Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Thoughts on 2015 Gaming

Planning for gaming is posing challenges beyond the simple who, what, when, where, why, and how as Huckle says.

A couple weeks ago we had an informal get together. I sent out an invite to likely board gamers. I expected better than half to decline. Instead, 80% not only said yes, but showed up. We have a 2 bedroom apartment. Things got crowded very quickly. Several people sat around hoping for a slot in the secluded back room while socializing and heckling. At several points there was space for a second or third game to start up; it just didn’t happen. It was quickly apparent that between the people who wanted to talk more than game and the people who didn’t want to game in the midst of the social mosh-pit of our living room, the high intensity gaming I envisioned wasn’t going to materialize.

I love the fact that so many of our friends are game groupies. As problems go this is a great one to have. That said, I’m going to handle things differently next time. While I love hosting the big events, I prefer a low-pressure scene when it comes to board and card games.

Going forward I’m going to invite people one at a time—keeping track of the total so as not to over-recruit. This policy is likely to create some hard feelings—several of our friends expect to be on every invitation list regardless of practicality. Some games call out for specific players. There are certain people who I know will sit down and play for 6+ hours at a time. There are people who are very low-drama. These people are going to get preference. Since our circle of friends is interconnected on multiple levels, word is going to get around. I’m hoping I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill. If not, I’m just going to be up front about the situation.

That brings me to the second looming issue—Gencon. After a couple years off, it looks like we’ll finally be able to attend in 2015. The brunette loves, loves, loves, Gencon, almost as much as the Jew—who would sell body parts to attend. It’s something of a personal validation for them to dive head first into the deep end of gaming once a year. I_like_Gencon. The magic wore off when I realized that the system is rigged against people getting the top-tier event tickets. You can often walk up with generics and get in on the exclusive stuff, but it’s very difficult to get in on the ground breaking material in the initial bidding. I was distinctly unimpressed with my access to quality RPG sessions on our last go-round. I’m happy to attend if the stars align, but it isn’t something I obsess over.

The first question is who’s going? We have an unspoken pact with Wmtrainguy, Ceri, Squish, and the Jew to split costs and share transportation when the opportunity presents itself. The Jew is going, even if she has to ship herself there. Wmtrainguy and Ceri seem like they are going to attend. Squish can’t make up his mind. It’s not worth it for us to cram in a sub-compact and slum it for 12+ hours to Indiana. Flying is logistically prohibitive even if we could get good pricing. The upshot is that if we can travel in Squish’s van, split a room with Squish and the Jew, or find comfortable cost effective alternatives we’ll attend. Unfortunately, until we can confirm those arrangements, we can’t commit. Registration is coming up fast. I’m not sure how to broach the subject in a way that doesn’t guilt trip the other parties. I’m going to wait till after Friendsmas and just lay it all out in an email.

Depending on how our 2014 tax returns work out, we’re going to set aside funds from our return or pay off my 401k and save the money incrementally. Either way, we need to decide by the end of January. Financially, we can’t afford to wait till March or April. We have to plan for food, vender purchases, some new duds, and the host of little expenses that an undertaking like this inevitably generates. I wish money wasn’t an issue, but we can’t do this one off the cuff.

Assuming we are going, the next question becomes what am I going to run? Gencon is a unique opportunity for GMs. You have 50,000+ potential players at your fingertips. You can show new and obscure games to a near-unlimited audience. You can test concepts your normal group wouldn’t touch. So since I’m out of the competitive war gaming market, Gencon’s main draw is the chance to run a couple old style one shots while shamelessly plugging some of my favorite products.

Three years ago there wouldn’t be a question; I’d be running dragon storm. The last time I attended Gencon I ran a series of demos. I wrote my own adventure, produced my own materials, and bought my own cards. It was expensive in time and money, but the pay off was worth the cost. I was heavily invested in DS back then—running 2 or 3 games a week, buying multiples of every release, working with other players on drafting and play testing elemental betas, writing a rogue book, running a DS fiction page, and critiquing beta submissions for Mike. Mark occasionally ran ideas and editing by me—which was a huge compliment. Years later, after Mark’s tragic passing, the DS landscape has changed dramatically. Sue is out of the picture indefinitely due to medical concerns. Game management and production has been taken over by a few of Sue’s trusted friends. The Skype group and local collective have dried up—I can’t even get 3 players to give me a firm commitment any more. I haven’t received a submission for the DS Quill in months. The lapse between Mark’s passing and the new management’s assumption of control and the resulting uncertainty has cooled my ardor. Friends, who used to have an active trusted part in DS management and development have quit the game or have been quietly shut out of operations. I’ve had several run INS with the current leadership that have left a bad taste in my mouth—they aren’t bad people, we just don’t see eye-to-eye. All this to say that while DS has a special place in my heart, I’m not sure I want to carry its torch any more. I remain deeply conflicted on the subject.

