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Dec 1, 2017

A Christmas Carol Reading

A year ago, I made this audiobook reading for my mom as a Christmas present. It was a lot of fun to do a full-length project like this from start to finish. I learned a lot about what voice actors and audiobook performers have to go through, as well as how much the editing process plays a part in audio. It took me two days to record the 116-page novella, at a total of probably 6 or 7 hours of recording time (my voice was rather tired). After that, it was another 6 hours of editing as I listened to the entire thing and cut out all my mistakes, moments of dead air, etc. Finally, I had to listen to the whole thing over again, which ended up shortening to just about 2½ hours. Quite a bit of work for such a short production!

Still, I had a lot of fun, and the production turned out pretty nice overall. I had some fun with making the voices of three of the ghosts different, and someday it'd be fun to add background music and noises, á la Graphic Audio, but I dunno if that'll happen. Either way, I'll be listening to this production every year for sure!

To preserve the value of the recording as a gift, I waited a year to post it. But here it is for everyone! Merry Christmas!

Oct 12, 2017

How to Lose 40 Pounds in 10 Months, and Keep It Off Forever

I never really was one to worry about my weight. I was always a pretty average-sized kid, and when I was a teenager, I ate all I wanted and my body never changed. But after getting married, the pounds slowly started packing on. I didn't really think much of it. I felt fine and took pride in my love of all foods and willingness to lick my plate clean with every meal so nothing was wasted. Besides, all my weight seemed to just go to my gut. I didn't really "look" fat at a glance. But once I hit 210 pounds, I decided it was time to lose some weight. Fast forward to today, nine months later, and I'm 40 pounds lighter! Let me tell you the keys to my incredibly successful weight loss story and you may find something that works for you.

1. It's all about the calories—not working out

That "before" picture was actually taken a bit earlier than when my weight loss journey this year started. I took it because I decided I was going to start going to the gym each morning before work. I began a discounted gym membership with my work and went and worked out each morning. I lifted weights one day and then ran on the eliptical every other day. After working out, I'd come back home ravenous and reward myself with a huge breakfast. I told myself all the while that I would lose weight from turning fat into muscle, and that at the end of the summer I'd be fit and back to a healthy weight.

It didn't work. I got a little bit stronger (for the first time in my life someone asked me "Have you been working out?"), but I weighed the same and still had my paunch. Eventually I gave up, mostly because I didn't feel like I fit in at the gym, but mostly because it just didn't seem to be making a big difference. Then my dad showed me the app LoseIt. I started counting my calories every day with a calorie budget, subtracting calories that I lost from exercising (all built in the app), and the results were immediate, significant, and satisfying.

I learned from experience that dieting is for your weight. Working out is for your shape. And the best part was, I didn't need to cut anything out of my diet. Just eat less of it. I could never stick to a routine where I couldn't eat my favorite foods ever again, or where I had to exercise a ton every day just to stay the same weight. One day I'd slip up, and that'd be the end of it. I'd just get right back to my old routines.

2. Smart eating

Using LoseIt, I learned a lot about how much I really needed to eat to get full, and eventually it even became a game to me, seeing how few calories I could consume each day while still feeling healthy. Turns out, we eat a lot more than we really need to. And on top of all that, I learned about which foods were calorie-rich and not worth eating. I've since cut a lot of cheese, dairy, and carbs out of my diet, and it's helped me make good habits that will help me keep my weight off. Forever. Did I ever splurge? Sure, I ate at Chuck-A-Rama with my wife once and gained 4 pounds in one day, but the next day I skipped breakfast, ate a salad for lunch, and drank lots of cleansing lemon water and was back on track the next day.

One trick I learned to stay full around lunch time is to eat two mini-lunches instead of one big one. If you eat half of your lunch at 11:30 and the other half at 1:30, you stay full for a bigger part of the afternoon, and eliminate time that you usually spend snacking. Losing weight is all about covering all your weight-loss bases, whether that be eliminating bad habits, planning ahead for different situations, and so forth.

3. Slow and steady

Everyone wants to lose weight immediately. Everyone wants to be instantly and eternally skinny or fit. But the fact is, your body likes being fat. It's still got its caveman tendencies of "I don't know when my next meal will be, so better stock up!", so it'll turn against you time and time again unless y
ou take it slow. When I stuck to a calorie budget over the period of 9 or 10 months, my body slowly adapted to me eating less, trusting me and forming a new base weight where it could enjoy homeostasis. So many diets make you lose a ton at once, which your body is fine with because it just thinks you're going through a food famine. But as soon as you make one mistake, you blow up like a balloon and are back at square one. I got to my goal weight of 170, and it's been easy as pie for me to stay at or around that weight, even if I'm eating pie. As long as you weigh yourself every morning and never let yourself get more than 5 pounds over your goal weight, it's a piece of cake to stay at your goal weight. Even if you eat cake.

That's another thing—weigh yourself every day. For the rest of your life. I've heard some people say they get anxiety or get frustrated when they weigh themselves every day because they get worried when they don't see results, but that's ridiculous. If you don't weigh yourself, you're not being accountable to yourself on a regular basis. Of course you're going to plateau sometimes, but the trick is to look at the long-term. Don't get discouraged if at the 10% mark you haven't lost 10% of your goal weight. Just keep doing the same things day after day, and one day you'll look at yourself in the mirror and see your collarbone again, or you'll have to drill a new hole in your belt, or your pajama pants will start falling down.


Weight loss doesn't have to be impossible or hard. You don't have to accept your heavy body the way it is. If you just commit to a steady, simple calorie budget; weigh yourself every day, and work on changing your habits, your body will do all the work for you in creating a new body for yourself. If you take it slow, it'll trust you more, and you'll find a new baseline for your body to feel comfortable at. It'll make it a lot harder for your body to bounce back to your old ways. The best part of all is that once you're done losing, you're done! Forever! You can splurge more often, eat those desserts you crave, and indulge on the things that other diets say are forbidden. Your habits will ensure that you don't go back to the way you used to eat, and you'll enjoy feeling better on a regular basis, thinner and in control.

Sep 15, 2017

A Year of Selfies!

For the past year, I've been taking a selfie every day. I've been looking forward to finally compiling all of them into this video, with my theme song in the background! I've also lost 35 pounds since February, so it's fun to see that pretty visibly too. Enjoy!

Aug 30, 2017

Project: D&D Item Sheet

Since D&D has become a bigger part of my life over the past few months, I've been having a huge interest in compiling resources and making the DMing process as streamlined as possible. My latest venture has been copying all of the items from the Dungeon Master's Guide into a Google Sheet for easy filtering by rarity, item type, etc. After doing this, I decided to have some fun and adapt the artifacts from Heroes of Might and Magic III and the items from Warcraft III into D&D 5th edition as well. They've been one of the most amazing sources of inspiration for me. It's fun to try and adapt things like morale bonuses and Warcraft mechanics into D&D's system. Here are a few examples of the items and my take on what they do in D&D:
Wondrous item, rare

This item resembles a round, polished stone with a faintly glowing blue rune imprinted on it. In order to attune to the hearthstone, you must spend 10 minutes meditating and holding the stone, at which point an invisible destination mark is placed at your location. After this attunement takes place, you can speak the command word and spend 1 minute holding the stone and concentrating on it, after which you instantly transport yourself and everything you are carrying back to the mark, even if it is on a different plane of existence. Once being used this way, the hearthstone cannot be used again for 24 hours. You can create a new destination mark at any time, spending the 10 minutes of concentration again. If you break your attunement with the hearthstone or if someone else attunes to it, the mark you have made vanishes.

