Thursday, July 30, 2009

4E Sales and the Half-Price Test

Let me start out by saying - no one really knows what the D&D Fourth Edition sales are except those people with direct access to the numbers backed up with internal knowledge of what those numbers mean. Everyone who makes pronouncements based on anecdotal evidence usually has their own cutlery to grind, either in favor or against it.

To this I can add only my own anecdote (and bundle of knives) - Half-Price Test.

I love to browse used bookstores. They are a place for both knowledge that has been passed on as well as knowledge that has been abandoned. I love finding some arcane reference work or history that has been out of print for years. But in addition to volumes that have been cluttering up the attic, used book stores are dumping grounds on a personal level (books you have received and don't want) and corporate level (overstocks and over-orders that can be unloaded for less than it would take to pulp them). The latter types of books show up particularly the larger chains, like Half-Price Books.

So with that in mind, a good register for the sales of 4E should be the Half-Price bookstore about a mile west of WotC itself, in Tukwilla. If books are being dumped, either by individuals or companies, we should see something there.

And... I don't. I come back in on occasion and find a lot still from the 3E glut, from WotC and other publishers, but almost nothing on 4E. This could be the result of three things (all of them good for WotC and the hobby in general).

1) 4E is selling and sticking. People are picking up the books and keeping them (and extending the assumption, playing them).

2) WotC is keeping a sharp eye on print runs. TSR (and WotC) both had a habit of printing more than they needed, just in case. With returnables and just-in-time delivery, there has usually been a lot of copies floating around in this gray area. I'm not seeing it. They may not be overprinting, and that conservatism carries into this tertiary market.

3) 4E IS coming into the Half-Price market, but has a very short shelf life, which would make the Half-Prices of the world very happy, since THAT part of the shelving is earning its keep very nicely. It also means that 4E has an additional interest among the cheapskates of the world (like, um, me).

Now, this is one more little bit anecdotal evidence, based on the Seattle area stores, which SHOULD see a solid response (when TSR was in trouble, there was a proverbial flood of brand-new TSR product in the Milwaukee stores). I'd be interested in hearing other tertiary market stories, and seeing if this bears out.

More later,

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Why I Am Like I Am

I found this old New Yorker/Charles Addams cartoon the other day. I first encountered it when I was but a wee bairn -

I think it explains so much about engineers, gnomes, and the asura.

More later,

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Having a Heat Wave

As you may have heard from other Seattle blogs, it is hot out here. Surprisingly, untypically, extremely hot. Triple digit territory, which would be cause for remark in other parts of the country.

Here, its a bit weirder than in most parts of the country. We aren't a place that gets this kind of heat often, and as such, we don't do a lot as far as air conditioning. When we moved out here over ten years back, we brought along the room air conditioner from Wisconsin, only to find that it would not fit in any windows in the house (they are sliders, not lifters). So right now we are spending as much time as possible in the lowest floor, and running the fans. The cats are OK so far, but are trying to emulate throw-rugs.

Work is slightly more of a challenge, in that some rooms have adequate HVAC and some don't. We're moving fans around to keep other departments cool.

It is going to be a fun week, and its only going to get hotter. Wish us luck.

More later,

Monday, July 27, 2009

On The Road Again: The Ticket II

Heckuva a way to start a week.

I got a ticket this morning. Let me spare you the drama by saying I was, um, guilty of the charge (more on that later). But what cheeses me off is not the fact that the officer was professional, personable, and younger than me, but that it blows my regular rhythm of a ticket every four years or so. Worse yet, it happens in the same neck of the woods as my LAST ticket.

OK, I've mentioned that I often use Lake Washington Blvd instead of I-5 heading north. It is calmer, more scenic, and often faster than the main drag. And, according to the highway department, perfectly cool, as long as you obey local laws. So I keep my speed down, my eyes open, and, after my previous experience, make full stops.

But Lake Washington Blvd parallels the rail line, and trains have right of way. So when a train carrying at least three airplane fuselages pulls into the crossing, I come to a stop and wait for it to pass.

