A collection of rambling posts about gaming, running, and politics. (and, in 2009, photography.)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

blogging dry spell

Hello World!

What have I been up to, you ask?

Well, not a lot really. Not much that seems particularly exciting anyway.

I picked up Half Life 2 again. I'd played it ages and ages ago, and got most of the way through the game. Still had it installed on my desktop, so I finished it up. Great fun! I also went ahead and grabbed Half Life 2: Episode One, the first part of the sequel to HL2. Its good so far.

Been kinda dry on the gaming front lately as well. Maybe that's why I havent been blogriffic. But I fell off of the blog bandwagon this time last year too, I think. Maybe its seasonal. But gaming - one of our four TSOY players has headed back to school out of state. We had planned to wrap up our loose ends and bring the current story to a close, and sadly had little time in which to do it. But I planned for it and had some things ready to move, but both of our last two sessions got canceled. Which sucks. So, no closure to the story. I'm not losing any sleep over it, but it does stink. I've offered the remaining three players to wrap it up for them, and perhaps we'll return to it, but its on hold. And for some reason I have found myself completely unable to make it all the way through chargen with Burning Wheel. I'm a little mortified.

What else... work. I should blog about work sometime. I'm never inclined to, because work, while often interesting, is not something that I seek to do with my free time. And I enjoy talking about the stuff I do with my free time. Well, that and I've created a gaming theme with some running and movies and random stuff thrown in, I dont know that I'm really interested in delving deeply into work on here. Just cause, well, its boringish tech stuff.

Oh, music and movies. Ok - I bought the new Ok Go album. It was like $7 on iTunes, and I couldnt pass it up. Its catchy and fun, and has some really good sound to it. I fear it will not hold my interest for months - like say.. the NIN 'With Teeth' album has, but I'm enjoying it. And movies.. I swear I've seen like half a dozen movies, but... Oh, that's right. Movies lately have failed to make any impression on me. I've just been underwhelmed with them alot lately. Like, alot moreso than usual, it feels like. I fit oddly in the middle of alot of people I know, on the one hand, the people who scorn 99% of movies and movie watching, and on the other, the folks who are big fans of almost everything. *Shrug* Anyway - in brief, and I wish I could remember which movies they were.. but I just totally didnt feel attached to the characters or the story, which is kinda the point of watching a movie, isnt it? The one almost exception was 16 Blocks, with Bruce Willis and Mos Def, both of whom I like. And I liked the movie. Right up until the end. I won't spoil it for you, if you're reading this and havent watched it, but the ending really soured the whole movie for me.

Anyway, that's about it. Sorry I dont have more fun or interesting stuff to share, but I'll see what I can do.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

What's shaking lately?

Not alot here.

I've been keeping relatively busy with some gaming here and there, some sleep, a little hanging out and being nice to people, some work, even some out-of-town travel with work.

Partly as a reminder to myself, I'm working on doing little jerm-gaming-reviews for Sorcerer and Burning Wheel.

So... kinda a non-update, but I'll try to be more interesting soon!

Friday, August 4, 2006


Couple things: first, not game related- this blog is A.W.E.S.O.M.E. That's not really an acronym, btw, its just for emphasis.

Now, game related: This guy's journal is worth keeping up with if you're interested in game related stuff. Earlier this year he wrote this:

The Fun Now Manifesto

(nothing new, just formalized)

1. Not everyone likes the same thing
2. Play with people you like
3. Play with rules you like
4. Everyone is a player
5. Talking is good
6. Trust, not fear or power
7. It's a game, not a marriage
8. Fun stuff at least every 10 minutes
9. Fix problems, don't endure them

I'd just like to add that my role playing philosophy has done a 180 in the last year or so. Its all about going from it being a formalized highly restrictive medium for "fun", into a dynamic non-restrictive medium for FUN. Its just always wild to look back in my gaming perspective.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

Kabab Iroog

So.. awhile back I found a fantastic looking recipe for an Iraqi dish here.

I decided to make it, and then promptly forgot about it. Well I rembered for some reason, and determined to make it.

