Saturday, September 23, 2023

Play: Bromance

 Matt & Ben by Mindy Kaling & Brenda Withers, Directed by Zenaida Rose Smith, Arts West through October 1, 2023

The play season has begun for us in West Seattle. Actually, it begun two weeks ago - we usually catch opening night but misplaced the online tickets in a file folder, so we showed up to the theater two weeks late, but did get a great dinner at Mashiko almost-next-door-to-the-theater (and who remembered us from previous times - so I guess we're regulars now). 

The story about how the movie Good Will Hunting came to be is covered in detail in the Wikipedia article. This isn't that story. It's nowhere NEAR that story. Instead this is a story about how buddies Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, struggling slacker actors, suddenly had the copy of their future masterwork literally drop into their laps, and the stresses that promise of future success puts on their friendship. They are a nineties oddish-couple. Matt is the plotter, achievement-driven and control freak. Ben is the pantser, goofy sidekick, and good luck charm. They argue about stupid things. They are visited by famous spirits. They screw up, fight each other, reconcile, and are ultimately rewarded with the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. Feel good story.

And it did not work for us (yeah, the Lovely Bride agrees with me on this one - usually we get a split decision when one of us doesn't like something). Maybe its the fact that she and I have been collaborators IRL, or simply that neither one of us saw Good Will Hunting, despite its many awards. Maybe the only idea I had of Matt & Ben's personal chemistry was their turn in Kevin Smith's Dogma. Maybe we're just, you know, OLD. But the play felt unmoored (shifting between story-telling and living in the events) and at the same time predictable (a lot of sequences ending in someone saying they will leave, but not leaving). It was OK, but simply OK.

The actors, though, were really, really good. Nabilah Ahmed was an excellent Matt, recognizing his tendency to overcontrol but not able to handle when things are not organized his way. Jacquelyn Miedema has a tougher row to hoe in the goofy sidekick Ben, the lesser of the two. Matt is the brains, Ben is the heart, and the play needed the chance to show that more. Both of the characters are goofs, and the physical comedy as they fly around the cluttered apartment set are the highpoints of the play. Miedema also creates a slinky Gwyneth Paltrow and Nabilah a world-weary JD Salanger, ghosts of future and past who visit the two. The actors? Just fine.

Ultimately, this was average. I made my peace early on in the performance that this was not going to be a play about writing the movie, and Matt & Ben were at best caricatures of Damon and Affleck. But with all that stripped away, the core relationship was kinda light, and barely sustained its 90 minute run time. 

More later, 

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Book: Damp Squib

Uncle Dynamite by PG Wodehouse WW Norton & Company, 1948

Provenance: Half-Price Books. This was a whim purchase a few months back, while I was looking for something else. That happens sometimes. OK, that happens a LOT.

Review: It is a well-known fact that I am a big Wodehouse fan, but even I must admit there is greater Wodehouse and just-average Wodehouse. Greater Wodehouse just drips with class-system wackiness, sly banter, and preposterous situations. Wooster and Jeeves stories are the hallmarks of this, but we also see good examples out of Blandings Castle as well. Greater Wodehouse thrives in the interwar years, where makes a fanciful portrayal of a world a short train trip or tram ride from the city hustings of the author and the audience.

Just-average Wodehouse still has the brilliance of language and the twistiness of plots, but it feels like the pilot-light has gone out. And part of it is that Wodehouse created a space in which he could write stories, and those stories in turn have defined his output. Having built his own personal genre, he was now bound by it. He could write gloomy reflections on the intangible nature of the soul, but it probably would not sell in the pages of the Saturday Evening Post

Anyway, the story at hand. Uncle Dynamite is Uncle Fred, a local lord (Frederick Altamont Cornwallis Twistleton , 5th Earl of Ickenham) of WC Fields disposition (though of slenderer build), and notable for drinking, gambling, creating a general nuisance, and getting up in other peoples' business. He uses that last talent for what (he presumes) is good, such as trying to put lovebirds back together and pilfering statuary busts containing gems that a young lady hopes to smuggle into New York without those bothersome tariffs (such Macguffins abound in these stories). Uncle Fred lies effortlessly, takes on false identities, and then imposes additional false identities on others. Uncle Fred is a recurring a number of stories by Wodehouse. If it was reincarnated today, the entire canon would be called the Wodehousiverse, and get five separate shows on Netflix.

The stock characters are here, a commedia dell'arte set in the green and pleasant lands, a day's motorcar drive from the Smoke. Here we find the headstrong young woman, the young man who can't quite figure out how he got engaged, the shy, blundering lunk, the petty tyrant lord of the manor, the long-suffering wife, and the stiff-necked constable. There are mix-ups and false identities and numerous petty burglaries. One of the charms of the book is watching Dudley dig himself out of one obvious prevarication while setting himself up for the next.  

And it works. All the pieces slide into place, one lie leads to another leads to a third effortlessly, and the clueless young man finds himself dancing around exploding revelations. If this was a sitcom, it was a very nice episode.  I would not say that the author is coasting, but I think he has tamped on the brakes a bit too hard. 

This was written after the war, after Wodehouse soiled his reputation by doing light, airy radio broadcasts from a German POW camp. Post-war Wodehouse tends to be nostalgic, pining for an age that no longer exists in a land the author cannot return to. Manor houses, train stations, smuggling diamonds all belong to another era, a black-and-white film of a lost period where serialized stories lived in the glossy magazines. It's good, but not Greater Wodehouse.

But even OK Wodehouse has its moments - this is worst pun I have encountered yet:

"Yes, my dead wife, I am glad to say, continues in the pink. I've just been seeing her off on the boat at Southampton. She is taking a trip to the West Indies."


"No, she went of her own free will."

Try the fish, and remember to tip your waitstaff. More later,

Thursday, September 14, 2023

New Arrivals: Green and Pleasant Lands

A large collection this time, as Kickstarters resolve and I take another quarterly trip to Gabi's Olympic Cards and Comics down in Lacey with Stan! And in the time I've taken to write this up, two more Kickstarters have shown up, so I need to write these up before I am buried by them.

One of the ongoing challenges to Kickstarters is shipping. I grumbled previously how there are now added costs in Kickstarter as everyone tacks shipping on later in the process. And that sadly is part of the modern world. But another component of this is that everyone seems to have a different method of finalizing fulfillment. I've already dropped the ball on a couple Kickstarters where I got the process gumbled up, and am dropping one which requires me to use Paypal (sorry - very untrustworthy platform, would not link it to my bank account). That's more than a pity.

Looking over this season's crop of games, I am struck by how many of them are in England. I have King Arthur's Britain, Queen Victoria's Britain, Mythos Britain and Roman Britain (with a good chunk of Mythos on the side). There are also five projects in the Mythos/Horror vein as well. So I may have a "type" in my gaming purchases. 

Anyway, here's a bunch of games.

Old Gods of Appalachia Roleplaying Game, by Shanna Germain and others, 416-page hardbound, Deep Nerd Media/Monte Cook Games, 2023. Kickstarter. The game is based on the impressive and award-winging horror podcast of the same name from Cam Collins and Steve Shell. It is set in an alternate Appalachia (the mostly-rural mountains which run between Tennessee and New York State), where dark things dwell in the runs, creeks, and glens. Several colleagues worked on it, including some that have a heritage from that part of the world. The book looks fantastic and the rules are MSG's Cypher system, but backgrounded in favor of the flavor and color. This is one I've been looking forward to, since I am a native of Pittsburgh (A metropolitan anomaly in those mountains), I've hiked some of these regions as a boy scout and as a surveyor, and I still have all my Foxfire books in the basement. Looking forward to digging in.

The Book of The New Jerusalem, An Occult Miscellany of England by Paula Dempsey, 264-page softbound digest, Pelgrane Press, 2022. Olympia Cards and Comics. Call of Cthulhu has always have been heavy on the handouts, which is one of the pluses for the setting. Pelgrane Press's Trail of Cthulhu (similar universe, different mechanics) issues entire BOOKS as support material. This heavy little tome supports their Fearful Symmetries campaign, and in addition is a sequel/prequel to another volume, Book of the Smokes, which involves ANOTHER campaign. I have none of these other works, but find Book of the New Jerusalem to be an excellent tour of rural England in the 1920s, which is filled to the brim with supernatural encounters and adventure hooks for potential GMs (and it was the second encounter of "headless bears" in a single week). How much is pulled from existing folklore and how much is made up for moment, I really don't care - it is pretty darn impressive. 