And then the train stops in the crossing, blocking traffic.

I'm sitting there, and a number of cars start pulling to the left, using the Gene Coulon Park access roads as a way to get around the train. I wait for maybe thirty seconds, then follow them.

This, it turns out, is illegal - the official term is "Avoiding an Intersection". The roads in Gene Coulon are not real roads (that is, public thoroughfares) but rather access to the park, and using them to get around an obstruction is like cutting through a corner gas station to avoid a light.

Anyway, the people who cut AHEAD of me got away with it, but by the time I got around the blockage, there was a motorcycle officer who pulled me and another car off to the side. And I had to do the parking perp walk, though he gave me a municipal citation as opposed to something that would ding my insurance (which, I suppose, is something). And the fine, which stings enough to make me think twice about pulling this type of stunt again, is not excessive.

But it does leave me cranky this fine Monday morning.

More later,

Friday, July 24, 2009

The ENnies are Live

The voting booth for the ENnie Awards is now open. I will point out that I contributed a nice chunk for Worlds of Dungeons and Dragons, Vol. 2 (up for Best Regalia), and smaller chunks of Kobold Quarterly (Best Writing AND Best Aid or Accessory AND Best Website) and Pathfinder Chronicles Campaign Setting (Best Setting).

Not that I'm trying to influence you, or anything.

Oh, and Read the Instructions. This is a little more complex than the "Vote once for your favorite" style voting of most awards systems.

More later,

Thursday, July 23, 2009

DOW Breaks 9000

So how did that happen?

While we weren’t paying attention, the markets have righted themselves and have moved grindingly upwards. Heck, even the investment houses, which mere months ago were threatening to throw us all into a massive depression, are now back to giving themselves massive bonuses for their executives.

I won’t say these folk were shouting wolf, but I will note that there are a lot of lupine-costumes piled up in the corporate closet for when they need them the next time.

Meantime, the rest of the country is still in the grips of the Great Recession – unemployment continues to pulse upwards, local governments can’t cover the bills, bankruptcies and foreclosures continue at a brisk pace, gas is still a Busharian levels and things are tight. But, there seems to be discussions now of whether this will be a “V” shaped recession (quick recovery) or a “”U” shaped recession (slow bottoming out, then climbing).

I tend to think that most of us are looking at a “L” shape - sharp drop and things stay here for a good while as the upper classes retrench and figure out where the next bubble in going to be.

The rest of us? Well, good luck on all this, and the L might just turn into a check-mark.

More later,

Update Heh. I had forgotten this. When the market was bottoming out, the conservative wing of the pundocracy was quick to pin it on the New Guy in the White House. Now that things have improved slightly, they are denying they ever did so. Stay classy, guys.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Good friend John Rateliff, known more often in these pages as Sacnoth* has won a Mythopoeic Award for his magnum opus, The History of the Hobbit, which is divided into two books: Mr. Baggins, and Return to Bag End (Also available as a set with the original The Hobbit).

Here's his announcement and acceptance speech.

Huzzah for Mr. Baggins!

* And yeah, Sacnoth Valley in Eye of the North? That's where the name comes from. Though originally it's from Lord Dunsany.

More later,

Monday, July 20, 2009

Forty Years

Forty years ago I am sitting on a plastic chair in the basement common room of a college dorm somewhere in the American Midwest, watching the TV with the families of teachers who are attending summer school. The TV is an ancient black and white, and the only one available in the building, mounted high in the corner, its screen about the size of my current flatscreen. The picture is awash with broadcast snow, and the image itself is a blurr of black and white - a man in white moving down a ladder, pausing, then stepping away from the lunar lander.

A picture from another world.

It has been forty years, and its anniversary has been greeted with a mix of nostalgic sadness and frustrated ambition. We have returned several times, but it has been a long time since anyone has walked on the moon, and neither the potential for new knowledge nor the celebration of such a stunt is sufficient to motivate us in cash-strapped times (and times will always be cash-strapped when it comes to such things as pure exploration). The original lunar programs were a patriotic crusade, decked out in bunting and tickertape (two other things, along with B/W TVs, which are now part of a Bradburian past). Now we turn to other matters.

