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24 September 2009 @ 12:58 am

Roleplaying is making decisions from the viewpoint of a fictional character in the world in which your game takes place. That character may or may not resemble you, personality-wise, and certainly a lot of the situations in which he or she finds him- or herself will bear little resemblance to any you have encountered. You are playing that role to the extent that you make decisions on the basis of what that character would do in that situation, as opposed to the many other reasons you might make such decisions.

(Some examples of the latter: what is tactically optimal [though no character without a death-wish will entirely ignore this], what seems "cool", what will make for the best story, what you think the GM wants you to do, what you think the GM doesn't want you to do, what will most entertain the group, what will make the quieter players feel included, what will get the current scene over with the soonest. There is a legitimate place for all of these things, and none of them are incompatible with roleplaying, but none of these should routinely be the main reason behind your decisions at the expense of doing what your character would do.

Moreover, there are times when roleplaying your character properly is a very bad idea. But in most of the ones I’ve seen, it’s because something went wrong at character creation. Everything in this mini-essay assumes that your character is (a) reasonably interesting and (b) not too much of a dick. Faithfully roleplaying an asshole character can wreck a whole campaign; the solution, however, is to not make your character an asshole, or failing that, to exercise great care and subtlety about how you do so.)

Notice what I haven't mentioned, and that's acting out dialogue in-character and so on. That's nice when it's done well, but it's not the same thing as roleplaying. You can roleplay without acting and you can act without roleplaying. The player whose character has a Charisma of 8 but uses his own forceful personality to constantly dominate every scene with dialogue will usually claim he is the main roleplayer in the group. He is wrong. He is doing lots of acting, but virtually no roleplaying. He is making no serious attempt to play the character that's written on his character sheet, or is doing so only when it is convenient for serving some other agenda. (In fact, he’s cheating, in the same way he would be if the character had a Strength of 8 but he gave himself a +3 bonus instead of a -1 penalty on his melee combat rolls.) On a related note, pressure is often unfairly put on more introverted gamers to "roleplay more" when they may already be doing more roleplaying, though admittedly far less acting, than the more extroverted players doing the admonishing.

Having said that, the more overt voice-actor types can be more entertaining to have around. But this is by no means a universal law. Watching someone with no talent for it constantly try their hand at such voice-acting is more painful than stepping on a d4. Being constantly pushed around by the one guy who is good at it is worse still. And one tires of even the more benign voice-actor types, if they overdo it. There is a limit to how much acting is a good thing. (There is also a limit to how much role-playing is a good thing, but – unless you’ve deliberately designed a character who’s an asshole – it’s a lot harder to reach and, often, a lot easier to reconcile with other legitimate concerns, like a reasonably equitable split of spotlight time.)

Roleplaying, so defined, is not the be-all and end-all of role-playing games. But it is one of the main three things – the others are being open-ended and non-competitive – that separate those games from wargames and boardgames. It does not require talking in a funny accent, but it does involve getting into a slightly different mentality than most other sorts of games call for. I think it's a big part of what makes the hobby so rewarding, though there are places (I've listed several in the second paragraph) where doing an end-run around it is sometimes justified. There is nothing wrong with killing things and taking their stuff, but it's more fun to kill things and take their stuff in a context, and while roleplaying as most people define it may or may not serve that end, roleplaying as defined above is the very thing that makes it possible.

24 September 2009 @ 12:47 am
My decision to make this journal a more regular thing does not, on the surface, appear to have lasted long. However, my intention is still to post stuff here semiregularly, and still along the same lines as discussed a few entries ago. The thing is, I don't need to do that when I'm in Winnipeg, and so it can be expected to get ignored in the summer. There will be other times, no doubt, that I go weeks without an entry - there always were - but that one will be consistent.

The long-promised Watchmen piece exists, about a third done, on my hard drive but was not worked on all summer. I'd have to watch the movie again to finish it. This will probably happen, but I can't say when.

A mini-essay I wrote, originally on Wizards of the Coast's forum, will be posted in a minute or two. I wrote most of it a few years back but it's not the sort of thing that goes out of date. It has since appeared on ENWorld with slight revisions. This version has been further revised, in fact it differs from the ENWorld version more than the ENWorld one differs from the WotC one, including a substantive new addition (hint: it's the paragraph that would have violated the rules of both those forums, at least in its present form).

Current Mood: tiredtired
A word, first, about reviews in general. In case it's not clear, these are always going to be reviews of work I've only quite recently been exposed to for the first time. It won't, however, necessarily be new music; indeed, for the second time, I find myself reviewing a 2000 release. It will, however, always be fairly new to me. (Fairly, because any review I write will be the product of a minimum of two close listens).

