Halloween Zero-to-Thirty Challenge Rating Challenge

I’ve collaborated with @probablybadrpgideas​ on a thing!

For the 31 days of October leading into Halloween, let’s all make one Dungeons & Dragons monster per day. Challenge rating starts at 0 on day 1, and each next monster is CR+1, culminating with a CR30 nightmare on the 31st, representing the monsters getting spookier and more dangerous as we approach the most sacred day. Post your monsters each day like an advent calendar, try running encounters against monsters posted by others, build one-shot Halloween-themed adventures, make monstrous player races to oppose the growing threat, make fan art of other people’s monsters, or just enjoy and share the community’s creations!

For your consideration, a prompt list:

  • Pumpkin Spice
  • Undead
  • Kaiju
  • Fairytale
  • Accursed
  • Spoopy
  • Beast
  • Outer Space
  • Doppelgänger
  • Capitalism
  • Insects
  • Trick-or-Treat
  • Misunderstood Monster
  • The Deep
  • Prehistoric
  • Secretive
  • Ooze
  • B-Movie Monster
  • Expanse
  • Parasite
  • This is Not a Place of Honor
  • Chaos
  • Mythology
  • Supernatural
  • Mecha
  • Psychopomp
  • Forest
  • Abomination
  • Caves
  • Boss Monster
  • End of the World

Feel free to follow the prompts in any order you like for inspiration, skip and replace any you aren’t feeling, use another list, or just follow your heart to make the spoopy spooks of your dreams. Dealer’s choice for D&D edition, or Pathfinder, or Monster of the Week, or whatever TTRPG system you like, just make them scarier and tougher each day.

This is the Halloween Zero-to-Thirty Challenge Rating Challenge. Let’s see what amazing things we can come up with to celebrate the best time of year. Hope your party survives to the end!

Gotta Spend Bells to Make Bells

Animal Crossing: New Horizons! You all should be playing it. Like right now, get right on that please.

Cool, now that we’re all on the same page, check out my spreadsheet for tracking turnip sales. Behold, the Porkfolio!


Just input the date of each transaction, the amount of turnips bought or sold (use negative numbers for sales), and the price per turnip. The sheet will track bells earned or lost per transaction, how many turnips you have left, and the target price for remaining turnips to still turn a profit. Each Sunday, clear out your values and start fresh (or keep tracking longterm, I mean turnips don’t really work that way but it’s your finances so feel free).

Let me know what you think! I’m sure I’ll be making tweaks in the coming days to fix math errors.

D&D DM Diary – Adelia’s Gift (Part 1)

I’m running my own Dungeons and Dragons campaign! After several years of not being able to figure out scheduling with my existing gaming group, my desire to play D&D again finally won out over my fears of putting on the Dungeon Master hat. It’s a little daunting, especially since I’ve chosen to write a 100% original campaign and story (this may end up being a mistake), but the players are all new (playing 5e) so at least we all get to go through the learning process together.

Though I don’t think the campaign I’ve written is anything exceptional or original, I’m happy enough with how it’s gone so far that I wanted to share our experience at the table, in case other would-be DMs out there need a little extra push to start running their own games. Continue reading D&D DM Diary – Adelia’s Gift (Part 1)

I Like-Like You! Happy Valentine’s Day!

My sometimes-yearly tradition of making store-bought-style Valentine’s Day cards based on things I like… continues! This year I went with The Legend of Zelda for NES. Personally I prefer Zelda II, but it’s hard to deny the cuteness of square-aspect-ratio-3/4-pseudo-isometric-view Link from the original.


Tutorial Mode

Cheryl Platz (writer of the excellent blog twenty-sided woman which you should all be reading on a regular basis WHY DON’T YOU GET ON THAT) wrote a post today describing the antiquated state of iconography in user interfaces that got me into a UX sort of mindset. She describes how Windows is moving away from such abstracts, preferring more straightforward tiles containing text descriptions. But I started thinking about another source of iconographic inspiration that I think she and the rest of you might find interesting…

Even in the most modern of word processors and spreadsheet editors, most of the button interaction is represented by vague analog metaphors. The last time I interacted with a floppy disk, I was using them as coasters for a Hackers-themed movie night! (long story short, you missed out) And as Cheryl mentioned, clipboards aren’t an obvious analogy for applying duplicated information, so why did it become the standard for something as frequently evoked as “Paste”? Microsoft’s solution, as outlined in their previews for Windows 8’s Metro UI, is to replace those tiny icons with large, touchable rectangles detailing the contents of each application and service. Go ahead and watch the video:

Not too shabby! Metro looks very touch control-friendly and the icons clearly communicate their purpose. But I want to take another brief look at the tiny icons that have served us in the pre-post-PC world and think of another way to utilize them:

A video game-style tutorial mode.

