Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hello. I'm Jon, and I'm an RPG Gamer Geek

Click Here for my post on Wil Wheaton, Slayer of Dragons and the True Dungeon Engagement!

I thought and thought about how to follow up my last blog. My small corner of the web has a regular readership of about 20 people. I see about 25-35 hits a month. In the past two days, thanks to Wil Wheaton's linking of my story of GenCon 2010, A True Dungeon Engagement and his own heroic tale of dragon slaying, my site has been hit over 11,000 times. That's fairly incredible! And so, what do I write? You always hear, “Write what you know, and don't worry about numbers.” And so, whether it ends up being interesting to anyone other than my regular readers, I'm going to tell you about how I became the geek I am today.

My name is Jon, and I am a geek. Originally, a geek was a circus performer who bit the heads off of animals, but I'm not that. Often, a geek is thought to be a socially inward or backward individual, bent on one or more particular pursuits, and somewhat non-productive otherwise, but I'm not that either. What is a geek you ask? It is difficult to nail down a singular definition. I can only tell you the kind that I am, and assure you that there are many more like me, and many that aren't

I can pin down the year that I started down my particular road to geekdom. 1986. I was 9. My life was that of a typical 9 year old. I played army, made swords from the tall ironweed that grew in a field where I lived. I had Matchbox cars, Transformers, G.I. Joe, M.A.S.K., LEGO, and Star Wars toys. What regular boy my age didn't back then? My imagination was alive and well. I had a Tandy 1000 computer and an ATARI 2600 which I enjoyed a great deal. All of this was normal. Typical even. Three things happened within a year that were the catalysts that transformed me from my typical kid archetype into my specialized form. Those three things? Nintendo Entertainment System, The Chronicles of Narnia and Dungeons & Dragons. By 1989 I was, and continue today to be, An RPG Gamer Geek.

It was these three things in which I discovered a great untapped source of entertainment, expression and self-discovery. Also, these things played a large part in my social awareness and interaction, rather contrary to to the popular myth that gaming makes you socially awkward. Am I denying that there are socially awkward geeks and gamers? Not at all, but to say that all gamers and geeks are awkward is like saying that all fish are trout. So let's look at each item on my list.

Nintendo Entertainment System: The Atari was an amazing system for its time. But the system I really grew fond of first was the NES. It was in no small part due to the games available. I still remember a lot of things about that system well and fondly. The Nintendo Fun Club Newsletter. That first Super Mario Brothers issue of Nintendo Power. Final Fantasy. Dragon Warrior. And opening the box for The Legend of Zelda not knowing that the cartridge itself was going to be bright shiny gold! Those were good times. The epic fantasy video game was young, and everything was new! 8-bit was an incredible technology, and I didn't have to input a code to pick up where I left off? Unreal! Those games took hours and hours over weeks and weeks to play. No internet. You had to do it all on your own, or pay an expert on a hotline to give you an answer. They required attention to detail, a long attention span, and excellent recall. At the same time I was enjoying the King's Quest series on computer, and the old classic, 'Rogue'. I was a sucker for a good old dungeon crawl.

The Chronicles of Narnia: One of the great epic tales. Narnia introduced me to the fantasy novel. I loved the breadth of time it covered, the sweeping worlds and battles and the great and small creatures of the realm that chipped in for the good of Narnia. What I recall about it in particular is that these children, who were my age, and much like me, were pulled into this amazing place, and became a part of the tale. After I read 'The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe', my outside activity shifted from army, and cowboys and indians, to a backpack, an ironweed sword, and some sort of great journey. Rocks could be gems, trees were monsters, and I was the hero! After Narnia, I would discover Fantasia, Middle Earth, and many other places that sprang from the minds of their creators. I still love fantasy fiction and always will. Of the fiction that I read, it comprises a good 90 percent. What I love most is the way a good fantasy author can create and entire world that is as different from, or similar to ours as he or she wants. Many authors write a fascinating hybrid of our world and their imagined one. Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time comes to mind as an example of a world that melds our world with another. To me, there is little in fiction that is more interesting than good world building.

Dungeons & Dragons: I was introduced to D&D by my step-sister. It was the red box. The one with the huge red dragon on the cover. They had a sculpture of that same cover this year at the top of the escalators at GenCon. You could step up on the stone and pose like the warrior fighting him on the cover. I didn't manage to get the pose, but I did take a picture. Dungeons & Dragons took some serious heat early on from someone who was deeply hurt by the loss of a son who played. The game took the blame for his death, but truly, I feel it was the scapegoat, and not the real reason. A game, any game, can be just as dangerous as anything. How many lives do you suppose too much poker has ruined?
There is a lot of confusion and misinformation surrounding the game itself, but let me at least tell you my experience with it. I was raised in a home with solid values, Biblical truth, and respect. I became a Christian at age 10, but didn't really start to truly see what it all meant until I was 18. I am in fact, an active, all week long Christian (with as much failing and short-coming as anyone) who plays tabletop RPGs like D&D not to mention others. I think there is an ill-conceived idea of the way the game is played that conjures images of children and young adults gathered around a table in the dark wearing robes and memorizing incantations for summoning demons to do their bidding. Not in any game I've ever been involved in. A typical session?

