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!

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.

“Dungeons and Dragon’s Fourth Edition” due early next year.

I don’t play pen and paper role playing games much these days, but I used to be quite into them during my teenage years and like a lot of gamers I cut my teeth on the venerable Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game. Countless were the hours that our group of friends spent gathered around a table with our books arguing over rules and tossing various polyhedral dice around. We had moved on to other RPGs by the time the second edition came out, but some of us took the time to play it and when third edition came out several of my friends bought the rule books out of tradition more so than any real desire to play the game, though the release of Neverwinter Nights did provide some justification. A couple of years back I finally broke down and bought the 3.5 edition core rule books on a lark, but only managed to play one session with them.

Nostalgia tends to grow stronger the older you get, however, so it was intriguing to hear that Wizards of the Coast has just announced a brand new Dungeons and Dragons Fourth Edition set to release in May of next year:

The 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons game includes elements familiar to current D&D players, including illustrated rulebooks and pre-painted plastic miniatures. Also releasing next year will be new web-based tools and online community forums through the brand-new Dungeons & Dragons Insider (D&D Insider) digital offering. D&D Insider lowers the barriers of entry for new players while simultaneously offering the depth of play that appeals to veteran players.

The 4th Edition rules emphasize faster game play, offer exciting new character options, and reduce the amount of “prep time” needed to run the game. D&D Insider includes a character creator that lets players design and equip their D&D characters, dungeon- and adventure-building tools for Dungeon Masters, online magazine content, and a digital game table that lets you play 24/7 on the internet — the perfect option for anyone who can’t find time to get together.

“We’ve been gathering player feedback for eight years,” said Bill Slavicsek, R&D Director of Roleplaying and Miniatures Games at Wizards of the Coast. “Fourth Edition streamlines parts of the D&D game that are too complex, while enhancing the overall play experience. At its heart, it’s still a tabletop game experience. However, D&D Insider makes it easier for players to create characters, run their games, and interact with the rest of the D&D community.”

I’ve been reading various write ups on the announcement from around the web and it appears that the new version is taking some ideas from the ever popular would of video game RPGs such as Diablo II and World of Warcraft. The folks at Wizards of the Coast have some video clips up demonstrating how the new online tools they’re developing for 4th edition will work including the character generator (it looks a lot like making a character for a MMORPG), the Digital Game Table, and so on.

The DGT is particularly interesting to me as one of the problems we had as our gaming group grew older and had to get jobs in the real world was simply finding time to gather at someone’s house to play on a regular basis. As it stands now the group of guys I used to game with are split up all over the place with several of them living in other states. The idea of a Digital Game Table that could be played online using voice chat is exactly the solution we longed for years ago. Though we did have a good time with Neverwinter Nights for awhile, it wasn’t a full pen and paper experience which is what the new tools for 4th edition appear to be trying to create.

I doubt I’ll be picking up the 4th edition rulebooks anytime soon, but it’s still cool to see something I used to spend hours enjoying still out there for new generations to enjoy. If I were to run a game these days it’s more likely to be Paranoia than Dungeons and Dragons simply because it would take less time and effort to set up and run, but this does make me long for the long nights of pizza eating and dice rolling of my youth where many a troll met a grisly fate and more than a few dragons wondered where their treasures got off to.

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.


The Computer is your friend!

My good friend JethricOne asked me to bring him the second edition game manual for one of my favorite RPGs called Paranoia, which was originally published by West End Games back in 1987. The first edition was published in 1984 making this year the official 20th anniversary of the game, which makes me suddenly feel very old.

Anyway, it seems J1 is planning on running a few gaming sessions of this classic RPG and was unable to locate his copy, or at least all of his copy as the book had started to fall apart awhile ago. Not that mine is in great shape either as pages 41-56 have managed to detach themselves from their binding over the past 17 years. Naturally I extracted a promise of being invited to play in any sessions he actually gets around to running as I’ve always wanted to take a turn as a player in this game; in the past I was always the game master. Being the GM of such a twistedly funny game was a lot of fun, but I’ve always been a little bummed that I never got to try it as a player and now I may get my chance.

Then J1 hit me with news that brightened my day. There’s a new edition of the game being developed called Paranoia XP that is due to be released in August. I was surprised when I hit the web looking for info on the game how much stuff is out there for it and how many people still play it regularly. Not bad for a 20 year old game. The first link I provided above is to a site that lists off the rules for all three editions of the game for free as well as background material and links to other sites with all sorts of resources to take advantage of. Someone has even developed a Java based chat server/client specifically designed for playing Paranoia online called JParanoia. How friggin’ cool is that?! I’m definitely going to have to check that out later.

So some of you are probably wondering what the hell this game is about considering my enthusiasm for it. Imagine a cross between the classics Catch-22 and 1984 with an emphasis on dark humor. The game is set in a post-cataclysmic future where mankind lives in a giant domed city called Alpha Complex which is run by a huge computer AI known as The Computer. The Computer is, due to a number of different factors, well-meaning but more than a little insane. It is also the final authority on everything and rules with an iron fist. Think of it as a cross between a Soviet era dictator and a Christian Fundamentalist. Players take on the role of Troubleshooters who are The Computer’s agents for rooting out trouble and, well, shooting it. Usually this is in the form of treasonous citizens. Problem is, everyone is a treasonous citizen. Players belong to a secret society, secret societies are treasonous. Players also have a mutant power, mutant powers are treasonous. On top of all that, the GM is encouraged to set things up so that every player has some reason to have it in for at least one other player. Good thing you have 5 clone copies of your character as death is never far away in this game. Average life span of a newbie player’s first clone is less than 20 minutes.

In short Paranoia is a lot of backstabbing, bootlicking, conniving, scheming fun. It can take some time for folks used to more traditional RPGs to get into the spirit of it, but once they do they’re amazed at how much fun it can be. Given my sense of humor it shouldn’t be surprising why I love this game.

So I’m ready to try this out as a player. Best of all I’ve already got a home sector picked out for my character: SEB, natch.