Replacement Gameology

Game DudesMy son is home all day due to Summer Break from school. He just finished kindergarten, and having him home again all day has taken some getting used to. I do my best to keep him busy: playing outside, reading, worksheets, building blocks, video games. Playing video games is a hobby with both share, and the unthinkable is happening–he’s getting better than me.

I’ve been coming to grips lately with the fact that he is basically here to replace me. That’s fine; my son is a cool guy, and if someone has to carry on the Johnston banner when I’m gone, he’s a fine choice. Video games, though, might be the last straw. For example, we often battle each other in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U. He beats me probably two out of three fights. He’s great at platformers. Really, anything that doesn’t involve crazy amounts of reading is like second nature to him.

He also approaches video games with joy! I tend to approach them with cynicism. His spirit hasn’t been broken by large publishers, crappy movie tie-in games, or promises by developers that were never delivered. Instead, he sees a commercial and thinks everything looks AMAZING! I miss that kind of video game innocence.

As he ages, he’ll be the target demographic for video game dollars. Publishers will market to him. He’ll need to have the latest video games on the first day. In the meantime, I’ll be buying game of the year editions of games and not immediately jumping into online multiplayer. Hardcore gaming is a young man’s game.

I’m perfectly okay with my son replacing me in the eyes of video game publishers. I’ll be more likely to enjoy games the way I want to… and maybe I can pass on my gaming wisdom to my replacement.

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Magic: The Gathering: The Return

MagicFor me, Magic: The Gathering is a little like an old friend that never matured. I get older and the details of my life change, but Magic stays more or less the same.

It seems a little wild when I realize that I’ve been playing the game on and off for about 20 years now. My dad picked up the cards on a lark back in the dark days of the 90s. It was a short while after my parents’ divorce started, and I think he was looking for us to have something in common.  

I didn’t play Magic regularly until I was a little older, but as soon as I made friends in junior high that played, that was it. If it’s true that it takes 10,000 hours to become good at something, I probably earned a Ph. D between high school and college. 

Sometimes I wouldn’t play for a few months or a year. After I finished undergrad, I pretty much stopped altogether.  Aside from the occasional booster draft at GenCon, it’s been at least six years since I’ve played regularly. A part of me never thought I would again. 

And then an actual friend came along and dared me to buy a booster box of cards. Or maybe I dared him. Who knows? But we ended up with three booster boxes (108 booster packs) between the two of us. 

And now I have so many questions. How do plainswalkers work? And why do people keep telling me the next core set is the last core set? What are these weird symbols in the text boxes of some of the cards? Did they change stack rules for instants and abilities? 

Other things have changed too. I’ve never played this game while having a full-time job and disposable income. It’s now possible for me to spend a shocking amount of cash on cards if I’m so inclined. At the same time, I’ve never had less people to play this game with. Three weeks later, even the friend that I bought the cards with has yet to build a deck. 

So this could turn out like the other games I buy annually at GenCon. Things like The Adventure Time card game come home with me and sit on a shelf collecting dust. I certainly don’t enjoy playing with strangers or squaring off against 8-year-olds all that much.

Maybe it’s an opportunity to make new friends. I guess time will tell. 

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Is Daredevil A Perfect Show?

Marvel’s Daredevil series on Netflix has set_daredevil_netflix_640gotten a lot of praise since its release earlier this month. I have actually only seen one article run counter to that trend. Not bad.

Aware of how positive the reception has been, I posted said article on my wall to see what would happen. And I’m glad I did. The ensuing social media melee, while generally cordial, did get me organize a few stray thoughts I’ve had about the show. Things that hadn’t occurred to me, in part, because of the group-think mentality surrounding the show’s reception. Everyone loves it, so it’s probably good. 

And it’s hard to consider Daredevil without looking at its peers. Up to now, the CW has offered the most competitive non-cartoon superhero shows on television. I suppose Agents of SHIELD deserves a nod, but I was so bored with the first season that I never went back.

