Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Ultimate Table, for the Ultimate Fan? I Think Not.

So over on AWE me they decided to build what they're calling "The Ultimate D&D Gaming Table." Watch the video below and then we'll talk some more

 

Back?

Okay. So I wasn't very impressed with the table. I mean the 50" TV and tablets are really nice but the there are just a lot of little things that I don't like. Here's the run-down.

Pros

  • Sculpting on the legs is way cool.
  • 50" TV display is a good choice.
  • Tablets are a thoughtful addition.
  • The size of the table is just about right for your average group. 
  • Glass tabletop was a good choice.
  • Nice to have pull out trays for keeping books/tablets/junk off the top of the table.


Cons

  • I hate the stain
  • Don't like the choice of birch for the wood
  • Hate the laser cut ampersands; they look cheap.
  • The design on the chairs wasn't interesting and they didn't look comfortable.
  • Spray painting the really interesting sculpted legs black is a baffling choice as those things should have been fully colored to make their details pop.
  • Rolling box is very small.


What about you guys? What did you think?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

It's A False Argument but Batman Running Through the Streets Should Make Up for It.

Last night I was catching up on some of the Black Gate archives I've missed when I ran across an article by Bob Byrne, Why I Went Old School - or Swords & Wizardry vs Pathfinder, that kind of got my attention. In the article Byrne discusses the reasons why he went with Swords & Wizardry over Pathfinder by trotting out many of the same arguments that you'll see time, and time again, whenever the discussion gets brought up online. But the one that got my attention was this one:
". . . I used this when explaining S&W to one of my new players. Now, in Baldur’s Gate, he would click on the ‘Find Traps’ skill and if a trap was nearby, it would be outlined on screen in a red box if detected. And he is aware that in a modern game (like Pathfinder), you would roll a 20-sided dice against your Find Trap skill. 
But I explained it won’t work that way in S&W. After I described the environment, he would have to tell me how he goes about looking for traps. Does he examine the ceiling? Does he roll a round stone across the floor? Does he put his fingers in the mouth of the idol (always a dangerous move!)?  
To try and bluff your way past the guard at the city gate, you don’t simply roll against your Bluff skill. You have to tell the same story to the Referee that your character is telling to the guard. With appropriate gestures . . .  
The Referee may simply determine whether it worked or not. Or if the try was plausible, they may roll a dice against the character’s Charisma score, with a bonus or penalty, depending on how good the story was. So, even though there is a version of a skill check involved, it’s driven by the player action, not the character sheet . . ." (Byrne)
Since I first became aware of the Old School movement I have always been bothered by the argument that rule heavy systems, like Dungeons & Dragons 3e and its kin, force the players to play the game through their die rolls and character sheets rather than to take control of the action through the use of their own creativity and narrative choices. At its core this argument is one that would have you believe that providing players who might not be as creative with a way to accomplish their goals and to participate in the game in a meaningful way, such as through the use of skill checks, eliminates the possibility for them to play in any other way - which is bullshit. 

Players did not suddenly cede their right to make a meaningful narrative choice, or use their creativity to deal with a problem in the game, simply because they elected to play a game that provided them with a skill check to accomplish the task without having to detail every action they might make in the attempt. Things like skill checks were not designed to eliminate the player's ability to think outside the box but rather to allow them the opportunity to accomplish actions which they might not have the natural skill or knowledge to otherwise attempt. They are an aide to play; not a hindrance binding play behind a massive block of rules. 

Now back to my book.



Works Cited
Byrne, Bob. "Why I Went Old School - or Swords & Wizardry vs Pathfinder" Black Gate. https://www.blackgate.com/2016/09/08/why-i-went-old-school-or-swords-wizardry-vs-pathfinder/ Accessed December 15, 2016

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Tagless and Purposeless.

I've been looking over the way that I tag my blog now, as compared to when I started, and I have to say that I wish I had been more thorough when I first started. Like now when I begin posting an article my goal is to make it easily index-able for myself so that I can find the things that I've talked about in the past without having to wonder if I'm treading over the same ground that I've passed before. I mean, fuck, I've been writing this blog now for four years and in that time I've written over a thousand posts. And don't get me wrong; I've talked a lot of shit in those thousand posts, but it would be nice to know what I've said in the past without trying to remember what I said four years ago. 

Ah, fuck it. 

I'll fix that some day when I've got time and nothing else to do. #NeverBitch

That Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 Trailer Though . . .

When the first Guardians of the Galaxy trailer released a few years ago I found myself stupidly excited for the movie. Here was an opportunity for me to finally see one of the great, weird comics that I grew up loving and that I always had trouble finding on a regular basis. I hoped that the movie would be a fun ride, and I wasn't disappointed.

Now the second trailer has released and I'm so damned excited that I can't wait for the movie to finally release!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

How Should We Be Describing Areas in Role-Playing Games

Last night I was reading reddit when ran across a novice Game Master (GM) asking for help in describing their game world. This particular GM had been running an adventure with lots of boxed text descriptions of each room which they had faithfully read as their players had explored. With experience, however, this GM had begun wondering if this was right or if they should be a bit more imaginative with the descriptions. The answers to this question left me feeling rather unfulfilled so I thought that I would explore the question more fully here.

