Sunday, September 26, 2010

Leap of Faith

We've all heard the phrase, “Shit or get off the pot.” It refers to either doing what you need to do, or moving on. Well, it's time for me to “shit or get off the pot.” A week from today I'm moving to Atlanta, GA. No, I don't have a job lined up (yet). Yes, I'll be leaving the job I have now (my last day is Thursday). It's a leap of faith; faith that I'll find a job in Atlanta fairly quickly, and a good paying job at that. I like my current job working for my uncle-in-law as a leather-worker making gun holsters and belts, but, I also commute 132 miles round trip everyday to do it. Considering where I live is mostly minimum wage retail jobs, I don't have any confidence in ever really getting ahead by staying where I'm at. You might say, where I live doesn't even really have a proverbial pot to shit in anyway. So, I'm banking on Atlanta's job market being more stable and the fact that it's a metropolitan area in which even crappy retail jobs pay better or at least close to the same as “professional” jobs would here in Fayetteville, NC. I also have to have faith that the recession hasn't really affected such a large area as Atlanta as it has other places. Fayetteville, being a military town (it's adjacent to Fort Bragg), typically isn't as affected by recessions, but it still means that most of the jobs around here are pretty low paying. And so I take a leap of faith, hop off the pot and try my luck in (hopefully) greener pastures.

~ JC

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Culling The Stacks

I am a bibliophile (that means I love books, before any of you pervs out there think otherwise). I don't just love to read books, but to collect them as well. In fact, though it's been ten years, I still have a good bit of my college text books. I hate to part with books, especially if I've actually read them. I also once worked for a bookstore. So, you can imagine that with my employee discount and the fact that bookstores have clearance tables and sales all the time, that I've managed to build up quite the stack of books to go along with all my college text books that I never parted with. Well, you'd be correct. In fact, I quit working at said bookstore about six years ago, and I still have books purchased from there that I've not read yet. The problem I now face is, I must cull my collection of books. As I said before, I hate to part with books, but it's become necessary for a number of reasons, not the least of which is space to keep them all.

Reason the first – I just plain have to many damn books. As of the moment of this writing, my collection stands at 277 books. That's not counting books that I've lost, given away or long since traded to local used bookstores over the last twenty or so years. Nor is it counting the various gaming manuals that I've obtained in PDF format rather than hard copy (although, I do plan to catalog those into my LibaryThing listing as well). Truth be told, I really have to reason to keep all those college text books anymore, and I've also manged to collect some series of novels that I've lost interest in and probably won't ever get around to reading. So, why not get rid of that stuff and make room for books that I will read? Makes sense, doesn't it?

Reason the second – most of my collection is all in boxes in a storage building. A couple of years ago, and argument between my uncle and I (which has since been forgiven and forgotten) caused me to move out of my Grandmother's house and move in with my fiancee and her family. The result was that I had even more limited space for my belongings than before. So, all of my books that I had already read or were reference materials (those damn text books again), were boxed up and put in the storage building in the back yard. Thank God I have the aforementioned LibraryThing account, else I'd never know what I have down in that building. So, there you go – I have a bunch of stuff I'm not reading or referencing and it's taking up space in my in-law-to-be's storage unit collecting dust and generally being in the way whenever we have to dig out the Christmas decorations or anything else from storage.

Reason the third (don't ask me why I've been tagging my blog sections as though I were Lemony Snicket) – I'm moving. Not just to another house or apartment, but completely out of the state of North Carolina. The job market here's gotten pretty crappy, so after years of goading by my best friend and his constant offers of a place to stay, I'm heading to Atlanta to try my luck in the job market down there. So, I really don't need to drag along a bunch of books. I also could use all the extra cash I can get to pad the bank account until I find a job down there. So, I'll be selling off as much of my book collection as I can (or am willing to part with), hopefully before I leave for Georgia at the end of September. Incidentally, I've listed the items I've already had my fiancee list for me on Ebay at the bottom of this blog, in case you're interested (wink, wink).

So, as I cull through the stacks, the hard part will be deciding what stays and what goes. I'm also hoping that I can manage to actually sell the ones I decide to get rid of on Ebay rather than taking them to a used bookstore. The used bookstores where I live typically don't pay cash, they give trade credit. Of course, trade credit does me no good because, first of all, I'm trying to get rid of books, not collect more, and secondly, trade credit at a used bookstore in Fayetteville, NC does me absolutely no good if I'm going to be moving to Atlanta, GA. Most, if not all, of the old theology books from college will go for sure. After that, quite a few of the books on Paganism and Wicca will likely go (most books on that topic manage to be redundant anyway). I've already posted all of the Magic: the Gathering series of books I'm willing to part with on Ebay (again, see the list below). I'm just really not looking forward to foraging around in that stuffy storage building, let alone the thought of removing books from a collection that has taken me the better part of a decade to gather. *Sigh*

~ JC

PS – I probably should also mention that I'm just not yet ready to jump on the ebook bandwagon. Yes, they're convenient. Yes, an ebook reader would allow me to carry several books with me at one time without the added weight. As much as a technology and gadget geek as I am, books are one of those things that I'd just rather have the real thing. An ebook reader can never replace the feel and smell of a real book. I actually have an ebook reader app on my Droid device and have downloaded several public domain classics for it. I've yet to read any of them because of the small size of the screen and the fact that I don't feel like I'm actually reading a book.

