Game of Endings

Now that Game of Thrones is over, I’m going to reveal my predictions that I sealed in a cursed and locked cylinder at the Citadel. A maester riding an unmarked mule has just arrived so now I can reveal predictions for the end of this monumental series.

Tormund Giant’s Bane, with the help of Ghost opens a dire wolf preserve in the ruins of Castle Black, making the parents of children who wanted dire wolves as pets not liars as when they say that Growly is living up north in a place where he can run and play with other dire wolves.

Hot Pie does NOT sit on the Iron Throne but rests comfortably on the croissant couch after learning to make phyllo dough, thus establishing his own house with the motto, “We Cool On The Windowsill.”

Mera Reed finally arrives at Winterfell complaining about the traffic but most don’t believe her.

Arya Stark seeks to abandons the life of an assassin and use her face changing skills help people get over difficult break ups by letting them get closure that life seldom provides. Sadly, the parade of jilted lovers sends her into a murderous rage. The heart wants what the heart wants.

Ser Davos leans into his name and cooks the largest pot of onion soup Westeros has ever seen.

Yara Greyjoy, now the ruler of the Iron Islands, has an epiphany that rich people will pay lots of gold for something they think is exclusive and opens the Iron Islands Spa and Retreat. Customers learn to fish with their bare hands and are beaten with kelp to open up their pores. It becomes extremely popular, and she is known as Yara the Job Creator.

The new Prince of Dorn is mentioned several times but does not appear.

Jon Snow admits the real reason that renounced his claim to the Iron Throne is that he doesn’t want people to know he’s schtuping his aunt. Spoiler, Jon Snow is actually Jewish.

Robin Arryn wonders why no one visits anymore. Lord Yohn Royce contemplates telling him the truth but thinks it too cruel.

Even though the Night King is defeated and the Night’s Watch has been dissolved, Samwell Tarley continues to dress exclusively in black because he feels it makes him look cool.

Sansa and Tyrion settle into a marriage based on how they are smarter than everyone else. Ironically, it is the healthiest relationship either of them has ever been in.

As the Three Eyed Raven, Bran has the whole of human history at his disposal but ultimately squanders his gifts by guessing people’s weight at carnivals.

Daenerys, in a gesture of good will offers the people of King’s Landing an all you can eat BBQ but it is deemed to be “Too Soon.”

With no heirs, House Mormont makes a talking bear Lord of their house. It is later revealed to be Edmure Tully in a bear costume. While it doesn’t make a lick of sense, everybody just goes along with it.

Are these uncannily correct or wildly inaccurate? Full disclosure, I wrote these when hungry so there is more than one food related prediction.

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Posted in Humor, Thoughts | Tagged ,

Small and yet full

One of the most challenging things about playing a tabletop RPG, Dungeons and Dragons being the most well know of them, is not learning all the rules. This is not to say that the rules are easily learned and completely intuitive, it is a lot to take in and some seem absolutely counter-intuitive. Character levels and spell levels for example, but before I fall down that rabbit hole, let me get back on track.

The really difficult part is getting everyone at the table at the same time. It wasn’t as daunting a problem when we were in high school or even college, our schedules were already determined for us, and we had a lot more energy.

As adults, it’s a decidedly more complicated. We all have a myriad of responsibilities that demand our time and “blowing them off” is not an option. Even when you have a regularly scheduled game, it’s not uncommon to be short one or more people.

Recently, I began running a Numenera game with four players. (If you want to know more about Numenera, just Google Monte Cook Games. That will tell you everything you need to know.) Our zero session went well, everybody created their characters, we established an over all direction for the game and I ran a short adventure which ended in the midst of a mission, setting up the next session.

Due to the reasons I mentioned above, the next session was delayed. We rescheduled, as you do. One of the other regular games that three out of four of the players are in was cancelled that week so I quickly suggested we continue the Numerera game. Only two out of the four could make it.

Games, to paraphrase a line for Annie Hall, are like sharks. If they do not move forward, they will die. So I ran with half the original table.

