Tag Archives: Community

Writers: Play Some D&D

It’s been pretty well established by this point in my life that I am a nerd of many sorts. Theatre, sci-fi, fantasy, board games, video games, math, logic, philosophy, mythology, religion… there’s a lot of nerdy in me. So it shouldn’t come even remotely as a surprise that I have played a LOT of Dungeons & Dragons in my day.

My first introduction to the game, though it was ultimately not an accurate representation at all, was back in the summer after my 7th grade year when I was 12 years old. It was, I believe, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition… I don’t remember much of it at all, but again. Not very accurate. Still, somewhere in my room right now is the first character sheet I ever had.

Since then, I’ve played 3e, 3.5e, 4e and am currently in a group playing the D&D Next edition. I’ve been the Dungeon Master for two different (ultimately falling apart) 3.5 campaigns. I’ve played Pathfinder, Iron Kingdoms and even a d20 system a friend of mine created. I’ve done some role-playing online and have oodles and oodles of ridiculous stories to tell about the various campaigns.

Most people find the game to be instantly associated with the nerdiest of the nerdy. I suppose that’s a little fair… while high fantasy and the like have been becoming more and more acceptable over the years (just look at the successes of Peter Jackson’s interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” books, as well as HBO’s “Game of Thrones”), it’s more acceptable to observe fantasy, not attempt to live it out. D&D and other role-playing tabletop games are predicated on the notion that one designs a character with a story and interjects themselves, via that character, into a fantasy world. Granted, not every tabletop RPG is set in fantasy, but that’s where D&D began.

Even so, despite it being “super nerdy,” it has seeped into our culture just a bit. You have the people that seem to think D&D is something where people learn witchcraft and are members of the occult… As well as the people that know how laughable that is and like to point out how sessions of D&D usually go. Season 2 of the absolutely wonderful TV show “Community” has a fantastic, hilarious and kinda accurate episode titled “Advanced Dungeons and Dragons” that is well worth the watch (you need Hulu Plus for that link, sadly).

The point is, though, whether you think it’s crazy nerdy and has some ridiculous stigma on it or not, if you’re a writer… I think you would do well to play this game.

I realized the other day, when writing the background for my character in the current campaign I’m playing, I’ve written more detailed character story and background for some of my D&D characters than I have for some of my characters in my stories and scripts. That’s not to say that I don’t have good backgrounds for the non-D&D characters… I just don’t tend to write them out and consider all the aspects of their previous lives. However, in D&D, I tend to tell very detailed stories about their pasts and how they came to where they are now.

It’s a really good writing exercise, especially when you limit yourself. As someone that tends to prefer the classics of poetry and art, where the product must conform to a certain style or limitation, I feel that talent, skill, creativity and thought are more thoroughly applied and utilized than in styles where slapping anything together counts. Anyone can buy three blank canvases and call it art or take random paragraphs from random books, tape them together on a page and call it poetry. But how many people can write something truly heartbreaking and moving with only 140 syllables in 14 lines of iambic pentameter and a rhyming scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG? I refer of course to the sonnet, of which some guy named Shakespeare wrote several.

It’s not easy to make something conform to limitations. But it is certainly an exercise worth trying, especially if you find your characters lack depth. Here’s my suggestion, as these are the ways I’ve found the most character work: Find some people to play D&D with. Find other writers or friends that know what they’re doing. You can do a preset campaign or let yourself/another writer write a story/world for you all to play in. But when you’re making your character, give yourself restrictions. In most versions of D&D, you can give your character flaws, which detriment your character but allow for extra benefits to balance it out. A lot of people will do this to make ridiculously powerful characters, but don’t focus on the game play so much as the character. People are flawed. How does that affect your character? Alternatively, ask your DM if you can bend certain rules, so long as you get a good story out of it.

For example, the current campaign I’m playing is in D&D Next, which is still basically in beta, so there’s a lot missing. My favorite class, the cleric, only has three domains to choose from at the moment… and none of the gods of Faerun in the domain I want to use have the right alignment for my character. I could have just changed my character’s alignment, but I decided to write a story behind it. Why would someone that disagrees with a certain deity’s way of life be a priest for that deity? And so, my story was written.

