Thursday, August 31, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 31

What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?

The continued integration and acceptance of women and people of colour and other under-represented voices in the hobby. Watching people who are silenced become strong and vital voices in the community is very exciting and interesting to me, and I'd love to see more of that in the next year (and beyond!). In addition, I'm really excited to see the "professional-ization" of this industry from "dudes printing shit in their basement" to "professionally written and edited properly constructed product distributed on a reasonable timeline where all the people involved get paid a living wage". I know we're not there yet. And so, so many people have been driven out of the RPG industry/community because of toxicity and unprofessional behaviour and the inevitable gatekeeping and racism and sexism and grossness. But I can't help but think that maybe, in the coming year, things will get better. I've been working hard to support creators and artists (though it's harder now that I'm unemployed), and I pledge to continue buying and supporting games by queer folk and women and people of colour. I want my tables and my games to be like my feminism: intersectional.

So that's what I anticipate most for 2018: intersectionality.

And now I'll solicit it here: what's a game by someone who isn't a cis-het-white-dude that you'd like to see spread to more people? Add it in the comments!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 30

What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?

I'm not sure there's a genre mashup that hasn't already been done, either via the setting-specific games (like RIFTS or Shadowrun) or by settings for the more general systems (think basically every GURPS setting book, or the Fate Worlds books). The only thing I think that's really missing a good treatment is humour. Other than maybe Ghostbusters and Toon, I'm not sure there's any RPG books or settings that explicitly deal with humour or humourous play available. I'd love to see a game that took on something like Scooby Doo or Danger and Eggs or that sort of thing, where being funny is part and parcel of the experience itself.

The other one I'd love to see is some sort of squad or cell-based game, something based on XCOM or some sort of intelligence-asset-management game. I'd love to see some sort of game based on the idea of Mech Commander; that would be brilliant; where instead of players running a single character, they're coordinating squads of folks, with different resources and strengths.

I'm not a game designer, so I have no idea how to make any of these ideas work. But it'd be pretty brilliant to play.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 29

What has been the best-run RPG Kickstarter you have backed?

Fate, hands down. Followed quite closely by Apocalypse World 2nd Edition. While I've backed other games that I have enjoyed as much, and I've gotten more swag from, and I've gotten good deals around, these two were definitely the best-run. They delivered the product with no surprises exactly as expected and as close to on-time as possible. Evil Hat and Lumpley Games are both straight-up professionally-run outfits, and you can trust them with their future endeavours.

Monday, August 28, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 28

What film/series is the biggest source of quotes in your group?

Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks.

I will admit, my table may be somewhat atypical, in being almost entirely queer and almost evenly split between men and women.

Of course, we're also playing a game that is explicitly designed to be a Social Justice game, where the characters are actively working to make the world a better place by lifting up the disadvantaged.

I'd love it if my table wasn't actually that atypical. Perhaps others will take my example to heart?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 27

What are your essential tools for good gaming?

Trust, consistency, and consent. If the people at the table trust you, and you trust the people at your table, then the stories you tell and the directions you can take your stories are going to be many and varied and extremely interesting in all sorts of ways. If you are consistent in how you resolve things, then your table will trust you and know that you are keeping their wellbeing in mind (and yes, wellbeing is an important part of 'fun', which is why we all do this RPG thing anyway). And if you have the consent of your players, and they know that you won't do something they don't want to do without asking, then they know your consistent message is one of trust and common good. With those three things, you can tell any story, in any setting, and have a good time doing it.

Oh, wait, did you mean stuff like dice and shit? Oh. Well, I have some poker chips I use as x-cards, and 3x5 index cards for basically anything that needs or wants to be written down, and some mechanical pencils to do the writing. That's about it. Anything else is window dresssing -- I like my iPad as a GM screen / lookup tool, and sometimes I'll use my laptop -- because anything outside of the people you're playing is just there to act as props, really.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 26

Which RPG provides the most useful resources?

I'm not sure there are any better general-case resources that are RPG-specific (as opposed to history books or the like) than GURPS books. GURPS has an entire line of books that are nothing but general-case resources for various backgrounds, settings, histories, and the like. There are some books that are specific to GURPS particularly, but even when ignoring those portions, I'm not sure there are any books that are better written or better sourced than the GURPS back catalog.

I mean seriously: look at this.

Friday, August 25, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 25

What is the best way to thank your GM?

My personal take on this: find out what they want to play, and then run it for them. Most GMs like GMing or they wouldn't do it, but there are those of us who would appreciate the chance to play now and again. Plus, it's a great way to try it out, if you've never GM'd before. You have an audience that is invested in your success and a clear goal to press towards, as well as a ready resource if you have questions about how to do something or what to do next.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 24

Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

So, mostly I don't mess around with PWYW, because I mostly think that artists who value their work charge for it, and as a patron who values art made by artists I pay for the art I buy (let's save the argument about the definition of art for some other day, OK?). So PWYW isn't a model I'm a huge fan of, because mostly I find that if you say "you can have this for free" then the majority of the RPG community will just take it for free, because the majority of the RPG community needs a real smack upside the head sometimes.

So instead of PWYW, I'd like to encourage you to take some time and find a creator, preferably a woman or a Person of Colour or both, and give them some money for their work.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 23

Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?

Oh, see, this one is easy. Eclipse Phase. In my experience, the EP books were the first game books ever to really take advantage of the PDF format, and the idea that these books would likely be looked at on tablets/phones/mobile devices. Not only is the story and the ruleset well laid-out and well-integrated, but the books themselves are carefully and copiously hyperlinked, so that any particular term can be touched/clicked on to take you to that page/definition/example, and then back again to continue on your way.

EP is brilliantly future-minded, especially for a game so immersed in the technofuture of the setting itself. It's immersive just by existing as a fully-indexed and fully-interactive set of documents. I imagine it was a gigantic pain in the ass to build (and rebuild) these books, but to me it's totally worthwhile and I've never appreciated the structure and care of a PDF more than when I peruse the EP books. Posthuman Studios does amazing work. You should check them out!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

DevOps as a critical investigation of our fucked up business culture

I was having dinner with a friend the other night, and we were talking about a bunch of things, including the state of the current culture of the Technology Industry, which is where we all work... me, my friend, my spouse, most of my social circle, etc. And we were talking about definitions and the corporate tendency to take interesting philosophies and turn them into undifferentiated pablum designed to keep labour fighting amongst themselves. Take, for instance, "Agile". It started, I understand, as a philosophy to help developers work together better as teams instead of a mass of individuals, as the modern codebase has for the most part moved beyond the idea of the artisanal coder, carefully banging away at his (almost always his) codeforge to craft the perfect piece of individual bespoke software for the discerning, carefully chosen consumer-slash-patron. As software development turned into a team sport, and the experience of coding became an assembly line function, the question was "how do we convince rabid individualists to work better together at a fundamentally creative process?" So the idea was to use this concept of Agile: light, nimble, heavily-communicated, careful processes that encouraged folks to work as teams and keep each other in the loop about what was working, what wasn't, and what they could do about it to get stuff out the door. There are a ton of tools that can be used to facilitate Agile methodologies, but the actual tools aren't nearly as important as everyone understanding the philosophy.

Of course, as is usual, the people who make the money and the people that have MBAs and the people who run the companies as a profit center for shareholders often don't understand (or can't be bothered to understand) this philosophy; it doesn't have anything to do with them (they think) and also their bottom line is "what shipped, when, and how much can we charge for it", not "are the people who do the work cooperating with each other to be creative in a way that minimizes difficulties and maximizes creative opportunities". Which often leads to the teams that are utilizing Agile methodologies to try and sum up the concepts in a 5 minute recap as part of a 30 minute meeting, and one-sheet recap emails, and "executive summaries" and then we end up with people who use "Agile" as a verb, and now Agile doesn't actually mean anything, it's just another buzzword to be tossed around during sales pitches and recruiting calls. And there are lots of people making moderate amounts of money by writing books and giving seminars and doing corporate training gigs on "how do to Agile" which is fine, I guess, if you can't be bothered to take it to heart and build the tools that help your team work best, because the philosophy and methodology is more important than the specific tools. "Agile: where the stories are made up and the points don't matter" isn't just a funny line; it's both a disappointment AND a core tenet of the methodology (and yes, both can be true, because the point of view on that core tenet is what matters). Context matters.

