Tag Archives: gaming

Gen Con 50: Day One: Finding My Inner Dork Again

I entered the Con with a bit of an identity crisis on my hands. Gen Con’s 50th year is a little odd to me. I’m finding myself more passionless, more ambivalent, about being here. It’s interesting. I used to pride myself on my nerdiness, and now I’m just, kind of, here.

I’m not sure what happened. Maybe it was the breakup of my gaming group. Maybe it’s the fact that I keep buying nerdy things like RPG rule books and board games and never get much of a chance to play them. Real life comes at you fast: things in the house need fixing, work gets crazy. There’s school stuff, job stuff, family stuff. I’m not super great at prioritizing my enjoyment of tabletop gaming, but is tabletop gaming still even a priority? Should it be?

About a six months ago, I volunteered to run the new RPG Star Trek Adventures for the fine folks at Modiphius. Star Trek has been a fixture in my life, and Modiphius offered me some store credit to do it (basically, I ended up getting a free core rulebook), so I set up a couple of sessions of an adventure they put together called “Entropy’s Demise.” It’s not the Star Trekiest of Star Trek stories, but it’s a fun one about an away mission and a good introduction to the game’s rules.

The game is a lot of fun, cribbing some good mechanics from a number of different systems. I look forward to maybe running for people at home once I know the rules a lot better.

My big purchase of the day was Starfinder by Paizo. I know the basic premise is that it’s Pathfinder in space, and I could probably homebrew that for a group, but the art is fantastic, it’s fat with a lot of information, and Paizo puts out entertaining stuff enough that I wanted to support them.

After all that, it was dinner with friends, old and new, and we got to check out the Rick & Morty: Total Rickall game. We had a lot of fun committing random acts of betrayal and card murder. Also, I am very jealous of those who are staying at the JW Marriott in downtown Indy. Man, that place is poshy and has some lovely views of Indianapolis in the starlight.

As I was taking the long walk back to my car, I realized that while I was playing games, I wasn’t thinking about this dumb nerd identity crisis I’m having. I was just having fun. In this weird time where everything seems bad, it was nice to have this port in the storm for a few days. The news has been getting me down.  (Coincidentally, I just found out about the Barcelona attacks. My heart goes out to those affected.)

That’s the end of day one. I’m going to see if I can talk to some people today about games and making games… but I also want to save that for a book I want to write. See you tomorrow.

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Twitch Isn’t Just Video Games

While I’ve been enjoying Twitch fairly regularly for a few years now, lately I’ve been paying a lot more attention to it. Sure, it’s been a great platform for watching people play new games so you can get a decent handle on what they are before you buy (and watching lots of people play Minecraft and  Hearthstone), but the people who stream content on Twitch (and Twitch itself) have been getting creative with how they are becoming an entertainment entity.

Bob RossBringing the Joy

A few months ago, Twitch ran a stream that featured Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting for a few days. After pulling in over 5 million viewers, Twitch has made The Joy of Painting available all the time at Twitch.tv/BobRoss.

This is what really got me interested in Twitch as being something more than just gaming. It feels like the floodgates of interesting entertainment opened wide after the late Bob Ross changed things up.

Live Entertainment

ASAdult Swim has been basically running their own channel via Twitch streaming. They run low-budget, low-key talk shows from 11-6:30 EST, and between segments, they stream their wall clock. And while a stream of a clock probably seems pretty boring, the clock takes song requests, so chat moves at a pretty good clip as people try to get their song on the air.

It’s so simple that it’s kind of ingenious.

And their talk shows are all pretty creative. Stupid Morning BS is their morning, “coffee talk” type show where the hosts recap the news, play trivia games with the audience, and give away prizes.

Other shows include Fishcenter, where the hosts provide commentary of the goings on in the AdultSwim fishtank, and Williams Street Swap Shop, where the hosts attempt to facilitate trades between viewers.


I really like using this picture of Khelben “Blackstaff” Arunson.

Tabletop Gaming

Twitch is known for video gaming, but tabletop gaming is becoming a fixture there too. The folks that created Dungeons & Dragons periodically do a stream, and so does Geek & Sundry, but other, lower budget fans run streams as well(Like the Thursday Knights).

It makes total sense, too. RPGs are great storytelling mechanisms, so not only do you get a great story, you get to experience the thrill of victory and agony of defeat as the dice fall where they will.

A quick search on Twitch for “board games” brings up a whole bunch of viewing choices as well. I love watching other people play board games, especially when I’m thinking of buying something specific. It’s often difficult to get a live demo of a board game (unless you’re at a convention or a good gaming store), so watching other people figure out the mechanics can give you a good sense of what you’re in for.

