Monthly Archives: June 2010

Bionic Cat

If you are a cat person, you might want to grab a tissue before watching this.

http://www.youtube.com/v/Vcy78rnDKiQ&hl=en_US&fs=1&

This is one of those moments where I am reminded of why technological advancement is so important to us. Not iPhones or cool new video cards or the next octo-core processor, but rather the meaningful things that make a serious difference in real lives, whether it is human or feline. It will be interesting to see if they can apply this to humans.

Who Would You Rather Play With?

The blog “How to Start a Revolution in 21 Days or Less” asked an interesting question the other day. Who would you rather play an RPG with, someone with an expansive background in playing or with newbies or something in between. My group, the Companions of Xarth, is made up primarily of old gamers. Bruce and I have been gaming together since 1979, Thor has been at it since 81 or 82 and David started sometime in the mid 80’s as well. Our n00b is Scott, my nephew, but even he has been playing several years now. They are good solid bunch of players and I really can not imagine gaming with any other group.

If however, I suddenly found myself without a group, I think my answer would depend on what I decided I needed. Either I would go looking for an established group or I would assemble a new one from scratch. I think my initial preference would be to go look for an established game, see if I could find a hidden cache of OD&D or AD&D1E players somewhere. In that case I would want players and a GM who had been at it a good long time. I’d love to see some characters who had been played for 20+ years and a game world assembled bit by bit, adventure by adventure and character by character on a foundation of love and enthusiasm. These groups are rare and very underground, you can see glimpses of them on Dragonsfoot, but they are not easy to find and generally someone needs to die for them to admit a new player.

On the other hand, if I decided to go scrounging for individual players, I think it would be different. I think I would rather look for newish players that I could brainwash…..er….I mean mentor and pass along the old school style to. But I would also want at least one other grognard at my left hand to help move the group along and not get mired down in ways only new players can. Bruce has been unimaginably helpful to me these last eight years both as a backup GM and someone I can bounce ideas off of without worry of metagaming. Our group is as much reflection of him as it is of me, and I think every group needs a linchpin player like that.

My opinion of the General McChrystal situation

Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice

CONTEMPT TOWARD OFFICIALS: Any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present shall be punished as a court-martial may direct.

This seems very clear to me, General McChrystal should be relieved of his command and under go a court martial.

The Ages of RPG’s: The Golden Age II

I was going to speak more about the Golden Age of our hobby, but I decided not to. I went to the trouble of having a couple of fairly extensive email conversations with a couple of old friends about that time period. We had a great lot of fun reminiscing about the good old days and wallowing in nostalgia. The problem is, I came away from it somewhat depressed about the whole thing. You see, I am a middle aged man, my youth is gone and it is never coming back. I am a different person and the world is a different place. This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing really, because time moves on and our lives progress, but this does not keep us from looking back on our youth with some fondness.

So what does this have to do with gaming ? Well, my talking extensively about the Golden Age with friends got me to thinking about the current retro clone revolution, or the old school renaissance if that is what you want to call it. The question I have is, is this movement really a long term shift in the hobby or is this just a case of a group of middle aged men trying to recapture their lost youth, which will fade as these people start becoming grandparents and wonder away from gaming again. There is some credence to both theories.

This movement does not seem to be centered around a single person or company. Several retro clones have been released, both as commercial products and as free products done out of love. HackMaster 4th edition was the first of these products, followed shortly by Castles and Crusades. Not to mention the resurgence of Traveller, RuneQuest and Paranoia by Mongoose games. All of which were/are successful product lines. The there is the free products, OSRIC, Labyrinth Lords, BFRPG, Dark Dungeons and a few others, which have also shown to be popular. For the first time in more than a decade, there are adventures and supplements on the market that are compatible with D&D and AD&D. In short, people are making money and if people are making money, that is a good sign for the future and the long term viability of this movement.

