Wednesday, December 31, 2014

On Hobbits

It has been a couple weeks now, and a lot of people have talked about it, and our group has weighed in on it, including our resident Tolkien expert, John Rateliff. But be warned - this has spoilers within, great and small, regarding the conclusion of The Hobbit films from Peter Jackson, The Battle of Five Armies. Some you've seen before, elsewhere, from others, but these thoughts a mine and belong to me. And in general, I liked the film.

There, I think I've gotten past the amount that gets cut and filled for other platforms. Let us get down to business.

1) I think it is pretty clear that Movie 2 (Desolation of Smaug) and Movie 3 (Battle of Five Armies) should be viewed as one film. One 6 hour film, where you get to get to break for lunch in the middle of it. You are dropped into the middle of a film - no background, no flashbacks. Smaug is descending on Lake Town and Gandalf is held prisoner by the Necromancer. Boom. There you are. If this is your first Hobbit movie, you'll be more than a might confused. And that's OK, as long as you know what you're getting into. We don't get an expositional character summarizing the story so far or a narration. I'm good for that.

2) By the same token, you do feel like you've come into the films a couple reels in. The pacing is definitely that of the middle part of the movie, that the characters are established, the basic goals and motivations are laid out, and all that results are pulling off the reveals and resolving matters.

3) And to that end, Smaug dies fifteen minutes in. I did mention spoilers, didn't I? Yeah, it fits with the timeline for the book, but after two movies of how powerful Smaug is, he's not even the big bad for this one. Sort of a Boba Fett ending for him. You never get the feeling he lived up to his potential.

4) And speaking of big bads, who IS the bad guy of this film? The Necromancer, who is chased off about half-way through the film? Or the two orc leaders, Sword-Arm-Orc and Orc-with-Metal-Plate-In-His-Head? The sense of greed that turns Thorin against the others?

5) Taking down my copy of the Hobbit, Movie one was about 100 pages, Movie two was 100 pages, and this movie covers the last 50 pages. Yeah, we're looking at padding.

6) And you can see the padding. There are a lot of repeated sequences (Bard rescues his family, Thorin yells at people trying to help him, Bard gives Alfrid a task, and he immediately shirks it). And the battle sequences of "character-facing-certain-destruction-but-suddenly-someone-you-had-forgotten-about-arrives-to-rescue-them" actually get wearing after a while.

7) Let's be frank - most of the movie is the battle, and staging a single battle is tough - a lot of sides, a lot of protagonists. Let's give points for the attempt. But one of the reasons for the frequent swoops into Thorin's mindset and comic relief, and Bard's family is to make it more than just cgi animation of orcs and elves fighting. But it feels weird to have so much of this happening in the midst of battle.

8) The bulk of the film feels like a game of Warhammer miniatures. Part of that is because of some of the visual source material - in the early seventies, Workshop was selling LotR miniatures, and the tall-helmetted, metal skirted elves were part of the look. So yeah, this is part of the Tolkien property but it feels like Workshop. At least the orcs weren't green, but that may be Warcraft thing these days.

9) Yeah, the whole pacing of the battle does feel weird, but remember that Tolkien passed over much of this by keeping the focus tight on Bilbo (and Bilbo unconscious for part of it). We have the dwarves in the mountain. Then the humans reoccupy Dale Town. Then elves show up, surprising both groups. Then the dwarf army shows up, surprising the elf army. Then the goblins show up from underground, surprising all previous groups, then the Gundabad orcs show up to hammer the exhausted allied armies, but THEN the Eagles show up to handle the orcs.

10) But I will admit it makes me amused to see that Radaghast gets the final "And then a new group comes to rescues the others" sequence. He's like the final closed parenthesis.

11) Did it feel like Dale Town got bigger in its architecture as the movie went on? It was ruins, but it seemed to get taller and more impressive over the course of the attack.

12) I've got a new game, called: "What can Legolas ride?" Can he ride a shield down the stairs? Yes he can. Can he ride a manbat of Gundabad? Yes he can. Can he ride a siege troll? Yes he can. Can he ride a disintegrating tower? Yes. Yes he can. Is there anything this elf cannot ride?

13) Oh, and elves are apparently stronger than stone itself. Tauriel takes a battering but survives. Legolas literally smashes apart the tower in his battle. This may be the original source of the problem between elves and dwarves. The dwarves wanted to use the elves as battering rams.

14) Orcs, on the other hand, are 1 minus 1 HD. Bilbo could take them out with a rock. With. A. Rock. But apparently they level up fast.

15) I know this is a minor point, but where the heck did Thorin and company get the battle rams? I know that's a gnat to strain at when, moments before, the dwarven army, driven to the brink by the orcs, suddenly gets rallied by the appearance of twelve reinforcements. But it was a big question in my office.

16) And the entire Dead-Orc-Beneath-The-Ice sequence? Did it remind anyone else of Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction?

17) Tauriel lives through the film, which surprised me at first blush, then made sense. We had Fili and Kili dying from the book, their deaths being a big part of the movie. We needed someone to directly morn them. One of our group mentioned that they could do the "ongoing adventures of Tauriel" as a result, but I think that unlikely.

18) And let me give Jackson points for wrapping things up with one ending. Even with previous movies in the series, I figured it would end two or three times before it did. This one ends when it ends, even if it does have to do a tie-in to the later LOTR. OK, Jackson gets that one.

19) And there was a character named Tosser Grubb in Hobbiton, according to the credits. No relation.

20) And when is all said and done, I think would like more Hobbit in my Hobbit. Bilbo sort of hit his high point in the last film, and is reduced to worrying about Thorin and delivering warnings here. In the book as in the film, he is knocked out a critical moment, so in the novel we don't have to work through all the boring parts of a battle. Of course, we the viewer still get to be a part of the battle in the film.

In the end, I enjoyed it, but it was tied to the fact the I had to rejigger some initial assumptions that were pretty clear at the beginning. This will probably fit better once everything is on DVD or viewable as a single experience, but as a film itself, it was a perfectly fine ending for the series.

More later,

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas ...

... and a happy holiday season from Grubb Street.