Anyway, on to my newest review. This is fairly hard to find and so I must admit that after giving up on tracking down a legitimate copy I resorted to downloading, figuring I'd try to find a real copy later if it impressed me...

Think Floyd - Beyond Boundaries
Self-published (as far as I can tell) (2000)

Track list under the (not-so-Final) cut...Collapse )

It's not unheard-of for a tribute band to become a notable artist in its own right, at least within some niche area like progressive rock. For example, the Swedish band Anglagaard, now widely regarded (okay, widely regarded among hard-core prog fans) as a first-rate prog act, began life as a King Crimson tribute band. So when I heard that Think Floyd - more precisely, the British Think Floyd, the more famous of the two different Pink Floyd tribute bands of that name - had two albums of original material, my initial response was one of cautious optimism. I did suspect it would be derivative and mediocre, but there was always the chance of finding a hidden gem, particularly after I saw a glowing review on the site of Roger Waters' fan club. Could this tribute band, like their Swedish counterparts, channel their talents (and these are considerable, from the clips of their tribute shows I've heard) into a serious, original contribution to the field? Failing this, could they do a convincing enough pastiche of the Floyd's style to duplicate the magic of hearing a real Floyd album for the first time - or failing that, at least put a smile on a somewhat jaded Floyd fan's face?

The answer is under the cutCollapse )

Current Mood: drainedOh well...
30 March 2009 @ 10:46 pm
If it comes as a surprise to you that I'm a progressive rock fan, you should probably double-check the name at the top of the page, because this is almost certainly not the blog you were intending to read.

This being the case, I took a fair bit of interest in a recent poll on progarchives.com, which, if your tastes in music are anything like mine, you should definitely keep an eye on. Basically, they took over 30 of their more experienced and respected reviewers and had them rank their favourite albums - a minimum of 50, hundreds in some instances - in order. A daunting task I don't know if I'd be up to. Then they compiled the results, I think using some kind of point-value system (they can't be using Concorcet as I initially thought, because they weren't all ranking the same albums). Naturally I was very interested in the results, both as a way of getting some recommendations for new music I could check out, and out of simple curiosity to see how they stacked up with my own assessments of the same work, where I was familiar with it (as was usually, though not always, the case).

Now, I was going to make this post really elaborate. Colour-code the list based on my opinion of the album in question, with those I don't have made to stand out, and throw in commentary on nearly everything. I aborted that version of this post, not because it would have been too tedious or time-consuming - indeed, I was nearly finished it - but because, reading over the end result, it just wasn't as interesting as I thought it would be when I started. Calling out the ones I don't have was partially meant for those people in Winnipeg who are perpetually asking me for gift ideas, but very little that I rabidly want ended up there, so it would have been somewhat misleading for those people.

So instead, just a (relatively) few selected observations about the list.