Twitch is doing some really cool things right now. If you got some free time, check it out. You’ll probably find something you like.

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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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Gaming for Fun: Nintendo, Wii U, and Enjoying my Hobby Again

Last year, I beat Zelda II for the first time.  It was challenging, and because of that challenge, it was fun. Playing that old NES game made me realize that I was going through the motions while playing many of my games. I was playing Halo 4 just because I owned it. I was buying games more and more often because I was growing so bored with one of my favorite pastimes. Something needed to change.

So, I did something crazy–something a lot of gamers aren’t doing right now. I bought a Wii U; it was my first Nintendo console since the Nintendo 64.

I wasn’t gaming a whole lot when the GameCube released, and quite frankly, I had felt burned by the lack of RPGs on the N64, so I didn’t purchase it. When I got out of college, I bought an Xbox because of Halo. After that,  I picked up an Xbox 360, so I skipped the Wii entirely.

Wind Waker BUndleI was debating an Xbox One or Playstation 4 (though, admittedly, I’ve never really liked Sony products ever since they released minidiscs back in the day) when it occurred to me that I didn’t really care about either of them. I wanted to have fun, and those systems weren’t showing me anything that I was getting excited about.

So, I decided to try to capture a bit of nostalgia, and, so far, the Wii U is doing the job. I get to play all the games I missed from the Wii, and the Wii U is (painfully) slowly trickling out classic games.

Most exciting, I’m playing Zelda and Mario games on a regular basis again. I just finished Wind Waker and  loved every second of that game.

Maybe gaming has left me behind. That’s fine. I think I’ll be okay just having the kind of fun I want to have again.

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Video Games are Losing Their Appeal (To Me)

its-dangerous-to-go-alone-take-thisI’ve been playing video games for a long time. I got my first video game system (the Nintendo Entertainment System) when I was around five years old or so. But, lately, video games are losing their luster for me. I find myself not having fun playing them any more.

It started a few months ago. I was playing Halo 4 (one of my favorite games from last year), and I realized I wasn’t having any fun doing it. So, I popped in Borderlands 2; I also didn’t have any fun.

I began wondering what was making these games less fun for me, and I realized it was because I wasn’t having any social interactions.

I’m a work-at-home dad. I freelance edit and take care of my kids during the day while my wife works a “real” job.  Most of my social interactions come from my kids (Ages 1 and 4) and chatting on the Internet. So, for me, games are less of an unwinding escape and more of a chance for me to by myself some more. And that isn’t fun to me.

I’ve stated many times recently that if I could get some regular tabletop gaming done, I would probably give up video gaming all together. Well, that’s a bit of hyperbole (I don’t think I’ll ever totally stop video gaming), but the sentiment is mostly true. I played a four-hour game of X-Wing Miniatures (with a game of Munchkin before that) and had a lot of fun. And the difference was, of course, social interaction! My friends were there. We could chat, rib each other, and generally share in victory and defeat.

I’ve also been playing and running games over Google Hangouts with the Roll20 App, and it’s been great. Again, social interaction makes all the difference. And since I’m playing mostly with friends, I get to stay away from the negative social interactions in Halo Matchmaking.

There are still video games that interest me. I really like old-school style platformers (I started playing Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and really want to try Rogue Legacy), but for the most part, I really just want to play games with my friends.

I played Halo: Anniversary with my wife the other night. I had a lot of fun. Maybe what I need to do then, is focus on video games that have “couch multiplayer.”  Whatever it is, I think I crave interaction with adults, and that’s making multiplayer online gaming boring to me.

Who wants to come over for a game night?

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Madman at the Table

Gen Con was awesome this year. I met a lot of people, attended some great panels, and played a lot of fun games. This year was a unique one for me. I was given the opportunity to run a game for Kobold Press.

Playing tabletop roleplaying games is my favorite hobby. I like game mastering them. Tabletop games give me something that video games do not: adult interaction.

I’m a work-at-home dad. I’ve been freelancing for a little over 3 years, so most of my interaction with humanity comes in the form of chatting with my children. Which is great, I love my children. However, being able to chat with people about life, the universe, and everything is great. I crave those times when a group of people get around the table to snack and game.

Makeshift candy tokens.

Makeshift candy tokens.

So I was both excited and nervous as I dove into running a game for people I didn’t know at the biggest tabletop gaming convention in the US.

It started off about the same as most events do for me, with me realizing I had forgotten something. My battlegrid. And all my gaming tokens. Derp.

My solution? I bought a glossy paper battle mat from Paizo and I bought a bunch of Hershey Kisses and Starbursts to use as tokens (the benefit is that once the group killed or captured the bad guys they could partake of the sugary goodness).

The people I played with were all really nice, though. And none seemed bothered by my poorly drawn maps or my general lack of “real” tokens.