Khadgar's Pipe of Insight
Wondrous item, very rare

When this intricately crafted pipe is smoked by a spellcaster during a short rest, any spellcasters within the 30-foot faint smoke cloud regain spell slots with a combined level of equal to or less than a third of the smoker's spellcasting level (minimum 3), similar to the Arcane Recovery ability of wizards. In addition, all creatures within the smoke with an Intelligence score of at least 11 who can speak a language gain the ability to cast the prestidigitation cantrip until their next long or short rest. The pipe can only be smoked in this way once per dawn.

Ancient Janggo of Endurance
Wondrous item, uncommon

If you use your activity while traveling to beat on this janggo during a forced march, all members of your party have advantage on the Constitution saving throws to avoid exhaustion. If you are proficient in the Performance skill while doing this, all party members also get a bonus to their roll equal to your Performance skill modifier.

Amulet of the Undertaker
Wondrous item, very rare

If you die while wearing this coffin-shaped amulet, you immediately rise as a zombie, using the stats of the zombie found in the Monster Manual, except your Intelligence score matches the one you had in life. You can use your items as normal, but you count as Undead and cannot regain lost hit points. If you reduce a creature to 0 hit points using your Attack action while in zombie form, your body is restored to life with 1 hit point, and the amulet turns to dust. You suffer the -4 penalty condition matching that of the resurrection spell thereafter. If you are reduced to 0 hit points while in zombie form or if the amulet of the undertaker is removed from your person in this form, you and your zombie form are utterly destroyed.

The Grail
Wondrous item, artifact

This resembles a dazzling, expertly crafted golden chest, lined with pearls and topped with an ornate golden crest. The Grail sheds bright light in a 30-foot radius and dim light 30 feet beyond that. No one knows what is inside the chest, as it is magically sealed and impossible to open. As long as the Grail is above ground and not surrounded by dirt or buried, divine blessings follow it wherever it goes. The following effects apply within a 1-mile radius of the Grail:
  • All plant life is immune to disease and become "enriched" as per the plant growth spell; any diseases the plants currently have fade after 1d4 days upon entering the Grail's radius.
  • Pests and vermin within the radius feel afraid of the Grail and avoid it, making efforts to move away from it over time.
  • Humanoids and beasts within the radius are affected as if by the protection from evil and good spell.
  • All food and drink within the radius is purified, as per the purify food and drink spell.
  • All humanoids and beasts who die within the radius are affected immediately with the gentle repose spell, but cannot be affected more than once by it.
It is likely that villages and towns recognize the holder of the Grail as a great and noble leader, and they are likely to want to build a structure to keep the Grail above ground and guarded. Enemies or rivals of the Grail's town may attempt to steal the Grail or seize it through violent means. 
The Grail cannot be destroyed, but its effects can be suppressed if it is interred in the earth or surrounded by dirt. In this situation, its effects fade over the course of 1d6 days, and it is affected as if by a nondetection spell. Within 10 miles of this location, mysterious writings, riddles, engravings, and clues work their way into books, stone and wood carvings, and other forms of language. Those who are seeking the Grail can follow these riddles to eventually narrow down its location and unearth it.

Kudos if you recognize any of the names of these items! If you'd like to look at my sheet, feel free to check it out here, It may be incomplete for a while yet, and I may add new additions to it in the future that you'll find useful if you're a DM, such as monster creation guides or spells. Either way, I always love me a good project!

Aug 28, 2017

What the 2017 Eclipse Was Like in the Totality Zone

I come from a small town in Idaho of little renown outside of the Latter-day Saint community, and even within it if you don't live in the West. But this year, it finally got some regard due to forces completely out of its control:

An amazing, nationwide, total solar eclipse.

My town was right exactly in the path of the eclipse's totality! This meant that it was one of the perfect places in the entire world to watch a total solar eclipse. People came from all over the world to see it, though not as many as Rexburg and the surrounding areas expected. All the stores embraced their one chance of tourism fame, selling everything from eclipse glasses to eclipse-themed items like Moon Pies and Sun Chips. State troopers were called from Montana and porta-potties were set up on the highways. It was almost a disaster alert situation—residents were advised to expect huge delays, run out of gas, run out of food in the stores, and even have the entire freeway blocked up by foreign motorists who didn't know American driving laws.

But it wasn't that bad. The traffic a couple days before and the night of the eclipse were bad (changing 4 hours into 9 or 10), but luckily, I didn't have to worry about that since we left the next day and only had 1 extra hour tacked on.

So the amazing experience of totality was completely worth it to me!

For those of you who saw a partial eclipse, even a 90% one, I pity you. It's true. With a grand, amazing celestial event like this, there is no "at least." "At least we got to see a 90% eclipse." No. There's a reason that such a bold word dripping with absoluteness is used to describe the event: "Totality." That's because it transcends anything else that you can possibly imagine. At the point of totality, it ceased becoming an eclipse and became something more—almost something utterly alien to this world or even to this dimension of mortality.

If you were one of the unlucky to miss totality, you should know I was like you, at first. When the sun began to be consumed by the moon and I could see it in my eclipse glasses, I was amazed. It was so interesting to see the perfect sphere of light being slowly transformed into a Pac-Man. But the eclipse really didn't change that much for the vast majority of its duration, did it? Even at about 80%, I couldn't tell any difference when looking around. It was an amazing testament to me as to how amazingly, inconceivably powerful the sun's rays are.

And then, at around 90%, things started to get weird. Even though the shadows were still late-morning length, the actual brightness of everything outside was disturbingly dim. It felt like my eyes were playing tricks on me, and like the world was losing its luster. I'd look around at the grass and even at my skin, and it felt like I wasn't looking at real things. The world wasn't ever this dark. Not when the sky was still blue. It was kind of as if a storm was coming... the temperature even dropped about 15 degrees.

And that's probably all you got to see if you weren't in totality. It got a bit weird and shady as the moon changed the sun into the hairliniest of crescents, and then things got back to normal.

Let me tell you what you missed, and again, I pity you, and I'm sorry that no known technology can replicate it. It's something you have to experience, and I am so glad that I was able to.

The moment the moon makes contact with the edge of the sun and starts to eclipse it is known as C1. C2 is the moment it covers the sun completely. A couple of minutes before C2, things got even weirder. We had a white sheet set out to see the "shadow bands." No one's quite sure what causes the shadow bands, but we definitely saw them in the moments before totality. Strange, wavy lines coarsed across the world, and looking at the bed sheet let us see them more clearly. It was like being in a car and driving throw some wispy trees—the shadows all pointed the same direction, like a bunch of fleeing snakes from the Shadowfell. We looked up one last time with our glasses to see the tiny hair of the sun disappear to black—And then, the moment finally happened.

I'm so sad that this is the best picture that can be taken of totality. Again, it's something that just has to be experienced to be truly appreciated. The way light works on cameras and then rebroadcasted from screens just isn't the same as what your eyes can see.

Totality was indescribable, but I'll do my best. In every direction was a 360-degree sunset; a few stars and planets came out in the dark sky; the birds went silent; the grass became wet with dew underfoot; and up in the sky was the best part: an enormous, resplendent silver ring. The corona of the sun shone behind the dark orb of the moon, hanging in space like a beautiful and terrible omen.

