Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year: 2009 goes out with tequila

Happy New Year to all out there. Although we have plenty of choices to drink tonight, it appears like we are going out featuring tequila. Got some Anejos for sipping: Cabo, Espolon & Milagro. Got some Jose Cuervo Traditional (reposado) and 1800 (white) limited edition for the margaritas. Notice the interesting bottle artwork on the 1800. If I remember anything tomorrow I may post about it. Don't hold your breath. Have a happy, safe & prosperous new year. Update Jan 1: For those of you against my advice are holding your breath, here is the scoop. Milagro slightly preferred as the sipping tequila by some of the group. After a pitcher of each tequilas mentioned above for magaritas, the group preferred the Traditional which then became the staple for the rest of the evening. Good tequila = minimal hangover.

Friday, December 18, 2009


the bloggers version with apologies to Clement Clarke Moore

'Twas the night before Christmas, on the 'net and in the house, Not a blogger was posting, motionless their mouse
The FRPG musings were posted on blogspot with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas would be reading there
The characters were nestled all snug in their beds, While visions of treasure hoards danced in their heads
And mamma with her handbook, and I with my map, Had just nodded off for a short gamer's nap
When from the game room there arose such a clatter, I fell from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away down the stairs I tumbled with fright, Tore open the door and threw on the lights.
The rays from tree lights on the hexgrid below Gave an erie lustre of magic to objects that glow,
When, what to my bloodshot eyes should appear, But miniatures, a sleigh, and eight pewter reindeer
With a little old driver, so red and waist thick, I knew it was painted to look like St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles on hastes spells they came, And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name; "Now, Mialee! now, Redgar! now, Tordek and Jozan! On, Lidda! on Krusk! on, Gimble and Nebin!
To the top of the castle! to the top of the wall! Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As wizards, who at fifth level take the spell fly, those figures they flew just missing my eye.
So up to the Mantel-top the miniature reindeer they flew, the tiny sleigh full of games, and St. Nicholas too. And then, in a twinkling, I heard as they stood, prancing and pawing of metal on wood.
As I drew up my hand, and was uttering a sound, off the mantel St. Nicholas enlarged with a bound. He was dressed in fake fur, from his head to his foot, And his clothes looked tarnished with faux ashes and soot
A bundle of boxes fell on the floor with his growth, like at Gencon, a marketer just opening his booth.
His red eyes -- how they twinkled! it was really quite scary!
His lips were bright red, more like blood than a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a shortbow, his beard braided dwarf like was as white as the snow
In his teeth was a pipe the color of bones, the smoke it encircled his head like ioun stones
He had a broad face and a little round belly, that shook, when he laughed like gelatinous cube jelly.
He was chubby and plump, who though him an elf? He is more like a 1E gnome, I thought to myself
A wink of his eye, and my reactions had trailed, I was immobile, my save it had failed
He spoke not a word, but went straight to my snacks, and stuffed his mouth full and mumbled, 'relax'.
And laying his finger aside of his nose, getting quite small, up the mantel he rose
He sprang to his sleigh, said 'teleport' to his team, and vanished all like they were a dream.
But I heard him exclaim, from the ether out of sight, "Happy Christmas to all, back to posting 'morrow night."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Imagination vs. Antiseptic Standard Descriptions

In my previous post about Vancian magic someone commented that "Part of my like for it stems from the weird names of the old spells ("Otto's Irresistable Dance," etc.)" I also enjoyed Gary's creative and odd naming of things. Rather than bemoan the passing of that creativity, we should rather be spurred on to continue in that tradition. You have undoubtedly read before that instead of just saying, "I attack", you could say, "I draw back and give a tremendous overhead chop with my bloody falchion attempting to cut the foul creature in two!" No news here, that is fairly standard advice. So why are we limited to the antiseptic spell names and descriptions? I say that you are only limited by your imagination and the effort you spend. You could cast color spray. Instead you could weave arcane symbols in the air and speak the difficult words of power and release Marigus Coruscating Assault. At the completion of casting a myriad of sparkles of red, green and blue light spray forth from the casters eyes and growing quickly in size to become recognizable as twirling knives, axes and scythes which fill the area of the cone as a brief assault against all in the area. You could cast Cause Fear. Instead the wizard casts Fear the Mage. The target of the spell suddenly has a flash of understanding of the dark power of the mage who cast the spell. You could cast Burning Hands. Instead the wizard casts Icy Breath (like burning hands but cold). At the completion of casting the mage blows forth an icy breath in a cone. Lastly, there is no reason the DM has the sole responsibility for creative descriptions in the game. I challenge the players to stand up and be counted. If you miss 'old school' D&D for the descriptions, then I say there is nothing to miss. Let the spirit of Gary flow regardless of what version of the game you play.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Vancian Magic vs. greater spell flexibility

