Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Our Gang

No, this is not becoming a Tumblr blog. More later,

Fifty Years Ago

Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963  - Getty Images
More later,

Friday, August 23, 2013

My World and Welcome To It

Playing at the World, by Jon Peterson, Unreason Press, 2012

If you are a roleplayer, or a gaming historian, or a fan of D&D, you have to read this book. That simple.

I don't say that lightly. In fact, the word "lightly" does not apply at all to this volume. It is a massive tome, two and half pounds of paper, exhaustive in its documentation, delving so deep into the weeds that even the author at points mentions that you might want to browse some sections and come back later with a native guide and a machete. It is a text that, having spent the past 9 months reading it, primarily because of its lack of portability, I enthusiastically endorse for the Kindle.

It is the history of roleplaying, from the dawn of time to about fifteen minutes before I showed up for my first GenCon. And it is detailed. Deeply so. This is no memoir of old gaming groups, or paeans to favorite games, or interviews with people twenty after the fact, after age and retellings had rounded the memories to smooth surfaces and convenient conclusion. Peterson uses primary sources of the age, digging through all manner of fanzines and communiques and promotional material to sculpt a reasonable and rational picture of how, through the confluence of a number of talented individuals and different fandoms, Dungeons & Dragons was launched upon the world, and what happened next.

The book is broken down (after an introduction discussing his methodology), into five major sections, the first and the last probably the easiest for readers to swallow, as it deals directly with the historical progress of D&D. The opening section tells the tales of the wargamers of the sixties and the seventies, the fertile soil into which D&D, through the Chainmail fantasy supplement, was first seeded. Here is the Castle and Crusade Society and the International Federation of Wargamers, the first GenCons and FitS, the Dungeon boardgame and the Blackmoor Gazette. It leads up to the spring of 1974 and the publication of three small books in a woodgrain box at the then-outrageous price of ten dollars - Dungeons & Dragons.

The next three sections break down the various components that contributed to the uniqueness and popularity of the game. First the fantasy setting, taking us on a tour through the pulps and weird tales and Tolkien, who was not a foundational author for Gygax, but whose popularity made the game easily understandable, and in reviewing this rich past puzzles out the various classes, monsters, and alignments of the game. Then an analysis of rules, looking at the history of wargames, from German Princes to HG Wells (who I knew about) and Robert Lewis Stevenson (who I did not), and detailing the history of taking and resisting damage. In the final part of this exhaustive middle bit, Peterson deals with the question of immersion, and includes the SCA, role-playing within postal games, the Rommel Syndrome among wargamers, and the almost-was of the original Midgard campaigns.

In the fifth section, all the deep history in place, Mr. Peterson rejoins the narrative of the creation of D&D with its rise to popularity, it conquering of the wargaming field as well as the influence of the science fiction and fantasy community of Southern California. Here appears Lee Gold's excellent Alarums & Excursions, and the schisms between early adopters. And here also appear the challenges that continue to this day - how to deal with others contributing their own creations? How do you maintain canon without sacrificing control?

Lastly, Peterson concludes with a short section that starts with the Satanic Panic of the late seventies and its concern of overwhelming character immersion, and then taking up the computer development of D&D style games, which seeks to create that very sense of other-worldly immersion.

This is a magnum opus, a great book, and one that should be on any respectable gamer's shelves (or in his Kindle). Peterson offers a concise and cogent definition of roleplaying ("A game in which anything may be attempted"), and, without taking sides, clearly defines the roles of the two founders in creation of the game (the short version is that without each other, there would be no D&D - Gygax was the ultimate collaborator while Arneson had the core concepts).

And here's the thing - I'm not in this book. This is before I showed up on the scene. I'm off to side, growing up and playing Diplomacy in Pittsburgh and learning Avalon Hill games before going to Purdue. My first GenCon was at Parkside, which gets a passing mention at the very end of the Epilogue. I not part of the story yet, nor are a lot of the people of my generation of gamers - Steve Winter and Tracy Hickman and Doug Niles. We came on the scene later, after much of the dust had settled and by which time certain things were just not talked about. Fellow former WotCite John Rateliff IS there, but because of his OWN magnum opus, The History of the Hobbit, which Peterson uses when examining the Tolkien/D&D connection.

This is a major historical work, which sets the definitions and discussions for years to come. It is the serious analysis of the history of roleplaying and how all the parts came together. I don't agree with all within, and there are parts where I actually think he needed to talk MORE about, but there are also parts that showed what was happening when I was still growing into this industry. This is very much. "How I Met Your D&D".

Go get it, and make time to read it.

