Trail Rations: Healthy Dips

Replacing junk food at the gaming table with healthy, home-cooked options is a big part of my group’s attempt to game healthier. But let’s face it, sometimes you want chips and nothing else will do. When that craving strikes you can still make your chips a little healthier by making the dips and salsa yourself. Heck, if you have the time you can even make the chips yourself.

Below I have three recipes for healthier snack alternatives you can make at home. Two of them don’t even require cooking! And if you know how to turn on your oven the third will be a snap.

Basic Salsa

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups seeded, chopped tomatoes (6-7 medium tomatoes)
  • Leaves from one bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped*
  • 6 cloves fresh chopped garlic
  • 1/2 an onion, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Juice from ½ a lime

*You can leave out the cilantro if you aren’t a fan; substitute parsley instead.

Directions: Mix all ingredients until well incorporated. Refrigerate overnight for maximum flavor. If you want a cooler salsa, remove the seeds from the jalapeno before chopping. If you want a hotter salsa, add more jalapeno to taste.

Simple Garlic and Chive Yogurt Dip**

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried dill
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions: In a small bowl, combine Greek yogurt, minced garlic clove, chopped chives, salt, pepper, dried dill, and lemon juice. Mix well and chill for at least an hour; overnight for the best flavor.

**Feel free to experiment with flavors for this dip; you can substitute other herb/spice combinations for other flavors quite easily.

Homemade Baked Potato Chips

Ingredients:

  • 6 Yukon gold potatoes, washed and unpeeled
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

Directions: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Brush 2 large baking sheets lightly with oil. Use a mandoline or hand held slicing machine to cut the potatoes lengthwise into 1/8-inch thick slices. Arrange the slices in 1 flat layer on the baking sheets. Brush the slices lightly with oil and bake until golden throughout, 15 to 20 minutes, checking often since they brown at different rates. Transfer to paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper while hot.

For a little extra crunch, add the sliced potatoes to a pot of boiling water for about 5-7 minutes, then brush with oil and put in the oven.

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And that’s it! Three recipes to sate your group’s junk-food lust while keeping it healthier than store-bought. These basic recipes have plenty of room for experimentation, so you can play around with flavours to suit your table. Try sprinkling your chips with garlic powder, for instance, or substitute capers and black pepper for the garlic and chives in the yogurt dip. Have fun with it, and let me know in the comments what combinations you come up with.

Extra Life 2014

Facebook-cover-AlbertaOnce again I am taking part in Extra Life, raising funds for the Children’s Hospital Foundation of Alberta with Team #Knifeshoes. If you’d like to make a donation, please do so through my secure donation page. I’m really excited to be taking part again this year, and with your donations I’m hoping I’ll beat last year’s total.

With the expansion of Extra Life in to the table-top realm, I’ll be heading up Team #Kinifeshoes’ board and role-playing game special teams. I’ll start the day at a local gaming convention, InrigueCon, running a table of Kobolds Ate My Baby! Then a quick run over to Team #Knifeshoes HQ (a friend’s house) to set-up in their game room for the rest of the 24 hours. I’m going to use this as an opportunity to take D&D 5th out for a spin, and run through the basic box material. Assuming that doesn’t last us the entire rest of the time, we’ll intersperse with board games to cleanse the palette.

I look forward to a whole lot of fun being had (tired, tired fun), all in a great cause. Please make a donation if you can (you can donate from anywhere, by the way; it will credit you according to your country’s donation laws) of any amount. Every $5 helps, and adds up to get us closer to our goal. And if you live in Edmonton, contact me if you want to play in the D&D 5th at least part of the day. I’ll let you know what time we’ll start and where Team #Knifeshoes HQ is located. My only stipulation (if you aren’t already on Team #Knifeshoes) is that you make a donation to me. It is a fundraiser, after all.

Campaign Creation: What’s Dead Can Never Die…

Looking back through the logs, and it has been a while since I did one of these. So let’s start with a quick recap of what I’ve done so far:

Let’s have some fun, and figure out my first layer Big Bad Guy. ‘First layer’, you ask? I like to start with a nasty antagonist the party can grow into, sort of a ‘Starter Big Bad’. Depending on the system you use, this would be a villain who remains a challenge until about low-mid level.   Since I’m designing this primarily for Pathfinder, I want a villain that threatens into level 6-8. At that point, of course, the next layer of BBG will be revealed and the new threat will bring with it new, tougher adventures.