On the other hand, who are buying these products ? Is this movement bringing in new players or just stroking ego’s of old players ? As close as I can tell by surfing the various forums, the answer is, the latter rather than the former. I see no sign of a new generation of gamers coming up in significant numbers, playing any of these games. None of the publishers or developers of these games even seem to be targeting the younger players. The future of this movement depends not on the 40 somethings, but rather on the 12-16 year olds who will be playing these games for the next 10-15 years and who will be the future game designers and adventure writers. Without new blood, this movement is doomed and the movement does not seem interested in new blood.

I think in the long run, this rennessaince will more or less be a bump in the road. Right now there is a small demand for old school AD&D/OD&D modules and such, but it is primarily in demand from a small demographic of older players and this demographic, as far as I can tell, is not a growing one. These companies are making no effort to get thier products into game stores or even into Amazon, they are sticking to Print on Demand through Lulu and or PDF downloads with DriveThruRPG. So while this is an interesting spike, in another few years these companies will probably move on to other revenue streams. In another 10 years, the kids who grew up playing D&D 3E will be entering thier 30’s/40’s and start looking back fondly on thier misspent youth, only this time Paizo with thier 3E clone Pathfinder, will be there to catch them.

There are somethings worth repeating

katerina-hartlova

Running a successful game group, Part 4

In previous installments of this series, I have pointed out the cardinal rule of being a good RPG player is simply “Don’t be a dick.”. Another facet of good playing is a direct extension of that rule, which is player cooperation. If the players in the group recognize they are stronger together than separate and take steps to maximize this, the group as a whole works better and are more likely to ignore minor irritations. I am amazed with the current level cooperation in my game group, it is as far as I can tell, unprecedented. A couple games ago, the party acquired a Dagger of Vital Organ Seeking, Azy, the Wild-Mage could have kept it for himself, but he recognized it would be better suited in the hands of a thief and gave it ti Trifallen, who has since used it to great effect. Last night, Azy’s Karma rewarded him. The group came across the trifecta of Gauntlets of Ogre Power, Girdle of Hill Giant Strength and a Hammer of Thunderbolts. The group awarded this to Naropa who is especially suited for using this stuff. He in turn gave his +5 Dagger of Intimidation to Azy. I can not think of any group I have ever been a part of that had this level of player cooperation.

The A-Team

Saw the A-Team yesterday, I would have posted this last night, but my Internet connection was down. Apparently my ISP, CenturyLink really screwed the pooch, because their infrastructure for the entire state of Texas was down until 4 AM this morning. Fortunately I was prepared and had previously installed ScribeFire for off line blogging.

So back to the movie. I was really expecting to be disappointed, I usually am disappointed by remakes, especially remakes of shows I genuinely loved. The A-Team was a good lot of fun, explosions, off the wall action scenes and plenty of nods to the original show. They made good casting choices, didn’t over reach the script and kept the characters as close to home as they could while allowing each actor to do their own take. There was very little character development, B.A. and Face got the most, but this is an origin story and the point of an origin story is to establish characters that can be built upon and developed in later movies. If you are looking for a serious and topical movie or you plan to nit pick the unrealistic action scenes, don’t go see the A-Team, but if you want 2 hours pure escapist fun, this is definitely for you.

This whole “Race as a Class” nonsense

When I wrote the review of Searchers of the Unknown, I mentioned I did not particularly like the idea of “Race as a Class” in the Original Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D). Keep in mind here, I like OD&D and would play it in a heartbeat with anyone who offered. However, that does not mean I agree with all the design decisions Gary Gygax made when he wrote it. Although I do not know for a fact, I suspect Mr Gygax knew it was a bad idea, because when he wrote Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D), he left it out and replaced it with the multi class rules. While “Race as a Class” is not the worst idea ever put forward in a game, it really does not make much sense.

