Category Archives: geek stuff

A Meditation On Blu-ray And DVD: How Game Of Thrones Showed Me That I’m A Second Class Consumer

I own five movies on Blu-ray: Inception, 127 Hours, and the original Star Wars trilogy. I recently purchased Game of Thrones Season 3 on Blu-ray. I do not own a Blu-ray player. I do not own a PS3 or a PS4. I do not, in fact, have any way to play these Blu-ray discs. But I still own them. Why?

I own these Blu-ray discs because I wanted the DVD versions of these movies and that meant my only option was buying the Blu-ray discs that came included with the Blu-rays. As far as I can tell, there is no standalone DVD collection to buy, much as there wasn’t for any of my other purchases. At least the price was right; I picked up the entire season for just under $30 on Amazon. Hilariously, it came with not only the DVD and the Blu-ray versions, but also a code for a digital download of the entire season, because why not. I can put it on my laptop since that machine doesn’t have a disc drive.

I understand why they’re doing it this way. Even though Blu-ray killed off its rival format HD-DVD in the high definition disc format wars of 2008, Blu-ray has failed to displace its true rivals, the humble DVD and the ability to stream video instantly from services like Netflix.

The frustrating part is that eventually, I know this strategy will win out. When I opened my first Blu-ray box to retrieve the DVD I wanted to watch, I smirked. How foolish it would be for me to buy a new Blu-ray player simply because I owned a single Blu-ray disc that I didn’t even want!

But now that I have five movies and a season of my favorite show and it doesn’t seem quite so silly. At this point, why wouldn’t I buy one?

Even though this has been going on for a while, the third season of Game of Thrones is the first product I’ve purchased that indicated to me just how thin distributors’ patience is with my DVD watching shenanigans. It’s pretty clear at this point that my preference for DVD means I’m a second class consumer. They really want me to stop what I’m doing and get a Blu-ray player. Here’s how I know this.

When you open the Game of Thrones box set, you immediately notice the absolutely gorgeous case design. The plastic sleeve creates the shadow of the dragon on the cover and it looks amazing. When you open the box, you’re treated to the detailed portraits of the main characters. This is a detail that’s been included in each DVD set thus far, but it’s still cool to see the development reflected in the characters’ faces. Jaime isn’t looking too good these days.

As you unfold the box set, the long row of gleaming discs spreads out before you, each one new and shiny. These are the Blu-ray discs and they look and feel absolutely lovely. But where are the DVDs?

For a moment, there is panic! Maybe you only thought you were ordering a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Amazon. Maybe you didn’t pay close enough attention . . .

Oh, wait. What’s that tucked underneath the box of gleaming discs with its handsome portraits?

A tiny little sleeve about the thickness of an envelop with two discs stuffed inside. Two discs? How can Game of Thrones fit on two discs? Oh. These are two double-sided discs. It’s all crammed in there. Well, at least you have all the episodes to watch, even if the double-sided means you’re forever going to be putting the disc in on the wrong side relative to the episode you want to watch.

When you put them side-by-side, the disparity is obvious. The Blu-ray consumer has a handsome case with its shadow-dragon sheath, its portraits, and its girth; nearly an inch thick when folded up.

The DVD consumer has a thin cardboard envelop.

I’ll still watch and enjoy my DVDs. But every time I open the case to retrieve them, I’ll notice my Blu-ray discs sitting untouched in their gleaming beauty, all the while whispering silently: Watch us instead. Buy a Blu-ray player. Give in to our marketing strategy . . .

But Does It Project A Tiny Blue Hologram?

I am enough of a nerd to admit this: if Cortana is the actual name of Microsoft’s personal data assistant, I want one. If it’s just the code name for the project, I will be disappointed.

I hear people talking to Siri on their iPhones all the time, but Siri doesn’t remind me of one of my favorite Xbox games. I want to have a brief moment of Halo fan-thrill every time I need to find out something.

“Cortana, find me a restaurant.”

“Cortana, what’s the weather like today?”

“Cortana, what’s the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”

Is that dorky? Yes. Yes, it is.

Do I care? I still hold my hand out and pretend to be a Jedi every time I walk through an automatic door. You tell me.

