The Games Room: Making It Right!

If there is a second great love in my life behind gaming, it is home improvement.  I love HGTV (though if you are listening, producers, less shows about buying property, more actual renovation shows!) and I will watch DIY Disaster, Holmes on Homes, Holmes Inspection, Sarah’s House et al for hours.  And thanks to a varied work history coupled with a solid grounding in theatrical carpentry, I actual have many of the necessary skills to put what I see on the television to use.

Which brings me to the games room.  One-third of the roomies in my house moved out back in November (we miss you Stan!), leaving my roommate Kyle and I with a spare room.  Neither of us has felt the impetus to leave out current bedrooms, and unless/until we decide to regain a third roommate the room is free to use as a games room.  Since both Kyle and I like The Gaming and we both have people over to do so on occasion, turning the room into a games room seemed like a no-brainer.  We’ve already made some temporary steps in that direction, adding in a folding table and chairs and a large shelf to hold all our board games.  But I am starting to think about what more I want to do with the room, to make it the perfect Gamer Cave (Note: I do not want to make it a real cave).

Here are the conditions I must work under:

  1. We rent, so any changes I make to the room have to either be approved by the landlord, or be easily removed so we can restore the room to its original state.
  2. All changes must be subject to roommate approval; it’s Kyle’s game room too.
  3. I’m on a budget due to current unemployment, so the crystal wall sconces and teak table are right out.  I want it to look cool, but it can’t cost an arm and a leg. (That’s where the theatrical carpentry and set design training come in)

The room itself is 11’x10’6″, with a large closet and a 1/2 bath (toilet/sink) ensuite.  It has a slightly tall ceiling (8’6″), and original wood flooring.  In an ideal world, I would like the room to allow for the following:

  • gaming, of course, both board and role-playing, and possibly table-top miniatures
  • space for painting miniatures, creating scenery and other game-related crafts.
  • storage for not only our board games, but our RPG products as well.
  • storage of gaming snacks inc. cold beverages and a place to make coffee.

While the room is nominally the “games” room, in that we have a flat surface in the room that we play games on, there is nothing to differentiate it from any other mostly empty room with a table and chairs.  Also, as it stands right now the room is quite echo-y due to the unadorned walls and hard-wood floor.  This can make it difficult to be heard in the space, which is a problem during most games we would play.

Okay, all of that brings us up to date.  So what do I plan to do from here?  My initial ideas in the short term are to finish removing the last of the old roommate’s stuff so we have maximum space in the room.  I’d like to start addressing the echo problem by putting down an area rug, which will also protect the hardwood floor from further chair abuse.  And I need to expand the table space (currently 2.5’x6′) to better accommodate both board games and RPGs.  This last I’ll do by buying a second folding table of the same size, which will allow me a 5’x6′ playing area.  That is the temporary fix, as I also want to either find/buy/build a more permanent gaming table.  But that will keep until I make more important changes to the room.

Okay, gentle readers, that is where I am at with the games room.  I’ll keep you posted with the changes, and provide pictures when anything of note happens.  In the meantime, if you have any suggestions, tips, or tricks please pass them along in the Comments below.


Geek Nuggets for July 28

I don’t really have a nice, cohesive post for today.  So instead, I’m popping back in here throughout the day to add ideas, observations and amusing anecdotes as they occur to me.  Some might call that lazy blogging…and yeah, they’re probably right.  But feel free to throw your own geeky observations and snippets in the comments below.  Or ask me a question, yeah that’s perfect, then I don’t have to look for things to write about on my own!  Definitely that question thing.  Okay, here goes…

*9:29am – Watched the final two episodes of Fanboy Confessional (I talk about it in a previous post), on furries and LARPing respectively.

The Furry episode: I will admit that my view of furries was tainted by that biased CSI episode of yesteryear.  So I’m really happy to get a more honest look at that aspect of fandom.  Still no interest in it, but I am also no longer afraid of being forcibly yiffed at a con.