We played a scenario called Madman at the Bridge. It was created by Wolfgang Baur and adapted by Ben McFarland for Pathfinder. The PCs must find out why the bridge isn’t lowering, and why the clockwork guards are going haywire. I won’t go too much into the details, because I don’t want to spoil the scenario for anyone

While the dice weren’t always in the favor of the PCs, they did a great job of using creative thinking to “win” the scenario.

The biggest reward for me was stepping out of my comfort zone. I’m a bit shy, but I was forced to put that all to the side to make sure that everyone had a good time. Judging by the compliments I got, everyone seemed to.

The sorcerer and the fighter.

The sorcerer and the fighter.

Quotes of the game:

I’m not THAT kind of cleric!  — our cleric, on being asked if she had a heal spell.

I know the boat’s on fire, but I’ll be okay. — Our barbarian, after leaping onto a barge to engage the enemy, only to see the boat get set on fire.

These dice… ugh!  — One of our players, after he couldn’t hit anything for an hour or so.





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Gen Con II: The Wrath of Con

In which we avoid crying cat girl, meet John’s GenCon crush and defeat the scourge of metropolitan parking.

Day One of Gen Con is always a chaos. You always forget something. Sometimes something really important. And you always struggle with Indianapolis traffic, regardless of day or time.

However, yesterday was delightful as me and TJ, and newcomers Tyler and Miranda, got our bearings at Gen Con 2013.
Per the usual, parking was a 40 minute affair. Not one, but two garages put “full” signs up only minutes after we entered. Still, we did find something for only ten dollars. Having defeated parking, we strode into Gen Con like the kings and queens of promise.

We started the Con in a line. The line, however, was much shorter than last year. I was able to pick my badge and tickets very quickly, and by the time I was done there, the others were finished in their queue.

So, we hit the exhibition hall. So much stuff to buy. And I couldn’t believe the lines. Paizo, the makers of Pathfinder, had a line around the booth, and Fantasy Flight Games and Privateer Press had some of the longest lines I had seen outside of Space Mountain and Disney World. (Hyperbole!)

After wandering about and buying things we didn’t really need, we tried our hand at learning Mage Wars. It’s an awesome combination of a board game and a card game. I really wish I could have spent more than an hour with it.


I was also haunted by a living meme. We saw a crying girl in cat cosplay and immediately became fixated. Why are you crying, crying cat girl? From where does your suffering come and is it part of your costume? Will you still take photos with my friend or is it weird now?

And then she vanished into the throng of people.

I would also like to take this moment to begrudging compliment Indianapolis. The core of the city is a beautiful, bustling metropolis that does a great job masking the horror that is rural Indiana.

Except for the homeless girls sleeping in the church doors across the street from The Con. That hurt my soul.


We also got a photo of TJ with my GenCon crush, Marie-Claude Bourbonnaise. We saw her last year in full anime garb and failed to get a photo with her. NEVER FORGET.

I thought it was gonna be a whole thing where we search and search and keep missing each other and just at the end, when we are both leaving, I see her and walk up. She would look at me and I would look at her…

And I would come up with a really good lie about liking whatever cartoon she was dressed as and then she would take a photo with TJ.

But I spotted her in the first 2 hours and we got it done.

So I guess I need to ratchet up my bucket list.

We also played Magic: The Gathering and I actually won all three of my matches. My winning strategy was to take all the green cards and black cards I booster drafted and add land. And now I’m the champion (one of several) of the 5pm Beginner’s Level 2 No Elimination Tournament. No doubt I’m blowing up on Twitter (@jcal101) right now.

Today’s recommendations:

Skull Kickers by Jim Zub (@jimzub). Though freely available on the Internet in web comic format, a hard copy is worth a look with beautiful art and extras in the Image Comics hardcover version I think it’s worth the investment.

Star Trek: Attack Wing by WizKid Games. I have to qualify this by saying I haven’t actually tried this game yet, but it looks great. For fans of Star Trek that want to do miniature battle without actually having to paint them this is worth a look.

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Gen Con: The Best Laid Plans of Gamers and Geeks



Super Creep Face. I don’t normally look like this, I promise.


I’m super-mega excited for Gen Con this year. Not only are John and I both attending again, but we’ll be bringing a couple of friends along with us. Twice the people means twice the fun, right? Probably.

I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to approach the Con this year. It’s my third year, and I feel like I’m only scratching the surface of what Gen Con has to offer. There’s so much to do! Even if I went the entirety of the four days without sleeping, there’s no way I’d get to do a tenth of what’s available.

So, here’s the plan.