And that brings us to the Next Big Thing in labor cost reduction productivity: DevOps. This is a great one, because it sounds sexy and it's a portmanteau (and IT loves portmanteaus) and from the corporate perspective it means whatever they want it to mean, especially if it means "we don't have to hire those pesky Ops people because they're expensive and annoying and notoriously difficult when it comes to releasing the Big Feature Rollout". You are already paying for the developer's time, and a hefty amount too, so now you can just add them to the pager rotation and have them do support functionality, because labor costs are fixed and work hours are infinite. The thing is, that's not what DevOps is about.

My understanding (having worked in IT for a couple of decades) is that DevOps, like Agile, is a philosophy, rather than a concrete item. DevOps doesn't mean that all your coders should be sysadmins and all your sysadmins should be coders, and if you think that you're going to be perpetually disappointed in both. DevOps means that everyone in your organization has an understanding: that software must be developed in a way that is easy to support and maintain (especially in a degraded or failed state), and that deployment of software is a key step in the lifecycle of the success of a company. DevOps means a breakdown of the mythical wall between departments, and an understanding that that wall was always imaginary anyway -- that the teams working together are stronger and better off than the teams working against each other. It's not actually a new concept; the operational and development team being colocated in the same physical space (and sometimes the same physical body) goes back to the invention of mechanical computing and the work that Admiral Hopper did with the original thinking machines. The "tiger team" concept at NASA in the 60s was a definitive example of the DevOps concept. Not everyone has to know the same things or work the same way, but they do have to work together and they must have an understanding of the concepts and capabilities of the team as a whole.

Any organization's first principle after instantiation by default becomes 'secure the continued existence of this organization', or the organization itself fails. And so, sixty years later, we have the cultural mythos of the 10x software engineer deftly whipping up the perfect solutions to any given software problem and then dumping those brilliant lines of code onto the surly, recalcitrant systems administrator who either refuses to make the change, or does the change and somehow fucks it up. (And note, please, that the "creative" work is done by an 'engineer' while the "maintenance" work is done by an 'administrator', and let's not talk about salaries and job titles right now or this will turn into an even longer screed and I'll get distracted by the whole "full stack" thing and we'll be here all night.) But that's almost never how it works, on either end; it's a myth from soup to nuts. In my entire career, I may have known exactly one engineer who would be considered "10x", and he was always, always cognizant of the difficulties of deployment in a live environment. Conversely, I've only ever known one surly sysadmin, and he was so disruptive to the team morale that he didn't make it to his 90-day review.

DevOps, like Agile, is a philosophy. It's not something you can enter on a spreadsheet or write a purchase order for, no matter what the C-level executives would like to believe. It's an understanding that your managers have with their team members and your team has with each other and with the organization as a whole. It's not something that goes on an audit list and gets checked off during the rundown. And the failure of organizations to understand that is both costly and pointless in the long run.

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 22

Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

At this point, I can run FAE in my sleep. I can run a Savage Worlds game with 10 minutes' warning. I could probably run a 4E game with an hour or so to spare. The question isn't what I can run, it's what my players can and want to play; I'll run anything if I can find a table of players who want me to run it. Well, not anything, but pretty much whatever fits my idea (and my players' idea) of fun.

Monday, August 21, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 21

Which RPG does the most with the least words?

I don't do a lot of poking around with the one-page or 200-word games, but How We Find Our Way in the Dark is just about the most amazing game I've ever read. That and The Quiet Year are basically my favourite short games.

That's what I've got.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 20

What is the best source for out-of-print RPGs?

If I'm looking for something that's not currently in-print physically, and there isn't a direct-from-the-creator way to get it, then I generally will try to find it in PDF form via someplace like DriveThruRPG. Failing that, then I've had relatively good luck with my FLGS, which here in Portland, OR is Guardian Games, and sometimes I get lucky with Powell's Book Store here in PDX.

These days, I own more digital versions of gaming books than I do physical copies, for convenience and storage reasons more than anything else. Where do you like to find your games?

Saturday, August 19, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 19

Which RPG features the best writing?

This is the third or fourth time I've been tempted to scream "define your terms" at this list; "best" is such a subjective term anyway, but then we get into the "what do you mean, do you mean 'conveys the system' or 'sticks to the tone' or 'reflects the game's priorities' or what?" part, and everything gets really wobbly.

So I'll give you a few, and my take on them.

For sheer readability and enjoyability, CJ Carella's Buffy the Vampire Slayer comes out ahead; it was the first (and one of the few) RPG core rulebooks that I sat down and read from end to end, like a novel. The prose takes the tone of the show perfectly, and the layout and setup of the game parts are very well done. Other RPG rulebooks that are enjoyable to read: The Quiet Year, FVLMINATA, and Flatpack: Fix the Future.

For evocative tone and setting relatability, you can't miss with Maschine Zeit, Dogs in the Vineyard, or There Is No Spoon. Runners up include Psi*Run, Motobushido, and Monsterhearts.

And for possibly the best definition of "what is roleplaying", then you can't go wrong with Apotheosis Drive X. Runners up in this section include Fate Accelerated Edition and Breakfast Cult.

So depending on how you define "best", there are at least 14 answers to this question.

What are (some of) yours?

Friday, August 18, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 18

Which RPG have you played the most in your life?

If you count all the editions of D&D as one RPG, then the answer is D&D. I never was serious about 1st or 2nd Ed., but I was part of a 3E playtest group, and I started a 4E campaign basically as soon as I could.

If you don't count all of the D&D editions as one, then the answer is HERO system, specifically Champions 4th Ed, the Big Blue Book. I was part of a group that played with the BBB for quite a while, through two multi-year campaigns. I have to admit, there is something rather satisfying about chucking great fistfuls of d6s across the battlemat and being able to figure out the body damage basically instantly.

After that, I think it's GURPS, and then after that would be Pathfinder, and then 4E. I've dabbled so much with so many systems that the long-term campaigns basically swamp everything else.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 17

Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?

Depends on what you mean by "played"; does just the character creation process count? Or does it have to be actually playing in a campaign. This would have been a much more difficult question six months ago, before I cleared out my collection and pared it down to just the bare bones. So now the answer, if we assume character creation doesn't count, is Exalted. I've created several characters, but never managed to be at a table and playing for any length of time.

If character creation counts as playing, then Nobilis is the answer. I didn't own it until a couple of years ago, but I've never played it or even created a character in it.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 16

Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?

I actually am less interested in house-ruling stuff these days; I want games that work "out-of-the-box" because I don't feel like doing a lot of work these days. So these days I mostly just stick to using RPGs as-is with generally everything. But my favourites (right now; this may change tomorrow) are Fate, Savage Worlds, and Cortex. Fast, simple, narratively-driven, involving lots of player buy-in and participation, and not a lot of work for the GM.

What about you?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 15

What RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

The most flexible and adaptable RPG that I know of at this point, and my go-to solution for any game where I like the world but don't like the mechanics, is Fate Accelerated Edition. It's fast, simple, narratively-driven, fun to play, engaging for both the players and the GM, and clever in it's use of both dice and "Fate Points" as methods of control.

That's my answer. What about you?

Monday, August 14, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 14

Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

Huh. This is actually kind of a tough one, since nowadays nearly all of my games are set pieces: six-episode miniseries designed to allow players to sit in (or sit out) as they want or need to, without feeling like they're being eliminated from the table. This has the side-effect of letting me try out a bunch of different systems to see what feels good to both myself and to my players.

That said, if you said to me today "OK, you're gonna run a 2-year campaign, what system will you use," my knee-jerk response would be Savage Worlds. Despite the problematic name, SW is a good, solid, abstracted system that fills nearly all of my needs. It's light without being too light for my players, it's got some crunch so folk can dig into the mechanics, it has a good character advancement system, it's got plenty of bells and whistles and levers for both creation and advancement, as well as getting the players involved and invested at the table, and there's plenty of support for various different settings.

"OK," you say, "but you can't use Savage Worlds, what else?" Well, then I'm probably going to get fussy about changing the rules after the question is asked, but if pressed I'd say that I'd probably use Apocalypse World in one of the powered-by-the-Apocalypse games/settings available (depending on my mood). I would also point out that if you're going to keep ruling out my choices after I make them then this exercise will get tedious, because it'll take a while for you to get me to say 'D&D', and even then I'm going to say 4E before I get to any other version. We'll have to get through 'GURPS' and 'Hero System' before we got to D&D, and I'm not sure there's anyone left in the world who runs GURPS.

But you asked, so there's my answer.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 13

(I don't know what you're talking about, of course I posted this on the 13th, it says so right there in the timestamp...)

Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

I was running a 4th Edition game for a group of friends. It was supposed to be a lightweight, no-pressure hack-and-slash campaign; we're all pretty heavy roleplayers, so this was supposed to be a chance for us to kick back, not take anything too seriously, and do some old-fashioned murder-hobo-style gaming for a change. Of course, with my group, we couldn't just do that; this was the group where I ended up having portraits of all the characters commissioned because we all got pretty attached to the characters in question, and at one point a player convinced the rest of the team that clearing out the kobolds would be unfair and cruel to the kobolds, so they just scared them into returning the stolen items, instead.

Anyway, we were in the middle of a somewhat-drawn-out combat, and one of the players had just finished his turn, and I noticed the look on his face; it was pretty clear he wasn't having fun. So after the game, I asked him what was up, and he pointed out that he spent the entire night (including most of the combat) never having successfully rolled a hit on anything -- all of the damage he did to the enemies was at the behest of other characters' actions. He, himself, had never been able to roll a success. It had been that way for a while, actually, he said; it was why he had built his character with a lot of 'damage-on-miss' powers. It was still a good group, and it was still an interesting story, but the core purpose of the game had been to relax, roll some dice, and hit some bad guys, and that core experience wasn't happening. For at least one of the players.

I took this particular failure rather personally, because I knew that I disliked these kinds of games for specifically that reason: flat dice curves are unforgiving to someone who doesn't have great luck when rolling. And yet, I was running a game with a flat die curve, because it was something familiar and easy and tropish. I was doing something for my own convenience that was actively hurting the experience of the other players at the table.

It was after that when I got serious about how I run my table. I don't run flat-die-curve games any longer. I try to failure-proof my games as much as possible. Narrative interest and investment from the players trumps pretty much anything else these days. I use plot point / bennies in every system whether they support it or not, to make sure players are part of the building of the story and are feeling agency with their characters. And, mostly, I ignore or otherwise minimize the numbers on the dice. I want the people at my table to be having fun. I, personally, think petty failures aren't fun -- failures and setbacks for characters can be fun if it's narratively appropriate and the player agrees -- but rolling a 12 when you need a 15 is the worst possible thing at the table: it's boring. And boring is the enemy at my table.

There are many, many people who would see my style of gaming as antithetical to theirs, and that's OK; they don't have to play with me, and I don't have to play with them. But that experience, of watching a friend of mine get shafted by decisions I made, changed the way I run my games. I think for the better. You'd have to ask my players if I was successful.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 12

Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

This is another one of those 'define your term' questions, because inspiring to whom? Inspiring to what? Are we talking about me wanting to build a cool-looking character? Then I'm not sure anyone can beat Paizo's Pathfinder work, or the 4E core rulebook art. Inspiring to really get into the tone of the game itself? Then the particular aesthetic of the powered-by-the-Apocalypse games (notably No Rest For The Wicked, Dungeon World, and the core Apocalypse World book) are on-point for that, as is the incredible Flat Pack and Maschine Zeit. Inspiring to me as a player about the experience of playing RPGs? Then Fate's core rulebook, with the gamers of colour and the disabled gamers is really inspiring to my heart about the hobby, as well as Breakfast Cult.

What about you? What are you inspired by?

Friday, August 11, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 11

Which 'dead game' would you like to see reborn?

My 'joking-but-not-really-joking' answer to this question is always: D&D 4th Edition. I'd love to see it released as a general system, especially to be able to roll up a Superhero-style game which I think 4E is basically perfect for (they damn near proved it with the Gamma World re-release, honestly).  But everyone supposedly hated 4E, so I may be the only one.

Instead, now that we've seen RIFTS Savage Worlds, and it was successful (and fun to play, in a particularly RIFTS way that meshes strangely but well with the Savage Worlds system), I'd absolutely LOVE to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness get a reboot. Especially the mutant creation process would be fun in the SW system, I'm sure (especially if you get someone clever to write it, like maybe Rob Donoghue ) it has enough fans that it'd do pretty well in Kickstarter-land.

What would you like to see?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 10

Where do you go for RPG reviews?

Almost all of my information about new RPGs comes from word-of-mouth or personal recommendations, either at my home table or via Google Plus (yes, G+, again; I really need to write that screed down soon). Between Moe T, Sean's Picks, Brie's Five (or so) Questions, and my circles' recommendations and testimonials, I get pretty much everything I need to know. That being said, it's important to understand that I'm not really a big purchaser of new things, especially now that I'm "between jobs"; my interest in learning a new system has only gone down as I get older. But I do what I can to support new, different, and upcoming voices that I see as valuable both in the general culture and in gaming culture specifically, so I try to lean towards woman/queer/PoC creators when I do spend my money.

One place I don't go: Big Purple. It used to be my default destination for...nearly everything, every day. But it's moved on, and I don't feel like it moved in a direction I was interested in going. So I wish everyone the best there, but it's not somewhere I feel like visiting.

But that's a rant for another time.

Where do you go for reviews?

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 9

What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?

As someone who has switched from multi-year campaigns to a dedicated limited-series model (all games limited to 6-8 episodes, quick turnover, many choices), I can't actually recommend anything for 10 sessions -- that's outside my experience and outside my wheelhouse. That said, I have a pretty good feeling that anything around Apocalypse World, Cortex, Monsterhearts, or Fate would work GREAT for a "mid-season replacement show" sort of game. Enough time for growth, but not enough time to become gods; careful management of time and resources without the "let's spend a session at the table shopping at the magic bazaar" problem of longer, more complicated games.

I can also tell you what systems probably don't work well for a 10-session cap: any flavour of D&D, GURPS, Hero System, Mutants and Masterminds... these systems are all, to my mind, "long-haul" systems -- games you sink a lot of up-front work into, so you want to play them for a while to get the value out of learning the system.

Your mileage may vary, of course; what do you think?

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 8

What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2 hrs or less?

That's... actually a really good question; I don't know that I've ever had an RPG session that was under 2 hrs. The shortest game I've ever run (that wasn't interrupted) was a 6-hour one-shot, and most of my games these days run 4 hours or so for six or so sessions.

I bet, with the right group, you could do a good session of TOON in 2 hours.


Monday, August 07, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 7

What was your most impactful RPG session?

This is actually pretty tough for me, because there are several issues around this question. Including the definition of "impactful", which I imagine is on purpose, to get the biggest response. The thing is, my table has always been a place for interesting things to happen to the player, rather than the characters. Sometimes interesting things happen to the characters, but that's not the point of playing -- the point is to make sure that the players are having a good time. So 'impactful', in my book, means moments when the players all sit up and gasp/cheer/react in some way.


