Saturday, April 30, 2011

Game of Thrones

Have you seen the newest Big Deal in the geek TV community? Two weeks ago, HBO aired the first episode of Game of Thrones, a ten episode season based on the book A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. For those not in the know, the SoI&F series is an epic fantasy series of political intrigue, murders, wars, magic, and several families all vying for the claim of a single throne. It's gritty, dirty, and holds nothing back; it's real. No one's head is safe from the ax that is Martin's pen, and the series lives by the idea that everyone is mortal, everyone can lose, no matter how righteous or good they may be. Life isn't fair, and neither is Martin as a writer, but it makes for a damn good read.  

I am in love with this series. DM and I were given the books by a good friend as a wedding gift. They're huge, 800 to 1,200 pages each, four in the current series with the fifth coming in the summer. I didn't expect to like them - I'm not a fan of politics. A Game of Thrones, though, ain't your momma'a politics, and I got sucked in. The books are separated by chapters with focus on the events in the lives of different characters, but they all interact amongst each other. I think by the end of the fourth book, A Feast For Crows, I counted at least 15 chapter characters over the series. Even if one chapter was uninteresting to me or focused on a character I disliked, I was drawn to finish it to get to the next chapter, focused on someone else. Despite the disconnected chapters, Martin manages to maintain an easy-to-follow flow and ties the events of the different lives together well. Don't let the density of these books intimidate you, you won't be able to put them down. It does NOT help that Martin is a master of cliffhangers. I often found myself flipping through the pages to see if there was another chapter focusing on that person so we're not left utterly hanging. He didn't always provide, so I had to start on the next book...until I ran out of books.

It's always a concern to me when someone takes a book, a game, a play, and decides to turn it into a movie or tv show. I'm usually left disappointed - book conversions leave out so much, game conversions as just unsatisfying to fans (ESPECIALLY if Uwe Boll gets his hands on them), and plays or musicals have to cut so much to fit into a set time limit. That did not stop me from anxiously waiting for 9PM on Sunday April 17th and the airing of the first episode of Game of Thrones. As much as I'm wary about converting books to visual media, I love it for one sole purpose: even if it flops, it gives you a visual of the characters that you never had before. You get to see them come to life, to put a face to the words and actions. In every sense, HBO's Game of Thrones does not disappoint. The characters are all perfectly cast (with Sean Bean [aka Boromir] as Eddard "Ned" Stark, the patriarch of the main family), and the budget of the show was high enough to make an amazing replica of this medieval fantasy world. My only issue is that they had to age some of the younger Stark children a few years, but they still maintain their personalities and are still recognisable as themselves. They all look and act the roles amazingly. It can be a little hard to pick out the less prominent characters, but it's still doable.

If you enjoy epic fantasy like The Lord of the Rings series, you'll probably find Game of Thrones up your alley, and if you're a little uncertain still, sit down with a bag of popcorn (and no kids, this is NOT a kids safe show. At all. Ever. Just don't do it) and enjoy the hour-long premiere (you can find it on HBO online or on demand). You won't regret it! And if you DO enjoy the books and the show, well, someone happened to dig up a Game of Thrones tabletop game...

Happy rolling!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tableside Treats: Party Edition

Well, readers, I promised you an awesome spread of gaming food from a party menu, and you're going to get it! While I didn't finish everything I wanted make for my party, I got most of it done, and at the end of the day, most of it was gone! I also had multiple requests for the recipes, so I can safely say the entire spread was well-accepted. All of these recipes will be gone in one or two bites, but make enough to fill up a bunch of hungry gamers.
First off, a classic.
Pigs in a Blanket
1 package cocktail weiners
1-2 Pillsbury crescent roll dough

Open and roll out the crescent roll dough.
Cut it into strips and roll each strip around a cocktail weiner.
Bake according to Pillsbury directions for the dough.

These were the first dish gone. Kids and adults alike kept grabbing one to munch on. Better than hotdogs, I think. These don't even NEED toppings and condiments, which makes them great for serving at a game.
Another classic in the lineup:
Deviled Eggs
Recipe From Here
12 large eggs
2 whole sweet pickles
6 tbsp mayonnaise
4 tsp sweet pickle relish
1 tsp mustard
1/2 tsp prepared horseradish
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp salt
paprika powder

Remove eggs from refrigerator for an hour.
Place eggs into a large pot of warm water.
Bring to a boil and boil 2 minutes MAX.
Turn off heat leaving pot on the burner for 12 minutes.
Remove shells and cut eggs in half lengthwise.
Remove and mash yolks.
Finely dice two 3 inch sweet whole pickles
Mix yolks, diced pickles, and all other ingredients.
Place mix in a plastic bag, cut off a corner and fill eggs.
Lightly dust with Paprika powder.