More later, I'm busy making the rumaki.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Monstrous Confirmation

I don't mention it enough, but I have been slowly clearing out the Archives in my house. And by Archives I mean the small bedroom on the lowest floor that used to be stuffed with long boxes of comic books and old game product I have accumulated over the years. A lot of this material has shown up on Ebay in the Stannex Mart under the careful curation of Anne Trent, who has served as Ebay mistress for both Stan! and I for several years. And even though this is much too late for Christmas, it might be a place you want to check out with the holiday money once you've decided "and now I'm going to get something for ME."

In any event, Anne has been handling things swimmingly, slowly reducing the boxes of product I have cataloged and passed along to her, and turning the Archive room into a small guest room that only Harry Potter would consider as an upgrade. I will do the occasional signing and personalization, but to be honest, most folks are just looking for old product. And that's cool. But every so often she will get a request that I will have to come in on.

One purchaser, who bought an old copy of the Kara-Tur Monstrous Compendium, wanted to make sure that it was really once mine, and so we decided to make a video certificate of provenance, that yes, this copy of KTMC was once in my possession and is now in someone else's possession.

Of course, I didn't use this particular copy. As an employee of TSR, I received one copy of everything we published each month, in order to have copies available to research. This MC, and a fair chunk of the TSR product in my Archive, were duly taken home, put in a box, moved to Seattle, left in the box until such a time that we decided we really needed the room. And that is the heritage of that particular copy, which is probably still in the shrink wrap.

I say probably because these loose-leaf Monstrous Compendiums were a bit of a wash as a game product, and there are not as many complete ones as you would think. The concept was something that players had asked for repeatedly - a collection of loose-leaf sheets with one monster on each side, which would let the DM pull the monsters he wanted for an particular session without having to haul around several volumes, or tipping the player to what monster manual they were pulled one (Here's an old DM trick - pick up a copy of the original Fiend Folio, leaf through it, then say "You see a skeleton". Freaked out the players every time).

The idea of making a ring-binder Monstrous Compendium was good in theory, but didn't work in practice. Part of it was because in order to have a loose-leaf folder, the MCs would not be the same size as the other books (which made for stocking challenges). AND the fact was that those old notebooks were notorious for the rings not lining up and pinching fingers when it closed. AND the fact that unless you put little gummy reinforcement rings on the pages, they would rip out. AND the fact we put one monster to a page meant that minor monsters either had to have a lot more written about them, or have a lot of white space on the page. AND if you had a Goblin on one side of page, and a Gnome on the other, there was no place to put a Gnoll, which sort of defeated the purpose of alphabetization in the first place. Oh, AND once broken from the shrink wrap, the pages went everywhere, so you ended up losing monsters you had earlier pulled out.

So it was one of the great noble experiments we committed to, and when we reprinted the book (as the Monstrous Manual, part of "Edition 2.5" ), it was a standard hardback. A few years later, a fan hit me up at a convention that we should write up individual monsters, one to a page, so the DMs could alphabetize them. I pointed out that we did exactly that, and it was a bust. His response of "Yeah, but this time you can do it RIGHT!"

Yeah, thanks, there. And yes, and that copy of the KTMC?  Yeah, that's mine. Anne recorded a small video last night.

More later,

Update One: Here's the file I recorded. I mention the young man's name it in, but I don't mention it here in text so it doesn't show up on search engines. Yes, if you want a signature or similar video, we're cool with it.

Update Two: While talking about all the challenges of the original Monstrous Compendiums, John Rateliff reminded me that he and I, along with David Wise and a couple other folks, sat down and decided what creatures from the already-published MCs were going into that MC. I had quite forgotten.

Update Three: Yes, I've shaved off the beard. It was for a 1920's party where I trimmed the mustache back to look like William Powell, but ended up looking more like Mr. Mooney. I'll probably grow it back.

Update Four: Oh, yeah, I still have about 90 longboxes of unbagged, unsorted comics in the basement dating back to the 70s. Still trying to get rid of them.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Play: The Center Cannot Hold

The Great Society by Robert Schenkkan, Directed by Bill Rauch, through 4 January, 2015, Seattle Rep.

When last we looked in on LBJ, he had won re-election, transforming himself from an accidental president to a man with a mandate for change. This is what happened next and how it all went to hell.

We are back, but with a difference. The men in charge of their own destiny are suddenly being driven by undesired circumstances. LBJ (Jack Willis, again throwing off good-old-boy homilies with hard-nosed arm-twisting) wants to push his Great Society, while news from Viet Nam keeps interrupting his narrative. Martin Luther King (channeled by Kenajuan Bentley), his racial counterpoint, loses control of the Movement to more radical elements. Meanwhile, RFK (Danforth Comins) hangs out like a shark at the corner drug store, waiting to make his move, and while George Wallace becomes less relevant, Dick Nixon returns from the political dead, looking for weakness (both played only slightly more unctuously than in life by Jonathan Haugen).

And in the first act, you get LBJ and MLK at their best. LBJ out-maneuvers both Wallace and the AMA, while MLK walks the perilous line in Selma between dealing with his own supporters and wresting potential concessions from the White House. But as the play progresses, things get worse. For MLK, he loses the thread when he leaves his southern powerbase, first in LA during the Watts riots and then in Chicago in a power play with Hizzoner, Richard M. Daley. For LBJ, the was is a canker at the heart of his administration, where making the least-bad decision only ups the stakes and turns allies against him. The two men, potential allies, come apart as King speaks out against Viet Nam and LBJ feels betrayal from all sides.

The stage, like the country, comes apart. The rising benches of the stage, populated by the other actors when not part of the performance, is shattered in jagged, smoking rubblet littered with protest signs. As LBJ gives approval to Hoover for illegal surveillance of the antiwar movement, tape recorders sprout. The later hallmarks of the Nixon administration are all in place by the end of the play - the repression, the internal spying, the out of control war. All it needed was Nixon to step into the role, riding a tide of rebellion against Johnson's attempt to transform the country to something better. The stage that Nixon takes command of is trashed, and the final image is of the new president, flashing victory signs as LBJ moves into retirement.

