Thursday, July 26, 2007

When Night Falls

So right now, Renton is setting up for its "Renton River Days", which translates into "Hey, let's close all the alternate routes through the town and REALLY clog up I-405!" So while I'm slogging through traffic (a strange prophesy of what would happen should they ever BUILD the sonics arena down there), here's something different:

This is a link to a journal that has been chronicling a group's passage through Guild Wars: Nightfall. It is raised above the level of "Let me tell you about my characters" by a very intelligent and amusing writing style. So if you wanted to know what the game was about without actually, you know, PLAYING the game, check it out.

More later,

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


So, there was a weird explosion and electrical outage in the SoMa (South of Market) area of San Francisco yesterday. Which normally wouldn't affect anyone outside the immediate area, but in fact strung out a good chunk of the net, since one of the businesses affected runs Livejournal. It was as if thousands of personal sites suddenly cried out, and then were suddenly silenced.

No, Blogger was not affected, but it is a good warning sign that just because everyone uses the net, it doesn't mean that it suddenly cannot lose functionality (or go away entirely) if a couple chokepoints suddenly close.

More later,

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Comics: After the War

(The comics-geek flag is unfurled. Proceed with caution)

Captain America is still dead. Thor, however, is alive again.

Thor? Yeah, he died. You didn't know? A couple years back. He was confronted with the fact that constant Ragnaröks were the result of meddling from even-greater gods and so he ended the cycle of cosmic abuse by bringing the whole shebang down and ending it all. Actually, it was a punk death, and in-continuity, the rest of the Marvel Universe didn't even notice. None of his supposed buds came looking for him. And now they're sneaking him back into the universe in a middle-of-the-night sort of way (Compare this with how DC has bungled up Wonder Woman - odd that for being "modern mythology" the big two have a problem with dealing with mythology).

I'm wandering, but since Marvel has wrapped up its last megaseries (Civil War), is in the midst of its new one (Hulk fights everyone) and is prepping for a third (Everyone you ever liked is really a Skrull), it is a good time to look back on the Marvel Civil War.

Credit should be given for making a change, even a bad change, and then following it to the bitter end (As cautionary tale if nothing else). The purpose was to create a new status quo, and everyone in that universe now has to deal with it. Most of them have dealt with it, though, by vilifying the current status quo. Almost every book works off the vibe of showing the Superhuman Registration Act (SHRA) as a cynical sham at best, a real threat overall. Even characters put on the "pro" side have to tapdance and refine their internal stories to handle supporting an odious operation. Some come off as Stormtroopers, others as apologists. None really make the grade as "heroes".

And the truly interesting thing is that: it did not have to end up this way. Over here is a very interesting artifact, and if you have been following the entire mess, it is a really good read and a demonstration of how creativity functions within a corporate environment.

It is the original proposal for the Civil War series. And the interesting thing is - it's a better book than what came out. Traditional in some senses (there is a definite bad guy for everyone to unify against), but it also identifies where the series went wrong - the case for the Pro-SHRA group was never made beyond the initial disaster (an argument that weakens every time there is another disaster - Superheroes accidentally wiping out a town in Connecticut requires immediate action, but superheroes brawling in Times Square (again) does not?).

The planned results laid out in the original proposal are also missing from the final story - we get a couple voice balloons in-story saying that crime is down and people appreciate the change, but we never see it (Comics are about showing as opposed to telling). Those involved in the original pitch aren't sure about the Spider-Man unmasking at all, much less on national television. And in a telling moment, the editorial notes state that even the guys reviewing the initial approach don't buy the fact the Captain America would surrender or retire, a sign that more groundwork has to be done if we're going to build up to that resolution.

And the original was supposed to be the big return of Thor, in a set-up that made sense, which not only left the characters intact but creates a third path, which could have broken away from the bipolar "fer us or agin us" feel of the final Civil War series. That would bring Thor back at the heart of the Marvel creation, and re-establish him as one of the "Big Three" traditional heroes. Another missed opportunity.

This is a very interesting insight into the sausage-making of the creative process. The original proposal shows that most of the pieces were in place and most of the challenges were identified in advance. And yet the final product was weak in its ending, demonized one side of the equation, crippled long-standing characterization, was marred by a lack of internal logic, and failed to create a platform to return a missing character that was originally planned.

