A Great Place to Be From

Spring has sprung in the Northwest!  This last weekend was our first weekend where the temperature exceeded 70 degrees both Saturday and Sunday.  Grills all over the place were dusted off, cleaned and fired up.  Lawn mowers were uncovered, gassed up and the smell of freshly cut grass, gasoline and barbecues filled the air all over our neighborhood.  It’s a glorious time of the year and there’s no place I’d rather be.

I grew up in the Northwest, in Spokane, Washington, just 360 miles or so from where I now live.  The Northwest is where I’ve lived my life except for a few months in northern Florida and a year back east when I was around seven years old.  I don’t know if I will ever live anywhere else.  I’m not sure I want to live anywhere else.

In Spokane we had, as we used to say, “all four seasons”.  Each was roughly three months and each was kind of a picture perfect form of the season.

Summers were hot and lakes were warm.  You could plan on swimming from June to mid-September, though typically we were done once school started and we had to go back to normal life.  You could count on several weeks to a month or more where the weather is consistently 90 degrees or above.

Spring was warm and welcome and Fall seemed to blend seamlessly from the late Indian Summer in to Winter.

Winters were cold and Spokane would typically see at least several weeks if not a month or more with significant snow fall.  Forts were built, snowballs thrown and snowmen were built or destroyed and eventually melted.

Because this was more than a few years ago, it was not a time when parents had reason to be overprotective of their kids.  As a result, it was perfectly typical for me to roll out of the house after breakfast with only the guidance to be back by dinner time or, if I negotiated, by dark.  On my very cool ten speed with the curved handlebars, it seemed like I could range over the entire city.  Now, Spokane isn’t big, so looking back at Google Maps, it turns out my range was on the order of a couple of miles in all four directions, so really more like 16 square miles, but there was absolutely adventure to be found in that area.

On any given day there could a ride down to the Spokane river where we might go down to the river and jump along the rocks which was mildly dangerous but exhilarating.  Prior to the World’s Fair in Spokane in 1974, the downtown area of Spokane used to be a large rail yard from the days when Spokane was a significant hub in shipping things via rail.  That rail yard was renovated and replaced with Riverfront Park which became a favorite place to hang out on a sunny day.  One of the highlights when I was little was a carousel that had (and still has) the most amazing horses.  These were recovered from a previous carousel in Natatorium Park in Spokane after being in storage for a long time.  The carousel had one of those mechanisms that would swing out and you could lean out and try and snag a ring.  Mostly they were plastic read and blue rings which we could then throw (or heave as hard as we could) at a painted clown to try and get them in its mouth.  Each round there was one golden ring and if you pulled the golden ring, you got another ride free.  I got the golden ring once and it was very exciting at the time.

There were other places to go play that, in retrospect, were some combination of stupid or dangerous.  Just blocks behind our house was a factory that produced Presto-Logs from compressed sawdust.  The factory was not active on the weekends and it wasn’t gated so it was a huge amount of fun to go over there and run up and over and through the giant piles of sawdust.  Better, there were rumors that some kid has died after sinking in to one of the giant piles (they were probably 20-30 feet high) of fresh sawdust, which only added to the sense of danger.  Near that was also a company that produced cement culverts.  Each of these were 10-20 feet long and roughly 6 feet in diameter.  They would typically be stacked a couple high.  Again, it was closed on the weekends but not fenced in (or at least not adequately) because it was another place to go and climb and jump and run.

It’s amazing to think back on these things which seemed so mundane to me at the time and realize these are things I would absolutely have kept my own kids from doing, either because they were trespassing or because it was dangerous.  But, for me, they were just the canvas of my summers when I was growing up.

I recall playing in a nearby three story office building as it was being built, running up and down the stairs with my dog Chopper, who was the best dog that ever was.  The stairwells weren’t protected and I’m sure it was slightly dangerous and I’m sure it was slightly illegal but all those things just made it fun.

As I grew up it became increasingly clear to me that Spokane was probably not where I would need to be for my career.  I knew I was going to work in computers and Spokane was (and is) not much for what I imaged as High Tech.  The line I use sometimes is that Spokane was a great place to be *from*.  I loved growing up there and missed it when I moved away.  I have a lot of family there, still.  I went back a year or so ago when one of my favorite aunts passed and was able to spend some time with that family and it was a reminder of those wonderful times growing up and closeness that was shared with all that large and extended family.

After wasting some time looking for a job in the area and realizing that there really wasn’t anything that I wanted to do there, I decided to move to Portland, Oregon which possessed two things from my limited experience.  First, it was “the big city”.  This is certainly true relative to Spokane and arguably the Northwest, but is, as with most things, relative.  Second, in the mid-80s it was what was known as “The Silicon Forest”.  The reality was that the folks in the Silicon Valley had figured out they needed more people than lived in the Silicon Valley and folks were cheaper and easier to hire up around Portland, so that’s where I went.

Looking back, it’s also easy to figure out that it was a pretty safe choice because it wasn’t *that* different than Spokane.  Weather is a bit wetter in general, a bit cooler in the summer and a bit warmer in the winter.  All in all, it seemed like close enough.  Looking back after having been in the Portland area for almost 30 years, the thing I probably miss the most is all the lakes.  In the Spokane area, it’s hard to go 30-45 minutes in any direction without hitting a lake or multiple lakes.  I’m sure it’s a side-effect of the geology, but they seemed to be everywhere.  From the tiny to the large (Lake Pend Oreille (“Pond-a-ray”)) is huge and deep enough that at one point the US Navy tested submarines there), lakes are a part of life in that area in a way that they are not around Portland.

Small quibbles aside, I’ve never regretted moving to Portland.  We’re a bit more than an hour from the coast, a bit more than an hour from Mount Hood, a couple of hours from the high desert of Eastern Oregon and an hour or so from the Columbia River Gorge.  So, whether it’s beach time, mountain time, outdoor activities and hiking or exploration, there’s certainly plenty of beautiful things to do outdoors in this area.

Where I once described where I’m from as “a great place to be from”, I hope that my kids grow up here and look back fondly at their years here and whether they stay here or move further away to stake out their own lives, I hope they, too, look back here and say it was “a great place to be from”.



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Marriage Equality

I’m not a terrifically vocal person with respect to my politics.  I am typically “live and let live” so long as someone isn’t trying to infringe upon my rights or push their agenda, religious or otherwise, on me.  But, I also have the advantage of being a straight white male living in the generally liberal northwest.  As a result and because I’m not knowingly trying to break any laws, my rights and my lifestyle are not under attack.  Further, I recognize that no one really cares what I personally think on this subject and I certainly don’t expect to change anyone else’s mind on this or, really, any other subject.  Having said that, this subject baffles me unlike almost any other.

