Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Review: The Hobbit

For any of you who have not read the Hobbit, thar be spoilers ahead. For those of you who have, I may be about to spew a whole mess of heresy.

I just finished re-reading the Hobbit for the first time since puberty and I gotta say, the experience was very different. Now, I am a long-time, huge Tolkien fan. I have re-read Lord of the Rings multiple times and watched the movies twice as much. However, I gotta say that while re-reading the Hobbit, I was really aware of just how poorly structured the story is.

I feel like the story starts off pretty well. At first it seems like it is going to be a classic hero journey focused on a sheltered and unassuming hobbit, overcoming his fears and proving himself in the world. Of the three paths to Shakespearean greatness, Bilbo is following path C... "thrust upon 'em..." by an old man and a bunch of dwarves.* But does Bilbo really ever live up to his hero status?

He's hired by the dwarves to rob Smaug the dragon and help them take back their kingdom. Why do they need his help, exactly? Well, there are 13 individuals in the party, which is unlucky... unless you count the fact that Gandalf was traveling with the dwarves, thus making their number actually 14, and mooting the stated need for Bilbo. Except that Gandalf apparently has better things to do than stick around with the dwarves for most of the journey... So, I guess Bilbo does bring the group number to lucky 14 for most of the trip and 15 when Gandalf isn't off getting stoned or something.

So, Bilbo's job is to rob the dragon and take back the kingdom. Does he do either? no! He steals exactly one piece of treasure from the dragon, pissing him off enough to send him rampaging around the countryside. Then, Bilbo (the supposed hero) is not even around when Smaug, (the main villain) is killed. In fact, Smaug is brought down by someone who is little better than an extra. Bard, the one who does the honor, isn't even introduced into the story until just before Smaug comes crashing into Lake-Town. Even then he manages to kill the dragon only because a bird (who is probably Gandalf in bird form) points out the dragon's secret weak spot. So... the bird is the hero?

Seriously, this guy is in the book for like, one scene.
Image by megatruh
The bird turned archery coach is just one of several deus ex machinae to pop up throughout the Hobbit. Gandalf bails Bilbo and the dwarves out when they're beset by trolls, and then the eagles bail them all out when they're treed by goblins. The eagles and Beorn the bear bail everyone out again during the battle of the five armies. In fact, the characters established as the protagonists (Bilbo and the dwarves) seem to solve very few problems on their own. Bilbo has some success against Golem, the forest elves, the spiders, and discovers the dragon's weak spot, but that's about it. He is otherwise incredibly passive. He doesn't even act on his knowledge about the dragon! If that thrush hadn't been such a go-getter, everyone would be hosed! Bilbo even spends the entire climactic battle knocked out cold... truly a curious protagonist.

Oh, back to the original reason for Bilbo even being there... Thorin gets his cousin to back him up during the battle of the five armies... so, why didn't he just go there in the first place to find his 14th party member and skip Bilbo altogether? The hobbit is irrelevant to the Hobbit.

Despite its unorthodox, dare I say, amateurish structure, I still enjoyed the re-read. It is fun. I may even read it again. However, it also left me really curious about what Peter Jackson is going to do with the next two Hobbit films. If the first film is any indication, he's not too concerned about sticking to the story, and honestly, I can't say that I blame him. The story as is would make an awful movie. However, if Jackson starts putting a dragon-killing bow in Bilbo's hands, or tries to give Bard an actual character arc, or makes Thorin anything other than a manic-depressive manipulative douchebag, he'll likely find a lot of nerd rage flowing his way. I am also reeeeally curious to see how he handles the elves. The elves of the Hobbit are a far cry from the ancient emo kids in white found in Lord of the Rings. No, the Hobbit elves are more like slap-happy Christmas elves, full of song and holly-jolly cheer. We'll see what happens, but I am definitely curious. I'd love to see Orlando Bloom wearing curly shoes with bells on them.

