Category Archives: Games

A Pleasant Surprise

In addition to just hanging with family I haven’t seen in three years one of the joys going back east on vacation was seeing which games my nephew David had acquired and wanted to play.

On this trip he introduced me to Viticulture: The Essential Edition a game of growing grapes and making wine. Okay so it principally an economic game about a subject that I have low interest in, after all even before my no-alcohol medications I was a very spare drinker. The game mechanic is ‘worker placement’ so there’s no dice rolling in this game, only card draws for randomness, and very little direct action against the other players. All in all this sounded like a game that would have at most just a passing interest for me.

At my urging we played it nearly every single day I was there.

I still can’t break it down logically why this game worked so well for me, but it truly sang with fun. Perhaps it was the mechanic, ‘worker placement.’ I look at my collection and I see that I have no game that use that mechanism as their core play. Perhaps it was the simplicity of the game play without degrading the game’s reply value. Whatever the reason I really enjoyed Viticulture and I am thinking about introducing it to my friends, though I suspect except for one it is really not their gaming style.

It has also gotten me more interested in the whole ‘worker placement’ game mechanic. I shall have to look up more games with this and give them a try. Perhaps last month I discovered a whole new world.

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A good game

Well today I ran my D&D game, 5 edition. Now this was also my fist game since I got my iPad. During the week I had loaded onto it two apps, Game Master 5 and Fight Club 5, one a GM aide the other a character sheet management tool.

OH, I am sold. best couple of buck I have spent on gaming. Running the fights tonight was a breeze allowing me to concentrate on the story and the characters rather than spend too much time looking up data.

Tomorrow I am off for Universal Studios Hollywood. Expect to see updates on my Facebook feed, but unlikely here.

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Slow Sunday

Today turned out to be a very pleasant day. I spent it, as I do most Sundays, in the company of my sweetie-wife. We took a trip to the San Diego Zoo, we both hold memberships so visiting to Zoo is free. The weather was fine; the animals were active. When we came up on the enclosure for the Fishing Cat we got a small surprise. This animal is most often asleep, and usually on a back high ledge where if you can spot the point of an ear you’re having a lucky viewing day, but this morning he was down and pacing near the front of the habitat. We all witnesses some small deer like animals, they were Dik Diks but looked related, charging around and racing each other around their paddock.

For lunch we stopped at the Waypoint Public House where I experimented and got rewarded with a warm happy lunch. I have no memory of every trying a grilled cheese sandwich and so today I ordered one. I had them add avocado to at least help with with a few healthy fats. The sandwich was hot, gooey, and delicious.

At home we relaxed with computers games, Dominion online, and a round of Star Trek: The Original Series; The Deck Building Game. (She won the Star Trek game but it was a tight thing.)

All in all a very relaxing time leaving me quite contented.

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What Do You Call this Creature?

This is a topic I have visited before and for those who have experienced the earlier ranting you can skip this post.

Alien and images are copyrights of 20th Century Fox
Alien and images are copyrights of 20th Century Fox

I saw the film Alien on its initial theatrical release. It is a movie of stunning power and with a tremendous legacy. To this day people are still copying the plot and making rip-off version more than 30 years later, Consider this, since Alien, the crew of trained and experienced explorers has been abandoned as a trope for SF films.

Of course central to the movie was the monster itself, a terrifying parasite that gestated inside its victims and possessed seemingly unstoppable agency. The story, images, and themes resonated so well that sequels and prequels continue to this very day.

But what do you call the monster at the heat of this experience?

For years the term of I heard most was simply The Alien, you could practically hear the capital letters in a person voice when the subject was discussed. Slowly though that fell out of favor for the generic sounding Xenomorph.

I have issues with that name. First, it sounds generic, and it is generic. The word itself simply means ‘other-shaped.’ The character Lt. Gorman uses the term when briefing the squad saying, “…A xenomorph may be involved.” He can’t be referring to this particular type of creature as at this point in the story no one, except Burke, believes Ripley. He’s using the word to say in a fancy way that an alien of some type is involved. However fans have latched onto this word as a proper name for the monster.

For decades I have been a gamer and gamers steal from books, TV, and movies for  monsters to throw at their players, including the terrifying creature from Alien. I have been no exception and I needed a name, between the films Alien and Aliens, I landed on what works for me.

In Alien when they crew awakens early they discover that instead of being home, at Earth, that they are in fact just short of Zeta Two Reticuli. one half of a binary pair about 39 light years from Earth. Now I saw the film in theaters, before VHS and DVDs and Blu-Rays and misheard the name. For years I called it Beta Reticuli, but eventually I learned the local stellar neighborhood and the proper name for the star. My name for the creature is the Zeta Reticulian Parasite. Yes it is long but I think it has a ring to it and it sounds like a real bit of nomenclature.