How was it? It was amazing! I’ve always had a preference for smaller tables, both as a game master and a player. Larger groups are often loud and chaotic. Some people thrive in that environment but I am not one of them.

Only having two players allowed me to give more focus to the individuals. It was both more relaxed and dynamic in that everybody got to contribute and because there were only two PCs, it moved a lot quicker.

At a larger table everybody wants to chime in, which is in no way a bad thing. This is a collaborative hobby, so players should be encouraged to share their thoughts. The unfortunate byproduct of this is what might be referred to as the “But teacher, you forgot to give us homework!” syndrome, where someone has just remembered some detail that will, they think, either makes the plan untenable or they just had a brand new “better” idea.

This is predicated on an adversarial relationship between player and the game master. A good GM will take the plan the PCs put forward and work with it. Of course if on its face, unlikely to succeed, the GM should point that out.

With a smaller table, it became more collaborative, we all worked with each other to tell this story. In fact, one of the players got a temporary skill in philosophy as a result of an attack by the aptly named “Chance Moth.” This skill helped in the rescue of a child, the goal of the session.

I had not planned in any way, shape or form that abstract thinking would be the key to this adventure but it was. Could this have happened at larger table? Of course it could have. Would it? No way of knowing but the more intimate nature of a small table allows these less obvious story turns to happen.

We had another two player sessions, with the same two players, and it was another fun game. One of the characters learned more about their background, simply by asking, “does this seem familiar to me?” Again, with the luxury of time, we were able to explore that question.

Now these sorts of things can happen at the largest of tables. But they are less likely to happen unless everyone can let the focus shift. It’s not always easy to be as invested in another character’s development, but if there’s a small group, it’s easier to get behind. One, because you have closer relationships with the other characters, and two, most probably, it will be your turn next.

So if only two players show up for your weekly game, take the opportunity to explore things that those characters wish to in a way that might not be feasible at the full table. You’ll find that less is definitely more.

Posted in Articles, Gaming | Tagged , , ,

Openings

Opening lines to unwritten stories.

With a flourish, she produced the missing file and then clicked “send all.”

Sleep eluded him like a dog at bath time.

Rain and a broken umbrella made Margaret a prisoner of her condominium.

Day old pizza is a joy but the same cannot be said of week old salad.

With the choice of doing anything in the world, her majesty spent this day watching repeats of the Great British Baking Show.

Love doesn’t hurt but its lack is devastating.

Deep space pilot is the perfect occupation for a highly intelligent introvert.

Jerry wondered where dust comes from but lacked the initiative to Google it.

As the battle-axe slipped from her hands, Vernaka thought about her mother’s admonishment to wash her hands before a fight.

Never tell an author what you think they should’ve done.

Believing in yourself is harder than telling someone to do so.

In ancient times, they worshiped multiple gods, notable amongst them were the Avengers and the great Beyoncé.

Sometimes the most profound thing you can do is just shut up and listen.

Posted in Short Stories | Tagged

What do you do with an empty dungeon?

So, you’ve cleared out a dungeon. All the monsters are slain, the traps disarmed and the treasure looted. Most adventurers move on to the next quest. Let me tell you this, those people are fools! FOOLS! They are leaving gold in the chest.

Dungeons are not just places that contain treasure, they are places that make treasure. Here are a few ideas on how to make gold with an empty dungeon.

