August 10th – August 16th

XMen44CoverThe Valley Nerd Watch!

We have a big announcement this week! So you all love Nerd Nite Northampton because it’s a good time where you drink and socialize and get to hear about interesting things, right? Right, agreed. Well done, we’re starting off on solid footing.

Well, Mo is leaving. Mo, the person who does Nerd Nite! That’s terrible! Yes! It’s the worst, weeping and gnashing your teeth is the appropriate reaction to this news. Let it all out. But wait! There’s great news that will turn around your mood!

Ebru, the person who has brilliantly and selflessly assisted with Nerd Nite, and is responsible for all the really nice pictures of the event, is going to step up and take the reins of Nerd Nite! She’s great, and this is great. But there’s EVEN BETTER news!

Our lovely founder James is going to partner up with Ebru to make Nerd Nite even better! James is super into talking to a captive audience, so he’s going to MC the events from now on. He’s also going to be helping out Ebru with things like putting up flyers and finding speakers! It will be pretty wonderful!

So what we’re saying is that if you haven’t already gone to Nerd Nite a bunch, you should start! It’s only going to get better with two nerds at the helm!

Come see Nerd Nite at Eastworks tomorrow at 7:00pm! It’s going to be a chat about prison populations and the dangers of overuse of technology. It will be an excellent, interesting time!

This is the last day you’ve got left to get a discount on the very excellent RPG Questlandia! Developed by local notables Hannah Shaffer and Evan Rowland, you definitely will enjoy it! It’s a good time with friends, a cooperative GM-less RPG that’s simple to pick up and play.

Remember, the ~*Weekly Events*~ page exists and it was recently updated! It loves you and it misses you! Also look at the Book Club list!



Tuesday, August 11th
Edwards Public Library [30 East St, Southampton, MA 01073] at 6:30pm – 7:30pm
Fairy Houses
Build houses for the wee people of the forest! Trap them in a maze of the familiar in order to extract their mysterious power! Warp their wills to your own, constructing an army fit to bring the mundane world to heel! Bring a small box as a base.

Board Games:

Sunday, August 16th
Greenfield Games [228 Main St Greenfield, MA 01301] at 1:00pm – 4:00pm
Star Trek Attack Wing OP Event: “Peak Performance”
We love games in fictional settings because they’re inevitably just real silly seeming. Strategema, 3D chess, Quidditch, they’re all just poorly designed and boring. Because obviously the writers are writing adventures, not designing board games. Anyway! Go to Greenfield Games and try to prove your crew is operating at “peak performance” by defeating the Federation’s most powerful flagship with a salvaged Constellation class that doesn’t have a functional warp drive! Should be fun! Read the rules for this game here!

Card Games:

Saturday, August 15th
Off the Wall Games [41 Russell Street, Hadley, MA 01035] at Mystery Time
Magic The Gathering PPTQ
Hang out and play Magic the Gathering at Off the Wall Games! Should be a fun time. More details are coming according to the website, but we’re pretty certain that we can figure it out. Pretty Princess Training Quest? Pleasantly Plump Time Quakes? Private Prowling Triplet Queens? It’s gotta be one of them, right? There are probably prizes!


Monday, August 10th
Forbes Library [20 West St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 6:30pm – 8:30pm
Land of the Free Movie Screening
The Northampton Committee to Stop War presents a free screening of Land of the Free followed by a discussion of the film with Lois Ahrens from the Real Cost of Prison project! Learn new, probably quite depressing things! Maybe work toward positive change after you learn sad things!
Sunday, August 16th
The Platinum Pony [30 Cottage St, Easthampton, MA 01027] at 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Movie Night: The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games universe is really kind of a surprise hit. If you’d asked us “Nerd Watch: what are teens all about?” a few years ago we’d have definitely said malls, kisses, and cell phones. We would not have said terrifying moral quandries, forced murder, and the horrific aftereffects of total war. Teens are darker than we realized!


Monday, August 10th
Comics n’ More [31 Union Street, Easthampton MA 01027] at 3:00pm – 7:00pm
Public RPG: Dungeons & Dragons
Dungeons and Dragons! Hosted by Neal Robinson. It’s the 5th Edition, which seems to be striking a bit of a sweet spot in terms of balancing role-play and decent combat mechanics. Though we really recommend focusing on the role-playing regardless. It’s easy to get sucked into 10 hours of D&D combat, but role-playing makes for much more entertaining stories!
Thursday, August 13th
Comics n’ More [31 Union Street, Easthampton MA 01027] at 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Public RPG: Edge of the Empire
WAIT how did we not know the PREMISE here? This is an alternate-universe setting! Set just after A New Hope, in a universe where Vader just cracked Luke’s X-Wing cockpit with the Force, killing him and saving the Death Star. Delightful. Tim Shields hosts as players enter this dark universe as mercenaries working for a Hutt on the planet Gavos. Pre-made characters are available and new players are welcome!
Saturday, August 15th
Comics n’ More [31 Union Street, Easthampton MA 01027] at 1:00pm – 5:00pm
Public RPG: D&D 5th Edition
Stop by Comics N’ More to play N’ More D&D on the weekend! This one sounds fun, it’s a one-session module hand-crafted by the hard working and extremely nerdy staff at Comics N’ More and hosted by Lex Mandrake. Justify their writing off creating a D&D module as “work” by attending! New players are welcome, pre-made characters are provided!
Sunday, August 16th
Modern Myths [34 Bridge Street #4, Northampton, MA 01060] at 1:00pm – 5:00pm
Sagas of the Icelanders
An exciting new game! This sounds really neat. It’s a game about the first Norse Settlers of Iceland, a country that still has about 17 people total, which should give you an idea of how difficult it was to colonize. Challenge social norms! Get into bloody feuds! Survive a winter that puts Game of Thrones to shame! Tell your saga! Powered by the Apocalypse, a system developed in our Happy Valley! Admission is a $5 day pass that immediately becomes store credit. Pre-made characters are provided!