I have always despised the Vancian magic system of D&D. During our play of Basic, AD&D, and 3rd edition we tried RAW in every case but over time they left us feeling unsatisfied. We gave up basic for AD&D. House ruled AD&D for spell points. House ruled 3rd edition for spell slots. Vancian magic never felt 'right' in our campaigns and we did not like the side effects on the game. Those who do not like the Vancian magic have written tomes on what is wrong with it. For us it was: 1. Takes too long to select spells 2. Spells other than standard never selected 3. The short adventure day: Forced to respell after a small number of encounters – come back next day (to be fair this is not entirely a Vancian magic problem) 4. Cleric has to save spells to cure characters and/or party needs to purchase curing power (wands, potions, scrolls) to use between encounters. So we devised house rules to change the game. (what a shock, huh) For us it works. It does require some machinations on the part of the DM; the game is just not designed for the power boost granted the players by that flexibility. I say so what. The magic system seemed alien to us and there was always a sense of something not quite right in the game. We are much happier with the change, and with careful DMing and some other house rules the spell casters do NOT overshadow the other characters. So my questions to you all: (regardless of edition you play pre 4th): If you could easily house rule the game balance, would you change to a more flexible spell learning/using system or do you prefer the flavor of the Vancian spell system? If you are a fan of the flavor of the Vancian spell system, is it because you are a fan of the Vance novels or a fan of the original flavor as you learned in the game?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Stuck for a fantasy name? Comment on a blog

You are working on your adventure, and you are stuck for a fantasy name for an NPC. No worries, just make a comment on one of your favorite gaming blogs. comes up and presto! Here is your NPC name. Try some yourself. I just got these four myself. Oddlente - he can be a merchant Califo - she sounds like a minstrel Caliblyt - definitely a priestess of some obscure goddess Prescals - a mercenary by trade Thank you Blogspot for this RPG tool! Silly Sarcasm alert is now over, you are free to return to your normal programming.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thoughts on formal skill challenge

I have been ruminating on adding formal skill challenges to our 3.5 game. I am an equal opportunity borrower; I gleefully borrow rules from 4E, earlier editions, other systems, or other folks generously shared house rules. A rule is just a tool for the DM to help run the game. Use the ones that work; delegate those that do not to the garderobe and let the otyugh have them. There is something about the idea that I like. The question for me is: is creating formal skill challenges worth the effort that goes into them? It took me a while to understand what they meant by skill challenges, and how to use them. I suspect I was not the only one based on the amount of chatter on the boards on the topic and the errata and how to files that have been furiously posted after release. Finally after internalizing what was meant the next question was: how is that different from what I do already as DM in the game? I am leaning towards answering my own question with the response of - not much. Example of a simple skill challenge: A character is chasing or being chased. Both the chaser and the chasee have the same movement base. There are rules for resolving this by rolling dice, and if the player does not want to step up and use skills and abilities to resolve this problem then we can use the rule. However, I would much prefer that player take an active role in overcoming this challenge. Tell me how you change this reality? A player might: cast a spell to alter the reality (make themselves faster, opponent slower, stop the opponent outright, etc), tell me how they use their superior strength or endurance to outpace the other, or tell me how they use the environment to their advantage creatively using a skill (strength to push aside brush, escape artist to get through difficult spaces, intimidate or diplomacy to alter a crowd of people, bluff to fool the opponent, the possibilities are nearly endless). I have always viewed the subsections of my adventures as sort of a skill challenge. Yes you fight your way through some of it, but you can use your other tools as well. Usually there are benefits in using a characters various other skills and abilities rather that straight forward hack and cast. So what have they done for me in codifying skill challenges? So far I am thinking not much. I am an experienced DM, so I am usually ready (expecting) for the players to NOT follow the path I set for them and have to improvise. Therefore I am quite accustomed to adjudicating a players creative use of their skills to solve a problem in ways I had not foreseen. Since my track record for predicting what my players will actually do is abysmal at best - what value is there in spending valuable and limited time to 'precisely' define what skills and difficulty levels are required to solve the problem? (I think I am foreshadowing the answer, no?) On the other hand if generous gamers post clever skill challenges that I can borrow and convert with little effort - praise be to Arimal goddess of those who 'borrow' may she bestow her luck on those who enrich my game. My 'skill challenges' are more like a series of balloons and arrows with some logic points (yes go here - no go there; if then else; etc). Sure there are points where I document precisely what is needed to succeed on a certain element, but I do not formalize the entire process. I am not completely done ruminating on this, but so far I am not inclined to spend valuable preparation time in this level of detail.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Winter ales early: Harpoon Winter Warmer

