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Raised on Dungeons & Dragons

March 25, 2009 3 comments

Wil Wheaton has been waxing nostalgic about his D&D experiences and telling us about the campaign he’s running for his son and friends over at his blog lately. This, in turn, has had me waxing nostalgic about my own D&D experiences.

I’m lucky enough to have parents who have played D&D since before I was born. As a result, I grew up attending the D&D sessions held at my house every other Saturday. Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on Mom’s lap, rolling her dice for her at the DM’s (Dad’s) left hand. I was a good luck charm back in those days — I rolled a disproportionate number of 18s and higher on a d20, and anyone who had me roll their stats usually got stats good enough to play anything they wanted. (Back in those days, at least under my dad’s hodge-podge edition of D&D, the game didn’t adjust your Constitution up and your Charisma down if you wanted to be a dwarf — you had to have rolled a high enough Constitution and low enough Charisma before you picked your race.) That good luck ran out as soon as I started rolling for myself, of course… now I’m just your average roller.

My parents first let me play at the tender age of nine. I still feel a little rush of glee when I think of Dad sitting me down to roll my first character. This has nothing to do with the character itself, though. It’s because that’s when he gave me my first dice. He grabbed the spare dice box (he was in the Army at the time, and some of his players were barracks rats with no dice of their own) and set it down between us. Opening it, he pulled out a double handful of dice and set them before me.

“These are now yours,” he told me, matter-of-factly speaking over the clatter of plastic on wood. “You may trade with the spare dice box if you wish.”

I no longer remember if he left me to make my trades then or if I rolled first and finished trading later. It doesn’t matter. I ended up with all my favorite dice from the box, plus one blue d6 which I never use because it has numbers instead of dots. I still have them all, and though I’ve added to my dice collection over the years, they remain the core of my dice set and are the ones I play with most often. My entire dice collection is pictured below. (And aren’t they both cute and sexy all in one?)

Mah Dice!

That first character I made was a half-elf fighter/thief. I don’t remember much about playing it, but I do recall one combat encounter, quite probably my first. We were attacked by bugbears, and when my turn came around, I made a proud declaration.

“I’m gonna cut of its head!” But then logic crept in… “Daddy… does it even have a head?”

Much laughter ensued. That threw me into confusion — it was a good question! I must have looked extremely serious when I asked that, and having become an adult watching children grow, I can now fully understand why that was so funny. I then rolled a natural 20, successfully lopping that fucker’s head clean off its shoulders. Some time later, my dad made a cover page for one of his DM-only binders, one that was full of information for his world. A dedication page. I, and that combat encounter, am on it.

I think my second and third characters were also half-elf fighter thieves. I didn’t get to make my second and third characters until I was about eleven, though, because not too long after I started playing that first one, we had an encounter that gave me a nightmare. An agony beetle happened across our party — a beetle about the size of one’s fist, as I recall. It crawls up your leg, and if you fail to notice it, it latches on to the base of your spine and starts sucking the fluid out of your spinal column. To cap this gruesome consumption of vittles off (and give the bug its name), it’s a very painful process which turns the victim into a heap of screaming, spasming flesh. He can’t remove the beetle for himself… someone else has to do it for him.

Anyway, some time after my dad got out of the Army my mom got tired of D&D. That led to the gradual decline of D&D sessions at our casa. I found other groups to play with, comprised of people my own age. I’m spoiled, though… my dad’s such a good and experienced DM. Some of the DMs I’ve played with just sucked, but others just need some more experience. Honestly, I’m kinda jealous of Wil Wheaton’s son. I’d love to have my dad DM for me again.

Edit: My dad tells me I was actually five when the bug bear encounter happened. Maybe they let me start playing again when I was nine?

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SuikOh Noes!

March 24, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve been a fan of the Suikoden games for a long time. Even through the disappointments that were the third and fourth games in the series, I’ve retained, on the whole, a positive attitude towards the series. I haven’t played Rhapsodia (retitled Suikoden Tactics for its English release) yet, but the fifth game in the main series was good.

