Monday, December 29, 2014

A Very Nerdy Christmas

This Christmas was full of wonderfully nerdy gifts from friends and family. The photo above shows a selection of the highlights. The Wife made my son a plush D20 as featured in my previous blog post. We also got him a plush triceratops, and my cousin got him an awesome Star Trek onesie!

My dad got the Wife Machi Koro, a really fun card-based city-building game that is very fast to learn and faster to play. The Wife and I played our first two games over the course of an hour or so a couple nights ago. I definitely recommend it if you're looking for a new game. It'll also be interesting to see how it plays with more than two people.

The Wife got me the amazing TableTop Owlbears shirt from Shirt Woot!

Lastly, I made my wife a gaming kit to hold her D&D stuff (except character sheets.). I picked up a craft box from Michael's, stained and lacquered it, lined the inside with green felt, and then made up a couple little boxes for her characters' minis. I decorated the outside of the boxes with drawings that represented the core elements of her characters-- fire for her pyromancer, and a tree for her druid.

 I also painted up a couple minis to represent her characters.

 Rayne is her pyromancer from our last campaign. The base figure is from Reaper's Bones line. It's plastic, and so the sculpt isn't as crisp as its pewter counterpart. It turned out okay, but I was having a heck of a time getting a good pale complexion that didn't look ashen.

 Her catfolk druid figure and baboon companion turned out much better. It took some hunting to find the minis, but I'm pleased with the ones I picked up. I especially love that the baboon is letting out some sort of shriek or hiss, as my players have already decided that this is his most common expression.

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday, and may 2015 be full of joy.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas 2014!

The Wife and I had some unexpected big-ticket expenses come up just as the holiday's were getting rolling. In order to keep Christmas affordable, we decided to do a bunch of handmade gifts this year. The Wife made this awesome plush D20 for the boy.

I've got another holiday story that gamers will appreciate. So, I recently discovered one of the major downsides to living in the 'burbs... or my particular burb anyway.

This past weekend, I had just got back from running errands while the Wife and kid were 30 miles north baking cookies at grandma's. I was getting hangry. We hadn't been grocery shopping, and the dregs of food in our house all looked unappetizing. I didn't want to go back out since all the fast food I like required traversing the clogged streets around the mall. Then I thought, "I'll use this as a chance to order a pizza!" The wife can't eat cheese or cured/processed meats, so pizza is a rare delicacy for me.

I popped online to the one pizza delivery place I had found in our area that produced a pie worthy of calling food. (ie. not Caesar's Domino Hut) I placed my order through the online order service as I have done in the past, put Chronicles of Riddick on Netflix and sat down to wrap presents. Festive, no?

Time passes... not sure how long, but it was at least half an hour.

I think to myself, "I should probably have my cellphone nearby in case the pizza place calls." I get my phone and sure enough there is a voicemail. The online ordering service had called to tell me the pizza place wasn't answering their phone, so they were canceling my order.

Damn. My hanger was flaring up. I was annoyed that my order was canceled. I was more annoyed that an online ordering service was really just a middle man who called the pizza place for me!? I got back on the pizza place's website and called their direct line. Sure enough, nobody picked up and their voicemail box was full. GAH!

I did another online search desperately looking for delivery options that supplied actual food. Apparently our little middle class neighborhood is smack in the middle of some sort of culinary wasteland. I found one other delivery pizza place. Their website said they were open. I called. The phone rang... and rang... and rang... nothing.


I had gone full hungry Hulk. I ranted online. I sent despairing texts to the Wife, and then I caved and did the only thing I could. I made boxed mac and cheese. It took the edge off, but did a poor job filling the pizza shaped hole in my belly.

But the story doesn't end there.

The following day, my wife and I received an email from PizzaForYouBoth promising that if we responded by that afternoon, Pizza Claus would deliver a pie of our choice from a restaurant of our choice. My first thought was, "Those Nigerian princes are either getting more clever or more desperate." My second thought was, "I bet this is one of my best friend's little generous shenanigans." The Wife responded to Pizza Claus, since she has the more restrictive diet, and placed an order for a chicken pizza half with cheese, half without.