1.) Meet people — I’m a naturally shy person. I don’t generally like to “put myself out there” when it comes to meeting people, but I think it’s time to put on a friendly convention persona. I bought some business cards and stickers to hand out, and I volunteered to run a game for the good folks at Kobold Press. I really envy people that have friends they meet up with at Gen Con every year. So, I guess my goal is to make friends and influence people.



2.) Do more — I’m signed up for some panels, some games, and I’m going to the big masquerade ball. I might even don a costume. I’m trying out my first True Dungeon run, and I’ll pretend to be on the crew of a star ship with Artemis. I’m also hoping to come away with some signed swag. My favorite game developers are going to be there! Maybe they need an editor. 🙂

3.) Eat food — I had the best steak of my life last year, so I’m (of course) going to hit that place again. Indianapolis offers a lot of great restaurants. I don’t plan on over-indulging, but I’m definitely going to enjoy my meals.

4.) Play games — Whether for a specific event or just demoing stuff on the floor, I had a blast playing games (I mean, it’s “The Best Four Days in Gaming after all), and I’m going to play a whole bunch of them! What’s a gaming convention without trying new stuff?

5.) Keep up — Last year, I kind of burned out by the last day. I don’t want that to happen this year. I’m going to take some healthy snacks to help keep energy up; I want to do this right. It’s not often that I get to be a dude without kids for a few days, and as much as I love my children, I’m going to savor being without them for a few days.

In the end, I just want me and my pals to have a good time. Gen Con is only two weeks away. John and I will keep you up-to-date on our adventures. I hope to see you there!

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Playing Tabletop on the Internet with Roll20

roll20 Last night, I ran a Pathfinder game using the Roll20.net virtual tabletop. While I don’t think it quite compares to having everyone present in the same room, I think it went pretty well overall. Since Roll20 has opened up so many possibilities for me to game with people, I thought I would talk about some of the pros and cons of playing tabletop games on the internet.

1.) The tools are versatile enough to use with a wide variety of games.

Want to play a tabletop wargame? An RPG? Wanna just play some board games? Roll20 can handle it. It has a built in dice-rolling system, and you can import maps/terrain/boards to cover just about any kind of game you want to play. During play, I had no problems importing maps on the fly. My only complaint is that moving the PCs tokens (the virtual tabletop equivalent of miniatures) from map to map was a ponderous task that slowed the game down. Being able to mass select tokens would really help in that regard.

2.) Like any Internet-based video chat, there can be problems.

That annoying pinging sound from microphone feedback can happen quite a bit during a game, and that can really make the experience difficult for everyone. Cross chatter can also be a problem. As well as mic problems, video problems, internet connection problems… basically anything that can normally mess up your technology could be a potential problem while playing an internet-based tabletop game. It’s not Roll20’s fault, but it is something that has to be overcome.

3.) It brings people together:

I played a game with people from five states and two time zones. Most of us are people that wanted to play Tabletop games but couldn’t find groups. Some of us were beginners, some of us were veteran gamers, but we all were able to play thanks to Roll20 and the Internet.

This is really what I imagined doing when I first discovered the Internet back in Jr. High and was playing MUDs and primitive MMOs. Finally, I can play a game on the Internet where my only limit is my imagination. Sure, somethings from the rulebooks have to be streamlined, but that’s okay. I can’t wait to play again.

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Tips for Running a Game at a Convention


This elf helped get people to play my game. Team work!

While I’ve been playing Roleplaying Games for a long time, it’s only been this year that I’ve started to run games at various conventions. I first got my feet wet last weekend at Ratha Con, a new convention in Athens, OH. My next experience will be running a game for Kobold Press at Gen Con.

So, with my vast wealth of experience (one game I’ve run at a convention), I thought that you might benefit from what I learned.

Before the Game

1.) Prepare

This goes without saying, but prepare for the game.  I didn’t have an already published adventure to run, so I created my own. I had a three-hour game, so I planned for three relatively short encounters battle encounters, with some investigation thrown in for good measure.

I figured that my players would consist of a lot of newbies (which is awesome! I love introducing new players to RPGs!), so I didn’t make the encounters too terribly complicated, and I made sure that there would be no character death. Since we were playing a superhero game, I wanted my players to feel mighty, so I threw some bad guys at them that were tough, but wouldn’t be overly hard so long that the players worked together.

2.) Advertise

Since I was at a small con, I should’ve gotten to the venue much earlier and talked up my game a little bit. Luckily, I had my wife with me (she was cosplaying an elf). She can really turn on the charm; so she was able to secure some players for me just by being awesome. If that isn’t what marriage is supposed to be, then I don’t know what is.

So talk the game up at the convention and on social media. Post it on forums. Be proactive in getting people to play your games.

Bring extra dice!!

Bring extra dice!!

