Saturday, April 25, 2015

Political Desk: Microtransactions

To the surprise of many King County residents, there is an election Tuesday. This is offest of the off-off-season elections, consisting of one main item (funding to replace the King County emergency radio network), but depending on your locality, there may something on transportation funds, schools, firefighting equipment, parks, or one case, an annexation.

The intent is good - we could really stand to upgrade the network and it makes things better for police, fire, EMTs, and other first responders.  But this sort of thing reminds me of nothing less than something in my own neck of the woods - microtransactions.

In games, in particular in tablet-games (Android, iPads), the current vogue is to give away the game for free, at the cost of the download and the fact that the manufacturer has some information on you. Then, you are offered small purchases within the game that cost real money (or more often, an in-game currency that is then purchased with real money).

There is a spectrum to how microtransactions are used - there are microtransactions which are cool-looking but do not directly affect game play (hats, special outfits, pets - fair warning, we do all of that in GW2), ranging to the point where to do almost anything in the game, or remain competitive with other players, you have to dish out some dosh (at which point I tend to walk away).

I'm thinking about microtransactions in this case because we have the baseline services of the community, paid for by a variety of taxes, service fees, guaranteed bonds and the like. And then something like THIS shows up, a good cause, good for the community, improves safety, and this improvement costs over and above the baseline.  And it is a good cause, because it is ALWAYS a good cause when they put this offering in front of us - I have yet to see proposition to, say, raise the mayor's pay or increase the number of county-owned vehicles. Because THOSE are covered in the budget, which we don't get to directly vote on.

But it is for a good cause. Such a good cause that the arguments against section in the voter's guide feels required to say "Of COURSE we need a new radio system". But then the "against" team worries that, should we tie this to the property tax, and then those property values drop, we would have to lay off first responders. Which sort of begs the questions of how these first responders are being paid in the first place, that they would otherwise be immune to reduced property taxes. Worse, the opposition team provides no alternative to the tax to raise funds for this.

And one more thing (who knew I would get so much mileage out of a single vote?). The "for" team has sent out fliers about how the original system was put in place in 1992, and as such is practically antique. Well enough, but the fliers also list the top five contributors to the campaign, and number one on the list is Motorola Solutions, which (you guessed it) makes radio systems for first responders.

Despite all this, I am still voting to Approve this tax hike, because, when it is all said and done, we really DO need to upgrade the system.I just want to be able to fund the salaries of the King County Councilpeople in the same way.

More later,

Friday, April 24, 2015

Theater: Local Hero

Lizard Boy written and composed by Justin Huertas, Directed by Brandon Ivie, Seattle Rep through 2 May.

This one had a lot to live up to. The Lovely Bride saw an early draft of it a year ago in the New Play Festival at the Poncho (a performing space in the REP) and loved it. She went to the tech rehearsal the week before opening and liked it even more. And she's been talking about it for a while. So this one had a lot of front-loaded expectation to it.

And (spoilers) it lives up to those expectations. This is an excellent play with excellent performances. It is also a strange thing: A personal, private musical, firmly entrenched in a particular time and place. On one hand, I could see this going large, getting a special on Netflix, or a fair time off-Broadway followed by a 40-city run. On the other, it fits so snugly in the pocket of Seattle, circa the second decade of this century, I don't know if it would play the same way in Omaha or Chicago or even ten years from now.

Lizard Boy is a three-person musical about a gay superhero who plays the cello and draws comics. To quote said hero - "Whaaaaaa?" Justin Heurtas is Trevor, who was bathed in dragon's blood (the dragon having escaped from Mount St. Helens - shades of Shadowrun) and has a lizardish skin condition as a result. He's a bit of a folk hero (there's a "Lizard-Fest" in the play, where people dress up like him - not something unusual for a city that sees cosplayers from PAX, Sakuracon, and Emerald City Comics Con in its downtown). He has also spent the past year in his room as a result of a bad relationship. He contacts Cary (a lovably goofy William A Williams) over Grindr (a gay hookup app) for an awkward first date that involves Dick's Burgers and the Crocodile. At the club he encounters Siren, the "Girl of his Dreams" (both literally and in the pages of the Stranger), who is a tough-talking, hard-living singer who has a deeper connection with Trevor. And then dragons attack.

