May 312010

Picture taken by Krystalle during one of our recent games

Editor’s Note – The following 2000+ word post is not going to be of any interest to you at all unless you’re into tabletop role-playing games (and even then you may not care if you aren’t playing Dungeons and Dragons). I give this warning in advance to spare your precious time.

If you follow my Twitter or Facebook feeds you’re probably aware that, over the last few months, some friends of mine and I have been regularly playing Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons. It has been a great deal of fun on many levels. Not only am I gaming again on a regular basis (a pastime that has played an integral role in my life since I was in my early teens), but I’m doing so with my family. Finding activities that all of us enjoy can be a bit of a challenge, and the fact role-playing fell into this category just makes it all the more awesome.

The more time I spend gaming these days, the more I realize that during the years where I spent most of my free time playing games like City of Heroes and World of Warcraft I was really just trying to fill the tabletop RPG void in my life. Now that I am tabletop gaming again on a regular basis I realize that it was a less-than-fulfilling replacement. As much fun as I had playing MMORPG’s (and let’s be clear – I DID have a lot of fun), there just isn’t anything quite like making up your OWN stories and having adventures that aren’t pre-determined by a set of programmers. The exhilaration of defeating an epic monster in a scripted encounter is nothing compared to the joy of defeating a party of kobolds while sitting around a table with your friends making Monty Python jokes.

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Jan 062010

I probably would have just asked this question via twitter but it’s a bit long for that.

I’m confused about dying in fourth edition.  Specifically, I am unsure of how the Heal skill works in relation to it. I’m going to quote a few rules and then my interpretation of them to see if you all agree.

Ok, first we have the definition of dying in 4e:

• You’re unconscious.
• You’re at 0 or negative hit points.
• You make a death saving throw every round.

Here are the rules on Healing the Dying:

When you are dying, any healing restores you to at least 1 hit point. If someone has stabilized you using the Heal skill but you receive no healing, you regain hit points after an extended rest.


Regain Hit Points: When you are dying and receive healing, you go to 0 hit points and then regain hit points from the healing effect. If the healing effect requires you to spend a healing surge but you have none left, you are restored to 1 hit point.

Become Conscious: As soon as you have a current hit point total that’s higher than 0, you become conscious and are no longer dying. (You are still prone until you take an action to stand up.)

And here are the rules on the Heal Skill (specifically First Aid):

Make a Heal check to administer first aid.

First Aid: Standard action.
DC: Varies depending on the task you’re attempting.
Use Second Wind: Make a DC 10 Heal check to allow an adjacent character to use his or her second wind without the character having to take an action to do so. The character doesn’t gain the defense bonuses normally granted by second wind.
Stabilize the Dying: Make a DC 15 Heal check to stabilize an adjacent dying character. If you succeed, the character can stop making death saving throws until he or she takes damage. The character’s current hit point total doesn’t change as a result of being stabilized.
Grant a Saving Throw: Make a DC 15 Heal check. If you succeed, an adjacent ally can immediately make a saving throw, or the ally gets a +2 bonus to a saving throw at the end of his or her next turn.

Here is my question…

If  a character is dying but has not used his Second Wind in that encounter the character attempting First Aid can opt to go for the easier DC 10 Heal check.  This would restore the dying character to a number of hit points equal to their Healing Surge amount and burn one of their healing surges.  If they have no healing surges left it would restore them to 1 HP.  If the dying character has already used their Second Wind for the encounter all that can be done for them is a stabilization check.

Am I interpreting that correctly?

Aug 202009

Ok.  Yes.  I suck at updating.  I’ve gotten used to doing all my updates in 140 characters or less over the course of my day and have spent all of my verbose writing energy over at ShrinkGeek.  You caught me.  I’m a horrible person and it’s perfectly justifiable that the number of people who visit my site every day has dropped to about 6.

I fail at internet celebrity.  Seriously.

