Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Grognardia's Bookshelf Meme Thing

Yesterday James of Grognardia posted a picture of his bookshelves on his blog along with his desire to start a meme or others sharing pictures of their bookshelves.

So, here goes...

Main Bookshelf - Top Shelves
I couldn't get a picture of the entire bookshelf in one shot, so I did three different ones - Top, Middle, and Bottom. This particular bookshelf is to the left of my writing and work desk (where I work at home for my advertising consulting business). This bookshelf goes floor to ceiling and covers the entire wall - you can see the top of the door just in the left of the picture.

The very top shelf has a bunch of old cigar boxes that have old keepsakes in them (medals/ribbons from awards, etc.), along with a totem pole from Alaska that my mom gave me, Flash and Joker action figures (gifts from my friend Jeff), an articulated drawing model, a "Darth Tater" potato head (gift from my friend Malinda), and a bunch of photo albums.

The next shelf down has general reading books - mostly fiction, but some business books, and also a bunch of snowglobes that friends have given me from trips, and some antique postcards.

The next shelf on the left holds all of my DC Graphic Novels and Trade Paperbacks. The upper half-shelf on the right has drawing and graphic design books on the left and comic "coffee table" books on the left, both on their sides.  The lower half-shelf on the right has an antique typewriter that my wife bought for me as a decoration, and a bunch of books on writing (character name books, publishing your book, writing the novel, etc.), plus A Canticle for Liebowitz, an anthology of H.P. Lovecraft, and the first two books in the Skystone series.

The next shelf on the left has dictionaries, thesauruses, miscellaneous miniature books in basket, and some other graphic novels that didn't fit on any of the other shelves.

The Middle Part of the Shelf
Here we see a bunch of boxes over on the left-hand side, in which I store my paperback novels. To the right of those, toward the bottom, are all of my Marvel and Independent Publisher Graphic Novels, along with a a bunch of Kobold Quarterly magazines, some issues of Fight On!, and a few miscellaneous back-issues of Dragon that I've been picking up to fill gaps in my collection.

On the right is, of course, a small TV, and then a stack of Star Wars and Star Trek books.

The bottom of the shelf

And here's the bottom of the shelf, along with the space underneath on the floor. The upper shelf is my hardback RPG books, starting with 1st Edition AD&D on the left, then 2E, 3.5 (I packed my 3E in the garage because they seemed redundant), then a bunch of WOTC campaign settings for 3E/3.5, then Pathfinder, then 3rd Party 3E/3.5 stuff, then OSRIC, Gygax's Living Fantasy, a 1st edition Vampire: The Masquerade, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG (my wife's game, never played), and at the very far right, an old edition of a Magic: The Gathering encyclopedia.

On the floor in the magazine holders, from left to right are my old B/X and 1E modules, the 2E "Complete Books Of...", some other 2E era stuff along with GURPS Russia and Ars Magic: Nobilis (research for when I wrote The Quintessential Aristocrat). The next four magazine holders are all 3E/3.5 era stuff. The white boxes hold a smattering of Dragon and Dungeon magazines (the majority of my collection is packed up in the garage. Also to the far left on the floor, you'll see a stack of books on their side, which is the old Time Life The Enchanted World series.

Behind my desk, I have this weird little "nook" built into the wall. We have no idea why it's there - it's about 2 1/2 ' wide and about the same deep, and it goes floor to ceiling as well. It's very odd. We put shelves into it and turned it into our game nook:

The Game Nook Behind My Desk
So, up at the top are mostly party games, although you can see my white box Original D&D there next to some Marvel Heroclix, and my box of cardboard counters is actually shoved in the back there.  The next shelf down is obviously my boxed games - mostly old stuff, with two copies of Gamma World and Boot Hill (after I replaced the older versions that were beat up or missing pages or whatever), and the old Starship Troopers strategy game on the left. There's also some new stuff there like a boxed Star Wars RPG beginner set and the 3rd Edition D&D Beginner Box that my old WOTC Advertising client gave me, and also Green Ronin's "Hamunaptra" Egyptian Adventures boxed set right there next to the Moldvay Basic D&D Boxed Set.

Below that is most party and strategic board games. There are actually three more shelves below that which didn't fit in the picture. One shelf holds more board/strategy games (Settlers of Catan, Citadels, Ticket to Ride, Shadows Over Camelot, Wits and Wagers, etc.), the shelf below that holds 8 boxes full of paperback books, and the shelf below that is actually a huge wire-mesh drawer that's full of small games like card games and stuff like that.

So, there's my contribution to the meme. Cheers!

Hanging: Home Office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "White Christmas" by Charlie Parker

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

We Interrupt This Blog for an Important Notice: Men's Health

Movember mustache as of 11/5 (Guy Fawkes' Day)
My lack of posting lately has been due to a number of factors, including work being extraordinarily busy, having had the world's longest and most severe sinus infection ever (my doctor yesterday put a tube up my nose to look and actually said, "Wow, that's impressive"), and actually trying to, you know, fit in some actual geek stuff like gaming and reading comic books.

Before more regular posting resumes, I wanted to stop for a second to point out that I am participating in this year's Movember event, which is an international cause devoted to "changing the face of men's health." If you're not familiar with Movember, in a nutshell, what you do is completely shave on November 1st, and then for the rest of the month of November, you grow a mustache. No beards or goatees are allowed - mustaches only. And, while you're growing out your 'stache, you solicit charitable donations from your friends and family, all of which goes toward organizations that specialize in men's health issues, particularly focusing on prostrate and testicular cancer. You can read more about Movember here.

Movember mustache: 11/12/2012 (notice how little it's changed)
I am notoriously known among my friends for being completely unable to grow decent facial hair, as the accompanying pictures will attest. I fully believe that the ability to grow facial hair is inversely proportional to how much hair you have on top of your head. Since I am bless with a thick head of dark, wavy locks, I guess I'm okay with being unable to grow a mustache that doesn't look like what your average 12 year-old would have right after they hit puberty.

Movember mustache: 11/17/2012 (my 11 year anniversary!)
I should also point out that my wife absolutely detests facial hair on me. On our honeymoon about 11 years ago, which lasted about two weeks, I didn't shave the entire time, and when we returned home I decided to give the old facial hair thing a try. I spent the next year walking around with an odd, patchy mustache and goatee, and a very bad, untrimmed neck beard, before getting wise and shaving most of it off. Now that I work from home, I actually usually go about a week between shaving, and even that is something my wife can't stand.

Movember mustache: 11/26/2012
But, she is fully supportive of my involvement in Movember, and it's for a great cause. I know dozens of friends who have been affected by prostrate cancer in their lives, and it's an important issue for men to deal with. Given that most of my posts are about OSR gaming, and knowing the average age of most OSR gaming types, I would think this issue would be of primary importance to almost all of you, even if it's for your spouse or partner.

That said, if you'd like to donate to the cause, you can head over to my personal Movember page here and easily make a tax deductible donation. If you're strapped for cash, at least just pass the word on and maybe think about scheduling a physical with your doctor in the new year. :)

Thanks for listening, all!

Coming Up... posts about my first time playing the WH40k RPG at our Friday night gaming session a few weeks ago, my thoughts on DC's New 52 now that we're a year in, more thoughts on the current state of comics, more postings about old game shops, and more.

Friday, October 12, 2012

When Should You Show Your Kids "Star Wars"?

New Supergirl Pajamas
Since, as I've mentioned before, part of this blog deals with me as a "grown-up" geek raising a little geek daughter, I thought I'd draw your attention to this article over on NBC's "Today Show" blog, specifically about "How To Raise a Happy Geek Kid."

I know for me personally, part of what I think about in terms of raising my daughter is when, and how, to best share with her some of the things I'm into, whether it's music, comics, Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings, D&D, etc. Obviously some of these things need to wait until she's much older to grasp the concepts - she's only 3, so something like the "Candy Land" game is more her speed, versus the abstract concepts of a tabletop role-playing game.  The "Star Wars" movies are too violent for her at this age, and also she's too young (in my opinion) to appreciate the movies the way I did when I first saw them at 6 1/2 years old.

However, I do share with her many of the ideas of some of these things. I've talked about the story of Star Wars with her while listening to the musical score in the car on the way to daycare. So, she knows the general story of the three "real" Star Wars movies. I left out important details like how Luke and Leia are brother-and-sister, and how Darth Vader is really Luke's dad. I want her to discover these things on her own as she watches the films, preferably with me on a Saturday evening some night in the future with a bowl of popcorn while sitting on the couch.

