Sunday, April 28, 2024

Recent Arrivals: Gary Con Edition

Buckle in, chums. This is going to be a long one. I blame Gary Con.

Gary Con itself is a great little convention in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin celebrating the life and works of Gary Gygax. It is ringleadered by Gary's son Luke, his family, and a host of extremely talented people. It is one of the best-organized small conventions I have attended. Right now it is straining at the seams as we had a not-so-small 4000 people at the Grand Geneva (once upon a time the Playboy Resort) at the edge of town. It is a great little con, and it continues to impress. 

A few things on this list showed up since last time, but with the convention a whole slew of new products came in. Part of this is because I was a guest of the convention, and as such had a swag bag of stuff (thanks, folks!). And part of it is because there are good small publishers that I only find at conventions like Gary Con.

Let's do the Gary Con material first.

Gary Con Event Guide #16, Luke Gygax, the Gygax family, and a host of talented people, 56-page saddle-stitched magazine format, 2024.  A gift from a fan (whose name I missed - I was sitting doing autographs, admired the book (which I had not seen up to that point) and he presented me a copy).  I offer this as exhibit A for the organizational skills behind Gary Con. It is an impressive volume in heavy stock, with ALL the guests of honor, maps of the Grand Geneva done in 1st Edition style, adverts for various sponsors, and a cover by Erol Otus. I remain impressed.

Expert Level Dice Set, Gaxx Worx, Seven polyhedral dice (well five polyhedrals and two percentage dice, to be accurate), plus a white crayon, swag bag at Gary Con. I'll be honest, this really, really made me smile, and I am SO torn between the temptation of leaving it intact in the packaging or taking it out and PLAYING with the dice. Part of that delight, for the younger folk here, is that early on, we didn't ink the dice, but instead provided a white crayon for the players to fill in the numbers themselves. It's a heady whiff of nostalgia. Some folk were selling these off Ebay after the event, but you're patient, you probably can get them for a more reasonable price here.

Gary Con DM Screen, four-panel plasticized DM Screen with paper inserts, swag bag, I assume this is another Gaxx Worx project, but to be honest I don't have anything on the item to indicate an owner. The panels have cartoons on them involving Demogorgon, an Aboloth, and (I think) Acerak on them. The interior (removable) sheets have useful information from 5E. It reminds me that I shlep my ancient and decaying AD&D 1e DM Screen around because it contains n all the to-hit and saving throw charts from the era. This, I'll admit, I like.

D&D 50th Anniversary Placard by Tim "Ollie" Cahoon. TSR Veteran Ollie Calhoun had these printed (3D Plastic) up and was passing them out at the TSR reunion party (which he also organized). I just wanted to show it off and say thank you to Ollie - great work!

Echoes from Fomalhaut by Gabor Lux and others, 4 issues, First Hungarian D20 Society, Various page length (40-54 pages), 'Zine  digest format, 2018-2022. Purchased from the Black Blade booth at Gary Con (as an aside, the Black Blade is exactly the sort of place I frequent at conventions - carrying stuff I can't find at the Friendly Local Shop).  I like 'zines, They tend to be handmade, personal takes on the chosen gaming system. This collection comes from the First Hungarian D20 Society, translated into English. And these 'zines are pretty cool - each one contains a couple dungeons, some additional articles, and a separate B/W map. Very artisanal - the maps are hand-drawn. I picked up issues 1-3 and issue 10, and will seek to fill out the rest of the collection at future cons.

Cosmology of Role-Playing Games by Alyssa Faden, Cave Geek Art and Frog God Games 24" by 36" poster. Purchased at the Frog God Games booth. OK, in the picture above, it is UNDERNEATH everything else, but you can see it in all its glory here. Faden has researched 1300-some RPGS and laid them out in a timeline with TSR as the big bang in the center, and the other games spreading out to the right and left over time. The end collections are further gathered by publisher (The White Wolf wing or the West End arm of the galaxy). There was a larger version hanging on the wall at Gary Con, which quickly became the "Where's Waldo" experience for all the game designers. 