3.) Set-up

Bring extra dice, a battle mat or maps (if you need them), tokens for tracking characters, pencils, and character sheets. I would generally recommend bringing your own pre-generated character sheets (I’m not a huge fan of power gaming), so that things are fair between players.

A note on character sheets: I knew that I would have a maximum of 6 players, so I brought 14 different characters for the players to choose from.  I really wanted everyone to be able to play the type of character they wanted, so I gave them plenty of choices.

4.) Right Before the Game Starts

Before the game started, I reviewed the rules of the game with the new players and let them look over their characters and character backgrounds. I was present if they had any questions for me. I let this go beyond the start time, because I think it is important that players get a good feel for who their character is and what they do.

During the Game:

1.) Be Nice!

I did my best to be welcoming and personable. I’m there to be the facilitator of the players having a good time. I try not to take the game too seriously, because it is, after all, a game. If you get a hardcore group of gamers at an adventure, it’s cool to go all serious, but for most convention situations, it’s probably best to smile and keep the game as light as possible. My wife, Gabrielle, suggested that I bring some candy to share; that seemed to make everyone happy (everyone likes Starbursts).

2.) Be Patient!

Sometimes your newbies just don’t know how to play the game. It’s okay to show them things on their character sheet that they might not have known, or to give them hints about the cool stuff their character could be doing. Stopping to explain a rule is fine, too. Go with your gut and remember that the goal is to have some fun.

3.) Be Ready!

Sometimes a character will throw a curve ball at you that could potentially “ruin” your game. That’s okay! I try to build games in optional modules that can be plugged in where needed. Maybe you need a little more time? Throw in a module with an extra encounter.

I also try to have a list of NPC and location names with general descriptions, that way I can easily put extra elements into a game.

In order to keep things from going off the rails too much, I started the game with an encounter: the governor was getting kidnapped! This set the tone for the mystery and immediately had the players ready for a fight.

After the Game:

1.) End the Game with a Bang

I ended my convention game with a big set piece (Brainiac had to be stopped and all the world leaders needed to be rescued!).  While I don’t know if I completely succeeded, I wanted to make the players feel like they were the heroes of the story. Defeating a bad guy and rescuing major political leaders was definitely a heroic thing to do.

2.) Thank Them for Playing

This is the time to say a big “thank you,” get some of the player’s contact information if you’d like to keep in touch with them, and get feedback on the game. If they aren’t in a hurry to get somewhere else, try to ask them what worked about the game and what didn’t. And take criticism with a smile. You’re only going to get better if you know what you need to work on.

3.) Pack Up

Just like it sounds. Get your things off the table as quickly as possible (there might be another group coming in after you), and, if you can, clean up. I generally try to leave things just as clean as I found them; it’s just common courtesy.

Running games at a convention, I found, is a really good time. You get to meet some new and interesting people, and really, any excuse to game is welcome.

(Hey, if you’re coming to Gen Con in August, I’m running this game for Kobold Press. You should come and say, hi!)

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Is This the New Age of Geek-Friendly Entertainment?

Is this the new age of geek-friendly entertainment? We’ve been asking this question for a while. At least since the first X-Men movie was a success. Our popular entertainment has taken the kind of turn that makes it seem like gamers, comic book fans, trekkies and the like are no longer the out crowd. While it’s not clear that playing StarCraft will ever make you popular outside of Korea, it seems more and more like being a fan of the traditionally geeky is not a stigma so much as just another thing.

Geek fare makes big money now– the kind of money that can buy special effects that make geek fare look badass. Still, I can’t help but wonder how far we’ve come. To what extreme? Is anything still out of bounds? Where do the real outcasts lie? I mean, yeah, high school is probably still hard for cosplayers, but I’m talking about the kind of rejection that comes from going to a dance in a Star Wars t-shirt in 1990. Whose burden is that now?

Well there’s a movie about LARPing coming out. That’s Live Action Role Playing for any muggles reading, and that is something which stretches the limit of what I consider reasonable, out-of-the-closet geekiness. Granted, I used to LARP in high school, which I consider downright heroic bravery now, but I’ve toned down over the years.

Seriously? Seriously. And crazy as it seems, it looks fantastic. It makes me happy that Peter Dinklage, better known as Tyrion Lannister in HBO’s Game Of Thrones, is embracing a role that makes fun of the role he’s best known for. And I’m just happy he’s finding mainstream work.

But is it mainstream? From where I sit, that depends entirely on two things. Whether Knights of Badassdom is profitable or not and what the message of the film is. The first item should be pretty easy. While it isn’t set to catch a wide audience, the production costs of filming a single wooded location with horror-style effects is probably minuscule. So not a hard target to hit, and judging from the website, they’ve spared some expense.

