Wizzywig: Where Hacking and Tabletop Gaming Collide

In addition to a latex sword for LARPing, some Paizo GameMastery Map Packs, and other gifts, my wife surprised me on my birthday with the graphic novel Wizzywig by Ed Piskor. Wizzywig follows the life of the fictional Kevin “boingthump” Phenicle, a composite character blending several real life hackers, most notably Captain Krunch and Kevin Mitnick. Piskor varies his engaging narrative frequently, switching mostly between Kevin Phenicle telling his story in the first person to Kevin’s best friend Winston’s radio talk show with smaller chapters each with a dozen characters giving a man-on-the-street perspective in their own single panels adding further variety and perspectives.

Secret Service agent makes off with GURPS Cyberpunk cover in Ed Piskor's WizzywigMidway through Wizzywig I was surprised to recognize an event from tabletop gaming history pop up amidst the hacker chronicle. On March 1, 1990 Steven Jackson Games’ headquarters in Austin, Texas was famously raided by the Secret Service causing a “catastrophic interruption” for SJG, nearly shutting them down. I had only just started playing D&D at the time in 6th grade and was unaware of the raid, but it has come to have notoriety within the gaming world and helped in the formation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

While Piskor’s version of the GURPS Cyberpunk cover is close to the original it also reminds me of the artwork for the Crazy Occupational Character Class from Palladium’s RIFTS. The entire episode only appears in Wizzywig for half a page with Kevin “boingthump” Phenicle having no connection to it. We can get a chuckle out of the “media” reaction to the GURPS title below, but actual links between role-playing game supplements and possible criminal activities – however minor – can sometimes exist.

Black and white comic book panels from Wizzywig with talk show host and pundit showing alarm over GURPS Cyberpunk title

While the basic D&D and AD&D books of the 1980s were short on descriptions of how to actually pick pockets or locks, I had multiple friends trying to play the role of Thieves in real life. Were these inspired by the actions of their RPG characters? Yes. Did they ever keep a pilfered wallet or actually steal anything? No (not that I’m aware of). It’s unlikely that an RPG manual ever provides as good an example of criminal activities as fantasy fiction might. It’s also much more likely though that best-selling mainstream authors like Michael Crichton or Stephen King or popular TV shows like Dexter will be the ones to provide information on how to commit crimes and cover one’s tracks. Can a person learn about poisons from reading fantasy novels or from RPGs? Certainly, but an innocuous cookbook or encyclopedia is a more likely source. It’s also laughable to think that I can pick locks just because I have manipulated lock picks onscreen with my characters in Fallout 3 or Fallout: New Vegas. While I do make my PCs roleplay out their bribery attempts and attempts to intimidate or interrogate NPCs when I GM, actual knowledge of anatomy, torture devices, or the criminal underworld is not required.

Where the worlds of hacking and role-playing games do collide though is in the pursuit of knowledge and freedom. While Ed Piskor never goes into why exactly Kevin Phenicle hacks in Wizzywig, most actual “classical” hackers want uninterrupted access to knowledge. Many role-players want to know what it’s like to lose a comrade, win a war, or save the princess. Arguably the lowest level of hackers and the lowest level of gamers enjoy simple brute force attacks before they mature into wanting to do more with their respective hobbies. Gamers and hackers also want the freedom to game how they want to with many hackers hacking into games to improve them. While some sandbox video games are allowing more and more freedoms in gameplay, nothing has come close to replacing the freedom enjoyed by tabletop role-playing gamers.

Panels from Wizzywig are copyright Ed Piskor and used with permission. Views expressed are my own and not Ed Piskor’s or Top Shelf Productions’.

Comic Con’s Technical Flaw

I finished registering for Comic Con International 2012 around 8:45 this morning. When I got into the system I was in position #16,XXX or so (It may have been around 12,000). By the time my slot opened, 4 day passes had sold out. So I have registered for four individual day passes, at a cost savings, but I know the time it will take to pick up the badges will be frustrating.

