19 December 2006

A Quick Post

Saturday morning, I took care of Christmas cards, under the watchful eye of the boy. He divided his attention between the television and myself, until it was time to wake up mommy (one of his favorite activities, right up there with waking up daddy). All in all, it took me a long time to get the cards done, and even then, I didn't get them mailed until Sunday night (which really equates to mailing them on Monday, anyway).

About three years ago, we started writing a holiday letter (thanks to Lynn for the inspiration) to include in our cards. The letter only goes to people who might have some interest in our family life. Further, close friends, who already know the details, might also be spared the letter. After all, they see us all the time, so I don't think they need a recap of our boring lives.

The holiday letter, printed and folded into quarters, was done. But wait, there's more. I am one of those people who can't just put a blank card with a holiday letter into an envelope. No, I have to sign and inscribe a message into each individual card, tailored to whomever the recipient(s) happen to be. This, of course, takes even more time.

So, yeah, they're mailed. If you don't get one and you think that you should, send me your address (because I probably don't have it!).

Saturday evening was Amy's company Christmas party. We ate at a place called "When In Rome," which is in Encinitas. It's a somewhat upscale Italian restaurant, very good food. I had an Italian beer (can't recall the name) and a glass (or two) of Merlot. I'm not normally a wine person, and I immediately understood why when I'd taken a sip of the stuff. Dinner consisted of four choices (lamb shank, sea bass, stuffed chicken breast, or filet mignon), plus a salad course, a pasta course, and dessert.

It was a good night, even though we had to leave early to rescue my parents from my son (who is well into the swing of the terrible twos).

Sunday. I had plans for Sunday, but none of them came to fruition. Instead, I ran errands. Grocery shopping, primarily, since the cupboards were bare and we needed supplies for baking. We'll be making cookies this week, though I don't know how many we'll bake, or if we'll even ship any out. I'll also be making banana bread tonight or tomorrow night. It's a big hit with my co-workers, so I reckon I shouldn't disappoint.

It's well past time for me to ready myself for work. More later...

07 December 2006

Getting to Know Your Friends (Holiday Edition)

Holiday Edition of Getting to Know Your Friends
Welcome to the 2006 Holiday Edition of Getting to Know Your Friends! You know the drill. Highlight, copy, and paste and change my answers to your answers.

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?
(Mexican) Hot chocolate. With bourbon.

2. Does Santa wrap presents, or just sit them under the tree?
He wraps them. Or, rather, we wrap them. I can't imagine having unwrapped presents under the tree.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?

4. Do you hang mistletoe?
Nope. It's poisonous to cats, AFAIK.

5. When do you put your decorations up?
As soon as we get the tree, usually mid-December.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child:
Getting a bunch of plastic machine guns and military gear from Santa, and then (make-believe) shooting my friends with them. We were all army brats, so violence came naturally to us.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
I don’t remember, but we never had a chimney anyway until we moved to California.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
At my grandparents’ house, yes. At home, no.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?
White lights, ornaments.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?
Love it, but haven't had to live with it for a quarter of a century.

12. Can you ice skate?
Sort of. I'm much better at sprawling.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
I got a big, black trenchcoat one year that I wore almost daily throughout high school.

14. What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you?
My son.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?
Pecan pie, though we make these peanut butter/chocolate cookies that are wicked good.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Decorating the tree.

17. Which do you prefer: giving or receiving?
Both are nice.

18. What is your favorite Christmas Song?
"Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg..."

19. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum?

Happy Holidays!!

06 December 2006

Ord Vaxal Revisited

My first paid publication was Ord Vaxal: Prison Planet of the Empire, which appeared in the Polyhedron portion of Dungeon #106. I was doing a little vanity searching today, with "Ord Vaxal" as the search item, and I came up with a couple of cool links that I wanted to share.

The first is Jeff Carlisle's site. Jeff did some of the art for the article, including the map of Tof Soren (which must've been based on the hand-scribbled map I'd originally submitted with the article). He's got some of that art posted on his site (including the aforementioned map). Check it out.

The second site that came up belongs to a fellow who goes by the moniker Jedime, and he creates custom Star Wars action figures. One of those figures, viewable here, is one of Tof Soren's peacekeepers. I am quite amused.

05 December 2006

Latest Player Type Quiz

JD asked us to take this test, so I went ahead and did it. This isn't the same one I took back in July, and my ratings between the two show a little variation.

So here goes...

You scored as Storyteller. The Storyteller is in it for the plot: the sense of mystery and the fun of participating in a narrative that has the satisfying arc of a good book or movie. He enjoys interacting with well-defined NPCs, even preferring antagonists who have genuine motivations and personality to mere monsters. To the Storyteller, the greatest reward of the game is participating in a compelling story with interesting and unpredictable plot threads, in which his actions and those of his fellow characters determine the resolution.

With apologies to Robin Laws.



Character Player




Casual Gamer


Weekend Warrior


Power Gamer




What RPG Player (Not Character) Type Are You?
created with QuizFarm.com

04 December 2006

Cyberpunk Triggertime

We had the crew over on Saturday evening for Cyberpunk, but we didn't play. Two of the PCs had to be finished, and the other two needed to finalize equipment. We mostly BS'd and prepped for the next session, which (God willing) will be the 17th. Yeah, a Sunday, I know, but with the holidays approaching, gaming is going to take a back seat to Christmas carols, Yule logs, and eggnog.

I finally got to play out a game of War of the Ring, too. We overlooked a couple of rules here or there which might have contributed to Sauron's victory over the free peoples, but we'll know better next time. Overall impression: it's a good, good game. The event cards really add a lot to the game's mood, while at the same time being useful.

At first blush, it seems that the Free Peoples have the crap end of the stick. For the most part, their forces are scattered and underpowered, they have fewer action dice, and the Shadow has a lot of units. As I played (as Sauron), I began to realize that I had a few distinct problems. For one, aside from the four Nazgul I started with, I didn't have any leaders. Between the members of the Fellowship and numerous leader figures, the Free Peoples have a lot of leadership to spread around.

What leaders do is allow for re-rolls after combat. Say you roll your dice to attack, and you have two leaders in your army. This means you get to re-roll two (or more, in the case of some of the companions) of your failed combat dice. Aside from the Nazgul (each of which has a Leadership of 1), the Shadow only has three other figures with any sort of Leadership: Saruman (who can't leave Orthanc at all), the Witch King (who activates all Free People nations when he comes out), and the Mouth of Sauron (who only appears if all the Free People nations are At War).

This means that you have to use action dice to juggle the Nazgul around if you want one or more leader re-rolls, which takes time away from actually moving and attacking. Plus, a lot of the Shadow's combat cards require one or more Nazgul to be present in the combat before you can use them.

There are a bunch of event cards that the Free Peoples' player can get that are a real kick in the goonies, too. For instance, Robert pulled a card that had the Ents tearing down Orthanc. I didn't expect it, and since I only had a single unit there in reserve (along with Saruman), the day ended with Saruman dead. Quite a blow, indeed, especially when combined with my losing Dol Guldur due to an invasion of dwarves from the north.

The victory was purely military on my part. I pressed the advantage of numbers, which is pretty much all I had past a certain point. I massed a lot of forces around Minas Tirith, but that was more of a decoy meant to keep Robert busy reinforcing the city while I set my sites on Rivendell (the defeat of which ultimately won me the game).

Next time, I want to try my hand at the Free Peoples. I see some potential in one or two military strategies, but they're risky and will require a lot of luck.

Anyway, time to go back to work.

02 December 2006

Weekend Report

The long week has passed me by, and it's finally Saturday morning.

My big box came from Fantasy Flight on Thursday, but I didn't pick it up until yesterday. One of the games I ordered was missing, but I contacted FFG and they're sending me a replacement.

I don't know when we'll get around to trying these games out, but they all seem to be pretty nifty. Going over what I picked up...

The three Horizon books that I was missing. For those of you who don't know, Horizon was a line of mini-RPGs released by FFG using the d20 mechanics. They're all of them pretty neat, and easily mined for cool ideas if you don't intend to use them as games unto themselves. I already had Grimm and Redline. The three I was missing include MechaMorphosis, Spellslinger, and Virtual.

MechaMorphosis is a thinly-veiled adaptation of the Transformers. It's pretty cool. It's a bit mechanics-heavy, but seems playable nonetheless.

Spellslinger is fantasy meets Old West. It's not historical (or even quasi-historical, like Deadlands), and is more akin to a fantasy setting that is derivative of Western cliches. Overall, I like it, though there are only three character classes available.

The last one, Virtual, is a lot line Tron, where the PCs portray programs. My first impression of the game is favorable, but I have yet to delve too deeply into the rules and setting.

