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It’s Been Awhile…

…so long a while that yes, the title of this blog is absolutely obsolete! I’m not 100% back to the level of activity I had before the accident and surgery, but no more assistive devices for me!

Haven’t done any gaming since Dec 26, 2010, and currently I’m preparing for what will be the most important roleplaying experience of my career: the USMLE Step 2 Clinical Skills exam. There’s some actual gaming in my near future, though- very much looking forward to experiencing how it is to play with US gamers.

Right now, I’m devoting part of this blog to a new endeavour, although very much related to regaining my strength and fitness. RPGs were about helping me get through the mental and emotional blergh surrounding my injury, and now I’m going to be using video games to get through the last bits of physical recovery.

Before the accident, I was kind of a gym/exercise addict. I’d spend 2-3 hours in the gym almost daily (and that’s not counting sauna and showering and dressing up). When I no longer had funds for gym membership, it was jogging outside and weight training and dancing. I’m still not up to running, and my tropical born-and-bred body does not like to step outside in this Illinois weather. Besides, I didn’t bring any outdoor exercise clothes meant for temperate climes with me. I don’t own any outdoor exercise clothes meant for temperate climes.

So as wimpy as it may seem to more hardcore exercise enthusiasts (as well as harcore videogamers), I’m building up my strength via Wii games. And for accountability, I’m documenting my progress here.

Okay, so it’s out there for anyone to read: I am 167 lb. That’s pretty hefty for a 5’5″ Asian frame to carry. There, I just admitted to the whole Internet that I am fat. So I’m not a secret Internet fatty, I’m an out there Internet fatty!

Currently, I am using the following games:

Wii Fit Plus

  1. A customized routine aiming to strengthen my legs (which is what my knees need for stability)
  2. Basic Step, which I repeat anywhere from 5-10 times
  3. Rhythm Kung Fu

Just Dance 2: I usually aim for a little more than 1000 sweat points per day. I do Just Dance 2 everyday and Wii Fit Plus every other day.

My goal is to be running by June, and to be within my ideal weight range (125-140 lb) by the time I go home to the Philippines.

I’ve been doing this routine since Monday, and my muscles hurt! It’s a bit embarrassing considering all the exercises and activities I used to do before without getting tired. I’ll be adding more activity to my routine each week. Hopefully I get my previous body and level of fitness back!

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Any RPG is better than playing the Oppression Olympics

Almost everything I know about fandoms and hobbies that are not my own, I learned from Fandom Wank (and its several spinoffs), Stupid Free (and its much more frequently updated offshoot, SF Drama), and the community famous for completely breaking Livejournal, Oh No They Didn’t. What can I say, I love watching wankfests and flamewars.

The D&D Edition wars were barely a blip on the radar of the many wank communities I followed. So it was a surprise to see how acrimonious people could get when defending their favourite edition of D&D, or crapping on whatever edition they didn’t like.

Unfortunately, these flamewars didn’t have the entertainment value of some of my favourite kerfuffles. (Examples: [1] WTF, People Will Wank About Anything: bread, icing vs. frosting, cheeseburgers, knitting- beware of angry people wielding long pointy objects; [2] Wow Batshit Insane Is Not a Strong Enough Term- astral plane marriages, otakukin/otherkin/soulbonders; [3] This Wank is the Definition of “Ignorance Is Bliss”- google “His wife? A horse!”, Care Bears BDSM and other appalling examples of Rule 34; [4] I Hate How Canon Sank My Ship) But edition wars? I haven’t found any funny comebacks, or jaw-droppingly insane assertions that amuse as much as astonish. Just a lot of pissing contests (aside: I like the Tagalog wording of this phrase much better- pataasan ng ihi– it’s so much more expressive and crude) and general incivility. After the initial shallow gratification one gets out of watching a trainwreck, I backed out of those corners of the internet quickly and sought out other more supportive, constructive places to learn more about this new hobby.

