Easing Back Into It

I’m still easing back to this, so this is going to be a link-heavy update.  Luckily, I think you’ll find the quality of these links more than makes up for my lack of verbosity.

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Before I get into the links, though, I wanted to say a special thank-you to my pals Leah, @Doctor_Teeth, @scottybomb and @nitabing.  I had a particularly bad day at work on Friday, the kind of bad that will linger if you let it.  But even so, I didn’t want to skip our scheduled Pathfinder game, because we had to really work to find time in everyone’s schedule this time around.  We made it work and I’m glad we did.  All four of them are great to role-play with, and I had a great time re-introducing them to the diabolical environs of Westcrown.  It was just what I needed to decompress from my day.  Thanks, gang!

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To the Links!

– I admit, I had a bit of a Data-crush when ST:TNG was on the air.  Brent Spiner is a great actor, and I enjoy watching him every chance I get.  I just started following him on Twitter, which is how I found out about his new web series, Fresh Hell.  The first two episodes are up, and I am amused!  Can’t wait to see what The Incident was..
– If you are an Edmonton otaku, good news:  Animethon 18 is a go!   Whether you have followed or were even aware of the drama surrounding the three-day event and its organizing committee, the fact they finally announced dates should make you smile.  Look for me there; I’ll be the guy cosplaying as myself.
– I discovered this site a while ago, and ever since I have been impressed with how thought-provokingly funny someone with a chalkboard and a camera can be.
– All I’m going to say is, my birthday is coming up
– Need some cool sound fx?  These are just a click away…
– Of the many podcasts I listen to, Fear the Boot has always maintained a consistently high level of quality.  This is a must-listen podcast for all you gamers out there.

That is all for today; be back soon!

Patrick, In Memorium

Sorry for the lack of updates last week, everyone. I couldn’t bring myself to write anything, and it seemed wrong somehow to post any of my filler updates.

You see, last week I lost a friend. And that threw me, not just because I won’t get to see him across a gaming table anymore. But also because his death was preventable, and it pointed up my own failings in looking after myself…I’ll get back to that.

Patrick was a gamer (and if the after-life is worth anything at all, he still is a gamer, somewhere). If you had to define what type of gamer he was at the table, I would say Thespian with a smidge of Rules Lawyer and a dash of Power Gamer. But he definitely focused on the “role” in role-playing, and a gaming session with him was never boring. Though I’m ashamed to say there were times I just wanted to play the game, and wished he would dial it back, I was always impressed by his imagination. And an almost encyclopedic knowledge of RPGs and RPG companies; I thought I was bad, but Patrick made my well of information look like a drying puddle in comparison. He could be a lot of fun to play with; often generous, always enthusiastic and he just really loved gaming.

This isn’t going to be one of those “He was Perfect” memorials. We didn’t always agree on things, we fought a couple of times (verbally, not physically) and argued more than never. There were times I just didn’t want to deal with Patrick, as I’m sure there were times he could take or leave me. But I can say that, right or wrong, even an argument with Patrick was interesting.

(And sorry Patrick, I think I was right that last time. I sure would have liked to hear your rebuttal, though.)

Mourning is almost never about the person’s death, but about their absence from our lives. That is certainly so in this case. I will miss gaming with Patrick, and miss almost as much the forum and internet discussions we had. He had an intelligence and imagination that was both impressive and rare, and he was what I would refer to as “a good guy”. I don’t think the world has ever really had a surplus of intelligent, imaginative good guys, so the passing of one more is a great loss for us all.

But all of that aside, I think it was the manner of Patrick’s passing that gave me greatest pause. One thing Patrick and I shared was an approximate waist size. We were both what could be generously described as “big boned”. And it was that waist size we shared that took him from this life way too early.

Now I’m not always the clever sort, but even I can’t ignore a wake-up call that loud. Honestly, if the passing of a friend a decade my junior from heart disease wasn’t a wake-up call for me, then I might as well just give up. Go all the way in the other direction, get Jabba the Hutt big, and start picking out a nice piano crate to be buried in. And I’m not interested in that, thank-you very much. I have too much I want to do, and almost all of it requires me to be able to fit through my front door.

So thank-you for the warning, my friend. I am going to miss you, but I will concede your last argument and try to make sure we don’t see each other again too soon.

Godspeed, Patrick.

