Episode 2 of The SEB Podcast is now online.

A pic of a microphone.Technically it’s actually episode 3 if you count the Great Lost Episode that was brought about by my momentary technical ineptitude. In this episode we spend way more time than we probably should have recapping what we talked about in the Great Lost Episode. Alas, my ADD was in full force tonight and ***Dave was along for the ride so we end up veering all over the place. For example we start to talk a little about the whole South Park Muhammad controversy and somehow we end up talking about playing Dungeons & Dragons and from that we get to talking about the new Tron movie due out this year through one of the most geeky admissions on my part ever. There’s a Catholic hierarchy lesson, some talk about jury duty, Facebook’s devious changes to their privacy policies, people’s general carelessness about what they post on Facebook, and, as always, the hobby of blogging.

I have to admit, this is not as good an episode as the one I lost which makes its loss that much more tragic. Still, we had a good time doing it and I hope it’s at least mildly entertaining for you folks as well. It’s just a little over an hour and a half in length and you can either download it by clicking here or by using the little flash player below.

Let us know what you think, what you liked and what you didn’t, and any suggestions you have for the next episode in the comments.


Big Plans for Gen Con Indy 2010

Akusai from Action Skeptics here, folks. Well, ladies and gentlemen, plans for a symposium of reality-based programming at Gen Con Indy 2010 are coming together faster than I could have imagined. Some of you may remember that back in September Les was kind enough to allow me to post A Call to Skeptical Action, wherein I detailed my preliminary hopes and plans for Gen Con (i.e. trying to get a Dragon*Con style Skeptic Track going), and I’m back to beg your indulgence again for an update on those plans.

First off, we have a dedicated blog: Gen Con Skeptics. Everything I’m about to tell you here is covered in greater detail there, so it’s worth stopping by. I’m constantly adding new material, so click early and often.

Our plans, as of now, include half a dozen presentations covering various skeptical topics and delivered by a bunch of different people. We’ll be educating the Gen Con population on archaeology, evolution, and cargo cults, and we’re staging two different iterations of a four-man panel called “Skepticism, Critical Thinking, and Pop Culture,” for which we’re prepping basic information on almost twenty different woo-woo and pseudoscientific topics and letting the audience decide what we talk about.

Perhaps the biggest deal of all, however, is the fundraiser we’ll be running to benefit the Indiana Immunization Coalition. I spoke last week with the director of the IIC, and she’s very excited that we’re offering to raise money for them. They plan to put all proceeds toward new educational and informational programs in an effort to counter misinformation about vaccines spread by the antivaccination movement.

I don’t have the details finalized with Gen Con yet, but I have a scheduled phone call to make tomorrow afternoon with their Marketing Director to do just that. She, too, loves the idea, and it looks like we’re going to have a table situated in the Kids and Family section of the exhibit hall, which is almost perfect for our plans. What we’re going to do is trade our amateur magician skills (there are two of us with those skills) for donations based on a “menu” of card tricks, simple close-up magic, and amazing feats of mentalism and cold reading. While we’re doing that, we’re going to distribute information about vaccines and about the Indiana Immunization Coalition, basically what they do and why it’s important. We’re going to back up the fundraiser with a couple of pro-vax presentations that will combine good immunization information, counters to common antivax claims, and PR for the IIC and their mission.

We don’t have any so-called “Big Name” skeptics coming to the event, but hopefully with a good showing this year, we can attract people in the future. I do have a proposal into the fine ladies at Skepchick, but I’m not promising anything. I also have an e-mail out to Mike Stackpole, bestselling sci-fi author and founder of the Phoenix Skeptics, who was kind enough to meet with us last year and offer advice. Who knows? He might want to give a talk, too.

All in all, this year’s Gen Con Indy is shaping up to be a big win for grassroots skepticism. We have educational outreach, audience involvement, and a fantastic opportunity to help raise vaccine awareness and bolster Indiana’s pathetic immunization rates. If anybody is going to be in the Indianapolis area on August 5-8, we’d love to have you drop by. If anyone’s interested in joining our little dog-and-pony show, we’d love to have you. Event submission for Gen Con doesn’t end until mid-March, so we have until then to add programming to our schedule.

