How to Play Tabletop Without Breaking the Bank

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I was inspired to write this by Suze, who left an interesting comment about the cost of tabletop RPGs in my Genesys first impressions post. In many ways, I agree with her. Tabletop gaming is an expensive hobby, as the many times that I’ve come away from my Friendly Local Game Store, FLGS in gaming parlance, having spent over $50.

I’m a college student, I’m not swimming in money. In the FLGS I go to I can easily identify dozens, if not hundreds, of game systems. There’s no way I can afford to buy all of them, let alone sit down with my players and run them through a new system every time I pick them up. So what do you do with that dilemma?

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Ghost of Painters Mill

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Photo of the Old Lion Brothers Building, taken by Dylan Greene

Yesterday was occupied by visiting my grandparents and today was something of an oddity. Aside from Dungeons & Dragons, I took this opportunity to indulge in a guilty pleasure of mine: Taco Bell. If you go up Reisterstown Road long enough (my previous GPS mispronounced it so it sounded like “REESE-terstown”) from my house, you’ll come to a part of Owings Mills called “Painters Mill”. That part has gone under some significant redevelopment. Recently, a small block of stores has been demolished, guess nobody will miss the Cricket Wireless or the gnarly looking adult DVD store.

On the other side of the road is Foundry Row, a newly built shopping plaza that’s got a Mission BBQ, Zoe’s Kitchen, Bagby Pizza, Chipotle, and a Wegman’s. There’s a DSW planned as well, which Fits right in with Owings Mills’ affluent nature, though I must confess that slick facade does not appeal to me.

What did, however, was a fragment of my childhood that lay in stasis. Near the Pizza Hut across from the Taco Bell I ate at is the remains of an old embroidering manufacturer, known as Lion Brothers. In its heyday, it was the world’s largest manufacturer of embroidered emblems.

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The Stroke of Midnight

2016-04-23-14-04-20Today is officially the first day of 2017. It is, by luck of the draw, the first birthday of Memory of the Star. As with most of us, it is a time to reflect on the year behind me but also a way to plan the year ahead.

My therapist has instructed me not to take up New Year’s resolutions and I understand her reasoning. Instead of performing a resolution, I am going to do what I like doing the most: taking a snapshot of where I am and where I was the year before.

Unfortunately, my inaugural post has since been trashed. Not because I particularly regretted it, but because Memory of the Star began as a directionless blog. During that time, I was at the start of a long process of recovery from depression, a process that continues to this day. My thoughtful posts were mostly forgotten by both me and whatever audience I had at the time.

In their place were daily prompts, which I often answered with little enthusiasm or vigor. Not that they weren’t helpful with bringing in fresh faces, but the bump in traffic that I received was not really that significant. Nor did it help build any semblance of community. Bringing eyeballs means one thing, getting them to stay is another. Yet, I’m glad that I let it remain dormant until my journalism classes completed.

Memory of the Star, like the New Year itself, represented a fresh start. As I had grown dissatisfied with the direction that Eyes Through The Glass had taken. Fortunately for me, a fresh start is not needed this year. Just a look back to the year before and a look forward to the year ahead.

Despite the deletion of my first post, I have an excellent recollection of what had happened. At the time, I was in a state of limbo, having been out of school for some time and in preparation for my triumphant return during the following spring.

My social group had formed over Dungeons & Dragons. I had focused on getting my social life and academics back in order before anything else.

Now, those aspects of my life have been pretty much fulfilled. So, I figured I’d spend the time this year focusing on some more subtle aspects. Some of these are things I’ve already started doing, others are things I started and fell off the wagon with.

Dating is an ongoing journey, and given that my post “Curse of the Lonely Heart” was the post that received the most likes I will likely make more references to it. For a while, it was a tie with my decent but personally uninteresting topic of weight loss. However, a few days ago someone pushed it over the edge.

For the purposes of this snapshot, I am currently single. Some things hint at a possible direction, and I am still trying, but we’ll have to see where this goes.

Speaking of weight…My NaNoWriMo adventures did my weight loss program no favors, having gained all of the weight I took the time to lose. Fortunately for me, weight loss was a simpler process than I anticipated and the most it will take is a bit of discipline.

There are other aspects that I could highlight, but for the sake of brevity and focus, I will use these. We’ll see where this is in 2018.

The Human Face of Atheism

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Photo by lisaleo @ Morguefile.com

I have found one thing very odd during my time in the blogosphere. Despite my atheism, I have for some reason attracted a small contingency of openly religious bloggers. I have no explanation for this, though I suppose it can be chalked up to mundane demographics like the geographical location of the bloggers.

For a while, I was trying to figure out how to broach the topic of my atheism. I could do what other atheists do and argue my position and I could a pretty good job too. Indeed, I could spend the rest of my blogging career refuting theistic claims. Yet, I also shy away from that because the atheist-theist dialogue is painfully static. Most of the atheists I know are still refuting Pascal’s Wager, usually because theists don’t check beforehand to see if this is an argument that has been presented before. This ends up with pages upon pages of refuting the same arguments. I would never run out material, but I’d be making the same arguments over and over again.

