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

Thursday, June 18, 2009


This post is half baked, for that, I apologize. Surely you've had something spring suddenly and randomly into your mind, and then posted a long rambling post to the internet about it, right?

I love me some conspiracy theory. Sorta.

See, conspiracy theories seem to swim around in two ponds, like a venn diagram. The ponds are connected, and some conspiracy theories are in the "plausible" pond, and others are in the "okay, I'm not really that crazy" pond.

Aliens at Rosewell New Mexico in the 50's [edit: 40's, get it right. duh.]? Sure, I'm in. Something Bigger at play in JFK's assassination? I'll bite. We never landed on the moon? Wait a second, slow down there. The Illuminati move quietly and powerfully through the world, moving nations like pawns? Nah, I wasn't too crazy about DaVinci Code. (BTW, that's another gripe I've got, which I'll get to later, or another time).

See, conspiracy theories are really just alternate theories about what really happened. And we all know, or at least can assume, that perhaps during a few points in human history, something happened other than what we've read about in history books or in the news or on wikipedia. Because.... big shocker here... sometimes we lie about stuff.

There's a certain stigma associated with conspiracy theories. Coming right out and saying "Hey, I don't believe everything that I read in the news and in the history books." can really get you labeled a weirdo, depending on the kind of people that you hang with.

But how much "alternative theory" can you buy? A little or a lot? I'll buy that Lee Harvey Oswald was not alone in the shooting of JFK. I'll buy that there were aliens, or something other than a weather balloon at Roswell. But faked moon landings? I guess conspiracy theory is subjective. I'm sure it plays into each persons understanding of the world, science, religion, philosophy, etc. While I'll buy some things and not others, someone else will pick a whole different set to believe in. If I had way more time and such, I'd create some sort of poll, or, I dunno, maybe research it with google or something, because surely someone's already done this - take 10 or 20 fairly common conspiracy theories, and go around and poll a few thousand people and see if they believe it is real or nutty. I expect that some would get high buy in, like JFK's assassination, while others would get somewhat lower buy in, like - I assume - fake moon landings.

Is the idea of he US being aware of an impending attack on Pearl Harbor a conspiracy theory? /random

One of my favorite conspiracy books, and aptly named, is Conspiranoia, you're welcome to read it if you ever come to my house and use the bathroom.


Y'know who bugs the crap out of me?

People who do not pick up on subtle, or sometimes not-so-subtle cues on the telephone. Especially on work related calls.

I'm a busy guy, and I assume that you are too. That's why when I talk to you, I'll usually ask you if this is a good time, or if I've caught you in the middle of something.

Its also why I try to pick up on subtle cues during the call. Are you talking to other people in the background about a problem with a server? Sound generally rushed and hurried? These are easy examples of cues that signal that this is a bad time for a long phone call.

If you have some information to share with me, great. If it takes you more than two or three minutes to share that information with me, we probably need to arrange a phone call, or you need to send me a long email.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Freedom of Speech

In your opinion, should Freedom of Speech in the US be uncompromising and absolute, much as it is today? Or should there be fast, hard limits on it?

In the same way that you cannot go into a crowded theater and yell "fire", isn't hate speech similarly endangering to the safety and health of others?

I'm aware that putting limits on Freedom of Speech can be said to be a slippery slope, and I'm certainly all for protecting my civil liberties. But I'm not happy with Freedom of Speech encompassing Freedom of Hate.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

D&D 4e, a year later.

Some of my fellow RPG nerds have been doing these 'D&D 4e, a year later' posts, and I figured, "Hey! I like posting about nerdy gaming stuff. Why don't I hop on this?" And so I am.

About this time last year, D&D 4 was on the shelves, and gamer nerds were still split on whether it was the most awesomest [sic] ever, or whether it was bringing death and ruin (and not the cool kind) to gaming. Ohhh, the D&D4 = MMORPG/WoW threads were so long. sigh. Good times.

Before 4e came out, I'd sworn off D&D. I'd gotten fed up with 3.x, and had gotten somewhat heavily into the indie gaming scene. I had a blast with some of these games, and as I've mentioned before, it was a great run for me, because it really opened my eyes up to a lot of neat stuff about the deeper theory and mechanics of gaming. As a total aside - posting sentences like that always makes me cringe just a little. But hey, nerds get into whatever they're nerding out about. I'm sure that somewhere, right now, someone is posting about the minute differences in two brands of fishing rods. /nerdtastic

Back on track: I followed the pending release of D&D4 like a stalker. You ever sit on a forum and hit 'refresh' like you're pushing the trigger on a morphine drip? That was me. I was stoked. Finally, I thought, a D&D that I can get back into.

