shannon_a: (Default)
The weekend began with insomnia. Friday night I was tossing and turning until 4am. Then I finally got up, read a mediocre comic, and when I went to bed at 4.30 I was able to drift off.

By 9.30 cats and/or the sun were waking me up, so five hours it was.

Which was a crying shame due to the busyness of the weekend.

Saturday was my regular roleplaying group. We played Microscope, which is a brilliant history creation game. This was our third session working on the same history, but whereas we'd spent the previous two sessions detailing the history of the whole world, this time around we focused on a city that we called Eligium, which is on the frontier.

(Also apparently the name of a failed MMORPG, but I can live with that.)

The idea is to ultimately have a great basis for a new campaign, and I'm indeed planning to start that campaign in October. But I'm also loving the history we've been designing enough that I'm thinking it might be great for fiction too. Well, maybe in a different decade; things are too busy right now.

Kimberly joined me for this gaming, which has just about never happened. But I knew it would be a really creative game that she might enjoy (though she surprised me by enjoying the roleplaying interludes as well) and I knew that it was likely to be just Donald and Mary, who are friends of hers. So that was nice. In fact, we made a whole day of it. We BARTed down to Oakland early, then we had a tasty lunch at the Endgame Cafe. Then, after the game, we walked over to Chinatown, grabbed some Dim Sum, and took it to Jack London Square to eat. All around a very nice day.

(And one of the reasons I'd invited her was that I knew I'd be busy on Sunday, which is the usual day I spend with her.)

Sunday was a birthday get-together for Christopher. Him, Mike B., me, and Chaz play tested a story game he's been working on, and that I've commented a few times. It was an enjoyable game about a future, ruined Rome and ambitious senators and indentured androids (Hello, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which K. and I are currently reading.)

I think we got some good use out of the playtest, and I offered up some feedback on developing the game that I was quite happy with. We'll see what Chris thinks when I see the rules again.

And we also had a mini-bbq.

I thought I'd be absolutely dead after two days of serious socializing ala roleplaying games. I thought I'd be dragging this week, praying for the next weekend.

Not so bad though. I got seriously behind on projects, in part because I didn't have a lot of time for my regular D&D history writing, and in part because I was finishing up a 10k word article on Pathfinder ACG strategy.

But other than that, the busyness of the weekend did not kill me.

And tomorrow is the second BBQ for Chris' birthday. It's my regular Thursday night board game, with backyard BBQ and some social/co-op games afterward.
shannon_a: (Default)
When I started working for Chaosium in 1996, either Lynn or Charlie threw the 1992 Cthulhu for President kit on my desk and said, "We need a new one for 1996, please produce it." You're always thrown into the deep end when you start a new job, and this was the deep end at Chaosium. I'd mean I'd expecting to be laying out books, but I hadn't expected to be managing a whole project that no one else had time for, and I hadn't expected that to include pricing buttons and yard signs, figuring out how to get them manufactured. I hadn't expected that I'd be putting together a whole package and seeing if we could afford to make it. It was all much more of the production side roleplaying than I expected to see, when I was instead counting on development and graphic design.

Which is a long way of saying that Chaosium Inc. has announced their newest Cthulhu for President kit, 20 years later. And this is certainly a year when they could do no wrong. However, I'm not convinced that Cthulhu is actually the Lesser Evil.
shannon_a: (Default)
Last night I finished up a little mini writing project that took up a bit too much of my time in December & January. At the last minute I decided on the name "Far Futures & Fiction: A Review of Traveller's Literature", but we'll see if that sticks or not.

It originated with a series of 23 reviews that I wrote of Traveller novels and short stories when I was running my Traveller campaign, several years back now. I covered several of Traveller's inspirational novels and also every novel and collection of stories based on the game that I could find. (I missed one.) Besides just talking about the quality of the books, I also looked at the inspiration they offered for Traveller and for Traveller games.

Fast forward to 2015, and Marc Miller was kickstarting his own Traveller novel, Agent of the Imperium. He was listing out past Traveller novels, and I posted my whole list of reviews, and he asked if I'd like to compile them into a book(let).

Now I'm always a fan of collecting together material that I've written on the 'net into a more concrete and permanent form, so I happily told him yes. But that also meant lots of editing to transform everything into a book form and to make sure it was all consistent as possible. I also added six reviews (one new inspirational book that Marc suggested, the one book I missed, three books that had been published since 2011, and one short story collection that was new too). Oh, and you'll be unshocked to learn that I added as much historical context as I could for everything.