I especially didn’t enjoy edition wars because they remind me too much of something misguided people have employed in an effort to make me feel better: Oppression Olympics. Edition wars and Oppression Olympics: no one wins, and almost everyone involved looks like a dick.

See, upon learning about my accident, most people assumed that I temporarily joined the ranks of persons with disabilities (PWDs). Nope, sorry, recurrently dislocating patellae made me a PWD, whether or not the accident happened. They were limitations that I had to work around. They were certainly not as visible a disability as they were post-accident, but they were still there.

And that served as a jumping off point for some well-meaning people to cheer me up. Here are some phrases that people tossed out in order to make me “look at the bright side of things”:

– It’s not like you’re paralyzed

-It’s not like you’re an amputee

-It’s not like you have cancer

-It’s not like you’ll never walk again

-It’s not like your condition is incurable

-If x, y, or z circumstance was different, your accident would have killed you, so at least you aren’t dead

-At least you have some form of insurance

And at the end of those statements, there was always the tack on of “other people have it worse. At least you’re not like them.”

I can’t speak for all PWDs, or people who have suffered illnesses or accidents, but let me say this for myself: those statements do not make me feel optimistic. They do not make me feel better about my condition. They do not inspire positive thinking.

In fact, they make me feel crummier. Pointing out other people who have it worse does not do anything toward healing me, whether physically or emotionally. It just makes me feel like an asshole. Perhaps I’m being too sensitive about this, but really, comfort should not come from thinking about how much better you have it than other people who deserve understanding and compassion.

Once the last suture has been knotted, once the last stitch has been absorbed, a lot of the healing (with regard to my injury) depends on willpower and a positive outlook. Strong muscles are what will get me walking properly again, but the drive to overcome the pain and do the exercises to strengthen my muscles are needed to get there. The things that have been really helpful in building that mindset have been:

– Not pitying myself

-Looking forward and planning what I’ll do once my doctor has cleared me for regular activities

-Counting my blessings (by thinking “it’s cool that I have this” and not “it’s cool that I don’t have this, unlike other people”)

-Finding the right balance between slowly gaining independence and asking for help when I really need it

The last has been the hardest. I admit, I’m a proud person. It was downright humiliating for me, at first, to admit that I needed assistance with the simplest of tasks. This would sometimes reach the point where my pride would overcome my needs, and things would either (1) not get done or (2) tax me to the point that I overextended myself.

I’m not going to be hyperbolic and say “playing tabletop RPGs saved my life” but I will say that the mindset needed to make and play a character who will be an effective and fun member of a party is the same one I needed to learn how to slowly and sensibly get back into the groove of doing things. I’m a type A personality, a textbook Scorpio. I need to win, I need to be the best (or at least within the upper ranks) at whatever I choose to do, I need to be capable all the fucking time. I was long overdue for learning how to accept failure gracefully. That attitude doesn’t work when healing from an injury such as mine, and it certainly doesn’t work at the gaming table.

In building a character (D&D and Shadowrun 4e, have yet to try other RPG systems), I had to learn that there was no such thing as “master of all trades.” On the other end of the character building spectrum, there was only so much minmaxing that I could do, a limit to the negative qualities I could take. And taking flaw upon flaw or completely hamstringing my character in all but one aspect didn’t give me an uber awesome supreme one-trick pony, either.

These in-game points were nice real-life reminders that (1) watchu gonna do, I’m not completely independently mobile right now so I’ll just have to work with what I’ve got and (2) there’s no room for pitying myself and thinking I’m entitled to some other awesome thing because this incredibly sucky thing happened to me.

When it came to actually playing, my party situation mirrored my life: there are people who have my back and I should trust that we’re going to help each other. Never mind if we were playing in a setting as unforgiving and brutal as Dark Sun, never mind if my group had to go from one end of Metro Manila to the other (and beyond) just to play with me: at the table and away from it, I had people willing to assist me in becoming a better player, people helping me with stuff until I could do it for myself.

