My Collage Experience

Man I totally remember making collages. I remember making a bunch for various projects. Same as you, however, I threw them all away promptly because I half-assed them anyway.

As I’m getting older I’m learning that my memory isn’t supremely effective anymore. I now carry a notebook around everywhere I go specifically because I can no longer trust myself to remember things.  I started doing this about a year ago and its far more effective.

If you had asked about collages, pinterest, and vision boards a year ago I might have scoffed at you. Hell, even to this day my response to Pinterest is something like, “I don’t get it.”

Last month it occurred to me that I need to start being on Pinterest more. No because I believe in using it as a memory bank, but most of my good ideas come from viewing someone else’s cool ideas.

Most of my ideas aren’t even full thoughts as much as they are cool puzzle pieces I write down that need to be linked together later. I’ll have a cool idea for a Rogue Trader encounter, or a strange monster, or a weird side quest and I’ll jot down the idea.

The funny part is: when it comes time to write shit I always forget to look at my notebook. My written collage of ideas is gone mostly untapped because I’m a space cadet.

Anyway: collages. I wish I made more of them. I would love to have enough time to freakin’ collage and storyboard each and every quest I write. I would love to spend time really look-developing each planet, town, enemy, and NPC I create. I can’t really do my formal collage because my more cleverer players might figure out what’s going on inside my brain.

But here, in no particular order, is my vision board— not including RPG specific ideas.

  • Finish the Rogue Trader campaign
  • Finish the Nemoria campaign
  • Run a Numenera campaign
  • Run a Coriolis campaign
  • Anime
  • Christmas monsters
  • Not having college loans
  • Long weekends of playing video games
  • Dark Souls + Bloodborne
  • Music that gives me goosebumps
  • Not having college loans
  • The strange voices I talk to myself in
  • Learning various accents from around the world
  • Not having college loans
  • Writing a book
  • Working at a tabletop gaming company
  • Doing freelance writing
  • Not having college loans
  • Wishing I could draw
  • Wishing I could matte paint in photoshop
  • Robots
  • Cigars
  • Tül Pens

Now my faithful reader, do me the favor of imagining what that might look like.

-DTM

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Fantasy v. Sci-Fi: My GM Preference

I’ve mentioned before on this very blog that I have loaded myself up with stuff to do.  But one thing I don’t think I’ve spoken too much about is that I am a Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Game Master for my coworkers.  I figured a lot of them might find it fun, and at the very least we can broaden some horizons and introduce my coworkers to another side of myself.

Recruiting players at work was fun.  I had to try and find people who would be in it for the long run, but I also wanted to find people who had never played a tabletop role-playing game.  I wanted to make sure we had both enough boys and girls.  To my surprise I actually encountered a lot of eager candidates.  With players selected, it was time to make a world.

I drafted up a map and a couple cities and dove in hard on development.  As of now we are on holiday break, but we have played approximately fourteen sessions— all about two hours each.

This post isn’t about that game, but I just want to establish that I’ve been running two campaigns for several months now.  The contrast between doing sci-fi versus fantasy has been illuminating for me.  When I have more knowledge and experience I may do a more speculative post on the pluses and minuses for running sci-fi versus fantasy, but this one I just want to talk about what it personally represents to me.

It comes down to choices and consequences.  My style— as I see it— is that I love having a greater theme at play that will require my players to make a choice and deal with a consequence.  I love seeing how my players are going to respond in an imaginary situation.  I do not like clear cut choices.  I am not a huge fan of Good v. Evil.  I love throwing my players into a grey zone and seeing how they decide what to make of it.

What I love about sci-fi is that for me a lot more of the game is about consequences or outcomes, while fantasy seems a lot more about making choices.  And it’s all because in one setting magic exists.

Now obviously you can write either setting to encompass any theme, but in general I feel as though there is a pretty clear divide.  Fantasy is a realm where magic and alignment are massive forces in play and the players must deal with things as they rear their heads.

The peoples are hungry because their crops all wilted.  What do you all do?

We cast “Plant Growth” at a lowly level 3.  It rejuvenates the land and instantly grows much of those lost crops back!  Or we find (or create) a supply of food and extort the starving populace for all of their hard earned gold.

