Monthly Archives: July 2011

Review – DC Retroactive: Green Lantern

Okay, DC Retroactive: Green Lantern has been the comic book I have been waiting for all summer. It brings back Mike Grell and Dennis O’Neil to produce a new Green Lantern/Green Arrow story, hearkening back to the good old days of the 1970’s. I have blogged previously that I did not care for the previous instalments of the DC Retroactive series. Really though, there was no way this one could miss. Mike Grell is the best comic book artist in the history of comic books. Dennis O’Neil is the defining story writer of DC comics in the 1970’s and was responsible for the 2nd wind given to the Silver age in mid 70’s.

I have only two gripes with the book, both are fairly minor. First, the story separated Green Lantern (GL) and Green Arrow (GA) into to separate stories and they did not come together until the last pages of the story. I think the best GL/GA stories of the 70’s were those in which they were featured together and I think O’Neil missed the chance to write a great buddy story and replace the generally horrible Justice League: Cry for Justice as the most recent expression of the GL/GA relationship. My second complaint is the GA plot was closer to the GA of the 1980’s rather than the GA of the 70’s.

Beyond those two points, the writing and art of the first story were good. This is neither Grell or O’Neil’s finest work, the Grell art is far better than the O’Neil writing. By today’s standard, O’Neils story is weak, but by the standards of the time and in context of the the 70’s, the story accomplished what it was suppose to, which was show the characters as they were in the 1970’s. I especially enjoyed the panels where GL uses his ring to make a giant can opener and a tennis racket, in classic GL form in the 1970’s. The backup story was reprinted from Green Lantern #76 which was the beginning of the classic run by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams that ended abruptly with issue #89. The only issue that might have been a better pick was Green Lantern #85, the issue were GA finds out his side kick Speedy is a heroine addict. This was a good read, I enjoyed it all the way to the end, turned it over and read it again.

Happy 30th birthday to MS-DOS

This week, MS-DOS is 30 years old. I do not bring this up out of some misplaced sense of nostalgia, god no I do not miss DOS in the least. I bring it up to point out how far we really have come, from 1981 to now. My only complaint with the linked story was the reference to Linux and the implication it was purely a command line only operating system, when by the late 90’s, Linux had a perfectly functional GUI.

Giving out points in GURPS

According to common wisdom, a GURPS GM should award between 3 and 5 points per game. My experience with GURPS pretty much bares this out. However, after a couple of interesting conversations on the subject, I have come to the conclusion that giving all those points to player to spend at will is not necessarily the best course of action. Realistically, players will not want to spend points on such things as Reputation and will prefer to enhance skills and attributes. With that in mind, we concocted the following scheme for point expenditure. At the end of my sessions I award the following points;

  • 1 point goes to the player to spend as he sees fit, he may save these points up if he wishes.
  • 1 point goes to the GM to spend on behalf of the Character and will use these points to develop the character in unexpected ways. The GM may save these points if he wishes.
  • 1 point goes into a pool which the player can not access unless there is a minimum of 10 points in the pool. The player may withdraw as many points as he pleases but must spend those points upon withdrawal and can not access the pool again unless or until the points in the pool are 10 or greater.

The last one, the pool is there to allow for large and sudden increases in the characters abilities. This emulates a character who finds an inner strength they didn’t know they had, or an ability they had never accessed before. This is common in books, movies and TV and I think adds an interesting dimension to character development. It should also be noted, the GM may take out point loans against the future points the GM receives to spend on behalf of the character. The GM may give out more than 3 points in a game, for instance in my game, the players vote each session for an MVP, who gets a bonus point and the GM may award extra points at his discretion. Usually these points go to the player to spend, but at the GM’s option they may go into the pool as well.