I couldnt find much helpful on making some biryani spice, so I asked some friends, and Lanfaedhe suggested the following:

14:26:55 [lanfaedhe] my usual mix is 3 parts cumin, 3 parts coriander, 2 parts tumeric, 1 part chili

To which I added about 2 parts curry as well.

Well here's the recipe:

Kabab Iroog
This is a traditional Iraqi form of ‘Kabab’ but instead of being cooked on a ‘sheesh’, it is fried in an ordinary frying pan. The finished product should look like an oval hamburger- but not as smooth.

Depending on the size of the kababs, this mix makes from 15 – 25 kababs.


2 cups ground beef (don’t know how much two cups is in pounds or kilos- we measure by sight)
1 large bell pepper/ green pepper, chopped into small pieces
1 large tomato, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
1 ¾ cup flour
about 1 teaspoon chopped parsley (some like to use coriander)
1 teaspoon salt
black or white pepper (as much as you want)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon beryani spices (probably not available- but also not necessary)
corn oil (or any other vegetable oil- but not olive oil)
curry (optional)

1. Mix the ground beef, bell pepper, tomato, onion, garlic and flour together in a large bowl. Add the black pepper, salt, parsley and other spices to the mix.

2. Mix the whole thing by hand, squishing it around until everything looks more or less ‘together’. Try forming a small ‘patty’ with the mixture, does it hold together? If it’s too wet, add some more flour. If it’s too dry, add some water.

3. Heat about ¾ cup vegetable oil in a non-stick pan. Form the mixture into oval kabab patties that are about 4 inches long, 2 inches across and only half an inch thick. It’s best to have a small bowl of cold water on hand to dunk your fingers in so that the mixture doesn’t stick to them.

4. Carefully place them in the heated oil, like you would a hamburger and give them a couple of minutes to cook on one side. Don’t put more than 5 together in the pan. Before flipping them all to the other side, tentatively check the cooked side- the color should have changed from pinkish to an orange-brown.

5. After each kabab has cooked, place it on some paper towels or napkins to drain the excess oil.

This is best eaten with lentil soup, or other types of soup, and a fresh lettuce salad. Here in Iraq, we sometimes make sandwiches with Kabab Iroog by putting them into some bread (our bread is odd-looking but wonderful- I could write poetry about the bread), with shredded lettuce and sliced tomatoes. They need neither ketchup nor mustard- they have their own flavor.


And damn it was good stuff. I cant imagine being able to accurately describe a taste to you, but I'll try anyway. It tasted *like* hamburger, but was very obviously flavored by the biryani. The flour in it gave it a different consistency, and perhaps influenced the taste as well, and one friend said it tasted a little like a paste. But it was absolutely fantastic. We picked up some Lentil soup mix and it was fantastic as well, and the two really did go well together.

So, if you read this and are just a little bit adventuresome in the kitchen, I HIGHLY recommend giving it a try!

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

more running

Short post.

I'm pleased to say that I've been doing a good job of keeping up with running. Yazhi has been as well.

If you live anywhere in the northern hemisphere, I bet you know just about exactly how hot it is right now. Its fucking hot.

Despite that, I've managed to put in at least 2.5 or 3 like every other day for the last two weeks or so. Its not quite like clockwork, but the runs, even when they're hot, they feel good :)

And Yazhi has been going with me for some of them. She's such a great runner, its terribly entertaining and reinforcing for me.

She starts out at a dead run, like a long shaggy gaited run. She's a fairly big dog and has a long stride when she's at it, so she surges ahead. Lately we've been going out of my housing complex and up the street, crossing a street and continuing along, then turning around and coming back. I've been doing between two and three miles with her, as I dont want to hurt her either with heat or distance. Halfway through the run she's still with me, but isnt so surging anymore, and runs beside me, curious about interested noises and things along the way. I should mention that she's a terrific runner with me. I run with her on like a 6' leash, but a majority of the time she just runs beside me, with slack in the leash. I've been working slowly on getting her off the leash.. letting her do short distances running beside me, not on the leash. Its going well. But anyway, when we're nearing the end of our run, she looks at every complex entrance like its our complex, and is eager to return home. She starts to drag, and instead of surging ahead, or even running right beside me, she runs behind me like I'm pulling her along. I take a camelback with cold water along, and make sure that both she and I get some cool water, but she's a big black dog, and so I worry about the heat, so both she and I are glad when we make it home. She collapses on the tile floor, and laps at water and pants heavily and lies there like.. well like she just ran 3 miles with me. But man she's SO excited when I put my running clothes on and such. Its good stuff =D