The beer companies are just as bad as the big box retailers. Winter has not officially started yet and the winter beers are flooding the shelves. Well, I bought it anyway. Heh. I was not in the mood for any of the myriad pumpkin ales that stared hauntingly at me. Boo! I am up at our lake house and spent the afternoon working on screen coverings for our new porch. It is cold and rainy here today. Add that to my general ineptness in such endeavors and the result is not many screen coverings were built and hung today. Cold, wet, tired, and frustrated - hmmmm, good time for a winter brew. Back inside I grabbed a Harpoon Winter Warmer while I put some soup on the stove and Amy Winehouse on the boom box. (Too bad she is such a train wreck - Back in Black is a fine album). Post soup I have a sandwich queued up: black forest rye, deli sliced roast beef, horseradish (we are out of mustard here - what is up with that!), cheddar cheese and some russet kettle cooked potato chips. Oh, right, the beer. I am firm believer that your state of mind, and the food you are eating if you are having a food friendly drink affects how you enjoy the drink. As described above this is a friendly environment for a winter ale. This is a mildly full bodied ale. More creamy than hoppy, it has almost zero bitter aftertaste. The finish is long, and mostly carried by the spices. It is fairly well balanced, though the spices are forward as you might expect from the style. Surprisingly, it went well with the Mediterranean style sausage and pasta soup. It is a little weak for the serious sandwich I have going on here, but not completely overwhelmed. Perhaps the black forest rye cries out for heavy Bavarian dark, my bad in the beer and food selection. You can find a number of other brands with their spiced winter brews out there, I think they are all featuring the cinnamon and nutmeg like this Harpoon brew. If you compare them, let us know how that worked out. In summary, I can recommend it. It is moderate enough to have on its own, but can stand up to some food (skip the black forest rye though). Not a brew to rave about, but solid enough to have and not be disappointed. Cheers.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Haiku wisdom for adventuring parties on a bad day

My gaming group had an off night some months ago. Some time had passed since our last outing and, well, the group was just not playing as if they were the experienced team that they are. During the session I could only chuckle as one after another unfortunate event occurred. They did not need me to point it out to them, they knew. However I could not resist sharing with them some poetry between sessions in the wrap up. Note: this is not typical, and I had never done this before. They did not think it was as funny as I did. Go figure. Enjoy.

move silent roll fails
so much metal armor worn
next time send the rogue

patiently waiting
many hide ranks has the foe
you are now surprised

desperate player
only one chance to survive
the dice never lie

trolls are dangerous
fortunate they have weakness
I thought you had torch

items on your list
they would have been quite useful
you forgot to buy

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Recurring Villain

In my experience, on either side of the screen, nothing creates instant and passionate motivation in the players like a recurring villain. Sure, there is desire to save the world, gain stature, kill things and take there stuff, and all that. Add revenge to the mix and you have a winning combination. Recurring villains eat at the adventure party like nothing else. Even while they are off on other exciting adventures they always make comments like, "When we are done this, we have to go back and get that guy." Too many recurring villains waters down their impact. Not enough and the connection players have to the world is weak. I have some personal unofficial rules about recurring villains that I use to some success. They must have something memorable and unique about them. This helps the players have a strong emotional impression of the villain. The player characters must pose some level of threat to the villain. Villains must be played consistently for verisimilitude. Smart villains make smart plans. Dumb villains make dumb mistakes. Smart villains will use others to do their dirty work whenever possible. Villains should be focused on their own agenda until such time as the player characters become a problem and their agenda. If players alter the villains environment, have the villain react to that change. For example if the players reduce the villains resource pool, then the villain is limited to the new lower resource pool. No matter what the story line or how much time I put into building a villain, villains can be defeated if the players are clever. Conversely, villains can get away if players are less than clever. I do not care for predetermination. I think that is transparent to the players and demoralizing. In my campaign I have some villains that are planned for recurring purposes, some villains that are candidates if the players do not defeat them in their first encounter with them, and some villains that have been created spontaneously because of an unexpected unsuccessful encounter on the part of the player characters that was just too good to pass up. Depending on the villain and the circumstances, I may have the villain increase in levels as the party does. If the villain is active and successful they can grow just like the player characters can. Other villains are more stagnant and the players can grow to become powerful enough to challenge them. Then there is the mysterious villain.... players at first are not sure who, what or why. Oh, the endless possibilities! How do you use villains?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bowmore Scotch

