Month: September 2015

September 28th – October 4th

IMG_20150926_161004143The Valley Nerd Watch!


Holy heck this one’s late. Sorry about that, the weekend took a lot out of us. But it was also really, really excellent. You can check out our TopatoCon 2015 Post-Show post for a lot of information about what we saw and what was neat.

But basically, that was a great time. Eastworks hosted a bunch of extremely talented people, those talented folks had the opportunity to make a bit of money selling their excellent wares, and things mostly seemed to be going very well. There were also special cocktails for the event which was fun. Volunteering was a hoot and a half, with a lot of very nice and put-together people there to make sure we were always doing something useful.

We didn’t even get to speak with everyone we were hoping to, simply because there were so many wonderful people there! Next year can’t come soon enough.

As always, be sure to check out the Weekly Events page! There are a lot of fun things happening this and every week! And don’t forget to check out the updated Book Clubs List!

THIS WEEK


Books:

DAY, MONTH DATE
Chapin Auditorium [Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA 01075] at 7:30pm
Naomi Klein, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs. The Climate”
Naomi Klein, award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author, will come to Mount Holyoke to talk about hew newest book. Basically, the future is terrifying. Re-watch Mad Max as often as you can in preparation.
Thursday, October 1st
Pizza Paradiso [12 Crafts Ave., Northampton, MA 01060] at 6:30pm
‘Alternate’ Hugo Nominated Short Fiction + Dinner
Do you love science fiction? Do you love short science fiction you could easily read before Thursday? Well you’re in luck! Some extremely neat people are going to meet up to have dinner and discuss excellent sci-fi. Spots are limited, so be sure to RSVP at the meetup group!
Odyssey Bookshop [Mount Holyoke College, 9 College St, South Hadley, MA 01075] at 7:00pm
Write On! Instructor Meet and Greet
You’re a writer, eh/ Well, you could always use help from some old hands at the art of wordsmithing. That’s where the Write On! classes come in! Odyssey Bookshop is going to be running a writing program. If you’re interested, why not meet the instructors? See if you’d like to work with them. You can register for the course at 413.534.7307 or in the store. The first class is Wednesday, October 14th.
Saturday, October 3rd
Odyssey Bookshop [Mount Holyoke College, 9 College St, South Hadley, MA 01075] at 11:00am
Lisa Papademetriou and Sarah Mlynowski
A morning of Magic and Mischief at the bookstore! Watch for books being enchanted to flit about and bit you, that’s a common hazard of whimsical magicks. Two wonderful authors will talk about their newest books, and also… event attendees will be asked to test their magical abilities? Whoa. This could be it.This could be our chance to enter the New England regional Hogwarts equivalent: The Dunkin Donuts Center of Magical Studies Presented by Gilette.
Friday, October 2nd
Jones Library [43 Amity St, Amherst, MA 01002] at 3:30pm – 4:30pm
Jenny Hubbard – YA Author and Poet
Jenny Hubbard visits Amherst for a reading and a book signing with her two ALA-acclaimed novels! One of which is set in Amherst! Both of the books blend pose and poetry and sound pretty neat.

Card Games:

Thursday, October 1st
Comics n’ More [31 Union Street, Easthampton MA 01027] at 3:00pm – 5:00pm
Magic the Gathering for Kids!
Do you know a kid whose fondest desire is the ability to summon monstrous beasts with which to rend their many foes to thin strips of foe-jerky? Keep an eye on that kid. Don’t turn your back on them. Maybe introduce them to Magic as an outlet? Let host Evan Curran take care of the rules explanations!
Saturday, October 3rd
Off the Wall Games [41 Russell Street, Hadley, MA 01035] at 12:00pm
Battle for Zendikar Release Event
Finally! Battle for Zendikar! Get that danged Zendikar and let it have what-for! This is a $25 sealed event, and there’s a bunch of nifty prizes on offer.
Sunday, October 4th
Off the Wall Games [41 Russell Street, Hadley, MA 01035] at 12:00pm
Battle for Zendikar Release Event
Finally! Battle for Zendikar! Get that danged Zendikar and let it have what-for! This is a $25 sealed event, and there’s a bunch of nifty prizes on offer.

Entertainment:

Wednesday, September 30th
Springfield Symphony Hall [34 Court Street, Springfield, MA 01103] at 6:00pm
Ambassador Nicholas Burns
Hear about the realities of politics from a person who was stuck deep in it for a long time. He’s got a lot to say about America’s role as a leader internationally, but watch him clam up when you ask what exactly America is doing to placate the Mole Lords. It’s only a matter of time before they emerge to wreak devastation, Ambassador! Don’t leave this problem for our children!

Movies:

Tuesday, September 29th
Jones Library [43 Amity St, Amherst, MA 01002] at 4:30pm – 6:15pm
First Amendment Film Festival: The Wizard of Oz
Celebrate Banned Books week at the Jones Library by finding and banning all the literature you can! Wait no wait. Wait, okay, libraries actually celebrate by DISPLAYING previously banned literature. That makes more sense. Apparently the original Wizard of Oz was banned by all public libraries in Chicago because of its “ungodly” influence, “for depicting women in strong leadership roles”. Dang, past people. Let’s hope we’re not this embarrassing when we become past people.
Jones Library [43 Amity St, Amherst, MA 01002] at 4:30pm – 6:15pm
First Amendment Film Festival: The Color Purple
The Color Purple is based on a book of the same name about a young African American girl named Celie Harris. Her life involves many of the problems faced by African American women, including poverty, racism, and sexism. She finds self-worth through the help of two strong female companions. It was a big box-office hit, and nominated for a bunch of Oscars. It’s also been banned a whole bunch for a variety of reasons with the common connecting thread of “people are just the worst”.
Wednesday, September 30th
Forbes Library [20 West St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on the Library Lawn!
When you think about it, doesn’t it make more sense that this whole movie takes place in the mind of Sloane Peterson? It’s so obvious in retrospect that she’s sublimating her own competing desires to act out and stay in by projecting them on to ‘Ferris’ and ‘Cameron’.
Saturday, October 3rd
Forbes Library [20 West St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 3:00pm – 4:30pm
The Salt Mines
Come check out a raw, mostly forgotten piece of LGBTQ history. Released in 1990, The Salt Mines takes viewers into the word of Sara, Gigi, Giovanna, and other people navigating the world of shifting gender and sexual identities, immigration, homelessness, and sex work. It’s set mostly in the NYC winter salt deposits and sanitation trucks turned into makeshift shelter. It’s about community in the most difficult places. Afterward, there will be time for reflection and conversation.

RPGs:

Thursday, October 1st
Modern Myths [34 Bridge Street #4, Northampton, MA 01060] at 7:00pm – 10:30pm
Indie RPG Night
Play obscure, interesting, fun RPGs! Sometimes they’re by local creators, too! Which is neat. A lot of them use systems you may never have played, and it’s always a joyous time getting a new set of sea legs. It’s a friendly time with good people. There’s a $5 entry fee that’s immediately converted to store credit!
Saturday, October 3rd
Modern Myths [34 Bridge Street #4, Northampton, MA 01060] at 3:00pm – 6:00pm
Star Wars RPG
Oooh, we’ve got an idea. Why not play in a terrifying alternate universe in which the Imperial Fleet has repeatedly won major victories over the rebels, killing most of the heroes of the Rebellion in the process? … We’ve been playing a lot of Star Wars Armada as the Imperials and it’s going to our head.

Science:

Wednesday, September 30th
Forbes Library [20 West St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 7:00pm – 8:30pm
Silent Presence – The French in New England
Jeanne Douillard has been understanding the history of the French in New England for over 25 years. She’s done a heck of a lot of work and she’s going to educate you about this often overlooked cultural group over the course of her talk! She’s not a historian or expert, but she’s done the legwork to check her facts with professionals, like any cool nerd.

Video Games:

Sunday, October 4th
The Quarters [8 Railroad St, Hadley, MA 01035] at 7:00pm – 10:00pm
MAKETALKPLAY: The Reality of Virtual Reality
Virtual reality. From Johnny Mnemonic to re-watching Johnny Mnemonic, we’ve all seen how powerful it can be. This month’s MAKETALKPLAY will help you figure out the overwhelming world of virtual reality! First, Elliot Mitchell of Vermont Digital Arts will give a crash course in the current state of VR, and how to develop your first VR project in Unity. Then, Pat King of Woodpenny Games will talk through his studio’s dev process for making a virtual reality music app for Google Cardboard!

TopatoCon 2015 Post-Show

IMG_20150926_113949728Hey guess what, a special edition of the Nerd Watch is going out tomorrow. Special and late, even later than this thing! Because man, we’re tired as the day is long (the day is 24 hours long) and did not have much time to work on the actual Nerd Watch this weekend due to going to the magical land of wonderment known as TopatoCon! It was a lot of fun.

So we’re going to try to give you some concept of the show and what was neat about it. Partly by talking about what we did and who we spoke to and partly by showing off some of the items that were purchased by James, our weakest-willed member.

IMG_20150926_160956742So first of all, thanks to Holly Rowland and Jeffrey Rowland! They put on a neat show, and it seemed like a hard thing to do. Also, thanks to Melissa Lewis-Gentry and Baily Kung, who organized volunteers. They were both helpful and on point about what needed doing, and we really appreciated having them around to let us know what was up and when it was up!

