29 November 2011

Parenthood Strikes - Reflections upon a month of being a Foster Dad.

  Just a few days after having made that last post, Mary and I were blessed with the placement of two foster children.  Now, because these are foster kids from the CPS system, I can't post their names or photos, since it's a "privacy issue" according to our foster care agency.  The oldest is a boy, Z, who is 2 years old.  He's a handsome young man who is very sharp, and quite helpful.  He also has some temper issues likely a result of being 2, and of having been through some rough times in his life where he didn't get the attention he needed.  These issues have waxed and waned depending on our situations, which I'll get to later in this post.  His little sister, K, turned six months just a bit ago.  She's a very happy baby, and has wrapped me around her little finger in record time.

  In the first two weeks, I was Mr. Mom.  My wife has a job that allows her very little paid time off.  In fact, their company is going through a rough patch.  There have been layoffs, and she's had to take Fridays off without pay for the past few weeks, and will be getting a week without pay in December.  This is a set of time-buying maneuvers by the owners to keep the doors open until January, when their business traditionally picks up.  What this meant is that after the placement, taking care of the kids during the day was 100% me.  Which was fine.  In theory.

  I learned almost overnight how to change diapers, make formula, what the proper amount of time in our microwave was to heat said formula, how to change and put to bed a 2-year-old...  I also learned that while juggling two small children it is impossible to do anything that requires concentration.  My schoolwork started to fall behind, and in an 8-week semester, that can be deadly.

  Let me say that before we were placed with the kids, I had taken a step that was quite out of character for me, and began seeing a councilor.  My work plays for an employee assistance program, and under EAP any employee can get a free 8 sessions of counciling.  I had reached a point in my life where I knew something wasn't right, and maybe it was time I did something about it.  So I'd been seeing Lisa, my councilor, for about a month when the kids came along.  I talked to her about my inability to rest, my overactive mind that wouldn't shut off at night, my attempts to hold our group of freinds together after some events started to pull it apart...  So yeah, I was not in a great place before the kids arrived.

  The arrival of our children was initially a very happy event.  Mary and I had worked for this for literally years, we'd taken classes, background checks, fingerprints... all the hoops you have to jump through to become foster parents.  And there's a lot of it.  So this was the fulfillment of a goal we had shared since we got married.  Becoming parents is part of growing up, right?

  Then the sleepless nights started.  Or in my case, got worse.  My anxiety and worry started getting worse.  I was worried about falling behind in school.  I was worried that both our cars needed work and we simply didn't have the money.  My sleep became so shallow that any little noise Z or K made in the night had me snapping awake.  I quickly got to the point that I couldn't fall asleep at all - since I would lie awake waiting for a child to cry.  My mind just told me not to get too comfortable, because as soon as I did I would be changing someone or making a bottle.  Then we discovered the water leak that's currently got two of our walls opened up and our insurance company involved.  I'd reached a breaking point.  I could no longer take on any more worry.

  In addition to the stuff that was bothering me before the placement of kids, now we had so much more to deal with.  There was the mechanics of having two small children - feeding, changing, playing, etc.  There was the paperwork involved in foster care - and there's lots of that.  There's visitations with the birth parents, which of course take place on the other side of Austin.  There's medical visits, both because we have to get them taken care of as a part of our foster care (well checks) and due to visits K and Z have needed for illnesses.  There's childcare arrangements, which still haven't been totally taken care of.  Did you know daycare for a toddler is $600 per month, and for an infant is $800?  Luckily, CCMS takes care of that cost after it kicks in, but it took three weeks for it to kick in.  K was in daycare one day before a fever took her back out of daycare.  And who had to take time off work to care for her?  Yup.  Me.

  Now, that isn't Mary's fault.  It's just the way things are.  But the stresses from all directions started to close in on me.  I felt trapped in my own home - and I started to develop an additional feeling of anxiety at the thought of being home.  Especially after the water leak situation developed, I no longer felt at ease or comfortable in our house, and I looked for reasons to work late or to otherwise stay away.  Mary took this as me not wanting to be around her or the kids- which was not strictly the case.  The water leak and subsequen opening up of the damaged walls and week of drying equipment meant we spent a week living with my grandmother.  During this time I called Lisa, who I hadn't seen for a month, and said I really needed to talk.

  I'd tried to tell Mary about my feelings of anxiety.  I tried to tell her that I don't want to feel this way- and I realize I'm having some very irrational fears.  But knowing the fears are irrational, and dispelling them are different things.  Talking to Lisa helped quite a bit.  She suggested, among other things, that I may want to try anti-anxiety medications.  I told her thanks, but no thanks.  I need to keep my head clear to take care of my family.  I don't cotton to mood-altering drugs.  It takes me a lot to just take OTC medications.

  In any case, Mary takes my anxiety personally.  She also takes it to mean I no longer want kids.  This isn't what I'm thinking at all.  What I want is to understand and alleviate my anxiety so that I can sleep well, and be the father these kids need.  I don't want to feel like an alien in my own home.  I don't want to have a sense of impending doom like I live in the Amityville house.  I want to be calm, on an even keel, and drive on.

  I thought some gaming would help, so I organized a small game to try to do something "old school" that would take me back to the carefree days of youth where weekends were weekends and we played stuff like Traveller, Star Frontiers, BECMI D&D, Marvel Superheroes, etc.  We played Traveller.  I started to fall asleep a coupla hours into the session.  It made me miserable.  I can't even GM reliably anymore.  Ugh.

  Mary has accused me of wanting to go back to our old lives, and I'd be lying if I said that wasn't an attractive option.  I'd love to decrease my stress levels.  The problem is I've fallen in love with these two children, and if they left my care I know I would worry about who was caring for them, where they were, and what more I could have done to care for them.  My friends and some of my family think that Mary and I shouldn't have them just now, that there are issues that need to be squared away.  I used to think these issues were all me, but those same family and friends are telling me that they believe Mary could use some counseling, and that a lot of our problems have to do with her preconcieved notions of life and parenthood.  They tell me I'm doing too much, worrying too much, and I've had more than one person say they're concerned for my physical and mental help.

  Well, here's the deal.  I want to slow down.  I want to de-stress.  But now, I have these two beautiful children who are depending on me.  Mary's salary won't come close to paying the bills.  That burden falls on me - whose paycheck covers all our bills and a bit of gas & groceries.  She can't take off work when they have appointments, visits, or are sick.  I have to take care of that.  House has issues?  I deal with insurance and plumbers and contractors.  These are things she can't wrap her head around.  I'm trying to offload as much as I can so she can help take some of this off my shoulders, but there's just so much of it that for one reason or another she can't relieve me of.

  K and Z need me to keep on keepin' on.  And I know, several of you have reminded me that if I have a mental or physical breakdown I won't be doing anyone any good.  That's true, and I'm mindful of it.  But if I can't find any other way to slow down, I'm going to have to keep taking care of business - because somebody has to.  I just pray that sometime in the near future, I can catch by breath, get my focus back, and have some fun for fun's sake.  I want to be able to sleep at night without millions of worries plaguing my mind.  I want to be able to relax and not constantly have my head in "general quarters" mode ready to jump up and react to potential kid problems.  I want to feel like there's time to, oh, shower, without feeling guilty about having my eyes off the kids.  I got a big dose of that guilt this morning before work.  And I took a French Shower (thanks, Old Spice deoderant!) and got my ass to work.

