D20 Games Alameda

Diary of a Mad Businessman 9: To be or to Close

 

Diary of a Mad Businessman 9: To be or to Close-eep

By Ben Calica

People thought the big danger point for small shops like mine was that first couple of months closed. But the real cliff is coming now. Many of us have been clawing to keep alive long enough to be able to survive to the other side of this, but after X-mas there will be a lot of signs in windows of beloved favorite shops that none of us wanna see. What we need isn’t the flurry of go fund me kindness or even a burst of business now. What we need is to know that every month for the next year, we will get enough business to make it. So how to do that?

(Note…this was first written over 4 months ago and put into a drawer to hopefully never pull out again. I really hoped I was wrong, that the initial burst of kindness and charity would see us through to the other side. But to many mistakes were made and the other side is probably a year away. So I’m facing a choice in the next month or so to try and keep fighting to get us across the abyss or make the heartbreaking choice to close the shop . )

 

About 3 years ago,my little local game shop, D20 Games, came to big old fork in the road. An painful dispute with a new landlord forced us to scramble for new digs, and for a while, it wasn’t looking too good. I had negotiated a lease buyout to help pay for the increase in rent we were about to take on, and I realized that one option would be to not open and just take that money to help while I went on to do something else. Basically the move would be same as making the decision to start the business again. And that gave me pause. The truth is that a (non-electronic) game store ain’t the way to the big bucks. Its a somewhat insane act of love.

 

In my case, I didn’t end up with the shop because owning a game store was the plan, or even on the list, if I’m honest. I do like games, but the real reason I bought it was to create a safe/supportive place for my own kids. What I didn’t see coming was how much the store became that for a whole community. What I discovered that I truly loved about games was their use as connective tissue to bring people together. It became a safe and welcoming place for people to get face to face, not face to screen. You know that adult you met as a kid who took you seriously, who treated you like a person and not a child. I was able to be that for an entire community of kids. And it turned out that creating a place where the smack talk/shaming wasn’t ok, where the fun came from playing with respect and kindness. And as an added bonus, I discovered that there was an opportunity, among all that trading of Pokemon and Magic cards, to find that moment when kids had to face being taken advantage of and deciding if they wanted to do that to someone else or never make anyone else feel that way. It was this hidden building block of honestly, a moment that most of us as parents missed in the flame of tears and anger. It kept me sane when the political world seemed to fill with bullies, to focus on the kids under my umbrella and do everything I could to make sure that they didn’t end up that way. I started to see the difference it meant in the families that managed to make a game night part of their regular pattern of life, and started doing everything I could to encourage and enable that, in a world where parents felt like they were losing their kids into the screens they carried in their pockets. The shop had transformed into something that became much more important to me then I thought.

 

When I told our community about our crossroads 3 years ago, about making the move or calling it quits, I was completely unprepared for the response. The way I felt about the community turned out to to both ways. I felt how important and valuable the place had become to a big range of people. And it was more then just words. When we did find a place, and had two weeks to do a move and build out that should have taken two months, we were filled with volunteers who hauled boxed, picked up paint brushes and anything else that needed getting done. When I think back on , it brings annoyingly cliche tears to my eyes. I’ve never felt as appreciated as I did in that moment. I understood how much impact we had, and what that meant to the community, and that there were things more important than $$. It took us a couple of years to both pay off the move and get the business back to decent footing. In fact in the beginning of 2020, we started what would become the first truly profitable year we’d had since the move. (I found that out when I applied for grants that made me do the year to year comparisons early. I oscillate between being glad to know we had gotten it dialed in, and not wanting to know just how hard the pandemic whacked us.)

 

When we had to close because of the pandemic, it was a surreal blow, but I was ok with it. I knew that if someone came to me and said “if you close for the next couple of months, it will save your mother or father’s life” that I would have done so in a heartbeat. How could I do any less for someone else, particularly if that someone was the loved one of someone in our community. The day that we heard was a Monday, a day we were usually closed, and I quickly came up with the idea of selling game loot bags, to give people something to do when they were locked down and to try and get some sales before the cash registers stopped ringing. And then something that felt very much like the end scene in It’s a Wonderful Life happened. People showed up and bought those bags in droves, and I figured out pretty quickly that it was their way of trying to keep us alive. It felt wonderful.

 

And I wasn’t the only one. Small business all around me and the country started finding their loyal customers were just that. Willing to do whatever they could to help. There was a huge trend in selling gift certificates to keep them alive, and suddenly, in the midst of all that kindness, a terrible reality came to me. See the gift certificates were a perfect window into what was going to happen. The problem with them is that they gave income now, but meant that later, when they were back and able to function, their most loyal customers would be coming back to do business with slips of paper for money that had been spent in rent to make up for the months without. At the time when the shop would need as much business as they can to just get back to where they were, it would be like they were having to pay back a loan in full. It was like all those rent deferrals, that would come back later to people who might be working again, but sure as hell weren’t earning enough to pay a rent and a half or really any big increase to pay back for time where they didn’t have the income. And this wasn’t gonna be a couple of months we’d have to tread water to make it though, it was going to be at least a year and a half, probably two. Basically, we were one of those business that had been about lots of people close enough to be across the table from each other.

