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Vacation Insert, Part One.

23 Aug

If you are an Internet gamer, you might want to check this out. It’s worth it, I swear.

Writing Collaborative RP

7 Aug
When I started gaming I had no idea what it meant to roleplay. My husband (NOT a roleplayer) chose an RP server, explaining that RP populations tended to be nicer and more mature. I was clueless. Eventually it was explained to me that shouting LOL out-of-character in public areas wasn’t quite in the spirit of roleplay; I asked around and found lots of people who were willing to show me the ropes so I could fit in (or at the very least not make an ass of myself). It was fun to interact with other players in character. After the novelty of stabbing WoW baddies wore off, roleplay kept me in the game.

At first I was terrified to share my stories–what if my writing was awful?–but after spending time with encouraging RP communities and reading what they wrote, I screwed up the courage to try my hand at storytelling. Five years later, I’ve churned out hundreds of pages’ worth of fiction, most of it story RP that I post to guild forums or personal blogs. I work alone on stories about my own characters, but when other people’s characters are involved, I prefer to write together 1) to make sure I’m not putting words in their mouths or making them act in ways they wouldn’t otherwise and 2) because collaborative writing is a bucket of fun.

[Collaborations can range from serious to super silly.]

If you’ve never tried it, you should. Most everyone has a Google account, and it’s easy from there to start a gdoc to share with one or more friends. It saves automatically every few seconds as you write so you’re not likely to lose anything in a computer emergency, and there’s a chat feature built into the window, so you can talk to everyone who has the document open. If you enjoy talking to the people you’re working with, you can fire up Ventrilo (or Skype or whatever else you use for VoIP) and do the talky-talk there.

When more than two or three writers are involved, it can be difficult or even impossible to schedule joint writing time. Gdocs are good for that. Everyone involved can work on the story when they have time, and leave notes for the others in color-coded text at the top or bottom of the document for the next person who comes along.

[Here’s what can happen when five people write a single story. It’s chaos, but it’s fun chaos.]

Once you’ve got a huddle of writers together, decide on your setting. Maybe you already know your characters are all sitting in a pub together. Perhaps they’re traveling through a dense jungle in pirate country, or fighting a monster (or amongst themselves). A scene might open with something as simple as someone putting out a kitchen fire because he didn’t know it was time to flip his pancake.

Alternatively you can start by deciding what events unfold in your story. Sometimes you’ll know exactly where you want the story to end, and you’ll spend most of the scene writing your characters from Point A to an agreed-upon Point B. It’s especially important if you’re telling a story that is part of an overarching plot. If you’re just writing simple interactions and vignettes for character development, you and your writing buddy can make it up as you go along and see where it takes you.

Of course, if nothing of interest happens in the story, you’ll wind up with a piece of writing only you and your friend will ever want to read. If it’s slow, insert a random interruption and see how your characters react. This is akin to throwing a stick of dynamite in a duck pond–you don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, but you’re pretty sure it’s going to be a sight.

I was a shy writer when I first started collaborating. The innocent blank gdoc in front of me was intimidating when that blue bar in the upper right corner broadcast that CEILING WRITER WAS WATCHING ME WRITE, word by agonizing word, through every backspace and mass delete. If you’re self-conscious, ease into the process by agreeing to alternate lines or whole paragraphs with your partner. If taking turns while no one is looking doesn’t quite do it for you, try writing your parts in another document and paste them in when you finish.

What’s important about the story you want to tell? Don’t be shy, discuss it with your collaborator. Communication is key. Whatever you come up with, it’s sure to be a great writing exercise. Just don’t be bad like me and toss in lines like “Take me now, you big stud!” at inappropriate or super-serious places unless you’re pretty sure your writing buddy will pee her pants laughing.

Have you ever written a collaborative story? Tell me about it! If you haven’t, grab your bestie (good God did I just say that? I think I did) and give it a shot. It’s a hoot.

The Games We Play

18 Jul

Qwirkle

Recently, a very good friend introduced me to the game of Qwirkle, and I’ve used it no less than three times when hanging out with family and friends to get us doing something OTHER than fidgeting at each other or (lawd help us) watching tv.

