For me, a big part of being a game master is preparation. And I’m dedicated to constant self-improvement. Seeing that I already spend so much of my time connected to the Internet, it makes sense that I would dedicate a part of that time to locating resources and hopefully learning from them. So, here’s a few of my favorite resources.

The Alexandrian

The Alexandrian has proven invaluable to my most recent campaign (and likely to my next one). His series on Node-Based Scenario Design, Urban Crawls, The Art of Pacing are top notch. Really anything from his Gamemastery 101 is great reading that will make you evaluate how you run games, ways to improve, and encouragement to try new things.

Blog of Holding

Paul’s Blog of Holding is another fantastic independent resource for D&D DMs. He often takes tiny bits of information from the margins of the text and fleshes them out into cohesive thoughts and suggestions. A great example is his post on a campaign setting based on ideas from unpublished TSR settings. Some others are the Bank of Tiamat, 5e Demographics, and 5e hex maps. One of my favorite recent posts is the cuteness rule, which is something had put into use in my Time and Tide campaign.


Reddit is a favorite of mine. There’s several good subreddits for GMing but r/DnDBehindTheScreen which is a newcomer to the game has some of the best content. The Ecology of the Monster is my favorite. It makes you think critically about the monsters available and how you should deploy them against characters. But there are many, many posts spanning everything necessary to be a DM. And while most of the content is oriented towards Dungeons & Dragons, the concepts generally presented are good for running any type of game.


Not necessarily great for rulings or direct GM advice. But multiplexer tells amazing stories that mesh real historical economics into the high fantasy worlds of D&D. Every time I’ve read one of her pieces, I’ve come away with a deep appreciation for the depth of her research and the craziness of financial instruments. Also, I’ve laughed every time. Murder hobos, Transmuters Bank, Old Man Quest Givers and so much more.1


There’s a bunch of other preparation I’m doing to get ready for my Pulp Heroes campaign. I’m going to re-watch the entire Indiana Jones series and take copious amounts of notes. I’ve got a basic plot outline structured but until my players create their characters nothing is final. I expect to do a few re-writes between now and when we open the campaign early next year.

  1. Critical Hits which hosts the column is also a solid back catalog of DM advice. 

Today, we return to Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. Before I delve into the latest lesson, I’d like to take a moment to express how much I’m enjoying this process. My fiancée and I are reading through this book and completing the exercises together and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve been making a concerted effort to do more things with her in the time we have together. We’re both independent people who can spend days in solitude. But reading this book and trying to improve our drawing skills together has been great. Highly recommended for other couples out there.

Since my last post, I’ve read through a few more chapters and completed three more exercises. At times I wonder if some of her theories hold up but regardless, the lessons and techniques she’s teaching do seem to work. The first exercise was to replicate the Vase/Faces image.

2015-11-28 - Faces and Vase

After completion, and for a day or so, I was disappointed with this drawing. I didn’t find it nearly symmetrical enough. In addition, after re-reading the instructions, I feel I may have skipped over some of the exercise. But after returning to it a few days later, I find myself quite proud of the result. Sure, there’s some symmetry issues but overall I find it very close.

The next exercise asks the reader to replicate a drawing by Picasso of Igor Stravinsky. Now I personally find Picasso difficult to decipher as is, but Edwards instructs the student to draw the image upside down. Fortunately, she has printed the image in the text upside down.

2015-11-28 - Stravinsky

I still don’t have proportions right but I’m again pretty proud with how this one turned out. I didn’t quite complete the exercise due to time (and material) constraints. It became quite clear to me that I wouldn’t have enough width or height to finish the left side or the head. And man, those hands are gnarly but they turned out far better than I expected.

2015-11-28 - Ironman

The last exercise is again an upside down drawing. This time I used one of my new comic books as a reference. I’ve always been a big Ironman fan and last year I even made a cosplay Superior Ironman. Unfortunately, I struggled with the design and the costume deteriorated quickly after the con. Next year, I’m hoping to do the armor above and decided I should get my practice in now. I struggled with the proportions again and ended up rushing the drawing. The right leg is a bit out there and the extended arms are squished. But again, I’m fairly happy of the result. I wish I could turn everything upside down for drawing.

