After the War

My daughter, Mary Rosalind Valentine, is getting her first professional RPG writing credit for After the War by Genesis of Legend Publishing! Here’s a preview of the fiction she wrote for them. Now on Kickstarter!

Interview with Alex Lunnett

Recorded by Mary Rosalind Valentine, Nova Chicago

Where are you from?

Portrait by Claudia Cangini

I grew up on Earth, from a disintegrating family that lived just outside of Chicago. It wasn’t always this way. I remember a time when we were happy as a family, and even our frequent political debates were good-spirited. My parents were as paranoid as they get, though, and I was lucky they let me go to the ‘indoctrinating’ public school. Our family fell apart in last few years before the war, as love gave way to hate and to anger. Then, the war took what was left of my family and tore it to shreds.

How did you experience the war?

I started losing my patience with my parents as I became more independent and began to value trust. My dad trusted no one and always ranted about how the government was colluding with the aliens. He even built his own receiving equipment to listen in on transmissions to Earth and lost his job for his troubles. I think the first rational thing my mother did was leaving him in the night. But she didn’t take me. I think she suspected me too.

In my last few days at home, my dad changed. His crazed ranting, now more frequent, was punctuated by strange humming. Only two or three notes here and there, but he had never done it before, and the tune was strange, intriguing, and otherworldly. I read enough on the feeds to put two and two together about what he was picking up on his receivers.

A day or two later, warnings and evacuation orders were sent out. I was in my room blasting music on noise-canceling headphones and trying to figure out what to do. I wasn’t sure if my dad would be willing to leave, but he approached me first with a creepy smile on his face. We went to the closest evacuation point together and I was on edge the entire time. It was so unlike him to follow the government’s directions that I knew The Song had him. I didn’t dare ditch my headphones. I’d noticed that he seemed to change when he got away from the receivers so I tried taking the headphones off, but he hummed another note or two and I jammed them back on. The Song was already in his head. During the boarding process, I made sure to get jostled away from him. I couldn’t be around him anymore. He tried to stay near me, but we boarded different evacuation shuttles. Now I’m here, on Polvo, finally my own person. It’s a feeling I’ve been missing for years.

What are you doing now?

There are so many organizations that want Polvo to be another insignificant pawn for their empires. But we can build a new civilization where autonomy and cooperation are not mutually exclusive. Us refugees are more than Dirt. I’m trying to organize a regional council of leaders as a framework of a future government, so we can start building ourselves up. If we let someone else do it for us, they control us. If they lure us in and we give our autonomy over, how are they any better than The Song? I am trying to lead and organize the people so we can build our own foundation for the rise of a new civilization.

Alex Lunett

Alliances are better than subjugation.
Self-governance is a human right.

Origin: Terran, Political Community
War Story: Aftermath, Rendered Aid
Profession: Leader, Community Organizer


Posted in Kids and Gaming | Leave a comment

Defying the Deadpool Memes

Last night, defying all the memes and impassioned tweets telling me “Don’t take your child to see Deadpool!”, I took my child to see Deadpool. In fact, I went along with another mom who also brought her child. And while I certainly feel judged, I don’t feel like we’re bad moms.


I know it isn’t pithy, but rather than “Deadpool is not for children!” I’d much rather the warning was, “This movie earned its R rating. Please research it carefully before deciding to bring your child to see it.” A meme spread by people who don’t know my child shouldn’t tell me what my child is ready for. Because what all the memes and quotes and other bite-sized edicts don’t address is the huge variance in what the term “child” encompasses.

My daughter is 15. Her friend is 14. They are, by all legal definitions, children. But if you’ve ever spent any time with teenagers or have clear memories of being one yourself, you know that they are very much on the cusp of adulthood. And as much as we may need to legally claim that certain birthdays magically bring maturity, in reality it’s a huge spectrum that teenagers bounce back and forth on, nearly minute by minute. A 15 year old is so very nearly an adult in so many ways, and the past two years have brought more growth and maturity in my child than any time in her life since she was an infant.

Deadpoolmeme2So yeah, your “No children!” rule feels useless to me. She certainly doesn’t consider herself a child, and she has a point. I certainly don’t consider her a full adult, and I have a point. But grouping her in with the elementary school kids who are unquestionably not the target audience for Deadpool doesn’t recognize the reality of reaching adulthood and how close to it many people legally deemed “children” really are.