Comic Con’s Glitch or Gaff

The first line of Comic Con’s email to registered members announcing the sales said “The wait is over! Comic-Con 2012 badges will go on sale at 8:00 a.m. PST on Saturday March 3rd, 2012. To access the EPIC online registration website, click the following link: http://www.comic-con.org/cci/badge_sales.php.” The link however was a redirect with the following path:
The link to an analytics website.
At 8:01 I clicked the link and the browser stopped with no web page loading. It looked as though it were waiting for the response from the server. Several minutes later I noticed the URL and reasoned that it may be part of the problem and just cut and paste the link into my browser, clicked the registration button, and was in the system.

I can understand Comic Con wanting to gather some data from their members, but every second matters when your place in line is being determined. When your users are punished for following your directions, that’s a real problem. Unfortunately there’s not much of a remedy for it. The product, attending Comic Con, is quite finite and in limited supply. Comic Con can afford to have many such problems in how it operates.

Gaming Products I Don’t Get

Dice Towers

Call me old-fashioned, but I like to roll dice by hand. Like many gamers, I enjoy the sound of large numbers of dice being tossed. Sometimes when I am in the mood for a little dice rolling, I satisfy my craving by watching this video from Terranscapes. (The good part is from 02:06) I can kind of, sort of understand that dice towers might eliminate a player’s ability to influence the dice. That said, from what I understand, they’re used in more casual gaming settings to begin with, such as playing RPGs. I have never seen a dice tower in use for games of Warhammer 40K or Warmachine. The number of cool Cities of Death dice towers would seem to counter that, but I’m speaking from my own experience, both with local friends and at conventions.

Yet there is a huge interest in dice towers. LITKO offers its Catan-branded model seen above, CNC Workshop offers its machine-cut wooden one, naturally. If those dice towers are too pedestrian for you, then you make your own. Besides ruins, one of the most frequent Hirst Arts builds would seem to be dice towers. An old Livejournal friend cast and made many with her fiancee for her wedding. I would have loved to see the fight over those at the end of the reception.

When I see the more decorative dice towers, I do appreciate them. I want to saw off the dice trays and then use them as terrain.

Life Counters

It must be amazing that I have played one or two hundred games of MAGIC: TG without a life counter. Wait. It’s not. If any external tool was used between friends and I, it was a 20-sided die. The utility of this mechanism was put to the test by many life-gaining White, Green, and Black spells. The die was abandoned when a friend would cast Regeneration and go up to 43 Health. If I recall correctly, someone may have even been brazen enough of a life-gainer to use a d30. The other implement used was something called pencil and paper. Otherwise memory sufficed and a respect for your opponent not cheating. Of course, I never played Magic: TG competitively. Yes, there were more conversation along the lines of “What are you down to? What are you at?”, but somehow we managed. Personally, I’d rather buy more cards.

GW’s Painting Station

This is where someone else would just type “Nuff said.” If you see a Youtube video or a review where someone points out just how useful their Paint Station is, please do share it with me. You’re paying money, $40 now, more than a squad of Tactical Marines, for what? When I have read someone mentioning the product, I can never tell if they are being sarcastic about owning one and its usefulness.

Among other things, here’s something that I use for painting, an adjustable wooden tray. It too can sit on your lap. It is a bit less pricey than the dedicated Paint Station and if you’re clean enough, you can also use it to eat meals. I have several of these commandeered away from family use. One has my Eldar army in various stages of assembly, the other has my Gardens of Morr on it.

Citadel Palette and Water Pot

Privateer Press has their Wet Palette, which intrigues me. It supposedly has the special properties of not drying the paint out on it. There is nothing intriguing about the Citadel Palette, which you can buy for $4.95. Here is what I have been using to squeeze my craft paint and Vallejo colors onto: jar lids. I used to rinse my brushes in cups. Now if I need to clean a brush, I use something called the sink. If I need to wet my brush, I use something called a plastic bottle cap. One of the many charms of the plastic bottle cap, other than its cost, is the reduction in the volume of any spill. The plastic bottle cap, alas, does not not hold six brushes or feature a screw-on lid. It itself is a screw-on lid. However if those features are indeed so useful, you can get the Water Pot by Games Workshop for $4.95. To me it is another product I don’t get.