Another thing I learned while drawing the Ironman armor. I hate hard pencils. We finally used our drawing paper instead of printer paper and broke out our nicer pencils instead of the shark #2s. My fiancée gave me the 4H to start and I just struggled with it. It didn’t feel right and the lines that were appearing didn’t look right. Since I scrapped the original attempt after messing up the left leg, I switched to the 4B pencil. What a difference. It felt far closer to the #2s we’d been using and the lines looked exactly the way I wanted them to.

Hopefully the next lessons will involve drawing things right side up and help me get the proportions a little bit closer.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

What an awful title for a good movie. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) returns to the Capitol to bring down President Snow. Teamed with fellow games survivors, Finnick Odair and Peeta Meelark, she joins a special unit to film propos and morale boosters. But much like she has in the previous films, Katniss goes rogue in a mission to kill President Snow. Her friends and unit sacrifice themselves in attempt to help Katniss fulfill her goal. Lil Hems still isn’t any good in this movie but the screenplay keeps close to the source material (somewhat to my chagrin for once).

Watch It: If you need to wrap this series up on a solid note.
Skip It: If you’re done with the post-apocalypse, young adult genre.

Despite my love of superheroes, I’ve never been a comic book reader. Sure, I bought a trade paperback here or there, but until recently I had never bought a single issue. A big part of that comes down to disposable income – like me finally having it now. At four or five dollars a piece, comics can get expensive if you’re trying to keep up with more than a single series. Another part is that now it’s become a shared thing with my fiancée. She started reading Captain Marvel on my recommendation, which has led to Bitch Planet and Ms. Marvel. But the biggest reason why I’ve decided to subscribe to comics at this late date is… drumroll… Marvel’s recent diversification of it’s lineup!

The changes Marvel is making are absolutely incredible. And it’s not just the changes we see with Sam Wilson becoming Captain America or Jane Foster wielding Mjolnir. The creative teams behind these heroes are finally being diversified also. While there has always been some minority presence around Marvel, it’s now being made known even in their marketing materials: Marvel is diversifying its creators, its editors and its heroes to match the world we actually live in. This is a thing.1 And it’s incredibly personal for me. Until their recent announcements, I never had a hero I could look at and say “That could be me.” And seeing is the real issue here, race and gender.

For those unaware, I’m an adopted American. Ethnically, I’m Chinese-EuroAmerican but culturally I’m a pretty typical middle class American. I’ve had my favorite heroes, certainly ones I’ve identified with in some way like Iceman, Cyclops or Iron Man. But these identifications have always been with their personality or mental gifts, never the color of their skin. And over a lunch at DragonCon, this led to an interesting discussion.

Heroes like Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Logan (Wolverine) are treasured by their fans. Their stories, personality, costumes are integral to the character and those core principles are shifting. There’s a new new Cap and a new Wolvie. And look, I understand this: one of my favorite heroes, Iceman has been seen his own sea change, admitting that he is gay. So I feel that pang of change. But while I might lose some tiny shred of identification with Iceman, another character somewhere in the Marvel universe might change and I might gain some identification with that one. Which is wonderful. So my group talked through the entirety of lunch and I did my best to be understanding of the traditionalists – the ones who want to keep everything as is and see diversity come through in new characters – while also trying to present my point of view. Eventually my argument billed down to one critical question: How many male Asisn superheroes can you name?


Lots of others were offered, Silver Samurai (but he was a villain), Sunspot (Brazillian), Warpath (Native American), Amadeus Cho (isn’t actually powered up), Iron Fist (white). 2 There are plenty of women – Jubilee, Blink, Psylocke (though her racial issues are considerable). And there’s lots of Asian villains, most notably Mandarin and Silver Samurai. So, I didn’t really have anyone to look at and say “Look that could be me.”

Let’s take a moment to talk about mantles and titles. I would love for there to be a new character with a new name that represented me really well. Unfortunately, these old superhero names hold a lot of cache. It’s much easier to still use the same superhero name for a new character than it is to build a new character from scratch. That new character just will not sell as well. Plus, mantles have been passed before. Sam Wilson is not the first non-Steve Captain America. Before him there was Bucky. Just how many Robin’s have there been in Bat-verse? Or Green Lanterns? Or Flashes? Sure, it’s much more prevalent in DC but it’s not like it hasn’t happened in Marvel. Carol Danvers is now Captain Marvel. Kamala Khan is now Ms. Marvel. Miles Morales is Spider-man.

