Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Player Goals

I received an e-mail from one of my Dungeons & Dragons DMs a few days back.  He's having doubts about continuing the game because he's read on a number of blogs and forums that Epic Tier "blows" in 4e.

Apparently a lot of game bloggers have different goals when playing games, and there are either mechanical issues or balance problems or something that bugs these other bloggers that doesn't bother me.

You see, when I play games, my goals change as the game goes on.

At lower power levels, my goal is to learn the system and have fun with Kewl Character Powers. This is also when I'll start to look at higher-level elements to figure out what direction I want the character to take, including  powers and abilities to pick up in the future.  At low levels, I get an idea of a character's potential - and it doesn't matter if the game is D&D or L5R or Burning Wheel.  This is also the point at which I start to get a handle on a character's personality. Thorssen, my first-level Paladin of the Raven Queen, for example, started out looking at moving towards a Warlord multiclass, but he wound up being much less warlike than I had expected once he hit the table.

Lower levels are also when the party dynamic is figured out - this is a group goal. It's when we figure out that Thorssen and Kaden (the party's Cleric) will banter back and forth and try to convert one another. Both respect the other (and the other's God), but they communicate best via light teasing. Thorssen is a bit afraid of Thava, our party's Dragonborn Wizard - you can tell in part because he tends to move away from her when a fight starts. Out of combat, he barely speaks to her at all.  He's got a soft spot for the party's Thief, and he respects the fighter. He often moves to help either with their flanking. He also has a habit of making himself a target so that the rest of the party can maneuver around him.

The mid-level game is when the party dynamic is pretty well set. My goal for the character may change, depending on what personality turns he's taken. For example, Thorssen had initially multiclassed into Bard (it did the same thing as the Warlord without being ... well ... warlike). And then, a few levels later, he retrained out of it, as it didn't fit. It was too social for him.  Thorssen is a high-Charisma character that isn't particularly social by nature. And no, we're not using Charisma as Attractiveness (at least, I don't think we are ... ).

As we head into higher levels, my goal in play will be working on the internal party relationships more and more.  Do I have kewl powers? Yes. Do they matter?  Not really.  It's great that I can be a part of the team.

At all levels of play, however, my biggest goal as a player is getting to interact with my friends. Not Thorssen's friends - my friends. John and Katie and Jim and Dawn and Stephanie and (occasionally guest-starring) Wade.

In fact, that social aspect is my biggest goal no matter what game I'm playing. I don't care if it's No Thanks! or Burning Empires or Fireborn. I come to the table (whether a real physical table or a virtual web-based table) because around that table are people I like with whom I want to spend more time.

I might even play Fluxx, if that's what it'd take to get these folks to the table with me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Kindle Fire

It's not often that cnet's Eric Franklin and I both talk about the same thing. In fact, I tend to avoid discussing too many tech things in part because I don't want to be mistaken for him - he's an expert in his field, and electronics are his field.

Last week, however, my Kindle Fire arrived.

Fair warning: This post has three videos in it, so those of you reading via RSS (or Kindle) may not be able to see the videos. I've filled in text overviews so that the videos are optional, and I am really hoping that their formatting doesn't make this entry illegible for you.

When gaming, I like having two copies of the necessary books - one for the GM and one for the player(s). Having a tablet gives me a shortcut for this - I can have one print copy for the players, and then the tablet for my own reference. DriveThruRPG has been a godsend for me on several fronts - and, with the addition of my Fire, it has potential to be even more useful (and dangerous to my wallet).

Some of you may recall that I have a Kindle DX that I have been using to read PDF files for several years, now. As a pure reader, it was exceptional ... most of the time.

Some of you may also recall that there is one PDF that has been the bane of my Kindle's existence: Houses of the Blooded.

It took upwards of ten minutes to render a single page of this particular file on the DX, which made for some very frustrating reading. Even then, the render was ... less-than-perfect. And the "convert" option that Amazon advertised turned it into an unreadable hash. So did conversion via Calibre.

Now, keep in mind: I have had my Fire all of two days at this point.  There is probably something I'm overlooking for one or more of these programs that would improve the few negative portions of this experience.

So here is my Kindle Fire with its built-in PDF reader showing how it can read Houses of the Blooded:

Not too shabby. It loads quickly, it scrolls smoothly, it zooms well.  In fact if I were just reading the PDF and not trying to use it to run a game, I'd use this built-in reader nearly every time. It's fast, it's smooth, and it looks good. Not only that, but it remembers where I left off.

But it won't work At The Table, because there's no search option. If I don't know what page something is on, I have no fast way to look it up.

Adobe also produced a version of their Acrobat Reader for the Android Platorm.  It's free for the Fire, so I gave that one a spin, too.

I was less impressed with this one.  It was slower than the built-in reader, and just plain didn't look as good. But it has a few bells and whistles that the barebones reader lacked. Most notably, the ability to search the file.

For a free At The Table file reader, this one gets the nod - If I'm looking for a rule, I can search for a word that is in that rule and have a shot at finding it relatively quickly.

Finally, I used QuickOffice Pro - it's not free, though. This software allows you to open more than just PDF files - there is a free version that lets you read these other files, but not change them.  The pro version lets you both open and modify Word and Excel files and, as an added bonus, lets you read PDF files.

It had a few rendering artifacts here and there, but on the whole it was much faster than the Adobe software AND was searchable.  If I were using my Fire at the table, this is the app I would use. QuickOffice can integrate itself with your Dropbox and Google Docs, too, making it easy to put the files onto your Fire without needing to move them around (most of my DriveThruRPG library has been migrating to my DropBox as a convenient storage area).