This recipe makes perfect yolks, beautifully yellow, and they pop right out of the egg. This was the second emptied platter, and I made double this recipe! Not everyone likes eggs, mayo, or sweet pickles, though (DM, not a fan of any of the above), so make sure your friends are fans before putting all the time into shelling the eggs.
And finally, a new favorite from my recipe buddy, Cat!
Turkey Butlers / Turkey Cigars / Smoked Turkey Rolls
1/2 cup butter, melted and allowed to cool at room temp
1/4 lbs shaved (thin sliced) smoked deli turkey
8 oz cream cheese, room temp
1/4 cup sweet minced onion
1/4 cup mayo
1 tsp worcestershire sauce
1 tsp yellow mustard
1 loaf white bread
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350.
Line a baking sheet with nonstick foil.
Chop shaved turkey and place in a medium bowl. Add cream cheese, onion, mayo, worcestershire, and mustard. Using a fork, mix and mash well.
Trim crusts off bread slices.
Place six slices at a time in between two sheets of plastic wrap and roll over them with a rolling pin until 1/8th thick.
Spread cheese and turkey mix on flattened bread slices.
Roll slices into a cigar shape. (I ate one at this stage because it wouldn't fit on the baking sheet, and it's just as good for serving here as when completed!)
Dip ends into the butter mix (for taste and to seal them).
Place seam-side down on baking sheet.
Sprinkle with the parm cheese.
Bake 15-20 minutes until golden.

Baked or not, these are amazing. The flavor of the turkey and cream cheese, plus the crunch of the onions makes this a winner. Rolling them up makes them into a sandwich you can easily eat with one hand, leaving the other free to roll a save against deliciousness (hint: you will fail. The Turkey Butler's Taste rating is too high.)
Sadly, I have 0 pictures of these foods due to my miscalculating the time to make them, running late, and not thinking about it after setting everything up. When I make these again (and I will, you can count on that), I'll be sure to update with pictures.

Happy rolling (and eating!)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Check the time, it's Loopy O'Clock

For DM, Ravi and I, dice inevitably happens at the end of the day, usually on Friday or Saturday, once we've had time to do everything else for the day, get our ducks in a row and whatnot. This way, when we finally sit down to game, we can go as late as we want and our schedule for the next day allows. It could be midnight, it could be three, four, five in the morning. It all depends on what time one of us needs to be in bed, how much fun we're having, and how much material the DM has for that night. There's one other factor, though: the game is almost over when the clock hits "Loopy".

I can't remember where the term "Loopy o'clock" came from, but it's a familiar term for our gaming sessions. Do you remember this post? This is what happens at Loopy o'clock. Someone gets the giggles, and the giggles are infectious. The other will start laughing, DM will inevitably say "Calm down, it wasn't that funny," and we end up laughing harder. The later it is in the evening and the longer we've been up, the more likely it is to hit the magic hour. There's nothing standard that sets it off, either. The setting can be completely serious or lighthearted, mid-fight or in-game downtime; it can be something said in-character, out-of-character, a roll gone wrong, a roll gone RIGHT, anything with the slightest bit of humor in it. Most likely, it's something that at an earlier time would not have sent us flying into fits of laughter. That's what Loopy o'clock does: the funny get funnier. It brings several minutes of game distraction (sometimes to the point of ending the game early), LOTS of snorts (What are we up to on your count, Ravi?), and that feeling of lightness that comes after tears roll down your face from laughter. It gives you a high you can get while still being completely sober, and it feels good, man. Sometimes we can pull past the magic hour and keep on playing, but more often than not, Loopy o'clock marks time for the game to be slowing down so we can get some much-needed sleep.

So the next time you sit down to play after a long day, the hour draws late and a giggle fit descends upon your game, check your watch - it's Loopy o'clock.

Happy rolling!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pokemon are not food

Another foodless week here. Sorry folks. Wish I had a good reason, but it's mainly 1) I'm lazy and 2) guess who got Pokemon White this weekend? I've...already played almost 20 hours. I think I have a problem. Hell, I know I do. I've been playing these games since Red and Blue. The only one I didn't get immediately was from the Ruby and Sapphire set - those I waited until Emerald to get. But I know that as time goes on, there will still be Pokemon games, and I'll still be buying them. Watch, Ravi and I will be talking about our grandkids' graduations and I'll still be dragging my wrinkled butt to the store to buy the next Pokemon game. Assuming we have stores still then. Maybe by then, we'll just be buying everything online.