And it all works, pretty much. It is not so much an origin story or a coming out story as it is a coming to terms story. Lizard Boy hides his lamp under a bushel, and only when pushed does he discover his abilities. Sort of Peter Parker if he had decided NOT to become Spider-Man. The story itself shuttles from pillar to post with numerous flashbacks and "meanwhiles", but does so effortlessly and including the audience in its motions. Cary and Siren do support work on-stage when their characters are not in the thick of the action, and there is little dissonance in their presence.

Further, I enjoy the fact that the plot actually moves forward through the songs. No, bear with me on this one. "Traditional" American musicals have a nasty tendency to bring everything to a stop when the music begins. The character states that she is lonely, then launches into three minutes of song about her loneliness, while the audience gets that she is indeed lonely and just follows along with the nice music. There is actual exposition going on in the songs, so pay attention.

There is a stylized nature in Lizard Boy as well, with comic sketches displayed against the background, that works as well. The combat at the end of the play (hey, it's a comic book. Of course there is conflict) is much, much more effective than the comic rolling-about in The Comparables. It is neatly choreographed and more evocative than if the protagonist was web-spinning his way over the audience.

Perfect? No. It has a couple of challenges. Trevor's lizard-boy disfigurement is presented as few green spangles on his cheeks, and it requires a sense of disbelief to grok that he looks radically different, as opposed to a guy with shiny jade freckles. And some of the dancing falls into a trope of more modern American musicals - jarring the floor to indicate emphasis. Stomp has so much to answer for.

So yeah, this is one of the good ones. It is an original, local production, the result of talented individuals at the Rep working and refining the piece. It has a few raw edges, but it occupies a magical location called Seattle at a unique time. Go see it.

More later,

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Gaming (and Writing) News

Item One: The Origins Award Nominations have been posted, and I am shocked - shocked and surprised - that things that I like are not on the list. I must therefore organize a take-no-prisoners campaign to create a slate of my own to ... wait a minute. Hang on. No, no, actually it looks like a real good year, and there is a lot of stuff that I like there, and a lot of people whose work I respect who are being recognized for their efforts.

Nevermind. Carry on.

Item Two: Fellow Alliterate Will McDermott has a new novel, Nature of the Beast, that is already showing up (although Amazon is giving it a drop date of next week). Nature of the Beast is set in the universe of Mage Wars, a cool boardgame that combines concepts of collectible card games with miniatures battles.

Item Three: Fellow ArenaNet writer Angel McCoy is launching a kickstarter for her new magazine, Another Dimension. In addition to being a mighty fine writer, Angel has for the past few years been running the Wily Writer e-zine (and yeah, I wrote a story for her back in the early years). If you are a fan of horror in the Twilight Zone mode, check it out.

And Items Four and Five: And I would be remiss not to point out that former ArenaNet Community Coordinator Donna Prior is in the waning hours of  HEr kickstarter for Orcacon, a convention up in Everett. Similarly, woe to me if I failed to indicate that puzzle-master Mike Selinker has launched an kickstarter for his new Apocrypha Adventure Card Game. Yes, they've made the base numbers, but still are worth checking out!