  So, I am not happy.  My wife is unhappy that I am unhappy.  Not so much because *I* am unhappy, but because she thinks I am unhappy due to the children.  You see, having children was apparently the whole point of our getting married 12 years ago.  So, if I'm not happy with the children then our marraige isn't worth a whole lot.  Or so she tells me.  So, if I can't handle this transition and something results in the removal of K and Z, then it's my fault, and our marriage is pretty much over.

  Like I needed *that* on top of everything else.

  Look, to whom it may concern, I have had over a month now to become bonded to these children.  Yes, I kinda favor K, who favors me.  She's very much a foster daddy's girl.  She cuddles with my dirty shirts and it stops her from crying.  (Little trick I learned from babycenter.com)  I also love Z, even though he gets on my nerves with his temper issues and screaming.  But that aside he's also a very smart, very helpful little boy.  He brings me diapers and wipes when K needs changing.  He brings us bottles when she wants to be fed.  At heart, he's a good boy - he just needs guidance and love.  And that's what I hope we can give him.

  So I love them both.  I also love my wife more than I think she realizes.  It hurts me that I'm out of the equation most of the time.  I feel like I'm the thing that's necessary to keep the finances rolling so she can be mommy.  If I'm not actively engaged in something in direct support of the kids, I get the guilt complex.  She tries to give me "my space" so I can relax, but she doesn't fathom that I simply cannot relax with my mind being the way it is right now.  No amount of time or quiet is going to calm me, I fear.  That's why I'm seeing a freaking councilor.  I did not choose this.  I do not *want* to be showing this kind of frailty, weakness, whatever you want to call it.  It sucks, and I feel that I'm not hacking it as a husband or a father, and I wonder how my elders ever survived all of this.

  That's what kills me.  I know every dad who ever was worth the title has been where I am.  Why, then, am I affected on such a profound level that I find myself losing the ability to function on a day-to-day basis?  I'm fatigued, forgetful, irritable...  I've had physical issues that I've been told are probably psychosomatic reactions to stress.  Upset stomach, I've vomited a couple of times for no real reason, I wake up with my legs feeling like I've done a 20-mile ruck march and I haven't even taken a flight of stairs in the previous 24.  All of these are telltale signs of stress and a poor reaction to it.  If my dad, stepdad, grandfathers...  if they all handled this crap without complaint, why can't I?  Am I really this screwed up, weak or pathetic?

  So no.  Not happy right now.  Not happy at all.  I have moments of happiness, like when K is asleep on my chest and all seems right with the world for just that wonderful, warm, glowing minute.  Then the world creeps back in and I'm seeing bills, and damage to our home, and things that need to be done, and a wife who's coming to resent that I have a harder time with all of this than she does.  Life kinda sucks.

  In other news, Traveller and Star Frontiers.  If you made it this far in this post, you deserve my thanks for reading a rant I'm pretty sure only one person on the planet is actually going to read.  I promise my next post won't be this heavy, and that I'll actually discuss some gaming stuff - specifically, CLASSIC gaming stuff from the 70s and 80s that I've been trying to read for recreation, when I can.  Even that release is denied to me though fatigue and inability to focus.  But I digress...  I do have some fun stuff to talk about, and I'll try to post about it this week, since I'm out of school.

Take care, folks.

18 October 2011

Back to School, Gaming Thoughts...

Averaging less than a post a month is NOT a way to do a blog...  Must motivate myself to do better.

  So, I had a break after finishing my last semester, but I'm back in classes now taking Diplomacy and War II and Naval History.  Thus far both have been really interesting reading.  Now I know why Oliver Hazard Perry had a class of frigates named after him.  Now I know what postmodernist theory is.  Knowing is half the battle... Yo Joe!

  Tonight we have a visit from our new Arrow adoption caseworker.  Should be interesting to meet the new person on the block who holds our aspirations of parenthood in her hands.  As much as I want to be a dad, the hoop-jumping and the waiting are starting to wear on me, a bit.  Part of me feels like I've already helped raise so many other people's kids that I've done my bit.  I've been working with teenagers for two decades now as a game master/mentor/sci-fi scoutmaster or however one would define the stuff I've been involved with since the mid-90s.  I'd like to think a lot of the teens I've worked with have turned out fine.  In fact, I know a lot of them have.  Not all, but no parent/teacher/mentor is perfect.

  So, speaking of working with kids - the 8th-grader D&D experience has been awesome.  Three of the kids want to learn how to be Dungeon Masters.  In fact, one of them borrowed my old Frank Mentzer Basic and Expert books to learn how to be a DM of old school D&D after I ran some old school as a pickup game.  So far, we're adventuring in my 4e version of Mystara, investigating the odd occurrence of a pair of Owlbears venturing uncharacteristically close to settled lands.  What is driving them out from the deep woods?  The players are enjoying themselves, but sadly the only downside is that I can only run on my few and far between empty Saturdays.  So we're only getting one game session this month.  I am hoping that Dakota, Kiara and Christian become DMs in their own right, so the games can continue after I've imparted the basics of GM wisdom to help them get started.

  I'm now trying to balance two MechWarrior games.  The first, my primary hobby, is of course the Royal Dragoon Guards campaign.  We've had our elections and the new leadership is ready to take Easy Company offworld to begin the next stage of the story.  I think one of the issues I have is information overload - or should I say information archival overload.  I can run the game, but we have so many wonderful tools to log what has happened and make it accessible to the players (Obsidian Portal, texmechs.org, the Yahoo list) that I don't have time to do all the post-game writeups and wiki entries.  I really need to find a way to spread that workload out a little.  But I am very encouraged by the last week's game session.  Some good RP was done, and we got to zoom in on the House Minor of a couple of players who need more face time.

  Speaking of face time, DAMN I could use a Co-GM for the Easy Company campaign.  We're up around 12 players again, and I've got to work on my scene cuts, pacing, and making sure everyone has something to do in a given episode.

  My second MechWarrior game is something of an issue.  When we had our relationship drama blow up a while back, it resulted in this uncomfortable rift.  One of the players who was really a driving force in the game left, and it caused some consternation with about half of the players who were left.  They all wanted to keep gaming with him - so I've entertained the idea of running a separate campaign.  The problem is it's caused a lot of opposition from other members of the RDG - concerns about "splitting the camp", and keeping the drama alive.

  For the record.  My intention is NOT to keep any drama alive.  My intention is to actually minimize the drama by giving people who want to continue gaming with Hunter Dencourt a chance to do so.  My intention is not to split the camp - nobody is leaving the RDG to move to the other campaign.  In my perfect world, all this crap would get worked out like adults between the three parties principle to the issue, and we'd all get back to gaming somehow.  You don't have to like everyone in the party, you just have to get along with them well enough for the good of the group.  I'm having a very hard time finding the time on my schedule with school, work, and stuff I'm already committed to in order to run this second MechWarrior game.  To make matters worse, when I inquired about altering my Friday night arrangements to allow for this game, the GM of that game dug his feet in and said he wasn't going to willingly move or give up Fridays for the benefit of this other group, since it only exists due to the relationship drama.  Being caught in the middle of all this stuff is really cheezing me off.  I just wanna roll dice with my friends...

