Thursday, December 4, 2008

Comic Life Blog - Becoming A Parent

I was going to post my revised Rogerian paper until Paul mentioned in class that we can do this blog on Comic Life during class, so I decided to go that route instead. The reason, frankly, is that I feel that the Comic Life assignment needs more thought put into it than I have thus far, and I can get the paper revised at any time between now and the day we turn in the portfolio.

The point behind Comic Life is to have fun while demonstrating the learning of a literacy, and I can't think of any literacy I've had to learn that is more demanding and with less room for error than parenthood. So I believe that this needs to be five comic book pages long, and I'll be using South Park characters due to the fact that there's a nice, easy to use generator. So here's what I have in mind for my Comic Life:

Page 1: Becoming a parent.
Parenthood became real to me in the operating room where my wife was having her first C-section. She was on the table while I had a hospital gown, mask, and cap on. I was fine as the surgery started, but I knew when they started cutting. I was doing fine until they suctioned out a bunch of amniotic fluid mixed with a healthy amount of blood, and of course I looked over at the container as it collected the fluids. I rapidly turned green, felt the need to vomit, and had to be led out of the room. Had I not, my wife would have either ended up wearing the contents of my stomach on her face, or I would have fainted. I'm not sure which.

Page 2: Sleep Deprivation and Poop
I took the night shift manning phones while my wife worked retail during the day. This means that for the first six months of my child's life, I was literally existing on three hours of sleep per day. I'd get off work at 5:00 AM, arrive home around 6:00 AM, and then watch my little girl until about 7:00 PM when my wife arrived home. During that time I was responsible for feeding the child, keeping her occupied, and changing diapers. Oh yeah, all the while I was also writing gaming material for a variety of publishers. When I look back on it now, I often wonder how I managed to survive the sleep deprivation. Then there was the never ending chore of changing foul smelling diapers. Now that I've had a few kids, I swear I've had to personally deal with a medium sized mountain worth of poop. Sadly, I'm still not done with it, as my youngest is two and a half years old.

Page 3: Eating Out
My wife and I used to have more money than we do today. In fact, eating at the Outback Steakhouse was a weekly ritual for us. So was eating at Red Robin, and then we'd usually eat at Denny's. the Olive Garden, or one of the other mid-tier fast food joints on the west side.... At least until the first child came along. As a baby, every time we tried to go somewhere to eat, she would start crying and would become inconsolable. Even when we came prepared with a bottle, a change of diapers, and used a rocking car seat, she simply refused to allow us to eat in peace. Eventually we were forced to give up eating because we were afraid that the other patrons would murder us.

Page 4: Children's Programming
One of the things nobody bothered to explain to me before I became a parent was that once you have a kid, your TV is no longer your own. Prior to parenthood, my TV spent a lot of time being tuned to some ctuff I really enjoyed, like Babylon 5, the X-Files, Star Trek, Penn and Teller, etc. After parenthood, my TV was absolutely dominated by The Wiggles, Dora the Explorer, and other shows that I'm currently doing my best to force out of my head. To this day, I really have no tolerance for those shows even though its all my kids want to watch. And of course on those occasions when I simply overrule them and watch something I want to watch, they're loud and obnoxious, refusing to allow me to concentrate.

Page 5: Being a Parent is Being a Teacher
Before my oldest went into kindergarden, I wanted to make sure that she would be one of the smart ones. With that in mind, when she was about four and a half years old, I grabbed a bunch of coins and sat her down to learn basic math. Sure, it was really basic math, but I showed her that if you count one group of coins and added them to another group of counted coins, you would end up with a larger group of coins. I think it took about a week of trying to get her to understand, but before too long I could ask her simple questions, like "What is four plus three" and I would get the ever accurate answer of seven. I also taught her how to subtract while I was at it, and as a result, she has always been way ahead of her class in math. She won't be starting multiplication in school until next year, but she already understands how and why it works, and she's working on memorizing her multiplication tables. Not only is she well ahead in that area, but she's also above average in reading and all other areas. Being a boog teacher at home means that she is a good student at school, which ultimately leads to a happier more socially adjusted child, and seeing that makes pages one through four worthwhile.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Regarding the WotC Layoffs

Rather than express my own anger towards a company that would summarily dismiss established vital talent like Julia Martin, Jonathan Tweet, and Dave Noonan, among others, I'm going to quote Monte Cook's ENWorld post today instead (in response to a post by Kevin Culp):

While I appreciate the good intent, I'm not sure how one might credit layoffs with the creation of Malhavoc Press. Neither Sue nor I were laid off, nor was our first major freelancer (Bruce Cordell). I suppose later on we used the talents of Sean Reynolds and Skip Williams, but we'd been around for a while at that point. I suppose you could say that some of the layoffs were indicative of the kinds of large changes that occurred at WotC which convinced me it was no longer a place I wanted to work at.

Not that I have any illusions about what would have happened had I stayed. I've no doubt that I would have been laid off. From a larger perspective than just yesterday, it's become clear that WotC's become a company that not only doesn't value experience, it avoids it. (And looks at least somewhat disdainfully, rather than fondly, upon its own past.) You have to stretch your definition of "old guard" to even apply to anyone there anymore. (This is likely a bottom line issue, since the longer you stay, the more you get paid.) When I was there, I worked among people like Skip Williams and Jeff Grubb--with that kind of perspective at hand, I was always the new guy. Which was fine by me. I had much to learn and always appreciated the perspective they could provide. Now, most of the people working on D&D weren't even there when I was there. That's how much turnover and change there's been. There's a real danger of losing continuity with these kinds of layoffs. Dangers involving making old mistakes and not remembering what was learned in old lessons.

It's a foolish and shortsighted management that lets people like Jonathan, Julia, and Dave go. Foolish. And a cold-hearted one that does it at Christmas. But this is not new outrage, it's old, tired outrage. This is the company that laid off Skip, and Jeff, and Sean, and other people of extraordinary talent and experience. It's par for the recent course.

Before I end this bitter ramble, let me just add that it's hard not to laugh at the shocking and perhaps pitiable ineptitude of a company that makes role playing games that would lay off Jonathan Tweet, very likely the best rpg designer, well, period.

I wish all of them the best, and have not a shred of doubt that they'll all go on to do bigger and better things.
Since my thoughts are less diplomatic, I'll just hold on to them. If we meet at a con, buy me a drink and you might be able to coax a rant out of me.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Where I See Tabletop Gaming Headed

The tabletop roleplaying game industry is dying.

Or so I've heard....

I started hearing this in the summer of 2003 when Wizards of the Coast released D&D edition 3.5. Immediately the sales of all of the companies publishing under the OGL dropped down to unforeseen low levels. In truth, I had been in the industry for a full three years at that time and though I was insulated from the bloodshed because I worked for Wizards of the Coast at the time, I could see the bloodbath as it was occurring. Prior to 2003, the companies that were doing rather well publishing under the OGL included Bastion Press, Mystic Eye Games, Atlas Games, Fantasy Flight Games, and Alderac Entertainment Group, among others. What do all of those companies have in common? They all either no longer exist or they are no longer publishing material that is compatible with D&D.

Coincidentally, at the same time 3.5 was launching, there was another little game that was also in its infancy: World of Warcraft. Maybe you've heard of it. I know, you're thinking that I'm going to blame the decline of D&D on MMOs, as is the typical interpretation of things these days. I mean WoW is making gazillions of dollars, so surely they're stealing all the D&D customers away, right?

Not so fast. By the time WoW was released, the MMO had existed for the better part of a decade. There was Ultima Online, and Everquest, and Asheron's Call, among others. Everquest had even been particularly successful. Yes, World of Warcraft is certainly an unprecedented success, but when I put my head down in the trenches to actually talk to people at the conventions and the local game stores, and the messageboards, what I heard wasn't that online gaming was stealing them away from tabletop gaming. Instead, what I heard was that 3.5 came out way too soon on the heels of 3.0. Many people were still playing 3.0 and refused to give WotC the money for the upgrade. Now personally, I'm in the camp that really likes 3.5 and did consider it a better value than 3.0, but as long as people were able to kill make believe monsters and take their make believe treasure, they didn't particularly need an upgraded set of the very same rules.

So the last five years have been pretty lean. We've seen a bunch of companies go out of business, we've seen fewer products released, we've seen fewer gaming companies start to replace the ones that go down, and we've seen a new edition of D&D released, and from the reports I've heard, fail to impress a good percentage of the audience. The D&D brand is certainly weaker now than it has been since probably the late '90s, but I'm not actually interested in talking about the past; I'm more interested in speculating about the future.

I used to bemoan the fact that when you went up to people and talked about an RPG other than D&D, people would either give you a blank stare and ask what the hell you were talking about, or people would make the same face they make after taking something foul into their mouth, like sour milk, and automatically associate it with a lack of quality. And the truth is that when the D20 products first started hitting the helves, there was a bit of hit and miss. Some products were absolutely stellar, while others were marred by bad editing, bad layout, and bad game mechanics. There is one adventure module on my shelf that I keep as a monument to bird turds because they managed to do everything wrong on the list. But again, I'm allowing myself to be dragged into the past when the point is that what I feel we're really seeing is a widening of the RPG base. In other words, there have been enough excellent third party products over the last several years that people have finally gained confidence in it.