Sure enough, Pizza Claus showed up just before I got home from picking up groceries and delivered a quality pizza to our door. It's good being best friends with Pizza Claus, even if you only see him once a year.

If you're celebrating Christmas or other holidays this season, I hope they are wonderful! If you are not, I hope whatever you are doing instead is wonderful!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Review: Age of Empires Castle Siege

My base during the 5th age.

The Wife and I recently picked up new phones, and along with the upgrade comes the inevitable downloading of new phone games.

Over the past several weeks, I have become completely engrossed with Age of Empires Castle Siege. The game is basically Farmville for historic RTS fans. It's a super streamlined version of AoE. You select from one of several civilizations, build up your base, gather resources, upgrade structures and train troops. Once you have an army built up, you can use them to raid other players' bases with the aim of stealing their resources, and ultimately destroying their keep.

The multiplayer functionality is interesting, because only the attacking player is active during a skirmish. The defender must rely on their pre-set defenses. The attacker wins if they either take down 50% or more of the structures, or if they destroy the keep. Though I think the attacker gets to keep whatever resources they raid even during a loss scenario.

There is also a single player campaign that uses pre-assigned armies and will net you big lump sums of resources.

The game uses a freemium model similar to Farmville and countless other apps of its ilk. You must spend resources to construct and upgrade buildings, build your army, and even launch raids, bot those resources take time to accumulate. All construction and upgrades also have associated build times. When you begin the game, most of the build times take a few seconds to a few minutes, but as you progress/are drawn in, they quickly swell to hours and then days. You can, of course, bypass the timers by spending gold, which you slowly accumulate, or purchase at low low prices of real moneys from the app store.

Honestly, this economic model in games doesn't really bother me. It can actually help temper my addiction. Rather than playing for two hours straight, the build and resource collection timers force me to play in bursts: five or ten minutes at a time every few hours. Right now, most upgrades seem to take about a day and a half. We'll see how ridiculous things get once I reach the next age.

There are two things that DO bother me about this game. The first is the clumsiness of the control system on a touchscreen phone. Sometimes the touch gestures inexplicably switch from moving troops to zooming the screen in and out. When this switch happens in the middle of tactical maneuvers requiring precise timing, it can spell disaster for an expeditionary force! I said cavalry advance on the left flank, not zoom out, damn you!

The other, even more obnoxious thing about the game is that it occasionally disconnects from the server mid-battle, and when you reload, you find yourself kicked back to your home base minus the troops you had committed with the win or loss added to your record dependant entirely on where you were in the attack process, regardless of how things were going. Less than 50% you lose. More, you win.

If you're a fan of RTS and/or Age of Empires, this game might be a good way to casually scratch that itch. I find it much more entertaining than the candy crushes and bejeweleds.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Whole New World

Baby's first game session

2014 has been a heck of a year. Between working the bugs out of fatherhood 1.0 and settling in to our new home out in the burbs, my family's gaming habit was chucked unceremoneously into the back seat of life among the lost quarters and the ice scraper.

Well, earlier this fall, while rummaging around in the metaphorical seat cushions, I rediscovered my desire to DM. It was a little flat and covered in crumbs, but still functional. I put the word out to the old gaming group to see if folks were interested in restarting the old D&D 3.5 campaign, or in rolling up something new. The interest was definitely there, so we began working out what would be different.

Our new house is on the opposite side of downtown Seattle from most of my players, and the longer travel time means that our previous weekday evening schedule was out. Having an infant in the house also made late-night, raucous hack-and-slash Cheetofests impractical. We ended up settling on Sunday afternoon game time. And because of the longer commute for my players, we also decided to do longer, 6-hour sessions about once a month. Honestly, this format is something that I have been wanting to do as a DM for a long time. It means I don't have to shift straight from working Sporkchop into gaming Sporkchop, and longer sessions mean more continuity over the course of a game session.

The changes meant we lost a couple players to busy lifestyles and other projects. This also made it necessary to start a new campaign as the in-progress plotline of the former game could not maintain its integrity minus the characters we lost.

