Well, my birthday has come and gone. It was nice. Fairly subdued. My parents took Olivia and I to Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion. Or they were supposed to. Unfortunately, my mother got sick at the last minute, so Olivia and I went on our own, with my parents picking up the tab. If you’ve never been to Roy’s, you should go if you’ve got one in your area. It really was some of the best restaurant food we’ve had in a long time. It’s not cheap, but the food and the service was truly excellent. And I’m the kind that, if I like something, will usually refer to it as “not bad.”
Among other things, I got the first season of “A Game of Thrones” on Blu-Ray and the three volume set of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories from Del Rey, both of which were pretty much the only things I asked for, and both of which Olivia got for me. So, all in all, it was actually a pretty good birthday. At the same time, I’m now 34, so if I wasn’t before, I’m now officially in my mid-thirties, and I’m getting the gray hairs to show it. Hopefully, those grays won’t continue to develop much in the near future.
I’m continuing to work on training Molly. I’m trying to keep in mind that she is still a puppy, so a little mental growing-up still has to occur. The biggest problem we’ve got with her is that she has separation anxiety. Whenever we’re leaving the house, she starts to freak out, cry, does everything to stop us from abandoning her. It really is a problem, that doesn’t seem to be getting much better. We have to train her with treats and keep her focused just to get through the garage door. Does anyone have experience with this kind of thing and have a good solution?
My mother is getting better. Slowly, but she’s getting better. The main issue that I can see now is that she still has a problem with pushing herself beyond the point that she should, causing increasing pain and setting her back for the rest of the day. Maybe I need to start training her with treats to get her to stop.
I’ll be continuing my run of “Keep on the Shadowfell” this weekend. The last session was focused on mechanics and picking characters. Since my players have never touched 4th edition D&D before, I made things easy and created a bunch of pre-generated characters for them to choose from so they could get the idea of how the game works. This session should go a little better, I think, as we can probably go straight into the game. Since they didn’t know the mechanics when they started, I plan to give them an opportunity to change characters if they so desire.
There’s been a few other interesting bits lately, so more later.
Some random stuff and uninteresting personal updates, mainly because I’m tired of seeing nothing but book reviews in the front page blogroll and this is not what I want the blog to have as a primary focus (and I’m only writing this now because I’m home getting over some kind of bug):
I’ve been working on my novel again. Actually, I’ve been working on it a lot. Hooray! It’s still a rough road and I find myself getting into a rewrite pattern often, which slows progress, to say the least. But progress is happening, even if it’s slow. I am hoping that I’ll have a first draft finished by the end of the year, although that might be a little ambitious. If not by the end of the year, then hopefully by my next birthday. It will be either my Christmas gift or my birthday gift to myself. I’m thinking of taking a page from Brandon Sanderson and tweeting my daily word count on days I write a lot. It would give me some public accountability.
Now that I’ve been writing again, I’m using my Alphasmart Neo a lot, which I got a long time ago on the recommendation of a NaNoWriMo buddy. In fact, I’m writing this post on it. I have to say that I really like this little device. Since I can’t format on it or do anything else, it forces me to focus on writing only and getting the words down. I have a feeling this thing is going to be my constant companion for quite some time.
I’m still acting as a Dungeon Master for the Neverwinter season of Dungeons & Dragons Encounters. I’m really getting my feet underneath me now, and I’m figuring out how to keep the players on track and not breaking the game (a few seem to try to test the limits of this) without simply telling them “No, you can’t do that.” Instead, I find a logical reason in-world the “encourage” them to stay on a particular path. I also try to keep things light and funny when I can. I’m thinking of running my regular group who I’ve recently been playing Dark Sun with through this season separately, although I can’t go ahead of the Wednesday night schedule. It might also let me play a little looser with the direction and the rules. We’ll see how that works out. But for the time being, I’m having a lot of fun DMing these Encounters games.
Still on the hunt for regular work. I had a job test recently. It went okay, although not great. It was for a very techie job, which demonstrated something I’ve known for a while: I don’t know how people started thinking I’m a technical person, because I’m not. I have a higher than average understanding of this stuff, but that’s where it ends. I know enough to get myself into trouble, but not necessarily enough to get myself out of it. I’m an artist. I’m a designer. I’m a creator. But I’m bad at implementation and the heavy technical lifting. So, if the job comes through, great. If not, I’m not surprised, so not that disappointed.