  So this second game has ballooned to NINE players.  Five of which are current members of Easy Company who want to also play in a game with Hunter Dencourt in it.  Like I said, this would all be so much easier if we could just be one big happy group again, but at this point I'm so frustrated with both sides of the relationship drama I dispair of ever sealing that particular breach.

  For the second campaign, we're using MechWarrior Second Edition for old time's sake.  Now, I really REALLY want to run a MW 1e game using just the 1e book, the original Merc Handbook, and TROs 3025 and 3026.  REAL old-school BTech.  But for this game, we're doing MW2e for more character flexibility.  This brings me to one of the things I've always hated about MechWarrior 2e - and that's the skill math. 

  So, your Attributes range from 1 to 6 for normal humans, with 3 being average.  Your skills are figured by subtracting the skill level from a Characteristic, which is figured by subtracting two of the Attributes from 18.  So let's look at a couple of possibilities for this.

Average Dude = All Attributes 3.  So all Characteristics for this average Joe will be 12 (18-(3+3))
  Looking at the University and Academy packages, we can see that a level 2 skill is pretty darn respectable, and a level 3 skill is attainable only at the "advanced" levels of college education.  So let's say we're looking at someone with a level 2 skill, college bachelor's degree level.

  So Average Joe has a Special Interest/Cooking of 2.  This is like going to culinary school and getting a degree or certificate according to the benchmarks set by the academy packages.  So our friend Joe is rolling 10+ to succeed with his SI/Cooking skill when attempting to make an average meal.  That's a roughly 17% chance of success.  Even if we give him the advanced degree skill level of 3, that's still a 9+ or 28%, meaning that only one meal in three is going to be acceptable unless you're using the 'easy task modifier' and assuming he's cooking beneath his training.

  All right, let's look at an example more meaningful to most MechWarrior players.  The Pilot/BattleMech and Gunnery/BattleMech skills.  The Basic Academy Package gives you skills at 2, and the Advanced at 3.  So, let's look at three different MechWarrior folks.

MechWarrior Smith (REF and ITN 3)
MechWarrior Jones (REF and ITN 4/5)
MechWarrior Allard (REF and ITN 6/6)

  So, what we have above are three prospective MechWarriors. One has average stats.  The other is pretty noticably above average.  The third is at the peak of human ability, unless one counts the Exceptional Attribute trait.  So, let's send these three to Basic Academy and assume they assign their level 2 skills to Pilot/Gunner.  What do we get?

Smith comes out of the Academy needing 10+ to succeed at Piloting or Gunnery.   Bear in mind that a Green MechWarrior is looking for 6+ on Pilot and 5+ on gunner.  Jones needs 7+.  So even our trainee who is faster and more intuitive than average is behind the curve of "Green".  So what about Allard?  Our maxed out MechWarrior needs 4+/4+.  So, this would be considered a Veteran pilot at Regular gunner.

So, at the top end, the math works.  But at the bottom end, it makes rolls quite difficult.  So how do we fix this?

I propose to change the Characteristic math.  Right now the formula is 18-(Att+Att).  So, subtract both Attributes from 18.  This means that someone with average attributes is rolling for 11+ with a level 1 skill.  Someone with 4s is rolling for 9+, 5s for 7+.  Now, for a normal skill roll, 7+ is a 58% chance of success - but when referring to Battletech combat skills, 7+ is abysmal.

So what if we tried the formula 12-((Att+Att)/2)), or 12- the average of the two Attributes.  So now the Characteristic targets change to 9+ for Mr. Average, 8+ for above average, and 6+ for maxed out.  This keeps the number for the top end the same as it was before, but improves the chances for those with less than stellar attributes.  In this case our average Joe the cook with his level 2 Special Interest/Cook skill would have a 7+ skill roll for his Culinary Arts Degree, not a 10+.

Now, one of the only issues that may be found with this is that by using an average and rounding down, the ability to get a 7 through Exceptional Attribute isn't as strong and may not be worth the Advantage points.  To that, I say that Exceptional Attribute should allow an exception to the round down rule, and Characteristics calculated with an Exceptional Attribute be rounded UP rather than down.  This would have the advantage also of allowing someone with an Exceptional Attribute Advantage to get something out of it without spending the Attribute points at character creation.  They could "grow into" the 7 rating over time, but still have some kind of natural edge representing their inborn talent.

So... that's Life, School, Adoption, Drama, and MechWarrior for now...

24 August 2011

When someone asks you if you're a DM you say "YES!"

  I was approached at Rogue's Gallery during my D&D Encounters session and asked "Are you a Dungon Master?"  Well, as a very wise ghostbuster once advised me to do, I said "Yes!" The gentleman then asked me if I would run a D&D game for his son's birthday, since he REALLY wanted a D&D birthday and had only played Encounters once or twice.  I thought about it and said I'd do it.  Kinda sounded like fun.  It turns out I'd have a group of players only two of whom had actually played before, and both of them only experience at D&D Encounters.  Time to break in the newbies!  Below is my report on how the game went, plus a little foster care status info.