 

The soul of our business is using games as a connector to get people face to face, and to let kids get a chance to learn how to win with grace, lose with style and play for joy (our tagline..it’s on the back of our shirts/sweatshirts). Our way of competing against Amazon was by doing events that got people face to face, and hand picking good stuff and really listening and tuning suggestions of games to each person. And ironically enough, in the three months before the pandemic, we had recovered from the hit that all shops take when they make a move and were on the way to have an actually decently profitable year. But the truth is that it’s gonna be a long time till that is ok. And I’ve been goofy and paid attention to the original reopening guidance that says that you need a drop in cases for two weeks before you can start doing that. (I know that the death rates are dropping, even as more and more folks are being infected, but I’ve gotten to know some “long haulers” and there is whole uncovered set of people, something like 10% of those who get Covid that go through this combo of epstein-barr and migraines that leave them functionally debilitated for months if not permanently in some cases. And I’ll admit directly, that I’m scared. Having over a hundred people a week come into the store kind of paints a pretty big bullseye on my chest.)

 

So now I’m looking down the barrel of a shotgun. The truth is that I’ve been taking half the unemployment and using it as the government support that never really showed up to keep the place open, which I’m probably really regret when if I can’t make it through this and need to pay my own rent. (The landlords for the store have been good at giving us a rent reduction so everyone is suffering but we can all have a chance a making it through this.)

 

I don’t want charity, there are more important things for that then us. And honestly, although I would love as much business as we can get for the holidays, that is just gonna add a few more feet to the plank. What I need now is some way to know that enough business is coming in each month for the next year that we can make it through this. I love my community dearly, but if I have to go through another 12 months of living in anxiety and fear that we are gonna be able to pay rent/bills, I’ll be a torn apart wreck at the end of that time. And I’d like to do it in a way that lets us keep doing what the soul of the store is, having the games be something good in keeping us connected, not only through this, but as a joyful part of our lives.

 

What we are going to do, beyond asking for as much of the holiday business as we can get, is to make a small collection of regular (monthly) D20 Club memberships. These will include regular amounts for monthly purchases for magic/pokemon players that will get extra bonus thrown in when those purchases are made, to D&D memberships that will include Zoom style D&D until it is truly safe to do so in the store again. And my absolute favorite, a monthly family/friends game night kit that consists of carefully curated games that we all get to play together for that month, with nights where we do online sessions to help teach/be there to answer questions, special one page quick reference sheets to make the games easier to get into and other goodies. The most important part would be that in exchange for helping us out, we will help give an excuse to bring forward in to the new shape of live that we create for ourselves, a regular night to connect and have fun with each other, with the phone in the baskets. Maybe we get to create a whole community in Alameda that are all doing something joyful together.

 

I’ve talked a number of times in the past of how this is a time when the very blowing up of our lives has the hidden value. When our assumptions about what can and can’t be done get thrown up in the air, that when it falls, if we are careful, we might get to put it back together in ways we like better. Maybe learning how to work from home gives a chance to pollute less and spend that commute time with our families instead. Maybe we realise that distance isn’t as much of a barrier to staying in real connection to people we love. And maybe the impossible moments when we actually got to sit down with each other and play games instead of everyone surrounded by cones of silence powered by the glowing screens in their hands. Maybe we keep the best of what we had to make of this mess, including all the value of regular family/friend game nights.

 

And I’ve talked both about my deep concern about the hovering shade of digital nicotine (I know other parents nod their head in understanding about looking at the phone’s in our kids hands and seeing the distance and danger that lives in within that ecosystem), and the transformational value of setting up regular game nights at home, where the phones go in a bucket and people are just with each other in real time. For a lot of families, getting to do things like that with the kids and each other has been one of the great silver linings in all this, and trying to have that be one of the changes that we keep from this instead of a brief moment is of irreplaceable value.

 

So here is the deal, from my heart to my customers. I want to try and keep making this work. I’m gonna put these offerings out for the holidays before thanksgiving. They will range from $50-$150 (or more if people are able/want to help more)per month. For us to be able to make our monthly base costs and survive, we need about $10k in sales. So we will need between 50–100 people to sign up to make this work. If I get there, we’ll make it. If I get half that, I’ll take the scary chance and keep doing it anyway. If we can’t, then I think I’m gonna need to close the shop. I know it’s a bit of a buy this magazine or we shoot this dog proposition, but it is unfortunately the truth of it.