The second item is a little harder to say. From the trailer it appears this is a “rise above your mundane life to fight evil” kind of story, where LARPing represents the mundane life. So it’s a question of sincerity. Do they choose to play it ironically and make fun of the setting they release their monster in? And what do our protagonists take away from the experience? Does the movie end with survivors embracing their geeky hobbies or do they put away childish things?

Actually, Supernatural had an episode about LARPing just the other week that demonstrates what I’m talking about. It was pretty good and while fun was made at geek expense, the message wasn’t that nerdy endeavors are the refuge of the socially unclean. Quite the contrary. The main characters finished the episode by joining in and LARPing fun was had all around.

I recall Role Models showing LARPing in a positive light as well, though the movie wasn’t about it.

But that’s the good. And Supernatural always had a connection with its geek fan base that just isn’t intuitive with CW programming. There are negatives too.

io9 has compiled a pretty extensive list of all the times television stereotypes the “geek loner” into a social problem.

One tried and true trope that these shows inevitably turn to is the “nerd episode,” where the straight-laced cops/doctors/whatever enter the bizarre and terrifying world of gamers, role-players, cosplayers… and even furries. These are usually poorly researched and almost always make nerds look like morons, lunatics and/or sociopaths. Here are just a few episodes of these super-popular, mainstream network TV shows that did nerds no good at all.

 I’m right there with them. Some of these episodes are embarrassing.

So maybe what we are seeing now is the civil rights movement of geek entertainment… if the stakes were far lower and no one had to get beaten or arrested. There are folks out there that see things like LARPing as just another game people play. And then there are people who see it as a gateway drug to practicing witchcraft or not getting dates or something.

No idea what's happening here, but a dwarf has never looked more awesome. Even Gimli.

No idea what’s happening here, but a dwarf has never looked more awesome. Even Gimli.

That said, the trailer for Knights Of Badassdom keeps making me think of Cabin In The Woods and Kickass for some reason. The premise is clearly different, but I feel like it’s almost perfectly set to be a commentary on horror films and the way we look at entertainment. Or it could go a completely different direction.

Whatever way it goes, it looks like it’s made with geek stock in mind. Setting aside Dinklage, True Blood‘s Ryan Kwanten, Community‘s Danny Pudi, Firefly‘s Summer Glau and at least one of the McPoyls from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia are present. Making this cult-friendly fare by my estimation.

But that’s probably the best we’ll get. And this is all speculative, as the film has already been pushed back from its 2012 release date. With no date currently given, I think the best we’ll get is a marginally profitable cult-classic that shares some space on the shelf next to Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. That’s ok though. These things take time.

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Confessions of a Casual Girl Gamer: The Couple that Plays Together

My husband will take one look at the title of this article and probably snort. We don’t play video games together enough to suit him. And really (don’t tell him, though) we don’t play together enough to suit me, either.

I enjoy a rousing bout of button mashing, shooting bad guys in the face, and general mayhem as I undoubtedly rush unprepared into the fray. What’s the point of gaming if you can’t have a little fun with it?

But, apparently, there are people out there for whom strategy is a big part of gaming. (I know, right?!) You see these people deeply engrossed in snooze-fests like Skyrim and the Mass Effect games. Just how long can it possibly take to create a character? You collect stuff to make the character better? You level up stuff? UGH! GET TO THE ACTION ALREADY!

I acknowledge that I am probably in a minority with these feelings. That really doesn’t bother me overmuch, though.

So, when my dearest is up to his epaulettes in one of these games, I do my best to aid his cause. Seriously! I provide helpful tips and advice to create a better overall experience for both of us! Because, you see, I don’t like to play these games with him. Even when there is an option for two players, I opt for more of a consultant role. I particularly enjoy providing this service when he’s playing Skyrim.

“What’s that thing following you around?” I ask, secretly already knowing the answer.

“That’s Waoionstoi’xcior (I totally made that up), my (insert random beast name. I choose Cat-Beast) companion,” he says.

“So, he’s like your servant?”

You can’t see the deadly Ball of Yarn +2 attached to his belt. Image found on the Skyrim Forums.

“Not really. He’s more like my companion. He helps in fights and stuff.”

“Huh,” I say. “You should punch him in the face.”

“I can’t punch my Cat-Beast in the face!” he states indignantly.

“You should totally punch him in the face.”

Then, I’ll lose interest in the Cat-Beast and move on to other helpful suggestions.

“Where are you? A tavern? Can you set it on fire? You should set it on fire! Hey, who’s that? Stab him! What would happen if you stab him? STAB HIM! STAB HIM!”

My husband is a longsuffering man. He apparently loves me very much.

