shannon_a: (rpg stormbringer)
Panniers. Took my panniers out again to gaming both last Wednesday and Saturday. I don't know that I'll be using them every time I game, but I'm trying to get comfortable with them. Well, mostly I'm trying to get comfortable that they won't go flying off when I use them.

So, Wednesday I rode to Endgame, tensing every time I hit a bump, fissure, or pothole at speed, but the panniers stayed firmly attached. On the way back, feeling more confident, I did my best to hit many speedbumps hard and fast. Not only did I get a good workout, but my panniers remained attached. Yay!

Then I managed to send one flying again on my way home from EndGame on Saturday. Boo.

So I'm pretty sure the problem is that I brush up against them with my foot, part of the pannier jumps up over the divider on the rack, and then is poised to fly away. Theoretically I should be able to correct the way I position my feet, but I'm also considering whether I just need to tie the damned panniers down. Most annoying.

Saturday. Speaking of Saturday, for a bit now we've been rushing toward the end of Savage Tide, and I'd been open to the possibility of simultaneously ending my Traveller campaign, if it wasn't well balanced with whatever else was running.

Then, in the last few days I came to the conclusion that I wanted to. It's always been a lot of prep work, but I'm also increasingly feeling like I'm retreading the same ideas, and whether the players notice or not, that's not fun for me.

So, I announced that I would definitively be ending Traveller at my next chapter point. I now know that it's going to be two weeks of Traveller run hence. As with most campaigns, I plan to end it where the majority of the current stories have stopped, but to consider the possibility that I might want to start it again some day.

For the future, I've let folks know that I definitely don't want to run both games as we change things out. Mary is considering Dresden or 4E while Donald offered the possibility he could run something too a bit back. I've told them that my first choice for my new game would be Kingmaker for Pathfinder, but that I'm open to returning to my old AD&D or Stormbringer campaigns as well.

(No one really remembered the Stormbringer campaign, sadly.)

Weather. Sucks. Worst summer ever.

Guest Cat. Coming soon. I should stowaway in Melody's suitcase for Hawaii.
shannon_a: (rpg stormbringer)
My preparation for my Traveller RPG has, for a pretty long time, been overly exhaustive. On Fridays before Traveller I've often found myself spending 2-4 hours putting together an adventure. And, that's made the games not just as much fun, because I've come to dread the prep time.
Which is one of the reasons I've cut the game down to once a month.

So this week, I'm trying something new. I've only allowed myself one page of outline for the adventure. No screwing with point size or anything, just one page of solid outline at the default font and size I use in Word (12, Cambria, apparently).

Comparatively, my last several weeks of Traveller adventures were 4, 6, 6, 3, and 3 pages of notes. Some of those were additional backed up by Traveller "Amber Zones" which contained even more details.

The new format is surely faster to put together. I spent an hour or so tonight and used every line I was allowed. I still cover as much as I would have in my older notes, but there are less details and fewer stats. (I think I can use a recent Mongoose release, 1001 Characters as a resource there.) The question will be how well it supports the adventure. Notes are a crutch, of course, and I hope that the shorter outline will give me enough focus to run a coherent adventure and maybe at the same time give me more opportunity for more adlibbing and integration of player suggestions.

I'll see how it goes tomorrow. But from the point-of-view of Friday night, it's a success.
shannon_a: (rpg stormbringer)
For many years, I didn't understand why podcasts were of any interest. Sometimes when there was something I really wanted to know about (mainly for the RPG history book I was working on a few years ago), I'd sit at my computer and listen to a podcast. But it always felt pretty stupid, being such a passive recipient of media on a very interactive computer.

That finally changed when I got an iPhone. Suddenly, I could listen to podcasts while out walking or while on BART, and it all made sense.

Lately my most frequent podcast has been 2D6 Feet in a Random Direction. I'll have to admit, one of the prime reasons I enjoy it is because it usually features my friend, [ profile] chrishanrahan. However, I also like its takes on the industry and its looks at games indier than I play.

This last episode featured something I hadn't seen a lot on the show before, essentially a collection of GMing ideas. Several struck me, especially as I'm trying to up the RP of my own games. I've noted them below, primarily for my own reference. Some of these were pretty clearly described, while in other cases I went off with an idea that had been briefly mentioned.

