Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The trials and tribulations of World of Darkness

It is one of the rules of the great and mighty internetz that whenever someone mentions Vampire: Bloodlines (by the now defunct Troika Games), someone out there must immediately reinstall it and play it through to the end. Lo and behold, someone mentioned it, and it was my ticket number, so off I went, in search of various patches and altered .dll files so that I could play Bloodlines in Vista. Long story short, I got it up and running and currently fulfilling my life-long dream to play a Malkavian all the way through (no, really, even before I was cognizant of existence of video games, World of Darkness, Vampire: The Masquerade, and life-long dreams, I probably had a seed of this dream planted somewhere in the deep and dark cockles of my heart - probably the same part of me that plants three mercenaries with automatic weapons set on overwatch just around the corner from a hapless PC with two HP left on a giant speeding train, but I digress).

Of course it is an ancillary of the above-mentioned law that whosoever shall install and play a World of Darkness-themed video game will soon after develop a craving for the real thing. Having recently bought "Book of the dead" (a supplement for the supremely juicy, but somewhat flawed Geist: The Sin Eaters), it would be a no brainer, except I don't really have any good adventure ideas, let along campaign ideas. Which led me naturally to consider possibly the best World of Darkness product line (either old WoD or new WoD) - Changeling: The Lost. I really can't remember any other RPG product that instantly gave me so much inspiration in so short a time. I haven't even finished reading through all the C:tL supplements I have (and I have them all! Mwahahaha!) and I was already planning multiple adventures and campaigns. There are, however, three chief obstacles: time, intimidation factor, and players.

Time: I have very little. Enough to actually run it, but little to actually prep it, and prepping for a WoD game is a separate story, which leads me to...

Intimidation factor. I haven't ever ran a new World of Darkness game. My knowledge of the new rules is shaky, and my knowledge of Changeling rules is even more shaky (Changeling is very complex compared to - say - Vampire or the old Changeling: The Dreaming). Thus, I couldn't just run the game freestyle like I usually do. Running a freestyle game is something I'm rather good at, without being too boastful, but this is C:tL we're talking about! I highly suspect that for some reason C:tL will be the Magnum Opus of my tabletop gaming career. More so than the epic Planescape game, or the slightly less epic Planescape game, or the awesome Ravenloft horror campaign, or even Ptolus. So thinking about actually running Changeling gives me cold feet. Cold like the graaaaaaaaaaaaave...

Players. Alright, look, no way to beat around the bush. My usual large pool of players has fractured into two camps (or perhaps even three), several members of which are at odds with each other. Even if I had the time to prep and run the game I could only do it for one of the groups. The question is - which one? And do I pick the group for personal reasons, or out of consideration for which group will work best in a Changeling game? This isn't a standard hack-and-slash D&D we're talking about here, this is a much more sophisticated and scary beast. Like most WoD games it requires a level of maturity, involvement, creativity and commitment from players. From previous experiences (running old WoD), games set in World of Darkness are much more player centric and require more player input. So there is a lot of responsibility not just for the Storyteller (i.e. pretentious term for Game Master), but for players as well. So, it's a tough call.

P.S. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year's everyone! Almost forgot. :)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Marks, and what they mean...

And the consensus is generally that they don't mean anything. They don't mean anything in high school, they don't mean too much in university, and they don't mean anything in teachers' college either. I find it deeply ironic that the same people who tell me "Marks don't matter, we need to assess, not to evaluate" are the same people that then turn around, grade my assignments, and give me a mark with little to no comments (which is what assessment should ideally be about). Why are we carrying on with this pretense? Why assign grades to assignments? Why look at students' GPA scores (other than to weed out 80% of students based on a completely arbitrary and irrelevant cutoff point)? Why bother with challenging students in a school setting, when everyone (teachers, parents, students, the school board, the ministry of education, third party observers and consultants) knows that we don't fail anyone, that when we do fail someone there's always: credit recovery, resource rooms, grade fudging (and outright falsification), and when all else fails - appeals direclty to superintendents of the board?

If I carry the argument "marks don't matter, and no one is failed" a little further, the only conclusion I reach is that we should just give out high school diplomas when a student turns 6 years old. Those students who are achievers will achieve great things regardless of the school system, those students who are hopeless will fail regardless of the school system, or so the argument goes that I have no heard all too often from a wide variety of people. Does it dim my determination to become a teacher? No, there are many other worthwhile things involved in being a teacher. It is, however, very frustrating to hear, and it explains so much about the sad state of affairs in our society.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The binge

With practicum over and holidays on the horizon I went on a huge book buying binge, in preparation for an equally epic reading binge. What I got:

"Jennifer Morgue" by Charles Stross (read it before, but I want it in dead tree format)
"Stranger in a Strange Land" by Robert Heinlein (read it before, but once again, my own copy blah blah blah)
"Escapement" by Jay Lake
"Remake" by Connie Willis
"Wireless" by Charles Stross
"Climate Wars" by Gwynn Dyer
"No Logo" by Naomi Klein
"Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond (read it before, but I just had to get my own copy)
"Gravity's Rainbow" by Thomas Pynchon
"Catch 22" by Joseph Heller (read it before, but once again I want my own dead tree copy)
"The Great Cat Massacre and other episodes in French Cultural History" by Robert Darnton

This is all courtesy of Chapters who are having a pretty good sale going on right now, just FYI.

This list also does not include all the RPG products I have on the backburner and haven't gotten around to reading yet:
Damnation City (White Wolf)
The Radical's Handbook (FFG)
A couple of Changeling: The Lost books (White Wolf)
Traveller 3rd edition (Mongoose)

Yep, this reading binge will be of epic proportions.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Only two days to go...

... until the end of my practicum in a high school. This has easily been the most difficult thing I've ever done. I've done harder things in terms of academics (my M.A.), I've done harder things in terms of physical labour (BestBuy), I've done harder things in terms of sheer time spent (working 60-70 hours this summer, or pulling 55 hour weeks for months at Resolve), but never have I done something that combined all of this and then also threw in: tremendous responsibility, enormous pressure (future career depends on this), and the level of required emotional control. I would not change the time spent in practicum for anything though. It has been such a tremendous learning experience, I don't even know where to begin to list the things I've learned. In many ways teaching for a single month has altered my perception of not just education, but the world as a whole. It has also forced me to grow in a person, and I haven't done much of that in the last couple of years to be perfectly honest. There have been so many moments over the last month filled with self-doubt and anxiety, but I think I'm coming out of my first practicum placement with a lot more confidence. Just two more days filled with more marking, writing up tests, and last minute handouts and rubrics, and then it's back to university (which - again just being honest - is starting to feel redundant after practicum).