In other news, we watched the new Pink Panther movie. It was really reall funny =)

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

the Shadow of Yesterday

Ok, so if you read anything I write on here, you've read about the Shadow of Yesterday.

I'll try though to sift through and break down the mechanical and gameplay aspects of it though. For some reason I got a wild hair to do this for the games that I'm currently into or reading. It bears mentioning that I did a post that hit on alot of the mechanical/game aspects of TSOY here.

The Shadow of Yesterday [wiki] is a game that's actually available for free, thanks to its author, Clinton Nixon and the Creative Commons License. You can grab the text of the main book here, and the setting here.

Firstly, damn, I cant say enough good things about this game. I'm totally hooked.

TSOY is a rather rules-lite fantasy RPG. It uses FUDGE dice.

Character creation is pretty quick and simple. You'll divide 11 points among your three Pools, Reason, Instinct and Vigor. I'll fill you in on what these do shortly. Abilities (skills basically) are all ranked Unskilled (rank 0), Competent (rank 1), Adept (rank 2), Master (rank 3) or Grand Master (rank 4). Everyone takes Endure (based off of the Vigor Pool), React (based off of the Instinct Pool), and Resist (based on the Reason Pool). They take one at Adept, one at Competent and one at Unskilled. Then you choose four more abilities, and there are excellent examples provided in the book, enough that you dont have to create your own, though you're encouraged to do so, if you find yourself in need of one that's not printed. Of the four additional abilities that you take, you get one at Adept and the other three at Competent. You also get one Secret and one Key. Secrets are the equivalent to Edges or Feats. They let you hit harder, jump higher, be more convincing, etc etc. Keys are part of where the game really shines. A Key is something like the Key of Bloodlust. With this key, every time your character defeats someone in battle, you gain 1 xp; or 3 xp for defeating someone who is equal to more powerful than your character. In short, Keys are how you define the game for yourself. If you want to play a character who is all about the brawling and fighting and blood, you take Keys like Bloodlust, Masochist and maybe Conscience. Thus you're getting XP whether you're beating people down or getting beaten down yourself. Or if you're a more thiefly type, you can take a Key that gives you XP for stealing stuff and getting gold. Its really really the most excellent thing. There are a number of good keys in the book, and you're encouraged to make up your own. Someone familiar with the game could have a new character ready to go in like three minutes probably, and a first timer with some guidance could have one done in five or ten mintues, allowing for time for them to read through the abilities, secrets and keys.

Since they're so cool, here are some more of the keys written up in the book:
*Key of the Coward
Your character avoids combat like the plague. Gain 1 XP every time your character avoids a potentially dangerous situation. Gain 3 XP every time your character stops a combat using other means besides violence. Buyoff: Leap into combat with no hesitation.
*Key of the Impostor
Sometimes your entire life is a lie. You gain 1 XP whenever you pass yourself off as someone/something you're not. You gain 2 XP whenever you convince others in spite of serious skepticism. You gain 5 XP whenever your story survives a deliberate, focused, "Hey everybody, look!" attempt to reveal your identity. Buyoff: Confess your imposture to those duped.
*Key of Renown
"You must be the worst assassin I've ever heard of." "But you have heard of me." You gain 1 XP whenever you see to it that your name and deeds are known, by bragging about them or making sure there are witnesses. You gain 2 XP whenever you put yourself at risk to do something unnecessary or foolish that will add to your reputation. You gain 5 XP whenever you risk your life to take credit for your actions (bragging that you were the one who killed the Duke's son, for example.). Buyoff: Give someone else credit for an action that would increase your renown.

