A Busy Week But No Excuse

Hi, I’m Non-Washable and it has been days since my last post on this blog.

You may fairly raise your brow at me and think, “A confession doesn’t really count, man.” and you would be absolutely correct. Regardless of how much time it takes me to write this out and start feeling better about my aggravating lack of posts this week it doesn’t make up for it. So while I’m busy confessing that I have been absent I will take a moment to at least try and justify why I was pulled away if you’ll humor me for a paragraph or several.

The first up is the reason which is least absolving for me which is that I spent some time playing video games. For the last few weeks I have played the absolute bar minimum by which I mean almost none save for trying to knock out my daily quests in MTG:Arena. Fortunately you can have up to a maximum of three quests build up, one per day, so I only really need to play twice a week to keep up. Unfortunately this also means a lack of time to brew decks or play just for fun but, nature of the beast, right? What did happen was that I picked up Frostpunk and allowed that to eat up nearly a day and a half of time I should have been working on things for this blog. Whats worse was that I didn’t take the time to use any of that gameplay to prepare for a review on the game. Feeling utterly stupid about that I did start writing up my feelings on the game and should be posting it shortly to rectify that mistake.

Short answer: If you like city-builders that pull no punches and punish you for sloppy play by piling up the corpses of your citizens like cords of firewood then you should be all over this game. Not to mention it is beautifully realized, sleek and feature packed all for the very reasonable price of $29.99USD. 11 Bit Studios is also offering 10% off that on Steam if you own This War of Mine, until May 1st. Hard to say enough good things about it but more on that later.

Ultimately I forgot my own rule which I set at the beginning of this that whatever I do I should make sure I can extract something from it for this blog to continue the feedback loop so I am always producing something. A lesson learned and I will be better going forward.

The second thing has been regarding my other decision to branch out and try to do things outside of my previous limited comfort zone and be a larger part of the D&D community. I really do love the game and for all my failures as a player and DM I do hope to use those experiences to help inspire others to join in or avoid the pitfalls I myself have fallen into. The last post I wrote was D&D related and got a good response which I felt really happy about! A conversation I had with some folks on Twitter this week reminded me, while I was telling them, that even the most basic of information re-iterated can help. A subject that has been expounded on thousands of times can still escape newcomers to our hobbie so it helps to have it done again, tweaked and put in different terms. You never know who you might reach that others have missed. Smaller creators and commentators communicate regularly with those who the larger personalities may miss. Not through any fault of their own but they have simply grown to play in new arenas, they have new concerns and demands on their time. So it is up to us to take up the banners in their place and be new conduits for advice and help in their stead. Ultimately we too may eventually find ourselves too busy to answer all the questions we may get but hopefully by that time we have helped to inspire new people to offer their unique perspectives and experiences on the game.

Aside from this I have found myself with a couple of other opportunities to become more involved and while at the moment I can’t really talk about them (I don’t think? Better safe than sorry.) I am incredibly excited/nervous for them. If for no other reason than I expect to embarrass myself in new and unexpected ways. Forcing yourself outside of your comfort zone is often stressful and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel it but I’m determined to get past that and embrace the experience. In response to that I buried myself in some prep work to the exclusion of keeping to my posting schedule which was certainly unwise but for my own sanity I think I needed it. Balancing this stuff is certainly going to be tough but that is just one more thing in a sea of them that I need to put in some work on improving.

So what positive things happened this week?