On one hand, there should be frustration regarding that we have not done more - forty years after Columbus, the Spanish were already kicked around the Incas (Hmmmm hang on. Let me come up with a better example). Yet we have moved forward, in communications and low orbit technology. Our modern world is shaped by Google Earth, GPS, the Internet, and satellites, not to mention computrs, teflon and tang. Even our slow advance in space travel itself, with the shuttle and International Space Station, is a mark of comfort compared to the lash-up spam in a can that we flung heavenward over forty years ago.

Yes, I think we will be back. It may be draped with flags and national pride, or powered by pragmatic managers looking for new resources. It is only a matter of time. But still ... forty years. Sigh.

More later,

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Play: Despotism Tempered By Dynamite

Utopia, Limited. Music by Arthur Sullivan, Libretto by W.S. Gilbert, performed by the Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society, Bagley Wright Theater, through 25 July.

Interesting day - a lovely brunch with the Lovely Bride and the Sacnoths, then up to the Seattle Center, where the Bite of Seattle has little draw for a man with a full stomach (but the music was nice and most Seattle is in better shape than I). Walked into a newly re-located bookstore (Abraxus on 1st Avenue), found a used copy of The Works of Gilbert and Sullivan, read on the lawn during a cooking demonstration of grasshoppers, then attended the performance.

Now, Utopia, Limited is considered one of the "lesser works" of the G&S canon, coming towards the end of their partnership, and indeed, everything pretty much wraps up plot-wise in the first act. The South Sea Island of Utopia is a tropical paradise with a severe case of Anglophilia, desiring to be like the greatest country in the world, Great Britain (which sometimes includes Ireland). To that end the King has a prim British governess for his younger daughters and has sent the eldest princess off to England to absorb as much Englishness as possible.

Everyone is happy on the island except the King (a clean-shaven Dave Ross), who rules only by the permission of his two Wise Men, who in turn can direct the Chief Exploder to blow up the King if his majesty errs. Such is the usual nature of the Gilbertian universe. As a result of this state of affairs, the King is at the beck and call of his wise men, who taunt him by making the King write pieces satirizing himself for the local paper (and if you ask what is a newspaper press is doing on a tropical island, just back away from the review now).

The returning daughter, Princess Zara, brings along the "Flowers of Progress" - representatives of the best of British Society. They revolutionize the island, in part by introducing the idea of the Limited Liability Corporation. The king embraces this idea, since you cannot blow up a corporation like you could blow up a person. End of Act One.

Act Two is ... there. Its a cleans things up a bit. The two Wise Men and the Chief Exploder try to ignite a revolution based on shaky ground (everything is TOO good). The King and the governess get together. The Princess and the leader of the royal guard get together Another romantic subplot vanishes without a trace. The two young girls get together with two of the ministers (which is a bit squicky when you think about the ages involved, so just don't). The revolution is foiled, and Sullivan provides the punchline of what Britain has to keep things from getting TOO perfect. Curtain.

You should see this for the same reason you should attend a good performance of King John (one of Shakespeare's weakest numbers). Utopia, Limited is backed by strong voices, good acting and excellent timing. Jennifer Elise Hauge has a powerful, beautiful voice that transcends the material. Dave Ross is the pompous put-upon monarch, by turns fool and wise man. William Darkow and Scott Bessho are the comic-opera villains (and I suppose someone has done their masters on the inherent toothlessness of G&S bad guys), and are delightful. John Brookes delivers the best explanation of an LLC that I have ever heard. And the tambourine-armed opening number in Act II , I must admit, is completely jaw-dropping (and pretty much salvages the rest of the act).

Everyone here is rising to equal or better the material. The sets are straightforward and nicely done, and the costumes (particularly once they Anglicize the island) are beautiful. And yes, they muck about with the libretto a bit, dropping Madoff in for Rothchild and mentioning the 787's outsourcing woes. This production is more than worth seeing, if only to break from the Mikado/Penzance/Pinafore troika that dominates G&S Lore.

