The Arrow’s Greatest Weakness

ArrowMuch like my friend John, I probably watch too many shows on the CW: The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, Arrow, The Flash. My current favorite of these, though, is Arrow. Oliver Queen has been one of my favorite DC Comics superheroes for a long time. I love the goofy Robin Hood aesthetic and that he’s a bit more lighthearted than your typical superhero fare. CW’s Arrow, however, has given Ollie a Batman Begins-style “realism.” That isn’t a problem. I don’t mind “serious” superhero stories. The problem is that those stories are currently bound by the tropes of the CW.

Ollie on the show is a brilliant tactician: a deliberate personality that risks life and limb in order to “save his city.” He’s tough. He rarely waffles in his mission. Except for (and here’s where the CW-ness sets in) in matters of his personal life.

sad ollieIt seems like about 10 minutes of each episode is spent on story beats like not being able to tell his secret to someone, him not being able to be romantically involved with someone he wants to be with, him getting angry at someone close to him over some stupid, bull-headed thing. A lot of the “drama” is only tangentially connected to the story at hand and is falsely inflated much of the time. It’s bizarre to me that between The Flash and Arrow, it’s the gritty show, Arrow, that gets the most bogged down with the CW-style drama.

The secondary characters aren’t immune, either. Just this season, Laurel has been hiding the death of her sister from her dad. Diggle almost decided to quit the team. Felicity wanted to give up. Thea was keeping her newfound ninja skills secret. Roy having false memories of being a murderer. It’s not that those are bad story beats; it’s that they often feel only half-baked.

I love Arrow. I think it’s a pretty good show for the most part, but sometimes I kind of wish that it was on a cable channel rather than the CW.

 

 

Growing up Without the Grimdark

Space HulkI won a copy of Space Hulk a couple of weeks ago from the good folks at Den of Imagination, a company that does custom painting of miniature models for war games, etc. As you can see from the picture, I’m pretty stoked about the whole thing because I wouldn’t have bought it for myself.

Space Hulk is a game by the folks that make Warhammer 40,000, a game that I would really like to play, but thus far have been unable to justify the cost of the models, rules, paint, and basically everything else that goes along with the hobby. I’m an RPG player, and coming from the RPG world, where I can buy a set of dice and a rulebook and go from there, the cost of getting into the miniature war gaming hobby is kind of staggering. I’m sure there are ways around the massive gulf that separates me from playing the games, but I haven’t found it yet.

I play other games in the 40K universe, though. I play Warhammer 40,000: Conquest, Death Angel, and Dark Heresy. I’ve played the Dawn of War and Space Hulk video games. (I don’t read the books anymore, though; those are depressing.)

Dark VengeanceThis is the weird dilemma of being an adult geek with actual responsibilities; I’m an adult and can basically do whatever I want… but I don’t. I look at that sweet Dark Vengeance starter set, and I just can’t justify the $100 price tag. And that’s just the cost before paint, glue, etc. And the time cost involved with getting everything the way you want it. And then you’ll want to expand your armies with more models. Or buy new armies. The cost just balloons. I start thinking about groceries or that the car needs tires, and I don’t pull the trigger on the purchase.

Maybe I just don’t want to try it as much as I say I do. I could probably save up a few bones over time. I could go nuts with my Gen Con money; I just don’t. Maybe my buying power is limited only by what I can justify to myself? I have no idea.

I also always end up considering how terrible a company Games Workshop seems to be. Prices are much higher on the books and models than they were when I was in high school more than a decade ago. Has the cost of casting models risen that much? Did they just do it to make a quick profit? Probably.

The contradiction? I’ve spent a lot of money on the X-Wing Miniatures Game, so that leads me to believe that maybe I just don’t have the time or inclination to put the Warhammer models together.

This is a weird, rambling blog post. I guess what I’m trying to say is that my criteria for purchasing something has changed quite a bit since I was a teen with lots of disposable income. I have a lot of responsibilities now, and one of those responsibilities is using my money wisely. And right now, Warhammer just wouldn’t be a wise purchase for me.

Well, other than the paint and accessories I need to paint my Space Hulk figures.

 

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Rocky Balboa and Me

Rocky Balboa and I couldn’t be more different. He’s 5′ 11″. I’m 6′ 6″. He grew up poor. I grew up middlish class. He worked as a thug. I’ve never been much of a criminal. He’s a high school dropout. I’m a college graduate. He’s a two-time heavyweight champion. I am certainly not. He bought his brother-in-law a robot. I have never done that. He becomes awesome through training montages. I don’t have that luxury.

Even though Rocky and I are different dudes, I can’t help but love the guy. He has some charisma, to be sure. But, I think it was his drive to do what he loves to do and rise above his station that I admire. He’s a guy that wears his heart on his sleeve. A guy that tells tigers that he’s engaged to be married. He wears goofy hats and doesn’t seem to know how to put his hands up to defend his face. He can take those punches, though, and keep moving forward. He keeps punching.

I admire his ability to figure out what he wants and then go after it. Nowhere is this displayed better than in his final film, Rocky Balboa. In it, Rocky is too old. Too washed up. Too lonely. People think he’s a joke, but he believes that he has at least one more fight left in him. So when he’s given a change for an exhibition match against the current champion, he goes for it.

Yeah, I get that it’s a movie, but it inspires me just the same. I think maybe my favorite scene in the movie is this one.

“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!