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For those who knew Patrick, his funeral will take place on Monday, April 11, 2pm at Westlawn Funeral Home, 16310 Stony Plain Road in Edmonton.

D&D Never Left You, Baby

Last week I posted a link to an article about the resurgence of D&D. Summing up, the story took the position that D&D (along with other RPGs) was making a “comeback”, being rediscovered by a whole generation of once-upon-a-time gamers.
Now the thought of gamers coming back to the nerd-fold does put a certain spring in my step. And while I have no definite numbers (and neither did the article in question), I do have a decent amount of anecdotal evidence that a good many ex-gamers are rekindling their geek-flame. But I do take some umbrage to the idea that RPGs needed to make a comeback or that they went away somehow. I’ve been a gamer for 30+ years, and from where I sit role-playing games have never been very far away; certainly they’ve never travelled so far they had to make a return trip.
But perhaps we did go away, as Obi Wan says, “…from a certain point of view.” And the point of view in question would be that of the mainstream. I am steeped enough in the lore and history of the hobby to recall a time when RPGs were very much in an angry public eye. I remember discussions with my parents after yet another article or news story broke about the “dangers of D&D” or “satanistic role-players” or “baby-eating LARPers”…okay, maybe that last one isn’t true. But it is no secret that D&D and RPGs in general endured a period of mainstream distrust and disdain. It is also no secret that as time passed so did the public outcry. And when there was nothing to yell about, RPGs just sort of fell from the mainstream view, replaced by the next Big Outcry (something called “vee-d-o games”, I think).
But while the mainstream forgot about us, we thrived as a hobby. Oh, there were ups and downs, certainly. If you were in the gaming retail business during the 90’s as I was, you had an inkling that not everything was wine and roses, or even Mountain Dew and Cheezies. But gaming kept on, hiccups and all, and we kept playing the games we loved. And then the new editions of games we loved. And then the offshoot games sprung from the loins of the games we loved.
But the point is we never went away, non-gamers just weren’t looking. And so we were poised to unobtrusively regain the mainstream attention we had been missing ( I don’t use “been missing” to suggest we craved it, just to indicate that it had been absent). And this time the mainstream’s regard was favourable. So favourable in fact, I have to work pretty hard not to find a reference, however oblique, to gaming in the shows I love. Castle, Big Bang Theory, Human Target, Chuck, Nikita…okay, those are no-brainers when it comes to being geek-referential. But how about shows like The Chicago Code? Or Hawaii 5-0? Or NCIS and NCIS Los Angeles? Mike and Molly? Two-and-a-Half Men? I could keep going, but it is anecdotal-y clear: gaming has infiltrated the mainstream and it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.
So I can understand why the mainstream suffered the illusion of absence, even if I didn’t suffer along with it. And I suppose I could get all angry and militant about the “slighting of the hobby”, or some such nonsense. But honestly? I’m happy to see more gamers, whatever the reason. Who cares if they are rediscovering us, or if they think they’ve “revived” something that wasn’t really dead. More gamers are a good thing, and I for one look forward to meeting many of them, lapsed or newb, at the gaming table.
Because at the gaming table we are all made equal. Unless you use cheat dice, which just makes you a dick.
More links than a sausage factory (if said factory only made, like, four sausages or something):
– a thank-you to Liana K for pointing this out:  A letter from Joanne Siegel to Time Warner, written shortly before her passing on February 12.  Very rarely have I read anything so passionate, yet reasonable in its tone.  And it makes me want to punch TW in its dumb corporate face.
– I am a huge fan of the Whoniverse, including Torchwood.  So imagine my joy at the news that Torchwood is coming back.  I am uncertain of the casting of Bill Pullman, but am intrigued to see him play a villain…
– So if Torchwood floats my boat, the new season of Doctor Who is the big twin-diesel engine that makes that boat go, go, go!  But at 16 seconds the teaser is more of a taunt.
– Definitely NSFW most days, Chimneyspeak is a gritty, bloody webcomic of sex and revenge.  Makes me long for a good game of “Cthulhu by Gaslight”.
That is all, meinen geekenfreundin.  Until next we meet, may your dice roll smooth and straight.