I Choose to Rise by Dr. Artika Tyner and Merle M. Rasmussen, 52-card deck, Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute, 2022, gift from the designer. Long ago and far away Merle created Top Secret for TSR, and recently has been more active in game design (with, among other things, a new version of Top Secret). I Choose to Rise is a point-scoring card game based around Black history, and the Rise in the title reflect the suits (Respect, Integrity, Self-Awareness, and Engagement). The cards themselves feature famous Black leaders, athletes, and entertainers. 

DM Offerings - Ran a few games at Gary Con, and some of the players brought small gifts for the DM. These are appreciated (thank you) but definitely not required. Andy was in two games, and brought dice each time (including some nice ruby jeweled dice), while Sypros gave me a small bag containing a Waterdhavian coin and a Magic Card for a character I created that I never knew had been turned into a card (Jodah, Archmage Eternal). The card's flavor text a pull from one of my books. Thank you both.

Preludes to Adventure: In the Days of Our Youth by Jon Cook, Renaissance Tactical Studies, 24 page squarebound, 2022, Prologue to the Story: Lambethfield Faire by Jon Cook, Renaissance Tactical Studies, 36-pages, 2023, Gift from the Author. Another gift to the DM, but this one has more text. This is what the kids today would call "Session Zero" stuff - the adventures you have before you start adventuring. Days of Our Youth provide four intros to 1 or 2 characters each, while Lambethfield Faire holds some springboards for adventure. The text is straightforward, the format is open, and while the project uses art in the public domain, it then credits the original sources. That's nice.

Shadowdark by Kelsey Dione,  The Arcane Library 326-page digest-sized hardback, 2023, Black Blade Booth at Gary Con. Longtime TSR Vet Steve Winter clued me in on this, and I saw a LOT of this being played at Gary Con itself. I'm not surprised. Imagine taking 5th Edition and doing an OSR version of it. Four classes, three alignments, three type of armor. Add some modern tweaks - Ancestries instead of Races (but the standard Elf-Dwarf-Halfling mix is there). Advantages and Disadvantages. And some interesting wrinkles - Initiative starts with high roll and goes clockwise. A good chunk of the book is monster stats and random encounter tables. The book itself is clear and heavy - it's the one with the weird beholder on the cover in the picture - not putting the name on the cover is a thing these days. Picked it up with a Shadowdark Zine Cursed Scroll (Also Kelsey Dione, The Arcane Library, 64-page digest), which in the tradition of early D&D zines has more classes, spells, and an adventure. 

Night Shift: Veterans of the Supernatural Wars Quick Start Rules and Adventure by Derek Stoelting, Elf Lair Games, 32-page saddle-stitched booklet, 2019, Either in the swag bag or from the designer of the Night Shift game, I'm really not certain at this point. This is not only an introduction to the world of Night Shift (Which feels very Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Forever Knight in tone) but for the OGRES system (Oldschool Generic Roleplaying Engine System) which is close enough to D&D that it includes an OGL statement. Classes include thing like Sage, Veteran, and Chosen One. Looks interesting.

Wildspace Magazine: Rock of Bral, David "Big Mac" Shepheard, Editor and a variety of authors, The Piazza,  2024(?), 64-page perfect bound,  Free magazine but presented to me by Lee at one of my signings. This is pretty impressive - heavy stock, full color, cover that echoes the Spelljammer module covers of yore. The insides echo with classic magazine fare - short fiction, locations, NPCs, and an adventure. Neat stuff, and great to see that people are still creating and developing for this corner of fantasy reality.

So, what about things that were NOT Gary Con related?

Candela Obscura by Spenser Starke and Rowan Hall, Darrington Press/Illuminated Worlds, 204 page hardbound, 2023, Purchase from MOX Boarding House in Bellevue. This is part of a Critical Role series of live-plays (which I haven't seen). and was curious about what sort of system they would create free of the shackles of traditional D&D-style fantasy. I need to do more reading, but it does feel more like a descendent of Blades in the Dark, with clocks and roles, but some wrinkles like dice tricks (if a die is Gilded or not). The concept is a small group of professional paranormal investigators in a fantasy turn-of-the-twentieth city investigating the paranormal. Sort of a heroic horror genre. I'd want to read a bit more of it (There's a lot of unique terms to wrap my brain around) before taking it out for a spin.

