Thursday, December 17, 2015

Reading For Later: Example

Recently Mike Bourke, @gamewriterMike  on Twitter, asked many gamers for some advice for an article he compiled. I threw in my usual bit of reading and taking notes for future use.

After all, it's kind of what Appendix N is about.

But it's easy to say that. Especially for someone whose still knee deep in non-gaming, heck, non-fiction material, for the most part. Just flippantly offer some advice right?

Here's an actual example from a book I'm currently reading.

Concise Guide to Databases: A Practical Introduction (Undergraduate Topics in Computer Science) is a book I'm reading right now. I use Access and some SQL and I'm interested in learning more about the concepts of big data and all things of that nature. 
 “Religious orders and governments were the first large organizations to gather and actively exploit data to raise revenue. Recorded data has been  known to exist since at least 2800 BC in ancient Egypt….Records were held on limestone flakes and papyrus. The Rosetta Stone, famous for holding the key to translating hieroglyphics (the same information was written in three languages on the stone, one of which could be understood and was used to translate the other two) was created to show a temples exemption from taxes. (pg 3)"

Okay, so if you're building a history of you're setting and wondering why things are the way they are, having real world examples is a great way to expand upon your own campaign. This is talking about thousands of years ago. Now if you add dragons or other creatures who've had their own civilizations, the numbers can become quite larger, but the roots of "civilization" can take place long ago and far away and have reasons for it. Cut to….

"There needed to be data kept in multiple locations. With European colonization of other parts of the world, trading companies had to start keeping data locally as well as at head office. Some of these companies were huge, for example the East India Company came into being in 1600 and by the eighteenth century effectively controlled large parts of India and had its own army and navy."

Okay, a merchant company with it's own army and navy? One that controls it's own nation? Man, that's well worth reading up on or flat out stealing. Player's could work for or against such an entity. They may wind up doing both at some time.

…."It (East India Company) had been blamed in part for triggering American War of Independence (the tea in the Boston tea Party was company stock) and laying the foundation for the First Opium War where Indian opium was used to trade for tea."

So an organization so big that it's partial, if not fully, to blame for multiple wars? Players can easily get caught up in such historical events, or perhaps even cause them. I've known a player or two that wasn't above abusing a game mechanic in trading if it was going to bring him some extra gold.

But there are some more bits... ….."Modern banking had its origins in the city states of Renaissance Italy such as Venice, Genoa, and Florence. In the United Kingdom lack of trust in the government (for example the approximation of €200,000 of private money in 1640 by Charles I) led merchants to deposit gold and silver with the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. Originally the goldsmiths were an artisan company but over time incorporated silversmiths and jewelers. "

So if you don't see a scenario where the royalty stealing money from the people isn't an adventure, or where something like Goldsmiths become banks because they have access to all of this excess money isn't possibly worthy of adventure, then I got nothing for you.

Now it's not presented this way of course, but imagine if the player's are rebels against a royal family that has yanked all of that money. Plenty of things to do in such a situation.

Alternatively, imagine the players have enough access to coin of their own that they lend out money and in doing so, become their own power source in the setting.

Now I'm not going to sit here and tell you that the whole book is filled with examples of that nature. For one, that's the background chapter on how and why databases came about. For another, I'm still reading it. 

Anyone else ever read something and found yourself using the material not for it's intended purpose? If so, share below!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Still Alive Just Not RPG'ing

I'm still alive, I just haven't been doing any reading that I would relate to the whole Appendix N bit nor actually involved in any role playing games.

My regular group mixes up their games a lot. When they do Pathfinder or 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, I make extra effort to get in some gaming time, but they've been doing a lot of Fate and the Cipher System and some other stuff.

It's not that I don't think those games are good or anything, it's just well, between my actual playing of Warmachine and my weird ODC where I want to play painted miniatures, I've been painting and playing a lot. Painting specific miniatures for the armies does take up a bit of time.

In terms of reading, yeah, 'fun' times...

Excel is such a huge program that I'm always wondering what else is there under the surface. My job requires me to do a lot of reports. I'm fortunate enough to know enough of VBA that I'm able to automate quite a bit of it, and comfortable enough in front of a group of people that I can teach the basics.

