Sunday, December 30, 2012

Closing Time Contemplations.

It never fails, no matter how oblivious we are, we always seem to find ourselves unavoidably thoughtful when it occurs to us that something is coming to a close. That moment we realize we’ll never walk down those hallways, as we turn the lights out for the last time, or as we look back upon a childhood home and comprehend the simple truth that we don’t live there anymore. No matter the reason things change, time is loath to remain stagnant for us, and neither should it. Each phase in our life is a piece of a greater whole, one that we are always building on.

The irony is that most of us don’t see the overall picture of things until we come to the end of one of those periods in our life. And, it goes without saying, since we are now coming to the end of another year we find ourselves dazed by the ringing of the bell. What have we been doing before it rang? Are we ready for what comes next? Who knows, but I for one am taking the time to pause and reflect on some things.

For example, a topic of much awkwardness for me is the inevitable fact that like many of those who came before me I am going to find myself bald. As a younger man I regularly proclaimed that perhaps I might find salvation from my mother’s family traits and only have my hair thin somewhat. I even defended myself by saying that if bald is what I was meant to be then I would accept it and just enjoy my long hair while I could.

Truth be told I have been having to take note that with each passing day I see more and more strands of hair clinging to the brush or depositing themselves on my hands as I shower. The occasional snapshots that highlight my growing bald spot alone provide me with evidence than my past notions may be less than accurate. But the real lingering question for me is weather  I should stand defiant as I continue to loose hair little by little or if I should accept matters and resign myself to cut my hair. The latter would certainly provide me with a means of controlling the matter and possibly maintaining some personal sense of dignity.

As much as any man(myself included) can joke about themselves or others going bald it affects them. There is something about the realization that can be hard to accept. In reality it’s easy to see how so many can turn to various methods to regrow lost hair or prevent further hair loss. I’ve just never been one of those types I have to say.

So, as much as it pains me to admit - I will miss having my long hair. I’ll miss braiding it. Hell I’ll miss how it makes me look. But, I think as I look back this new years I can say that watching my hair being lost in a slow steady rate is something that would prove far more painful than the alternative. I guess 2012 will mark the end of the braid and usher in 2013 as the beginning of a new time for me.

As the year comes to a close, take a moment and really look back yourself. Even if there is nothing you feel obligated to change about yourself there are always things to reflect on in your life. The year is going to end, but a new one will start. At the very least we get to choose how we will begin it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

An Obligatory Annual Blog Post.

November 18th 1981. The infamous date of my manufacture. Honestly, that's how I refer to it to my kids and wife. Don’t believe me? Go ahead, go ask them! For a very long time I have insisted to them that I was built in a factory, not born and as such don’t get a birthday. Now you might cry foul, scream it’s a lie till you're hoarse but the truth is that in a way I was created in a factory. For a part of the miracle that is life is held in the powerful life producing factory known as a mother’s womb.

All metaphors aside, you may still be curious as to why I would even make such a claim in the first place. Well, let me at least endeavor to explain myself. Hasn’t worked yet so maybe this time I will have some semblance of success. Yeah, that wasn’t a joke...

See it all began I guess as a young man on, ironically enough, my birthday. While my cousins and other friends would have gatherings with multiple people and receive big gifts; I never did. Even my family party I always had saw only a handful of close relatives. Once I was old enough to invite some friends from school and do a separate little party I tried a few times to do just that. Unfortunately almost nobody ever showed.

As a young man this shaped me in a way, especially as someone who struggled with every form of social interaction. For me all I could see is a sense of self worth. Coupled with the fact that for some reason I never could quite seem to receive gifts that suited me. Actually, it was rare on any holiday for me to be given a gift that I truly wanted. I know that sounds really conceited and selfish but it was true. I was that odd kid that my relatives somehow didn’t get.

Perhaps it was a view of myself that I imposed on me because of such events. Or rather, just maybe, I would have come to view myself the same way anyway. You see; I have ever since formed the stance that my birthday is not a day worthy of celebration. For me it is just another day. I have never been comfortable in any form of limelight, I don’t like being the focus of attention. And I can see no real value or worth in celebrating my existence each year.

I am just a man. I’m no famous intellectual. I’ve never created or discovered anything important. Each year I get a little older, each year not much changes. For me, it’s just another day. A day I hope to avoid the random attention of cheerful greetings and awkward questions of if I feel any older etc. Most folks don’t even remember that it is my birthday to be fair. Those that do generally only do so because something like Facebook reminds them. Even then it’s just a vague obligatory happy day comment and that's the end of it.

Really, I don’t mean to be a curmudgeon about the issue. I know there are those who truly love me and look at my date of manufacture differently. But for me, I genuinely have to embrace a sort of form of false-bravado regarding the day. Because every time I get any hopes up of seeing friends sincerely wishing me a happy day, of cherished gifts and feeling that I still exist is something valued I find myself hurt.

So, instead I just insist to my kids and everyone else that I don’t have a birthday, I have a date of manufacture. And as such I don’t need a cake, party or gifts. I always feel so terrible when someone went to the trouble to give me something they imagined I’d like or that they didn’t consider beforehand. Because if they spent money on me I absolutely hate trying to be graceful knowing that they might see it in my eyes and then it will hurt their feelings. If I don’t make a big deal of the day, if I can keep it quiet then that means less people feel obligated to make a big deal on my behalf.

That said you may think this whole post has been counter-productive. Not so, in fact it has served it’s purpose. I just wanted to establish my reasons why I have been this way. I don’t mean to come across as an ass or jerk. But for many years I have watched the day in particular come and go. Sometimes it was forgotten, others it just simply was never important enough for others to share with me. I can appreciate how my mother and wife(and others) feel about it. In fact I hope nobody holds it against me or has ever been hurt by my views of the date. It really is a mixed bag for me; I was always content with the little things I received. Never did I need the larger parties or lavish gifts others had, but it has to be said that every time nobody showed it... Well, I have no words for it.

Story of my life. I know some will judge me, some may even chastise me, but please try to consider my reasoning. Forgive me if I am sully, and do understand I appreciate your kind words and well wishes. You will even have my sincere gratitude if you're one of the rare non looked for souls to deliver a gift to me no matter what it is. But please, don’t hold it against me if I am ever less than ecstatic in my response.

I suppose as I look back there really is no way to explain myself without being seen as some form of Ebenezer Scrooge. It is what it is then. If possible, forgive me.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

What Games Stay, And Games Go?

Every computer shares one single trait in common - finite storage space. Oh, you can back things up to external drives and the like but when you get down to it you can only install so much software before you have to face the dreaded realization that you are starting to exhaust your available storage space. And of all the things to consider when it comes to installed software, games tend to be one of the more awkward ones.

Deciding what games to keep and what to remove can be difficult. It never fails there is always that one game you actually enjoyed but haven’t played in awhile that you can’t quite bring yourself to remove. And what of those familiar ones sitting patiently on your desktop that you play occasionally but never seem to do much with. How do you evaluate what should go and what is safe to stay?

Well here is a few things to ask yourself when you're mulling it over -

- How often will I actually play it? Ask yourself, honestly, just how regularly you actually can see yourself playing the game. Some games, while fun, we often just don’t actually play all that often for whatever reasons. If the game is good enough to hook you in on a regular basis and proves to keep you entertained more often than not then it has earned a spot on your hard drive. However, if you find yourself only diving into the game on rare occasions for a short jaunt that leaves you less than satisfied then perhaps it’s time to part ways.

- Just how much enjoyment am I getting out of this game? Seriously, just how fun is the game? Are you grinding for hours daily without a smile at the end? If the game is more work than play or you tend to find yourself irritated by other players, perhaps even the gameplay itself, then it could be a clear sign it’s space could be better used. On the alternate side, if you instead keep finding yourself grinning ear to ear and raving about the good times you're having to friends and family - keep that game. If you're enjoying the game that much, then that's all that matters. It is a game after all!

- Is the game just a repeat of another game I already play? All too often overlooked we sometimes find ourselves with multiple games on our machines that are little more than pale clones of each other. We’ve all done it, there is no shame here. But if you have a game you are playing and then you log out to do the same exact thing with only some subtle name changes you might want to evaluate your reasons why.

