Monthly Archives: December 2014

BeagleBone Black

I really liked the Raspberry Pi (RPi), it was useful for a variety of little projects, it even hosted this website for several months until I migrated it to a more robust system. There really was my problem with the RPi, it was not powerful enough, the 700Mhz processor was weak for anything requiring more than a command line script. For Christmas this year, PezWitch bought me a BeagleBone Black (BBB) along with some must have accessories.

The BBB has several advantages over the RPi, a 1 Ghz processor, which makes it usable as a desktop system, although it is a bit slow for a modern computer. It also has 2 GB of eMMC flash memory built onto the board for booting the OS from, Leaving the Micro SSD for storage. What stopped me in my tracks and made me go WOW, was when I was looking at the instructions and realized I could plug it into my computer with a USB cable and then I could access the BBB through the USB port, the BBB emulates a network connection via USB. So while I could not hook it up to a monitor (it had a Micro HDMI connector and I had no adapter), I could secure shell (SSH) into the BBB and set it up via a command line. To say the least I was hooked.


So yesterday, we went out for the Micro HDMI adapter and we stopped at Radio Shack, I decided I wanted to grab a small Breadboard and a hand full of miscellaneous electronic doodads, capacitors, resisters, LEDS, usually you can get a kit for like $30. When we got there, they had a Maker Magazine kit “Getting Started with BeagleBone Black“. The kit comes with a BBB, a small breadboard and miscellaneous electronic doodads. If you go to the link, it lists for $120, well Radio Shack had it priced at $80, not bad, so I grabbed it up. When I got to the counter the nice lady rang it up and said $34 (rounded up, it was actually 33 and some change), being an honest man, I spoke up and said this was priced considerably higher than that over on the shelf. She said, Oh we are having a sale today, Oh Okay was my response and I went on with my day. When I checked the receipt when I got home it showed the original price as $45 and she had discounted it 25% and then of course sales tax was added. I realized at that moment that Radio Shack was a victim of its minimum wage workers. Someone mis-priced the kit in the computer system and later the clerk basically didn’t care enough to check on the error.

The moral of the story is, labor as with anything, you get what you pay for.

Review: Dungeon World


downloadProduct Summery:
Name: Dungeon World
Publisher: Sage Kobolds
Author: Sage Latorra and Adam Koebel
Line: Dungeon World
Cost: $25/$10 for PDF
Pages: 408

Today  I used the $10 gift certificate I got buying my D&D 5E Dungeon masters Guide to buy a hard copy of Dungeon World.  I have owned the PDF for a while now but I decided it was a good enough game that I should especially since it only cost me $15 instead of its regular $25.

Game mechanic wise, this is a pretty simple system, most resolutions are done by rolling 2d6 and adding any applicable modifiers from attributes, ie, an attack roll is 2d6+Str bonus. Roll a 10 or better is a successful roll, a roll of 7-9 is successful, but with consequences, rolling 6 or less is unsuccessful. Generating a character is straight forward and can be done in under 15 minutes, even by someone who has never played the game. The one thing I did not care for was the “Everyone assigns the same set of numbers to their attributes” rule, while this makes things easy, it is also a one way street to cookie cutter characters. There is an alternative to roll 3d6 for each stat, but I would have preferred a simple point buy and if I ever run this game, I will house rule this.

The layout of the book does leave a bit to be desired, there are a lot of pages that are half blank for no particular reason. The art in the book ranges from mediocre to meh, nothing particularly inspires me to play the game. The paper and the binding feels cheap and I doubt the book would last a year of real use. Having said that, the book is well written and easy to understand with lots of examples. I could probably hand this to a complete novice and have them playing in an hour with very little problem.

Overall, this is a pretty good product, I would love to see a players book printed for like $5, maybe do it in comic book format. I suspect this game would play very fast and smooth, setting up a game would be seriously easy, monster stat blocks are ridiculously simple. I would say, go and grab the PDF, for $10 it is a steal and well worth it. If you want the printed version, I would definitely go to Amazon where you can get it for $18, because $25 is a tab too much.

Summery (Scale of 1-5):
Appearance and Layout: 3
Game Mechanic: 4
Setting: N/A
Overall: 3.5

Two Old Guys Talking

In my last post I published a conversation i had with Jerry a few months ago through Facebook. What instigated my reaching out to Jerry was at the time I was reading Playing at the World, a book on the history of Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). While I was reading the time line, I realized Jerry started playing in the mid 70’s, which probably made him one of the first few thousand (perhaps few hundred) players of the game, literally a first generation player. Jerry as I remember him was an alpha gamer, he was the guy who went to GenCon every year and brought back new games and fascinating stories. His games were always fun, filled with humor, interesting plot lines, character development and a good lot of ultra violence. I learned most of my GMing skills from him. Some of my game world Caldoom was inspired and or directly stolen from Jerry’s game world, BronzeHelm does indeed live on as more than just a minor shire in the SCA. Two things jumped out at me while we were talking.