With everything that’s happened, it’s easy for me to sink into self-pity, thinking poor me as I watch everyone leading busy lives whilst my own is stalled. Some could argue that seeking refuge in RPGs is retreating into a fantasy world. But having a gaming group composed of the most supportive friends one could ever have is actually helping me face reality better. All that we do -rolling dice, fighting stuff, completing missions, having adventures, simply just hanging out- puts me in a better frame of mind to accomplish things in real life. And if I can’t do it right away? No biggie. There’s always someone to help, someone to guide until I can stand on my own, literally and figuratively.

When it comes to giving me a more positive outlook to deal with everything? RPGs beat Oppression Olympics, hands down, every time.

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2010 in RPG Tx, srs bznz

 

The Completely Unstrategic Player’s Guide, Part 2: Don’t Cut Yourself on Occam’s Razor

I’m really good at playing Let’s Pretend. After all, I’ve had years of practice at it. I can remember as far back as when I was two years old (despite whatever developmental experts may say, that’s my statement and I’m sticking by it)—the first moment I realised I could read was also when I first remember making up a story. I had a t-shirt with a picture of a little boy, fishing by a small pond. There was a sign beside him. It was one of those lightbulb flashing moments when I realised exactly what the sign said—NO FISHING. Then I made up a whole story to go with the little boy, detailing his shenanigans. That story is lost in the mists of time and memory, though.

Thus began a childhood populated with stories, stories, stories, just like many childhoods are. My Barbie dream house resembled something more like Melrose place, long before the show aired, with my Barbies, Skippers, and brunet Ken all vying for the attention of my blond Ken. Then there was the time I made up something involving deities that ruled over birds, only to have my friends in the playground telling me that they wouldn’t play with me anymore because I was making them sin, and I had to go to confession because I totally violated the first commandment, I am the Lord your God, you shall not have other gods before Me. (I remember arguing back, I’m only five and you can’t commit sins or go to confession until you reach the age of reason which is seven so nyah nyah nyah. Catholic schoolgirl taunts are…strange and designed to make you feel guilty.)

I could reminisce about other similar stories, but that would be boring and I’m sure anyone reading this has his or her own memories of all sorts of make believe adventures. The point is, many, if not all of us, had childhoods rife with Let’s Pretend, whether as a form of play or as a coping or survival strategy. Some of us, including myself, haven’t stopped building words or spinning out fantasies.

So why is it that I find it very difficult to roleplay?

The thing is, I’m uncomfortable with pretending to be someone else entirely. I’d rather be building the world or overseeing it, or merely commenting on events as they unfold. In Inception terms, I’m the Architect, not the Forger. Which probably explains why my involvement in any kind of theatrical production has been confined to:

–          Narrator

–          Head of the props team

–          Chief makeup artist

–          Member of chorus (the Greek kind)

I have an incredibly hard time immersing myself into the character of someone I’m not. I suppose I’m what is derogatorily called a roll player instead of a role player. I have fun with situations outside of combat, but combat encounters are just so much easier for me. One does not need to be in character to pretend to hit someone as hard as one can. No matter what the game is, almost any character will do what they can to survive. Unfortunately, my thought process stalls when the DM asks me, “What do you want to do?”—that doesn’t involve hitting someone as hard as I can.

This is why my responses to skill challenges end up in all sorts of ridiculousness.

I have a super hard time thinking of clever bluffs or smooth diplomatic lines. The only time I used intimidate, my character told a zombie, “Tell us who zombified you or I’ll eat your face.” (This threat probably carried the weight of conviction because earlier in combat, I made a saving throw against necrotic damage, and said that my character got rid of the damage by biting off the infected chink of her arm and spitting it out in front of said zombie.) I tend to overcompensate wildly on stuff that doesn’t involve talking, forgetting that keeping it simple would probably be best. Which results in my character doing incredibly stupid things.

The best example would be when our party had a severely injured NPC that needed to be carried over a chasm. I said, “Wait, I have a Cape of the Mountebank. That can teleport him, right?”

The DM replied, “The power says you need to be hit by an attack for that to work.”

