Saturday, July 31, 2004

A couple of random liberal things

I don't normally like to parade my politics or my liberal theology on my site, though I'm growing more comfortable with it. I'm really not interested in engaging in a debate about either, or trying to convert anyone to my way of seeing things. All that said, if you share my politics or my theology, I invite you to look into these two things:

Politics: I designed a bumper sticker and I'm selling it (at no profit) through Café Press . 

Religion: I bought a book at Borders the other night that I really like.

Back in the SPQR

I've been on vacation all this week, enjoying a visit with my family and friends in Ithaca, New York. I find it amusing that my friends in Ithaca all talk about how rainy Seattle must be. I'm pretty sure Ithaca gets more inches of annual rainfall than Seattle does. OK, no, according to my quick Google search, Ithaca gets 35.4 inches of rain per year, compared to Seattle's diluvial 36 inches. But compare Seattle's annual snowfall (8.6 inches) to Ithaca's 67.3 inches! 

When we were packing for the trip, I waffled about how much D&D stuff to bring. Coming home to Ithaca is often an opportunity to play D&D (see the SPQR Adventure Journal ), but it used to be that it was the only chance I got to play and that's not so much true any more. I planned to bring my Eberron book since I had hoped to get some work done on my novella, and I've got my laptop which has PDFs of the three core books on it. So I threw the two tubes of dice I bought at Origins into the suitcase and figured I had my bases covered—if a D&D game arose, there's an adventure in the back of the Eberron book I could run.

I was pretty surprised, frankly, that David Lieb was the one who seemed most eager to get a game together, when I had lunch with him on Wednesday. David has always been a casual player—he learned how to play in college when we had some summer campaigns going, he's never bought a D&D book that I know of, and he's always seemed more interested in playing as a social activity than in the game itself. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I think a lot of D&D players fit that model to a T. 

There were two flaws in my perfect plan about what D&D stuff to bring. First, I figured folks would make up new Eberron characters in order to play "The Forgotten Forge," but these guys don't want to make up new characters and we don't want to spend the time doing that. Second, I no longer remember how to play D&D without miniatures. So I came up with a perfect plan. I went to my Friendly Local Game Store here in Ithaca, had a nice conversation with one of the owners, and bought two Giants of Legend Huge Packs. I brought the minis home, put together 5 encounters appropriate for 5th-level PCs, and ended up using 14 of the 18 minis in those boxes. Yet another example of "How D&D Minis Changed My Life... Or At Least My D&D Game," which is a seminar I'll be participating in at GenCon this year. I pretty much randomly placed those encounters in the dungeon map from the back of the DMG. I loosely set them in a framework vaguely tied to the last adventure they were on (as well as I could remember it), telling them they had to stop some crazy cultists from releasing a dragon imprisoned beneath the Egyptian city of Tanis. 

The PCs were Denis (played by Mark Lawrence and represented by a Deepshadow elf mini), Hal (played by Paul Gries and represented by Lidda, Adventurer), and Rakh (played by David Lieb and represented by the orc brute). The encounters started off with a pair of fighter bandits (Regdar, Adventurer and Dwarf Sergeant), and a drow fighter and its displacer serpent pet. The next encounter was a minotaur skeleton, a zombie, and a ghast, which scared the wounded PCs enough (especially after the minotaur's axe hit Rakh once) that they closed the door and retreated back to the drow's room. They later encountered just the minotaur skeleton in the hallway, then fought a lizardfolk rogue and a grick. Rakh really shone as the group's fighter, despite being a single-classed rogue. The climactic encounter included the ghast and the zombie from the earlier room, along with a tanarukk and a warforged fighter, the leader of this group of psychos trying to free the imprisoned dragon. Denis finally came into his own in this last fight, getting off a successfulhypnotism on the warforged fighter and turning the zombie, allowing the others to focus on the ghast and the tanarukk until they were out of the way.

The minis I didn't use: Medium astral construct, Mordenkainen the Mage (the one from these two boxes that I didn't already have, so I don't at all mind not having used it), a Huge gold dragon (my second; I'm hoping to trade it for a red dragon, which is the one Huge I don't have yet), and a bulette (which I planned to use, but decided that it would tear this group apart). 

Admittedly, 40 bucks is a fair bit of money to spend for a night of pretty random adventuring. On the other hand, I'm convinced that we had more fun than we would have had if I had spent money on, say, an issue of DUNGEON to find an adventure we wouldn't have finished by 2:30 am and we would have played without any minis at all. And if we had decided to share that expense, 10 bucks each is less than we would have spent going to the movies, and we played D&D for a good four and a half hours—longer than even Return of the King. And I don't much mind not sharing the expense, since I get to keep the minis and use them over and over again. 

