Helping Other Gamers With Consideration for the Visually Impaired

As one of the regular hosts at Games on Demand at GenCon, it was my duty to match games, facilitators (i.e. GMs), and players. Three exchanges of players looking for games stuck out.

One exchange was someone saying “I’m glad I have money so I don’t have to volunteer to get my badge for GenCon.” This left a bitter taste in my mouth, but underneath that derision was a valid point: He wanted to play games. And I happily paired him with a game run by a passionate GM – I think he ended up playing Monsterhearts, which I know was out of his comfort zone; I think he enjoyed it.

Another exchange was with a couple and I assume their teenage child. They were waiting for games and got to the front of the line only to find that they weren’t interested in any of the available games. And they really didn’t want to leave the front of the line. They wouldn’t accept my promise that of all the remaining games, each of the GMs were passionate about running their game. Eventually they left disgruntled without taking a risk.

The third exchange was with a middle aged woman whom had obvious low vision issues – the white cain was my visual clue. I had seen her walking around the entry way, and at one point another host guided her to a place where she could sit and not worry about getting jostled around. And there she sat patiently.

During this particular slot, I was fortunate to have a second person helping with hosting. And as things were brought under control, I approached the woman who was so patiently waiting.

As I sat down with her, I asked about her vision issues, so I could understand how I could pair her up with someone. It turned out that she had something similar to Macular Degeneration – her central vision was gone. I explained that my mom had Retinitis Pigmentosis – my mom has no peripheral vision and only a pinprick of central vision – and was herself nearly blind.

In helping this woman, I thought of my mom, and how she struggles to play games with even the most simple of components.

Clearly any game with a heavy reliance on maps and tactical movement was out of the question. So she was in the right place as most of the offerings were Indie games, in which maps are eschewed; Or more appropriately used as a visual augmentation.

While she was waiting, she had been carefully listening to the tables discussing their games. And she quickly began asking questions.

“Can you tell me about that game over there? It sounds interesting, but I’m afraid I’m not into petty conflict and teenage angst.”  – I explained Monsterhearts, and she said “No thank you.”

“And that one sounds like there is just too many dice for me to manage,” she said in reference to what I assume was Mythender.

We went through a few more, and for one reason or another they weren’t good fits.

I asked her if she had heard of Fiasco, and she said no. Here was a game that required very little in the way of visual information. I then went on to quickly explain it, but it became evident that she wasn’t looking to play a bad person, nor did she want the other characters to be bad.

That greatly narrowed the field; There is something about tragedy tourism that Indie games aspire to. We worked our way through the offerings, and it was clear that she knew what she didn’t want to play.

I had an “A ha!” moment, and went to talk with Marissa of Magpie Games. She was prepping to run a game of Our Last Best Hope. And I asked her for the quick run down of the game and paired that with the woman’s request.

Sure enough, this would work out. The woman was very much interested in playing a character trying to save the earth from a catastrophe – bad things could happen to her character so long as they weren’t inflicted by other non-GM players.

Afterwards, I talked with Marissa and it sounded as if the woman enjoyed the game. And while there are some visual aspects to the game there were others helping, and the game went off rather well.

This exchange left me wondering what other games would work for people with visual impairments.

Other Games For The Visually Impaired

Our Last Best Hope – there are some writing elements, but really this can be handled by other people helping out.

Fiasco – while the setup may be a bit challenging, once the game is rolling, it should be relatively easy for someone to play.

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple – yes you are asked to record your story in one sentence, which may be challenging to write, but why not have another person be the scribe.

InSpectres – While the character sheets are very busy, they can be distilled into something quite compact.

Cthulhu Dark – Each character has two concerns; What is my insanity score and what is my profession. Simple characters. Simple rules.

School Daze – Characters are a simple collection of information; Should be easy to mentally juggle. Not a lot of text to wrestle with.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it may prove helpful for those of you looking for a game to play with someone you know who has vision impairments.

Dungeon World – GenCon 2012 Edition

I was slated to be a Games on Demand GM for 12 hours at GenCon and a host for 4 hours. After some quick reconsideration, I ended up hosting far more than GMing. I did, however, manage to facilitate several games of Fiasco – and sometimes two games at once – as well as run one game of Dungeon World.

