Thursday, March 31, 2011

Walking away from the table

Rule zero is that the GM has the final say on the rules. That's a given. A player can either accept the GM's ruling, or walk away from the table. After two and a half years of playing in Pathfinder Society, I'm standing up and walking away.

I have a small blog read by almost nobody (not linked to, because I'm really not trying to drum up site traffic). I wrote a post for it a couple of weeks ago talking about my frustration with PFS, and how similar frustrations led me to walk away from LFR. Mainly the problems I have had centered on rules changing out from under players. And how whenever LFR or 4e would get a new program manager, that manager would immediately change the rules of the game to suit his vision of how the game or campaign should be. And that eventually, the fact of constant rules changes made it more and more difficult to keep interest in a character, because that character was not the same character that it was before each change.

There were other issues, like how rules changes in LFR were coming out as blog posts and tweets, and not as actual changes to the document which is supposed to contain the rules of the campaign. I expressed in my post my hope that Paizo was not walking down that same path.

Somehow Hyrum happened to read the post, and said something like “hey, let's discuss it”. And as timing is never good in my life, this week I happen to be out of town on business all this week. And I said, something like “How about when I get back in town?” and he said something like “Sounds good”. But then this week happened.

My first PFS character (who still has not hit the level 11/12 cap) started as a Druid. When Season 1 hit, I asked Joshua specifically about the rule where an animal companion with a 3 INT could take any feat. And I specifically asked about weapon proficiency feats. And I got an answer. And in the next printing of the Guide to Organized Play, there was a specific section dealing with and answering that question, that yes – animal companions with a 3 INT that can physically wield a weapon can take weapon proficiency feats. That section has been in the Guide for over a year and a half, and through multiple editions of the guide.

Yesterday, Mark made the statement that “the author” (not referring to Josh by name, which might be a Paizo thing, but really ended up sounding more like a slam) made a mistake on that ruling. He didn't say that he disagreed, and was changing the rule, which would have seemed to me like a much more civil way to phrase things, but that simply that the author made a mistake. A mistake that went un-contradicted by anyone at Paizo for somewhere like a year and a half.

This week, we also saw another major rules change. It is a rules change because for a long time (almost two years), the standard answer on the rules forum about animal companions was that handle animal checks can effectively be ignored if you invest a point of intelligence in your animal companion. This would seem to be supported by the rules that open up every feat and every skill in the book to an animal companion with a 3 INT, whereas 2 INT critters are limited to just a few skills and feats. The advice on the rules forum went un-contradicted by anyone at Paizo for a similarly long time period.


This week, with these two rulings, my 8th level cleric (nee druid) with an ape animal companion who wields a weapon (who was specifically discussed in rules threads on both the rules forum and the PFS forum after he showed up at a local gaming convention, and who no-one at Paizo stepped up then to remark that he was not legal) has suddenly become an illegal build.

And the reaction from the “usual crowd” was pure schadenfreude. Supposedly I, and anyone else who saw the versatility of such a build should have known better, even though I specifically asked and was specifically answered by the Paizo manager in charge of the program, that such a build was borderline, and it was only right and just that I be smacked down.


I've got a choice. I can either keep playing a character that is effectively castrated, and play my other characters, at least one of which was somewhat hit by ruling as well, or...I can simply stand up and walk away from the table. I'm choosing to do the latter.

I've spent a fair amount of money on the game. I have the Core rules, both Bestiaries, the APG, the GMG, the Inner Sea Guide (which I just got last weekend). I bought the complete Legacy of Fire adventure path. I've bought several (or a bunch depending on how you number it) of PDF's.

But I will not be spending any more of my money at Paizo.

I will go to DriveThruRPG or Amazon or somewhere else. I'm left with the distinct feeling that my money and my custom are not appreciated, and that perhaps it would have been money better spent elsewhere.

I'm trying not to say this in a spirit of pettiness, I've seen enough of that on these boards from players and VC's alike. I'm trying to say it in the spirit of “my gaming dollars are going to go somewhere, and I'm choosing to spend them someplace that is not and has not caused me so much frustration of late.”

Wishing everyone all the best with their game.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sportsmanship is actually fun

Okay, so I played Friday Night Magic tonight.  For anyone who doesn't know, Friday Night Magic is a weekly event held in game stores around the country (actually the world).  It is meant to be a casually competitive environment where everyone is welcome. 

I play at the Gopher, what I refer to as the friendliest game store in town.  It really is.  There's another game store across town, that has what could be argued to be a better selection (given the ability of GopherDave to special order just about anything, I'd say this is not so much of a point), but nobody, but nobody is a friendly to customers as the Gopher.  Probably a good indicator of this is the fact that when WinterWar rolls around every year, there is always a plethora of helpful volunteers, bringing everything from cargo vans to hand trucks to muscle to computer services (one year the store computer died a horrible death, but thanks to volunteers they were up and running before very many hours had past).

Anyway.  Back to FNM.  There are generally a couple of formats that you can play.  There's "constructed", where you bring your own deck, and there's "limited" where you get cards at the event to build a deck out of.  I generally choose "limited", because I don't want to spend hours and huge amounts of cash building a deck that will be obsolete within weeks or months.  Of "limited" formats, you can either play "draft", or "sealed deck".  In draft, you open a pack, select a card, and pass the rest of the pack around the table, while everyone else does the same.  You do this for three packs of Magic cards, and then build a deck with what you have chosen (or "drafted").  In sealed deck formats, you simply open several packs of cards and then build a deck from those packs.

I generally choose sealed deck format over draft, as I think of it as less competitive.  I have a bit of a problem with competition, as I tend to be over competitive.  (Or "hyper competitive", or "jerk").  I like the fact that your deck in sealed is based entirely on what you open, and you don't need to spend hours reading articles on what the best draft strategies are. 

Unfortunately, there was only "constructed" and "draft" available tonight.  So I played draft.  I didn't open or get passed any real "money cards" (cards that are worth more than $10.  Some cards currently in the format are worth up to or over $100.  But I generally don't have that kind of luck.)

So I ended up drafting black cards, and I made it a point to draft the pretty land whenever I didn't have an obvious card that I wanted to put in my deck.  As it turned out, I got 16 "pretty" land, one rare that's worth about $6-$10, and had exactly 4 cards left over when I built my deck.