- Why did I get the game in the first place? Namely, was this a game you installed as a temporary thing to play while you waited for something else you wanted? It does happen, you really want to play game x, but it isn’t out yet or you haven’t found it just yet. So instead you stumble on to game y and decide to try it out in the meantime in hopes it will satisfy your cravings. Next thing you know you have game x and game y is still lingering on your system. If that is the case then it might be time to cut it loose. Even so, game y might have proven itself to have some unseen value and you might just opt to keep it too.

When you get down to it, only you can evaluate just what merits staying and what is destined to part ways with you. You can always reinstall and come back later too. But if your space is getting limited you could do yourself a favor and really think about what all you have on your system. Is it really engaging enough that it sucks you in and keeps you entertained? Everyone is different, but everyone can run out of room if they keep everything installed. Might not always be the easiest decisions in the world, but sometimes you just gotta do it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The State Of Play.

Let’s get one thing straight, right here and now - I have always had a love/hate relationship with games. There are those games that I can lose myself in and devour their content. Unfortunately, it seems my tastes often relegate that most games I come across lack any appeal to me. To further torment me, I am often at the complete mercy to whimsical moods. Allow me to explain; do you ever just crave a particular taste to the point nothing else satisfies? You might have countless options before you that you could partake of instead and yet that burning, gnawing drive inside you roars at you declaring, unequivocally, that - nothing else will do.

Where everyone has cravings for food and the like, I am more often confronted by another kind, one that seizes upon my mind and imagination with the grip of an iron vise. To illustrate my point it was as a child that I discovered the pure joy of role playing games and the like. However as I grew to become acquainted I soon found myself wanting for a game that could meet the needs of my imagination. So I set myself to constructing my own. It grew to become a mix of various sci-fi elements that I could at the time not find anywhere else.

Recently I found myself in yet another such quandary. Having played World of Warcraft for several years I eventually became saturated with it’s content. That is the best way I can describe it. I had played so much of it’s setting for so long I simply discovered I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. Even the advent of the latest expanded content and with it the altered mechanics did nothing to rekindle my interest in the game. So, with a friends recommendation I gave Lord of the Rings Online a shot. Immediately I had found a renewed outlet for my passion and imagination, something with which I could entertain myself as I consumed it’s content.

Lord of the Rings Online went on to provide me with plenty of fun for quite some time, and still does. Honestly, I think I would still be logging in and playing even a little each day save for one simple thing. It isn’t a sci-fi game. Forgive me if I duck for cover before I continue.

Obviously, I am abundantly aware that it is a fantasy game. There was never any confusion when I started to play the game, especially considering as I am a well read fan of everything Tolkien. However, you recall those whimsical cravings I mentioned before? Yep, I became sledgehammered but one and the same. Before I could even realize it I was dying to immerse myself in something different. Something sci-fi, anything sci-fi in fact. So I set down and thought about it, and decided to see what I could find. How hard could it possibly be to find a game that could meet some simple criteria -

A. The game had to have some sci-fi elements to it. Give me hover bikes instead of a mount, let me traverse great distances in a spacecraft or something. Instead of magic and swords, show me energy weapons, high tech gadgetry perhaps some psionic powers even. Offer me genetically modified people, mutated races and aliens. Basically, I want an escape from fantasy, don’t give me more dragons and magical elves.

B. Don’t force competitive play on me, let me enjoy an engaging storyline and some good old fashioned PVE. If I want to challenge another player or group up for a quest etc, then I will. But, call me crazy, I just generally prefer to play at my own pace and loose myself in the game for a bit.

C. Please, whatever you do, don’t make me attempt some complex control system to try to play. Not everyone has the hand eye coordination of a savant.

Armed with these thoughts I started to look for something new to play, only to discover an interesting notion. Apparently, in the MMO industry sci-fi games are relegated to the areas of first person shooters, real time strategy and let’s not forget flight simulator styled shooters. None of them an appealing fit for what I desired. The only exceptions that I could find were Star Wars The Old Republic, and Star Trek Online. Having played the former during a trial weekend I can say it was a promising option, but it is also one that has yet to go free to play. Additionally, it is one that particularly appeals primarily to fans of the franchise. Being a fan myself that isn’t a major issue, yet Star Wars is a very particular taste on it’s own. Something with a bit broader appeal would be nice.

With regard to the other option being Star Trek online... Well, okay, let’s be fair here; I am and have been a Star Trek fan for a very long time. I have always liked the harder science to it as opposed to the more fantastical elements in Star Wars. I am one of the rare breed of geeks that likes both equally. That said, I gotta admit that Star Trek Online seems less of a rpg and more of, well, something else. I haven’t tried it yet but the more I watch about it, I regretfully don’t feel it’s pull to play it.

Those two pillars no longer really options at the moment I had more digging to do. Here is a short list of those free to play titles I have explored thus far and a few notes on my own findings.

DC Universe Online - I have always preferred Marvel over DC myself but being a comic book nerd and all I thought why not try out this renowned title. The game’s story and mix of cinemagraphics with comic styled splash screens was a welcome delight. Making my own Hero(or Villain if you wanted) was equally enjoyable. I was fascinated with how my character found themselves involved and was forced to make their way to freedom. The whole thing was quite a fun experience.

Yeah, there is a but coming. The controls. Simply put, the controls were very awkward for me and no matter how I adjusted things my mouse seemed to lag behind my movements. Perhaps it was partially due to my less than optimal spec’s but in any event it kinda ruined it for me. I considered the path of perseverance, but after trying a different hero I eventually reserved myself to turn my attentions elsewhere in hopes of unearthing that slumbering treasure that awaited.

Global Agenda; Free Agent - While the game proclaimed itself as a rpg based shooter I thought it was at least worth a try considering how little sci-fi games I was seeing. What I found was a game that was more shooter than anything and irritating controls. I can’t really say more about the game honestly. It had graphics that were ‘meh’ and the weapons I obtained really didn’t seem all that effective/appropriate.

Argo Online - Claiming to be a ‘Hybrid MMO’ Argo Online isn’t too bad of a game in reality. It has a fascinating view on a steampunk future with some fantasy mixed in in such a way that oddly works. The only real complaints I have about it is mainly in the garbled text for quests and the like. I can even accept that classes are presented as gender locked, but reading a quests description riddled with typos and gibberish just doesn’t set well with my brain. If you push aside some of the how’s and why’s of the story and just play through the motions of the game you can have a decent enough time with the game.

I can’t say Argo is a perfect fit for me by any means, especially with so much fantasy still interwoven with not quite enough sci-fi. However, in a pinch like my own I have to say it is one of the more serviceable options out there.

Rusty Hearts - Upon reading the words ‘solo dungeon gameplay’ I immediately knew I had to give this one a shot. Rusty Hearts is for lack of a better term Frankenstein game of sorts. It manages to fuse cell shaded anime styles along with cgi rendered animations. The whole thing is then wrapped in a neat little action focused horror themed game. Seriously, all the characters you can choose to play are plucked straight out of a Gothic story anime as it were. There is your mysterious man bitten by a werewolf, a reluctant vampire, even scantily females with blades and guns etc.

What I have played so far has been interesting to say the least. Again, Rusty Hearts is a far cry from my target but I think I could see myself picking this one back up from time to time to play more. I think it would really depend on how the storyline develops etc.

Vindictus - A gem I never would have ever had the pleasure of otherwise. Granted it isn’t at all what I was looking for it stuck out as it kept popping up in my searches. In Vindictus you take on one of 5 characters, something I actually didn’t like the idea of in fact. But the reality is that you select one of the 5 not as a set persona but as a base mold as it were. You could just as easily call it your race and class rolled into one. After a brief intro sequence as a unnamed hooded rookie you get to have a taste of gameplay before settling in to define how your character looks etc.

The game itself is a very action combat focused mmorpg, that kind of reminded me of something like a diablo game was before diablo 3 but from a 3rd person perspective instead of the top down view. Out of all my finds thus far this is one I can’t help but recommend more people give a try.  