When I first began running Dungeons and Dragons twelve years ago I ran games that came exclusively from my own imagination. I didn't pick up an official adventure from TSR or Wizards of the Coast for two years; and by that point I had already established my own style of describing the worlds my players were exploring which was heavily influenced by the pulp authors that I frequently read. As a result the boxed text felt heavy and unwieldy so I wouldn't run a published adventure because I arrogantly felt like running one would be akin to putting the training wheels back on my bike. 

The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth cover, by Erol Otus, 1981

It wasn't until I really started getting into the Greyhawk setting that my view on published adventures changed. I can remember reading The Lost Caverns of Tsojconth and it suddenly occurred to me that by ignoring the published adventures, and their ubiquitous boxed texts, that I was missing out on all of this really exciting stuff that other Dungeons and Dragons players had experienced. So I began to attempt running published modules. 

The first module that I attempted to run as it was written was David Cook's Dwellers of the Forbidden City. It was a challenging adventure for my players but as a GM I found it just as challenging to keep it interesting for them when it came time to read the boxed text. The problem was solidly my fault as instead of using the text as a starting point from which I would build the description I stubbornly stuck to reading it as it was written. 

Dwellers of the Forbidden City cover by Erol Otus, 1981

That was a mistake. 

One of my strengths as a GM has always been my ability to describe the locations that my players explore with a brevity that leaned heavy on mood and the big details. Without question my style is influenced by the Robert E. Howard novels I read and loved. A good example would be this passage from Son of the White Wolf:
". . . THE SUN WAS not long risen over the saw-edged mountains to the east, but already the heat was glazing the cloudless sky to the hue of white-hot steel. Along the dim road that split the immensity of the desert a single shape moved. The shape grew out of the heat-hazes of the south and resolved itself into a man on a camel . . ." (Howard)
In that short extract everything about the location is told in three sentences and as a GM, and storyteller, I'm always looking to emulate his style. I love the quickness of it and how a mood for the reader is so easily established. 

After my failure with Dwellers of the Forbidden City I decided to take a different approach with all future published modules I would run and try to bring a bit of Howard's style into the descriptions. Now I could do it on the fly but often it meant that I would end up missing things. The tone might get slightly off because I hadn't read far enough to know the location wasn't all that important or that the current non-player character (NPC) would be a pivotal character in the adventure. So I found myself doing a lot of prep work in order to make the published adventures work in a way that satisfied me. 

I would begin by making a copy of the adventure that I could write notes in without feeling guilty. I would then read the entire adventure before I began making notes I would need. I had to know what was happening; who the villains, throwaway characters, and heroes were. Then I would go back through a second time and make my notes. I would jot down a few quick thoughts on how I wanted this NPC to sound or the mood that this location needed to give the players. I highlighted things that I wanted them to discover and that I wanted to find quickly (like the villains' characteristics, weapons, and spells). And the night before I would read out loud the parts I thought we would touch in the session to my wife (when she wasn't playing), attempting to use all of my notes, to see what was working and failing.

All of that prep work I do has often paid off in ways that have taken my running of the adventures from cumbersome affairs into things that my players still talk about today - but it also made me incredibly hesitant to run the larger adventures. As you can imagine, published adventures end up being a lot more work for me and when I look at an adventure that's 250 pages long or more I have a hard time justifying spending that much time on it when my only reward may be my players looking at the start and saying, "Well, this is fucked. We're going the other direction away from the dragon and towards the bar." But Greyhawk has a way of rewarding my efforts. I consistently find myself enjoying the villains that I discover in these modules more than I did previously when I only knew their names and had read through their wiki descriptions. The locations I prepare for never go to waste as I can always find the time to let my players discover a crashed space ship or a hidden shrine to some foul demon princes looking to destroy the multiverse. 

In Greyhawk, there's always a hungry dragon.


Works Cited

Howard, Robert E. "Son of the White Wolf." Project Gutenberg Australiahttp://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0601081.txt. Accessed December 1, 2016.

Friday, November 18, 2016

It's One O'Clock and I'm Fairly Certain the Rocket Won't Wait.

This evening I was reading a RPG book where the authors spent seven pages detailing how time passes in their game world. The days and months of the year were given these silly names. The phases of the moon were described, with each given a special name. Worst of all the hours were called out in a quasi-Latin style. It was clear that the intent was to create a sense of verisimilitude for the world that they were describing but instead it all came off a bit contrived and silly. This setting isn't unique in this foolishness. Just a quick pass through my game library and it seems like in practically every amateur and professional setting I've been presented with the latest 'unique' calendar and denotation of time. Over and over again it seems that the authors can't wait to tell me all about how special their world's understanding of time is. 

Why, it's not Monday here; it's First-Day. 

January? No, no. You're saying it wrong. It's Fireseek. 

What time is it? Why it's half past Qui'Tar Jut! 

Now maybe you're players are really into learning the minutia of your world and are all about calling the various months by these setting specific names and using the tongue-twisting variations for the hours - but I've yet to play in a group that was willing to expend the effort. Instead the days always revert back to Monday, Tuesday while the hours go back to One O'Clock, Two O'Clock, and so forth. 

For a while it bothered me that my players couldn't keep to the imaginary calendars I had brought to them and that they didn't care enough about the days of the week to use their 'proper' names. Then one day I had an epiphany: they don't have time to fool with this stuff because all they want to do is play the damned game. To my players calling Monday, First-Day was useless. It didn't improve their immersion into the game world because it produced a jarring, mental disconnect that pulled them out of it. They had to think to call it First-Day instead of just knowing that it was Monday. Calling January, Fireseek didn't tell them anything useful because they had to remember that Fireseek was a cold, snowy month. All I was accomplishing by forcing such contrivances on them was making my games worse. 