The rest of the games I bought were board games. I've wanted to pick up the Lord of the Rings Trivia Game for a long time, but I was somewhat hesitant to spend the full retail price on a game I doubt I'd ever get to play. You see, I'm not exactly a LotR expert, but I'm probably a little more knowledgable than the average Joe. Still, for $10, I couldn't say no.

The rest of the games I bought were in FFG's "Silver Line." They're small format board games, which is nice -- they don't take up the same kind of space as a full-sized game.

The first of these is Arena Maximus, which is a game about chariot racing. The track is laid out randomly using tiles, with segments being revealed as the players race their chariots. This is probably the one I'd like to try out first.

The second was Kingdoms. I'm not sure if this is going to be a good game or not, but given that it was written by Reiner Knizia, I figure it's got to be decent.

Number three is Magdar. The premise is similar to the tale of Moria from Lord of the Rings. The players are miners (dwarves, I think) who are digging for Mithril. If they dig too deeply, they end up disturbing Magdar, a demon. I reckon all bets are off once this occurs.

Scarab Lords is the fourth title, and it's also the one that wasn't in the box. Can't say too much about it, in that case, other than it sounded neat (which is why I bought it).

The fifth is Senator, which I picked up mostly for my wife. She likes all things Imperial Rome, and this one sounded right up her alley. Each player is a Roman senator who wants to become emperor. After Arena Maximus, this is probably the next on my list of games to try out.

Last of all, we've got Wreckage. The game pits players, who are driving Road Warrior-esque cars to destroy one another in an attempt to get all the gasoline. It seems to me that it's a bit closer to Car Wars, since you actually move your car around, and use an included ruler to measure range, etc. I'm interested in trying it out, but I don't know if anyone else I game with will be interested or not.

So that's my haul from the FFG sale. It's still going on, too.

Okay, what else for the weekend..? Cyberpunk tonight, for one. Which reminds me, I need to get some work done on that before the players show up tonight. Between the errands I need to run, I have a feeling it's going to be a busy day.

30 November 2006

Seduction Quiz

This one seems to be floating around the internet at the moment. It's amusing.

I didn't think I was such a push-over. Maybe I should ask my wife to confirm...

28 November 2006

Dirty Laundry

No, no. I'm not about to make any sort of spectacular confession. Not without a lawyer present, anyway. I'm talking about dirty laundry, literally. Clothes so filthy and mired with grime and sweat that, given the right climate and a couple more weeks, they'd be able to walk (or slither) about by themselves.

Tonight's the night for dirty laundry. The magic trick, as you might know, is sometimes referred to as washing. This involves water, and a miraculous substance known as either soap or detergent. Where I live, washing takes place in a facility that houses about twenty mechanical washers and dryers. The washers wash, the dryers dry. Funny how that works, hm?

In order to get these contraptions to wash your clothes, you have to feed them hard currency. It costs $1.25 to wash a load of clothes, and another $0.75 to dry them. The entire process, from start to finish, probably takes about 90 minutes. It may seem like a monumental waste of time, but believe me: clean clothes are a necessity.

All joking aside, tonight is Tuesday. A small assignment has landed in my lap, due by the end of the week. Something to occupy my mind, finally. It doesn't pay, but it might lead to grander things in my future if I do it well enough to get noticed. Wish me luck.

I'm having the crew over to play Cyberpunk this weekend. I hope we can manage to get a little trigger time in. I've got the outline for the introductory session ready, but I need to get down to brass tacks. This means writing up NPC stats, all manner of descriptions, that sort of thing. Typical GM stuff.

It's been a long time since I've GMed anything. It feels like it's been forever, in fact. I know that it's like riding a bike, and that you never quite forget how it's done, but I still get to wondering if everything will click. Will the game bloom, or die?

Oh, and one more bit of news: Wizards has announced the impending release of Complete Champion on their web site. This is the one that I contributed to, the one I've been keeping under my hat this whole time. If you're feeling particularly generous, go to Amazon.com and pre-order a copy today.

Perceptive readers will notice that my name is not on the cover of the book. There is, I assure you, an explanation for this. Generally speaking, only four names fit on a book cover. I happen to be the fifth author, and my contribution was also the smallest. As this is a mere mock-up of the final product, there is a chance that my name will grace the exterior of the book with the rest of those talented folks. If not, I'll still have interior credit, for which I'm quite pleased.

An old friend of mine recently asked me if I'd ever like to write a novel. This question is not uncommon, coming from other people as well. The answer, plain and simple, is, "I don't know."

I'm sure that, someday, I'll be hit by a bolt of figurative lightning, and I'll leap up and shout, "Eureka!" Until then I'm happy to freelance, contributing my own thoughts and ideas to existing properties and product lines. If I decide to write a novel, and pursue its publication, I can only hope that my list of freelance publishing credits will help me to get my foot in the door, and lend some air of credibility to my work.

So that's it for now, folks. I've pontificated enough for one night. As always, I'm sure there will be more later on...

27 November 2006

Adios, Long Weekend

Wednesday afternoon, I sat on the cusp of a long-anticipated four-day weekend and thought, "Come Sunday night, I'm going to wonder where the weekend went."

Self-fulfilling prophecy, maybe?

It's Monday morning (or should that be "mourning"?), and I'm up at the crack of dawn to start another glorious week. You never realize how long a five-day stretch of work is until you've spent more than two or three days in a row off. The length of the week seems magnified, somehow, stretching off into an infinity of monotonous tasks. Tuesday arrives an eternity later, and you wonder, "Shouldn't it be Thursday by now?"

Another self-fulfilling prophecy, I reckon.

The long weekend, in retrospect, feels correspondingly long. Thursday including the usual turkey-gobbling with family. Friday was a day of errands, following by listless sloth on my part. Saturday, we drove about, spent a little bit of money, and enjoyed a meal out. Sunday, we cooked our own turkey after what seemed to be days of prep time, and shared it (as well as stuffing and mashed potatoes) with friends.

Having friends over last night, we decided to play some games. I finally got to give War of the Ring a shot; our pal Robert helped me on that account. It seems to take a long while to set up, and we had a few fits and starts as we read the rules between moves. I sat myself in the inimitable role of Sauron, while Rob played the miserable Free Peoples. My evil plans came to naught, however, because by the time we'd gotten the hang of things, it was time to clear the table for dinner.

Curse those meddling kids.

After dinner (which turned out quite well, thanks), my brother in law, Adam, as well as Rob and myself, tried out Cthulhu 500. We played that until my son went to bed, after which we pulled out the Lord of the Rings boardgame. With my wife included, we managed to account for four hobbits. The first two boards seemed easy, but Shelob's Lair messed us up good. By the time we'd made it to Mordor, it was a forgone conclusion that we were all going to die. A series of very bad tiles destroyed Sam (me), Pippin, and Merry, leaving Frodo to witness Sauron's ultimate victory first hand.

I've actually played in a game of Lord of the Rings where we made it to the end and destroyed the ring. I think this must've been a stroke of luck, because I can't imagine ever doing so again. As much as I enjoy the game, I have to wonder what the statistical odds of success are. They can't be high.

After the game ended, we kicked everyone out, cleaned up house, and went to bed. It was a late night, and here I am some six hours later, tired and somewhat maudlin about the long weekend that passed me by. Another two hours in a warm bed next to my wife sounds like some approximation of Heaven, but I'm too responsible to call in and make a half-assed excuse in order to delay the inevitable.

To the shower with me, and then to the orthodontic salt mine I go.

22 November 2006

The Blues

I'm feeling incredibly glum today. It's little secret that I've been feeling glum a lot lately. There are a number of things on my mind, and while no single one can be blamed for my gloomy mood, taken together they present a formidable host.

I suppose I need to pull myself up by my bootstraps and make things happen. It's increasingly obvious that my problems aren't likely to solve themselves. Half of them, though, involve waiting for something that I am unable to otherwise hurry along. The other half might be solved by quick (or, at the least, imminent) action on my part.

Forgive me for not making a list of these issues. Some of the things on it will appear far too trivial to the average joe, I'm sure. It hardly helps that I'm tired. I must not be sleeping enough, or perhaps I'm getting old. I've come to appreciate a late morning or afternoon nap on the weekends. I fear that I will eventually find myself nodding off in movie theaters.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow. We're feasting with my family, as is the norm for this holiday. I look forward to four days away from the office, though I'm sure they will pass by all too quickly. I have little planned, aside from attending tomorrow's meal.

Incidentally, Fantasy Flight Games is having a holiday sale. Most items are available for $5, and this presents several good deals. I myself have succumbed to the temptation of cheap games. You can even buy the Fireborn books for $5 each, if you so choose. Even though I didn't write them, I must issue a heartfelt recommendation for the books in the Blue Planet line. You can pick up the entire series of Blue Planet books for $5 each, which is practically theft considering the high quality of the title.

Back to work...

