Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Was Google+ Gaming's Camelot?

Okay, so it's been a little over a month since Google+ died (at least for the gaming community), although most of us escaped to new online homes well before the proverbial axes fell and our heads hit the basket.  But G+ was such a vital organ of the hobby, a landscape where it truly thrived, that nothing like mere escape could ease the effects of its passing.  And, not surprisingly, it's taken some time for me to process...

First off, Google+ was the social media platform of a media giant; so being there felt something like having our own cable network.  We were sending (and receiving) across an immense public sphere.  Of course, this wasn't a universal sentiment or our beloved G+ would still be; but for those of us in the tabletop world it felt like we were broadcasting to a substantial chunk of the hobby, because we almost certainly were

Imagine being in Time's Square on New Year's Eve.  More on that bit later...

But its reach, even among the gaming set, went far beyond the hobby - and tabletop enthusiasts weren't the only ones using the platform.  Its home feed could be a window on the world (remember that 90s promise?) depending on what you followed.  Mine was a motley assortment of news, tabletop gaming, and music.  From the tragic death of Tom Petty to the 2016 presidential election, Google+ kept me in the know.  I get that all social media makes this possible; but G+ did it on a bigger scale, or so it seemed.

Google+, for all its supposed failures, succeeded at being an immense and public facing phenomenon, the social-media equivalent of a personal cable network.  Now I can see legions of online types waiting to quote figures and demonstrate where I'm objectively wrong about (insert _______ here).  But this post is about my feelings and experiences with the platform, something largely immune to objective analysis, even if I'm wrong.


But perhaps the best way to express the experience of Google+ is to look at what happened in the wake of its demise.  At first everyone pitched their best alternative and made for the escape pods.  And it's not like there wasn't lots to choose from.  But quite a few of us made it MeWe, including those who didn't originally want to go.  The migration was big enough that the new landlords had to make accommodations, which speaks well for them, but also to the enormity of the move itself.  And it absorbed only some of the refugees!

MeWe isn't a wealthy tech giant, and its passion for privacy means that it's more intimate (and insular) than Google+ ever was.  That's a two-edged sword.  My circles are smaller, but also stocked with authentic friends, something I'm immensely grateful for.  The friendships started on Google+ were the most valuable things there.  But as a person who enjoys feeling connected to a larger public, I miss the sheer reach of my former home and its "one stop shopping" atmosphere, which brings us back to the whole New Year's analogy...

So it's New Year's Eve in Time's Square.  People are everywhere and it's easy to get whipped up by the crowd.  It's a noisy, festive event; and if you're standing in the right place at the right time, you just might show up on TV.  But your friends are there too, forming intimate little clusters, familiar eddies in a fast-moving stream.  MeWe is more like a small gathering in a friend's apartment - and there's nothing wrong with that.  

But Google+ was a veritable Camelot for tabletop gamers.  A massive, thriving kingdom that spoke to the public at large.  It benefited greatly from the sheer number of voices and the ease of which new ideas and products could be disseminated.  Bloggers and publishers alike could spread their respective wings and reach an impressive audience.  This was good for the game publishers, obviously; but ours is a hobby that needs new products as well as fresh ideas, and Google+ absolutely enabled this unprecedented creative economy...

Which is to say: the Google+ era was special, and Robyn and I are both immensely glad for the five years we got to be part of it.  And we've held on to the best parts...

I don't say this because it's over, but because it's in recovery.  There's no squelching the creative urge, and that goes double for gaming.  The same voices that made Google+ such a great community are alive and well in new online homes.  History shows us that kingdoms don't just fall.  They also rise from the ashes.  For a decent chunk of us, MeWe could be a pit stop along the way or the start of a new golden age.  History (and gaming) goes on...  

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Lightning Strikes In the Games We Play (and Some Real-World Safety Advice)...

Lightning spells are ubiquitous in gaming, and it isn't hard to understand why.  There's something decidedly elemental about these powerful (and visually impressive) displays of nature's fury.  And given that the ancients saw lightning as a sign of divine displeasure, electrical bolts from the heavens, it certainly feels at home in worlds where magic works and the many gods are real.  Getting electrocuted is deadly, but the ability to wield lightning is highly sought after by warriors (Thor's hammer) and wizards alike... 

But have we ever taken the time to quantify the staggering power of lightning?

We're not talking dice here, although 9d6 is clearly powerful.  No, we're looking at things in a real-world sense.  How hot can lightning get?  And how often is it deadly?

As for heat, lightning is the movement of an electrical charge which, strictly speaking, generates no sensible temperature.  However, environmental resistance to this movement does generate heat; and because air is a poor conductor of electricity, the heat thereby produced is just incredible.  How about 53,540 degrees Fahrenheit or five times hotter than the surface of the sun, although this is, admittedly, its coolest layer.  Pure power...


But how often is it fatal?  Luckily, only in about 10% of cases, which means your typical gaming displays are probably deadlier.  Sadly; however, many survivors suffer painful third-degree burns, and that's not all.  Metal jewelry can instantly melt, leaving a painful tattoo, while the victim's blood vessels explode in so-called lightning trees or Lichtenberg figures, a temporary scarring that outlines the internal damage.  Indeed, lightning can stop the heart instantly, making cardiac arrest a leading cause of lightning-related deaths.   