But there's always more to learn. The Dummies book is pretty solid in getting some basic details and ideas there. If you want something that's far more detailed and goes into a LOT more of the high end in a very dry tone, Analyzing Business Data might be more for you.

And as big data has become more and more of a thing, I've looked at some introduction books on R. It sounds like an awesome software and has a lot of possibilities. If anyone has any recommendations, please throw them out there. My knowledge base of it is minimum but I was able to download it and do some charting exercises. The charts here tend to be a lot stronger in terms of smoothing the data lines between points.

Anyway, hope everyone is having a great holiday and is prepped for Christmas and is ready for 2016! Let's hope it's better than 2015 but as it's an election year... ugh... I can already see the memes...

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Amazon Wants all The Monies

So I'm checking my e-mail this morning and Amazon is doing another one of their big game sales.

It has board games, card games, and RPGs on sale.

I have quite a bit of it already, but I did make a few purchases.

Star Fluxx

For $7.99 you can't go wrong. Fluxx is a silly fast moving game and I've played several editions. I hope one day they do a really high end art style fantasy version with things like "Barbarian King", "Black Sword", "Pale Prince", etc...


One of my friends had a game night and we played this one numerous times. It's a fast moving bluff card game and it's got some great art. Looking forward to getting this one for $8.99.

Anyone play any of the supplements and sequels? They look interesting.

Timeline Historical Events Card Game

Another one for $8.99

I have two of these already. Each set focuses on a specific thing. Discoveries is one I have. You have to arrange items on a timeline using your cards as to where you think it took place. When you first start, it's really easy but as more cards get laid down, unless you have a vast store of historical dates in your head, it gets a little more challenging. Fun stuff.

The good news is that all of these should be family friendly. No hard core multi-tier games that need hours of study. Get the family into gaming!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Maysville Reading

When I have blocks of time where my normal sedimentary activities aren't taking over, aka binging on hours of Netflix or Hulu, I like to read.

One book recommended to me that I finally finished, was Eat the Frog!

The idea is to finish off your least most desirable tasks and get the day started.

Well, it's slightly more complicated then that. There are other bits that include time management, some good old 80/20 thinking, looking at the three things that add the most value to your company, and others, but yeah, it was well worth a read.

The other one I finished off was Supply Chain Management Demystified. Working in various parts of the supply chain, from the manufacturing, to the packaging, to the distribution side of it, it's always good to 'sharpen the saw' as Stephen Covey would say.

Lots of solid ground advice here and well worth keeping as an introduction and reference piece.

I poked around a few other books as well but didn't finished them so I'll probably touch on them another day when the books are finished.

Nice to be back in Chicago. It's not even that I'm some weird city-boy who has to be active 24-7 but I like having my own bed to sleep in and my own internet to use and my own car to drive.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Return to Maysville

I did not join my regular Friday Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition group yesterday.

I had spent man hours in the car coming back from Maysville.

It so happens I was very lucky.

On our way back, we say traffic piled up for miles going the other way. Turns out there was a bad accident the previous day and there was still work being done to clean it up. Just goes to show that accidents happen anywhere.

The city of Maysville Kentucky was quite during my time there. I again tried to eat at places that I would not normally venture to in the city.

One of the places I went to was the Old Pogue Whiskey refinery. One of my friends, Kim, was driving. We had never been there before but made it with no problem.  We did not however, know where the actual building was.

Another friend, Chong, and I, walked out of the car and checked out one of the buildings. Was a residential house. She pointed us up the hill with its zig zagging road. In the hot Kentucky weather and it's damp humidity, the remnants of near record setting rains, we climbed the hill panting and wishing we were in better shape.

There were two buildings at the top of that hill. On one side, a huge manor. I believe that was where the majority of things were happening.

the other side was a small store front with a delivery truck being loaded in front of it. That's where we went. One of the workers, I don't know if it was the owner, spoke with us about the longevity of the family formulas. He mentioned how it had a special flavor brought out in part by the water running through limestone. He also provided us with a tasting of the various whiskey flavors that were sold there. All were solid but of course, the best one he had, the Old Pogue, was out and you had to join a waiting list for it.

It was worth the trip and if I had more funds, would have been even more worth the trip. I cannot emphasis how down to earth the employee was. He even let us take some pictures of where the alcohol was being brewed.