RF Online - Another hopeful gamble I quickly found myself having second thoughts. A game that looked to lean heavily on some great Sci-fi elements I had actually thought maybe this could be the one. Not so lucky. As soon as I installed the game I was greeted with the surprise that apparently all the servers were down because of some mystery issue. While I awaited an official update to inform me they were again available I poked around the forums and continued my searching. One of my first inklings was an almost lack of activity from other players on the forums. To further weigh on me was the realization that I wasn’t seeing any official posts of updates, explanations etc. After waiting almost 2 days I finally decided to try logging in again just out of curiosity. To my surprise everything was back up and running and nothing had ever been said. Not. A. Word.

But, I could deal with such matters, I could - if the game was worth playing. Which, RF Online could be. It has so much potential to be a great game. And yet right off the bat my 1st character started off with 3 different weapons for him to use and all of them did as much or more than the highest level gear in any store. I literally one shotted just about everything I came across, and with one of them being an artillery launcher that meant entire clusters of critters were powerless against me. At level one, that is not okay. I played for a little while and my levels just climbed rapidly, in fact I quickly had the trouble that my levels were going up so fast I couldn’t manage to keep my skills leveled high enough to enable me to use a lot of the gear I was being rewarded with.

Like a spot light turned on someone with a migraine there was so much that screamed at me that wasn’t okay from a design standpoint. Everything you killed dropped sometimes 6-10 small shiny cubes. To pick up your loot you had to click on every single item. One. At. A. Time. The whole thing rapidly lead to crammed bags with no real way to sort through what was worth gathering up and what wasn’t. Another headache was the fact no npc had any way of marking if they had a quest for you or not, and if they happened to, they wouldn’t say if you even could attempt it. To further irritate you those same npc’s refused to explain how to refine/process any materials or how much such a service might cost if they could provide it. The whole time I played I collected tons of materials and never once found what I could've done with them period. There wasn’t much sense in selling them either because they had 0 value, and everything else that could be sold did me 0 good either. Like I said - you start with weapons so far advanced you have no reason to invest in any that you could by. Hint - When you you spend a couple hours and only then begin to find a weapon that might do not even 10% of your base damage, well, that is not a good thing.

Don’t even get me started on the ridiculously slow speed that your character ‘runs’ at. Covering vast terrain that you are required to is infuriating at best. I still want to like this game, it whispers so many great promises like a bad ex tempting you back but overall it will just keep hurting you.

Sevencore - The most recent game to land on my screen is Sevencore. Like Argo it seems to be a mixed genre game but unlike Argo it has fewer choices in classes. There is a total of 4 races and yep you guessed it 4 classes. Now, they are not gender locked so you can make a male or female of any race and or class you prefer. Gameplay so far seems fairly generic with vanilla go here kill x number of this and retrieve this item type quests. Leveling seems to be fairly quick and the whole routine is pretty standard. You level up, get awarded a new skill or the like and turn in your quests for a new or improved piece of gear. One interesting thing to point out is that it looks like there is no set healer class. Instead each character has potion like items resembling burgers and sodas or some such and you can set a slider on your health/energy to set when you will automatically consume said resources. The whole process automates self healing leaving you free to do what most players enjoy - killing the monsters. Weather this will be a blessing or not I can’t say.

My next step I think will be to categorize the games that will see further play before a more permanent decision is reached and which will get the axe of deletion to make way for any further gambles. So, by all means if you happen to have a game to recommend or your own observations to share then I am all ears. And if you're in a similar situation then I feel for you, perhaps I can save you some of the frustration of debating about what to try. Either way just bear in mind that your mileage may vary.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Braided Wire - Part 1.

The following is the first in a piece of a story born from a single submitted seed.

One glance up at the afternoon sky was all the reminder Pax needed that it was nearing shift change. He could of referenced his own internal chronometer, even called on his systems to calculate a precise time based on his given position relative to any number of variables. But marking the sun's descent from the sky was enough. A small joy he had grown to treasure. Even so, Pax had work to finish. The dock's were a lifeline for the young colony and one single fact he had come to hold absolute was that it was not going to fix itself.

From atop his over-patched perch he directed the sun bleached yellow freight sled to glide over the pebble strew dirt towards a makeshift wall formed from old storage containers. As he adjusted the throttle he could both feel the inertia negators as they kicked in to slow the sled just as he marked the change in octave of the vessel's whisper like hum. About 3.42 hertz off he noted, probably a sign the old work horse would fail in about 4, perhaps midway through 4 shifts from now. Best he make sure to trade shifts with O'Bannon and ensure he was on hand to overhaul it.

Pax had no doubt in his peers capability to handle such repairs. But for him it was a matter of pride, if it was something he could handle he always felt better knowing it was taken care of. Much like the pressing matter of his current task; the cargo lift for this storage bay was out and sorely needed to handle some supplies arriving in a few hours. Didn't take more than a moment to observe the problem - some loose wiring had gotten snagged and become shredded. A routine enough repair, he would just have to run some new wire and splice it in. It was something Pax had done a million times but as he reached for a spool of wire he could hear an old familiar voice.

"Your new here," began the small bearded figure crouched over a length of wires. "So I will give you a piece of advice - always braid your wires. It'll save you some headaches later on," he continued. "But why braid the wire?" Pax replied not aware of the complete lack of understanding written on his face. "Well, son," he began without even looking up from his work, "by braiding the wire we strengthen it. Those single strands, once woven together form something far stronger and durable than their individual parts. Much like people," he added as he stood up to double check his handiwork. "Name's Jerry," he proclaimed, wiping his hands on a scrap of blue checkered cloth before holding one out in greeting.

"Pax, you can call me Pax," he remembered nervously informing Jerry as they shook hands for the first time. And just as sudden as the memory had gripped him, Pax now found himself looking on as he finished braiding the strand of new wire. The thoughts of Jerry had brought to mind so many other things - chiefly the regret that he was no longer around. Something that should of been little more than a footnote in his internal logs, and yet it still hurt deep down in his core.

Only a single spark took his mind off matters and reminded him there was still things to look forward too. Things like as soon as his shift ended he could pick up his pay and visit a little piece of joy in his life. Her name was Vass, and while she worked at the local nightclub, Dusk, she alone could always manage to make him smile. The  thought of seeing her always sustained him.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tending To The Creative Fields.

I'll be honest here, I haven't written a single scrap of fiction in a decent bit. Now, I could cite various explanations, giving detailed reasons even. But, the truth of it all is that those would just be exscuses - exscuses for not doing something for which there shouldn't be.
I have tried several times to start another story or two, but as you can see nothing ever came out of it. It has left me feeling quite guilty, I do admit. Especially with the advent of having a Nook now where I can literally write from anywhere. A dear friend recently posted a interesting notion himself, one that both looks fun and brought to mind a old project of my own.
My Requiem setting has been a delight to write about for a long time now, one that I constantly strive to share with others. The setting itself though has grown over time and been shaped by more hands than just my own. For example there are some planets and other locations that would never have been without the afore mentioned project. About ten or so years back I decided to implement a form on an old site whereby readers could submit details for a planet or other place of interest. Now, the end result wasn't a flood of submissions, but there was enough material that gave birth to some of what has become landmarks of Requiem.
So, in an effort to kick start the creative cogs I have decided to undertake a little endeavor. It is one though, that I cannot do alone. The idea, as it stands is this; starting today I am accepting two types of submissions for my fiction. The first can be any ideas for a planet or other place of interest, as detailed as you like. The second, can be a story seed for anything you'd like to see more about or just simply want to challenge me to attempt. If it is the later, however, my only request is that it be limited to a single phrase or a few topics/words.
Each week I will select a submission to attempt that will be posted on Monday morning. If your submission is selected I will credit you as inspiration, email you a copy and if it is a location allow you to preview the work before it is posted.
My goal is not only to get back to regularly writing, but to also expand upon Requiem.
Submissions can be emailed to me Here, or tweeted to me @SilverPenScribe.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Fallacy Of A Balanced Adventuring Party.

Let's clear something up, right here and right now.

Are you ready?

Setting down? Don't worry, I'll wait...

Good? Okay. Brace yourself; cause these words you may not like hearing.