“That’s cool, I guess, I’ll hold back? Melee basic attack, I punch him lightly?” Yeah, punch him lightly with a strength-based character, sure.

“Wait,” the DM said, “Did you tell him to teleport to the other side?”

“Uh, no.”

“He asks you, ‘Why are you hitting me?’”

“Uh, um, my character says, ‘I’m…testing your reflexes! And nerve function! To make sure the operation was successful!” This was after a lengthy skill challenge involving a lot of heal checks on the part of the cleric. And just to reassure everyone reading this, I have never and will never bullshit my patients in real life in such a fashion.

“Roll your bluff.”

“*Ridiculously High Number*”

“Okay,” the DM sighs. “He totally believes you.”

At this point, the player of the dragonborn fighter stepped in and said, “Can I just make an athletics check to jump over the chasm while I’m carrying him?”

He made it with flying colors.

I’m going to have to find better strategies for my characters. Unfortunately, I get so confused with what skill to use, what’s in character, what’s effective, what’s fun, &c &c &c. So I end up with elaborate plans that…don’t really work.

I’m having fun blundering through all this, though. And the stupid things my character ends up doing, while groan inducing, are also good for laughs. And I suppose that’s the important thing.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2010 in 4e

 

The Completely Unstrategic Player’s Guide, Part 1: Choosing Your Character

The Completely Unstrategic Player’s Guide, Part 1: Choosing your Character

To make allowances for my (and my sister’s) near-absolute cluelessness when it comes to D&D, any edition (all we really knew, we picked up from Facebook Tiny Adventures, and what knowledge was that, really?), Matthew and Jammi skipped walking us through character creation, and presented us with a choice of pre-generated characters.

Unfortunately, they probably thought that our knowledge from playing other games would help us make an intelligent, informed decision. After all, we knew what rangers were, right? (Yes, the nemesis of Yogi Bear. Or the guy that rides a horse with the William Tell overture playing in the background.) We knew the difference between elves, half-elves, tieflings, and eladrin, yes? (One has pointy horns and the others have pointy ears.) We could look at each character sheet and do the math, with the stats indicating which character would be best for us, correct? We aren’t stupid people, by any means. (My sister and I absolutely hate math. That’s why I’m a doctor—we’re allowed to have calculators in our white coats for the little arithmetic we must do—and why my sister ditched chemistry for being a writer.)

With such a mindset, what was our basis for choosing the characters that we did?

Simple. The character sheets came with nice portraits, too.

“Ooh, this one is holding two swords. Two swords are better than one, right? Let’s go!” And thus, I found myself playing a half-elf two-blade ranger. The significance of my class, build, race, etc did not dawn on me until three games later.

“What’s that swirling around her? Sparkly water? She gets sparkly magic? Okay!” This is how my sister got saddled with an eladrin shielding swordmage (she rebuilt her later to an assault swordmage, but more on that later. Much, much later.)

Well, that was pretty much the decision making process for what we were going to roleplay for the next several weeks. Over time, I learned much more about character optimization, the roles each class plays in a party (striker, defender, controller—who wrote this? A football player? Apparently it’s related to WoW but I’m not conversant with that), feats, training, the other minutiae involved in character building. I’ve got a way better grasp of the rules and how to play. And I’ve got several new characters now—a lot more effective at level 1 than my poor Santana Champ at level 6.

But you know what? I liked that the decision making process was so simple. Never mind if she wasn’t fully optimized—I liked that all I had to do was think, “I want to have a character who hits things and looks way cool while doing it, and really enjoys being on a boat.” And run away with that concept. I can’t speak for all newbies, but this was a great strategy on Matthew and Jammi’s part in getting me and my sister to game. I wasn’t presented with a plethora of decisions, or insistence that she take this feat or have this power because if I don’t do that she’ll be hideously incompetent and no fun will be had at the gaming table. I let the needs of the story and the campaign dictate the very simple choices I made, never mind if more experienced gamers might decry her stats as a hot mess. It doesn’t matter that she’s in a party with other characters that are minmaxed out. It doesn’t matter that we have a DM who does things like suddenly pit us against 8 dragons after 3 encounters with solo monsters. (I love you, Jammi.) She gets to hit stuff and look cool while doing it. And is the captain of an airship. And has a merry crew who ought to have the Benny Hill theme song playing in the background every encounter. That’s all I really need to have fun.