*I put on my robe and wizard hat -Twelfth Night Act II Scene V

Monday, May 27, 2013

Make-it Monday: Matrimon, the WED-bot

We are just under two months out from the wedding, and are definitely starting to hit crunch time. For this week's Make-it Monday, I decided to make something awesome that also forwards the goal of being ready for the wedding by the wedding. Therefore, this week I give you Matrimon, the WED-bot!

 For those of you who are new to the blog, or who have just not been paying attention, the Fiancee and I are having a Lego themed wedding. One of the first decorations we bought was a lego cake topper, but it was a little conventional (boring) for our tastes. We came up with the brilliant idea to design a cake-cutting mech suit for the little bride and groom to ride around in. Rather than setting it on top of the cake, we plan to pose it to the side with its confectionary buzz-saw ready to strike the first slice.

We still wanted to have something on top, so I also worked up a lego heart with our initials in it. "G" for "Sporkchop" and "E" for "Fiancee".

Friday, May 24, 2013

Ira Glass: On Storytelling

While we're on the subject of inspiration, I thought I'd share this series of videos that Emma Coats (@lawnrocket) shared to Twitter this morning. The videos came as a big help to me, as I was facing a deadline on an article that I was really feeling crappy about.

In the videos, Ira Glass, creator of This American Life talks about what makes a good story and offers some encouragement for those of us who might feel like our storytelling skills are sucking at any given point in time.

If you are looking for inspiration, you might also want to check out Emma Coats' Story Shots Tumbr. She has a great take on the basics of a good story learned during her time at Pixar.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Inspiration Everywhere: The Perks of a One Track Mind

My brain does this pretty much all the time!

I post pretty regularly about various things that have inspired elements of my D&D game, from songs, to movies, to books. Honestly, I can find inspiration in the weirdest places, in large part because at least part of my brain is always thinking about my game, or at least receptive to how things could fit into it. I cannot count the times when I've been hanging out with the Fiancee, and had a conversation similar to this:

Scene: Grocery store produce section.

Fiancee: Hey babe, what's next on the list?

Me: Huh?

Fiancee: The grocery list. What else do we need?

Me: Oh! Sorry! I was just thinking about how fantasy cultures might arrange their shopping displays and experiences. Would affluent cultures use magic to keep their produce fresh?

Fiancee: ...

Me: Sorry, we need bananas.

Fortunately for me, the last year has presented a counterpart experience that goes the other way. For as my thoughts are to D&D, so are my Fiancee's thoughts to wedding planning.

Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale in front of Grey Gardens
Anyway, I had a particularly bizarre moment of gamespiration this past weekend when the Fiancee and I went on a date to see the musical Grey Gardens. If you are unfamiliar with the story, it is based on the lives of the cousin and aunt of First Lady Jackie Kennedy. Nicknamed Big Edie and Little Edie, the mother and daughter were both wealthy socialites living on an estate in the Hamptons called Grey Gardens. Well, Big Edie's husband, Phelan Beale divorced his wife, leaving her the house, but taking his money with him.

The two Edies, who had a tumultuous interpersonal relationship were stuck living together in this huge house with very little money. In the play, the tension in their relationship often focused on the attention of men. Big Edie sabotaged Little Edie's engagement to Joseph Kennedy (fictional addition for the play) and it was implied that she had similarly sabotaged previous engagements (also possibly fictional).

As the years go by, the house falls into squallor, attracts 50+ feral cats, several raccoons and all of the fleas that go with them. The two women are literally reduced to crazy, catfood-eating cat ladies. They are trapped in the house by their poverty and their own dysfunctional relationship.

Believe it or not, the play is a comedy.

Here's where things get extra exciting/weird. While watching the play, my brain starts interpreting the story as a D&D adventure module! What if the two Edies started out as noblewomen living in a castle on some remote heath? The lord of the castle is super wealthy, but notoriously controlling. He leaves to go on a crusade or something, providing his wife and daughter with a stipend on which to live until he returns... but he never comes back. Maybe he's killed in a battle or disappears under mysterious circumstances.