The LARPing episode:  I’m familiar with LARPing; I used to participate in vampire LARPs, and tried to get involved with the local Alliance LARP, but schedule and time conspired against me.  Loved the episode overall, and again, they did a great job of giving us equal parts newb and veteran experience, as well as behind-the-scenes peeks.  One thing with which I will take umbrage: At the very beginning of the episode the narrator says, “…role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and Bloodbowl…”

What!? *adjusts retainer* *pushes up nerd glasses* \begin nerd rant\ Bloodbowl is not an RPG, sir!  It is a table-top miniatures game.  And while it has elements similar to an RPG, such as character advancement, no REAL role-player would ever consider it a role-playing game! \end nerd rant\ (Note: you need to imagine the retainer lisp for the full effect.)

But with the exception of that little bobble (Bloodbowl an RPG, please!) I have really enjoyed Fanboy Confessional.  I hope they get green-lit for more episodes, because there is a lot more fandom for them to cover!

*11:32am – Can I just say how much I am enjoying Master of Devils, by Dave Gross?  Good, ‘cuz I’m gonna because I am!  Having officially received the first copy in Canada (the author said it so it is true. Science!) for my birthday, I began reading it the next day after I recovered from said birthday.  I am ten chapters in and loving it!  I will post a longer review when I finish, but if you have the chance go buy a copy right now!

It is also a much different reading experience for me when I know the author personally.  Sometimes that can be a bad thing.  But in this case, having known Dave for even the short period that we’ve been hanging out, I find it has enhanced my enjoyment of the book a great deal.  I’ll talk more about that in the extended review as well.

*12:36pm – A funny thing just happened on my walk to Starbucks.  And I mean funny in a “wow people are ignorant” kind of way…

As I’m making my way to my local coffeetorium, I happen to pass an otherwise attractive young woman on the sidewalk, who was just lighting up a cigarette.  I must have allowed some form of disapproval to show on my face (though I’m fairly certain I didn’t), because she felt compelled to defend herself with a witty, “What are you looking at, fatstuff?”.

Normally I would walk on by, because I’m not twelve, I don’t have anything to prove and there was nothing to win by engaging.  But something in me decided today was a Training Day for the ignoratti, because engage I did.  I stopped, smiled, and in a friendly conversational tone replied, “Right now I’m looking at someone who is probably 20 years younger than me who will be dead 20 years sooner than me from lung disease.  And FYI, I used to weigh close to 600 lbs, now I weigh a little over 300lbs.  And I am working to lose the last 100, sometimes failing but succeeding more often every day.  So when you go home tonight and are wheezing because you walked up a flight of stairs to your cigarette-stained apartment, maybe you should ask yourself what you are doing to lose your ignorance.”  And then I turned and walked into Starbucks.

And that girl ended up being the barrista that made my drink.  But my soul felt clean as I drank what I’m fairly certain was a skinny latte with “extra foam”…

*2:21pm – I’ve been catching up on the most recent seasons of Burn Notice, and I have to say I am still loving the show.  It is pretty formulaic, but the writing is clever and the characters are enjoyable, especially the weekly guest stars.  The one stand-out for me is Bruce Campbell’s character Sam Axe.  It has been a treat to watch him play the same character for 4-1/2 seasons, watch him develop and grow the part.  And I’ll admit it, I have a bit of a man-crush on Bruce Campbell.  Heck, Sam Axe is part of the reason I’m leaning towards acquiring some Hawaiian shirts…

*5:34pm – I may be in the minority, but I think it was a mistake to end Stargate Atlantis in favour of Stargate Universe.  I only watched a handful of episodes, but my impression of SGU was that someone really missed Lost and Battlestar Galactica, so they combined it with the SG universe to create a Frankenshow.  In the process, they cut off what was a really great series with excellent characters and stories.  Which was stupid; there was no reason it had to be one show or another.  Given that SGU only made it two seasons, hemorrhaging viewers the entire time, I think SGA could have been left in place.  After all, it worked between SG1 and SGA, right?  That’s my Stargate rant…

*6:28pm – Okay, I think this is the last nugget today.  Are you ready for another funny/scary movie set in England?  Me too! I therefore present to you, Attack the Block.  I can’t wait!

This was fun, I’ll have to try it again some time.  Back to regular blogging tomorrow.

Happy Birthday, Gary! And thanks!

This is still going to be a link-filled post today, but I need to take a moment to acknowledge someone very special.