Hopefully, this approach of “pick your character based on the rule of cool” will work on my other non-gaming friends, so I can find more people to play with.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2010 in 4e, the Mulier campaign

 

Puddles are elite monsters when your dex is something like 3

Or should that be strength? Specifically, the strength of my quadriceps muscles and my medial patello-femoral ligament. How does a q-angle abnormality translate in terms of D&D stats?

If nothing else, this blog will give you a passing acquaintance with medical jargon, specifically relating to anatomy. It’s educational! (Yeah, right.)

Anyways, it’s been almost two months since the accident that got me into D&D in the first place. So to commemorate that, I’m going to explain that accident. In gory detail. Because explaining it no longer gives me flashbacks that relieve the excruciating pain I went through. Seriously, as I’m typing this paragraph, I no longer wince or sharply inhale, as I used to do whenever I remember what happened.

Plus, now I think the story is kind of funny and a key point in strengthening my character. (Note that in this instance, I use character in the Religion/Good Morals and Right Conduct class sort of way, not the RPG sort of way. It did not kill me but made me stronger, and all that.) Mainly because when people asked what happened and I told them (wincing internally all the while), their reactions made me feel like I was such a bad ass for going through all that pain. (Never mind if I screamed like a stuck pig all the way through the emergency room, and received one shot of Valium and two or three shots of Demerol and was still crying…partly because of the pain and partly because I was envisioning the worst possible scenario, which involved amputation.)

When one of my physical therapists asked me exactly how I could possibly dislocate both my knees at the same time, I told him the truncated version. He said, in the vernacular, “That sounds like a freak accident that can only happen in anime.”

(I wanted to point out, if it was an anime, I’d have been attended to by some hot bishounen doctor and then romantic hijinks with the ethical complication of dating a patient would have ensued. Or the same hot bishounen doctor would introduce me to another patient who turns out to be a serial killer that we end up hunting across an entire continent, whilst unraveling a decades-long conspiracy. It depends on the kind of anime you watch, really.)

My cousin (who also happens to be a medical student) was more blunt. After describing my accident, he said, “My balls just withdrew into my body.”

Well, enough preamble. Here’s what happened.

Actually, more preamble. See, my knees do have a tendency to dislocate. The thing is, they have heretofore never dislocated at the same time. Also, they always pop back. It’s because I have a condition called genu valgum– simply put, I’m knock-kneed. The way my legs are constructed makes my patella (kneecap) wobble like a mofo. But I’d been able to deal with it, so far. Even with legs like that, I managed to be a cheerdancer (in high school, anyways), play basketball, do crazy things like walk around half of San Francisco because I don’t understand American public transportation, etc.

Then that fateful Saturday, I just happened to be out shopping with my mother in (place I cannot name for legal reasons). There was a wet patch of floor that I failed to see. Both my feet slipped. My thighs rotated inward, and I fell to the floor knees first…except those knees were locked in a W-position. Kind of like when you see kids playing jackstones (do kids still play jackstones? Or have I just betrayed my age?), except those kids choose to sit down that way and can straighten their legs and stand up at any time. Mine were stuck that way.

After a lot of screaming and medication I finally got to an emergency room, and my right leg slowly eased back into position on its own. The left leg, though, was stubbornly twisted up, looking like a Ninoy Aquino ribbon or half a Mobius strip (which would no longer make it a Mobius strip, but whatever, I’m no good with math). So the orthopaedic surgeon (who is not a bishounen, but is very nice and capable and had a very assuring bedside manner) told me, “We’re going to have to manually reduce your left leg. I’m not going to lie. It’s going to hurt.”

“Can you Demerol me some more?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said. Once I started slurring my words, he and another doctor yanked my leg straight.

