Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Dungeon Master of Beginner's Dice


Well, I finally went and did it. I am finally DMing my own game. It's awesome and terrifying. Now, I'm not just telling a story. I'm building a world and asking people to play in it. Play in it, play and hope they enjoy it. I have been wanting to DM my own campaign for quite some time. I had run storylines on roleplay forums before. But something about being a DM in a live game is different.

I started roleplaying back in college. I had a number of DMs who displayed a number of different playing styles. And after a while, I knew that I wanted to run my own game. However, I was too scared. Too self conscious. I didn't know the rules well enough to be comfortable running a game with my friends, who had more experience than me. I wasn't as familiar with fantasy or fantasy settings as the rest of my friends were. I always believed there had to be a perfect streamlined story which everyone was to follow and I did not believe that I could come up with something that anyone would enjoy. So I never opted to run a game. Just sat and wished; until finally one day I decided to just do it, fear and all.

Firstly, being a DM is way more time consuming that I had believed it was going to be when I decided that I was going to do this. Partially because of my perfectionist disposition and partially because I wasn't entirely in the know about what a DM had to do in order to run a campaign. But mostly because I took it upon myself to design the entire world from nothing. Because why make it easy on myself, right? The writer in me wanted to create and world build. This is where I have the most fun as a DM. Designing people, places, structures and ruling powers. Making an intricately complex, living, breathing landscape. I could get lost in it for hours. But this takes a lot of time. And I have to make decisions on what parts in this world are more important, meaning they will be completed first. I won't lie, I was very overwhelmed when I started out. I mean, how do you create an entire world from a blank sheet of paper? But I found out that you don't. Not at first. First, you start off small. You make a village, then a town, then a small city and continue from there as the group explores. Once I learned that, world building for the game became much easier to manage.




















The terrifying part of running a game for me is the uncertainty that comes with preparing for the unpredictable. I was completely under the impression that DMs knew exactly what would happen at all times and had a plan for everything that would happen during the session. I quickly came to understand that was an illusion. I don't know what the players are going to do from one moment to the next. I don't know if they will take the plot hook. I don't know how they are going to interact with the NPCs. Or if they will even head in the direction that I have set up. For all I know, they could end up on some uncharted path that I had not given any thought to in the least. But it is this uncertainty that makes the game exciting for me as DM. The players don't know what the plan is. So they could be surprised at any moment. I don't know how my players are going to react to what I have planned. So I too could be surprised at any moment. So, instead of being anxious about it, I try to stay open and as flexible as possible.

My thinking like a DM has been slowly evolving as well. As a writer, I have complete control of the entire story. A story that centers on a cast of characters that I have constructed to fit seamlessly into my narrative. But now, I am more focused on the players and trying to figure out what would be awesome for their characters. Trying to make a narrative that everyone can participate in and feel a vested interest. I never had a "cool" character when I roleplayed. I was always outshined by someone else in the group. Someone was always faster, louder, more charasmatic, or better at minmaxing the dice. And I never played campaigns long enough for my character to have goals or something to obtain or aspire to. My character was simply just another body in the group. I don't want that feeling for any of my players. I want each person to feel like they have their moments in the spotlight. To feel like their characters matter in the story they are playing through.




 I am not sure how long this campaign will last or how often we will play. But I am very glad that I got over my self consciousness and I did this. It is a different feel, writing something for others to mess around with. Being flexible and thinking on my feet for several hours at a time. And to watch others interact with what you have put together. I am going to have as much fun as I possibly can and hopefully those who are coming along with me on this journey will have just as much fun as I am.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

TV Talk: Van Helsing


(There are some minor spoilers in this review.)
 

Van Helsing. Where to even begin with this show. Let's start with the basics. Van Helsing is a show on SyFy that centers around a woman named Vanessa. As the first episode starts, you see an unconscious Vanessa lying on a metal table in a nondescript medical room of some sort. She suddenly wakes up to find the world she once knew decimated, the human race enslaved by vampires and her daughter is missing. It does not take long for the viewer to understand that, though her last name is not Van Helsing, Vanessa is going to be the vampire slayer in this series. It is made quite clear that she is a reluctant savior of mankind and we are to follow her story to ascension. That is if I last that long.
 

