Friday, August 31, 2012

Sporkchop Unplugged

Sketch by Alexander Leon

I think I'm going through a bit of technology overload lately. I've been feeling a heightened awareness of just how much technology I have in my life and it's making me really anxious. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do after hitting the snooze button half a dozen times is reach for my phone to check Facebook and my Google Reader feed. When I get to work, I most of my day planted in front of a computer checking emails and drafting/reviewing exhibit content on my computer. Then, at the end of the day, I break free, drive home and to relax, plop myself down in front of the Xbox or my lappy to play video games. Even when the future Mrs. and I go for a walk or out on a date, our phones are right there in our pockets and inevitably come out when one of us goes to the bathroom, or if we decide to check movie times. I am aware that I am constantly attached to technology. I don't like that I am constantly attached to technology, but I Can't. Stop. Doing. It!

Recently, my very obvious addiction has begun to grate on my nerves more than usual, and so I have decided that I want to actively strive for more tech free time in my life. This past week, I painted one of the D&D minis that I have had sitting primed and waiting for about six months. It was wonderful, but highlighted a couple problems with unplugging:

  1. Many real world activities (especially creative ones) tend to generate a mess. If I am feeling creative, it is far cleaner to go build in Minecraft than to paint minis or play with Legos. If I'm doing D&D planning, PDF books don't pile up around the room like the real ones tend to do. The mess factor has often tipped the scales when my leisure-time activity choices hang in the balance.
  2. Many real world activities require or benefit from digital assistance. Making paper-craft models requires that I print out PDFs, painting minis is much less frustrating with an online guide to painting techniques. Even hand-drawing maps for D&D is easier with the inspiration I glean from my Pinterest account!

The fact that I am aware of the issue is good, but really only contributes to my crankiness. I need some well-defined steps to help me combat my very real addiction… Here's what I have so far.

First, I think I should take the Buddhistically-inspired middle path. Don't try to cut out tech entirely, but reduce its intrusion into real life. This sort of moderated approach worked really well when the fiancee and I switched to local organic eating, so hopefully it will help with this.

Digital Mitigation:
  • Move my cell phone charger downstairs so I don't reach for it in the morning.
  • Leave my phone in my bag while at work
  • Leave my phone at home or in the glove box when going out (It can still be handy for checking directions, restaurant hours, etc.)
  • Get the laptop out of the living room!
  • Go to bed on time! When I stay up late, I am usually jacked in to something.

Unplugged activities:
  • Eat meals at the dining room table, not on the couch! (This requires keeping said dining room clean :\ )
  • Draw- Relatively low mess, but can be frustrating when uninspired
  • Play with Legos- High mess and the fiancee's habit of putting pieces in sorted Ziploc bags makes it a frustrating multi-step process to get the pieces I need. Yes, the bag with the pieces is easier to find, but then I likely have to dump the whole bag out to get the piece I want and put everything back in the bag afterwards! My way, I just have to dig.
  • Read- Very low mess, but we lack a comfy couch or other reading spot. When I try to read in bed, I tend to nod off.
  • Paint minis- High mess and requires a big block of time
  • Make paper-craft stuff- Also high mess and time-consuming
  • Garden- Weather contingent and very high mess
  • Board/Card games- Moderate mess, and requires available friends
  • Go for walks- No mess, weather contingent and works best with a willing fiancee to accompany

Anyway, I feel like having written this stuff down, I can use it as a guiding star in my efforts to trim my technological consumption. Do you have successful techniques or ideas for reducing digital dependency? Please feel free to revel in the irony that I am writing about this via a digitally mediated form of communication.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Kicking the Habit

I've got a habit to feed and the only cure is more tiny plastic goblins! This weekend I finally flicked the little wisdom spouting angel off of my shoulder and gave in to my baser urges and my desire for MOAR MINIS!

I saw Reaper Minis' Kickstarter for their new Bones line and I just couldn't resist! I splurged. I pledged an amount that is about 2 to 3 times my normal mini buying binge amount… but… the value! THE VALYOOOOOOOOOOOOU! At the moment, the cost per mini that I will be receiving is just above $0.50 per item and headed South with every stretch goal they meet.

Mine! All of them!

To put things in comparison, $0.50 will get you a single taste of only the most base and undesirable of used minis on bargain sites like Coolstuff Inc or Troll andToad. The thought of getting buckets of brand new minis at those rates has me palpatatin' and heavy breathin'.

And… AND, we're not talking foulspawn grues, blood scarabs or [other lame monster] here. These minis cover the full spectrum of fantasy bread and butter-goblins, devils, undead, elves, hapless villagers-a veritable who's who of RPG staples! Granted, the minis will come unpainted -meaning I GET TO PAINT THEM-and most wont actually ship until next spring… but still! Soon, my wicked little imagination will come complete with its own legion of minions!

The author, 1 year hence

 There's only 5 days left in case you want to jump in on this action. Somebody stop me before I strike again!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Game Review: We Didn't Playtest This at All

When the fiancee spotted We Didn't Playtest This at All sitting on the shelf at our FLGS, we didn't even pause long enough to ask "How can we NOT buy this!?" before we had it rung up and in our hot little mitts headed towards home.