This is a history, one of many centered on the era. And by >a< history, I mean that there is only so much that can be placed in a single play, even one of three hours. Wallace vanishes from the play's narrative as Haugen transforms into Nixon, his spiritual successor, but Wallace did not go gently into that good night, but rather taking five states of the Deep South on his own in the '68 election, and splitting the Democratic party for Nixon's "southern strategy".Further, both MLK and RFK make their exits with their last words, in flashback. After going into great detail about the '64 campaign in All the Way, the '68 campaign fizzles out as a major contention point as soon as LBJ hands it over to an overmatched Humphrey.

And by the same token, to glibly quote  Twain, history doesn't repeat, but it sure does rhyme, and we can see echoes of Selma in Ferguson, of Viet Nam in Iraq, and in budgetary maneuvering to defund the president's leadership in the War on Poverty and the ACA. The path of progress is never clear nor unchallenged, and only with the longest of views does it seem inevitable.

The play itself is a tragedy, of a man who gets everything he wants and discovers that it is not enough to effect the change he wants. It is tough going in places, particularly where the ugly face of racism shows in Alabama, California, and Illinois. It is easier to take if you understand the first chapter, and the Rep is running both plays, sometimes on the same say, so you can "Broadway" you experience by doing All The Way in the afternoon, and The Great Society in the evening. And it is recommended - these a risking plays in the modern theatrical world - large casts, long running times, big issues. But they are both worth seeing.

More later,

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Monday, November 24, 2014

Play: LBJ Rising, Redux

All The Way, Robert Schenkkan, directed by Bill Rauch, Seattle Rep, through Jan 4.

Hey, wait a minute, didn't you already review this play? Yes I did, when it debuted at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Here it is, here, and just about everything I said then applies now. 

Here's the short version, LBJ conducts a master class on arm-twisting, deal-making, cajoling and berating, tracking the period from his ascendance as an "accidental president" to his triumphant re-election as Landslide Lyndon. Jack Willis burns up the stage as LBJ, a critical mass of both personal power and insecurity. The late Mike Nichols stated that every scene is a seduction, a fight, or a negotiation - with Willis' LBJ every scene is all three at the same time. Peter Frechette is a positively twitchy Humphrey, Jonathan Haugen is an explosive Wallace, and Kenajuan Bentley is a calm MLK whose own challenges threaten to overwhelm him. You can watch Bentley's face in the wake of Mississippi Burning losing control of his narrative, and his political wrangling mirrors LBJ's own.

So what has changed from the OSF version? Much and little. The cast is mostly intact from OSF, though in the more intimate housing of the Bagley Wright, their performances seem more broader and  animated than earlier. Yeah, I just said the Bagley Wright is intimate, and it is, compared to the pitlike Bowmer in Ashland. In the Bowmer, we have an outhrust stage into a large amphitheater, giving a top-down view, while the B-W pitches up to the actors on stage. There feels like their are fewer actors on the stage here than in Oregon, but they are more packed together, and the setting - chairs on risers occupied by actors who are not occupying center stage, is more looming  from the seats in Seattle. 

The play itself is there as well, all the beats in place, but some of the story has evolved since I first saw it. A tale of young LBJ in his first campaign is gone, and the play culminates with a comparison between MLK's Nobel Prize and LBJ calling out his own party for its racist politics. And yes, there feels like more mention of Progressive Republicans fighting for equality in this presentation as well, creating both a clarity of division and the vibe that the world has changed between then and now. So it is an evolving thing as well, and gets stronger in it evolution.

The other noticeable thing was the house was packed, even unto the balcony, which was not always the case for other plays. Usually this is the time of year when you do something safe - a musical or another version of Inspecting Carol, but taking a large, sprawling poltical play like All The Way with its huge cast is a risk, and one that looks like it pays off. I recommend not only this play, but its sequel, which will also hit the boards at the Rep next month, The Great Society. I've had a chance to read the play in advance (as part of a class) and have to say, it just gets better.

More later,

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Political Desk - Results

Yes, it is Saturday and the elections were on Tuesday. But the nature of Washington State's elections are they are all-mail elections, and the deadline for postmarks are Tuesday. So measures that are leading on Tuesday Night then become questionable by Friday, and there is usually one item that is still hanging fire, waiting to resolve. The Seattle Times publishes a yearly gripe that ballots should arrive on Tuesday as opposed to being postmarked, but really, its not about when the votes come in so much as counting them all. 

Mostly, the election was about returning incumbents. We may grouse about Olympia and DC, but when push comes to shove, we want to keep OUR guys and wonder why the rest of you keep re-electing the same corrupt schmoes over and over. On the national level, the election was either a biting condemnation of indiscriminate peace and prosperity, or a strong endorsement for more of the gridlock that has paralyzed us so far. Or something like that.

On to the local stuff:

Initiative 1351 (Minimum Class Size) - MAYBE - This is the one that is still unresolved, as a close gap on Election Night has closed and then flipped. Given that both the people AND the state supreme court are both leaning on Olympia to do something about education funding, maybe we will see some movement (Hah! I keed. The Senate is in the hands of the GOP, and would rather go to jail than spend money on kids). 
Initiative 951 (Ban Gun Confiscation) - NO
Initiative 954 (Close the Gun Loophole) - YES

Advisory Referendum 8 and 9 -  MAINTAIN

US Rep, 9th District - Adam Smith

Washington State Supreme Court:
Position Four - Charles Johnson
Position Seven - Debra L. Stevens

State Legislature 11th District, Position 2 - Chris Bergquist

Kent Position A (New Police Station) - YES, BUT NOT ENOUGH - The measure got a majority, which in non-Bizarro democracies would mean it wins, but not only did it need to win, it needed to win big -  with 60% percent of the vote. This is in a country where 52% is considered a "landslide". So the local police are left hanging on this. I recommend that the natives of Kent drive slowly and avoid all local speed traps - just until we sort all this out.

More later,

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Hey, A Signing!

So, I've already besieged the people on Facebook and Google+, but to fill out the trifecta, I want everyone to know that we have a signing this evening, at 7 PM, and the University Book Store for the Kobold Guide to Combat, one of our series of essay collections on various gaming subjects. It promises to be interesting, with Wolfgang Baur, Chris Pramas, Steve Winter, myself, and editor Janna Silverstein speaking up on the subject, so check it out here.