The two noblewomen live off of the stipend as long as they can, but their stubborn fighting and mismanagement of the estate starts to drive away the vassals. The money runs out, the castle crumbles and the two women are reduced to banshae, heard screaming at each other on the cold winds of the heath. They haunt the castle, and each tries to get any visitors to take her side. Any appearance of favor causes the other to fly into a vengeful rage.

Why would anyone go to the castle? Maybe there is a legend that the miserly lord had a secret vault full of his vast personal wealth. The vault remained locked when he did not return. Perhaps he gave his daughter and wife each only a portion of the clues needed to open the lock, but because of their stubborn bickering, they never cooperated to get into the reserve cash. Adventurers drawn to the castle must piece together the clues from the banshae in order to gain access to the secret vault.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the play on its own right, but having my mind happily burbling away in the background on this alternate extrapolation made everything even better! Any of my fellow GMs have weird sources of inspiration? How about the writers that are reading this?

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Different Kind of Dragon

I am a D&D and fantasy nerd in my free time, but I get paid to be a space nerd, which is also really cool! For this week's Make-it Monday, I decided to finally tackle a project that has been sitting on my shelf since Christmas. Rocket Claus paid a visit to my desk at work last year and left me a Dragon in a box... well, a Dragon and a Falcon. Not the sort that knights might try to poke with pointy things, nor that wizards might converse with in secret languages. No, this is a flyable model of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon spacecraft that sits on top of it.

The glue was still drying, so I couldn't pack the chutes yet.

Dragon capsule

Bit of nerd trivia:
The Falcon 9 is named after a ship that made the Kessel Run in under 12  parsecs

For those who are not familiar, SpaceX is the private American rocket company started by Elon Musk back in 2002. Musk is also one of the co-founders of PayPal, and the founder of Tesla Motors. He is my favorite of the next wave of transportation tycoons jockeying to fill the void left by the Space Shuttle's retirement. The Falcon and Dragon have already made several unmanned supply runs to the International Space Station, and are currently undergoing safety review to certify it for flying astronauts.

Oh, and the Falcon 9 is also being modified to be fully reusable! As in it will land on its tail, Buck Rogers style! Check it out! This test flight gives me shivers every time!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Self Leveling

and this guy's a friggin' senator now!

I've been on a bit of a self improvement kick lately. I am continuing the whole electronics management side of things, and it is going well, if not perfectly. Pulling the phone chargers out of the bedroom has been especially helpful, and setting email check times at work along with writing down which projects I am going to work on in my Outlook calendar has helped my productivity quite a bit.

One of the big side-effects of spending less time plugged in is that I find myself with a lot more time to read. I recently picked up my copy of Julia Cameron's The Artists' Way for the third or fourth time. The book provides a road map for revitalizing your inner artist in whatever form it may take. I have several artistically successful friends who have used it book to good effect to kickstart their creative lives. I, however, have tried a number of times to get into it but have never lasted much beyond the first week or two.

Cameron's advice is on the Stuart Smalley side. Lots of self affirmation and artistic pampering. The method is also big on an exercise called morning papers--writing three pages of stream-of-consciousness first thing every morning to clear your brain of all the garbage rattling around. It's one of the first exercises you start, and I have never managed to get rolling on it.

I've always had a hard time keeping a journal, and morning papers feels much like journaling to me. I kept tons of sketchbooks as a kid, but I just couldn't write for fun. I would occasionally pop out a short story or attempt and fail to write something longer, but I didn't do the bad poetry and dear diary thing as a kid much less as an adult. Plus, Cameron insists that you do it in the morning. First thing. Every day. I have a hard enough time getting out of bed fifteen minutes before I need to be out the door.

This time, I also realized something else: Cameron is a really redundant, ham-handed writer. She provides three or four long-winded, often metaphor heavy examples to illustrate the why for each exercise in the process. I know she must be a beautiful, thriving artist, but I get really annoyed when people write or talk like a being that is Artist, or Actor. It feels phony. It bugs. Maybe that's part of my problem.

