Tag: Gaming (page 2 of 41)

One Of Those ‘Casuals’

Dice

I’ve been called a lot of things in my time when it comes to gaming. “Blithering idiot.” “Total bastard.” “Keyboard-turning skill-clicker.” And perhaps the most caustic of all: “mouth-breathing casual.”

Most of these terms come from my wife. Ours is a happy marriage.

Anyway, the last one is sticking with me because to some gamers, ‘casual’ is an extremely dirty word. It’s why the role-playing servers in World of Warcraft are looked down upon (well, that and the atrocious characters running around… here, feast your eyes). Folks who play Magic: the Gathering professionally are more keenly following the buzz on the upcoming Innistrad expansion than the news of a new duel deck featuring Venser and Koth. Sticking with 4th edition D&D rather than using Pathfinder or the old AD&D ruleset probably also marks me as one of those ‘casuals’.

Thinking about it, I’m pretty okay with that.

Gaming is a close runner-up behind writing in terms of favorite ways to spend my time. While I don’t burn a lot of lean tissue in a round or two of Team Fortress 2, I do engage my brain when coming up with refinements to a Commander deck, developing plotlines for a tabletop campaign or working on my macro skills in StarCraft 2. I get a lot of enjoyment out of these things, and I don’t want to lose sight of that by taking the hobby too seriously. I’d like to think I can get good enough at StarCraft 2 or the upcoming Guild Wars 2 to break into the e-sports scene, but it’s going to take a lot of practice before I get myself beyond the level of ‘casual’.

The thing about moving beyond being a casual gamer is that gaming, for the most part, is a rather expensive pastime. Take Magic, for example. To become competitive you need playsets of the most powerful cards available, and that requires a rather large monetary investment. Oh, and the cards you just dropped hundreds of dollars on? They won’t be useful in the very near future. Either the expansions they’re from will pass out of Standard’s ruleset or the card itself may get banned or restricted. You can trade a bit, sure; in fact I’ve started to do some myself since I can’t afford to keep buying singles. But the fact of the matter is that the competitive Magic scene will always be dominated by people who have more disposable income than you. No, thank you.

StarCraft 2 is more accessible in that you don’t need to buy anything other than the box the game comes in, and maybe an authenticator. The hurdle here is dedication and brain power, not cash. You can build your muscle memory and multitasking ability through practice alone, making it more a time investment than anything else. The occasional break for StarJeweled or Aiur Chef with a friend is fine, though, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. You can’t take this stuff too seriously.

I think that’s why some people look down their noses at casuals like myself. I understand the mindset. Gaming is serious business. I used to look at it that way. I would get livid when wiping in a dungeon or getting the facial treatment from an Alliance rogue. It got to the point that my wife stopped playing with me. I was taking it too seriously. I started to fall into that trap again with StarCraft 2, so I took a break. Now that I’m back to it, I’m taking it more easily. I’m using multiplayer (2v2, 3v3) matches to practice and also replaying the single-player campaign on the highest difficulty, and while it gets me angry when things are difficult, I’m not destroying my keyboard or terrifying the cats. Because I know it’s just a game, I should be enjoying it instead of loathing it, and I don’t want to be the next Idra, doing things like ragequitting out of frustrating games I’m about to win.

I think, in the end, it’s more healthy for me to be a casual gamer making my way slowly towards pro-level skills than the kind of gamer who wishes so hard to be pro that they lose sight of all the fun they should be having. If that means I get made fun of on occasion because I like Commander so much or I don’t have the APM of a Korean demigod, so be it. My blood pressure will stay low, my wife will actually want to play with me and, most important of all, I’ll be enjoying the experience.

To me, casual seems like a pretty damn good thing to be.

Honor and Blood, IV: Jon

Heart Tree

Please note: All characters, locations and events are copyright George RR Martin and the events that take place during this game can and will deviate from series canon.

The Story So Far: It is Year 296 since Aegon’s Landing. After a caustic argument in the wake of House Luxon‘s return of stolen blades and his training of his little sister in swordplay, Jon Snow left Winterfell for the Wall on his own. It was Goddard Luxon and his captain, Samsun, who brought him back, but not before Ser Allister Thorne insulted the visitors and fought Samsun in the yard. They have returned to Winterfell, and while Samsun recovers from his wounds, Jon and his direwolf pup Ghost prowl the godswood…

“Only those worthy of the name of Stark carry these. And you are neither worthy, nor a Stark.”