Yet, I can make one observation: Atheism, as viewed by most theists, is misunderstood at a very fundamental level. Even my dentist’s assistant had trouble grasping the notion and I get a lot of people asking me if I celebrate Christmas. Surprisingly, not only do I celebrate the holiday, but it is also my favorite holiday for a very specific and secret reason. Though you may be able to wring it out of my offline friends because they know.

Since logical argumentation doesn’t seem to be advancing the dialogue, I decided it would instead be more productive if I simply told my story. How I came to atheism, and what has changed as a result.I also really like the personal story of atheism, seeing the story of atheism being taken out of purely abstract concepts and given a human face. So, just how did this start?

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Just What Is Dungeons & Dragons, Anyway?

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There’s a humorous aspect to my current position in the blogosphere. As previous discussions with SunkenThought have revealed, I do have a handful of Best Blogging Buddies, her being among them. One of the beautiful things about blogging is that you puts you in touch with interesting people that you wouldn’t have crossed paths with otherwise.

What I do find odd, however, is the fact that I haven’t attracted other Dungeons & Dragons fans to the blog. Despite my original D&D post blowing up in terms of visibility, it hasn’t really generated any ongoing support. My followup to it has mostly remained untouched, and that lightning-in-a-bottle remains unreplicated.

Yet, I do not believe in consorting with other fans to the exclusion of my beloved regulars. Instead, I believe it is far more productive to share my interests with my audience in hopes of perhaps showing them something new and engaging.

With all that in mind, I realized that I had talked about D&D’s resurgence, discussed the culture surrounding it, and reblogged a post or two regarding other people’s experiences. But, I never got into what the game actually is. What is D&D and how does it work?

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Is Idiocracy Becoming a Documentary?

 

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Photo by wintersixfour at Morguefile.com

 

Around ten years ago, Mike Judge produced a cult classic known as “Idiocracy”. It follows a very basic plot, the world has devolved into a society that is full of unintelligent people. It’s common for people to ask “Is this the direction we’re headed?” Equally common is the all-too-familiar chant of its inevitable onset.

When watching it now, I am always wondering “What’s going to happen? What can we avoid and how?”

Average People, Dumb Culture

Fortunately, one thing we don’t have to worry about is the initial chain of events that caused Idiocracy as a whole to happen.  The beginning of the film presents a scenario where a low IQ man named Clevon outbreeds a high IQ couple. He does this by having affairs with multiple women and recovering from an accident that would normally leave him without the use of his reproductive organs.

Obviously, this scenario is very oversimplified. There’s no way he could reasonably afford to raise the sheer number of children he has. So the scenario of being overrun with Clevon’s offspring is probably not going to happen.

What Idiocracy does get right, at least in many respects, is the culture. What exactly does Idiocracy’s culture look like?

In the vision that the film presents, America has fallen into an era of mass commercialism. This can be demonstrated with the constant saturation of advertising present early on. Corporations are extremely powerful, with Brawndo the Thirst Mutilator successfully buying the FDA and the FCC.

The specific marketing leans heavily on primal desires, the collective “id” or the nation. It’s very hypermasculine and hypersexual. Portion sizes are referred to as “Extra Big Ass”, the two most popular television channels are the Violence Channel and the Masturbation Network.

In the future, people are barely literate. Not only that but anyone who attempts to read is looked down upon in scorn. Education through Costco becomes a viable option, making the consumer model of education the standard (eerily enough, this was before the student loan debt crisis came into focus). Even skilled workers like doctors have become so incompetent at their jobs that they leave most of the work to automation. However, that automation is quickly breaking down with no one capable enough to fix it.

Pretty much every avenue of interaction has been distilled into mindless entertainment. The justice system’s scale is tipped so far that there’s not even show trials, they’re just shows. The political system has gone even further than the gridlock we have today (though I’m sure that people could see seeds of that system in the modern day) with the most effective counterargument to President Comacho’s proposed solution being “I got a solution, you’re a dick!” Rehabilitation is a code word for a blood sport where people compete in monster trucks in a duel to the death.

Eventually, the protagonist saves the day by proving that putting water on the crops makes them grow. But as his lawyer takes on many wives and has many children the process can begin anew.

Turning Back

Solving this problem, unlike putting water on crops, is going to be trickier because we have to deal with cultural biases that most of us are likely not even aware of.

Perhaps thinkers greater than I can point to a solution, and Susan Jacoby had written about the subject intensely in her book “The Age of American Unreason”. Perhaps there will be answers there.

Capcom And Konami’s Ongoing PR Nightmare

 

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Photo by Alvimann at Morguefile.com

I find the game industry to be an unusual specimen of sorts. The interplay between fans and media creators is a tangled mess that will largely be explored in “Fear and Loathing on the Internet”, but I do want to call attention to a certain pattern of corporate behavior.

Today we’re going to talk about two large game publishers, Capcom and Konami. For the uninitiated, Capcom and Konami cut their teeth early on in gaming history. Capcom became well-known for franchises such as Mega Man, Street Fighter, and Resident Evil. Konami became well-known for franchises such as Metal Gear, Castlevania, and Silent Hill.

But, take a quick glance at internet forums and you’ll find the discussions regarding Capcom and Konami to be largely very denigrating. What on Earth happened?

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