The United States Supreme Court is hearing two cases related to Marriage Equality this week.  You can read a nice article summarizing the two cases here (http://www.npr.org/2013/03/25/175252608/the-same-sex-marriage-cases-a-primer) on NPR’s site.

Basically the first is related to whether California’s Prop 8 violates the 14th amendment which prevents states from denying people equal protection under the law.  The second challenges the constitutionality of DOMA (the incredibly poorly named Defense of Marriage Act) passed in 1996 which bars Federal recognition of same-sex marriages.  The effect of DOMA, among others, is that gay couples cannot and do not get the same tax advantages and other benefits that straight married couples get.

I grew up in the 70s and that was also a pretty liberal time.  By the time I was politically aware enough to pay attention, everyone was expected to have equal rights under the law regardless of skin color.  Women had the same rights as men to vote or own property or any of the other things which have been constrained legislatively in the past.

But that was the point, to me it was all in the past.  It was like Ye Olde Dark History and was just “how it used to be in the old days” before people started behaving more rationally.

As we all know, that wasn’t really the reality in the 70s or the 80s but there had been significant progress.  It was the the exception, it seemed to me, and not the rule when issues came up around women’s rights or equal rights in our country.

I admit I wasn’t really aware of the issue of gay rights when I was a kid and it didn’t really enter my consciousness until I was an adult.  I came from Spokane, Washington and didn’t even know that I knew anyone who was gay until after college.  Yes, I was that sheltered.  And clueless.  Sue me.

But when I did have (and do have) people in my life who are gay, I’ve always been baffled that legislation would exist that would cheat them of rights.

First it was what seemed to me to be the small things: What do you mean that if a man is in the hospital and his partner wants to visit him, he can’t visit as any other family member would?  That’s a thing?  That’s a stupid distinction.  Family is family.  Later that same incredulity was applied to the notion of marriage equality.  I simply didn’t and still don’t understand why this is a thing.

In the recent 2012 elections there was some back and forth in my circle on Facebook about the issue of marriage equality and it became clear that one of the things that muddy the water dramatically is the confluence of marriage between the secular and the religious worlds.  That’s unfortunate and, it seems to me, unnecessary.

While I do know it is true that marriage is a very important thing from a religious perspective, it’s certainly not a universal notion.  The words that are spoken, the expectations placed on the couple, the commitments they make to each other and to their community vary geographically, culturally and even generationally.  In the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, whose words are used in many weddings to this day included the following by the Wife, “to love, cherish, and to obey”, whereas the Husband simply promised to “to love, cherish”.  I realize that some still believe that “to obey” is an important and useful clause based on the notion that *someone* has to be in charge, but I would assert that most in 21st century American society would find that part both quaint and antiquated.  The point being, marriage is not a constant.  It changes with the times to better reflect the society in which it takes place.

From a secular perspective, it’s clearly also an important issue.  In the Oregon Revised Statues (http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/), marriage can be found 88 times in various places.  It defines marriage and details the rights that come with marriage.  And I believe this is a reasonable thing to be defined from a secular perspective because marriage impacts so many things from health care to property to taxes to children.  But the state’s notion of marriage changes and shifts, as well, with time.  It wasn’t that long ago that states specifically legislated against a black person and a white person marrying.  This is a notion that seems like it’s out of some sort old time historical book or movie.  But, it wasn’t until 1967 that the Supreme Court got around to declaring those laws unconstitutional.  Unsurprisingly, many states had already overturned their own miscegenation laws before this, but the Supreme Court still had to weigh in to make it official across the entire United States.

I suspect we’re nearing a similar juncture now with respect to marriage equality and for many of the same reasons that overturned those laws.

Simply put, they aren’t rational, they aren’t legal and the tide of history grows increasingly strong against them.  Marriage Equality, I believe, will be a given whether it’s this year or in five or ten years.  And twenty years from now I believe we’ll look back at this whole issue and shake our heads at the misguided attempts to “protect” something that doesn’t need protection.

I would love for someone to explain to me what it is about marriage equality that creates in some this desire to “protect” or “defend” marriage.  Further, I would love to have them do it but try not to make it easy for me to point out the parallels between this and those who fought against equal rights for women or equal rights for all without regard to race.

I admit I live in a bit of a bubble.  I, like most, tend to surround myself either actively or passively with folks who are pretty much like me, so I have to think for a few minutes about who I know who might feel differently than me on this issue but, even when I acknowledge that I do have folks in my life who feel differently than me on this issue, I know that while I would like to be able to talk about it with them, it really quickly would come down to a difference in religious background and beliefs.  And in that, I suspect we’d be much like two people yelling to each other across an enormous gulf.  We might hear some of what the other is saying, but we’re both not going to change our position on the subject and I guess I have to respect it, even while I actively and publicly disagree with how they feel.  Sometimes, that’s just family.

This issue of Marriage Equality, though, is a much simpler one.  It’s an issue of those same simple human rights that we all say we believe in and support, so I don’t understand how anyone can argue against it.  I understand that someone may have a set of values that may preclude them supporting marriage equality, but if we’re going to be a society that actively lets disparate religious, political and philosophical groups co-exist in our society, that only happens when one group is not allowed to force their beliefs and values on everyone else.

There is no good reason for making a distinction between “gay marriage” and “straight marriage”.  There just isn’t.  You can’t say it has some role in protecting the children or producing children else you risk the next logical conclusion which is to hold back marriage from those straight couples who don’t choose to have children.  That sounds absurd, I’m pretty sure everyone would agree.  Restricting marriage from two consenting adults on the basis of their sexuality is similarly absurd.  It really is that simple.

I believe in this tide that’s going to make this a non-issue hopefully sooner than later, but I do think it will be inevitable.  And I believe that we, as a people, will be better for the decision, even if slightly less than half the folks polled in the US are dragged in to this new and slightly less divisive world.  Just as I believe we were better for having extended equal rites to women and minorities.  People fought that then and we look back at them (at least I do) with a slightly confused and embarrassed tilt to our heads.  The same will be true of this issue.  At least, I hope so.

Mastering the Game

The Party was on the run.  They were being hunted by Bounty Hunters – something that will happen when you cross the line between lawful and … less lawful.  They were on the run from a group that planned to hunt them down and sell them to someone willing to pay.  Someone who wanted them dead or alive, but preferably alive – if only so they could be the one to execute the Dead part.  Such is a day in the life in Dragon’s Age!

I’ve now completed two sessions with the Party and me as GM (Game Master) and so far I’ve had a great time!  It’s exceeded my expectations and I feel like it’s something I can learn to do well and enjoy immensely.

A bit of background.  Dragon’s Age RPG (Role Playing Game) was developed by a company called Green Ronin and it’s based in the same world as the Dragon’s Age computer game developed by BioWare and published by EA back in 2009.