I know I will change no one’s mind on this. I am the lost voice in the wilderness screaming at the horrid tag ‘xenomorph,’ and everyone will ignore me, but hey, your mileage may vary.

For me it is The Zeta Reticulian Parasite.

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The Joy of a Successful Game

Today’s election day – go out and vote. Thus ends todays political posting.

This past weekend I ran my 5th Edition D&D game and had a success that truly made me feel good.

I had engaged in a bit of an experiment. The week leading up to the game I spent my lunches here at work writing journal entries for a game handout. The journal would cover decades, but only a scattering of entries remained. Some might contain vital clue, others might be mundane, and other might only serve at atmosphere. By the time the week ended I had written 3000 words of entries.

I used three different scrip fonts to represent the different ages of the fictional author and then I cut each entry apart onto its own piece of paper, mixing them up. (The journal was found in a old stone manor house, most of it missing the rest thoroughly out of sequence.)

Game night game and despite missing a few players we managed lift off. When they got the scraps with the journal entries I was quite nervous. I had written them in the ‘pantser’ style, simply making things up as I went along. Would the entries be interesting? Would the puzzle work? Would they have fun?

Judging by the players looked I would say it did work. They poured over the slips, one player quickly seeing the different fonts sorted them accordingly. As they examined the entries they read out disturbing, interesting, and passage that they believe to be clues. His worked out so much better than a skill roll a bullet point of data.

I wish all the players had been able to attend.

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Very Nearly Done

So my YA SF adventure novel is nearly ready for the beta readers. My lovely sweetie-wife is proofing the final chapter and I have gone through and retitled most of the chapters.

If you know me you know titles and character names bedevil me, but I wanted the final chapter to have a particular title and that means all of them need titles. Oh well, it’s good to work where you are weak.

In other news I ran my first 5th Edition D&D games this past weekend. I have run a 3.5 games for quite a number of years but the system soured for me and I was happy to bring that campaign to a close. At first I was just going to use the free material to start a new game and experiment with the 5th edition rules, but I changed my mind, took the plunge, and bought the core rulebooks. (And That is ALL I will buy. One of the things that burned me for 3.5 was the endless splat books and the exponential complexity they introduced.)

The game we went, I think people had fun, and the ease of the new rules is better suited to my style of play.

I also have an essay in mind about genetics and epigenetics. I think I have found an analogy that makes the distinction very clear and illustrates why something can be inherent and not genetic.

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The Power and Dangers of Narratives

Humans are pattern finding engines. Look up into the sky and you’ll find patterns int he clouds, watch the seasons and you’ll see the patterns in birth, life, and death. Finding these patterns are essential to our survival and success. Among the most powerful patterns that we are sensitive to are narratives.

Narratives are how we transmit culture to each other, how we teach morality, how we explain the mystery of life purpose, and explain to ourselves how the world works. Narrative is often the heart of understanding. We live under layers of narrative but usually there is a foundational structure that speaks to our interpretation on a basic level about the workings of life. Are you a liberal, a conservative, a libertarian? Odds are the reason is due to that fundamental narrative. Pessimist, optimist, realist? The answers the same, it’s that underlying substructure that explains to you how and why the world is what it is.

These supporting narratives are powerful tools in helping us navigate a life that is far larger and far more complex than anything we can fully understand. These analogs for reality break it down into comprehensible bits that we can manipulate and understand but they have a danger to blind us.

Just as that cloud that looks like a dragon is not a dragon, it is nothing more than a multi-ton collection of water vapor, the world is not a narrative. The world is the world, the narrative is a model in your mind representing the world but a model is never what it symbolizes.The danger of forgetting that is what happens when you encounter something at odds with the model.

The danger of forgetting that is what happens when you encounter something at odds with the model. What do we do when we run into something that contradicts our narrative? We tell ourselves we that we are rational creatures but often narratives are more powerful than our reason. If we lazily approach an event the narrative is in control and facts that contradict it are often distorted or ignored. Like sculptors, we break off and discard that which is not part of our mental statue.It is hard not being lazy. I joke at my day job that I work hard so no one knows how lazy I am, but it is only partially jest.

It is hard not being lazy. I joke at my day job that I work hard so no one knows how lazy I am, but it is only partially jest. It’s even harder to change a well-accepted narrative in yourself. It’s far easier to dismiss others, to ignore evidence, and retreat what is safe and familiar. It is easier, but it only drives you further from reality.

Take the hard path. Work at seeing where you are wrong and not where you are right. Write new narratives.

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Getting a tad despondent over my D&D Game

So for a number of years I have been running a 3.5 D&D campaign setting. For the last four years it has been a particular campaign. Sadly of late I feel like the game is getting out of control and beyond my ability of manage. That has brought several issue to the fore concerning 3.5 and how much I have come to loath certain aspects of the system.

