Friday, October 31, 2014

The Month of Austerity

These are my following goals for November:

1. Complete NaNoWriMo.
2. Complete my MA Thesis.
3. Complete all homework and reading for my other class.
4. Lose 10-20 pounds, by a combination of strict diet and exercise.

This is all in addition to working my regular job. I will also see my friends every weekend or so, and I have Thanksgiving plans with my family at the end of the month.

If everything goes according to plan, this may be one of the busiest months I've had in a long time. I'm scared. I'm worried I'm setting myself up for failure. I am so sick and fucking tired of being a guy who doesn't do what he says he's going to do. I want to change that. I want to become a man of my word.

I think it's important to challenge yourself, every once and awhile. I haven't challenged myself in a really long time...years, perhaps. Yes, there have been things going on in my marriage. Yes, I'm taking on school and work. Those are hardships. But they're not challenges. I haven't set a preposterous goal for myself and achieved it in a very long time. To quote Bane, "Success has made me weak." It's time to build myself back up, starting this month.

I don't think that's going to change in one month. But I am putting it all on the line, this month. This month, I'm saying "I'm going to get these things done, and I'm not going to even allow myself to think about not getting these things done." The world won't end if I fail to complete my novel...but I'm not going to allow myself to believe that. I want the pressure. I want to believe the world will end. 

So apologies in advance if I'm a little more severe than usual, this month. I do not want success to come at a cost of being an asshole, but I am pragmatic enough to realize these goals will put stress on me. It's just for the month of November. Come December, I'll re-evaluate in light of my success on these goals, and decide how austere that month will be.

Until then? Rabbit rabbit, bitches.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Steve Johnson and the Ninth World

Yesterday, I pondered on whether I should do NaNoWriMo. Now I'm officially in, and my novel is giong to be called Steve Johnson and the Ninth World. (I know, I know; the title's a work in progress. Suggestions are welcome!)

The novel is about Steve, a normal guy who just moved to Virginia. Looking to make some friends, he joins a pickup game of Numenera at the local public library. The novel then follows the life of Steve and his new friends over the course of the year. The novel covers both the "real-life" lives of Steve and his friends as well as the "in-game" life of the characters they portray through the ongoing Numenera campaign.

So how did I come up with this story? Well, when I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo, I thought about the goal. The goal (for me, anyway), is to write a novel, which, for the purposes of NaNoWriMo, at least, is 50,000 words. That's approximately 1700 words per day, or around seven pages, for the 30 days of November. That's a LOT of writing! To pull it off, I decided I'm going to have to write about something I know a lot about. It can't be something that requires too much extensive research, and it has to cater to my strengths as a writer. NaNoWriMo isn't an opportunity to grow as a writer; it's a chance to get some shit done, son! So I gotta play to my strengths. And my strengths are in tabletop gaming. I know role-playing games better than anything else I know of in my life. So I knew my NaNoWriMo novel would be about RPGs. Not the world of an RPG, no sci-fi/fantasy stuff here, but a novel about the actual experience of playing a role-playing game.

I then did up basic outlines of six major characters that will be in the novel. Why six? Again, the goal: finish the novel! With six characters, I have an ability to jump around a lot, if necessary. I know me, and I know I'll get bored quickly with one particular character or plotline. So giving myself six characters gives me a vast canvas on which to work. If I'm tired of the "main" story with Steve, I jump over to one of the other characters. And, of course, the relationships between these six characters to each other will run the gamut from passionate love to seething hatred. That's not only fun to write, it's interesting to read about.

On top of all that, I have plenty of material to pull from. There's a reason this novel takes place in northern Virginia. That's where I live! I have every intention of pulling from my real life to complicate, illustrate, and/or elaborate on these characters as the story unfolds. None of these six characters are going to be replicas of real people I know, but they will have collections of characteristics, quirks, and experiences that may be familiar to some friends of mine.

