fuel

Movers will under estimate your weight

I got quotes from nine companies, three visited and estimated I had between 5,000 to 6,000 lbs. They gave me quotes based on this weight. You then end up signing a contract that basically the Movers are not responsible for anything. When my stuff was weighed it came out at 8,300 lbs. It felt like the movers deliberately underplay the weight to get you onboard and then sting you.

The Con of Shuttle Service

Shuttle Service is the biggest con from Movers. They cannot get the biggest truck to your front door so then they have to use a smaller one, and they charge you for this privilege (e.g. $1,000). They want to use the larger one so they can transport multiple houses and make more money at your expense.

Scrapping things

In hindsight I would rent a car for a couple days, so that I could get rid of things my friends would want. I used a combination of Facebook and Craigslist to get rid of a bunch of things. I had a lot of old electric things that I had to get to the right recycling place, a propane tank, plant pots, patio chairs, furniture that would not survive another long trip, books it was time to let go off. All of these places were really only accessible by car and the services that pickup up scrap end up being expensive and all the charities we could have donated to were either full up or had strict schedules for pickups which you needed to book weeks in advance.

Renters Insurance

Some places e.g. Chicago require it. I went with All State as they cover your property during moves. State Farm did not.

Bring things early

As soon as you know you are going to move, each time you fly out, bring things and pay for the extra case.  My work let me store a bunch of my RucSacs before I started.  I brought the things I knew I would need for my first month and other things that I did not want to trust to the Movers.

Prepare for a month

Of not having your things. No bed, no chairs, no table.. After sleeping on the floor for three weeks, we had a vacation at a Hotel.

12342721_10156232588465545_7498965747989209200_n

Buy Health Insurance

Do not mess around with this. Make sure you have enough travel insurance to cover you for at least 45-60 days while you get settled. Once you arrive, if you are in charge of purchasing your own health insurance within 2 months of moving there (otherwise the window closes and you have to wait until the following January). So make sure you get on this right away. At the same time you may want to bundle it up with your car, life, contents and personal umbrella liability insurance.

To note that most US Health Insurance plans will “charge” you for every use e.g. visiting the doctor, prescriptions.This is called co-pay. Different plans cover different things and have different percentages of co-pay. The more you pay per month, the lower your co-pay. But not matter how much your plan costs, the deductible is going to really high, usually in the thousands of dollars. So even if you get health insurance, make sure you have US dollars saved up to pay up to the deductible amount in case of a health emergency. Most US health policies are heavily reactive, they fix you when something goes wrong, and only cover a few preventative things, such as 1 annual check-up.  There will be no massages 😦

If you (or your family/domestic partner) can’t get health insurance through your work, and you don’t qualify for The Affordable Care Act (for as long as it will be around…), the best option seems to be Blue Cross Blue Shield. Give them a call rather than using the marketplace, and let them know what you’re looking for. They will explain to you what all the plans mean and are patient with people unfamiliar with the system. Be prepared to pay hundreds per month. My domestic partner’s insurance costs me $360/month (includes dental and 20% copay).

If work pays for your medical, health and dental – ask LOTS of questions on how much coverage, co-pay and liability you have. We found that our liability on our car insurance was super low, so we topped up and bought an additional umbrella policy. If you have wedding rings or major jewellery – bring your appraisal forms or else you need to get everything re-appraised again for insurance purposes.

Building a Credit Score

Nations do not share this information as where would be the profit in it for businesses if they did? You are legally in the US able to obtain your score once a year for free (there may be an admin charge 😉 ), but businesses are likely to make this “difficult” and slow. The fastest way to push up your credit score in the US is to get a “secured” Credit Card, spend often on it and pay off each spend ASAP.

How does a low credit score affect you? Essentially no organization will trust you:

  1. You will have to pay deposits on most services
  2. Some services are limited to people with good credit ratings
  3. Some services will charge you more
  4. You will have to physically visit stores to prove who you are
  5. Some apartments that you will want to rent will ask for a range of a credit score, so you may not be able to get them

Get a US Credit Card

Apply for a prepaid credit card where you would leave a upto $1000 deposit for a $1000 limit on a credit card. Use this to slowly build credit score over the next 3-6 months and then you can eventually ask for your deposit back. This is essentially to build a Credit Score. You will miss your old one.