There is no such thing as a 'balanced party.' Not in the sense so many people think of them. Don't believe me? Well let's do a little example here to illustrate my point. Imagine if you would a 4 person party, and let's say this party is one with the simplest form of balance possible - 4 fighters. They're all the same level, same race, and we won't even consider feats/skills etc. Now, you could say that you have a party of 4 identical characters with zero chances of being unbalanced. But here is the curve ball of a point - each fighter has selected a different weapon as their only difference. One may have taken a longbow, one a greatsword, another a mace and shield, the last a pair of short swords.

Even with such a rudimentary group we already have a unbalanced or 'un-fair' element many would declare as foul play. For instance if the fighter with his long bow gets his turn first some foes might be eliminated before the others can get in close enough to fight. In contrast if the foe is too big or is already in too close he might feel not feel effective. Is this party unbalanced? No. Because no party should be gauged against each other, they aren't battling one another. Instead the party is a team and as a team their effectiveness is the sum total of all of the members and how they act in concert against a foe.

A wizard may be powerful in regards to his spells but that is a limited resource that once depleted leaves him vulnerable. The fighter may not be limited in regards to such a resource but it is him who can protect the wizard and enable him to work his magic. You don't bench part of your team because their skill is beyond the others. No, you try to place your players where they are strongest and allow them to maximize each other.

Think about it. And while your at it check out this article with more such points to consider. A game is about having a fun enjoyable experience. If everyone does end up with such an outcome then that is what matters. Isn't it? The only balance we should worry about is between the players and the opposing team(i.e. - monsters etc.), right?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Breaking News; Trolls No Longer Content With Bridges And Caves.

Passion, it has always been both powerful in it's motivation as it is terrifying in how it affects some of us. For example, with the valiant efforts being attempted towards #dndnext, it has also brought with it something terrible. Trolls. And unlike the creatures of folklore these seem less than content to remain under their bridges or caves. Granted, this is all to be expected, and if such individuals were to remain under their respective locales and only confront those miss-fortunate passerby's it could be written off as understandable. But instead, what we find is a collective of agitated trolls who have left their haunts to stalk about and stir up any form of confrontation possible.

Common sense might demand a simple placement of an adage much like one at any zoo or wildlife park; 'Don't feed the trolls.' With such advice we could just smile, nod, and go on our merry way. The problem with this is that the professed cause isn't the cause. Supposedly, most of these trolls are citing issues with the playtest material, claiming various design elements flawed or ill-suited to them. To be fair, this is a playtest and Wizards did ask for our feedback to help ensure the best possible game they could deliver. However, like agitated piranha these folks aren't simply content to provide legitimate feedback - not even fair criticism. Instead they seem driven to feverishly shred every possibly positive notion they come across.

I've been excitedly following the topic of #dndnext since the open playtest was released in hopes of seeing other people's thoughts and reactions. I've even tried to refrain as often as I could from being dragged into heated debates over the issue. But unfortunately, like a well known bridge I have found myself often facing a troll as I strive to move on to greener meadows. Even negative feedback can be helpful, I can appreciate that from a design standpoint. But actively going out of your way to attack and provoke aggressive verbal exchanges over a subject does little more than to poison the overall topic. Weather this is a goal for some or not I can't say. What I can say is that with each passing day the more floods of negative commentary that continues to tear down any attempt at working towards an improved version of the game only drives me to believe that some people can never be happy. And as such make me question weather or not any open discussion is even possible.

Even if you strive not to engage these trolls, or feed them as it were, you can't ignore them without fearing for the future of the game. Because these voices, these loud negative voices are speaking about a topic that is being shaped by everyone who chooses to talk about it. And no matter how one sided or flawed their arguments might be they are being heard as we all have a right to be. If you like what your seeing you have a right to say so, just as much as if you don't. But with that that said you must also remember you don't have the right to relentlessly assault every opinion anyone else has. Say your piece in the playtest feedback if you want to shape the game's future. But, please, don't discount the process and tear it down without taking part.

It's one thing to enter into a discussion with someone on a topic, to listen to their views and then politely explain your own. Quite another to discount everything others say and claim to be victimized/ignored. Nonstop negative barking isn't helping your case, even though I know it will continue to go on; if for no other reason than that it disrupts things and feeds some peoples need for any form of attention. The playtest is what it is, a playtest to test out how the early parts of the game are when played. To expect more than that or to assume anything beyond what is presented is ludicrous and pointless. If you'd like to approach the issue with respect and an open mind I'd be glad to hear what you have to say. But please, don't presume to expect me to set here any further and allow tolls to run a muck like a mob while they demand my attention.

You want respect? You want attention or to be taken seriously? Then please, try to approach the issue with at least some degree of maturity or decency. And if you cannot, if all you can do is spout forth an endless streaming rant of negativity then return beneath your bridge now and kindly await some other ears. Cause mine will be otherwise engaged.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Hammer And The Blade By Paul S. Kemp.

Let's face it, some of us read - a lot. And often times we all collide with that old familiar foe; the wall we generally refer to as "What do I read now?" Weather we have particular authors or slightly different tastes then most mainstream/pop culture trends we seem to find ourselves butting heads with said wall as we puzzle over where to get our next literary fix. For myself, this has been an arduous struggle that all too often I find myself in. I have for years found myself at a loss upon finishing my stockpile of 'to-read' books that interested me only to discover nothing appealing awaited me. Our public library's limited selection and lack of any local books stores never quite helped matters either. Especially when you factor in my voracious appetite and a somewhat picky taste in authors. Once I find an author that I enjoy, I typically consume all their work I can only to lament the fact when I'm done.

To further complicate matters, I've just never had a whole lot of luck in regards to enjoying what the general masses raved about as well. For example; I've tried Stephen King, and while his stories are wonderful, I simply can't find pleasure in reading them. Some of my favorite authors I adore, while some I can only read parts of their works. So when I started seeing one author currently dominating my reading mention one of his peer's newest work I hesitantly decided to check it out. I mean, if Matt Forbeck was raving about this Paul S. Kemp, it was worth a look, right? Like apprehensively asking for that one more card in blackjack, I took the gamble and found myself starring at a 21.

The opening alone had me hooked, ensnared if you will and unable to remove myself from the main character's as if I was compelled to join them. Because, well - let's be fair here: how many adventure stories can you name where the heroes begin knee deep in a tomb only to stop and realize they've no idea what prompted the whole ordeal? Not content to leave a task half done however they decide to finish what they started(since they've already gone this far - of course). What unfolds is a hilariously fun story that is anything but your traditional fantasy romp.

Egil and Nix, our wonderful heroes of a sort are nothing short of brilliant. While they may not be the ideal pair you'd want to throw your lot in with they continual prove to be two whom I'd join in with anytime. Even if they often make less than ideal decisions, they do prove to enjoy every moment of what those choices bring. These characters shine as what I like to refer to as 'face value deep.' They establish themselves right off the bat as being what they seem, and as you grow to see more depth it only manages to reinforce just that. Perhaps not the most complex and enigmatic figures in literature but this only helps to cement the fun aspect of the book. In short, you don't waste large parts of time wondering about/getting lost in the characters themselves.

The plot itself, much like the protagonists is skillfully done. It has been delightfully interesting without becoming overly complicated. I must say, having never read anything by Kemp before this has got to be a strong suit of his. One clearly fascinating aspect of the book is how the primary antagonist is himself both villain and victim. Forced into desperate action by the heroes who themselves had no idea of their involvement. It is Rakon(said bad guy) who continually juggles the ambitions of a power mad practitioner of dark magic with not only the fear of reprisal from his dark deals failing but also of a pair of sisters he lives in terror of. You can't help but at once feel that while he is the villain and his sisters victims, the opposite is also equally true. It is just as much fun to see Egil and Nix face the situations that befall them as it is to witness Rakon deal with is own side of things. Even though you clearly detest him and root for Egil and Nix!

Overall, the heroes are easy to identify with, the story is fun and fast enough to be incredibly enjoyable. All the while without the plot becoming overly complicated or the characters themselves taking on Tolkien-esque tomes of detailed history that could of gotten in the way. [I should point out, I am a huge Tolkien fan, there is no intended slight here. Just using his well known capacity for detailing every aspect to try and make a point.]