Ubuntu, Windows 7 and Virtualbox

I rarely use Windows outside of work for anything. I have one Windows program that I use with any regularity and it runs under WINE just fine. One of the things I do every so often that does require Windows is helping other people out. For this purpose I have always maintained a copy of  Windows XP in Virtualbox for answering those odd questions I don’t know off the top of my head. Lately I have noticed fewer and fewer people asking me XP questions and increasingly asking me Windows 7 questions. So yesterday I took advantage of my MSDN account (thanks to my employer) and I downloaded a Windows 7 Home Premium iso and COA. So now the question becomes, how long should I leave the XP image on my system. Most everyone with a clue has moved to Windows 7, only the most stubborn people are hanging onto the last vestiges of XP and my usual response to people asking me questions about it is usually, upgrade to Windows 7, buy a new machine or reinstall Windows XP (and stay off the Russian porn sites). I suspect this will surprise a few people, who would expect me to tell them to install Linux instead. The problem with that is, then I would be supporting Linux for people who know even less about it, then they know about Windows, no thanks I say.

DC Retroactive Series

Several months ago I posted that I was looking forward to summer series of books by DC comics  called DC Retroactive. This week the first three were released, Batman, the Flash and Wonder Woman. Where to start, where to start. The idea behind this series to present the character as they existed in the 1970’s in a new story and then reprint a story from the actual 70’s as a backup feature. In all three comic, the reprint story in the back was better than the featured faux 70’s story. The feature stories felt more like a caricature of the 70’s, than an actual story from the 70’s. The writers took all the bad things about stories from that time period and ignored all the interesting things being done.

While I think the reprinted stories in these books were better than the the featured stories, in none of these cases did I feel these were the best stories they could have picked. For instance, in the case of the Flash, they reprinted a mildly amusing time travel story from DC Presents, where the Flash teams up with Superman. From 1970 to 1979 DC published 120 issues of the Flash and I read a great many of those issues and at least 3/4 of them were better than the story they chose to reprint. The Wonder Woman story was the worst of the lot, both stories blew chunks, the Batman book was the best, but still fell short. This is not a good start to what I had hoped was going to be some fun nostalgic reads for an otherwise dull comic reading summer. Too bad.

List of 5 Cracked Lists

I like, not all of their stuff appeals to me, but enough of it to make me venture there once a twice week to see they are doing. This list is not a “Best of” list, it is more like a list of Cracked lists that mildly amused me over the last couple of weeks. So take it for what it is.

1. 5 Rock Radio Classics That Actually Suck

2. 15 Best Songs That Are Totally About Masturbation

3. 5 Things Nobody Tells You About Being Poor

4. 10 Best Sci-Fi Films Never Made

5. 5 Things You Won’t Believe Aren’t In the Bible


RE: Google+

I am so uncool, my own wife refused to send me a Google+ invite, I had to get one of the guys I work with to send me one and of course today after I signed up I got like three other invites. I suppose that is the way of it. Anyone who wants an invite, drop me a line and I will send you one.

So far it is pretty much a Facebook (FB), but It adds some options I do like. For instance I can break my friends into circles and then limit who can see the content I post by circle. For instance, the standard circles are Family, Friends and Acquaintances, I added Co-Workers as well. This way I can keep my Sisters and Co-Workers from seeing the pictures of Chad’s naked ass from the New Year Party in 1981, while inflicting said pictures on my Friends and Acquaintances.

FB does have the option to make Groups place all your friends into various ones and use it to control who sees what content, but the problem is FB Groups are clunky to make and use. It was a pain in the ass to go through my 44 FB friends and place them in a Group, I can’t imagine what that process would be like if I had 440. Although I suppose it would not be too bad if you started doing it early on instead of waiting until you have 440 Friends.

Since I have a love/hate relationship with FB, I am sure I will have similar feelings about Google+. I suspect all the gripes I have with FB, will probably apply to Google+ as well. For the immediate future, I do not see myself using Google+ any more than I use FB. In the mean time, Gizmodo has an article suggesting some things we should do to Google+.

Gizmodo: So-what-the-hell-are-we-supposed-to-put-on-Google+

San Diego Comic Con

San Diego Comic Con is next weekend. I am looking forward to the annual Booth Babe Parade.