Today is Gary Gygax’s birthday.  And I can say without hyperbole that his invention of the game Dungeons & Dragons (along with Dave Arneson), changed my life forever.  If I allowed myself, I could certainly ramble out a long post about everything that D&D has ever meant to me.  But I will instead keep to just the first three things that come to mind when I think of D&D and Gary Gygax:

– Okay, very first thing?  One of my biggest regrets in life is not meeting the man before he died, so that I could thank him in person.  By all accounts he was a warm and friendly man, who insisted he was just another gamer and that people should call him Gary, never Mr. Gygax.  Forget any of those other “important” historical figures; Gary Gygax is who I’d build the time-machine to meet.

– Junior high-school in particular was a rough time for me, for various reasons outside my adolescent self’s control.  Dungeons & Dragons is directly responsible for getting me through that time.  Not just the game itself, but the reminder when I sat down at the gaming table that there were people who wanted to be around me, of their own free will.  Those hours around the gaming table carried me through the weeks and months of an other-wise dark time.  And how do you thank a man for creating something that helped you survive?

– With the exception of moments spent in private with members of the opposite sex (and sometimes not even then; you know who you are, ladies) most of my hands-down moments of shear enjoyment have been found around a gaming table.  And while I haven’t always been playing D&D (it’s been 32 years, I needed a little variation), I can never forget that was the game that got me started.  Without it I’m not sure I would have developed the passion I did for the hobby, or even noticed the hobby at all.  Possible, but not probable without D&D’s timely appearance.

So in honour of Gary’s birthday, here are some Gygax and D&D related links for you to enjoy.  And if you feel like playing the original game some time, let me know in the comments; I still have the books.

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– If you are a D&D collector like myself, or if you just wanted to learn a bit about the early days of the RPG hobby, The Acaeum is a very helpful site.  And trolls are surprisingly rare in their forums, which was refreshing for someone relatively new to collecting, like myself.

– Gary was a huge poster on EN World, even up to two weeks before his passing.  A gentleman by the name of Paul Hughes was asked by the Gygax Memorial Fund to compile a book of Gary’s forum entries, and it will be available at Gen Con this year.  I’m really hoping it will be available after, as well. Update: It will be, on the Gygax Memorial Fund site after Gen Con.

The Gygax Memorial Fund works to keep the memory of Gary Gygax alive in the world.  They have been granted land by the city of Milwaukee to build a Gygax monument, which is currently in the design stages.

– I posted this last week, but here it is again: Frank Mentzer talks about the beginning of D&D, RPGs and his friend Gary Gygax.

– My love of dice has gone pretty much hand-in-hand with my love of gaming, so this blog by a dice designer really tickles me.

That’s all for now, folks!  Why not leave me a comment, talk about how you got into gaming, your first game, your favourite game, whatever.  I’d love to hear from you.

Brent Jans took the Hardest Gary Gygax Quiz in the World and got 80%!

You are a Gary Gygax Superhero. If aliens ever invade Earth and challkenge us to a Gary Gygax trivia contest, you will be our champion.

Paladin Code: You completed this quiz without using Google.

The Best Little Dicebag I’ve Ever Owned

I’ll admit, I was just a little stumped about what to write today.  Oh, I have things for tomorrow and Thursday, no problem.  But today I was struggling.

And then it arrived.  The package I have been waiting for since I placed my order ten days ago.  The parcel that had me staring out the window everyday as the postman dropped off the mail, my shoulders slumping in disappointment when no package materialized.

Today my Dragonchow dice-bags arrived!

Now, you may say to yourself, what’s the big deal?  A dice-bag is a dice-bag, right?  Oh my friend, how much you have to learn.

Let’s look at design first.  Unlike the traditional dice-bag which is basically a draw-stringed envelope of fabric, the Dragonchow dice-bag has a flat bottom and four sides.  This keeps the opening upright, thus keeping your dice from spilling all over the table.  This design also makes the bag extremely spacious for it’s size.  Both it and my old dice-bag are the same height, slightly over 4″.  But my old envelope-style bag could hold two sets of dice, three if I crammed them in.  I just dumped all the sets I use for playing/GMing into my new bag; this includes three full sets of dice, an extra four d20s, about ten assorted other dice, and a “brick” of 36 d6s (in case of an emergency Shadowrun/Star Wars game).  And it is only half full.  Two obvious conclusions: I need more dice, and this bag is gold-pressed awesome!