The day after the DragonConversation, Marvel announced that Amadeus Cho would be taking on the mantle of the Hulk. And that the new book would be written and drawn by two Korean-Americans. That is incredible… or, in their parlance, totally awesome! Prior to this, I had been lukewarm about picking up reading comics. Despite crafting a foam armor of Superior Iron Man for DragonCon 2014, I didn’t end up reading the series. But now I have. My interest in comics, specifically Marvel Comics, has spiked to the point where I went to my local comic shop and setup a pull list.

I’ve read more comics in the past month than I had my entire life previously. I’ve finished the Superior Iron Man run. I’ve started Uncanny Inhumans and Armor Wars. I’ve picked up lots of single issues in case I find something I like. I’ve also added Totally Awesome Hulk and Spider-Man to my pull list, while strongly considering many more. And I can’t wait to read International Iron Man and follow Tony’s search for his biological parents.

So thanks Marvel. Thanks for making Sunfire not the only superhero that looks like me. Thanks for making Tony Stark adopted and showing his journey. I know there are a lot of upset people who hate what you’re doing and they’re really loud about it. But I’m not one of them. Your changes to the universe are good for me and thus good for you. My fiancée and I will be closely following several series. And I’ll try and be as loud as I can be to tell you that I support these changes.

Thank you.

  1. Yes, I wish their cinematic universe would move faster in diversifying but creative processes take time and MCU is now a behemoth. 
  2. Editors Note: Charles would like to point out Shang Chi here, though he won’t hold it over James or anyone else for not knowing Shang Chi. Poor guy always gets overshadowed by the white kung fu guy, Danny Rand. Which further validates James’s point. 

Today, I continue my journey towards my next RPG campaign. In my last post, I offered up my reasoning for leaving Dungeons & Dragons aside for a time and moving to Fate Core. A big part of that is wanting to tell stories that aren’t in a high fantasy setting. So now, I’ll expand on my one thought storylines and maybe figure out which one I’ll run.

Burned Spies

Originally, this started out as Cold War spies. As a big James Bond fan, I really like the idea of a spy thriller. However Bond is a solo character. He has supporting characters in M, Q, Felix and Moneypenny, but they don’t get the same camera time Bond does. And shared spotlight is important in role-playing. So this idea morphed from 60’s to the modern day and became a bit more like Mission Impossible or a mashup of RED and Burn Notice. The players are former intelligence agents burned by their former employers. After that it’s up in the air. Did they deserve the burning? What is bringing them back into action?

The prompt is good but I don’t have a good plot idea. I can fall back onto the tropes but I don’t think that’s where I’d like to explore at the moment. For this idea to work, I’d need to look for more inspiration and a plot outline that strikes me as interesting and fun.

Retired Adventurers

This story idea is mostly a vehicle for allowing high level play in Dungeons & Dragons. The players are characters that have long since retired from active adventuring. Their deeds are sung by bards. Their faces are known by even the most remote town. Their wealth was enough to buy large private spaces. They’ve spent the past decade (or more) enjoying the rewards of their service. But the apocalypse is here and it’s here to take everything that they treasure away. Now, the heroes must un-retire, unite the kingdoms and take on one last adventure to save the world.

I like this prompt a lot and it shouldn’t be difficult to design an apocalyptic threat worthy of drawing the characters back into the world. But this story brings me back to Dungeons & Dragons and I’m just not ready to return there yet. But this is an idea I’ll be keeping around.

Star Trek

One of my favorite settings. Space, futuristic society and technology, exploration, and teamwork. It has all the ingredients of a great TV show, which I find a lot of similarities in RPG storytelling. I doubt my ability to do the setting justice. And I’m just not sure my players would be interested. I know a few of them are fans, but enough that the setting would be compelling?

So it’s a setting prompt but not much beyond that. Perhaps waiting for next year’s Star Trek movie and the new TV series will ignite my imagination and help me come up with a plot that is fitting for a Trek-based game.