So anyway James volunteered to do two things at the con: run some game demos and act as a “ranger” that did whatever it was the con needed at any given moment.

Let’s talk about the game demos!

Breaker Blocks: A couple of extremely nice people made this extremely cool game that James bought right after the demo because it’s really, really fun. It’s a very simple sort of domino-like competitive strategy puzzle, and it’s just so easy to get the concepts and move right on to having fun trying to outfox whoever you’re up against. It’s a contained 15-20 minutes during which every single action is significant. Plus, it’s something you can play without fear at a friendly local booze or coffee-atorium because it’s got pieces that are cut out of some sort of space-age material that isn’t cardboard. We really, really recommend you get it.

IMG_20150926_125622317Sawbones: good, but slightly less good than Breaker Blocks. James did not immediately buy it. Basically it’s a game about going in one of two directions on a victory track: either you’re healing a patient or killing a patient. Either way, you’re accruing blame tokens. If you’re killing them, you want the least blame. If you’re saving them, you want the most. The thing is, your cards are almost uniformly going to make it hard to keep someone alive. It’s clever, but there are some play and pacing issues. It ramps up a bit slowly, and it can be confusing to need to check things like “the last person who played a [thing]” because who was keeping track of that? Still, decent time and also Sawbones is an amazing podcast you should check out.

IMG_20150926_140649403Special note: We were next to people playing Children’s Crusade, a tower-defense board game about children protecting the world from evil toys, and it was uniformly a joyous experience for the table. People loved it, and we think that indicates it’s probably a thing people will love. People… like you.

IMG_20150926_120824768Also of note in the boardgame area: A.E.G.I.S, produced by extremely friendly folks from Worcester. It’s a combining-robots tactics game and it just seems… real nice? Like, if you’re the sort of person who likes to think about how to move A Thing all the way from Here to There while still being able to do This it seems like it would be up your alley. Plus, how cool is the idea that you can just squish your team into a big old Mega Zord whenever you want?

IMG_20150927_203653779Speaking of tabletop games: what about Role-Playing games? Friendly local folks and noted people interviewed at previous junctures by the Nerd Watch Hannah Schaffer and Evan Rowland were there with some of their brilliant works like Questlandia, alongside Joshua A.C. Newman, the person behind a lot of neat things like Mobile Frame Zero and Shock: Social Science Fiction.

IMG_20150927_203640470James bought a nano-game from each of Hannah and Joshua: birds are amazing and Lover of Jet & Gold. They neatly encapsulate what it’s like to be around them. On the one hand, Hannah’s game consists of tweeting made-up bird facts and the game rules stipulate that once you begin, it will never end. On the other hand, Joshua’s game is a miniature yet elaborate game about being a sorcerer who entreats the spirits of the world via the power of True Names.

Oh oh oh and there was a neat card-game and also faux RPG sourcebook thing from Nerdcore Medical that was all fantasy bacteria fighting fantasy antibiotics and it’s kind of great! We got a poster.

IMG_20150927_204122900After demoing for a while, we stopped by the TopatoCo store for a second to squish fuzzy T-Rexes and Yelling Birds before checking out the Pioneer Valley Game Dev TopatoJAM! It seemed like the sort of time that people who find real enjoyment in the fraught process of pulling a creative work from the void and melding it into something interesting. They were all working on a bunch of different concepts, tied together by the general theme “it is dangerous to go alone, take this”. They were still kind of getting into gear and so we stopped bugging them and went over to the exhibitor space.

Look at these titans of design!

Look at these titans of design! “Magic” you can hear that guy with his hands out saying. “We’re making… Magic!”

We've invented a game we call... Poker!

“We’ve invented a game we call… Poker!”

We had kind of forgotten that so many of our most favorite people were at this con, everyone! It was jam-packed with luminaries of the field of things that we’ve been reading on the internet obsessively since childhood.

But first, some of the locals! Alexis “Lex” Cornell writes and draws a neat comic about a monster town. It’s cute, and we got some of the comics because of how cute it is. Also, Lex was really nice, as was co-table-person Sarah Tacey. They made cookies and were just handing them out like it was no big deal! We got a free cookie, a first at any con we have ever attended. The tops, both of these exhibitors.

IMG_20150927_203822012We also spoke to real nice people Jedidiah Berry and a second person whose name we cannot recall because we didn’t get a card, sorry second person! If anything, you were the better conversationalist, second person. They made the Family Arcana! A story told in 52 cards, it’s a very cool concept delivered in a very cool manner. It was a big Kickstarter success story, and they publish out of Amherst! Our very own little Amherst!

IMG_20150927_203710102Aaron Wood was there, with his posters which all sensible people will want to install in a prominent location in their abode. We have the Mercury travel poster because it’s the best.

So now, a bunch of memories from the exhibitor floor that we can only really clearly recall because James bought some physical item, locking the moment in a prison of time:

We had the pleasure of watching brilliant artist Maki Naro create a unique Totoro for us! He is, after all, The Best At Drawing Totoro.

We had the pleasure of watching brilliant artist Maki Naro create a unique Totoro for us! He is, after all, The Best At Drawing Totoro. It was amazing watching him just… know where to put things in order to make it work. Obviously, that’s kind of the experience of watching a lot of artwork get produced, but he made it look so effortless! Plus, check out that awesome shading work.

Some extremely cute doggie stickers made by Amanda Scurti, which James got because he loves doggies.

Some extremely cute doggie stickers made by Amanda Scurti, which James got because he loves doggies. Amanda seems pretty neat and her webcomic “Hey, Jana J!” looks interesting!

We regret not getting more from David Malki. Not only is almost everything he produces extremely funny, he's a kindly person.

We regret not getting more from David Malki. Not only is almost everything he produces extremely funny, he’s a kindly person. We saw him speak with a fan at length about how and why successful collaboration works, and it was really enlightening.

IMG_20150927_203318833

Karla Pacheo – notable creator of hard-boiled noir murder mystery/children’s book Inspector Pancakes – created a machine that spits out magnets with horrible phrases written on them. In a display of what we can only assume was open malice, she offered each volunteer who was cleaning up trash post-exhibit a go on the machine. This is what James got. It is on the refrigerator now, despite everything.

Notable local Hazel Newlevant created this really neat anthology and we finally got our hands on it! Yay!

Notable local Hazel Newlevant created this really neat anthology and we finally got our hands on it! Yay! We got it from Sarah Winifred Searle’s table, and she was super nice and signed it. She even pointed out which of the people in the hall had pieces in the anthology!

James got this from Sara McHenry, @yellowcardigan. Even though, as we previously established, James likes doggies best. These are top-quality cat comics.

James got this from Sara McHenry, @yellowcardigan. Even though, as we previously established, James likes doggies best. These are top-quality cat comics. Sara was really nice to talk to! She also had an awesome walky-talky.

Travelogue is such a good comic. It's pleasant in a way that's difficult to describe. We know this because James spent a few halting minutes trying to describe what he found so nice about the comic to the extremely kind creator, and he had a lot of trouble. Suffice to say it is great and the creator is really nice.

Travelogue is such a good comic. It’s pleasant in a way that’s difficult to describe. We know this because James spent a few halting minutes trying to describe what he found so nice about the comic to the extremely kind creator, and he had a lot of trouble. Suffice to say it is great and the creator is really nice.

We're really big fans of the interesting near-future/slightly-less-near-future comic Oh Human Star. Creator Blue Delliquanti is super nice to speak with, and James got a super cool print. Look at that! Neat.

We’re really big fans of the interesting near-future/slightly-less-near-future comic Oh Human Star. Creator Blue Delliquanti is super nice to speak with, and James got a super cool print. Look at that! Neat.

Anthony Clark makes wonderful, extremely funny comics at Nedroid.com. We have our trusty gigantic Beatato plush and it is not even a joke to say it is the best. He also does a lot of work as a colorist and does the comic Back with KC Green. He's a nice person, also!

Anthony Clark makes wonderful, extremely funny comics at Nedroid.com. We have our trusty gigantic Beatato plush and it is not even a joke to say it is the best. He also does a lot of work as a colorist and does the comic Back with KC Green. He’s a nice person, also! Got to speak with him for a bit and well basically it boils down to: give this nice person who makes funny comics some money so that he can stay indoors. He can’t make comics unless he’s indoors.

This is just beautiful work from kindly Floridian M. Dean. All the way from Florida! How about that. Look at that art! It's beautiful. All of the art on the table was beautiful, plus M. was super nice to speak to for a bit.

This is just beautiful work from kindly Floridian M. Dean. All the way from Florida! How about that. Look at that art! It’s beautiful. All of the art on the table was beautiful, plus M. was super nice to speak to for a bit.

James got this from Allison Bannister because he likes dinos doing incongruous things.

James got this from Allison Bannister because he likes dinos doing incongruous things.

James is also weirdly into Cyclops. So, you know.

James is also weirdly into Cyclops. So, you know.