New Laptop, Windows 8, and My Thoughts On Both

I finally made the plunge and purchased a new laptop. The primary motivation for this purchase was my little Acer finally succumbing to the dark forces that eventually claim all computers.

The Acer was a quick purchase meant to replace my dying Dell Inspiron, the computer that served as my main PC for so many years that I literally wore grooves into the plastic with my wrists. I wish I still had that computer so I could take a picture of it and show you. Alas, I do not.

The Acer served well in the fact that it was dirt cheap, having been purchased as a refurb from a friend for about $100. Unfortunately, it was also ridiculously tiny; I think the screen was roughly nine inches? The keyboard was cramped, even moreso since I’m a pretty big guy with accordingly large hands. Even worse was the fact that I just looked kind of ridiculous as I typed away on that little thing, because nothing is more important when you’re a writer than everybody knowing how cool you look as you write.

Here's the little Acer with a beer bottle (and a shot glass) for scale. It is tiny!
Here’s the little Acer with a beer bottle (and a shot glass) for scale. It is tiny!

It always seems like it’s the wrong time to buy a piece of technology. If you’re an early adopter, you get to enjoy finding all the problems that QA missed that won’t get fixed until version 2 rolls out next year. If you wait until version 2 or 3, you are virtually guaranteed that you’ll purchase a device that is on the verge of obsolescence because something new and exciting is about to be announced. This is commonly referred to by sociologists (not really) as “the iPhone Paradox,” in that all times are the wrong time to buy a new iPhone.

I was wholly uninterested in touch screens on laptops until I saw someone play Artemis on a touchscreen and immediately coveted such technology for myself.

My new toy is the HP Envy TouchSmart M6 Sleekbook. I only remember all of that because there’s still a little sticker on the corner telling me that’s what this machine is.

Size comparison for the Acer and the HP (and the beer bottle!)
Size comparison for the Acer and the HP (and the beer bottle!)

Having a touchscreen on a laptop is pretty awesome. Having to deal with track pads was always one of those things about laptop computing that was a hardship to be endured. Being able to flick through pages with a swipe is very satisfying, although there are particular actions (like clicking and dragging) that are still better on the pad. Having both means of control is nice, as opposed to being limited to one or the other as you might find on a tablet.

The downside of a touchscreen is the fingerprint smudging. I’m keeping my microfiber cloth that I use for my glasses in my laptop bag to clean the screen it still attracts fingerprints at an insane rate. If you’re the kind of person that can’t stand typing or reading through a dirty screen, this may drive you mad. I find that it only annoys me for things like watching videos or movies which are activities that don’t involve a lot of browsing. Nevertheless, I can already tell I’m going to be wiping this thing off daily.

Windows 8 has been a fascinating experience. I can now understand why sales are pretty abysmal at the moment. The transition from Windows 7 to 8 is unpleasant. For the first few hours, I was frustrated by my inability to do basic commands that were effortless in 7. The feeling was that the operating system just kept getting in my way which is something your OS should never ever do. Even after I figured out how to do something, the feeling was still that I could do it more quickly and easier in 7.

There’s definitely a learning curve here and I think that is 8’s biggest problem. I didn’t want to learn how to use Windows again. I already knew how to use Windows. In fact, one of the reasons I stuck with Windows rather than going to Apple was precisely because I didn’t want to learn a different operating system. That probably says more about me than anything else, but I imagine that the archetypal Windows user doesn’t want to interact with their OS any more than is strictly necessary. This might indicate that we’re all troglodytes compared to Apple users; certainly, it suggests that we don’t want to move outside of our comfort zone, which 8 forces us to do.

After a few hours, however, my experience with 8 improved considerably. There are several features that I think are really neat, like being able to swipe through screens very quickly. The Metro hub (or Start page, or whatever they’re calling it) is also nice. I like being able to customize that space, although I’m probably predisposed to liking the Metro tile interface since I’ve been familiarized with it through my Windows Phone.

There are still a few things that are very frustrating. Chrome hides the taskbar when it’s active which means I can’t see a clock while I browse. This is rather irritating and there doesn’t appear to be a fix available.

Is Windows 8 better than 7? Overall, I’d say no; my primary criterion for my operating system is that it stays out of my way was much as possible. I want it to be invisible and effortless; I don’t want to think about what I want it to do. Windows 7 is still my gold star because it just works and it works relatively quietly and unobtrusively.