Now if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth! But you gotta be willing to take the hits. And not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”

Sometimes I get melancholy because I’m 31 and I’m not exactly where I want to be career-wise yet. This week, I needed a little reminder from Rocky that you just have to keep moving forward. And sometimes when moving forward and taking the hits, you might even surprise not only yourself, but also those loved ones around you. If Rocky can do it as an old guy, maybe I can do it as a younger guy.

He’s a bit awkward, but I like Rocky Balboa. He’s one of the good guys.

Rocky

 

The Game Life

One of my first conscious memories?

One of my first conscious memories?

The Atari 2600 released in 1977. I was released in 1983. Video games have been around longer than I have, and they’ve almost always been a part of my life. I’m part of the first generation where interactive entertainment has always been a thing.

I was wondering how the ubiquity of video games has affected me. My five-year-old son is just starting to seriously play them (we have been bonding over Super Smash Bros. recently), so I’ve been a little bit self-reflective. Sometimes I watch my kid playing a game, basically tuning everything else out, and I think that it has to be doing something to him. What did it do to me? I brainstormed some things. Feel free to add how they affected you in comments.

1.) Growing up with video games made me unafraid of technology.

Instead of approaching new advances in technology with trepidation, I am more prone to jump right in and figure it out. I’ve watched rotary phones become touch tones become wireless phones become cell phones become smart devices. I messed around with DOS and learned a few basic commands in Qbasic. I jumped into chat rooms with wild abandon. I remember the internet when it was more like the wild west.

Basically, even as a tween, I was tweaking graphics and trying to build mods and was completely oblivious to the consequences. For better or worse, I’m not afraid of technology.

2.) I get totally absorbed in video games when I play.

I’m not sure if I get totally absorbed because I’m obsessive or if playing video games has given me a slightly obsessive personality. Honestly, an argument could be made for either.

I mostly can’t play games when I’m alone with my kids (unless they are playing with me) since I begin to tune out everything around me. Sometimes my wife will tell me something important, but if I’m playing a game at the time, I will not have any idea what she said. It’s not that I mean to tune her out… it just happens.

Back at the beginning of my marriage, I was playing World of Warcraft. I was a big fan of the game, and after I quit a terrible job, I was playing it a lot. My wife came home one night after work while I was playing. I’m not sure I said anything to her. Then I played most of the night. I completely lost track of time. Suddenly I realized it was almost time to sleep and I had literally said almost nothing to my wife all night.

I immediately got rid of the game.

I recognize this weakness in me. I think maybe video games (and gaming in general) affect the reward parts of my brain. Even though I’m not actually accomplishing anything, I feel like I am.

3.)I understand the importance of having fun.

I like that I have an outlet to have fun, even when I’m by myself. Video games help me relax after I’ve had a stressful day or just a bad one. Even though tabletop gaming is probably my number one leisure time love, video gaming comes in near the top of the list.

I often use video games as a reward. I’m an editor, so I’ve created a reward system for myself. If I get a certain number of articles proofread, I get to play a game for 15 minutes or so. I also let myself bank time in order to play a little longer. It’s not a perfect system, but it works for me. It helps me on rough days.

4. Thanks to MUDs, I am excellent at typing.

I used to play MUDs. Most specifically, I played Gemstone III on AOL. It was a great game (that is still around if you’re interested. They even do free trials), but it was more difficult if you couldn’t type accurately and quickly. Thanks to Gemstone, I have a weird way of typing, but it’s quick and it’s reliable.

Really, thanks to Gemstone, I am probably in the publishing industry. I loved making up stories with my characters which got me interested in writing. The rest is history.

These are just three ways that I think video gaming has affected my life. Hopefully I can steer my son towards the good while keeping the bad in check.

Hero Forge: How I’m Going to be Wasting My Life

Hero Forge launched this week, and it’s probably going to kill my productivity for awhile. If you haven’t heard, Hero Forge is a business based around the 3D printing of custom miniatures that you design on their website. It can be pricey (the cheapest mini is $15), but for something custom, it might just be worth the cost.

The 15 dollars minis are good for normal table play, but are a little more difficult to paint. For a good quality, paintable version, you’re going to have to pay a little more.

If you’re a tabletop gaming fan, I suggest you check out Hero Forge. I’ve been waiting for this kind of tool for a long time. Here’s a selection of minis I made.

HeroForgeScreenshot(1) HeroForgeScreenshot(2) HeroForgeScreenshot(1) HeroForgeScreenshot(3) HeroForgeScreenshot HeroForgeScreenshot(5) HeroForgeScreenshot(4) HeroForgeScreenshot(2)

Dungeon Master’s Guide Review

DnD_DMGThe Dungeon Master’s Guide is always my favorite book of any edition of Dungeons and Dragons.  My established role at the roleplaying game table evolved into running games a long time ago, and I like the tools that the Dungeons Master’s Guide has historically provided. Back in college, I would use the third edition DM Guide to build fantastic worlds for my players (I was a massive dork, I know.). I’m afraid that if you looked through my Psych 301 notes, you would find sketches of cities, dungeons, and continents complete with “here be dragons” style areas to entice adventurers.

The Dungeons Master’s Guide for the fifth edition of D&D is a good starting point for new DMs. About half the book is dedicated to teaching a Dungeon Master how to build a campaign setting, an adventure, and how to string them all together. This section is liberally sprinkled with tables that help you randomize everything from dungeons to villains to what buildings are in a village. Also included are tips for the actual management of the game experience: ways to keep the game moving, how to deal with difficult players, and even the best way to roll dice.

