31 May 2011

Cleaning House and Setting Goals

I'm in the office on the last day of May with a surprisingly short list of things on my daily To Do List.  All of those things involve cleaning and organizing.  The most important thing on that list is "Make List of June Goals".  (I realize it may be a bit perverse to have, essentially, "make a list" on your list, but that's how I roll).

I'm transitioning into a new job (Assistant Dean) this summer.  It entails more responsibility, to be sure, so I want to make sure I do the job well.  Making a list of things I need to get done next month will help me with that.  But the (still developing) June Goals list isn't just about work.  There are things on there that have to do with the house ("Fill in screw holes in living room wall so wife can repaint spot"), personal goals ("Run three miles without stopping"), as well as gaming and blogging goals.

My blogging goals are simple but ambitious: I want to have 22 posts.  Since restarting this blog as (mostly) a gaming blog, my monthly best in terms of posts has been 21.  I think setting the bar one higher than my previous best is pretty good.  I hope I can keep all of those posts to some sort of respectable quality.

My gaming goals aren't quite as simple; I am still formulating them, actually.  I want to capitalize on the momentum built from our previous session last week, which means writing or finding some adventures that fit with our play style and that we can use to weave a fun campaign.  I need to flesh out a bit more of the world.  And I need to see if we really need to modify any of the rules to fit our group.  (I used Awesome Points from Old School Hack last session, for example).  I am going to try and make these more concrete today and post them here -- likely as the first of my 22 June posts!

Thanks to everyone who reads and comments here.

26 May 2011

Random Cupcake Table

This would have actually come in handy in last night's game, so I made one for future use.  It's designated Open Game Content, but please give me credit for my cupcake creativity.  Cupcakes on this table were drawn from and inspired by the cupcake offerings at The Blushing Bakeshop.  I'll explain why it would have been handy in a future post.

Random Cupcake Table.  Roll 2d12:

Roll          Type of Cupcake
2          No cupcake :(
3          Vanilla Cake, filled with Custard, topped with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
4          Chocolate Cupcake, filled with Raspberry, topped with Raspberry Buttercream
5          Chocolate Walnut and Carrot Cupcake, topped with Cinnamon Sprinkeled Vanilla Buttercream
6          Chocolate Cupcake topped with Coconut Sprinkled Vanilla Buttercream
7          Mango Cupcake topped with Mango Buttercream
8          Peach Cupcake topped with Vanilla Buttercream
9          Almond and Carrot Cupcake with Cream Cheese Frosting
10        Red Velvet with Cream Cheese Frosting
11        Chocolate Cupcake with Peanut Butter Frosting
12        Buttery Yellow cake with Chocolate Frosting
13        Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
14        Chocolate Cake with light Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
15        Devil's Food with Cream Cheese Frosting
16        Strawberry Cupcake with Strawberry Frosting
17        Orange Cupcake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
18        Vanilla Cupcake with Lemon Buttercream Frosting
19        Almond Cupcake topped with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
20        Chocolate Cupcake, filled with Caramel, topped with Caramel Buttercream
21        Chocolate Cupcake with Chocolate Mint Buttercream Frosting
22        Banana Cupcake with Peanut Butter Buttercream Frosting
23        Vanilla Cake, filled with Key Lime curd, with Key Lime/Cream Cheese Frosting
24        Magic Cupcake! (roll again on this table and once on the minor potions table.  Cupcake has   property of rolled potion).

24 May 2011

Enter the Dragon -- D&D Documentary

Found this short, interesting, well-done documentary about playing D&D on wilwheaton.net:

Quick thoughts:

1.  4E requires a lot of physical gear to play!
2.  I think there's a bit too much of the "wish-fulfillment through my character" and "nerds are people too" vibes happening in the film.  I get that wish-fulfillment is a part of RPGing, but I think the film overstates it as a rationale.  Similarly, I think most of us -- jocks and geeks alike :) -- have gotten beyond bagging on anyone else's hobby.
3.  I think it gets the communal fun aspect of gaming just right!