So that was it for the convention floor for a bit. Then, James volunteered for a little while! Got to meet Dr McNinja creator Chris Hastings and that was a delight, got to speak with spectacular artist and world-smith Evan Dahm a little bit, which was also really nice! Manning a table was interesting. It was a window into how desperate and strange it is to have all these wonderful wares lined up and to just have people briefly pass over them whilst avoiding eye contact, then running away. It’s understandable, no one has money for everything, but it was interesting to see from a different angle.

After working a table for a bit, James got to clean up trash! By cleaning up trash effectively, he avoided being put in the “forgetting hole”.

IMG_20150926_202124567After that, it was nearing the end of the first day, and we stuck around for Monster Milk, during which we were subjected to what can only be described as definitely crimes. KC Green and friends held our collective hands as we were led through two horrific animated features: The Wizard So-So, and The Search for the Titanic. Each was horrible and hilarious in ways that are impossible to get across via text.

IMG_20150926_203451096The next day, we did some more demoing, and we checked in on some of the PVGD TopatoJAM work that had been done! Some interesting stuff came out of it.

A game about falling out of an airplane and killing aliens.

A game about falling out of an airplane and killing aliens.

A dungeon adventure with a map randomly generated by a deck of playing cards!

A dungeon adventure with a map randomly generated by a deck of playing cards!

Really neat stuff. Oh! And speaking of local games: there was an awesome map created by demo players of The Quiet Year on display in the Game Labyrinth!

IMG_20150927_114843616We also saw the excellent Pleasure is the Measure panel, hosted by local notable Emily Nagoski and featuring several of the greatest cartoonists in existence: Kate Leth, Jess Fink, Spike Trotman, and Danielle Corsetto. They talked about interesting things including what awful bullshit they hated, funny sex things, where the clitoris is as demonstrated on a giant vulva puppet, trans representation, the definition of female, dealing with the fact that people get on your case if you do both kid comics and sexy comics, teaching secret sex ed classes, and much more! It was awesome, and everyone loved it.

Here's a horrible picture to prove it!

Here’s a horrible picture to prove it! Look at all those interesting head silhouettes!

A bit after that panel, we went home for a nap and then verrrrry slowly put this together.

All in all, TopatoCon was real fun. We hope it was worthwhile for the creators who attended, because really that’s the point of conventions. To put you in direct contact with people whose creative work you’d like to support. It was certainly a very fun time for us, and we really cannot wait for next year!

September 21st – September 27th

XMen150CoverThe Valley Nerd Watch!


First of all, Tuesday is National Voter Registration Day! You should definitely register to vote. It’s not that hard, and until you can enact your brilliant scheme to become ruler of this foolish planet it’s probably the most effective way to work your will on the nation. Remember to vote in small local elections! They seem unimportant right up until you realize some real jerk of a person is in charge of some vital local resource for another four years.

Second: Oh goodness TopatoCon! It’s here! It’s finally here! It’ll be so delightful. Lots of great people have come from all over to show you their wares and generally chat a bit. We highly recommend that if you have funds available, you purchase as much as you are able from people who produce art that you like. Not only is it helpful for things like making sure they can eat and live indoors, it also allows them to experience some relief from the crippling anxiety that can arise from doing a bunch of cons.

“Aaah.” they sigh contentedly as you leave their table “I made like, lots of money. I can relax.” Help these gentle artists achieve a state of relaxation, won’t you?

There are far too many people attending to list here, but suffice to say there will be a lot of great people you will enjoy. Anthony Clark is one of our favorites for instance, and local hero Joshua A.C. Newman will be there exhibiting his fabulous games.

Finally, we’re doing a fun thing! A Towerfall Tournament at The Quarters with the help of the nice folks at the Pioneer Valley Game Developers! It’s going to alter slightly based on the number of participants, but you can expect several pulse-pounding rounds of competitive arrowing each other to death!

What is Towerfall, you might ask? One of the best local competitive multiplayer games since Super Smash Bros is what! It’s a fast-paced one-hit-kill free-for-all single-screen deathmatch starring a colorful cast of pixelated pincushions! Not an expert? No worries! Come early and we’ll have a bit of freeplay practice to acquaint people with the basics. It’s also very, very simple to play. Sign up on our Facebook page!!

As always, be sure to check out the Weekly Events page! There are a lot of fun things happening this and every week! And don’t forget to check out the updated Book Clubs List!

THIS WEEK


All Interests:

Saturday, September 26th
Eastworks [116 Pleasant St., Easthampton, MA, 01027] at 10:00am – 6:00pm
Too much is going to be happening to really cover here but how about listening to the brilliant Evan Dahm talk about world-building? Why not check out neat old things with funny person host David Malki? Why not check out extremely cool person Kate Leth record one of her Kate or Die podcasts? There’s so much! That’s not even the exhibit hall, that’s just panels!
Sunday, September 27th
Eastworks [116 Pleasant St., Easthampton, MA, 01027] at 10:00am – 6:00pm
Gosh or you could see Kate Leth along with fellow awesome artists Jess Fink, Danielle Corsetto, and Spike discuss women, their bodies, and comics while being moderated by local nerd and author Emily Nagoski! Or head to a Comic Jam! Or a Game Jam! We’re so excited everyone it’s all happening!

Board Games:

Thursday, September 24th
Palmer Public Library [1455 North Main Street, Palmer, MA 01069] at 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Board Game Night: Ticket to Ride
Ticket to Ride is an award-winning classic about trying to control train routes across North America. Complete routes in complex patterns to gain the most points and wrest victory from your friends. Players of all experience are welcome, though children under 15 will be asked to play at the same table as their parents or with peers.

Books:

Monday, September 21st
Hooker Auditorium [Mount Holyoke College, 9 College St, South Hadley, MA 01075] at 6:00pm
Holly Black and Cassandra Clare: The Copper Gauntlet
Join the Odyssey Bookshop in welcoming these two wonderful authors and celebrating their latest collaboration! The second in the bestselling Magesterium series, it sounds pretty neat! Magic and the nature of good and evil and a healthy mistrust of authority figures.
Thursday, September 24th
Greenfield Public Library [402 Main St, Greenfield, MA 01301] at 10:00am – 12:00pm
What’s Your Story? Memoir Writing Group
Memoirs! Everyone’s got memories, only a select few have memoirs. Join that elite group! Presidents, kings, the titans of our time… and you! This program explores memoirs in many forms and uses exercises to help spark memories and encourage writers to experiment!
Saturday, September 26th
Greenfield Public Library [402 Main St, Greenfield, MA 01301] at 2:00pm – 4:00pm
Quidditch Club for Kids
Quidditch! The sweet science. The most dangerous game. The game where really, doesn’t the golden snitch basically invalidate most play? It seems difficult to balance. You can play the Muggle variant of Ground Quidditch and take Hogwarts Extension courses with Professor Minerva “Hardcastle McCormick” McGonagall!

Card Games:

Friday, September 25th
Modern Myths [34 Bridge Street #4, Northampton, MA 01060] at 11:59pm – 4:00am
Battle for Zendikar Midnight Pre-Release
A new 2-set block of Magic: the Gathering cards! Come check out new full art lands, brand new dual lands, and amazing Eldrazi! You know what they say about Eldrazi: “Their nature is ceaseless hunger”! Check out the latest MtG set a week before it goes on sale in a sealed deck tournament. Build the best 40-card deck you can, and compete for promo cards! It’s $27 in advance, $30 at the door!
Saturday, September 26th
Modern Myths [34 Bridge Street #4, Northampton, MA 01060] at 1:00pm – 5:00pm
Battle for Zendikar Saturday Pre-Release
Are you the sort of person who doesn’t want to stay up until four in the danged morning playing in a MtG tournament? Try doing it on a sunny Saturday afternoon instead! Grab lunch at the Roost first. Same as above, $27 in advance, $30 at the door.
Off the Wall Games [41 Russell Street, Hadley, MA 01035] 11:30am – 4:00pm
Battle For Zendikar Pre-Release Morning Slot
Battle for Zendikar! We think this means you’re battling in order to possess Zendikar, not that you’re a Zendikarian patriot attempting to promote the interests of Zendikar. That is, assuming Zendikar is a geographic area. This is a $25 sealed-deck tournament that includes a Pizza Lunch!
Off the Wall Games [41 Russell Street, Hadley, MA 01035] 5:00pm – 9:00pm
Battle For Zendikar Pre-Release Evening Slot
Have something besides MtG to do in the morning? Try the evening! It is essentially the same except that everyone in this tournament has bargained with one of the fey folk to gain perception beyond mortal ken. Again, $25 sealed deck, and a Pizza Lunch dinner.
Worlds Apart Games [48 North Pleasant Street B2, Amherst, MA 01002] at 12:00am – 10:00pm
Battle for Zendikar Pre-Release
Another one! Jeez. Well, this one has a few more details. It’s $25 to register for a four-round sealed tournament with free pizza as supplies last. Players with a 4-0 record get $50 in store credit in addition to lots of prize packs!
Sunday, September 27th
Off the Wall Games [41 Russell Street, Hadley, MA 01035] 11:30am – 4:00pm
Battle For Zendikar Pre-Release Morning Slot
Ah, you unlucky fool. You couldn’t make it on Saturday. Saturday was… well. It’s cruel to discuss it with you. You’ll never see the golden shores of that happy day. Again, a $25 sealed deck tournament with a Pizza Lunch brunch.
Off the Wall Games [41 Russell Street, Hadley, MA 01035] 5:00pm – 9:00pm
Battle For Zendikar Pre-Release Evening Slot
This one is interesting, actually. For the final pre-release event they’ve secretly replaced all the cards with standard playing cards. Lets see you incinerate your foes when all you’ve got is a 1/1 Club! Again, $25 sealed deck tournament, with a Pizza Lunch second breakfast.
Worlds Apart Games [48 North Pleasant Street B2, Amherst, MA 01002] at 12:00am – 10:00pm
Battle for Zendikar Pre-Release
Is the handsome guy in armor Zendikar? Are we battling for him? Possible for his hand in marriage? We’re really not certain what MtG lore is all about. Either way, yet another tournament with again a $25 entry fee plus a ton of prizes and free pizza. This is a busy weekend for people who play Magic!