As an experienced DM, I don’t really need tips on how to create campaigns or how to keep the game enjoyable for everyone at the table, but I appreciate the randomized tables and how they can streamline things when (not if) players go off the beaten path. Gone are the days when I would have to take a lengthy break to figure out what is going to happen next while I hide in another room. Everyone will appreciate the added game time at the tabletop.

My favorite part of the book, though, is the lengthy list of treasure. The Player’s Handbook was woefully lacking in magical items, but the DM guide rectifies that with nearly 100 pages of goodies. I’m going to have so much stuff to reward and plague my players with! And the treasure tables are super useful. I love giving out randomized treasure, so having lots of tables I can roll on to determine rewards is so great.

You know, as I’m looking at the overall picture of fifth edition, I’m ecstatic that I’ll be able to play the game without a laptop or an app on my phone. I love having a large toolbox to use right out of the books. I  dislike playing from behind a computer because it creates a mental separation between the players and the DM. I want to be “in the fray” with the people who are playing the game.

For people who want to play Dungeons and Dragons, the Dungeon Master’s Guide is a must-have manual. For a new group of players who are trying out Dungeons and Dragons for the first time, this book is a good primer for how to run and play the game. For D&D and RPG fans of all kinds, this is a recommended release. You can find the Dungeon Master’s Guide at your friendly neighborhood gaming store (and other book stores) on December 9th.

 A review copy of the Dungeons Master’s Guide was provided to The Cool Ship by Wizards of the Coast.

 

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Black Friday Must Be Stopped!

Welp…it’s that time of year again, folks. No, not Thanksgiving. Well, it is but that’s not exactly what I mean. Just stay with me. It’s the time of year that almost every person working in retail dreads (and even some shoppers)…BLACK FRIDAY. Or as I like to call it, The Special Kind of Hell.

And you wanna go shopping because why?!

And you wanna go shopping because why?!

It’s the time when seemingly normal people lose their damn minds over some cheap shit that no one really needs. Sure there are some good deals from time to time but for the most part it’s not really worth it. Seriously, why the hell would you wanna waste precious family time or wake up before the ass-crack of dawn to save some money on sheet sets or a damn Xbox One? Even if your family sucks or you actually enjoy being up that early, fighting the hordes of psychotic moms fighting for discount towels makes it not worth leaving the house. It’s winter, my least favorite season, so my ass would rather be home, in bed, wrapped up in a warm blanket, sound asleep. Unfortunately for me, I work in retail. Dammit.

Unlike last year, I have to work during the insanity. I was lucky enough to miss it before but this year, I guess my luck ran out. I have the fantastic displeasure of getting to enjoy the “company” of all of the “wonderful people” who will make the decision to forego Thanksgiving festivities to trudge and fight through crowds of others just like them in order to fork over thousands and thousands of dollars for junk that will probably get returned for things that the gift receivers really want. What makes it even better is that I will miss Thanksgiving celebrations with my family (not by choice) to spend time with these brilliant folks. Oh joy.

Remember when Black Friday was ONLY on Friday? I do and I thought that was just fine. There was no need for an extra day. But then some genius or geniuses got a the “bright” idea that they could sell more shit if they started the sales even earlier, like maybe the day before. Ya know, on Thanksgiving. I mean, no one is doing anything important during the evening of Thanksgiving anyway. No one is slipping into a turkey coma or catching up with family members they might not have seen in a while or watching football or getting an early start on setting up their Christmas tree or just enjoying a break from work. Nah, no one is doing anything like that. So they should be shopping. Yeah, that sounds like a logical thing to do. If waking up ridiculously early to stand in line to wait for stores to open wasn’t crazy enough, skipping out on the majority of Thanksgiving in order to wait in line for under-priced junk definitely takes the cake.

At what point did a majority of the human race decide that standing in line, either outside in the freezing cold or inside among a cesspool of human “existence”, rather than relaxing at home with loved ones, was a good idea? Dammit, people! Check your priorities! Enjoy this time away from the insanity of the world. Take time with the people you love; your spouses, boyfriends/girlfriends, partners, kids, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. DVR the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and watch it over and over again, play some board games, sleep off that food coma, decorate for Christmas, have a few too many drinks and sing some karaoke…terribly. Enjoy life for once. Save Black Friday for Friday and leave Thursday to Thanksgiving. Be thankful for what you have, not for the things you can save a few bucks on. Maybe if enough people stop shopping on Thanksgiving, the stores will switch back to a one day sale. Probably not but a man can dream.

And if you get the urge to go shopping on Thursday, remember a few things:

1. A lot of people do not shower before these events and they will stand in line all night long. You may end up next to one of them. Some of these people will not even leave the line to use the restroom. They’ll just go where they’re standing. I’ve seen it. It’s not pretty.

2. A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is awesome. It can be watched on repeat and never not be awesome. Same goes for A Charlie Brown Christmas.

3. If you drink, don’t drive. So spike your eggnog or punch or whatever, curl up on the couch with a blanket, throw on Christmas with The Rat Pack or Michael Bublé Christmas, and just chill.

4. I enjoy spending time with my family and relaxing and watching A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and listening to Sinatra and Bublé sing Christmas tunes. However, I truly DO NOT enjoy spending my holiday at work with YOU. I don’t care who you are. It’s the last thing on my list of things to do on the holidays, right below watching every single Casper Van Dien movie ever. Believe me, it’s a long list.