The family is all out engaged in their own activities tonight. The wife thoughtfully left dinner prepared for me before she ran out. (She is a sweet heart, the love of my life and much more than I deserve) After dinner, I spent a few minutes looking for a map I had made for the next adventure with the intent of refreshing my memory and adding a couple of notes. Due to the sorry state of my DM 'bag', I instead spent a half hour cleaning up and organizing same. As a reward for my good behavior I decided to put on some music and have a beer or perhaps a glass of wine. Unable to come to a decision between the two, the chill in the air from the brisk autumn night instead propelled me to reach for the liquor cabinet. So here I sit, sipping a glass of Bowmore 12 year Islay single malt Scotch whisky, neat. In the background plays JJ Cale & Eric Clapton Escondido. The first point I will make is - life does not suck. I will not bore you with the extraneous details of the clarity of the sound from my stereo or the comfort of the leather couch. As you can guess from the title of the blog, this is about the Scotch. First I will say that I am hard pressed to find a 12 year old single malt Scotch whisky that does not have some redeeming quality. This Islay has a nice peat smokiness, and it would be perfect for sitting in front of the fireplace - even better if you have a peat/turf fire glowing warmly therein. Although I do not have any handy to try, this would go nicely with some smoke meat or cheese. There is nothing overwhelming about this whisky, it is nicely balanced with a long smooth and subtle finish. According to the tasting notes, I should be finding subtle notes of lemon and honey with the trademark smokiness in the nose. I do not - I get the smokiness but instead of the pleasant lemon and honey there is a trace of mustiness which is far less pleasant. After a few sips I can finally taste the suggested faint dark chocolate amongst the peat smoke. All palates are different, and instead I come away with a nice almost butterscotch hint with the smokiness. I give it a thumbs up. Not my favorite single malt by any stretch, but if you find it on sale, do not be afraid to purchase it. I think the Cale & Clapton helped too. Cheers!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Falling with impunity

"Falling down became second nature and it really didn't bother me." Nancy Kerrigan The rogue character climbs the tower with rope and grappling hook and achieves the top room before the horde of orcs and the large ogre can breach the door. Quickly he helps the princess climb into the rafters of the tower roof and hands her the invisibility potion. "Remain motionless and quiet," he commands her and then moves to the balcony just before the door is sundered in a shower of wooden splinters. "How far to the ground?" asks the player. "Fifty feet. The wall is smooth finished stone," answers the DM. "Hmmmmm, five times six is thirty, so I can survive maximum damage with my thirty-two hit points. Balazar steps off the balcony and waves good-bye to the charging orcs and their ogre pet. At the bottom I will drink my potion of cure serious wounds. Next round I will join the others fighting their way up the tower stairs." Balazar's player crosses his arms and look smug. The DM grinds his teeth. Sound familiar? Should a DM grind his teeth over this encounter? I have no qualms over players defeating my evil designs and feeling smug over it. I rather like that they feel smug when they are successful. I despise metagaming. I also despise the lack of verisimilitude. Should not falling be dangerous? Should players ever know EXACTLY what is the risk of failure? Where is the excitement is danger if you know exactly that you can defy common sense fear of falling and step off the tower ledge? The player did not even attempt to lessen the damage using tumble skill, or some other tool they may have been carrying. Your mileage may vary, but in my game this is just plain wrong. What do you do? I have cast about for possible alternate and house rules to achieve the feel or verisimilitude. Various gaming sites forums have discussions on the same topic, some old some new. A common solution is for falling to do ability point damage. That does give back some lethalness to the situation but induces two undesirable side effects. First, ability damage is a PITA to manage and causes more calculations. Calculations are not inherently fun for most people. Second, ability damage levels the playing field across character levels therefore a higher level character would not be more likely to survive a fall than a lower level character. This goes against the premise that characters get 'better' as they move up in level. I even spent some serious time with a spreadsheet comparing actual velocity to the falling damage. (notice I said that calculations are not inherently fun for MOST people). Surprisingly, the velocity to damage ratio is remarkably close to a straight line d6 damage per ten feet after you get by the initial twenty feet and before you achieve terminal velocity. However, this does not address my concern. During a long discuss on this topic with one of my players (who just also happens to be my grown son) he became thoughtful and asked, "what is the difference between falling damage and weapon damage?" Indeed, what? If you can subscribe to the notion of hit point abstraction, which is hard to avoid if you play D&D, you can easily rationalize an answer of, "nothing." So where does that leave us? It brought us back to looking at other rules, rather than 'solving' the falling problem. Maybe the problem was not falling. Maybe the problem was large amounts of damage. So instead I am instituting a house rule massive damage threshold, one that is variable with a character's hit point total and not an instant death rule. What does your game do to address this problem? Is this a problem for you? Are you interested in our 3.5E massive damage house rule? How is the weather where you are?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Live recordings that bring the magic

