In the Year of Humanity, 12,018

Celebrating another year gone by always feels a little odd as it inevitably forces you to face what you didn’t do as much as appreciate what you did. In the spirit of looking back, not to mention a healthy dose of blackmail, I’d like to take this chance to reminisce about the year of humanity, 12,018.

In spite of the sheer cliff like drop-off towards the end of the year I was actually proud to have accomplished a bit on the creative side of my life. Let’s take a quick stroll through what those accomplishments were, don’t worry it wont take long.

I Made This.

Back in March I took my first whack at writing an actual review that wasn’t just one long paragraph but was visually interesting as well. Golf Story remains, even a whole afternoon into 2019, one of my favorite games that I played last year. The review itself I was very proud of and still remains one of my most viewed posts as well as one of my most popular tweets which was neat.

Admittedly it’s a small thing but as anyone who has taken the time to write or produce any level of content will tell you that tiny bit of recognition goes a long way. Mostly it just gave me a warm feeling to think folks who read it found it in any way helpful. As Tycho from Penny Arcade once pointed out in a podcast he felt his job was not to help people save their money but rather how to actively spend it. That always struck me as a very productive view for people making recommendations to consumers. We spend a lot of time criticizing things we see as bad but perhaps not enough seeking out things that are worthwhile. It’s not to say there isn’t value in those criticisms and I certainly haven’t shied away from it but sometimes its more fun to be a spotlight than a Death Star.

After the Golf Story review I posted pretty regularly week to week as a sort of inter-blog challenge between myself and my friend who writes the incredible Histastrophe blog. It’s hard to put into words how much of an inspiration and motivator she has been this year but the fact that this blog has anything on it at all stands as a testament to that.

So as not to downplay the “It takes a village” concept there was plenty of encouragement and cajoling from my best friend who keeps his thoughts on StrideTheEarth.com. There you will find what most call “The Total Package” of video and tabletop gaming as well as travel posts complete with amazing photos. It’s millennial in the best possible way. Feel free to give him shit for not posting more.

If you’re into projects of all different kinds I expect great things from this awesome guy in the next year who started strong with a pretty awesome post about refurbishing a deck. I crave the woodworking project breakdowns I know are destined to come.

Last but certainly not least if food is your thing we even have a dork for that and don’t worry, she’s in the process of switching over to WordPress so you wont have to visit that weird, scary place ever again. Still though if you aren’t currently hungry the writing and photos there should cure that unfortunate reality in a hurry.

Live!-ish

A couple weeks after that Golf Story post a game I had been anticipating for years finally released, Star Wars Legion. At the time my head was swirling with possibilities and while I still want to attempt it, it’s clear that at the time my eyes were bigger than my abilities. I did quite a few test videos and versions of the pictured setup and none of them came out at a quality I would have liked to share. I argued with myself that it was acceptable for a first time out but honestly that seemed like more of a cop-out than anything. I have continued painting on and off and am still trying to figure out a good way to set up my craft desk so I can possibly make videos. The way I envision it is maybe a way to paint, craft or learn while chatting about things that didn’t make it into their own blog posts. A way to sort of empty my brain of stuff I want to talk about in a more relaxed setting.

It is entirely possible something like that only sounds interesting in my head and not in practicality but there it is. I’d like to give it a shot but in a way that is nice to watch and not an exercise in pure amateurism. Regardless of how much prep I do I know it’ll never be perfect but best foot forward and all that. Much like with the blog I realized that the more work I put in the better the end result. Effort equals quality shouldn’t be that alien a concept but sometimes seeing it in action can really crystallize it for you.

This was definitely a failure of mine in 2018 and while it still disappoints me I will say that the attempt taught me a lot. That knowledge fed into my ability to make cooler things to go into my blog posts and in general sped up my content creation. As silver linings go I can’t really complain.

In the same vein a lot of us experimented with some streaming on Twitch through the year and while it was fun I’m not sure it’s something I want to dive into in any serious way. At least not for now. On the fringes of my always swirling project clogged brain I think it would fun for us to stream as a group a game or three that we enjoy. Seems to me there are a few on the horizon for 2019 that would be quite fun but we’ll see what happens.

Emile Berliner Died for This

I’d like to think that the inventor of the microphone would be proud of what his creation has wrought over the years but alas came April of last year. There is no use denying it, we did this. One day many years ago two friends were playing a game of Civilization when one of them, who shall remain nameless, suggested that they do a podcast together. This would give them a way to discuss their creative journey of hopefully, eventually, reaching their goals of writing full time, among other things. Now while she’ll say she was in fact not responsible for this, she is and we all know it. Not to mention I have proof, not that you know it though, it goes to a different school up in Canada.

At any rate while the origins of this whole thing may be questionable the result wasn’t and I enjoyed the experience immensely. Rolling into the new year we both hope to return to this with a more organized format and schedule and incorporate some other fun ideas. I feel it’s important to note that there is no “endgame” as such for this podcast. It really is just something we do for fun and as a way to keep us creatively engaged, no more, no less.

