Archive | July 2014

How I Game Now

It finally happened.

For the longest time my friend and I wanted to run a D&D game of some iteration here in town. Finding players and finding time were all an issue.Well, with summer upon us we have done both. Although everyone we thought to ask said no, we still managed to find seven or eight players, including one of my grad school teachers. She’d never played before and upon starting had this to say:

“Holy shit! You’re making all this up. Cool!”

And she’s come back – and brought fresh baked fudge brownies with her too! So it’s all good.

For the grognards among you, we’re using Beyond the Wall as our skeleton system with skills being more story-gamish than crunchy. While everyone likes the BtW character gen mini-game it doesn’t quite suit the campaign, which is Ghostbusters of Lankhmar. Actually, maybe it does suit the campaign: young heroes go to the big city, where misfortune happens to them and no one cares that they were the village hero.

Anyway, since we’re all old and playing on work nights, my goal’s to have an adventure that we can get through and finish in three hours. This means rethinking some things.

1. No megadungeons. At most a dungeon will have 12 rooms or encounters.

2. No exploration phase. Kill me if I ever have to say or listen to, “you walk into an empty 10×10 room” again. Give the players a map, maybe not the exact map, but something where they have a general overview of where they’re going. And to hell with 10′ poles. I know we all grew up with this style of play, but nowadays it just brings me down.

3. Bonus XP. Your character drank three unmarked potions and survived. You said something funny. You drew a post-game picture. You brought rum-soaked dark chocolate cherries to the table. Bonus XP.

4. Adventure seeds. I give the players 5 adventure seeds (here’s what’s happening in town…), they tell me which one they want to follow up on. I make the adventure. Simple. Some remain from week to week. Some don’t.

5. Empty dungeons that “activate” once the party is in the middle of them. Getting in is easy. Getting out is hard.

And I wrote 5 more things but they were lame and obvious. You get the point. Overall the adventures have been fun and the players have come back from week to week and try to get their friends to come to, so that’s all cool.

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Cyclops Has Nothing On Da Weed

20140529_114053This is David. It’s pronounced Da Weed.

Loren Eiseley

This book will be read and cherished in the year 2001. It will go to the MOON and MARS with future generations. Loren Eiseley’s work changed my life.”

That’s Ray Bradbury from the back of Eiseley’s The Star Thrower. Reading that quote made me wonder how many people I know (most of whom are readers) have actually heard of let alone read Loren Eiseley. I don’t even remember how I came about reading him. Maybe it was simply from romping around on wikipedia or maybe someone mentioned him. But when I asked friends if they had read him most people my age or younger hadn’t even heard of him. I guess his fame never made it past the 1980s (at least outside of his hometown), which is a shame because he’s amazing.

He’s a more humanist Carl Sagan. A nature essayist that writes like Thoreau by way of Weird Tales. An essay about foxes will start with a quote from Peter Beagle talking about magicians. It will end with Eiseley sleep deprived at dawn, chicken bone in his mouth, playing with a fox cub in the dunes. Maybe it’s the fate of science writers. Their work too tied to progress and the rate of technological advancement to be anything but doomed to oblivion. Maybe he straddled the line too much and wasn’t enough of a materialist. He spoke too often of miracles.

“Since boyhood I have been charmed by the unexpected and the beautiful. This was what had led me originally into science, but now I felt instinctively that something more was needed – though what I needed verged on a miracle. As a scientist, I did not believe in miracles, though I willingly granted the word broad latitudes of definition.”

Lexicon

A friend from home came to Korea for a visit. She was doing both the ROK and Japan in one Far East swing. I convinced her to leave Seoul and had down to the country. We met in Gyeongju the next city over from where I live. She was impressed by my Korean, which shocked me since I can’t speak the language. What I know is maybe a handful of phrases and numbers. Basically I can go into a store and ask how much something costs and know how much to pay when I’m told. But after living here for four years I’m also a lot more comfortable not knowing what people say to me and having a “conversation” regardless of the fact that I can’t speak the language. Either I’m listening for one word I know and reply with one of the hundred or so I know, or I’m just playing a rather involved game of charades, which gets you pretty damn far.

