We have a choice

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Photo by Les Anderson on Unsplash

2020 will probably go down as one of the darkest years on Earth. There have been worse. Two world wars and the Black Death come to mind, but for our contemporary age, 2020 was a year fraught with anxiety, isolation, division, and death.

However, “worst year ever,” is a subjective analysis. For some 2020 was truly their worst yet. For myself, 2016, the year my mother died, may have been the worst.

In the end, all these numbers and years are constructions. It is a bit of arrogance to think that God, nature, or the fates decided that 2020 would be the year of devastation as if such divinities would follow the calendar of man, with its arbitrary start and end date and monthly divisions. In reality, 2020 is nothing but a figment of our imagination. The pandemic is not over. Nor did it begin in 2020. The virus is following its own timeline. …


You can enrich your life without travel, shows, and dinner parties

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Photo by Taryn Elliott from Pexels

It’s 2020, and you’re stuck at home due to a pandemic. You don’t get out much, not like you used to. Theatre is canceled for however long, and you may not be going to restaurants, inviting people over for dinner, visiting museums, or traveling to historic monuments.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t continue to enhance yourself through culture. It’s the 21st century and thanks to technology and the internet, you have access to more culture in your pocket than Shakespeare, Da Vinci, Picasso, or James Joyce did in their lifetimes.

Here are some of the ways that you can stay cultured whether you face lockdowns or quarantines. …


Never underestimate the effects of a great character

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Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Whether you are a player or a Dungeon Master, you will need to create characters. Although DMs have to create many characters, in some ways, the player has the more difficult job. DMs can easily rid themselves of unlikeable NPCs by never revisiting them, but a player holds onto their character for at least a few sessions, if not an entire campaign. These characters hold the spotlight.

Many campaigns, even well-thought-out campaigns with engaging and unique encounters, can break down if the players lose interest in their characters. …


Most DMs feel they could improve.

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Photo by Lucas Santos on Unsplash

After even the most successful sessions, DMs will often self-reflect and think to themselves, “I should have described that scene better,” “I should have challenged my players more (or less),” “I feel like I shut down one of my player’s ideas too quickly,” or even “I was letting the player’s break too many rules.”

It’s okay to admit these shortcomings without beating yourself up. You can enjoy the game and still desire to improve. However, some DMs are not sure how to improve and may feel frustrated. They need some guidance.

This article is meant to provide a roadmap to improving your skills. It lists five key skills without attempting to be comprehensive. They are not skills that you just acquire overnight. They can be developed throughout a lifetime, or as long as DMs find themselves enjoying the process. …


One of Martin Scorsese’s earliest works still stands up today

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Still of Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel in Mean Streets. Dir. Martin Scorsese. Director of Photography: Ken Wakeford. Copyright 1973, Warner Bros.

They like to hang out in a bar in Little Italy where the flood of red light gives us an eerie sense that they spend their leisure time in hell. They seem to have a lot of leisure time. No character appears to have a fulltime job, at least not in the traditional sense. A loan shark, a mafioso debt collector, and a deadbeat all walk into a bar sounds like the beginning of a joke, and sometimes they act like they are stuck in one. These sometimes friends and sometimes antagonizers spend their nights (and sometimes their days) drinking, fighting, and womanizing. Their banter mixes toxic masculinity, curses, and reprimands in equal order, each offering the crude wisdom of their surroundings and each slugging the other in hopes to instill their insight. …


It’s okay to be angry, but also try hope

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Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

The Dilemma

As I write, COVID-19 has caused over 110,000 deaths in the United States and over 400,000 worldwide. Most of those people who have died were old or poor or had medical conditions.

In my county, the number of positive cases has reached an all-time high. The number of new cases each day keeps making records. And yet, many people around here hang out with their friends, go to restaurants, skip the mask, and don’t practice social distancing. They take fewer precautions while the spread gets worse.

I have heard a lot of people say: it’s not as big a deal as the media make it out to be. When I bring up that over 100,000 people have died in the United States alone, they don’t have a response. I feel like what they are really saying is this: “I’m not old. I don’t have diabetes or an autoimmune disorder. I have very little chance of dying. …


Something extraordinary can happen

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Photo by Daniel Moises Magulado from Pexels

There’s something about birds for Megan and me.

First, her father died and became a hawk. He died when Megan was twelve years old. He loved hawks and always wanted to come back as one. I know this because one time when we were sitting in a field in a wide valley covered in green and flowers, just the two of us, she saw a hawk in the sky and told me that every time she sees a hawk, she imagines it’s her father watching over her. She doesn’t know if it’s true, but it makes for a nice story.

Second is the heron. We often saw a strange white bird in a pond where we like to walk, and we figured out it was a white heron. We’ve been into herons ever since, always commenting when we see one. I was once in a play in which I said of the blue heron, “It’s like a good omen.” So herons have become sort of our thing. …


It’s not just political correctness gone wild

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Photo by Judita Tamošiūnaitė from Pexels

A well-meaning student once came up to me and asked, “Can I write about disabled people?”

I replied, “You mean people with disabilities?”

“That’s what I said. Is it wrong to say ‘disabled people’?”

I knew the student well enough to ask, “Would you want to be called the glasses guy?”

“Uh, no.”

I said, “You’re welcome to write about people with disabilities, as long as you write about the people. I want to know about people — their lives, their experiences, their thoughts and feelings. I particularly want to know about their desires and obstacles. …


It’s not all about the DM

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Photo by Marko Blažević on Unsplash

A lot of information exists about what players ought not to do to derail a game: don’t get into lengthy arguments, don’t hoard the table’s attention, don’t constantly act out against the party, don’t try to “win” D&D, don’t get distracted, and don’t take forever on your turn.

While these guidelines stop a D&D game from breaking down or players from killing each other, they don’t exactly inspire. A player’s contribution to a game is not just a set of manners, but players can also help create an exciting and dynamic game.

Too often, people think the DMs make the game great. DMs get the most attention in the actual-play world — Matthew Mercer, Christopher Perkins, Satine Phoenix, Matt Colville, and Deborah Ann Woll, to name a few. However, imagine these DMs with talentless, dull players. …


We kill goblins every day.

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Photo by Cederic X on Unsplash

When I was twelve years old, I became obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons.

I had the red box, one of the original iterations of the game, in my hand. I opened the box and found a couple books and some dice and a white wax crayon to fill in the indented numbers on the dice. The book taught me some basic rules and included a short solo adventure. I killed some monsters, found some treasure, and fell in love with a brand new hobby.

I have played the game on and off ever since.

I have, of course, changed in many ways. Now a man in my forties, married to the woman of my dreams, teaching young minds, I still play. My game has also grown in maturity. No longer content with mere monster bashing, I want a good story. …

About

Christopher Willson

Christopher Willson teaches English and theatre. He writes about the arts and gaming.

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