Qwirkle is like a cross between dominoes and scrabble. You choose six tiles per hand, and play the tiles for the largest score by matching either color or shape with the existing tiles on the board.

It’s fun, easy to learn, and luck-based enough that really skilled players only have a strong advantage if they want to play a super-defensive (see also, “Ugly”) game.

This is our new go-to game for hanging out.

Killer Bunnies

Killer Bunnies is a card game that involves a lot of reading, so it’s less appropriate for casual gaming with all ages than Qwirkle is.

It’s worth the time spent reading the cards and interpreting the rules, though. The game itself is a series of strategic plays to keep your own bunnies alive while simultaneously killing the bunnies of your opponents using weaponry ranging from a whisk, green jello with evil pineapple chunks, and thermo-nuclear warheads. Somewhere in the chaos, players snatch up carrots as quickly as they can.

The winner isn’t the player with the most carrots, though. The winner is the player with the WINNING carrot, and there’s no way to know which carrot that is until after the game is over.

Quirky, fun, and hilarious, this game takes more time to set up and teach to friends, but it is hours and hours of gleeful, cackling mahem once it’s begun.

(We nix the food and water cards when we play as part of our House Rules. Everyone seems to enjoy the game better if we pretend they don’t exist)

The “If” Book

When we’re looking for more conversation than gaming, we turn to The If Book.

The book is nothing more than pages and pages of questions that all begin with the word “If … ?”

If you could have a one hour dinner with any person now dead, famous or otherwise, who would it be and what would you talk about?

If you could shapeshift into any animal, what animal would you choose?

If you were on death row and could have only one more meal before you died, what would it be?

We take turns passing the book around, opening it to a random page, dropping our finger, and reading aloud the question it lands upon. Everyone answers, and we learn a lot more about both ourselves and the other people we’re playing with.

This is a quieter, more contemplative kind of game, but it reaps its own rewards.

Your Favorite Games

What about you? What are  your favorite, go-to games for spending time with friends and family?

What do you play that’s easy to learn? What do you play that’s worth the effort of learning the rules? What do you play when you just want to relax and be non-competitive?

I’d LOVE to hear from you!

Reason #1 why I fail at blogging: Class

3 Jul

A few tips on teaching college-level courses:

1) When signing up to teach a class that trains students for a particular exam, do make sure you’ve passed said exam long before the class starts. Do not register to take the test the day before the class begins. You will fail it, and then the college will have to scurry to find a replacement teacher. You will send out an apology email that your students receive while they are actually in the class you are not qualified to teach, and despite your vague “emergency” excuse, your students will know what happened. Your replacement will tell them.

2) When teaching a class as a replacement, do be awesome. Do have more experience than most of your students have years out of diapers. Do repeat phrases like “Plug and Play–we used to call it Plug and Pray,” that manage to make you not sound like a relic, but like someone who knows what the hell he’s talking about, and my god they were going to let someone who hadn’t even taken the test yet teach us, really?

3) When teaching an online course over 8 weeks in the summer, do be a slavedriver. Do encourage your students to work ahead, and show genuine disappointment when they fall behind. Do be able to comment on the quality of the book, as you helped edit it. In essence, do everything that will make your students who took an online course with some other schmuck who didn’t give a rat’s ass go “oh, so online courses can actually be worth something. Sweet.”

I’m three weeks into my summer online course, which is laid in stark contrast to my first online course. As noted above, the teacher is engaged and quick about grading and helped edit the textbook and is whipping us like sweet cream. It is genuinely hard work, which also lies in stark contrast to the classes I took during the spring semester. Part of the awesome replacement teacher’s awesomeness was that he looked at all the labs and stuff that our original teacher had planned and said “Screw that, just do the quizzes.” And you know what? We still learned all the stuff.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t need to do some more studying before taking the certification exams for which those classes trained me. I have a practice test voucher which I need to start using before June ends, and a voucher for the certification exam proper to save me $200 per test that does, sadly, need to be consumed three days before my final exam for my current class is due. Please do the math. I have not done this much studying since actual college, during which time I worked approximately four hours a week for pay rather than the 40+ I work now.

But ah, whining about work is a post for another time.

