Making Sandboxing Relevant

Friday, 21. January 2011

We can all play in here right? (Flickr, Katmere)

Christian makes a very good point over at Destination unknown, regarding sandbox play.  A truly unattached style of sandbox play can be very distant feeling and is difficult to make work well unless your players are very motivated to get out and do their thing. (This varies a lot with me, sometimes it does and doesn’t work well.)  As gaming is hopefully about entertainment, in order to keep people interesting your game play styles need to vary.  I typically use a semi sandbox style when playing and it usually has pretty good results.
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Carol of the Bells – TSO

Saturday, 25. December 2010


Carol of the Bells
Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Merry Christmas to everyone!

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Good food locally – CSA’s

Tuesday, 7. December 2010

Evansville Produce (Flickr / JaseMan)

Or in long.. Community Supported Agriculture.  This is one of those oddball topics that fits into my “What interests me” categories on this blog, so bear with me here.  It fits neatly into my “gaming as entertaining niche” however, since it’s hard to entertain with crappy food.  If you’re aware of what I’m talking about - great.  If not and you enjoy cooking, supporting local businesses and/or fresh organic food for a good to low rate then keep reading.

The entire organic eating movement developed because people are/were sick of eating pesticides, GMO food and generally unhealthy food that was mass produced and outsourced from halfway across the planet.  Some food we need to get that way.. but obviously not all of it.  The USA is geographically diverse enough to produce pretty much anything you can think of with a few exceptions.  As everyone knows though.. “Organic” food is boutique and mostly freakin expensive as a result.

Alongside this, the locavore movement was getting established at the same time.  If you are too lazy to click, it basically means eating locally.. foods that are in-season.  They taste way better and if you pick them up from a smaller producer..  are mostly organic and potentially very cheap.  Farmers markets are a good example of this, and forutuately the number of them have exploded in the last 10 years.

Now, CSA’s are essentially eating local food, mostly organically produced with a bit of a twist on it however.  The food is paid for in advance, as a “share” of the crop - for a season. For those of you unfamiliar with farming… farmers get screwed particularly in 2 situations.  When there is a poor harvest (there isn’t enough food to sell even though the prices are high are a result) and when there is a great harvest (prices plummet even though there is a lot to sell.)  So, by getting a fixed price at the beginning of the year the farmer is assured and income… regardless of the harvest.  If they want to keep their shareholders happy, they will of course do their best to ensure the best harvest possible. 

Anycase, your next thoughts are probably “Why now, it’s winter and nothing grows in winter.”  You are of course right, however the shares for these have to be purchased in advance, so now is a good time to start looking.  Shares vary from CSA to CSA to the number of available, but most have half shares available if you don’t cook as much or happen to be flying solo.  There are also working and non-working shares depending on the CSA… working shares involve you getting your hands dirty from time to time with weeding, planting, harvesting and the like.  The costs for such case are typically lower and it is a great way to get local expert advice and experience on local growing and gardening if such things interest you.

With a share purchased, you will typically get food weekly throughout the growing season.  This is either picked up from the farm itself or a local distribution point in the city if the farm has enough shareholders.  Anything that can be locally grown is in the harvest.. and if your CSA doesn’t offer a given item.. say milk, eggs, honey or some of the more esoteric food.. they often partner up with another CSA that does giving you some of the best in local fresh food.

Now.. last question is probably “Great, but how do I find one?”   There is a site for that as well.. Local Harvest.  Assuming you’re not living someplace really arid, you probably have a lot more of these around you than might imagine… Like any other business not all of these are created equal, but they are definitely worth investigating if you’re into fresh and/or local food.  It’s also a good opportunity to build community.. and actually meet the person that provides your food which is pretty great in the era of big box anonymity.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, 25. November 2010

Our annual harvest festival is now upon us and I hope that everyone is out getting some good food, drink and spending some quality time with family or friends. If you are far away for whatever reason, hopefully your travels return your safely in a timely fashion. Those really lucky among us may actually be gaming as well – if you are, Salud!

I am of course, nauseated at the over commercialization for all of these holidays and can see how people get depressed at having to listen to rubbish 3 months prior to the actual holiday. If you’re braving black friday tomorrow, good luck! I will be out enjoying other activities other than shopping.

Anyone else have anything going other than shopping?

