Podcast Season!

cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgHere in Canada we gamers are deep in the bowels of winter, which means long hours of cold and darkness. Perfect for gaming, yes. But sometimes even we hardy Canadian nerds don’t want to leave the comfort of our nice, warm homes. And when those days come, I turn to one of my favourite pastimes, podcast listening.

It wasn’t always so, but these days there are a metric buttload (approx. 1.3 times as big as the imperial buttload) of podcasts to choose from. No matter the game, you can usually find a podcast to suit your needs. Or if you’re like me, you can listen to a plethora of general gaming podcasts to get a broader look at the gaming world out there. Quality will vary, obviously, and you may have to hunt to find ones you can stand to listen to for extended periods. But the vast majority, though produced on a shoe-string, are produced well. And sound quality has certainly picked up since the early days.

If you aren’t a podcast aficionado, or even if you are but are looking for new podcasts to put in your earholes, here are some of my favourites to help you out.

Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff – As much a podcast for writers as it is for gamers (enough so, that I included it in an article I wrote on Podcasts for Writers), Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff features Robin D. Laws and Kenneth Hite. Amidst a fairly healthy amount of self-promotion (which I like, because these guys work on some of the coolest stuff) each episode features GM advice, story building ideas, book suggestions, and always interesting discussions of a variety of topics ranging from Cthulhian conspiracies to early 20th Century spycraft. Any single episode can inspire any number of campaign ideas, and binge listening can produce a “centipede’s dilemma” effect on your adventure writing. But I never miss a new episode, and I am slowly working my way through the back catalog. A must listen for GMs.

Fear the Boot – One of the first podcasts I listened to, I’ve stuck with it because the format is just so damned entertaining. Each episode is essentially a round table discussion of some topic relating to the table-top hobby. Sometimes it’s a discussion of a particular game, or a look at GMing and play styles, or a lively discussion of gaming culture. Whatever the topic, it very much feels like you’re eavesdropping on a bunch of gaming nerd friends as they shoot the breeze in someone’s basement. Which, for the most part, it is. It’s every intense discussion you’ve ever had about gaming, if someone recorded and edited it.

Shut Up and Sit Down! – If board games are more your thing, Shut Up and Sit Down! is definitely the first podcast you should be listening to. Great reviews, great play tips, tricks, and strategies, matched with a completely irreverent style. Like Fear the Boot, it’s very much like you were listening to your friends talk about board games. If your friends are English, super-excited, and just a bit (lot) silly, that is. If you prefer video over audio, they also have a host of game play videos for your delight and edification. Definitely worth a watch/listen if, like me, you want to expand your board gaming horizons.

Game Master’s Journey – If you’re a GM looking for advice and inspiration on a wide variety of gaming systems, look no further. Of all the podcasts I listen to, this one touches on the broadest range of games. Which I appreciate, even if I know I’ll likely never get to GM them; I can still pull great ideas from other systems. I’m not always a fan of game play podcasts, but even the ones on here are entertaining, and easy to listen to in the background as I work on other things. If you don’t like them, though, no worries. Just jump around and download the episodes you want. You’ll be glad you did.

Okay, there’s four to get you started. And if you’ve been listening to gaming podcasts for a while, what are some of your favourites? Drop them in the comments below.

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Time May Change Me, But I Can’t Trace Time

Bowie lyric in the title aside, there are some changes afoot at Renaissance Dork World Headquarters.  I’ve had a long, hard think over the past few months and I’ve come to a conclusion.

I’m not that much of a renaissance geek any more.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love all the things I loved before.  It’s not like I woke up in a cold sweat, screaming, “Star Trek!? What was I thinking!?” or anything like that.  But I’ve noticed a trend in myself lately, to begrudge anything that takes time away from my first love.

Gaming.

(That’s the last time I’ll do a one line/word paragraph.)

(Promise.)

Anyhoo, it may have taken me a while to realize it (or if I’m honest, realize it again), but gaming is the nerdiness I love above all others.  I enjoy talking Trek, or discussing the latest sci-fi show (Orphan Black must be watched by all the people!).  But games, playing them, talking about them, writing for them…that is the thing that lights up my brain, in a way that other aspects of nerddom just don’t.

So you are going to see some changes around Renaissance Dork.  The biggest will be a switch in focus towards topics related to gaming: RPGs, boardgames, card games and so on.  I’ll post about stuff I’m already playing all the time, games I’m just discovering, tips and tricks for players and GMs, whatever aspect of the gaming hobby I find interesting enough to share.  Which will be a lot, because there is very little about the hobby I don’t find fascinating.

