Ego Check with The Id DM – Mark Meredith on Rediscovering 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons

Mark Meredith

Welcome to 2021! This week I’m joined by Mark Meredith and we start out 2021 by going in the “sorta-way-back machine” to discuss 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons with Mark Meredith. He has been writing for Dice Monkey for over 10 years and recently started to rediscover 4e with his family. He talks about surprising aspects of the edition after years away from it. He speaks to the forward-facing design and energy from the tactile nature of combat. We highlight some of our memories of the edition and focus on positive elements of the 4e experience. It was great fun to talk about the edition and it makes me want to play it again!

And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

Subscribe through iTunes

Subscribe through Spotify

Subscribe through Podbean

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

Listen to the episode here:

Mark Meredith on Rediscovering 4th Edition D&D Ego Check with The Id DM

We start out 2021 by going in the "sorta-way-back machine" to discuss 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons with Mark Meredith. He has been writing for Dice Monkey for over 10 years and recently started to rediscover 4e with his family. He talks about surprising aspects of the edition after years away from it. He speaks to the forward-facing design and energy from the tactile nature of combat. We highlight some of our memories of the edition and focus on positive elements of the 4e experience.
  1. Mark Meredith on Rediscovering 4th Edition D&D
  2. Ronen Givony on Not For You: Pearl Jam and the Present Tense
  3. Matt Forbeck on Shotguns & Sorcery
  4. Kelly Carlin on Legacy, Purpose & Resilience
  5. Tomo Moriwaki on Designing Epic Tavern

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

Rickie was a young boy…. Character Creation in Tales From the Loop

Tale From the Loop is a tabletop roleplaying game that’s been on my list of things I desperately want to try for some time now. A friend got the book and has threatened to run a campaign, which we finally started this week. My interest in the system was fueled by listening to a campaign run by the fine folks at the Very Random Encounters podcast and it hits on my sensibilities as a child of the 80s.

Why?

Your character in the game world is a child living in a version of the 1980s. A twist is the government has created the world’s largest particle accelerator underground, known as The Loop, in your town. The children in the game deal with typical issues that were commonplace in the era such as bullies, absent or nagging parents and homework though they also get to explore mysteries related to The Loop. Weird events start to happen in town and it’s up to the children to figure it all out because adults prove to be inaccessible and otherwise ineffective. Tales From the Loop exists with six main principles:

  1. Your Hometown is Full of Strange and Fantastic Things
  2. Everyday Life is Dull and Unforgiving
  3. Adults are Out of Reach and Out of Touch
  4. The Land of the Loop is Dangerous but The Kids Will Not Die
  5. The Game is Played Scene by Scene
  6. The World is Described Collaboratively

I was born in 1976 so the late-80s and early-90s are my wheelhouse in terms of pop culture touchstones. I have created plenty of characters in fantasy settings for games like Dungeons & Dragons though creating a kid living in the 80s brings another level of enthusiasm and connection to character creation. I started to think about the different character Types in the game:

  • Bookworm
  • Computer Geek
  • Hick
  • Jock
  • Popular Kid
  • Rocker
  • Troublemaker
  • Weirdo

I quickly honed in on Rocker and Troublemaker. I grew up with kids that fell into those categories and thought it would be fun to inhabit that role in the game. Plus, I’ve been gushing about Billy from Stranger Things for years. I also took inspiration from John Bender (The Breakfast Club), Duncan (Some Kind of Wonderful) and Griffin (Prayer of the Rollerboys). My other initial thought was, “This kid listens to Skid Row.” However, our GM running the game said the adventure was set in 1988, which was a year before their first album was released. I had plenty of other heavy metal and hard rock options to choose from as our GM wanted each character’s playlist. I dove HEAD FIRST into this activity and came up with the following 10 songs:

  • Welcome To The Jungle – Guns N’ Roses
  • Peace Sell… but Who’s Buying? – Megadeth
  • Battery – Metallica
  • I Don’t Believe in Love – Queensrÿche
  • 2 Minutes to Midnight – Iron Maiden
  • Ace of Spades – Motörhead
  • Too Late for Love – Def Leppard
  • Live Wire – Mötley Crüe
  • Over the Mountain – Ozzy Osbourne
  • Some Heads Are Gonna Roll – Judas Priest

For the record, I created this playlist on Spotify and it’s fabulous!