Cults of Runequest Vol 1:The Prosopaedia by Greg Stafford, Jeff Richard, Dandy Peterson & Katrin Dirim, 152-page hardback, Chaosium Inc, 2023. Olympia Cards and Comics.  Runequest is my favorite RPG that I've never played, and I have been following its projects off and on ever since White Bear/Red Moon. Its cosmology is so peopled and varied that it often leaves me mildly confused (yeah, and I'm the guy behind Manual of the Planes). So this is a welcome start to sorting everything out. It is a simply a listing of all the gods/divines/powers of Glorantha, and is an good overview of the grounds, before they drill down into the various pantheons and portfolios.

Dragonbane: Mirth and Mayhem Roleplaying by Tomas Harenstam and others, Boxed set, Free League. Kickstarter.  Free League Produces some of the best-looking products in the business, and Dragonbane is no exception. This is a good-sized box with 112-page rules, 116-page adventure book, stand-ups, maps, a solitaire adventure, and special dice. The game is a German descendent of an adaption of Chaosium's Magic World (itself an early BRPG product), and I am very interested in knowing more about the intermediate evolutionary steps, as there is a lot here that echoes development in both CoC and D&D over the past 30 years. It bills itself as a "Game of Mirth and Mayhem", though I'm not sure if that is quite on target (It does have sentient ducks, which are likely a heir to early Runequest). But its approach is hardly that of "grimdark" fantasy, and it echoes the early D&D boxed sets with a positive, heroic, and active approach to adventuring. Perhaps I need a new word for this type of play - Brightheart? Shimmerlight?

Pendragon Starter Set, by Greg Stafford, Boxed Set, Chaosium Inc. 2023.  Boxed set.  Olympia Cards and Comics. An excellent introduction to the upcoming Pendragon revision, which I have played, and have enjoyed the support material as well. The thin box is packed with a46-page solo adventure, 66-page rules/setting book, a 50-page adventure, appendices, pre-gen characters, battle cards, and dice, and is an affordable (Thirty dollars, compared to 60-buck hardbacks) entry into the world. It looks like they have tidied up the mechanics of the elder versions, while keeping concepts unique to the game like seasonal play (creating multi-year campaigns) and paired traits. Probably will spring this on my regular group.

Cthulhu Hack by Paul Baldowski,156-page softbound digest, Just Crunch Games, 2023, Kickstarter. The Cthulhu Mythos gets a lot of gaming variants. There is the original CoC, a d20 version, Trail of Cthulhu, and this one, which is a Hack. Hacks are a subgenre in themselves, and tend to shorter, self-contained game, with limited scope, and easier mechanics. This one has built on those base principles, in that it uses the standard abilities as saving throws, adds depletable investigative resources like "Smokes" and "Flashlights", and various die sizes for resolution, similar to Margaret Weis's Cortext system. But to be honest his one leaves me a little off-put, though, in that it arrived with AI art in the credits. Now, the lead (sole) artist is also the art director, they made a donation in kind to an artists fund, and if you're going to make lumpy, unspeakable, uneven-looking creatures, Midjourney fits the bill nicely. Still, it makes me feel uncomfortable, and not in a rugose and squamous way. And yeah, it wasn't mentioned in the original Kickstarter, and (checking) they did address it in the comment section, but it opens up a can of worms for me about artistic responsibility in these purchases, and will affect future purchases from this group. 

Britannia & Beyond: A Setting Guide to the Province of Britannia and the Barbarian Lands of Caledonia and Hibernia for Cthulhu Invictus by Stuart Bloom and others, 142-page softbound, Golden Goblin Press, 2023, Kickstarter. This one has been a little late, for a number of reasons including illness from the guy running the Golden Goblin Press, which is a challenge to all operations large and small (Hope you make a smooth recovery). Britain itself is a effectively a Subgenre of Cthulhu subgenre, and Roman-era Cthulhu is a sub-sub-genre (see projects like Lex Arcana, for example). Golden Goblin picked up the Cthulhu Invictus torch and has been producing excellent material, and in this case takes its OWN tour of supernatural Britain. This can work well with New Jerusalem, I think. It is texturally dense, as most Invictus books are, though the font is a little thin and they've gone from a glossy stock of the original book to a non-gloss stock. Still, well worth the wait. 

Marvel Multiverse Role-Playing Game Core Rulebook by Matt Forbeck, 320-page hardback, Marvel Worldwide, 2023, Midgard Comics. Midgard is my local comics shop, and carries games as well. Like a lot of stores, it manages a large playing space for gaming and runs Magic and D&D games. It's a good place, and the have a new puppy (Miles) but that's not relevant to the current discussion. I talked about the Alpha version of this a few months back, and this is the finished draft. And there is a lot here, and a lot more that can be here. We're talking about 130 characters from the Marvel Universe, and, the way they have defined super-powers (specific applications within broad categories) means there are a dozen different super-powers all gathered within the heading "spider-powers", (including using your webbing to make a glider). And that doesn't cover everything - there will more to come with expansions and adventures. One disappointment is that the hardback lacks an initial adventure, but that should show up soon as well. [Update 9/19 - Ask and ye shall receive, true believer. Here's a free adventure, which is an update of the Playtest adventure. Also Errata and a FAQ.]

StokerVerse Roleplaying Game by Chris McAuley and others, 208 page hardback, Nightfall Games, 2023, Kickstarter. I am spending way too much time in England, apparently. Here we are in London of the 1890s. Gaslight territory. Set in an world evolved out of the classic Bram Stoker novel by the author's great-grandnephew, Dacre, the game features the Famous Monsters of Public Domain - Drac, Frankenstein's Monster, Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, all given a unified backstory.  The game uses the "S5S" system using d10s for task resolution. The presentation is solid with a full-color interior that is mostly red. A lot of red.

Venture Maidens by Celeste Conowitch, 224 page hardback, 2C Gaming, 2022, Kickstarter. Good campaign settings come out of long-standing campaigns. Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk are good examples. With the explosion of live-play and podcasts, we have a lot more personal game campaigns that turn into published campaign settings. Tal'Dorei comes to mind, and now Venture Maidens, which blossoms from a "femme-forged podcast." The world has a couple interesting angles, in that it has a more morphic, dynamic cosmology, where the the mortal world is slowly being consumed by the fae lands. In addition, there is a "heroic destiny" mechanic which creates some interesting long-term play effects, which makes sense for social, multi-season adventures. Even without these, the book is crammed with backgrounds, treasures, and beasties, and the production values are at WotC-levels. I picked it up on a whim, and am glad I did.

And that's it for now. Wait, SOMETHING ELSE just showed up on my doorstep? OK, we'll save that for next time.

More later,

Sunday, September 10, 2023


I've been thinking about how we played the game under REALLY Old School Rules:

The DM kept track of your hit points

It mattered if dungeon doors were push or pull.

You could spend 5 minutes of game time trying to open a dungeon door (badly).

Adventuring groups with 12 or more people.

Classroom dungeons.

Caller. Mapper. Party Leader. Three different people at the table.

There was no saving throw for Level Drain.

You paid attention to encumbrance.

You paid attention to weapon length.

You paid attention to weapon speed.

You tried to work with segments. Briefly.

If you had a 2-handed broadsword in a corridor, you were fighting alone.

Fumbles hit an available ally.

You never fired a missile weapon into melee.

You had group initiative.

You told the DM what you were doing, THEN rolled initiative.

You went through multiple characters in a single night.

3d6, no rerolls.

You traded strength for intelligence.

You got an XP bonus for a high primary stat.

Cleric, Fighting Man, and Magic-User.

Thief was a new thing.

No new classes – only subclasses.

Every new subclass is now a kit.

New subclasses just happened to be the characters on the cartoon show.

Someone really was willing to play a Cavalier.

Someone wanted to play a new class from DRAGON.

Someone wanted to play a new class from The Strategic Review (TSR).

Witch was a character class.

Alchemist was a character class.


Reincarnation was pretty much a career-ender.

Players kept a bank account with the local temple to cover resurrections.

The dungeon was within walking distance. Sometimes it was in town.

Dungeons sorted their monsters by level beneath the surface.

Overland encounters were not.

It was safer to adventure in a dungeon than overland.

Level meant the character level. Also the spell level. Also the level of the dungeon floor.

You ran a Magic-User with one hit point.

You ran a Fighter with one hit point.

Someone started identifying a characters with a number. Same name, different number.

You could leave your equipment to your next character in your will.

The Paladin was obligated to kill a Thief.

Someone played an Assassin. Once.

Your Ranger got followers. And got them all killed.

Lightning bolts bounced.