We recorded another episode of the Ourcast which was a lot of fun! It wont be up for a couple weeks as we still have a one week buffer between releases but I think it’s one of our best so far. I’ve become a little more proficient with editing which is shortening the time it takes to produce episodes. The downside to that is that now that its going quicker I’m experimenting more with different techniques and musical additions so really its taking me more time to do them now. Insert sad-face here. It’s good though, shows me I’m improving and its hard to feel bad about that. Prior to this last episode I also adjusted my desk and audio setup a little as I work on improving the audio quality on my side. Since I’m using a broadcast mic to record instead of my gaming headset there are a lot of factors I was previously unaware of that are messing with the quality of my output. For instance I was unaware of the part the vibration of my case fans would play in the audio quality though a 3.5mm jack. Hopefully the adjustments will show in upcoming episodes. Also because I have listened to way too much of myself speaking on the podcast I have realized that in an effort to hold a more conversational tone as though my co-host and I are sitting across from each other at a table I have inadvertently caused myself to sound somewhat boring and mono-tone. This past episode I was particularly annoyed at myself during the editing as it oftentimes felt like I was utterly lifeless while talking. I have a few more criticisms of my performance but suffice it to say going into our recording session this past Thursday I made a concerted effort to adjust my approach and be a bit livelier. Hopefully it’s a welcome change and going forward I’m going to try and embrace my “radio voice” and bring the enthusiasm out a little more.

On the D&D front my group finally was able to get together again after a couple week hiatus. The “Band of Others”, as they have chosen to call themselves, got their first taste of the Dungeon Trials beneath the beautiful city of Orskr. In a competition with adventurers from all over for wealth and rewards beyond imagining they’re going to face the toughest challenges of their lives over the next few sessions. First room of whirling blades caused a few cuts and dings but they got through it largely unscathed.

Tougher challenges to come however and I’m excited to see how they deal with them.

We’re also just a couple weeks shy of restarting our Dark Heresy Warhammer 40k campaign which I get to be a player in and we were all assigned a little homework prior to getting back in. Working on that has been really fun as a way to get reacquainted with my character and the setting.

Basically there a lot of things that are “coming soon” that I of course wish could get here maybe just a little faster. Until then though there are plenty of things to keep me busy so It’s time to refocus on those and first up I think is going to be starting on the project I set for myself with my Games on the Silver Screen post from when I was on vacation. Mortal Kombat is currently on Netflix and I can’t think of a better way to to start things off.

For now thanks for reading! Hopefully this offered a little insight to where I am right now and as an adequate apology for not keeping up through this week. Just know that no one will ever feel more irritation or disappointment from these failures than I do. The important thing is finding motivation in them instead of defeat.

In the interim thank you if you read this far and I’ll be back soon.

Happy gaming, folks!

  • Non-Washable




Controller to the Grindstone

Have you ever had someone look over your shoulder while you were absentmindedly grinding away in some game and ask, “Hey, whatcha doing?” and immediately start questioning the way you spend your time?

Me neither!

This past Saturday a friend and I were sitting around after a couple bouts of X-Wing Miniatures just chatting about video games when we ran aground on our time with The Division and the upcoming sequel. We talked about what we liked, disliked and the things we hoped that the sequel would get right from the start. After playing Destiny 2 I’m personally hoping that Massive Studios took notice of the pitfalls they failed to avoid and takes steps to not do the same. The general mechanical, aesthetic and content concerns aside the conversation led us to the endgame or, ‘The Grind’ as gamers have come to know it.

Does it do anything for us anymore?

We come from a long, proud and, nacho dusted history of grinding games until our vision blurred and our chairs no longer felt like disparate objects from our numb backsides. Now that we’re in our thirties with more limited free time to invest I think we each individually have just naturally begun to gravitate away from those experiences. You may have noticed above that doesn’t mean we are completely divested from games that use a grind to extend playtime and incentivise investment in their game mechanics, which is true. I used to dive into the grind until I was physically burnt out to the point that I saw loot tables, drop percentages and boss strat maps when I closed my eyes at night. Naturally that was when the fun and ultimately my time with the game would come to an end. I struggled, like I think most people do, with the lingering sense of guilt that by leaving all of the time I invested in the game was ultimately wasted. Eventually I managed to reconcile that the free time you invest into your video games is the same as the time you might spend watching TV, going fishing or reading books. The important decision you have to make is how much of your available free time you dedicate to any one or variety of activities..

I want to take just a second here to make something absolutely clear: This is not a judgement on how people decide to invest their time. It is not a knock against people who play a single game or to this day are still dedicated to grinding away in years old titles for that perfect set of items or max level character. I was, and to a point still am, that gamer to this day, that will never change.