Ghost could sense his mood. The direwolf pup was only as tall as his shin but he still brushed up against Jon Snow’s boot as he made his way around the godswood. It was a quiet evening, the air cool as it always was in Winterfell, and Jon half-expected to see his little brother hanging from one of the pale white branches above their heads. It would have been a welcome distraction from his thoughts.

The words of his mother rang in his head. Step-mother. He reminded himself of that. Catelyn may have been the only mother he’d ever known, but she’d made it clear on several occasions that she did not see him as her son. No; Robb, Bran and Rickon were her sons, not Jon Snow. He was another woman’s issue. Yet Jon tried to please her, to live up to the name of his father and all the Starks before him. Was it impossible, as she seemed to think it was?

He hadn’t been looking at the swords for himself, in truth. Yes, some of the blades that came back to Winterfell with the Luxons of Moat Cailin were very fine, but none suited for his purposes. He wanted to spar with Arya on even terms, her with Needle and himself with a similar blade, not just with harmless sticks. She needed to know how dangerous it could be. She wouldn’t shrink from it, of course, and he loved her for that. But Catelyn had other ideas.

“Arya will study with her sister to be a proper lady of a noble House. I will not have you putting ideas in her head that she’s suited for anything else. It’s hard enough on Septa Mordane as it is without your interference.”

Jon kicked a small stone. Ghost loped after it. Sighing, the dark-haired young man looked up at the twilight sky. The stars were beginning to emerge through the branches of the weirwood, but they did not seem as clear here as they had at the Wall. He’d talked of joining the Night’s Watch, to remove himself from Cat and the drama of his House rather than cause more strife, but that too had been a disaster. He hadn’t been able to get past the master of arms’ prejudice and scorn, and when Goddard Luxon and Samsun Cray arrived it’d been even worse.

I could have chosen to stay. I could have tried harder. But I picked the easy route. I ran away.

Because of his choice, Samsun had a broken arm and more than a few bruises and scrapes. It’d taken Lord Goddard and the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch to convince Thorne and Samsun to use practice blades. Had they not, Samsun might now be dead, only because Jon had leaped at the chance to escape from the Wall.

He was on his third or fourth circuit of the godswood when he heard the soft sound of stone on metal. He turned around the trunk of a tree to see his father sitting beneath the heart tree, a sword in his lap. Jon assumed it was Ice. He moves quietly to get closer, Ghost his inspiration as the pup stayed beside him.

“I know why you’re out here.”

Jon rolled his eyes. Of course his father knew.

“Father… am I a coward?”

The stone stopped. Eddard Stark raised his eyes to look at his son in disbelief.

“…What?”

“I ran away from here. And then I ran from the Wall. I thought I’d have a place there but all I got was more scorn. I have enough of that here.”

Ned sighed. “Jon. Come and sit down.”

He obeyed.

“You can’t tolerate being thought of as less than what you are. I know men who’d lash out in anger when their self-image is challenged. And you’ve yet to prove yourself in the eyes of those that need it. The Wall may have been a place to do it, but your uncle sent a raven telling me not to let you stay. He doesn’t want you near that’s happening there. He worries about you.”

“I can take care of myself!”

Ned lay a hand on Jon’s shoulder. “I know you can. That’s why you’re going to Moat Cailin. They are drawing attention from people in the South, and if trouble comes from there, that castle is where it will begin. Benjen’s on one border of our charge, and now you’ll be on the other. I’ll feel better having a Stark both on the Wall and on our gate to the South.”

“I know, and I think I can do better there than on the Wall, but… I’m afraid. I’m afraid I’ll run away again.”

“I’m not. I know you won’t.”

The moon emerged from behind the clouds. Jon’s eye was drawn to the sword in Ned’s lap. It was shorter than it had seemed at first, it’s grip suited for only one hand, the leather embroidered with wolves chasing each other. The pommel was large, like a plumb weight slightly smaller than Jon’s fist, to balance the blade and provide a place for the off-hand in the instances of a two-handed swing. The moonlight played on the smokey waves that seemed to deepen the steel.