Entertainment:

Thursday, September 24th
Forbes Library [20 West St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 2:00pm
Cookies with a Curator
Stop by Forbes for some informal conversation and show and tell with also cookies that you can eat! This Thursday, see Lost Northampton with Dylan Gaffney. Lost Northampton consists of images of buildings and homes that are no longer standing, trapped in the mists of time. Professionals are on hand in case anything breaks out into our era during the viewing.
Friday, September 25th
Academy of Music [274 Main St., Northampton, MA 01060] at 7:30pm
TopatoCon Presents: The Doubleclicks featuring Molly Lewis
Two excellent musical acts! The Doubleclicks sing stuff that’s often nerdy and comedy. They wrote the theme song for Cards Against Humanity, in defiance of the fact that why does a card game need a theme song. Molly Lewis won “Ukulele Video of the Year” from UkuleleHunt.com. She also sang to Stephen Fry a song she wrote about wanting to have his children. Fun stuff! Tickets are $15.
Sunday, September 27th
Jones Library [43 Amity St, Amherst, MA 01002] at 2:00pm – 3:00pm
Avtivated Story Theatre
Two folktales from Eastern Europe will be presented! The Dragon of Krakow, from Poland and Something from Nothing, from the Jewish tradition. Apparently the Krakow dragon might be due to people finding some fossils that they mistook for Dragon bones! Neat! For Children 4-10 and their families.

RPGs:

Friday, September 25th
Chesterfield Scout Reservation [22 Sugar Hill Road, Chesterfield, MA] at 7:00pm
Magestry LARP Autumn Game 2
Live Action Role Playing! The most intense and interesting experience you’re likely to have playing an RPG! Magestry has just altered some rules to make things easier for new players, too! The fee is $30 for first-timers, including a Saturday dinner, and it’s free for volunteer staff! Email Info@Magestry.com to get a free account for the online character generator.
Saturday, September 25th
Comics n’ More [31 Union Street, Easthampton MA 01027] at 1:00pm – 4:00pm
Public RPG: Pathfinder Pirates
Piracy, a life consisting primarily of exactly the things you do not want, plus scurvy. But not in fiction! In fiction, mostly you get to swash on a good day and buckle on a great day. We recommend playing a pirate whose sole motivation is to possess the most exciting warddrobe. New players are welcome to join at any session! Pre-made characters and dice are provided, and host Tim Shields knows what’s what.
Comics n’ More [31 Union Street, Easthampton MA 01027] at 5:00pm – 8:00pm
Public RPG: Mutants and Masterminds
Super-heroes! They’re great fun to observe, because their small interpersonal conflicts tend to lead inevitably to visually impressive brawls. Play one in a monthly RPG! New players are welcome, pre-made characters are provided. Hosted by the enigmatic and possibly super-powered Crispy/Nola.

Science:

Wednesday, September 23rd
Jones Library [43 Amity St, Amherst, MA 01002] at 6:00pm – 7:00pm
Science Cafe
Gut Feeling: A diverse and healthy microbiome, with Dr. Jeffrey Blanchard. Have you considered that you’ve got millions of tiny creatures living in you? Human gut bacteria outnumber your own cells ten to one! Life is a parade of horrors! These bacteria determine a lot about your and how you live. This cafe will explore how our lifestyle influences and is influenced by gut bacteria! Free and open to the public.

Video Games:

Friday, September 25th
The Quarters [8 Railroad St, Hadley, MA 01035] at 6:00pm
The VNW/PVGD Towerfall Tournament!
Towerfall! A great gem of a game that everyone loves or WILL love. Challenge your friends and some friendly strangers to a match, and win fabulous prizes! It costs $5 to enter, and two winners will split the entry fee pool 60/40. The two runners up will receive prizes as well! Be sure to sign up on the Facebook event!
Saturday, September 26th
Eastworks [116 Pleasant St., Easthampton, MA, 01027] at 10:00am
TopatoJAM!
Want to hang out at TopatoCon BUT ALSO make a game in a stunningly short period of time? You may! You must! TopatoJAM will let you do that! Open to developers of any skill level with a suggested $5 donation. You MUST REGISTER

September 14th – September 20th

20150425_125134

The Valley Nerd Watch!


Wow, the Boston Festival of Indie Games was a great time! We’re going to go ahead and go down our favorite bits from the event, although wow were there like… many many more things to take a look at. We cannot possibly give you the whole scope of the event. Heck, we missed most of the Tabletop area! So, what we will do is describe to you several cool things to keep an eye on if you are interested in fine digital games and related media made by small groups of dedicated people!

So first of all, big winner of the show: Ultimate Chicken Horse. It’s brilliant, it’s fun, it’s totally probably going to be worth your while. Particularly if you have 3 friends to play with. You and three other plays work together to construct a little platformer level. Then you all hop through it. Fun! But the twist is to win you need to make sure your friends can’t complete the level! How? You get to use new construction elements each turn to make the level harder. Make it just hard enough and you can get through while watching your pals get impaled on spikes! It’s tough to emphasize how impressive it is in action. Just a delight.

Cryptark was an interesting one. Focusing on short, rogue-like action shooting through a series of spaceships. It seems nice and concrete and it’s very nice to look at. The developers talked about how it’s designed to be completed in a few hours… if you play perfectly.

Desolus was a beautiful puzzler with a very interesting mechanic that proves itself early. Just walking around looking at things is a good time, and the puzzles we got to play were challenging enough to be interesting. Another interesting puzzle game was Electric Shocktopus.  A bit more of an action platformer, the positive/negative charge mechanic which allows you to sort of fly around levels is a real joy.

We were also really, really big fans of Thumper. A sort of horror rhythm game in which you play a silver scarab that fights cthonian monsters on an endless track. The way the music ramps up over time from a low sinister drone to a terrifying cacophony is really interesting. Another wonderful horror game we got a look at was Albino Lullaby. It’s a strange journey set in a strange house full of strange people. It’s oppressive and it’s beautiful and it’s very unsettling. They spent a lot of time assuring us that they would not use jump scares, just a good danged spooky story. Also, we got to brag about beating The Void to the developer!

Finally, No Pineapple Left Behind is a thought-provoking management sim about trying to deal with meeting the demands of running a profitable school. The way you do that is primarily magic turning children from complete individuals into passionless pineapples. It’s clear the developer we spoke with respects and admires the profession of teaching as a former teacher himself enough to offer a clear and effective critique of modern methodology.

Boston FIG was a great time that was an opportunity to see a huge number of creative works in quick succession, many from around Massachusetts! We highly recommend you check it out next year.

As always, be sure to check out the Weekly Events page! There are a lot of fun things happening this and every week! And don’t forget to check out the updated Book Clubs List!

THIS WEEK


 Board Games:

Saturday, September 19th
Modern Myths [34 Bridge Street #4, Northampton, MA 01060] at 7:00pm – 11:00pm
Women’s Game Night 2
A special event at Modern Myths for women! Welcoming all women, including trans women, genderqueer women, and non-binary women! It’s a safe space to play games, learn, and meet other female gamers in the area. Also, they feature games designed by women. It sounds like a pretty cool place to be, everyone! You’ll need a $5 day pass, which is immediately turned into store credit!
Sunday, September 20th
Comics n’ More [31 Union Street, Easthampton MA 01027] at 1:00pm – 4:00pm
Sunday Heroclix
Kindly and intelligent Jaimie hosts this entertaining miniatures combat game! Collect all your favorite characters from a truly staggering collection of comics and literature and make them all beat each other up! It’s like playing action figures with rules, and if that tugs some deep leyline in your soul you should check this out!
Greenfield Games [228 Main St Greenfield, MA 01301] at Mystery Time?
Star Trek Attack Wing: Dominion War
Can you retake DS9 for your space-empire? This exciting event will include DS9, a self-replicating minefield, and a wormhole! Also, phasers. You’ll need to get a 120-point faction pure build with only dominion war races, $5 to enter, and if you’ve got a DS9 bring the model! Also some terrain. And snacks. Bring chips.