Continue reading “Rickie was a young boy…. Character Creation in Tales From the Loop”

Holiday Giveaway Bundle!

Happy Holidays!

I hope you are surviving in this difficult time and finding joy with family and friends however possible. As for me, I have been preparing to dive into a Tales From the Loop campaign with my new favorite character and embracing Christmas songs. I have also been concocting a way to raise more money for suicide prevention and clear out some space in my gaming closet.

Several years ago I teamed up with Limitless Adventures to publish No Assembly Required, a collection of 10 highly-detailed monster characters that could be used in 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. The PDF continues to be sold for $5 and ALL of the money goes directly to American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. You can see that we have raised nearly $4,000 since starting this endeavor in honor of my brother who ended his life in 2017.

No Assembly Required is still on sale and everyone that purchases a copy of the book between December 21st and December 24th of 2020 will be entering into a drawing to win ALL of the following:

That’s right, one lucky individual that already gets a holiday, feel-good boost from donating money for suicide prevention will win:

The books retail for nearly $200 combined plus you get a sweet dice bag! My hope is that we’ll raise more money for AFSP than it costs to ship everything to the eventual winner who will be selected on December 25th – CHRISTMAS!

If you purchase No Assembly Required, then at the very least you’ll have donated $5 to help prevent suicide AND get access to 10 vibrant and interesting monster characters that were conceptualized by me, illustrated wonderfully by Grant Gould, and brought to life in 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons by Limitless Adventures.

Please consider entering the contest and spreading the word (although I realize spreading the word dilutes your chances of winning; it’s the holiday season – help us out!)

Good luck!

The Last of Us Part II Strives to Disappoint

Spoiler Warning: The following post contains massive spoilers for The Last of Us Part II.

It was almost seven years ago when I wrote this after completing The Last of Us:

Joel’s life was filled with nothing but misery and pain for 20 years. Can you blame him for stopping at nothing to keep his final connection to his deceased daughter alive? He kept Ellie alive because he could not live in a world where she no longer drew breath. The experience of empathizing with Joel during his journey across the country and merging with him in that final sequence was harrowing. After the credits rolled, I was thankful I could put down the controller and turn the game off.

And not live in Joel’s world.

Earlier this year, I stepped back into Joel’s world by replaying The Last of Us and then playing The Last of Us: Left Behind for the first time. With The Last of Us Part II coming out, I wanted to refresh my memory about of all the elements of Joel and Ellie’s story that riveted me years ago. The backdrop of a real-life global pandemic made playing through the games unsettling in a new way.

I was curious to learn how the team behind the original game would answer the questions left hanging from the conclusion of The Last of Us. Joel’s lies about The Fireflies not needing Ellie because they’ve already found others with immunity seemed more flimsy this time playing through the game, and Ellie seems fully aware Joel is bullshitting her as the credits in The Last of Us begin.

  • How would Ellie discover definitely that Joel lied to her?
  • What will Ellie do once she learns that Joel killed The Fireflies to save her life?
  • What will happen to the relationship between Ellie and Joel once that reveal takes place?
  • Are surviving members of The Fireflies searching for Ellie because they still believe she can provide a cure? Or searching for Joel for revenge?

As I’ve said more than once about the long-rumored Kenobi show, “I don’t care what it’s about. Just give me Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan quieting drinking tea and musing about his past failures with Anakin. Everything else is window dressing; I just need that!” Any sequel to The Last of Us has to focus on the powerful dynamics between Ellie and Joel.

Everything else is window dressing.

ellie-lostCertainly knowing this, the team behind The Last of Us Part II provides a lot of window dressing. The game owes a debt to shows such as Lost, Breaking Bad, The Wire (especially Season 2), and Game of Thrones. The primary moments I was truly invested in as a player are told in flashbacks (Lost). The image on the title screen shows a pivotal scene from the conclusion of the game though you do not realize that until the very end (Breaking Bad). Instead of focusing solely on the characters already established, the game introduces a variety of new characters including devoting a significant amount of playtime as Abby (The Wire). And to top this all off, the player spends hours of time as Abby after we see her brutally murder a prominent character, Joel, quite early in the game (Game of Thrones).

The Last of Us Part II was designed to be disappointing; quite on purpose. As I’ve been in my own state of quarantine since March, I was able to avoid spoilers and still have not reviewed commentary about the game. I am honestly not sure how others have reacted to the sequel. What follows is a bit of a running diary of how I processed the purposeful disappointment that plays out during the experience.