You will need a SSN before, this is a requirement from the PATRIOT Act

TAX

If you’re a resident of Canada but work in the United States, the Canada-US Tax Treaty provides special rules to determine how you are taxed.

If you work full-time in the US on an income over $10,000 – You must pay US federal and, if applicable, state income tax in the United States on your US-source wages (income is sourced to the jurisdiction where the services are performed, not where you’re paid from). You will also have to report this income on your Canadian tax return. To avoid double taxation, you will generally be allowed to claim a foreign tax credit on your Canadian return for any tax you pay to the United States. You should note that the individual US states are not bound by the treaty. Therefore, even though you may be subject to an exemption from US federal tax under the treaty, there is no guarantee that you will not be subject to a state’s income tax.

You will have to sign a W8 form for every Financial Organization that you work with. The details from the Canada Revenue Agency are here.

Dual Status Alien- First Year Choice

If you are a Nonresident Alien who will become a Resident Alien under the Substantial Presence test in the year following this taxable year, you may elect to be treated as a Dual Status Alien for this taxable year and a Resident Alien for the next taxable year if you meet certain tests. Refer to the First Year Choice area, under Dual-Status Aliens, of Chapter 1 in Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens.

Visas

I applied and got a TN Visa (part of the NAFTA Trade Agreement), for three years. This is not difficult to get if you are in the right job category, you have a degree and a job offer. Still use a lawyer.

Check the law and political environment i.e. anti immigration or pro immigration.  Understand it.

Your Partner on Visa

If you have a partner (married or domestic partner) you can get them an extended B2 Visa. A B2 Visa is a holiday visa which you automatically get when you visit the US. However, you are usually restricted to 6 months per year on the B2 visa. You can get it extended for   up to 1 year at a time (make sure you have print outs of all the documentation). Under the B2 Visa, your partner cannot study, work or volunteer. Once you arrive, you can begin the process of applying for an H1BN (where you are entered into a lottery). If you were to get it, it would make no difference from your perspective, but your spouse (doesn’t apply to domestic partners) could then work and study. A partner on B2 Visa cannot get a SSN, which limits what they can do e.g. phone, health insurance, utilities, credit cards, etc.  In some cases a TIN can be an alternative.

Emotional journey of leaving friends

Watching the emotional journey of your friends who actually like to spend time with you is sometimes painful. Some are excited for the new place to visit, some tell every reason why you should not go, some are just pissed off at you, some just shut you out. A lot of emotions like grieving. I love you too and will miss you much.

We do not free ourselves to move on to new adventures by cutting our ties with where we are now. Instead strengthen those roots and drag them through the deep earth with you to wherever you go. In your new place these roots will help you thrive and grow, creating and attracting the same wonderful things from where they came and this will sustain you and them.

Loneliness

You may notice that you miss your friends, the banter, the calling you out, the hugs.  You will feel it unless you are a sociopath.  This combined with your new colleagues think and feel slightly different, your colleagues will have a lot more culture references to bond over – these will make you feel the outsider more than once. Work to make real friends, find your tribe inside and outside of work, do not let yourself become isolated.  The first year will be exhausting, so take good breaks, refresh your soul in whatever manner that serves you.

Suggestions:

  1. Have a house warming party and invite the people you like from work
  2. Have multiple dinner parties (even if you order take out)
  3. Boardgames Nights

Working in the US

Here are some other things I noticed that are different but have yet to process them. Some of them maybe related to where I work.

  • Style of communications
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Negotiation
  • Office Politics
  • How Race is talked about
  • How Gender is talked about
  • How Religion is talked about

 

Building a tech/startup/knowledge friendly government in BC

There are those in the Startup/tech community who often say “stay out of my way and let me do my job mentality” to Government.

Take this article for example: JUSTIN TRUDEAU SHOULD DO NOTHING FOR STARTUPS

This feels like a lack the understanding of how Government at all its levels can impact on the ability of the business community to grow and be global champions.

IMG_3224

I spent four years in elected office at cabinet level (Cornwall County Council, UK) with one of my remits been Economic Development of Creative Industries and for the last seven years I have being a part of the Vancouver Tech/Startup scene. This has given me some experience, thoughts, problems, solutions for what any place that wants to consider Startups as a part of their economic strength.

