I’ve been taking a little break here at the Rhetorical Gamer. Just needed some time off to work on other projects and deal with work stress. That said, one of the nice things about working for a university is that I get a little time off around the winter holidays. Even as a student I always found this time valuable to “get right” again and I’ve found myself missing the act of blogging again lately. I suppose it had started to feel like a chore instead of something I was enjoying…
Of course, this might also have something to do with the fact that I went through a gaming dry spell for a while there too. And with an active game again, I find that I have a desire to write again. I think there is a correlation.
So that’s a pretty good place to kick off my reflections on 2013… with my new campaign. I’ve been running an Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS) game for a while now and I have to say, I love it. ACKS is an old school D&D style RPG with a very developed domain/economy system. While I will admit that some of the domain mechanics are so dense and just plain odd that I am still struggling to get my head around them (the main problem being that I’m sure they work alright when founding a domain in play but they are tough to fit to existing communities/kingdoms in an already existing game world), I find everything else about the game to be a much needed breath of fresh air.
ACKS is pretty much the game I always wanted when I was playing D&D. It has a wonderful class creation system, race-as-class (but done very well), simple combat and weapons, and a very clever mechanic for what happens when you drop to 0 hp. Can I say how hilarious it has been to roll on that table and how much it seems to take the sting out of a PC dropping in combat?
Two notes about Old School play that are interesting to reflect on for me… I played original D&D (well, I played from the B/X edition) and played a LOT of 2nd Edition AD&D and looking back I realized that we were terrible mappers. I actually hate “mapping” both from the DM side of the screen and the player side. Mapping is not only boring but it stands the chance of completely sidetracking the game. I’m sure that there is joy in it for some players/groups but we tend to find it less than fun and so I’ve started finding ways to minimize the work of mapping at the table while still keeping some of the secrecy of the dungeon complex. I know this is probably heresy but I also hate mega-dungeons… The other thing I’ve realized is that I actually missed having henchmen in the system. Henchmen are awesome. Watching players recruit them, developing their personalities through play, and developing these not quite NPCs into a relationship web with the party is a ton of fun. We lost a beloved henchmen (R.I.P. Ham) in a goblin lair and his sacrifice pretty much saved the party… It’s probably why when I played 3rd edition and Pathfinder I couldn’t wait until I could take the leadership feat. I just like having cohorts, sidekicks, etc.
I also got to enjoy some other geeky pursuits over this break. One of my presents from my wife was the DC Animated “The Dark Knight Returns” which is a controversial favorite of mine. I’m not a big fan of the “Iron Age” of comics and generally dislike these darker, grittier stories. But the Dark Knight Returns is still a Batman story, still fundamentally why Batman is who he is, and does what he does. He’s also a little bit insane, so… But watching the movie – and talking to a friend at work – I decided to go back and revisit another classic, “Watchmen.” I should point out that “Watchmen” is not a favorite. For a long time I haven’t really had any interest in reading it again because it represented – to me – the worst of a rather ugly time in comics. After reading it again I can still say that it is not a favorite but I was surprised by how much I found to appreciate.
My favorite comic series is Astro City. I was amazed by how much I thought about Astro City as I was reading Watchmen again. Astro City’s optimism isn’t really anywhere to be found, but what is there is the fact that the superheroes spend very little time actually being superheroes. They are people. It was especially interesting to check my reactions to Dan’s (Nite Owl’s) story. When I was a teen and I read this for the first time I liked Nite Owl/Dan but reading it again at a later point in my life I find that I appreciated his story more while at the same time liking him a little less as a person. It was an odd feeling and one I can’t really explain too well. Time changes things I suppose. Maybe that’s all I need to say.
I also appreciated the reference to a super being killed because of his cape… I had forgotten that bit and it really gave me a chuckle because my favorite superhero movie of all time is The Incredibles (it really is). I’d love to see Brad Bird have the chance to make a DC movie. It would be magical, I think.
I also spent a lot of time this break with Bill Murray. So far I’ve watched Scrooged, Lost in Translation, and The Life Aquatic. I won’t say too much here since this is my gaming blog but the same friend who made me think about reading Watchmen again told me to watch The Life Aquatic and… well, she was right, I really enjoyed it. If you have not seen these movies, I highly recommend them – especially Lost in Translation – this was a great movie. The understated nature of Lost in Translation and (in its way) The Life Aquatic are actually something I strive for in my GMing. I appreciate the simple (but not simplistic) storytelling and the focus on people, even in outlandish circumstances. In many ways you could say that shapes my philosophy on storytelling all around. It’s probably why I still want to try playing Fiasco so much.
Looking back farther in the year, 2013 was quiet but still good. I met some new people, reconnected with some people I’d lost, got work as a writer, started a new job, read a lot of good books, found a fantastic new convention to attend (RavenCon) in Richmond, VA, and got in some good gaming. I also celebrated my first wedding anniversary, something that still surprises me (I never thought I’d make it to married). I managed to put together versions of my two games (DREAMS and Legends of Ryllia) that I was happy enough with to actually put them up as downloads – check ‘em out and let me know what you think – and I started work on some new gaming projects. Work stress has also led me to put those aside for a few months but I’m ready to dive back in now and I’m feeling good about the future. I also met and had a chance to talk to Peter S. Beagle – the author of The Last Unicorn and other of my favorite stories. It was a highlight of the year for me.
This is long enough now that I won’t take up too much more of your eye-time but my resolutions for 2014 are simple enough anyway… I really only have three and a half.
One: I want to get back in shape. I mean, I’m in decent shape, I work out, and I can still go running without dying but I want to really get in shape. It may not be fair to call this a resolution since I’ve already started before the beginning of the new year but… I’m sticking with it.
Two: I want to finish some of the projects I let slide at the end of 2014. Work stress or not, there is no excuse for letting things slide and I plan to finish my Diceless game as well as my BoL/Shadowrun mash-up before summer.
Three: I want to find some other outlets for my writing. I’ve had the tiniest sliver of publishing success over the last few years – just an opening more than anything else – and I’d like to push that door a little ways and see what’s on the other side. It’s my scariest rabbit-hole since I’m severely lacking in the confidence department but it’s become an important goal.
Four: I want to costume. That may seem silly as a geek who loves attending cons but yeah, that confidence thing again. I find the cosplay world fascinating and while I’m not much for anime I already have a few things I’d love to work on. So my resolution is to complete a Schmendrick the magician costume before RavenCon this year. I’m kinda stoked about this one… also, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be engaged to a Douglas Fir… though since I’m already married, that may become problematic.
Anyway… that’s enough for now. I also resolve to get back to regular posting so I’ll be putting up some of my creations for ACKS over the next few weeks and I’ll keep you posted on the progress of my resolutions… I work better when I’m beholden to someone so, I expect all of you to keep me honest.
Happy New Year and, as always, thank you for reading.