Dungeons Deep

I recently did a little bit of writing for Dungeon a Day and though I’d promote it a little. Dungeon a Day is a project Monte Cook started where they would build a mega monster dungeon by putting out a new room 5 days a week. It’s been going on for a couple of years now and getting very near to finished. This thing is massive and unlike many mega dungeons there is pretty much zero filler with each room getting a good dose of loving care.

I cooked up a few rooms for level 19 of the beast where the characters enter a series of strange pocket dimensions. It was a fun assignment since it was pretty much anything goes so long as it rocks. So far my rooms have gotten a warm reception by the regulars and I’m real happy with the work I did. I can’t wait till they get a look at the latest concoction of madness I worked up.

Unfortunately, if you are not a member of the site you can only see the first level so my rooms aren’t on view. None the less it’s a fun site to look around in if you are a role player and just a really cool project. They plan on doing another dungeon when this one is done so if it sounds cool, that may be the time to jump in. Or, if you want what may well be the most massive adventure module ever written, I definitely recommend it.

Worthy of my attention

That phrase rose up for me today and slapped me around a bit. It sounds kind of arrogant but it’s a decision all of us have to make, “Is this worthy of my attention?” It is especially true these days if you are an on line entity as I have become over the years.


With the power to connect to everyone in the world at a moment’s whim comes the ability to pay attention to so much more than was ever possible before. Yet ultimately, each of us as individuals has limited time and mental capacity to track it all. Even the process of deciding what to pay attention to can demand attention itself!


There are a few things in life I just don’t care about, but they are few and far between. My interests cover a pretty wide gamut: Gaming, Movies, Politics, Philosophy, Science, Psychology, Ethics, Computers, Acting, Writing, Art, Music, History, People, and more. I vacuum up everything my brain can get its grubby folds on.


Along with the breadth of what is available, there is tremendous depth. Who knows how long I could spend reading about plant breading, or the physics of soap, or breeds of dogs, or the nostalgia of 1st edition D&D players. Once you walk any given path it goes ever deeper, and once you start interacting with others, or creating your own information the vortex opens wide and drinks deep of you without end.


I rarely seem to lose interest in anything, I just wander into the next sand trap of knowledge and involvement, and yesterdays focus becomes today’s neglect. I’m not much good of just letting go, the memories remain and the passion I have for it is part of my fabric. This brings us back to what is or is not worthy of my time.


It comes down to motivations of course. Simple enjoyment of the moment, health, prosperity, love, pride, and obligation to others are all high on the list of my motivations. But being the gamer than I am, I am often thinking strategically about attention.

  • How to get the most done with the least effort (efficient attention)
  • Directing my gaze in directions that can make me money (pragmatic attention)
  • Avoiding burn out by keeping fun and relaxation in my mix (attention sanity)


And that is enough attention on blogging for now, time to get some sleep and let my brain file away today’s discoveries, triumphs, and challenges. One final contention that I think must be true.


Great deeds are defined as much by what was forgone as by what was accomplished.


I love interviews

I know a lot of folks hate interviewing but I have to say I always look forward to it. I do get a little nervous but it pretty quickly dissipates as I get into conversation about myself, the company, and work in general. I get to meet new and generally interesting people, show off a little when answering questions, talk about myself, and best of all: learn about different companies and how they think and do business.


The worst that happens is they don’t want me but that is the default in my mind. Unless I show up and interview they don’t even know who I am much less want to work with me. If I get the job, that’s golden, if not, then I learned some things and met new people.


You also never really know how well you did. I’ve had some where I thought I was a perfect fit and didn’t get the job, and others where I though I did badly, or really wasn’t trying too hard and won the position. While they are judging you, its a judgement relative to their needs and the other candidates you are up against. You just can’t take it personal because 95% of the time it really isn’t.


At any rate. Today I had perhaps the coolest interview I’ve ever gotten. Six hours and 10 different people from various parts of the company, plus a cool tour of the business. Exhausting? You bet. But it really was great fun and with so many different interviewers I really felt like I learned a lot about the business and got some great tips and ideas from them. I’d love the offer, but I trust they will make the decision that is best for them and if I don’t get it, then I look forward to the next opportunity.