More later, after they count more votes.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Political Desk - The Jeff Recommends, 2014 edition

These type of elections are tough. It is one thing to believe whole-heartedly in a candidate or a measure and to see that, under the best of circumstance, they have a long haul to an outside shot of passing. It another to be confronted by a relatively empty ballot, populated by referendums that are advisory only and positions that have either no or token opposition.

Still, there are some measures worth measuring here, in particular the ones dealing with education and gun safety. So, go dig out the ballot from under those Fred Meyer circulars and get cracking, because while you have until Tuesday to mail it in, they will start counting early, and release the first results Tuesday night.

Initiative 1351 (Minimum Class Size) - YES
Initiative 951 (Gun Confiscation) - NO. No. Just a big steaming mug of Nope.
Initiative 954 (Close the Gun Loophole) - YES

Advisory Referendum 8 and 9. Sigh. Fine. Whatever. MAINTAIN.

US Rep, 9th District - Adam Smith

Washington State Supreme Court:
Position Four - Charles Johnson
Position Seven - Debra L. Stevens

State Legislature 11th District, Position 2 - Chris Bergquist

Kent Position A (New Police Station) - YES

And that's about it. It is not a lot, so you have no one to blame but yourself for not voting.

More later,

Political Desk - Kent Proposal A

If you've been driving around Kent the past few weeks, you'd be forgiven if you thought that the hottest big-ticket item on the ballot involved the police. There have been huge signs demanding we support public safety and our police by voting Yes on this proposition.

And what is this proposition?

The City Council of the City of Kent adopted Ordinance No. 4118 concerning a proposition for public safety and officer training facilities. This proposition authorizes public safety improvements – constructing and equipping new police headquarters, improving the firearms training range, improving the city’s jail, and completing other training and public safety facilities – to be funded through the issuance of up to $34,000,000 in city general obligation bonds, maturing within 20 years, and annual property tax levies in excess of regular property tax levies, as needed to repay the bonds (estimated average levy rate of about 19 cents per $1,000 assessed value). 

Yeah, I know - the guys who don't like I-594 because it was too long and confusing just had an aneurysm halfway through that paragraph.

But this is what we're talking about - Kent wants to build a new police station. They're split up between about four locations right now, and the jail really isn't big enough to handle all the people who have moved into the neighborhood since the current building (which used to be a library) was converted back in the long-ago. They want to put a new HQ on the site of the old one, improve the jail and firearms training area, get a secure lot for the police cars, and pay for all those big signs.

And I'm good for that. We're a bigger community than we were, and an upgrade makes sense. It is like I-1351 that led off this discussion. Yeah, it is something that we should pay for, and we should go into it clear-eyed and say yes, getting stuff costs money. And it is not like they're buying used tanks from the military (also note to the Kent Police Department: Don't buy any tanks - they won't be able to get up the hills in the winter).

So why all the huggamugga? Well, for this proposal, not only does it have to reach 60% approval, it has to have a certain minimum floor. In other words, this is a case where a low voter turnout actually HURTS the proposal, since it may just get 51% (which is enough for most laws) and or may get enough but not enough floor votes. So yeah, vote YES.

More later,

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Political Desk - 11th District State Legislature

Here's what happened in Olympia. After the last election, a couple Democratic Senators threw off their masks and cloaks and revealed themselves to be really lizard-men Republicans, tilting the upper house to the GOP. And taking their cue from the national GOP, they proceeded to not do much, such that the Supreme Court has found Olympia in contempt for not acting on basic education. So now comes the clarion call to throw the bounders out and hold the flames to the feet of the new Dem majority to get stuff done, right?

But then I realize I'm in the 11th, which sprawls down from Downtown Seattle and rounds Lake Washington to the Renton Highlands, and realize that I've already GOT Democrats in charge, and besides, we aren't dealing with a State Senator this time out. Well, there's still the holding the feet to the fire bit.

(And truth be told, I'm really kinda jealous that Grubb Street has been kicked out the 47th District, which has a talented veteran Dem (Pat Sullivan), a talented, young GOP (Joe Fain), and a guy who really should be sent to the showers (Mark Hargrove - seriously folks, consider Chris Barringer.)

Zack Hudgins is running unopposed for representative position 1. Chris Bergquist is the incumbent in position 2 against challenger Sarah Sanoy-Wright. Bergquist got in on the idea that he's been a teacher, and we need that voice in the state house. He was right then, and in the face of the current struggles, he is still right. Both the Times and the Stranger has praised the man with faint damns, so yeah, Chris Bergquist. But let's get the flames ready.

More ready. 

Political Desk - US Rep 9th

OK, US Representative. Every two years we get to check in on these guys, and despite all the huggamugga, we tend to like 'em. We may gripe and moan about Congress, and the Reps have a popularity just above ebola in the polls, but when it comes to our particular guys, the guys who represent US, we tend to stick to our guns and return the incumbents. So we usually (and sometimes sadly) DO get the representation we deserve, And things like redistricting tends to make these cases more-so, as both parties tend to favor safe districts.

And the 9th, which sprawls between Tacoma and the north shores of Lake Washington, should provide enough diversity of opinion to make it a bit of a run. In reality, we'll probably return Adam Smith to the position. And that's OK - Smith is good at the job, works hard, represents us well on a number of committees and has not embarrassed us (which, you'd think, should be less of a problem than it is in an age where John Stewart's writers just follow Congressmen around waiting for them to open their mouths and provide the material for the next day's monologue).

But let me pause for a moment for his opponent Mr. Doug Basler, Yep, he's a tad overmatched (Even the Times went for Smith), but his website is about the environment, energy, and equality. He seems steady, pro-business, and generally sane, a break from a lot of GOP congress critters. Yeah, the burning great seal of the US on the web page is a bit much, but still, this is the sort of "traditional" Republican we need in the race. More of this, please.

More later,

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Political Desk - Supreme Court Judges

So, the State Supreme Court. Big ticket items, right? Well, this year, not so much.

In Positions 1 and 3, the incumbents are running without opposition.  So Mary Yu and Mary Fairhurst will return to the bench.