Previous to the current retro clone renaissance, I really did not care much about this as I simply did not play the game. However the the retro clone wave upon us, many of these games, for whatever reason, have seen fit to reproduce this mistake rather than fix it. Basic Fantasy, Dark Dungeons, Labyrinth Lord, Sword and Wizardry and now Lamentation of the Flame Princess RPG, have all included this idea. My personal opinion on this is simple, when writing these retro clones, we should not only be trying to recreate the games we love, but we should be trying to improve them as well. We need to shed bad ideas like “Race as a Class” or at least change it to make more sense. For instance, in AD&D, Mr Gygax decided to eliminate the idea altogether and separate races and classes completely and allow non human races to have more that one class. As an alternative, why not merge the whole concept so even humans, half-orcs etc are classes unto themselves as well. All I am saying is, lets not just rehash the past, lets gets some new ideas in there as well.

The Ages of RPG’s: The Silver Age

I am eventually going to write again about the Golden Age of RPG’s, but frankly the research kind of depressed me. It heavily reminded me of times long gone, when I didn’t have to work for a living. So for the time being, I am going move on to the second great age of RPG’s. As I said in the first installment, the Golden Age either ended in 1981/1982 time frame or by my reckoning, around 1988/1989.  So then the question becomes, when did the Silver Age begin and what prompted it. The answer to those questions is very easy, the dawn of the Silver Age was 1991 when Vampire: The Masquerade came out and started its ascendancy.  There are those who will argue Vampire had nothing to do wit the Silver Age, that it was AD&D2E which powered the Silver Age during the 90’s. I argue differently, because it was Vampire that was the first RPG to ever out sell AD&D and it did so at the peak of the Silver Age.

The Silver Age is marked heavily by TSR’s fall, the decline of AD&D and eventual acquisition of both by Wizards of the Coast. TSR’s decline occurred for couple of reasons. RPG’s in general were in decline primarily because a new genre of games emerged lead by Magic: The Gathering (MtG). With limited gamer dollars out there and with AD&D largely considered to be passe, gamers switched in mass to MtG. Those who stuck with RPG’s started playing Vampire, which was considered new, hip and cool. Seeing its money flow decline, TSR quickly jumped on the trading card game band wagon with SpellFire and then tried to grab market with Dragon Dice. Both games failed miserably and make matters worse, they made several poor marketing decisions concerning AD&D. Instead of concentrating on a few very popular game world settings, they diluted their market by introducing Dark Sun, Mystaria, Dragon Council and Birthright on top of GreyHawk, Forgotten Realms and DragonLance. Add in the general move towards splat books, instead of generating more money, they simply spread the money they were making across more products and continued to do so until none of the products were profitable. By 1997 when Wizard of the Coast acquired TSR, it was a shell of its former self and all but decimated, all the while White Wolf was building the power house World of Darkness product line. The Silver Age was a little bit about the fall of D&D, but more about the rise of Vampire: The Masquerade. I however have spoken more to TSR’s fall than White Wolf’s climb in popularity only because I know more about TSR than White Wolf.

There are some who make the claim that the Silver Age was also a time of enlightenment in RPG’s. That gamers were moving away from old paradigms like the classic Dungeon Crawl and PC’s killing monsters and stealing their stuff. Gamers were at the time moving towards more theatrical Role Playing where character development is more important that cool new powerz. The claim is these new games were more sophisticated not on the mechanical level, but rather on the intellectual level. This is of course a crock of shit, but I am not going to get into that right now, because I want to dedicate a whole post to Role Playing vs Roll Playing.

The end of the Silver age probably occurred around 2000 or 2001 when Wizards of the Coast released D&D third edition and started the second ascendancy of  D&D. On a personal note, unlike the Golden Age, I was AWOL from gaming during the Silver Age. I played MtG, and was very obsessed with it for a couple of years. But as far as RPG’s go, I played next to none. When I returned to the States after Desert Storm, I played a little GURPS and AD&D at Fort Gordon and while I was in Germany, I put together a game group which lasted about six months and broke up because we were deployed to Bosnia. So I pretty much slept through the Silver Age and sadly, I have no real emotional attachment to the age at all.

