Monday, September 15, 2014

Public Service Announcement

I will admit this freely - I am a homebody. I like nothing better than curling up with my laptop and working, or, if the weather is good, sitting on my back porch, watching the hummingbirds and nursing a cuba libre. Getting me out of town takes something major, like visiting family or promoting the big game I've been working with. However, I am not the quite J D Salinger of game design, and actually DO make public appearances on occasion. And I send out a warning, so people can gather up the children, lock up the horses, and hide the good silverware.
GrandCon panel from last year

I WILL be at GrandCon this weekend, September 19-22, at the Crown Plaza at Grand Rapids. This is a bit of an old reunion weekend, since other guests include Ed Greenwood, Steven Schend, Matt Forbeck, and Stan! (OK, Stan! lives out here in Seattle, and it looks like we'll be sharing the flight out, but still, its a big get-together). Check it out!

And, on November 5th, a passel of us writer types (I believe that is collective noun - a passel of writers? A gaggle? A despair?) are going to be at the University Book Store for the roll-out of the Kobold Guide to Combat. Joining me will be such luminaries as Wolfgang Baur, Steve Winter, Chris Pramas, Wolfgang Baur and masterful editrix Janna Silverstein. for a book signing.

If you can't make it to either location, well, you can catch my dulcet tones on the Dead Games Society podcast, where I talk about, well, practically everything.

And just so you know, there is no truth to the rumor that I am only getting out of the house just so the Lovely Bride can do major home repairs while I am gone. None at all.

More later.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sometimes the Whale Wins

When last the kids from Kent engaged in a "culinary adventure" in Seattle it was into the hot (as in spicy) territory of Joule up in Wallingford. I mentioned that the restaurant shared a building with another hot (as in popular) spot, The Whale Wins. Both places did tartar, both were in the same location, both were covered in Bon Appetite, so yeah, we had to do both.

But after our inflamed experience with Korean fusion barbecue, we were a bit reluctant. We still meant to get to the other half. We really did, but time passed and we had other things and finally, only finally, we got there on the excuse of my birthday (thanks for all the well-wishing, Internet!).

Of course, one does not get to Wallingford without adventure! Like getting to the South end of Seattle in a half-hour during rush hour, followed by an excruciating trip across town, from south to north through cross-traffic. Said trip involved a number of blocked cross-streets, a map program leading us into the worst part of the mess, a couple of  illegal road maneuvers on my part that I would never normally consider, and culminated with the Fremont bridge being up (which was actually the most pleasant diversion during this part of the trip). Also, Parking: tough in the area, and while we ended up parking in the neighboring EVO lot, we didn't think anyone from EVO was watching since a sketchy character was breaking into a car in the lot even as we parked.

So, the venue. Open, light framework, with tables laid out close to each other (why yes, we ended up talking to our neighbors about what we had ordered, and there was a wedding being planned nearby). The patio was open, but the challenge at the relatively early hour was that half the seats faced the setting sun. I placed myself between the Lovely Bride and the fiery sky-orb, so that her eyes were shaded and I was surrounded by a nimbus of flame.Other diners were holding menus up to protect themselves from the lumens.

The food, of course, was superb. We split a tomato/ricotta salad and a large order of clams, then two separate orders of the lamb tartar (one with egg, one without) and bread and butter. Yeah, for those Olive Garden-types, they charge for bread and butter, but it's REAL good Columbia City bread and butter. The tomato/ricotta salad was fresh and luscious and the best fresh tomatoes the LB has had all year - she almost ordered a second one for desert. The decision of the clams was split - I thought the addition of corn overpowered the clams, but Kate really liked the sweetness it added (oh, and we didn't need to order a large, though we created a jenga-tower of discarded shells by the end of it). The lamb tartar, with lemon, mint, and capers, was the main event, and was perfect melt-in-your-mouth good. Service was prompt and friendly and easily at hand (I did a quick count and found ten members of the waitstaff on the floor for this relatively small space, none of which were standing around). Good food, good service, and good ambience.

The Lovely B's verdict? "We have to come back here again, and just get double orders of the tomatoes and lamb". And I have to agree with her. If I can find parking.

