Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Missed Session and I avoid the TPK

TPK is short for Total Party Kill.

Two weeks ago, I was away on business so missed the game. It also meant missing the XP and getting up to 3rd level.

This week I was ready to go and made the mistake of thinking, "Man, wouldn't it be awesome to take a nap and be super charged for the game?"

After the nap my body was like, "No son, that's no nap, it's actually time to go to sleep." While my back pain has been more manageable, at the end of the week, it catches up to me quite a bit and rest is good. I'm also still recovering from the actual trip out of state.

So I let my friends know I wouldn't be making it and promptly fell back asleep.

Next day, the text. "TPK."

Turns out that there were some failed stealth rolls, some villains played intelligently, some lack of information among the players, and well, my friend running the Hoard of the Dragon Queen, got to have his first TPK in 5th edition.

When I was running the Mines adventure from the starter set, when the party was in the tower and the dragon breathed on them twice, thanks to letting a player reroll the 'charge' on the breath weapon, it was almost a TPK.

But this was a true TPK.

So now the DM is allowing everyone to make new characters starting at 2nd level, the level which I'm currently at.

I can't complain too much as I missed two sessions.

At this point, the people who wanted the 'Blood and Steel' critical hits might be rethinking things as one of them lost an arm to an attack. He then tried to hide in shadows and the GM is very "no nonsense" as he had the guards just follow the blood trail and finish off the hiding rogue.

It's just like those who voted against it said, "the number of attacks coming against the players is always going to be greater than those the players make." The sheer number of attacks, from the lowest level weaklings to the most powerful elements in the game, have the ability to strike critical hits. In such a situation, the players will always lose.

On the other hand, 5th edition characters are much easier to make, manage and level up than previous editions. Still, it would be nice to have some official character generators for the game to make it even easier if you know what I mean.

For other players out there, have you had any recent TPKs? Was it something stupid? Something that the party could have avoided?

How does the GM handle bringing in new characters? Same level? One level behind? Start at first regardless of the levels involved? Something else?

Me? I'll be curious to see what the group dynamic is now. Despite the threat of critical hits, it looks like the group is making more up front fighter types as opposed to what was in the party before. It'll be interesting to see for sure.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Maysville Kentucky: Part II: The Foods

So travelling to Maysville Kentucky for a week required work to, you know, pay for food and stuff. There are a couple of different ways companies handle this. For the hotel and transportation, the company paid for that through a company card used by our team leader. Good deal right?

For the food, they gave us cash. So much per day.

Then I forgot the cash at home.


When I eat when I'm out of the city, I try to go to places I wouldn't normally eat at when home.

On the way out to Maysville, we stopped at a gas station with a ton of different places. I wandered over to Larosa. It's a pizza chain not native to Chicago and it's nearby regions. I had a three meat personal pizza. Very good.

One of my friends had a half-sandwich and salad. He enjoyed the salad but almost wept when he saw the sandwich due to its puny size. He's used to eating at a local place by work called Eastern Style Pizza with its massive (both in size and cost) grinders.

Once we got to Maysville, there was talk of stopping at Walmart to purchase good so that we could save the cash given to us.

I spent a few bucks and sent my goods home with one of my friends. See the team leader wanted to watch a Black Hawks game. He's like, "Hey dudes, it's on at 6:00 PM so show up!" He decided to go to Applebee's.

M'eh. I've eaten at Applebee's many a time. It's not the worst food on earth or anything but it's also by far not the best. I had fish and chips and the blondie for desert.

The next day though, I decided to have a turkey and cheese sandwich as that was the foodstuff i had purchased from Walmart. My friends wanted to go out and eat. Kind of defeated the purpose of going to Walmart if you ask me.

I also picked up some Belvita snacks. They were for work along with some power bars. They made an edible if unimaginative lunch for most of my time down there.

I did break down and go to Big Boy for lunch one day when I forgot my power bars.

Big Boy is another chain, this one a hamburger one, that is not native to the Chicago region. Fair food. Better than McDonald's and a nice atmosphere.

We wanted to take in at least a little of the 'local' cuisine so went to Bluelicks Battlefield or something of that nature. One of the guys who'd been out to Maysville before told us how great it was.

He was dead wrong. It was a tiny buffet style dinner with very dried chicken and mediocre mashed potatoes. Only saving grace was the apple pie was good. But $20 for apple pie, especially when drinks, like soda, are not included? We didn't go there again.

Last day there I picked up a few things of the alcoholic nature and finished off a 4 pack of Kentucky Ale.

There was some hard liquor purchased as well but I haven't gotten around to that one yet. Saving it. I'm afraid I can't really drink on a weekday if it's 'the good stuff' because like the old song goes, the more I drink, the more I drink, the more I drink.