We are now playing in a different part of the same campaign world, and starting again with at level 3 with four players down from the honestly unwieldy seven.

I also made a couple changes to my DM-ing choices for this campaign to help it better fit with my crowded lifestyle.

I am wholeheartedly embracing Sly Flourish's philosophy of the Lazy Dungeon Master. I am trying to keep prep minimal, and focused on the things that are really necessary to run a fun session. The biggest specific choices I have made to simplify this new game are:

Limiting the source material:

Original from XKCD
In my last game, pretty much any supplement people wanted to work into the game was added to the pile. While this was great in some ways, the sheer number of books we needed at the table every session, and the sheer number of pages to flip through when leveling, or looking up a rule really dragged the game down.

I decided to try an experiment that I had been mulling over near the end of my last campaign. I offered each player the choice of adding one supplement (no compendiums) in addition to the core rulebooks as a source for their character's material. They picked the splat book, and I would use it to help season the campaign world. Most of the players embraced the choice, though I did get some pushback from our resident min-maxer who had developed an astonishingly game-breaking concept.

Going with found maps:

You got the thiiing!
I love world building, and drawing maps. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most time consuming aspects of game prep, and I just don't have the capacity to develop my own custom city and dungeon maps for every session. I thought I would try to add my own stories to existing maps I found online. I started with the wonderful trove over at Dyson's Dodecahedron, and grabbed a couple candidates for the starting city. I also did some searching through the Cartographer's Guild, and even pulled in some maps from published sources. This has not only saved me a tremendous amount of prep time, but has also helped inspire some ways to flesh out my shoestring concepts based on the spatial arrangement of the maps in use.

Firing up the generators:

This generator produces d100 random Daves
These are the Daves I know, I know...

NPCs are my key to a successful session. If I can nail down the personalities and motivations for my NPCs, I can wing most anything else. I have been making heavy use of the random name generator at Behind the Name, and of this awesome list of d100 NPC traits.

We have now run three sessions. One for character building, and two play sessions. So far the new structure seems to be working well. People are having fun, and the prep time has been much more manageable than for the previous campaign. After our last session my players also mentioned that they really enjoy the longer, more leisurely sessions, which allow for time to eat together and catch up before jumping into the game.

On a related note, I've had a lot of people start following my Youtube channel over the past few months after finding my DM Organization in OneNote video, and I got so excited by the new followers and the opportunity presented by this new campaign that I decided to make a video describing my OneNote planning process from the very beginning of a blank campaign.--A Let's Prep video!

I shot the whole thing, then reviewed it with the Wife and found that I was rambling into the bore-o-sphere throughout the video, so I never edited and uploaded it. I've been meaning to re-shoot with a tighter outline, but just haven't had a chance. If you'd like to see me prattle on about my game organization process on camera, let me know. Maybe it'll convince me to get off my butt and make it happen.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Game of Goats

Behold, the singing of House BAA-rathion!

Happy Friday. You're welcome.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Habitat Kickstarter is live!

Hey, so after a minor mixup with KS approval, the Kickstarter for Habitat has gone live. If playing junkyard wars in space appeals to you, I highly recommend you back it! After just a few hours, they are already pushing 20% of their funding goal. Not bad for a company made up of six guys.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Habitat: One Man's Space Junk is Another's Kinetic Weapon

In the future, everyone wants your junk... in SPACE!

Habitat is an upcoming space building/strategy/defense game from indie developer, 4gency, and it looks like it is gonna be pretty damn awesome! The premise is thus: The Earth is no longer inhabitable. Humankind has relocated into orbit around the planet. Near Earth space is full of both space junk and trash from the surface that somehow got blasted out of the atmosphere. You play as a team of space engineers tasked with rebuilding a home for humans using the junk you find. However, you must balance your building with defense of your orbital junkyard colony.

Sound fun? It is!