As I'm getting older I'm finding that the best policy as a Dungeon Master isn't to get cute and come up with special names for the things I'm doing - after all, my orc isn't any less an orc if I call him a Thute - but rather to build on the cultural and societal touchstones that my players can identify with and readily assimilate into their play. My games use regular names for the hours, days, and months of the year, but major events become the names of the years within the game. When they destroyed the city of Kimber by triggering a massive earthquake that swallowed it whole, the year became known within the game's world as "The Year Kimber was Swallowed." My non-player characters (NPCs) could mention it as a touchstone within a conversation and the players immediately knew when it took place in relation to where they existed in the game now. It gave the world a greater depth than telling them that the year was 447 CY. To them 447 CY might as well be 1779 BC. It was a meaningless number that they weren't all that interested in remembering, but those major events stuck with them and gave them a grounding in the world. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Be Still My Wayward Cowboy. Marty Robbins Comes!

When I was growing up we used to watch a lot of the "Singing Cowboys" that were popular back in the 1920s and 1930s. Unlike most modern movies the Singing Cowboy movies were simple affairs. The good guys fought the bad guys and along the way they always found a way to overcome those dastardly bastards of the imaginary West. Now days those movies are called "simple," "naive," affairs that gloss over the imperial expansion of America and its destruction of Native civilizations.

Some people just can't have any fun without being shit heads about what everyone else loves. Anyway, I'm off to watch an old Tex Ritter film, Hittin' the Trail, with my son so I thought that I'd leave you cats with a great little playlist in the singing cowboy spirit.


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Prelacy of Almor, Part 1: Where It All Begins

The campaign that I've been thinking about running for the last few months will be based in the Prelacy of Almor; a small state formerly situated between the Kingdom of Nyrond and the Great Kingdom of Ahlissa. Now if you're like me then it's likely that the only thing you knew about the Prelacy of Almor is that it was utterly destroyed by the Great Kingdom during Ivid the Undying's expansion and what wasn't conquered by him was absorbed by Nyrond. Or you could be like my lovely bride and just laugh every time I try to say Almor with my southern drawl bastardizing it into a terrible mess of false consonants and invented vowels. Regardless of where your knowledge about the Prelacy of Almor begins I'd like to discuss how I'm using the little state and where I'm envisioning the campaign going as it progresses.

Prior to the Greyhawk Wars the Prelacy of Almor really didn't have a lot of attention paid to it in the published materials for the setting. In truth the only real information that I could find on the state was found in the 1983 Boxed Set where it's description is fairly short and uninspiring:
. . . Originally a clerical fief of Aerdy, Almor grew in power and independence as the Great Kingdom became weak and decadent. The various petty nobles and the Lord Mayor of the town of Innspa swear allegiance to the reigning prelate - usually a high priest. The state is only loosely organized, but it has a strong spirit of freedom and justice based upon religious precepts. The peoples are mainly farmers and herdsmen and fisherfolk. In the far north there are some foresters. Militia contingents bear crossbow, spear, or polearm (fauchard or glaive most commonly). Standing forces number around 5,000 total horse and foot, plus the nobility and gentry. The Prelacy is strongly supported by Nyrond as a buffer between that realm and that of the Overking, and pay a stipend to help support the standing army of Almor . . . (Gygax)
The only enlargement on the state's description that I could find prior to the Greyhawk Wars came from a Rob Kuntz article in Dragon Magazine #65, Greyhawk's World: News, Notes, and Views of the Greyhawk Campaign (pg. 11 - 12)which discusses the efforts of Almor and Nyrond to block the Great Kingdom's expansion of its boarders. This paucity of information on the Prelacy of Almor is a blessing as it allows me to build the state in a way that not only suits my purposes but provides me with a loose enough framework that I can let my players really push the story in any way that appeals to them without the Canon Nazi in my head screaming out, "THEY CAN'T DO THAT!"

Now after the Great Kingdom expands the Prelacy of Almor recieves more attention but I have no interest in exploring that era at this time. For my purposes it becomes far less interesting when you already know the outcome of the war; when you know that your only hope is to salvage through the ruins of hamlets and towns looking for the bits and pieces that you can sale to ruthless traders. No, it's far more exciting when you can explore the intrigue of states waging a cold war and steadily bringing up the temperature. That side of things makes my mind race with excitement and has gotten me to begin working on a new campaign for the first time in months - and that means I need to chase and nurture it once I've caught it.

More later.


Works Cited
Gygax, Gary. A Guide to the World of Greyhawk Fantasy Setting, A Catalogue of the Land of Flanaess Being the Easter POrtion of the Continetn Oerik, of Oerth. Random House. United States of America. 1983. Print.


Prelacy of Almor Series
The Prelacy of Almor, Part 1: Where It All Begins

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Great RPG Transition

At Gen Con this year Critical Role, a web-show that features a talented group of voice actors playing Dungeons & Dragons, filled a 1,500 capacity auditorium. The enthusiastic crowd prompted Morrus over at EN World to discuss the effect celebrity players have on the role-playing game industry as a whole.