Monday, August 10th
Sunderland Public Library [20 School Street, Sunderland, MA 01375] at 2:00pm – 3:00pm and 3:00pm – 4:00pm
Blizzards: Outwit the Elements
There’s only one defense we have against the elements: our wits! Without or sharp senses of humor and elegant comedic timing we’d be defenseless. Luckily, cold is a sucker for a well-constructed bon mot. Visit the Sunderland Public Library to check out a neat presentation about engineering a house to withstand harsh weather! It’s appropriate for ages 5 and up.
Sunderland Public Library [20 School Street, Sunderland, MA 01375] at 7:00pm – 8:00pm
Teens and Tweens Board Game Night
Are you the sort of Indoor Kid who likes board games? Meet fellow nerds at this event in the library! Make pals, play games, have a whale of a time with fellow tweens. Look, we don’t know what tweens get up to these days, but can we recommend Pandemic? It’s fun. This event is for grades 5th – 8th!
Eastworks [116 Pleasant St, Easthampton, MA 01027] at 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Nerd Nite Northampton
Nerd Nite! Our founder James is going to MC this one! It’ll be really neat! First, Locked Up, but Not Locked Out: Juvenile Offenders Building Better Lives by Gwynne Morriessey, who has a Ph.D. in Education Policy. Then, the Real Killer App: How Today’s Tech Diminishes Our Lives. How Gadgets are messing with your social life! By Mo Lotman of The Technoskeptic.
Wedneday, August 12th
Earth in General [Anywhere dark, really!] at Very Late Night/Early Morning if it is Clear
The Perseid Meteor Shower
Experience the mystery and wonder of visible evidence that we are on a rock and that rock is moving through space! It’s wonderful and beautiful and we really can’t recommend it enough. Stay up, be a bit woozy at work tomorrow. How often do you get to witness dozens of shooting stars?

Video Games:

Wednesday, August 12th
Forbes Library [20 West St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 3:00pm – 4:00pm
Minecraft Club
Play Minecraft with other kids! Learn how to do really neat things, like how to make complex electrical devices with Redstone. Good times all around. The fine people at Northampton Community Television will be visiting the Club this week to film a short promo video and talk to people about the club! Participation in the filming is optional.


July 13th – July 19th


The Valley Nerd Watch!

It’s not strictly in the purview of the Nerd Watch, but we’d like to express a deep, deep envy of the people who were at Green River Festival this weekend. We were unable to attend and danged if that is not a fun time for all and sundry. Also wait it might be in our purview, we remember seeing the extremely nerdy Cosmic Wimpout there last time we were in attendance!

While we’re stuck at a mysterious location far from the Green River festival, we figured we might as well tell you about yet another awesome local hero creative type! Have you perhaps heard of Joshua AC Newman?

He’s done a heck of a lot! The first we heard of him was the runaway success that was the extremely neat Kickstarted tabletop miniatures wargame Mobile Frame Zero: Rapid Attack. He worked on the project with yet another local gaming luminary: Vincent Baker of Lumpley Games. Together they managed to raise over $80,000 from eager backers to make the game a real thing!

The neatest part of Mobile Frame Zero is that it has the world’s cheapest cool-looking miniatures! Instead of purchasing little plastic and metal bits to paint, players are provided with instructions for assembling really cool little mini-robots out of leftover LEGO parts! Obviously you COULD use expensive models, but the LEGO ones just look real neat. Also the rules are extremely streamlined and approachable while being deep enough to encourage thoughtful play. A real awesome sort of a thing!

We’re pretty sure his current standing magnum opus is the sci-fi RPG Shock: Social Science Fiction, though. It’s a big, cool looking book full of interesting concepts like having players create a world together, and play both protagonists and antagonists! It’s also, not for nothing, basically the reason local creator Hannah Shaffer started making really interesting RPGs! The slightly pared-down Shock: Human Contact, is more directly focused on the idea of making contact with new worlds, and you play as Black Ops Anthropologists working for a future Federation-style utopia.

Joshua is also currently drawing weird aliens and talking about their various interesting cultural facets on the website Xenoglyph! If you’d like to help him keep coming up with fantastical concepts and making them a reality, support his Patreon!

Or buy his stuff at those previous links. Click those links, we can tell when you don’t and we get disappointed in you. Not angry! We just expected better is all.

As always, be sure to check out the Weekly Events page! There are a lot of fun things happening this and every week!  And check out our new Book Clubs section! useful for those of you who read books and want to talk about them!



Friday, July 17th
The Platinum Pony [30 Cottage St, Easthampton, MA 01027] at 6:00pm
Dr. Sketchy’s: Teddy Roosevelt, Zombie Slayer. Feat. HP Loveshaft.
Are you an artist? Why not practice your figure drawing in the most awesome possible manner? You’ll be able to pick up supplies from Dr. Sketchy’s, although you should also bring your own! Model HP Loveshaft will be dressed as famed Zombie Slayer, Teddy Roosevelt. This might be digging slightly too deep into the nerd zeitgeist, everyone. Don’t stare too long into the abyss! You can also win prizes from Topatoco, Oh My!, and FOE Gallery. It costs $7 if you’re 21+, $10 if you’re 18+, and you can’t come if you’re not at least 18.
Forbes Library [20 West St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 2:30pm – 3:30pm
Decorate Your Own Library Bag
Do you get so many books from the library that you have difficulty carrying them? You sound great, we should hang out and talk about books. BUT ALSO you should head down to Forbes and decorate a little library bag! You get one just for showing up, and when you inscribe your own eldritch runes upon it, there will be no power on Earth with the will to stand against you!