I worry like many, that Vancouver will become a resort town.. technology is one pathway to diversify it.  Over the last decade I feel the BC Provincial Government has failed actual Startups (those who are not large Tech companies), at time that could have made a real difference, they made their economic focus elsewhere.

Here is a list of areas to explore before the Provincial Elections in British Columbia in 2017.

Most ideas/solutions/problems will have to be solved in partnership with Vancouver City, Federal Government, businesses, teachers, unions and many others.

1. Listen and understand what Startups offer – not just “leaders talking to leaders”

By engaging with the industry and community leaders to explore approaches and strategies both with the leaders and their employees.

It needs to be wider then the traditional old boys network, so not just friends/connections/trade associations. The traditional group of “talked to” are generally  mostly men, white and from well off backgrounds. Talk to women, which our sector is so sorely missing in the top positions. So talk to people like Maura Rodgers or Jenn Cooper people who have created actual communities. Look for who is excluded and work out why.

2. Understand the businesses at their different stages – Not just one type of entrepreneur

By exploring the different needs of different sized organizations whether they are small, medium or large. It tends to be the larger ones that can afford lobbying, lets not ignore the small.  The needs of Hootsuite are different to those of a five person startup, or the startup whose main target is a non Canadian market i.e Payroll Hero.

3. Involve Traditional and non Traditional Education institutions
By ensuring that all teaching and training organizations (including schools, colleges, Universities, bootcamps i.e. CodeCore and other private training organizations) that educate or train people are involved in the on-going journey to strengthen our knowledge based economy.

It seems that some of traditional educational institutes only talk to the really large companies i.e. E.A. or Sage or SAP. They often want experience with a C variant or Java. Whilst most startups want a framework/language that lets them to get up and running within a 3-6 month window and experimenting with a product to market fit.  They do not always have time to train a person in a new language.  Some Universities in the US have recognized this and have Startup Engineering programs i.e. Stanford.

I think Bootcamps and on-line learning platforms are an important part of our future learning culture as they adapt much faster then Universities and Colleges in which programming languages/frameworks/techniques to teach.

P.S. Who teaching people how to learn? Schools, Colleges or Universities?

4. BC Training grants DO NOT recognize online learning
This is the case for monthly subscription learning which can occasionally have the most up to date knowledge. In a place the size of BC it is not always economically to get a trainer out to the middle of no where. The mentality of BC Government is that they want you to give a job to a trainer and get them to train your people in personal. This can be very expensive. Reduce the barriers to learning not increase them. Are they environmental  benefits from delivering online?

5. Developing effective skills training in schools
By exploring which skills are needed in an effective knowledge based economy. That these skills become fully understood and clear strategies are developed to to ensure they are gained from School upto University e.g

  1. Leadership
  2. Learning
  3. Change management
  4. Conflict management
  5. Risk taking

To consider how these skills compare on the Global stage, Vancouver/BC is competing against every other city/area on the planet. What are Vancouverites poor at, how can we improve it?  I feel that I have seen a lot of conflict avoidance (rather then conflict resolution) in my time in Vancouver is this just my experience or is it a “Trait” of Vancouver? Lets understand our vulnerabilities and counter them rather than ignore them.

6. Growing Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship is encouraged at every level of education, from school upwards e.g. Young Enterprise in the UK. It should become part of the school system to teach children conflict management, understanding risk, managing stress and managing change.  Maybe the program should consider Social enterprise and not just be limited to private enterprise.

7. Coding for all ages

I am not convinced that programming is for everyone, we humans are far much more diverse then that.  One UK programmers’  feelings are well expressed here – Learn To Code, It’s Harder Than You Think

But we should consider Programming a good way to teach problem solving, logical analysis and critical thinking and not just as a career. As it is in UK, US and Nova Scotia.

8. Career changing

Why do Governments only consider this when the shit has hit the fan? Its a reality of now and the future, there are no jobs for life. We should teach the reality in schools, rather then just try and box people for life in a career through poor decision tree mechanics.

How do we make this easier and less feared, almost part of our natural lives like it will be for any Gen Yers.

Consider how people can support themselves whilst re-training, consider how to make this possible for shift work. Consider online as well as physical education.

