25 December 2005

The Annual Christmas Swag Report

Christmas is behind us this year. I commented to my wife last night that the holiday seems to be less about us, and more about Stephen (our son).

I'm fine with that; he's a bit young to truly appreciate the varied meanings of the season. He's also pretty oblivious to the fact that he made out like a bandit ten times to next October, pulling in so many new toys and other items of baby swag that we hardly have room for them all.

All he knows is that there's new cool stuff around to play with. That's all that matters.

That isn't to say that we didn't get anything. Quite to the contrary, we did fairly well. Our modest piles of loot were populated by several geeky goodies, but mine wasn't as full of gaming goodness as I might've hoped. All told, I've got two new volumes to add to my massive (yet stagnant) collection: Races of Eberron (thanks, hon!) and d20 Cyberscape (thanks, mom!).

Cyberscape looks like a good time. If I ever decide to do a cyber-oriented d20 game, it will be high on my list of supplements to use. Races of Eberron is also pretty groovy, regardless of the fact that I'll probably never run an Eberron campaign. The temptation to add some of those cool races (such as warforged) to other settings is fairly strong.

I did mention other geeky things, didn't I? My wife got a copy of Destroy All Humans! for the Xbox, so she can happily apply anal probes to hapless farmers, soldiers, and bovines. Our DVD collection is also somewhat larger. The first season of the new Battlestar Galactica is in our grasp (thanks, Adam!), as is the third Harry Potter flick (again: thanks, Adam!).

My wife bought me a copy of The Wild Geese on DVD, which is possibly one of the best mercenary-oriented war films ever. The packaging claims that it is the 30th anniversary edition of the film, which I find odd, considering that it was released in 1978. Wouldn't that make it less than 30 years old? Hmm?

I've also got several new CDs to add to my collection, including three old Oingo Boingo titles (Nothing to Fear, Dead Man's Party, and Boi-ngo) that I used to have on cassette, as well as GWAR's latest release, Live From Mt. Fuji.

I could easily use up several thousand words of text describing the various items that Stephen has added to his collection of playthings, but I will spare you the details. Besides, such descriptions would be better posted on Freelance Father, and likely will be at some point in the near future.

We've got edible presents on the menu, too. JD and Keri brought us up a homemade cheesecake this evening. I'm thinking that it will be devoured to the last delectable crumb sometime on the morrow.

So that's Christmas, in a nutshell. As much as I enjoy giving and receiving gifts, I'm glad that it's over...at least, for the time being.

A New Cover for Hammer and Shadow

Hammer and Shadow, which was originally due to be released in December, looks to have been pushed back to a January release date. Coincidentally, the cover art has been revised (old to the left; new to the right):

It's not as if I've been following this whole thing closely, though FFG did send me a head's up concerning the book being pushed back to January. The new art is definitely more striking, and conforms more to the subject matter of the product than the old art does. Still, I've never been one to poo-poo cover art of any type, especially in regards to FFG's cover art (which is, without a doubt, consistently some of the best in the industry).

Part of me wonders if FFG came to this decision [to change the art] by themselves, or if they were swayed by one of the many complaints posted to this thread on Against the Shadow. It would be easy enough for me to find out, but the question is: do I really want to know?

The "hard core" fans are difficult to please sometimes. I follow threads on AtS, but I rarely post. I'm always somewhat uncomfortable about singling myself out as an author on any product, so I don't. The closest I get to that sort of chest-beating is having a link to my web site and/or web log in my signature; if folks are curious about me, they can learn a lot by clicking one or two links.

Besides, it's not like I'm some sort of authority on the product line. I love Midnight, sure, and I hope it comes through in the work I produce, but I don't know every single piece of trivia that there is to know. By posting, "I'm so-and-so, and I wrote this," it seems that I'm saying, "Look at me! Aren't I groovy? You should listen to what I say; after all, I'm an author, which means that my opinion is worth more than yours!"

Which is, of course, some of the purest rubbish imaginable. I've seen such things posted by industry folks before, and while they might not explicitly come out and say it word for word, they certainly do imply it.

To my mind, in a business as small as the game industry, what's the point in getting your ego over-inflated? What percentage of the overall population is going to read my work? Which percentage of that percentage will even bother to read the credits in the book, giving them a less than equal chance of recognizing my (admittedly unusual [last]) name? And even if they do, what can I hope to gain by tooting my own horn?

To my mind, it's more important for me to be visible to the good people who offer me work by producing the best writing that I can, on time, and with a minimum number of editorial snafus. This is not to say that the fans and gamers out there do not matter; they most certainly do, since they're the ones who will spend their hard-earned cash to pay for the books that I've worked on.

