Trail Rations: Hearty Slow-cooker Slaw Stew

My regular Thursday night group has a long tradition of eating a shared meal before we game. It started when we gamed at our then GM’s house and his lovely wife (also a member of our motley band) would prepare dinner for us. We kept that practice intact until Scott and Sheila moved, then there was a several year gap while we gamed at places that didn’t have kitchens (like the offices at BioWare Games). But now that we’re back gaming in someone’s (my) home, we are bringing back the tradition of sharing a meal before our game.

So I thought I’d share a quick and easy recipe my group enjoys, and one that I love making on busy days because it takes just a few minutes to throw together. Then the slow cooker takes over and does the heavy lifting. If you don’t have a slow-cooker you can do it in a large pot on the stove, just keep the heat low and stir often so it doesn’t char at the bottom.

Slow-cooker Slaw Stew


1-bag pre-shredded coleslaw cabbage blend (found in the bagged salad area of your grocery store)

1-bag baby spinach (found in same place)

1-bag pre-shredded carrots (found in same place)

3-12 oz. (340 gram) cans of diced tomatoes

2-15 oz. (425 gram) cans of kidney beans

1-15 oz. (425 gram) can of black beans

1 large white or yellow onion, diced

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, or 3 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 teaspoon paprika

salt and pepper to taste


One package lean ground beef (or whatever ground meat or stewing meat you prefer)

Preparation: Dice your onion; don’t worry about making the dice particularly small, the slow cooker will reduce the onion quite a bit. Add all the ingredients except the baby spinach to your slow cooker, stirring them together to blend them. Then add the bag of baby spinach, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover, and start the slow cooker. Don’t worry that the spinach seems overflowing, it will reduce a lot during cooking. I use the 6-hour setting on mine, but you can set it for whatever time works best for you. Optional: if you are adding ground meat, brown the meat in a pan just enough to give it colour, then add to slow-cooker along with other ingredients. One of my guys is vegetarian, so I wait until the slow-cooker is almost done and brown the ground beef in a separate pan for the rest of the guys to add on the side.

Serves five voracious gamers, with seconds, and I usually have enough left for lunch the next day. You can top each bowl with a dollop of sour cream or handful of shredded cheddar cheese if you like.

There you go! Healthy, easy to make, and delicious. And a nice break from the usual fast-food gamer fare. Give it a try at your next session.

What does your group do about meals at game time? Do you have favourite gaming foods or recipes? Let us know in the comments!


Year of the Con: Gencon

Let’s assume I’ve made the standard excuses for a long blog absence, and you have decided to forgive me or not.  Stuff that happened during that absence will end up on the blog eventually but it is not part of today’s subject.  Because today’s subject is…


I made it back this year, against some pretty staggering odds.  Hard to complain too much about that, especially when some of those odds were self-inflicted.  Suffice to say I was pretty much not going to make it this year, until, due to the saint-like generosity of a friend, I was.  I can certainly do without the whiplash inducing status changes, but since I am writing this from a coffee shop in Indianapolis I can hardly argue with the result.  So I will say another hearty thank-you to my benefactor, and get on to the meat of this post.

I won’t go too much into the drive down, except that it was better and worse than the drive down last time.  Like last time there were five of us in the vehicle, and despite its spaciousness five seems to be the number that causes “cabin fever” despite wishes to the contrary.  That was enhanced by the fact we were driving straight through, 31 hours in one shot (with appropriate breaks to switch drivers and for intake/outflow).  It was somewhat offset, however, by the most mother-beautiful air conditioning ever.  I can last pretty much indefinitely in an air-conditioned vehicle; without it I become…tetchy.  The only other thing I’ll say about the drive is kudos to Don, who manoeuvred us through some pretty dense Chicago inter-state traffic at midnight, despite the best efforts of teamsters trying to cut our trip short.  Well done, sir!

Today is technically Day Zero, since Gencon proper doesn’t begin until 9am Thursday.  But Wednesday is the day that Indianapolis is invaded by gamers, like zombies descending on an ICU.  And what is so cool among all the other cool things, is how much Indianapolis embraces Gencon and its participants.  For blocks around the Indianapolis Convention Centre (ICC) the city has posted banners welcoming us.  Shops and stores display a variety of posters and signage welcoming us and reminding us of Gencon specials.  Nobody seems terribly dismayed by the high geek concentration in the crowds downtown, and that is a sort of excellent.