More later,

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Guild Wars, Too

It's been a year? Already?
So, we're coming up on the one-year anniversary of Guild War 2's release, and there are a lot of things to note.

The big one is, starting tomorrow, we are running a free weekend. Yep, free. If you've heard the chatter about the game, read the glowing reviews, or had to put up with friends posting beautiful screen shots on their Facebook page, this is the chance to take the game out for a spin.

Secondly, if you've been wondering what we've been up to for the past year, take a look at this fan-made infographic HERE.Yeah, that's a lot of stuff for one year

Thirdly, we can announce that, according to an independent marketing firm, we are the fastest-selling Western MMO in history. That's pretty cool.

Fourthly,Saturday at PAX Prime here in Seattle, we're going to be doing a big party, one which starts in the afternoon with our first invitational tournament and wraps up with a party. Last year's was a complete zoo, so I think we have it under control this time. I think. We ALSO have a lot of the staff speaking at PAX Prime and PAX dev on various subjects.

Fifthly (or Sixthly), we are in the midst of a our "Clockwork Chaos" living story, where the higher-level areas are invaded by the twisted creations of a new big bad, Scarlet Briar.Go have fun!

Lastly, one of the big initiatives we have been undertaking has been launching in China. We are working with a distributor named Kong Zhong, and had a huge success at the big gaming convention, China Joy. Plus, they've put together a web site where a lot of our talent talks about the game, including Ree. Plus they animated everyone, and it's really cute (though be wanted, it is graphics-intensive and sluggish).

Is that enough? Yes, that's enough.

More later,

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

From Russia with Booze

OK, this looks like a setup for a crime thriller:

Putin and the Russian government are pursuing an actively homophobic agenda. By identifying gay men and women as the enemy, they are propping up their own regime, a time-honored rallying tactic and right out of the brownshirt playbook.

A large number of gay men and women, with local sex columnist Dan Savage in the lead, are in return loudly boycotting Russian vodka. There are a number of Russian vodkas, but the one that everyone knows about is Stolichnaya, or Stoli. Apparently, the boycott is having an effect, since Stoli now says it is not Russian, but Latvian, despite massive marketing about how it is a Russian vodka. Apparently they ARE Russian, but flying the Latvian flag like those supertankers registered in the Grand Caymans to hide from safety inspectors.

Photo by Marcus Yam/Seattle Times.
It's Green! You know, like money!
Now, into Elliot Bay sails the "Super-Yacht" owned by the distributor of Stoli. This is front page news as far as the Seattle Times is concerned, which delivers a fawning fluffer of an article about how wonderful it is to be fabulously wealthy, plus noting that the 50+ staff will bring millions of dollars into the area, and oh, isn't it a pity we have to scare these fragile, precious butterflies away by charging taxes if they stay more than two months.

So, that's the setup. The floating luxury palace is glowing green in the harbor, owned by someone backing a nation denying human rights. I'm seeing a caper film with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as ex-alcoholic ex-cop with a beef, and Ellen DeGeneres as the former Microsoft hacker who comes out of retirement for just one more job. And Jerry Seinfeld as Dan Savage. Out in time for SIFF next year. Grab the popcorn.

More later,

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Adventure: Not-So-Pulp Tentacles, Part I

Bad Company by Alan Bligh, an adventure from Cthulhu Britannica, from Cubicle 7 Games

You guys know the drill by now - I have a semi-regular Cthulhu group with rotating GMs and various styles of play. My particular gig has been doing the Goodman Games Age of Cthulhu series. But there's been a gap since the last one, so we went afield to a different company, but kept the basic conceits of the team.

And as a digression, yes, we are in a golden age of CoC adventures. There are nearly a dozen companies who are all doing Call of Cthulhu adventures, and they range for OK to excellent. You kids today, you should enjoy all this. And get off my lawn :).

Anyway, my group of investigators is based out of London, the time is eternally 1928, and the crew is your standard Cthulhian motley - The upper class writer, her well-heeled adventuring hero/muse/subject, the archaeology student, the mobster from Chicago, Mr Howell from Gilligan's Island, and the photographer. They have persevered with little in the way of death or SAN loss over the years in the Goodman universe, so a change would be good as a rest.

Cthulhu Britannica consists of five adventures, only two of which are really suitable for the team, as the others deal with later eras and things that would not fly as well in the 1920s. Bad Company, however, was set in Victorian London and transferred rather neatly over to the current milieu.

The short form: The scion of a baronet has gone missing, having fallen under the spell of a mysterious beauty. The investigators are engaged to find the young man, and the search takes them through the darker parts of London before reaching the woman's orgiastic debaucheries on a mansion on the Strand. And of course, the woman is not what she seems, and the spells she weaves are very real.

