Deserter from the Edition Wars

If you’ve ever talked to me about Dungeons & Dragons, you know I’m not a huge fan of 4th Edition (if you have never talked to me about D&D, the following may or may not upset you). I have mellowed my stance over time and I no longer seethe with a barely contained rage at the desecration of My Game. Because really, nothing was desecrated (I still have all my 3.5 books after all, they didn’t disappear with the new edition) and it wasn’t My Game, it was everyone’s game. The undeniable fact is, many people like playing 4E and at the end of the day that is what matters: people playing a game they like.
The flip-side, of course, is that people are welcome to not play a game they don’t like. And 80% of the time I fall into that camp with regards to 4E. Most of the time it just doesn’t do it for me; I need a broader palette of choice and complexity to run and play the game I want to play. That other twenty percent? Sometimes I do want to just stroll through a dungeon and lay an unholy amount of smack-down on some monsters. For those times, 4E is the perfect platform to enjoy my monster apocalypse.
That said, there is something about the game-play direction of 4E that I have never liked. I won’t bore anyone (including myself) with details, because if you really want that you can find it online. In general, though, I did not like the way the game was simplified. It is possible to simplify something in such a way as to stimulate choice and creativity; I felt (and still feel) that 4E went in the opposite direction from that. The limited choice of character builds (unless/until you get the next book(s)), the focus on combat over role-playing…never been a fan.
All of that is to explain why, when I followed this link about D&D Fifth Edition, it honestly took me about two minutes of re-seething rage to clue in that this was a joke. While I am now calmed down, I have to admit there is a little part of me scared that this “joke” is the start of a viral marketing campaign for an actual D&D product. OR, that WotC looks at this and goes, “Hmmmm…”. Either way, this “evolution” was probable enough for me to have several moments of spine-chilling dread.  And if you think that WotC can’t turn an RPG into a card game, you obviously haven’t looked at Gamma World too closely.
As my final shot in the Edition Wars, I have this comment to make: when I heard that WotC was going to release “Basic D&D” my first thought was, “So, isn’t that just the D&D Miniatures game?”
And now I am officially deserting from the D&D Edition Wars. I just don’t have the energy to waste on it anymore. I’m a gamer because I play games. If you are a gamer you also play games. To generate an artificial ghetto-ization of certain gamers because they play a game I don’t like is pointless, because it misses the point of the hobby. The gaming hobby has always been inclusive, welcoming anyone that wanted to play. Tacking on the addendum, “…except for you [insert game name here] players, because [insert game name here] suxxors!” is a bit like crouching in a leaky life-raft and refusing to let certain people bail because they use a boot instead of a bucket.
Didn’t like that comparison? Hmm, okay. Let’s put it in religious terms (because that won’t piss anybody off): sectarian squabbling can kill a religion. Introducing exclusion to gaming because you want to argue your interpretation of dogma is pointless and harmful.
I am a gamer. And I welcome all my gaming brethren and sistren to my table. I may decline to play a game I don’t like, but out of courtesy I extend the same right to all of you. And while I welcome spirited discussions on gaming and game design, I will enter into these discussions without judgment or partisanship.
And now, linkage:
– If you live here in Edmonton and have ever had questions/concerns/total WTF moments about our urban planning, The Charrette is the site for you.
– If you are a fan of Monte Cook, Malhavoc Press and/or Ptolus (and if you aren’t why are you on my site?), this is the sale for you!  Happy 10th Anniversary, Malhavoc Press!
– For those of you saddened by the lack of an Apocalypse this past weekend, fear not!  Apparently that was a test…
– Do you live in Edmonton and suffer from a disturbing lack of balloon animals for your next celebratory function?  You need a visit from The Balloon Fairies!
Game on!

