Sunday, October 30, 2022

Book: Breath of Fresh Air.

 Exhalation by Ted Chiang, Vintage Books, 2019

Provenance: Elliot Bay Bookstore, which was originally down in Pioneer Square but has moved up to Capitol Hill to occupy part of the old Oddfellows Hall. I was up there to meet a former colleague for dinner, and wanted to stop in and get a different book (which is a different story). 

Review: I was (very briefly) in a writer's group with Ted Chiang. Ted is one of those writers who publishes maybe one story a year, and that story in then nominated or wins various Hugos, Nebulas, and Locus awards. He's really that good. A short story from his previous collection, Stories of Your Life and Others was made into the movie Awakening.

This volume is a collection of tales from since that earlier volume, and is just as fantastic. He creates realistic alien worlds, and then plays within them - The title story involves a robotic race, where the narrator literally trepans himself in order to understand memory. In "Omphalos", he posits a universe where Young Earth Theory is backed up by the facts and evidence."The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling" extends the always-recording lifestyles into creating a perfect history of what really happened. Each is a self-contained world that feels totally reasonable.

Chiang's stories also talk about free will, and the absence of it in a deterministic universe, a lot. in "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" we deal with time travel in a deterministic universe, where the past cannot change because of what has happened, but those that travel into the past have their own reasons for not changing it. In "What's Expected of Us" he introduces a simple device that proves the future is deterministic and unchangeable, that Free Will is an illusion, and what happens to society when that is proved. And in "Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom" he posits the idea of a branching multiverse that still puts the question of free will to the test by allowing access between the various branches (quick answer - capitalism and a lot of therapy).

The most frightening story does not involve a robot operating on his own brain in realtime, but "The Lifecycle of Software Objects" that deals with living and thinking digital intelligence and corporate thinking. The meeting of those two I found chilling when I first read it years ago, and it still frightens me to some degree.

Chiang's worlds are deterministic, and he will not bend the rules for the sake of character and story. There are few full happy endings, because the universe doesn't play that way. At best, there is understanding and acceptance for what is to come.

It's a great collection, and if you haven't discovered Ted Chiang, here's your chance. 

More later,

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

The Political Desk - The Jeff Recommends.

OK, we have the ballot before us, looking all the world like one of those standardized tests from Junior High. We fight the panic attack from filling in little dots, and marvel all those unopposed Judge positions. What do we have?

Advisory Vote No. 39 Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5974 - Maintained, with the standard kvetches. 

Advisory Vote No. 40 Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2076 - Maintained.

Charter Amendment No. 1 Even-Numbered Election Years for Certain County Offices - No, but you be you.

Proposition No. 1 Conservation Futures Levy - Approved

United States Senator - Patty Murray

United States Representative Congressional District No. 9 - Adam Smith

Secretary of State - Steve Hobbs

Legislative District No,. 11 Representative Position 1 - David Hackney

Legislative District No,. 11 Representative Position 2 - Steve Bergquist

So, get your ballots in by 8 November. There are drop boxes all over, and you can mail it without a stamp if you have it postmarked by 8 November. You can also register to vote up to election day as well. And yeah, we'll be nagging you as we go along. Now we return you to your regularly scheduled book, game, and play reviews. 

More later,

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The Political Desk - County Position

 The sole position to be filled at the county level is for Prosecuting Attorney. Gee, there would be more talk about if only we moved other county elections to even-numbered years (yeah, that's sarcasm).

The good news it that we're looking at two solid candidates with good experience and different approaches to crime. Jim Ferrell is a former prosecutor and Mayor of Federal Way who favors more law-and-order and incarceration for repeat offenders, and has endorsements from most police unions. Leesa Manion has spent the past 15 years as Chief of Staff for Dan Satterberg, the current King County Prosecutor, favors diversion and mitigation as opposed to incarceration, and has a pack of Democratic party endorsements. Both are serious on crime, just take very different approaches. I'm going to recommend Leesa Manion for the position. But again, we're looking at two impressive resumes here.

And.... that's it for the county level. Since I have the space, here are some anagrams for "Political Desk":

  • Politick Sal
  • Pickle Altoids
  • Politic Daleks
  • Licked Topsail
  • Ellipsoid Tack
  • Dali Stockpile
  • Despotic Kali
  • Callisto Piked
  • Aldi Elk Optics

OK, I'm done. More later,

The Political Desk - State Offices

For the state offices, there is one biggie, along with two good incumbents for our legislature.