I could say that my life has been exceedingly busy lately and I wouldn’t be lying, but I’ve used that excuse before and promised that I would change.  I mean it this time, though, baby.  Come back to me.  It’s going to be different.  I love you more than I love that silly old Twitter business.  She means nothing to me.  All I give her is a bunch of cheap, quick hits.  You?  You get all the depth and breadth of my soul.  My innermost feelings.  The very essence of what it is to be ME.

Just ignore all those workout posts.  I was going through a phase.

Umm…Did I just anthropomorphize my blog?

Is that even a word?

So anyway.  Updates.  Right.

Got back in town on Sunday from the (now) annual excursion to Indianapolis to attend GenCon with Alex.  We has an absolute blast.  The highlight of the con was our participation in the NASCRAG tournament, and I’m proud to say that our team managed to snag both the best name category (“We Have 3 Virgin Men”) and Third Place overall.  Not only that, but Trish took home the prize for MVP in her portrayal of Sexy Kobold Left…or was it Sexy Kobold Right?  It was really hard to tell.  For those of you who are too lazy to click the link, NASCRAG is an annual role-playing tournament at GenCon in which rules take a back seat to having fun.  The focus isn’t on who knows the game mechanics but more on who plays their character the best and puzzle solving.  We had so much fun we’ve already determined that NASCRAG is a definite for next year already and our team is already starting to form.  We also managed to snag a few spots in a Second Edition Paranoia game loosely based on the Star Trek universe called Paranoia Trek (a GenCon tradition, apparently).  I managed to win a prize for role-playing in that one for my stunningly accurate portrayal of Kate Mulgrew as Kathryn Janeway.  I’m not entirely sure if I should be proud of that one.  We continued the silliness in a rousing game of Luchador : Way of the Mask, and Alex enjoyed that one so much he actually purchased a copy for himself and wants to run it at some point.  Finally we got to try out the latest edition of Call of Cthulhu in a scenario known as “Beatings :  The Musical” (which was, apparently, the censored title….the original title was “Buggery Hoedown on the Gaza Strip.”).  That was a very entertaining mix of the silliness we’d been participating in all weekend with some good old fashioned Cthulhu chills.  Yes, we died at the end of the adventure.  But, hey!  We did NOT go insane AND we managed to prevent the world from being destroyed for another 100 years or so.  Go team!

Negatives of the con?  I attempted to pick up a copy of Call of Cthulhu along with a few GURPS supplements from Atlas Games and had the very embarrassing experience of discovering the Chase had decided to cancel the credit card that I took along for goodie purchases the night before (after I had used it to pay for dinner).  This is not the first time the Chase has screwed me over, but it was the worst and will be the last.  I have one card left with them that has a zero balance, and as soon as I’m able to make sure I have another “emergency” card on hand to take its place I’m canceling that one.  We also had a lovely experience with Alex’s blood sugar on Sunday morning due to the fact that he ran out of one of his types of insulin and didn’t tell me about it because he thought I’d be mad or something.  He had high levels of keytones in his blood and was vomiting before we got on the plane to come home.  I was able to get his blood sugar down to a reasonable level with what we had on hand and we made it home without incident, but it was a real pisser of a way to end the vacation.  It was also another reminder that he is not completely mature enough yet to handle his blood sugar related issues without being monitored closely.  I know he hates that, but until he proves we don’t need to anymore it is how things have to be.  There was also a snafu with the hotel bill that caused my bank account to be overdrafted, but that managed to get fixed and I’m being sent a coupon for a suite upgrade for next year.

Overall, though, it was a fantastic time and as usual I have come home with a renewed desire to get together with the family and friends to do some more table top gaming.  I have also walked away from the weekend finally able to see a picture that has been forming in my head ever since I made a concerted effort to actually read the Fourth Edition Dungeon Masters Guide from cover-to-cover.

One of the things they pointed out in that book is that a good Game Master never says “No.”  On the surface that seems like a truly disastrous statement to make, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that it was a completely true statement.  The fact of the matter is that in many ways a role-playing game is just an improvisational theater game.  You have a set of rules, you have an established character, and you have one person setting up the scenarios you will encounter who has an outcome in mind.  The fun comes in the getting there, and as part of that the players are just as important to telling the story as the game master.  Accepting that an RPG is a form of improv theater it makes sense that the “never say No” rule of improv carries over to table top gaming.  This is not to say that you let your players get away with completely running over your story, but it’s imperative that you let them actually take part in shaping it.  The best game masters I’ve ever played with did this, and I saw many fine examples of it this previous weekend as well.