The Stones on Him

I’ll warn you now, this one is a bit ranty…
For one reason or another I haven’t been around the Paizo Forums over the last months. Work, other work, sleep, gaming…these all conspired to keep me off the forums. So now that I have some time on my hands (HIRE ME!) I made a point of heading back over there. I’ve always found the Paizo Forums to be a great place to virtually hang out. For a Pathfinder RPG lover like me, it’s like shooting the breeze with fellow Pathfinderites in my Friendly Local Gaming Store.
Now, if you have ever hung out in a game store, you can probably spot the “but” in the above simile (Grammar Science!). If you haven’t spent extended time in a gamer environment, here is your break-down: All else being equal, you will encounter 19 gamers you want to talk to for every one you don’t. And that one is the one that stands out; he’s/she’s the one that doesn’t bathe, drones on and on about their character, tries to constantly borrow your dice/books/figures… You get the idea.
Why do I bring this up? Because I found my Twentieth Geek on the forums today. I have copied the post below in italics without editing; the section that offended my eye is bolded by me. From “Lord Snow”, posted with the title “Best for newbieplayers, expirienced GM?”:

summery of my question: is Godsmouth Heresy preferable as a first module than Crypt of the Everflame to a group of newbies with an expirienced GM? Should I introduce the newbies to the game by handing out pregenerated characters and teaching them as the game rolls or should I explain evreything out first? and are 6$ an hour a reasonable amount to charge for the game?
I am and have been a GM for quite some time now – the past 10 years, I believe. Now that my last year in high school is nearly over, I decided to start making money from my hobby and run some D&D to some 7th graders for it. Now, the way it looks like I’ll have a group of 5-7 children (I won’t take more even if more will sign up as I think huge group unable good gaming), most of them with very little playing experience and all of them without any real understanding of the rules. What I hope to accomplish is not only having an enjoyable game with them but also helping them understand the game.
So my plan is to hand out pregenerated characters (perhaps the Paizo iconic, perhaps something of my own brewing), and sort of explain the relevant rules for every encounter they face so that they’ll get to try out the rules the very first time they hear them. Do you think this is a decent way of doing this?

Anyway, I’m also wandering which PF module best suits my needs here. there’s Crypt of the Everflame, which seems to go along precisely with what I planned. I worry about this one, however, since I don’t think it’s continuation, Masks of the Living God, would hook newbies as much as it does old timers… is the Godsmouth Heresy better?
And as a side note and last question: do you think 6$ an hour from each kid is legitimate, given that I plan to do 4 one and a half hour sessions per month? For me that’s about 180 bucks a month and I also have a day job…

Here is my reply on the forum, also unedited:

I think it is great that you are willing to GM for younger players that are new to the game. I think your basic plan for helping them through is good, and Crypt of the Everflame is definitely a good mod to start with. If you are playing 1-1/2 hour sessions, I don’t think you need to worry too much about the next mod in the series; you will be months before finishing in any case. And nothing stops you from doing it as a one-off, and moving on to another mod.

In answer to your last question: No. No I do not think that is legitimate. Charging to GM Pathfinder? I hate to tell you, but there are a lot of people who can GM for free out there, including one of the Grade 7 students (which is, frankly, probably a better learning experience for them).
I am sure you have a lot to offer as a GM, but I can count on my thumbs the people I would directly pay to have GM for me. I have been playing RPGs for 32 years now, GMing for easily 25 of those, and it would never occur to me to charge someone to play a game with me. Heck, I’m currently laid off from my job; you think I wouldn’t want to get paid to play Pathfinder right now?

Personally, I think you are doing the hobby a disservice by trying to charge for a service you should be happy to provide. And in my opinion, it is made even more irresponsible that you would do this to kids in Gr. 7, who really have no way to know better. When they go to their next GM and find out they could get this for free, at best they are going to resent you.

Anyway, my two cents. You are free to ignore or respond. And I am certainly interested to read other opinions. Cheers!

