Category Archives: Gaming

The Day after Thanksgiving

We went shopping, but for used books and comics and dishwashing soap.  I don’t like having to park and stop on steep hills; I’m always afraid the car is going to slam back into the car behind me before I can accelerate.

Right now I have Ghost Adventures on the TV for ambient noise.  My husband is watching S.H.I.E.L.D. on the bedroom TV.  A brass band is practicing in one direction down the street, and music is blaring in the other direction, and in the distance, ships blare their huge, bellowing horns.

Mini-review:  Jordan Mechner’s Templar is awesome.  14th century heist caper graphic novel for the win.  The characters stood out for me, the action scenes were beautifully drawn, and …hey, it’s Templars.  I have a huge weakness for religious conspiracy theories, and the Templars are of course the granddaddies of such things.

To document Thanksgiving itself:  on the 1-10 meter between ‘YAY HOLIDAY’ and ‘everything is bad and wrong,’ I hovered at about a 4, which is better than I’ve been in years.  Two weeping fits and two pieces of pumpkin pie.  Pork loin carnitas, potatoes roasted with adobo and garlic, and kale with yellow peppers and onions.

I’m still documenting my beginning efforts at origami here.  I’m in a fantastic Lexicon game here.  My brilliant husband is working on Hillfolk playsets on his blog, the first of which is here.

Tonight he’ll probably go see a few movies in the Another Hole in the Head film festival lineup, while I play Lord of the Rings Online and role-play over Skype and eat leftovers.  It’s been a good holiday so far.


Things with which I am currently besotted:

  • This blog:  my scandinavian home.  A heap of my heritage is Swedish, and I’ve always been fascinated by the stark-yet-homey crispness of Scandinavian design.  So elegant.  Love.
  • This superhero:  Thor!  I enjoyed the movie to bits (except that the villains looked like Teletubbies in their masks, and I just can’t unsee it).  And then at Disneyland, my husband and I saw replicas of movie props and had a photo op with a costumed young man we’re calling “Mall Thor,” and I squealed like a tween with Bieber Fever.
  • That said, I would watch a Sif and the Warriors Three movie on repeat forever.
  • Origami.  Which I am documenting here, including the destruction of my creations by my cats.
  • OPI’s fall/winter 2013 collection, “San Francisco.”  My nails are now all foggy and creative.
  • Gail Simone’s run of Red Sonja, especially the woman-drawn variant covers.  Simone’s Sonja is satisfyingly angsty and pulpy, and I’ve enjoyed every issue so far.  My runner up for comic-of-the-moment is Oni Press’s contribution to weird Americana, The Sixth Gun.
  • And, Turbine releases an expansion for my beloved Lord of the Rings Online today.  Helm’s Deep, I am soon to be in you!

Big Bad Con Report

Because I’m not going to make posts about every game. >.>

I already talked briefly about the Drama System hack we played (Colony Wars) on Saturday evening.  Since I’ve given up on chronological order:  in Colony Wars, I took the most chances.  I burst right out of the gate playing a frustrated asshole who wanted respect, not bureaucratic flim-flam.  I of course aimed that scene at my husband, since I haven’t quite reached the Gamer Confidence level required to toss character sheets at people I’ve just met.  The experience made me shaky, but that usually means I’m stretching.  I did apologize to my husband about five times because, me.

I would play Dungeon World again in a hot minute.  Great group of gamers (really, everyone I gamed with all weekend was awesome), imaginative group, and a GM who really knew how to take a nugget of an idea and run with it.  The entire thing felt like we segued from one awesome heavy metal album cover to the next.  My ranger rode a halfling-made (therefore, awesome) thatched roof down the side of a collapsing stone spire into a sunless sea.  In Xanadu did rune-slavers steal halflings, and it was a blast kicking ass and resisting mind control.

Let me put it this way:  I would gladly run Dungeon World, and people who know me well know that that’s a rare declaration.

FATE — oh gosh.  Fate still escapes me.  I have to admit it.  I’ve played Core a few times, both one shots and campaigns, and there’s something about it that just exhausts me.  It’s fiddly.  I was able to play Fate Accelerated at the con (CAMELOT Trigger), and I will say that Accelerated beats Core all to hell in keeping me interested.

I hate saying that I still don’t really get how the aspects pile on top of each other.  It’s one of those things like trigonometry that my brain hears and discards.  Every time I’ve played, there’s been a tipping point about 3/4ths of the way through the one-shot or campaign in which the aspects start clicking, and then they’re awesome — but it seems to happen organically, and I wish I knew how to make that happen as a deliberate gaming choice.

I think I need an Accelerated campaign to really get my head in the Fate game.  That said, I liked the structure our GM gave the one-shot a lot. Her obvious enjoyment of Fate also kicked my enthusiasm level high.