Here is what I do get about both of these GW products: they prevent the need for the customer to go elsewhere to get supplies and they might be attractive to parents.

My Wife as a Gamer

Gaming was initially not part of my life with my then-girlfriend when we started going out. We met over the internet and first talked about comic books and music. Our first date was to see “The Fellowship of the Ring” back in 2001 on its opening night. We actually met the night before our date and watched “Dark Crystal”. A mutual love of fantasy was already out there in the open.

The Games Begin

The first summer of going out my future mother-in-law returned from Comic Con with a gift for me: the 5th Edition Warhammer boxed set featuring the Empire versus the Orcs. I believe by that time we were already playing other sorts of games such as HeroClix. I was very excited when my wife seemed to be making a Warhammer army. She had four Orc Boar Boyz and was given some Goblins.

She accompanied me to my first Games Day L.A., which only further piqued her interest in the Warhammer hobby. Together we painted figures at the paint-and-take, browsed the Golden Demon entries, listened to Gavin Thorpe explain some rules changes, and enjoyed the mayhem.

Painting miniatures turned out to be too time-consuming though. The scale of large Warhammer battles just doesn’t hold her interest. What did was joining her brothers, her cousin, and myself on World of Warcraft.

Video Games

This was at the time of Burning Crusade. She enjoyed herb-gathering and exploring Azeroth. I really enjoyed having a second account and dual-playing on both computers when she wasn’t around. Sometimes this ate into her own time. I was trying to level up a priest on her account so that the priest could follow my characters around and do heals on them. “Her” priest leveled faster by having my mage follow her around doing Arcane Bursts and other AoEs.

Sadly, WoW ended for us when I tried to cancel one of the accounts to get the cheaper offer that Blizzard had offered before when i closed an account. There was no cheaper offer, so I canceled the second account as well. The only other video game that we have played together is Justice League Heroes on Playstation 2. Did I mention that she loves comics and the Flash?We played QUITE a lot of it, beating it two times through, stopping midway through our third go round. My Xbox360? Not as much interest.

Back to Tabletop Games

About two years ago my wife showed interest in playing D&D. 4th Edition was fairly new. I had bought a Player’s Handbook for a campaign I was playing in. We worked through the new character generation and soon Tekla was born.Tekla was a rogue who went by the thief name Wisp in the back alleys of Westgate. At first our game only had her as the player with her completing thieving missions, battling giant centipedes, rats, and the filthy advances of Night Masks, Fire Knives, and Ebon Paws. It later grew to be a family campaign with my in-laws and my wife’s cousin and her husband playing.

Her interests have not stopped there. In the years since going to Games Day and a Strategicon with her, I purchased some Karmans for AT-43. She loves the gorillas, loves the Yetis’ plastic see-through helmets, and says that they’re “so cool”. They remind her of Flash’s nemesis, Gorilla Grodd. We have yet to play a game, but she’s looking forward to playing on my Martian boards from Terranscapes.

The Karmans’ appeal is also in their novelty. For the same reason, the Skaven for Warhammer Fantasy have warped her heart. However she would like them more if they looked like the cute mice from Mouseguard. Who knows what sort of furry cuddly army is in her future and mine?

The Best Strategy in Gaming

Many gamers spend hours optimizing their army lists to get the most out of them or carefully planning and saving for that GenCon trip. Many gamers also spend hours arguing with girlfriends or wives about their hobby, its costs, and how they spend their time. Perhaps one of the most basic things a gamer should do is find a good partner (and spouse eventually) who supports and nurtures their interests. While I know several other couples that have even stronger shared gaming habits, I feel very fortunate this Valentine’s Day to have my wife and to be able to enjoy gaming with her.