 

If you are interested in seeing what we are gonna offer, Email me with your name, email and cell number. If you include a picture of you, and your family if you live with one, in masks, I’ll send you a little thank you gift/bribe back in the form of a one time use code for a free Pokemon or Magic goodie to pick up at the store. (Good till January 2021 or longer if I decide to.)

 

Regardless of what happens here, I deeply love this community and I hope I’ve made it better. I know it has made me better.

More Diary of a Mad Businessmen Stories

What’s a Responsible Game Store to Do?

I’ve been struggling with the right thing to do at the shop to be good ducks right now and it is very tough. We don’t wanna be over the top, but we also really want to make sure we keep people safe and do our part to help as we can.  And we can also see how we can shift the business so we are still around when the cough’s clear.

Last week we replaced our usual tablecloths with the not as pretty ones we had that we used for parties, since we can clean/disinfect them. And before we did the magic draft where we passed the cards around we had everyone use disinfectant hand wipes.  Seemed a bit overly cautious at the time, but not so much at this point.  We are trying to figure out the best ways to make events at the store as safe as we can, including lots of disinfectant and even limiting the number of people at the events to insure more space.

We also know that we actually have something to offer to help so that people who are stuck at home as an alternative to video games or getting utterly sucked into phones.  We are going to look into trying figure out how to get people games in ways that don’t necessarily require coming into the store. And we are looking at creating game events for (limited) amonts of kids during the days when they are off school.  We don’t want these to be lots of people coming in and out, instead we need it to be less people who are staying with  a small group for the day.

So here is what we are doing as of now:

  1. Friday Night Magic will be 4 pack sealed instead of a draft:
    For the next few weeks everyone will get a “prize” Pack with the normal 3 and then the prizes will be promo packs for the top 4 players.  Since we now have the Mystery Packs ($5)  in, and were gonna do the drafts for $20 anyway, this should still be plenty of fun, sort of a Chaos Sealed. –Limiting to 26 players to insure there is enough space to have between people.
  2. We are gonna be suspending the Pokemon League for the next 3 weeks at least.  Don’t think there is any way to insure the little ones keep their fingers out of eyes, and mouths between playing/trading.
  3. Enforcing the 6 person max for D&D so there can be space between folks at the tables.
  4. Well–don’t be sick.  😉  We are all doing our best through this, but one of the biggest things is if yer coughing etc, don’t take the chance.  The truth is that a pretty good percentage of the folks who come to the store are young enough that they will likely be fine though this, but that don’t mean that they might not inadvertently pass it on to another kid.  No big deal unless they end up inadvertently passing it on to their grandma.  So to protect all our grandmas…don’t take the chance…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(April fools)Wizards adding unusual requirements for Magic Players to attend events

Earlier this year, Wizards introduced so changes for those of us scheduling events that actually made a lot of sense.  They let us start setting age limits for the events. (It used to be that if an event was sanctioned for Magic or D&D, that those events had to be open to all players.) Seems pretty inclusive, but what that meant was that we couldn’t do a kids only event and prevent an adult for attending, or if we wanted to do an after hours, grown-ups only event, stores wouldn’t be able to do that.

However, Wizards has been making some other decisions that have been somewhere between confusing us and, honestly, making us pretty upset. This latest on is clearly in the confusing category, with a little in the latter.  Apparently some internal research they have done has indicated that a better metric for determining appropriate levels of developmental maturity has to do with physical growth over chronological growth.   I guess it has been known for a while that girls are more mature at an early age then boys and that often is connected with early growth spurts.

As a result, we are waiting for a package coming from Wizards that is a 6 foot plus stand-up that includes a measuring tool for us to use to determine who is allowed in the adult/mature events vs. the less developed.  For those who come from groups that tend to shorter stature or who have genetic dispositions in that direction, there is a section on the Wizards site to apply for exempted status.  The cards will apparently take between 2-3 weeks to arrive, but we will be able to look it up on the Wizard website so it shouldn’t cause too much disruption to attending the events.

I want to make a personal comment on this.  It is not what I would choose and I could ignore the requirement I would.  I think it is utterly foolish, first to trust this kind thing, no mater how convincing the research seems, and then to create such an elaborate plan without testing it locally somewhere first.  It’s truly unbelievable.

Dominaria-Garfield’s Magic Touch is Back

 

Buy a box for Dominaria is unique in two ways:

  • First 40 boxes sold include a buy a box promo card that isn’t available in ANY OTHER WAY

Release Weekend Events for Dominaria 4-27 to 29th

Friday Night Magic Draft @ 7pm $15pp

Sat THG @ 4 pm using the Prerelease Packs (6 packs and two foil promo cards per kit)

Sunday 10 am Sealed with Remaining Prerelease kits
: $30 in advance and $35 at the door

 

Karn, Scion of Urza

(Personal Note…been using Draftsim to do test drafts/sealed’s of Dominara for the last week….this set is a BLAST!!-Ben)  Dominaria, is the homeworld of Magic..the place where it all began, so it’s a special treat that when they decided to return to it for the first time since Urza traipsed around Time Spiral, that they invited a special guest to help with the set Design.  For those who weren’t around when Richard Garfield created Magic, may know him better from the last major time he lent a hand, the deeply beloved original Innistrad block.  Now the legend is back to help with a set that is both literally and looks to become figuratively legendary.