The result came out to 30k words. I think it's a nice little book(let) that gives a great overview of Traveller's fictional literature. It's also enthused me to read more of the inspirational literature for the game and write about it (but probably not at the moment, as this already set me back two months on another reading & writing project that I'm working on).

Dunno what the schedule for this book(let)'s production is going to be, as I just mailed things off to Marc yesterday, but I'm enthusiastic to see this little surprise mini-project appear. (As a PDF, one presumes.)
shannon_a: (rpg stormbringer)
My long-running Kingmaker campaign is finally done. It's been running for 4.5 years and totaled either 71 or 72 sessions, and I brought it to a planned finish on Saturday in a session that I was happy with.

I feel as if a great weight has been lifted from my chest. That was the longest running campaign I've ever GMed, in either time or in sessions (though the shared run of our Roman Ars Magica game went longer, at ~100 sessions in just 2.5 [college] years, but there were several GMs). Especially because the plan is for Mary to run an 8-10 session Achtung Cthulhu! campaign, I feel light and free, because I won't be preparing or running any adventures until next year at my guess.

But, it's always sad to see a campaign come to an end. We'll never see those characters again and even if we have the exact same players in the next campaign, the dynamics won't be quite the same, because players taking different roles (and so interacting with the group in different ways) is literally the name of the game. Or at least the name of the gaming category.

Right now I'll just be happy that we had a campaign that folks enjoyed and that kept us playing together for another half-a-decade.
shannon_a: (Default)
I haven't been writing here lately because life = stress. Most of this is work related, having to do with some problems that we're (hopefully) in the process of fixing, but still it's not very pleasant at the moment.

Part of this has to do with changing over everyone's health insurance to a variety of non-group policies. There's annoying bureaucracy, annoying not-knowing-what's-going-on, and annoying worry about everyone getting policies straight by March 1.

I've been feeling on and off crappy for the last several days, but then I have moments like right now when I'm 100% fine. So I'm guessing stress & undiagnosed allergies. Bleh.

The rain is coming down outside for what's now our fifth consecutive day of rain. It's been fairly constant too. I'm used to getting a couple of hours of rain and that's a rainy day, but it's been raining lots and misting when it's not raining since Wednesday evening, with just a few breaks.

Before the rains we were at about 19% of our expected rain-to-date, which made it one of the worst drought years ev-ar. The latest report I saw says we're at 39% and it doesn't look like it's been updated today ... so that's some pretty significant rain we've seen in five days. And also: yay.

The rain has been mostly pleasant too. I've been out biking in it three times (going to Endgame on Wednesday, getting groceries on Friday, and getting some dinner tonight) and it's warm enough and not-hard-enough that it verges on nice. I wish we got more of these Hawaiian storms and less of those Alaskan storms.

Had an interesting RPG session on Saturday. The players caught me by surprise with their focus on overthrowing the ruler of a nearby country and so the whole session was played by ear ... and came off well, I thought. The best part was that there was no combat the whole time: just politics and roleplaying (and some kingdom building at the end).

Some of the players were surprised when I gave out experience at the end because there hadn't been combat, and I said, "But you got stuff done."

The Wiedlins were all in Berkeley last night for a joint birthday party for Jason & Lisa. I BARTed back from Endgame (after my RPG session) and just met everyone downtown. We ate at Le Regal, which is one of my favorite restaurants in Berkeley. Tasty Vietnamese food. (Jason & Lisa had been favorably impressed by a previous trip there.)

It was good seeing everyone, but oh was I tired by the end (after RPGing + partying + feeling so-so from the start).

I've been preparing for our yearly trip to Hawaii, which is a bright spot in the future (by which time stressful things will hopefully be better). Mostly this means piling up books for the plane and for the time there. I try to save some really great things for the trip so that it feels like a real treat.

Bookwise I have Michael Moorcock's Sailing to Utopia (for a project I'm working on), Ben Aaronovitch's Broken Homes, and Harry Connolly's Twenty Palaces. The last two should both be great — and I'll need to add a few more. Comicwise, I've got The Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin, Fairest in all the Land, Powers: Bureau, Thor: God of Thunder, X-O Manowar Deluxe, Manhattan Projects Vol. 3, The Unwritten Vol. 8, and Nowhere Men. I might still "trade up" some of those if I come up with stuff that looks more exciting, but 8 books has been a good number in the past.