More later,

Friday, April 17, 2015

Leonarda Obarski: 1934-2015

Leonarda Obarski, Kate's mom, passed away this past Tuesday. Here is her obituary:
Leonarda Obarski, aka Nardi Novak, age 80, recently of Kent, Washington, passed away April 14, 2014. “Nardi” was born August 15, 1934 in Camden, New Jersey to Herbert and Stephanie Obarski, and lived many years in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is survived by her daughters, Catherine Grubb, Sharon Novak, Elizabeth Thorpe, her grandson John Michael Thorpe, and her sons-in-law John Jeffrey Grubb, Michael Weiss, and John Thorpe. 
Nardi and Me, many years ago.
Nardi graduated from Collingswood High School in New Jersey and attended Temple University for 1 year. While raising her 3 daughters, and serving as a Girl Scout leader, Nardi went back to school and graduated magna cum laude with a BA in English Writing and a Masters in English Literature from the University of Pittsburgh. She was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. Before retirement Nardi worked as a teacher at University of Pittsburgh, Robert Morris College, Dusquesne University and Pennsylvania’s Edinboro University and as a trainer at the Center for Victims of Violent Crime in Pittsburgh, PA, but her first love was acting and the theatre. 
Nardi studied acting from childhood and she appeared and directed on many stages in the Pittsburgh area, had small roles in a few movies and a soap opera, and later worked with the Haddonfield Plays & Players. She was a founding member of the South Park Conservatory Theatre and of the New Works Festival in Pittsburgh. She also worked as a patient simulator, helping medical professionals craft their skills. She was a member of AFTRA/SAG.  
 In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to your local theater.
Leonarda was a wonderful human being, and we will miss her dearly.

More later, 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Riding the Storm Out

Here's one I've been meaning to post for a while, now.

Twenty years ago TSR was looking for a new campaign setting. I proposed one called Storm Front (also called Stormfront) which involved ships sailing on clouds. These days every anime seems to have ships sailing on clouds, and I will point back to Peter Pan for an earlier incarnation, but here were looking for a new concept (a "gizmo") to hang the game on. 
Inspirational Illustration from Winsor McCay.

I had lost the original two-page proposal, but Steve Winter (who had mentioned it in a podcast) did not, and dropped me off a copy, which I am presenting below. The other sources referred to in the first paragraph were other concepts that were bouncing around at that time, which were either naval-style campaigns or monster-dominated "reverse dungeons" where the bulk of the world was hostile. So this is the last of a series of similar proposals, and reflects the input of others on the TSR team.

I am leaving the text as it was originally written, with corrections in [red brackets] and footnotes.

The story of how Stormfront came to be, and what happened to it, can be found here. I wanted to get this out there before an entire year had passed since my last mentioning it. Some fans have responded to the stories about it with interest, and now you know as much as our management did at the time about the product. 

Storm front1
A Campaign Setting Proposal by
Jeff Grubb
5 January 1994 

Note: This proposal combines elements of a number of previous proposals from other sources, including the Under Siege collection of monster-dominated worlds, the Water Worlds, including Sea of Shadows, The Illythids, and the Earth-Sky proposal[s], and I hope it to be a synthesis of those ideas, dealing with the objections raised for each.

The Nugget: Man shall live on Mountain-Tops, and the world beneath is wrapped in clouds, storms, and shadow.

The Images: A world of eternal cloud cover and storms, where the forces of good and law can only survive on the few mountain-tops which pierce these clouds. The cloud layer is at a set altitude and is regular, and cloud-traders sail its surface in magical ships. Beneath the surface of the clouds the land is ruled by evil and chaos, by huge ever-changing nations and gangs controlled by beastly monstrosities known as the Abominations.

The Back Story: Long ago, Stormfront’s world was much like the Realms, perhaps a little further advanced in the magical department. A human dared to challenge the power of the sea gods, and best [bent] them to her will. The harnessing of the sea gods brought a golden age of power to the land, but in the end the powerful sea-deities revolted. The gods could not deluge the land without wiping out followers or causing other gods to step in, so they instead pumped much of their water vapor into the air, enchanting it as they did so. The result was a continual cloud cover which wrapped the cloud [world] save for its highest mountain chains. The land beneath the clouds changed, and its people changed with it. Lush vegetation in riotous colors broke out everywhere, deserts flooded, cities were inundated, fields became swamps, and civilization collapsed. The good and lawful races retreated upwards in the face of this onslaught. Those which remained were twisted by the magical rains in warped forms, and the most warped of these developed great powers – they became the Abominations.