Confession time; I still like about 55 pages in completing this book, but couldn't resist going ahead and sharing my praise for it. Not only would I(even without yet reading the ending) not hesitate in picking up on future novels featuring Egil and Nix, but I would wager it a safe bet I'll be trying to take a look into any other work done by Paul S. Kemp. I'd gladly take part in any adventure those two set out on, and treasure every blessed moment.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Kobold Ramsey Meets Balfur The Blessed Bandageer - A Punventure.

Last night I had the great joy to get to take part in a little playtest of #dndnext with some good friends. @Steamboat28 took charge of DM duties and did nothing short of his usual to ensure an amazingly fun time. What follows is a pseudo log/transcript of the experience that I think will speak enough for it's self without me having to butcher the attempted recapture of what was nothing less than magnificent fun.

@Steamboat28: So, you saunter into an inn, on a cold, dark night.
 @Irvanovitch: Bar fight.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: Hmmm before I even look back at this sheet... can we name 'em? I wanna be Balfur the Blessed Bandageer
@Steamboat28: LOL.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: Yay!
 @Irvanovitch: Let's go you frothing neckbeard
 @Steamboat28: So, Balfur and company enter an inn, searching for ale.
  and wenches. gotta have wenches.
  but, the place is deserted
  it's dark.
  in fact, it's pitch black.
  (you're likely to be eaten by a grue)
 @Irvanovitch: Casting light
 @Steamboat28: the place is illuminated.
there's no one there.
  except, (roll a wis check)
Meatshield: 18
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: insight 16...
 @Steamboat28: ok.
 @Irvanovitch: 17
 @Steamboat28: everyone hears singing in the back room.
lots...of singing.
  what do you do?
(Meatshield says he's heading for the back room)
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: "Healin', healin' get yer healin right here... we got a special on burned bottoms!" I will follow Meatshield
 @Steamboat28: (and since he's the meatshield, you're all safe for now)
@Irvanovitch: following behind the meatshield, with a spell ready to throw
 @Steamboat28: Meatshield opens the door,
  and you all see, dressed in chef's hats and frilly pink lacy aprons,
Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: So, can we take an action, are they surprised or what? cause I'd love to activate searing light
@Steamboat28: Initiative time!
 Meatshield: 15
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: I got a 14
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: so, it's cleaver reaver first
 @Steamboat28: yes.
 you'll notice one thing, though--
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: ginsu ho!
 @Steamboat28: one of the kobolds is dressed like Gordon Ramsey.
  he's decorating the cake.
 @Irvanovitch: * facepalm *
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: are you smoking kobold crack?
 @Steamboat28: Meatshield drew his crossbow upon entering (i forgot to type it),
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: I will light his candle...
 @Steamboat28: and he's gonna shoot Gordon Kobold in the leg.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: do eet
where is an orchestra when you need one... kill da kobold
 @Irvanovitch: Is the cake shaped like Stephan?
 @Steamboat28: LOL. YES.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: the cake has permanent disadvantage vs kobolds
 @Steamboat28: He shoots the crossbow, and it tears through Gordon's leg (23 atk)
 @Irvanovitch: ((LOL))
 @Steamboat28: (snerk)
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: so are we down one iron kobold?
 @Steamboat28: He is hurting, and the other kobolds throw over tables for cover.
 @Irvanovitch: (question: what is this building made of?)
 @Steamboat28: (stone foundations, wooden structure)
  (the kitchen is mostly stone, due to the hearth fires)
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: searing light on kobold ramsey, 21 atk
 @Steamboat28: the light blinds Gordon, as it strikes him in the face!
  (does it deal damage?)
  (i forget, and i'm too lazy to look it up)
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: 19 dmg
 @Steamboat28: ...his head asplode.
  ruining his cake.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: radiant and the description speaks of it as a ray of the sun so... yeah
 @Steamboat28: oh wow.
  His head turns into a momentary halo of brilliance before it asplodes.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: "Can I intrest anyone in todays special?"
  go mirv go
 @Steamboat28: The other four kobolds are peeking out from behind their tables, two on each side of the room
PM @Irvanovitch: I'm stepping up beside the meatshield, and casting Burning Hands, targeting the two on the left.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: oh, do we have any oil perchance, in the adv kit? I forget
@Steamboat28: Dex saving throws: 16, 18. The table bursts into flames, and one kobold ducks, quickly
  (10 dmg, 5 dmg)
  He isn't quick enough; both burn to a crisp.
 You hear Draconic.
  The smell of rotting meat comes from a crate in the corner.
 It bursts open,
  the rotting meat inside spilling out,
  writhing with the Draconic chanting,
 into a massive Minotaur. [*Credit goes out to WotC own Chris Perkins for the idea]
 @Irvanovitch: blink
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: what?1? "I don't bandage livestock!"
 @Steamboat28: A great undead Minotaur, reconstituted from beef,
  growls into your faces.
  This ain't no soy, children. Your turns.
 Meatshield attacks the Minotaur with his greataxe, swinging at Chuck Roast, Jr.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: "Rancid beef be gone" I'm getting my holy symbol out...
 @Steamboat28: He cleaves the "beefcake,"deeply scoring the searmarks. (17 dmg)
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: I will move to face the vile venison and cast turn undead
 @Steamboat28: The mystery meat flinches from Pelor's might!
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: "Get the to a grazery in the sky!"
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer:  what you got ray? I mean mirv
 @Steamboat28:Turn is different, I hope they beef it up later. har har
Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: oh we'll pun-pulverize this beefcake
 @Steamboat28: LOL
  We're so "cheesey."
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: we could be dead and horny like him
 @Irvanovitch: moving so that I can avoid burning my meatshield's ass, and torching the other two kobolds
  (ye gods, I cast magic missile at my brain to make the puns stop)
@Steamboat28: ( the darkness? ;) )
 @Irvanovitch: (...well played, sir)
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: I don't think it can effect programming
 @Irvanovitch: 10 dmg again
 @Steamboat28: You sear the kobolds, but not the hamburger barbarian.
  They burn, along with their scroll, to a crisp.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: "Kobold-a-la-mage anyone?"
 @Irvanovitch: "I like mine....extra crispy"
 @Steamboat28: lol
  The (now literal) meatshield takes a swing at the only foe left.
 It slices into the rotten flesh, taking another wound (15 hp)
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: shield us from mad cow disease most valiant meatshield
 still standing I take it?
 @Steamboat28: Oh yes
  Oh very yes.
  But, the spell was incomplete (and this battle is taking longer than some of our players have), so it didn't start at full health.
  Balfur, it's your turn.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: alright well then I'll radiant lance him 20 atk
 @Steamboat28: Your shining spear strikes at the heart of this foul creature!
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: 12 dmg
 @Steamboat28: The abomination writhes in agony, as Pelor's cleansing fire eats away at part of his flesh.
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: oh magic mirv...
 @Irvanovitch: Magic mirv uses magic missile!
  It's not very effective (3 dmg)
 @Steamboat28: "Ow. Horseflies."
 Balfur The Blessed Bandageer: holy hamburger...
 @Steamboat28: The beast smashes at Meatshield, (attack 12)
  missing him.
 Meatshield swings back, striking the creature,
  tenderizing him back into a pile of dead meat.
 Congratulations--you've survived your first #dndnext encounter
equipment vs on the sheet

After this little playtest of the #dndnext material I have to say I am still really happy with the way things are handled thus far. I did find turn undead to be a little surprisingly underwhelming. But for someone who hasn't ever played a cleric, much less actually played in ages(I have been on the other side of the screen for years) I loved it. Spell casting was so satisfying and made me feel like more than just 'the healer.' Wasn't the one running it(thanks again @Steamboat28) but as a player it was very easy to handle everything. Only had to reference a couple of things during play and not a single chart or table was required.

My verdict overall is two-fold: 1.) Must playtest more. 2.) Need more material to consume.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Foundations: A Free Refresher Course.