I am definitely looking forward to that trip. And March.
shannon_a: (Default)
RUNEQUEST: Saturday I ran a review session of RuneQuest 6. That took lots of prep before hand (as a new game system always does) and the combination of character generation and adventure on Saturday left me a little hoarse. Overall, it seemed to go well. The combat dragged a little due to our inexperience, but overall we appreciated the greater tactical options as compared to good 'ole RQ3. Generally the BRP mechanics had been well polished, with some things like the new opposed skill rolls working really nicely.

During the session we sussed out that we hadn't played RQ since Eric left for New Zealand, which means early 2005. A shame, as it became one of my three or so favorite game systems in the time I've been here in Berkeley (Ars MagicaPendragon, and RuneQuest). The new game has me thinking about the possibility of a RQ campaign after our current Pathfinder campaign, but that's at least a year off.

Anywho, we're going to finish off our review session in two weeks.

HELLA OAKLAND: On my way home from Endgame, I got to watch lots of people in costumes running through the streets of Oakland. That actually doesn't sound that great given the increasing violence in Oakland this year. But it was a 5-mile run. The folks in costume made it look so fun that it made *me* want to run, and I'm not a runner.

BIKE WOES: Man, I can't seem to get a break with my bike lately. I've been having some problems with the back wheel, and finally came to the conclusion that it was out of true. Sure enough, I took it in to Missing Link and they agreed. On the bright side, total repair included some needed chain adjustments (because it was scraping) are only $40 and the bike was ready about 4 hours after I dropped it off. I'm going to get lunch downtown tomorrow so that I can pick it up, then I can get back to riding (Monday night that is, probably).

BATHROOM WORK: Though all the contractor work is done, Kimberly & I still had a bit of work to do to finish up our beautiful new bathroom. Today we put up some baskets on a tension pole in the corner of the tub — to hold shampoo and stuff. It involved bad instructions, a bit of scraped paint (sigh!), and some swearing as everything kept trying to fall apart, but it finally got installed, and I'm hoping it's all good and stable now. We still have some hooks to put up, then we're genuinely done.

WRITING: As usual lately, lots of writing. Today I wrote an article on the problems with the US election system (looking at it as a game for Mechanics and Meeples a week from Monday) and continued work on Designers & Dragons (Games Workshop and GDW got complete edits with some minor updates and my extensive work on TSR continues).

THE FUTURE: Looking forward to a quieter week coming up. Kimberly & I are going to spend Halloween together, enjoying some tasty desert and finishing up Butcher's Ghost Story. Then there's no gaming this coming weekend, which means a bit more rest (and work!) time ...
shannon_a: (rpg glorantha)
Off at Endgame today, where we did some more meta work for the Dresden Files game. No actual RPG due to absent people and headaches, but I think we solidified some of the background. Afterward I got to introduce everyone to Small World: Underground (thanks to the EndGame demo shelf!), which was generally well-received. I fought my hardest, but newcomers Chris & Corina came out with the best scores.

On the way home I was beset by wind, making the ride grueling. This seems to be the case throughout late summer: every Saturday afternoon when I go home, the wind is consistently and thoroughly in my face. I'd love to find an article somewhere that talks generally about the wind patterns in the Berkeley-Oakland area, so that I can better understand what to expect when and why.

(I remember when I used to work at Chaosium, 'lo these many years ago, I'd get wind against me both when heading to Chaosium and when heading home most days. When I bike, I'm certainly in better touch with the world around me.)

When I crossed MacArthur Blvd on the way home today, I also saw a phenomenon that I'd experienced last week as well. The sky was mostly blue south of MacArthur and almost entirely gray to the north. When I used to visit my folks in San Jose a couple of times a year and get driven back, I'd see the same thing: somewhere in Oakland the sky suddenly became totally overcast. I guess I now know that "somewhere" is MacArthur.

It didn't used to bug me, but in my middle age, I've grown less fond of Berkeley 200-days-a-year of foggy skies.

The other day I tentatively agreed to do some writing for Mongoose for a new RPG book. It'll be for their Eternal Champion series, and should be something fun to work on next year. I pushed it off until January or February as I want to make sure I can get out an iPhone release of my friend Eric V.'s Armorica game first.

Though I've enjoyed lots of reading and relaxing since I finished Designers & Dragons, it's good to have projects too, so I'm happy to be working on Armorica this year and a new RPG book next year ... as long as it doesn't eat as much of my brain as a few super-big projects have from time to time (and it shouldn't).