The RPG (not the computer game) is very light weight in terms of books of rules and decades of user experience when compared to such things as PathFinder or Dungeons and Dragons.  There are no mini figurines or maps.  There are no oddly shaped dice.  You really can play the game, once you understand the basics of the Player’s Guide, with just a couple of pages representing your character sheet and three six-sided dice, one of which is a different color than the other two.  All rolls are done with these three dice – there are no strange shaped dice to explain to anyone.

If you’re curious and have some time, you can watch some folks play the game on TableTop a show about playing games on YouTube.

Part 1

Part 2

There are only three classes in the game.  Classes represent the main kinds of characters played in Dragon’s Age.  These include:

  • Warrior – the classic fighter character
  • Mage – the one who casts magic
  • Rogue, the one you probably don’t want to turn your back on but is handy in to talk you our of trouble

Additionally, there are a small handful of races a Player can be including varieties of Human, a couple of types of Elf, though both come from the lowest social stratum and are not well liked or respected by the humans and have no land of their own, and Dwarves, either from the main Dwarven city or surface dwelling Dwarves, who usually come from Traders and Craftsman that travel the land.

The land is called Ferelden and is a pretty typical neo-middle ages kind of technology and government.  There are some attempts to weave a semi-democratic ideal through Ferelden with the serfs having an option to choose who they pay their taxes to and who protects them, but it doesn’t fit great if you think about it for long, but that’s okay because it’s a game!

Magic is controlled in this world, so if one is a magic user, they are either part of the Circle of Magi or they are on the run from it and considered Apostate magic users.  There’s an entire group and structure built around taking and training magic users, controlling them and if they go bad, killing them or “stilling them” which is the rough equivalent of a magical lobotomy.

Dragon’s Age tries to pitch one of its differentiators as being about choices.  Nothing should be clearly black and white.  And where there are choices, there should be consequences.

In our first session our Players met for the first time and worked out a bit of back story to explain why they came to be traveling together.  In this Part we have the following motley crew.

  • Tarrant is a City Elf and a Rogue.  He has traveled from one of the main cities called Denerim with his sister who is called Lanaya.
  • Lanaya is a City Elf and a Warrior, though she has specialized in the Bow and is a bit of a sniper.  They travel to make their fortunes far from the slums where the Elves live in Denerim.
  • Duska is a Surface Dwelling Dwarf.  She has lost her family and travels the land looking for clues to where they might be or what might have become of them.  She has decided to travel with the two Elves as they intend to cover a great deal of ground and that should increase her odds of finding information about her family.
  • Matty (short for Matilda and who, it became clear during the first night of play, looks roughly like Betty White) is a human Apostate Mage who has lost her kitty.  She’s over 80 and has a habit of falling asleep after a battle or other random times.  She might be a bit dotty.  She believes that the thieving City Elves, specifically the Rogue Tarrant, may have taken her kitty or knows where it is.  She also is in search of her daughter Nancy Grace, who was taken from her to become a Circle Mage and, it turns out, can be a bit annoying with she talks.
  • Gorgar completes the Party.  Gorgar is one of the Qunari, a war-like race of seven foot Warriors who have huge horns on their head like a giant mountain sheep.  They attempted to invade this land hundreds of years before and were fought back to an uneasy truce.  Gorgar travels the land to learn more about its people and customs with the intent to take that information back to Qunari leaders to provide intelligence for a later repeat invasion.  He’s a bit confused and doesn’t understand some slang or basic practices of the Ferelden people.  He has decided that this group represents a “typical” group of Ferelden and through watching, aiding and furthering their goals, he will learn much about these people.

Now, in game terms this means we have three Warriors, good at killing things, one Rogue, good at sneaking, negotiation and killing things from the shadows and one Mage, good at magical damage and healing.

It was a lot of fun watching these experienced role players quickly and efficiently work out their back stories,  their motivations and what brought them together in the first place.  Then watching as those motivations and goals were played out in the game, causing some discord and tension.

The first module was considered a Quick Start Module.  Short and possible to play in an evening.  I intended to use it as a way to get familiar with the game and setting and mechanics.  I had thought I would simply “reset” at the end of the night so if anyone died or wanted to change their character, they could do that, but by the end of the evening everyone had so much fun with it and the group, they decided they wanted to keep the experience and move forward from there.

The Module was called An Arl’s Ransom.  In this world, think of an Arl as a medieval Earl.  He’s got power, military experience and soldiers, and is answerable to someone further up the nobility food chain.

The module starts out with the Steward (right hand, major domo) of the Arl hiring the Players to help transport his kids who have spent time away from the Fort that the Arl lives in during a time of danger.  There is still danger, but he wants to hire the Party to help bring his kids back home.  He is too busy fighting something called The Blight, which is the Big Bad for the game, an ongoing threat that is the dramatic motivator for much of what goes on in Ferelden and the game.  He cannot spare his own men to do it so he hires this group do go meet with and return his kids.

But!  What the Arl doesn’t know is that the Steward is actually more interested in turning the group against the Arl and instead of meeting the kids and returning them, wants to claim the kids have been kidnapped and charge the Arl ten times what he hired the Party for to return the children unharmed.

This is the kind of grey areas and choices that Dragon’s Age wants to play in.

As it turns out, the Arl is a bit of a bastard.  He mistreats Elves, he doesn’t seem to be overly concerned for the welfare of his own kids – he sends hired mercenaries instead of his own soldiers!  All of these facts the Steward uses during the trip to meet the kids to sway some part of the Party towards turning this transportation mission in to a kidnapping.

Long story short, because two of the characters are Elves, the Steward used that to get them on board, largely based on the egregious treatment by the Arl against the Elves that work for him.  This was well within the natures of the Elves and their characters.  That led to a fairly long conversation, all in character, by the Party as they tried to work out whether they would hold the line and do the job they accepted, including turning in the Steward for the plot against the children or whether they would participate in the kidnapping for a share of the ransom.

In the end, they opted to turn on the Arl and become kidnappers on the first night of their adventures!

Part of the fun of the system and the Module and even the job of GM’ing is that I didn’t know which way they would go and I had to be prepared to play it out however they decided.  If it came down to it, there was a possibility the Party would break up and attack each other in the first night if they didn’t manage to get on the same page and agree!

But, they did come to an agreement, albeit reluctantly on the part of Gorgar.  He decided in the end his responsibility was more to his mission of collecting information about these Fereldens than it was about following his own strict code of honor, which would not include kidnapping children.  But, he did assert that no harm would come to the children or he would have their heads!

By the end of the night they had successfully fought some monsters called Dark Spawn, crossed a ravine by chopping a tree and felling it across and carefully crossing on the tree (only dropping two other trees, one nearly killing Gorgar, the other fell in to the ravine), negotiating the terms under which they were willing to become kidnappers, found the kids who were under attack by some more monsters, chose to kill one of the kids protectors, sealing their fate with respect to their decision to become criminals and then executed the kidnapping plot!

