Categories
Miscellaneous geekery

Dorknado

My mom sent me my high school yearbook.

Yes, I was starring in the SyFy original movie Dorknado.

As pretentious as it was to use a Nietzsche quote . . . I still like the quote!

Categories
Books

Don’t finish shitty books

At 36, I can expect to live another 45 years or so, barring any surprises. Before getting a Kindle I was reading maybe a book a month (in recent years; I used to read more often). Now I’m reading a book every week or so. A book a week for the next 45 years is another 2,340 books before I croak.

On the one hand, 2,340 books sounds like a lot. But on the other hand, it makes it easy to calculate the “cost” of a given bad book in terms of lost opportunities to read good books: 0.043% per book. Every 25 bad books I finish represents roughly 1% of my estimated remaining lifetime reading opportunities. And the older I get, the more each bad book will cost.

In a rather long nutshell, this is why I usually don’t finish shitty books.

Categories
Fitness Hiking Peakbagging

Dooly Knob

Here’s Lark at the summit of Dooly Knob (5,278 feet), not the mountain we set out to climb. We couldn’t make it up Frary Peak, and turned around when we hit a snowy patch that neither of us felt comfortable attempting. It was a good lesson, and we had a great trip.

I decided Frary Peak would make a good first-summit-since-I-started-peakbagging, and a good hike for my daughter (age 4). While I got a lot right, I somehow missed that it was 3.5 miles one way, not RT. D’oh! Given that I was doing it with my daughter on my shoulders as much as possible, that was a big difference — and longer than I’ve hiked in one whack in about 20 years.

We started seeing snow around the 2 mile marker, and compacted snow on the trail around 2.5. At about 2.75 we hit one of the steepest spots, which looked like it went up to the false summit (radio tower). With compacted snow and a long drop to the left, neither of us felt comfortable continuing; we were scared we’d fall. Solo I might have tried it, particularly as I’d have been less tired, but being responsible for Lark as well I knew turning back was the right choice.

It was disappointing, sure, but we still had a great time. On the way back, we had time to summit Dooly Knob instead, a much easier hike that we completed with no problem. All told, 6.5 miles in 4 hours, 6 of it with Lark on my back. I was bushed.

I would love to have made it up Frary, but in retrospect I learned a lot from not making it, and from the trip itself. It makes a good benchmark for my own abilities, and hers at this age, and will help me decide what I need to do and learn before trying it again — and climbing other mountains in the future.

Categories
Story games Tabletop RPGs

METAL SHOWCASE 11PM review

A little while back game designer Jason Morningstar said this about his solitaire RPG METAL SHOWCASE 11PM: “Half solo RPG, half choose-your-path novel, half nobody has ever bought or played this and I think it is really good!”

Gauntlet thrown, challenge accepted. I ordered a copy, played it, and now I’m going to talk about it. Only briefly, though, because this is an RPG with potential spoilers.

It took me about 30 minutes to play, and I had a great time. I’d happily play it again. But part of the fun was knowing almost nothing about it going in, and while it’s a tricky line to walk in a review I want to preserve that experience for you.

Pictured above are the book, the two dice I grabbed (black because \m/), and the back of my character sheet. The latter shows all the notes I made during the game, hopefully tantalizing you without spoiling anything. I named my band Suppurating Maelstrom. My favorite note from the session was “Enabled [character’s] morbid obesity.”

Here are my impressions after one play, which I jotted down immediately after playing.

What a fantastic little game

It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure or Fighting Fantasy book, only better written and more fun. You have a character and stats; you make choices and compete in contests.

But you’re also asked to get inside your guy’s head at different points, and those choices — and the notes you made about them — matter later on. My first session was 30 enjoyable minutes long, told a story (a rather depressing one; my guy was kind of a dick), and made me want to play again.

That might sound like a subtle tweak on the formula, but in combination with the tight presentation and writing, an alchemy occurs: There’s roleplaying here that I’ve never experienced when playing a gamebook. I felt involved in a way that was much more like how I’d get into a non-solitaire RPG session, or a solo board game session when playing a board game that tells a story, like Arkham Horror or Astra Titanus. It’s hard to explain, but: good stuff.

There are plenty of choices involved, and the stuff you make up on the fringes of the game space will be different every time, so I can see this having good replayability. It’s also difficult to win; that’s a good thing.

I’ve never played a game quite like it. I’m enamored of it, and I recommend it.