Now the fact of the matter is that most products bearing the d20 logo did die a death. However, when publishers stopped making d20 compatible material, they started making new games that were based on the d20 system and published under the Open Gaming License. The Babylon 5 RPG, Arcana Evolved, Iron Heroes, Castles and Crusades... Oh crap, I'm talking about the past again. Well screw it, you can't get to the future without first covering where you've been. So when WotC decided that it was time to release a new version of the game, there were a lot of players who were still playing a version of 3rd edition and weren't ready for it to go yet. Then there were those who were sick of this "evolved" version of D&D and just wanted to play the game like it was originally published, and then there were those who wanted some uniquely customized version of the game to fit their idea of a cool setting, or a specific feel. For instance, some people wanted a game that was dark and gritty instead of high fantasy, others wanted magic to be handled differently. The beauty of the OGL was that they could get what they wanted, it would still be D&D because it was based on the same original mechanics.

What's more is that a lot of these games have extremely high production values. Some, like Green Ronin, mainly produce black and white books, but those black and white books are done extremely well. Then you have others that are publishing their games in full color, again, with production values that rival or surpass WotCs'. An example of that is Paizo Publishing, which was originally created to continue producing Dragon and Dungeon magazines after WotC decided to give them the axe, but has since positioned themselves as the AMD to WotCs Intel. Their Pathfinder products are full color, their production values, writing, art, and cartography are as good or better than WotCs' in every area, and they're continuing forward with the Pathfinder RPG, which is the next evolution of the D&D 3.5 system. And there are other games that are also taking the D20 system and running with it, such as Modern20 and True20. Spycraft 2.o is another full color book that is essentially based on Modern, but makes signifficant changes to the game. Then there are the retro-clones, which are picking up steam, and new or revived systems that are gaining gaining ground, such as Savage Worlds, Cortex, Traveler, Runequest. Heck, even Star Frontiers is seeing an online revival and currently has "digitally remastered" versions of the original core books posted online as well as a new online periodical called the Frontiersman.

The wonderful thing is that people all over the place are actually playing these games!

In my mind, this isn't a rejection of D&D 4th edition as much as it is the fact that people have finally realized that they have options! Lots of them!

On top of that, the expansion of the PDF market and the rise of printing on demand through companies like means that there are a lot more companies in the business, a lot more games being made, and getting your stuff out to your customers isn't nearly as hard as it once was. In other words, the new configuration of the print industry is adding to the choices people have.

Personally, I've always been comfortable with the basic D&D and Advanced D&D schism. While WotC is offering 4th edition, which tries unsuccessfully to be all things to all people, I'm finding that Castles and Crusades functions well as the new "Basic" and Pathfinder functions as the new "Advanced." I can play Pathfinder with my 35 year-old gaming buddies who have come to like this level of complexity in their RPGs while I can bust out the C&C and play with my wife and daughter.

So what I'm getting at is that while D&D maintains a player base that many companies would die for (even while it is undoubtedly disappointing the bean counters at Hasbro), the rest of the players are going to the other publishers who have long struggled in the shadow of D&D. Many people say that the golden age of gaming was back in the '80s, others say that it was just after the advent of the OGL, when suddenly everyone could make a game compatible with the best known roleplaying game in the world. I say the golden age of gaming is right here, right now.

I say this because your choices as a gamer are nearly unlimited. People like me, who used to dream of being a published game designer, can make that dream comne true, assuming that you happen to be competent at writing and game design and have some good ideas. You can do it by either hitching your cart to an existing publisher or, if you have the technical know-how and the connections to get the art done - do it yourself.

The future of tabletop gaming is no longer in the hands of those who have had it in the past, but rather, it's now in the hands of the community that supports it, both through choice and through small time publishers. This is an industry where the little guy is getting noticed and after a while, isn't so little anymore.

This is the golden age of roleplaying. Game on!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Blog #8 part 2

Reflection on paper 2

I think that this paper is superior to earlier drafts because, unlike assignment #1, it was completely overhauls from the original paper. Initially this paper took up the argument from the article that we need to continue funding for the space program where it should have stuck more closely to the assignment, which was to analyze the argument being made in the article.

So to that end, I cut about 80% of the content from the first couple drafts and essentially started over. The paper is now focused on what the original article says while drawing in related support material from other sources. It was a lot more work, but it's worth it since I strayed so far from the original assignment with the first one.

A nice side-effect here is that since the rough draft of assignment #2 relates directly to the long paper I get to write, it provides me with another source, besides the Rogerian argument, that I can mine for that paper.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Toulman Analysis “Saving Hubble”

"I don't think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet. But I'm an optimist. We will reach out to the stars." – Professor Stephen Hawking

The September 2008 issue of Discover magazine discusses the next planned flight of the space shuttle; their mission, to fix the Hubble space telescope for the last time. At the time the article was printed, this launch was scheduled to take place in October; however, due to additional electronic failures with the Hubble telescope, the mission has been postponed until sometime early next year (Dunn). The focus of the Discover article discusses NASA’s plans to replace the aging shuttle fleet with a new space vehicle, but it makes a semi-successful claim that NASA’s future is dependent upon the success of failure of this next mission due to potential budget cuts and the tragedies of the past.

The article’s columnist, Corey S. Powell, appears to support professor Hawking’s belief that humanity must venture into the stars if we want to survive as a species. Although he does not state this directly in the article, he does make a pathetic appeal when he addresses the warrant many people have that space travel is important.

The article efficiently covers the range of issues currently facing the space agency in the first half of the article, including the fact that this will be the last mission to fix the Hubble, and that the shuttle program is set to be retired in 2010. In the last half of the argument, he says the following:
NASA’s future depends heavily on this month’s Atlantis mission. If the shuttle flight goes awry, Hubble is doomed, and the already-precarious support for Ares and Orion [the new rocket and space module] might evaporate. (Last fall, Sen. Barack Obama suggested delaying NASA’s next human space adventure to focus funds on more practical problems). (Powell)

Powell’s argument is immediately backed with Obama’s statement, set aside from the text within parentheses, but he fails to elaborate on this position. He could have strengthened his argument by stating that Obama has already proposed delaying the new space vehicle by five years, which would leave the US without a space vehicle for a total of nine years (Dunn). The article does report that the current plans are to rely on Russia to transport our astronauts to the International Space Station once the shuttle is retired, but given the recently strained relations between our countries, there is a chance that this arrangement may end prematurely, which would be an undesirable situation.

Currently our relations with Russia are strained. While there is no indication that the United States will be entering into a war, or even renewing the Cold War, there is an uncertainty about our joint cooperation and diplomatic relations. In August of this year, Condoleezza Rice stated, “Moscow it is playing a dangerous game with the United States and its allies, who will stand by Georgia and ensure its recovery from a weeklong Russian invasion.” She also said, “The alliance would act to punish Russia for its actions and deny its strategic objectives by ensuring that Georgia’s insfrastructure and economy are rebuilt and that its government is fully supported by the West.” (Associated Press). This is the sort of terse rhetoric that makes clear the disapproval of the United States towards Russia’s actions, and it clearly puts in jeopardy any arrangements we have with them at this time.

Powell’s appeal to logos is flawed when he states that the Hubble is doomed if the mission fails because he does not take two issues into account: First,the Hubble is already doomed. Even though the mission will be to repair the space telescope, this will be the last time this happens. It is only a matter of time before it fails again and is abandoned. Second, he also doesn’t take into account the fact that the previous shuttle tragedies occurred at different stages during the mission. The Challenger was destroyed as it was launching into space, while the Columbia was destroyed upon re-entry. This means that it is entirely possible for the Atlantis to successfully launch into space, repair the Hubble, but be destroyed upon re-entry. If this happens then the Hubble will not be doomed’ at least not until it fails again, but the mission itself will still be a failure.

Powell also fails to make any sort of connection between a failed shuttle mission and a loss of funding for NASA. He does not present any evidence suggesting that either of the candidates or policy makers would withdraw their support of NASA if the next shuttle mission fails and leads to the deaths of more astronauts. He does point out the fact that the shuttle program has met with fatal accidents on 1.6 percent of its flights (Powell), which skirts a commonly held warrant that the space program is too dangerous and costly, both in terms of dollars and human lives. However, given the fact that the shuttle has already been deemed too dangerous and the current plan is to go back to a safer capsule design, it could be argued that the powers in control of the nation’s purse strings would simply write off a final mission disaster as a sad side-effect of a flawed design, and then move forward with a more tried and proven design. There is also a question of whether NASA could be in danger by raising the unstated question of whether the American public would be willing to continue a program that has met with the relatively high rate of failure under the shuttle program.

The article highlights the current state of NASA and discusses the very real possibility that the space agency might face serious funding cuts in the near future. Although it references a statement made by the Democratic Presidential candidate, it could have been more clear about what exactly was said. The article does successfully articulate that NASA is in a crucial transitional state, and with it the future or manned space exploration might be in jeopardy.