All in all, I will definitely be packing my Fire along as a game aid. For the first time to see if it's as useful as having the book (without being too distracting). After that, I suspect it'll be just another game aid. Much like dice or pencils are.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

AFK Tavern: Second Visit

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about a new local business - the AFK Tavern. I wrapped up with, "I would eat there again."  It took me nearly a year to do so, but we went back for another shot.

We were promptly greeted even before we made it to the door - a significant change from last time.  We were offered a tour and were shown to our table almost immediately.

We noticed pretty quickly that the menu had changed.  Their drink menu had grown significantly, for one. There wasn't a list of Games On Tap on the menu anymore, either.

We picked something that looked promising, and our server took our drink order very promptly.

And then we waited.  It was close to twenty minutes before our drinks were served. Mind you, the place was packed, so I expected a delay when I ordered.

What I hadn't expected was that there were only two servers (or "NPCs") on duty that night plus two other folks who must have been managers.  It was about five minutes after our drinks arrived that we were able to order our food. And then - again - we waited.

Last time, the mozzarella sticks were barely warm in the middle, as if the fryer temp was too high.  I think they have lowered their fryer temperature since then, because this time the mozzarella sticks were much better. They were crispy on the outside and still mostly hot on the inside. A HUGE improvement over last time.

The fried pickles were tasty - but a bit cold by the time they made it out to us. And they could have done with a dip of some sort (ranch dressing is a fairly common dip for deep-fried pickle slices - Food Network offers this recipe).

Shortly after the appetizers arrived, we requested glasses of water, and I ordered a glass of mead (I'm a sucker for a good mead). When the mead arrived, it was room temperature.  Mead should be chilled - it reduces the burn and enhances the sweet.

Our food arrived a few minutes after our appetizers were finished. My Orcburger was good.  On the previous visit, it had been both cold and burnt.  That was not a problem this time - it was really good.  It took a while for the water to arrive, however.  Our server wandered past the table three or four times before bringing it to us.

The dessert selection was impressive.  My wife's mousse was really good and rich enough that she couldn't finish it. My lemon drop cheesecake was tasty and had the perfect texture (which is make-or-break for a cheesecake).

In fact, my only real complaint this time around was the slow service. I still have some of the same concerns as I had last time, but they seem to be turning the tables over quickly enough. And they've managed to stay open for a year, now.

This time, out, I can give them a solid B.  The only thing they need to bump that to an A is to increase the service.  I will definitely be back, just not on a Friday.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Jack Vasel Memorial Fund Auction

This will be a shorter post than usual:

A few weeks back, I talked briefly about some of the game-oriented and gamer-driven charities that are out there.  One of those that I mentioned was the Jack Vasel Memorial Fund.

They are hosting a fund-raising auction on BoardGameGeek.  Go! Bid! You only have about a week left!

In an ideal world, everything will go for more than double cover price.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

GeekGirlCon Debrief

Sometime last year, I remember getting a business card announcing something called GeekGirlCon. The icon looked very interesting, and what little I heard made it sound interesting. I started hearing more about it as it got closer, and when I realized that it was happening near us, I figured it would be worth a shot.

Since it’s a first-time convention, I was expecting it to be fairly small, and probably slightly un-organized. While it was small, I was pleasantly surprised by how well-run the whole thing was. The panels were in two different locations at the Seattle Center, with about a 10 minute walk between them. The moderators were kind enough to end the panels about 10 minutes before the scheduled end time to give both the panelists and attendees the time to get from one location to the other, which I appreciated - it meant that I didn’t feel as rushed when trying to go from one panel to the next. There were clear signs showing where things were happening, which was good, as the panels were being held in rooms in much larger buildings and would have been a bit hard to find if you didn’t know exactly where they are.

There was a dealers’ room, which was pretty small and cramped, but full of some incredible vendors. One of the really neat things was how happy all of the vendors were to be there - every sale was a moment of victory. A lot of them seemed to be either local folks or people who sold primarily online, so conventions still seemed new and exciting. The vendors were all of the people that I look for at other conventions - costumes, jewelry, books, board was a very dangerous room for my wallet. The University Bookstore had a stall and used it for author and artist signings, which led to a bit of a backup in the aisles. Little things like that are pretty easy to fix, though, so I don’t see that it would an issue next year, depending on the venue.

The panelists were amazing - there were some pretty big names mixed with some local talent. My dear friend Gwen was on a panel about audio drama (insert shameless plug here), and an incredible panel on YA included Scott Westerfeld (of Leviathan and Uglies fame) and Hope Larson, who recently finished drawing a graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time. There was a really interesting panel on killing cattiness in the geek community, and I realized that it’s the kind of panel that couldn’t happen at many conventions. The panelists and attendees managed to discuss cattiness without descending into cattiness themselves, which is impressive - they were able to calmly discuss issues they’d seen (and, in some cases, participated in), without calling names or getting into any fights themselves.

I think that demonstrates one of the best things about this convention - the overall atmosphere was incredibly welcoming and open. I’ve always talked about geekdom as being like a group of different languages, and most conventions focus on only one or two different languages - video games, board games, anime, that sort of thing. This convention, however, incorporated everything - there were panels about costuming, video games, writing, and a pretty decent open gaming area. The main thread that connected everything was not the language of geek we all speak, but the fact that we were women. There were plenty of guys there, too - some of them looked like they were dragged there by their girlfriends, but most looked like they were happy to be there on their own. The different kinds of geek were mingling freely, and the costumes ran the gamut from anime characters to many, many Princess Leias.

Overall, it was the most welcoming environment that I’d ever been in, and it was probably the most comfortable I’ve ever felt at a convention. I’m hoping to help out next year, and I am definitely looking forward to going again and seeing how it grows. If you’re in the Seattle area next fall, I highly recommend stopping by and watching GeekGirlCon demonstrate how a geek convention should be run.