I am inspired to do the same.

On another acting note we’re still in the midst of casting the 2010-2011 Jobsite Season with all the angst and anxiety that goes along with it.  I have at least one more show to audition for on August 31st and I’m still waiting to hear about another one.  I have already landed a few roles and gotten very close on a few others (including one that, unfortunately, I REALLY wanted…and not just because I could use the extra paycheck).  I am thinking that, next year, I need to at least go to the Tampa Area Unified Auditions at the Gorilla Theater.  Jobsite has been my theatrical home for the last 7 years and as far as I’m concerned they will have my eternal loyalty but I wonder sometimes if I’m doing myself a disservice by not at least seeing if anyone else would like to use me.

I was, however, reminded of something yesterday by a fellow actor and parent.  Every role that I miss out on is one more opportunity to spend time with my son before he’s grown up and out of my house.  I have plenty of time in my life to act after he is gone, but I will never get these years back.  The role I was gunning for hard this year would have prevented me from going to GenCon with Alex in 2010, and while I was prepared to make that particular sacrifice I think in the long run the time Alex and I spend together will be a much better investment.

Jul 222009

I started writing this post a few days ago.  I figure I’ll just go ahead and append on the end of it with the understanding that, perhaps, my head space is a bit different than it was when I first began this ramble.

Not only do I feel the need to break up the utter and complete monotony of posting nothing but my workouts here, I also have a compulsion to simply talk about a few things.  Get some stuff out of my head and out there in the ether as it were.  As a result this may end up being an incoherent post at times, so I apologize in advance.

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May 052009

Basement!Earlier today Green Ronin Publishing, the company behind the Pen & Paper Role-Playing Games Mutants & Masterminds and A Song Of Ice And Fire (based on the award-winning series by George R. R. Martin), announced plans to release a Pen & Paper adaption of the upcoming Bioware title Dragon Age : Origins. The game, according to the press release, “extends the Dragon Age universe, making it more accessible to passionate RPG fans looking for another way to experience the epic fantasy world of Thedas.”

Having never played any of the Baldur’s Gate games (the inspiration for Dragon Age : Origins) or, for that matter, any of the games that Green Ronin Publishing has put out, I can’t say this news made me particularly giddy.  What it did do, however, was get me to thinking about how the line between video games and Pen & Paper games is getting thinner with every passing year.

There’s no doubt that many of the Role-Playing video games on the market today owe much of their success to the Pen & Paper games that their developers grew up playing.  Richard Bartle and his companions were heavily influenced by the original Dungeons and Dragons when they developed the first Multi-User Dungeon (MUD) back in 1978, and that game alone is said to have been largely influencial in the design of most Massively Multi-Player Online Role-Playing Games.  In fact, these MMORPG’s have been so successful that many believe they signal the inevitable doom of the traditional Pen & Paper RPG.

I have noticed over the years that more and more that Pen & Paper publishers are tying to woo the video game playing crowd away from their consoles and back to the table by partnering with video game publishers.  Wizards of the Coast partnered with Turbine to release an MMORPG version of the Dungeons & Dragons RPG called Dungeons and Dragons Online : Stormreach back in 2006, and the current version of the Pen and Paper game itself was heavily influenced by games such as World of Warcraft. There have been four video games set in the Shadowrun universe, and there have been Pen & Paper versions of the MMORPG’s Everquest and World of Warcraft.  In at least two cases I’m aware of video game companies have purchased Pen & Paper versions of the game outright (the upcoming Champions Online from Cryptic Studios and the “still in the lots of rumors stage” World of Darkness from CCP).

