Graduation Speech

My mind wanders a lot.  It’s like a puppy, I have no control over it and sometimes it piddles on the carpet.  So I don’t know why I think about this, but sometimes I imagine what I would say if asked to give a speech to graduating college students.  My latest version goes like this.

How many of you have played World Of Warcraft?  Or any MMO really though, I think they’re probably a lot alike.  In WoW you fight monsters and gain experience points, collecting enough experience points causes your character to level up and the higher level you are the stronger you are.  When the game first came out the highest level you could possibly achieve was 60.

I was level 58 when the first expansion came out which raised the level cap to 70.  So by the time I got to 60 it wasn’t the max level anymore, it was a bit of a bummer.  That’s a metaphor for much of my life, every time I get close to achieving something the goal moves farther away.  Anyway, people kept telling me I had to get to Max Level.  They said the REAL game doesn’t even start until Max Level.

Max Level sounds like a person.  “Hello, Max Level I presume?  Oh, you’re not?  He moved to an office ten floors up?  Back to grinding the stairwell then.”

When I did finally reach Max Level the game did change.  Suddenly I was being invited to raid dungeons with big groups of people.  I was asked to join guilds where lots of people work together to run ever harder boss monsters.  Nobody cared what level I was anymore, everybody was Max Level, but the quality of my gear was suddenly the most important thing.  Gotta get better gear by running harder dungeons with better groups of players.

I thought when I reached Max Level that the days of progressing were over, I was totally wrong.

You’re graduating college.  That’s great.  You’re now all Max Level.  Suddenly you’re being asked to get jobs in your careers.  You’re ready to join Companies where lots of people work together to fight with/against harder bosses.  Nobody will care what your grades are anymore  everybody is a graduate, but now your job titles or income will be what people focus on.  Gotta get better jobs and more money.  Because that’s how you progress now.  It’s not about “leveling up” to the next grade level or making sure your GPA is high anymore.  It’s a completely different game now.

I don’t belong to a raiding guild in WoW.  I didn’t enjoy raiding dungeons in groups as much as other people.  I do it from time to time and I enjoy it in small doses.  But generally, I solo a lot still.  I run quests.  Collect mounts and vanity items.  Play alts.  The thing about WoW is there’s so much more to do at Max Level than just dungeons.  Hardcore raiders will tell you raiding dungeons is the best part of the game, and for them that’s true it’s what they enjoy most.  But there are other things you can do, lots and lots of other things you can do.

Many of you will join big companies and will thrive in that environment, you may enjoy it, and be successful at it.  Many of you may find your happiness in other ways.  There are jobs that don’t pay as well but are more rewarding emotionally or spiritually.

The thing to know is that the game is changing.  Changing drastically.  Life is a big game, almost as big as WoW, there’s a lot of choices out there.  And the exciting thing is that you’re finally Max Level, you’re finally ready to play the REAL game.

Dungeons And Dragons Traps

One of my favorite parts of Dungeons and Dragons is traps.  Maybe because you usually have to think your way out of them.  Maybe because they offer so much variety.  Maybe because the players usually have a lot more conversation when trying to figure out how to deal with them.  Maybe because traps can scare the beejeepers out of the players.

 

So here’s a few good traps to try in your dungeons.  Feel free to use them and modify them as you see fit.

The Choice

When the party attempts to open a door they all hear a magical voice in their heads.  It explains that the door will only open after they have each answered the following question.  Which of your party members, excluding yourself, will you choose to weaken?  Each player is handed a note with the names of the other party members and is asked to circle one name and return the note to the GM.  You can leave it as “weaken” if you want to keep it vague or you can explain that the person you choose to weaken will lose one level while your character will gain one.  After everyone chooses a person to weaken the door opens and the “trap” is gone.  And players can adjust their levels accordingly.

The door itself is the source of the trap, it’s been magically enchanted.  A successful Detect Magic can discover it before anyone tries to open it and Dispel Magic can disable the trap.

What’s interesting about this is that if the players choose to they can get through this without anybody actually losing a level.  If player A weakens B and player B weakens player C and player C weakens A then everybody goes up and down one level, leaving everyone the same.  If, however, players either don’t coordinate or if they simply decide to be jerks one person could end up getting the shaft.  Remember, players love choices!

