Friday, April 28, 2023

Political Desk: Funding Redux

 So, how did things turn out? 

The King County Proposition No.1 Crisis Care Centers Levy passed by a handy margin from the initial vote count 55-45 (when this is written). The Approved vote had major endorsements across the board, and a lot of fliers that showed up in the mailboxes. So that's a good thing. Only like 25% of the voting population voted on this, which is not so good.

The Kent School District - Proposition No. 1 General Obligation Bonds, on the other hand, was rejected. One thing that was soft-pedaled in most of the discussions was the bond issues need a supermajority (60%) in the first place to pass, and this one did not even crest 50% (Current results 53-47 on the NO side). Possibly contributors to its failure is that there was another property tax increase on the ballot, the low voter total (about 20%) and that it was just a lot of money. This sort of thing has happened before in Bond votes, and what may happen is that the bond offering rethinks its ask, refines its message, and tries again on the general election. 

The State Legislature is wrapping up its session, and actually has been accomplishing stuff. In addition to getting the budget settled (which is their primary job), they've bounced out the push-polls on our ballots and strengthened gun safety laws (which will not totally eliminate people shooting school kids, but hopefully reduce the frequency). One thing they failed to do was come up with a unified comprehensive drug policy. The old one was bounced out of the courts a while back with this year as the deadline. A compromise bill grounded out on the last day, rejected by both progressives (who felt the bill did not do enough for treatment) and conservatives (who felt the bill did not kick drug-users hard enough). So we may see a whole slew of local measures with varying degrees of cruelty (Our conservative member of King County Council has already offered up his proposal).

And that's it until, oh, maybe August, when the primaries take hold.

More later, 

Sunday, April 23, 2023

New Arrivals: Kickstarters and Conventions

It has been a few months, and more things have shown up on Grubb Street. Some of these are from Kickstarters, and a nice pile of them come from The recent Gary Con in Lake Geneva. 

Kickstarters continue to resolve, but the entire process has become less appealing over time. This is mainly because of shipping charges, which have increased on their end and as a result the buyer invests in the Kickstarter, then faces a increased cost for shipping, which can reach up to half the original price as a surcharge. One of the end results is that suddenly brick-and-mortars and conventions are more viable markets for small-market books. 

As always, these tend to be "first looks" as opposed to any in-depth response, and I will put the Gary Con swag at the end. 

Wingspan (Elizabeth Hargrave, Stonemaier Games, Boxed Board Game) Every year, I get a board game for the Lovely Bride, either for Christmas or her birthday. This one has been out for a few years, and has been recommended. It is a card-and-layout game where you put a variety of birds into different environments. European-style game, which means victory is by points and there are a number of ways to score. We've played it a couple times, and it is pretty smooth. Recommended. 

Pirate Borg (Luke Stratton, Limithron 166 page hardback) Kickstarter. Mork Borg (Dark Castle, which sounds more prosaic) was as heavy-doom-metal fantasy OSR release from a few years back, light on text, heavy on attitude. It won 8 Ennies, and has spawned a host of sub-lines for different genres. This one is about pirates. It follows a lot of Mork Borgian tropes - book-as-art-project, dramatic headings, lots of tables, but scrape a bit of that away and it doesn't fall TOO far from the D&D tree (classes, combat, dice, etc.) and looks pretty cool. It is art-school heavy, but there is a LOT here, particularly in ship descriptions, and the Kickstarter came with Dark Tides, a folio for hexcrawling (hexsailing) with your ship. Yeah, I want to try this one.

Flabbergasted: A Comedic Roleplaying Game ( Fluer and Chelsey Sciortino, Giga Mech Games/The Wanderer's Tome, 160 page hardcover) Kickstarter. Comedy is tough. OK, OK,  INTENTIONAL comedy is tough. RPGs are wide-open for Monty Python silliness. But to set out to make something funny, or even vaguely amusing - yeah, that's tough). Flabbergasted is set in a PG Wodehouse 1920s, where the stakes are low but important - social status and relationships. Set in the seaside town of Peccadillo, the art reflects a bright, breezy south-of-France sort of vibe. This looks like a book for actors (who really want to direct). Also one I would take out for a test drive.