The last time I did this to him, he and his Cat-Beast had just come upon some kind of decrepit castle/tower combo filled with religious order types. I’m foggy on the details because, well, I just don’t really care. He and Cat-Beast just strolled around, looking in random chests and taking stuff.

“Don’t they care that you’re taking their stuff?” I asked.

“It’s there for me,” he said.

“Why is stuff for you in their castle? That seems questionable to me.”

Then, I returned to my fail-safe suggestion:

“You should kill these guys and take their castle,” I suggested.

“What?” He was actually a bit indignant. That pleased me.

“Do it!” I commanded.

Then, he did something that underscores why I love him so much: he humored me.

He saved his current game, and then went on a violent death rage, slicing and hacking through folks, while I gleefully looked on and offered encouragement. He totally got into it, too, and confessed that he loves shouting people off high places. (For those of you not familiar with Skyrim, there’s a power where you yell some made-up word and your target goes flying.)

Then, overcome with guilt after slaughtering the entire castle (and his Cat-Beast at my insistence!), he made his character throw himself off the tower, ending the mayhem and enabling a fresh, undeserving-death-free gaming experience.


But, lest you think I’m the only disturbed person in our relationship, let me just say that he gets an unholy amount of glee backseat driving when I’m playing The Walking Dead. It’s different, though. While I offer helpful suggestions, he just enjoys my discomfiture and general inability to keep my cool while fictional terror-creatures swarm my avatar. Oh, he does try to “help” in his way. Sort of. Mostly when I’m a shaking piece of rigid fear on the couch, and he has a huge beard smile.

“Have you tried shooting them?” he asks.

“Shut up,” I grind out through a clenched jaw.

“Watch out! They’re almost to you!”

“AAAAARRRGH! WhatdoIdowhatdoIdowhatdoIdowhatdoIdowhatdoIdo?!”

“They’re going to eat you!” he says. “Oh, no! They just got your plucky companion! Why didn’t you protect your plucky companion?”

“STEVE! Noooooo!” I screech, frantically button mashing.

“They’re coming!” he helpfully points out.

“Run away!” I yell, swinging my controller to the side in an effort to make the direction button work better. “RUN AWAY! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

He smiles, and we are even.

We have an interesting and terrific relationship. We sorta game together, and we annoy the crap out of each other.

It’s pretty great.

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TJ’s Time Wasters

My house has one TV, and my laptop isn’t the greatest gaming device in the history of mankind. So when my wife is watching TV shows, I generally depend on flash games on the Internet to help me scratch my gaming itch.

Here are a few of my current favorites:

1. Hero Mages (heromages.com)

Hero Mages is a strategy miniatures game that you can play without buying the expensive minis!  The initial game is free, and you can buy additional expansions for $10 each. The game includes live Internet play and asynchronous play, so you have no excuses not to play, even if no one is online to play with you.

The basics of the game: You pick a magic user and two “guardian” characters, and using various attacks, abilities, and spells, you whittle down the other team until victory is achieved. Play is quick and fairly balanced, and it’s an indy game! Go play!

2. Zombocalypse (Addicting Games)

Run around. Kill Zombies. Level up. There’s not much to say other than that. It’s simple, zombie-killing fun.

3.  Super Adventure Pals (Kongregate)

A boy’s pet rock was stolen. He needs to get his rock back. Guide the boy through tons of fun platforming and sword-slashing levels to defeat the bad guys and get your rock back. There’s even some minor RPG element. Definitely an awesome single-player time waster.

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Gen Con Planning Tips

I love Gen Con so much. And I think a lot of readers of this site might enjoy it too, so I thought I’d give you a few tips for maximizing your convention experience. If you are bad at planning, or just have no idea where to start, I’m here to help.

1. Register Early

Gen Con’s badge registration generally starts in January. THIS IS THE TIME TO GET BADGES. Not only will you save money with early registration, you won’t have to stand in the MASSIVE line to buy your badge at Gen Con.

Early registration also applies to event tickets. Event tickets generally go on sale a few months before the convention starts, and if you want to do awesome things like True Dungeon, Artemis, or play in all your required Pathfinder Society scenarios, you NEED to buy those event tickets early. Gen Con is rapidly expanding, and that means more people are coming and selling out events. A week after registration is often too late if you want to do one of the really popular Gen Con attractions.

2. Contact Info

Bring business cards with your contact info. You are going to meet some great people who are going to rush away as soon as your game is over to get to their next game. Business cards with a phone/text number are an easy way to touch base with people later. Trust me, there’s rarely any time to chat with people after the game. Plan ahead.

We didn’t take business cards this year, and we immediately regretted it.

