Thursday, May 31, 2012

Play Test

Two words that seem very strange next to each other.

I signed up for Wizards of the Coast's open play test of D&D Next, a.k.a. 5th Edition, the Omni-Pleaser, Retro-trash or Nerd-rage Catalyst #5 (actually only the first alias is used by anyone but me.) Wizards is attempting a noble, if foolhardy/impossible undertaking-to please all factions of a demographic that is as diverse as it is fiercely opinionated.

Well, not only did WOTC release the proverbial Kraken, it asked the beast to sit down, try out the game-in-progress and provide feedback. Their public playtest is open to anyone willing to sign an NDA (That specifically allows public voicing of opinions on the test) and download the materials.

I downloaded my copy of the playtest materials and have been digesting them with Sarlaccian slowness amidst my increasingly frantic work schedule. Though I haven't had a chance to put the materials to work or play*, I've read through the Player's Handbook rules and am beginning to form some initial impressions.

In general, the game seems to continue a trend of streamlining begun in 4e, which also brings back an old-school vibe which eschews hard rule mechanics in favor of leaving certain calls up to the DM.

I like that Vancian magic is back, rather than the powers system of 4e, which really stripped away one of the defining characteristics of D&D. At the same time, they seem to be trying to mitigate the exponential wizard power curve of 3e by tying spell strength to ability modifiers rather than character level.

In general, it seems like they're trying to lower the big dice numbers that could result in attacks that required an accounting team to resolve.

I'm intrigued by the addition of character background bonuses to the character sheets. I think this would be especially cool if they were modular. Give a fighter, rogue or wizard the option of having grown up as a commoner with bonus to animal handling and the like... that sort of thing.

Some of the things I noticed that I wasn't too fond of are more on the nit-picky side. They include:
Listing adamantine as an armor type. "Adamantine" is a material, not a type of armor. I know Dwarf an Elf used to be classes. That was stupid too.

Calling opposed checks "Contests" They are still just a skill check, but without a fixed number to beat. Calling them contests sounds like something from a lame anime involving prepubescent androgynoids who race each other to the grocery store out of an overblown sense of competition. No need for a new word just for vocabulary's sake *cough*rituals!*cough*

I'm not sure what's going on with the skill system. Are they back? There are references in the player sheets to things they get a bonus on, but no definition of what those things entail. If it is up to the DM to determine when to apply these bonuses, it'd be nice to have a little note saying that.

Anyway, those are my first budding impressions. My 3.5e game is still very much in progress, so I'm not sure if I'll get a chance to run any 5e. I'll definitely read through the stuff and voice my opinion.

*Funny thing about timeframes, just 6 days after the public playtest opened, I received an email from WOTC with their first feedback survey. The email says, hopefully you've had a chance to read through the rules and even play a few sessions! It's been less than a week, guys! I am a volunteer with a life, not one of your employees. Quit humping my leg!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Small, Weird World

Over the past few days, I have had a front row seat to one of the bizarre realities of our digitally entangled humanity, the quick rise of internet fame.

Last week, one of my good friends from college decided to propose to his girlfriend. In order to make the moment something special, he enlists the help of one of our other mutual friends, her husband and many of his other friends and family. They choreograph a dance, videotape the proposal and upload it to the internet. Over the course of three days, it goes viral like some great love SARS.

Anyone who spends time on the internet these days is familiar with the notion of things "going viral". From videogames, to music, to political revolutions, our recently manifested ability to communicate with the entire connected world has resulted in a fascinating democratization of culture. Its not exactly divorced from the traditional media establishment, but those classic titans of what's popular must now pay attention to the the things churning among the masses. I suspect we have all experienced this new viral culture creep. I definitely have. But this was the first time I have had a front-row seat to watch the spread from its inception. Straight from patient zero posting, "Hey, I got engaged! watch the video!" to a local cluster of congratulatory salutations and re-posts from friends and family, to re-posts from other friends who have no connection to the initial outbreak. Within hours, popular news blogs began to pick it up, first in the U.S. and then around the world. "Congratulations on your engagement!" became "Holy Crap! You're big in Japan!"

The funniest thing about all of this is that the wonderful shenanigans now sweeping the globe are not that unusual for this particular group of my friends. In college, we (along with a vastly expanded group) made a ritual of making ever more elaborate tribute films for peoples' birthdays. Each subsequent picture grew in scope until we were basically making feature-length NSFW inside jokes. It's been an ongoing trend of friendly one-upsmanship that apparently has kept going and growing.

I was always only an observer or a peripheral player in these antics, appearing in a couple scenes as needed, but these early films share a kindred spirit with this latest breakout. They were/are all driven by love. At their core lies a desire to make a person/people feel special and/or to blow their mind out their ears and make them say, "Whaaaaaaaaaaaat!? Amazing!!" *single tear...EXPLOSION!*

It is so heartwarming to see that this creative wackiness lives on, even after our group of friends has spread around the world. For this particular video, my friends enlisted an all new cast of characters. I can only hope that its not just the video that goes viral, but the desire to creatively express the joy of life.

Isaac, congratulations buddy and to Amy, whom I still haven't met! and a tip of the hat to Gina, Ammon and their new cast of crazies for helping keep the creative fires burning.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dress for Success

A member of my regular D&D group is about to defend her master's thesis tomorrow. She posted a query to her Facebook today, asking what she should wear to her defense. Naturally, upon seeing the question, I popped over to that bastion for defensive clothing ideas, Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor.