“That isn’t Ice.” But it could be Ice’s little brother.

Ned followed his gaze and smiled. “No, it’s not. This is Snowfang. My father gave it to Brandon the same day he gave me Ice. That was before they left for King’s Landing.” Ned paused, the smile fading. “It was the last day I saw either of them alive.”

Jon swallowed. He didn’t like seeing his father dwell on the past. Yet his next question would have him doing exactly that.

“Was that before you met my mother?”

Ned said nothing. Instead, he got to his feet. He seemed to tower over Jon in the darkness, a giant come down from beyond the Wall. For a moment, he loomed there in silence. Then, he picked up the scabbard for Snowfang, sheathed the blade, and handed it to Jon.

“I give you this sword, Jon Snow, so that you may carry the honor and courage of the House of Stark with you everywhere you go.”

Jon blinked, taking the sword with numb, disbelieving fingers. “Mother will…”

“She’ll disapprove. I know. You let me deal with that. You have other tasks ahead of you.” Eddard knelt in front of his bastard son, looking him in the eye. “Listen to Lord Goddard and follow his example. Be ever at his side as much as possible. Observe. Learn. Have their maester send ravens to me when you can. You are my eyes in Moat Cailin and aimed at the South. I will not be blind to what comes from there no matter how dire things become at the Wall. You remember our words.”

“Winter Is Coming.”

“And it comes from more directions that just the land beyond the Wall. Things are changing, Jon. I can feel it in my bones. If we do not change with them, this House will fall.”

Jon’s grip tightened on Snowfang.

“I won’t let that happen, Father. I give you my word.”

Get caught up by visiting the Westeros page.

Next: The Green Boy

Honor & Blood, III: The Watcher

Courtesy HBO's Game of Thrones

Please note: All characters, locations and events are copyright George RR Martin and the events that take place during this game can and will deviate from series canon.

The Story So Far: It is Year 296 since Aegon’s Landing. House Luxon is in the process of returning a trove of stolen blades to their rightful Houses. Victor Luxon has now crossed the sands of Dorne to return the final blades to House Martell. Accompanying him from Sunspear to the Water Gardens is Maester Chrysander, newly appointed to service at Moat Cailin. Cadmon Hightower, however, is nowhere to be found…

They were two, now, while three had entered the Water Gardens.

Areo Hotah was in step behind them, silent, his poleaxe leaned against the crook of his shoulder and his hand resting on its shaft. They walked at a reasonable pace, both for his Prince and for one of their visitors. They said they’d come from House Luxon, far to the north in a castle once ruined. Yet only one of them appeared to be of Northerly stock. He was broad of shoulder and long of gait, even if Hotah was slightly taller. His eyes betrayed neither mirth nor treachery, and his mouth seemed to speak only blunt truths. Hotah admitted he was taking a liking to him.

“I still don’t see why we’re here, while I do appreciate Your Highness’ hospitality.” Victor Luxon pushed Doran Martell across the pink marble floor slowly. The wheels on the chair had been freshly oiled, and made no noise. There was occasionally a metal rattle from Hotah’s armor or a scuff from Victor’s boots, but the sound permeating the hall was the rhythmic clack of the maester’s staff against the floor. The sun glistened on the bald pate of the older man, who had no hair whatsoever on his skull. Even his eyebrows were missing.

“I wanted to show you all that Dorne offers.” The Prince’s voice was set at its most magnanimous. “I can only imagine what you might have heard from the smallfolk in Highgarden on your way here.”

“I had begun to acquire a taste for your Dornish wine in Oldtown.” Victor smiled. “You can tell a lot about a people by their wine.”

“Oh? And what does our wine tell you about us, young Luxon?”

“The wine has a sweet taste, many textures and a warm finish that may burn if you aren’t prepared for it.”

“We had the pleasure of drinking it without it being watered down,” Maester Chrysander observed. “I shudder to think what becomes of it in less civilized parts of the world.”

“I wouldn’t strictly called Oldtown ‘civilzed’.” Victor Luxon was frowning. “It has its share of unruly elements. Mostly in and around the ports.”

“Isn’t your young friend something of a sailor?” Doran turned to look over his shoulder at Victor. “He has that look about him.”