Powell, Corey. "Saving Hubble." Discover September 2008: 26 - 33.

Dunn, Marcia. "NASA delays Hubble mission until next year." 29, Sep, 2008 25 Oct 2008 .

"Rice says Russia playing dangerous game." Associated Press 18, Aug, 2008 7 Nov 2008 .

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Blog #9

Blog #9
1. What is contrastive rhetoric? (150 words)

Contrastive rhetoric is a new way of looking at bi-lingual education that takes into account the fact that people for whom English is a second language may have means of communicating that don't translate perfectly to the way the English language is constructed. The idea behind it is to facilitate reading and writing in English. In addition to bi-lingual students, it also applies to people who don't participate in dominant U.S. culture, and opens the doors of composition for them as well. Five questions are key to anyone attempting to discuss a given topic:

1. What may be discussed?
2. Who has the authority to speak/write; OR Who has the authority to write to whom under what circumstances?
3. What form(s) may the writing take?
4. What is evidence?
5. What arrangement of evidence is likely to appeal (be convincing to) readers?

While these are all questions that are easy for a native language speaker who is part of the dominant culture, they are not as self-evident to the non-native speaker/newcomer to the culture.

2. Why is the Alexie article an example of contrastive rhetoric? (150 words)

I think that the Alexie article was an example of contrastive rhetoric because it provides and answer for the five questions above, and ultimately, the people making the decisions were not the people who belonged to the Native American ethnic group. To answer the questions quickly:

1. Culture said that what may be discussed is that nature of what it means to be a Native American. In their idealized form, as defined by Hollywood, they were noble savages - warriors who used monosyllabic speech, or people close to nature who climbed mountains or waded into streams.

2. Those with the authority to speak were the people defining the idealized Native American - Hollywood actors and producers, who were normally working from stereotypes rather than any real understanding of the culture.

3. The writing might take the form of a movie script, or a TV show, or a trashy romance novel. The Native American was there for entertainment, not for the education of cultural understanding.

4. Evidence is the depiction of Native Americans, such as Tonto, who Sherman Alexi hates.

5. The arrangement of the evidence is that they are ideally suited to the role of sidekick.

Of course that's a load of BS, but it makes me wonder how far we've come really. One of my favorite movies is Brotherhood of the Wolf, which features a Native American character. Even through the character dies a heroic and meaningful death, he is still portrayed as the noble savage warrior who essentially fills the role of the sidekick. On the other hand, there's a European character who also fills the role of sidekick, and the relationship between the protagonist and the Native American seems to be one of genuine friendship as opposed to "helper." I think the portrayal in that movie is a little more complicated than Tonto, and I would love to know what Alexi would say about it. My guess is that his analysis wouldn't be entirely positive or entirely negative.

Election Day Redux

Yes We Can!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dungeons and Dragons: Attack of the Retro-Clones

Yes, I'm actually posting something game related today. Hopefully those who have gotten used to all of the rhetoric will be pleasantly surprised by the change of pace.

First of all, I'd like to acknowledge where the gaming industry is at, and where I'm at in relation to it. Last August Wizards of the Coast released Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition. This new game was completely overhauled from 3rd edition, placing an emphasis on player character powers, ease of DMing, and streamlined play. While many people loved the new edition, I would argue that an equally sized group did not find it to their liking. I am one of the latter. Without going into a lengthy diatribe, I'll say that it fails for several reason: the new emphasis on powers, forced movement, and the slaughtering of numerous sacred cows that had been with the game since it was originally released in 1974. D&D has strayed far from how it was originally conceived: as an emulation of fantasy novels, such as Lord of the Rings, Conan, and others, which allowed players to enter into an imaginary world as fictional characters. This was an outgrowth from tactical strategy games. Because the 4th edition game philosophy places a greater emphasis on gamism rather than roleplaying, in my mind at least, it is much closer to a fantasy miniatures game than it is a roleplaying game, and as such, is a fairly giant leap backwards in its evolution.

As I said earlier, I'm not the only one feeling this way. Paizo Publishing chose to continue using the Open Game License (OGL) to produce a new and improved version of 3.5, called Pathfinder. I'm placing the majority of my support and design skills behind that effort, as well as the True20 game, which I feel does a superior job of handling modern and future type roleplaying games.

So that should be the end of the conversation, right? We have two fairly major commercial games from large game publishers, and as a result, I still find my talents as a game designer in demand. So what else is there to talk about? Old school revivial; specifically, the rise of the old school clones.

The first game, published under the OGL, which attempted to take a step backwards in terms of the rules and overall feel of the game was called Castles and Crusades, by Troll Lord Games. They started with the core rules of 3rd edition, which were released as open content by Wizards of the Coast, and they stripped out many of the innovations made with 3rd edition. The standard experience point advancement was tossed in favor of a class-based system, as we had with previous editions, skill checks were replaced with ability checks (a system called the SIEGE system), weapons and armor were once again dictated by class as opposed to being open, and the big game changer, feats, were eliminated entirely.

Castles and Crusades is an excellent game. Let me just get that out of the way now. I bought the PDFs a while back and I've been looking them over, and I really like how it all comes together. It retains some of the things I like about 3rd edition, such as flipping Armor Class over so it's expressed as a positive number, while at the same time embracing the simplicity and ease of play that was found in the previous editions. The easiest way to sum it up is that it's as though they took the best parts of 1E, 2E, and 3E, stripped out all of the extra stuff that doesn't make for a streamlined, easy to play game, and put it out there for the people who want a game that feels similar to original. It should also be noted that before his death earlier this year, Gary Gygax had embraced Castles and Crusades as the spiritual successor to D&D, and he finally got around to releasing his dungeon crawl masterpiece Castle Zagyg (originally Castle Greyhawk) for this system.

Perhapse that would have been the end of the conversation, but there were still those who weren't crazy about Castles and Crusades. While you could literally run any old D&D or AD&D module under Castles and Crusades with very little modification, some people didn't just want a compatible system, but wanted the actual rules from the original game.

This is where the retro-clones come in. Copyright law is a funny thing. If I write a book, it is automatically copyrighted under me, and aside from the fair use laws, which allow others to use a small portion of that book for a variety of limited purposes, someone can't come along and snag the my book's text and republish it. This can even extend out into the realm of ideas, at which point things get tricky, but one thing copyright law does not protect are game rules. In other words, the rules of a given game can be lifted entirely, as long as you use your own explanatory text, trade dress, and give it a different name. The OGL allows publishers to use most of the intellectual property from the core rules of WotC's 3rd edition D&D game. Better, the OGL cannot be revoked, and there are no provisions within the OGL preventing a person or publisher from combining the IP released by WotC with the rules lifted from other editions. This combination is what has given rise to the retro-clones, which is where individuals and (extremely) small companies are recreating the original AD&D and/or Basic D&D game.

The two retro-clones that are specifically worth mentioning are OSRIC (Old School Reference & Index Compilation) and Labyrinth Lord. OSRIC started out as a simple open source reference guide for people who wanted to develop products that were compatible with AD&D 1st edition. It originally had approximately 150 pages, and it was basic, but nice. The 2nd edition of OSRIC, which Stuart Mashall has kindly given me a preview of, is a much more ambitious project. It includes an updated set of character creation rules, but it also includes the full (as near as I can tell) list of monsters, as well as all of the material you would need as a GM to run the thing. There's more art and more material, and one thing that remains the same is the stripped down, easy to use layout, which is reminiscent of the 1st edition game.

Along with OSRIC is Labyrinth Lord. This game, which is also available as a free download, is different because it attempts to recreate the old Moldvay/Cook version of Basic D&D. As similar as it is to AD&D, it has its share of subtle differences, which lead to a slightly different game experience. It also features a layout that looks slightly more professional than OSRIC and contains a great deal more art. It is visually impressive, particularly if you happen to remember those twenty year old games on which is is based.

Labyrinth Lord as created by a small company called Goblinoid Games, and LL isn't the only retro style game they produce. They also have a d100 based system called GORE (which is beyond the scope of this blog entry) and Mutant Future. What I like about Mutant Future is that rather than try to recreate one of the editions of classic Gamma World, they instead used the basic OSRIC based sytem to create a post-apocalyptic game that was otherwise very similar to Gamma World. The result is impressive, and still extremely reminiscent of the old classic.

As I said before, my support remains fully behind Pathfinder and True20, but I have to admit that there is an appeal to these retro-clones that goes beyond nostalgia. The fact is that unlike software, old tabletop games do not become unplayable as time goes by. What was a good rules system twenty years ago remains a good rules system today. In the case of the retro-clones, they still contain all of the old sacred cows, such as percentage based thieves skills and upside-down armor class, but they are still a joy to play. It seems that the further the official game called D&D wants to denounce its roots, the more interest there is in simply playing the originals. I for one have been inspired to get a second game going, probably using the Castles and Crusades game system (though I'm also contemplating OSRIC as well) and possibly even write some material for one of them. Sure, the pay would be nonexistent, but frankly, I got into game design to have a creative outlet, not for the money, and there's something very, very cool about the classic game I grew up with. The fact that going back to that system would allow me to make use of a whole bunch of old gaming products, including somewhere around 100 issues of Dungeon, is very appealing.