Friday Night Dice

Last nights game proved an interesting point. The right magic item in the hands of the right character have a significant effect on the game. A couple of games ago the group acquired a Dagger of Vital Organ Seeking. It is a +3 dagger with two special abilities, first it makes any natural roll of 19 or 20 a critical hit. Second and more importantly, any surprise attack is automatically a critical hit. By definition, a backstab attack is a surprise attack, so this weapon in the hands of a thief is a truly lethal weapon, easily producing five or six die of damage. This is compounded by the Cricket-In-A-Peapod skill, which allows upon successful roll of the skill, to give the thief another backstab and another shot at five or six die of damage. This also proves I have a smart group of players who would rather maximize potential and effectiveness of the group, than argue over insane treasure division rules designed to maximize greed and mistrust. I have said for a long time, this is great group of players and my only regret is, we cannot play face to face.

Searchers of the Unknown

searchersoftheunknownProduct Summery:
Name: Searchers of the Unknown
Publisher: Nicolas Dessaux.
Author: Nicolas Dessaux.
Line: First Edition
Cost: Free
Pages: 1
Webpage: http://sites.google.com/site/wizardinabottle/searchers-of-the-unknown

I came across Searchers of the Unknown  a couple of days ago, essentially, it is a complete playable RPG written on a single page roughly emulating Classic Dungeons & Dragons. The picture to the left is the game in its entirety.  The opening statement  speaks for itself.

A typical old-school D&D module stats list for a monster looks like this: (AC6, MV9’, HD 1, hp 4, #AT1, D1-10 by halberd). The idea is that, if it’s enough for monsters, it should be enough for PCs too. This light-rule system enables to play these modules in that way.

I think would work especially well for the quick and dirty pickup game, where nameless PC’s run around literally random dungeons, killing things and taking their stuff. However, long term this is not a particularly viable game. The problem is there is virtually no depth to the game mechanic and defines almost nothing, which will inevitably lead to house ruling. House ruling has a long and proud tradition among gamers, but if my house rules exceed the size of the original game, then we have a serious problem. In this case, my first reaction was, “Hey, lets add attributes, that will only add a page.”, after I was finished with that I said, “Okay, lets define the classes a bit better.” which added another page. By the time I started working on page five, I realized I was simply rewriting  the D&D Basic set.

Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a neat idea. Someone needs to write a retro clone that is 32 pages, feels like Basic D&D, but does not include any of that “Race as Class”, nonsense, it was a bad idea in 1974, it is a bad idea today. This however is not a fully realized role playing game, but rather a simplistic board game which emulates fantasy combat. Its only real advantage is it is vaguely compatible with all those old D&D modules some of us have on our bookshelves or boxed up in storage. So if you and your group want to replay Keep on the Borderland, but don’t want to spend a lot of time screwing around with game mechanics, then this will work fine. However, if you are planning a real campaign with long term character development, this is not the game for you.

Summery (Scale of 1-5):
Appearance and Layout: 3
Game Mechanic: 2
Setting: N/A
Overall: 2.5

Girls Play D&D

Okay folks this is fucking hilarious. Apparently there is actually an all teenage girl D&D group out there somewhere and they made this mockumentry as a school project. I am much amused and I wish them long years of adventure and fun.

Girls Play D&D

New race leaked for next World of Warcraft release

For you WoW fans here is a leaked image of a new race to made available in Cataclysm. The pictures are of a female worgen, a dog or perhaps fox based race.

25 years of The Goonies

Yes, today is the 25th anniversary of the iconic 80’s movie The Goonies. Over at io9 they have a clip of a deleted scene from the movie. Well worth the couple of minutes to watch. This movie has held up extremely well over time and is still very watchable and a lot of fun.