In addition to the six characters and their storylines, I have an entire Numenera campaign to write about. Again: more options on things I can write about so that when I sit down to hit my daily 1700 word goal, I can go off in any direction I want. If I'm tired of writing contemporary fiction about adults dealing with adult life shit, I can start writing about their adventures in the Ninth World.

Why Numenera? Why not something more recognizable, like Dungeons & Dragons? Well, three reasons. First, D&D has been done before. Movies like The Gamers, books like Of Dice and Men...the whole "nerds are people too!" storyline has been beaten to death. I want to do something different, and changing the game illustrates that. The second reason is more logistical: copyrights. Although I'm no where near the publishing stage yet, I would hate to have my knees cut from under me if/when I complete my novel and publish it, only to have Wizards of the Coast slap me with a Cease & Desist. Numenera has a clear Fair Use Policy, so I know exactly where I stand with them.

The third reason is thematic. Boredom and banality, and our efforts to deal with it in our day-to-day lives, will be a major theme of the novel. Numenera, with its wildly imaginative setting, provides a stark contrast to the bland, mundane world the characters of my novel live in. This contrast will not only help punctuate what makes roleplaying games great; it also allows the reader a respite from the more mundane themes of the novel, and stretch out into something a little crazier.

So yes: I am going to write 1700 words a day, at a breakneck pace, about six different characters and two different branching storylines, almost to the point of free association. I'm going to get it all down, and then rearrange it, cut it, paste it, and slowly coax it into something resembling a coherent narrative.

Some of you are probably thinking "I can't do that! I can't just jump around from scene to scene, plotline to plotline!" My response is "why the hell not?" Isn't it all coming from the same brain? You play to your strengths, you write what you want to write. If you come up with the climactic fight scene while you're sitting at work, but you haven't written the stuff leading up to the fight, don't wait till you write up to it: write that goddam fight scene right now! Too many writers, from my experience, try to write a novel the way they read one. It gets to the point where some writers tell me they simply love it when the story "jumps off the page," and the characters "take a life of their own." That's all well and good, and if you're just looking to amuse yourself, then go to town. But if the goal is to write a complete novel, then you've got to do anything and everything necessary to get that sumbitch written. Getting it down comes first. Getting it right comes later. The amount of pushback I get from people about this is astonishing.

Steve Johnson and the Ninth World is going to add to, at the least in the beginning, be an extremely chaotic mess. A barely-readable mish-mash of genres, plotlines, and ideas. A colossal disaster on the page. But you know what? As long as that disaster pans out to 1700 words a day, I call it a win!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Bad Idea

I'm pretty busy these days with my grad school work. My thesis is due next month. Work is keeping me busy, too. Plus I'm reading and reviewing RPGs for Geek Native. So I really don't need another project right now.

Yet I'm considering NaNoWriMo, anyway.

NaNoWriMo (, short for National Novel Writing Month, is a literacy non-profit that calls on writers across the world to belt out a complete (50,000 words, or about 200 pages) novel in the month of November. The whole idea is to get all connected and shit with the writing community, work hard to get your Big Idea down on paper, and otherwise promote creative writing.

Every year when November comes around, I always flirt a little with the idea of doing it. I'm not a physical dude, so the idea of doing foolish self-affirming activities like running a marathon or skydiving don't hold much appeal to me. But the mental equivalents, like writing a novel, unfortunately do appeal to my ego.

As you can see, I have a sort of cynical view on all this stuff. I have written my entire life. I have one degree in it, about a month away from getting a second degree in it, I do it for a living for the federal government, and I'm going to transition into a career teaching it. I have written a novel, a screenplay, short stories, essays, movie reviews, literary analysis, social commentary, and memoirs, some of which have been published. And that's not even counting this blog or the vast amounts of writing I do for my hobby. I'm over writing. It holds no sex appeal to me.

Yet I'm considering NaNoWriMo, anyway.