Maybe it’s the time of year, but I’d really like the villain to be undead. Intelligent undead, in my opinion, are some of the nastiest things in gaming canon. And with the exception of vampires and the occasional lich, horribly under-utilized in most of the games I’ve played. Plus a vampire or lich would be a bit too powerful for our party to deal with off the jump.

Looking down the list of intelligent undead (and taking note of useful non-intelligent undead for later), I’m torn between a ghoul or a wight. In either case I’ll be adding character levels to the creature, making it unique and powerful enough to be a threat. Both have the ability to create versions of itself, and there are enough low-level humanoids in the area for a steady supply of ‘instant minions’.  But I think the wight wins in that respect; while its created wights are weaker, they are at least under its control. The ghoul has no control over its creations, making them less-than-ideal minions and competition for food.

Wight it is! The party will definitely still run into ghouls at some point, and I haven’t ruled out a ghoul second-in-command for my wight. A steady flow of bodies from your master and all the mayhem you can create? What ghoul wouldn’t take that job? Having both a wight and ghoul present opens up encounters with both goblin and grippli mini-wights and ghouls, which could be fun.

Now to level up my wight, so he can be a proper BBG. I mentioned earlier that many of the undead would be centred in the Ruin’s Temple District. So it makes sense that my wight be tied to that area. It might be fun to give it some cleric levels, but looking through the Advanced Player’s Guide, I think I like the oracle better. Mechanically, oracle works better with a wight’s CHA of 15 (as opposed to a WIS of only 13). And I’m already seeing a backstory where the wight was once a cleric of Norgorber, and in undeath retained some vestige of its former power in the form of oracle abilities. It could be trying to regain its earlier abilities, sending minions out into the Ruin to discover and retrieve ancient texts and tomes toward that end.

Yes, loving this idea already. Okay, the CR of a wight is 3, and I want it to be a credible threat to a level 6-8 group. So I’m going to give it 7 levels of oracle, which will make it roughly a CR 9 creature. A lot can change between now and when the characters encounter it, but this gives me a place to start. Doubling down on undeath I’m giving it the Bones mystery, and tentatively I’m going to assign the revelations death’s touch, armor of bones, and soul siphon. Those will make it less squishy if the party makes it passed the wall of minions I envision the wight maintaining. And I like the potential look of panic on a player’s face as the wight inflicts negative levels on their character from a distance.

I’ll flesh out the details later, since the character won’t confront our BBG directly for a while. When I do put it all together, I’ll post a link to a PDF so you can make use of it for your own game. For now we’ll leave it alone, brooding in its ruined temple lair, waiting for its witless minions to bring it another scrap of text or ancient artefact. Soon, soon…

What do you think of my initial BBG? Have any suggestions or ideas? Drop them in the comments below.

This Blog is not a Gatekeeper

If you’re a gamer and have spent any amount of time on-line in the last few weeks you’re likely familiar with at least the basics of Gamergate. If you’re not, I’m not going to take space here explaining it. Others have done a better job than I could, and a few moments with your search engine de jour will find you that information. If you are unfamiliar with the recent goings on I think it’s a search you should make. I don’t think I’m understating things to say that how we, as the gaming community, deal with the issues surrounding inclusiveness in gaming, will decide whether our hobby grows or not.

Let me state a few points of my position on this whole thing, for clarity. I am not neutral on the subject of inclusiveness. I want my hobby to grow and I’m willing to fight for that growth. I am not going to give both sides of the inclusiveness argument equal weight because one side (wanting inclusiveness) is right and the other (anyone against it) is flat fucking wrong. If you don’t think the only pre-requisite for being a gamer is the desire to, and playing of, games, you are 100% on the wrong side of the issue. As far as I’m concerned, the only discussion worth having about inclusiveness in gaming is, how do we ensure the maximum number of gamers see themselves in a meaningful way in the games being produced?

Some may argue my view is unbalanced, because I’m not giving equal time to both sides. I don’t care. I see no point in giving equal weight to ignorance. Some might say I’m jumping on the bandwagon with all the other Gamergate posts, trying to ride the wave of the latest click-bait issue. Tough. At this point, and in light of recent events, what little voice I have must be raised. Silent support helps no one. If that gets me branded a White Knight or a Social Justice Warrior (two titles which sound bad-ass, so I’m not sure why the MRA trolls think those terms are pejorative), fan-freaking-tastic. I’ll slap those titles on my next set of business cards.