I do suppose having a "big name" author work on a product is, in fact, a selling point for some consumers, but I know very few people who pay attention to the author. Most people are more interested in the content than in the creator.

Funny, how this turned from a news item into a rant. It's early yet, I suppose, and my brain got to running over. Then again, what's a blog for if not for this sort of literary spewing?

Merry Christmas, folks.

24 December 2005

Just in Time for Christmas! Food: The Poisoning and Toe: The Stubbing released!

As the title might suggest, it has been an interesting couple of days for me. It all started early Thursday morning, when I awoke at 12:30am with some of the worst abdominal pain of my life. Scratch that; in retrospect, this was easily the worst abdominal pain I've ever had. By 7:00am, besides writhing around in pain like a worm drying out on a warm sidewalk, I was also vomiting quite forcefully into one of our two toilets.

My good lady wife took me to the doctor, who examined me and asked, "What did you eat last night?"


"What did you order?"

"A couple of burgers," I said. Then I added, almost as an afterthought, "Off the dollar menu."

"The dollar menu?" he replied.

"Yeah, it's Christmas. We're strapped," I answered.

He chuckled. "You certainly get what you pay for."

Then he put me on a liquid diet, prescribed some anti-nausea and anti-cramping medication, and told me to go to the ER for IV fluids if I couldn't keep anything down over the course of the next six hours.

My wife dropped the prescriptions off at the drug store, then brought me home. She went away to pick up the pills and buy some safe things for me to consume: Gatorade, broth, soup, Jell-o, Big Sticks, etc.

The pills made a big difference, and by noon I was able to sleep for a while. It was blissful, compared to the agony I'd been experiencing over the past eleven or so hours.

As for McDonald's dollar menu: I think I'll be avoiding either it, or that particular McDonald's, for the forseeable future.

Next...my toe.

We were invited to a holiday dinner last night. Regardless of the gastrointestinal festivities of the previous day, I felt well enough to attend. The wife, the boy, and I piled into the Hyundai and consumed some very excellent prime rib, mashed potatos, corn, and gravy. Of course, we socialized, too. We're not complete barbarians. As always, the little man was a big hit.

Shortly after returning home, I was running around picking up Stephen's toys while my wife was getting him prepped for "night-night" (which is, to put it mildly, one of his least-favorite phrases). I guess I was moving too fast and not keeping track of my feet in relation to heavy, stationary objects.

My left foot and the sofa had an altercation, in which the sofa came out as the victor. My verbal response was quite...descriptive. It's a good thing the child can't talk yet, or I'd have some 'splaining to do.

Around 1:30am, I awoke for two reasons. First, I was thirsty. Second, my wounded toe had rubbed the wrong way on the bed or the sheets, sending a spike of pain to whatever cursed portion of my brain processes such signals. In the process of pouring myself some tea, I took a look at my toe. Black and blue and stiff, it no longer resembles the digit it once was.

I've done this before, but not for several years. If it turns black and falls off, it will almost be a mercy. Unfortunately, I know that it will remain exquisitely tender for at least another week.

That guy you saw writing at the Borders coffee shop on the morning of Christmas Eve? The one with the limp? Yeah, that was me.

Writing, yes. Gaming, too. The focus of this web log, after all, is the art that I practice, isn't it?

I've got a project to finish by Tuesday. How I will manage to get the work done in between now and then, I have little idea. Between running (limping) to the store and celebrating the holidays with my extended family, I expect to at least try.

Template Troves III seems to be doing well. As of this morning, it's up to #14 on RPG Now's Top Selling Products List. It's also #25 in all categories this month. There are two reviews posted so far, both of them five-star. Quite cool!

I guess that's all there is to report today. In closing, let me wish everyone a very Happy Holiday, no matter which one(s) you're celebrating. I'll be sure to report back on any game-related schwag that Santa Claus brings to me..!

13 December 2005

Template Troves III Released on RPG Now

I just found out that TTIII: Diseases, Parasites, and Symbiotes is up for sale on RPG Now. Please check it out, and let me know what you think. There's already one review up. I can only hope it's well-received.

I've got writing that needs done tonight, so I'll likely pluck away at that before I hit the rack. Also, it looks like I've got a pretty good line on a new WFRP project. I really enjoy working on Warhammer.

So, it's good news all around, I say. With luck, I'll have more to say later.

11 December 2005

A Trip to Narnia

I took my wife to see The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe tonight. I never did read those books, but I remember seeing an animated version when I was younger. Prior to going into the movie theater, the only thing I remembered was a faun with a parasol. That was it. As the events unfolded onscreen, I remembered more and more.

