RP Talk (Episode 2) Powered by the Fishpocalypse

Graham Gentz and Andrew Mullen discuss Fishtown, Andrew’s setting of cosmic choruses, underwater politics, and merfolk resonances. How does such a thing work? Is there Land? Why does Andrew like fish so much? Graham and Andrew rp talk it out!

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An Old Fashioned Love Nerd

[Thanks and apologies to Paul Williams]
[The following is to enjoyed/read/sang to the tune of the immortal original]

I’m just an old fashioned love nerd
Roleplaying at the table
And wrapped around the dice is the
Sound of someone promising
They’ll never blow a roll
You swear you’ve heard it before
As the DM slowly rambles on and on
No need to give ’em slack
Cause the session’s gone really long

Just an old fashioned love nerd
Coming down in six part APs
I’m just an old fashioned love nerd
Oh, I’m sure we’ll play some RPGS

To weave our dreams into
Each rp sess each evening
When the lights are low
To underscore our dice affair
With dungeon crawls and shouting
When we get to roll
You’ll swear you’ve played this game before
As we slowly ramble on and on
No need in bringing dead PCs back
Just make a new one to be

Just an old fashioned love nerd
Coming out with indie RPGs
I’m just an old fashioned love nerd
We have a open slot in our party

Just an old fashioned love nerd
Playing roles I always love to be
I’m just an old fashioned love nerd
Oh, I’m sure we’ll play some good ol’ RPGs

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Shoot from the Hip, Aim for the Heart

There’s nothing scary about writing.

Only there is. And I’ve been suffering under it’s weight for some time. My own stupid, stubborn, self-inflicted weight. It’s not the writing. It’s the failure. Or the idea of failure. That you’re gonna sit down, maybe bang out a few hundred words and they just stare back at you, haunting and ugly and bad. Bad. Just… the worst words.

I really hated my creative writing courses during my undergrad. They never filled me with confidence or inspiration. My classmates didn’t seem like my peers. Either too young or too sloppy or too anything. I always stood out as cutting in my commentary. Never cruel, but confident and constructive. I always tried to think Big Picture and dissect each piece to its fundamental elements while comparing and illuminating each.

I think the last day, when all the graduates went out drinking with the head of the creative writing department, it summarized my outward relationships perfectly. One of my classmates sloshing his beer remarked aloud, “Whenever Graham talks about your story, everything he says– it’s always so right. But like. Do you have to say it?”

I’m not a dick. I’m not. I have deep compassion and sensitivity towards everyone. I’d say, over the years, I’ve learned to listen more than to talk. And I remember what people say, especially when they tell me things about their lives. Apparently, this is uncommon. Seems normal to me. I’ve taught myself under much difficulty the invaluable skill of Shutting The Fuck Up. If that’s not an achievement, I don’t know what is.

I’ve been gone. I’ve been away for a while. I’ve been chained to my past, reliving my mistakes and humiliations. I’ve been paralyzed by a present I hated. And I could not see my future. Life looked bleak and predatory, and existentially the dehumanization of capitalism left me defeated and hopeless.

But then I went to Gen Con for the first time.

Good god, why did no one tell me. I know it was supposed to be fun and nerdy. But no one described the nirvana. No one ever told me I would be overwhelmed by endorphins at every turn and feel so completely alive again. I couldn’t possibly write about it all here in this post. But I listened to seminars, I marveled at board games, I played roleplaying games, I made amazing friends,  I played in a goddamn megagame, I met Jason MORNINGstar. Even walked 40 miles.

But people saw me there. When I was there, people noticed. I was shiny. It was purpose, it was meaning. It was a future. And it felt amazing.

So don’t be scared. Do it to it. Shoot from the hip, aim for the heart. Keep writing. Everyday. Write what you WANT TO WRITE. Fuel your passion. Feed that creativity. You feel it. You trust it. You know it.

Ready? Let’s go.

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“So what do you do?”

What do we all want? Purpose, right? Meaning. I feel I got freedom when I did not deserve it. Get a job so you can have an income. For many people, money is the purpose. Or what you can do with it– things, status. Maybe travel. People are lawyers or real estate agents or go career military. They go to graduate school and get engineering degrees and doctors. I see a lot of people become teachers by default. It seems a difficult life– little pay, long hours, high stress, no respect.

People, adults, seem to become things. They are metamorphosed into their careers. A student becomes journalist, an actor, an anything. I’ve watched the odd social transition from college parties to “adult” parties.

College parties are defined by booze, largely– exhibits of excess and hedonism. You have loud music and shouting, most people you don’t know, drinking games, the members there are looking for release and testing limits.

“Adult” parties, at the most basic level, people actually bring food. It’s quieter, more social. There’s people uncomfortably making smalltalk. There’s alcohol, certainly, but it’s not the kind of consumption steeped in ritual and maximizing the shear amounts one can take before breaking. In adult parties, people get drunk more subtly, and if they do reach a level of sloppy, it’s something whispered and giggled about later and not in the open.

It’s at these adult parties where I am now asked this odd new question:

“So what do you do?”

I know what it means. And I know why the question exists. It reminds me a bit of Taylor Mali’s slam poem, “What Teachers Make.” I still mostly find slam poetry annoying since they seem to be delivered with identical candace. But I like the reevaluating of words and the meaning of making, and well as it being a rousing anthem for teachers, like a three minute “Dead Poet Society.”

What do I do?

Well, you mean what is my career. How do I make money. What have I been transformed into. What am I?