Categories
Old school Story games Tabletop RPGs

Gaming books on Lulu.com that I enjoy

I often see posts asking for Lulu RPG recommendations, and Lulu’s search functionality is pretty lacking, so rather than type mine up every time I wrote this post for easy reference. It’s up to several dozen recommendations, mostly old school products and story games, and I keep it more or less up to date with new purchases (latest update: May 29, 2018).

If you just want one recommendation, you should buy ASE1: Anomalous Subsurface Environment, which I liked so much that I bought Brian Thomas’ original art for the sasquatron (seen above, as yet unframed). The sasquatron, a robo-yeti with a crab claw, is just the tip of ASE’s iceberg of gonzo awesomeness.

Lulu runs coupons so regularly that I never order without Googling “Lulu coupon code” first. Coupon discounts come out of Lulu’s end, not the publisher’s end.

Notes about the list

Some of the links below are to specific versions (like softcover or standard paper), so you might want to check for other versions.

If I loved something and want to have little game babies with it, I *ed it. (To be clear, I like everything on this list.) If you’re curious what I think about a book in more detail, I eventually rate and comment on every gaming book I own: Here are my RPGGeek ratings.

Looking for tabletop RPG products on Lulu? Try these!

Here are a whole mess of gaming books I’ve bought on Lulu that I would recommend, in alphabetical order with links:

  1. * Advanced Edition Companion
  2. * Adventures on Dungeon Planet
  3. Adventures on Gothic Earth
  4. Agon
  5. * ASE1: Anomalous Subsurface Environment
  6. * ASE2-3: Anomalous Subsurface Environment
  7. * Augmented Reality
  8. * Barbarians of Lemuria: Legendary Edition
  9. The Barrow Mound of Gravemoor
  10. Dark Dungeons
  11. * DCC RPG Reference Booklet
  12. * Delving Deeper Reference Rules Compendium
  13. DemonSpore
  14. diaspora
  15. A Dirty World
  16. * Dodecahedron 2015 Cartographic Review
  17. d30 DM Companion
  18. * d30 Sandbox Companion
  19. Drowning & Falling
  20. * The Dungeon Dozen
  21. Dyson’s Delves
  22. * Elysium Flare
  23. Encounter Critical
  24. * Fight On! Compiled Compilation +4
  25. * Fight On! Foliated Folio +8
  26. 43 AD
  27. * 44: A Game of Automatic Fear
  28. Grey Ranks
  29. The Hell House Beckons
  30. Hollowpoint
  31. * The Hyqueous Vaults
  32. * KEFITZAT HADERECH – Incunabulum of the Uncanny Gates and Portals
  33. Knives in the Dark
  34. Knockspell 1-3
  35. * Labyrinth Lord: Revised Edition
  36. Lair of the Unknown
  37. Last Train Out of Warsaw
  38. * The Lazy Dungeon Master
  39. * Love in the Time of Seið
  40. * METAL SHOWCASE 11PM
  41. * The Metamorphica
  42. NOD Magazine (link is to issue 1, but there are many more after that one)
  43. * Norwegian Style
  44. Original Edition Characters
  45. OSRIC
  46. * Petty Gods: Revised & Expanded Edition
  47. Planet Motherfucker
  48. * Play Unsafe
  49. * A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming (direct link to free PDF)
  50. Realms of Crawling Chaos
  51. REIGN
  52. Santicore 2011
  53. * Santicore 2013
  54. Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, Volume One
  55. Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, Volume Two
  56. Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, Volume Three
  57. Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, Volume Four
  58. * Shadowbrook Manor
  59. * The Shadow of Yesterday
  60. SlaughterGrid
  61. * Stalker RPG
  62. * Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls
  63. Stonehell Dungeon: Into the Heart of Hell
  64. * Super Mission Force[1]
  65. Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox Rules
  66. * Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque
  67. * Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque II
  68. Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque III
  69. Teratic Tome
  70. 3d6 Supers!
  71. * Tomb of the Iron God
  72. * Transylvanian Adventures
  73. Ulverland
  74. * Uresia: Grave of Heaven
  75. Warriors of the Red Planet
  76. * Whitehack
  77. * Wizards Mutants Laser Pistols! Volume One Compilation
  78. ZeFRS

I apologize to your wallet in advance. Happy gaming!