Gameplay is pretty simple, but has a twist, which I'll explain. Every dice roll is going to be a conflict of some type. The system is setup for Conflict Resolution, rather than Task Resolution. The clearest example of this is combat, in which instead of declaring that you're stabbing the nasty orc, then rolling to hit and doing some damage, then repeating the process until it falls down, you create stakes and roll the conflict. It might work like this. "The nasty orc is going to stab your eyes out! Conflict time. Lets set the stakes as follows- if you win, your quick work with your shortsword leaves the orc in a bloody messy pile in the dark alley. If you lose though, the orc is dead and in a messy pile at your feet, right as his four friends come around the corner. Roll." Or something similar. There are innumerable variations, all depending on your groups creativity and scope of play. Basically though, while failure at a conflict can mean failure at the task, it more often, or perhaps should result in a complication. If you're picking a lock in the middle of the night and you roll poorly, it doesnt necessarily mean that you just failed this time and should try again. Heck maybe the door clicks right open, but the owner of the propery you are breaking into and his two mean nephews are just inside and happen to be sharpening their new swords. Complication :)

As far as the actual dice rolling, its Fudge dice, so they're six sided dice, but instead of the sides being numbered 1 through 6, you have two faces with a "+" on them, two with a "-" on them, and two blank sides. By default in a conflict you roll three Fudge dice. I'm sure you can do the math, but with three of these dice you may get a +++ or you may get a ---, or anything in between. You take this result (a plus, a plus and a blank is 2; a plus a minus and a plus is 1, three blanks are 0) and add it to your rank in the ability. All you need to succeed is a 1, unless its a contested roll. So if you're Competent in the ability, you only need three blanks to succeed, since Competent is (1).

Now the twist. Bringing Down the Pain, or BDtP. Any player can elect to Bring Down the Pain after a resisted ability check. Usually its done after a failed check. What it does in regard to the game is allow the player to "do over". But more than that, it allows them to focus the invisible camera of the game onto them and what they're doing. It breaks from the Conflict Resolution system of the game, and becomes more task based and granular. It uses what's called the Harm Tracker to determine the outcome, though of course either opponent can give, and allow the others intent to take place. I'll talk more about the Harm Tracker in a sec. Lets say you're a sneaky thiefly type, trying to sneak your way into the Baron's castle. Well there's a guard walking a regular patrol on the parapet that you just scaled, and you need to get past him. He's keeping an eye out for people just like you, so we have a conflict (unless you Said Yes, as in "Say Yes or Roll Dice" another separate but fun topic). We setup stakes - you're going to use your Stealthy ability, which you're a Master in (that's 3), and I'm going to use the guard's React ability, in which he is a Master as well. Stakes are that if you succeed, you've grasped the lip of the parapet, waiting until the guards patrol carries him past your position, then once clear you launch yourself up over the battlement and land on the balls of your feet, sprinting silently across and leaping over the opposite battlement to catch hold of the edge so that you can climb down the inside of the castle's wall, if you fail I decide that you leapt onto the parapet right after the guard passed, but that a flagstone shifts under your foot, alerting not only the guard that just passed, but also the Captain of the Guard and his two cronies who you didnt notice until just now.. We roll and I get a plus, plus, blank, so a 5, while you get a plus, minus, blank so a 4. Well you could certainly stay with the results of the failure. It might be alot of fun to figure out how to get out of that predicament. But instead you can ignore the result and Bring Down the Pain. We rewind, you're still clinging to the outside wall of the castle. There's a guard walking patrol on the top. We break it down and set intents, yours is to get across the wall unseen, mine is to discover the thief hiding about in the shadows. You decide that you're going to use your Deceit ability to provide a distraction, throwing a small rock down the parapet to draw his attention. In turn, I'm going to use his React ability to keep a wary eye out on the shadows, looking for anyone trying to infiltrate the castle. You notice these are Parallel actions - they dont actual counter each other, if that were the case we would call them Perpendicular. So you roll your Deceit and I roll my React, the guard ends up with a 2 and you end up with a 3. Since these are Parallel, we both deal harm to each other, there's no defending or subtracting anything in this case, so I take Harm at level 3 and you take Harm at level 2. Next round we'll both have a penalty dice. At any point either of us could give, allowing the other's intent to take place. But we're going to keep going, so you decide that you're going to use your Athletics now to move hand over hand down the wall, further away from the guard in order to get away from his gaze, while the guard continues to keep a close eye out, made nervous by the clattering rock. We roll our abilities and perhaps in this case, the thief might use his successes to subtract from the number of successes that the guard got, thereby reducing my harm - since the thief is moving away from the guard. We continue back and forth like this, using any abilities that we can bring into the action here and going back and forth with dice rolls until one of us gives, or until we're taken past 6 on the Harm Tracker. And that's another of the really really beautiful things about the system. The harm tracker is not just another clever take on Hit Points. Its not just how many hits from a sword you can take. It is used whether you're having a spear duel against barbarians from the north, trying to talk the king into considering your plan, or attempting to sneak past guards on top of walls.