Life Above the Clouds: The Nations of Light survive among the peaks of what were Stormfront’s highest mountains, and the largest of these is the Spine, a ragged archipelago with a main island a thousand miles long and a few hundred miles across at its widest. Spine is heavily populated and its population is clustered into huge cities, the bulk of its land needed for farming to feed its people. Where the mountain-nation descends to the cloud level is the Fogwall, a continually-guarded fortified wall which keeps those creatures which climb the mountains at bay.
            In addition to the Nations of Light, there is a polyracial alliance known as the cloud-skimmers. When the clouds first overlook [overtook] the world, their founding wizards found a method to travel on their tops. They are the transportation and communication guild, and are as powerful as any nation. They also may be dealing with the Abominations, but this is merely rumor.
            The other races live with the humans, but a few have their own settlements. Dwarves tunnel beneath the peaks, seeking to extend their domains downward, eventually linking up with their original homelands beneath the cloud level. Some elves have abandoned the world entirely, forming great floating orbs hovering over the surface of the cloud-ocean. Halflings live as pirates in stolen cloud-skimmers, providing an alternative (and a threat) to the power of the cloud-skimmers2. The gnomes dominate the cloud-skimmers, particularly in the higher reaches of power, and are a more solemn, threatening people.

Life Beneath the Clouds: The land beneath the clouds is one of continual shadow and darkness, at its brightest the color of an overcast day. Storms move a random across its surface, and rains of blood, dead animals, snow, and insects are common. Those humans which remain beneath the layers are worn, beaten, and very, very depressed, such that most have abandoned hope of the light and follow dark masters.
            With the transformation of the oceans, new life appeared beneath the cloud cover – sea creatures and their twisted spawn now could live in the wet, thick air, and air-sharks, orcas, flying squid, and coin-bright swarms of piranhas are common. Locathah and sahaguin live on the surface (though they cannot live on the mountain tops of light, and hate the inhabitants there for that reason).
            The most powerful creatures of the darkness are the Abominations – creatures that once may have been mortal, or even human, but now are a combination of life and living natural force. These are the most evil and chaotic, and each seeks to establish itself as the dominant Abomination on the planet, slaying or enslaving everything else (This permits a variety of powerful bad guys, one of which may succeed the next over time).
            In the shadow of the Abominations are the Mind Flayers – non-psionic traditional types who interact among the Abominations much as the Cloud Skimmers3 do among the Nations of Light. They have their own secret societies and hidden agendas, and seek to gather enough power that they may control the Abominations, and with it the rest of the world.
            The land is wet and dark, the ground generally marshy and uneven. Areas are regularly flooded, and even recent mays may be altered at will. The level of the true oceans has dropped as a result of the god’s [gods’] manipulation, and the swollen rivers now wind far out from the original coasts, pitching finally over the edge of the continental shelf in huge waterfalls. In these extremely salty oceans lay the domains of the sea gods, still angry regarding their once-enslavement.
            The land beneath the clouds also holds the remains of the human nations and cities, and the knowledge within. The Nations of Light must continually send brave adventurers down into this rain-darkened land to recover now-long [now-lost] magical knowledge to keep the Abominations and the forces of darkness from completely taking over the planet. That’s here the adventurers come in. A typical “dungeon crawl” may be taking a Cloud Skimmer out to the location of an Ancient City, parachuting down (a difficult, but not impossible task), raiding, and the (the tough part) walking back.
            If we need an epic (after the first year or so) here goes – the level of the clouds is rising, and threatens to finally consume the Nations of Light. The heroes must seek out the most powerful Abomination to destroy his holy McGuffin and return the world to stability (in [if] not to the time before the floods).

Benefits of this world:
·         Takes advantage of the water-worlds (new monsters, sea travel, swashbuckling, pirates) without the disadvantages (drowning rules, 3-D movement on a regular basis, fire and spell modifications).
·         Gives us a large number of bad guys in the form of the Abominations (similar to the various evil organizations in Faerun or the Lords of Ravenloft).
·         Gives us a “gizmo world” (a physically different world from standard AD&D) which uses standard AD&D rules.
·         Gives us a world with one big problem (the gizmo – in this case the continual cloud cover) which cannot be cured – that is the status quo. A lot of little problems (abominations, other nations, the cloud skimmers, pirates) become problems the player characters can deal with.
·         Creates the “surrounded citadel” approach of good besieged by evil, without making that citadel dark itself. (the nations are in light, not in a dungeon, but still surrounded).
·         New monsters as the marine creatures have “thick-air” variants.