My wife and I have shared our love of different styles of music with her by basically just playing what we want to listen to and seeing how my daughter reacts. We listen to music every night while eating dinner, and as part of that ritual I have created dozens of different themed playlists on Pandora that we stream through the TV. So, I have an "Italian Pizzeria" playlist that has songs by Louis Prima, Lou Conte, and other Italian-American crooners from the 50s and 60s that we listen to while eating any kind of Italian food, and a "French Cafe" station for eating stuff like beef bourguignon or steak frites, a "Mexican Rock & Spaghetti Westerns" station with an eclectic mix of stuff by Calexico, Manu Chao, and Ennio Morricone. There's also a bunch of different jazz (both vocal and instrumental), Brazilian, rock, electronic, holiday music for Christmas and Halloween, etc. While we listen, we talk about the songs and which ones we like or don't like.

In terms of comics, my daughter has learned about these essentially through osmosis by virtue of me talking her with me to the comic book store every week for New Comic Book Wednesday and accompanying me to Free Comic Day for a couple of years now. As she sees things that catch her eye, she asks questions and that creates the opportunity to have a dialogue about it. As a follow-up, we can then go through my back catalog of graphic novels or single issues to looking at the pictures and discuss who the characters are. As a side bonus of her accompanying me every week, she found an entire shelf of "kids comics" and discovered a Tinkerbell Graphic Novel that I bought for her and we now read a little each night at bedtime.

If you're a "geek parent", I highly encourage you to read the article - I found it interesting enough to comment on (as "tartinm", but you'll notice that my comments get repeated about three times due to an issue with me logging in). I'm also curious to hear thoughts from those of you who are raising kids and how you approach the subjects of the hobbies that you're into with your kids (geek or not - I think the same issues can arise with subjects like sports, for example).

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Fran-Dance (Alternate Take)" by Miles Davis

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Amateur RPG Design: Quest for Magic

Part of my old notes for "Quest for Magic", circa 1986
As I've written about before, and as I'm sure most of my fellow old-school RPG bloggers did back in the day, shortly after I discovered RPGs, specifically Dungeons & Dragons back in the early 1980s, I began to think of ways to use the trappings and rules of role-playing to create new and different games.

I think part of the psyche of playing a role-playing involves that creative urge where you strive to understand the system and then think of ways to make it better. How many times have you met someone who says, "I'm completely happy with the rules of [insert their RPG system of choice]?" I'd venture to say, never. Rather you're more likely to hear something like "I like D&D, but I hate Vancian spell casting, so I changed it to a spell-point system" or "Gamma World is okay, but I wish it had classes or skills."  The large amount of OSR blogs is pretty much a testament to this level of creativity and the need to tinker with the rules.

Recently, while on a continued quest to clean up my home office, I was looking through some of my old gaming notes and found yet another custom RPG game I was trying to create. I didn't date these notes, but based on the paper I was using (very old 13" x 11" dot-matrix printer paper that I my dad brought home from his office for us to use as scratch paper) I'd guess it was probably around the Summer of 1986, which would put me at almost 16 years old. 

At this point, we had moved away from the group of kids who originally taught me the game, and I was gearing up to go to a new school for my Junior year of High School. The Summer was spent adjusting to our new neighborhood in Southern California, and with me spending a lot of time by myself (as, since I was new to the area and hadn't started school yet, I didn't know anybody). Most of this "alone time" was spent working on various ideas for D&D campaigns and new role-playing games. Over the course of about four years, I tried to create no less than four RPGs, including ones based on themes of Arthurian England, Atlantis, a post-apocalyptic "car world," and the subject of today's post, one in which the magic of the world had been lost and the characters were on a quest to recover the source of magic.

One thing I've noticed when going through these old notes of mine is that I wasn't really creating new games, or new rules, but rather, I was essentially creating new settings for D&D. At that time, having pretty much spent most of my gaming time playing D&D and Gamma World (which pretty much share the same basic mechanics), along with only a smattering of Top Secret, Boot Hill, and Star Frontiers thrown in, I was really only familiar with class-and-level systems that used the full array of polyhedral dice. So, all of my custom game creations are, for the most part, just riffs on D&D that change the setting.

About 10 years ago, I would've looked upon that as a failing and instead thought that I wasn't being creative enough, or clever enough, to develop brand new game mechanics for things that I didn't like about D&D. As it is now, though, I am, more and more, preferring a "less-is-more" approach to game mechanics. As an example, I saw this great post over on Stuart's "Strange Magic" blog, wherein he creates a Dune-like "Bene Gesserit" class for B/X D&D by essentially making it a cleric and creating a way of representing the power of "The Voice" by modifying the Turn Undead mechanic to work on humans instead of undead. A "T" result means the character can Tell the target to do one thing, and a "D" result means the character Dominates the target (as per the spell). That's such a simple, elegant solution versus what I personally would have done a few years ago, which is create a whole new class with brand new mechanics to account for stuff like The Voice.

Back to my notes on "Quest for Magic" - this one really didn't ever get very far off the ground, and it was really all over the place. It started out as an RPG wherein every player would have to play a magic-using class. This was way before Ars Magica (or, at least, way before I saw or head of Ars Magica), so I thought I was being incredibly cool and clever by creating this concept. So, I created a bunch of character classes like Alchemist, Druid, Priest/Witchdoctor, Sage, Wizard, and two wizard sub-classes: Witch and Conjurer.

The races took an odd turn, mimicking some stuff that I had recently read in the CS Lewis stories, so Centaurs were available as a character race, as were the ubiquitous Dwarves and Elves. As mentioned here on my blog before, I generally hate the "small races," so I didn't include Halflings or Gnomes. After having read an article in Dragon magazine about other races, I decided to include Half-Ogres, since I wanted to get some use out of that article. I also added Half-Giants (and this was about four years before Dark Sun came out), and also Trolls as character races. As I said, it was really all over the place.

Aside from the idea of having Half-Ogres, Half-Giants, and Trolls play magic-using races, another very odd thing that wouldn't have worked was the basic premise of the setting, which was that the source of magic had been destroyed, so the main goal of the characters was to re-discover it and bring it back to the world. I think I probably borrowed this idea from Dragonlance, which was brand new at the time and involved the idea of characters re-discovering the gods, and therefore, divine magic. Dragonlance, as has been discussed ad nauseum throughout the OSR, was a "story-based" series of modules, and as that was en vogue at the time, my "Quest for Magic" game mimicked that pattern.

So, two problems with my game are immediately evident. Firstly, if magic doesn't work, then having only characters with magic-based powers doesn't work. Secondly, once the characters do find the source of the magic and return it to the world, then the setting just becomes "Every Generic Fantasy Setting Ever" (we'll call it EFGSE for short).

I never did deal with the second part of the problem, but for the first part, I created a bunch of new classes, including Barbarians, Dragon Riders, Gypsies, Knights, Pirates/Vikings, Robbers, and Scavengers.

My initial write-up describing the background of the world went like this:

"About a month ago, a collassal [sic] catastrophe occurred. Everyone felt weak. The plants became wilted. Men lost their strength. No one knew what was happening. Until now. Your group was searching through the Tharbad Forest and you found a huge hole. You searched it and found that your magic powers were somewhat enhance inside the hole. When you left, you felt weak and almost powerless. After studying for a week, you came up with an almost unbelievable story. The magic had left your area of the world and had gone to another. 

The object of the game is to find the magic. One the way you will meet many obstacles and monsters. It won't be easy. So now, let's begin."

Yep, that's the kind of introduction that could only be written by a cocky 15 year-old who thinks he's the most awesome thing to ever happen to game design and trying to copy the style of writing found in poorly written RPG supplements that came out in the early and mid 1980s. Good times. I do think it's interesting that it's a mixture of my background in RPGs at the time - the old-school stuff from the late 1970s wherein on a module would just flat out say "You just spent the past two weeks tracking down a sacred artifact and found yourself at the entrance of a ruined temple" - no long backgrounds, no "how did our characters meet each other" sessions, etc. You were just told what you needed to know to get started. This was balance, of course, by having an "object of the game" - and a story-based one ("find the lost source of magic") that was clearly the prevailing trend of what is called "Silver Age" RPG design at the time.

Aside from creating some characters and writing the introduction, I never got much further into developing "Quest for Magic." Although it's extremely primitive and the class and race options don't really hang together, I'm still intrigued by the idea of a sort of post-apocalyptic fantasy setting populated by a bunch of different styles of magic wielders trying to survive.

I've written a few posts in this series of "Amateur RPG Design" and I'm so curious to hear everyone else's experience and if you still have your old notes tucked away somewhere.

Hanging: Home Office (laptop finally fixed!)
Drinking: Looking forward to a pumpkin ale with dinner
Listening: "Alice in Wonderland [Take 2]" by Bill Evans

Friday, September 21, 2012

75th Anniversary of The Hobbit

This is the version of the paperback
that I'm reading to Joy right now.
Today marks the 75th Anniversary of The Hobbit, which was first published on September 21st, 1937.