So I don't know about the "most", but I can tell you about the "latest": when one of my players, a normally-quiet and careful player, decided that his character would take center stage, make a speech, and pull everyone into talking out of trouble, instead of fighting. Which, given we're playing RIFTS, was a pretty awesome and impressive for the player (and, consequently, the characters).

The goal, as a GM, is to give at least one memorable or "impactful" moment to everyone at the table at least once a session. Sometimes, I'm successful. Sometimes, not so much. But I think it's a reasonable goal.

What about you?

Sunday, August 06, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 6

You've got a week of gaming, what do you do?

For ComeCon, I'd be really interested in doing stuff that I wouldn't do normally, and have people come and visit so they can be present and hang out and play as well. So that's my little fantasy in this, so bear with me.

Monday: My Love's a Blue, Blue Rose -- A short campaign where I can play with the new AGE mechanics in a familiar setting (which I love nearly-unreservedly). Rather than a standard swords and sworcery thing, I'd want something more palace-intrigue-y, with mourning coats and lace cuffs and rapier wits and duels at dawn.

Tuesday: Board Game Day -- The Horror! Betrayal at the House on the Hill, Arkham Horror, Elder Signs, Fearsome Floors -- a day to play those multi-person coop horror games that otherwise don't get pulled out of the library much.

Wednesday: Star Wars: The Edge of the Empire -- A chance to test out the new Fantasy Flight Games dice mechanic while playing a droid bounty hunter.

Thursday: Play Like A Pirate Day -- Plunder on the High Seas as we Savage Worlds or Seventh Sea our way from pole to pole.

Friday and Saturday: Intelligence Assets LARP -- dunno what system, but a two-day LARP where we all play Intelligence operatives trying to root out the mole (if there is a mole) and also avert the end of the world.

Sunday: Relaxation Day -- a quiet day of card games and drinks and snacks, to power down after the high-tension LARP.

So that's my seven-day mini-convention. What does yours look like?

Saturday, August 05, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 5

Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?

Dogs in the Vineyard. I'm not sure there's a better cover out there, though Apocalypse World comes close, as does Monsterhearts. As much as I loved, loved LOVED the hardcover editions of the Player's Handbook, DM's Guide, and Monster Manual of D&D 3/3.5 (and they were beautiful and evocative, for sure) I don't think they conveyed anything of the game itself. And FVLMINATA  wasn't about the cover, it was about the dice mechanics (which are brilliant and if you get a chance to play, you most certainly should).

Although now that I've typed a bunch of stuff out and done Google Image Searches for a bunch of things, I'm actually inclined to say that The Quiet Year also has a fantastic cover.

So, tie: The Quiet Year and Dogs in the Vineyard.

What do you think?

Friday, August 04, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 4

What RPG have you played the most in the past year?

I'm GMing a Savage World game set in the RIFTS universe, so that's mostly what I'm doing this year. Savage Worlds has found the balance point at my table between my love of loosey-goosey narrative-before-everything rulesets and the desire of my players to be able to crunch down on some rules and roll a bunch of polyhedrals. And the RIFTS setting does add a bunch of random dicerolls and crunch to the SW system, which I've found is actually pretty damn simple and fast-flowing once you get into it at the table.

Before that I was running a Star Trek game using Fate Accelerated Edition for (mostly) the same group, which everyone enjoyed, but the major feedback was they wanted something "more concrete" which I suppose means I wasn't doing a great job selling FAE.

What have you been playing?

Thursday, August 03, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 3

Where do you find out about new RPGs?

I don't really have a "home" Friendly Local Game Store, since most of my purchases come from either Amazon, the publisher website, or Kickstarter; game stores have become less and less a part of my life as I've become more and more a homebody. Mostly, I find out about new stuff via Google+ (Yes, Google Plus -- it's my Social Media Channel Of Choice, for reasons I can rant about later); I have a number of "industry insiders" in my circles, as well as a bunch of independent creators, and also a social circle that keeps up on The New for me, and updates as necessary.

That having been said: as I get older, I get less and less interested in learning new systems, so mostly my interest is in either updates to systems I already know, or setting information for systems I already know. Especially now that Fate and Cortex Prime exist, two of my favourite generic narrative-driven systems that hit all or nearly all of my gaming needs, the idea of learning a new system just to play a game drops further down on my "Want To Do" list. There are some exceptions to this, of course.

But yes: Google+ for my RPG News. What's your channel of choice?

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 2

What RPG would you like to see published?

I would absolutely LOVE to see No Rest For The Wicked get some official love from 2K Games -- it's a note-perfect build for a videogame-to-tabletop translation. And I'm not just saying that because I helped to playtest the game.

I'd love to see a Fallout-branded game of some sort; I think Apocalypse World is great but I feel it's probably too dark and serious for Fallout. The Fallout series needs both a humourous, gonzoish twist and a willingness to buy into the alternate history of the universe that AW doesn't have right out of the box. That said, AW 2nd Edition is AMAZING and you should buy it now.

I'd be brilliantly happy if someone wanted to help me work up some rulesets to fit around my "Secret History of the Intelligence Services" idea that I tried to flesh out a couple of years ago, I would be really interested in that -- I'm terrible at mechanics but I collaborate well -- but I would fall over my own feet rushing to my wallet to buy a game that was based on the life and times of Mademoiselle Maupin.

How about y'all?

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

#RPGaDay 2017 -- Day 1

What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?

This is an interesting question for me, because I'm almost always GMing these days. Most of my players are fantastic, but they're also dedicated players. I could probably get into a different game if I looked around, but at this point I'm really, really not interested in games with flat-curve dice mechanics, which rules out almost all of the "regular" sword-and-sworcery games available.

That having been said: I'd love to be part of a Phoenix: Dawn Command game as a player. I backed the game when it kickstarted and I've had a hankering to try it out for a while, but I'm basically the only person I know who liked it enough to pay money for it. Which is a shame: it's an interesting conceit and a clever retake on the fantasy games out there. Alternately, if we're looking at mainstream games, then I'd love to try out the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire system, with all the funky dice.

So those are my two that I'd like to play. Anything poke at your curiousity?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Oh, hey, I have a blog! Also, some free time.

OK, today the "being unemployed" thing feels real for the first time since Thursday. That said, I went and did my in-person meet, I'm signed up and filing for UI, and I'm actively searching for a new gig.

Plus, as I've said to several people over the last several days, I no longer wake up with a pit of dread in my stomach. I no longer feel like I have to take my anti-anxiety meds on a twice-daily basis. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders -- I no longer have to go back to a job that I really didn't like -- and while being unemployed isn't a great thing, my partner and I have been here before, and this time we're in a better place than the last time. Being laid off isn't the worst thing that can happen, and we can deal with it. We have a plan and a budget and each other, and that's a lot more than some people in my position have.

I'm ready to see what happens next.

FYI, if you know someone who's hiring, send 'em my way!

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Occasional Media Consumption: Independence Day: Resurgence

Just in case you thought that all of these reviews were going to be positive, I'll just warn you now: they're not. This movie was a waste of my time. There was exactly one part of this movie that I enjoyed, and that was the relationship between Doctors Isaacs and Ogun, and one of these characters doesn't have a first name. Also, not like this is an actual spoiler, but their relationship doesn't last through the end of the movie (one of them dies).

My time would have been better spent had a repeatedly closed my hand in a door for two hours. This movie is not just willfully dumb, but it assumes that it's audience is as stupid as it is. It was a good thing I had work to do or I might have swallowed my own tongue just to get away from this movie.

And it wasn't even in the "so bad it's good" territory (which I would debate doesn't actually exist, but there do seem to be people who enjoy bad movies for being bad, and what the hell, some people juggle geese); it was just bad. The directing was bad. The plot was bad. The acting was wooden and caricaturist at the best of times, and simply absent at the worst of times. Given the money spent on special effects, the movie never bothered to show us anything; it had to be explained, usually by one (presumably) intelligent character to another (presumably) intelligent character, often in words so small and concepts so simple that I was beginning to think this was a movie designed for five-year-olds.