Both of us moms researched the hell out of the movie before we took our kids, and we each left a younger sibling at home after deciding only our oldest were ready. We read tons of reviews, including ones aimed at parents that detail all the things parents might want to know about. I asked people to vet it for me, and a friend gave me a wonderfully detailed review of things that were both good and questionable for a younger viewer. The other mom posted the question to Facebook where almost everyone told her that under no circumstances should she even consider taking her kids to Deadpool, along with, to my mind, a strongly implied “Are you an idiot?” Meme after meme was posted to her timeline, which is why I didn’t ask Facebook.

We knew the movie was possibly on the edge of what our kids were ready for, so rather than say no, we went with them. We sat on the aisle so they could easily take a bathroom break if things got too intense or uncomfortable. And both of them were fine. They loved it, and they were willing to talk about it afterwards. I know my daughter didn’t understand every single joke, but to be fair, neither did I.

Yeah, there was some pretty adult stuff in that movie. And as much as I’d like to shelter my child from everything questionable, she also needs to be ready to be out on her own in 3 short years. If I think this is her first exposure to violence, foul language, nudity, and sex jokes, then I’m being horribly naïve. By watching the movie with her, now we can talk about it and I can answer questions or discuss things I found problematic. And I feel like that makes me a better parent than if I thought forbidding my child to see a movie would somehow protect her innocence.

Oh, yeah, totally water.

Oh, yeah, that’s totally water.

We’ve always been the parents who are very conscious about what media their kids consume. I will admit to giving the side eye to the parents desperately trying to convince their 5 year old that it was water not blood flowing over that stone in Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s important to know what you’re taking your kids to see.

Therefore, before Deadpool came out, I was leaning toward no, even though my daughter really wanted to see it. I’m sure many people would think I caved, unwilling to stand by my “No,” thus proving myself the kind of mother who is everything wrong with those spoiled and entitled “kids these days.” But I felt that if I was going to say no to something she really wanted to do, I should research what I was saying no to. And in the process, I learned enough to decide that it was something she could probably handle as long as she could walk away if it was too much—thus going with me and sitting on the aisle. She has shown before that she has the maturity to remove herself from situations that are uncomfortable, and that proved to me that she had the maturity to decide for herself if she wanted to go to the movie.

So I took my child to see Deadpool. And that doesn’t make me a bad mother.


Posted in Movies, Parenthood | 14 Comments

Coffee Nap!

One of the really great and really tough things about working from home is that…well, you’re at home. With all your stuff and your chores and your bed reminding you that if you’re really that tired you could just go take a nice long nap.

Because I’m trying to fit a full-time workload into a 7 hour school day rather than a 9 hour full-time work day, I tend to try to push through the yawns, even though I know my focus and efficiency take a nose dive when I’m that sleepy.

Like many of the caffeine-dependent, my morning (and afternoon and evening) coffee or tea tends to simply make me mostly functional and stave off the withdrawal headaches. I don’t get a lovely energetic buzz unless I consume truly huge amounts—and then I’m frequently jittery and easily distracted instead of focused.

And then I discovered the coffee nap! I know, it sounds counterintuitive to guzzle some coffee and then try to sleep for 20 minutes, but I’ve had great success with it so far. I’ve only used it a handful of times because I’m trying to save it for when I really need it, but I’ve found it to be remarkably flexible and always helpful.

After a coffee nap, I wake up alert but not so jittery that I can’t focus on things. This state lasts for hours—always at least 5, sometimes as many as 8. And somehow, once I remember what it feels like to be really awake and focused (such a rare feeling for the past 14 years), it’s an easier state to find again for the next few days. So one coffee nap can help me for the better part of a week.

I know everyone’s different, so your mileage may vary, but here are a few things I’ve learned.

