17 July 2013

What is best in life?

  This is sort of a gaming post, and sort of a life post.  See, for me, one has a lot to do with the other.  I have recently come to the conclusion that everyone I've talked to over the last two to three years has been correct where I've been telling them they're way off-base.  People have been telling me that the amount of stuff on my proverbial plate is bordering on insane, and that I need to slow down.  Feh, says I, that's talk for the lazy and the uncommitted.  Only folks with no drive or ambition or passion talk that way.  I can handle this load - and more - if necessary and I'm a better man for it.

  Well, maybe not.  I've maintained a pace for a long time that I didn't give a second thought to.  My ever-enduring wife pointed out to me last night that in a given calendar month, I've got maybe two days that aren't already committed to something.  Now, some of those things are my familial responsiblities.  I make sure I make time for my kids.  I'm no longer the new dad who's scared to death of being left alone with the kids.  I love spending time with Zane and Kaylee - we have a blast.  Being a dad is, without exaggeration, the most amazing thing I've accomplished in my life.  So add to that my 40-hour-a-week job as a senior computer technician.  Then my duties as a soldier in the Texas State Guard.  Then add my graduate studies, I am enrolled full-time in my MA program.  Now, to ice this cake, there's the time I spend in recreation which is - you guessed it - pre-planned and on the calendar.  Oh, plus every two weeks I get to see my therapist.

  It's only recently that I've come to admit to myself that I've got a lot of stuff going on.  A LOT of stuff.  Like, to the point that I really don't have much time to call my own.  The obvious answer is to cut out the hobbies - two Saturdays a month, plus Wednesday nights.  Problem is, these times are what keep me sane.  I no longer watch TV, not because I disdain the medium or think there isn't anything to watch- but because I always know I have something more important to do.  If something is on TV it's because Zane or Kaylee or Mary wants to watch it.  When was the last time I sat down to a classic SNL episode?  Or Night Court?  Or Cheers?  The things that help me calm down and center?  I really can't remember.  Now, I did recently watch the first two seasons of A Game of Thrones with Mary over the course of a few weeks - we'd watch an episode or two after the kids went to sleep.  I can't believe I've missed out on that show as much as I have.  But every time I sit down, I always tell myself there's coursework or bills or FEMA exams that I have to do and never really relax.

  Even my hobbies have work.  We've built an amazing wargaming club.  I mean amazing.  The RDG is something I'm very proud of - but the amount of work and emotional investment that goes into it is not inconsequential.  Some of it is just frustrating.  All our members are adults - well, most of them.  We do have some 16-17 year olds.  We put out our meetings in email, Facebook and text messages.  We still have people who can't be bothered to know when meetings are.  Then we have folks that saunter in thirty minutes to an hour late.  It's FRUSTRATING. What's worse is folks who KNOW we only meet for 1.5 hours before we go on lunch break - and they're late because the STOPPED FOR FOOD.  Seriously, 1030 is not too early to ask friggin adults to be up, dressed, fed, and at the meeting.

  Why am I rabid about this?  Because I devote quite a bit of time to making it happen.  Bobby, Trenton and I give up two Monday nights a month to plan to the two Saturdays a month.  It's frustrating when, like this past weekend, we plan out games that we don't have the attendance to run.  With Facebook, GroupSpaces and the friggin phone one would think responsible adults could be counted on to RSVP by at least the Wednesday preceding each meeting.  My time is precious to me - and I don't mind giving some of it to plan the events that make my friends happy and increase our group's fun time.  I mean, one of the things that I've identified that makes me happiest is running a good game, so this should be all good.  Problem is, either the players don't care enough or aren't mature enough or don't respect me, Bobby and Trenton's work enough to care to RSVP, show up on time, or show up at all.

  THAT.  SUCKS.  I mean it really, really sucks.  These are my friends.  Some of them are the closest friends I have.  We game together, we consider each other family, some of us soldier together.  I'm talking about godparents to my kids.  Young adults who were like kids to Mary and I as they grew up.  GOOD friends.  Every time I get "Oh, I guess I didn't see the 167 messages about the meeting" or "I got drunk and overslept" or have someone sauntering in with a McDonald's bag fifteen friggin minutes before lunch break...  It's like my good friends are winding up and giving me a huge, John Bigboote finger. It pisses me off, makes me wonder if they know how much work goes into running the club, planning the games, etc. and if they even respect the work their elected club staff does to keep the game going.