Books:

Tuesday, September 15th
Greenfield Games [228 Main St Greenfield, MA 01301] at 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Children’s Book Writers Group
Adults who write for children are invited to attend a critique group! Facilitated by Nell Wright, this group will allow participants to discuss skills, share tips and opportunities, and read and discuss their stories! For more info, call Jane at the library at 413-772-1544 x 5120!
Wednesday, September 16th
Odyssey Bookshop [Mount Holyoke College, 9 College St, South Hadley, MA 01075] at 7:00pm
Rachel Glaser: Paulina and Fran, Lauren Goodman: A Heart Beating Hard
Paulina and Fran is a story friendship, art, sex, and curly hair. Art students, love, uncertainty, wit, it has all of those elements and a school trip to Norway! A Heart Beating Hard is a story about people, and it seems interesting. It has a Lot of Words that are Significantly capitalized in the description Text.
Thursday, September 17th
Odyssey Bookshop [Mount Holyoke College, 9 College St, South Hadley, MA 01075] at 7:00pm
Ben Kimball: Trail Running Western Massachusetts
But do we absolutely have to? Can we not instead amble toward vistas and then just contemplate for several long hours during which we do not sweat and feel as though we are dying? For real though this seems like a guy who you definitely want to speak to if you’re at all into outdoors running. Pick up a few nice trails for that fall weather where you don’t get so overheated!
Saturday, September 19th
Holyoke Public Library [250 Chestnut St, Holyoke MA 01040] at 4:00pm
Nelson Antonio Denis: War Against All Puerto Ricans
In 1950, the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico staged an unsuccessful insurrection against the US. Violence swept the island. Gunfights roared in eight towns, police stations and post offices were burned down. The US deployed thousands of troops and bombed its own citizens. Denis tells this powerful story through the life of Pedro Albizu Campos, who was president of the Nationalist Party.
Odyssey Bookshop [Mount Holyoke College, 9 College St, South Hadley, MA 01075] at 10:30am
Tanya Lee Stone and Kathryn Brown: The House That Jane Built
It’s 1889 and a wealthy woman named Jane Addams has house fever. But the house she just bought is in the middle a cruddy bit of town? Why would she do this? No, not to burn it down, but we like your energy. She helped out! Learn how she did so, and the way the Hull House neighborhood she cultivated in Chicago changed the city and set an example for the nation!

Comics:

Thursday, September 17th
Modern Myths [34 Bridge Street #4, Northampton, MA 01060] at 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Queers in Comics & Games
A great monthly discussion about exactly what’s on the tin! Nice folks with insightful opinions about a variety of topics. Plus, great source for recommendations about new stuff to read. You’ll need a $5 day pass to participate in these wide-ranging discussions, which immediately becomes store credit!

Computers:

Thursday, September 17th
Amherst Media [246 College St, Amherst, MA 01002] at 6:00pm
Western MA Drupal Meetup
Drupal! It’s a great way to put together a website, and with Last Call Media in town, it’s kind of a thing in Western Mass. They love it. Meet other people and hang out and talk about Drupal! Maybe even just see if you like the cut of everyone’s jib before you learn it, so you know you’ve got a supportive community!
Friday, September 18th
Packard’s [14 Masonic St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 8:00pm
Northampton Webdive – After Dark
Sultry, dangerous, just a little bit sexy, saxaphonic. None of these adjectives have been used to describe this regular webdive. Helpful, enjoyable, decent beer. Nooooow we’re talking! Speak with other coders and web developers at a friendly bar!

Entertainment:

Tuesday, September 15th
Divas [492 Pleasant St #3, Northampton, MA 01060] at 10:00pm – Late
Games, Geeks, and Cosplay Night: Star Trek Vs. Star Wars
Come to dance! Come to purchase cool things from vendors! Come to show off your cool Star Trek/Wars costume and maybe win a contest, including some cool toys from the upcoming Episode VII! Also, FamilyJules7X? Seven of … a guitar man? That guitar man named FamilyJules will play seven times that night.
Thursday, September 17th
Palmer Public Library [1455 North Main Street, Palmer, MA 01069] 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Anime Club
Anime! In some circles, the mere mention of the forbidden word can get you banned for life! This mysterious and powerful artwork must be shared with a select and trusted few. Join their ranks… if you dare! Teens and young adults, 14 and up.
Friday, September 18th
The Platinum Pony [0 Cottage St, Easthampton, Massachusetts 01027] 10:00pm – Late
Mia E Z’Lay and the Sorcerer’s Bone(r)
Join a beautiful, witchy woman as she welcomes back all the good wizards back to school and teaches some magic tricks! Featuring the titular Mia E Z’Lay, as well as a host of other drag performers! Dance the night away after the show! It’s 21+ and there’s a $10 cover! 

 RPGs:

Monday, September 14th
Comics n’ More [31 Union Street, Easthampton MA 01027] at 3:00pm – 7:00pm
Public RPG: Dungeons & Dragons
Dungeons and Dragons is one of the most influential RPGs of all time! It’s still going strong today, allowing scores of people to share their imaginative storytelling with friends. Learn how to play or continue a lifelong hobby with friendly host Neal Robinson!
Thursday, September 17th
Palmer Public Library [1455 North Main Street, Palmer, MA 01069] at 4:00pm – 6:00pm
RPG Club
Create a character, inhabit their adventures, and interact with other fanciful folks in a mystical land! This fantastic shared hallucination can be yours with the power of *imagination*! All ages are welcome, no experience necessary! Might we suggest Dread for a good intro RPG?
Saturday, September 19th
Comics n’ More [31 Union Street, Easthampton MA 01027] at 1:00pm – 5:00pm
Pathfinder Society
The official Pathfinder Society! Get together with a bunch of pleasant folks and play out one gigantic epic adventure across the world of Pathfinder! Band together while representing your own special interests and secret goals as an entrepreneurial Pathfinder, playing across the course of months!
Comics n’ More [31 Union Street, Easthampton MA 01027] at 5:00pm – 8:00pm
Public RPG: Edge of the Empire
Come play around in the fantastical Star Wars universe! Except like, the Worst Possible Timeline of the Star Wars Universe, in which Luke is dead and the Empire ascendant. Everything’s terrible and you’re a mercenary working for a Hutt. Make things right! Force GM Tim Shields to come up with a happy ending! New players welcome, pre-made characters and dice provided.
Sunday, September 20th
Modern Myths [34 Bridge Street #4, Northampton, MA 01060] 1:00pm – 5:00pm
13th Age RPG
Okay the focus of this RPG seems to be immediately centering an adventure around the One Cool Thing about your player characters BUT more important than that is a single line from the description: “Owlbears will rip PC’s limbs off to feed their young.” Yeah. Owlbears are no joke.

Science:

Monday, September 14th
Union Station [125A Pleasant St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Nerd Nite Northampton
Nerd Nite! It’s a big one this month, and it’ll be a lot of fun. There’s a lecture about implicit bias and racism in the modern era with local UMass professor Linda Tropp. Then, there’s a lecture about awesome looking backyard art by psychologist Mark Karpel!
Tuesday, September 15th
Palmer Public Library [1455 North Main Street, Palmer, MA 01069] at 6:00pm – 8:00pm
History Lecture: Lincoln Assassination
Do you know the whole story of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln? Probably not, right? It’s sort of passed into myth and legend for the most part, we all tend to learn the broad strokes. Learn and honor the legacy of the 16th American president at this talk with Donal Blais! Open to the public, free of charge.
Wednesday, September 16th
Forbes Library [20 West St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 7:00pm – 8:30
Latino Americans Episode 1: Foreigners in Their Own Land
Presented by the Pioneer Valley History Network and Casa Latino, the kickoff to the project Herencia Latina begins at the Forbes Library with this screening! Scholar Raul Gutierrez will be on hand to head up some discussion!

Video Games:

Friday, September 18th
Forbes Library [20 West St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 3:30pm – 4:30pm
Minecraft Club
Minecraft! The game that not only made one person a billionaire, but has made people playing it and putting themselves on Youtube millionaires. For real, everyone, this is not a thing we foresaw when we were playing the alpha, it’s real odd. Bring a device and/or a log-in and come hang out and play Minecraft with other kids at Forbes!

Speaking with Emily Care Boss of Black and Green Games

static1.squarespace.comHappy day! We finally got a chance to speak with brilliant local game designer Emily Care Boss of Black & Green Games! Emily has designed a lot of inventive games that encourage interesting interactions. This includes a trio of romance-focused games – Breaking the Ice, Shooting the Moon and Under my Skin – as well as deeply intriguing Live Action Role Play(LARP) – Remodel, Play With Intent, and the upcoming Last Chance Noir. – and finally some innovative tabletop games – Misericord(e), Dread House, and MonkeyDome.

Emily is someone who seems to take real joy in figuring out how to push gaming forward, and we’re feel honored to have someone like her in the Valley. And that she’s willing to speak with us!

James Olchowski: Hello! Thank you for speaking with us today.

Emily Care Boss: It’s a pleasure!

JO: So first of all, are you originally from the Valley area?

ECB: I moved to the Pioneer Valley from southern Connecticut for college in the early 90s.

JO: What drew you to the area?

ECB: It was much more progressive than southern Connecticut where I grew up. In one of my first jobs at Video to Go in Amherst, my boss was a lesbian with two children with her partner. I felt at home and stayed. With the recent Supreme Court decision on Marriage Equality, I’m glad that the rest of the country is starting to catch up in some ways!

JO: You have a Masters of Science in Forest Resources. Do you still perform conservation and forestry work? If so, in what capacity?