A few months ago there was a round of media attention for The Division’s latest patch which many considered had finally made the game a complete and worthwhile experience after all this time. I had owned the game since launch and had played it through till nearly the end of the main campaign when I finally became exhausted by the lack of polish. I enjoyed it and I had desperately wanted to love it because it filled the looter slot in my gaming that had gone empty for a while. I quit and let it collect dust in my uPlay account until my friend suggested that he might want to pick it up to which I said if he did I’d be more than happy to give it another try. So we did and it was absolutely fantastic, we played almost every night for weeks on end chewing our way through the story, min-maxing our gear and, tweaking cosmetics. Just generally enjoying the grind. It wasn’t too long before we finally hit the endgame which had purportedly ballooned with content since launch so we were excited to see what it had to offer. We played for another couple of weeks until we got to experience our first Global Event. To put it briefly these weeklong events allow players to grind as much as they want towards specific high end gear in nearly any fashion they prefer. Wanting to get the most out of it we did a little research on the fastest and most effective ways to grind the stuff we were aiming for and got started. That lasted for probably 3-4 days before my buddy had enough and needed a break, I followed pretty quickly a day or two later. I won’t lie, I actually felt disappointed in myself for not being able to continue with it. I thought back to the gamer I used to be who probably could have easily sat there and done it half awake for twice as long at a stretch.

We both loved the game, we both had stuff that we still wanted to acquire and content we still wanted to play so what was wrong?

What our conversation on Saturday crystalised for me was the answer I hadn’t managed to come up with when we finally quit The Division and moved on. I was happy with where I was at the endgame before we tried to dive head first into that weeklong grindfest. That didn’t stop us from trying to force ourselves to enjoy the grind as much as we did a decade and a half ago though much to our detriment. Had we not participated in that Global Event I’m fairly sure we would have continued playing and may even be still playing it now, although less frequently. We wouldn’t have progressed nearly as fast or probably ever ended up with the optimized top tier loadouts that we really wanted but as I realized on Saturday that was perfectly fine. Going that route would have meant that we would have more naturally moved on from the game instead of the rather abrupt derailment we suffered. I can’t help but look back and feel like we left on a sour note through no fault of the game or the developers. Just by not really accepting or knowing the gamers we’ve become.

So where does that leave me as a gamer and a person?

The introspection over the last few days I think is definitely a positive for me as I now better understand my relationship with endgame grind. I certainly do still enjoy it to an extent and I don’t begrudge any developer who use it nor the gamers who are truly devoted to it. I do think that personally this realization will help me stop shipwrecking myself on games that I really love but eventually leave feeling like I failed to get everything I could out of it. Unfairly tainting a great experience forever.

Tying my enjoyment of a game to my inner neurotic completionist or worse my overly competitive nature has made some of my experiences undeservedly awful. It’s long past time that I made a concerted effort to grow past that and understand when I am satisfied and ready to move on.

Right now my friend and I have picked Vermintide 2 back up and we are enjoying it immensely. I think this will be my first real test of knowing when my expectations have been fulfilled and I can shelve it where it belongs alongside some of my favorite gaming memories.

Till next time, happy conscientious gaming!

  • Non-Washable

Stay a While and Listen…

I’m working on a post right now about some of the various issues facing the gaming industry, naturally the first one is going to be talking about lootboxes. The conclusion I come to I don’t think will surprise anyone nor do I think most gamers would really disagree with it but it’s always nice to get your thoughts down somewhere to make room for stuff like a gif I saw yesterday of a phallus shaped paper rocket. I know most people are probably sick of hearing about it but unfortunately it’s going to keep coming up until we find a reasonable solution where the customers get their way.

At any rate what I wanted to talk about today was a phone call that I got today from my brother in law who a couple weeks back asked me if I played D&D. I laughed before I even thought about it, not because the question was dumb or even unreasonable but because it continually fascinates me when it gets asked because it’s so so different from when I was a kid. That was a question you really only asked good friends or people you literally witnessed playing the game because you knew for sure what the answer was. If you asked the wrong people it usually led to endless ridicule especially if you weren’t leaving that school for a year or more so you could have some different classmates. We didn’t advertise our love for computers, video games and, things like roleplaying back then. It and we were not what you would call classically popular. Of course as we grew up it became easier because we cared less what people thought and we had some friends and friends of friends who we knew it was safe to discuss our nerdy pursuits with. We played Magic: The Gathering after school in the lunch room and even if we were bothered we just shrugged it off and went back to having fun. Occasionally people who weren’t part of our group would sit and watch, sometimes they’d play if we asked them to join but that was as close as we ever really got to “acceptance”.