So it came out, and I got my gamer buds together, and we ran some D&D. It was pretty awesome. Games were easy to prep for, mechanically speaking. "Powers", both for player-characters, and for monsters and bad guys were cool and fun. The players had a good time, and I had a good time. In the end, the arrival of babies in our lives put a nix on the game, but to be honest, after running the game for a little over six months, I'd begun to get burned out, mostly with the game system itself. So yeah, I'd gone from "D&D4 may be one of the most awesomest [sic] things ever", to "Eh, its fun." in six months.

Part of what turned me off was the combat system. I'm not trying to say that it was not fun or cool, just that after six months, the time it took to run even a simple combat had begun to outweigh the cool and fun. As a high fantasy tactical combat game that borrowed from action movies and games like final fantasy and world of warcraft, it excelled. But the fights were the focus of the sessions.

I'll pause here and concede that this has as much to do with system as it was the way I was running the game, but this quickly devolves into the System Does Matter argument. I was running the game, mechanically, as it was intended. We had time, in our game sessions, for about two fights, and some exposition and story before, between, and after the fights.

Anyway, my objective was not to rag on D&D4e. I suppose, instead, my goal was to compare Then And Now.

As I've posted here, I've begun to run some Labyrinth Lord games, which is a reworking of "old school" D&D, and have thought some about games like Shadowrun, and even Vampire the Masquerade (not Requiem, but that's for another post). D&D4 was fun, and I know a couple of folks who are still playing in other 4e games.

And that's all I've got.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Left 4 Dead 2 Brouhaha

Chalk this up to me ranting into the void of the internet. I don't think any of you are big into Left 4 Dead.

So Valve announced Left 4 Dead 2, a sequel to their incredibly well selling team based zombie shooter, Left 4 Dead. How's that for a gob of descriptors?

The internet has its panties in a wad, apparently. Masses of unwashed and rebellious nerds are screaming angry that Valve would have the audacity to be working on a sequel, a mere year after the release of the first one.

This is my note to those screaming masses. Get over it. You're just pissed because you think its "too soon". Don't be a dumbass. You know you'll end up rushing out and buying the damn thing. (Because it will, in all likelihood, be awesome, which is kinda the entire point of Valve creating a sequel. Doing it again, just better.)

That is all.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Labyrinth Lord

Ran another game of Labyrinth Lord this past weekend. I'd initially hoped to have as many as five people attend, but only Jerry and Jason were able to make it. Still, we played, and had a good time.

My two players each took two characters into the dungeon, plus two retainers that one of Jason's characters had hired, giving us six warm bodies.

In brief format, they went back into the temple, did some more exploring, fought a room full of skeletons, very successfully, I might add, fought some goblins, then fought more goblins, and actually managed to force a bunch of the goblins to drop their weapons and flee, leaving their treasure behind. So there was a goodly bit of treasure and a goodly bit of XP to be had.

The party continued exploring, finding a room with concentric iron circles in the floor, and through an accident later, discovered that it produced a vision in one of the characters, sending that character on a quest for the Iron God to cleanse his temple. Further in the temple, they found an area that produced bazaar illusions and hallucinations. After a bit, they retreated from that section of the temple.

After running a game two weekends in a row, I'm going to have to revert to something a little less frequent. I'm hoping perhaps every other weekend, but we'll see how it goes.

Oh, Sims 3.

Between changing diapers and playing with Piper and catching season one of The Tudors on DVD with Krissi (its FANTASTIC, btw), and trying to keep up with dishes and such things, and running the occasional Labyrinth Lord game (which I did Sunday, and I'll get a recap up for you soonish), and playing Ogre Battles on the Wii, I try to squeeze in time to play the occasional computer game.

So, Sims 3.

I've been a mild fan of each iteration of The Sims. When the first one came out a bajillion years ago, my brother and I sat on computers side by side and played for like 36 hours. Then, having wrung everything we could from the game, neither of us touched it again. Sims 2 came along and had a bunch more cool features. Krissi and I, and some of our friends played it some, off and on. But again, it was a pretty mild commitment. Now Sims 3 has come out, and I've been playing around with it a little.

Its super neat. Nice graphics. Nice features. There's a laundry list of cool new stuff that you can do in this one, that you could not do in the previous ones. I entertained myself yesterday by starting a game based on a twisted MTV Real World - I made sim people based on Paris Hilton, Martha Stewart, David Beckham, and Jeffrey Dahmer. "Why?", you ask? "Why not!", I answer.

I won't make this into a full review. There's other, better places you could go if you were that interested. But its a lot of fun.

Friday, June 5, 2009

We won a vacation from travel scammers!

The other evening, we got a phone call from someone who wanted to send us on a vacation!