What do you think, sirs4?

1 – I would like to say the “Storm front” name, with its odd capitalization, was a pretentious affectation intended to make the name look artier, but it looks more like a globby typo after I went back and forth between two words and one.
2 – This is probably the most unclear sentence in the presentation – It should read – “Halflings live as pirates in stolen cloud-ships, providing an alternative (and a threat) to the power of the cloud-skimmers.” The gnomes would be a dominant force in the magical/merchant version Cloud Skimmers
3 – The cloud-skimmers became the Cloud Skimmers (as an official organization) over the course of writing the proposal, and the word was used to refer to both the organization and the ships they sailed. The legal department once got mad at me for Spelljammer, which I used as a noun, a proper noun, a verb, and would have been an adjective if I could have gotten away with it. I did that sort of thing again here.
4 – Yes, that is a MST3K reference. 

More later, 

Monday, March 30, 2015

In Spring a Young Man's Fancy Turns to No Quarter! (Part VI)

With the coming of spring, we see the release of this year's collectible US quarter designs into the wild. This blog has for a long time followed the design of these coins; first the State series, where each state (or territory) got the backside of a quarter to promote themselves, and now the "America the Beautiful" series where each state gets to pitch a particular national park, site, monument, preserve, forest, nature area, battlefield, or chunk of tarmac on this choice piece of promotional terrain.

And as I have noted before, here is our handy rating system:

Way Cool = A
Not Bad = B
Kinda Lame (Meh) = C
Very Lame = D
Looks like you can get two plays in an old pinball machine with them = E

National Homestead Monument of America - Nebraska

This one is a challenge to the coin-carvers. How do you commemorate a location that is honestly SUPPOSED to be in the middle of nowhere? One with few distinctive or redeeming features? One the really deals more with an idea than a place? I honestly think that the Nebraska Quarter rises to that challenge.

A little history. Starting 1862, the federal government passed a series of Homestead Acts which offered people free land in exchange for residency and improvement. Parties such as the Free Soil Party and the newly hatched Republicans were big on putting land into the hands of small independent farmers, as opposed to wealthy landholders. The Democrats, in particular Southern Democrats, scuttled such bills whenever they showed up, so everyone just waited until the south left the room Union and passed the bill. There were additional homestead acts to expand the area granted, and promises of planting timber, but this one in 1862 was the biggie.

The downside of the idea of "Free Land" was the fact that the land was in places like, well, Nebraska, which I believe is a Hekawi word for "Big Empty Desert Made of Grass". However, the promise of free land and the concept of the yeoman farmer, stolid and dependable, led many into the plains, where many perished from the fact that the plains were pretty inhospitable. Such founders get the nickname sodbusters, since there usually wasn't anything along the lines of stone or wood to build with. Hence, the early houses were sod.

This particular location did have wood to build (eventually) and is on the site of one of the first homesteaders. If that statement it sounds vague, part of it is because the individual who made that claim made a lot of claims over the years about being the first, and while they can determine he was among the first, whether he was exactly in first line is debated. Close enough for government work, at least.

In any event, the coin actually really cool for having to present a bunch of nothing but a idea. The mud and timber cabin dominates the center, framed by stalks of wheat, and with a small hand-pump in the middle. It actually captures the feeling of the struggle to survive on the prairie. In addition, the timber and mud layers of house should provide a good feel to the coin as well. Yeah, it's pretty well done.

Rating: A (Way Cool)

Kiatchie National Forest - Louisiana 

Well, the good news is that they chose a location pretty far inland for the site of this Louisiana quarter, making it relatively safe from rising oceans, oil spills, Mardi Gras tourists, and the ever-popular hurricanes. The downside is that this may the first time you've ever heard of it.