In Position 4, Charles Johnson has been in office forever. Such that I went back through previous endorsements over the past decade and a half, and found out that in every endorsement, I note that Charles Johnson has been there forever, yet I still keep endorsing Charles Johnson. And part of it is because he's been good in the position, and part of it is because there never seems to be any serious opposition. So. Charles Johnson.

In Position 7, Debra L. Stephens is the incumbent running against John (Zamboni) Scannell. And it is always a warning sign when a candidate has his nickname listed in parenthesis. Further, Mr. Scannell has been disbarred, which is surprisingly is not a career-ender when talking about Washington Supreme Court justices. And he was disbarred by the person he's running against. Soooo. Yeah. Debra L. Stephens.

Sorry guys, not a  lot here. Let's just move along.

UPDATE: And, double checking my ballot, I am looking at NINE local judge positions plus the King County Prosecutor which have only a single name on the ballot. Yeah, it is a little empty out there.

More later,

Political Desk - Referendums 8 and 9

Referendum 8 says:
The legislature eliminated, without a vote of the people, agricultural excise tax preferences for various aspects of the marijuana industry, costing an estimated $24,903,000 in the first ten years, for government spending.

While Referendum 9 says: 
The legislature imposed, without a vote of the people, the leasehold excise tax on certain leasehold interests in tribal property, costing an estimated $1,298,000 in the first ten years, for government spending.

Annnnddd it really doesn't matter. Because these are advisory votes. The horses have left the barn and the legislature is shouting to you that they did it and would that be OK? But we have on the books a law from a previous initiative that when they do this, they have to put it to a vote, which they are not bound by. Yeah, I don't really get it, either, and I pay attention to this stuff. We've been doing this for a while - has the legislature ever looked at an advisory vote and changed its mind?

The thing to note is when they say these initiatives cost x dollars, they are saying that it is bringing IN that much to the state coffers over the next ten years. So a million bucks is pretty good, but over a decade, not so much. Just so you're aware.

On the juicy parts, Referendum 8 denies special agricultural tax breaks to pot growers, and Number 9 puts tribes on the same status as over governmental agencies when buying property. I go with MAINTAIN for these only because I'm cool with this.

But I am really waiting to see the Referendum where we get to vote on all the tax breaks we have awarded large corporations for "job creation". No, really, when is that one happening?

More later, 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Political Desk I- 594

Here's the text on I-594:

This measure would apply currently used criminal and public safety background checks by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers, including gun show and online sales, with specific exceptions.

And yeah, it makes sense. You buy a gun from a licensed dealer, he has to work through the paperwork, and use the nation-level process to make sure you aren't forbidden to have a gun, and it takes an extra 20 minutes of your life. You buy a gun from a guy named Milt at a gun show, and you don't (and as far as I can tell, licensed gun dealers will make the check, even at a gun show). That loophole for large-scale private sales doesn't make a lot of sense. To use the car analogy, I buy a car from Milt, and we have to work out the transfer of title and everything, so why not a gun?

Yet, this seems to represent the creeping, insidious reach of the government mucking with our lives. But most of the arguments against the initiative don't seem to hold water. This does not create a new database of gun owners, but uses an existing process. We've got a study that shows that yeah, where the gunshow loophole is closed, there are fewer fatalities. Here's one where they connect repealing background checks with an uptick in murders. (I take all studies with a desire to dig through the data and a note that causality is not necessary correlation, but hey, studies). And yeah, we have a lot of cases where real criminals (like the infamous Whitey Bulger) who cannot get a gun through normal channels rely on gun shows as their firearms quick-e-mart (when they finally caught him, Bulger had 29 pieces in his possession, the vast bulk of which had not history).

The exceptions they mention in the ballot write-up? They deal with all the obvious corner cases so yeah, you can use a relative's gun without having to fill out a form, or use another's gun at a shooting range. And all these corner cases have in turn lead to the complaint that law is too long and confusing. Which sort makes the speaker sound like they would confused by the instructions on a PEZ dispenser.

So I'm going with YES on this one. This is actually something that gun proponents are always saying they are looking for - it addresses a specific case in clear terms and will not lead to the gun confiscation van coming around to your house to pick up any guns you bought since last week. Heck, even the NRA was favoring universal background checks fifteen years ago, and this is an approach that cuts down on some seriously abused forms of gun sales while leaving the regular gun owner unaffected.

More later.

Political Desk I-591

Here's the text on I -591:

This measure would prohibit government agencies from confiscating guns or other firearms from citizens without due process, or from requiring background checks on firearm recipients unless a uniform national standard is required.

I know what you're thinking - gun confiscation? What gun confiscation? Did the gun confiscation truck come by last Tuesday, when I was out, and they missed me? Should they have left a note saying they found me not at home, and I should show up to get my gun confiscated at a local Post Office between the hours of 8 and 4?

And yeah, we tend to HAVE due process, particularly when it comes to guns. So what's with this initiative?  Well mostly, it is in the second part, which limits background checks unless a uniform national standard is adopted, as well as putting the kibosh on any gun safety legislation.

And that is weird, since much pro-gun activity is tied to conservative thought (not all, but most, and definitely the loudest), and conservative thought is more about local control. Big government, after all, are the ones who are trying to TAKE AWAY your guns, according to the web forums (and apparently, I-591). Why demand a national standard in this case?

Well, because it is easier to block at the national level right now. Fewer politicos to frighten or purchase. So requiring a national standard actually weakens the law. Nice trick.

And, in a weird similarity to the normal talking points about gun safety legislation, this particular initiative is a bit overeaching in its scope. Replace the word "Firearms" with "Automobiles" and see how it reads. Yeah, I'd like to reduce the number of local laws on cars unless a national standard is required. Like, say, the speed limit. Or license plates. Or stopping fully at stop signs. Those need a national standard if you really want people to pay attention to them. And in the meantime you can stop giving me tickets on these subjects. No, really.

Apparently a vote for I-591 is also being pitched as a vote against the NEXT Initiative in the pile, I-594, which closes a loophole in the existing law. Well, that's wrong. If you want to vote against I-594, you simply vote "NO" on I-594 (and to be frank, you can Vote NO on both if that takes your fancy). You don't need another initiative, which will pretty much clog up the storm drains of the initiative process to make your point. Regardless, I'm going with NO on I-591. 