More later,

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Beijing by Drone

I talked briefly about my very short trip to China earlier. It was a short trip - fly in, two days of interviews with the media on GW2's release in China, an impressive party, a day of playing tourist, hitting the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, and then out. Hardly enough to frame any definitive opinions. But I didn't mention the drones.


Yeah, the GW2 celebration started with a reception with a cover band, models posing by GW2 exhibits, and a lot of fans, including ones ignoring the cover band and the models and playing GW2 at computers set up around the perimeter of the huge patio area. The entire shindig was in a former industrial area turned art district, so we were surrounded with old gas works and cement storage facilities. And in the middle of this, I heard a burring noise, and looking up, saw a trio of mini-helicopter drones hovering at the edges of the property.

And I did a mental blink. This was no the first time I was filmed in a public place, but probably the first time I was in a public place being filmed by a drone. Definitely the first time I was aware of it. It felt a little odd, in part because I had not experienced it before.

In any event, the party went well and I forgot about the drones with everything else that was happening. And then I came across a video by Trey Ratcliff, a gifted photographer, who was taking pictures of Beijing by drone. And while the video is titled "Beijing From Above, AKA the Story of How I Was Detained By the Police for Flying My DJI Quadcopter", the video doesn't mention the detaining, the story of which is instead found here.

In any event, it a series of shots of various Beijing locations, many of which I did not get to visit. It does capture the grandeur (and to my mind, impersonal nature) of the Forbidden City and the beauty of the Summer Palace (which you should go to, but be prepared to hike). And then, about the 3:09 mark, there was something that, to quote the clickbait sites, "Blew my mind".

Rytlock Brimstone.

I mentioned that the GW2 party culminated in the unveiling of a huge 40 foot Rytlock statue, which, I had been told, would be an installation in this art district. Yet I was still surprised when I came across a picture of him, in all his charrish glory, taken by a quad-copter, no less.

Check it out. It's pretty cool.

More later,

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Meanwhile, 200 years ago...

Here's an interesting history bit about the burning of Washington - the conventional wisdom was that it was a reprisal for the burning of the Canadian town of York (now Toronto). But here's an article that makes the point that taking Washington was not a British goal, and the the burning of the public buildings was more the result of someone firing on the Brits expecting a traditional surrender, and in the process killing the commander's horse.

Of course we don't agree on history - we can't even agree if the song was recorded by the Arrogant Worms or Three Trolls in a Baggie.

More later,

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Player's Handbook

So late week I received my consultant's copy of the new D&D Player's Handbook, and have spent the weekend leafing through it. And (spoilers) it makes me excited about playing D&D.

First off, the nature of my consultancy - I was asked by WotC to serve as a consultant, and provided with a (very) early draft of the rules. And, to be frank, I wasn't very impressed, and said so (I believe I used the word "meh" in my initial review). Not that it was horrible, but that it wasn't very impressive, such that if someone pressed it into my hands and said it was their homebrewed set of rules, or their favorite OSR (Old School Revision/Revival/Renaissance) game, it would have been fine. But from the guys who have taken on the mantle of D&D, it fell a little short.

That was then. Now, the book in my hands is a charming combination of old and new, paying attention to the past without slavish reverence, and, more importantly, moving the dialogue of games forward.

(And yeah, I've said this a number of times, but I think of game design as a dialogue - every new edition or new game in the hobby field has a strong sense of "Yeah, that's OK, but HERE'S how you fix it". It is a conversation, and we expect new editions to be better because they build off of what has gone before).

And yeah, I can see the previous editions peeking through from all the angles, from the foundational work of the first AD&D to the increasing AC of 3rd to the heroic tiers and grid options of 4th. Here is the latest version of the UA's Barbarian and 4th's Warlock. It feels complete. It feels right. This is no basic set, no starter, no "to-be-continued" introduction. It feels whole.

Better yet, it is paying attention to its heritage more than any other edition. While earlier editions leaned heavily on mythology or other writers in the field, this one actually fesses up and admits that yeah, people have been writing D&D novels for 30+ years now, and it quotes from them. And it does not rely on a particular home world exclusively - it moves around in its examples from FR to DL to Eberron to mighty Greyhawk. It talks about the gods of all these places, plus game versions of historical pantheons. It becomes a unifying edition.

And hey, in the back, the Great Wheel of the Planes is back. That makes me both very happy and amused.