Other great design points?  Each bag is fully reversable, so if you want to change things up for another character you can do it with ease.  The drawstring has a locking toggle, so when you pull the string tight and slide the toggle in place your dice remain locked up tight!  And if you get one of the super-awesome tall bags with a pencil strap, you have a built-in location to hang your pens and pencils.

With all of that, if these were just plain black bags they would be swell enough.  But along with this wonderful design, Dragonchow offers a wide range of fabric patterns (56 in the standard bag, 21 in the Pencil Strap bags currently), enough to suit every walk of gamer.  And should you stroll through the site and not find something to suit your fancy, you have the option of ordering…a custom dice-bag!  How can you possibly go wrong? (Hint: you can’t)

And if all that were not enough, Dragonchow’s owner/proprietor Lyndsay is an absolute delight!  My package arrived with a “Finally, they’re here!” scribbled on the envelope flap.  Inside I found a little thank-you card hand-written by The Lyndsay herself.  And as an added bonus, each of my bags came with a complimentary d20 (which I of course rolled right away. I got a 14, 5, 17 and 8.)  And if you are lucky enough to follow her on Twitter, you will know she has a wicked sense of humour.

I cannot recommend these bags highly enough.  If you aren’t lucky enough to track Dragonchow down at a con, then don’t hesitate to slide over to their site and order a bag or three.  Your dice will thank you for it!

Short and Sweet: Captain America Review

I’ll post a longer spoiler-rich review later, but in the meantime have a Captain America horsd’oeuvre.

Saturday I went to a matinee screening of Captain America: The First Avenger.  I had high hopes for the film based on the trailers I watched going in.  Those trailers told me I would enjoy an action-packed super-hero ride, and for the most part those trailers were correct.  And as it turned out, I even dug the parts in which those trailers were incorrect.

First visual impression: Wow!  I have to admit to being a sucker for the look and style of the 1940’s wartime era, and this film did a super-swell job of capturing that for me.  Nothing seemed out of place; even the obvious “future science” moments maintained the style of the time while looking suitably futuristic.

I also think the movie did a great job of capturing Steve Rogers’ strength of character, pre- and post-procedure.  Beyond the physical abilities he gains, that character has always stood out as the most important part of Captain America for me.  Actor Chris Evans did not disappoint me on that score, giving me the Captain America I’ve come to know and love.

Other actors turned in great performances as well.  Hugo Weaving was fantastically nasty as Red Skull, providing a great, if somewhat stereo-typically obvious foil to Captain America.  Hayley Atwell plays Peggy Carter with equal parts bad-assness and grace.  And both Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones turn in memorable supporting roles as Dr. Abraham Erskine and Colonel Chester Phillips, respectively.

All in all, I loved this movie.  I cared about the characters, there was tons of the hard-fisted, bullets-flying action I came to see and I went away really excited to see more.  If there was one sour note for me, it was that last.  I do want to see more Captain America, but I would like to see more of him in his own era.  Other may disagree, but I think Marvel missed an opportunity to slip in 2 or 3 WWII Captain America films before syncing up with The Avengers.

That’s it for my short and sweet look at Captain America. Tune in next week for a more in-depth (and spoiler-filled) look at the film.

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While I have you, I just wanted to talk a  bit about 2D versus 3D.  I specifically sought out a screening in 2D, for a number of reasons.  A very important reason was that a few of the friends watching with me cannot watch a 3D film; they fall in with the roughly 10% of people for whom 3D is nauseating and headache inducing.  Also, I’m on sort of a budget these days, so paying out the extra money for a 3D screening made no sense (although, since it was my birthday I ended up not paying for my ticket anyway; thanks Sheelagh! But the point in general stands.)

But the main reason?  3D does nothing for me.  Too often these days it is used in a film simply because that is what you do now.  And I will admit to being suitably impressed by it on a number of occasions when it was used with purpose.  But too many times it is an afterthought to the filming process, or thrown in at moments when it is just jarring.  Instead of feeling like I’m part of the action, I end up noticing all the 3D seams in the film and that serves to pull me out of something I’m trying to enjoy.  And then there are the times that it just mechanically doesn’t work; something is wrong with projection so the 3D is fuzzy or dark. And now I’ve payed extra to “enjoy” something that is partially or wholly unwatchable.

