Tag Archives: TJ Johnston

Where I Got my Roleplaying Fix: WWE 2K17

I don’t think I’ve ever really talked at length about my love of professional wrestling. I watch it every week and generally adore everything about it: the goofy characters, the athleticism on display, the sheer LOUDNESS of it all. As soon as I could, I picked up WWE 2K17 for my Xbox One. And I, surprisingly, ended up scratching that RPG itch I get from time to time.

The WWE games are mostly what you expect; you choose a character, choose an opponent, and get to fighting. It’s fun if played that way, and my son and I have faced off quite a few times as our favorite wrestlers (currently, mine are AJ Styles, Zack Ryder, and Chris Jericho).

But there’s also the “My Career” mode, where you’ll find a surprisingly deep RPG. It has everything that you would expect from an RPG: you create a character by designing his outfit, raising his attributes and skills, pick his move set, generate an entrance (complete with video and music), and decide if he’ll be good or evil.

Honestly, creating a character in WWE 2K17 is a deeper, more involved experience than in some RPGs I’ve played (looking at you, Fallout 4). Granted, this might appeal to me more because I’ve secretly always had this dream to be a professional wrestler. I even wanted to go to wrestling school. I do think, however, that it’ll be fun for anyone who likes to spend time rolling up characters.

I ended up creating Tommy “Showtime” Johnston, a heel (wrestling for “bad guy”) who was a bit of a lone wolf and was being held back  by his crappy tag team partner. So I betrayed him, breaking up our tag team so I could pursue my own championships.

Yup. You can betray your partner in this game. You can also try to get in feuds with other people, entice someone to back you up on a tag team, get in fights back stage or in the crowd, hire a manager, and tick off the authority figures in the WWE so they stack the deck against you. You can even cut promos during shows, making the local crowd either love or hate you.

For each event in which you participate, you will gain you Virtual Currency, which is basically just a fancy term for experience points in this mode. With VC, you can raise your attribute stats, buy skills, or purchase new, more powerful moves. The only thing missing for it to be a true RPG is a level-up sound when you rank up.

Currently, Showtime Johnston is working his way up the ranks to win the WWE World Title, and he currently possesses the United States Championship, ruling over that division with an iron fist.

It feels like a really well designed wrestling RPG. In fact, it makes me want to create and host a tabletop wrestling game. I never thought that a wrestling video game would inspire me to want to make something, but there it is.

The game is sometimes kind of glitchy, and it’s not perfect, and there’s a lot of DLC to buy, but honestly, when I get that urge to be a fantasy hero for a few hours, I doubt I’ll be picking up Skyrim, Dragon Age, or Fallout… I’ll be playing WWE 2K17.

 

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7th Sea Second Edition Review

7th_sea_cover_v1When sitting around the table with an RPG, I am the game master probably 95% of the time. I don’t have any qualms about it; it feeds into my sense of self worth and importance (kidding). In the 20 years or so that I’ve been running games for people, I’ve become pretty good at reading them at the table, reacting to what they’re going to do, and doing my utmost to maximize fun.

Sometimes, though, you need a challenge.

The good folks at Gamerati and John Wick Presents were gracious enough to provide me with a review copy of 7th Sea, a role playing game set in a Europe-like land of swashbuckling and backstabbing. Here’s where the challenge comes in for me: the holidays are coming, and that means that for the next two months, it’s going to be difficult to get a group together to play. I had a play session coming up, though, and a player had to drop out of our regular D&D game, so I invited the others to play 7th Sea. The challenge: I only had 36 hours to learn the new system, be able to teach it to others, come up with a story, and run the game… Oh. And I needed everyone to have fun.

36 hours for a married guy with two kids and a job, actually becomes about five hours. Luckily, the presentation in 7th Sea is beautiful. The art is very easy for your eyes to fall upon, and the text is uncluttered and uncomplicated. I also love learning gaming rules, so flipping through the rule book was a pleasure.

That said, I’d often completely forget about learning how to actually play 7th Sea when I’d get caught up in reading about the ins and outs of the setting. I love alternate Europe scenarios, and this one combines the Renaissance with mythology in an easy-to-grasp package. This is a very fluffy game, and that’s fine by me. I’m much more of a storyteller than a dice roller; I revel in lots of world-building information.

If I’m to be honest, I’m still not entirely sure how the dice mechanic works in the this game. I know, I’m a bad reviewer, but again, I had five hours. It doesn’t look complicated, but it definitely takes a backseat to building solid, believable characters and a setting that feels fresh and real.