But here's the important part of this post:

I won the first round, but lost the last two.  Back in my old competitive days, this would have been an exercise in frustration, as my cards weren't winning for me.  But tonight I really didn't worry about winning, and after each game, I tried my hardest to tell my opponent how well I thought he played (all three of my opponents really did play well, and I didn't see any obvious play errors).  And I did my best to compliment their decks.

And I found that as I was telling the guy across from me how good I thought he did (if he won) or how things just came together for me, and he didn't do anything really wrong (when he lost), that it made me feel good to say nice things to my opponent.  (Why do I think about that scene in "How the Grinch stole Christmas" when his heart is growing?) 

Vince Lombardi once said: "Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser."  Yeah, I used to think this too.  But there's more than one way to be a winner.  I recently saw this MadeForTV movie called School of Life.  It's set in a middle school, whose basketball team hasn't won a game in many years.  One teacher helps them overcome this losing streak.  How?  By cheering the other team when they make a great play.  By cheering their own team when they screw up.  By cheering either team either way.  Just because the score isn't what you'd like it to be doesn't mean that you can't be happy for the people who are doing well.  I tried that tonight, and as sappy as that seems, it was actually fun. 

Anyway.  After the tournament, I played a casual game with Rigar, and then played a round of Multiplayer Madness (that I asked one of the other players to pick one of my decks randomly for me to play).  And I had a fun time there too.  (I won, but that really wasn't important.  It was just fun to play).  And then I came back home.  I just really wanted to write all this down so I remember how much better it felt losing two rounds, and telling my opponent how well I thought he did, than it ever used to feel winning, but being a jerk about it. 

So, hey, I played Friday Night Magic, and I won!  Even though my match record might suggest otherwise.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wow, is it Thursday already?

The key to happiness is low expectations.

There's a lot behind this.   There's the difference between expectation and dreams or hopes. 

Defining terms.

Dream - something that you desire to achieve, and that if accomplished would be greatly fulfilling

Hope - holding open the possibility in your mind that a goal will be achieved

Expectation - the anticipation of the realization of a goal within a stated timeframe

So a dream or hope can be held onto for years, decades, even a lifetime, with the possibility that it may eventually come true.  Many people buy lottery tickets, dreaming about being rich, and living in style, and never having to work again.  Dreams are good things.  They keep us getting up in the morning when the rest of our lives suck.  You could go your entire life with a dream in your heart and never see it realized, and on your deathbed (or as you get hit by that oncoming train) not feel disappointment that you did not achieve your dream.

Expectations are another thing entirely.  An expectation is like a milestone that you feel should be achieved at a given point in time.  Think of it as an internal quota.  "I expect to you to get your homework done by the time I get home." or "I expect to see an improvement in your grades next semester."  are both examples of expectations - though for some people, those might be dreams <g>.   (Does anyone  but me still use <g> for an emoticon anymore? ) 

I'm not saying that you shouldn't have reasonable expectations.  Reasonable expectations are what keeps the world turning.  I expect my car to start in the morning.  I expect my roof to keep the rain out of my living room.  It's the unreasonable expectations that sink us.  If I were to start expecting dice to roll how I want them to, my life would be full of disappointment.  If I were to start expecting my dog to answer me when I talk to him, I'd be surely either disappointed, or committed.  (Even more so, because I don't actually have a dog.)

It's finding the right line to draw between reasonable and unreasonable expectations that determines whether or not we will actually be happy in life.  It's good to set your expectations high enough you can function in life. It's bad to set your expectations so high that you are met with disappointment at every turn.

Not a long post, but definitely a lot of words to say that I expected myself to post something yesterday, but didn't.  And that I'm slightly disappointed in myself.  Meanwhile, I'll go back to dreaming about being a writer someday.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Large Tables - The Unfun

I'm starting to really have a personal issue with large games.  I play in several different RPG's right now, and it really seems like the upper limit for enjoyable play is seven players. 

I generally think of three players (and one GM) as too small.  It just seems like an empty table.  This is especially true if there are six players (in the game) and only three show up.  It's almost impossible to advance the story line, because you don't really have a quorum to decide anything.  I always feel like I shouldn't make decisions on behalf of the rest of the players if they aren't there.  So it always seems to me we end up spinning our wheels when there are only three players.

Four players generally seems like a good number.  You can (hopefully) fulfill all of the traditional party roles (striker, defender, controller, leader) or (fighter, cleric, rogue, mage - not necessarily in likely in that same order).  And even if two people are filling the same role, you don't feel quite so fragile as a party. 

Five players is good too.  You can add support roles, and players can feel more free to play non-traditional characters, knowing that others can help pick up the slack.  (A bard starts to really shine at a five player table, where he might  be more of an anchor at a 3 player table.)  And I still feel like my character can get face time in when there are four other people competing for the GM's attention.

Which brings us to six.  I am in several games with six players.  Deadlands has worked well for our gaming group at six players for a long while now.  I'm still getting time to advance my character's storyline.  I'm still getting time to do my shtick in combat, and I don't think anyone at the table is getting left out.  The farthest anyone is from the DM is three seats away.  (DM at one end, three players on each side of the table.)

And at seven, things start to go to crap.  Now, someone is sitting four seats away from the GM.  I've been there.  It feels like the GM never hears you, and almost all of his attention is taken with the four players closest to him.  Combat is mostly time spent waiting or your turn.  And if you have a narrow corridor, you might as well go get something to eat until combat is over.  I've had whole combats where I just tell the GM to put me on delay, and I'll let him know if I want to do anything.

And higher numbers than seven only compound the issue.  I've heard people argue that animal companions make the problem worse, but as having played a character with an animal companion, having watched players with animal companions, and having DM'd people with companions, I think these players fall into two basic groups - people who have their shit together and don't waste time deciding what their animal is going to do, and people who generally tuck their animal out of the way until combat is over.

Maybe I've been lucky, but I can't remember any recent play experiences where other people's animal companions took any more time than "that guy" who was running a mage, but couldn't be bothered to have any idea what he wanted to do on his turn.  I know that I tend to tuck my player out of the way while my character's companion is in the midst of combat.  Or else my character will do something in a support role, and my animal will be up-front combat.

I know a lot of DM's believe that getting the most number of players at the table is a good thing.  But I think there's a point where the logistics of paying attention to a large group of players really starts to outweigh any increase in fun.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


One of the topics that I continually wonder about in (especially) fantasy RPG's is:  What do you do with an enemy that surrenders?