21 November 2006

Box Office Hobbits

And so it appears that Peter Jackson will not be directing the movie adaptation of The Hobbit, after all. I am somewhat disappointed by this, as a live-action version of The Hobbit would be a spectacle, indeed. I’d be really interested to see a CGI Smaug in action.

I’ve been a fan of Peter Jackson’s for a long, long time, well before he was thrust into the limelight by his adaptation of LotR. Bad Taste was the first movie of his that I’d seen. While Dead Alive (titled Brain Dead everywhere but the USA, AFAIK) wasn’t really my cup of tea, I enjoyed both The Frighteners and Heavenly Creatures. Still haven’t seen Meet the Feebles, and King Kong, while pretty to look at, was somewhat long IMO.

I guess I appreciate his low-budget work more than his high-budget films. Don’t get me wrong, I respect his attempts to bring Tolkien’s world to life. He got a lot of it dead to rights, but I also feel that he got an awful lot wrong. I don’t want to go into specifics: this entry isn’t intended as an item-by-item critique of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. We’ll save that for another time.

There’s been a serious lack of good live-action fantasy flicks. I can name but a handful that are, in my estimation, worthy: Conan the Barbarian, Krull, the Harry Potter films, Ladyhawke, Beastmaster, and Excalibur are but a few of my favorites. There are even some movies, such as The Sword and the Sorcerer, that I absolutely adore, but which are admittedly horrible when taken on their own.

Back to the topic of The Hobbit: I guess that New Line will recruit another director for the movie. I wonder who it will be? Will the fact that Jackson isn’t directing it detract from its success? Only time will tell.

On my to-do list: see Casino Royale. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the latest Bond flick, and I’d really like to get to the theater within the next few days and see it.

Oh, by the way, I did get to have breakfast with my friend Dave, and we talked a good deal about many things, especially Cyberpunk. Talking about it with him made me want to play it, dammit. I yearn for the old days. We had some good games back then, I tell you. I don’t know if they’d be good by today’s standards, but they definitely served a purpose, and they continue to live on in my memory.

So, yeah…we have to get Cyberpunk rolling, and soon.

17 November 2006

Video Game Quality

It's a good thing I got those XBox games cheap, I tell you.

Don't get me wrong, I've really enjoyed the Brothers in Arms titles (even though I think that they were a bit on the short side), and Midnight Club 3 is a lot of fun (I'd probably've paid full price for it, in fact). In the case of Medal of Honor: European Assault, though...I've played through the first scenario, and I've pretty much had it with the game.

As far as FPS games go, there's always a little bit to get used to. The controls, for instance: there are always minor variations on the way the controller is set up. I can deal with that. I have to say, though, that the Brothers in Arms games have spoiled me in relation to WWII-themed shooters. They're twenty times better than European Assault. Not to mention, European Assault is campy. The squad interface is primitive. The animations fall flat. The level of realism is pre-kindergarten (taking out a tank with a frag grenade? Pah-lease!).

I figured that, even with the silliness of the game, I could probably play through it and enjoy myself. I wasn't expecting much for my $10. The sad truth is, I can't. I'm going to yank the disc out of the XBox when I get home, slap it in its case, and put it up on the media rack to collect dust until I decide to give it or throw it away.


My Amazon order arrived yesterday. Pieces of Eight looks as neat as it looked at Gen Con. I can't wait to try it out, though I am a bit uncertain how I should stack my "deck" (as your coin-comprised "ship" is called). The instructions detail the different coins and their varied effects, but they don't provide any ideas or examples for how one should put a deck together. It's going to take some experimentation on my part to figure out what works.

Cthulhu 500 is going to be entertaining. It's a simple game that will be fun to try out. Maybe tonight.

Tomorrow, I'm going to try and see if I can do something about my radiator leak. I'm no vehicle expert, so I can't rightly say if it's fixable, or if I should just put a bullet in the car and be done with it. More on this mechanical enigma later on. Right now, I've got to clock in from lunch and get back to work. Huzzah.

15 November 2006

Soup Night

It's tortilla chicken soup night here at the Astleford household. I've been hard at work, slaving over a hot stove, since I got home. My wife is chasing my son around, making him laugh hysterically so that he can't stand up on his own. Soft music is playing on the stereo, and the paper cut from this morning's session of filing (at work) is screaming bloody murder because I got jalepeno juice (or salsa or something) in it.

Gen Con SoCal is not in the cards for this weekend. Sorry, folks, I just ain't doing it. My car has a radiator leak which, combined with its general unreliability as of late, precludes me from making the drive. Not that I would have gone were my car in tip-top shape; I'm sure I would've made some other excuse, either due to finances or (most likely) time.

This doesn't stop me from seeing a friend of mine on Sunday, though; a guy that I only see at conventions named Dave. Dave is an Aussie that I met at the very first Gen Con SoCal. He was a player in a massive Cyberpunk 2020 game that I was helping to run, and by chance I ended up moderating for his table towards the end of my evening out. I'm not sure when he noticed my name, but he recognized me instantly as "Ocelot," author of a handful of homebrew Cyberpunk articles from "back in the day."

As neat as it was to be recognized, it was also a bit uncomfortable. Granted, it would've been a heck of lot more uncomfortable if he'd expressed negative opinions about the design work I'd done in my youth. I managed to get over it, though, and he and I have since become friends. In the years following, he moved from Australia to the USA, and now lives a few scant hours away in the Arizona outback. On his way home Sunday, Dave plans to stop by my place, and we're going to head out for breakfast. It'll be good to talk with him again.

Aside from my car acting up, I also got the results of my latest blood test. Don't worry, folks, I'm not dying or anything. At least, not yet. In fact, I guess I'm pretty healthy for a fat guy who does little else but type all day. That is, except for the levels of triglycerides in my bloodstream. Who knew this stuff could kill you? So I'm going to be heading for a low-fat diet in a matter of days, which is pretty much what I've been doing for the past week or two, anyway. Not that I've noticed a difference.

This past weekend, I went to the first movie I've seen since V For Vendetta. I've been a big WWII buff for a while now, and I realized last week that Flags of Our Fathers had been out for a while. Overall, I enjoyed the movie. It was a good mixture of grueling battle scenes intermixed with a story that was somewhat removed from the rigors of war. I was especially interested in the film for two reasons. First off, my grandfather was a sailor aboard an LST that landed at Iwo Jima; and secondly, there have been few good "modern" films that center soley on the Pacific campaign.

By "good 'modern' films" exploring the Pacific aspect of the war, the only one I can really think of that I approved of was 1998's The Thin Red Line. I'm probably the only person I know who liked the movie, though, being as it was largely tropical eye-candy interspersed with the self-reflection of the characters and only sparsely populated with combat scenes. There have been other films, sure, but I consider the majority of them (including the banal, Titanicesque Pearl Harbor, and John Woo's overly fiery Windtalkers) to be cinematic crap.

If you can think of other worthy "modern" Pacific theatre WWII flicks, by all means, let me know.

Okay, so past that, what else is up? Hmm. I ordered copies of Atlas Games' Pieces of Eight and Cthulhu 500. I regret not buying Pieces of Eight at Gen Con this past August, and so I'm making up for it now. As for Cthulhu 500, we can always use another light-hearted card game for those occasions when RPing is not on the agenda, but gaming of some kind is.

I also discovered that there's a re-make of Conquest of the Empire, which was the Roman equivalent of Axis and Allies when I was but a lad. The new edition looks damn fine, and along with a rules update (as well as some expansion, from the looks of things), it's definitely on my list of games to buy within the next month or two.

So I'm babbling tonight, yeah. There's very little of consequence for me to say, actually. Schwalb is heading to see Queensryche tonight; I never figured him for a QR fan. I've seen Queensryche live on two occasions, the second of which included a backstage meeting with 3/5ths of the band. They seemed like a great group of guys, and it was a good show to boot.

I've got some stuff to do, so I guess I'll cut this post short. There will be more later, I'm sure.

10 November 2006

Okay. So It's Been A Month. So What?

As I sit here, watching the special edition of Aliens while my wife puts my son to bed, I'm trying to think back over the past thirty (or so) days and put everything into perspective. I guess there are some folks who might want to know what's been going on, at least from a gaming and/or writing perspective.

In mid-October, we (meaning, myself, the wife, and the boy) flew to Pennsylvania to visit family. Just prior to leaving, I'd posted an entry, complaining of earth-shattering news that I couldn't speak about. Well, I still can't speak about it, but there's even more earth-shattering news that I have already spoken about here.

If you're impatient, skip to the bottom of that entry and read for yourself. That particular news item has more or less eclipsed every other news item that might have arisen before and after.

The future looks bright, insofar as work (writing) is concerned. I'm in a sort of holding pattern at the moment, which allows me to concentrate on other pursuits. That isn't to say that my future, insofar as everything but work (writing) is concerned, looks particularly bleak. It doesn't. Leaner, maybe. Hungrier. But bleak? Naaaah.