As this series starts, you are introduced to a bleak world and a soldier named Axel who is hold up in a now defunct hospital building that he has made his fortress since the Uprising started. He takes in a group of people running from vampires. And this is when everything takes a free falling nose dive and I am ready to check out. Every new group introduced on this show seems to feel as if they own whatever save haven they have been invited into and suddenly begins making all the rules. I instantly became irritated with the entire lot and simply wished for them to be thrown back outside. Well not all. Mohammed and Sam could stay. But I'll get back to that later.
 

It becomes very apparent that Axel is the leader that no one wants to listen to. But no one has a choice but to listen, because he is the only one with any common sense. In the mean time, Vanessa does not seem to care that world is full of monsters, she can heal almost instantaneously or that she woke up with ninja-like fighting abilities. She simply wants to scour the streets of Seattle to find her daughter. No map, no plan, no clues where to start. She is just going to look around and hope for the best. Never mind she has been unconscious for 3 years and everything she knew about the world is obsolete. So Axel is doing everything in his power to keep this motley crew together and alive. And the group is seems to be doing anything it can to make that task as difficult as possible.



Let's talk about the antagonists, the vampires. There is a main ruling power, a brother sister duo whom all vampires bow the knee, Dimitri and Rebecca. But whenever there is someone with great power, there will always be those who are trying to take it. So that does give some underlying intrigue mixed in with the main plot that is human enslavement. From the vampire's point of view, the viewers first hear about the human rebellion and how Vanessa's existence is a problem that needs to be dealt with. It becomes apparent that it is race to see who can get to Vanessa first; the vampires or the humans. By this point, I am rooting for the vampires, because the humans are driving me insane.

My shining light in this mess was Mohammed and Sam. They looked out for each other. And unlike the rest, understood the situation they were in. Stronger together and all of that. Mohammed was the resourceful young one and Sam was the gentle giant. The relationship between these two characters was very heart warming and endearing. And I wanted nothing more than for these two to persevere to the end. Notice how I said was? Yep. Thanks Van Helsing for dousing that flickering candle with a bucket of ice water, you beasts. I can hear you.

When protagonists started dying, because let's face it, that was pretty much inevitable, I was happy instead of grieved. One less idiot to be squawking about what they want, who they don't trust and a whole laundry list of grievances which they should have been kicked in the teeth for having in the first place. But, even in dying, these characters still manage to be incredibly stupid. And yes, I'm talking about that door scene with Doc and Axel. What the holy fish sticks was that? Again, I'm rooting for the vampires. My only qualm with them is that I wish they would wipe their mouths every once in a while.




I don't know what is going on in this show. There is a reluctant hero who has no interest in saving anyone. The group that surrounds her only survives because a Marine is brute forcing them into survival and even that proves to not be enough in the end. There is mystery and intrigue that surrounds Vanessa and who she is, but honestly, I just can't make myself care. The show feels like it is throwing everything it can at the wall and seeing what sticks. Who knows, maybe the vampires will get a spin off show. I'd give that a chance.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year's: Enter 2017



The countdown has ended. The ball has dropped. All streamers and confetti have been flung. The new year has arrived. I feel like I was just sitting down and writing out my goals for 2016 not but a few weeks ago. The past year feels like a blur. So, I had to sit down and remember all of the things that I experienced over a span of 365 days.

It started with me having a job that completely terrified me. And I found out that I was very good at it. Within a few months, I even received a promotion. It started with me talking to someone who was a total stranger. And now I count them as one of my closest friends. It started with me discovering new things and implementing them in my day to day life. And I have learned and grown.

However, this year also had the pain of loss and having to say goodbye. But even there, I did not made the same mistakes I had made in the past. I said everything I wanted to say to them. Did everything I could think to do for them. And when I got the news that they had passed away, I had no feeling of regret nagging at me, reminding me of all the missed opportunities not taken. Though I am sad that my friend is gone, I am happy that I did not make the same mistake of leaving things undone between the two of us. All of my memories are happy ones.

The sun has set on the old and rises on the new. So what does that mean for me as 2017 begins.

Goal Setting

I make large goals for myself, but I think it is very important that I have some small goals to celebrate in between. At the end of every month, I want to make small goals for myself to boost my motivation to move towards the larger ones.