The game is currently in pre-alpha, and they are getting ready to launch a Kickstarter tomorrow next week to fund further development. I managed to get my hands on a development copy yesterday, and took it for a spin. Right now, the game is pretty basic. In it's pre-alpha form, it is entertaining in a way similar to intentionally unleashing Godzilla in Sim City. They are working on the strategy elements, but right now you can enjoy the fun of tearing down your own creations in a whirlwind of lasers, grappling hooks and rockets.

Anyway, I put together a little video of some of my gameplay last night to give you a feel for how this all comes together. Check it out!

You can learn more about the game at the official website
If you want to back the Kickstarter, keep an eye out here: I will definitely be backing it!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Review: Table Titans S.2, Great Comic, Not so Great Game

Warning, this post contains a minor spoiler for anyone who hasn't read ANY of the Table Titans comics, but who intends to start with season two... for some inexplicable reason.

16 pages in, a player character appears.

I started reading Scott Kurtz's D&D comic Table Titans when it was a little ways into its first season, so I was understandably excited when he began season two, "Winter of the Iron Dwarf" late last year. If you're not familiar, Table Titans follows the in- and out-of-game adventures of a runner-up group of D&D players who frequently haunt an actual Seattle gaming parlor in an effort to build their nerd cred and win the coveted "Winotaur". The comics are beautifully drawn by Kurtz, the characters have depth, and the portrayal of gamers feels real... as it should, since Scott himself is an avid player.

As Season Two began, however, something didn't feel right. "Winter of The Iron Dwarf" starts with an expository focus on a caravan of dwarves traveling from a besieged fortress in search of reinforcements. I thought... interesting, I bet the PCs are going to be escorts! Nope. These NPC dwarves were on their own... then they get to their destination just fine and ask the king about soliciting the aid of a great warrior (also not a PC). Through all of this exposition, the comic treats us to an uneventful journey, some decent travel talk, lush visuals and a rich feeling world. Only in the 10th page of in-game time in the comic... 16th page overall are we set up for a reveal that the warrior the NPC dwarves get is not the one they seek, but his daughter... one of the PCs.

Don't get me wrong, the art is still gorgeous. The story is definitely intriguing from a comic standpoint... But as it drew on without the input of the story's heroes, I grew antsy. See, while this technique of establishing the story's focus through supporting characters is great for comics. It's horrible for RPGs. Kurtz's DM character spends way too much time in exposition that is entirely devoid of input from his players.

Because this is a comic about a fantasy game, not just a fantasy world, the player in me began to get anxious until my inner voice was screaming, "WHY HASN'T ONE OF THE PLAYERS TOLD THIS JACKASS DM TO GET TO THE GOOD PART!?"

I was honestly torn, because as a story alone, it's really cool. I think, however, that it serves as an excellent example of the potential pitfalls of media crossovers and a DM who is too deep into his world. Expository introductions that focus on minor or supporting characters are common and work great in film, literature and even comics. The opening focus on C3P0 and R2 in Star Wars is a great example of this, as is the beginning of the LOTR films with Elrond and Isildur battling Sauron, or most of R.A. Salvatore's books, it seems. It works great in those media, because they are unidirectional. There is a storyteller, and a reader/watcher/listener who is taking it in. The exposition establishes the mood and draws the player in.

This can certainly also work in a game, but it's limited by the players' attention and desire to get in on the action. It's a perilous trap for DM's who have spent so much time lovingly crafting a world. They want to roll around in it, to share it with others... "see! look at this gorgeous thing I made!" But players, unlike readers aren't as interested in what YOU made. They want to get in on the creation process to add to or tear down your beautifully crafted world and make it their own.

Perhaps things would have been better of beginning with a focus on the dwarven messengers arriving to summon the wrong Bronzebottom. Is her dad unavailable? missing? Is the messenger just incompetent and doesn't realize he's called on the wrong person, or is the younger Bronzebottom so eager to prove herself that she dissembles or doesn't mention she's not the one they seek. Perhaps with such an adjustment to the opening, "Winter of the Iron Dwarf" would feel like both a great comic and an interesting game.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Where the Heck is Sporkchop!?

Howdy everyone. I know I vanished from the blogosphere for a solid two months, but it was not without good reason. Back at the beginning of February, I was gearing up to make a big in-blog announcement when the subject of that announcement beat my initiative roll and caught me flat footed.