Short of death, however, lightning can cause permanent blindness, deafness, and brain damage, which is horribly tragic.  Gaming oversimplifies this, but let's forget about the hobby for a few minutes and talk about real world safety.  I became a meteorologist because my younger self was intrigued by the weather, but also because I cared about protecting others from its frequent, more turbulent moods.  Lightning is dangerous, especially as we enter severe weather season in the United States - but the following tips are for everyone...    

When thunder roars, go indoors (this one's top of the list, folks). 

If outdoors and unable to find shelter, crouch low, with as little of your body touching the ground as possible (strong electrical currents can run along the surface).

Stay away from concrete walls, floors, or shelters.  Avoid electrical equipment of all kinds and corded phones (cordless or cell phones are safe to use, however).

Go HERE for more advice and stay safe!  No matter where you live, lightning is deadly - in gaming and in real life - and we want you healthy and enjoying the hobby.

The above trivia can enhance a game.  For instance, GM's who seek realism and allow critical injury can incorporate lightning's effects well short of death; but even those who play straight can better describe either side of the saving throw.  And who knows, generous referees (in the spirit of charity) can grant bonuses to those characters who take the right precautions against this most powerful of forces.  Do what you want, but in real life we hope you'll play it safe and protect yourselves (and your families) against the angry heavens...    

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Tick, Tock, It's About Time...

Not much of a post this month.  We don't have time, which brings me to an interesting observation about fantasy role playing; namely, that it takes time to prepare a good adventure.  This goes without saying to the grizzled veterans of the hobby, who'll probably  respond with their several decades worth of campaigning experience.  We take this for granted now; but it wasn't always that obvious.  And Gygax himself clearly thought that time was a unique requirement on par with the paper, pencil, and dice...

From Men & Magic: A quick glance at the Equipment section of this booklet will reveal just how little is required. The most extensive requirement is time.


Yes, time.  The above was from the Foreword, two paragraphs in, which proceeds to elaborate upon the referee's duties to their players and the imaginary world they'll spend hours bringing to life.  This wasn't Monopoly.  Now I can hear the veteran war gamers protesting the laborious setup of their own pastime.  No doubt about that.  But D&D and all that followed in its wake requires the creation of an entire world, not to mention a very patient referee willing to sit down with their many players.  War gaming means setting up and tearing down miniatures, while role playing is the day-to-day life of a universe

Now I don't mean to denigrate war games, and I understand that many of these are exceedingly complex and border on RPG territory.  But Gygax and Arneson, two ardent war gamers if ever there were, understood that their creation was different...

Different enough to qualify the time needed to participate, especially as the new game inevitably brought non-war gamers to the fold.  Newcomers who needed to learn what we all take for granted now; namely, that role playing is well worth the time spent on it!

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Designing Music: Pits & Perils...

Yours truly loves music in its various forms and, not surprisingly, listens to quite a lot of it while working.  My older brother was a music fan since the age of eight and began an impressive vinyl collection that's only grown in four-some decades (trivia: he became a disk jockey of the internet type, although he's now retired); and he spun the soundtrack to my childhood right up through my gaming years.  Fast forward several decades and I'm writing games with my beloved and doing so to the music of my youth...

Now here's the funny thing: each project gravitates towards certain artists; again, a soundtrack.  Whether the oldies of Pits & Perils or the progressive metal of Red of Tooth, each title found something that captured its particular mood.  I won't even try to cover everything here, but maybe I'll start at the beginning with Pits & Perils:

ABBA: Super Trouper (1980).  Oh my god I love ABBA, and this album was an absolute masterpiece from the Swedish band.  Their fun, earnest sound remains a breath of fresh air in a world where bad things happen and a much-needed counterweight to my coarsened  tendencies.  I remember listening to On and On and On while absorbing the latest issue of Dragon Magazine (#48, with the Phil Foglio cover) back in the day.


BEE GEES: Living Eyes (1980).  I know, everyone thinks Disco.  But the Brothers Gibb enjoyed distinguished musical careers in the decades before (and well after) the leisure suit years.  Caveat: Main Course through Spirits Having Flown are all great albums, but their post-disco output was also excellent, starting with this gem.  I swear, just listening to He's a Liar brings back fond memories of my Grenadier and Ral Partha miniatures. 

TIME LIFE SOUNDS OF THE 70s (1989): Ten flawless discs covering pop hits from my favorite decade.  I was alive when A Horse with No Name (America) was a Top 40 record, so this stuff resonates big time.  From ELO to Jigsaw (you're a member of the old folks club if you remember them), this collection is solid gold for someone like your truly, just another relic from the pre-internet age (ironic, I know) when D&D was brand new.  

Observant readers will notice that two out of three are from 1980, a fact I'll very happily explain.  I started gaming in 1978 but wouldn't get my act together until Christmas of 1980, when Holmes Basic came wrapped under the tree.  It's timeless stuff, but I had a happy childhood on top of it all and have every right to feel nostalgic.  Now as it happens, music is the ideal medium for storing our deepest feelings, and when the time came to excavate gaming gold, the old stuff became a nuclear-powered time machine on steroids...