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Simple room improvements

Monday, 22. November 2010

Looking over at a post from The Red Box Blog and it got me thinking on the line of room improvements for gaming.  Needless to say this useful since we don’t always get to play in the most ideal places for a variety of reasons. Since we at Pen and the Sword think that Role Playing – Entertaining is a lot of fun, however a lousy play space can quickly sap the energy and dampen the mood. So, we’re getting into a little bit of home improvement this time around.

Lighting
Dismal lighting is great.. if you want it for setting a mood. Otherwise it’s terrible, it makes rooms generally unattractive, saps energy out of you and makes it difficult to work on any sort of projects that actually require decent light. Fortunately, track and recessed lighting make it a pretty simple fix. Both are easily direct-able from a gaming table to a piece of art, most are dimmable and simple to turn on and off. Thanks to modern LED technology, they are also quite small, sip power and throw of a minimal amount of heat. There is some technical skill needed with the install, but it’s not something that couldn’t be relatively easily developed. Worst case scenario, hire an electrician for the install or to do the final wiring if you’re not confident with it. Other stand alone lamps can fill the bill as well, although I prefer to have the additional floor space when possible.
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Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms

Saturday, 30. October 2010

I haven’t always enjoyed either mushrooms or spinach, however then they’re properly prepared they’re quite tasty in concert. In this case, all of the components listed below are nice and fresh. Button mushrooms will work as well although I prefer portabellas because they have a meatier taste to them. A standard small package or baby portabellas will contain maybe 6-7 that are usable, you’ll have to use the remainder for soup or another dish.

There are also certainly lighter calorie ways to do this – however I’ll let someone else do that!

6 Small Portabella Mushrooms
2 Cloves Garlic
2-1/2 Cups Shredded Spinach
2-3 Tablespoons Colby Jack Cheese
Butter

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees
2) Mince garlic, shred or slice spinach into small strips. You should have around a cup and a half shredded, which will in turn cook down to about 6 tablespoons.
3) Saute garlic and spinach briefly in butter, just enough to get the garlic to wilt. No more, or you’ll cook the spinach into oblivion and end up with texture less goo. This step takes less than a minute. Stir mixture, set aside off heat.
4) Break off stems of mushrooms, and stuff with spinach garlic mixture from above. In my case, it was around 1 tablespoon or less of mixture per mushroom. The stems aren’t used in this recipe, but they make for a nice mushroom stock for soup or stews.
5) I used shredded colby over my stuffed mushrooms and it worked well because of its relatively mild taste. Approximately 2-3 tablespoons in total for all of the mushrooms.
6) Grease baking sheet (Butter in my case.) Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, remover when cheese is melted and mushrooms appear to start drying.
7) Enjoy!

In the case that you prefer a dryer mushroom, cooking them for 20 will have a good result. In that case, you will want to add the cheese perhaps 10-15 minutes into the baking.

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Escapism

Wednesday, 8. September 2010

It would make sense that I take a brief break there, and then get absolutely killed at work first couple days back.  I got to a bit of thinking while I was at it though, mostly about what motivates us at hobbies.

There are a lot of reasons any of us do hobbies, mostly breaking down into some twisted passion of love despite the time and money invested into them.  I think the real core reason comes down to simple escapism; getting away from modern life in our own way for a while.   It’s the same reason video games and movies are so popular, reality can be denied if only for a little while.  Of course, if we could find a way to actually enjoy our passion and live I think most people would drop work in an instant.  I think that the work is really a major motivating factor, because most peoples lives particularly in the US really aren’t that bad. 

Of course, who can blame anyone at that point.  Modern work simply sucks for a lot of people… its a far cry from doing something that produces visible results for whose doing the work.  The setting also tends to be less than enjoyable, and the people we put up with in actual work even more so.  The increasing automation of work blocks more and more people out of what might be enjoyable employment on consistent basis.   I don’t consider repetitive manufacturing or the like enjoyable work, but not everyone is capable of or wants to sit at a desk all day.  If those people had land and the know how, they’d probably be farmers or something similar.

Pursing a passion as actual work though is scary.  There is usually little safety net, a minimal capitol investment, and a tremendous amount of time and effort involved.  So most of us enjoy our hobbies as simply that, an escape from a trap we call employment.

Any other thoughts on the matter?

(Mind you that I enjoy my current work, but I have been in the situation above before and found it less than fun.)