When you get down to it, I liked the movie. I understand that it's more of a child's fantasy story...a fairy tale, for lack of a better description. My taste for fantasy is more along the lines of the gritty world presented in Conan the Barbarian or, to some extent, Jackson's envisioning of The Lord of the Rings. Much the same, I prefer my science fiction dirty rather than sterile; I'm keen on the Nostromo in Ridley Scott's Alien, rather than the Enterprise in Roddenberry's Star Trek. After all, something that big has got to have tons of grease and grime in it somewhere.

As for the allegory of Christ/Aslan, I say: big deal. It wasn't a word-for-word parable, and it certainly didn't smack me in the face. Sometimes the characters seemed a bit shallow, and I would've almost preferred Patrick Stewart to Liam Neeson as Aslan (I kept hearing, "No, Anakin!" in my head, over and over again).

Anyway...I'm not much for really deep, in depth movie reviews, unless I'm either a) blown away or b) completely offended. I'll buy it when it hits DVD, if for no other reason than to let the boy watch it.

Speaking of young children: what is it with parents who bring their young (ie, less than a year old) children to crowded, loud movies? Does it surprise them when their child cries, shouts, whines, or screams? Not only are they being unfair to the child, who doesn't know any better than to cry, shout, whine, and scream, but they're being unfair to the rest of the folks in the audience who've dropped a good wad of cash to see a first-run movie.

They've got commercials that remind folks to silence their cell phones. What I want to see is a movie theater that doesn't permit folks to bring in children below a certain age, unless the screening in question is specifically for such children and their parents. I'm not about to drag my nine month-old son along to see a movie, and I would expect other folks to have the same sort of courtesy.

I guess it's too much to ask of some people.

I want to send a shout out to Dave Lucca, one of the guys from the Friday night games I used to play in. Just before the previews started, I saw a fellow who looked suspiciously like Dave sitting three seats down from my wife, and I managed to catch his eye -- and it was, indeed, Dave. It was good to see him. He's a great role-player, a bit on the dramatic side (it's the Italian blood in him, I'll wager).

Speaking of previews: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest looks like it's going to be a fine time. Can't wait for that one. Seven months is going to seem like eternity.

You might be wondering how the writing went today. All I can say is: freaking stat blocks. I spit on them! Ptooey! Building high-level characters in d20 is like building pyramids the old Egyptian way. Once they're together they look pretty good, but unless you've got thousands of slaves and easy access to a slide rule, it's going to take a while.

Okay, maybe it's not that bad, but by the time they kicked me out of the coffee shop, my eyes felt like rasins.

I say "kicked me out," but it wasn't quite like that. Some fellow (I'm not even sure he was an employee) came over to me and asked if I would mind relocating to another table in the joint, seeing as there was a performance about to start (and I was near one of the two easily-accessible power outlets in the whole place). I considered telling him, "No, I'm sorry. The fate of Aryth depends on the work I do today. Find another coffee shop to schill your cheap, infantile mewlings."

Still, it was after 1pm, and I'd been calculating skill points, feats, and saving throws for nigh on three hours. I decided to be merciful. Plus, staying while a "show" was being put on is not a good way to get writing done. I can only guess what sort of dubious musical act they had waiting in the wings.

Enough for today. Mid-life crisis aside, it's been a good day so far. Another 90 minutes, and I'll be tucking myself in. Seven hours after that, I'll be dragging my ass out of bed to go to work. There's stuff that needs buying, and I'm the guy to buy it.

Writing on Sunday

I'm going to head over to Borders today and see about getting some writing done. I've put a dent in the current Midnight project, but I dare say I'd like to have most of it done fairly soon. The deadline is looming, and with the Holidays and all the associated activities, my weekends this month have pretty much been pre-planned.

Oh, the agony.

The family is still asleep. We had a late night, and the boy didn't hit the rack until well after nine o'clock. That's about two hours past his normal bedtime, which means he'll probably be sacked out for another hour or two.

I tell you, sometimes I question this freelance writing stuff. I enjoy the process, especially the end results, but it's a lot of work and the pay is sporadic. I don't know how anyone could manage to live on this sort of thing on a full time basis, though I know that some folks do. The secret seems to be getting a "real" job with a game company (though, in the current industry and in light of the recent lay-offs at WotC, how long would that last?).

I've given some thought to tying off the current run of projects as they stand and endeavoring to go back to school in '06. It might surprise folks to learn that I've always wanted to be an elementary school teacher. Wierd, I admit, but such a goal requires more education than I have. I'm 32 years old; given a modest turn-around time, I'll be 40 by the time I'm able to apply for a teaching position.

I wonder if this is what a mid-life crisis feels like?

