#220: The Timewalk

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Timewalking is a feature in World of Warcraft that becomes available every few weeks or so, and it’s become a tradition for us to take time out of our busy schedules to complete the 5 required weekly timewalking dungeons, regardless of what expansion they come from.

Let me explain what timewalking is first. So in World of Warcraft, there have been seven expansions up to this point. The game has been out since 2004, and it’s still running strong despite everything else going wrong with the game since then. Each expansion has a set of dungeons (5-player group content) exclusive to that expansion. In Mists of Pandaria, the fourth expansion to the game, you could explore the Temple of the Jade Serpent with a group of randomized players, but in the most recent expansion, you can still complete the Temple dungeon, but not with random players in an instance queue. That is, until timewalking appears, and then you are able to experience the magic all over again. Your characters are leveled down to the current level of the expansion, and then you’re forced to take on everything that comes your way with an item level appropriate to the expansion, too. Everything is normalized to provide an authentic experience of what it would be like if that content was current. For example, all the enemies and bosses are scaled up while you are scaled down to match their power levels. Mechanics are important again, and you can’t just zerg rush through all the bosses without paying attention to some of the mechanics of the game. You have to actually pay attention and work as a team, rather than rushing and rushing along through every health bar you face.

That’s it for timewalking, for now at least. I’m sure I’ll talk about it again at some point, considering how prevalent it is in WoW.

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#218: The Board Game

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It’s time we talk about board games and how they’ve changed the way I think about gaming in general.

Board games are a blast, and I own plenty of them. My favorites that I own are probably Betrayal at House on the Hill & Kings of New York, two classics that always seem to pop up when my friends and I decide to hang out and play games together. There’s also Settlers of Catan, Clue, Taboo, Munchkin, Magic (if you count magic as a board games, it depends on your definition I guess), and more that I’m forgetting off the top of my head and I’m sure Alex will remind me of them after she reads this.

The reason why I like playing board games is because they allow a certain degree of role-playing that isn’t afforded by other games. In Betrayal, for example, people are given the chance to role-play as a person trekking through a mysterious, haunted mansion. The place is procedurally generated, thanks to the freedom that playing a board game offers, and there are tiles that you pull from to create the mansion. When you run into an Omen tile, you have to draw an Omen card, such as a Sword, Zombie, Knight, etc., and they determine what the Haunt will be. The Haunt is the moment that changes the game and flips everything on its head. Depending on what Omen is drawn, who draws it, and what room they draw it in, the game chooses a “Betrayer” who then has to fight against the rest of the party. It’s one of my favorite games because of the randomness presented by it, as well as the sheer interactions that come from playing a game that randomly pits certain people against each other. How fun is that?

I also like playing Kings of New York, but I’ve run out of words to talk about that one. Maybe next time!

#192: The Episode

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Spoilers ahead, obviously, if you haven’t watched the most recent Game of Thrones episode.

In continuing the trend of discussing Game of Thrones on this blog, I’ll be talking about how it felt to watch Game of Thrones with another friend with us over the past weekend. Instead of watching on Sunday, we waited to watch on Monday with Hallie as a way of giving us something to do while we were together. We hadn’t watched Game of Thrones together in years, the last time probably being in 2014 during study abroad, but we still managed to talk about it despite not seeing each other very much. It was a wonderful experience to get to vocalize our complaints, criticisms, and thoughts to each other, like an audience that’s right there for us to interact with.

The episode featured a lot of romance, and a lot of interesting interactions and conversations between the characters. Some of the scenes felt especially fanfictiony, but mostly it was a good, quality episode with dialogue that featured conviction from the characters. One thing I will always love about Game of Thrones is the interactions between the different characters, how they respond to each other within difficult situations, their storied histories and thoughts unfurling in front of us as the story moves forward. It really rewards long-term investment and understanding of the different characters.

The episode moved at a quick pace, but also allowed for the characters to really dive into their different feelings about the previous episode, featuring the Long Night and the invasion of the white walker army (and its defeat). The final two episodes are coming, and I can’t wait to see what they do next. It’ll be interesting to follow the last two episodes, considering this has been a show I’ve been into for so long. It’s all coming to an end soon.

