Who is Gray Ham?

Date : September 20, 2018

Gray Ham is a tabletop and geek community organiser in the Malaysian gaming scene. In addition to managing numerous online pages and groups for tabletop gaming, he has served as Local Coordinator for Malaysia’s Dungeons & Dragons Adventurers League. Gray has been instrumental in building interest in roleplaying by helping to organise public demo events at game stores, game cafes and various conventions and expos.
 

Gray the Dungeon Master.

 
 
Gray started roleplaying in 2008, at the board game society of the University of Manchester. Like many new roleplayers starting in that year, he began by playing Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. He found himself dropped into the deep end of a homebrewed campaign with over-complicated rules, without much warning. It was only three years later at a “geek society” in Leeds Metropolitan University that Gray found himself stepping into the role of a Dungeon Master to teach newbies, and he resolved to make it a good introduction this time around.
 

Young Gray Ham in the lower left, playing after work in university.

 
 
 
 
 

Return of the Gray Wanderer

After participating in Adventurers League activities in his final year at Leeds, Gray returned to Malaysia and discovered with a rude shock that there were no organised D&D activities here. While Wizards of the Coast organises regular “Friday Night Magic” events in card game shops throughout the country, there was no official attempt to cross-promote D&D at these venues. Gary could only find two people running public D&D sessions.
 

Speaking at KDU University College about tabletop roleplaying games.

 
 
In late 2014, Gray Ham made his first appearance on the Malaysian tabletop scene, politely fastidious and thoroughly enthusiastic about Dungeons & Dragons. From early 2015 until the end of 2016, Gray served as the Local Coordinator of Malaysia’s D&D Adventurers League and worked to spread the game far and wide. His mission was to get local stores and venues to recognise the Malaysian D&D community, while at the same time convincing Wizards of the Coast to provide support for the local Adventurers League and make D&D products officially available locally. Starting from Comics Mart in Mid Valley Megamall, the nascent Adventurers League ran organised play sessions, rallying new gamers to the new 5th edition of D&D.
 

Running D&D at Game Mana, Pesta Selangor 2016 at the invitation of All Aboard Community Gaming Center.

 
 

Game Mana was my first Adventurers League event. I’m the one in the hat!

 
 

Gray and the Dungeon Master Team at Game Mana, Pesta Selangor 2016.

 
 
Although store support was patchy due to lack of understanding of D&D, this was a time of growth for the community. At one point the Dungeon Masters of Adventurers League were able to offer public games in half a dozen card game stores and board game cafes in the Klang Valley area. New and returning players made contact and organised through the Dungeons & Dragons Malaysia (D&DMY) Facebook group, which soon grew to become the largest and most active Malaysian tabletop roleplaying group on Facebook.
 

For many first-time role-players, the D&DMY Facebook group is their initial contact point with the community.

 
 
Gary also managed to coordinate with the founders of All Aboard Community Gaming Centre in Damansara Jaya, Selangor (the nearest store to where he lived), enabling him to host demo sessions not only at the All Aboard store, but also outside the store, in malls and even in out-of-state events.
 

A Roll for Initiative event held in Publika attracted gamers from near and far.

 
 

Gray at one of the many D&D games he ran at All Aboard Community Gaming Center in 2017.

 
 
 
 
 

Beyond the Dungeons

When Wizards of the Coast ended its Adventurers League volunteer programme in December 2016, Gray shifted his focus from D&D to the wider RPG community, founding the RolePlaying Gamers Union of Malaysia (RPGMY). Growing from humble beginnings, RPGMY has come to occupy a decent portion of the overall community.
 

Gray, Ben, Han Lim and Nik after 11 days of the #KakiTabletop gaming tour in the northern states.

 
 

The #KakiTabletop tour at Pekan Kartun in Taiping.

 
 

GM Harmeshver Singh runs an RPG demo session at Asia Comic Con Malaysia for Cards & Hobbies.

 
 
Gray has been very visible in his quest to “evangelise” RPGs and connect the geek community in Malaysia. Following an impromptu tabletop gaming tour of Malaysia’s northern states in 2017, Gray created the #KakiTabletop label to be the curator and umbrella community for RPGMY, D&DMY and various other tabletop gaming groups.
 

The ambitious hierarchy of geek gaming groups curated by Gray under #KakiTabletop.

 
 

Presenting at the Special Interest Panel for tabletop games at Visual Arts Expo 2017.