And here is what I wanted to write:
Begging your pardon, Lord Snow, but are you out of your f#$@ing mind?! I bow to you in horrified awe; never, in the 32 years I’ve spent in this hobby, have I ever considered dreaming of charging people to play a game with me. And while there are a few people that I would gladly pay for a seat at their gaming table, none of them are a teenager. I realize that to those seventh graders you must be like unto a god, but c’mon…this is a hobby we are all supposed to be enjoying. Not only are you taking away their opportunity to learn the game organically among their peers, but you are fleecing them by making them pay for something they could get for free.
I’m sure you can see why my initial response was not the one I posted.
Why did this bother me so much?  Let me distill it down…

The RPG hobby has never been truly bursting with practitioners. It isn’t like we are going extinct, exactly, but it would be safe to say that gamer “birth rates” have dipped, while “death rates” (literal and figurative) have held steady. With the competition provided by 3D movies and computer/console gaming it can be hard to attract new players to our hobby. Not impossible, just hard. With the shiny enticements of the digital age, it does not take a lot for young players to find an excuse to not play table-top games. Enter someone who is going to charge them for their entry to the hobby? Best case scenario: they like it, keep paying to play with this guy for a while, and then feel burned when they move to another GM who does not charge them because really, the idea is ludicrous. How are they going to feel then? Foolish, certainly. Maybe foolish enough to bail on a hobby that could have given them a lot of enjoyment. Worst case: he gives them a bad experience, and they resent the hobby because the paid to play a “crappy game”. Either way the hobby loses potential members.
And this may be a bit liberal hippy-dippy, but I don’t think kids should have to pay to play role-playing games. Yes, they will have to buy the books/pdfs eventually. And yes, I am aware that fees are paid for games at cons and in gaming stores. But every hobby has a buy-in point. And in my experience you aren’t paying the GMs at cons and game store events, you are covering your share of space rental, prize support etc. What I am flat-out against is the idea of showing up at my FLGS and being told I can join a game but the GM is going to charge me $6/hour. Especially when the fee is couched in terms of teaching new players the game. What?! Christ on a rubber crutch, gamers should be falling over themselves to get another person into the hobby we all love, instead of cooking up selfish impediments.
The only way this hobby keeps going is if we stick to what has worked up to this point: every one of us acting as a Gaming Ambassador. Be friendly and open when people have questions; smile through the ignorance, ours and theirs; and be visible and audible in your passion for the hobby.  If we can manage to do that even a little bit, we can make this hobby flourish.
So Lord Snow, all due respect: I hope those 7th Graders turn your “kind” offer down flat. If they do, we may have a shot of gaining some new enthusiasts down the line.
Quoting The Untouchables: “Thus endeth the lesson.”  And hey, feel free to completely disagree with me.  I would be interested, from a Devil’s Advocate standpoint, to hear a counter-argument.

