Below are the 15 most recent journal entries.
One more reason living in NYC rules
Fall 2005 Computer Science
TOPICS IN COMPUTER SCIENCE: EVOLUTION OF DUNGEONS/DRAGONS
According to my freshly-martyred hero Charles Ryan, "I think this is less a course on playing D&D, and more a case study course on the history, growth, and impact of the brand on popular culture and the business world. I believe it's part of an MBA program. They interviewed a whole bunch of folks (including me), mostly from R&D but also from other areas of the company. I believe that the interviews were intended to fill out the students' understanding of D&D's history and the current state of the brand and the business".
Some discussion about the course is here. For those of you not lucky enough to live within falling-out-of-bed distance from Columbia, here's an online course that really is about playing D&D. Of course, if you lived in Finland, you'd apparently find it easier to do an entire graduate research focus on RPGs. Excuse me while I go warn my congressman that the once-great U.S. of A.'s failure to invest in advanced roleplaying studies will cripple our competitive strength in the global marketplace, just you wait and see.
(Not) All is Vanity
Writing blog entries is so self-evidently an act of vanity that I sometimes forget that other people might not only read what I write here but even be waiting for the next one. However, at Gen Con So Cal I did meet some exemplars of this latter category, who pointed out that my last entry had been somewhat of a cliffhanger. Fear not, bold (and, apparently, non-hypothetical) reader, all is well!
Evidence that the guests on Kenneth Hite's Occult Architecture of Chicago tour for Otherworld Excursions had fun can be found at the Behemoth3 community page, where I have the honor of posting a review of the excursion by Ryan Lybarger, one of the intrepid excursioneers. There's pictures too, although I cannot attest to the occult significance of what's on view.
Evidence that princeofcairo had a good time leading the excursion was found at the seminar on Professional Game Mastering, which gave me & an audience of aspiring or current professionals the chance to hear what the experience was like from his point of view. You may be able to hear it too, as lukzu recorded the proceedings for a possible podcast. Until I learn what's up with that, I do believe that there's some discussion of the excursion in Kenneth's interview with ptevis on Have Games, Will Travel.
Evidence that I had fun? Well, I did recover from my opening-night jitters, and am working to set up more such excursions, so it can't have been that bad. Still, it's probably a job for someone with more travel-industry experience, attention to detail, ability to schedule, etc. than myself. In other words, Otherworld is looking to hire an Excursion Coordinator; interested parties should write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mission Control: Otherworld Excursions
Tomorrow princeofcairo is leading the first Otherworld Excursion, guiding a group of lucky gamers on a real & imagined exploration of Chicago's occult architecture.
Various metaphors for my current state of mind suggest themselves. It's like the birth of one's first child would have been in the bad old days when fathers had to just pace back and forth chain-smoking gift cigars. Or it's like imagining being the Creator & watching current events unfold -- it sure must be tense watching the balls roll towards the holes billions of years after your break shot set up the initial conditions of the cosmos. Happily, I have beer to help me, which wouldn't be appropriate in either of those metaphorical situations.
Sleep well, sweet prince; knock 'em dead. All signals are go.
Lookit me, Ma, I got linked by Boing Boing, which I usedta read back when it was a print 'zine and Bitnet was all the rage! It's nice to live in the future we were so eager to get to back then, although I miss the smart drugs I was supposed to be munching like candy. (I once spent a semester giving Vasopressin to rats in order to discover that Schismatrix had viciously lied to me about its effects on humans).
The Phoenix Exultant
Back when I used to do capsule reviews for Publisher's Weekly, far and away the best thing that I got from them was John C. Wright's The Golden Age. I was tickled to see that bits of my review were used on the back jacket of the sequel, The Phoenix Exultant: "Dazzling... Wright may be this fledgeling century's most important new SF talent... for those willing to be challenged, this is a rare and mind-blowing treat."