If you don’t want to talk or run an event, we still do need volunteers to help out with the fundraiser. The rest of us can’t man the table all day and still do our own presentations, and we’d like to enjoy the con at some point, too. If we get a decent rotating roster of people haranguing the masses for donations while supplying them with accurate information about vaccines, we can all take part in what I’ve just now decided to call “Vaccination Win 2010” and have a good time at the con, too.

And, though I did note his (perhaps conspicuous) silence on this note when last I posted here, I still think that Mine Host Mr. Les Jenkins hisownself should come down to Gen Con for the festivities. Join me in bothering him until he says yes, would you kindly?

As before, you can visit the planning forum, leave a comment at the blog, use the contact form, or just drop me an e-mail at causticbox[at]gmail[dot]com. Hope to see some people there!

“Dungeons & Dragons” co-creator Gary Gygax fails his saving throw.

And another part of my childhood passes away:

Dungeons & Dragons co-creator dies at 69 – Yahoo! News

MILWAUKEE – Gary Gygax, who co-created the fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons and helped start the role-playing phenomenon, died Tuesday morning at his home in Lake Geneva. He was 69.

He had been suffering from health problems for several years, including an abdominal aneurysm, said his wife, Gail Gygax.

Gygax and Dave Arneson developed Dungeons & Dragons in 1974 using medieval characters and mythical creatures. The game known for its oddly shaped dice became a hit, particularly among teenage boys, and eventually was turned into video games, books and movies.

I’ve not played D&D for years, but I spent years in my teens and early 20’s playing it along with a host of other pen and paper RPGs. I have many fond memories of hanging out with Bill, Bob, Tom, Mark, Daryl, Dan, and Herb rolling dice and consuming vast quantities of pizza and pop and arguing over rule interpretations. Probably explains my addiction to video games like World of Warcraft which is, in many ways, a pale imitation of those older days.

And, yes, I realize the title for this entry is a really bad joke, but you know I had to use it.

Pen and paper RPG “Champions” to become MMORPG?

Back when I was a teenager and heavily into pen and paper role playing games one of the systems we played quite a bit was Champions by the folks at Hero Games. It was one of the first RPGs to try and turn the world of spandex clad super heroes into a proper pen and paper experience and it did it with a unique system that gave you X number of points to purchase powers with in the game. Thanks to a rather well-rounded collection of powers, advantages, and disadvantages that you could choose from the character creation process was rather math intensive, but the end result offered an experience few other super-hero games of the time could rival.

When the City of Heroes MMORPG hit the market I got to be part of the beta team and one of the things I liked about that game was that the character creation system felt somewhat similar to Champions. Obviously it was a much more simplified system than the P&P game, but it felt familiar and I wondered at the time if anyone would try to adapt Champions itself some day.

As it turns out according to this Joystiq article the latest issue of Game Informer has a small blurb at the top of its cover announce a game called Champions Online:

Hidden away in plain sight at the top of Game Informer’s latest cover (yup, the same one showing off Gearbox’s Aliens: Colonial Marines) is a small reference to “Champions Online” – the latest MMO from the folks at Cryptic Studios. We know what you’re thinking. “Crypic Studios … where do I know that name?” Cryptic isn’t just the name behind the popular (and recently sold) City of Heroes and City of Villains MMOs, but it was also recently attached to Microsoft’s now confirmed-to-be-canceled Marvel Universe Online MMO. The subject matter of Champions Online? You guessed it: superheroes.

Whether Champions Online is stitched together from remnants of the canceled 360-exclusive Marvel MMO or made from a brand-new cape, Game Informer does say the new title will target consoles (plural) and PCs. In which case Cryptic will be competing directly with their previous tight-clad creation on the PC side (awkward) and – with NCsoft looking to announce their first PS3-bound console title later this year – the console space should prove quite competitive as well. Excelsior!

It appears they’re not familiar with the old pen and paper RPG, but the name leaves me thinking that has to be what they’re basing it on. Turns out I’m not the only one who remembers the game as the folks at Firing Squad contacted both companies to find out and got a big “no comment” with the promise that an official announcement would be coming next Monday.