The rules are both comfortable for us old grogs as well as trying new things. I like the way they settled on the Proficiency Bonus (there were various versions along the way, as other playtesters will tell you). I think the advantage and disadvantage approach is a sweet way of handling such situations without breaking down into a roster-check of every possible plus or minus that some editions thrived on. Still moving my ancient brain around the idea of using Hit Dice for recovery, but I like it as an attempt to blend the short and long rests into the new game. And the inspiration concept feels like it can trace its roots back through FATE and other indie games.

The presentation is clean and the rules are eminently readable. Sidebars highlight but do not overwhelm. And the entire volume feels like the opening gun for new projects of classes and feats and worlds. There is enough here to show the potential, and get you excited.

I've got a couple gripes, but they are mostly in the graphics end (I will probably come up with more grouses about the mechanics as I put them into play, but that is fairly normal - the art always hits you first). The use of a red logo on a red cover is regrettable. I've never been a fan of full-bleed full-page color art, even when it was 2nd Edition. And the halflings look like bobble-heads more suitable for The Great Khan Game. On the other hand, the armor and outfits tends towards useful as opposed to, um, heroic, and it looks like people can actually go into combat wearing this stuff.

The WotC team set a very high bar for themselves, and released this new edition into a very different landscape than any previous edition. It had to separate itself both from other games as well as lay claim the D&D's heritage. That's pretty tough. But I think the new Player's Handbook shows it can be down, and I look forward to seeing the other core books.

More later,

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Jeff Recommends: Primary

So, after giving you a grab bag of facts about the way we do things here in Washington State, let me open my ballot and get down to brass tacks.

And, let's see. Nothing for the Executive. Our State Senator has two more years before running. State Legislator Position Two has two candidates, so both of them are going forward. State Legislator Position One has only ONE candidate, so congratulations on your re-election, Zack Hudgins. No judges. No primary positions for Kent, which is probably just as well, since I now have to do a criminal background check for local elections, apparently. No referendums or initiatives.

To be frank, it is pretty empty in this neck of the woods, with the notable exception of US House of Representatives for the 9th District, which will probably be incumbent Adam Smith versus the guy who will lose to Adam Smith.

That's because Adam Smith (no, not the guy who wrote about the Invisible Hand) is a very strong candidate. Even though they shook up his district like a mix-master before the last one, he is a capable incumbent with a lot of experience and heavy governmental chops. Mark Greene of the Citizens Party makes the case that the two major parties are more aligned than different. Looking at the Online Voting Guide (which I always use as as a good place to start, I have a hard time arguing with him), he's got a point. Smith talks about jobs, economy, and veterans (he's if favor all three) , which Republican candidate Doug Basler talks about the economy, jobs, and veterans (he is also in favor of all three). The other listed Democrat, Don Rivers, also name-checks the economy, jobs, and veterans, along with prison reform, education, environment and infrastructure (long list, no paragraph breaks, and yes, he's in favor of all of them).  Mr Greene's notes aside, Mr. Rivers actually looks pretty good, and if you don't want Mr. Smith, I would strongly recommend Mr. Rivers as "the other Democrat". For myself, I will stay with Adam Smith.

So yeah, Adam Smith. Yep, that's it. And yeah, it feels weird not having much more to talk about. Oh! Yeah, for your own races, check the Online Voting Guide for an introduction to the candidates. The Municipal League of King County gives candidate evaluations, which while not being all-consuming, also gives a good starting point. The Seattle Times goes through the motions of weighing the options before choosing the candidate that hates unions the most. The Stranger remains rude, lewd, and generally accurate in their calls. And political gadfly David "Goldy" Goldstein pretty much sums things up for this political season.

Oh, since we don't have enough of this in the coming months, have an honest political ad -

And we're done here, at least until the November election churns around.

More later,

Friday, July 18, 2014

Political Desk: Primary Education

So the ballot for the August 5th Primary has reached Grubb Street, and to be frank, things are pretty quiet. Deathly so. There is only one race that has more than two candidates in it, and that pretty much is going to be a walk-away (spoilers). So this is a chance to summarize the nature of politics at the moment in Washington State, for those who wander into this site who are not from around here.

