April 14, 2016

Fort: Bose SoundLink Color Speaker

I enjoy listening to podcasts. They make the work day go by a little quicker and I can typically learn a thing or two or have a laugh. Having most of these podcasts on my iPhone meant I could listen to the in the car as well. But at the end of the work day or drive, that would be it and I would stop listening to them until the next time I got to work or into a car. I wanted to listen to podcasts when I got home, but I don't like working around the house with earbuds in. So I started looking at an Apple TV to broadcast my podcasts to the TV and speaker system, but I already had a Google Chromecast that did most of what an Apple TV did. So for the longest time, I just didn't listen to podcasts while I did house work.

Cut to a Bose store in an open air shopping mall in Virginia on December 26th, 2014. The shopping mall is crammed with people and my then fiance dip into this store and start playing around with the gadgets. That's when I first met the Bose SoundLink Color bluetooth speaker. It was expensive when compared to most of the bluetooth speakers I was looking at before this. At $130, I can't even really recommend it to people as a must have, and I was a little hesitant to look at it for too long. But that's when I hit the play button on top of it, and Daft Punk's Random Access Memories started flowing out of it, and it was incredible.

On the drive from Virginia back to Cleveland, I had multiple conversations with the fiance about the thing, and whether or not I should buy it. I knew I wanted it, and after she told me her grandmother had given us some cash for Christmas it was pretty much settled. She had purchased a set of Bose headphones while we were in Virginia and was loving them. We stopped by the local Bose store before we even got home (I also bought the Daft Punk album on iTunes as well).

The Bose SoundLink Color is a great speaker for its size and power. Its battery lasts me several hours of continuous play time. Its small enough that I can throw it in a bag or stash it anywhere in the room I'm working in. It sounds very good when playing podcasts and my general everyday music on it. Its ease of use and sound quality has impressed both my wife and her sister, which both now own one.



It's so nice to have a small portable speaker with such great sound. I know listen to podcasts and music while doing dishes or cooking while not having to blast it through my TV's sound system. I've used it in every room of my house now, and I love the thing. I don't take it outside though. The next day after buying the SoundLink Color, I visited my parents who bought a cheap bluetooth speaker. While there is a incredible difference in quality, I use the cheap Sony speaker as my garage and outside speaker.

I would highly recommend this speaker to anyone who wants to listen to high quality music while being ultra portable. Students in dorms or People in apartments will love this as they can take their music and podcast in any room they want. Bose makes some great products, and don't be fooled by other companies or reviews in which a speaker with a ton of bass is a good speaker. The Bose SoundLink Color's range is what makes it great.

March 25, 2016

Fort: People Socks

In the middle of 2015 I decided to pick up some new socks that weren't my normal black/gray/white ones. I wanted something more fun and colorful. Well, I picked up some sporty green and orange socks from the local department store. They were okay, but they weren't exactly what I was looking for. So for Christmas, when my father in law asked me what I wanted, I told him to get me comfortable socks. What I received, were two packages of People Socks.


Found on Amazon for about $30 for 4 pairs, People Socks are billed as hiking and outdoors socks. These mostly wool socks are thick and comfortable, giving my feet the extra layer of cozy they need for the Cleveland winters. After many washes, they still are holding up just like the day they were purchased.

It took a little bit of getting used to before I was 100% comfortable wearing these. When you first put them on after wearing your everyday Hanes they feel heavy, feeling like a pair of wet socks. That was initially off putting, but after a week or two, I was all on board these. These are my go to socks when I'm at home and am not required to wear black socks.

I highly recommend these socks to anyone looking to improve their weekend comfort. These are easily going to be the best bang for your buck when it comes to increasing your comfort. High praise to my father in law for selecting these. My only hope is that they make a pair completely in black so I can wear them with my dress slacks to work.

A quick disclaimer though, I did receive these socks in the winter. I'm not sure if these will be the right socks for you in the summer. I'm also not much of a hiker, and can't vouch for their integrity after hiking miles on them. I suspect they are designed for cooler temperatures based on the "About" page on their website.

March 24, 2016

Fort Guide: An Easy Man's Guide to Comfort

I'm a man that's easily content with what I have. Laid back and easy going, I like to pinch my pennies when I can. I'm pretty utilitarian when it comes to purchasing new items, and fret any purchase over $20 most of the time. That was, until I went to Italy on my honeymoon in February of 2015.

In Europe, there didn't seem to be too much that was utilitarian. Everyone dressed fashionably, no matter what the conditions were. Us schulbby Americans stood out like a sore thumb with our bland North Face jackets and tennis shoes. So when we returned after our adventure to the old world, I vowed I would start improving my style.

