D&D for kids

Tattoo of a sword-pencil surrounded by the platonic solids

This past long weekend, we were up at Evans Lake Camp for the l’école bilingue annual family camp. This year, in part because the weather looked variable, but also just to offer a new activity for kids, Leah suggest I bring up some D&D materials to run a quick campaign intro for some kids. So on Sunday, I broke out some pregenerated level 1 characters, brought along Tales from the Yawning Portal, and started running the Sunless Citadel adventure.

I also borrowed a bunch of minis from a friend, which turned out to be an excellent idea, and off they went. I had 6 kids, ranging in age from 8-12, along with 2 curious adults. It was glorious chaos. With an eye to fun over rules, we definitely streamlined the adventure some, and the ways in which these kids chose to solve things was amazing!

  • Why climb down a rope when you could just jump and open your cape like a kite?
  • All rats love cheese, and giant rats must love cheese more. So how about charming the giant rats with giant cheese?
  • Goblins are greasy and stinky so they’re probably flammable. Maybe I could set them on fire with a candle?
  • “Kobolds are scared of farts. I’m going to create a mega-fart illusion so they all run away”
  • “Can I make this kobold my pet?”

They loved figuring out how to manoeuvre along the map-tiles, where they’d like to be positioned in a fight, discovering which objects were breakable (wooden tables yes, stone tables no), flammable, etc.
In the course of 3.5 hrs, they all:

  1. customized their characters
  2. introduced themselves
  3. ran through the “kobolds” part of the adventure.
  4. made friends with Meepo
  5. slaughtered some goblins
  6. returned the dragon to the kobolds.

They had so much fun that I was asked to run a second adventure later that day – which I did, creating a quick diversion to a haunted shack where a ghost who just wanted to be left alone was preventing some caravans from resting on their long trip to Oakhurst.

D&D with kids was great fun – I’m hoping I can figure out a way to create an after-school session throughout the school year to run for them (for the 1,000th time, I wish the school day was set to mimic a workday). And also, this is all the excuse I needed to indulge in a love of buying minis!

(aside: the image attached is my latest tattoo, which is very-much D&D-inspired.)

The Good Ol’ Hockey Game

Overtime Faceoff
Overtime at hockey

This season, I got 1/2 a season-ticket pack, thanks to Jen & Neil‘s absconding off to the UK. Which has been really great. I love the privilege of getting to see these guys live on a regular basis. Even Leah likes going, which is a total bonus. Excuses for extra nights out with here are good.

But as a result of watching more live hockey, I’ve had a couple of thoughts, triggered from ongoing thoughts about fights, injuries and concussions in sports (Maybe not all sports: but two that I love: hockey & football. But even Baseball seems to have similar issues).

I don’t like hockey fights, but I admit to being caught up in the moment at a game sometimes when a fight breaks out after a dirty hit on a star player. At a certain level, I completely understand the need to protect your star players in such a brutish way. But that enthusiasm fades in moments. And then I keep thinking about there’s lots of talk about how to “clean up” hockey (which, amazingly for modern sports, isn’t referring to drugs: it’s referring to dangerous plays & fights). So here’s my idea, harsh as they may be:

  1. Fights: as every telecast reminds viewers, the NHL owns the rights to that telecast. They could simply dictate the telecasts cannot show fights & that fights are not allowed to be used in sports-highlight packages. Would this end fights? Not immediately. But by removing them from mainstream view, it would lessen the “glory” of a fight. I suspect that there would be less fights. If getting into a fight guarantees that your not going to be on TV, every rookie tough guy would think twice: for many, it’s their only opportunity. Make hockey highlights about the play, not the extraneous stuff.
  2. Injuries: This one’s harsh. On any play where a major penalty is assessed AND there’s an injury on the play, the offending players is automatically suspended a minimum of 2 games. Regardless of time of year. In addition, if the victim is injured, and cannot play, the offending player cannot play again until the injured player returns to the ice. The suspension, however long it is starts at that point. There should likely be an upper-limit in the case of career ending injuries. Perhaps a full season, including playoffs. &, perhaps to prevent “gaming” this, by having a role-player be “injured” to keep an opposing team’s “star” off the ice, the evaluation of ready-to-play status needs to come from the NHL/NHLPA, not just the team.

iTunes AppStore & The Tyranny of Choice

When I’m looking to buy a new video game, I have 2 primary sources: The first is Video Game blogs (I generally read Joystiq & the IGN Xbox feeds), the second is my friends – whom I mostly to use to ask about games I’ve first heard about via one of the above.