Victor’s hands visibly tightened on the handles of the chair. Hotah noticed this, and the way the maester took a discreet step further away from him.

“He is not what I’d call a friend.”

“Yet you traveled together.”

The maester stepped close again as they walked. “The young master is, ah, of an opposing personality with the heir of Hightower. Born a bastard and raised in the Free Cities, his attitude can be somewhat cavalier at times.”

“He’s a green, vain, arrogant boy, and I trust him about as far as I can throw him.”

Hotah hid a smile. Victor was a capable warrior, it showed in his every movement. It’d be an honor to meet him even in the yard, trading blows. Yet he had all the subtlety of Robert Baratheon’s fabled warhammer.

“You needn’t concern yourself with Cadmon Hightower any longer, young Luxon. He has asked me for the privilege of staying in Sunspear for the time being, and after hearing his petition I’m of a mind to oblige him.”

Victor Luxon blinked. “Why would he want to do such a thing?”

“Perhaps he fancies one of my daughters. He couldn’t court them anywhere near as well from Moat Cailin, now could he?”

Hotah studied the guests. Luxon simply shook his head, looking disgusted. He thinks the boy a fool, blinded by lust and power plays. The maester, on the other hand, seemed locked in his own thoughts. His expression was distant but otherwise inscrutible.

Prince Doran picked up on it. “You seem quiet, Maester Chrysander. Shall I guess your thoughts?”

Chrysander looked to the Prince and smiled. “You might be mistaken, my Prince, at what they are. Perhaps a game of cyvasse instead, with our thoughts as the stakes?”

“That again? Do you play it in your sleep?”

“You could be a fair player, young master. I would not disparage it out of hand, in spite of your losses. It teaches much about…”

“Boredom? Obscure rules? Treachery and deception?”

“I was going to say, ‘warfare’.” Chrysander’s smile was that of a teacher speaking to an obstinate student. “Your aggressive playstyle would be suited for some opponents, but you must learn to anticipate beyond the next move.”

“I deal with what’s in front of me.”

“Such honesty seems a uniquely Northern trait,” the Prince observed.

“I’ve noticed, Prince.” Victor sounded only slightly more bitter than usual. “Too many around the Iron Throne seem to like hiding daggers in their smiles.”

“It’s unfortunate that we can’t always see the threats that ally against us.” Prince Doran steepled his fingers as they approached the courtyard, where the children played as they always did. Chrysander smiled beatifically, and Victor blinked a few times.

“I come here whenever I need a reminder of what we’re fighting for.” Doran’s posture relaxed as he took in the sight. “Ensuring I never lose sight of what is most precious to me.”

“I understand.”

Doran turned to look up at Victor. “I’ve no doubt you do. Perhaps one day you’ll have children of your own, and understand more deeply.”

“As long as my sons are strong,” Victor replied. Chrysander leaned on his staff.

“I’ve no doubt they will be, young master.”

“We’ll watch them play for a time, if you’ll indulge me.” Prince Doran was now utterly at ease. Areo Hotah rested the pommel of his axe against the white marble floor. Despite the manner of the Prince’s guests, he remained watchful, as he always did. “Afterwards we shall take a midday meal, and then make arrangements to return to Sunspear where you can take ship to White Harbor. Martell is in your debt for the return of our blades and the justice done in the name of their owners. It is the least we can do to see you safely home.”

Get caught up by visiting the Westeros page.

Next: Jon

Literary Crimes Against Gaming

Courtesy Jason Chan & Wizards of the Coast
I feel like Karn some days. And not just from lack of coffee.

Bad writing can be just as influential and inspirational as good writing.

That may seem to be an incongruous statement. But in my experience, there have been some instances where I’ve been reading a novel, a story or a post, and have wanted nothing more than to blow the author out of the water, literarily speaking. I find this to be the case especially in writing related to gaming, which makes me twice as angry. It’s one thing to write badly, but to degrade a setting or concept I like through that bad writing should be a hanging offense.

That’s my opinion, at least.