 

The Vice

When entering this room everybody finds their armor is shrinking (only the armor they are wearing).  Begin combat and start going through turns in order of initiative.  Leaving the room stops the shrinking, you may want to have the door close and lock behind them or find some other way to trap them in the room.  During the first round of combat the armor just becomes increasingly tight and uncomfortable.  On the second round everybody is so crushed by their armor that they take 2d6 damage, and now it’s too tight to remove normally so they would need to beat a DC 15 Athletics check (can you contort your body enough to remove the too tight clothing?).  Of course you could also cut the armor off if it’s leather or cloth.  Every turn from now on the party take 2d6 more damage than last time and the DC to remove goes up by 3 (so on turn 3 they take 4d6 damage and need to beat DC 18 Athletics, turn 4 they take 6d6 and need DC 21).

The solution is to get out of this room so if you’ve sealed the door behind them they have to go forward.  The catch here is to combine this trap with some sort of puzzle or trick to opening that next door.  Maybe it’s just very hard to lockpick requiring a high DC and probably multiple attempts.  Or put some monsters, naked so nobody argues that their armor should be shrinking, blocking the door.  Or whatever other obstacle you like.

The magic enchantment on this room can be Dispelled and Detected at whatever DC you choose.  One option is to make the Dispel DC low but it has to be cast on each players armor individually.  The party probably doesn’t have many people who can dispel magic so they can’t do everybody all at once that way.  Once they’ve gotten out of the room the armor stops shrinking and returns to its original size.

 

Friendship is Magic

A magical portal blocks your path in a space wide enough for at least two people two walk through side by side.  It’s easy to see because it shimmers and crackles with lightning and no Perception checks or Detect Magic are needed.  When a player touches it they don’t feel anything, their hand or body part can pass through as easily as if it was empty space.  But should they attempt to walk through it solo they are thrown backwards and take 3d6 damage.  There is a carving on the left wall of a hand reaching out and another on the right wall.  If anybody asks you can tell them the hands appear to be reaching towards each other and that each is a right hand, implying that the hands are from two different people.

The solution here is to walk through the portal holding hands with another player.  If two people walk through while holding hands no damage is taken and they walk easily to the other side.  You can backtrack through the portal as a single person incurring no damage or resistance, so if there’s an odd number of people in the party one person can return to escort the last person through.

I would make it impossible to Dispel Magic this trap because it’s not particularly lethal nor is it that hard to figure out the solution.    Note, don’t use this trap unless there’s at least two people in the party.

Fear Of Flying

 

I’m afraid of flying. People say it’s safer than driving to which I say I’m afraid of driving too. Telling me I’m more likely to die in the ride to the airport than on the flight only makes it worse people.

I think I can trace my fear of flying (and driving) to my career in computers. Computers “crash” all the time. Programs “crash”, operating systems “crash”, drivers “crash”. Surely there’s some correlation between a “driver crashing” and my fear of driving. And being exposed to the word “crash” a hundred times a day is bound to take it’s toll. Somewhere in my sub-conscious there’s a part of me that knows that things are always crashing. Crashing is very common in computers. So why shouldn’t I expect my airplane to crash? It could get a Blue Screen Of Death somewhere over Denver and then it’s all over. You can’t reboot the airplane, or if you can it’d be a race against time hoping it turns on again before you hit the ground. “NO for the love of God don’t run ScanDisk now!!!”

Working in computers does reinforce the idea that stuff breaks constantly. Especially in I.T. where people are literally calling all day long to complain that something has broken. It’s hard to look at the number of tickets for printing without thinking, “If we can’t even make a printer work reliably how the heck can we trust airplanes?” On the other hand maybe if lives were at stake they’d build the darn printers better.

According to an episode of Mythbusters airplanes can pretty much fly themselves most of the time. They can even land or take off by themselves. I suppose that should exacerbate my fears but it really has the opposite effect. Sure, I’m afraid of computer software crashing, but as long as the computer is functioning correctly I trust it over human beings in almost every way. A computer might crash because it’s malfunctioned, a human might crash because they were trying to change the radio station and weren’t looking where they were going.

“Today some guy was killed in a plane crash because the plane broke down in midair and was unable to reboot in time.” sounds better than. “Today some guy was killed because the pilot spilled hot coffee on their lap.”

Origins Of Caffeine

Today I’m going to tell you where caffeine comes from. Why not get yourself a fresh cup of tea or a mug of coffee to enjoy while reading the following totally true, real facts.

Originally coffee was known only to the Gods. It was the source of their power. One day Caffinitus climbed Mt. Olympus and stole some coffee plants from Zeus’s garden. For bringing the “Brown Ambrosia” to humanity the Gods punished all humans with the curse that, if we ever stop drinking coffee, we will suffer the pangs of headache and fatigue. The humans drank it anyway.