But my practice for learning about new apps is different – it’s nearly 99% from my friends, 1% from blogs (if I’m being honest, mostly from Daring Fireball, which is my (and many, many other people’s) go-to place for new Apple/iOS-related opinion. Since about 1 month after it opened, the iTunes App Store itself has been more or less useful useless (thanks, Evan!). Cream doesn’t rise to the top in that store. Look at the top 5 apps in any category – you’re as likely to see utter garbage as you are a beautifully designed app or brilliant, original game (based on how network TV works, I’d go as far to say as the most original NEVER get the most attention). This because the metric used for the top charts is based on downloads (Top) and sales (Top Grossing). There’s not really a mechanism for “most interesting” and if there were, unless it was weighted by people’s whose opinions I like, would still not be useful.

It ends up that I now more or less completely ignore the App Store as a source of recommendations for apps. Even the app-related blogs aren’t so hot, because, for them to be useful filters, Its needs to be focused on particular categories of apps – or it’s just too general – similar to how sites that review all forms of music pale compared to sites that mine just a few genres. Whatever the issue is, the App Store is failing for me as a source of new apps – I’m paralyzed by the Tyranny of Choice: Which of the 18283 education apps do I want? Hell, even deciding between the 120 “Hot” Education apps is too much choice.

What’s needed is a sort of “social ranking” mechanism – sort of like the vote up/down of Reddit, Digg, etc. But actually, what I’d like is something even more refined. I’ll state now that I really don’t care what the vast majority of the world thinks. I care about what people that I respect think. These vote up/down algorithms should be measured in concentric circles: First & foremost, what my friends like. If, say David likes an app, there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll like it too – at least based on historic precedent. & I don’t care about 5-star ratings. All I care about is thumbs up/thumbs down. The next circle out from that should be what friends of David, but who aren’t my friends, think about an app – one of those birds-of-a-feather ideas – if David likes this people, maybe I will to. Beyond that, should be people who’re influential “generally” think. Leveraging something like Klout could be useful for this level of recommendation. I might not know the person from Adam, but if more often than not apps that they recommend are subsequently recommended by people in their circle of friends, that’s a good sign.

This seems like a perfect area to start exploring interest data-mining/app possibilities. While you could simply shoe-horn on an up/down voting method over the existing, more-or-less useless 5-star rating system, I don’t think even this is necessary. Here’s what I’m imagining:

  • An iTunes plug-in that allows me to share what Apps I own (I’m equating ownership as a “thumbs-up” – this might be overly simplistic, but it’s a place to start). This sharing could be anonymous or not. Maybe I need to actually “rate” an app to share it, so I can hide apps I don’t want to rate or share.
  • Leverage my existing social networks to see which friends I care about. This is a well-established method: Let me “follow” my twitter, facebook, linked in, google/yahoo/hotmail contacts, etc. I strongly believe that this system needs to asynchronous – more like twitter than like facebook.
  • As I like apps that someone else has already liked, the weighting the system gives to that person’s likes, relative to me, should be weighted higher – because it means that I’m more likely to agree with them in the future – a bayesian weighting system.
  • Over time, as my circle of followers grows & shrinks, as people in my circle add/remove/rate up/rate down apps, I’ll have an ever-changing list of suggested apps. Which makes app developers more money, makes apple more money, makes my devices more useful to me.