Rift Warfronts 101: The Codex

24 Jun

The Codex is a 15 versus 15 player warfront, designed around holding resources. There are four control points placed at the north, east, south, and west. Guardians spawn in the south west corner of the map, and Defiants spawn in the south east. Your team accumulates points 30 seconds after tapping a control point (this can be disrupted with aoe), and the first team to 1000 points wins.

There are some tips and tricks that can help make or break this warfront for your team. Like the Black Garden, points are earned on a per tick basis and from killing members of the opposite team, but the Codex generates nearly twice the amount of points as any other control point. Can you win this game with only the Codex? No. Can you win this game with the Codex and one other control point? Absolutely. If your team manages to snag the Codex in the beginning, keeping it is of utmost importance. If your team doesn’t snag the Codex, you can win the game by maintaining control of the other three points. It’s rare, but it happens.

The Codex has two rock cliffs facing each other that ranged dps can use to harass the other team while staying out of the way of melee. It’s great for ranged rogues and offensive mages, but if you’re a healer it can be dangerous. Being a great spot for picking people off means if the other team figures out you’re a healer and you’re up there, it’s easy for ranged to pick you off too.

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I like to hide underneath the other team’s rock cliffs. It means you can keep an easy eye on your entire team while staying out of the way of ranged dps. You can run into problems with getting attacked by melee standing in this spot – I’ve found the best thing to do is to run them out towards the melee on your team. If your team is smart, they’ll protect you and pick the offender off!

Aside from defending Codex, the most important thing in this warfront is the art of the Control Point Ninja. Oftentimes after people take a control point, they simply run off for sunnier pastures. Wait ten to fifteen seconds, then go scope out a control point that’s been recently taken by the other team. If you’re squishy, you may want to take a buddy in case of hiding rogues (they are tricky and sneaky). If you’re a rogue, watch people take a control point then run off, and snag it right back for your team. If the battle around the Codex is tough around, you can successfully ninja a control point and maintain it for quite awhile.

Have fun and beat up those Guardians! I mean Defiants. But I really mean Guardians…damn switching factions.

Rift’s Holy Trinity

20 Jun

Back In My Day, You Whippersnappers

I’m an old-school MMO gamer. I cut my teeth on Everquest 1 and spent several glorious years in the early days of WoW.

My husband and I play together, and we met a third like-minded gamer early on in our Warcraft adventures.

The three of us mowed down all but end-game raid content in vanilla WoW, and we OWNED Burning Crusade. By the end, our little group had grown past three, but we never forgot our roots. The three of us could do almost anything, and our strong history of under-manning instances and heroics led to a raiding guild that wasn’t afraid to try something with less than the game-prescribed number of people.

In warcraft, our holy trinity was obvious : Warrior, Rogue, Priest. With that group makeup, even gods shuddered at our approach.

Rift

Along came Rift. We re-forged our group in that new environment.

  • Warrior tank, with the strongest tank spec.
  • Cleric healer, with the strongest healing spec.
  • Warrior dps, with the strongest dps spec (I know, I know, Rogue seems more obvious, but it was clear early on in Rift that Rogue dps wasn’t quite as good as the right warrior spec)

We failed, miserably. Sure, we could handle normal questing, but that stuff can be solo’d. Major rifts, invasion bosses, and instances were all beyond our capabilities. (In particular, the spider boss within the Darkening Deeps — aka Derpening Derps — was a hurdle for us, if you’re familiar with the layout).

The tank could survive and had to work to keep threat off the dps … but as soon as the healer ran out of mana, the fight was over. We were done. With only one dps, the cleric just couldn’t keep up. We even added a second dpser, and STILL ran into healing issues, both with throughput and with splash damage. We respecc’d the cleric, not once but TWICE (water/fire/light? fire/water/light? ARG!), and still couldn’t quite make it work.

Was it … us?

The New Group

We called a meeting of the braintrust. This group wasn’t going to work for us. We went all the way back to the drawing board and came up with an entirely different group makeup:

  • Cleric tank, with the strongest tank spec.
  • Mage healer, with the strongest healing spec (Chloromancer).
  • Rogue dps, alternating between a ranged dps spec and a healing spec (Bard).