A Miscellany Roundup

I have had what amounts to the plague for the last four days, so my apologies for the update gap.  While I regain my strength and health (and take a little of other people’s besides)  here are some things I found interesting around the netter regions:

The trailer is out for Captain America: The First Avenger, and it looks good.  I am cautiously optimistic that they may have pulled off another good Marvel comic book movie.  Only time will tell if premiering on my birthday will be a good or ill omen…

I can’t get enough of Team Unicorn, and Sexy Nightmare Slayers is no exception.

Speaking of unicorns, why not try out the Horny Blonde?

If you missed the big announcement over at Paizo, Sam Zeitlin is the 2011 RPG Superstar.  The complete story is here.

Want a little taste of manga with your Friday?  Check out Friday 4Koma over at Omake Theater.  Some NSFW, be warned.

Live in Alberta and jonesing for The Middle Ages?  KnightHaven has what you need, you Medieval junkie.

Okay, enough filler.  I’ll be back soon with a post of some substance, enough substance to have its own gravity…

What a world, what a world…

As I write this, I am watching live video feed of the final burn and approach of a probe called Messenger.
Fifteen years ago someone decided that we needed to get a better look at the planet Mercury, closest planet to our sun. Instead of moping about how far away it was, and how hard it would be, that person instead convinced a bunch of other people that this would be a good idea. Those people planned, designed and worked for nine years. In that time they not only created a probe capable of giving them answers to the questions they had, but also give them the best chance at getting answers to questions they didn’t yet know to ask. On top of that, the probe had to accept instructions from millions of miles away, communicate information over that same distance in a useful manner, and carry out some functions automatically without any human interaction. And all of that instrumentation had to fit into a package that weighed only 100lbs, and took up the space of a medium-sized steamer trunk.
At the same time the probe was in development, another bunch of people were figuring out a launch and delivery system. They created incredibly complex machines that not only lifted the probe safely off our planet, but moved it over 4.9 billion miles of distance and placed the probe in orbit of its destination, protecting it from a hostile environment the entire way.
And yet a third team used complex mathematics to determine the best way for all of this intricate machinery to make the journey, arriving where it needed to arrive safe and sound. And all of this before the probe even left the planet.
Six years ago, Messenger launched (those two words sum up an event so amazingly complex it boggles my mind). But the work didn’t stop there. Talented people would now get up in the morning or afternoon or evening, drink a coffee, eat something and then head in to work. At this work they would monitor the probe’s progress, shepherding it on its journey through our solar system. They would send signals to a probe that was millions, then tens of millions, then hundreds of millions of miles away. These messages had to be timed to account for signal lag, and to allow the craft to precisely carry out six planetary and five deep-space manoeuvres, so that the probe could arrive at the location their math told them Mercury would be. For six years this went on, while you and I worked at our jobs, played games, hung out with friends, slept and generally carried on.
Today, I’m watching the live feed from a device conceived of fifteen years ago, launched six years ago and arriving at Mercury…right…now.
If that doesn’t boggle your mind, consider this. I am watching this because we figured out how to turn visual signals into electronic signals and then back again. We developed a way to transmit those signals over varying distances, with or without direct connections. I am taking advantage of this technology on a device which computes and stores information at blinding speeds, with an interface simple enough that a non-engineer, non-scientist such as myself can use it to play Bejewelled. And write this blog post. And watch a creation of human genius pull off what might as well be a miracle millions of miles away. A distance so vast, by the way, that the feed is already eight minutes old by the time we get it. As I watch the craft is fine. But eight minutes from now it could crash. Or eight minutes from now. Or now. Or now…
Even more amazing? This is not the first time we have pulled off something like this. Or even the tenth or twentieth time.
We live in an age of wonders. This is not an original sentiment and I have certainly not restated it in a particularly new or enlightening way. But regardless of whether I do it well, I think it still needs to be said: we live in an age of wonders. As a species we are capable of achieving, and dream of achieving, things that will elevate us, that will make us better than we are. We can be great.
Take a moment to think about that.
Tonight, Messenger is safely in orbit around Mercury.  Congratulations to everyone at NASA and the Applied Physics Laboratory.
Here are a few other things to look at:
– a great article about rediscovering your inner geek
– I present without comment: Tonight I’m Frakking You
– this Sunday is the Edmonton Collectible Toy and Comic ShowCome out and meet Levar Burton and have a geeky good time!
– the Facebook page is up for Edmonton’s 2011 Can’t Stop the Serenity screening.  If you ain’t there, yer just a Ai Chr Jze Se Duh Fohn Diang Gho.  You have been warned.
‘Til next time, keep looking at the stars!