Reading

I was quite the avid book worm growing up. Always a novel of some kind on my person at all times. But as my life got busier and course work intensified, I walked away from that hobby. Now I want to go back to it. Even if it just a few pages before bed, it is much better than reading nothing at all.

Remove Restraints

There are a number of things I don't do because I tell myself I can't. I make up all these reasons and rationalizations for why I can't do something, but for the most part they are excuses. And I make them up because I'm scared. Scared of something new, scared of being judged, scared that I will fail, scared that others won't like it. But I can't live like that, always in fear that if I do something it won't work. So, it is time to remove restraints.

Learning a Foreign Language

I went though so many years of Spanish and right now I could not hold a conversation beyond telling you my name, my country of origin, directions to the bathroom, and ordering steak, potatoes and a salad. So, I told myself that I was going to get back to being serious about being a fluent Spanish speaker. So why not start right now.

Being Financially Savvy

Something that very few people know about me, I used to be pretty involved in the stock market a while back. However, like most of my hobbies, it was crowded out when I felt like I had no time for anything outside of studying. But now I'm ready to get back in the game. And not just stocks, learning anything and everything I can about being a good steward over my money. Making my money work for me instead of the other way around. And finding ways to spend smart and save well.

Keep Creating/ Stay Centered

These are the same goals as last year. They are simply good to keep around. Because they are something I need to remember and do always.

Some will say this past year was tragic and will remember all the bad things that happened. But, I won't be one of those people. I spent holidays with my family, went to conventions with my friends, wrote a novel, watched as long awaited dreams came true for people who truly deserved them, celebrated the 20th anniversary of a program that changed my life in ways that no one could possibly understand. No, I will not be one of those people. And I hope that if you search deep enough, you will see that you aren't one of them either.

So here's to 2017. May we all do bigger and better things over the next 365 days.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

I WON NANOWRIMO!!!



Just a few weeks ago, I was furiously typing on my laptop, trying my best to put down as many words as possible, worrying that I would not make my November 30th deadline. Yep, after a 3 year hiatus, I threw myself back into the madness that is NaNoWriMo. It was the first time in what seemed like forever that I finally felt like I had time to focus on speed writing my way through a novel.

This year was particularly worrisome. Because, not only did I have to deal with days where I wasn't able to write, I started with little more than a vague idea and a bucket of determination. Normally, my brainstorming sessions start in August and by the time November rolls around, the story would be pretty much fleshed out in my mind,  complete with character development a full story outline. That was not the case this time around. This year, I picked an idea or my novel at the very last minute. But try as I might, I couldn't think of a single thing that helped to expand on this idea. No characters, no plot line. October 31st came around and I completely changed what I was going to write my novel about. And I do mean completely. New setting, new genre, a new and  unknown cast of characters. Everything was being started from the beginning and I had 24 hours to figure out how this new thought and blank canvass was going to become 50,000 words.

It was an exhilarating, anxiety riddled, roller coaster of a month. I was discovering my characters as I wrote them. With nothing but a loose semblance of a plan, character personalities formed themselves in unexpected ways. Actions I had not planned made themselves fit into the story line. Pieces of dialogue that I had not expected became important conversations and pushed further insight into the drive of the main protagonists and antagonists. I know I am the one creating the story, but there is something special and riveting when I have no set path and I am following the narrative as if I were the reader and not the author.

Right at the end, I was pretty much ready to give up. I had fallen behind on my daily word count. I had no idea what I was doing with the mess of sentences that was trying to form themselves into a cohesive story. And the holidays were not helping with my fight against simply taking the loss and trying my hand at doing this again next year. But, I kept writing. Partly because I don't like losing and partly because I had people who encouraged me to keep going. So why do I keep doing this if it is so stressful? Certainly, there must be a better ways to get myself to write without putting myself through a 30 day marathon, navigating the ups and downs of this crazy process. And I suppose the answer to that is: It's fun.

There is something about putting yourself through a challenge that is invigorating. Yeah, that middle part where you have ridden the early wave inspiration and the excitement of finish line is still in the distance, sucks donkey balls. But you get through it. And if you are lucky enough to be part of a group, it forges friendships. Nothing helps make friends faster than going through the fire together. And in the end, I have a story. Something I would have agonized over for weeks, I cranked out in 30 days. Sure, it will need polish and reworking, but my story exists.