I picked up three bottles there were 375 ml each and each one costing $45. Not cheap but it was made right there.

His biggest problem? Capacity. He couldn't keep up with the demand and was constantly sold out. If he were a public company, I wonder what the pressures of the stockholders would due to him? Glad to get what I did though.

In terms of food? I tried to eat at places that were not local to Chicago. I was not have always successful, but I did managed to avoid things that I normally go to.  The place that broke the mold right away in places I've been and will be again? The dreaded Cracker Barrel.

We decided to stop for food on the way out. I had the haddoc, sweet potato, and green beans. Throw in some biscuits and tea and you've got a fine lunch.

No matter where you go, it would seem that chicken is a thing. Maysville was no exception. Here they had Lee's Chicken and they had some fantastic broasted chicken. And sweet tea? You want to talk about sweet tea? Liquid sugar would be about the only way to describe it.

Another place I ate was the Penn Station. Now I hear they have some locations locally but I'd never been to one. Reminded me of the chain the Great Steak and Potato. The fries were excellent and the philly cheesesteak I had was so filling I only snacked for dinner that night.

One of them was the bar/bar food place, Tumbleweeds, right outside the hotel.

I had the beef brisket there. They screwed up on my fries and put a ton of onions and the brisket. The brisket itself was a little fatty. The sauce and the portion sizes were good though and I'd eat there again.

I also ate at a local Mexican restaurant. To the good people of Kentucky, if that's what passes for Mexican in your neck of the woods, you have my apologies.

I didn't get as much reading done as I did before becuase I brought my tablet. It was both friend and enemy. It kept boredom away but also distracted me. I'll save what I did read for a future post.

Looking forward to trying out that whiskey at a later date and getting back to some Chicago time. Hope everyone had a better week and got some good gaming in.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Gaming: 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons and Warmachine

In gaming, I've been in a 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons campaign based off of the Rise of Tiamat.  I'm playing an Old One bound Warlock.

We're still on book one, around the 5th chapter of Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

The GM is kind of not using XP, kind of using it. Sort of an annoyance as I've missed two weeks and am a full level behind the group of new characters that replaced the party that was decimated.

Also annoying is that the game is using critical hits not only for weapons, but also for spells. On weapons the party hasn't been horribly crippled, but have suffered some losses. On spells, we've managed to inflict some impressive critical hits.

But that's a pendulum that will have a vicious swing when it turns back our way.

If I didn't enjoy hanging out with this group, I'd probably wait until we rotated out this game and went into another. I have a good time but the game itself isn't the reason.

In other avenues, I'm a miniature painter and collector. One of my friends has been busting my chops to play more. I've been playing Warmachine. It's a fun setting based in the Iron Kingdoms.

The faction I play, is Retribution.

I've mentioned before that I like the 'angry' elves. The design of their machines are different, being round and smooth as oppopsed to square and chunky.

I've only played a handful of games. I'm still learning the rules. Haven't won a game yet.

But I am going to keep playing. It provides a lot of fodder for my brain in almost every way. The fiction in the line varies. I didn't think too much of my faction's fiction last go round. But the models released? Tops.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Chicago Gameday 41: Earthdawn

Despite playing numerous fantasy settings and rule systems, Earthdawn is one that I never got into. I never read the fiction or owned any of the various supplements. There might have been some reading many years ago based on friends recommendations, but actual play?

That changed a few weeks ago during Chicago Gameday 41. Gameday is an opportunity to play with new people and try new systems. Depending on what's being run, you can even find games you're already familiar with and want to dip a toe in. I generally use it as a testing ground for games I haven't played before.

Earthdawn scenario is described as the following: Your caravan returns to Bartertown to find that your patron has gone missing. Meanwhile, a sinister organization plots the downfall of a kingdom. Do you have what it takes to rescue your boss as well as your paycheck? (Characters provided, rules will be taught).

The pregenerated characters were cleanly written and easy to understand. The GM did a solid job on the sheets. The book itself? Not a fan of the format. It's one of those off sized shapes and in softcover. It's so thick that I can't imagine that it'll hold up long under constant use. It's a book that looks like it could easily have been broken into two or three separate books if they were going for that size. 