So there’s some hitches that I see in all of this as I currently have it down:

  1. People have to download a plugin to iTunes (or, they have to sign into a website then manually find their apps). This manual start-up process is a rather large barrier to entry.
  2. People actually have to rate apps & do it regularly as their app-library changes. A code-snippet that could be added into apps, similar to the existing “rate us in the app store” would be nice & helpful – but would require this get big enough.

Thoughts, people? Is there already something like this out there? If not, and you’ve got some money, want to fund me to make it? Or, want to make it yourself? Let me know – I’ll be an eager tester of it!


36 hours of Kinect – initial thoughts

On Saturday, I bought a Kinect for my Xbox. I loved the idea of the tech, and thought, that like the Wii before it, could provide better gameplay for Liam, whose hands are still too small to properly use a regular xbox controller.

And…I have mixed thoughts on it so far. In no particular order:

  • The “wow” factor truly is there. I love that I can sit down on the couch, wave & it’ll log me in. I like saying “xbox play disc” and it’ll launch a game. I like the Minority Report-feel of moving things on the dashboard with my hands.
  • I’m not a fan of the 2 games we have: Kinect Adventures & Kinectimals. While both showcase the power of the device well, they’re not terribly interesting (although Liam seems to really dig them).
  • There is a clear delay between my movement and the response on screen. This has led to some frustration for both myself & for Liam for twitch-games on the system.
  • There seems to be some physics interpretation issues – throwing a ball often doesn’t seem to go anywhere at all where I’d expect a real ball, had I thrown one, to go. But as there’s no real “let go of the ball” motion, this makes sense – the system has to guess that.
  • Much like the Wii fit, I’m discovering that I generally prefer to play games sitting down to relax, not to get all worked up. That being said, the exercise/workout genre will likely be really excellent. I’ll know more in a week or so when EA Active 2 comes out, which I plan on buying.
  • The amount of room I’ve had to clear to be able to properly play really is big. So big that it wrecks the layout of our family room. This is partially due to some poor architectural decisions (by the house builders) and poor furniture decisions (by us), but the end result is that the TV is so far away that I have to strain my eyes to read small print or watch a puck during a hockey game.
  • I think because of the height difference between myself & Liam, we have so far had a really hard time with the Kinect keeping track of both of us.
  • Now that I have a Kinect, I want a bigger TV.  I’ve figured out a way to re-arrange the family room that should work for the above, but I don’t know when I’ll actually get around to doing that – but for anyone who has a TV 42″ or smaller (like us), you’re probably going to want a bigger TV once you’ve rearranged your tv-watching space. Or put a couch on wheels.

So as you can see, there’s lots I’m not a huge fan of. But I still really love the device. It’s still really early days and, much like the Xbox itself, it’ll take months, possibly years before we see developers truly doing innovative things with it. & I look forward to trying those out.

One last thought: It had occurred to me that a Kinect version of, say, Portal, would be really, really awesome.

The Great Canadian Ultimate Game

On Saturday night I participated in the Great Canadian Ultimate Game, a 25-hour, cross-Canada ultimate relay organized by Ultimate Canada where players in 23 communities across the country each played a single ultimate game to raise money for 2 really worthy charities, Right To Play and Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada. The Vancouver leg was scheduled to run from 10-11pm at Andy Livingstone field. I showed up expecting the game to be played much like a lot of pick-up ultimate is played – sort-of half-assed, with a lot of hucking, and not terribly serious. Boy was I wrong! Instead it was highly-skilled, hard-fought and really spirited, in the best of ways. I played on Team Red, representing Right to Play. In our particular leg, Team Red beat Team White 13-11. However, after the final leg, played from 11pm-midnight in Surrey, Team White won the overall game, 253-251.

The game was setup so that each player donated at least $10, and then the charities would receive the money in a 60-40 split. While the total funds raised isn’t known yet, it should be around $7000. A great amount for the inaugural year of this fundraiser. I certainly hope that this will become an annual event where we can raise even more money and awareness.