Video games have been trying to deal with relating digital actions to real world analogs for at least as long as productivity applications. In fact, games have it a lot tougher: while you may perform tasks somewhat resembling saving and cut/copy/pasting in everyday life, you’re far less likely to find yourself, say, controlling the actions of a hapless family of avatars as they seek out lives and careers.

A game has to get the player familiar with a wholly alien interface in a very short period of time if it wants to keep said player engaged. As technology advances and games increase their capabilities, control schemes necessarily become more complex. Soon a large portion of the screen is devoted to complicated button layouts, and there isn’t always space for textual descriptions explaining the functions. Let’s look at this screenshot from The Sims 2 (click to enlarge):

(The Sims makes for a good comparison since it, like a word processor with a toolbar, is a largely mouse-driven interface)

See that dial on the bottom-left corner? It’s loaded to the brim with icons attempting to communicate functionality with simple pictographs. And you know what? It’s not always succeeding. From my past experiences with other user interfaces and societal conventions, I can probably figure out a few of these buttons; the plus/minus and curved arrow look like they could be related to camera controls, the sun/leaf/snowflake/tulip pictures presumably correspond to the seasons. Random clicking will probably yield more information about the other controls.

But what if I’m not the type of game player that wants to take risks by random clicking? Or going back to the original point, what if I’ve just finished typing up my very first Microsoft Word document, and I don’t inherently know that a picture of thirty year-old data storage technology that most computers don’t even support anymore represents the action of saving my work? Am I expected to click wantonly until the desired result is obtained?

How, then, do video games overcome this problem? Since their inception, most games come with instruction manuals detailing how to perform all the actions you need to get started, but who in the Word or Sims scenarios really reads a manual? No, the real way for a game to instruct on these behaviors is with a guided, in-game tutorial. Almost every modern game has the ubiquitous “tutorial mode”, handholding the player as it painstakingly describes each essential button and refusing to proceed until we apply their instructions and repeat the stated actions. The game teaches you what a mouse click does, then patiently waits for you to click that mouse button.

What would users think if Microsoft Word 2012 came with a tutorial mode? Before you write your Great American Novel, out comes Clippy with a mandatory walkthrough describing the functions of all the most commonly-used buttons on the toolbar. Users would painstakingly be guided through the concepts of copying and pasting, of right-justification, of embedding hyperlinks. Every person that ever used Word would have this shared educational experience (unskippable, of course), giving all users a much-improved baseline of knowledge and self-sufficiency.

At this point, it wouldn’t matter what we put on the icons. The floppy disk becomes no more useful a graphical representation than a National Geographic photo of a panda chewing on bamboo. It would be a wonderful opportunity to immediately phase out all this outmoded imagery and replace it with more interesting and timeless abstractions. Since everyone did the tutorial, the panda button would be a self-evident representation of saving our work. Clippy said so in the walkthrough. By applying a button’s function within the context of the action, we effectively remove the abstractness from the abstraction.

It should be noted that this is actually a terrible idea. But if some up-and-coming developer implemented something like this in his indie word processor, I’d certainly give the tutorial level a go.

[discuss on the forum]

A Life Well Wasted

It’s been a long time since I used this blog for its original purpose of writing about video game things that tickle my fancy. I don’t have much to say on this front, except that I honestly haven’t been playing a lot of video games for some time now, and have had a correspondingly dwindling interest in game news sites. However, I’ve been trying to get back in the habit of reading said sites, and I was glad to see a splendid payoff in the form of a podcast recommendation!

The show, titled “A Life Well Wasted”, takes a page from the excellent radio show This American Life in its format: each hour they choose a theme and deliver a variety of stories on that theme, only in this case the themes focus more on the gaming community and culture. I’m currently listening to the first episode, focusing on Electronic Gaming Monthly’s demise. I strongly urge everyone to give the show a listen.