Amazon has a listing that proposes to be "The 100 Greatest Live Albums of All Time". My intention is not be rate or validate this listing but rather note some of my favorite live recordings. If I understand it correctly, in the music business live recordings are a relatively inexpensive way to get another album out. You do not need new material, and no fancy studio, just some recording equipment at a venue that is already in the works. From my experience most live recordings are not worth purchasing. The sound quality is often shoddy, the balance between the instruments can be off, and some performers or bands just do not have that special magic when doing the live show. Most of my personal collection of something over 350 titles are NOT live recordings. However, every once in a while a band will surprise you. They will bring the magic to the show. That is not to say the recording is a replacement for being there, I know far better than that. Some of that magic shines through onto the recording. Sometimes it is just the energy. Other times the band just comes together in a way that was far superior to the studio recording. Some of these recordings have very different versions of the songs in comparison to the studio recordings, and those versions are far better than what was put forth in the studio. Here are the recordings that I already own (on vinyl or CD) from Amazon's 100 list 11 Neil Young - Live Rust. This is one heck of an album, and if you can find it watch the movie that was made of the same concert. I love the road-eyes. I do not own any studio Neil, I far prefer this. 13 Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense. Again, this is one heck of an album, and again if you can find it watch the movie. I do not own any studio Talking Heads, only this. I find the Heads too cold in their studio recordings. 18 The Who - Live At Leeds. The quality of the recording leaves something to be desired. You need to be a who fan to appreciate this one. Listen to it for the energy - sparks nearly fly. 21 Cheap Trick - At Budokan. These guys were never meant to be taken seriously, and this is just a fun album at its core. 29 Eric Clapton - Unplugged. I own loads of studio Clapton from all periods of his career. Listen to this for the interesting versions of some songs (like Layla) and for the emotion that bleeds off the tracks (like Tears in Heaven). 48 Deep Purple - Made in Japan. Sound quality is iffy, but this is a recording for the times. Egocentric long versions of every song. Just about perfect. 66 Peter Frampton - Frampton Comes Alive! I own no studio Framton and was not a fan until this album came out. Sound quality is not bad. The real attraction here is better versions of every song vs. his studio recordings. 90 Stevie Ray Vaughan - Live at Carnegie Hall. Recording is not bad and the energy is terrific. 95 Neil Diamond - Hot August Night. Hate to admit that I like Neil Diamond. More accurately, I like THIS Neil Diamond album. Its fun and the emotion comes through very well. Some of these albums made me a fan of the artist, which I had not been prior to hearing the recording. Another good example of that is Sarah McLachlan - Mirror Ball. Prior to that album I found Sarah rather dry. Again, it is a decent recording but she really puts out the emotion with good versions of the songs. I think the band cuts loose a bit more than on the studio recordings. Where is the magic for you? What live album changed your mind about an artist and made you a fan (or a reluctant fan)?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Full disclosure

Those looking for the full monty should look elsewhere. In the spirit of full disclosure, and in the spirit of full over the top ridiculousness, I proudly declare that I have nothing to declare. I have noted so in the "about me" to the right. So all you FTC types can look elsewhere for bloggers making big bucks on recommendations. And my readers can feel certain that my rantings are just that, and not tainted with commercial money. New FTC guidelines. On the other hand, I would happily consider those big bucks and disclose same. :-)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Who says D&D is fantasy