Without a doubt we are seeing the rise of celebrity players. For several years now we've been seeing people slowly becoming known for how they play role-playing games through podcasts, web shows, and the like; but in doing so we've also missed a critical aspect of what such things have been doing for us as a whole. Mike Mearls, Lead Designer of Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, put it a little bit of an interesting spin on the whole thing:
". . . It’s interesting seeing reactions at GenCon to Critical Role’s show in Indy. Illustrates a big divide in how designers grok TRPGs these days (source). It’ll be great to see a higher level of awareness of how RPGs have transformed and what that means for their future (source
I believe that the rise of 3/3.5e and online discussion forums created a massive, fundamental shift in how RPGs were viewed and used (source). 3e, and then into 4e, D&D was very dense, rules heavy, complicated, and filled with character building options. That was the game (source). That spread to other RPGs, placing the baseline complexity of the typical RPG at the extreme upper end of what we saw in 80s/90s (source). At the same time, online discussion veered heavily towards character optimization and rules details. It was a culture of read and dissect (source).  
Both the indie and old school design movements rose in counter to this, focusing much more heavily on actual play at the table (source). However, the prevailing, forum-based online culture made it very hard to communicate meaningfully about actual play (source). That changed when streaming and actual play vids became accessible to the average DM. The culture of actual play had a platform (source).  
We can now meaningfully interact based on what we’re doing when we play, rather than talk about the stuff we do when we don’t play (source). This is HUGE because it shifts the design . . . [conversation] away from “How do we design for forum discussions?” to “How do we design for play?” (source
As game designers, we can actually watch how RPGs play and what rules and concepts facilitate the effects we’re looking to create (source).  
The tension between theoretical discussion vs actual play has always been a big part of RPG design (source). I believe at the table ruled for a very long time, swung hard to theory, and now back to table-driven design (source). Theory is useful, but it has to be used in service to actual, repeatable results in play. And I say this as someone who veered to theory (source).  
So in a series of 14 tweets, that’s why I see Critical Role at GenCon something that can be very good for the hobby and designers (source).  
Addendum: This ties into the huge success of 5e and the growth of RPGs – people can now learn by watching. The rulebook is not a barrier (source). We don’t learn sports like baseball or soccer by reading the rules – we watch and quickly learn how to play (source). The rulebook is a reference, like the NBA’s rulebook. Comes out only when absolutely needed. Barriers are now gone. Design accordingly . . . (source)"
By and large Mike knocks this one out of the park. D&D 3e and D&D 4e were both cumbersome in the sheer volume of rules, and rule variants, they presented - and that's spoken as someone who loves Third Edition - to the point where it became a challenge just to learn enough of the rules to begin play. Fifth Edition, and to a large extent most modern role-playing games, have moved in the opposite direction going towards a play centered focus where rules not only can be hand-waved when they get in the way of actual play but where it's actually encouraged by the designers to do so. After drowning in the sea of rules Third Edition dropped on us it's like a breath of fresh air.

More later.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

WTF is a Canon Nazi?

A Canon Nazi is an individual who not only loves the official story of a setting, but who places that story beyond the enjoyment of others in exploring different aspects of the story. Any deviation is a moment for the Canon Nazi to lose their minds and tell others how wrong they are for stepping away from the official script.

Edited 4:01 PM, August 7, 2016
Originally this post appeared as Canon Whore but after a rather excellent series of comments from +Nate McD and +Jesse Morgan it became clear to me that Canon Nazi was a better combination by far. - Charlie

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Let's Play a Game . . .




Here's the game. In the map above that I'm going to be using for my next adventure there are quite a few things different about it from the traditional maps of the region but if you're familiar with the area at all you should be able to tell where it is and roughly when it takes place. So the question is: In what nation is the adventure being set? Bonus points if you can tell me why it's set there.

  • First correct answer receives 50 meaningless Dyvers points and an imaginary pony named Carl that never gets tired.
  • Second correct answer receives 25 meaningless Dyvers points and an imaginary pony named Bill. Careful, he bites.
  • The third correct answer gets an imaginary sandwich made of sand, liverwurst, and hate on Pumpernickel - the bread that hates you as much as you hate it.
Good luck!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Picking Books was Never All that Complicated

Lately I've been seeing a lot of articles and proselytizing in my social media about how I should read. To date I've been told:

I should read only:

  • people of color
  • people who have the same social mores
  • people with my political beliefs
  • minorities
  • books that challenge my preconceived social norms
  • books by trans-gendered individuals


I should not read books:

  • by straight, white men
  • by racists
  • by imperialists
  • by colonialists
  • by people with different political / social beliefs
  • by people with the same political / social beliefs
  • written before 1999 / 1980 / 1970 / 1950 / 1900 . . .
  • where the protagonists is good and the antagonist is bad.  
  • where morality is simple
  • by Christians
  • by religious people
  • by anti-religious people
  • by atheists
  • that are liked by the wrong sorts of people


So here's my response to all of that self-important gate-keeping that people have been doing lately. 

Dear Friends and Strangers,

I realize that you think that by telling me to not read people unless they meet an approved standard that you're making the world better, but you're not. Your approved reading lists are the sort of group thinking that stifled creativity and intellectual freedom throughout our history and I will have no part of it. Instead I'm going to do like good readers have been taught to do for generations: I'm going to read the summary on the back of the book and decide if it sounds like something I might like to read. Then, if it does, I'm going to buy it and read it. And if the author is really good and the book is fun I'm going to find more books by that author and read them too. 