Hallelujah! We were BACK. Not only did the Chloromancer do steady damage, the healing was much much MUCH more regular. Emergency moments could be handled by the cleric tank’s panic buttons as well as the chloromancer’s limited direct heal arsenal. Tough fights (the first time we needed it was the spider boss, again), the rogue would swap to Bard and strum buffs, debuffs, and heals on her lute.

We started mowing through instances not only undermanned, but also underleveled. Orange-con bosses? Psssht. Give us a challenge!

Why It Worked

The previous group failed because the healer was unable to heal everyone steadily and because they ran out of mana too easily. The heal-specc’d cleric couldn’t contribute to dps because they’d have to cast spells which (you guessed it) cost more mana.

The new group succeeded because everyone could contribute healing, and chloromancers have infinite mana. Much like the Warcraft warlocks, they could “bite themselves” for mana. They heal by damaging mobs – everyone who attacks the mob gets more heals, as well. As long as they kept dpsing, they poured forth a neverending stream of low-level healing to everyone, with extra healing going to whoever receives their blessing (we called it the “immortality buff”)

The tank could contribute to healing as well, and had absolutely no problems holding aggro or staying alive.

The flexible dpser cranked out a lot of dps, both single target and AOE. The ability to swap to a bard spec allowed for fights where mechanics took the normal healer out of the equation (like a web-wrapped healer during the spider boss – did I mention we hate that spider boss? Because we hate that spider boss.).

EVERYONE had infinite mana/energy/ability to continue doing their job.

Also? Bard/Ranger and Chloromancer are hella fun to play. That helped, too.

Cleric

Everything we saw online said that clerics were supposed to be the best healers. In our experience, that was not even remotely true. Perhaps in end-game raiding, spike damage is so high that the padding of a bard and chloromancer would not be enough to handle it, but when it came to every encounter we faced (including difficult invasion bosses) the Chloromancer far outshone its cleric counterpart.

Ch-Ch-Ch-changes

To my mind, this means that the classes still need balancing. I imagine the chloro can be significantly nerfed before they stop being top dog healer.

Cleric mana management will need a full-on overhaul if Trion wants them to be the best healers – not to mention looking at the throughput of spike-damage on the main tank while splatter damage hits the group.

The chloromancer doesn’t need to choose who lives and who dies – everyone lives. The cleric had time to cast one spell, and a gentle aoe was going to get everyone facedown in a pool of their own heartsblood.

Live In The Moment

For now, though, if you’ve got a small group of friends playing Rift and you want to be able to do anything, go with the current Holy Trinity:

  • Cleric Tank
  • Mage Healer
  • Rogue dps/offheal
Now, everyone go have fun and go forth to kill themselves some internet dragons! And if you’re lucky, get Courage the Corgi to join in your adventures.

Feels Like Home

14 May

haemonic’s post yesterday about Flunk Day has me thinking about my own alma mater (the first one). Has me a little bit nostalgic.

I spent my entire life up til age twenty-two living in Upstate New York. The ‘burbs around Rochester, to be specific. And while I have grown to love northern California for it’s particular charms, there are a few things that I miss from New York.

1. Proper Seasons

Seasons. You know: winter, spring, summer, fall? Here in the central valley I joke that we have two seasons: wet and dry. Fall seems to just melt into cold rain and then suddenly spring flowers are blooming in February. My first year out here I saw a daffodil blooming on Valentine’s Day and stopped in my tracks. Daffodils are for April! And while I honestly don’t miss dealing with snow (shoveling it, wearing a parka and a scarf and gloves, brushing off the car) I do miss seeing snow. In my head snow= winter. Christmas needs snow! The handful of years I’ve stayed in California for Christmas it throws off my whole seasonal clock: “It can’t be March, we haven’t had Christmas yet.” I also miss proper fall colors. The leaves do change out here, but later, around November. And then they typically all fall off in a big whoosh in one day after a cold snap. Here the fall colors are in November, instead of September when it is proper!

The trade off is that I’m regularly out and about in the sunshine on weekends in March when my family is still socked-in with snow. So you know, not entirely a bad thing, different climate.