As I have recently noted, I've been reading the story to my little three year-old daughter, and while that reading has been fraught with its own set of challenges, it's been fun and enlightening for me, too. Passages that, when reading to myself, I would've quickly read over and moved past, I've found myself having to dwell over to explain, and it's generated a new appreciation and outlook on the book that I previously did not have.

I also think I can safely say that, without The Hobbit, I'm not sure that I would have gotten into role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons specifically, or even fantasy in general.

I remember first reading The Hobbit over the Summer while spending a long "vacation" at my grandma's house with my mom and sister. I had brought the book with me, which actually belonged to my older sister but which she had long-since abandoned, and read it late at night using a flashlight.

What I don't remember is how I heard of The Hobbit originally, although there's a chance it may have been the Rankin-Bass animated version that aired on TV in 1977. I would've been between six and seven years old then (depending on when exactly it aired, which I don't remember). I also don't remember why my sister had the book and who bought it for her. 

In any event, reading The Hobbit helped to instill a sense of wonder and appreciation of fairy tales and fantasy in me. I spent the next few years in school, in 4th and 5th Grade, devouring Greek mythology, Aesop's Fables, and the legends of King Arthur, along with, of course, Star Wars. So, a couple of years later, in a completely different city and state, when I met a group who was into stuff like Conan, John Carter of Mars, Heavy Metal (the comic), and D&D at my school, I was hooked. The D&D game fit right in with my sense of fantasy as originally developed by the good Professor.

It's fitting that today, September 21st, also marks my birthday, so I raised a glass of ale to good Professor Tolkien at lunch today with my daughter and my mom, and thought a bit about how his simple story of a hobbit "in a hole in the ground" helped to shape a lot about my current life - I would not have the same strong group of friends I have today had I chosen not to spend my evenings squirreled away at my Grandma's house reading The Hobbit all those years ago.

Hanging: Home office on borrowed MacBook Pro
Drinking: Eagle Rock Double IPA at lunch about an hour ago
Listening: "Road to Benares" (Bombay Dub Orchestra Remix) by Thunderball

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Quick Status Update

It's been nearly six weeks since my last post, which is the longest I've gone between posts on Daddy Rolled a 1 since I started the blog back in February 2011.

Here's what I've been up to in the past weeks:

RPG Sessions. My last RPG session was, I think, the one I last posted about - our Friday night AD&D/Labyrinth Lord game of "Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth." After that session, we were going to take a break to play my friend Jeff's Warhammer 40k RPG one-shot in August, but that was postponed and nothing has been scheduled yet.

My last World of Samoth game was back in July - due to people traveling for work and vacation, and then the recent birth of one of my player's first baby, the Summer just got away from us. I'm hopeful we can get back to it in mid-October.

Other Games. I have been fortunate to play some other games lately - mostly strategy board games and some fun party-type games that are good "gateway games."

Back in July (or it might have been June), I went to a game day at my friend Wil's house with a pretty huge crowd - big enough that there were several games going on at once, which is cool. Lots of companies are sending him games to see if he'll feature them on his show Tabletop, so we get to benefit from that from time-to-time to try things out to see if they'll be a good fit for the show. That particular time, I tried a few new games, but one that stuck out was "Cards Against Humanity." It's basically a really raunchy version of "Apples to Apples." I'll be honest - it was a fun game... once. But, to me, it's much like the game Munchkin (which I really can't stand) - once you've seen the cards and how funny/wrong/gross/hilarious they are, the joke is up. The first time you see cards with subjects like "Daddy Issues," "The Taint," or "The Profoundly Handicapped", you laugh a ton, especially if you're drinking a lot and cards are mixed with a really inappropriate theme, such as "What I Brought Back from Mexico." But the second, third, or tenth time you see those cards... the novelty has worn off. I really do think it's a fun, gateway party game for people who claim "I don't like games" (and seriously, I don't understand people like that), but I don't see myself buying it.

We also played "Bang!" which was fun considering who the Sheriff was (you had to be there but she's a well-known geek-celebrity actress) and also "Resistance" which is somewhat similar in theme. Resistance has been explained to me as basically taking all of the strategic elements of trying to figure out "who's the traitor" of a game like Battlestar Galactica, and boiling it down into an elegant, simple card game. And I think that's pretty accurate. The main downside of Resistance is that it really plays best with 10 people, and it's not often that we get a group together that's that large.

The main non-roleplaying game that I'm into now is "Tribune," which my friends Cal & Raellen introduced us to. We've probably played that the most over the past few months. It's a strategy game to become "The First Among Equals" in ancient Rome, and features some really creative uses of a lot of different mechanics, including auctions, card drafting, worker placement, and more. I've actually only ever played it with the expansion, so I don't know how the base game plays by itself, but from what I can tell, the expansion adds a whole other element to the game that, it would seem, would make the base game a little bit lacking. One thing that I really like about Tribune is that players are playing toward achieving a certain number of victory conditions, but there's a large list to choose from, so as the game progresses, your strategy has to continually adapt in order to deal with the cards you get, the bids you win/lose, the factions you take over (or lose), etc. From round to round, you can't always count on being able to do what you planned to do. It keeps you on your toes.

Television. So far, the only genre show we're tempted to watch for the new Fall season is "Revolution" on NBC. We TiVo'd the first episode but have yet to watch it. Any of you watch it yet? How is it? The post-apocalyptic setting appealed to me, but then I've heard sources at NBC trying to distance themselves from saying it was a post-apocalyptic show, so I'm not sure what to think.

We still have four more episodes left of "Falling Skies," but I do have to say that I've liked this season better than the first season.

Reading. I've been slogging my way through Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks. I'm not sure why it's taking me so long to get through this book, but I just can't seem to get into it as much as I thought I would. I like Gilsdorf's columns that he writes for various different media outlets, so I was looking forward to reading this longer version of his re-introduction to, and acceptance of, his geek side. It could be that due to long lapses between reading, it's just not hanging together and I have no urge to really continue, but I'm close enough to the end that I'll eventually finish it.

Comics. I've really gotten back into comics lately in quite a big way. As you know if you read the my blog, I mainly stick to graphic novels of outside-continuity stories, but DC's New 52 did intrigue me, even though I avoided reading the first year of issues mainly because, as I've noted before, I hate change in comics.

However, I took the plunge and dipped into the New 52 with the trade volume collection of the first six issues of Justice League. I picked it up on-sale and finally read it. I had a thought that maybe, as a story featuring the central characters of the DC Universe, I could sort of follow along of what was happening in the Universe without committing to a bunch of different books.

That ship has since sailed, and I ended up picking up the trade collections of Batman and Detective Comics and have Flash and Justice League: Dark on order when they are published. I've also been reading the monthly titles of Earth 2, Worlds' Finest, and picked up Issue 0 of The Phantom Stranger. I never really thought that I'd been back into reading monthly issues of comics after I gave it up back in the early 90s, so we'll see how long this lasts. I may just switch back to graphic novels and trade collections after a few months. But, for now, it's been fun to head to my local comic shop (which is actually the one that's parodied on "Big Bang Theory", although the two stores look totally different, but based on the location of the show, this stores fits it best, even though I know of at least two other comic stores in the same general vicinity) every week, pick up the new issues, chat with the staff, and browse through old back issues.

I'm also continuing to read out-of-continuity stuff, and picked up Batman: Earth One during a sale at my local Barnes & Noble offering "Buy 2 DC Graphic Novels, Get 1 Free." By fan-favorites Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, this is a slightly different twist on Batman's origin story, involving a very different look at Alfred, and a Penguin who is actually a pretty scary villain and not a source of comedy. If you haven't read comics in a while and are looking for some interesting Batman stories, I'd definitely recommend you pick this one up.

Geeky Daughter Update. My little one turned three back in July, and on the night of her birthday, we started reading The Hobbit. I'm using my old copy of the book, a very yellowed paperback edition that actually belonged to my sister and which I first read in the 5th Grade, around 1981 or so. So, aside from the cover and the two maps, there are no illustrations in this book, and I'll just say that it has been quite a challenge. Things started out quite strong, and at one point, with only very minimal prompting, she could recite the names of all 13 dwarves. But, after the novelty of me reading this to her has worn off, it's been harder and harder to hold her attention and I've gone from reading as many as five or six pages at a time to only reading one, or at most two pages. Joy gets distracted while I'm reading, interrupts me constantly to point out "Look Daddy! I ate all my cereal!" or "I hear Mommy!" and has lost the general sense of what is going on with the overall plot. In the past, I would just prompt her by saying, "Do you remember what's going on and what we read yesterday?" and she could give me a pretty decent summary, but now her answer is usually just "No." On the positive side, she liked the voice I did for Gollum (which I just copied from the Jackson LOTR movies), and she liked the scenes with the giant eagles rescuing Gandalf, Bilbo, Thorin and Company. We just got to the part where the company meet Beorn and they're just getting ready to eat a meal with him. Joy did remember Beorn's name, and that he was "a big bear guy," so maybe she's getting back into the story. We'll see.