I had the occasion to sit down over dinner with someone who was pretty close to deal that went down when Champions was purchased by Cryptic and I thought the whole thing was very interesting.  From what I understand there has never been a terribly large profit margin in the Pen & Paper industy to begin with, but it’s been particularly rough over the last few years.  Some companies are turning to on-demand printing in order to save costs, but the allure of the type of money that video games are capable of bringing in is incredibly hard to pass up.  Once the deal was complete and Cryptic held the rights to the Champions property the money came pouring in.  The developers who were still on staff were literally stunned and apparently felt like “rock stars.”

When you’re used to living paycheck-to-paycheck and never being sure if your’e even going to be able to keep producing that kind of money is hard to pass up.

It makes sense, too.   Why should a video game developer go through all of the trouble to pay writers to develop tons and tons of lore and backstory when so many worlds are out there in the Pen & Paper world just waiting to be explored?  Even with the number of Pen & Paper games out there that have already been licensed there are still tons of them that could potentially be turned into fantastic video games (can you say Paranoia kids?  I knew ya could).

My only fear in all of this is that as the lines become less and less clear between the virtual and tabletop world the Pen & Paper versions of the game risk becoming neat collector’s items for the people who really are just interested in playing the video game.  As much as I enjoy the changes they’ve made to Dungeons & Dragons in the Fourth Edition I have to admit that in many ways it feels so much like an MMORPG I wonder what the appeal would be for someone who has never played a Pen & Paper game before (the argument being “If I wanted to play World of Warcraft I’d play World of Warcraft, not sit around my living room playing with toys”).

Perhaps, though, things aren’t quite as doom and gloom as they seem.   While I cannot say for sure that there will always be a place for Pen & Paper games in the universe I have seen signs recently that the video game industry is looking for more ways to bring that collaborative, interactive feel to their games.   Player created missions in the super hero game City of Heroes from NCSoft outnumbered the number of missions that the developers included in the game in just one day. Hasbro was originally supposed to include a “Virtual Tabletop” with the release of the Fourth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons but for now those plans have been pushed back and potentially canceled (much to the ire of many Dungeons & Dragons fans, who claimed that Virtual Tabletop was an essential piece of the Fourth Edition package and that Hasbro was guilty of a “bait and switch” by failing to produce it).  So while the days of sitting around with your friends on the back porch with your Cheetos and Mountain Dew may be coming to an end, perhaps the spirit of those days will find a way to live on.   Change is inevitable, but if nothing else the Mission Architect in City of Heroes has proven that the desire to create your own stories and share them with your peers is alive and well.

In the end isn’t that really what Pen & Paper games are all about?

Mar 192009

Well, I finally decided to put my money where my mouth was.  After I wrote my last post I continued thinking about my feelings about World of Warcraft and opted to finally cancel my account.  I did so this morning.  The last day my account will be active is April 7th.

I realize that those of you who don’t play the game will never understand why this is such a big deal, and that’s ok.  I can try to explain, but the best analogy I can come up with is that I feel like I just broke up with someone I have been dating for the last four years.  I consider many of the folks I play with to be close friends, and frankly it is those friendships that have kept me playing for as long as I have.

I just can’t do it anymore, though.  I can’t justify spending the money to basically use the game as a chat interface, and I truly detest what they have done with the game.  It’s not fun for me anymore.  I’m getting a similar experience playing Runes of Magic and it is free.  As much as I’m enjoying that game, though, I’m determined not to get sucked in as much as I have been in any other MMO in the past.  I just don’t have the time for it.  I’m going to do things like, oh, yard work….house cleaning…home improvements.  You know, that stuff that you don’t do when you’re spending 5-6 hours a day playing a video game?

I’m also concentrating on [Super Secret Project], which I’ll be able to talk about more in a month or so.

So, yeah.  So long, World of Warcraft.  It was great fun while it lasted, but this cowboy needs to be moving along.

Mar 172009

Back in December I wrote about how I wasn’t excited about getting back into the World of Warcraft raid game.  At the time, part of my reasoning behind that is because I did not feel that there was much of a challenge in it for me, and the hope was that future expansions would ramp up the difficulty a bit.

