Monday, November 29, 2010

Adding Dimension to My Games...

This is something I've become keenly interested in over the past year.

About a year ago, I was reading on the Penny Arcade site about how "Gabe" was getting a lot of Dwarven Forge terrain for free, for his D&D game. This was, of course, a clever marketing tactic by Dwarven Forge, because I am sure that scores of gamers said "I MUST HAVE IT!!". I'm sure, because I was one gamer that did, I'm far from an atypical gamer.

I started investigating 3D terrain, and found out how expensive it was, and my dream unfortunately died a sad death upon seeing that. At $100+ per set, with a set looking to be enough to make a small room and a short corridor, our budget just couldn't handle what it would take to put together anything significant. That was the impression, anyway.

Searching elsewhere, I happened upon the site of Hirst Arts, who make Castle Molds. These are silicon molds you can buy and use to cast your own blocks, to build your own 3D terrain. With the molds being around $35 each, and a container of dental plaster (the best stuff to use for this) being around $50, which can last you for a LOOOOOONG time, that was a much better option, but still a little bit expensive. Fortunately, I found out shortly thereafter that a friend of mine, Billie, had two molds... Fieldstone Wall mold #70 and Flagstone floor mold #260... which he wasn't using and was good with loaning to me for awhile.

Ordering a big box of dental plaster was still out of my reach at the time, so I first bought a small container of Plaster of Paris, which was pretty bad, and then switched to this other product called Permastone. Permastone turned out to be really good, and a lot closer to dental plaster than Plaster of Paris.

I looked up all the techniques and tips on the Hirst Arts site, about properly mixing the plaster, and using "Wet Water", and everything else to make sure there are no bubbles in the plaster as it sets. Once I'd gathered my supplies, and figured I knew (basically) what I was doing, I set about molding blocks.

It was slow-going at first, since I was still pretty bad at organization and time management, but I finally cast enough to put together part of a room!

We went through some difficult times after that, due to a minivan running a red light and t-boning us while I was taking Caroline to work one night (3 days before my 40th birthday!). It took me awhile to get back into it, but when I did, I bought the molds from my friend, along with his dental plaster and all the blocks he'd cast, and I focused on casting as much as I could as well. I started sketching some designs and plans, looking at different kinds of old bridges, and I came up with this...

I went on to use this bridge in an encounter. The encounter didn't turn out as well as I thought it would, mostly due to organizational issues, but it still went well enough.

Here's a picture from it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Without further ado, I am now kicking off this new version of Always a Gamer. To do so, I will tell a long, convoluted story, which will eventually reach the conclusion I want it to... I promise. Bear with me. Alright? Here we go. :)

As of August of 2009, I was officially diagnosed with Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - Primarily Inattentive. AADHD-PI. Quite the initialism, huh? :)

There are some that classify it by ADD/ADHD, though, with ADD being for the inattentive types and ADHD being for the hyperactive types. I would fall into ADD, then, because I do not exhibit many hyperactivity traits.

Exactly what causes ADHD is still up for debate. It may be a problem with neurotransmitter deficiencies or neuroreceptor sensitivities. It might be due to thinner than normal tissues in the frontal lobe of the brain. There is most certainly a genetic component to it, as family studies have shown that it is highly heritable. In my family alone, my father and my younger brother most definitely have it. My mother might have some as well, and my older brother definitely has the creative aspects, but I don't believe that he suffers much from the negative aspects. There have been studies that have found possible links to pesticides, food additives, lead, smoking/drinking during pregnancy, but none have been entirely conclusive, I believe. These factors may simply exacerbate the situation, causing the ADHD symptoms to be worse or for the genetic factors to express themselves stronger.

The vast majority of my issues are about attention, concentration, and procrastination. I find it very difficult to pay attention and concentrate, unless what I'm doing is extremely interesting (due to this extreme interest causing my brain to flood with neurotransmitters). Any time any kind of routine or boredom comes into play, and the levels of those neurotransmitters drop, either to normal levels (if my receptors are the problem) or to deficient levels (if production is the problem), I suffer problems with attention span and concentration. It's not that I don't WANT to pay attention, it's that I am physically incapable of doing so. My brain will start looking for other stimuli to increase the neurotransmitter levels again, and this will be at the expense of listening to my mother, or my teacher or professor, or my boss... or reading a textbook, or a test, or lab instructions, or an essay or article.

When I was in school, I used to study in front of the TV, or have the radio going, or be playing a tape... something to keep my brain busy. I didn't know I had ADHD at the time. I just knew that I needed some kind of background noise going on so that I could study. I told people that there was part of my brain that just wouldn't sit still unless I gave it a distraction to focus on. Then the rest of my brain could focus on studying. Sure, they thought I was weird, but hey, I've always been weird, so what of it? *shrug*

Procrastination has been a HUGE problem in my life, even for things that I am really interested in. Things that I'm not so interested in simply get pushed aside into the "I can do it later" category, until I finally realize the impending doom if I don't finish it, and then I would drive myself to finish whatever it was. Often times, in the case of schoolwork, this would end up with me finishing things late, resulting in a reduced mark, typically at a 10%/day penalty, if memory serves. My grades came out fairly mediocre from high school and later in university, due to this exact thing. I would get a total grade on assignments in the B+ to A- range, but late penalties would drop that into the D+ to B- range.

The more insidious side of this is when dealing with things that I'm actually quite interested in. Projects, games, whatever. In these cases, I would get very innovative and creative ideas, but having no clue how to implement them right away, my brain would slowly lose interest in the fine details, and I would end up in the same situation as above... driving myself to finish at the last minute, and turning in or presenting something far less grand than I originally planned.