ECB: My daily bread comes from helping people conserve their land in Franklin County (and nearby towns) with the Franklin Land Trust. I still have my foresters license and am on the Forestry Licensing Board as the representative of the conservation community. When I became a forester I was working for the Massachusetts Woodlands Cooperative, a group of 60 landowners who worked together to harvest and market lumber from their land, and to get Forest Stewardship Council certification–to confirm that they practiced responsible forestry, taking into account wildlife, soils, worker safety, etc.

It was a great organization, but had a hard time turning a profit, especially during the economic crisis of 2009 which saw the building market plummet. When they closed their doors the Franklin Land Trust was looking for a land protection specialist. I’m happy that they asked me to join them, and am very happy to continue being able to help people with the long term management of their land, and bring to bear what I’ve learned through forestry and my work with the coop.

JO: What was the first RPG (Role Playing Game) you played?

ECB: I’ve got two answers for that. The first RPG I was exposed to was basic D&D (Moldvay edition), which I read and made characters for and really enjoyed. But I didn’t meet anyone who played until High School. A couple cool seniors invited me and some friends to play with them. Exciting! But…we rolled up characters, and then spent the rest of the evening talking about what to get on the pizza and then eating the pizza, and never got around to play.

So fast forward a few years later, I’m in College here in the Valley, and friends invite me over to role play. It was GURPS. After one session of a campaign that didn’t take off, my first real game was a GURPS campaign adapted to a setting written by an artist friend of mine (Barry Deutsch, who would later very kindly illustrate my game Breaking the Ice). It was very Narnia-esque. The main characters were students at a deaf school who became transported to a magical world.

However, I made the classic mistake one can make in a character with a point-buy system like GURPS, esp. with the disadvantage/advantage balance the game included. Using the options as a menu I ended up making a character with wildly varying traits and not much cohesion: she was deaf (as part of the premise), an albino, with perfect sense of time and direction. It’s harsh to look at the struggles of peoples lives as “disads” that can be balanced out by superpowers, and although I liked my character and she came together in play, she didn’t come from a sense of who she was as a person.

halfcoverBtIJO: What got you interested in playing an RPG?

ECB: Falling in with the right crowd, definitely. The friends who introduced me to GURPS eventually brought me into their long-running home-brew system Ars Magica game. That’s what really got me hooked. Co-creating a world, running up to a dozen different characters, fleshing out the world, its philosophies, religions and political complications. Later I’d be in two or three more Ars Magica campaigns, one lasting six years with other local game designers Meguey and Vincent Baker. The looseness of our use of the system gave us room to experiment, and I think it was these games that got me interested in game design as well as role play.

JO: What made you decide to sit down and design your first professional game?

ECB: Being on the Forge I was surrounded by people who were designing tabletop RPGs, thinking hard about how they worked and helping each other strive and do better. In 2002, I took part in the second Iron Game Chef contest, hosted by Mike Holmes at the Forge Forums. The theme was “simulationism” and the ingredients included “blood,” “song,” and “moon.” Out of that came the idea for my game Sign in Stranger. I published it much later (in two different forms which I’m still tinkering with) but writing this game up for the contest, and getting feedback on it from Mike shifted things for me so that I could see myself as a designer. Later I came up with the idea for Breaking the Ice, and it seemed manageable enough for me to design and publish it, and we were off.

JO: Your first published game –Breaking the Ice” – focuses on a very specific interaction: role-playing 3 dates between two player-characters. What made you decide to go with something so compact?

ECB: As I mentioned, my first real game idea was Sign in Stranger, which was about people traveling to alien planets and being the first human settlers there. This seemed too big to nail down for my first complete design, so I looked around for another premise.

A conversation on the Forge or RPG.net helped me out. Someone said they’d never seen anyone convincingly play a character of the opposite gender, and doubted it was possible. This flew in the face of my experience (playing multiple characters of various genders with a large, mixed gender group of friends), so I decided to write a game that would show people could do that, and also lend a helping hand. So, a small game with two players with a focused situation of dating seemed just right. Also, My Life With Master had come out around then. That gave a great model for allowing a game to just be about one fairly narrow premise, rather than being placed in a given world or set in a given genre, so a romance game about dating fit.

As it turns out, taking a narrow premise that can be customized gives you a whole universe of possibilities, so rather than feeling like a strait-jacket, that well-defined creative constraint is freeing.

JO: Breaking the Ice also puts the focus squarely on love and relationships rather than the standard conflict that drives a lot of RPGs, violence. What made you decide to step outside violent conflict as an impetus for play?

ECB: I was kind of trying to be a spoiler. To confront the idea that people were constrained by their gender on what characters they could play. The premise grew from that impetus. Then, from that premise it was natural to throw out a ton of typical assumptions. Who wants a combat system for a dating game? Talk about the wrong message.

The game breaks many RPG conventions of the time. The game is collaborative, with the players trying to work together to overcome the system which provides push-back against the characters falling in love. There is no Game Master–the players take turns being a coach and guide. And the role of the Guide is not to provide adversity, each player does that themselves as part of their turn. First they say how things go well in the date, then they play out how things go wrong. Both are fun and part of what makes a story about a date interesting, as well as adding human interest and giving the characters a reason to be there for one another.

JO: You helped define the term “bleed” with respect to RPGs. Can you talk a bit about what it means?

ECB: Bleed is a term been picked up by the Nordic art LARP(Live-Action Roleplaying) community and elsewhere to describe overlap and overflow of emotional experiences when playing a game role. Bleed-in is sometimes used to describe when a player’s feelings affect the expression of a character An example of Bleed-in would be a player is under-slept and acts out their irritation on others through their character’s words and actions. Bleed-out is when fictive character background or experience affects the player’s real-world attitudes or internal emotional experience. An example of Bleed-out would be portraying a married character and having lingering affection or attraction for the player who took the role of the spouse. There is some good discussion of it at the Nordic LARP blog post “Bleed: The Spillover Between Player and Character.”

My first discussion of bleed came from being invited to talk in Finland, specifically about romance in games. I was influenced in using the term by discussion a housemate of mine had in college about the bleedover of player knowledge about in-game events their character would have no reason to know about. I applied it here to emotions.

The theme for Ropecon in 2007 was Romance, so they felt it fitting to invite me as one of the guests of the convention. Live action play is very popular in Finland and other Nordic countries, so I wanted to address some issues that come up with live play. This can happen at the table as well, in analog play, or online, but the embodiment of roles in live action play really brought it to the fore.

Misericord(e)-iconJO: Can you give an example when bleed was significant in your own play?

ECB: In one of the first LARPs I ever played, there was another player I was getting to know whom I found attractive, though they were not interested and were otherwise committed. As it happened in the game their character had a secret crush on me and had access to a love potion. So I found myself in the odd situation of having someone I was attracted to making fictional overtures through magic. A bit tangled! Thinking about that oddness was what inspired me to talk about Bleed.

JO: Do you intentionally attempt to promote bleed in your own games?

ECB: In many of my games, I want to encourage people to approach and embrace deep emotional experiences. Often I invite people to use their own background or experiences to inform their play. For example, in Under my Skin each character has a “Core Issue” (perhaps anger, honesty, loneliness, etc.) that they are challenged by. When people make characters I let the players know that it can make for a powerful experience to choose an issue that has meaning from one’s own life, or that has relevance to someone they know and are close to. In the Nordic Jeepform tradtion of RPG design, that is called “playing close to home.” The fictional space of the game lets you engage in a contained way with issues that can be overwhelming or hard to examine in one’s real life. This is not intended to have any kind of therapeutic element–instead it is like reading a book or watching a film that has personal relevance to you. But it can have a deeper emotional dimension since you get to have a first-hand experience.

So I don’t exactly write games that point people towards having their character spill over into their real lives–but I do use the possibility of having overlap between real world and the fictional be an area you can dip into. And I see it as one of the key elements of role play. A uniquely self-customizable aspect of emotional exploration.

JO: My personal experience with RPGs usually involves a pretty deep nervousness about emotionally-charged role-play. How do you overcome this sort of player nervousness in your own game designs?

ECB: Great and important question. Establishing trust is important in games where you may bring up strong or difficult issues. Generally the games start with discussion of the elements, to make sure people know what they are getting into. And then some kind of ice-breaking activity that lets the players interact and establish connections they can take with them into the game. In some Nordic LARP and similar game styles this is called “workshopping” and is a very well explored process that helps people do very deep play. Lizze Stark and others have written a great deal about the subject. These are great tips to think about and adapt to your game.

In Under my Skin, since the game is about being flirty and possibly cheating, the players start off by sharing their real world relationship status in order to make sure everyone knows the real boundaries of the people they are dealing with. People share as much or as little as they are comfortable sharing, and I as a facilitator start things off and am very honest about myself to let people know they are safe and will be heard. Then, the process of making characters is shared in UmS. Everyone gets to make suggestions (in an orderly way) and help flesh out how the emotional issues a character is struggling with might manifest in their lives. It’s fictional, but the players get to share their insights and express empathy others. It sets a tone of listening and understanding, that is critical in moving forward to play out scenes of great vulnerability.

ShootingtheMoonCover2JO: You said you had some experience with more traditional systems like D&D and GURPS? What do you find engaging about those systems?