Set info: 

Song of FreyaliseSagas: The new set is all about the Legendary and includes a great new type of card called a Saga.  These are enchantments that tell their own story, by firing off a new “chapter”  over the 3 turns.  These are extremely interesting and pretty damn fun.

 

 

 

The Cards: https://magic.wizards.com/en/products/dominaria/cards

The New mechanics: https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/feature/dominaria-mechanics-2018-03-2

 

 

D20 Games-Intro to D&D for Parents (and others)

By Ben Calica

This guide is designed as a simple, English translation for parents, significant others, and just those who felt curious as to what the heck D&D is all about.  We run D&D Encounters at D20 Games these days, and I’m old enough to have played the game with the first white books back in the mid 70s.  I’m also a dad of tween twin boys and a daughter who’s three years younger, so I can do the kid to parent translation pretty well. 😉

What is D&D?  Dungeons & Dragons is the game the popularized role playing.  Created in the mid-70’s,D&D was unique in casting one of the players in the role of the Dungeon Master.  A person who both kept the secrets of the world that the other players were trying to discover, and acted as a living interpreter of the rules, allowing players to try all sorts of creative solutions to problems they encounter, and not be limited by only what the original game creators set down on paper.  This was quite literally a game-changer, in that it really allowed people to use their imaginations to inhabit characters that they created and moved through the world.  It works best when the players access the freedom of their 8-12 year old selves and create characters that are ones they would have chosen to play on a playground.  (BTW…those of us who were around for the first round of this remember the media frenzy over kids in the sewers doing horrible things.  That was more made up then the game.  The truth was it was a bunch of us utterly harmless little nerd boys and girls being imaginative in the basement of our parents houses.)

D20

D20s-The rolls at the heart of role playing.  The D20 that is the name of our store refers to 20-sided dice, and are the key to most role playing games.  As much control as the Dungeon Master needs to have over the world that he/she is slowly unveiling, if they end up as the autocrat that just tells a story without any possibility of success or failure outside of what is ordained by them, the game becomes either stale or feels unfair.  Instead, based on a characters developing abilities  the Dungeon Master either consults pre-created tables of possibilities for certain types of actions (attacking with a sword, jumping out of the way of a dragon’s fire breath, getting a good nights sleep without being discovered by some roving band of creepy creatures), or makes their best guess for some creative idea a player has, and assigns a number that they must beat for that to succeed.  “I want to use my special agility to do a back-flip over my friends head to the back of the group.”  “Ok…you need to roll an 18 to make that happen.  Since you have extra agility bonus..you get to add 4 to whatever you roll.  Roll a d20!”  It is the mix of imagination and estimated chance that is the heart of what makes role playing games ongoing fun, and a story that even the Dungeon Master doesn’t know how will play out.

D&D as avengers


18 again, the birth of a character.
  The other key part of what makes role playing games fun, is the birth and evolution of your character.  A few different methods can be used, from the genetic randomness of rolling dice to determine the basic DNA of your character.  Are they quick  smart, wise, strong charming, or tough, or some combo of the above.  The first method involved rolling three six sided dice for each attribute, and then figuring out based on what you got what that character would be.

For example right now I’ll roll out one to show you.ac-muppets

Well…obviously this guy is going to be hiding in the back of the group, not swinging anything bigger then a stick.  But…with those Wisdom and Intelligence scores, looks like we might have a wizard or kind of skinny healer.
Using the more popular method of rolling 4 6-sided dice and throwing out the lowest one, we get a little better result.

This guy (or gal), could end up as a thief, or bard, or ranger, whose dexterity will make a bow sing in their hands.  How the characters start out is only the birth, because as they go out in the world and experience interesting things, they gain, well, experience.  and that experience directly leads to them increasing their levels, and with each of those new levels, their skills, toughness and abilities increase, so that the monsters that almost destroyed them in that first week of play, go running from them a few sessions later.  The greater the risks, the greater the rewards in terms of experience points AND goodies that they find along the way.  But those risks are very real (in the world of the game), in that if the hit points of your character (A number created based on your level, constitution, and what profession your character chooses), gets knocked down in battle to 0, then your character, well, dies.  Most often in the early levels, your playing buddies (your group), will drag you back to town, and find a sufficiently powerful healer to bring you back.  But that gets increasingly expensive both in terms of gold you’ve been able to collect, and eventually costing you some of those experience points you’ve been working so hard to gather.  Plus that fact that during the rest of that particular adventure, when the DM asks each character what they want to do next, the answer from you is “lying in the corner…still dead.”