Board Games:

Friday, July 17th
Off the Wall Games [41 Russell Street, Hadley, MA 01035]  at 6:00pm
Pioneer Valley Geeks and Gamers Meetup Tabletop Game Night
Join the PVG&G as they play board games! Mostly they do Euro-style strategy games, which mostly are distinguished by having tiny abstract pieces of wood representing absolutely everything. Bring your own game if you’d like, beginners and veterans welcome!
Off the Wall Games [41 Russell Street, Hadley, MA 01035]  at 6:00pm
Heroclix Academy
At this 400 point constructed event, you’ll be restricted to fielding only Rookie heroes! The Heroclix Academy teaches some harsh lessons, folks. Laser blasts DO have recoil, super strength doesn’t mean you can pick up a plane so much as it does that you can punch through it, glasses are not a sufficient secret identity, and so forth. Put you rookies through the wringer for an entry fee of $5!
Sunday, July 19th
X9 Games [Hampshire Mall, 367 Russell St, Hadley, MA 01035] at 1:00pm
Dice Masters Rainbow Drafts
Dice Masters! It is a game we’d never previously encountered, but seems pretty neat. Basically it’s a deck-building game where your deck is composed of collectible dice! So you try to build up a powerful team of people with unique dice, and then combat your opponent via dice rolls. The tournament will have a $12 entry fee, and you’ll get 12 packs to draft with!
Greenfield Games [228 Main St Greenfield, MA 01301] at 1:00pm
D&D Attack Wing: Tyranny of Dragons Month Five Tournament
Two armies meet on a windswept field. Humans, elves, dragons, vulcans, normans, the personal assistants to the tyrranid horde, sea cucumbers orcs. Everyone’s there to fight a big old pitched battle and you can win prizes if you lead your team to victory! It’s $20 to enter.


Tuesday, July 14th
Greenfield Public Library [402 Main St, Greenfield, MA 01301] at 6:30pm – 8:00pm
To Kill a Mockingbird: The Long Silence of Harper Lee
So hey you know how Harper Lee pretty much wrote one enormously important novel and then dropped the mic? That’s been a mystery for a while! Why’d she do that, and why is the new novel Go Set a Watchman being published after such a long silence? We’re kind of concerned it’s a weird publisher cash-grab. Come see Barry Deitz explain this book mystery if you too are intrigued!

Card Games:

Saturday, July 18th
Lost Harbor Games and Hobbies [61 Southwick Road Westfield, MA 01085] at 1:00pm
Magic: The Gathering Origins Release Draft
Magic The Gathering, the game of wolves. Head over to Lost Harbor for an opportunity to draft with the newest cards! A draft tournament in the standard Swiss format, so everyone plays 3 rounds. Three wins means you get 6 booster packs, two wins and a tie means you get 4, two wins and a loss means you get 2! It costs $12 to enter.
Off the Wall Games [41 Russell Street, Hadley, MA 01035] at All Day
Magic: The Gathering Origins Release Weekend
Ahhh, Magic: The Gathering. The game of jet-setting retirees. This event costs $25 to enter! We’re not certain the format or literally any other details. We assume it means you’ll get some brand new cards and a chance to play against other great people!
Sunday, July 19th
Lost Harbor Games and Hobbies [61 Southwick Road Westfield, MA 01085] at 1:00pm
Magic: The Gathering Origins Release Standard
We’ve always said Magic: The Gathering is the game of sommeliers. You can head to Lost Harbor this weekend to play with the newest cards! It costs $5 to enter, and all participants get a free release day promo card! First place gets 9 Origins booster packs! Standard deck format, which means only the newest cards!
Off the Wall Games [41 Russell Street, Hadley, MA 01035] at All Day
Magic: The Gathering Origins Release Weekend
No one knows better than us that Magic: The Gathering is the game of presidents. Again, $25 to enter this mystery tournament. It’s entirely possible that Off the Wall Games holds their tournaments in Outworld, and that they decide the fate of our realm. So play your best!


Thursday, July 16th
Modern Myths [34 Bridge Street #4, Northampton, MA 01060] at 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Queers in Comics and Games Discussion
Are you interested in comic books and/or games? Then this discussion group will probably make you pretty happy! It is full of extremely nice people, and moderated by the great as heck staff of Modern Myths. It’s a great place to go for media recommendations and just for hanging out with people who are awesome!
Palmer Public Library [1455 North Main Street, Palmer, MA 01069] at 2:00pm – 3:00pm
Make Your Own Superhero/Supervillain Mask
Pretty bold allowing child SuperVILLAINS into your library, Palmer! We suppose the presence of heroes might keep them from causing too much of a ruckus, but it still seems very unsafe. We suggest for your own safety that if you attend this event you ask each of the children there what powers they have, to get a lay of the land.
Sunday, July 18th
Jones Library [43 Amity St, Amherst, MA 01002] at 10:30am – 12:00pm
Drawing Super Heroes
Illustrator Lahri Bond leads a workshop about drawing superheroes! Get those frantic imaginings out of your brainscape and onto the page! Registration is required, so contact Sondra Radosh at!


Thursday, July 16th
Amherst Media [246 College St, Amherst, MA 01002] at 6:00pm
Western MA Drupal Meetup
Join fellow Drupal developers and talk about things related to Drupal! Mostly we assume many of those discussions revolve around the fact that Drupal is a very silly name. Also, if every interaction with everyone in the CS field we’ve ever met is any indication, probably a great deal of talking about how other methodologies are just the worst.
Friday, July 17th
Packard’s Bar – Library Room [14 Masonic St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 8:00pm
Northampton Webdive – After Dark
Do you code, create, develop? You’ll probably have a fun time drinking and talking with this group of lovely people who meet regularly! Plus we’re pretty sure the After Dark Webdive is the one where they show you how to righteously hack the Gibson.


Tuesday, July 14th
Palmer Public Library [1455 North Main Street, Palmer, MA 01069] at 2:00pm – 3:00pm
Ed the Wizard’s Magic Workshop
Allow Ed the Wizard to introduce your children, grades 3-5, to the wonder of the Subtle Arts! Manipulate the fabric of reality to conform to your fickle whims, children! You must pre-register, but think of the power at your command once you do! Contact Rich Clark at


Monday, July 13th
Forbes Library [20 West St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 6:30pm – 8:30pm
Northampton Committee to Stop War presents film “Harvest of Grief”
Forbes will present a film that is a labor love and compassion by Ms. Rasil Basu. The filmmaker herself will attend to speak to the audience! Harvest of Grief focuses on Indian agricultural politics and the wave of worker suicides sparked by the impossible burdens placed upon them by the globalized agricultural trade.
Wednesday, July 15th
Cinemark at Hampshire Mall [367 Russell St, Hadley, MA 01035] at 6:30pm
The Western Mass Sci-Fi Meetup Group Spaceballs Viewing
Join the fine folks of the WMSF meetup group as they view the comedic classic that combines dad jokes and Star Wars! You can RSVP on their page, and meet up before heading into the theater. Get tickets ahead of time! Discussion and drinks will occur after the film.