Whew!  It was quite a night.  Admittedly there was some social lubrication in the form of some pretty good liquor such that by the end of the night everyone was having a great time!

But that was last time.  Between that session and this last one I thought about the Dragon Age notion of decisions and grey areas and choices and consequences.  I didn’t want the Party to execute someone for doing their job, kidnap two kids (though the kids never actually knew they were being kidnapped) and ransom them and there not be any consequences.

In the context of the game and other games like this, there really isn’t anything that provides the connective tissue between this adventure or Module and the next.  They simply show up the next time and the next adventure unfolds.  Well, I suppose a good GM provides that connective tissue, but it’s not there at the start.

I didn’t want that to be the case.  I wanted them to have some consequences for their actions.  So, I wrote my own interstitial Encounters between last week’s adventures and the start of the new one with the intention of making sure they understood what path they had headed down.

Little did I really realize at the time that while I might have my hand on the tiller of this boat, the Players had a great deal of input in the direction as well!

Now we’re going to launch in to the two Encounters that occurred before going in to the next adventure.  Where necessary I’ll try and inject context or information where something might be overly confusing.  For the most part, just go along with the flow when it comes to the mechanics.

Interlude Encounters

Following the adventures around Fort Stenhold, the party arranged to meet with the Steward Alenka and Ser Blaker.  As expected Arl Neruda was willing pay the ransom though Alenka made a point of letting the party know that he was not happy about it.  By necessity, at that point the party, Alenka and Ser Blaker agreed to part ways and each member of the successful kidnapping plot received their share of the ransom of 50 gold sovereigns.

Roughly a week later, while staying off the main roads, the Party was purchasing supplies in a small village and heard a disturbing story.

Apparently the Arl became suspicious about the inconsistencies in Alenka’s story.  Soon after Steward Alenka was put to the Question (tortured) and forced to acknowledge her part in the plot and all she knew about the Party.  Word was now traveling about that a reward was being offered for information about the Party’s whereabouts.

1: Reason To Run
Combat Encounter

After hearing the news and realizing that the townspeople were starting to look at them funny, especially in light of the qwhat happened at Fort Stenhold, the party prepares to clear town.
As the Party prepares to leave town, from the other end of town they hear the approach of a horse and the sound of men.  Any interested party can sneak back to see what’s going on.
As the Party watches, a man in traveling clothes dismounts and addresses the men that join him in the center of the village.
The man is older but clearly still strong.  He has a weathered look about him as if he has spent too much time staring in to the sun.  His face is wrinkled and his eyes have sharpness of a hawk and the bags beneath his eyes of a bloodhound.
He addresses the men who are clearly experienced mercenaries of some sort.  If anyone counts, there is one more Bounty Hunter than there are Party members and each carries a horn at their belt.

[Play the Audio Recording – A clip from The Fugitive where Tommy Lee Jones is sending out the Marshals to chase down The Fugitive]

Part 1

[GM gives the name of the group]

Part 2

At this point the Party should be clear that it is in their best interests to get out of town and evade the group of soldiers.
It takes an ADVANCED TN 13 Skill Test with a success threshold of 10 and six tests to get away from the searching soldiers.

[Basically this is a medium hard series of tests with some pressure to make it succeed sooner than later]

Each player can pick an appropriate test and rationale.  Examples might include using the lay of the land to evade pursuit or seeing the pursuit before they spot the Player or their ability to move quietly through a forest or behind someone looking the other way.  Examples of Skills that might apply:
•    Communication (Disguise)
•    Dexterity (Acrobatics)
•    Dexterity (Stealth)
•    Constitution (Running)
•    Cunning (Cartography)
•    Cunning (Military Lore)
•    Cunning (Navigation)
•    Perception (Hearing)
•    Perception (Seeing)
•    Perception (Smelling)
•    Perception (Tracking)
•    Strength (Climbing)
•    Willpower (Courage)
•    Willpower (Self-Discipline)

A successful Advanced Test means the Party manages to elude the searchers, escaping in to the surrounding hills and woods.

A failed Advanced Test means they are seen and/or found.

The searchers will blow horns to call the rest of the group to help apprehend the group if found.  The leader will get there most quickly as he is on a horse.  The others will soon join if the Party is discovered.

If the Party escapes, this encounter ends with their escape.
If the Party is discovered, they will have to engage with and defeat 1 more Hunter than the party size PLUS the Head Bounty Hunter.
However, using the mounted speed of the horse, the Head Bounty Hunter will stay up on the horse shooting a bow at the party (minor reload).
Once more than half the Hunters are killed, the remainder must take a TN10 Willpower (Morale) test or flee the battle.
The Head Bounty Hunter will retreat to seek out reinforcements if attacked directly with no retreat.  He will also retreat if he is the last remaining Hunter.

Note: The intent is not to kill the party, just to scare them and let them know they are hunted.

2. Roadside Assistance
Combat Encounter

At this point the party should start heading towards the next adventure – The Dalish Curse.

The GM may attempt simple fiat and say that pressured by the experience in the village in the last encounter, they are trying to get as far from Fort Stenhold as they can while staying off the Imperial Roads.  This should push them towards the northeast in the desired direction.

After a few days travel they know, based on conversation with fellow travelers they meet on the road that they should soon reach Vintiver.  The next encounter starts roughly a days walk from Vintiver.  The Party is traveling on a road roughly northeast and should expect to reach Vintiver some time between noon and nightfall.

As they have been traveling for a long time now, the promise of a town with an Inn far enough removed from Fort Stenhold should put a spring in the step of the party as they begin their day.
After a few hours of walking in a mixture of forests and wild fields, they begin to see signs of farms from the road.

As they approach a turn in the road they come upon a wagon with an older man working on a broken wheel.  The draft horse have been secured nearby but clearly a repair is in progress.  As they approach, the older man who is dressed in loose fitting clothing appropriate for a farmer hails them.

“Good morning, Travelers!  Hail!  I am Calder, son of Oswin!  Would you be willing to help an old man out?  I’m having trouble getting this wheel mounted on the wagon again and your arrival is fortuitous indeed!  If you can help me, I’ll give you and yours a ride in to town.  I’m heading to Vintiver for supplies.”

The GM may want to use this as an opportunity to give background information about what’s going on recently in Vintiver by way of an info dump so they know some of the background info related to the Dalish Curse – the events that have happened in the two weeks prior in Vintiver.  The old man is chatty and will answer questions about Vintiver and will share what information he can by way of building up trust and maybe the Party won’t twig to the fact that this is an ambush.

If anyone in the Party expresses any suspicion an opposed Perception (Empathy) test against the Head Bounty Hunter’s Willpower (Self-Discipline) (Pre-Roll 16) enables the character to realize that something in his bearing or demeanor is off based on the situation.

If anyone inquires further, the older man simply reiterates that he needs to get the wagon repaired so he can get to Vintiver as he is already late to trade for the day.