Paizo Con Aftermath

Back from Paizo con where I spent nearly all my weekend; from early Friday to Sunday afternoon. Paizo Con is a gaming convention for the Pathfinder RPG; which is in turn a D&D offshoot.


I tend to go to this Con mostly to support my friends Wolfgang and Shelly with their Open Design company, but this year it was personal! I had my first print RPG book with my name on it available for folks to buy, so in addition to selling their fine products I was selling my own.


Beyond manning the booth, collecting emails, and talking up the latest OD offerings I had special missions to run some adventures created and sponsored by the company as well as to host a panel about the wide world of feats. Both games and panes went off great, and we seemed to sell a pretty decent number of books considering the small size of the convention.


Some highlights for me

  • Players in my adventures praised them and I even got a hug and some chainmail as spontaneous tribute.
  • Despite the early Sunday morning panel time, I had a solid audience for my feats panel. (I find a small audience much scarier than a large one.)
  • Someone told me that their experience with the Netbook of Feats was what launched their freelance writing career.
  • Many people had kind words about my work and wanted to talk about feats with me.
  • I scored more freelancing missions to keep me hammering away at the keyboard.


What we want to believe

The recent spate of rapture news and debate on Obama’s birth status got me thinking a bit about faith and belief in a slightly new way. I was very curious to read about the reaction of the believers after the date of rapture had passed to see if their faith would be shaken or transformed in some fashion.


The Pastor, Harold Camping seemed genuinely shaken but quickly bounced back and modified his prediction for future disaster. Few were much surprised by this. Of course the thing of it is, people have been doing this since the very earliest days of Christianity despite bible scripture being pretty clear that such predictions would always be false.


In the case of Obama, the facts are pretty well established that he was indeed born in Hawaii, and any evidence to the contrary is vastly overshadowed by the much more direct evidence in favor. But again, no matter how much evidence is provided, some will still cling tenaciously to the opinion that it is simply not possible for him to be American and they only need dig deep enough to prove that truth.


What these two cases hold strongly in common is a desire for the belief to be true. In the case of rapture it is the promise of eternal life, freedom from misery, and being part of the greatest event of all time. For the birthers it’s about their own self identity as Americans and the danger that their vision of it is no longer true. An America where a liberal black man is president is not their America which means their whole identity is false, something that they could not accept as being true.


I see the same thing in those who believe in astrology, in ghosts, in faeries, and all manner of things which plain evidence speaks strongly against. All they need is some tiny elements of possibility along with desire and enough other people to form a consensus of faith. Having tried to debate true believers, I know that they have uncanny powers for ignoring or failing to address contrary arguments or evidence. They often start certain and gun-ho but when the going gets rough they find an escape hatch of some kind.


This for me is a tip that a belief is powered not by argument or reason but by desire and identity. I think once you have discovered that the more meaningful path is not to try and change that desire or identity but to understand it. These kinds of desires or feelings are deep rooted and no measure of reason or rationale will change them. Even first-hand experience can be subverted in any number of ways to support a position backed by strong desire. Getting at those root desires and understanding how they can be fulfilled is the only means to affect any change.


And I am not entirely convinced that such beliefs should be changed unless they pose dire harm to others. A belief in something you desire and the commitment to living by it is simply part of the human condition. It ultimately doesn’t matter if that belief is true or not true so long as it gives some measure of peace and purpose to one’s life. Of course if someone tries to push that belief, there will and should be push back, but to hunt it down simply for falsehood is beside the point. Such beliefs are often and end in themselves.


I think if someone does want to directly challenge a belief of this kind, you must provide an alternative view that still satisfies the underlying desire that prompts adherence to the belief. If you try to pull someone out of a cult that provides purpose, family, and love, you had better be prepared to deliver all those things yourself. So next time you face off against someone who seems to hold a position against reason, ask yourself what personal needs and desires would require or be satisfied by that position. Of course you should not assume you are right, but you could likely ask directly or do some exploring by question that could discover the truth.