But against this background, that I just read the first mainstream Marvel book that treats the SHRA as something other than a fascist irritant. It is one of their second-generation spin-off books called "The Order" and actually puts together some interesting characters in the situation hinted at at the end of Civil War, while remaining morally grounded to the underpinning that the Pro-SHRA forces were supposed to stand for (Some of the team show lack of judgment by publicly partying after hours - and they get fired! Captain America moment!). Now, it is a second-tier book and set in California (kiss of marketing death in the Marvel Universe), but it actually delivers some of the goods promised, but never presented, in the Civil War.

OK, I think I'm done now with it this. At least until something else goes weird (and new comics come out tomorrow).

More later,

Monday, July 23, 2007


So, it was a very quiet weekend at Grubb Street, mainly because the latest and last Harry Potter book arrived Saturday morning, and with the exception of her Saturday afternoon gaming group, the Lovely Bride was face-down in the text for the bulk of the weekend.

Which made things quiet. Creepy quiet. I sat on the back porch, reading. I worked on finishing projects (An essay in galleys, in-game text for The Settlers, a proposed article). I watched TV, which I rarely do. That included a marathon for "Who Will Be The Next Food Network Star?" (Don't care much for reality shows, but add cooking and I am SO there) and a TBSed version of "Sin City" (Note: Frank Miller no longer writes comic books - he just publishes his storyboards). But it was weirdly, strangely quiet in the household.

Mind you, I have not read any of the books, though I have been following along in the movies, and the LB has kept me up to date with the status and the "deep geek" moments (I tell her about the O'Brian novels, so it's a fair trade). But this weekend I have been avoiding a lot of the Internet, just to avoid everyone who was issuing spoilers, or even non-spoiler spoilers ("Well, it ended the way I expected it to" IS a spoiler if you've previously offered your opinions).

It ends a twelve year run for the series, and I am buckling down for the inevitable "Now that HP is gone, the book business will crash" (Like it's been in raring good health so far) and the inevitable search for the Next Young Adult Novel Star.

Hmmm - maybe they could do a reality show on that ....

More later,

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Local Politics: Groundwork

So the 4th of July has come and gone, the lawn signs are starting to sprout up like our western variety of dandelion, and people are planning for not only 2007 election, but the 2008 one as well (be very afraid). Here's the foundations that have been laid, which may or may not pop up as we move forward into the campaign season.

Starting at the tightest level, sometime over the next year or so, our chunk of unincorporated King County is supposed to swallowed by Kent. "Supposed to be" is the operative word, since due the fact we have a Renton postal address, I haven't seen anything in the way of mail on this (and I have to pursue this more to find out if there are really plans for annexation - more on that as I learn it).

With the last general election, the Dems took a strong majority in the state house, and proceeded to ... um ... run the state pretty well. There are a few things I would have preferred to have seen go through (like laws against predatory lenders), but in general, the roof did not fall in just because one party had the bulk of the power (compare with the national level for the previous six years). Nobody drove off any legislative cliffs. The biggest ruckus I remember was over Nascar wanting to build a track in the area. Our local Rep, Geoff Simpson, was a strong supporter of the idea. I came out of the debate with the feeling that I wouldn't use a Nascar track, wouldn't be heartbroken if one were built down near, say, Puyallup, but would really rather see our state funds spent elsewhere rather than as welfare to wealthy owners. But that's just me.

On the state level, the GOP, narrowly edged out in the controversial gubernatorial election of 2004, is trying to make the case that things have been horrible without stern, rational pro-business conservatives in charge. That task has been made tougher by the fact that the state's economy has rebounded nicely over the past couple years, and Forbes has declared the state to be one of the top five to do business in (with a special gold star for reducing bureaucratic red tape). Plus, the current administration get high marks for transparency and disclosure, another state-level (at least) GOP talking point. So barring a scandal, it looks like an uphill battle for the GOP. At the moment, their tactic seems to be "Sure, things are good, but its not like the Governor has anything to DO with that".

For US Rep in the fighting 8th district the current incumbent also made it in by a thin majority, but he has since pretty much dropped off the face of the earth. Getting a great deal of support from the GOP hierarchy during its halcyon years of the turn of the century, he remains loyal to an increasingly unpopular administration, and hasn't been doing much but standing firm on terror (I did get a mailer to that effect, but this looked like they found a couple boxes of them after the last campaign's carpetbombing). Last time he got by on the strength of the more conservative, rural areas of Pierce County to the south, but there is no guarantee this will carry him again.