Read Phoenix last night in a single sitting, and it was every bit as excellent as I would have expected: a self-aware usage of classic myth & genre story archetypes as narrative tools for the compelling & satisfying delivery of grand themes and mind-expanding SF ideas. The only question is why I put it off so long.
Earlier in the day I'd been talking with a friend about my disenchantment with science fiction and trying to trace its roots. One part is fallout from my own conflicts over deciding to turn away from a career in neuroscience. Another is, like my feelings about rock music, the inevitable consequence of expecting too much; now that we're five years into the millenium, and I'm five years past 30 & into old age, I can't help feeling that the personal & global transcendance I was promised is five years overdue. And then I project these, making them a problem for SF as a whole.
Wright has solved those problems. The classic things that SF delivers, as seen with stark clarity in 'golden age' SF, are 1) a world that's transformed by technological progress and 2) a vision of how that can effect progress for societies and individuals. These were easy to do in the '40s, when the noise from the engines of progress wasn't so deafening and big ideas for a new society were abundant, if often scary. I'm often too quick to assume that they can't be honesty delivered today. The Phoenix Exultant has, again, made a believer of me.
This is the part you should care about: Martin Ralya is a freelance RPG writer whose blog Treasure Tables has consistently excellent and thoughtful commentary about the art of game-mastering. Bookmark it now.
It was a pleasure for me to discover that Martin the fine, friendly, and funny player who helped turn the extremely free-form "Improbable Gen Con Adventure" I ran at Indy this year into a success was the same Martin who writes the the blog I'd recently discovered via the news page at EN World. You shouldn't care about this part; the quality of his work is what matters. But it may give you some pleasure to know he's a great guy to spend time with as well (even if he is a self-confessed link whore; glad to oblige!).
Just discovered the list </a></b></a>
Here's a list of conventions I'm hoping to attend this year; some I might have to miss (PrinceCon and Recess), others I may yet be able to hit (Gen Con So Cal, Origins, Readercon) - we'll see!
PrinceCon XXX, Princeton University, NJ: March 11-13
I-Con 24, Stony Brook University, NY: April 8-10
OurCon XIV, University of Massachusetts Amherst, MA: April 15-17
Recess IV, Brooklyn, NY: Saturday, April 30th
DexCon 8, East Brunswick, NJ: July 13 - 17
Gen Con Indy, Indianapolis, IN: August 18-21
Anonycon, Stamford, CT: December 2005
I was talking with Alex, a filmmaker who's doing a documentary about D&D, about the roleplaying origin stories of the Behemoths - how Nat's parents and their drama graduate students let him join in their games, which was enormously exciting even though they wanted to spend all their time talking in character and showing off sketches of their character's costumes, and not the kicking down doors and killing things beloved of a nine-year-old.
"Sounds like LARPing," she said.
"Well, one of the things I've heard from real old-schoolers is that there's nothing new under the sun that someone wasn't doing in their home campaign within the earliest few years of D&D," I said.
"But it seems like there's this real disdain for LARPs among most roleplayers," she said.
Which made me think about why that's so. What I said then is that dice, character sheets, and a table in front of them are a necessary psychic distancing device - that being able to retreat to these objective props allows players to draw back from the naked projection space Tart's mutual hypnosis experiments explored.
Later Alex was asking about filming our Heroes of Highport campaign for her documentary, and I posted to EN World for peanut-gallery opinions about whether people would be comfortable roleplaying on camera. The fast response was "hell no," and I think the source of that feeling is the same as that of the anti-LARP sentiment. When I'm roleplaying at a table, the picture in my mind's eye is private and inviolate. Watching others play on film, or watching others LARP, suggests that the picture that I actually present to the world when I play is almost always lame and risible to some extent or another.
Maybe I'm unusual in that I find being lame and risible comforting - I spent a lot of 2001 reassuring myself that I was just a dressed-up monkey absurdly proud of its ability to talk. Wish I could read Finnish to see what they're talking about in Alterations; the pictures suggest a high degree of existential monkey-self appreciation.
