On Figuring It Out Yourself

The slogan "Keep Calm and Do It Yourself" on a red background.Last week on The 40 Year Old Boy, “Let Me Get on Up,” the titular boy, Mike, had an epiphany of sorts. He’s been podcasting for eight years now, delivering a weekly monologue of absurdity with commendable regularity. This week, though, might be the first time he produced it himself. If it was a joke, it’s embedded throughout the episode, as Mike bemoans having to learn Audacity after putting it off for eight years, and Lili the producer laughs gleefully throughout as he comes to grips with having to figure it all out after leaving the work on her for so long.

The validity of Mike’s gripes aside, the chord he struck with me this week was figuring stuff out. When you’re on your own and you don’t have knowledgeable primary sources in your circle of friends, if you want to get anything done, you have to figure stuff out, whether it’s how to play a new board game or how to produce and publish a podcast. Problem-solving is a muscle to develop. Experience breeds eventual success, and success breeds confidence.

Happily, we live in the era of the internet, where there are innumerable how to guides and tutorials on any subject imaginable. The knowledge is available. You have to be willing to start somewhere, though, and you have to be willing to try and see what happens. I taught myself to play Arkham Horror thanks to the rules reference created by Universal Head — now the Esoteric Order of Gamers — and my disinterested yet patient cousin Margot. When I wanted to make a podcast, I figured it out twice. Once in the typical manner, with the PowerPress plugin to publish Carnagecast, and then a no-money route for Held Action Theatre, both times creating a podcast that, from the outside, looked and sounded like any other you would find in the iTunes store. That second time it was entirely about experimenting and testing the workflow. I’m still pretty proud of pulling together so many disparate parts to make a well-produced, syndicated podcast.

The same attitude went into creating Decked! I wanted to learn about publishing video on the web and building a YouTube channel in addition to putting out content for Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game. It also gave me the opportunity to experiment with live streaming a game of Sentinels of the Multiverse, and learn about the software and hardware needs for that style of show.

To circle back to what first got me thinking about building the problem-solving muscle, it’s easy to put up barriers for ourselves. Mike puts up barriers of “I don’t know how to do that,” when he has access to resources to figure it out. I put up barriers of “I don’t have anything worthy to say.” While I enjoy overcoming technological and process-related problems, that’s a barrier with which I still struggle. So I give myself defined spaces in which to work on that. Most recently, it’s becoming fluent in Call of Cthulhu and better able to riff and ride a conversation to make commentary meaningful and entertaining.

And I am, of course, looking for the next opportunity to either exercise skills I have — I still harbor hopes of being able to focus on producing a podcast, rather than being producer-host-everything else — and learn how to do something new. I don’t want to talk about it publicly yet, but I have been learning about and implementing a live streaming installation that’s proven educational and unexpectedly challenging. (The educational part being “don’t needlessly complicate your solutions, Chet.”)

Mage 20th Anniversary’s PDF Materializes

Given the lack of substantive news on the development of Mage‘s 20th anniversary edition — “It’s in yet another round in editing!” was the refrain that I picked out from most of the backer updates — and that I don’t follow news from Onyx Path, I will cop to being downright astonished yesterday afternoon when the email came through with a link to the PDF version of the core book. The Mage anniversary project was something I backed almost out of thoughtless reflex. I don’t know that I ever expected it to truly be done, and certainly not within the time frame they estimated.

And while the project certainly isn’t done, the PDF release is a significant, publicly visible milestone to reach. As in, “Oh yeah, this thing is going to be real! Some day, there will be a new, big, fat purple book on my shelf.”

I only skimmed a few pages last night, but wow. Talk about diving right back into the thick of 1990s White Wolf role-playing material. All that defiant, first-person writing in italicized capital letters, occasionally with lots of exclamation points, really stirs up memories. (And gets the eyes rolling, but Mage as written is what it is, until I make it suit my preferences.)

All Games Considered Returns

I was happy to see that All Games Considered returned from hiatus this week. Mark and Carol checked in, discussed the Gen Con hotel fiasco and reaffirmed their commitment to the show, in spite of the many demands of real life. They also brought up that the show’s ten year anniversary is coming up, which blows my mind.

All Games Considered is one of the very first podcasts I listened to, back when I complained about not having enough new stuff to listen to while driving and a coworker said, “Have you looked at podcasts?” In all its incarnations, All Games Considered has been in my podcatcher of the moment since then. Here’s to ten years!

LARP Talk on The Dork Forest

Dozens of "dorky" characters in green tones crowd together in The Dork Forest logo.Last week on The Dork Forest, Jackie Kashian learned about LARPing from Christian Brown and Roselle Hurley, with Jackie’s husband Andy sitting in and offering his own thoughts as a game designer and general GM-type person. Christian and Roselle run an ongoing LARP called Starship Valkyrie.

