Podcasting

July 23rd, 2014

Plans are in the works to start up a game podcast; audio recordings of our groups’ game night and posting them online for the game lovers of the intertubes to enjoy.

Currently the group is at the “all on board” stage but the details will need to be fleshed out. The essential idea is, at least for our own enjoyement, to record the game sessions so people can follow along in our adventures and enjoy the side ramblings and comedy routines that typically emerge.

We’ve had success in recording our sessions for several years now, so at least among ourselves the value is there. If more people end up enjoying them, then the more the merrier.

The primary difficulty that will arise is listener immersion which can be divided into two core concerns:

1. Speaking to an audience.

The group as a whole will have to focus on describing the actions, environment, and effects of play. While I feel our group does an excellent job, in listening to old recordings I know that I can find fault with myself, especially when DMing, of vague speech like “you hit the thing and it’s damaged a bit.” Not terribly exciting that.

2. Facilitation of play.

Our group uses miniatures, battle matts, and the like. When (especially un-planned) combat arises the game slows as the GM draws the terrain on the matt and gets out the needed miniatures. While some amount of player “talk amongst yourselves” can cover this gap, silence is still a concern. Planning for encounters will become paramount and defaulting to using terrain sets or a minimalist drawing technique will probably be for the best.

Of course “best laid schemes” and all that. Our group is planning a strategy session later this week to work out more details.

Dr. Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus’s Series Reviews of Reviews on On the Historicity of Jesus Review (Part 1)

July 3rd, 2014

… or DRCOtHoJSRoRoOtHoJR(P1)1 for short, is a review of Dr. Richard Carrier’s series of reviews of reviews of his latest work; On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might have Reason for Doubt (OHJ). Specifically, this review is of his first review, the first part: OHJ: The Covington Review (Part 1).2

Because of this author’s current socio-economic restrictions, procurement of OHJ has not yet passed feasibility tests but because the same sans-folio predicament may not stop other reviewers from writing focused pro or con reviews (with a higher probability for con reviews emerging from tomeless reviewers given that those holding con-aligned views to any given subject will more likely self-instigate, through self-righteous aggrandizement, to speak/write out. Probably.) it is best to get on band wagons if only for the music of the band. As this author follows Dr. Carrier’s reviews of reviews of OHJ he will fill some time in waiting for an OHJ physical manifestation by writing reviews of Carrier’s reviews of reviews of OHJ. Feasibly for fun.
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Fantasy Evolutionary Biology

April 10th, 2014

First off, just to nip it in the bud…Because I have to. Or. Because I can not stop thinking about it. The evolutionary branching of my fantasy world’s species is something that I’ve been playing with, mulling over, and working on since approximately 1994. So in honor of the fact that it’s been about 20 years since I started, here’s where it’s at to a certain extent; the evolutionary history of the sentient species of the world Agrros Guleth.

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The Hobbit, Desolation of Smaug, & sexism

March 30th, 2014

I know. Late to the party. As usual.

But I finally got to see it. Desolation of Smaug.

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Gamers, Adventurers, & Gamer-Adventurer; a meta-narrative of sorts

March 21st, 2014

“Tis true without lying, certain & most true.
“That which is below is like that which is above & that which is above is like that which is below to do the miracles of one only thing
“And as all things have been & arose from one by the mediation of one: so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaptation.”
-Emerald Table, Issac Newtan translation

In working on beta-version 0.55 of my Agrros Guleth fantasy world’s Pathfinder-adapted campaign book (version 0.54 comes in at 302 pages, and in the end I’m looking at over a 1000 total pages when finalized, but 0.55 is only going to add about 30 or 40 pages) I hit upon an idea.

The lives of adventurers, especially those beginning their career at 1st level, are like that of the average gamer. Or at least a GM should treat it as such in a heroic-fantasy setting such as Pathfinder or D&D.

The adventurer turns their back on hearth and home to seek out adventure for what ever reason, whether it’s riches, power, excitement and entertainment, testing of one’s self, understanding and knowledge, something more ethereal, or all of the above. But regardless of the reason they have walked away from what is normal, what is expected by their friends, family, and community.

The gamer, the human being that plays these games, is doing the same thing in real life by playing these games. In essence the gamer is playing the fantasy setting version of a gamer. The gamer in reality probably isn’t doing it for riches or power (but it can be argued that some do, as in the limited communal sphere of the gaming group there are those who seek power over their fellow gamers and rejoice at charging friends for cans of soda) but most of the other reasons given for adventurers’ motivations certainly fit the motivations of the gamer-in-reality.