I would have watched with all my attention the story of two gay scientists working together in the lab as an old married couple, with the sniping and the love and the slapstick comedy, especially if that story starred Brent Spiner and John Storey, both of whom are really quite good comedic actors. There would have been pathos and emotion and a real connection to the audience. You could even have stuff blowing up and aliens invading off-screen, and that would have given them an interesting reason to be working together after so many years.

There were some very sweet moments between these two characters.

Everyone else was terrible. Which makes me sad, because so many of these actors are people I like and admire as actors and I know can do good work: Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Judd Hirsch, William Fichtner, Sela Ward (criminally underused in this film), hell, even Chin Han. Who was, by the way, specifically put in the film to appeal to the Chinese audience, and who utterly fails to be in any way interesting.

Given the way the movie ended, as a setup for a sequel/franchise, I'm so very glad this movie did horribly at the box office. Perhaps we'll be spared from another two hours of pablum.

Then again, it mostly starred white dudes, so they're probably going to make five of them.

Friday, April 14, 2017

DEEP Nerdery: The Last Jedi Speculation

So the trailer for The Last Jedi dropped today, since it's Star Wars Celebration weekend. And it got me thinking seriously about my favourite little corner of the Star Wars (possible) continuity, the idea of the (historically heretical) concept of the Living Force.

Sidenote:
Me, to Jean: have I mentioned my ideas behind the Liv--
Jean: YEEEEESSSSSS.

For those (three) of you whom I haven't talked to about this: in the Old Republic series of games (most strongly in the Imperial-side stories of the Star Wars: the Old Republic MMO), they talk about the idea that the Force, far from being a mystical inchoate field, has a will and a mind of its own, and gives direction to those who know and believe in it, and trust in the Force.

A careful (read: crazy-ass nerd) watch of the prequels also seems to indicate that Qui-Gon is a believer in the Living Force... his disagreements with the Council and his willingness to bend the moral compass he's ostensibly following in the service of (as he claims) the Force do seem to indicate a somewhat heretical bent. And Qui-Gon trained Obi-Wan, who has a, shall we say, relaxed relationship with the truth...which could also indicate that he is also a believer in the Living Force. And Obi-Wan trained Luke, who we've already seen (in Return of the Jedi) isn't particularly attached to doing things in a traditional way, so it would make sense that in his unorthodox approach to combining the Dark and Light sides of the Force he feels that he's being driven by "what the Force wants", which is the core tenet of the Heresy of the Living Force.

So the end of the Jedi, the Last of the Jedi, are an act of renewal and synthesis into something greater, something more in line with the Will of the Living Force.

THE LIVING FORCE IS REAL! THE LIVING FORCE IS REAL!

As a Heretic myself, this makes me really, really happy.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Occasional Media Consumption: Arrival

I want to talk about Arrival and how amazing it is as a story, but before that, I have to talk about how amazing it is as a film and how amazing it is that the film got made exactly how it got made.

Arrival is based on a short story, "Story of Your Life", by Ted Chiang. It's a short story about a woman linguist who handles a first-contact situation without guns or explosions or lasers or really anything science-fiction-y. Just a woman and her colleagues talking (and talking about language). No man takes over from her, no conflict is spurred by her relationship with anyone, nothing weird or strange. So in that, the short story itself is rather odd and special. Special because it is a fundamentally beautiful story, exceptionally well-written, clear and gorgeous and worth reading even on it's own. But I'm not sure you should read it without seeing the movie first, because the movie is amazing in its faithfulness to the story.

And that, in and of itself, is remarkable. I mean, let's be clear. Someone in Hollywood was convinced (after, I understand, something like a decade of fighting) to give the writer of Final Destination 5 and the director of Polytechnique forty million dollars to shoot a science fiction film that stars Amy Adams as a linguist and no one actually fires any guns. The closest thing to a male lead is Jeremy Renner as a physicist who never takes his shirt off or punches anyone, and the climax of the film involves finding a cellphone that makes overseas calls. The biggest chunk of the special effects budget is spent on making circles appear on a piece of glass. This is the kind of movie you expect to see coming out of SXSW that was made with gaffer's tape and flashlights and gets shown in five theatres at film festivals. Except that it stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner and Forrest Whitaker, and grossed a hundred million dollars domestic. So yes, just the mere fact that this movie exists is in itself remarkable.

But more than that, Arrival is in and of itself a remarkable film because it is really good. I mean, not just OK, not just "good for an SF movie", but seriously, no-kidding good. It's written incredibly tightly and clearly. No characters carry the "idiot ball"; no characters are evil just to drive the plot -- in fact, no characters are actually evil, it's just that some are misguided at points; no characters make nonsensical statements; and at no point does the script resort to technobabble. The closest thing to technobabble is the linguistic discussions around the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which has lost some of its support since the story was originally written. Like the really good films that play with linearity, like Memento or Primer, Arrival makes even more sense when you see it again, while also being a really great movie the first time you see it.

Amy Adams does this amazing job of playing Doctor Banks as this quiet, careful, precise person, who is shaped (and reshaped) not just by the big things that happen to her, but also by the small things, the little intersections of daily life. Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly mostly hovers in the background, doing math and being confused, and Forrest Whitaker as Colonel Weber is the reluctant military man, who is willing to go to war but recognizes it as a failure rather than a methodology. No one is unreasonable or stupid or lazy or unthinking. This is a movie that is, at its heart, what John Rogers has called "competence porn": the experience of watching people who are really, really good at something doing what they're really, really good at in a way that's enjoyable to those that aren't as good. The whole parable of the kangaroo is both funny and smart, and makes a point that is important to the plot.

I said on Twitter when I first saw this movie that this was possibly a perfect movie because the plot is incidental to the story. And here's what I mean by that: plot is what happens to the characters. And the plot in Arrival is really great, and the growth of the characters on screen is amazing and enjoyable to watch. The story, on the other hand, is what happens to the audience. Story, a good story, changes the way that we the audience see ourselves; it changes how we see the world; and it can change the way we see movies. Arrival does that, too. It asks the audience a question: is there such a thing as determination? Is free will possible? And can those two ideas co-exist at the interface of human and not-human?

There are not many movies like Arrival. And I am very glad that there was a production company that was, however long it took, willing to let artists be artists together. And I'm glad Ted Chiang wrote the short story that inspired the movie that prompted me to read it. So I guess we know where I come down on the question of Free Will...

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

So Here's the Thing -- Mass Effect: Andromeda

I put a crap-ton of playtime into the latest entry in the Mass Effect universe. It's explicitly NOT a sequel; it is a separate game with a separate timeline set in the same universe, but much removed from the events of ME 1-3. But it still leverages the same basic design philosophy as the other ME games: storytelling is more important than "innovative" gameplay, character relationships are a big part of the reason for playing, and driving an indestructible truck with handling like a beached whale across landscapes that feel like they were generated by an Amiga 2000 running Video Toaster is not just enjoyable but hilariously fun.

The gameplay is basically what you'd expect from ME: three-person active squad moving through a (mostly) linear map and shooting things with the various loadouts determined at the beginning of the mission, and while you're there you might as well wander around the edges of the maps looking for things to "press Y to interact" with. These mission sequences are interspersed with exploration sequences where you wander around a map picking up quests (which usually but not always end up requiring a mission sequence) and finding hidden macguffins which you collect for your virtual office desk. And, between the cutscenes and the shooty bits, you have conversations with your squad to make them better at their jobs (and possibly have sex with you).  If you're not a completionist, then you can probably plow through the main story in about 20 hours and therefore miss almost everything that makes this a Mass Effect game. You also probably won't like it very much. There's a fundamentally unpolished feeling to this game, that recons back to ME1 in some respects, but in other respects it feels almost Bethesda-esque in it's grandeloquent missteps and buggy nature. 

