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Miscellaneous geekery

Yore is back in business

I’ve overhauled many blogs many times over the years, and this time around I embraced WordPress’ emphasis on customization without coding and installed the excellent default theme, Twenty Twenty. This saved me hours of hunting for themes (which often turn out to be expensive, crappy, or both) and more hours tweaking their code.

But an overhaul always entails work, so I did some:

  • Current-gen WordPress is built around using “blocks,” and the Twenty Twenty theme offers some neat options for combining blocks on pages; I played around a bit with those.
  • As a result, the about me page is now a little personal history of the 21 years I’ve spent writing about, and creating stuff for, RPGs on the internet. My published work page is slicker, and I’ve updated a gaggle of out-of-date links.
  • A bunch of stuff no one used is sort of tucked away now, like the list of posts by category (it’s in the footer) and the complete list of post tags (here, and in the footer). My blogroll kept shrinking as I took the hobby’s bad actors and their apologists off of it, so I scuttled that months ago; it won’t be coming back.
  • All the sidebar links to popular posts on the blog went away, and I liked those — so I brought them back on a dedicated page accessible from the top menu.
  • The main page is back to being the blog, not my CV. I’ve pulled back from the RPG industry (though not from the hobby!), making the CV stuff less important on the site — and I want to focus on starting to blog again, which this should help with.
  • I’m kind of digging Twenty Twenty’s default colors, although I never would have imagined that taupe background/black text, fuchsia links, and a white header/footer would look good! Every time I fiddle with them in the customizer, the results look worse; the default is probably here to stay.
  • I updated the site’s favicon to match the snazzy new logo.

This new theme is also much more mobile-friendly than the old one, which is awesome. Mobile users account for about 35-40% of Yore’s traffic and my previous two-column newspaper-like theme from 2012 was less than ideal on mobile.

Honestly these types of blog maintenance posts are never all that exciting — but another thing I’m embracing, thanks to the shake-up of migrating from G+ to Twitter a year ago, is just kind of dashing off my thoughts, not worrying overmuch about getting every detail perfect, and being myself. This sort of post is part of that.

Categories
Life Miscellaneous geekery

New template, mucking about a bit

After nuking all my Judges Guild posts — along with, in the past year, much of my personal fandom for the old-school corner of the RPG industry — it felt like it was time for a change around here.

Having recently spent a couple happy hours scrolling through five years of archives on the excellent Warpstone Pile miniatures blog, I was drawn to the clean, no-nonsense presentation — and the author’s persistence in staying the course over many years, even during periods where they didn’t post often. I’ve been blogging in some form, mainly about RPGs, since 2005. I enjoy doing it, and it’s not time to toss out the baby with the bathwater quite yet.

So I switched blog templates and started juggling things around. I think I set up the redirect for the old “/yore” link to the blog properly, and didn’t manage to break anything else — but I know things will look funky for a bit.

My previous theme had a skinny main/reading column, so all of my pre-2020 photos are sized for that narrow bar. They look weird now.

But overall this feels like a breath of fresh air and a much-needed change.

Categories
D&D Dice Miniature painting Miniatures Miscellaneous geekery Old school RPG community Story games Tabletop RPGs

A digest of smaller Google+ RPG posts from 2012-2015

With the impending shutdown of Google+ — my primary (and generally only) social network and outlet for gaming chit-chat since 2012 — I’ve been slowly making my way through stuff I posted there which, in hindsight, I should just have posted here on Yore.

Some posts stood alone, and should just have been Yore posts all along. I moved those over on their original publication date or on whatever day I happened to be working on them, whichever made the most sense.

But after doing that I was left with a little collection of posts that I like best in digest format — a sort of snapshot of some of what I cared about, tabletop RPG-wise, over the past seven years. It’s as erratic and unfocused as my overall post history on G+, so it feels pretty apropos.

Here they are in chronological order, lightly edited for clarity and to provide context.

February 7, 2012

High school wasn’t very helpful in figuring out who I wanted to be (better at sorting out who I wasn’t) but it was great for figuring out what kind of gamer I was going to spend the next 10-15 years being.

The past few years have made me reassess all sorts of things about how I game and want to game, but the past week or so — a full-bore nosedive into OSR games, hex crawl design, research, and the minutiae of D&D editions — has been mind-blowing and, I strongly suspect, formative.