Okay, so you fight a gang of X (goblins, orcs, human tribesmen, human outlaws, etc).  At a certain point in the fight, the boss is dead (or maybe a sub-boss), and the remaining mooks all throw down their weapons and surrender.

Question 1: Do you accept their surrender, or do you simply slaughter them where they stand.  It doesn't seem very heroic to kill people who have surrendered to you.  Definitely doesn't seem "good", or "lawful".  I know a lot of players like to play neutrally aligned characters, and aren't constrained by such concepts as good or evil, but to me it seems a bit distasteful to simply "kill them all and let Pharasma sort them out."

Question 2: You've accepted the surrender of the mooks.  You've interrogated them, but they refuse to give up the information you seek.  To what extent do you use coercion to secure the information?  Do you intimidate? Do you torture?  At what point in the interrogation sequence do you cross the line from hero to villain?

Question 3: Okay, so you've wrung out all the information that you possibly can from your captives.  You are miles from any town or form of civilization, and cannot spare the time to take them any authority.  What do you do with the prisoners? 
  • Let them go?  Well, they might rejoin the big boss and you will just have to fight them again later.  
  • Kill them now, after they've surrendered?  It seems to me that there is an implied responsibility not to kill an enemy whose surrender you accept.  (Maybe it's just me, but that just seems like a "dick move"). 
  • What I always argue for, and what always seems to get people to look at me funny is to simply cut off their thumbs and release them.  You've pretty much guaranteed that the enemy will not come after you later, while still leaving them able to have a reasonable chance of living out a life, albeit a somewhat harsher one.  I read Bernard Cornwell's Agincourt recently, and in it, the english archer protagonist  is captured by a french lord.  The lord lets him go after taking the little finger of one hand.  He made a point of the fact that he wasn't even taking the index and middle fingers, so that the archer could still function as an archer.
I'm not certain that there is a "best" answer to any of these questions, but they are ones that I think about whenever I'm in the middle of a fantasy setting battle.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Minis Minis Minis

I finally got my self together enough to take some photos of Mini's that I've painted and modified.


Vekna was a dwarf fighter/battlerager that I played in Living Forgotten Realms before that campaign died.  (YOU ARE DEAD TO ME LFR. DEAD DEAD DEAD!!!  um. anyway...)  Vekna started out on foot, but I quickly found that a mount was exceedingly good.  So he started with a riding lizard.  This is a Dungeons and Dragons Miniature (DDM) Monitor Lizard, combined with a Duergar Warrior. 
To modify the duergar, I cut off his shield, and shaped his left arm.  His right arm I cut away from the body, so it could be swung out to hold a hammer.  The large hammer the duergar is  holding was removed entirely, and the legs were cut off to that they could be remounted in a saddle riding position.  The hammer is constructed from a paper clip, some plumber's epoxy putty, and some JB Kwik wrapped as a handle.

The lizard was a simpler modification.  I rebased it onto a large base, and added a basic saddle and bridle from plumber's epoxy putty. 

Later, I discovered that if he was going to be a fighter that charged into battle, a horse would add extra damage to his charges.  So  I picked up a mounted warrior DDM and removed the human rider.  I created a saddle from epoxy putty to hold a similarly modded duergar warrior.  The flying cloak was taken from the original human rider, and merged with the duergar figure's cloak. 

And then I wanted Vekna to have a flying mount.  So I found a hippogrif DDM, and took apart yet another Duergar Warrior figure.  The glaive is made from a solid rod, again wrapped in JB Kwik, and attached to a piece of sword from a random DDM mini.  I had to carve away a bit of each wing where it meets the hippogrif body so that the legs would fit better. 

Mounted Archer

I don't even remember this character's name.  It was for Ryan's campaign, and that campaign kind of imploded upon itself, when the entire group failed some mission, and then our NPC "boss" decided to send us to a far-off land.  Which we never actually made it to before the campaign ended.

To make the mounted archer, I started with a Graycloak Ranger DDM.  I did some extensive carving of his cloak so that it wouldn't interfere with his saddle.  I also separated the left arm from the body, and pinned it parallel to the ground so that his bow would be extended at arms reach ready to shoot.

For the mount, I started with a Unicorn DDM.  I cut off the horn (and yes, I'm going to burn in some D&D Hell for that. <g>) I formed a saddle from epoxy, and completely repainted the horse.

On the Graycloak Ranger, I also added some facepaint to give him a more guerilla/covert ops feel.

The archer had an animal companion, which was supposed to be a small (or tiny) raptor.  Having nothing like this in my collection of D&D Minis, I attempted to make one. 

The bird is made from a paperclip, pulled apart to form a wingspan.  The feet and tail are a second bit of cut paperclip.  This skeleton was then covered in plumbers epoxy putty It's really really cheap compared to green stuff, and since I've never used the green stuff, I don't know what I'm missing.  You can get the epoxy I use for about $3 a tube at Walmart.  Look for the blue outer putty, with the white middle.  (I'm not sure which part if hardener and which is epoxy.)  The base is a small DDM base, with some putty covering a steel nut (for ballast).  Of course a paper clip forms the riser joining the bird to the base.

I've also taken some photos of party members in Dave's Champions game that I play in.  I'll include those in a later post.

Friday, March 18, 2011

How do you tell a player...

...that he's being a dick?

I'm sure a lot of players have wondered this while playing me.  I like to think of myself as a slightly reformed dick (or jerk) (or asshole) (or whatever word you want to use).  I know I used to be "that jerk" all the time.  And I point it out when referring to myself a lot.  Sometime in the last 5 years or so, I think I've made some progress towards changing.

I've come to realize that while I used to have fun because I won the game I was playing, that now I win the game (regardless of the final score) by having fun. 

We played two-headed giant sealed deck Magic tonight at the FLGS.  I was lucky enough to partner with Bill Board.  We didn't pull a single bomb, but made somewhat stable decks.  We lost round one, and won the next two rounds in very close matches.  Everyone we played (including the two boys who beat us in round one) played well, and had well thought out decks.

Something came up in one of the games that my opponents did that irritated me.  Doesn't matter exactly what.  It wasn't unsporting, or cheating, or anything truly bad, it was just something that I might have done back in the day.