Oh, and here are the links to these games:

Labyrinth Lord
Mutant Future
Castles and Crusades

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Blog #7

Blog #7
Write a reflection on the third draft of Assignment #1. Use at least two terms
we have learned in class.

Your reflection should answer this question:
1. What do you think is better about this draft when compared to the others?
Why? (300 words)

I think my third draft of assignment #1 is considerably better than the second, mainly because I implemented Paul Muhlhauser's suggestions for improvement. In my experience, taking the feedback given to you by any given class's professor and using the changes they suggest leads to a higher grade. Not only does it acknowledge their situated ethos, but it also shows a willingness to follow their vision for the assignment, thereby striving for improvement.

Of course this answer a total non-sequitur because it doesn't address the qualitative changes that have been made to the paper. So a more on-topic response would be that I changed the thesis to a statement that I had originally made in the final paragraph of the paper. I've found that when writing my conclusions, I tend to write more concise thesis statements than I do when starting my papers. This might be because by that point I've already worked through everything I want to say and I can provide a more concise summary.

The other thing I did was combine a paragraph listing the various TRACE elements with the paragraph relating to the key. While it had originally been my intention to quickly address those elements to satisfy the requirements of the paper, I found that they made my 'key' argument stronger (Besides, Paul Muhlhauser recommended that I do this ;-) What that effectively did was answer the question, so what? to the relevance of that paragraph.

So in short, I feel that the third draft is really an improvement because of minor adjustments to the organization of the paper. I didn't perform a massive overhaul to the original, nor do I feel that it was broken to the point where it needed that sprt pf treatment. I do feel that the paper is stronger now than it was originally, and I mainly have Paul Muhlhauser's rhetorical expertise to thank for that.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Rhetoric of Babylon 5

As anyone who has watched Babylon 5 knows, as the plot moves along, the heroes encounter two overriding philosophies, which are truly only ever explained by the fundamental questions of their respective civilizations. The Vorlons, which represented order, asked the question, "Who are you?" The Shadows asked, "What do you want?" The third voice, which was represented only by the first One - the only being who remained behind and served as the God figure for the others asked, "Do you have anything worth living for?"

Up until near the end of the Shadow War, the Vorlons were believed to be the force of good in the conflict. "Who are you" Was a rhetorical question that they intended to use as a means to get people to examine the trappings of identity and see themselves as the true beings they are. According to the show creator, Joe Michael Straczynski, the intention is not to solicit a "correct" answer, but to "tear down the artifices we construct around ourselves until we're left facing ourselves, not our roles." Identity creates division, so casting it aside exposes the core of what lies beneath. This seems to be at least partially influenced by several eastern religions, such as Taoism, Jainism, and Buddhism, which emphasize non-attachment to material things, non-action, and acceptance. Indeed, in the real world, most dominant Eastern religions are considered peaceful even while they often tend to exist alongside totalitarian regimes that oppress their own people. As it turns out, the Vorlons were not the good guys, but were instead the predominant authoritarians.

The Shadows, by contrast, practiced an ideology of chaos. Their question, "What do you want?" illustrates that they use personal desire to shape identity. This was presented as disharmonious, destructive, and ultimately less than ideal, which is why the younger races were forced to struggle against them time and time again. The comparison that JMS seems to be making, but he never comes out and says, is that the philosophy of the Shadows is analogous to capitalism in the United States. In the US, lives are shaped by greed. Those with wealth desire more wealth, those with some wealth also desire more wealth, and coincidentally, the poor struggle for more wealth. Even while those who have live lives of comfort and privilege that most can only dream of, those with wealth and power desire the acquisition of wealth to the point where they are willing to circumvent common sense for personal gain. It is for this reason that the world is now faced with a deep recession or possibly even a depression. Greed is the great evil of the United States, causing it to cannibalize itself until there's nothing left. In an ironic twist, one of the most conservative presidents of the past hundred years is now forced to implement some of the most socialist measures to keep the entire economy from collapsing.

The final questions come from Lorien, who describes himself as the first one. "Do you have anything worth living for?" This was actually the question asked of Sheridan as he stood on the threshold between life and death following his attempted self sacrifice, and his question was eventually refined to two questions, "Why are you here," and "Where are you going?" For now, we'll only examine the original. "What do you have to live for?" is a far more powerful question than "Do you have anything worth dying for?" People die in wars, and for causes, and for loved ones. They do it all the time, all around the world in conflicts that are often horrible and quickly forgotten. Alternatively, asking what you have to live for asks what work to you have left undone? When asked this question, Sheridan ultimately answered Delenn, who was the Minbari ambassador to Babylon 5. This answer initially created puzzlement. The romantic relationship between Sheridan and Delenn had only been hinted at up to that point, but what they were doing was spearheading the war. It wasn't just the love they had for each other that was important, but the work that they were doing together. When stripped of all of the possible considerations, his answer was love, not just for Delenn, not just for humans, or Minbaris, but for all interstellar races - universal love.

While the Shadow War was happening, President Clark was busy transforming Earth into a totalitarian state. By advancing the politics of division and fear, he was able to assert absolute control over the society he led. At the time, the best historical figure to compare him to was Hitler, though just a couple years after the end of Babylon 5, President Bush rose to power and advanced a very divisive agenda that othered Democrats, Arabs, and even our allies in the United Nations. Bush is a far better example of the problems JMS warned about than Hitler, not because he used ideology, lies, and the media to secure his own power as a demagogue, but because ultimately it was the conscience of his own people that overthrew him. It was the love of others rather than the fear of them that ultimately led to the popular demise of their divisive ideologies.

Finally, the ascension of G'Kar as a prominent religious leader demonstrates the ultimate example of a transformation of love. G'Kar was a Narn, a member of a warlike race that had only recently won its independence from Centauri occupation. When we first see him, he is bitter, nationalistic, hateful towards the Centauri, and distrustful towards the other races. Throughout the series, he undergoes a trial at the hands of his enemies. His homeworld is once again conquered, with the help of the Shadows. He leads those of his people who escaped re-enslavement from Babylon 5 for a time, but is ultimately captured, tortured, made to amuse the Centauri emperor, at whose hands he is mocked and disfigured when they removed one of his eyes. When G'Kar emerges from his trial, he is no longer a figure who stands for nationalism, but instead universal love. He is a warrior philosopher who counts among his friends those who he once hated. In a final display of enlightenment, rather than allow his own people to turn him into a demagogue, he leaves for the outer rim, which is a metaphor for the frontier, often associated with death.

The message JMS promotes with Babylon 5 is, knowingly or not, an interpretation of Kenneth Burke's "A Rhetoric of Motives," and he suggests that the solution to the problems of the world is love of everyone. According to Robert Eddie, Director of Composition at Washington State University, love is a form of mysticism - which is itself an overwhelming feeling of connectedness with all people, and things.

When seeking the true underlying message of the multilayered plot JMS has constructed with Babylon 5, and to quote John Lennon, "Love is the answer." The welfare of the community is more important than the welfare of the individual.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Blog #6

Intelligence Officer, Navy Reserve

The Intelligence Officer ad that appears in the September issue of Discover magazine is relatively simple and straight forward. It features a piece of paper, apparently sitting on a desk with a series of simple instructions that one would give someone watching their house, and a pair of keys. The home owner left instructions to water the plants, bring in the mail, contact them at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. in the case of an emergency, and to shred the note immediately. There is a break towards the bottom of the page under which a short blurb is written on a metallic looking background, which reads, “Intelligence Officer. As an Intelligence Officer in the Navy Reserve, you’ll manage valuable intelligence and help to defend this nation as few others can. All on a part time basis….” This text sets up a particularly effective pathetic appeal because it suggests that the reader can add excitement to her life if he joins the Navy, picks the job he wants (in this case, Intelligence Officer), and then works part time. If the reader takes the suggested route, he can serve his country, thereby being part of something larger than himself, live a life of intrigue where he keeps valuable national secrets, all while earning what is presumably a good part time income, without having to leave his regular daily life and responsibilities to do it.

The text contains two main components, the first of which is what is written on the note. Items one and two are pretty ordinary and could be a note left for anyone who is taking care of someone else’s house for a few days. There is nothing particularly interesting, exciting, or notable about taking care of plants and bringing in the mail. In fact, those two items would likely be assumed for someone taking on these duties, making these instructions rather pointless. The following two lines, “….Contact me at the Pentagon….” And “Shred this note immediately!” are designed make an emotional appeal to a person’s sense of adventure. There is something dangerous about their line of work, so the caretaker is to ensure that nobody knows where they’re at while they’re away! The second of the text’s components is located at the bottom of the page simply lists the fact that a person can apply to be an Intelligence Officer if they join the Navy, and they can do it part time. This tells the reader that they can leave their ordinary life behind and do something meaningful and exciting for their country.