9. Research

Developing alliances between industry and research institutions to create innovation infrastructure is of courses necessary, and some exists, but is currently poor. Maybe make some of the “intellectual property” known about.. Hacking events? Open Transparent patent libraries, people whose job is to market their intellectual property.

10. Support the jobs that are actually needed i.e. Software Engineers not just Post Grads

Most government programs support PHds and Masters, but we actually need far more people with Bachelors in Software Engineering. Also what about the 40% of people that learn programming themselves? Could we better support them they are a large chunk of our software environment.

11. Support of growth Technology Leaders

Consider how to support the next generation of CTOs, from co-founding to a full CTO with a scaled up business. There are many programs that support the CEO/Founders but to be truly successful you need the product to scale. It seems like we have few homegrown success (if we do why not celebrate them rather then just the CEOs?), most companies want “magical” tech “genius” or “star” or “rockstar” or “ninja” from some other country.  We have no programs to support Tech Founder to CTO, why? To have a successful tech community we need many of these people.

12. Open Government – Community, Procurement and Solutions
The Government needs to lead by example and considers how startups/SMEs can help them in all aspects of their scope, make parts of their systems more efficient e.g. innovate through Government Hacking events, fairer procurement procedures for SMEs. That Startups are looked at like NGOs as a possible solution to a problem i.e. how to make government delivery of services faster, more efficient. IBM or other large corporates are not the only ones with solutions and frankly some startups could beat the large corporates in producing solutions i.e. The Obama health online system

13. Social Enterprise

That Startups who work with Government or NGOs, should consider sharing their success with Government and/or NGOs who were core partners. For example either paying back any, grants when they can afford it (i.e. making a lot of profit), or even better give a number of shares to represent the initial investment or revenue sharing.

14. Evolving beyond “Me too” products
To consider how we can come up with something new, rather than the solely Canadian version of this or that. I feel that productivity in the innovation economy comes from generating new ideas that generate new revenue. Yet where is the support to take Visionary or high risk projects in B.C.? I hear many people in Vancouver tech conferences call for this, but the Angels do not invest in these, IRAP does not invest in these.  NVBC never lets these through.  We need some way of support high risk ventures, yes maybe limited it per year, but something.

15. Why the basis for B2B and B2C in BC?
Explore what we in BC have failed to produce more successes with B2C companies here, as we seem limited to B2B. Why?

16. Avoiding the Social Problems seen in Silicon Valley/San Francisco and Seattle – “Cruel Gentrification”
For us to consider a kinder approach to gentrification, bringing the startup community together with the community they often displace, and develop solutions that could help both succeed.  There was an event to explore this but it was more hype then solution based.  The solutions offered were just give more money to charities. It like many meetings really avoided Gentrification. We can see this happening in Gastown and to some degree China town, how can we create a proactive “kind gentrification”?

17. Involvement in Policy
Canadians entrepreneurs can help our policy makers design strategic policies for intellectual property rights in trade agreements, judicial strategies when ideas ownership is on the line, technology standards strategies and many others.  And please talk to people outside the “Canadian maple syrup mafia“. I am not discounting their wisdom/experience but we need the next generation involved to and those who are currently excluded.

18. Upgrade SR&ED

First of all Thank You (yes I know its federal). It does make a difference. But make it easier to apply for the smaller startups. I think the documentation process is so complex that now consultants help lots of companies, or worse startups have to invest a lot of time in it. This program needs to be streamlined.

19. The ability to solve a problem

They maybe some that think that start Startups are just for making money but like NGOs they can solve any problem.  Software Engineers are problem solver machines. This is a resource under used by Governments at every level and by every party.  There could be Startup Weekend events or Hacking events that target specific areas of concern i.e. Government, Health, casework database, transit systems, etc  Maybe Government contracts should include a clause that every large spend on IT systems should work with Startups or support the community in some fashion. Or maybe you have a open competition over a week and compete startups against corporates?

20. Explore the support of turning a service company into product

So two companies that evolved products from a service company (Web Agencies) Vision Critical and Hootsuite.  Is this something we can repeat, is there a way to support this?

21. With Industry define targets of success could really look like

By using the above to develop achievable targets for expansion with specific strategies linked to specific industries.