List behind the cutCollapse )
  • Number of albums in the top 10 that I think deserve to be in the top 10: 9
  • Number of albums not in the top 10 that I think deserve to be in the top 10: At least 10.
  • Answer to the question "doesn't he realize the math there doesn't work?": Well, yes. Sucks, doesn't it?
  • Album I'm most surprised to see rated so high: Animals
  • Album I'm most pleasantly surprised to see rated so high: In Absentia
  • Album I'm most disappointed (but not at all surprised) to see rated so high: Foxtrot
  • Favourite juxtaposition: Animals and Octopus. I guess Gentle Giant loses out for being more specific?
  • Bands whose presence, somewhere in the vacinity, would have made the above funnier: Camel
  • Bands I'm... not surprised to see, but surprised to see so much: Gentle Giant, Opeth
  • *NEW* Second-favourite juxtaposition: Mentioning Gentle Giant and Opeth in the same breath just now. Talk about two artists with NOTHING, other than a very high level of musical literacy, in common.
  • Bands I'm surprised not to see on this list: Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Nightwish; Anekdoten; the aforementioned Camel. The Flower Kings! (Probably the closest thing to a commercially successful act that is unambiguously prog and unambiguously not metal to appear since Marillion.) Oh, and Riverside. I thought the proggies were all ga-ga over Riverside lately.
  • Band I'm most surprised to see on the list, and twice at that: Pain of Salvation. I gave them a shot a few years ago and found them unremarkable; but that predates both of these albums. Hmmm....
  • Number of albums on this list I own: 38
  • Highest-ranking album not among those 38: Lateralus
  • Album I don't own that I most want: The Human Equation
  • Number of albums reviewed in this blog that made the list: 1. More impressive than it sounds since there's just the one so far.
  • Complete list of countries of origin represented among bands that made the top 10: The UK {2}
  • Country of origin of highest-ranked act not from the UK: Canada
  • Complete list of bands I really wish hadn't made it into the list at all, that did: Magma. {1}
  • Singers represented here whose voices have been known to singlehandedly turn people I'm sure would otherwise like their stuff off their music: Jon Anderson of Yes, Peter Hammil of Van der Graaf Generator (not so much his voice as his bizarre singing style), Geddy Lee of Rush.
  • Number of problems I personally have with any of those singers: 0
  • Singers represented on this list who I do have that sort of problem with: Thom Yorke of Radiohead. Okay on (relatively) up-tempo stuff like "There There", but more usually, nasal and whiny beyond my tolerance. I've really tried to like Radiohead but I just can't get past that voice.
  • Personal top 5, restricting myself to albums that made this list, and to one album per artist: The Dark Side of the Moon, Lark's Tongues in Aspic, In Absentia, Octopus, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, Scenes from a Memory.
  • Shortest title: Be (runner-up: Red)
  • Longest title: Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (making second place without using a single word over four letters long: H to He Who Am The Only One)
  • Representation of female artists on this list: Alarmingly low. Is Godspeed You! Black Emperor violinist Sophie Trudeau the only woman represented here? I hope not but I don't see another. Another reason to miss Nightwish on this list, along with (to name the most obvious choices) Renaissance or Curved Air. (EDIT: She isn't, there is also Stella Vander of Magma. But that's still an awfully short list.) (EDIT II: How could I forget Aryeon after specifically calling them out? Female voices on this particular album include Heather Findlay of Mostly Autumn and longtime Aryeon collaborator Marcela Bovio among others; a cellist named Marieke van der Broek is also apparently prominent here. Among the other notable musicians who've been associated with the Aryeon project at one time or another is Anneke von Geiserbergen of The Gathering.)
  • *NEW* Most overrepresented subgenre: Prog-metal. Don't get me wrong. I like the stuff (often, though giving Symphony X another listen the other day reminded me just how bad it is possible for prog-metal to be). And I appreciate, both in the "understand" and the "feel gratitude for" sense, that it's been mostly metal bands carrying the prog torch for the last 15 years or more. But even so, three Opeth albums in the top 50? (And the growl-free, overtly progressive Damnation isn't one of them.) I think the reviewers might be a little more tilted toward metalheads than the general population of the site.
  • *NEW* Most underrepresented subgenre: Canterbury. Not a huge fan myself but it's one of the big subjects that always comes up when one is doing a history of prog or whatever; it's a pretty significant slice of the prog pie, or at least has traditionally been. So it's a little surprising not to see any here. (Caravan starts showing up at #60.)
{1} Well, and to a certain extent Rush. I like them, but I don't think they've ever hit one out of the park to the extent of deserving a spot on this list. Hemispheres and Moving Pictures come closest out of their work, but I find it inexplicable that A Farewell to Kings is here, much less so high up. Their prominence here might be further evidence of prog-metal fans being overrepresented here; #s 12 and 13 are what laid the foundation for that whole style.
{2} Although, Yes have also had one member each from (by join date) Switzerland (the most relevant one as he appears on Relayer), South Africa, the US, Russia, and depending how official you think the In The Present tour lineup was/is, Canada. But they've always been at least two thirds British, regardless.
And Adrian Belew, an American, figures prominently in recent King Crimson output, though again, not in any of the albums in the top 10.

Current Music: Recently hit on my Pandora station: Flower Kings, IQ, Genesis, Proto-Kaw, more
23 March 2009 @ 11:36 pm
For some reason LJ really messed up the originally intended formatting of the previous entry. It should be a lot better now. (I also slightly revised a couple of bits that didn't read so well the first time around.)
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven
Constellation Records CST012 (2000)

Track list

Storm (22:32)
Static (22:35)
Sleep (23:17)
Antennas to Heaven (18:57)

Actual review behind the cutCollapse )


Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
18 March 2009 @ 08:38 pm
After the better part of two years of gathering dust, I have decided to revive my LiveJournal. Now 100% more dragony, and correspondingly less froggy, than before.

(I deleted the frogs altogether, though somewhat reluctantly; they clashed with the new colour scheme.)

The major impetus behind this is that I'm finding myself excited about music again, and want to share some thoughts and opinions about that, and the occasional outright review with people. Of course I'll probably discuss a wider variety of things than just that; in fact, one of the things I want to do sooner rather than later is share some thoughts on the Watchmen movie, and gaming stuff will almost certainly also come up now and then. Maybe even the odd bit of philosophy. But I don't currently anticipate including much autobiographical stuff in here, because some of my old entries of that sort make me wince now. (And no Magic: the Gathering stuff either unless and until online leagues get running again.)