Monday, July 13th
Comics n’ More [31 Union Street, Easthampton MA 01027] at 3:00pm – 7:00pm
Public RPG: Dungeons & Dragons
Dungeons & Dragons, the Old Reliable, the Bog Standard, the Was Innovative, the Easily Made Fun Of But Still Very Comfortable. For real, the nice part about D&D is how comfy it is. Everyone kind of gets it, because it plays the way people expect RPGs to play. And that’s kind of great a lot of the time! Join this game with pre-rolled characters whenever you like! They’ll slot you in and out of the adventure on your schedule.
Thursday, July 16th
Comics n’ More [31 Union Street, Easthampton MA 01027] at 6:00pm – 8:00pm
Public RPG: Edge of the Empire
Are you a fan of Star Wars? Then we imagine you mourn the loss of the Extended Universe canon. Start rebuilding that vast world with your own stories! You can use pre-rolled characters to hop in and start having your adventures in Space Past!
Saturday, July 18th
Comics n’ More [31 Union Street, Easthampton MA 01027] at 1:00pm – 4:00pm
Questlandia Demo
Questlandia! A local game by local creator and all-around wonderful person Hannah Shaffer. Players construct together the story of a decaying fantasy empire in this innovative GM-less RPG! It’s a great time and EVEN BETTER this demo is going to be hosted by Questlandia expert Hannah Shaffer! So you know it’ll be a fun time!
Modern Myths [34 Bridge Street #4, Northampton, MA 01060] at 4:00pm – 7:00pm
Night’s Black Agents RPG
Spies! Secrets! Guns! Intrigue! Vampires! Basically you play as awesome secret agents who find out they’ve accidentally been doing dirty work for dirty bloodsuckers. Then… comes the Action Revenge! Thrilling supernatural spycraft, with what sounds like a quite fun system underpinning the whole thing. Sneak into Modern Myths this weekend to see for yourself!
Sunday, July 19th
Modern Myths [34 Bridge Street #4, Northampton, MA 01060] at 1:00pm – 5:00pm
Pathfinder Society Organized Play
Pathfinder Society seems immensely, impossibly gigantic. So many hours! But then, if you get to have awesome adventures every week, it’s probably less a burden that a super cool time. Are you interested in playing a member of a treasure-hunting team? Join up with the crowd at Modern Myths!


Monday, July 13th
Union Station [125 Pleasant St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Nerd Nite
The first topic: Climate Change presented by Julie Brigham-Grette, professor of geosciences at UMass Amherst, chair of the US Polar Research Board. Probably sad and scary, but also accurate! Next topic: Unexpected heroes of your rivers. How Nixon’s clean water act helped clean up water. Presented by Andrew Fisk, Ph.D., Executive director of the Connecticut River Watershed Council. Learn about environmentalism! Become smarter than you were!
Wednesday, July 15th
Palmer Public Library [1455 North Main Street, Palmer, MA 01069] at 6:30pm
Backyard Wildlife with Jennifer Ohop
Join Jennifer Ohop from the Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary as she talks about tips on attracting and identifying species that use backyard habitats! Expose yourself to the natural wonders nearby, and marvel at the fact that there are actually more creatures out there than Deer, That One Bear, and Birds.


Tuesday, July 14th *NEW WEEKLY EVENT*
The Platinum Pony [30 Cottage St, Easthampton, MA 01027] at 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Trivia Tuesday
Trivia is back at the Platinum Pony! Teams of 1-5 can compete for cash prizes! There’s an open kitchen, too. So you can have snacks and such. Get together your most widely traveled friends and get some money by answering questions! If you’re under 18 you need to be accompanied by adult, and it’s $5 per person.

Speaking With Hannah Shaffer of Owl and Raven

hannah-bio-picHannah Shaffer is a local creator who’s been living and working in the Valley for several years. She’s one of the minds behind the lovely community space The Owl and Raven, as well as half of the team that created the innovative fantasy-quest game Questlandia.

She’s currently hard at work producing a game about migraines called 14 Days, which James is looking forward to seeing in print because he has and despises migraines. The more people who play a game that gives them some idea of how terrible they are, the higher the likelihood people won’t hassle him about doing stuff on a Bad Day.

James Olchowski: Hello, Hannah! Thanks for talking to the Nerd Watch today.

Hannah Shaffer: Thanks for having me!

JO: Did you grow up in the Valley?

HS: I didn’t! I’m originally from California and spent my teen years in southeastern Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia. I came here for college and decided to put down roots after graduating.


Illustration by Evan Rowland, from Questlandia

JO: What drew you to the area?

HS: I really wanted to go to a school surrounded by a walkable, friendly town. The Valley seemed to offer a nice mix of weirdness, good food, and forests. I narrowed down my choices to Hampshire College and Smith College, both located in the Valley, and ultimately chose Hampshire because it was the weirder of the two.

JO: Is there anything unique about working in the Valley that you think would be hard to find elsewhere?

HS: Haha. Well…it can be hard to find a job here, for one thing. The flip side is that there are tons of independent creators and game designers here. I think there’s a level of support for the creative arts that might be hard to find elsewhere. Some of that has to do with all of the colleges nearby, but there are also businesses like TopatoCo that draw in creative people.

JO: Do you feel like the direction of your work has been influenced by your time in the Valley?

HS: Definitely! Going to Hampshire, with its interdisciplinary education model, inspired me consider options I might otherwise have passed over. It’s also been great to work in proximity to so many amazing game designers. Being close to other creators has made it that much easier to keep making games, even when the going gets tough.


Illustration by Evan Rowland, from Questlandia

JO: Have you played role-playing games all your life?

HS: Nope. I actually came to RPGs late in the game, a few years after graduating from college. I’ve always been big into computer games, but tabletop games seemed really mysterious. I knew there were groups of people who played tabletop RPGs together, but I didn’t know how to connect with them.

JO: What was it that got you into playing RPGs?