And finally, Golden Sky Stories was thoroughly enjoyable.  I was a cat!  A cat henge, a helper kitty who displayed many traits of Cat even when in her human-seeming form.  The mod we played — A Peaceful Town — was just adorable, and I can imagine a really interesting array of solutions to its very small problem.  I was especially looking forward to this particular game because of my friend the GM, not to mention the paradigm shift from the fairly grimdark rest of my weekend.  As Carl wrote in the con game’s blurb:  “There are 1000 RPGs where you can solve problems with violence. This is not one of them.”

I’ll put it this way — as someone who loves acting out grimdark emotional train wrecks as much as I do, I’ve never said “AWWW” so much in a game.  The other players were just as much into it as I was.  My husband the dove henge is still claiming he casts “Tranquility” on me every time he hugs me.  So much fun.

A few other notes about Big Bad Con:  Oy, that is not a great hotel.  But!  The con is organized so well, and the trade-off that comes with the not-great-hotel is the price that allows people who couldn’t otherwise come to the con to do so.  I wish the games started earlier, so the breaks between games were longer.  The food trucks were a brilliant idea.  I will also remember next year that I too can bring bourbon to the table.

tl;dr — Of all the gaming cons I’ve been to, Big Bad Con is by far the most smoothly-run and low-key, with a great group of attendees.  A++, will game again!

Big Bad Con Game #1: Colony Wars

The XO is so much more than the curmudgeon at the end of the hall; he is the hammer that drives the CO’s and the Marine Corps’ nails into the horseshoe that keeps the horse running down the track.

The XO:  Where the rubber meets the road 


I had a blast playing Commander John (“Johnny”) Ozee in the Colony Wars hack of Pelgrane Press‘s new Drama System.  What’d he want?  Respect.  Respect from those he respected.  To retire with dignity, with his legacy intact, with pride.  What were his dramatic poles?  Conformity and principle.  Stick with regulations and policy and how things have always been done, or push out of bounds for one last blaze of glory that’ll be remembered long after he’s gone?

He wanted more than that.  He wanted the pretty Company security woman for himself, though he kidded himself that he thought of her only as a precocious surrogate daughter.  He wanted the station union boss to keep him in the loop, even though Johnny denied information to almost everyone else.  He wanted to snub the old money families while still expecting the shadowbox of medals and flag – someone’s flag – when he retired.  He wanted to give stirring speeches while underestimating the men needed for all the critical tasks shoved his way.

He wanted the NPC captain who jumped from promotion to promotion like it was nothing to understand that she needed him, even though it seemed fairly certain that she didn’t.  He wanted Frederick to take care of keeping the place running, without having to be bothered.  He wanted civilians to stop crawling up his ass with their fool problems.  Human resources? Company problem.  Labor agitators among the immigrants?  Riley’s problem.

An unknown thing tearing up the far-space colony and ripping apart marines and company men alike?  That’s a problem a Stellar Marine can solve.

Worldcon Lesson the Third

Well, not so much lesson as observations:

  • The first day (Thursday), everyone looked just like me:  plump, 40+, white.  That lessened slightly over the weekend, and I was glad to see a gender balance after so many gaming cons of being one of like three women in the room.  Of course not everyone was plump, but …yeah.  The overwhelming whiteness never lessened.
  • Speaking of whiteness:  in one panel, a panelist stated that he couldn’t handle a media project at all because it featured an African-American character in a historically incongruous setting.  In that same panel, we mentioned zeppelins, Frankenstein, future neo-Victorianism and motorcycles that ride between stars.  Seriously, the PoC as an authority figure is what’s going to break your suspension of disbelief?  Good god.  I halfway raised my hand to ask the panelist to clarify, but then put it down again – I was surprised, and then embarrassed that no one else seemed freaked, and I missed out on a chance to be a good ally.  Shame on me.
  • There was still a point on Saturday afternoon in which I burst into tears and said I didn’t want to go home.  My husband smiled at me indulgently; I guess finding a con ‘tribe’ brings that out in a person, that revelation?  But – and this is awful, but trufax – it wasn’t about the people.  I’m shy as hell; I didn’t actually speak with many people, let alone new ones.  It was about an atmosphere of creativity.  At one point I sat in a panel with about three hundred other people who want to write.  Eager, up-turned faces, all with a story they want to tell.  That sense of …gosh, creative acceptance, made me want to give up our fast-paced Bay area lives and get a little house back in Austin and fill it with cats and books and …yeah.  Live the dream.  Someday.

Worldcon Lesson the Second

There is room for me in the world of writers and creators, but I have to write and create to earn my space. Angsting and planning about writing means nothing, compared to actual work.