More later,

Political Desk Initiative I-1351

Here's the entry for I-1351 as it appears on the ballot:

This measure would direct the legislature to allocate funds to reduce class sizes and increase staffing support for students in all K-12 grades, with additional class-size reductions and staffing increases in high-poverty schools.

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? You like schools, I like schools. We all like schools. And as a now-registered old person, I think kids are dumb enough already, and I really don't want to slide the bar any further in the stupid direction. 

But, this will cost. There's no two ways about it. If you reduce the size of the classes you have to have more teachers (third-path option - half-day school, but nobody seems to want to bite on that one, and you STILL have to pay the teachers). And you need more places to teach. Yeah, its a toughie - just how much do YOU like educated kids?

Of course, our state legislature doesn't look particularly good in all this. They are already in contempt of court (state supreme variety) for not delivering on promised K-12 education, so they have not shown a lot of gumption in the first place. Worse yet, while the state pleads poverty for educating its kids, last term they had no problem finding 9 Billion in cuts and tax breaks to keep Boeing from shipping the assembly of a new plane out of state (the plane-maker thanked the state legislature, took the money, then shipped out about 2000+ engineering jobs, making the legiscritters looks like prize bumpkins). So yeah, left to their own devices, Olympia probably ain't gonna deliver without a lot of people making serious growling noises behind them. This is a serious growling noise.

So I say YES on this one, but go in with your eyes wide open. This is a good thing, but one that will come with a price tag. One which we really should be paying.

More later, 

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Political Desk 2014

So, with the coming of fall and ghosts and goblins and long-legged politicians comes the election. And while interesting in that there are very a few contests which may have a great national import, as far as Seattle is concerned it is pretty darned quiet. Three initiatives, a couple state elections that may move the needle in Olympia one way or the other, some judgeships that should not be an issue, and some local issues. And that's OK - every election does not have to be of vital import, but each election does have a cumulative effect, so, even if it feels a bit boring, you should vote.

And you should go armed. Not just by my puckish responses to the issues of the day, but by grown-ups who have actually put thought it this sort of things. The Stranger delivers its normal foul-mouthed, drug-induced recommendations here. The Seattle Times delivers its calmer, more conservative, but sometimes even more hallucinatory endorsements here.  The Municipal League rates the candidates here, and the Voting for Judges site gives Washington State a unique ability to rate judicial candidates here.

And of course, the Voters Guides for the State of Washington and King County always provide a basis (though not always the full story).

OK, dig out that mail-in ballot from all those charity requests and Christmas catalogs, and follow along at home. If I'm lucky, I can actually get this wrapped up before the ballots are due in.

More later,

Saturday, October 25, 2014

An Abundance of Riches

The Political Desk is making some foul, grumbling noises, but before descending into THAT particular madness, let me tell you about all the cool RPG stuff I'm currently ignoring. Part of said ignoring is because I have way too much on my plate at the moment (there is also a horrendous headcold, but that matters little - just trust me when I say I've been a bit busy), but part of it is that there is so MUCH of it right now.

It used to be, in the before-time, previous to the Internet, in the land of hobby gaming, the late summer/early fall would be the best time to release the game. Part of this would be the presence of GenCon, where all the gamers would coalesce into an uncritical mass, and then disperse, to colleges and high schools across the country, bearing with them the news of the latest releases. So getting a game released at GenCon was always a big thing. But with the passage of time, releases hit all through the year, and people are in continual communication, so it is not a such a big thing.

This year, however, it feels different. Part of it is the release of the newest edition of D&D (which is damned good, but is still in the process of being released, so I'm going to dodge it for the moment), but part of it is that there are so many things coming out, such that it overwhelms the reader and may lead to a number of cool things being missed in the greater tumult.

In my case, I have this ever-growing "to-read" pile that I cannot seem to get the chance to go through. Normally, I prefer to read, digest, and even PLAY the stuff I am working on before talking about it, but here are some quick hits to make everyone aware that there are really cool things out there right, and that we are currently passing through a bit of a golden age. Enjoy it while you can.

Calidar: In Stranger Skies from Bruce Heard gets the lead because it is likely the one you likely haven't heard of, having charted its course into this perfect storm of releases. It is very much the descendant of the D&D Known World/Mystara and Bruce's own stories of the Princess Ark from DRAGON magazine. As a result, it has the wonderful air of adventure of that late 80's/early 90's gaming era. The hardbound leads off with a massive tale of the Star Pheonix and its crew, then drills down from the solar system to the planet of Calidar to the kingdom of Meryath to the city of Glorathon, and concludes with a set of Pathfinder stats and a collection of skyships. An excellent laying of groundwork here, beautifully presented.

13th Age Bestiary by Rob Heinsoo et al, which popped up just before everything got crowded, goes to the other end. It is the "monster manual" for 13th Age, but exists in a postmodern, post 4E/Pre 5E space, and shows a direction the industry could have gone if 5th Edition never crested the horizon. There are a lot of old-fashioned beasts within, but with new spins on them, as well as a slew of varieties for use in the game and a host of 13th Age specific monsters. Conversational in its presentation, this is my "I have five minutes" hardbound right now, and the main reason I haven't delved too deeply into the new 5E Monster Manual as deeply as I might otherwise.

Tales of the Crescent City: Adventures in Jazz Era New Orleans from Oscar Rios' Golden Goblin Press has been parked by the bedside and is one that I am slowly moving through before bedtime. It is part of the bulging golden age of Call of Cthulhu adventures that we have seen over the past few years. Golden Goblin has got the entire kickstarter thing down - their first product was Islands of Ignorance, which was a bulging volume of lore and adventures, and this one does the job for New Orleans. Set within the bounds of the Big Easy, it summarizes the city and then lets loose with a plethora of adventures, including a revised version of Kevin Ross's "Tell Me, Have You Seen The Yellow Sign?". The group just wrapped another kickstarter for Cthulhu Invictus, and I have high hopes of reading that (slowly) when it comes out as well.

