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Dragonhelm’s Snowmageddon Journal #1

snowmageddonThe north wind’s whisper has settled upon the Kansas City area. Already, I see madness strike at the minds of once-noble men and women as they seek to stock up on their food stores. All await the coming fury of Jack Frost.

I have come home to an empty house. I can only assume that my boys travel to seek aid amongst their fellow scouts, never letting their mother out of their site. I am proud of them. If we survive the coming blizzard, they will grow to be fine young men.

I have fed our tauntan, Glen, and polished his bridle and saddle. He is eating a hearty meal of oats and hay. I have placed a blanket on him for extra warmth. Glen is making the tauntaun equivalent of a purring sound, both soothing and disturbing at once. We shall soon need his services.

While I am not worried for our immediate future, I know that the human heart will eventually falter. Soon, we shall turn upon each other. I am now making a priority of shoring up our defenses. I have placed the counter-weight on the trebuchet, and am now looking for varieties of squash to use as ammunition. I feel, though, that we will need defenses for any close-quarter fighting. Originally I thought of my treasured bat’leths. Then I remembered that they were merely letter openers. Still, I own a rusty old sword and a rather sharp batarang. There may be some hope yet.

For now, I wait. The snow is coming. May God have mercy on our souls.

Red She-Hulk

Red_She-HulkWhen I first heard that Betty Ross was the new Red She-Hulk, my initial reaction was to roll my eyes. I mean, c’mon. She’s a support character, not a main character. She’s Bruce Banner’s love interest! It’s a trend I have noticed a lot, where supporting characters are suddenly heroes on their own. I am concerned with this trend, as every hero needs a support crew.

Yet I had to ask myself if there was something more to this. So I picked up Red She-Hulk – Volume 1: Hell Hath No Fury. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.

Betty_RossAs I mentioned above, Betty Ross was a supporting character. She’s probably been everything from the damsel in distress to part of a love triangle between Bruce, herself, and Glenn Talbot, etc. etc. While this sort of thing worked in the 60s when the Hulk was created, it’s a dated concept now. Anyone remember when General Thunderbolt Ross hushed his own daughter for interrupting “man talk?”

In other words, Betty Ross is completely boring. Oh, she’s had her moments, but has she ever stood out on her own? Enter the Red She-Hulk. This is Betty Ross, transformed into a Red Hulk, much like her father. Suddenly, she has gone from a supporting character to being in the spotlight. For the first time, she seems interesting.

And yet I have to wonder if we have too many Hulks running around. Two Hulks, two She-Hulks, and how many other spin-offs? Some of the naming conventions are weird too.

While that criticism may hold some water, I think the pros outweigh the cons here. Betty Ross, for the first time, feels like a fully-developed character. I look forward to reading more about the Red She-Hulk.

Back In the Saddle Again!

Ghosts of Dragonspear CastleIt has been some time since I DM’d regularly in real life. I’ve been longing for some gaming again, but haven’t really had a good opportunity. I ran into some old friends at GenCon, and we got talking again about old games, and decided to game together again, roughly once a month.

We decided to include our kids (save for these friends’ youngest, who is a bit too young). With my best friend tagging along, that’s 8 players total!

Now, I have been a bit intimidated by all this. I haven’t run a game in forever. We’re using the D&D Next rules, so that’s a bit challenging. What’s cool is that the adults are all a bunch of AD&D veterans. In fact, I’m probably the only one who spent any real time with d20. I’m starting to warm up to the rules. In fact, this may be my favorite iteration of the game to date. We will see!

I am running Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, the D&D Next adventure from GenCon. Last time, we had character creation and a bit of role-play on the road.  zzzz…..   This time, though, half the party got to fight some lizard men while the other half fell into a sinkhole in a marsh that opened up into a shipwreck (that was somehow inland!). It was quintessential D&D at its finest.

Now, I have to admit to not being as prepared as I would have liked. It’s been a busy time of late. However, old instincts kicked in, and I felt like I had my old DM knack back again. We may not have gone far, but we had a rollicking good time.