DnD_Character_SheetThe DM–The guy that gets to have fun by not playing the whole time:  The Dungeon Master, or DM, has a very important and sometimes tricky role.  It is their  job to have either created or familiarized themselves with the world and adventure that the players are going to encounter.  They need to keep things moving at a good pace so people keep having fun in the world, and they have to strike a very careful balance between making the world so easy to defeat that there is no sense of real risk or drama, and making it so tough that the players feel like they are spending half their time trudging back to town to get resurrected   They need to make puzzles that are solvable, but hard enough to be challenging, and they need to be open to the players creativity taking the story in a direction they didn’t anticipate. Common mistakes are to become the great and powerful OZ, manipulating the players into doing things they really don’t want to do, or being seen as vindictive and mean..being the enemy of the players, as opposed to their guide to a world they have never encountered.   The best DM’s enjoy the story being told and it’s telling, and are open to knowing that the player’s creativity is a huge part of what makes that story fun for everybody, including them.

Pathfinder_RPG_Core_Rulebook_coverD&D vs. Pathfinder.  Both of these games were born from the original D&D.  While many people were kind of mad about D&D 4.0 (kind of an attempt to turn D&D into World of Warcraft) they redeemed themselves with 5th edition. It honors the best part of role playing games, the, well, role playing. Pathfinder is a game made by a different company that was founded by a number of people who used to work on D&D an has stayed very much in the spirit of the original D&D.  The reality is that both of these are brothers in spirit, and you can’t really go wrong with either.  There are also a host of other genres of role-playing that have been born from the same basic ideas and that speak to the different 8-12 year-olds in each of us.

Special notes from one parent to another:  First off…most any game that gets people face to face instead of screen to screen is a good thing.  Second, the game is jam packed with creative problem solving and social skills building opportunities.  The books are expensive (in the $30-40 range) and they will read them to the point of seeming obsession, but what is happening is that they are using the possibilities in the books to load themselves up with tools to solve problems when they play as well as doing creative thinking in their heads about what they could become.  The games can go from a couple of hours a time, to 2 in the morning when they get older.  It is the, “let’s just see what is behind that next door” that create that.    Obviously, the timing issues are different based on the age of the kid.

It takes a lot to get a group of kids together on a regular basis to play, and once a game is going and gets healthy it is worth encouraging.  Despite whatever “Revenge of the nerds” preconceptions there are about people who play, the reality is that the people who are drawn to the game do tend to be disproportionately bright, mostly because they don’t like the constraints that standard games place on their creativity.  The groups also tend to provide good social support.  The characters they create have different specific  ethical rules, and it is important for the player to stay true to those rules, making for a great chance to explore and understand those. For the kids who are bright but have social skills challenges, the role playing stuff is wonderful, both because it provides some set of written rules for social interactions, and because usually the DM provides a level of moderation for social issues that come up that makes the sessions mini-social skills groups wrapped in a big spoonful of sugar.

Announcements

12/29/17  Biggest Sale of the year…Pop up sales event….

  • Pokemon

    • League  on… 11-1 Pokemon League
  • Magic–.
    • Friday
      • Unsatable For FNM!!! @ 7 pm
    • Saturday:
      • 4 pm..Unstable THG-$20 pp
    • Sunday–
      • Open at 10 am.  1 pm Master’s Sealed- $90 $60 (2 Iconic, 3 Modern (2015 & 2017) and 1 Eternal Masters). Requires minimum of 4 players.

Here is a sealed and draft simulator loaded with the new cards…Draftsim

 

 

Huge news… We’re alive!!  And have a new location for D20 Games…

So I get to come out of radio silence with excellent news… Found a new home for D20 Games.  Many of you know of the fun and frolic we’re gone through over the last year+ since our building got bought.  Well, we’ve been looking down the barrel at moving at the end of March and not finding anyplace good to be except ones that would literally quadruple our rent.   (That was the source of the potential Kickstarter…trying to figure out a way to continue doing this that didn’t have a succeed or go utterly bankrupt component.)

But at the virtually last minute,  phew!!!

The new location is 1530 Park St., right across from the Sub Par and a couple of doors down from the bike shop.  We have about 3 months of work to do in the next 3 weeks, So it’s going to be a little stressful, crazy, and ultimately a very good thing.