Star Wars

Another great science-fiction setting. And as Star Wars is more action oriented than Star Trek, probably a bit more fitting for my group. I think this one is a bit easier for me to get into because I don’t have the massive depth of knowledge that I do for Star Trek. I’m a fan but I haven’t consumed every possible piece of content that has been created.

I think it’d go over better with my players and it’s certainly boosted by Episode VII’s release in December. But, I’m currently playing in a Star Wars campaign and don’t think I’d enjoy running one simultaneously. Plus again, no plot ideas yet.

Lovecraftian Horror

While I’m not widely read in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, I have very much enjoyed playing Elder Sign and Eldritch Horror. I think my recent appreciation for the genre has grown from my brief time playing The Secret World and one of the recent D&D campaigns I was in. In addition, the few times I’ve run horror sessions in my D&D campaigns, I’ve found them to be some of my best work.

Fortunately, Lovecraftian Horror can work in any setting really and certainly could be paired with the Urban Fantasy idea below. But I feel like I’d need to spend some time reading up on Lovecraft before fully committing to a campaign like that. Also, I have concerns about Fate and horror, as Fate heroes are considered a cut above.

Superhero Team

My love of superheroes spans decades now. I fondly recall the days of the X-Men and the rise of the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises. Now we have the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While I haven’t read comicbooks until recently, the action has always captured my imagination. In addition, one of my favorite games, City of Heroes allowed me to be a superhero of my own design. I think I’d like to explore a street or small city scale story set in the MCU, like Daredevil or Jessica Jones.

The biggest strike against superheroes is that part of my group played Mutants & Masterminds with me a couple years ago. But this one is in contention for the top tier and I know a couple of my players would love it. But one of the players who would like it the most is taking a temporary hiatus. Might be best to shelve this one for a later date.

Urban Fantasy

Magic in the modern day. Obviously, The Dresden Files are a prime example but Constantine, Hellboy, and Buffy all present interesting takes. Could easily be combined with Lovecraftian Horror to give it more focus. But other than the setting, I don’t have any particular plot ideas that have stuck with me thus far.

Pulp Heroes

Early 20th Century adventuring. Heroes, villains and dungeons. Indiana Jones being the primary inspiration. It’s close enough to high fantasy that the transition would be hopefully smooth and comfortable. It also has a solid formula for a story that works. Granted it revolves around a Macguffin, but that is very much a in trope for the genre.

It doesn’t need a ton of planning, as the story can flow around travel and adventure centered on recovering the Macguffin. It’s a recently historical time that none of us lived through but everyone knows about. Stories set in this period are very action-oriented which seems like a natural fit for Fate.


After due consideration, I find the Pulp Heroes setting to be the best for my next story. It should provide a comfortable transition for the mechanics as the action will be very much like what you’d expect in Dungeons & Dragons. So, next time I’ll dig in to the resources I’m using and my preparation for this next campaign.

At the conclusion of last session, the GM awarded us all a skill point. It took a while to decide but eventually I settled on picking up Empathy at +1. I wasn’t super confident in this choice, but as a Jedi, it seemed appropriate. Being able to sense things about people should be useful. This was not the case, but that’s for later.

This session, we conclude the first story arc of the Star War campaign. The session opens with the remaining crew assembled in a small base in a canyon.1 Tarth Onasi, our rebel contact, has led us here after we freed him from the Imperial compound. We have a few challenges ahead of us:

  1. The U.S.S. Minnow needs a new coolant regulator to be space-worthy.2
  2. Our cargo, a couple dozen crates of proton torpedoes, are in Imperial hands
  3. There’s a blockade of the planet with three star destroyers

We don’t have much in the way of resources. There’s four of us, Phae, Cal, Cole and Liv.3 Plus two NPCs, Ulaa and Tarth. There’s the Minnow but it’s out for the count. We stole a lambda-class shuttle last time and we still have access to a swoop. Phae has some money and Tarth has some contacts. Cole has a gun and I have a lightsaber. We know there’s a custom XR-75 in the local Imperial hanger courtesy of our fallen companion. Cal believes that we can scrap it and grab the regulator. It’s not a perfect match but it’ll get us out of dodge. Fortunately, our stock of proton torpedoes is also likely at that location. The blockade will be troublesome but if we can’t even get our ship working, we won’t have to worry about the blockade. So we ignore that part and focus on the hanger.