(Newest word is that Designers & Dragons will be to Mongoose's warehouse around the 15th, by the by, and presumably to stores 7-10 days afterward.)
shannon_a: (Default)
Greenery! I filled what I think is my third green bin of the year Friday night, after about an hour and a half working through the front yard, side yard, and back yard. The main point was to clear out greenery that would get in the way of the builders who are coming to put new windows in my office this week(!).

We really need to invest in some herbicide of some sort, as we've got some thorny vines which have gone global around our house. I absolutely hate to put poison of any sort down, as I worry about local animals, particularly pets, but what else can you do?

Hot! And summer has finally arrived. I noticed while lounging about in the Family Room yesterday that it was pretty warm, even with the windows open. Today, it's even moreso, with the temperature looking like it's going to kiss the 90-degree mark today. As a result, I just locked all the cats out of my office and opened up the (screenless, old) windows. I was hoping to have the new windows in before things got hot, but alas no.

(Not that the new screens will necessarily fix the whole problem as I still won't be able open the windows that swing out from the sun room, but we'll see how just opening the three windows in my office proper works on future hot days.)

In any case, I'm actually happy to see the warm weather. Last summer was gray, cool, and gloomy almost the whole time. One local told me it was the strangest summer he'd ever seen. Then this year we had cold rain up until a few weeks ago. So I'm happy to see some summer-like weather somewhere other than Hawaii.

Dresden! We had our fourth session of Dresden Files, held at my house, this Saturday. We were back to doing prep stuff as Eric didn't have a character ... and we also went over our city description to date, since it was now four months or so back in our heads.

After Eric was done, around 4pm, I asked folks if they'd like to take a tour of Berkeley, since our campaign is set there and we were, rather uniquely, in Berkeley for the day. So we did, walking through some of the areas which are highlighted in our campaign, like northern Telegraph, People's Park, Cafe Strada, the Anthropology Museum, and Dwinelle Hall.

There was unfortunately some stress on the walk. Eric had his son Justin with him, and that turned out to make walking difficult. Then Chris had to head out quickly for some dinner plans. Still, Mary got some photos and everyone got some reminders of what the Berkeley area was like.

And Now ... back to work. Web of Power Card Game: The Duel is the current (and final for now) app I'm working on for Skotos, and I've also got lots of cleanup to do on RPGnet, in files, etc.
shannon_a: (games)
So today is the fifth annual Free RPG Day. I went down to Games of Berkeley to get a couple of things I wanted (as always: the Pathfinder & D&D books). If memory serves, I haven't been there for Free RPG Day since '07, as I've changed my main game store over to Endgame. Thus, I was pretty shocked to see GoB's display almost exactly as it was five years ago: one card table, set up near the register, with no signage and no discussion of what was going on.

There was also no limit on how much you should take, and thus all the short-run items in the set were long ago gone (which I cared about only because I wanted to take pictures of them, so that I could properly enter their names into the RPGnet Gaming Index).

I mean, kudos to GoB for putting out some cash to give some of its customers freebies, but I'm not convinced it's doing them much good without them paying it more attention. Me, I did try to buy something while at GoB as thanks, but the one book I wanted, the Adventurer's Armory (for Pathfinder) wasn't in stock, nor did anything leap out at me from the new rack. So instead I furtively slipped in and out, two books of loot in hand.

I went over to GoB today because Endgame opted out of Free RPG Day this year. The primary reason was that they'd already scheduled an event for the day, Dresdacon II. But, I'm sure the Free RPG Day hasn't done a lot for them either, though they've given it better attention and happily directed their customers to their freebies in the past.

In my opinion, the problem with Free RPG Day is that it's blindly aped Free Comics Day without a clear understanding of what makes Free Comics Day a success. And I'm quite sure that Free Comics Day is a success, because I've walked by Comic Relief on Free Comics Days in the past and seen the line winding through the store as people waited to step up to the back counter and pick up their allotted pair of comics. The books were often for kids who were being introduced to comics for the first time. What great marketing that is!

But Free RPG Day just doesn't seem to work as well.

Part of the problem is the medium. A 16-page comic is a perfectly fine introduction to a comics line. However, a 16-page RPG book can't do nearly as much to give an impressions of a game. So, we see two different types of products on Free RPG Day. Some of them are loyalty books, like the Pathfinder adventure and D&D setting I picked up. Others are QuickStarts, which give a bare outline of a rule system and often an even barer adventure. I'm pretty sure the loyalty books don't do a thing to attract new players, while the QuickStarts seem pretty spare and would really need to be played to be effective.

