Writers inspired by D&D, from the NYTimes

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Everyone’s linking to this NYTimes piece about a whole generation of writers who were influenced by playing D&D when they were young, and they offer a nice, broad cross-section of writers. It’s not just sf/f people, but literary writers and playwrights and plenty of others, too.

It’s a nice article, if a bit fluffy (which, what else would I expect, given the subject). I’ve said before that gaming had an influence over me, especially because it taught me that the characters I was so used to seeing in movies, books, and on TV did not seek advantage as ruthlessly as characters played by actual people who were invested in their success. The old standby is the spy escaping from a holding cell, knocking out a guard, and not taking anything from the guard’s body, not a weapon, communicator, key, nothing.

More interesting to me is that the authors seemed to have a much more theatrical/improvisational experience in their gaming. We spent So. Much. Time. going room to room killing things, with little more story than that. In fact, we’d play so much that it was impossible to make up an actual story, and when I tried I often found the players utterly uninterested in exploring any of it.

By the way, we played “The Fantasy Trip”, not D&D, because we though the armor class rules were incredibly stupid.

Anyway, I continue to believe that, with the right players and genre, an rpg session could be worthwhile art. Not just “I bash the orcs” sort of thing, but an actual exploration of character in a partly improvised narrative, with added random outcomes due to die rolls and an earned ending. They could even do the closeup camera thing for the die rolls, the way poker shows show the players’ hands. The two-part Tabletop episode was a good proof of concept, even if they didn’t take the narrative beyond “I swing my mace at the skeleton.”

If you watch that video (I thought it was interesting) you’ll see that the story is compelling when the players have their characters talk like themselves. When they try to talk pseudo-medieval fake fantasy stuff everything becomes stilted and awkward.

Anyway, I’m a little envious of the writers in that article, because the games I played as a kid never managed to pull together any kind of story. In college and afterwards, things were better, but not in those early formative years.

Five Things Make A Post

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First, my Father’s Day was pretty great. I asked to get no gifts and didn’t receive any but the cards were wonderful. We also went out to brunch. My wife is pretty cool on the idea of going to a restaurant for breakfast–and my son actively hates it–so this is something I sorta love but get to do only once a year. And yeah, I ate more than I should have.

We went some distance to a little place called Mulleady’s, mainly on the rule that we could get things we never make at home, like blood pudding, boxty, scotch eggs, and other things we didn’t order. Sadly, marrow wasn’t on the bfast menu, but maybe another time. One downside of going there is that it really doesn’t many people before it becomes uncomfortably loud.

Second, you may have seen news articles everywhere recently claiming that bike share programs increase head injuries. They’re wrong. Head injuries fell after bike share programs were introduced, but they didn’t fall as fast as other kinds of injuries. Therefore, according to the media, head injuries rose because, among those injured, a greater percentage of them had head injuries.

It’s statistical fuckery. To quote the linked article: “A more critical view would be that the researchers went looking for evidence that bikeshare programs are dangerous, and upon failing to find any, cherry-picked a relatively unimportant sub-trend and trumpeted it as decisive finding.”

My wife rides almost every day and she always wears her helmet. When I rode (back in my office job days) I wore a helmet all the time, too. We also have lights, reflective vests, and all the safety gear that people make fun of. But it’s important to remember that nothing makes the streets safer for cyclists than having a whole lot of cyclists on the streets.

Third, I’ve sent out copies of The Great Way in hopes of getting blurbs for them, and the first two have come back. Both are wonderful and make me feel like dancing around my apartment singing “I Feel Pretty.”

Fourth, I’m currently at work revising my pacifist urban fantasy, and never in my life have I had so much trouble making headway. My revisions are creeping along at a pace barely better than my first draft days. Stuff is difficult, you guys.

Fifth, I bought the first edition of CHILL (by Pacesetter) way back when it first came out. I bought the second edition enthusiastically, and when I made that six-figure deal for Child of Fire, I rewarded myself by buying up all the Chill books I didn’t already own.

Even though the game is pretty much unplayable.

Pacesetter’s first ed. was fun and had simple game mechanics. Mayfair’s second edition improved on things, but still couldn’t deal with Fear checks. You could prep a haunted house, prep the monster that would be there, arrange the clues the players needed to find or the person they needed to save, but what you couldn’t do was predict who would pass a Fear check. If all the players made it, the monster would not be able to stand against them. If only one made it, that player would have to face a villain designed to challenge a party while his compatriots ran screaming into the streets.

It was impossible to create a balanced confrontation, because you could never tell how many players would make that Fear check (the first thing to happen in every encounter), so you didn’t know which would stay in the scene.

And let’s be honest, any time a GM takes control of a player it sort of sucks, especially if you make the run in terror.

So, none of the games I tried to get off the ground ever went anywhere. My friends had no interest in horror games, since they’re pretty much the opposite of jokey power fantasies, and the only truly successful Chill game I ever ran was with my six-year-old son, and it was one session.

Still, it was great fun to read, and now I’m foolishly excited to see that, after a couple of false starts, there’s a third edition on the way. The previous attempt at a third edition got as far as informal play tests, which I took part in until assholes drove me away, but I’m hopeful for this. I don’t even know anything about the game, but I’m foolishly hopeful.

The Full Trailer for DARK DUNGEONS!!!