Fireballs filled the available space.

Rot grubs as anti-thief door protection.

Pits killed player characters.

You ran, the monster got a free attack on you.

Only Thieves could open locks. Or climb walls.

Thieves could climb walls like Spider-Man.

Demons had types.

Negative armor class.

There was a beautiful witch, but no stats.

Someone at the table had read John Carter of Mars and understood references to Thoats and Green Martians.

There were no stats for Thoats or Green Martians.

You could definitely NOT swim in full plate.

You could DEFINITELY swim in full plate.

You got ONE AD&D hardback rulebook a year. And you LIKED it!

You'd go to GenCon just to get the latest AD&D hardback rulebook.

You had to wait for the DMG to come out to know the official XP for a monster.

You used original books from the little brown box with your new AD&D Monster Manual.

Taking one hit point of damage was a “shaving wound.”

Zero hit points was DEAD. Dead, Dead, DEAD.

You only got XP from killing monsters.

You only got XP from killing monsters and getting gold.

You divided gold by level for XP.

Gold from selling magic items didn’t count to XP.

You discovered what potions did by tasting them.

You would go down the list of potion types, trying each in turn.

You played with a Deck of Many Things.

You discovered that sword was cursed by going into battle with it.

Percent in Liar.

You would find no treasure for a monster with Treasure Type H.

A random bunch of stirges would have massive treasure.

High-roll gets it!

Whether dwarven women had beards was definitely a thing.

Exploding oil.

Kamikaze mules.

The engineering student built a remote chest-opening device.

You had lightsabers. Briefly.

You used critical hit locations. Briefly.

You could see an ogre from a mile away. Then realized it was Steve Jackson's Ogre.

It wasn’t a greatsword. It was a 2-handed broadsword.

Bastard swords were called Hand-and-a-half swords. Also, called Bec De Corbins.

Pole arms.

It wasn’t two-weapon fighting. It was fighting Florentine.

Doors always opened for monsters unless spiked shut.

You brought dungeon rations to drop when fleeing

You brought iron spikes to drop when fleeing rust monsters.

Fighters were afraid of rust monsters.

No one knew was a rust monster looked like.

Bugbears had pumpkin heads

Orcs looked like pigs. Until Jabba the Hutt starting using them.

Leather, Chain, Plate. That’s it. 

Oh yeah, and shields.

If you ran a gnome, it would have been a gnome Illusionist/Thief (or GIT)

If you could make the required minimum stats, you would be an elf.

If you ran an elf, it would a Fighter/Thief/Magic-User.

If someone wore leather armor and had a shield, they were an Assassin.

Standing order - shoot the guys without armor first. They're usually magic-users.

Level limitations on non-humans didn’t matter if you weren’t going to live to 3rd level anyway.

Hirelings with torches.

Horses that disappeared when your group went into combat.

The dungeon was safer than the wilderness.

Clerics only were useful once they reached 2nd level.

High-Level Fighters wearing motorcycle jackets. Mithril studs on the back spell out "10th Level Lords".

Pronouncing "paladin" as "pah-LAY-din".

Pronouncing "chimera" as "Shimmer-rah"

Arguing about the pronunciation of "drow".

Random teleporters inside the dungeon.

Random-rolled dungeon occupants.

Random-rolled spellbooks.

Alignment languages.

You used alignment languages as a de facto Know Alignment spell.

Thieves could spoof magic items.

Skeletons that were animated objects.

Skeletons with electric shocks.

Gas spores.

Neutral Beholders.

Giant Weasels/Hogs.

The Extension spell.

It mattered if the spell was clerical or magical.

Spell descriptions that read "Same as the Clerical spell of the same name, except where noted".

To Hit Armor Class 0 (THAC0) was a new thing.

Different combat tables for different classes.

No one knew what a holy water sprinkler looked like.

Not only were elves immune to ghoul paralysis, they could “unfreeze” fellow party members.

Carrion crawlers were the worst opponent for their hit dice

Psionic player characters meant encountering psionic monsters.

Psionic monsters were horrible for non-psionic players.

Needed a 17+ Charisma to be a paladin.

Percentile strength scores.

No one knew what a kobold looked like. Other than they were short.

Attack Matrixes.

Named Character Levels.

No good 2nd level Magic-User spells.

Paladins with holy swords were immune to magic.

Cloudkill could specifically be used to clean out ant colonies.

Thor had 275 hit points.


Sneak attack for double damage!

A random encounter with 300 bandits. Or 400 gnomes.

Mars mounted upon Talos’ shoulders.

The good old days - they were terrible.

More later,

Friday, September 08, 2023

Game: Critical Response

Critical: Foundation  -  Season One by Yohan Lemonnier and Kristoff Valla Gigamic/Hanchette Boardgames, 2022.

It is the distant, dystopian future of 2035. You are an expert in your particular field (Scientist, Data Analyst, Mercenary), recruited to be part of the Icarus Project, an organization whose goal is to ferret out a high-tech conspiracy. It is a corporate-owned world. You stand on the edge of advanced cybertechnology, nanobots, and AI. And it is always raining.

Critical Foundation - Season One is a self-contained boxed RPG designed to be played in a series of short adventures. Think of it as a TV show, and the subtitle of "Season One" makes sense. Each adventure should run about 30 minutes. Think of it as binging an RPG.

The game is minimalist in design. Character generation consists of choosing one of four characters classes, and which side of the character card you want to represent you (Changes only in gender and some personality traits). Task resolution uses special dice listed one to three, with one face being an auto-fail. Roll dice and add the appropriate skill plus any bonuses for weapons, tools, or traits. It is a pretty simple system. There is no real character advancement after the intro adventure.

The presentation, on the other hand is maximumalist. This is a deep box filled with toys. In addition to the custom dice, the is a GM screen with slots to display cards, a deck of card/handouts presenting scenes and clues from the adventure, and all manner of chits and counters for the game itself. There is a lot in the box, and the GM does not need to reach for outside materials (pencils, scraps of paper) in running it. It is self-contained.

The art is key part of the game, and makes extensive use of hand-out and illustrations to sell the mood and feeling of the game. This art is copious but not always useful. Some of the cards hold vital clues (the note in the lab coat in the card showing the lab) while others are just thematic (Here is a car chase in a rainy city, followed by a car chase on a rainy highway, followed by a car chase in a rainy industrial zone), and some feel extraneous (fold-out of the air ducts of a skyscraper). The GM Screen shows a rainy, neon-lit street scene with a prominent sign declaring "Feet In Your Face!"  Needless to say, this became our team's rallying cry.

The adventure itself is linear and episodic. Your team gets an assignment, you get handed cards for equipment, you go to the location(s) of the episode, discover/fight stuff, and hand the cards back in. The guard rails are up and there are a couple places where only one action can move the plot forward. Failure is not published by death, but merely by a less-satisfying conclusion (someone else comes and rescues you). 

But of course, playing games with game designers is like driving with mechanics. We're continually stopping the car to check out that noise from under the hood. We make suggestions. And we kept trying to go off-road. So for us Critical: Foundation played out over three leisurely nights, which is just a tad longer than advertised. We also forced the GM to check between multiple episodes as we jumped the linear track and got ahead of ourselves, and there were places where he said "Yahknow, the game doesn't have an answer for that". And part of the game is set in Seattle, which we know better than the designers, so we are bringing more to the table than usually expected. 

The adventure's ultimate reveal is a blend of Neuromancer and Casino Royale (the one with Woody Allen). It comes up on you suddenly, and you don't have that much of a clue that it is coming. It definitely feels like a setup for future seasons (which aren't talked about on their site yet). 

All in all, Critical; Foundation - Season One is a good, "lite" RPG, and pushes the lower boundaries of what can be called an RPG. You have character identification, minimal character generation, task and combat resolution by a randomized system, and defined roles of GM and players. It does not require a lot of preliminary work by the GM, and does not require a lot of personal engagement by the players in their characters. It is a pleasant break from more involved RPGs, and good for a couple evening sessions. Go have fun.

More later,

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Game: Hope-less on the High Seas

 Grey Seas Are Dreaming Of My Death: A William Hope Hodgson RPG by Derek Sotak with Kevin Ross and J.R.Hamantashen, 2020

I've previously mentioned (ranted on) the idea that if you're going to review a game, you really should play the game. I didn't run this one, but rather was a player in our regular Saturday Night group, and the adventure was run by Steve Winter. He ran an adventure from out of the booklet itself, so there will be spoilers. 

