24 January 2012

A Totally Random Milestone Post

This appears to be my 300th blog post.

I created this blog in March of 2008. Wow. That's like, nearly four years? Before that there had been some sporadic news posts on my site (some of which, going back as far as 2006, were imported into the new blog), but switching to the tools at Blogger.com naturally made writing posts much easier. On average I've been writing at least a post a week since then. Mostly pointless drivel, of course... :P

My readership is by no means huge. But if anyone out there has ever found a post of mine informative or entertaining, then I'm happy. And, being the social and emotional exhibitionist I am, I'm not likely to stop.

And that's about all I have to say.

23 January 2012

DM vs. GM: A Nitpicker's Rant

The truth is, I cringe a little whenever I see or hear the term 'DM' (as in 'Dungeon Master').

Somehow I just feel this term is so... discriminating, for lack of a better word. Even offensive. Sure, it may be the original term, but that doesn't necessarily make it the right term. I'm not generally one for extreme political correctness, but on this issue I just feel I need to speak out.

It is a term associated with one, and only one, roleplaying game franchise. The rest of the gaming world is quite happy to use the term 'GM' ('Game Master'). And with 'the rest of the world' I mean scores, if not hundreds of game systems.

The term is very restrictive to begin with, referring to a rather narrow and specific genre. 'GM' is much more applicable in most gaming contexts.

I realise there may be gamers out there who've only ever played that one game. And I'm probably an elitist and hypocrite and all manner of bad things for saying it, but a part of me feels sorry for such people, while another part of me is angered by their ignorance. And this, I'm afraid, is the impression I get whenever I hear someone use the term 'DM' outside the rulebooks of that game; that you only know RPG's from a very limited viewpoint, like someone who's just learned the first bars of Stairway claiming they're a rock star, or a lifelong Mac user claiming they know anything about Unix.

And that's just how I feel. No offence meant to anybody. (Except Mac users.) (That may be a joke.) (Maybe.)

Free Music Can't Be Good, Right?

Frankly, all the anti/pro sharing/piracy/censorship hullabaloo of late was starting to make me sick. I seem to remember a time when people enjoyed culture, instead of just bickering about who owns it. So to get my mind off all that I decided to spend a little time looking into music that was out there for free, and legally. And there is, actually, a lot of it. Obviously there's a lot of uninteresting junk out there (but the same applies to commercial mainstream music too, of course, perhaps even more so), and finding the gems among all of it takes time and work. But there are definitely gems to be found.

Jamendo is one pretty neat site with lots of independent and amateur music you can stream there on the site, or download. Here's a handful of cool artists I've found there and through other sources.

Hungry Lucy. This duo has been characterised as trip-hop and darkwave. Nice female vocals and mellow electronic sounds, etc. I find them quite pleasant and relaxing to listen to. (Here's their latest album Pulse of the Earth at Jamendo. Others available there as well.)

Sweet Mother Logic. A really hard to classify instrumental band, who combine rock instruments, synths and cellos in a very interesting fashion. (Their eponymous album at Jamendo.)

Williamson. Another talented instrumental artist, this one leaning perhaps towards a more post-rock sound. (His debut album A Few Things to Hear Before We All Blow Up at Jamendo. A couple more releases there as well.)

These are relatively unknown indie artists, of course. But even well known artists occasionally release free material for the benefit of their fans. One example is Nine Inch Nails, whose last couple releases, The Slip and Ghosts I-IV, were Creative Commons licensed. The first is an eclectic collection of industrial rock songs and more ambient pieces, while the latter is a lengthy instrumental ambient work. (Download links can be found for example in the Wikipedia articles on the albums.)

Music from all the artists listed here can be bought as well, of course, and you should buy it, if you like it and are in a position to do so. I still believe that a carrot generally gets you more than a stick, though. Letting people experience your works has to be better PR than nagging about copyrights, right?

18 January 2012

Thought or Two on Jan 18th Protests

It seems fitting that on this day of protest I should write a word or two.

Frankly, I feel that with every passing day I'm less and less inclined to discuss anything related to copyrights. Therein lies a tangled web that only leads to anger, bitterness, depression and despair.