One extra challenge with this group has been that only one player gave me a character background. That’s the way you’re going to be? Fine! I’ll add stuff myself! I tried to add some things in here and there to make it fun for folks. So, for example, my wife’s character sheet (a pre-gen) had a background of Sailor on it. So I decided, since a river goes by the home town of these characters, that she was a river rat. I also gave her a tattoo (she chose a curved fish).

Highlight of the evening was when my friend Kenneth, playing an elven ranger, fought against a lizard man who had a love for biting off ears and putting them on a necklace. The lizard man did indeed succeed. However, he was near death, and Kenneth’s character ended him. The ear flew into the air. Kenneth’s character grabbed it, put it back in place, and drank a potion of healing! The ear is back on, albeit a little crooked. And that just looks funny on an elf.

Farewell, Slice of SciFi

Dear podcast friends,

It is with a heavy heart that I have decided to unsubscribe from Slice of Scifi. It was one of the first podcasts that I listened to and has been such a part of my life for years. I no longer feel like it is the show it once was. I have a few reasons for this that I will outline below.

First, I believe that any great endeavor in fandom revolves around community. You take care of your fans, invite them to participate. That was the magic of Slice. I had a podcast family. Everyone could participate. Heck, even Fox Leader got a voice. That time is gone. The only way your calls get on is if they are solicited or your comments happen to match what the show topic is about.

Second, the Powers That Be do not communicate with their fan base. I’ve seen this come into play with other businesses as well. Wizards of the Coast put out D&D 4th edition, and changed the Forgotten Realms for the worse. The result was that Paizo Publishing came out with the highly successful Pathfinder game. The reason for their success was that they communicated with their fans. Now WotC is playing catch-up, trying to regain their audience and moving the Realms forward with a reset of sorts.

Third, I have seen too many of my friends leave Slice recently, some of which was not by their choice. When Evo Terra left, at least there was an announcement, as it should have been. But with recent departures, there’s not be any sort of recognition. That’s wrong. While I respect Michael R. Mennenga for his technical expertise, voice talent, and for being a podcast pioneer, it was the group as a whole that made the show great.

I want to thank everyone who has been a Slice host (and I apologize if I missed anyone!), including Evo Terra, Brian Brown, Tim Adamec, Joe Fiore, Sam Roberts, Bret Fillipek, and Ben Ragunton. I wanted to say a huge thank you as well to the many volunteers who contributed to Slice, including (but not limited to!) Michael Hickerson, Sam Sloan, Kurt from St. George (Curtain St. George?), Theloneous Sweetleaf, Sean from Edwards, and especially Nigel Blackwood and Scott Purdy for their work on the Multiverse News.

And speaking of Ben, I wanted to give him a special shout out. He was placed in a bit of an impossible situation, and despite that, he tried very hard to make the best of it. I am glad to have come to know him as a friend.

If I missed anyone, I apologize. There just were so many people involved that made the show so great. I thank everyone who made Slice the podcast powerhouse that it was.

Thank you, my friends. I wish circumstances were different, but I find the show has changed so much that I can no longer listen. What is important, though, isn’t the show or the medium. It’s friends. I have to say that I am proud to call so many of you old Slice fans my friends. I hope that we meet again in the podosphere.

Trampas Whiteman

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Cute

There is no denying that Star Wars is a sci-fi icon. The series changed the way that we looked at scifi, both on-screen and behind-the-scenes. Yet for all its accomplishments, Star Wars takes a lot of heat. Primarily, the critics love to bash the Ewoks and Jar-Jar Binks.

Let’s start with Jar-Jar. Okay, I get that some think he’s annoying. Not everyone in life can be likable. I understand that many don’t like the way he talks. So what? We don’t bag on Yoda for the way he talks.

Perhaps, though, we should paint Jar-Jar in a new light. First, he’s comedy relief. Humor has always been a part of Star Wars, and he offers it up in spades. I don’t know about you, but I laughed quite a bit when Jar-Jar’s tongue went numb in Episode I.