Dr. Grordbort's Scientific Adventure Violence, by T.G. Crackle, Brian Saliba, and Zach Theiler, Exalted Funeral/Stardog Limited Partnership, 332-page hardback, 2024, Kickstarter. This is a Space-1889ish version of 5E based on the art and designs of Greg Broadmore of Weta Workshop. Broadmore has a lot of weapons, ships and other steampunk/raypunk designs, and they built a campaign setting around them. They addressed the inherent colonialism of the era by identifying the colonial leaders as being asshats, a variation of the "Are we the baddies?" trope, and while not pushing the PCs towards being rebels, they definitely give a head-nod to it. OK, that's cool. More irritating is the fact that there is no character sheet in the book, even though credit is given to the character sheet designer and have made some mods to how being on a different planet affects your 5E stats (It is the PDF material, but that's not helpful to people picking it up at the local hobby shop). A separate booklet, repeating all the information on how devices malfunctions, came with the Kickstarter, but that's missing a character sheet as well.

Aquellaire: The Demonic Medieval Role-Playing Game by Ricard Ibanez, translated by Cabell Venable and Lester Smith, 568-page hardback, Nocturnal Media, 2015, purchased at Apparition Books, Renton. I found this massive tome at Apparition Books in Renton, which is a small one-person operation with an curated collection heavily into the occult and mythology. The owner has recently expanded to the tune of adding several additional shelves on top of his original collection, and has started carrying used RPGs as well. Anyway, Aquellaire is a translated  Spanish RPG that set in the Iberian peninsula in the 14th and 15th centuries, before its unification into what we think of as Spain. Players are demon-hunters, and the huge book is filled with data on demons, spells, and the social world of pre-Empiric Spain. Physically, it is a solid book, though my ancient eyes could do without the Italicized/Bold text peppered through the text, and the Gothic section headers. 

The Blessed and the Blasphemous by Francis Acquarone, Patrick Chandler, DanBass, Jason Sheets, and Jesse Covner, 340 page hardback, Sons of the Singularity, 2023, Kickstarter. Another mammoth text, this one wrapped around a single adventure for Call of Cthulhu from Chaosium. You actually have to do some digging in the text to figure out exactly what is going on - Several groups in pre-WWII Morocco are trying to bring back a Mythos entity. Your job is to stop them. A lot on the cultural and political situation of the region, much of it repeated elsewhere in sidebars. Kickstarter came with a Boxed Campaign Dossier Set that includes handouts, character sheet, a GM Screen, and a "Clue board" for organizing the play.

And as I was finishing this up a large package arrived from the North Texas RPG Con. I've agreed to be one of their judges for the Three Castles Award this year. So the next writeup should not be until June, when the convention occurs. So look out for that one.

More later, 

Monday, April 22, 2024

Theatre: The Comedy of Hamlet

 Fat Ham by James Ijames, Directed by Timothy McCuen Piggee, Seattle Rep through 12 May.

In a bit of happenstance, this is ALSO a Pulitzer Prize-winning play, winning the year before English did. So I did a little research, to discover HOW one wins a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The award is a juried award, which means that five grey eminences (one academic and four critics) get to make the call based on the year's submitted output (usually New York City based). Their choice can be overruled by the larger Pulitzer Prize committee at Columbia. but usually there is agreement (but there have been some notable exceptions). Just so you know.

Fat Ham falls into that category of "Shakespeare Adjacent" plays - Hamlet set behind around a BBQ grill in a black family's suburban home. Juicy (Taj E.M. Burroughs) is our Hamlet. His dad (Reginald Andre Jackson) just died in prison and his mom (Dedra D. Woods) just married his uncle (also Reginald Andre Jackson). Dad's ghost shows up to declare that Uncle Rev is responsible for his death, and demands the son avenge the father.

Familiar stuff, right? Well, Juicy/Hamlet isn't sure about all this avenging stuff. In fact, Juicy is not sure about a lot of things - he's an outsider, a loner, a young gay man in hostile territory. His family loves him but thinks he's soft, effeminate, and too smart for his own good. So he's trying to navigate a dysfunctional family that includes his dead (and abusive) father and his angry (and abusive) step-dad.

