Starting a new Role Playing Game Club

Today was the inaugural meeting of the Superior Heights Role Playing Game club. Over the past two weeks I’ve asked interested students to create first-level characters that they would be interested in playing. I recommended orcpub2.com using the Point Buy system for stats to help ensure a “legal” character for each of them. To my surprise, fifteen students want to play.

That’s a lot.

Like, three games’ worth.

I’m the only GM available, it appears, so I don’t know what I’m going to do about that. I’m committing to spending two hours with them every Friday night after school, plus all the prep work between sessions. I’m considering rotating groups through, running two or three games on a cycle.

This afternoon there were “only” six players. Several students had other commitments or couldn’t get rides home after the game. Six was manageable, but only just.

Rules

Apart from the official game rules, I set out some rules for the club at school. Here’s a paraphrasing of them.

  • Everyone is responsible for ensuring the group is having fun.
  • You are not your character. In-game stuff (especially conflicts) need to stay in the game.
  • No foul language. You might be okay with it, but I’m not and the person beside you might not be.
  • No sex of any kind.
  • No violence towards children.

The students also added a rule to my list:

  • No player-versus-player (PvP) combat.

The Start

This was even more challenging than I expected. All six players were new to the game, but they had all spent time developing characters already.

My plan was to help them to build connections between characters by requiring them to answer questions about their pasts. “Sally, what serious event did your character and Mark’s character both witness?” “Jim, what is it about Jordan’s character that irritates your character?” That sort of thing.

There was a frustrating trend that began here and continued throughout the session. A player would suggest something (here it was an event in the backstory), and then another player would suggest a different and mutually exclusive idea, and then both players would be at a standstill. Both were invested in their idea, and neither wanted to work with the other’s suggestions. I didn’t know how to help them work this out, but I did the best I could. This problem slowed the game significantly.

I did my best to roll with (ha ha) the backstories the players had developed to set the initial scene. Players didn’t really know what to do, and I wished that I had forced them to develop a party before starting (instead I asked them to work at coming together in the first session).

Some characters took actions that helped the party come together, but other characters took actions that drove the party apart. Making decisions among six people was onerous.

When the session was wrapping up I recapped the major events so far to make sure we were in sync. I also talked with the players about how to play together instead of just making sure their characters did cool stuff for themselves. I guess we’ll see next time if my post-session pep talk was helpful.

Even though the game was super-challenging for me and not as successful (progressive?) as I’d hoped, it was clear that most of the players had fun. They left the classroom and stood in the hall, talking about what happened and speculating about what could happen next. They were intrigued, and some talked about tweaking their characters to make them more “playable” with the rest of the group.

Fingers crossed that I’m a bit better at this next week.

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My not-polished list of signals to think through

Heading home after another EdCan Network Regional Exchange.

I need to write down some of my ideas for signals that I see in our world. Later I’ll try to apply them to education, to see what might have value in our space. Feel free to comment and help me out, okay?

  • custom, handmade, “bespoke” items (personalized, unique, intentionally different, curated)
  • audience and approval (snapchat and instagram, followers, subs, likes, favourites, pruning)
  • return the analog, the analog renaissance (tabletop games, physical books, visual arts, no-phone-zone)
  • mental health awareness (prioritizing individual well-being over homogeneous requirements, arbitrary time, rigidity)
  • results are greater than conformity and compliance (working from home, staggered or varying hours, managers for productivity instead of compliance)
  • science fiction renaissance (thanks Matt Damon)
  • quiet (yoga, adult colouring, gardening and farming, hiking)
  • inefficient activities (games, cooking, pleasure reading, knitting)
  • blurring of retailer and consumer (creator/producer/manufacturer, 3D printing, Uber, freelance)
  • microtransactions (Patreon instead of subscriptions)
  • curated goods (crates)
  • small and local (yarn, food, beer, retail)
  • digital goods (ebooks, virtual currency, access rights)
  • trade facilitation (connecting consumers, eBay, TCG Player, Deckbox.org)
  • premium/pro version/freemium

Okay, that’s it for now until I have time to think some more. Thanks.

Learning at Home: How to be a YouTuber

My son is 8, and he wants to be a famous YouTuber like DanTDM. Although I realize this aspiration may be short-lived, I’m open to the possibility. I also know that he probably won’t find this learning in the Ontario Curriculum.

So I decided I’d better figure out how this stuff works so that I can help him understand (and possibly realize) his dream.

I have a YouTube channel already. I post math and computer science videos, mostly, and a few more personal things. I don’t monetize the teaching videos since I direct my students to view them and that would be inappropriate. It was time to start a new channel.