Guide to Glorantha by Greg Stafford, Jeff Richards, and  Sandy Peterson poses an interesting challenge to the reader - where do you read it? Clocking in at a two-volume, 800+ hardbound, full-color pages, this coffee-table book-sized guide to the homeworld of the original Runequest is massive, defying the ability to read it in bed or curled up in a favorite chair. Currently I have it enshrined the text the living room, though I might have to get a book stand for it. Another Kickstarter, this underscores that method's ability to reach a niche audience directly, as something of this size would daunt even the most established publisher. Yep, it's expensive, but worth it (and did not get to support the Kickstarter, but I was fortunate enough to pick it up at PAX).

New PDFs - Not all of my game-reading list is in ink on dead trees, and I have a host of projects where I have gotten the pdfs early, but will not get to them in print for a little while. Yet despite this early advantage, I have barely cracked their pixelated covers. Part of this is the challenge of the computer/kindle/iPad - yes, you have the ease of having the text right there at a touch of a screen, but you also have every other distraction in the world at the same touch. So I have in hand (well, in pad) the new Call of Cthulhu 7th edition, Cthulhu Britannica's London Boxed set, and most important of all, Jeff Dee's new Bethorm game for Tekumel, home of the Empire of the Petal Throne.

And someday, perhaps soon, I will get a chance to READ all of this stuff.

More later,

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Threat Assessment

There comes a point where to remain silent endorses the problem. And so you get a story.

Back in the '80s, we were in the grip of what is now called "The Satanic Panic". The devil was supposedly abroad, sowing suicide among the young people, led by things like rock, videos, and of course, role-playing games.
Jeff gets a death threat.

I was working for TSR at the time, and received hate mail addressed to me at work. All caps. Lot of exclamation points. Suitable biblical verses and extremely graphic descriptions of my inevitable fate as a sinner. I will be struck down. I deserve to die. And the final line was "God will judge you and >I< shall be his instrument".

And of course I handled this with the derision it well-deserved. Well, no. Actually, I beetled into Kim Mohan's office, sounding like Beaker from the Muppets. This guy was coming after me! It was a Wisconsin postmark! He had my address! He knew where I worked! He was god's instrument! (Oboe? Bassoon? Flugelhorn?).

Kim, to his credit, merely opened the bottom drawer of his file cabinet and said "Drop it in, on top of all the others".

So I did, and as I put it together later, this particular chucklehead, hepped up on god and cheeses, went to his local Waldenbooks and pulled down a copy of Monster Manual II and sent copies of his death threat to everyone on the credit list. Nothing further came of it, but in the years that followed, this became my defining line. The point where the discussion just stops being stupid and goes full-on dangerous.

And in the years this has served me pretty well. I work in an industry where it seems that half of its people are mad at the other half at any one time. I have seen personal vendettas and principled stands. I have seen good peoples' names besmirched and scoundrel justifying their crimes, but also justice done, talent rewarded, and good people recognized. I have seen the blistering stupid and the inspired. And for the most part, I don't feel an overriding need to comment or take sides, trusting that truth will win out.

But this. This is way over the line.

Anita Sarkeesian does feminist criticism on a series of youtube videos, most recently a series of Women Vs. Tropes. Go check them out - they're really good. A couple days ago, she was here at ArenaNet speaking to interested members of the company (we have a program where we bring in people to give lectures - yeah, it is pretty damn cool). And she shared not only the history of her criticism but also things she working on. And she provided numerous examples of her points, Numerous. A lot of them are fair cops. And some of them, actually, were really teeth-grindingly bad. Stuff that makes me want to stand up and declare "You have to understand, in the 90s drugs were cheap and readily available".

And I picked up a bunch of things as well, such as the fact that we're STILL engaging in obvious and questionable tropes, but often doing the "ironically". Which is like me "ironically" having another donut - in the long run, its still the same thing as far as my weight is concerned. It was a good talk, and while I did not agree 100%, there was nothing there that made me feel threatened either for my gender or the future of gaming (in fact, I think criticism is good for the future of gaming, which is a good thing since we get criticized all the time).

Anyway, Ms. Sarkeesian was scheduled to speak at a college in Utah the next day. And that engagement was canceled when some chucklehead threatened a massacre if she showed up.

So now we're over that line.Way over, into deluded domestic terrorism territory. Such a cowardly attempt to shut down communications is a threat to everyone and poisonous to our industry. Yeah, its one utter nutter and does reflect the bulk of humanity, but hell, it makes the gaming community look like a hopeless bunch of vindictive losers. It reflects badly on all of us. It is reprehensible. It is shameful. And it saddens me that clownballs like this will become the poster kids for our industry. Enough. Debate on the facts. Share your opinions. Keep your death threats in your pants.

There is a point were, to remain silent becomes a tacit endorsement of such behavior. No. You don't get that endorsement. You may think you are the chosen instrument of your particular dogma but you are not, and the rest of us will not let you drag us down.

More later,

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Theatre: Razz-Mah-Taz

The Vaudevillians starring Jinkx Monsoon and Major Scales, Seattle Rep through November 2

The Seattle Rep kicks of its new season with a musical revue. Such revues are not ususual for the Rep, but are usually tucked deeper into the schedule and sail safer waters in subject matters. Storytellers with accordion accompanists, old railroad songs, union songs from the depression. This one, not so much. It is an oddball little revue of the new dressed up as the old.

Here's the central conceit - two vaudevillains (Monsoon and Scales) have been frozen in ice since an ill-fated tour of the Antarctic, but have been freed by global warming and now perform their greatest hits, which later artists have covered without crediting them. So we get pop music from the 70s up, all performed in the Tin Pan alley Style.

And where it works, it amuses greatly, though for those of us who learn about new music only when Weird Al does the parody, yeah, its a bit of an uphill struggle. Why yes, I get "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and "I Will Survive", but I don't know all the lyrics to "Piece of My Heart" and don't know the rap that Scales leads the post intermission with (which was bloody brilliant, and I really should figure out what it was satirizing).

In fact, the entire conceit is a bit strange, aimed at an audience that both knows Britny Spears and can appreciate a good Madame Curie joke. That said, the audience was appreciably younger (and thankfully more athletic) than the standard greybeards (who are the ones who get the Ibsen jokes, by the way).