Currently I am waiting in the lobby of the Hyatt, where Paizo is putting me up for the weekend.  Check-in time isn’t for a few hours yet, and I don’t want to be one of Those Guests by trying to wheedle my way into my room early.  The lobby has a coffee shop and free wi-fi, so I have everything I need for the moment.  While the weather is not at the same scorching levels it achieved the last time I was here, it is hot enough to make me glad the Hyatt is attached to the ICC by pedway.  Because I will be one of Those Guests and not go outside all weekend unless I have to.

*     *     *

Pro Traveller Tip: If you want to freak out your American barrista, forget you aren’t in Canada and try to pay for your coffee with a Twonie.  It’s like I tried to pay with diseased Monopoly-money™.  Once she figured out I was Canadian, and I actually had good-ol’ American cash, everything was good.  Update: The barrista has found a collection of Canadian music and is now playing it. Apology? Revenge? Changes song to song.

*     *     *

Today is a pretty light day for me, certainly compared to my Pathfinder GM schedule over the rest of Gencon.  Meet my roomies for the next four days, then the Venture-Captain dinner tonight.  After the dinner I may or may not check out some gaming goodness at a local game store.  More likely I’ll go back to my room and put the finishing touches on a few of the scenarios I haven’t run prior to this Gencon (they didn’t exist until this Gencon, making me one of the first GMs to run people through them, which is exciting to me).  And then up early to hit the Dealer Room for 9am, because there are folks to visit and games to demo.

I will update daily, as my schedule allows.  Some updates may be more detailed than others, also schedule dependant.  Honestly, one of them might just be a “Squeeee!”.  But they’ll come.

I get the rare privilege of spending five days in the company of My People. So for now I’m just happy to be here, and working to enjoy the moment while the moments come!

Hump Day Links for June 6

Wow, a hump day and it’s cold, raining and thundery.  You might need these links more than ever…

– Frodo had The One Ring; I have this.  My birthday is coming up, that’s all I’m saying…

– In addition to stairs, Daleks were apparently stymied by buses.

– Would you believe Wright, Pegg and Frost are getting together again to make an apocalypse movie? Excellent, your credulence calibration is complete…

– An ode to every gamer’s friend, the Natural 20.

– For Game of Thrones fans: I think they should hand out a copy of that book to so many characters

– If the zombie-proof homes I posted last week didn’t suit you, maybe this evil villain starter home will.  I’d want it for the submarine port alone…

– This is so awesome I don’t even have a clever thing to say:  The Last Unicorn is getting another theatrical release.  And Peter S. Beagle will be at each of the screenings.  @britl, keep your calendar open…

– Ever wonder if freelancing is for you?  Here’s a check-list to see if you’re right.

– For those that spend some time in Photoshop, here is a handy graphic of keyboard short cuts.  You’re welcome.

– Andrew Peregrine would like to dispel some myths about the gaming industry.

– Another one for Game of Thrones fans: look, if 300 of us just chipped in $100 each

– If you like modding Nerf guns (and why wouldn’t you?), here’s a list of the best ones to get you started.

– I’m excited to see Prometheus.  But I’d also watch the paper version

– I’d want to be reeeeeally sure of the navigational software before I’d fully trust a robotic lawnmower.  “Huh, who keeps bumping against the front dooaaAHHHHHHHH-”

– If you follow nothing else on Tumblr, you need to follow Text from my Dog.  Some of the few laugh out loud moments I have on the ‘net.

Okay folks, go splash in some puddles and then run back inside for hot cocoa; repeat as necessary.  Why yes, I do have the rest of my morning planned, why do you ask?

DnD Next: Three Things I Like at First Glance

With the start of the public play-test for the next iteration of Dungeons and Dragons recently, you have either been blissfully unaware (if you are not a gamer) or have read roughly a bazillion posts on gaming sites spanning the webz.  For those that have remained thus far ignorant, sorry to get my gaming nerd on you.  For the gamers: brace yourself, Princess, here comes bazillion and one!

I’m restricting this to just three things because I haven’t actually played with the play test material yet; that will come later in the week with my usual crew.  I’m also trying to set up a game with a pick-up group, so we can try it out with a variety of different play styles.  But for right now I’ll just touch on three things that struck me reading through the material for the first time.