You don’t necessarily have to play D&D or any tabletop RPG to pull off this exercise. But I think D&D is a good template with a lot of creative options you may not consider… and playing the game will let you see how honest you can be to your character and keeping him or her consistent in certain situations. Plus… D&D with the right people can be LOADS of fun. 🙂 Give it a try some day.

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Sing, Sang, Sung – “I Like To Go To The Barn Because I Like The” By Band Of Horses

Okay. So, there’s been political stuff going on, of course. Trayvon Martin’s killer George Zimmerman has finally been charged with a crime and has been detained only… what, a month and a half after the fact? But, still, charged. And, while I haven’t seen the rhetoric between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama increase just yet, you know it certainly will soon enough.

In the meantime, I’ve had a job to go to, a diet to continue on for another week and a half, an exercise plan to make and start hopefully this Friday, a play to act in and a play that I’m definitely hoping to finish writing the first draft of within the next month or two. Which will be a Herculean task, since the first half took me about three or four months. Basically, I’m a busy busy guy.

Except when I find the downtime that I always manage to. This time, the downtime involves re-watching one of my favorite television shows, “Psych.” (I’ve already re-watched “Community” again.)

Now, as someone that doesn’t actually listen to pretty much any radio that isn’t a Classic Rock station, I don’t often get introduced to new songs. I don’t recall if I’ve heard a single dubstep song, Skrillex is an unknown thing to me and the last one of these segments I did is the only Taylor Swift song I’ve ever heard.

One way I do get around to hearing new music, though, is through movies and television shows. Movies like “The Hunger Games” led me to that Swift song I just mentioned. TV shows like “Community” introduced me to Kate Nash (who I’m sure I’ll bring up later). A “House, M.D.” season 5 promotional trailer led me to hear my first Ludo song, something I have not regretted.

But the song I’m talking about this time comes from the crime comedy show “Psych” on USA. …really, crime comedy is not a common combination you hear. But I love it. It makes me laugh and makes pop culture references I actually get about 75% of the time.

Anyway, the show now closing in on the end of Season 6, has had a pretty decent run thus far. One I hope continues for a while. And, while the show is a crime comedy, it has had its moments of sincerity and drama. In particular, the season finales of seasons 3, 4 and 5, which were all part of the same recurring arc, something “Psych” doesn’t generally do. In the arc, Shawn Spencer is directly challenged by a rather insane, puzzle creating serial killer known only as Mr. Yang. That’s the first time. The second time, they meet Yang’s counterpart, Mr. Yin. Things were tense enough in the previous episode. The season 4 finale was absolutely brutal, filled with thick drama, pain, loss and an incomplete conclusion. Like many trilogies, it expanded what the first sought to do, did it a bit better and then proceeded to leave us hanging. (See also, season 2 of the BBC’s “Sherlock.”)

At the end of the episode, a touching, poignant montage is played, showing the main characters throughout the episode in their reactionary moments to what had happened during the events prior. That poignant montage is underlined, italicized and bolded by the song “I Like To Go To The Barn Because I Like The” by Band of Horses.

I had never heard a Band of Horses song before. And this was an amazing introduction.

Somehow, despite being repetitive and circular in the lyrics, as well as somehow feeling much too short and incomplete, this song is one that hit me hard and has always stuck with me. It is the most melancholy, wistful, morose, hopeful, nostalgic, soothing, emotional song I’ve ever heard. And it really needs every one of those adjectives. The harmony isn’t even really a harmony, but rather a melding of two voices that are so starkly different creating one beautiful sound that is hard to get out of your head. The style of music is underplayed, with softened, friendly tones, reminiscent of soft country rock (much like The Civil Wars in that Taylor Swift song I mentioned before).

…I again remind people, music is something I love, not something I necessarily write about well.

Anyway, this song is one I’ve played repetitively, over and over and over again. It never seems like it lasts long enough. Like the title, it seems incomplete and mysterious, and leaves you asking, “Yes? And?” But you still end up liking it. Give it a listen. Tell me what you think.

“I Like To Go To The Barn Because I Like The” by Band of Horses

Well I’d like to think I’m the mess you’d wear with pride.
Like some empty dress on the bed you’ve laid out for tonight.
Maybe I’ll tell you sometime.