Last, random comment more directly related to the Imperium Romanum campaign: I got an email today informing me that a link to the SPQR pages on my site has been added to an online encyclopedia entry about Hispania Terraconensis . These people need to research their sources more carefully!

It might be fun, if we start visiting Ithaca more often again (it's been two and a half years since our last visit), to try to build this campaign up again. Things have been pretty random when we've played the last several times, and it would be nice to re-establish some themes of plot and continuity and the calendar, and that sort of thing. But that might mean getting the rest of these guys to think about D&D between gaming sessions again!

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Mellorn Hospitality

We played my Eberron campaign again last weekend, and once again had a fabulous session. I was very short on preparation time, and with a great deal of guilt I ended up running an adventure from DUNGEON, called "Mellorn Hospitality." I won't spoil the plot, since it's from a fairly recent issue and there may be people out there reading this who are playing in it... or about to. I made some adjustments to the adventure, most of them necessitated by setting it in Eberron and on the continent of Xen'drik—so read "catfolk" for "elves" and "Shavarath" for "Hades" (which was a little weird; if you've read or played the adventure and know Eberron you can probably figure out why). But it was a fun adventure. The pace built steadily to a really dramatic climax, with the main villain of the adventure fleeing to Shavarath, the PCs in hot pursuit. Considering that was an EL 10 encounter, these five 5th-level characters (actually, Gwen's character was still 4th!) handled themselves remarkably well. The artificer proved to be the hero of that climactic encounter, using personal weapon augmentation (making his crossbow a bane weapon) in combination with true strike to dish out lots of damage where the other characters were only doing 3 to 7 points per hit with damage reduction and a couple of well-placed rays of enfeeblement slowing them down. 

Jesse is on a temporary hiatus (is that redundant?) from the game, with a new job as development manager and a wedding coming up, so the group was feeling a little short on clerics. Jesse's druid and Gwen's aspiring mystic theurge combined to make about one cleric (plus another fighter, in the form of Fergus, Crael's dog), but without Crael there was only a half a cleric in place. So Dave sent Madivh off with Professor Karrna and brought in Crucius, a cleric of Dol Arrah and a testament to the power of prison ministry. (Yes, this is a remake of the character he played in Rich Baker's playtest of Prison of the Firebringer . 25 points if you remembered that.)

Great fun. All the characters went up a level, except Crucius, who had started at the very bottom of 5th level and didn't quite get enough XP to hit 6th. Next month most of us will be at GenCon, and I'm planning to do another short one-shot sort of thing. We'll see.

Theological Musings

I've received more email in response to my "Am I still a believer?" essay than about just about anything else I've written, with the possible exception of Oriental Adventures. That's heartening somehow. I felt like I was really going out on a limb by including anything that personal and overtly religious on my site, but honestly my desire to write and post stuff like that was part of the reason I moved to the new site format in the first place. So hey, thanks to everyone that's written to me about it—thank you very much for your concern, your support, and just for taking the time to write.

We tried another new church this past Sunday—a joint UCC/Disciples congregation in Renton. It was really good. But for only the second or third time, the full implications of my recently-diagnosed gluten problem were driven painfully home to me. I was diagnosed with celiac sprue last October. As a vegetarian, that leaves me able to eat... pretty much nothing. So it's been hard. But realizing that I could no longer take Communion was very difficult. For a while we were going to a service at a Methodist church called "Coffee, Donuts, and God"—my son really liked it. But I think that the first time we were there on a Communion Sunday might also have been the last time we went, despite the pastor's willingness to accommodate my needs in whatever way I felt necessary. That was the first time it hit home.

Hey, Methodists only celebrate Communion once a month—or that's been my experience in most churches, anyway. So that's not too bad. But Disciples celebrate it weekly. I went (alone) to a different Disciples congregation last week, and hardly gave a second thought to the tray of tiny crumbs of bread as it went past. I'm not sure why it got me so much harder this week—maybe because it was a real loaf of bread going past me, untasted, down the pew, or maybe because I felt up to that point much more like a part of the body in that church, or maybe because I felt like I was being kept from the Feast. Our overall experience in this church was wonderful, and I'm sure we'll go back, maybe this next Sunday. But at some point, hopefully soon, I need to talk to the pastor about getting an alternative bread on to that plate before I have to pass it down the pew again.

Because that's a feast I want to be a part of.

[Note 9/4/2015: This is an experiment to see what happens if I copy a post from my old blog and try to time-stamp it with the original date.]

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The first party for D&D's 30th anniversary

Wizards of the Coast is celebrating the 30th anniversary of D&D all this year, but the party—sort of a launch for the celebrating season, I guess—is this afternoon. (I'm writing at almost 2 a.m.; I'll explain why in a sec.) I figure this will be the first party to celebrate this event, to be followed by a big party at GenCon and then Worldwide D&D Day on October 2nd, which will be celebrated in game stores around the world. Hey, 30 years is a lot to celebrate.

