A River Cruise

It’s been a while since we’ve checked in on the Adventure Co. Brand Adventure Company, more about so let’s see what they’ve been up to, sale shall we?


Frume, story the Torm Paladin, has tasked the party with intercepting the dragon cult’s caravan ‘o riches before it leaves Baldur’s Gate. The quickest way to get to the city from Elturel is by river transport, and Frume has thoughtfully booked the party on a vessel that’s headed in that direction.

The Serpent’s Tail is a large, river-going “luxury entertainment yacht” which carries well-to-do citizens between Scornubel and Baldur’s Gate, and was the only passage available that would get the players down-river ahead of the cultists. Frume advised the party to get themselves some fancy duds, because the patrons of The Serpent’s Tail aren’t the kind to rub elbows with rough and tumble adventurers.

The boat/barge/testament to excess sported an open-air atrium (complete with four piece musical ensemble to greet the passengers as they embark), a lavishly appointed ballroom, a sumptuous dining room able to accommodate up to 60 guests, and a casino featuring the hottest gambling action this side of Luskan. The players, dolled up in their finest frippery, slipped on board with nary a sidelong glance that wasn’t judging their level of wealth and refinement. The bard, ever the performer, decided that she would take on the role of a Princess of Stripscrew Caverns, and pushed her way to the front of the gangplank to announce her presence to the halfling captain and her human first mate. She attempted to rope the monk into playing the role of her valet, but he constantly played the part of “I have no idea who this woman is” instead.

Once the cruise got underway, the party split up. The ranger kept himself out in the open, preferring the sky to the lavish canopies afforded by the yacht as he eavesdropped on passenger conversation for cultist plots. The monk took a nap. The bard visited the ballroom and warmed up with the orchestra who were preparing for the night’s festivities. The dwarf, however, ran into a bit of a situation at the casino (the dining room wasn’t yet serving lunch, so the casino was her second choice).

The casino was guarded by two bouncers who were asking all patrons “are you currently carrying any weapons?” as they entered the room. The dwarf was, of course, armed, having stashed her throwing axes in her beard. Unfortunately when it came time for her to answer the question, she couldn’t. Her throat seized up, and she was unable to assure the men that no, she was not armed. Realizing that the doorways were guarded by wards of truth, she had no choice but to return to her cabin, stow her weapons, and return once again.

At lunch time, the bard and the monk were first in line for a table. Eager to sample the delicacies that Frume’s passage had bought them, they plowed through the food in relative silence, only tossing their leftovers onto the floor three times as the horrified gentry looked on. Feeling a bit famished himself, the ranger came inside just in time for the main course.

The dwarf, having suffered through a curiously unlucky streak at the “D&D-equivalent-of-Craps” table, was feeling down on her luck and contemplating lunch when she glanced up and across the room. There was someone that she thought she recognized. It couldn’t be, could it? What would be the odds?

Stealthily, she wound her way through the crowd until she was absolutely sure: here was her longtime love, a dwarven prince, Ruret Ironstone, heir to the Ironstone Clan — a family that was engaged in a blood feud with her own. She couldn’t just walk up and introduce herself; his parents were also present, and the last time she had run across Ruret’s father, Delg Ironstone, he had threatened to throw her into a chasm, straight down to the Underdark. He had done it before to dwarves who had displeased him less than those who bear the name Battlehammer. She needed a plan.

Running to the dining room, she roped the monk into crafting a note: “Meet me on the aft deck tonight”, and then signed her name. She was adamant that Ruret know it was her, and not some random dwarven floozy who shaves her beard. The monk returned to the casino with the dwarf, where he not-so-suavely walked up and handed the note to Ruret.

Delg, surprised by the appearance of a gnome in what looked to be a formal bathrobe, snatched the note from his son’s hand and read it. Delg instantly comprehended the message, and his face grew red and twisted in rage. Both the dwarf and the monk beat a hasty retreat: the dwarf for fear of her life, the monk for fear of missing dessert.

*   *   *

The HotDQ module only mentions the river trip in passing, saying that it’s the quickest way down-river to Baldur’s Gate, but since it was presented as a throw-away scenario, I figured that this might be a better time to inject some custom content. Last time I had tried, the group was still getting used to getting back into the swing of tabletop gaming, and had pretty much torpedoed my side-adventure. This time, I figured we were all a bit wiser, more relaxed, and prepared for some relatively light-hearted content.

A simple boat ride down the river on a ferry (as the module suggests) could have been “ok”, but at some point I got it stuck in my mind that this should be a riverboat casino, like the stereotype of the steam paddle boats that plied the Mississippi River in the 1800’s. Putting the party amid a different class of character (socially and financially, not adventure-wise) might lend itself to some interesting hijinks as they attempt to fit in, but everyone seemed to take the concept naturally enough to fit in undetected.

I had a few “happenings” planned out that could be used during the three day trip. I had built the dwarf’s scenario from her chosen Background which stated that she was in love with someone whose family hated her family, and thought that this would be an interesting situation: trapped on a boat, the dwarf would be trying to hook up with her love while also trying to avoid the wrath of his family. Unfortunately for her, her compatriot was more interested in the dessert than in helping her out.

