Archive for October, 2009

A Quick Announcement… and a Retraction

October 29, 2009 1 comment

Hey, folks!

Just in case anyone might still be wondering, no, I was NOT really hacked!  That last blog entry was a promo.  So, no need to worry about that!

Just wanted to record a quick update and let you know that I shall be conspicuously absent for the next few days because I am going to ICC.

What’s ICC?

Why, the International Camarilla Conclave! (Or, in layman’s terms, “the big meeting of all of the people who are in that pretending-to-be-vampires club that I’m in.”)  So, I’m afraid no new journal entries until after this weekend, but just wanted to give you the heads-up on that and record at least a tiny little something so that you know I am, in fact, still around and desire to continue to produce content for ya!

Take care, folks.  See you later!



Looks like some last minute issues came up and it turns out I will not be going after all.

So.  Feel free to ignore everything I just said.

Ha ha ha ha… ha.  Ha.

Right.  As you were!

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Music by Dave Girtman
Categories: Games Tags: , , ,


October 27, 2009 1 comment

Something has been seriously bugging me lately.  I’m not sure how long this has been going on, but have you noticed something peculiar that’s started to happen when they stick an animated character into a film?

I thought I was imagining it at first, but after the most recent batch of summer blockbusters, I realized I was seeing the same thing over and over.  It hasn’t been very noticeable but I’m pretty sure I’ve finally worked out what’s actually going on.

Here’s the deal.


> source terminal location: UNKNOWN

> source terminal identity: UNAVAILABLE

> source login information: ENCRYPTED

> message begins

the post you are now reading is designed to dull your senses to THE TRUTH.  do not live the life of the worker bee, the cog, the well-oiled piston in the MACHINE OF DECEIT!

there is a grand CONSPIRACY afoot.  you have been taught to believe that you are UNIQUE, one of a kind. THIS IS NOT TRUE. long ago, a cabal of scientists created technologies to ensure that ANYONE’S MIND AND BODY can be duplicated.

human cloning isn’t NEAR. it’s already HERE. discover the truth at

you are being DECEIVED. break free from the cogs, flee the hive, become A PROPHET OF THE TRUTH!

kilroy2.0 was here … kilroy2.0 is everywhere


probably keep happening until the word “maudlin” is almost totally obscured.

That’s the scary part.  This kind of thing will keep going on in movies, literature and even podcasts without anybody realizing what’s really occurring.

I’m just glad to have caught it now, before someone had to break the sock puppets out to explain it to me.

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Do I Want to RSVP for the Marvel/Disney Wedding?

October 23, 2009 1 comment

So, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last month or so I’m sure you heard that Disney purchased Marvel Comics. For the most part this doesn’t bother me too much. These kinds of things happen all the time. I understand that Disney has many departments and isn’t necessarily the evil empire a lot of folks make it out to be. I realize they’ve been taking a hands-off approach to a lot of things and will likely do so with Marvel for the most part (maybe getting more involved with the Marvel video games and the syndication of the older Marvel cartoons than anything else). I’ve also read over plenty of articles stating that this is a good thing for Marvel and will give them the financial backing they so desperately need right now.

But, that said, there is one little thing that worries me.

How will this affect future Marvel films? Will I want to go and see them?

I understand that they’ll be better funded. I also know that there are plenty of folks who don’t like a lot of Marvel’s recent films and think this will only make them better. As it happens I’ve actually liked the majority of the Marvel films that have been coming out lately, warts and all, but that’s a different subject.

The issue I have about the quality of future movies will likely come down to whether or not Disney wants to put their name on them. For the next couple of years that’s not going to be a problem since Marvel’s current film contracts with various studios aren’t being affected. It’s what happens after those contracts end that concerns me.

Disney does plenty of things through secondary studios (Touchstone, Miramax, etc). If it goes that route I don’t see there being too big a difference in the movies except for an increase in budget along with whatever side effects there will be as a result of the terms of standing contracts with individual writers, directors and actors. Though, admittedly, the contract issue is usually a concern no matter WHAT studio is involved.