Joy's main likes these days are Disney Princesses, Tinkerbell and her fairy friends, ballet dancing, and "Kids Music" (she's grown weary of my jazz-house-alternative trifecta, it seems). She still has a pretty good grasp of who the various DC heroes are, but, as I recently noted on my Twitter feed, she just asked me "Daddy, is Superman real?" I have no idea what prompted this question, as she's never asked if anyone else is "real" (e.g., not Tinkerbell or Cinderella, etc.). It was pretty obvious that she was very skeptical about the existence of Superman as a "real" person, and yet she also recently suggested that perhaps we could "jump into the TV screen" to play with the people she sees on there.

Personal. Back in mid-August, my hard-drive crashed, and I eventually had to send it away to be recovered for a somewhat exhorbitant fee, but I needed it back because it had a lot of work data on it that I haven't uploaded to Dropbox (like all of my signed contracts and all of my archived work emails with attachments), and also all of my photos of my daughter. But, it's been a good lesson to me to have a new back-up plan for my data. I still don't have my old computer back yet, which is another reason that posting from me lapsed. I went out of town for about five days in August to a good friend's wedding in Washington D.C. and didn't bring my laptop with me. And most recently, I've had my second major and very frustrating sinus infection of the year, which basically knocked me out of commission for the past week. Work has also picked up with the acquisition of a new client. So, all of those reasons combined should hopefully illustrate why posting here has been sparse of late.

That's all for now. Most regular posting should hopefully start back up soon-ish.

Hanging: Home office (loaner MaBook Pro laptop, which has made me decide that I don't like Macs)
Drinking: Tap water (had a Rogue "Dead Guy Ale" last night, in honor of Talk Like a Pirate Day")
Listening: "Something I Dreamed Last Night" by John Coltrane

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Old School AD&D Game II - 7/27/2012 Recap

Our old AD&D (technically Labyrinth Lord) game continued a few weeks ago. Part 1 of the recap is here.

The story so far: A oddly eclectic group of professional adventurers, the Lucky Fools & Gloaters, have been hired by the Margrave of Bissel to scout out the location of a magical lanthorn, rumored to be resting in some caverns located in the Yatil Mountains. Other countries, enemies of Bissel, are also searching for the lanthorn and may have hired competing adventuring teams to find it. The adventurers are to locate the lanthorn, once part of Iggwilv's treasure horde, and bring it back to the Margrave. All of the rest of the treasure they recover is theirs to keep.  The location of the caverns is unknown, so the adventurers have set out to the Yatil mountains in an attempt to find them.

Module: S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
System: AD&D, by way of Labyrinth Lord and the Advanced Edition Companion 
Number of Players: Five (Brian, Cal, Jeff Franz, Nick, and Sean)
Session 2: 7/27/2012; 7:00pm - 12:15am (actual D&D time roughly 8:30pm - 12:00am)
Food: Two extra large pizzas, Klondike mint-chip bars
Drinks: Tap Room #21 Lager, Firestone Walker Double Jack, Firestone Walker Porter, a stout my friend Nick brought that I can't remember the name of, Coca-Cola, Water
Other Games Played: None

Into the Wolves' Den

Looking at the sparse map with which they have been provided, the adventurers plotted out a course leading to a small cave opening that Dolok the cannibal druid flew over while in the form of an eagle to scout the trail ahead.

On the first night on the trail, as the adventurers made camp and set up a nightly watch, two traveling minstrels, weary from their march along the trail, asked to share the adventurers' fire, and perhaps a bit of their food. While warming their hands, they mentioned they had nothing to use as compensation for the hospitality bestowed upon them, but that they would be happy to serenade the adventurers with a ballad of their own creation.

Benedictus, the Cleric of Fharlanghn who was on-watch at the time very adamantly proclaimed that there would be no singing allowed, but that the two minstrels could share the fire. The minstrels seemed a bit taken aback and again offered that they had composed a new tune that they would be willing to share free of charge as token of thanks, but again Benedictus refused. The two minstrels shrugged their shoulders and lay down to sleep by the fire.

Later that evening, a loud howling of wolves was heard in the distance, but getting louder and clearly approaching the campsite of the adventurers. Some of the adventurers and their henchmen groggily began to awaken, and as the sound of the wolves came closer, the two minstrels awoke in a start and ran off into the bushes, screaming for help. 

Benedictus went into action, awakening Dolok and Weslocke, who were both asleep at the campfire. Andrezi, aka "Estian", the party's scout and dungeoneering expert, was busy entertaining his lady friends in his tent, and did not appear to hear anything. Lord Flemin Ormstraad Corond, the stout noble dwarf, awoke briefly from his drunken sleep in his tent, but ultimately chose to go back to sleep, hearing only wolves outside and figuring that his services weren't needed for such a minor inconvenience.

A large pack of wolves attacked the three adventurers around the campfire, who drew weapons to defend themselves. The wolves turned out to be a bit tougher as foes than the adventurers had first surmised, and as they attempted to fight them off, they noticed two much larger, somewhat human-looking wolves, sort of hybrids, running into the campsite. 

Some wolves entered Estian's tent and he was forced to cease his daliances and draw his sword. He came out from the tent and found his other three companions in combat with the wolf-pack and two human-wolf hybrids. Having taken multiple wounds from the wolves, the adventurers began calling for Lord Flemin, who eventually emerged from his tent, not at all unperturbed that his sleep was disturbed. With Flemin's help, the wolves were eventually beaten back, and the two wolf-hybrids slain; it was discovered that they were also the two minstrels who had come to the camp earlier that evening. The adventurers were not much surprised by this, having suspected something suspicious about the traveling minstrels.  

After some quick healing, courtesy of Benedictus, Estian returned to his tent, claiming that his ladies were awaiting his attention.  Dolok cleverly wildshaped into a wolf in order to sniff out the wolves' trail and follow it back to their den, and Weslocke, Benedictus, and Lord Flemin accompanied them. The den was found, with some treasure inside. A brief argument ensued over who in the party was taking which items of treasure, with Lord Flemin and Weslocke nearly coming to blows over the affair, while Benedictus stood by watching the battle of wills. Lord Flemin eventually appeared to get his way by taking a rather large, and to his mind, valuable, gem. Weslocke took some items for himself and quickly made his way back toward the camp, followed at a distance by the others. 

Back at camp, Weslocke saw one of Estian's lady friends moving through the camp and then entering Estian's tent. Upon questioning some of the adventurers' henchmen, he was told that Estian's companions were "very friendly" and that it was a good thing they had come along. They appeared to be very happy. 

An Encounter with a Kettite Border Patrol

The next morning, the adventurers set out once again toward the small cave that Dolok had seen while doing aerial reconnaissance as an eagle a few days prior. That afternoon, they encountered a well-armed and somewhat testy patrol from the nation of Ket, one of the enemies of Bissel. The commander, the only one of the Kettites who spoke the Common trade tongue, parlayed with the adventurers, demanding to know why they were in Key territory (which could be argued, as no one truly owns claim to this area in the Yatil mountains) and what their intentions were. Estian opted to speak for the party, and adopting a completely foreign accent, announced himself as Buck Baggins, simply traveling through the area. The Kettite Captain, wise and suspicious from his years as a battle-hardened warrior, immediately discounted Estian's account and asked if anyone else from the party would care to make their intentions clear before "any problems arise."

At this point, we had to break for the evening as it was past Midnight and we were all pretty tired. Despite all of our typical pre-game chit-chat, movie talk, pizza eating, beer drinking, etc., we actually did get quite a bit of actual gaming done for a Friday night. Most of it was role-playing and in-game talk that doesn't necessarily translate well to a written recap. 

I'm looking forward to the next session, although we will be taking a break for August to play my friend Jeff Franz's Warhammer 40K RPG one-shot. I'm playing a Dark Angel Space Marine, and my wife is actually also going to play this time, as Jeff has created a special character for her.

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Tap water. A glass of 2006 Core "Ground Around" is on tap for lunch today in about an hour.
Listening: "You Will Be My Ain True Love" by Sting

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Tale of Three Batmans

A few months ago, I wrote about my first exposure to comics, vis-a-vis my discovery of Batman as a young boy in central California.

Recently, I've gotten into yet another comics kick, perhaps due to all of the hype about the "Avengers," "Spider-Man," and "Dark Knight Rises" movies this Summer, following on the trail of "Thor," "X-Men First Class," "Captain America," and the sadly disappointing "Green Lantern" movie from last Summer.