The Big Deal of this session was that it was all RP. There was no combat. The truth-wards on the doorways are there to ensure that everyone has a safe and pleasant trip. All of the rooms are fitted with Antimagic Field crystals which prevent the use of magic (especially in the casino). Since the next several sections of the module will require the party to do more talking than fighting, having a relatively low-consequence “RP re-education” session for all of us was probably a good idea.

I should have been doing this on previous posts, but after the session I thought I should include a footnote for the “joke of the night“, since we seem to have a new one every time we play. This week was the “single use monocle“, which can be used specifically to pop out incredulously, and then disposed off and replaced from a spare kept in one’s wallet.

Fantasy Grounds And Dungeons & Dragons

I’m sure folks are pretty sick of my going on about this, case but I realized I didn’t have a long form explanation as to why I’m so excited about the partnership between Wizards of the Coast and SmiteWorks.

WOTC5EPHBDELUXEI’ve owned Fantasy Grounds for many years, viagra sale and it was many years before I was actually able to use it. What sold me on FG over other virtual tabletop apps was that you could write your own modules within FG and benefit from having everything you need for the adventure right there in that app. All story elements, all notes, all NPCs and maps were just a drag and drop away. Being a vtable meant that a lot of the mechanics were handled by the application itself, which means that you don’t need to hunt for info about how much damage a sword does; you just press a button and the damage is taken care of.

While FG was good for home-brew modules, what it couldn’t WOTC5ELMOP2provide was a sanctioned core materials. This put the onus of translating something like “Keep on the Borderlands” entirely on you. You’d need to copy over each and every stat block by hand (or if you’re technically inclined, use one of the parsers that were written by hyper-intelligent FG users to scrap the D&D Insider website or PDF). Some companies, such as Paizo and Chaosium licensed products/names like Pathfinder or Call of Cthulhu which included core rules, tables, and other awesome stuff, but Wizards has always been conspicuously absent. WotC didn’t license 4E, which I suspect had a lot to do with whatever experience they had with 3.5, and a possibly bad experience with their early attempts to get into the digital space with 4E (PDF piracy, a failed virtual tabletop of their own, etc).

That’s why I’m so excited about seeing WotC jumping back into digital with D&D, and for choosing FG as their first partner*. It makes a lot of sense, since FG has dozens upon dozens of systems and adventure modules available through their store or through third party sites like Drive Thru RPG. FG is a complete system — tabletop, adventure modules, reference system, character manager, and game-play aide. The only think FG doesn’t do** is provide voice chat, so while it’s not a complete solution for bringing together disparate players, it at least brings everyone 4/5 of the way there.


* There was that initial partnership with a company that was making a tabletop companion app for tablets that suddenly went belly-up. The rumor that I heard was that those developers wanted to make the app a supplement to live games, while WotC wanted an entirely on-line tool that allowed people to play remotely. If that’s true, it’s a marked change from the 4E days when WotC tried to make their own vtable, failed, and allowed it to flounder in limbo until they announced that it was dead. In this case, it sounds like they wanted something, didn’t find it with their current partner, and opted to seek out one that was already aligned with what they wanted to accomplish.

** Fantasy Grounds is currently in the midst of a re-write. While I think the current application is 100% spiffy, it’s current incarnation more or less stretches back several years. FG developers have mentioned that they’re re-building the app from the ground up using Unity, so hopefully they’ll consider integrating at least voice chat, if not voice and video.

A Small Demographic Study on Social Media

I like statistics, ambulance even though they’ve gotten a bad rap in today’s world for being “eye of the beholder” kind of measurements. Statistics are really just counts of “things” that are then grouped and looked at to find patterns. You can’t really mess with that: if your sample of 100 people contains 75 people who claim to like Oreos “more than life itself”, prescription then 3/4 of those surveyed have a very low appreciation for life, and an unhealthy fondness for sandwich cookies.

I think where stats get a bad rap is when we start extrapolating the assumptions that the numbers represent. Our example above tells us that we wandered into a cult of Oreo lovers, but that doesn’t tell us why they love the cookies, what kind of depraved activities they use their cookies for, or even that 3/4 of the greater population outside this sample does or doesn’t give a Fig Newton about Oreos. We just know that three out of every four people surveyed really like Oreos.

Long winded BS aside, I often frequent my Activity stream in Twitter to see what’s going on behind my back. When you see people you follow picking up a new follower, you see that new follower’s bio. I’m always interested in people’s bios, because these are the things that people write down when no one is looking, or the things that they want to tell people about themselves in 140 characters.

tl;dr: a bio is a really short resume about what to expect when you follow that person.

To that end, I casually skimmed the bios of the limited number of people I follow (a whopping 85 of the best and brightest the Internet has to offer) and tried to pull out trends in what folks are posting about themselves. This is, of course, 100% un-scientific. I used keywords, but also kind of used what I knew about people to parse some of their more ambiguous statements.