Also, what a difference in settings.  This morning’s sky in California was a crisp, saturated blue, sharp-edged and almost painful to my tired eyes.  Texas has a sort of faded-jeans look.  Hazy, drifty, big.  Polaroid, to San Francisco’s digital.  I miss Polaroid.

The many faces of D&D

Friends and I were talking on Facebook recently about the types of characters we tend to play, and I can sum it up very easily (at least in 4th Ed. D&D):


Not “hey guys follow me come here do this!” but the very specific healer/buffer role in a party. My goal is to have one of every leader class, but oy. I only have so much time. Here are my current incarnations, both in LFR (Living Forgotten Realms) and a home game:

Faral – lvl 16 Valorous half-elf bard. Roleplay-wise, she desperately wants to be a trophy wife. She’s gorgeous, avaricious, neutral, urban. She has no interest in woodlands and wilderness; she just desperately wants to be a noble. I tend to play her more in home games / online than at cons, since I downplay her roleplay considerably in a con setting. One or two instances of “duh, what other sort of woman IS there” asshattery made me “meh” about setting free my inner farcical money-grubber.

Laela – lvl 11 healy mchealerbot elf cleric. She’s the emotional successor to Laelin, the elven cleric and Melora-worshiper I played in a home game for a couple of years. Laela is the LFR version, with a bow and a darker side, so she worships Sehanie, waxes rhapsodic about the moon, and shoots a silvery bow rather than diplomacize with everyone she meets.

Ensa – lvl 9 Inspiring tiefling warlock. I love tieflings. I love them so. Ensa is (due to an early module she played) an assistant professor of Tiefling Studies at a posh Cormyr boarding school. She teaches the young nobles of the land tiefling cultural awareness and basic “do not automatically kill X race because it is X race.” After the events of the Battle Interactive, she opened a Tiefling Cultural Center in Elturel.

Gurdis – lvl 5 healy mchealerson dwarf shaman. She’s loud and drunken and likes the more raucous spirits. She’s entered into courting negotiations with a much more upright/proper dwarf; who knows if they’ll EVER be married. Her spirit animal is the spirit of her deceased werebear uncle. They’re very close.

Mary – lvl 5 healy mchealberry changeling ardent. Ardent, I’ll admit, is boring the bejesus out of me, even though it’s effective. Mary grew up at the fringes of Aglarond, in a family of changelings who have appeared as elves for generations. Her fondest wish, and greatest hope, is to become a Real Elf someday.

Callie – lvl 3 shadowydeathdeath halfling assassin. My one striker! She’s a dance-hall girl on a riverboat; she wears nothing but pink and white, has blonde ringlets, and an infectious giggle. She also gave part of herself to Shadow in exchange for escaping from her powerful Amn-based halfling thief clan. She’s really not that unhappy about the Shadow thing. She carries a whip everywhere.


And in my home game! Lily, the lvl 11 longtooth shifter runepriest, is a feral, snuggly, Melora-worshiping, buff-granting, gorge-jumping, tree-climbing beast. I’m loving it.

Enchantment? Enchantment!

This is my obligatory Dragon Age post.

Summary:  I like it a lot.  I’m playing it on “easy” mode, which I’m so glad even exists, because in RPGs, especially well-written ones like this one, I concentrate on story, not gameplay.  And while gameplay here is fun, and fascinating, and I love the ability to take a tactical “time out” and queue actions for my whole party, the story is what keeps me hooked.

And, big spoilers ahead!  Be aware!

Life in Ferelden just sucks.  Up to thirty years ago, the country was subjugated under the rule of neighboring Orlais.  Before that, there was a demonic Blight that only the world’s special demon-hunters were able to take on:  the Grey Wardens, mythical warriors able to call on allies in time of need.  Now, due to a really interesting origin story (there are six possible), a pretty difficult test, and a pretty hairy ritual, you’re one of these mythical warriors.  Your mission remains the same as it has always been for Grey Wardens:  you rid the world of the Blight, through whatever means you consider palatable.  And life just keeps getting suckier.

A few criticisms.  A friend rightly snarked the game as being sort of “deliberately edgy” in its marketing, and boy, that’s true.  I saw a few commercials and hardly thought they went with the same game.  Don’t get me wrong, DA has a lot of pyrrhic victories and impossible choices you nevertheless have to make.  But the game itself doesn’t scream violence! sex! violence! sex!  Those are huge parts of the game, but not to the obnoxiously “hurrr, look, we have nookie cutscenes” the advertising seems to imply.

The blood and gore:  yeah, there’s a ton of it.  I’ve read (and made) a lot of snark about how if a character so much as looks at a bad thing, they’re suddenly drenched head to toe in blood, and then, by the next cutscene, it’s gone.  I hear there are ways to tone down the gore (my current character, a human rogue, seems to decapitate people a LOT), but I haven’t investigated them.

