Last of a Dying Breed

Hold up a glass and remember the good days for a moment. Another local hobby shop is going out of business. Sure you are thinking, what’s the big deal. And I am inclined to agree with you, from the standpoint of the local hobby shop is a thing of the past at least that business model. And yes, I can get many of the things found in hobby shops at big box stores or online; cheaper even. However, that is not the point.

Local hobby shops are where I spent most of my time when I was not at the video game arcade (remember those? anyone?), at school, or at home. Local hobby shops were wondrous places full of things to see, touch, read, want, and ultimately purchase. Much like used bookstores there is a certain musty smell that goes with any local hobby shop. Not a negative at all, just one of those things.

Trains, train sets, little people to put in my train diorama, slot cars, books, paints, wood, plastic, and so on. Every aisle held new treasures to find and new things to learn. I spent so much time in hobby shops that eventually I went to work in one. I learned more about people and stuff–remote control vehicles and radio frequencies to metal detectors and telescopes to kites and model rockets to trains and model kits there was so much that I learned, experienced, tried, and learned to love.

Notice I didn’t mention the games. Games came along later in the evolution of the hobby shop. Hobby shops being home of niche activities was one of the first places to accept games, gaming, and gamers. Not a walking wallets, but as fellow niche enthusiasts. I remember purchasing my first D&D module off of a magazine rack after spending a lot of time reading the brightly colored back. I remember getting my first set of lead (not plastic, but honest to deity lead) miniatures of orcs. Hobby shops were well I felt welcome with my niche hobby of roleplaying games and make no mistake when I was a kid reading and playing D&D it was a very misunderstood niche hobby/activity.

Not a hobby stores.

Unfortunately or fortunately, life and hobbies move on. I think it is good that most hobbies have moved out of the niche into the mainstream and can be found just about anywhere. I do not miss the days where saying you played games, were a gamer, or especially played roleplaying games was followed by a cringe from the listener or a scolding about the dangers of “those” activities. I am saddened by the slow death of so many local hobby shops.

Hobby shops are staffed by enthusiastic individuals who are involved with the hobby. Who are happy to chat with you and listen to you talk about your hobby. Who are more than happy to help you get more involved with your hobby. Big box stores and online, not at all; you are a walking wallet to them. Hobby shops get the esoteric items that you, the hobbyist, MUST have for your collection or set or project and they are happy to wade through 1,200 page catalogs with tiny pictures and crappy description to find it. I know, I did this all of the time.

Stickbot and DiceMountain Town Hobby’s in Mount Pleasant closes their doors in 23 days. It was from what we could tell on our visit, a classic local hobby store. The proprietor was happy to see us, especially when we bought all of her dice and some other stuff. Did we need the dice and other stuff? No. But I bought it because it felt right and because…well because I have so many positive memories of being a hobby shop that I wanted to do something for her, even if I was too late.


500 Words At A Time: 15 Week Crash Course

There is an unmentioned aspect of classes or at least I haven’t written much about it, the social aspect. While my general disdain for students is well documented, there have been plenty of times where I have befriended students. However, there is a pattern to this and after the second year, a pattern I did not bother to change.

Week 1: Meet people sitting next to me. Generally this consisted of me observing them along with the rest of the class. Potentially a head nod, “smile,” or muted greeting. Unless the student was around my age, I prefer to keep my distance.

Weeks 2 through 14: Eventually find one or two students who don’t mind me and I don’t mind them. In general, they are students who keep the childish behavior to a minimum, try in class, show up to class, and otherwise make an impression upon me. Avoided like the plague are crotchtexters and disruptive students.

Week 15: Last class, say my “goodbyes” and other than seeing a them in a hallway never see them again. Just like when you leave a job.

There have been notable exceptions, but age (mine), experience (mine), and other circumstances (mostly mine) see that these exceptions have not lasted much longer than the 15-week pattern. I’m trying to think of a way to write about this social pattern. Not blame, but explain in a clear way.

As a 40+ year old person I have done a lot and seen a lot. There is not much new to me in regards to the “college experience.” I did my partying. I did the girlfriend thing. I did the stay up all night. With the exception of joining a fraternity I did the “college experience” many years ago. I am not interested in doing it again and I really don’t have an interest in people who are either.

I understand their need to party, to procrastinate, and all of that. This a time for them to experiment and find their way. This understanding does not mean that I want to be around it, listen to or talk about it. Plus, my age has a “parenting effect” on conversations. Its a weird effect, but one I have seen way too many times. The things I say often get treated as if their parent said it. It makes for an odd situation, because I am not interested in being their parent, but there is that social mechanism in place and it is a shortcut to the end of conversations.

