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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.