On the way out, we stopped at the Waffle House.

Looks like this is another chain. It was across from a McDonald's. I was surprised at how busy the McDonald's was considering how good the Waffle House signature waffle's were. On the other hand, I paid extra for the country ham and it was so salty I could not finish it. If I can't finish something you know there's problems.

If I had brought cash, I might have spent more. Might have spent some time in the nearby bars or gone into downtown for the steak house I'd heard good things about.

Still, there's always next time!

It was good to try out a few new chains and to see what the local were eating.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Maysville Kentucky Trip Part One: The Books I read

I found myself recently having to do to Maysville Kentucky for work.

During that trip, I managed to finish reading two nonfiction books that I'd been dragging feet on.

The first was The Black Swan. A book from author Nassim Nicholas Taleb that talks about the unexpected.

It's a nice read for the most part. There are a few bits where he gets into some math theory that I was like "What?" but the majority of the book was enjoyable.

One of the things I like is that he talks about a LOT of different things on his roundabout way of looking at the unexpected.

For example, he talks about how when many companies merge that things run smoother. Until they don't. And because these companies are now merged and under one umbrella, when something happens, it usually has a much larger impact.

Like say banks failing due to some crisis or another? Yeah... he's good.

So good that in between when I bought this and read it, he's come out with a second edition.


Seems to be a problem I have where I pick up an interesting book, read it, and then the second edition is already out. It'll be a while before I get to that as Nassim has several other books out that I'd like to read over.

Another example of things that were 'thought' provoking if you will, is the author noting that after the unexpected thing happens, how quickly we are to narrate a story of how if someone had seen X, Y, and Z, that it could have been stopped or prevented. The need to craft stories out of failure is powerful.

The second book I read was the Loyalty Effect.  The Loyalty Effect is written by Frederick F Reichheld. I picked this one up after reading Firms of Endearment. Another book I had finished recently that just came out with a second edition.

Reading the Loyalty Effect, I imagine that it too will have a second edition in the near future. It's about 20 years out of date in terms of the data its relying on to make its points.

It's main points though?

That corporations profit when they have a chain of loyalty going on.

1. Loyalty to the employee. That's a shocker eh? When you treat the employee right and give them motivation and the employee is a good fit for the company, it actually pays out more to the company to keep such employees, even during tough times than sacking them for short term profits.

2. Loyalty to the customer: A lot of this is in providing value to the costumer. Mind you, much like I say that the employee has to be a good fit for the company in #1 above, the same is true here. It's not that you want to bend over backwards for any costumer, but if you can keep your customers happy and keep them coming back? It's a profit generating machine.

3. Loyalty to the company: This one is a little more difficult for me to put into words because the book notes that when you are a publically held company, the pressure is always on to make those short term goals but in essence, you don't want to ruin what makes the company one which earned the loyalty of customers and employees because then you're investors are going to abandon you anyway because you're not going to be turning the profits you were when you were taking care of 1 and 2 in the first place.

Some good reading and I was glad to finish them off and get some new books into the click.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Ivy From Ax Faction Miniatures

During the course of my back pain, my ability to paint miniatures has varied tremendously. Sometimes I would be unable to sit for more than a few minutes without pain.

Reading also took a slight hit as sometimes the pain killers would give me the dreaded 'fuzzy' thinking.

But I'm almost back to normal now.

Sadly that means I'm back to work full time which cuts into my hobby time.

But nonetheless, I'm sneaking in a miniature review of Ivy, a member of a group called the Siege Breakers from Ax Faction Miniatures. Their website is normal in most aspects but the default sound being on needs to be shut off and returned to the 80's where it belongs.

One of the things I like, is that there are finished painted miniatures on the site. I find things go much quicker for me when painting if I have at least a basis to start the painting off of. Unoriginal sure but also hugely time savings when I'm trying to knock out some of the backlog.

For example, Ivy's paint job from the Ax Faction Miniature site:

Also of note is that there are several views of the character, not just one from one side. Gives the viewer a better appreciation for the miniature as well as the great paintjob applied to it.

There is a fair amount of cheesecake with the figures, but there are also some practical designs as well.

I ordered Ivy with a few other figures. One of those that I'll shortly have a review of, is a giant elk with a rider. I bought that figure specifically as I was running a 5th edition campaign in the River Kingdoms located in the Paizo Pathfinder setting and thought it would make a great random encounter.

Ivy herself though, is part of a group called the Siege Breakers consisting of two female warriors and a 'fuzzy' creature that reminds me of Rocket Racoon from Guardians of the Galaxy. If fuzzy, aka Brig, wasn't a member of the group, I might have ordered the group as opposed to just Ivy.