While at the Italian Festival, Krissi and I were stopped by someone at a booth who was asking people to fill out cards to register for a vacation giveaway. Why not? So we filled them out and continued on our way.

Well, I spoke with the person at length about it, but it turned out that I was wasting my time, and his. Early on in the call, I forget what term he used, but he indicated that they operated on a one call basis. What he was offering was 5 days and 4 nights in Orlando, and 3 days, 2 nights in Daytona. We'd be staying at AAA rated "Three Diamond" hotels, where our food would be free, and we'd get two adult passes for one day to the theme park of our choice, and also a coupon book with free passes to all kinds of museums and such. All we had to do was to get down there, and to give him $500.

I'm sad to say that I was not clever enough to just hang up the phone right at the beginning, and I wasted thirty minutes talking to him, despite my suspicion about the offer. In the end, I understood more clearly, thanks to some web searching, that we were almost certainly dealing with a "Ramada Scam". No wiki entry, sorry. Apparently our $500 would possibly have gotten us into the Rape and Stab Motel, or the confirmation info that we would have gotten later would have detailed information completely different than what we were talking about on the phone. Not only that, but we're on a rather fixed budget and tight income right now, and even if you told me that we could fly to Paris for a week, and only for $500, and you were not lying or scamming me, we still wouldn't/shouldn't afford it. $500 is a healthy chunk of our mortgage.

Anyway, I'm just sharing the experience with you. We're in good shape. Even though I didn't hang up on them right at the get go, we didn't get trapped or give anyone any money. In the end, when I turned him down, I was surprised that I didn't get any hard selling tactics, no pushiness after my "no".

It also made me think more about raffles and drawings and filling out stuff like that. I wonder if they call everyone who filled out a card. In fact, our other cell phone rang while I was on the phone talking to them, and we wondered if they were calling our other cell to tell us how we'd "Been selected for the vacation give away!", but it was not. Heh.

Yeah, its easy to get trapped by greed. I suppose that's why we filled out the cards in the first place. Hey - who doesn't want something for nothing? The only problem is, there's no such thing. You'll get something alright, but it won't be for nothing.

I don't think I'll fill out anymore "win this thing!!" cards anymore, though.

P.S. If anyone from the Italian Festival stumbles across this, you might not invite anyone affiliated with Resorts Tours & Accommodations, Inc. back!

Online Game

Last night I had the pleasure of taking part in an online Labyrinth Lord game, run by James "Jim" Raggi. It was the second game in a limited session run, I was not present for the first.

I kicked the thing off on an crummy note for myself. It was scheduled to begin at 7pm Eastern time, and because I did my very simple time conversion backwards, I thought it was beginning at 8pm Central time. At 5:52 by my clock, my brain suddenly started working correctly, and I realized that I had goofed up. To make matters worse, Piper had been fussy all day, and Krissi was at her wits end. I had just begun to make supper, thinking that I'd be able to do some stuff until 8. So this was a fiasco of my own creation. I nearly bailed on the game, but with my forgiving wife's consent, I sat down and worked on getting hooked up. Yeah - a fiasco at first, I didn't even have skype installed on my PC, and even though I already had stats for my characters, I had not done the rest of the creation process, thinking that I had another two hours to do so.

Finally I got connected with Jim and the players, and after apologizing for running late, and after getting everything lined up and setup, we got going around 6:30 central time.

The game consisted of Jim running us through what I believe is an adventure that he's in the process of testing before publishing. Death Frost Doom. So I won't get into too much specifics. We played with Skype and a chatroom & dice roller via Dragonsfoot.org This seemed to work very well. I've used Skype a little bit before, and it seemed to perform flawlessly for this application. The other players were a great bunch of folks, and I need to get in touch with each of them and thank them for such a great game as well. There were five of us players, myself- playing a thief, Beecham the halfling, Seneva the dwarf, Roland the fighter, and Vander the cleric. (sorry about no link love for Roland or Vander, I don't have links).

The adventure consisted largely of exploration, we didn't have any combat, and the only dice rolling was thievery skill stuff. I loved the exploration, it was thoroughly fun and old school. The tricks were clever- difficult enough to require us to think and plan, but not so difficult that we had no chance to figure out a solution. Jim did a fantastic job, both with creating the adventure, and with running it. The players were awesome as well. Due to an odd sequence of events, there came to be a distrust and suspicion of my character, Cerran the thief. This provided for great role playing, and we all hammed it up immensely.

Sadly, I think that Jim intends for this project to be a very short arc, as in, I think that was it. While our party was not as successful as I'd have liked- the GM gave us a clue and we forgot about it, and it was a rather important clue - we all had a great time. I just feel might sorry for all of the people that live in that region of the world.