I have to admit that if they can come even somewhat close to translating Champions into an MMORPG that I’d be highly inclined to check it out. I was never completely happy with Neverwinter Nights as a substitute for pen and paper Dungeons & Dragons, but I thought it was a pretty good attempt (I’ve never played the D&D MMORPG). Considering how City of Heroes felt a bit like Champions to begin with I think the folks at Cryptic have got the best chance of putting out something that approximates the classic RPG. If nothing else it’d be interesting to dig out some of my old characters from Champions to see how closely I could recreate them in the game.

Anyone else outside of me remember playing Champions when they were younger? Anyone still playing? They’re still putting out books, but I never got around to buying the Fifth Edition.

Go read “DM of the Rings.”

How the hell did I ever manage to miss an excellent webcomic like DM of the Rings? I only found out about it today and today is when the author is ending the strip to start a new project. ***Dave knew about it and I’m sure he probably mentioned it at some point and I somehow managed to completely overlook it.

Well, on the plus side, at least I can read the whole thing in a single setting without any of that pesky waiting for the next installment crap. The first comic is here so go there and start reading.

What? You wanna know what it’s about? Trust me, just go read it. What? Oh alright. It’s what you’d get if a traditional Dungeon and Dragons dungeon master had cooked up Lord of the Rings as a campaign for his adventurers rather than it being a much-loved fantasy trilogy. It uses screen captures from the films and is a parody of both the movies and what a traditional gaming campaign is like. If you are at all familiar with either the movies or RPG gaming then you’ll love it.

Plus you can read it all at once without having to wait for new installments.

Serenity: The Pen and Paper RPG.

Sure the TV series is long canceled and the movie is done and out, but that doesn’t mean exciting adventures in the Serenity universe has to come to an end. Not now that there’s a pen and paper RPG you can play:

The Serenity Role Playing Game lets you re-create the action of the ‘Verse, the science-fiction setting created by writer/director Joss Whedon. Fly a ship out in the black, take jobs as they come, and always make sure you get paid. Everything you need to get started is right here! All you need is dice, friends, and your imagination.

  • A self-contained role playing game. All the rules are provided for both players and Game Masters!
  • Full character creation rules, plus fifteen sample characters—including the crew of Serenity.
  • Complete details on spaceships, guns, and technology.
  • Emphasis on story, action, and character development with easy-to-learn rules.
  • Game details and descriptions of the characters and settings of the film!

I’m always skeptical of RPGs based on licensed series, but occasionally these turn out OK. I’ll bet ***Dave will be happy to hear about this if he hasn’t already.

Nothing like a little “Paranoia” to keep you entertained.

The gaming session went amazingly well last even though it’s been over a decade since I last ran a big RPG session of any kind. The folks who were new to pen and paper RPGing picked up on the game pretty quickly though I’m sure the simple rules of Paranoia helped a lot in that regard. They made it about two-thirds of the way through the Me and My Shadow – Mark IV mission I’d prepared for them and most of them still had at least one clone left if not two by the time we stopped for the night. Took a camera along to get a snapshot of the group, but only remembered to use it once early in the evening before everyone had arrived. Still, here it is. Click it for a bigger pic.

Had a good day yesterday. Will be enjoying Paranoia today.

First up, the wife has landed a job with a local daycare center which means this family will once again have a source of income. Not a huge source, obviously, but every little bit helps at this point and it’s a start.

Second, got wind of a guy who’s starting his own PC tech support business that occasionally has more work than his current staff can handle on their own, but not often enough yet to justify hiring an additional full-time employee so he’s looking for someone to freelance every now and then. So I should have a few spare bucks coming in from time to time in the coming weeks. Not enough to justify as true employment, but, again, every little bit helps.

Third, got a phone call from a contract house yesterday for a technical position back at the Big Three Automotive company I was working for when I got laid off that would put me on a team I worked closely with when I was a planner. Best of all I already know the guy I’d be working for if I get the job and he thinks I’d be a pretty good fit. If I land it the pay rate will end up being $30/hour with full benefits and I can’t complain about that. Not holding my breath, but I’m certainly hopeful.