Because this is a trap, there are a number of Hunters equal to the Party size hiding in the surrounding trees with bows drawn.  Their action will trigger on a sign from the Old Man or an aggressive move on the part of the Party.

The presence of the ambushers will be apparent if any additional suspicious players perform a hard (15) test of Perception (Hearing or Seeing) against the Hunters who have carefully hidden themselves for the ambush.

If the Party doesn’t make this test, the Hunters in the tree will get one surprise round attack with their bows.

If the Party is not yet suspicious, the older man will try and engage them in some questions about where they are traveling from, what brings them to this area, their names, etc.  He knows who they really are, or thinks he does, so all this is by way of delay.

Assuming they have not seen or heard the Hunters in the trees, older man will step behind the wagon to get an apple and then address the Party.

“You’re an interesting group of travelers and that’s no lie.  I don’t recall the last time I seen two knife ears walking shoulder to should with a dwarf, a crone and one of them demon Qunari.
You know, it’s funny though.  I heared a story recently about a group of folks just like yourselves.”

If any of the Party attempts to engage with the old man aggressively, he will whistle and the bowmen will shoot but only warning shots at the feet of the party.

The old man now pulls out a sheet of paper from his shirt.

“I’ve got this here notice.  More of a reward poster, you might say.  It says that you folks are worth more than enough such that me an’ my friends can spend in a year of drinking and whoring in Denerim.

“Trouble is, it says you’re worth more alive than dead.  I like the more, but the alive part strikes me as problematic.

“Way I see it, we have a three options here.  First, you can all drop anything that smells of weapons including the crone and her witch stick, my friends will bind you up well and proper and I can take you all to see an Arl.  If you are who I think you are, you’ll all make me and mine very, very rich.

“On the other hand, we can just as easily go for the dead option instead of the alive.  You know I have some men in the trees, but you don’t know where they are or how many there are.  You can find that out by raising a weapon and becoming a pin cushion and counting the arrows that we put through you.

“Finally, I’ll make you the business man’s deal.  If you give me more than what the Arl is willing to pay for you dead, you save me the trouble of making the trip and we can simply part ways.  You poorer, me richer.

“Folks, the decision is yours.”

In truth, there are a number of Hunters equal to the Party size plus Head Hunter.

It should be made clear to the Party that surrender is not a good option.  The Arl wants their heads.
It should be clear that this encounter is a direct consequence of their actions in Stenhold.  This consequence may not be the last.
This encounter will complete when all Hunters are dead or have run.
The last two Hunters will flee if they fail a TN12 Willpower (Morale) test.

The Head Hunter never flees.  On his body are thirty pieces of silver and the Wanted Poster.  Give this to the Party.

[Click Here to see the Poster]

[Note: I spent WAAAY to much time on the poster and spent a good portion of it giggling and having fun.  The character portraits are by me but often involved more or less tracing over existing art, making mods as I went to try and make them a bit more my own.  I was also very happy that one of the Players took a copy of the poster home to share it.  That made me feel good.]

Once this encounter is complete, the party should continue towards Vintiver.  The wagon can be fixed with a TN 11 Cunning (Engineering) test.  The horse can be used to draw the wagon with a successful TN10 Communication (Animal Handling) test.  Note: A Draft Horse has a Speed of 8 (p46 Players Guide).


From here the adventure continues on to The Dalish Curse and begins with the first Encounter in that Module.

Here, though, is a place where I was reminded that more than just I am steering this boat.

Upon the completion of this Encounter, the group expressed complete surprise at the ambush, which I was hoping for by stacking two Bounty Hunter encounters next to each other and by using the Old Man as a way to present background for the upcoming adventure, so I was pleased at how that came out.

What I didn’t plan for was the Party being very upset to find that they are now being pursued by the Arl and there is a significant bounty on their heads.

In fact, they were so upset that they toyed briefly with taking my entire night sideways to return directly to where the Arl lived (inside a fortress protected by soldiers which has withstood attacks for generations) to attempt to assassinate the Arl!

The only way I could get them back on track was to promise them a later opportunity to try and hunt him down and kill him at a later date.

Suddenly the Party was telling me which direction they were going to go, albeit at a later date, despite any plans I might have had for them.  This was a great example to me of how a good group of role players help take an active role in adding energy and life and drama in to world they are playing in.  It was unexpected (at least by me) but a welcome reminder that this is cooperative role playing at it’s best!

The other interaction from that night that was very memorable and stood as a strong reminder that I have to be on my toes and prepared to ad-lib as necessary took place later.  The Party had reached Vintiver and they were interviewing several members of the town.  One was a Blacksmith who clearly hated anyone who was an Elf.  In the module he’s just written very one-dimensionally  as an instigator and bully to move the the story along.  There was no reason given for why he hated Elves.

Gorgar, ever the inquisitive and trying to better understand these folks he finds himself among, offered a gold sovereign to the Blacksmith, more than he’d see in a month of work, if he would tell him WHY he had such an issue with Elves.  Apparently the Player became convinced that there HAD to be some good reason to justify his unreasoned anger.

I struggled for a beat because there was nothing in the module to explain why he was the way he was, only that he was that way and he was supposed to move the story along by virtue of his rage against any Elves and specifically the Elves who had traveled through his town recently.

Thinking quickly on my feet and answering in the character of the Blacksmith, I replied angrily that when I was small, my father who ran the Blacksmith before me, fell in love with one of the Elves (the knife ears) when they came to town for one of the Harvest Festivals and he ended up running away with her and left me and my mother behind, struggling to try and keep the smithy in operation.  And the Player was satisfied with the answer, sure that he’d gained insight in to the character and what drove him.  The reality, of course, was that I made it all up on the spot to try and make it all make sense and everyone was happy!

This is an experienced group of role players, some of them playing and GM’ing themselves for more than 25 years.  If I can wing it in a way to satisfy that crowd and show them a good time and tell a good story, I know I’m doing alright and having a wonderful time doing it!

I look forward to seeing how things play out with this Party.  I may have plans for them but I can’t ever forget that they clearly have plans of their own.  Ferelden will hear much, much more from this group!

Note: If you’re interested in finding a group to play this, other role playing games or just any games at all, consider looking for a local gaming event.  There’s a great opportunity coming up next week at Table Top Day.  There are several in the Portland area  on March 30th!

Social Media

Social media is a fairly new concept.  If you ask most folks under 25 what Social Media means you’ll hear about all the latest contenders like Facebook and Twitter.  If you ask them what came before, you may hear about MySpace, but probably not much before that.

My own experience with social media a bit further back then that.  Back to what’s considered the genesis of social media.  Bulletin Boards were around for a while before I got access to them.  My first computer that could connect with another computer used a 300-baud modem.  This was after modems were cradles for phones, even that was before I started reaching out.

