A Star Is Born With My Guard Down

Spoiler Warning: The following post contains numerous plot details for the film, A Star Is Born. I encourage you to see the film before reading any further. If you continue reading, multiple plot points will be ruined for you. Thank you.

Are you happy in this modern world?

My wife and I took some vacation time from work yesterday to have lunch together and see a movie. It was a rare weekday date for us while our son was in daycare. She picked me up from my office, we ate lunch at Wahlburgers in the Mall of America (she refrained from asking our waiter if he ever met Donnie), and went to see A Star Is Born at the mall’s new theater palace.

I stayed away from reviews because I knew I wanted to see the film, so I entered the theater with a blank slate. I knew there were prior versions of the same film, but I could not recall too many details about them. I assumed A Star Is Born would provide a compelling story and engaging music. I’ve found Lady Gaga to be an intriguing and impressive artist over the years; for example, I respected her dedication to a performance during the 2011 MTV Music Awards when she took on another persona and COMMITTED to that as she launched into You & I with Queen’s Brian May. I remember watching that, and just finding the whole thing so epic; the BALLS it took to do that. The creativity required to generate the idea and the fearlessness to execute it was inspiring. I recall showing it to my wife and saying, “You should watch this. It’s amazing.”

A Star Is Born

Jack & Ally

Meanwhile, I’ve been on board with Bradley Cooper since his performance as Sack in Wedding Crashers; probably the most I’ve ever laughed inside a movie theater. He’s provided quality performances in other movies too, and I gleaned from kinda-sorta, not looking at headlines that he took this movie with Lady Gaga very seriously.

So I had high hopes for A Star Is Born, and I assumed it would have something important to say.

My guard was down. I was not prepared.

I can only imagine what it would be like to see this film without living through the experience of my brother ending his life last year. You ever wish you could “unsee” a movie so it could surprise you all over again? I’d love to “unsee” The Shawshank Redemption, The Usual Suspects or Fight Club so I could experience that “ah-ha” moment all over again.

I imagine A Star Is Born would still be a powerful film to watch had my brother not decided to end his life. However, I only know this reality where I sat in my seat yesterday watching the final portion of the film – knowing and dreading what was unfolding before my eyes.

I am happy this movie exists, and I hope it increases the volume on a conversation about depression and mental health that is still much too quiet in this country and worldwide.

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Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 33 – Steve Lubitz

Steve Lubitz

Steve Lubitz

I’m joined this week by Steve Lubitz, host of the Off Curve podcast, a show about Hearthstone that Steve records while driving home from his job. He talked about the creation of Off Curve and how he has been a fan of Blizzard games since the original Diablo. He shares his thoughts on the differences between Hearthstone and other card games such as Magic: The Gathering.

We talk about the shifting Hearthstone meta, and how resources like Vicious Syndicate and Hearthstone Replay have changed the game for both the players and developers. Steve highlights some of the current challenges in Hearthstone including the lack of tournament mode and engaging end-game content for veteran players. We explore some ideas for how to keep the meta fresh, and answer a listener question about the possible mechanics that could be added to improve the game.

Enjoy the 33rd episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

Listen here!

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show. 

New episodes are (typically) released the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month!

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

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Art & Arcana Will Galvanize Your Fandom of Dungeons & Dragons

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana over the weekend by the kind folks at Wizards of the Coast and Ten Speed Press. My review and discussion of the book could be influenced by the fact that I was given a copy at no cost. However, I am confident I would find this book amazing if I paid the full price for it.

I was anticipating the mail over the weekend because I knew I would be receiving a copy of Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History, which is authored by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, and Sam Witwer; the book also has a foreward by Joe Manganiello. The mammoth book contains nearly 450 pages that span the game’s entire history. The one-page press release that accompanied the advance copy summarizes Art & Arcana well:

This isn’t your run-of-the-mill “art of…” book; rather, it’s more of an archaeology project that involved lots of needle-searching in haystacks….

The author team spared no expense in finding these pieces; unearthing sketches, memos and internal drafts of some of the game’s most iconic material; locating and interviewing early artists whose names had since been lost to D&D lore; gathering pristine products and obscure advertisements; and obtaining hard-to-get-licenses – a labor of love all leading to a previously unavailable visual archive and untold story about how D&D truly came to be. No matter what edition of D&D you play or played, or even if you are just a casual observer or pop culture enthusiast, this book will have something special for you.

Honestly, after I read the press release I wanted to immediately delve into some dungeons and fight some dragons!

Dungeons & Dragons has been in my life off-and-on for close to 40 years in some capacity, and that history is very important and personal to me. I even celebrated the classic art from early D&D modules by decoupaging my gaming table with those images, which still stands proudly in my home. So it feels wonderful to hold a study, well-produced tome that captures – and celebrates – D&D’s history!