I’m really curious to see where this leads.

March 22, 2012

This superb definition of hit points over on THE LAND OF NOD would probably have improved most of my D&D games in the past 20 years.

Hit points don’t represent anything solid or real or concrete in and of themselves. Rather, they are part of a complex calculation that boils down to this: “What are the chances that the next moment of mortal peril you experience will be your last.” That mortal peril might be a sword fight, a poison needle, a trap door … anything that might kill you. Most often, hit points relate to combat.

August 16, 2012

All three Engine Publishing books on Studio 2 Publishing‘s shelves at Gen Con (booth 419). That really never gets old!

January 17, 2013

I would love to replace my amethyst Armory dice set someday. The dice at the bottom are all that remain; the rest were chased under couches by cats and lost at friends’ houses while gaming as a kid.

Above them are the closest I’ve been able to get: an orchid Koplow set. They’re really, really close.

And at the top are my very first gaming dice, the d10 and d20 from Lords of Creation (from the very box they’re sitting on). I inked them with modeling paint and sprayed them with matte sealant, which was a pretty terrible idea.

Feb 13, 2013

I started collecting the FR series in 1990 or 1991; I have a vivid memory of reading FR9: The Bloodstone Lands — still my favorite in the series — in the auditorium as a freshman in high school. The arrival of FR8: Cities of Mystery today, more than 20 years later, completes my set of FR1-FR16.

For my money, this is one of the best series of gaming books ever produced, and these little volumes have been a source of inspiration to me for nearly as long as I’ve been a gamer. It feels funny to have them all.

August 25, 2013

After four years, Engine Publishing has a warehouse!

It’s still the office closet, but instead of working out of stacks of boxes (containing books) and moving huge “cheese wheels” of bubble wrap every time I need to ship a book, I can just do it. I have no idea why I waited this long!

December 15, 2013

I just found this while working on the basement. I think I made these in 2006 or 2007 (certainly no later, as I stopped running TT in 2007).

That’s probably the last time I had a business card, come to think of it. I always get less use out of them than I think I will, as much as I like having them.

January 8, 2014

With a hat tip to Brendan S for the idea, here’s a rough breakdown of my 2013 gaming purchases by the categories that sort of made sense to me as I went through them.

There are probably lots of ways I could have done this better, but hopefully I’ll escape the notice of the RPGSTPD (RPG Stats Tracking Police Department) long enough for you to observe my dorkitude.

March 6, 2014

I grew up shopping at The Compleat Strategist in NYC, first at the one on 57th and then at the one on 33rd. Much of my early formative gaming originated from one of those stores.

My friend Stephan just sent me this picture: Engine Publishing‘s two most recent books, Odyssey and Never Unprepared, on the shelf at the 33rd street Compleat.

That right there is blowing my mind.

March 6, 2014

Space marine terminator: “Brother Leopold, I found a flat spot on my armor!

Brother Leopold: “This space hulk will keep — let’s bedazzle the shit out of that flat spot. For the emperor!

Me: “Fuck you, I’m painting that red.

Five years after buying Space Hulk, I’ve finally started painting my marines. As you may have guessed, miniatures aren’t really my wheelhouse.

March 10, 2014

Lords of Creation (1983, designed by Tom Moldvay) was my introduction to gaming in 1987. I never owned its three modules as a kid, but they were all surprisingly cheap so I closed out the line on eBay/Amazon.

Revel in those covers! They’re totally fucking glorious. Plus, the “-akron” in Omegakron is Akron, Ohio and The Yeti Sanction is (as Brad Murray pointed out) a parody of The Eiger Sanction; this isn’t a game that takes itself too seriously.

April 27, 2014

Behold! For I am all of Spelljammer, and I am totally fucking awesome (and underrated).

I’ve loved Spelljammer since I first picked up the boxed set in 1989 or 1990 and moved my campaign there (as I did every time a new setting came out), and as of this weekend I finally closed out the line.

May 19, 2014

It’s 1989. A pimply-faced, floppy-haired Martin, age 12 or 13, was introduced to D&D a few months ago.

He’s standing in The Compleat Strategist on 57th Street in NYC, picking out dice to go with his AD&D 2e PHB, DMG, MC, and Time of the Dragon.