I realize that this is a difficult feature to sell a product on (you won’t even notice that it’s there!) but that’s what I like. That being said, I don’t hate Windows 8. There are several features that I’m really enjoying, especially the complete integration between my Xbox and Zune accounts so that all my digital content is in a single ecosystem. 8 is designed with the touchscreen in mind, which is nice since I have a touchscreen; I imagine if I didn’t, my opinion would be considerably less sanguine.

Since I specifically wanted a touchscreen laptop, I think I would have gone for Windows 8 even if a Windows 7 version had been available. I still prefer Windows 7 for my desktop PC and I hope and pray to the gods of technology that nothing happens to my desktop that forces me to replace it with a Windows 8 machine.

One final note on the HP Envy itself; this is the first blog post that I’ve written on this machine and the keys feel awesome. It probably sounds strange, but any writers in the crowd will understand. There is a very large difference between a good and a bad keyboard. This HP has a very good keyboard and typing on it is a pleasure.

The Bitcoin Roller Coaster

Back in September, I was trying to decide if I wanted to buy some bitcoins after hearing about them in a podcast. My plan was to buy a few bitcoins, sit on them for a while, and hope they appreciated in value. Ultimately, I did not pursue this goal after my graduate school situation ate up a large chunk of the money I’d set aside for this purpose.

I agonized over that decision after bitcoins went skyrocketing in value from $140/coin to over $1100/coin. I was convinced that the money train had left the station and I wasn’t on it.

Now, though, I’m starting to think that maybe I’m better off not worrying about it. I don’t think I really need this much stress in my life:

bitcoin
The typical price of bitcoins for the past two months.

Ye gods, that’s a bit of a roller coaster, isn’t it? I’m not an economist but I’m pretty sure that currency value isn’t supposed to do something like that. It sort of makes it hard to know how much money you actually have when the value of your currency could fluctuate at seemingly any moment.

I’m not predicting the death of bitcoin, not when it’s still valued at nearly four times the value when I first considered buying. I’m just saying that if I had a sizable chunk of money tied up in this, I’m sure I would have had a small heart attack during some of these falls.

12 Days Of A Math Riddle

I hate math problems almost as much as I hate the 12 Days of Christmas. I hate these things for different reasons. With math, it’s because I’m bad at it. I survived high school algebra and precalc by the skin of my teeth and for college, I was able to take a philosophy logic course for math credit (and even then, I still got a D).

I generally don’t like Christmas music anyway, because it seems to constitute a genre of its own and yet it’s entirely stagnant, repetitive and a blend of nostalgia and tradition that seems to exist solely to perpetuate itself. The 12 Days of Christmas is the most repetitive song of them all, which is why it’s my least favorite.

So why am I mentioning these two things?

I’m not sure where I first heard this problem (probably some long-forgotten math class), but here goes: assume that the song lyrics are literal and that you actually receive a partridge in a pear tree on the first day and the second day and the third day and so on. Assume that each gift is considered a singular item (a piper piping is a single gift, even though you’re getting both a pipe and a guy to play that pipe for you). Which of the 12 different gifts will you have the most of at the end of the twelve days?

The answer is posted after the break:

Continue reading 12 Days Of A Math Riddle

Myers-Briggs And RPG Classes

Buckle up, because I’m about to go full nerd in this post. This will be your only warning.

I have something of a fascination with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and its variant the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. The Keirsey is my favorite between the two; I like his methodology after having read his book. My interest in typology comes not from a true scientific basis (I’ve heard it said that typology has as much scientific accuracy as a fortune cookie) but from the perspective of a writer. I spend a lot of time thinking fictional personalities and archetypes and the MBTI and KTS provide a language to facilitate such discussion.

One way this interest has manifested itself is an attempt to correlate MBTI results with character classes in roleplaying games, both tabletop and virtual. Although RPGs encourage you to create and be whoever and whatever you desire, I have found in my gaming career that most, if not all, players will trend towards a few particular archetypes. Some will play the same type of character repeatedly while others will choose from a small but interconnected pool.