Part of the problem is the cost. The economics of the comics industry allow publishers to produce comics in good quantities at reasonable costs. For whatever reason, the economics of the RPG industry don't. So we get a lot of half-assed productions that look like they ran off of inkjets. Worse, the Free RPG Day program supports publishers producing books in quantities as low as *1* per box (where a retail store might order as low as one box). I'm pretty sure neither low-quality products nor unavailable products are going to do a lot to endear the theoretical new fans to roleplaying.

Part of the problem is the program. To start with, the stores get very little material to help hype the event (basically, a press release and a spare poster [PDF] that they could print out). Worse, the program does nothing to encourage stores to run demos, which would do much more to draw newbies into the world of roleplaying than just picking up a book. I mean, the context of comics is reading, so it makes sense to get things you read on Free Comics Day. The context of RPGs is playing, so wouldn't it equally make sense to get things you play on Free RPG Day?

The QuickStarts could clearly be given to gamemasters as part of an organized demo program on Free RPG Day if they were just handed out to them early. However, a more complete and comprehensive adventure like Paizo's We Be Goblins! could be equally useful (and perhaps more immersive and enjoyable) if stores were willing to seek out GMs experienced with the system.

If a company was willing to go the extra distance, I think they could produce an even more engaging package. For example, Paizo could have produced We Be Goblins! for regular sale, given Free RPG Day GMs a free early copy, then made their actual Free RPG Day product a copy of a 16-page book on goblins. Thus, not only do they have a great demo (with little additional cost), but they also have a free book that players take home which builds on what they learned during the demo and encourages them to come back and learn more about Paizo's world.

I think with a better program, some of the problems of the medium could be solved. Sadly, the Free RPG Day program just doesn't consider the medium very well as it stands. Cost would still be an issue, but at least it'd be a start.
shannon_a: (Default)
I did start the day off relaxing, with lunch out and a browse through local used book stores.

Half-price Books, as usual, made me shake my head. I already know not to buy old paperbacks there, as they charge $4 for just about any SF books, despite their frequent "EVERYTHING IS HALF OFF COVER" signs. Today, I discovered that they've decided to crank the prices of 3.5e D&D books through the ceiling. I mean, they had Frostburn labeled for $45. Not even a good book, and available from Amazon for $19 this moment. I bet I could find one sub-$10 within a month on eBay. Their similar pricing of Fiendish Codex II was more in line with the market that's been deprived of all of the old, good 3.5e material, but I really have to attribute that to luck.

Picked up some stuff at Moe's though.

At home my first task of the day was beginning the annual cleaning of the yard--cutting back the weeds, ivy, and plants that have grown up from the rains of winter. I usually do it an hour at a time, which is what it takes me to fill our green bin. Today I got the main pathway in our backyard cleared and most of the weeds around it cut down to size and I got all the ()&*&#ed baby ecacias eliminated (except for a few at the back door).

Our green bin should be emptied Tuesday. If so, I've got another hour of yard work planned for next Saturday, when I have no gaming.

The other big physical task of the day was beginning a great rearrangement of rooms in our upstairs. I love doing this sort of thing every few years, Kimberly less so. However last night we came up with a plan that sounded like it would put three different rooms to better use.

First up, she was wanting more privacy in her office, so we moved her to the former Junk Room. It's got a nice little hidey hole along the front of the room--a niche made by the chimney. So we've got her desk stationed there and we got some shelves moved around it.

We still need to transfer the rest of our non-fiction to those shelves. Then we can move on to getting our bedroom moved to her old office (where it'll be more off the street, and thus quieter). The final step will be turning our former bedroom into an upstairs family room, which might finally make our +1 room upstairs useful ...

After all that, we got some subway sandwiches as a reward, then ate them out at Willard Park where we watched dogs play. Children too, but we mostly watched the dogs. And read Louise Erdrich, our current read-aloud book, which has been going very slowly. The Bingo Palace is just not her best work, as I'll likely write more about in a week or two.

And I had one other task for the day: back to the history book. I got some very late comments on FGU and spent a few hours incorporating them, resulting in (as usual) a better article.

In the evening we watched the finale of The Amazing Race and were somewhat surprised to find
Amazing Race Spoilers )

And now, reading before bed.


Aug. 5th, 2010 02:52 pm
shannon_a: (rpg stormbringer)
GenCon started yesterday. I am once more not there. Nor do I particularly want to, truth be told.