 Secretary of State. This position is in charge of our Elections, which has been doing a pretty damned fine job for the past few decades. One big reason for this was Republican Kim Wyman, who left to take a job with the Biden Administration. Gov. Inslee appointed Steve Hobbs to the position to fill out her term (There will be another election in 2024), and he's done well continuing Wyman's professionalism and expanding on it. His opponent is Julie Anderson, who is running as a non-partisan and packs solid experience as Pierce County Auditor. 

This is one of those situations where both candidates are good choices. I support Steve Hobbs for a very personal reason - he's a gamer. He plays TTRPGs, and when he was in the State House, not only supported the small independent game companies in the state, but also hosted sessions to teach other Representatives about role-playing games. I have always said that most of our laws need a good play-test session and development cycle before being enacted, and having someone in charge who knows that is a bonus.

The campaign has been incredibly polite and professional so far, and that is to both candidate's credit. Naturally, it cannot last. The official Republicans, who were shut out in the primary have rallied and chosen Brad Klippert, an "election-skeptic" who lost out in the primary, as a write-in candidate. Write-in candidates are a tough go, mainly because getting the word out is a challenge, and the only promotion I have seen so far has been news reports saying that it is a thing. The end result will likely be that Klippert drains off the not-a-Democrat vote from Anderson, and that Hobbs will take it with a plurality, not a majority.

Down-ballot, Legislative District 11 JUST nicks the corner of Kent that Grubb Street occupies. We have two good incumbents who are rounding out their rookie season with accomplishments, and deserve to keep their jobs. 

Legislative District No,. 11 Representative Position 1 David Hackney has been strong on climate and conservation, and deserves to be returned to office.

Legislative District No,. 11 Representative Position 2. High school teacher Steve Bergquist ran on education issues and has delivered as well. Yeah, let's keep him as well.

That it it for the State level.  Then we bounce back down to the County level for one position. More later, 

Monday, October 24, 2022

The Political Desk - King County Measures

 And the next course is .... More Broccoli! But its a tastier version, smothered in cheese.

Charter Amendment No. 1 Even-Numbered Election Years for Certain County Offices. This amendment to the King County Charter will move elections for King County Executive, Director of Elections, and King County Council members to even number numbered years. Here's the logic - More people vote in even-year elections that in odd-year elections, because there are usually more big-ticket items on the ballot, like Senators, US Reps, and the occasional President. Moving the election of these offices to those years will increase the number of voters, which would is generally thought of as a good thing. Which is basically true.

The Times likes this. The Stranger likes it. I am less sanguine about it.

Here's my thinking. Even though moving to even-year elections would make my job here a tad bit easier, and reduce the guilt of people who don't vote anyway, yearly elections are incremental in nature. That is to say, you are not locked in across the board until the next major election cycle. It also creates a lot of sudden change in  red-tide or blue-tide elections, where everyone (or at least a good chunk) on one side shows up. Finally, it increases the chances of those tidal elections in cases where the candidate at the highest position is so odious, the coat-tails drag everyone else down. I think it makes our voting system more vulnerable. AND those elections that are still in odd years will get even LESS attention. So I'm surprisingly a NO on this. 

I know, I'm one of these crazy mad-scientist-ranked-choice-voting guys, and I'm still unsure about this one. On the other hand:

Proposition No. 1 Conservation Futures Levy, on the other hand, raises funds for urban green spaces and salmon habitats. Hate taxes, but love green space. So I'm with Approved on this one.

More later,  

The Political Desk - Federal Offices

 Now we get to the meat of the situation - the headliners, the main events, the big kahunas. The Federal offices.

United States Senator. Patty Murray has been a strong voice in the Senate for the people in general and the people of Washington State in particular. The Stranger stans her pro-choice stands. The Times compares her to their political heroes Scoop Jackson and Warren Magnuson, She has done a lot in her 30 years, and deserves six more. Her opposition has been bog-standard modern Republican - no political office background, has purged her site of anti-choice language and election denialism, and is coy about her current opinions on those matter. Her campaign has the traditional Republican themes of fear and loathing, and she is running against Seattle, the local media, and coffee shops that are not Starbucks. So yeah, re-elect Patty Murray.