In an absolutely unsurprising announcement, I follow a lot of people who self-identify as “gamers” (20). People who like video games are pretty much the only people I follow, so that’s not surprising, but that also means that 65 people aren’t explicitly tagging themselves with this label. Fear not, though, because people do tend to get more specific in some cases. A lot of folks are MMO players (9), RPG players (3), and one person likes FPS games enough to call it out.

What surprised me, though, was how few people name-drop specific games. Right now FFXIV has the most (2), with GW2, Destiny, STO, GTA, and EQ getting one shout-out each. Most surprising: only one mention of WoW.  In fact, more people ID’d themselves as D&D fans (2) or general tabletop/board game fans (3) than did WoW players. And not to omit games of all kinds, three people listed sports (2 for hockey, 1 for football).


In the “how do you ID yourself” category, 11 people lay claim to being “nerdy and/or geeky” or some similar label. Again, not terribly surprised. Three people included content in their bio which I consider to be “snarky”, meaning they’re putting comedy in their bio which doesn’t really tell us anything about themselves except that they have a high opinion of their own sense of humor.

Two people ID’d themselves as female/girls. No one ID’d themselves a male/boys. So that’s that.

A lot of people like to write (5). Some people like to read (2). Crafts (2), TV (1), and other hobbies (all 1) show up occasionally. A whole three people ID’d themselves as someone participating in fitness activities.


Some folks really like what they do. I follow a lot of developers (7), some artists (1), audio specialists (2), and a smattering of other professions (1 or 2 folks here and there). I did include “blogger” in this category because I do know that some folks “blog professionally”, unlike me who “blogs half-assedly”.


“Conceits” is the name of the aspects that cover straight up self-promotion.

Six people name-dropped their company. Only 2 name-dropped their spouse or S.O.

I’ve included “blogger” in this category as well, and it overlaps the Job category because blogging is blogging, for free or pay, but 11 people mentioned that they were a blogger and/or included the name of their blog (I didn’t break out actual name-drops). There are a lot of podcasters (4), streamers (4), and YouTube posters (3).

There are mothers (5), fathers (2), a husband (1), and a wife (1), some of whom I assume cross bounds of those counts.

Food didn’t make a huge appearance, but coffee (1) and tea (2) are notable appearances.

So What?

Yes, so what indeed. This was more of a personal edification experiment than anything else. It doesn’t tell me anything I don’t know — I follow a lot of gaming nerds who like socializing (100%).

What I didn’t find was what I see in the general Activity stream: people who carefully craft their bio to sell their personal brand, or people who are aggressive and confrontational right off the bat. Nor do I follow anyone with uninspired bios (stealing quotes, one-liner bios, over-the-top begging for subs on Twitch or YouTube, etc). The overwhelming majority of bios of people in my stream are kind, silly, and informative, which I like. I’ve got really good taste in people.

I’d like to do a wider assessment, but I really don’t have the time or the desire to parse a crap-load of bios of random people. Maybe I can find or make a scraping tool that will pull out keywords from the bios of people in my activity stream and sort them into buckets…Nah, nevermind. Still too much work.


Something Simple

The other day I was comparing the notes I store in OneNote to the notes I had stored in Evernote when I was a heavy Evernote user, ampoule and in the process I unearthed a frightening amount of design documents I had put together for a project that I called MetaPunk.

MetaPunk was supposed to be a cyberpunk RPG built with MetaPlace, Raph Koster’s online game-slash-virtual-world construction system. I was a heavy user of the alpha/beta at the time (disclosure: heavy enough that they flew me and several other users out to San Diego to meet the team), and I really wanted to use the system to create this cyberpunk RPG. But it came to pass that my ambition exceeded my ability — no, really! — and I didn’t get very far before MetaPlace shut down.

But the dream lived on! My next plan was to make it a web game, but not in the same form as it would have appeared in using MetaPlace. This was to be more of a static affair, a kind of stateless “BBS door game” async multiplayer affair. I had created a tool that allowed me to upload an image, and then to drag regions on the image to build a map so users could click on the map to indicate where they wanted to travel to. Things would happen. And stuff. But after a time I got distracted — no, really! — and everything was archived and put away.

Fast forward four years to when I re-discovered my notes from this web-version of MetaPunk. I can’t remember where I put the archived code for the work I had done on the web version, but I’m not sure that it’s relevant now. Now I have a hammer — Unity, of course — and these design documents look suspiciously like a nail. I had done a lot of work coming up with systems and explanations and data structures that there’s enough there to get coding something.

But, this post is entitled “Something Simple”, which isn’t the image that the words “cyberpunk RPG in Unity” conjurers. I’m not thinking of a third, first, or isometric person game; I’m still thinking of keeping it close to the design of the web version. That would make it a “Choose Your Own Adventure on steroids” kind of thing: you’d be working to further your agendas, but with a less “active” interface. A cursory consideration leads me to believe that I could do the whole thing just by using UI elements in 2D, although I’d have to test that. At my most ambitious, we’d be looking at something with a 3D map of the city, with…other stuff. I don’t know. That idea just came to me as I was writing this.

So throw this log on my unfinished project pile. I’ll do some exploration to see what I can reasonably pull off, especially since some of the background work has been written down and previously tested. As always, no promises.