My son was born. Early. Like three months early.

It was terrifying, to make the understatement of the century.

The good news is he is six weeks old as of today and doing really, really well thanks to the amazing stuff that modern medicine can do. The terror has mostly turned to joy and wonder, albeit mixed with a healthy dose of worry, exhaustion and ohcrapthehouseisn'treadyhowthehellarewegoingtodothis!?... ahem. He's still in the hospital, and will probably be there another month, but he's growing, gaining weight, looking around and needs very little breathing support at this point.

The Sporklet
So, that's why I have been absent... well, that and a hard drive failure on my laptop. I do plan to keep this here blog going, because gaming is a major part of my life, and as my son grows, I hope to share it with him. However, I do not plan to turn this blog into a daddy blog. Though I may talk about some game-related dad things. For the time-being, I will likely post based on specific things, like the upcoming International Tabletop Day, or my wife and I going to see Patrick Rothfuss on the anniversary of our first date! I don't expect I will have the time or energy to return to three posts a week, and I definitely must bow out of April A to Z this year.

Happy St. Patrick's Day everyone.

Friday, January 17, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop

At last! I have a plan to break out of this posting rut! D20 Dark Ages is hosting a blog hop in February, in celebration of D&D's 40th birthday, and I aim to join. The challenge works much like April A to Z, except with much more specific prompts, all of which are focused on D&D or other tabletop roleplaying subjects.

After reading over the list, I suspect that some of the posts will be rehashes of things you've already seen on this blog, and others will require a bit of creative interpretation. I was a long-time lurker with D&D, and did a lot more reading and dreaming about it in my earliest days. I am also the perpetual DM,  and my stints as a player have generally been short-lived, so the answers to many of the player-oriented questions will take some tweaking.

Still, I feel like I work best with prompts, and am looking forward to a productive posting February!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Lee of the Stone

The 1982 animated Secret of NIMH falls neatly within the Netflixian sub-genre, "Terrifying 80s movies marketed to children" along with such classics as the Last Unicorn, and the Neverending Story. In case you haven't seen the movie, or have buried the horror deep in your subconscience, the climactic scene in the Secret of NIMH is focused around Mrs. Brisby (changed from Frisby as in the book) and the rats of NIMH attempting to move her house (with her children in it) to the lee of a big stone so that it won't be destroyed by the farmer's plow in the morning. The scene takes place in the middle of a rainstorm and involves anthropomorphic baby field mice, nearly drowning in mud while entombed in their sinking cinder-block home. It's the family movie of the year!

Anyway, my recent move has me thinking about that scene a lot lately. From an objective point of view, my move has been a breeze. No rats, or drowning in mud, or destructive plows. But change is difficult for me, even if its good change, and this move is no exception. We've been in the new house a little over two weeks, and we're in a good spot, considering. The Wife and I are completely out of our old apartment. The packing boxes are being emptied and are gradually disappearing. We haven't found any horrible surprises at the new place. In short, everything is proceeding according to plan. I should be happy, right?

Nope. I'm still struggling with the transition. I feel uprooted, like one of the mouse kids dangling in a swaying cinder block high above a mud pit. Everywhere I look, I see something that needs to be done. art to hang, furniture to buy, racks to install. All this chaos has me creatively blocked for a number of reasons. Up until last weekend, our new craft room was the dumping zone for most of our boxes. While I have now cleared it out and set it up as best I can, we are still waiting on some furniture that is in storage, and on some other furniture we have yet to buy. Even when I've felt the urge to create despite my makeshift setup, I've been quickly subdued by creeping guilt for thinking about trying to draw or paint, or craft while there's still unpacking left to do. My game books are also all still in boxes while we wait to get the last of our furniture out of storage.

I want to be settled. I want to relax, safe in the lee of the stone. From outside my head, I can tell we are moving in that direction and that we'll be there soon. Unfortunately, inside my head, I'm stuck in the mud.

This post is part of the Insecure Writer's Support Group.

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