I have picked out a couple of options. Which do you like best? Keep in mind, she is a bit of a crusader for education reform.

Alchemical Advocate for practical STEM education

A defender of the arts

She chose... wisely
A proponent of better school nutrition
Or, dire-weasels, because... DIRE. WEASELS.

So, what do you think?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

He's Crafty

My Japanese-style castle, tower and bridge as seen from my giant orb.

So, today marks the official release of Minecraft for the XBox360. If you are unfamiliar, Minecraft is a video game originally created for the PC by Swedish game developer, Markus Persson--also known as Notch. At its core, the game is a sandbox-style building game in which a player can collect resources in the form of material blocks and then use those resources to create items and build various structures. Minecraft does away with many of the trappings of modern gaming such as fancy graphics, bloodsplosions and... oh... plot, focusing instead on providing a setting in which the user can flex his or her imagination in whichever way it bends best.

But that's really the beauty of the game. Minecraft is essentially Legos rendered as a digital world, rather than a bunch of plastic bricks in a bin. (Even Lego has not missed this similarity!) Instead of digging through the bin to find the Legos you need, your character traipses across and under a randomly generated world about 3 times the size of the Earth. You dig for your virtual Legos and occasionally fight zombies or other beasties.

As you may have guessed, I am horribly addicted to this game. Lately, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about why that is. Why do games like Skyrim and Portal sit on my shelf while I putter around in a blocky, pixelated world. I'm pretty sure it's because Minecraft doesn't feel like playing a videogame. It feels like playing with Legos, or drawing, or planning a D&D session. It engages the creative parts of my brain in a way that even a fairly open RPG like Skyrim can't begin to match. When I am playing Minecraft, there is no story to move forward or quest to accomplish unless it is something I have dreamed up for myself. This characteristic causes some people to quickly bore of the game, but it keeps me constantly coming back for more.

That's no moon!

Even though I already have Minecraft for my PC, I also plan to pick it up for XBox. The ability to play split-screen when friends come over, or online with some of my non-PC-playing pals is appealing. If you're intrigued, I highly recommend you pick it up.

Why yes, my avatar is a cyborg Abraham Lincoln!

Also, I should note that my addiction is minor compared to that of others.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A to Z Reflections

So, we survived our second A to Z Challenge with the final post landing right on schedule. Running twice through the Challenge has generated a number of thinkings up in my think goo. And now, I'd like to share some of that goo with you.

Planning makes things easier: This year was much easier than my first, largely because I planned ahead. I set up a spreadsheet with the title of each day's post filled out in advance. I wrote the posts ahead of time and scheduled all weekday posts to go live at 8am on their day. I tried to gain a few days by writing multiple posts when I felt inspired. This worked well early on, but by the end of the month, I was typically writing the next day's post the evening before.

My stats went up a lot!: My monthly page views hit a new all-time high of 2,848. It's not a lot in the scope of the internet, but it beat my previous record by about 750 views.

My readership only went up a little: I only gained five or six subscribers during this year's A to Z. I suspect that this was due to my next realization.

I read very few new blogs: I tried to pop over to new blogs whenever possible, but my otherwise busy schedule prevented a lot of new reading. I have a hard enough time keeping up with the blogs to which I am already subscribed (my Google Reader as over 700 unread entries right now!). Though I wanted to find new stuff and add more, I kept asking myself, "Am I really going to have time to read this?" Did anyone else have a similar experience? What is your philosophy when subscribing to new blogs? Do you only keep the ones you actually read, or do you subscribe to some as an "I appreciate what you're doing" gesture without really paying attention after the fact?

Gaming blogs are a bit of a niche: Last year, I found a bunch of new gaming blogs to read during the A to Z Challenge. I still follow most of them. When I went on a similar hunt for new inspiration this year, I found my returns significantly diminished. Many of the blogs that stood out in the A to Z list were ones I already followed. I tried to weed out new nerdly blogs, but had a hard time of it. I tend to gravitate towards sci-fi authors and fellow GMs, because as much as I love motherhood, I'm not really the right demographic for mommy blogs or "Footsteppy" inspirational drivel. The thought of leaving a post on some mother's blog to the effect of "Oh man, I remember when I got stung by a bee as a kid. It sucked donkey balls! Hey, check out my thoughts on archvillains over at" just doesn't seem right. It makes me giggle and cringe at the same time, like watching Ricky Gervais.

Will I participate next year? Maybe. I certainly appreciate the A to Z Challenge as an exercise in creative overcharging. Just like NaNoWriMo or Movember, it encourages an individual to produce through writer's block, fatigue, itchiness and bouts of food-stickage. However, as I extrapolate the diminishing returns I encountered growing my readership and reading list, I am given pause to ask, is it worth it? I am undecided.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Go with the Flow

April A to Z is officially finished. I'll have more indepth reflection on my experience next Monday, May 7 for the official post A to Z reflection day. For now, here's an amusing flowchart.

Originally from Explore
w/ a tip-o-the wizard hat to nerd queen, Felicia Day for  sharing it on her FB
Now, the question is, could you plan an adventure around this flowchart?

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