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Michigan Ren Faire

Monday, 30. August 2010

I took a trip out to the Michigan Renaissance Festivalagain this year as I always do. This was the weekend for the highland games, and it seems that they have been running several good promotions through both local radio stations and with a canned food drive. As such, the parking lots were as full as I’ve ever seen them, even running late into the day on Sunday. Entry fee was $20, but there are several exemptions for getting free tickets. The canned good drive was 1 free ticket per purchased one assuming you brought in at least 4 canned goods. It was hot and dusty as it hasn’t rained lately in the area, but at least it wasn’t humid. I think I have a little sunburn to show for it as well.

There was a time perhaps maybe 10 years ago when it seems like the festival really stagnated. Crowds were limited, the number of acts there were dropping off and the place was really becoming somewhat run down. Fortunately over the last 5 years or so they’ve really been pushing a good advertising and sponsorship campaign. There is always new works and development going on, so the site has really become enjoyable to just walk around even if you’re not going to buy anything. Within the last 2 years the new expansion at the end of it has really gotten somewhat finished up, and their large open field now for various events such as archery of the highland games that were going on this weekend.

There was a falconry demonstration this year which I found really interesting and unless I’ve consistently missed it hasn’t been at the faire for quite some time or ever for that matter.  Unfortunately the bird wouldn’t hold still for a good picture and my cell phone camera wasn’t the best in the world.  It’s still neat to see hawks up that close though, even if watching them chow on a piece of meat can be a little disturbing.  I would’ve thought that a hobby like this would’ve been killed of by creeping modernism, but from what I’ve found so far it’s apparently far more popular that I would’ve imagined. (It’s certainly easy to find information on than say, pen and pencil role playing.)  It’s great to see living history like that preserved in such a fashion for future generations.  I’m going to have to see about finding another local demo sometime and perhaps doing an interview as well.

And as mentioned, the highland games were going on.  I managed to catch a bit of the caber tossing, and weight over the bar at the end.. something that I’ve never seen before.  Apparently it involves tossing a 56lb weight up into the air and as it’s name implies over a bar, the field record at this place was 16’2″ in height.  In addition to not being able to throw the weight, even if I did I’d probably manage to land it on myself, dying in the process.  I’d say that the games are really something that needs to be televised and publicised more than they are, just because it’s neat to watch the feats of strength.

All and all, the trip was great fun.  I’d especially recommend it to anyone who hasn’t gone before or anyone who hasn’t been to the Faire in some time now.  Dressing up isn’t required.. good thing because this it was pretty hot out.  Getting a roasted turkey leg is almost a requirement, and the apple dumplings are quite good as well. 

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Tomato and Basil Flatbread Pizza

Sunday, 27. June 2010

There is a number of things that I look for if I’m cooking something to entertain. I want something that’s has quick prep time, cooks quickly and is delicious. For role playing, it’s also a bonus if it doesn’t make a huge mess: Enter the flat bread pizza.

For this, you will need
2 Tomatoes (I chose vine ripened, in this case.)
1 6oz can of Tomato paste
1 Clove Garlic (Good at warding anything, vampires included for you forward thinkers.)
1 Package Pita bread
Shredded Mozzarella cheese
Fresh Basil
Oregano
Salt
Pepper

I am a fan of garden grown produce, or organics failing that. Fresher ingredients make a better meal that’s friendlier to you.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Sauce
1 6oz can of Tomato paste
1 Clove Chopped Garlic
1/2 Tsp oregano
1/2 Tsp black pepper
Pinch of Salt

The tomato paste is a bit thick for the sauce. Thin it out until it just beings to run off the spoon. In this case, it took me about 1/3 cup of water, although I suppose you could thin with tomato sauce just as easily. Add 1/2tsp Oregano, 1/2tsp black pepper, 1 clove chopped or pressed garlic. Combine and mix liberally. Add salt as needed, being careful as tomato paste is pre salted. This should make nearly a half cup of sauce, which is enough for quite few pizzas.

Pizza
Pizza Sauce from Above
Thinly sliced Tomatoes
Mozzarella Cheese
Pita Bread
Fresh snipped Basil

Spread a thin later of pizza sauce on top of on the pitas you are cooking, cover lightly with mozzarella cheese, and place  your thinly sliced tomatoes as desired.  I did one per piece.

Place pitas in the oven for 5-7 minutes. If you want a softer crust, put them on a baking sheet of some sort. For a crispy crust, place them directly on the rack.

After the cheese is melted and slightly brown, remove and apply your sliced basil.  Cut the pizza in whatever fashion you prefer, and enjoy!

Completed Pizza

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