This has always been my relationship with writing. I do not love writing. I am not that guy who bounces out of bed at the crack of dawn and gazes thoughtfully out the window, MacBook and a cup of coffee beside him, ready to write the next great American novel. I am not that dude who sits at Starbucks all day, absorbed in his own bubble as he types up what he is certain will be the Next Big Thing in the world of literature. I am not the super-fan who dominates online forums with fan fiction, dreaming of the day when it's my name that shows up on the screen, beneath those two magical words "written by." I hate those guys.

I don't trust anybody who loves to write. Writing is hard, brutal work. It's taking all of your shit and smearing it across the page, then showing it to the world. You can write hundreds of pages, and if you're lucky, one or two of them might be worth showing anyone. You probably have a better chance of winning the lottery than being a successful novelist, especially in today's world. Anyone who likes this is doing it wrong.

I don't write because I love it. I write because I have to. For better or for worse, writing is how I exorcise the demons. How I keep the dark clouds at bay. How I avoid descending down the spiral of self-hatred and self-destruction. Hell, it doesn't even work, all of the time. But it works more consistently and more constructively than just about anything else I've ever tried, to include professional therapy. Deep down, I am a perfect cliche: the tortured artist. That really pisses me off, but I accept it.

So here I am, with plenty on my plate and considering even more. I may not do it. Cooler heads may just prevail, here. But I'm probably going to.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Other White Meats

I've been playing a bit of the new D&D with my friends lately. I've been having a great time! I'm really impressed with the latest edition of the game. They really took a lot of the former editions' criticisms to heart and produced a game that is quick and highly playable, but still feels like Dungeons & Dragons.

A few weeks ago, while doing a review of the 13th Age Bestiary for Geek Native, I openly pondered the future success of that game system. Prior to D&D's fifth edition, 13th Age's entire pitch to the roleplaying game community was essentially "D&D without the baggage," a chance to play the D&D you've always wanted to play without having to dig up old, out-of-print books or house rule the hell out of the current editions. With D&D's 5th edition turning out to be awesome, I wondered if there would be a place in the world for 13th Age and all its D&D-but-not-D&D contemporaries.

Pelgrane Press, publishers of 13th Age, responded to my review on their website with a brilliant counter-point: that the success of D&D would only make the hobby bigger, and thus create an even larger market for people looking for something different. I did not think of this when I wrote my review. I think it's a great point. And sure enough, as I've been playing in my friend's excellent 5th edition campaign, I've been wondering about all the other fantasy RPGs out there that could be the home of countless epic adventures. I don't think D&D makes any of them obsolete; in fact, to the contrary, I think D&D's success is inspiring me to take a second (or third) look at some of those games, and wondering about what kinds of different fantasy roleplaying experiences they can bring to the table.

The following five RPGs I'm going to mention are all fantastic fantasy games. I'm going to specifically talk about what they do differently (not better; not worse; DIFFERENTLY!) from the current edition of D&D. I'm going to make the assumption that 5th edition D&D is a baseline, all-around-good fantasy roleplaying experience. In other words, play D&D if you want a little of everything. Play these games if you want something else:

1. 13th Age: I've already written a bit about this game, obviously, but to summarize what it does differently:

