Sunday, March 16, 2014

Assimilation Isn't All That Bad

Back in the late 1990's I used to jokingly refer to Microsoft as “Micro-Borg”. It was, of course, a reference to the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation and their quest to assimilate any and all cultures they encountered. Back in those days, Microsoft was, well, kind of hated and being the dominant computer software company and their penchant for suing smaller companies for patent infringements or simply buying up their competition is what caused me to make the correlation between them and the Borg. The funny thing is, now I find myself being assimilated, as it were. Last year I used my tax refund to buy a new laptop that had Windows 8 pre-installed; this year, I bought a Surface 2 tablet, and I keep entering drawings to try to win different Nokia model Windows Phones.[1] Not only that, but last weekend I decided to subscribe to Office 365 (I’ve been an OpenOffice/LibreOffice user for at least a decade now).
It’s funny to me that anything that starts with a lower case letter ‘i’ is all the rage nowadays, and I find myself preferring Microsoft. It just seems to me that Apple has become the new Microsoft with the law suits and trying to control everything. In some ways I think Apple is worse than MS was in the 90s, but that’s just my opinion. Hell, MS even recently settled a potential lawsuit against them by changing the name of SkyDrive to OneDrive; the Microsoft of the 90s would’ve fought that and probably would have won too. That, combined with the fact that most “iDevices” tend to cost much more than devices running Windows or Android, just really turns me off. I don’t feel the need to pay that much just to have a certain logo on whatever device I’m buying.[2]
I’m in no way saying Microsoft is perfect. There are still plenty of things that I don’t like; Internet Explorer (or should I say Exploder) comes to mind for example. Still, though, I’m one of those sick bastards that actually likes Windows 8, despite some of its annoyances. You have to give MS credit for attempting to create an OS UI that spans three device models (PC, Tablet, and Mobile Phone). The only thing I don’t like (as of 8.1) is that I can no longer remotely access my home PC via OneDrive – I really don’t see why that was removed, frankly. I also don’t understand why the ability to be a host for remote access via a mobile app isn’t available without upgrading to 8.1 Pro (I’m just sayin’, it would be useful to be able to remotely control my laptop from my Surface or from my Galaxy Note 2).
So, yeah; “MicroBorg” has at least partially assimilated me. I use Office 365 on a Windows 8.1 based laptop and Windows 2013 RT on the Surface 2. I actually like the Metro UI (even with it’s annoyances, which aren’t that annoying if you take the time to learn the new UI). I like the direction Microsoft is going with the idea of a cross-platform OS and UI. I know there are many who disagree, but in the end, all arguments for or against Microsoft, Apple, or Android become subjective, in my opinion.
~ JC

[1] As much as I actually do like Windows 8.1, I’m still and Android user for my smartphone; the Metro UI is fine for tablet and PC, but the Windows Phones I’ve looked at in the stores just haven’t appealed to me, plus there are a lot of apps that I use on my phone that aren’t available in the Windows Store (yet?).
[2] I do have to admit, though, that in the case of tablets, the ones worth having (iPad, Surface, and Samsung Galaxy series) are all around the same price point.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

D&D 40th Anniversary Blog Hop Challenge (a little bit late and without the hop)

The folks over at D20 Dark Ages issued a blogging challenge for the month of February to commemorate the 40th anniversary of that most venerable of Role Playing Games, Dungeons & Dragons.  Well, I failed that challenge because it’s now March 9 and I’m just now getting around to tackling the list of 28 questions that were supposed to be answered one per day during the month of February and I’m also not linking my blog to the random hop to other blogs since it’s well past the end. I hate that I missed out on the challenge, but figured I’d still answer the questions - albeit in one chunk instead of one per day.

Day 1: First person who introduced you to D&D? Which edition? Your first Character?

I don’t know that I can say that there was one single person who introduced me to D&D. I kind of introduced myself when I found the “red box” basic edition at a local discount department store next to the board games. From there, I found out that a friend of mine already played, and so I guess I could say that he “introduced” me to it, but only because I had already discovered it on my own.

I honestly don’t remember my very first character. The first character I remember is Uhnk, a half-orc fighter who was one of my first Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st edition) characters. To this day, I use the name “Uhnk” for my main character in World of Warcraft® and as an online handle for Twitter (Uhnk13).

Day 2: First person YOU introduced to D&D? Which edition? THEIR first character?

I’m not sure, but I think it may have been either my friend James from school, or the next door neighbor Chris (who was a few years younger than me). Again, no idea what their characters’ names were because that was 30-ish years ago.

Day 3: First dungeon you explored as a PC or ran as a DM.

The first dungeon I explored was the introductory adventure that came as part of the basic set; the printing of it that I had came with a thin, sort of “choose your own adventure” story booklet to help introduce new players to the game. That same basic set came with another introductory adventure that I used to try to DM the people mentioned in the answer for Day 2.

Day 4: First dragon you slew (or some other powerful monster).

Funny as it may seem, I don’t recall every slaying a dragon while playing Dungeons & Dragons. I recall slaying a basilisk in one of my first adventures, and Uhnk befriended a baby gold dragon once, but I don’t think any of my characters ever slew a dragon.

Day 5: First character to go from 1st level to 20th level (or highest possible level in a given edition).

Actually, I’ve never had a character make it to level 20. Uhnk made it as far as level 11 or 12 I think, but that’s the highest level character I ever had in D&D.

Day 6: First character death. How did you handle it?

Believe it or not, I don’t believe I’ve ever had a character die in D&D. I guess I’ve just been lucky.