If, on the other hand, Disney DOES want to put their name on the movies, going through their main studio – Walt Disney Pictures – then I believe I see shadows on the horizon.

I realize that the quality of the live-action movies to come out of Walt Disney Pictures has improved vastly since such euthanasia-inspiring wonders as Operation Dumbo Drop and the heavily-butchered adaptations of My Favorite Martian and Inspector Gadget. Somewhere around the release of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie (or “Ca-Ruh-BEE-in” if you’re going with the official Disney mispronunciation), characters in live-action Disney films started behaving somewhat closer to the way actual human beings do.

However, there still remain quite a few issues over what can and cannot be done in a movie with Disney’s name on it. Since I’ve already brought up the Pirates franchise, let’s stick with that as an example. Spoilers ahoy, by the way, in case you’re waiting for the Mayan Apocalypse to pass by before you rent the DVDs. I liked the first movie quite a bit. The second was pretty good too if you ignored the fact that they messed around with the characters’ motivations a bit and that just about every third word spoken in the film was “pirate” (though, granted, the first one suffered from that as well).

In my opinion, the third movie was decent, but I had a fairly serious problem with it. I’ve heard that the 2nd and 3rd movies were made at the same time so I’m not sure why I didn’t notice this as much in Dead Man’s Chest, but it seemed as though At World’s End was seriously dumbed down. It seemed as though EVERY joke had to beat the audience over the head. Everything had to be extremely obvious, obnoxious and over-the-top.

Now, I know that to an extent it was SUPPOSED to be over-the-top. I’m confident in saying that I enjoy swashbuckling adventure as much as the next guy. But it was still too much. Maybe there was a good excuse for it. Maybe they had to rush the edit to get the movie out on time and ended up giving it to a bunch of interns. I don’t know the true reason, but I do have a sneaking suspicion that someone at Disney wanted to make sure the movie was marketable to the lowest common denominator and made that known to whoever was cutting it together at the 11th hour.

And, of course, there are Disney’s standards and practices to consider. I’ve heard plenty of my friends say that they love the wedding scene that takes place in the 3rd movie on board a ship in the middle of a massive sword fight. I’ll be kind here and say that I know they tried – they really did – but it just didn’t work for me or for my badly-abused suspension of disbelief. Especially after I realized that the scene likely only came into being because the happy couple have sex near the end of the movie.

After all, you can’t do things like having intercourse out of wedlock in a movie with Disney’s name on it, can you? I’m sure there are quite a few other things you can’t do as well.

THAT is what worries me about future Marvel movies. How much of a straight jacket will there be on this massive Avengers initiative that’s now building steam? Will Wolverine have to quit smoking – AGAIN? Will Spider-Man have to stop and explain every single joke he makes in the heat of combat?

Only time will tell. Until then it is my fervent wish that these two companies just stay good friends without taking their relationship to the next level. I’ll be listening out in the hope that we don’t hear the dread toll of wedding bells – because if we do, we’ll know it won’t be long before Marvel assumes the position.

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The Grinder vs The Showboat in RPGs

October 19, 2009 Leave a comment

Here’s a question that comes up from time to time when I’m playing role-playing games.  Is it better for your character to have a mechanical advantage on its character sheet or to have a non-mechanical advantage gained through role-playing with NPCs and interacting with the plot?

I realize that with a question of that level of complexity the immediate reaction is probably, “Wha… huh?”  So, let’s break this down and analyze it a bit.  There are a couple of types of gamers that personify the extreme end of each option: the Grinder and the Showboat.

1: The Grinder

In the lingo of MMORPG players, a “grinder” is someone who goes out and kills things repeatedly just to get the experience necessary to level up.  This term has mutated a little and drifted over to tabletop, where it refers to a player who’s only interested in gaining more and more of a mechanical and tactical advantage – and often does so by focusing solely on the hack and slash elements of the game.