So just do the right thing and stay home this holiday. Besides, most of the deals are online anyway. Buy all the crap from the comfort of your home. Boom, done.

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Terminator: Still Waiting on Judgment Day

Remember the early nineties when most everything was great, and we only had two Terminator movies? Two films about time traveling cyborgs trying to change the future by altering the past. Terminator and Terminator 2 were a rare offering in film: a story in two parts with a complete resolution. When Terminator 2 closes we are given a complete story, an ending. Somewhere along the way the series ceased to be “self aware” and in pursuit of an ongoing franchise started pumping out sequels that made me wish Skynet had just wiped us all out in the nuclear fire in 1997.

Image property of 20th Century Fox

Image property of 20th Century Fox

After Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines succeeded in making little sense and less money, the franchise took a break. A break that many of us thought would last forever. However once the dust settled someone realized that since the continuity was already fractured Fox could do whatever they wanted. Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles did the only logical thing, operating in the space between Terminator 2 and 3 allowed  the showrunners to explore the importance of John Conner’s mother. The show wasn’t perfect, but if there had to be additional stories wrung out of the original concept at least original writer and director James Cameron was involved with the project.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles lasted for 2 seasons. After the 2nd season ended in a fascinating cliffhanger, it was canceled. Not because the numbers were bad, but to avoid confusion with the new prequel/reboot Terminator: Salvation.  This movie sought to explain what no one cared about; how did Skynet construct the Terminators and make them look human?

If you haven’t put it together this rant is building to a new rant about a new film in the franchise due out in July.  The poorly titled Terminator: Genisys, because when Skynet took over all of our computer systems spellcheck wasn’t compatible.  Genisys sounds so unbelievably terrible that it will most likely do this dead horse of a franchise in, despite the fact it has been optioned as the beginning of a new trilogy of films.

Terminator: Genisys is expected to begin with John Conner sending the Arnold Schwarzenegger  model terminator back in time to look after his mother as a teenager. With that one sentence we have effectively destroyed the only  two movies worth watching in this entire series. This won’t be the tidy universe creation of the 2009 Star Trek reboot. Oh and how does the model T-800 look so old? Time travel aging his organic tissue. Gotcha. makes perfect sense. Especially give how awful the one film without Schwarzenegger turned out. Even director Mcg saw the problem and created the CGI puppet seen in the films climax.

I think I feel worst of all for former Doctor Who star Matt Smith. This is Smith’s first mainstream American film role, and it is going to be in a terrible movie. Casting Smith at first gave me a shred of hope, but that has passed. Now I can only pray that this franchise can and will “self terminate”

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Go See Interstellar

Insterstellar. Look, tinterstellar.thm_he title doesn’t say it all, but it gets the broad strokes. Every few years Christopher Nolan drops a special treat on us, and this film is no different.

The visuals are amazing, the scope is epic and the music is… Hans Zimmer because Zimmer is to Nolan what Elfman is to Burton. Zimmer knocks it out of the park with the score. Chris Nolan has a way of turning interesting concepts into gripping, engaging plots that never seem gimmicky (see Out Of Time) while serving the narrative–instead of the other way around.

Granted, this is a Nolan film, which means there are plot holes. And any Nolan fan worth her salt knows romance isn’t ever a strong point. And any Batman fan knows the fight scenes aren’t all that engaging. Nolan has always been more interested in what the fight is about symbolically and literally than what it looks like. I’ve never gotten why it can’t be both, but whatever.

Nolan, true to form, creates a film that overcomes or sidesteps most of these problems while doing cool new things. Without getting too spoilery, I love the robots in this movie, aside from an unintuitively useful design (shocked they were so useful). I always get a little bummed when the machines turn evil or have a duplicitous function. I like thinking that robots can assist humanity in exploration rather than just infect us with xenomorph semen.

And there’s a lot of stuff just under the surface. Themes about family play against ideas of humanity’s abstract future, and there’s more than a hint of spiritual metaphysics playing against a very specific scientific ideas. And more than a few ideas about man’s struggle against his own inner demons. Not to mention all of the homages to other great science fiction. And that suspense, right? I was on the edge of my seat the whole movie.

So yeah, go see Interstellar.

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Dungeons and Dragons: Tyranny of Dragons Adventure Path

Hoard of the Dragon Queen - Cover Art

I’m not a huge fan of published adventures in general because I really enjoy the world-building aspect of DMing and making a campaign. That said, I’ve run some Kobold Press adventures before and enjoyed their focus on mission-based storytelling, rather than the classic dungeon crawl.

When the books in the Tyranny of Dragons adventure path (Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat) came to my door, I was excited to look them over, and to eventually run them.

The first thing I noticed, as I tend to do when flipping through RPG books, is the art. And wow, it’s really great in these books. Like the D&D books that came before it, the covers are absolutely gorgeous, and the art inside deftly treads the line between overbearingly realistic and overly cartoony.

The Rise of Tiamat - Cover Art(1)

The adventures in these books will advance your player’s characters from levels one to fifteen as they investigate an evil dragon cult that seeks to resurrect its terrible dragon-god.

For the most part, the adventures are well-written and easy to follow. I like the mission structures quite a bit, and as an experienced DM, they’re easy to understand and to run quickly without a whole lot of preparation.