Don’t turf my grass! Please sign these petitions against Park Board staff recommendations

As some of you know, I sit on the board of the VUL. We are currently looking at an issue that certainly affects the ultimate players in the city, but also, virtually all players of field sports. The issue at hand is a proposal to put turf fields in at both Memorial & Jericho Parks at the upcoming meeting this Monday, February 1st. This development proposal goes against the recommendations of the Vancouver Field Sports Federation (VFSF), an association of various sports leagues that utilize fields in the city. The VFSF has been working for the past 6 months with the city to develop alternate locations, but, as a result of Federal Stimulus money, the Park Board staff has seen fit to throw out all that community involvement and press ahead with these poor options.

NB: I’m writing this as a matter of personal opinion, not the official stance of the board of the VUL.

I ask you all to please view & sign the following petitions AGAINST putting turf on these fields:

The reasons for not wanting turf on these fields a numerous. Here are my major reasons for not wanting this to go ahead:

  1. This proposal flies in the face of 6 months of community consultation and goes directly against the recommendation of the primary users of these fields, the VFSF. It makes a mockery of the very idea of community consultation by the Park Board.
  2. These 2 fields constitute some of the nicest, smoothest sports-grass in the entire city. There are literally dozens of other parks we play in which would be more suitable to replace poorly-draining grass with turf, not to mention potentially upgrading school grounds with turf.
  3. The decision process on this development is being artificially rushed by the presence of federal stimulus money that requires that these “shovel-ready” projects be completed this calendar year. It is not a good idea to rush a decision that will have this large an impact just because of funding. In many ways, I’d rather see no new turf fields than see these 2 fields developed.

The Ultimate Conundrum

Every summer, I play ultimate. And every summer, my teams gets an influx of new players – we’re not sure of why there’s so much turnover, but there is, so we sort of start each season from square 1 again. And every season, I face the same conundrum: getting the new players included in the game. See here’s the thing:

New players are less likely to make good cuts. Which means that when I’m throwing, I often only have a low-percentage throw left to make, as the stall-count nears 10. But new players are also less likely to catch the disc, particularly if it’s a difficult catch, on a low-percentage throw. So I often end up throwing to a more experienced player in those situations. Which becomes a sort of catch-22 of new players never getting the experience because they’re not getting the chance, and thus not getting better. So this year, I’ve taken a new tact: I will always try to make the first throw to a less-experienced player. Only when it’s an end-zone play, or someone is obviously clear and free, will I throw to one of the veteran players. And so far, I think this is having some immediate impact. With the exception of one player, I’ve thrown to everyone on my team over the course of 3 games. So they’re getting involved. And sure, we’re losing, but I think everyone’s learning. We even had a mini-comeback at the end of our last game, as people started to cut better, and made those short throws that tend to work better with less experienced players. I suspect we won’t win a game this semester, but probably by mid-next semester, we’ll start to be pretty good, and will hopefully move back up into this division.

…And they’re off!

This week marked the start of the 2005 ultimate season. This season, I’m playing on two teams: On Tuesday nights, I’m playing on a team called “Denial & Error”. On Thursday nights, I’m playing on a team called “T.J.’s Hookers”. Both teams are liable to change their name, but there you go.

I’m very excited to be playing again. I really miss ultimate when it’s not ultimate season. I’m also excited because of the way my summer is structured: my Tuesday team is, shall we say, more competitive, and I’m definitely NOT one of the better players, so I expect to learn alot, such as how to read the game better, new throws, etc. My Thursday team, by contrast, is less competitive, with lots of new players, and I probably am one of the better players. So I get to take what I learn every Tuesday, and apply it anew on Thursday.

And the season started well too: A win on Tuesday, and then on Thursday, one (close) loss, and one win. That one win means my Thursday team is only one win away from matching our total for all of last summer, which would be a nice feat. Now, if only more boys would show up on Thursday, because we didn’t really have any male subs, which makes for a lot of running around.

Hooray for Ultimate!

%d bloggers like this: