All RPGs and Storygames by Tod Foley are now available at DrivethruRPG and RPGnow. Bring these games to your table!
Donna “Danicia” Prior is the Sparkly Princess of Social Media & Community Management. She is currently the Organized Play Manager for Catan Studio and the Executive Director of OrcaCon, the inclusive tabletop games convention. She has worked in both video games and tabletop games. In short, gamer, geek, and future wife of Wedge Antilles. Lives on Twitter as @Danicia. Find Donna on about.me/Danicia and Twitch.tv/DaniciaWhat projects have you worked on?
I’ve been working in the games industry now since 2007, starting with the video game industry. I got my start on Pirates of the Burning Sea, Guild Wars 2, Gods & Heroes: Rome Rising, TERA Online, and numerous properties for SOE (Sony Online Entertainment). I met Chris Pramas, CEO of Green Ronin Publishing, while working on PotBS, as we both worked at Flying Lab. I started contracting with Green Ronin a few years ago as the Events Manager, handling the Gen Con volunteer GM presence and outlining a Volunteer GM Program aka the Green Ronin Freebooters. After my last video game layoff, I was forwarded the Organized Play gig with Catan by a friend and that’s where I am today.
You work in areas of gaming that are often overlooked in favor of the creators and designers, but the industry relies on hundreds, if not thousands, of people who are not in the limelight. What does your job entail, and how did you get into that area of games?
My role as the Catan Organized Play Manager involves a lot of spreadsheets. Hah! I schedule regional Qualifier tournaments for the Catan National Championships where Catan is published in the English language. My largest amount of work is the US program, but I’ve also restructured the Canadian, UK, and Australia programs, plus created new programs for Ireland and Vietnam. I’ve still got so many more to put into place. I also coordinate and facilitate the Catan Masters Invitational, which is a special tournament for the top tier US players. Plus, I coordinate with our team and Asmodee for a presence at shows such as Origins, Gen Con, UK Games Expo, and more.
Whilst Organized Play Management is different from what I’ve been doing (Community Management), it still involves community outreach, communication, coordination of people and events. There’s an aspect of content creation, social media interactions, and more. My plan is to also build out some typical community gathering spaces, to help grow said community of both competitive and casual Catan players.
As far as Community Management as a career? I was actually hired right out of a game community to work on PotBS’ Community Team. I was naturally already doing outreach, working with fansites, moderating and running communities on forums, LiveJournal, and more. It was a natural progression to actually start doing it for a living. Left the IT field behind without looking back!
For the future, I’d love to do some more writing and freelance work.You spend a ton of time traveling to conventions and events. What are your secrets for survival?
Alone time! No, seriously! I avoid parties. I make sure to take extra care to eat and drink plenty of water. I will meet with friends for dinner sometimes, but otherwise, I am back in my room in the quiet, watching Netflix or reading. It helps, when you’re running a 64-person event with all the chaos that it entails. I tend to bring along protein snacks with me when doing shows, or pick some up when I arrive. Nuts, cheese, trail mix, that sort of thing. Carbs might get you a big energy rush at first, but then you crash right on down. I also don’t drink sodas, eat candy, or chug coffee. I sit whenever I can, as the standing in one place thing is super hard on one’s body.
For the travel part of it, I tend to pay for slight upgrades on flights. As example, if it’s not too expensive, I’ll upgrade to first class for the relaxation of it. Doesn’t always work, but I go for creature comforts whenever possible.There’s a lot of discussion of community and community responsibility lately. How can we build a better, stronger gaming community that welcomes everyone?
Gosh, there’s so much to unpack with this one. Really, it has to start from the top down. Geeks & gamers are not an oppressed group. Gaming and geek things are mainstream, and we should welcome the chance to play with everyone.