That leaves me with four alternatives, assuming cope doesn’t talk me on to the dragon storm train. I just backed the Onyx Path Wraith the Oblivion 20th edition KS. It’s hugely unlikely OP will come out with this PDF before event registration, but stranger things have happened—this is wraith after all. We have been awaiting the 3rd edition exalted book, also from Onyx Path, for three years now. The book is supposedly in final editing; so theoretically I could have a PDF in hand in the next couple months. I doubt either of these games will make it in time. OP is slow but steady—at this point a year behind its projected completion date for exalted 3. I’ll keep them in mind but plan for alternatives.

I’m currently running a swords and sandals campaign using the updated Shadow, Sword, and Spell system. Over the last two sessions we’ve made characters, built the world from scratch, and introduced the group members to each other. SSS is spirit of the century light. It uses a 2d12 mechanic—not as clean as 2d6, but it has more potential variance. So far SSS has impressed me with its simplicity. It takes very little effort to jump in as a GM or player. The setting and mechanical underpinnings are built around a classless Conan/Lovecraftian foundation including insanity, dark sorcery, alchemy, divination, feats of strength…etc. Unfortunately the editing is atrocious. I would buy the updated materials, less than $150, before bringing it to Gencon and really taking it for a spin. So the overall investment wouldn’t be that much in cash. I’d need to do a lot of work creating cleaned up materials—sample characters, an introduction sheet, promotional materials, a quick start story, Gencon registration—the normal stuff. The producer provides free PDFs with any print purchase; so there is some built in accessibility—though the documents I’ve seen so far have not been in the greatest format. This is my back up option. If my first choice doesn’t come through, I’ll work out a SSS game and run with it.

Most gamers remember that one game—the one that opened their eyes with child-like joy for the first time. For me that game was exalted first edition. It hit all the right notes from setting to mechanics to writing. It’s hard for other games to compete—often the memory is gilded to the point of unobtainability. So when I found a second game that hit the happy switch I was overjoyed. The closest I’ve come to recreating my first blush with exalted came with Hellas—ironically an acquisition of my first Gencon trip. Hellas is one of those games that is so perfect that you know you’ll never achieve the ideal. It sits on your shelf and taunts you. “You know I’m the game you always wanted to play/run. Too bad you’ll never be good enough/find the right group/have the right adventure.” It’s maddening. Godsfall is the perfect fantasy game in a neat clean workable package. It sits on your shelf and says “I’m user friendly. There’s something here for everyone. I take all your fantasy tropes and turn them on their heads. Love me. Run me. Play me.” I found it while wandering through kick starter and have been infatuated ever since. The book is supposedly at the printer. I have a PDF version now—soon to be joined by a book, GM screen, and dice bag. It’s a simple system designed to avoid the scaling problems of most experience-based RPGs balanced with an imagination grabbing world. I’ll do a full review once I’ve read through the book, but as of now Godsfall is my first choice. I spoke to the designers during the campaign and they have no plans to run it at cons and such. I really enjoy sharing quality RPGs with fellow gamers. Especially if I can get some promo swag for con-goers, Godsfall might be my next big thing.

There’s a lot that’s up in the air. I’m still not sure we’re going to Gencon in the first place. We have to look at our finances and make sure it’s something we can afford—I’m hopeful but numbers care nothing for my optimism. Lots can happen between now and then. Still, 2015 is looking like a good year for gaming.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The making of an action hero, getting there

My health is improving. That feels good to say—not least because I feel like my state of mind is keeping pace with the metrics. I was going to write this up as a tongue and cheek homage to previous entries but it just doesn’t feel funny.