As my mental conception of LARPing is jammed somewhere between that one truncated Vampire session I played in high school and what I’ve picked up about combatty LARPs in the woods with foam weapons and beanbags as magic missiles, I appreciated Christian and Roselle providing a great example how a LARP doesn’t necessarily have to be high drama scheming or swinging foam or rattan swords.

And I still very much wish Jackie would record a session or two of her group’s role-playing campaign, just to hear how she plays a character. Tactical? High character? Munchkinly? I want to know!

Carnagecast 60: Winter Weirdness 2015

carnagecast-rss-image-300With Winter Weirdness this past weekend in Barre, I took the opportunity to record an entirely solo episode of Carnagecast, talking about what I got to play and do that day.

I went out of my comfort zone on this episode. I always prefer to have another person with whom to converse on the podcast, but in this case, time was short and I was reminded there are people out there who have made the monologue their format of choice, like Mike Schmidt of The 40 Year Old Boy and Mike Luoma of Glow in the Dark Radio. Now, both Mikes are professional talkers and significantly practiced at their craft, so I’m thinking of this as a tiny glimpse into the format, a way to get a sense of what it’s like.

And after my first attempt — not counting short intros and outros I’ve done for prior Carnagecast episodes — I will say that recording solo is nerve-wracking. Every slip of the tongue is amplified when talking to oneself. Next time — and I guess there will be a next time, because now I can no longer lament not being able to line up a guest in time to post for Monday morning — I think I’ll go for more of the audio essay style, probably because I plowed through a head of Rumblestrip Vermont episodes over the weekend. I am nothing if not a palimpsest of influences.

LibraryBox Followup

LibraryBox logo.During A Fistful of Carnage, I set up a LibraryBox loaded with free-to-distribute RPG materials. It’s a wireless router loaded with customized firmware that acts a document repository accessible independently of your typical free wifi. Internet access got murky last year at Carnage, so I thought it would be interesting to see if anyone took advantage of another source of information, or found a collection of free RPG stuff interesting. LibraryBox counts the number of times any given file is accessed, so I have a rudimentary idea of what visitors found of interest.

The top hit was a Fiasco playset, Bookhounds, though I think that was because it turned out to be corrupt and people tried repeatedly to access it. After that was the public domain film His Girl Friday, which I think mostly came from neighbors at home when I was testing the set up. Third was the Book of Forbidden Lore, a fan work bringing monsters into Pathfinder, followed by the Open d6 system book, then Sapphire, by Vermont’s own Hunter Green.

Those are the high points, but the numbers indicate that there weren’t many total users. A large number of files were accessed once, which I presume is one user making a clean sweep of everything vaguely interesting. After that, out of 59 possible files, about a third were downloaded two or more times — and of that third, seven were accessed more than twice.

For a real sense of whether this was utilized, I’d have to set the LibraryBox up again next year. That’s no trouble at all, since the only thing that will have changed is adding more free material to the collection. The most labor-intensive part of the set up was putting up flyers around the convention space to alert convention-goers there was a LibraryBox available, and just what that is. I have a year to think about it.

Winter Weirdness Game Day This Saturday in Barre

Winter Weirdness flyer. January 10th, 2015 at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Barre, Vermont.Winter Weirdness is coming up this Saturday in Barre. My dance card already has Eldritch Horror with the new Mountains of Madness expansion, so that will be a fun way to kick off the day. Hopefully after that, I can get in some face-to-face Sentinels of the Multiverse and perhaps even Call of Cthulhu.

Green Mountain Gamers announced new donations from Black Moon Games this week, so there’s still more good stuff to win in the raffle benefiting the Vermont Center for Independent Living.

Come play some games, meet neat people and benefit a good cause!

Carnagecast 58: A Recap Full of Carnage

carnagecast-rss-image-300After a nice post-convention rest, we are back with a new episode of Carnagecast, talking about how A Fistful of Carnage went. Ray and I spent most of our weekends in the Snowshed, so we have the inside skinny on role-playing games and card games. The new Dungeons & Dragons edition turned out to be the most demanded game in the role-playing hall, which says a lot for the name’s ability to outlast nerd rage.

It’s a nice little conversation, and I’m glad to be back in the swing of recording episodes. Listen in!

Tim Powers: Interview With a Secret Historian

Mitch Wagner posted an interview with Tim Powers, everyone’s favorite fantasy/horror/science fiction writer — and still secret historian of the world, Tim’s distinctions aside.

I was particularly chuffed to see that Tim and I share an outlining style. Mine’s not nearly so exhaustive as his, because GMs have to be far more responsive to players than authors do to their readers, but I do like an outline, and when a bit of dialogue hits me as being possibly helpful, I’ll note it under the event in question, to have it ready.

The interview spans Powers’ career, from the beginning of his implementation of the Arthurian mythos in Drawing of the Dark and its role in the genesis of The Anubis Gates — surprising, right? — right up to writing Hide Me Among the Graves and figuring out what a person would see up on the dome of St. Paul’s in London.

[Hat tip to Kenneth Hite for the link.]