Take, for example, the Quest for Karn. I’ve been looking for a good Magic: the Gathering novel ever since Arena, which is still the best if you ask me. The planeswalkers that Wizards of the Coast have put together are an interesting bunch, but I feel like there’s more that could be done with them, territory in the human experience and the permutations of their powers that remains unexplored. And when you present these characters in as bland a way possible, with no real characterization and a plot apparently paced to make The Lord of the Rings look like a jaunty sprint by comparison, you leave a sour taste in the reader’s mouth, instead of making them hungry for more.

I must confess, however, that doing this to the likes of Venser and Elspeth is pretty harmless, considering what could have been done. As far as I’m aware, Wizards has yet to acquire the services of someone like Richard A. Knaak, who misses the point of characters like a champ. Consider Stormrage. In Warcraft III, we learn that Tyrande Whisperwind is a confident, driven and inspiring leader of her people, a warrior-priestess with thousands of years of experience in doing what she says and making decisions without regret. By Knaak’s hand, however, she’s transformed into someone who never grew out of being a teenager, an immature and insecure person who fears the judgement of her peers and might just be cribbing notes from Bella Swan. There’s no growth in Knaak’s characters. If they’re great, they’re always great as well as flawless. If they’re flighty, uncertain and relatively weak, they’re a girl.

I had to pause for a cleansing breath, there.

Gaming books outside of novels suffer as well. Mage is probably my all-time favorite permutation of the World of Darkness, but the core book for Ascension feels unnecessarily huge. There’s great stuff in there for storytellers and players a like, but it can take a little sifting. The prose passages feel ponderous more often than not, with some overwrought language and long-winded anecdotes that are likely aimed at increasing the book’s gravitas while taking away from the essential information gamers are looking for. I still love the book, don’t get me wrong. It’s gorgeous, the new mythology tickles my fancy and the new spheres of magic are very well thought out. It’s just fluffier than I’d like.

In addition to wrapping up the first draft of one manuscript, rewriting another and editing a third, I think it would behoove me to investigate more deeply the ways and means people find their way into gaming material, from source books to novels. I’ve had great experiences working with Machine Age Productions and I hope I can take that experience to other gaming houses in the future. Writing for and about gaming isn’t just something I want to do, after all; it’s something worth doing right.

Honor & Blood, II: Chrysander

Courtesy HBO's Game of Thrones

Please note: All characters, locations and events are copyright George RR Martin and the events that take place during this game can and will deviate from series canon.

The Story So Far: It is Year 296 since Aegon’s Landing. House Luxon is in the process of returning a trove of stolen blades to their rightful Houses. Carrying those belonging to the Houses of the Reach and Dorne, Victor Luxon has reached Oldtown. After delivering the treasures of House Hightower, the Citadel offers the growing House of the North something no political force in Westeros should be without: a maester. The Archmaesters have been reviewing candidates for three days…

He began the day he always did. He swung his body into a seated position on the small cot in his cell within the Citadel, in walking distance to one of the lower libraries. He used a cloth soaking in the bowl of water by his cot to clean the stump of his right calf, the flesh smooth inches below his knee where he’d been cut free of the dead horse. He reached under the cot for his leg. It was made of two pieces of ash, one shaped like a foot and the other taking the place of his lost leg tissue, held together with a sturdy pin of iron. He strapped it into place with the specific procedure he’d used countless times since coming to the Citadel as a novice. The leg had been his own design, perhaps the largest step in forging his link for alchemy.

He stood, ensuring the leg held, and half-hobbled to the larger water bowl on the dresser. Even with the faux leg it was difficult to move quickly without assistance. Rapid movement, like dreams of knighthood and vast sums of wealth, had been left crushed under the poor horse. He reached to the side of the bowl for the razor, washed the blade in the water, and took it to his scalp, jawline and lips. He scoured his head of hair, including his eyebrows.

I am a maester of the Citadel, he told himself as he set the razor aside. Would that we had vows like the brothers of the Night’s Watch that the realm might know our quality.

Sighing, he put on his robe and fished his chain out from beneath it. Adjusting it so it hung correctly, he next took up his staff. It was old, an oak shaft just slightly taller than he, carved with Valyrian letters and symbols and topped with a shard of dragonglass. He leaned on the familiar tool, cleared his throat and opened the door.

He had been expecting one of the pages of the Citadel, or perhaps a novice like Pate, ready to help him to the library for the day’s research, filing and answering of questions.