United States Representative Congressional District No. 9 . Like Patty Murray, Adam Smith has been around for a while. He's a member of both progressive and moderate caucuses, and he leans left on domestic matters. As the head of the Armed Services Committee (which is always referred to in print as the powerful Armed Services Committee), he's actually an old-school conservative, in that he wants to get his money's worth when we purchase new weapon systems. On merit alone, he deserves re-election. The Wiley Coyote to his Roadrunner in Doug Basler, talk-show host and Chamber of Commerce chairman who is on his fourth run for the position. So, Adam Smith (and I will put away my Invisible Hand jokes for now).

There are other, closer races, but they aren't on my ballot. Maybe that'll be another entry.

More later,

Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Political Desk - Advisory Votes

 And the current feast of political choice starts out with an amuse-bouche ... broccoli!

Long-time readers know my opinions about Advisory Votes. The product of a semi-failed initiative which requires the state to ask about anything that even hints at an increase of revenue, but does not require them to do anything about it. The scare-language of the proposals makes it little more than a push-poll that lets people who hate taxes vent. So it's the therapy section of the ballot.

That said, it is nice to see a bit of transparency in our state legislature, so there's that. You really want to know what they're up to. We just need to find a better way to do it other than leading the ballot with this lead block of a vote.

Advisory Vote No. 39 Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5974 will increase the tax on aircraft fuel from 11 to 18 cents.  Will that cost get passed onto consumers? Probably. But then I have never known any business to drop prices as a result of getting a tax break, a subsidy, or a rate freeze. Vote Maintained. 

Advisory Vote No. 40 Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2076 will put premiums on ride-share operations to provide worker's comp to their gig employees. The ride-sharing companies are good with this. The unions are good with this. Oh yeah, I'm good with this. Vote Maintained.

And that's it - less than usual, but the fact that this sort of thing headlines the ballot may explain why a lot of people don't want to deal voting at all.

More later,

Saturday, October 22, 2022

The Political Desk Returns!

<Cracks knuckles> OK, let's do this.

The ballots have shown up here at Grubb Street for the upcoming general elections in Washington State, and you're going to have to endure a bunch of relatively short recommendations for the next week. Hey, it's a tradition by now.

Let me start off by sending you in the direction OTHER people's recommendations and endorsements. The Seattle Times tends to be pro-business and centerish, and has been piling up their endorsements over time. The Stranger is leftish, hates cars, loves density, and is actually reported on races south of SODO this time, which is nice. Interestingly enough, these two major media outlets have been agreeing on a lot of candidates. Go figure.

There are currently 11 judgeships up on my ballot - State Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and District Court. All of the candidates in these races are running unopposed. I don't know if that's because we are cool with the idea of checking in the judges every so often and then just renewing their contracts, or we just don't have anyone interested in running against them. In any event, Grubb Street does not endorse in single-candidate elections, other than congratulating to those who get another term. If you happen to have multiple candidates on YOUR ballot, Voting For Judges is a good source of info, though they are still adding to their database at this late date..

Surprisingly, there are no referendums or initiatives on the ballot this year. Further There are also no local offices this time out for my locality. That's cool. I appreciate the break.

Where do we stand here at Grubb Street? We lean politely left. We even verge on our good days towards positively progressive. As such, we will not be consciously endorsing any Republicans this cycle. Now, not all Republicans are the current whackadoodles that show up on FOX and right-wing radio, denying elections, vaccines, and rights for other human beings. But those of the GOP that are not in this broad category don't have any problem support the ones who are. The saying is that Democrats have to fall in love, Republicans have to fall in line. 

Looking at the rest of the local media blogroll,  Crosscut put together a nice overview, the Urbanist talks about a smattering of race related to their city management viewpoint, and the West Seattle Blog talks about the proposed changes to Seattle voting procedures. Progressives are here. Conservation voters are here.  I'll update this entry to keep you in the loop should others chime in.

And, of course, here is the Voters' Guide, in case one hasn't shown up in your mailbox.

 As always, I encourage people to be informed voters - check sources and make the best decision. You may not agree with me, but that's cool. That's why I am not God-King of Cascadia. Yet.

But avoid the whackadoodles. Seriously.

More later, 

Friday, October 21, 2022

Book: Through A Lass, Darkly

 Woman In The Dark by Dashiell Hammett: A Novel of Dangerous Romance, Originally published 1933, Alfred A Knopf. 1988.