To my tens of subscribers, I hope this doesn’t scare you away but I’ll understand if you need to go.  You may have come for the more general nerdiness, and maybe gaming isn’t your jam.  That is cool, and while I’ll be sad to see you go there seems little point in dragging you along as I follow my geas.  While general nerdy content isn’t going away entirely, it is definitely going to become a minority report; I’m thinking a 90/10 split weighted toward gaming content.  So bon chance, and maybe I’ll see you around the gaming table sometime!

To them what stay, you are going to see a variety of things change.  More posts about gaming, natch.  But I also have three episodes of a podcast in the can and many more episodes planned.  Plus I’ll be posting little bits and bobs I create for my RPGs, because I like to share things like that when I can.  All of that will ramp up over the coming months, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, if you have any comments, or questions related to gaming, drop me a line in the comments below or fire off a tweet to me or something.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!  It’s gonna be a blast!

The State of Renaissance Dork

Things are afoot here in the world of the Renaissance Dork, so I thought I’d take a moment and catch everybody up on a few things.  Never fear, we are a long way from the dreaded “it’s been fun, peace out” post.  If that ever happens; everyone knows it is more likely updates will simply stop after I’ve disappeared exploring an ancient tomb.  (FYI: Come rescue me!)

But there are a few new things coming, some I’ve talked about before and some genuinely new.  So in no particular order:

– The podcast is still happening.  I had some brief technical difficulties (I loved that microphone!) and then a dissatisfaction with how I was presenting the podcast.  But I’ve sorted both those things out, lined up some pretty snazzy interviews (though I say it myself) and found a guest contributor that I think will entertain and delight.  So look for the Prairie Geek Report to begin airing in June.  Links and etcetera will be posted here when it goes live.

YEGGEEK is also still a go, though we have been a bit slow off the jump.  But Brandon, Dana and myself et al are still dedicated to getting this up and running.  When it does, it will hopefully become a digital hub for geekiness in Edmonton.  Besides hosting a calendar of local nerd events to which any group can post, YEGGEEK will also publish articles for and about our local nerds and nerdly topics.  Look for it soon!

– As I said earlier, Renaissance Dork isn’t going anywhere either.  Despite an SAD-induced scarcity to my updates, I do really love writing for this blog.  So I see no reason to stop, and in fact there are some additions and changes coming that I hope people will enjoy.  One of those is a format change;  the site is looking a bit “meh” to me, and while that could just be a strong spring cleaning vibe I am looking at other site designs.  So the nerdiness will continue, for as long as you guys are willing to put up with it (and likely a bit longer).

– My freelancing work is picking up again, and White Collar Mercenary is going to get a little more official.  I’m putting together a website for it right now, so I can point potential clients towards…something.  This will be the year I explore how far I can take my little home business, and I’m looking forward to it.  I’m also going to continue working at my freelance writing, develop some new contacts in both the literary and RPG fields.  I have at least one contact with whom, because of an SAD-related meltdown, I have a lot to make up for, so fixing things with him will be top priority.  Otherwise, the work marches on!

That’s about it!  There is a lot more I could touch on (Pathfinder Society and Wizard’s Comics, for instance) but I think that is enough for now.  If you have any questions, suggestions or amusing anecdotes please share them in the comments…

A Love Reborn

Those of you that follow my activities with stalker-like verve (all of you, right?) will know that I recently took on a part-time job at a Friendly Local Comic Shop (rhymes with lizard, uh, blomics).  They needed a till-monkey and I am a damn dirty till-APE, so it was a match made in dork heaven.  It gives me an opportunity to walk among my people, and slows my inevitable slide into Gollum-hood.

What I wasn’t quite expecting was how much it would reinvigorate my love of comics.  I’ve enjoyed comics since I was a kid, of course, though my ardour for collecting them was checked when my family’s house burned down.  The fire destroyed a great many things, but of course the tragedy to me at age eight was the loss of my comics.  I loved those books, not just because they were cool and fun to read, but because reading them brought back memories of family vacations and lazy summers.

So while I’ve kept reading comics on a semi-regular basis, they haven’t been a passion.  But two things have changed that.  The first, of course, is just working at the comic shop and my increased exposure to comic readers.  It is the nature of the shop that people will come in with questions about comics.  And since it is in my nature to provide answers, I have begun reading and studying comics more in the last few months than I had in probably the last year.  I’m not pushing things too hard with regards the studying; I don’t want this to feel like a job after all.  But I am paying attention to artist and writer names these days, which is something that never interested me before (all my comic loving friends just burst into tears).

The second thing that brought about my renewed passion for comics is my boss, Brandon (you may know him as @soupytoasterson on the Twitters).  Brandon so obviously loves everything about comics it is hard not to get a contact high.  More than that, he loves selling people comics; I’ve seen him get giddy because he managed to find a good fit between comic/reader, or turned a non-reader into a reader.  His love of turning people onto comics equals my love of turning people onto gaming, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t watch him to glean any tips or secret methods.  The thing is, there really isn’t any secret: enthusiasm is contagious and Brandon is Patient X.  We’ve really only known each other a few months, but if Brandon suggests a comic to me, I will read it.  And I will likely keep reading it.