For those people who I do befriend, it is always around a shared interest such as video games. In fact, video games comes up a lot. I do like my games; all games not just video games. As much as I like to talk about games, I like to talk about a lot more than games. In fact, unbeknownst to anyone here, I do not like most gamers. Years of working in a game store and even more years of socializing with gamers has me very weary and bored with most gamers. If the only thing you can talk to me about is games, even games I like, I get bored. When I get bored, I move on. Unfortunately, this is a time when many of the students are learning their social skills and learning that they can not only be interested in more than one thing, but that the various things they are interested in can intersect in all aspects of their lives.

Another weird social interaction is when students try to be like me. I know that sounds weird. But there are people who see what I do, listen to what I say, and try to emulate me. Unfortunately for them, they do not see the work I have put in both in class and over a lifetime to be able to do what I do. Thus, when they attempt to behave like me in class it gets awkward. When they can’t write or perform like I do, things get strained. Suffice to say, I keep an eye out for people trying to do what I do.

I haven’t even gotten into the parenting and/or authority figure social aspect…guess that is another 500 Words. 🙂

Responsibility of an Online Gamer

I play Destiny. I enjoy playing Strikes and in the Crucible, the online player interaction modes of the game. Strikes are three person teams and Crucible is always player versus player, in teams or everyone for themselves. I try. I may not be great or even good, but I try. If I am playing with you or even against you I feel a responsibility to do my best. Which is why I am so disappointed in players who do not try or go out of their way to make more work for everyone else.

Today was one of those days. I do not report players unless they are doing something so egregious to ruin the game for me. Halo and Call of Duty I reported people all of the time, no idea why, but dochey behavior seemed to be the theme for those games. Until today I had not encountered irresponsible gamers to that extent playing Destiny. Today, several players were reported.

Not for being better than me, I am fine with that. In fact when someone is better than me I try to emulate them if playing on their team or try to take them out if against them. I reported them for wasting my time, degrading my enjoyment of the game, and for, of all things, not taking part. Yes, not taking part. If you join a Strike where the game is set up to challenge three players and you hide and take no part, you are being selfish, unfair to the other players, making things more difficult, and being a douche. If the Strike had been one of the difficult ones I might have understood, but this was the easiest of Strikes for a three person team. So to hide, not take part in any way-not even to revive dead players-is truly douche behavior.

That this happened twice in one hour, really set me on edge. I put the game up and let our boy play. And that…well let me put it this way, I do not think children are mature enough to play online games. I don’t care about how mature your child is, children do not have a concept of responsibility to the group. They focus on what they want and they have poor impulse control.

Worse, video games are often used as baby sitters, thus the child plays unattended and there is nobody their to teach them how to be responsible gamers and good gamers. Not my children. I looked up from my book, Seventh Son for those interested, and watched my son screwing around in one of the harder Strikes in Destiny. He was hoping about. He was not trying to take out the boss or when he was he was trying to get “creative” and he most definitely was not being a good player.

He is grounded from online games for a week. I took the controller from him, finished the game-I was not leaving the other gamer in the lurch. Turned off the game and then we had a talk about being a good gamer. This is not a new talk for him. Or it shouldn’t have been, but the connection between being a good table top gamer and being a good gamer in a video game was not there. In his head, he was having fun, and doing stuff to help-i.e. shoot here, shoot there, hop, jump, die, and then wonder why team lost. He did not understand why I let him screw around in story missions, but not in online play. At least he didn’t until I put him in their shoes…

“How do you feel when people don’t do their best in games you play?”

Then the light bulb went off. We will see, but when we see I will be there watching. I may have to deal with irresponsible gamers, but I will be damned if I am going to unleash another into the world.

Dice Rituals

Dice JarDon’t touch my dice without my permission. Similar to a samurai and his swords, my dice are part of me, and to touch them is to touch me and I don’t want to be touched by you via my dice. Okay, maybe that is a bit extreme, but after last night’s Rise of the Runelords game I am feeling a bit touchy about my dice. So touchy that a set of dice was banished to the dice jar. I maintain that our girl’s dice caused my dice to betray me. BETRAYAL!

I could have gone all medieval on my dice as a friend of mine did when his dice began to roll 1’s in the middle of a rather intense Battletech game. He gathered all his dice, arranged them in a circle, placed the die he felt betrayed him the most, and issued a warning to the other dice, “If you do not shape up this will be your fate.” Then the hammer came down shattering the offending die. His dice shaped up.

DiceThese are my dice and dice bag. There was a third set. When we play Pathfinder Adventure Card Game our girl sits next to me, our dice until last night mingled; one big happy pile of dice. She would fish her dice out to roll and I would fish out mine. All was well, until she started picking up mine. They rolled well for her, I thought this was nice of my dice, and for a few rounds they rolled well for me then…well what do you call six 1’s and two 2’s in a row. Not over the night, but in a row? Betrayal most foul is what I call it. Need further evidence? Yes you do! Our girl picks up the offending dice and they roll nothing by 4 and up. What the hell dice? Incensed and outraged, I banished the dice to the dice jar where dice languish as art.