That’s not the only way to measure a show. Certainly, there are programs like True Detective that stand well above Daredevil in terms of gritty realism, plot execution and character depth. Sherlock does a far better job dramatized crime-solving. I’d even argue that some of DC’s animated properties better explore the moral complexities of vigilantism.

Still, comparing against peers means going apples to apples. CW is a modern superhero television pioneer. Smallville was well-past the syndication point when the Marvel Cinematic Universe started. Arrow and The Flash are successors to that legacy. But at their core, those shows are still about character drama (and non-stop lying to friends for no reason) that moves the plot rather than the reverse.

That’s something I really appreciate about Daredevil; the willingness to skip the BS in order to tell a tighter story with more interesting characters. A part of me wonders, however, if the bar isn’t set too low to have an honest conversation. 

To be sure, there’s definitely a good show here. For example, I really appreciate the show’s take on Wilson Fisk. He’s a fantastic inversion of the sympathetic villain. Fisk plays complicated and morally nuanced when, in truth, he’s just a bad guy that thinks the rules don’t apply to him. He has no empathy for similarly situated people, getting bent out of shape when someone involves his family or steals from him, while extolling about how he wants to do something good. His story is a pretty blatant power grab from a monstrous character. He is uncomplicatedly evil.

Fisk’s actions don’t appear in any way to be intended to better the city. He certainly does things and says they’re going to help, but he and the show never really connect the dots. I’d like to believe that’s because Fisk, like an alcoholic,  rationalizes his actions with excuses that in no way reflect the reality of the situation.

Except for Vanessa. He seems to genuinely care for her; though, it’s hard to say if it’s out of self-interest (wanting to be loved and have a family) or actual caring for her well-being separate of himself.

There were also genuine disappointments. Foggy’s discovery of the Devil’s identity played out in a very by-the-numbers way for me. We’ve seen a version of all parts of the ensuing argument over and over again. I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on them, the secret identity trope is so old it’s hard to do the reveal differently, but I expected more. 

Karen Page is a flat character for me. I actually couldn’t remember her name, even heading into the season finale. It started promising, with her saving her own life in her initial episode. That’s a big deal in a superhero show, but somewhere along the way her arc started feeling like a time sink. 

This post is a bit if a false flag; there is no perfect show. Daredevil is probably the strongest showing we’ve seen in live action television since the superhero boom started. There’s certainly room for improvement, but it stands well above its predecessors.

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Are The Jedi Religious?

obi-wan-kenobi-the-empire-strikes-back-_144169-fli_1378671413In honor of May 4th, I thought I would attempt to tackle a Jedi question that’s been tickling my brain lately. For most of my adult life, I’ve operated under the assumption that the Jedi are a religious order. Largely because of the parallels between them and Templar knights and that throwaway line from A New Hope:

Don’t try to frighten us with your sorcerer’s ways, Lord Vader. Your sad devotion to that ancient Jedi religion has not helped you conjure up the stolen data tapes, or given you enough clairvoyance to find the rebels’ hidden fortress…


But it occurs to me that the Jedi Order doesn’t seem all that religious. On its surface, most of the common religious components are missing. There appears to be no deity, no stated code of morality, no prophet or enlightener, and no philosophy about life after death (excluding certain Jedi). Without these components, it seems like you can have secular Jedi. Or Jedi that follow specific religions not associated to The Force. 

More importantly, most faiths strive to be inclusive and and to spread. Theoretically, if the Jedi practice a religion, other non-Jedi people should also be able to practice it as well. I can’t recall any normals ever celebrating the vague notions of The Force.  

Then again, Buddhism is a non-theist religion, so perhaps God(s) aren’t a necessary component. And there are Jedi that live on as ghosts after their death. So there is verifiable proof of an afterlife; though the Jedi are oddly silent on the issue. The Force, it could be argued, might be a component of an enlightened state or spiritual experience not unlike Nirvana… that only certain people can have. Together, these things could be called spiritual components of… something. I mean, everyone remembers Luke’s walk into that cave to face his fear. It certainly looked spiritual. 