It blew my mind to see something so majestic and alien. I had heard that experiencing totality was a life-changing experience, but nothing could have prepared us for that incredible spectacle. It would've been worth a much longer trip to see it. I understood in that moment why so many had traveled so far just to experience two minutes of it.

The eclipse lasted two minutes, but it felt like 30 seconds. I began to see molten red beads forming around the edge of the moon, and though I wanted to keep watching, I knew it was over and looking any more may burn the sight into my retinas. So the moment ended, and I'm left now with only the memory of that indescribable majesty.

The time after the eclipse (from C3 to C4) seemed insignificant compared to those two minutes. I don't think I even really looked through the glasses again. As robins went about their confused morning routine looking for worms, I spent my time marveling at the absolute luck I had to experience something so grandiose. How in all of creation did I happen to be born during a time where the moon was the exact distance away from the earth to create such an effect? Eons ago, the moon was too big, and in eons to come, it will be too small to ever cause totality again. I happened to be born at the right time, and was lucky to be living near the right place, to experience something so unearthly and mind-boggling.

It was a spiritual experience, to be sure. I hate to sound flippant, but it was almost like God was performing a magic trick for all of humanity under the moon's shadow. It was something no one could fully understand, and it brought all of creation into perspective, at least for me. The cosmos is incomprehensibly vast, and to think that life could exist on a floating rock, and that the rock's orbiting moon and the solar system's star could combine in such a way to cause something like beauty and wonder was inspiring beyond anything I could have hoped for. Just like photos can't capture its beauty, media and journalism and written words can't capture the reality and presence of God.

I went to my home town that week expecting something amazing, but nothing can prepare you for the scope of how amazing it can possibly be. Just like the Holy Spirit or anything else truly sublime in this world, you have to experience it for yourself to appreciate it.

Aug 8, 2017

Austin's Weekday Routine 2017

My life has been in such a same-old same-old routine lately that decided to jazz it up by immortalizing it for no reason and writing it down. And who knows? Maybe you'll find my life more interesting than I do. Probably not, though.

Austin's Weekday Routine

Every morning my alarm goes off at 6:00, playing "78 Eatonwood Green." I hit the snooze once or twice, then get up and weigh myself. I've been on a diet based entirely on counting calories for the past seven or eight months, and have lost more than 30 pounds, and I'm currently wanting to lose just 10 more pounds and get down to 170. After I shower, I put on my tan khaki cargo pants (I would wear my tan cargo khaki shorts, but my workplace overdoes the AC, so it's too cold to) and a shirt, and go to make breakfast.

I used to be elaborate with my breakfasts, but since starting my low-calorie, high-protein diet, I generally only have an egg or two on toast, and sometimes a small bowl of whatever cereal we have. I like my eggs over easy, and I like to poke a hole in the yolk and drizzle the runny part over my toast before putting the egg itself on it. I also like my egg with chipotle pepper (or some other random spice sometimes) and green onions. While I'm cooking my egg, I play Hearthstone on my phone and try to clear the quests for the day. I also use this time to assemble my lunch.

Usually my kids get up around this time, and I get them some breakfast if I have time. Otherwise, eventually my phone alarm alerts me with Smash Mouth's "Holiday in My Head" that it's time to go. I brush my teeth, shave if my neck is itching too much or my goatee needs trimmed, kiss my sleeping wife goodbye, and head out the door.

I listen to the Critical Role podcast on my way to work. After clocking in at work, I open all the internet tabs I'll be using for the day. My work Gmail, my personal Gmail, my work chat, and my work spreadsheets. I also check the Dorkly comic of the day and check Facebook briefly. I fill up my 32-oz. water bottle at the drinking fountain and try to drink as much of it as I can. It helps me wake up and get me hydrated for the day. I've carried it around with me ever since I had a kidney stone in 2012).

Now comes the work, which consists of various stages of project management. It varies from day to day, but a single process from start to finish goes like this:

I look at the link of our client's website and come up with a blog title that would fit their keyword and that would be able to be posted on one of the sites we have a familiar relationship with. Business and health articles are easy to place, but sometimes it pays to be creative and somehow try and connect the ideas of law and pets, for example. I come up with all the titles needed, trying to come up with alliterative preambles or catchy idioms to give them some flair, and chat them to my team mentor, who checks them for me. I always have to do this in the morning. This part of my brain doesn't work after lunch.

Freelance Writers
After coming up with the titles, I write instructions for freelance writers to come up with the actual content. During this and the title stage, I listen to music on YouTube—mostly medieval tavern music, video game soundtracks, or 90s instrumental music. But nothing with words in it, since this is distracting when I'm having to come up with words of my own. I usually leave this task to the end of the day, the last thing I do before I go home.

Editing, Stock Photos, and Submission
The bulk of the day is spent in this stage. Once the content is written, I copy it into Word and edit it. Then I find a stock image on Pixabay or Pexels for each article, and submit it to a blog for publication. Every two days after that, I follow up with publishers until I give up or until they respond, whether to schedule an article or (more likely) to tell me they charge to accept free content. This part of work is easier and doesn't require much focus, so while doing it I listen to the latest episode of Critical Role, LindyBeige, Vsauce, or the Adventure Zone. When I don't have articles to edit or submit, I try and find new blogs online to publish on, organize my information on spreadsheets, or chat about D&D with my coworkers.

At precisely 11:30 a.m., I heat up my lunch (usually leftovers—Brazilian feijoada is a common favorite) and eat half of it. Unless it's one of the two Wednesdays of the month that my work team goes out to lunch. In that case, we all leave at 12:00 and enjoy a free lunch at a random restaurant, or order takeout and eat it while watching Netflix in a conference room.

At noon, I usually only take about a half hour lunch just taking a break, playing Hearthstone on my phone, writing in my journal, reading, or working on a video or other project if I have one I'm really into. But on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I get to play Dungeons & Dragons with five of my fellow coworkers! When I'm not taking a turn being the Dungeon Master, I play a high elf phoenix sorcerer named Xilmar, and I adventure with my friends, Nysae the wood elf ranger and her wolf Luna, Christoff the human paladin, Ari the human rogue, Gorthuk the half-orc voodoo cleric, and Julian the high elf wizard. It's the highlight of my week, and it's always a shame that we only get two hours to play each week.

After my break, I eat the other half of my lunch at 1:30, and my dessert, whatever it might be. The hours seem to crawl by from about 2:30 to 4:00, but once it's 4:00, the rest of the day flies by. I clock out at 5:00 and drive home, listening to Critical Role and eating Spitz Smoky BBQ sunflower seeds.

I greet my kids when I get home (or, if the missus and the kids are out running errands, I enjoy some alone time), and make dinner. I'm the primary cook in the house, mostly by preference. I love to cook and try new recipes, and I care a lot about how the food turns out. My wife cooks too on occasion, but she's satisfied sometimes just eating cereal or a protein shake for a meal—something I can't identify with.

While eating dinner, the family and I watch Avatar: The Last Airbender, The Replacements, Studio C, or some other TV show. Or else we just talk and listen to music on Pandora based on the nationality of the food (For example, Mariachi Radio for Mexican food). At around 7:00, I put one or both of the kids to bed, but not before reading my daughter a chapter of Sideways Stories from Wayside School if she's been good that day. When I put my son to bed, I rock him in the rocking chair while singing him Portuguese songs like "O Balão vai Subindo" and "A Baratinha," or sometimes Celtic songs by Kate Rusby like "Wild Mountain Thyme."