So this is my plea to the film industry, which I expect to go largely unheeded: Stop filming in 3D.  It is no less a gimmick than it was in the 1950s, and most of you are not using it right anyway.  To show you how serious I am,  I make this promise right now: I will not see another film in 3D.  Ever again.  And I invite all my film-loving friends to join me in this boycott.  The only way 3D will go away is if it hits Hollywood in the pocket book.  If enough people shun 3D (and I think it is starting to happen) this fad can go away again.

What do you think?  Did you see the Cap in action?  What do you think about 2D vs. 3D?

The Anniversary of my Birth

That’s right, it’s my birthday.  So instead of slaving over a hot keyboard (I should really get that fixed) to write a new post, I’m taking the lazy birthday way out.  Below, please find a Classic Post from about, oh, three blogs ago.  You’ll gain a little insight in to how I turned out to be the man I am today, may the Tao have mercy on us all! Enjoy, and we’ll see you Monday!

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October, 1980. A Monday. I remember it as Monday, because at the tender age of ten I found it odd that anyone did anything on a Monday night. It’s late fall in Fort McMurray, which means there is already a foot of snow on the ground and I have started wearing the parka that will be my coat de jour for the next seven months. I am trudging my way to the library, unaware of how much my life is about to be irrevocably altered.

That snowy Monday night in October was my first exposure to a little game called Dungeons and Dragons.

As many life-changing moments do, this one began innocently enough. I was with my mom at the library, picking up my “weekly” supply of books. My mother, for draconian reasons of her own, restricted me to weekly trips to the library. This was for my own good; left to my own devices I would do nothing in my free time but read. The maximum number of books I could sign out from the library as a juvenile was eight, which taught me two things at an early age: sometimes rules are just dumb, and delayed gratification is not all it is cracked up to be.

So during my weekly tirade against the injustices of public library management, I notice my mother is no longer paying attention to me. Curious as to what could possibly be more important than her eldest child, I look over at the bulletin board she is perusing. While she stands enthralled with some “For Sale” ad or other, a posting catches my eye. It’s the artwork that grabs me, and I recognize it as the cover for a copy of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, which I had finished re-reading just last week. Then I start reading the poster. Role-playing game? Wizards and warriors? Storytelling? I have no idea any of that is, but it has the King Arthur stamp of approval. It looks like it could be fun. Plus whatever it is is being run here at the library, by one of the librarians. My mom will let me go, because it is bound to be educational (everything that happens in a library is, by my mom’s reckoning, educational). And it gets me amongst my beloved books one more time during the week; even if it sucks I can just go read.

Having hatched my diabolical plan for bibliophile domination, I swiftly put it into action. I oh-so-casually pointed out the notice, and allowed that, as much as it would be a terrible imposition on my time, attending the event might provide some slight diversion. My mother read the notice over, then checked with the librarian to make sure that a ten year old was welcome at the event. Blast! That might be the sticking point, the flaw in my cunningly crafted plan. For reasons beyond my understanding, there were some things that I was not allowed to do because I just hadn’t put in enough time. As far as I was concerned this was just an example of the adult-parental complex trying to keep me from fun.

But fate, often so cruel in a young boy’s life, smiled upon me this day. The librarian explained that kids my age were not only allowed but encouraged to take part. I was so elated by my unwitting accomplice’s aid, I ignored the kid part. Despite my mother’s standard “We’ll see”, I knew I had succeeded. Sweet library action would be mine!

Back to me trudging through the snow towards the library, keen anticipation of a few illicit hours with my books (yes, mine!) driving me onward. I had already dismissed the event itself as nothing of import, and was planning the best use of my time once inside the library. There were a few books in the children’s section I wanted to read first, then on to the sci-fi juveniles. Once I was finished there, I could…All too soon, I was passing through the doors, and into the warm embrace of my “second” home.