The settings are pretty fantastic, and you will go through mountains, floating fortresses, frozen wastes, and just about everything in between. Good settings are essential for great campaigns and these venues are sure to stir excitement among your player characters.

In the appendices, you’ll find MOST of the information you’ll need for these adventures, including magic items and monsters. The offerings seem pretty sparse, though, from the D&D I’m used to. I kind of miss having an overabundance of magic items around. However, you’ll still need the free pdfs from the Dungeons and Dragons website to get the full experience of these products. Personally, I think that’s a bit of an oversight, but it’s probably a minor one. It’s easy enough to put a pdf on your iPad or Kindle.

All in all, I think the Tyranny of Dragons line of adventures are competently written and the art is beautiful. I would recommend them, but I think a moderately experienced DM is probably needed to run these adventures. I’m not sure if they are intuitive enough to run without having played before. Actually, I think I’m going to discuss just that in my next article.

The Tyranny of Dragons path is a strong start to the Wizards of the Coast’s adventures for the new edition of D&D. I’m excited to world-build, but I’ll definitely be running these adventures for my friends. Now, let’s go out there and slay some dragons!

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Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay

Warhammer_fantasy_roleplay_coverI needed a roleplaying game to play while a portion of my main group is off doing some real life important stuff, so I pulled out an old favorite of mine: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (2nd Edition).

My history with Warhammer is a lengthy one. I’ve never played the tabletop wargame (though, I wish I could. I’m just too cheap), but I’ve read many of the books. John asked me one day to come play the game with him and some of his friends, and I fell in love with the system.

It’s just so simple. The mechanic is percentile dice. Roll 2 d10s (or a d100 if you are a snob), and try to roll lower than the number on your character sheet plus modifiers.

It’s easy, but it has so much depth. There are, literally, dozens of careers for your character, all with different abilities and skills. They even have a system where you can randomize EVERYTHING about your character, even down to distinguishing marks (like a bald spot or a snaggle tooth).

I ran a small group of just two characters. They decided to play dwarves, and our journey into the grim world of dark fantasy began.

Dark fantasy. Did I mention how dark the game can be? The setting is a gloomy one, for sure. Think of middle-earth and Grimm’s fairy tales/Hans Christian Anderson’s tales had a baby… but then throw in every superstition you can think of from the middle ages and make it real… and that’s basically Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Your character will probably die a horrible death… but it’s the adventure that counts, right? Not the ending.

As a DM, this setting gives me a lot of opportunities not to screw over my players, per se, but to bait them using common roleplaying fantasy tropes. For instance, I gave the dwarves a magic sword that they needed to present to the dwarven king in order to save their town. They were explicitly told NOT TO USE THE SWORD, but RPGers being RPGers, they used the sword.

Which disintegrated their enemies, but also turned to dust. So now they have no magic sword to present to the dwarven king in order to save their town. Should be fun seeing how they pull this little caper off. I’ll keep you updated.

If you can find a copy of WFRP 2nd edition, pick it up! It’s really great.

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I’ll Miss You, Xbox 360

My Xbox 360’s disc drive finally died. I’m one of those lucky people who only had to replace their old, fat, white Xbox 360 once (because of the infamous red ring of death), so that Xbox 36o has been my gaming companion since before the birth of my son over five years ago.

It’s weird. I’ve been playing my Wii U a lot more lately, but I’d been missing first-person shooters, especially Halo, a lot lately. And then, I suddenly couldn’t play any of my discs. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone, I guess. Like Cinderella said:

Luckily, the old Xbox has a large hard drive on it, so I have a lot of downloadable games on it, so that’s nice. But, I used the Xbox as my primary DVD player… so I can’t watch DVDs right now either. And I’m sick… and my sick tradition is to watch all the Lord of the Rings films.

I’m not going to replace it. I’ll save up the money and eventually upgrade to the Xbox One, but I wanted to take a moment to thank that old Xbox 360. You’ve been a good friend, and you’ll be missed.

 

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A Thank You Letter to Peter Capaldi

Dear Mr. Capaldi,

Thank you for being amazing. Truly amazing.

Doctor-who-Peter-Capaldi-2124919

Twelve. (image property of BBC)

Thank you for being the Doctor that I have wanted for a long time. Not that I had anything against previous Doctors. Nine (Christopher Eccleston) was outstanding, he was the Doctor that hooked me and brought me in. Ten (David Tennant) was phenomenal! He was the Doctor that stole the show, he grabbed me by the hand and took me on some incredible adventures. Ten has always been MY Doctor. Eleven (Matt Smith) was excellent too, it just took me a while to get used to him. I mean, I didn’t really get into him until much later on during his time as the Doctor. After watching his episodes again, I developed a better understanding of and enjoyment for him. He’s actually quite good.

But you, Mr. Capaldi, are something else. Something other-worldly, something astronomically wonderful. You are quickly becoming my favorite Doctor and that’s not an easy thing to do. Tennant’s Doctor is near and dear to my heart, so for you to nearly take his place so quickly is extraordinary.

Thank you for not being the goofy, love-sick-puppy Doctor that we’ve all come to know. Thank you for being the cynical, curmudgeonly Doctor we’ve needed most. A Doctor who isn’t trying to play house or be someone’s boyfriend–but a grumpy old Doctor, still with a heart of gold, yet not an overly-emotional softy. Your Doctor is more guarded, more closed off, but still a good person, whether he thinks so or not.