Airship Campaigns ( Benny McLennan et al, Arcane Minis, 224 page hardcover). Kickstarter. This one is interesting in that it harks back to the very early days of the hobby, in which rule sets existed primarily to sell miniatures. In this case, the miniatures are flying ships from Arcane Minis. This is an expanded and printed version of something that showed up on pdf a couple years back. Nice production values, and they go with the idea of treating ships as large creatures, which was done for Ghosts of Saltmarsh and is cool. The Kickstarter version came with a map of part of the world and map tiles for a Rassen Assault Frigate.

Blackvale - A Fantasy Pittsburgh Campaign Setting for TTRPGs  (David Lasky30 page self-cover) Kickstarter, one of the ZineQuests from 2021. Fantasy but really post-apocalypse, this booklet would pair well with the 2nd Edition Gamma World, which used Pittsburgh as its setting. Definitely zine territory. A lot of local references - the good-aligned church is Saint Roger of the Neighborhood of Friendship. Some NSWF art connected with the Church of Ayn and the Self Made Man. Not too detailed, but a nice bit for the price (and shipping).

Wyst: Alastor 1716 (Jack Vance, Swordfish Islands edition, 282 page clothbound hardback) Purchased from publisher at Gary Con. I'm not a big fan of deluxe collector's editions, but the graphics and art is pretty cool, and  it has gold foil on the cover. And it's a Vance story I haven't read before. Goes onto the TBR (To Be Read) pile.

The Plaguewood Spider (Darryl T. Jones, Splattered Ink Games, 24-page self-bound) gifted from designer. We were talking about art in games with the reference to the Mork Borgs above, and this one is art-heavy, but has a more unified, professional and traditional fantasy feel. It is an introductory adventure for Seeds of Decay, a campaign setting that was launched on Kickstarter, and should be fulfilling soon. Looks good.

Fifth Edition Fantasy #4 War-lock (Michael Curtis, Goodman Games, 48 page saddle-stitched) This was in the goodie bag given to the guests-of-honor at Gary Con, along with a miniature, buttons, and some appreciated fresh fruit. A nice solid-looking 5E adventure involving the players trying to defeat an immortal warrior and his troops. Which sounds ... a lot like an adventure I've been running for 40 years at conventions. But hey, it's a trope.

Hamel's House of Oddities (Jon and Brynn Hage, Sleeping Giant Gaming, Folder with separate sheets) Gary Con promotional for an upcoming Kickstarter. Yep, this isn't even on the docket for Kickstarter, but I've  put myself onto the notifications list, and I never do that. And it is primarily the art that's attractive for that (and I realize that this particular write-up is talking a lot about that). What they have is an encounter that looks solid and and has visual backups. Yeah, this looks like it will be interesting.

Core  - A chronicle of M'Gistryn (Anastasia M. Trekles, Halsbren Publishing, 300 page trade paperback) Gary Con, purchased from author. The author came to my book-signing at Gary Con and told me that one of her inspirations to write was Azure Bonds. I stopped by her booth later and picked up the first volume of her series. Self-published, san serif typeface, better map than I've seen in NYPublished fantasy books (I'm not calling anyone out). Putting it on my TBR pile.

Ath Cliath a 10th Century Vikings/Celtic City Role-Playing Game Overview Book, (Ed Greenwood and Andrew Valkauskas, Pendelhaven Press, 362 page hardback) Purchase at Gary Con. Written for the Fate of the Norns Ragnarok RPG by Andrew Valkauskas, but really system-neutral, this is a block-by-block description of the Viking-era Dublin. Ed's voice comes through in all of this as he describes every building and most of the inhabitants. Excellent browsing book and a springboard for city-based adventures.

The Wrath of Brotherhood, Book One in the Brethren of the Spanish Main Series (Ozgur K. Sahin, self-published, 410 page hardback) Gary Con, purchased from author. Encountered the author at his booth - he had some of Wizkids' constructable pirate ships on his table. We talked about writers of the Age of Sail -  Forester, O'Brien, Kent, and other nautical authors, and I picked up the first book of his series. Pirate ship captain on a mission of vengeance. Sounds interesting. On to the TBR pile.

That's it for this lot - tune in in a couple months when another bunch piles up.

More later, 

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Books: Spies and Lies

 Slow Horses by Mick Herron, Soho Press, 2010

A Legacy of Spies by John Le Carré, Penguin Books, 2017

Provenance: I blame The New Yorker for this one. They had an article on author Mick Herron, talking about how he was an heir to John Le Carré in the genre of spy thrillers. OK, on that note, I went hunting for Herron's first book, and found it at Apparition Books in downtown Renton (who do not have a web site. Sorry). Apparition is a curated bookstore that has a lot of good books in good condition. On completing Slow Horses, I went back to see if they have the second book of the series. They didn't, but did have one of John Le Carré's last works. So I picked that up instead, and used it as my airplane book for the trip the Georgia.