  1. You really want to head to your nap as soon as you finish that cup of coffee (or tea or whatever you’re consuming with enough caffeine to affect you). When I did the usual “I’ll go up after I put these dishes in the dishwasher, oh, and I should change the laundry first and did I feed the cat?” I found that I was really ramped up when I was supposed to be relaxing. It still worked, but it was a lot harder to gear down for my nap.
  2. Set a timer for how long you want to sleep. It can be disastrous for your productivity if you fall into a deep sleep, and if you’re worrying about getting up in time, you’ll never relax enough to get the benefit. So set a timer that will wake you up, and put it out of your mind.
  3. You don’t need to fall asleep. I never fall asleep immediately, so I focus on relaxing and trying to clear my mind of stuff. I usually end up dreaming a little in that weird half-awake state, and then the alarm goes off and I get up. But that’s plenty for the coffee nap.
  4. It doesn’t necessarily need to be 20 minutes. I wouldn’t go longer, but 10 or 15 minutes might be plenty for you. When I was roused after about 10 minutes because my mom called, I was pleasantly surprised to realize the nap had still done its job. And sometimes I’m suddenly wide awake before the timer goes off, so I just get up because that’s obviously been enough time.
  5. Anywhere that you can really relax will work just fine for a coffee nap. I prefer to go to my dark bedroom to get rid of distractions, but stretching out on the sofa also works. I don’t have a desk (worst home office ever) so I haven’t attempted a coffee nap while sitting up. If you can really relax with your head on the desk, though, I’ll bet it would work.

I’m not sure I understand the science (if sleep makes caffeine more effective, shouldn’t my morning coffee wake me up more than it does?) but I can’t argue with the results I’m getting from this experiment. I hope that fellow parents and others among the ranks of the sleep-deprived will find it helpful!

Posted in Freelancing Life, Parenthood | 2 Comments

Way to Go, LEGO!

When LEGO Friends first came out, I ranted a bit. It’s not that I don’t like the toys—if my daughter were a bit younger, I have no doubt they’d be all over our house. What bothered me was that LEGO Friends didn’t solve the problem of so few female minifigs in regular LEGO sets. In fact, it created a new line of LEGO sets that were dominated by females, with only one dad to represent all males. I know of several boys who would love to play with pink and purple LEGO sets with cute little animals, so this was just another kind of exclusion based on gender.

Flash forward a few years. The latest catalogue recently showed up in our mailbox, and it made me really happy. The LEGO movie introduced a ton of female minifigs (sometimes more than one in a set!), plus in other sets there’s a female thief, several female police officers, a female train engineer, and even a firefighter who appears to be female but that they didn’t feel the need to identify as such. Then I got to the LEGO Friends section, and there are two male dolls now, and they aren’t dads! (There are also a bunch of princes in the Disney section.)

I know there have always been a few female minifigs, but they’ve been relatively rare and often only part of sets that cost at least $40, usually much more (this is why we don’t have a LEGO Black Widow).

But in stores I’ve recently seen a new little LEGO set that has a princess minifig and is fully compatible with regular LEGO bricks. And adding Arwen to our cast of Lord of the Rings minifigs didn’t break the bank.

Many of the sets in the new catalogue are $30 or less—often much less. You pick out a cool LEGO set that’s affordable, and you just happen to get a female minifig. If you’re playing with LEGO Friends, boys now exist in that world.

No, it’s not perfect. Female characters are notably lacking in the Ninjago line, for instance. But I feel like it’s still a significant step in the right direction.

Does it really matter if LEGO sets are more inclusive? Yeah, I think it is. And while I could illustrate that through my own kids, it was a couple kids I don’t even know who really proved the point for me. Before the holidays, I was browsing the toy section of Target. A woman with two young girls walked through the LEGO aisle, intent on getting to a different aisle—but the girls got distracted looking at the City sets.

“Come on,” the woman said a bit impatiently, “don’t you want to get to the toys for you?”

“But there’s a girl on this set!” one of the girls pointed out.

“Well, yes, of course you could play with these toys too,” the woman backpedaled a bit.

And then they all moved on to a different section. No, they didn’t buy a City LEGO set. Maybe they never will. But the presence of a female minifig was enough for a young kid to challenge an adult on her unconscious gendering of toys, and that challenge was enough for the adult to step back her thoughtless comment. It’s often through these baby steps that real and lasting change takes hold.

So, way to go, LEGO. While I’m still hoping for an affordable Black Widow set, these changes make me really happy.