Think I am being weird? Gamers reading this will nod their head and think about their dice and their dice rituals. Me, I don’t like anyone to touch my dice without permission. My belief, and it is a belief, is that you could pass on some of your die rolling luck, good or bad, onto my dice-see above. Further, I treat my dice well, they do not get thrown at things or left in puddles of pop or forgotten. Our boy, talks to his dice, asking them to roll what he would like or higher and it works. When he gloats, his dice punish him with a bad roll-not every time, but happens often enough that his gaming behavior has changed from gloating a lot to only gloating when excited, and his dice punish him. Our girl, has to shake the dice a lot before rolling them and she has to roll them like she is shooting craps in Vegas. Barb, is a don’t touch her dice and her dice reflect her mood. When she is in a good mood, good rolls. When she is in a bad mood, bad rolls.



Shared Storytelling Around the Tabletop

A long time ago I was a game master with a gaming group. For a while the gaming group averaged 15 people with a high point of 35 and a low of 6. I ran the games. I have always run the games. I have…no I am a difficult player. I get bored easily and many game masters have a difficult time juggling running the game, engaging all of the players, and telling a story all of which is necessary. I never had a problem doing that, which is why people wanted me as their game master. I tell a good story. I know the rules well enough to fake when I don’t know them and I keep people engaged.

I was known for my stories. To me a good role playing game is not about the single adventures or a campaign with a start, middle, and end. Those are fun, but to me a good role playing game does not have a start and ends many times…like life. Why no start? Because characters have a background or at least they are assumed to, but most players do not create good backgrounds until they have played for a while. Thus, the start usually happens during the middle when a player realizes what their character’s start really was. Why the middle? Because the character interacted with another character or non-player character and the players says, “Ah ha! That is where and how my character got started.”

My worlds were interactive, adaptive, alive, and ever changing. The characters could leave their mark upon my game worlds; something as small as giving a simple noodle vendor a lasting name to causing entire nations to fall. That is the expected role of the character to change the world. What about the everyday person or villain? They too in my worlds could and did leave lasting changes. Most players when joining a game of mine in progress were shocked to learn that they could pursue anything that the player desired. Life and my games are about exploration, thus if a player (s) wanted to follow a clue somewhere or a rumor somewhere else they could. But, the villains and many of the non-player characters have plans too and they, in my world, followed them. Not in a robotic way, they were my characters they had their motivations and ideas, the key being players never learned or saw them unless they were interacting with the villain.

Thus, players would often get distracted following their own character’s dreams and goals only to discover the villain or villains had gone and done something…sometimes majorly bad, most of the time annoying. So what is all of this about? Shared experiences, which was the first writing prompt I gave to the Island of Misfit Writers, and my realization that writing a long story is exactly like running a role playing game, except that I am in “control” of all of the characters. Each character “starts” when they are introduced, but do not really come alive until they and I learn their background, motivations, goals, and ticks.

When I was thinking about of shared experiences, I kept coming back to gaming. Those times when many of us gathered together to tell a collective tale and how today, many years later, those tales live on. Often changed in small ways, like Rashamon, but the tale is one all of us share. A favorite amongst us is the death of Jubei. Jubei was a ronin, with a murder she wrote style of living; every place Jubei went someone died and many times not at Jubei’s hands, but because of Jubei none-the-less. The Legend of the Five Rings campaign lasted close to four years, unusual for many role-playing games. Jubei died due to actions from one of the first games and a non-player character who had been seeking revenge the entire time.

Which brings me to the story telling and writing. At that moment when Jubei set in motion his inevitable death that non-player character was a nobody. Someone in the background, but right after that moment, that nobody became a somebody and discovered their purpose, their motivation, and their ticks. That nobody, became in a way a villain. A villain with a very specific purpose and one that Jubei or any of the other characters over the years could have interacted with to prevent the endgame, but nobody did because they remembered the non-player character as a nobody. Just like happens in life.

The thing everyone could relate to, even today, is that concept that a wronged nobody would spend four years plotting revenge. I have a lot of shared experiences and stories to tell, when they intersect those are the special moments I and others carry for the rest of our lives.

What Happened With Skulls and Shackles?

Before I get into our Skulls and Shackles Pathfinder Adventure Card Game allow me to share with you one of the funniest sights from today: while shopping at Meijer’s (local Big Box store for those who do not know) I watched an elderly woman grab a copy of the Unrated 50 Shades of Gray off the shelf and hightail down the aisle. As we were checking out I watched as she and four other women got carded at the self-checkouts. Red lights go off, employee goes over to check IDs…every single one of them had a copy of 50 Shades of Gray. If Meijer’s had been smart there would have been a sale of batteries at the same time. 🙂


Who doesn’t love pirates? Okay, I know a few, but here most of us enjoy pirates. And you know how much we enjoy games. Thus, a pirate themed game sounds like a great idea. An even better idea when the game is Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, something I have gushed about for a while. So what happened with our Skulls and Shackles game?