Kiatchie (the name is derived from the Kichie tribe that once lived in the neighborhood) is a swath of upland forest in the northern half of the state,, divided into five big chunks over seven parishes. Like the Homestead Monument, there is not a lot of define it on the back of a quarter. Unlike the Homestead Monument, there isn't as much as an idea here to crystallize around, either. So in the end, they chose a local inhabitant. The turkey. Yes, that is what that's supposed to be.

And they showed the turkey in flight, which demonstrates that you really shouldn't show a turkey in flight. It's embarrassing for everyone involved.  It looks like one of those primitive biplanes that gets shot off a catapult to get it into the air, It creates a question in the mind of the viewer: Will the next coin show a majestic swooping bird, or a tangle of feathers and bone as it augers in on a low-hanging cyprus branch. It looks like a velociraptor trying to fan-dance.

Honestly, only in my lifetime have people determined that the birds are direct descendants of the dinosaurs. Looking at the form of this splayed-feathered demi-reptile trying to scrabble its way aloft into a hostile sky, I thought it would have been obvious years ago.

Rating: B (Not Bad, but that remains one ugly turkey)

Blue Ridge Parkway - North Carolina

Here we see the classic cartoon site where Wile E. Coyote painted the picture of the tunnel on a cliff-face, built a road up to it, and waited for the Roadrunner to smash into it. The Roadrunner, of course, ran into the picture of the tunnel, not knowing any better. When Wile E. Coyote attempted to follow, armed with the knowledge of reality, he smashed into the rock wall, stunned himself, staggered off, and fell off a cliff. Humor.

OK, actually, this is one of many tunnels along the US's longest park, which threads some 469 miles through Virginia and North Carolina, with North Carolina JUST getting the bragging rights on having the biggest half. It is apparently the most-visited of the sites under the watch of the National Park Service because, well, it's a road. Started during the Depression and finished in the eighties, the Parkway snakes through some beautiful country.

The coin itself achieves something very nice - a sense of depth. The carvings have gotten better over the years, as have the designs, but this does not just use two planes of depth, but actually funnels you attention from the right, with its masonry foreground (coming out of another tunnel?) and (I'm guessing) dogwood blooms, brought along the curve of the road (no horizon line to distract - just white space, then to the tunnel itself, and down through the short tunnel to the exit. And there, very small, at the far end, you can just see ... the Roadrunner.

Beep Beep.

Rating: A (Way Cool - I really like this one).

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge - Delaware

This quarter plays off its strengths, and pushes its waterfowl. In this case, it reveals that it is the winter nesting ground of the kaiju monster Rodan. OK, actually, that is ....

That is ...

Hang on. I'm getting this strange sense of deja vu. Almost like...

Yeah, let's hop in the wayback machine and go back a year to...

Yes!  I knew it. This actually nothing more than a reskin of the Everglades/Florida quarter from last year. I've got the swamp. I've got the two birds. They're in the same positions. Somebody threw the Florida quarter on a light table and got out their tracing paper. My god. Did they think no one would NOTICE?

I mean, I can sympathize. We are talking Delaware, here, a fully-owned subsidiary of the credit card industry. What would they put on the quarter? A listing of US household debt? But even so, if your best feature is Bombay Hook (named after the Doctor in Bewitched), the least you could do would be to show some originality. If you're going to steal stock photographs, at least show the decency to flip the image.

Yeah, I really liked this presentation, -when I SAW IT LAST YEAR. No, you don't get another chance, Delaware. You should have thought of it before.

Rating: D (Just ... Just leave. I'll be sending a letter to your parents).

Saratoga National Monument - New York

The last quarter for the year also deals with a concept as opposed to the importance of a particular place, though the place is important. In this case, the quarter celebrates the first successful pickpocket attempt in a D&D game outside of Lake Geneva.