  So the birthday party was a smashing success.  I had seven 7th Graders and one dad playing.  Mom sat on the couch, drank a glass of wine or two, and watched us all play.  Of the kids at the table, only the birthday boy, Dakota, and his dad had ever played before- but that was an organized play event at a Rogue’s Gallery (our Friendly Local Game Store), and organized play events tend toward lots of fighting and very little roleplay.  Two of the kids, Jacob and Kiara (the only girl there) were pretty skeptical about this strange diversion, in fact Kiara was downright dismissive of it and Jacob tuned into his iPod and decided he wasn’t going to play.  So we began our adventure in a tavern (where all good adventures begin) with our heroes given a chance to establish themselves by interacting with the barman and his Halfling waiter.  Now, the birthday boy was having a grand time being domineering over his friends, by assigning them the characters HE thought they should play and even forcing them to use the names he had made up for them.  Kiara immediately rebelled by renaming her Elven Ranger “Bob”, much to Dakota’s dismay.
  Suddenly – Goblins attack the town!  The heroes of course rise to the occasion of defending the tavern and its customers, spells fly, swords clash, the ranger gets on top of a table and fires her bow into the fray.  The hulking Dragonborn paladin blocks the door with himself (played by a cute little guy named Rushi) and the dad, John, playing a thief goes out the back door to circle around the goblins.  Dakota, playing a wizard, duels the goblin’s hexer as he spouts off game statistics for the goblins in an attempt to sound authoritative to his friends who at this point are so caught up in the playing of the game and the battle of the tavern that they could care less that he’s memorized the Monster Vault.  They wanna see goblin heads roll!
  When the smoke clears, the goblins are all dispatched save the hexer, who had the good sense to run away, but not before shaking his fist and declaring that the White Claw would see vengeance done!  The characters had time to rest, and I gave the players a post-battle restroom and snack break while I got my notes set up for the rest of the game.  The kids immediately headed for the Xbox to play 4-person HALO save a couple, who wanted to ask me about game rules, and dice, and other details.  Jacob decided he wanted to play after all, because this looked like a lot of fun- so he became a half-orc Assassin.  He didn’t like the name Dakota had made up for him, either, so he became Alucard.  Oh, well- so it’s not original, it’s the kid’s first game.
  The first Xbox break turns out to be the last, as the kids become enthralled in the story.  An old sage who lives in the town explains that the White Claw is the name of a Dragon who is attempting to stake his claim to this territory, and the goblins are the dragon’s servants.  He offers the adventurers 100 gold each if they will hunt this young dragon and defeat it before it becomes larger and more powerful.  The kids, having no idea what 100 gold is worth one way or the other, immediately demand more money and one even demands a town of their own.  The old sage patiently explains that he has no more money, and certainly no town to give them, but he can give them his staff.  The three spellcasters in the group, the Wizard, the Druid and the Illusionist, immediately begin arguing over who gets the magic wizard’s staff.  One of the players, Dylan I think his name was, politely tells his friends to shut the heck up because we need to know what happens next.  Once it’s decided the birthday boy gets the wizard staff (of course) the party is back on track.  The old sage says to defeat the dragon will be no small task, and perhaps they will find a weapon to help them in their quest in the tomb of the famous warrior Rogahn (this name and plot point is cribbed directly from the 1978 module “In Search of The Unknown”)
  Off the brave adventurers go, to find the tomb of Rogahn.  The old sage told them the long-lost tomb had been uncovered by a recent landslide, but when they arrive, they find a curiously excavated graveyard that looks like it had never been buried at all.  The headstones are standing, there’s even a mausoleum that looks untouched by time.  Around the site are the sheer, almost smooth cliffs showing where the rest of the area had been buried, but this whole graveyard just seems to be – there.  Surely nothing sinister could be at work here…  Sure enough, zombies rise from the crypts and attack.  Along with some skeletons for good measure.  Skeletons always make me think of old Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movies, and I actually did a bit of the Thriller dance when describing the zombies.  You kinda have to.  It’s at this point I notice I’ve got the full and complete rapt attention of everyone, including Mom and Dad.  Everyone wants to know what happens next.  The group swings into action, and with a kind of unrehearsed team coordination I’ve never seen in a group of new players before (thanks probably goes to World of Warcraft) the kids (and dad!) engage the vile undead foes.  Kiara, once skeptical of D&D being any fun at all, immediately has her ranger scramble up a tree and begin laying down covering fire with her bow.  The Druid has his wolf animal companion run interference while he whacks the zombies with the magic staff he’s talked Dakota out of temporarily.  The thief (dad) manages to backstab some of the zombies who are otherwise occupied, and in the thick of it all the smallest of the players physically – Rushi and Jacob – are being mighty warriors as the Dragonborn Paladin and the Half-Orc Assassin.  When the battle ends, the intrepid adventurers explore the mausoleum, finding the crypt of Rogahn covered with a marble sarcophagus lid carved into an image of the once-great warrior in repose and in the hands of the statue  - Rogahn’s Axe!  When the characters move to take it, a booming voice demands to know who they are and why they’ve disturbed his rest.  They explain that they are seeking to end the depradations of the dragon, and that they are trying to save the town.  The voice tells them to take the axe with its blessing and defeat the dragon.  The players are relieved that after skeletons and zombies they don’t have to fight a ghost, or worse.
  Travelling to the icy lair of the dragon in the nearby mountains, the adventurers fail to escape detection upon entering the dragon’s lair – but the dragon is unafraid.  It tells them it has sent all its guards away (totally lying) and that if they can choose the safe path to its lair they can foolishly walk right in and face him.  They look at the map and debate on which way is the “safe” passage.  The kids guess, correctly, that the passage that looks most ideal for an ambush is indeed the safe path, with the relatively benign-looking room being a deathtrap.  They choose the safe path, and enter the dragon’s lair.  The dragon is waiting for them, with four goblin guards!  The battle is joined and the adventurers split into two groups, the spellcasters and the ranger and theif in one, and the warriors in the other.  In another uncanny show of teamwork (and D&D rules that didn’t exist when I was in 7th grade three editions ago) the spellcasters and the ranger create the perfect dragon trap, pinning the beast between an illusionary chasm and a fountain of fire while the ranger uses her ability to knock creatures prone with a well-placed arrow to deny the dragon escape.  While they have the creature bottled up, the warriors bravely (foolishly?) rush in, facing its icy breath, and begin to attack.  Between deft control of the battlefield by the illusionist, wizard and ranger and the foolhardy charge of the battered and bloodied paladin, druid and fighter the dragon is on the ropes.  Kiara looks over my dungeon master screen (kinda cheating) and exclaims “It’s only got one hit point left!”  The race is on to land the last blow on the dragon.  Rushi misses.  Jacob swings and misses.  Dad swings and misses.  Now the druid sends his wolf to do his dirty work and… HIT!  The wolf bites the dragon for the last bit of damage and the mighty beast goes down.  Cheers erupt from some of the kids, groans from the warriors who feel outdone by a cute little doggie.  Even mom is kinda excited at this point, having watched the story unfold.  Kiara asks me where she can write down her ranger’s history and details.  I squee internally.  A new gamer girl is born.  In fact, a table of new gamers has real potential here.
  It’s now 10:30PM, six hours after we started.  The kids are ready for more.  I told them that’s the end of the story – this time.  They ask if we can play again.  I tell them I’d be happy to find the time if I can, and this time everyone can decide for themselves what kind of adventurer they want to play.  General excitement.  We cut the cake (a replica of the cake from the Xbox game Portal, this is where I note the Xbox hasn’t been touched since the first restroom break) and sing “Still Alive” from Portal in lieu of “Happy Birthday.”  And I thought I loved video games when I was a kid.  Dylan proclaims Dungeons and Dragons the best game ever.  I tell him that’s why I’ve been playing since 1985.  These kids were born around ’98 or ’99.  Mom and Dad tell me I must have the patience of Job to put up with all the hootnanny, and I tell them it took me back to my mom’s kitchen table circa 1987, and it was a sheer pleasure.  The only difference was not quite as many Def Leppard fans.  Kiara corrects me by queuing up some Def Leppard on her iPod, which starts a conversation about how 80% of what the kids have on their iPods is 70s and 80s rock that I grew up listening to.  I approve mightily.  Dad tips me (a totally unnecessary $50, which I use to buy Mary and I a mixer that she’s been eyeing.  Okay, the mixer was more than $50, but every bit helps) and I wonder to myself if there’s money to be made doing professional Dungeon Mastering at birthdays, weddings, bar mitzvahs…  Nah.  I head home content in a job well done…

  On the Foster Parenting front.  Mary and I have been licensed by TX for almost two months, still no placements.  We have had an “almost” placement of a little girl who the state required be in the care of the foster parents most of the time – IE, court stipulated a stay-at-home mom or dad, no daycare.  Since we couldn’t do that, we had to pass.  They understood, in fact they knew we both worked but wanted to ask anyway.  We are doing some babysitting/respite care for other foster families in September, and continuing to wait.  This Saturday we renew our CPR training.