In those days I could connect with other computers by having my phone call their phone.  As I recall, those bulletin boards had a single number or maybe a few numbers to call in to and supported a limited number of folks dialing in.  And given the phone line was a shared resource, all it took was my mom picking up the phone to make a phone call after 9pm to knock me off the connection with that other computer!

At the time I wasn’t doing any chat rooms of any sort so it was typically reading messages posted by other users or posting messages to be read by others.  Often it was on some common subject, usually about things that were interesting to me at the time, which would probably have meant computers or about books and other geeky subjects.

That would have been the early 80s.  When I graduated high school and wandered off to college I got my first email address from the school and it used “bang paths” to provide an addressing mechanism to tell others how to pass email to me if they wanted to send me something.  That email address looked something like this: …!bigsite!foovax!barbox!me.  In that case if the message got to a machine called bigsite, it knew to pass it along to another machine called foovax which then passed it to a machine called barbox on which I had an account.  This would have been in the mid-80s and I don’t recall it lasting longer than when I got out of college in the late 80s.  Around that time I got my first long term email address which was at a now defunct ISP (Internet Service Provider) called Teleport here in Portland.

The Internet, such as it was, was best browsed from a little browser called Mosaic, then Netscape in the early 90s.  Through the 90s we saw the rise of Compuserve and AOL which brought the Internet, even then in an early form, to anyone with a computer.  Facebook and MySpace came along in the early 90s, as well.  Initially MySpace was more popular, especially with the kids.  Facebook was seen, at least initially, as something that was only available to people from particular universities.  This was before it was widely available.  All this is covered in that Facebook movie.

My own kids started with MySpace and I never had any presence there.  I watched what they were doing and I saw my son and daughter pick up a bit of HTML as they customized their pages based on what other folks did.  It was fairly obnoxious and the language used on the site was objectionable but I wasn’t the audience.  It was the kids talking with each other.  And, while I didn’t like it, at least I got it.  It was a semi-private club and it gave them a sense of control over their content and what they said.  Eventually they moved to Facebook as it was considered more “cool” and MySpace started to die off.

At some level it was probably the death of Facebook being cool when it became SO cool that the parents started joining.  And I did join.  Somewhat reluctantly.  I figured it’d be a way to re-connect with folks I’d known when I was younger.  And, while that was true, I’m not sure it was necessarily a great thing.  With only a few exceptions, I reconnected on Facebook with the folks I was still connected with.  And while I did get invites from folks from high school, for the most part, if they were not friends of mine in high school, I really wasn’t interested in knowing what they are now up to.  Thus began the Facebook purge of “Friends” down to something approaching the circle of people I actually know.

This is in distinct contrast to how some of our kids handle Facebook.  One of our kids has over 1400 “Friends”.  Now, while she’s social, there’s no way in creation she actually knows 1400 people to any great degree.  But, that seems to be how the medium is used by our kids generation.  Friend doesn’t require first person contact at all.  It doesn’t even seem that it requires any contact to maintain.

Sure, the reality is that we all have different circles of friends and they imply different levels of “access” or knowledge or contact.  I certainly have close family and friends.  And I have friends.  And I have what I’d consider “work friends” that I might have lunch with and talk with occasionally.  And perhaps I have extended circles of friends with whom I’ve been closer in the past but not kept in close contact with.

I have a certain amount of energy and/or time to invest in my relationships and perhaps I should and could do better but it goes where it goes and after that I trust the situation is similar with those friends and it’s okay.  So, maybe that’s somewhat similar to what Facebook “Friends” mean to our kids.

Twitter is another interesting phenomena in terms of social media.  Originally I looked at it and I totally didn’t get it.  When the service first kicked off it really seemed to be nothing more than a medium to post, as the cliche goes, what I had for breakfast and when I pooped last to a circle of people who had no logical reason to care about any of that.

Since then, Twitter has turned more in to something I recognize.  It’s an asymmetrical communication channel where an individual, most typically someone famous or interesting posts something which is consumed by the folks who subscribe to that information flow.  It’s easy to dip into and out of it, so no real commitment is required.  It can be but doesn’t have to be bi-directional.  It’s great for consuming when you have a few minutes throughout the day.  And while some folks do post for their more immediate friends and subscribers, I believe the truth is most people are consuming or passing along (re-tweeting in the parlance) interesting content because most of us don’t have lives that justify actively tweeting.  So, I think I’ve managed to put Twitter in to a box that I think I understand.

By way of an aside, don’t think for a moment that Twitter is somehow free of the need to make money.  They are already experimenting with Sponsored Tweets inserted unrequested in folks streams.  Also, the huge (some would say enormous) value to be found in Twitter is in analyzing the data from Twitter activity.  What are people talking about?  What’s trending?  Where does popular opinion on a subject stand in the real time?  Again, the value is in the masses using the service who are, by using the service, allowing their content to be used by someone else to create value for advertisers and stock holders.  As they say “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”.  If a service is successful and you’re not paying for it, you just haven’t figured out or thought about who is making money off of you.

I’ve said for a while now that I’m waiting for a thing to come along, either technologically or socially (social media being a subset of that) that I just don’t get.  It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s inevitable.  New things become harder to adopt or harder to understand as we get older and I know my time is coming.  And the existing conventions and tools rise and fall as they peak in adoption then slowly die off to be replaced by something else that is either better or more holds our interest.

I suspect Facebook has peaked, but that may just be my own bias.

Facebook has tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to get me to do all my messaging inside it, even going so far as to create email addresses for everyone with an account so they can presumably read all their messages inside the application.  But, I will always have people I need to interact with that I don’t want to be connected to on Facebook so that’s not going to happen.

Further, as time goes one, Facebook has transitioned from something that had value, mostly perceived value, to it’s investors, in the form of the number of people who belong.  After it went public it seemed that Facebook has become increasingly intent on treating the users with less respect in favor of the folks who pay the bills, which is the advertisers.  There is truth in the notion that you get what you pay for in a service and Facebook has to make money and they aren’t doing it by charging folks so Facebook must constantly struggle with how much value it can squeeze out of the millions of eyeballs that log in daily without pissing them off.  And for me, they’ve crossed that line.  Between inserting advertisements all over the pages to putting them in-line in the timeline, they continue to try and find ways to put stuff I don’t want to see in front of me.  At that point where that becomes egregious or just irritating enough, I’ll bail on it.  I probably would bail on it now if it were not one of the main ways my kids communicate and communicate with me.  In reality that’s probably the main thing that keeps me on Facebook.  But, my suspicion is that will change in the next few years.

Facebook and Twitter are being touted as the wave of the future in terms of steering content in front of our eyes, presumably because that content is chosen by people we’ve chosen to follow or pay attention to.  But, just because I like an author or someone interesting, that does not mean that what they find interesting is necessarily what I find interesting.  What seems to be lacking is a process for curating “good” content.