Surviving a Technical Interview

Over my career as a software something, I have had a bunch of technical interviews.  Some I have done well in and some I have not.

The first part of this journey was understand something for myself. For the interviews I performed poorly in, about 50% of them I actually knew the answer, but could not get it out. Why was this?

The second part was as I led teams, I wanted to find an accurate way of assessment where a person was in their journey, whether they would stick with it, and whether they are a good fit for the rest of the team.

Here is the presentation I did to a lunch and learn group at CodeCore:

I feel many Technical Interviews fail to do their job properly.  Whether the process is not well enough thought out, the people involved are not trained, whether interviewers are evaluated higher for their technical skills but not their people skills, or they really just trying to get extra “clones” of themselves. But without a doubt the worst is, there is a lack of reflection and accountability for the actual success of their chosen candidates.

Still too many questions are on topics or specifics that the interviewee will never do in their actual day to day work.

So many people conducting technical interviews fail to imagine that this is a two way process.  That the “employer” is actually showing the future “employee” how they work with people.

All of that said, some are getting right and it is not from the traditional “hazing” approach, but a more collaborative approach, where the potential “employee” show a project they have worked on, where the interviews feel like a great passionate conversation..

Housing – Why I am leaving Vancouver and going to the US

Vancouver - Falsecreek

My decision to leave was made with the following understandings: that if I stayed here I would be very unlikely to afford a place of my own, and that if I wanted to take my career to the next level I would need to work for a larger company than Vancouver houses. And with the exchange rate between Canada and US, it seems a perfect time to go to the US now.

This is my journey through reasoning why I am leaving Vancouver, BC. Of course I am not alone a Angus Reid Poll estimates that a staggering 150,000 struggling families are seriously thinking about moving away from Metro Vancouver to avoid the region’s housing costs and transportation issues.

Wages in Vancouver do not match the cost of housing

In Vancouver, BC the average wage is $76,805 per year — if you borrow three times your salary you can afford a place to live at $230,415. The average place to live in Vancouver on the other hand is $857,015. Globe & Mail reports that Vancouver is the worst place to live in Canada for difference between wages and Housing. Last year the Financial Post stated that Vancouver was the most expensive place in North America. The Demographia Housing Affordability Survey puts Vancouver, BC has the second most expensive place to buy a house behind Hong Kong.

In Vancouver, the Chinese have helped real estate prices double in the past 10 years.

Here’s how the Chinese send billions abroad to buy homes – Bloomberg Business Nov 2 1015

Controversial foreign ownership study is about money — not race: Vancouver planner
“Money is no longer connected to what you do and where you live”

In contrast, Vancouver median incomes remain among the lowest among Canadian cities, while home prices in the region are the highest in Canada. The way government structures are set up in Canada means that Canadian municipalities are relatively weak and rely on other levels of government to set policy. Business Vancouver Nov 6 2015

Shrinking housing sizes

What these figures do not show is the shrinking of the size of the place you can buy. So you could pay $500,000 for a 500 sq ft apartment. Most of the places built now have stupid small kitchens, which encourages people to eat out. What does all that salt do to your health? Let alone the psychologically impact of living in a box. I have no problem with density and I believe cities need to increase it, along with good transit.  That said, an apartment should to be liveable, it has to give moments of peace away from your work, and personally I want a good kitchen and somewhere I can share food with people.  The current builds are not good for people.

Down Payments on a Mortgage

I have spent most of my life working for the community, non-profits and Government. I have got by, but I do not have the savings for a house down payment, I have no family to inherit from or provide a financial security blanket. This has been my biggest barrier to buying a place.

You can get a mortgage with just 5% ($42,850.75 on the average place) of a down payment but you then need to pay mortgage insurance. Premiums can vary anywhere from 0.5% to 3.5%. A great way of taking more money from poorer people. If you have a deposit of 20% you need no mortgage insurance. So 20% of the average place $171,403 is what you need for a down payment.

The Have and Have nots

Toronto, Vancouver house prices still soaring, stats show
Benchmark detached home is $1.2M in Vancouver, while average detached runs $1.07M in Toronto

CBC Nov 5 2015

Of course one of the problems for access into the Housing market is everybody who owns a place does not want the housing market to dip, because they are making money off it. Collectively that is a lot of political power, money and votes. This from people who do not want it to get easier, if it hurts them.