And I'll tell you, at 20 hours in, I wasn't a big fan. It felt like a retread with a couple different aliens and the theory that if you liked ANY of the minigames in the previous series, then there would be at least one minigame in THIS game you'll like. Seriously: every gathering and exploring game from the previous series has a version in this game, and for good measure they threw in sudoku as an extra minigame because everyone likes sudoku, right? (Spoiler: not really.) The thing is, at 40 hours in, I was loving it. They were doing that "tell a big story while setting up a GIGANTIC story for the sequel(s)" thing that the BioWare team really excels at. It's fun, and I did end up enjoying it. But I missed the Wheel Of Morality, and I often felt as if the various options presented didn't really mean much, and didn't seem to affect the gameplay at all (which was quite disappointing -- I want there to be clear consequences when I make a decision, and that includes things like "this option is only available because you have 271 light-side points" and other examples. Much like Horizon: Zero Dawn, while there is a response wheel, the various choices seem to have absolutely no effect even on the specific conversation you're in at the time, let alone the bigger story arc. 

Now, as the kind of person who won't leave a map or a corner or a building unexplored, this had plenty of that for me to pursue. But the maps themselves didn't feel particularly expansive, and while there were several of them, they didn't feel engaging in a way I was expecting from ME. And while the dialog was fun and the interactions with my crew clever, there weren't the deep and engaging interactions I've been led to expect from BioWare. And the writing was downright PAINFUL in some points ("pathfound" is NOT A WORD, GODDAMIT) which given the excellent writing of the Dragon Age and Mass Effect worlds was a real letdown. 

Was it the Worst Game Evar? No, not by a long shot. In fact, compared to most of the other games on the market, it was pretty good; certainly miles beyond any of the Tom Clancy or Call of Duty games. But it didn't feel as engaging as other BioWare titles, and I wasn't as invested in the characters themselves (which is one thing that draws me to these titles). But it really does suffer in comparison to H:ZD, which was smaller both in scope and in reach but felt much more tightly put together and much more logically consistent within it's story.

So here's the thing: I think ME:A is money well spent, and a fun time. But I think had I played this game before I played Horizon:Zero Dawn, I'd like it more. It suffers immensely in the comparison, which is a shame, because ME:A is an excellent start. But it's BioWare, and with BioWare I expect something a little more... More. Which I suppose is unfair, really. Would I recommend this game to someone else? That's... a good question, actually. I'm not sure there were enough innovations and enough strong storytelling to suggest this game rather than suggesting someone play Mass Effect 1 instead (despite the intervening decade of development improvements). But I also can't say you should skip it; it's a fun ride, even if it's not brilliant. So, I guess my recommendation on ME:A is if you want something SF-ish and fun and light, then go for it. I have spend 100 hours on less-fun games, and at least ME:A feels like it's making those hours of play worthwhile. 

Sunday, April 02, 2017

The Occasional Media Consumption: Wynnona Earp

Since my partner is out of town, that often means that I have real trouble sleeping. I've been doing OK up until last night, but I didn't get a wink of sleep so I binge-watched Season 1 of a show called Wynona Earp on Netflix. Because why not? Woman lead, gunslinging, silly premise, and a good soundtrack will usually get me to watch at least the pilot, so I figured what the hell, I'm not sleeping anyway...

The premise is re-donk-ulous: Wyatt Earp, just before he died, was cursed and that meant the progeny of the Earp bloodline were doomed to kill (or try and kill) the 77 men whose souls would be resurrected again and again until the heir could return them all to Hell without dying themselves. Oh, and also there's a secret agency tasked with protecting the general public against the supernatural. Oh, and also there's a spell that means that the Earp line (and the "remnants" with whom they battle) can't leave a specific part of the West, Oh, and also, Doc Holliday is immortal. You wouldn't be too far off pitching it as "Buffy meets Longmire with a touch of Justified".

The show itself is good; it's not great, but it knows what it is and does a great job staying in its lane while also playing with the standards of the genre(s). It's a Canadian show shot on a shoestring budget starring a bunch of people you've never heard of (unless you watch a LOT of Canadian TV; I mean, I've watched the entire run of The Pinkertons and I haven't heard of 75% of these people). The scripts are funny and tight without being overwound, and the actors do a great job with the material, and the occasional fight scene (as opposed to the at-least-once-an-episode "shooting someone" scene, which is different) is well shot and well choreographed (which is more than I could say for, for instance, Arrow Season 4). I'm always vaguely amused when a Canadian show tries to pretend they're in the US West somewhere; it's the little giveaways (like the tiny Canadian flags on the shoulder patches of the winter coats).

It also has great secondary characters, including possibly the most amazingly hilarious shipping couple I've ever encountered: Waverly Earp (the youngest of three Earp women) and Sherriff's Deputy Nicole Haught, AKA WayHaught. And they are: the actors have fantastic chemistry together. Also, spoilers: neither lesbian dies (so far, anyway). The florid speech patterns of Doc as a man out of time are hilarious if entirely inappropriate, and the actor manages to at least deliver the lines with a straight face, which is enough for me.

Wynnona herself is a hero in the mold that's recently become popular via AKA Jessica Jones: the woman who is played straight up as a the complicated hero that men are almost always and women are so infrequently allowed to be. She's mean and petty and grumpy and angry and sometimes wrong and drinks too much and tends to be trigger-happy (see the previously mentioned Justified Rayland Givens for a classic example) and generally just gets to be messy and adult and real in a way that makes her rather endearing.

I was glad to hear it'd been picked up for another season: it's a fun and easy to watch and I definitely recommend it for anyone who likes gunslinging and demon-slaying in equal parts. Definitely a fun way to pass a sleepless night.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Spring Break -- The Official Pamphlet

They made a link for the Little Blue Book for the cruise, which I haven't gotten around to digitizing yet. So here's the whole schedule and all of the performers:

https://jococruise.com/uploads/2017/03/JCC2017FinalBookletCrop.pdf

Thursday, March 23, 2017

So Here's The Thing -- Horizon: Zero Dawn

Since this blog is just sitting here anyway, and I play a crapton of videogames, I figure I might as well scream into the void a little about my experiences of playing videogames and what they mean to me. I've decided to call these infrequent and irregular reviews of games "So Here's The Thing", because as a white dude I'm constitutionally allowed to mansplain pretty much everything and I don't think even I could stomach a series called "Well, Actually". Expect these reviews to be highly opinionated and exceptionally biased, as is the custom of my people and by my people I mean Social Justice Warriors (or, in my case, Social Justice Bard).

The first game I'm going to talk about is the relatively-new release, Horizon: Zero Dawn, from Guerrilla Games, published by Sony Entertainment. I played it on the PS4, and put about 40 hours into it during my vacation. I'll warn you before I drop any spoilers.

Things I knew going into this game: it's a post-apocalyptic game with a woman protagonist fucking all the shit up with a bow and arrow. Had it been nothing else, I would have bought it -- as someone who played both of the rebooted Lara Croft games, it's become clear to me that my perfect protagonist is apparently Kate Bishop (written by Matt Fraction) -- but it turns out that this game has a lot more going for it, and by going for it, I mean specifically pandering to me.

Here's the non-spoilery bit: Aloy (our Hero) is an outcast, but no one including her foster father/mentor will tell her why. So she makes it her mission in life to become the premier hunter so she can demand answers from the Matriarchs of the tribe that cast her out as a baby. Did you say Matriarchs? Why yes, it is a culture run and controlled by old women, with no clear gender division for the hunter/gatherer roles versus the caretaking/vendor roles. The culture of the Nora isn't ever explicitly explained, but it's clear from context and random conversations that this cultural makeup is considered "bad" by most of the other locals, but given that the Nora manage to keep their shit together when everyone else fucks shit up, the subtext is pretty clear. Of course, there are Kind Matriarchs and Angry Matriarchs and Antagonistic Matriarchs so it's not like there's this United Front of Women Are Awesome -- instead, the women are portrayed as people, with both good and bad traits and good and bad opinions making good and bad decisions just like people do. For that alone, I would have bought the deluxe edition.