(And yes, I prefer to read books on the plane as opposed to using the tablet. I don't worry about battery life or being distracted by other apps or having to turn it off during takeoffs and landings. And if the book is lost, it is OK - it's a paperback.)

Review: Slow Horses is Smiley's People meets The Office. No, really. The title is a play on Slough House, the nickname of a branch of MI5 that is so remote from the sources of real power in the Ministry that it might as well be in Slough. This is where they put the Joes that screwed up, the ones they can't fire outright. They give put them in the worst, most tedious, most menial jobs in the hopes that they will take the hint and quit. River Cartwright is one of those Joes who apparently screwed up and as a result he works grudgingly with others who have committed sins great and small, under the relatively inert leadership of Jackson Lamb. Their tasks are gruntwork - checking IDs, monitoring BBSes, investigating lapsed visas. They exist in the after-eleven world, where the threat was not communism but religious maniacs. They are prepared for foreign terrorism.

What they are not prepared for is the home-grown type. They also are not prepared for their own bureaucracy, more concerned for turf wars and protecting their own bureaucratic buttocks than in doing their jobs (actually, they feel that protecting their public-funded posteriors IS their job). The mayhem that ensues is mostly self-inflicted, but it is the Slow Horses, and Jackson Lamb in particular, who ultimately triumph. Mostly.

I like the characters and the plot. The author drives me particularly crazy by having the characters learn things which are then not shared with reader. We are frozen out. Someone is about to share some important bit of information and the scene changes. Someone dies - Who? Tell you in about 20 pages as an offhand remark. And the author deliberately misdirects, so that you think one thing when the truth is elsewhere. These literary trick raises tension through this concealment, but it excludes the reader from the journey. That's a personal peeve, but it caused me to roll my eyes a few cycles.

One thing I did like was the sense of place, in the Modern London. William Gibson is one of his books described London as an alternate reality to the States. Things are the same, but also very different. And that alien familiarity may account for some of the popularity of all things British on this side of the pond, from Monty Python to Harry Potter. Things are familiar, but different, a modern fantasy setting of sorts. Herron describes and describes well and sells the setting hard. I know the area that Slough House is located, as the original Grub Street (now Milton Street) is in the area, as I walked that area of London the last time I was there. 

Let me praise with faint damns - It was worthwhile, and I will probably hunt down the next one.

But with all that in mind, I turned to A Legacy of Spies, going to original-flavor spy novelist Le Carré in one of his last books, published seven years after Herron's first, and quite frankly, discover that the original version still has the juice after all that time. Le Carré is the grand old man of spy fiction, defining a lot of the terms used and setting the entire sphere of post-war spycraft as a blatantly amoral game where the greater good outweighed any personal qualms. At its core has been (often) George Smiley, who has been the master web-spinner at the heart of the Circus.

A Legacy of Spies is related to us by Peter Guiman, who has been Smithers to Smiley's Burns in earlier books. Peter has been Smiley's agent, bag-man, and aid-de-camp for years. Pater has been hauled out of retirement in Brittany by the next generation, who is dealing with accusations involving his time at the Circus. Half of the story is Peter talking to the modern lawyers, and half is his memory of what really happened back then.

And Peter lies. But unlike the lies Herron presents, Le Carré takes us hostage within Peter's narration, so that we KNOW he is lying (usually when talking with the lawyers and the modern agents). Peter dodges, he takes refuge in semantics, he seeks to protect Smiley (who may or may not still be alive at this point), he tries to protect the legacy of the dead. As a result, you the reader are let in on what is going on, or at least, what Peter thinks is going on. And to be frank, it feels at the end as if Peter is disassociating completely from reality, and this most unreliable of narrators may be utterly unreliable. 

And its is great stuff. Yeah, knowledge of what has gone before is helpful/recommended (I brushed up against it back when Alec Guinness was playing the role), and the book does a lot to provide connective tissue for a lot of the other series. But Le Carré remains an amazing writer and his work is an engaging as his characters are morally grey. It feels like the wrapping up of loose ends (Le Carré died in 2020, and while this is not his last book, it is the last one featuring Smiley's People). 