And the majority of humanity, the gamer’s friends and family, don’t understand. This forms a core subtext to last night’s Community episode, “Advanced Advanced Dungeons & Dragons“. The hard boiled ex-cop veteran Prof. Hickey (played by Jonathan Banks) just doesn’t “get” his son Hank (played by David Cross) because “all [my son] does is play that, wha-what do you call that crap with the dungeons and the dragons?” Hickey “gets” his gay son, but not his gamer son.

I know people that had to hide their D&D books in high school because their parents thought it was satanic. I know people who’s parents literally burned the books when they found them. I had friends in elementary school tell me they could not play with me if we played D&D. My parents have, very politely and lovingly, told me that if they had known at the beginning just how much I’d take to playing role-playing games that they’re not sure they would have introduced them to me (though, I remember older kids in the neighborhood talking about it and seeing a commercial on TV [not to mention...look at that near gender equality of gamers there, all are welcome] and then asking my parents for it…so the seed was planted before they could have a voice, they need not take responsibility).

But despite all those stumbling blocks (speaking of the etymology of the word satan) we gamers keep persevering. Call it a calling. A passion. An addiction. Regardless what you call it, it is a turning away from cultural norms; it is the formation of a protective and empowering community of like-minded individuals who are at its core a creative story-telling group of people that look towards using intellect to solve problems and overcome adversary (even if its using one’s intellect to empathically play a brute-force low-intelligence barbarian). You ask us to pass the salt, but we give you a bowl of soup. Because soup is better.1

But this doesn’t denote superiority, or better-than, the rest of humanity. We are all one. So say we all. It’s merely a point of interest. Where all experience the period of youth that is rebellion (whether in raging anger or in subversive passiveness), many return back to where they have come from but a few, such a small limited few, continue to strike out on paths unknown…and some of those, only some, are the fanatical gamer. And whether they know it or not, the gamer is a story-teller, part of that long tradition dating back to when fire had only just been discovered. Where we primitive Homo sapiens sat around the camp as the fiery-dusk gave way to the star-studded Universe and we leaned in close to hear the words of our wise shaman/witch relate to us the tales of our ancestors and fantastic entities; primordial words spoken by the first gamers.

1 Paraphrase of part of Jeff Winger’s speech in Community, season 1, episode 1 “Pilot”.

Cosmos, Bruno, and some attention to historical detail

March 12th, 2014

A new, updated and revised, Cosmos series (based and modeled after Carl Sagan’s 1980 show of the same name), featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson as host, is now underway.

The first episode aired last Sunday (March 9), and became accessible on other media outlets the following day (which was when I finally got to see it).

Overall, as an introductory overview episode for the full series, I enjoyed it immensely.

As luck would have it, I’m currently reading a hermeticism-focused biography of Giordano Bruno1 and had just read, days before I got to see Cosmos, a short first hand reference to Bruno’s Oxford lecture.

Now the retelling of Bruno’s Oxford lecture in Cosmos is done via cartoon (which I enjoyed) and it shows Bruno walking into the lecture hall towards the podium, he pushes up his sleeves as he approaches, the “camera” shifts to the audience who begin laughing at him, back to Bruno stepping up to the podium (you can hear/see the audience laughing at his sides), and then he starts to speak. This all takes place from about 21:28 to 21:40, just about 12 seconds long.

The audience, in the re-enactment, starts laughing at Bruno as he’s walking to the podium, immediately after he pushes up his sleeves, and before he starts talking.

One of the few first-hand accounts of Bruno’s speech comes from a man named George Abbot, who didn’t seem to care much for Bruno as he wrote; “[When Bruno had] seen our University in the year 1583, his heart was on fire, to make himself by some worthy exploit, to become famous in that celebrious place. Not long after returning again, when he had more boldly then wisely, got up into the highest place of our best and most renowned school, stripping up his sleeves like some juggler…he undertook among very many other matters to set on foot the opinion of Copernicus, that the earth did go round, and the heaves did stand still; where as in truth it was his own head which rather did run round, and his brains did not stand still.”2

Emphasis there is mine. The important take away is that if you ever find yourself in late 16th Century England, specifically Oxford, don’t push up your sleeves when giving a lecture…unless its for your comedy routine.

I found this little bit of attention to detail in Cosmos to be quite wonderful (while still grumbling at making the Big Bang look like an explosion, and worse, and explosion into a space beyond itself) and look forward to the rest of the series.

For more articles on the new Cosmos check out;
Phil Plait’s Slate Article
Rebecca Watson’s Skepchick Article

And of course, check out the show (HuluPlus has it, and I hear it’s doing well on the pirate sites :) ).