Character creation in this game is so deep. Characters are heroes and can’t really die without good reason, and that’s okay because this game forces players to really think about their hero. There’s even a section of 20 questions to more deeply consider the role you’ll be playing at the table. Yes, there are skills and talents and attributes, but while playing the game, it didn’t really feel like they mattered very much. What matters in 7th Sea is creating a character with a soul. The attributes might say that your character is strong, but these 20 questions will tell me if your character is meek, or bombastic, or prone to boasting. Your hero will end up having defining character traits and virtues  This, to me, is so much more important than what the numbers say how many dice a player gets to roll. These characters get to drive the story in a meaningful way, and the players get to create heroes who are more than just a math problem.

I spent five hours frantically reading and learning 7th Sea, and game time finally arrived. My confidence in my ability to learn the system may have been misplaced, but I understand storytelling and had enough of the setting information under my hat that I could fake what I needed to.

I had two players that evening: people who were experienced role players ready to try out the brave new world of a brand new system. We started with character creation. We didn’t get super deep since this would be a one-off game (for now), but they created two characters: one was a soldier from a terrible war that destroyed his homeland. The other played a sailor who had made a Faustian deal to bring retribution upon his enemies.

We played the game on November 5th, and with the Gunpowder Treason fresh in my mind, our intrepid team was drafted into saving the queen of Avalon from a mysterious plot by Church loyalists who were unhappy with her stance on religion. Both the characters were imprisoned for piracy, but the Crown’s agents knew of the heroes’ competence, so they were willing to cut a deal.

This plot quickly went off the rails. The characters, as created, were  pirates, so they chose messy freedom over having to work for someone else. They picked locks, they let out terrible criminals…

And then I had the idea that maybe their tower prison wasn’t exactly what it seemed, so they began to descend an endless stairway, dotted with rooms that would confront the “heroes” with their sins. I got to play with English mythology, introducing a character based on Merlin, a giant talking baby, swamp witches, and other barely sane characters as they moved deeper into the rabbit hole.

The game basically ended up as a way to just let our imaginations run wild. There were a lot of laughs, a lot of careful moves and counter moves, and we all had a ton of fun.

I know I’m not the perfect reviewer here, but I want to say this: 7th Sea is really, really good at facilitating fun storytelling for mature role players. As my two friends and I started getting lost in the story we were telling, the dice and mechanics took a back seat to pure role playing. I actually found myself exhausted by the end of the session, but I was also exceedingly happy from having such a good time.  There are very few games where I found that to be the case.

In a world where throwing dice seems to be the main point of RPGs, 7th Sea gave me a breath of that fresh ocean air of storytelling. I cannot wait to visit it again and dig a little deeper into the rules.

 

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Living Less Large

Belly

My kids, nephew, friend, me, and my belly.

I was extremely hesitant to write this post, but I needed to write something–and this seemed like as good a topic as any.

I’m on a diet.

Yeah, I know. New year, new you. You have my permission to look at the screen skeptically for a moment… I’ll wait. No worries. You’ve earned that right to do so.

Ahem.

Anyway, I’m on a diet: counting calories, trying to get more steps than I normally do, etc. I’ve been meaning to do this for awhile; I just never really got around to it. It’s really easy to make excuses for your weight when you’re 6’6″. But I’m also up to about 375 lbs right now. There’s no real excuse for being that heavy. Reasons, for sure, but not an excuse.

I work a pretty sedentary job, but I’m discovering that I was using food for comfort. If I was stressed, I would eat. When I was relaxing, I would eat. Breaking that cycle is difficult.

I was inspired to do this by my parents, weirdly enough. When I was young, they quit smoking. I remember it being a bit of a nightmare at the time, but they did it. In my pride, I thought that if they could do something to better their lives, that I could, too.

So, here I am: officially day four. I’m doing pretty well, I think. The low-level always-hunger started on day two, though. I remember reading that a person on a major diet would feel hungry a lot; however, this reminds me of a ringing in your ears that you can never get rid of–except it’s in your stomach, and your body knows that you can stop it by shoving tortilla chips by the score in your face.

Day three brought a neat emotional breakdown where I knew everything was awful and nothing was ever going to be okay for myriad reasons. Have you ever seen a grown man crying in the pickup line of an elementary school for no reason? Well, the mom in the Honda Odyssey in front of me who looked in her rear view mirror did.

I’m hoping she just thought I was sensitive.

So why am I doing this?