So, three hours well spent, and a recommendation, on the strength of the performances. Worth seeing.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Kindle Ninjas Strike!

So about a year back, I published a post about what books would be like if they were more like MMORPGs, and one of the comparisons was:
- Three years after purchase, if not enough people are reading the book, ninjas break into your home and remove all copies.
Little did I realize how prescient I was.

Only a year later comes this news, from Old Gray Lady herself, about Kindle owners discovering that books they had purchased were erased from their machines. So apparently the Kindle Ninjas CAN break into your home and remove all copies.

And I had the news first. Like before it even happened.

Now, Amazon DID reimburse the purchases. AND later announced that these were unauthorized editions. AND said they would not do this again, even though they've already done it. But all this raises some interesting questions that have laid at the heart of electronic publishing. That is, as a collection of electronic bits, what keeps the contents of your Kindle library from being changed or even erased, based on the intent of its corporate parent? Who owns the book in your Kindle?

Apparently, novels have become more like MMOs, and knowledge is now more like beer. You only really rent it.

More later,

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Terrible Beauty

I don't write much about my writers' group, the Alliterates, except, of course, to brag about our recent triumphs. It is not that we are a secret society or anything, bent on world domination, but that we do enforce a polite zone of silence on our discussions. Let me lift the lid, however, on one thing about the group.

We are bar-killers. At least, the west coast team is. While the midwesterners have had a very good run at their local bar, we have gone through taverns at relatively quick rate. In one case, we have closed the same bar between four and six times (sometimes it would reopen with new owners but the same name).

The bar in question is located in downtown Renton,201 Williams Ave S. (here's the map for it under a previous name) and should by all intents and purposes be a hands-down success. The location is on the edge of where the town proper meets residential, there is ample parking, and it is situated on the haunches of the new urban townhouses that have been a part of "Rising Renton". The building is a former bank with a drive-in window and high ceilings and the original vault.

The structure had become the Cedar River Brewpub by the time our merry band first arrived, the old lobby dominated by silver tanks. With its demise, it was vacant, then replaced with The Giant's Causeway, its first Irish incarnation, which replaced the tanks with a beautiful bar supposed hauled over from the old country, keeping local and Dublin time. After that it was an Irish-lite pub called Finnegans (perhaps a couple incarnations of this) with a lot more flatscreens showing sports.

And now, in a quick turnaround where one of the former bartenders has bought the joint, it is now A Terrible Beauty.

The name itself comes from a favorite book belonging to the new owner Ireland: A Terrible Beauty, coupled with a chance remark from a friend. And it originally comes from a poem by Yeats, commemorating the 1916 Easter Dublin Uprising:

Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

(Add one more piece of fate as the color green belongs now to another uprising, half a world away from Ireland).

The bar itself is greatly improved in its latest incarnation. It has 75% fewer flatscreens, the old bar is still there, and they have resurrected some of the furnishings from its previous incarnations. Its back patio (outside the drive-in-window) has a pair of gas fireplaces (ours blew out - still a couple bugs in the system).

And the food is wonderful, most of the menu cooked from scratch, and ranges from traditional to experimental. Thick cubes of Camembert cheese deep-fried as an appetizer were delicious. I asked the waitress for a recommendation and ended up with "Death by Mac and Cheese", a five cheese and garlic dish that hit the spot perfectly on a cool Monday night.

Now here's the deal - we, the Alliterates, are not enough to keep this incarnation of our local public going on our own. We meet once a month, and face it, we're writers - that means at least one of us is between gigs at any time and therefore on salads and small beer. So it is up to the rest of the motley crew in the Renton area (including those at nearby, say, Wizards of the Coast) who are looking for an after-hours place to check it out.

"The Terrible" is not so terrible. In fact it's a beauty.