Second, has anyone ever considered that Jar-Jar might be an adolescent? He’s clumsy. Well, what happens to teenagers in adolescence? They become a bit clumsy and start tripping over themselves. Jar-Jar obviously lacks a certain sense of maturity, demonstrated by the much more mature Captain Tarpals. Obviously, Jar-Jar is a duck out of water and isn’t quite sure how to act within society. In Episode II, he’s much calmer, showing that maybe he grew up some.

Now, what’s up with the Ewok hate? Is it because a bunch of primitives beat up the Empire? If so, then I’ll just say that technology doesn’t always win the day; smarts and heart do. Did the Ewoks take away from Return of the Jedi? By no means. In fact, I think they helped make it so much fun. Like Jar-Jar, they’re comedy relief. They showed that the little guy can win over the big guy. And they showcase the tragedy of war, as seen when the one Ewok died and the other cried over his dead form.

Do people all over hate the Ewoks? Obviously not considering there were two Ewok movies and an animated Ewoks cartoon. Something had to spark that. They did well enough, too, that they’ve been released on DVD.

“They were originally meant to be wookiees.” Okay, so George Lucas changed his mind. I think the guy is entitled to. Yes, wookiees would have been fun, but then we would have lost the bit about a primitive society winning out over a much larger foe.

Then there’s the “cute argument.” You know, where someone has to say they don’t like something because it’s cute. I find this argument to be extremely subjective. I also don’t understand why people hate cute things. Does it harm anything? No. Do cute characters appeal to the kids? You betcha! That makes for more ticket sales. Members of the female demographic like the cute too. And hey, some of us guys are cool with cuteness as well – so long as you don’t tell our friends!

The Ewoks and Jar-Jar are but two of Lucas’ creations that have had a lot of flack. In my opinion, the flack the Ewoks gets is undue. Maybe those elements aren’t to everyone’s liking, but there are fans who do enjoy them. Perhaps it is time to look for the good in Ewoks and Jar-Jar, rather than focusing on the downside.

Broadcasting: A Farewell

I had grown up watching WKRP in Cincinnati. Loved the show. The characters were great, and who didn’t want to be Dr. Johnny Fever?

It wasn’t until high school, though, that I fell in love with broadcasting. I was approaching my senior year, and had already taken some journalism classes. I got the chance to tour KMOS-TV and KCMW-FM at Central Missouri State University (CMSU) around my senior year. It was love at first sight. I knew from that moment what I wanted to do with my life. I was going to be a broadcaster.

I spent over three years at KMOS-TV and even a short jaunt at KCMW-FM (now KTBG-FM). During the time, I learned my craft and met many friends. The broadcasting program at the school had its flaws, but the stations were great. I was lucky enough to have a good mentor in the form of Fred Hunt, a man whose passing has been way too soon. I wish he was here now so that I could seek his advice once more. I was lucky to have him when I did. He was a role model and an inspiration. This was a time when I did broadcasting in a pure form.

wb62Afterwards, I got into corporate broadcasting. This was a time of growth, and an understanding of the real world. I had some good times, but my young naiveté didn’t prepare me for certain realities. It was during this time that I moved into traffic, as our traffic manager at KSMO suffered a horrible accident that paralyzed her. Her sister, Libby, was also in the department. Libby became a good friend and taught me all I knew about traffic. Libby eventually left the station. I was on my own, and advancement up the ladder seemed the natural course. I came to realize that the American dream of climbing up the corporate ladder was false. My faith in the system was shattered. Promises of advancement were broken, and for the first time, I encountered betrayal.

I moved over to KCWE-TV. They offered me an out from KSMO and a pay raise. I took it. The environment wasn’t quite what I expected. I was in a place where there was me and seven women. Normally this is not an issue, saved that they had certain discussions that really shouldn’t have been in the work place. I met my friend Donna there. Donna taught me much. She had a singular wit, and gave me strength to stand up to oppression. I discovered courage.