After the kids are in bed, I enjoy a dessert (I try not to eat anything after 8:00, but sometimes it's unavoidable), and depending on the night and my wife's availability and mood, I may watch a movie or TV show with her, play Heroes of the Storm with my brothers online, work on a project, or post a weird article on my blog that hardly anyone will read, like this one.

That's my routine! Chances are, if it's a weekday, I had a day like this this very day.

Aug 7, 2017

Vox Machina Critical Role Fanart

Geek & Sundry's Critical Role has inspired me greatly this past year, both to make new friends at work and to actually become a Dungeon Master! During their weekly show, they showcase a bunch of art submitted by the show's fans, so I finally made time to make this fanart and submit it. Hopefully it'll make it into a future episode's intermission, but if not, it was still a fulfilling piece of art to work on. It actually made me miss Knight Guy, which has officially been on hold for a year now :(

Anyway, below is a picture of the heroes of Critical role, Vox Machina. Enjoy!

Aug 2, 2017

Some Interesting Concept Art from the Warcraft III DVD

This is a somewhat informal video I made just to break the monotony between updates (my fanbase is getting quite anxious about any and all other Easter eggs I can find and upload to my channel which is great but exhausting!). A while ago I bought the Warcraft III Special Edition DVD, and this is basically my take on all the fan art found on it. And if you're considering buying the DVD on Amazon like I did, don't. It's not worth it. But hopefully the "Art of Warcraft" book I ordered this week is...

Jun 8, 2017

AustinCraft 1.12!

I realized that AustinCraft was somewhat outdated, so I did a quick update. The future ones should be a bit easier to keep compatible, since it seems now that it just replaces anything missing with the original files. Anyway, here's the stable release!

Make sure to unzip the file into the Minecraft resources folder. I guess that's a new feature and it was baffling me for a long time.

May 27, 2017

Warcraft Resources for D&D 5e

Man, this is one of those projects I just look at and think "Did I really do all of this?" I've definitely got lost in this document. Ever since I discovered Critical Role at the beginning of the year and subsequently bought the core rulebooks for Dungeons & Dragons 5e, assembled materials to be a Dungeon Master, and played some of my first games, I've tried to adapt the Warcraft universe to a playable setting. I began by creating my own custom races, and after balancing them with some help from people online, I decided to add deities to help DMs interested in playing a Warcraft setting design clerics. I also realized that I'd better add an items/weapons section to add in the appropriate information for the exotic weapons used by the custom races, and before I knew it, I now had a 16-page document detailing everything from new mechanics to changed spell names to lore considerations in the Warcraft universe.

Anyway, long story short, here it is if you'd like to check it out or use it for your 5e game! I know there are more professionally done ones out there, but it's worth looking at anyway. It might just be perfect for your style of play if you're wanting to make a Warcraft-focused campaign. Special thanks to Chris Metzen/Blizzard Entertainment for the art, and the original Warcraft Roleplaying Game for 3.5th edition D&D.

The link to the file is at the end of this article, but here's just a quick preview of some of the changes:

  • 13 New Races: Wildhammer Dwarves, Pandaren, Goblins, Trolls, Tauren, and more!
  • New Weapons and Explosive Items: Including moonglaives and tauren totems.
  • 30+ Deities for Warcraft Clerics!
  • Lore Change Options: New planes of existence skins, suggestions for Warcraft spell names, languages, paladin orders, and class tweaks.
  • Bonus: A variant rule for spellcasting components that simplifies gathering for components that cost gold!
  • and More!

May 26, 2017

Warcraft III Easter Eggs Bonus: Models (Part 2)

Not much to say at this point, other than I'm getting burned out from these again. Well, that's not true. Mostly I'm just starting to care less about little details or accuracy. I'm not a pro, after all. I do all my research for these in-house with no help except from YouTube comments. Pretty good all things considered.

May 10, 2017

WarCraft Easter Eggs Bonus: Models

I'm back into my one claim to fame, the Warcraft III Easter Eggs series! This time I'm looking at the models in the game. It was fun to look closely at each model and see some of the things that make the game tick. Once again, there doesn't seem to be many resources online that talk about the things I've found, so I just keep filling that empty niche. You're welcome, everyone. The ending of this video was unexpectedly fun to make. My only explanation for its weirdness is that I just do what the Muse dictates.

This was also my chance to celebrate having more than 1,000 YouTube subscribers! Woot!

>> goo.gl/Xzptkm <<

Apr 18, 2017

D&D Spell Cards

I've been really into D&D more and more lately, and am starting a work group to play it with, which is really fun. I just love how 5th edition is so accessible compared to older ones. If you haven't tried it (I don't care what your excuse is), you should! Seriously! It's such an inspiring game for creativity in many forms.

Anyway, I've been assembling resources in order to play the game in as easy a way possible based on my own likes and dislikes. I bought some knight figurines to use as crude miniatures (along with my better looking painted Talisman ones), I'm trying to find a reliable source of graph paper, music soundtracks, initiative trackers, better character sheets, and I'm saving up to buy an actual DM screen. But one thing has really been hard to adapt: spells. There used to be spell cards up on Amazon, but they cost up to $300 now, up from about $10 a few years ago. So I decided to make my own.

It took me at least a dozen hours, but after coming up with a clear format, I finally finished copying over all the spell cards, organizing them into Nature, Arcane, Divine, and Bardic categories. I also made weapon cards to make it easier to remember weapon types and properties.

One thing that I was able to do during this process that was an unexpectedly fun surprise was customize the cards. I took cards out. There were a few cards, such as Maze, Mirage Arcane, and Rope Trick, that I thought were stupid or redundant, so I simply didn't make them as part of my personal set. I modified cards. Some cards say you have to cast the same spell every day for a year for it to be permanent. I think that's simply too long, so I changed it to three months. I also changed the names of some spells I thought sounded stupid, such as changing "Arms of Hadar" to "Demon Nova," and "Geas" to "Enslave Creature."

I even changed fundamental mechanics, like the components. At first, I thought the free-cost components were kind of an unnecessary mechanic anyway, but I saw some things online that convinced me that in some situations they could be fun, so I kept them. But one thing I did not want to worry about when DMing in the future is different consumable components that cost the same amount. I thought it was dumb that some spells required "a diamond worth 1,000," so I instead standardized that entire system using runes. This will also help make the game a bit more like Warcraft, which is probably the system I'll be using most anyway. The runes will be available at mage shops and found in dungeons just like the random gems and whatnot will be, but they'll be easier to use for other spells if needed. Their prices are as follows, and you're free to use them if you wish:

  • Spark Rune - 10gp
  • Ley Rune - 25gp
  • Mystic Rune - 50gp
  • Astral Rune - 100gp
  • Void Rune - 150gp
  • Prismatic Rune - 250gp
  • Power Rune - 500gp
  • Nether Rune - 1,000gp
  • Eternal Rune - 5,000gp

  • These cover almost every spell in 5th edition D&D, but if there's an odd amount, you can just say the spell requires a combination of two more more runes. I also added "medallions" to the game to cover the weird ingredients that cost but aren't consumed; each type of magic has a different form of medallion needed to cast the spell: talismans for arcane spellcasters, relics for divine spellcasters, totems for druids, and trinkets for bards. For example, for Mordenkainen's Magnificent Mansion, instead of "A miniature portal carved from ivory, a small piece of polished marble, and a tiny silver spoon, each item worth at least 5 gp," I just say "a castle talisman or trinket worth 5gp." The player is going to have to buy them anyway, so why not make them all uniform, like a collection of arcane focuses?