Despite all of my issues with this book, I keep feeling myself drawn back to it every few years, and I keep dabbling for a few days or weeks before letting it fall aside. The fundamental principles seem sound--clear your mind; set aside time for your creative self; let yourself fail; improvement takes time. They're just wrapped in saccharine schlock that is a chore to get through.

I'm back at one of those points. I really want to get my artist going again. I've had some success of late with the maps and mini painting and a couple other drawings. My creative juices are flowing. I just don't have a whole lot of direction. I crave structure and continue to lack follow-through. There is the book... staring at me on the shelf, full of all its artsy messages about being an extension of God's expression in the world. Snowflake. Butterfly. Barf.

Yet... successful friends... need for a plan. I go back.

Any of you lovely readers had success with The Artist's Way? What do you do when you are feeling energized but unfocused?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ferris Bulette's Day Off

So, while poking good-natured fun at the Dungeon Bastard's Kickstarter for the World's Worst Dungeon Crawl, something amazing happened. Our back and forth on Twitter became a seed for what could very well be the greatest D&D movie ever!

Of course I ended up backing his project, and you should too! Now I just need to figure out how to make Ferris Bulette happen...

Spirit of the Century

I am a HUGE sucker for action-serial style pulp. I love the Indiana Jones films, as well as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and the Mummy films. As a kid, I loved Disney's Tale Spin, and still would if the dang furries hadn't ruined Don Karnage for anyone who doesn't want to see a cartoon fox drawn anatomically correct. I chose a career in museums, in part because I could see myself winding up like Marcus Brodie in my later years, and getting lost in my own museum actually sounds appealing.

Also, remember that time when the Fiancee and I went as alt-history air pirates for Halloween?

Yes, that is Black Mario over my shoulder.

You get the picture.

Now that we have established my love for pulp, it should be no surprise that I jumped at the chance to pick up a copy of Spirit of the Century when I saw it on the shelf at Powell's last weekend. SotC bills itself as "A Pulp Pickup Roleplaying Game". It uses the FATE roleplaying system, which is highly customizable, dice light, and roleplaying heavy. This makes it simultaneously easy and quick to pick up and play, but likely not accessible for someone new to roleplaying games. While SotC provides a basic rules metric, it is on the players and the GM to come up with their own character types, skills and other unique characteristics. It is definitely not for someone hesitant about jumping into roleplay with both feet.

The framing premise behind SotC is that the PCs are all part of the Century Club, a group of extraordinary individuals born on January 1, 1901. Set in the roaring 20s after the PCs have come of age, the members of the Century Club attempt to better the world by seeking out new knowledge, defending the march of progress and battling the forces of darkness who would seek to disrupt it. They use Science! (complete with exclamation point) as their weapon of choice--whether it take the form of jet packs, ray guns, mechanical know-how, or a PC playing a talking gorilla, escaped from a research facility.

I presented the idea of dabbling in some SotC sessions to my regular D&D group on Monday night. We had just completed the final regular game night of our long-running campaign, and determined that it will be mid to late summer before we are all free to indulge in a weekend grand finale blowout. Since we all like gaming together, everyone seemed excited to try something that presents a change of pace, setting and mechanics. We have a character creation session scheduled for two weeks from now. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Make-it Monday: Adventure Log

This week's Make-it Monday project wasn't so much making something new as greatly reorganizing something my players have had for a while. The Fiancee and I spent the weekend down in Portland celebrating a friend's graduation from college. We both wound up completely exhausted, and I just didn't have the energy to finish my initial Make-it plan... so, I went with a less-rigorous plan-B.

Months, even years ago, I provided my players with a binder, called the Adventure Log, which they could use to take notes, store handouts, and generally track anything they did not want to forget about the game. It is the players' counterpart to the GM's notes. Well, the binder grew to include some handouts stuffed haphazardly inside, along with a quad-ruled tablet of hand-sketched maps, another legal pad tracking their loots and the stuff in their bag of holding, and various random scraps of paper crammed into the front and back pockets. Everytime you picked the thing up, something would fall out.