I'm thrilled about this game, though, and not for a reason I thought I would be. Am I thrilled because of the amazingly improved graphics, innovations in the play format, and changes that we're been waiting for since the originals hit the shelves? Of course. Am I thrilled that I can go into a cave and not run into a Zubat or Geodude because for the first time they're not catchable pokemon in the main game? Hell yes, but still not it. I am thrilled because for the first time since Gold and Silver came out, I caught the Pokerus. If you're not familiar with the games, I'm probably talking nonsense, so let me explain. In Gold and Silver, two new things were introduced: shiny pokemon (alt color Pokemon) and Pokerus, a pokemon virus that improves your pokemon's stat gain. The chance of getting either of these in the game is insanely low. I think a pokemon wiki said the chance of finding a wild Pokemon with Pokerus to infect yours is 1 in about 25,000. INSANELY rare. It spreads easily in your party and goes away after two days, but you can "save" it by storing a pokemon infected with it instead of using it. You find out you have the illness by taking your pokemon to a Pokecenter to be healed. The nurse will tell you "Oh! You've got the Pokerus!" when she hands you them back. I've been loyally playing these games for over a decade now, never finding the rare and elusive shiny pokemon, never getting the virus, until finally, last night, I stared at the little figure on my DS telling me that my pokemon were infected. And then I did a little dance. It's about damn time.

I do have a guarantee for you: the next time my Tuesday rolls around, you're going to have a grand slam of treats to read about. Indeah's throwing a party, and she decided to do all of the food. All of it. Well, okay, minus some that a friend has offered to help with. But I've got a decent menu to pull together myself, and it's all bite-sized and great stuff for a gaming session. You're gonna love this set-up.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

You Don't Always Have To Kick Down The Door

We've finally had a few chances to sit down and play D&D lately - life has been getting in the way for both of us playing. Ravi's classes are working towards graduation (You can do it, sis!!) and DM and my weekends have been mostly preoccupied. However, two of our friends have been able to make trips down to visit us on Sundays, and we've happily pulled out the dice for a new game the past two times they've made it here.

The game, run by our friend Matt, is more focused on large-scale battles than D&D usually is, usually us versus three to ten enemies harder than us and a dozen to twenty smaller, easier enemies. We've had to focus much more on strategy and conservation than with a normal dungeon crawl. After two sets of long combat sequences (3 to 6 fights each) and one gained level, we were given the option to pick a goal: kill the hobgoblin king, take out a well of demons, go kick someone out of our territory, or stay there in case of attacks on the city. We chose to go after the hobgoblin king; we had already seen him at least once, but he ran away. So, off we went. We arrive relatively unscathed and find ourselves facing a dozen or so hobgoblins and ogres, with an ettin (a two-headed ogre) behind us. Roll for initiative, right?

Have you ever heard the concept "Walk like you know exactly what you're doing"? Meaning, look like you belong and you can go anywhere. Rather than draw our weapons and fight, we rolled Bluff checks. And rolled Bluff checks. And rolled more Bluff checks. We bluffed and argued our way right through the gates. Do you remember how Han and Luke found Leia without being caught in Star Wars IV: A New Hope? They marched Chewbacca down the halls like stormtroopers escorting a prisoner and killed the guards in the prison itself? Yeah, we did that with DM's Warforged. We avoided probably an hour or two realtime of large combat, broke two other humans out of the prison to help us, and got the jump on about 7 hobgoblins before they knew what hit them. In the end, we got our man with relative ease thanks to a very high summoning scroll Bryan, our other player, had just bought.

It's odd to think about strategy in D&D. It's usually so easy to just kick down the door and barge in. You don't NEED to consider alternatives. But there really are plenty of other ways to use your skills: bluff, intimidate, and diplomacy combined with known languages all allow different forms of negotiation with an enemy (provided they're not mindless. Don't try to negotiate with a zombie. It won't end well for you.) Hide and move silently can help you skirt around a group of enemies, as can climb and some cheap climbing tools. These are all good tactics to consider using when there's the possibility of avoiding a fight. Will you get the experience you would have from straight-up fighting? Not always. That depends on the DM. But if you're low on HP, badly outmatched, or just don't feel like fighting, try a different tactic. You don't always have to kick down the door.