    Oh, that reminds me: I took out all the proper names in the spells. They just don't work well in a Warcraft setting. So Bigby's Hand is just Arcane Hand, Otiluke's Resilient Sphere is just Resilient Sphere, and Hunger of Hadar is called Hunger of the Void.

    I also added weapons to the list based on the Warcraft Roleplaying Game for 3.5 edition. The game has weapons for the most part covered (even firearms), but I added the Tauren Totem, the Orcish Claws, and the Moonglaive.

    All in all, it's been a fun experience and a fulfilling one, since I've been able to familiarize myself with the spells in the game in anticipation of making new adventures in the future based on them. The only thing I need to do now is save up enough money to actually have all the cards printed, and hope that they don't violate any copyright laws.

    Mar 27, 2017

    Painted Talisman Figurines!

    I've owned Talisman for a couple of years now, and consider it one of my favorite board games. It is a bit slow, but the balance and general roleplaying atmosphere of the game have been a lot of fun to play with. One issue I had is that the figurines in the game were all a straight gray color. It was somewhat annoying to track which player was on which space on the game board. This weekend, after using them as game pieces in the D&D game the other week, I decided to finally sit down and paint the figurines. I consulted their class cards, which look like this:

    And, since their models accurately reflect their pose, it was easy to copy their look in paint form, like so:

    Painting all the figurines gave me quite the unexpected challenge. I didn't have a huge selection of colors, so I had to mix them together regularly. There were also some rather fine details that I had to focus pretty hard to complete, such as the thief's mustache and the priestess's necklace. Here is one held in my hand for size reference, if you're not familiar with Talisman:

    In short, it was a fun new form of art that I have little experience with, and I was glad that the figurines turned out so well. After painting them with acrylic paint, I sprayed them with sealant so that they'll last longer. I'm sure they'll make Talisman a lot more fun to play, and because of the range of classes available, they'll make handy miniatures for any future D&D games I run!

    Mar 19, 2017

    Arena Games: My Experience Finally Being a DM!

    Two weeks ago, after aspiring for two years, I finally was able to try out DMing a game of Dungeons & Dragons! I always thought I'd find a group and play as a player before actually running my own game, but the game that some coworkers run at work was too slow for me (Only two hours a week, split up between two days), and the GURPS game I play with my friends leaves much to be desired (I really hate the GURPS system, and I found myself being too picky on the DM), but luckily watching Critical Role gave me all the experience, inspiration, and motivation I needed to give it a shot.

    The players were my siblings and their significant others, and my wife. None of them except maybe my brother and brother-in-law were too excited about the idea of playing a game that is largely stereotyped as a game played by pimple-faced single men rolling dice in their mom's basements, but I assured them that it was much less nerdy than they might think—it was like a board game where literally anything could happen. I also told them they could count humoring me with a game as an early birthday present, which seemed to work.

    I prepared an adventure from the Warcraft Roleplaying Game Manual Lands of Conflict, called "Arena Games." This was partly because I love Warcraft so much and know the lore well, but it was also because the adventure was perfect for both a first-time DM and first-time players. It had a rather narrow storyline and enclosed physical location where I could lightly "railroad" the players so they couldn't throw too many unexpected twists into my plans, it had a simple conflict, several simple battles, some secrets, and a boss battle at the end.

    I wanted to make sure every one of the players' needs were covered so that we could have the smoothest possible experience playing. Normally, players hunker down for a long campaign where they spend time creating their characters, their characters' backstories, and choices for things like feats and spells, but I knew that would bog down the session and possibly bore them instead of give them a good first impression of the game, possibly opening it up to more games in the future. So I made five character sheets, each covering a different race and class, with filled out stats, backgrounds, spells, and cantrips, for them to choose from. I also made spell cards so that no one would have to look up anything in the Player's Handbook, and even weapon and item cards that they could consult for damage and whatnot. I assured my players that, though the game would be the most complex board game they would ever play, I would do all of the complex behind-the-scenes calculations, so they wouldn't have to worry about any of it.

    The day finally came, we prepared by putting the kids to bed early, snacks were prepared, and we sat down and began our session of Dungeons & Dragons together. I set the atmosphere with a premade playlist, including several tracks from World of Warcraft that fit the situations they would encounter. I began by allowing everyone to practice roleplaying with a simple request. I explained where the adventure took place—the Stranglethorn Vale jungles—and asked them how their specific character ended up in such a place, given their background. My brother, playing the high elf wizard Lynalis, said that he had heard of an ancient ruin in the jungle that he wanted to study. His girlfriend, a goblin named Bizby, had left her previous city as a hot suspect of crime and wanted to start a new life in the pirate coastal city of Booty Bay. My wife played a night elf healer named Alania, and was searching for new ways to commune with her nature goddess, Elune, in the jungles. My sister played a Wildhammer dwarf I originally had named Fargrim, but since a female had picked him, I changed him to a female named Fargrima. She related the backstory of Fargrima as a wandering hunter who had made his way to Stranglethorn in search of new trails and game. Finally, her husband played a half-orc fighter and ex-soldier named Thromak, who had been kicked out of his town for excessive brawling and had wandered south.

    I explained that during their travels, they were one by one ambushed by forest trolls, who had enslaved them as gladiators in the ancient Gurubashi Arena. Owned and ordered by the cruel troll Bloodstone, they were now imprisoned along with many others and forced to fight for sport. I began by explaining their predicament and introducing them to the other NPCs in the cell with them. They soon found out that Bloodstone had sent a search party to capture a demon to fight the combatants in the arena. This was news of great alarm, as a demon would surely kill everyone in the arena. Where once there was a chance of survival in each match, now there would be certain death.

    It was interesting to see how my players roleplayed. They treated the game at first like a board game, where they discussed plans and strategies with each other out of character. I encouraged them to stay more in character by pointing out that the guards could hear them conspiring and talking in different NPC accents, but throughout the
    game they often forgot that their characters should be considered as real people who didn't know everything that the players themselves did.

    They tried to make some rudimentary plans for escape, but soon they were called in to a fight in the arena. Now they began to really enjoy the game, now that some specific rules were given and some action was introduced to the story. They were assigned to fight six harpies, capturing one and killing the others. The fight was simple, and they enjoyed the descriptions of how the rules and dice rolls came into effect. I was also very impressed with how they fought, using their abilities to ensnare a harpy with vines and throwing a net over it, which worked perfectly. I was expecting the harpy to escape, but the double entanglement made it nearly impossible for it to succeed on an escape roll. The other harpies were dispatched, and the players triumphed.

    They heard news that the demon was closer than they had thought, arriving most likely the next day. Judging by the way they were conspiring to make an escape, I was afraid they were going to try and make a run for it, despite me making it clear that the hallways were patrolled by guards they stood no chance against. Luckily, though, they didn't do anything too chancy. The next day, they were assigned to another battle against four venom spiders. This battle had some gimmicks in it that were fun for me to pull against them: for example, nearly invisible spider webs that they had to have a successful perception check to spot, which they didn't. Some of them got stuck, which made for a fun aspect for them to play against. This was when the first Natural 20 was rolled, by Bizby when she made an attack roll with a flintlock pistol. Doing so with such a weapon does 3x damage instead of 2x, and she happened to roll full damage on top of that, making it do absolute maximum damage and completely obliterate the spider. Unfortunately, I realized later that she should have had disadvantage on the attack since she was stuck in a spider web, but hearing her say "This is the most excited I've been in a long time!" made it worth it. It was fun to see the characters having a good time.