[1] Super Mission Force is a skirmish miniatures game, but it supports campaign play, features characters with skills useful outside of combat, and deliberately straddles a the fuzzy line that separates RPGs from wargames, so I included it here.

Categories
Hiking Life

Albion Basin

We just got back from a camping trip in Albion Basin, which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Moose are common up there, and we saw not one, but four, in the same evening.

The shot below is from Cecret Lake, at about 9,700 feet, with Sugarloaf in the background (11,000 feet). Lark and I hiked around the lake, and later to the foot of Devil’s Castle, and the whole place is like an alpine wonderland.

Categories
Books Reading Appendix N

Reading Appendix N: The Chronicles of Amber, by Roger Zelazny

My high school girlfriend introduced me to the Amber series back in the early 1990s, and shortly thereafter to Amber Diceless Role-Playing (paid link), the RPG based on the books.

Zelazny, like a lot of Appendix N authors, writes with economy and punch. Nine Princes in Amber grabbed me with its opening sentence, “It was starting to end, after what seemed most of eternity to me,” which hooked me on the whole 10-book series. From there, Zelazny goes on to sketch one of the series’ best characters, Corwin, in just a few pages, establishing him as tough, dirty, quick to heal (very quick, you discover later on), and missing his memory. It’s a great opening chapter, and it sets the tone for a series that’s full of surprises.

My Amber books are a mix of different printings, the sort of mass market paperbacks I devoured growing up:

The core concept of the Amber books is fantastic: Amber is the one true world, and it’s surrounded by an infinity of other worlds whose laws of physics vary from Amber’s. Earth is one such world. The Amberites, the family chronicled in the series, can walk between those worlds in Shadow, and by pursuing specific ends they’ve each become the best at what they do.

If an Amberite wants to learn to play the guitar, she travels to a world where time passes much more slowly than it does back in Amber, where years pass for every minute, and spends a century learning to play. Then she returns to Amber, less time having passed than it takes for a cup of coffee to cool, as the best guitarist in the universe.

Life as an Amberite is a constant political game of one-upsmanship and underhanded scheming. The series is full of backstabbing, skullduggery, politicking, magic, and memorable, larger-than-life characters. My three favorites have always been Corwin, the voice of the whole first series; Benedict, the master of warfare, who is such a skilled warrior that he constantly anticipates every possible threat to his person; and Random, Corwin’s younger brother, an upstart in a family of squabbling gods.

I’ve read the first five books at least twice, but it’s been years since I last read them — probably close to 15 years, I’d guess. Long enough, in any case, that the specifics I recall vividly are spoilers of the first order, and things I don’t want to spoil for you. But it would be a shame to write this post without sharing some of Zelazny’s prose, so here’s a passage from late in Nine Princes of Amber that doesn’t give anything away:

The climate was warm and the colors bewildering, and everyone thought we were gods.

Bleys had found a place where the religion involved brother-gods who looked like us and had their troubles. Invariably, in the terms of this mythos, an evil brother would seize power and seek to oppress the good brothers. And of course there was the legend of an Apocalypse where they themselves would be called upon to stand on the side of the surviving good brothers.

I wore my left arm in a black sling and considered those who were about to die.

I thoroughly enjoy Zelazny’s writing, and his talent is on full display in the Amber books.

Post-Appendix N

The second series, five books that comprise the back half of the Chronicles of Amber, begins with 1985’s Trumps of Doom. It’s post-Appendix N, and not quite as good as the original series, but still excellent and enjoyable. It introduces all sorts of cool things to the Amber universe, and it’s worth reading.

The Chronicles of Amber and AD&D

The strongest connection I see between the Amber books and AD&D is the similarity of Shadow, with its infinite panoply of “shadows” of the one true world, Amber, and AD&D’s planar cosmology, with its Material Plane, Limbo, and many other planes of existence. The planes are described, briefly, and diagrammed in Appendix IV of the Monster Manual (paid link).

Nearly a decade later, the Manual of the Planes (paid link) covered the planes in much greater detail.

More generally, there’s plenty of stuff in the Amber Chronicles that D&D characters engage in all the time: fights, magic, backstabbing, politics, artifacts, wars, schemes, and much more. Parts of the Amber books feel like D&D in a way that’s hard to pin down, and I can see how AD&D drew inspiration from them in fuzzy-yet-signficant ways.

The Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game

Worth a quick sidebar is a game much more closely tied to the Amber books, Eric Wujcik’s Amber Diceless Role-Playing (paid link), and its lone supplement, Shadow Knight (paid link), which covers the second five books.