  1. En Media Res. I love this technique, particularly for a very episodic game, which is what I've been trying to develop for Traveller. I've used it a few times in that campaign, but each time afterward I backed up an did the setup for the en media res as a flashback. Maybe I just need to offer a summary and dive in instead, with no back-stepping. I'll have to try it again soon.
  2. How Characters Are Feeling. I think I'm least likely to use this one in my own games. Chris H. said that he typically starts adventures off by asking each player how their character is feeling and how they're expressing it. I don't think our groups' current amount of RP is up to this technique, and I'd fear it slowing things down at the start. But I think it's a good thing to have in your pocket for possibly using later in a game.
  3. Next Time on xxxx. I loved this one. At the end of a session, the GM asks each player what he'd like to see in the next adventure. He's looking for ideas and scenes. Then, he incorporates some of those. This might be neat for Traveller. Savage Tide is generally a bit scripted, and thus it won't entirely fit ... but I'm running a one-off sidequest next week, so at the end of Saturday's session I asked the players for "next time on Savage Time". I thought the results were A+++ terrific. We're only going to have 4 players next week, tops, but I'm going to try and work their requests in. (Off-hand, they included, "Saving a little girl", "nudity", and "a giant wheel of cheese rolling down the street". I can't remember what Dave S. or Dave W. said, but they're all in my notebook.)
  4. Passions. Off-handedly, one of the hosts mentioned how Spirit of the Century supports RP with Passions, and that made me think right-off of adding Pendragon-like passions to Traveller, as it's certainly true that there's no built-in support for anything but skills & combat. I've got an idea gelling, and I think I'm going to publish it in my new Traveller column in a bit more than a month.
shannon_a: (Default)
Exile. Last week started to get uncomfortably hot for the first time in quite a few months, so I engaged in the annual (or semi-annual) running of the computers. Hauled my Mac downstairs and worked out of the dining room for a while. The heat didn't last very long, but the change of environ was increasing my efficacy, so I stayed there until last night.

Now the annual (or semi-annual) running of the computers has been reversed.

Meow. We do indeed have a sick cat. Cobweb's ultrasound showed that she had a problem with her intestines. The vet is hopeful that it's kitty-cat IBS, and we're treating Cobweb for that with two pills a day. Fortunately she loves treats, and so the pill-pouch-treat thingies work well for her. Once or twice she's spat the pill open after chewing on the pill pouch, then immediately gobbled it back up.

We're supposed to bring her in in about 3 weeks to get weighed. Hopefully her weight will be up.

Because, if it isn't IBS, the next guess is the big C.

Urgh. Tension headache is back today. It's been pretty good most of the time since my doc gave me meds a few months ago, but today it's been worsening throughout the day. Don't know if it was staring closely at cards, to get them readable at a size of 100 pixels tall, or the different quality of light in my office, but I'd guess one or the other. Or both.

Scribble. Many writing tasks have gathered on my freelance desk in the last week or two.

I've started writing Traveller articles for Mongoose, so now I'm swapping back and forth between Traveller and RQ for them. I'm enjoying the Traveller more, I must say, but it's still new and exciting. Currently, I've got a red-elf article in progress, but my (second) Traveller article is already planned out.

And, simultaneously, two of the Glorantha mags are getting ready to publish: Tradetalk and Hearts in Glorantha. They each have an article of mine that's part of a series, so I'm due to write the next one for them now. For HiG, "The Poisonthorn Forest" is being published, which means I need to write "The Hellwood". For TT, "The Vale of Flowers" is being published (which I had started writing for a different venue 3 or 4 years ago), which means I need to write "The Redwood".

Yes, it's all elf forests, all the time.
shannon_a: (marrach skotos)
My 500th(!) review posted at RPGnet today. Though most of my reviews have been of board games (262 reviews!) or card games (166 reviews!), this one covered a bit of pseudo-Traveller fiction:
Not in Our Stars Review

It's one of two series of Traveller reviews I'm writing right now:
Of course my board/card game reviews continue almost every Wednesday too. This was a rare Wednesday that I missed, but I'm a final-edit away from a review of Steam for next Wednesday.
shannon_a: (rpg stormbringer)
A few weeks ago, while finishing up Jack Vance's Demon Princes series, I discovered that he'd written a few mysteries. Even better, they were generally set in California, some in some fake county, but a few in Oakland. They're unfortunately all priced too high for me to buy nowadays (as they've generally been out of print for 30 years, other than a real small press fan thing done recently), but I discovered that a few were available from the local libraries, so I ordered them through LINK+.