As it stands currently there are several back episodes, cutting room floor type things and two experiments we did with different content which have not been posted. Starting fresh with 2019 seems like a good time to rectify that. I look forward to once again sitting down and broadcasting our thoughts into the ether for the enjoyment of anyone who cares to listen along.

A Polyhedral Life

Throughout the course of the year quite a few of my posts wandered away from video games and other media to the realm of tabletop games, more specifically, Dungeons & Dragons. Conceptually I just think there are lot of interesting avenues of tabletop roleplaying to explore and more than that I just like talking about it. This might be further exacerbated by the fact that my work schedule isn’t allowing me to actually play any of the tabletop games I’d like to so this will have to suffice for now. I don’t have much more to say on this for right now except 2018 was a great year for my love of rolling dice so I would like 2019 to be at least more of the same but if possible, better.

In the same vein as D&D content I also had the privilege of taking part in a streamed game of D&D with a crew of lovely folks I met through twitter with @DMCorry as our Dungeon Master. His Twitch page is here. While I wasn’t able to make the scheduling work out for the entire run they are still going strong and are a joy to watch. Hopefully in the coming year I’ll have a chance to once again collaborate with these folks and others in the Twittersphere but for now stop by and cheer them on for 2019.

All Things Cardboard

To summarize.

We’re back in. It’s likely a mistake but it happened, wish us luck.

National Blood Pressure Month

For the second year in a row NaNoWriMo has come and gone and shockingly Sophycles and I have managed to hit the word goal by the deadline. Technically having written two continuous novel length word piles is something I didn’t think I’d be able to do, especially not within the time span of a month. So for that alone I appreciate it as a personal accomplishment and while I doubt either of these things will ever see publication it has shown me that it is at least within my power to achieve. We talked briefly, albeit this should go into a podcast, about whether or not I really want to write novel length works at all. 2018 showed me that I very much enjoy article formats and being able to touch on a variety of subjects as they strike me as relevant or interesting. Overall this is something I intend to try and explore more thoroughly going forward and see where my passion really lay. Either way it feels as though I’ve made some personal progress towards figuring out what I want from this whole endeavor.

Even after having the last one still so fresh in my mind I’d be hard pressed to say that I wasn’t at least a little excited for next November and clearing that hurdle for a third time.

Looking to the Horizon

So after all that, where do we go from here?

I know for a fact that I want to keep creating in some form or another and continue learning new ways to bring fun things, people and experiences to this blog. One thing I definitely learned last year was the tight balance I need to keep between reaching too far and expecting too little. Once you get on any kind of roll it’s hard to stop yourself from adding new goals before you’ve even really achieved the previous ones. On the other hand improving and expanding is vital to keeping yourself engaged and productive. This balance by far has been one of my biggest downfalls over the years and in the looming 2019 it’ll yet again be the hurdle I need to clear every day, week and month.

For the third, fourth or… fifth? Time I’m going to try and revive a Friday thing I liked doing and wrap up some of my favorite things from last year in a more traditional retrospective.

I look forward to seeing you then and apologize for being gone so long. Thanks for hanging around and I hope you had a wonderful start to the new year.

Here’s to you and your goals, creative or otherwise, in the year of humanity… 12,019.

Happy New Year.

  • Anthony

Dungeon Delve: 4th Edition

A while back I wrote in a post that I had been absent from Dungeons and Dragons for large portions of 3rd Edition and returned around the release of 4th. For me 4th edition was quite different than the RPG games I had left off with insomuch as it deviated pretty hard away from theater of the mind. 4th didn’t just encourage but required the use of miniatures for both players and monsters along with grid based combat maps. For my personal preference I found that especially for new players the battlemap made them focus too much on what they were seeing and less on what was described. Certainly this was not all on them or on the design of 4th because as the DM I shared the blame for not adapting properly to the system and my players. Perhaps at some point in the future I’ll write a more detailed post about where things fell apart for me and 4th but for now I’d like to focus on some positives.

Years on and quite deep into 5th edition it’s easier to look back and appreciate the things that 4th did right and there is one in particular I’d really like to talk about today: items. Shiny loot that we use to reward our players for adventuring out into our worlds and facing its dangers while exploring its mysteries. These are some of the most important things you can use to add flavor to your world, empower your players or in some cases introduce conflict. They run the gamut from useless to humorous and from world saving to world ending. 5th edition has a plethora to take advantage of and more importantly its easy for DMs to create their own to sprinkle throughout the world. The question is, what did 4th do that’s missing from 5th?  (more…)

Too Bored, Or Not Too Bored

I assume, like me, that most D&D or TTRPG nerds follow a bare minimum of accounts on Twitter with regards to the game type, one of them being Mike Mearls. The co-creator of 5E posts a fairly constant stream of game design musings which alone are worth the price of admission or more commonly known as clicking the “follow” button. The bonus to those interesting thoughts however is how regularly he interacts with folks on Twitter answering questions or just tempting them with the recent re-ignition of his passion for 40K miniatures. Don’t even get me started on the fact that I learned this game exists through his twitter. God dammit.