1- Fixer Upper. While most D&D characters are much better at destruction than construction, there’s no reason to not to polish up those home decoration skills. Once you dispose of the monster corpses, wash off the bloodstains, and give the place a proper scrubbing, you will have a very valuable property on your hands. A fresh coat of paint and some new furniture and you have an underground palace. Flip that labyrinth for even more gold! Or break it up into smaller units and just watch the rent pour in!
2- We Have A Zoo! Sure you could just kill all those monsters but think about this, lots of people will never see an actual Owlbear or Purple Worm and if they do, it will be the last thing they see before being devoured. Just carefully cage up those deadly critters in a simulation of their natural environment, and hire some scholars and Rangers to keep an eye on things. This is like a spell that makes gold but with no material components. Warning, if the monsters escape this could go horribly, terribly, tragically wrong. But I’m surethat will never happen. What sort of Dungeon Master would do that?
3- Mall of Merchants. Who wants to go to market in the rain or snow? No one, not even the merchants. What if you put all the shops under one roof? That way folks could get everything they want in one place! Offer cart rides to the entrance, covered in inclement weather, and let the coin flow. You set up a large tavern in the middle and call it the Court of Food. Watch out though, surly teens will loiter but you fought a beholder, so no worries. Right?
4- Mega Inn. The average inn usually is short of beds, so there is a lot of sharing. Ugh! What if you took that huge empty complex and turned it in to a five star resort? Most adventurers, after a certain point have more gold than they know what to do with, so really, you’re doing them a favor. Turn that acid pool into a swimming pool. Hire a team of Halfling chefs to feed the guests. Book well known bards to entertain. Set up a casino. You could put this in the middle of a wasteland and people would come. Remember, what happens in the dungeon, stays in the dungeon.
5- Storage. What do people need more of? Space. Sure you could give away those magic weapons you no longer use because they are less powerful, but you might need them some day. Better lock them up in an armory. Gold and gems are heavy, why not have your own personal vault? Just reinforce the doors, set up some vicious traps and station some guards, and maybe even put a few monsters in there. Just a deterrent. Wait, this just sounds like a regular dungeon. Circle of life and death.

So as you can see, you need not loot and run. Turn those ruins into something spectacular! Just because some place is called the Cursed Castle of Certain Death, doesn’t mean you can’t rebrand. The possibilities are endless.

Posted in Gaming, Thoughts | Tagged , , ,

Six Word O’clock

One ticket or two? Just one…

Cat novelist writes. Egtekn873………absahog; 02shfxcmsl.

Then what happens? No spoilers please.

Beer with friends or whiskey alone.

Inspiration arrives unannounced then Irish goodbye.

Nature is beauty, mud and bugs.

In love, don’t fuck it up.

How did you do that? Oh.

Money isn’t happiness. Neither is poverty.

Dwell on the past, diminish present.

Kindness will alter, in ways unknown.

A quiet house, calm and creepy.

Posted in Short Stories | Tagged ,

Is anyone reading this?

Here’s a question for my fellow writers, does anyone read what you write? Sometimes it feels as though I’m shouting on a dead planet. Please forgive my dramatic imagery. I know that ultimately, you must write for yourself first. You cannot hope to make everyone happy, in life as well as in writing so tell the stories you want to tell. But…

Who is reading what you write?

We live in a world where time is at a premium. Few people have time to spare and putting it aside for reading is something of a luxury. And I understand that. In theory.

There’s an abbreviation, TL;DR. It means Too Long, Didn’t Read. It is often used by editors as a note that a passage needs to be shortened. But it’s also made its way into the common vernacular for such things as emails. Emails.

Sure, an email can be too long and frequently are. However, time is the one currency we spend without knowing how much is left. That’s a bit metaphysical I’ll admit, but no less true. So I understand the desire to use it wisely.

I also know that writing, unlike visual artistry and music, requires concentration and focus. You can take in a painting or a song almost immediately but reading something can be akin to homework. Very few people enjoy homework. And if you did, why aren’t you reading my stuff?

Apologies for complaining, it’s an unattractive quality and at the end of the day, no one wants to hear it. I suppose if you’ve chosen to be a writer, you already enjoy sitting alone and spewing out your thoughts and ideas on to a page with no guarantee that another living soul will ever read them, even if you share your work with others.

In the end, I’m a writer because I’m compelled to be one. I write for myself, telling stories I want to tell, even if they are just for me. Though sometime I just wish I had a back up, something a little more practical. Maybe I should learn to play the guitar.

Posted in Thoughts

It’s not that kind of game

Is the game part of Role Playing Game ruining RPGs?

Generally, games are meant to be won, from tic-tac-toe to Monopoly, there is a winner at the end. Of course, tic-tac-toe played by two people trying to win can only end in a draw and personally I’ve never finished a game of Monopoly, but I’ve heard that it can be done, though not without hard feelings.