Provenance: Purchase from the Tacoma Book Center. The Book Center is a small bunkerlike building in the shadow of the Tacoma Dome. However, it is a TARDIS, in that once you enter, you find walls upon walls of books, concealed levels and hidden back rooms that seem to go on for much longer than the building itself. The shelves are high, overstuffed, and extremely well-organized. Eventually, once the light rail from Seattle gets down there, the neighborhood will be upgraded to the point that a bookstore like this would no longer be able to afford its space, and it will become a Chipotle or something, but in the meantime, it is a place that I go to find stuff I cannot find elsewhere.

Review: This book is very slight. To call it a novel is to seriously round up, as it was originally a three-part short story published in Liberty magazine in 1933. Tack on an intro by mystery writer Robert B Parker that ties it into Hammett's relationship with Lillian Hellman, bump up the spacing, give it wide margins and a header bar, and ... it's still a very slight book.

The story itself is Hammett distilled down to its basics. It almost feels like a script treatment padded out to a magazine submission. It is seriously a three-act structure. Chase the hero up the tree. Throw rocks at him. Get him down. Brazil, our hero, is in his cottage with his girlfriend when a babe in a tattered dress stumbles in, followed by her politically powerful boyfriend and one of his goons. Fight breaks out, the goons is injured, maybe fatally. Girl and Brazil go on the run because he can't go back to prison, but the powerful guy's people catch up with them. Brazil takes a bullet, looks like the bad guys win, and then we rally and get a rapid (one-page), last-minute denouement. 

It's Hammett at the core - Brazil is a tough former con who has his own code but sticks his neck out for nobody. The babe is the powerful guy's mistress on the run, doing what she must to survive. The cops are corrupt, the little people helpful criminals. The powerful guy? Psychotic but with pull. The writing? Punchy. It could have been a movie in 1933. 

It's lesser Hammett, but still Hammett. Probably exists in some collection of shorts as opposed to a single hardback. A good read, but nothing to go out your way for. Nice a discovery in a used bookstore that is bigger than it seems to be, and that's it.

More later, 

Monday, October 17, 2022

Book: Last Dragon, First Wizard

Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons by Ben Riggs, St. Martin's Press, 2022

Provenance: Birthday present, 2022. Read while at the Alderbrook Resort.

Review: This one is going to be a little weird for me. When I reviewed the authoritative works of Jon Peterson on early RPGs - here, here, and here, I could safely dodge out the side door by noting that his history ended before I really showed up on the scene. At best I am that guest-star that shows up in the second mid-credit scene after a Marvel movie. 

Not so here. I am definitely in this book. I was a source for Ben, and continue to be for some of his articles. Some of the stories in this book are mine. I stand behind what I said. They are the "truth" as in "Yep, I said this, mostly."

Those previous histories are origin stories - they start with the Castle & Crusade society and Gary's basement and the Horticulture Hall in Lake Geneva. and move up along the timeline to Gary losing control of the company to Lorraine Williams. Riggs covers that territory to give a base-line, but deals primarily with the Williams years - 1985 through 1997, when she in turn sold the company (through a roundabout manner) to Peter Adkison and Wizards of the Coast. It was a time of Second Edition and Forgotten Realms and best-selling novels and regular layoffs and crises. 

And there are a lot of witnesses and sources. I know my own stories, and I can identify a few of the others Riggs talked to by the tales that are told. And he talked to a lot of people. His history is well-sourced and no one individual's. By the same token, there are a lot stories remembered from 40 years ago, and the speakers (myself included) actually had the JOB of telling stories, so we need to take things with a suitably-sized grain of salt. Riggs recognizes this, and there is a good deal of "Jeff says this, but Flint disagrees with him". And that's a good thing. Our memories often play us false - Steve Winter and I spent an hour one evening trying to figure out the seating chart on the 3rd floor of the Hotel Clair, where the designers and editors were quartered. We couldn't quite put it together.

Also backing up all the anecdotes, Riggs had the numbers. I THINK he had access to the green sheets, which were our sales histories for all the products. They were huge printouts on green and white paper, hence the name green sheets. For a while the designers would get a set every month (and this was until 1989, since I did have the numbers for the Marvel boxed sets at one point). Then they stopped. It looks like Riggs got access to them (or more accurate info) and could track sales (and profitability) of the various products. And often the facts would cross over what the storytellers said.

Riggs is even-handed. Not all the traditional villains in the regular stories are villainous, and not all the heroes heroic in all situations. That's fair as well. 