Coupled with this is how stress effects people who have ADHD. I'm not exactly sure why, since dopamine levels are supposed to increase due to addition of stress, and dopamine is a precursor to norepinephrine, so stress should actually be good for an ADHD person, but the stress of tests and exams always left me very unfocused and I had a lot of trouble concentrating. I was really lucky that the physics professors at my university allowed us to bring in a "cheat sheet" filled with equations and proofs. We could put pretty much whatever we wanted to write on it, 1-side of the page for the midterm, both sides (or all 6 sides if you're being a smartass) for the final. This probably saved me, academically. Having that page as a prompt was a big help.

I remember going into one math exam, sitting down, flipping over the exam, reading through all the questions, one-by-one, not finding a lick of sense in any of them, having absolutely no place to begin on any of them at all, standing up, picking up my exam and my bag, walking over to the invigilator's desk, dropping the exam in front of him, walking out, going straight to the registrar's office and dropping the course. I had already been having a little bit of a problem in that class, since it was one I HAD to take, and I wasn't very interested in it. I had studied for the exam. I was nervous about the exam, as I always am about exams, but even going into the room I felt okay about it. The stress hit me, though, and it got worse as I read through the questions, and I just couldn't make sense of anything, and it was completely hopeless. Perhaps if I'd taken a moment or two to calm down I could have focused, but it felt like there was absolutely no way, and I was doing so badly in the course so far that there wasn't any point to it. I took a different version of the course the next semester, and did far better then, but I was out a few hundred dollars due to dropping the course on the last possible day to drop it.

Anyway, through all this, as I have said, I had no idea it was due to ADHD. I just thought I was stupid, or lazy, or screwed up, or whatever. Most people who have ADHD and don't know it end up self-medicating. They can do this in one or more of several ways. A very common one is turning to drugs and alcohol. Drugs such as speed, heroine, and cocaine are stimulants. Rather than make an ADHD sufferer high, they allow them to focus, acting in the same way as ADHD medication does. They increase the amount of dopamine produced, thus regardless of the exact issue (production or reception), the ADHD sufferer can act "normally". Alcohol and marijuana are depressants and basically act to "quiet" the mind, essentially relieving any hyperactivity symptoms. People can also turn to extreme sports, gambling, etc... whatever it takes to get that extra dopamine.

I didn't do any of that, though. I had no interest in drugs or alcohol. It was an academic thing for me. I'd never tried any of it. I just saw it all as a colossal waste of time and money. I played sports for awhile, but I was a pipsqueak compared to the other players by age 13, so I quit before I ended up with broken bones.

I turned to gaming. D&D was my "drug" of choice to give me the dopamine I needed. The creativity, excitement and "action" of the game did what drugs did for other ADHD sufferers... it focused me. Granted, I thought a lot more about D&D than I did anything else those days, but that's the mind of an ADHD sufferer. It sought out what was exciting. School wasn't exciting. School was extremely boring. Being a hero and slaying dragons, even if it wasn't real, was exciting.

In the early days it was easy. Even DMing. My players really only wanted dungeons to crawl through, slaying monsters and getting stuff. Story wasn't necessary. But as I matured and the players I played with did the same, story became more important. Details became more important. What all my problems hammered into me was that I just wasn't good enough. I had some good ideas, but I could never follow through with anything. I've had lots of great ideas for games over the years, but the lack of confidence always hampered the development or execution of my plans. I did run a few games, but even those always seemed to fall flat, at least to me. I had grand ideas for stories and encounters, and it all just seemed to flop. I'm sure that part of it is the dopamine/norepinephrine issue, since with lower levels of those being produced/absorbed in my brain, I can't take quite as much joy out of things as someone else might. Also, though, was the constant voice of criticism in my head, saying how much more fun it was when other people ran the game, since their adventures were far more creative and interesting, and always ran smoother and better than mine.

Even since I've been diagnosed this has still been a problem. I'll leave encounter planning to the last minute. I'll forget to implement certain details at the right time. I'll get flustered as things start to go "wrong" in the encounter (ie: it doesn't live up to my expectations, due to leaving it to the last minute and leaving out details), and it just ends up being bad for me. My players probably don't see this. They probably had a great time. I just see how this went wrong, or that could have been done better, and "Oh, you guys should have seen how the encounter was SUPPOSED to have gone."

Now, I'm sure that anyone reading this will just say "Well, if the encounter didn't go exactly as you planned, and the players still had fun, it's a success! Stop beating yourself up!", and they'd have a point. It'd be nice if I could come away with that feeling, though. I really need to fight to get to that point, and my opponent is a Solo Brute that is 4 levels higher than I am.

So, that's when I come around to my point, and the new purpose of this blog. This will be a place for me to organize my thoughts, and keep myself motivated. The content will be anything but consistent. Ideas, encounter planning, crafts, terrain building, miniatures, organizational tips and tricks... pretty much whatever I think of for my games, that I think or hope will be interesting for people to read about, and possibly even help other people who have similar issues.

New Purpose

For anyone who is reading this blog, I apologize that all the posts have disappeared. Not that there were many, but you can find them over at I found that I didn't have a lot to post over there anymore, and since that is supposed to be my "reminiscing" blog, I thought I should just keep all my stories over there. Now that I've made the change, I'll continue posting there more often, as I have about 3 years worth of gaming to work through, and I eventually started taking pictures of the combats we played through, so that should add some extra spice to things. :)

Now, for this blog, I have something else planned. We'll see how well it goes.