In the meantime,  Barn raising time… Gonna need some help and I’m sending out the call.   If you have skills and are willing to lend a hand, send an email.  We will need people with the following skills:

  • Architect/designers
  • Contractor types
  • Media/PR types
  • A video person or two (we need to make an ad or a few for the Alameda theater.
  • Graphics people-digital and real
  • People who can spackle and paint
  • Tough and rough guys that can get some joy from tearing out an old horrible carpet.
  • People with vans/pickup trucks that can help help us haul at first and then move at second.
  • People who can help us find good donated homes for some things that need them (extra stacking chairs, boxes of common and uncommon cards to be made into donations for schools and after school programs)
  • Someone in the area of the new store and the old store who is willing to get their yearly huge dumpster from the utilities folks that we can use.
  • Other stuff???(just let us know what we can do.)

Email us at info@d20alameda.com if you can help.

 

Phew…and I mean phew…

How to Help with D20 Mad Creator Kickstarter

So here are the things that we need help with (and this list will grow):

  • Artists conceptions of the special rooms (architect type images to show what we are thinking of)
  • Help making a video:  We need to make a video for the kickstarter to explain what we are doing.
  • Need some IT/web help.  We need to set up mailchimp and we need to do a big shift of the website.
  • Help getting the word out.  We need to reach out as wide as we can.  If what we are doing is important to you, we need you to reach out to PTA’s, local groups, friends, anyone else who you think would believe that what we are doing is important.
  • We need people to subscribe to the Kickstarter as soon as we get it up there.  I can only do this if I know that people will want it enough to pay.  And I’m not shy about asking those who can to kick in what they can.   I spent the last 5 years doing D20 more out of love for my kids and the community then for anything near the money that I used to make.  And I’m willing to put myself at big risk to do this.  But not if I’m alone, or if it is only something that people talk about wanting but don’t participate in.  I need help, and with that help, I think we’ll make something very special.

Email us at info@d20alameda.com if you want to volunteer, or just want to make sure you are being kept up to date.

We will keep adding things to the list as they come up.

 

 

Mad Creators Club

What’s going on with D20?  We have to move by April First, so the brutal truth is we either evolve, or we shut down.
The scoop:
Here’s the deal.  I love D20 and I love what we’ve built here and it would break my heart not to have it continue.  On the other hand, Amazon et. al. has put a lot of pressure on things, and as much as you’re continued patronage has helped, there is only so much of a premium that people are willing to pay to keep shops like what we were doing alive. Prices for rent in Alameda have gone bonkers and it is clear that there is no way to make a store like what we are now work without a serious upgrade to what we do. We have to leave our current location by April 1st, and we have found a potential replacement on Park St. but it is almost 4 times what we are current paying in rent, and believe it or not, that’s a good deal right now (eep).
The big decision: So I’m facing a pretty big decision point about the future D20.    We either need to go big (expand/evolve) or go home (shut D20 down in April).  To continue the business, we need to expand to do what we’ve been planning for a while, to be a true mental/artistic playground (Legos, robotics, chess, mad science/art).  This aligns well with our philosophy and what we do well, but to be utterly frank, will require me to take a huge personal financial risk.  So I’m going to open up about what we’re thinking and put some of it back in your hands.  I’m going to put together a Kickstarter, or some equivalent, and if what we want to do matches services people in the community want (and more importantly, are valuable enough to them to pay for).
 
So what are we good at? What D20 does best is provide a welcoming and safe place for people to connect face to face, not face to screen, and to get to engage their brains in a fun way. For the kids, we help them build both social and mental confidence, while modeling and molding a place where treating each other with respect can happen side by side with having fun with each other.
When we looked at it a while ago, we realized that the overlap between the kids that come here, and the ones who love legos, Minecraft, robotics, or other mad art, science, or performance it almost 100%, and they have very few places where they can stretch those other muscles.  (This next part is as a dad…) I know that our schools are working as hard as they can to take care of the kids, but they’ve been squeezed and regulated to the point where Gate and other places where it’s ok for the kids to test their limits or where they can explore at their actual pace is a wish on the wind.  We all know that creativity leads to better thinking, and that dumping a ton of extra work, does not create the challenges and sets of accomplishment that our kids need/crave.  And for many of us, we want to play too, exploring stuff side by side with our kids when we can (or when they’ll let us.)