#191: The Friend

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On Monday, I drove up to Middlebury to pick up a friend who was visiting from out of state. Her name is Hallie, and she lives in Seattle but used to live in Boston, so as part of a week-long tour of New England, she traveled from Boston to New York and stopped in Stamford to see us. It was wonderful to get to meet someone again who you haven’t seen in person in years.

Hallie and I have been friends since 2014, when the two of us ended up in London on the same study abroad trip, but from separate colleges. Hers was Brandeis, mine was Quinnipiac. Ever since our trip to London, we’ve kept in touch off and on, making sure to keep each other in the loop on our day to day musings and general things that are going on in our lives. It’s nice to have someone to bounce rants off of, and who I can depend on when it comes time to complain about something annoying. That’s what friends are all about, right?

Hallie also is the original DM of our Dungeons & Dragons group. She took a break because of work and time constraints, and I took over to compensate. Our group has been going steadily since then, with off and on sessions that take place around once every couple months. I have time at work to sometimes plan out what we’re doing during a particular session, which helps me because I’m sure Hallie doesn’t have that kind of time available.

Friends are valuable, helpful people who you can depend on, and who you help when they need someone to depend on, too. I’m grateful for the friends I have in my life. They make a world of difference to me. Thanks to all of them.

#145: The Reunion

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Reuniting with friends is one of my absolute favorite things to look forward to. I love being surrounded by old friends, reminiscing about old times, discussing past professors and classes and coursework and drama from when we were younger and less mature, arguably. I love having brunch together, exploring the city together, shopping in unfamiliar places together. I love overwhelming and welcoming hugs that last far longer than any other hugs you had experienced recently. I love old jokes, past through time, but still fresh and crystallized in our memories once brought up again. I love walking through living history, through places and settings explored years before, where the streets and coffee shops and restaurants immediately recall what it was like to be 22, instead of 24.

Reunions bring me back. This past weekend, I had a fantastic reunion with one of my great friends, Jac. She’s still just as lively and welcoming and friendly as ever, and we had a brilliant time just reminiscing about life and the memories we weren’t able to share together in the two or so years since we last hung out. It was a reminder of what real friends are like, what real friendship resembles after spending so much time with friends who are perhaps a bit less friendly, outwardly. You sometimes lose track of what that’s supposed to be like when you’re not used to it any more. You lose track of how respectful, how kind, how familiar friendship should be, when it’s at its absolute peak.

Alex also met Jac for the first time. We mutually hung out once online while playing some D&D, but that never amounted to more than just our first session. Our schedules never worked out again after that. It was a bit of a shame at the time, but we still managed to keep in touch after that fell through.

#125: The Second Return

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After a long absence without playing Dungeons & Dragons with my friends, it’s finally made its return and I couldn’t be happier.

Now, you might be thinking, hasn’t Anthony written about D&D before and doesn’t he currently DM a group? The answer to that is, of course, yes, but it’s more complicated than that. I am currently DMing a group of friends through my own self-made campaign, but I am also a player in another campaign with a different group of friends, and the latter campaign is what I’ll be discussing briefly in this blog post.

So, in case you don’t know, Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons are both owned and operated by the same company: Wizards of the Coast. As a result, the developers of D&D published a guidebook recently that allows players to explore and create a campaign using one of MTG’s most fabulous and interesting locations: Ravnica. Because all of our friends used to play MTG to some degree, it fits that we would decide to return to D&D using an MTG setting.

The DM is one of our friends who hasn’t DM’d much in the past, but his lack of experience allows us to fill in the gaps and explore options through the story. The story still has a definitive beginning, middle, and end to it, but we are allowed to make our own story out of what’s available.

I play a centaur cleric named Cassio Stormbringer, and my friends play a multitude of other races, such as minotaur, half-elf, and human. The variety of races allows for some interesting interactions in our party.

Overall, I’m super happy that D&D has made a second return in my life. It’s one of the most consistently great things going on.

#101: The Playlist

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On the way to my friend’s place last Wednesday, I drove up with one of my friends for about an hour after picking him up. It didn’t feel like a long drive, and thankfully we didn’t hit much traffic aside from the usual nonsense. It was just standard; nothing exceptional or outstanding on our way to and from our mutual friend’s house.