And tonally the production is all over the map, skittering from August Wilson levels of subliminal violence to BET Sitcom, then dipping into Shakespeare's original work, then tapping on the fourth wall and finally breaking it entirely. Juicy has his strange interludes, and brings some of the rest of his fam in with him. They make their case to the audience. Its an interesting mix, and in the end, it works.

What also works is giving more for the supporting cast things to work with. The original Shakespeare was all about Hamlet, and how he manipulates the situation around the others. Fat Ham's family all has their own stories, their own histories. We actually get into Tedra/Gertrude's thought processes on marrying her husband's brother. Opal/Ophelia (Aishe Keita) is much more than a tangential love interest that dies in a pond. Tio/Horatio (Chip Sherman) is an overblown, too-loud sidekick, and pulls it off incredibly well, as does Semaj Miller, who is transformative as the jarhead Larry/Laertes. Even Felicia V. Loud, who is pitched as Rabby/Polonius in this to-do, graduates from a stock character on Sanford & Son to a real person.

And the stagecraft for the most of the play actually behaves itself, until it finally cuts the surly bounds of gravity and takes flight itself, moving from earthbound to, well, luminescent. 

So, Pulitzer prize-winner. Yeah, I can see it, not for how it hews to the original material, but how it veers away and eventually discards its predecessor. I'll be honest - I liked English better, but this one, over the course of the performance, really won me over. 

More later, 

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Political Desk: Hyperlocal

So, this one is only for people in Kent School District No. 415 who read this blog. Both of you.

Proposition1 Capital Projects and Technology Levy. Vote YES.

And yeah, you've seen something like this before. It was a bond issue that needed 60% approval (and didn't get it), and then another levy which only needed 50% (and didn't get it). And this one has some modifications to the pitch that reduced it a bit more. It is still pushing replacing the HVACs, roofs, boilers, and putting artificial turf on a couple sports fields. The No faction is upset about the listed priorities, the idea that even the priorities they like can be removed, and that a bunch of politicians are pushing the issue. It is the only thing on the ballot, so the pro and anti messages are in the same envelope with the ballot itself.

The whole thing bothers me in a couple ways that have no bearing on the moneys raised (This blog supported the previous attempts as well). Kent City Council asked the legislature for the ability to raise the sales tax to pay for more police officers (that request failed to get out of committee). But they did approve a raise for the Mayor without a vote. Now, both are worthy causes, but it sort of grinds my gears the we can do that, but whenever we want to push education (which is mandated by our state constitution) we have to get out the begging bowl and stand at the SR 167 exits cadging for spare change.

And this election is sort of out there in the middle of nowhere. I don't support the sudden move to gather all the elections together in one place, but the idea that we need to make this election now (budget timing) is frustrating in that there is nothing else going on. And this sort of thing will happen more often as we move elected offices to even-years only.

But that's just me. I feel like I am an old man yelling at the cloud. But let's do this one before some roofs start caving in around here. Dig out you ballot, Kenters (Kentarians? Kentfolk?) and vote YES

More later, 

[Update: And the Levy loses again, 57-43%, which is more than last time. Yeah, part of it is that it is by its lonesome on the ballot, and older voters tend to be more represented in the sample as a result. But I think that if they drop the artificial sports fields, they could have notched it up to being competitive]

Friday, April 19, 2024

Life in the Time of the Virus: The Great Forgetting

I probably should rethink the title of this series. It is now ALWAYS the time of the Virus, as we wait for it to mutate once more, or for something EVEN WORSE to show up on the horizon. It's not going away.
New York Restaurant, Edward Hopper, 1922

But in the meantime, we are in the throes of the Great Forgetting. Having passed through the worst of times, we are trying to forget they even happened. The pandemic that crushed our medical infrastructure and cost a million lives in the US alone has subdued to endemic levels. Maybe even just demic levels. And so we kinda forget it was only yesterday.