Our first combat was an introduction scene against some peasants stealing from us as we made our way to Bartertown and then the actual adventure itself started. It was a good method to use in order for us to get the basics of combat down without a huge fear of poor tactics ending us.

The adventure was fun. I wound up playing a female smith, the 'serious' merchant lord. The GM wrote out numerous bits on how my character felt about the various other characters including her brother who she tended to look down on. I used that to ham it up a bit with my bard brother whose player did an excellent job of making him a whiskey drinking, bar hopping womanizer. 

The system itself is a little swingy. Dice explode. On some actions, you can be roling a lot of dice. The more dice you roll, the more opportunities for an explosion. It's great when it works for you, which it did for the group a surprising number of times.

Not so great when it works against you. Which as my problem with criticals, is that the Game Master is ALWAYS going to be rolling more dice then you. 

Earthdawn was enjoyable and I'd play it again. My friend, +erik labelle has run it for my fellow gamers in the past and if it comes up again, I'll have to take a swing at it. Apparently 4th edition 'fixed' some of the problems like bypassing armor. I've heard that this was a huge problem as you already get penalties for wearing armor in the first place so if someone can bypass it... Not familiar enough personally to say how that works in the long run.

Afterwards, I wandered through Games Plus and picked up a few nick nacks like some Games Workshop Trees, the three 'new' Games Workshop paints and some other bits. I wanted to see what the main difference was between the old and new paints. Haven't delved into that much yet as I haven't used a lot of gold since I bought them. 

Anyone else check out conventions for the opportunity to see how games play? Any great stories come out of that? Any horror stories? I have to say, in terms of horror stories, I've been lucky. Very rarely have I had any issue, either when playing, or running. It's like the people I'm playing with game there to enjoy the game and play it as opposed to being terrible people.

Anyway, thanks to Games Plus for hosting and I'm looking forward to hopefully going in the future. 

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.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

I rarely get to the theater that often but have been fortunate enough that the last few I've seen have been great entertainment for completely different reasons.

Prior to seeing Mad Max Fury Road, I took my girlfriend to see Woman in Gold. Very solid movie, very moving.

My mom is getting on in age but she still loves many genres of music and movies. I asked her if she wanted to see Mad Max Fury Road. She was excited. Last movie she had seen in the theater was Django.

Since she gets out even rarer than I do, I sprung for the 3-D version.

It was well worth it.

Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron play broken action heroes in a world that makes no sense and should not exist.

It is a world with beautiful vistas consisting of barren landscapes with a surprising amount of variety to them. If they are not racing through desert sands, they are blasting through rocky badlands. If they are not stuck in mud and rain, they are fighting nature itself surrounded on all sides by tornadoes of sand and lightning of massive size and scope within sandstorms of such fury that smaller vehicles are thrown away like toys from a bored hand.

In many ways, the vehicles themselves are characters. While the introduction, as several previous movies in the series have done, relies on separating Max from his iconic vehicle, we get to see many more of all shapes and sizes. The weathering effects on these would be great for anyone interesting in seeing how metal ages and corrodes.

The visuals are so arresting I'm strongly considering getting the art book behind the movie. It looks like it has a lot of takes on how the world eventually evolved into what I saw in the theater.

Previous Mad Max movies have been filled with characters whose designs and catch phrases are so unique and iconic once seen, that they become meme's long after the movies have been in the theaters. Given that this is 2015, I'm sure that the main villain, Immortan Joe, played by an actor who was in the original Mad Max movie (no relation), is going to have numerous quotes attributed to him as are those who follow him and fight against him.

There are so many unique looking characters, that I'm eager to see Fury Road again. So many unique designs ranging from the 'Half-Life' warriors to the various musicians lead by a guitarist atop moving vehicles shooting fire out of the guitar. The soundtrack, at least the instrumental part, is pulse pounding and keeps the blood racing along with the drivers.

In terms of story and dialog, the film is razor thin. It's not that there is no dialog, but the movie's strengths don't rely on words. It's not that there isn't a story, but it's very basic on the surface.