But this isn’t about the game of Dungeon World I ran; Though I will take a moment to thank Jason Morningstar for providing a fantastic 2 hour adventure to run. And I’ll give a shout out to Clark Valentine‘s pit slave “nameless”, for escaping and carrying on the religion of those who had fallen. And to Nick Garcia, David Morford and the two gentlemen who had to duck out early (glad to hear you weren’t sick just coping with the overheating room).

Instead, this blog post is about an impromptu after hours Games on Demand adventure run by Jim Crocker. After hosting 5 transitions at Games on Demand, I was exhausted, but didn’t want to slink back to my hotel room. Joining me at the table as players was Lizzie Stark, Travis Scott, Morgan Ellis, Mark Diaz Truman, Marissa Kelly, Derrick Kapchinsky, and myself.

Before I go on, how did it happen that I was so privileged to play with this fantastic group of players, many of whom were GMs at Games on Demand?

  • I stuck around Games on Demand well past closing time.
  • Blearily I went and got dinner with the GMs from the food trucks
  • I laughed over some absurd gaming nerdgasms – a vinaigrette-based conflict resolution and other things that may result in my eternal damnation.
  • I built on existing conversations, not seeking verbal one-upsmanship
  • I then shambled along as everyone sought to keep the good times rolling.
  • When several vocal players voiced that they wanted to play Dungeon World, I sought out the playbooks

It’s a really simple recipe – engage and facilitate. But that is somewhat beside the point.

Funniest Session of My Life

Prior to GenCon, I maintained that my favorite gaming sessions were Diaspora character creation sessions, the “Irv the Mole” one-shot, and the first session where I gamed with Jaron – not because Jaron rocks, which he does, but because the session was a well laid plan that unraveled and was still doggedly adhered to – a Fiasco if ever there was one.

I can now add “That Dungeon World game I played until 4am at GenCon on Sunday morning.”

Why did it rock? Because the players all went gonzo and the GM let it happen while keeping things moving – Bless you Jim Crocker for your patience as it was your patience that allowed the absurd to shine through. Not only was Jim patient as we unwound and flexed our inner absurd, but he kept asking questions and folding those answers back into the game.

For example:

Why was the human settlement nestled into an old abandoned dwarf mine? Because the climate was terrible in the region.

Why was the climate terrible? Because Marissa’s character introduction involved her bursting into the tavern with snow whipping around her.

Why did Marissa narrate such a grand entrance? Because the first character introduction by Morgan was “bard turned up to 11” and things continued throughout all introductions – though mine was weak sauce as I was a skulking thief.

During this session, there were three players (Morgan, Travis, and Derrick) who were consistently pushing the comedic envelope. But Jim masterfully took their shenanigans in stride and rolled the narrative into the game.

We created our world together building upon each other’s assertions, there was an internal consistency.

  • Dwarven stone graffiti was much like an editor’s red pen, but instead of pen a chisel were used, attempting to correct perceived imperfections.
  • Dwarven healing magic was a painful experience.
  • Elven ale served at human establishments is the PBR of elven beer craft.
  • The bard’s “Arcane Music” was instead theatrical stage directions…as per Kenneth Branagh directing and starring in a Shakespearean play.
  • Dwarf culture is “Every single minor imperfection bitched about endlessly.”

Certainly there were other assertions, but it was late, and I was doing everything in my power to remain engaged in the game as the clock slipped towards 4am.

This was an eye-opening experience for me as players were cleaving quite close to Graham Walmsley’s “Play Unsafe” advice – always say “Yes and…” to build on another player’s assertion. Jim expertly kept things rolling by issuing a constant barrage of questions, as if he demanded a ritualized sacrifice of answers to proceed.

And it sounds as though my GenCon experience with Dungeon World wasn’t a unique experience – JJ Lanza and his boys (whom I had the privilege of gaming with at GenCon) also experienced the magic of Dungeon World and its barrage of questions.

And for those curious, I did play Dungeon World at GenCon 2011 and also had a great time. This time, however, things went to 11. Thank you to all who played as I will certainly cherish this game, and crib procedures and ideas from this game for years to come.

Next years goal? To play Dungeon World with Nykki and Matt Boersma.

May Not Haved Played A Lot of Games at GenCon…

But I had a blast. Instead of playing a published game, I opted to play a whole lot of the the Games on Demand LARP. The rules were somewhat simple – though I think the current Host move When you facilitate a transition may need some tweaking .  If I’m not mistaken the rules for the LARP are in early Alpha stage…I know they were changing during GenCon.