It’s worth noting, I haven’t always had these beliefs. To my shame, I have set myself up as a gatekeeper in the past. I have been exclusive, with all the ignorance that goes along with that. What changed? There is a saying I heard years back; if you look around the gaming table and can’t spot the asshole, it’s probably you. So I grew up. I decided that, whatever else I did in my hobby, I’d work to not be the asshole at the table. I’m not always successful, but these days I succeed way more than I fail and I keep the line trending up. Realizing it wasn’t my place to decide who’s at the table with me was a big part of that.

So if you continue to read my blog, you’ll have to accept that all are welcome here. Everything I write will have that vein of inclusiveness running through it, because it is important to me. If you don’t like that, feel free to save us a both some wasted time and go. I’m sure you can find a gaming blog with a tone more to your liking. Sadly.

That’s it. Short, not-so-sweet, and to the point. Feel free to add your comments below, and I promise we’ll be back to game posts tomorrow.

RPGaDay #28: Most Memorable Encounter

I was stumped on this one, until I decided to broaden my interpretation.

In 2010 I attended Gen Con for the first time in over a decade. I travelled down from Edmonton with a group of friends, and since it was my first time back in a while, chose to get the VIG, or ‘Very Important Gamer’, weekend pass. If you manage to snag one, I recommend trying it out at least once, it’s a pretty sweet deal.

One of the benefits of the pass is early admission to any of the big name panels; they jump us to the front of the line, and we sit in the front rows set aside for us. My friends and I were going in to see Wil Wheaton speak and read excerpts from his latest book (no, he’s not the MME in this case, though meeting him later would certainly qualify). As we were shown to our second-row seats (the very front row was reserved for industry and convention staff/volunteers), who should be sitting in front of us but Peter Adkison. Yep, Wizards of the Coast founding, Magic: The Gathering creating, Gen Con owning Peter Adkison.

A bit of back story. I was managing a gaming store during the period of TSR’s floundering and D&D’s near-death experience. I have a fine appreciation for what WotC buying TSR meant for the hobby at a retail level, because at that time we were staring down the barrel of a hobby without D&D. That was not a bullet most game stores could have survived, never mind the broader hobby in general. And beyond that, my favourite game of all time would go away (I hadn’t met Pathfinder yet). It was a bleak time.

Back to Gen Con. It meant a lot to me to meet the guy who unbleaked my hobby, and I really wanted to tell him that. Typical Canadian, though, I decided not to bother him and just bask in the proximity. Minutes after we sat down, of course, Mr. Adkison turns around in his chair and says, “Hey guys, enjoying Gen Con so far?” Buh.

Somewhere in the conversation which followed I managed to thank him for saving D&D from extinction, and went so far as to get him to sign my Gen Con badge. He was a very sweet, casual man, and a pleasure to talk with.

Now, that would have been cool enough. But over the next few days we kept running in to him at panels, and every time he would make a point to say hello, ask us how our con was going, and chat with us about…stuff. Most surreal moment: Peter Adkison talking to me about a character he’s playing in his home campaign. It was just such a perfect gamer nerd moment, and it’s one of many reasons I love this hobby.

RPGaDay #28: Scariest Game You’ve Played

The scariest game I’ve played, and I’m sad it hasn’t been topped since, is the first time I played Call of Cthulhu. I’d read H.P. Lovecraft and stories inspired by him for years, and I picked up the first edition of the game when it came out. But I didn’t have a chance to play it until my buddy Grant decided to run a campaign. Grant was a big believer in reality in his non-fantasy role-playing games. For him, and specifically with CoC, that meant we weren’t going to get away with things just because we were the hero. The dice fell where they fell, and if that meant we went insane twenty minutes into the game, so be it. Roll up a new character.

Grant ran us through a modified version of one of the intro adventures, and it was horrifying from the start. We began by answering a summons to an old friend’s hospital room, where he imparted a dark secret to us. Then he died, but not before expelling a fleshy, blood-soaked bezoar right on…me. First Sanity Check of the evening, but definitely not the last. We encountered forbidden books, the walking dead, and unnatural creatures from beyond. I actually managed to hold my sanity through multiple sessions, even as it was slowly chipped away by our ‘adventures’. When my poor antiquarian finally broke, he attacked, armed only with a cricket bat and his firm belief he was the Archangel Michael, some horrible beast of negotiable geometry. It was a good death, as Call of Cthulhu deaths go.