Removing the shell of clothing that protected me from Fort McMurray’s Hoth-like environment (yes, I had seen The Empire Strikes Back that summer, which led to several winters of imagining Fort Mac as a rebel outpost on Hoth. Despite a disappointing lack of tauntauns and snow speeders, the similarities were downright eerie.), I used the moments usually wasted by this chore to survey the terrain. Yes, yes, this would be doable, I can even see some books that weren’t there the last time I was here. But first I guess I should at least put in an appearance at this thing. That way, under later interrogation by my mother, I wouldn’t have to lie. Not completely, anyway.

I made my way to the activity room, ignoring the siren call of the stacks (soon, my pretties, soon). Running this thing in the activity room was already strike one. Every kid knew that nothing fun happened in there; it was the domain of “educational films” and “reading camps”. My mother enrolled me in one of that last, just once. I had an immediate and violent allergic reaction to anyone forcing me to read something I didn’t want to, which spread quickly to the other kids. It was suggested to my mother that “reading camps might not stimulate Brent’s imagination”, and my time as a biblio-Spartacus was at an end.

But as I entered the room some of that old familiar dread went away. No film projector for one thing, so that was a good sign. Steve, the librarian that was obviously in charge of things tonight, saw me at the door and directed me to grab a seat at the table. There were about a half-dozen other kids, sharing books and scribbling things down on various sheets of paper. Paper? Pencils? Wait a minute, I’ve been tricked! Where’s the board, the little plastic pieces? This isn’t a game at all, it’s some sort of…it’s homework! Well, to hell with you, Librarian Steve, I’m not going to sit here and do homework like a chump. I began slowly sliding out of my chair, one eye on Steve the Betrayer lest he catch me making a break for the library proper.

Hey, Brent! I didn’t know you were into D&D too.” My current best friend from school, Kevin, grabbed the seat next to me. Kevin and I did pretty much everything together, including a few things that we instinctively knew our mothers never needed to know. I mean, it isn’t dangerous to jump your bike over an old sewer culvert, it’s only dangerous if you fail. Mothers just don’t understand that.

What’s D&D?” I asked him by way of hello.

Dungeons and Dragons? You know, the game we’re here to play?” Right, I had forgotten about the so-called game in the flush of my fight-flight response. Hmmm…well, I’d never known Kevin to particularly like homework, maybe there was something here I was missing. So I let him take me through some arcane ritual called “character creation”, and endured the flood of mystical mumbo-jumbo he began spouting. Hit points, armour class, THAC0 (“Which some of the kids call THAC-zero, but that’s so lame”), alignment…as Kevin helped me make scribbles on a sheet of paper, I tried valiantly to assimilate this barrage of new terms and strange usages. Great Obi-wan’s Ghost, what kind of game took this kind of preparation? I mean I trusted Kevin, but this had better pay off or I would seriously consider changing the password on our tree fort. Maybe some time trapped outside while the Empire was attacking would set him straight.

Once we finished that process it was time to play the game, and one thing became clear almost immediately: I wouldn’t be changing that password.

Steve starting spinning his intricately woven tapestry of adventure (which I’m sure was something as simple as, “You guys are in a town on the border of a kingdom, and nearby there is a dungeon that needs to be cleared of monsters. Do you go?”) and we were off! I was brave Sir Arthur (the king had to start somewhere, right?), a newly-dubbed knight valiantly defending the world from evil (the fact that we were defending the world from evil by going to evil’s home, kicking in their door and taking their stuff wasn’t a conundrum I would consider until much later). At that moment we were the Good Guys of Much Goodliness, and if defending the world from Most Vile Evilness meant pulling off a series of armed B&Es, then by all the Gods Great and Small that is what we would do. Huzzah!

That was at 7:15pm. By 7:25 Sir Arthur was dead, victim of foul kobolds and their insidious net trap. I was despondent! What had I done wrong? Now my character was dead, and I probably had to leave or something. So overwhelming was my grief and despair, I never even considered going into the library to read. How could mere stories, simple words on a page, compare to this? Any schmuck could read a book. I was living it! Except that I wasn’t anymore, my avatar having met a horrible and ignoble end.