Health, really. I’m mostly okay with the way I look. I mean, my beard is on point and I dress pretty well. I don’t really want to keel over and leave my kids fatherless and my wife having to date again… because dating is awful. What a nightmare; I would never want to have her go through that mess again.

I’m trying to gamify this whole journey as well. Weight loss is a quest, and the more days I hit my calorie goals, the more experience points I’ll have as this quest gets more difficult. It’s been working so far. Granted, I’m still only four days in.

Blackstaff

Does it get any sexier? Khelben has mad game.

I was told that I need to have some concrete goals, so here is what they are:

I’d like to get down to 275, preferably 250, but at 275 I can basically go about my life without fear of my heart exploding at any moment. My family has a history of heart disease, so staving that off is important.

I’d also like to be in shape enough to cosplay. If you’ve read any of this blog, you know that I’m a pretty nerdy dude, so being able to dress up as Thor or Superman or  Khelben “Blackstaff” Arunsun would be pretty cool. I would never body shame anyone of my size that wanted to do it, but I’m not comfortable cosplaying at my size. Getting my fitness on, however, is going to have to come after I get the eating habit under control. I know myself well enough to know that I won’t keep at it if I have to change everything about myself at once.

So, that’s where I’m at. It’s going to be a long journey, but my family is supportive. I told my son last night that I was eating less food so that my belly would get smaller. I told him that I was going to be cranky sometimes, but that I would try not to be cranky to him and his sister. That night, he prayed for me to not be so cranky.

He’s a sweet kid. I like him a lot.

I’ll try to give frequent updates, as well as more musings about any nerdy thing that comes to my mind, as 2016 progresses. Stay boffo, friends.

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Halo 5 Got Bigger, but Lesser

Halo 5Halo is in a weird place right now, but let me just get this out of the way: the shooting feels great, the gameplay is solid, and some of the new moves included in the game are a lot of fun. The spectacle of Halo is still in full force, but I can’t help thinking that when 343 Industries took over the series, they assumed that “higher stakes” for the game’s protagonist meant that the galactic threat got larger. When it comes to the Halo games, though, I’m not entirely convinced that bigger is better.

Spoilers are probably ahead. Read at your own risk.

Halo 5: Guardians (a subtitle, really?) begins with new character (in the games, anyway) Spartan Locke and his crew of Spartan pals taking down the Covenant on a planet in order to rescue Spartan-and-Cortana creator Dr. Catherine Halsey. After the rescue, she informs the heroes that a new threat is about to emerge.

Meanwhile, the Master Chief and his childhood buddies are on a mission to stop some Covenant baddies from stealing some stealth ship technology on a secret space station blah blah blah, and then he gets a message from Cortana. She’s alive!

And this, for me, is immediately where the story starts to fall apart. The marketing of the game (not that you can always trust game marketing) seemed to indicate that Spartan Locke would be hunting the Master Chief because he had made a tough decision that went awry. That is far from the case, however.

In fact, the story is kind of incoherent when a little thought is put into it. Sure, Master Chief goes AWOL, but I feel like they could’ve given him a call rather then send a team after him.

And let’s talk about Cortana’s resurrection. Halo 4 was a lot of things, but it’s greatest moment was when Cortana, your AI buddy through the all the previous games starring Master Chief, manages to put off her insanity long enough to sacrifice herself to not only destroy the bad guy that is threatening earth, but also save the Chief. It’s almost a tragic love story. The two had been through a lot.

So I was interested to see how ole John-117 was going to cope without her on his latest mission. And honestly, with Cortana back and evil, the effect is ruined. Cortana has cured her insanity and has decided that the best way to save the galaxy is by enforcing a rule by fear using massive robots to kill anything that threatens the peace–a “Pax Cortana” if you will. And now we get into 343 thinking that “higher stakes” means “galactic threat.”

CortanaFor Master Chief, the stakes were already very high. For seven years or more, Cortana has been his constant companion, his protector, his confidant, his love. She may be an AI, but he had real feelings for her. She died in a moment where he was powerless to do anything to help the situation. She saved him.

Imagine a game where you’re defeating the bad guys, but the real story is about Master Chief’s survivor’s guilt. He loved that little blue robot lady, and now he has to face a universe where the constant comforting voice inside his head is gone. Sure, he still has his buddies, but they aren’t one flesh with him like Cortana was (she was, after all, attached to his brain). The Chief is basically a widower.