William Hope Hodgson is not in the first DMG's Appendix N, but is the predecessor and influencer on a lot of them. Most of his work appeared in the first two decades of the 20th century, and Hodgson died in the fourth battle of Ypres in 1918. Yet he was very prolific, and wrote a lot of tales which would influence the later pulp writers. His Carnacki stories set the tone for the "Mystic Detective" character, and his "House on the Borderland" may have influenced the later D&D Module as well as being the inspiration for the pig-faced Orcs. 

But the game concentrates on his Sargasso Sea stories. Hodgson spent many years at sea as a young man, and his maritime experience comes to the fore in his stories. The Sargasso Sea is a region north of the Caribbean where the currents and flora create a region filled with seaweed (sargassum). In the real world, the seaweed is dense but not impassible, but popular imagination (including Hodgson's influence) transformed it to a haunted region of ghost ships, ball lightning, and stranded vessels. 

The game itself keeps the scope small - you are crewmen on a ship. - for our group we had a First Mate, Second Mate, Cook, and Carpenter, but there are other positions available, including Bosun, Cabin Boy, Jonah, and Fungal Human (OK, Steve didn't give that one as an option). Each position has a pregen sheet showing strengths, weaknesses, and a small bennie for that class. The GM acts in the role of Captain, which negates the arguments of who is in charge (mostly). 

The core statistics are Brawn (strength), Nimbleness (dexterity), Perspicacity (wisdom/intelligence), Physique (constitution), Seaworthiness (all ship-based skills), Salt (hit points), Backbone (morale/sanity) and Mettle (luck). Statistics range between 8 and 14, with about 10 being the averages.  Roll Statistic Checks in the game on a d20, rolling low for success, with a 1 being a critical success and a 20 being a critical miss. 

And that is pretty much it. It is not that confusing, though the rule set might make it seem so through extensive use of ALL CAPS and BOLDFACE, for important words, such that the last line of the previous paragraph would read: Roll STATISTIC CHECKS in the game on a d20, rolling low for success, with a 1 being a CRITICAL SUCCESS and a 20 being a CRITICAL MISS. So the system seems tougher than it really is. 

This was a Kickstarter, but we had three copies among the five of us, so we could check rules easily. In addition, most of us are fans of the Master and Commander movie and the various maritime novelists such as Patrick O'Brien and C S Forester, so we were well-positioned in talking a good game (though somehow most of our characters were all named "Jim"). Our ship, the Malandra, was caught in a storm in the Caribbean, and when we fought our way clear, began encountering the remains of ships that were not so fortunate. We found some flotsam. We rescued a half-drowned seaman. We took an abandoned vessel under tow. We found a ship with chanting, mindless cultists on it. And it gets worse.

And that's a thing about Hodgson's stories - they tend to build up slowly to the inevitable final reveal. Something unearthly happens, then there is an attempt to resume normality, then something even more unearthly happens. That's the case here. Kevin Ross, the designer of the scenario, did an excellent job not only capturing the flavor of a Hodgson story, but the pacing as well.

In our case? We all died. TPK. And it was a fair cop. We had access to materials that could have made the situation more survivable, but failed to recognize them at the time. Our GM/Captain is more than willing to allow us to mess ourselves over, neither encouraging or discouraging our decisions (curse you, free will!). However, it made for the an excellent one-evening session, and I would recommend Grey Seas Are Dreaming Of My Death to any RPG group that thrives on Cthulhian horror (before it was Cthulhian).

More later,

Monday, August 21, 2023

Game: Cthulhu at Seven

The Bifurcated 7th Edition
 Call of Cthulhu, Horror Roleplaying in the Worlds of H. P. Lovecraft By Sandy Peterson, with Mike Mason, Paul Fricker, Lynn Willis, and Friends. Chaosium, 7th Edition, 2015

I've said (repeatedly) that to properly review a game you should actually play the game. Otherwise you are reviewing a meal based on the menu, or a movie based on the screenplay. Reviewing without playing can give you some insights, but will not take into account the full product. I will note that there are perils with reviewing RPGs even with playing, as each GM has their own style, and each gaming group has their own strengths and challenges, so one's mileage may differ even within a particular type of review. With all of that in mind, here is my mileage on the mechanics of the most recent edition of Call of Cthulhu.

I have a (mostly) regular Saturday group (when we don't reach quorum, we watch old movies), we have mostly done CoC in its various incarnations over the years, including long sojourns at the Mountains of Madness, on the Orient Express, and girding the globe in Masks of Nyarlathotep. However, we had a interest in taking a new product, Berlin, the Wicked City out for a spin, and that was written for the 7th edition, and I chose to run it in the new edition. We had previous dabbled with it in an organized play adventure, A Time To Harvest, before publication of 7E, but that was run by a colleague, and this was my first chance to run the system myself. 

Most of the earlier editions of the game have been pretty interchangeable - the differences being primarily in presentation and in the skill lists. The game mechanics were pretty well-defined, and old products could easily be run with later editions. I will leave Berlin itself for another review (I have opinions), but let's talk about mechanics of the current Call of Cthulhu

CoC 7 is a different animal than its predecessors. Each edition has been larger than its predecessor, and with 7th it has fully split into two volumes - an Investigator Handbook (Player's Manual) and a Keeper Rulebook (DMG). But the big change is how they evaluate ability scores/characteristics,  which in turn makes changes to combat, and the eliminates the Power/Resistance table. This is a fundamental break with the previous editions, and to the better of the game.

The primary ability scores of earlier editions all built out of a 3d6 roll, like D&D. Some abilities are 2d6 plus 6, but that's a variant. Secondary scores are derived by averaging existing scores, often (Sanity) by multiplying by 5, creating a percentage. Skills are also created as a percentage, and where a skill in not applicable, you multiply a primary score to get a percentage. 

The new edition inverts and unifies that process. You still have abilities in the 3-18 range, but you start off the game by doing the math and multiplying by five for the characteristic. That's your starting percentage. Then you take half of that value and finally a fifth (your original score). All of these numbers go on the character sheet. When you resolve a task, you determine the difficulty and roll percentile dies as before.

That's more numbers on the character sheet, but what this does is create more degrees of success. In 7E we have Regular, Hard, and Extreme degrees of success. This both allow the Keeper (GM) to set levels for tasks, as well as help determine the level of success. I found as a Keeper that I could more accurately describe ability successes in play beyond a binary success/failure. In addition, the player can "push" a failed roll to get another attempt. The push usually consists of some mitigating circumstance in order to allow it, and a second failure indicates something has gone horribly wrong. So we have critical failures, but they are player-instigated.

This is particularly good for opposed rolls, which previously used the Power/Resistance table when dealing with two characters in direct conflict. The Power/Resistance table was a full page table of numbers that could have been an equation (50 + 5 times (Active - Passive characteristic)). The resulting curve (more of a line) sloped off quickly in both directions, such that if your Active Characteristic was more than 3 better than your opponent's, you likely would succeed. Now, each side rolls for against their characteristic, and better degree of success determines who wins. It feels better than the bare-bones comparison of characteristics, and provides a bit more swinginess for evenly-matching opponents.

This methodology also applies to combat as well, and creates a more vibrant combat environment. As opposed to making a direct "to-hit" roll, you can make choices, and your opponent can make choices as well. For the attacker, they can attack, flee, or maneuver (a catch-all category that includes things like grappling, pushing, tripping, disarming and other non-lethal attacks). The defender can choose to dodge, fight back, or maneuver as well. Making the combat round involve decision-making from both combatants improves engagement without bogging too far into tactics. It also means that in some case you can take damage as a result of your attack roll, which some players did not care for, but I found sped up play more. 

Gunfire, by the way, remains as lethal as it ever has been, given the damage that guns inflict versus the weak hit points of the PCs,.

7th Edition also embraces bonus and penalty die, much like advantages and disadvantage in 5th edition D&D. However, this does create the problem that you're hunting for every advantage in every situation ("I have the higher ground, but you've got an aimed shot and has the salad at lunch')  D&D has an advantage in that one penalty die cancels any number of bonus dice and vice-versa, and I use that as a house rule in play. 

7th Edition CoC is like 3rd Edition D&D, where we shook the entire system up and standardized it with a regular (mostly) system. It moves itself further away from the D&Dish roots, but still a clear descendant of early RPGs - The call and response of a GM (Keeper) and players, hit point terminology, character classes, etc...

And in play, it worked out much better than I thought it would on first reading. The rules are very clear, and copious amount of tables (in particular the ones on the GM Screen) help with a minimum of page-checking. I found in play that combat moved fairly swiftly, and allowed me more latitude in describing combats as opposed to standard "roll-to-hit and roll-for-damage", and in addition gives the players more options with the general maneuver rules without requiring specialized rules. It definitely moves the system forward, and (I think) will allow for easy retro-fitting to earlier published adventures. All in all, an excellent job.