The House on Lily Street is the first that arrived. It was published in 1979, but is set in the '50s, and I'd guess was written then. The writing is decidedly Jack Vance, though it feels a bit less polished. But, in this book he has some of the same questions about what drives people in life that you also see among some of the same criminals of that aforementioned Demon Princes series.

This was one of the ones set in Oakland, and that was even more delightful. I loved the depiction of West Oakland as a happening Jazz place, because that's so much not what it is today. (A shame, but you saw some of that same story in The Corner.) I also enjoyed some of the characters cruising up and down Telegraph and other streets that I very regularly walk or ride.

A bit of irony: I was running the third full chapter of my Traveller game today, and after kicking around a few plots, I finally came up with a murder mystery. I was trying to sketch one out, and then I realized that I had a book with a very well developed and somewhat surprising mystery in hand. I freely used it.

So one of Jack Vance's few non-genre books got adapted for a science-fiction game. We played it down in Oakland today, at Endgame, and to get there I biked some of the very streets which Vance wrote about 50-60 years ago in that same book.

In case you're interested, here's my Traveller AP Thread. I'll probably have the new adventure up there tomorrow. I expect I'm too burnt out to write and edit tonight. The more RP & problem-solving sessions (which this surely was) are much more tiring to run than a combat fest.
shannon_a: (Default)
Wedding. Went shopping today for a suit coat for Jason's wedding. I haven't had a proper suit coat for 20 years. Now I finally do. It's black with just a touch of gray in it. Should do well for the wedding, and would have been fine for some of the less pleasant events I've had to go to in recent years. It also seemed to fit pretty well. There were some cheaper suit coats that I could have gotten, but they didn't fit nearly as well, so I splurged (though I certainly won't complain about the price, at $105).

I also discovered that my pants from my wedding fit perfectly. That was a big surprise. They were too tight to wear for a few years. For Chris' memorial, they were just tight. And now ... fine.

I've been hoping to get into better health with the bicycling I've been doing this past year. I know I'd lost about 10#, but that still leaves me 10# or 15# over what I was when I got married. Which probably means I've got about the same body fat as ten years ago, but more muscle--leg muscle one supposes. That's pretty cool.

Surprisingly, I'm starting to look forward to the trip to Gilroy. We may or may not have time to wander around the morning of the wedding. I still wish we could go biking down there, but maybe some other time, when Kimberly is doing better.

Cats. We seem to have largely integrated guest cat Tai Chi into the household. Cobweb and Munchkin still hiss at him, but Lucy seems to have mellowed way out and he seems to have conquered some of his fear of the other cats. So, I've been leaving my office door open when home these last couple of days. He can go wander if he wants, and he can return to his safe home base, which he's most comfortable with.

I wouldn't have guessed that the week of being mostly locked away from the other cats in January would have helped him to integrate this time ... but sure enough. I'm pretty sure he remembered the house and the other cats remembered him enough to make everything more comfortable now.

I made the effort for two reasons. First, because it's nicer to have my office opened. Second, because now that him coming here isn't a one-time thing, I'd like to make it less traumatic for everyone in the future.

Gaming. So, we're on the cusp of changing campaigns at Saturday Gaming. This Saturday Donald ran the penultimate session of his Eberron campaign. He says that he thinks finishing it will probably take just an hour more. I'll believe it when I see it, but I've gamely agreed to prepare a couple of hours of Traveller on Saturday. (My Savage Tide campaign will then get going again after the wedding, with it and Traveller alternating in some manner.)

I was pleased to hear more comments saying that the Traveller game last week was a bunch of fun. Of course I'm still easing my way into a new system, so preparing a fresh, short adventure for Saturday will take some work ...

Of course Eric, my erstwhile co-GM seems to have disappeared from our group again, as life has once more taken priority. (Mary was very kind to retrieve my Traveller books I'd lent him, which I want to read and review soon.) I'm also wondering if Chris W. is going to keep showing up, as he's apparently working graveyards now. We'll see how things shake out, but with the number of people we've had lately, it'll be fine either way.
shannon_a: (rpg stormbringer)
When I'm at my best when running RPGs, it drives my creativity. I become enthusiastic about the games I can run and the stories I can create. That's how I've been feeling about Traveller for weeks now. It's why I've just spent another evening on working on stuff for the game (tonight, including prepping tomorrow's adventure, updating my AP thread at RPGnet, and starting a new, related series of reviews).