Time to get some clothes on and get my gear together. I have several thousand words to write, not to mention a few stat blocks to map out. Plus, I can hear my son stirring in his crib. Time to go.

09 December 2005

Marcus Makes Second!

Who is Marcus? you may be asking.

Marcus is my cleric in my friend Alan's Shackled City campaign. He's an idealistic fellow, patterned after the hospitalers of the Crusades. Basically, he's a good-aligned cleric who follows no specific deity, and he acts as a defender and healer of pilgrims and travelers.

Just for kicks, I'll post his stats here. Maybe I'll post a story or something at a later date. For the time being, this will have to do.

Old-fashioned stat block, here we come...

Marcus: Human Clr2; CR 2; Medium-size Humanoid (Human); HD 2d8+4 (16 hp); Init +1; Spd 20 ft (30 ft w/o armor); AC 17 (+4 armor, +2 shield, +1 Dex), touch 11, flat-footed 16; Base Atk +1; Grp +3; Atk +4 melee (1d8+2, longsword); Full Atk +4 melee (1d8+2, longsword); Space/Reach 5'/5'; SA Turn undead; SQ None; AL NG; SV Fort +5, Ref +1, Will +6; Str 14, Dex 13, Con 15, Int 12, Wis 17, Cha 10.
    Skills and Feats: Concentration +7, Diplomacy +0, Heal +8, Knowledge (arcana) +3, Knowledge (history) +2, Knowledge (religion) +6, Knowledge (the planes) +2, Spellcraft +2; Cleave, Martial Weapon Proficiency (Longsword), Power Attack, Weapon Focus (Longsword).
    Languages: Common, Celestial.
    Possessions: Money (33gp, 6sp, 5cp), Backpack, Bedroll, Dagger, Explorer's Outfit, Flask, Flint and Steel, Heavy Wooden Shield, Wooden Holy Symbol, Hooded Lantern, Light Mace, Longsword, Lamp Oil, Belt Pouch, Scale Mail, Waterskin, Whetstone, Thunderstone, Smoke Stick, 2 Sunrods, 5 Tindertwigs, Vial of Antitoxin.
    Magic Items: Potion of cure moderate wounds.
    Spells (4/3+1): 0 – detect magic, light, resistance; 1st – bless, magic weapon (D), shield of faith.
    Domains: Healing (Healing spells at +1 caster level), War (bonus feats).
    Spell Saves: DC = 10 + 3 + Spell Level.
    Turning Check: 1d20 + 2.
    Turning Damage: 2d6 + 2.

In case you're wondering why his name is Marcus; it's not because I was watching Rome at the time. It actually came to me while listening to a Clutch song titled A Shogun Named Marcus, even though the character is most certainly not a shogun.

Template Troves News

Ian Johnson (aka Frilf) of Silverthorne Games has posted a quick news update on the ENWorld forums, as well as a link to a sneak peek of the forthcoming Template Troves III: Diseases, Parasites, and Symbiotes (written by yours truly). Take a look at the preview, which details the Plague Zombie template, here.

07 December 2005

Future Pharma! First Taste is Free!

The Game Mechanics have posted a freebie called Future Pharma, which includes the drug design rules that I wrote for Future Player's Companion III: Tomorrow's Evolution. It's not a bad deal, getting these rules for free.

Here's to hoping you'll get hooked on your first dose!

In other news, it appears as if Shadowspawn's Guide to Sanctuary is finally back from print. You can order your own copy from the Green Ronin online store, or buy it at your FLGS.

On the gaming front...

You may recall that I was talking about starting up a new game. Well, I've gone ahead and given it a shot. I'm detailing the trials and tribulations of my efforts at a new game-centric web log entitled Shadows of the Past, which is the name of the Midnight campaign I'm picking back up.

Seven players. I must be crazy..!

02 December 2005

WotC Lay-Offs

Just in time for the holidays...


It looks like Wizards of the Coast has had another round of lay-offs. I'd be surprised if you hadn't heard about it somewhere else by now, considering I'm somewhat late coming to the news desk. Still, there are some folks that I know on that list, and my heart goes out to them.

I met Charles Ryan for the first time at Gen Con Indy this year. I had originally opened hailing frequencies with Charles back in the old days, when he was running Chameleon Eclectic from his bunker in Florida. I honestly don't know if he remembered me, but it was nice to finally meet him and put a face with the name.

Another Wizards employee that lost her job was Michelle Lyons. Michelle is a writer and editor of some skill. I got to know Michelle when I was working on Fireborn for FFG. She and I chatted over a few things, and bounced ideas off of one another. When I heard that she'd bagged a job at Wizards, I was quite happy for her. I had no idea it would be so short-lived.

You can read the whole news item at Gaming Report.