Such "pursuits" in recent weeks, thanks to all of the XBox titles at the local Borders being on sale for 75% off, have consisted of a lot of video game playing. Titles such as Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition and the Brothers in Arms series of WWII FPS's have featured prominently. I might feel like a side of beef, sitting there with a video game controller clenched in my sweaty paws, but the price was right. I love a bargain!

I also picked up a copy of Fantasy Flight's War of the Ring boardgame. Haven't played it yet, but dammit! For as much as it cost me, I'm going to, even if it means marching all the way to Mordor.

As for gaming, there hasn't been much. With Thanksgiving (and, after that, Christmas) on the way, I'm sure that scheduling will become a royal PITA. And so it goes.

That's the sound of Newt screaming as her father is revealed to have a facehugger stuck to his mug. It seems to say to me, "Gary, wrap this up and do something else for a while before your laptop battery sputters. So, for now, adieu. I'll get back to the rigors of posting on a more regular scheudule. I promise.

09 October 2006

The Earth Shakes

Yes, earth-shattering news on my end, and it's not just North Korea testing a nuke. Nothing I can talk about, either, so I suppose I'll shut the heck up now and go on with my day as usual.

Three days of work this week, prior to our trip. JD's next installment of the Liberty D&D game is tonight, otherwise I'd plan to be out writing. Andrew (one of the other players) and I helped JD and Keri move and assemble their "ultimate gaming table" last night. It's a bit like the HumVee of gaming set-ups. I guess we get to try it out tonight.

I reckon I'll write either tomorrow night or Wednesday night. I've got a lot of things that need to get done before we leave, so my work is going to have to be curtailed for the time being.

08 October 2006

Another Day

I'd forgotten how much I like autumn in California. Besides the seasonal transition from "winter" (a subjective term, especially here) to spring, the California fall is the best time of year. There's none of the heat (alternately dry and sticky) that plagues us during the summer time. The current weather report is cool, with a light breeze, somewhat hazy, with only a few clouds here and there.

Of course, the heat of summer bites, especially when living in an upstairs apartment with no central A/C. We've got the crummy window unit, which works, but it's not exactly efficient. There's no A/C in the bedrooms, though, so we end up soaking in our own sweat on summer nights with the windows open and between 2 and 5 fans blowing hot air on us from all directions.

Not exactly a romantic image, eh?

So, back to the present. I'm at the coffee shop, doing my warm-up before I dig in and start on a five hour session of key-tapping. I'm starting to doubt I'll be completely done by the time my self-imposed deadline rears its ugly head.

04 October 2006

All Over the Place

I'm all over the place tonight. Three posts in one day is some sort of record for me, at any rate. One of them emotional, the next pondering, and this one...well, this one is just a decompress of sorts.

I went writing tonight, as I mentioned I would be doing. I wore my "Vader was Framed" t-shirt, and one of the girls (Danielle) complimented me on it. I got a good deal of work done, thankfully. If I can keep up this sort of pace, I'll be drinking champagne on Sunday night. After I got done at the coffee shop, I had to put a few dollars into my gas tank, or I'd never make it to work tomorrow. I decided to spent $5 on a touchless car wash, as my Corsica was so embarassingly dirty that I often feel like sneaking out to it after work so that no one sees me driving away in it.

Halloween is coming. It's my wife's favorite holiday, though she has yet to break out her massive collection of decorations. I'll keep bothering her about it until she gets busy. Maybe this weekend she'll feel up to it. I like having those decorations up, as the majority of them are pretty neat. I'll have to get some pictures and post them once she's made the plunge.

There was a time, back when I was still living at home, that I used to run a horror scenario just about every single Halloween. At least, that's how it feels. I probably only ran three or four (or maybe even less than that, eh), but they were always a good time. I'm considering doing it again this year, but I have to get up the energy to get past the current project first. I've already got a possible scenario in mind, a very Delta Greenish sort of plot. I'd probably use the Call of Cthulhu system, just because it seems to work well. Or maybe I can brush off my d20 Call of Cthulhu rules and give them the old college try.

Anyway, I'm on my way to bed soon. I went into work late this morning, so I can't really afford to miss too much time. Maybe the gods will smile on me and I can win the lottery or something.

Probably "or something."

Gen Con SoCal?

One of the many things I'm currently mulling over is whether or not I'm going to attend Gen Con SoCal next month. Even if I did go, it'd be for one or two days instead of the usual four. As much as I'd like to support the largest gaming convention that's within 70 miles of my doorstep, I'm thinking that I'll be skipping it.

I may reconsider. For now, I'm thinking I'll spend the weekend prior to Thanksgiving at home.

In other news, I'll be heading out to the coffee shop in about an hour or so to continue my work in progress. With luck I can wrap it up this weekend, just in time to go to PA. Lord knows I won't have a scrap of time to myself over our family vacation to do any sort of writing. Not that a lack of work is a bad thing. This is, after all, a family vacation.

Forgive, Never Forget

Maybe you know who Charles Carl Roberts IV was. He's the fellow who took several Amish girls hostage in their one-room schoolhouse in Paradise, PA on Monday, and then ended up shooting each of them before taking his own miserable life.

When I read reports of this incident on Monday, I was appalled. How can any human being do something like that to ten innocent children? Given the description of the items he'd brought along with him, as well as his admission to molesting children in the past, one can only imagine what he had planned prior to the point that the police arrived.

So you've got the Amish now, and their faith teaches them that they have to forgive those who trespass against them, that they must not think evil of the man who took the lives of five of their children, and critically wounded five more, as they sat bound and helpless at his feet.

While I can respect the thought of forgivness in principle, my perspective on this crime is one buried in emotion. I am still deeply disturbed, and my heart aches for the victims and their families. It's these sorts of inequities that make me grind my teeth in frustration, and they happen every single day, all over the world.

Could I forgive Charles Roberts if my daughter was one of the dead or wounded? The simple answer is "no." Having killed himself, we'll probably never know why he did what he did, exactly, and we'll never, as a society, be able to punish him for it. Part of me feels that we're better off with the fellow cold and stiff, whether he took his own life or not.

I only wish he'd done us the favor of committing suicide before he'd taken the lives of five human beings, wounded five others, and caused depths of grief to their friends and family members that I hope I never experience.

01 October 2006

Brain Like a Fried Egg

That's what you get when you sit me in front of my laptop for five hours at a stretch. Right now, my head feels light and empty. It's not particularly euphoric. It's more disturbing than anything. That, combined with the fact that there is still a lot more work to be done, thousands more words to be written, lends to the overall feeling of despair.

Still, there's some feeling of accomplishment to be had. I've done a good deal of work this weekend, some of which I am pretty proud of. It's going to take several more hours of concerted effort on my part to complete what I've started. I only hope that the powers that be can look upon what I've generated and smile, knowing that I'm on the right course.

Gods, I hope I'm on the right course.

This is one of the first times I've written something (at length) from the perspective of someone who is so far removed from my own thought processes that it's similar, in some respects, to my years in high school drama. I was a method actor, and I immersed myself in the roles I played so much that I carried them around with me when I wasn't on stage. To hear my mother tell it, the two months leading up to my first performance as Scrooge in A Christmas Carol were some of the worst she'd ever spent with me. When she saw me on stage, she finally understood why.

I can't say much about the persona I've adopted for the current project. He's not like me in a lot of ways, some of them disturbing. He might be considered a good guy in the grand scheme of things, but I have trouble agreeing with that. There's more depth to him than that, even if it is to one extreme or the other.

Anyway, enough of that. I can't say anything about it, so I might as well shut up. I need to go home, finish what I've got so far, and send it off for review. Tomorrow, I get up at my normal hour and head in to work. Bother.

30 September 2006

The Last Blog Entry of September

So I say now...

Anyway, I'm going out to work/write soon, after I take care of some business (read: errands) with the family.

I have a confession to make, one which pains me and reddens my face with shame. Yes, folks, it's true. I have a My Space profile.

I know I should have saved this admission for my inevitable appearance on one of any number of morning talk shows, but I couldn't keep it inside me any longer. If you'd like to check it out, feel free to follow this link. Proceed with caution!

My feelings on My Space have always been (and continue to be) fairly negative. It's an obvious marketplace for ads and commercialism, and the typical layout of profiles and blogs isn't very appealing. The only reason I really put up a profile in the first place was so that I could contact a couple of people through My Space. As you probably know, unless you have a My Space profile, you can't do squat.

I tend to doubt I'll be updating the My Space blog very often, if at all. That's what I've got this place (and Freelance Father) for.

So that's my confession. I'm so ashamed. I feel so dirty. I could cry.

Of course, if you're one of those folks with a My Space profile, and you wanna be my friend (awwwww! It's like high school all over again!), drop me a line...