Sorry, anyways.

A little over a week ago I saw a tweet from Mike that caught my attention because he was responding to another game designer I recognized, Adam Koebel over some frustration he was feeling. Adam expressed his dislike over rolling with a +4 vs the 21 AC of a player ten times a turn and how boring it was. This comment was prompted by Mearls tweeting about how in 5E they had tilted accuracy towards the players to keep up the feeling of combat moving towards a conclusion. The brief conversation which took place below I found rather fascinating.

MearlsTweet

The question of whether or not the player’s enjoyment in combat takes design priority in something like combat caught me off-guard because my immediate instinct was to go, “Duh?”

To be perfectly honest even after thinking about it over the last week and a half that is still sort of my reaction. As a DM who only recently got to start playing on a regular basis I have to say that the majority of concern for entertaining combats should be tilted in favor of the players. There are a few reasons for that and chiefly among them is, I think, the most obvious one; there are anywhere from 3-8 times as many of them on average than there are of us.

Prioritizing the entertainment of one person over the average of five people sitting on the other side of the screen seems a bit bizarre to me.

As DMs we do the follow in the context of combat–

  • Have ultimate control over the design.
  • Can modify individual creatures and their abilities to our whim. (Within reason)
  • Create new never before seen enemies.
  • Design the terrain/setting in which the combat will happen.
  • Set the number of enemies.
  • Go multiple times per turn. Every turn.
  • Revel in the success and failure of our guys.

I’m sure there’s more but just off the top of my head the DMs already have plenty of fun even before getting into the combat proper. Even then once it starts, whiffing on a bunch of dice rolls and narrating it sounds plenty entertaining because on top of that we also get to narrate the successes of our party. Our responsibilities in combat beyond just rolling dice, as Mearls points out, is largely based around keeping things fun and fast paced. Even experienced players can fall into the doldrums of move, roll, hit or miss, pass the turn and onward and while that may make for an efficient combat it’ll quickly become dull. I want to see my players eyes go wide when I describe the result of their actions or the actions of their enemies, I want to see them react viscerally to the things going on. I don’t want them woodenly taking their turns in an attempt to just get combat over with, if they are then I’ve failed in my number one job; to keep them engaged and invested.

I believe I spoke about this in an earlier post but just in case that was all in my head I’ll reiterate it here; DMs should derive most of their joy through the things they help facilitate for the party. If your focus is on entertaining yourself over your group it will show, perhaps not right away but it will and it’ll be to the detriment of everyone at your table.

One of the responses to Koebel’s question in that thread said,

To be a punching bag apparently.

which depressed me a bit because this is the sort of mentality that leads to the Me vs Them attitude that gets DMs into trouble. When you start being competitive with the party instead of a facilitator it’s going to affect the quality of your game. Not to mention it’s a silly fight to get into anyway, out of everyone sitting at that table you, the DM, have the most power and it isn’t even close. You can’t even pretend to make a fight that lopsided fun in any respect… unless you’re a sadist I suppose. The important thing is to catch yourself before you fall into that trap and step away if you need to, DM fatigue is a real concern, we all need a break now and then.

As an aside one important thing to note is Adam is not being confrontational here as indicated by the continued conversation–

MearlsTweet2

One of the reasons I really appreciate Mearls is his willingness to openly admit the failings of a product he was at least half responsible for creating.

Adam’s comment there is something I wanted to end with because some of the responses in the thread pointed out that a +4 to hit indicates a pretty weak enemy which seems to be a fault in the encounter design; not the overall mechanics of 5E. Koebel is approaching this from the perspective of someone running a module, specifically Tomb of Annihilation, which means encounters and enemies are already laid out for him. In my experience running modules the enemies tend to err on the side of weaker in an attempt to ensure a minimal amount of variance for people running it. Higher powered enemies can introduce large unwieldy swings in the state of a combat which might be hard to handle for new DMs running a pre-made adventure. After all the idea behind them is to reduce the amount of on the spot improv a DM needs to do by providing them most if not everything they’ll need in a given scene. In most homebrewed games DMs would simply adjust monsters on the fly to modulate the difficulty in a combat to keep things interesting whereas doing that in a module can unintentionally affect pacing and overall balance going forward. Changes you make on the fly you want to remain consistent with otherwise it will become noticeable to your players. While we all know it happens its never fun to actively realize the DM is shifting numbers one way or another.

Overall it was an interesting tweet thread to follow with a good explanation on why the system functions how it does, where it fails and some ideas on how to improve it. If you don’t follow Mike Mearls or Adam Koebel I highly recommend you do, especially if you’re interested in table-top RPGs, even casually.

For now remember this, if the choice is between we the DMs being bored and our players the preferred answer will be… no one! But really, if it has to be someone it’ll be us.

I know, I know, but we do it for the players.

Until next time, happy rolling!

  • Non-Washable