Sex and RPG’s

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, I know, I know. This is an old joke perpetuated by Phil Foglio in his Phil and Dixie comic in the Dragon Magazine. So what happened in the Friday night game, was the party finally made it to Free Port where they were to find the Sea Hag, the first of the three hags. While they are there, Hahmez, over tips the Bar Wench, who takes this as solicitation for sex, which she accepts by slipping into his room and being in his bed naked when he arrived. Over all, I don’t tend to do sex in my games. I have done sex scenes with other groups, but I am certain this was the first I had done with this group. We do not tend to be graphic, sex tend to be a “Fade to Black” situation and this was no different. It was really a fairly minor event and my guess is, when this campaign is over, it will be barely remembered. However, I think occasionally such things should be done in game. The reason is, it makes the characters more human, more real, because they are engaging in human activities and being human. It adds to the character to the game.

This event also triggered a minor discussion about Clerics and celibacy. The fact is, my game world is a reflection of myself in many ways. One of the ways it reflects me is in how the over all culture views sex. Sex in Caldoom is generally practiced in a free and open manner, homosexuality is accepted, nudity is common and prostitution is legal virtually everywhere. In fact, it is is generally the evil societies where sex is restricted and nudity is frowned upon. By extension, only a very few deities require celibacy from their priests and again, it is evil gods who tend require it, not the good ones. I suppose this reveals something about how I view modern religion.

Facebook in the rearview mirror

My new Facebook policy has made a substantial difference in my blogging here. Let me recap, after I came back from the Grand Canyon, I realized I posted virtually everything concerning my vacation on Facebook and nothing on this blog. My mind set at the time was, everyone reads Facebook and no one reads my blog, so it is only logical that I post things where people will see them. The problem is, if I never post anything here, no one has any reason to visit here. So, in May, I ceased most of my Facebook operations. I still visit there every few days and make comments on things others have posted. However, I do not post any personal content. My Facebook page refers everyone to this page.

In February and March, I made 13 posts here, in April I did six. In May, under my new policy, I made 21 posts, I easily reached my goal of making five posts a week. The downside of course is, I am not getting nearly as much feed back and I am sure almost none of my Facebook friends are making the trek over here to read my brilliant blog. The upside is, I feel more at home here. On Facebook I felt the need to censor myself, I was less expressive and more likely to just post a quick link to something interesting I read than to actually talk about something. Here I am more likely be myself and talk about things I really interested in and less likely to allow myself to be sucked into a conversation about something mind numbingly stupid.

This new policy has also dictated that I de-friend a lot of people. Because of this, I have been accused of de-friending people who do not agree with me politically. This is partially true. First, let me point out, many of my best and oldest friends are conservative. I have no problem disagreeing with people, engaging in debate and then having a beer together. In fact it is invigorating. My problem is with stupid people who can not properly debate and refuse to acknowledge they have lost, even in face of overwhelming evidence and instead degenerate into name calling. I also have a problem with people who think praying for the death of the President of the United States is some how a funny joke, rather than the passive aggressive wishful thinking bullshit it really is. So rest assured, if I de-friended you recently, I did not de-friend you because we disagreed politically, I de-friended you because you are an idiot.

Eyefinity

The ability of computers to use multiple monitors has been around for a long time. The problem is it never worked well with games. ATI has changed all that with their Eyefinity technology, which allows a game in full screen mode to stretch across two or more monitor. Realistically however, three monitors is the minimum, that way your visual center is on the center monitor and not in the middle of where two monitors meet. PezWitch has been lusting after one of these video cards for several months now and yesterday she finally got it from NewEgg. As a side note, when doing this, all your monitors have to be hooked with a digital connection, DVI, HDMI or DisplayPort, you absolutely can not use a VGA to DVI adapter, it will not work at all. Anyway, here is PezWitch demonstrating the immersion of Eyefinity. It should also be noted that somehow, I lost my second monitor to this project.
http://www.youtube.com/v/TNAKjCVrNsE&hl=en&fs=1