In the wee morning hours of November 1st, I typed out my last  sentence. It was not where I had planned my story ending, but that sentence was the best way to end the trip I had started at the beginning of the month. I submitted and got my NaNoWriMo win. I am glad that I started. I am glad that I finished. I am glad that I got to write with friends. And I am extremely glad that my story now exists in more than just my mind.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Game Review: Mandagon


There are times when games catch me by surprise. Whether it is story elements, the enjoyment of game play or just being more than what I expected, there is something that pleasantly gives more than I thought I would receive. A game that has recently surprised me with more than I had anticipated is Mandagon.


Mandagon is a free to play Indie PC game developed by Blind Sky Studios. I am honestly not sure how to describe what genre it falls into, because it does not feel like it fits under one specific descriptor. In this game you play a stone totem, 2D platforming your way from statue to statue, map point to map point until you have successfully solved the puzzle that I wasn't sure I understood the answer to; or the question for that matter. And that was part of the fun.


The story behind the game is inspired by Tibetan philosophy on life, death and sacrifice. As you explore each area, the story unfolds. Who you are. Why you are here. What you are doing. I had this very strange feeling exploring this beautiful world while at the same time exploring thoughts about the end of life. Something so breathtaking juxtaposed with a topic usually seen as somber. It was a feeling that I can only describe as odd and unexpected.

The pixel art style of this game gives the feeling of platforming through picturesque temples and their surrounding villages. The soundtrack is very relaxing, almost meditative. And the game play is more focused on exploration than anything else. There are no enemies to fight, no levers to pull or boxes to push. You simply explore and understand. That is one of the main things I loved about Mandagon. There was no tutorial, no hand holding, nothing to tell you what to do next. I simply explored at my leisure until I found the answer.



My hang ups about this game are minor. One, the game is very short. I was finished in a little over an hour. Mandagon definitely left me wanting more of this game and wanting to see more content from Blind Sky Studios. My second gripe was that I had basically been given the answer to what was going on in game by just reading the game description on Steam. Personally, I think that took away a bit of the unveiling and realization I would have gotten if the game description had been a little less giving of details and I had been allowed to piece together the complete story on my own.

All in all, Mandagon is a lovely game that I highly recommend trying. It is on Steam right now for free and can be played on PC, Mac and Linux. The game soundtrack and art book are also on sale currently for $3.99

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Day the Dragon Came Again

For the past several months, I have been in love with a Twitch show called Critical Role. And of course it wasn't going to be long before I couldn't stop myself from writing some fan fiction. If you have not gotten to Episode 40, then be warned that this has some light spoilers. Hope you enjoy. And check out Critical Role live on Twitch on Thursday nights 7pm PST.


It was late. The only remaining light was the ominous orange burn coming from the distance, clawing at the stained glass along the temple walls. Exhaustion sank itself into every one. Every man, woman and child. And yet, all anyone of them could manage were fitful and restless bouts of sleep, plagued by horror and nightmares. And even that evaded some, forcing them to lie awake and relive the horror over and over again.

He stood there silently, tucked away in the shadows. He looked at the disheveled group who now called Greyskull Keep their refuge. The few who had escaped the wrath of the Chroma Conclave. Unlike the others outside the gates, whose terror stricken visages were on display. A cruel menagerie of tormenting reminders. Here they were, huddled heaps of dismay, desperation and loss, wrapped up in whatever blankets could be found. But it wasn’t them, the few of them, who drew his attention. It was only one. One person lying in the midst of that misery.

Vax wanted to step forward, step out of the shadows, move towards him. But he couldn’t. His feet, which normally flew ever so quickly, were now leaden and kept him staunchly in place. Kept him there, in the dark, hiding from what was in front of him.  A mere handful of hours ago, Gilmore had been a sight to behold. As he always was. Best of robes, crushed blue velvet in color. Curly raven black hair held neatly in place. And that ever present wide smile that decorated a beautifully handsome face. With him, it was always about presentation. But not now, not any more. The dragons had come. Just like before, with fire, terror and destruction.