ECB: Right now I’m playing a Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign, and I got to play some of 5e D&D over the past year. I enjoyed the adaptability of 5e–depending on the character class you were playing, and the type of profile you chose for the character, it provided you elements of the various different incarnations D&D has seen over the (recent-ish) years. That’s a pretty clever way to heal the wounds of the edition wars. I enjoyed the game, and hope it’s very successful! One of my favorite parts of the system is having Advantage. Getting a second d20 for various situational modifiers, or special stuff based on your class is intuitive and easy to award and use. That plus Inspiration was a lot of fun. In 5e, you’re asked to come up with a few details about the character’s past. I was playing a Fighter who had been a soldier in an army and had proved to be super-stubborn in a devastating loss that I refused to accept, but survived. When I’d exemplify that stubbornness, or the grudge I was carrying, my DM would award me inspiration. Then in a battle I could use it to gain Advantage. A nice easy way to remind me to think about who my character was, and to make it matter in play.

DCC, which I think of as being on the traditional side of RPGs, is so much fun. It’s part of the Old School Renaissance school, and it’s my favorite of those I’ve played from that tradition so far. I love the approach they are taking to the deadly effects of early-D&D style play where your character’s life is always on the line. It’s got so much flavor. Starting out as a mushroom farmer or witch-liquor smuggler, and then becoming a Wizard and clawing your power out of your own flesh to Power Burn. Good stuff. The Mercurial Magic table is one of those things that really captures the crazy madness of early fantasy short stories (like those by Vance, Lee or others). Wizards must roll on the Mercurial Magic table when they learn a spell and gain a side effect that happens as well. Some are good (when my wizard casts Magic Shield, I also get Psychic Shield as well, nice!), sometimes there’s no effect, but then sometimes you get these crazy, awful or just nutty effects. For example, when I cast Charm Animal I temporarily blink to a different plane. When we were transported to the Purple Planet of Peril in our current campaign for a few sessions, when I cast a Patron spell that warned everyone of danger I would be encased in an unbreakable pillar of ice! Now this does sound like it could get in the way, and it doesn’t always make your life easier. But the worst effects are infrequent, and they are so madcap that it gives a great tone to the game–and, most importantly, it fits with the deadly and ephemeral feel to the characters you play. I mean, if you start the game with 4 characters, hoping to keep one to play on, you’ve got to realize that the world is out to get you!

JO: How would you introduce a new player to RPGs?

ECB: One of my favorite games, The Quiet Year, might make a good introduction for people who are new to role playing games. It’s a quick game–it can be played in an evening. It’s premise is popular these days: post-apocalyptic. It’s also very structured. You play out a year in the life of a community trying to reform in the wake of societal collapse. A deck of cards, separated into four suits that correspond to the seasons, lead you through the events of the year, with questions and open-ended activities like placing locations on a map. It’s fun and heart-breaking and pretty clear at each moment what you should be doing. Many role playing games can cause analysis paralysis in new players–so much to do, what should my character do? How can I remember all these rules? The Quiet Year streamlines the role playing experience while still delivering a great story.

However, the in-character part of role-playing is slight in The Quiet Year. So I’d want to follow up with a game that eases you into that aspect of it. Three games the come to mind, for different reasons are: Psi*Run, Dread and Growing Up. Psi*Run has you play a character with amnesia, on the run from mysterious captors, with super powers you cannot explain. Your motivations are clear and the games runs smoothly with a single die-mechanic. In Dread, you play the characters in a horror game, where you are trying to escape the monsters or zombies or whatever your GM, or Host, has cooked up for you. And instead of dice, it uses a tumbling block tower which you must pull from. If you knock the tower down, your character dies! It’s a gripping game, though you need to be open to playing out a horror story where many of the characters die. Growing Up is a LARP where you play out the events of the book Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen. It’s romantic and passionate, as well as showing the strength of friendship and family.

DHcoverJO: How would you introduce a player to freeform roleplay if they were used to something like D&D Encounters [short, combat-focused play with miniatures and minimal RP]?

ECB: There is a game in the 24 Game Poems book called First Impressions. You are playing adventurers who go through basically a speed-dating session to pick out their group that they’ll go dungeon crawl with. It’s goofy and funny, and makes a nice bridge from the dungeon at the table to playing different things in a live setting.

JO: You’ve done a lot of work related to diversity in tabletop gaming [RPGirl, Gaming as Women, Pushing Boundaries, Escaping the Legacy, etc.]. Why do you think it’s important to have a diverse set of voices designing RPGs?

ECB: Role playing games are creative and narrative experiences. The stories and characters that we create in them can either reflect the interests and exposure of just a few people who have similar backgrounds, or they can be opportunities for people of many different backgrounds to share what they find inspiring. I’m for the latter vision. We’re impoverishing our own imaginations, as well as discriminating economically and socially against community, if we don’t question who does participate and why, and support diverse creators.

The work of people like Tany D. of Why I Need Diverse Games, Whitney Beltran of Gaming as Other and Avonelle Wing with Maelstrom  and other Double Exposure events, are critical. They are doing the good, hard work we need to support right now.

JO: What do you think current players can do to make their play inclusive?

ECB: There are many ways you can do this. First, buy and play games by women and men of color, queer designers, designers with physical challenges. Educate yourself about who makes the games you love, and if you are going to run a game at a convention or for friends, maybe pick one by a game with a non-majority background to support their work. And talk about it online! A tweet or a post on a blog or Google+ can send traffic their way, which is the life’s blood of any designer.

Also, when you are playing a game that is set in a period or culture you’re not part of, do your homework. The internet is only a keystroke away to learn some real-world details about the people you’re portraying. Vet your sources. Just because it’s on Wikipedia does not make it true. But taking the time pays off–you avoid stereotyping and enacting harmful images that often get repeated in the media, and you’ll learn about people you may not have known about. Your gaming will be richer for it.

Also, read and pay attention to discussion on Twitter and beyond by writers and creators from under-represented communities. Nisi Shawl’s essay Transracial Writing for the Sincere and Quinn Murphy’s New Rules of Fantasy about avoiding the default of white characters and culture are must-reads.

UndermySkinCoverJO: Are there any games you’d like to highlight for Nerd Watch readers to check out?

ECB: Three to be on the look out for are Night Witches by Jason Morningstar of Bully Pulpit Games, a great and hard-hitting historical game about women bomber pilots in Russian during World War II; Questlandia, by our local Hannah Shaffer of Make Big Things, a very collaborative game a fantasy kingdom in crisis that asks you to examine how we work together (or don’t!) in communities; and Five Fires by Quinn Murphy of Thoughtcrime Games, a game in progress about hip-hop artists trying to help each other make it and help support their home and community. All three are great, though-provoking games.

JO: Is there anything coming up from Black & Green that readers should watch out for?

ECB: In the next few months, I’ll officially launch my noir freeform LARP game: Last Chance Noir. I’ve been talking with other designers of noir games, and have some other features planned at my website. Also, I’m working on revising and adding hacks & mods to my Romance Trilogy. I’m aiming for a February 2016 release of it, and may even do a Patreon to support it. Thanks to any of your local readers who check them out, or get involved!

Remember that you can find all of the extremely interesting things Emily has created and written about on the Black & Green Games website. Support a local artist who makes good stuff! You can also check out her game Shooting the Moon being played by excellent artist Erika Moen and neat seeming person Eric Colossal on the OneShotRPG Podcast!

Update: No D&D at Comics N’ More this Saturday, Art Walk Stuff Instead

That’s basically it up there! While D&D is very nice, the Art Walk seems like it is a great time too. Not very D&D-like, but then there’s nothing to stop you from pretending to be Andromeda: Mistress of the Hammerforge, going on a tour in an alternate dimension’s marketplace.

Feels like we should have more here.

Hm.

Alright, here we go:

Exactly what it looks likeThis is the actual, for-real, existing character Master Pandemonium from Marvel Comics.

Master Pandemonium was given superhuman powers through the replacement of his arms with those of demons and his bodily transformation into a living “abode of demons” by Mephisto. He has superhuman strength in his arms, and he has the ability to detach his arms and legs, without harm to himself, and have them turn into demonic servitors. (via Wikipedia)

To be clear in the image above, we’re pretty certain he’s actually stolen Scarlet Witch’s children and replaced his arms with THEM. He’s really got the one problem-solving method.

He’ll have a movie of his own in 2043, mark our words.

September 7th – September 13th

XMen270CoverThe Valley Nerd Watch!


TopatoCon! We know we’ve been talking about this for a while but for real everyone, it’ll be fun. We’ll be there, you’ll be there, a bunch of artists and writers and comedians and developers and cool folks of all stripes and occupations will be there. You’ll have the option to give them money in exchange for services they render! You’ll get to chat with them, and confirm that you’re a cool person that cool people like to speak with!

Also, there’s a really neat activity going on at TopatoCon arranged by our very own Pioneer Valley Game Devs! The TopatoJAM! A free experimental game jam held alongside the con. What that means is that attending TopatoCon is encouraged, but not required to participate. But you MUST register!

topatojamSo what is it? Well. It’s a thing where you try to make a game wicked fast. It’s open to developers of any skill level, but you know be sure you’ve got a clear idea of what it is you can do. Cost is free, but they suggest you donate. Kick $5 their way. Come on, just… they’re neat right? You like this sort of thing. Support it at least as much as you support a sandwich.