So we're having a company-wide party this afternoon, in the courtyard at the center of our office buildings. But when this was first announced, I posted to an internal message board for RPG R&D that we'd be doing something wrong if we didn't, as a department, actually play D&D that day. Then I made the mistake of mentioning it again in a department meeting this week. So on Tuesday, I got permission to coordinate just such a game, which I'll be running in the morning.

The adventure, such as it is, should be fun. We're playing from 9:30 to 12 (when the party starts)—not a very long time, so I tried to keep it simple. But I also wanted to suggest the momentousness of the occasion by hearkening back to the early history of the game, as well as use some of the cool Giants of Legend minis we're all collecting at this point. So I'm doing a pastiche of Against the Giants, in four encounters—Steading of the Hill Giant Chief (fight Nosnra and his hill giant and ogre buddies!), Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl (this one's just the Jarl with a couple of winter wolves), Hall of the Fire Giant King (Snurre and a couple of fire giants), and "Vault of the Drow" (Eclavdra and some drow lieutenants). I've got a couple of interstitial encounters in case these ones go more quickly than I anticipate—but that would surprise me a great deal, since I told people to bring 9th-level characters, and these encounters start at EL 11 and go up from there. But I'm pretty much figuring on running a whole big batch of PCs, which should help keep them alive. So that's why I'm up so darned late—finishing up the stats for the drow, primarily. And watch—they won't even get that far. You wait and see. There is no logical explanation for why I'm posting now, however. Now that I'm done statting out all the giant rulers and drow nasties, I should be flopped in bed getting some sleep.

Thirty years of D&D. Man, that means I've been playing for 25 years—yeah, my personal gaming anniversary has probably just passed quite recently, unobserved and unremembered. Yep, I started playing in 1979 with this boxed set, a few months before my 11th birthday. I must have bought the fourth printing, according to this page. That's pretty cool. They sure were reprinting them quickly.

But who knows how many copies were in each print run? It's hard to prove, but general opinion around the office is that, despite the nostalgia with which the media typically approach D&D these days, it's actually bigger now than it was in the '80s. As in, more people playing, more people buying our books, a larger community of gamers than in the years that were supposedly D&D's height. 

Yeah, OK, that sleep thing is sounding pretty good right now.

Thursday, July 8, 2004

My new computer

Here's a short history of my computer ownership:
When I was a child, my parents bought the first family computer, a Texas Instruments TI 99/4A. I used BASIC to write simple arcade games using sprites. I played more games than I wrote, though.
We had a TRS-80 in there, too.
The first real computer we owned was a Lobo... I want to say MAX-80? It ran the CP/M operating system. I used it to write utilities in C, which amazes me now. Utilities to do things like convert stats from the Iron Crown Middle Earth supplements they were putting out at the time to D&D stats. I also thought a lot about writing adventure games in C and Pascal. I was in Junior High at the time.
Then we got a Macintosh, pretty much as soon as they were introduced. And I've never gone back. Unfortunately, I suppose, I've also never recovered the C and Pascal I once knew...
When I went to college, I took an older Mac Plus with me. I used it almost all the way through seminary. It wasn't until my last year of seminary that I bought my first PowerBook—also pretty much as soon as they were introduced. It was a PowerBook 160. A couple of years later, I bought a 165c and we became a two-computer family. Every Saturday night, there we'd be, each writing a sermon on a PowerBook... 
A few years later, I bought a Power Mac G3 (as soon as they were introduced). This was when I was doing a lot of multimedia work and I could justify getting a more powerful desktop computer. 
Over the next couple of years, several computers worked their way into our lives. We acquired an old PowerBook Duo 2300 for my wife to use for school. When the keyboard on that died, the friend who sold us the PowerBook gave us an even older PB 160 as a consolation. 
Then a couple years ago we bought an iBook, ostensibly as my wife's computer (again, for schoolwork). That was a big lie; it became the primary family computer while the G3 gathered dust. Then about a year ago I put a lot of time and a fair amount of money into upgrading the old G3—lots of RAM, a bigger hard drive, a working CD-ROM drive, much of it from eBay—and made it my primary computer again. It ran the then-current latest version of Mac OS X (10.2.8) just fine, if a little slowly. And that was just great... until Apple released 10.3 and didn't support it on old desktop G3s. I managed to get by for a good while, but the other day I finally gave in and bought myself a new PowerBook G4. In contrast to certain other D&D designers who shall remain nameless, who bring their showy 17" screens to every meeting, I have a tiny 12" model, and it's the previous-generation (09/03) model, but it's great. It's got Panther (10.3), it's super speedy, it's really compact, and it makes me happy once again to be sitting on the comfy chair in the living room working, rather than at a cramped and crowded desk in the study. 
I think of it as my novel computer. And the reason for that is that I was seriously considering an iMac or even a desktop G5 as my next computer, until my wife pointed out that every time I talk about writing my novel, I describe being away from a desk—sitting in a café or on a lounge chair on the deck or something. That's my mental model of what a novelist is, and that swung my decision in favor of the PowerBook.
So yeah, I'm writing a novel. I don't know how much I should say about it, but I feel safe saying that I'm in the enviable position of already having a contract for my first novel, before I've written it. That's the good life.
Now all I have to do is write the 90,000 words. But I get to do it on my new computer, sitting in the comfy living room chair or in Tully's or out on the deck...
And come Saturday night, I wouldn't be surprised to see the two of us in the living room, she with her iBook and me with my PowerBook—not writing sermons, perhaps, but merrily clicking away. Living la vida dorka, for sure...
It's a good life.