Obviously the crux of that sentence is what constitutes good content.  That is, of course, different for everyone.  I suspect there’s a very real opportunity for a company to provide a flexible method for curating content and giving me a great deal of flexibility to determine whether something is interesting, finding other related content and making it easy for me to choose to follow that content or not.  What’s interesting to the folks I follow or am interested in is pertinent, certainly, but it’s not the only factor.

There are other social media tools and outlets out there now, but I don’t imagine any of them are going to be the Next Big Thing.  G+ from Google wants to be a less irritating Facebook, it’s not happening.  Foursquare exists, to all appearances, in case I start to care where folks I know are eating.  Pinterest, in case I care what pictures represent meaningful content to people I know.  Ivy, in case six seconds of video is somehow fascinating.  Instagram for watching pictures from folks I follow.  None of these smack of Killer App.

I wonder what that will be?

I find it interesting how with kids or technology, it’s reasonable to look at the current person or technology and reasonably work your way back to the baby or the genesis of the idea.  It’s so very much harder to go the other way!



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Lessons Learned

I had an interesting experience this week with respect to my writing.  So, this week, instead of sharing the results of that writing, I will not be sharing it and instead will be writing about how it all went wrong.

A couple of weeks ago I had a lot of fun writing a short story, which is something I’ve only done a handful of times before.  I enjoyed the fact that it had a beginning, middle and end.  It was roughly as long as it felt like it needed to be.  It could certainly benefit from editing and probably tightening the middle which was more wordy than necessary, perhaps, to introduce the central point of the story, but in the end I was pretty happy with the results.

Last week I just wrote an easy entry on playing role playing games.

As this week started I wasn’t really feeling anything grab me with respect.  I had no clue what I was going to write.  I’ve tried to mix up stories and some general stuff about what’s going on for me and I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go this week.

By Tuesday it occurred to me that I hadn’t written anything yet and really didn’t have much of an idea.  That left me with just a hint of a sense of panic.  What would I write?  Was it going to suck?  What if I couldn’t write?  What if I’d written all that I could and was capable of?  Stupid stuff, mostly.  Self-doubt, but the seed was there.

Tuesday night I went to bed and woke in the middle of the night at the request of my bladder.  Having resolved that issue I went back to bed and instead of just rolling over and going back to sleep as I usually do, my brain was just engaged enough to keep me awake.  It wandered off the trails putting together random nonsense and things just flitted in to and out of my consciousness.  After an hour, which is a very long time for me to be awake in the middle of the night I had an idea wander through for a short story.  I played with it, added some things, fleshed out the first part of it to get to what I thought would be the interesting part.  In about an hour and a half I was pretty sure I had a short story to write.  I was awake enough at this point that I wasn’t overly worried about losing the idea so I went to sleep, knowing I wouldn’t forget the core of the idea.

In the morning, I was sure I was looking at a long day because of the lack of sleep the night before, but I felt like that was okay because I had what felt like a neat story to write.

Early in the morning I opened a text file on my computer and sketched out the arc of the story and put it away to focus on the day.  I figured it would just wait for a bit of time to actually just sit down and write it out.  That had been my experience for the two prior short stories I’d written recently, so I thought this would be no different.

I was wrong.

I tried two separate times at more than an hour each time and failed to get that story to completion.

The first time it was written in third person (“Jim walked down the trail enjoying the day.”) but as I got past the first third and in to the middle third, it just felt too detached for the story, too impersonal.  I got cranky and nuked the file.

That was a lesson which was probably good to learn now after only an hour of so of writing.  Rather than just tossing the file, I should hang on to that.  There might have been phrases or movement in the story that was salvageable.  It probably wasn’t a total loss.  But, toss the file away and it’s gone forever.

Yes, I’ve been operating with software long enough I probably should be using something that allows me some version control so I can just nuke a section and know that I can go back and get at it if I need to.  As I said, lesson learned.

The second time I started that story I felt like I had a good head of steam.  I had a couple of hours that I could spend thinking about and letting the story do its thing and I just started writing.  It seemed like it was going well.  This time the story was in first person (“I walked down the trail enjoying the feel of the sunshine on my face.”) which seemed both more appropriate for the story and seemed to help through a couple of turns in the first third and in to the middle third.

As I was trying steer things towards the latter third of the story it was as if the story was resisting me.  It seemed to be fighting back!

I knew I was in charge and I know it was my fingers on the keyboard but it seemed like, try as I might, I could not wrestle the story back under control.

And it’s not like the story had a better idea where it was going and how to reach a resolution.  It was just out of control with no sense of direction and was resistant to what I was trying to do.

After another hour or so of going back and chopping things out, re-writing paragraphs and sections, I was in no better control of this story than I was at any time over the last hour.

I realize it’s a lousy analogy but it really did feel like I was fighting with the story.  And losing!

The story and I reached an impasse.  I stared at it, unsure and unclear how to proceed.  It stared back at me with that cursor just blinking, ready to do whatever I told it but it was clear that I did not know what to tell it to turn this thing around!

The good news is I learned at least a bit and I saved and closed that file.  I can go back and try to figure out what the hell happened.  I can go back and try and figure out if I can grab this thing by its imaginary horns and wrestle it back under control.  Or, as I know happens sometimes, it may just go back in a virtual drawer of Works in Progress (it actually sits now in a folder “in the cloud” called, appropriately WIP).  I don’t know, we’ll have to see.

As I think about the story, the story is probably not that clever.  It takes a fairly common idea in science fiction and I try to put my own spin on it, my own take.  So, nothing that original and probably pretty derivative.  But it’s the first time, at least from the writing this year, where I was unable to get the story from idea through to some kind of completion on paper.

Was it a failure?  Did I fail?

Of course not.  Regardless of whether I completed that particular story and managed to untangle that particular knot, I spent the time and I wrote.  I worked those muscles related to storytelling in my brain and had an idea with a start, middle and finish.

It’s only a failure if I walk away, if I quit.  It’s only a failure if I fail to learn something useful from it.

Instead, I stepped to the side and took a different path.

I wrote some notes in the story to be sure I don’t forget where I wanted to go from where I was.  How it wraps up, what it is I’m trying to play with in the story.  Then, it’ll sit in WIP folder waiting for a time when I can take a fresh stab at it.

One of the things I like about my brain (probably true for everyone, but I like it when it happens) is that I’ve now got that story loaded somewhere back in my brain.  Like the good problem-solving, three pound mass of neurons that it is, my brain may noodle on the problem for a few days, or weeks or maybe months.  But, it seems more often than not, often at inopportune times, it’ll offer up the solution to the problem that it has (I have) been noodling on in the background.  At that point I’ll revisit the story and maybe it’ll be time to finish it.

Till then, as I said, I’ll stop hitting my head on this particular tree, take what I can from it, and head out on a different path until I find another tree that will try to stop me.