I took a chance and told them afterwards (and I tried to tell them in a very friendly way) that in a local Friday Night Magic, where everything was supposed to be kept fairly casual, that what they had done was kind of a "dick move".  I tried to temper my words by saying that I probably knew what I was talking about because I used to be the king of "dick moves", and gave them several examples of things that I had done.  My opponents seemed to take what I said as I was hoping to convey it.

I followed up later by making sure to tell them that at a competition level, what they had done would be perfectly fine, and with a couple of caveats (strategically), that they shouldn't hesitate to do so.  It was just that at a local store, where everyone is trying to be casual and have a good time, that it was a little out of place.

I'm just hoping I wasn't being a dick, but telling them not to be dicks. 

I probably was. 

Maybe I shouldn't have said anything. 

Argh.  Angst. 

Still working on self-improvement.  One day at a time.

Council of Thieves Update

Short post today...

I updated my council of thieves campaign journal today.  I'm playing a bard who considers himself a master thespian, so I've been trying to write his journal as if he is writing his memoirs contemporaneously as a series of letters to his academy.  I'm thinking he's enormously self-centered, so that's getting reflected in his writing, as though he is gracing everyone with his presence, and his "wisdom".

Tonight is Magic:The Gathering Friday Night Magic at the best game store in town- Armored Gopher.  I'm going to try to play in the sealed deck event.  It's two-headed giant, so I'll need to find a partner. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Prep Time

I never know if I'm spending enough prep time as a player, or way too much.

Tomorrow is Jared's Council of Thieves campaign, and my Bard just leveled.  I had to decide on a feat, and on spells, and I really wanted to get his character sheet in a more user-friendly format (my character sheets end up getting overfilled with clutter).  So last Thursday, when Steve's Shackled City game was canceled at the last minute (life got in the way of his DMing), I took the opportunity to convert my bard to Dyslexic's Character Sheets.  Excellent sheets, BTW.  Follow the link!

I've got another game this Sunday with a newly leveled Cleric (8th level), and I have him mostly converted, though I still need a 7th level feat that I never selected.  I'm considering toughness.  But I've never taken toughness.  Then again, I've never had a character or campaign live long enough to hit 8th level.

I'm currently playing in 5 campaigns, with 6 main characters.  Pathfinder Society is one of those campaigns, and I have two active characters.  In Deadlands, and Hero System, there are no levels, so it's not a matter of leveling.  In Deadlands, occasionally I'll have an extra fate chip that I can apply to do something with - though it's been a few months since I actually had any real fate chips to spend.  And I've been waiting for a long time to try to take that character down a new career path.  It may never happen.  Anyway, there's not much to do to maintain that character.  In fact, the GM keeps the sheet, so I really don't even see it from week to week.

Hero System is a matter of figuring out what new powers I might want, and figuring out if there is a way I can make it work for that character.  As it is, that character is sort of a jack-of-all-trades, whose only real skill is to get beat up.  Again.  And Again. 

Which leaves Pathfinder for 3 separate campaigns.  Pathfinder always seems to take a lot of character maintenance.  Tracking loot, xp, gold, spells, magic items, animal companions, all of that becomes very accounting-ish.  It's easy to lose track of things.  So I'm trying those previously mentioned Dyslexic sheets.  They really look good.  And they are free.

And then there's Magic:The Gathering, which isn't an RPG, but a card game that takes a lot more work than any RPG.  I haven't made a new deck in months, and I haven't played multiplayer in several weeks.  I have deck ideas, but I never seem to have the energy/motivation to get out my huge cardboxes looking for the cards that need to go into the decks that I want to build.

So, what would be a good goal for myself in the next week?

Well, two goals.

1) take photos of miniatures that I've painted.  I almost got to the point where I could have done this, but life got in the way. 

2) Make a new magic deck.  It's *a**i** (deck choice A) or *p** (deck choice B)

I'll work on getting one or both of those goals accomplished in the next week. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My Tech History

This was going to be an post about gaming tech, but I'm trying to figure out where I'm going with that. 

I've always been a tech junkie.  I was the first person that I knew who had a mechanical pencil.  This was back in the 1970's when you had to actually go to a stationary store to find them amongst the gamings supplies.  It was a Staedtler Micrograph.  I remember buying 7H lead for thin construction lines, and 2H lead for heavier lines.

I remember how much of an improvement it made in my drafting, as all of my lines now had uniform thickness.

I taught myself to use a slide rule, because they were cool.  (Wow, was I a geek, or what?)

Back when I was in 5th or 6th grade, the first pocket calculators started coming down in price enough that they were affordable for students to buy.  I had a basic calculator for a long time, and then in 1979 or so, the TI-35 came out.  It was a scientific calculator that could be bought for the low low price of $17.  I can still hear the high-pitched whine of it's electronics.  (I have no idea why this thing made so much sound, but it would change pitch depending on what you were doing with it.)

I've always thought portable tech was way more fun that desktop tech.  In the early 1980's I had a small Sharp pocket computer that had like 16k memory for a BASIC interpreter.  I wrote a gas mileage calculator program for it, and used velcro to mount it to the visor of my 1973 Plymouth Satellite. 

I had a really crappy palm pilot for a while, that was bottom of the line and would never keep it's stylus tracking correct.  I think I threw that away eventually.

I still have a HP PocketPC floating around the house that I ended up giving to my wife with a Depth-of-Field calculator for her photography.  (Later she got a Droid 2, and found a DOF calculator for it, so the PocketPC is sitting idle). 

Later, I had a PocketPC phone, and was never crazy about it's battery life.  I'm much happier with my own Droid 2.  And I like the openness of the Android operating system. 

And my iPad, that I wrote about is awesome cool tech.  I couldn't even conceive of the speed and power and complete flexibility of such a piece of computing hardware back when I was playing with my TI-35.

I don't think I'm ever going to stop thinking handheld tech is awesome.  I'm just trying to visualize what it's going to be like in 20 years.  If Moore's law holds, then every 18 months or so, computing power doubles.  This means that in 20 years, we can expect devices to have doubled in power 13 times (2^13 = 4096).  So we're looking at (compared to my iPad), 64TB drives, 2-4TB ram, massively parallel cpus, 64000 dpi screens (or lower resolution, with actual holographic 3d?).  Bandwidth of 4 Gigabytes/second over the air.  

I'm just trying to imagine how great it will be to play Angry Birds on that kind of device. 