27 June 2011

Another month, another blog.

I really hate the amount of time that seems to go by between these blog entries.

I've just finished another semester at AMU.  Another A, and another A or B+, depending on how Professor Fliegelman decides to finish up.  All in all, I'm pretty pleased - although a pair of As will make me VERY pleased.

No word yet on the Foster Care license.  We're coming up on six weeks, so the four-to-six figure our agent gave us is almost up.  We'll see what happens - I am excited and cautious at the same time.  I realized one of my friends from High School has a son who's a junior at the school we graduated from.  Really drives home that Mary and I are starting late.

Speaking of which, my birthday just passed- 25 JUN.  My old scouting/JROTC buddy Jimmy Navarro reminded me that if we were in Logan's Run, I'd be running right now.  Thanks for pointing that out, man.  I'm now a year away from my "late" 30s and find it kinda depressing that I have not reached parenthood or college graduation yet. 

On the bright side, I won a WoTC writing contest.  I know, pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of life, but it made me feel good.  The prize was a copy of the Shadowfell boxed set and a display box of the Encounter Cards.  Pretty nice haul for 200 words.  Of course, I had a very difficult time trimming my entry to 200 words.  I was told 200 words was an opening sentence for me.  You know, that's not far from the truth with my writing style.

You know, I was going to write some more about gaming... but contemplating age and lack of real accomplishment has kinda soured it for me...

23 May 2011

Of Hives, Cruises, Homestudies and STRANGE DREAMS.

  It's been too long.  Over a month this time.  I really have to make time to make this blog a regular thing or there's really no point in doing it.

  So, college is going well.  3 As and a B+, and my current average in the classes I'm currently enrolled in are both As.  Military History seems to suit me so far, but 8-week semesters are a challenge.  The cruise kept me away from the keyboard for a week and I'm still feeling kind of struggling to keep up.  I wrote my entire Clausewitz paper last night in a single marathon session.

  The cruise itself was pure bliss.  A week of leisure, visiting Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel- although my part of our landing party took a ferry to Playa Del Carmen for the day.  We ate, drank (more than I have in  years), vaped, hung out in the cigar bar, danced, basically had a GREAT time.  And yes, we did game on the cruise as we had promised to do.  Bobby Dean ran an amazing two-part Ghostbusters game in the ship's library.  It was done with the PCs playing themselves as ghostbusters, and was an great time.  Hooray for psychomagnatheric slime piped through a ship's fire supression system.

  So, while snorkling in Grand Cayman I managed to pinch the nerve of my left foot that runs down the top of the foot through a combination of stupidity and poorly fitting swim fins.  Upon my return, I was perscribed prednisone for the injury, and boy howdy do I seem to have a poor reaction to that.  Now, for what it's worth, it's very rare according to my Doc to be that sensitive to Prednisone.  It has side effects, sure, but most folks don't break out into full-body hives so angry and puffy it looks like you're wearing Martian digital camouflage when you're naked.

  It took me six says to get rid of the gives once they set in.  Worst case of itchy craptacularness I've had in my entire life.  Not fun.  Bendadryl and Zyrtec and Aveeno baths for a week.  I was in a perpetual state of groggy from the benadryl.  I'm back at work today, and I see no splotches on my skin, but I do still itch here and there.  Hope it's gone for a long time.  There is a good chance the allergic reaction wasn't to the prednisone at all but to something else - problem is it's impossible to tell what that is until I stumble into it again.  It was just perfect timing with the onset and the fade of the hives to the prednisone.

  Mary and I have now completed our homestudy, HUZZAH!  This was the last piece of our part of our foster care license.  Now we wait the six weeks or so for the homestudy to be written and submitted to CPS.  This means we may have children before the summer is out.  We are both very excited, and looking forward to whatever God has in mind for us.  Speaking of God, a big shoutout to the assjackets who caused the whole fuss and stir about the rapture occurring last week.  You're the reason people think all Christians are nutcases.  Thank you for the wonderful publicity.  I'm a Christian, and I'm as normal as the next guy who likes to spend his weekends pretending he's a MechWarrior, Starfleet Officer, ancient wizard, WWII paratrooper, or some other flavor of fantasy or historical character.  I also like mustard on my fries from time to time.  But perfectly normal, yes.

  OK, last night I had a very vivid, but very odd dream.

  I was at my college campus, but it was a different version of my campus with a large atrium.  Apparently it was also run by a general.  This general had a daughter who was wronged by some sailor in the past, and there was a curse placed on the campus that the first male to walk across the atrium on a given day would be struck by lightning in diabolical vengeance for the deflowering of the general's daughter.  First of all, I'm not making this up- it really was in my dream.  Second, I found out about all this third-person from the comical musings of two maintenance men who were working on power lines as the obvously dangerous storm clouds approached.  They regaled each other with the legend of the curse in expository film fashion, alerting me, the dreamer, to the impending danger.
  But I wasn't there to worry about curses, no.  I had a computer lab to run.  Apparently, it was the same computer lab I ran in 1996-8 at Northridge for the CIS department, right down to having old 386 and 486 PCs running Windows 95.  But it was lunch time, so I took the elevator down to the hospital (WTF?) and walked to the other building, which was a large asian grocery (Again, WTF?)  I am struck as to how things that are jarringly incongruous in the light of day seem perfectly normal in a dream state.  Anyway, the asian grocery had some wonderful wonton soup and sushi, and I just missed my wife as she was coming off the other elevator as I was headed down.  She was apparently waiting for me in the lab when I got back.  But I never quite made it back.  I ate my soup, and had some difficulty with getting the sushi I wanted, so I headed back to the hospital to return to the computer lab.  While in the hospital, I ran into Stana Katic from Castle and we shared an incredible kiss - I mean absolutely toe-curlingly amazing.  It was a total non-sequiter moment, that made no sense even in the context of this screwed up dream, so Stana and I just kind of stared at each other awkwardly for a moment and made a silent vow never to speak of this again.  I then continued on back to the lab, where I arrived just as my wife was leaving...  I walked her down to the ground floor where she got in the car and went back to her work.  This is when I saw the ominous storm clouds circling right over the campus.  I was rather annoyed that I had to deal with the curse when there were hard drives to replace, so I stalked past the still-chattering maintenance workers and into the atrium, where I walked right across the part of the floor we were told we aren't supposed to walk across lest we be the recipient of a lightning bolt from on high and basically dared the annoying curse to try to zap me.
  A giant snake appeared out of the clouds, itself being made of cloud-stuff.  I had glowing eyes and fangs and writhed its way down to about 150 feet above the ground, where it looked at me and issued forth a lightning bolt from its mouth as the two maintenance guys ran for cover.  I just raised the palm of my hand, knowing that God wouldn't let a gaint cloud-snake kill me with a ligthning bolt on my own campus, and the lightnign bolt harmlessly impacted my hand and the snake disappeared in a puff of clouds.  I then went back up the elevator to my lab and began pulling the yellowed beige-colored case off a CompuAdd 486.