Time. Sometime.

You were right.

Right. You were right

Outside
By your doorstep
In a worn out
Suit and tie.
I’ll wait
For you to come down
Where you’ll find me
Where we’ll shine.

Outside
By your doorstep
In a worn out
Suit and tie.
I’ll wait
For you to come down
Where you’ll find me
Where we’ll shine.

Outside
By your doorstep
In a worn out
Suit and tie.
I’ll wait
For you to come down
Where you’ll find me
Where we’ll shine.

Oh.

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Sing, Sang, Sung – “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” By Tracy Jordan (“30 Rock”)

So, it’s Halloween, a time where people dress up and get free candy. I even dressed up today at work. Random generic pirate (or Blackbeard, as one person dubbed me). Everyone wanted to steal my hat. I was glad no one did.

Anyway, being that it is Halloween today and I don’t really feel up to thinking too much (which has been happening more and more often lately… that might not be good…), I’ve got a song to share with you that actually links with my post from last night.

“30 Rock” is my most anticipated returning comedy for a reason. First, most of the comedy shows I watch have already returned as they haven’t had to contend with a pregnant cast member/writer. And the only show I watch that I can remember having to contend with that before, “How I Met Your Mother,” sort of just ran with it since they only caught the beginning of the baby bump. Anyway, second is that it really is freaking hilarious. Oh, and third, it ended on a major cliffhanger. So, there’s that.

The show is delightfully ridiculous and absurd, something this song will aptly show. It is briefly referenced by Tracy Jordan (played by Tracy Morgan) when he’s going through some of his stuff and finds the record of the song “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah.” I figure such a song is appropriate for Halloween. And it’s been stuck in my head for a while. (My sister was asking if I just made it up or something. It is somewhat ridiculous.) The song was apparently written by Donald Glover, who can be seen playing his character Troy in the also hilarious “Community,” and Glover voices the DJ in this song. This go round I won’t post the lyrics because I don’t want to give away anything.

Fair warning: While this is the full length song, only part of the song was given video on the show. So the video attached to this version is… really crappy and fan made. So, there’s that warning.

Anyway.

“Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” by Tracy Jordan (“30 Rock”)

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The Wide Screen – My TV Awards

I’m really finding it difficult to think of anything poignant to say tonight. Shocking, right? But sometimes, when trying to write at least one blog post a day and the majority of politics being a series of repetitive broken bollocks in its current state, you find yourself without inspiration or trying to say the same things you’ve said 15 times before in a new way that still remains written in the language of your aptitude.

So, instead, I’m starting ANOTHER NEW SEGMENT. That’s, like, two new segments in nearly as many days, right? I am CRAZY exciting on this blog, aren’t I?

Anyway, this segment, “The Wide Screen,” is all about television, if you can’t guess. I doubt I’ll use it too terribly often, as TV isn’t something I get to watch too terribly often. However, I have been trying to catch up on some of my favored shows via the power that is the Internet. And I was thinking earlier how I’d categorize them. So, here goes, a brief look at my TV schedule and why I watch them.

Best Ensemble Comedy – “Community”
If you haven’t watched “Community” before, good GOD are you missing out. It is unabashedly nerdy at times, hugely ridiculous, amazingly funny, wickedly enticing, rarely predictable and has characters that are all pretty cool to be interested in. Joel McHale does an amazing job as the “main” character, but the rest of the cast are no slouches either. And it’s always fun to see Chevy Chase work. If there’s an episode to watch to get you into the show, it’d either have to be “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” or “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” from season 2. Or, hell, “Pilot.”

Best Comedy Duo – James Roday as Shawn Spencer and Dulé Hill as Burton “Gus” Guster from “Psych”
After watching some of “The West Wing,” I definitely grew to appreciate Dulé Hill’s muscles as a dramatic actor. But I was introduced to him through this show, and his chemistry with James Roday in “Psych” is amazingly hilarious. A show that is essentially a funny “The Mentalist,” with some slight reminiscence of the Sherlock Holmes stories, the two main characters are more absurd, over the top, and knee-slappingly hilarious than and other two people I can think of now. They remind me of the random absurdity of Monty Python, but with the familiarity of repetitive gags and characterizations all wrapped in a fun little crime “drama.” But the show has its serious moments, many of which have been spectacularly done. Particularly, “Mr. Yin Presents…”. Can’t really suggest a favorite episode. Just start watching. Grow to love it.