Just wondering how well the computing power has increased since 1990.  As I remember:

Computer Speed
16Mhz 386 -> 4Ghz Quad core : That's 1000x improvement in power.


RAM : 2MB -> 4GB : 2000x improvement
Screen Quality
640x480x8bit color -> 1280x1024x32bit color : 20x improvement in screen quality, but we've also gone from Flight Simulator at 5frames/second to expecting >60 frames per second in any game we play.  So call that another 12x factor.  20x12=240x improvement overall.

Hard Drive - 80MB -> 1TB : 12,500x improvement

28.8Kbps modem -> 15Mbps : 520x improvement

Wow.  The numbers are really kind of impressive (all taken from memory, but still...)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Wasted Time...

"And I know what’s been on your mind
You’re afraid it’s all been wasted time" - The Eagles (Album: Hotel California, 1976)

Have you ever said to yourself, "Well, that's five minutes that I'll never get back?"  I started thinking about wasted time the other day while I was watching someone spend an inordinate amount of time to decide what their character was doing in a game I was in.  Ironically, the person eventually decided to "delay". 

Of all the different things that irritate me in gaming, it's waiting, when I (or the rest of the table) shouldn't have to wait.

There's two main examples that most irritate me.

1) Waiting for late players.  I think of the two, this is the one I struggle with the most.  It's not just in gaming, but in work, or any other part of my life.  If I have an 8:00am meeting, I make damn sure that I'm at that meeting by 8:00am, or that I phone to let people know that I will be late, and that they should not wait on me.

I know there are people who are habitually late for just about everything in their lives.  I'm not one of them.  To me, when you keep people waiting on you, you might as well be saying to their faces, "My time is more important that all of yours put together."

There are exceptions, when waiting for someone is unavoidable.  If a player says, "I don't get off work until X, and I will pick up food on my way over, and I know I will always be 15 minutes late for the game.", I can work with this.  The person had the courtesy to tell me they would be late, and that they were doing what they could to mitigate the circumstance.  I can respect that kind of thoughtfulness.  I just wish people would try to be this thoughtful.  What I usually see, and what p1sses me off is people who don't give any warning about their tardiness, and show up whenever it's convenient to them, and then don't even apologize for their lateness.

My dad, who at 71 years old, is even more of a curmudgeon than I am said that he used to have work meetings where one or more participants were chronically late.  He said that his boss used to get angry at him for asking what time the 9:00am meeting was going to be, and for leaving the conference room to go get work done instead of sitting there waiting - saying "Please give me a call when you are ready to start the meeting."

I wish I could understand what goes through people's minds when they arrive late to gatherings to find everyone waiting on them.  Are they thinking "oh, jeez, I hope they aren't too mad.  Maybe if I don't mention it, everyone will pretend I wasn't late.", or are they thinking "oh good.  Everyone is here.  I'm glad that I took my time, so I don't have to stand around waiting like these chumps." ?

Okay. enough of waiting for people to arrive.  Once we are all at the game table, the other type of waiting that bugs me is:

2) People who take inordinately long turns, when they could be done in just a few seconds.  Things I've seen at the table (with confessions as appropriate):

a) People watching sports on their laptop, and when their turn comes, they have to have the combat situation explained to them.  Every turn.  (I will confess to using my laptop of iPad at game tables.  I've curtailed a lot of this since I began to realize how much waiting on people to take their turns bugged me.  And I try to be aware of what turn order is, if I do surf while waiting.  And a lot of my iPad use is looking up spells and powers and rules to try to be ready on my turn.

b) People who appear to spend zero thought on what their character might do, until everyone is waiting on them to make a decision.  Come on.  If there's six players and a DM, you can see when your turn is coming up.  Or at least who is right before you.  Look at the map.  Look at your options on your character sheet.  Have a plan.  I know the tactical situation might change before it gets to you, but have some idea of what you would like to do.

c) People who are utterly unready to do anything, and complain that their character is unable to be effective at the current moment, and take a long time to eventually decide to "delay".  Just about every game system I've ever played has some mechanism to delay until you or your character is ready to act.  If your turn comes, and you don't have an action to implement, just say "delay".  Everyone at the table will think you are a tactical genius who has a plan that you are just waiting for the correct moment to implement.  Not a dolt who couldn't be bothered to look at the battlemat.  Really.  I promise.

d) People who take a long long time shaking their dice.  I admit to generally going shake-shake-shake-shake-shake, when a simple shaka-shaka-shaka would probably suffice.  But every once in a while, I see a player who seems like they are really hoping to have all eyes on them as they spill out their dice onto the mat.  Maybe this one is just me being petty.  But it does irritate me.

Okay.  So those two general areas really bug me to wait.  I will mention the one thing that I don't mind waiting on.

***)ROLEPLAY.  If a player/character wants to play their role by berating an NPC, or by describing their action with more flourish than "I move to here and swing" by saying something like "My character grows a knowing smile as he meanders behind these boxes, ducking for cover and shouting taunts at his foes: 'Death to you, oh goblin enemies.  Be ware my wrath!'", I don't mind this at all.  This is the reason for roleplaying (at least to me).  Enjoying the actions that your character!  Suspending disbelief, and being that character, if only for a few seconds.  I don't even think I'd mind if someone ate up a whole bunch of table time so that their character could have some development (other than me - I always feel like I'm taking an inordinate amount of table time.  I have fun, but don't want to pull the fun from others.).

***)Rules verification.  Surprisingly, this does not irritate me either.  If someone is trying to figure out how a spell works that they don't use very often, or how tripping works, or how their dog works, and they are doing it as part of their action plan - I really don't mind waiting a few minutes for them to get things right.  (I know that I'm still looking up spell text fairly often when my turn comes around.  I think it's just part of the territory in playing a spellcaster).  There's probably a firm limit somewhere here as to how much time is polite.  I mean, if you are running animal companions, and summoned creatures, and other things that require lots of information, it's only polite to have as much as possile written down beforehand, so that people don't have to wait on you for every single turn.

Okay.  So general rules of courtesy.

1) Be punctual.  Show up on time, and ready to start at the appointed hour.

2) Be prepared. Plan for your character's action when other people are acting. 

3) Be courteous.  Remember that there is a whole table of people that are waiting for their turn too.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Paizo Blues

I was working on a long post, trying to put it in a form that I could send to Lisa Stevens, outlining what I see as problems with Paizo's Organized Campaign.  It's turned out like a lot of things that I start to write - I get about one to two thirds into it, and then I say "meh - this isn't working out."