There are two particular factors I’ve noticed that motivate these choices: archetype and mechanics. Archetype refers to the fantasy and storytelling aspect of a particular character: wizards are brilliant and studious, rogues are, well, roguish and devil-may-care, etc. A person may be drawn to a character because he or she enjoys the style, perhaps because it synchronizes well with one’s own internal version of the idealized self. In this example, what the character does in the game is secondary to what the character is in the fantasy context.

The second factor is the mechanical aspect. This is the inverse of the archetype aspect. A player operating from this perspective prefers characters that perform a certain roll or function within the context of the game. It might be a preference for characters with a wide variety of options, lending itself to versatility, or it might be a character that plays a vital role, such as defending more vulnerable characters. The archetype of the character is only important if it informs what the character can do. The player will choose a villainous death knight over a heroic paladin if it turns out the death knight’s abilities make it better at protecting others.

I’m planning on writing more posts about this subject, particularly after I can gather some actual research data on what characters people play and compare that to self-reported MBTI types. So far, I’ve been able to poll my weekly D&D group, which is hardly a conclusive sampling. I’m hoping that this post will lead to more information so I have something to followup with.

I also have my hypothesis on how I assume the class/type arrangement will be. It can vary by game to game, of course, and I may end up writing up arrangements for a few different popular RPGs. The archetype aspect is the easier of the two aspects to arrange in this way. I may try doing the mechanical aspect in the future.

For this chart, I’m going to go with the “default” assumptions of the class’s archetype and flavor. I’m not going by any one particular game, although if you’re talking about the fantasy genre, in some form or another, you’re talking about Dungeons & Dragons, so feel free to free to that if you need a background context although not all of the classes have a direct D&D analogue.

I’ve also included a few notes about my choices and experience in arranging the classes. Generally speaking, I believe that the Sensing preference lends itself better to the more martial archetypes, compared to the abstract focus of iNtuition which trends towards a mystical or magical aspect. This is why all the rogue and fighter types are grouped into the S temperaments while the N types are all magic users to some degree.

RPG Class/MBTI Type Comparison According to Archetype

Guardian (SJ)

  • ESTJ: Marshal
  • ISTJ: Monk
  • ESFJ: Fighter (Warrior Archetype)
  • ISFJ: Fighter (Defender Archetype)

Artisan (SP

  • ESFP: Bard
  • ISFP: Rogue (Thief Archetype)
  • ESTP: Rogue (Swashbuckler Archetype)
  • ISTP: Ranger

Idealist (NF)

  • ENFP: Paladin
  • INFP: Druid
  • ENFJ: Cleric
  • INFJ: Shaman

Rational (NT)

  • ENTP: Artificer
  • INTP: Mage
  • ENTJ: Summoner
  • INTJ: Wizard

Guardian: In the guardian temperament, all of the class choices are all variations on the same martial archetype, but this does not mean they all fill the same rolls. The Marshal is a leader that supports the other characters while the monk is characterized by inner power, discipline, and focus. I chose not to use the term barbarian, as even though it’s an iconic part of many RPGs, the word carries more of a negative connotation than I’d prefer. Characters of that type can be considered part of the “Warrior Archetype” of the Fighter. Overall, we see a group of characters that, although different in ability, are categorized by their more down-to-earth nature and their focus on protecting or supporting others, whether through leadership, defense, or combat skills.

Artisan: For the most part, I think the choices here speak for themselves. The Bard was already referred to as the Performer in Keirseys’ types. This group, like the Guardians, is more martial than mystical as a result of their S, but these characters are more individualistic than the Guardians. I thought about changing the name of the Thief to something that didn’t imply criminal larceny, but the term is fairly well situated in the fantasy genre. The only one that seems out of place is the ISTP Ranger, but Keirsey describes them as “looking for any opportunity, and just because they feel like it, to play with their various toys: cars, motorcycles, boats, dune-buggies, hunting rifles, fishing tackle, scuba gear, and on and on.”

Idealist: This is the arrangement I feel the most confident about, possibly due to my own familiarity/bias as an NF. Cleric and Paladin were placed due to their Extroversion; in my opinion, these are characters that are leaders and champions of their churches and faiths which suggests an Extrovert mentality. Shamans and druids are more isolated and removed from social structure, meditating alone on the elements and natural world respectively, which to me indicates Introversion. All four derive their power from an abstract, mystical source, a trait they share with the other N temperament.