So perhaps it’s still vague. It’s possible there are more details that aren’t expressed in the films (without having to enter EU territory) that come together with these elements, and poor writing just didn’t get us there.

But my gut tells me that the Jedi aren’t practicing a religion. There doesn’t appear to be any referential material that practitioners can use for guidance. Normally, the faithful can look at a sanctioned, curated tome and discuss components of their faith. The Jedi don’t seem to have a consensus on what is morally correct, seemingly allowing or engaging in murder inconsistently. The only real moral good the Jedi appear to believe in is stopping other force-users from using their power to conquer. That and the whole thing about loving relationships and family being bad. 

On a larger level, religion is supposed answer the big, existential mysteries. The Force and the Jedi philosophy behind it has almost always been about the how things work rather than the why. The bigger questions about creation, the universe and are place in it aren’t addressed here.

No, I think the Jedi have a distinct lack of spirituality… most of the time. 

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Princes of the Apocalypse Review

I really like Dungeons & Dragons 5th imageedition. Having sampled 1st, 3rd, 3.5 and 4th (as well as a long stint in Pathfinder) I’m happy to report that this is my favorite version of D&D. There is a simplicity and elegance to the system that was missing in 4e and, arguably, Pathfinder. At the same time, the uniformity of the mechanics is intuitive enough to avoid many, though not all, of the rules-lawyer-style arguments that I’ve… enjoyed with D&D’s more classic iterations.

Which is why it seems like Princes of the Apocalypse, Wizards of the Coasts’ third module for the system, is as good a place as any for me to try running the game. As an important note, I have never in my entire life run a game module– pretty odd for someone with more than a decade of RPG experience.

I appreciate that the book begins by giving a broad overview of the setting, plot elements and factions in the module–even if they are difficult to track in the beginning. Princes of the Apocalypse takes place in the varied locations found in the Dessarin Valleys, which is somewhere Northish in relation to Waterdeep. This section illustrates one of the beginning challenges for me as well: there are a lot of details to keep a hold of right from the outset. Some, like the relation a specific place may have to another point of interest in the world aren’t super important. Others, such as the names of cult leaders, faction motivations and such totally are, and it’s up to the reader, with the assistance of the book, to prioritize. 

This is something I don’t like so much, even though it’s a good start for a large, dynamic world. My temptation is to throw all of it at the players instead of pacing myself and, by association, the adventure. I like mixing it all up, which is a discipline issue exacerbated by all the options.

I do like all the different origin options for the players. Princes of the Apocalypse includes over a dozen different origins that are tangentially associated to a character or event happening in the valley. Some of these options would make a good preamble for an established party’s adventures or work as an origin for a new group’s formation. It also reminds me of Dragon Age: Origins.

I also like the accessibility. The campaign is set for groups from level 3-15, but it makes allowances for 1st level players as well. 

For me, it all comes together in chapter three, when the adventure portion of the book starts. I’m a completionist when it comes to RPGs–I want to know every little detail about the setting to make sure the players have all the opportunities possible to run into a stray plot thread or discover an interesting clue. So, of course, I’m going to read the whole book, and at specific parts of the adventure, I can allude to other interesting things or throw out components I don’t like. For the first time ever, when I’m running this campaign, I won’t have to keep meticulous notes about the plot I’ve written and what the players did in the last session. 

Overall, I’d say this book has a lot of potential. It’s kind of a heavy lift for DMs interested in chaotic, “wing-it” style adventures, but for the folks willing to put in that time and do their homework, this is a top-notch set of tools for a great adventure for beginners and experienced groups.

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The Blind and the Bold: Marvel’s Daredevil

In 2003, superhero movies were already cliche… but you couldn’t tell me that. I was 20 years old and was just coming into my own as a geeky comic book fan. Spider-Man had blown me away, and I had enjoyed the two Blade movies that had released by that time. Daredevil released in February, but I went to a college that forbade me from going to the theater (long story). So, the first week I came home, I went to the local dollar place and watched Ben Affleck’s Daredevil in a dirty, leaky theater. I won’t lie; I loved it. I even had the soundtrack (thanks to a friend that burned it to a purple CD for me). I still like the film… at least, I think the director’s cut isn’t bad. After seeing it, I voraciously began to devour Daredevil comics, and he became one of my favorite superheroes–Matt Murdock is just a lawyer trying to make his neighborhood better.