Tarth can get someone to pick up the “abandoned” shuttle and get it into the hanger. There’s only four of us, and three of us are human. So we should be able to get in without issue. Once inside, we’ll locate the torpedoes and the XR-75. There’s likely another lambda in the hanger, so if we could steal it’s IFF codes, that be a nice bonus to try and break through the imperial blockade. Off we go.

Once inside the compound, we leave Cal behind on the shuttle to run some interference. We manage to locate the XR-75. Phae confirms the regulator will prove a decent, but temporary, replacement for the Minnow. Then she and Cole clear out the security systems Aquila left behind. Moving on from the impound lot, we locate the torpedoes. Unfortunately, our attempts to persuade the guard to let us through fail.

Phae acts quickly and squeeze off a shot into the glass, but it’s harmlessly absorbed and the alarms in the base go off. Cole breaks through the lock and Phae steps in and kills the guard. There’s a bunch of crates we load onto a repulsor lift and then we have a bit of a debate.

The compound has two walls that intersect in the middle of compound dividing it into quarters. At this point, we’re directly across from Cal and our shuttle. We’ve made plans for one of us to take the XR-75 and fly it out. But we could really use the IFF codes from the other shuttle. We can’t afford to run all the way around, so we’re going to blow open one of the walls. But we could set the charges in the middle and open up all four rooms at once. This could lead to bad things as we’re not certain how many imperials are in the unexplored room. Eventually, we settle on just blowing the wall to the impound lot and then gauging what we need to do next.

Phae sets the charge and we back away. But there’s not a lot of room to maneuver so the explosion messes with us a bit. Cole exchanges some gunfire with the two Imperials stationed in the impound lot while Phae sets up the next bomb. Originally, I was hoping to avoid breaking out the lightsaber again but we were in a bit of a crunch. So, Liv cut through another imperial. A few more show up and Liv cuts them down again. Phae opens up the wall again.

In the other room, Cal is powering up the shuttle for escape. He’s been helpful (and harmful) throughout our time in the compound. Shut of some cameras, locked some doors but also triggered some alarms. Cole pushes the repulsor lift filled with proton torpedoes towards the waiting Cal. But he gets absolutely rocked. A series of blasters fire upon him as he’s running and the blasts send him into a wall with a concussion. Cal manages to fire a few shots from the shuttle and opens the ramp for Cole who pushes the cargo on board and they head out to escape.

Just to make matters worse, two storm troopers arrive in the impound lot. These aren’t the movie storm troopers that can’t hit anything. These are guys that will make your day really, really bad. Liv has her glow stick of doom visible though and this is bad. Liv and Phae get onto the XR-75 and Phae pushes through to the cockpit to get it going. Liv deflects one of the shots from the trooper rifles, but the second one catches her pretty badly. In response, she force pushes one of them into the other and the ramp closes and the ship takes off.

We arrive at our makeshift base and strip the XR-75 for parts. Liv makes it very clear that they need to get off planet now. Two storm troopers have identified her lightsaber and that means the hunters will be coming soon. It takes a little to formulate a plan, but we decided to take the Minnow manned by Cal and Phae, the shuttle manned by Liv and Cole, and a pair of Z-95s manned by Ulaa and Tarth. The GM explains that the Z-95s are without astromechs, so they’ll be slaved to the Minnow for hyperspace jump. We capture the Z-95s without much issue, destroy a few towers and the other Z-95s to prevent pursuit.

Once off-planet, we find a group of six fighters, two bombers and two interceptors. We need to destroy the bombers to make sure we have enough time to jump. This is incredibly stressful. We engage the group hoping to take out the bombers quickly, but the long range makes it easy for them to avoid. Have the fighters and the two interceptors go for the Minnow, while the rest of the fighters head for the shuttle. The bombers both gain locks on the larger craft. Ulaa in her amazingly skilled piloting for a teenager manages to destroy the bomber locked on the Minnow. With my newly minted Pilot skill, I shake the lock from the other bomber.