Along those linesGenesis 101Collapse )

Let me give you a quick, YouTube-aided crash course in the Genesis I know. This won't go as far as it could in terms of musical complexity, but it should nevertheless give you a decent feel for what I'm talking about. Just two videos, less than ten minutes put together.

Blood on the Rooftops; Lover's LeapCollapse )

Current Music: The album I'll review in my next entry (unless I do the Watchmen one first)
16 July 2007 @ 04:52 pm
I think it's time to admit that, at least for the time being, I have abandoned LiveJournal. I'll still check in on my friend page every so often, but I have no plans to write more entries for the foreseeable future. Feel free to find me on Facebook! (Though I'm not really making much use of the blog-like aspects of that either.)
Current Mood: relaxedrelaxed
04 April 2007 @ 12:47 am
The most well-attended event to come out of Willy Week was Parker Redman's memorial service.

WW was last week. It's basically a week-long party at Rice during which classes still run as usual, but the profs basically give up on assigning homework. It culminates, on the Saturday, in Beer Bike, a combination bicycle race and chugging contest between the eight undergraduate colleges plus the graduate student's association. It's taken very seriously, and the leadup to this one was especially intense as it's the 50th anniversary of the college system.

Only this time, a 20-year-old undergrad was found unconsious in his room at 7:30 Saturday morning. He passed away just under an hour later at one of the hospitals across the street. Beer Bike was cancelled for the first time ever. It's supposed to be relatively clean fun, and how were the students from his college supposed to have a good time?

I only met him once, and it took until Monday afternoon for me to make the connection. All I remember is that he took a few minutes when he probably had better things to do to make me laugh my ass off, for no real reason. That is, according to pretty much everyone who spoke at the memorial, the kind of guy he was.

Julia met him only on the last night of his life. Turned out they were born just 13 hours apart. She thought that was neat. A few hours later, she heard he was dead.

So I went to the service. I kind of questioned whether I really had the right to be there, but the very first thing that was said was that everyone was welcome, however tangential their connection to Parker.

Anyone who wanted to could come up and speak. Over two dozen did. Virtually all of them had a different funny story about him. Funniest memorial ever, and that probably would have suited him just fine.

At the end the students from his college, led by his brother Phil, did three rounds of their college cheer (Baker! Baker! Hell yeah!). Then Phil collapsed and buried his head in his hands.

There wasn't a dry eye in the place.
Current Mood: touchedtouched
28 March 2007 @ 11:52 pm
So beer debates were last night. That's when a group of Rice profs known for their sense of humour and love of alcohol get absolutely wasted then go on stage and take questions from the audience at one of the on-campus pubs.

My lungs still hurt from laughing.

Almost all of it was sex-related questions (Have you ever done it in your office? No, but I hear some of my students have), of course. But any evening that involves Alastair singing his song about Ratzinger is a good evening.

I was surprised how few philosophy people showed up - I was one of only three plus a fourth who appeared briefly late in the evening, and the only grad student. It was still pretty cool - it gave me a chance to get to know Ashley and Anthony G a little better (the reason the latter wants to go on to grad school was remarkably like the thought process that led me there, which was kind of cool). I think a lot of people thought it would run a lot later than it did (it was all over by 11) and stayed away for fear of being too tired (and/or hung over) to function in classes the next day. No such problems here.

Actually, I suspect the real reason the philosophy people weren't there was that the bar was complely out of Shiner, which is kind of unofficially the department's official beer. But it worked out fine. I tried some Irish thing or other on Alastair's recommendation and thus discovered yet another beer that isn't complete swill.

So I get home and Anthony, who I don't even know very well, has friended me on Facebook. Nice of him, and it prompted me to actually start using the thing after only about a month of Jacob telling me I should. I can already see why people get kind of hooked on it. The best way to explain what Facebook is, is probably to just show you the profile of someone you know, like, say, this guy. (Among the things indirectly linked from there, you can find plenty of pictures of Jacob and others from here, including the subject of certain friendlocked entries.) It would be neat to see some of you join it, or in the case of those who already have, get more active on it. But then, there are only so many hours in a day.

I'm in two minds about posting the address of this blog on Facebook. I kind of like that everyone on my friends list is someone I've known for years and trust quite a bit (save Zvi Moshowitz, who surely has better things to do than read this). I may split off stuff that's okay for public consuption here into a seperate journal, somewhat analagous to sun_in_her_hair    and her travel journals. This entry could go in such a public journal with only minor editing but I can think of others that probably shouldn't, though the only ones that are anywhere close to seriously sensitive are locked anyway. So instead of having one sporadically updated Livejournal, I may soon have two, probably even more sporadically updated ones.

Current Mood: chipperchipper