Monthly Archives: August 2011

You’re In My World Now: First Thoughts On Being a DM

ThumbnailWarning: I’m about to geek out big time!

I play games. All kinds of games. While many would immediately think I’m referring to video games, which I do play sometimes, I’m talking here to good old-fashioned tabletop games. You know them: Chess, Scrabble, or things with dice. In particular I like role-playing games, and for the last year I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons for the first time in close to twenty years. This is primarily thanks to the D&D Encounters program that Wizards of the Coast is running, in which an official game gets played at participating locations (usually game stores) once per week, and it’s a short session so you pop in, play for an hour or two, then come back next week. It’s really convenient and has pulled me back into the fold.

It is 4th Edition D&D. I know that many people deride it, sometimes for being simplistic, but more for having such a heavy focus on combat. I understand the criticism, and yes, most of the mechanics have to do with combat and not role-playing or exploration and puzzle-solving. But that should be expected because combat was always the most mechanically intensive part of the game through all editions anyway. As with most things in pen and paper role-playing games, it all depends on your game master. I’ve played some session that were very heavy on role-playing in the new system, and it was really a testament to the skill of the dungeon master, or DM for those don’t know the lingo. If the DM knows what they’re doing and can adjust to player styles and creativity, then a fun time is had by all.

So it came time last night to explore my own abilities as a DM, as I volunteered for the new season of Encounters (titled “Lost Crown of Neverwinter”) to run one of the tables at my local game and hobby store. For a little more information, this is what I’m talking about:

It was interesting and will likely prove to get more interesting, especially because this one takes place in the Forgotten Realms setting, which I have never played in and have only a passing familiarity with. And now I’m running a campaign in this world I have little familiarity with. Fortunately, I have a couple of players at my table who know more about the setting, which adds another layer of interest when the players no more about the world than the DM. Meta-gaming, ahoy!

A learning experience was had by all. It didn’t help that I got the module right before the game started, so I was reading it and flipping through it to look things up as the game was going on. But, then again, I wasn’t the only one, as the other two DMs were in the same boat. This led to some major confusion on my part and I had to correct myself and the course of the game a bit while playing. It also didn’t help that I had eight players at my table, as Encounters are typically designed for five to six players. We should have a fourth table running next week, if necessary, so we’ll hopefully have smaller tables which are more manageable, not to mention faster.

What did I learn from last night during my crash course as a DM? A few things.

Patience is the key, especially when dealing with kids, who tend to play a little slower because they ask a lot of questions. This isn’t a bad thing, though, because it leads to the second thing I’ve learned, and that is the need for creativity and to accommodate creativity. In playing over the last year, I’ve found that the younger players seem to come up with more creative solutions and actions, and it’s the DMs’ job to handle this. This was something I knew before hand, but knowledge and practice aren’t always the same thing. I started out by keeping to the rules and standard turn fairly rigidly, but then realized I was doing exactly what I knew I shouldn’t be doing and was making a huge mistake by not being flexible and knowing when to bend the rules a bit to make it a more fun experience. It’s all about player fun, and if you don’t achieve that, then you’re not doing your job.

It was difficult to get into the mindset of the DM. The hardest part was realizing that now I was making all the decisions for the course of the game and the world, not to mention controlling all the monsters and the characters that populate the world. I really need to work on my acting abilities. Plus, I’ve got to keep track of everything, such as initiative order, monsters’ health, character statuses, etc.

It’s a lot of work, but I still had a lot of fun. The work is definitely not without its rewards. You get to tell a story, which is kind of my thing if you haven’t noticed. I get to vary my characters as I play several different ones in a given session as the characters wander around town. It’s a good way to practice character voices in writing by actually trying to use them out loud and interacting with people to see how well they work. It’s also a good way to practice public speaking in a friendly and fun way.

In short, I need practice. I know I made mistakes, but I recognize them, which is the first step to correcting them. This should be a fun season, and I’m looking forward to continuing as the DM for the remaining sessions, although reading ahead and being a better prepared rather than getting reading the material right before we start and during the encounter. Overall, a really great and rewarding experience that may unexpectedly help me in other areas, especially in character voice which has been one of my biggest struggles in writing. I’ve committed to running the table for the whole season, which is thirteen weeks. It will be interesting to comparing how I feel at the end of the season to how I feel now. Anyway, onward to Neverwinter!