He picks these.

I knew if I was patient I’d eventually find the exact pack my first dice came in. I still have a few of the actual dice; some were stolen by cats or lost under friends’ couches. It’s like stepping into a time machine!

July 12, 2014

I first heard of Living Steel around the time I started gaming, when I was in my early teens. I picked up the boxed set and hardcover rulebook in college, back in Michigan (mid-1990s), and have been slowly acquiring the other supplements ever since.

Today I closed out the line.

It’s so not my kind of game mechanically, but the hook and the vibe and the guts of it are fabulous. I’d love to play it as written and using a lighter system someday.

July 31, 2014

I stumbled into collecting U.S. editions of Call of Cthulhu back in high school and have been slowly doing so ever since. It’s one of my favorite RPGs, and has been for over 20 years. I also enjoy the irony that until the forthcoming 7th edition its rules have remained basically unchanged for 30 years, making it one of relatively few games where there’s no compelling reason to own multiple editions.

Today I added an edition I thought I’d never see, the 25th anniversary edition (white hardcover), and thought that deserved a quick picture. Right to left, top to bottom: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, UK 3rd (also available here, so I mostly count it); 4th, 5th, 5.1; 5.5, 5.6, 20th anniversary, 6th softcover; 6th hardcover, 25th anniversary, 30th anniversary.

To my knowledge, I’m only missing two editions, and my odds of acquiring them seem poor: the designer’s edition of 2e, of which only 200 copies were made, and the “more limited” 20th anniversary edition (gold Elder Sign on the cover).

September 13, 2014

My desk, where I do Engine Publishing and Gnome Stew work, in the state it’s in about 50% of the time. The other 50% of the time there aren’t any piles on the end.

The piles are books I’m reading, need to shelve, need to review, or otherwise am currently using in some form.

November 17, 2015

From this excellent post about sales stats for RPG retailer BlackDiamondGames.com:

Also, because I know you guys like lists, here are our top 10 titles with the extremely high 17-40 turn rates:


1. D&D Next: Dungeon Master’s Screen
2. D&D Next RPG: Dungeon Masters Guide
3. Pathfinder RPG: Strategy Guide
4. Unframed: The Art of Improvisation for Game Masters

Wait wait wait. What?! One of these things is not like the others.

Closing remarks

On balance, I greatly enjoyed my time on Google+. It had a huge impact on my gaming, from meeting my current Seattle group to learning about all sorts of cool products to making friends to changing my gaming philosophy over time.

But having gone cold turkey a month or so ago, when my gaming group stopped using G+ to schedule our sessions, there’s a flipside: I’ve found that I don’t miss checking G+ nearly as much as I thought I would.

That gnawing feeling of a social network needing to be checked, maintained, curated, and managed, and of needing to deal with the small percentage of assholes I encountered there (who consume an outsized amount of time and energy) — I don’t miss that at all.

Nonetheless, though: On balance, G+ was seven years largely well spent, and I’ll miss the connections and gaming choices it helped me to make. I’m taking a social network break, maybe for good, but I’ll still be posting here and I’m quietly active on RPGnet and RPGGeek.

Categories
Miscellaneous geekery

Winding down on Google+ after more than 7 years

I thought I joined Google+ in 2012, but having just finished scrolling through my entire post history to identify posts I need to move to Yore, I see that I was wrong.

I’m still checking my stream there a couple times a day, and still posting, but having found the few dozen “should have been a blog post” posts I made over the years, and having now seen my first post after a long, long process of reviewing all of them, I feel done. Today is the day G+ officially ends for me, even if I keep visiting between now and the shutdown.

It’s going to take me a little while to process that — seven and a half years is a long time! G+ has been a big part of my life, and I’m going to miss it.

Categories
Miscellaneous geekery

Google+ diaspora: RSS feeds

Like a lot of tabletop gamers, I’ve gotten tons of great mileage out of Google+. I started using it in 2012, and for the past six years it’s been my first stop for all things gaming-related. I met my Seattle gaming group through G+. I’ve made friends via the site. I’ve learned about oodles and oodles of cool and weird stuff I never would have heard of otherwise.

When the shutdown was announced, I was optimistic that a reasonably solid replacement would emerge. It hasn’t yet, for me, but today there was a glimmer of hope: RSS feeds.