You can essentially orchestrate anything you want since there is powerful magic out there.  You spend more time thinking about the solution because anything is achievable, and the quest is more about whether you want to be good or evil or neither.  Whether or not you get them food is moot since magic will solve the problem, but what you choose the outcome to be is where the game becomes fun.  It’s not a choice of whether or not its possible, but where you stand in the greater scheme.

Sci-Fi is much more difficult because you must solve problems without a wand to wave.  You cannot create from nothing.  The choice that you make to solve the problem often comes with its own consequences that will also need to be dealt with.

There is plenty of food and fuel in most futuristic settings, but now the problems become how they are allocated and utilized.  Great power exists because such power is needed to keep humanity strong in the vast, inky ocean that is space— but people are behind that power.  There is no clear good and evil when there isn’t a great, neutral power like magic to draw upon.  Whether or not the outcome will work out in the end, the players will have to choose— often the lesser of two evils.

The people are hungry because the crops all wilted.  What do you do?

We can help the city recoup their losses by helping re-sow their farms.  But that will take time and we will lose out on other opportunities while we toil on this planet.  Or we could spend a lot of money and bring them food to survive the season.  But that will cost us all of our resources.  Or we can steal food from another planet and bring it all here.  This population will eat while the one we stole from will starve instead.

I’ll reiterate: you absolutely can spin either setting to be about good and evil, or choices and consequences.

Fantasy seems so much less concerned when it comes with choices because you choose the outcome before you begin.  We need to help the people, or we need to slaughter the enemy.  Both are possible, but which is better for us?  Are we good or evil?

Sci-Fi is about the hard choices.  A pirate fleet is coming to raid the frontier cities, but we can only defend one planet since space travel will take too long.  Which colony do we save and which colonies do we doom?

-DTM

Communication: Rise of the Emoji

I remember when I was thirteen and dad showed me AOL instant messenger (AIM).  We had moved away from Wisconsin the previous year and I was feeling pretty isolated.  But then dad swooped in on the wings of a mustache and was like, “Son, let there be chat.”

Immediately I was able to talk to people like Pat and Izzy in Wisconsin.  AOL led to MSN and all sorts of other chat programs.  Everyone at school was using it.  It was the precursor birth of social media and the social internet.

I remember— and this will likely sound quaint to those who have grown up with it— the first time I saw someone use an emoticon.

“:D”

Colon symbol + Capital Letter D.  It makes a smiley face!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Even WordPress turns the emoticons into emojis so they all have to be in fucking quotation marks.

It was such a feeling of concise nardledanger that my life was altered forever.  I was delighted about making smileys.  And after a time they eventually started taking on specific meaning.  So the “:D” smiley became one of sarcasm, not just being overjoyed.

“Have fun at work! :D”

The smiley was me joking at my friends who didn’t want to go to work, or something else marginally sarcastic.  Most emoticons had this happen to them.  The only one that really stayed true to its original was “:P.”

Eventually MSN and AOL introduced emojis.  It pissed me off because now they changed the expression I had come to know and use in my lexicon.  I had assigned emoticons meaning beyond the literal.  You know, how language develops.  But then these companies took the faces and gave them more distinguishable expression.

emoticons

On the left here you can see what they did.  Just giving little graphical faces to the emoticons.  Now— much like a fickle pokemon, they have evolved into something I didn’t expect nor liked.

Directly to the left of this sentence (a happy accident) you can see what happened to my “:D” emoticon.  Those three different faces communicate different things.  Less sarcasm, more smug.  For the MSN emoji it seems more like Fry from Futurama finding out how socks work.  When I use the “:D” emoji it has nothing to do with looking like Totoro figuring out that he can make fucking umbrellas.

The rest of them as well.  The language of the emoticon was seized on by larger forces.  And they turned them into a new staple of language: emoji.  Some of them were better, some were far worse.  Winky face “;)” had vaguely flirty, mischievous connotation.  Now depending on the company you have the knowing wink, the creeper wink, and the “I have something in my cheek pouch” wink.

This is not the first nor last time the emojis change.  Each time they change we adapt and use the emojis in a more exacting manner.  We re-adapt the meanings we had applied so that our language could stay the same.