More later,

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Top Ten

I don't pay attention (much) to stats and traffic on this blog, but we've just edged past 20 years, and I got curious. There have been almost 2500 posts on this blog, and over a million views. Most of the entries have had a very short shelf life, in that people catch up on them in the first couple days, then they go into the archives, never to be seen again by mortal eyes. But the platform does indicate which posts get the most traffic. 

This Spelljammer post is the all-time winner, with 12.5 k views. Spelljammer gets attention every so often (particularly around the new release of the setting), so it has perked up.

Here's a writeup of why I left TSR, which pretty much sums up to disappointment over a project that went south (Mystara), new opportunities, and realizing it was my time to move on.

Another big one is my announcement that I was leaving ArenaNet for Amazon Games. No hard feelings on this one - I had a great time and had a great time at Amazon as well (and now I am at Zenimax Online Studios, working on Elder Scrolls Online, for those who are keeping track).

Here's a review of the 5E Player's Handbook. At the time of release I had a credit as a Design Consultant, but the Design Consultant credits were removed from later printings because of ... stuff. That's cool. I have not been asked in on 6th Edition, and that's cool as well. 

I try to wrap my head around why layoffs for TSR and WotC always seemed to hit around Christmas-time. The image to the appropriate Dork Tower cartoon is broken, but you can still click on the space to call it up. Since the Hasbro acquisition, they seem to have calmed down, and now do layoffs and staff reductions throughout the year. So that's ... better, I guess?

I use this space to work out my own thoughts on stuff, and here's one about Tekumel, in which I try to work through the fact that good things can be created by bad people. Still thinking about the separation of artist and art.

The highest-rated non-game review is a book about games - Playing at the World, which was a detailed treatise on the origin of wargames and RPGs from the dawn of time to my first GenCon. Still an excellent book. Go read it.

This post is a reprise on the earlier post about the product that went south at TSR. It was an overview of the Mystara project that I had to abandon. I gave the original manuscript away to a fan who planned to make it available to others, but they ultimately could not get permission from WotC/Hasbro legal. Ah, well. At least I got the manuscript out of the house. 

Similar to the Spelljammer posting at the top, I did one on Marvel Super Heroes as well, giving a peak behind the process of creation. I did one on the Forgotten Realms as well, but that clocked in lower on this list. 

Finally, the sole political post on this showed up, and this one was complaining about advisory votes on the Washington State ballot. I have no idea why THIS one gets the nod - perhaps it caught an algorithmic wave. Ten years later, the legislature is removing these votes from the ballot. They are supposedly making the information available on a web site, but I'm not seeing any roll-out on this. Knowing what your representatives are voting on is good, but this particular process was just sad.

So what do I get out of this? Well, posts about gaming and gaming history seem to do well. Personal stuff is OK with major moves in my life. Missing are theatre reviews, local politics (mostly), and comments about commemorative quarters. But I'm still going to do them, since, you know, I'm doing this primarily for my own benefit. 

See you folks in another decade, maybe.

More (inevitably) later,

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Twenty Years Before the Blog

Not a Hopper piece, but Van Gogh -"Two Crabs" (1889)
I just liked the way it looks.
Today, Grubb Street turns 20. The first test post was made at Thursday, 14 August, at 1:50 in the afternoon, PST, followed by this one, which talked about where the name came from (with more info about it here). And it is a surprise that it has lasted 20 years, particularly in such an ephemeral media as the modern Internet.  Other platforms for medium-length writing have blossomed and faded/disappeared over the two decades - Myspace, Google Plus, Livejournal, Twitter, yet this trusty little Blogger has survived (perhaps Google don't realize they are still running it). Though even this has diminished, as the practice of blogging has receded into the depths of hobbyist activity, like model railroading or HAM radios. Those hobbies are still around, but you never hear from them anymore.

Part this reduced throw-weight is Facebook. You look at the blogroll over to the right and you see a sudden drop about in entries starting in 2011. That was about the time I started in on Facebook, and those spur-of-the-moment bon mots that I dealt with HERE suddenly went over THERE. But mostly, I use Facebook to send people HERE when I make a new posting, chiefly because there is an easy link at the bottom of the entry to do so. Ditto X/Twitter. I actually only have a Twitter account because Stan! set one up for me. And I use it to send people HERE.

But I do pay attention to Twitter, even in its now-diminished times. There are enough people that I find interesting that I follow there, in particular Gail Simone, Jennell Jaquays, William Gibson, and Paula Poundstone. And I find the New York Times Pitchbot amusing (It does headlines you'd actually believe seeing in the NYT - "Cure for Cancer discovered - Why This Is Bad for Biden" plus REAL headlines that sound like the Pitchbot made them up) If they go away, I will probably go elsewhere as well. No, I would never pay for a blue check, and have so far been spared the whackos.

I do pay attention to Facebook, and do my part to train the algorithm. I've been liking every Edward Hopper painting I see, so as a result I'm getting more Edward Hopper (and other art) links. And every so often there are a raft of promoted right-wing links pushing books of dubious nature ("Slavery - think of it as a long-term internship") - they all get reported. I put this down at the level of weeding a lawn - mildly irritating but necessary.

I am paying attention to Reddit more as well. Their /news subreddit gives me different versions of the same story of the day. And I pay attention to subreddits about flags, maps, and leopards eating people's faces. There are two Seattle subreddits - /Seattle if you live in Seattle and like it, and /SeattleWa if you live in Bellevue and want to tell everyone that Seattle is dying. 

Will I join the new kids like Mastadon, Post, and BlueSky? No idea. They may join the roster of Dead Media like MeWe and Tapatalk or not. Haven't gotten a Bluesky invite yet. And I would still use it to post links back to this blog. 

In general, though, it feels like the environment of the Internet has gotten worse. The web pages are laced with pop-ups (which are a relic of the 80s) and adverts, crowding out real content. Useful content moves behind paywalls. Wikipedia and Internet Archives have survived, but seem to be under constant threat. Library access has gone up as a result. 

And lest you think I am just bagging on the newer tech, "traditional" television has pretty much died as well. I haven't been a "sit down and veg in front of the tube" guy for years, but when I do get on, there always seems to be SOME cable station that is running Harry Potter, LotR, or the Pirates movies. Those channels which used to have some sort of theme are all doing the same thing, and those that remain are just doing blocks of old content. I don't remember when the last time there was music on MTV or heres-how-you-cook shows on Food Network.  I still pay attention to television for sports, but even that has diminished with Apple+ taking the rights to Major League Soccer.

And when they split the cable feeds to create new channels, those feeds filled up with cheap reruns of old shows from the last century. Yeah, that's where the H&I, Retro, and ME TV stations came from. Cheap content. But, on the good side, Son of Svengoolie is back, who I haven't seen since WGN stopped broadcasting out here. 

I know, I'm sounding like the new age version of the old guy shooing kids off the lawn. So be it.

The blogroll has shrunk over the years. Colleagues and friends have slowly drifted off from media, but I keep them there only because they may sometime come back to life. I keep most of the other links available since I check on them semi-regularly. A lot of the local news links have soft gates - after visiting a certain number of times they cut you off and hit you up for a subscription. And the comics section is still there, though webcomics can be sporadic as well, since they're mostly run by the creatives. 

Does this environment have a future for me? I dunno. I'll probably keep going. I have a couple books in the till that need to be review. I do plays, book, and game reviews. I cannot avoid continuing my look at collectable quarter designs, which is something that I just can't seem to break the habit. Politics I tend to deal with in election season, and then keep it to stuff I can actually vote on. There are still SO many political blogs out there, so I don't think you need one more, and watching the GOP fall down the stairs yet again is SO EXHAUSTING after a while

And that's about it. I think I'm in this until they shut down the service, and doing this primarily for my own amusement. You're more than welcome to tag along.

More later, 

Thursday, August 03, 2023

The Political Desk : Summer Rush Results

 I usually wait a day or three for things to settle before posting election results. Washington State has mail-in ballots, and requires postmark by election day, so things will filter in over the next few days, final numbers change, and often there is a late surge or position that is "hanging fire" - too close to call. Usually for this end of the state, all this means that late voters who trend younger and more progressive.

Over in Seattle proper, every candidate for city council that made it into the top-two November election was endorsed either by The Stranger or The Seattle Times. In fact, the Stranger's candidates received the most votes in five of the seven positions (for those keeping score). So the general election over there will be between a progressive-ish candidate and a central-ish candidate. So there's that.