Monday, July 5, 2004

It's tradition

I called my parents yesterday and caught them at the end of dinner. They had hamburgers, corn on the cob, and potato salad. "It's tradition," my mom said. And of course, my dad blasted his weird 19th-century version of the Star-Spangled Banner as a chamber-music waltz on the stereo first thing in the morning.

What did I do? Well, I vacuumed. (Hey, that's a big deal.) I, once again, couldn't muster the energy to try another new church. I think we had nachos for dinner, or else a very late lunch that turned dinner into a much more casual thing. I can't remember, that's what's really weird.

I read a couple more chapters of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to my son when he got tired in the evening, and then the teenagers across the cul-de-sac started setting off fireworks, and we all watched them until after 10. I think he was awake until 10:30, running from one side of the house to the other to see as many of the fireworks being set off around us as he could. We briefly talked to him about what Independence Day is about, why we celebrate it. Of course, there's no explanation for why we set off fireworks—I'm pretty sure that it has more to do with a love of explosives than with a particularly strong feeling about independence. Is it true that, in some other countries, fireworks are a traditional way to celebrate Christmas?

Vegetarian and celiac, hamburgers are not a viable option for me. We don't even own a grill, though our downstairs deck seems to have been made for grilling on. We spent the day together as a family, celebrating our interdependence. Hey, now there's a tradition. 

[Hey, I called this category "Random musings." I reserve the right to be as random as I damn well please. Thank you very much.]

Saturday, July 3, 2004


I got back from Origins on Monday, took Tuesday off, and spent Wednesday wading through the emails, expense reports, and missed work waiting for me when I got back. Wheee.

But it was a great trip. I arrived late Tuesday night and pretty much went right to bed. Wednesday I went to help set up the booth and discovered that the diorama we were using for the Dungeon Delve was not there. It got shipped fast and made it there before noon on Thursday—with the exhibit hall opening at 1:00! So I actually skipped out on some of the hard setup and went back to my room to get some work done. In the afternoon I went back and did help more with setup. Then I played a game of Risk Godstorm with Charles Ryan and Eric Cagle. We played right outside the exhibit hall, so lots of people stopped to watch and ask about the game. We told everyone it was going on sale the next day in the WotC booth, and so we take credit for it selling out over the course of the weekend. :) Charles creamed us, despite not having played any form of Risk since college. On my last turn (the last turn of the game), I owned a single territory: plague-ridden Gaul. I got three armies to place in that territory, and two of them promptly died from the plague. Because I hated him at that point, I attacked Charles in Brittania. He rolled a one for his defense! Perhaps I could win one small victory before the end of the game! Alas, no. My plague-ridden Greco-Gauls rolled a feeble one on their attack as well. Game over. I had a ton of guys in the Underworld, but it just didn't matter.

Thursday morning we got the Delve set up in time for the opening of the hall, and I spent pretty much the next four days talking to people about Eberron. I was pleasantly surprised at the very positive reaction it received—lots of people were really excited about it, we sold a whole bunch of the books in our retail area, and I signed quite a number of them. 

OK, if I keep trying to write about everything I did the whole weekend, I'm simply never going to finish this entry that I started three days ago. Saturday night I played in a Call of Cthulhu game run by Jeff Simpson, who does web work for the RPGA and must be the nicest person at Wizards. He's been running this game, set in Roman Britain near Hadrian's Wall, at conventions, with the players consisting of volunteers who help out at conventions. Great fun. 

So... not enough sleep, too much fun, a couple of great games, and lots and lots of Eberron—I call Origins '04 a success. Just about the only down side was the Origins Award ceremony Friday night—Draconomicon did not win either category it was nominated in (Best Roleplaying Supplement and Best Graphic Design of a Book Product, or something like that), and Wizards as a whole won no awards (though DRAGON Magazine won Best Periodical). 

I'm slated to head to GenCon Indy in August, so more convention news then!