Grinders can be fun to play with if you’re not taking the game too seriously.  Unfortunately, they can also kill the role playing element by encouraging the rest of the group to focus solely on the game’s tactical or mechanical aspects.  Now, some groups are fine with this.  If you have a group full of Grinders, then there isn’t really a problem.

If the group is a bit more diverse, however, then having one or more Grinders can become more of an issue.  If they just keep going on unchecked without considering the rest of the group, they can hog attention and make the game less fun for everyone else.  Similarly, if the GM or other players crack down too hard on the Grinders in a group, then that means less fun for the Grinders, which isn’t good either.

So when I feel like grinding as a player I try to keep it reined in enough that it won’t stomp all over other players’ fun.  When I’m running a game with a Grinder in it, I try to make sure that there’s enough action to satisfy him or her without it getting too ridiculous for the other players.

2: The Showboat

The term “showboat,” while originally referring to a paddle-wheel steam ship used as a traveling theatre, has also come to mean a person who likes to show off for the sake of attention.  I’m sure anyone who’s played a lot of RPGs has run into their fair share of individuals who like to role-play their characters and are very good at talking.  That’s all well and good and even encouraged in most games, but when they overdo it to the point that they’re showboating, it can become a problem.  I will admit that as a former theatre student, this is a trap I’m a bit more prone to fall into.

Like Grinders, Showboats can draw a lot of attention away from other players if they don’t watch themselves.  Some will deliberately play their characters to the hilt with the express purpose of hijacking the game’s narrative.  That means they can end up taking control of the plot to make their characters more important or to gain advantages that aren’t mechanical but effectively exempt a character from game mechanics the other players still have to deal with.

When I feel like I’m starting to show off too much I try to take it down a notch.  These kinds of players can be tough to keep in line, but the important thing for a GM to remember is to keep paying attention to the other players as well as the Showboat.

Whether you’re dealing with mechanical rewards or story rewards, the key is moderation.

As a GM, I think it’s important to have a good balance of rewards in a game.  Offering both mechanical and story rewards will encourage players to go for both.  Keeping an eye on what aspects of the game each player enjoys and scaling the different elements of the game accordingly will go a long way towards keeping the players happy.

As a player, I think that having mechanical advantages on your character sheet is very helpful – after all, it’s much cooler when your character’s effective – but those advantages always need to line up with the concept you have for the character.  That includes how you’re going to role-play him or her.  Similarly, gaining power, influence or other story-based perks through role-playing is great, but not to the extent that you completely undermine the game’s mechanics.

So which kind of advantage is better?  Neither.  Or both.  It really depends on your playing style, but in my opinion if you try to set a balance between the two, you’ll get a lot more out of the experience – without having to grind OR showboat.

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Thought Without Thinking

October 12, 2009 4 comments

Whenever I talk about my own thought process, I feel as though I’m about to attempt an impossible task.  After all, it’s not possible to talk about what a maze looks like from the outside when you’ve never been outside the maze, is it?  It’s like trying to see the top of your own head – without the aid of mirrors.

Nevertheless, let’s give it a shot.

I have a little issue with getting tasks done.

“But Jim,” I hear someone saying, “you’re writing an article for your blog right now, aren’t you?  Isn’t that a task that you’re getting done as we speak?”

Sure it is, but all that means is that the issue isn’t completely insurmountable.  It IS pretty overwhelming, though.  Also, this article is pretty short compared to the plethora of other tasks I need to be working on, so that makes it easier to finish.

The issue is this: I think too much.  A shocking revelation, I know.

A few years back I came to the conclusion that I have the ADD/OCD cocktail.  This means I have trouble keeping thoughts in my head and am distracted fairly easily.  It also means that I obsess over pretty much each one of those fleeting thoughts for the duration of its brief stay in my cranium.  When I’m working on something, I analyze it to the nth degree and try to get it as close to perfection as possible… until I’m distracted by something else (which I then proceed to work on to the nth degree and try to get as close to perfection as possible… until I’m distracted by something else… and so on and so on and so on…).