How Not to Win Her Over This Valentine’s: Throwing Games

My Disenchanting Magic: The Gathering Losses

Once upon a time, in 2001, I was seeing a girl. While we shared some of the same musical and movie interests, her love of anime far exceeded my own. We watched show after show together, OAV after OAV. At some point though, yearning to game, I taught her how to play Magic: The Gathering.

We spent many pleasant hours playing the game. Since I taught her and we were restricted to my selection of cards, the games were relatively even in deck building, with the advantage going to me of experience. I don’t build powerful competitive decks; I tend towards weenie decks without the cards to even level the field (like Wrath of God or Armageddon). I love building empires of Thrall tokens or Saprolings. While she never quite adopted my fondness for creating armies of tokens, she also would delay the kill in favor of drawing more cards.

All of our Magic playing though came crashing to a halt one day when I revealed that I had thrown a few games. I don’t recall why I felt it neccesary to reveal that fact,. Most likely, my ego was wounded. The effect was immediate and chilling: no more MTG games for us. Most of her victories were legitimate. The relationship eventually ended, though I really don’t think my Magic blunder was the source. I didn’t turn her off of Magic: The Gathering entirely. She emailed me months later revealing that she’d bought her own cards and now kept a Serra Angel of some sort in her wallet.

Why did I throw the games? My overall aim in losing the few games I deliberately lost was to make Magic more enjoyable for her. She would be more likely to play if she won more often. This seemed to be verified by her increased interest in playing after she had won. In my experience, very few people have the mental stamina to constantly lose games and quickly want to move onto something they’re better at. There is a large philosophical debate as far as game demoing goes as to whether you let the person trying your game out win or not. Most demo teams side towards letting the newbie enjoy the thrill of winning because they’re more likely to get into the game that way. When I’m playing a demo game, I want the opposite: the full experience and intellect of my opponent against me. Yes, victory is nice, but I need to see how challenging the game will be.

History Repeats Itself: Heroclix

Fast forward a year or two and I was playing Heroclix with my eventual wife. We played fairly often, even bringing some pieces and a map on a trip with us. After one loss to her when she began to gloat, I let it slip that I had let her win. It was the truth. I had wanted her to remain interested in the game. She would only beat me 2 out of 10 times and was showing signs of disinterest. Overall, my decision to throw the game (and reveal this to her) was a horrible strategy. She and I have not played Heroclix since.

Old habits die hard. Whether with a love interest or just a friend, you may want to think twice before deliberately losing in order to win him or her over. Or just keep your mouth shut.

Gaming Browsing Habits

Last Year

This is true probably for the last year or so. Almost every day I check Terranscapes and then the Terranscapes Youtube channel. Every few days I check Hirst Arts to see if Bruce has posted any new products or tutorials and then visit the pictures forum to see what people are making. Every week I check Custom Kingdoms to see what new products might exist. I also visit thewarstore and Miniature Market weekly to see what is on sale or what new products have come out. Every 2-3 weeks I visit Forgeworld to see what new and exciting products they have or just to get some eye candy. Every couple of months I take a look at Dark Age Games new releases, stop by GW to see if they have any new terrain (I get their frequent emails about new armies or events), check ArmyPainter’s website, browse Auggie’s Games, and also Mantic Games. About every six months I check out the Privateer Press terrain forum.

That is it. Everything else is dependent upon my interest at the time. I sometimes look at Youtube subscription mails to see if a video headline grabs my interest. If I want to see Egyptian terrain, I’ll stop in at Crocodile Games’ forum. For a while I checked out hcrealms when playing HeroClix a lot. How are people converting cool Orks? Let me see this Mad Doc thread. How do people paint their Necron Wraiths? Ok, what does this site show?

Older History

Back when my gaming club had its own bulletin board/forums, I was on it hourly. This was not a group of strangers and was an easy means of staying in contact until the next gaming or BS session. I also used to check brushthralls and terrainthralls for new updates pretty regularly, about once a week. Black Gobbo used to draw me to GW’s website; now I visit sporadically and gulp down a small section. When I was playing a lot more collectible miniatures games, I also would visit Strike Zone Online every few days.