Happy Pi Day!

I couldn’t ask for a better day to reboot my blog than Pi Day, arguably the geekiest of geek days. If I was willing to wait I could have held out for “Pi Approximation Day” (22/07) which is coincidentally (or is it…?) my birthday. But putting it off that long tempted the possibility that it would never get running again, and I could not countenance that!

I know that some of you never really noticed I was gone, and some wept bitter tears and cursed cruel fate. I know the latter might be an exaggeration. But however you felt about me leaving, I’m back now. And daddy is going to make everything all right.

Oookay, I promise to never type those words in that order again…

Expect a geeky post of some kind every couple of days, more often if the mood takes me. As the blog title suggests, while I hold myself to be an “expert” in a few select areas, I definitely selected “breadth” instead of “depth” when delving into the course catalogue at Geek U. Nothing I write (unless I specifically say otherwise in a post) should be taken as my last word on a subject; I am more than happy to have someone correct me or point me to additional information. As a teacher once told me, “If you aren’t f&*%ing up, you aren’t learning.” By that logic I learn oh-so-much every day…

So here is what caught my eye today:

That is all for now, my fellow geeks!

Weekend Wrap-up: CalCon

I firmly believe that every gaming geek needs to attend conventions as often as possible, and not just because I happen to run one. Gaming with your friends is great, and hitting events at your FLGS is also fantastic. But neither one will give you the concentrated gaming goodness of a gaming convention. A convention is where you steep yourself in the gaming culture and for two-and-a-half days celebrate your obsession with the teeming mass of fellow geeks.

With that philosophy in mind, this past weekend I attended CalCon (link in the title), Calgary’s gaming convention. Not having attended a gaming con in a while, I was in desperate need of that concentrated gaming I spoke of, and CalCon did not disappoint. All weekend long I had ample opportunity to get my gaming fix, and even when I wasn’t playing or sitting in on a panel, I was able to maintain a contact high from the enthusiastic gamers around me.

(Okay, fine, a drug metaphor isn’t going to endear me to the RPG-shy parents out there; for you I say, “I was swept away by waves of positive gaming energy all weekend”. Happy?)

I won’t bore you with a moment-by-moment breakdown of the weekend, I’ll just give an overview and some highlights. Over the course of the weekend I played Puerta Rico, D&D, Citadels, Munchkin, D20 Modern and Pathfinder, and attended two panels (both presented by the awesome Amber E. Scott, see highlights below), and took in any number of ancillary events. The highlights, in no particular order:

*I had been at the con for a few hours on the Friday, just wandering the hall. Since most of the stuff I had signed up for wasn’t running until Saturday I was just looking around, getting my bearings, and watching games in progress. Noticing a game board I was familiar with, I wandered over to take a closer look. Turns out a game of Puerta Rico was just starting, and one of the players asked me if I wanted in, as they had a seat free. Turning down games at a gaming con is tantamount to sacrilege, so I gave the only correct answer and sat down to play. Two great things came out of that decision: I got to play Puerta Rico, a game I enjoy but manage to play rarely; and I made my first gaming buddy of the weekend, Christina. We hit it off while trying to outwit each other and the other “governors”, and that got me my second game invite of the evening, as Christina asked me to come along to her 4th ed. D&D game a little later. As fun as she was to board game with, she was an absolute riot to role-play with! Unfortunately, schedules kept us from gaming together for the rest of the weekend. But we would hang-out and chat when we saw each other over the course of the con (Christina had a unique method of greeting me on Sunday morning; she whipped her car keys at the back of my head as she walked to the registration table. Thank goodness for that Dutch/Scottish skull…). And we are staying in touch, so I look forward to many more games with Christina. Good thing too; I really want to be at the table when she plays a bard, I hear it is not to be missed!