HS: It was a weird set of circumstances! When my partner Evan Rowland and I opened the Owl & Raven Community Space in 2011, a big group of local game designers showed up on opening day.

Someone in the group had apparently read about the event on a New York City vegan message board so…we still have no idea exactly how that happened. We talked about our mutual love of games, I confessed that I’d never actually played a roleplaying game, and the rest is happy history.

JO: What made you decide that you’d like to design a game?

HS: I had been struggling to design a computer game for a few years and it wasn’t really going anywhere. The game was about finding community in a post-collapse world, but playing it was such an isolating experience. As I started playing more RPGs, I realized that this was the medium I wanted to design in. Face-to-face, paper and pencil, at a table with friends.

questlandia-cover-image-newJO: Your first game, Questlandia, is compact but ambitious. It basically asks players to roleplay not only themselves, but the world in which they’re playing. Why did you decide to make the game’s scope so large?

HS: Haha. I think many people who set out to design their first game find that the project just keeps getting bigger and bigger. Originally, I wanted Questlandia to be a straightforward fantasy quest game. As I started playtesting, I found that players rarely had a chance to start their quests before the world spiraled out of control around them.

The more I thought about that, the more I liked it. So, it eventually became a game where you get to do a lot of expansive world-building in a kingdom that will inevitably fall to pieces.

JO: Before you started on Questlandia, what RPGs had you played?

HS: Some of the first RPGs I played and enjoyed were: Shock: Human Contact by Joshua A.C. Newman, Shooting the Moon by Emily Care Boss, and The Drifter’s Escape by Ben Lehman. Microscope and Fiasco came in the second wave!

JO: Can you describe what it was about playing these games that kept you interested, coming back to the table?

That’s a great question. RPGs often play with big emotions (like fear, attraction, suspense, hysterical laughter). Sitting down at a table and playing out these emotions can be really intense, and also really rewarding. I kept coming back for those tender moments, and for all of the awesome storytelling.

human-contact-rpg-joshua-newmanJO: Did you discover anything during the development of Questlandia that affected the path you took with it? A game with a key concept you liked, a story that resonated?

HS: I think the biggest thing is the “falling to pieces” I mentioned above. It didn’t start out as a game about collapsing kingdoms, but that’s what it turned into. The idea of these rapidly escalating kingdom troubles was something Evan and I really ran with as we developed the game.

JO: Questlandia is a DMless game, all of the players are on equal footing in terms of telling the story, what drove that decision?

HS: As someone who’s still relatively new to RPGs, I really like the idea of a game that a group of friends can grab on a whim and decide to run together, with everyone sharing responsibilities equally. I decided to take Questlandia in that direction in the hopes it would feel more accessible to new roleplayers, and would attract players who like highly cooperative RPGs.

DM or GM-less games can be tricky, because they ask a lot of the players. Fortunately, some require less preparation than others. Questlandia is definitely a higher prep example, but I like that it gives each player a chance to step into the GMing role.

JO: If you were to describe Questlandia using games with which more people are familiar, how would you describe it?

HS: Hmm. People are really good at drawing comparisons. It’s like a human superpower! I’ve seen other people compare it to games like Fiasco, Microscope, Quiet Year, and Archipelago, shows like Attack on Titan and Avatar Last Airbender, and Piers Anthony’s Xanth novels. So, that’s my totally unhelpful answer. 🙂

JO: What makes Questlandia unique?

HS: I’d say the world building. It’s really good at generating weird fantasy worlds that are very different from what you’d find in more traditional Tolkien-style fantasy.

At the start of the game, you learn your kingdom’s ambition and troubles. For example, “Our kingdom loves Science and we’ve got a serious Wealth problem and a minor Health problem.” From there, players suggest kingdom features and norms based on what they already know. You immediately hear things like “What if our cool scientific technology is powered by solar gemstones?” Then another player will add, “Yeah! and a giant shadow has appeared in front of the sun, so the gems aren’t producing, thus contributing to our Wealth problem.”

There’s room for elves and dwarves in there, but they usually end up being cat-plant-hybrid-elves, or authoritarian robot dwarves.

JO: What was the biggest challenge you faced putting together Questlandia? Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

HS: Layout design! It was the first time either Evan or I had worked with InDesign, and we picked a really challenging layout for the book, where the rules on the right line up with an “actual play” transcript on the left. It was a neat experiment, but I’m not sure if I’d have the mental stamina to do it again.

side-by-side-layoutJO: Your current game, 14 Days, is based around the experience of migraine sufferers. What led you to that subject matter?

HS: I’ve had migraines for many years. In my experience, migraines are often misunderstood by folks who don’t get them, which makes it hard for migraine sufferers to communicate just how debilitating they can be. I wanted to design a tool to help migraine sufferers, especially new migraine sufferers, better communicate the experience to others.

JO: What do you hope other people will get out of playing 14 Days?

HS: I hope the game can help facilitate difficult conversations about pain. If a teenager whose parents don’t understand migraines can help communicate what they’re going through using this game, the work will have been worth it.

JO: 14 Days seems like a game with a smaller scope and physical size. Has this made it any easier to build and test?

HS: Yes and no. It’s definitely a smaller game than Questlandia, so the design process has been quicker from start-to-finish. It’s also a game that takes less than an hour to play, so it’s been easier to rally playtesters.

On the other hand, it’s more of a board game, where Questlandia is a book-based roleplaying game. That means Evan and I have had to do lots of new research around how to package and ship the game, where to source pieces from, and how to balance cost with quality.

14-days-small-coverJO: When can people expect to find this cool new game?

HS: We should be launching our Kickstarter before the end of June, sometime in the next two weeks! If folks want to follow updates, they can check out or follow me on Twitter at @hanbandit.

Thanks, Valley Nerd Watch! Keep on being awesome!

JO: Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions!

Be on the lookout for that 14 Days Kickstarter, Watchers! We’ll obviously let you know when it begins, as well.

If you’re interested in checking out the Co-Working Space at Owl and Raven, we totally recommend it! For the sort of professional who likes to spend time in the company of other people while clicking away on a laptop but doesn’t like to be in the middle of a coffee shop all day, it is ideal.