The constraints of this ad are that not everybody is open to the possibility of joining the armed forces. For many, risking their life for this country, particularly under the current administration, is simply not worth it. It is also not going to apply to people who can’t obtain security clearance, criminals, or the developmentally disabled. Further constraints are that the Navy is looking for people in the following professions: engineers, educators, IT professionals, CPAs, and consultants. According to their website, the actual Finally, the exigence of this ad is that the Navy needs recruits.

“Essentials of Argument” states, “Visual Argument establishes common ground and invites viewer identification. (240)” This is certainly true for this ad. The person making the ad wants the reader to think that the ad applies to them. Ordinary people, presumably like the person viewing the ad, leaves similar notes for people all the time. They typically include a list of things to do, how to contact them in case of an emergency, and any special instructions.

The keys are an interesting component of this visual argument as well. Normally keys would be a sign for gaining access to something, but not in this case. Despite their break with conventional symbolism, they still have meaning. In “Contemporary Perspectives on Rhetoric,” Foss, Foss, and Trapp say, “That signs and symbols often intertwine is typical of human communication. For instance, a tree standing in a forest is not a symbol; it does not stand for something else.” And, “The tree also becomes a symbol – an instance of rhetoric – when it is cut, for example, to use as a Christmas tree. (3)” The keys on this add seem straightforward – the person taking care of the house will use them to get into the house so that they can take care of the plants and drop off the mail. However, on a metaphorical level, they represent the reader’s mundane life. If the reader takes this job, they can drop their mundane life off with the most convenient person while they can leave home for a while (almost like a vacation) and assume the role of a spy. For a few days at a time, as part of their job with the Navy, they can become James Bond, or Jack Ryan. That implies danger, excitement, sex, and responsibility.

In addition to this, the remaining TRACE principles complete the argument. The reader is assumed to be an ordinary person. Since they’re appealing to a sense of excitement with this ad, the assumption is that the reader lives an ordinary life in the United States, working an ordinary job; a slave to the grind. They might be someone who needs to pick up a part time job to supplement their income. The ad’s author, the Navy, gives the impression that someone seeing this might be interested in joining the Navy so that they can live this exciting life. They know that this would appeal to possible recruits because it wouldn’t necessarily involve leaving home for months or years at a time and risking their lives in combat situations.

Although this ad looks almost mundane at first glance, its elegant simplicity stands out from the magazine in which it is situated and demands attention; it skillfully employs pathos to make an argument for recruitment into one of the branches of the armed forces. The appeal to excitement and service is a powerful tool for recruitment, and the Navy is likely to find success with this ad.

US Navy, "Intelligence Officer, Navy Reserve." Discover Sept 2008: 5.
1. Wood, Nancy. Essentials of Argument. 2nd. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc, 2009.
Foss, Karen, Sonya Foss, and Robert Trapp. "An Introduction to Rhetoric."Contemporary Perspectives on Rhetoric. 3rd ed. London: Waveland Press, 2003. 1-18. 28 Aug 2008
U.S. Navy, Navy Reserve, Enlisted Opportunities, Intelligence and Communications. U.S. Navy. 18 Sep 2008 .

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Blog #5

Select one of the rhetorical terms we have use in class and describe how McCain
and Obama use this effectively or ineffectively in their websites.

On John McCain's website, he makes the following statement:

Wherever there is a hungry child, a great cause exists to serve.
Where there is an illiterate adult, a great cause exists to serve.
Wherever there are people who are denied the basic rights of Man, a great cause exists to serve.
Wherever there is suffering, a great cause exists to serve.
McCain uses anaphora to make a pathetic argument about public service. Anaphora is the repetition of the same word at the beginning of a series of successive clauses or verses. In this case, it is the word wherever, which is then matched with one of society's shortcomings, and is then finished with "a great cause exists to serve."

I feel that this is an effective use of anaphora because it helps McCain's ongoing argument that he has dedicated his life to public service. He continues to plant the suggestion that his career as a politician is about the people he serves, rather than having to do with his own ego and ambitions. It's an effective argument because in these uncertain times, with the massive economic meltdown we've seen in the past couple weeks, the war in Iraq, and the current president who has proven that he is almost completely without morals, the people are looking for someone who puts their interests first. Joh McCain is trying to convince people that he is that person.

John, McCain. "Why John McCain." Republican Party. 30 Sep 2008 .

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

1. Define warrant in your own terms. Why does argument work better when
warrants are shared by the arguer and the audience?

Warrants are often unstated beliefs, values, and principles that are part of arguments. Argument works better when warrants are shared because the disagreements of warrants can lead to different interpretations and therefore different outcomes of the argument.

2. Provide an example to support your claim.

People who know me are well aware that I have done a great deal of work in the roleplaying game industry. There are those who are only passingly familiar with this as "Dungeons and Dragons," or that weird game with books, paper and pencil, and miniature heroes and monsters. Someone who is not overly familiar with roleplaying might make the claim that this hobby is not mainstream. One of the supports they might use is that its players are not "normal" people. This taps into the warrants that the game it is commonly played by nerds, geeks and other social outcasts.

The support that these "not normal" people uses the warrant that players are mostly geeks, nerds, and outcasts. That is further broken down into the notion that nerds are socially maladjusted but incredibly intelligent people. A geek is a "peculiar or otherwise odd person, especially one who is perceived to be overly intellectual". Outcasts can be a catchall that covers everyone else who doesn't act or dress in ways that are consistent with popular culture.

This argument is flawed, however, by the demographics of gamers. While the stereotypical gamer falls into the category of geeks and nerds, the truth of the matter is that most people who play the game are average people. This is backed up by surveys that have been conducted by people within the roleplaying game industry. These studies have shown that the average gamer is likely in college or has a college degree, they are just as likely to be married as the rest of the population, and they hold down ordinary and wide-ranging jobs. The only commonalities between most gamers are a high level of intelligence and a certain enjoyment for works of fantasy and schience fiction. Anecdotally, I am a game designer and a gamer myself, and the people I game with on a regular basis include someone with a degree in communications, a researcher at the vet clinic, and a guy who is very athletic as well as a doctor of genetics. I would further argue that of the four of us, only oneof us fits the classic definition of a geek.

The fact that the warrants are unspoken and not necessarily agreed upon leads to different conclusions among different audiences. The average, non-gaming audience might agree with the stereotype, and therefore agree that the hobby isn't mainstream. Those, like myself, who have inside (and not public) knowledge on sales figures, demographics, and a background of meeting actual gamers at conventions, know that the warrants are simply incorrect. Their characterization of gamers as being outside the norm isn't consistent with the facts because it isn't just nerds, geeks and outsiders playing these games.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Blog #3

1. What is the most important feature of visual argument you learned from EOA? Why? (140-50 words).

According to Essentials of Argument, "Visual argument is immediate and tangible and pulls you into the picture. (237)" This seems like the most important point because to me, it does the best job summarizing the difference between a visual and written argument. A written argument relies on abstract symbols to convey a message, and while images are also symbols, they're not as abstract and they have the potential to draw a person into the message with a simple glance.

Just for fun, I've constructed my own visual argument that features certain people and events from this country's history. Anyone reading this blog, this is your chance to judge whether or not I've managed to convey my point. What is this argument about? Is it successful or not?

2. What is the most important feature of visual image you learned from McCloud? Why? (140-50 words).

The most important thing I learned from McCloud is the relationship between the reader/watcher when they see a cartoon face as opposed to when they see a real face. When the person has a face-to-face conversation with another person, they have an image in their mind of the person they are speaking with which is accurate based on their perception. However, at the same time, they have a perception of their own face which is not as vivid, and contains more of a general "sense of shape..... A sense of general placement. (207)" Because a person doesn't see themselves in a photo-realistic sense, when they see a cartoon image of a face, it is easy for them to view the cartoon as a representation of themselves.

1. Wood, Nancy. Essentials of Argument. 2nd. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc, 2009.

McCloud, Scott. "The Vocabulary of Comics." Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World 195 - 208. 10 Sep 2008 .

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Blog #2

1. What did you think of when you encountered the word argument as you began reading this chapter? What do you think now? (150-200 words)

The first thing that normally comes to mind when I think of argument is "To make a case for." This is my own personal definition, and it really comes from that fact that as a writer, a father, and someone who likes to go online and engage in unmoderated messageboard debate (meaning that sources are rarely cited, unless I'm trying to move in for the kill on a particular topic), I am frequently called on to justify my point of view on a given topic. For example, when I tell my oldest child that she cannot go over to her friend's house to play for the day, in order to seem like a fair parent, I need to make the arguments that we might be leaving the house soon, her friend's parents said that they would be busy for the day, and that she's still grounded for cutting the cat's hair with the scissors. Of course this is a very easy argument to win because I am the final authority in this case.

According to Nancy V. Wood, in Essentials of Argument, "Argument classes are taught in college because they improve the students' ability to read and think critically and write or speak about signifficant problems and issues that have social consequences. (5)" In my experience in the real world, a number of people end up in careers that have nothing to do with the field in which they earned their degree in college. The fact that they have a college degree is often enough to earn them the opportunity to fill various positions based solely upon the fact that they are able to think problems through critically and then act upon them competently.