So, the threat didn’t have to be galactic. The story could’ve been about how self-destructive John-117 had become, with his friends trying to bring him back from the brink. Maybe Chief’s recklessness had done something bad to one of the colony worlds, and he decided to go AWOL in shame. Locke then, would actually be “hunting the truth” to find out what happened and to bring the Chief back.

I don’t hate the story that the game has. It’s interesting enough, such as it is. But I think the storytelling in Mass Effect, Bioshock, Fallout, and even Gears of War, have shown me that games that are shooters can have deep, personal stories that make you empathize with a character.

Maybe Locke and The Chief will end up saving the galaxy, but is it worth rescuing a galaxy that has no real personal stakes? The expanded universe of Halo is full of good stories about people trying to make their way through the both the chaos of war and the ultimate order of living in a massive police state. The audio series “Hunt the Truth” is a superb example of just how interesting the universe that Halo has created can be.

Maybe what Halo needs is fewer power weapons and more plot. The characters should be what drives the plot; as it is right now, the protagonists are merely slaves to the story rather than the player feeling like they are a part of it. War stories are only good when the characters are well-developed. Here’s hoping that in Halo 6 is less about spectacle and more about the characters involved.

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The Taken King Took Me In

WarlockI’ve written before about how much I love Destiny, the “shared-world” shooter by Bungie. It scratches every itch I have when it comes to video games: first-person shooter, co-operative, competitive, MMO, RPG elements. The newest expansion “The Taken King” has leveled up my love for the game even further.

I came into Destiny a little later than a lot of people. I bought it after the first two DLCs had come out, so some of the things that people had been complaining about had been fixed. I played the game all the time. Got my Warlock to Level 33 and was preparing to do raid stuff in the weeks before The Taken King released. I also got involved in a clan, The Dads of Destiny.

TitanLet me just make an aside here: the Dads of Destiny are a great group of dudes to play with. They are all polite, most of them have children, and they mostly play when they are able to, which can be pretty random. The other day I was playing with a couple guys, and we were all commiserating about sick kids who refused to sleep. It’s part gaming clan and part Dad support group.

Anyway, The Taken King takes Destiny and makes it better. The story is more coherent, the enemies are more challenging, some of the events are more epic, and the NPCs actually feel like characters rather than a means to an end (and I actually remember their names). I also like the fact that Light Level (the measure of how powerful you are in the Huntergame–an aggregate score of your defense and attack values) and character level are separate, so you always feel like you are improving, even after you’ve reached the maximum character level.

The meta also hasn’t reached the point where one load out beats everything else. Right now I can play the way I want to play, and it’s just fine. I don’t have to worry about having a certain loot drop to go into a raid; I can just play. It’s beautiful, and I hope it stays that way.

That’s not to say that everything about the game is peaches.
I really don’t like that so many of the high-level activities don’t include matchmaking. I get that Bungie is attempting to go for tight-knit groups of friends, but I have to play pretty randomly, and mostly late at night. And, let’s face it, most people are using looking-for-group websites to connect with others to play endgame content with. If people are going to a website that Bungie owns to do this… why wouldn’t Bungie just include it in the game?

Other than that, I’m pretty satisfied with the game. Will I still be playing when Halo 5, Fallout 4, or something else I love comes along, that I can’t answer right now.

 

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Dungeons & Dragons: Out of the Abyss — Review

Out of the AbyssI’ve never really been one to use published adventures; I love creating my own worlds and letting my players explore them through mutual imagination. However, recently my life has been pretty busy. My kids need help with homework or navigating the life of being tiny. Work can get overwhelming.

I’m an adult; it happens.

So for my roleplaying games that I’ve been running, I’ve been turning to alternative sources of running adventures. Whether it’s through knowledge of the Star Wars universe, or through adventures by Kobold Press or Adventure A Week, these adventures for people who have little time to prepare have been great. I’m especially impressed by the new adventure path for Dungeons & Dragons, Out of the Abyss.

Made through a partnership between Wizards of the Coast and Green Ronin publishing, Out of the Abyss takes place in the “prime” setting for D&D, The Forgotten Realms. To add to its relevance, more specifically, your group of adventurers finds itself trapped in the bowels of the Underdark by an evil drow priestess. From there, they will find that an incursion from the demon-infested Abyss is going on, and they must stop it.

I’m not the biggest fan of the Underdark setting. I’m pretty burned out on Drizz’t (the famous drow hero) and drow (dark, evil elves that live underground) in general, but some things about this adventure re-piqued my interest in the drow, their society, and the dark hellhole that they inhabit.