In Canada it is also getting harder to borrow money even though the Interest rates are low. I have so many friends in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s who have just given up the idea of owning a place in Vancouver. They are also torn by Vancouver being a beautiful place and they want to live here.

The Economic Divide – is it sexist?

It feel like we are about to reach a point where people will never be able to buy a place if they do not do it soon. Whilst this obviously hurts younger people, it also hurts people who work in lower incomes i.e. women and caring professions.

I have already lived (Cornwall, UK) in a place where teachers/nurses/non-profit/carers/government (still a much higher percentage of women), could not afford to live anywhere near where their jobs were based.  There the average house price was £500,000 and average salary was £16,500 pa in 2008.

Transit

Any good city needs Transit.  I have expressed my opinion on this in a previous blog post, when the City asked for more money (via Tax) to invest, Vancouver said no.

Beyond owning a place

The rest is my feeling and experience of the Vancouver job market after 8 years in multiple startups/technology companies.

Career Opportunities

In Vancouver there are fewer software jobs than about two years ago when there was a lot of more opportunities. The companies that are now looking for software engineers tend to be small and medium sized startups with fewer career opportunities for growth than larger corporations. That said, we have a few more global companies (e.g. Amazon) here than before, so it is possible the lack of jobs is due to the a depressed market now. With national figures showing Canada is currently in a recession, despite a recent job news showing an increase but these are mostly in the Public Administration, in Government.

I changed career after 20 years in campaigns/communications/marketing/public office/leadership/training as I felt the Vancouver market was very limited in these areas for someone in a senior position. I knew that to grow my career I would need to leave Vancouver and I was not ready to move, as I love this place.

This and my need to create again (my first degree was Computer Science, 1996) led me down a two year path of re-educating myself  (via BCIT evening courses and small web contracts) in software engineering with modern languages specifically for the web. With three years additional years of web development (in full time work) under my belt, I am in a similar position of wanting to grow my career.

Leadership Quality

In Vancouver, software leadership roles are generally promoted from within (few come with quality training for the internally promoted person to gain leadership skills) or some outside “star” usually from a US company, used to working at a much larger scale. In fact I can only think of one person who received their leadership training outside of the job — and they were my best leader. I have also worked with a lot of non-technical leaders which is a different kind of challenge.

In Vancouver in eight years I have had three leaders who have inspired me out of nine.  In the UK the ratio was higher, I think in part because of 360 degree Appraisals which are more common in UK, leading to a faster/tighter learning loop and higher leadership quality. It is possible my experiences have been unusual, and I simply been unlucky with my leadership in Canada. However, when I ask my friends how many of them had leaders who inspired them, most agree it is rare in Vancouver and that they had better experiences in Toronto/Waterloo/Ottawa. Other skills they shared they felt missing from ‘Leaders’ included giving feedback, risk management, change management, empathy and conflict management.

Training

In the Vancouver job market your learning is often self directed and more often self funded. Sometimes a company will have some money available but not much. One very Global company I worked for made it impossible to claim the so called 50% off Tuition costs. More European/US companies seriously invest in training and their leaders, the UK recognized this problem a couple years back and started investing in it, in every sector.

The irony is the Canadian Federal/BC Government has made available monies for training and whilst the program is not perfect — it does not recognize online training — not a lot of companies apply for it. There is also tax credits for official education institutions and even bootcamps now. Training and Conferences are something I have had to negotiate in my contract to get them in Canada. I would like to see this as more of an active partnership than what I have experienced here.

Pay

In the technology sector the pay is a lot lower compared to US cities.

Lets take http://www.payscale.com or http://www.glassdoor.com as a comparison. In Vancouver the average Senior Software Engineer would be paid CDN $ 89.214, in San Francisco it would be US $130,00, New York US $95,000. The big differences is not so much in base salary, but in the bonus which is often 10%-20% of your base salary and then shares gifted at again 10%-20% vesting over three years. These last two are not common in the Vancouver market. In fact few companies appear to share success in Vancouver. There are even a couple that claim to be startups, but are actually family business with no scheme to buy stocks or share the company’s profits.  Maybe they like the label startup, its good for marketing and recruitment.. and you can ask your people to work harder and longer.