That means that there are going to be times when I'm reading books that were written by imperialists, racists, or people who have the same social mores as me because if a book is good that's all I really care about. I'm not going to stop reading authors like Ursula K. Le Guin, W. Somerset Maugham, Mark Twain, Robert E. Howard, Peter F. Hamilton, Samuel R. Delany, r.a. lafferty, Allen Ginsburg, Abbie Hoffman, and Charles Bukowski because they might not fit into the current standard you're espousing. 

I know, I know, some of you are disappointed that I'm going to read racists like Howard and Lovecraft but I don't care. They wrote good books and they're stuff is still excellent nearly a hundred years after they wrote it. They'll survive your disappointment too, and so will I.

Now if you don't mind I'm going to go back to reading the Plutonium Bombshell by John Zakour and Lawrence Ganem because it's been a blast so far. Later,

Charlie

Monday, April 11, 2016

You're Not That Deep, Kid; No Matter What Your Momma Told You.

Last night I was reading Twitter, as one does, when I ran across one of the role-players in my feed talking about the game he was running. Apparently he was under the impression that the game he was running was actually an expression of radical truth philosophy and that in imposing that philosophy onto his players and world he was teaching them something profound. Unsurprisingly the game imploded a short while later and he was mystified. I started to talk to him about it but his feed was filled with messages from the faithful who were being supportive of him. "You just have to push it harder." "The seeds are planted and you'll see them come to fruition soon." "Your players will get the message soon." It was like looking into an abyss filled with pseudo-philosophers each manipulating the others genitals while moaning, "You're brilliant!"

It's clear that this particular Dungeon Master knew just enough to be dangerous and then fooled himself into believing that he had mastery over not only the session, but the philosophy and his players. I'm not saying that if you're players want a game with a deeper philosophical underpinning that you shouldn't go out and give it to them but when you force it on them things are often going to go off the rails and you shouldn't pretend like you didn't expect them to - Hell, you can't even keep them on the adventure's path what makes you think that you can make them take up a philosophy? Especially one like radical truth! What bothered me so much about that thread was that it was clear that the Dungeon Master hadn't considered the ramifications for not only his campaign but for his friends playing the game. Radical truth isn't a joke. It will fuck up your relationships and if you're not prepared for that consequence than you shouldn't even attempt to bring it into your role-playing games. 

That's not saying that there aren't philosophies that you can go half-cocked with and come out the better for using. Communism and Utilitarianism are two political philosophies that you could easily bring along with just a loose understanding and be just fine implementing. Hell, they may even fall in love with Utilitarianism in your fantasy world since that's the only place that it can actually work. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Ain't that a Kick to the Head

I know that some long time readers might be wondering if I've abandoned Dyvers since I haven't been posting here very much lately; rest assured, I have not. The thing is that a lot of the things I've been interested in talking about mostly involve me saying that they're bullshit and not really wanting to debate or discuss my opinion on the matters. +Alexis Smolensk has that shit covered on the Tao of D&D and I'm not really one to follow someone else's shtick when I can do my own thing. 

I think I've got it out of my system now so I'm going to see if I can't post more often on here again. Here's hoping there are some of you out there who still find the things I write worth reading. 

-- Charlie

Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday Art Fest, Week 12, 2016: "Dawning" by Low Bros

"Dawning" by Low Bros (source)
"Dawning" by Low Bros is one of those paintings that I have a hard time describing why I think it fucking rocks. Maybe because it reminds me of Star Fox with the blocking polygon effects or maybe it's the boarder that makes me think about being in the doctor's office when I was 13 years old and no one could figure out what was going wrong with me (spoilers: they never did). In the end it doesn't matter because this painting just fucking rocks. I want to see it hanging over my computer and to hear my son howl at it. I want to adventure in it when I'm playing D&D. 

It. just. fucking. rocks.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Friday Art Fest, Week 11, 2016: "Orgullo" by Gustavo Rimada

"Orgullo" by Gustavo Rimada (source)

Often when you hear people talking about confident women in art they're talking about some sort of meaningless garbage where the woman either needs to be placed into a masculine role or where they have to be put up on some sort of pedestal (though that must be done without any hint of sexuality). Such things do not concern Gustavo Rimada's works as he has made the women he paints into the sort of people I've known my entire life: confident, uncaring of your social mores, and fully capable of destroying your world if you fuck with them.

"Orgullo", pride in English, typifies what Rimada's been capable of creating. She exudes the sort of integral nature of what true pride in oneself should be. There is no fear in her eyes and every bit of her has this sort of, "I give not one fuck about your shit," attitude that I just adore. In "Orgullo" is everything that I imagine to be found when you look in the eyes of Amazons. She's Red Sonja and Dejah Thoris. She's Zuggtmoy and Iggwilv.  "Orgullo" is everything right with the powerful women that actually exist in the world without the baggage shoved down on them by people with too much time on their hands and an ax to grind.

In fact, I like it so much that I'm ordering a poster of it this week. If you have an opportunity you should check out Rimada's website because he's putting out some fantastic stuff.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Friday Art Fest, Week 10, 2016: "Tales from a Tin Can" by Brian Despain

"Tales from a Tin Can" by Brian Despain (source)
I love how playful Brian Despain's worlds are with their expressive robots that remind of SCUD the Disposable Assassin in the best way possible. Every painting he creates seems to expand on a world rooted in its own logic and that breathes with a vibrancy that many would kill for a tenth of what he's able to portray.  

I adore this painting. 