25 September 2006

Monday, Shmonday

Monday morning, and I'm not at work. I'm at home. We're prepping the boy for a doctor's appointment, and I'm going along as escort. These things are always easier when there are two of us along for the ride. He's likely going to be getting a couple of shots today, which always makes for an interesting time.

In the meantime, I'm feeling a little better than I was Friday through Sunday. The extreme sinus pressure I've been feeling since the middle of last week (and a bit before that, IIRC) has yet to manifest itself today. I pray that it doesn't, being as uncomfortable as it is.

I also figured that I'd post the starting stats for the character I'm playing in JD's Liberty campaign, just for grins. I'm still working on his backstory, off and on. I may post a little bit of that, too. We'll see.

Sahm al-Faris
Sahm is a stocky young man, standing nearly 5'8" tall and weighing just over 160 pounds. His muscle definition is obvious, but his build is by no means intimidating. Given his stocky appearance, he is nonetheless quite deft in his movements.

He has long dark hair, which is generally worn down unless he is wearing his turban, in which case he coils it up and ties it back. His eyes are brown, and so dark that they appear to be black in all but the brightest of light. His skin is dark, and his back, chest, legs, and arms are particularly hairy. Sahm makes it a habit to shave his face each and every day.

The clothing he wears is conspicuously southern in style, often comprised of desert-style robes the color of oatmeal, tied at the waist with a rather plain white sash. His default form of armor is a suit of inconspicuous breastplate, with a bronze helmet that comes to a sharp point at the very top.

His signature weapon is a composite longbow. When forced to fight in hand-to-hand combat, Sahm almost always prefers to use his scimitar (which he refers to as a "shamshir"). It is a fine weapon, with a curved blade of folded steel, and a golden hilt that has been wrought to resemble a scorpion (outstretched claws for the crossbar, with the tail curving down and around the hand to cover the ring finger). Lacking this, he has a broad-bladed katar/punch dagger that is effective despite its relatively humble origins.

Sahm bin-Fahad bin-Abbas al-Faris, CR 2
Male Human Fighter 2
LN Medium Humanoid (Human [Southern Empire])
Init +3; Senses Listen +1, Spot +1
Languages Common, Istarin

AC 19, touch 13, flat-footed 16
hp 23 (2 HD)
Fort +5, Ref +3, Will +1

Spd 30 ft. (6 squares)
Melee masterwork scimitar +4 (1d6+1/18-20 ×2)
Ranged composite longbow +6 (1d8+1/×3)
Base Atk +3; Grp +3
Atk Options Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Rapid Shot, Weapon Focus (Longbow)
Combat Gear Breastplate Armor, Buckler, Composite Longbow (Str +1), Punching Dagger, Masterwork Scimitar, 5 Armor Piercing Arrows, 20 Normal Arrows, 5 Sheaf Arrows

Abilities Str 13, Dex 16, Con 14, Int 13, Wis 13, Cha 10
SQ None
Feats Point Blank Shot, Precise Shot, Rapid Shot, Weapon Focus (longbow)
Skills Climb +3, Craft (bowyer) +6, Handle Animal +5, Jump +2, Ride +10, Survival +2
Possessions combat gear plus Artisan's Tools (Bowyer), Backpack, Bedroll, Desert Robes, Flint & Steel, Lantern (Hooded), Oil ×3, Pouch (Belt), Rations (Trail, 7 days), Rope (Silk, 50 ft.), Sack (Empty) ×2, Waterskin, Whetstone, Potion of Cure Light Wounds ×2, Armor Piercing Arrows ×5, Normal Arrows ×20, Sheaf Arrows ×5, Money (25 gp, 8 sp, 8 cp)

24 September 2006

Back to the Grind

I've been taking too many days off from writing lately. I have a number of reasons, most of them involving my sinuses at the moment, but I still have work to do, and the deadline isn't just looming; it's damn well standing in front of me, making obscene gestures and sticking out its tongue mockingly.

Being unmotivated is a tough nut to crack. By all means, I shouldn't be unmotivated, but I have this funny feeling it has a lot to do with feeling overwhelmed by life in general. If I didn't have to maintain a 7am - 4pm day job, as if I could afford such an extravagant career change, I'd have nothing but time to write, create, be that typing, tapping, literary artist I've always dreamed of being.

Not going to happen, friends. No chance in hell, I don't think.

See, I've got plenty of ideas swimming around in my head. I had a great (albeit, short) session of brainstorming the other day. It's the implementation of the ideas, it's the getting down to business part, making them work, defining the rough edges that have yet to fit in with the rest of the puzzle.

No one said it would be easy, this freelance thing. And I can't say it's particularly difficult most times, especially when the words are flowing like blood from an artery, and the time seems to flash past in a blur. I can look back at words I wrote, I can recognize that they're good words, too, can see my writing style in them, but, sometimes, I have no memory of writing them. That's what it's like when it's easy.

I wonder sometimes if I'm cut out for it. Self doubt? Yeah, I suppose. I've already proven a dozen times over that I am cut out for it. Hell, what more do I need to do to prove it? There are plenty of people who believe in me. It's too bad I'm not one of them.

Enough jibber jabber. Time to make good on my promises. Knock on wood.

21 September 2006

Thursday: Lunchtime in my Cube

I ate soup for lunch today, which was mostly mediocre. The best part was the jalepeno bagel that was left over from this morning. The RA Manager brought them in (the bagels, I mean), and I'm going to have to shake him down and find out where they came from. They're damn tasty.

I might've met Hyrum, Stan, and JD at the food court across the way, but by the time they called to invite me, I was already mostly done with the soup, and well into my lunch hour. Curse you, wicked fate!

Eh, well.

A couple of things I just want to blog about for the time being. The first is the last of Ross Winn's columns over at RPG.net. Ross has been writing Close to the Edit for nearly two years now, and he just posted his last entry for the forseeable future. Whether you agree with Ross' views or not (he can be downright opinionated), it's a damn shame to see the column go tits up.

Also, I've learned of a couple of open calls for freelancers. The first, for Atlas Games, is an open call for freelancers for Ars Magica. The call is mostly aimed at culling some new talent from the loyal fanbase, but anyone is free to submit. Check out details here.

The other open call is with Morrigan Press, for their Talislanta line. Information was posted on RPG.net, and you can read it by following this link.

I own at least two editions of Ars Magica, as well as a handful of supplements (purchased because they were useful when I was running my Vampire: The Dark Ages games all those years back), but I'm far from an expert on the setting or the mechanics. If I were more familiar with the game (and less busy, to boot), I'd probably submit an entry.

Last note for the day (for the time being): the crew is dropping in tonight to roll up Cyberpunk 2020 characters. Woo hoo! Let's get this mechanical monster off the ground, eh?

I was thinking about it the other day, reflecting on the games we played "back in the day" (what a catchy phrase, that), and I realized that we never used miniatures in combats. The most we would do is sketch out a map on a piece of note paper and sort of wing it. I've been using minis for so long (in d20, etc.) that it's hard to imagine a game without them.

I do suppose I can use figs, though my resources are somewhat limited. I'm really unsure as to how I will go forward with the game. Like as not, I'll revert to the primitive methods that worked so well for me in days long past.

(Though I will probably use my battlemat for netrunning, heh.)

19 September 2006

It's Tomorrow

Even the crappy work coffee is denied to me this day. I am one of those people who cannot stand black coffee, and we are out of milk. My son, he just drank the last of it before drifting back to sleep, leaving me here to contemplate a trip to the grocery prior to heading to work. I need to buy gasoline, anyway, so I suppose I'll aim to leave a bit earlier than usual. I'm awake. I may as well.

I spent much of the weekend and Monday feeling good, but now I've got a somewhat stuffy nose and a scratchy feeling in the back of my throat. It's as if someone coated the area of throat behind my nasal passages with thick, industrial grade rubber cement. Not good. Perhaps this is only a momentary inconvenience. Perhaps not.

Last night's game went well. I had to prep dinner for my family (not to mention eat), so I was fifteen minutes late. It was a fifteen minutes that must have been vital, because I felt like I was constantly asking questions that JD was answering with, "Weren't you here when we talked about that?"

I'm still getting a grip on the character I'm playing, and I'm up to three pages on a backstory which I'll post once I'm finished with it. I'm not sure if JD is one of those DMs who awards XP for back-stories; I've played with folks who did, and with folks who didn't. In the end, it doesn't really matter to me, so long as I know where my character is coming from and where he intends to go. I'm not working to snag the proverbial carrot on the end of a stick.

It reminds me of a time when I was running Dark Sun, and I was prone to awarding XP to folks for back stories. They had to be at least a page, but writing ability wasn't the important part; it was effort. If someone sat down and hacked out a page of background for me, I was happy to award them a little something extra. In the long run, it really didn't make that much difference, especially at higher levels when the experience chart leveled out somewhat.