Posted in Kids and Gaming, Parenthood | 1 Comment

Endings and Beginnings

A short post to commemorate a transition in my editing career:

About ten years ago I started helping Cam Banks edit the massive tome that is Price of Courage, a Dragonlance module. I went on to edit many other Dragonlance books published by Sovereign Press, and I continued to work with the company as they transitioned into Margaret Weis Productions. I was there when Cortex Plus came into being, and I worked on Smallville, Leverage, Dragon Brigade, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, Dramatic Roleplaying, and most recently Firefly. I’ve spent many a Gen Con in the MWP booth, telling anyone who would listen about how great the games are.  In those ten years, editing has gone from a hobby to my fulltime career, thanks in no small part to the faith Margaret Weis Productions has always had in me.

As I worked on the Firefly corebook, I was also getting Alex Perry ready to take over as the editor of the Firefly sourcebooks (the Echoes of War line has always been in Sally Christensen’s capable hands). Last week, Monica Valentinelli and I agreed that Alex is ready to take over. He’ll be seeing the corebook through the final stages of editing, and my participation is done.  This is something that I’ve been working towards—I’m focusing more on smaller projects and fiction now, so I’m ready to move away from the long-term licensed lines that MWP tends to produce—but it’s still kind of sad to say goodbye since my editing career has never before lacked a MWP project somewhere in the schedule.

Many thanks to all the people I’ve worked with over the years at MWP. I’m a better editor for the experiences I’ve had with you. Thanks for putting up with me as I learned on the job!

Posted in Editing, Freelancing Life | 2 Comments

In Praise of the Quiet Ones

A decent amount of my identity is as the mother of geeklings (a bit like the mother of dragons, but with less fire. Usually.). I’ve realized, though, that if you primarily know me online, you might think that I only have one geekling. I talk about my daughter a lot. She’s the kind of person who really puts herself out there. She helped start a game group at her school where she’s one of the GMs. She wrote an editorial for her school paper on sexism in geek culture. She doesn’t mind when I post pictures of her cosplay and LARP adventures. She’s happy to film little videos about games I’ve worked on. She’s a natural born performer and will be Nori the dwarf in her school’s production of The Hobbit. She has strong opinions, and she’s not afraid to share them with you. In fact, she’s frequently looking for an outlet for all the stuff she’d like to say.

But, for argument’s sake, let’s say there’s another geekling in our house—one who doesn’t like people to take photos of him, and REALLY doesn’t like them posted on the internet (although you may catch a glimpse of face behind tousled curls or peering out from under a hat in some pictures with other people). One who would rather I didn’t talk about him all that much. One who rarely speaks up in public and would prefer I didn’t share too much either. In respecting this hypothetical child’s wishes, he might start to seem invisible.

This gets me thinking a bit about the quiet ones. (Note: I’m not talking about people who are systematically quieted because of gender, race, orientation, socio-economic status, or anything else along those lines—that’s a whole different discussion that’s well covered elsewhere by others with more experience and knowledge than I. For this situation I mean people who are quiet by personality and/or choice.)

There’s the saying that “still waters run deep” and in some ways it applies. The fact that the quiet ones aren’t speaking loudly doesn’t mean that they have nothing worth saying. In fact, hypothetically, this quiet child in my house often has very insightful things to say. He might have noticed on his own that you can draw some parallels between racism in our world and the treatment of the mutants in the first X-Men movie. He may have very strong views about the gendering of toys, even though he’s unlikely to write an editorial about it.

He may also be very creative in his own way, channeling it toward inventions using every day office supplies or computer programs he hopes to write someday. Although musical like his sister, you’d be more likely to find him playing rhythm guitar in a rock band at school than acting in a play or singing a solo.

He’s a deep thinker, a problem solver, a truly empathetic person who can put himself in other people’s shoes better than most adults I know, let alone people his own age. He may be less flashy than many, and I think that means that people often overlook or underestimate him. And I fear it sometimes seems like I do that, because I’m trying to respect his wish for privacy.

It’s a hard line to walk. Being a private and/or reserved person in a world of social media where people very publicly share the minutia of their lives can be really hard. I’m not nearly as reserved as my hypothetical child that I’m not really talking about, but I can understand how he feels. Not everyone does things that are easily publicly celebrated, but that doesn’t necessarily make those things less important or useful. Not everyone is comfortable talking about their own success, or even letting others talk about their success. Not everyone has the desire to be in the spotlight, to share the things they do.