First, his description of how he started playing. First he heard rumors of college students photocopying the rules and character sheets. This was common back in 74 and 75, at that point only about a thousand legal copies of D&D existed, but easily 5 times that many illegal copies existed. As the game spread and more players became addicted to the game, a sort of underground publishing movement started. I remember talking to a former IBM employee several years ago who said back in the 70’s he burned off 2 or 3 copies of D&D a night at his office for a couple of weeks straight so everyone he knew who wanted to play, had a copy. Then Jerry talked about meeting a couple of guys where he worked who played and he started up with them. This is also not an unusual story for the time, meeting complete strangers, going to their house and playing D&D. In my case, this sort of thing has lead to friendships that have lasted decades.

Second, as I read his account of his favorite characters, it occurred to me how ripples in time occur. He talked about how his DM of the time blessed his character Darron with a god like intelligence, but only when it suited the DM to do so. I remember Jerry doing something similar to one of my characters Simon, a half-orc of very little brain. In Simon’s case he acquired a magic spear with a personality of its own and occasionally, when it suited Jerry, the spear would take Simon over and un-ass the party from whatever major disaster they had gotten themselves into. Of course I have never been one to let a good idea go, so I extended on the idea of the spear. Several years ago, the then current party in my own campaign encountered members of Simon’s old adventuring party (Bongo the Bogie Barbarian, Bob the Barbarian, and Dac the Chaotic Evil Bastard), Simon of course had passed away several years ago (died quietly in his sleep of old age) and the spear along with some other magic items from the retired party, passed to the new group. My nephew Scott inherited the spear and much adventure and humor ensued. In short, I found it profoundly interesting how a game run by a GM in 1976 had direct affect on a game played in 2010. It was a nice conversation and one of the few regret I have is I was never able to run a game for Jerry. Maybe I will guilt him into joining us for one or two games on Friday night.

Interview with an old guy

Back in September I had a conversation with my DM from one of my very earliest days. I posted the conversation here before, but then came the great website migration fail and it vanished along with a dozen other posts. Fortunately, this conversation was saved by FaceBook and I am able to re-post it. As a side note, there was some editing done, primarily for spelling and readability. In my next post I will give some thoughts on this conversation.

Chris Stoddard: I am currently reading Playing the World, a history of the development of D&D. It got me to wondering when you started playing, or in fact how you even heard about it in Billings Montana. I have this picture in my head of you and Creede sitting across the table from Gary Gygax at GenCon VII, you two are maniacally giggling and Gary with his hands covering his face sobbing.

Jerry Stoddard: I first heard about D&D when I was attending MSU in Bozeman – a buddy mentioned something about a bunch of guys copying off pages from rule books and character sheets – that would have been early 1975. I think I played my first game in late 1975 or perhaps sometime in 1976 – I honestly don’t remember I do know that I used to play with a couple of the guys I met working at the old Sinclair station at the corner of 6th and 27th – so that would have been late 76 or so

Chris Stoddard: I think Bruce and I came along in late late 79 or early 80. My wife is always amused at what I remember. For instance, I have no idea what my cell number is (had it for 10 years) but I remember in pretty good detail how my 4th level fighter Brandon died. Anyway, I was just curious, and if I never said it, thank for all the games, it was fun and I appreciated it.

Jerry Stoddard: You’re very welcome – those games were fun. And I still remember the WTF moment when the rest of the party took the contract out on Brandon and Creede’s weird way of filling the contract

Chris Stoddard: I have to say, that moment taught me a lot about being a good sport. While it was a serious bummer for me, the upside was I went on to play a couple of way more interesting characters. I hope I am not becoming bothersome here, but I think it is interesting that you were there at the very beginning and as close as I can tell, you were probably one of the first few thousand people playing the game. So one more question and I will leave you alone for awhile. You were probably in the same position I have been for many years, in that I have been the DM far more than I have been a player. In spite of that I have a handful of characters and among those I have a couple of favorites. So who was your favorite and I don’t mind a character story either. In case you have not noticed, I am feeling nostalgic these days.

Jerry Stoddard: Wow – interesting question. Who was my favorite character to play? hmmm Can I hedge and say it was actually a PAIR of them? Darron was a full blooded elf, and he had a brother – half-brother, technically named Randall. Darron was a fighter, and Randall a cleric. Now, the weird thing about Darron was that when initially rolled up, he had a very low intelligence – and when I played him, I played him as a good nature simpleton who just happened to be hell on greased wheels in a fight with long sword or bow – Randall more or less took care of him, in spite of being of only average intelligence and frankly, not too hot on wisdom either – my dice were in a quirky mood the day I rolled them up.

Then in one adventure, the DM passed me a note in the middle of an encounter after Randall had made an impassioned plea to any god who might be listening for someone in the party to be smart enough to get them out of the mess they were in. It said simply – Darron’s INT has been temporarily raised to 25- have fun – I’ll let you know when it returns to normal. We got out of that – and Darron returned to what passed for normal – and then the weird hit – every once in a while – something would trigger the god-like INT again, and the whole party went on a long involved quest to permanently keep Darron a genius, because his quick thinking saved their asses.