Short answer, it did not feel right.

Long answer, we tried. We played through three of the adventure decks. Rise of the Runelords felt like a campaign. The connection between one adventure path and the next was obvious, made sense, and the adventures within were exciting and had a lot of flavor related to that path. Skulls and Shackles felt disconnected to us. What did the various adventures have to do with each other let alone from one pack to another? Sometimes we could tell and others we had no clue.

There are ships, but the ships could be removed from the game and I don’t think much would change. For the most part the ships played little part in any adventure other than being an extra source of loot and from time to time a way for cards to get sucked out of our hands to prevent damage to our ship. I never once felt like I was the captain or crew of a particular ship. Part of that stemmed from when something happened to our ship the only person who could do anything was the person who’s turn it was. Other players could help, but for the most part there was little reason to do so. None of us felt like we were on a ship at any point, even when the scenario card said we were on a ship.

There is more variety of characters, locations, cards, win conditions, and difficulty. Which is a great thing, as Rise of the Runelords lacked variety in some areas. Unfortunately, for us at least, these things did not enhance the narrative of the campaign. And that seemed to be the biggest reason why we stopped playing-there was no reason to continue on, no drive to see what happened next, and no urge to play “one more adventure.” With Rise of the Runelords we eagerly waited for each new adventure pack and played through adventures with abandon. When a character of mine died, I soloed a new character just so I could have a character ready to play for the next session. We wanted to know about the story and the conclusion. Skulls and Shackles, not so much.

The next set, Wrath of the Righteous is due soon, hopefully for us the story is there and fun/easy to follow. We know the gameplay is solid, that is why we love playing Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, but the story has to be there…this is roleplaying with cards and not a deck building game after all.

Castle Panic

Great family fun!

castle-panicIt’s not often that a game out of the box catches the attention of the entire family, but is universally enjoyed by all of us for the same reasons-fun, working together, and zero competition among players. Castle Panic by Fireside Games is that game. I knew something special sat on the floor when everyone sat down around it and I had not removed the plastic wrap. The bright yellowish box, Castle Panic splashed across the top, and the fanged monsters said FUN!

Since I was working on blogs I told them if they wanted to play they had to do the work. Usually everyone bails. The plastic wrap torn off all three of them dug into the box. Barb placed the board on the floor, the boy picked up the rules and started to read, and our girl got the counters and die ready. See what I mean?

Castle Panic (1)Here is what you get: One board with a bulls eye design, three colored sectors with four outer rings and a bulls eye center. A bundle of castle cards. A pile of monster counters. Six cardboard walls and towers with plastic stands. Two fortified wall sections and a tar counter. One six sided die. Every piece looks great, fun designs that encourage you to pick the piece up. The rules are well written and edited. Each of us found them clear and easy to understand. Organization could be improved, but that is a minor quibble.

How does it play? The goal, defeat all of the monsters before your castle’s last tower is knocked down. The players work together to defend the castle. Each player has 5 cards (for a four person game-different numbers of players different numbers of cards). The cards are used to defeat the monsters, fortify walls, or rebuild walls. The board is divided into three colored wedges and four outer rings-forest, archers, knights, and swordsmen. Each ring corresponds to a type of card. Play archer cards to target monsters in the archer ring, provided the color of the archer matches up with the colored wedge the monster is in.

  1. Each turn a player draws up to their hand of cards.
  2. Discard a card to draw a new card (optional).
  3. Trade cards with another player (optional).
  4. Play their cards-a player can play as many cards as they have. Each card is played and resolved: such as red archer-when played, one creature in the red archer section takes one point of damage. When the last point of damage is done to a monster remove the monster from the board and set next to you.
  5. Move all monsters forward one ring closer to the castle. Monsters next to a castle wall, take one point of damage and remove the wall. Monsters next to a tower, take one point of damage and remove the tower.
  6. Finally, add new monsters. Roll a die, draw a monster token and place that token in the forest ring that matches that number.

There are some monster tokens that move the monsters, bring additional monsters into the game or have special effects such as the boulder which moves immediately smashing everything in its path until it hits a wall or tower which are removed or rolls off the opposite side of the board. All of this happens quickly each turn making for a game with little down time and if there is down time it is because players are planning trades.

Castle Panic (3)Final Thoughts: As you can see from the photo we won, but barely. Castle Panic is surprisingly challenging and working together is key. Forgetting to make trades, hording cards, or forgetting to discard a useless card to draw another can lead to disaster-such as the turn where we lost two walls and a tower. I highly recommend Castle Panic for families or gaming groups looking for a co-op game to play.