I started working on living better in mid 2013. There have been a lot of ups and downs since then. In the beginning, when the process of diet and exercise was new and shiny, the pounds rolled off with ease. Gradually the momentum slowed—largely due to injury and flagging motivation. This year has been good to me in that I’ve never entirely lost sight of the goal; but it hasn’t been as much of a rousing success as I’d like either. Going to the gym has been nice in that three days a week of intense exercise lets me feel like I’ve accomplished something without driving me into the doctor’s office.

The day before thanks giving, the brunette and I had our first visit with our new doctor. Our previous Physician is great personally; but his office is difficult to work with. When he started keeping hours at different locations and was only available locally twice a week, we decided to make a change. Part of switching over is the inevitable physical. Since I started going to the gym, aprox 6 weeks, I’m down 9 pounds to 294 and my blood pressure was measured at 100 over 70 and 100 over 80. That’s the lowest it’s been since college where I usually checked in at 110 over 60. I’m waiting on the results from the blood work, but I can say that the elliptical and boxing class have helped a lot.

Regarding the gym, I have a routine. It goes like this:

Sunday: Upper body followed by as much elliptical time as I can squeeze in.

Tuesday: Boxing class with as much elliptical time as I can manage.

Thursday: Club workout followed by boxing drill and/or elliptical time.

Upper body days consist of Bench, military press, row/lateral pulls, chest, machine pull downs, chest pushes, dumbbell curls, and fly lifts. We usually do 3 sets of anywhere from 10-15 reps depending on the exercise. This past Sunday I managed 3 sets of 10 reps at 155 pounds on bench. My personal best was 185 pounds back in college at sets of ten, so I’m pretty happy there. On the lateral rowing I’m moving 190 pounds in sets of 12 which, again, is pretty good. I’m stocky with short arms and legs. The result is that I struggle with military press where I’ve only been able to manage 65 pounds. You can tell I’ve let that group laps, I used to do sets at 135 pounds—but that’s something to work towards. Squish is a great partner. He’s a little stronger than me but I have a lot more muscle endurance. We compete and talk trash the entire time. That’s really the biggest benefit of working with a partner. You are always pushing to stay ahead or to pass the person you’re working with. It drives you to improve.

Boxing class is ruff. I have more than enough physical endurance. I do not have the muscular endurance required to keep going at full intensity with my arms for an hour. I can literally go for hours on the elliptical, but my arms are used to doing small jobs all day or single large jobs in a short period of time. Punching the heavy bag for an hour is exhausting. Even so, I’m improving. It’s slow, but my punches have better form. I can keep my flurries going throughout the session. I run out of juice for the hooks and uppercuts after 30 minutes, but the act of punching doesn’t lay me out any more—I just have to go slower towards the end. I like boxing class specifically because I’m not very good at it right now. I like challenges. Learning form, working on intensity, and building muscle memory is rewarding work.

My club work out is also ruff, but that’s cause I’ve stepped up to the ten pound clubs as of last week. Like boxing, I’m going to have to build myself up to a better place, but I’ll get there. I have a schedule, a plan, and a friend to keep me honest. The nice thing about the clubs and the boxing class is that they are full body workouts. I walk out of those sessions knowing I’ve done more than upper or lower or cardio—I’ve made my body work completely. It’s a good feeling.

The elliptical is really fantastic. I wasn’t a big fan initially—I did most of my cardio in college on a treadmill. It feels weird in the beginning. You aren’t lifting your legs as far as with running so it can feel like the machine is holding you back. The low impact factor means I can go for a long time without my knees giving out. The back and forth with the arms gets rid of the hanging on for dear life affect you get with some treadmills. My personal best is an hour and 20 minutes a couple weeks ago. I’m averaging 6 miles an hour with a pulse around 150. According to the machine I end up covering at least 3 miles every 30 minutes. My pulse has been on the decline—a sure sign that my endurance is increasing.

Good exercising is a mix of the intense short term effort in the boxing class and the longer endurance training of the elliptical. The upper body work out builds muscle groups while the clubs build functional strength and grace. I have biceps I can feel. I have numbers that I can be proud of. I’m having fun. There’s still a long way to go, especially with diet. For now though, I’m happy with progress.