Day 7: First D&D Product you ever bought. Do you still have it?

The Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (aka, the “red box); no, I do not still have it. In fact, due to going through a couple of ultra-religious phases in my late teens and again in my mid-twenties, there are quite a few RPG materials that I no longer own from back when I first started playing.

Day 8: First set of polyhedral dice you owned. Do you still use them?

My first set of polyhedral dice were the ones that came in the basic set; no, I don’t still have them.

Day 9: First campaign setting (homebrew or published) you played in.

The first campaign setting I played in was, I guess, more or less, homebrew, but it was based on the setting from the basic D&D set, “The Grand Duchy of Karameikos”.

Day 10: First gaming magazine you ever bought (Dragon, Dungeon, White Dwarf, etc.).

Undoubtedly, the first gaming magazine I ever bought was Dragon Magazine.

Day 11: First splatbook you begged your DM to approve.

I’m not 100% sure what a “splatbook” is, but if this means a supplement to the core rules, we usually used elements taken from Dragon articles.

Day 12: First store where you bought your gaming supplies. Does it still exist?

The first store where I bought D&D was a discount department store called Rose’s. They are still in business, but I think they only exist in North Carolina and, frankly, they’ve pretty much become a junk store of sorts. There were also a couple of hobby stores that I frequented in Fayetteville, NC; one was called Hayes Hobby House, which still exists but they were never a gaming store per se – the primarily deal in model trains I think. The other was called The Hobbit Hobby Shop and it does still exist and was one of, if not the, first hobby stores to carry Dungeons & Dragons when it first launched in 1974.

Day 13: First miniature(s) you used for D&D.

The first miniatures I used in D&D were purchased from Hayes Hobby House. It was  a three pack of pewter miniatures that featured were, I think, generic fighter/knight types of models.

Day 14: Did you meet your significant other while playing D&D? Does he or she still play? (Or just post a randomly generated monster in protest of Valentine's Day).

No, my fiancĂ©e and I met while working at a book store a little over 11 years ago. I’ve tried a few times to get her to join me in role playing games, but it’s not really her thing. She has, on occasion, enjoyed watching my gaming group play – for her it’s like watching “living room theater”.

Day 15: What was the first edition you didn't enjoy. Why?

I wasn’t a terribly big fan of AD&D 2nd Edition. I felt like too much of the original flavor was taken away. I’m also not excited about 4th edition as I feel that the new combat rules cause the game to become more of a board game instead of a role playing game (then again, while I did like the streamlining of the rules in edition 3/3.5, it also had a tendency to become a board game whenever there were combat scenarios).

Day 16: Do you remember your first edition war? Did you win? ;)

I’ve never really “warred” with anyone over which edition was better. I’ve had discussions with friends about the different editions, but they were never particularly heated.

Day 17: First time you heard D&D was somehow "evil."

I started playing D&D in the mid to late 1980’s, which is when a good deal of the “D&D is evil” arguments were floating around. I remember being made to watch a 60 Minutes interview with one of the game’s inventers, Gary Gygax, during the height of those controversial days of being a player of D&D.

Day 18: First gaming convention you ever attended.

I’ve never had the pleasure of attending one.

Day 19: First gamer who just annoyed the hell out of you.

His name was Chad. He had uncanny luck with dice roles, tended to overact when he roleplayed and was “that guy” that always played, essentially, the same character over and over and over.

Day 20: First non-D&D RPG you played.

Star Frontiers; this was actually the first RPG I ever bought. I don’t think it exists anymore, at least not officially, although it does still live on via a fan site. It was published by the same company that originally made D&D, TSR, Inc.

Day 21: First time you sold some of your D&D books--for whatever reason.

Sometime around 1989 when I started attending a church youth group I actually allowed myself to start believing the “D&D is evil” bullshit and sold all of D&D books and materials to a local used bookstore. I was actually admonished by one of my youth leaders for selling them instead of burning them.

Day 22: First D&D-based novel you ever read (Dragonlance Trilogy, Realms novels, etc.)

The first, and so far only, D&D based novels I’ve read were the original Dragonlance Chronicles back in the 80s.

Day 23: First song that comes to mind that you associate with D&D. Why?

Yeah; I got nuthin’. Sorry.

Day 24: First movie that comes to mind that you associate with D&D. Why?

Believe it or not, the first movie that comes to mind is Mazes & Monsters, which was actually and anti-D&D film. I recently found a copy of the novel of the same name that the film was based upon at my local library, but I didn’t make it past the first third of the book just because it wasn’t that well written, in my opinion.

Day 25: Longest running campaign/gaming group you've been in.

Probably my first one, back when I was 13 or 14 years old. We played as a group through, for me anyway, around 7th grade through 10th grade.

Day 26: Do you still game with the people who introduced you to the hobby?

No, I can’t say that I do. I’ve not even been in contact with any of them in decades.             

Day 27: If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything different when you first started gaming?

It has been said that hind sight is 20/20; if I had anything to do over again it would be to not have gotten rid of any of the books and materials I had from back when I started gaming.

Day 28: What is the single most important lesson you've learned from playing Dungeons & Dragons?

The biggest take away I have from gaming is an appreciation for reading and for art. Prior to playing D&D, I wasn’t much of a reader (like most teenagers, I suppose). Even though my early reading interests were so I could get ideas for the game, the end result is that I developed a love of reading and of books, and not just fantasy and science-fiction stories – I also found that I liked reading about history and other topics as well.

~ JC