And we pause here to remind everyone about spoilers, then proceed.

The adventure follows the traditional Cthulhu adventure three-act structure. Act 1 lays out the problem and provides base information, which is usually woefully inadequate regarding the true situation, Act 2 provided a number of leads, which provides the clues that get us to Act 3 and the resolution in madness, gunfire, and cultists, and often all three.

And Bad Company lays it out fairly clearly. The father wants results and no scandal, provides a few initial contacts, and sets them on the path. The middle bit has a wide variety of options, with enough redundancy and blind allies that the players do not have check out every cupboard and washroom to get to the final confrontation. In the case of our regular investigators, they decided to avoid the police investigation entirely (the mobster did not want to bring the cops in), nor did they want to talk to the society gossip (for fear of making themselves targets of scandal themselves), nor the mad artist.

Their final realization of what they were fighting was not from any single encounter in the game, but rather from research at the British Museum, where they made sufficient rolls and I encouraged them to check out the Wikipedia entries. This is something relatively new for me in gaming - the entire team has iPads or computers, so letting them loose on Russian mythology with a couple key words was enough to put them in a good place for the final sequence. This is one of the cool things about running historical adventures in this modern age, by the way (we have to keep the iPads closed at time because the characters would not have that info at hand).

To the GM's delight, the investigators split into two teams, with the writer and the adventurer following the suspect beauty as she went out for the evening, while three others formed the heavy team that intended to raid the house during one of its continual parties, and were prepared for violence.

The team shadowing the beauty had their cover blown and were invited to dine with her (again, a sequence not in the adventure, but easily interpolated), with the results that both fell under her spell (a high POW for a monster makes the resistance table almost unnecessary). The heavy team found monsters in the basement that almost thrashed them entirely, navigated an orgy on the way up, found some more disturbing matters that indicated they had been watched during their earlier investigation, and finally found the lady's lair. Without giving too much away, they solved the problem with fire and bullets, putting the pair who had been dining with the monster at risk in the process.

In short, it was a good deal of fun and creepiness, though it required a bit of coloring outside the lines, which we were prepared for.

The presentation of the adventure was solid, though they suddenly dropped in the section on the Society Gossip who might provide information without any prelude, which was jarring. And while the author is British, I believe, there are some English/American weirdnesses  - the baronet's lawyer would be more properly a solicitor, a baronetcy IS an inherited position (per Wiki), and there is the standard weirdness of naming the floors of structure (American is Basement, First, Second ... British is Basement, Ground, First ..). The adventure does it sometimes one way, and sometimes another, and splits the difference when it comes to describing the maps. This may be an editing or development thing.

The maps work as well, though they don't always tie in with the text, and yeah, if you're going to have a coal furnace, you need a coal chute, and need access from outside to that chute (though you can always note that it is latched from within).

For this group, it was a good change of pace to have their fighting in the Green and Pleasant Land as opposed to going off being explorers of less-civilized areas. The fact they were at home, and were asked to keep a low profile, kept the obvious mayhem at a minimum until the final act.

In short, good foundation, nice flow to the adventure, presented for new players but works best with an experienced and flexible GM. And that's the first adventure in the book.

More later,

Monday, August 19, 2013


Much to my own surprise, I will be actually showing up for some conventions in the next month. I am not much of a convention person - I tend to make them local, mostly, and show up when, like a vampire lord, I am invited in. I always have this nagging feeling that I should be working. But here are a few I want to bring to your attention:

Land of the Devs
I am going to be a PaxPrime, August 30 to September 2, mostly as a civilian (I will be helping out with ArenaNet for a few things). As a bonus, I will be part of a panel at PaxDev, which runs before PaxPrime (August 28 and 29). We'll be talking about writing and character building for MMOs, and I will be joined by Daneen McDermott from Tera, Andy Collins from Marvel Heroes, and Corey Herndon from the upcoming Wildstar game. Come check us out if you're part of the PaxDev track.

Grandcon, I say. Grandcon!
And, to my complete shock, , I will be in the midwest September 20-22, for Grandcon. in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is new convention, and I've been recruited in part due to the efforts of fellow Ex-TSR creative (and fellow guest) Steven Schend, who now lives in the area. As a bonus, some of the other guests include some old friends I haven't seen in a long while - Tracy and Laura Hickman, and Ed Greenwood (we still chat in email, but it just isn't the same at all).

So yes, I emerge from my lair to actually TALK to people, every so often.

More later,

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh ...

The Andy Warhol Bridge (known to us oldsters as the Seventh Street Bridge) has been yarnbombed.