The entire point of this post is that I realized how fascinating it is for language to change as the “words” change.  I almost rarely use emoticons or emojis unless the emoji displays the surgically precise feeling I want to convey.

But now we are inundated in emojis.  I think I read a fact once that if you combined the weight of all the emojis in the world— they weigh more than the rest of the creatures on earth.

People sling emojis into messages and across social media in ways I am far too outside of to understand.  For instance: my coworkers with children when trick-or-treating.  Inevitably there were images of their children getting candy.  And on those posts there was every single candy or chocolate emoji that they could find.

To me it was like, “Well duh.  You get candy on trick-or-treating why did you have to go locate all 14 different candy emojis?”

Well to them I’m sure it was just the same as me back in the day slapping a “;D” on the end of my sentences.  They are just a part of language.  They convey meaning in a more specific way than words might given several sentences.

The whole reason I thought to write this is because the other day I was responding to my friends sarcastic comment and I went in search of the perfect GIF to express my response.  As I was searching I took pause to wonder why I was searching for a GIF when I had the nearly infinite human language to express my response.

The images and pop culture that we now use in place of emojis (in place of emoticons (in place of words)) are far easier and more specific to understand.  We are a massively social world and common experiences are more useful in communication than words themselves now.  Using a GIF from Parks and Recreation are easier to get my point across because someone will see the GIF and remember the context and situation of the TV show and apply it to my current response.

“The rules for assaulting in Warhammer 40k have been fixed.”

Even reading my above caption for that image you immediately understand why I’d use that specific GIF.  You don’t even need to play Warhammer 40k— from the context of the GIF you can tell that it’s fucking great for me and terrible for anyone else and I’m experiencing schadenfreude.

Language is weird.  To this day I wish that certain chat programs wouldn’t change my emoticons into emojis.  Its simply not what I want to express.  But the more I have to communicate digitally the more I realize that this is simply how its going to be.  It’ll probably evolve into a different thing as more interesting technology becomes available.

I can only hope that at some point 3D printers become ubiquitous and I can start sending my friends emojis that automatically print.  I would love to send a text message accompanied by a 3D file and my friends have to sit there and watch their 3D printer slowly create a giant middle finger.

-DTM

 

 

The Feeling of Nardledanger

Last Friday I was hanging out with some of our friends, and a friend I hadn’t seen in a while (whom I will refer to as Boo) came on by in a rare showing!

We were building Warhammer 40k models.  I was building a particularly nasty model called a Tyrannocyte.

This.

Boo and Heather were making black construction paper bats for Halloween.  In one of the left over pieces it appears as though they had deliberately cut it into the shape of a butt and perhaps some testicles.  It was at this point that my life changed forever.

Boo was laughing and made a comment about how you can see its Nardledanger.

Full stop.

What?

Nardledanger?  The fuck kind of word is that?

Now this is what it’s like when worlds collide.

It was such a striking word that I briefly forgot what I was doing.  I did a full 90 degree turn in my chair to face Boo directly.  I knew exactly what it a nardledanger was based on context clues, but it’s rare in life that I hear a new colloquialism for “dick” that I have never heard before.

Nardle is probably based off the 3rd grade classic: Nards.  Google, ever the great illuminating presence, informs me that nard is the singular of a flower known as a Himalayan Spikenard.  Reality has failed me, however, for it is a pretty standard (boring) looking flower.

Danger (aside from being its own very appropriate word regarding testicles) is most likely based of dangler.  If I were to ask you what dangler meant, you would likely envision Wily fucking Coyote dangling from a cliff edge.  A person who is dangling!  Duh!  Perfect metaphor for a man’s grain sacks.

(Because their full of seed.)

Nardledanger does in fact have an urban dictionary definition.  “Slang for ballsack.”

I was sitting on that lawnchair in our friends garage when this grown woman dropped this word on me.  After my mind went racing to come to terms with the new word in my vocabulary I had nothing but questions left.

This was the word that jumped to her mind when she saw something resembling a pair of testicles.  She didn’t say balls, she quickly and directly used nardledanger.  Is this the word she uses in her day to day?

It became the running joke of the evening.  After a time we started playing the popular internet game “replace one word from a movie title” with Nardledanger.  Its such a perfectly sculpted word.