3. Indies

Indy game developers all over over the exhibit hall. PLAY THEIR GAMES! Maybe even take a chance and buy one of their games. A lot of these devs have to put their shyness to the side in order to sell themselves and their games; give them a shot and take a listen. They will really appreciate it.

This is how I found out about awesome games like Castle Panic, Bears!, and Quack in the Box.

4. Be Bold

No one ever got anywhere by being shy. Gen Con is pretty laid back, but the energy level is often very high, so there’s no time to be bashful. Do you want your favorite developer to sign a book? Ask.

You’ll find that game developers and celebrities are often just people like you, and many will even be flattered when you ask them to sign something that they put their heart and soul into.

This worked for us when I was talking to Joe Carriker, who was nice enough to demo A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying for us. He was the line producer and a heckuva nice guy. After John bought ALL the available books for the game, I asked Mr. Carriker if he would sign them, and he seemed a little big surprised that we would care enough to do so. Game creators make us happy. Why not try to make them happy to?

5. The Early Bird

Get to events a bit early, if at all possible. This will give you opportunities to chat with the people you’ll be playing games with. In our case, we got to chat a little bit with Tim Clonch, our Mutants and Masterminds GM, for a few minutes. Arriving early also allowed us to meet our fellow Artemis crew members for the session.

6. Don’t just attend game events

There is so much to do besides gaming at Gen Con: The Masquerade Ball, building larping weapons, making chain mail, seminars, speed dating, cosplay, zombie hunts, a film festival, music acts… the list goes ever, ever on. If I wouldn’t have stopped to listen to some of the musicians, I never would have heard a bunch of Klingons singing the Ewok song from the end of Return of the Jedi.

7. Get more people.

John and I decided that two just isn’t cutting it anymore. If you are one of our friends and are nominally interested in gaming, expect a call, text, Facebook message or email because we want to roll up to the Con in style with a bigger entourage. Seriously, if you are reading this, whether you know us or not, you need to get to Gen Con. It touts itself as “The Best Four Days in Gaming,” and it’s true. You WILL have a good time.

These tips should help you have an even more awesome time at Gen Con. For next year, The Cool Ship is considering hosting some events (we have some awesome ideas). If you’d like to roll with us at the con, let us know in the comments.


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The Cupcakes Are Not a Lie


There’s not much I can think of that geeks love more than chocolate! What’s not to love? It’s delicious, chock-full of calories and sugar, and caffeinated (for those late night Xbox Live parties or D&D sessions). Studies have shown that chocolate is even beneficial for your health by giving you antioxidants to fight off free radicals and lowering blood pressure—though the benefits are from the cocoa powder itself, as opposed to all the sugar and fat added, but who’s counting?!

For my birthday, my friends got together and made me a cake designed after the one at the end of the game Portal—a three layer chocolate cake complete with whipped cream and berries on top. It was so rich, however, that it was difficult for three people to finish eating before it started going bad. So for portion control, we opted to make cupcakes this time!

But look at me still talking when there’s baking to do!

To launch The Cool Ship’s Arts and Crafts section, I bring you:

Deadly Neurotoxin-Free Cupcakes

Here’s what you need:

Chocolate cake mix (I used Duncan Hines Dark Chocolate Fudge)
Chocolate Icing
2 bags of Dark Chocolate Chips (full of antioxidants!)
White icing
Red Mini M&Ms (1 bag of the Red and Green Christmas M&Ms will do nicely)
Cupcake pan liners or Non-stick cooking spray

I demonstrate proper smooshing technique for maximum chocolate chipness.

Preheat oven and prepare cake batter as instructed on the box. Put the bags of chocolate chips and M&Ms in the fridge, as the kitchen may get warm and cause them to melt. We wouldn’t want that, now would we?

Fill the cups about 2/3 full of cupcake batter. Bake approximately 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

Allow cupcakes to cool completely before frosting.

Frost cupcakes with a moderate amount of icing. Pour a small amount of the chocolate chips onto a saucer so that they form a single layer. Take the cupcakes one by one and place icing first onto the layer of chocolate chips. Give a gentle push on the bottom, to ensure maximum chocolate chip coverage. Lift cupcake and tamp down the chocolate chips, filling any gaps by hand. Place cupcakes in the fridge for about 5 minutes, to allow icing to stiffen.

Using a fine tipped decorating bag (or the icing that comes with several shaped tips), gently squeeze 8 small dots of white icing along the circumference of the cupcake. Top with red mini-M&Ms. Add a candle and invite your friend, the companion cube, to the party.

Please be advised that a noticeable taste of blood is not part of the cupcake’s ingredients, but is an unintended side effect of the cupcake’s ingredients which may—in semi-rare cases—emancipate crowns, dental fillings, tooth enamel, and teeth.

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