John-Michael Gariepy

Archive for the category “Opinions: Unasked for”

I Literally Don’t Know What ‘Literally’ Means Anymore…

A friend of mine, and occasional voice on the Myriad Games Podcast, David Welsh, had something to say about the state of American Football a couple weeks ago:

In a previous post… I stated that GB did not deserve to win that game.
But, and I mean this literally, Seattle DID NOT deserve to win that game.

What Dave is talking about is the union struggles with Pro Referees, and the ineptitude of scab refs, leading to what some have said is ‘the worst call in NFL History‘.  (It’s old news now, I know.  The NFL settled.  It may have had a lot to do with this play).

I couldn’t help but focus on the word ‘literally’.  Dave’s got it right:  Green Bay left themselves open to have the game stolen from them.  They didn’t deserve to win the game, but, technically, they should have won that game because they intercepted the ball, and the last play was not a clean touchdown.  I, however, having no clue what happened, decided to look up the word ‘literally’ in a dictionary, as opposed to, I don’t know, do a Google search for the game.  So instead of discussing the rules of the football, instead we’re going to talk about a word in the dictionary.  Excitement abounds.  Merriam-Webster.com tells us: Read more…

Dear Marvel Comics, Why Can’t We Just Be Friends?

Dear Marvel Comics,

It’s true, you weren’t my first.  The first comic book I remember reading was an old Justice League issue in my neighborhood barbershop.  Doctor Light abducted the Justice League via a series of perfect traps.  He then… um… brought them… somewhere?  To make them fight their hologram doubles?  Which, if they ever touched them, that hologram double would explode, killing that member of the Justice League?  Even at the formative age of eight, I couldn’t believe how sloppy Doctor Light was.  Why would he make a robot dolphin that exploded when in Aquaman’s proximity, instead of capturing Aquaman like he captured the other heros?  Was Doctor Light that afraid of Aquaman?  And… and when Aquaman did confront the mechanical dolphin, that was the exact moment when Doctor Light got a stomach cramp and couldn’t watch his view screen.  “It is a pity that this stomach ache prevents me from watching the demise of Aquaman!”  Really?  Aquaman’s not dead, Doctor Light!  He figured out your trick, and used his Read more…

The Top Ten Most Reviled Magic: the Gathering Cards, According to Gatherer – Part 2

Ladies and Gentleman, Boys and Girls!  Step right up and see design so terrible, so strange, so singularly miserable, that I urge those of you with a weak constitution and a penchant for fainting to avert your gaze and engage in a less thrilling amusement, like the roller coasters further into this park.  In part one of this two part series, you were exposed to some of the basest card in Magic the Gathering, as voted upon by the fine folk who glean Gatherer.  Today, however, we step beyond the merely horrible, and launch ourselves into The Design of Darkness.  For those men and women among you who are manly enough to gaze into the maw of madness, I peel back the curtain to reveal…

Number Five: Bog Hoodlums

Community Rating:  .776

Hoju and I are both in the Myriad Games Podcast and participate in the same Magic: the Gathering league.  We open a pack a week and add it to our collection, making decks based on what we opened, and reset every season.  Hoju likes Lorwyn, and has opened a disproportionate number of Bog Hoodlums, opening one in every other pack.  The card makes him furious, and his hatred of it only grows over the years.  Whenever someone attempts to convince him there are worse creatures in Magic, Hoju rejoinders with “Sure, that’s a bad card.  But at least that card can block.”

It turns out that, although you win Magic by attacking, being unable to stop yourself from losing because you can’t block is very frustrating.  The fact that this card pretends to hide it’s terrible power to toughness casting cost ratio behind a fun mechanic only annoys people even more.  When you win the clash, instead of getting a 4/1 that can’t block, you get a 5/2 that can’t block.  Whoop-de-frickin-doo.  That’s like going to a concert, paying twenty bucks for a bottle of water, and getting to play a little side game to win a package of peanuts.  You already insulted me.  Stop making it worse.

Best comment, made by Demonic_Math_Tutor: I think they just dont know how to do anything but zerg rush with other bogarts…

Number Four:  Sorrow’s Path

Read more…

The Top Ten Most Reviled Magic: the Gathering Cards, According to Gatherer – Part 1

Magic: the Gathering is a collectible card game, where players spellsling against opponents by crafting a customized deck out of 12,413 possible cards.  This article is about the ten worst choices you can make for your deck.

But it’s more than that, too.  There’s a number of articles on the internet that claim to represent the worst cards in Magic.  Most of those articles are bogged down by personal experience, by conversations with people the author knows, and swayed by popular opinion.  Here’s a card that often pops up on one of those lists:  One with Nothing.