But improving your style is expensive, and runs counter to what I grew up doing. Stylish clothes were expensive, and they could only do so much to improve the style of a man of generous proportions like myself. So I decided to change the target for my original goal. I was going to buy comfortable. But while doing this, I found something that surprised me. Part of your comfort, is style.

With this revelation, I charged forth into the world and started my discoveries of the stylish comfort. Clothes, tech items, foods, and daily practices of comfort. Now, a year after I started my search, I believe I've gathered enough experiences to give some advice to other guys (and gals too) who want to enjoy a more comfortable lifestyle. And that's were Fort Guide comes in.

Fort Guide will be a weekly article reviewing select items from my past year that I have tried to improve my comfortable lifestyle. Every Friday you can expect to find a new article detail my experiences with something and how it stacks up to the old way of living. I hope to introduce new people to great products, and I'm going to start tomorrow with something that I've only had for the past three months: People Socks.


February 9, 2016

Hit Point's Honesty

Most role playing games have some portion of them which is dedicated to combats and fights. Because of this, most systems also have some way to track your characters well being during the course of the encounter. The most common way to do this is through a stat called hit points, or hp for short. As the battle wears on and your characters lose hp, they are inching closer to being eliminated from the fight. But what exactly does hp stand for during these battles? Surely every lost hit point isn't blood drawn, or is it? In this article I am going to look a few examples of hit points (or similar mechanisms) in different RPG systems.

So let's start off with the big kahuna. In Dungeons and Dragons, nearly everything has a listed value of hp. A first level character may have around 12 hit points depending on class. As they gain levels, their hp increases, all the way into the hundreds. So, what do the hit points in D&D stand for? Well first we have to look at a few things. A character loses hp when they are hit with damage from an attack. Characters also gain hp when they level up. So, is hp loss is the result of physical wounds, does this mean that a level 5 character can be stabbed in the gut more times than a level 1 character? Logically, this doesn't make much sense. A football player will be taken out just as quickly with a stab to the gut as myself. HP in D&D is an abstract way to track a characters weariness. Damage represents close calls, near misses, and general fatigue that must be endured. That is, until you hit half of your HP. In D&D 4th Edition, characters gained a status called bloodied once they dropped below half of their max hp. This represented a physical hit on a character.

The One Ring RPG takes the idea of hit points and becoming bloodied and turns it into the concepts of endurance and becoming wounded. Characters lose endurance during a fight, and a physical hit is never landed until the character becomes wounded via the TOR equivalent of a critical hit. Being wounded in TOR is much more explicit and difficult to heal compared to endurance. Fate has a similar mechanic, tracking stress and consequences. Fate's consequences mechanic also has the benefit of being useful for social encounters, representing mental knocks and setbacks rather than physical ones.

FFG's Star Wars systems "fixes" this abstract hit point problem by having a stat called wounds. Wounds represent actual physical hits of blaster bolts and lightsabers on a character. This stat can be increased, but not in the same fashion or scale that D&D does. These wounds also lead to critical injuries, which maim and cripple characters. Strain is consumed and drained from characters for more mental and endurance consequences.

So if you're running a game and you want a better understanding of how to narrate combats, take a look at what the hit points in your system represents.

January 6, 2016

The Game Part of RPG

I've had the pleasure to experience over a dozen role playing game systems over the past three years. Most of these RPGs I have played, while some I've only read the rules on and I've started to notice a trend in the hobby, which a lot of people are already familiar with. This is the swinging pendulum of crunch. New games on the market trend with the swing of this pendulum. On one side of the pendulum we have rules heavy games and systems, and on the other we have extremely rules light. At the moment, I feel like we're on the up swing to the extremely rules light end of the pendulum, and this can be evident in what is hitting the table more and more these days.

Some of these rules light games I've read through include games like Questlandia and Fiasco. Both of these games focus so much on the role playing aspect of RPGs, that I sometimes wonder why they even bother coming with a book. Just through reading these rule books it got me thinking, I believe the game part of RPG is very important.

RPGs take aspects from two different mediums and slams them together into these books which we gather around for fun. Role playing on its own can be compared to acting or improv, which people take on characters and tell stories. Games are everywhere, they're essentially a contest with a distinct set of rules. Combining these two mediums into one we end up with essentially story telling with a set of rules, and I believe that having a good set of rules for a game is important. When it comes to rules light games, it sometimes feels like the rules were just thrown in there to make it a "game". Games like Fiasco and Questlandia feel like they have just as much depth in rules as Rory's Story Cubes.