Still, one of the players handed in a backstory. I awarded him XP, and we played the game. Afterwards, I read what he'd given me, and it seemed somewhat...familiar. So I went looking, and discovered that he'd taken two stories from two different Dark Sun web sites, tied them together with a single sentence, and changed the name of the main character to match his own. When I confronted him about it, he admitted what he'd done. He wasn't a good writer, he said, and he figured I wouldn't mind what he referred to as creative plagiarism.

I tried to explain that it wasn't about quality or quantity, so much as it was about effort. All I expected was for players to try. I wasn't expecting Shakespeare. In effect, the stories made my life easier because they often provided hooks and information on PCs that I could implement into the current game, thereby tying them into the plot at a more personal level. In the end, I recinded his XP award for the story and told him I wouldn't accept any back-stories from him for a period of time. He didn't seem to care overmuch, except that he did tell me not to mention it to any of the other players.


Well, that's that. I've killed a few minutes I should've spent in the shower, especially since I'll be departing a little early.

Mmmmm. Phlegm.

18 September 2006

A New Beginning

Tonight, my friend JD is running the first session of what may be a long-term D&D campaign set in the city of Liberty. I decided to play a straight fighter, with a focus on bows and archery. The last time I did the archer thing, it was a lot of fun. Not that my character can't mix it up with the steel, but it's not his strongest point.

So that involves me in two D&D campaigns at present. Normally I'd balk, but the schedule is such that I'm not playing every week for umpteen hours at a stretch. Much easier on the family time that way. Not to mention the creative time.

My CP game is yet in the embryonic stages. I have a strong idea of where I want the game to go, but I need to sit down with the players and work out some PC mojo to hang all those minor plots on. Maybe this week, if my slacker players ever email me back to let me know what they want to do (yes, that means you guys).

15 September 2006


What a weekend I have in front of me. Aside from work (and this time around, I'm going to get some work done, dammit, even if it means wearing a hair shirt and resorting to self-flagellation), I've got plenty of other things to do. I also need to take the boy to the Wild Animal Park for a couple of hours tomorrow morning so that my wife can get the house clean enough to pass muster.

On top of that, I feel like I'm getting sick. Not surprising, considering that my wife has been sick since last weekend, and my co-worker has been sick for the past two weeks. Sinus aches, and a nose that alternates between cemented shut and running freely, are my symptoms. Yay.

So them's the haps. Exciting, hm?

In other news, I had some positive feedback on one of my recent initial turnovers. The praise came from a source I wasn't expecting it to come from, which made it all the more pleasant. Let's hope I can meet expectations based on this early encouragement.

13 September 2006

All, Then Nothing

Seems to me there was a rash of posts, and then nothing for nigh on a week. What've I been up to?

Slacking. Plain and simple. I've got plenty to do, but no energy. Maybe I need vitamins. My wife bought a bunch of pre-natal vitamins (on sale, and no, she's not pregnant...at least, I hope she isn't), and she told me I should take some. Call me superstitious, but there's something inherently wrong with a man taking vitamins that are designed with pregnant women in mind.

I'm so tired today. Even the crappy work coffee is doing nothing for my exaustion. The crummy thing is that I slept relatively well, and I woke up feeling pretty lively. What a different three hours makes.

I'm gearing up to run a Cyberpunk 2020 game. Going back to my roots, yes I am. We were supposed to get together this last weekend to talk shop, but two players were sick with the plague, and a third was back east visiting with friends. How long will it last? More importantly, will it last at all? And how will I deal with running such a deadly system, after doing little but d20 for so long? I'll probably kill them all off in the first session. TPK, man!

I should get back to work, after I track down some Tylenol. More later.

05 September 2006

In Retrospect...

I made a comment in my last post that has been bothering me a little bit. To wit:

"It would be interesting to see how these settings play out now that I'm older, wiser, and playing with a more mature group of friends."

The portion I'm emphasising is what I've been mulling over. Reading it as written makes me feel like I'm dissing on my old game buddies because they were immature. Well, they weren't, and it wasn't intended as such. So I apologize for that oversight on my part.

What I really meant was that we're all of us older now. As a result, I feel that I may yet be older and wiser, so I reckon that as I have aged and grown, the folks I used to play with have also aged and grown. "Mature," as in, "older," not "mature," as in "grown up." Though I daresay the distinction is probably pretty darn fine in some cases.

As I don't game with most of the folks I used to game with all those years ago, due to relocation, personal reasons, or loss of touch, it's hard to say what the differences might be in their current games, as opposed to the ones we played in our relative youth.

02 September 2006

Saturday Morning Warm-Up

So, all this recollection and reminiscing makes me pine for the old games. I want to go back and revisit the ones that I enjoyed the most. Not necessarily with the same characters or storylines, either. You see, I'm older now. When I was in my teens or early twenties, I might have (heck, would have) run my games differently that I do today. It would be interesting to see how these settings play out now that I'm older, wiser, and playing with a more mature group of friends.

I was chatting with my wife the other night, and I commented that I'd love to revive Cyberpunk 2020. I briefly outlined my idea for the play group which, I'll admit, is more or less par for the CP course: a group of mercs, but international ones. Characters who involve themselves in brushfire wars, either on the side of a corporation or government or minor dictator, whatever. A little more on the "high power" end of things, insofar as equipment is concerned.

So, going over these things in general terms, I ask her, "What sort of character would you like to play?"

She thinks for a split second, and then says the last thing I expected: "A full 'borg conversion."

The surprising thing is that I agreed to the idea.

This is amazing, in and of itself. As little as five years ago, I would've laughed, shook my head, and answered, "Nice try." I'm somewhat amused that I have no compunctions about allowing someone to play a cyborg conversion. Granted, she's my wife, so there's a certain trust in place, but I have been historically resistant to allowing anyone to go that far.

Granted, there would be strings attached. Certain concessions would have to be made. Power comes with a price. Not to mention a great deal of humanity loss. The other stipulation is that I'd probably only allow a single 'borg in the group, depending on the size. IMO, full 'borg conversions should be rare outside of corporate or military organizations. The tough part is to ensure that the cyborg doesn't overshadow the rest of the group. I'd need to play up social elements, especially concerning prejudice and fear related to "tin can psychotics" and the like.

So that's my current direction. I've got a few things to do before I get there. I doubt I'll begin to actively prepare or plan for another month or so. In the meantime, I could lose interest and spin off into another genre.

Like Vampire, which is the other game I'm itching to dust off and play. My ideas for a campaign are less defined for such a game, though, so I'll like as not sit on them until they gestate into something a little less embryonic.

So, now that I'm warmed up, I'm off to work. More later.

31 August 2006

Past Campaigns, Part the Sixth

My friend CJ loved lycanthropes. You know, werewolves. When White Wolf released the first edition of Werewolf, he was all over it. He and I went to a local BK and went over character options and the like. I came up with Fianna hitch hiker, I think. Not much more can I recall, except that the adventure he ran me through had to do with defending a secluded farmhouse (and the family within) from bad guys.

Later on, with the advent of Werewolf, second edition he ran another, large campaign. I came in somewhat late, but it didn’t seem to matter. Though the mechanics and ideas behind Werewolf were interesting, I was a bit put off by the fundamentalist nature of the setting. I understand, that’s what they were aiming for. After all, the Garou are nothing if not religious fanatics.

So, being me, I decided to play a Glasswalker galliard who moonlighted as an illegal arms merchant, and who didn’t have much use for the more religious aspects of Garou ideology. Customers were customers, after all. This did eventually come back to bite the character in the behind (almost literally), which annoyed me at the time. It would seem that one of his allies, who just happened to be a vampire, went with type and betrayed him towards the end of my involvement in the campaign. When the campaign ended, the character came out looking like an idiot.

Hey, all’s fair, I guess.

I kept collecting the Werewolf product line for my own use. There was some good stuff in those books. Some of the changing breed stuff was especially neat. There was a lot of variety in those product lines, and of all the White Wolf RPGs in the original World of Darkness line, Vampire and Werewolf were my favorites.

Eventually, I had to put the books I was collecting to good use. I started a Werewolf game that was set following the Apocalypse. The details are a bit sketchy without checking my notes, but it was kind of like The Dark Tower meets Gamma World with fangs, set in the WoD. The world had “moved on.” Some areas of the landscape had been eaten by the entry of the Wyrm, while other portions were engulfed by the Wyld. Technology was slowly breaking down, leading to a perpetual dark age. Vampires had established little monarchies here and there.

Most of the PCs began as Garou. One player was a kinfolk. None of them knew what their tribes were, as they were all orphans that had been taken in by a kindly old werewolf who was their collective mentor. The kinfolk was a Mormon hedge magician from the wastes that had once been Utah, and while he was that much less powerful than the rest of the group, he still fit in really well once he’d been introduced. The kicker was that one of the players was an orphaned Black Spiral Dancer (bet you didn’t see that coming), which was to play a large role in later adventures.