Weekly Podcasting

Most folks who will read this already know I run a weekly podcast, but not everyone does so… Now you will know all about it. J


The podcast is called DDOCast. You can find it on iTunes and Zune as well as other places including our file host, Cyberears. We’ve been doing it since late 2010, around 30 weeks or so which translates to around 30 shows or so. It’s about two hours long, I’m the host, Anne is the producer (meaning she runs the show and handles the technical aspects), and we have various guests and contributors that do short five to ten minute segments for us. The show is about the game Dungeons and Dragons Online and features news, commentary, and game strategy. We record the show live on U-Stream and then edit and publish the recorded podcast.


The show started years ago by a fellow named Jerry Snook who now works for Turbine. It was landing that job that forced him to stop hosting the show, and we volunteered to take over (after some serious deliberation). Jerry logged almost 200 episodes and pretty much did one every week for many years. I had always been amazed by his steadfast regularity in getting it out there. Now that I’m doing the show I can see how that happens. I expected to be less consistent but it gets to be a kind of rhythm to doing it and overall it’s a fun process.


Each week we spend some time gathering news and stories to feature on the show. We write up a set of notes that outlines each story or topic. Folks send us their segments to play and we get them set up in a folder along with whatever other files we need. Anne makes a quick screenshot picture for the show from something we did that week in game. Anne gets the software needed set up (it’s pretty complicated). We do sound checks and if we’re having a guest we get them in on our Skype call. We perform/record the show. Anne edits the show and writes up show notes in the podcast ready format. We upload it to cyberears and make a post on the DDOCast site and on the DDO Forums. Anne also keeps folks updated via our Twitter and Facebook accounts dedicated to the show.


It’s lots of work, but it’s fairly fun work and the fans are universally kind and helpful so there is very little to discourage doing it. I think we skipped only one week so far and a couple times did a recorded rather than live show due to our schedule, but beyond that we’ve been running like clockwork on it. By far the hardest weekly activity is editing the recorded show. Anne is a stickler for quality and tries to make everyone on the show sound good by chopping out mistakes or mouth noises. The other folks that do segments are always great and I love the team feeling.


I don’t generally look at the audience figures but Jerry built the show nicely and it’s the most popular show on our file host with weekly audiences in the one to two thousand ranges. The live show generally has only a dozen or so listeners but it’s a fun way to record it because listeners can talk to us via a chat room and create comments or questions for us while doing the show.


If you like MMO games, I’d recommend DDO and if you like DDO or are interested I’d recommend listing to our podcast if you don’t already. For everyone else… it’s probably not going to be very entertaining. Our sister podcast, DDO Cocktail hour may appeal to general geek types though. It’s still about DDO much of the time but drinking and movies often play a big part of their discussion and they are somewhat dedicated to not being serious or educational if they can help it.


Putting the magic back into 4E D&D

One of my recent adventures in writing for games was for ENWorld, one of the most popular D&D and role playing game web sites. I got the assignment on a freelance writing board and my work is being published as a series of articles to promote ENWorld’s premium subscription service.


It’s called, I want my magic back!


The idea for the series was not mine, but the site owner, Russell Morrissey. The mission is to create a class in 4th edition D&D that works like and casts spells like those in earlier editions of the game. To do this the first article outlines a new class called the Vancian mage which memorizes spells much like the wizards and magic users of earlier editions. The bulk of the work is converting all the older spells into a form that works with the 4E rules, but which still feel true to their roots.


Mechanically the challenge has been to try and keep this new class roughly balanced with the other classes in 4E while using a dramatically different mechanic for acquiring and using powers which themselves fall outside the normal range of effects. I’ve also taken it upon myself to try and improve some on the classics and in some cases invent a few new spells to balance out the schools of magic in terms of utility and selection.