Sometimes I know exactly what’s being said in some scripted exchanges because I know the script. If I’m buying groceries and I’m asked a question, it’s probably about whether or now I want a bag. I get a lot of mileage out of stuff like that. Or it comes back to the comfort level. Some people, like the shop keepers in my neighborhood, I see everyday, and I’ve stopped and chatted with them where they’re speaking in Korean and I’m speaking in English, but we’re having a conversation that I can only imagine resembles that scene in Ghost Dog where Forest Whitaker and his friend that works in the Ice Cream truck and only speaks Creole are having a conversation about a man building a boat on the roof of an apartment building. Neither speaks the same language but they talk to each other just the same.

Or in other words you can get pretty far here simply by playing a decent game of charades.

June Books

I read a Henry Miller book this month. Afterwards to get the taste of Miller man-funk out of my system I made it a point to read more women. For July I plan on switching tracks again and reading only nonfiction. I realized how much I miss libraries. In the USA if I wanted to read a book about some topic I’d take it out from the library rather than buy it, but with no decent English language libraries nearby if I want to read a book about earthworms then I really, really, really better want to want read it, because I’ll be owning it. Now on to the books…

bird Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott

An enjoyable writing book that was thankfully light on the enthusiastic woo. Lamott does come across as a bit of a kook, but she’s a charming writer with an insightful eye for telling details. Yes, this book is geared towards realism rather than speculation, but all the same her advice and her reality checks are welcome. As is her personality – or at least the constructed personality that comes across in these pages. There’s something pleasant in reading a book by an author you know is a bundle of neurosis and prone to eating their own foot at time.s

doll Doll Bones – Holly Black

This book’s about three kids on the edge of adolescence going on an adventure at the behest of a ghost-possessed doll. It’s middle-grade horror with a straight-up quest in the middle of it. As someone well far beyond the target range of the book, it did take some intention on my part to give a damn, but overall an enjoyable read. The depictions of old American milltowns, in this case those in Pennsylvania and Ohio, rang true.

lud Lud-in-the-Mist – Hope Mirrlees

A “classic” fantasy novel from the 1920s the reads a bit like Tolkien’s Shire mashed up with David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. The town of Lud-in-the-Mist once had regular communication with the Silent Folk (the fairies) beyond the western hills, but that was long ago in the bad old days of Duke Aubery. His days ended in revolution and the current people of Lud have banned all commerce with the fairy folk, yet the strange narcotic fairy fruit arrives in the town just the same. When the fruit wreaks havoc in the household of Mayor Nathaniel Chanticleer the good man decides to track it to its source, including a trek west to the land from which no one has ever returned. This book’s by turns twee and sinister, and sometimes in the span of the same sentence let alone paragraph. If you like Dunsany’s Elfland’s Daughter or Charwoman’s Shadow you should enjoy this.

taleA Tale of the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki

A woman finds a diary floating in the ocean. The diary belongs to a Japanese girl named Nao who’s the victim of intense bullying. She plans on killing herself, but needs to tell the story of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun, before she does it. Later the universe collapses into fragments and multiple realities, and people go on dream quests to solve all their problems. I enjoyed the ride despite the lack of closure, which might very well have been the point.

time The Time of the Assassins – Henry Miller

This book’s a long meditation/rant by Miller on the life and works of Arthur Rimbaud. It’s short. It’s dense. It’s ranty. It’s a Henry Miller book. And that’s good, as long as you can overlook the fact that he writes with his dink on the table.

PBB GRID.inddWhite Is For Witching – Helen Oyeyemi

There’s this part near the end of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House where the haunted house begins to possess Eleanor and alter her perceptions of reality. This book is like that chapter all the time. Miranda Silver is a young woman with an eating disorder living with her brother and father in a house haunted by four generations of women, and they have chosen Miranda to join them. This was a surprising book, and thinking about it now I feel as if there was a whole layer of commentary present in it regarding Britain’s history of ethnic persecution that I barely grasped. Not that you have to, really, as the book does hold up as a stylish haunted house story.