And 22.5% of registered voters in the County voted. Which is ... not horrible for an off-season election, but still kinda sucky.

So, for the stuff that I am paying attention to, here's what I have:

King County Preposition No. 1 Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy -   APPROVED at 70%. Not bad for a popular levy already approved a number of times already that had no opposition. Of course, that means that 30% will vote against a levy on general principles.

Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 5 -  Incumbent FRED FELLEMAN (55%) versus JESSE TAM (27%)

City of Kent Council Position No. 3 -  JOHN BOYD (36%) versus KELLY WIGANS-CRAWFORD (23%)

Kent School District No. 415 District No. 415, Director District No. 3 -  LESLIE KAE HAMADA (49%) versus DONALD COOK (24%). Got a late mailer from Hamada's campaign which had a big globby typo on it ("Oustanding" instead of "Outstanding"), but that the only news there.

And with that The Political Desk is retiring to the back deck with a rum & cola. Be back in October.

More later,

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Life in the Time of the Virus: Long Hot Summer

 So, how are we doing?

People in the Sun, Hopper, 1960

Not that bad, actually. The last time we talked about these things was back in March, and now we live at the start of August. The world has adapted and moved on - we're now worried about the fact that the planet is baking itself, the Atlantic Conveyor is about to fail, and the Mariners have moved from "This is the Year" to being happy that we're playing .500 ball. 

But, of course, COVID is still out there. Globally (per the World Health Organization) there have been 800,000 new cases and 4800 deaths over the past month, which is bad but not too bad (globally speaking). Official numbers so far are 6.9 Million deaths globally, which is horrible (globally speaking). In King County, reported COVID deaths have dropped below that of Flu deaths, and only about 2% of hospital beds are being used for COVID patients. The NYTimes is still tracking things nation-wide here. The numbers have been going down, with the note that we have fewer reported cases in part because a lot of people have stopped testing and, worse yet, stopped reporting. Further, as I dug through the numbers on this, different sites authorities report the numbers slightly differently. But by any metric, the numbers are going down.

But it is still with us, and probably will take a jot upwards as we move out of this particularly hot summer and into the fall, particularly in my age cadre (Senior Discount at the AMC Category). Facebook still reports people coming down with it. Every major convention I have heard of ends with a report of people hit with the virus. Numbers are small, the damage is miserable but lessened, but it is still present.

Media coverage has also moved on. I'm no longer seeing as much of the "I don't believe in masks"/"The person who wrote this has been intubated" duality on the 'net. I am seeing a tic upwards of the nutbar "COVID is a hoax"/It's the vaccines that are dangerous"/"My brother's dentist got vacced and died the next day"/"He was hit by a bus"/"But the BUS DRIVER had been vaccinated, which proves my point" discussions on the Internet. Oh yeah, and there have been sporadic reports of "Number of folk who don't believe in COVID are on the decline because a lot of them have died of COVID". But a lot of the COVID-deniers have swapped back to being climate-deniers, with similar results as their electric grid fails and they start slow-baking.

Personally? I'm doing masks rarely now, primarily because theatre season is over, but even there there people have returned to normal. I tend to be unmasked when shopping except when picking up prescriptions, but that's more of a solidarity thing with the people working the pharmacy (and the likelihood that someone picking up prescriptions will be, you know, sick).

We shuffle, now as the seasons change, towards flu season and the probable uptick of numbers. Get your flu vac and keep yourselves safe.

More later, 

Friday, July 14, 2023

The Political Desk: Summer Rush Edition

 So, the King County Voters Pamphlet showed up a few days ago, but I chose to wait to post only because I tend to make my comments based on what I actually can vote on, and only rarely (though occasionally) wander out into other jurisdictions. 

The 2023 elections are already being overshadowed by the 2024 elections in this state. That's not just because of the Presidential Election is next year (though Washington State is reliably blue), but because the Governor of the past 12 years is not running for re-election. As a result, a leading contenders on the Dem side are the current state's Attorney General and Commissioner of Public Lands. And as a result of THAT other candidates are leaving THEIR jobs and running for THOSE positions. In other words, it is like entire elected state government is a big Boggle Cube and we've hit it with a hammer. But that's not what I need to talk about.

Similarly, the City of Seattle is currently having a big thing this year in that they have 7 open seats, and so we have a raft (45 candidates) of newcomers vying for their positions. But I don't vote in Seattle's city elections, so while I will point you in the direction of people who DO talk about it, I have no further advice.

And FURTHERMORE, there are a number of seats on the King County Council that are up, but they are in even-numbered districts, and Grubb Street is an odd-numbered district, so, again, there is no election for us.

And this is why I DON'T like the idea of moving major elections to even-numbered years. From a marketing side, I want people to go vote. Without big-ticket elections, everyone else gets a short shrift. The biggest matchups I'm seeing this cycle are things like Port Authority. A lot of school board stuff, and council seats at the micro-local level. These are the solid, working, effective positions - not particularly glitzy, but really important. They just don't have the glitz.

Let's make matters even worse. The day for the Primaries is 1 August. So a lot of people will not worry about it because "it's next month" and then get surprised when election day goes zipping past them at high velocity.

So the bad news is that not of lot of people are paying attention here. The good news, such as it is, is that YOUR vote, should you vote, is worth just a tiny bit more than otherwise. So, you know, go vote. It doesn't even cost you a stamp. Fill it out and mail it back, or drop it off in a plethora of election drop boxes scattered around the county. That simple.

But the smallness of this election creates one further difficulty for the small-time elections. We DON'T have a lot of info on the candidates on this level. We have their Statements in the Voters' Pamphlet, and maybe see some yard signs and MAYBE read something about them in the hyper-local media. So the chances of people running under false flags or not being entirely honest with the voters is high. A few elections back we had someone running for Hospital Board who attended the 6 Jan protests (but not, so far as we know, the riot that followed).. And we had a candidate for School Board that sounded good in the Voters' pamphlet until he chose to reveal the horrors of CRT in the local newspaper. 

So let's keep our eyes open around here. Check endorsements (though candidates can be untruthful about those as well). See who is fronting the money (The Chamber of Commerce, while not an alarm, is a red flag). Take things with a hunk of salt.

Here are some other people's recommendations. The Seattle Times trends further right that most of its readership, is much more pro-business, and just fired a new member of its editorial board for tweeting that Hitler was not THAT bad a guy. The Stranger is a little to the left of its readership, and disappointed that retiring socialist Kwana Shawant is not running for every position. Neither one gets this far south. Here is the Progressive Voters' Guide for the City of Kent. Here are endorsements from Crosscut, which again concentrates on the big urban centers. The Capitol Hill Blog asks a lot of questions to the candidates for District 3 here. Here is covereage from the West Seattle Blog.  Here are endorsements from the Seattle Transit Blog which worries about, well, Seattle transit.  Here and here a couple from the various Democrats. And from the Republicans I have ... nothing. The one I checked said they were putting up a new web site Real Soon Now. 

So what about my recommendations. Well, my own ballot arrived, and it is ... scant. Four items only. See, I told you.


King County Preposition No. 1 Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy. This is the second renewal of a levy that has already done well in previous elections and has proved effective. No one showed up to argue against it in the Voter's Pamphlet - APPROVED.


Port of Seattle Commissioner Position No. 5, There's always a good scandal at the Port, but of late its challenges have been mostly the result of their own success. The airport is too crowded. Traffic to the airport is a mess. The cruise ships dump thousands of tourists (and their vacation money) at Pike Place Market. Fred Felleman is the man on the scene, has a good environmental record, and wants to offload air freight to nearby JBLM to the south until they finally build a new airport. Yeah, re-elect FRED FELLEMAN


City of Kent Council Position No. 3. From the Voter's Guide, it seems like requirement for this position is children in the Kent Schools and at least one ancestor in Saar Pioneer Cemetery. All candidates want to make a better, safer, more unified Kent. All good things. I'm going with endorsements on this one and voting for JOHN BOYD.


Kent School District No. 415 District No. 415, Director District No. 3. Again, everyone looks good on the Voters' Guide. No red flags or buzz words. Challenger Stephanie Lawson looks good, but incumbent Leslie Kae Hamada has not blown things up, which in these days is a definite plus. For this round I'm going to go with LESLIE KAE HAMADA

That is it for me. The rest of yinz are on your own.   