If you haven’t already clicked the links and bought Questlandia, we really highly recommend that you do. It’s a beautiful book, compact, has an innovative (and time-intensive, apparently!) design that makes it easy to read, and it’s a wonderful introduction to role playing for new players or break from the traditional for old hands.

Speaking With Evan Rowland of Small Fly Games

MainMenuBG-3-31-15Today, we’re speaking with local game designer Evan Rowland, both about his life as a designer and about his newest work: Goblin Diplomat. Goblin Diplomat is a unique conversation-based roguelike about trying not to be murdered by xenophobic humans.

James Olchowski: Did you grow up in the Valley?

Evan Rowland: I grew up on the northern coast of Massachusetts. My hometown was similar to Northampton, except with more emphasis on fish. I came out here for Hampshire College, and have generally been here since.

JO: Is there anything about working in the Valley that you don’t think you could find elsewhere?

ER: I’m working at the Owl and Raven co-working space, and I doubt I could find a place more cozy, social, and filled with game designers. There’s a surprising concentration of game designers in the Valley, and if I hadn’t collided with them, I’d be living a different life.

JO: How long have you been designing games?

ER: The earliest games I can remember designing were custom maps for Starcraft. That’s maybe 16 years ago? It took me a long time to think of myself as a game designer, though. My hope of making a living with games is about 4 years old.

JO: Has becoming a game designer been a lifelong dream, or is this something new for you?

ER: My lifelong dream was to be an astronaut. Before turning 20, I decided to be a mathematician, then an editor for PC Gamer magazine, then an animator, then back to mathematics, then a teacher. I wish somebody had told me, “make games!” because it seems very obvious to me now. It combines my interests in math, art, communication, drama… But making independent games just didn’t occur to me until later in life.

JO: Where do your own gaming interests lie? Is there anything you’re playing right now that you love?

ER: The board game, Go, is my lifelong gaming love. But there are so many games, roleplaying, board, and video, that I’ve loved. I could talk about them forever. I’ve been playing a lot of XCOM lately, the modern remake of one of my childhood favorites.

JO: What’s one game you think more people need to play?

ER: Let me break it down by the medium.

Board game: Go. It’s a beautiful game, heart-breakingly unknown in the west. I’ve run a number of Go clubs, and taught at least a hundred people to play. It’s a very philosophical game, it can reshape your perspective on life!

Roleplaying game: Vast and Starlit, by Epidiah Ravachol. It’s a space adventure saga, with rules that literally fit onto a business card. It expresses the power of the roleplaying genre – with only a few rules, you can tap the massive creative potential that every player contains.

Video game: Beyond Good and Evil, from 2003, is a thoughtful, heartfelt, and well-designed game that commercially flopped. If it had been a success, maybe we’d see more worldbuilding, great female protagonists, and non-traditional fantasy in mainstream videogames.

WWM_Cover_Feb2015final_nologoJO: Is game design your only creative outlet?

ER: I make art and animation, which aren’t always for games! I also play the piano, and I wish I played well enough to make my own music for games!

JO: What is daily life like as a designer?

ER: Start off by getting to the co-working space, hopefully with lunch in tow. Make a to-do list for the day, including whatever is left over from yesterday, and decide what’s reasonable for the day, and what needs to be put off.

Every day, I try to make at least one drawing, to take care of any communication, and to consult the overall timeline for my games. I’m juggling several different game projects, so there’s usually a meeting or two with different collaborators.

At this point, most of the work looks like carefully editing rules text and drawing goblins. There are always, always more goblins to draw.

JO: I know you worked with Hannah Shaffer on Questlandia, was that primarily as an artist or were you involved with designing the game itself?

ER: I was part of the game design as well! Hannah was the lead designer, but we worked together on every aspect of the rules, the editing, and the book’s layout.

JO: What made you decide to strike out on your own?

ER: I’m still working with Hannah on several game projects, including 14 Days, a game about chronic pain that will be launching a Kickstarter this month. She’s also been an invaluable help in the project management of Goblin Diplomat. No plans to strike out from our collaboration anytime soon!

JO: Why design a computer game rather than something pen-and-paper?

ER: I’m still designing pen-and-paper games! Besides 14 Days, I’ve been working on a hack of the Numenera system, and have a couple other potential projects in the works.

But Goblin Diplomat is designed for the computer. It demands quick thinking and reflexes, and has a complicated set of visuals that I think are best suited to a computer game. It’s fun – there are some very different design decisions in making a computer game. Thinking about user interface, visual animation, sound effects and music, with every aspect interlocked – it’s a great challenge.

JO: Your current game, Goblin Diplomat, is about attempting to navigate conversations. Is there a specific reason you chose that theme?

ER: Just to briefly introduce Goblin Diplomat, it’s a game where you play a goblin tasked with reaching the human king and negotiating a peace between humans and goblins. However, the humans you meet along the way will be suspicious and violent. With only a shaky grasp of the human language, you’ll have to defuse these situations and make friends out of enemies.

As for why the game is all about conversations – it’s a personal decision. Navigating conversations has been something difficult for me since childhood. I think the struggle of communicating clearly, of making a connection with somebody – that’s a familiar subject for me. I can put my heart into the theme of navigating hostility through language, rather than violence or avoidance. I think, when making a game, you have to have a personal investment in it, something that can drive you through the crazy amounts of work it takes to finish the project.

JO: Why did you choose Goblins and medieval fantasy as a setting?gd-gameplay-03ER: Goblins are are known as small, petty, weak, simpering, violent, savage. That’s how you’ll be perceived by the humans in the game. Using goblins means I don’t have to spell all that out. I can just start from that perspective, and show how it looks from the other side – seeing these massive humans, that fear and hate you. It means that every conversation has to start by bridging a terrible prejudice.

JO: Why did you decide to make a roguelike?

ER: Originally, I wanted to make a very traditional roguelike, a dungeon-crawl on a grid. But I wanted one of the classes to be a diplomat, using words to navigate the dungeon. I found I was spending all my time designing that class – it was the only one that really interested me. So the game started morphing around the idea of diplomacy in a hostile setting, eventually becoming what it is now.