And now he’s a Doctor with a mission…to find Gallifrey, which I truly hope he does. I really, really, really hope he does. I feel that if your Doctor finds Gallifrey, it will be a life-altering experience. I mean, when Ten, Eleven, and the War Doctor saved Gallifrey from the destructive Time War, if was a huge burden taken off the Doctor’s mind. But now that his home is safe in an alternate universe, he has to worry if he’ll ever find it again and be reunited with his people. And I see that worry and fear in your Doctor, but not in a bad way. I see that it’s what is driving him; it’s what moves him. Though he does continue on his side projects to help people, finding home is main mission.

Finally, thank you for making every episode better and better. Even though we’re only five episodes in, you haven’t had a bad one yet. I feel the rest of the season will be the increasingly more stellar than it already has been. And hopefully you stay for a while. There was a rumor in the beginning that you were only staying on for one series and I hope that rumor is a lie. After seeing how much the fans love you and what you do, I want you to be convinced that leaving would be a horrible thing to do. Please, please, please stay.

In summary,

1. You’re the best.

2. Please stay.

3. Everyone would miss you.

4. I could watch Listen a million times and never get tired of it.

The best episode so far. So freakin' good! (Image property of BBC)

The best episode so far. So freakin’ good! (Image property of BBC)

5. After you finish your run as Doctor, reunite Dreamboys with Craig Ferguson. That would be awesome.

 

Thank you for everything you’ve done and everything you’ll do.

 

Your fan for life,

Rob

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Dungeons & Dragons — Monster Manual Review

“Apprehensively excited” would be how you could describe my reaction to the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons. I participated in the public playtest, but it didn’t really electrify me in any way. The Player’s Handbook, though, got me wanting to play D&D again, and the new Monster Manual really has me chomping at the bit to roll some dice with friends.

The first thing I noticed when opening up the new Monster Manual was how pretty it is. Wizards of the Coast really went all out when it comes to illustrating the monsters. The art walks the fine line of keeping the monsters somewhere between realistic and cartoony, and I think it’s a perfect design aesthetic for the game. The monsters aren’t off-putting, but they aren’t adorable, either.

Monster ManualI would be remiss to not mention the great cover image of the legendary beholder attacking a group of adventurers who stumbled into its lair. That picture alone makes me want to jump into the game as soon as possible.

This is also the first Monster Manual in awhile that made me actually want to read the lore portions. Generally, I just want a bestiary with a bunch of stat blocks that I can use in my game, but I was engrossed while reading about the giants, drow, and dragons. Some story hooks emerged in my mind while reading the flavor text, so the writers really did their work well in that regard. It’s more than just a rulebook, and I appreciate that.

Each monster feels basically unique, too. There weren’t many times when I felt like a creature was basically a reskin of another creature. Most monsters have unique abilities that set them apart. Again, that’s super helpful for people who are running a game and want to keep things fresh.

The selection of monsters is pretty decent; though, I considered complaining about the 33 pages or so of dragons, but then I remembered what the name of the game was.  The system (right now) seems more heavily weighted towards early game, with most of the monsters being challenge level five or under. (Challenge level is a quick metric of how powerful a monster is. A challenge level of one means that four level one characters should have a decent challenge when encountering the creature).

I tend to think that RPGs get really interesting after level five. While there’s plenty for adventures of mid-to-high level to battle, I wish WotC would’ve dropped some of the lesser-known, low-level monsters for some more advanced creatures. That’s a minor quibble, though. A good DM shouldn’t have any problems crafting unique adventures with what’s there. (And what’s there is A LOT. There are over 400 creatures in the book.)

Speaking of high-level monsters, I love the “legendary” monster rules. Monsters like the Tarrasque have “legendary actions” that afford them extra actions that they can perform after another creature’s turn. Maybe they can attack, or stomp on your adventurer, stuff like that. It’s a great idea and kind of breaks the game in favor of “boss” creatures. I really like that for some reason. Maybe because it reminds me of the final battle in a Final Fantasy game.

If you were wondering if the new version of Dungeons & Dragons was worth playing, I think this Monster Manual could be just the thing to heighten your desire to play the game. Head to your friendly local game store and check it out; I think you’ll find that D&D is back with a vengeance. With the Monster Manual, Wizards of the Coast strove for greatness, and I think they hit their target.

The Monster Manual for Dungeons & Dragons releases on September 30th. The Cool Ship was given an early review copy of the book.

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Sweet Simplicity–Dungeons and Dragons

D&DI received the Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Guide last night, so I’ve been looking over it pretty diligently for  the last 24 hours or so.  It has a lot of things going for it, especially its simplicity. It is elegant in its restraint. After the bloatedness (note: I said bloated, not necessarily bad) of fourth edition, I’m glad to see a rules system that is so streamlined.

I mean, I don’t have time to learn a lot of rules anymore. I’m not the dude in my teens and twenties that could spend a lot of time  memorizing  pretty much an entire rule system to run a game with my buddies, but the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons is like cuddling up with your favorite blanket. It’s familiar and looks great.

John and I were talking about how easy it is to make a character, and how if we wanted to, we could do some customization with just a couple of tweaks. We won’t have to wade through dozens of webpages and rulebooks looking for rules to make our characters exactly as we want to. Awesome.

My favorite part of the new system, though, is the seeming emphasis on story. I’ve always been more interesting in the storytelling aspect of RPGs rather than the rules, so D&D now makes it easy to jump into the story. The characters can do cool stuff without having to worry about too many complicated rules. That’s all we want to do. We want to have a little bit of fantasy escapism and be heroes. The new Dungeons and Dragons makes doing just that uncomplicated.

