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“Something amazing, I guess…”

 

Tonight, something amazing happened. Something I wasn’t expecting would even be possible for a couple years, if ever…I played an RPG with my kids.

A little preface is in order. I like role-playing games. Not all of them, and not indiscriminately, but I like them. I like the idea of working together as a group to accomplish something, even if what you’re accomplishing is just a good time. I enjoy when the person running the game drops the bomb, and you realize that everything’s changed, and that things are about to go sideways. Most of all, I enjoy being able to play in an environment as unstable as the world in the GM/DM/Storyteller’s head, because that world is a malleable clay, and if I can think of something crazy and interesting enough, it’ll probably happen. Most of all, I like running the games, acting as referee for a group of people that are in it for all kinds of different reasons, and planning a narative to catch all of them, and bring them together mentally to achieve something. These are all amazing things.

So, today I promised my kids we’d play a game. I said maybe we’d play a board game (assuming I could find one.) They thought that was a great idea, and reminded me of it incessantly on the way home from church. With Mommy sleeping due to new-mother-syndrome, that left me and three kids with a lot of time to spare on our own on a sleepy Sunday with the rain pouring outside. I poked around a little in the closets, trying to figure out where the board games had gone, hoping we had something like Chutes and Ladders that they wouldn’t need much help to figure out. Something we could just sit down and play. When I couldn’t find anything except Monopoly (my oldest is seven…no way I was going to explain Monopoly well enough for us to play), I was ready to give up. Then I rememebered that I had Descent tucked away somewhere in the garage.

Small aside: Descent is sort of what happens when game designers have a lot of money to spend, and decide to take D&D and make it simpler while maintaining the spirit of the original. So, you have the awesome board that’s completely modular so you can make it look any which way you want, you have all the figurines (it would be better if they were color, but still…), the custom dice…and the horrible custom rules. The rules…are horrible to play with. The only thing it does better than stock D&D is that the player characters are pre-made, so you don’t have to roll new ones when you have no idea what you’re doing. Everything else is much, much harder to pick up, and never stops feeling awkward and clunky. Interestingly, smart DMs will have pre-made characters ready for new players, so they can just pick one and start playing, making that one advantage pretty much moot.

I bought Descent in the first place because I wanted all the figures, and especially the modular game board. I’ve seen really ghetto boards, and this one was very nice…and I just kind of wanted it. :) I never pulled it out to play with anyone, because I knew how horrible it was to play, but I kept it somewhere safe, and wondered what in the world I’d do with it.

Fast forward to today. I pulled the giant tackle box I have the whole thing stored in out of the garage, and brought it into the living room. I had no idea how this was going to work out, but I figured I’d make it up as I went along, using an incredibly simplified d20 system. I pulled out my dice, and it turns out my dice addiction has paid off: I had almost four full sets of dice we could use (d20 systems use a d20 (20-sided dice), a d12, 2 d10s, d8, d6, and d4), as well as a ton of miscellaneous markers and a whole bunch of other dice. Enough to get playing, anyway.

It took about five minutes to set them up (fighter, magic-user and cleric…I’ve been in a oDnD kick recently) and sort of expain what we would be doing. I put up a hallway that they started in, and let them go at it. I didn’t plan anything at all–made it all up on the fly. But they loved it. They loved fighting the monsters and looting the corpses. They worked together, with my youngest son healing the others when they needed it, and the other two protecting him and each other. They thought it was awesome when they found armour and weapons in chests, and got to hit things harder, or get harder to hit. And while I don’t really get into miniatures myself, they loved them–rather than having to picture the situation I was describing, they could see it on the board, and could make decisions immediately. They happily took turns, and talked about what they should do. We played for three and a half hours, and they were completely captivated by it, and wanted to know if we could play again when we finished. (My voice was going hoarse, and my back/butt hurt from sitting on the floor so long, so I told them we’d play again Wednesday.)

So, why am I sharing this? I guess it’s mostly because I’m so excited about what I discovered. It seems that with a simple-enough rule system (and it was *simple*…I’m going to have to write it out at some point) my older three children, only 7, 5, and 4, were able to sit down with me and play a game for hours, and loved it. And the really scary part? I loved it, too.

Posted in Role Playing.

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Tips for NaNoWriMo

I was talking to a friend of mine today about the upcoming month, and asked him if he was planning on doing NaNoWriMo this year. He told me he was thinking about it, and started asking me questions. After I answered some of them, I got to thinking about the things that I’ve done the last two years that made the whole experience easier. I also got to thinking about the things that didn’t really do much for me. So, rather than reiterate this all to my friend, I thought I’d just put it up and point people here. XD

Things that help:

Pick a time and place

It’s a lot easier get the quantity of words you’re shooting for when you allow your mind to make a habit out of it. If you sit down every day at 9am (10pm, 12m, whatever) to write for two hours, very soon you’ll be able to just sit down and write, without having to “get in the mood” or whatever. Related to that, I found an album that I listen to when I write. I actually don’t even hear the thing anymore unless I think about it, but I listen to it to help turn my “writing mode” on. What’s nice about the album is it lasts about an hour and a half, which is exactly how long I can sit and write without a break. So, when I go for marathon sessions, I tend to listen to it twice through, taking a break when it stops/repeats.

Figure out what you want to write about before you sit down to write

For the people who do all their plotting before-hand, this is a non-issue. For the rest of us, who find our best stuff coming out as we’re sitting down at our desk ready to write, this is very good advice. The first year I did NaNoWriMo, I didn’t plan ahead at all. There were definitely nights where a good chunk of the time I was sitting at the computer (I type faster than I can write) I was trying to figure out what was going on and what I should write about. This is not an efficient way to do it. It’s much better to take a couple minutes and figure out what scenes you want to write. You don’t have to have the scene planned out at all–you just need to know how it starts. “Who’s there?” and “What are they trying to do?” is usually enough to get me started, personally. Also, I figure that out at the end of the writing session the day/night before, when I’m still thinking creatively. It usually only takes a couple minutes, since I’m already in the right frame of mind, and my mind is full of the story. Then, the next day, I can hit the ground running.