For those of you who don’t know much about it, Magic: the Gathering isn’t a shedding game.  Unlike Uno or Crazy Eights, in Magic, you want as many cards in hand as possible.  More cards means more power and more options.  There are numerous strategy articles dedicated to achieving card advantage.  This card flies against one of the most powerful paths to victory in the game of Magic.  It dumps your hard earned card advantage, and it does it at instant speed.

But for every tenth player, this card reads as potential.  Sure, in most games, the card is terrible.  But there’s a subset of players who enjoy the challenge of finding situations where the card is perfect.  What if you had a creature that ‘turned on’ when you have no cards in hand?  What if your opponent packs four of Lobotomy, a card that not only rips a card out of your hand, but seeks your graveyard and library and pulls all copies of that card out of the game.  What if you just like to be funny, and insist on dumping your hand as a way to taunt people you’re about to crush?  Heck, One with Nothing even popped up in player’s sideboards to fight Ivory Crane Netsuke decks (a deck that jammed extra cards in your hand, then punished you for having extra cards in your hand) when those decks represented half the environment.

This article is not about cards like One with Nothing.  This article is about the cards that are so disgusting that no one is willing to defend them.  How can I be sure of myself?  Because I didn’t make the list.  The Magic: the Gathering community, as a whole, created this list.

You see, Magic has this website by the name of Gatherer, which operates as a database for its cards, but it’s much more than that.  On Gatherer, you can find out individual card rulings, how the card translates into different languages, see other people’s comments on the card, and give a card a rating from one-half a star to five stars.  It’s this last feature we’re focusing on.  I’ve sorted all the Magic cards in existence starting with the “lowest community rating” and worked my way backwards.  What we find is ten harsh lessons in design.  This dump is a direct warning to game designers:  These cards represent design that few, if any, players are willing to defend.  Brace yourself.

Read more…

Step Right Up! Guess the Writer’s Gender and Win a Giant Teddy Bear!

This was going to be a simple post.

Recently, I stumbled upon some blowhard in the internet who claimed he could tell if an author of a book was male or female by reading their content.  Most of his claims were Texas Sharpshooting:  He painted his target on the side of a barn after he emptied his gun at it, then marveled how accurate his shooting was.

“Well, this would be a fun experiment!” I thought.  “I’ll just post an excerpt from 10 famous authors’ lesser known works and let people guess who’s the male and who’s the female.  We’ll see if people can figure it out by the context and language… and, Bam!  Easy article.”

So, I pulled out five female and five male authors and paired them up.  I got a selection of their writing and worked on the article.  Then I stepped back and realized something:  That’s a lot of words.  A lot of words left outside of the context of the books they were written in, and who wants to read that?  You want an example?  Sure.  Can you guess the gender of this author?

“I AM the native of a sea-surrounded nook, a cloud-enshadowed land, which,
when the surface of the globe, with its shoreless ocean and trackless
continents, presents itself to my mind, appears only as an inconsiderable
speck in the immense whole; and yet, when balanced in the scale of mental
power, far outweighed countries of larger extent and more numerous
population. So true it is, that man’s mind alone was the creator of all
that was good or great to man, and that Nature herself was only his first
minister. England, seated far north in the turbid sea, now visits my dreams
in the semblance of a vast and well-manned ship, which mastered the winds
and rode proudly over the waves. In my boyish days she was the universe to
me. When I stood on my native hills, and saw plain and mountain stretch out
to the utmost limits of my vision, speckled by the dwellings of my
countrymen, and subdued to fertility by their labours, the earth’s very
centre was fixed for me in that spot, and the rest of her orb was as a
fable, to have forgotten which would have cost neither my imagination nor
understanding an effort.”

Honestly, the challenge was nigh impossible.  Assuming you aren’t making blanket judgement based upon a novel’s genre (Most romance is written by women, and most war stories are written by men,) there’s no way to know a person’s gender based on the writing.  In theory, men are more direct and women talk more about feelings, but a good novel requires both directness and emotion (Emphasis on the word ‘good‘, Dan Brown.)  Unless the author calls out a detail about their own life, or possibly a philosophy built over a lifetime of being one gender, how could you tell?  And even then, how can you be certain the author didn’t do the research, and, yes, happens to know an intimate detail about shaving one’s legs that you wouldn’t have guessed from a man?

So, no, you’ll never know the gender of the author if they don’t reveal that information to you.  But, you might be able to guess.

Read more…

Dungeons and Dragons: Fifth Edition

WotC announced they are working on the fifth edition of their game.  But what does that mean?

There’s been a split among D&D characters, and, as any good player will tell you “You don’t split the party”.

