Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Appendix N: An Amazing and Rewarding Journey

Praise for Appendix N continues to roll in!

This article over at Shop on the Borderlands drops this particularly nice shout-out:

If you look around on the internet, you’ll find plenty of other articles about Appendix N, including plenty of reviews of the (sometimes obscure) works listed. I would particularly recommend Jeffro Johnson’s work, including his excellent book “Appendix N: The Literary History of Dungeons & Dragons”. Johnson has a true appreciation for the style of writing typified by Appendix N, and for old school roleplaying.

Meanwhile, I’ve pulled down yet another five star review over at Goodreads with this entry from “DNF with Jack Mack”:

While reading The greatest Modules of All time, I discovered a lefthand D&D path I hadn’t pursued, having been lured away by the Advanced label. This path was mostly Arneson and largely Science-Fantasy. Disappointed by Fourth Ed., I switched to DCC. Goodman’s Game had been inspired by Appendix N, so I followed suit. It’s an amazing and rewarding journey that I am still on.

I had a blast reading Johnson’s book, and I was shocked to discover how much our views are in accord– considering how fussy I usually am. I’d recommend this to anyone with an interest in Science Fiction and Fantasy.

I’d wager there are less than two thousand living people who have completed this quest, so it’s remarkable that Jeffro would write such a thing. Salud.

Join us: the few, the well read, the Appendix N’s!

Meanwhile gaming legend Ken St. Andre recently dropped this on Twitter:

“I got a copy of Appendix N from @CastaliaHouse in the mail yesterday. Well written and researched–almost too much knowledge there.”

(Okay, that last one especially blows me away. Wow!)

If you haven’t already picked up a copy… now’s the time! It’s not only a survey of a great many lost treasures of fantasy and science fiction, but also details their relationship to some of the most iconic works in tabletop gaming.

Check it out!

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Fitness Answers

Okay, I’m thinking I’m starting to get this. But it’s not easy.

There’s basically no one whose job it is to help me figure this out. The chiropractor thinks the spine has all the answers. But not one of them ever thought to tell me that working out could help me hold an adjustment to the point where I don’t need their services so much. At the gym, the physical trainer is quick to say, “I’m not a doctor.” And the doctor…? I’m just glad she had the sense to throw me at a physical therapist. Because some of her direction was just plain wrong.

I write down everything I do. Every type of exercise. Everything that hurts. When it hurts. How it hurts. How long. I get out these papers and start talking and they tune out. Most of these people, they have a lot of patients to serve. The system is to get as many people in and out as quickly as possible. Thinking and listening isn’t so much on the agenda.

So the answers come from comparing notes from people that are genuinely into fitness. The medical type people… they can confirm this sort of common sense stuff… but they never really get the idea that it would be a good thing to convey it to anyone. (Your mileage may vary. And I hope it does.)

So here’s the problem. I go on a fitness kick… end up working my way up to doing five mile run. I do three in a week… but we’re going hiking. In my head, hiking doesn’t count as “real” exercise. So I go on this hike the same day as I do a five mile run. And I find out that rapid elevation changes can make even a four mile hike into a killer. I wipe myself out and end up hurting my knee.

Then after doing some physical therapy a while… I end up run/walking about three miles. (Longer than I expected.) I stretch. I ice it down. I don’t hurt it all… until the next day. Muscles in my leg start spazzing out…!

Then I switch to biking more. (It’s not as hard on my knee.) Again, a lot of what I do doesn’t register in my brain as being “real” exercise. I don’t count my commute as exercise. It’s just “activity” in my head. I bike to the gym, work out, and bike home. Then later that afternoon I do this 20 mile bike ride and my knee ends up complaining for the last six miles of it.

Maybe you already see the problem. Good!

So I ask a trainer how she trains for a marathon. She does 40 minutes on the treadmill on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Saturdays she runs only one mile. Sundays she does her “big” run… steadily increasing it up until the event.

Here’s another clue: if Vox Day has a big soccer game, he doesn’t do a huge workout the day before.

This sort of planning real athletes take for granted has not been on my agenda at all. And another thing. My approach to fitness is to pick one activity, and then do more and more until I injure myself. All of my assumptions about how to work out are setting me up to find these breaking points. Like… if I was training for a marathon, I’m the sort that would do two in one week. (I know, it doesn’t make any sense. But that’s the gist of my “method”.)

So I know what my limits are– five mile runs and twenty mile bike rides are right about where my reach is right now. The physical trainers have evened out the muscles in my legs. (I’m symmetrical now. Long story.) And I know it’s worth my time to go get some real running shoes from people that know what works.