Teams can be formed before the game jam or after you arrive. The game jam theme will be announced at the event start! There aren’t any overnight facilities for the jam, so check for accommodation on your own!

The TopatoJAM will run from Saturday at 10:00am to Sunday at 6:00pm. Bring your own laptop/whatever, and money for food if you don’t like the free pizza/snacks/coffee/water.

As always, be sure to check out the Weekly Events page! There are a lot of fun things happening this and every week! And don’t forget to check out the updated Book Clubs List!

THIS WEEK


Art:

Friday, September 11th
Smith College Museum of Art [20 Elm St., Northampton, MA 01063] at All Afternoon
Free Second Friday
Come to the stunningly nice museum that we have just right down here in Northampton, but for free and also there are family fun activities and hey why not still donate, come on, you like the art! Seriously, what a nice museum!
Saturday, September 12th
Forbes Library [20 West St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 1:00pm – 3:00pm
Artists’ Reception for Landscape and Waterscape by Joan Anderson, Carmine Angeloni and Jane Morrison
*LONGEST TITLE AWARD* Hey, take a look at a lot of nice pictures, why not? It’s a chance to see a lot of artwork that is beautiful. The artists seem really nice, too. They’ve all done interesting things while also learning to make pictures that look awesome. More information at the gallery website!

Board Games:

Friday, September 11th
Burger King Community Room [344 King St., Northampton, MA 01060] at 6:00pm
Tabletop Game Night
Bring a game you’d like to share with the Pioneer Valley Geeks & Gamers! Beginners are welcome. They mostly play Euro strategy games, but we recommend you bring them something huge and ridiculous and American with 500 little meticulously detailed plastic figures. Take that, Europe!

Books:

Thursday, September 10th
Greenfield Public Library [402 Main St, Greenfield, MA 01301] at 10:00am – 12:00pm
What’s Your Story? Memoir Writing Workshop
Mary Clare Powell will lead a memoir-writing workshop at the Greenfield Public Library beginning September 10th! The 8-week class will be held Thursday Morning. We recommend you use this course as an opportunity to steal the more interesting experiences of your peers in order to weave them into one epic ur-memoir.
Saturday, September 12th
Greenfield Public Library [402 Main St, Greenfield, MA 01301] at 10:00am – 12:00pm
Meet the Editor: George Forcier
Meet the Editor of the Recorder, George Forcier! Refreshments will be provided. Otherwise, this event is a mystery! We’d like to imagine that this will give you the opportunity you need to become fast friends with this kindly-seeming local newspaperman! Over refreshments.
Greenfield Public Library [402 Main St, Greenfield, MA 01301] at 10:00am – 1:30pm
Fall Book Sale
Between attempts to charm George Forcier, why not browse some books at the book sale? It will be held in the stacks in the library basement. Hardcovers are $2 a piece, paperbacks just a $1. Pay whatever you’d like though! It all goes to support the library. Also if you bring a cloth bag you can FILL it for $1! WOW! Do not bring an enormous car-sized cloth bag and steal all the books.

Comics:

Sunday, September 13th
Modern Myths [34 Bridge Street #4, Northampton, MA 01060] 1:00pm – 3:00pm
Comic Creator’s Jam
Have you any interest in making a comic book, traveler? Jam-packed with japes and images to fascinate the minds of children and adults alike? Enter, then, and visit with some real nice folks who make comics and live in a town near you! Talk about comic stuff! Writers, artists, inkers, letterers, all are welcome!

Computers:

Friday, September 11th – Sunday, September 13th
UMass Hotel and Conference Center [1 Campus Center Way, Amherst, MA 01002] at 10:00am
NERDSummit 2015
The big one! The best one! The pinnacle of summits! Learn with the local tech community at a three-day conference of talks, workshops, coding challenges, food, and fun! It’s really a great time as far as we can tell, wish we could make it. Go take a look if you’re interested in computers, why don’t you?
Saturday, September 12th
UMass Hotel and Conference Center [1 Campus Center Way, Amherst, MA 01002] at 10:00am
Project Management Meetup
We guess this happens at the same time as the NERDSummit? Anyway! Do you manage projects? Well, talk to other people who manage projects and learn how to manage projects better, so you have an easier time of it.

Entertainment:

Wednesday, September 9th
MassMutual Center [1277 Main St., Springfield, MA 01103] at 6:30
Sonia Sotomayor
Holy moly everyone! We kind of forgot that the Law-Knowers could descend from the Law Temple and speak to us, mere Law-Mortals! Seriously though, wow! A chance to meet one of the glittering immortals we’ve chosen to interpret the constitutionality of our fumbling attempts at legislation. And it’s one of the cooler glittering immortals, too. RBG is obviously the coolest. Submit questions to info@springfieldpublicforum.com, there is general admission first-come, first-serve seating!
Friday, September 11th
Modern Myths [34 Bridge Street #4, Northampton, MA 01060] 6:00pm – 9:00pm
13th Anniversary Party
Join the fine people at Modern Myths Northampton for their 13th Anniversary Party! Good word! Thirteen dang years, and still going strong. Not just strong, strong enough to give you a party with door prizes, pizza, soft drinks and CUPCAKES from Cafe Evolution in Florence!
Saturday, September 12th
Forbes Library [20 West St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 10:00am – 10:45am
Forbes Library Tour
Forbes Library is amazing! Lots of cool services and collections all in a giant old building that is pretty. But, it’s also so huge and intimidating that it’s tough to navigate for the novice. Join a group for a guided tour! Preregristration is appreciated, but not required. But, you know. It’s appreciated. Preregister with btabor@forbeslibrary.org. Meet in the front lobby!
Forbes Library [20 West St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 10:00am – 10:45am
Forbes Library Tour
Forbes Library is amazing! Lots of cool services and collections all in a giant old building that is pretty. But, it’s also so huge and intimidating that it’s tough to navigate for the novice. Join a group for a guided tour! Preregristration is appreciated, but not required. But, you know. It’s appreciated. Preregister with btabor@forbeslibrary.org. Meet in the front lobby!
Forbes Library [20 West St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 1:00pm – 3:00pm
Forbes Doctor Who Club
Would you like to spend some time traveling through space on Doctor William H. Who’s whimsical flying phone-booth? Why not hang out with other people who share you appreciation for the show that taught us all how shiny it was to boldly go where no man has gone before. May the force be with you, by Grabthar’s hammer!
Sunday, September 13th
Wistiriahurst Museum [238 Cabot St, Holyoke, MA 01040] at 2:00 – 3:30pm
Seasonal Teas: Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in the Rose Garden
Celebrate the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland! Don your most eminently mad cap, or create one when you arrive! The rose gardens are open, and there’s a lovely tea party with croquet, crafts, and special guests. Tea, lemonade, and treats included! There’s $15 general admission, $12 for members, $10 for children 10 and under.

RPGs:

Saturday, September 12th
Comics n’ More [31 Union Street, Easthampton MA 01027] at 1:00pm – 5:00pm
Public RPG: Pathfinder Pirates
Pathfinder pirates! What pirate should you pretend to pathfind as? The best pirate, obviously. But which pirate is the best pirate? We searched ‘the best pirate’ online and it came up with Black Bart! Welsh, suave, ruthless. Role-playing a Welsh person is kind of like role-playing an English person only you’re the butt of more jokes.
Comics n’ More [31 Union Street, Easthampton MA 01027] at 5:00pm – 8:00pm
Public RPG: Dungeons & Dragons
A special one-session D&D module hand-crafted by the staff at Comics N’ More! We’d like to take a moment to recommend that if you are playing D&D, you avoid standard combat at all costs. Frustrate the GM by using all the weird fantasy items at your disposal rather than just a sword-bash! Pre-made characters are provided, hosted by Lex Mandrake!

Science:

Wednesday, September 9th
Forbes Library [20 West St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 5:00pm – 6:30pm
What Kids Want to Know about Sex and Growing Up
Join Brooke Norton for a free public screening of this movie! Brooke Norton is a Certified Sex Educator, and she’s studying to be a Sex Therapist at UMass Boston’s Family Therapy program. This is an opportunity for kids and adults to learn more about science stuff that everyone kind of feels uncomfortable talking about, but that we should probably still talk about! There’s also free pizza.
Saturday, September 12th – Sunday, November 22nd
Historic Deerfield [84B Old Main St., Deerfield, MA 01342] at 12:00pm – 4:30pm
Archaeology Lab
Archaeology is a science for action scientists! Adventurers! Well, adventurers whose adventure is mostly in the travel planning, and who then spend a truly distressing number of hours gently brushing at things. Mostly those things turn out to be rocks. But sometimes not! Take your kids to learn about the science of archaeology and get their hands dirty with some neat artifact activities!

Video Games:

Friday, September 11th
Forbes Library [20 West St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 3:30pm – 4:30pm
Minecraft Club
Man who would have guess the Minecraft would become the single toy that every child plays with perpetually? It’s so great but also odd. Kids are electrical-engineering calculators inside of a computer game for fun and that is awesome. Please bring your own log-in, and sign up at the children’s circulation desk! For more info: click here.