The Vision

The Mad Scientists/Artist/Maker Club. So the vision for the expanded D20 is the Mad Scientist/artist/maker’s club.  A place that has spaces to mess around with the tools and toys of creativity and challenge, and regular and special events where they can do so.   We will make money by running workshops and providing access to some special spaces.
The philosophy behind all of it will be:
  • Creative (Learn what’s been done before, but don’t assume that’s all that can be.  It’s better to do lots of failed experiments and figure out something new, then just color in the lines.)
  • Smart (learn why things do what they do and be smart enough to be creative safely.)
  • Challenge (Push yourself to find your limits, and then go a little further.  This is a place where you can go as far as you want.)
  • Respect ( Messing around is ok, distracting is not.  We’ve all been in classes where we were frustrated because the instructor had to spend so much time wrangling kids who were messing around that there wasn’t time to really explore what was going on.  Also, as always, we’re a smack talk free zone.  Have fun with people, not at their expense.  The higher level classes are open only to those who demonstrate that they understand what they need to to be safe, and that have shown that they won’t ruin the chance for others to test their limits too.)
  • Good Alignments only (Whatever we may play in role playing games, as people, we really work to be good.  If we see a way to help, we do, if we don’t we try and find them.  Our word is good, and we know that being honorable isn’t goofy, its a real thing and it’s worth fighting for.)
The Spaces:
  • Mad Science lab (a workshop of space to work on electronics and more)
  • The Secret Study (the best space for playing tabletop games we can build)
  • The “It’s OK to get messy” Room   (A space for painting, Dyeing, gluing, Cutting, Molding, smooshing, making, creating.)
  • The Studio (A soundproof space with equipment for Recording/podcasting)
The types of Workshops:
  • Lego Engineering/robotics,
  • Arduino robotics,
  • Electronics exploration/construction,
  • Chess classes/club,
  • More unconventional twist-ups like using traditional paper marbling techniques on weird objects like sneakers.

The philosophy of the workshops:

  • Understand the basics (really grock what we’re working with)
  • Learn the techniques (know what it is and how to work with it safely)
  • Take it seriously (Having fun–Big thumbs up.  Slowing everybody else down by disrupting…not cool. This is the place where you can see what you really can do, and people messing around with the instructors and the other participants isn’t ok)
  • Get a challenge–Go nuts (there will be basic ways to deal with any challenge, but figuring out other ways to get it done is always awesome)
  •  Show you know what your doing and be respectful of others gets access to the more advanced stuff.
  • Working on something cool=having fun
  • Show you know what you are doing AND be a good teammate/mentor to others and you may get tapped to join the Igors (the Mad Science/art jr. assistants/sidekicks.) Being and Igor is a great honor/responsibility.  You will get to become class assistants, and get special hours access to the labs as well as special Igor only events.)

Examples of Workshops:

Electronics deconstruction:
Tear apart old electronics in this treasure hunt challenge to find the parts you need to complete your secret goal.  Each class will have a quick-solder challenge to complete a mini machine.  Teams that complete their class challenge early will have access to the higher level challenges. Requires basic soldering qualification class or equivalent.
 Things learned (in a much more fun/hidden way)in the class would include:
  • How to solder well (de-soldering is much harder then soldering)
  • Different types of common electronic parts, (including what is safe and what to be careful of)
  • How to not be afraid/intimidated by the electronics around you
  • Fix/re-purpose instead of throwing stuff away
Cardboard Architecture:
In this three week class, participants will build a functional piece of furniture, a habitat where they will spend the night outside in a park, and a human portable entry into the Alameda 4th of July parade. Oh, yeah…and all of these things will be built out of donated used cardboard box material.  The goals of the class will be to learn and understand the architectural and mechanical principals behind designing something that can be built and can take the forces applied. (Understanding the nature of the materials.) Along the way will be math challenges (can you predict when our test bridge will collapse under the weight), design challenges, artistic challenges and creative challenges.  As with many of our classes, beat the first challenges early to get access to the advanced stuff.
  • Alameda Mystery Theater: a student produced series of radio/podcast audio Theater… script writing, performance, sound effects, music, editing the final release.
  • Seven Wonders of the Lego World: a workshop teaching the fundamental building blocks of (Lego) engineering from ramps to sophisticated pulley   systems, we will re-create some of the mechanical wonders of the world in Legos
  • “Doesn’t matter if your black or white”  Chess Explorers Club. Chess builds the parts of the brain that do math and fudimental problem solving.   It’s also a chance to learn to win with grace, lose with style, and play for the fun of it.  Beginning players learn the fundamentals of both moves and stratagy, more advanced players play, learn advanced stratagy and puzzles, and how to become a great teacher of others (building knowledge and confidence without coming across as impatient or know it all, or an overwhelming firehose of knowledge).
  • D&D Camps
    • DM Boot Camp – how to build, manage and run a D&D campaign.  Each day will be split up between learning, designing, and either running for participating in D&D adventures
    • D&D adventures.  A five day, mega campaign.  Breaks each day to head out to the park, put on gear and whomp on each other with foam swords.
  • MTG Judge Bootcamp– one week camp for advanced MTG players who want to learn the rules to the level that they could take the Judge test.   The Boot Camp will include problems, puzzles, tests, challenges,  Game shows, tournaments. (Parents, the camp will also good morning in and practice on how to be a judge: how to be confident, to control the situation, How to de-escalate when people get angry, and how authority i’m coming across as arrogant or bullying are very different things) ages 12 and up.
  • Mystery Room Challenge: two teams will both design and build the props for their own mystery room (A room that contains a puzzle that must be solved with four players are allowed to leave.) today before the end of the camp, they will try the mystery room out on the other team, and then have the last day to improve it based on what they learn.  They will then put on two performances for the public (including parents and others) that Friday, and Saturday.
 