So I want to take a moment in praise of the quiet ones. A moment to appreciate the people who add to our lives, to our gaming community, in subtle ways. Our world is richer because of them.



Posted in Kids and Gaming, Parenthood | Leave a comment

Gender Discrimination in Geek Culture

This is an article my daughter (who just turned 13!) wrote for her school newspaper. It was published before a boy tried to tell her that girls don’t play Minecraft, so it doesn’t include her impassioned argument on that topic.

If I said I liked imagining I fight dragons, reading graphic novels, and playing with Legos, what is the image of me that goes to your head? From the info you just read, would you imagine me as a boy or a girl? I actually surveyed a bunch of people and the majority of them said they imagined boys.

But I am NOT a boy. I’m a girl. My favorite color is pink.

This is a problem. There is this ridiculous stereotype that only boys like games and adventure and interesting stuff, and that girls aren’t cool enough to participate in that kind of thing, or are too delicate to even think about playing games with swords and shields, let alone battleaxes. Unless they’re the one who is helpless and needs saving. It’s all a pile of junk.

The art for these games and graphic novels is even worse. Part of that ridiculous stereotype is that players and readers like to look at pictures of female characters that are dressed inappropriately. It makes me uncomfortable, it’s sexist, it’s biased, and it’s just not okay. I am not going to include any pictures of this, but below is an example of art that does it the right way. It’s from D&D Next.

D&D Next

The following are the art of front covers of games my parents worked on. The art there isn’t gender discriminant either.

Fate coreFAE

However, I must give DC Comics some kudos, because they tried to give Wonder Woman pants, so she was wearing something other than that ridiculous, uncomfortable-looking metal leotard. But they were beaten down on the attempt by people saying that they can’t do that, it would break tradition. Phooey on those people.

In the new video game The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, the slogan was “Willst thou get the girl, or willst thou play like one?” They changed it later, but that doesn’t make it okay.

And have you read The False Prince? I loved it. It’s one of the Young Reader’s Choice books this year. But on the back, it quotes the LA Times saying that it is “chock full of alluring details for adventure-loving boys.”  My mom and I loved it. Neither my brother nor my dad shows any interest in reading this book. See something wrong with the picture?

I feel uncomfortable with all of this. If I was going into battle against orcs, I would not be wearing a chainmail bikini. It’s a one-way ticket to impalement. Women need to be shown as strong people, not just another pretty face to look at. I would be perfectly fine with them just being shown as people.  We can make our own decisions, we are not just an object to make men feel good. I have spoken to many people about this, and it makes them uncomfortable, too. It is NOT okay!

Nicole Leigh Verdin from the movie The Shroud

Nicole Leigh Verdin from the movie The Shroud

I can't find attribution for this one. Anyone know where it's from?

I can’t find attribution for this one. Anyone know where it’s from?

Look at these pictures. THIS is my armor of choice!


Posted in Games, Guest posts, Kids and Gaming, Uncategorized | 18 Comments

Metatopia 2013 Schedule

We leave for Metatopia in a few days! I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll be on a total of eight panels, as well as attending panels and hanging out and probably participating in some impromptu playtesting.

Here’s the schedule of panels I’ll be on, in case you’re interested:

The Care and Feeding of Freelancers

with John Stavropoulos and Ryan Macklin

D006 Friday 10:00 – 11:00

You’ve reached the point where you’re ready to hire some professional freelancers to help you complete your game, whether as writers, editors, or artists. How do you find freelancers, how do you work with them, and how do you keep them happy to work for you? 


Working with Family and Friends

with Cam Banks, Kat Miller and Michael Miller

D012 Friday 12:00 – 1:00

The game designer life can be stressful, and sharing the tough times with loved ones can either make it better or worse. The panelists present several good ideas for maintaining your relationships while getting the job done.


How to Work with Editors

with Ryan Macklin, Cam Banks, and John Adamus

D014 Friday 1:00 – 2:00

Everyone needs an editor. How do you hire one? Once you have one, how can you work with her most efficiently? How does somebody become a great game editor themselves?