Reading the book brought back a lot of memories of my time at TSR, not all of them good. There are a lot of stories untold by this volume. Dragon Dice. Dawizard. The Christmas our bonus consisted of a discount coupon on a turkey (not even a turkey, but a discount coupon). Various executives who were let go right after buying a house in the area. And some good things as well. Radio Free Roger. Quote of the Day. Peter, when he took over the company, not only returning the original art to the artists, but also tracking down the original designers of the SPI games he inherited and returned their rights as well. And pranks, like the time when Lorraine stole Design VP Mike Cook's brand new Aerostar (he was very proud of it), loaded it into a truck, and got him down to the loading dock claiming he had to "See what Random House had just returned." The back gate of the truck then dropped to reveal his brand new vehicle.

This is an important book in that it covers the period between the Gygaxian years and the Adkisonian era. Riggs may toss the word "genius" around a bit much (and sometime in my direction) but we did have a fantastic crew of creatives working there at the time, and there are more stories to be told.It is a worthy addition to the behind-the-scenes lore of TSR. And now we need to launch into the WotC years, the history of Magic, and the eventual sale to Hasbro. 

More later,

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Play: Civics Class

 What the Constitution Means To Me by Heidi Schreck, Directed by Oliver Butler, Seattle REP through 23 October.

Last Sunday, we abolished the Constitution, but more about that later.

What the Constitution Means to Me is sort of a one-person show, but it isn't, really. The initial framework is a series of debates sponsored by the American Legion where young people debated in front of veteran's groups for cash prizes. Playwright Heidi Scheck performed in these debates as a kid, and used the prize money to go to college (state school, thirty years ago). As a result, she developed a deep love with the Constitution, but in the years since realized that it wasn't the the great document that she thought it was, particularly when it dealt with people who were not male, Caucasian, hetero, and land-holding. In this way it is similar to the previous Where We Belong which featured a woman who loved Shakespeare, but realized that the Bard did not love her, or her heritage, back.

But the Legionnaire's debate is just a framework. Cassie Beck as  Heidi soon expands the argument into a deep examination of her own life and the lives of her maternal ancestors. And she comes up with the conclusion that the Constitution is not the protective document of equality that we need it to be. She returns to the debate repeatedly to use it as a jumping off point for other stories from her family's history, and makes the case about the failures of this document over history. Gabriel Marin is the Legionnaire moderator who is supposed to keep the debate on track, but is eventually relegated to muteness by Heidi's experience.

And then the discussion changes. Heidi discards her young persona and speaks as a grown woman, then the actress Beck steps outside the role of Heidi to talk about hers. Then Marin steps out of his role as the moderator to discuss his own experiences. Then we bring Mara Gonzalez Moral, a local high school student, out to debate whether the Constitution itself should be abolished (The debate was excellent, by the way - I never want to get into an argument with Mara Gonzalez Moral). Then a member of the audience was chosen to vote on who won (Abolish, argued by Ms. Moral, carried the day). 

The performances were top-notch, and Beck carries the brunt of the play as Heidi. Marin shines when he steps out of character. Ms. Moral is incredibly sharp and light on her rhetorical feet. The set design is imposing, immobile, and very, very male - the interior of an American Legion hall, the walls lined with the imposing photos of white (overwhelmingly), men (almost exclusively) in uniform. 

So what does the Constitution mean to me? Its not a melting pot or a quilt. Because I view things from my standing as a designer. It is an operating system, and the Bill of Rights is the day one patch. The additional amendments are ongoing updates, which remove exploits (Yeah, black people are people, not property) and nerf bad ideas (I'm looking at you, three-fifths compromise). The performance touches on Jefferson's quote that the Constitution should be rewritten every twenty years, I say that with amendments we can engage in continual updates and improvement without that timetable. We have a solid foundation, we just need to expand on it, and to interpret it to the advantage of all citizens. So I would have voted Keep (but the Abolish arguments were pretty solid).

And here's the thing - we CAN make it worse. Let's go back to "originalist" thinking and restrict the franchise to those who originally held it - not just white, but Northern European White (maybe French, and sure let the Nordic provinces in). Various shades of Protestant. Definitely male. And they have to own property. Renters? Right out. Have a mortgage? Sorry, you don't really own your land - the bank owns it. In fact, the bank gets to vote on your behalf. Corporations are people as far as free speech? They get your vote instead. We can even dress it up like corporate shareholder meetings - you get to vote, but everyone who does not vote has their votes decided by the Board of Directors. Now that paves the way to a cyberpunk universe.