Donna also gave me the idea to work in advertising. I eventually went to work for Barkley Evergreen and Partners (now simply Barkley), again in traffic. This was my longest stint ever at a job, lasting 7 years. It was a fantastic place to work. It was also at this time that I learned there was a life outside of broadcasting and advertising for me. I discovered the online Dragonlance community, which led to one of the greatest accomplishments of my life – the Dragonlance Nexus. My career really stalled at this point, but I grew as a person exponentially. I became a writer, an online administrator, and a game designer.

All good things must come to an end, and so I moved on. It was a career disaster, and I found myself without a job. I decided to go back to school, learning web design at DeVry University. I began to reinvent myself. It was at this time that I got a job at KKFI-FM as Chief Operator. Suddenly, I was working in the same position that my mentor, Fred Hunt, had worked. I had value as a broadcaster again. I was a broadcaster reborn. I still had to do some traffic duties, but it was a far cry from what I did at other stations.

KKFI had its own unique climate. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some fantastic programmers. I’ve had my downs as well. I am proud, though, because I stayed out of the inner politics and focused on my job. Based on the reactions I got when I turned in my resignation, I feel that I did a good job and had earned a great deal of respect.

Now, after 19 years, half of my life, I have said farewell to broadcasting. This was a hard decision for me, as I’m saying goodbye to a field I’ve worked in since I was 19. Looking back, my degree provided for me. And yet, I landed up going directions not intended. I’ve had some really good times, some bad times, and many times in between. I’ve learned much about the world and have grown.

Now, I have a new love in web design. It’s a love I developed working with the Dragonlance Nexus. I was afraid at first, as I wasn’t an artist and this was all new. But now that I’ve done it for a while, I found something else that I like and I’m good at.

It’s an exciting time, but one that is fraught with a sense of uncertainty. I believe that there are more opportunities in web design, and I believe as well that online media is the future. So maybe I’m saying farewell to broadcasting, but at the same time, perhaps I’m just moving on to a form of media that rivals radio and TV.

With all my love to my fellow broadcasters…

Trampas Whiteman

Dragonhelm Keep is Live!

Greetings, friends, and welcome to the new and improved Dragonhelm Keep! I’ve had this site for a while, piddled around with it, but have done nothing serious with it until now.

For those that don’t know me, I’m the administrator of the Dragonlance Nexus fan site, the host and producer of the Dragonlance Canticle podcast, a Dragonlance RPG designer, and a voice within the podosphere.

So why have my own blog? I believe in having a voice on the internet, where I can talk about the things that interest me without having to worry about other peoples’ format. This is my own private playground.

What can you expect? Talk about RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons, sci-fi and fantasy movies and TV shows, and other fun geeky things that interest me.

I’ve started out by reposting my Fear the Boot blogs here. So there’s lots of yummy content. I will try to make this site even better still.

So sit back, and enjoy the ride. Dragonhelm Keep is live!

Who says that role-playing stops when the dice drop?

In some recent episodes of Fear the Boot, Chad has made the statement that role-playing stops when combat begins. He ascertains that the world somehow is put on pause while the dice are brought out, to-hit and damage calculations are made, and monsters are wiped from the field. Chad makes a very convincing argument, which you should check recent episodes for.

I will state up front that I think Chad is fan-tastic! He has a lot of good thoughts, and I truly enjoy him on the show.

However, I have to call shenanigans on this one. I have been in too many games where we role-played in combat to think that it doesn’t exist when the dice are brought out. Are we not role-playing when we make a skill check? Now, if you say that role-playing changes a bit, I won’t argue there. There is always a different vibe role-playing out of combat and role-playing in combat. But the role-playing doesn’t have to go away.

Need an example? In my current online game, I have a three-way battle going on. There are no real good guys and bad guys, just folks on different sides of the fence. Had I just rolled dice, we would all be pretty bored right now. However, I didn’t. We have a lot of banter going back and forth. One character is goading another, who is obsessed about his cause. Meanwhile a third is trying to stop the combat from escalating. It’s all very tense. It’s the type of epic role-playing that really helps to shape and mold the characters.