So I went kinda long there. I sorta get a wild glint in my eye and begin to gesticulate and froth at the mouth when it comes to TSoY. You'll have to pardon me. But that's really it. That's the system. Players hit their keys and grab XP (I use pennies and nickles, penny = 1 xp, nickel = 5 xp, easy enough). When they hit them, they reach in and take XP. You can use those Pools I talked about earlier to add a bonus dice to your pool for a conflict. Oh, and there are gift dice. At the beginning of every session, you get a number of dice equal to the number of players at the table that you can give out once per conflict to other players when they're doing something especially cool or groovy. They roll that as a bonus dice, increasing their chances for success.

I cant say enough good things about this system.

[edit - fixed a couple errors]

[edit - more on keys!]

Riddle of Steel

So while in Atlanta, I picked up The Riddle of Steel, by Jacob Norwood and Rick McCann. [wiki link]

This is a game which is not so much based on as inspired by the world of Conan the Barbarian.

I can talk long about the game, but there are two things that stick out immediately.

Combat is incredibly deadly.

Sorcerery is incredibly powerful.

Here's how it works. (And here [pdf in .zip format] are quickstart rules, in case you want more.)

Character creation is priority based, like shadowrun. You have six categories and of course you assign them A through F in priority. There are (from memory) Race and Sorcerery, Social Class, Skills, Gifts, Attributes, Proficiencies & Vagaries. Race and Sorcerery decide if you are one of the Fey, or a human or a magic user, Social Class decides your starting money, income and, well, your social standing, Skills determine how skilled you are at the skills you have access to, Gifts give you access to basically positive and negative feats/edges, Attributes are things like toughness, will, etc, and Proficiencies are actual weapon and sorcerery related pools. To expand that a bit, when you take your Skill Level, your pick is I think, A: 6/6, B: 6/7, C: 7/7, D: 8/8, E: 9/9, F: 9. What this means is that if you assign anything except Priority F to Skill Levels, you get two Careers. These are things like Soldier, Laborer, Druid, etc. Each of these has a set of skills. If you take Priority A, and you pick Soldier and Laborer, you get all soldier and laborer skills at 6. The lower a skill rating, the better, as you're trying to roll over it. There are also Spiritual Attributes, which are calculated and used differently than your Temporal and Mental Attributes. Spiritual Attributes give you a mechanism to make your role play have a meaning within the game, er related to dice, that is. You can take some combination of the following: Passion, Drive, Faith, Destiny, Conscience, Luck. You use these in particular circumstances such as, if you had Drive: "The people of Dungeonville must be freed from the Dragonian oppressors", the dice that you put into this may be added to any roll that defends or furthers this cause. Or Passion: "Baron Spleen spared me from the executioner, I owe him my very life.", or Passion: "A Six fingered man killed my father. I will have my revenge." You can add dice from this pool to any roll that directly affects the object of Passion. Chargen takes a little while.