How to be one of our Instructors: This is one of the areas where we are getting clever.  Teachers would obviously need to be vetted and Live-scanned (I’m not having anyone here that I wouldn’t leave my 12 year old daughter or 15 year old sons with), but beyond that, they are people from lots of walks of life/expertise areas. The way we make sure they are good is that they first teach a no-charge class to our monthly subscribing members and the Igors.  If they pass their muster, their reviews will be the base for the ongoing teacher reviews that are posted with their classes.  Great teachers will fill their classes, and because they get a cut of the money for each class, the best ones are the ones that keep coming back.  We want people who love what they do and who love sharing that with people.  We will have a standard structure for the classes to keep things consistent, but any teacher can either prove to use that they have a better idea, or that it is just better for their class and we will go with it.  We’ll start off with a few great staff teacher, but we want to be the best place around for artists and engineers and geeks (I’m proudly in that group) from all over to come and find a place here full of kids who are having fun getting a chance to stretch their brains. For example, I’ll be teaching Game Review classes, where the kids come and play new board/card games the first part of the day, and learn how to write different styles of reviews in the afternoon. (among other things, I’m an old journalist/editor–founding editor of one magazine, first Toys Editor for Wired, etc)
Will this be for adults? The game playing part of D20 will continue to be adult friendly.  In addition, as we get more and more cool creative/electronic stuff to play with, we will both do daytime classes and offer non-classroom time access to the workshops.  Plus, we will explicitly do parent/guardian and kids classes, as well as allowing vetted parents to participate with their kids and help as adult versions of the Igors.  Most of us adults have kids inside to, and love to play with all this stuff.
 
So how are we making money from all this?  We will be charging for the classes, as well as offering monthly and yearly club memberships.  The memberships will include discounts for the classes as well as off hours access to the different club rooms. It is our intention to eventually become licenced for aftercare so some of the memberships can be used as a safe and good place for smart kids to come after school.  We want to do this well, so we won’t be trying to be the cheapest folks around.  Having said that, people who step up and share the load with us now will be given founders pricing and extra access.  More on that as we put the kick-starter together.
Places:  The Rooms—- (with inspiration images)
  • The Secret Study – the library like room with an amazing configurable gaming table.
  • Related imageImage result for tabletop gaming room
  • The Mad Science lab – plasma lightning covered walls full of workbenches boxes of tools to be checked out depending on the level of skill.  Robotics, and other electronic and fine design skills done here.
  • The Constructoporiam- place of rube Goldberg machine madness. Masterbuilder quantities of Legos, and other reusable or upcycled building materials.
  • The “It’s OK to get messy” Room: A space for painting, Dyeing, gluing, Cutting, Molding, smooshing, making, creating.
  • The Studio – soundproof space with equipment for Recording/podcastingImage result for radio play recording

 

The Secret Life of Adults (and other kids)-The “right thing” if someone dies

[This article is part of a series where we reveal stuff that adults or kids don’t usually admit to each other.  Mostly it’s me fessing up to my secret thoughts or stuff I’ve done that maybe I shouldn’t have.]

One of the people at the store just lost their Dad, and my heart is kinda breaking for them as I write this.  I’m (like everyone else around him and his family) trying to figure out what the “right” thing is to say. And I want let him know that there are tons of ways that are normal to react to this, that there is no “right” way for him to feel, that whatever he’s feeling, it really is ok.  The truth is that everybody has a hard time figuring this out.

It feels like you should know the right thing to say or do when you find out about a loss that is just to big too imagine. If is a friend or someone we love, we tend fall back on “I’m so sorry for your loss” and “Is there anything I can do”.  And if it is you, you accept those words in a blur, unable to believe that the rest of the world is still going on as usual when everything has just completely changed.  Trying to figure out the right thing to do or feel makes a really tough time, much tougher.

If you are going through this, and this is intended for our friend, this stuff comes at you as it comes, and it’s all ok. All the cliche stuff has some basis in truth, but the order of what you are going through, and when or if you go through it is different for each person.

  • For some people, it hits them like a hammer to the gut right away.
  • For others, they feel bad that they don’t feel “enough” at the beginning.
  • Some people reach out to their friends and loved ones for support, others don’t want to talk about it.
  • Some take great comfort from the people who reach out, others snap back at them, because how can they understand?
  • Some put on a brave face to show that they are ok, and that no one needs to worry about them.
  • Some focus all their attention of taking care of the others in their family who are hurt.
  • Some just put all the feelings away to deal with later
  • Some just cry until they can’t cry anymore
  • Some write or draw or do anything else they can to either process or distract themselves
  • And a thousand other things…

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