The rules in an RPG serve two major purposes. They provide a framework that is (hopefully) balanced and equal for all players. They also provide an element of uncertainty. Any board game typically comes with a solid set of rules to use and it can come natural to role players to build a story out of actions that are taken during the game. These rules make the story interesting and unpredictable, throwing in complications that characters need to deal with in order to proceed. This may come natural to the theater and literary majors out there, but for everyone else, we need a little help. Part of this uncertainty has to be balanced though. Unbalanced rules lead to a narrative funnel, where all of the cool actions happen to a single player and everyone else feeling useless. Dice are a great randomizer and also very good for balancing if used properly, which is why we see so many games with dice.

While the weight of the rules and mechanisms for a game don't necessarily matter, the way that the rules integrate with the theme do. This is why it is easier for us to tack on a story to a board game than to tack rules on to an improv session. The rules need to facilitate the story, keeping the players immersed and engaged. Typically this is done via a good/bad traits mechanic. There are things your character is better and worse at than other people at the table (skills, aspects, traits, etc.). It's very simple, and is usually implemented unconsciously in normal story telling.

Without a good set of rules for an RPG it can feel like you're just sitting around a table making up a story. While I'm not calling this a bad thing (I like Rory's Story Cubes very much), I wouldn't call it a game either.  Questlandia and Fiasco offer very few rules and focus mainly on the story telling. I like to view these games as an assisted story telling exercise. Ultimately, when I play an RPG I really want solid mechanisms behind it.

December 28, 2015

PC Death in a Role Playing Game

Some GMs call it taboo. Other GMs revel in it. Most players despise it. The death of a player character is often a weird subject in most role playing games, to the point that some don't even acknowledge it. When telling a story that involves living thing, there are often times when that thing may die. What makes a role playing game different than cooperative story telling is uncertainty.  If you are telling the story together (like in straight improv), you and your partners want the outcome of some sort of conflict to be the most meaningful possible to construct a certain story. But in an RPG, there is often a mechanic which will semi-randomly decide the resolution of a conflict. Death in a straight storytelling setting is usually agreed upon during the story's construction. In an RPG, death could happen narratively like this, but more often than not, will happen via the roll of a die. This has led to much discussion over the consequences of killing off a PC. In this article, I will discuss a PC's death via game mechanisms from the eyes of a GM who views it as bad, a GM who views it as good, and the view as a player.



Lately, I've been hearing from multiple podcasts or people that I listen too that player character death via a die roll should never happen. If they're losing a fight, the characters don't perish, yet there is some narrative thing that happens that keeps them from dying. This can be used to keep the game pretty much on track. Introducing new characters into the game isn't easy, and getting them invested in the story is even harder. Most of these GMs will insist that a PC character should never be killed by goblin grunt #4 or Stormtrooper FN-2187, but rather if they are to be killed nonnarratively that the foe has a name. You rarely see in cinema or read in literature about the protagonist killed by a random extra. The PCs are exceptions, heroes, and generally awesome.

During my last D&D 5e game I just ran, I told my player's before we even started that I was not going to stop random monster x from killing them this campaign. My goal was to try and make this system as gritty as possible. In the first few weeks of the campaign, I had killed two of the PCs. When death is on the table for every instance, the game takes on a new dimension. The players now must be much more cautious, not just busting into any room they want and killing everything in it. They lose the sense of security they have when the GM takes death off the table for most encounters. They can make rash decisions with little fear of PC death most of the time. Keeping death on the table reigns this in. They want to avoid more combats now, and ones that are inevitable, they want to have the advantage. The down side to this is what I will call the 10 foot pole problem. The players are now overly cautious, tapping every flagstone and door with a 10 foot pole to check for traps or monsters before continuing. This will slow the game down tremendously. Luckily for myself, this didn't seem to happen during my D&D 5e campaign.

Those views are from the perspective of the GM, which is widely different than what a player sees. A player who's PC has been killed now has real world consequences. They now can not take part in the rest of tonight's game (easily) and now must invest more time into creating another character. Depending on the game system, this could be only a few minutes or a few hours. Nobody wants to sit at the table next to their friend as they play the game and you have to sit there digging through a book, especially if it's a new system. Now, occasionally PC death can be OK for a player. If the scene makes it incredibly cool, a player may make the choice to have a PC die. But it must be incredibly cool. As a player, real life time is usually more valuable than in game themes or story arcs. If a player has to make a choice between sacrificing themselves for an NPC, more often than not they won't do it. The story would be much better with the PC saving the princess in exchange for their life, but the player doesn't want to have to spend the next few hours building a character.

