Category: games

Adventures in Role-Playing Online

While I was out in Utah, I had the chance to do something I certainly had never thought I’d end up doing. My friend Dan Wells has started an online roleplaying group with some of his author friends. Typecast RPG essentially has him DM the other authors as they play through different campaigns he designs for them, all of it done on camera, live on Twitch and then stored on YouTube for later viewing. Dan asked me if I’d be up for playing through a session, and I happily agreed, even though my experience doing actual tabletop RPGs is quite limited.

Me being me, I agreed to do it, added it to my calendar, and then thought nothing more of it until about an hour before it was supposed to start and I was actually on site, meeting the other authors. (Who are the authors? Glad you asked. Howard Tayler (who writes the Shlock Mercenary web comic), Brian McClellan (author of the excellent Powder Mage series), Mari Murdock (author of some of Fantasy Flight Games’ Legend of the Five Rings series), and Ethan Sproat (Director of Proposal Development at Utah Valley University). Charlie Holmberg (author of the Paper Magician series and others) was away on a trip, so she wasn’t in the session I participated in.

I got there, asked a bit about what ruleset we were using (D&D 5e), chatted for a little about what was happening in the storyline and where my character fit in, and then we were off and running. All told, the episode ran about two and a half hours, and you can see me in all my glory here:

What was it like? Well, the episode I was on turned out to be very exposition-heavy, meaning that there were a lot of huge, world altering reveals that meant a whole ton to anyone who’d been following along with the campaign, but left me fairly confused and fifth-wheely. Imagine if Frodo’s distant cousin showed up during the Council of Elrond, popping in for a visit while he was in the area, and then suckered into attending the long meeting. He might be a good fighter, but there wasn’t much cause to actually fight anything at any point. (Even though I did get to punch the lights out of one person. Natural 20!)

I’ll admit, I was tempted to mess everything up a couple of times, particularly when they were all gathered around and the big bad evil dude was detailing just how evil he really was. I wanted to just start trying to stab him to see what happened, but I decided I wouldn’t give into the whim, and I held myself back. Didn’t want to ruin their whole story.

Would I do it again? You bet! I had a fun time, even if most of it was just spectating. I think it would be a blast to do more regularly, and if I could carve out time in my schedule, it would be a great way to spend it. Will it ever happen again, though? Not likely. There are many, many things I love about Maine, but if staying in the thick of the fantasy writing scene had been my big goal, then leaving Utah was a huge mistake.

In any case, thanks to Dan for having me on, and to the rest of the gang for putting up with my newbness. If any of what I’ve written sounds appealing to you, I encourage you to check out Typecast RPG on YouTube and Twitch.


Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Crosswords: To Cheat, or Not to Cheat?

I’ve always loved word puzzles. Recently I finally broke down and got a subscription to the New York Times crossword. I really enjoy working through the puzzles each day, from the easy Mondays all the way up to the slog fest of Sunday. But as I’ve talked to some other crossword aficionados, I’ve discovered a fairly wide range in what we all think of as “acceptable crossword behavior.” So I thought I’d widen my net and see what the rest of you think.

Here’s my approach: I refuse to look at the daily crossword blog, as that gives away too many answers. I also refuse to cheat and just look at the answer key, no matter what. My goal is to get a “gold star” on each puzzle, which means you never had to check the puzzle and got all the answers cleanly. However, I also view the crossword as an excellent exercise in Google-fu. I like to research things, and some of the questions require a bit of work to phrase correctly to have Google help you out. (It doesn’t help that there are a slew of crossword puzzle answering services that flood the interwebs with chaff around specific searches.)

So I’ll merrily Google anything I don’t know, but that’s where I draw the line. Others say that’s completely verboten. Perhaps some of it is simply a matter of how long you’ve been doing crosswords?  Maybe if I were even more experienced, I wouldn’t need to Google as much. But I have no idea how I’d get through some of those puzzles on Friday and Saturday without it. I use easily searchable things like actor names and location names to give me signposts for the harder clues.

How about you? Do you do the daily crossword? Where do you draw the line for what you’ll let yourself do and what you won’t?


Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Learning to Lose

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that TRC and I have gone to play Magic at our local store a fair bit. He drafts along with everyone else, and we have a good time doing it. A few months ago, I noticed he wasn’t really engaging in the games anymore. He’d play, lose, and shrug off the loss and go play 3DS or something as he waited for the next round. I wanted to get him more invested, so I thought about ways to do that. In the end, I settled on letting him keep any prizes he wins for himself. (When you draft, you buy 3 packs of new cards to open. Depending on how well you do, you can win extra packs.)

That worked wonders. TRC was suddenly very motivated to win.

Maybe a little too motivated.

The thing is, he’s started to have some success. He’s doing better, playing better, and having fun. For the most part. But I’ve also seen him start to care too much about winning. This last Friday, he was doing really well. He’d won two matches and tied a third, and with one more win, he could take first place, potentially, and win up to 8 packs in the process. He lost some close games, and he ended up taking 5th, only winning 1 pack.

He was pretty crushed. To the point that I wondered if this was a good thing for him or not. But we had a nice long discussion about playing and winning and losing, and the importance of being grateful for what you’ve got. (There were 17 players there, after all. For a 10 year old to take fifth place against a group of people all college-aged and up? I think that’s quite remarkable.) I also told him that I’d be happy to help him improve his game for the future. He makes some consistent mistakes that if he cleaned up, he’d be doing even better.

Of course, as soon as we started playing and I was pointing out the consistent mistakes he was making, he was less than enthused about this help. He wants to do well, but he wants to do well on his own. The thing is, you can’t have it both ways. In my spare time, I read up on strategy and different approaches to the game. (I’ve settled on Magic as my game of choice because it’s very deep and is always changing and evolving. Learn the rules once, and you can play. But they keep changing the rules, so you’re forced to always relearn. I like that process.) To get better at something all on your own just doesn’t make sense to me. Why not learn from the experience of others?

In any case, as I’ve watched TRC go through this process, I can’t help thinking it’s helping him in the long run. The fact is, there are winners and losers in many situations in life. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes through no fault (or credit) of your own. Learning how to lose is an important life skill. Knowing that it will happen from time to time and picking yourself up when it does . . . that’s hard to do. I still have trouble with it myself, and I’ve got a 25 year head start on TRC . . .

Hearthstone Review: Free Computer Card Game Greatness

I love me some card games. I’m also a big fan of computer games. And last but not least, I’m a huge fan of free. Put them all together in one big glossy well-produced package, and you’ve got one happy Bryce. That’s just what it looks like Blizzard is up to right now in Hearthstone, a new free-to-play card game that just went to open Beta. (What does that mean? It means the real game isn’t released just yet, but you can play it in the test phase. They might make some tweaks to it, but you still get access early.)

I downloaded the game . . . Wednesday? I think that was the day. In any case, I’ve had a chance to put it through some test runs, and I have to say I’m very impressed, and the fellow gamers I’ve spoken to have been impressed, too.

This is a virtual collectible card game–like Magic the Gathering, except without the cardboard. You start by picking one of 9 different heroes. Each hero has a different unique ability and a selection of cards that only that hero can use. There are other cards that anyone can put in their deck. You create a deck based on the cards available to you, and you play against another person who’s done the same thing. The goal is to reduce the other person’s life total to 0 from 30. First person dead, loses.

Hearthstone is a pretty streamlined game. It’s not got near the learning curve of Magic the Gathering. Blizzard’s made a great tutorial that you play to begin the game, and by the end of it you should have the basics down pretty well. Of course, since this is a collectible card game, your deck can only be as good as the cards you own for it. But unlike Magic, Hearthstone lets you unlock cards, earn “money” to purchase them, or even craft cards on your own. Basically, you can play for free, although the option to skip the unlocking via paying money is always there.

Some things that I love about the game so far:

  • Ease of finding other players to play against–The game will set up a match for you at any time, against real players, and it usually takes no more than a minute or so. (I haven’t tried it late at night yet, but I’ve tried it at lunch, and it’s been easy then, so I can’t imagine it would be worse at night.)
  • The games are fast and fun. There’s some strategy involved, but it’s mainly just playing a game and having a good time.
  • There are “Quests” you can do to earn in-game currency. Beat a certain number of opponents. Kill a certain number of minions. That kind of thing. It’s a good way to always feel like you’re accomplishing something. Once you earn 100 gold, you can buy a new pack of 5 randomized cards. For 150, you can gain entry to
  • The Arena–sort of like drafting, you’re presented with a series of three cards to pick from. You take one and move on to the next selection. Once you’ve done that 30 times, you have a deck. You then use that deck to play against other people who have done the same thing. You can play with that deck until you get 12 wins or 3 losses–whichever happens first. You get rewards based on your number of wins. Worst case, you get a pack. Best case, you get FABULOUS PRIZES. So basically you’re paying 50 gold more to play a bunch and be in a more level playing field.
  • Spit and polish–This is a Blizzard game, and that means it’s really slick. You can play on PC or Mac. The graphics are great, the interface is intuitive–it’s a fantastic playing experience.