When properly used, argument informs us of critical things, such as the best candidate to vote for in an election based upon their stance on the issues rather than whether or not we simply like them as individuals. Critical thinking helps us watch a movie and then evaluate it based on the artistry of the film making as well as the message it is trying to convey. For instance, is a war movie trying to expose the horrors of war by showing the plight of a soldier, as in Saving Private Ryan? Is it a propaganda film that is meant to influence the audience to support U.S. interests abroad, as I would argue that the third Rambo movie does? Critical thinking allows us to determine which products are the best to buy based on its features, benefits, and consumer reviews as opposed to relying on the hype of salespeople.

When faced with a complex problem, how do we deal with it? We must be able to come to decisions and then present arguments to explain why we took the actions that we took. We must also be able to analyze the arguments made by others to decide whether we agree or disagree with what they are saying, and sometimes offer up counter-arguments in an attempt to change a proposed course of action.

Honestly, my opinion about argument isn't any different now than it was before the reading. Argument is everywhere in our society, and it makes us better and more useful individuals if we recognize it when we see it and analyze it to determine the best way to process it.

2. Why did you choose your magazine? (75-100 words)

I chose Discover because of all of the magazines that were listed, it was the one that appealed to me the most. It is the one magazine from the list we were given that is most likely to have articles that I'd be interested in reading. I enjoy science articles, yet not coming from a background in hard science, I fit perfectly with this magazine's target audience. Discover is a science magazine for lay-people. In other words I like to read about all of the neat new developments in science and technology, but I'm not particularly interested in trying to make sense of the complexity of the actual science since I lack the background.

1. Wood, Nancy. Essentials of Argument. 2nd. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc, 2009.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Blog #1

How does Foss define rhetoric? Describe in your own words what this means to you and offer a few examples from your experience.

I read the twenty page introduction to Rhetoric by Karen Foss with a specific eye for a definition of rhetoric, and while the subject matter tended to meander from theoretical to the historical, the key statement seemed to be "For us, rhetoric is the human use of symbols to communicate" (1). Symbols are the expression of our reality through language.

Foss talks about two key ideas relating to symbols, the first being that "Humans construct the world in which they live through their symbolic choices" (2). While symbols could just as easily translate to a number of different modes of communication, including art or music, the most appropriate type of symbol is language and words. The idea is that words, or symbols, that we choose may contain positive or negative connotations. For example, if I am describing a new version of an intellectual work with the pejorative term "dumbed down," I am using that specific term to voice disapproval. Likewise, if I were trying to cast it in a neutral or positive light, I might choose the term "streamlined" or "simplified."

Symbols can also be a representation of physical objects. Foss uses the example of a tree. "For instance, a tree standing in the forest is not a symbol; it does not stand for something else. It is simply a tree, although the word chosen to represent the thing standing in the forest is a symbol" (3).

A rhetorician who is conscious and intentional with their use of symbols is able to craft an argument that is intended to accomplish a goal. The nature of that goal might be to convince people to adopt your way of thinking, come to a consensus on a difficult matter, or settle a dispute. Rhetoric may include writing, oration, physical, multi-media.... Being new to the world of rhetoric, I would simply interpret it as communication.

Google defines rhetoric as:
* using language effectively to please or persuade
* grandiosity: high-flown style; excessive use of verbal ornamentation; "the grandiosity of his prose"; "an excessive ornateness of language"
* palaver: loud and confused and empty talk; "mere rhetoric"
* study of the technique and rules for using language effectively (especially in public speaking)

What this means to me is that rhetoric is a way to convey meaning and expression, persuade others, raise awareness, and otherwise communicate through the use of symbols.

In the past, having never actually studied rhetoric, I have used it for a variety of purposes, including debating political issues, particularly around election time; incorporating it into my roleplaying game writings; and I have used it for the purpose of marketing the roleplaying games I have been involved with.

Currently, for those who haven't notices, the country I live in is in the final months of a presidential campaign. I have engaged in conversation with others on various messageboards where I have sought to gain information and opinions about the candidates. I have mainly been in information gathering mode up to this point, and I have only recently made a decision about which candidate best represents me and my interests. The goal of these debates has not been to inform other people's views, but rather, to try to come to a consensus among other similar-minded individuals of what the issues, strengths, and weaknesses are surrounding each candidate. Now that I have picked one, my rhetoric in these place will likely change to a stance where I will try to persuade others to vote with me.

The rhetoric in the professional writing I have done is a little harder to spot. Roleplaying game material tends to be escapist, so people don't appreciate it when it becomes too preachy. Nevertheless, there are a few jabs at modern political figures and organizations, though a person would have to read the material carefully to find the parallels, as well as the commentary I'm making. There is much to be said about understated allegory.

Finally, I have used rhetoric on this very blog to promote the book I released in June called Reign of Discordia. Unlike most of my other writings, this one was released through a much smaller publisher, so I tried to help that publisher as much as possible by promoting the book myself through my blog and messageboards. My goal was to be informative and make it sound appealing without being so assertive about it in high traffic areas as to make myself annoying in the eyes of the other people who visit these sites. Obviously, continuously bumping the same thread over and over on a messageboard and talking about it in every unrelated conversation would become irritating, while it is far more appropriate to pimp the book to a much higher degree in my own online space.

I feel that professional writers should possess an understanding of rhetoric because such knowledge helps them more effectively convey meaning and promote their message through their various works.

Foss, Karen, Sonya Foss, and Robert Trapp. "An Introduction to Rhetoric."Contemporary Perspectives on Rhetoric. 3rd ed. London: Waveland Press, 2003. 1-18.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different

If you happen to be one of the 2.5 people who have been following my blog for the past few months, you might be in for a surprise as the content starts to include some things that are very not gaming related.

You see, I have this dirty little secret I've been hiding for a number of years now. I attended college back in the early nineties, but I never finished. I may have gone on to manage a retail store, work at WotC, and write some gaming books, but the fact is that in the real world, employers generally tend to treat you like an uneducated schmuck if you don't have a degree. This was somewhat true a decade ago, but it seems to be more true as time goes by because nearly every kid who manages to graduate highschool is now going on to complete their college degree.

While that begs the question of how a degree gets a person ahead in life if everyone has one, that doesn't really address the question of what happens to the people who don't have one. My experience is that it leaves them looking at the options of perpetual retail or fast food hell. You know, I've done my time in those trenches and I'd rather be standing on the corner hustling random strangers for their spare change than go back to it.

What's sad is that when I decided that I wasn't going to go back and finish, oh something like thirteen years ago, I was only three semesters from graduation. That's one and a half years. Back then that seemed like such a long time, and I was so burned out, and I assumed that by demonstrating competence, I could be successful without that expensive piece of paper. Frankly, I have been successful in many areas, but not as successful as I should have been. What's the reason I didn't land any upper management jobs, or get the editor positions I applied for, or even be interviewed for some jobs that randomly applied for and still feel are beneath me? My work references were good.... Its that lack of a degree.

So I'm going back to school to finish my degree, and I'm not giving up until I'm successful. I might even try to go on to grad school if I can figure out how to fund it.

One of the classes I'm taking is an introduction to rhetoric. Based on the classroom discussions and the reading I've done so far, I really think I'm going to learn a lot in this class (and I'm not just saying that to suck up to the professor, who will be reading this blog). Part of my grade for the class will be to keep a blog that addresses some of the subject matter we will be studying. I've decided to just merge it in with my regular blog to keep things easy for me.

So if you happen to be one of my very few regular readers, prepare to learn something that has nothing to do with games. If it seems a little esoteric, don't give up, there will also be gaming related ramblings posted here whenever I feel the need to post about it. In fact, I'm not turning my back on the gaming industry. I have some small projects currently in the works that will be manageable with my class schedule, and then I have some hopes for where I might end up after I have my degree. I'm not done with gaming. In fact, after my eight years in the industry, I'm just getting started.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Making a Con Appearance

There are some really outgoing game designers who thrive on making public appearances. That's never been me. Sure, I ran some demos at Gen Con 2003, but I usually shy away from them because I'm not crazy about the public speaking. This changes this weekend.

I've been invited at the last minute as a guest for SpoCon 2008 where I will be sitting on a panel and running some games on Saturday. The panel will be on, of all things, 4th edition. They were very interested in having me on it for a couple reasons. First, I'm published, second, I told them that I'm more interested in what Pathfinder has to offer than 4th edition. So I'll be at that event talking up Pathfinder while trying not to dwell on the aspects of 4th edition that I'm not so crazy about.

I will also be running a few games. First will be a session of True20 with the Reign of Discordia campaign setting in the morning, then a couple blocks of the Pathfinder RPG using the Alpha 3 rules in the afternoon and evening. Revenge of the Kobold King should be just the right length to fill the block of time.