Friday Night Dice – GURPS Edition

So last Friday we took a break from our usual HackMaster game and played some GURPS. Over all, I think the game went well, getting characters done was a bit of a challenge, but there is an online character generator which helped a lot. The basis for the game was the PC’s are young royals, 2nd/3rd sons or nephews of the lords of Deerwood, Fordham, Redhall, and Tacitus, sent to Baroness Bronwyn of Durham to train for knighthood. The game opens with an Orc raid on the keep and Baroness Bronwyn sends the canon fodder…er I mean, young squires to hunt down the Orc band and show them the mercy of Durham steel.

A couple of things come to mind. First, I am reminded of how easy GURPS is to produce a munchkin character, on the other hand, it is also really easy to produce an interesting well balanced character. Second, once a characters defence roll gets 10+, he gets very hard to hit. Third, combat can be extremely deadly, most PC’s and NPC’s can really only take 2 or 3 hits before they are down, this encourages players to use a shield, which is the cheapest defence they can buy, point wise.

The game made me nostalgic as I realised why GURPS was my game of choice for several years. Here is the last GURPS Character I made, Bruce had copy of him, scanned it and emailed it to me several years ago. Surprise of surprises, he is the cheese makers son. Now I am trying to remember why the cheese makers son is an in joke with me.

Kindle vs Nook

PezWitch and I both have Kindles, I gave hers to her for her birthday and I bought mine with my Christmas money last year. We are both definitely fans of the Kindle, it is excellent device for delivering books to the reader. Last Friday, we bought a Simple Touch Nook Reader. We bought it for a couple of reasons, first Barnes and Noble (B&N) is having a Free Friday summer special where they give away free ebooks each week, second we wanted a backup ebook reader in case one of ours went south and third, B&N has some books not available on the Kindle and this gives is some flexibility.

Up front I am going to say I prefer the Kindle, it is easier to use and has some features not available in the version of the Nook I bought and I don’t see myself changing over to the Nook any time soon. Having said that, the Nook is a nice device and I could easily be satisfied with it. The simple touch is smaller than the Kindle, but retains the same screen size, primarily due to the use of the touch screen rather than a miniature keyboard. The Nook also allows the user to swap batteries and add a mini SD card to upgrade the storage space, neither of those things can be done with a Kindle. I found the interface to be a bit clunky, but this is offset by the touch screen which works very well.

Some of the things I didn’t like were for instance, the meagre storage space of 236 MB is simply not enough for any modern device. I suppose that was the sacrifice made to add a touch screen and keep the price at $139, but it still seems skimpy to me, at least they give you the option to add an mini SD card. As I said earlier the interface is a bit clunky and even with the touch screen is sometimes unwieldy. I am also more than a little annoyed that I do not get a discount for having a B&N Member card.

Over all, I think had I bought a Nook first, I would probably be very happy with it, but given I bought a Kindle first and I am more comfortable with it, I will probably stick with it as my main ebook reader.

Linux Maintance

Over at Lifehacker they have an article on what to do for regular maintenance on Linux. There is some good information here whether you are a Linux Novice or an old hand like myself. A well maintained system regardless of operating system is important to the stability and security of the system. All users of all OS’s need to do backups, install patches and clean out the cruft on a regular basis. We Linux users being the snooty bastards we are, tend to forget this and occasionally pay for it.

Ryth Chronicle

I am not sure this is a good idea or not, but a while back the RisusMonkey blog posted a PDF of the chronicles of an early D&D game run by a couple of guys who bought their copies of the original white box D&D from Gary Gygax himself. The world they built is called Rythondar and you can download the file here and the original post can be found here. I am of two minds having read this document.

On the one hand it is of significant historical value to those of us who lived through those heady days of the golden age. This shows very clearly how games were conducted during that time and how those early frontiersmen burned the path for those who came later. When taken in context of the time, this gives us a glimpse into the minds of two GM’s and would be world builders who did not have the luxury of someone to show them how to play. They were making this shit up as they went along and it is obvious they were having a lot of fun doing it. There were times when I said, “WOW, that could easily have been Bruce and I writing this.”.