I hadn't quite realized why I hadn't been having much time for my usual evening project of writing stuff for publication, and it's because I've instead been spending that time and energy on the Traveller game. (Note to self: pitch some articles related to Traveller, rather than my more common RuneQuest articles, and kill two birds with one stone. Note back to self: done.)

When I'm at my worst when running RPGs, they feel like a time sink that I have to fill on Friday nights, so that I can entertain people on Saturday.

I'm not quite sure why sometimes I feel the one way and sometimes the other, but I don't actually think it's a recent dichotomy.
shannon_a: (rpg stormbringer)
I think we're at a particularly awkward place in our development of media right now, and it's shown most strongly by the PDF.

On the one hand, the existence of electronic media allows for the creation of many things which would never otherwise be published. And, electronic media can offer advantages over regular printed media, such as the ability to print out individual pages from a book and mark them up (which is particularly notable when you have, say, an adventure module and you'd like to write on some of the maps and character records).

On the other hand, PDFs just don't have the utility of books. You have to read them on a computer, and reading on a computer just isn't as comfortable as sitting down in your favorite chair. Or, you have to print them out, often costing a comparable amount to buying a book, and resulting in looseleaf papers that end up everywhere.

Until real, ubiquitous POD comes along, or super-thin, almost throw-away computer tablets, or household printing and recycling facilities, these PDFs are going to be an awkward form with advantages and disadvantages hanging in balance.

I'm not even convinced that the super-computer tablet is the ultimate media extension, because sometimes you want to spread a few books out around you, and you just can't do that without printed books. So, until we have holograms or something, I think printed material continues to have a very useful form, even for folks who aren't us old farts.

Thus, in my view, what it takes to get over this awkward media hump is the existence of the very easy ability to turn PDFs into professional printed books (and thus be able to utilize the benefits of both mediums as appropriate).

So last week I saw that Staples was running ads for its Copy & Print Service. They advertised that you could load them up a PDF over the Internet, tell them how to put it together, and that they'd then print you a copy that you could pick up at a local store. So, I decided to give it a shot.

The subject of my experiment was The Bowman Arm, a Traveller PDF that I own a copy of which depicts part of The Spinward Marches, which is where our new Traveller campaign is set. I uploaded my PDF to print, then started going through their system.

It's pretty snazzy. You tell it options, then it shows you what the book will look like in a little widget. Unfortunately, it also turned out to not be ready for primetime.

My biggest problem was that I wanted a couple of internal pages color, which the program said it could do. However, when I choose a page to be printed in color, it then started randomly putting blank pages in the book without explaining why. (I think it was trying to keep color and black and white off the same page, but sometimes it was putting a space on the next page instead, which I suspect was a bug.)

I also choose a saddle-stitched binding, as I've got books with spiral and velo binds, and they all take up more space than I'd like and don't feel like a book. (I think the spiral binding looks particularly bad on my shelf.) That seemed all fine, but caused problems when Staples got the order, because they interpret choosing to saddle stitch an 8.5x11" book as meaning that you really want it 8.5x5.5". I also could never came up with a way to say that the back cover should be the same stock as the front cover (which was, of course, necessary with saddle-stitching).

Then when my order got to actual Staples employees, they needed to change pretty much the whole thing. They couldn't do individual color pages at all. They had to ask about how the book should really be saddle-stitched (and fortunately were able to do what I really wanted, which was to print a full-size book). Then the fact that the book wasn't an even signature caused them conniptions until I just told them to add some blank pages at the end. Mind you, none of this was a particularly big deal for me. I spent 5 or 6 minutes on two phone calls with a knowledgeable and helpful Staples employee. However, as far as I can tell, it took them two hours to get the book printed. That's not particularly cost effective for them.

The end result is that I got a saddle-stitched book with a full-color cover. The cost was $5, $1.98 for the full-color cover, $2.35 for the 28 interior pages, $.25 for saddle-stitching it, and some god-awful amount of sales tax (thanks, Gov!). The text is very crisp and the grays are very good (better than a lot of RPG books I get, to be honest, the pixelation is all but invisible).