Character Sheets – This particular point of play testing is not focused on character creation, so pre-gens were supplied.  The first thing I notice about the sheets is how uncluttered they are, with a very Basic D&D feel to them.  That said, the pre-gens are packed with tantalizing clues about what character creation might be like.  Race and Class are familiar territory, but the use of Backgrounds, Themes and Features is interesting.  Depending on how “plug and play” those components are, they could result in some interesting character builds.  I’m a little disappointed to see a return to Vancian Magic, but there’s no THAC0, so I’m willing to forgive a lot on that score.  And at first glance it seems that Background/Theme will take the place of cleric Domains, if the two pre-gen clerics provided are any example.  I’m sort of excited by the implied level of customization here, which is what I missed from 4th Ed.

Caves of ChaosB2: Keep on the Borderlands was the first module I played in waaaay back in 1980.  And I have had a crush on that module ever since.  It was a wonderful, if unlikely, collection of ancient underground passages, caves and temples, completely over-run by a host of goblins, bugbears, cultists and worse.  And the cool thing about it was that it actually made a weird sort of sense.  The Caves had an oddly balanced ecosystem all its own, right down to what the monsters did if the players left them alone long enough, and with whom they might ally.  This CoC update looks to follow in those footsteps, and I can’t wait to TPK my play-testers challenge my play-testers in the Caves again.

Advantage/Disadvantage – This is one feature of the play test rules that intrigues me.  The idea is pretty simple: characters can have abilities or situations that grant them Advantage or penalize them with Disadvantage.  In either case they will roll a second d20 when making a check or test; if they have an Advantage they take the higher of the two rolls, if Disadvantage, the lower.  What I find interesting about this is that it doesn’t necessarily have to result in amazingly good or bad things happening as a result of the dice roll, while also not getting in the way of amazing things still happening.  After all, you could be at a Disadvantage and roll a 16 and 17 on two dice; obviously your character wasn’t as successful as he/she could be, but still managed to pull through.  By the same token, being at an Advantage and rolling a 2 and an 18 is going to feel like Mardi Gras in situations where the player really needed to succeed.  Hopefully this mechanic will make the cut for the final draft of the game, because I think it adds a very cool flavour to the dice play.

I will write another post with my thoughts after we play with the material this week.  While I’ve remained generally neutral in the Edition Wars, it is no secret I wasn’t a huge fan of 4th Ed.  What I’m seeing so far with DnDNext (for the love of all that is holy and kittens, that name must change!) gives me some hope that the new version might be fun for me to play again.  I don’t think it will supplant Pathfinder as my first love at this point, but I’d be fine with keeping the new D&D to play on the side.

If you want to get involved in the play test, sign up on the website and download the play test material.

Are you taking part in the play test?  What are your thoughts about what you’ve seen so far?

The Games Room: Making It Right!

If there is a second great love in my life behind gaming, it is home improvement.  I love HGTV (though if you are listening, producers, less shows about buying property, more actual renovation shows!) and I will watch DIY Disaster, Holmes on Homes, Holmes Inspection, Sarah’s House et al for hours.  And thanks to a varied work history coupled with a solid grounding in theatrical carpentry, I actual have many of the necessary skills to put what I see on the television to use.

Which brings me to the games room.  One-third of the roomies in my house moved out back in November (we miss you Stan!), leaving my roommate Kyle and I with a spare room.  Neither of us has felt the impetus to leave out current bedrooms, and unless/until we decide to regain a third roommate the room is free to use as a games room.  Since both Kyle and I like The Gaming and we both have people over to do so on occasion, turning the room into a games room seemed like a no-brainer.  We’ve already made some temporary steps in that direction, adding in a folding table and chairs and a large shelf to hold all our board games.  But I am starting to think about what more I want to do with the room, to make it the perfect Gamer Cave (Note: I do not want to make it a real cave).