I decided it was long past time to tidy up the players' Adventure Log. So, I added labeled dividers with sections for the details on their base of operations, storing provided and self-drawn maps, handouts, and for tracking stuff in the bag of holding. I got rid of the separate notepads and slipped blank, loose-leaf paper into the binder to replace them. I even added a pouch at the front that holds cards with descriptions of the group's favorite buffs and persistent area-of-effect spells.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Sporkchop Unplugged Part Deux (For realsies this time!)

Asimov's laws of robotics as depicted through Lego
In some ways, it seems that the technology we carry around in our pockets these days may be pushing to break Asimov's first law of robotics. To refresh those of you who don't know, Asimov's Laws are:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey orders given by a human being, unless they conflict with Law 1.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with laws 1 or 2.

While cellphones are not quite at the level of robotic intelligence Asimov envisioned (Siri is still kind of a dumbass), our handheld devices, computers and other technological assistants and enhancers, are reaching a level of allure where they can wreck your life on the rocks, siren style. Tech can cause harm. Maybe not physical... unless thrown at someone, but it can seriously mess with you on a mental and emotional level.

My established readers may remember this time when I said I was going to trim the amount of technology in my life... 'member that? That was awesome! Then, I didn't actually do anything. Well, that changes now! or, rather started changing two days ago.

Over the past several months, I have noticed my technology addiction reaching levels that are affecting my productivity at work, and my quality of life at home. At work, I find myself compulsively checking my email all the time, even when I am trying to research or write for a project. I'll only get a couple pages read, or a paragraph written before I pop back to the email, or check my blogroll. At home the other night, the fiancee and I were sitting on the couch with the TV on. I had my laptop and phone with me and she had two laptops (transferring stuff from old work lappy to new) and her phone with her. The utter absurdity of the situation was not lost on either of us. My compulsive need to flit between my various devices and media sites all day long, every day was reaching a point where I felt like I was developing symptoms of ADD. I couldn't hold my focus on one thing for more than a few seconds without my mind wandering or feeling the urge to just... check... Facebook.

Well, two nights ago, I finally took action. I had read over this article on technology addiction and decided to  implement some of its recommendations along with some of my own ideas. I should clarify that my goal is not to eliminate technology from my life, but rather to move back to using it with a purpose and putting it aside when there is no purpose. I still plan to use Facebook, Twitter, this here blog, emails, video games and the Wi-fi's and the GB's... but I want to be in control when I do. I had lost that control, so, here's how I'm taking it back:
  1. I set email checking alarms for work at 10 am, 2 pm and 4 pm. I am taking the WebMD article's advice and holding off on checking my email first thing when I arrive. I tell you, it's a really uncomfortable feeling, but I was amazed at just how much I managed to take care of this morning before 10 am. It forced me to think about my projects for the day and start with them first. This gave me the momentum to move forward on my tasks throughout the day. It also really made email feel like a drug when I finally logged in at 10. I'm telling you, it was creepy.
  2. I set a bedtime alarm for 10 pm. I have a bad habit of watching just one more YouTube video or just popping onto Minecraft late in the evening, when I should be climbing into bed. I feel like I need the tech to wind down. Well, I have decided that I want to get back to winding down the way I did as a kid. Reading a book in bed.
  3. I moved my phone and charger down stairs. Finally! I said I was going to do it in my last unplugging post, but it has taken me nearly a year to finally act on it. My fiancee did the same, and said she felt naked without her phone right next to the bed. Well, naked can be freeing sometimes. I noticed an odd side-effect the first morning after I did this. I got out of bed a lot quicker. Once my mind was awake, I got bored lying in bed without a device to distract me... welp, nothing to do but get up and start the day!
  4. This last one is the simplest, but perhaps the most profound. My main focus is reducing my compulsive checking of social media. I used to always have my email, and Facebook, and Twitter open. Always. I wouldn't just surf them, but I always had one ear waiting for that ping that let me know someone had liked, or commented, or interacted with me! WITH MEEEEE! HOORAY!... When you think about how good a like or retweet makes you feel, it's really kind of disturbing. Sure, it's nice, but why does it matter so much!?