  What a dream, eh?

13 April 2011

Good parenting news, good diet news, upcoming cruise, and some neat-o other stuff.

  This is what I get for letting the blog go so long between posts.  I have a lot to blog about and not so much time with which to blog it.  Lotsa schoolwork for this college boy.  I know I've said it before, but I really didn't remember THIS much reading and writing in college the first time around.

  So, first - the really important bit of info.  Arrow has received our last bits of reference paperwork, and our caseworker has informed me we are on the list for the homestudy.  This is the home stretch in a journey that has been half a decade in the making, from Mary's hysterectomy, to discussion surrogacy with Rob and Cami, to working with Marywood and finally to Arrow and our hopefully soon-to-be-finished foster care license.  I am excited.  Also, a bit nervous.  Parenthood is a big job.  God will probably maintain the balance of the universe by making sure I get stuck with kids that are just as difficult as I was for my parents.

  Next, weight loss.  As most of you know I started dieting in August of last year at a weight of 308lbs.  I'm pretty frankly ashamed to have let myself get that large, and I'm overjoyed that 9 months later I'm lighter, but nowhere near as light as I'd hoped to be.  My current weight as of this morning was 276.9, meaning I've lost 31lbs.  Now, 31lbs is nothing to sneeze at, but that's a rather unimpressive rate of less than a pound a week.  Problem has been tha I regained weight over the holidays and then hit a plateau earlier this year that had me bouncing the same 3-4lbs on and off over and over.  So what am I doing now that's let me get past the plateau?  Well, exercise is one bit.  Wii Fit every day from 30-60 minutes of aerobic step.  Add to that a modification of the Atkins diet.  I'm doing a generally low-carb regimen, about 20-40g of carbs or less a day but I've added a caloric cap (as of this week) to keep myself from going overboard on some things.  WingStop lemon pepper wings come to mind.

  Mary has lost a little over 30lbs, and it's frustrating to me because she cheats on her low-carb all the time.  Difference is, at her job she's on her feet all day long and gets a lot more PT than I do.  She looks GREAT.  Her before and after on Facebook are really telling, and she's looking forward to losing even more.  Low carb has worked pretty well for her.  BTW - I think she looks REALLY cute in her scrubs.  She got straight As last semester, bettering my A and B+.  Who knew?  I'm so proud of my wife, it isn't funny.

  OK, next item - on 1 MAY 11 the Royal Dragoon Guards get deployed to the Gulf... of Mexico...  Dragoons, Dragoon reservists and friends are going aboard Carnival Conquest in Galveston for a 7-night cruise to Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel.  I'll be wreck snorkling in Grand Cayman.  Mary will be swimming with dolphins there.  Most of us will be swimming through a Mayan cenote in Cozumel.  This is gonna rock.

  OK, other cool stuff.  Go check out http://www.mechcorps.com/  The folks at MechCorps are awesome.  We went to Chimaera Con in San Antonio - had a BLAST - and played a lot of Battletech on the tabletop and in the 'Mech pods.  So much fun, in fact, that we're hitting the pods the night before the cruise.  If anybody's in Houston on the evening of 30 APR 11 come to Track 21 Indoor Karting in Houston and have some fun with us from 1800-0000.  Some of us are going to go for our 25 mission qualification pins.

  Heroes of Shadow released for Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition last week.  I purchased it, read it, and really enjoyed the content.  Now, all of you know that I'm a 1980s kind of guy.  I still run a 1st Edition AD&D game on Wednesday nights with my grognard friends.  Labyrinth Lord and Rules Cyclopedia are two of my favorite incarnations of D&D.  My B/X Moldvay Cook books are holy...

  That said, something about the shift that occurred when D&D Essentials came out really caught me.  All of a sudden, I just *got* it.  With the shift of martial characters back to being martial, the re-spin of monsters and the change-up in the class presentation somehow 4e just clicked.  Now, to be sure, it clicked as a good GAME.  I am not yet sure if it clicked as good D&D.  That remains to be seen.  There are three components that will allow me to test this.  Component 1 - Heroes of Shadow.  Component 2 - The upcoming Shadowfell boxed set.  Component 3 - a good group of 5 players.  #2 is on its way.  #3 I am working on, but since as an adult, student and soon-to-be parent, my gaming time is limited.  I can't get another campaign started any time soon.  Not without killing something that's extant now.

  The game I want to run to take 4e out for a shiny new spin in an actual campaign environment (I DM Dungeons and Dragons Encounters for Rogue's Gallery once a week...  this doesn't count as an actual home campaign environment) is basically Ravenloft by way of Castlevania.  I think the ideas I have in mind really fit the type of high-powered dramatic and tactical feel of D&D 4e.  Many people lament about the video game feel of 4e.  To that I say, well, the video games descended from tabletop.  The character types of Defender, Controller, Leader and Striker evolved out of the way we actually played our characters all these years.  Initially, back in 2008, I *hated* that the classes had been labelled and pigeonholed.  I've been running a lot of old school games since then, and realized that the labels are just a formalization of the way we played anyway.  Now - I'm not going to stop loving THAC0, lower-is-better AC, or Larry Elmore artwork any time soon.  I just want to see if the strengths I see in the 4e game will actually play out in an ongoing home campaign.  I see the ability to tell an epic adventure story with heroes doing cinematic things that the original rules only marginally modeled.  I'm willing and eager to give it a try.

  But you can have my Allston Rules Cyclopedia when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.  Still the best single version of D&D ever.

  One more thing - we did a playtest of Mecha RPG last night.  Definitely would not be in the running for replacing A Time of War in our ongoing Battletech campaign - it's much too cinematic and narrative for the amount of crunch our players like in their Battletech.  At the same time, that same narrarativism and cinematic flair appeals mightily to me and Larry, and Bobby seemed to dig it.  Larry said it would be brilliant for a separate campaign of its own playing to the anime-emulation strengths of the system.  I agree totally. 

Okay, folks.  See you next time.  Maybe I'll have some more info on Mecha RPG with an in-depth playtest review.  Maybe I'll have more on D&D.  Who the heck knows.


22 March 2011

Into The Second Semester - And Some Battletech Musings

  My first semester ended with an A and a B+, and now, in week three of the new semester I'm enjoying both Anthro and Intro to Military History.  Damn, but these 8-week semesters move FAST.  I feel like I just got started, and one prof has already posted about the mid-term...

  OK, most of you (that is, two out of the three readers of this blog) come here to see me post about gaming stuff.  So here's what I've been tinkering with, MechWarrior-wise.  I think I've sussed out that I want to borrow lots from Traveller, some from MechWarrior 1e and 2e, and then tack on some concepts from FATE.  When all this comes together, it should be the MechWarrior system I've wanted to play with.