 My mom tells me about stuff like this. More later.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Political Desk Is In Apparent Need of an Upgrade

When I was wading through the Voter's Guide earlier this month, I was pretty comfortable that I could understand the choices with the material as presented - candidate statements, supplemented by their own web sites and endorsements and comments from other blogs and services such as the Muni League. Easy-Peasey.

But I've hit a snag once I started talking about the Kent area (my new home town), since the reach of the Muni League, or the larger papers or blogs, doesn't reach this far south. I didn't do as much digging and in not digging further I missed a whopper.

I mean, it sounds weird that in making my recommendations I should have paid attention to arrest reports, but apparently such is the case.

Here's the story: I looked at the candidates for Kent City Council, and went pretty much from their statements and what I could dig up from their own sites. Which was pretty thin on the ground, since only one of them, Bailey Stober, had a functioning website up. So I recommended Mr. Stober, and figured I would learn more about the others (Ken Sharp and Barbara Phillips) later.

And I did learn more about Mr. Sharp I found THIS in the Times this past Saturday morning:
A candidate for the Kent City Council was charged this week with seven counts of first-degree theft for allegedly draining nearly $300,000 from his mother’s bank account and using the money to shore up his failing printing business, according to King County prosecutors.
This is the local equivalent of coming home to find the "60 Minutes" crew setting up in your driveway. There is absolutely no joy for a political candidate in that opening lede. Then it just gets worse:
Charging documents filed Tuesday also suggest that Ken Sharp, 66, used his mother’s money to purchase a $12,000 diamond ring for his third wife and to go on trips to Mazatlan, Mexico, Dubai and Johannesburg, South Africa. He is also accused of taking out a reverse mortgage for nearly $475,000 on his mother’s Tacoma house, the papers say.
The whole Times article is here And while I'd love to ascribe to the local media a hand in covering things up, not rocking the boat, and maintaining the status quo, you can find their much more detailed and slightly less colorful account in the Kent Reporter here, and an article on the initial arrest and investigation from back in July here.

Apparently local politics is a lot more colorful than I had first thought it would be, and this bears further watching. And, sadly, a lot more research on this end.

More later,

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Political Desk: Wrapping Up the Primary

I know what you're thinking - hey, it's Thursday, and the elections were held on Tuesday. where the heck are the results?

Well, we have a thing out here in Washington State where we have mail-in ballots, with the due-date of election day. That means that ballots could be coming in for some time, and close elections may hang fire for a while before being decided. Early margins may close, leads may expand, and all sorts of other things. What this does mean is that the numbers you get on Tuesday night (when the votes that have come in so far are counted) are indicative but by no means decisive.

And I like this system, even though it may mean a lack of completion on election day itself. And because I think it has the advantages of encouraging voting up to the last moment and including more of the population, no doubt someone is out there seeking to change it. Such is the nature of the politics in Wash State.

Anyway, for those paying attention, here are the results so far.

King County Proposition No. 1 Parks Levy - Approved

King County Executive - Dow Constantine, with a massive lead (75% of the vote) over Alan E. Lobdell

Port of Seattle Commissioned Position No. 3 - Stephanie Bowman vs. Michael Wolfe.

City of Kent Council Position No. 6 - Ken Sharp against either Bailey Stober or Barbara Phillips. This is what I am talking about with elections being a waiting game, as all of 44 votes separate Mr. Stober and Ms. Phillipse.

Kent School District No. 415, Director District No.5 -  Bruce Elliot vs Maya Vengadasalam.

On the one I am not voting on (Seattle Mayor), it will be Ed Murray against Mike McGinn. Mr. Murray is the establishment candidate that is running from the outside, and in his victory speech, seeks to bring "both liberals and moderates together", which probably made every conservative west of the Cascades look longingly at Spokane. For his part, Mr. McGinn finished second, which is considered a victory in the crowded field, and is the radical progressive outsider despite being the incumbent.

Pass the popcorn on this one. It's probably going to be the most interesting race of the season.

More later,

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The Political Desk Bonus Round: Mayor of Seattle

You'd think with my recommendations posted, I'd be done with this phase of the political season, but the truth is that the largest election that affects me is one I cannot vote on. The City of Seattle dominates the surrounding region, and its decisions affect all the municipalities around it. And yet, through the cruel nature of geography and the drawing of borders, I don't get to vote. However, I do get to kvetch about it, so let me pop up some corn and make myself comfortable.