    I also admired the players' use of tactics in the fight; Alania used her priestess power of charming beasts against a spider, and Lynalis used some spells to interesting effect as well. Thromak had a hard time scoring a hit with a crossbow, and even when the trolls told the players to stop (as the crowd was too focused on the demon arriving outside the stands), he still shot one of them once, finally landing a hit, and then complying with their request. Fargrima got a couple of bad hits by a venom spider, which seemed to be the first time they realized their characters weren't immortal. Luckily, as a dwarf, she was resistant to poison damage.

    The trolls hurriedly escorted the players back to their cell (before which Bizby tried to roll a sleight of hand check to pocket a flintlock pistol. I thought that would have been an interesting development, but she rolled a Natural 1, so the troll noticed her and slapped her for trying to be sneaky), and then soon left the cells unattended to go help fight the demon. At last, the players had an opening in order to escape. They cleverly used Bizby's tinkering skill to fashion a lockpick out of some old lyre strings, and then successfully picked the lock. By this point, it was close to 11:45 at night, so we decided to close for the day. Happily, the players wanted to schedule another date to finish the adventure with another session. That was a good sign they were having fun—a part of me worried they would've considered four hours a session long enough. It helped that the game ended on a cliffhanger.

    The following week, we played again. This part of the story was a bit more unknown... I was a bit afraid that they'd skip all the action and just run out and end the game. Luckily, most of the players decided to help out the other prisoners by finding the keys and unlocking them. If they had built more of a relationship with their cellmates, they would have joined them, but they didn't really include any of them in their plans, so all of the slaves ran out without a word. There were three rooms with some hidden treasures in them, but the players only searched one of them, and then decided they had to hurry and get out of the now collapsing arena.

    They met a human named Marcus who told them that there were children in the arena that he was trying to free, and they decided to help him. I had a timer set for five minutes that sent the players into a frenzy of anxiety. They really felt the urgency of the situation and tried to be as quick as possible in describing what they wanted to do. I was impressed at how they picked one child cell's lock, broke down another by kicking it down, and then using Lynalis's Ray of Frost spell to freeze a lock in order to make it break more easily (in my DM terms, this meant lowering the DC to break it, which was satisfying). By that point, they all ran out with Marcus, and the timer ran out, causing part of the roof to cave in and deal damage to those who failed a Dexterity save. The written adventure said this would cause a lot more damage and cause the entire arena to cave in, but I didn't want to punish them for taking chances, so I just made one section cave in and block off their path. The easier path for me that had been planned out was for them to just use a Strength check to move the rocks and then move up to the other side of the arena, but they instead decided to just turn tail and run through the menagerie instead. This was the first twist I hadn't been expecting, but it turned out to be a lot of fun anyway.

    They entered the menagerie, where animals were held for the gladiators to fight. It was caved in and everyone except for three scavenging gnolls were dead, so they fought the gnolls and decided to take a short rest to heal up. In 5th edition, a short rest is normally at least an hour long, but I had decided beforehand to take the Critical Role way of making them 20–30 minutes long to keep things going. This still seemed like too long when a demon was attacking the arena though, so I decided to just take the variant approach of making a short rest more like a breather of 5 or so minutes for the sake of the storyline; the spellcasters really needed a mana boost and everyone could use a bit of healing, so it was a good move. Now the players were met with a conundrum: there were a bunch of huge beasts stalking around in the arena, which was their only way to get to the other side and escape. They had the good strategy to use a dead animal from the menagerie as bait in order to distract one of the giant salamander lizards, and Alania used her animal handling skill to keep a hippogryph at bay, since they were generally partial to night elves. Then they all made a run for the other side. Fargrima waited too long and took a fire breath weapon attack from the salamander, and Alania strayed too close to a menacing thunder lizard and got a lightning breath attack, but they both survived. This was my first instance of fudged numbers: normally the attacks were supposed to do 7d6 damage, but I reduced it to about 2d6 so their frail, level 2 characters wouldn't find the end of their adventure there. It was enough to scare them into being more careful, but not enough to kill them outright.

     When they made it to the other side of the arena and escaped, I made them encounter a wounded troll guard, which was originally supposed to come up to them as they went up the stairs, provided they hadn't taken the menagerie route. Bizby tried to intimidate the troll to leave them alone, but being a tiny, 3-foot goblin trying to intimidate a 7-foot troll, I made her try the skill check at disadvantage and it failed as expected. Lynalis had an idea that I hoped would come into play: using the spell "Disguise Self" to make himself appear as a troll and tell the guard to stand down. Unfortunately, he cast the spell directly in front of the guard instead of beforehand, which made the DC for a Deception check much harder and at disadvantage. Ultimately, the troll got sick of the prisoners trying to manipulate her and attacked. I should have let her take one swing as a surprise roll before initiative was rolled, but instead, Fargrima came out on top in the battle and simply blew the troll's head off with a flintlock pistol. It was a funny exchange, but I began to see that the pistols were somewhat overpowered. I kept hoping someone would roll a 1 or 2 while trying to attack with one of them so that the gun would misfire and be broken afterward, but it never happened. Luckily, I had only given them 5 musket balls to use with the guns. The manual said to give the players 20.

    The players continued through the arena, finding some better weapons in the armory and outsmarting a couple of timber wolves through a trap they made by surrounding a door. Eventually they made their way to the exit. I was afraid they would pass Bloodstone's office by, since they were pretty intent on getting out of there, but I made the room sound intriguing to the rogue, and she decided to sneak in to see what was in there. From there, I was able to entice the wizard with the description of a bookcase and the others with the details about the sounds of battle they could hear outside the window. They all entered, and when Lynalis inspected the desk, I handed his player a physical note for him to read (it was written in the Morpheus font, which I thought was a nice touch—that's the font that letters are written in on World of Warcraft), which gave them a bit of a look into the mind of Bloodstone and make him more of a target that they'd want to kill. They also unlocked a desk in which they dodged a dart trap and found a chest of 100 gold and a Dwarven stormhammer, their first magical item, which Fargrima was excited to get and wield.

    Finally, the group left the front door of the arena, where they saw the demon (a felguard), a troll guard, and a furious Bloodstone who was trying to capture his prize demon alive despite a lot of damage done to it by several wannabe heroes (whose bodies now strew across the ground). I was excited to see how they'd handle this final battle. Nothing was technically stopping them from just running and escaping like most of the other combatants, but obviously that would make for an anticlimax. Luckily, they really wanted Bloodstone to suffer for imprisoning them, so they watched the battle waiting for one of the forces to beat the other so they could clean up afterward. Luckily for my plan, Bloodstone's guard entangled the demon in a net and was preparing to enslave him as well, so they sprang into action. They began to attack heroically, expecting to win just as they had all the other battles, but things went south quickly: Bloodstone cut down Thromak in one blow with his greataxe, and I decided in the moment that he would have at least one class in Barbarian so he could pose more of a challenge, so he went into a rage as well. Eventually they got Bloodstone down to a mere 7 hit points, and then Lynalis cast a sleep spell on him, which worked. He slumped to the ground. At that moment, the demon killed the troll guard, broke out of the net (I rolled a 3, but fudged it), and ran over to Fargrima, who had hit him in the head with her stormhammer. He also did enough damage to knock her unconscious in one blow, which was oddly satisfying for me. The Dungeon Master shouldn't want his players to fail, but it's also fun to give them enough of a challenge that they get seriously hurt. The others killed the demon, and then turned their attention to Bloodstone.