  • It's classes are asymetrically designed, allowing for different play experiences. Barbarians pretty much just roll d20's and scream a lot, while wizards have a lot of tactical resource management to consider;
  • It has 13 "Icons," demi-god-like NPCs who carry major influence on the world. Your characters are built with positive, negative, and conflicting relationships with these icons, which can lead to instant allies, enemies, and plot twists at literally a moment's notice;
  • There is no "official" campaign world; the "Dragon Empire" is vaguely-designed on purpose, with the intention of gaming groups filling in the specific details of the world;
  • Is is not designed for beginning role-playing gamers. That doesn't mean it's a complicated game, but a lot of the "what is a role-playing game?" fluff is not present in 13th Age, making the game ideal for experienced groups who just want to cut to the chase, but unlike many OSR games, it's relying on clever design, and not nostalgia, to fill in those gaps.
2. Warhammer Fantasy role-playing: Long-time readers of my blog (?) will know I carry a not-so-secret WFRP agenda at all times. Here are the reasons why:
  • ZERO math. With it's narrative dice system, the game's mechanics are all about rolling fistfuls of crazy-looking dice and adding up crazy-looking symbols. The built-in flavor and ease of use is awesome!
  • Ironically, even though there's no math, WFRP is a very complex game, with all kinds of dials to monkey with, from the kinds of injuries your hero can sustain, to the type of approach (careful or wreckless) your hero takes to overcome obstacles, all of which have their own systems and sub-systems;
  • The GM has a whole suite of tools to assist in game-running, complete with his own dice and yet more subsystems to abstract dungeon crawls, the passage of time, and even progress through mysteries;
  • A dark, gritty, late-Medieval setting where death is common and gothic influences are clear;
  • A clever career system where characters purchase new abilities, then move on to other careers.
3. Dungeon World: Quickly becoming the patron saint of indie role-playing, Dungeon World has quite a bit to offer those looking for something different from D&D:
  • A truly collaborative game, players are as responsible as the GM in creating the world around them;
  • "Player-facing" mechanics: the GM never touches a die, the players do all the rolling while the GM is free to focus on the narrative and the action as it unfolds;
  • Flavor and story are baked-in to the mechanics, sometimes resulting in epic stories coming right from the simple act of answering a few questions;
  • A "fail forward" approach to XP, where players actually generate experience points through failing rolls. This leads to players being encouraged to be pro-active, and GM's not having to worry so much about pulling punches since failure is rewarded, anyway;
  • An extremely rules-light system, allowing everyone to focus on the story over the rules.
4. RuneQuest: An old legend in fantasy RPGs, RuneQuest is powered by the same system that fuels Call of Cthulhu. For fantasy role-playing gamers, that means:
  • An intuitive, percentile-based resolution mechanic: if you have a 60 percent chance of hitting a goblin with an arrow, you simply have to roll a 60 or less on percentile dice. No abstractions, no funky sub-systems, just straight, elementary-school level math;
  • Skill-based character growth: instead of classes, you level up your character one skill at a time. If you're looking for a game to emulate Skyrim, this is a great place to start;
  • Multiple magic systems, each with their own way to cast spells and gain power, leading to shamans who feel very different from wizards, who in turn feel entirely different from clerics;
  • A gameworld that emphasizes realism and authenticity, with detailed examinations of family, socities, and governing systems. RuneQuest is an ideal game if you're looking to simulate a historically-accurate depiction of medieval society.
5. Dungeon Crawl Classics: My hands-down favorite "Old School" role-playing game, DCC captures the feel of late 70's/early 80's fantasy role-playing but infuses it with modern design philosophy. The means:
  • Brutal, punishing play, especially in the early levels (players create not one but several level 0 characters simultanouesly; whichever one survives the first adventure becomes their "real" character);
  • Charts and tables absolutely stuffed with cool, clever twists on critical strikes, random encounters, fumbles, and spell casting;
  • Literally hundreds of published adventures that can be purchased for a pittance and run on a moment's notice, as well as older D&D modules that can easily be converted;
  • Lavishly-detailed production and art designed to evoke the look and feel of late 70's pulp fantasy fiction.

I would also like to throw out there The Burning Wheel and Torchbearer. I don't know enough about those systems to write intelligently about them, but the buzz surrounding them is very good, and I think anyone looking to further explore the potential of RPG's biggest genre should check them out!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Yeah...I'm going to need you to play D&D this afternoon...

Several weeks ago, I stopped my Boardgames at Lunch meetup at work. I got tired of playing casual party games, and I couldn't think of a deep enough game that could be played in an hour that I wanted to do.

However, one idea for a game did enter my mind: Dungeons & Dragons. Dare I try it? Dare I assemble a group of nerds in my office and begin a weekly lunch-hour game? This morning, I began probing my office for interest. The responses have been promising. It may just be time to try my hand at DMing the World's Biggest RPG to non-gaming co-workers at my office.