  After some consideration, we'll be stealing bits of the Traveller character gen, and the concept of UPP.  Something else I like is with the Mongoose tweak of Traveller, the attribute bonuses are on a fairly tight scale, which might help keep high attribute scores from creating supercharacters.  One of the issues with MechWarrior 2nd Edition is that any character with a 6 ITN was godlike in pretty much anything but social interaction.  The flip side was that an 'average' person with 3s across the board needed a skill level of 4-5 just to be competent at something.  University Education only gave a max skill level of 3.  Your PCs won't be 'average' for the most part, but unless you're going to decouple PCs from NPCs for determining skills then you want the system to reflect some sort of internal consistency...  Hmmm... perhaps you COULD simply rule that the average NPC as the skill roll of a military regular at whatever it is they do and just ignore the math...

  OK, next thing I want to steal from Traveller is the lifepath system.  I want to find a way to make it interesting and useful, but not the amazing monster it became in MW3.  I think the big problem in MW3 was the way skill points worked.  If the lifepath is going to grant skills, it needs to grant skills, not skill points that must later be rectified into something else.  Mongoose Traveller even has a notation for granting a skill level and no higher.  I like that as well, as it allows for someone to reach a given experience level without exceeding it for certain things or types of training.  As an aside - I'd like to also borrow planetary UPP codes as well.

  From MechWarrior 1e and 2e I'm taking the personal combat system.  I think personal combat should be very close to 'Mech combat to keep the paradigm from shifting too much for players.  Also - I love hit locations in personal combat.  Gives a bit more flavor to the fighting.  We're going to go for a straight  +1 damage per MoS in combat, avoiding the math in AToW of 1/4 point here and 1/2 point there.  Armor will be handled like it was in MW2e, since the whole BAR/penetration system is linked to AToW's system.  I don't think scaling will be as much of an issue as to require us to use the whole gamut of BAR.

  Skills give me pause.  AToW uses a 0-10 skill level scale.  I'm not sure we are going to use 10 skill levels.  I'm almost tempted to use untrained, green, regular, veteran and elite (with possibly one or two levels above this) as skill levels to keep things simple.  It also allows a quick assignment of target number to NPCs.  OK, stream of consciousness here, in MW1e, there were 8 skill levels.  If we go with 8, that means keying Regular to a TN of 5, green to 6 and untrained to 7 or 8...

  I really have to stop with the stream-of-consciousness notations...  I always lose focus and end up tinkering with stuff that has no direct effect on the project at hand...

  OK, so chargen and skills etc. What about FATE integration?  Well, we're looking at replacing the EDG attribute with something like the refresh mechanic used in the Dresden Files RPG, where the GM sets a refresh rate and 'powers' are subtracted from that number.  For the purposes of MW, a 2nd Edition or AToW-style natural aptitude (roll 3d6 keep best 2) would be a power.  Most advantages might be considered for powers, like sixth sense, etc.  Have to make a list, I s'pose.  We're also going to leave SOC and EDU as aspects.  Like "Swordmaster of the House of Dencourt", which would have a value assigned to it by the GM, or "Graduate of the DeChevalier Military Academy" which would have a number assigned likewise.  Why do it this way?  These things I want decided on based on style and character background, not balancing a pool of points.

  Hmmm...  I'm starting to see a White Wolf-style character sheet for some reason...  No, wait, eight bubbles next to each skill would be a bit much.  Speaking of skills, the skill list needs to be pruned a bit.  AToW gives for a skill list so long that every character in our party needed more space for skills and required me to make a custom character sheet to deal with it.  And then a sheet of JUST skills for two of the nine PCs in the party.  This will bear looking into...

  This is almost making me want to... yep... I'm going to go tinker with a character sheet...  I will try to post more soon...

28 February 2011

MechWarrior meets Pendragon meets Traveller?

  Last night, I ran a one-shot of MechWarrior First Edition.  It took me back... waaay back.  And while I was running this one-shot I was making mental notes on some things I'd like to do with a MechWarrior game.  I've made posts before on message boards about how I love the original feel of the MechWarrior universe.  The Dune-inspired post-apocalyptic neo-feudal universe where 'Mechs are the lords of the battlefield and can no longer be constructed- or at least constructed on a small-scale.

  This has given me some ideas for what I would consider "my" version of MechWarrior, or MechWarrior 1.5, as it were. 

  I want to use the 1st edition rules as a basis and I'll admit its out of nostalgia.  Let's start with that and take a look at the things I'd like to keep or modify.

  • The game uses 2d6 task resolution.  This I want to keep because it's the core of the Battletech game, with which my version of MechWarrior should remain compatible.
  • The ability scores run on a 12-point scale.  I think it's possible to keep this scale, or even to expand it to 15 a-'la Traveller for an old-school hexidecimal UPP scheme...  Hmmm...  Traveller-style systems for MechWarrior...
  • The basic system of ability scores giving a modifier to target number works for me.  The challenge here is to create a scheme by which ability scores have an effect, but not as much of an overpowering one as MechWarrior 2nd Edition had, where a character with a 6 ITN was godlike.
  • I like the HTK system, and having HTK by body location.  A Time of War has overcomplicated what should be a simplification by reducing the number of damage points a character has, then having margin of success add 1/4 point or 1/2 point to damage.  Why not just keep a larger pool of hit points and count full points?
  • I have been looking at the Battletechnology article on character creation.  It gives a variable number of CP for character creation based on the throw of 2d6-2.  This gives a range of 145-225 CP rather than the 150 CP normally alotted by the original MechWarrior RPG.  It also gives several different training possibilities with differing skill packages.  This is terribly old-school in its complex crunchiness.  I may or may not keep some of this just out of nostalgic grognardism.
  • I like having experience classes.  They give the old-school feeling of "Levelling" without really having a bunch of levels.  There's Green, Regular, Veteran and Elite.  I like that.
  • Crunchy as it is, I like giving out XP for skill use, combat damage, etc.  But I am going to alter XP rules to allow for more non-combat XP for non-combat characters.
Random thoughts...

  The MechWarrior 1e game was often criticized for not being able to do much more than make MechWarriors and pilots.  Something that crossed my mind while reading Pendragon the other night was that Pendragon is a game that makes Knights.  Only knights, pretty much. Pendragon is touted as one of the greatest genre games ever made.  So... what the heck is wrong with MechWarrior being designed to make... MechWarriors?

  Now, don't get me wrong.  I think there's a LOT more to the Battletech universe than BattleMechs.  There's so much history, culture, so many nooks and crannies in the universe to fit into that have nothing to do with 'Mechs at all.  I've run a couple of campaigns like this and they were brilliant.  The deal is, if Greg Stafford could design Pendragon to handle the Knights of the Round Table, why can't MechWarrior be designed to deal with the Knights of the Inner Sphere- IE, MechWarriors?

  Pendragon gives me some inspiration here.  Each character is assumed to be a landholding noble.  Isn't that really the feel of the original MechWarrior universe?  That MechWarriors were the landed nobility by virtue of having a BattleMech?

  So why tweak the game to assume that the characters are either these landed noble MechWarriors and Aerospace Pilots or their retinue?