For one thing, I think drow society makes a little bit more sense now. Right in the first adventure, your weak, mostly helpless player characters are imprisoned by a drow priestess and her underlings. The drow seem to be enmeshed in an almost cut-throat corporate culture where Lolth, the evil spider queen/goddess is the CEO, and everyone under her is vying for a promotion. They sabotage each other; they sleep around; they scheme. Drow society is like a crazy soap opera that I really enjoy. And the PCs are basically mail room interns that can’t wait to escape from corporate meaninglessness. If you watched Mr. Robot (and you have), the drow are a lot like Evil Corp.

For another, the drow aren’t really the stars of the show, here. The Underdark as a whole is. You meet a lot of the Underdark races along the course of this adventure path (and it is a lengthy one). The good guys. The bad guys. The guys who are just out for themselves. They’re all here. As a guy that is largely sick of drow, I found this to be a very good thing.

The book looks great, too. The art is the high standard that has typified Wizards of the Coast publications over the last year or so. The binding is high quality.

So, for now, I would say that if you want to run a good published adventure, this is a good one. I don’t want to give too much away, but the profiles of all the demon lords in the appendix is worth the price of admission. Also, it’s well written and beautiful. Go out and get it at your local game store. And as we run adventures out of it, I’ll publish some reports here.

TL:DR, Wizards of the Coast and Green Ronin have knocked it out of the park. Go buy it.

 

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Humans Love Repetition

My son is on summer vacation from school. He’s six and LOVES cartoons and other kids shows. He doesn’t get to watch them all the time, but he is definitely plugged into them when he does. His current favorites are Teen Titans Go!, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Odd Squad, and We Bare Bears. What’s always amazing to me is how he could watch the same episode of a show so many times, and the jokes are still funny to him, and he acts like he’s never seen them before.

The same goes with books. He loves this one book (Traction Man Meets Turbo Dog) and we could read it over and over and over until our eyes bleed and our mouths are dry. My daughter is the same. At first, I thought this was a kid thing–until I started really considering it.

I’m the same way with music. I could listen to the same song time and again and not get sick of it. I’ve probably listened to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours a thousand times, and I can still groove to it like it’s the first time I’m listening. Pop songs often stay on the charts for months because people like to listen to them repeatedly.

DestinyWe tell stories like this. My grandpa tells me the same couple of anecdotes every time I see him. I can recite most of his stories verbatim. And I’m the same way; I tell a few choice anecdotes of my own to ingratiate myself into new social circles.

I’m regularly this way with video games too. I’ve been playing Destiny so much lately. I love it. There’s not a lot of content, so I end up playing the strike missions over and over, but I find it really enjoyable and relaxing. A lot of people complain about it, but I kind of see it is a feature rather than a bug. There’s something comfortable about doing the same thing constantly. We love routine, and for me, Destiny has become a fun routine. It doesn’t hurt that the game mechanics are really well designed.

Bounce

It was weird. This always put him to sleep for some reason.

Repetition is a way for us to cement concepts into our brains. It’s also comforting: I remember there was a certain way I had to bounce my son in order to get him to go to sleep–if I didn’t do it exactly the way he wanted, he would get upset. He was comforted by that repetitive motion. We learn things by doing them consistently: practice makes progress.

It’s easy to get so caught up in repetition that we are afraid to step out of that comfort zone. Maybe the best kind of consistency is to be constantly trying new things, so that new experience become habit.

Have fun with that. I’m going to go watch The Empire Strikes Back again.

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Gen Con Continued: Wrath of Con

Indy at nightWhen you last left me, I was itchy, angsty, and a little bit torn about this whole Gen Con thing. Well, after little sleep, some canceled games/no show GMs, and meeting some very cool people, I am happy to announce that Gen Con 2015 finally won me over and was a complete success.

Day 2 was a good one because we were able to sleep in a little bit and only had a couple events. That led to a scouring of the exhibit hall for swag and trying out Lynnvander‘s Deep 5, a game of space and betrayal. I didn’t get to play, but my cohorts said that it is super fun. I hope to be able to try it as soon as possible.

I also worked the booth for 3D Virtual Tabletop and AdventureAWeek.com. I was super, super impressed by how smoothly 3D Virtual Tabletop worked and absolutely loved volunteering to help out. One of the things I love about Gen Con is how its basically built on the backs of volunteers… Gamers working to give other gamers a great time. Sometimes it doesn’t work out (like when your GM doesn’t show up), but when everything goes smoothly, it is a thing of beauty. AdventureAWeek is also a solid service, providing all kinds of adventures for a low price. Seriously, if you want to DM some games and want to save time, the combination of 3D Virtual Tabletop and AdventureAWeek.com is a surefire winner in my book.