Meanwhile, the Dem challenger from the last election has been active making friends and raising funds for another run (Your first political campaign is for love - your second is for vengeance). And our moribund Democratic establishment, which usually writes off the 8th as GOP territory has woken up, realized there may actually be a race out here, and has put forth what they think of as an ideal candidate - a former Republican who jumped the party last year. So it looks like we're going to have a primary, which is a great thing in my opinion, pitching Progressive and Traditional against each other.

But all this is groundwork. What's past is prologue. Things will just start getting interesting as we move forward.

More later,

Friday, July 20, 2007

DOW Breaks 14000!

And with upcoming purchase of the DOW by the Murdoch Media Machine(tm), that may be the last time that even this number has any passing relationship to reality. Of course, the DOW is a collection of only 30 cherry-picked stocks, fed through an arcane formula to produce an end product that is often a twisted mirror of America's financial health, but its a traditional number, so I can go with it.

Now, however, a memo will come down from Corporate that that DOW must react badly to some news about laws against media consolation, and it will be the responsibility of the working stiffs to make sure that this message goes out, regardless of reality (not making this up - this how FOX News stays "on message" (and the current message is - "whatever you do, don't mention the war")). So we're looking at another measurement overtaken by the very people that it is supposed to measure, and we know how that turns out.

But in the meantime, Americans are expected to be thankful for their 3 buck a gallon gas, since they were saying that it would be 4 buck a gallon (and still can be, if we don't shape up and stay "on message").

More later,

Update Oops! In the time it takes to write this up, the DOW slides 150 points. Ah, well, it was interesting while it lasted.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Mighty Plug

Here is the link to the trailer to the Guild Wars expansion I have been working on.

I wrote the script and oversaw the voice recordings, but it is the images and editing that just makes it rock.

More later,

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

On the Road Again: Duck Dodgers

So every Tuesday (or MOSTLY every Tuesday), the Lovely Bride picks me up at work and we cross the I-90 bridge to Seattle for our weekly Tai Chi class (Chen Old Frame 1, and I am almost getting the kicks right at this point). And in good weather, whenever we cross Lake Washington, there is always a gaggle of sailboats off to our right (north of the bridge), spinning and diving on each other. From a distance it looks like a flock of seagulls, and we always wondered if it was an organized outing or just nautical swarm behavior.

Wonder no more. The front page of the Seattle Times (because there's like, nothing else really going on in the world) covers the Duck Dodge, which is the weekly gathering of sailcraft, which includes races, relaxation, and, apparently, mooning of other ships (Not visible from the highway). Enjoy.

More later,

Update Here's an older article on the merriment. Note that TODAY's Seattle Times goes on at length about how the city is cracking down on rowdy nighclubs. Maybe they should get sailboats.

Monday, July 16, 2007


So the Lovely Bride and I went to see the latest "Harry Potter" film over the weekend, and I thought it. It was pretty good and it made internal sense to me, though the LB went back to re-read that particular book to see what they left in, took out, or created anew, in preparation of the release of the last book.

(And it gets very quiet around the house when a new HP book shows up, as Kate spends her non-painting hours in a chair, reading. But I digress...)

So the movie was good, but the trailers really attracted my attention. Mind you, I am not a major movie fan, so I rarely know when a movie is coming until the week before, when there is an overload of movie promos on the tube (and I know it is Friday when the movie opens and that huge surge disappears). So I was seeing stuff for the first time.

- Like the relentless "If you liked Harry Potter, you'll like ..." attitudes of the Golden Compass (Narnia for atheists) and some other YA book which I had no previous knowledge of where ordinary kid travels through time in the fight between light and darkness. ( I guess the holiday movie Fred Claus, about Santa's slacker older brother, also falls into this category).

- Like Steve Carell in a new Get Smart movie. Steve Miller and I howled at the trailer, the bulk of which was a phone booth gag worthy of the original series. May the movie be as good.