Just for the record, I'd totally do one of these again!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

MUD Musing

I played on a MUD (a non-graphical, text only Massive Multiplayer Online Game) called Medievia a long time ago. In fact, its partly because of it that I became fast friends with quite a few very cool people. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is my short attention span, I moved on and haven't played on Medievia actively in many many years, aside from very short stints every six months or so.

I got a wild hair a few weeks ago and decided that I wanted to kill text-based monsters for virtual experience points, but that I didn't want to do it on Medievia. So I looked around for a few minutes and settled on trying Aardwolf. Its a pretty cool MUD, large player base, and not overly complicated like some MUDs can be.

I played Aardwolf here and there for a week or two, before getting bored and moving on to other interests. But while I played I made a few observations. Firstly, that the MUD is very well put together, from a player/newbie perspective. I'm not new to MUDs, but this one was new to me, and had a significant number of features that were new to me. The newbie 'walk through' was fantastic. It was informative and helpful, and even scalable - depending on whether you were completely new to MUDs or just new to Aardwolf. The staff and other players all were friendly and helpful. There were lots of little features that really seemed to make the whole thing really shine. One thing that I began to notice after awhile, that seemed to detract from it though, is the quest system. Briefly - to get levels, you kill stuff and get XP, but to get 'wishes', and sweet special items, you need quest points, which you get by running quests and campaigns. Quests are basically "go here and kill this mob" kind of thing, but always with some flavor, and they were fun and not difficult. These wishes and special items were sweet enough though, that quest points (with which to buy them) were a pretty important currency in the game, and not one that was transferable. "Quest grinding" was a major part of life on the MUD. And they're all solo too - at least at the lower levels (I seem to recall some mention that at very high levels, some campaigns were not solo).

One of the things that I did enjoy about Medievia was the way grouping, or forming worked. You and other players got together and killed monsters for XP. The same thing existed on Aardwolf, but the focus on solo questing seemed like a barrier to group play.

So anyway, the moral of the story here is that Aardwolf is a cool MUD, but that grouping at lower levels seems totally nerfed in favor of quest grinding.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Labyrinth Lord Game

I totally do not have the time (or really the energy, even) for the full attention that this deserves, but if I don't post something, it'll get nothing.

So here's my quite short writeup of our Labyrinth Lord (old school D&D) game from this past weekend.

Jerry, Andrew, Jason and I got together. We blazed through character creation, and we continued the trend of letting each run two characters.

The characters were off to plunder the ruins of the Temple of the Iron God, which had been destroyed recently by divine fury. The above ground ruins were just so much gravel and large hunks of rock, so they descended into the temple via the stairs that they found. Inside, they practically ran through the first room, right past a huge statue holding an urn, and through one of the available doorways. A long passage, a right turn, and a doorway. Through the door was a room, and in that room was another doorway. Through *that* doorway, were nine goblins. Battle was joined! They ended up a little over their heads when two of their fighter types charged into the goblin room. Jerry's figher, Richard, took a good hit and was down, even the Last Breath Chart couldn't save him. Jason's fighter was in the room and surrounded, and things were looking grim, when Jerry's elf, Neemon, used his Sleep spell to end the fight. The party had just finished dispatching the sleeping goblins when the door behind them, that they'd come through, burst open and eight more goblins came rushing in (they did not know that there was another guard post in the room just beyond, and upon hearing the sound of combat, the goblins ran around to come in behind the party). Things went from bad to worse when one by one, the good guys dropped. Jason's Cleric hit the ground, but was only unconscious for a few rounds. Jason's Fighter hit the ground next. Despite that the party was slowly killing off the goblins, they were being killed off even faster. Andrew's Thief, the aptly named "Deathly Ill" went to 0 hit points, but excelled on his Last Breath roll, and was back on his feet and still in the fight. It didn't save him from being dropped again though, a few rounds later. Neemon had the same luck, getting nailed, but then springing back to his feet to carry on the fight. Jason's Cleric, who'd dropped unconscious earlier in the fight, got back up, and they finally broke the goblin's nerve, and after dropping one of the goblins, the rest (failed their morale check) and broke and ran.

The party hobbled back to town, where we discussed their future. Due to their wounds, at least one member of the party required 17 weeks of recovery time (!!!!), and since supplies were hard to come by in this far-flung border village, staying there was costly. In fact, the bill came to 300 gold pieces per (living) party member. They'd be having to go back into the Temple just to pay off their hospice expenses. Before venturing back in, they hired a few retainers, a trio of crossbowmen, and a heavy infantryman. So armed and rejuvenated, they headed back into the Temple. They had better luck this time with their exploring, finding that there was a passage through the urn that the large statue held, and so they explored further into the depths of the temple.

We're scheduled for more next week! Good fun!