I like playing Pathfinder.  I really really do.  I like the setting.  I like the 3.75 rules set - skills, feats, racial and class features, magic, combat, the whole thing.  I have fun making and playing characters for Pathfinder.  I like the scenarios that Paizo has published.  I've only run across a few that didn't thrill me, and part of that could just be put down to the style in which the GM ran the scenario.

What I don't like, and what seriously reminds me of Wizards of the Coast's Living Forgotten Realms campaign is the way in which it is run.  Here's the problems that I see.

1) Rules.  I like rules.  I mean I really enjoy figuring out what the rules are, and how they work, and how to make a character work within the rules.  Some people might call it power-gaming, or optimaxing, or some other word, like that is a bad thing.  I'm not sure I see it that way.  When I program, I look for shortcuts that increase the efficiency of the program.  When I drive, I don't take the longest route to my destination, I take the most efficient in terms of time and gas-expenditure.  I do the same thing in games that I play.  If I can do something to make my character more efficient, it seems logical that an actual individual living within that world would take the more efficient path.

Okay.  So I look for how the rules work, and pick what I think is the most efficient use of those rules.  I do this in Hero System, in Deadlands, in Shadowrun, and in Dungeons and Dragons.  I'm not talking specifically combat.  I'm saying that once my character is set upon a path, be it cleric, bard or fighter, or whatever, he's going to be the best that he can be.  But this depends on knowing what the rules are.  And this is where my problem occurs.  We're two years after product release, and while most of the game rules are nailed down fairly well, the Organized Play campaign is still in a constant state of flux.  (Not the good card game type of Flux, but flux as in "a state of change".) 

Season's 0 and 1 of Pathfinder Society were run by Joshua Frost.  After he left the company, Hyrum Savage and Mark Moreland have been running PFS.  And with that change, came a shift in the rules.  Suddenly one cannot replay modules with different characters from different factions.  Whether or not this a good thing is not really central to the point.  What bothers me is that it is a change to rules that affects the players.  We are also seeing changes to game rules that are leaving players looking to rebuild as choices that they made are no longer valid.

And what we're hearing is that (paraphrased) "Pathfinder Society is new.  Next season we should see the rules settle out."  But this is currently the third season of the program.  If you can't come up with a stable rules set in two and a half years, something is really really wrong.

There are also several rules changes that are done in the form of messageboard posts, rather than as changes to the rules document.  This is a personal peeve of mine.  The rules document is supposed to tell the player what the rules are.  The player should not be left hunting for additional rules.  I'll even go so far as to say that messageboard posts could be a valid method for implementing rules changes if the rules document describes them as valid sources of new rules, and gives a central location where one could find these changes.  But this doesn't happen.  In fact, one of the biggest changes to Organized Play was made as messageboard post several months ago, and has yet to be reflected in the official rules document.

Further irritating a rules junkie like me are rules that specifically do not do what the written rule states.  The most glaring rule that irks me is the Boon Companion feat from Seekers of Secrets.  As written, it is arguably overpowered.  The problem is that I've yet to meet an organized play judge who would let a player play the rule as written.  What the player is supposed to know is that the author posted on the Paizo Messageboards somewhere, sometime, that he intended the feat to work in a different manner, and that everyone is supposed to play as if that is the real wording on the feat.  There's a word that is used when words in a document are to be disregarded in favor of different words. The word is "errata", and Paizo seems loathe to actually issue any for their products.

Instead, what we see is posts buried within threads saying the author intended X, so even though the rule is written as Y, players should use X. 

I talked with a couple of game players about why Pathfinder Society and Paizo irritate me so much and other games do not.  What was suggested to me is that Paizo has a messageboard where these rulings occur, where other games do not.  Shadowrun is generally entirely by the book, and there are errata issued for rules that needed updating.  Deadlands is an out-of-print game, so what's in the rulebook is the rule, subject to DM interpretation (as are all rules).  Hero System is friken complete.  And you just don't see things that are unbalanced that the book itself doesn't alert the GM to the imbalance.  Call of Cthulhu is GM driven, with a small rule set.  Nobody argues interpretations of "yep, you are insane - make a new character".

So in an effort to reduce my irritation level with Pathfinder, I'm finding that I visit the messageboards much less, and have given up posting entirely.  If I ever run into a situation where the DM says that the rules in the book are not valid for play, then I'll remember I always have the option to stand up and walk away from the table.

I walked away from 4e Dungeons and Dragons because I was fed up with their rules changes and their "ruling by twitter" attitude.  And I have been much happier in my gaming ever since.  I just hope that I don't have to do the same with Pathfinder.  I'd miss the setting a lot.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Champions Recap

GopherDave ran his Champions - Phoenix game tonight.  This game is always a blast.

We started the evening at the beginning of a combat (see last session's recap for details).  Mister Sarcastic was inside of the H.U.R.T. van, trying to find the assailant that had done serious bodily harm to the agent driving us to the former Viridian Industries site on the outskirts of Las Vegas.  He realized that whoever had attacked the driver had done so with a beam weapon from the roof of the van.  Mister S attempted to teleport through the hole left by the beam weapon to the roof of the van.  Unfortunately, his teleportation power failed to activate, and a wave of vertigo left him off balance and reaching for something stable.  Furthering the unfortunate event, the only thing his grasping hand found was the steering wheel of the van.  Accidentally wrenching the wheel sent the van into an uncontrolled roll.

Strobe, Stephanie and Dr. Strasser engaged the "Science Police" who were (probably) trying to capture Stephanie.  They took down one enemy agent, and were seriously threatening another, when it phase-shifted back inside the factory building.

The suddenly rolling van took the attacking agent on the roof by complete surprise, and he tumbled off, landing somewhat safe in the scrub.  Mister Sarcastic again attempted to unsuccessfully teleport from the van, but this time suffered no additional mishap.  Frustrated with his inability to activate the teleportation power, Mister S opened the van door, and tumbled safely to the ground.

Right around this time, a new participant arrived to the combat.  Henrietta Vasques young son Max, apparently had a prophetic dream foretelling this massive battle involving his recently found hero, Mister Sarcastic.  Determining that Mister S needed his help, he used his newly discovered superpowers to fly to the Las Vegas location.  Upon arrival, he evaluated the situation and decided that the large rolling van would make an excellent weapon.  Using telekinesis, he directed the rolling of the van onto the SciCop, crushing him into a helpless heap.