So that's my thoughts on PC death in an RPG. I switch up my GMing style depending on the system I'm running and the themes I want to play with. Currently, I am running a 13th Age game on the rare PC death spectrum. I believe that most systems should be run in this spectrum, because it makes it a hell of a lot easier for me to GM and keeps the game flowing pretty quickly. If my players start making rash and dumb decisions, I will find another way to punish them, which PC death may be delivered for a particularly brash offense.

December 17, 2015

D&D 5e Encounter Building and Campaign Thoughts

While I sit here avoid Twitter and Facebook, I decided to keep myself entertained by composing closing thoughts to my initial thoughts on the encounter building rules for Dungeons and Dragons, 5th Editions. After DMing a campaign that lasted from late June to mid November, running a game nearly once a week, I thing I gathered enough experience building encounters by the book. At the end of this post, I will also briefly discuss my thoughts on running a homebrew game in D&D 5e. But first with the encounter building rules.

In short, they're garbage. Complete trash that has killed off 7 characters over the course of the adventure. It feels like the CR system is flawed, either not fully considering an enemy's special ability or resistance. Half way through the adventure, after the party was decimated by a couple of lava slugs (reskinned fire snakes), I decided to just through out the encounter building rules and just eyeball it. This wasn't as difficult as it may have been for others, since I have become used to running systems that don't even include encounter building rules. Reflecting upon this, I should have reestablished the death ground rules. Originally, death was never off the table because I was stress testing the encounter building rules, but after not using them anymore, I should have reevaluated this clause.


It was too much work to build these fair fight encounters using the rules, and I don't think that you should invest too much time into creating D&D combats by the numbers. A good rule that I ended up using was to build fights with creatures that could be eliminated in 2-3 hits (or more if less creatures). I think the game thrives on many little, one sided fights during a day rather then a few fair fights, though this also depends on the characters in your party. If you have short rest dependent characters, I think that these favor fewer fights, since they always seem to have some amount of power ready to go. In the more weaker fights, the long rest characters don't have as big of hurdles to climb if they've already used up their big powers. So basically, ditch the encounter building rules and find out what works for your party.



Now, my general thoughts on running a nonpublished campaign in the new D&D 5e system. A quick summary of the campaign would be a fetch quest to find a special rock in the desert. There are a few things that stood out as issues, and in the end very little that I can find as enticing. So I'll start with the good first, go onto my issues, and then things that fell flat at the table. The game does a very good job at making "mundane" magically items extremely useful and powerful. A simple +1 sword or resistant cape goes a long way without giving the characters too much crazy power. A +1 "magical" weapon will beat many of the resistance types that a ton of the monsters seem to have (resistance to slashing, piercing and bludgeoning from non-magical weapons).  While I do enjoy the backgrounds and etc. for the characters, player's with poor backgrounds ended up getting hosed.

One of the problems I have with D&D 5e is that the monsters seem very boring. Only a few monsters had entertaining mechanics tied to them, while most had a form of multi attack if they needed to be more powerful. Abilities like Pack Tactics were good, but go boring after a while. The best designed monster was probably the Zombie, who felt like an undead force with it's Undead Fortitude ability.

Another issue is that there seemed to be a definite power balance issue. Classes like the ranger and sorcerer seemed out matched by the rogue, fighter and cleric. And because each character's powers function differently on short and long rests, it became difficult to build encounters to the appropriate difficulty for the number they did.

Some of the players had issues with the backgrounds and etc. mechanic. Either forgetting that they had them or trying to stretch to fill odd ones. The worst were players who created their own backgrounds etc. and then found it very difficult to gain advantage from them.

Some of the players seemed to hate the trinkets. Nearly anytime they found some source of treasure, I would have them roll on the trinket table for fun. I figured they would like getting little random items that they could think of using in future predicaments. But it was mostly seen as useless junk, and extremely disliked.

So would I run another 5e game again? Yes, but it would have to be for a certain tone and setting. I think for a gritty fantasy game, I would run this IF the story I wanted to tell couldn't be done in the One Ring. I think everything that I like about D&D 5e comes from its gritty difficulty and feeling, which I can get most of from the One Ring. For more high fantasy, I will stick with 13th Age.

Sorry that this article was so choppy. If I would have written right after finishing the campaign it would have better flow and more links (or any).