The robot with his clinched fist, puffed out chest, and open heart speaks to this determination that has me thinking about Superman and the Golden Age heroes that used to put fists on their hips and dispense justice to NAZIs without a care about their teenage sidekicks who are spinning about while bullets wiz over their heads. It's as though we're looking into an alternate timeline where the robots have been purposfully built to accomplish tasks that go far beyond the simple welding operations that Ford has concieved of and instead has moved towards something that would feel at home in Matt Groening's Futurama or William Shattner's Tek novels

If you get a chance you should definitely check out Despain's website as he's created a series of paintings that have given life to a world far more interesting than I can do justice. 

Sunday, February 28, 2016

O' Greyhawk, Where Art Thou?

The other day Christopher Perkins, Principle Story Designer for Dungeons and Dragons at Wizards of the Coast, put out a poll that went like this:


Out of the 2,829 votes Greyhawk got 538. Every other setting presented as an option by Perkins beat us by an average of 200 votes. That's just embarrassing.

I mean I get it; I really do. Dark Sun had a pretty popular relaunch during Fourth Edition (those Dark Sun books are actually really cool and you should totally check it out). Dragonlance still sells a ridiculous amount of novels and was really well supported throughout Third with an official Campaign Setting book and a bunch of third party releases from Margaret Weis and the Sovereign Press group. And of course Eberron was fully supported throughout Third and Fourth editions with supplements, adventures, novels, art, and articles on the website and the magazines. 

By contrast Greyhawk hasn't had anything officially published by Wizards of the Coast since 2007's Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk. Largely we've been absent from the conversation and we've seen Cannonfire, arguably the largest community of Greyhawk enthusiasts, steadily growing silent over the last few years. We're at a point as a group where we either need to become active in proselytizing the setting to other D&D enthusiasts or we need to recognize that the setting is going to become a footnote in the game's history. People will read about in Wikipedia as the place where Gary Gygax ran his games, and that will be all they'll know about it, and that's a damned shame.

The thing about it all is that we know Greyhawk shouldn't be left to such an undignified fate. As a setting it was home to many of the greatest adventures in the early days of the hobby. They're so good that even today we're seeing them shape what many people view as the standard of what a good adventure in our hobby looks like; which is great, but they're being moved out of Greyhawk and into the Realms as Wizards of the Coast uses them for inspiration and transplants them. They're creating a new standard of what good looks in modules like Princes of the Apocalypse for a whole new generation of fans that may never even think to go out and pick up what inspired their favorites. 

Greyhawk is a setting that I've found had enough room in it for my version of it, and for +Mike Bridges' version for it, and +Joseph Bloch's version for it, and for every other version you run into without the sort of cannon pissing contests that crop up every time you so much as mention the Forgotten Realms. The reason for that is that Greyhawk is so flexible as a setting: we have space ships, wars with demons and gods, artifacts so powerful that their names have been in every edition since they first appeared back in First Edition, all the named spells in every Player's Handbook came from characters that exist only in Greyhawk. Two of the most successful times in this hobby's history came about when Greyhawk was active: First and Third edition. In First, Greyhawk helped establish what was possible in the game and the adventures set there are still talked about today.  In Third, we saw the return of Greyhawk as it was the edition's setting; it was flexible, and by and large, loosely defined for this edition. In doing so it offered a level of freedom for new players that let them carve out their own Greyhawks and brought people like me into the community with this hunger for the setting.

Greyhawk is the setting that gives us the opportunity to do our own thing when we start out. We don't have a library of fiction that has established a narrative for our world that our Players feel we must hold tight to our bosoms. Our setting isn't filled to the brim with godlike non-player characters (NPCs) who shuffle our players' characters about the world like chess pieces; and quite frankly, the NPCs die far too easily in our setting for them to even hope to attain that level of Machiavellian power.

So how do we turn this about and bring Greyhawk back to the forefront? How do we get Wizards of the Coast to recognize what we see in this setting?

The simplest answer is that we have to get vocal about the setting. We have to tell the ladies and gentlemen of Wizards' D&D team that we want Greyhawk to come back with this edition of the game. We have to talk to them on Twitter and email the Wizards corporate office. But more than that we have to go to the places where people are talking about Dungeons and Dragons and role-playing games and engage them about the setting. We need to open Greyhawk up on reddit, and we need to encourage people to join it on Facebook. We need to be champions for Greyhawk, because if we aren't then no one else will be. 


Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Brutal Legends of Our Beginnings

Lately I've been playing a lot of Double Fine's Brutal Legend (which if you've never played you totally should check out) and I've come to believe that one of the things that has been missing from my favorite role-playing games is a sense that the world has a history that occurred long before my entrance into it. I don't mean just that the world has an sense of recent history with conflicts between nations, subterfuge, and racial / clan rivalries that color the way that the world functions; instead I'm talking about a deeper mythology that underpins everything. This mythological foundation to the game world is one of the things that Dragonlance did really. 

My first real interest in Dungeons & Dragons started with the the Dragonlance Blue Boxed set and its setting book that told this history of the world in this really great conversational style that would become a hallmark of the types of role-playing books that I love (shout out to Kevin Siembieda and his Rifts books for putting out some of the best examples of this style of writing in gaming). The way that the story of the world was written and the brilliant art that TSR coupled with the book kicked my imagination into overdrive. I've spent years taking its tantalizing descriptions and expanding them in my head to form my own understanding of the world. And yet I don't feel like I've ever had that level of engagement with my favorite setting: Greyhawk. 