One aspect of roguelikes that has been preserved is the idea that when you die, you have to go all the way back to the beginning. That aspect makes death feel actually scary to the player, not something you can just undo. I want you as the player to feel as similar as possible to the goblin you’re playing. So when a farmer pulls out his pitchfork, I want you to actually feel worried!

JO: Why is the focus on avoiding conflict? Most roguelikes are expressly about getting into trouble.

ER: Goblin Diplomat isn’t about avoiding conflict – otherwise you’d never go talk to the humans. It is about avoiding violence, which is the most common strategy in gaming for dealing with conflict. This game is about a different strategy – not fight, not flight, but befriending your enemies, and unraveling the prejudices that made you enemies in the first place.

JO: Have you experienced any significant challenges putting together the game?

ER: Endless challenges! In a game about conversations, you immediately run up against this central problem: Computers aren’t good at making conversation. The go-to strategy in conversation games is to use dialogue trees. In a dialogue tree, you, the player, are given a set of possible things to say, and the game has pre-written responses to each. It’s a very old style of computer-game conversation, and hasn’t really evolved much. Modern games will sometimes have a countdown timer to add a little tension.

That style doesn’t work well with Goblin Diplomat. For one, in a game you’re going to be replaying quite a bit, pre-written dialogue gets old very quickly. Once humans start repeating themselves, it draws you out of the setting immediately.

In addition to that, dialogue trees, even with a timer, don’t express the panic of being in a near-death situation, and are limited in how they can express unfamiliarity with the language. So making the game has involved coming up with a new system for conversation.

There’s also been struggles with programming, with the user interface, with the art direction – nothing has been easy! Except, maybe, the name. That was pretty straightforward.

JO: Has anything about making the game surprised you, or gone in a very different direction than you were initially planning?

2015-04-24-gameplay-05ER: So, I’ve called Goblin Diplomat a conversation-based game a bunch already, but that isn’t really true. That was the initial plan. But in trying to create a system that expressed panicked communication in an unknown language, the game ended up leaving conversations behind entirely.

The game instead focuses on the first moments of each encounter with a human, where the human is deciding whether to call the guards, or kill you themselves. In those moments, you’re wracking your brain, trying to remember the bits of language you’ve learned that might convince this human to do something other than kill you. It’s a frantic search through associated words and memories – maybe if you call yourself a farmer, the human will calm down? But what’s the word for “farmer”? And how is it pronounced?

I thought initially that finding the right word would be a small part of the gameplay, but it’s become the central mechanic of the game.

JO: If you were forced to describe Goblin Diplomat in terms of other games people may have played, how would you describe it?

ER: In one sense, it’s a fast-paced puzzle game like Tetris – you’ll be making quick second-to-second decisions about how to navigate your problems.

In another sense, it’s a challenging roguelike like FTL – you’ll have a series of difficult encounters, any one of which could kill you and force you to try again from the beginning.

In yet another sense, it’s a game about using language in the face of violence – a little like the Insult Sword-Fighting sections of the Monkey Island series.

JO: Of all the games you’ve played, which would you say has created the best conversation system?

ER: Deus Ex: Human Revolution put in a solid effort. It is still using dialogue trees, but gives you the ability to investigate the person beforehand and try to put together what verbal strategy to employ. Alpha Protocol had a similar system.

I’m sure there are better answers, I’m sure there are some games that are trying to revolutionize the conversation system standards, but none are springing to mind.

JO: When is Goblin Diplomat going to be released to an eager public?

ER: It’s scheduled to be Kickstarted this September, with a public demo released simultaneously. The outcome of that fundraising campaign will impact how quickly we can finish the game from there!

JO: What methods are you using to release the game? Will it appear on any services, or will it be available directly from your website?

ER: The goal is to have the game available on a number of online retailers, including Steam, Humble Bundle, and GoG. After the computer release, we’re hoping to get the game onto phones and tablets as well. There are different hoops to jump through for different platforms, but at the very least, the game will be available directly from our website!

JO: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk, Goblin Diplomat sounds like something extremely interesting!

ER: Thanks for the great questions!

May 25th – May 31st


The Valley Nerd Watch!

Hey remember how you’ve always loved Nerd Nite? Well do we have news for you! We’re going to be at Nerd Nite! Excellent! We’ll be giving a talk about comic books, continuity, and why YOU are the final arbiter of what matters!  It’ll be Monday, June 1st at Eastworks! We do request you read this prior to attendance.

Bonus: You will get to see a simply gigantic number of excellent/silly early comic covers and interiors because we have a bunch of them and they are wall-to-wall excellent.

This week we’d like to take a second to direct you to something really neat about the Valley: local creators!

Hannah Shaffer runs the site Make Big Things, and is also a community organizer and game designer who’s currently working on a very neat game called 14 Days about living with migraines that we can unfortunately confirm is really accurate! It’s really impressive that the game is simultaneously a great way to role-play your way to sympathy and understanding with people in your life who might be suffering in relative silence, and it’s just an interesting schedule-game with an easy to learn system!

Hannah worked with fellow Valley-area creator Evan Rowland on the extremely neat RPG Questlandia! Questlandia is a game for 3-5 players about getting small personal victories against a backdrop of a collapsing empire. And the neat part is that you and the other players get to construct what sort of empire that is! You build the world as well as your characters collaboratively, and try to make your stories work out as happily and interestingly as possible while dealing with the random hand of fate! It’s available either as a PDF for only $10, or in print locally at Modern Myths at only $20!

In addition to creating great games, Hannah has done the hard work for you gathering together nice lists of games for varying types of person or group! For example, she has a list of RPGs you can play with just two players as well as a list of excellent all-ages RPGs! Hannah’s site is a really solid resource for anyone who wants to start playing interesting RPGs, but feels a bit put off by the seeming complexity or prior knowledge required! Thanks, Hannah!

As always, be sure to check out the Weekly Events page! There are a lot of fun things happening this and every week!