Art & Arcana is a feast for your eyes as every page is lovingly curated to highlight moments from over four decades of Dungeons & Dragons history. From crude concept designs to massive, pristine spreads of iconic images, Art & Arcana will trigger those nostalgia neurons in your brain and cause your heart to skip a beat. No area seems taboo or off-limits as the book presents an overview of the rise and fall of Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) with never-before-seen artifacts such as personal communications and invoices. The sale of D&D to Wizards of the Coast is also covered in detail as Art & Arcana provides commentary and context for the movements and development cycles of the game over the years. It’s clear the authors adore the game, though the book is willing to examine (and delightfully poke fun at times!) D&D’s potential shortcomings. The treasures in the book provide a feeling of, “Whoa!” as nuggets of information are organized in a visually pleasing and accessible manner across the pages.

Art & Arcana is beautiful to consume visually, and it is also quite educational. I imagine there are new details in here for even the most hardcore fans of D&D. For someone like myself that skipped about 15 years during the 2nd and 3rd Editions, the book is a master class on how – and more importantly, why – D&D evolved over the years. Art & Arcana also has a sense of humor about it that makes the book fun to read, and I read every piece of text before writing a review; I encourage everyone to do that same! It has everything you could ask for from a visual history – classic advertisements, screen shots from computer games, pages from manuals, pictures of miniatures and toys, black-and-white photos of Gary Gygax and company, glorious maps of dungeons and cities, and an enormous collection of the best pieces of art that have been created for the game – quite simply,  Art & Arcana will galvanize your fandom of Dungeons and Dragons.

The only situation that comes to mind that is comparable to how I felt after devouring Art & Arcana is my reaction after watching the documentaries about the making of The Fellowship of the Ring on the Extended Edition DVDs. I had previously read The Lord of the Rings and even taught a class on the books along with other modern mythologies while in graduate school. I enjoyed the film, but seeing how much care and devotion went into the making of the movie increased my adoration for the franchise. My wife and I even traveled to New Zealand back in 2012 primarily because we fell in love with the locations from hours of watching those films get made. I’m a much bigger fan of The Lord of the Rings because of those documentaries, and I believe Art & Arcana will have a similar effect for fans of D&D.

I just wonder where I should travel now that Art & Arcana has me fired up? Watch out, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, here I come!

If you are a fan of Dungeons & Dragons, then treat yourself to this book. I cannot imagine a material plane of existence where you would be disappointed.

Now, please enjoy my in-depth musings on Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History.

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Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 32 – Danny Rupp

Danny Rupp bio

Danny Rupp

I’m joined this week by Danny Rupp, co-founder of Critical Hits and a very active participant on social media discussing Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games. Danny talks about the origin of Critical Hits and how it gained increased prominence in the early days of 4th Edition. We spend a good deal of time on his approach to worldbuilding and how his background in architecture helps him design dungeon and story elements for his gaming sessions.

We discuss player management at the table, such as how to ensure that efforts spent by the DM to create an interesting world and plot connect with the motivations of the players and their characters in the game. We answer a listener question about worldbuilding and offer strategies to help DMs efficiently build his or her world while pulling the players into the setting.

Since we recorded on World Mental Health Day, Danny and I also talk about mental health issues and how they might affect gameplay at the table. We provide examples of how players bring everything to the table each game, including possible stress, anxiety, depression and suffering. We offer advice on how to be patient with players and cultivate an environment of trust for players to support each other.

Enjoy the 32nd episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

Listen here!

Dice Giveaway

I have politely asked in the past for listeners to leave a review on iTunes, which helps the show reach a new audience. I have decided to sweeten the deal if listeners are willing to leave a review.

So, over the next week, anyone that leaves a review on iTunes (positive, negative, or anywhere in between) will be entered into a random drawing to win an official Dungeons & Dragons Dice Bag and set of dice.

Dice Bag

It could be your dice and dice bag if you accept the quest!

To be clear, this giveaway is not sponsored or sanctioned by Wizards of the Coast; it’s just something I want to do with a set of my dice. Leave a review through iTunes, and I’ll select a winner at random. The winner will be posted in the Comments below next week.

So again, please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show. You could win some dice!

New episodes are (typically) released the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month!

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

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Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 31 – Aaron Retka

Aaron Retka

Aaron Retka & Captain America

This week I’m joined by Aaron Retka, Managing Editor for Geeks Who Drink. For the uninitiated, Geeks Who Drink is “a homegrown Pub Trivia Quiz modeled after those in Ireland and the UK” that covers “everything from celebrities in trouble to wordplay to bad television.” The quizzes are held in bars and breweries across the country, and Aaron spoke with me about how much effort goes into crafting each and every question.