I think the unveiling of DC's New 52 last Fall also has something to do with it. I'm really more of a DC comics fan, versus Marvel, and I was a bit intrigued by the idea of the New 52, but, until recently, I hadn't picked up any of the issues. 

I think the main reason is that, I hate change. I hated having to move all the time when I was kid, due to my dad's job. I hated having to make new friends. I hate having to start a new job, move to a new house, buy a new brand of cereal because my old brand is no longer being made, etc. I really don't like it when there's a new version of the games I play (D&D, Warhammer 40K, et al) being released every few years. I just don't like change.

That's part of the reason that I didn't want to get into the New 52. I heard that they changed a bunch of stuff - character origins, costume designs, overall comic history (I understand in this version of the DC Universe, Jason Todd didn't die), and more. That kind of stuff bugs me. 

Because of that, I tend to limit my comics reading to graphic novels that take place outside of current continuity and can stand alone as just good stories without all of the baggage of what DC is doing to try to sell more comics. 

Recently I read three very different versions of Batman stories in graphic novel format, and I liked all of them for very different reasons. 

First up was Batman: Noël, by Lee Bermejo. The story is based on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and features characters both from Batman as well as from the original source story. I don't want to say too much to spoil the surprise of reading the story, but the artwork is incredible - detailed cityscape of Gotham along with extremely well-executed character designs and, despite the season during which the story takes place, a form of warm coloring that brings the characters to life. On Batman, we see every wrinkle in his suit, every seam and patch, and every pocket where he is hiding a little gadget. The style is both realistic and yet "comic-book" at the same time - this isn't the realism of Alex Ross, but a realism that exists to explore the form of comic art to its fullest.

Story-wise, the key elements are drawn from Dickens' classic, but I frankly was a little bit shocked at the POV character, which I guess I shouldn't have been. Full disclosure here - I really enjoy the original A Christmas Carol in both novel and movie forms (with the 1952 Alistair Sim version being my favorite).

Next, I read Chip Kidd's and Dave Taylor's Batman: Death by Design, which was an incredible visual treat. Both the story and the art in this comic are concerned primarily with architectural design, which might seem a bit odd for a comic until you remember that we're talking about Gotham City, which is, I maintain, one of the most important characters in the Batman universe. As much as I thoroughly enjoyed Christopher Nolan's Batman movie trilogy, one thing I always felt he was missing was that Gotham City should have been more prevalent with a distinctive sense of design and character. Nolan chooses to define Gotham solely by its inhabitants, whereas I feel that Tim Burton had the right idea that Gotham needed a specific sense of design, where you could look at a cityscape and immediately recognize, "That's Gotham City."

Batman: Death by Design takes two different events from our own history - the destruction of Penn Station back in the 1960s, and the 2008 crash of a tower crane in New York City that killed two people, and intermixes them into a story where both events occur in the same time frame, and then posits the question, "What if these two events were related?" Familiar Batman characters have their place in the story, as well as new ones created specifically for this effort. 

While the story is good, the artwork is just absolutely fantastic. In a neat twist in these modern times of computer-generated graphics, artist Dave Taylor noted that he did the art for Batman: DBD the "old-fashioned way" - in non-repro blue pencil, and then re-traced the lines he chose to keep in graphite, without erasing anything. The end result is a classic feel that immediately evokes the time period during which the story takes place, in that vague "Dark Deco" 1930s-1960s time period popularized by television's "Batman: The Animated Series." 

Lastly, for a change of pace, I read the highly regarded Batman: The Black Mirror, by Scott Snyder, Jock, and Francesco Francavilla. This particular story technically breaks my rule of not reading continuity comics, as it is really not a true original graphic novel, but instead a trade paperback collection of a story told in pre-New 52 Detective Comics. In this particular story, Batman is actually Dick Grayson, who is assisted in the story by Red Robin (aka, Tim Drake, the previous Robin). Robin during this time fame would have been Damian Wayne, Bruce's son (an idea that, frankly, I always hated), but he does not appear in the story. The Gordon family, including Jim, Barbara, and both Jim's current wife and his ex-wife, have some significant roles in the story, as well as appearances Detective Bullock and some familiar Batman villains.

This story is dark, and I mean dark. It explores a lot of areas around just how inhospitable Gotham really is, and how it can corrupt the seemingly incorruptible. Like the best Batman stories, this is a thinking person's Batman, and (at least for me, as this is the first time I've read a Batman story with Dick Grayson as the title character), it allows ones to explore what it really means to be Batman through a different lens. Dick has much of the same training, and ultimately the same motivation as Bruce Wayne (striking back at the type of criminal mind that killed his parents), and yet the execution of that mission is very different. I enjoyed little touches, like one scene where Batman and Jim Gordon are speaking on a roof, and in the middle of the discussion Gordon seems a bit preoccupied, stopping in mid-sentence, and when asked it anything's bothering him, he replies, "No... I supposed I'm just no used to it yet." Batman asks, "Used to what?" and Gordon replies, "To you still being there when I look up." 

Many have proclaimed that this story-arc, which is really a collection of three separate stories ("Black Mirror," "Skeleton Cases," and "Hungry City") is this decade's, or even this century's, definitive Batman story that belongs with such classics as Batman: Year One by Frank Miller. The story is definitely extremely well done, and the artwork is perfect - with Jock and Francavilla taking turns illustrating separate parts of the story (Jock concentrating on the Batman-focused ones, and Francavilla covering the Gordon-centric ones).

Best of all, reading these three different stories in a row, I was really reminded how writers and artists all have their own take on Batman, and yet, in all of these different incarnations, he is still quintessentially Batman. Even in the Black Mirror, with Dick Grayson as the Caped Crusader, there is still an undeniable quality of "Batman-ness" to the character, and a talented writer like Snyder is able to pull off distinguishing between the Grayson-style Batman and the Bruce Wayne-style, while still retaining the essence of the character.

Even if you typically don't read comics, I'd recommended picking up at least one of these stories to see what is being done these days in the graphic novel medium. You could do a lot worse than picking up one of these three stories.

Hanging: Home Office (laptop)

Drinking: Had a glass of Halter Ranch "Cotes de Paso" (a Rhone-style blend) for lunch

Listening: "It Never Entered My Mind" by the Miles Davis Quintet

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Latest World of Samoth Recap

My wife snapped this picture at our session.
My daughter and wife dropped by quickly,
and my daughter Joy rolled her first d20!
This past Sunday, we got the whole gang together (Brian, Cal, Jeff Franz, and Nick) to continue where we left off in my long-running World of Samoth campaign. 

For what's come before, check this list of all of my posts tagged with "World of Samoth", but in particular, this most recent full recap.

I'm going to combine the caps from the past two sessions since I never really wrote one for our session back in May. 

     The 21st of Saarh, 504 D.E. (Dorrenic Era), Arile, Esoría

While Jeremi was being accused of heresy and arrested by the Pontifex Rex, Cristobal Arino, for crimes against Ætonism, both Sameer and Sombra chose to stay outside the city walls, drinking at a tavern. Eventually, Sombra left to go seek the help of an apothecary for an analgesic ointment that could sooth the awful "armor rash" he had acquired after Sameer forged a new breastplate for him. [Editor's note: this was how we explained the absence of Sombra's player, Nick, from the May session].

Meanwhile, Shao, curious about Western culture, used his abundant step ability to bypass the city walls and look around. He soon discovered someone tailing him and did his best to lose the tail. He eventually returned to meet up with Sameer, and they later discovered that they were also being followed, perhaps by the same person who had been following Shao earlier. The two comrades set up a quick trap and cut-off the potential assassin and attempted to question him. The assassin was in some sort of disguise and chose death rather than to reveal who had hired him, and Sameer disaptched him quickly and with honor. On his death, the assassin seemed to change back to his natural form, that of some sort of crow-man, a legendary race from Shao's homeland in the exotic East. 

The two comrades then searched quickly for Sombra, who had not returned at the appointed rendezvous time.  They tracked down the apothecary where Sombra had purchased his ointment, and the proprietor stated that Sombra had, in fact, been there earlier, but he had not seen him since.  He also mentioned news of the heretic priest who had been captured and was to be tried and executed in the square in front of the basillica the next day.  The two heroes realized that it was quite probably their fellow adventurer, Jeremi, and then Sameer had a chat with Shao to explain his past interactions with Jeremi and why he thought it might be a good idea to try to rescue him. Shao, for his part, had not had many interactions with the members of the Company, having just joined with them, but eventually decided that trying to rescue Jeremi was the right thing to do.

     The 22nd of Saarh, 504 D.E. (Dorrenic Era), Arile, Esoría

Dawn seemed to come much too early for Jeremi, as he waited in his cell.  He had been stripped of his holy symbols and material components, but unbeknownst to his jailers, he would have been able to escape at any time suing the arcane magic from his mother's side of the family. However, he chose to face his accuser and plead his case in front of the public, hoping to turn them over to his way of thinking.