As far as I can tell, the host, Robert Ashley, does all the writing and production for the show on his own, which explains why he’ll be making about one episode per month. Hopefully he starts assembling a staff to ease the workload and help increase the rate of production, because this is a brilliant idea that we need to see more of! Hey Robert Ashley, you looking for any writers or production assistants? I’m game.


Wii Storage Solution. FINALLY.

I’m sure everyone’s excited about the DSi and the new Punch-Out!! and the Chibi Robo Wii port and all, but the big news I took from Nintendo’s recent flurry of press releases was Iwata’s announcement that we will finally be able to play Virtual Console and WiiWare games from external storage!

This is the best thing that could have happened for my Wii.

See, I haven’t been playing much Wii these days. In fact, I haven’t been playing any Wii for the past few months. It’s not for lack of desire either. I’m extremely eager to pick up Mega Man 9 and Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People and play them all hours of the night, I really am. But my Wii’s 512MB of internal storage filled to capacity a long time ago, and I really didn’t care for Nintendo’s original “delete old stuff” recommendation. Now we’ll be able to use SD cards to offset internal storage woes! And with 2GB cards being so cheap nowadays, this is going to solve my problem quite readily.

So I guess I’ll be playing these newfangled VC games some time around Spring ’09. No spoilers please.

(courtesy of Wii Fanboy)


The Gamer’s Bill of Rights (kinda like the other Bill of Rights, only it doesn’t mean anything)

Figured I’d be a few hours late to the party instead of a few weeks (like normal): Stardock (developers of one of those OS X Dock hacks for Windows and probably other stuff) and Gas Powered Games (developers of the technology to end games’ names with “Siege”) have teamed up to pen a Gamer’s Bill of Rights. Edge Magazine ran a piece by Stardock CEO Brad Wardell, who lays out his mandates in a clear-cut manner and goes into a little detail on a few of the juicier declarations. The document is basically a laundry list of complaints both old and recent regarding the PC gaming environment (the consoles are largely devoid of these grievances). Though I try not to make a habit of reposting large chunks of others’ content, I feel having the entire body of work will help the discussion along (go check out the article as well, of course):

The Gamer’s Bill of Rights

We the Gamers of the world, in order to ensure a more enjoyable experience, establish equality between players and publishers, and promote the general welfare of our industry hereby call for the following:

1. Gamers shall have the right to return games that don’t work with their computers for a full refund.
2. Gamers shall have the right to demand that games be released in a finished state.
3. Gamers shall have the right to expect meaningful updates after a game’s release.
4. Gamers shall have the right to demand that download managers and updaters not force themselves to run or be forced to load in order to play a game.
5. Gamers shall have the right to expect that the minimum requirements for a game will mean that the game will adequately play on that computer.
6. Gamers shall have the right to expect that games won’t install hidden drivers or other potentially harmful software without their express consent.
7. Gamers shall have the right to re-download the latest versions of the games they own at any time.
8. Gamers shall have the right to not be treated as potential criminals by developers or publishers.
9. Gamers shall have the right to demand that a single-player game not force them to be connected to the Internet every time they wish to play.
10. Gamers shall have the right that games which are installed to the hard drive shall not require a CD/DVD to remain in the drive to play.

Personally, I would have liked it if such an important document had been created by some sort of gamer legislature, instead of a missive from above (you know, a series of laws instead of a pair of stone tablets), but it’s hard to argue against any of the points made. The efforts on the part of game companies to curb piracy has resulted in an environment that hinders the average legal game owner’s ability to actually play the game they paid for. I love The Orange Box, but it feels awful weird having to connect to Steam whenever I need a quick offline Portal fix.

The saddest part about this whole document is that it had to be made in the first place. Most everything listed (except maybe having the physical media in the drive to play; it’s an effective anti-piracy measure that every owner of the game should be able to easily comply with, so quit yer whining) is common sense.

Of course, I do understand the needs to stop piracy, and a company blindly accepting these as policy without coming up with alternative means of protecting their assets is just asking for trouble, but it’d be nice if they gave some thought toward their customer’s… well, I wouldn’t exactly call them rights. More like ideals. In any case, I’ll readily support any company that supports such a bill (printing it on the box would be a nifty gesture). Speaking of which, this is apparently a picture of the document, possibly as seen at PAX?

(courtesy of GamePolitics)