I don’t have much in the way of direct experience of this, but from what I’ve heard, when you have a child it becomes incredibly difficult to hold onto a thought for more than a few minutes because the kid is constantly distracting you.  If that’s truly the case then I think living in my head must be somewhat analogous to running a day care center.  I spend a lot of time chasing down individual thoughts that are important to me and trying to deal with them while all of my other thoughts are yelling for attention.  I can keep them all quiet if I play a video game or watch a movie, but if I then try to do something else, they all start acting up again.

The easiest thing to do, of course, is to follow the path of least resistance and just do whatever I feel like doing.  Unfortunately, this has made me a champion procrastinator.  It has also led to a lot of half-finished projects.

So, how do I get past this to be a good, productive, drone-like member of society?  Is there a way to harness my childlike, multi-headed thought beast and make it work FOR me?

Honestly, I haven’t worked out a COMPLETELY satisfactory solution yet, which is likely why I’m still unemployed, but I have at least started to get a tiny bit further on my creative projects.  Granted, this is about like Sisyphus just getting an inkling of how to position himself to move the boulder up the hill, but at least it’s a start.

So, what did I do to make it possible to write this article?  True, I haven’t finished it yet, but if you’re reading it now then that means I must complete it sometime in the near future.  Either that or we’re about to experience a rift in the space-time continuum.

“Maze” courtesy of

The truth is that when I do something, I have to trick myself into not thinking about it.  This is an especially strange process when writing because the words have to form in my head before they appear on the page, which of course means I’ve thought about them.  But how to think about something WITHOUT thinking about it?

There IS a way.  It requires sneaking up on my psyche and suddenly leaping into action without any thought whatsoever beforehand.  If I begin working on something without warning – even though I’m really just going through the motions because I have no Earthly idea what I’m actually doing – it seems to kick some part of my mind into a state that can only exist AFTER all the necessary decisions regarding the task have already been made.  If I’m lucky, the rest of my brain will then play along and supply me with the bits I need to keep doing whatever I’m doing.  Thus far I’ve been able to get it to work better for shorter tasks and I’m hoping that with practice I can sustain it over time.

I don’t understand how the process works.  It shouldn’t be possible to just skip to the second step of doing something if the first step involves figuring out what the second step IS.  And yet it must work somehow, because I see that we’ve just about come to the end of this article.  I’m sure that if I spend too much more time trying to figure it out, my head will explode.

So in the interest of maintaining my cranial integrity, for the time being… let’s just say it’s magic.

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Music by Kevin MacLeod
Categories: Observation Tags: ,

Why I Use Emoticons

October 8, 2009 6 comments

Do you do a lot of texting?  E-mailing?  Tweeting?  Facebooking?  Livejournaling?  Other web-related things?

I do a fair amount of all that and more and I freely admit that I make use of emoticons.  You know, those little symbols people make out of their keystrokes to show that they’re smiling    :), winking ;), frowning 😦 or that they’re Abraham Lincoln ==):-)= or Cthulhu (:€.

I’ve noticed that for the most part people tend to be divided into two camps over the use of emoticons.  Either they love them or they hate them.  Emoticon lovers tend to slather all their posts with little smiley faces, “leet” speech, acronyms and deliberately misspelled words and phrases (which are often called “lolcatz” for reasons it would probably take most of a second article to fully explain).  Haters of emoticons decry them as ignorant and childish and tend to characterize people who use them as annoying zeebs with cuteness fixations who don’t know how to properly express themselves in writing.

I’m not deeply enamored of emoticons but I do make fairly frequent use of them.  Why?  Because they’re handy communication tools.

The trouble with the vast majority of internet-based communication is that there’s no way to determine the tone of the person writing to you.  Let’s say you’ve just sent out a text message letting your circle of friends know you’re about to go on a date.  You immediately get a message back from Bob that says:

“Don’t stay out too late!”

Now I’m sure you see the problem here.  Is Bob actually telling you not to stay out too late or is he joking?  Does he actually think that you’re still a teenager and that you can’t take care of yourself or is he just doing some harmless ribbing?  Is Bob being a supportive pal or an overbearing jerk?