20 May 2011

On the road

Traveling for the next few days. In Norfolk this morning to visit the H.A. Rey exhibit at theChrysler Museum, then to Baltimore. Should be able to compose a better post there. But Curious George awaits!

18 May 2011

Hooray for Colonialism!

Or what happens when you look at a textbook from 1917.

I was forced to rapidly pack up and move my office today.  It was for good reasons (a promotion), but I thought I'd have a couple of weeks to leisurely move a box at a time.  According to the painters, however, I had to get out today.

In a rush of packing, I not only recycled a ton of paper (and thought of a nice post about going paperless!) but also came across some books I'd forgotten about.  One of these books was given to me by my father, who retrieved in from my grandparent's house when things were being sorted out after both grandparents had passed away.  It's my grandmother's geography textbook, printed in 1917 -- Maury's New Elements Geography, South Carolina Edition.

This book is fascinating, showing us what the average American student was taught about the rest of the world in the early 20th Century and showing what at least some of the world was like in the 1910's.

I know the scan is hard to read, but it features places like "Belgian Kongo", "British East Africa" and "Rhodesia."

Speaking of Africa: "most of the natives are savages.  Many of them used to be constantly fighting and making slaves of one another.  European nations are stopping this."  Umm. . .

Did you know that Damascus (which is near Africa) "is the oldest city in the world.  It looks beautiful at a distance."  Too bad it is actually "dirty and ruinous."

And there is the chapter on "Races of Men."  You know what's coming here.  I'll stay away from the really cringe-worthy stuff and go to the classifications of civilization, from lowest to highest:

1.  Savages
2.  Barbarous (they can at least grow crops!)
3.  "We will now visit some people who live very much better than the barbarous people.  They are the Chinese, who go to bed at about the time we arise."  They, by the way, are half civilized.
4.  Of course, we white people are enlightened.  Go us!

And, of course, "many Mohammedans are but half-civilized".  Hindus don't even rank as a full religion and are simply lumped in with all the other pagans.  Come to think of it, that's pretty cringe-worthy, too.

When I think about it as a gaming resource, it makes much of the stuff in it a little less scary.  The book is a perfect background for the haughty colonialist in your next 1920's pulp game.  The starched shirt British officer, dedicated to moving the native peoples of the Empire up the scale of civilization: "Dammit, Johnson!  If we could just gets these barbarous people out of their tents and into real buildings, we could at least get them half-civilized!  Make them quarry more stone.  And go ahead and smash their pagan idols while you're at it.  I am sure all that talk of a curse is just rubbish!"

And, of course, Cthulhu eats the enlightened and the barbarous alike. :)

17 May 2011

Game of Thrones: The Wolf and the Lion

I finally got around to watching A Game of Thrones last night, as my daughter went to bed at a reasonable 8:15 instead of 9:30.  I am glad I did, because I think it was the best episode yet.

I think it was the best episode yet for a number of reasons.  The largest, by far, was the episode's focus.  The majority of the action was in King's Landing, with a small bit at the Eyrie and an even smaller (almost unnecessary) bit at Winterfell.  We saw no Dothraki and no Jon Snow.  This was a good thing; the tigher focus made the pace quicker and the tension even tighter.  Even the Eyrie scenes were directly connected to the events at King's Landing, as Jamie goes after Ned because Catelyn has taken Tyrion.  I've urged Lost-like, character-centric epiosdes before, but this episode made me realize you could have location-centered episodes just as easy.