Stylistically the series makes pains to give the spells names and descriptions that evoke a more imaginative and less mechanical “feel.” Honestly, the styling goes beyond what you will find in the older editions. In this series every spell name lists its author and tries to be as evocative as it is descriptive. Spell descriptions are often written in character, as if the creator of the spell were describing it to a prospective student. Here is an example…


Wigglefoot Jr’s Involuntary Naptime                                             Rank 1
A little something I created to get my nephews to settle down so I could continue my readings but it’s surprisingly useful in combat and for very awkward social situations. A few soothing words and a pinch of sand is all you need.
School: Enchantment            Traits: Arcane, Implement, Charm, Sleep
Standard Action                    Range: 10 squares
Target: One Creature
Attack: Intelligence vs. Fortitude
Hit: Targets become dazed (save ends). If the first save is failed they fall prone and fall asleep for one hour. Sleeping targets are awakened when they take damage or if an adjacent ally wakes them with a standard action.


If you want to check it out, you can either subscribe to ENWorlds premium service or pick up the individual articles on Drive-Through RPG. The subscription is $3 per month and gets you various goodies while the articles are $2 a piece.

Fair warning: the art and layout on these pdf’s are pretty simple and not really to my aesthetic tastes, but I think the actual content is fun and if you subscribe to ENWorld you are supporting a good community site and get lots of other goodies there.


Game fans stay tuned… I’ve got some really cool Pathfinder stuff coming out soon from Open Design I can’t wait to crow about!


Salute to honor

In the past couple of months there were at least two people who demonstrated what I would call honor and to my benefit, going perhaps against their own material interest and without being compelled by myself, any formal rule, or personal affection. Instead they seemed motivated by their own sense of duty and fairness and I salute and thank them for it.

Whats New with Sig?

Job Hunt: I’ve been averaging at least one interview per week, which is great. While nearly all have gone well, I haven’t landed a gig yet. Competition is tough out there. I have signed up for c# development classes over the summer which should be good fun and great for honing my skills. I did my first on call Game Testing work. It’s minimum wage and it’s fairly boring, but I wanted to see how such things operate and I was engaged soaking in all the details and trying not to look foolish (since I got zero training before assigned my work).

Writing: I go the numbers for my work on Advanced Feats and I made well more on the project than anticipated. It actually looks like a real paycheck. Of course thats a two week paycheck after many months of work but its real money and that’s pretty darn cool. Also I’ve got the print version coming out so it will keep earning for me. Great stuff and a huge thanks to Open Design for great promotion and coming up with the project.

Gaming: Been playing DDO which had a new expansion, doing our podcast for the game, and dabbling in Wesnoth. I’ve got my hungry eyes on the new Deus Ex game which looks like just my cup of tea.

Life: Today while heading back from an interview my car went off the deep end. The electrical spazzed out and starting or stopping the engine has become a crap-shoot. It is not a happy car and at more than 22 years old… we don’t think its worth fixing as its likely to continue to decay. That means I’m buying a car while unemployed… hurray. It also means I plan to buy the car outright because having payments while unemployed is very risky. I do count myself lucky that I actually have the money but its still a big hit.




Cool Games: Battle for Wesnoth

Battle for Wesnoth is a turn based strategy game with a fantasy setting which I discovered while poking about for iPad games. On the iPhone its costs a dollar but generally its a free game you can download and play at no cost. It was created and is maintained by an open source community that clearly loves the game and has translated it into more than 30 languages and many different platforms.

When you play Wesnoth you pick one of many scenarios to play through which usually contains 3 to 30 maps or stages. Each scenario has an overarching story, sometimes with small cut scenes that string together a series of tactical battles. Each unit you recruit gets a name and can level up in various ways over time. These units can then be recruited in the next scenario (though they do tend to cost more). A key to the strategy is grooming and protecting these units as each battle tends to be more difficult than the last. Of course using these potent units constantly puts them in danger so there is definitely a balancing act.

Many of the scenarios are quite fun and there is a vast array of factions and units that keep the game interesting and varied. The production values are good, but don’t expect the flashy animations or voice acting. The design is kept stripped down to ensure that its manageable for a volunteer based development team.

All in all its my favorite iPad game and reminds me very much of my early strategy gaming passions in all the best ways. The iPad interface really works well for these types of games and I wish there were more of them around. For a buck (or free on a PC), if you at all like turn based strategy, you must try it out.