I wanted a channel with a focus, but that was broad enough to allow for lots of content. The kids and I enjoy watching videos of booster box openings (Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon), and I watch more MTG videos. This is something I know a fair bit about, and I can produce content easily (if not always cheaply).

So Grasley Games was born. These aren’t games I’ve designed (that’s coming, though). Instead, “games” is a verb here.

Logo bold

I started by opening a box of Aether Revolt, the newest set of Magic: The Gathering available at the time. I practised for a while first, figuring out camera setup, microphone, lighting, and how to hold the cards effectively. I’ve done some video production work before, but I was still surprised at how challenging this initial planning was.

I also wanted to try some “actual plays”, recordings of playing games. I’ve recorded about 10 games, but only a few have been worth posting. Lots of camera problems with this stuff.

The channel is monetized, which means that some ad revenue accumulates over time. So far there’s $1.86 waiting for me. Another couple of lifetimes and I’ll pay for that box…

Now for the kids

This wasn’t just for me, remember? Both my kids want to participate too. Now that I’ve learned the basics of setting everything up, they’re starting to make videos for me to post. There are three so far on the channel:

What’s next

They keep asking to make more videos (I got enough stuff for them to make 6 videos each on these topics without any additional investment), so that’s pretty cool. I do want them to see how difficult it is to get eyes on your content when you’re in a fairly niche area, and that consistency is really important (they’re counting on me for this).

I’ve also made other spaces on the web for Grasley Games – we’ll see how these platforms pan out:

Grasley Games on WordPress

Grasley Games on Facebook

Grasley Games on Patreon

Grasley Games on Twitter

Speeding up video with ffmpeg

I keep having to Google this, so perhaps I’ll remember to look here.

To speed up a video with ffmpeg, use the decimal equivalent of 1/{speed multiple} with the following command line option. For example, for a video that you want to run at 8 times normal speed, use the value 1/8=0.125 in the command line

“C:\Program Files (x86)\WinFF\ffmpeg.exe” -i C:\Users\Brandon\Videos\videoIn
putFile.mov -an -filter:v “setpts=0.125*PTS” C:\Users\Brandon\Videos\videoOutput.mp4

This is video-only, which is what I typically want anyway. This is useful for time lapse video.

What do you choose to learn about when you’re not at school?

I had an interesting talk with the student today about a variety of topics related to schooling and education. I asked her one question which has been staying with me throughout the evening so far. 

“What do you learn about when you’re not at school? What do you learn about because you want to, not because you have to? What are you curious about?”

I think each person’s answers can give some insight into what their passions are. Curiosity is an incredibly valuable commodity, and nurturing it is some of the most important work we do. Let’s help foster the inquiring mindset while being careful not to steal the passion by imposing our structures. 

“Jigsaw” activities don’t work

Maybe there is a way to make them work, but I haven’t seen it yet. 

A jigsaw activity as I have experienced it involves a group of people all needing to learn the same thing. The new learning is divided by the facilitators into some number of discrete pieces.

Suppose there are four different components to a concept or skill that participants want to learn about. Each of those components becomes a station in the room. The learners are then divided into groups of at least four, and each person within the group is assigned one of the four stations to become an “expert” at that component. 

The participants scatter to their stations, and they engage in dialogue to become experts at their concepts or skills. They then return to their home group to share their learning with their peers.

The trouble comes here. The experts have had a lot of time to think and reflect upon a concept or skill, while the remaining members of the home group have to simply accept and absorb each experts’ final learning. 

The deep learning comes when working through a concept, not by simply observing or hearing it. Instead of a jigsaw, the participants might as well simply read an article with the “answer.” It would be more efficient if acceptance was the goal. 

But the learning is in the work, not in the receipt of knowledge, so each person needs to be part of each expert group. 

If this is true, jigsawing is counterproductive. 

Am I missing something? Are we just doing it wrong?

Plane thoughts – part 5

I recently participated in a meeting for the EdCan Network, part of the Canadian Education Association, in Mississauga. I knew we’d be talking about some heavy issues regarding education in Ontario, especially K-12 education. I spent my time on the flights down and back writing some thoughts I’d been wrestling with. I’m planning to share those thoughts in small posts for a little while. Here’s the fifth entry.

People look to YouTube for experts when learning, especially when learning outside of the context of formal education.

This is very effective if many people want to learn the same thing, because YouTube promotes effective (or at least popular) teaching examples above the poor examples. You can learn to play the guitar, change a tire, or factor a complex trinomial.

It is less effective (or impossible) if only a very few people want to learn the same thing, because that niche knowledge may not be present in video form, or there may be few examples to curate. The same is true if the development of a skill requires careful supervision.

In this case it may be necessary to look elsewhere for an expert, and perhaps to have a direct, one-to-one relationship with them, such as a master-apprentice relationship.