Then, last week, I ecstatically watched Daredevil’s eponymous Netflix series.

MARVEL'S DAREDEVILMarvel’s Daredevil is a rare gem that, while I was watching, made me believe that superheroes could exist. It was intense. It felt real… ish. Most importantly, I believed the motivations of both the protagonist and antagonist. Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk are explicitly two sides of the same coin: powerful men (in their own respective ways) who use that power to make their city a better place, according to their own vision.

Fisk believes that in order to make the city better, he has to wipe the slate clean and start over. He accomplishes this task through a series of financial maneuvers, blackmail, bribery, mob connections, and murder. Murdock believes that the best way to save his city is to protect the people in it by using his particular set of skills to stop all the crime that Fisk is propagating.

This, of course, brings Fisk and Murdock into conflict.

FiskOne of the highlights of the series is Vincent D’Onofrio. Sure, he could’ve played Wilson Fisk the same way we all remember him from the Spider-Man animated series or like Michael Clark Duncan did in the film, but D’Onofrio’s Fisk is an introvert: a socially awkward individual who is over-extending himself by dealing with the insubordination of his partners, the incompetence of his lackeys, his conflict with The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen, and, most importantly, by trying to secure the love of a beautiful woman.

Fisk’s respect and love for the women in his life is one of his defining features. We’ve seen so many villains that are willing to treat the ladies in their lives like absolute garbage. But Wilson Fisk treats the women in his life well. He listens to their advice. He pulls out chairs. He protects them the best he can, and he derives energy from them, especially Vanessa, his lady love. When Fisk finally goes public with his “philanthropic” efforts, it is Vanessa who is standing beside him. The way his relationship with Vanessa works feels tangible to me. I totally get the whole “being socially awkward, but being able to suck it up with the love and support of the woman you love” thing.

Charlie Cox’s Matt Murdock/Daredevil is pretty standard, but that’s perfectly okay. The series is written so well that I never think that I’ve seen what Murdock is doing before, even though I know I have. He’s a standard, tortured super hero, but again, he feels tangible. Like maybe anyone with enough training could put on a black ninja outfit and beat up thugs. I know that isn’t the case, but Daredevil is convincing. I trust that Matt Murdock believes in the righteousness of his mission. When faced with the odds that he is up against, I believe that he has to put on the mask and go outside the law to bring about justice.

Foggy KarenReally, I enjoy Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock more than I enjoy him as the vigilante superhero, and that’s because of the interactions with his supporting characters “Foggy” Nelson (Elden Henson) and Karen Page (Debra Ann Woll). Foggy is Matt’s best friend/law partner and is probably the true heart of the show. He’s often the comic relief, but you never feel like the comedy is at the expense of the character. He’s the sweet, awkward, funny guy that works with you. He’s good at his job, and he’s a loyal friend.

Karen, at least for me, was a little bit less interesting. Her story arc basically consisted of never letting go of a case. That’s pretty standard legal drama to me, but there are hints of her mysterious past that I’m sure will be addressed next season. Her interactions with both Matt and Foggy and the chemistry between all three of the characters is spot on.

The action in the show is brutal and not very flashy, but it’s well choreographed. The lack of flashiness, though, heightens the stakes. Rather than tell you all about it, I’m just going to post a video of this scene from episode two. I think it shows you exactly what I mean.

I actually wanted to cheer when he saved the little boy at the end of this scene.

All in all, I highly recommend Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix. It leaves a lot of threads open for next season (or other upcoming Marvel shows), but the story of the struggle against Wilson Fisk and the fate of Hell’s Kitchen is believable, compelling, and masterfully done.