Here are the conditions I must work under:

  1. We rent, so any changes I make to the room have to either be approved by the landlord, or be easily removed so we can restore the room to its original state.
  2. All changes must be subject to roommate approval; it’s Kyle’s game room too.
  3. I’m on a budget due to current unemployment, so the crystal wall sconces and teak table are right out.  I want it to look cool, but it can’t cost an arm and a leg. (That’s where the theatrical carpentry and set design training come in)

The room itself is 11’x10’6″, with a large closet and a 1/2 bath (toilet/sink) ensuite.  It has a slightly tall ceiling (8’6″), and original wood flooring.  In an ideal world, I would like the room to allow for the following:

  • gaming, of course, both board and role-playing, and possibly table-top miniatures
  • space for painting miniatures, creating scenery and other game-related crafts.
  • storage for not only our board games, but our RPG products as well.
  • storage of gaming snacks inc. cold beverages and a place to make coffee.

While the room is nominally the “games” room, in that we have a flat surface in the room that we play games on, there is nothing to differentiate it from any other mostly empty room with a table and chairs.  Also, as it stands right now the room is quite echo-y due to the unadorned walls and hard-wood floor.  This can make it difficult to be heard in the space, which is a problem during most games we would play.

Okay, all of that brings us up to date.  So what do I plan to do from here?  My initial ideas in the short term are to finish removing the last of the old roommate’s stuff so we have maximum space in the room.  I’d like to start addressing the echo problem by putting down an area rug, which will also protect the hardwood floor from further chair abuse.  And I need to expand the table space (currently 2.5’x6′) to better accommodate both board games and RPGs.  This last I’ll do by buying a second folding table of the same size, which will allow me a 5’x6′ playing area.  That is the temporary fix, as I also want to either find/buy/build a more permanent gaming table.  But that will keep until I make more important changes to the room.

Okay, gentle readers, that is where I am at with the games room.  I’ll keep you posted with the changes, and provide pictures when anything of note happens.  In the meantime, if you have any suggestions, tips, or tricks please pass them along in the Comments below.

The Best Little Dicebag I’ve Ever Owned

I’ll admit, I was just a little stumped about what to write today.  Oh, I have things for tomorrow and Thursday, no problem.  But today I was struggling.

And then it arrived.  The package I have been waiting for since I placed my order ten days ago.  The parcel that had me staring out the window everyday as the postman dropped off the mail, my shoulders slumping in disappointment when no package materialized.

Today my Dragonchow dice-bags arrived!

Now, you may say to yourself, what’s the big deal?  A dice-bag is a dice-bag, right?  Oh my friend, how much you have to learn.

Let’s look at design first.  Unlike the traditional dice-bag which is basically a draw-stringed envelope of fabric, the Dragonchow dice-bag has a flat bottom and four sides.  This keeps the opening upright, thus keeping your dice from spilling all over the table.  This design also makes the bag extremely spacious for it’s size.  Both it and my old dice-bag are the same height, slightly over 4″.  But my old envelope-style bag could hold two sets of dice, three if I crammed them in.  I just dumped all the sets I use for playing/GMing into my new bag; this includes three full sets of dice, an extra four d20s, about ten assorted other dice, and a “brick” of 36 d6s (in case of an emergency Shadowrun/Star Wars game).  And it is only half full.  Two obvious conclusions: I need more dice, and this bag is gold-pressed awesome!

Other great design points?  Each bag is fully reversable, so if you want to change things up for another character you can do it with ease.  The drawstring has a locking toggle, so when you pull the string tight and slide the toggle in place your dice remain locked up tight!  And if you get one of the super-awesome tall bags with a pencil strap, you have a built-in location to hang your pens and pencils.

With all of that, if these were just plain black bags they would be swell enough.  But along with this wonderful design, Dragonchow offers a wide range of fabric patterns (56 in the standard bag, 21 in the Pencil Strap bags currently), enough to suit every walk of gamer.  And should you stroll through the site and not find something to suit your fancy, you have the option of ordering…a custom dice-bag!  How can you possibly go wrong? (Hint: you can’t)

And if all that were not enough, Dragonchow’s owner/proprietor Lyndsay is an absolute delight!  My package arrived with a “Finally, they’re here!” scribbled on the envelope flap.  Inside I found a little thank-you card hand-written by The Lyndsay herself.  And as an added bonus, each of my bags came with a complimentary d20 (which I of course rolled right away. I got a 14, 5, 17 and 8.)  And if you are lucky enough to follow her on Twitter, you will know she has a wicked sense of humour.

I cannot recommend these bags highly enough.  If you aren’t lucky enough to track Dragonchow down at a con, then don’t hesitate to slide over to their site and order a bag or three.  Your dice will thank you for it!