“Oh, I’m a…at… .”

“Oh, alright. Cool.”

I suppose it’s not an offensive question. It is not strange to me because I don’t know how to answer? What job do I have that defines me as a person and my place in society? What title have I achieved?

“I used to be a theater reviewer.”
“I studied Creative Writing and Astrophysics.”
“I’ve been tutoring and working on the big education project.”
“I act. I’ve directed before. I have an eye and instinct for visuals.”
“I’m musical. I have timing and rhythm and a good ear. I sing alright. But I don’t play any instruments.”
“I love boardgames. I’m excellent at teaching and communicating.”
“My tabletop roleplaying games are the best there are.”
“I’m a writer. But I haven’t really been paid to do it yet. So it doesn’t count. But I’m really, really good with story and character.”
“Do? Nothing, really. I’m depressed most days and struggle existentially with what to really do with my future. I feel I lack purpose.”

“…oh.”

I think mostly I’ve learned I don’t like the system. I don’t like capitalism and I don’t like rat races. I don’t like being in a little box and I don’t like being told what to do. But I need to eat and I need to pay rent. I’ll get a purpose. And then maybe take it from there.

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The Truth about Board Gaming

So board games have entered into a “golden age.”

Perhaps you’ve noticed. Perhaps one of your friends has insisted to play “Settlers of Catan,” “Cards against Humanity,” or something even odder.

Seem strange, right? In the age of smartphones and apps and Facebook games riddled with predatory microtransactions, cardboard and dice are somehow blooming.

But maybe that’s it. Maybe some romantic notion of anti-technology, a mighty blowback against the very everyday institutions that divide, as much as they unite, us people.

Well, no. It’s a nice thought. But that’s not quite it.

My family played a fair amount of games together as a family. My older brother always beat me at strategy games, like Stratego or Chess, being four full years my senior. I started Magic: the Gathering when I was seven, but my brother was the only person to play against and I lost constantly. My family owned the standard “roll and move” games, like Monopoly and Life, as well as Careers. My father was fond of Risk, but play of it was uncommon. More so were the many games of Racko or Chronology Jr. My mother loved Aggregation, though a family joke was generated that she cheated do to her prodigious ability to roll the all-powerful 6’s. We also had Quinto, a very enjoyable Scrabble-but-with-numbers. On our many family camping trips, we’d play Zilch.

In middle school, I discovered D&D and began my lifelong obsession with pen and paper story and gaming. I kept playing Magic as a minor distraction and felt somewhat vindicated from my years against my brother by never losing at the hands of my peers. When I got to college, I encountered more “gamey” board games, like Axis and Allies or Risk 2210 A.D. I was always excited to take part, but more as an intellectual competition against my friends and less for any deep enjoyment of the game.

There is one type of video gaming I have enjoyed more than any other: it’s called “couch co-op,” which is to say sitting in the same room as your friends and then either competing against them or teaming up to progress through the game. It seems odd to me now to need to specify this, but when I was young, internet multiplayer was immensely rare. Now it’s a household staple. And while the possibilities of MMOs and online teamplay initially excited and fascinated me, they’ve long grown banal. I never gloated and strutted so haughtily or howled in bloody defeat and screamed for revenge as loudly as I did when I was gripping a sweaty controller side-by-side with the people I loved.

But I can tell you now, I am thoroughly consumed by board gaming. It has utterly eclipsed my interest in video games, which usually sat as second to pen and paper as my nerdy preoccupations.

So how? Why?

Well. It was the internet.

Wil Wheaton’s Youtube show Tabletop, reviews by Quintin Smith and Paul Dean of Shut Up & Sit Down, and the Dice Tower of Tom Vasel suddenly exploded across my browser in recent years as I watched slack-jawed in utter disbelief. Passion for the industry, love for ideas and systems, and the ingenuity of the physical objects that were board games dominated seemingly everything. There was no question at all. This was magicial in a way I had never realized. Why didn’t I know it was this goddamned incredible?

Board gaming has long simply been a very niche industry. Printings from the gaming companies that produced them were physically limited. People could only purchase these games from small, specialized shops. There was little migration from other hobbies. The only advertising for them were the goofy TV commercials largely indistinguishable from ones selling children’s cereal.

But the fuel for this veritable forest fire comes in two forms: information and access, two things the internets happens to do better than any tool in human history.

“Internet!” you can shout at practically any reflective surface in your house. “Tell what the good board games are.” Only to follow up with a: “Internet! Get me those board games!” And in a flash, they’re at your front stoop. What could be easier?

These days I have a little over 50 board games stacked up in my linen closet. They’re all shapes and sizes and genres. I rabidly research them all before purchase. Some retail for around $100, so you gotta be careful. I’ve only spent as much as $60 once or twice. And the only ones I really regret buying are some on the cheaper end.

I’ve always been something of a “nerd evangelist.” I’ll rave about media in the form of music, movies, TV, anime, video games, novels, or comic books I love and convince other people to experience it to: Neil Gaiman, Deltron 3030, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, etc. Now I’m part of board gaming, and looking to spread the passion of their magic there, too (Top Five? Probably Cosmic Encounter, Tales of Arabian Nights, Descent: Journeys in the Dark [Second Edition], Pandemic, and Love Letter).

My name is Graham Gentz. And I goddamn love board games. If you just humor me a little bit, I’ll even teach you some of them. And I promise, at the very least, you won’t be bored in the slightest.

After all, there’s a golden age out there.

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