Well, that has and has not happened.  From everything I’ve read, they are going to continue to have “hard mode” versions of certain encounters in the raids that are optional but keep the base difficulty level fairly low.

This, along with some fairly drastic changes in my work schedule recently, has pretty much killed any remaining interest I have in raiding (and may honestly be the final nail in the coffin that gets me to cancel my subscription to the game).

I’ve seen a lot written about how the game has changed for the worse (and, in all fairness, how some think it is much better now), but to date I haven’t seen anyone really put their finger on why that has disappointed me.

I can sum it up in a three word sentence : Difficulty builds community.

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Mar 032009

I think I might need to take another look at The Artist’s Way. Sam got me a copy of it several years ago, but the touchy-feely aspects of the book really turned me off and I put it down.  I don’t even know where my copy is.  Krystalle picked up a copy of it for herself a few weeks ago, and while she was just as put off by those aspects as I was she has been working with the program and it seems to be making a big difference for her.

I need to do something, though. I feel like I’m out of touch with my writing.  I’ve gotten used to communicating via 140 character messages on Twitter and I seem to lose cohesion on my longer posts very quickly.  Yesterday, for example, I started writing a piece on super hero archetypes as leaders and why Bush, who could be compared to Batman, failed.  It started out strongly enough but I just kinda fizzled out and ended up saving it to a text file on my desktop.  I may or may not pick it back up again at some point.

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Dec 182008

Wrath of the Lich King has been out for just over a month now, and so far I have to say I’m enjoying much of the new content.

Well, let me put a disclaimer on that.  I’ve found ways to enjoy the time I’m spending in game much more than I was before the expansion was released.  For one, I’ve been holding off on doing any quests until such a time as Krystalle is available to run with me.  As she’s been crazy busy recently, that means my main character has only hit level 75.  I’m ok with that.  I figure I’m only going to get a chance to see the new stuff once with fresh eyes, and I’d like to actually do that with her so we can share the experience instead of going back and running it with her again when I’ve already blown through it.

From everything I have encountered so far, though, and from everything I’m reading online and seeing in our guild, I am severely dissapointed in how easy they have made everything as far as new content is concerned.  Yes, I realize I haven’t encountered much of it yet – but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that when one guild manages to beat the most difficult dungeon in the expansion within a week of release there really isn’t much in the way of challenge waiting for me.

I’m not the only one, either.  I’ve noticed that a lot of the formerly “hard core” raiders in our guild are in no rush to get to the current endgame and the sentiment is pretty much the same throughout – if there’s no challenge waiting for us, there’s no motivation to get back to the point where you are doing the same thing night after night.  Only two of the five officers in the guild have characters at the level cap.  Of the sub officers, of which there are four, only one is there.

Interestingly we have a good number of players in guild who HAVE hit 80.  Some of them on multiple characters.  I log into game and watch them, and other than the fact that they have gotten to experience some of the more interesting parts of the game that I haven’t gotten to yet I do not at all envy the fact that every night I see them running the same dungeons over and over again trying to get that “one drop” or grinding a faction.  Someone mentioned in guild today that we should be attempting to do a raid boss in Wintergrasp every week because it’s quick and will gear people up.


I just can’t find the motivation to get back into that mindset.  I want to be challenged.  I want my accomplishments in game to represent the fact that I worked hard and was dedicated to getting something done.  That’s why I’ve been spending a lot of time working on achievements.  As much as I bagged on them as being a way to get players to run content again that they have already done, I can at least take some solace that you have to either be really dedicated (or insane) to get many of them.

The hope out there among the hard core WoW players is that we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg as far as new content in the expansion and that later raids will be more challenging.  One can only hope.  Of course, when that happens I’ll be behind the curve as far as gear is concerned…but you know what?  Again, not so much with the caring.  I’ve made up my mind that if I’m not having fun doing something in game I’m simply not doing it anymore.  I spent far too long treating the game like a job, and more often than not for other people’s benefit.  I’m paying to play this game.  When someone decides they want to pay me to play I’ll re-evaluate my stance.