Vax simply watched from his dark corner. Watched and thought. He had been no more of a help tonight as he would have been to his mother on the night her home had faced the same fate. The robes now slashed, burned and stained with blood. The curly hair now stuck to a feverish and pale face. Someone else who Vax cared deeply for was almost torn from him by the same monster who had taken from him before. What had Vax been doing all of this time? Yes, he had grown. Yes, he had learned. Yes, he was a man now, a powerful man. A powerful man with powerful friends. But what had that done for Emon? What had that done for Gilmore?

Gilmore’s head shifted on the pillow underneath it. With eyes still closed, his lips parted.

“Someone is brooding very loudly over there.”

Though weak, the deepness of Gilmore’s voice still sounded solid. And calming. Vax’s first instinct was to quietly walk away. To not face this lump building in his throat. Not here. Not with Gilmore. However, walking away after tonight, after what had almost happened, felt worse.

“I thought you would be asleep,” Vax replied in a low voice.

Gilmore slowly opened his eyes and turned his head as the half-elf approached. Even though Vax was now standing where Gilmore could see him, he might as well have brought the shadows with him as somber as his face appeared.

“Oh my, such sad eyes and heavy shoulders.”

Vax didn’t answer.  Vax didn’t want to speak. Being this close, imagining what could have happened if Pike had not been there. The ache in his chest crushed his lungs with every breath. The growing hollow in his stomach was swallowing him piece by piece. It was another day the dragon had came. What had he been doing all this time?

“Nothing has changed, Gilmore,” Vax finally sputtered out, doing everything he could to keep his voice even, “Nothing at all. The most important people in my life and I can’t…”

Vax stopped, clenching his jaw before he continued on, “You were right in front me and all I could do was sit there…”

“My dear Vax’ildan,” Gilmore whispered, “Come. Sit with me now.”

Vax sat on the edge of the bed, head falling forward as he stared at the stone tiles of the temple floor, “How much will this Cinder King take, Gil? How much more is it going to rip away from me?”

There was silence. A silence weighed down by everything that wanted to be said, but there were no words for them. Vax felt a gentle warmth as Gilmore’s hand slowly slid over his own. The corners of Vax’s eyes burned as he blinked back the watery blur that was beginning to distort his vision.

 “This is where I am supposed to tell you everything is going to be fine. That we will find a way out of this. But honestly, I don’t know that to be true. Even I have doubts at this point. But what I do know is that you have always survived. Beyond all odds, you, Vax, always survive. This is no different.”

Vax shifted his gaze and peered at the ruggedly handsome face that weakly grinned back at him. Still grinning, because it was always about presentation. Vax shifted his hand so that Gilmore’s fingers fell between his. This close, Vax could smell the familiar scent of incense that usually permeated Gilmore’s clothing intertwined with smoke, sweat and blood.

“I hope you don’t believe that. That all I care about is simply my survival.”

“Then obviously something has changed then.”

Vax slowly leaned down and gently laid his forehead against Gilmore’s.

“I’m going to protect you,” Vax whispered earnestly, “I swear it on my life.”


“Good,” Gilmore whispered back.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Kitchen Adventures! - Broccoli Cheddar Quinoa Bites

Hello again. I think it is time for another foray into the kitchen. This time I decided to try out a quinoa dish. To be honest, I had never made anything that involved quinoa before trying this dish out. In fact, I had a hard time figuring out how to pronounce it for a while there. But, through the powers of Pinterest, I found a recipe that was a daring enough to try out.


The ingredients were very simple: quinoa, broccoli, cheese, eggs and garlic. And the recipe did not take a lot of prep time at all. Which, for me, is an extra plus. As for taste, I was very happy with it. It is very light and the paprika gives it a smoky flavor. For being my first introduction to quinoa, this wasn't bad at all.

I made this  dish in a mini muffin pan, so I had bite size bites. But I'm sure that if you wanted to put the mixture in a normal sized muffin pan, it would work as well. Made it as a side dish for my family's holiday dinner and they really seemed to enjoy it. Even saw some family members packing up what was left over to take home with them.

Definitely will be making these again. If you would like to try this recipe out for yourself, you can find the recipe here: Broccoli Cheddar Quinoa Bites from Alida's Kitchen Happy Cooking!