Continue reading “The Last of Us Part II Strives to Disappoint”

Ego Check with The Id DM – Ronen Givony on Not For You: Pearl Jam and the Present Tense

Back in 2015, I started writing an article about my relationship with Pearl Jam. I stalled after a few paragraphs; how could I find the words to describe the emotional and cognitive connection to a band and their music that has existed for most of the decades of my life?

Having never found a way to adequately answer that question, I shelved the article and it remains as a draft. While celebrating the band since high school, the only book I’ve read that includes “their” story is Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music. It’s an interesting book, and I think my favorite element are the remarks about how unfair it was that Chris Cornell could sing like a god – and looked like one too. (He is missed….)

So I was intrigued when I saw a new book releasing this Fall on the band, Not For You: Pearl Jam and the Present Tense. Being locked away from many enjoyable activities due to COVID-19 restrictions, I have been trying to read more often when not completely devoted to playing Hades. I reached out to the publisher and asked if I could get a review copy of the book and speak with the author, Ronen Givony, on my Ego Check podcast.

They agreed!

I took the opportunity to speak with Ronen quite seriously; here’s someone that spent a few years writing a book about the band. Surely this was a like-minded soul that would be fun to engage with about our shared interest in all things Pearl Jam. I cracked open the book and read through it, taking various notes along the way. Prior to speaking with Ronen, I emailed him 6-7 pages of “Show Notes” with possible questions and explanations for why I was asking those questions.

Overkill? Probably.

Thankfully he was not scared off by that and we enjoyed a good conversation about his background, his motivations for writing the book, the choices made about how the book is structured, and why the band has persisted while their contemporaries have long (and often tragically) faded away.

Along the way, I offer details about why I gravitated toward the band in the first place, and how songs ignite memories of my father and brother. We close out the interview by exploring a topic near and dear to my heart, Philly. I grew up in South Jersey and the band always seems to have memorable shows in Philadelphia. At one book early in the book Ronen wrote, “If there’s one thing Pearl Jam people agree on, it’s this: never, ever miss them in Philly.” We talk about why the band seems to get to another level in that city and – spoiler alert – the mentality of the fans is likely a big factor.

Perhaps I’ll return to my article about Pearl Jam one of these days. The impressive thing about Ronen’s book is that while he certainly offers his opinions about the band, he spend more time placing the band’s prominence in context with a wide variety of socioeconomic and political forces that transpired over the years and decades.

Enjoy the episode, and certainly check out the book!

And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

Subscribe through iTunes

Subscribe through Spotify

Subscribe through Podbean

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

Listen to the episode here:

Mark Meredith on Rediscovering 4th Edition D&D Ego Check with The Id DM

We start out 2021 by going in the "sorta-way-back machine" to discuss 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons with Mark Meredith. He has been writing for Dice Monkey for over 10 years and recently started to rediscover 4e with his family. He talks about surprising aspects of the edition after years away from it. He speaks to the forward-facing design and energy from the tactile nature of combat. We highlight some of our memories of the edition and focus on positive elements of the 4e experience.
  1. Mark Meredith on Rediscovering 4th Edition D&D
  2. Ronen Givony on Not For You: Pearl Jam and the Present Tense
  3. Matt Forbeck on Shotguns & Sorcery
  4. Kelly Carlin on Legacy, Purpose & Resilience
  5. Tomo Moriwaki on Designing Epic Tavern

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

Hades Is Relentless in Teaching and Rewarding You

It was late September when I joined the Cult of Hades players. I had been patiently waiting for Star Wars Squadrons to release so I could devote countless hours to chasing the feelings I had while playing X-Wing and TIE Fighter back in my younger years. Numerous people I follow on social media were mentioning Hades and gushing about it; and the interesting thing was the people were not in the same circles. My Twitter feed is an amalgam of folks from tabletop roleplaying games, Hearthstone, sports, and politics – and people from each sphere of influence were talking about Hades.

I was intrigued.

Not knowing much about the game, I purchased it on my Switch, and the last six week have been DELIGHTFUL as I’ve been sucked into a pleasing gameplay loop that feels like a combination of Diablo II and various “one-more thing to collect” mobile games like Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes. And yet the game design is not exploitative of the player’s time or resources. There’s a hypothetical version of this game where the player could spend money to purchase upgrades or make the game easier – like how Candy Crush levels are near-impossible unless you play them 100 times or purchase special upgrades for a few bucks. Hades sometimes feels like that though the upgrades are all built into the experience; it’s not trying to bilk the player of additional cash even though the game has multiple currencies for various upgrades. The allure of collection and progression is baked into the gameplay loop. For those not familiar with the loop of Hades, a primer.