Later today around noon I’ll be running a one-shot pen and paper RPG session using the old West End Games RPG Paranoia. Some of our friends have never played a traditional P&P RPG before and so it was decided we’d give it a shot and bring in a couple of other friends who are old hands at it to round things out. The one problem I have is that the mission I really want to run is the one I can’t seem to locate among all my old RPG crap.

Back in April of last year I wrote about how a new version was being developed called Paranoia XP. Since then it’s hit store shelves along with several supplements and the couple of reviews I’ve read have me interested in picking up a copy eventually. I considered buying it for the session we’ll be doing today, but the core rule book has a MSRP of $39.99 whereas Amazon offers it for $26.37 so buying it in time for today just wasn’t a good idea. Hell, as it is I’ll probably be waiting until I have a full-time job before picking it up from Amazon.

But that’s OK as the Second Edition Rules for Paranoia are still most excellent and I’ve managed to find a few folks who have the mission I want to run in PDF form via the P2P networks so I’m in the process of downloading it as I type this. I feel justified in doing this mainly because I have bought and paid for the source book previously (and have a few pages from it along with the cover to prove it). Plus I’ll be buying it again eventually when I get around to picking up the new version of the game and the Paranoia Flashbacks supplement that takes a bunch of previous missions and updates them for the new rule set (including the one I want to run). So, seeing as I’m gaming later today I suppose I should get to bed and catch a few winks while the file downloads.

Best gaming online!

What can I say?  This guy, Paul Ford, cracks me up.  In his latest blog entry he showcases three (fictional) games:
Best Overall

America’s Army Special Ops: Abu Ghraib
The United States Army (PC)

The choice of weapons is really interesting, too. You start out with a crate, a cattle prod, and a Bible, and by using them in different ways you get more weapons to use. For instance, after you beat a detainee with a Bible, you get pork and bananas, which you can either (spoiler alert) feed to the detainees or insert into their rectums, or both. But it’s not as easy as it sounds! The detainees will eat the bananas, but they’ll get really angry if they have to eat pork.

Okay, so that was a little predictable.  The last one, though, had me in stitches:
Best Gameplay

Cat Ball Shaver
Otaku Shimbun Kanawasi Studios (XBox, PS2)

There’s just not much more you can say about that one that wouldn’t be putting rubbing alcohol on the … oh, never mind.

I was considering what I would put into a Stupid Evil Bastard RPG.  Would it involve a combination of tech support, meta-games, shooting at a TV showing Fox News, and a parade of “Don’t Be That Guy” people? Would Jon Stewart pop up in a monkey costume?  If you put on a Hawaiian shirt, there would be a little Brock that would run in screaming, tear it off you, and torch it with a Bic lighter.  There would be cats, of course—but with or without balls to shave?  Maybe John Cleese’s voice as the voice of God would speak up every so often and speak non sequitur lines from various holy books to confuse you just as you were taking aim at Donald Rumsfeld, who’d be cowering in an uparmored thong.

Oh, the possibilities …

Is it just me, or has D&D become mainstream?

Heck, here goes another of my ‘I just read this interesting article on yahoo news, and I want to write a post about it’-moments.

Some of you may have noticed that D&D turned 30 this year (I was not aware that it had happened until Gamespy ran a special, but that’s what news sources are for, heh?). So how far has roleplaying come? Apparently enough for the whole article not having anything negative or cautionary in it.

Earlier times, you could always count on such mentions in news containing some warnings about the purported dangers of slipping too deep into the game/into occultism/into worshipping Cthullu or George Bush*. If they didn’t warn about it, they at least mentioned the controversy. Here we have a major news source which totally skips such talk for a positive view of the game that has brought many of us such fond moments.

Well, we do have come a long way from the time my own Grandma asked me about ‘those games’, and when I tried to explain to her that it was okay, she told me ‘Okay, but don’t play too much, okay?’.

*I was just joking about Cthullu. And nobody mention ‘Hastur’, please.