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It’s not a satire of the original Jack Chick comic! It IS the Jack Chick comic brought to life!

Debbie and Marcie arrive at college unaware of the dangers of RPGing. They are soon indoctrinated into this dangerous lifestyle where they face the threat of learning real life magical powers, being invited to join a witches’ coven, and resisting the lure of Ms. Frost, a vile temptress of a GM. But what peril must the two friends face when they stumble across the Necronomicon and their fantasy game becomes a reality game? Find out in Dark Dungeons!

From the FAQ on their website:

Have people committed suicide due to RPGs?

No cases of RPG-related suicides have been proven in court. However, that does not mean that it doesn’t happen. For all we know, BIG-GAMING may just be very good at covering them up.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dungeons_%26_Dragons_controversies

BIG GAMING! Click through to learn more.

I am writing rpg gaming stuff now and it is hard

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I’m supposed to be working right now but I’m not, and the reason is simple. Work is hard.

While The Great Way is getting an editorial working over, I’m putting together the game supplement for it. (For those who don’t know, I promised Kickstarter backers a Fate game supplement for the setting of those books.) Currently, it’s almost 10,000 words long, and not even half way done. Turns out that explaining your world-building takes time.

What’s more, writing game stuff is giving me major decision fatigue. With fiction, putting the sentences together is comparatively easy: There are characters who want things, places for them to pursue their desires, obstacles to overcome. That talk. They look at stuff. Maybe there’s a smell. It’s pretty straightforward.

In contrast, game material is all summarizing and making careful decisions on how stuff should work. What invokable aspects suit the capital city of this empire? How best to describe this sort of magic? What’s the best way to portray non-human intelligences without doing the xenophobe thing of giving them all a single personality? What if a player wants to play one of those non-humans?

Everything is as spare as possible, while trying to be as interesting as possible, while being as balanced as possible, while not contradicting anything I put in the trilogy, much of which I made up on the fly because shit sounded cool.

What the hell was I thinking?

Randomness for 2/11

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1) An alternate history of “Flappy Bird” a successful game that was pulled from sale because of the gamers abused its creator.

2) Marvel opens its image archive and api to the public. I’m pretty sure this is cool, and if I were ten years younger I might understand why.

3) Calvin and Muad’Dib. Calvin & Hobbes cartoons with quotes from Dune to replace the dialog.

4) Teddy Roosevelt’s 10 Rules for Reading. Sensible guy.

5) Male artist creates art show with woman’s art, doesn’t feel he needs to name her.

6) An Infinity of Alternate Batmen.

7) Deleted.

Randomness for 1/21

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1) The flowchart of medieval penitent sex.

2) Gorgeous high-magnification sand photos.

3) 15 Massive corporate logo fails. It’s amazing how many of these look like people having sex.

4) Researchers compare language in successful and unsuccessful Kickstarters and discover trends.

5) I’m old enough not to be up on the latest music (and feel perfectly comfortable with that) but I have to offer this: a band called Prodigy did a music video called Firestarter (video) and here’s the same video, but musicless (video). Reader, I lol-ed. h/t to @robertnlee

6) Hero Forge lets you design an rpg character, then print it in 3D. Gaming miniatures aren’t really my thing, but I suspect a few of you will be interested in this.

7) Hatchet Job Of The Year Shortlist – 2013′s most negative reviews in quotes. I confess to a weakness for savage reviews and these are pretty acid.

(I’ve been seriously neglecting this space. I plan to write a note explaining why soon.)

Randomness for 1/6

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1) A 1600-Year-Old Viking Board Game.

2) Thor is the New Superman. Yet another screw-up by DC.

3) 160-Year-Old historical documents deliberately destroyed in North Carolina. Covering up old crimes? There are followup posts.

4) 4 Things I Learned from the Worst Online Dating Profile Ever.

5) The top 20 most annoying book reviewer cliches and how to use them all in one meaningless review.

6) Here’s Exactly How Much the Government Would Have to Spend to Make Public College Tuition-Free.

7) “There’s a book inside of you. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Randomness for 12/24

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Not Christmas-related. Isn’t that a relief?

1) Skyrim mod replaces dragons with Thomas the Tank Engine. Video. Maybe that should be in a story seeds post.

2) Mountain goats climb nearly vertical dam for the salt.

3) Iron Moon. Video. via Kurt Busiek.

4) The world’s largest mall has an occupancy rate of less than 1%. via Fred Hicks.

5) How long it takes a typical worker to earn as much as their company CEO makes in an hour.

6) Story Corps, Animated. Video. If you have been listening to Story Corps here and there, you’ll know why this is something not to be missed. If not, Story Corps is a project where two people sit with a microphone to permanently record (for the Library of Congress) a personal story from their lives. If the news has you thinking people are mostly awful, Story Corps will change your mind.

7) Chief O’Brien At Work.

Randomness for 12/17

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1) The Walking Dad jokes.

2) Hippie Boardgame Forever!

3) How English got its current alphabet, and why people say “Ye Olde”. I’m showing this to my son.

4) The origin of common user interface symbols.

5) Kitchy old ceramic statues turned into horror art.

6) Poems made by stacking books.

7) Father makes posters out of strange things he’s said to his kids. I wonder if he’d make one for me: “Do not drink water out of the duck’s butt.”