Don't get me wrong I've put in a lot of hours shaping the world in a fashion that suits my sensibilities but there's always been this blank spot in my mind when it comes to making the world have that same sort of place that Dragonlance, Iron Kingdoms, Warhammer, and Rifts have occupied. So I'm asking for you help today. Do you know the legends of Greyhawk? What are its mythological foundations? Who created the world? What history exists beyond the Suloise and Baklunish Wars?

Help a brother out. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

What's Weighing on You, Holmes?

Lately I've been reading a lot from people who want me to only read people of color, or to only have books with people of color as the leads, or that focus on minority groups / issues / what have you; and it's gotten me to thinking that a lot of these people must have terrible imaginations and nothing going on in their lives for this to be the thing they've latched onto as the solution to the world's problems. I've read authors who are gay, female, of races different from my own, from cultures I've never encountered and many of them have been fun to read - but none of those factors were what lead me to read them. I've got books that I've deeply enjoyed with lead protagonists that fit just about every possible spectrum and not once have I picked up a book and read it because the lead fit one of those categories. Why?

Because I'm not a moron. You see the only reason why you should ever pick up a book to read is because the story appeals to you.

Like I love post-apocalyptic fiction so I read a lot of stuff like Spider Robinson's Telempath (thanks to +Jeffro Johnson  for peaking my interest in Spider to begin with), Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren, and Walter M. Miller, Jr.'s A Canticle for Leibowitz. These books are filled with all kinds of protagonists that range across the political / cultural / racial / sexual landscape; but you know what? I didn't pick any of these books up because of who the protagonist was and what category they could be placed into. I picked those books up and read them because they sounded fucking amazing. Check out this blurb for Dhalgren:

The world has gone mad, society has perished, savagery rules over all. All that was known is over. All that was familiar is strange and terrible. Today and yesterday colide with tomorrow. In these dying days of earth, a young drifter enters the city . . . Dhalgren. 

Jesus! That hooked me and then I read the first page and knew I had to read Delany. His writing is so, just, breathtaking. I'm 23 pages into the book (second time trying to read it since the first time was interrupted by my son being sick and me forgetting everything else) and I have already gone through a weird sex thing with a tree-ish lady, picked up a hand-held death glove, and jumped through broken glass. This book is fucking amazing!

Did I know ahead of time that Delany was gay or that he was black? Fuck no! And even after finding it out I still don't care. Those things don't matter to me because what matters is Delany's work. He has produced a thing of beauty that stands outside of himself, pressing back against the world and reshaping our expectation of what should come next. Dhalgren is strange, and terrible, and wonderful all at the same time and to cloud that up with bleating on about the author's skin color, or his sexual preference, does a disservice to it by distracting from this beautiful thing he's accomplished. And that's what you miss when you get wrapped up in the "Message First" crowd.

They don't care that Dhalgren is a work of brilliance. I mean, it's nice and all, but what really matters to them is that Delany is black and gay. SO WE MUST READ HIM! And you absolutely should read him because Dhalgren is amazing but you're going to miss out on it as you try to warp everything into you message about his race and sexual orientation shaping his world. You're going to miss out on the fantastic weirdness that permeates every page and the beautiful turns he does with such little effort. Let me put this another way, focusing on Delany's race and sexual orientation over his writing would be like focusing on the way that Philip K. Dick died instead of his writing. You're not doing either author any favors and you're only taking away from what they've done.

Stop it. Just read books that sound good to you and worry about the rest of that noise later. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The World Should Be Interesting

I spend a lot of time thinking about the world of Greyhawk and how I want it to feel for my players and lately something I've been spending a lot of time pondering is the way that people look. You know, fashion. Which is an incredibly odd thing for a flannel shirt and overall wearing hippie like me to be concerning myself with; and yet there it is, right at the forefront of my mind. On the one hand I have this very traditionalist bent in my mind where I want the people of Dyvers (and of Greyhawk in general) to dress like they're living in the middle to late Middle Ages with pantaloons, and blouses, and lots of curly long hair like you might see on the cover of the wife's latest trashy romance novel. Then I have this side of me that says, "You've got guns, and lasers, and sexbots, son. Why the fuck do they have to wear that boring shit? Why would they?"

So then I spend a couple of hours looking at fashion sites and wondering if maybe I shouldn't set myself on fire instead as that seems like it might be a better use of my time. I mean have you spent any time looking at fashion online? Don't get me wrong, some of it's perfectly okay and there's nothing wrong with the occasional dude wearing a purse and prancing like a show pony but so often it's just ill fitting foolishness that no one can wear or hope to wear. And then I think, but wouldn't it be cool if people did?

Menswear – Mugler SS12 via catwalk yourself
I mean just think about if you saw a group of guys walking towards you on a dark night in a world where people can cast magic spells and shake the heavens with their anger at the gods. Men like these go from looking like a sideshow afterthought into a terrifying sight - and that's what I'm looking for in the fashion of my world. I want there to be more in the world than just a bunch of hillbillies in overalls and tee shirts working on their broken down pickup trucks. I want the world filled with a diverse style of dress that will let my players know that when they encounter someone dressed in a certain way that it means something. 

Fall-Winter 1990 Haute Couture Christian Lacroix via mississipy.livejournal.com
Just look at this dress! If I saw someone dressed like this in my game than I would immediately assume that she was some sort of nobility or wealthy individual AND the confidence she exudes standing there! That's the sort of thing that I want in my games. 