An added bonus for working in the US is the current exchange rate whereby you would get an extra 20% to 30% when converting your US dollars into Canadian money. Taxes are also generally lower in the US.

BC & Company Benefits

A lot of small companies will do the minimal in terms of benefits and BC employment law (thanks to the BC Liberals) is so pathetic in compared to well everywhere, that some employers think they can get away with offering crappy benefits and they do.

And then there is 3 months wait for extended benefits, by some, not all Vancouver companies. Do they not care about the health of their new employees during the most stressful part of a job.  All of the companies I interviewed with in the US start extended on day 1. Still Canada has a better health care system then the US.

Cost of living

Ok lets not be blind here, you need more money to live in a bigger city. Using numbeo/expatisan it rates Vancouver 34% cheaper than San Francisco, or 23% cheaper than Chicago.  This seem greatly affected by exchanges rates, so I am sure they give me some indication but they are not entirely accurate.

Cost of living comparison between Vancouver, Canada and Chicago, Illinois, United States – Expatisan

  • Food 8% less
  • Housing 24% less
  • Clothes 12% less
  • Transportation 23% less
  • Personal Care 20% less
  • Entertainment 37% less
  • TOTAL 23% Vancouver is cheaper than Chicago

Numero comparison

  • Consumer Prices in Chicago, IL are 22.63% higher than in Vancouver
  • Consumer Prices Including Rent in Chicago, IL are 23.63% higher than in Vancouver
  • Rent Prices in Chicago, IL are 25.43% higher than in Vancouver
  • Restaurant Prices in Chicago, IL are 31.30% higher than in Vancouver
  • Groceries Prices in Chicago, IL are 23.89% higher than in Vancouver
  • Local Purchasing Power in Chicago, IL is 8.19% higher than in Vancouver

Healthcare

The United States is ranked No. 1 for most expensive healthcare per capita at $8,233. Conversely, Canada ranks No. 6 worldwide and is over $3,700 cheaper than the United States at $4,445 per capita, according to a 2012 OECD Health Data study using 2010 statistics. Americans pay over 17 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) towards healthcare while Canadians sit at about 11 per cent.

From what I can work out I will have to something like $100 to $180 a month to get a similar service to that in Canada, with the exception that serious stuff is paid for me after a ceiling but I am still paying a percentage. Where as in Canada serious stuff is part of our Health Care system.  If you have a domestic partner you will have to pay for health insurance for at the cost of $3,000 per year. If you are married, your companies health scheme would cover them at much less cost but roughly about an additional $1,600 to $2,000 per year depending on the scheme you chose.

Actual Work Culture

Every company I have worked for in Vancouver has “over sold” how good their culture is and made it sound like the best place on planet earth. They will rarely talk about the weaknesses and problems they are encountering, things they still need to fix. Maybe I am at fault here, I am from the UK and we are direct people, and not scared of conflict.

The companies I interviewed with in the US were a lot more honest about what they were good at and where they needed help. Their leaders were more vulnerable, something that engenders more trust in me.

Culture is formed from all the ways people communicate with each other, the more honesty the better.  And honesty should be matched with kindness.  How you start any human relationship for me says a lot, yes be proud but also be honest. You really get a sense of how good a culture is and how good the leadership is when you or the company fails in some fashion, what level of forgiveness is there? Also on the opposite side how does the company celebrate success? Values and Ethics matter.

Technical Challenge

Working for a company that is actually working at scale i.e. Billions of transactions versus Millions, is hard to find in Vancouver. A lot of the companies here are building a form of Marketing platform and/or B2B platform, often at a much smaller scale. Successful B2C is rarer in Vancouver.

In software you are out of date pretty much every three months, you have to love learning and I do.  I have built a number of “social media platforms” and job sites I want something more complex.

Relocation

I moved from the UK to Vancouver with a lot of stuff in 2008.  It is not cheap, there are many things to be careful of and the insurance can be a killer. Advice given to me specific to a US move is that the initial offers do not match the actual cost.  That technology is hard to move and expensive. And inventory everything.