Cal, a tactical genius, sends Tarth after the other bomber while the Minnow and the shuttle attack the fighters and interceptors. We manage to take a few out but the remaining bomber regains a lock on the shuttle that I’m unable to shake. Ulaa misses the bomber but Tarth saves the days. A few rounds have passed and we can see a second squadron coming in fast with more bombers. And so we bang on the consoles and prep for the jump. The fighters get in a few parting shots but the Minnow and the slaved Z-95s make the jump. Which leaves the shuttle with the interceptors and the second squadron coming in.

At this point the shuttle’s taken some hits though all of them have been absorbed by the shields. Cole manages to drop one of the remaining fighters. But then first interceptor strikes taking out the shuttle’s highest shield stress. That sucks but it’s not killer. And then the second interceptor fires hitting pretty hard also, but the shields absorb half the blow and the hull takes the rest. Fortunately, we’re locked in at this point and Liv hits the button and we jump out of there.

It’s a short jump. We check everything and then take a second longer jump. Tarth let’s everything settle down and explains that he’s got a new mission for us if we’re willing to accept. He needs us to get to the Mon Calamari homeworld and help them join the Rebellion. End scene.

Another good session and a nice wrap for the first story arc. I’m surprised at how well the GM juggles the NPCs. Especially having them interact with the group a lot. I know I tend to struggle when I have more than one NPC in the scene engaged with the PCs. I think his ability to give the NPCs distinct voices helps a lot. I just always feel foolish when I try different voices. But maybe I’ll give it a try in my next campaign.

  1. If you skipped the last recap, the bounty hunter died after some poor decisions and worse rolling. 
  2. Sorry Jen, I just can’t call it the CC Aqualove
  3. Cal A. Mon, the Mon Calamari. 

While I have always admired those gifted with the talent to recreate what they see, it has always seemed daunting. Every day on my brown bag lunches, my father would draw a picture. Generally a portrait, often of myself. Whenever I watch another person draw, despite my brain telling me otherwise, it looks so effortless.

I look at my past efforts and find them lacking in so many ways. Unlike programming, game mastering, music or other skills, I’ve never truly dedicated myself to improving my drawing. Granted it hasn’t come as naturally as many of my other honed skills. But while I often practice those skills daily, I have never even thought to do so with drawing. Probably because I’ve always found it somewhat mystical.

I’ve hand drawn a few maps. Played with some apps on my iPad. But each time it’s only a whim. Something that I give up on within a week or two. But as I continue my various creative endeavors, I find myself wishing to express my thoughts and ideas in ways other than words. In particular, as I try my hand at game design and cosplay, I find the lack of visual artistic expression difficult to overcome.

And so I’ve set forth on a journey to improve my drawing skills. I don’t expect to ever be the best, or even particularly notable. But I would like to reach a certain level that would bring me satisfaction and improve my creative skills. And so, like any bookworm would naturally do, I ordered a book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. My fiancée has decided to join me on this journey and I have decided to chronicle it here, on this blog.

Edwards explains that she is teaching the reader how to perceive. If you can examine an object and understand how it is put together, you can recreate that object by drawing. She also presents that there is not much difference in drawing real things and imaginary things. Between drawing a portrait and drawing a landscape. And that she will have the reader draw the supposedly difficult things to show them that they can draw anything. And I must say, comparing a selection of her students’ pre-instruction drawings to their post-instruction drawings, I am impressed and hopeful for my future artistic ability.

So onto the first steps. Amber and I went to the local art supply store and gathered our many tools. Pencils, graphite sticks, several erasers, clips and more.1 Two of each, sometimes four. But enough to hopefully see us through this book. So, we get setup in the downstairs office. With my drawing board and pencil, I setup on the guest bed.

2015-11-16 - Nicole

First, we must draw a portrait of a person from memory. I’m a proud and embarrassed at the same time. My drawing is clearly female, so that’s a positive. And yet, doesn’t look much like the person I intended, pretty big negative. But alas, I already knew I wasn’t innately talented at drawing and after sharing this picture with the subject, I felt ever so slightly better.2

2015-11-16 - James

Next, a self-portrait. Trying to get my face right in The Sims and its sequels has always been frustratingly difficult. If you can’t even get your own face right, how can you get other people’s right? It doesn’t look too much like me, but I got the hair mostly right. And the lips I think. I see myself in the mirror every day and yet can’t replicate something I am so familiar with. This certainly isn’t helping my motivation.