Rational: All four of the classes here are variations of the same core archetype, that of the mage. Fortunately, the mage archetype has many different permutations which allows for a wider variety. The Artificer could also be called the alchemist; this is the character that uses magical items or enchanted equipment such as potions and the like. The difference between wizard and mage was harder to articulate, due to the imprecision of the terminology, but in this context, the INTP mage was the more reclusive sort who would be focused on the study of magic while the INTJ wizard would more resemble Gandalf, an entity who is not eager to lead but steps in during moments of crisis.

Originally, I conceived of this list as mapping specifically to World of WarCraft’s classes, however, I decided to change to a more general approach when I realized that WoW’s classes were missing a few of the important fantasy archetypes. Even with the larger, more general approach to fantasy RPGs that I took, I still missed a few popular archetypes. I wasn’t sure where to include the fighter/mage and sorcerer, for example.

One final note: in preparing this list and reading through the descriptions, while there were a few choices I felt were very strong, most ended up being more arbitrary than anything. If I were to revisit this list, I might better note the places of ambiguity: mage, for example, might be better classified as xNTP, rather than indicating a particular preference for Extroversion or Introversion.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to comment and let me know where I got it right or wrong. And if you are feeling so inclined, feel free to post your own MBTI type and the class or classes you prefer to play, whether in WoW or in other RPGs. It’d be great to get some hard numbers for future comparisons.

Why Spiders Are Scarier Than Zombies

I’ve been called out on Facebook. I believe that in the event of a zombie apocalypse, I would do pretty well. I’m in pretty good physical condition, I know quite a bit about the undead, and I have access to both weaponry and survival equipment like a portable water filter. This claim, however, has been challenged and as part of that challenge, my friend posted this image in response:

Okay. Look. Let’s clear up a few things. First, yes, I’m afraid of spiders. Despite this fear, I still believe I could face down the undead in combat. There are many reasons why it’s both reasonable to be afraid of spiders while believing one is capable of facing a zombie. Here is my rebuttal, in a convenient list form:

  1. Spiders have eight legs. Zombies have two (or fewer). This is basic math.
  2. Zombies are slow (we’re talking Romero zombies here, 28 Days Later-style infected don’t count). Have you ever seen a pissed off tarantula move? Try blowing on one and see how long it takes for it to attach itself to your face. The answer is: 0.2 seconds before you run away screaming “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST, IT’S ON MY FACE!”
  3. Zombies are much larger targets and thus easier to shoot. Only a few species of spider, like the terrifying goliath bird-eater, are large enough to be vulnerable to handgun fire.
  4. Zombies are stupid and just wander towards you when they see you. Spiders . . . spiders wait. They watch. They plan. And they strike when you least expect it . . . and get inside your shirt.
  5. Zombies don’t spin webs that you can walk into so that you are distracted by trying to pull the web strands off your skin while they go right for your ear holes.
  6. Zombies can’t drop down into your hair when you walk under a tree nor descend onto your face while dangling on a strand of webbing. Spiders are silent and stealthy killers, like ninja.
  7. If there’s a zombie in your sleeping bag, you’ll know about it long before you get into that sleeping bag. If there is a spider in your sleeping bag, you will not know until it’s too late.
  8. Both zombies and spiders can bite you, but a zombie bite ends stops being scary after you become a zombie yourself. A victim of a spider bite gets to watch in perpetual horror as your fucking skin rots away.
  9. Zombies don’t carry millions of baby zombies on their backs, nor do they explode in a carpet of tiny baby zombies when inadvertently stepped on.
  10. We always have a chance of stopping the zombie apocalypse and ending the zombie threat. In terms of sheer numbers, we have already ceded our planet to our arachnid overlords.

There you have it. Ten reasons why spiders are a greater, more terrifying threat than even the worst zombie apocalypse.

Of course, if the zombies manage to cross the species barrier and start turning things other than humans into zombies, we’re totally screwed. Because there is absolutely nothing more vile, horrific, and ball-shrinkingly terrifying than . . .

zombie_spider

ZOMBIE SPIDER JESUS CHRIST RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!!!!