Luckily for me, the game and Kevin seemed to have a solution. “Here,” he said, handing me the book. “Just roll up another character. Steve will fit you in when you finish.” Could it be that easy? I flashed through the five stages of grief for poor, fallen Sir Arthur in the time it took me to create Anathriel, Elf Warrior/Mage and Defender of the Woodland Vales, and I was back in the game! Elves were cool; they could fight and had magic. That was obviously the flaw in my poor, pathetic knight. After all, if the game uses magic, I should too, right? Anathriel was the obvious solution, a character to last the ages! And the ages ended at about 7:43.

The rest of that night passed in a haze of brave adventure, hurried eulogizing, and even more hurried character creation. I left only reluctantly, and then only because Steve turned out the lights (it was an embarrassment to me that, as much as I loved the place, I couldn’t stand to be in a darkened library. Creepy? Don’t get me started). I recounted my courageous exploits to my parents while getting ready for bed. Though they hid it well behind the same veneer of tolerant boredom they used when I described every story I read, I could tell that they were suitably impressed by my exploits.

Impressed enough for my mother to allow me to go back, week after week, month after month. The numbers of kids grew, until we were storming the caverns of The Keep on the Borderlands with a veritable army of adventurers, sometimes twenty strong. We were not so much a “merry band” of adventurers, more a merry, angry mob. Looking back, I’m surprised that monsters didn’t just run when they heard us coming. But eventually we cleared out that dungeon and Steve directed us to other locales in our shared world. It seemed there was an epidemic of small, out-of-the-way towns and villages suffering from dungeon infestation, just waiting for our mob to come along and clear them out.

This pattern continued as I mastered the nuances of the game. Steve was our Dungeon Master until there were just too many of us to easily handle at one table. Then he deputized some of the more experienced players, and we had several groups of stalwart heroes bravely committing home-invasions and robbing tombs all across the world (which I later discovered was called “Greyhawk”. Gawd, even the name of the world was cool!). Steve ran our club until about the time I entered junior high school, and then moved away. By that time I was playing with my friends at home, and sometimes at school where one of the teachers turned out to be a Dungeon Master as well. And then I discovered Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, and that sealed my fate as a geek and ensured I would not feel the touch of a woman until Grade 10. Luckily, it meant I wouldn’t really care about the touch of a woman until then, either.

Looking back on it, I can’t imagine what my life would be like now if I had not discovered Dungeons and Dragons. It was such a seminal event in my life, giving rise to so many of the other decisions and interests that filled my adolescence, that I cannot picture the person I would have become without it. I know that, for anyone not hooked into the role-playing game experience, it might seem like I’m overstating the game’s importance. But when I say this game changed my life, it isn’t hyperbole, just simple fact.

Consider my reading habits. I was a voracious reader, it’s true. But I was very prejudiced about what I wanted to read, and the thought of reading just to learn or that learning could be enjoyable was anathema to me. But Dungeons and Dragons changed that; suddenly, there were things I wanted to know more about, even if just to know more about something than one of my peers. That led to me reading books on subjects I would normally have never touched. Over the years that range of reading has grown to include, but is not limited to: history (various periods covering approx. 6000 years of human existence), mythology (slanted towards Western myths, but with a smattering of everyone else), comparative anthropology, linguistic history, music theory and history, history of warfare (various periods, including methods, materials, and tactics), political science, psychology, sociology, macro- and micro-economics, forensics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, logic, game theory, grammar, survey of literature (several periods, several cultures), philosophy, comparative theology, biology, animal behaviour, wilderness survival, agriculture, history of cooking, painting, art history, leather-working, woodworking…the list isn’t exhaustive, but you get the point. I studied everything on this list because of D&D and the other role-playing games that followed. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert on any of these subjects. But barring an individual who has specialized in one of them, I probably know more about them than a high school grad with three years of college could honestly be expected to know.

And then there are the less tangible things that D&D taught me, like developing imagination, storytelling skills, socialization (a thing not usually associated with D&D, but true nonetheless), problem solving, active listening, acting/speaking skills. Of course there are other ways to gain these skills, but what one activity will grant you experience in all of them at once? Add to that the number of people I’ve had the privilege and the misfortune (add diplomacy to the list) to meet through the game over the years, and the gains column starts to look very full indeed.

And if all of that isn’t enough, then suffice it to say that I have derived more simple joy playing this game over the last 27 years (now 32 years) than I have in a great many other activities so far. Not bad for a chance meeting in a library check-out line, eh?