1Frances A. Yates, Giordano Bruno: And the Hermetic Tradition, 1964, University of Chicago Press.
2ibid. From George Abbot’s The Reasons Which Doctour Hill Hath Brought, for the Upholding of Papistry, Which is Falselie Termed the Catholike Religion; Unmasked, and Shewed to Be Very Weake, and Upon Examination Most Insufficient for That Purpose, 1604, published by Joseph Barnes. I did minor ‘translating’ of the quoted text from the 1600′s English to modern spelling.

Monopoly as a simulation of Role-playing Games

February 25th, 2014

This pdf file (86 Kilobites) outlines how to play Monopoly as a simulation of pubescent players playing evil-aligned characters. Enjoy.

Movie & TV Plagues

February 20th, 2014

I recently started watching Survivors (BBC, 2008) on Netflix; mostly because of Paterson Joseph as I love him and his character, Alan Johnson, on Peep Show. The basic essence of Survivors is; a virus sweeps the world and kills off around 90% of the population.

The show then goes on to following survivors and the first two episodes, around the London metropolitan area, is comprised of a primary group of less than 10 people and one or two other groups of no more than 10 people each. And in the third episode it looks more rural with a new group of about, it looks, around 30 people.

Now the Spanish Flu (circa 1918) ended up killing about 4% of the world’s population and it was a horrific event. The world population was approximately 1.8 Billion people and 4% of that is 72 million; 72 million human beings died over 1-2 years. 72 million people currently comprise, nearly, the total populations of the U.S. states of California, Texas, and New York combined…though the Spanish flu deaths were spread out over the world so that on average one out of every 25 people you know would have died.

In the 1300′s, the Black Plague is estimated to have killed about 20% of the world’s population. From about 450 million people world wide to 363 million people. One out of every 5 people you know would have died.

And while avian influenza (“bird flu”) has not yet evolved the ability to transfer from human to humans, in the 650 total confirmed cases of humans contacting it through other sources since 2003, about 60% have died. Which means were it to make the human-to-human jump today, then 3 out of every 5 people you know would die from it and the world would witness about 4.32 Billion deaths, leaving only 2.88 Billion of the current approximate 7.2 Billion human beings on the planet today.

But here’s the thing:
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RPGs, Gamers, Morality, Slavery, and Disgust

January 19th, 2014

I’ve recently been “inhabiting” the message boards of paizo.com, the makers of the Pathfinder Role-Playing Game which is based on the foundations of Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 edition (D&D 3.5) rules, and several times there have been threads started which discuss morality and more often than not slavery has been brought up.

As background information, D&D and by extension Pathfinder, uses an ethical and moral model called “alignment.” On one hand is Good and Evil and on the other is Law and Chaos with neutral being between both of those and all living things in the game have an alignment. Angelic-like creatures are always good, some being Lawful and Good (being the perfect embodiment of that which is Good), others being Chaotic and Good, and still others being Good but neutral with regards to Law and Chaos. Murderers and rapists are evil where state appointed individuals using their station to kill and/or rape are considered Lawful and Evil, killers/rapists motivated by emotional states are generally Chaotic and Evil, and demons and devils are pure evil made physically manifest. Most animals, like dogs or tigers or deer, are just neutral, neither good nor evil, neither lawful nor chaotic. So the basis is that the natural world is neutral. Life feeds on life but doesn’t go out of its way to torture or cause undue harm (evil) nor does it betray its nature to avoid harm (good), like lions turning vegetarian just to avoid harming gazelle, and there’s a natural ebb and flow between lawful aspects and chaotic aspects in nature.

Yet in several message boards real human beings living in today’s world have expressed their belief that slavery is neither good nor evil, just neutral. They will often point towards ancient slavery, instead of Western European/American slavery of Africans from the 1500s to the 1800s (justified largely on the color of skin and the “descendants of Ham” Biblical event in Genesis 9:20-25), as a basis of their argument; such that enslaving captured soldiers or other people during a war (the civilians) is a neutral right of the winning side.
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I walk with them: Really walking with them, in the game.

August 4th, 2013

Narrator “And so it was that the group began to describe themselves walking. And as they described themselves walking so did Abed confirm they walked.”
Neil [whisper] “I walk with them.”
-Community, S2E14 “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons

One of the things I love about that Community episode (and there’s lots of things) and that quote specifically is that it is an accurate representation of part of the role-playing game process. Role-playing games center on events. Often the events are a conflict, typically combat, but events can also be discoveries, conversations, etc. Connecting the events are the segues, the “I walk with them,” moments.

And the segues are one of those interesting “things-encountered-while-playing-D&D” things. Specifically, what is the best way, for a DM, to implement them?

Some different DM approaches to implementing the segues:
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