The goal for this effort wasn’t to write a story every week.  Which is a good thing.  I don’t think I have the chops for that, yet.

It was to write a certain amount every week and publish it.  To produce.  To practice.  To be open to the feedback and to whatever else I learn in the process.

In that, I was successful.  And if I was successful, if there were good thing learned, positive things taken from the effort, it certainly wasn’t a failure.



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Game Playing

Back in 1977 I was reading our local newspaper – this was pre-Internet, so there was probably nothing on television – and I ran across an article talking about new game that was just released.

As I recall, the article talked about role playing and becoming a character and fighting monsters and saving the day.  It was the first article I saw about a new game called Dungeons and Dragons.

I remember *begging* my mother to please, Please, PLEASE take me to get this game right now!  I was undoubtedly relentless in my whining and my pestering.  But, in the end, or at least pretty soon afterwards, I was the proud owner of what came to be called The Basic Set or the Blue Box.

In the box was a 48-page rulebook and a set of polyhedral dice that were multi-colored and felt pretty cheap.  But, for all of that, I was certain that I held in my hands the keys to a new world of adventure and fun.

Now, the truth is, to my 12-year old brain, the rules were confusing and difficult to understand.  In fact, the whole notion of how this new “role playing” game was played was not at all clear.  And, of course, this being pre-Internet, there really wasn’t anyone I knew to ask.

Over the intervening years I bought some of the modules (“Keep on the Borderlands”) and the Dungeon Master’s Guide and the Monster Manual.  These were fun books that were filled with the potential for adventures and great deeds, monsters and quests.

My best friend and I would play the game, just the two of us and taking a great deal of shortcuts.  Often our game sessions took place starting on a Friday night and would go late in to the night or early morning.  We would purchase 2-liter bottles of soda and chips and just go where the adventures would take us.

I was not aware of any gaming groups at my school and I certainly didn’t have the self confidence to seek them out so most of my gaming was done surreptitiously and below the radar as much as we could.

Eventually our gaming sessions died out as other interests became more important.

After high school, role playing games became just a fond memory and that’s where I thought it would stay.  Until just a few years ago.

At the time I was working downtown at a small company and I saw that every Wednesday night several guys would stay late and it looked like they were playing RPGs (Role Playing Games).  There were dice and minis and GM (Game Master) screens covered with tables of information and sheets of paper filled with more data.  When I wandered by there was a lot of laughing and it was clear they were having a great time.

I asked around and found out they’d been playing for a while.  A bit later, I let one of the players know that if a spot opened up, I was interested in playing.

Soon, I got to join the weekly game and it was a fantastic time.

Several of the players had been playing since they were kids but had managed to continue playing through high school, college and on in to adulthood, so they’d accomplished something I’d failed to do.

I have had such a wonderful time playing in those games.  For the first time ever, for me, I got to play as a player with my own character.  Back when we were kids, I was sort of a player and sort of a GM/DM (Dungeon Master).  I have no idea how we made that work, but we seemed to.

But now I got to be amazed and engaged as the story unfolded and I determined how my character would behave and react to the circumstances unfolding around me.

Somewhere in there I had an epiphany about RPGs that had eluded me as a kid.  It was the mystery bit that explains why role playing games were so much fun and made me wish I’d managed to stay involved in them as an adult.

Those who RP (Role Play) know this already, but for those who don’t: Role Playing is nothing more than interactive story telling.  In the story, you get to play a part in the story and you get to help steer the outcome!  The dice are just ways to help make decisions.  You might decide that in a given circumstance your character would leap up on a table and swing across a room on a chandelier and then leap heroically on to an altar to save someone from being sacrificed.  And with a good GM, you can try to do exactly that.  But, because jumping on the table could go poorly and swinging on a chandelier is risky and leaping from that to an alter involves some acrobatics or athleticism, some dice rolls can help determine whether you land gracefully on the altar with your sword out or if you accidentally let go too early and then flail in the air to land at the foot of the alter and twist your ankle and possibly stab yourself in the foot.  Both are possible outcomes from the same intent and both can take the story in interesting and exciting directions.

This idea of interactive storytelling, of steering the outcome of the story and feeling invested in the story and character are things you can feel with a good book, but it’s still a static story on rails and you only feel as invested in the character as much as you can someone who you are watching go through their adventures.

The old Choose Your Own Adventure books had an element of self-determination in them.  “If you choose to open the door to the Spooky Mansion, go to page 12.  If you choose to go around the building and enter through the even scarier cellar, go to page 16″.  Strangely there was never an option to use your common sense and simply go home and read a book.  In any case, those were fun as a kid but there really wasn’t any character there, just a thin shadow of yourself only as substantial as you could overlay on the text.  There certainly wasn’t any character development.

One of the strengths of RPGs is the ability to take a bumbling early character who couldn’t do much of anything exciting and interesting and try to survive the adventures that would come to not only overcome the odds but to advance and become more skilled, learn to do even more exciting things and become more capable and heroic!

What’s not to like about that?  It certainly scratches an itch for me that I’d either forgotten or just buried in too many years of being an adult.

As this is a group of guys, there’s also many jokes involving bodily functions and some innuendo.  Plans are made as we talk and try to work out the best way to slay the dragon, defeat the evil necromancer or safe the world.  There is always a great deal of laughter as we talk about what we think we should do next and play out the battles and interactions and see how things come out.

Folks can definitely get attached to characters they’ve lived through for months and even years.  By that time players have invested that character with a personality, not necessarily their own, mind you, but a personality and goals and they have an opportunity to play as someone who gets to behave in ways that we will never get to in the real world.

So I’ve had the opportunity to play for these last few years and I’ve participated in half a dozen campaigns and different gaming systems.  I’ve never taken the lead and filled the role as the GM/DM.  I’ve been a bit afraid.  It’s intimidating to be that central story teller.  You control the pace and to a great degree determine just how the story unfolds and, ultimately, how much fun a handful of folks have over the course of weeks and maybe months.

A bad GM is not fun to play with.  A good GM weaves a story, sets the scenes, resolves conflicts, provides impetus to the story and is able to deal with whatever half-assed ideas a group might choose to execute.  I didn’t (and don’t!) know if I’d be successful in that role.

But, it’s time to find out.  In roughly a month I’m going to GM our group with a new gaming system called Dragon Age RPG.  It’s not as complicated nor laden with decades of experience or rules as something like Dungeon and Dragons (which is still going strong!).  The game comes with a number of pre-made stories that I can work with to start to learn the skills of a GM.  And the group I play with will be patient with me and, I’m sure, help make sure I have a successful outing as a newbie GM.

I’m very much looking forward to getting the opportunity to do continue something I first started doing when I was 12 and last did when I was probably 15.  So, get ready guys, it’s time to roll those die and see what happens!



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