I’ve played D&D on and off since middle school along with a few other weird systems we picked up along the way. I did fall out of it for a while around the time 3.5 was in full swing and spent some time playing the Star Wars RPG. I only got back into D&D around the time 4th edition came out because I was working at a bookstore so when I started putting those out for sale I couldn’t help but flip through the pages admiring the art which then lead to reading. That of course turned into me reading them on break and then buying them shortly after; this was the first time that I had any inclination that the world had changed a little. After i’d bought them I sat back in our break room reading through the Dungeon Masters Guide when a fellow co-worker walked by and then peeked back in to stare at what I was doing. He was roughly ten years older than I was and by all accounts a good guy but never in a million years would I have pegged him for someone who spent his free time scouring dungeons and killing goblins. He asked if I played and I confessed I hadn’t for quite a while but this new edition had kind of sparked my interest again. He sat down and we started talking about the new game and then quickly transitioned into swapping stories about old and now forgotten campaign escapades then he hit me with the real surprise of my day. He still played. He and his friends still had a weekly or semi-weekly game that they had been playing in for over five years. I couldn’t believe it since we had worked together for almost two years at that point and somehow it had never come up but after that interaction we soon found out we shared a lot of similar geeky pursuits including a passion for video games. The first 3DS I ever played was one he picked up on release with a copy of Pilotwings and Street Fighter, if I remember right. Nearly every day from then on we talked D&D and it seemed to just cascade throughout the store as we found out several more of our co-workers including an ex-Marine also played. A few of them hadn’t played in a decade or more but had always wanted to get back into it if they could find a regular group. Suffice it to say before long we had people together that we could play with although no one had ever been a Dungeon Master before besides me. I had wanted to play a character but as a lot of DMs out there know sometimes if you want to play you have to be the one to run the game. It’s extremely rewarding to run a campaign with a good group so it’s not a complaint just more of a reality we as a community struggle with. I wrote up a fairly basic adventure to get us started and we got together as often as we could re-learning as we went and it was exactly like being home again, the rules may have been different but the feeling was the same. As is bound to happen with D&D as adults eventually our schedule conflicts got to the point that playing regularly became nearly impossible and eventually we stopped. From that seed though grew several other temporary groups including an ill-advised attempt to run a game of 7-9 people most of whom were new, I should have known better but it was just so amazing at the time to have that much interest in a hobby I’d only recently rediscovered. That massive game lasted through half a year and eventually it was so hard to get everyone together at once we gave it up, while it was disappointing to stop it was fantastic that we’d even gotten that far in the first place.

More groups came and went and eventually I started to hear that people who were only tangentially related with those games had started playing or running their own outside of it which in itself was great to hear. I was back in and consuming every bit of D&D news I could find when eventually rumors of a new edition started making the rounds and soon we found out that D&D Next was on it’s way to being tested and released. In the interim though I had begun to find out that while I had been away D&D had started coming back with a real vengeance including a new thing I hadn’t seen before, D&D Podcasts. In 2008 WoTC partnered with Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik from Penny Arcade to make a series of podcasts that started in 4e and the show still continues even today. It even spun off a franchise show called The “C” Team. While it was difficult for me to put together a steady 4e group these podcasts and others did the job of scratching my itch to play. During this time my girlfriend and I put together a weekly board game group with a few close friends and that has been a fairly regular thing for going on at least five years however I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m low-balling that by a bit. At some point during all this I finally managed to convince my girlfriend that she might like being a Dungeon Master so she set out to write up a one shot for our weekly group. It actually ended up lasting several sessions because we like to take our time but it was incredibly fun and she did a masterful job designing our characters. We were given our character sheets and a folded letter we were to read before starting to play which described a few relevant details about our relationship to the other party members including a secret or two. I was given the pleasure of revealing at the end of the one-shot that one of our fellow party members who had taken a shine to my character was actually my daughter. Suffice it to say we all had great laugh over that when it was finally brought into the open.