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Gemstone in the Rough

Let me take you back to a time when I was 12- or 13-years old. It was 1996. The internet sounded like this:

It was then that I was slowly turning into the dorky guy that I am today. Sure, I had already read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I was voraciously reading Star Wars novels and other fantasy books. I had been playing Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior/Quest for years.

But this was the turning point.

I was at my neighbor’s house, and he told me that I just HAD to try a new game he found. I immediately went to sit in front of his TV… but he instead booted up AOL and told me to sit. Then he started it: Gemstone III.

“What is this?” I asked.

“It’s an RPG. An RPG you can play with a thousand other people.

Mind. Blown.

He immediately took me to the character creator, and I built Lancastrien, a sorcerer with a penchant for blowing up rats with his magic. When the game finally started, I was ready for something amazing.

And then I was looking at a black screen full of white text. I was confused. Where was my sorcerer? Where was everyone else.

It was a text game. And as I started getting acclimated to it, I began to discover that the game was much deeper than the console RPGs I was used to. You could do almost anything, and I could interact with other people. Lots of other people. This was before the days of Everquest or Ultima Online, so people were congregating here to get their geeky RPG fix. It was great. So great. I was utterly sucked in. I was killing giant rats for experience, meeting internet friends at the inn for conversation about our adventures: I was making both friends and enemies.

I went home and begged my parents to get the internet. I wanted (NEEDED) to play Gemstone III. They finally relented, and we installed one of the AOL discs that came in the mail. The first thing I did? Create a Gemstone III account. I rolled a bard named Spumis, and my love affair with the fantasy bard class began.

The adventure couldn’t last forever, though. GS3 moved to a web portal and started charging to play. I quit after that. I couldn’t afford it, and I had plenty of N64 games to play.

Eventually Gemstone III upgraded to Gemstone IV. I kept track of the game, but never got back into it (I wasn’t going to pay for a text game when I could pay for graphical games and basically get the same fix.)… Until recently.

GS IV went free to play recently, so feeling the pull of nostalgia, I jumped back in. It’s still a fun experience. There aren’t as many people playing, but that only adds to its mystique. I still love the text-based game format, and the game is more intuitive now: the tutorials are better, the interface is much, much better.

Anyway, I can thank Gemstone for turning me into the D&D-playing dork I am today. It’s nice to be able to go back to the game and get that adventuring fix a few times a week. Since it’s free, if you’re interested, you really should try it. And look for Knotwind in Icemule Trace. I’m sure he’d be happy to show you around.

Gemstone IV

Knotwind fights a mutant crab.


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Nostalgia-Class Gaming

shovel knight thrustI got an Xbox One in the last week or so, and I love it. It’s nice to have a “gamer” console again after only having a Wii U (which I also love, but for very different reasons) for a year or so. I was, however, left without it or internet access this past weekend, but I brought my laptop and a gaming controller with me. My laptop certainly is not a gaming powerhouse, but it has enough power to play some recent, not-graphics-heavy games. The two main fixtures for last weekend’s gaming were Shovel Knight and Rogue Legacy.

Both these games give you a good idea where my head is at when it comes to video games. I’m a child of 90s gaming, for sure. Shovel Knight is a quasi-8-bit platformer that combines the best parts of Mega Man, DuckTales, Zelda II, and Castlevania into one of the best games of last year. Shovel Knight has a quirky story, superior level design, and catchy music.

rogue legacyRogue Legacy is a rogue-like platformer, meaning that the levels in the castle you are adventuring in get randomly generated every time you enter. This game is difficult, and you will die–a lot. That’s okay, though, because after every death, you pick an heir from three options (also randomly generated), but they keep your equipment and the money you collected in the previous castle run. Death is just a part of the game, and it’s fun trying out new characters as you make your way through all the parts of the castle.

My new Xbox is great, and I love playing games like Shadow of Mordor and Titanfall, but to have just pure fun that appeals to me as an early millennial gamer, platformers (especially those that refine, perfect, and enhance the experience like the ones mentioned about) are where it is at for me.

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.



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.