On the other hand, this does not show early gamers in a particularly good light, compared to the types of adventures being run today. This document shows how crude and absolutely unimaginative those early games were. There were time going through this that I felt like I was watching a popular TV show from the 70’s that I had fond memories of watching, but now, by today’s standards are utterly horrible.

Personally I thought it was a worthwhile effort to read it, but I am not sure a lot of modern gamers would appreciate it for what it is. I am also not sure how those involved in the Old School Renaissance (OSR) will feel about this document either. The OSR crowd tends to idealize the golden age of RPG’s as a beautiful time when everyone played under a great GM and there were no dick head players. If you do read it, please take it for what it is, don’t compare it to the games you are playing today. John Van De Graaf and Len Scensny, the authors, were gamers of their time and context is needed to understand it completely.

Games I love to play

The other night I was talking to Bruce about various games and I realized I really had not played anything besides HackMaster in a very long time. Besides Hackmaster/D&D, I enjoy playing a fair variety of games. In the 90’s I was obsessed with Magic: The Gathering and I was a fair tournament player. Before that, when I lived in Bozeman, we played a lot of different games. My favorites where Illuminati, Ogre, Arkham Horror, Talisman and Car Wars.

While I was talking to Bruce, I realized I had never won a single game of Illuminati, not a one. What I remember though is having a lot of fun playing it. When played properly, Illuminati is an extremely social game requiring players to make deals early on to solidify their positions, then ultimately betray those who helped them. The trick was to do the betraying at the right time.

Arkham Horror was the first cooperative game I had ever played. Instead of competing against your fellow players, you are all trying to clear the streets of Arkham of all the monsters and close the portals where the monsters are coming from, before the doom counter reaches 10. I’d say off hand that doom counter reached 10 about half the time. Of course there was always that one player who felt it was necessary to clear Arkham of the other players as well as the monsters. I got locked in the Dreamlands more than once because another player came along and closed the portal before I could come back. Usually, the times we succeeded, were the times we cooperated and the times we failed were the games where someone was being a dick.

Talisman I remember because of how broken the game was. If someone could win early on, it was usually fun, but if no one scored early victories, the game would go on and on and on. There was no real middle ground. When I say, it was go on and on, I mean 30 or 40 hours with no one making significant progress. I am told later versions fixed this and was more balanced, but I have not played anything passed 1st edition, so I don’t know.

Ogre and Car Wars tended to be much shorter beer and pretzel sort of games. rarely did games last longer than 1 or 2 hours, victories were usually swift and complete. I remember trying a variety of strategies, some of them worked and some of them didn’t. My best strategy in Ogre was to play an Ogre Mark IV and stomp the snot out of anything that got close. In Car Wars, the gas powered ram car metal armour and no weapons pretty much ruled to arena.

We played other games of course, like DragonMasters by Milton Bradley (more of less the game Hearts with better card art), Star Fleet Battles, Battle Tech and even Squad leader, but I don’t think we played those games nearly as much as the others.

Review: The Crown Conspiracy

If you are looking for a fun lite read this summer I highly recommend The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan. This book breaks the trend in modern writing of building a dark setting and torturing characters until they become nearly as bad as the villains they oppose. Instead follows two happy go lucky thieves, Royce Melborne and Hadrian Blackwater, as they frolic though the adventure. The story is a fast and easy read read full of adventure, heroic deeds, interesting plot twists and good characterization. The story reminds me of the  Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series by Fritz Leiber. My only real criticism of the story is Royce and Hadrian do trend a bit towards Mary Sue characters, they tend to be just a bit too lucky and while everyone else in the book makes mistakes, these two only make one and that mistake gets them involved in the plot. This however does not distract from the over all story and the characters are fun. The best compliment I can pay to this book is, I wish my D&D games were like this