Now, why don’t you snag that rulebook, and we’ll see about rolling you up a character. See, the nearby town of Ashenford is suffering from an infestation of kobolds, and they need a brave adventurer or three to come clean them out…

Fanboy Confessional

I’ll be honest, when I first saw Fanboy Confessional commercials pop up on Space, I rolled my eyes.  It looked like yet another show lampooning the more extreme members of our fandom.  But however badly conceived and executed, shows about geeks don’t come around very often.  So I locked it in to the PVR, and expected the worst.

I will admit without reservation that I was wrong.

Having watched four episodes so far (Space airs two half-hour episodes back-to-back) I admit to being truly impressed, both with the respect given to the topics and the obvious enthusiasm towards the subject material.  Narrated by Aaron Ashmore (yes, Jimmy Olsen from Smallville) and directed by Michael McNamara (no stranger to documentaries; you may have heard of 100 Films and a Funeral), each episode focuses on one genre in the greater fan continuum.  In the four episodes I have watched so far, the show has examined cosplay (focused mostly on anime/manga cosplay, but touching on other kinds as well), steampunk, horror fandom and super-heroes/real-life super-heroes.

Each episode follows two or three people or groups, as they go about their geeky lives enjoying whichever fandom is the topic for that episode.  In the case of the cosplay episode, for instance, we are introduced to a group of four friends who are relatively new to anime cosplay as they plan and prepare to attend Anime North; at the same time we meet a few more experienced cosplayers, as well as staff from Anime North responsible for the cosplay contest at the con.  That, in fact, is one of the things that has kept the episodes interesting for me, that range of experience inside each of the genres.  As someone who has been inside fandom for a while, it is good to be reminded that there are always new fans coming up behind you, as well as elder fans cutting the path ahead of you.

But what I love the most about the show is the thing I was wrong about.  None of the episodes I have watched have lampooned or derided anyone.  Obviously it would be very, very easy to grab some footage of “that guy/gal” (and every aspect of fandom has one) and use that to represent all the rest of us. Instead, each episode gives us a broader spectrum of fans, presenting a much more complete picture of the people rocking that genre.  More than that, each episode is skillfully shot to show all the enthusiasm of the fans without making them look like, well, nuts.  And I’m not saying fans are nuts (we are, but I’m not saying that) but you and I know how easy it is for us to appear nuts when shown out of context.  Fanboy Confessional keeps the context clear, and so the fan joy shines through.

I was most surprised by was the Real Life Super Hero episode.  I had heard, of course, about extreme comic book nerds taking to the streets in costume and extracting vigilante justice.  You know, the idiots that at best make comic book nerds look bad, and at worst get themselves/others hurt, or get arrested because they are breaking the law.  Here is a tip, and I know this will come as a shock: you don’t get to break the law just because you are wearing a costume. Sorry.

But the FC episode didn’t talk about those guys, except for one person who mentioned them in order to distance their group from them.  Instead, we were shown a group called “The Skiffytown League of Heroes”, a group of real-life super heroes that perform public services in cities and towns all across the States.  Then the episode focuses in on two members: DC’s Guardian (the city, not the comic company) and Thanatos (A Vancouver-based RLSH ).

Both of these gentlemen work in public, in costume, trying to spread a very positive message.  DC’s Guardian spends his time talking to people about citizenship, making sure people are involved in their government, that they’re voting and generally working to get people involved in their country in a positive way.  Thanatos is equally public-spirited, volunteering his time in one of the poorest, crime-ridden areas of Vancouver.  But instead of doling out vigilante justice, he brings water and energy bars to prostitutes and street people on hot days, and comes back in the evening to bring care-packages to the homeless.  Both of these gentlemen are just open and earnest about connecting with and helping people.  Not only was I impressed with the episode itself, I was blown away by these two heroes and thrilled to know that people like this exist.

If you are a geek I cannot recommend Fanboy Confessional enough.  It is a funny, engaging and reverent look at our collective fandom, and it is well worth your time and mine.  You can catch it Wednesdays on Space, 8pm and 8:30pm (MST).  Or if you can’t wait until next Wednesday you can get a little taste on the Space website.

My name is Brent, and I am a Fanboy.