“Motherf–”

“See, that wasn’t so bad. You weren’t even able to finish swearing. It’s over.”

And a few days later, once I had had enough trashy reality TV alternating with Discovery and the History channel, and I was starting to get really angry at the state of affairs that made me unable to go to the bathroom without assistance, Matthew and Jammi showed up with some pre-gen character sheets and a homebrew campaign. Thus, they kept me from going mad and terrorizing the nurses. (We doctors make the worst patients. Really.)

Unfortunately, since they knew I used to MUD and play computer RPGs and had more than a passing acquaintance with stuff like Legend of the Five Rings, they probably didn’t anticipate the level of utter noobishness that my sister and I would bring into their game. More on that in the next post.

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2010 in Origin Story

 

Biting Into the Silver Sandwich

It started when the fine folks behind My Girlfriend is a DM tried, ages ago, to get me to join them in playing tabletop RPGs.

“No, guys,” I said. “I don’t like talking out loud.”

Which would surprise most of my casual acquaintances. I’ve done debate team, public speaking, giving keynote addresses, joining declamation contests, opening prayers, presenting at conferences, reading at Mass, being “volunteered” by people I thought were my friends to be the official representative for talking our way out of trouble, trying to tell patients that yes, the mangkukulam (dark magic practitioner) may have something to do with your headaches, but let me examine you first…let’s just say I can get mouthy. For professional reasons.

But for fun reasons? No. I have a near-pathologic aversion to speaking up in situations that don’t involve academics, God, or monetary compensation. Which leads to things like (1) being unable for years to eat out alone (because I couldn’t bring myself to order from the waitstaff), (2) having impromptu adventures wherein I discover new and interesting routes to places (because I can’t ask for directions), (3) getting a reputation for being snobby (because I’m actually just kind of shy). So telling someone, “I smite an orc, and then climb a tree” or whatever didn’t sound like my idea of a good time. Pretending I’m a pointy-eared thief? Easy enough. Telling someone I’m a pointy-eared thief that does this and this? No, I’m keeping my mouth shut.

“But you used to play D&D Tiny Adventures all the time! You kept bugging us on Facebook for buffs!”

And that didn’t involve any talking out loud, did it? Especially not after I discovered the Greasemonkey script.

My repeated refusals did nothing to deter Jammi or Matthew, though. They tried D&D. They offered Starwars. They bribed me with adventures where they said I could do anything I want. “A boat, you say? We’ll give you a ship! Zombies? No problem! Ninjas? Okay!”

But that still wasn’t enough. See, during that time my ideas of role-playing consisted of games you played on a console (read: Final Fantasy) or games you played in the bedroom (read: we won’t talk about that. This is not that kind of blog). Oh yeah, and one D&D 3.5 adventure way back in high school where all the rogue did was climb into a tree. Every encounter. I didn’t want to be bad at it. I didn’t want my more role-play experienced friends to laugh at my utter noobishness. I didn’t want to be in the situation wherein I didn’t finish the campaign because I did something wrong x encounters back (a holdover from the days wherein I didn’t finish any console RPG because my game wasn’t walkthrough perfect so I deleted everything right before the final final boss to start again).

I guess my friends forgot to tell me that I didn’t need to breed any damn chocobos this time around. No matter; I had every excuse in the book. Hospital hours were crazy. Reviewing for the MLEs even crazier. I had a bad back. My car melted (yes, this really happened). &c, &c.

Then my accident happened. The details need another blog entry altogether. In a nutshell, I have super limited mobility. For at least three months.

So when I’d had enough of all the TV I could watch in my hospital room, I caved. When Matthew and Jammi visited, I said, “All right, I’ll play D&D with you. I can’t run away from you this time.”

And that’s how it all started.

So this blog is going to be an exercise in recounting all the things I do now that I am rendered temporarily unable to ambulate without assistance (I use a walker. Hence the title. Not as pimp as a cane, but hey, it’s kind of a badass grey and chrome). And one of those things happens to be D&D.

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2010 in Origin Story