For context, here’s why I’m not having much luck with the alternatives I’ve tried so far.

Social media thunderdome

MeWe was my first stop — the first G+ exodus destination to gather some critical mass, and it did so within hours of the shutdown announcement. The functionality was great. But when I asked them a simple question about acting against hate groups and hate speech, they gave a bullshit response. Maybe things will change on that front sometime, but for now MeWe is a hard pass.

diaspora* doesn’t have blocking functionality. In 2018. It has an ignore feature, which isn’t the same thing at all.) No thank you.

Facebook was a shady privacy nightmare years ago, the first time I quit the site, but it eventually got better; I came back. Then they got super shady and gross with the whole Cambridge Analytica thing, and I quit again. Also a hard pass.

I’ve never found Twitter workable for RPG discussion, but I do like Mastodon. The problem is that I can’t seem to get my brain to “think in Twitter.” It also has a small user population (at least in the RPG sphere) and doesn’t seem likely to pick up anytime soon, but being a Twitter-alike is the thing that fits worst for me because G+ is not a Twitter-alike in really any way.

Other options I’ve researched but haven’t tried yet seem even smaller and/or less well-developed than the places I have tried (Hubzilla, Friendica, etc.).

Feed me

But over on G+ there was a glimmer of sunshine: Aaron Griffin pointed out RSS feeds and the option of filling part of the void with a good feed reader. He suggested Feedly and Inoreader, and I checked both of them out (as well as a couple others).

Both have a clean interface and an Android app, but Inoreader has fewer features gated behind fees so I went that route. (Notably, if you want more than 100 feeds with Feedly, you have to pay to subscribe.)

I started by grabbing all the blogs from my own blogroll (in the sidebar). Then I visited every blog on Alex Schroeder’s Old School RPG Planet site and added all the ones that looked interesting to me. Ditto for his Indie RPG Planet. That’s pushed me well over 100 blogs in my feed.

I’ve still got the massive OSR Blog Roll & Social Contacts Google Sheet to go through, too!

And so far, so good. I may have tried an RSS reader a decade ago and forgotten about it, but I really don’t remember ever using one before. It seems like an excellent solution for the “I want to read about cool RPG stuff” side of the G+ equation.

I’m still not sure what to do about the social side, but progress is progress.

Categories
Miscellaneous geekery RPG community

Google+ diaspora: MeWe isn’t for me

Having seen several folks I respect voicing concerns about MeWe, hate speech, and hate groups, and after watching the relevant section of the YouTube interview where they addresses that topic, I found the official line pretty unconvincing.

So I emailed MeWe a question about their policy on hate speech and hate groups:

Howdy! I’m a tabletop gamer who is part of the “great G+ exodus,” and MeWe is emerging as a consensus social network for many people in my circles. One concern that I have, and which I keep seeing raised by others, is MeWe’s policy on hate speech and hate groups.

I know you have a policy, and it’s admirably clear and direct. But do you ban hate groups on MeWe? Do you have examples of groups you’ve banned? Or of specific types of hate speech that have resulted in official action?

I’m not talking about specific political affiliations in the sense of mainstream political parties or ideologies, but actual hate groups: the alt-right, white supremacists and nationalists, anti-LBGTQ religious groups, and the like.

I like everything I see about MeWe except this — the absence of evidence that your policies apply to these folks, and have been applied to them. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and to share your response with other G+ folks who have similar concerns. Thanks in advance!

Here’s their official response:

Thank you for taking the time to contact us and thank you for using MeWe. MeWe has a built in self-reporting system for all members to block and report members and groups believed to be breaking our Terms. MeWe has no political bias as a company and no algorithms that could perform any kind of bias censorship whatsoever. Our CEO is a Libertarian and well known for his opposition to political censorship, political bias, and shadow banning on social media.

We are continuously building new moderation tools for MeWe group owners and members. Group owners can already assign as many admins to their groups as they want – and all group owners and their admins can block and remove any group member, as well as change group member permissions individually if necessary.

When it comes to tolerance of different political viewpoints – MeWe stands out from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google. MeWe doesn’t shadow ban, has no political bias, doesn’t manipulate your newsfeed, has no facial recognition, no spyware, no boosted anything, and NO BS. MeWe members and their data are #Not4Sale.