The idea of it fills me with the familiar paradoxical feelings of excitement and dread. There is nothing I'd rather do with my free time than play a good tabletop role-playing game with good people. So I'm excited for that. But RPGs can be a harsh mistress. It takes work and effort and enthusiasm to really make one work. What if I don't have enough? What if the co-workers aren't into it? What if it just doesn't work out? I get these jitters virtually every time I put on one of these get-togethers, whether it's for boardgames or roleplaying games.

The answer, I've invariably learned, is to show up. 99% of the time, that's the hardest part of running any of these things: showing up. Making it happen. Just saying "yes, this will happen at this time, and we're doing this, and I'm in charge." That shit is tough. It's scary. It's putting the burden of entertainment squarely on my own shoulders. But that's the risk. That's what I'm willing to do for this game, this thing I'd rather do than anything else in the world.

Depending on how the rest of this informal survey goes, I could start this game as early as this Thursday. As always, Dear Reader, I will keep you informed on how this goes. In the meantime, if any of you out there have any thoughts, feelings, or advice on how to present D&D to a room full of non-gamers, I am, as always, all ears.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Big and Little Five

I am attempting yet again to pare down the hundreds of RPGs I own/read to a more manageable number. In this latest attempt, I have selected ten RPGs that I shall try and be completely devoted to, my Big Five and my Little Five.

The Big Five RPGs are my “front-line” games, the ones I follow the most fervently. These games are all very mainstream, very big in the hobby. This is by design; I like playing the biggest games because they are the easiest to draw a crowd for, particularly new players.

  1. Dungeons & Dragons: Really? Do I need to explain this one?
  2. World of Darkness: I've written before about the great legacy of the WoD games, and I'm a firm believer in their power, even today. I wouldn't necessarily call it the best horror RPG out there, but definitely the most popular and the best supported. I plan on spreading my attention to both the new, post-God-Machine WoD, and the old-school 90's stuff (the brilliant 20th anniversary editions they've been lovingly putting together for every gameline).
  3. Shadowrun: Mainstream gamers looking for something a little wild and crazy but still recognizable devour Shadowrun by the pound. This game practically built its brand on answering the question "are there any settings out there that combine fantasy and sci-fi?"
  4. Numenera/The Strange: These are two of the best RPGs to come out in at least the past several years. Numenera is a masterpiece of vision and playability, and any of my players looking for some sci-fi action are going to love it. The aptly-named The Strange will scratch the itch of any players looking for an urban fantasy/sci-fi game that can put out an X-Files or Fringe kind of vibe (as well as just about anything else, should the need arise).
  5. Star Wars: Perhaps the only franchise that can approach D&D for sheer recognition, both Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion are incredible games in their own right.

My Little Five are my personal favorites, games that I love but tend not to run because they aren’t as mainstream-accessible. If the Big Five are summer blockbusters, then the Little Five are the independent films.

  1. Cortex Plus: The RPG trinity of Cortex Action, Cortex Dramatic, and Cortex Superheroic are some of the breeziest, fastest, most fun RPGs I've ever played. I'll keep all of these games, particularly Firefly and Marvel, on tap for casual play.
  2. Eclipse Phase: My favorite of the transhuman sci-fi RPGs, and perhaps my new favorite sci-fi setting. I doubt I'll ever get this game to the table, but reading the books for the wild ideas alone is well-worth it.
  3. Apocalypse Engine: Dungeon World was a revelation when I read it two years ago. You could argue that all of my renewed interest in tabletop role-playing was sparked by reading that one little book. It, it's older sibling Apocalypse World, and its younger siblings Monster of the Week and tremulus, plus my own hack World Gone Mad, are extremely fun games that are great to whip out on a rainy day.
  4. Warhammer Fantasy role-playing: Using a crunchier version of Star Wars' narrative dice system, the latest iteration of the Old World has all the crunch of classic dungeon-crawl role-playing with absolutely none of the math. People who appreciated what D&D's 4th edition was trying to do, but thought it could have been done better, should definitely give this game a look. WFRP is, in my humble opinion, one of the most underrated role-playing games of all time. If I ever have a chance to do this game justice, I shall.
  5. Call of Cthulhu: The old stalwart, and definitely one of the greatest horror RPGs ever made. My favorite game for traditional D&D gamers looking for something different.