I also wanted to briefly give a shoutout to Mike Myler, who is going to be Kickstarting his Hypercorps 2099 cyberpunk setting for Pathfinder. He’s a nice guy and has a lot of hustle.

After volunteering, we went and played a game of the Doctor Who RPG… And had a crazy amount of wibbly-woblly, timey-wimey fun. In our group, we had a fellow who didn’t really know the show very well, but he immediately decided to play The Doctor, and he played a very dark, violent version of the Time Lord. It was hilarious. John played Clara Oswald, the Doctor’s “conscience,” and he had his hands full keeping our Doctor under control. Would definitely play that again.

We finished out Day 2 by playing Conquest of the Starlords, a game that has been in development for 10 years. If the creator is reading this… Kickstart that thing. It is a beautifully complicated game for hardcore tabletop gamers: both complicated and treacherous, Conquest of the Starlords should be a “real” thing.

Saturday, Day 3, we were running on very little sleep after getting back to the hotel at 2:30 AM to get up at 7. But we had to get moving to watch Tracy Hickman’s Killer Breakfast. A gloriously corny comedy of errors and death, Killer Breakfast is the perfect way to watch low-level player characters die in hilarious and dangerous ways. I loved it, but I think the corniness of the event wore on me a bit after two hours.

Next up was the event we were really looking forward to, a game of Mutants and Masterminds, my absolute favorite RPG game. Unfortunately, the GM no-showed. So, over 5 years, we are 1/5 for playing Mutants and Masterminds. John and I were discussing running somewhere around four games of M&M next year, just so we could play a couple times. We love the system, and it seems like it sells out every year. There really should be an organized play option.

Tragedy struck again on Saturday when another one of our events was canceled without any kind of notice. I would love for Gen Con to have system that would email you when your event was suddenly unavailable. I’m actually surprised that something like that isn’t available yet.

We ended the night with a party at BL&Ts hosted by Lynnvander, CoolMiniOrNot, and GeekChic. There was so much candy. And gaming. And just having fun with new friends. Looking forward to hanging out with those guys again next year. We played a game of Zombicide with the creator of the film “The Rangers.” It looks really great. Give it a watch when it’s available.

Today. Sunday. Day 4. The bittersweetness of Gen Con ending. I’m never more simultaneously distraught and relieved than when it’s time to pack all my stuff (heavier due to some exhibition hall swag) into the car and check out of the hotel.

Dice BagWe learned how to make scale mail dice bags. I didn’t finish mine because I just straight got lost in the middle of it, but I plan on going back. I’ll show you a picture of John’s, however, since he actually persevered and finished his. Our group is 2/5 for completing dice bags so far.

And with a couple laps around the exhibition hall, the Con ended. Congratulations to Gen Con for running another successful one, and to all those who won Ennies or were just brave enough to follow their dreams, make a game or movie or some piece of art, and come to Indianapolis to make their dreams come true. Best of luck to all you crazy people; I’m pulling for you. And I’ll see you next year.

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Gen Con: Day 0 – We Can’t Stop. We Won’t Stop.

Gen Con 0I’m currently sitting in the back of a van full of large men. This is the commute to Gen Con. We’re just outside of Columbus on the way to Indianapolis: listening to a terrible playlist I put together based on the suggestions of the guys on the trip. I’m feeling a bit of existential angst.

The day started pretty normally with my daughter yelling, “Daaaaaaaaddddyyyyy!!!” in order to tell me that she was awake and that I should also wake up and get her out of her crib (she is currently possesses too much trepidation to climb out by herself). Windows 10 was ready, so I upgraded my laptop… probably a terrible idea before going on a trip, but I’m nothing if not brave/stupid when it comes to these things. I’m liking Windows 10 quite a bit right now, actually. Not that you care about my opinion about it. That’s not why you’re reading this.

Anyway, we’re five geeks in a van heading out to play games with 50-60 thousand other people for a long weekend. The plans are much the same as other years: games, steak, water, aspirin, swag we don’t need. The thing I’m realizing about the Geek Monolith is that it must be fed. And we feed it by buying stuff. A lot of stuff we don’t need. We want new games. We want video game-themed shirts. We want toys we can put on our shelves and look at as they gather dust. We want different games. We want more games. We want. We want. We want. Money. Money. Money. Cash in. Cash out. Day in. Day out. And I’m torn. I love the Geek Monolith. I want to see it flourish.