So, back to the play itself. Not your standard play, nor a true one-person monologue. Deeply personal on many levels. Well-done and harrowing in places. Extremely well done. Worth the Sunday afternoon. 

More later, 

Sunday, October 09, 2022

Game Tsundoku

 So during my recent "break" I've picked up a lot of books, fully intending to read them. As a result I about fifty pages in on a half-dozen works of fiction and nonfiction that will either be finished or confined to my shelf of abandoned books. In Japan, this is called tsundoku (apparently - "letting books pile up.")

Ditto games. Between lurking around brick and mortar game stores and Kickstarters fulfilling, I have a new collection of RPG books that have shown up. And many are for games I do not play or will not have any opportunity to play. Most, though, are good reads. 

Oh, and as always, I am commenting on them of first appearance. I read part of them, but in no way do I delve deeply enough to give a full and proper review (I really think you need to play games to really review them). As always, be aware and be warned.

AND, since someone asked, the photo is taken with them displayed on my living room coffee table, which resting atop my living room's hardwood floor. The table (and a lot of the living room furniture) is from a mall store called "This End Up" from 40-some years ago, which specialized in furniture that looked like repurposed shipping crates. I call the style "Early Indestructible".

Let's see what we have. 

Beyond the Ring (Kate Baker, Christine Beard, Jim Cornwell, Crystal Frasier, Steve Kenson, Ian Lemke, Jason Mical, James Semple, and Pete Woodworth, Edited by Josh Vogt and Evan Sass, Green Ronin Publishing, 128 page hardbound) I picked this up at Olympic Cards and Comics down in Lacey. Stan! Brown and I make a road trip down there every three months or so, and this was one of the pieces I picked up. Now, it is highly unlikely that I am going to play a session of The Expanse RPG, but I really, really, like their sourcebooks. They are well-written and well-presented and do a great job pulling me into the universe. This volume moves the story (they're based on the novels as opposed to the TV adaptation) past the point where the galaxy is suddenly opened to human settlement, and the effects thereof. Includes rules for creating your own brave new worlds. Nice job.

Terror of Octobernomicon (Daniel Purcell, Francesca McMahon, Marek Golonka, Helen Yau, Walter Attridge, and William Adcock, edited by Mike Wilson with Lisa Padol, Golden Goblin Press in associating with, 112 page softbound) This Kickstarter one was supposed to showcase new talent in conjunction with, and I was surprised that it disappoints in comparison with other books from Golden Goblin. Going through the first couple adventures, there are some logic flaws, the art is not up to the quality of previous releases, and it suffers from the "The Curse of Cthulhu" with the maps - the maps don't really match up with the text descriptions. The mythos creatures are new and nice additions to the system, but I'm not sure how they fit in with their adventures.

Wildsea (Felix Isaacs, Mythopoeia Publishing in association with Quillhound Studios, 368 page hardbound) This was a Kickstarter and the final product was pretty impressive-looking. The setup is that the world where plants have gone wild, covering everything with toxic mile-high trees. You are a sailor on a ship that cuts through the top layer of this canopy. The character races that have grown up in this world include humans, cactus-people, and humanoid spider colonies. It has a lot of really wild ideas, and its engine ("Wild Worlds") seems to descend from the Blades in the Dark side of the gaming universe. The book itself is impressive, a hardback in landscape (long-wise) presentation. Yeah, this is one I'm going to cruise through.

Spelljammer Adventures in Space (Christopher Perkins, Wizards of the Coast, three 64-page hardbound books with DM's screen, slipcase) I will fess up - I actually ended up buying a copy at the Mox Boarding House after most of my local stores had sold out. I understand some of the grognard grumbling - the page count is just about the same as the version we did mumble-de-mumble years ago, but the production values are extremely high - three hardbacks and a GM screen in a slip-case. And there is a lot of room for independent designer expansion in the form of the DM's Guild. I was surprised that they did not continue the ship design ideas that they first played with in Ghosts of Saltmarsh hardback, but that's their call. I'm happy with what we did all those years ago, and pleased to see that it has made a bit of a comeback.