Book Review: THE BROTHERS CRUNK – An 8-Bit Fack-It-All Adventure in 2D

THE BROTHERS CRUNK - An 8-Bit Fack-It-All Adventure in 2D
Review: THE BROTHERS CRUNK – An 8-Bit Fack-It-All Adventure in 2D by William Pauley III
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reynold and Divey Crunk run a “brackfas burrito” truck, using a mystery source of meat. After a car accident, Divey gets possessed by Vandenboom, leader of the Damned Dirt Devils, leading Reynold on a chase to get his brother back. This is a short synopsis without giving too many spoilers.

We start with an opening scene where the brothers try to trick their business partner into a game of Russian Roulette using an overpowered 1984-era Nintendo zapper. You remember that gray plastic pistol that came with the old 8-bit Nintendo consoles? Yeah, that’s the one.

Unfortunately, this felt like where the novel peaked. Being a huge fan of old-school games, not to mention a regular reader of Bizarro fiction titles, I wanted to like this book a lot more. But something about it just didn’t click for me. The references to Nintendo accessories being used as actual weapons felt tacked on and silly rather than clever or…well, bizarre.

The story felt very average and there seems to be some lack of motivation to the characters for their actions, or there are changes to character directions that, instead of making you go “Ooooo” with a sense of awe, make you go “huh?” with a sense of confusion.

A particular aspect to the novel that could have been played a little better in this regard was Pete, or rather Meat Pete. After being captured by Wasp Women, Reynold uses the meat for the brothers’ burritos made from Pete to reconstruct him as a pile of talking meat that only he can hear talking to him (it made me flashback to Pizza the Hut from “Spaceballs”). This seemed clever in a way, but at the same time felt like a lost opportunity that could have been used to greater effect. It should also make the case that gory does not equal bizarre. Don’t expect that slapping buckets of blood or fresh human meat all over a book will make it bizarre or clever (it doesn’t necessarily preclude it, just don’t rely on it).

Upon looking up the author, William Pauley III, it appears that this is not the first novel he’s written in this particular world, such as Doom Magnetic!, which would explain some of the passing reference that seemed like we were supposed to already know who or what some of these people were. This wasn’t clear from the book description and might have helped. Or it might not. I’m not sure. I may try to track down Doom Magnetic! and see if it helps in understanding and appreciating The Brothers Crunk a little more.

Don’t get me wrong here. I would not say that The Brothers Crunk is a bad book, but it felt rather mediocre. It’s short, so if you don’t like it, it won’t be major waste or time, or you could like it quite a bit and take more away from it than this reviewer did, which after reading some other reviews could very well be the case. It seems that this book may be very specific to the reader. There are aspects to like, but this reader ultimately found it disappointing.

2.5 out of 5 stars (2 stars for the book, meaning it was “OK;” however, I do want to add that the cover art is awesome and alone deserves 5 stars, so since we can’t give half stars on the system, The Brothers Crunk gets the benefit of the doubt and gets 3 stars).

View all my reviews

Welcome! Please Stand Up and Give Your Name to the Class.

ThumbnailPardon the dust. I’m still tweaking the site and the underlying code a bit to clean it up.

As the inaugural post for my second attempt at starting a blog, the first question I have to ask is “Why am I doing this?” Honestly, I don’t know. After the failure of my first blog (the old Blogspot one) that eventually led to me taking it down, the question should probably be “Why am I doing this again?” Good question! Give myself a gold star! To answer that, it has to be broken down into two parts: What went wrong the first time, and what’s different now?