Rather, the movie is about the action. While there are a few notable exceptions, such as when Max is trying to escape 'The Citadel', most of the film actually occurs on the move. Charlize Theron, playing a piston armed cyborg, Furiosa, drives a massive vehicle and is armed to the teeth. After an initial stand off with Max, the two work to escape from Immortan Joe.

This involves not only fighting off the hordes of Immortan Joe and his strange family, including a son whose strength no man is a match for, as well as his gun totting grand father and accountant brother who keeps a tally of the cost, but the people whose lands they cut through. This allows Max and Furiosa to fight several varieties in mad chase scenes and fiery explosions as opposed to one large showdown.

As someone who enjoys thinking about world building, one of the interesting things here, is that unlike just the pure quest for oil in the Road Warrior, we have a bit of mythology building here. Some weird type of Norse live a violent warrior life forever if you die in combat clashing against say, Max's only goal, that of survival. It's an interesting contrast and reminded me a bit of Beyond Thunderdome where there's a bit of setup and logic in how the people see themselves.

Max Max Fury Road is easily a film worth seeing on the big screen. The explosions, the chase, the characters. They don't have to be seen in a big screen but the experience will only be better for it.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Not The Bar

This is a transcription of some old written notes I stumbled across. When I was younger, it was a common theme that the only place characters meet initially was in a bar. So I decided to see if I could come up with anything.

1. Pilgrimage: A holy travel to purify the soul is in order. In a game system where characters gain power for a religious source, the characters may have to undergo an annual pilgrimage as part of their faith. In a game like AD&D, this would mean any spell casters with clerical powers. In Rolemaster, it would mean anyone with the channeling realm. Other characters could be guards, hisotrians, or also along for the spiritual side of the trip.

2. Marketplace: The characters could all be in one place at one time for a special holiday when the market is bristling with potential employers and victims.

3. Guild: If all of the players belong to one profession or all have the same abilities that overlap, they may all belong to a specialized guild. If there are crossovers they may belong to a mercenary group or adventuring group. Their own status in terms of power would be a good indicator of where they would stand in the guild.

4. In the Army: Similar to being in a mercenary guild but more focused.

5. Under Siege: The characters are performing their normal tasks when the area where they are staying comes under attack. If the characters are in a small town, they may be reknown as heroes or cowards. In a large city, they may have to guard a hidden entrance that leads out to where they area.

6. Open Season: Characters are all bounty hunters who are on the trail of a powerful foe.

7. The Quest: From searching to the Holy Gail to seeking magical swords, the characters have a specific quest that draws them together.

I can tell this is from the 80's as I mentioned AD&D there and Rolemaster. I was so into Rolemaster I had a few articles published in Grey Worlds back in the day, which were later incorporated into one of the compendiums.

Some of this has become fairly standard knowledge but might not have been so used back in the day! Hope it is of some use to the modern audiences.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Codex Gigas

Over on the dreaded Facebook, supreme slayer of freetime, I came across a post by "So Good So Bad" that discussed the Codex Gigas.

This is a huge tome coming in at some odd 36" by 20" by 8.7".

The picture used to illustrate how big this actually is showcases that:

Not only that, but as it's an incredibly ancient book, there are several bits that would make for great ideas to incorporate into a role playing game.

1. Lost Pages: The book has over the course of years gone from 320 pages to 160 pages. Some of these lost in modern times as the book was rescued from a fire by being thrown out of a window. Showcases that sometimes stuff is just lost.

2. Giant Spellbook: Might be too big to physically carry right away without a Bag of Holding or other such magic item. Spells might have to be studied from a central location.

3. The Writer: Supposedly written by one monk with no errors that sold his soul to the devil! Now there are several bits right there that can be used, but what if the Monk is still alive and it's only the Monk who can restore whatever pages can't be found? 

4. The Devil's Bible: It's called that because there is a huge picture of the devil within. Perhaps a spellbook or lore book has an inaccurate name due to something in the book that's there for illustrative purposes but not intent?

History is filled with wild examples of things that I'd not necessarily think up on my own which is why it's always great to keep an open mind.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Dragonslayers From Beowulf to St. George

Osprey has many lines in its military series. Osprey has expanded beyond those in their Osprey Adventurers series. One of those lines is Myths and Legends. It takes the information gathering plus art aspects crouched with resources related to the time in question, and presents it in a nice easily digestible format.