Moving on to what’s fun:  okay, my boyfriend keeps saying that after this, he’s going to start buying me dating sims.  The opportunities for “romance” in the game are numerous, and my character (and her player) are having an absolute ball trying to curry favor with various members of the party.  Yes, even to the extent that I started the game over when I realized one of my impossible decisions had blocked the way for a future relationship with one of the party members.  Oh Alastair, you befuddled Grey Warden, you.  And, props to Bioware for including romantic options that aren’t heterosexual-only.

I almost never say this in games (except for my beloved Lord of the Rings Online, and well:  duhh.), but I absolutely love DA’s lore.  It’s rich, it turns my particular crank about how religion is handled in fantasy, and it’s remarkably consistent throughout the game.  Since I’m a roleplay nut, my character is – as her status and background would indicate – a dutiful, if not especially pious, worshipper, and she makes decisions and accepts consequences based on that trait.  And it really does make a difference.

Which brings me to my last rave about the game.  Choices have consequences.  I made one choice, early on, on the first character I tried.  It was the right decision given the situation, her fear, her resources.  But as I kept playing and playing, I the player was just so bound up in having made an awful decision that I had a hard time even playing anymore.  It totally haunted my character in-game, affected everyone’s feelings toward her, and had undeniable consequence.  I ended up dumping that char for the aforementioned reasons, but man.  I was in KNOTS about my choices.  The storytelling is really absorbing.

I haven’t tried the downloadable content yet.  Not sure I will on this character.  But I’m excited to see what the scenario builder-type tools are, and I can’t wait to start the game yet AGAIN as a different gender/class/origin mix.  Highly recommended, as long as you don’t mind looking like a vat of ketchup has been upended on your character for 90% of the game.

Hit me again!

I play a lot of 4th Edition D&D, and while I don’t haunt boards or rp sites at all, I do think about all the topics my very forum-happy DM of a boyfriend brings up.  Lately, he’s been doing a lot of 4E defense – saying yes, you can roleplay using that ruleset, yes, you can have involved stories, no, it’s not “just like an MMO” because someone might say “tank” instead of “defender” at the table once in a while.  I’m paraphrasing here, and maybe making some stuff up.

It took me a few sessions in one of my ongoing games to realize how I had to approach roleplay in 4E to make it worthwhile.  This is heavily informed by the aforementioned boyfriend’s brilliant “Roleplaying with Miniatures” article, especially this:  “Step four: make your character do whatever your character would do. Fuck tactics.”  Provocative, yes.  Something to discuss with your other players so you don’t end up with two people in Super ZOMG Tactics Mode and two others running around hitting evil statues on the nose because their characters are “fun.”  There’s a balance to be struck.

I started thinking about mechanical ways to make this part of the game itself, as opposed to a potential social contract that may not work in play.  What I came up with, for lack of a better term, is “chosen limitations.”  Detriments, challenges, etc.  Everyone in the party chooses something – some facet of tactical play – to be a limitation in combat.

Choose it right at the beginning.  Make it an explicit part of character creation.  Have a pretty strong vision of what these limitations might be.  You don’t want it to be like a Secret Santa exchange at the office, where everyone spends $5 and That One Guy spends $30.  In the same vein, you don’t want lots of little limitations and then the guy who says “I wear an eyepatch on my left eye, so if a bad guy hits me from the left, I’m automatically dazed!”  Too big.

I’ve only used this in practice once, and I don’t even know if it was noticeable to the other players.  It’s a 4E game in a rich, fascinating setting (a shout out to Metrocalypse here), and our characters are folks who were in Oxford, England in 1605 who woke up to a radically changed world.  My character is a fairly young woman who went from her father’s care to her husband’s.  She’s all of 19, the world is a wreck, and now she’s fighting giant ants and explaining religion to bullywugs.  Neat rp!  But how to reflect that in combat to keep my interest going?  I decided:  she will cling to the strong men in her company, as she’s always clung to father and husband.  Cecily will never be further than two squares away from one of the male characters.  Ever.  If pushed to a square further away, her first action will be to return to that range.

It’s just a tiny little consideration that I can set alongside all the other tactical decisions I make in play, but this one ties into who she is as character, not who she is as class.  And how about a halfling who can’t swim?  A half-elf who was a captive as a youth, and who will automatically react violently if shoved into small spaces?  A character who has fallen in love with another character, and will always see to that character’s health before anything else?  Make it a tactical challenge, decided upon with the DM.  Choose to share it with the other players, or keep it a cool secret to figure out in play.

Really, this is what I love about 4E.  I don’t see it as limiting; I see it as an incredibly easy and expansive framework.  And making your character’s life harder is fun!