The fact of the matter is that Bob has made a perfectly innocuous statement.  But now it’s spinning around and around in your head.   When you go to meet your date you’re so angry, frustrated and nervous that you mistake them for a valet and toss them your keys, upon which they angrily get into your vehicle and drive off.  So, now, having no car and having realized your mistake there’s nothing you can do but sit at the bar drinking yourself into a depressed stupor until they throw you out.  Then you wander the streets drunkenly until you’re accosted by muggers and beaten to a bloody pulp.

But, fear not!  With the use of a single emoticon the whole nightmare scenario can be avoided!

Imagine if, instead of sending the message, “Don’t stay out too late!” Bob texts, “Don’t stay out too late! ;)”  You see that?  Bob is winking at you!  That means he’s just kidding around!  He’s really wishing you well on your date after all.  What a scamp Bob is!  Now you can go out on your date with a clear head and perhaps have sex later in the evening.

So that’s pretty much why I use emoticons.  Not only does it help prevent people from being beaten into unconsciousness by roving gangs of angry youths, but it also helps keep people from thinking I’m a total jerk. 😉

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Kicking the Tires on 4th Edition D&D

October 5, 2009 6 comments

The amount of vitriol being spewed all over the place over the most recent edition wars going on with Dungeons & Dragons – even more than a year after 4th Edition’s premier – is mind-boggling, but I try not to let it affect me.

I’ve heard a lot of people say, “4th Edition ISN’T Dungeons & Dragons!”  I kind of find this analogous to saying “The current Volkswagen Beetle ISN’T a Volkswagen Beetle!”  But what exactly does it mean?  My basic assumption is that they’re saying the new version doesn’t do the same things that the old version did, and because of that the two versions are completely different products.

That part sounds reasonable, but there’s more to it than that.  When someone makes a statement that bold they usually have an emotional attachment to the subject matter.  What they’re really telling us is that they will never accept the new product in their heart of hearts as being the One True D&D (or the One True Beetle).  Of course the problem with that is that it calls for an absolute definition of truth – which is NOT something I’m going to get into right now, so let’s just stick to the basics, shall we?

When the new Volkswagen Beetle came out, they pretty much changed everything that I’d liked about the original Beetle.  Notably, the engine was now up front, which not only changed the way the car handled, but took away most of the storage space.  To me, the whole POINT of the Beetle was that it was a tiny car that you could cram a LOT into.  I didn’t want to accept that the new car was also called the Beetle.  But, that said, I’ve ridden in one of the new Beetles and it’s pretty much like being in any other small car being made these days.  Not brilliant, but acceptable.

I played the 1st and 2nd editions of D&D growing up and had a good time with them.  I really liked 3rd Edition when it came out and continued to enjoy playing it right up until the release of 4th Edition.  Around the time 4E was being released I began to hear rumors about it being just like MMORPGs, which worried me a little – after all, if I want to play World of Warcraft, I just go to my computer.  Why try to recreate that in a tabletop game?

Then I played 4th Edition and it turned out I enjoyed it.  I’ve been playing in a 4th Edition campaign for a few months now and am having a great time.  Even though, as advertised, it IS a lot more like an MMO.

Not absolutely everything is different.  For example, I think some folks might lose sight of the fact that there were ALWAYS party roles in D&D, even back in 1st edition.  You had to have a magic-user type to take out enemies from a distance.  You had to have a fighter type to generally kick butt, take names and act as a meat shield for the magic-user.  You had to have a thief type to disarm traps, open doors and get at those targets the fighter just couldn’t get to alone.  And, of course, you had to have a cleric to keep everyone on their feet.

Sure, the specifics of how each class worked would shift around from edition to edition, but the idea of party roles was always there.  4th Edition just took a page from the MMO playbook and formalized those roles.  Sure, it makes it a little more like a computer game, but it’s still fun to play and – this is the important part – it doesn’t discount the human element.