I was never a huge fan of gaming cons. I used to go to DunDraCon largely for the flea market, auction, and/or dealer's room. That was in the early to mid '90s. You can see from the locus of purchasing activity that I had more dollars than sense at the time. But, I purchased some fine things at those cons that I still treasure. I found [i]White Dwarf #1-10[/i] in a box at the Pacificon flea market one year, and paid $2 or $5 each for them. Another year I got issues #1-8 of [i]The Traveller's Digest[/i] at the Pacificon auction for $15 total, or something else ridiculously silly. But I also got plenty of stuff that's since gone, such as a collection of [i]Man, Myth & Magic[/i] books.

Then I started working for Chaosium in 1995. Cons--never a huge draw for me in the first place--became work. I learned pretty quickly that standing on your feet for 8 hours straight is tiring, and for me at least, talking to people and being friendly for that same period of time is entirely exhausting.

In many ways, I think the worst thing you can do for your hobby is make it a job. Though my experiences at Chaosium were generally good and though I was never overworked, after two years there I was entirely burned out on cons and it took me a few years to get my roleplaying mojo back.

(I think I have a much happier medium now. Though I run the RPGnet community and am constantly dealing with board games, my main focus is programming in both cases, and that hasn't led to burnout on either front.)

So, GenCon.

One of the things that I love about working on the RPG History book is that it increases my interest in roleplaying generally. I wait on tenterhooks to see what Mongoose's new fantasy offering is going to be, whether White Wolf will reverse the last year of disappointing RPG abandonment, and what the next campaign setting will be for WoTC. Usually, it'd all sort of interest me, but the history book keeps it to the forefront as something to keep track of. So, though I may not be at GenCon, I eagerly await its results.

There's also going to relief when it's over, however. For myself I'll feel more able to attack parts of the history book concerning companies still in business, with the likelihood that they'll make major changes or announcements before my deadline notable decreased. For Skotos, it'll suddenly become easier to contact folks in the industry who have gone increasingly off line over recent weeks.

And that's what GenCon means for me, this year.
shannon_a: (games)
I am deep in Fantasy Land right now.

Still trying to finish my Undead game of Disciples II, though I limited it to just an hour tonight now that I'm off of vacation. I think I've just got a couple of missions left, but that'll take weeks at that rate. I'm very bemused that we happened to talk about it at gaming the other week and Dave W. said it was too short. Maybe I just don't have the stamina for modern computer games ...

I've been working on a review of the board game, Dungeon Twister: Prison. Much of the material is updated from my old Dungeon Twister Base Set review, but I've been playing the Solo Game so that I can thoroughly review that too. I expect to run a third solo game tomorrow and then finish up the review.

I've also started reading a copy of Warhammer Fantasy RPG 3rd Edition which I received for review on Friday or so. I don't review many RPGs, but this one is both innovative enough and board-game-connected enough that I opted to make an exception when it surprisingly showed up.

I've been reading Gardens of the Moon, the first book in the 15-book Malazan Empire cycle (which is 9+2 novels complete at this time). I've been expecting to enjoy it, but I also have troubles with particularly dense fantasies sometimes. Thus far, happy to say I'm enjoying it. My attention is probably helped by the fact that, contrary to my usual pattern, I'm not reading any other novels right now.

Of course, I'm working on the WFRPG rules ....


Mar. 8th, 2009 09:10 am
shannon_a: (rpg stormbringer)
"You're a geek? I thought you just had a limp."

(Quote from my dream this morning, in which I started lecturing a class on the differences between the various editions of Dungeons & Dragons.)
shannon_a: (rpg stormbringer)
Our Saturday gaming got off to a very late start yesterday. Fortunately, Donald called me around 12.15 to let me know that he and Mary were running 30-60 minutes behind, so I could make plans before I left the house.

However, I was already pretty much ready to leave at that point, so I just decided to go on a bike ride before arriving at Donald's.

I headed northwest through Berkeley, over the Pedestrian Bridge, turned south at the Berkeley Marina, and took the Bay Trail to Emeryville Marina. This is the best close area of the Bay Trail, and I enjoyed the bay views, even everything was quite gray.

(One of the reasons to do the bike ride was because we've been regularly having rain every Sunday since the 7th, whereas yesterday was cloudy but dry.)

When I was riding down to the Bay Trail I encountered an asshat who kept blowing through stop lights. I've seen a lot of them lately in my riding, and it just drives me crazy, as what they're doing is dangerous and gives bicyclists a bad name. At one point I came to a stop as a woman was walking out into the street; Mr. Asshat had just swerved quickly around her. She said to me, "You stopped!" surprise evident. I just said, "Yeah." Later I thought I should have said, "Not all bike riders are assholes," but the fact is that most in the Bay Area are.