At first I thought it was just me. I'm at the age where I think of the 90s as only five years ago or so, and my entire computer game career to be some sort of side gig I took between writing campaign settings for RPGs. And that I have to THINK about things to remember that 2004 was twenty years ago.

But it's just not me. We seem as a people to have "moved on" and dumped what collective experiences we had down the memory hole. Everything since the millennium has been just a couple years ago. We seem to be stuck in neutral, and part of it is throwing out stuff we don't want to remember. Like the pandemic. Facebook sends the occasional reminder from four years past, and there is the much-rarer news report of someone flipping out about someone else wearing a mask, but it has all been pushed to the sidelines. There is more talk about people working from home than WHY they were working from home in the first place.

And yeah, we've done it before. In the wake of the misnamed Spanish Flu (which is not truly Spanish, but got its start in the trenches of WWI), we wanted to pass on that ever happening. There were occasional references in later years to the Great Influenza, but by the time I started learning history, it was a footnote. We were so damned determined to return to normalcy (heck, politicians even ran on the platform in the 1920's), that we pretty much learned nothing, and reacted in surprise when other flus and diseases rolled through like summer storms.

In part my concern is that I'm personally moving into convention season, in a year when D&D turns 50 and I'm traveling more than normal. I returned from Gary Con (great convention in Lake Geneva, WI) with a killer cold that literally knocked me out for a couple days (and I am still gravel-voiced for a while). It was the first time since I had COVID that I was seriously ill. A colleague returned from the con with a nasty case of the flu and exhaustion, and another colleague tested positive from COVID. So as we're moving around more, it is getting more likely we'll pick something up.

So that's where we are. Challenges still lurk out there. Caution recommended but not expected.  We've kinda forgotten.

More later, 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Theatre: Language Lab


English by Sanaz Toossi, Directed by Naghmeh Samini, a co-production with Seda Iranian Theatre Ensemble, Arts West, through 28 April.

Another journey to the Junction in West Seattle, and with it yet ANOTHER change is how they handle parking there. Same parking lot, yet every time we're out there, there is a new vendor and/or new process. This one is run by the lot owner themselves, and while we had to work through the menus to park, there was a guy in a hoodie (lot attendant, I hope) walking around and scanning people's plates. 

So there's that. But also, we had dinner at our favorite sushi place in the neighborhood, Mashiko. We've been going there for some time, such that the kitchen knows us (and that we always order a salmon tartar that's no longer on the menu). Great food, and settles us well for the theater.

Oh, the play? Excellent. English is takes place within a classroom in Tehran, teaching for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) with a goal of allowing the students to travel abroad. Instructor Marjan (Vahista Vafadari) demands that they are "English Only", but her students slip into their native Farsi easily out of humor and frustration. The students are a mixed bag - Omid (Emon Elboudware) is the teacher's pet, speaking English well. Goli (Newsha Farahani) is the youngest and most eager to learn. Roya (Janet Hayatshahi) is a grandmother who wants to learn English so she can go to Canada and speak with her granddaughter. And Elham (Shereen Khatibloo) is the class rebel - she's failed the final test five times already and hates English and everything connected with it.

And the conceit is that when the cast speaks English, they do so in accented English, but when speaking their native Farsi, the speak in unaccented English. In Farsi, their words and mannerisms are colloquial and natural, while in English is stilted, halting, and unsure. Even the subject matter in English shows a marked difference from reality (Really, how many conversations have you had where you ask "What is your favorite color?") And yeah, I got a bit of High School PTSD from trying to learn French (I tried to  hit it head-on, looking at it as a problem to be solved logically, and as a result bounced right off it).

Ultimately, another language is a mask of another culture, and embracing it often challenges one's own inherent presentation and identity. Watching the class struggle with the language, with each other, and with their own desires provides a rich tapestry of choice and thought. Each has to answer the question - why are you doing this? Is it worth it?

The actors are amazing and deep in capturing the dual nature forced on their characters. The stage is a backdrop of school chairs cascading from the ceiling, underscoring the internal chaos within the classroom. The scrim behind them is the blackboard, which echoes Marjan's instructions. Both do a lot to support the actors and their interactions.

This won a Pulitzer. Yeah, I can see that. 

More later,