The second thing I loved about this episode was the things that were NOT in the book.  The fairly immediate and forthright reveal of Renly and Loras' relationship went over much better than the three books worth of hints Martin has given us.  It also served to make relationships even more complex, as Loras urges Renly to actively seek the crown.  The other added scene I thoroughly enjoyed was the Robert/Cersi conversation.  Mark Addy is just dead-on as Robert, brining life into a character I never really "got" in the novels.  And Cersi in the show is much more multi-dimensional than in the books.  In the books, she goes from incestuous schemer to crazy woman.  Lena Hedley's Cersi has a lot more depth.  Come to think of it, there's not a lot of Jamie/Cersi love happening in the show.

The Ned/Jamie fight was awesome.  The other fights, especially the ambush on the road to the Eyrie, not so much.  The facial expressions on Ned and Jamie nicely mirrored their earlier conversation by the Iron Throne.  I let out an audible "Urk!" when Ned gets taken down by the Lannister man, and smiled when Jamie punches him out.  That action shows both how amoral Jamie can be and sets up his transition nicely.  We may not get Jamie reading the White Book later on, but if we do, we can see his own self-reflection reaching back to this moment.

There were lots of other little bits I liked.  I liked Loras' armor (and the fact that Renly commented on it later).  I liked Barristan noticably putting on the White Cloak.  I liked the Sky Cells.  I liked how freaking creepy and crazy Lysa seemed.  I liked that we get to see Bronn.  I liked the nicely choreographed bit where the Hound kneels to his king and the Mountain swings where his head used to be.

Best episode yet.

16 May 2011

Starks and Lannisters Defeated by Preschool Girl

with help from infant boy.

It was a long, but fun weekend, as we drove to Conway, South Carolina for a Bluegrass and BBQ Festival; my brother's team was competing in the BBQ part.  They did well, we ate lots of BBQ, and my daughter played in the river.  Sunday we hung around for a baby shower, then headed back home.

I was cautiously optimistic that I'd make Game of Thrones.  We arrived back at the house by 8:00 and the kids still needed to be fed and bathed before 9:00.  My optimism was spurred on by my awesome wife, who promised to put the kids to bed so I could watch the show, as long as I helped out beforehand.  Despite all this good will, things simply did not cooperate.  My daughter has to have things just so, and her bedtime routine takes awhile.  Add to that the fact that my son was thrown off schedule by the travel and I didn't get out of the kid-bedtime zone until 9:15.  I turned on Game of Thrones anyway, planning on watching the rest of the episode, then watching the first 15 minutes when they showed the episode again on another HBO channel at 10:00.  But no rebroadcast was scheduled for 10:00, and my daughter came out of her bedroom just as Theon was trying to strangle Ros, which prompted me to turn off the TV in haste.  After getting her back in bed -- damn excitable Zhu-Zhu Pets -- I just gave up.  I'll try to watch it tonight if it's on.

10 May 2011

Random Encounter Table -- Rotter's Road/Lascon Thickets

One of my tasks for building my sandbox is to make a few random encounter tables.  Here's the first, based on some of the locations presented in Tim Short's Knowledge Illuminates.

Random Encounters: Rotter's Road/Lascon Thickets

1.  1d10 goblins -- weak, hungry, and ill-equipped.  Fleeing mountain holes to avoid being enslaved by hobgoblins.
2.  1d8 human bandits -- ruffians from surrounding towns and villages who have turned to banditry out of poverty and hunger
3.  Heavily armed and guarded caravan traveling west, from Aldejas or other eastern population center to Weyland (and possibly beyond)
4.  Ankheg
5.  Wild boar
6.  2d8 human bandits -- organized, professional thieves.
7.  Human pilgrims in search of sites sacred to Malichia/Delaquain/Xena.  50% chance have a cleric of at least second level with them.
8.  1d4 Wandering minor undead (roll or choose specific type)
9.  One lost and addled hill giant.  This giant is obviously very confused, mistaking rocks for cows and occasionally laying down to rest at random intervals.  This confusion may be due to a head wound, drunkenness, magical effect, or some strange disease.  This giant is easily provoked into a fight, but is not a particularly effective fighter (-4 to all attacks) because of his condition.
10.  Lightly guarded caravan of a few wagons, headed east from Weyland and surrounding villages to Aldejas to sell foodstuffs and other wares.
11.  1d8 orcs.  Savage and bloodthirsty.
12.  2d6 hobgoblins.  Organized scouting party.  Shields/standards decorated with stylized, colored eye.  (Roll randomly for color.  Each group encountered may have different colored eye symbol).