Also, the big villain in the piece turns out to be the most entitled White-Dude-Manbaby in the history of White-Dude-Manbabies, while the populace in general is fantastically diverse (though it would've been nice to see some of the models with more body-types than "sleek, sleek and muscled, square and muscled, boyish" among the mix. Given that one of the main NPCs is a black woman War Chief and another is a black mechanical genius, it's ahead of 90% of the standard games out there.

Aloy, in her journey to find out just what the fuck is going on, wanders around a post-disaster landscape and proceeds to kill and/or co-opt basically everyone she meets, including a couple of Kings, at least one explicitly trans person, more same-sex couples than I can count, and in the process earns a reputation (which can be one of three types, but the gameplay is effectively the same for all of them). In truth, I'm not sure why the "choose your type of reaction" option exists, since it didn't noticeably change anything about the game, but hey, if you're reaching for that Mass Effect effect, then you gotta have an Emotional Wheel Of Decision-Making.

Is the game perfect? By no means. Much of the actual exploration and gameplay turns out to be rather repetitive, and the jumping puzzles are slightly too easy even for me (and I hate jumping puzzles) while the 'figure out how to kill this type of robot' challenges aren't very well laid out and can lead to much head-bashing and frustration until you stumble upon the magic combo of weapons and moves that then turn defeating the mobs into a trivial activity. Also, for an open-world RP game, it's a bit small and short, especially when compared to the Witcher series or Dragon Age: Inquisition. That said, this is the first of a series, not the last of a series (I hope), and even some DLC to open up the world a bit more would be brilliant, not to mention a couple of sequels.

I fully admit to my bias: strong women in both protagonist and antagonist roles, a diverse cast of NPCs, and the Big Bad being an Entitled Dude In IT are all positive things to me, so I was prepped out of the gate to love this game, and I feel like it delivered on almost all of the things it promised me. And it didn't hurt that there were a lot of disaffected pants-crappers who were upset that a game like this made females the main characters while relegating the mens to support or villain roles. Just reading some of the reviews made me smile and think that my pre-ordered Collector's Edition was money well spent.

So Here's the Thing: if you liked the rebooted Tomb Raider games, you're gonna like H:ZD. If you're expecting the epicness of a Mass Effect game, you'll be disappointed. And if you like the standard "shoot the otherguy" games like Battlefield or Call of Duty, you're going to be really unhappy with this game. But I'll be damned if it wasn't nice to see a triumphant woman on the cover of my videogame.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Spring Break: The Photo Post

Here's that set of photos I promised in previous posts.

You can find pretty much all the pictures I took here:

https://goo.gl/photos/19TpVGcXatupsCJd8

I hope you enjoyed our show.

Spring Break, Day 8 and Beyond -- thoughts and take-aways

The deboarding process was exactly as efficient as the onboarding process, and we were out and off to the airport with our luggage quickly and easily, and our flight home was uneventful, and our arrival back to our home was pleasant -- it was good to see our dog again, to lay down in our bed again, to use our washer and dryer again. It was a little disappointing that there weren't any towel animals, or turn-down service, and there wasn't a 24-hour room-service line, and we had to cook our own food rather than just wander into the dining room and grab food. So, trade-offs, really.

Jean and I had several conversations, especially in the last two days of the cruise, about whether or not we would be interested in going on JoCOcho (aka JoCoCruise VIII). Our experience was a generally positive one, and I certainly had a blast, but we both recognized that, as a couple prone to introversion, we spent a bunch of time turtling up together and not giving ourselves the chance to meet new friends. Especially at dinner; we had a tendency to grab a two-top and sit together, rather than joining a big group table and getting to know other people over dinner. If we were to do Ocho, our goal would be to do group tables every day it was possible. We also recognized that the cruise would have been more enjoyable had we had more friends with which to spend time, so another variable in our attending Ocho-on-the-Oosterdam is if we can convince any other people to also go on the cruise.

We also agreed that the price bump for a veranda cabin is significant, possibly significant enough to stop us from making the change, and that might be a deal-breaker. While the internal cabin was perfectly cromulent (and the Rotterdam deck, deck 7, was basically the Best Deck Ever), it would be nice to get some natural light in the morning, and having a place to just sit privately and watch the water and wake up and/or journal and/or read a book would be fantastic. That said, it's almost double the cost of an internal cabin. And while the internal cabin was fine, we're not sure we'd be willing to do it again. On the gripping hand, we spent an unexpected amount of time in our cabin, and if we were doing it again, we would probably try to spend less time there. Also, I'd probably bring my white-light clock.

Jonathan Coulton himself said that taking a cruise is a lot like living like a really rich person for a week: you're waited on hand and foot and nothing costs anything.  This is true, and it's amazing in several ways. It's also true that, in general, the people waiting on you hand-and-foot are mostly young mostly people of colour (in our case, almost exclusively Filipino youngsters), and if you're in any way socially conscious this leads to some really, really uncomfortable moments, like when you realize that while the workers are mostly PoCs, the managers and supervisors are almost all white, and a significant number of them are men.

That said, it was good to hear that as a group, the Sea Monkeys were considered some of the best passengers that our crew had served -- we responded to instructions, tipped well, treated people like human beings with names and lives, recognized we were privileged and tried not to take too much advantage of that, and in general acted like decent human beings -- but the fact is still that we were a bunch of mostly white, mostly wealthy Westerners being waited on by young people of colour. Also, having done a bit of research, cruise jobs in general are just terrible, shitty jobs: because they're mostly at sea, a lot of labour laws just don't apply, so the folk are working long hours for not-great pay, and the only thing that makes it survivable is that a worker doesn't have any time to spend the money made, so it ends up piling up pretty well (though, with all the Filipino folk, I imagine it was either being sent back to the family or being saved up for a chance to start a business).

I personally tried very hard to learn all of the names of the crew I interacted with, and tried very hard to be at least as polite to them as they were to us. Rather than just seeing them as faceless servitors, I worked hard to make sure I was seeing them as people, and treating them as someone who was doing a hard and often thankless job generally quite well. This ended up being extremely hard on day five when I was sitting next to the pool and was irked that a young man with a tray wasn't making it down to my end of the pool fast enough. And then metaphorically punching myself in the head for that particular thought, and then getting up and walking the twenty feet or so to the bar, because GODS FORBID I walk twenty feet to get my drinks...

Especially with BlizzCon happening in November (and the plan for a big chunk of our Raid Team to meet up during this one), it's a real question whether or not we can even save the bank we'd need for Ocho. But I change my mind every five minutes as to whether or not I want to go again. I mean, I definitely DO want to go again, but there are some definite caveats on how that can happen.

I had a fantastic time on JoCoCruise VII. And I am definitely glad I went.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Spring Break, Day 7 -- Homeward Bound

Another at-sea day, which meant a ton of stuff on the schedule, most of which I simply ignored to enjoy the last day of being on a cruise ship on the water. We did manage to get up and get our coffee in time to attend Zoe Keating's Armpit Farting Colloquium, which was entirely worth it. If you get a chance, you should check out Zoe Keating's music on the Cello. And also see if you can find a video where she teaches you to make farting noises with various parts of your body that aren't usually involved in farting noises.