A Line in the Sand

As I write this, I have eaten my last bite of take-out food; my last crunchy nacho, my last corn chip, my last store-bought chocolatey confection. As Picard said: “The Line must be drawn here! This far, no further!” So today begins a shift in my eating and exercise habits.
Those of you that have read my blogs over the years are aware that I have had an on-again/off-again relationship with fitness. That’s fine. But going forward it is time to turn that relationship back on, and then break the switch. Letting my health slide is no longer acceptable; too many things I want to do, too many people that I plan to keep gaming with, and one in particular I wish to grow old with.  So enough talk of past failures in will…
…and on to the future. So what can a geek do to recede that advancing waistline? Here are a few things I’m trying:
  1. Tracking my food and exercise. The best way I’ve found to make sure I stay on track is to keep track of what I am eating, and how often I exercise. The key is to track both honestly. If you miss a workout or eat that Snickers bar you thought no one knew about (I saw what you did!), log that. That gap in your log or the extra calories at your end-of-day tally may be just what you need to push you. Plus, sometimes we have bad eating habits we don’t even think about, and they only become obvious when we see the pattern on the page. Currently I am using the website (thanks to my friend Devin, @Doctor_Teeth on Twitter) to track both my meals and my workouts. After some initial questions it is a very easy site to use, doing all the math for you; all you have to do is enter the info. I highly recommend.
  2. A combination of Weight and Interval Training. I have used weight training to great effect before, so I am planning to stay with it. Since I have a set of free weights here at home, it is sort of a no-brainer. Not only do I remove the excuse “I don’t have time to go to the gym” because my gym is right here, weight training also gives me a tangible way to increase my workout progress. After all, it doesn’t get much simpler than, “Last week I lifted x. This week I am lifting x+5lbs”. Interval training is essentially compressed cardio: after a warm-up period you do your cardio as hard as you can for a set but short period of time, usually 1-2 minutes. Then you drop to about half-effort for another period, or interval (get it, interval training? Eh? Eh?) equal to or shorter than the full effort interval. Repeat for about 15-20 minutes, then warm down. It is perfect for me, because if I’m not playing a game or sport of some kind, I can not stand extended cardio work. So it allows me to focus on maximum effort in a short period of time.
  3. Dropping the junk food. As a gamer this is probably the hardest step. After all, what is a game table without delicious, crunchy nachos, Hawkin’s Cheezies, or those delicious two-bite brownies that you can scarf down in one bite…sorry, had to wipe some drool off the keyboard. But it is probably the most necessary step; junk food, and the processed food industry in general, are bad on many levels (and I’ll have a blog post just about junk food at a later date). So to keep the crunch I like when I game, I am switching over to snap peas and carrots. For the sweet, a handful or two of raisins or an piece of fruit. I have been switched over to diet sodas for a while, so no calories there. But there are good reasons to get off even the diet stuff, so I’ll work on that as well. Story short, it is all about exchanging the bad habits for good ones. If it were done when ’tis done, ’twere best it were done quickly. (Thanks, Shakespeare!)
There you are, three general strategies for my fitness future. Future blog posts will talk about the tactics inside the strategies, and I’ll let you know how I am progressing. In the meantime, maybe this is the time to give your own geek health an overhaul. Why not come on the journey with me?  If you sign-up on, go ahead and friend me.
Here are some low-calorie and fat-free links that taste delicious:
–  Want a quick, ten-minute primer to show people on D&D and role-playing?  Show them Enter the Dragon, and let the learning begin!
– If you are a huge fan of Wendy and Richard Pini’s ElfQuest, here is the archive of everything.  Enjoy, and remember to walk away from your computer once in a while.
-Gamers have dice, often many dice.  Why not store those dice in an awesome dice bag?  Dragon Chow has you covered.  And they are Canadian, so there’s that. 🙂
– If you love anime/manga and you plan to be in Calgary this weekend, you need to spend some time at Otafest.  Strap on that tentacle and go find yourself a school girl!
– I recently discovered another wonderfully geeky blog, Hyde and Geek. Geek blogs, unite!

Until next time my geeklings!