I first encountered mention of Suikoden: Tierkreis for the Nintendo DS on Amazon.com when I was engaged in purchasing Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon (which, by the way, rocks my socks). The trailers available showed me a different graphical style than I’m used to, so I looked up previews of the English version and reviews of the Japanese version of the game. Everything I read indicated that the game is neither in the main story nor even in the same world. Furthermore, it seems they’ve modified the gameplay to make it a stepping stone into the Suikoden games for newbies.

I decided to buy the game anyway. Different than what I’m used to, perhaps, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing and the story still looked interesting.

It arrived today. I popped it into my DS, started it up, and within three seconds of the pre-start-screen video starting up, I noticed something that filled me with sadness: video compression jaggies. A pre-drawn, animated cutscene with video compression jaggies.

I find myself hoping that it’s an indication that this cartridge is jam-packed with so much gaming goodness they were forced to compress the animated scenes a little too much. I’ve never been one to put excessive stock in the beauty of a game. It’s nice for a game to look sweet, but not necessary if the gameplay is engaging enough to make up for it. I still don’t want it to look like crappy streaming media, though. I’d rather have cutscenes rendered with the game engine, like the previous Suikoden games.

I find this development especially interesting in light of the fact that when you load the game, listed along with the developer is mobiclip video codec. Mobiclip specializes in video codecs for handheld devices, it seems. And so far, I am unimpressed. If I were them, I don’t know if I’d really want my name displayed so prominently in connection with inferior video quality.

That said, I will now actually start playing the game. TTFN.

Edit: Less than three minutes into the game itself, it’s already displaying a lot of voice acting. For better or worse, at least I know the cartridge is being used.

Making the Best Use of Recount, Part 1: The Introduction

March 23, 2009 1 comment

This is the first in what is to be a series of posts about Recount.

Segment List:

  1. The Introduction
  2. Display Window Basics
  3. Damage Done Details
  4. The DPS Report
  5. Damage Taken and Friendly Fire
  6. Healing Done

What Recount Is

Recount is an add-on for World of Warcraft. It keeps track of many types of battle data for all members of your group. The data collected and displayed by Recount are:

  • Damage Done
  • DPS
  • Friendly Fire
  • Damage Taken
  • Healing Done
  • Healing Taken
  • Overhealing Done
  • Deaths
  • DOT Uptime
  • HOT Uptime
  • Dispels
  • Dispelled
  • Interrupts
  • Ressers
  • CC Breakers
  • Activity
  • Mana Gained
  • Energy Gained
  • Rage Gained
  • Runic Power Gained

As you can see, there’s a little bit of something for everyone. In my experience, however, some people don’t even realize Recount shows anything but Damage Done, and many more people than that never use any of its other charts.

How Recount Collects Data

Understanding how Recount collects data is important if you really want to understand its data reports. If you’ve ever looked at Recount data posted into raid or party chat by someone else and compared it to your own, you may have noticed some discrepancies in the numbers reported (though Recount data from different players will usually be very similar).

The reason for this is that Recount can only collect data for group members within a certain distance of the player — 40 yards, I believe, though that figure is based solely on personal observation.

Coming Up Next

In the next part of the series, I’ll be talking about how to read Recount and make it do your bidding.

The Word “Nigger”

March 10, 2009 5 comments

That’s right, I said it. Nigger. I said it in a purely linguistic context, free of any mention of any people. Most people seem unwilling to do that. And I think it’s a damn shame.

When talking about the word nigger, most people call it The N-Word. This is true even in academic environments. For example, a friend of mine had to fill out a worksheet for her college-level English class. One of the items on the worksheet required her to write down all the taboo words she could think of. When she asked for my help with it, the first two words I thought of were nigger and cunt. She wrote down cunt without a second thought, but was totally unwilling to write nigger on her homework. The icing on this crazy cake? She asked for this help at work, where we regularly use the word nigger in banter. (And before anyone has a hissy fit about that, I’m the only non-white person working there, being 3/8 black and 1/8 Hispanic; I sanctioned the nigger and Mexican sweat shop jokes by starting them. The coolness or lack thereof inherent in that is a whole ‘nother discussion.) It wasn’t until my boss suggested The N-Word as an alternate way to write it down that she added it to her list, even though it was perhaps the best example she could have put on her homework.