A Little Less Conversation

Our intrepid Adventure Company Brand Adventurers(tm) were left trying to figure out what to do about the two dragon eggs that they had located in the cavern situated at the back of the bandit camp. The group appeared to be worried that the eggs were far enough along that breaking the shell would unleash a deadly scourge of wyrm that would finish off what the two guard drakes and the camouflaged roper had started, pilule or run the risk that the Cult had the eggs monitored. Truth be told, the party was in no condition to get a hang-nail, let alone engage in another scuffle without a good eight hours of downtime.

They elected to leave the caverns without doing anything to the eggs, which turned out to be a relatively minor affair of back-tracking out to the abandoned bandit camp. Once outside, they agreed to take a short rest to recover some stamina before setting out for Greenest.

In town, the party thoughtfully turned over several thousand gp worth of valuables to Governor Nighthill, who was beside himself with gratitude. He had a message for the party from the monk Leosin: meet him and his ally Onthar Frume in the city of Elturel. Leosin had left the party fresh horses and enough traveling supplies to make the six day journey. The party rested, and then set out (hopefully for the last damn time) from Greenest.

Elturel is a trading hub along the River Chionthar, and it’s brochure highlight is the mystical “second sun” that hangs above it. This eternal light never dims, meaning that anyone living in the city needs to invest in some serious light-blocking curtains if they want to get any sleep. The party entered through the northwest gate to a bustling marketplace. The party asked about the Order of the Gauntlet, the group to which Frume belonged, and were directed to the tavern named “A Pair of Black Antlers”, which was named because it would be difficult for drunks to say, and that would be hilarious.

Frume turned out to be a frat-dwarf, who spent the next 24 hours dragging the party around Eturel so they could drink, race horses, spar, and misbehave in general until the following night when Frume, Leosin, and representatives of other interested parties laid it down for the party.

The Cult of the Dragon had, until recently, been active in the East where they were primarily concerned with creating dracoliches (which wasn’t given the terrifying weight in the module that I think dracoliches deserves, but I only work here), but were pressing West into the Sword Coast for some unknown reason. They seem to be very focused on dragon hatchlings, and in increasing their devotion to Tiamat. Their activities are known — raiding remote villages for valuables — but the “why” and the knowledge of “where” these treasures are ending up is what the group is looking to discover.

It was revealed that Leosin is a member of the Harpers, a secretive do-gooder society. Both he and Frume make recruitment offers to the party in exchange for access to their extensive regional resources. This is a carrot, and the stick is that they want the party to infiltrate the cult’s caravan that carries the bulk of the treasure in order to find out where they’re going, and why they need to be there.

They know that the caravan has a head start, but they also know that they can intercept the cult in Baldur’s Gate. Frume has chartered a boat that can take the party down the River Chionthar in two to three days, where they can find work as a caravan guard either in or near the cult’s wagons in order to keep an eye on the proceedings.

They were advised to sleep on it.

*   *   *

To be frank, this session sucked, as I figured it would.

Up to this point, the chapters had been what you could call a stereotypical D&D game. A little bit of expository glue to get the players to where they need to be, and then the lure of treasure to get them to move from room to room, killing things as they go.

Last night, and in the near future, there’s a lot of “worldbuilding” in effect. The module doesn’t do it, except in providing some basic information to build off of, like what Elturel is like, what Frume is like, and so on. Filling the “flavor” is the job of the GM, of course, which means that this where the difficulty comes into play.

The party wanted to leave the cave, so they left the cave. They wanted to get to Greenest, so they went to Greenest. They wanted to travel to Elturel, so they…you get the picture. At any point they could have had random encounters, but…why? They had just come off several weeks of fighting stuff, so a random bandit encounter would be banal filler for filler’s sake, and would have slowed down the game to “at least one combat encounter per session” pattern which is predictable and tiring.

That would be OK if I didn’t know that the next several sessions are going to be about “players playing”, not “players fighting”. The sleuthing that the players are going to have to do in following this caravan is going to require a level of play from all of us that I think none of us seem to be equipped for. I’m going to fall back on the excuse that we’ve become so addled by years of CRPGs that we’re no longer able to conceive of the freedom that tabletop RPGs offer.

What I need to do is to spend more time with the upcoming sequences and put together more of a framework than the module provides. Yes, this is kind of a “no duh” statement; it’s the GM’s job, after all. I’ve read a lot of things On Line(tm) that tells GMs that they don’t need to put a lot of prep into their sessions because they’re meant to be organic, but until we break through this wall that’s keeping us from that organic play, I’m going to need to have more materials on hand. Some situational tables for random happenstance. Some well-conceived NPCs to interact with. Some random encounters. Anything to get past the “You want to travel to X? OK, you arrive at X” that we experienced last night.

What I think the players need to do is to take more responsibility for moving the story along, and more importantly, to make it their own. I felt that last night there was a lot of stumbling over half-assed situations in order to fill a vacuum that should have been owned by the players. For example, the module suggested that the players should cozy up to Frume by playing out the carousing that he wanted to engage in, but the players were so taken aback by the idea that they were wasting time that I just flat-lined that part and skipped to the progression of the story. There’s going to be a lot more situations like these in the coming sessions, where the players are going to need to be the primary drivers, and I am the one to react, not the other way around. I don’t want to feel put into the position where I need to drop hints or nudge anyone in the direction laid down by the module because I don’t think that’s fun for anyone: it’s more work for me, and it’s way too “by the numbers” for what tabletop RPGs are all about.