After I’ve played some more, I’ll tell you all about it.

 

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When Players Are in Control

swcombineJohn and I often write about the kind of MMO we want to play. And it generally comes down to giving us the options of a tabletop RPG in digital form. We want the power to control the governments, the economy, etc. in the game.

But what happens to a player-controlled game when the player base is dying?

Enter Star Wars Combine.

Star Wars Combine is a browser-based MMORPG set in an alternate Star Wars timeline. Nearly everything is player controlled, and it has some neat system to balance that. Travel is real time. Want to jump across the galaxy? You’re going to be on your ship for two weeks. All in all, I like it. It has some good ideas.

But it’s been in development for over 15 years, and it’s not complete yet. Combat has yet to be fully implemented. The interface is bulky and hard to understand (I don’t think it was made by native English speakers).  But, the roleplaying has made it worth it to me. I joined a group of people calling themselves the Falleen Federation (you might remember that Shadows of the Empire villain Prince Xizor was a Falleen, but these guys purport to be more virtuous). I even made some friends.

But the player base is dying. You know what happens when people are in hyperspace for two weeks? They don’t log in for two weeks. And if they have some major responsibilities within their guild or faction, those can get neglected. Case in point, my faction gave me a mission to complete, but I haven’t been able to finish it yet because I am waiting for a person from a separate faction to give me access to a space station. She hasn’t logged in for nearly 8 days. So, what do I do? I wait. And it makes me not want to log in since I can’t do anything. And I can’t force my way in… because that hasn’t been implemented yet.

I like the people, though, really. It’s just… it’s kind of a boring game. An economic simulator, really, right now. And there’s no threat of physicality to balance the economics.  And because of those basic things not being implemented, more people are leaving the game. It’s like watching an entire mini-universe gasping for breath.

It’s an odd situation, but maybe when it comes to having players control everything, we are getting exactly what we asked for. And a lot less.

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Life After “The Fappening”

Something crazy happened this month. The details and idle speculation got ubiquitous, so I won’t do the play by play.

Instead I’m going to talk about what I learned. And I’m going to call it The Fappening despite some well-argued points for why I shouldn’t. That name says something important about what happened. The news actually reported it as The Fappening. That’s history now.

First, there’s the obvious. Sexism and misogyny are still doing quite well in 21st century America. The cycle of shaming and victim-blaming continues even now.

Speaking of victims, I also learned that, despite years of leaked celebrity photos, stars are still willing to be photographed performing private sex acts. That seems a little silly to me, but it doesn’t mean that Jennifer Lawrence and the other women deserve this. While nude photos aren’t the smartest play, these women did nothing wrong and they are victims. It’s not unlike someone breaking into your computer and publishing your tax information. It’s wrong.

The difference, to the prudish, is that it’s sexually risqué, which is akin to deviance for some. And there will always be a segment of the population that enjoys seeing deviance punished.

I learned that there might be a secret market for celebrity photos that has been operating to the benefit of a ring of shadowy collectors for years. That is kind of insane to me.

I learned some things about people too. Despite it being so easy to simply not look at the photos – literally all we would have to do is nothing – millions of people seek out those photos. Perhaps thousand swill continue to celebrate a massively public violation. There will be memes, jokes and Twitter recriminations of the famous. There are people out there who want it to get as crazy as possible and savour the mayhem. Moments like these make me reflect on a famous quote from The Dark Knight.

As an exercise in morality, people should be able to not look without reward or threat of punishment. This makes me think there are far too many people that won’t do the right thing without incentive. It’s a dark entry in the debate about whether people are evil.

I also learned a lot of people are more passionate, positively or negatively, about a video of Jennifer Lawrence performing a sex act than about about important things like ISIS or voting. Cynical though it may be, watching the Internet community come together around this issue (as opposed to our water shortage in the western US) and work in concerted effort to catalog and promote “The Fappening” was something else.

I also learned something about myself. If I were a teenager, I would almost certainly be obsessed with spoils from the leak. Seeing a famous person naked, much less having sex ,pretty much would have blown my mind in a way only teenage immaturity can. Thankfully, I’m an adult. After The Fappening, I didn’t find my feelings about any of these women changed. I don’t think that Jennifer Lawrence is any less talented or Kaley Cuoco any more so. I don’t think any of these women are morally wanting. If anything, they are a little more real to me as I try to imagine what it must be like to be afraid you’ve been redefined by something so private.

Mostly, I find myself relieved that I really don’t care.

When Activities Become Lifestyles

ticket to ride

Proof that games were made for everyone.

I’ve been reading this week that the “End of Gamers” is upon us. Good riddance.

Look, I like games. Any of you who know me are aware that I’m a big fan of tabletop RPGs, board games, and videogames. There are few activities I love more than sitting down with friends and family and playing together.

I can’t, though, imagine defining my whole life around one activity. There’s so much to life that defines who we are. For instance, I have family, church, my writing, my job, my son’s school stuff, and so much more. I’m not a single facet of anything I do… I’m all of those things.

What is happening right now is that an activity has turned into a culture. And that activity used to be ostracized. Geeks were picked on. We weren’t mainstream. Comic books could get you mocked when I was in school. I was made fun of for liking Star Wars! Who doesn’t like Star Wars!?