So let's keep this simple. 1. Censorship is never an answer to anything. It is paramount that the Internet remains free and open. 2. I believe, passionately, that it should be everyone's fundamental right to enjoy culture, regardless of wealth. 3. Creative people must be able to make a living doing what they do best (and I do mean creative people, not greedy corporate executives). 4. Reconciling the dilemma between points 2 and 3 is one of the greatest challenges our global electronic culture faces, and I, for one, have no solution to offer.

But, the way I figure it, why spend the day bemoaning the short-sightedness of so-called authorities, when I could be celebrating culture? And perhaps in particular culture that is out there for free and legally, and not in the least because we have this wonderful web of interaction and sharing to pool our resources in and draw inspiration from.

For starters, I just watched the beautiful animated short Sintel, which I hadn't seen in a long while.

Maybe I'll listen to some free releases from Machinae Supremacy. Or even watch their awesome concert video that they released, entirely legally I might add, on The Pirate Bay.

The possibilities are endless. Just remember, don't let the bastards grind you down.

10 January 2012

The RPG's of My Life

I've got a cold. Not a very bad cold, but enough to distract and demotivate me from doing anything really worthwhile. So, inspired by my previous post, I thought I'd spend a moment contemplating some of the various 'pen and paper' RPG systems I've used over the years and picking my favourites.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (2nd Edition) was likely the system I used most back in the 90's to run my games. (My longest campaign at the time was a Dragonlance game.) As a system it's of course about as classic as they come, and I do like it, although these days I've got Pathfinder to give me my D&D kicks, which means the odds of returning to 2nd Ed. are fairly slim. I have also run a few games with the so-called 'basic set', which was also fun, though I never got any of the additional sets.

The D6 System from West End Games was another one we used a lot early on. I was first introduced to it in their Star Wars RPG. This was a quality game I have fond memories of. Later I ran a campaign with the Hercules & Xena RPG, which featured a modified, somewhat lighter version of the system. I actually liked this version of the system a lot, but production values for the rulebooks were... let's just say less than perfect. It required some serious tweaking. I don't really see myself returning to D6 in the foreseeable future, but... never say never.

GURPS... Got the revised 3rd edition back in the day, and planned a lot of games for it, but for some reason none of them really got off the drawing board, so to speak. In the end we came to the conclusion that the system was just too heavy and detailed for the direction we wanted to take our games. I've played since in games run by other people using GURPS (3rd and 4th editions), though, and I think it's a fine system... as long as someone else is willing to keep track of all the skills and stuff. And knows what to do when combat happens. (Luckily these games haven't been very combat heavy.)

I used the 2nd edition of Big Eyes, Small Mouth for a couple short campaigns (and contemplated its use for others that never happened). It's definitely been one of my favourite 'light' systems, although lately other systems (like Fudge) have largely replaced it for me. I bought the 3rd edition, but I've never used it for anything. While I liked some of the changes, overall the game felt like it was getting perhaps unnecessarily complicated in some ways (and the official character sheet in the book was the ugliest I've ever seen, basically unusable).

One of my longest campaigns in recent years used Eden Studios' Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG, which is based on the 'cinematic' version of the company's Unisystem. (My game wasn't really set in the Buffy universe, although it drew some influence from the show.) I liked using this system a lot, although it wasn't perfect. In particular, our group seemed to have trouble getting battles to run as smoothly as we would've liked, even though the system was pretty simple at its core.

And finally, there's Fudge. I'm using this system for my other main campaign currently (the other one being my Pathfinder game). And it's been pretty good for this game (epic, cinematic fantasy with steampunk trappings). Fudge is more a set of building blocks than a strict system, with a lot of room for customisation. I like to use a very stripped down, minimalist version of it, and I use it primarily for games where narrative is the main element. If I feel like messing about with a lot of rules and details, well, I've got games like Pathfinder to give me those kicks. But a lot of the time I just want the rules to stay out of the way. Oh, and Fudge can be downloaded for free. Yay.

All of these systems have their good and bad sides. All of them have been right for a particular time and context. Some I will probably keep using for a good time to come. Many of them I might not use again. But I'm still happy to have them in my bookshelf.

