We intereviewed another one of the NEOs involved with Coalescence. He’s also the guy behind the grand narrative events at NOVA Open which concluded last month. He talks about how he got into tabletop gaming and why he believes it’s an important part of the human experience.
How did you become a NEO?
It started when Age of Sigmar first dropped, I think. I grew up with a passion for historical games, which are about as narrative as tabletop games can be. There is so much background about historical units and stories about officers and soldiers in the ranks, both on the battlefield and off. You know what their regimental colors looked like, for example, what battles they fought in, although except for some “what if” speculation, we know how things turned out. Many historical games are about setting up representational armies and effectively refighting an historical battle and retelling the story. But in recent years there has been some discussion in the historical wargaming community about introducing point costs for units to create more balance and more of a competitive game that isn’t so much based on narrative results.
It was interesting to me when Age of Sigmar dropped without any points, just an open invitation to put models on the table and use the game to create some new stories. I had first started with Warhammer toward the end of 8th edition when a new store opened in my town and I wanted to support them, but the only miniatures they sold were GW products. I decided to champion Fantasy because it resonated with my historical mindset a bit more than the far future setting of 40K. But I didn’t enjoy playing the games–there seemed to be plenty of setting and lore behind the game, but I only heard players talk about unit stats and values like strength and toughness. I ran some demo games and encouraged players to create unique names for their heroes, and I ran some great Triumph & Treachery games with 3-4 players that fostered a dynamic quite unlike the tournament scene. I was also involved with setting up a store tournament, and went to my first one as a player at the NOVA Open.
But I craved more story, and when the End Times books became available I was pulled into the setting completely. Heroes were killed and stuff was happening! And I was probably one of the rare individuals that found the destruction of the Old World to be a satisfying conclusion to an epic story rather than the end of a long and beloved era. I was ready for something new already!
So, Age of Sigmar was the first time I talked my wife into playing a game. I already had some models and invited her to just try a game with me. She agreed to play for 45 minutes, and made me promise I wouldn’t trick her into playing any longer than that. I set her up with a small band of Aelves across the table from a larger horde of Skaven clanrats. She didn’t think it would be a fair game at first, but then an hour later she was asking me to put more rats on the table so her heroic Aelves could slaughter more of them!
A few weeks after AoS had arrived, I answered a call in the NOVA Open newsletter for some volunteers to take the lead on developing and running some fantasy events. NOVA was only about 5 weeks away, and I later discovered that they usually like to plan events 10 months in advance of the convention. But I found myself on a conference call with Mike and this other guy I had never met before, and we came up with a basic plan to run some games at NOVA Open 2015.
Brian and I had 6 players that weekend, and one of them was my wife. We counted wounds to deploy armies and, surprise, the Tomb Kings player won all his games when he summoned skeleton archers and tomb scorpions to destroy his enemies! But we had fun and after it ended I started writing the narrative event which would be separate from the competitive event at NOVA in 2016. And I was on my way to becoming a NEO! You can read more about the AoS events at NOVA Open on my blog.
When I started writing the narrative events for 2017 I followed what had happened with the Realms at War event in the U.K. I borrowed some ideas from their event and ended up texting with some of the guys. Next thing I knew I was invited to join their group with Eric, etc. to create the global narrative event we ended up calling Coalescence. It was too late when I realized the guys were just interested in putting me to work writing copy in the dungeon of their secret and mysterious tower.
Can you tell us about your local group?
The closest gaming store was almost an hour’s drive away, so I started hosting single-day, multi-game events there every other month or so for different games. When a store opened up in my town, less than a mile from where I lived, my lifestyle changed drastically. I no longer needed to reserve days to spend gaming. I could just decide to swing by after work and meet a friend for a game on a weeknight. I put a lot of effort into helping promote that store and support it, to the point that I decided to get into Warhammer Fantasy Battles so I could run demo games and events in the store, and I met a lot of new friends that I hadn’t realized lived in the area and were interested in miniature wargaming. Unfortunately the store closed almost exactly one year after it opened. But my wife and I had bought a house during that year, so I set up a table downstairs and started hosting games at home.
I also became involved with running a monthly tabletop gaming event for teens at our local library. The focus is on playing board games, especially cooperative games, and demonstrating good sportsmanship and the joy of playing a game with a group in a social setting. We started with video games as well, but the kids come for the tabletop experience so that’s what we emphasize. We’ve also run some miniature wargaming events in the library as well.