Anyway, the whole point was that the PCs had to leave their mentor on a sort of quest to establish a new cairn at a node. In the meantime, they’d be accosted by vampires, mutants, wyrm critters, and (of course) evil werewolves.

I think the game made it past the second or third session before it got put on hold for one reason or another. To remember it, the players had begged me to go back to running my Dark Sun campaign (which was the single longest running AD&D campaign I’ve ever run). At some point, I’ll need to revisit the Werewolf game. When? Who knows?

After Vampire: The Dark Ages was released, White Wolf went off on a historical bent. Titles included Werewolf: The Wild West and Mage: Sorcerer’s Crusade. Of the two, Mage was the best. Wild West really turned me off on a number of levels, mostly because it didn’t seem to deserve its own product line. That, and there were several arbitrary rules (such as those deeming that silver bullets are somehow inherently inaccurate, as compared to lead ones) that bugged me. Sorcerer’s Crusade, on the other hand, was really well done. It was stylish, useful, and seemed like it would be a lot of fun to play.

As for the other White Wolf titles, I played in a Mage game that I wasn’t horribly impressed with. The system (first edition) was too open-ended, seeming at points too open to abuse and too restricted. It was hard to determine what, precisely, a certain character could do with his powers. As was common with WW titles, this was cleaned up considerably in the second edition of the rules (which I much preferred), but we never did get to play that edition.

Changeling? Hmm. I bought the first edition rules used for $5, just to look them over, but it’s a game I’d never play.

I bought Wraith right after its original release. I was interested in the dark aspects of the game, and in the chance to portray a ghost. As with the other WW games, the first edition didn’t do much for me. It was convoluted, the specific rules were muddy, it was hard to read. Or maybe I was just dumb. I don’t know.

I didn’t pay much more attention to it until well after the second edition was released. I bought the second edition of Wraith at a bargain basement price, and found that it was much improved over the original. Who would’ve thought it? Unfortunately, as was the case with a lot of titles I ended up liking, I got Wraith Fever just after the game had been drop-kicked by White Wolf. I guess it wasn’t popular enough. I tend to doubt that, had I discovered the second edition earlier on, the game would’ve been saved.

I’ve amassed a fairly large collection of Wraith books in the meantime, and I’m impressed with the depth of the setting material. It’s a very playable game, albeit requiring the right kinds of players. As much as I wanted to pull a game together on one or more occasions, it never worked out. Lack of interest on the part of some players played a key role at least once; time and energy (or lack thereof) was instrumental in the failure of other plans.

One of the interesting mechanics introduced in Wraith is that of the Shadow, a character’s dark side, the spectre within trying to get out. It acts like a little devil on your shoulder, commenting and making suggestions that aren’t always in the best interests of your character. What was most interesting about this mechanic is that your character’s Shadow is portrayed by another player, making the process incredibly interactive. Amusingly enough, this was one the big turn-offs for me when I read the first edition of Wraith. I’d have to go back and review the old rules, because I’m not entirely certain why I abhorred it then, but find it appealing today.

My ever-evolving tastes in gaming, most likely.

I stopped buying WoD supplements as time went on. I purchased Demon: The Fallen merely because it was on sale, and I didn’t see any harm in having the core rules. I dare say I’ve only ever skimmed the contents, because I can’t for the life of me remember much about it.

For one reason or another, I’ve refrained from investing in the new World of Darkness. I find it a difficult expenditure to make, considering the vast library of supplements and core books I have that are, as of the new game’s release, obsolete. Big changes have been made in the new releases, both mechanically and thematically. I can’t say that I might not prefer the new editions over the old ones, were I to pick them up, read them, and play them. Alas, I am not wealthy enough to consider buying the WoD all over again. Besides, I like to think that I prefer the old WoD to the new one, given all the reviews I’ve read.

Yes, yes, I’m a grognard. I know.

Thursday May As Well Be Monday

Today was one of those days where getting up and getting ready for work was the last thing I wanted to do. It was a struggle. Not because I don't like my job, but because I was a) tired and b) would've preferred to be doing something other than working. After my Gen Con trip, I can't afford to take time off, so I pulled it together and went in.

I've got one more month on my current deadline, with a truckload of work to get done. I've worked out a schedule of sorts, and if I stick to it religiously in September, I'll be good to go by turnover time.

I've found that working weeknights (on writing) has become ever more difficult as the baby has gotten older. With him walking, it's hard enough for one of us to keep up with him. I don't feel right not being there to help Amy out after work, when we're both tired and the baby's energy level seems to be at its peak. He's such a little goon sometimes.

Sometimes, I even wonder if I want to continue writing, given all the responsibilities that have crept into my life since March of 2005. The sad thing is that I want to continue writing more than ever before, but after nine hours (or five days) in the office, sometimes the energy just isn't there.

Outside of games, I'd love to write fiction. I've been slowly realizing this, but I'm not sure where to go with it. Lots of game designers branch out into fiction, don't they? I reckon I can, too, given the opportunity. Do I need to start a book and shop it around?

Well, off to work for me. I'll check in later with another long-winded episode of "Past Campaigns."

30 August 2006

New GWAR Album

So, the new GWAR CD, Beyond Hell, has been released. I’ve put one on order with Amazon.com. I guess the initial release is a limited edition CD that includes a DVD or some such. I’m interested to see what the band has been doing since I last saw them in concert. Earlier this year, they posted a song from the new album, Alice Cooper’s School’s Out, which (as far as I know) is the only cover that GWAR has ever done. It’s definitely GWAR, but without the profanity. What do you expect? They’re trying to get some radio airplay out of this song. I have no idea if it’s worked, as I haven’t heard the song on the radio out here.

Then again, I haven’t heard GWAR on the radio since just before I met my wife, when one of the now-defunct “hard rock” stations played Crack in the Egg as a “smash or trash” listener vote deal. That was in 1992. I’m sure that playing GWAR on the radio would result in the FCC firebombing the station in retaliation for the sudden and scatological violation of the airwaves.

Why would someone like me, a fine upstanding citizen with a one and a half year-old son, a loving wife, and a respectable job, listen to drivel like GWAR? I blame Amber.

Amber was a girl I knew in high school. We were both photographers for the yearbook. She was an interesting girl. I can’t recall every musical group that she listened to, but I do remember that she was a big fan of both GWAR and Danzig. Due to my exposure to GWAR through Amber, I eventually picked up the Scumdogs of the Universe album on cassette tape. Was it loud? Yes. Perverse? Definitely. Inappropriate for minors? Assuredly. But it was funny, too. Whether you like heavy metal or not, the musicians in the band are really quite talented. If you can put the disgusting (and oftentimes downright offensive) lyrics aside, you might enjoy it.

Then again, you might not. It’s definitely an acquired taste, and it can get tedious for some folks (like my wife) if it’s all that I listen to. It’s a complete parody of what people stereotypically consider that kind of music to be, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. There’s a lot of licentious humor, politically incorrect verbiage, and make-believe mythology to it.

Since those days, I’ve picked up every GWAR album that’s been released (except for the Road Behind EP, which I never did get; it’s a perpetual entry on my Amazon wish list). I’ve seen the band in concert three times, and I’ve seen the Dave Brockie Experience (ie, DBX; one of GWAR’s side projects) once. I will continue to listen to them until they stop producing albums, I suppose, so long as the quality of the music remains consistent. I’ll have to protect my son from the music, at least until he’s old enough to understand that it isn’t proper to say certain words in polite society.

29 August 2006

Past Campaigns, Part the Fifth

All this talk about Cyberpunk has me hungry to run and/or play the damn game. Unfortunately, the rigors of Real Life (tm) have me at a disadvantage. Perhaps soon I will be able to reconnect with my role-playing roots in a more intimate fashion. As it is, there are other games I need to talk about, other characters and storylines to dredge up.

I had marginal interest in Vampire: The Masquerade after its initial (first edition) release. The AD&D group I'd been playing with (you know, the big one) was on its last legs. Roughly half of the players went one way (sticking with AD&D), and the other half went the other (switching to Vampire). There were a lot of political reasons for the group's break-up, not to mention some personality conflicts. I never got involved overmuch; I was more of a neutral bystander, and by that time I'd had enough of straight fantasy to last me a few years.

The group that chose to play Vampire consisted of good old Josh (you'll remember him as my friend Will's older brother), Josh's girlfriend, Louis, and a few others (including my friend CJ and his future wife). They really dug Vampire, and they played it very close to how they saw Anne Rice's Lestat books. I was involved in two instances before I took my leave of the group; my first as a Tremere scholar from England, followed by a Toreador duelist (who was eventually transformed into an Immortal, like those in the Highlander movies, through our own [very simple] house rules).

