This weekend saw my home improvement efforts redoubled as I patched and primed the walls of our third-floor bathroom, dug up a third of our admittedly-small backyard in order to sow grass and clover seed, and pulled staples from our hardwood floors in anticipation of getting them re-finished. And naturally, all of this gave me plenty of time to listen to podcasts.
The Vintage Gamer
First up on my listening marathon was The Vintage Gamer #27 in which host Jim VanVerth reviews of one of my favorite games for the Macintosh, A Fool’s Errand. I missed it the first time around, so I had to go back and re-download it. A Fool’s Errand was a huge, challenging puzzle game (actually, a series of puzzles wrapped up in a larger puzzle, which you completed to unlocked even more puzzles) released in the late 1980s. Jim reviews several other games by the same designer, and offers a quick preview of the upcoming A Fool and His Money, a sequel many, many years in the making.
Fear the Boot
Fear the Boot #51: Running a Superhero Game came next, and was of particular interest because I’m in the planning stages of a new Mutants & Masterminds-powered superhero campaign. The lion’s share of the episode had nothing to do with supers, starting with an amusing conversation about parking tickets in suburbia and then turning to fan-submitted topics, of which supers was one.
The lack of superhero focus ended up working in the podcast’s favor, since the first topic addressed was how to get a gaming group to try new games and new gaming styles, which is undoubtedly a prerequisite for most groups to even consider running a supers game. After that, they delved into the challenges of running a good superhero campaign, including diverse power levels, mechanical challenges, and the importance of focusing on characters rather than character powers. That last is an important distinction, and I think it may be where a lot of supers campaigns fall down.
Official Dungeons & Dragons Podcast
Most of the gaming podcasts I’ve been listening to lately focused on the art and style of running a good game; The Official Dungeons & Dragons Podcast #10 was all about the science. In honor of the release of the Magic Item Compendium, it featured an interview with Andy Collins about the mechanics of crafting magic items for Dungeons & Dragons.
Once again I was surprised, and a little disappointed, to hear how much D&D designers are focusing on mechanical, min/max approaches to character and campaign design. Their goal seems to be to be to provide as much mechanical support as possible, and let the individual campaigns provide the quirks and back story, but when all consideration of that drops from the published books, what are the chances that campaigns will pick up the slack? It’s just another sign that D&D is trying to emulate World of Warcraft as much as it can … and not in a good way.
Cato Daily Podcast
Not all of my podcasts were geek focused (though for some, libertarian politics are just as geeky as role-playing games). For a break from gaming I listened to the Cato Daily Podcast episode “Who Killed the GOP?” There is no conservative party any more; the neocons and theocons killed it. Cato interviews author Vic Gold, deputy press secretary for Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, who talks about the death of the small-government Republican Party, what Barry Goldwater might have thought of the current state of affairs, and speculates about what might come next.
All Games Considered
Of course, I couldn’t stay away from geekdom for long, and returned with All Games Considered #51. This is the podcast’s second anniversary show, which saw the whole gang plus guest host Mick Bradley in attendance. The primary topic for this episode was “how to end a campaign”, and it made for some thought provoking discussions. My gaming group has been together for nearly 11 years, and we’ve only ever ended a campaign once, twice if you count our “Against the Giants” sub-campaign.
After listening to the podcast, the idea of planning and executing a campaign with a definite beginning, middle and end is very appealing to me … and perhaps that’s exactly what I should do with my upcoming superhero campaign.
Geek Fu Action Grip
The march to Geek Fu’s 100th episode continues with Geek Fu Action Grip #97: Lawful Stodgy or Chaotic Schmuck, in which Mur provides an update on her mad (in a good way) plan to mail a lunch box around the world with Murcaching. She also updates folks on Season 3 of her serialized audio novel Heaven, which will be called “Earth”, and announces Season 4 … which doesn’t have a name yet.
News out of the way, she rants on the topic of Web 2.0 etiquette, asking that people not try and blog their life story on Twitter (which is designed for short updates, not page-long entries) and the rudeness of those looking to friend her on MySpace just so they can have 10,000 quasi-friends listed in their profile. Finally, she reads her Knights of the Dinner Table column “Lawful Stodgy or Chaotic Schmuck”, in which she argues that the reason why geeks like escapism is it’s the safest place to start a revolution — in the real world, everyone just wants things to be calm, dependable … and lawful.
She makes the point that in the real world, most people are either Lawful Neutral or Lawful Good — meaning your play by the rules and (possibly) try and do the right thing. That’s true, but I’d argue that some are unwittingly Lawful Evil in the process of trying to be Lawful Good, as they try and use the government to force their ideas and values down everyone else’s throat. But hey, that’s the libertarian in me rising to the fore.
Pulp Gamer: Inside Track
“Inside Track” is probably my favorite podcast published by the folks at Pulp Gamer because its focus on the business side of the gaming cottage industry. In episode #18, they speak with Joshua Frost, marking director of Paizo Publishing, about the company’s upcoming Stonehenge game anthology. The game features one board and set of gaming pieces, but has five separate games created by five big name designers. It’s fascinating to hear how Stonehenge came into existence, how it made it to market, and what Paizo’s plans are for the game’s future.
There are a lot of gaming podcasts out there that offer theories, advice and commentary on how to improve your game, but not many that review the actual games we’re playing. The Tome steps into fill that void for Dungeons & Dragons, presenting reviews of new books, magazines and other publications for the legendary gaming system.
Episode #15 features some needed format tweaks, adding D&D news to the front of the podcast, and putting mail and feedback at the back. While frontloading the podcast with feedback works for some podcasts, I think shows like The Tome, which have a main feature that you’re dying to get to, work better when there’s a short lead-in.
The episode features a guest review of Dungeon #146 by William Pall. He follows the traditional Tome format of breaking down each of the adventures and columns in the magazine, and then offering some commentary on which ones he liked best. I’d like to have seen a bit more depth to the adventure reviews, explaining more explicitly what he liked about each adventure.
The show winds down with a self-described rambling essay about the demise of Dragon and Dungeon Magazines by the podcast’s regular host Jeff Greiner. It originally appeared on the Misfit Brew podcast, and could have used a little more focus, but I appreciated the passion and emotion that Jeff brought to the commentary. His apprehension and frustration certainly mirrored my own, though at this point I don’t share of any of his cautious optimism about the future of this content online.
As the blisters slowly swelled on my hands from hours spent turning over hardpacked dirt in my backyard I turned my tired brain to Yog Radio #21. It features the typical mix of Cthulhu Mythos news, events, and good natured joking as well as an interview with Adam Scott Glancy about the infamous (and now actually released) reprint of the Delta Green campaign source book for Call of Cthulhu. It’s very interesting to listen to Glancy talk about the early days of Delta Green, particularly how he went from looking to be an attorney or analyst for the CIA or some other government agency to being the president of Pagan Publishing.