2015-11-16 - Psi

Finally, a drawing of my hand. Naturally, a Psi. Mostly because I threw a Psi for the first time in a few years. Amber and I attended a KKPsi alumni breakfast that morning. The proportions are weird but I think I did a good job for the most part. I’m particularly proud of the middle and ring fingers.

Edwards explains why she leads with these images. They’re often considered some of the hardest things to draw. And so when we’re done with her book and drawing these images again, we will compare them to show our improvement. In addition, she asks the reader to look for similarities between the pictures. What simple shapes reappear in each drawing. I noticed that the lips in the portraits look very similar, as do the eyes.

While not proud of my renderings, I am proud that I did it. That I’m working on developing a new skill that I never thought I would. And that I’m doing it on a journey with my fiancée. Something we can share and be proud of together.

  1. Out of all the things we bought, I’ve already become incredibly attached to the drawing board. 
  2. She is incredibly kind. Far less critical than I. 

The first game I’ve played start-to-finish in a while, J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars is a fantastic story and puzzle game. You take on the role of Rachel Manners, an astrobiologist who left Earth to explore a nearby star system that was emitting an artificial signal. You awake to alarms and your ship’s computer, JULIA, informing you that a meteor storm has cause significant damage to the ship.

This opening sequence introduces you to two of the three primary characters and the interfaces and puzzles you’ll encounter. JULIA is the exploration ship’s artificial intelligence. She wakes you from your cryoslumber to inform you of an on-board emergency. The ship has encountered a meteor storm and there are fires, gases and electrical issues that need to be addressed.

After the initial danger has passed, JULIA informs you that you are the only surviving member of the expedition. Additionally, some of her memory has been corrupted and she is unable to access or reconstruct the events preceding your awakening. JULIA identifies your position and identifies a mobile laboratory on the nearby planet. She introduces MOBOT, a reconnaissance robot, that you can use to explore the planet and the lab.

You continue to explore the star system, create upgrades for MOBOT, discover the fate of your expedition members and solve many puzzles. All of these add up to an enjoyable experience that I finished in about eight hours. While some of the story is telegraphed and on trope, the characters, pacing, environments and music are fantastic.

J.U.L.I.A.: Among the Stars isn’t the best game out there, but it is a terrific experience. I picked it up on a Steam sale and would recommend you do the same. A capable protagonist, balanced supporting cast, compelling mystery, and interesting gameplay makes this a highly recommended game.

Black Sea

What a movie and a great role for Jude Law. He’s such a fantastic actor. In fact, this movie is great and that is 100% based on his performance. Law plays a salvager who’s fired from his job who aims for one last dive. He gathers his crew and some resources and dives down into the depths. Law’s Captain Robinson must struggle to retain control over himself and his divided crew as they hope to take a stash of gold from under the Russian fleet.

Watch It: If you like Jude Law or a great adventure flick.
Skip It: If the depths and darkness of the ocean are too overwhelming.

Mad Max: Fury Road

So, yeah. This movie was absolutely fantastic. The only dissonance? Why isn’t this movie called Imperator Furiosa instead? Because this movie certainly wasn’t about Max at all.1 Tom Hardy was good in his limited role, but Charlize Theron was absolutely magnificent.

Watch It: If you want to see one of the best characters this year.
Skip It: You shouldn’t. But if you need a reason it’s because this movie isn’t about Max at all.


Another Bond film, another solid action flick. Craig and Mendes team up to wrap up Craig’s time as Bond. Spectre introduces the organization that opposes Bond at every turn and peels back the layers on his recent experiences tying them all together. I remember loving Casino Royale, enjoying Quantum of Solace, and raving about Skyfall. I figure Spectre will slot in above Quantum but behind the other two.

Watch It: How can I not recommend a Craig Bond film. He’s been incredible every time.
Skip It: There are plenty of Bond films to skip. This isn’t one of them.