Gargoyle One, adendium 2

I made a few minor modifications to Gargoyle One today. I figured out how to access my ad hoc wireless network without taking my iPhone off the 3G network, which is good, I thought I was going to have to buy a cheap PDA. The second thing was I decided to leave the portable hard drive unhooked from the system and use an SD card instead. The hard drive was draining the battery too fast. I will leave the drive in it place, so I can easily transfer files to it for storage if the 4 GB SD card fills up. I think either tomorrow or Saturday I will strap it to PezWitch and we will go out and give the rig a real workout, film some driving and perhaps me taking pictures of wild flowers or something.

Plain Text, the truth will set you free

Some of you may have heard me discuss this before, but my theory about computer use is fairly simple. While it is true, the home computer market is driven by gamers, computer games are not what we spend the majority of our time using computers for. The majority of our time is spent writing emails, reading websites, updating spreadsheets, entering data into databases, in other words, we spend a lot of time pushing text around our screens. PezWitch will argue she spends most of her time on the computer playing World of Warcraft (WoW), but I will argue back, that she is not what she does at work eight hours a day, or rather that is not what she should be doing for eight hours a day at work.

Back to my point about text. Most of the important things we do with computers have to do with plain old text. We do enhance the text with pictures, fonts and style sheets, but in the end it is still just plain old ASCII text. In the early days of interactive computing, clever programmers wrote hundreds of programs whose job it was to manipulate text in various ways. Each little program served a single purpose and by using pipes, they could string several of these commands together to create very intricate scripts which were greater than the individual programs. For instance, the first database program was not written for IBM to store customer data, it was written so a programmer could easily look up food delivery  places. He had a text file in his home directory called restaurants.txt. This file contained the name of every delivery place in town, the type of food they served and their phone number, it looked something like this, except he had hundreds of entries;

Golden Dragon, chinese, 404-1234
Columbos, pizza, 404-2345
Sandy’s, hamburgers, 404-3456
Wongs, chinese, 404-4567
Lugi, pizza, 404-5678

Then, when he wanted to look something up, he typed something like “cat restaurants.txt | grep pizza”, which would display all the restaurants in his list that served pizza.He could also email the list to his friend John in another department with a command like “cat restaurants.txt | grep pizza > mail -s “Which place do you want to deliver ?”  john”. It seems esoteric now, today I would open Google and type in Pizza and my zip code, then copy and paste the results into an email, but the effect was roughly the same for this programmer back in the early 70’s wrestling with one of the first Unix machines. Although the method has changed, what we are trying to accomplish really has not, which is to gather data in the form of text and get that text from one place to another, preferably in an attractive easy to read format.

Once you get this idea firmly entrenched in your brain, you will realize, you probably do not need most of the software installed on your system. I am sure many of you can make an argument as to why you REALLY REALLY HAVE to have Microsoft Word, but the reality is you probably don’t. My guess is 80% of the word processing you do could be done using notepad, %19 could be done with a bit of HTML and for that nagging 1% you can probably do with Google Docs, thus saving yourself a tidy sum of cash on your next computer buy. The programs I use everyday are Firefox for web browsing, Thunderbird for email and calender, gedit for word processing/text editing and nautilus for file management. I also use OpenRPG once a week to play my HackMaster game.  I do use other programs for various tasks like light photo editing, ripping/playing MP3’s, chat/instant messenger, stuff like that, but I use those other programs less than once a month.

I am not asking anyone to strip there system of all programs I deem unnecessary, what I am say is, perhaps you can remove some of those programs you don’t use or are redundant. Getting rid of crap on your computer, especially in the Windows environment, will help close security flaws, enhance stability and remove bloat, all good things. In the process, if you looks at how you use your computer honestly, I think you will also learn that just because Microsoft or Dell or HP thinks this is how you should use a computer, does not mean it is actually how you use it.