As this was transpiring, two SciCops appeared in one of the service doors of the factory, ready to engage Strobe, Stephanie and Strasser.  Acting quickly to defend Stephanie, Mister S uses mind control to force the two enemy to attack him instead.  The triple S also recognized the threat, and Stobe used her telekinetic powers to slam the double doors into this new threat.  Max, seeing this decides to throw the van into the doors as well, blocking the SciCops from view.

Sarcastic notices that teleporting to the top of the van would allow him to drop to the far side where he could engage the enemy.  He does so, to find not two, but four SciCops who promply open fire on him.  One enemy scores a hit, dazing him momentarily.  Strobe sees Mr. S' maneuver and follows suit similarly.  She begins to hammer at the enemy with her light based powers.

Meanwhile Stephanie pulls the severely injured HURT agent from the crumpled remains of the van, and Dr. Strasser succeeds in stabilizing him, despite being blinded by the side effects of Strobe's attacks on the enemy.  Strasser, realizing that the SciCops are trying to abduct Stephanie tells her to flee the scene, so that whatever happens, the Sci's will fail in their mission.  Stephanie, seeing as usual that discretion is not just the better part, but the only part of valor begins running from the fight.

Maximillian, deciding that he cannot see enough of the battle, flies to the far side of the factory, and enters invisibly through an open window, so that he can see his hero, Mister Sarcastic, in action.  Sarcastic, realizing that decisive action is necessary successfully activates his Nintendo Power Glove, granting him enhanced strength, which he uses to pummel two agents into unconsciousness.  Strobe takes out a third agent.  Max, overcome with excitement decides to "help" in the battle, but really only manages to stun Strobe and Mister Sarcastic.  Mister Sarcastic, unable to control his tongue when injured, throws a bitter insult at the invisible Max, reducing him to tears. 

The remaining agent sees that the fight is lost, and throws his gun towards Mister Sarcastic and Strobe.  He then engages a control on his arm, and he and all of the unconscious SciCops disappear.  Max hears a beeping coming from each of the SciCops weapons, which mysteriously were left behind.  He determines that they are going to explode, and reappears to warn his hero of the danger.  Mister Sarcastic grabs Max, and runs to the exit, and keeps running.  Strobe and Strasser also begin to run.

Stephanie, approaching the SciCop who was downed by the tumbling van also notices the beeping, and stops to user her mental control powers to keep that particular weapon from exploding.  The other five weapons all detonate simultaneously, each with the power of a miniature nuclear device.  Strobe and Strasser take a considerable amount of damage, and Strasser is knocked unconscious.  Mister Sarcastic throws his body over Max's to shield him from the blast.  His already battered body is further injured, but he survives.

The HURT agent was not so fortunate.  Sheltered from some of the blast by the building and the wrecked van, he is nevertheless killed by the combination of explosion and radiation.  Mister Sarcastic briefly considers attempting to use his power to try to revive the expired operative, but knows that it would be suicide even to try.

In the aftermath, emergency services show up, and help Stephanie disarm the unexploded weapon.  The bomb squad takes great interest in this future tech, but Stephanie only lets them keep one component of the weapon, insisting that it will be enough to let them figure out the bomb's workings.

Mister Sarcastic, angry almost to the point of fury with the young Max for having not only endangered himself in the fight, but by also contributing to the harm of the HURT agent who was in the van while Max was throwing it over the countryside teleports away - landing in the living room of the parents of one Agent Randall.  It seems Agent Randall was enjoying his down time watching a game and drinking beer.

Mister S briefly outlines the battle, and his anger with Max, but then changes the subject entirely.  He proposes, even insists, that he is hiring Agent Randal to head up an alternative agency, free from government red tape.  He reasons that Bob Lattimer is out of his depth in being placed as an administrator of HURT, and that Agent Randall is needed for his leadership skills.  Mister S says that no matter what Randall's decision is, as far as S is concerned, Randall is on the payroll, and that a limo and a corporate jet will be placed at his disposal, and that money would start to flow his way immediately.  Agent Randall is left to mull over his future, as S returns to the Vegas factory.

Max returns to tell Bob Lattimer what has happened, and begs that Bob not tell his mother.  Of course, Bob immediately calls Henrietta Vasquez to his office to let her know what her son has been up to.

Strasser and Strobe oversee decontamination operations, thus ending the evenings adventures.

Tom Reed adds: "While Mr S. was talking to Randall, Strobe explored the building ruins and discovered an underground bunker (shielded from the blast). Inside the bunker are two tubes holding clones of the Devereaux twins."

Brain Dead Saturday - TV

I've been running through back episodes of tv series looking for something to get interested in, and I've only been having limited success.

Outrageous Fortune - this is the Australian original version of the American remake called Scoundrels.  It's centered on a family of small time criminals and how they cope when the head of the family finally has to do some time to pay for his crime.  I kept expecting more when I watched the American version, and I went looking for the original.  After watching half of its first season, I kind of went "meh", and gave up on it.  It's kind of interesting, but when it comes down to it, everyone in the family who is intelligent enough to not be a small-time crook has pretty much turned out normal and has a family that embarrasses them.

Shameless  - I found the British version before the American version got made.  I noticed that the original is up to season 8.  I tried an episode or two, and just couldn't get interested.  I haven't tried the American counterpart.  I know the American version is running on one of the cable networks and is trying to attract viewers by showing skin, but even that really isn't bringing any interest from me.  (Wow, am I getting old, or what?)

Skins - same deal.  Maybe I'm just two old to watch young people acting arrogant and stupid at the same time.

So I've been re-watching The Good Guys.  This 2010 single season series starring Colin Hanks and Bradley Whitford as an Odd Couple of police detectives.  Colin Hanks is the by-the-book detective who gets partnered with stuck-in-the-80's Bradley Whitford, and the two solve the dregs of criminal cases together.  GopherDave turned me on to this about half way through the season, and I quickly caught up, and was highly disappointed at its cancellation.