Aaron speaks about how he got started with Geeks Who Drink in 2006 as a freelancer, and how that evolved into his current role as Managing Editor. He discussed the elements that make a pub quiz good and relayed that the primary purpose of the quiz is to keep people entertained, “We want people to get the question right.” He shares some tales about his years of being a Quizmaster, including some stories about dealing with unruly patrons and dressing up as Dolores Umbridge for a Harry Potter Theme Quiz.

I inquired about the growing popularity of pub quizzes, and how it might intersect with the toxic side of fandoms. Aaron provides some frank commentary on gatekeeping in any given fandom, and how the motivation of Geeks Who Drink is to be inclusive to a wide variety of players and fans.

I should also note that Aaron is family; I married his cousin in 2004! He’s a wonderfully smart guy that is gainfully employed creating pub quizzes. I mean, how cool is that?

Enjoy the 31st episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

Listen here!

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show.

New episodes are (typically) released the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month!

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

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Bard On!

The Bard is a class that I never played before, so when I was invited to play in a new Tomb of Annihilation campaign earlier this year – I figured it was time to give it a try. I lived vicariously through the exploits of other players talking about Bards and celebrating them through social media. The concept of playing a Bard always seemed enjoyable to me; it’s a character with high charisma that can solve problems in unique ways and bolster the efforts of the rest of the party. When playing in a campaign, I typically like to be up-close and personal in melee range making attacks and eliminating monsters, so playing a character that does not exactly shine in one-on-one combat would be a stretch.

I took on the challenge!

Character Development

One thing I wanted to do with the Bard was come up with a relatively simple backstory that did not rely on the character going through significant traumatic experiences early in life. Perhaps influenced by recent fatherhood, I created a character that is a family man first, performer second, and adventurer third. He’s got a stable home, a spouse, several children, and he travels the Realm from time to time to perform his music and assist other adventurers.

During our first session, I even had him ask the first major NPC we encountered, Syndra Silvane, to send money to his family in the event that he did not survive the quest to locate the Soulmonger. It was interesting to roleplay a character that expressed hesitation about the perils of adventuring rather than being eager to run in the direction of the next big, bad evil thing.

When creating my Bard, I thought about his name for a long time.

A very long, long time.

I borrowed/stole a device from Saga and named him The Stone. For a few moments before my son was born, I thought about Stone as a possible name; my wife wasn’t as keen on the idea. Pearl Jam is my favorite band, and Stone Gossard is one of the members. Plus, I’ve been curling for the past 5-6 years, and the rocks in curling are often referred to as stones. My wife and I ultimately decided on the name, Hugo, for our son – mostly inspired from this lovable guy.

The Stone featuring Dirk

With the name locked in, The Stone, the next step was to find some art that inspired me. While creating the character, I noted that a Bard could specialize in a small variety of instruments. The instrument that jumped out to me was bagpipes. YES! My Bard is going to play the bagpipes, and that obnoxiously glorious noise will be a part of future gaming sessions. I thought about a band we saw at a Renaissance Festival many years ago, Tartanic, and how they were wildly entertaining with pipes and drums. The next step was to conduct an Image Search on Google for: bard bagpipes.

Yes, this guy is – without a doubt – The Stone.

Oh, he’s magnificent!

Swap out the jug for a hand crossbow and we are set! I sent a question to our Dungeon Master, and asked if The Stone could have a companion animal. I clarified that the only thing the dog would do is carry around a tip jar on his back for times when The Stone performs. She enjoyed the idea, and allowed it, which has provided for some hilarious situations as The Stone tends to his pet in the severe jungles of Chult!

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Ego Check with The Id DM – Episode 30 – Eric Roth

I am joined this episode by Eric Roth, a veteran tabletop player that was born with Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita. I first learned about Eric and his story of using games like Dungeons & Dragons for social connection through a brief video package that was picked up by a local news station in town.

I reached out to Eric, and he was kind enough to agree to an interview. In the episode, Eric talks about growing up with a physical disability and how that limited his activities and hobbies. He speaks about being introduced to Dungeons & Dragons 18 years ago, and how that has allowed him to develop social skills and confidence.

Eric Roth

Eric Roth

He discusses how other players and organizations can welcome players with disabilities into the hobby – such as allowing extra time and space for new players to be comfortable at the table. He also contemplates what it would be like for a character with a physical disability to be featured on the cover of a future D&D manual. He speaks about his eagerness for the upcoming Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica and how he thinks the setting from Magic: The Gathering will inspire great D&D games.

Enjoy the 30th episode of Ego Check with The Id DM! And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

You can also listen to the show right here: Eric Roth on Tabletop Gaming with a Physical Disability

Please consider leaving a review on iTunes and help spread the word about the show.

New episodes are (typically) released the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month!

If you are interested in coming on the show for an interview, or would like to become a sponsor, contact me to make arrangements.

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