You are Zagreus, son of Hades, living in the underworld with his family, their pet dog, Cerberus, and a few other members of note. Zagreus wants to escape the underworld as he does not get along with his father, so he must leave the House of Hades, which means fighting past monster-filled rooms. The gods of Olympus learn about Zagreus’ quest and offer him support along the way in the form of bonuses (Boons) so he can be faster, stronger and/or more resilient. Zagreus begins his quest with little in the way of Health or resources, and achieving success in terms of escape is not something that happens quickly.

Zagreus dies. A lot.

Continue reading “Hades Is Relentless in Teaching and Rewarding You”

Ego Check with The Id DM – Matt Forbeck on Shotguns & Sorcery

Matt Forbeck

Matt Forbeck joins me to discuss his career as a an author and game designer. He discusses his world of Dragon City, which has spawned numerous books and the recent tabletop roleplaying game, Shotguns & Sorcery. He speaks to his inspirations for the game and how he wanted to create a new iconic hero in Max Gibson. He details some of his successes as a freelancer over the years and describes why returning to Dragon City was important. Matt explores why racism very much exists in Dragon City and how that is fused into the game system. Matt talks about the reckoning that roleplaying games are having at this time with race and other issues that affect player safety. He offers a glimpse at what is next for Shotguns & Sorcery including a new monster book, a Pathfinder conversion, and other projects.

And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

Subscribe through iTunes

Subscribe through Spotify

Subscribe through Podbean

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

Listen to the episode here:

Mark Meredith on Rediscovering 4th Edition D&D Ego Check with The Id DM

We start out 2021 by going in the "sorta-way-back machine" to discuss 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons with Mark Meredith. He has been writing for Dice Monkey for over 10 years and recently started to rediscover 4e with his family. He talks about surprising aspects of the edition after years away from it. He speaks to the forward-facing design and energy from the tactile nature of combat. We highlight some of our memories of the edition and focus on positive elements of the 4e experience.
  1. Mark Meredith on Rediscovering 4th Edition D&D
  2. Ronen Givony on Not For You: Pearl Jam and the Present Tense
  3. Matt Forbeck on Shotguns & Sorcery
  4. Kelly Carlin on Legacy, Purpose & Resilience
  5. Tomo Moriwaki on Designing Epic Tavern

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

Day #1 as a Suicide Survivor

Monday, June 26, 2017

My mother and her husband had flown into Minnesota from New Jersey on June 21st to see their latest grandson. My wife and I were trying to entertain them while also managing our son, Hugo, who was not even six-months old yet. We had all been attempting to contact my brother during those days and he was proving difficult to pin down by either text or telephone call. I sent him a text the night before because I was worried about him, “Busy weekend?”

I wish I would have included more thoughts – something like, “Busy weekend? We miss talking to you. Give us a call.” Or, “Are you alright? Is there anything we can do to help?” But I didn’t write any of those things. I had attempted some calls during my mom’s visit and he did not answer. It was a nice visit with my mom and her husband over the weekend, and we spoke about my brother often. She was also worried about him, and was encouraging him to get help and take medication as prescribed by his doctor. I mentioned that it seemed like he was avoiding us, and I was annoyed by that.

I should have known….

It was Monday and my mom planned to be in town for a few more days.; she and her husband agreed to stay at the house and take care of Hugo while my wife and I went to work. I had a busy day with four patients scheduled and a supervision session with our program’s postdoctoral fellow. Once in the office, I worked with a patient and then met with the fellow, who was consistently prepared and on top of things each week. The next patient was new to me and I went through the intake process with the individual. I had to write my notes for the early patients, and get ready for the afternoon.

The day was zipping along.

Things started to go sideways later in the morning when a close friend from high school, Chait, called me. Chait asked me if he could pass along my number to our mutual friend, Jazmyn, that I dated briefly in college. The only time I communicated with her these days was if I bumped into her while visiting New Jersey or exchanged a pleasantry on Facebook. I found it odd that she was asking for me, and my buddy is known to pull stunts from time to time for chuckles, so I figured he was joking.