So I realize there are a lot of notable games missing from these lists...Fate Core? GURPS? Savage Worlds?...know, however, that I'm not saying I'll never play those games, or that these games are somehow better than those. These are simply the ten RPGs I want to focus the majority of my free time and energy on. Think I should reconsider? Let me know!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Rate Your GM

As RPG'ers, we love to quantify things, don't we? Slap numbers on stuff, express life all around us in gaming terms. I remember when Fate Core first hit the scene. Everything was an Aspect!

Anyways, for whatever reason, I was thinking about my "stats" as a GM while I was on my way home from work last night. I tried to be as honest as I can, though I'm certain ego has probably skewed my stats at least a little bit. I rated myself in six stats, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best. Here are the six stats:

Creativity: A GM's ability to come up with interesting, compelling new ideas, be they for adventures, characters, or whole campaign settings;

Improvisation: The ability to "roll with it," responding to player's crazy ideas, making things up on the spot, and house ruling through odd situations;

Mechanics: A GM's ability to understand and implement the rules of any given RPG, from the smallest technical details to the bigger-picture, design philosophy ideas;

Prep: A GM's preparedness...having all the materials he or she needs ready to go before the game starts. This also encompasses a GM's logistical/planning abilties;

Consistency: The ability to deliver adventures on a set schedule. GM's with high consistency seem to always have an adventure ready, and could run a game weekly, or, if their score is high enough, nightly. This stat is important for running campaigns;

Leadership: This is a GM's ability to socialize with others. This includes being able to share the spotlight, address problem players with maturity and empathy, and to invite and incorporate new players into a game.

So here's how I rated myself:

Creativity: 9. Personally, I think Creativity is my strongest suit. I've come up with some truly bizarre ideas for adventures and campaigns over the years. Throwing my ideas at players and seeing how they respond to them is one of my favorite joys of GMing.

Improvisation: 8. Over the years, I've learned alot about how to roll with the players' plans and ideas. I could probably improv an entire adventure, if I needed to and I was comfortable enough with the game.

Mechanics: 7. I make a big effort to get the rules of my RPGs down cold. That being said, I do tend to throw rules out the window the second I feel like they're bogging me down, and I've noticed if I play a game a lot, I have a tendency to "drift" away from the mechanics of the game. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's not a good thing, either.

Prep: 7. Though I do have a tendency to bumble and forget things from time to time, overall I've worked hard to be completely ready to roll before the players even show up on game day. I often communicate with players over what I'm bringing, what I'd like them to bring, when the start will be, etc.

Consistency: 4. This is my biggest weakness. My gaming ADD has me dancing from one game to the next. Usually the moment a game really clicks with me is the moment I give it up and move onto something else. This is something I'm definitely trying to work on. I would have given myself a 3, but I think my success with the Firefly RPG campaign bumps me up to a 4.

Leadership: 8. I worked hard to build up the role-playing group I have today. I hosted meetups to the public, I incorporated new players on short notice, and I'm always looking out for whomever seems to be having the least fun and doing whatever it takes to bring them into the fold.

So that's how I rate myself. How do you rate your GM? Or, if you are a GM, how do you rate yourself, as objectively as you can?

(And, for my players who are reading this, would you agree with my ratings or not? Be honest!)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Fall From Grace

Several months ago, I alluded to a solution I came with up with for running a superhero RPG campaign. In that prior entry, I talked about my two big problems with superhero RPGs: that the coolest heroes tend to work alone, and that the coolest villians tend to have as much spotlight time as the heroes. I've decided to share that solution today, bounce it off my readers, and see what ya'll think. Following is the pitch. This pitch was written as an email I'd send to my players, so read it as if you were about to play this game. Afterwards, let me know what you think!