But, now, we’re in the majority. Guardians of the Galaxy is the biggest movie in the world right now. Let me repeat: a fairly niche comic book’s adaptation is the most popular movie on Earth right now. Dungeons and Dragons is getting write-ups in TIME and other major publications. Videogames make all the money.

And it’s good to be on top. But, when you’re on top, you don’t want everyone else to be on top, too. So you begin to exclude. Most women can’t come in here. They’re not real geeks unless they have to pass a litmus test. My mom isn’t a REAL gamer. On and on it goes. The exclusion. The building of a wall around the bastion of geekdom.

Games are here to stay. And more people are going to be playing them every day. And whether it’s Skyrim or Candy Crush Saga we’re all gamers now.

And that’s okay. We don’t need huge arguments about who’s in the club and who isn’t. We don’t need to treat people who play games we don’t enjoy like garbage. We don’t need to threaten people’s lives.

Let’s just play games. Because games are awesome.

Don Pardo: A Voice That Meant So Much

PardoIf you are under 50, then chances are you knew Don Pardo, or at least his rich baritone. For 38 seasons (all but 1)  Pardo was the announcer for Saturday Night Live; each week he could be heard belting out his trademark line “It’s Saturday Night Live”. Whether  intentional on the part of NBC and producer Lorne Michaels, hiring the seemingly straight laced traditional announcer provided an interesting foil and an air of sensibility to the sketch comedy show. Pardo did more, though, than lend an air of legitimacy to the program.  He even appeared in a few sketches and monologues as a parody of himself.

Pardo began his announcer career 70 years ago at NBC. There he handled announcer duties for memorable programs like Jeopardy (pre-Trebek) and The Price is Right (pre-Bob Barker). Pardo was the first voice at NBC to announce an assassination attempt on John F. Kennedy.

Pardo said over the years that he paid careful attention to his voice. He semi-joked to the Associated Press in 1985 that besides being his meal ticket, it was also “my Achilles heel. When I get sick, it’s always my voice.”

He said he carried cough drops everywhere.

He appeared in Woody Allen’s movie “Radio Days,” playing a game show host, and can be heard on recordings by the late Frank Zappa and Weird Al Yankovic, in his “I Lost On Jeopardy” parody. Despite relocating to Arizona in the early 2006, Pardo continued his SNL duties long distance.

Pardo was a familiar voice to generations of radio and TV fans; though, many have never seen his face. Upon the announcement of his death, tributes and remembrances poured in from all over the television industry.

“Any SNL actor will tell u:the ultimate moment of your career was hearing Don Pardo say your name. Each week he represented a dream come true,” tweeted Rachel Dratch, who appeared on the show from 1999 to 2006.

Seth Myers, who spent years on “SNL” before recently beginning his own late-night talk program, wrote, “RIP Don Pardo. A voice that meant so much.”

Don Pardo died August 18, 2014. He was 96.

 

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Gen Con 2014: Stray Observations

I’m still decompressing from the crazy gaming weekend. This year was so big that I ended up finding quiet corners a few times to get away from the sensory overload of the exhibit hall and the main corridors. Basically, I felt like Nicolas Cage confronting Christopher Eccleston.

While the Con is still on my mind, I wanted to mention some things that I didn’t talk about in either of my previous posts.

1.) I am impressed by all the young, ambitious people I meet at Gen Con. I met a gentleman who is producing independent films, a game setting for Pathfinder, and seems to have numerous other projects in the works.  I also met a guy that runs his own gaming store near Cincinnati. Last year I met a woman who designed her own game that’s releasing in September. It’s exciting to see people following their dreams and achieving them.

2.) I like the more laid back nature of the convention hotels rather than gaming in the main conference center. We had the opportunity to play a game of Dungeons and Dragons in the D&D area of one of the exhibit halls (Hopefully, I can procure a new D&D Handbook and talk about it in a later post), but I think I would’ve found it a lot more rewarding if I didn’t feel the press of the crowd around me that was doing the same thing. For instance, we played a big RPG game of Vampire in one of the hotels, and even though there were about 10 people at the table, I never felt crowded, drowned out, or rushed. It was nice. Same thing for the Legacy of Mana (link in the first paragraph) game I played. The meeting rooms in the hotel were mostly quiet, and much more conducive to roleplaying games.

3.) Open gaming is the thing to do. Whether it’s testing a random new game or just setting up a game for you and your friends to play in one of the gaming rooms, open gaming is something I wished I had more time for at the convention. I’m so obsessed with getting into events sometimes that  just sitting and being with friends gets pushed into the periphery.

4.) Brazilian steak houses. Go to one. Now. Stop what you’re doing and go to a Brazilian steak house. If you love meat, you owe it to yourself. Dining at Fogo de Chao was one of the great experiences of this trip to Gen Con.

5.) Talk to people. Gen Con is basically a safe place for gamers and that makes people a little more open. I talked to a lot of random people in line, all of which were super friendly. I didn’t get their names, and I didn’t need to, but it definitely made the time in line go faster. Also, take business cards or some other giveaway object. People love that stuff at conventions.

So, when you’re at Gen Con, you want it to last as long as possible. Perhaps getting into ALL THE EVENTS isn’t the way to do that. You’re there to play some games with friends, and basically to escape from the pressures of life for awhile (unless you’re there to work; that’s probably an entirely different convention experience). So enjoy it. Do what you want to do, not what you feel like you have to do.

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