Plan to finish early

People don’t talk about this a whole lot, but when you’re finishing something with a deadline, finishing at the last minute tends to stress you out a lot. People under stress find it harder to be creative than relaxed people. If you plan to finish on 30 November, you are planning a lot of stress for yourself. SOMETHING will come up. Probably several SOMETHINGs, over the course of the month. You’ll find that you miss a single day, and where doing the daily requirement was pretty easy, doing double is a lot harder. And you’ll miss a day. You’ll probably miss several days over the month–life happens, and you get burned out. If you don’t plan for those missed days from the beginning, you can end up burning out before you hit the end from all the double and triple daily word amounts you end up trying to squeeze in. The best advice I can give on that front is to finish by the 27th, and plan to take at least a day off every week. Your daily word count goes up, from 1667 words a day to 2174 (I round up to 2200)…so 500ish more words a day. In return, you have time off every week to not write, and even if you miss a day, you’ve planned three extra days at the end of the month as a cushion, so you don’t need to stress about it. You can make up the day as you go along or at the end…either way you’re not stressed out about it, and that makes it much easier to write.

Start with a bang

Lot’s of people start the month by writing a ton of words, trying to make a cushion at the beginning of the month, instead of at the end. I prefer to have the cushion at the end of the month, but I’ve found starting the month with a large word count makes the rest of the month feel a lot easier. Writing 5000 words on the first day of the month is *very* doable, and having a tenth of the word count for the month done is *huge* encouragement. (For those of you who plan out the extra time, doing 10,000 words the first day makes the month cake, since you’ve essentially given yourself an extra week of writing time at the end of the month, in case you need it.)

 

Things that didn’t help or didn’t matter:

A Support Group

Now, this isn’t entirely true–I did keep online friends aware of my word count, to keep me going. What I ended up not¬†needing was to go to all the events my local NaNo group was putting on. They were meeting like four times a week at cafes, peoples’ homes, wherever they could find someone willing to let them hang out for several hours at a time. Maybe this helps some people…but it didn’t help me at all. When I with other people, I want to socialize. I want to talk about what they’re doing, what I’m doing, blah blah blah. If I want to write, I need to be by myself, in the space I chose, at the time I normally write at. Most professional authors who’ve commented on this say the same.

Now, I need to become my own apologist for a moment. A support group is incredibly useful. Meeting with people regularly really does help us become better writers. …just not while we’re writing. Writing is a lonely work, because we can’t do our best at it when surrounded by people. The exception, of course, being when we ignore the people we’re surrounded by. In that case, why be surrounded by people if we can help it? No, the group is useful when we’re ready to move beyond the writing into the editing. When we’re ready for opinions about our work, so that we can find if and how well others understand what we’re trying to do. There are many famous groups of this sort (the Inklings are my favorite), and they are extremely useful to those who participate in them. However, no one would dream of going and writing there. NaNoWriMo is about the act of writing, not the act of editing (which they tell you regularly.)

Editing

Taking time to edit is anathema to the NaNoWriMo process. It’s called a ‘rough’ draft for a reason. You’re not supposed to go back and change scenes, or fix dialogue, or even fix the spelling! You’re just trying to get everything out of you as fast as you can, and editing only impedes the process. What this boils down to, is your fingers should never touch the backspace key, and you should never use an eraser.

There. If I can think of anything else, I’ll throw it up. Otherwise, these are the most useful bits I’ve picked up. :)

Luck!

Posted in Writing.

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Vertigo

Did you ever lie on your back under the blue sky, and stare upward?
Looking into its indigo depths so long you began to forget everything, only experiencing the heat of the sun and the endless sky?
Did you ever do that for so long, that you lost all sense of up and down?
Felt vertigo at the thought of falling off the earth into the blue void, and found yourself pressing as hard as you could against the dirt?

Posted in Meditative.


You should care about SOPA/PIPA

EDIT: Kind of a summary, I suppose. http://chrisacky.posterous.com/sopa-highights-the-roundup

Well, today is an interesting day. It seems that many of the largest sites online are doing *something* to get people to pay attention to the SOPA and PIPA bills being worked on in Congress. These bills are being sponsored by members of congress with strong…financial backing from various media conglomerates. While I’m not at all proficient in legal-speak (it makes my head hurt) it seems that these bills are meant primarily to give more power to these corporations in their effort to take down ‘intellectual property’ theft, or ‘piracy.’ (See what I did there with the quotes? That represents my opinion that intellectual property isn’t real, and my astonishment that they haven’t thought to monetize ‘pirating’ rather than spend all that money fighting it…) If you like IP and dislike piracy, this bill probably sounds great. Except that these large corporations are already abusing the powers they’ve been granted by congress, taking down websites and online content of competitors and people that are not infringing on their IP. So, as far as I can tell, they seem to have plenty of power to take down sites on the Internet already. Also, they seem inclined to abuse the power they already have…why give them more?

So, what does it boil down to? The SOPA and PIPA bills are being pushed out of committee (commitees that have been avoiding the tech community as much as possible, who are all trying to tell them why this is a bad idea) and soon will be put to a vote. It would probably be a good idea to learn some more about this, and if you agree that these bills are bad ideas, tell people. I’ll probably only reach half a dozen people, but you’re all very smart people, and I have faith that you’ll take a look and make a decision for yourself.

I don’t really care if people agree with me or not–I just hope people will look into it and decide where they stand, then act on it.

Cheers. :)

Posted in Uncategorized.