So there it is, thanks to Brandon and Wizard’s Comics my passion for sequential art stories (or as we call them in the biz, comics) has been restored.  I’m now having to work a careful balancing act between picking out the new titles I want to start collecting, and which old titles I want to re-explore.  But even sorting that out is fun, and not for nothing but I have some decent advisers to help.

Also, if you love comics and you want to listen to other people who love comics, I cannot recommend enough the podcasts Scotch and Comics, hosted by my pal Devin (@Doctor_Teeth); and Podcast! The Comics, hosted by the aforementioned Brandon and his hetero-lifepartner James (@Leask).  Both are a lot of fun, both are available through iTunes and you won’t be sorry you gave them a listen.

I’ll post a little later about what comics I’m raving about these days.  In the meantime, why not drop me a line in the comments below and let me know what comics you’re reading?

Back in the Saddle Again…

Okay, that was a nice little “vacation”.  I promise not to let too many more of those happen, but believe me when I say it was needed.  But I’m back and working on some new Renaissance Dork goodness for the new year.  Let’s get started.

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I have toyed with the idea of recording a podcast for a while.  I took some steps toward doing that back in August, and spent the last 4+ months getting some technical and support aspects in place.  I am pleased to announce that you can expect to hear my mellifluous tones soon; the countdown clock has started on the first podcast release, slated for February 15.  The plan right now is to record a 3-5 show buffer, and release a new episode every two weeks.  Each episode will run 20-30 minutes in length, depending on that episode’s subject or feature; local nerd topics, interviews, reviews, discussions.  I’ll bring in other nerds when I can, so we can speak of dorkiness and give you a bit of a break from my voice.

The blog isn’t going anywhere; to start the podcast will supplement the blog, since one post during release week will be show notes and links.  That still leaves me with plenty to write about, so you’ll still be subjected to my meandering typings here.  But while we’re talking about the blog…

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I am looking for guest posts on Renaissance Dork to fill out my schedule.  If you have some nerdy thing you want to write about and can keep it in the 500-600 word range, drop me a line at brent.jans(at)gmail.com, subject line GUEST POST.  I’ll answer any questions you might have, and then all the fame my tens of readers can provide will be yours!  Don’t be shy; I’m not looking for perfection, enthusiasm for your nerdery goes a long way with me.

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This may still be news to some, but just before Christmas I started working part-time at Wizard’s Comics.  I am having a great time so far, learning the peculiarities of the comic shop biz.  I am on the staff unofficially as the store’s game expert; I keep up on the new boardgames and RPGs and advise the manager on what the store might like to stock (and yes, the store has begun stocking Pathfinder on my suggestion, so come get some).  The job is doing a few things for me: getting me out of the house on a regular basis, supplementing my freelance earnings very nicely, and expanding my education about comics.  That last is thanks in large part to the efforts of Brandon (@soupytoasterson on the Twitters). His enthusiasm for comics is contagious and his knowledge quite formidable, and I have begun learning much as his padawan.

Okay, that’s me up-to-date.  You’ll see regular posts in this space from now on, so keep stopping by for the latest from my nerdy brain.  Until tomorrow…

Aural Pleasure: Podcasts

My holiday weekend has drawn to a close, and I am back in the blog-mines blasting for the highest quality blog-ore to process for your reading pleasure.  It was Thanksgiving here in Canada, and so I took the time to hang out with friends and reflect on things I am thankful for: friends, family and the varied world of geekdom.

I also spent a great deal of my four-day weekend catching up on a backlog of podcasts.  While the number of podcasts I follow certainly don’t number anywhere near the number of blogs or webcomics I have in queue, I still have quite a few that I enjoy; leave them for a while and they start to pile up.  So I listened to much web-talk goodness and managed to whittle my unheard podcast stack down into low double digits.

Hours and hours of uninterrupted podcast listening is a treat I don’t often get these days.  Back in the Old Days(TM), before this magical series of tubes connecting everyone through their computers, I listened to radio a lot.  Some of my favourite memories growing up are just the time I spent in my room, the radio on in the background as I plotted and planned my next D&D (or Gamma World or Star Frontiers or…) game.  Living in Fort McMurray there were only two reliable radio stations: the CBC, and the local FM station, which played pretty much everything because it was the only station in town.  That local radio station was directly responsible for my varied musical tastes; when the soundtrack of my day could include a Hank Williams Sr. tune followed by Def Leppard followed by The Carpenters, one learns to be accepting and patient.