My Take On The 10 Most Memorable D&D Monsters

I started playing Dungeons & Dragons around 1998 or so, which means I came in during the end of Second Edition. Due to the myriad ways Second Edition defied logical (THACO, I’m looking at you), it never really became more than a passing thing for me until several years later when I joined a group of players that I met through one of my college roommates. The rest, of course, is history; I started running my own games after that and continue to do so to this very day.

IO9 recently put out a list of the 10 most memorable monsters in Dungeons & Dragons. Since, at this point in my gaming career, I’ve DMed for twice as many campaigns as I’ve actually played in, I thought I’d take a look and give my opinion on these monsters.

One thing I learned early in my DMing career was that monsters are, in some ways, the DM’s version of the new spells and powers that the player characters acquire. I found myself buying books with new dragons or whatever so I could see what shiny new things I could throw at my players. I would look forward to unleashing a cool monster the way a player looked forward to unleashing a big spell. The fact that my cool monsters almost always died wasn’t the point; as a writer, I know the villain’s place and role in the story. Survival wasn’t the point. The goal of a good monster was to get the emotional reaction from the players: at first, fear and “oh god, we’re going to die” and then excitement as they manage to overcome the threat.

Anyway, let’s look at the list:

  1. The Beholder: I’m not sure I would have put the Beholder in the top slot, but there’s no denying that these guys are both iconic and effective. There’s just something about the Eye Tyrant that inspires fear among players; maybe it has something to do with their ability to fire disintegration beams from their eyes. I’ve never really used a beholder in a main villain capacity, but the few times I have unleashed one, the party was certainly considered. Come to think of it, I have that set of Beholder figurines I’ve never really used in a game before. Hmm…
  2. The Displacer Beast: Here’s my first disagreement. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually used a displacer beast in a game before. If I have, it certainly wasn’t iconic enough to mention. They’re annoying to fight with their ability to shift around, but at the end of the day, it’s still just a big cat with tentacles. Not quite as impressive as some of the other beasties on this list, in my opinion. Admittedly, they are probably the most iconic opponent a low-level party will face which might be one reason to include them. Still, in my opinion, these guys aren’t worth the number two slot.
  3. The Mimic: It’s a monster that pretends to be a piece of furniture, usually a treasure chest, because every DM knows that players are greedy and there’s nothing better than punishing greed with getting devoured. Mimics are amusing, but like the the displacer beast above, I’m not sure they deserve to be this high on the list. Even at low levels, I think there’s another “screw you” monster out there that makes even savvy players shiver, and it’s next on the list.
  4. The Rust Monster: Now we’re talking. Basically, it’s a big bug that rusts metal. It’s probably the least dangerous monster on this list, except for one thing: it rusts and eats metal. Any metal. Yes, including the ancient coldforged sword of your ancestors and your masterwork plate armor. I had a player who was playing a fearless crusader run away from a battle against one of these guys. Those are some of the moments that make DMing worth it. I love these guys, because they create a threat that the players take seriously but aren’t incredibly lethal and potentially disruptive to the story itself.
  5. The Gelatinous Cube: Sure, it’s basically a living cube of acidic gelatin, but there’s one thing the IO9 list doesn’t mention: the gelatinous cube is transparent and nearly invisible in dark places. They’re the perfect monster for ratcheting up the paranoia factor, especially if the unlucky player discovers the cube’s presence by walking facefirst into it and getting engulfed. Good times.
  6. The Owlbear: Yes, it might be iconic, yes, even this list notes that they’re hilarious . . . but I really hate owlbears, for all the reasons listed in this comic. Owlbears remind me of the time earlier in D&D’s life cycle when you had really freaking strange monsters, like a carnivorous tree stump with a rabbit attached to its head to lure prey. I wish I was making that up, but I’m really not. No owlbear has ever appeared in one of my games and no player has ever asked, “hey, why aren’t there any owlbears in this game?”
  7. The Lich: Now we’re talking. Liches are awesome. They’re perfect for playing the arch-villain, but they’re just as useful as information brokers or other roles. As soon as one shows up, you know you’re dealing with the big leagues. In my opinion, these undead spellcasters deserve to be way higher than number 7. I might be a little biased since the final villain of my last campaign was a powerful lich, but regardless, these guys are intelligent, powerful, and dangerous. Best of all, they haven’t had their mystery and villainy peeled away, unlike what happened to vampires.
  8. The Drow: Here’s my number one pick. Easily. Drow are the ultimate bad guys. They manage to be murderously chaotic and yet maintain a rigid social structure and noble House system. They are stylish. They’re dangerous. I recall reading somewhere that game books and magazines that featured a drow on the cover would often sell better than other issues and I believe it. While they have suffered the same villain-decay as vampires due to so many players wanting to play Chaotic Good rebels, for me, there’s nothing better than the drow in their true, evil form. For those who are expecting the Drizzt clone character, unleashing a no-holds-barred evil drow is a satisfying experience. I’ve run one entire campaign focused on the drow . . . and don’t tell my players this, but I’ve got another one slowly growing in the back of my mind. The drow are my number one pick, hands-down.
  9. The Mind Flayer: I like these guys, but I think they’re a little too far on the fringe for most players. Sure, the idea of an alien squid monster that eats brains is scary, but I’ve also had the experience of telling the party “you see a mind flayer” and been given blank looks. I don’t think enough attention has been given to mind flayers to really elevate them in the ranks of liches, drow, and beholders . . . which is a shame, because these guys deserve to be in those ranks. In this case, I think number 9 is a good place for them on the list.
  10. The Tarrasque: The Tarrasque is the urban legend monster for a game that is focused on playing make-believe with your friends. Despite how often I’ve heard about the Tarrasque, I’ve never actually unleashed one, nor do I know any DMs that have done so. Regardless, the fact that they so tough and powerful means their presence can be felt just by mentioning their name, even by players that haven’t fought one; the Tarrasque might well be the inverse of the mind flayer in this regard. I think number 10 is a good place for the Tarrasque . . . and I’d like to note that I plan to use one at least once in my DMing career.