  This is kinda like my duties in the Guard.  I've been given the responsibility to publish the battalion's quarterly newsletter.  I've asked my fellow soldiers for photos, submissions, etc.  I've gotten precisely one article.  From a soldier who's leaving the battalion.  AARRGGH.

  What is best in life?  I quote Conan because last night my therapist asked me to close my eyes and tell her what makes me feel calm, restful.  Only two things came to mind.  Playing with my kids, and gaming.  Specifically, sitting in my game room, at the head of my big, battered heirloom table and running a game for fun with a small group of close friends. 

  What bothers me about that is that when I closed my eyes and thought about calm, I didn't think of sex, or soldiering, or video games, or the Royal Dragoons, or any of the things that I would have thought would be up there in the top ten list of stuff that calms me down and makes me feel relaxed.  I immediately thought of playing with Zane and Kaylee, spending time with them just... playing.  Zane's "I didn't do it" smile, Kaylee's bright eyes and Eskimo kisses.  Gets me right there.

  Gaming.  And by this I'm specifically not referring to the type of gaming I've been doing for almost two decades now.  Mass-gaming.  Entertain the club gaming.  Entertain many players gaming.  Huge groups, double-digits of players.  Entertain my friends.  I'm telling you, what sends me to my happy place is sitting around the table in my house with close friends running games I love.  Red Box D&D.  Robotech.  Marvel FASERIP.  Maybe have some snacks.  Maybe music - on vinyl, perhaps.  Just... game.  Relax.  Tell stories.  Have a good time.  RELAX.

  So... I don't know what this means.  I haven't slept well in weeks, despite a new sleep study and a new CPAP machine.  My weight loss has continued to stall, even though I'm hitting the gym about 5 days a week.  This might be because the extra PT has made it very difficult for me to stick to my 1,100 calorie a day diet.  Of course, breaking my diet makes me feel guilty, and further stressed.  Which makes me screw up and break diet further.  It's a cycle.  I'm tired, I'm demoralized.  Things I used to love no longer really hold joy for me.  It kinda sucks.  A lot.

  At the moment I write this, I'm going through the motions.  I exercise and diet so that I can soldier.  I soldier because I have always wanted to soldier.  Why do I want to soldier?  Right now, at this moment, I'm not sure anymore.  Just like I'm working on my MA because I have to.  I can't NOT get my Master's.  I must get it so that I can start teaching on the side and make some extra money.  Our finances are only barely stable.  I watch our savings dwindle.  We get bills I have to fight or pay - like Medicaid refusing to pay for Kaylee's emergency room visit, or FedLoan Servicing telling me I need to start paying off my student loans now.  This is, of course, after my employer decided they won't do tuition reimbursement this year since there's not enough money in the fund to make good on it.  Now the car needs tires, and that's gonna run half a grand.

  Sorry, everybody.  I just needed to vent.  I'm tired.  I'm tired of not sleeping, I'm tired of dieting and exercising and not having it get me anywhere.  I'm tired of giving my time and effort when other folks obviously don't care - be it my friends in the RDG or my fellow soldiers who can't be bothered to contribute to the newsletter nobody will probably read.  Every waking moment is studying, working, working out...  I get to play with the kids, then they go to bed and Mary wants to relax by watching TV and all I want to do is read, and sleep.  Even sleep eludes me, after Lunesta, Ambien, Clonapin, Sonata and Rozarem.  I fight to fall asleep, then I fight to stay asleep.  It never happens.  I wake up four or five times a night - usually ravenously hungry.

  After I post this, I've gotta go to Medifast and get on the scale and have people look down their noses and tsk tsk me and see that I've either maintained or gained.  Then I have to go to drill this weekend and embarrass myself at PT.

  I need a vacation.


08 July 2013

Funky Dice Mechanics - My Initial Thoughts on Star Wars : Edge of The Empire

   Greetings, programs.  Sorry it's taken me so long to get back into the posting groove.  Grad school started for me, and now I'm working on HIST500 and HIST501 trudging the expensive, reading-intensive path toward my MA in Military History.  Luckily, we used 4 and 6 July 2013 to roll some dice, this time on a new game system - Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars : Edge Of The Empire.

 This is far from my first Star Wars RPG.  My all-time favorite iteration of Star Wars has been, and at this time remains, the first edition of Star Wars D6 from West End Games.  I still find it the perfect gateway drug to get new folks into gaming - the system is quick and intuitive, the Star Wars Universe is pretty well known even to folks who are not game geeks, and the feel of the first edition material is spot-on to where I want my Star Wars to be.  From the graphic design to the in-universe advertisements to the plethora of ready-to-play character archetypes D6 is my go-to Star Wars game.  I was lukewarm on Star Wars D20, and D20 revised.  They were OK, but not quite what I was looking for.  Saga Edition was pretty sleek, but still had some issues my group had trouble dealing with - the level-based scaling being quite a bit of it.