In any case, Mr. Asshat eventually started gaining ground on me, as he blew through some lights that I ended up stuck behind for a while, and I lost track of him when he took the Pedestrian Bridge. I later ran into him along the Bay Trail, where I caught up, whizzed by, and then watched him rapidly disappearing in my rear view mirror as he wheezed along, trying to keep going. (He was actually idling along at 13 or 14 mph, but I was doing 15 mph on that straightaway.) I thought, "Not only are you a dumbass riding on the city streets, but it still doesn't get you ahead." Yep, that's me, Mr. Not Spiteful At All.

Arriving at the head of the Emeryville Marina I saw that I still had plenty of time, so I rode all the way out to the end of the Marina, reminding myself that the views going out into the marina are at least as good as the ones along that strip of trail. I particularly love getting out to the end of the Emeryville Marina and looking back at Oakland and Berkeley. Seeing the big landmarks like the Capanille and the Claremont Hotel from afar puts everything in perspective. I stood out there for a few minutes while a group of 10-year old kids bounced back and forth amidst sniper nests reporting oncoming intruders. By then it seemed like time to head back toward Oakland and Berkeley.

Heading into Emeryville, it looked like an economic apocalypse, as all the signboard wearers were out advertising going-out-of-business sales. Kevin later pointing out to me that the Circuit City ("all fixtures must go!") sale was a nationwide thing.

Afterward, I got to explore a bit by taking a left on Shellmound Ave. where I usually take a right when coming off Marina. It's another bike route. It goes right by the Emeryville Pedestrian Bridge (which, compared to Berkeley's, sucks because there's about four or five flights of stairs going up it, as opposed to a nice ramp--though it's less necessary than Berkeley's, because it bridges the railroad tracks rather than the highway) and the Border's (which I was tempted to stop at). And then I was surprised to realize that a right-hand turn took me right by Skotos' co-lo facility. I got to connect up a few more of the puzzle pieces of the local places I know; I'd never realized that the co-lo and the Border's were quite that close! Even better, the stop light up the street from our co-lo is now (finally) in, which means it's actually easy to get into the neighborhood, whereas before I had to ride some very busy and/or industrial streets to get there.

From there, the trip back up to Donald's was a hop, a skip, and a jump.

I got to Donald's at about 1.45. Donald didn't show up for another 15 minutes, and due to some hijinks with missing keys, it was another 30 minutes before we got in. Kind of annoying, but I try to not let that sort of thing get to me. There's little purpose and it can just spoil your fun.

My patience was really tested, however, when I discovered the reason for the lateness: a quest on an online game that they'd been doing that morning. Yep, people standing around outside, waiting, because of online gaming.

I just let it go by.

Our alternate-week game has been Donald running Eyes of the Lich Queen (for D&D3.5). Thus far, I like it better than the three adventure series that Donald had run previously.

That one was full of railroading and sorta so-so design.

This one has a lot of the same elements, including piles of dungeon crawls and recurring villains, but somehow is put together better. I think the main element is more interesting attention to encounter design. We're now about three weeks into the adventure and have explored a temple and returned to the town beyond it.

The first major encounter was a set of lizardfolk and dragons guarding the temple, and the encounters to assault the temple were interesting, as were the defenders' fallback positions. (After that the temple had some rooms full of potential death traps that I found a little less endearing, and reminded me of the earlier designs.)

The second major encounter (which we ran yesterday) took us beyond the temple, looking for a book that would give a clue to the location of another artifact. We found a burning building, a number of quickly sequential encounters within that building, and eventually fire and smoke began to set in. I thought it made good use of the D&D EL system, since the encounters really kept you running and wore you down in just the way the designers intended, and at the same time there were real opportunities for choice on how you dealt with the sequential encounters (and the smoke for that matter); even if the long-term plot of the adventure is railroaded, there were tactical opportunities.

I felt like we took good use of it. When the fire set in, we sent one of our PCs running out, then the other three of us took down the lead NPC, grabbed the book that she was carrying, and dimension-doored out, leaving remaining opponents to face the flames on their own.

We'll see how the rest of the module goes; it could be that it descends right into the problems of the other Eberron adventures, and that it just seemed better to me these last couple of weeks because we were thinking on our toes more.

Some interesting conversations between Kevin & Mary yesterday about D&D 3.5 v. 4. Kevin says he likes 4 better because it's simpler, while Mary says she likes 3.5 better because 4 is too simple.