Sameer and Shao blended into the crowd, weapons stowed but ready to strike when needed. Arino sat at the top of a high 20 dias, lounging on a luxurious golden and be-jeweled throne, and with his robes of office draped regally on his noble figure. He was surrounded by a group of hand-picked guards, including one hulking captain who appeared to have some sort of giant blood in him, as well as two lightly armed and armored attendants. While Arino's herald read the charges against Jeremi, the heretic priest was tied to the stake some two hundred feet away from Arino. Even at this distance, Arino's and his herald's voices rang clear through the noise of the crowd. Jeremi was also able to see, to his astonishment, that on some tables behind Arino were displayed some of the evil artifacts that he and his comrades had discovered in the Bane Vault in distant Verundhi, and which they thought had been secreted away when they closed the gate that tied the Bane Vault to our world.

Jeremi of course plead his innocence, claiming that he acted on his own authority regarding the will of Æton, not on the church's authority, but this concept seemed to difficult for most of the crowd to grasp. Jeremi asked to be allowed to prove his innocence, and Arino indulged him by allowing Jeremi's hands to be untied, whereupon Jeremi cast a simple healing spell as an attempt to prove to the peasants in the crowd that Æton had not forsaken him. The peasants in the crowd, however, were unaware of what was happening, and Arino used this uncertainty to his advantage - his herald declared that Jeremi had tried to attack the Pontifex Rex, rightful ruler of the Ætonist church, and that the heretic must be destroyed. Arino, meanwhile, cast a Silence spell on the two attendants standing near him, who they proceeded to move with seeming unearthly speed toward Jeremi. Shao noticed that their movements reminded him of the monasteries where he had been taught the mystic and martial arts in the East. 

Sameer quickly and secretly cast a spell to reverse the Silence spell on the two monks, thereby preventing them from stifling Jeremi's spellcasting abilities.  He and Shao jumped over the barricades to Jeremi's defense while the peasants began to flee and a general panic ensued.  Sameer dispatched the two monks relatively quickly, while Jeremi hung back, lobbing ranged attacked spells on Arino from a distance. Shao, in the meantime, used his mystic abundant step ability once again to appear on the throne behind Arino and engaged him in hand-to-hand combat. Arino was ready and cast a powerful spell that dropped Shao nearly dead immediately. The giant-blooded guard captain, meanwhile, charged to Jeremi but was intercepted by Sameer, who cast Righteous Might to increase his combat capabilities. Jeremi, too, cast a powerful spell that enveloped him in a magic visage of the Most Hallowed Prophet, Dorren, founder of the Ætonist church. He and Arino then took turns calling down flame strikes on each other, and then each healing himself in order to stay in the fight.

All of Arino's guards, including the giant-blooded captain, were eventually defeated, and Arino realized that he was outmatched by Jeremi and his warrior companion. Arino did attempt to persuade Sameer to stand down and turn himself in for judgment, but Sameer politely refused and struck down the leader of Universal Ætonism on earth.

In the confusion and the aftermath, Jeremi summoned as many local priests as he could find and asked them to attempt to Detect Evil on Arino's corpse. Roughly half of the priests who did agreed that Arino did seem to be evil, but the other half claimed that Jeremi must have done manipulated things to prove his innocence. Jeremi's former cohort, Estacio, also showed up with a contingent of warriors, mentioning that he was in Arile and had rushed to the scene of the planned execution to help his former master as soon as he could. 

Estacio mentioned briefly that while the Company had been gone in the Lugalate of Nur and in the Free and Independent City of Ryn, the war between  Esoría and Courrisseux had escalated, to catastrophic casualties on both sides. The Imperial Theocracy and its dwarven army, the Tharría Imperia, had entered the war on the side of Courrisseux, and the Rijnbösch Republic was preparing its navy to make a coastal strike on the western part of Esoría. Estacio mentioned that the tactics on each side had gotten better and more viscous, and there were rumors about new military leadership on either side of the conflict. 

Although Jeremi wanted to immediately to go inside the Basillica to face the Ætonist Council and figure out the aftermath of his actions by being party to the execution of the Pontifex Rex, Sameer and the recently healed Shao advocated for a quick exit in order to find out what had happened to their friend and companion, Sombra. 

The three adventurers eventually discovered that Sombra had been captured by perhaps the most famous bounty hunger of the age, Pirro ("Red-Headed"), a half-elf who works for anyone for the right price. The adventurers tracked Pirro down at an inn, where he had holed up to await making a safe exit from the city un-noticed, in order to deliver Sombra to his employer, alive. The Company convinced Pirro that he could still honor his contract by delivering Sombra, but that they would like to accompany him as well to the final meeting place. They, and Sombra, both assumed that the Radillar family were behind Sombra's capture, and it may be time to face the powerful family once and for all. Pirro accepted, seeing no need to get into a fight with three seasoned adventurer. They also got the impression that Pirro really didn't look very favorably upon his employers that had hired him to track Sombra halfway around the world.

NEXT TIME: Sombra and the Company versus the Radillar family... or worse?

So, a few things happened during the last two sessions that I felt kind of bad about. One was that, in the last session this past Sunday, my friend Nick drove all the way from Thousand Oaks to my friend Brian's house in Glendale to play D&D (which is about at least a 45 minute drive), but since his character, Sombra, had been captured in the previous session and was not involved in the combat with Jeremi and Arino, he actually never got to play. He just patiently sat there waiting and the combat (and requisite chit-chat about movies, work, etc.) took way longer than I had anticipated, leaving Nick with nothing to do. About 45 minutes before we were supposed to wrap-up, Nick mentioned that he was going to be leaving soon and I felt awful, as I had completely lost track of time. So, I tried to wrap things up quickly in order to try to involve Nick before we ended. 

The second thing I felt bad about was the "end" of Arino, who has been an NPC in my campaign since pretty much the very first session way back in May of 2001. I don't feel bad that he died - I wasn't really attached to him. But, his death just seemed a bit anticlimactic for someone who had lasted so long in the campaign. He just sort of... died. Got struck down by a falchion. No grand speeches, no glorious back-up contingency plans... nothing. I did have him try to talk his way out of the situation and had a momentary thought of letting the group take him captive and turn the tables by having him tried for crimes against Ætonism, but it just didn't seem to be in his character to allow that to happen to himself. Jeremi never confronted Arino directly - they each stay far away from each other and just used ranged attack spells, so there was no big "movie-type scene" where the two combatants come face-to-face and stare each other down, each determined to win the fight.

There are lots of things that need to be worked out next time, not the least of which is - what is the Company planning to do with the evil artifacts that Arino had on the tables behind him? They high-tailed it out of there pretty quickly after Arino's death. Why did Arino have the artifacts, and how did he get them? Was he evil before he got the artifacts, or did they corrupt him? Who is really behind the capture of Sombra, and how did they find him after he's been gone for 10 years or more?

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: tap water
Listening: "Welcome to Jamrock" by Damien Marley

Monday, July 23, 2012

(Hopefully) There and Back Again

My old copy of the Hobbit, on the shelf with other Tolkien
and Middle Earth books.
A few weeks ago, one of the fellow bloggers I follow online, Peter Schweighofer mentioned how he was reading The Hobbit to his young toddler son. I asked him on Google+ how old his son was, because (as most of you know), I'm the proud dad to a recently-turned 3 year-old girl, and I've been wanting to read her Tolkien's book pretty much since before she was even born.

Peter mentioned that his son was 2 1/2 and they just started reading it, so I I figured that my daughter is probably old enough.

In preparation, a few days before her birthday, I told her that I had a special surprise for her on her birthday,  but it was something that I would share with her that night before she went to bed. My plan was to read her a page or two every night before she went to sleep, which is slightly messing up her nighttime ritual - typically my wife reads her a story before her bath time, and then she takes her bath, brushes and flosses her teeth, and then comes to get me in the living room where I'm enjoying a much deserved beer, glass of wine, or Scotch after having done all of the dinner dishes (and usually cooked the dinner, too, at least on work nights).  Then I help tuck her in to bed. 

But, I remembered back when my wife was pregnant with my daughter, that I sometimes would read The Hobbit late at night when my wife was having trouble sleeping due to some pregnancy pains she was experiencing. I guess she finds my voice "soothing" (aka, "boring") and it usually helped her to fall asleep pretty quickly. As a result, we never even made it past the first chapter, because my wife couldn't stay awake long enough. But, I always imagined that some of the story got through to my daughter subconsciously. 