One person has prepared a story or part of a story in advance. They make maps, create non-player characters for the players to interact with using the characters they have made to control in-game. Some DMs will just describe what's going on to the players. A theatrical DM might use voices and mannerisms, like a good story teller or actor, to bring some life into his NPCs, but it is entirely up to the DM and their style. They sometimes prepare props. I'm fond of handing actual notes to my players from the characters in the game, rather than just telling them that they get a note and things like that. The creation of the game is incumbent upon the DM (Dungeon Master) or GM (Game Master) in some systems. The players show up ready to take part in telling a story together. That's the game in a nutshell. The player characters are subjected to a problem or issue and become protagonists. They have to save the town, win a battle, oust an evil overlord or anything that the person running the game can come up with. The players create characters and then make the character do what they think he or she would do. As the characters are played, they gain experience and grow stronger. The game isn't always over in one night. A series of adventures, called a Campaign, can last for years if a group meets to play infrequently. But the main point is that the whole game happens around a table, in the minds of the players. It is a great social exercise that makes friendships that last a long long time. I am still friends with the people I played with in high school, and we still get together from time to time to play. I think most of them read this blog in fact. At any rate, I have never felt pulled to real witchcraft, spells, magic or anything, and I have no problem with reality versus fantasy. If that happens, then I question whether the problem is the game, or if it began somewhere else.

So there you have it. The three main influences that made me the Gamer Geek I am today. Is my story like yours? Can you pin down what made you who you are? Feel free to comment your own gamer/geek story!

Oh and FYI, my first D&D character was named Alexander. He was a fighter. A master of martial weapons. I don't know when I retired him, but in my mind, he looked just like the fighter on the cover of the box. He wasn't me, but he was the me I would be if I were the one in the game. Bound by a personal code of honor, eager to prove himself and willing to help with his talents and abilities. And also, the gigantic horned helm.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

GenCon 2010 - The Tale of Wil Wheaton: Dragon Slayer

Hello all!
I just got back from GenCon 2010 and I'm glad to say that it was a great time, and that True Dungeon was a fantastic success this year!

GenCon itself was a great time. It is a lot of fun to hang around with so many people with common interests. This is true for anyone I think. But I want to tell you about our time with True Dungeon this year!

This was the second year that I have had the privilege of attending GenCon in Indianapolis as a True Dungeon volunteer. Michelle and I along with two of our friends made the 4.5 hour drive last Sunday and spent the week helping to oversee the build, run and tear down or the event. We had a great time last year as new volunteers and were extremely excited to be given the task of becoming build leads. After the build, the two ladies became NPCs. (Non-Player Characters for you non-gamer types) They played the same character on different shifts. That of a half crazed protector of an artifact that the players were seeking. My friend Mike and I assumed administrative assistant roles. That might bring to mind typing letters and sending mail and such, but in True Dungeon, it means making certain that all of the rooms are running smoothly, that lights are working, radios are charged, and markers aren't dried out to name a few of the varied tasks that surface. Essentially we were running all over the place putting out fires. We all had a blast, and can't wait to get back next year!

There are two stories that I can tell you from the event this year:

The first concerns a couple who got engaged during their run of True Dungeon. The guy contacted the TD's creator and owner, Jeff Martin and had a special treasure token made which read "Ring of Engagement - Lisa, will you marry me? -Adam" and then arranged for his wife to find it in a treasure box as the party's rogue. The token popped the question for him, and when she turned around, he was on one knee with the actual ring pictured on the token. Here is a photo of the token!

I didn't get to see this happen, but I hear it was a great moment! She did say yes, by the way!

The second amazing story from True Dungeon this year, involves Actor/Author/Blogger and Geek Royalty, Wil Wheaton and some of the cast of the award winning web series, The Guild! (Felicia Day, Sandeep Parikh, Robin Thorsen and Jeff Lewis)

Here's how the story goes: Our finale this year was an encounter with Smoak, the Red Dragon! He was about one story tall, animatronic, and probably the single hardest challenge in TD history. Only a handful of groups managed to beat him, and most of those groups barely survived. Wil, Felicia, Sandeep, Robin and Jeff made their run late on Friday night with one of their event coordinators, and a pair of TD staffers. By all accounts they were good with the puzzles, and an effective, and intense group of players. They made it in good shape to the final room with our enormous fire breathing dragon!

This is where the story becomes legendary! The dragon was about to unleash the spray of fire that would put an end to our intrepid adventurers, when Mr. Wheaton stepped up to the slider board. (I should interject that combat in True Dungeon is carried out with a shuffleboard-like table and plastic sliders in which players' weapon tokens are placed. A silhouette of the enemy is on the far end of the table and where the slider comes to rest determines hit or miss and how much damage is dealt.) Wil made his slide just as the dragon was about to breathe, and his slider landed on the critical hit zone with the damage pointing in such a way as to kill the dragon in a single shot. This, as has already been said far and wide, is a one-in-a-million slide. A feat not accomplished by anyone else at the convention. The slider had to land in that exact spot, and the ring around it had to be facing that exact way. A heroic and legendary tale to be sure. I hear it told that once the party realized what had happened, Wil proclaimed that from now on he was Wil Wheaton, Slayer of Dragons! Here is a photo of the victorious party, celebrating at the feet of Smoak himself!

Today is a good day to slay a dragon! *Image by Fotoz by Fritz*
This story will more than likely be told and retold forever among the ranks of True Dungeon volunteers and Staff. There was no better outcome for this party. They succeeded in their quest, and they did so in a way that was entirely dependent on the skill of the players. (And perhaps a goodly amount of luck as well)

After the epic attack, Wil was given the d20 used to roll for combat initiatives. A gargantuan die, which he has named "The Dragon's Heart". It will no doubt become a legendary artifact itself! Later on at the con, my wife and I met Wil at his table in the autograph section of the exhibit hall and asked him about his experience. I was pleased that he along with the cast of The Guild, had a great time with True Dungeon. And Wil, seemed more excited than anyone. And why not? He has done what many gamers have only dreamed! He has slayed a legendary Red Dragon!

Wil Wheaton: Dragon Slayer and The Dragon's Heart