Cards from We Didn't Playtest This at All
Just a few of the exciting cards included in the box!

WDPT is a simple card game with a simple goal: to win. If you lose, you have not won and are, in fact, out of the game. Sound brutal? It is... sort of. Players get knocked out of the game quickly and mercilessly. However, games are short. How short? Well, it's not uncommon for them to end mid-way through the first round of play (occasionally on the first card!) so its easy to play dozens of games over the course of an evening.

When played, the cards prompt players to do things like say "yes" or "no" to presents! Seems simple enough. Who doesn't like presents!? But, some presents are kittens and some are poisonous snakes. Choose poorly and you lose! Other cards implement drinking game-style prohibitions against the use of certain words (e.g. you, me, they) or gestures (pointing) fail to follow the rules? You guessed it! YOU LOSE!

The compact box and fast and loose gameplay make WDPT great for playing on the go. We made an evening of it at our local cupcakeria. For an added challenge, you can throw in a card or two from the included Chaos Pack... as though it isn't chaotic enough to begin with.

Also, I recommend keeping a banana handy. Trust me.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Illithid Behavior

This past week I came across two things that have got me to thinking about the behavior of certain creatures in D&D. The first, was this Ted Talk by Dr. Jane Goodall.

During her research, Dr. Goodall observed many human-like qualities and forms of expression among the chimpanzees that were her subjects... or perhaps she realized that many human qualities were ape-like. Next time you go somewhere with a lot of people, especially if it is hot and not a built environment (the beach is ideal) look out over the throngs of folks in the sun and then imagine them as gorillas. Look at the way they gather and move when they are just existing (i.e. not engaged in constructed behaviors like barbecuing or volleyball) you may very well see these ape-like behaviors. Anyway, the thesis of Dr. Goodall's observations and the first supposition of this post is that humans' behavior evolved along with our physical forms from these apes.
That brings me to the next thing I encountered this week, and how this all relates to D&D. This morning, I read this article from Discover Magazine about the unusual behavior of the squid Octopoteuthis deletron. Not only does this little guy have a tendency to cover all of his fellow Squidworths in squid sperm, but it can intentionally detach one or all of its light-producing, hook-covered arms as an offensive or defensive tactic!
Now, take that observed behavior, plug it into the realm of D&D and imagine how it might affect the behavioral characteristics of this guy.
Illithid, the dreaded mind-flayer
As cephalopodic humanoids, one might presume illithids retain some of the behaviors of their cephalopodic ancestors. Perhaps their mind control abilities are an evolution of their bioluminescense. Perhaps a tool that was used to distract became one that was used to control. Maybe when they teleport away from danger, they do so in a swirling cloud of black ink. And maybe... they have indiscriminate and unsavory sexual appetites. Anyone who has encountered these guys in a game knows they are creepy, dangerous, nasty customers... fleshing out their evolved behavior could be a great and easy way to punch up that creep factor.

My example of an illithid is just that, an example. One could easily apply the concept of evolved behaviors to any of the animal-based humanoids found in the D&D bestiary. Just, be careful how you apply this exercise, because the results could end up being game-breakingly obnoxious.
Dammit, Cat! Have you checked those fish for traps!?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Name that Tune

As I have said before, I have a particular fondness for movie soundtracks, and instrumental scores in particular. My personal music collection is laden with the works of Williams, Zimmer, Edelman and Shore, and this pleases me. Unfortunately, my intimate familiarity with movie music can lead to some interesting brain farts from time to time.

One such moment of mental flatulence occurred recently when I saw the teaser for the new Superman movie that is currently in the works. Being an early teaser, rather than a later trailer, the clip does something many teasers do: it uses already existing music from another movie. This makes sense given that the actual score for the film likely isn't written yet.

Usually, however, when filmmakers borrow previously used music, they take it from something relatively obscure. For instance, when AMC Theaters created a trailer based on AFI's 100 Years 100 Movies, they used the music from Dragonheart. It's a fantastic piece from a movie nobody saw! That's the key... If someone released a teaser for an adventure movie that used the theme from Indiana Jones, it just wouldn't sit right because Indy's theme is iconic. It has a clear association with those movies, and using it otherwise would create confusion and other unintended reactions on the part of people who saw it.

This brings me back to the new Superman teaser. It makes the mistake of using a piece that many people in the film's target demographic (nerds) already associate with another movie. The music under the teaser was originally used in Fellowship of the Rings just after Gandalf fell battling the Balrog. The emotional intensity of the scene, enhanced by the fact that it was just music and no dialogue, created an inseparable association between that piece and that moment in that film. It does not belong in or near Superman! Superman has his own music, and it too is awesome! Don't take Gandalf's!

Unfortunately, someone did just that. They took Gandalf's music, and thus caused my brain to do weird things when I beheld the mashup. I have composed a work of parody illustrating the way my brain perceived this trailer and I share it with you now.

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