Since it was a Friday, for lunch Jean and I partook of a hot dog, as is the custom of our people. And while we were doing that, Jean and I played "One Deck Dungeon", which is a fun little card game which I bought specifically because all of the characters in the game are women -- heroes, villains, final bosses -- and that got the babymen het up and so I tossed some money that way to encourage the designer to keep on being awesome. It's fun, and has a solo play version in addition to the 2-player game. Jean pointed out that it seemed a little easy, which generally indicates that we've misread the rules somewhere, but even at that it was a fun little game.

Then, after a bit of lounging, we had a nap. Because when given the option of a mid-day nap, you should ALWAYS partake.

As it was the last day and I had not yet blown the budget, I bought a crap-ton of merch from the various artists on board, because "if you put it on your room key it's like it never happened!". In addition, we were given some books by artists who were on board, and I was looking over what sounded like a really intriguing book, The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss, but when I flipped to the author page, it was a white dude, and I've sworn off white dude writers for the forseeable future. Then, reading the "about the author" blurb, I noted that the author lives with his editor-husband. Yay! The author is queer, so there's my exception! So I'll be reading that in the near future. We also got The Fifth Season which is awesome and painful and brilliant, and entirely deserving of the Hugo.

The concert that night was billed as "Jonathan Coulton and Friends", and by that apparently was meant "everyone we could possibly fit on stage, and probably a couple more". I'm always a little surprised when an artist picks a song and then is surprised that their fans like it; in this case, the song in question is "Good Morning, Tucson", a song about a newscaster summoning up the end of the world and broadcasting it live (or possibly going crazy, it's not clear). Which is one of my favourite songs ever, containing the lyric "and I am still sort of amazed that you can be born in the 90s" which I fully connect with on a level below consciousness. He also sang his brilliant biographic song about George Plimpton, which I adore for both the message and the sadness.

Then the Friends started pouring on stage, and we moved into the "cover song" portion of the evening, which was all songs by dead people (except Elvis Costello, who isn't dead, but wrote a song about the death of Democracy, so he gets a pass). There was a moment when both Jean and I wondered if we'd missed some news, though (having been out of touch with the world for a week), but John Roderick, after a great version of "What's So Funny About Peace, Love, And Understanding" assured us that in fact, Elvis Costello was still alive. For now.

A brilliant "Purple Rain" cover by Janet Varney and Tawny Newsome was included in the set, which was amazing. Principal Sabourin did a fantastic job covering "Freedom", and Aimee Mann did a brilliant job with "Love is All Around". Jean Grae invented "the Jean Grae" where even before the music stops and the clapping starts the artist saunters off the stage (she deserved all the clapping, of course).

To finish it all up and send us off right, they filled the stage to bursting and encouraged the audience to sing along to "Sloop John B", because boats. It was a brilliant show, a great cap to a great series of shows, and an excellent way to top off the trip. So then Jean and I went to dinner, which was excellent, and Jean had the cheese plate for dessert while I had the Baked Alaska and it was really, really good. Al took care of us once again, and I was back to thinking that retiring to a cruise ship wouldn't be so bad, really...

One last stroll around the promenade to walk off a bit of dinner, then we set our luggage out to be offloaded, took off our robes, and went to sleep dreaming of home, our pets, and the real world.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Day 6: Sailing The Ocean Blue

Today was an all-at-sea day for the cruise; no port of call, no stops, just sailing (and a really nice vista in the afternoon). This turned out to be my favourite type of day on the cruise, though I entirely understand why they don't do it all the time -- the staff and performers need a break at some point! But it was gorgeous and pleasant and extremely relaxing. Which was good, because I spent most of the day feeling worn out and tired. Part of it was me getting over the sunburn / overheating, part of it was the entire week of being polite and extroverted, and part of it was honestly just missing home. The bed was comfy and the meals were great, but as Jean said, we were missing our dog and our garden and our own bed.

They switched up the schedule, so the concert for the day was in the morning; the Doubleclicks did a brilliant show with a bunch of their friends, and it was amazing. They even debuted a couple of songs off their new album, which was pretty damned cool. It was also incredibly emotional in parts; I found myself crying at a couple of points, which is a bit out of character for both me and a Doubleclicks show, but there it was.

We spent most of the day just wandering about the boat, relaxing and not really doing anything. This turned out to be a good thing -- even when I'm not actively interacting with people, being surrounded by strangers is really tiring to me. This was also the day when I was absolutely convinced we wouldn't do a JoCoCruise again; while the experience was great, I was feeling very tired and isolated and alone. Jean was amazing with me during this: patient, kind, caring. She does so much of the emotional lifting in our relationship, because I'm pretty fucked up and she's so committed to kindness. I try to make sure she doesn't do too much, but I'm sure (as a man) I fuck up more than I should.

In the afternoon, our ship cruised through the Bahia Magdalena, which is amazing and beautiful and home to many whales and dolphins and other wildlife, and much wildlife and gorgeous scenery was seen. During the "standing on the deck looking off the rail" portion, my friend Jaques was kind enough to introduce me to both John Scalzi and Wil Wheaton, and instead of giving into my starfuckery and emotioning all over them, I just said 'pleased to meet you, sir' and let them get back to what they were doing.

Jean pointed out in conversation with me that we both think of Wil Wheaton as "a nice young man" -- which is odd, because he's five years older than I am, but my perception of him is stuck somewhere in the past, where I think of him as an enthusiastic and pleasant twentysomething. He does a great job of demonstrating how awesome it is to love something and how fun it is to share the thing you love, regardless of whatever that something is (except hating; that's not cool). This vision of him was reinforced on the first day, by the bye, when Jean was trying to fiddle with my pin on my lanyard and dropped the back, and Wil (who was on his way somewhere, headphones in, gym clothes on, busy and in transit) stopped to pick it up for us and hand it back to us. It was a little thing -- I wouldn't have thought anything of him just walking by, since it was obvious he was busy and in his own world -- but there it was: a small kindness that fits with my personal image of him. Which, to be clear, isn't him. I don't actually know Wil Wheaton; he's not a friend of mine, he's not a pal. He couldn't manage to pick me out of a lineup if the NYPD helped him ID me. But he has a public face, and I am familiar with that public face, and that makes our relationship (as Scalzi has said on occasion) asynchronous. I know things about him because he lives at least part of his life in public, and that makes me feel closer to him, and that closeness is one-sided and mostly artificial. Which isn't his fault; it's by way of the nature of "celebrity" (and I don't have the time or the energy to define that one right now, so just go with me here).

I've tried to live my life as publicly as possible especially in the last several years, mostly because the Panopticon Society is a thing, and getting that toothpaste back in the tube is a job and a half. Plus, I can live that way. I'm a white middle-aged dude in tech. It's safe for me to live publicly, in a way that it isn't, even for someone like Jean. But choosing to live life publicly is fundamentally different from having the world decide (since you're a TV star, or a movie star, or a child actor, or a successful author) that you must live your life publicly. So I appreciate that Mr. Wheaton has managed to continue to be a reasonably good person despite the alternatives.

Later, we grabbed dinner in the dining room and ended up taking dessert back to the room with us, because we were both pretty tired and full. Since we were six days into a seven-day cruise, we got a room charge summary and I damn near fainted. Granted, we had budgeted for the trip and spending, but boy, do those room charges add up when all you have to do is hand the nice young person your room card and smile. It doesn't feel like spending actual money, which is SUPER dangerous. As Angela said about buying their merch: "just put it on your room card, it's like it never happend!"

I'm really glad that this wasn't the last day of the cruise, because while I didn't have a bad day, it would have coloured my entire experience, which wouldn't have been fair. Day 6 was a recovery day for me, and recovery days can be a bit of a downer, especially when you're trying to make sure you're having fun and enjoying yourself. There's a pressure to be having a good time on vacation 24/7, especially on something like this cruise, and that's not a reasonable expectation, at least for me. So it was OK for me to take the time to feel better and I needed to let myself know that. Day 6 was good! I even enjoyed it while it was happening. But I was grading on a curve at the time, and that wasn't fair either to the cruise or to myself.