More later,

Monday, July 13, 2009


Hot on the heels of the Origins Award for the "Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons, Vol. 2" comic collection (for which I adapted Ed Greenwood's "Elminster at the Magefair") comes news that the book has been nominated for an ENie in the category of "Best Regalia". The category of "Regalia" means "the best of a whole bunch of stuff that didn't really fit elsewhere", which is a bit of a relief, since I was worried we would be competing with the Orbs of Dragonkind and the Scepter of Law.

I am also delighted to see that a couple other projects I have made small contributions to have made the cut - Kobold Quarterly is up for Best Writing and Best Aid or Accessory, and Best Website, and Pathfinder Campaign Setting is up for Best Setting. All in all, it is a strong field, and should be a interesting set of awards this year.

Best of luck to all the nominees, and more later.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Adventure: Pulp Tentacles

Death In Luxor by Harley Stroh, an Age of Cthulhu Adventure from Goodman Games.

Reviewing game adventures is a chancy thing. Ideally, one should run them, since things that are not obvious from a read-through will become clear upon play. By the same token, running adventures pushes the usability of any review back, particularly in the case of RPG adventures. Add to this the fact that every GM and every group brings different things to the table, both in characters and in playing styles, so you have a maximum case of "your mileage may vary".

But, my regular gang completed a two-session trip through Death in Luxor, which is the first of the Goodman Games entries in their Age of Cthulhu and part of the sudden tentacular boomlet that has popped up. Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly, and remember: Your mileage may vary.

The Good: It is a well-written adventure, broken into six parts, each part a set piece in itself. The players arrive in Luxor to visit Professor Bollacher and his young wife Rose, and find that things have gone very, very amiss. I ran it as a pulp-style adventure, and it fits the entire flavor of an all-action, thrill-a-minute genre, keeping the players moving as opposed to researching in some library.

The writing is excellent as well, in particular the text read to players. Nice and eldritch in tone, it fits the era and the genre nicely, and help encapsulates the growing sense of horror. This is not metaphysical realization of man's place in the uncaring universe, but a collection of shocks that resolve in grand old CoC tradition of going up against mortal manifestations of things that should not be.

Finally, the research is on-target, dealing with Ramses III and the invasion of the Sea People. For the GM, there should be a bit more deeper research on the Wikipedia to get a full idea of what is happening. Interestingly enough, the Professor Bollacher works out of Chicago House, which was a real archeological expedition into the area (and is still apparently a going concern, though I don't know what they would think of the liberties being taken).

The Bad: That said, the timing is more than a bit off, as if this was originally a tournament module fleshed out to 48-pages. There are bits for dream visitations, but no real timing to sleep. I set up my merry band in a local hotel, and by the end of the day they moved to other digs to throw off their pursuers, but that was something I brought to the adventure. I don't know from the text if they arrive in the game at the start of the day or towards the afternoon. Since I'm playing it pulp, I can play games with timing, but it is something the GM will have to keep an eye on.

Some of the NPC rationalizations are a little muddled as well. There are rivals in their quest, but I'm not sure why they are doing it, or why they are trying to keep the characters out. I'm not sure from the text which side a particular old mystic is on (he seems creepy, but why isn't he doing more for the job of freeing the eldritch menace? If helpful, why not be more helpful? I played him both ways and had fun with him). And if you're going to have a love affair in the game, you really should give one of the lovers a first name.

And the game is quasi-linear, in that one section could happen at several places in the course of play. This is a good idea, but it creates an interesting situation of who should be there and why, and what is actually happening there. The players are questioned, but to what end? The GM may have to do some dancing, since arrival too soon or too late has its own challenges.

Ah, and the adventure requires to get hold of a number of items to make their final encounter survivable. These items are present in the adventure (which is good), though tucked away, and from the initial read I could see the PCs merrily bypassing them all on their way to their slaughter. Instead, they caught the bulk of the references and were properly armed (though the lost one to certain death, and massive sanity was lost). A good reason for playing a game before one reviews it.

On the other hand, the players never learned what they were fighting, though their meta-knowledge of the game gave them a good clue. That worked out as well for the entire pulpiness of the adventure, as I came up with more descriptive names for the monstrosities they fought.