*As I said earlier, both the panels I attended were presented by the con’s gaming guest, Amber E. Scott. Besides being a great person, Amber has done an impressive amount of writing for Dragon as well as Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG (look for her contributions to the Pathfinder Gamemaster Guide, out later this year). She ran two panels, one on adventure writing and the other on the best way to start as a freelance writer in the RPG biz. I had missed seeing her panels at Pure Spec last year (you know, ‘cuz I was busy running the damn thing), so I was extra thrilled at the chance to get her insights on adventure design and freelance writing. If you have a chance to listen to her on a panel (say, at this year’s Pure Spec) take it; she is well worth the listen. Amber also ran the other two RPGs I played: a D20 Modern scenario called, “Isla de Muerta“, inspired by a weekend of monster movies watched through a flu-induced fever haze; and a Pathfinder adventure entitled, “Katapesh: Land of Mystery”. She is a great and talented game master (and kudos as well to her husband Jason for co-GMing), and I was glad to get the chance to hang out and game with her, something that I have little chance to do regularly, despite us living in the same city. Thanks, Amber!

*This highlight is personal, rather than gaming related. I happened to run into a friend I knew back in high school, who was volunteering for the con over the weekend. After the usual round of, “Are you…is it really…?” we established that, yes, I was the Brent she knew back in Fort McMurray, and she was the Tamara I had the unrequited crush on before she left Fort Mac. We had a great little reunion, and spent about four or five hours sitting together in the lounge on Saturday night talking and catching up. It was a totally unexpected and excellent addition to what was already a great weekend. It is very rare to meet someone from that far back in your life (twenty years? Yeesh!) that you can still talk to, and it turns out Tamara is one of those people. So if everything else about the weekend had turned out to suck (which it did not) it would have been worthwhile just to meet up with Tamara again. Hey, Tamara!

Other con stuff, more comments than highlights:

– the volunteers, without fault or fail, were friendly and helpful all weekend. And I mean all weekend. The girl who worked the reg table a good chunk of the weekend (and who, I am ashamed to say, I never asked the name of) was just as friendly and conversational on Sunday morning as she was on Friday evening. And everyone else was on par with that. How important is that? Try going to a con where the volunteers and staff are not friendly, and see how much fun that is. The answer is *spoiler alert* not at all. Not that I wasn’t already planning on attending next year, but the volunteers sealed the deal. Great job!

– the vendor room was on the small side, and sparsely populated all weekend. I tried to be in there as much as possible and make the circuit of all the vendors, but I am only one man. It is a little worrying, especially with CalCon being a new con. Poor vendor-room attendance can lead to a vicious cycle; vendors can be reluctant to come back because attendance was low, so less vendors come out, so less people go to the vendor room because there aren’t a lot of vendors, so attendance is low, so less vendors…and so on. So I have this to say to the vendors: Tough it out! Attendance will get better as the con grows, and if you keep coming back and supporting the event the attendees will remember that. It will be worth the time put in now, believe me.

All in all, a great weekend at a new, growing, enthusiastic gaming convention. Luck willing, I will have a chance to watch it grow over the next several years. And if you are smart, and a gaming geek anywhere in Alberta (heck, or Canada) you should make your way to the con in 2011 and beyond.

Thanks to John and the whole CalCon team, I had a blast! Next year I am up for running some games and panels, so we should talk… 😉

Dungeon a Day Keeps the Players at Bay

You’re a DM. You’re party has just gone left when they should have gone right, and now they are heading into the underground catacombs (which you haven’t worked on yet) instead of the super-awesome ruins you spent months prepping. Before rocks fall and they all die, why not let Monte Cook and Dungeon a Day lend a hand?

The name pretty much says it all. Every weekday Monte adds a new room description to the site, expanding the dungeon complex called Dragon’s Delve. Currently there are two levels listed on the site, but you can be assured that many more are to come. And no, Monte is not going to take a sick day and give you a 10’x10′ empty room. Every room is guaranteed to have something to interest or challenge your players.

Of course, all of this doesn’t come for free (okay, actually the first six rooms on level one do, plus some other stuff, but after that…). To get full access to the information you have to subscribe. But the cost is reasonable; really, a steal when you think of how much content you gain access to, even if you subscribe for just a month. And its Monte Freakin’ Cook, dude! You know? D&D 3rd edition? Ptolus? Yeah, that guy. So you know this is going to be quality stuff, every single day. Add in maps by award winning Ed Bourelle and you can’t go wrong!

So if you are that poor DM from the start of the post, or if you are just looking for the occasional extra room to fill out your own dungeon, then Dungeon a Day is just the site for you, my friend.