 
 
 
If nothing else, Gray has been relentless in spawning and personally running new Facebook pages and groups for every branch of geek gaming and even various science-fiction and media fandoms.
 
 
 
 
 
 

A Word With Gray

What RPGs do you run now, and what is your favourite?

Even though I’ve dabbled in other RPGs, I still only run Dungeons & Dragons. I’m not sure I can call it my favourite, but I guess my favourite way of running it is as theatre-of-the-mind, one-shot session.
 

Running a D&D demo session for new players at the The Safehouse, 2018. Alas, the Safehouse has closed down since then.

 

 
 

How do you use D&D to introduce roleplaying to new people?

Most of my intro sessions actually have the same structure. I’ll spend an hour or so helping players create characters so they’re invested in them: dirty, hands-on. Then the next couple of hours involves players messing around in some watering hole, some call to action happens, and then they go on a short quest “outside of town” with a very short combat phase.
 

Introducing the game to new players at Comic Fiesta Mini 2016 in Georgetown, Penang.

 
 
I make it a point to encourage “cinematic descriptions” and “character intentions” instead of announcing abilities to use, or else the game would become exactly like a pre-programmed video game. I highly discourage players from saying things like “I want to roll for stealth,” but to differ game mechanics to the GM. I also encourage player collaboration by having all the players discuss and brainstorm the situation as well as the shape of the room, instead of relying on props. Verbal agreements to the surroundings encourages a sense of camaraderie.
 

“Gray runs the first chapter of the Hoard of the Dragon Queen at Pesta Selangor 2016.”

 

 
 
 

Cultivating Role-players

What adventures and game experiences have you been most proud of as a GM?

I think as long as my players end up laughing at themselves, it’s a good sign that they’re relaxed enough to enjoy themselves. It’s great when a player thanks the GM at the end of a sessions. I’ve adopted a habit from my past GM, asking the players what they thought of the session for quick feedback, and what their favourite part of the session was. Allowing the players to openly compare preferences builds player respect, and helps me tailor future sessions for the group.
 

Bringing people together at the gaming table (sometimes as many as 10 in his regular D&D groups).

 
 
I’m personally proud of the fact the children’s games I’ve run turn into leadership building sessions. There was one group who would play D&D before their football evenings, and the players adopted roles that resembled their squads: keeper as support, strikers as attackers. The same group also played with girl players, and very quickly developed a mutual respect for them as fellow gamers, overcoming their initial assumption that girls didn’t know how to fight dragons.
 

Running Monster Slayers, a D&D inspired roleplaying game for kids.

 

 
 
 

Trials and Tribulations

Tell me about the most awkward scene you’ve had to GM.

I think a trope I’ve seen far too many times is when characters attempt to “speak to the tavern wench.” Players soon realize I’m the one they have to interact with. It’s also very cringeworthy when they project their innermost sexist beliefs onto NPCs they know nothing about.

 

What, if any, was your most disappointing moment?

Sometimes, my singular mortality reminds me of what I am: I’m slow with updates, and sometimes I get tired. I keep forgetting to cross-update social media channels, email mailing lists are underutilized, and I am unable to blog/record shows of games and events in our community. Sometimes, someone will say “why didn’t you tell me? I’m only active on X website and none other.” I wish I didn’t leave anyone behind.
 

A recent gathering of a few gaming community ambassadors (and a journalist from Millennials of KL).

 
 
Some players have accused me of being an insufficient GM, blaming my inability to wrangle their mad characters and the eventual collapse of the group. The store I was running these “intro campaigns” would eventually lose its core players. The next week, another new player would appear, only to be told by the store we stopped playing there. I feel bad when I led down newbies because of my inability to manage the bad behaviour of others.

 
 
 

Future Plans for Growth

What are the next steps we can anticipate in your mission?

I think the tabletop gaming community faces two problems: demographic and psychographic homogeneity.
 
The bulk of our community is based around the Klang Valley, and is of a particular ethnicity. It’s a struggle to include gamers from other states in the country and to cross ethnic boundaries. Since the first event where I met you, boots-on-the-ground, in-person events built longer lasting, respectful communities than purely online ones. I’m still an advocate for in-person, purely analogue gaming as opposed to digital workarounds.
 

The busy RPG tables at Kaijucon 2018 bode well for interest in roleplaying in Malaysia.