Their newest group, the Defenders, looks like it's more up my alley in terms of all the characters.

Figures arrived quickly. Packaging
was top notch. They come in boxes with wrap and plastic over the figure to keep it all together. Glad to report no damage. The packaging also came with numerous bits like art and a button. I snapped a picture so you can see what I'm talking about below.

Opening the box... Ivy comes with a round lipped base and an precast designed insert. Saves you a few dollars if you like specialized bases from places like Dragon Forge or Secret Weapon.

Ivy is a gray resin figure. the details are very clean with minimal clean up. The figures comes in the following pieces:

1. Round lip base 30mm
2. Base insert.
3. Crossbow.
4. Quiver.
4. Left arm.
5. Main body.

The 'loose' pieces are all attached to one sprue. Makes it easy to keep them together when prepping the figure.

Figure assembly was reasonable save for the hand to crossbow bit. Now for experienced modellers or those who are pros will have no problem. I also didn't necessarily put everything in exactly the position it 'looked' like

In terms of height and compatibility, Ivy is a towering figure. In the above, we have a mercenary from Privateer Press, Ivy herself, an old metal figure from Malifaux and a Reaper metal miniature. Ivy easily towers over them. The poor Reaper figure, because he doesn't have an integrated round base, almost seems short in comparison.

Further note, both the Privateer Press and Malifaux miniature are on raised bases so they have another height advantage and still don't match Ivy's height.

I've given Ivy a white primer as I thought it might stand out more against the gray resin. Might go with a darker gray next time.

When looking for miniatures for your own games, what's the first thing you look for? Any other companies that are offering great service these days?

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Fifth Edition: This Time As A Player

The group I'm playing with does round robin style Dungeon Mastering.

Due to my back issues, I completely missed the Story Teller doing the World of Darkness with pretty much everything goes.

Thankfully, after thousands of dollars, two shots in the back, lots of physical therapy, and perhaps another shot to come, my back pain is under control enough that I can sit and stand and go out long enough to play.

The new GM is running the Hoard of the Dragon Queen. I wasn't impressed when I initially read the module but that's okay. I'm not running it so the Dungeon Master can do whatever he likes!

I made a Warlock.

Initially I was going to make a Blade Warlock. The idea seems very cool. Who doesn't want a character that you can form a lightsaber right?

But the mechanics didn't seem to back it. It seems more of a "cool" thing as highly effective.

Part of that goes into the whole dreaded crunch versus fluff. For example, to start off with the warlock, it makes it seem almost like a wizard in their quest for knowledge. But your primary stat is charisma. Probably to represent the bond between caster and pact master. 

But even in the quick build, it's secondary stat is recommended to be constitution.

And if you want to have some effectivity as a warlock with a blade? You'll need strength.

Not going to happen with point buy without some heavy sacrifices in other places.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not such a twink that I can't play such a character.

But I'm also not that interested in min-maxing a character where I need to worry about how best to make a character so I just went with a Warlock that's going to do the whole eldrich blast thing.

I went with the Old Ones pact and the GM is letting me use the default aberrant style baddies in Eberron for it.

He's using a few of the optional subsystems in his game. For example, the passive initiative rule. He's also got the action points going on and is allowing people to use information from the WoTC articles so we have a Warforged in the group.

But he's also using Blood and Steel for critical hits. The old Blood and Steel is a Mayfair supplement for their Role Aids line that was meant to supplement Advanced Dungeons and Dragons back in the day.

It's fantastic if you like horrific combat. It's terrible if you're a player in such a game. It came down to a vote and the people who are against it on the grounds that "monsters are always going to be rolling more dice than characters" lost again "But it's so cool!" and probably a bit of nostalgia since they were in heavy use with the groups I played with back then.

Mind you I was one who voted against them. But that didn't quite matter. Over the course of the game, three critical hits rolled; two against the party, one against some generic monster. Yeah, the prophecy is already coming true.

The GM wants us to have miniatures too. I'm probably going to use this guy:

That's a Bones Miniature, available from Reaper Miniatures unpainted. This particular paint job is from Rich Burge. It's a solid paint job. Mine will not look anywhere near as nice.

On a side note, one of my friends was flipping through his book and a section of multiple pages just feel out. We laughed, he raged and claimed it was the shoddy workmanship of Chinese but a quick read through shows that the book was printed in America. Good job my fellow Americans! He's going to contact WoTC and see if they'll comp him.

So what is everyone else playing or running these days? 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

I vaguely remember seeing the movie Pet Sematary when it first came out in 1989. My recollections of it now, is that it was a mediocre movie. Like many of Stephen King's movies at the time.

I just finished the novel.

What a difference.