Meanwhile, Randall got his own weird inspiration, and when things got rough, he would haul out a list of all the gods in the campaign, and begin praying. After a few weird rolls, the DM assigned a fairly decent chance thatg SOMEONE would answer him – but there was no telling which god it would be. That, as you’ve probably guessed, led to problems and quests galore – it was decided Randall worshiped “Expediency”.

Meanwhile, Darron became somewhat crazy. For instance, he collected cats – which he kept in a special backpack of holding, and blew a wish on being able to speak to felines – his menagerie was MOSTLY harmless, but the sabretooth was too big to fit through the opening of the pack, and so became his visible companion. His never realized ambition as an active P/C- and something he sought high and low for – was to find a bright GREEN cat. The DM did give him one, the day I ‘retired” him when we went into a new campaign. I was asked to provide the DM with character sheets for Darron and Randall though – they apparently became respected NPCs in another campaign he was running – set a few centuries in the future

They were a weird pair, and a lot of fun to play – especially when Darron was bouncing between idiot and super-genius, and the rest of the party kept having to tackle Randall and stop him from invoking the gods because “we’re all booked up on quests right now”. You also, I think, may have encountered one of my first PCs as an NPC when I was DMing – a chaotic good half orc fighter/cleric named Caliban- but that’s another story

Chris Stoddard: Bravo, good story. I have had a rough month and you have cheered me up greatly. I do actually remember Caliban, correct me if I am thinking of a different PC/NPC, but as I recall he had aspirations of becoming a Paladin. BTW, all or some of this conversation may make into my blog at some point.

Jerry Stoddard: Be sure I get a link to the blog if it shows up. Yes – Caliban was …odd. The old rules said he HAD to be chaotic since he was half orc, and there was even a bit that he couldn’t be resurrected by a cleric, since he didn’t have a proper soul – but, he was stubborn

Chris Stoddard: Okay as promised I will leave alone for a little while. Thank you for entertaining me for a bit. Once I put together all the posts, I will send you a link.

More Kingdom of Loathing

I know, I know, I am being obsessive again. I have two characters, one I tend towards casual play with and one I tend towards hardcore play with. The Hardcore character is nearing his time to ascend and I am considering what equipment I should send him into the tower with.

  • Hat: Black cowboy hat (Scalp of Gorgolok)
  • Back: Giant gym membership card
  • Shirt: N/A (Someone remind me to perm Torso Awareness next run)
  • Weapon: Star stiletto (Hammer of Smiting)
  • Off-hand: Wand of Nagmar (Star stiletto)
  • Pants: Black greaves
  • Accessory: A War Medal
  • Accessory: Boris’s ring
  • Accessory: Blackberry combat boots
  • Familiar: Fist Turkey

Everything on this list either increases Muscle, gives a bonus to weapon damage or both. This combined with Lunging-Thrust Smack skill, should make fairly short work of the Sorceress.

The Family Tree




Four Generations of the Stoddard Extended Family, taken November 1st 2014 on Tanya’s wedding day in Pioneer Park, Billings Montana.


My Next Campaign

Currently we are about half way through my current campaign. I expect this campaign to continue for about another 18 months. This campaign is our last HackMaster/AD&D1E game, my hope is, it will culminate into a group of 18th-20th level characters, ground we have never before covered in 35 years of playing the game.

The next campaign, we are definitely changing games. I would like to play something more flexible than HackMaster, I am thinking Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition or perhaps GURPS, both have their advantages, both have downsides. I am considering other games, but these two seem to be my best bet.

      • D&D5E: Pro – The game is a direct decedent of the game we are currently playing, with many known properties, however, it has been updated with new and unified game mechanics that make it play smoother and takes advantage of modern game design. Con – The game is still locked in some old ideas like the “Level” and “Armor Class”, and the game, like its ancestors is deeply rooted in the Murder Hobo style of play.
      • GURPS: Pro – The epitome of flexible games, players can literally build any kind of character they please within the context of the setting, the game is very modular and can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Con – Sometimes too many choices is a bad thing, even at its simplest the array of choices can bog down character creation, players who have never played the game tend towards cookie cutter archetypes, while experienced players tend towards overly complex and hyper Min/Maxed characters.

The next thing I am thinking about is the type of setting. Obviously I am sticking with fantasy. Other genre’s are too difficult for me to layout quickly and efficiently. My three basic choices are, updating Caldoom for the new game, continuing in the Points of Light setting we are currently playing in, or doing something completely new like a riff on Jack Kirby’s Fourth World. I am thinking sort of a “Planet of the Elves” theme where the world is ruled by two immortal and nearly omnipotent races of Elves, The Lawful Good High Elves and the Lawful Evil Dark Elves with nearly all of the other intelligent races caught in the middle able to make small short term changes that are but a flicker to the long term machination of the Elf Lords. In this world, Elves would not be player characters, however, one could play a Half-Elf. Clerics would receive their spells from either one of the leaders of the Elvin factions (who are for all intense and purposes gods) or possibly from a few extra-planar beings with a desire to influence happenings in this world.