Feb 22, 2014

February Self Actualization - Chocolate & Creative Writing

You know the terribly cliched line, "You don't know what you have until it's gone."  Wellll... it's true.  In my case, anyway.  I am/was (I hope I've improved) terrible at recognizing the value of things when I'm first introduced to them.  Which leads us to this month's self actualization theme!  School.  Hated it while I was in it.  Miss it now that it's gone.  The best part about taking classes now is that I don't necessarily need to work towards a goal so I can take whatever I want!

Last week was chocolate making, in honor of Valentine's Day.  The class was good; the instructor demonstrated some of the more challenging things (making toffee and caramel), and prudently allowed us to have our fun dipping these delicious items into a vat of chocolate.  I'm definitely going to try this at home at some point, but I don't know if I'll make it before the holiday.  After all, I only just became aware that a kitchen without a candy thermometer is hardly deserving of the name.

Our chocolate creations

This week marks the beginning of Creative Writing, something I'd always wanted to take in college years, but didn't fit neatly in with my curriculum.  Because this is a 6 week course, it's a bit more slow paced.  So far we've analyzed some poetry:

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost and "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou.  I had covered the Robert Frost poem pretty thoroughly back in middle school, so not a whole lot of excitement there but I'd never read Maya Angelou's work.  It was very evocative, and subtle, and reminded me how terrible I am at poetry.  I'm hoping we'll have the opportunity to write something more spectacular and less rhyme-y later on in the class, but here's my first night's work:

Snow Day

Yard whitely shimmers
Hints of fun, and of play!
Determined, ignore it
We’ve a mission today

Roll out the snowballs!
Each one it’s own prize
How quickly a palmful
Achieves a great size

The bottom’s in place
Middle too fat to lift!
Time to be creative
How to make it shift?

A spot of engineering
A ramp made of snow
The middle rolls up
But the head, it won’t go

Snowman’s too tall
Our arms not that long
Dad to the rescue!
So burly and strong

Carrot nose, button mouth
Placed with abandon
Potato head eyes
Seeming at random

Red scarf, fuzzy hat
Amusingly found
Perched like a Sparrow
On that head, huge and round

He smiles cattywampus
We crow in delight
Snowman’s six foot three
About our dad’s height

Feb 19, 2014

D&D - A Breakdown for Non-Nerds

So... I played D&D for the first time a couple years ago.  It destroyed all my preconceptions.  I expected it to be mostly miniature battles with monsters whose outcome was decided by a dice roll.  And that is a key element.  But the biggest piece is the story telling.  When people scoff at "role playing" or RPGs, I don't think they realize that it's not terribly different from writing or acting.  It's better, because you get to do both.  And while you're writing your character's story, other people are writing their character's stories, and all the story lines get all tangled together in a big game tapestry.

Key Components

1. The Players!

Well, of course we need the people actually playing the game!  The DM (or Dungeon Master) is the brains behind each individual game and the most essential.  In addition to coming up with all the background, histories, and rules of the world, the DM will build the story line as you continue along, and will play the part of all non-party characters.  The party is everyone else who wants to play.  There's no strict rules, but a typical party is about 4 people, each with his/her own character to interact with each other and the world (aka the DM).

2. Character Sheets & Backgrounds

Building your own character is what makes this game so addicting.  Certain things are fairly structured, like choosing a race and class.  The class will determine your fighting style, and the race will affect your character's features, personality, aptitudes, and give you a direction to start when figuring out a background.  That said, there's usually some flexibility with customizing class, and definitely with race.  Your character can be a cliche elf hunter in the forest, or he/she can be a traveling diplomat elf with secret spear fighting abilities who has overcome the aversion to outsiders that is customary of his/her race.  It's all up to you!  But you do need to do the research to figure out why your character is the way he/she is, and how he/she came to be doing whatever you're doing.  Which involves a fair amount of learning about the world the DM has invented.  It can a little overwhelming but also absorbing and fascinating.

3. Dice

There's all kinds of dice with a different number of sides.  The one you'll use all the time is the D20 (20 sided die).  And it's not just for combat.  You character will be traveling along and will eventually want to do something that requires a certain skill, say picking a lock, or hunting, and the number you roll on the die will determine your success rate.  Battle is a bit more complicated.  The D20 usually tells you whether or not you hit your opponent, and then depending on your abilities and weaponry, you'll roll another die to determine damage (usually more like a D6 or D8 - 6 or 8 sides).

4. Grid

This is fairly flexible and you don't necessarily need one.  We like having the grid to layout battles, so you can see where obstacles (and enemies!) are, and follow tighter rules when it comes to how fast you can charge someone, how far you can move in a turn, and so on.  It's really just a plastic mat with lines on it and the DM will draw out the scene (if we need it) with erasable marker.