So (poorly) building off your Feeling of Sonder post: a Feeling of Nardledanger.

A Feeling of Nardledanger: Learning something that you immediately understand, and at the same time you have nothing but questions about it.

have (extensively) googled nardledanger and see that it has been used in some TV shows and the like— so it is easy for me to follow the breadcrumbs.  But to me the weird moment was that singular minute in time where I heard the word, understood it, and then immediately did not understand it.

-DTM

Familiar Stranger

Last week I was ruminating over how interesting it is that there are people in my life who I know by name and yet they are strangers to me.  The people at my favorite bar, Crush, all know me by name and I know them by name.  And yet, I know very little beyond that.

Similar with some of the people who make my coffee down at Floyds Coffee.  I talk with some of them and even have conversations about things going on with them, but even know I can know these details it never occurred to me that they just became acquaintances or even friends.

There are patrons at the bar that I know by name, but haven’t really spoken to them beyond daily pleasantries.  We recognize each other to the point that we wave when we see each other walking around the neighborhood!

But yet— I still think of some of them as strangers.  But familiar ones.

This even extends to one sided narratives to people I see from my car.  This is what made me start to think about this concept.  I drive across this bridge to go pick up Laryssa after work.  And since a lot of people get off work when I do, I inevitably begin to see the same people each day walking across the bridge.

There is this one woman who walks the bridge each day.  I noticed her because she was wearing full jeans and a jacket in the crippling heat of summer.  I saw her each time I drove across that bridge.  I thought it was strange that it could be so hot and she’s always wearing the same long, heavy clothing.

Then one day when the wind was blowing it pushed all of her clothes against her frame, and I saw that she was painfully thin.  I frowned to myself and gave a silent remark that I hoped she was alright.  But week by week, month by month I watched her become hunched and frail.

What specifically made me think to write this post is that last week I realized I hadn’t seen her in a couple weeks.

I’ve never met this woman.  I don’t know her name.  I don’t know whats wrong, but I know she doesn’t walk the bridge anymore.  And yet I urgently want to find her and make sure shes being taken care of and getting help.

I’ve never met this woman but I knew her narrative.  She walked the bridge everyday at 5:10, so I guessed she had a job.  Her clothes were clean and her hair styled, so she still cared about her appearance.  She carried a messenger bag so I guessed she might be a student.

Was she getting help?  Someone else must be noticing whats happening to you.

I hope that she is taking the bus or walking a new path or is getting help.  Should I have done something?  Should I have stopped one day and found her and asked if she needed help?  What can I do?  I’m merely a stranger.

I haven’t seen her in a while.  And I’ll always hope for the best, but it is weirdly distressing being in such a uniquely helpless scenario.  And then it made me think of all the familiar strangers that I suddenly just don’t see anymore.

I used to buy crickets for my lizard Kyuzo every other day.  The lady who worked at Petsmart used to talk to me about The Walking Dead.  And then one day I adopted Kyuzo away to someone else, and I just simply never returned to Petsmart.  Did she wonder about me?

There were numerous kids who came to Big Al’s arcade whom knew me as Dan the Man, Bringer of the Eternal Party, and then one day I just wasn’t there anymore.  Those kids came back and probably asked for me, and one day they were told I no longer worked there.

One of the old bartenders that used to serve me food at Crush five days a week quit abruptly over one weekend, and I haven’t seen him since.  I talked to that dude for years, and then one day he’s just gone.

It makes me wonder how many familiar strangers I’ve forgotten over the years.  How many people did I used to see everyday and then one day we just never saw each other again.  Makes me think and get all super pensive.  Its weird to try and express my thoughts on the matter.

Do you have familiar strangers?

-DTM

Character: The Lifeblood of Roleplaying

Previously on Seven Degrees of Smudde:

There was a solid disconnect between Acolyte and everyone else.  So I figured the easiest thing to do was quietly retire the naive Acolyte for someone who was more suited to this party and the world.  I’m not really mad at anyone, just stopped having fun trying to make my character fun.

What made me think about this was one of my players approaching me saying that he wasn’t having as much fun with his character in Rogue Trader.  His character was a dark and brooding man with a troubled past.