More later, 

Saturday, July 01, 2023

Theatre: Turned to 11

 Hedwig and the Angry Inch Text by John Cameron Mitchell, Music and Lyrics by Stephen Trask, Directed by Eddie Dehai, Arts West, through 23 July.

Let me give you the bad news first - The sound volumes were a problem. Punk rock levels within a small venue. As a result, both the Lovely Bride and I lost a lot of the words to this musical. Which is a problem, if you expect the lyrics in a musical to help define the characters and move forward the plot. 

And it is a pity, since actors are excellent and their voices are both strong and powerful. Nicholas Japaul Bernard captures Hedwig's talent, ego, and anger in every motion, while Kataka Corn is stellar as suffering husband Yitzhak. Michael B. Maine fills out the trio on stage running multimedia and boards, acting both as quiet support and counterpoint to the leads. 

Here's the plot. Hedwig escapes East Germany by marrying a US Army officer, but to do so, must undergo gender-reassignment surgery, which is badly botched. A year later the marriage breaks up, stranding Hedwig in Kansas. Hedwig rebuilds a life as a singer, teams up with another man who goes onto greatness without her, and marries Yitzak on a European tour. 

And Hedwig is a jerk. Hedwig treats Yitzak as Hedwig had been treated, reducing Yitzak to a Renfield-like supporter, denied their own agenda as Hedwig sings, sashays, and rages their way into a total breakdown. Bernard as Hedwig quips their way through their personal history as their anger within them grows to the final psychotic break. Bernard's music and performance leans more to Tina Turner than David Bowie, and their jokes and asides lean heavily on Seattle references for the local crowd. Corn as Yitzak has the more powerful voice, ultimately, but that's part of the point of the musical. The live band has been replaced with multimedia, which is at its best when it supports and counterpoints the play as opposing to dominating it. 

Ultimately?  Great performances dealing with a limited space. The musical evokes such now-classic era rock operas like Tommy and Rocky Horror Show. The passion is in competition with sheer volume. And that sheer volume sometimes overwhelms and leave the audience battered as opposed to comprehending. It is a good production, but be warned.

More later, 

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Book: All Hail the Great Macaroni

 If I Were Dictator by Lord Dunsany, Methuen & Co, Ltd. London, 1934

Provenance: This is from the collection of John Rateliff, better known as Sacnoth. It is a honest-to-gosh rare book, and John's copy is actually a hand-bound copy, photocopied, reassembled, and bound with a sturdy plastic clip. The original may be found in the University of Wisconsin library, and had been checked out all of four times, in 1975, 1976, 1986, and 1990. I'll put money on the idea that the 1990 check-out was by Sacnoth. 

Review: In 1933 E. V. Lucas, publisher approached a number of intellectuals in England with the question - what would you do if you were dictator of England? There has been something similar in a series of articles in America run by The Nation, but it's unknown if Lucas knew about it. The results came out in a series of short books in 34 and 35. Most of those who wrote things up were serious scholars in a variety of fields, and took their assignments fairly seriously. Dunsany? Not so much. Maybe.

Mind you, in 1934, Dictator did not have quite the negative connotations that it picked up during the war. (I found that Studebaker had a car called the Dictator at the time, with no push-back). The term Dictator in those days was closer to its initial Roman definition - an individual invested with absolute power to solve a particular immediate problem that would defy group consensus (like war). In cases of emergency, the Senate would take its hands off the wheel and let someone on the scene make the decisions. When the emergency passed, the Dictator would step aside. Not only the Romans did this - the Japanese Shogunate did as well, and the Native American tribes had "war chiefs" whose main province was battle. In the Roman Republic's case, they had 80-some dictators. Sulla, one of the last ones, grabbed power militarily, but even he stepped down after he re-orged the government. Julius, who was his student, decided to hang onto it full-time as dictator in perpetua and Rome moved fully onto its Empire phase. 

At the time this volume was written, the best-known dictator was Mussolini. Hitler and his Nazis were recognized as running Germany, but would graduate to full-fledge authoritarian Dictator-hood with the death of Hindenberg late in late1934. Dunsany probably had Mussolini in mind as his model for ultimate authoritarian, since he dubbed himself "The Great Macaroni" in detailing his plans for England.

And his plans? for the most part, pretty pedestrian, and in some cases advanced, all presented with tongue deeply inserted in cheek. Cars involved in fatal accidents should be confiscated and use for more peaceful purposes, Advertisers should be punished for false claims, people adultering products should be horse-whipped. The League of Nations? Briefly touched on as a good thing. But he's got a few things that makes one think he is pulling your leg - Fox-hunting should be permitted, since fox-hunting in inefficient, and without people would find more effective ways of killing foxes. The solution to the English in India is a modest proposal to remove all the English from India, all the Indians from England, and all the Europeans from America, just to keep things fair.

And here's an intriguing one" the solution to unemployment would be to remove all farm-machinery. Removing labor-saving devices would increase the need for labor, and send everyone in cities into the hinterlands to live richer, more fulfilling lives. I think this is meant in jest, but then, Dunsany is the 18th Lord Dunsany, complete with manor house and family lands in Ireland.

Finally, the Great Macaroni has declared that editors should not change the words or meaning of the original author. The Death Penalty, in this case, is reserved for those changing the words of  the Great Macaroni. In this, of course, he is being absolutely serious and should be implemented at once. 

In general, it feels like Dunsany is treating the brief as a bit of a lark, suitable for a late night comedy show. Indeed, it feels similar to his jibes on religion found in his early works on the Gods of Pegana. But I have to ask how much of are things that Dunsany truly believes, dressed up in amusing terms terms. 

Ultimately, Dunsany's If I Were Dictator is an interesting view into the pre-war years, where everyone is sure something bad is about to happen, but are still normalizing authoritarian views as being worth civil discussion. It makes me wonder how our era in turn will be so viewed. 

More later,

Thursday, June 08, 2023

Recent Arrivals (North Texas Bonus Round)

 There are lot of hardbacks in this particular collection, but I did not buy the bulk of them. I've been a judge for several years for the Three Castles Awards, presented at the North Texas RPG Con. NTRPG is a really nice con dedicated to "old-school gaming" - earlier editions of D&D (and all of its retro-clones) and other classic games. They send me the candidates I and several other judges make our decisions under a precise set of guidelines, and the winner was announced at the most recent NTRPG Con. Anyway, my opinions here are untethered by those guidelines, and as such are my own. But let's do the ones that are NOT NTRPG candidates first.

Everyday Heroes (Sigfried Trent, Chris "Goober" Ramley, D. Todd Scott, Evil Genius Games, 464-page hardbound) This was an "author's" copy from the publisher. I worked on this project as a Design Consultant, helped them staff up, and looked over the various sections when they were in development. Even so, I was stunned by how HUGE this book turned out. It is a spiritual descendant of D20 Modern, and this particular edition echoes the original on the cover. Physically, it is a beautiful rulebook. Content-wise, it is incredibly playable. Recommended.

Regency Cthulhu: Dark Designs in Jane Austen's England (Andrew Peregrine, Lynne Hardy and Friends, Chaosium Inc. 224-page hardback) I could not find the anywhere from my local hobby stores, and ended up making a trek down to Olympic Cards & Comics down in Lacey with Stan! on one of our days off. There is a Cthulhu project for every era and genre, and this one drills down on the Austenian era (1811-1820) when George IV served as king for the increasingly crazy George III. The volume details changes to the skill and occupations for that era to the standard Call of Cthulhu (CoC) 7th edition rules, and the importance of social credit and standing as a tool for roleplaying. There's a typical country manor and village and a couple adventures. Presentation is up to Chaosium's usual standards.

Rivers of London the Roleplaying Game (Paul Fricker, Lynne Hardy, and Friends, Based on the novels by Gen Aaronovitch, Chaosium Inc. 400-page hardback). Also a result of the Olympic trip, I was surprised to find this one in the wild as well. I've never read Aaronovitch's books, but the Lovely Bride has and thinks they are good, as they are modern urban fantasy dealing with a London police department that deals with the supernatural. The system is a simplified 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu. Presentation is good, but I'm not a fan of the 3D models in some of the illos. Wondering if I can get the Lovely Bride to play.

Ruins of the Lost Realm (Gareth Hanrahan. Free League, 120-page hardback). One more from Olympic, this was a whim pickup. Have been cruising through The One Ring RPG, and want to take it out for a spin, but wanted to see the support project. Free League makes some of the best-looking products on the shelves today. This one deals with Arnor, a chunk of Middle Earth unvisited in any of the books. Pulls what is known from the trilogy and fills in the blank spots. Uses Tharbad as a launching point for adventures. The game does not do dungeons so much as sites and places of interest with general descriptions. Looks interesting if you don't want to be tripping over too many trademarked characters.

Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen (F Welsey Schnieder and 10 writers, Wizards of the Coast, 224-page hardback). This was a purchase from the Mox Boarding House up in Bellevue. And it is interesting that, except for a small tempest (Tiamat=Takhisis*) I have heard absolutely nothing about it. Which is a little weird since the adventure ties itself to the "war" part of the War of the Lance, creating an adventure that runs concurrently with dragon armies marching through Ansalon. And it is tied into a wargaming boardgame (the component-heavy Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn) so you can fight the battles as well. Plus has a lot of Dragonlance specific stuff (Kender, Gods, High Sorcery) for 5E. The book itself is WotC standard good in appearance, and for having a bunch of writers and editors on it, is coherent and cohesive, and tells an epic story without DL's well-known heroes. But since its release in December of last year, there has been mostly nothing in the 'net about it.

Necropolis (Mark Greenberg and Bill Webb, Necromancer Games, 240-page hardback). This is the first of the  NTRPG Three Castles Awards candidates. It is a further development of Necropolis, a Dangerous Journeys adventure by Gary Gygax (due credit to Gary inside, but nary a mention of GDW, the original publisher), which had a brief stop in 3rd Edition D&D over the years. As a refinement this top-notch, brought up to date for their Swords and Wizardry OSR Clone. It is an ultimate Ancient Egypt Adventure, and keeps the Gygaxian nature of brutal consequences for player actions (teleport into a room identical to the one you are in, but with all the doors missing). Updated and upgraded, it has improved art and excellent maps. Bonus - full-color poster map of the tomb. 

Dwarrowdeep (Greg Gillespie, 334-Page Hardback) NTRPG Three Castles Award Nominee. Greg Gillespie does Moria. Let me refine that further - Greg Gillespie, who does sprawling mega-dungeons like Barrowmaze and The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia (which my Monday night group is STILL moving through) and does so in a classic old-school D&D style, does a sprawling underground dwarven underground. Major sites are laid out, room-upon-room, Secondary locations can be built with tables and geomorphs. The cover shown here is for the "Special Edition Monochrome" which evokes the old, old style of the early D&D modules. Comes with a packet of maps for the main areas in the light-blue style of, you got it, early D&D Modules. Interior art includes pieces by legendary TSR artists. Very old-school.

Swords of Cthulhu (Joseph Block, BRW Games,128-page hardback). NTRPG Three Castles Award Nominee. This one made me smile. A lot of Old School D&D clones use the styles of early adventures, but this one comes very, very close to the original Unearthed Arcana I worked on all those years ago. So that made me smile. Added bonus - Cthulhu for D&D, Deep Ones as a PC race. Cultists and scholars as new classes. Spells that petition the Old Ones. Insanity rules, Mythos monsters and deities, and hints on running a Lovecraftian Game in 1e rules. Art varies from good to pick-up.

Corsairs of Cthulhu - Fighting Mythos in the Golden Age of Piracy (Ben Burns, New Comet Games, 300-page hardback) NTRPG Three Castles Awards Nominee. Wait a minute, didn't you ALREADY talk about this? Yep, got a copy way back here. So when this one arrived for judging, gave it to a colleague and re-read it. And pretty much my initial impression stands. The opening bits about adapting Call of Cthulhu for the golden age of piracy (1650-1730 AD) is pretty solid. The adventure is, well, all the map, and then off the map and onto other maps. We get a great setup for a Caribbean set of adventures, then head for the Pacific, the Dreamlands, and times and places beyond, with guest appearances by most of the mythos' heavy players. 

Endless Encounters - Dungeons (Bill Barsh, Pacesetter Games, 280-page hardback) NTRPG Three Castles Awards Nominee. It IS a big book of tables, but it is also a good springboard for dungeon-building, whether you need just something for the spur-of-the-moment or building a larger structure for later use. Embracing the old school nature of dungeon levels getting higher as you go down in levels, the tables allow you to figure out what is there on in a shorthand version. What is the purpose of the room? It's inhabitants? Its treasure. The examples provided (one per level) demonstrate how those results can be fleshed out to a more coherently thematic dungeon. 

Jungle Tomb of the Mummy Bride (Levi Combs and Jeff Scifert, Planet X Games,146-page hardback.) NTRPG Three Castles Awards Nominee. Like Necropolis, this is an expansion and refinement of previously published work, and while listed as compatible with a OSR game (Dungeon Crawl Classics) can be run under D&D rules of various stripes. Instead of ancient Egyptianish undead, we are talking about ancient Central Americanish undead, and can be fit into any hellish jungle settings in your campaign. Of all the nominees, this one has the most fun with its presentation, and keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek as it names encounters  Clean layout and artistic maps.

And the envelope please? The Three Castles Award for 2023 goes to:

Dwarrowdeep by Greg Gillespie. Congrats to the winner and see you folk next year.

More later,

*I have opinions on this contentious matter. Maybe someday I will even share them.

Monday, June 05, 2023

Theater: Jeeves Takes Manhattan

Jeeves Takes a Bow Adapted by Margaret Raether from the stories of PG Wodehouse, Directed by Scott Nolte, Through June 17, Taproot Theatre Company

The theater seasons I pay attention to are coming to a close, but Janice Coulter and her husband, Sacnoth, treated us to this production at the Taproot up in Greenwood. north of the city. Our planned lunch place, the Olive & Grape, had changed its opening hours to later in the day, so we had lunch at Razi's, a pizza place that makes nice salads as well, and hunkered down at the Taproot's Jewell Mainstage for an afternoon of Wodehouse. 

The Jewell is, well, a little jewelbox of a performance space, the stage thrust out deeply into the main space and surrounded on three sides by the audience, who are also sprinkled overhead along thin galleries. It brings the audience right on top of the action (such that they warn the patrons not to put their feet on the stage, lest they be trampled), but has the downside that sightlines don't always work, and we were treated to a great deal of "back-of-the-head exposition".  Which is a pity, since the actors were all excellent. 

Long-time readers of this blog know about my enjoyment of Wodehouse's world. The plot of Jeeves Takes a Bow is pillaged from the Bertie and Jeeves canon, along with original material heavily influenced by the genre. Bertie Wooster (Calder Jameson Shilling) and his stalwart valet, Jeeves (Richard Nguyen Sloniker) have decamped from England for New York City, only to discover that Bertie's old pal Binkey (The oil-slicked Miguel Costellano) has been pretending to be Bertie, auditioning for a local theater production, and romancing the female lead, Ruby (Claire Marx). Ruby in turn is trying to elude her overly-protective producer, the wise guy Daniel "Knuckles" McCann (Tyler Matthew Campbell). Also dropped into the mix is strait-laced old girlfriend of Bertie's, Vivian Duckworth (Kelly Karcher) who wants to research the dens of iniquity in NYC, including speakeasies and, of course, the theater.

In other words, it has all the trappings and tropes of a Wodehouse production. New York is a regular venue for his stories, and the plot is a collection of colorful characters, mistaken identities, and travails for Bertie and solutions by Jeeves. The foolish master with the crafty, wise servant has been with use since the Roman Plautus if not before, and Wodehouse expands upon that fine tradition. And the plot in one familiar to fans of Wooster & Jeeves - Bertie gets into a tiff with Jeeves (in this case involving purple socks), then promptly gets himself in a jam which requires Jeeve's help, and Jeeves gets him out of the jam, but in a fashion that embarrasses and chastises Bertie.

Shilling's Bertie a likable mixture of good intentions and self-deprecation - he's aware of his shortcomings and leans into them, which makes him sympathetic as his well-meaning nature gets him more deeply involved in his predicament. Costellano's Binkey helps support Bertie in that Binkey is even more hapless and hopeless than Bertie. Marx's Ruby is pure brass, Karcher's prim Vivian is a delight, and Campbell thunders with just the right amount of threat as Knuckles. 

And through it all, the calm center is Sloniker's Jeeves, always there with a spot-on comment and chilled cocktail ready for delivery. Even in rough-and-tumble New York, Jeeves rises head and shoulders among his compatriots, and is the wise head that everyone recognizes and relies upon.

The lingo is completely 1920's argot, and you might find one or two lines among the Americans that do not reek of the era. The dialogue is fast and furious rolls through the entire stage as the actors throw themselves into the works and across the stage in bringing the page to life.

Kinetic, Frantic, Antic, Manic. Yep, that about sums it up. All in all an afternoon well-spent.

More later,