    At first they debated torturing him or executing him in his sleep, and I personally hoped they'd show some kind of ironic revenge by locking him up like he had them, but eventually they decided to just wait for him to wake up, taunt him a bit or let him say some final words, and then kill him. What they forgot was that trolls regenerate, and after about 30 or 40 seconds in game, he had regenerated about 30 hit points. Lynalis noticed this, so they sprang into action to attack again. The first shot on him when he was asleep was an automatic critical hit, but it didn't kill him, so it allowed me some time to give him a furious monologue when he saw that his prized demon was killed. They all fought some more, and finally, after two Sacred Flame spells that did only 1 damage, Alania cast Sacred Flame again and rolled an 8. He only had 7 hits left, so I said "How do you wanna do this?" She decided to make him explode with divine energy, which was an amazing way to end the battle. I think every player managed to get a "How do you wanna do this?" finishing blow at some point, which was a nice happenstance.

    Having freed themselves from the arena, the adventurers parted ways. Bizby took the chest of gold and made a run for it, Alania began to tend to the wounded (primarily Thromak and Fargrima) and nurse them back to health, and Lynalis found among the dead one of their former cellmates, Jai'nora, whom he had admired, still barely alive.

    * * *

    In short, it was everything I had hoped it would be, even though I did forget to use the venom spiders' web attack ability and had to fudge a few rules for balance. For a first-time game, I think it was a good learning experience for all of us. My wife, for instance, realized that she would have liked playing more of a barbarian character than a healer. I really hope we get to play again someday, even if it's just a one-shot exploring a dungeon or something similar. I did award the characters experience, and they added it to their sheets excitedly, so who knows? The adventures of Fargrima, Bizby, Thromak, Alania, and Lynalis may not be over after all.

    Feb 2, 2017

    Hourly Comic Day 2017

    I've never done this before, but this year I remembered just in time and was able to participate! Had a lot of fun and definitely exercised my punchline-making and observance skills. Enjoy a snapshot of my nerdy and somewhat boring life!

    Jan 16, 2017

    Battle card 2.0: Wild Archon

    I just had the urge to resume working on these now that I have a lull in responsibilities. Hopefully I'll be able to use this motivations to get back into Knight Guy. I liked the way this Battle Card turned out.

    Jan 5, 2017

    Voice Acting and DMing - or - Why Dreams Don't Come True

    When I first started this blog, for some reason I thought it would be fun to make an entire feature of this blog about complaining. My very first post even established a name for it, "Complainin' Hour," complete with stupid made-up quotes about why complaining is awesome. Well, as dumb as that was, I'm gonna have to do it in this post. A part of me regrets referring my WarCraft III Easter Egg video fans to this blog, but first and foremost, this is a personal blog, so by golly, I'm gonna let this frustration out whether you imaginary readers like it or not. Today's topic: DMing and voice acting.

    My Elusive Dream

    Fact #1: I've always wanted to be a voice actor. When I was a kid, my brother and I messed around with the computer mike and sound recorder, and I made all kinds of weird skits using my voice. I even learned how to use only "Add Echo," "Increase Speed" and "Decrease Speed" to make vocal effects, from chipmunks and ogres to robot voices and sounding like I was coughing into a radiator. I also tinkered around with my computer games, making an entire sound set of my voice for Worms 2 and WarCraft II, and stretching my amateur acting abilities to their limits by voicing characters on my Starcraft and WarCraft III maps.

    As I got older, I began to admire more and more the famous voice actors you hear everywhere: Mel Blanc, who voiced all the characters on my childhood favorite show, Loony Toons; Jason Marsden, the friendly voice of nineties characters like Max Goof and Tino Tonitini; the child voice actors on Disney's Recess and The Magic School Bus; Matt Chapman, the comedic voices of Strong Bad, Homestar Runner, and everyone else on that site; and of course, the voice actors who are so ubiquitous they can get annoying, mostly Jim Cummings and Jeff Bennett.

    My admiration for voice acting further increased every time I saw a behind-the-scenes featurette on animated movie DVDs, showing the actors in all their enthusiasm behind the mike. I also began to recognize video game voice actors, which added a whole new level of yearning in my dream. I noticed that most video game voice actors mostly voice animes. Though I've liked very, very few animes, I'd voice a hundred characters on them no matter how cheesy, if I could voice just one Warcraft character.

    Of course, though, being a voice actor isn't easy to get into or whatever. You have to be born into a family with connections to show biz, or have an agent as a family friend, or get your foot in the door as a child actor. And no amount of reading my own audiobooks, voicing over WarCraft Easter egg videos, adding foreign accents to my portfolio, or tinkering with my voice on Audacity is going to ever make me a voice actor. My voice isn't even that great sounding anyway.

    My Wasted Talent

    Fact 2: My personality seems designed for Dungeon Mastering (DMing). Ever since I was a kid, I was making up games. I wanted to be a computer game designer when I grew up (another elusive dream, but I digress). I made up fake game manuals, strategy guides for games that didn't exist, websites for games I would never finish, hundreds of playing cards, board games with milk caps as game pieces, fully illustrated forums, games that consisted of nothing more than Windows folders and .txt files... and I invented a roleplaying game without ever hearing about Dungeons and Dragons.
    I also have always liked to write, though I lack the skill to finish what I start without others' participation and input. My Alfred novel never would've succeeded without my cousin writing half of its plot in staggered sections. I dropped out of my creative writing degree because I just could not let my flimsy writing skills stand on their own.

    Whenever I play a board game, I make it an experience. I don't just move pieces around and draw cards. I put on music based on the game's genre. My voice takes on an accent of someone in a relevant time period or setting. Game mechanics as simple as a pawn removing a bishop become epic scenes of peasants violently rising against a tyrannical clergy in my illustration.

    I am also a driven person in social settings. I take initiative in crafting experiences for other people, whether that be adding tasteless garnish to food to make it look more presentable, making sure things at appointments are set up precisely and directly on time, and always looking for the easiest, most efficient way to make someone comfortable when giving instructions.

    All of these things would make me a wonderful DM. I'll admit I'm proud of these talents. And yet, they are wasted. Why? Because I am the only one I can find as driven as I am.

    Give and Take? Mostly Just Give

    Years ago, the play-by-post forum Argaenothruzil (the cradle of my novel's first origins) was run entirely by me for my friends. I wrote the storyline, crafted the setting, invented lore, compiled avatars, designed maps, balanced gameplay, wrote instructions, and offered to reply to every player's posts as soon as I could. And I did. For as long as they were willing to reply to mine. Which wasn't very long.

    Why was this? I can't imagine. If the idea of an RPG sounds fun in the first place, why not make the most of it? If the forum's leader is willing to do 90% of the work, why can't you offer 10% in exchange? I guess you'd have to ask my friends, because the majority of the stories written in this way went unfinished, and their existing content was written so slowly it rapidly lost its appeal. My friends claimed they were "busy" and provided other excuses for not posting on the forum more often. And yet, I was just as busy, and found time to post to five or six people's stories when they couldn't find the time to post on just their own. It's been said that friendship is about give and take, and while some complain that their friends take and never give, sometimes I wish I had friends who would take anything at all.