- Like a cute little video for "Across the Universe", which is a Beatles musical (anyone who remembers "Sgt Pepper's" or "All This and World War II" is now making holy signs against the computer screen and praying for their eternal souls). But they used a lesser-known (I had to look it up) song ("I've Just Seen a Face" which you know, but never by that title) and made it even more up-tempo than Paul McCartney usually barrels through. This is one movie I am going to deeply avoid (the story involves a young man named Jude, the girl he meets named Lucy, and Eddie Izzard as Mr. Kite ... OK, I'll stop now before you gouge out your eyes). All the warning side of a horrible project. Still, as a two minute video, it is really cool (and not yet available on the net - another, sadder, odder trailer, is).

And one other thing - what are they thinking about the clientèle when they run promos for Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" on the Travel Channel before all this. Did they make a connection between foodies and Harry Potter fans?

More later,

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Small Plug

So, fellow Alliterate and all-around nice guy Wolfgang Baur, also known as the Monkey King, has launched his new gaming magazine, Kobold Quarterly, now available both as PDF and in that new-fangled, limited-edition, dead-tree version. Check it out.

More later,

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Basic Questions

I don't discuss the "Big Subject" of Game Design much here, both because I think about it a lot as my "day-job" and I don't usually feel like preaching my particular version of the Faith. But I've been thinking about the basic questions you ask when you start on a game, a world, a novel, or a campaign, and I'm having a hard time doing better than a bit presented on J. Michael Straczynski's old SF show, Babylon 5.

In that show, it was revealed over time that there were two great elder races vying for power (The Vorlon and Shadows, but never mind that). How they defined the philosophies of those two races were the following two questions:


Now whether these statements match up with that those elder races were doing with the universe is a discussion for some B5 BBS somewhere. My point is that these two questions are a pretty good starting point for your game, and a pretty good touchstone for how you succeed in presenting your vision. If you can communicate those two points, you've got a chance of connecting with your ultimate audience.

Let's roll the tape on a couple classic RPGs to test this out:

D&D and its linear descendants:
WHO ARE YOU? I am an adventurer
WHAT DO YOU WANT? I want to kill monsters and take their stuff.

Vampire the Masquerade
WHO ARE YOU? I am monster
WHAT DO YOU WANT? I want to be moral despite my monstrosity (angst!)

Shadowrun (and a lot of Cyberpunkish games)
WHO ARE YOU? I am an freelance criminal.
WHAT DO YOU WANT? I want to do what I have to do to get paid.

Call of Cthulhu
WHO ARE YOU? I am an investigator.
WHAT DO YOU WANT? I want to poke around the edges of sanity and try not to go mad.

Sometimes the answers may explain the challenges in the campaign:

Empire of the Petal Throne.
WHO ARE YOU? I am a citizen in a fantasy empire. Which is really in the future, and the advanced technology is magic, or extradimensional manipulation which is effectively magic, and has a Mayan/Egyptian vibe.
WHAT DO YOU WANT? I want to kill monsters and take their stuff.
(Need to communicate involved, non-traditional world and how it is different. Also, second statement doesn't jive up well with the first)

WHO ARE YOU? I am former military personnel in a stellar empire.
WHAT DO YOU WANT? I want to own a spaceship, and so will do things so I can pay off my ship.
(Limited adventure room, short-term goals)

This approach can also open doors and show the nature of your world - Go back up to the top with D&D - What is an adventurer? How is it different than a citizen or a criminal? What defines "monsters"? When are you justified to take their stuff? Some of the flexibility in answering these questions (and there are more than one set of answers for any question) defines where you think the world is going.

Its just a start, and now I'm walking around, holding up this lens to various games and seeing how effective it is. And sometimes the answers reveal as much about how I view that game or genre as it does about the game itself.

More later,

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lovely Parting Gifts

The Origins Awards have been posted, and among the winners are DRAGON and Dungeon magazines from Paizo. A wonderful high point to go out on (Though calling one magazine "Fiction" and the other "Non-Fiction" feels like a bit of a reach).

Also, Wizards of the Coast won for "Best Miniature" for their Colossal Red Dragon, a truly beautiful piece, but one which completely busts the definition of "Miniature".

More later,

UPDATE: And in related news, The Monkey King has been nominated for an ENnie for his Shadowcrag adventure. Woohoo!