Aurora Awards: Why Canadian SF&F Matters

Welcome back after my unplanned hiatus! I won’t bore with the details; instead I’ll sum it up with, “Funny old thing, life. Eh?” and then get on with the writing. Suffice to say I will be posting more regularly, at least until The Next Thing.
I received word a few weeks ago that I am on the ballot for the Aurora Awards, for my work starting and chairing The Pure Spec Festival (specifically the 2010 event). I couldn’t talk about it then because the official announcement wasn’t made until yesterday, and until then I was bound by the Geek Code of Conduct to keep it to myself. But the word was given yesterday, and so I am no longer bound in silence.
You may ask yourself, “What are the Aurora Awards?” For the long form answer, just follow the link above and it will take you to their page. Short answer, for those that can’t be bothered with all that linking, is that the Auroras are meant to honour the best in Canadian sci-fi and fantasy literature, media and fandom. You may wonder if Canada has enough going on in that regard that we actually need an award just for us. To partially answer that you can follow this link to the list of works eligible for nomination this year. To answer it further, Google (or Bing or whatever) “Canadian Sci-fi Convention” and you will get a sense of just how active the sci-fi and fantasy communities are in our Home and Native Land.
There is something equal parts special and hard to define regarding Canadian sci-fi. The component that I have most often noticed is a through-thread of hope. Canadian sci-fi and fantasy is hopeful. Hope for the future, hope in people, for the individual to do the right thing, to be their best. All Canadian sf&f has hope as an integral part of its structure. And while that isn’t necessarily lacking in sci-fi from other lands, it is sometimes in short supply.
That isn’t to say Canadian works can’t be dark, morbid, horrifying or bleak. Charles de Lint has written some wonderful books that are very dark in tone; yes, I’m looking at you Angel of Darkness. Guy Gavriel Kay’s work has had moments that made me weep with frustration and sadness; there is a point in the third Fionavar Tapestry book that I know will make me cry. But how could you have and appreciate hope if you didn’t have to fight through despair and darkness first?
So for me, what the Aurora Awards celebrate is hope. That Canadian sci-fi and fandom can make a mark, be seen/heard and make a difference. Personally, I think that is something worth celebrating and supporting. I hope you do, too. If so, please take a moment on the Aurora Awards site to vote before the October 15 deadline this year. And thank-you in advance, from all the nominees.
Usually I’d have a bunch of links for you, but today I’ll just include the list of 2011 Aurora Award Nominees. Do yourself a favour and check out their work; you won’t be sorry.
Professional Awards
Best English Novel
Black Bottle Man by Craig Russell, Great Plains Publications
Destiny’s Blood by Marie Bilodeau, Dragon Moon Press
Stealing Home by Hayden Trenholm, Bundoran Press
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay, Viking Canada
Watch, by Robert J. Sawyer, Penguin Canada
Best English Short Story
The Burden of Fire by Hayden Trenholm, Neo-Opsis #19
Destiny Lives in the Tattoo’s Needle by Suzanne Church, Tesseracts Fourteen, EDGE
The Envoy by Al Onia, Warrior Wisewoman 3, Norilana Books
Touch the Sky, They Say by Matt Moore, AE: The Canadian Science Fiction Review, November
Your Beating Heart by M. G. Gillett, Rigor Amortis, Absolute Xpress
Best English Poem / Song
The ABCs of the End of the World by Carolyn Clink, A Verdant Green, The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box
Let the Night In by Sandra Kasturi, Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead, EDGE
Of the Corn: Kore’s Innocence by Colleen Anderson, Witches & Pagans #21
The Transformed Man by Robert J. Sawyer, Tesseracts Fourteen, EDGE
Waiting for the Harrowing by Helen Marshall, ChiZine 45
Best English Graphic Novel
Goblins, Tarol Hunt,
Looking For Group, Vol. 3 by Ryan Sohmer and Lar DeSouza
Stargazer, Volume 1 by Von Allan, Von Allan Studio
Tomboy Tara, Emily Ragozzino,
Best English Related Work
Chimerascope, Douglas Smith (collection), ChiZine Publications
The Dragon and the Stars, edited by Derwin Mak and Eric Choi, DAW
Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undead, edited by Nancy Kilpatrick, EDGE
On Spec, edited by Diane Walton, Copper Pig Writers Society
Tesseracts Fourteen, edited by John Robert Colombo and Brett Alexander Savory, EDGE
Best Artist (Professional and Amateur)
(An example of each artist’s work is listed below but they are to be judged on the body of work they have produced in the award year)
Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk, “Brekky” cover art, On Spec Fall
Erik Mohr, cover art for ChiZine Publications
Christina Molendyk, Girls of Geekdom Calendar for Argent Dawn Photography
Dan O’Driscoll, cover art for Stealing Home
Aaron Paquette, “A New Season” cover art, On Spec Spring
Fan/ Amateur Awards
Best Fan Publications
No award will be given out in this category due insufficient eligible nominees
Best Fan Filk
Dave Clement and Tom Jeffers of Dandelion Wine for “Face on Mars” CD
Karen Linsley; concert as SFContario Guest of Honour
Phil Mills, for “Time Traveller” (song writing)
Best Fan Organizational
Andrew Gurudata, organizing the Constellation Awards
Brent M. Jans, chair of Pure Speculation (Edmonton)
Liana Kerzner, chair of Futurecon (Toronto)
Helen Marshall and Sandra Kasturi, chairs of Toronto SpecFic Colloquium (Toronto)
Alex Von Thorn, chair of SFContario (Toronto)
Best Fan Other
Tom Jeffers, Fundraising, FilKONtario
John and Linda Ross Mansfield, Conception of the Aurora Nominee pins
Lloyd Penney, Articles, columns and letters of comment – fanzines