This is my first homemade random encounter table, so any thoughts are welcome!

09 May 2011

Game of Thrones Episode 4: "Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things"

I'm going to try and make Monday posts about the previous night's Game of Thrones episode.  They will NOT be spoiler-free, so be warned.  They also won't be full-on recaps.  Westeros does that much, much better than I ever could.  I also find myself inevitably comparing GoT to the last show I followed and wrote about -- Lost.

My initial reaction to last night's episode was that it set up a lot of things, but not much really happened.  I've backed off from that initial sentiment.  Plenty of things did happen -- especially in terms of character introduction and development.  But I think the show struggles with balancing those elements with general back-story and forward plot movement.  I think that struggle is inevitable, given the source material and format they've chosen for the show.

The scene I liked least about the episode was probably the one between Ned and Cersi.  It felt a bit necessary; I think we get Ned's in over his head a bit down in King's Landing and we get (or will get, soon enough) that he and Cersi aren't terribly fond of one another.  I was also a bit disappointed by the joust.  The whole set just seemed like the thing they do at the local Renaissance Faire, minus the blood spurting.

Certainly my favorite scene was at The Inn of the Crossing.  We get more great acting from Dinklage, we learn a bit about the feudal system of Westeros, and get a very nice dramatic moment as all the bannermen draw their swords on Tyrion.  Thinking forward a bit, it's this moment, almost more than anything else, that sets the future war between Stark and Lannister in motion.

Other really nice parts included the scene at the door between Jamie and Jory and the introduction of Sam.  For the later, I like how Sam comes across as both pathetic and likable.  I never really liked Sam much in the books: I pited him.  But this Sam has a sense of humor and even makes fun of Jon a bit.  And I half-expected  him to bust out the "tracts of land" line as he asked questions about Ros the Redhead.  The former was nice for a number of reasons.  Jory comes across as instantly likable.  Jamie still goes back and forth between smug self-importance (with a touch of self-loathing) and aiming for something better.  In the books, the later aspect of Jamie doesn't come out for quite awhile; he's generally loathsome in the first book.  But they have to speed things up a bit and I think they are doing it well.

Across the Narrow Sea, things played out fairly normally.  Viserys is still an ass, to his sister and his love slave (though we get a nice bit of dragon backstory from the later).  And Daenerys gets more confident as queen while realizing her brother is a complete tool.

Again, I think they really should have done a "character episode" model.  This one could have been Jon, where we would have gotten Sam, the Thorne speech, and maybe moved all the way up to his Night's Watch induction.  It could have been Ned, where we could have gotten all the King's Landing stuff, including the complete tournament.  It could even have been Tyrion, where we would have gotten Robb & Bran at Winterfell, his capture at the Inn, and then on into the mountains toward the Eyrie, where we'd meet Bron and those nasty mountain clan guys.  Next week would have been a Daenerys episode, containing all of this weeks stuff, plus 'flash-acrosses" to Robert saying she must be killed, and maybe ending with the Crown of Gold.

My .02, anyway.

06 May 2011

Gaming, Experience, and Aesthetics

I promised a response to 'What the Old School Reformation is Fighting For and Against" some time ago.  I'm still working on it, or rather working through it, as the post promoted one of those rare moments where my academic, political, and personal lives all come together in a big snarling ball of thoughtful awesomeness that I am still sorting out.