I also ran through Flash Gordon , the 2007 Canadian remake of the classic serial.  Several no-name actors (okay, the title role is played by Eric Johnson who's only other really recognizable credit was the season one Smallville jock/nemesis Whitney Fordham, who's character ended up joining the marines, only to die in combat halfway across the world) do a great job on what looks like a tight special effects budget and costume budget.  There's one episode where you can see Flash's love interest Dale Arden (played by Gina Holden) and guest starring character wearing the exact same sweater.  In order to cover up this costume gaffe, Gina Holden's character wears her sweater backwards for the entire episode.  Wow, looking at the photo to the right, that's the sweater, but in the photo, she's wearing it correctly.)  Anyway, the story flows well throughout the series, and you get some depth out of even the minor characters in the story.  It's another series that deserved more than one season.

I've been slowly plowing (I'm not sure if that's a good word.   I like the series.) through the six season (2002-2007) television adaptation of Stephen King's The Dead Zone.   Anthony Michael Hall (all grown up from Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club) does a creditable job in filling Christopher Walken's shoes as John Smith, a car accident victim who awakens from a six year coma to find that his fiancée is now married and that his child is being raised to call another man dad.  He sees an apocalyptic result as a vision when he shakes the hand of a shady local politician and works to change that result, as well as to fundamentally alter the lives of the people he sees in his visions.  Nicole De Boer (who was left filling Terry Ferrell shoes on Start Trek: Deep Space Nine)  does a great job as his ex-fiancée, and now good friend.  Long time character actor Chris Bruno also excels as Walt Bannerman, Sheriff and father to Anthony Michael Hall's son.  I like the fact that they could have made the Sheriff a jerk, or someone who you would be sympathetic if John wanted to pursue his lost love, but instead they made him a "good man" - a good father, a good husband (despite a short separation with his wife in season 3 while they worked out longstanding issues), a good sheriff, and even a good friend to John Smith, despite the inherent rivalry in their situation.  A good series, and you even get the occasional cameo from AMH's past (like Ally Sheedy showing up for a few episodes).

Quick mention to some of the other shows worth digging out DVD's or AVIs of:  The Middleman ("Fighting Crime So You Don't Have To", Firefly (of course), and Jekyll (BBC modern day rendition of Jekyll and Hyde - truly excellent - damn, now I want to rewatch this one!),

Friday, March 11, 2011

Characters I Want to Play

Pathfinder Characters

Dwarf Bard - Inspire Courage - "Git off yer lazy butt and kill something!" It might be fun to play him with just barely enough charisma to actually cast spells.  (Or perhaps he would simply use wands for all of his casting.)

Gnome Paladin on a Riding Dog (with a Lance).  I love the idea of a little gnome riding all around the dungeon spearing things.  It might even be fun to have him be something other than a paladin, and simply lie to everyone and say that he was Lawful Good. 

I've never played a Barbarian character, but it seems like it would be fun to play one from a very civilized race.  Halfling, or half-elf.  Something you wouldn't expect to fly into a rage.

Hero System Characters

I'd like to play a mentalist at some point.  I've played a melee fighter, and it would be fun to change up and play someone who can control others minds.  I tried this long ago in Shadowrun, but it's exceedingly difficult to play a mentalist in that game that stays alive for long.

Deadlands - Hell on Earth

If Chuck Conners, my sniper ever dies, I have a Syker (psychic combat) character ready to play.  I need a backstory for him, beyond his "I saw the world end, and wandered in the remnants until now."

Other Games

I'm not currently playing any other game systems, but for a while I've thought it would be fun to play a mage character who completely kept all of his powers hidden.  He'd need a cover identity.  Maybe as an investigator exploring reports of paranormal activity.  That way he'd have a reason that weird things happened around him.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Character Concepts

For me, the hardest part of making a character for a game is choosing the concept. The actual build is pretty easy. I can crunch numbers, and come up with a character who can fulfill whatever role I'm aiming for. But it's the concept itself that is really really hard for me.

When I started playing in Dennis' Deadlands - Hell on Earth game, I thought that I wanted to make a character who wasn't magical. I didn't know the rules system at all and wanted to make a straightforward character. So I thought "man with a gun". And when I thought about "man with a gun" in a wild west setting, it reminded me of Chuck Conners old show The Rifleman.

I refined it a bit to make my "Chuck Conners" (that's the name of the character. If I want to rip something off, I'm going all the way.) into a sniper. I bought the best gun I could afford, and gave him the skills to use it. Beyond that though, I didn't really have any depth to the character. (Well, I had a backstory about how his wife and daughter survived the initial apocalypse, only to be set upon by reavers - leaving Chuck to wander, without family, looking for purpose in his life. But that really just gave me a reason that he was a blank slate).

Once into the game, Chuck has grown a little. He's found God, and is slowly working his way towards being Blessed (gaining magical power through his faith). But he's still somewhat shallow.

My Dungeons & Dragons (or Pathfinder, now that WOTC has pretty much killed the name Dungeons & Dragons) characters tend to suffer from the same lack of depth. I'm currently playing a cleric called Brother Elias, who has served a succession of evil deities, even though at least one DM says that I play the character more Chaotic Good than evil. He has no real backstory. He's simply "cleric of an evil deity, with a wicked good animal companion". His lack of depth hasn't hampered my fun in playing the character. Of all the organized play characters I've had, he's in the top two in terms of fun.

The other one of the top two OP characters is the late Vekna! (the exclamation point is mandatory) that I played in Living Forgotten Realms. He was a Dwarf Fighter (sometimes Battlerager) that had an affinity for mounted combat. He had absolutely no backstory whatsoever, other than being supremely confident in his own abilities. Despite the lack of backstory, I have multiple custom miniatures that I've made of Vekna with various mounts (Horse, Hippogriff, Riding Lizard). Brother Elias also has his own custom mini, along with his faithful animal companion Mister Chuckles. (Large ape wearing armor, wielding a lucerne hammer. A sight to behold).

I'll try to get some photos of the minis in time for next RPG Thursday.

New Location

After spending half an hour looking for the exact place on livejournal to allow anonymous posting, I decided to try out blogger.  I originally tried blogger when it first opened up many moons ago (2003?), and because I had an account, google invited me to try out gmail when they first started their beta.  I've had a gmail account since 2004, and other than spam, I've never had to delete any messages.  (I didn't have to delete the spam, but got tired of seeing it in my inbox, so every once in a while, I'll add a bunch of new filters to get the stuff that keeps finding its way in.)

I'm sure I'll do some customization of the site in the near future, but I wanted to get a post up sooner, rather than later.