Ebay Sales (note, theses are all scheduled to end on Monday, September 13, but whatever doesn't sell, I will have my fiancee re-list)

Just a quick note here: I at one time was attempting to collect and read all of the Magic: the Gathering novels. As you can see, I collected quite a few. I've only managed to read the first two books of the Artifact Cycle, however, and now that I no longer play the game, I'm really not as interested in reading the novels as I once was. So, in my efforts to reduce the number of books I own, particularly ones that have become of no interest to me, these were the first (of probably many) to make it onto Ebay.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Role Play vs Roll Play

For several weeks (or has it been months?) now I've been watching a web series called “I Hit It With My Axe.” It follows the adventures of a group of friends playing a hybrid-home brew style of D&D (I think they blend a bit of 1st edition AD&D with some 2nd edition and 3rd edition elements). Oh, did I mention that this group of friends is made up mostly of porn stars and strippers? The whole concept began with a blog by their DM, Zak Smith (aka Zak Sabbath), called “Playing D&D With Porn Stars”. But I digress. What I love about watching this series is how the storyline of their D&D game keeps unfolding or going in different directions. Zak's pretty awesome at coming up with different personalities and voices for the various NPC characters. For the most part the girls do role play their characters, but like a lot of groups I've been involved with, the action gets more descriptive than actually acted out – e.g., “Umm, I tell the mayor about what we saw in the cave he asked us to check out” rather than “Mr. Mayor, we investigated the cave and, alas, found no signs of the goblins there, however we did manage to find evidence that they may have moved on to the east...” You get the idea. But again, lots of gaming groups get like that. Long session, it's going on 2 a.m., everyone's tired. Yeah, you get to a point where you just want to get to a good stopping point for that session and call it night. But even if you're just describing you actions, in some way you're still contributing to the narrative and the concept that a role playing game is about a group of people essentially group writing a story together and the social interaction than it is about winning or losing a game.

Now, here's the thing. It seems to me that some of the more modern RPGs have lost touch the concept of role playing. They've become more about moving miniatures around a grid and rolling dice (what I call Roll Playing). It started, frankly, with D&D 3.0/3.5. When I first started playing AD&D, miniatures were just a tool for helping show where everyone was standing, in case there were traps or when combat broke out. With the advent of the 3rd and 4th editions of Dungeons & Dragons, there are specific rules for using the miniatures that pretty much make it so you have to use them anytime combat happens, basically turning the game from role playing to just another board game. This is another part of why I love watching IHIWMA; although they use miniatures, there's no grid on their table. The mini's are just there for reference and visualization. My own group finally gave up on D&D and the “d20 System” and went back to using the Palladium system (Palladium Fantasy Role Playing Game and Rifts) because we were getting weary of having to use minis all the time. And the dice? Well, saying “I hit with my axe” and actually hitting it with your axe are two different things now aren't they? There has to be some way of determining if a character's announced and intended action is successful or not, and dice are really the only way to accomplish that (along with other mechanics that determine what those dice rolls really mean, but I'm not going to get into all of that here). However, the main focus of a role playing game should be role playing and storytelling. When it becomes to much about the dice rolls, then really it's just become another table top wargame with miniatures and models.

Don't get me wrong. At some point all RPG systems have weaknesses and flaws, most notably in their combat and skills systems. I just feel that the developers of D&D have lost the vision of true role playing, and turned the game into a set of mechanics to mimic online games like World of Warcraft. And truthfully, I can't blame them. They had to do something to compete with all the big computer RPGs (which aren't really RPGs frankly, because nobody actually ever role plays in those games). But, in my not so humble opinion, if you're going to say your playing a role playing game, then freakin' role play. Yes, you will have to roll dice at some point, but when the game becomes more about the dice and the position of your miniatures than the characters being portrayed by the players, it's really ceased to be a role playing game, and become just a roll playing game.

~ JC
NOTE: There are dozens of role playing games and systems out there. I realize I only referenced D&D and briefly mentioned two of Palladium Books' games, but let's be honest – D&D is the most recognizable name out there when it comes to RPGs. So please, no snide or smart-assed commentary on how other games work, interact, etc. (honest, and polite discussion and sharing of ideas, however is OK). And yes, I do realize there are some RPG systems that don't use dice at all. Frankly, I think that concept is a bit ridiculous – how else are you to resolve random encounters/actions be it combat or simply whether or not you succeed or fail at a particular action if not by dice rolls? Simple narrative stacks the deck to much in favor of everything being a success with no consequence of failure. But, that's possibly another topic for another blog sometime.

Basic Gamer Glossary (in case you were confused by my abbreviations up top)
  • DM – Dungeon Master: responsible for playing NPC characters, writing adventures the players act out their characters in, and also to be a referee/judge of the rules. The term Dungeon Master specifically refers to the referee in D&D. Other game systems simply refer to this person as the Game Master (GM) or Storyteller.
  • NPC – Non-Player Character : basically, any character not controlled/played by a player, but rather by the DM that the players' characters interact with.
  • D&D/AD&D – D&D has long since been the colloquialism used by players of Dungeons & Dragons in all its various forms and editions. In the earlier days of the game there was a basic version of the game simply called Dungeons & Dragons, and a more complex version called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. When the 3rd edition was released, the “Advanced” part was dropped from the title. Sometimes you will see gamer blogs and chat boards distinguish older versions of the game as either AD&D 1e, or AD&D 2e from the 3rd and 4th editions, which may be referenced as D&D 3.0/3.5 (or D&D 3e) and D&D 4e.
  • RPG – Role Playing Game. Some online games, such as Everquest, World of Warcraft, D&D Online, etc. are known as a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game or MMORPG. While some of these games feature what are known as “Role Playing Servers” for those that wish to act out their characters, most of the time the concept of actually role playing in these types of games is totally lost and so, in my opinion, calling them a RPG is a bit of a misnomer.