Archive for the ‘Nerd Writing’ Category


Remembering Author Aaron Allston

   Posted by: Tom Tags: ,

Wraith Squadron lost their commander today. He’s gone over the horizon beyond where we can follow.

Author Aaron Allston passed away on February 27th. Allston, 53, was a prolific author, game designer, and speaker; frequently a guest and high point of any con related to science fiction, gaming, or Star Wars. And though it seems rude to merely harp on a single piece of his career; the galaxy far far away is where I met and knew him.

I never had the pleasure of actually meeting Allston, however, in my time working as an intern in the Star Wars books offices, and in meeting other authors, I heard enough to know the greatness of the man. And that whatever skill and aptitude he had as an author, it was far outweighed by who he was as a person. The tributes that have flooded the Internet since his passing only further confirm and enhance those anecdotes.

But, as an author, Allston was known to millions of people, and Star Wars fans in particular, through the books that he wrote. He authored thirteen books in the Star Wars universe, though judging by the comments of his fellow Expanded Universe (EU) authors, his reach and influence on Star Wars went well beyond simply the words that he penned. Read the rest of this entry »

This week, the Dungeons & Dragons animated series turns 30 years old. Thirty years since the kids first set off on that magical roller coaster ride that brought them to “The Dungeon Master”. To say that this show wasn’t exactly beholden to the world of D&D is an understatement, but rather it used the game like you would a spice, sprinkled throughout the show to provide flavor to the fantasy setting.

It also can’t be understated how 80s this show is – something which anyone will notice upon popping in the first episode. For those of you who aren’t familiar – here’s some quick highlights:

  • A group of kids at an amusement park go on a roller coaster that takes them into “The Realm of Dungeons and Dragons” where they meet “The Dungeon Master”.
  • The kids are each given a weapon (and thus a class) to defend themselves and work to find their way home, while also performing side quests along the way to help people. Come to think of it, the overall plot is like a less techy Digimon.
  • Throughout the series the party battles Venger (an evil wizard) and Tiamat a five headed dragon.

If you aren’t sold yet on the show you should know that Peter Cullen and Frank Welker provide the voices for Venger and Tiamat respectively. That’s right – Optimus Prime and Megatron are involved.

To celebrate this magnificent and ridiculous show; I’m going to do a re-watch of the entire series, with recaps and commentary. Crazy right? But I might as well do something productive with all this free time I have.

The recaps won’t start till next week, so if you’d like to be involved – you have time to grab the DVD set and follow along. The show is available on DVD on Amazon at a ridiculously cheap price, which seems to be your only option. So grab a copy, and get ready – because next week we’re hitching a ride into the realm of D&D, with all the awesome 80s synth music we can handle.

This is either going to be awesome…or terrible.

Of Dice and Men (ODaM), the play about what it’s really like to play D&D, by Cameron McNary, is becoming a film. We’ve been talking about this play since Castles and Cooks began, and have tracked it from a humble stage reading at the first PAX East, to the first staged production at PAX Prime 2010, all the way through its various performances around the country, including at the Brick theatre in New York City in July of 2012.

Based on a screenplay by the man himself, McNary and a team of talented thespians will be bringing the hilarious, heart warming, and occasionally gut wrenching adventures of one middle aged D&D group to the big screen. The story is a ”blisteringly funny and deeply affecting comedy feature film about six tabletop roleplaying gamers and what happens when one of them enlists to go to Iraq.” Read the rest of this entry »

I can’t think of many better ways to ring in the New Year than DMing a dungeon delve. Especially when Jesse is one of the players that I can terrorize entertain and the party decided to venture to Athas and the frankly underutilized world of Dark Sun. (Editor’s Note: LEGOs make FANTASTIC minis for use in live games.)

I crafted my delve by adapting a full campaign that I had been developing, but never had the chance to execute. In doing so it led me to consider some of the essential principles of creating an engaging and fun delve that fits into a set play time. In this case, we were going to be delving for about 4 to 5 hours.