But my plan now is something more like this:

  • Gym workouts Monday, Wednesday, Friday… but I don’t do leg stuff on Fridays.
  • Four mile bike rides to and from work on week days.
  • The big bike ride on Saturdays. Working up from 12 to 15 to 17 to 20 miles… hopefully with no knee weirdness.

If that goes well, I’ll cool it. Maybe switch to some jogging to make sure I can get back to those one and two mile runs I used to do all the time. Take a break… and then maybe plan out how to hit that 30 mile mark in a completely separate plan.

(The strength training at the gym is what makes going beyond the limits possible. Especially the running can take its toll. Cranking that up arbitrarily doesn’t do anything for my health. I really like running for some reason. But mainly… it’s most useful as a test to prove that I’ve gone beyond wherever I was physically three months ago.)

But yeah, I suppose picking reasonable goals, changing things up, and leveraging your rest periods is just common sense. I’m just glad it only took ten weeks for me to piece this together.

Two Months of Fitness

My favorite trainer was back today after being gone for a few weeks. He could tell right away that I had gone up on the size of dumbbells I using.

Back then I was working through my first case of tennis elbow and was terrified that I would hurt myself somehow. I quickly moved up from the five pound weights to eight pounds. And I would have hung around the tens for a while longer. But if there are a bunch of women in the class, then all the eights and tens get used up. So I moved up to the twelves and have gotten used to them.

I think back to month one and it seems like nothing. I was doing five mile runs then because I didn’t know what was wrong with my knee yet, but gosh it was a real struggle to get into the gym three days a week for forty-five minutes each. I never really got sore, but I was dog tired a lot of the time.

Lately, I’m doing closer to six days a week and between an hour and a half to two hours each time– plus biking to the gym and back on top of that. I suspect I’m at the point where improving my diet will give more results than spending more time at the gym. But I’m much less afraid of getting hurt at the gym now. In fact, due to a chronic knee problem I have always been terrified of the gym. Of course, weights turn out to be a huge part of the cure for that sort of thing, so my instincts were opposite from what I really needed to do for years.

I know exactly how far I can run or bike before hurting myself now. A month of time consuming physical therapy did not work a miracle, unfortunately. I don’t know what to think of that. Surprisingly, I don’t skip leg day anymore. In fact… lifting weights makes my ailing knee feel better.

Gaining a newfound familiarity with your limitations… it can be a real downer. I can’t tell you how bad I wish I could be training for a half marathon right now. But it’s off the table at the moment. And I can’t console myself with insanely long bike rides while I work through this, either. On the plus side I’ve got a pair of biceps that I just didn’t have four weeks ago. And there’s nothing stopping me from hitting the gym as much as I want. But I tell you… there’s nothing like not being able to do something that really makes you want to be able to do it.

Nerds at the Gym

I don’t wear headphones at the gym so it’s turned into a lot of time spent looking at myself in the mirror or else watching how people regular people behave. Seriously, this is the most time I’ve ever spent around people that didn’t involve a compiler or a Dungeon Masters Guide.

It’s surprising to me, though. Normal people are actually pretty nice. They find out I’m into biking and weightlifting and if they’re into it, too, they get so excited. They have to tell me about this thing that they did or some advice that they have. It’s like I’m instantly part of their tribe or something.

Now, I have never in my life given much thought to appearance. But there’s something about that moment when you catch your reflection somewhere and you fail to recognize yourself that can change that real fast. I know you’ve seen it happen with a girl you knew. Maybe you took her for granted because she just wasn’t that good looking. Then one day she shows up with her hair fixed up and a nice outfit and you can’t stop looking at her. You know the whole story… but your head just swivels around reflexively anyway.

My impression of nerds in general is that they don’t get that that sort of thing can really work in their favor, too. A lot of them got smacked down pretty hard in their school days and they’re stuck with this assumption that nothing they do can make a difference. Or maybe they just pretend like they’re not trying on purpose so they don’t have to feel bad about failing.

What’s been eyeopening for me is discovering that nerdy girls really do exist. No, not the cute girl that puts on geek glasses and then get into stereotypical male hobbies. I’m talking frumpy, pasty-white girls with absolutely no muscle tone. I’ll tell you, though… it’s not how they look that really makes them a nerd. It’s the way they act. They can’t just come into class and quietly do the exercises like everybody else. They’re always making noise: self-deprecating jokes, nervous laughter.

Seeing it from the other side is really instructive. But yeah, the biggest nerds of all are still dudes. It kills me watching some of this play out, too.