    Anyway, I digress. The last step I am taking is to ask myself, "does it matter?" or "is it important?" every time I feel the urge to reach for my phone, or to open up an internet browser. Having that quick mental check has so far helped me stay in better control of my media rather than letting it control me.
I can already tell that this process is going to be hard. At times, I feel like my fingers itch. Just one little click is all it takes! But then I think, I want to read books! I want to draw! I want to talk to my fiancee without my phone interrupting us all the time (and it's not even ringing!) I really hope I can keep up with this effort. I sure intend to try.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Frat Boy Fantasy and D&D at the Movies

I was planning on writing a simple book review for today's post until I started seeing articles about a plan to make another D&D movie. It sounds like things are still early in the process, but history, combined with the information coming out about the project does not bode well.

A piece on Deadline Hollywood lists the motivation for the project as follows: "Given the heightened interest in sword, sorcery, chivalry and cool creatures within Warner Bros with the HBO series Game Of Thrones and the ongoing Peter Jackson-directed adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit, it is expected that the studio will expend the necessary resources to create a world around a well-established brand which has generated north of $1 billion in books and merchandise since it was launched in 1974. The studio is going out to filmmakers and I’m told they are treating it as a big priority."

Sure, great. Several fantasy genre pieces have been wildly successful lately, but the only people who think it is just because of genre are ill-informed suits. "You know what the kids love these days? The Harry Potters and dragons!"

The problem is, the core market for a D&D movie (i.e. nerds) are not drawn by genre alone. In fact, I think that in a lot of ways, nerds are more picky about having their genre pieces delivered in a well crafted way than the public at large. My quaintly conventional stepfather will gladly go see whatever studio tripe has enough explosions and star power and enjoy it regardless of quality. My nerd friends, not so much. The reason Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones have been so successful is way more than just their genre. The makers of those pillars of fantasy successfully compiled the following formula.
  1. beloved story 
  2. pre-existing fanbase 
  3. excellent writing and production value 
  4. production team who love the story as much as the core audience
When one of the producers for the D&D movie was intimately involved in the previous D&D film trainwreck, and the other says things like "I’ve never played the game, but it is a fantasy universe on the order of The Lord Of The Rings, which was most popular back when players had to use their collective imaginations" you're not off on the right foot. (emphasis added) 

When the writer, who is being touted as a protege of "Oscar nominated filmmaker Frank Darabont", has only ever written three feature-length films (one low-grade psychological horror and two really crappy fantasy pics) with ratings of 55%, 26% and 11% ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, you're in deeper trouble. They've got part 1 and 2 of the formula in the bag. The problem is, when you fail at parts 3 and 4, you are left with a dedicated fan-base thoroughly unhinged about your decision to prostitute their beloved story. You become the thing nerds like me hate most: a bully. Except that instead of stealing lunch money, you are stealing their stories and their memories. The very things they used to hide from bullies like you. Unless you have existing clout on the level of George Lucas, raping a beloved piece of nerd culture is not something to mess with.

Unfortunately, the recent successes of fantasy flicks seems to make such atrocities more tempting. It is sparking a rise in what I call "frat boy fantasy" (whatever you do, do not Google the term! The more common use is decidedly NSFW). In my parlance, frat boy fantasy refers to movies that provide the trappings of fantasy without the soul. Big battles, big special effects muscle-bound protagonists, scantily clad women, all hanging on an even more scantily clad plot. There is no story arc. Nothing to make you actually care about the characters. The producers just throw money into VFX, set-piece battles and bump up the exposed flesh. Newsflash: If you don't care about the characters, that big speech the protagonist inevitably gives before the climactic battle falls on its face and takes the whole battle with it.