Way back here, I complained about the lack of Dem challengers in the Burning Lands on the far side of the Cascades. Well, the flip side occurs in Seattle. We have nine candidates, and not a ONE of them would be considered a Republican or even a doctrinal Conservative. We run the gamut from main-line Dems and pro-business Dems to full-fledged Socialists (and I'm talking about real Socialists, none of your namby-pamby "Fox News calls them Socialists because they don't shoot the poor" Socialists). We can make up the Puget Sound version of the Hollywood Squares with the current field, and we couldn't find a single flag-waving, red-meat-eating, bring-God-back-to-Government type to run? I mean, I wouldn't vote for them, but you know, balance.

Anyway, the center square of the Pike Place Squares is current mayor Mike McGinn, and I like him. His public persona is a man on a bike, but he has been pro-transit, pro-environment, pro-labor, aggressive, and progressive. Has fought against the coal trains rolling through downtown. But I have to admit that his best work is when he loses. No, really. He came in on an anti-tunnel platform and then lost, and rather than go hull-down and fighting to the bitter end, he went with the will of the people and helped the project forward. He pitched hard for an NBA franchise, earning a lot of love from the sports community, but that came to naught. And he's been at the center of a Justice-department movement to make our police force just a little bit less midconducty. Yet through it all he's been involved, engaged, and accessible. He's the Maverick Dem, the guy who surprised everyone the first time and has rolled forward since then.

His likely opponent to block (who is ahead of him in the polls) is Ed Murray, former state legislator who bases his appeal on both his ability to work with the Republicans to get a budget in 2011 and his work for Marriage Equality (Mr. Murray will be marrying his partner in August - yeah, imagine doing that before an election in, say, Chicago). He's also spoken out against the proposed coal trains rolling through downtown. He's the party-approved Dem, has a big mittful of endorsements, and I like him. However, for a guy who's campaign is based on playing well with others, the fact that the wheels came off in the 2013 legislature doesn't give him as much traction. 

And here's what makes the campaign interesting: The Seattle Times (paper of record) loves the more establishmentarian Murray and hates the more independent McGinn, who owes them little (they didn't endorse him in either the last election's primary or general elections). The McGinn hate is so much that they will round down on the mayor's accomplishments and promote his flaws. The Stranger (former slackers who woke up after a three-day binge to discover they had real journalistic responsibility) on the other hand, lurvs them some McGinn and, while they don't seem to dislike Murray, they will go out of the way to expose situations where Murray is playing politics-as-usual (Murray's team running a blurb that makes it seem like the paper supports Murray when in fact they endorsed McGinn or Murray castigating McGinn's involvement in a zoning issue with the non-union Whole Paycheck Foods, when Murray endorsed the same level of involvement earlier). 

Should Mayor McGinn fall off in the Primary (it has happened before - Protests and police riots are to Seattle Mayors like snowstorms are to Chicago Pols in electoral lethality), Murray's opponent would be likely be Peter Steinbrueck, who is pro-neighborhoods, whose father saved Pike Place Market, and who is a proponent of a school of thought you'd call "Lesser Seattle". And I like him. 

Of the others, Bruce Harrell is an eloquent, big-tent, pro-labor Dem, and I like him. Joey Gray comes out of the Occupy movement and Ultimate Frisbee and I like her. Kate Martin is a neighborhood activist whose ideas include turning the old Viaduct into an elevated park, similar to New York's Highline, I think that's a great idea and I like her. Mary Martin declares herself as the Socialist Worker's Party candidate, and has responded to a press question about pets with "The working people don't give a flip whether I have a pet". Needless to say, I like her. 

Charlie Staadecker is the closest thing to an old-school business candidate, reflects a return to Seattle Politeness, is pro-art, positive, and wears a bow tie. I like him (and yes, bow ties are cool). And Douglas McQuaid, who seems to have ended up on the ballot through a wacky clerical mix-up, isn't spending anything on the campaign, but says he is there to show that little guys can run for mayor as well. And I really like him, and he is STILL a better candidate than the guys running against Dow Constantine.

And I think you see the problem here. Each of the candidates has something to recommend themselves. They range from left-of-center to seriously-lefty but all have a similar bag of attitudes, and while the proposals may differ slightly as to the best way forward, the foundation does not. This is not an election to fix the city, or even to find the best way forward. Everyone is pretty happy with the way things are going, and want to keep doing that.

So yeah, we have a Brady Bunch of candidates, none of which promise a sea change in government. I come from Pittsburgh, known for its unlikely mayors (Pete Flaherty, Sofie Masloff, and, yes, even Luke Ravenstahl), so I like my mayors colorful and my city councils competent. So I am recommending Mike McGinn, while recognizing the Ed Murray is extremely good even if the Seattle Times likes him. And if you don't like the process at all - vote Douglas McQuaid, because even the little guy should be able to run for mayor.

More later,