Shotguns and Sorcery (Matt and Marty Forbeck, Full Moon Enterprises, 280 page hardbound) This was a Kickstarter, with a nice autograph from the authors, father and son Forbeck. There have been a previous number of incarnations of this project (Cypher System from Monte Cook Games), short stories) and this is the most recent, for 5E. The setting shares the background with games like Lost Citadel - the world is fallen, and all that remains of civilization is one city. Unlike Lost Citadel, it is moved a bit forward in tech (more gunpowder weapons) and sets up a tiered social system - goblins at the lowest levels, a dragon acting as the protector at the top. The game has a lot of noir sensibilities, but the art, title, and sepia-toned cover takes me more in the direction of fantasy western. Looking forward to digging in deeper.

Book of Ebon Tides (Wolfgang Baur, Celeste Conowitch, Kobold Press, 256 page hardbound) This was a gift from one of the authors, and I am delighted by it. I have been tangentially brushing up against the Plane of Shadow for years, as it was the source of many monsters in 1E but never fit in neatly to the established planar arrangements (I ultimately made it a demiplane, which undersells it). The Book of Ebon Tides gives me a LOT to play with - new spells, classes, peoples, godlings, fey courts, shadow roads and lots of opportunities. It links up nicely with Kobold Press's Midgard setting but works for your campaign as well. Adds a lot of depth. This is one I am reading (and probably looting).

Sand and Dust: The Arrakis Sourcebook (Andrew Peregrine, Morphius Entertainment, 152 Page hardbound) The core RPG (Dune, Adventures in the Imperium) swallowed the entire Dune mythos (including the books by Frank's Herbert's son) in one fell swoop. This one drills down on Dune, the planet Arrakis, the desert planet, the home of spice, the most important substance in the universe. The setting talks about other eras, but concentrates mostly on the Harkonian years before the Atreides take over and kick off the first novel. This is a system I will read but never play, but the source material is cool. 

Historica Arcanum: The City of Crescent (Sarp Duyar, Metis Creative, 410 Page hardbound) This was a Kickstarter, and is the sort of thing I really support - cultural RPG products created by people of those particular cultures. In this case, the book is set in a fantasy 1850's Istanbul by a publisher out of Turkey. A good part of it is a major adventure involving a variety of factions and politics, with additional material to fill out the background. The format is A4 (which is taller than American hardbacks), the paper is thick and glossy, and the graphic design is excellent. One thing I wish I did get was a smaller bound-in map of the city itself, which would help with the navigation. A lot of stuff going on in the text, but my favorite part is where they note what they were lying about regarding 1850's Istanbul, in particular the fact that in 1850 Istanbul WAS Constantinople.

And that's it for now, More later when I accumulate another table's worth.

Thursday, October 06, 2022

Play: Odd Couple

 Swimming While Drowning by Emilio Rodriguez. Directed by Roy Arauz, Arts West, through 23 October.

Much to the delight of the people of Seattle, the bridge to West Seattle has opened again, and we can now reach out to that pleasant and distant oasis. With the start of the new season of Arts West, the Lovely Bride and I headed out for dinner at a favorite sushi place and a play. En route, the restaurant called on the LB's cell, and we were told that they had an unexpected plumbing prob and had to cancel service for the evening. We rallied and ended up at a Greek place called Phoenecia where we dined on small plates of lamb, green beans, hummus, and burrata cheese. And then theatre.

The play itself was... OK. A two person one-act, which already doubles the manpower of the Rep's initial outing. The plot is slight - two young teens in a gay homeless shelter quarreling and eventually building a relationship and making themselves better. Angelo (Gabriel FitzPatrick) is perky, newly runaway, sensitive, and a would-be poet. Milia (Broderick Ryans) has been on the streets longer, is toughened up, and for much of the early going just wants to be left alone. The stakes are fairly low, but very personal, and the two come to terms with who they are and where they want to be going.

The actors are fine. FitzPatrick has the greater challenge in that his character is extremely irritating in that persistent, relentlessly perky way. Ryans is more grounded as a character, and his Milia is always reacting to Angelo's continuing attempts at engagement. The two bicker, warm up to each other, sleep, leave, share their past, and eventually make their own choices. Angelo's initial poem, delivered flat and unadorned, grows over time to show the character's own personal growth at the end. The staging is good, isolating the room in the shelter on a small, uneven platform, surrounded by the tables and chairs of a nightclub performance space.

And it was ... OK. It will not really re-align your worldviews. The LB was reminded about real-world people we've known over the years - teens and others who we homeless and troubled, so it touched her. And that's pretty much the baseline for a good experience. 

More later,