I try not to academicize my RPG hobby too much, as I am somewhat afraid that doing so will both distract me from other, work related things (writing, teaching, reading) that lead to (other) necessary work things (publishing, teaching, promotion, etc) and dampen my enjoyment of the hobby.  Sometimes, I just want to kill orcs.  I am still wary, but drawing upon my experience with comics -- I've begun to read and write and present about them in a professional way -- engaging with RPG's in an academic way has the potential to enhance both my hobby and professional life, especially now that the tenure hurdle has been crossed and I don't have to worry so much about being opportunistic with my research.

Tavis' post generated two "a-ha's!" for me.  I'll lay these out now, briefly talk about them here, and probably return to them in the future for longer posts.

1.  The OSR has a political component.  By political, I don't mean Republican or Democrat.  I mean there are, I think, values embedded in the OSR that speak to how people ought to do things with and for each other -- certain ways of living are better than others.  Tavis gets directly at this with his idea about fighting against transmedia and comodification of imagination by offering an alternative gaming culture and table-top experience facilitated by Old School sorts of games.

2.  Table-top RPGing as a unique aesthetic component.  As such, they can be looked at in an aesethic way.  We talk all the time about the unique sort of "experience" provided by TTRPG's in general and Old School RPG's in particular.  As a social  experience facilitated through the presentation of a particular medium (the game itself), that experience can be looked at with the language and concepts that are applied to other art media.  One of my academic interests is American Pragmatism and, in particular, John Dewey's aesthetics.  He focuses on experience, particularly the idea of "an experience", which is experiences that stands out and stands alone.  It has it's own rhythm and comes to it's own end (as opposed to most experience, which is fractured and scattered by all of the demands of life).  There is, I think, and nice marriage here: using the idea of "an experience" to talk about games, gaming, and the sorts of experiences they facilitate.

Just some initial thoughts about Tavis' great post.  I'm sure there will be more.

05 May 2011

One glaring omission -- random tables

In my post the other day, I developed a "to-do list" for my emerging game.  Inspired by One Square Equals Five Feet, I realized there were a few things I could do to harness the personalities and strengths of my players and make the game much better.  But I left something out that's very important -- a few random encounter tables.

Consider this added to the list:

4.  Random encounter tables -- to keep things fresh and to give the characters something to do as they journey between sandbox locations, I need to make a few random encounter tables.  Some I can lift from other sources, but customizing a few will go a long way toward both giving the PC's some more and different monsters to fight, but also to enhancing the setting.  Goats and chickens may well be on these tables.  But so will bandits, trolls, and lost caravans from the city of Aldejas.

04 May 2011

Some initial Game of Thrones thoughts

As I have mentioned before, I am a big Song of Ice and Fire fan, even though I've grown a bit disillusioned with the series.  I am also becoming a big fan of the Game of Thrones HBO series; I'd better be, as I signed up for HBO just to watch it!

I like what I have seen thus far.  I think the opening title sequence is awesome.  I think the casting is largely spot-on.  The acting ranges from decent to, in the case of Peter Dinklage, excellent.  I know the writers and directors of the show had to make some tough choices about what to add, consolidate, and remove and, I can't complain about much of that.

The only issue I have is that, at times, the show can be a bit confusing with it's cuts from location to location and by introducing and maintaining relationships between all the characters.  Some of that is inevitable, given the continent-spanning setting and multitude of important, speaking roles.  Given the later, it wouldn't surprise me if entire, fairly significant plot strands do not appear (say The Onion Knight or even Theon and the Greyjoy Rebellion, though I think the loss of the later would lead to fandom mutiny).  There's just too much!

The series thus far has been temporally continuous, with each episode showing us what is happening at roughly the same time with lots of different people.  That makes sense, even if it does lead to occasional scatteredness.  But I wonder if some of that temporal continuity couldn't have been sacrificed for some character/story continuity.  Then, you'd have each episode follow one principle character for a certain time period, giving his or her perspective on events, with possible flashbacks to fill in some back story.  This, in effect, mirrors the method of the books, where each chapter is a character's point of view.  In short, use the Lost method of storytelling.  Choose five or six principle characters -- Ned, Jamie and/or Cersi, Jon, Tyrion, Danerys, -- give each one two character centered episodes, then add other character centered ones as necessary.  You'd get an Bran episode in season one, a couple of them in season two, etc.  And every so often you'd just throw in a larger plot-focused episode around big events, like a battle.