(I also have a web page with more details on many of the actual campaigns I've run over the years.)

On RPG's, Loyalty and Commitment

Yesterday we heard news of an official announcement from Wizards of the Coast that they're working on a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. As an avid role-player and GM I thought I ought to write a thought or two on the topic.

In my past writings I've been somewhat critical of D&D 4th Edition. Now, this criticism hasn't really been directed towards the system as such. (I've never played it, nor read its rules extensively, so I can really say very little about it. I'm sure it has many interesting features.) Rather, from all that I'd read about it, it seemed to be getting pretty far from what I, personally, thought of as D&D. If I play D&D, I have certain expectations for it. To be honest, the appeal of D&D for me is largely about nostalgia, rather than cutting edge development.

So, when last year I decided the time was finally right to start a new D&D style campaign, I chose Pathfinder, which appealed to me more as a system. Also, its publisher, Paizo, as a company felt much more respective towards its fan community. So I'm now the proud owner of the Pathfinder rules, along with several additional source books. And I like them a lot.

So here's the thing. It doesn't really matter to me whether a new edition of D&D will be an improvement or not. The likelihood of me getting such a thing any time in the foreseeable is extremely small. And it's because of simple math. I've just invested in a system in the same genre, which I actually like a lot. I have limited money. I have limited shelf space. I have limited time to actually play games. When it comes to getting my D&D kicks, I'm pretty much committed to Pathfinder. And I do believe I may even be developing a certain degree of loyalty towards it, and Paizo, in a way I doubt I could ever have for Wizards of the Coast.

It is important to point out here that D&D is just a RPG, not the RPG, not by a long shot. I play a large variety of games. And frankly, most of those games wouldn't work in the D&D paradigm. D&D is a system for... well, D&D style stories. It is not a particularly flexible system. It is a particularly clichéd system. And yes, I do like it, but I wouldn't ever want to play only D&D, whatever edition.

RPG's have never been about buying stuff for me. Some of the most fun games I've played have used systems that can be downloaded for free. Or systems with just one small rulebook bought for a bargain price. Or a simple system we've devised ourselves. Or no system at all, relying solely on the narrative. Bottom line, the system should always cater to the needs of the narrative the GM wishes to tell, not the other way round.

But I'm starting to veer off the point, I think. Which, I guess, boils down to 'there are only so many big RPG systems one can have in one's life'. (But lots of little ones.)

I used the abbreviation 'D&D' 12 times in this post. Oops, make that 13.

1 January 2012

New Year's Ramblings

Somehow I feel I should mark the first day of the year by saying something clever or insightful. But I've got nothing.

Years turn into other years. Nothing much really changes. I guess I'm getting older (no, not growing up, just older, and jaded)... The fireworks may have been sort of cool when I was a kid, but now... I would not mind in the least if selling them to the general public was banned altogether. The waste of money, the amount of rubbish produced, chemicals released, distress caused to animals - it's all simply ridiculous, and utterly unnecessary.

I thought of maybe spending the first moments of 2012 playing video games, just as a statement of who I am and what I value in life (and I first typed 'what I value in lice' there :-p). But in the end I was too tired. And the new year merely... happened.

(Brief pause to air guitar to a brilliant solo in CoF's Filthy Little Secret.)

(Pause lengthened by lack of inspiration, drinking tea, etc.)

I don't believe in New Year's resolutions. If I want to change something in my life, I'll strive to work at it, when I feel I'm ready for it. Spur-of-the-moment, hardly-thought-through promises only lead to disappointment. That is assuming you even remember the promise a fortnight later. So I'll just promise to be my old lazy, underachieving, self-centred, cynical bastard self. And should I be unable to keep that promise... well, I don't expect anyone will be crying over it.

Like always I do hope that I'll accomplish more on the creative front. Both working on my own projects, and enjoying works by others (particularly video games, which I always seem to play less than I'd like to). Procrastination seems to be my one true talent, though, and there's little I can do about that.

Well then, just be nice to each other, try not to blow up the world (well, IRL, at least), and generally enjoy life. Have a good 2012, and stuff.