What made these sessions so scary? Partly it was Grant’s deadpan delivery, which somehow made the horrid things he described even more terrible. Play time was definitely part of it. Because of our various work schedules our games usually started at 10pm and ran until the wee hours. So we, like our characters, rarely saw the sun and were so very tired. But mostly we were just invested. It was the first campaign where no one tried to make it funny or silly. We bought into the world from the first game and never looked back. The importance of that is something I carried with me into my future gaming groups.

What was your scariest game? Drop it in the comments!

RPGaDay #27: Game You’d Like to See a New/Improved Edition Of

Not so much a game as a setting, I’d love to see World of Greyhawk get another fair shake as a campaign setting. Wizards of the Coast briefly and half-heartedly promoted it as a campaign world when it launched 3rd Edition. But it was quickly shunted aside for the more popular setting, Forgotten Realms.

Which is a shame, because Greyhawk was a world with a lot going on. It had a rich history, great epic villains, and a world rife with wrongs for adventurers to right. All the classic AD&D modules are set there. It’s where we get the creators of our favourite spells: Bigby, Tenser, Melf, Rary, Otto, Drawmij, Mordenkainen. Adding to the nostalgia factor, it was Gary Gygax’s home campaign. For that alone it deserves much better treatment than it’s received in recent years. Sadly, it seems stuck in limbo; WotC won’t do anything with it, but won’t let anyone else touch it either.

But maybe someday I’ll dust off my Greyhawk characters, and ride to adventure at the behest of the Circle of Eight. Or is that against the Circle of Eight? Whatever, either will be fine.

RPGaDay #26: Favourite Character Sheet

While there are plenty of really good pre-printed character sheets out there, my tendency has always been to write mine out very neatly in some form of notebook. Usually this takes up the first 2-4 pages; the rest I then use for campaign notes, maps, sketches, and so on. I tend to play fantasy RPGs like Pathfinder, and I like the idea of my character keeping a journal of some kind. As much as possible I try to make journal entries as I think my character would, which makes it potentially fun and sometimes not very useful for remembering things later. For instance, I once played a barbarian character (Stonk) who, after growing up on the ‘cuisine’ of his one small tribe, was suddenly exposed to the varied foods of the world as he traveled with his party. So while other party members were taking detailed notes on our mission, Stonk’s journal read like a foodie’s notebook (“The King talked; served a passable red wine, but loved the mussel-stuffed game hens. Stonk must get recipe.”)  And of course I carefully tracked treasure. Stonk liked food, but he liked treasure more.

As a side note to this, my friend Morgan once gifted me with what I now consider the ideal character notebook. It was a 9-1/2”x 7-1/2” Moleskine notebook with graph paper pages, ruled at 5 squares per inch. Gorgeous quality, and the graph paper meant I could keep my maps nice and tidy. I’ve found others since, but thank-you, Morgan, for giving me that first one.

What’s your favourite character sheet? Drop it in the comments below!

RPGaDay 25: Favourite RPG No One Else Wants to Play

Oddly enough, I can’t get anyone to play Fairy Meat with me (technically it’s a miniatures game, but it can be played in campaign mode and has character sheets, so I’m broadening the definition). Given the sense of humor shared by my particular group of friends, I’d think a game involving cannibalistic fairies would be right in their wheelhouse. But anytime I’ve suggested it, the response is lukewarm at best. I might have to drag it along to a convention one day, just to find players.

For actual RPGs, finding a group to get together once isn’t hard. I have a plethora of friends who will show up if I announce I want to try a new RPG. It’s continuing the game that becomes the hard part. Whether it’s scheduling, waning lack of interest, or a vast shadowy conspiracy aimed at keeping me from happiness, we never seem to manage to keep a campaign going. My regular Thursday night group is actually only semi-regular; we aim to play every Thursday, with the understanding that life might limit that to once or twice in the month. But we persevere, because it is the most consistent game I belong to right now.

RPGaDay Roundup, Part 3

This is Part 3 of my RPGaDay Roundup, if you’re just jumping in. You can read Part 1 and Part 2 by clicking their links.

Day 19: Favourite Published Adventure

I’m a huge fan of the Adventure Paths for Pathfinder in general. I think the concept of packaging a discreet section of a campaign, along with a mini-gazetteer and bestiary is brilliant. There have been many Adventure Paths published over the years, but my favourite  is still the first one: Burnt Offerings, from the Rise of the Runelords AP. It has some of my favourite monsters, goblins, showcased in all their re-imagined and psychotic glory; it contains the village of Sandpoint, which is such a perfect starting locale for adventurers it’s like a gift to the GM; and at the time (and still, for the most part) no one else was publishing a book like it. Add in gorgeous and evocative cover art by Wayne Reynolds and there is nothing to dislike about this book. And as I mentioned before, Paizo has continued to improve upon the Adventure Path idea since.