And that brings us to the end of the list. Overall, I think it’s a good one, aside from reshuffling some of the rankings and dropping owlbears entirely. I went back and forth in my mind on whether or not dragons deserved to be on the list. It’s tough to say, because on the one hand, dragons are always attention-grabbers when they show up in my campaigns. On the other hand, they’re all over the fantasy genre, so it might be tough to say how memorable they are. At the very least, I think the Red Dragon is scary enough to earn a spot on the list.

Oh, and the Pit Fiend. You can’t have a list of awesome monsters without mentioning the Pit Fiend. He definitely deserves to be on here.

So, let’s look at my revised list for the Top 10 most memorable monsters:

  1. The Drow
  2. The Lich
  3. The Beholder
  4. The Rust Monster
  5. The Red Dragon
  6. The Gelatinous Cube
  7. The Pit Fiend
  8. The Mimic
  9. The Mind Flayer
  10. The Tarrasque

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Entirely confused about what I’m talking about? Feel free to share your thoughts.

Those Left Behind

This weekend is a rough one for those geeks who didn’t manage to score ComiCon tickets. The Internet, so long a source of comfort and interest, instead becomes our tormentor as Twitter feeds fill up with snippets of “omg, so amazing, I just saw ___” and articles leak out with details of cool things to see, cool things to do, and cool things to come.

I’m surprised nobody ever uses this feeling for evangelizing. It seems to me a really effective way to convince geeks to join your religion would be to describe being left behind during the Rapture as “it’ll be just like all the times you couldn’t go to ComiCon.”

I’m not saying that this would work, of course, just that I’m surprised nobody has tried this tactic.

Shit, maybe I should delete this post. I don’t want to be responsible for a bunch of signs at next year’s ComiCon.

I can’t help but wonder about those people who bring the religious “hellfire and brimstone”  religious signs outside the San Diego convention center each year. My assumption is that this behavior is a natural reaction to any large crowd of people, much in the same way that ants are a reaction to an outdoor picnic.

Do they truly believe they’re going to reach anyone? Do they not realize that, from the perspective of our tribe, they exist only so that clever geeks might counter their religious tracts with witty retorts?

Religious Protesters at Comic-Con
I saw these guys last year, although I didn’t take this picture.

I really have to admire these guys. The geeks, I mean, not the original sign-holders. These guys are kind of like that person who manages the perfect sarcastic comment during a really shitty movie trailer that makes everybody in the theater laugh. They’re unsung heroes whose identities will never be known but whose deeds live on in our hearts and on our Internets.