5. Miniatures

Like the grid, these are optional.  In our game, we each have one that acts as a placeholder for our character during the battle scenes.  Other than that, we really don't use them.  And we don't bother to match up the right monsters or enemies with the right pieces.  They really are just placeholders, like chess pieces.
My super fancy dice!

How it Works

1. Building Your Character

This only takes a day or so.  You read about the world, think about what you'd like to be doing when you play, and then build a character who will realistically be focused on those things.  Ideally, when you build your character, you'll consider all the details together (race, class, background), so that your character is someone who could possibly exist (within the boundaries of the game).  That way, when you play, it's not just "Eh, whatever" but "Well, what would my character do/how would my character respond to this?"  Just like writing a book.  If the characters don't have any integrity, then it's usually not worth reading.  You have to be able to sink yourself into the world just a little bit, and having a character that you like, enjoy playing, and who is fairly consistent, will help with that.  Also, you'll have to get plenty of input from your DM about background stuff and what does or does not make sense for your character to have done.  What is a game without rules, after all?

2. Actual Game Play

This can go on as long as your party enjoys playing.  Our current game has been going for about 6 months and we meet every other week to play.  The characters within the game don't need to get along or be compatible, but it definitely helps if the actual group playing them is.  And you can't get annoyed by things that happen in the game.  One of the things I struggle with is wanting to keep a running commentary about the game, while also making comments as my character.  Our DM likes to stay in character, so a lot of things that I say, my character also says, even though it's really unlike her personality.  It can be hard to get into character at first - I know I felt kind of dumb the first few times, but it's gotten a lot easier, and I don't feel that I have to spend as much time analyzing what my character would actually do (vs what is the easiest thing or what I want to do).  And that's where it really becomes like writing a story.  You have to answer the hard questions, like, "How do I prevent my character from dying, without breaking character, or having an unrealistic magical solution?"

To Conclude

D&D is really awesome and really fun, no matter what anyone says!  And you don't have to be a socially inept, mathematically gifted, stereotypical nerd to enjoy it (I'm not big on perpetuating stereotypes anyway.  Men can bake and do housework without being gay.  Women can bring home the bacon and do handiwork without being cold and domineering.  And fantasy enthusiasts are quite capable of being engaging and interesting conversationalists.  Seriously, people!).

If you're considering playing at all, I would say go for it!  Of the people I've played D&D with, they've been some of the most accepting and amusing people I've ever met.  And it's nice that it's hands on and personal.  No one laughs at you for not knowing how things work, which is a completely different story from online gaming.  And even if you decide it's not for you, at least you've tried something new!

Want More?

If you have some insane desire to read more, I have a simplified Race & Class Summary that I wrote up for some even newer noobs than myself.  We play the 4th edition of D&D, so while these are specific to that, you can still get a pretty good idea of how things work.  You can also see the full details and more technical descriptions at the D&D4 Wiki.  

Feb 12, 2014

Bucket List - 9 Down, 23 to Go!

Font Picture Representation of Jenn Wells' Bucket List

I've had a bucket list since I was 20 and became aware that such a thing existed.  And since I've been in full-on list-making, organizing mode for the last several weeks, I've digitized it and added some new ideas.  The most exciting part?  Deciding what to tackle this year!

"The List"

  1. Skydive 2009
  2. Collect Pics of All the US License Plates (up to ~45 of 50)
  3. See the Northern Lights
  4. Graduate College 2010, 2012
  5. Parasail 2009
  6. Visit Europe 2013
  7. Get Married
  8. See a Solar Eclipse
  9. Become Fluent in Another Language
  10. Take Dance Lessons
  11. Write a Book
  12. Zorb
  13. Illustrate a Book 2011
  14. Pose for an Art Class
  15. Win a Contest
  16. Skinny Dip 2009
  17. See the Grand Canyon 2012
  18. Get a Real Job 2012, 2013
  19. Travel the Amazon
  20. See Machu Picchu/Chichen Itza
  21. Experience Zero Gravity
  22. Visit Every Continent
  23. Scuba Dive
  24. Get a Tattoo 2011
  25. Build a Treehouse
  26. Create My Own Scholarship
  27. Go to the Galapagos Islands
  28. Stand on an Island so Small You Can See All Coasts at Once
  29. Ride a Mechanical Bull
  30. Be an Entrepreneur 2011
  31. Attend a Beach Bonfire
  32. Be in a Flash Mob, or a LARP Event
  33. Travel by Dog Sled