Two downsides.

First, even going for the relatively expensive cover, it's still clearly not a professional print. It was also tacky when I picked it up this morning (about 18 hours after it had been printed) and I smudged it a bit. I think it's probably better now though I expect it to still slowly smudge unless I put it in a protective folder, which defeats some of the point. But, there wasn't any option for coating or anything.

Second, the saddle-stitching leaves a bulge toward the spine, which is what I expected, as I have fanzines from the 1990s which were clearly printed at copy centers and do the same thing.

Was it worth the cost? I think so. I now have a book that I can actually read, not just reference. And, I can bring it with me to gaming when I need to.

I also have to say it was what I expected, perhaps better, but not what I'd hoped.

I'll be interested to see how PDF printing from the internet evolves. I think this is a pretty early stage that has a lot of room for upside.

If you have other thoughts for how to do this type of thing, I'd be happy to hear them, but I suspect Staples is out in front right now. It just needs to catch up with entirely-online companies like Lulu who are already doing this as a business. But, if they can, they offer a few great advantages: fast service and no shipping. Perhaps it'll even make Lulu moderate its ruinous shipping costs (which are largely what restrain me from shopping with them).
shannon_a: (rpg stormbringer)
Today we had a good RPG session, creating characters for the [i]Traveller[/i] game which should be starting in a couple of months.

You can read (and subscribe to) my Traveller AP thread here:

I've actually been keeping AP records of all my gaming campaigns since we created the AP forum at RPGnet three years ago. Here's a complete list:

Stormbringer: Warriors for Balance (4/3/05-8/9/06)

We came to a good conclusion of the first "book" in this series, but I still have plans to go back to this campaign some day, though I'm undecided as to whether to use the Elric rules (which I have more adventures for) or the RuneQuest rules (which would fix some combat problems we had). Probably the latter, and I'll just have to convert more stuff.

AD&D1: The Greyhawk Megamodules (8/?/06-7/14/07)

We finished Temple of Elemental Evil, but I've got A1-4 in the wings for when we want to return to it, and I recently supplemented them with the AD&D Slavers module, which should give me more background material to work with, even if the adventure is the wrong level.

Paranoia: The XP Modules (5/12/07)

I'd hoped to run more of this, but the players just weren't enthusiastic enough. Now that we're running such high player numbers, we should really do another one-shot some time, as Paranoia is great with many players. Maybe I can talk people into it for a week or two when Savage Tide is over, before I start the next thing.

D&D3.5: Savage Tide (7/29/07-Present)

This is ongoing, and will be for another year, but unlike the others it'll be totally done when it's done, as we'll have taken characters from levels 1-20, and you don't want to go any further (if that far) in 3.5E.
shannon_a: (rpg stormbringer)
A bit of chaos in Saturday gaming lately. We'd gotten pretty settled in our routines in the last couple of years, since Eric R. left for New Zealand shores, but the last couple of weeks, we've been having the opposite problem: players returning rather than leaving.

To start off we've had Dave S. showing up more frequently than usual (e.g., more than once a month), though I don't know if that's going to stand. He's been pretty randomly flaky since he moved back up north, years ago now. More notably we've also had Dave W. and Eric F. returning to the group on what seems to be a somewhat permanent basis.

First up, this has created problems with the number of players. I ran a thread over at RPGnet to discuss it, and if you have any thoughts I'd love to hear them:

I think my prime idea right now is to give everyone roles when we get up to the 7-8 player number again. Or, at least, enough people roles to keep things moving. I can imagine having a party caller (which was suggested on the thread), a miniature mover, and an initiative caller. A couple more roles would probably be useful.

(Says Dave P. today, when I was talking about this, "That's just silly jobs to keep people involved and not creating distractions, isn't it?" Says me, "Yeah." [duh.])

Second up, our new players created a bit of friction because Eric F. wanted to run a new campaign, though he had no idea what, where I was already planning to kick off a Traveller campaign when Donald finishes off his Eberron run. I anguished over this for a bit and finally suggested to Eric that maybe we could run the Traveller together.

That'd be a real nice alternative, with someone else dumping ideas into the pot, so I hope it works out. It might not be a full troupe (a style of roleplaying I love), but it'd be something. I'm going to lend him my copy of the Traveller rules next week.

I'm sure things will settle in a month or two.

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