All social media sites have ongoing daily issues with disruptive trolls and bots, and MeWe is no different. We take on those challenges every day to make MeWe delightful and safe for all members. We’re not a haven for violence inciters or porno – there are other sites for those people to go to – not MeWe. We like to say “MeWe is for the good guys.” We’re not perfect – and we’re working on making MeWe better and better every single day.

Bottom line: MeWe is for law-abiding citizens worldwide regardless of their politics, religion, sexuality, and other traits. Of course due to our privacy guidelines we cannot provide examples of any persons or groups that have been reported, and understandably we do not provide examples of any actions the company takes to remove violators. We stand by our Terms and our principles”

That’s a non-response response, which is the same thing as a “no,” and it does nothing to address my concern that MeWe is a happy home for hate groups, and a platform disinclined to boot people for hate speech.

Checking on something like this would never have crossed my mind when I joined Google+ in 2012, but times have changed. All I wanted was something that demonstrates that MeWe implements their policy, and that we have at least some overlap in what we consider a hate group. They couldn’t clear even that fairly low bar.

I’m not devoting time and energy to, or associating myself with, a social media site that won’t repudiate hate speech and back that repudiation up with action. I deleted my MeWe account.

Categories
Miscellaneous geekery

Every well-shuffled deck of cards is in a unique order

The number of possible permutations for card order in a standard deck of playing cards, 52! (52 factorial, or 52x51x50x49 . . . all the way down to x1), is staggeringly large. How large?

Yannay Khaikin, who created this lovely video explaining the concept, says it’s this large:

Any time you pick up a well shuffled deck, you are almost certainly holding an arrangement of cards that has never before existed and might not exist again.

Seeing this mathematical concept explained through cards is one of the coolest things I’ve encountered all week.

Categories
Miscellaneous geekery

Returning to WoW after five years away

I quit WoW in 2011, but watching Sword Art Online (an anime series about players trapped inside a VR MMO) made me nostalgic for it. One of many things I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed about WoW was how pretty it can be; this screenshot is from Winterspring, one of my favorite zones in terms of visuals.

The game is leagues more casual-friendly than it was five years ago, too. I tend to play MMOs as solo games, which sounds weird but works for me. I like seeing other people, and I enjoy the randomness that injects into the game world, but I mostly do stuff by myself.

But dungeons? Dungeons are awesome now! Teleport in from anywhere, group with random folks across multiple servers (so, thanks to time zones, there’s almost always a group ready), teleport back out when you’re done. And the XP and loot is excellent.

So instead of ugh I remember how much of a pain this zone was I can just run dungeons for five levels until I’m ready for a more fun zone. Rock and roll.

Also, I can play a drunken dwarven monk whose dog carries his beer for him. Yes.

Categories
D&D Miscellaneous geekery

The D&D phonetic alphabet

After making a string of phone calls where I needed to spell things for the person on the other end of the line, I decided it was finally time to learn the NATO phonetic alphabet so I could stop doing this:

Okay, it’s five, P as in pork chop [shit, now I’m hungry], six, three, H as in hors d’oeuvres [why the fuck did I choose something that sounds like it starts with an O?] . . .

I typed up the list, stuck it to my monitor, and started memorizing it.

Then, over on G+, Adam McConnaughey mentioned “U as in unicorn,” and I started thinking about a D&D phonetic alphabet using monster names.

But not one designed for maximum clarity, like the NATO phonetic alphabet — one made with names that are funny, difficult to pronounce, fun to say, and, ideally, confusing for the person on the other end of the line.

One that’s full of terrible phonetic choices — like this little dude, who sounds like he was named by Mister Mxyzptlk:

I as in ixitxachitl

Here’s what I come up with using two of my favorite monster books, AD&D 1e’s Monster Manual and Fiend Folio:

Need to liven up your next grinding, soul-crushing, red tape-filled phone call? This should do the trick.

“Wraith” has a silent W, making it sound like it should be an R-word . . . but it’s the W. “Ixitxachitl” is clearly an I-word, but I always stumble over it when I say it aloud. “Gnome” is another sounds-like-the-wrong-letter entry. And so on.

If the majority of my monster books weren’t in storage, I bet there are at least a few other letters that could be made more confusing. Suggestions welcome!