This is the message Wizards of the Coast has put out for us fellow adventurers.  Since 4th edition, there’s been grumbles from the core players.  Then, after a few months, dissent lead to desertion.  Dungeons and Dragons fourth edition, with all it’s good points and bad was plagued over the past three years by a decision made in 2000 to have Third Edition be printed under an Open Gaming Licence.  This allowed any company to make additional products for Dungeons and Dragons Third Edition using Wizards terminology without the threat of legal action looming over them.  It strengthened the game, and the brand.  Dungeons and Dragons was already the leader in Role Playing Games, but the OGL solidified Third Edition, turning it into an RPG Juggernaut.

And when Fourth Edition came out, it was hit head on by that Juggernaut, and is grinding under the gears of it.  As of this writing, Paizo, the makers of the Pathfinder line of 3rd Edition D&D products is making more money from publishing 3rd edition products than Wizards is making off of 4th edition products.  And that’s one company.  If you count Goodman Games, and all the other publishers of Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition products, 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons is getting squeezed out of its own game.

That is why the announcement for 5th edition from Wizards sounds like a plea instead of a celebration. The good news is, that Wizards is very serious in it’s desire to get feedback from players.  Instead of looking at surveys and godbooks, then building a game based upon a design group’s philosophy, they are soliciting responses from everyone.  The makers of Dungeons and Dragons want to keep making Dungeons and Dragons, and we should support them when they ask for our help.  The future of our game is at stake, and, to a lesser extent, so isn’t table top roleplaying.  Feel free to drop on over community.wizards.com/dndnext and give the makers of D&D a piece of your mind.  [You know… after you get done reading my article.  :D]

I don’t get it.  What’s wrong with 4th edition that we couldn’t patch it up and wait another 3 years to make 5th edition?

I suppose you’re new to the game, Huh?

It’s cool.  I’m going to admit something that few people who play the game would.  I like 4th edition.  I think it empowers the Dungeon Master, and streamlines the game.  Oh, I’ve got problems with it.  I could write a book about the failings of 4th edition.  No.  Honestly, I could write an entire book about how4th edition failed to live up to people’s expectations for what a Dungeons and Dragons experience should contain.  I could write most of it off the top of my head.  The holes in the game are so large, that you can’t compare it to swiss cheese anymore.  More like Swiss air with bits of cheese.  Here’s a quick run down of some changes that we may see because so many people will complain about them:
Read more…

80,000 Words Party

A little while ago, I hit 80,000 words on the first draft for my first novel “The Singing Lamp of Bombay”.

80,000 Words!  For those of you who haven’t read my article, Who’s to blame for the state of the Fantasy Genre?, that would be the minimum length for a fantasy novel submitted to Penguin Publishing.  The focus on Penguin’s Daw series is a bit of an accident, but also a quick  sideways glance into book lengths, publishers and the internet.  If you did a Google search for how long your first novel should be, you will not get a straight answer.  Well, sure, you’ll get a ton of opinions from writers, many whom haven’t written a first novel in years.  But few publishing companies want to put a number out there for you to ballpark with.  Even publishers with blogs on the internet have a tendency to get all metaphysical on the subject.  This, despite the fact that, if your novel has a reason to be rejected by a publisher, then it will be rejected.  Publishers have too many manuscripts to go through, and one less manuscript means hours of saved work.  So, while they say “A novel is complete when you feel it is done,” what they really mean is, “If that sucker is the next ‘Atlas Shrugged’, I’m using it as packing material for my holiday shipping.”

This makes some internal logic.  Publishers want authors to produce the best books that they can write; Getting involved in the creative process and telling authors what they can and can’t do can stifle a master work.  Publishers also want to reduce the amount of reading they have to a reasonable number by tossing large chunks of ‘Master Works’ into the recycle bin.  You’d think that a few guidelines parsed out by major publishers would help the community at large and, therefore, themselves.  But no dice.  Come to the marketplace with a price, and we’ll see if we’re willing to negotiate with you.

What I do know is that 80,000 appears to be a sort of magic number in Fantasy / Sci-Fi circles.  Many websites point to that number as a ‘minimum’ for the genre.  Worldbuilding, they say.  Good science fiction and good fantasy takes place in a whole new world established by the mind of the author.  It’s expected.  Well, except for books that take place in other people’s intellectual properties, such as Star Trek or World of Warcraft novels.  But those books are handled by contract by established authors.  No, no, world building takes a good 20,000 words or so, and you’re going to have to do it.