  So here we are giving the final print version of Edge of the Empire a spin.  The book is beautiful - the illustrations are all in a wonderful full-color style that can't help but put the line art of the D6 later editions or the cartoonish art of the D20 editions to shame.  There's even a few pictures that are either Ralph McQuarrie originals or re-imaginings of them.  I nearly squee'd when I saw the early concept for the Millennium Falcon, the one that looks more like the Rebel Blockade Runner, sitting in a bay waiting for adventure.

  This game is class-based, but not level-based.  Sure their are tiers of abilities that must be purchased in a tree, like Feats in D20, but there's no strict "leveling" aside from the accrual and expenditure of Experience Points.  XP are the currency with which characters are created and improved, and aside from the Characteristics - Ability Scores for us old grognards - everything is purchased the same way after character creation as it is during character creation.  Now, this leads me to something I feel I need to point out, because our initial group missed it despite it being in bold letters on the page.  Characteristics can not be bought with XP after character generation.  They must be raised by taking a Talent that is all the way at the end of the talent tree, and appears only once on each tree.  To really crank up a Characteristic after play begins, one must invest a LOT of XP to get to that level on the tree, and if one wants another point in characteristics, one must "multi-class" and choose another specialty and climb all the way to the end of THAT tree to get a second one.  So... if you're creating a character, heed the advice that's in the bold sentence and think hard about spending most of your starting XP on Characteristics.

  Here's where the funky die mechanics come in.  So, to play EoTE without constantly referencing a table, you need their custom dice or the Star Wars Dice App from the Android or iOS app stores.  To sum but the dice mechanics, there are no target numbers - only "bad" dice in the pool you roll.  Your "good" dice come from three basic places.  Your Characteristic gives you a base set of the green "ability" dice.  So, if you have an average Characteristic of 2, you would have two of the green dice.  Now, if you have a skill of one rank in whatever skill you are rolling, you "upgrade" one of those green dice to a yellow one.  The yellow dice are twelve-sided as opposed to eight-sided, and have more positive results.  The bad dice are determined by difficulty.  Now there are situational dice, like boost dice or setback dice that can also be added.  The whole pool is rolled, and the results are tallied.

  On these custom dice are two axes of outcome.  Successes and Failures are one, and Advantage and Threat are the other.  It is possible to succeed, but have threat.  It's also possible to fail but gain advantage, and every other outcome.  Oh, there's also Triumph and Despair, but those are just extreme versions of the above better explained by the full rulebook.

  So, the dynamics of the game rely a lot on these dice pools.  Do something cool to set up an action, and you may get to add a boost die to the pool rolled for that action.  If something unfortunate happens, it may add a setback die.  Dice are upgraded and downgraded and added or subtracted, and then the pool is rolled and all the little symbols counted - with each negative symbol cancelling out each positive symbol.  The net results inform the outcome of the die roll.  GMs are encouraged to interpret these rolls dynamically - such as you got a bunch of successes but also quite a few threats - you made your blaster shot, but now your weapon is out of ammunition!  (As an aside, I love this way of not counting ammo, it reminds me of 1st Edition D6)

  So... do I like this kind of system?  It's hard to say after one marathon session.  D6 is certainly quicker and more intuitive to most players, but by the end of our game even our most game-mechanic-impaired player was quickly grokking what was going on.  We were using the rules for trading advantage to add boost dice to our own and each other's dice pools, and having a great time.

  We have yet to do anything with starship combat or Force powers - Edge of the Empire is pretty focused on places like Tatooine and Ord Mantell and characters who are what have come to be called "fringers" - smugglers, hired guns, etc.  There's not a lot of heavy duty military hardware, and very little that is useful to you if you want to run a campaign full of Jedi.  This is by design - FFG is going to release two more corebooks, one focused on the Rebellion/Empire conflict and another on Force users.  I will say the downplay on Force users is thematically appropriate to the time period the book is covering, as well as being reminiscent of the original D6 core rules for me- published to cover the same time period because in 1987 no other time periods had really been fleshed out.

  My minor annoyances were on the amount of damage needed to get through the soak of opponent characters (DR, in D20 parlance) and do damage.  It made light and standard blaster pistols kind of mediocre weapons.  Our combats took a little too long.  We'll see what happens if and when we pick this game up again.

  May the Force be with all of you!