A few Sundays ago, on her birthday, I reminded her of the special treat I had planned, and after she was all bathed and with clean teeth, she came to get me and I took her back to her room and her mom and I get her put into her PJs and then I put her in bed and brought out my old, yellowed copy of the book, which is technically my sister's copy (it even has her name written on the inside front-cover) but that she gave to me when she finished it. I explained to Joy how I remember reading the book as a young boy, although I was older than her - probably about 9 or so, as I remember reading it during the Summer between 4th and 5th Grades while staying at my grandma's house. I would hide under the covers at night with a flashlight to read because I was so excited by the book and didn't want to put it down. My grandma caught me a few times and chastised me in that way that basically let you know that it was okay as long as mom didn't find out.

Joy's eyes were wide and I began to read the book to her.  "In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit..."

It's been about two weeks since we started, and we haven't read it every day. I've moved from reading it at night time, which was just too disruptive to her normal night time ritual, to reading it in the morning at the breakfast table after I finish my breakfast and am drinking my coffee, while Joy finishes her breakfast.  She is more awake and alert at this time, anyway, and I find that she remembers more of the story this way. Plus, I had the thought that there are some scary parts that might not be good to read to her right before bedtime. 

Each day I read to her, I ask her if she remembers what was going on, to help her try to use her memory. She has a very vague idea of the story, but at certain times, she's really surprised me. I constantly test her on the names of the dwarves, and she can't remember all 13, but she gotten good at remembering Fili, Kili, and "Glower" (aka "Gloin"). She asks me from time to time if they are good guys or bad guys, and also if there are any girl dwarves. She remembers Bilbo's name, and also that Gandalf is a wizard. At one point, I was quite impressed as we read - we had just finished the scene where the dwarves came to Bilbo's house and sang about how their treasure was taken by Smaug the dragon, and Joy announced that "I think they are going to ask Bilbo to go with them to get their treasure back."  Pretty darn clever for a three year-old, if you ask me. 

We just finished Chapter 2 this morning, and Joy is quite proud of the fact that she is farther in the book than her mommy ever got. She recognized that the trolls were "like the guy under the bridge on Dora," although we had to explain that the troll on Dora was a nice troll, whereas these trolls in The Hobbit were not that nice. 

Joy, like pretty much all toddlers, has absolutely no concept of ideas of killing and dying and so forth, so there are parts of the story that she's not grasping, and only once or twice I've altered a word here or there to make it more relatable to her.  I also stop semi-frequently to define words for her. Sometimes she asks me to, and other times I just stop and ask her "do you know what 'punctual' means?" She now knows it means "don't be late!"

I'm having a blast reading the book to my daughter- not only is it one of my favorite stories ever, but it's so much fun to "see" it through her eyes and her toddler's way of looking at the world. It's also a great refresher to read prior to Peter Jackson's movies coming out later this year. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

First (Character) Loves

In my quest recently to clean my home-based office, where I run my boutique ad agency from, I came across my old plastic file cabinet into which I had stored a bunch of old gaming notes, stretching back to when I first got started playing RPGs back around 1983.

I have a strange habit that I pretty much never throw anything out - at least, not things that I have created. I'm great at throwing out junk mail, receipts, paper bills (since I pay them online), catalogs... I'm fine with getting rid of those, because I absolutely hate clutter. However, I've always had an aversion to throwing out anything that I've made myself, including stories written for school projects, old sketch pads with drawings dating all the way back to 4th and 5th grade, and more. This little quirk includes my gaming notes, so as a consequence, at one point, I filed every character sheet, every map, and notes for every game I tried to create, all into a neat little folders and then put those into a big plastic file box when my wife and I bought our house about five years ago.  When I did the filing, I came across things that I hadn't seen in 20 years or more, but we were busy in "putting stuff away mode", so I didn't really get to take much of a trip down memory lane. I just filed them away and stored the box in the office, and kind of forgot about it.

As I mentioned, I'm trying to clean my office a bit because it's gotten somewhat out of control, and while doing so, I came across the box, and had a feeling of nostalgia that I'm sure many gamers have gotten when coming across that long forgotten box of gaming materials, whether it's a copy of the 1st Edition Dungeon Masters Guide, the Moldvay Basic D&D Set complete with box, or the original three Traveler books.  

For my part, I've actually always kept all of my purchased game books and boxes neatly on my bookshelves in every house and apartment I've ever lived in, and I've referred to them constantly over the years as reading and inspirational material. Although I enjoy them, because I've had access to them so frequently, they don't necessarily evoke feelings of nostalgia in me. Instead, my feeling of nostalgia came from finding my old notes that I wrote, on the back of ancient dot-matrix printer paper that my dad had brought him from his office for my sister and me to use as scratch paper.

While going through the box a few days ago, I came across my very first character sheet for Moldvay Basic D&D - the first iteration of the game I started with. My character's name was Dovirr, and he was a fighter. That's a trend that I've continued pretty much up to today - I tend to prefer fighter-types over magic-using types for some reason.

Dovirr was Lawful and had some absolutely amazing stats which clearly did not come from rolling 3d6 - the DM for the game, a guy named John Stireman (who was also the guy who taught me the game in the first place), assigned me my stats after I picked my character, so I technically wasn't "cheating."

In my odd handwriting mix of printing and cursive (another habit which continues for me even today), I see that he had a "normal sword" and something called a "sheild" which is odd because I've always considered myself a good speller.

I also like that he has the standard adventurer's gear that people often forget to note on their sheets these days - 30' of rope, a water/wine skin, exactly 6 torches, a "gold cross" (I remember that I didn't really understand how religion worked in the game but I just assumed that he was probably some kind of knight, like a King Arthur type, and so probably would have a cross), a lantern, and one of my favorite touches, a "key (found)".

Also, miraculously at 1st level, I had already amassed a "gem of true seeing" and a "di genie" that would fight for me on command. I also had an invisibility jewel that I could use up to 10 times. John had a great imagination, as I remember, and I'm sure made up quite a few things like this in the games he ran.

I remember being so excited to create this character sheet by hand (we didn't really have access to a photocopy machine and goodness knows we couldn't afford to actually buy pre-printed character sheets).  The yellow marking on the top isn't actually from the sheet itself - that's from my scanner, which has clearly seen better days.  However, I kind of like it - it makes the JPEG look old and weathered.

I also remember keeping exact track of Dovirr's coins, every item he picked up along his travels, his languages, and his gear.  I was very much a "by the book" type of player, to the point that at one juncture I told John that if he continued to allow another player in the game, a magic-user, to use a mace (which was forbidden by the rules - magic-users could only use daggers or staves), that I would quit the game  in protest. John's very curt answer was, "Go ahead." That was one of my first life lessons in not being a jerk and demanding that things be exactly the way that I thought they should be, but it has been a hard habit to break. I still have a very deep sense of "This is how things are supposed to work, so why can't people adhere to the rules?" streak in me.

Mostly, I fondly remember playing Dovirr during class with John. We would pass notes back and forth and I'm sure I still have some of the notes somewhere (probably filed in the box).

Dovirr never made it past 1st level. We only played Moldvay Basic for a short period of time, and John was a little stingy with giving out XP at that time, so even after a few sessions, I was still slogging it out as a 1st level Veteran.  Then we moved on to AD&D and I didn't play B/X D&D again until just a few weeks ago (using Labyrinth Lord rules).  After I discovered AD&D as a kid, I felt that Dovirr was just too, well... basic. With AD&D, I could be a half-elf ranger or a gnome illusionist or a half-orc assassin or all kinds of cool things that just seemed more grown-up and sophisticated than poor little Dovirr with his gold cross and his Lawful alignment.

Looking back, I kind of miss Dovirr. It'd be interesting to know what kinds of adventures he would  have gone on had I kept playing him all those years ago.  As it is, I like to think that he tired of the adventuring life, even though he was only a 1st level Veteran, and he retired to a life of relative peace and tranquility as the owner of a pub somewhere near the Keep on the Borderlands. Perhaps one of your characters will come across him one day.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Old School AD&D Game II - 6/29/2012 Recap

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I'm running an Old-School AD&D adventure for the Friday Night "Beer & Pizza" gaming group I'm a part of.

I finally decided on using Labyrinth Lord along with the Advanced Edition Companion as our system, and I'm already liking it better than using OSRIC, like I did last time I ran an old AD&D Adventure. That's nothing against OSRIC at all - I actually think it does almost too good of a job of cloning 1st Edition AD&D, and I just decided that for this game, I don't want all of that baggage.

I made pre-generated characters for the group, and when creating them, I knew I liked Labyrinth Lord already. I hadn't played B/X D&D since way back in around 1983 or so, and I'd forgotten how "simple" a system it is. I'm so used to stuff like Pathfinder, which I do like, but more and more I'm finding that on a Friday night after a long week of work while drinking a few beers and joking around with the gang, a more open and flexible system like Labyrinth Lord or even Savage Worlds is more my speed. I was able to create game mechanics of the characters extremely quickly - all five were done in less than 20 minutes. The backgrounds and equipment took a bit longer.