Of course there’s also caffeine in Tea. An ancient Chinese farmer once saw a dragon flying by at amazing speed. And when I say dragon I don’t mean the European, big, fat dragon that we associate with Bilbo and the Lonely Mountain but rather the long, skinny more snakelike dragons of Eastern culture. The dragon flew by so fast that the farmer wondered where it got its energy. The farmer tracked the dragon back to its home. It was sitting awkwardly in a chair (it’s hard to imagine how a creature such as that could “sit” yet that’s how the story goes) and sipping water with tea leaves. Thus did that farmer return home and invent not only the drinking of Tea but also the chair. Although many people preferred to sit on the floor the beverage became very popular.

Energy Drinks first appeared in the homes of people who had been abducted by aliens. After waking up with a vague recollection of visiting a space ship during the night people would find an energy drink on their nightstand. Most think it was a gift, the aliens knew the human they had abducted would be tired the next day from having been “probed” all night and the energy drink would help them get through the day. Others wonder if the energy drink itself was just another experiment to see how humans would behave when super jacked up on energy drinks. Regardless of the aliens intentions some of the energy drinks were studied, reverse engineered, and eventually replicated. Now people all over the world are either enjoying an otherworldly gift or participating in an alien experiment.

Chocolate, which also has some small amount of caffeine, was a gift from God because life on Earth seemed a little too hard. And He wanted to do something nice for us.

Back In My Day

Have you ever watched an 8 year old child, born and raised in these modern times, try to play the original Super Mario Bros.? The phrase Epic Fail comes to mind. Kids today can’t beat the games that I played back in my day.

In my day most video games started in arcades. They were designed for you to die. Over and over again. Every Game Over screen meant you had to put more money in the machine. That pushed video game developers to make games fun enough that you wanted to keep playing but hard enough that you’d die over and over and have to pay another quarter to try again. But it worked because all the video games were that hard. And there were those few kids who were so good that they could play for hours on a single quarter, the reward for getting good at those games was that it literally cost you less money. You had to pay once to start the game, but after that each additional quarter was the literal price you paid for losing. If you never lost you never had to pay again. That seemed fair.

When consoles became popular and we stopped paying twenty five cents per life the overall game design philosophy was slow to change. So what if death didn’t equal another quarter? Video games had always been hard and they would continue to be hard. Beating the original Super Mario Bros. was an ACHIEVEMENT. I died so many times in world 1-1 that I expected to fill in the pits I had to jump over with Mario’s dead bodies. And then when I finally beat “Bowser” in world 1-3 and some little mushroom person told me the princess was in a different castle I lost my gosh darn mind. If I had known any swear words I would have used them! “POO!!! That butt says I have to look in another farting castle! What a poopy … poop face!” (when I was either most of my “bad words” were butt/poop related) And the anxiety of playing world 2-1 was off the charts. I was so worried about dying and starting all over again all the way back at the beginning that I was almost too afraid to keep playing! I wasn’t sure I could get this far again, ever! It was a combination of luck and prayer that had gotten me past Bowser ONCE! The thought of doing it again was too much. My heart very nearly burst from the sheer stress of it.

That difficulty made for a couple wonderful moments. Finding a shortcut, a warp pipe or ceiling you could walk on top of, was momentous enough to declare a nation holiday. “Why don’t we have to work Monday?” “Monday is Warp Pipe Day, it celebrates the time some kid found a shortcut to the end of Super Mario Bros.” When I found the warp pipes hidden in the underground world 1-2 that let you skip whole WORLDS ahead I was overjoyed! Whatever stress and paranoia I experienced when I was further than ever before and scared of starting over was more than made up for by the exhilaration of discovering some new secret. The constant fear of death also made the 1-Up Mushroom (or any extra life in any video game) the sweetest thing! In the arcade an extra life was literally the same as free money, on the console it was a chance to get farther in the game than ever before. When death had consequences 1-Ups meant something.

Now, when you play Super Mario Bros. Wii and you run out of lives you don’t even have to start over. They just give you more lives. If you get more things whenever you run out of things that means you have unlimited things. And having unlimited lives is just a bad life lesson if you ask me. I don’t know why the game bothers to count how many lives you have when there’s no penalty to running out of them.

Rogue Like games are kind of popular today, these are modern games where when you die you have to start over. I think they’re popular among my generation because that’s how EVERY GAME USED TO BE.

Diablo has a mode called Hard Core where when you die you have to start all over. That’s nothing, I beat Super Mario Bros. on Hard Core when I was eight!

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy modern games. The fact is that between having a job and grown up responsibilities I probably don’t have time to play a game where I have to keep starting over. But I can’t help but feel like the modern generation of gamers is missing out on something. When games were harder they were also more rewarding. At least that’s how I chose to remember it.