“Smartest” Comedy – “The Big Bang Theory”
Yes, it’s really nothing smashingly new in the sitcom world. It still has a laugh track, vague character development and some obvious pun set-ups from time to time. But it makes many a joke relating to some upper levels of science, much of which I, as a nerd, find myself able to understand. And I like that. Not to mention, they make it seem kind of fun in a dorky way. This is a show that appeals strongly to my smarter, dorkier side. It’s not a smart comedy the way “Frasier” was or the way Molliere and Shakespeare can be considered as such. It just touches on intelligent areas and makes them funny. And Sheldon Cooper is a hoot and a half. Can’t really suggest any episodes for this one, either.

Most Faithful Comedy – “How I Met Your Mother”
Okay. It’s been how many years since this show started, and all we’ve seen is an ankle. We’re pretty sure the mother isn’t blond, we know the umbrella and Barney’s wedding are important, we know that Barney’s getting married. Though, what with the duck tie bet, I’m pretty sure that won’t happen until mid-season or the end of this season. Which is frustrating. But, despite all of this, the characters continue to be humorous and the show continues to make them slightly more interesting and slightly more adorable and funny to watch each time. It has been a long journey, but it will all be over in a few more seasons… and unless they screw the pooch big on this one, I’ll be there through it all. My favorite episode may just be “Slapsgiving” from season 3.

Most Anticipated Comedy – “30 Rock”
Man oh man oh man. There aren’t too many shows I’m more excited about returning. I really want this show to return. It is somehow the most intelligent and most moronic comedy I’ve ever watched. Which makes sense, being that it’s written and produced by “Saturday Night Live” veteran Tina Fey and is essentially a show about the background workings of a show like “SNL.” It has some of the same random ridiculousness you can find in “Psych,” but in a more controlled, yet often far more absurd and fourth-wall shattering, manner. Throw in Alec Baldwin playing a high-powered Republican executive, and this is a pitch perfect comedy. One of my favorite gags is in the episode “Apollo, Apollo” from season 3.

Best Crime Drama – “White Collar”
That’s two USA Network shows! And my first non-comedy. Crazy, right? But I do watch a FEW shows that aren’t all about the laughs. Anyway, this show is simply delightful to watch. It has great drama, a VERY charismatic main character, and a CRAP load of intrigue. If you like puzzles and mysteries and “what’s next”s, this show will likely tickle your fancy. It’s not quite on the BBC’s “Sherlock” level, but the benefit “White Collar” has is in its new characters and having more than 3 episodes a season. This is one you might want to start on with the pilot just to keep up with the plot.

Potentially Biggest Disappointment – “House, M.D.”
You didn’t think all of these were going to be positive, did you? “House” has been one of my all time favorite shows ever since “Distractions” caught my eye, “Euphoria, Part 1” grabbed me and “Euphoria, Part 2” sealed the deal. It is an absolutely amazing show. The medicine is intriguing and all, but the characters are just phenomenal. Sure, it had weak points, like Season 3. But it has been a consistently great show through its time. Season 4’s two-part season finale episodes “House’s Head” and “Wilson’s Heart” are two of the best episodes of television I’ve ever seen in my life. That said, it should have ended last season. The ONLY plot still dangling is a character having knocked up two girls. A character that, frankly, I don’t care too much about. And now that Lisa Edelstein has left the show, the balance is all off. The few episodes I’ve seen of the season thus far have been… odd. The first episode, where House was essentially by himself, was fine. But the next one, back at the hospital? It felt awkward a lot. Especially with the new Asian girl. The only comfortable thing in the episode was House’s and Wilson’s interactions, strained and slightly repeated though they may have been. Still, I’m sticking with it through to the end. Especially since the end is likely this season. But I have a feeling I’m going to miss the wonders that were available in Seasons 1, 2 and 4. And other seasons that aren’t 3.

Take a look if you want. Your call.

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