Let me begin by admitting that I am by no means a professional carpenter/contractor. I've never built a home nor do I have years of experience in the field. However my grandfather was a highly respected carpenter, one of the most sought after in our town in fact. It is from his wisdom that I know one simple truth - no matter how skilled or experienced a person is, no one can look upon a foundation and instantly predict every aspect of what is going to be built upon it. You simply cannot gaze on the laying of a foundation and presume to know all the issues awaiting construction. Neither can you assume merely from the foundation itself what the final structure will become. In short, not even the most experienced and veteran craftsman can anticipate everything that lays before a project on the foundation alone.

However, in contrast to what cannot be known the foundation itself is a very important part of any endeavor to craft something. Especially if the intent is to create something of lasting value and worth. For example consider the old parable of house built upon the sand vs. one built upon stone. The wise man who built upon a strong foundation of stone's house endured the weather and time to last. The foolish man by contrast had a home that quickly crumbled and faltered against the elements. My point here is an obvious one; getting your foundation is not just important, it's vital. Building upon something flawed or weak will only ensure a short lifespan not to mention inevitable failure.

Why are we even on the topic at all? Simply put, it lies at the crux of a larger topic that I have come to feel that so many are ignoring. From the very beginning, Wizards of the Coast has tried to make it abundantly clear that their intent is to not simply toss out another edition. Their goal is to break down what is at the core of all editions, unify the base elements and craft a new edition that can serve fans of all editions while enduring. A lofty goal to be sure, but one that hinges on establishing a strong foundation they can build on. But the key focus here is that they are trying to establish that  very foundation. Until they can get that base set into stone they can't build up or out, and that's where we come in. They need our help in getting it right, and they genuinely seem dedicated to doing this right the first time, because it's worth it. And if we can build this to last then there is no reason they can't give us the game/rules we want that ensure a long lifespan of our hobby. For that matter, there is nothing that says they can't get the rules established in such a way that then allows them to provide us with the rich content so many crave.

I have heard so many different complaints in the days since the playtest was first released, and I think quite a few of them are centered on the fact people are forgetting that we're laying the foundation. If you loved 4th edition and are lamenting seeing more of it in the materials, be patient. 4th is the newest part of the game's history and while it is still a very controversial subject we have to look at all the history of the game as a whole. Just like in building there have been so many different methods used over time and if we're to build something worth the effort we have to look at the bigger picture. We definitely don't want to find ourselves looking at a whole new edition in a few years because this attempt failed. Nor do any of us want to see the brand shelved only to never know if or when it could return.

To those who cry foul at seeing so much "old-school" material I'd like to remind you that this game has been around for a long time using just such elements. It isn't a weakness but a strength that lives in the very feel of the game. And to those who bemoan even a hint of any newer element or innovation; truth be told without Gygax or others around we don't know what they would of thought about such concepts. For the sake of our favored past time we have to at least give it a chance and try our best. If all we do is fall to stubborn pettiness over the project then we will completely betray the fate of the game and doom the potential of it's future.

And to those who take issue with a new edition solely on the fact that they'll be asked to buy all new material, I can honestly sympathize. However, even living below the poverty level I will be the first to say that if this is done right I would be more than happy to invest in the game's future. Yes, I have in the past felt slighted by the release of a new edition that warranted such an expense. But even so, if this whole thing works out like it might it would mean the beginning of a whole new era of the game. If that is the case then I actually don't mind investing in new books provided the quality merits the price.

You can live in a house most of your life, but if the chance comes along to invest in a better house, especially one in the shape to last it could be a great opportunity. Moving isn't always easy or without it's own myriad of issues but nevertheless it's a part of life. We could simply invest in another trailer-like edition, one that albeit nice would only last us a short time. Or we can dig in and pour ourselves a foundation to build on that can allow us to shape something great and lasting.

I don't know about you but like my grandfather I have to say if it's worth doing then it's worth doing right the first time. It could be argued that the same effort should of been applied to every other edition. But I think that each other edition that came before us, has allowed us to grow and refine the game. And if we don't take the time to really understand that or apply it then all we'll ever be doing is building ourselves houses we can't or won't really live in. We might stay for a bit but they'll never be a lasting home. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Scouting Ahead - Part 2: More Notes On DnDNext

Okay, let me be honest here; there was just too many things that I didn't mention in my last post that it bugged me. Yeah, I did mention some stuff but there is just too much that I feel deserves attention. So, I compiled some notes on a list of various things that stood out to me worthy of further commentary.

The core base mechanic for about as long as I can recall has always been a d20 check, whereby the player or DM rolls a d20, adds various modifiers/penalties and compares the result. This simple method has been employed to measure success or failure in a number of different ways. And for just as long you have been able to apply modifiers/penalties based on circumstances be they favorable or not. One elegant way this is now handled is a very simple mechanic now referred to as Advantage/Disadvantage. With it, when you roll a d20 to resolve a check or attack etc. you simply roll 2 dice. If you have the advantage you keep the higher of the two dice, and the lower if your the opposite. This may not seem very different from simply using a static value of +/- 2 but in truth it looks like it adds a more appropriate feel to things. Not to mention the math of dice probability alone are sure to differ.

Moving right along from one classic system to another, let's talk about stats for a moment. To be blunt; everything now seems to fall right back to stats. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing! Basically if you have an action now that your unsure of it is very easy to simply resolve it by going to the appropriate stat. Going a step further, even the math seems more intuitive and simplified. Wanna know how much you can carry without being encumbered? Easy, just multiply your strength by 10. Encumbered? Just double that last number.

Let's talk about hit point now, shall we? For many people it's been a touchy subject; some feel them overly inflated, others way too low. I have often been a fan of the dread a low level player has at impending death during each encounter and how it shapes the atmosphere of the game. Some of my favorite memories are of low level games in fact. However, I can also admit that in many of those games a bad choice from a new player can combine with low hit points to cripple their character and lead to a bad experience. To deal with this now a starting character begins with hit points based not just on their hit dice but on their constitution stat as well. For instance if your 1st level fighter has a con of 15 and rolls a 5 on his d12 hit dice he has 20 hp starting out.

Coupled with this new approach to hit points is a return to a more tradition healing system. Even with players starting off with slightly more elevated hit points(and feeling more heroic because of it) they still have to be careful. Currently the only way for a player to heal during combat is via potions or spells. However, in between those fights players can still take a short rest and if a skilled healer is present with a healers kit they can then expend a use of the kit to roll a hit dice and regain some hp. Even so this can only be done so many times because once the kit is exhausted or the player uses up all their hit dice then only time and natural healing will lead to their recovery. The whole mechanic is a classic one that I for one welcome as a return to a more realistic feeling in the game.

Only two major areas remain I'd like to address; gear and magic. I'll begin with the former. One major change I immediately took notice of was when I looked at weapons, not only were they grouped together differently but gone was the critical multiplier. Instead, when you do critical with your weapon you merely take the max damage the weapon is capable of and that value becomes the damage done. Before you start crying foul though just consider it, your not having to figure on different multipliers or stop combat long enough to tabulate some large figure. This little change now makes things a bit smoother and easier while still feeling like an impressive stroke of fortune. An optional rule module may surface later that changes this but so far I am curious to see how it will be received during play.

Now, I did mention weapons being grouped differently, but I must add it is done in a very intuitive way. Everything is boiled down to a very basic structure; you have basic, finesse, martial, heavy, simple missile, and complex missile weapon types now. A welcome little rule even now allows a player to spend a minute searching the battlefield and recover half of their expended ammunition. Another welcome sight is a comprehensive list of gear that even features items like ball bearings, hunting traps, tomes and even in an interesting ritual component pouch. The pouch itself costs simply whatever you choose to invest in it and in return any time you cast a spell with a material component you simply deduct that amount from your pouch. Once depleted the spellcaster is simply out of materials.

Which leads us to magic. I have to say I adore how they have handled the magic system. For years after I started playing I found magic to be a daunting element of the game and one that prevented me from trying more classes than I otherwise would have. Now, not only is magic presented in a way that is very easy to grasp but also makes spellcasters feel viable. One long standing problem with low level casters is that once they're limited spell roster is exhausted they often are seen as useless in combat. Their low armor class and limited weapons often pressure them into spending their actions defending themselves.

