The perfect gift

Sometimes, you get the perfect gift. The gift that my wife bought me for Christmas finally arrived today, and it is every bit as awesome as she promised that it would be.

Presents are kept as great secrets in this house, and when it didn’t arrive for Christmas, she was very upset, and insisted that there was no way that ‘they’ could possibly send another. Also, she let slip that it came from Ireland. Now I don’t know about you, but thinking of strictly limited items coming from Ireland left me stumped. Unless it was a Leprechaun’s pot o’ gold. Or his Lucky Charms (that’s a North American cultural reference. I’m getting better at those). Fortunately, whatever Giants, Faerie Kings, Sober Irishmen and other mythological creatures she dealt with came through and another was sent.

When I finally saw what it was, it made me think about what it takes to get that perfect gift for someone, and hopefully how I can get there next year.

In essence, there are a few different categories of gift that can be given from one person to another. The first is the sort of gift that you buy, maybe when you don’t feel that you know someone particularly well, that you base off of what you would like to get. There’s no shame in that; it’s a perfectly good strategy when working with limited information. However, the gift is likely to be uninspired, and might even be something the receiver hates.

The next type of gift is the easy route: Get the thing that the receiver has been asking for, or dropping massive hints about, for the last 9 months. While possibly uninspired, you’re going to pretty much guarantee a happy recipient. You can also step this one up a bit by getting something that you know the receiver wants, but won’t ever get for themselves. Perhaps it’s a collectable gadget with no practical use or just something a little on the expensive side like the best watch ever.

If you’re not Mirto you can ignore this next bit: LOOK!

So how do you get the perfect gift? Well, it’s risky, but as with most risky strategies it has the greatest potential payoff. You get something that you know the receiver will love, but would never, in a million years, think of getting for themselves. That’s what Mirto is able to do again and again.

This time, she found a limited print of a watercolour of a scene from a magical kids book that I adore. Amazingly, I did not know that I adored the book until she bought it for me this Christmas. Yes, she knows me frustratingly well. The book is Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers and the print is the cover of the book. The book, by the way, is being released as an animated movie.

I would never buy art for myself. And if I did, I would never think to find a print of a scene from a book that I haven’t even read yet. Still, it is just what I wanted. I just never knew it until I had it.

From Not Only… But Also, everything you could want to know about Alan A Dale.

Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, the two geniuses behind this show, are staples of British Comedy from the 1960s. They predate Monty Python and were clear influences on the sometimes surreal, always just plain silly, humour. Sadly, the original tapes were purged from the BBC archives in the 1970s and only a few snippets of material are available today.

Today I died again

I died today. Those damn spiders with their poison were just too much for me.

Oh, I should probably explain that I’m talking about DnD. And right about now, a whole bunch of you who are not interested can tune out and come back when I write something about something else. Of course, if you do that, I’ll know that you only spent 20 seconds reading this and I’ll be able to track you down thanks to Google Analytics. So just you think about that!

Have they gone? Great, so it’s just us geeks now.

Last Sunday was my first session playing DnD with a new group (for me; they’d been playing together for some time) and I was especially excited as it was my first time playing the new 4th edition. I’d heard mixed reviews of the new edition, mostly complaints that it played too much like a video game, but as a long-time gamer was eager to try it for myself. Also, I was walking into a group of mature, experienced gamers. I suppose that’s fairly normal for the Bay Area, but it’s not an experience that I’m used to. My other half was convinced that they were cunning cannibals laying a trap for unwitting fresh meat (“unused meat” was the term she rather unkindly, but wholly accurately, used).

I rolled myself a Dwarf Paladin as the group was looking for Defender type characters; essentially, for those of you who may know this terminology better, the Defender in DnD 4ed is a Tank; there to soak up all of the damage so the other characters can survive to hit, burn, poison or stab things for longer. The first thing I noticed that was different was that the Character Builder I used (the official one from Wizards of the Coast) printed out some nifty cards that I could use to keep track of which powers I’d used and what their effects were. Before I go on, I should point out for the purists that I did roll my character up on the floor surrounded by pencils and paper before typing it up into the Character Builder: It’s the only way, really.

Aside from some cosmetic differences in the character sheet, everything was very familiar.

I was surprised to almost die twice in the first session, however as the Dwarf Fighter alongside me was lying on his back unconcious as much as I was, I didn’t worry too much about it. The encounters definitely seemed more difficult to win, but we were only a four-man party and only had my Lay on Hands (stop sniggering at the back) prayer, and judicious use of the Heal skill, to keep us alive at all. Once we had a cleric, it was said, we’d be fine. I’ve already suggested above that this might not be completely true.

This week, we had a cleric yet I and another character died, and a third almost did. I should point out that this is very unusual. Characters do die in DnD but it’s usually due to something incredibly stupid, or very, very bad luck with dice rolls. In fact, in our group’s first session the DM rolled around a dozen natural 20s. This is extremely unlikely, and was another reason why I wasn’t that surprised to be taking massive amounts of damage. This session, however, we were just overwhelmed by the encounter. It could be argued that the DM is at fault for leading us into an unbalanced fight, however I would expect a party of our level to be able to handle what was thrown at us. It just seemed like we needed to hit every attack opportunity, and when we rolled badly, it hurt.

This leads me on to how the game plays under the new rules, and by now I expect only one or two people to still be reading. One of these will be my wife, who I will be holding at gunpoint to finish and give me feedback, as always. Hello, dear.

I want to first deal with the comments that I mentioned earlier about it playing more like a video game: I think I know what those people mean. Combat is more streamlined, with a simple attack roll vs a static defense number, and while there are more abilities available to a player, one has to be judicious in when they are used as they have limitations (and can easily fizzle into nothing on a poor roll).

Essentially, 4th edition encounters, like instances in World of Warcraft, revolve around having a group with all roles represented (damage, defense, buffs, heals, gnome) and everyone sticking to their roles. Sadly, I feel that this goes against what I’ve enjoyed most about the game in the past. The last campaign I played I started as a Gnome Barbarian. There was a Gnome Sorcerer in the group so we decided that our background was brother and sister. From there, it was a short hop to have me taking levels in Sorceror and her taking levels in Hitting People Very Hard With Things. Having this ability to play with a character and create something, or rather someone unique, and still being able to vanquish the horde, or defeat the dragon, or rescue the princess, was what I loved about the game. This, at least as far as I can see, has either gone away, or is very well hidden. <insert joke about a perception check here>

So why will I be back in a couple of weeks, whether my Paladin is raised from the dead or I turn up as someone entirely new? Well, the core of the game is still there: A group of like-minded people sitting around a table telling a story together is still fun. And frankly, I think I might be able to find a way to break out of some of the boundaries the game rules have placed on me, and if I can’t, I’ll damn well have fun trying!