Yet, there’s a part of me that feels a bit guilty participating in this mass edifice of want. I think of the lines at San Diego Comic Con… people waiting for hours, even days, in order to see actors in a movie that’s coming out this winter. SDCC exclusives that geeks will trample other geeks in order to get. I think of Gen Con, where people stand in looooong lines in order to get games a few weeks before everyone else can get them. The Geek Monolith doesn’t just demand that we buy things to feed it; it demands that we get them as soon as we can so it can be fed quicker. And we scamper towards it to feed it.

We love the Monolith. But does the Geek Monolith love us? Will the tabletop gaming mouth of the Monolith be satiated this weekend, as we look for Wil Wheaton and Jen Page and Geek & Sundry and Wizards of the Coast and Paizo and Fantasy Flight Games? As we look for those elusive exclusives? Or will it leave us empty… just demanding that we keep feasting on tabletop games until we are satisfied? But, will it ever truly satisfy us beyond that couple of days? Are we happier for feeding the Geek Monolith? Does it do anything for us? Probably not.

Maybe there are mental benefits. I’m sure there are studies if I wanted to look hard enough. I don’t think the Geek Monolith promises us satisfaction. Only temporary satiation. But still we feed and feed the Monolith. We won’t stop. And we wouldn’t even if we could, would we?

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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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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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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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Dungeons & Dragons — Monster Manual Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gen Con 2014: Stray Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Deus Ex is Ruining my Dreams

I recently began playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution on PC. I got the “Director’s Cut” when it was on sale on Steam, because I wanted the best possible experience.

The game is great! I like the RPG elements; the story is mysterious and interesting. There are many ways to play the game, and I want to try them all. I think I can safely say that I haven’t been fully immersed into a game for a  long time. And it’s killing my sleep.

I don’t often have vivid dreams. Generally, I don’t remember my dreams, but when I do (and I’m in that place where I don’t know I’m dreaming…you know what I mean), I often have visions of danger dancing in my head.

The world of Deus Ex is dangerous and frightening. In it, corporations seem to have all the power. Humans are “augmented” with bio-mechanical upgrades to be harder, better, faster, stronger.

Daft Punk

Like these guys

The cyberpunk genre is compelling. Questions about how technology affects our minds and bodies, what it means to be human, how we should treat artificial intelligence, and how the poor can compete against the rich really tend to spark my imagination. But it also scares me to death, and when I immerse myself in that kind of world for a few hours…

Well, I have dreams.

Dreams where I’ve been modified against my will. Dreams where I am me, but the people coming to get me are modified, so I’m living a Most Dangerous Game that I can’t win. Dreams where the only way to save my son’s life is to make him part machine.

I hate these dreams!

But maybe my nocturnal visions are an indication that the aforementioned questions are important ones. It’s not just about my dreams; Deus Ex, William Gibson, Shadowrun, Blade Runner and countless other cyberpunk genre books, movies, and games emphasize the significance of the theme.

I want to finish the game, but it’s been a long time since a form of entertainment has affected my sleep so consistently.

Have you ever had entertainment affect you (or your sleeping patterns)?

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Where is my Fandom?

I’m having a bit of an existential crisis. I used to be a fan in the literal sense of the word: fantatic. I used to be able to talk your ear off about comics, movies, video games, board games, and I would do so with glee. But, lately, fandom has been kind of annoying to me. Every time I see a post by a Doctor Who fan, I just want to unfollow them. When I see people arguing over which video game console is the best, I want to give up on the internet altogether. It’s not that I’m not a fan of those things; it’s that I’ve lost my patience for the fandom.

Just this morning, I saw a friend make a post that was ripping apart Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. That movie came out over half a decade ago. People are still complaining about The Phantom Menace. It released 15 years ago.  For half my life, I’ve been hearing people complain about that movie. And I was complaining right along with them, for the most part.

What changed me? You know, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s that I had kids. Or started my own business. Maybe I’m just tired all the time. Maybe the fandom is just getting younger. But, I am just getting weary of it all. I’ve started unfollowing so many of the Facebook pages of things I like. Some of the Doctor Who pages are the worst.

Pond gagI hate stuff like the above picture. I don’t find it even remotely clever. The picture doesn’t really fit, and it’s sappy as all get out. I think maybe I’m just incapable of loving a television show like some other people on the internet.  Maybe our TV shows actually become a religion to some.