The answer to this whole issue was such a simple one most players I know have remarked for years about it. It is summed up in two glorious words: minor spells. Minor spells can be easily explained as those spells that for years have existed as cantrips and orisons(and still are referred to as such). These spells are etched into a students brain through such repetition in training that now they are effortless to cast. In short, all wizards and clerics now have spells that they can call on at will. Further elevating them is the fact that some combat spells are minor spells. A wizard can now fall back on his magic missile or another minor spell when his spells are exhausted. Not to be left out, clerics also have minor spells with which to blast radiant damage at their foes as well.

Another interesting element to the magic system is the inclusion of rituals. Some spells allow an option being cast as a ritual enabling it to be cast without being already prepared. In exchange the spell requires a slightly longer casting time and the use of additional materials. Already I could foresee some potential uses for this feature especially if some spells allowed for extended duration or range of effect if cast using the method. As is it is worth mentioning but we'll have to see if it grows in value as things develop.

So, that's a more comprehensive rundown of the DnDNext open playtest documents. What are your thoughts? I'm excited to try it out myself and really thrilled with the direction things seem to be going. However, it's worth noting this is just the first glimpse and a lot of stuff has yet to be seen or could change. In any event we'll just have to wait and see how the dice continue to fall. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Scouting Ahead: Some Initial Thoughts On The DnDNext Open Playtest

Like countless others I received a copy of the DnDNext open playtest documents yesterday. And like so many other eager gamers proceeded to devour my way through them. Now that I have had a day to let them digest I thought I might share my initial thoughts with, well - anyone.

For starters, let's be clear about a few things; I cut my teeth on 2nd edition, and then further grew and explored my way through 3/3.5. When 4th reared it's head I fought to remain impartial and give it a shot only to have to turn my back on it in favor of Pathfinder. So while I may not have been around as long as some I can honestly say I still cherish the time I spent playing the older editions. Now it is some of these older experiences that instantly caused me to appreciate and actually applaud the new mechanics. However it should also be noted that this material isn't a final product, nor is it a comprehensive thing. In fact, it is rather spartan in some regards but for what it is(a playtest) it shines with just how much it actually does contain.

The packet's contents included:
 - 5 pre-generated playable characters - An Elf Wizard, Dwarf Fighter, Halfling Rogue, as well as a Dwarf Cleric and a Human Cleric(this showed us 2 very different types of clerics).
 - A insightful primer for a DM to bring them up to speed.
 - A core system "How To Play" basic primer that proves to be both easy to grasp and skillfully compiled.
 - A detailed Bestiary that does a miraculous job of being comprised of no less than a bulk majority of some of the most memorable classic monsters any player has ever encountered. Actually, it is really impressive at the sheer variety and breadth of all that in contains. Especially for an introductory playtest packet.
 - And let's not forget the real gem, a classic module crafted by Gygax himself. One that quite literally is the very definition of flexibility and adaption.

Already you can color me impressed. In short everything seems built from the ground up not only with the feel of all the editions but also with subtle touch of customization. Every element lends itself to the player and the DM so that they can dictate who they are and just what they do. Most of the trademark staples are all there like wizards slinging magic missiles and fighters dominating combat.  And yet there are new elements that combine the old as well as the new.

For example; now there are 'Themes' and 'Backgrounds' that as their names suggest shape the theme and background of your character. It is these features that may seem vanilla and generic but in their implementation they add to the character of a character. The slayer theme alone adds a distinctive element to the fighter that marks an iconic type of fighter - that of the vicious horde parting kill machine. I could easily see playing a slayer fighter as a melee master or that of a skilled archer. Alternatively, one could even see slayer added to any of the other classes and making for a viable and enjoyable character choice.

It could be argued that some of the mechanical/game atmosphere could be misplaced by the adventure's open ended approach. But I don't think that's the case. Rather, I think the adventure is more of a sandbox provided to take advantage of the rules presented so that the players and DM's themselves have free reign to see just what all they can do. Granted we don't have rules for creating characters to test(yet), but with the material presented I think one could easily experiment. Themes and backgrounds could be swapped around, even a players gear or spells could be changed. This may not seem like a massive impact on gameplay but I think it is a fun option(not to mention something to applaud in the fact that there is enough material to allow such a notion).

In the time to come I am sure there will be more for me to discuss, especially since I have only scratched the surface. So what are your thoughts on DnDNext? And if you haven't already, go ahead and sign up to add your own voice to the growing chorus of fans shaping the game's future.

It is so nice to see rules that really add credence to a DM being able to ask players: "What do you do?" And those same rules support them being able to answer in ways other than default action number 3 on they're sheet.  

Monday, May 21, 2012

Alright, Android, Let's Play A Game.

As inevitable as a porn-parody will be made of, well, let's face it - anything, one of the first things most people think of when presented with a new gadget like a tablet is; "What games does it play?" It is as natural as breathing to both geeks and non-geeks. You can't deny it, at some point the odds are your going to want to kill some time with your device or just relax a bit. Now everyone has their own choice apps that suit them, but I'd like to share what I have found so far that stand out as some of the best I have come across, and everyone of them is free.

1. Tower Defense: Lost Earth - First off, I have to thank Rocky Sunico for this little jewel! What starts off as a seemingly simple game proves to provide a wealth of enjoyable play. Every level is a slightly more difficult puzzle as you find yourself pressed to strategically place your automated defenses against waves of alien creatures. Each new map presents you with a different problem to think over as you decide which of your arsenal to deploy and where. And let me assure you there are plenty of maps in the campaign, coupled with some very interesting challenge/special missions as well that all prove to give you pause for though. If that wasn't enough the game allows you to replay any mission with varying degrees of difficulty to try and collect a variety of badges. This has to be one of the best games for an android device, period.

2. 3D Bowling - Yeah, I did quite a bit of bowling as a young man and loved every minute of it. Granted I wasn't the greatest of bowlers I did alright, or rather I like to think so. Now this particular app is almost as much fun as real bowling. Using your finger you flick your ball on it's way towards the pins and just like in reality you can affect the spin/curve of the ball. A little twist with your finger and you can hook your ball with the best of them. The pin physics are fairly accurate as well, not perfect mind you but fairly close. A load of fun all in all.

3. Zenonia 3 & 4 - Fantasy Rpg's done the way they ought to be. Both these games are full of engaging storyline and fun characters. Now they both have a tendency to lean towards some cute and whimsical elements but it's understandable considering the genre. The artwork is gorgeous, especially that of Zenonia 4 which is stunning for it's platform. Both games instantly brought back memories of the early Final Fantasy games as well as titles like Chrono Cross.

4. Blood and Glory - Need to channel your inner Spartacus? Does the roar of an arena crowd and spilt blood get your heart beating? This game is a blast, you take on gladiators in tournaments as you rise in an attempt to become champion. You can sweep with your finger to slash and preform combos making the whole experience very rewarding in a way most button masher fighting games aren't. A simple design it doesn't offer much variety instead encouraging you to purchase better gear and fight stronger opponents. One thing to take note of, this is a gorgeous app but also one that is geared towards the player purchasing in-game currency with real money. You can play without spending any real cash but clearly it's geared towards being easier on you if you open your wallet.

5. Lego 4+ - Created by the Lego company this little game is priceless for kids and enthusiastic adults as well. You start off with a handful of lego pieces to choose from to assemble little lego cars and the like. Then you can take them over a rudimentary side scrolling landscape with an onscreen button that lets you go forward. As you drive you can pick up a series of single peg round block pieces similar to coins, and if you get enough you can unlock new pieces. Each new piece provides you another option when making your vehicle such as being able to build a helicopter, truck, or even police car. Some of these even add a second button allowing you to fly, jump(there are lego legs you can use in place of wheels) honk a horn or even activate your siren. After each level you get a simple puzzle of a shadow shape you can drag sets of blocks into to try to make a little lego figure that will then show up in your background, All in all this is a fun little app that kids will enjoy, and can help them with some hand-eye issues. The only thing it needs is additional block pieces and some slightly more complex levels and it could be a top notch full blown game. As it is it's a little limited, great for a kid but with so much potential.