Reported on the 'net COLUMBIA, S.C. — A 16-year-old girl has bagged a 10-foot alligator in a South Carolina swamp. In the middle of the night. With a crossbow. The State newspaper in Columbia reported that Cammie Colin won one of 1,000 lottery slots for the state's annual public alligator harvest. Hunters are required to use a crossbow or a harpoon. Cammie was the only person in her group authorized to shoot the 353-pound gator. The Lexington resident was with a guide, her father, an uncle and her brother in an 18-foot boat early Sunday in the headwaters of Lake Marion. They have 40 pounds of alligator steak in the freezer now. Cammie says most of her teachers are using her new nickname, "Killer." What do you think, is she a rogue? Sneak attack plus critical hit with maximum damage? I wish they would provide more crucial details. Was it a light or heavy crossbow? Did she kill it in one shot? Does she dress like Lidda? (I mean, what is up with those braids and that red nose of hers). After you think you have killed it, who goes and pokes the alligator with a stick to see if it is really dead? Adventures need to know this type of information.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Endless quest for the perfect summer beer - part 3

Summer is waning, the air is getting crisp, the leaves are getting ready to turn vibrant colors, and I did not write about Mexican beer! Once upon a time I drank Corona. I started long before it was the most heavily marketed of the Mexican Cervezas. Not fancy, just a good clean, crisp brew on a hot summer day. Then it happened: I started to get headaches from drinking just a few Coronas. Was it the dastardly buyout by some mega-brewing company that lead to this unfortunate turn of events? I will likely never know for certain but as I have blogged previously, AB products give me headaches. So long Corona, I knew you well. Now what. I have always liked Dos Equis, and still do, but that brew just does not have the hot summer day quenching ability that Corona had upon my tongue. Modela and Negro Modela are really too creamy to meet the requirements, and they too have become on my forbidden list for headache reasons (another AB buyout!). My old standby when I could not get Corona was Sol. It is a little less body than Corona but it is not too bad. The challenge is to find it, or any other Mexican beer for that matter, in the stores in this area. Corona has the market for Mexico beer space nearly locked up tight. Dos Equis sneaks in there but not much else. If you go to Mexico you will find Tecate and Presidente are on most menus. They are drinkable but far from my favorite. My current favorite is Pacifico. I took to drinking this on a trip to Mazatlan. Pacifico is the local brew there, started by a German immigrant of course. Apparently there was quite a large number of Germans who went to Mazatlan, and the remaining evidence can be found in the beer and music. I kid you not, you will hear oompah mariachi bands. Maybe I am remembering the trip fondly when I pop open a Pacifico, but I find them simple and refreshing, which is really what I want from my hot summer day brew. They are difficult to locate here outside of Mexican restaurants. Note to local retailers - stock them and I will buy them. I would recommend both Mazatlan and its native brew. What about you? What is your favorite summer Mexican cerveza?

My RPGless summer

Where did the time go? Most modern calendars mar the sweet simplicity of our lives by reminding us that each day that passes is the anniversary of some perfectly uninteresting event. Oscar Wilde It is bad enough my group only gets together 1-2 times per month normally due to our combined busy schedules, but we had no regular game outing all summer. We had a busy summer, and the schedule was out of control. I suppose I am mostly to blame, but since I am DM at this time who is going to call me out (and have there character live, mwah, ha, ha, ha). We should break our gaming fast this coming weekend. Finishing a ship board adventure on Talk like a pirate day. Fitting. With such a long hiatus I will be recapping much from the last outing. I do not normally like to do that. Game logs and group memory is for that purpose. This time I will make an exception. What do you other DMs out there do?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sometimes the players change the plot