  So the default character type would be a MechWarrior.  Other possibilites would be aerospace pilots, tankers, etc.  There would be a clear social like between MechWarriors/Aerospace Pilots and everyone else.  Much as knights had serjeants, I think every MechWarrior would have a small number of tankers as retainers.  And maybe some infantry.  These would be to support the 'Mech, and to guard the household when the 'Mech is away.

  Which brings me to the 'Mech being away.  Just as a Knight was required to serve his lord for a period of time per year, why not have MechWarriors required to serve a certain amount of time in active duty to their liege.  In fact, one could even take some of the household mechanics from Pendragon and even include something like "The Winter Phase" for the fortunes of the house and the household members. 

  Now, at this point, I have to mention that I've cribbed a lot from "A Song of Ice and Fire" about houses and house fortunes, etc.  I think we might look to MechWarrior 1st Edition and come up with some additional ideas for building landholds and figuring house fortunes.

  I'm ruminating on possible projects around this.  MechWarrior 1st Edition sourcebooks, maybe.  Or maybe start with an article a'la Battletechnology covering governing a landhold.  I can take a look at Pendragon and it's sourcebook Lordly Domains, plus the Song of Ice and Fire rules, and see what we've got going on to adapt.  I think it would be awesome to come up with something retro, but useful...

One Semester Down...

  Well, that was a quick eight weeks.  And a challenging one.  COLL 100 Foundations of Online Learning and HIST 300 Research Methods in History are under my belt, leaving me 61 hours to complete my degree.  I have 35 credits I can't use which represent a significant amount of time and tuition I used a decade ago that aren't doing me any good right now.  Kinda frustrating.  Oh, well.

  These two classes I've just completed were eye-opening for me.  They really showed me it's time to kick in the spurs and get back to serious academics.  These classes aren't the walk in the park I thought going back to college would be.  I did a lot of reasearch and writing in the last eight weeks, and I'm proud of my paper on the history of the roleplaying hobby and all the hours of reading and researching that went into it.  Oh, and the $100+ of old books I purchased to help in that endeavor.

  My next classes up for bids are MILH201 Introduction to Military History and ANTH100 Introduction to Anthropology.  I'm looking quite forward to both of them.  This will be my first course specific to my major.  Huzzah.

  I get a week off.  Then it's back to the books.  Things are going quite swimmingly.

09 February 2011

Time, time time... See what's become of me...

  Time does get away from me.  At this point, I'm past the mid-term in my 8-week semester.  I'm on the downhill rolling toward the two research papers I have to write for my final exams.  One is on the use of gaming in education, the other is on the history of the D&D game.  Both topics I have quite a bit of interest in, but it's been over a decade since I have had to write a scholarly work.  I'm trying very hard to get back into the swing of things academically.  Mary being back in school makes things interesting around the house, as she requires a LOT more homework and tutoring to overcome her learning disability, and I end up spending a lot more time doing some of the housework I took for granted before she started school.  I was always the cook of the family, and helped with laundry - but now things are totally flopped since I want to give her the maximum amount of study time and support I can.

  The result is one tired Old Dragoon.  I get home, I cook, clean up, work on laundry, homework... I am really missing downtime.  The two games I'm actively running are sandwiched in there, and the only thing that saves them is that the AD&D game is by design bog-standard fantasy not requiring extremely deep thought, and the Royal Dragoon Guards game is always bubbling and simmering in the back of my head.  This last I have found to be an interesting malady that many members of the RDG suffer.  Leftenants Dencourt and Eversole are always talking to me and to each other about the game, same with Sergeant Major Doyle - although he and I do also talk about The Dresden Files as well.  The DF game will be making an appearance sometime soon, when we can all find time.

  Ah, so many games, so little time.  I have found myself lately experiencing a wave of nostalgia (imagine that) and a renewed love for the old TSR games on my shelf.  Star Frontiers.  Top Secret/S.I.  Gangbusters.  D&D BECMI or Moldvay/Cook.  Hell, even Indiana Jones, which I have threatened to run as a one-shot with the Raiders of the Lost Ark module.  I am thinking of taking the time to do a blog entry here on TOD about each of those games in turn, wnd what I like about each of them.  If I can find the time to do so, I will most certainly begin the project soon.

  Speaking of projects I'd like to get around to, Catalyst Game Labs keeps vexing me by their failure to release Interstellar Operations, and their fixation on moving past their recently-released Era Report: 3052 rather than covering the Succession Wars or anything of interest to the original Battletech set.  I very much want to get back into the idea I had years ago and do a Mechwarrior RPG Boxed Set, basically, MechWarrior 2nd Edition as I would have done it.  Mad Max/Dune with 'Mechs and all.  Firmly set in an idealized and further explained version of the Third Succession War that detailed *how* the neo-feudal society with MechWarriors works.  Fill in some of the gaping logic holes in the way the military works, maybe do some thematic nerfing of tanks etc. to make sure there's a good reason 'Mechs are Lords of the Battlefield...  Oh, this is a pet project I would so love to to...  But time...  Time...

  I have to go back to work on my research papers now.  Just wanted all your readers out there (that's right, both of you) to know I was still here, still writing.

Until next time - Excelsior!
(Apologies to Stan Lee)

14 January 2011

Updates on The Old Dragoon

  My apologies for the length of time since I posted last.

  Since I last blathered on to you kind readers I have begun classes with American Military University in hopes of completing my BA in Military History, with a firm intention of rolling straight into their Master's program.  I want to teach, my friends, and I've waited far too long to finish my education to be able to do so.  Thus far I am taking COLL100 - Fundamentals of Online Learning and HIST300 - Research Methods in History.  Both have proven to be more interesting than they sound, and I've even been assigned to do my term paper in HIST300 on Dungeons and Dragons!  I can't wait to dig into that.

  My Serenity campaign has been taken over by another GM, and in its place I am running an AD&D game, first edition.  I find it humorous that while I love AD&D, I would almost rather be playing BX or BECMI D&D so that the fiddly bits of the rules don't get in the way of the story.  That's a huge turnaround from how I used to be, loving every minute crunchy rule and detail in a game.  I've struck something of a balance, I think, with my other gaming that is influencing me drift ever more rules-lighter than my previous games.  I'm really looking at doing something with FATE - and FATE may become the new system for the Royal Dragoon Guards after all.

  In reference to the AD&D game, one of my players asked "How complicated can it be?"  For those who would ask the same question, please hop over to Dragonsfoot and check out their first edition downloads.  Along with a lot of great fan-made modules and cheat sheets, there's a document called ADDICT.  The Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Initiative Combat Table.  This simple document explains all the intricacies of surprise, initiative and combat in first edition AD&D - in 20 short pages.  OK, so a good chunk of that are examples, but still...

  So.  New Year.  I've got an "A" average in both my classes so far.  Haven't missed a day of WiiFit yet since starting back on my regimen on 3 Jan.  Been back on Atkins with the wife, and have been cooking more.  For those of you who like low carb, check out George Stella's web site for some awesome low-carb tips.  I got one of his cookbooks for Christmas, and thus far everything we've tried has been amazing.

  Now... to make sure I keep my blog updated with more information for all of you who actually read it.  That's right, both of you.  Take care, all.  Hopefully my next post will have some good news about our homestudy being scheduled.