So without further ado, here is my pitch for my superhero RPG campaign, Fall From Grace:

For this campaign, all of you will begin the game as superheroes. In time, one, some, or possibly even all of you will become villains. This campaign will revolve around this corruption, this gradual and dramatic fall from grace that results in some of you becoming supervillians. The particulars of the campaign will not be known to you, but this overarching theme about some of you becoming villains will be a constant.

During character creation, you will decide if your hero will eventually become a villain or not. After you make your character, you’ll send me an email letting me know if your hero is going to turn into a villian (which we'll call falling, as in falling from grace) or not. Not all of you have to know right away whether your hero is going to fall, but I’ll need at least one of you to know your hero will fall before the campaign begins. You may be able to change your mind as the game progresses, but there will always be at least one character who’s going to turn. 

Do not let any other players know of your intention to fall.  Even if you are falling and other players know, never confirm or deny their suspicions out of the game. Since there will always be at least one hero in the process of falling, there will always be an air of dread and suspicion as each of you questions each other's motives and tries to anticipate each other's actions. This is intended.

If your hero is going to fall, we will discuss privately how and when that will happen. The theme of this campaign is falling from grace; as of such, your character’s turn to villainhood should be subtle and gradual. Sudden and inevitable betrayals are cliche. We’re looking for a deeper exploration of morality, here. If other players suspect you’re falling, they’re welcome to try and stop you from doing so. As I said before, it is possible to stop your villain turn, as long as at least one of you is still planning to do so.

When your hero does become a villain, what will most-likely happen is I will take partial control of your character. You will still role-play your villain, but I will direct what he/she does, what his/her plans are, and who he/she associates with (with input from you being taken into consideration). For this reason, it would behoove you to create sidekicks, loved ones, or other secondary characters for your hero to associate with, and perhaps even play as, when your hero falls.

How many of you fall, as well as how your fall from grace happens, will shape the overall structure of the campaign. Since I want these villian turns to be gradual, I will probably write multi-adventure story arcs about your character and his/her fall from grace, pulling from your own backgrounds, personalities, strengths and weaknesses. If several of you are turning, your storylines will probably criss-cross each other’s throughout the campaign….much like a real comic book event. I do not know yet how long this campaign will last. Each of you will have a spotlight episode, like Firefly, but storylines may take longer than seven “issues” to play out. A ballpark estimate right now is between 12-18 sessions.
The campaign world will be a custom-built universe that I will mostly design, with input coming from you and your character's backgrounds. In this universe, although there are many known superheroes, villians are actually quite rare. Most superheroes end up fighting organized crime, petty criminals, or larger environmental hazards (floods, fires, tornadoes, etc.) The prologue adventure (issue 0) will see all of you getting together to take down the Apex Predator, one of the world's few supervillians-at-large. Apex is a serial-killer who can manipulate shadows and has super-agility and strength. For years, he has systematically targeted and killed the wealthy and elite of the world; corporate CEO's, millionaires, and media moguls are his specialty. The adventure will begin with all of you having a lead on his whereabouts, and working together to put an end to his reign of terror.

The tone of this series will mimic the more over-the-top, gritty comics of the 80's and 90's. Think Watchmen, some of the older Batman storylines (like Knightfall), Spawn, or Sandman. Like those books, there will be plenty of space and color for campiness, but there will also be some truly dark, even graphic, turns throughout the series.

I think we're all going to have fun! If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, let me know!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Story of Grumpus

(this is not an entry about gaming.)

This evening, I'm bringing my dog Goober to an animal shelter. I don't want to get into the long and sad reasons my wife and I can't keep him. Instead, I'd just like to talk about his life with us. Following is an open letter I'll be leaving with him. I wanted to record it somewhere to remember him.