But the CBC was responsible for my love of spoken word shows (and classical music, probably the one thing the FM station didn’t play).  The music was just a pleasant addition to my game planning, but it was the documentaries, docu-dramas and interviews that made me stop and really listen.  And to be honest, given how much I was smitten with the imaginary worlds I was futzing around in, provided a necessary reminder that a) a real world waited outside my bedroom door, and b) that world was just as interesting, most days, as Greyhawk or post-apocalyptic earth.

Flash forward to today, and I listen to podcasts for very similar reasons.  It can be very easy to allow oneself to develop a very narrow focus, to wallow in one’s own opinions and ideas.  For me, podcasts are a way to broaden that focus and not only hear about things I may not have otherwise, but also to remind myself that I am connected to a larger community of geeks.

Because yes, as you would expect the majority of my listening is geek and gaming podcasts.  There are exceptions; I have listened to The Unknown Studio, a podcast recorded by my friends Scott and Adam right here in Edmonton, since the first episode.  And while they are both geeks the podcast itself is not geek-themed.  Instead, it focuses on topics and goings-on in my home-city of Edmonton, and does it in a smart and entertaining manner.

But the majority of my aural pleasure comes from nerdy podcasts, I won’t lie.  For your edification, here are some of my favourites:

The Nerdist – I’m sure most of you will be most familiar with this one. And if you are one of the Under-Rock dwellers that has never heard of The Nerdist, I suggest you crawl out and get familiar.  Chris Hardwick (arguably the busiest nerd in media), along with his cohorts Matt and Jonah, bring a great mix of interviews, live-shows (either his stage shows or panels from cons) and just them talking for an hour.  I’m actually torn between which episodes I enjoy more, but the banter episodes make me feel like I’m listening to a conversation with friends so they probably squeak out ahead.  And if you want a broad exposure to nerd culture, this is probably the best podcast out there.

Fear the Boot – Fear the Boot has the distinction of being the podcast I have listened to the longest.  And though the name wouldn’t give it away, it is a really fine tabletop gaming podcast.  Hosted variably by Dan, John, Pat and Wayne, this is another podcast with the format I love: guys just sitting around talking about gaming.  Imagine sitting around with your buddies and shooting the shit about gaming, that is this podcast.  The topics covered are interesting to both players and GMs, and they also feature great interviews with game industry insiders.  The thing I love most about Fear the Boot (and what I look for in other podcasts) is these guys really love what they talk about.  They are up to episode 246 (not including special episodes), and every show still contains a contagious level of enthusiasm.  If you game, this is your show; clap it to your breast with hoops of steel!

Crazy Sexy Geeks – Lest you begin to think I’ll only listen to the fellas, may I present Crazy Sexy Geeks.  I listened to one episode because of a recommendation on Twitter, and then spent a goodly chunk of that day catching up on the back-eps.  Smart and friendly, CSG features Jill Pantozzi and Alan Kistler catching us up on the latest news in nerd culture.  With episodes coming in between 30-40 minutes, CSG is one of the few podcasts that I would like to see run a little longer; for the geek dating advice I would love another 20 minutes alone.  I love the podcast so much, I am willing to ignore the sometimes tinny sound quality. (To understand how big a concession that is, you need to know that I used to be theatre sound tech; bad sound quality is like ground glass in my brain)  Worth every second, definitely a must-listen!

Ed and Red’s As-Yet-Unnamed Podcast– Another of my podcasts that is not specifically geek-themed, though you will be hard-pressed to keep Liana (the aforementioned Red) from talking nerdy for long.  Similar to The Unknown Studio, Ed and Red’s focuses attention on topics of interest to Torontonians, also covers general social issues that catch their eye, as well as the occasional bit of nerdery.  They are only up to episode six, and part of the…er, charm of these early episodes is listening to the format growing pains of Ed the Sock.  But these two are always entertaining together, and if you are a fan of smart, funny conversation you will enjoy what you hear.  If you aren’t a fan of that…what are you doing here?

Scotch & Comics – Maybe it’s premature to put this on my favourites list, since the first episode only dropped yesterday.  But I enjoy talking with my buddy Devon and we don’t get to do it as often as I’d like, so his podcast is going to keep the Devon-monkey off my back.  But besides my personal issues, you should listen to Scotch & Comics because it is genuine and entertaining, and Devon is really smart about comics.  More than that, he can communicate that smart in a way that makes his comic reading (and yes, scotch drinking) interesting and accessible.  If you love comics and/or scotch, do yourself a favour and get in on the ground floor of this podcast.

That’s all from me.  So what podcasts do you listen to?  Got anything to recommend to me and my tens of readers?  The comments are just a few keystrokes away…