If anyone lives in or near Spokane, come check out the Con. The website is located here: and no, you won't see my name on the web site's guest list because my appearance just came about over the last couple of days, but I'll be there fully immersed in gaming goodness.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Reign of Discordia Design Diary 3 - Setting Elements

Before I get going too far into my latest design blog entry, I'd just like to say that the setting book has had a really, really good first 24 hours. One of the most important stats is that it is #1 on the True20 category top seller list at RPGNow! I'm told that no Non-Green Ronin product has ever been #1 in that category before. For those who rushed out to buy it, I want to offer you a heartfelt thanks. It seems a bit ridiculous when you think about how long I've been in this industry, but RoD is my first solo book-length project, and it makes me happy to see it doing this well. I hope it continues, because I'd like to still be working on this setting years from now.

So today I'm going to address focus. Many settings have, in my opinion, too tight of a focus. I've said before on various messageboards that Reign of Discordia is an everything and the kitchen sink type setting. What I meant by that is that I wanted narrators and players to be able to use this setting for every sub-genre of space opera that you can think of. I wanted it to cover everything from Star Wars style swashbuckling to the grittiness of Firefly, and everything in between, but I wanted it to have elements that were familiar to the scifi fan.

I'd like to present Star Wars as an example of a wonderful setting with too tight of a focus for an RPG (no offense to anyone who enjoys it or has worked on it). The main problem I see with it is that the official story by George Lucas focuses excluslively on the life and times of Anakin Skywalker. Episodes 1 - 3 focus on his young life while episodes 4 - 6 focus on his later adult life. Lucas has said that as far as he's concerned, once Anakin is dead, the story is over. Sure the background setting exists, and it is fantastic, but the flaws that I see with using it for an RPG is that no matter the contribution your characters make, they will never be central to the story, they will never be the ones to ultimately help the rebellion win, and they will never have the same talent with the force as the Skywalker clan. That means that when playing this game, you are essentially agreeing to make youself into a supporting character at best. I know a guy who was running a Star Wars game set between episodes 3 and 4, and he says that for some inexplicable reason, the enthusiasm to continue the game dropped to zero as soon as they hit the point in time where a couple of droids showed up on some backwater moisture farm.

It's easy to define the focus for Reign of Discordia. The largest background factor is that the central government for over a thousand worlds fell five years ago and nobody has stepped up to fill their shoes. The infrastructure that was built during the rule of the Imperium has rapidly broken down and people are suffering as a result. There's a lot you can do with that alone, but there are a couple of other major storylines going on as well. First, you have the R'Tillek, the lizardlike former enemies of the Imperium, which, for reasons that have yet to be explained, are intent on destroying the former Imperium member worlds. The second is that the Humans and the blue skinned Human-like Lamogos, once close allies, have fallen out of favor with one-another, which has sparked a nasty cold war.

So already we have three major things you can do with your campaign, all of which can function independant of the others: work towards restoring some sort of order in the galaxy, work against the R'Tillek, and take a side in the Earth - Lamog cold war. Of course a good narrator will be able to work all three into a campaign..

As far as emulating other sub-genres, I included the Frontier Worlds. These were worlds that were wild and untamed when the Imperium still existed. They were the next generation of colony worlds, but they never became self sufficient. Due to the fall of the Stellar Imperium, they've become cut off from supplies, and they would probably be in even worse shape if it weren't for independant cargo haulers. A group that enjoys Firefly could easily create a campaign set in this area of space alone. Characters in this sort of campaign will also likely engage in salvage operations. Since the cost of buying new spacecrafts is so high, the easiest way to upgrade a ship is to salvage a wrecked one.

Emulating Star Wars is another easy one. The Imperium may be dead but the Lamogos Star Navy still exists. These guys don't own the galaxy anymore, but they still like to act like they do. When one of their fleet commodores decides that he has an interest in something in a planetary system, they tend to pop into space along with a bunch of capitol ships and utterly disrupt everything in their attempt to achieve their objectives. The fact that their world has little to do with their matters little. They're so much more powerful than most other worlds that they can still ride roughshod over the local systems and their militaries. Sometimes they're after a person, sometimes technology, sometimes they're trying to force a trade agreement. The list goes on and on about what their motivwes might be on any given day, but the heroes will find themselves working against them more often than not. (As a quick aside, not all Lamogos are like this. You can easily have a Lamogos hero, and there is no shortage of good aligned Lamogos throughout the known worlds).

For those who enjoy a more Babylon 5 type feel, I provided the Rover's Beacon space station. This isn't exactly the last best hope for peace. Actually, since Imperium funding dried up, they've had to scrape by in any way they could, which in this case, means allowing raiders to use the place freely. It isn't quite a sanctioned base of operations, but raiders are allowed to dock at the station, keep quarters, and conduct business there, so long as they don't disrupt the usual station operations. It's also a big center for commerce in general, so they get a large number of Humans and aliens from throughout the known worlds passing through regularly. So far my campaign has been based around the space station because it provides an excellent home base for the heroes.

If you're a Battlestar Galactica fam , RoD doesn't have Cylons, skinjob infiltrators, or a ragtag fugitive fleet in search of Earth. What it does have is the R'Tillek, which attack planets, seemingly at random, and kill everyone on the surface with a mix or orbital bombardment and a deadly viral biological agent that so far has been 100% effective in killing all intelligent alien species that have come into contact with it. The entire former Imperium stands on the brink of annihilation from these guys, and diplomacy doesn't work on them at all.

These are just a few campaign models you can follow that are based off of the major space opera shows and movies out there. There are over 50 worlds and roughly 20 major organizations included in the core book alone (with more on the way), all of which have their own problems and specific needs for adventurers. Each can make a great focus for an entire campaign without ever touching the core conflicts of the setting.

Many science fiction games out there rely on licensed properties that have a micro focus (the characters in the novels, movies, or TV shows), always keeping the heroes in the game out of the spotlight. Reign of Discordia was designed as a role playing setting first and foremost, thus making the heroes the focus of the setting.

The Reign of Discordia core book is on sale through RPGNow

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Reign of Discordia Is Now On Sale

Science Fiction the way you love it!

Reign of Discordia is the core setting book in line of the same name by the celebrated game designer Darrin Drader and Reality Deviant Publications. RoD gives you what you need to know about the galactic civilization following the fall of the Stellar Imperium. Future sourcebooks and adventures will further add to the dynamic space opera setting presented in this core setting book.

Within the pages of Reign of Discordia, you can fight against the R'Tillek and their crusade of extermination against the known species, fight to protect the independence of dozens of worlds, participate in the cold war between Earth and Lamog, haul cargo to the Frontier Systems, involve yourself in the various crime syndicates, work for one of the interplanetary conglomerates and engage in corporate sabotage, play a role in the advancement of one of the interplanetary organizations, salvage starships, and engage in a number of other activities that will bring danger and adventure.

* Character rules for a space opera setting
* Six new core races for the setting (Gaieti, Lamogos, Tallinites, Sangor, Relerrans, and the R'Tillek).
* Seven character roles (soldier, naval officer, infiltrator, mentalist, pilot, bounty hunter, and low-life).
* Descriptions of over 50 planets, which comprise the setting's core locations
* Descriptions of numerous interplanetary organizations
* Starship rules for True20
* A range of starships
* A detailed description of the space station Rover's Beacon, which is one of the key locations within the setting.

Welcome to the threatened and turbulent galaxy of 2690. Can you make a difference in these difficult times?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Reign Of Discordia Design Diary 2 - Starship Combat

Reign of Discordia is a True20 setting, and though it really does function as a unique set of rules, it has its roots firmly planted in the D20 SRD (system reference document, for those not in the know). There have been some attempts to get away from that with some products, but to me, the farther one gets from D20's various subsystems, the stranger and less integrated with the rest of the game the mechanics feel. It was therefore my intention to use as much of the starship combat rules from the Future SRD as I could get away with.

This is a sensible plan; after all, why reinvent the wheel? There's just one problem: I don't particularly like the Future starship combat rules. Like much of D20 Modern (to me, at least), the system just came up a bit short. I played some starship combat under the D20 Future rules shortly after it came out, and I specifically felt that the damage rules and the movement rules were deficient.

Starting with the damage rules, what I didn't like was the fact that they went to such great efforts to make everything scale perfectly with standard D20 Modern that it just caused annoyance. Since a point of damage on the character scale was a point of damage on the ship scale, you ended up having to roll a crapload of dice any time you hit with any weapon. Who carries 8 8-sided dice with them to a gaming session? Unless you had the guy at the table who carried a pouch containing every dice he's ever owned, chances are that he's going to sit there and individually roll that eight sided dice 8 times (and even if you do have that guy, what are the chances that he's going to let other players jinx them by sharing with others?). Of course he tallies the die rolls in his head as he goes, and then towards the end, "Oh crap, was that 54 or 56 points?" or "Hey, was that five or six die rolls I just made?" And the one guy who does bring his bag of dice still manages to roll between one and three off the table, prompting rerolls, causing dice collisions between the re-thrown dice and the ones that are sitting on the table, thus changing their values. In other words, it's a royal pain.