  1. Granted, I must admit I’ve never even watched any of the other Mad Max films. 

About a month or so ago, I realized that my current Dungeons & Dragons campaign, Time & Tide, was winding down. I was feeling creatively drained and done with fantasy role-playing and it was seeping out into my game mastering and the sessions and into my players.1 At the same time, I felt like I could keep game mastering if I started working with other ideas. I’ve spent considerable time examining my latest campaign and will likely be doing some posts on what worked and what didn’t. But for now, I’m preparing for my next campaign.

First, it was clear to me that a standard High Fantasy-based campaign was no longer in the cards for me to run. I love it and it’s certainly something I’ll continue to play in. But it’s not something I want to run right now. As a GM, I am very much a world builder and storyteller. But the stories I’ve wanted to tell haven’t been ones that make sense in a standard high fantasy world.

So my one thought storyline prompts for future campaigns:

  • Burned spies trying to get reactivated
  • Retired heroes stopping the apocalypse
  • Star Trek explorers
  • Star Wars rebels
  • Lovecraftian Horror
  • Superhero team-up
  • Urban Fantasy
  • Pulp Heroes

Now my next problem is that none of these can easily be played using the Dungeons & Dragons ruleset. Ben used a session to send his group into a cyberpunk world using the D&D rules. Nothing broke per se, but it didn’t feel smooth. Sure, I could pull some of the stuff from the Dungeon Master’s Guide and I could house rule other parts. But that’s not a particularly elegant solution. So, that means we’ll be leaving D&D behind for a time.

Now, there are tons of RPG rulesets out there! Including systems that would cater well to each of these ideas. Spycraft, Star Trek, Star Wars, Call of Cthulhu, Mutants and Masterminds, The Dresden Files. But changing systems every time I want to tell a new story is also inelegant. Learning new rules is time consuming. Even after a year of bi-weekly play, my group (and myself) still don’t have complete system mastery. In addition, buying new books2 every couple months is financially consuming. I love and willingly support the designers and makers of my hobby. But that doesn’t mean that every one of players can do the same. Not everyone is in a financially secure and stable point in their lives. Which means, whatever ruleset I recommend need to be flexible enough to support multiple types of games, cheap enough that it’s not a huge outlay for everyone, and simple enough that we don’t all stop playing and go running back to D&D.

Earlier this year, I ran a few sessions of Fate Accelerated Edition. I’m not 100% sure of how I heard of it, but it sounded interesting. The intent in picking up this system was to run an occasional session when the full D&D group couldn’t show up for whatever reason.3 I titled the campaign Code Chasers and it was a setup for a Matrix-based campaign. Players were red pills in the time between the first and second movies. Their primary directive was to gather resources for Zion. We had some great characters and great moments. I liked the streamlined approaches but in the end, I feel that the differences between FAE and D&D were just too much for my players to feel comfortable. Everyone felt weird constantly trying to describe things so that they could take advantage of their best approach. Everything felt a bit too nebulous, a bit too freeform.

So, that experience led me to Fate. Fate feels like a more rules-y based system. There is a wide selection of skills but the system is still flexible enough to fit into any genre. I also love the stress tracks. The fact that I can handle mental, physical, social combats exactly the same is amazing.4 It also makes the rules simple to learn. There’s only four actions, Attack, Overcome, Create an Advantage and Defend. There’s also only four results, Succeed with Style, Succeed, Succeed at a Cost, and Failure. But those actions and results (along with the skill system) give you a diverse set of things to do and things to happen. Also the dice mechanic is simple, roll the four dice, add the appropriate skill, compare the result. This never changes. You don’t roll more or less dice. Higher is always better. Your skill bonus doesn’t change.5

So, I’ve settled on using Fate for my next campaign. My recent experiences in a Star Wars-based Fate campaign has only reinforced my feeling that I’ve made the right decision. But I don’t know for sure yet. I can only hope it goes over well and that my players enjoy it. We’ll find out soon enough because we’re starting character creation in a few weeks and play will hopefully begin early next year.

  1. At the time I was running one D&D campaign and playing in three others. 
  2. Books that generally cost $20-$50 each. 
  3. Interestingly, I never ran it past the Memorial Day sessions. 
  4. While explaining this to one of my friends and players, I came up with a wealth stress track to use for a game of poker. 
  5. Except in the case of advancement.