Skill tests and such in the game are pretty standard, you use pools of d10s which are based on your attributes, of which there are like 10. If you're doing a stealth check, in which you have a 6, and its based on your Agility, in which you have a 4, you're probably going to roll 4d10 and try to get 6 or higher.

Combat is bloody. The author claims that they studied medieval western combat and attempted to model that in their game. I'm not much of an authority on medieval combat so I cant offer an experienced opinion, but it seems to do a good job to me of modeling people trying to kill each other with heavy sharp bits of metal. A friend and I ran a pair of test combats. One character was quite proficient at combat while the other was not proficient at combat, so I suppose we could have done a better test, but one combat lasted exactly one round, the other lasted two rounds. In each case, the weaker combatant was killed in brutal fashion.

Mechanically speaking, combat is handled with Combat Pools, a derived attribute. There's really not initiative, at the beginning each participant opts to attack or defend. Two opponents defending end up circling each other until someone attacks. At its simplest, once someone attacks, they take some or all of their Combat Pool and roll it to attack. But the game provides maneuvers like Cut, Thrust, Block & Strike, just to name a few, and you can select which area of the body you are striking. Each maneuver has an activation cost that may be 0, or can be as high as 3 or so, depending on your weapon and how you spent your Proficiencies related to combat. The activation cost comes out of your combat pool. Each weapon has a target number you're looking for. You roll your combat pool and count up successes. Your opponent, if defending, can roll his or her combat pool to defend against you. Again, maneuvers can be selected depending on weapon and Proficiency choices. If both are attacking however, its going to be bloody. At its simplest, if one person attacks while another defends, both roll their combat pool. If the attacker scores more successes, a hit is scored and damage gets calculated. Damage is determined by your success margin, your strength and the weapon you're using, reduced by the opponents armor in the area that you've struck and their toughness. Then you take whatever is left (if greater than or equal to 1), and check the damage tables. You get results like "Hip mangled badly, broken bone fragments cause bleeding", or "Torn ligament or similar wound; instantly drop items in that hand." There are things like Shock, Pain and Blood Loss that can cause reductions in your Combat Pool if you're wounded and combat continues. Its safe to say that landing a good hit is a pretty sure fire way to victory.

Combat mechanics are rather complicated, but I think that combat among a small group of people, even as many as three vs three could be handled relatively quickly. There's really not much time consuming math involved during combat, any more than there is in D&D. Once you do the math and land a hit, its simply a matter of checking a table, and I'd venture that you wont be checking that table more than twice in most combats between two foes.

Sorcery I'll try to describe briefly. Like I said. its insanely powerful, and the author makes no apologies about it. And truth be told, I like it alot. This is not D&D. Sorcerers in Riddle of Steel are supposed to inspire images of Gandalf and Merlin, not Spanky the 3rd level Elf Wizard. And speaking of D&D, in terms of comparison, having a party with a sorcerer and a group of non-sorcerers would be akin to sitting down and rolling up some 1st level fighters and a 10th level wizard. There really seems to be that much disparity. One of the game's tag lines when it came out was "No fireballs." And that's true. A sorcerer spends points in Vagaries, which there are nine. Each is divided into three categories, and each Vagarie has three levels - Novice, Adept and Master. So you've got the Vagarie of Movement. Its broken down into Speed, Maneuverability and Animation. At character creation a sorcerer can spent three points in Movement, which would make that whole vagarie at Master level. Having done this, he can move things at the speed of light, acceleration/deceleration is instantaneous, can lift things up to 1 mile, can cause it to change direction instantly and reverse course, and can move it with skill and grace. And a starting sorcerer could fairly easily max out at Master in three different Vagaries. So.. I think you'd find it a rare group that could manage a mixed party, both sorcerers and non-sorcerers.

The book itself is pretty nice. Black and white inside. Nice color art on the hardback cover and back. Its about 260 pages. The layout is good, but leaves something to be desired - while trying to figure things out I found myself thumbing back and forth quite a bit.

I'd love to run a short series of games with this system, set in medieval scotland or scandinavia.

Wisdom of Mearls

There is a great deal of wisdom here.