Dragonslayers is written by Joseph A McCullough. Jospeh has done other series in the Osprey Adventure line and his blog can be found here:

Illustrated by Peter Dennis. A Google Image search shows a vast array of his work. If you enjoy the cover, the interior has more work in a similar vein. I'm impressed with the artwork and glad to have picked up the book just for that alone. He's a talent I'll be looking more for in the future. His painting of Robin Hood for example? Top notch stuff.

The book is broken into different eras of Dragonslayers. Some of them people might be familiar with based on recent movies. Regular readers of this blog might even recognize some of them such as Beowulf who I mentioned during the A to Z Blog Challenge.

Joseph brings a lot of variety to the table. He not only talks about the actual 'slaying' itself, but what other significance it may have held. There are several bits that I found interesting just in an 'evolutionary' style.

For example, Dragons in the past were mainly known for having poisonous breath. As time passed, that changed to fire.

In terms of slaying a dragon not always being about slaying a dragon, when discussing St. Carantoc and King Arthur, Joseph brings home that the tale survives in large part thanks to the association with King Arthur. He also notes that it's another example of a religious force having greater authority over the Earth than any mortal ruler. Little bits like this are great examples not only of how history works, but how such elements can be incorporated into your own world building.

The role of Church and State is one that goes back and forth. St George himself is another religious figure and despite his 'knightly' role, he's on the side of the Church not only for his ability to kill dragons, but for his faith and ability to resist temptation and to throw off the ills that caused others to fall from the grace of Christ.

Not all such tales are so heavy though. There is a sidebar about various dragon slayers. Fans of the History Channel's Vikings show, will be pleased to see the name Ragnar Lodbrok included. It's interesting to see such bits as Joseph A. McCullough hits it from the fact that as 'unproven' or 'old' history if you will, there could be several interpretations.

There are a lot of things that I knew in here, that I'd long since forgotten. It's one of the reasons it's nice to read these semi-summary style books. For example, the tale of the Lambton Worm. It's one I was familiar with a long time ago. The tale of a young foolish man who leaves a foul worm to grow to monstrous proportions and has to come back and fight it. To claim victory he places various sharp objects about his armor. This theme of 'spiked armor' actually shows up several times around this era and it's an interesting twist to see how using your foe's own strength against him works.

The book also includes some non-Western dragonslayers including Japanese, Native Americans, and Russian. It makes for a nice break up of the standard 'Western' style fire breathing dragons. The only bad thing is that there are so many different types of dragons and so many different stories, that even at 80 pages, the book feels thin. That's just me wanting more great art and more tales of dragonslaying thought.

In addition to the art by Peter Dennis, several full page paintings, there are various images taken from historical sources ranging from wood grain carvings to photographs. It's a nice touch and adds that extra something that makes the Osprey books so entertaining. In addition to the main body of the text, due to the amount of information Joseph A. McCullough is breaking down, he includes a great bibliography for those who want more information.

For those who've been reading the other book in the Myths and Legends series, any recommendations? I'm excited by this direction Osprey has taken. This in addition to their numerous miniature table top games, like Ronin, give me more options from a brand I already trust.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Battle in the Dawn: The Complete Hok the MIghty by Manly Wade Wellman

In the original Dungeon Master's Guide, one of the authors listed in that original Appendix N, is Manly Wade wellman.

I had never read any of his material before.

I don't feel too bad about it. Much of his material, like many writers of his era, has long since been out of print when I was growing up.

On G+, where fellow readers had mentioned Manly Wade Wellman, one of the posts leading directly to an older Grongnardia post, that I decided to buy one of the books. Paizo has collected Manly Wade Wellman's material into two separate volumes.

One is Battle of the Dawn, the Complete Hok the Mighty. The second, which is out of print at places like Amazon, but still available from the Paizo site directly, is Who Fears the Devil.

Being an Amazon Prime member, I went with the Battle in the Dawn.

Battle of the Dawn is a trade paperback weighing in at 272 black and white pages. It collects all of the Hok the Mighty short stories and some additional material by Manly Wade Wellman.