The College Experience

My daughter once wanted to be a veterinarian, visit but as she got older she realized that she couldn’t deal with blood and the inevitable euthanasia situations. But she is an excellent artist for her age, and and she “specializes” in anime-inspired drawings. After returning from PAX East this year, it dawned on me that there were a lot of educators who had booths at the show that were providing information on game design and development, as well as animation and 3D artistry. So when I got home, I started looking around…at colleges…for my 14 year old child.

It made me feel old. But I also feel that this is the right time to be doing this. Of course, it all hinges on her maintaining her interest in art and animation. If she decides she wants to get into another line of work, all current bets are off. But 14 isn’t that far from 18, and figuring out options now will at least cover the discovery aspect for when we have to buckle down and really get to work.

It seems timely in other ways, because I’ve recently heard several stories on the radio talking about colleges and their practices. The majority of these stories have been…unpleasant and unflattering to these institutions. Today, for example, I learned about the application to acceptance ratio, and how some “top tier” schools will actively and personally encourage high-scoring SAT students to apply, only to deny most of them so that the college can crow about their acceptance ratio. Most of the stories I’ve heard have been focusing on the widely held belief that all college students are aiming for the highest level name college that offers what they want simply because there’s a mental link between well known schools and the rate of success of its graduates. But these stories then throw down that going to a prestigious school only offers a higher rate of bumping into someone who might help your career later on, and that the quality of education varies wildly between the top tier schools, and in some cases can prove inferior when compared to lesser known or even relatively unknown schools.

I went to a state school which happened to have a good reputation for biology (which is what I was in for), but there were a lot of flaws with the “concept” of the college experience. Up through high school, you’re graded on your performance. Grades and GPA are the meters upon which you’re evaluated. When you enter college, the gears shift dramatically. You can do really, really well in college, but you may find that you’re ill-equipped to enter your professional field because once you’re in college, it’s not what you know, it’s almost entirely who you know. That’s why I’m working as a web/application developer: I wasn’t one of those outgoing, always at the professor’s office hours kinds of student. I did my work — and did pretty well, except in math-related subjects — but I had absolutely no one wanting to look at me because I lacked linkage to anyone of note in the biology field. I once begged for a work study position by offering to wash glassware, and the one time I did stop by a professor’s office to ask her thoughts on what kind of studies would fit into a specific career, she made no effort to hide the fact that she felt I was wasting her time.

Still, the name brand of the school never meant much to me, and I’m thinking the same when looking at destinations for my daughter. What a name means to people doesn’t necessarily equate to the education that students receive, especially when the name is linked more to sports, or the mythology that “the best” CEOs and other people in powerful positions went to Ivy League schools (Surprise! Most do not). No matter where you go, two plus two will still equal four, so it’s just a matter of how much you’re willing to pay for the lesson of learning that truism.

What matters to me the most is that my daughter receive an education in the subject of her choice that best fits what she wants to use it for. It may be difficult, as even large schools with many resources only have so many to use towards individualizing their courses. I have…concerns about how well my daughter will fit into a framework which isn’t constantly focused on the narrow band of what she wants to accomplish, but there’s still a whole four years to go to train her that “well rounded” is the base, and it’ll be up to her to use that base upon which to build her own, personal specifics.

Right now, I’m not overly concerned with the process of looking at colleges for my daughter. It’s certainly not in her mind at this point. I’m passively collecting and perusing institutions, finding ways to eliminate those which are for-profit, tuition mills, or atrocious reviews from current and former students. It’s really easy for colleges and universities to talk up their programs, their resources, their alumni, and their exclusivity, but it’s another thing to see whole swaths of people kicking their alma mater to the curb. Those are the cons you need to put together with the pros put out by the marketing departments to get a good sense of what lies in the middle, and if that middle is worthwhile enough to apply to.

From Bad To Worse

I’ve nuked more blogs than a lot of people have ever run so I can’t remember if I mentioned it here or elsewhere, dosage but I’m still kind of in this gaming slump where I’ve got a lot of icons on my desktop/games on my dashboard but very little interest in clicking on any of them.

For a while there, I was playing nothing but Elite: Dangerous. Then I kind of took a slight detour into episodic gaming with The Wolf Among Us, Tales From The Borderlands, and Dreamfall Chronicles. There was some World of Warcraft in there, followed by a whole whirlwind of other games like Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag (thanks to the much-better-than-Game-of-Thrones show Black Sails), Trove, and the alpha of SkySaga. I bought, installed, failed at, and then uninstalled Lords of Xulima. Then there was the new player experience in The Secret WorldThe Elder Scrolls Online went B2P, Star Citizen has it’s 1.1 update, and I saw someone playing Defiance, so those made a comeback. Over on the PS4, I downloaded a bunch of PS+ freebies like…I can’t remember their names. I got my new bass and so picked up Rocksmith. I still have Far Cry 4, Diablo III, and Dragon Age: Inquisition sitting there. I bought Helldivers because the Twitterati were playing it and I wanted to play with them, and that dragged in Warframe for the same reason. I pre-ordered Etrian Mystery Dungeon for the 3DS, and got the Pokemon Shuffle for free. I started playing my daughter’s copy of Fantasy Life, months after the community has moved on from it. I bought a lot of Unity lessons online, and some tools that I thought might help my projects move faster. There’s also the weekly D&D game, and now a play-by-post Numenera session.