So how do you keep the role-playing going while in combat?

Imagine what your character is going through in combat, and then act it out. Is he afraid? Maybe he stutters a bit when combat begins. Maybe he begs the bad guys not to hit him.

Does he use witty banter? Think of Spider-Man here. Spider-Man often uses witty banter in combat, whether it’s to calm his own fears or to lure the bad guys into dropping their guard and making a mistake. This is particularly good for your roguish scoundrels.

Or perhaps your character is more on the serious side. Does he like to intimidate his foes? Personally, I’d be a bit scared if a dwarf yelled at me before going into a rage. Or maybe your character is very devout and swears an oath to his god before going into combat.

Also, be sure to play off of the other characters. When your character is surrounded by three ogres and the other player just dispatched his foe, feel free to say, “Hey, could I get a little help over here?” Or you may just say, “Not bad, for an elf.”

I will admit that there are some limitations to watch out for. You don’t want to be so busy bantering that you forget to let everyone have their fair turn. Many game systems allow you to have a free action during combat. Banter during that time. Sometimes, the banter may come up naturally in a combat, so go with the flow. Just remember that when the turn is over, let the next person join in.

I submit to you that role-playing and combat are not independent. With a little practice, role-playing can take your combat from being a matter of rolling dice to a scene straight out of Hollywood.

Evil Characters

It is said amongst gamers that you should never allow evil characters in the party. There is a good reason for this. As a Dragonlance fan, I’m reminded of the Law of the Dark Queen, which states that evil feeds on itself. This is a truth that surpasses the Dragonlance setting. When you have an evil character in the party, they often cause untold havoc. They don’t work as part of the team, as their motives are self-serving. In other words, they don’t play well with others.

I experienced this phenomenon a couple of times myself. I will say upfront that I, as (a much younger) game master, was as much at fault as anyone else, if not more so. I knew that evil campaigns ended badly, but I didn’t heed the warnings.

In one case, I ran a Realms game where the player characters were determined to kill, rape, and plunder everyone in sight – often in that order. It didn’t last more than two game sessions. By the time it was all done, I was left with a bad taste in my mouth. A gamer should never leave a game with that sensation.

In another case, I thought that a couple of bounty hunters in a Star Wars game could still work within the mold of a heroic game. As it turns out, heroism doesn’t pay well. The players abandoned the whole premise of the campaign in one fell swoop. Before I knew it, the party was somewhere else in the galaxy other than where my game was, and I sat there staring. I was a game master defeated.

Mercenary games, in general, are not to my liking. I like some of the concepts of games like Shadowrun, but the idea that all you’re doing is adventuring to get more money so you can buy more stuff is just not something that interests me personally. Plus, mercenaries can be jerks at times. I like heroic games, where you fight for some greater cause and some better purpose.

Yet can’t evil fight for a greater cause? Many evil organizations do just that. Look at the Empire in Star Wars, or the Knights of Takhisis in Dragonlance. Both entities seek to bring order to their respective settings. It’s when evil puts aside its own ambitions for something greater than itself, whether misguided or not, that it becomes palatable to play.

If you are dead-set on playing an evil character, then my recommendation would be to assign characteristics to the player character that makes him more than some murderer. If you want him to gel with the party, give him a reason to. Maybe he’s working under orders, or has a code of honor he cannot break. In these cases, I would recommend using a character with a Lawful Evil alignment. They seem to be more likely to work well with others, whereas Chaotic Evil would just kill and maim everything indiscriminately.

Maybe the character has something he cares about more than being evil. If his wife has come down with the plague and the party is questing to get the antidote, he might decide to play nice. Or, maybe the character was once good, but was misled, and so now he lives a life of evil. I would recommend placing some chances at redemption if you go this route.

While I still do not recommend evil characters, I think they can work so long as the players are experienced and willing to put aside any issues that would disrupt game play. Use the group template, and talk to the other players and GM about how you can make this work.