Publishing Fiction

with Jocelyn Koehler and Nicholas Tulach

D020 Friday 3:00 – 4:00

Learn how to go from premise to published novel from the folks at tiny press Hammer & Birch. This panel will show you every step in the life of one book: from settling on a concept to finishing the writing, the editing process, cover design and formatting, publishing, and selling it to strangers. Some things we’ll talk about: the craft of writing, the value of beta readers, creating a realistic budget, how to do art direction, working with an editor, how to speak Amazon, where to market, how to engage readers, and what to do in the dark of night when you just want to give up.


Designing Games for Kids

with Tim Rodriguez and Krista White

D026 Friday 5:00 – 6:00

Designing games intended for younger audiences doesn’t mean dumbing down. What are the additional challenges involved in making products to appeal to the younger set?


What Goes Into Your GM Advice Chapter?

with Ryan Macklin, Kevin Kulp, Brennan Taylor, and John Stavropoulos

D047 Saturday 2:00 – 3:00

There’s one in most every role playing and story game. How do you teach the art of Game Mastering? What assumptions do you make about your audience? 


Inclusivity: Inviting Women to the Table

with Julia B. Ellingboe, Lillian Cohen-Moore, Elizabeth Sampat, & Shoshana Kessock

D051 Saturday 4:00 – 5:00

During last year’s Gaming as Women panel at Metatopia, the conversation turned to how men can be good allies, encouraging women to join their gaming groups and supporting safe, inclusive space in their communities. Join us for more conversation on this topic. Shoshana Kessock will facilitate this round table, populated by our women Guests of Honor and other women from the community. We invite you to join us for a detailed conversation with practical advice on how to foster communities that are inclusive to women rather than alienating. 


Role Playing Development from A to Z

with Kenneth Hite, Darren Watts, and Dave Chalker

D078 Sunday 1:00 – 2:00

The designer of an RPG makes the basic mechanics and structure. Then, the development comes in. Sometimes this is the same person, another person, or a whole team of people. Development then makes sure the RPG has everything it needs to be played, and also playtests the heck out of it to identify any flaws that need to be patched. Come learn what it’s like being an RPG developer on games both big and small, how every RPG can benefit from a strong development cycle, and what to look for in game development.


Designer Vs. Publisher: Which Side Do I Really Want?

with Ryan Macklin and Darren Watts

D083 Sunday 3:00 – 4:00

So you’ve got a game. Now you have a key question to answer- how much do I really want to be a small business owner? Is self-publishing really for me, or should I get somebody else to do that job?



Posted in Conventions, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Tale of Two Cons

This summer marked an evolution for our gaming family—we took the kids to two game conventions, Origins Game Fair and DEXCON. And this was the first year we brought the kids but not my mom (she came to Origins with us in 2011 and 2012). Here are some thoughts and lessons learned.

Confined Cons

Both Origins and DEXCON are all in one building, as long as you stay in the hotel attached to the convention center, which we did. At 11 and 12, our kids are independent enough that we could let them wander a bit on their own. They have cell phones now that they’re in middle school (we can argue about the wisdom of that elsewhere, but it was a welcome bit of security this summer). Although in some ways I felt bad leaving my mom behind, the kids no longer need a sitter. When the boy bashed his head on the desk during the evening (yes, he continued to bunk out on the floor under the desk), one phone call and we were upstairs with ice—and they already had things pretty well under control and barely needed us. But I’m still glad they called.

There’s no way we’re taking them to Gen Con any time soon where the convention is spread out over several city blocks. Maybe when they’re 15 and 16 or something like that. But in the relatively confined spaces of Origins and DEXCON, I was quite comfortable with giving them some autonomy. However, during Origins, we found those confines a bit hindering for us as some of our friends spent their evenings at neighborhood bars rather than hanging out at the Big Bar on 2. Until the kids are a good bit older, we intend to be an elevator ride away.


This year, Cam and Jessica Banks brought their boys along to Origins. Although we’ve lived states apart for years now, our families have always had a special bond and our kids are good friends. So it was fantastic to hang out with them, and Columbus is a more manageable road trip than visiting each other’s houses. As always, though, more people means more difficulty making decisions. And with more kids in the mix, it was that much more challenging especially as exhaustion started to overtake enthusiasm.

Now that we all have a better idea of what to expect, I think we’ll be able to plan a bit better in the future. Cam and Jess were both working at a booth, and I did not envy them the juggling that resulted. I’m glad we’ve managed to minimize the business we need to handle when we’re at a convention with the kids.