Let's Pretend, part 2
Today Javi and I passed the time waiting for the unusually slow service at Malaysia Grill (89th and Bway) with a little diceless roleplaying a la two-year-old. His character was Danny, his old music class teacher - he's into playing powerful, authoritative figures these days. I was the tailor who made clothes for him - more of a DM playing a NPC kind of role, as opposed to playing baby which is more like a LARP where I'm the new vampire on the block.
ME: What kind of clothes do you want?
JAVI: I want an orange shirt.
ME: Do you want it short or long?
JAVI: Long, please.
ME: Okay, it'll be done tomorrow. (Acting out and description of how the tailor makes clothes here).
JAVI: I'm here for my clothes!
ME: Why don't you try them on and see if they fit? Here's the dressing room.
JAVI: (pretends to open the door).
ME: There's a mirror inside. How do you look?
ME: That'll be five dollars...
I need say nothing about the fundamental importance of the Shopping Trip to roleplaying of all kinds, except perhaps that it was nice not to have to worry about what kinds of wards the tailor maintained against invisible thieves for once.
(I should mention that I ran a Masters and Minions demo for bar_sinister 's adorable kids at Dreamation, who are in the six and eight range I believe; best lines were "My bull lord doesn't care about your ice elf's beauty, he just cares about his maze" and "Oh, you mean this is a roleplaying game. We play roleplaying games all the time.") </b></a>
Got the card I can carry as a card-carrying member of the SFWA, and boy is it shoddy - so much so that it has a kind of retro mimeographed cool. The packet of stuff that came with it was also nifty, esp. the directory; it was neat to see that so many SFWA members live in New York that we have to be broken out by zip code.
Well, this is weird and kind of cool - I reckon it'd work better if I had more friends.
RPGs and model railroads
At the Future of the Gaming Industry panel at Gen Con SoCal, princeofcairo suggested that model railroading was a good metaphor for RPGs. He used the metaphor mostly to suggest that RPGs might be also a niche hobby that had peaked at some point in the past and would never regain that peak of popularity, although the aging cadre of devotees would stick with it and have more time and money to devote to it as they grew older. (The things I wish I'd said at the panel are here). As the father of a train-obsessed boy, I can draw some other parallels:
Let's play baby
Reductionism in action: Given that roleplaying is a more-or-less-adult form of let's pretend, we ought to be able to understand it better by looking at the simpler form that prevails in childhood. The most popular RPG around the house these days is "you be the baby", in which Javi is the mommy and I'm the baby. A typical narrative:
JAVI: Baby hits all the time!
ME: (pretend to hit him)
JAVI: No, baby, no hitting! You have a time out now.
JAVI: (leading me into his room and closing the door) You're three months old, so you have a three minute time out. [Javi will be three years old on April 1; his time words are still a little off].
ME: Waa! Waa!
JAVI: Now you kick the door and try to come out.
This is a script we went through rather often a few weeks ago, with the roles reversed, during a spectacularly successful discipline campaign; now almost all of our time outs are pretend ones adminstered to me/"baby". One of the drives that this roleplaying is obviously addressing is empowerment; the desire to be the one who is dominant and in charge, when this is not at all the ordinary state of affairs. There's also a strong element of rehearsal: learning a likely chain of actions and consequences through repetition. Interestingly, Javi is a much more lenient "mommy" than I am a daddy -- he will often let me pretend to hit him for minutes on end, until I have to break character and say "Javi, babies get a time out the first time they hit".
My calendar page for the U.S. tricentennial
Back in '91, I made plans to dive into the Great Red Spot of Jupiter on July 4, 2076. This is by far the most distant thing I have inked into my calendar, winning by an overwhelming margin of 64 years. While I've managed to remember the date despite the late-night-at-Hampshire-College environs in which this plan was hatched, I've completely forgotten who else swore this oath with me. Guess I'll see them there!
Thanks go out to autopope for reminding me of my interest in extreme orbital re-entry diving.