Some of the elements of a traditional campaign just don’t fit into a delve. Have you ever had a poor delve experience? If I had to guess, the reasons may have included poor time management and the game feeling less like D&D and more like miniatures combat.So, here are some tips for successfully crafting an engaging and fun dungeon delve. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s been almost a decade since we’ve had the wonderful combination of a cinematic journey to Middle Earth and holiday season!  Also, if you’re in my age group, this time around you have a real job and real money to spend on stuff!  I mean, other people.  Because it’s the season of giving.

Here’s my top ten list of some of the best and most unique Hobbit gifts out there!  You don’t even have to fight a dragon for this wonderful hoard, just your credit card bills and weird internet connections.

Limited Edition Hobbit Moleskine Notebooks

Limited Edition Hobbit Moleskine Notebooks | $17

These gorgeous notebooks are perfect for recording your own travels, or your hobbit-sized grocery lists.

Read the rest of this entry »

In a hole in the ground lived a Hobbit…

So begins the journey into the epic fantasy world of Middle Earth. The line was written as a fleeting thought by author JRR Tolkien as he graded papers, proving that a) even professors doodle and b) that doodles do have value. As part of our Hobbit week we decided to look back at two of the more well-known adaptations of The Hobbit, the graphic novel (recently re-released) and the animated film for television from the 1970s.

The Hobbit Graphic Novel

This was my visual introduction to Middle Earth. I found the graphic novel in a used bookstore shortly after I finished reading The Hobbit for the first time. Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure this was the first graphic novel that I ever read.

If you have a young or reluctant reader who isn’t eager to pick up Tolkien’s full novel and delve into passage after passage of names and intricate descriptions of scenery I might suggest this as a wonderful alternative entry point into the world of Middle Earth.

Originally published in 1989 as a three issue comic series, the book was eventually put together as a trade paperback and released as a full graphic novel. In September of 2012 the book was re-released with some updated changes to the layout, a new cover, and a few new pages of artwork as part of the run-up to the Hobbit film.

The watercolor-esque art style by David T. Wenzel gave Middle Earth a vibrant look that in some ways mirrored the animated film, though with smoother lines and a little more age to each of the characters. Many of the panels literally bleed off the pages and swords, staves and other artifacts often push outside the boundaries of the individual panels to great effect.

The original version had some layout issues with panels appearing a bit distorted or important characters being cutoff, apparently from a desire to have consistent margins on every page. The newly released version solved this issue by allowing for adaptive margins that are based on each individual page of panels.

The graphic novel is a fairly faithful adaptation with all the major characters and events retained from the book, including the visit with Beorn and an elongated retelling of the events in Mirkwood forest leading to the dwarves’ capture by the wood elves. The “Riddles in the Dark” chapter as well as Bilbo’s interactions with Smaug look particularly gorgeous. I can’t think of a better book to have with me at the theater to help pass the time while I wait for the movie to start. Read the rest of this entry »

Is there any greater innovation in the last few years than the podcast? Other than the continuing proliferation of bacon wrapped foods, probably not. We decided to put together so lists of our top podcasts in various categories. First up, our list of the best podcasts for boardgames and RPGs, plus we threw in a few extras (because we love you).

Our Favorite Gaming Podcasts

The Dice Tower
The gold standard of board game podcasting, Tom Vasel and Eric Sumner provide an excellent podcast of news, reviews and weekly topics that cover all things gaming. Amazing production values and two hosts who know what they’re doing make this one a must.

The Dungeons & Dragons Podcast
While updated infrequently, the official D&D podcast is great for two reasons. They regularly talk about the DNDNext playtest now and give great behind the scenes stories, but the real reason to subscribe to this is to listen to the Penny-Arcade/PVP adventures. Sadly only an annual event at PAX Prime, the experience of listening to the legendary Chris Perkins lead Gabe, Tyco, Scott Kurtz and Wil Wheaton through a campaign can truly be described as epic. Go through the archive and listen to them all.