Amber Diceless is brilliant both as a game and as a translation of the novels into game form. I’d never played a diceless game before trying Amber, and its mechanics are both sound and perfectly suited to the feel of the series. I’ve also never played a game quite like it since.

You start the game by bidding for attributes against the other players. Whoever bids highest in, say, Warfare, is the best in the group at fighting. If you challenge him at warfare, you simply lose; the trick is to shift the terms of the contest to bring your strengths into play.

That notion — that the best cannot be challenged at what she’s best at — is pure Amber. The same goes for the attribute auction, which pits the players against each other in a way that mirrors how they’ll wind up pitting their characters against one another as the game progresses.

Which edition?

I recommend The Great Book of Amber (paid link), an inexpensive paperback volume that collects all 10 books — Appendix N and post-Appendix N — of the Chronicles of Amber.

If I didn’t already own the whole series in individual paperbacks, this is the version I’d buy. At $25 or less, it’s cheap enough that you could decide not to read the second series and still get more than your money’s worth out of it.

Whatever edition you choose, the Amber books are ripping yarns, fast-paced, consistently inventive and surprising, and highly engaging. You should read them, and I envy you the pleasure of reading them for the first time.

Categories
Life

Charlie the hound

Our dog Charlie died today at age 17. My wife got him as a puppy, I entered the picture when he was 9, and our daughter has known him for 4 years.

He fell asleep in my wife’s arms while I was on the way home, and she passed him to me to hold when I got back to the house. He died in my arms with his family around him, and he was hugged and loved right up until we buried him.

I stayed up with him all night last night; he was miserable. I wanted my wife to get enough rest to make the hard decision we expected to make today. This is the first time I’ve known that a pet’s death could be a mercy, the first time any of us have been present for the death of a pet larger than a hamster, a member of the family, the first time we’ve dug a grave (I suspect I did a poor job, but I thought I’d have more time). I’m proud of my wife and daughter.

My thoughts are pretty jumbled. I keep coming back to this being a strange day of firsts, to my daughter’s full-throated grief (no one does grief like a preschooler, I now know), and to how glad I am that Charlie went the way he did. He was a fantastic dog, weird and neurotic, afraid of sneezes and vacuum cleaners and thunder, but above all a good dog.

The picture below is from 2007, though Charlie looked much the same — a bit more haggard, a lot greyer — up until this past Sunday.

In the minutes before he died, Charlie was asleep and clearly dreaming: His back legs were twitching, which for him always means a running dream. He had a good run, and he got to go out warm, loved, enveloped by his family, and chasing squirrels in his dreams.

I’m not entirely sure why I wanted to share this here, but here I am nonetheless. (This was originally a post on Google+, with this coda: If you’re not sure what to do with this post, share a story of a beloved pet, a meditation on death and family, or a plus-one for a dog who died well.)

Categories
Free RPGs Story games Tabletop RPGs

Signal Lost, my Game Chef 2013 submission

I’ve done a bit of design work in the tabletop RPG industry, and like most gamers I’ve started and abandoned game designs over the years, but today marks only the second time I’ve designed a complete RPG and shared it with others.

After enjoying my experience with RPG Geek’s 24-hour RPG design contest in 2012, during which I designed my first complete RPG, Eaten Away, I was intrigued when I heard about Game Chef 2013. I also hoped I wouldn’t get an idea for a game, because I didn’t think I’d be able to finish anything, but that’s not how ideas work, is it? Of course I got an idea I couldn’t ignore.

Signal Lost is a story game about exploring the Distant Star, a deep-space survey vessel that has gone dark, and facing an alien terror. Here’s a direct download link: Signal Lost RTF file.

Here’s the cover:

Categories
Books Reading Appendix N

Grognard Games’ introduction to Appendix N

Martin Brown from Grognard Games produced a great short video introduction to Appendix N, the influence the works therein in had on D&D — from thieves and paladins to plane-hopping and alignment — and the inspiration those works can provide today.

It’s a bit surreal for me, though: He’s called Martin as well, and is also English, and I recognize an awful lot of the books on his shelves, but he’s handsomer than me and introduces Appendix N much better than I could. I’m also officially jealous of his bookshelves.

All that aside, you should watch this. It’s quite good.

(Thanks to Erik Tenkar of Tenkar’s Tavern for the link.)