Zodspeed, noble geeks. Zodspeed.

Open Source Universes

Will Harry Potter ever eclipse Luke Skywalker as a cultural icon? That’s the question being asked over at a post on IO9 and it sparked my interest enough that I wanted to weigh in with my own thoughts.

It’s trendy in nerd circles to hate on George Lucas. You decry the plastic acting, overly video game-y appearance of the prequels while pointing out the purity of the original trilogy and sign off with a flourish by declaring solemnly that your favorite film of the original trilogy was Empire. This statement earns you massive nerd cred, as your fellow nerds nod approvingly and also voice their support for Empire‘s obvious superiority. This is all a testament to the sadly fallen state of the once-beloved creator who lost his artistic drive and his vision as success blinded him.

It’s like Harvey said: “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

It’s also like Bane said: “Peace has cost you your strength! Victory has defeated you!”

It’s amazing to me how many times I can quote Batman characters to make a point.

Here’s the thing about George Lucas, though, and something that almost nobody gives him respect for: he was one of the very, very, very few creators who not only allowed people to play in his universe, he encouraged it. Do you think it’s a coincidence that there’s a huge body of “Expanded Universe” material for Star Wars? Or that it just so happens that some Expanded Universe material ends up finding its way back into the movies, like blue hottie Jedi Knight Aayla Secura?

George let people write novels in his universe. He let a whole slew of other authors take his playground and define it in new ways. Things that we take for granted as Star Wars fans, like “Coruscant” were created and imported into the canon. There aren’t many creators with the courage to do this. I’m a creative-type myself and the idea of letting control of my story slip out of my hands is something that fills me with terror. And I’m just talking about some little novel I’ve been plugging away at, not a multi-million dollar franchise.

There are a lot of creators that don’t allow this level of freedom. Ann McAffrey didn’t. J.K. Rowling doesn’t. You’re either not allowed to play in the universe at all (seriously, McAffrey hated fan fiction) or you are allowed to play, but only under strict supervision (which is the current state of things for Harry Potter fan fiction).

My point is not to be an apologist for George Lucas, although I think he gets a very unfair rap these days from overly vehement fans (seriously, some of the dialogue in Empire is pretty terrible, you guys). The comparison between Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter shows the importance of allowing fans to play with your work. Rather than dilute or diminish your copyright (the usual argument against this sort of thing), unimpeded fan-love is what takes your intellectual property and turns it from a franchise into a cultural touchstone, a part of our modern mythology.

Is Harry Potter big? Absolutely; I’m sure, all things added up, it’s made more money than Star Wars. Harry Potter is a phenomenon. Or at least it was. With no inkling of new books on the horizon, how long will the fan base sustain its love? How many times can you revisit the universe you love without injections of new life from the creator?

Star Wars fans know what this is like: it was roughly fifteen years between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menanace. What kept the torch burning for all those fans when it looked like the movies were done? It was the Expanded Universe. It was the novels. It was the culture that was allowed and even encouraged to grow around the love of this thing.

I’m not saying creators don’t have a right to control their work. They absolutely do. But I think any creative person should look very closely at George Lucas and Star Wars and keep in mind what happens when you allow the fans free access. They won’t fuck you over. Fans will protect you. They will take your baby and love it and cherish it and help it grow into something so far beyond your wildest dreams. That’s the lesson to be learned from Star Wars.

Star Wars first appeared in 1977. It’s 36 years old as I write this. Harry Potter is roughly half its age, having debuted in 1997. Will Harry be as iconic as Luke Skywalker in another fifteen years?

I’m not so sure. I’d like to think so, but if nobody is ever allowed to return to Harry’s world and tell stories around Harry and beyond Harry, if Rowling never allows another scribe to dip his or her pen in the Hogwarts ink . . . I don’t see how it will be allowed to grow. Certainly, we’ll still remember it, just like we remember the Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia and all those many other beloved stories. But will they grow with us? Will they persist through the generations? I’m not so sure.

For all his other mistakes he might have made as a creator, I think George Lucas knocked this one out of the park and in the end, this might just be the only decision that ever really mattered.