I hate the cover. With some of their Planetary fiction line  the covers sometimes have nothing to do with the interior. I'm assuming that the blonde haired barbarian on center, is Hok. With an ornate two-handed sword that doesn't exist in the volume and a red haired lass in danger which also doesn't exist in the collection.  Shame as I know that one of the editors at Paizo, Erik Mona, is quite the collector and aficionado of these older stories.

While the cover is disappointing, the fiction of Manly Wade Wellman is not. The introduction by David Drake provides a peek into Wellman's mind and it's one that focuses on bringing elements of realism or at least what was thought of at the time as scientifically accurate.

Wellman's fiction compared to today's lumbering novels and multi-volume sagas is quick and to the point but never boring. While compared to the in-depth analysis of character's and motivations that might take place in today's fiction, Manly Wade Wellman brings you a colossus of a hero in Hok, the strongest, fastest, most clever of all his people as they fight against the more physically powerful neanderthals, called Gnorrls here, who are not tool users, or at least not to the same extent, that Hok and his people are.

During this trials and tribulations faced by Hok, we see the barbarian take a wife, create the bow, explore 'Atlantis', create a sword, and other adventurers in which Hok, who is at heart an explorer, partakes and triumphs in.

The biggest negative about the tales? Hok is untroubled by his troubles. Wellman makes it clear how powerful, clever, and what dynamic physical prowess Hok has and it's difficult to picture him in any real danger regardless of what he's facing. It makes him a fearless explorer, but also a touch one-dimensional. It works for these tales which hail from 1939-1941 and would make Hok a great contemporary in terms of ability, to say, Conan.

Manly Wade Wellman also provides some background to the tales. For example, I put 'Atlantis' in ' because Wellman doesn't actually refer to it as such in the text, In the text, it's called Tlanis. Wellman indicates that the tales of Hok are later attributed to other heroes such as Hercules. It's an interesting writing technique to pass off some legitimacy to his own hero and fits in well with the short narratives of the stories.

One of the things that stood out to me was Maie. She is a native of Tlanis and to me, she is far more of a warrior woman the the first attributed one, Jirel. "I have many such beads," Maie told him. "I am rich, I have lands and servants and warriors."

Although only a short story, Maie shows that she is not subject to others desires such as when Cos, the ruler of Tlanis attempts to take her by force. Rather, she leads a rebellion against him. She seems to have more agency although her actions due result in her passing.

In addition to the Hok tales, collected here is Day of the Conquerors. It's a tale of Hok's tribe versus Martian Invaders. It works surprisingly well and was clear of some of the more amusing antics of say, Mars Attacks. It's the only story that derails the 'historical' methodology.

Many Wade Wellman is one of the original Appendix N authors. The writing is fast and easy to read. If you're looking for a quick moving action based story, Battle in the Dawn is right up your alley.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z is For Zoo

In Chicago, we're lucky to have the Lincoln Park Zoo. It's a free zoo to enter and has a wide variety of offerings that are always changings. For example, right now they just celebrated the birth of a baby gorilla, red panda, and tiger among many other additions.

In fiction, games, and other forms of media, the zoo can play an important role.

First, it's a location that has a lot of people in it. This could be useful if you need to have a setting where there are lots of people.

Those people mind you, are usually all about minding their own business because they are often there with children. Lots of noisy loud children.

Second it's a location that has a lot of potential trouble to it. The new movie coming out, Jurassic World is what goes wrong in a zoo of the future. In comics, there have been incidences where the characters use the animals around as assistants.

For example, in a Punisher arc, Frank shoots the glass out of a shark tank and the shark does the job of finishing off a criminal.

Third, it's a location that has a lot of potential activities to it. Characters could be looking for things to do and going to the zoo and watching ice sculptures being cut with chainsaws beats standing around in the cold doing nothing.

Other more likely scenarios include housing some unique animal or having events proclaiming the birth of a newcomer to the world.

Fourth, for a true turn of events, the characters can be from the zoo. They can be the animals that live there. The graphic novel Pride of Baghdad, written by Brian K Vaughan, features a group of lions that 'escape' the zoo when the country comes under attack. A powerful story with great art,

In a fantasy setting, such a place can be even more important. First off, it may have to be stocked. Where do such creatures come from in the first place? Sounds like a job for the characters.

When such creatures escape, as they are wont to do, who is there to put them back?