I walked into a section to do my routine one time and there was this really attractive girl there doing her thing. This trainer goes to give her some help she turned out not to need and then he just went off with this jokey faux-subservient routine. He was loud. He kept on. Some of his friends chuckled at his antics… but he was just plain dying. The awkwardness was painful.

My takeaway…? If you’ve put a lot of effort into improving your appearance and you don’t want it to go to waste, try this: SHUT UP. Goofy self-deprecating attempts at humor simply don’t have the effect you want it to. They really don’t.

Don’t be that guy.

In fact… flip the script altogether. Be the guy that patiently endures the nerdy girls embarrassing themselves in front of him.

It’s way more entertaining.

You Don’t Have to Be a Nerd

I have been unfit for my entire life.

Changing that wasn’t easy. Every other year or so for a long time I’d attempt to do something about it. Usually within two weeks I’d injure myself somehow. I had no idea what sort of things would yield the best results. And I had no idea how to actually get on the right track.

My advice now for nerds that are sick and tired of being nerds would be this:

  • Don’t waste your time jogging, doing exercise DVDs, and doing the stuff you remember doing in your high school P. E. class. If you are ignorant of how fitness works, there is no way you are going to get this right.
  • Join a gym… preferably one that has physical trainers that can give you constant feedback on getting your form right from the start. LIFT WEIGHTS.
  • Don’t go overboard too quickly, but try to ramp up slowly. However… if you are chronically unfit, you may find out where your physical limits are and end up in a lot of pain. If that happens to you, go to your doctor and make it a priority to get it figured out.

Here is what things were like when I got to the three week mark:

So I’m in the gym doing my routine, two sets of twenty on all the upper body machines I can comprehend. I’ve been at this for three straight weeks now. I keep going over to the dispenser to get the paper towels to wipe down each machine and I look at that guy in the mirror and I think. Ah, I just stand up straighter lately, that’s all. I look again the next time and I think… maybe I just look different when I’m doing weights because I’m flexing. Third time I look again, and I can’t deny it. SOMETHING IS DIFFERENT. I get home and take pictures for the before and after thing… and good gosh. I’ve got pectoral muscles. I’ve got a freaking chest.

Three weeks. Three days a week. A forty minute routine. It made a difference. Yeah, I was jogging and biking, too. I traded out cereal and replaced it with steak and eggs. I dropped soda and candy bars entirely.

I can’t believe it. I… I didn’t know this was possible.

And here is what things were like at the six week mark:

Okay, so it’s been six weeks since hitting the gym. I started out focusing on chest, shoulders, and back. It’s not that much difference, maybe, but I feel like a football player.

So Friday I’m walking my bike home after something went sideways on it. I walk past this mom with her lanky teen-aged daughter The girl steals a glance at me, locks her eyes right on my pecs, then looks down and away. (Hey, “eyes up here” is your line.)

Okay, maybe that’s just in my head. No big deal. Next day I head to the gym and this blonde is coming out as I’m going in. She looks at me… then she looks me up and down. Obviously I’m imagining things. But while I’m working out, I turn around and I catch this other cute blonde checking me out. Same girl twice.

Okay, so maybe this is just a gym thing. It still hasn’t sunk in.

Then I’m on the bus today minding my on business. This cute chick sits in the back sort of diagonal from me. Fifteen minutes later I glance up… and she’s freaking staring at me. I look at her with this sort of “what are you looking at” type look and just stare back… but she doesn’t look away. Her expression doesn’t change… except for just this hint of a smile.

No, this is not normal for me. This is new.

And I don’t know what I thought would happen, but this ain’t it.

What I think is weird is that it’s only the attractive ones that do this. The truly nerdy girls are… well they’re behaving like nerdy guys would. They hang back. They hide in plain sight.

This is nuts.

I see people that are like how I was. Slouching, skinny, pasty white. Creeps, basically. I look at these guys when I see them and I have to say… they don’t look particularly happy. I feel bad for them, because I know this isn’t working for them and nobody will tell them what they need to know to really get on top of things. Not their mom. Not their preacher. Not their guidance counselor. Not their therapist. And not the nerdy dudes they hang out with.

It bugs me that so many people are being propped up in an endeavor to make do with something that just can’t work well no matter how it’s spun. But that’s the shape of it. So let me tell you what nobody else will:

Get to the gym. Go three times a week. Eat right. Go outside. Be physically active.

The only reason you wouldn’t is because you’ve decided that you’re simply not worth that kind of investment. That vibe is all over you. And everyone around you picks up on it and takes it for granted that it’s true. Even your posture communicates it.

But you really don’t have to live like that anymore. You’ll be glad when you’ve changed. And you might be surprised at just how fast things can change.