There is a renaissance of board games these days and most of them have the binary nature of win-lose. Of course there are collaborative games that pit the players against the game itself but again, there it’s a win-lose proposition.

Role playing games are not supposed to have winners or losers, it’s about creating a shared narrative. In a perfect world it is. However, we do not live a perfect world. Clearly.

Back when I first started playing Dungeons and Dragons, it was very much an adversarial game. The DM would create elaborate dungeons filled to the brim with deadly monsters and cruel traps and incomprehensible puzzles. There was one DM in particular, lets call him JB, since that was his name. He is not innocent and should not be protected. He delighted in killing players. Sorry, player characters. He was no saint by an astronomically wide margin but he was not a murderer, IRL.

Once, he killed my favorite character, a Lioniod paladin, (it was a homebrew race created by JB) by secretly rolling and telling me that there had been a three percent chance that I would fall off a cliff and die and then took my character sheet, wrote DEAD in red magic marker.

I’m not recounting this because I’m looking for sympathy, although I’ll take it if offered, but as an example of the mindset of that period of tabletop rpgs. Many DMs felt that they had not done their jobs if everyone walked away alive and with all of their magic items at the end of the session.

In spite of that, I still play tabletop role-playing games. A little counter intuitive given what I just outlined but in the end, the good out weighed the bad. Or maybe I’m a glutton for punishment.

This is not the case generally speaking today. Many games encourage game masters to be fans of their players, to challenge them but still root for them. It’s a much better outlook. If the game master is excited when a player does something clever or even just rolls well, then everybody is having a good time. A friend of mine used to say of running games, “You are the shepherd of their fun.”

There is an old joke about someone being asked if they “won” D&D. The stock answer is that “no one really wins or loses. It’s not that kind of game.”

Except it kind of is. Most RPGs are set up with a goal, slay the dragon, defeat the invading aliens, save the city, and so on. There are of course games that don’t stress such stringent victory conditions, but most have an end in mind.

That is an inherent quality to almost all games. I say almost because I’ve not played every game, that would be impossible, I haven’t even played all the games I own, that would also be impossible.

While it is usually a good thing for players to understand the rules and how to use to the their benefit, it may not be to the overall narrative. Most stories have their protagonists win at the end of a movies, books and TV shows. Sometimes with a cost.

But many players are not interested in paying that cost. They will jump through hoops to avoid that bill, using any and all rules or other resources to avoid it. Even the dreaded, “My Character Wouldn’t”. Perhaps the last refuge of the desperate player.

For the purpose of complete transparency, I have done that sort of avoidance. A lot of us have. Mostly because of game masters like the aforementioned JB, we’re all a little like stray dogs, skittish and wary of anything that looks even vaguely suspicious.

These days, I find myself trying to do the interesting thing, a choice that a real character might make, even if it is not the safest path. After all, being safe is often the dullest thing to do. Remember all those exciting movies and TV shows where the heroes defeat their foe without putting themselves remotely in danger? Me either.

The real crux of this is trust. You need to trust that your game master is not there to make things frustrating or unpleasant for you. That does not mean always making things easy. Sometimes, it can mean not “winning”.

I know players hate to not win. It’s frustrating, and can make you feel like that they have wasted their time. But it can up the stakes. A villain who has beaten your heroes gives you extra motivation to continue.

Don’t always make the strategic choice. I know it runs counter to everything you know but give it a shot, it can make things more interesting. Be motivated by your character’s flaws or desires. Fight when it would make more sense to retreat. Take a bullet, or arrow, for a friend. Make an empty handed leap into the void.

As a friend of mine says, “Perfect is the enemy of fun”. If every plan went off perfectly, things would get extremely dull. In trying to recreate genre adventures, don’t forget that mistakes are made, or sometimes you just have bad luck. But that just makes it a more interesting story.

We all know this on a rational level, but the desire to win is baked into us. Try to fight it and have fun. After all, it’s not that kind of game.

Posted in Articles, Gaming | Tagged , ,