The group is going through the old module S4: Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, which I'd kept secret from the group, and interestingly enough at the end of the first session, I discovered that one of the players has actually run this adventure before back when it first came out. he claims that he doesn't remember it, which sounded pretty accurate since after an entire session he didn't realize he'd DM'd it before until I just mentioned the name of the module before we left.

Here's a quick recap and background of the first session.  If you ever want to play through this adventure, then I guesss this is the obligatory SPOILER ALERT alarm. You've been warned.

Module: S4: The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth
System: AD&D, by way of Labyrinth Lord and the Advanced Edition Companion 
Number of Players: Five (Brian, Cal, Jeff Franz, Nick, and Sean)
Session 1: 6/29/2012; 7:00pm - 1:30am (actual D&D time roughly 8:45pm - 11:15pm)
Food: Two extra large pizzas, Klondike mint-chip bars
Drinks: Tap Room #21 Lager, Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA, Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA, Boatswain Chocolate Stout, Coca-Cola, Water
Other Games Played: Bohnanza


Adventuring Group: The Lucky Fools & Gloaters

Dolok, Human Druid (Brian): Dolok is one of the wolf-nomads, and thanks to something that Arkhein from Rather Gamey mentioned on Google+ the other day, I made Dolok a cannibal essentially. His tribe of the Wolf Nomads comes from right near the border of Iuz where there is an undead infestation, but there are no clerics among his people, so they have adopted the habit of eating the corpses of anything they kill in order to prevent the body being used to create an undead creature. To help with this, Dolok has filed his teeth and keeps his finger nails very sharp. He usually have bloodstains on his mouth and hands, frightening most people and giving him a bonus to intimidate people if he chooses. However, people are so scared of him that he finds it difficult to bond with people.

Lord Flemin Ormstraad Corond, Dwarf (Cal): Lord Flemin is the third cousin, twice removed, of Prince Olinstaad Corond, leader of the Principality of Ulek. Lord Flemin does not have a lot of "official" duties, but is well-known as a consumer of large quantities of ale. He's been sent away from Ulek to learn new scientific techniques which can better his people, and so far he has amassed several notebooks worth of new brewing technique to share with his cousin when he returns. The combination of his drunken slur and very bad accent makes him difficult to understand, and many of the adventurers wonder why they had to outsource the job of "dwarf" to someone from Ulek instead of getting somebody from Irongate or Sunndi. Lord Flemin carries a unique magic item - a ring that will talk to him and offer suggestions if magic-items are sacrificed to it. When it speaks, it uses a confusing language full of terms that Flemin doesn't understand, but he trusts it enough to have sacrificed a Staff of the Woodlands and a +5 Suit of Elvin Chainmail to it so far.

Benedictus, Human Cleric (Jeff): Benedictus is a follower of Fharlanghn, god of Horizons, Distances, Roads, and Travel. He prays religiously every morning before setting out to adventure. He drinks honey straight from the jar several times a day. I'll have more to say about Benedictus as we continue but I'd rather than it reveal itself naturally through adventuring since most of my players read this blog.

Andrezi Ionacu, Half-Elf Ne'er-do-Well (Nick): [The first thing Nick did was decide the Andrezi Ionacu was his "human" name, and asked people to instead call him Estian Darkstar]. Estian is the son of a Valle Elf and one of the "wise women" of the Rhennee, who are the equivalent of "river Gypsies" in Greyhawk. He is not trusted by either culture due to his mixed heritage, and took to taking on odd-jobs to learn as much as he could. He is usually considered the leader of the Merry Fools & Gloaters. He gets along extremely well with the ladies and adventures with a few apprentices, all of them female. However, most men find him annoying and nothing more than a fop or dandy. He is a strict vegetarian, and carries a handkerchief with him that he uses to constantly wipe off Dolok's mouth.

Weslocke, Elf (Sean): Weslocke is a "Red Elf" from a far-off land, and has explained that his people died off long ago, and he is one of the last of his kind. Skilled with both the blade and with magic. He carries himself as though he had military training. Once again, there is a lot more behind this character, but it will have to come out during the actual game.

The adventurers received a notice from His Lotfy Grace, Walgar, the Margrave of Bissell, asking if they would be willing to be hired for a dangerous mission in the Yatil mountains, ostensibly to recover an ancient artifact rumored to be somewhere in the mountains.

The five seasoned adventurers, along with their hirelings and porters, traveled to Bissell and met with the Margrave in a fortress near the capital of Thornward. As the leader of a border kingdom constantly on the brink of war, Walgar did not stand on ceremony, but got right to the point, explaining how, in the past, the evil arch-mage Iggwilv had imprisoned the demon lord Graz'zt into her service and carved out a powerful empire for herself, based in an elaborate system of caverns that were supposedly located in the Yatil Mountains. Graz'zt eventually freed himself and Iggwilv was defeated, and her caverns looted. However, some of her treasured is still rumored to be in the caverns, although the location of the caverns has been lost. The Margrave wishes the Merry Fools & Gloaters to recover one particular item, Daoud's Magical Lanthorn. All of the rest of the magic found within the caverns would be theirs to keep, along with all of the coin, minus a 15% tax, if they can recover the lanthorn for him.

While this was being explained, several servants came into the room to wait on the Margrave's guests. All of the women chose to wait on Estian to the exclusion of all of the other guests, leaving one lone halfling to cater to the needs of the other members of the Merry Fools & Gloaters. The hafling ran away screaming from Dolok, fetched about three or four pints of ale for Flemin, and then watched Benedictus down a jar of honey and ask for more.

Estian proferred Lord Flemin as the leader of the adventurers in order to agree to the terms of the contract, but the Margrave mentioned that he had trouble understanding the dwarf, and therefore Estian took over the negotiations, with assistance from Flemin. The adventurers refused the pay the 15% tax, mentioning that now that they knew of the existence of the caverns and the magical lanthorn, there was really nothing stopping them from going on their own and keeping everything for themselves, including the lanthorn. The Margrave mumbled something under his breath about a plot hole and eventually begrudgingly agreed to let the adventures keep all that they could carry out of the caverns, and that once it had been cleared, he would recover the rest.

In front of the group, a drunken Flemin produced a powerful Staff of the Woodlands from his pack and sacrificed it to his ring, asking his ring "Is there a chance that Graz'zt is still in the caverns?" [Or it was something to this effect - I forget exactly how he asked.] A female voice from the ring said, "Hang on, I'll get him" and then a few minutes later, a male voice from the ring said something akin to, "No way, dude. He want back to the Abyss. But you never know where he could turn up."

Benedictus seemed a bit upset - he had been pushing to go to the caverns when he had though the demon lord might be trapped inside. Begrudgingly, he finally agreed to go, along with the rest of the Merry Fools and Gloaters.

The Margrave provided a scant map of the area, along with horses, some guides, and a few weeks' worth of rations and bade the adventurers to hurry so that the magic items inside the caverns did not fall into the hands of Perrenland, Ket, or Iuz.

The adventurers rode to the starting place on the map, and having no definite idea of where to go, Flemin again surprised the group by producing a suit of magical elven chainmail and sacrificing it to his ring again to ask the ring which path they should take. After a few seconds, a voice was heard to say, "No way! Look where they are!" and then the first voice from the previous consultation with the ring said, "I know, right? That's crazy!" This type of banter between the two voices went on for quite a while, with one voice mentioning something about "high enough level" and the other commenting that "I'm sure they'll be fine." Eventually the ring attempted to answer the question Flemin posed, which was "Which way should we go?" The Ring answered "I don't know, Dude. I haven't been this far before. But you should totally watch out for some crazy stuff coming up. If there's like a landslide or something, do not hesitate. You gotta get outta there. Good luck, Dude!"

Flemin grumbled about the good-for-nothing ring that didn't answer his questions, but then the adventurers had a good idea - Dolok could transform into an eagle and fly above the area depicted on the map to let the group know what was ahead and more importantly, where the entrance to the lost caverns might be found.

Dolok complied and after about a 15 minute break while various players took out their iPads and looked up how far an eagle could fly on an average day, Dolok scouted ahead. At one point, he was chased by a group of giant eagles who thought their eggs were being threatened. He also saw a group of hippogryphs, several patrols of men and humanoids, and a gnomish vale. His aerial reconnaissance completed, Dolok flew back to the group to report his findings, and they began to plot out their next move.

[At this point, we stopped playing D&D for the evening. One of the guys went home, and the rest of us hung out for a bit, chit-chatting and then playing a game of Bohnanza.]

The recap of the second session is here

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Water
Listening: "Fran-Dance (Alternate Take)" by Miles Davis

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