Oh a really important thing to watch is they will give you an estimate based on what they think gas will charge. Then ding you for the actual amount when you arrive. And in some instances if you live where they can’t get the big moving truck and need to move items to a smaller one, they ding you with that too. Plus you need to be very careful with valuables. I think one friend ended up with an empty box instead of a playstation the last time she moved. And my move back to Chicago was $1000 more than quoted because of gas and miscellaneous charges.

Make them Saran Wrap all your furniture. All my furniture got nicked. Even though they paid for my insurance claim, I wasn’t about to replace my furniture so I just end up with ugly furniture.

Risks

If you go to the US there are a bunch of risks:

  1. There is no employment insurance for you in either countries
  2. Your TN Visa will expire and you will have 30 days to pack up and leave the country
  3. You pay double on Relocation, there and back again
  4. Trips home cost a lot more money
  5. If you have a Spouse or Partner they cannot earn money.. so what do they do? Do not under estimate this
  6. You have no credit score in the US and it will take months to a year to build one. Get a secured credit card ASAP.
  7. Consider how you will maintain your Canadian Credit score

The actual job that got me to move

A couple years ago I once met a guy at a software conference who was a mentor like me and was very passionate about his company. I liked him but he worked for a finance company that have a reputation of not being innovative (FinTech had not really kicked as a trendy thing).  A number of years later the same company started an apprenticeship scheme and posted it online on github so anybody could use it. Wow I thought they are a company to watch, it was smart, courageous and risky.  Another year that guy emailed me and asked if I could recommend any good software development managers. I did (not me).

I got contacted by a US recruiter (NeoHire North) looking to bring people from Canada.  We explored an opportunity together and I started to realize that maybe I could move to the US.  The TN Visa is simple enough you need a company that wants to sponsor you.  You can bring a spouse into the US with you or you could get a B2 Visa for Domestic partner that has to be renewed every year.

So I reached out to the guy and said, hey do you still need any Software Development Managers?  Yes we do.  Two Interviews were done over the phone and seven in person.

The thing that really struck me is I really liked the people, all of them and they were so different.  I asked them all the question “Why do you work here?” they all spoke with passion and vulnerability. In the end I had a number of opportunities both in Canada and the US, on the table. Whilst this company did not offer the best financial package, I wanted to work with these people, learn from them and help them be the best they can be. And the finial package is substantially better then anything I would be offered in Vancouver, and it means one day I will have a box that I can name as our own.

Emotional Journey

It fucking hurts to leave your friends, to leave the mountains, to leave the sea, and it is an exciting time in terms of Canadian Politics (I am hopeful that the Federal Liberals will do a good job and the BC NDP could revitalize BC).  The emotional journey of moving country/city is a hard one and should not be under estimated.

Is it over for me and Vancouver?

Maybe not, I hope given a number of years I will be smarter, wiser and better off. Then I could come back and share what I have learned and find somewhere to live.  That said, I fear if Government (Federal/Provincial and City) keeps ignoring the problem, not finding a way to collect data, to truly understand the problem and find a solution; then I will come back to find the situation much much worse. Then I will find a new home in Canada.

Brian Jackson (retiring City Planner) foresees no change in ever-upward pricing pressures on housing unless Ottawa shifts immigration policy or applies land purchase restrictions on foreigner buyers or the Bank of Canada hikes interest rates.

Retiring Vancouver city planner blasts ‘the haters’

Possible Housing Solutions?

In my time in Vancouver I have spent about $115,200 in rent over 8 years.  My biggest problem was having a downpayment. I will add more ideas to this as I learn more:

  • Make it easier to pull together the downpayment, maybe larger companies could help their employees
  • One idea I considered exploring was buying with a bunch of friends and living together
  • Have better building regulations in making Kitchens actually useful
  • Re-define what Government thinks is affordable

Checklist for moving to US from Canada

Apply for your Social Security Number – It can take 2-3 weeks for your SSN to be processed and this number really is needed for most things. Do it as soon as you have your visa, you can ask for it as part of the visa process, do this.

Open a Bank Account – Once you have a US mailing address and SSN, you should get to a bank and open an account so you have a place to deposit your US paycheques and an account to start paying bills from.

Get a US Credit Card – Apply for a prepaid credit card where you would leave a $1000 deposit for a $1000 limit on a credit card. Use this to slowly build credit over the next 3-6 months and then you can eventually ask for your deposit back. This is essential to build a Credit Score.