I won’t bore you with the entire interlude of what we did before finally putting together a regular group that could meet bi-weekly but I can promise you that D&D was never not on my mind in some fashion or another. One of my best friends who is a regular in my current campaign also wanted to try his hand running a game of his own with us as his guinea pigs and we were happy to oblige, me especially when he told me he wanted to run a game of Dark Heresy. I was immediately into it while the rest of the unwitting victims at our weekly board-game night had no idea what they had just agreed to but it was Sci-fi and that was enough to pique their interest. Once we explained what it was it was decided that we were going to have to get them all up to speed on this universe and it’s lore. A couple weeks later we both compiled a stack of notes and with the liberal application of some alcohol we taught a class on the universe of Warhammer 40,000 to prep them for a future where there was only war. They were good sports and asked a bunch of insightful and relevant questions during the couple hours we were there and at the end everyone was excited to give it a shot. That campaign lasted for a fantastic half a year until it got interrupted by life and responsibility. We’ve meant to get back to it ever since and yesterday I think we finally managed to talk our GM into picking it back up or he convinced us, either way in the end it was mutual.

In the midst of all of this several of our friends have taken to running one shots of their own for family and friends or participated in our occasional games. Once 5e came out I began looking around again for a regular group to run with and for the past year or more we’ve had a weekly/bi-weekly game of D&D which I have enjoyed immensely. Not the least bit as a result of the fact that one of my players is my father who I think has read more fantasy fiction than anyone I’ve ever met in my entire life. When I finally had the thought to ask him I felt like such an idiot for not having considered it before that moment which brings me back to where I started with all of this. He didn’t need any convincing and said yes immediately to giving it a try. Thus far through all of the myriad tries to get regular games going he’s been one of the few where absolutely no cajoling was required. Currently he plays a Dwarven Alchemist Entrepreneur who is in the process of setting up his own shop in a town that the group played an important part in saving early on in their campaign. He also found a Rust Colored Bag of Tricks which he’s used to great effect so far in spite of the fact that the two goats he has a chance of pulling are either of the fainting or screaming variety. He also inquired as to whether or not they remember what happens to them each time they are pulled from the bag, I hadn’t considered it myself but you can safely assume it’s come up since then.

Anyways, not to get too far off on a tangent lets wrap this up. In all my years of being involved in D&D simultaneously the most and least surprising thing was my fathers willingness to play this silly game with my friends and I.  At this point I don’t think theres a single one of my siblings that hasn’t played or doesn’t currently play and I’ve gotten questions about the game from friends of theirs who want to learn but need some direction on where to start. That call from my brother in law got me thinking again about the sort of surreal feeling that I get when I look around at the tabletop roleplaying community and realize what a truly special phenomenon it really is. The game itself is nearly without barriers that appeals to seemingly anyone with some spare time and a willingness to escape into a co-operative fantasy for a few hours. What’s more is that we as a community have somehow kept that eagerness to share it with anyone who even shows the slightest hint of interest and I hope that’s something we never lose.

In the end if you’re thinking about playing or asking people if they’d be interested in playing then i’d encourage you to take that leap because you never know just who might be waiting for an invitation or who may not even know they want one. Barring that check out the event schedule for your local game store and see if they host an Adventurers League, those are a fantastic way to dip your toes in and see what the fuss is all about. And if the only thing thats keeping you from playing is not having a DM then I’d also encourage you to give it a shot. I wont lie and say that it’s easy or that you’re guaranteed to love it but if you do end up enjoying it I can promise that you and your players will create some of your best memories around that table.

If you stuck around to the end, good job! That’ll be 100xp and whatever is in the chest over there. Roll a percentile die and I’ll get back to you with what you find. Until then I hope you had a fantastic weekend and I’ll be back soon.

  • Non-Washable