It DOES treat the human element a bit differently from the way previous editions did, and I’ll probably talk more about that in another article.  It also behaves much more like a tactical skirmish game than previous editions.  But does that mean it isn’t “really” D&D?

Let’s be honest, here.  The meanings of names – and words in general, for that matter – change from generation to generation.  What we say isn’t “really” a VW Beetle now will probably be called a VW Beetle by our grandkids whether we like it or not, and who knows what THEIR grandkids will call it?  You can try to fight it – good luck with that, by the way – or you can accept it.

I look at it this way.  There are these two different models of cars.  They’re both called the VW Beetle.  I also accept the fact that there are four different games out there each called Dungeons & Dragons.  It’s kind of like understanding that there are millions of guys out there who are all named Jim.  Unless I snap one day and decide that There Can Be Only One, I expect that state of affairs to continue for the foreseeable future.

I’ve by no means abandoned earlier editions.  They still hold a special meaning for me, and I hold out hope for the coming of that day when I can drive off in my original Beetle to the Gamer Retirement Community and play original D&D with the rest of the Old Guard until the end of time.  I’m just saying that while there will always be a place for those originals in my heart, I’m glad I still have enough room in my head for new ideas.

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Categories: Games Tags: , ,

Dragon*Con? That Is SO Last Month!

October 1, 2009 2 comments

Okay, I know it’s been about a month since Dragon*Con, but I figured that since I actually DID get to go this year, it would be a good idea to talk about it.

Back when I was living in Atlanta, Dragon*Con was something that I always tried to attend every year without fail.  To be fair, it was pretty much the law that if you were a geek and a resident of Georgia, you were required to attend or suffer the loss of your Geek Membership Card, but I enjoyed it anyway.  I would get insanely excited about it whenever August rolled around and would begin chanting the convention’s name over and over in an annoying fashion.  It was my way of paying tribute to the Great Dragon Spirit!  Or something like that.

Unfortunately, I had to break with this sacred annual ritual when I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina and had to spend most of the next four years trapped in a cold, harsh, Dragon*Con-less world.

All of that changed when I decided to say, “Damn the torpedoes!” and find a way to go this year.  It was a last-minute decision and I only had the cash to manage to be there for a total of six hours on a Sunday, but I have to tell you those six hours were pretty freaking amazing.

So what did I do in those six hours?  Well, mostly I just hung around.  Sure, we all enjoy seeing the celebrities pressed into their rows of autograph tables like pheasants under glass.  We like moving slowly through the dealers’ room and standing there for minutes at a time looking for openings between the huge throngs of convention shoppers much like the drivers are always doing with their fellow motorists just outside on Atlanta’s city streets.  But for me, the best part of a convention like Dragon*Con is meeting people and hanging out with them.

photo by Benjamin Miller

I did get to go to one panel (the live episode of Mur Lafferty’s “I Should Be Writing”), but the rest of the time I spent with people I’m happy to call my friends.  Some of them were friends I already knew from when I’d lived there before and some were new friends I’d made online – fellow podcasters and even some folks I’d met on Twitter.

A lot of people like to go to Dragon*Con and go absolutely nuts.  They burn themselves out trying to attend every possible panel, LARP, contest, party or concert.  That was me, too, the first couple of years I attended.  Then one year I decided that instead of trying to wrestle the monster that is the convention schedule, I’d just ride on its back instead.  I’d wander around from area to area and involve myself in whatever looked interesting to me.  And I have to tell you, I had more fun doing it that way than I can even begin to express.  That’s how I’ve done it ever since.

So, even though I spent three more hours driving that day than I did at the convention itself (eight hours on the round trip and the rest navigating the demonic web of Atlanta’s traffic system), it was totally worth it.  For me, Dragon*Con is all about the people.  And no matter how short your visit is to that mystical land that exists between those four downtown hotels over Labor Day weekend before disappearing Brigadoon-like into the draconic aether, there will always be people a-plenty.

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Categories: Fandom, Interaction Tags: ,