My wife and I adopted Goober on December 19th, 2008 from the Humane Society in Honolulu, Hawaii. We had no medical history or knowledge of his past but our veternarian estimated that he was 1-2 years old when we adopted him, he was in excellent health, and he appears to be purebred. We lived in Hawaii until January of 2011, when I got out of the Army and we moved back to Michigan. In August of 2012, I got a job in Washington, D.C. and so we moved here. He took to the name Goober well enough, and since he was more or less fully-grown, we didn't want to rename him. Were we to rename him, though, I would have called him Grumpus. Indeed, I sometimes called him that, anyway. I'm not sure if he realized that was his "second" name.

In the time that we've had Goober, his health issues were relatively minor. The most common issue, understandably, are ear infections. He used to get them often in Hawaii, but they've tapered off since then; it's now been at least a year, maybe longer, since his last infection. We regularly rinse his ear canals with an over-the-counter dog ear cleaning solution, and that seems to help. He caught a decent bacterial infection earlier this year, but after some medications and extended rest, he's back to normal. The only lingering issue he now has are that his hindlegs are prone to strain. If he moves just the wrong way, or if we pick him up the wrong way, he'll yelp in pain and be very stiff for the next few days. The vet confirmed that this is not a degenerative condition or disease or anything; it's just a cheerful dog playing too hard!

Temperament wise, Goober is very sweet, gentle, and needy. He loves attention, mostly from humans, though he is very gentle and curious with other dogs, as well. He is absolutely NOT aggressive, and in fact can be quite bashful at times, especially around men (perhaps something that happened before we got him). He can be very playful; his favorite game is to take a rawhide chew in his mouth and act like he's going to let me take it, then he growls and runs off, and expects me to chase him! When I would chase him and grab the rawhide from his mouth, he'd growl fiercely and act like a meaner, bigger dog than he really is. But just looking at his wagging tail and you'll see he's actually having a lot of fun. He'll tell you the game is over by finally just laying on the floor.

Goober is fully potty-trained, and in fact has a pretty amazing bladder. When we transported him from Hawaii to Michigan, he had to remain in his kennel for over 24 hours. He didn't pee a single drop the entire time. Throughout his life with us, he's had to remain indoors for 8, 10, sometimes even 12 hours at a time, and very rarely has he ever gone in the house.

Food is absolutely the best way to motivate him to do anything. Keeping treats on-hand for him is an easy way to get him to go where you want him to go, do what you want him to do, or otherwise behave. Goober rarely barks, and when he does, it's usually to tell me he wants to come back inside, back when we used to have a yard. 

Instead of barking, Goober whines. He can be quite a whiner, sometimes. He would sometimes just wander around the house, whining like a lost child. He won't bark when you come home; he'll whine. He won't bark to go outside; he'll whine. Like a baby, sometimes Goober just cries when he wants to sleep and doesn't know it. Usually firmly telling him to go lay down is all it takes. His whining would drive my wife crazy. It never bothered me that much, though.

Goober absolutely ADORES puppies, and will run around with them all day, if he gets the chance (we suspect the problems with his hindlegs were initially caused by playing around too much with a neighbor's puppy). Goober loves children, too, but if you have smaller kids, be careful; Goober's been known to snatch a hot dog right out of a kid's hand!

Throughout his life, we've consistently fed him Science Diet. Recently, we've begun mixing a half can of green beans with his every meal; he considers it a treat, and the fiber is good for him. In the past, we've spoiled him with baked egg whites (he is NUTS about poultry). He'll take medicine easily with a small spoonful of peanut butter. For an occasional treat, we've also fed him bananas.

It absolutely breaks our hearts that we're giving him up. Goober deserves a great home, and sadly we can't provide it for him anymore. He's been happy with us, and we've always loved him and always will. I hope he finds a comfortable, happy home for him to live out the remaining years of his life. 

Ed Gibbs

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