In general, stuff that a good GM can handle, and use as a jumping off point. I most often went with the text as opposed to revising wholesale, and in the end it all fit in.

The Ugly: I call it the Curse of Cthulhu - the utter horridness of the maps, which can cause SAN loss. Part of this is in connecting the map to the descriptive test - I had an NPC listed as diving out a window when there was no window present in the room on the map. And there was an inverted ziggurat that made little sense from the art. Add to that the fact that some of the handouts had a muddy texture to begin with, printed in a dark brown ink, which gave the players even more to worry about. Again, they held up better than I could expected, but in the end I went with a googled map of Luxor that was better for their navigation than the one provided.

End result? A pretty good adventure that can run well in the hands of an experienced GM who can fill in a couple of the blanks and motivations. Well-written but stymied by its maps and repro values. A good first start to a larger series of adventures, and the survivors a looking forward to the next one (which is apparently already out).

More later,

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Disaster Porn

Mystical Forest SO gets credit for first post on this one -

Now, from the first teaser trailer, it seemed like this would be a global conspiracy film, from the second it seems more of an update of "When Worlds Collide". But THIS one seems much more watchable. And I love the soundtrack.

More later,

(Oh yeah, and the whole "2012 End of the World Thing" is based on the Mayan calender, who apparently saw the destruction of the world but not the end of their own civilization. We would call that "Pyramid Fail!".)

Sunday, July 05, 2009


So how did you celebrate the Fourth?

In our house, the LovelyBbride pulls out the old vinyl disks and plays Copeland, the Fifth Dimension, and the soundtrack from "1776" (William Daniels as John Adams) while she makes waffles. A little yardwork, and then off to The Monkey King's for an afternoon of grilling (burgers, hotdogs, salmon) and general discussion with various nefarious types.

And finally fireworks down on Gene Coulon Memorial Park down in Renton. One of those mysteries in my life is still the identity of Gene Coulon, but he has a wonderful memorial park. And the Renton itself did a great job securing event parking at the landing and shutting down the nearby roads to let the thundering hordes leave. We had our normal spots, but someone had improved the sound system, so this time we could hear the music as the fireworks went off.

Now, call me a purist or a fuddy-duddy, but short of the 1812 Overture, fireworks don't really need music. The woosh of the rockets, the crackle of the ignition, the thunder of the detonation, that makes firewords so worthwhile. They don't need a soundtrack, really. Even so, I'm tolerant as they unspooled the patriotic songs - National Anthem, some Springsteen, some cheesy country bit, some Sousa, and the theme from Star Wars ...

Hang on. Star Wars? Patriotic? Yeah, it goes with blow-up-the-death-star fireworks, but somehow, the Emperor's March isn't what we signed on for. Are we so bereft of patriotic music that we are celebrating a group of rag-tag rebels and their wookiee? I mean, you probably could get the Fifth Dimension, if you really tried.

Regardless, 'twas a wondrous Fourth, to be followed by a general collapse on the Fifth. More later,

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Fourth

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

And a polite rebuttal, via Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie (and Slog)

Darn this fairness doctrine. More later,

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Foe, Canada

Man, I can't believe I missed Canada Day. I had the cards bought and the decorations ready and was planning to leave cookies and milk out for when Steven Harper slides down the chimney and leaves affordable prescription drugs for good American children and then things got busy and I just forgot.

[[Homme, Je can't croient que j'ai manqué le Fete de Canada. J'ai eu les cartes achetées et les décorations prêtes et prévoyais de laisser des biscuits et le lait dehors pour quand le harpiste de Steven glisse vers le bas la cheminée et laisse les médicaments délivrés sur ordonnance accessibles pour de bons enfants américains et puis les choses obtenues occupées et moi avons juste oublié. Merci Babelfish, qui ne visserait vers le haut jamais une traduction.]]

In previous years, I have provided links to insidious and rebellious songs. This time, I will bring to you attention a nifty little sculpture up in Toronto, which made me smile.

Happy (belated) Canada Day (though it was cooler when it was Dominion Day - just saying).

More later,

Wednesday, July 01, 2009