Which is odd, because a lot of people I know aren’t particularly interested in reading about some non-scientist’s, non-anthropologist’s idea of what makes a good world.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, they want to hear a crazy idea as much as you or I.  The author just shouldn’t be elaborating on it.  If I started talking too much about quantum mechanics, let’s say, I’d be out of my league and would sound like a quantum idiot.  No amount of quick research would remedy my need to push buzzwords on you to sound vibrant.   And, let’s face it, one other form of media doesn’t bother with world building.  Every now and then, Firefly or Battlestar Gallactica might explain why the universe operates the way it does.  But more often, these shows are telling you a good story, and, if you’re going to enjoy it, you need to have faith that the writers have an internal logic system that the show spirals on.  If you stick around, you’ll pick up the pieces of that world.  The warp drive uses dilithium crystals.  Get over it.

But, here I am complaining when I mean to be celebrating.  I’m at the top of the hill, and now it’s time for a quick run down the other side.  Then, there’s the first edit and up another hill.  I got a chain of small mountains to work through over here, but it’s nice to know that one of them is down.

Who’s to blame for the state of the Fantasy Genre?

The title of this post is also the title of a thread from the customer forum at Amazon.com.  In it, some bloke named “Chris” says:

 …So what’s with this repetitive King Arthur and the elements, you know, fire, earth, wind etc thing, and who’s to blame for it? Is it lack of imagination on the part of the authors, publishers only accepting what they know usually does well, or is it ultimately the buyers’ fault for giving them the idea that we only want to read the same old story over and over?

There’s more above and below that, but that’s the gist of the post over there.  It got a fair number of responses that can be broken down into 5 categories.

  1. It isn’t.  You aren’t reading the right fiction.  There’s plenty of variety, especially from book series X or author Y. Read more…

Individuality, or

That Strange Problem with the Subway’s Guy, or

John-Michael Gariepy and the Never-Ending Chain of Mirrors

I like variety.  I’m on a constant quest for that which is new or different.  And while I can’t say that I’m a daring man, when given a set number of choices, I jump at the toy that everyone else is ignoring, and pick it up.

I want to learn something.  I hate retreading old patterns.  When reading history, I aim for oddball topics, like the Indian Mughal Empire, or the details of The XYZ Affair.  When I’m wandering through the woods, and two roads diverge, I ignore both the road more traveled, and the road less traveled, and head for the treeline.  When I sit down at a restaurant I pour through the menu, like it’s a best-selling mystery novel, with the hope that I can find something that I’ve never tried before, or, failing that, a combination of foods that I find intriguing.  There are foods I don’t like, of course – I’m not a fan of olives, for example – but if I don’t know if I will like something or not, that’s what I order.

This leads me to be very agreeable, since I’m willing to be experimental, and there are many people who are not.  You want to get some Moussaka?  I’m all over that.  Want to watch a movie?  As long as I haven’t seen it before, I’m happy.  Got a new game you want to try out?  Let’s pull out the rules.

These two personality traits complement each other well.  Except at the Subway in Bradford, Massachusetts.

You see, at this one Subway, there’s a guy behind the counter who is very friendly.  While I’m scouring a menu that I’ve read hundreds of times before in search of that one combination of things I haven’t had, the guy behind the counter starts chatting it up.  Eventually, he asks a question:  Do you want Wheat Bread?

“Sure,” I say. “Wheat sounds good.”

One week later, I’m back at that same Subways.  It’s not my fault… I eat out a lot, and there aren’t enough restaurants in the local area to support my adventurous spirit.  The guy behind the counter recognizes me, and says “Wheat Bread, right?
“Um.  Sure.”
“You get Roast Beef, don’t you?”

He’s a good employee.  He recognizes me every time I walk into that Subway.  And, slowly, he’s built up the order that he thinks I like.  Wheat Bread, Roast Beef, Swiss, Lettuce, Spinach, Onion, Tomato, Pickle, Brown Mustard.  I’ve never asked for any of these things.  He’s suggested things and settled on the meal he thinks I would want.  He wants to be helpful, so he’s holding up a mirror so that I can see what I want to see.  Unfortunately, I’m also holding a mirror up, so he sees his mirror, which sees my mirror, which sees his mirror.  And in the center of all these mirror images sits a Roast Beef on Wheat, Brown Mustard.

I thank him as I pay.  He gives me my change, smiles and slides my Subway card.  As he hands me my change he says, “You always get the same thing.  I couldn’t do that.  I like a lot of variety.”

Maintaining the Horror Campaign – Complete

Phew!  I finally got done Chapter 6 of Maintaining the Horror Campaign at Guilt-Free-Games.com.  The article series is about going beyond having one spooky game role-playing game adventure, and pulling together an entire campaign full of intrigue and terror.  My articles that I’ve published for other websites are on delay here at jmgariepy.wordpress.com, in order to give the articles a chance to breath on the website that they are destined for.  But if you want to jump ahead to Maintaining the Horror Campaign’s Introduction, be my guest.

Oh, also, this blog desperately needs a name.  It can only be called JMGariepy for so long, I suppose…

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