Pet Sematary has a small cast and a small local. The action is all relative to the area.

But it's tightly wound and amazingly well structured with every word written seeming to have a sort of inevitable lurch to the next one.

The novel focuses on the Creed family, freshly moved to Ludlow, an off the beaten path haven for raising a family. Save for the nearby road which thunders with heavy truck traffic. Early warnings of both mundane words and supernatural entities is ignored or forgotten until the unthinkable happens and then it gets worse.

In clumsier hands, the tale might have used short cuts to get to the main body of work. That would have been a mistake. One of Stephen King's strengths, or at least here and in other books with a small cast like the Shining, is allowing the build up of how believable the characters and their motivations are.

It's not interested in beating the reading over the head with how vile things are or how gross some particular vision is. Rather, it has a slow wind up that continues to beat the drum of anticipation while giving the readers glimpses into a larger world that has its own plans for the Creed family.

This is hinted at being something much older than the town, much older than America, perhaps older than the people who first lived there, coming from another country altogether. The opportunities to prevent the tragedy that happens, ignored.

To a point though, that brush off of the dangers, isn't natural. The book indicates strongly that everything proceeded as it must, because the power of the 'bad place' was on the rise. That there was no true ability to resist the flow of fate here.

But it's the struggle to do so which makes it a great read. It's the twists and turns that Stephen King puts the Creed family through that make it worthwhile. We get to see the origins of the animosity between Louis Creed and his father in law, and how after years, that when the opportunity to put that in the past arises, that Louis cannot. Not because he doesn't want to, but because it, indeed, the whole relationship with his father in law, is no longer important compare to the thing that Louis must do.

There are numerous instances like that, ranging from when Louis helps explain to his daughter the whole concept of death after visiting the Pet Sematary, to his daughter experiencing what happens when an elderly friend's wife dies to other, closer, more unconscientious horror happening.

As with other Stephen King novels, there is the occasional 'wink' as other work's he's written. For example, while under a sense of dread and driving on little sleep, almost falling asleep at the wheel, Rachel Creed passes the town of Salem's Lot. There were a few of these references in the novel and I'm sure in future novels, if Stephen King continues to write as he did here, there will be mentions of some tragedy happening in this small local.

I highly recommend Stephen King's novel Pet Sematary and hope that one day we'll get a limited series out of it that doesn't have to rush and ruin the mood and build up that the novel so skillfully delivers on.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Empty Throne: Saxon Tales Volume Eight by Bernard Cornwell

The Empty Throne is volume eight in the first person series The Saxon Tales by Bernard Cornwell. The series follows the adventures of a pre-united England through the eyes of pagan raised Uthred.

For those who've read the previous volumes, I'm sad to say, this will be a quick read. The writing flows smoothly with one event flowing into the next until the book is over and you're looking for the next chapter. It's like visiting old friends who may have a few new things to say but whose general personality and demeanor you're going to understand right away.

Uthred continues to make a great person to tell the tale. As a native of England captured as a young age and raised as a pagan, he worships Thor and knows the lore of the 'heathens' but he fights to protect the idea of England, of a united England, from these invaders.

Even as he does that, his very nature and demeanor make him an outcast among those he protects.

Other aspects of Uthred that are well done, include his level of competency. While he's a great swordsman, he's getting older, slower. While he's a great tactician and has cunning far above what his foes usually bring to the table, he doesn't allow for others to be as smart as he and sometimes falls prey to his own overconfidence.

Uthred starts off the novel still in pain from a wound inflicted upon him previously, but uses it to his own advantage, letting others think him weaker and closer to death then he actually is. It's cleverly done but Bernard Cornwell doesn't drag the recovery process out to the end of the novel.

Another unusual thing, is that Uthred is, among his other accomplishments, a father. His 'favorite' son is Uthred. If this wasn't a first person novel that might get a little confusing with two characters having the same name. His daughter, Stiorra, is someone he doesn't know.

Sadly, the reader's don't know her either because she quickly turns out to be quite an interesting character. Sent to a nunnery initially to learn the ways of the Christian God in order to better fit into the evolving society about her, Stiorra instead is much like her father, a pagan and one who is not afraid to get her hands bloody.

I say sadly the reader's don't get to know her because her role in this novel is relatively short and her future unknown to the reader in future volumes. Still, Bernard Cornwell has taken many threads of previous books and continued to weave them through current ones, including some methods of fighting that bring things full circle.

The book includes many of the hallmarks of a Bernard Cornwell book. There is conspiracy, alliances forged and broken, exploration of foreign lands, last minute saves and plans that go horribly awry. The action is fierce, The mood of another era.

If you're a fan of the History Channel's Vikings, The Saxon Tales should be right up your alley.