The Rules

  • The Games on Demand LARP ran continuous for 12 hours on Thursday, Friday, and Saturdary; and 4 hours on Sunday.
  • There are three classes of characters in the Games on Demand LARP – Host, GM, and Player. A handful of subclasses emerged throughout the LARP, more on that later.
  • New GMs and Hosts arrive every 2 hours, on the evens, and many played for 4 or more hours straight. Many of the GMs and Hosts were previously scheduled.
  • New Players arrived every 2 hours, on the evens, though some spent an hour or more in the Player generation line.
  • The GM provides an ideally short list of games that they are passionate, excited and well prepared to run.
  • The GM demands that the Host find Players to play in one of the GM‘s games.
  • The Host negotiates and sells the games to the Players.
  • There were some slots that were already locked in via the scheduling system…you know kind of like when your bot takes damage in RoboRally.
  • Some Players arrived with generic tickets for any time. Yet there were a subclass of Players that had tickets for a specific time slot, though not for a specific game as per the locked via the scheduling system.
  • The Host role was a bit different. A Host was responsible for matching Players and GMs while recording what the GMs were excited to run, what table they were running at, and what the elevator pitches were for the GMs games of choice.
  • Some Players ended up offering to subclass into GM as they grabbed the When you facilitate Fiasco move.
  • Some people showed up, not on schedule, and offered to be GM for a slot or two

Session Reports

I spent most of my time involved with the Games on Demand LARP, though I was very mindful of my hunger and hydration levels. I drank lots of water and ate lots of snacks.s

For Thursday, my frist slot was as Player in a Fiasco game (Dragon Slayers playset). I then was GM for a game of Dungeon World (using one of Jason Morningstar‘s adventures). And my final slot, I took was a GM with the Facilitate Two Games of Fiasco subclass. This was crazy interesting, but I believe things went off well.

For Friday, my first and second slot was as a GM for Fiasco. As my second slot wrapped up early, I grabbed a Host playbook and began LARPing. It was kind of a jolting transition, but I think I pulled it off.  For the last slot, I ended up as a Player in a Cthulhu Dark game.

Saturday, having tasted the power of the Host class, I went all in – I actually think this class may be broken as the Host has such power over the GM and Player classes. I ended up playing Host for 5 of the six slots. During one of those slots, an interesting subclass emerged Host as I selected the When you facilitate Fiasco move from the GM playbook.

Sunday, I was spent and skipped out on the Games on Demand LARP. I would’ve been up for more had I not stayed up way too late continuing the LARP back at the hotel – more on that in a later post.

Observations

Having played lots of Host role, I can say that most of the Players that remained in the line ended up getting paired up with a GM. Lots of the Players ended up playing games that were pitched to them by the GM on the spot – Mongolian Goat Rodeo, School Daze, Spark, GxB, and a whole bunch of other games as well.

One crazy GM facilitated a 6 vs. 6 game of the Marvel Heroic RPG using the Civil War characters. I didn’t hear the detailed results of that game, but I can assure you that the 12 Players had a unique experience for that slot.

The Players may not have known what the game was before hand, but the Players that I encountered afterwards had a great time.

Several of the games that were played at Games on Demand were run by the GMs that created the game. That is someone passionate and prepared for their role as GM!

As Host I recall only one disgruntled Player, with a scheduled generic ticket, walking away from Games on Demand, upset that there were no openings for games she wanted to play. While I had empathy for her plight, I didn’t have sympathy, because there were still  2 GMs looking for a Player – and one of them was Fiasco.

To be fair to her, she did have a time-scheduled ticket that should’ve meant she got to go to the head of the Player generation line and therefore get to pick her GM earlier. At the time, however, I was unaware of the time-scheduled tickets, so I wasn’t separating the Player generation line. This was quickly corrected.

The Alpha version of the rules creaked and groaned under the explosive growth of the number of people involved.  Last year, there were 7 tables in a remote corner of a GenCon hotel with what I believe to have been ample overflow room.  This year, there were 12 tables one floor directly above the exhibit hall, with erratic overflow options.

For a small volunteer army of GMs and Hosts, I believe we managed to facilitate a lot of people having fun playing games that may have been new to them. I know the room was always charged with excitement.