He was instead faced with another maester.

“Maester Chrysander. The Realm has need of you.”

The figure in the hall was shorter than Chrysander, stockier and broad of shoulder, his chain easily double that of the cripple’s. In normal clothes and not the robes of a maester, he could have been mistaken for a deckhand or thug in the employ of a pirate or dock lord. Instead, his imposing frame spoke of power and knowledge. The thing that Chrysander focused on, however, was the Valyrian steel mask the other wore.

“Archmaester. I’m honored you deliver this summons in person.”

“I’ve done it before,” Marwyn sniffed, gesturing for Chrysander to join him in the hall. The junior maester did so, his staff clacking softly against the stone with every other step. “It’s not that rare. Your predecessor in your post, Maester Luwin, was also summoned in such a fashion. Of course, that was some years ago, and to an old and storied House of the North. You are going in the same direction, but to a House much younger.”

“That would be House Luxon, I take it.”

“Your ears work fine, I see, even if your legs do not.”

Chrysander looked over his shoulder. As usual, the black cat with which he shared his cell had stepped out to follow him. Selyne’s tail was straight up, crooked slightly to one side, as she padded along silently behind the maesters. After a moment, her ears pricked up and she darted down a side corridor. Chrysander smiled. She’ll be along. She needs breakfast, too.

Over a meal of bread, cheese, fruit, cooked eggs and fresh water, Chrysander discussed the post with Marwyn. The archmaester hosted his apprentice in his own rooms, where he removed his mask to eat. His red teeth tore into an apple before he spoke of Chrysander’s purpose.

“Other than providing guidance for Lord Goddard and education for his children, I advise you to keep a weather eye towards the Wall. Ravens from the North have been most disconcerting of late. The astronomers are quite nervous.”

“I suspect the Luxons are equally squirelly.”

“Ha!” Marwyn slapped the table hard, sending an orange rolling across the floor. “A good one, but I’d watch those puns if I were you. They may not be welcome in a lord’s hall.”

“I will do so, Archmaester. What else of the North?”

“As I mentioned, Luwin preceded you, as my apprentice and as a maester in the North. You know which House he serves, and their words.”

Chrysander nodded. “Winter is coming.”

“Aye. Look well-armed to receive it when it does, Chrysander. Your charge is nothing more, and nothing less. The Realm may depend upon House Luxon standing its ground when the blizzards come, bringing Seven knows what else with them.”

Chrysander fingered the ring of Valyrian steel on his chain. “It will be done, Archmaester. The Realm has called, and I will answer.”

Satisfied, they left to proceed to the yard. Chrysander made a list of provisions, books and materials he’d need for his service at Moat Cailin, and requested the garron Aloysius, a heavy and somewhat lethargic beast too large for barding and too intractable to serve as a steed. Yet he pulled carts very well and he didn’t seem to mind Chrysander’s presence. As the cart was loaded and Selyne caught up with him, Chrysander caught sight of a man in the yard testing his strength against several squires of House Hightower. Marwyn approached, his mask back in place.

The man in the blue and silver armor roared defiantly at the six men coming at him. His greatsword, blunted for practice, nevertheless floored two before they could come to grips with him. The shield of a third was splintered when he tried to attack, and he fell away, clutching a broken arm. The figure in the armor punched a fourth in the face while parrying the blow of a fifth. Pushing the warhammer away, he glanced between the two squires who still stood, and laughed heartily.

“I knew you squirts from the South were made of suet!”

This is my new Lord, Chrysander realized. No — this is the man I must teach to follow that Lord as Gatekeeper of the North. Acid ran through his heart.

The squires attacked Victor as one. Still laughing, their opponent stepped aside from one blow, parrying another and headbutting the one on his left. As the squire staggered back, blood spewing from his nose, the broad-shouldered warrior grabbed the final one by the throat and forced him to his knees. The others staggered to their feet and called out, one at a time, that they yielded.

“I’ve only seen such ferocity and dedication to victory once before,” Archmaester Marwyn observed.

“When was that?”

The man in the Valyrian steel mask turned to his apprentice, his expression inscrutable.

“Gregor Clegane. The Mountain that Rides.”

Get caught up by visiting the Westeros page.

Next: The Watcher

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