2. Proper Deli

Delicious noms

Now THIS is what I'm talking about


This one was baffling to me when I first moved out here. On the east coast, especially the Northeast with NYC and Philly, people are serious about their delis. Our neighborhood grocery store had a deli counter that is easily three times the size of any I’ve seen here in a grocery. (You see that photo up there? That is a proper deli counter. It extends beyond the woman in green.) The discrepancy was even more obvious to me because I spent time in college working behind one of those counters. We had eight kinds of ham, nine kinds of turkey, three varieties of roast beef. We had olive loaf and head cheese and liverwurst. Five varieties of Swiss cheese. If someone new came up and said simply “give me a half pound of ham” we’d have to ask them three or four questions and probably give samples to determine what they liked. Out here, there are typically two varieties of ham, four kinds of turkey including the “fancy” flavored ones, and two types of Swiss. Plus, everything costs more because it’s California. Disappointing!

3. Proper Bagels

Bagels are a big deal in the Northeast. Families will buy a dozen every week. Everyone I knew had bagels on the weekend, had bagels in the breadbox or the freezer. Toast pales in comparison to a bagel. A real bagel that is. Here’s the deal with proper bagels: you have to boil them first. Boil, then bake. That’s what gives them that characteristic “snap” on the outside surface. It is also what makes them harder to chew. Classic bagel flavors are all savory: garlic, onion, pumpernickel, sesame etc. I have no problem with the sweet ones like blueberry, cranberry and whatnot, provided that they are actually bagels.

Somewhere along the line, it was discovered that many Americans have no clue what a bagel is supposed to be like. And so they cut out the boiling step and just bake the darn things. I like to call these abominations “round bread”. Panera is definitely guilty of this. I think most of the pre-packaged bagels like Thomas’ are the same way. Now don’t get me wrong, the things that Panera sells as “bagels” are delicious. But they are not really bagels.

I think that Noah’s Bagels makes them properly out here but I haven’t had any in a while. Now that I’m doing the low-carb lifestyle thing it’s mostly a moot point, but it would be nice to have the real thing for a treat once in a while.

delicious noms

Mmmm, carb-y goodness

4. Thunderstorms

This may seem like an odd thing to add, but there is something magical about a thunderstorm to me. Watching the lightning streak down in perfect bolts, counting for the thunder. There have been exactly two thunderstorms in the seven years I’ve lived here. I know that it is exactly two because I immediately dropped what I was doing and went and watched both of them at the window. The first one also made me cry because it made me homesick. We had thunderstorms every summer back home. Usually on a hot August evening. It rains year round back home, you see, unlike here where May arrives and it stops raining until November. I miss thunderstorms. I remember being a kid with all of us sitting around the window, holding our breath, waiting for the next spectacular bolt to arc and split the sky. We’d shut off all the lights, the fans would be running to air out the muggy summer air (no central air in those days), all four kids quiet for once. Free entertainment. Mother Nature puts on a good show.

5. Songbirds

Now, don’t get me wrong, we have songbirds out here. They just aren’t the same ones I grew up with. The most obvious absence is the Northern Cardinal with his brilliant red feathers and distinctive chirp. We’d often see matched pairs at my parents’ feeders, the brilliant male and the dun-colored female. Even the female has red accents though, and they make a handsome pair in the trees. I also miss Blue Jays even though they are actually quite obnoxious at the feeder. I love the little crests on their heads and how they’ll crack whole peanuts with glee. Blue Jays have an obnoxious squawk instead of a chirp, but it was a sound I was familiar with.

Out here we have the Scrub Jay instead. While they are quite pretty as well, and they also squawk, the squawking is totally obnoxious to me. It is like nails on a chalkboard. Before I knew what they were called, I derisively referred to them as “Squawky Birds”. And they were everywhere, making a racket.

Other noticeable differences: fewer spring Robins. The goldfinches are a different species (Lawrence’s vs American) and there are no purple finches.

All of it combines to make being outdoors a different experience. We do have chickadees and sparrows, but the difference is more obvious now when I do return home and hear all those bird songs again.

What are your “home things” that you miss?

What about you? Have you moved away from “home”? What do you miss most? Is it a place? A food? The weather? Have you moved a lot and gathered little favorites from several places? Share your story in the comments!

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