What went wrong the first time, you might ask (or not; I don’t think anyone really cared the first time around, or is necessarily reading this now. Hello? Am I talking to me? Am I talking to me?). The first problem with the old blog was that it didn’t feel like it had much of a point. When the author of the blog feels that way, there’s definitely something wrong. Without such a point, I inevitably lost interest. The final post happened to be shortly after the 2008 election and during the 2008 National Novel Writing Month, which I was using to make a big push on writing my novel which is still unfinished, although I am still working on it. There was too much going on at the time, and NaNoWriMo was sucking up most of my energy. Seriously, if you’ve never done it, it can get really exhausting. With everything going on, I got too distracted, the blog fell by the wayside, and I lost interest in it completely as I focused my efforts and writing energies to other areas. Finally, after about two years, I accepted that I would not be updating that blog again and took it down altogether, deciding that if I blogged again, I would just start over. The thing never really got off the ground and pretty much died in its infancy, so I wasn’t all that heartbroken as I wasn’t that invested in it.

But why wasn’t I invested? There’s also the whole problem of why anyone would want to read what I’m writing. No seriously, why are you reading this? If you’ve gotten this far, I have to assume that I already know you, and even then if you’ve gotten through this rant up to now, you’re a real trooper, a loyal friend, and/or have no life and already seen every silly cat video on YouTube. The thing is that even I didn’t want to read my old blog. Like I said, it felt pointless and without direction to me. That is not a good thing to feel about your own work. I’m sure some other writers have felt that way at one time or another. A source of writer’s block? Maybe. It was followed by a long dry spell from my writing in general. Finally, it just stopped being fun. Wait, scratch that. It was never fun to begin with! If I’m going to invest myself in something like that, then I need to get some kind of fulfillment out of it, but with every post, it felt more like I was forcing the whole thing because I should, but never liked doing it. I forgot the fun!

So what’s changed and why am I trying again? Well, as Yoda says, “Do or do not! There is no try.” A few things have changed, not just with me but with the internet landscape in general. I’m older, wiser, and have a little more direction in my life now, even in this short time. I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s how it usually works. People don’t mature gradually over time, but rather do it in bursts, usually brought on by major changes. And things have changed, although I won’t go into all the personal details. But there’s been two major changes that I can cite as being the impetus for a new blog. One is that I have girlfriend who has been trying to push me to write steadily again. As I’m sure many will attest to, having a significant other that pushes and encourages you can be a huge benefit, even when you don’t want to do something. She’s seen how unhappy I get when I’m not practicing my art. The second is simply that it’s time to start again. After my dismal failure during NaNoWriMo last year, and my disappointment at where my novel had been going for a while, the writing bug and the very essence of my being was in danger of suffering a slow, painful death. However, I recently got involved with a couple programs that let me write reviews for advanced copies or recently released books. Having the opportunity to write about something again, even if it’s not my first choice of subjects, has stirred those creative juices, and reawakened that soul which was shriveling up and dying. Besides, with all the life changes, I feel like have stuff to write about again.

That was personal, but what’s changed on the internet landscape? Mainly that social media has really come into its own in the last couple of years. Sharing and information aggregation has become much, much easier. Facebook has matured (although they’ve all but neutered apps or customizing the wall; I’ll think about discussing this later), I’ve joined Twitter, Google+ has been introduced but needs an API desperately, and social media overall has grown up and interconnects much more easily. This was a problem before for me. It felt like a pain to have to go through each system individually. I can be extraordinarily lazy that way. But now everything talks to each other easily and I don’t have to do anything but set it up. All hail our new robot overlords!

Where am I going to go with this new blog? I’m not sure yet. Uh oh! Yes, I know that it sounds like it’s probably self-defeating to already acknowledge a similar problem to the old blog already, but the difference is that I have stuff to write about again. I’ll probably post book reviews (which will also get posted in other places, but most authors don’t mind the extra publicity; the more places you and your work get mentioned on the internet, the better), and I do those on a fairly regular basis now. I’ll mention personal developments, if you care. I’ll mention games I’m playing, as I recently got back into tabletop gaming. I’ll mention progress on my novel, which I’ve recently picked back up and am pretty much rewriting at this point. Whatever I feel like at the time. It’ll be my completely self-serving and self-aggrandizing corner of the internet. You are on my land and I am your king! Kneel before Zod! Ahem…anyway, as I was saying, I have stuff to write about. Don’t worry, I’ll try to tag posts so that all two of you who are going to read this blog will be able to sort out the stuff you’re interested in. I’m going to make sure it’s at least fun this time, which should make it interesting as a result.

Welcome! Have fun! Sit a spell! Another update will come soon. I promise!