1) Wizard’s Wal-mart

The variation of D&D that i learned, knew best, and enjoyed the most, A D&D had now rules for the buying or selling of magical items or spells. You found them as loot. 3.5 introduced crafting rules, selling rules, and buying rules. In my opinion that has horribly damaged the tone of the game. Where once magical items were things of power, rare and unusual, now they are consumer goods. When players obtain treasure the motivation is to sell it so they can go shopping and buy the magical items that they really want. The whole concept of item being tied to story is trashed. In addition to devaluing the emotional impact of magical items, this has the larger effect of transforming settings from quasi-medieval to sort of a pre-industrial consumerist culture. Magic isn’t rare and strange power, it’s just a skill set like programming or drafting.

2) Mundane Magic

I can recall clearly looking around at my players and noticing that everybody save one cast spells. The proliferation of new and unusual classes and prestige classes has so greatly inflated the number of potential spell casters that being a spell caster is nothing of note. The use of magic in such a situation quickly becomes no more interesting than the use of any tool. Magic has been demystified from arcane and unknown lore to a set of Ikea instructions.

3) There’s a rule and an exception for everything

Once upon a time I ran long running campaigns with only three books. The DMs guide, the Players Handbook, and the Monster Manual. That was it. The entire library needed to play my campaign. Currently on my shelf there are 31 rule books. Every single one introduces new character classes, new spells, new feats, new items and new ways of doing things that have to be integrated into the existing system. It makes StarFleet Battles look positively straight-forward. Of all the players in my game both active and those on a temporary hiatus, very few come from just the core books. Running a game is often derailed into not only looking up a rule, but trying to find which cursed tome holds the information.

4) Complexity Curses Spontaneity

Back in my days of running an A D&D games I often rans for hours with very few notes, flying by the seat of pants through the encounters and storyline of the game. 3.5, just the core books, introduces a level of complexity that make spontaneous encounters quite difficult. Once the ‘splat’ books are added it becomes an impossibility. (At least for me.) Every encounter must be pre-generated, the numerous statistics documented, and the paperwork prepared. All this is doubly true if your players are of the sort who challenge rulings causing the game to stop so the 31 rulebooks can be consulted, If the player group diverges significantly from the expected play line the games usually has to stop because the system impedes ‘winging it.’

5) Behold the Mighty Munchkin

Start with a system that from its complexity rewards detailed attention, add in 31 books of exceptions to rules and interesting abilities, mix on top of that the ability to pick and choose your magic items at Wizard’s Wal-mart and you have the ideal recipe for Munchkin Mayhem. A player with even a modicum on intelligence and the will to do the research can craft characters that engines of efficiency, molded from the right classes, the right feats, the right spells, the right items to be far more powerful than a ‘standard’ character of that level. Worse yet such players tend to drag the entire campaign down the rabbit hole of combat calculations.  No one wants a weak link in the team and the advice on builds end up guiding everyone down the ideological paths.

 

That’s my rant, my course of action?

I don’t know.

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My Superb Owl Sunday

(Taking a hint from Stephen Colbert I shall refer to yesterday’s big game day as Superb Owl Day and thus side stepping any trademark issues.)

So I do not follow any sports. Being a spectator is boring for me and there is no sport that is so engrossing that I would watch it over doing something myself. As such it has been a recent tradition of mine that on Superb Owl Sunday I drive from San Diego to Los Angeles and spend the day at Universal Studios Hollywood. (The Entertainment Capitol of L.A. – what a sad little proclamation. I remember when, before they build parks around the world, they boasted of being the entertainment capitol of the World.) This is a great day to take the trip. The freeways are clear and the park attendance is low as everyone is home watching 22 grown men fight over a piece of inflated pig hide.

The drive north was fairly clear except as I passed the San Onofre nuclear powerplant the CHPs had stopped all northbound traffic. Luckily it didn’t last more than fifteen twenty minuets. I was close enough to the head of the stoppage to see the flashing lights and what looked like a drone of some sort passing overhead. They released the traffic and there were no clues as to why they stopped us.

I made this trip by myself. As an introvert there are times when I need serious time away from my friends and loved ones, spending hours with just my own thoughts. And while I wander the crowds of the theme park, I am alone, never having to same more than ‘Give me the hot dog.’

This year big sections of the park were closed off. They are currently building he Wizarding World Of Harry Potter, slated for a 2016 opening, and in addition that had taken advantage of the slow season to do refurbishment of the stunt show and other attractions. I felt a little bad for the tourists for whom this would be there first visit to the park, but I still had a quite fine time.

I took the studio tour twice. (It varies slightly by the tour guide and some of more entertaining than others.) Rode all my favorite rides. Got soaked on the Jurassic Park Ride. (Last row of the boat is certainly the one that catches the most water.) Ate foods I normally avoid and in short thoroughly enjoyed myself and returned home that evening energized and refreshed.

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