I was quite surprised at how many of my players decided to play various flavors of “dark and brooding with a troubled past.”  Its a very attractive idea for a character— you can play a mysterious, crass, loner who doesn’t need anybody.  No strengths, only weaknesses hidden deep inside.

Roleplaying games are awesome because you can explore so many different personalities and lifestyles.  The breadth of options available in the theater of your mind is for another post— what I’d like to talk about is characterization versus character.

A thing to note: some people just want to play Dungeons and Dragons for the combat or the exploration.  What I’m about to expound about is only relevant if you want to focus on the roleplaying aspects.  If you just wanna kill dragons and loot dungeons then you can probably ignore this!

I have had a lot of strong opinions on character, appearance, and investment.  Only recently have I found the correct language to really talk about this effectively.  And again— I’m not a professional writer (yet) but I’d like to take a step back and evaluate what makes a character and how people view and understand them.

Characterization is how a character acts and appears outwardly.  Simple as that.  Is a character loud?  Quiet?  Snarky?  Mild mannered?  Are they thin?  Thick?  Athletic?  Portly? Short?  Tall?  Could they be described as angry?  Solemn?  Cordial?

In contrast: character is how a character acts during critical moments.  If the character woke up in a burning apartment building would they: run immediately for the exit, pushing past people?  Go into the apartment next door where their elderly neighbor lives to rescue them?  Pick up a child but keep running?

Its in those revelations that we see real character.  When characterization is similar to character you write a cliché.

The man saunters into the bar.  He’s wearing a leather jacket over some Levi’s.  Fingerless gloves adorn his hands.  He pulls his motorcycle helmet and runs his fingers through his short hair.  He has a scarred face and a permanent scowl.  He grunts in irritation at several people standing in his way.  He steps up to a stranger and sets his helmet on the bar counter.  He orders a shot of whiskey.

“You got my money, bud?” the rider asks.

“I ain’t paying you shit.” the stranger responds.

“I think you will, pal.  You owe me.”

The stranger draws a gun on him.

“Oh boy.  That was a mistake.” the rider says.

He then proceeds to beat the strangers ass.  Punching him right in the jaw and grabbing the hand holding the gun.  He has brass knuckles, but he is an honorable fighter.  Once the man is on the ground groveling, the rider lights up a cigarette, downs his shot of whiskey, and saunters back out into the night.

How predictable was that?  It was boring.  He looked and sounded like a bad mother fucker, so were you super surprised when he was a bad mother fucker?  It was something we’ve seen before.  It was cliché.

Its possible to have characterization and character be similar and write an interesting character, you just need to explore that character deeper.  But think about any character you think of as badass inside and out— they probably have other characteristics that contrast what you expect.  Especially as you begin to understand their development.  Try not to have characters with hard, aligned edges.

He closed the door to his car and began to walk to his apartment.  He slung his bags strap over his shoulder and checks his phone.  Several missed calls from his manager at work.  The server must be down again.  He’ll remote in and fix it after dinner.

He walked past a couple of his neighbors, smiling broadly at them and waving.  He chats a little bit about the weather and exchanges jokes about the sillier neighbors.  He crouches down to scratch a couple puppies behind the ears.  He offers to fix some of the issues the leasing office was having as he talks with the property manager.

He fumbled with his eyes and unlocked the door, entering the air conditioned room.  His girlfriend was there.  She hops up suddenly and goes to help with the bags and the door.  She smiles sweetly at him.

Then he heard the man calling for something from the bathroom.  Calmly, she made to speak.

“He’s just-”

Blood sprayed across the wall when the back of his hand hit her square in the nose.  When she crumpled to the ground he began kicking her in the stomach over and over.

“You.  Fucking.  Bitches.  Are.  All.  The.  Same.” he said, punctuating each word with another kick.

A little more jarring and interesting of a read.  There is something happening there that the reader wants to understand and explore.  The characterization: a mild mannered IT guy, was in contrast to his character, a man who was angry enough at women to beat one before knowing whats happening.

So why do I bring this all up?  Because they are things to consider when you are making a character for a roleplaying game.  Roleplaying games are nothing but choices under pressure, so your character matters so much more than your characterization.