While I’ve been a bit of a gamer, I’m more of an old-school gamer. The new stuff…kind of scares me a little bit. Still, I do play it, and I’ve recently started playing “Assassin’s Creed II.” Having no money means that I’m going to be a bit behind on the latest releases, or in this case two years behind. I liked the first “Assassin’s Creed.” It was a great idea and a great story, but it got very repetitive. The second game has sharper graphics and seems to have a deeper story so far, although I’m not far enough in yet to see if this one will have the same problem with repetitive missions.
I need to get my weight back under control. I know I’ve been gaining weight again, although when I weighed myself yesterday, I saw that while I have gained weight, I haven’t gained as much as I thought I had. I just don’t feel good when I’m carrying extra weight, and it makes me feel sluggish physically and mentally. Having the back problems I do makes it difficult to exercise a lot, so I need to double down on my diet and stick to only the healthiest stuff as often as possible. No gimmicky diets. Just eat healthier and eat less. Tomorrow…
I’m trying to get through my backlog of review books. I’m way behind of where I should be, so combined with my writing, I’m going to be immersed in literature for quite a while yet. Hence the reason for all the book review posts recently.
Anyway, enough updates for now. More updates later. Yes, there is more, just not now.
As a follow-up to my blog post last week, I thought it would be fun to give my second impressions on DMing in the new season of Dungeons & Dragons Encounters. Be warned that there will be spoilers for anyone who hasn’t played this game yet (which I know is rare, since most places hold the Encounters sessions on Wednesdays). Don’t worry, this probably won’t be a regular weekly thing.
Last week, I had my first experience DMing, which was a bit rocky due to a couple of factors, mostly having to do with the fact that I didn’t have a chance to actually read the module before the game started. While the first time running a game can be a major learning experience, I found the second time to be equally teachable, if not more so.
The chief organizer of the game at my location has done a pretty good job of keeping the tables together, keeping the same players with the same DMs. This helps immensely, especially for the DMs as I figured out that particular players have distinct play styles and keeping them with the same DM makes it more likely that the DM will be able to accommodate such a play style. For example, I’ve got one kid at my table who likes to play rangers, but is also a pyromaniac and likes to use fire at every opportunity. So, I have to know what is in the area ahead of time, particularly what is flammable. I also have another kid at my table who I’ve figured out likes to take everything that is not nailed down if it will have a potential use later. So I have to know what can be taken and if it will pose any difficulty later. Knowing my players this way helps me to prepare much better, and as a result allowed the game to go much smoother.
As for the encounter last night itself, the way it was written was perfect, and I hope that Wizards of the Coast does more encounters of this style, although not all of them as that would get boring very quickly. To recap, this encounter picked up immediately where the previous one left off, with a dragon landing in the town square. The whole encounter was little more that an enormous boss fight. It helped things to go much smoother as there wasn’t as much role-playing to deal with, which is both good and bad, and many of the regular players seemed to like having a slightly simpler session for a change. It was also great using the same map, as the players already knew the area from the previous encounter and had fewer questions. I wouldn’t mind being able to reuse maps in other sessions when appropriate as it made things much easier.
Reading the session beforehand was a huge help, obviously. I read it twice to be sure I had all the details. This helped me get the characterization down and figure out some general mechanics and strategies beforehand, which again made things very quick and made me feel more confident in answering questions, particularly in the psuedo-surprise round that started the encounter as the players tried to figure out what was going on between the dragon and the Lost Heir, and knowing exactly what to tell the playsers. On the other hand, I couldn’t actually tell them all that much because they kept failing their skill checks, except for one player. So, ultimately the “surprise” round was wasted, but it was a nice touch. In fact, the encounter was written very well, with it being mostly a battle, but with a few details scattered around the encounter that were nice touches and gave it some flavor. I’ll admit that I tried to drop some extra hints during the encounter to my players without directly telling them what they would have found out from the skill checks. We’ll find out if they picked up on any of those hints or not. One of them did pick up on a hint that was specific to the encounter last night, that being that the dragon was being hypnotized by the Lost Heir during the start of the encounter.
On the whole, I feel that I learned about as much last night I did during the first session last week. I’m going to see how this holds up as I’m going to be DMing the entire season. The general rule from this point forward is to pay attention to my players and prepare ahead of time for their more unconventional questions and actions. That should add to everyone’s fun, including mine. I haven’t read beyond last night’s encounter in the module yet, so I doubt that the following sessions will be as simple as last night’s, so they are going to take some extra preparation.
As a cool bonus, my girlfriend got me some McDonald’s Happy Meal toys last year from “How to Train Your Dragon,” and I got to use the Nightfury/Toothless toy to represent the dragon on the map. The players and the other DMs seemed to really like the tongue-in-cheek nature of my miniature. I’ll have to think of some clever stuff to use in later sessions.
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!