We also got to meet Filamena Young and David Hill’s three kids, which was lots of fun. We learned that there are no good places to meet up and hang out with seven kids in the Columbus convention center, but we all made do and the kids got along great.


It’s so tempting to wing it—to assume that, with so many options, you’ll all just find stuff to do. Every con we go to, we learn more things we should have planned better. It’s not easy to make decisions on the fly, and that gets exponentially more difficult with each person you need to take into account. Of course your schedule should be flexible, but it’s important to at least figure out what several things are most important to each person and then make sure those things happen.

This was our first time at DEXCON. We could only go for the weekend, so we showed up mid-con. I’ve heard that it’s the best convention to take kids to, but more than any other con I’ve been to, it requires planning. They aren’t kidding when they say this is the con for gaming—it hardly felt crowded because everyone was playing scheduled games all the time. We hadn’t signed up for anything because our decision to go was so last minute (and we usually don’t sign up for scheduled con games anyway), so at first we felt pretty lost. Luckily, we knew lots of people who were there and eventually got our bearings and had a great time—but we will absolutely plan things out and schedule games next time, even though there are challenges to signing up for scheduled games with young gamers (but the wonderful people at DEXCON are working with me on making that easier for parents!).

Kids’ Room

The kids’ room at Origins is amazing. We never bothered to use it before, and our kids have pretty much outgrown it, but they spent some time hanging out in there with the Banks boys. It’s a great place for kids to run around, to play and touch and manipulate things in a way they just can’t in the exhibitors’ hall. The people who volunteer there are wonderful and are all vetted well. It felt safe and welcoming. They even handled a fire alarm and evacuation incredibly well!

If you’re a game designer or retailer, it’s totally worth it to see about getting your kid-friendly games into the kids’ room. One of the volunteers taught our kids how to play Candamir and they absolutely fell in love with it. Not surprisingly, it’s now on our game shelf.

Origins Awards

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying won two awards, so that was exciting. But the awards ceremony itself was really not fun. My date for the evening was my daughter because tickets were $30 each (no, that 0 on there isn’t a typo). She and I used the comp tickets for working on a nominated game, but Clark and my son missed it because there was no way we were paying $60 so they could be there.

We sat with the Banks family, so there were three kids conspicuously sitting at our table in the not-crowded room. And Kevin Sorbo, who hosted, proceeded to make an “orgy awards” joke. My daughter, who came to the awards last year when James Earnest hosted, leaned over to me and said, “I thought he was supposed to be funny.” Sorbo didn’t even attempt to pronounce the names of the nominees because that was apparently beneath him and we should also have found these ridiculous names hi-lar-i-ous.

Although I’m pleased that Marvel Heroic Roleplaying got some well deserved recognition, the ceremony felt insulting. At least it was short.


The kids are getting pretty good at this long distance travel thing. We’re also learning that long breaks can be your friend. We took a two hour lunch break and wandered through Cabela’s on the way to Columbus and it reset the kids’ endurance for sitting in the car. It also gave us a trial run for letting them go off on their own in a public place which helped us plan better for how to keep in touch when they were on their own in the convention hall.

On the way home, on the other hand, they were utterly exhausted and slept most of the way, so we stopped as little as possible.

Here We Go Again

We worried that two cons was just a bit too much for our summer to handle, but I’m so glad we were talked into coming to DEXCON for the weekend. Next year we’re absolutely going for the whole time.

The kids spent the drive home already planning what they want to do at DEXCON next year—although of course this needs to be in addition to (absolutely not instead of) Origins. So don’t take your kids to a convention unless you’re pretty sure you’re prepared to add it to your annual schedule!

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“All Ages” Isn’t Necessarily “Kid Friendly”

When we were at DexCon, the kids and I got to play a board game in development called Game of Thorns. It combined the themes of hobbits, gardening, and Game of Thrones to see who would be ruler of the rose garden. Another kid and adult joined us, and the last player was an adult without a kid in the game.