We call our local club Warpeper as a play on the name of the town. And the logo for the local chamber of commerce at that time featured a red chili pepper, so we incorporated that into our group and I even order chili pepper trophies for events. We have a half dozen players that play AoS, but we also spend some hobby time together. Although the backyard BBQ and gaming event we talked about doing this summer never happened!
But just as important as my local group of players are to me, I also consider the NOVA Open team to be the other part of my hobby group. Most of the year I only see some of them a few times at terrain building sessions or on conference calls, but then we spend the better part of a week together before Labor Day, and being a small part of such an awesome group of passionate organizers all helping to raise tens of thousands of dollars for charities has become the highlight of my year.
Of course, being involved with the Coalescence group has prompted me to think a bit wider than my local region. One of my hopes is to promote tabletop gaming in general as a means to bring people together and strengthen communities through the social activity that, I believe, reinforces and satisfies our need to share stories and discover our shared humanity.
Why is narrative gaming important to you?
I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on, and I have a passion for hearing stories of all kinds, not just the ones written in important books. I believe storytelling is a key part of what makes us human, and as technology and civilization has changed so has the way we share those stories. I think tabletop gaming is a different kind of storytelling, maybe not as meaningful as stage plays or novels, but it’s certainly more interactive than television programming. I want to share how gaming can be more than just rolling dice and winning, and I believe narrative gaming begins to scratch that surface and get to the heart of why we are drawn to sitting around campfires and telling stories to each other.
Narrative gaming, and particular Age of Sigmar, is approachable to almost all ages and provides an expansive framework which allows for plenty of doodling and coloring both inside and outside the lines, so to speak. It’s different than historical gaming and provides players the opportunities to explore those epic heroes and adventures that first captured our imaginations when we were young. It’s a way to rewrite or at least reconsider those ancient myths and recreate them for our modern age. Of course we know that magic doesn’t make the planets circle around a sun or giant lizards can breathe fire, but when we create a space where we can consider any thing possible and even likely then I believe we get in touch with something that is in our hearts rather than in our minds.
What tips do you have to share with other NEOs?
No event is too small. If you can get a friend to meet you for a game then you can create a narrative and a campaign. Get three friends together and now you can spend a day playing games and developing stories. I started with no idea how I should run an event, but I learned from experience and by talking with others. A few years ago I wouldn’t have believed I would have 16 players enjoying a narrative gaming event at NOVA Open!
Don’t feel like you have to create the narrative yourself: leave plenty of blanks for your players to fill in and encourage them to do so. At the start of the narrative at NOVA Open in 2016 I had this idea of the shadow ziggurat as an ancient monument rooted in place, for example, but then during our world building session one player suggested it teleported to a seemingly random location each night; that turned out to become a big part of the rest of the event with players effectively trying to track down the location of the ziggurat and even predict the movements. Let your players do the heavy lifting and encourage everyone to contribute. They will feel more invested, and usually they will come up with better ideas than you will on your own!
I played a fair amount of roleplaying games when I was younger, and I never enjoyed so much the kind of gamemaster that considered a campaign his story to tell with the players simply running characters through a series of predetermined scenes. The best kind of game, in my opnion, is when it becomes everyone’s story to tell, and each player adds to the total narrative in different ways. A great narrative game can be something like a group of musicians jamming together–the story can be so much better, or at least more fun, if everyone gives each individual some time in the spotlight while also trying to create a cohesive story which involves all the musicians as a group.
I’m running a team narrative event in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the U.S.A. on November 5th. It’s the second year in a row I’ve run this, and I call it “Fawkes Hunt” as a play on the holiday of the date. The story revolves around this Wizard Fawkes that stole a powerful artefact from a king, and last year we had six players each lead armies to hunt down the wizard and retrieve the artefact. Of course, it fell into the hands of an Ironjawz boss that didn’t care much about rules and kings, so this year we’ve advanced the storyline a bit–the king is dying, and different factions in the kingdom are trying to consolidate power to install the next ruler. Each team of players is going to look for the wizard and the artefact, and the day will end with a series of big siege games (using the siege rules from the General’s Handbook 2017) with the leading teams trying to protect the political power they have managed to accumulate in previous game rounds and the trailing teams just trying to knock down the walls of the city and take it all away. It should be fun! If you’re nearby and interested then check out the event pack here.