What does that say about the word, about how we think of it, about us? Can we not even engage in a mature discussion about the nature of the word nigger without resorting to nicknames for it? That’s like having a discussion among adults about the medical properties of a man’s wee-wee because you don’t want to use the word penis. The latter would be looked down upon as a sign of immaturity, yet somehow using the word nigger in any context is considered a mark of ignorance, vulgarity, and/or a lack of respect for other cultures.

And heaven forbid you should use the word nigger in a joke. Or in any kind of joking fashion. Even on the Internet, where no one really has any clue what the ethnicity of the people they’re interacting with are. Once I greeted a guy in my World of Warcraft guild with a random “Wassup, mah nigga?” and a different guy immediately started trying to chew me a new butthole. “If you knew even one black person,” he typed, “you would never use that word even as a joke.” Even if my own ethnicity and pool of friends didn’t make that statement fallacious, it’s an empty statement.

Let’s explore how. I’ll start by summing up the connotations associated with the various terms for people of dark skin tone in America at the moment (assuming the speaker is not black):

  • That guy over there is African-American.
  • My friend is black.
  • The nigger stole my bike.

Science has seen many studies on how the human brain categorizes parts of their environments, including other people. It’s been found that people have a tendency to retain examples which support their strongly-held preconceived notions of the world, and forget examples which contradict that. A person who has been brought up to believe that all black people are good-for-nothing niggers isn’t likely to change that opinion because he befriends a black guy. More likely, he’ll belive his one black friend to be a remarkable exception. The word nigger would then still be free rein for jokes, insults, and what have you.

Furthermore, it’s socially A-OK for black people to call each other niggers. It’s only when a non-black person throws the word out that people start prickling like porcupines (as the movie Rush Hour did a fantastic job of illustrating).

The more I pay attention to people’s attitudes toward, uses of, and avoidance of the word nigger, the more the subject disturbs me. The word has been placed on a pedestal of sorts, always hanging over us. It’s in reach, but to reach towards it is one of the most heinous things one can do. It has been made an icon of oppression, of the violation of human rights, and of a history noone is willing to let go of. It’s a very powerful word.

Now, I hesitate to quote children’s fiction when voicing a serious concern, but I think Dumbledore was right when he told Harry Potter that fear of the name of a thing increases fear of the thing itself. After all, removing something from a group of its own kind and deliberately setting it aside makes it all the more noticeable. And draping something in mystique only makes people want to examine it more closely.

In short, if society is to be free of the influence of the word nigger, we need to be free to discuss that influence, to laugh at it. To examine it from all angles in a mature, thoughtful way. We cannot do that if it’s impossible to voice or type it.

I’d like to wrap this post up with a side note: I created a placeholder draft of this post some days ago, with just the title and the first couple of sentences filled in so I wouldn’t forget to write it later, when I had time. When I got back to it today, to fill out the rest of it, the post did not have a title. This isn’t the first time I’ve created a draft and come back to it later to discover that it had no title, but the other time that happened I couldn’t be sure that I’d actually filled in the title in the first place. This time I know I did, because it leads into the first sentence of the blog post. Did WordPress.com delete the title, either by human hand or via a bot? I dunno. Could be a fluke. But given how oversensitive people are to the word “nigger” it wouldn’t surprise me if they did do it on purpose.

This Morning on Twitter

March 2, 2009 Leave a comment

About five minutes before I needed to leave my house to catch the bus this morning, I had some fun on Twitter. As best as I can tell, it’s been erased from my profile. I dunno what happened, but my friend Ted retweeted it at me. Here’s a transcript of the whole thing.

Wish I didn’t have to go to work today. … Oh, hey, where did this fish come from?

Wait, where did THAT fish come from?

Oh God, more?!!! There’re fish everywhere — they’re starting to rain from the sky!

Three inches deep in the street already. Folks, I think armageddon is upon us. Run! RUN! Get into your bomb shelters

@chickenscluckcluck No. This random scientist here says that the fishes are expected to envelop all but a few of the highest mountains.

Also: Sea level is expected to rise because of unexpected mass added. Underground or bust.

Farewell, everyone. May we meet again some day.

Categories: Miscellany Tags: ,