As a player in a roleplaying game, you are equal parts narrator as you are player.  We read stories to learn how the story begins and ends, how a characters arc ends, and to see how everything develops and changes as it goes on.  As a player in an RPG, if you have no character than your character becomes a dull narrator.  Everything is predictable.  We know almost everything about you before you begin.

If you make a character who everyone sees as a dark, brooding, tough guy and then he goes to his room in the castle and broods at the dark in a tough way?

You end up sitting at the table for a while not doing much.  You end up trying to pull character out of characterization and you end up bored because there is nothing left.  You spend all of your time focusing on what your character is like that you forget about who your character is.

I see this a lot when I watch people make characters.  They say:

“Oh!  I want to play this funny little guy who speaks with an accent and always has a smoking pipe in his mouth!”

“I’m going to play a fighter.  He was an orphan and war took his family from him.  He learned to fight to protect himself.”

“My cleric will be the most possible good in the universe.  She’ll help the needy, and feed the hungry.  Her god is Lawful Good.”

Those are awesome back story ideas, but if you focus only on those events you will quickly lose steam when it comes to interactions.

What I wish I saw more of:

“I want to play a gnome druid who used to be a local folk hero.  But his addiction pushes everyone else away, so he never lets anyone in.  He has to learn to overcome his addiction or risk being alone for the rest of his life.”

“I want to play a firbolg fighter who lost his parents to a bloody war.  The only language he knows is violence, and he’s going to have to learn to trust people and that harming others isn’t always the way.”

“My cleric wants to be a healer, but she learns during her first battle that she is terrified of fighting.  She wants to fight and protect the innocent, but is too paralyzed with fear to go out and do it.  She has to find the courage within her.”

Which sounds more interesting to you?

-DTM

Unprepared

For the first time since we’ve started this blog I almost straight up forgot to write a post.

And to be frank I haven’t been doing great on my SDoS posts.  I feel like all my thoughts are already on display here for the world to see.  I don’t truly do much anymore.  I write both Dungeons and Dragons and Rogue Trader now, preparing for sessions that will likely never happen.  But I’ve talked about that shit so much already.

I don’t play games, I rarely watch movies, and we don’t consume a ton of TV.  I’m trying to read more, but currently I just plowed through two books on good writing practices.  Both Story and Dialogue by Robert McKee.  Writing about those sounds contrived though.  Like:

“Hello everybody, my name is Daniel and I’ve written nothing of note.  Sit tight as we go over some excellent pieces of advice for when writing a screenplay or novel.”

I keep a tiny notebook in my pocket specifically to jot down any fleeting idea I have for SDoS, Write Makes Right, Rogue Trader, Dungeons an Dragons, Game System ideas, novel ideas— all sorts of shit.

And long, long ago I stopped having ideas for SDoS.  I love writing this blog and I’ve written some fun stuff but I just feel like I don’t do anything interesting enough to write about.  Work is very straight forward.  I don’t even really want to do 3D anymore, so not much to write on there.

Hmm.

Hell, I feel like I’ve written this exact post before.  Perhaps I’m too concerned with what I think people might want to read.  But the thing is— all I can think about when I write for this is that I know who reads this blog so there are certain things that I wouldn’t bother writing about.

For instance: I just went to see you!  Huzzah!

But why would I write about that?  You were there.  On top of that, even if you didn’t read my posts, it would be summed up like, “Its a six hour drive.  When we got there we hung out for several days and walked around town and campus for like 10,000 hours.  Then we drove back right before the massive Eaglecreek fire started up.”  I could write a play by play but one day we walked forever and browsed some shops.  The other day we marathon-ed Rick and Morty.

Perhaps my issue is that there are things I could write about but I have nothing to say.  The fire is bad and I’ll be really sad to see such a massive part of the Columbia River Gorge be reduced to ash, but I have nothing insightful or meaningful to say.  I feel like this blog has already opened me up to talking about so much of my inner dialogue that by the time I make it back to SDoS it feels like I’m retreading old ground again and again.

Hmm.

None of my ideas feel substantial.  I probably need to take time to brainstorm stuff.  When we first started SDoS I brainstormed like, a massive list of ideas.  And I wrote every single thing on that list.

Maybe I just need to take some time and brainstorm?

-DTM