Drive to Work
Relatively new to the podcasting scene, Mark Rosewater has been the head designer of Magic the Gathering for years now. The podcast is a simple premise: he picks a topic and talks about it on his morning commute to Wizards. Fans of Magic will love the insight, history and stories, but the production values aren’t the best – mostly because Mark just records it on his iPhone while driving. Though it does mean when there is a traffic delay or he needs gas, you get extra material.

Roleplaying Public Radio Actual Play
For Actual Play sessions of various games, it’s hard to beat Roleplaying Public Radio. The band of gamers is very experienced and do admirable and interesting jobs with everything from Dungeons & Dragons to Call of Cthulhu to Wild Talents. If you’re considering an RPG and they’ve done it, I recommend downloading it to see what it can do. They also have a gaming tips podcast to add to the above. Audio Games
The Bradford Players’ Call of Cthulhu audio games have several things going for them. First of all, they’re British and those calming accents go a long way towards softening the blow of a sudden byakhee attack. Secondly, they are professional actors so count on some quality roleplaying. And thirdly… well the games are just awesome. Listen to Horrors on the Orient Express and tell me you can still sleep through the night. Read the rest of this entry »

Buying gifts for gamers can be a real challenge. They are constantly picking up the newest games, Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: the Gathering might as well be foreign languages. So the Castles & Cooks brain trust joined forces to come up with 25 fantastic holiday gifts in a variety of price points.

Chocolate Dice – $8
If you need a stocking stuffer for any tabletop player, get them a delicious treat in the shape of a set of dice. It’s cheap, adorable and delicious. Available in white, 6o% and dark chocolate.

Bag O Zombies – $10
This is a bag of 100 zombies for $10, how is that not awesome? Any self-respecting DM can find a reason to use these, but when don’t you need a bag of zombies? It doesn’t matter if you play ZOMBIES or not – and they come in regular zombie gray or glow-in-the-dark!

LEGO Gandalf Arrives – $13
Lord of the Rings holds a special place in almost every geek’s heart, but as a desktop decoration, they don’t get more perfect than this. Gandalf’s cart is adorable and full of fireworks and a LEGO Frodo may be the cutest thing in the world.

Hogwarts Acceptance Letter – $15
Even if it didn’t arrive on your 11th birthday, getting a personalized acceptance letter to Hogwarts will bring a smile to any wizard’s holiday. Read the rest of this entry »

Playwright, actor, builder of America, postage enthusiast, and friend of the site Cameron McNary’s grand gaming opus Of Dice and Men is finally getting a premiere in New York City. The play about a group of 30 something D&D players has had performances on the West coast and even a college production, but this will be the first time it appears in New York City.

On July 7th the show will debut as part of the Brick Theater’s GAMEPLAY 2012, a festival inspired by gaming. The show is being performed by the Dysfunctional Theater Company and will run from July 7th till the 27th. A full calendar and tickets are available at the Brick Theater website and go for $15.

We cannot urge you enough to go see this play. Whether you are a gamer, just know some gamers, or enjoy funny and cathartic experiences, this is the show for you. Since the first PAX East, three years ago, when Jesse and I saw the first stage reading, we’ve been hooked.

If you aren’t sure (why the hell not!?) then check out the e-book version of the play. You can read an excerpt for free or just buy it (a much better option). It is available in every e-book format imaginable here.

Also here’s a trailer for the performance.

Seriously, stop reading and buy a ticket. We’ll see you at the show.

With the release of Planechase 2 just a matter of days away, I’ve noticed the schism returning between casual and competitive Magic players. As someone who hasn’t played Standard since it was called “Type II” and Dark Fires was gaining traction, I have been firmly planted in the casual side of Magic for over a decade, and playing for almost twice that long.

I started playing the game in 1994 thanks to my older brother getting into it after we went on a skiing trip. From then on, I played for a few years very casually before meandering away from the game. It wasn’t until the release of Tempest that I got back into the game in 6th grade when my best friend Adam told me about how he discovered this amazing new game. Within a few months, I was back into it. Read the rest of this entry »

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