First, companies and community leaders should actually listen to people who aren’t already gamers. You’ll get a very different response on what people want in games and game communities. Listen to why people don’t feel welcome in game stores. Why people have a hard time finding D&D groups, tabletop groups. Find ways of making people feel welcome, instead of excluding. As an example, I was visiting a local game store. I talked with the owner at some length. He’s got a heavy Magic & Warhammer clientele. That’s not bad at all, a lot of those stores are very successful. But he wants to create a hub where everyone feels welcome to play games. Where women and families feel welcome. I asked him, “Do you have tampons and pads in your restroom?” and he looked at me like I was speaking a different language. It’s not that he was excluding people intentionally; I felt he was truly baffled why he couldn’t generate a good board game meetup hangout establishment. He’s got LOTS of potential in his store, but he just doesn’t know how to fix it.
I am experienced with games for years and years, so you have to do something super jerky for me to feel unwelcome. But, your average consumer will totally feel unwelcome if your store looks like someone’s extended basement. Clutter, posters on the wall with masking tape. Dust, unpainted concrete floors. Broken furniture (or cheap Costco folding tables and chairs) and the like. If you want to become a destination for communities, you need to clean the place up and make it friendly. It’s a hard thing, too, because that all costs money, which is something not a lot of FLGS (friendly local game stores) have, with the margins on games being so tight. That’s where it starts. If you create a welcome and safe environment, don’t tolerate harassment and grossness, you start creating a healthy community.
If you wanna have grognard shop, that’s fine, too. Some folks like that and that’s okay for them. For me, it’s sad, because it means there are heaps of people who will never feel welcome to play games, but folks can run their business how they want.You’re also an avid gamer. Which properties and settings do you most love?
I am an unabashed lover of Forgotten Realms. One of my hobbies is actually just making characters and developing backstories, in hopes of playing them in a game someday. Hell, I hope to play in a game where people love the Realms as much as I do, and will have a super RPG heavy campaign. (HINT HINT IF ANYONE IS LOOKING FOR PLAYERS). I’m a huge fan of the Shadowrun lore, but HATE the system(s). I hate math. There, I said it (I’ve got Dyscalculia). I’ve always been a big Classic Deadlands fan, but it’s super hard to find compatible players. I love love love the Dragon Age setting and hope to kick off a Roll20 campaign after con season. I don’t know Blue Rose as much as some, but I love the setting and nope to get into a campaign (or run one). And I AM SO VERY EXCITED ABOUT THE EXPANSE RPG.What is your dream game? (Either to make, or play.)
Sense8. I would LOVE to play in the Sense8 world, or run a campaign. Once Modern AGE comes out, I may try to pull together a mini convention game if Joe Carriker will help me. We have been chatting about working on this for fun ever since the series came out. Of course, I started brainstorming characters to be in different Clusters.What upcoming projects or events are you excited about?
I DID MENTION THE EXPANSE, RIGHT? I am also excited about REVOLUTIONARIES — American War of Independence RPG, Good Society: A Jane Austen Roleplaying Game, Sigil & Sign — Cthulhu Mythos RPG where you play the cultist, Satanic Panic, Mysteries of the Yōkai: An RPG Inspired by Japanese Folklore, A Delve in the Cave: 5th Edition Adventure, Overlight RPG: A roleplaying game of kaleidoscopic fantasy, and and and…well… a lot of other things.
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When I play an RPG, it’s all about the story. Sure, I enjoy the mechanics and tactical stuff too, but if the narrative of the game is lacking, I’m going to lose interest. If there’s no reason for the PCs to be interacting with each other and the game world, then I figure I may as well be playing a board game. Thankfully, most RPGs give me that story I’m looking for. Thing is, though, while most games give a good beginning and a solid middle, a satisfying ending to the game is often missing.
Let’s face it, running a campaign to its completion is hard. Life often gets in the way and derails things bad enough that the campaign dies an ignoble death or languishes in eternal limbo. Depending on why the campaign ended, you’ll get a lot of players and GMs saying they want to pick it back up and finish it properly, but the chances of that happening are incredibly rare. In my thirty-plus years of gaming, far more campaigns have died on the vine than have completed in any kind of satisfying manner.
It can happen because something changes in a player’s life, forcing them to stop playing. It can happen because the game starts going in a direction the GM didn’t expect and they panic and flake out (been there, done that). It can happen because some shiny new game comes along and everyone wants to try it, so they take a ‘little’ break that becomes permanent. And so on and so on.