But what stood out to me, as we drove from place to place, is the presence of music in a car ride, how the perfect blend of music in a playlist fits into the background like a puzzle piece, not upsetting the balance, not overthrowing the car’s emotional tranquility or atmosphere. How music itself is necessary for a long car ride, otherwise people will feel the need to fill the air with small-talk and fruitless conversation. And as someone with anxiety, no conversation is worse than a forced conversation, even among friends! It can still lead to paranoia and confusion in the car. The mood of the car is important to maintain. One time, I tried playing through my metal playlist, filled with Mastodon and Megadeth and Metallica and other M-named bands, only to realize that it didn’t really jive with the more relaxed, calming mood we had set. Thus, I was overthrowing the steady car feeling. It’s one thing to play a song that someone doesn’t like, but it’s another to play an usurping full set of music.

So, it became important for me to make sure that the music playing as we drove to our friend’s place was worthwhile, but also not dramatically or diametrically opposed to the mood. I gathered a bunch of video game songs that were remixed into lo-fi versions, and I played them for my friend. Turns out, it went well and there was nothing to worry about!

#99: The Return of D&D

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D&D made its miraculous, fantastic return over this past weekend, and I’ve been eager to write about it since it happened. What’s more monumental and exciting than an evening full of role-playing, creative writing, and friendship born through an online medium? The friends I’ve met through D&D are known primarily through D&D, and they exist just in that realm, but when we return to it, I feel like I’m returning to talk with long-term friends again. I have friendships with these people that transcends and supersedes what normal friends are like. We are

On this past Friday, I played D&D at a sleepover with friends who care about it quite a lot. They took it a bit more seriously, choosing to have a more stern and deliberate campaign than the improv-based, comedy-focused campaign I participated in on Sunday. It was interesting to see this dichotomy develop between the two separate campaigns; on the one hand, I loved having the chance to stretch my stuff in a serious story-line with actual implications to it, but on the other hand, it felt great to be loose a bit and explore the fantastical world that takes up my mind. Being a Dungeon Master is tough, but rewarding work! I love the opportunity to develop a campaign with my friends regardless, whether as a player or as a character taking part in the story. There’s so much value in having friends that are willing to role play and have fantastical experiences with. It helps me test my writing abilities while also hearing in a live setting how those abilities are manifesting.

It also provides me with an outlet for my creative writing. I don’t think that creative writing is just something that involves line breaks and stanzas in poetry; there are so many layers to being a creative writer, and preparing a Dungeons & Dragons campaign has to fit into one of them. It just so happens to also be a friendly activity, too.

My nose is feeling a bit stuffy, so I’m going to stop writing here for now. Perhaps I will return to write more of this later.

#47: Good Friends

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Friends help make the world go round, and in the darkest times, they can even keep the world going all on their own. They have no peers but themselves. No comparisons are appropriately made when it comes to the value of a good friend, because a good friend is invaluable. They light up the sun when it’s dusk outside, and they bring food to your doorstep when you are hungry. Metaphorically, of course. They give you attention and validation when you need it, and they fill you up with positive vibes when you are feeling down. Good friends don’t need to be omnipresent helpers in your life, fixing your lightbulbs whenever they dim out, because a good friend helps simply by existing. The fact that they care for you sometimes is an added bonus, amplifying the already great benefits of having friends.

Recently, a good friend who I only see three days a year arrived for his annual sleepover hang-out spectacular. The extraordinary weekend. It’s a winter tradition, and every year I look forward to the next one. Sometimes it lasts a little longer than three days, but this year we were limited a bit. Fortunately for us, we managed to get lots of gaming in during our three days of hanging out, and spent quality time with each other, enjoying rare company. It’s not every day I get to see friends like this. That’s not to cheapen or demean my other friends, who I enjoy seeing on a more regular basis; it’s just that, when I have a friend who I rarely see, the moments we do share are made more special because of the long absence between them.

I was able to take this friend with me to all the great Stamford spots: Robek’s for smoothies, Corbo’s for lunch, Dino BBQ (and eventually, Cafe Jose) on Grubhub. We embraced what the city has to offer all over again, and I was uplifted by the experience. Something about his enjoyment validated all of my experiences here, and made them more valuable and worthwhile. It’s the beauty of having friends whose opinions and feelings you deeply respect and care about; eventually, you’ll grow to expect and rely upon their wisdom. Every decision is made better by their input, and every experience made more memorable with their presence. Nothing at all like a good friend.