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Funny Pixels

So as opposed to a new entry, I updated the Blogroll on the right, making sure that the links were still current, upgrading some Alliterates, and most importantly, adding more comic strips and art:

My Elves Are Different (also known as MEAD) is deeply a deeply "inside the beltway" strip on science fiction and fantasy in general. It was the start of the entire Zombie Apocalypse thing. Best moment? Zombie Tolkien.

Sinfest is happy, perky, morally interesting and generally Not Safe For Work. But once you let Penny Arcade in the door, anything is fair game. It deals with religion, sin, redemption, and getting lucky.

And lastly, the mighty Stan! is doing his Doodle-A-Day. Which is exactly what it sounds like.

And on a more literate side, we have Sacnoth's Scriptorium, hosted by John Rateliff, Tolkien Scholar and general good egg.

Have fun. More later,

UPDATE: OK, one more - Diesel Sweeties is an odd one. It has a paper-based incarnation, as well as a web-version. The web-version is a lot more ... mature ... in nature, and as such, is funnier.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Song In My Head

So on Canada Day (1 July to us Yanks), I caught a YouTube video of a "Canadian Song" that has been caught in my brain and refuses to leave (except for a brief period when "Call for Super Chicken" replaced it). Here's the video, and the lyrics. Warning: this song is insidious.

The Log Drivers' Waltz
(Albert Wade Hemsworth/Traditional)

If you should ask any girl from the parish around
What pleases her most from her head to her toes
She'll say, "I'm not sure that it's business of yours
But I do like to waltz with a log driver".

For he goes birling down a-down the white water
That's where the log driver learns to step lightly
It's birling down, a-down white water
A log driver's waltz pleases girls completely.

When the drive's nearly over, I like to go down
To see all the lads while they work on the river
I know that come evening they'll be in the town
And we all want to waltz with a log driver.

To please both my parents I've had to give way
And dance with the doctors and merchants and lawyers
Their manners are fine but their feet are of clay
For there's none with the style of a log driver.

I've had my chances with all sorts of men
But none is so fine as my lad on the river
So when the drive's over, if he asks me again
I think I will marry my log driver.

And yes, "birling" is a word. It means to spin a log in the water with one's feet.

Mood: Pleased (completely).

More later

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

July 4


"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
- The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America
- July 4, 1776

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

American Justice


We did nothing wrong.
And even if we did, no one saw it.
And even if they saw it, no one will say.
And even if they say, no one will believe.
And even if they believe, there will be no evidence.
And even if there is evidence, there will be no investigation.
nd even if there is an investigation, there will not be an indictment.
And even if there is an indictment, there will never be a trial.
And even if there is a trial, there will never be a verdict.
And even if there is a verdict, there will never be a penalty.
And even if there is a penalty, no one will pay the price.
Because we did nothing wrong.
- J.Grubb, 2007

(With a tip of the lid to Frabjous Dave, safely in hiding in Canada, for the title.)

More Later,

Monday, July 02, 2007


So you remember the Harlan Ellison/Fantagraphics feud? The one with both sides making declarations in public forums as the other side's veracity and honor?

Well, according to Galleycat the issues have been resolved. No, you don't get to know what happened, which is pretty much par for the course in these situations.

More later (but not about this),

Sunday, July 01, 2007


So on the 29th of March, this year, our regular Thursday-night group sat down to play D&D and eat Chinese food. Which, of course, meant fortune cookies. And I drew the following Fortune:

Remember three months from this date. Good things are in store for you.

Having discussed the nature of fortune cookies to be extremely vague, we magnetted the fortune to the fridge with the date, so we could check it out later.

That was last Friday, and while it was pretty much a nice day, it wasn't something that stood out against all the other nice days. Nothing INCREDIBLE happened. So is this myth busted?

Well, yeah, but:
* An impossible deadline DID turn more possible
* I DID play Call of Cthulhu with friends in a nice session, and only drove one of them irreparably insane.
* I DID see the ToC (table of contents) for Hobby Games: The 100 Best, to which I contributed an essay. The games all merit inclusion in the book, and the contributors read like the batting order at an All-Star Game.
* And a summer storm rolled through on my way home that afternoon, and produced in its wake a full rainbow of an intensity that leeched into the IR and UV parts of the spectrum.

So it WAS a pretty nice day, but hardly memorable enough for a piece of typed paper within a cookie to give a shout-out for. But I think that's good enough.

More later,