However, my fuck-budget is at zero recently. I’ve stared at things in the hopes that my mind might snap to something, but no…I have the shell of a Tuesday night schedule for TSW, and D&D on Thursdays (turnout out to be alternating Thursday). If it weren’t for a calendar, I don’t think I’d bother sitting at my desk or on the downstairs couch at all. I just learned about the first DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition, and my first reaction should have been “awesome!”, but instead was “well I don’t think I’ll ever get back to that game to really care”.

Still, I find myself looking through Steam, and through my library contained therein, with a restless eye. I put stuff on my wishlist. In passing through the stack of Steam games, I find titles that I forgot that I had purchased. Nothing really jumps out at me. I know I mentioned this before, somewhere, and I wonder if I am really coming to the end of my interest in gaming. Like, not hyperbole-end; more like practical-end.

Thing is, I’m not sure I really care. I think I am finding less of a point of sitting down and loading up a game. I’m not getting the satisfaction out of them that I had been getting for so long. Lately, the idea of a game has been pretty enticing, but the practice of playing the game itself has been extremely lackluster.

I self-destructed Levelcapped.com because I stopped caring to have a dedicated gaming blog, and I’ve abandoned my Quixotic campaign to get the gaming community to grow up and fly straight. I’ve only been writing about gaming here because I have no idea what else to write about. I’m sure as hell not going to write about politics. I’ve tried to make a go of the video blog format, but I’ve recorded about twice as much content as I’ve posted, mainly because I can’t be bothered to jump through the hoops of transferring and uploading.

I think I need a new hobby. Not an additional hobby, but something entirely new. Something not-geek-related. Over the weekend I bought a French press after a discussion about the failings of the Keurig-industrial complex. As I was filling the carafe this past Sunday morning, I thought “I think I want to be a snob about something.” My brother in law is a beer snob (and also a brew-master at two breweries, so he kind of has to be), and my friends are also particular about their beer. Maybe I could be the same about coffee? But that takes research; I don’t think I really have the interest, considering I have to limit my coffee intake lest I blow a hole in my stomach (I’m on medication for that, so it’s not just paranoia). I do have a lot of home renovation projects that need to be done, and I think I might like to get in on that, but A) I have no tools, and B) we need a lot of materials…both of which cost more money than buying video games does.

My entire being is devoid of being an “expert” on anything. Not “Internet expert”, but real deep knowledge expert. I’m not even really all that good at my job, which I’ve been doing for almost 15 years now (I mean, I’m good, but stop me on the street and hit me up with a question and I’d probably divert your attention and run and/or push you into traffic). I like thought experiments, but staring at the wall isn’t considered a “hobby”, or at least not a fulfilling hobby.

I think that’s it: nothing I do is “fulfilling”. I am not making any progress in anything. I’m just being in a place. That’s usually the kind of feeling reserved for retirees and people who have reached a specific and deserved plateau, of which I am neither. So I need to find something fulfilling. I have no idea what that is.

Do What You Love

Sometimes platitudes work; sometimes they’re not worth the paper they’re written on (or the breath they’re spoken with).

Case in point: “Do what you love”. This is a phase whose gravity is the greatest when directed at recently graduated high school seniors or starry-eyed college students.  Expecting kids to decide on their vocation with nothing but the equivalent of a handful of pamphlets to help them make up their minds, buy more about the advice to “do what you love” seems less like something fit for embroidery and more like an epiphany. Why wouldn’t you dedicate your life to something that you love doing? Why would you subject yourself to spend your life — your only life — doing anything but what makes you happy?

There’s two problems with this. The first is that we can’t all be sleep-study, help ice cream testing Netflix QA subjects. Humanity has been spending the past several hundred years working towards a goal of making life increasingly easier for itself, purchase but there’s still a whole lot of shit-work (relatively) that needs to be done. Things like making sure the trains run on time (literally), or that sewage is routed and dealt with, or that kids get their shots, or that cars are made available for sale, or that bread is baked, floors are cleaned, shelves are stocked, airplanes reach their destinations, nations are defended, A/C  units are in working order, and a billion other jobs that get done but which we never realize are actual jobs. Did you ever stop to think that somewhere, someone is making ball-bearings? Or the plastic bristles that make a broom more than just something you could use to play shuffleboard? People do those things, but consider this: Who the hell grows up wanting to be the man or woman who makes broom bristles?