The disadvantage of this is there aren't as many episodes in a season, so maybe too much of the story would be lost.  But it does make the series a bit more character-driven.  And, as an added bonus, it would inevitably cut down on what I feel became the central issue with the books -- character POV bloat.

My .02.  Is anyone else watching the show?  I'm a bit surprised I haven't seen much about it on any of the 572 blogs I seem to follow. :)

03 May 2011

I have an iPad. What else do I need?

After much badgering, then a promise to teach my not-so-tech-savvy Dean how to use it when we got them, then waiting five weeks for it to come in, I now have an iPad 2.

So, what else do I need to turn this thing into the uber-productive, super-game, life-changing machine that it is supposed to be?

Any and all recommendations are welcome -- both gaming and non-gaming related.  I am going to use it for gaming, certainly, once I figure out how to download PDF's from my Dropbox to the iPad itself.

02 May 2011

Inspiration from One Square Equals Five Feet

Saturday, the latest issue of One Square Equals Five Feet arrived.  In Christian's zine, he talks about restarting this Changeling campaign.  His ideal game, notes Christian, takes lots of prep and proactive players.  It really struck a chord with me in thinking about my nascent BECMI game, almost to the point of head-slapping and "why didn't I think of this before!?" levels.

My players are really proactive.  They are smart, funny people who enjoy the chance to be creative in a way not required by their day jobs and, in the process, kill some monsters.  The thing is, they are often not proactive in ways that are easy to anticipate, or even in ways that are "D&D-y".  As an example, consider last weeks game and the case of the chickens.  They gleefully stocked the cart with chickens, then spent some time talking about the potential magical properties of chickens and how to best care for them.  For all the vaunted OSR charts and random tables, I have yet to see an "XP for caring for livestock" chart, so that line of activity yielded little in the way of rewards.  Lest you all think these folks are all together nuts, there was also plenty of talk of hunting bandits.  It was my own fault for not stoking that fire a little more.

OSE5F really helped me see the proactive nature of my own players and gave me some ideas about how to channel that in a positive direction while maintaining some of the looseness of the game.  Consider the following my "to-do list":

1.  Make a map and stock it.  This will give some visual reference for the game and give my players plenty of adventures to choose from.  The players can see what's out there, gather rumors, and just decide where to go.  I'd like to stock it with set-pieces/adventures from OSR bloggers, similar to how I used Tim's Knowledge Illuminates as a kick-start adventure for the game.  If you have any recommendations  about modules I should check out, post them below.  When the party decides to tackle it, I'll post an actual play write up like I did with KI.  (I'm thinking Death Frost Doom will be set in the foothills of the nearby mountains, as I really want to run that adventure).

2.  Along with the map, briefly sketch out any NPC's and/or groups in the region that the player's are likely to encounter or deal with.  This will be an ongoing project, one that isn't terribly important at first, but will give me ways to set the stage and improve as the need arises.

3.  Come up with a new xp/reward system.  This seems almost anathema to me, but I want something that will capture the free-spiritedness of the group in an in-game sort of way.  Right now I am thinking about seeing if Old School Hack's awesome point mechanic will just port right into BECM D&D, per Risus Monkey's suggestion.  I'd consider just switching to OSH, but a fair number of these players are just now getting the hang of D&D and I don't want to make them start all over with a new system.  I've been guilty of that too many times.

I know.  1 & 2, at least, are no-brainer sorts of things that anyone should do before starting a sandbox game.  I just didn't realize how much they'd matter to this group of players and, hopefully, how much they'll work for the sort of game I hope to run.