 

Being a kind of geeky dude, this is starting to worry me. While maybe I’m just growing up, there’s a part of me that feels inexorably linked to geek culture. I don’t want to give it up. I like gaming. I like sci-fi and fantasy. I like comic books. But, I feel like my quest for moderation might be harming my geek credentials. And I can’t believe that it’s an actual concern for me.

Maybe it’s my desire to belong with like-minded individuals that makes me worry that I’m falling a bit out of hardcore geek culture and into “dreaded” casual fandom, but I’m not JUST a geek any more. I have family, friends, church responsibilities, job stuff. Honestly, in the face of that, maybe falling a bit out of fandom’s gravitational pull isn’t such a bad thing.

So, if you’ve been where I’ve been, how did you get your fandom back? Or did you just leave it behind?

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The Cool Ship Watches… Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

CoulsonWe at the Cool Ship love all things comic book. Last night, a number of us watched “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” Here are our thoughts:

Colleen —

After months of breathless anticipation and subsequent lightheadedness, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiered.

First, points to them for not overplaying the Coulson not-death. It’s referenced, but not constantly shoved in our faces. (Whereas with me, if I cut myself and, for the rest of the week, I demand subservience from those around me BECAUSE I HAVE SUFFERED, PEOPLE!) There is a bit between Shepherd Book and Robin referring to a larger mystery surrounding Coulson’s return from the white light. Let’s all pretend that we we don’t already know he’s a life model decoy or an android and enjoy the slow reveal. But Coulson is turning out to be more than just a wry avatar for the unpowered in a superhero world. He gets to show depth and compassion not previously shown in the cinematic universe. I want to get to know him better.

There is a lot of characterization happening here. Joss Whedon, he of juggling the massive Buffyverse fame, ably introduces each character without making it seem like a roll call. There are also the self-aware nuggets that made Firefly, Buffy, The Avengers fun to watch. There’s even a few tiny comic references (“Are you ready for our journey into mystery?” Journey into Mystery is the recently cancelled comic that had the first appearance of Thor.).

It looks like it’ll become a procedural in the Marvel universe. Sort of a Fringe, but hopefully with fewer instances of Mike yelling at the TV. I fully expect that once this hits its Joss-free stride that there will be some reduction in quality. However, since the only other show I’m watching consistently is the Headless Horseman waving an AK-47 Sleepy Hollow, I think I’ll stick with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

MING-NA WENTJ —

Overall, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is a good time. It didn’t have the slow start I expect from many Whedon shows (like Dollhouse), and it quickly got into the action while giving me a good idea of what the characters are like. I like most of the characters, except for Agent Ward, who I found to have very few redeeming qualities in the context of the episode. He’s just straight boring. I hope they give him more to do. I’m also looking forward to seeing more Ming-Na. I thought her arc about “being afraid of combat” was resolved a little to quickly and neatly.

I also hope that the technobabble from Agents Fitz and Simmons doesn’t get out of hand. I really don’t want this turning into CSI: Comic Books.

WardLike, Colleen, I’m worried about the post-Whedon drop in quality, especially if Jeph Loeb is involved. I really saw some drops in quality after he was involved with Smallville and Heroes, and I REALLY want this show to succeed.

All-in-all, I enjoyed this episode. It didn’t feel like it was low budget, and I’m looking forward to seeing more.

Gabrielle —

Phil Coulson is the coolest. Hands down. He’s also totally a robot.

It’s something I’ve been harping on since ole Phil wheezed his last around the giant spear thing sticking out of his chest. Sure, Joss has a disturbing penchant for slaughtering beloved characters, but when news of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. broke (particularly the bit about Clark Gregg’s casting), my favorite theory became Coulson would be reborn as The Vision.
SkyeWe got a hint that all is not as it seems with Coulson from Cobie Smulders’ Maria Hill and Shepherd Book (I don’t care what his name is in this show. He’s Shepherd Book.). My guess is Tahiti is not an actual fond memory of relaxation and recovery. Rather, it’s an implanted memory fed to Coulson to hide from the titular S.H.I.E.L.D. agent that he’s a LDM (Life Decoy Model).
Search your feelings. You know it to be true.
I loved Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s got a solid cast of quirky characters, and the show has a pleasant blend of action, humor, and heart. It’s earned a place on my overfull DVR. How about yours?

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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: The Best Laid Plans of Gamers and Geeks

 

shepard

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.

hypnotoad

HIRE ME TO EDIT YOUR STUFF.

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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