The second problem is that when you do what you love to do, you fly dangerously close to the sun. When you get that close to the sun you may feel all nice and warm, but you also run the risk of burnout. Doing what you love is really only a small percentage of the greeting card. It comes with an implied asterisk that is so implied that no one ever really considers it to be there at all.

What you do is important. Where and how you do it is even more important still. For example, when I was doing desktop support for a national health insurance company, I spent a lot of my free time building web sites. I built blogs before the word “blog” was a thing. I worked with API systems before there was REST and JSON and fancy stuff like that. I fought (and lost, sadly) legal internet battles over domain names. I loved it. It was awesome. I loved it so much that when I had the chance to do what I loved, I took it without hesitation.

I think that was probably the biggest mistake of my life. I now loathe web development. It’s a cancer in my life. There is absolutely nothing enjoyable about it, but the kicker is that I know exactly why, and it’s not because web development has changed in any negative way. It’s the association based on where and how I do it that’s totally ruined any and all enjoyment for me. I’m not a business-minded person; I’m a technical person, which means that I’m smart enough to know that going into business for myself is guaranteed to end in unmitigated disaster. That means I need to work for someone else. Web development isn’t all done with Nerf guns and open-concept office space; I’m sure that the majority of the sites you see on the Internet (and the under-the-water part of the iceberg representing all the sites you will never see) are built under corporate auspices, and we know how corporations are almost universally poison to the kind of processes that people usually think about when they think of “web development”. The reality is that, like anything else, doing design and development for a corporation involves hands on a keyboard. That’s it. Dictates come from a committee that knows little to nothing about what you do, and doesn’t care. Designs are dictated by the marketing department, with a fuck-all towards actual usability. Got a great idea on how to make the site as awesome as all the hipster design and development wonks in San Francisco are espousing? Tough shit. Boring forms and corporate colors are the limits of your creativity.

That’s to be expected, though, right? Corporate culture is so anti-excitement that the best you can hope for is to be able to say that you’re employed by this time next year. But a lot of the process of learning comes from doing and experimenting and in feeding off the energy of like-minded individuals. Tech people love learning new shit, but unless you’re lucky enough to win the “where you live” lottery and get a job for the 0.000001% of those hip companies you hear about at disproportionate rate, your continuing education is limited to what you can swing on your out-of-work time. This is why “doing what you love” is such pathetic advice. We can’t all do what we love, and often times when we find out how we can, we have to accept that doing it means doing it in a soul-crushing environment that drives us to hate what we love not because what we love or love about it has changed, but because having to do it day in day out in a suffocating environment extracts all of the joy from it.

So find something else to love? That’s about as overly simplistic as “do what you love”. There’s a Rubicon everyone crosses in their professional career which makes it next to impossible make such a massive change. The will may be there, but it’s not just changing a job like you do in high-school; it’s changing a career that you spent years and maybe even decades immersed in. Not only would you probably need to go out for re-education, which takes dedication of time and money, but you’re fighting ageism, and would need to resign yourself to the fact that switching careers late in the game means starting over at an entry level position as the low man/woman on the totem pole. Pay is cut, benefits are slashed — and yet you’ve still got a family to support, bills to pay, and a life to lead that might not be able to weather such a drastic change.

So, suffer for eight hours a day, five days a week so you can continue to spend the weekends in the manner to which you’ve become accustomed, or jump ship and risk throwing away your actual life in the pursuit of something that could very well just end up being exactly what you were trying to get away from in the first place? Some people would say that the choice is not a choice at all: do what makes you happy. A closer inspection shows that, like the advice of “do what you love”, there is no guarantee that you will ever be happy with what you do. There’s too many external factors that you have no control over. If you’re lucky enough to do what you love in an environment that fosters your love of that thing, congratulations! You’ve come as close to winning the lottery as you can get without having bought a ticket. But the bulk of the world isn’t — can’t — be that lucky. We’re stuck doing the jobs that are needed to keep the world moving towards ever greater convenience for humanity, and where the best we can offer when asked how our jobs are going is that we’re really looking forward to retirement.


Social media is great, but it’s  not really for everyone. Yes, order there are those who prefer to not have their laundry hanging out in the yard for some morally questionable time-traveler to steal (because in the future they can figure out how to subvert the laws of time and space, hospital but can’t send anyone back in time with a jumpsuit), if by laundry we mean written words, and by time-traveler we mean anyone and everyone on the Internet. While some social media outlets allow you to keep your business private between participants, you’ll still be under the thumb of the operators who are parsing your every word for their own benefit.

Closed conversation systems have fallen by the wayside in the wake of the open-the-doors-to-everyone social media, so my friends and I have started trying Slack*. It’s being sold as a collaborative tool for companies and other project-minded folks, but we’re not that ambitious. We usually conduct our daily correspondence via carrier pigeon telegraph smoke signals EMAIL, dammit. which is OK because it’s really the lowest common denominator in online communication. But it’s got issues, like being the preferred mode of communication for your geriatric relatives who think writing in 36 point Comic Sans about the stupidity of the other political party is still “pretty amazing”. It’s also really easy to cross conversation by delay. And there’s no really good way to store info for later (organizing by folders and tags, sure, but if you’re OCD about keeping your email as clean as possible…)

Slack’s primary selling point is live chat. Yes, the same live chat we’ve had since the early 90’s (coincidentally, the last time email was actually “pretty amazing”). But it’s got modern perks like inline image and video embedding, public and private channels, and document sharing. So overall it’s not super cutting edge, except in that “everything old is new again” kind of way. We can also sub-divide our participation into channels. And all of this info persists between sessions so we have something to refer back to that might have been meant to be retained, or might have just been mentioned in passing.