6. Shadow Era - One of the best Magic-like card games I have ever come across. You start off with a basic starter deck and your choice of a hero card to begin playing with. As you play you earn funds to purchase cards to add to your deck that you can play against AI opponents or if you choose other players. This is one game that is cross platform being available to Apple devices, Android and even browsers. However without using lands the game uses the cards in your deck as a resource allowing you to discard any card once every turn to use to pay for your other cards. This makes for a interesting change in thought as you play.

7. Cyberlords: Arcology - Remember the old Shadowrun game for Sega and SNES? Cyberlords is a fun little game very reminiscent of it. Little more to say...

8. RiskIt - This has to be one of the best Risk games for an Android device period, it is on par with WinRisk. As such, I don't think much more needs said about it.

9. Legendary Heroes - Ever hear of League of Legends? Yep, you guessed it, this is as close as you can get on an android device. It's a enjoyable midget version of LoL, but I must confess it does suffer slightly with regards to the platform/implementation. 

If your looking for a fun game give one of these a try, and if you have recommendations of your own - I am all ears!

How To Go From Aquaman To Batman.

Alright, remember me saying that with relative ease you can unlock a multitude of features in your Nook Color? Well, whether you believed me or not - here is just how simple it can be.

First, your gonna need a few things; namely a microSD card that is Class 4 or better and preferably around 8 GB or so. Why do I say a specific class of card or size? Well, the short answer is that a standard Nook Color uses 8 GB of internal flash memory and as for the class of the card - well, let's just leave it at that's the best compatible class of card for read/write speeds. Now, for my own purposes I picked up a SanDisk 16 GB at my local Wal-Mart for just under $20.00, and it has proven to be a great investment. Oh, and for the record, statistically SanDisk has proven to be one of the most reliable brands for this sort of project.

So, we have our media, now all we need is something to put on it and a method to do so. Easy enough to take care of, all you need to do is get your hands on a microSD card reader(I was fortunate enough to have one built in to my netbook). As for the former, you will need to obtain a copy of WinImage, if memory serves it was freeware and simple to use. You will also need a generic disk image and the CM7 Rom file. You can choose any Rom file you want from the list but I'd recommend you go with the most recent release candidate(Look for ones with RC), they tend to be more stable versions.

With me so far? We have a microSD card, a reader, WinImage, a compressed disc image file and one compressed CM7 Rom file. For the disc image file, it will initially be about 9 MB or so, but you'll want to decompress it to a folder where it should end up being somewhere in the neighborhood of 130 MB. Once you have that bit done you get to fire up your WinImage and click on options, then "Restore Virtual Hard Disk Image On Physical Drive." Make sure when you do that you select the "All Files" option to ensure you can see everything. For the record, might take a few minutes to burn the image to your card, but we're not talking anything intensive.

Now, once it says it's complete you can copy your CM7 Rom file over. You don't have to uncompress it or anything, just copy it over. Then you just safely eject your card and insert it into your powered off Nook Color. Once you power it on you should notice a difference as Tux the penguin sets in a corner of the screen and command line text scrolls by to notify you of what all is going on as everything is unpacked and made ready for you. When it finishes it will power the Nook Color back down so don't panic.

At this stage, if you want to install any of the Google Apps you can simply by adding the Google Apps Package (Scroll to the bottom of the page and it'll be under CyanogenMod 7) to your card and then placing it right back into your Nook. This time when you boot up you should be greeted with some typical set up stuff like setting up your Wifi etc. Do it. Once you have run through your set up stuff just hit your power button and hold it a few seconds. A menu should pop up with the option to "Reboot & Recovery," click it and this time it should unpack your Google apps and then you can go through your account sync stuff.

The whole process doesn't take long, and leaves your internal install intact. In fact when you boot up you can always choose to load your stock configuration if you want.

So, for review; you take a microSD, plug it into a reader, burn a image to it, copy over a rom file and then place it into your Nook Color and let it power up. About as easy a task as Batman putting on his utility belt, huh?

I must point out though, as awesome as this is I have noticed a few small things I should mention so your prepared. This is not complete nor is it perfect, there are still some issues that might irritate you. They have only been minor inconveniences to me but your mileage may vary.

1. Statusbar crashes; Occasionally the statusbar will crash and vanish. When this happens it doesn't cripple you, you can still navigate and manage just fine but it does remove some of the ease and convenience. Holding the power button will give the option to pull up the menu if you need and a quick press of the 'N' Nook button can always return you to your home screen. However, if the bar does flee from you one quick fix you can try is to tilt/rotate your Nook, sometimes the screen change will reload your prodigal statusbar. If not you can always do a quick reboot.

2. Wireless-less; Another issue is that of your wireless simply turning off. I have noticed myself how it can just flick off at times and often it could be as simple as a power regulation issue. For the most part two simple clicks of your power switch will flash your screen off and back on to find your wifi return within seconds. Typically your device will shut off the wifi when it goes to sleep to conserve power and then reactivate it upon waking.

3. YouTube; Can't load videos you say? Think you made a horrible mistake? Not so, just make sure you have Adobe Flash installed and try to remember to turn of HQ - it's a little red logo on some videos. As long as you have HQ turned off most videos play just fine.

Even with these little issues I still find my Nook Color to be a remarkable and versatile device with far more value than it gets credit for. Give it a try, it is so simple to do as you can see, and maybe you will find you agree.

Friday, May 4, 2012

If You're Going To Be In The Justice League, You Don't Want To Be Aquaman.

Think about it, if your a member of a prestigious group like the Justice League you don't want to be Aquaman - you wanna be Batman. The same holds true for those in the e-reader/tablet community. Wanna know why that is? Look at the differences between Batman and Aquaman; one is overly specialized and handicapped when anywhere but under the sea. In contrast the former is not only unbeholden to limitations but known for his trademark ingenuity and utility(belt).

Now, when I first received my Nook Color, I was already in love with it's functionality. As an e-reader it is excellent, and a more than capable budget tablet. However much like Aquaman it is chained to a single realm, that being Barnes & Noble. While this doesn't constitute any real issue for most, there is an untapped potential waiting within the Nook Color.

Just last night I equipped my Nook Color with a micro SD card loaded with Cyanogenmod 7 and giggled with glee at the utility belt like transformation. Countless features and apps are now at my fingertips, the least of which being full access to the B&N, Amazon, and Android app stores.

I'll be posting step by step instructions soon for anyone interested, and just to show precisely how easy it is. In fact this post is being written in blogger's app for android. So stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Games We Play

Growing up, as I now look back, I can fondly remember a small stack of board games that sat nestled in the top of a closet. I can also recall with delight where my father kept his decks of playing cards(and poker chips). In fact it was a major triumph when we located my aunt and uncles penny jar and were able to use them in games. Why does any of this matter at all now that I am grown and have children of my own? The answer lies within the question, naturally.

As a child there always was for me, and let's be honest here - for anyone there is a innate magic in cards, dice, even tokens and other little tidbits found in our games. I was captivated by such things, I treasured learning how to play black jack sitting cross legged in the floor with my father just as I do the memory of being primed on how to play Spades for the first time with my family. Even if your immediate family doesn't have a game night where you sat down with your parents and siblings to crack open monopoly or life, I would wager all my risk armies that odds are you can recall playing some kind of game with some of your family and enjoying the experience.

Now, sadly as we get older we sometimes find our time restricted, or that our family has other interests to pursue. But no matter the age anyone can sat down at a table and engage in good clean fun. Playing any game can help us to learn about ourselves, about how to interact, but most importantly they let us connect. Games shape us, and our choices of them are shaped by who we are.

My cousins used to introduce me to amazing games that even now I desperately crave the chance to play again. We spent untold hours playing countless board and card games, I miss those days. Watching TableTop on the Geek and Sundry channel has reminded me of this as well as how I have precious few games in my own closet now to play with my children. I would adore the chance to introduce my family and friends to games like Small World, Settlers of Catan, even classics like Risk and Scrabble(confession - I am ashamed to concede I don't recall ever actually playing scrabble but always wanted to).

I want my children to know the joy to be had as I did, I want to share in that fun with them. Shouldn't we all want to spend time with our loved ones and enjoy it? Why not break out a game and let the fun come to you?