What’s missing so far? The big omission is the ability to play against friends. I’ve got some friends on, and they’ve been on at the same time as I have. But there’s no way to just select them to go head to head–it’s still randomized. That would be a nice switch, though I suppose people could game the system then to just keep beating themselves and unlocking free packs. Surely there’s a workaround, though. (It appears a feature I might not have been able to figure out yet? Or perhaps it was removed temporarily? Not sure–but from what I can see, when it’s available, they just have it be reward-free, which makes sense.)

Other than that, not much. I think the game’s pretty good to go. Once it’s out for iOS, that’ll be even better. Being able to play a slick game like this on computer or my iPad, for free–it would be ideal. Especially if they let your iPad collection and your computer collection be one and the same. But maybe I’m shooting too high now.

In any case, this is a game you should check out. Download it and play it today. Free! What more motivation do you need?

Anyone else already playing? What are your thoughts thus far?

Levels of Competitive Zen

I had a big post a while ago about how competitive I am. I’ve had some more time to reflect on that–and some more experiences with “real life” competition, and I wanted to write a follow up post. In my previous post, I talked about how intense a game of Magic had gotten for me–how I’d went undefeated, but the desire to win was just so strong that it made me sick to my stomach the whole time I was playing.

I’ve played some more, and I have to say that overall, the experience has changed quite a bit. I’m no longer really nervous about it. In fact, it’s not nearly as interesting anymore. Don’t get me wrong–I still have a great time doing it, but the edge is gone, and I’ve been wondering why that was.

As I think about it, I tend to think that part of it is that I really want to prove myself when I’m playing games. I want to know that I’m a good player–not just have a good self-esteem or something, but really be sure of it. When I was growing up playing games against family members, it was a constant struggle to prove to everyone else that I was smart or good or whatever. The same was true when I started playing Magic in situations where it “mattered”–against people I didn’t know, in tournament settings.

And (again, referring back to my blog post), you’ll recall this left me fairly upset. I didn’t like that I wanted to win that badly, and I wasn’t sure how to fix it.

It turns out, the key was just winning a few times.

If you talk to Denisa, she’ll tell you that I have a tendency to flit around from hobby to hobby. I’ll dwell on one for a few months or years, but inevitably I’ll shift over to a different one in the future. The themes are the same (video games, books, music, board games), but the specifics vary. I’ll play piano for a few weeks, then shift over to guitar. I have a whole closet full of different board games, and an iPad that’s chock full of games, too. I think a big reason for that is that I enjoy learning new things. Exploring new techniques and approaches to something. So I’ll get a new game that has lots of rules, and I’ll really want to win at that one game. But once I can win consistently, it stops having a driving interest to me. I can play it for light entertainment, but I’ve moved on to a new challenge.

(This is one of the reasons I think Magic appeals to me–the rules are basically rewritten every four months or so, which means there’s a chance for continual discovery and challenge. It’s also a reason why I think writing appeals to me–each book presents its own troubles. It’s a struggle to get the book into its best form, and as frustrating as that is, it’s a struggle I really enjoy. I love looking at a finished piece and knowing how hard I had to work to get it into that condition. This reminds me of an experience I had in seventh grade–where my English teacher wouldn’t recommend me for Advanced English, because he thought I wasn’t a strong enough writer. I think it’s right in the theme of this post that I ended up choosing to strive for publication. I seek out challenges.)

Anyway. Kind of a self-reflective post today, I know. But what did you expect with a title like “Levels of Competitive Zen”? Suffice it to say that I’m glad I’ve stopped obsessing about winning at Magic quite so much, and that I hope I can start controlling some of that competitive nature a bit better. I think I know some of where it comes from, and knowing is half the battle, right?

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