*I’m not saying that Slack isn’t peep-holing your conversations. But their purpose of providing a place for business to gather would lead me to (hope) believe that they’ve got an eye on privacy.

Hanging with Mr. Roper

mr-roperIt had been two weeks since our last D&D session, site which ended with the party backed into the empty kobold barracks after an unfortunate encounter with Langdedrosa Cyanwrath the half-dragon and his minions.

The group started out this week by moving back into the chapel of Tiamat where they had faced Cyanwrath, abortion in order to search the bodies of the berserkers. They had left the room in such haste last session that they forgot there was an ornate chest at the foot of the intricate statue of Tiamat in the corner. While the ranger seemed oblivious during a trap search, the fighter was able to notice that the chest was sitting on top of a pressure plate, and taking a cue from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the players swapped the chest for a dead body and discovered some of the treasure from the cult’s many raids.

A trip through the east passage brought them into a double-decker room. The ranger “gracefully” — in quotes — descended the stairs face first, but didn’t seem to alert any enemies initially. The lower half of the room contained two guard drakes who seemed to be engaged in their namesake activity around two large, smooth objects that looked very much like stones.

Once the ranger moved about the room to do some recon, he was surprised by two projectiles from the far end of the cave: a glue bomb, and a fire bomb, both of which he was able to dodge. The party discovered another depression at the far end of the cavern which contained four kobolds. The dwarf leaped into the pit and cleaved two of the creatures with a single stroke. The monk took out another, and the fourth kobold was so intimidated by the display of raw fury that he dropped his weapons and cowered in the corner. Being the only one who spoke Draconic, the dwarf learned that the strangely shaped stones that the drakes were guarding were actually dragon eggs. Beyond that, he had no useful information, so the bard put a crossbow bolt through his forehead.

Feeling confident that the drakes couldn’t climb the 15 foot wall of the pit they were in, the party stood around on the edge like state workers on a highway project as they debated their options. They chose to use some of the grenades that the kobolds had, sticking one drake with the glue bomb, and igniting another with the fire bomb.

Then, out of the dark end of the cavern came a tentacle that wrapped itself around the ranger (it was really not his day) and dragged him from the edge into the depression.

It was revealed that the creature at the end of this tentacle was a roper, a stone-like creature that had been overlooked in the dark recesses. Most of the party jumped into the pit to help the ranger, which allowed the drakes to get revenge for the glue and fire attacks.

The combination of the drakes and the roper proved to be quite the match, with two party members falling below zero HP. The druid was on perpetual stand-by, however, ready to fire off Healing Word should anyone drop dead. First the drakes were taken out, and then a concerted effort focusing on the roper managed to steadily reduce it’s life. The bard cast Cloud of Daggers on top of the roper, who surprised the party by scaling the rock wall with it’s myriad of tentacles, removing itself from the deadly cloud. The party was eventually victorious, though, managing to take down the deadly creature and leaving them with a decision to make about the dragon eggs.

*   *   *

This session ran an hour overtime, mainly because we spent the better part of the first hour learning that you could buy inflatable My Little Pony sex-dolls from China for as little as $99 (in bulk). If you arrived here because of the My Little Pony keyword search, I’m sorry that you head to learn about that from a random blog on the Internet, but forewarned is forearmed.

The session was dedicated to the dwarf, who seemed to be succeeding in most every attempt she undertook, being invaluable in retrieving the chest of treasure and in the questioning the kobold to learn about the dragon eggs. We have opted to use the cleave rule from the DM’s guide, mainly because the dwarf has been consistently doing some massive damage when she hits. The cleave rule states that if the attacker does more damage to a healthy target than the target has in total HP, any additional damage is transferred to an adjacent target. This came in handy last night when she landed a critical hit to a healthy kobold, doing six points of damage to a five HP creature. The extra damage point rolled to the adjacent kobold, but since it was a critical hit, the dwarf was able to roll a 1d10 for another four damage, with the end result being that she took out two kobolds with a single swing.

The roper was quite the challenge. The module actually says that it’s potentially deadly for third level characters, but it pulled no punches, grabbing party members and drawing them to within biting range. The beak of the roper does a whopping 22 damage, which is normally more than enough to fell your average third level player, but most of the party was still damaged from their fight with Cyanwrath and his berserker minions. Keeping at range wasn’t the best option, as the roper could reach the entire cavern from it’s corner. Personally, I would have liked to have seen the party try and make a break for it, conjuring images of tentacles whipping through the air and the party members parkouring off the cavern walls in an attempt to get out of the chamber without being pulled back in. But judging by the night the ranger was having, it might have turned into a “sacrifice the elf” kind of situation had they tried that.