No, actually it commemorates the defeat of the British forces, under General Burgoyne, by the American rebels under General Gates. It was the military turning point of the war. Burgoyne was supposed to sweep down from Canada and hook up with General Howe's forces coming up from New York City. And indeed, Burgoyne uprooted the Americans out of Fort Ticonderoga, so he kept his side of the deal. Howe, though, decided to invade Philadelphia instead, and left Burgoyne hanging. Another support column coming up the Mohawk River was been turned back, and this and the loss of Native American allies left Burgoyne on a very thin branch, which Gates and his aggressive major general, Benedict Arnold (yeah, that guy) lopped off the branch and forced a surrender.

So, does the coin work? I'm going to say no, since you have to label it to get any sense of what is happening here. The idea that the brocade on a sleeve indicates "British" to the user is a bit of a reach, and most folk don't remember that turning over your sword is the old-fashion-y method of surrender. Plus labeling it British Surrender might mean you're going to get some mail from Yorktown.

I think it is actually too subtle.

Rating C (Meh).

Tune in next year folks, and we get to  start the Civil War with two different coins. Plus some other places you've never heard of until now.

And Delaware ... I'm watching you. Just so you know.

More later,

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Gaming News

There is a lot of gaming news that gets passed around these days. However, most of it is on Facebook, which means you will see it once, think that you might get back to it later, and then never see it again as the feed churns relentless onward. Here are some things of note from the past few days.

First off, Baker Street: Roleplaying in the world of Sherlock Holmes is for sale on RPGNow. This is a nice game which works off the very inspired conceit that while Holmes was off on his European Holiday (and the world assumes that he had plunged to his death at Reichenbach Falls), Watson employed talented amateurs to fill the Great Detective's shoes. Those talented amateurs would be the player characters, who negotiate clues and get to the truth of matters great and small.

As part of a stretch goal for the product, Fearlight Games produced a Baker Street Casebook, which involves a handful of talented individuals such as Skip Williams, Bryce Whitacre, Steven S. Long, and yours truly. Naturally, given the chance, I wrote about the goings-on at a club on Pall Mall where the younger members pinch policemen's helmets. Because I could. Find out more about it here.

Secondly, speaking of Kickstarter, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the talented and lovely Rob Schwalb has a kickstarter going on for his new project, a dark fantasy RPG called Shadow of the Demon Lord. The game has already burst past its inital and is wracking up the stretch goals even as I write this. Go check it out here.

Third, I am planning to go to GenCon in Indianapolis for the first time in many years, despite the best efforts of the Indiana State Legislature to convince me otherwise. The state legislature has passed a bill, SB101, which pretty much says you can refuse service to anyone as long as you belong to a faith that says its all right to do so. It is pretty much aimed at the GLBTQ community, although under the law of unintentional consequences, things can get out of hand pretty damned quickly. Being Indiana, the bill was passed by the legislature and now only needs the governor's signature.

Now GenCon is currently hosted in Indy, but is run out of this part of the country, and a goodly chunk of it and many other game companies are part of, or friends and/or relatives and/or co-workers of, the very community that the bill is targeting. GenCon put together a very cogent, polite letter pointing out that the convention brings some 50 mill into downtown Indy and, if they and their friends aren't wanted, they will gladly take that business to people who are more willing to treat their convention-goers with respect. A lot of the click-bait online sites are calling it a threat, but it sounds pretty damned calm and reasonable. You can read the letter here.

It is a pity, after spending years trying to convince people that they should actually go to Indianapolis in the middle of August (And I have BEEN in Indiana in August), they are now determined to flush all that away.

Finally, on a very sad note, I must report the passing of Mike McArtor. I worked with Mike on the D&D 3.5 Spell Compendium, which was pretty much my last WotC D&D project. Mike would go to work on Magic: The Gathering and for Paizo, and he and his wife joined our gaming group of a while, playing Call of Cthulhu. Mike died in a car accident yesterday, and I will honest, has left me rattled. He was a pleasant, talented, thoughtful young man, and the industry is lessened by his passing. Rest in Peace, Mike.

More later,