After some discussion, it turned out that one of Kevin's main points of complaint is the huge number of books released for 3.5, and how they complicate the game. He agreed that 4 would be in much the same position in a few more years.
shannon_a: (rpg stormbringer)
Today I ran session #27 of the Savage Tide campaign for D&D3.5. The Savage Tide is a campaign-long adventure that was published in Dungeon magazine from #139-150 (the last issue, alas). I've been running it since last July. I'd originally figured that it was going to be a two-year run, but it's now looking like three. No complaints, I'm continuing to enjoy it a considerable amount.

(And the players seem to be too.)

This session was notable because it marked the end of adventure #5, "Tides of Dread", my favorite of the adventure so far. That's mainly because it's very open-ended: the players are alerted that their new home, Farshore, is going to come under attack in two months' time, and they're then allowed to run about the island, preparing for that assault. They're given a number of different tasks that they might want to undertake, and they can pretty easily accomplish all of the in the time, but it's still got a very different feel from other, more set adventures.

Next time I run (which looks like it'll be in three weeks), I'm going to need to prepare my own adventure to help the players catch up with the level they're supposed to be at. I've been doing this every several sessions, which is a really nice balance. I get some creativity in preparing adventures, but I only have to do it every couple of months, which keeps it from being overwhelming.

I also have to say that as I've run Savage Tide, I've really fallen in love with D&D3.5. I'd played third edition once before, in an extended campaign that my friend Eric R. ran, but I never paid much attention to the rules. Now that I'm using them regularly, I've grown fond of how highly mechanical they are.

(Late to the party? Perhaps. But, from everything I've seen it'll suit me more than D&D4, though I'll soon have some D&D4 books to make a better assessment from.)

Granted some of the adventure prep requires more calculations than you want to do, but that just makes me want to write some programs for my iPhone to help out. If I had a little handheld device that applied templates and improvements to monsters, all would be right in the world. In on my TODO list if I can find the time some time.

If you're interested in hearing more about the Tide, read my review of the adventure path and take a look at my ongoing actual play writeup; I'm working on the description of today's adventure right now.
shannon_a: (rpg stormbringer)
We had almost all of our regular crew gone today, and thus I decided to run a one-off RPG adventure.

I got some great suggestions from people on what I should run, including a website of award-winning (indie style) scenarios, but I ultimately decided to go the safe route and ran C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, an old-style competition AD&D adventure.

My main reason was that it was a 2-hour adventure for 3 players. I knew had three players (Kevin, Chris, and Dave S.) and so I just doubled the expected time, so that the players wouldn't have to run through the dungeon like crazy men, and I had something that was about perfect to run. I also thought it would fit closer to that particular group's comfort level than some of the more indie stuff.

It was generally a fun run. The adventure is set right in the same area as my Savage Tide campaign, and so there was some nice shared culture. I also thought the adventure was generally better than a lot of stuff from the period (late 1970s). All of those dungeons have some arbitrary design elements, but this was better than most. It tried to present a cohesive vision of the dungeon and to offer solutions other than just hacking through the competition.

The players missed most of the puzzles, bulling or running through more often than not, but I'm not surprised given our normal style of play. As we closed in on the 4-hour mark, I decided to use the earlier of the two exits in the module, to give players a fair chance of getting out. Alas, Dave S.'s character died one room out and Kevin and Chris were killed in view of the exit. So, it was a TPK, but in the last room of a competition module, I don't feel too bad about it (though I'm certain Kevin was unhappy, nonetheless).

I'm amused that they could have finished the adventure if they hadn't lost track of what they were doing. Sitting in one of the last rooms, Dave S. told Chris that he should search for secrets doors, and even mentioned that there might be a secret door inside a giant cat head--which there was was. Instead Chris set off a trap, fooled around, went off in the wrong direction, and then by the time the players got back to that room they forgot about the idea of a secret door, so instead of the (safer) secret room they went into perhaps the most dangerous room in the dungeon, which is where Dave S.'s character died.

I'll also comment that I was surprised by how much free-wheeling decision making I had to make in this supposed tournament module. I can't imagine how a competition using it could be fair, with different GMs running the adventure.

So, an interesting aside, and next week we'll be back to our normal 3.5 campaigns.

(And on the downside, my damned head has been acting up again today, not bad, but getting worse throughout my run, so I guess it's back to the frickin' doctor next week, and I'd guess a referral off to a specialist this time, but we'll see.)

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