1) Washington State has Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches, like you learned in civics class (Do they still HAVE civics class, or do they let kids pick up politics on the playground? For that matter, do they still HAVE playground?) Anyway, we have a couple major differences. In Wash State the ENTIRE Executive goes up for election in one go - none of this appointing stuff, so we choose from governor down to insurance commissioner, and can have a mix of the two parties in power, all elected in one fell swoop. In reality, this means we tend to have a Democratic Party executive branch, with occasional GOPs, usually in positions like attorney general. But since we do this in one swell foop, and this is not the swell year, nothing is on the ballot for them.

2) We also elect the bulk of our judges. There are a smattering this year, but none of them in our neck of the woods as far as the primary is concerned.

3) In part, as a result of this direct election of what would be appointed positions in other states, the governor doesn't have as much power as elsewhere. The real heart of lawmaking lies within our legislature. This is a part-time operation, and while various committees meet throughout the year, the bulk of lawmaking occurs in a three-month session from January to March, after the ice breaks but before everyone has to be back home for spring planting.

4) As with Executive, the Legislature- House and Senate - are usually in the hands of the Democratic Party, though that edge is often narrow. This most recent session, after convincing two Dems to switch parties and welcoming back a GOP senator previously banned from caucusing for attitude problems, the Republican have gained control. And as so often happens when a party that believes governing is bad has to actually govern, things came to a complete halt. The big things left undone from this last session included a coherent transportation package, infrastructure, mass transit in the Seattle area, and most importantly, finding funding for a Supreme Court mandated reduction to classroom size. Note that, regardless of party, the legislature had no trouble coughing up several billion in bennies to get Boeing to build the Triple-7 X here, though the company then turned around and shipped 1000 engineering jobs out of the state.

5) I did get a sponsored Facebook post from the State Republicans, however, bragging that the Legislature did not have go into a special session this year (the governing equivalent of extra time). This is sort of like your contractor not finishing the house addition, but sending a note saying that at least they remembered to take their tools with them when they abandoned the job.

6) One thing I am noticing that is different this year is that I am getting sponsored Facebook posts from the State Republicans. One edge that the Dems have held has been a technological one, but the GOP is finding out how to use it. Yeah, yeah, I know that social media is often a "live mic" situation for conservatives, where unfortunate truths are inadvertently revealed, but they are getting BETTER at it. And that's a good thing, even if it means the Dems will have to work harder.

7) Further, I've seen more Republican ads on cable this year, primarily for incumbents, so they are running and running hard this far out. Even Mark Hargrove, whose district (The fighting 47th) I have been redistricted out of, is running ads on local block of the Food Network. They are taking this election very seriously.

8) Now, the primary is top-two, a recent development which pretty much excludes minor parties from the entire deal. What this means usually is that we are looking at a Dem versus a Rep, but there are cases of two Dems or two Reps squaring off. Most often there are only two candidates period, which makes the Primary sort of an early straw poll. And there are places where there is only one candidate on the ballot, and the other side couldn't even muster up the energy to get a sacrificial lamb onto the ballot (and if either party is interested, I know people who could be available for such a position, and would be unelectable but not embarrassing, at a reasonable fee).

9) In addition to the three major branches of the government, we have an initiative process in this state. The process allows the citizenry to propose laws with sufficient signatures, which are put on the ballot, as well as allow referendums, where the legislature passes laws that are subject to approval by the citizenry. Sounds good, but it is a place where hot-button issues are usually kicked out to the populace to decide, and where deep pockets to hire signature-gatherers tend to carry the field. There are no initiatives and referendums in the primary, as they are still sorting out who qualifies for the fall ballot.

10) And finally, speaking of bouncing the decision-making back down to the citizenry, raises in school taxes or park levies are put onto the ballot as well. To me this always smacks of save-the-cute-animals, in that every x number of years the schools have to get out their sackcloth and begging bowls to pony up the funds for a few more microscopes. The city of Seattle is seeking this time out to get around that by creating an honest-to-gosh Park's District, which doesn't sound like a bad idea, but, situated in the upper right corner of Kent, one I don't get to vote on.

And that's the basics on the ground in Washington State.  Oh yeah, one more:

11) Washington State is an all-mail balloting state, and while I miss the semi-yearly visit to the polls, I have to say that mail balloting has worked out pretty well. And that you have no reason to put off voting.

Recommendations next time. More later.