Chait insisted he was not joking – and I got a bad feeling.

Continue reading “Day #1 as a Suicide Survivor”

Ego Check with The Id DM – Kelly Carlin on Legacy, Purpose & Resilience

I have been fortunate to be allowed to work from home since late March. During that time, I have thrown myself into a variety of home-based activities as my congenital heart condition gives me good reason to engage in social distancing to avoid exposure to coronavirus. First, our yard has never looked better! Second, I have been able to consume more slices of media that I otherwise might have missed and one such program was Laughing Matters: Carlin’s Legacy.

The program was released on George Carlin’s birthday (May 12th), and supports the National Comedy Center. The program seemed orchestrated by Kelly Carlin, George’s daughter, and she speaks about the process of donating his copious notes and writings to the National Comedy Center and carrying his legacy forward. I have followed Kelly on social media for quite some time and have always been intrigued by her. After watching Laughing Matters I thought, “Wow, it would be fascinating to speak with her!”

Kelly Carlin
Kelly Carlin

After reaching out and learning she was interested in joining me on my Ego Check podcast, I did what any anxious person with a background in research and therapy would do – I prepared and took notes! I read her memoir, A Carlin Home Companion: Growing Up with George, which was published in 2015. I watched her one-woman show, Driven to Distraction, and listened to some of her podcast episodes, which are informed by her life history and masters degree in Jungian Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute.

I also revisited the performances from her father that certainly shaped my perspective about the world as a child in the 1980s and teenager in the 1990s. I grew up going to Catholic School and had a strict father that died suddenly in the line of duty as a New Jersey State Trooper when I was eight-years-old. The strict bedtimes gave way to staying up late, watching David Letterman (and reruns of Hart to Hart if I couldn’t fall asleep) and listening to my brother’s cassette tapes. One of the tapes I fondly recall listening to was George Carlin’s Classic Gold, a two-tape compilation of various routines and were hilarious and encouraged my brain to be skeptical of conventional wisdom.

If I were to make a Top 10 List of reasons why I gravitated toward a career in psychology and helping people, George Carlin and his quest to cleave through life’s bullshit is probably on that list.

My brother and I delighted in George Carlin performances such as Carlin on Campus and Jammin’ in New York. We knew the Greatest Cheer Ever word-for-word and would laugh uproariously while quoting Airline Announcements. Those routines were a shared language for my brother and our friends, and anything that my brother and I shared took on extra meaning and significance after his suicide in 2017. I have wondered how the concept of legacy may have kept my brother from living a meaningful life with joy, and I attempt to shape my own legacy with my son (age 3) by writing him emails that he can open when he’s 18-years-old or so…. that’s of course if we’re all still on the planet at that time, “Pack your shit, folks. We’re going away!”

So the opportunity to speak with Kelly Carlin about legacy seemed too good to be true. It did happen though!

Weaving in her psychological training, Kelly speaks about her journey toward finding her own meaning while also managing the weight of her father’s legacy. She discusses basking in his glow as a child and feeling trapped in his shadow as an adult, “There wasn’t space for another Carlin on stage when my dad was alive.” She explores how we all go through confusion about our self-identity and how she pursued graduate education in psychology to further understand herself and the world around her.

She talks about the powerful forces of “shame and greed” that hold us back and how we can overcome those forces to led meaningful lives, “I had to want the outcome of being seen and heard more than my fear of failure.”

I feel quite fortunate to have had this conversation with Kelly. I hope you find some meaning in it as well.

Listen to the episode here:

Please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

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

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

Ego Check with The Id DM – Tomo Moriwaki on Designing Epic Tavern

Tomo Moriwaki
Tomo Moriwaki

Tomo Moriwaki talks about his career in videogame design and how his experiences led him to the latest endeavor, Epic Tavern. In Epic Tavern, players are tasked with building up a tavern to cater to adventure needs AND with sending those adventurers on quests. Tomo talks about his goals to design an engaging gameplay loop that encourages players to spend more time with Epic Tavern; it was fascinating to learn about the decisions that are made to create a successful gameplay loop that cultivates that “one more turn” feeling for players!

He discusses obstacles to creating a game “like fantasy football for fantasty fantasy” and how the small team has overcome those challenges. Tomo educates me about the logic behind Epic Tavern gameplay, including the encounter system involved in questing.

And please subscribe to the podcast at one of the links below:

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

Listen to the episode here:

 

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