One-shots may not face the exact same problem as campaigns, but they’re also not immune from the problem either. I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur of convention games, and I’ve played plenty of them that ended weirdly or badly. Usually it’s because the GM doesn’t know how to manage pacing and runs out of time for the finale they had in mind. Sometimes the players go in a completely different direction and the GM has trouble adapting and coming up with a good ending on the fly. Occasionally it’s because the other players at the table just don’t get it and delay getting to that ending no matter how hard the GM tries. Regardless of why a game ends on a flat note, it can still ruin what otherwise might have been a decent game.
I’m not an expert on this by any stretch of the imagination. In my past, I flaked out on a few campaigns because I panicked as a GM. I’ve had convention games fall flat because I couldn’t give them a decent ending or couldn’t get to the ending. What I have done, though, is work hard to try and keep that ending in mind and work on skills to try and give my players a satisfying conclusion.
So, here’s some of my advice on endings:
- Understand how stories work. While playing RPGs isn’t the same as writing a novel, understanding how action rises and falls or how stories are put together will help immensely with pacing and knowing when it’s time for a climactic conclusion. You don’t need to be an English major for this. Just study your favorite TV shows or novels and pay attention to how they wrap things up. I find modern serialized TV shows are a great example of how to do this. Think of a one-shot as a single episode of a show or a campaign as a full season. Watch how the show does story arcs and how they end episodes or season finales. You can get some useful tools for GMing in figuring out how stories are put together.
- Reconcile important dangling plot threads. A game’s ending doesn’t need to resolve every single dangling plot thread the players have ever come in contact with, but if you want your players to be truly satisfied with the ending, you damn well better know which ones are important to them. For campaigns, start working on these as you build up to the game’s finale. Hopefully you’ve got some warning or awareness that the campaign is going to be wrapping up, so you can start seeding these into sessions leading up to the end. When you don’t have time to build up to the ending, figure out which bits are most important to your players and make sure those get addressed in the ending. This one isn’t as crucial for one-shots, but it’s still good practice to be aware of the parts of the plots the players are most invested in and making sure that gets resolved.
- Timing is everything. This goes hand-in-hand with pacing, but as a GM, you must keep a handle on the amount of time you have left. For a one-shot, you know how long that sessions is supposed to last, so keep an eye on the clock. Staying on top of the pacing will help you make sure there’s enough time for that climactic ending you want to have. Losing track of time and suddenly realizing you have to wrap everything up in 20 minutes sucks hard. Campaigns also have their own timing issues. If you know that you’re going to lose a particular player in the next month and want to wrap up the campaign before they leave, you have to start planning it appropriately. You also need to have a handle on how long your finale is actually going to take. I know when I prep for my Eberron game, I often misjudge how long it’s going to take the players to handle a particular thing and have to stretch stuff between multiple sessions.
- Let them have an epilogue. In a good campaign, players have invested so much into the characters they’ve played. While the story of the campaign as a whole may wrap up as the big bad gets tossed into the fiery mouth of a volcano, what happens to the characters afterwards? Do they buy a farm and settle down to raise a family? Do they finally go home and take up their rightful place as heir to the throne? Do they eventually get bored and start training new adventurers to go off into the wild and fight against the darkness? Did they die and the town that they saved builds a memorial to them? It may not be crucial to the end of a campaign, but it can be immensely rewarding for your players to take the time to talk about what their characters do with their futures. It’s not always relevant to one-shots, but sometimes an epilogue there is a nice touch to wrap up the game.
As a final word of advice, be realistic about your group’s available time. If you can only get together once a month and even those sessions get interrupted, a grandly epic fantasy campaign may not be the best choice for your group. Ever since my group started rotating GMs every few months, and playing games more like they’re a Netflix or BBC show, we’ve mostly avoided the ignoble death of campaigns. Our games vary between short, self-contained campaigns, to ongoing campaigns that have seasons we rotate between. It has helped avoid GM burnout and prevented that sad feeling of watching a character languish in limbo, never to finish the story of their life.
How have you handled endings for your group? Do you also have a graveyard full of lost campaigns and unfulfilled characters, or were you luckier and got those solid endings more often than not? I’d love to hear your advice on giving games a satisfying conclusion.
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