Let me explain that Josh, who ran these games, started them in rough historical version of the 15th century (as far as I can fathom). His plan was to start the game off at that point, and eventually work the characters into the modern day (as elders, I presume). My participation didn't make it that far, so I don't know how successful it was. Simply put, I got tired of Vampire pretty quickly, and ducked out of the group. I don't really know why I tired of it. Maybe it's because it was the hot title at the time, and I had to be some kind of teenage nonconformist. More likely, though, was that my involvement with Grant's GURPS group (and the Bad Streets campaign) kept me occupied.

I eventually came to terms with Vampire, after the release of the 2nd Edition. I even bought the core book and the Player's Guide, dabbling with the rules a little bit. Despite my initial unhappiness with the game, I turned into a big fan after a while. I still considered some of the themes inherent in the game to be juvenile, specifically the "Peter Pan/Lost Boys" syndrome that was so common in the games I'd seen. There was some true potential, both thematically and mechanically, with the game.

One thing that really sucked me in (heh, heh) to the Vampire RPG was the Vampire CCG, Jyhad (which was eventually renamed Vampire: The Eternal Struggle). I absolutely loved that card game, and I got pretty good at it. I even scored third place in a V:tES tournament up at DunDraCon in San Ramone in 1998, and I'm not generally competetive. I haven't played the CCG in years (not since WW got the rights back from WotC), so most of my strategies (such as using Dragon's Breath Rounds with a Zip Gun) are like as not against the rules these days.

Through a series of savvy trades, I manage to amass quite a collection of White Wolf books, spanning from V:tM, Werewolf, Mage, Wraith, to several other titles in-between. To this day, the only stack of books in my apartment that even begins to rival my White Wolf stack is my D&D v3+ stack. Go reckon, but those White Wolf boys were busy bees! And the books were relatively economical, too.

Though I did run a few short-lived Vampire: The Masquerade games, I didn't see much success in running long-term campaigns until Vampire: The Dark Ages was released. To this day, it's probably my favorite release for the series (and much, much better than the later Dark Ages: Vampire; what a difference an edition makes). I started a small campaign, starring my wife as a Toreador architect, and Grant as a Gangrel ex-crusader. The themes of the game involved love, mortality, politics; it was a lot of fun. As the game continued, more players became involved. Notably, my good friend CS. The game did end, but I eventually revisited it with a new group of players some years later, exploring the struggles between Clan Tremere and the Tzimisce in Eastern Europe.

Besides Dark Ages, I also ran a successful (IMO) Vampire game set in San Francisco during the Roaring Twenties. The PCs were all Caitiff. Apart, they were scorned, but together in one group, they were a pretty influential power bloc in 'Frisco. The game centered on the efforts of the Camarilla, the Sabbat, and the Anarchs in the city trying to bring the PCs to their way of thinking, thereby tipping the balance (population-wise) in their favor. It was a good group of players, too, IIRC.

So, that's that. More later, I reckon. I'll try to touch on some other White Wolf titles, such as Werewolf and Wraith. Until then...

Roleplaying Purity Test

I thought this was amusing enough to post...

Ultimate Roleplaying Purity Score
CategoryYour ScoreAverage
Enjoys the occasional head-lopping
Sensitive Roleplaying60.76%
Will talk after everyone important's been killed
GM Experience47.1%
Puts the players through the wringer
Systems Knowledge72.46%
Local rules guru
Livin' La Vida Dorka45.98%
Has interesting conversations in public
You are 57.7% pure
Average Score: 68.9%

It's a little bit long, so if you're going to take it, make sure you've got a couple of minutes to spare.

27 August 2006

Past Campaigns, Part the Fourth

Let me preface this by saying that, yes, I was productive yesterday. I'll be headed back to the coffee shop in a couple of hours to pick up where I left off. For the time being, the house is quiet, the child is asleep, and I'm going to blog a little bit.

Even though I was a die-hard Cyberpunk fan, I had my experiences with Shadowrun. The AD&D group I originally played with also hosted a Shadowrun campaign, and I was happy to participate. The powers that were in that group didn't like Cyberpunk. I won't go so far as to say that they were actively adversarial to CP, but I never heard a single positive comment about it from them. They preferred the setting, magic, and metahumans of Shadowrun. I wasn't overly fond of SR's setting or mechanics, but I shouldered the burden and enjoyed it as best as I could.

My character was Sleeze, a city shaman from somewhere on North America's eastern coastline that claimed the rat as his totem. It was, overall, a fun character to play. I could be disgusting, cowardly, and conniving. Plus, I got to cast spells, which (by and large) is a big advantage in Shadowrun. Along with Sleeze, the PCs included at least two other magic users: an arcane spellcaster, and a wolf shaman. The three of us eventually formed some kind of pact with one another, much to our mutual benefit. We were like our own little power bloc within the party.

As with a lot of the earliest games I'd played, I don't really remember the overarching plots or themes of the SR campaign. There was a lot of inter-character action, though, that I remember. We "ran the shadows" against corporations, made enemies, and tried to get rich. It was pretty typical stuff.

Much later on, my wife and I participated in another Shadowrun game that Josh's girlfriend, Naomi, was running. Again I took on the mantle of a shaman, but this time I chose the fox totem and the name of Todd. The game was brief; I believe we went through a book adventure, Mercurial.

Now, my troubles with SR started with my original group's overt and unbiased preference for the game and setting over anything else (aside from AD&D), in conjunction with their outright dismissal of my favorite game, Cyberpunk. Prior to playing Shadowrun, I'd never had a bad thing to say about it. I even bought the 1st edition book to get ideas for my own CP games. I was regularly needled about the fact that I liked CP better than SR, a fact I never denied, but I certainly don't remember turning to blows over it. To me, it wasn't that big a deal. The "SR snobbery," though, didn't improve my opinion of a game that I eventually came to view as mechanically flawed in a number of ways.

As for mechanics, we originally played the first edition rules. The system wasn't intuitive, not in the slightest. The rules weren't well-written. Back then, I never had much more than a tenuous grasp on the way things worked. I knew what dice to roll, but I always relied on the GM to determine outcomes based on my results. Combat, especially, was a headache. I'd been spoiled by Cyberpunk's "roll one die to hit, then roll damage if you do" simplicity. In SR, we were regularly rolling great gobbing handfuls of d6's, over and over again.

The setting was simply okay, in my opinion. I was never fond of the Native American magical themes, though I'm not entirely sure why. It was a different take on spiritual magic, I suppose, one that (at the time) I wasn't really into. Thinking back, it wasn't as if SR could introduce a vast pantheon of gods, as in Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms, so I guess the inclusion of tribal totems and shamanistic magic makes sense in that regard.

A lot of what was included in SR seemed like a direct rip-off of either the Cyberpunk RPG, William Gibson's novels, or both. This isn't to say that Cyberpunk wasn't heavily derivative of Gibson's work; it was. Yet CP seemed more pure, adult, and less aimed at the youth market that SR was. For example, the currency of SR, the "Nuyen," was obviously just a derivative of Gibson's "New Yen," as compared to CP's "Euro" (which was based on a type of speculative international currency).

And then there was the aforementioned maturity level of the game. I said that CP seemed a bit more adult to me at the time, while SR was obviously aimed at a broader (younger) audience. SR was nice to look at, there were orcs and elves and trolls (oh, my!), but the one thing that really got on my nerves was the lexicon of the game. Artificial curse words like "drek" grated on my nerves, and I cringed everytime someone used coloquialisms like "chummer" and "decker" when they talked. It all sounded very artificial.

Not that Cyberpunk's "chombatta" was any easier to say (or listen to).

I do have some good things to say. Shocking, yeah. For one, although the mechanics of magic were unintelligable, I did enjoy the concepts of casting. Unlike AD&D, where you had an arbitrary spell list and a limited (daily) capacity for spells, SR allowed you to cast as much as you wanted -- provided you could withstand the rigors of channeling mana and magic through your body. This was reflected in drain, which you rolled after each spell and the difficulty of which was determined by the power of the spell that had been cast. I really liked that idea.

The other thing I liked about SR were riggers. While CP had rudimentary rules for direct neural connection to vehicles, SR explored the concept in detail. Even the name "rigger" wasn't as offensive to me as "decker," which helped quite a bit. The idea of driving a car or flying a plane with the power of my mind alone was pretty nifty.

I admit that my list of complaints about Shadowrun is long and (outside of the game's mechanical issues) largely superficial. These were problems I had with the game back then, and they don't necessarily apply today. The newest edition of the rules may be a shining example of harmony and simplicity, but I tend to doubt it. I've heard several gripes from folks who play the current edition of the game, and much of the lamentation stems from the clarity (or, rather, the lack of clarity) within the written rules. Still, SR continues to be supported (albeit by FanPro and not FASA). In fact, the game was always heavily supported in its heyday, and I reckon this was a result of FASA's deep pockets.