Board Games:

Saturday, May 30th
Modern Myths [34 Bridge Street #4, Northampton, MA 01060] at 6:00pm – 11:00pm
Women’s Game Night
Like the normal Board Game Night, only exclusively open to women! All women of all stripes, specifically including trans women, genderqueer women, and non-binary women, are welcome to come hang out with the excellent store manager Melissa while she helps everyone try out fun new games. The event will feature games designed by women, too! Also! Special door prizes by Coventry Decor! A $5 Day Pass is needed to attend, which is instantly converted into store credit!
Off the Wall Games [41 Russell Street, Hadley, MA 01035] at Mystery Time
X-Wing 125-pt Tournament: The Academy
So this is a super neat idea. Rather than being a straight-up build-your-fleet and fight experience, this tournament involves several clever conceits that encourage exciting maneuvering, aggressive flying, and guts! For instance, in “The Circuit” each player chooses one ship to run through the enemy gate and then get back to their own, while other ships try to protect them. Check out the 131 for more information!
Sunday, May 31st
Greenfield Games [228 Main St Greenfield, MA 01301] at 3:00pm – 6:00pm
D&D Attack Wing: Tyranny of Dragons Month Four Tournament
The sun rises on a windswept field. Two deadly armies have assembled. Humans, Dragons, Elves, Stenographers, Wizards, Giants, The Hilltowns, X-Men, all here to prove they’re the toughest! This big organized play event uses D&D Attack Wing to tell an epic story! Battle friends! Win neat prizes! Someone’s getting a giant dragon statue! It costs $20 to participate!


Thursday, May 28th
Packards [14 Masonic Street, Northampton, MA, 01060] at 6:30pm
The Player of Games Book Discussion & Dinner
Join fellow sci-fi nerds to discuss the excellent second novel of Iain M. Bank’s Culture series! The meeting will take place in the Library Room of Packards, and people attending will be expected to order a meal, which is cool because Packards is alright! There’s a limit of 12 attendees, and only 4 spots are left! Check out the meetup page to sign up!


Thursday, May 28th
Modern Myths [34 Bridge Street #4, Northampton, MA 01060] at 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Graphic Novel Book Club
Join the staff at Modern Myths to discuss the finest in literature that also has pictures and probably some punches. This month, the discussion will center on the comic Strong Female Protagonist, Vol 1. A $5 Day Pass is needed to participate, which is instantly converted to store credit. Free participation with proof of purchase of the book from Modern Myths!


Friday, May 29th
The Platinum Pony [30 Cottage Street, Easthampton, MA 01027] at 10:00pm
Serenity is proud to bring you a night of Pokemon drag and cosplay! Not only will you have an opportunity to see what we can only imagine are either loosely interpreted or distressingly accurate Pokemon, it’s also Serenity Lockhart’s birthday! Cosplay contest at 11pm, Drag Show at 12:15am! It’s a 21+ show!


Wednesday, May 27th
Forbes Library Grounds [20 West St, Northampton, MA 01060] at 8:30pm – 10:30pm
A free outdoor screening of a classic pulpy action flick! Bring blankets, a picnic basket, a set of tools, spare lumber, a portable generator, and really build your own tiny house on the lawn while preparing to watch the film! Come by at 8:30, pick a spot, and the movie will start when it’s dark enough! Fun times!
Saturday, May 30th
A Person’s House [Near the Post Office, Northampton, MA 01060] at 5:30pm
Outdoor BBQ Followed by The Dark Crystal
The Dark Crystal is such a strange film. Actually there’s a director’s cut available online that is even odder. Finding out Jim Henson was originally an art cinema director makes so much sense! Bring $5 to help defray food costs, and if you’re going to bring any food of your own make sure it is basically just a fruit or a vegetable! To find out where this event takes place, join up with the Meetup group or talk to people on Facebook! Sounds like a great place to meet neat new people!


Monday, May 25th
Comics N’ More [31 Union Street, Easthampton MA 01027] at 3:00pm – 7:00pm
Public RPG: Dungeons & Dragons
Dungeons & Dragons! Come play 5th edition D&D with GM Neal Robinson! While D&D is a pretty stock system, 5th edition does seem to have reinvigorated people, with a system that’s a bit more amenable to mixing combat and role-playing without making everyone into a pseudo-wizard like 4th edition did. Worried about coming in mid-campaign? Don’t be! There are pre-rolled characters available, so you can hop right in as “that cousin no one talked about who happened to turn up at an inn unexpectedly”!
Saturday, May 30th
Modern Myths [34 Bridge Street #4, Northampton, MA 01060] at 3:00pm – 6:00pm
Star Wars RPG
The Star Wars universe is pretty weird, right? Technology appears to have been stagnant for literal thousands of years, for one. Also, the Republic apparently lasted thousands of years, and then in the course of at maximum 20 years it completely collapsed and was entirely replaced by a hostile Empire that then almost instantly collapsed. What a weird period that must have been to live through! Anyway! Star Wars RPG, it’s a bit far along now, but we’re certain they could write you in as someone neat!
Comics N’ More [31 Union Street, Easthampton MA 01027] at 1:00pm – 5:00pm
Public RPG: Pathfinder Pirates
Pathfinder! We’ve never actually used the system but people seem to dig it a lot! Seems like something you should give a shot if you’re interested in RPGs, and why not give it a shot when you can play as a sweet pirate! We recommend patterning yourself after Ching Shih, a real awesome female pirate captain who terrorized the South China Sea with a fleet of over 300 junks manned by over 20,000 pirates! She might be kind of difficult to balance for combat…


Thursday, May 28th
Springfield Museums [21 Edwards Street, Springfield, MA 01103] at 12:15pm
Springfield’s Immigrants: Then & Now
Frances Gagnon, Historian, will present a talk covering the great immigration waves into Springfield. From the earlier settlers to the Great Migration of the 19th century, to the modern newcomers. The issue of “us” versus “them” will be explored throughout the centuries.
Saturday, May 30th
Mass Audobon Connecticut River Valley Wildlife Sanctuaries [127 Combs Road Easthampton, MA 01027] at 10:00am – 2:30pm
A fun filled day of learning about birds! There are live birds of prey, presentations about birds, games about birds, bird walks about dogs, lots of things! Live birds of prey are guaranteed not to carry off your pets or children!