 
Most of our community is also of the middle-class, English-speaking variety. I chalk this up to the availability of online media, and the language choice made by our community leaders on social media. It’s also affected by accessibility: the kinds of places we hold our events, and the technological capabilities of the community. The few who do record their games, be it through videos, selfies, gaming session write-ups, are limited to those who can afford the devices to do so, and those with the luxury/privilege of time.
 
I’m still hoping to do nationwide roadshows/tours of each state’s tabletop gaming communities, host events at game stores to support local economies, as well as becoming a stable platform for content creators and game designers of our local (perhaps regional) tabletop gaming community/industry.
 

I participated in the Roll For Initiative segment of Kaijucon and ran a few sessions of Cthulhu Dark and Night Witches. Kaijucon is just one of the many events Gray had planned and organised to connect the geek community in Malaysia.

 
 
 

The Wider Geek Community

You’ve made it a point to connect the geek communities in Malaysia, not just roleplaying communities but also tabletop games and media fandom. How has that gone in practice?

My involvement with geek communities actually predates the gaming community: (2005-2008) I used to run my HELP University College’s “indoor games” club and the “Japanese Cultural Society”. Both of these would collapse and form the basis of C2AGE, one of Malaysia’s early otaku conventions (which revived in 2017). I’ve also been the founder and organizer of Manchester’s cosplay/otaku meetup events since 2008. I’m also a co-founder of my university’s “Modern Visual Culture Society”, which formed the basis of my knowledge of social media marketing and scalable events management. MOVIC was inspired by a anime/manga called Genshiken: which had gaming as a subset of otaku culture.
 

The original MOVIC: Modern Visual Culture Society of Leeds Beckett.

 
Recently, I contributed research for an Al Jazeera article about Muslimah cosplay. While researching it, I’ve come to realize the wider geek community of Malaysia faces similar challenges as our tabletop gaming community: the organizing committee, core demographic, and their wider audience/customer base are disparate and barely overlap.
 

Hijabi Superheroes

Muslim women in Malaysia are embracing cosplay, using their hijabs to transform into their favorite characters.

Posted by AJ+ on Khamis, 8 Jun 2017


Hijabi Superheroes : A quick video by Al Jazeera (AJ+) about Muslim women in Malaysia embracing cosplay, using their hijab to transform into their favourite characters.

 

A Muslimah Miku cosplayer at Pekan Kartun Taiping, Perak, which Gray visited during his #KakiTabletop northern tour.

 
For instance, one event’s Facebook Page is entirely in English, while their official group is entirely in Chinese. Meanwhile, a lot of support for the event comes from a Malay demographic, which is taking baby steps in developing an alternative event altogether.
 
I think because of my experience in college and university, I’ve conflated the gaming community with the geek community. I assumed that because I and the few people I know are both gamers and geeks, the two communities are subsets of each other. In retrospect, it’s probably two communities running in parallel. I’m currently in the process of reassessing how I’m going to go about growing a similar branching tree of geek culture parallel to the tabletop gaming community: KakiTabletop, and MOVIC.
 

Kai (me), Ben, Han Lim and Gray at Kotakcon 2016, featuring some of the best of Malaysia’s tabletop scene at the time.

 

 
 

Is there anything you are looking for to help with your mission? How can interested parties contact you and how can they be of service?

As it stands, KakiTabletop needs to “take the next step”: setting up a website, having a predictable schedule of content (owned and shared), and a manifesto that all sub-communities will respect. We are also looking to do more of what got us started: connecting with niche communities, and a lot of on-ground events. I’m also toying with the idea of making it self-sustaining, either through advertising, or sponsorship (patrons?).
 

Enjoying a game of Tokaido with partner Amanda Chow, who often works to support Gray behind the scenes.

 
While it is possible for people to connect with me through social media: Twitter @grayle, Instagram @grayle_, etc. or in person (invite me for coffee or beer), I’d also encourage people to message the official FB Page, Twitter, Instagram, etc of the specific sub-community they’re part of or interested in.
 

Gray on Instagram.

 

Gray’s Twitter.

 
However, I do hope everyone takes their own initiative (like www.roleoverplaydead.com) and starts their own channel or niche community. KakiTabletop cannot exist in a vacuum, and should not completely overshadow the existence of others. I prefer not to put myself on the pedestal; I’d like to disappear into the background of my work as a fellow community leader and not be worshiped as the “founder.” My role as platform builder means that everyone should be able to come on board and share their content or community like a true blue ocean. Play nice.
 

Local gamers and channel creators all benefit from well-run community platforms – events like Kaijucon lift us all up and spread the fun around.

 
 
 
 



 
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