Chanel pre-fall 2013 via mississipy.livejournal.com

And just look at this woman here from the Chanel pre-fall 2013 collection. Tell me that if you saw this woman walking down the boardwalk that you would be surprised if she pulled out a wand and started casting spells at you. I mean the look screams out modern witch in the best way possible and she is pushing that whole narrative with that pissed off look on her face. It's just what I'm looking for in my games because it presents this whole new realm of possibilities that the old pantaloon and blouse look never did for me. 

I guess what I'm saying here is that I'm looking at fashion websites for inspiration and while about two thirds of it makes me want to slit my wrists there's this last group that just is really just what I need. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

I Saw Star Wars [Spoilers Inside]

Spoilers


Spoilers


SPOILERS!




So I saw Star Wars and enjoyed the fuck out of it. I loved the explosions; didn't fucking care that the main Chick was stupid good at everything; and hated that Han went out like a bitch. In fact that's my only real complaint: Han Solo died like a pussy while he gently caressed his murderous son's face. 

Fuck that. 

He's mother fucking Han I-shot-first-and-fucking-loved-watching-the-life-drain-out-of-his-eyes SOLO. He gets stabbed with a god damned light saber his instinct is to pull that gun off his hip and empty the barrel into that dick's face. 

You know what would have made it a lot fucking better too? Godzilla. 

Planet with a sun draining laser beam? Godzilla will take that blast and fuck the planet to death.

Star destroyer breaking up in the atmosphere and killing hundreds of innocent people? Godzilla does that every day. Why are you crying about those people this time? What? Did you forget that Godzilla hates you more because you're whining about the fucking force and some chick who can do everything?

What I'm saying is that this movie could have used a lot more Godzilla and Han shooting people in their stupid fucking faces. 


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Overheard in the Lunchroom

The other day I was sitting in the lunchroom talking with my friend M when I overheard a conversation two of my co-workers were having and I thought it would be fun to share it here.

------------------- ------------------- ------------------- -------------------

"I'm so damned tired of this election bullshit already."

"I know, right. It's like every time we turn around one of those dumbasses is on TV trying to out crazy the other guys."

"True facts."

"So do you think that Trump would play a Barbarian?"

"Totally. That guys all, 'Rargh, Mu-slims ain't rights!'"

"Truth!"

"What about Obama?"

"Bard."

"Really?"

"Oh, yeah. He talks a good game; most people love him but nothing meaningful ever gets done by him."

"What about Hillary?"

"God she'd totally be a fighter running about in a pantsuit just hoping that everyone else would listen to her for once and do what she says."

"But they never would."

"Not one fucking time."




I love my geeky co-workers. 


Friday, January 1, 2016

Stones Carried in Wheel Barrels


It's 2016 and that means that it's time for all kinds of resolutions, predictions, and regrets that haunt us for years to come. But if you're looking for that sort of thing then you'll have to check back later because today is my day for looking back on some of my favorite things said at the table over the last year. So here they are, in no particular order, some of my favorite things said around the table, the characters (and occasionally the people), and what was happening for a bit of context. Hope you enjoy them.

****** Dyvers, the Home of Classy Happenings ******

This might not be the right time or place but I hope that your wife gets gonorrhea and that they change it's name to her's so that generations from now people look at each other and say, "Did you see that skeezy bastard I went home with last night?  I hope he didn't give me Helen!" 
-- Sir Roderick Stone, said before the King on his majesty's wedding day. 

I heard the King likes to fuck pigs.
-- Megan, Destroyer of Virginity and Slayer of Orks, as she attempted to enter the King's hall with her seven prized boar.

Brother I hope that God-damned bus hits you on your way to church and that the Devil wakes you up each morning with a gentle caress along your cheek while whispering, "Isn't this nice Steve? Don't you think we should re-do the living room? Maybe in 100 year old oak floors and mauve?" And that no matter what you do he's never fucking happy.
-- James Holloway, the Gay Bard, upon learning that he wasn't the first in the group to see Star Wars

Yeah, well, your brother's dick is bigger.
-- Alissa Lexington, the Elder, said to her husband after he told her that he thought her sister was hotter than her and that she should lose some weight. 

Does anyone else smell sulfur? I'm allergic you know.
-- Nevil Stone, the Diabolist. 

So I hear that your Mother gives great head.
-- Staff Sgt. Sarah Jones in reply to Ambassador Ambrose of the Sartan Empire's demand that she surrender.

Fuck a bunch of ice.
-- Ozark Pizark, Captain of the Galloway Cruiser, after being told that there were ice bergs nearby.

So does your Butler always fuck owlbears or is this just something he does for special guests?
-- Milo Barker, envoy of Dyvers, upon meeting the Mayor of Greyhawk.

Look, if you're going to be a bitch about it then fine; you go in there and fuck it.
-- Megan, Destroyer of Virginity and Slayer of Orks, as she shoved the complaining wizards into the pit with the Rock Troll.

If my Bard only sings Death Metal can I use intimidate instead of perform for my checks? Pretty sure that's the sort of character I'm playing tonight
-- Poot, my brother, as he sat down at the table with his Half-Orc.

Have you ever taken a shit so big that it grew legs and climbed out of the bowl so it could slap you across the mouth? Pretty sure that just happened to me. 
-- Grodnar the Flatulent, as he opened negotiations with a war band of goblins that had surrounded the city


Stay classy kids.

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