So, end result? Herron is perfectly fine if you're willing to be brought along for the ride. Le Carré remains the champion, in part by laying things out exactly, and letting you come to your conclusions.

More later,  

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

The Political Desk: Pop-Up Funding Edition

 What, another ballot in the mail? Such is the price of Democracy.

And speaking of price, there are only two items this half-year ballot locally, and both of them involve funding. This time, the voters pamphlet came in the same envelope as the ballot itself. And going through the arguments, I'd have to say the arguments AGAINST these measures gave me the best reasons to vote FOR them. 

The easy one is approving a bond issue for Kent Schools - Proposition No. 1 General Obligation Bonds. It authorizes half a billion-with-a-b worth of bonds paid off over 21 years. We sell the bonds now, get the money for improvements, and pay them off over time to the bond-holders. The school district increases the property tax rate to pay for this, but in this case, total property taxes would go down, not just because of old bonds being paid off, but because property values have gone up over the years. 

The arguments for and against are here. The arguments for are pretty much along the lines of "this is a good thing", and provides a long list of needed physical improvements. And yeah, the school behind our house still is using the "temporary classrooms" that were there 20+ years ago when we moved in. But the argument against are off-the-wall AM talk-radio nuts. No, seriously. Go read them. I'll wait. I can't properly do them justice. Government, as you know, is a left-wing scam, and this is a socialist power grab that will bankrupt you. Educating kids? That's just a pet project. Maintenance on older schools? That's dictating how your kids should be educated. Putting it to a vote? That's just intimidation.

Seriously, folks? I mean there are some good reservations here - it is half a billion dollars from a 21 year bond issue. And I am not seeing anything about hiring or maintaining teachers - it is mostly about the physical plant. But this bilious bloviating is right out of the crazy-conservative playbook. They opposition statement could make a sane, reasoned argument. It didn't.

Needless to say, I recommend voting YES on Proposition No.1 General Obligation Bond. 

But that's just the hyper-local matter. On the King County level, we have another, DIFFERENT Proposition No.1 Crisis Care Centers Levy. This one increases our property taxes for nine years county-wide to fund behavioral health services. The Seattle Times and the Stranger are both boosting this, and they never agree on anything, and the Times has been running articles on the current state of affairs and why we could use this. Right now, available beds for mental health are lower than they were 20 years ago, and there is a 41 day wait for one. That's not particularly good, and puts a strain on everything else, in policing, hospitals, and other services. So yeah, I'm good with this.

The opposing view is not as flaming as for the one for the Kent School District, but still misrepresents what is going on, and declares that once the government gets the money, they will go spend it somewhere else (no word on whether mental health is a good or bad thing, or if we are taking the right approach to it). The argument they put forward, that the government can hot-swap funding at will, is an interesting one. Pity they don't give any examples that the county government has done this in the past. 

So, yeah, I recommend voting APPROVED on Proposition No. 1 Crisis Care Centers Levy (though to be honest, I don't know why one is a YES/NO vote and the other is APPROVED/REJECTED).

And as a side note, one of the sage heads submitting the statement in opposition is Tim Eyeman, noted initiative launcher and apparent office chair thief. One of his few victories has been to tag onto the ballots useless and misleading push-polls that let people vent about taxes. The measures have no teeth, but can be used to bludgeon anyone trying to raise funds. Finally, the State Legislature is getting rid of this swollen appendix of a measure. Here's a way-too-detailed article on the situation. After this is signed off on by the Governor, you will still be able to find out about tax increases- there will be web sites and QR codes and referenced in the Voter's Guide - but you will no longer have to put up with meaningless chaff on the ballot. And that's a good thing.

And that's it for the off-off-off election cycle. It is due next Tuesday, and all you need to do is drop it off at the many ballot drop boxes or put it in the mail. You don't even need a stamp. But don't worry, primaries are right around the corner. 

More later,

Coming Attractions

 How did the reading go? It went very well, thank you, and I appreciate the actors who read our works. It is good to hear our lines in the voices of others.

Next in the queue, Jim Ward, Ed Greenwood, and I are returning as "The Wizards Three", where we talk about the Realms, Greyhawk, and Dragonlance. Be there or be square!

More later,

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Con Report - Gary Con XV

This one is a little overdue, but so be it. I want to cover it anyway.

I will fess up - I am not a big convention-goer. I make it to one, maybe two a year. Part of it is because of limited vacation time, and part of it is because I am homebody. Often when I go somewhere it is because I am sent as part of my job, or asked to attend as a guest.