    A few years ago, in order to incentivize myself to work on Knight Guy more seriously, I started a writing group called Escutcheon. I invited my writer friends. I found a time and day each week when we could all meet. I reserved rooms at the local library where we could go and discuss our works. I made Facebook and Google groups where we could schedule our next meeting and post our work for others to read and comment on. I came prepared with specific questions about how my work could improve, and answers to their inquiries. I compiled ideas for topics to discuss. We came, we met, we discussed writing, we explored various mediums of writing, from poetry and prose to comics and even music, and everyone was excited to bond as writers while improving their writing.
    Take a wild guess what happened.

    A few weeks went by, and though the members attended, no one seemed to "have time" to read each other's work but me. Eventually, one member stopped coming, then two others. They didn't respond to comments on the groups. Eventually, the group dissolved, despite my very, very best efforts.

    Image result for munchkin boxA few years later, at my job, not being able to join the Dungeons & Dragons group there, I began my own group to play the board game Munchkin. I brought my copy of the game, sent out invitations, complete with simplified instructions on how to play for new players. I verbally invited my friends to the group. Enough people joined for us to have a weekly group. I reserved a room each week and was there with the game set up and ready to go at 12:01 p.m. so that no one would have to waste any of their lunch break. Of course, the players took their precious time arriving most of the time, and over time, the players, despite having a wonderful time each week, began to dwindle and join other gaming groups. Eventually it was only down to two of us, and after trying fruitlessly to play the game with only two players, I disbanded the group. Another casualty not of a lack of effort, but a completely out-of-my-control lack of engagement. Why? I couldn't tell you in a hundred years why. Making experiences fun for people is my forté, and yet it seems to be a wasted effort.

    And then there's Dungeons and Dragons. I discovered Dungeons and Dragons in 2015. After buying the guidebooks online, I was fascinated to find that the game wasn't nearly as nerdy as I thought—it was full of story writing, logic, math, and roleplaying mechanics that I had been implementing into countless other board games for years. I quickly collected other sourcebooks that encompassed other things I found interesting converted to game form—building strongholds, creating other planes of existence and planets, and the entire collection of WarCraft Roleplaying Game books. I tinkered with mechanics in my head, found other roleplaying games like Tunnels and Trolls, the Mistborn Adventure Game, GURPS: Discworld, and Dying Earth as ways to satiate my endless hunger for "gamifying" actions of life itself as well the fantasy realms I enjoyed in other mediums. And yet... I just read the books. I never had any chance to play. I listened to podcasts about it, but they soon turned boring or ridiculously crass. I read countless stories of D&D experiences online—every one I could find—and marveled that such events could occur in a game with rules. All my life I had played games that had limitations on them in terms of graphics, scope, size, or choice of action, but in D&D, anything could happen, and I yearned to have my own adventure where I could enter a world without bounds, or create one for others.

    At last, my buddy and I managed to create a group. It was to be a group of him, myself, and three other people. Well of course, knowing my luck, only one of the other players showed up at the first session, but we had a blast anyway. I thanked Fate for allowing me to finally indulge in the type of game that I had been longing to play for years: the type of game that all of my talents and personality quirks seemed to resonate with, with the perfect balance of fiction stories, roleplaying mechanics, logic, and, most lacking of all I realized, social interaction. I laughed and bonded with the members of the group over the game we played, and though it was a sacrifice to meet each week in terms of setting aside other appointments, it was so immensely worth it, and I looked forward to

    But the other players never did show up to another game and the other existing player said he couldn't play anymore after like three sessions and we had to disband the group and we can't find anyone else to build it up again.

    The Lemon Juice for My Papercut

    This past week, I was fortunate enough to find the show Critical Role. It will finally quench my thirst for experiencing a secondhand form of D&D, much more than those podcasts will, but at the same time its existence seems like the universe's personal mockery of my ambitions in life. The D&D game in the show is DMed by Matt Mercer, a professional voice actor and an expert DM. Not only does he direct the game for his players in a smooth, engaging, epic, fantastic way, but he does amazing voices for the characters he creates. What's even more incredible is that every player in his group is a professional voice actor as well. This makes for a tremendously torn experience for me to watch it. Each player speaks for his or her character with a voice that sounds like it's from a video game or a TV show—because it literally is. Some, such as Laura Bailey, voice characters in video games I play. Here all in one room are a group of the type of people I admire most playing the game I find the most engaging, in an expert, professional way that I will seemingly never experience. Matt Mercer manages to play a weekly game of D&D with essentially a group of eight other celebrities—certainly they must be busy—and yet I cannot find more than one other person in my entire region who will commit to spending a few hours a week humoring me with a session of the game; more than one other person at work who's willing to play a game of Munchkin each week; more than a couple of people to discuss writing with every once in a while.

    What am I doing wrong? If something I'm doing is glaringly obvious, then by all means, please point it out in the comments. I've tried everything possible to make games and groups inviting to others, and still their interactions with me fizzle out after no more than three or four weeks. It's not that the people themselves lack interest in the things—these same people hold gaming and writing groups of their own with their other friends. Perhaps the thing that is most difficult to accept is that in my friends' lives and in groups like Critical Role, having a happy, exciting, fun, fulfilling group of dedicated friends this is clearly possible, and yet despite my hardest work and most fervently exhausting and thorough efforts, I have no personal evidence to confirm it.

    Dreams Are Stupid

    I've said this before, and I hold to it more and more, but I think dreams are stupid, and the idea that "if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything" is utter garbage. The way I see it, if you're born with vocal talents and happen to have the chance to do voices in shows and media when you're in high school, AND you happen to love voice acting, you are a very lucky person named Matt Mercer, and I envy the crap out of you. But guess what I am? A lowly editor in a marketing startup with barely enough free time to read, update comics, or work on countless dust-gathering unfinished projects. A guy with no free time, and yet enough drive to sacrifice what little free time I have in order to play a game I've always longed to play if I could just find a handful of people to call friends. Apparently, though, even that's too much to ask.

    I have a multitude of things to be grateful for, of course: a wife, three kids, a religion I trust to be true, a close family, and the resources to at least practice my talents by myself. I'm thankful for all of these blessings. But why, after all this, would the universe curse me with desires I can't fulfill? With aspirations that even my most fervent efforts would not begin to satisfy? Time and time again I have tried to prove just how much I want what I want, and the best I can achieve never lasts long enough to keep me satisfied, because of completely uncontrollable circumstances. Why couldn't my innate desires be to call having a family enough? Why couldn't I in my situation be born with the one dream of becoming an editor? Instead, I find myself locked into a pigeonholed destiny in a rapidly passing life that could end any day, just like everyone else's could, yet with so much effort spared toward a dream that very well could never happen?

    A part of me believes that, perhaps, in the afterlife, all of this disappointment will be made up for, but that doesn't take away the desires I have right now. It doesn't stop me from buying RPG manual after RPG manual and reading through it by myself, knowing that I may well never get to see the rules played out in person. What sort of lame waste is that? I wonder if the most inspiring movie star who would ever live, or the doctor who could find the cure to cancer, or the political leader who could unite all nations under one banner of peace, was perhaps born in a tiny, plague-ridden village in a third-world country, doomed to carry water from a well his whole life and die from tuberculosis without ever having the resources or the contacts needed to make his talents known to the world.
    Though my hopes of entertaining others with my voice and playing a stupid make-believe game seem insignificant compared to that, it seems odd to me that any aspiration should exist at all if there's no way for them to be individually fulfilled. If games have taught me anything, there's always a way to win, but sadly, it doesn't seem to be that way in life. At least as far as dreams go.