One of the nice things about True20 is that you have a completely different mechanic for dealing with damage. You don't roll a handful of dice under any circumstances. This is a good start, but it led me down a line of thought that brought up some larger questions.

Should a guy with a blaster standing on the hull of a ship be able to damage it in any way? True20 has no hardness rules. Toughness becomes part of the measure of hardness, but that still means that a guy could potentially get suited up in a space suit, grab a blaster, float himself over to the hull of a quarter mile-long battlecruiser, and take a shot at the thing. If the battle-cruiser botched its roll, it could take some actual damage from the shot. This doesn't make sense to me. If you take a pistol and shoot at a real life naval warship's hull, is it going to do any damage at all? No way! With the armor that thing has, the bullet is totally bouncing off! The same should be true for starships; after all, they're armored well enough to withstand collisions with small sized space junk.

To solve this issue, I changed the scale. Starship weaponry starts with a damage of 1 and goes up from there. Damage 1 = damage 10 on the personal scale. A guy with a blaster now cannot do damage to the hull of a ship, though a guy with a plasma cannon, or a nuke, can. This also keeps the die rolls nice and low - they're actually the same scale as character combat, which makes the math easy. I was a little unsure about the mechanic after I came up with it, so we playtested it, and it worked extremely well. Starship combat still felt like starship combat, but the level of complexity was minimized.

Next up is movement. What I absolutely loathe about the D20 Future method of movement is that it is exactly like character movement. Starships can start and stop on a dime and size does not affect maneuverability. In my experience, this makes for starships that aren't affected by inertia, and combat becomes very, very boring. So, with that in mind, I fixed the problem.

But wait a minute. All stop. Back the horse up. Isn't one of the design goals of True20 to streamline things and make the game easier to play? Why yes, yes it is. But isn't what I'm talking about actually going to complicate gmae play? Why yes, yes it is. So how can I justify doing this with good conscience? OPTIONAL RULES! You see, the D20 Future starship rules are already about as streamlined as they can get (if you don't take the above mentioned damage dice into account, anyway). There would be no reason to go any further in the direction of streamlining and simplification, but if you're a simulationshit, like myself, there is reason to add complication. So these rules are purely optional, and in my opinion, they make a barely acceptable system both playable and enjoyable.

Optional Rule 1: Acceleration and Deceleration. In the standard rules, ships have a tactical speed. Under the D20 Future rules, they can go from 0 to as many squares as they wish in a single round. As I said, I find this unrealistic in space. To remedy this, the tactical speed remains unchanged, but you now have to accelerate or decelerate to change your speed. Each engine type has a base number of squares it can accelerate or decelerate in a round (minimum 1). This number is reduced by 1 per size above the ultralight starship size. For instance, if an Ultralight starship with a particle impulse engine has an acceleration/deceleration of 6 squares, a Superheavy starship with the same type of engine has an Acceleration/Deceleration of 2 squares.

Optional Rule 2: Maneuverability. It should go without saying that not all ships should be able to thumb their noses at inertia. Ships are assumed to be moving forward as they move around on the battlemat due to their main enginges being located in the back of the ship. A ship that is a quarter of a mile long simply should not be able to make a sudden 90 degree turn, and move a couple squares, and then make another 90 degree turn and go a few more. The new rules are as follows: Super-heavy starships may rotate 45 degrees once per round. Every class below superheavy may rotate an additional 45 degrees per round. Ultra-light starships may rotate 5 times during their move, Light starships may rotate 4 times during their move, Medium starships may rotate 3 times during their move, and Heavy starships may rotate twice during their move. Ships that may rotate more than once during a turn may do so at any point during their move, however, they must move forward one square after each doing so before rotating again.

Again, this is a relatively simple rule, but it adds a degree of tactical complexity to starship movement that is otherwise lacking.

Now frankly, the Reign of Discordia setting is actually relatively rules light. I was interested in creating an interesting setting that people would want to participate in rather than putting a rulebook out there dressed up as a setting (don't even get me started on all the 200 page D20 setting books out there that really only had 30 pages worth of actual setting material, while the other 170 pages were add-on rules that I was usually only marginally interested in). Remember the design concepts behind True20 are that simple and streamlined = good. I've already covered the major rules changes with the first two design diaries. Yes, there are more rules present than the ones I've talked about, but most of those simply involve adapting the Future SRD to True20, and in most cases the changes were relatively minor. In the next design diaries I'm going to talk about the setting itself and how I set out to create something that contained some familiar elements, but did it in a way that made for an interesting and versatile setting.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Reign Of Discordia Design Diary 1 - Healing and True20

Let's admit it, healing in True20 is a bitch. There really isn't any way around it. If you're unlucky enough to be rolling badly on a given night, you could very quickly run out of Conviction points and be sidelined very early in any given game session. It's easy enough to break the rules in a fantasy setting; just give your guy a healing potion and he's back up and ready for more. Modern and scifi games that omit the majority of the supernatural and fantastic elements have a real problem to contend with: the ease of character death.

I've said many times that Reign of Discordia is intended to be a bit like retro-70s scifi. But what exactly do I mean by that? Here are a couple examples off the top of my head. The original Battlestar Galactica was really a pretty dark setting, yet things still looked bright and shiny, and the heroes rarely took a hit. Within a few episodes after this great interplanetary apocalypse, there were discos and upscale restaurants in this "rag-tag fugitive fleet." Wow, talk about seizing the day! How about where everyone suffered under the oppression of the Galactic Empire in Star Wars, yet the characters were irrepressible and naively heroic? Battles were big, blasters were the great peacekeepers, and no matter how dark things got, there was always room for heroics!

Reign of Discordia is not Star Wars, nor is it the original Battlestar Galactica, and there are certainly no disco joints after 99% of the human species has been wiped out. In fact, in this setting Humanity is far from wiped out, though it does face some very serious threats. Despite the political chaos that has shaped the setting and brought poverty, oppression, chaos, and pain to the people, there is room for the irrepressible characters - the heroes, the scoundrels, and the loyal sidekicks. There is room in this setting for swinging across a chasm that drops hundreds of feet into the depths of some industrial beast while people are shooting at you from all directions. Of course, where there is room for heroics, there is also room for unforgiving miserable failure. Suppose Luke Skywalker had swung Leia to the other side of the chasm, only to catch a blaster bolt to the chest, and was reduced to Disabled status. Would that be the end of Luke? In the Star Wars verse, it would be a flesh wound and he'd continue on, even while the guys in full armor take lesser hits and fall down dead.

True20, by default, is a little more deadly than that. The trick was to create a mechanic where there would be less punnishment for doing what you're supposed to be best at: being a hero. Now, I reiterate, if this were a fantasy setting, a simple healing potion would do the trick. The problem is that Reign of Discordia tries to stick mostly with things that can be explained by science. Adepts are present within the setting, but they're pretty rare and they have a limited selection of powers. With no cleric and no healing potions, how exactly is a character supposed to achieve these great heroic feats, even in the face of a good shot by an NPC?

The answer is through feats. According to the core rules, you can make a healing check once per day. If you spend a conviction point, you can make an immediate recovery check, or do one of a number of other actions. Obviously conviction points are important, they're very helpful, and they're versatile, but they are not plentiful. To address this, there's the Bounceback feat in Reign of Discordia.

So what's up with Bounceback? In Die Hard, Bruce Willis walks across a floor covered in broken glass with his bare feat, cuts himself pretty badly, bleeds all over the place, but still manages to go on fighting. In Rambo III, John Rambo takes a bullet to the abdomen, but yet he manages to go on and kick some commie butt. In Raiders of the Lost Arc, Indiana Jones takes a bullet to the shoulder, but yet he still manages to wrap his whip around the bottom of a vehicle and ride along down the road behind it. Sure these wounds might hurt like hell, but they were able to somehow recover from them enough to keep on fighting through sheer stubbornness and force of will. What Bounceback allows you to do is recover two damage conditions once per day. Say you just took a blaster bolt and you're now Disabled - use your Bounceback feat and you're simply Hurt. There's also an improved version of Bounceback, which allows you to do the same thing as Bounceback, except that you can do it a number of times a day equal to your Constitution score.

Finally, when Bounceback and Conviction fail, you have one more tool at your disposal: Biocort. This is one of the items that was ported from the Modern SRD to Reign of Discordia. However, unlike the way that Biocort works in the original rules, rather than speeding healing, it actually can take away some of the damage immediately. Use one dose of Biocort and you get to make an immediate recovery check. Of course this does not guarantee that you'll succeed at your recovery check, and it also doesn't necessarily make normal healing any faster, but it might just offer enough relief for the character to keep on going. However, unlike healing potions in fantasy games, Biocort has its limits. You can use it up to three times per day, but no more or it loses its effectiveness.

The main idea behind these items is to make the setting more fun. It gives the characters what they need to survive long enough to rescue the princess that the R'Tillek have taken captive, or take out the Lamogos soldiers who guard the shield generator.

In the next design diary, I'm going to talk about the ever fun and exciting topic of starship combat, and how the Reign of Discordia rules give you the option to bring a bit more realism to the game than the standard D20 Future rules do.