But I have to say that Gary Con XV was an excellent convention, one of the best I've attended. 

Gary Con is in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, the birthplace of Roleplaying Games. It is named after Gary Gygax, co-creator of D&D. But if you're reading this, you already know that, right? In any event, Gary's son, Luke, put together this convention to celebrate Gary, his creations, and the entire industry he founded.

Gary Con XV was held at the Grand Geneva, just east of town. Back in the Elder Days it was the Playboy Resort, and while expanded and renovated, it has more than a touch of that 60's mystique (OK, one of the bar staff there was a former bunny, I found out). It is an extremely beautiful structure, and as a venue was perfect for the convention. The entire complex is done in Frank Lloyd Wright's "Prairie Style", which means low buildings that hug and complement the land. I like that, even through I had to deal with steps to get between buildings.

The Grand Geneva staff were amazing and efficient. I've been to a lot of conventions over the years where the staff tolerates the gamers, or at best treats them like visiting bathroom fixture salesmen. The staff here was engaged with the participants, warm, and friendly. Plus, they had daily maid service, something practically extinct in modern times. Bonus round? When the check-in lines got long, they offered champagne.

And there was a lot of food and drink. The three restaurants on-site were hotel-expensive but not horribly so. In addition, the Gary Con Staff arranged for feeding stations around the convention itself, selling hot food and cold drinks. Plus service carts that prowled the gaming spaces. And that first Wednesday night, when the registration lines were long they were selling beer from coolers in the hallways.

I packed myself with too much during the day, trying to keep the evenings free. I ran the Ravager Trilogy, which I realized was 40 (!) years old, namely when a fan I had sent a playtest copy to all those years ago brought it in for an autograph. It has been my "old reliable" that I use when I go to a new convention, and fits nicely into a 4-hour slot, but I might need to retire it. Maybe revise it to be a 5E version. Maybe.

I also ran "Under An Angry Star", which was an Al-Qadim/Spelljammer mashup that I wrote for the LUCCA convention in Italy. Going through it, I think it could stand an upgrade and revision, which may be a good excuse to expand it into a three-session set. Again, Maybe.

One of the highpoints of the weekend was running (briefly) in Jim Ward's might Gamma World campaign. James was eloquent and entertaining as always, leaning to random and relatively fatal encounters. I ended up getting shot by another player at the table, a mutant otter with a pulse rifle, but fun was had by all. For my pain, Jim presented me with a small autographed skull.

Some Swag
Also important for me was seeing folk I had not seen in literal decades. I worked in Lake Geneva for TSR, but had not been back for 20+ years. We held a TSR Alumni party on-site and it was a great opportunity to catch up with so many old friends. One of them, Kevin Melka, late of the RPGA, was passing out 3D-printed Cthulhus. He gave me a rainbow one.

And I was delighted to see Zeb Cook win a Lifetime Achievement award. I thought that was great. 

Oh, and we got to see the D&D Movie early at a local theater north of town. It was a fun movie, and I got a Dragon head dice container. 

Downsides? Very few. I suppose the fact we got about 6 inches of snow on Saturday. Fortunately it was a wet and heavy snow, and the temperature warmed later in the day, so I could push it off easily. But if you're going to rent a car in Wisconsin in March, make sure it has a snow brush.

And there was concrud fallout. Some friends had a nasty cold/flu afterwards. A lot of people tested positive for COVID. I escaped both, but have been a little brain-fuzzed for the past week. I don't know if should blame the gatherings or not. But I also left energized, and wanting to address some the half-dozen concepts I've been playing around with for a while

So, in summary - great convention, well-run, saw a lot of old friends. Kudos to Luke Gygax and an extremely talented team in putting it all together.

More later, 

Monday, April 10, 2023

Return of the Quills


I've mentioned before I have a playwright's group, the Quills. Last year we put together an evening to present our new works. And we're doing it again. This is a reader's theater, which means that we'll just be reading the plays, without any blocking, costumes, or other stuff. If you're in the area, come see us!

      The Quills New Works Evening 

Monday, April 17th, 2023
6 PM to 8 PM

Edmonds Driftwood Players
(Wade James Theater)
950 Main St. 

Edmonds, WA

The Quills is a forum for amateur playwrights in the Seattle area. Please join us for a public reading of our new short works and scenes from longer plays in process.

Free—but we will be soliciting feedback.

Masks are requested but not required.