Frat boy fantasy is fantasy that the white baseball cap crowd can enjoy without having to engage their imagination, feel like they are in danger of stooping to nerddom, or really think at all. Some examples of this phenomenon include: The Immortals, the remake of Clash of the Titans, the remake of Conan (the original Conan almost fit, except the attention to back story made you actually care about Conan). Frat boy fantasy takes an existing, known world and hangs it on an ill-conceived and often generic storyline. The brand is merely pimped to sell tickets, regardless of how necessary that branding actually is eg. Aeon Flux. Given the track record of the production team assembled, I suspect this is exactly the route the new D&D film will take.

Even without these red flags, translating D&D to the screen would be very difficult. Basing a film strictly off the rulebooks means that you just make up the characters, and if that is the case, why make it D&D at all? Why not make an independently generated sword and sorcery epic? (cf. Ladyhawke, Willow, or even Reign of Fire) Perhaps the best way to make a D&D film would be to base it on some of the novelizations of the game. Of course, then you have to deal with beloved characters hobbled by really horrible writing. Still, I think that if you could get around the sociological quagmire that is making a story with dark elves that doesn't do this:

you could mold something decent out of the Icewind Dale trilogy. Chris Hemsworth would be great as Wulfgar, and Rose Leslie as Cattie Brie. Bruenor just needs someone gruff who can handle dwarfy makeup. Drizzt would be tricky (see photo above) as would Regis unless you dipped into folks who have already played hobbits. The real trouble would be passing off some of the awful name choices like Dendybar and Crenshinibon (I swear, R.A. Salvatore shouldn't write while hungry!) Even better, I think some of the video games like the recently re-released Baldur's Gate would make for AH-mazing film opportunities. Can you imagine a set-piece battle with Minsc and Boo!? I can, and it is GLORIOUS! Sadly, I have little faith that such honest treatments are in store for this film.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Kids and Games: Engage!

Games with kids: You're doing it right.

Something important is happening over at Penny Arcade. Something that I hope beyond hope will grow, spread and change our culture for the better. The originators of Penny Arcade are both ambassadors of gaming and geek culture. They are also now both fathers of young children.

Warning: some of the links include emotionally driven adult language.

Today's strip relates a recent and alarming experience Penny Arcade creator, Mike had while teaching cartooning in his son's second grade class. That experience has set the wheels of the Penny Arcade juggernaut in motion. Mike followed it up with a blog post about his action plan. His call was echoed by his counterpart, Jerry and on their site's news wire, and now I will repeat it here: Parents, and adults with children in your life, ENGAGE WITH YOUR KIDS WHEN IT COMES TO VIDEO GAMES!

I am not a parent yet, but I do have many children in my life: nieces and nephews, the fiancee's half brother, children of friends. I have witnessed the trigonometric spectrum of parent-child-game relations both good and bad, and I will say that neither willful ignorance / inaction, nor uninformed clampdowns are workable solutions.

Video games exist. Like television and books exist. They tell stories, communicate information, entertain and beg for active parenting. Banning games because "games are violent" is like banning books because you don't want your kid looking at Penthouse magazine. Not every game is Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty. However, completely ignoring what a child consumes when it comes to games is just as bad, if not worse.

If you know a young person who plays games, there are several simple things you can do to engage with them and make sure their game consumption is appropriate and healthy.

  1. Learn about the ESRB system. It is the video game equivalent of the movie-rating system and provides a handy guide for selecting age-appropriate material.
  1. Sit down with your kids when they are playing and talk to them about what they are playing. Ask them how it works. Better yet, play with them!
  2. Limit your child's time in front of the video games. The best solution to a kid who plays games for 72 hours straight is a parent who intervenes after two or three hours.
  3. Engage with other parents. If your child plays games at friends' houses, ask those parents to put away the games that you feel are inappropriate. If you are an active, gaming parent, recommend games you like for kids!
  4. Be the role model your child sees in you. Do not be an anti-game tyrant, but don't disengage and let unregulated gaming take over the modeling of roles for you.