Day 20: Will Still Play in Twenty Years Time…

Games may come and go, but I can predict with some certainty that one form or another of Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder will still have a place on my shelf. D&D has been such a big part of my life, I’ll always have it around. And Pathfinder, though relatively recent, is such a huge part of my current gaming life. Not just the game itself, though that might be enough. No, the friends I’ve made playing the game and as a Venture-Captain for Organized Play, the experiences I’ve had because of the game…Pathfinder isn’t going anywhere.

But I’m also excited to see what the new things in tabletop gaming will be down the line. So I’ll also say, whatever is cool and fun twenty years from now is something I’ll be all over, as I roll my hyperdice in Gamer’s Haven Retirement Home.™

Day 21: Favourite Licensed RPG

The Firefly RPG, hands down. I’m a huge fan of the Firefly show and universe, and this RPG from Margaret Weis Productions highlights everything I love. Action, adventure, clever dialogue (okay, that last depends on the players but something about the game manages to bring it out) all set in a ‘Verse I’ve come to know and love. There might be a time when flying my own ship crewed by a band of strangers and miscreants won’t appeal to me, but I don’t see that happening soon.

I will say this, it is not a game for all players. If you are with a group who all love the Firefly show, which is arguably most of the time, you’ll have a lot of fun. But playing it with folks who are not familiar with, or just didn’t like, Firely, can be a bit of an ordeal if you are trying to immerse yourself. So choose your crew wisely.

Day 22: Best Second-hand RPG Purchase

One of the best second-hand purchases I ever made was the Nexus Live Action Role-playing, Play This Book, Vol 1. I love game books which give me a view to what the earlier days of gaming were like. The book laid out a live-action role-playing game scenario, which could best be played as part of an existing sci-fi or gaming convention. Closer to the idea of those party game murder mysteries, participants would be given characters ahead of time. They would then costume themselves, use the prop items and clues included in their character package, and show up ready to play through the game all weekend.

The book was great! Not only did it outline a pretty interesting plot which included competing intelligence agencies (terrestrial and non-), alien criminals, and a scientist from multiple dimensions, it also gave detailed instructions on how to organize and manage the game. Much of the information is dated, as it comes from a pre-internet and smart phone era. But reading it, I could easily see how aspects of game-play could be updated for use now.

I don’t even know if they published a Vol 2. But I take the book off my shelf and re-read it often for a bit of nostalgia.

Day 23: Coolest Looking RPG Product/Book

Published in 2006, Monte Cook’s Ptolus: City by the Spire is still one of the coolest looking gaming books I own. Now, if it was just a really well-detailed campaign source book from Monte Cook, that might be enough. But this book is so high quality, so unlike any other book published at the time (or since, really), it is the game book to which I compare other game books, and fine them wanting.

It’s annotated. As a GM who has suffered much eye-strain over the years trying to search out details when I’d forgotten where I’d found them, that alone makes the book priceless. Added to that, it is such a beautiful book throughout, with more full-colour art and maps than I’ve seen in entire game systems, never mind a single book. I was lucky enough to get a print copy when it was first published (and later, to get it signed by Monte Cook himself). If there is a house fire, Ptolus will be in my arms as I leave the building.

Day 24: Most Complicated RPG Owned

Pathinder is about as complicated as I get these days, and I tend to look at alternatives which are much lighter in complexity. I don’t mind complex, as long as it serves a purpose other than to be intentionally arcane. I came out of the era of THAC0 and Rolemaster, after all, so I am no stranger to convolutions in my gaming.

If you get a chance to look at them, the wide variety of critical hit charts for the original Rolemaster game are a work of art. Talk about detail for the sake of detail. These tables listed the effects of a variety of different major wounds sustained from an endless variety of weapons, monsters, and other misfortunes. I don’t know anyone, myself included, who actually used them all. I remember my group in junior high had a brief flirtation with them, as applied to our AD&D campaign. But it was a brief fling, as we had better things to do than roll on tables all the time.

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This brings us up to date, gentle reader. Starting Monday, expect a new RPGaDay post every day as we finish out the month.

Musings of a Gaming Nerd

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