Jinkx Monsoon (Jerick Hoffer) as Kitty Witless tears through the material like her proverbial sobriquet (that is, like a tropical typhoon). Channeling in equal turns Kathy Griffin and Harley Quinn with a dash of Medea, Jinkx swings through the material like a seasoned trooper of the era, dropping bon mots and cozying up to the audience (warning - there is audience participation here - if you're shy about it, head for the balcony).

Major Scales (Richard Andriessen) as Doctor Dan Van Dandy keeps up with Monsoon on the piano, though Monsoon has the stronger and more precise voice, even with the mikes equalizing them. Scales/Andrieseen/Van Dandy does a lot of support work here, but excels at that post-intermission solo rap in full tux and tales that would turn Fred Astaire a little bit green with envy.

And let me digress into the nature of intermissions here - such is always a risk, since some people who step out for a smoke or a bathroom break just keep on going through the exit doors. OK, that comes with territory. But five seats in the center of the theater, dead center, suddenly going empty? During an hour and half revue? You folk just hate theatre. The Lovely Bride and I have stuck out much more questionable material over the years. And we're talking puppet shows, here. Anyway, you wet old biscuits missed a better second half than the Seahawks delivered Sunday afternoon.

OK, back on subject. Yeah, it is irreverent and weird and trippy and don't try to tack it down too much to its original conceit. It is a loud, brassy broad of a performance. Yeah, go see it.

More later,

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Ten Comics

A while back, former TSR colleague Dale Donovan posted one of those challenge things on the Facebook, in this case "10 comics that made an impression on you". Since Facebook is an ephemeral media, I went with the mildly more permanent mode of a blog entry. So. Ten comics that made an impression on me. Most of these are pretty old, because you're never sure how they had an effect until years later.

Legion of Super Heroes (Well, actually Adventure Comics, featuring Superboy and the Legion of Super Heroes). Here's the story; I read comics as a kid - Sad Sack and Little Hot Stuff and the Superman and Batman books with the go-go checks. And eventually, as most people do, I stopped buying comics. But the LSH, then living in Adventure was the last one to go (Issue #378, written by Jim Shooter, and I never found out how Brainiac Five cured the Legion of that deadly disease, realizing too late he could use the Miracle Machine to heal everyone). Superboy was the headliner, but it was the rest of the cast (sort of Archies in the Future!) who were cool, including Bouncing Boy and Matter Eating Lad. No, especially Bouncing Boy.

Asterix the Gaul - I took French in high school, and there were collections of the French comic by Goscinny and Uderzo available in both French and English. I fear the text was impenetrable for my non-language specific mind, but the translations kept both the cheeky humor and the pun-filled nature of the original. And in the world that existed before D&D, it had druids with magical cauldrons, super-hero potions, and all sorts of potted history.

Star Wars - In college, this was one of the books that got me back into comics, along with Howard the Duck. These were the Marvel licenses and varied between cool and goofy (sometimes in the same comic - I loved Jaxxon the giant green bunny be even I groaned at the deluded would-be Jedi Knight Don-Won Kihotay). I would buy the comics, then mail them to the woman who would become the Lovely Bride so she could read them. Yeah, there's the start of a beautiful relationship.

Marvel Team-up/Two-in-One - I was re-introduced to the Marvel Universe in full by another guy in my dorm who was a comic reader (Hi, Joe!), and these books were my personal faves. They had an A-lister (Spider-Man or the Thing) who was teamed up some guy from the Marvel Universe you never heard of, but they needed to keep his trademark alive (Like Jack of Hearts, or Captain Britain, or Quasar). The books delved into a lot of forgotten/ignored parts of the Marvel Universe, and were great for filling in the gaps (Plus, the Thing had a regular poker game going).

Cerebus the Aardvark - One of the first books I started picking up in direct sales shops, starting with issue #8. It in black and white, and was a paean/pastiche of the old Conan tales, but with a drunken funny animal as its protagonist. The first hundred issues remain absolutely fantastic, but the creator slowly lost his mind, and I switched to buying the in collections (and getting very, very depressed as I read them). The thing is, while the creator is a proud, ranty, and self-admitted misogynist, he created female characters that were deeper and more interesting than most of his male figures.

Elfquest - The other direct sale book I picked up early, black and white in magazine format, this was a very different type of elf than what evolved over in D&D - savage tribal elves with strong contacts to their wolves. The opening bits, showing the introduction of these elves to the more advanced Sun Elves, were great, and the Cutter/Leah relationship was fantastic.

Baker Street - This one you probably never heard of, but it was a black and white Sherlock Holmes series by Gary Reed and Guy  Davis where Holmes was a gothpunk woman. At a time I was working through a lot of comics created by diverse hands, the idea of a personal, quirky book really appealed to me.

Xxxenophile - Yes, it is a porn comic, and not only did I read it, I still have copies somewhere in the 90 long boxes of comics in the downstairs room (hey kids, treasure hunt!). It was a collection of short strips by Phil Foglio which were light, humorous, and most of all sex-positive. I don't think any stone or sexual preference was left unturned in the book, but it was full of the kinky and the consensual, something that was missing from a bunch of other "adult comics" of the day.

Jonny Quest - Wow, I just loved this one, because it was pure nostalgia. I was a fan of the original cartoon, and the book (with covers by original cartoon artist Doug Wiley) was a lot of fun. In times where returns to classic characters were often grim and gritty, the book captured the excitement of the original.

Watchmen - This book represents the turning point in the comic book business, a time when the direct sales shop both freed US comics from the spinner rack at the local drugstore and with that, went to a more mature audience. Originally written for the Quality comic heroes, it was too caustic, and so was switched to a new team of heroes. It took a very dark view on the superhero tropes that, through its success, altered the way stories were told.

Honorable Mentions: Love and Rockets, Lt. Blueberry, Bean World, Dark Knight Returns, Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen (the Jack Kirby/ Action Olsen period), Crisis on Infinite Earths, The Sixth Gun,, Epicurus the Sage, The Clairmont/Byrne X-Men, the Roger Stern Doctor Strange. Ask me tomorrow and I'll give you a different ten.

More later,

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,