As I mentioned, I am not yet a parent, but I have on occasion, been asked to keep young humans alive and happy for multiple days at a time. When I play games with kids, Skyrim and Borderlands are definitely off the menu. Minecraft, Lego Indiana Jones and Forza Racing, however, are workable alternatives. Ultimately, it boils down to a household by household, family by family basis, but active adult-child engagement and dialogue is far more productive than blind reaction or nothing at all. You're not going to be able to shelter your child completely from the negativity in videogames, just like you can't and shouldn't shelter them completely from negativity in life, but you can help them understand these things and make healthy gaming choices for themselves.

Make-it Monday: A to Z Compilation Books

One of the big reasons for using maps as my A to Z theme was to build a collection of stock locations for use in my game. For this week's Make-it Monday, I decided to compile all of my hand drawn originals, along with printouts of the parchment-textured finals into two artist portfolios. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a portfolio at my local art store with enough pages to include everything in one volume. Still, I am pleased with how things turned out.

The old label maker comes in handy once again

Here's the interior layout turned to a couple of my favorites from the challenge.

Tucked away snug on my RPG shelf.
I don't know that I've ever shown this, but this is my RPG bookshelf all within arms reach of my GM spot.
The plastic bins on the bottom two shelves are all packed with minis.
There are a few leftover pages in each portfolio, so I may work up a title page and table of contents for each. It's really not necessary, but it would look cool.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Collapse on the Couch and Reflect

This is my reflection post for the 2013 April A to Z Challenge.

I would like to begin by welcoming everyone to my non-Challenge blog. I feel like blog personalities change slightly when not under the pressure of A to Z. Like getting home from work, or a fancy dinner party with a bunch of strangers. After A to Z, the blog's shoulders relax, it kicks off its shoes, cracks open a beer and maybe lets out a little fart or something. You get to see it when it is not trying to be "on". Sometimes that change is a little different from the vibe given off during the A to Z.

This past A to Z was all about maps for me, but ROFL Initiative is more than a place for pretty maps. Yes, I draw on occasion, but this space is mostly a celebration of all things nerdy. Of things that would make jocks of the 1980s want to beat me up. I would elaborate further, but this past week, Wil Wheaton posted a blog, a video and a picture that also happen to sum up what I strive for in a far more eloquent way than I could on my own. 

You'll be Safe Here, by Dryponder
If you don't follow Wil already, you should check his stuff out. You might like what he has to say. In the mean time, welcome. I'm glad you're here.

On to the reflecting!

This was my third year participating in the A to Z Challenge. In a lot of ways this year was wildly successful.
  • My visible followers grew by 50% over the course of the month.
  • I smashed my previous monthly page-view record by 200% and broke 10,000 pageviews for the first time.*
  • By hand drawing my maps, I actually got myself away from my computer in the evenings and avoided the temptation to work on personal projects during work time.
  • I wound up with a collection of stock maps that I have already begun putting to use in my D&D game. This past Monday, my players battled a bunch of undead beasties at an altar.
  • Using maps as my theme helped prevent me from phoning in my posts while in the thick of it. In years past, I've always been tempted to just get a blog done regardless of how crappy it was. Not so with the maps.
  • I added quite a few new blogs to my feed reader.

 *This was largely due to a wonderful fellow blogger posting about my project on Reddit, which led to it trending as high as #3 on the RPG boards for a day. It'll be interesting to see where things stand post spike.

However, there were also a lot of things that continue to frustrate me about the Challenge, or at least make me pause and say, "I wonder…"
  • I had a heck of a time making it to other people's blogs.
  • When I did find time, I found myself wondering if I should go to new blogs, or revisit the ones I was really digging. I definitely felt like I didn't have time to do both.
  • It generally took longer to make the maps than it otherwise would to write a blog, so more of my time was consumed by the challenge.
Very soon I will add this year's posts to my A to Z archive page. If you would like to check out my entries from years past, you can find them there in convenient lists! Do I think the Challenge was worth it this year? Yes! Will I do it again next year? Not really sure yet. I probably wont know for a while now.

Oh, if you didn't get enough alphabetizing during April, check out Realmwright, who has decided to run a May to Z blog challenge!

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