We had a lot of fun, but none of the kids were familiar with Game of Thrones, which meant they didn’t get the conspiring and backstabbing aspect of it. So they simply didn’t do that. Within an hour, the game was over because my girl (playing “Daynearus”) persuasively explained that she wouldn’t kill us with her dragons as long as we invited her to our garden party. So we all wisely said yes, worked together, and won the game as a team. While that was awesome in its way—and preferable from my point of view because my kids have a limited attention span and an hour or so is plenty for one game—I felt bad for the non-kidded adult who didn’t get to actually experience the game the way it’s intended to be played. He was a great sport, but that’s not the experience he signed up for.

As more and more gamers start bringing their kids to gaming conventions, I’ve definitely noticed the atmosphere, at least at the conventions we go to, getting more family friendly. There are a lot more activities for kids and a lot of things available to all ages and explicitly welcoming of beginners.

Our kids are a weird age, though. Most of the stuff aimed kids is really aimed at much younger kids, like early elementary and younger. Most of the “all ages” stuff applies to content and not to the realities of tweens around the gaming table.

Our kids want to play grown up games, but they haven’t quite mastered some of the skills required for that—like sitting still for 4 hours and focusing on what everyone else is doing without dropping your dice on the floor, repeatedly bumping the table, and making distracting noises. At home, we’re prepared to deal with that. At a con game, you can’t assume that the players and the GM or moderator are actually signing on for that kind of experience. It’s nerve-wracking for the parents, frustrating for the kids, and potentially annoying for other gamers.

At Origins, we deal with it by not signing up for any scheduled games. We play in the Board Room and in the hotel lobby with just our family or with friends who know they’re sitting down to a game with kids. At DexCon, that approach left us without a lot to play at first.

We do, however, have amazing friends who can make anything kid friendly because they’re cool like that.

Shoshanna Kessock, John Adamus, and the rest of the crew in the Dresden Files LARP provided my girl with an incredible first LARP experience. She played the role of Ivy (the Archive) and had the time of her life—unsurprisingly, this wasn’t an all ages event, but since they had invited her to play they were ready to deal with a 12 year old wandering around well past her bedtime in the midst of werewolves, vampires, wizards, and a variety of questionably intentioned fae. Because the moderators were looking out for her, a late night LARP about the impending destruction of the world became kid friendly.

When Clark and I wanted to playtest The New World with Bill White (which was arguably all ages, but definitely not kid friendly), Tim Rodriguez hung out with our kids and played Star Munchkin and playtested his own card game with them. Because he’s patient and a good teacher, it was one of the highlights of the con for them, even though learning the game was challenging. Playtesting can absolutely be kid friendly, if that’s what the playtester is trying to do.

As anyone who’s ever been in middle school is painfully aware, there’s this weird middle ground where you’re ready to start acting like an adult some of the time, but you’re not quite up to doing it all of the time. When you have middle school kids at a game convention, they’re probably not going to want to get grouped in with the little kids—they’re ready for more, and for them to grow as gamers we need to offer them more. However, they’re often not ready to game like adults, at least not consistently and predictably.

You’ve probably heard people talk about how video games are threatening the future of tabletop gaming. That kids these days would rather play on some game system than crack open a game book or learn a new board game. One way to attract young gamers is to make them welcome at convention games, giving them a place where they feel like they belong. This is less about appropriate content and more about the atmosphere at the table.

Maybe this can happen by the convention itself ensuring that there’s a track of games that actively welcome young players and is labeled accordingly. Or maybe Games on Demand could offer a family slot aimed at encouraging parents to bring their kids to the table. Perhaps it’s just a few GMs each labeling a session or two as aimed at young players. I’d love to see a “kid friendly” or “young players welcome” designation for convention games because, as a parent, “all ages” doesn’t give me the necessary information to know if my kids (and the people playing with my kids) will have a good experience.

Games that welcome young players should have:

  • a patient GM or moderator
  • a flexible GM or moderator who can deal with distracted players and streamline things as needed to keep the game moving
  • players with an expectation of some silliness and a certain tolerance for noise, movement, and distraction
  • a limited timeframe—probably no more than 2 hours for board games and RPGs
  • a clear statement that this game is not a babysitting service—children under 11 or so should be accompanied by an adult

A kids’ room like they have at Origins, while fantastic for younger kids, doesn’t solve the problem of tween players. My kids want to experience the convention, not spend a weekend in one room, no matter how many crafts and games are there. My hope is that a “kid friendly” or “young players” designation would help parents find convention games for their kids that are appropriate not only in content but in expectations.


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