A player is bringing in a new character to the game. The group is pledged to the local King through their artifact weapons. In order to unleash the power of the weapon, one must become 'soul bound' to it. In becoming 'soul bound' a character also gains a bond to the other weapon wielders. Certain powers of the weapons are additive if more than one weapon is being used along side another. The powers of evil, for I like having powers of evil in my game, recognize the artifact weapons as a threat and therefore desire to prevent another weapon gaining a 'soul bound' wielder. The player's new character manages to avoid the trap laid by the powers of evil, meets her new comrades, and prepares for the binding ceremony the next morning. Lots of pomp and circumstance, some noble feel good moments and then off to the grand adventure I had planned for them. But not so fast, for the players had other ideas. As I mentioned before, I prefer a Story Telling Adventure Game type of play. So I have a strong story arc, and the players work within that to tell the story. You see it was the night before the ceremony and the players assumed that I would be a Rat Bastard DM and attempt another assassination attempt on the new character. There was a precedent, as the powers of evil have used assassination in the past and will most certainly do so again in the future. So as the players began to fret a bit and plan against the attempt, I let the paranoia build. As any good DM will tell you, some paranoia is good, and any paranoia is fun (at least for the DM). However, I let it get out of hand and the players spent a goodly part of the evening preparing for the assassination attempt that was not in the story arc. Letting the night pass without the anticipated event would be disappointing to the players, and the time left for our game evening would only allowed me to do the ceremony and not much else. So I was left with a choice - stick to my story arc or improvise. I hate to let an evening pass without the players having some good dice rolling and excitement, so improvise it was. Why not give them what they want? I bought a little time by saying, "OK, draw out the inn and show me where everyone is going to be." I ran through the options in my head, altered a villain slightly and had that said villain send a leveled invisible stalker after the new character. The battle turned out quite memorable, with characters going down, characters risking their lives to protect others, some clever actions and a humorous moment when the wizard blasted a hole through the wall on the second floor of the inn and destroyed the roof of the neighboring building. All in all a good nights work. In the morning they had the ceremony but not before the innkeeper told them they were no longer welcome at his inn. Heroism has its price. I do not always let the players write the story arc, but sometimes the story is enriched by letting them do so. Turns out the changes to the villain opened up a number of interesting possibilities that I have already used in the game to the general benefit of the future story. Now to be clear, the players/characters ALWAYS have a hand in the story. The plot outline is written but the outcome of events is not determined by me but by their actions. And of course their actions have consequences, good and bad, which I allow to play out. So though I am the primary creator of the plot outline, the players give it life and alter its direction. Sure this has some challenges, but overall it keeps the game fresh, unpredictable, and exciting. The dice never lie.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Endless quest for the perfect summer beer - part 2 some flavored beers

The Brewers over at Magic Hat like to unleash a steady stream of not so ordinary seasonal brews. This year's summer brew is called Wacko, not unlike the folks at Magic Hat themselves. If you missed the fine print when looking at it on the shelf, the beer is pink in color from the touch of beet juice. Are you still with me? Though not quite commonplace, I am not afraid and I purchase a 12 pack (because there are no six packs). I can get over the pink color, I can get over the concept of beet beer, I am eager to have a delicious summer beer, crisp with just a bite of hops. Unfortunately I am disappointed. Too much hops, too much bite, waaaayyyyy too much bitterness in the tasted during and afterwards. The beets only add a faint sweetness that stands before the bitterness like a zero level man-at-arms with a pointed stick against an ancient red dragon. Magic Hat wacko brewers I love you guys, but this is a fail. I will keep feeding them to Brian during game days until they are gone. On my way to the lake this weekend, with temperatures threatening into the low 90s, a crisp refreshing beer was desperately needed. Then I saw it, the nice folks at Harpoon UFO division gave me just what I needed, raspberry Hefeweizen. I think it is very similar to their regular UFO Hefeweizen but with just enough raspberry taste and just a hint of sweetness. I had a 6 pack of that like many good things, it passed leaving me wanting for more. This beer is crisp, well balanced, thoroughly refreshing and highly recommended for those hot hours of the day with the brilliant summer sun sizzling on your skin. My son brought with him some blueberry wheat beer from the Wachusett Brewing Company. I am not sure if this can be had in very many places outside of Northern Massachusetts but it is worth a taste if you see it. Far too light for cool weather drinking, it is crisp, dry, not too bitter, and with only a hint of sweetness and a balanced amount of blueberry taste. This beer does not stand up to heavy foods very well, but like the raspberry UFO above, is very good in the heat of the midday sun. We alternated between the raspberry and blueberry beers until they ran out. Fortunately for us the clouds rolled in and it was time to grill some Wisconson made Bratwursts, which went very nicely with the Dos Equis that we left in the refridgerator. But that is for another post. Cheers

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Drink free or die

Fine, that is a tacky title. Fits the tacky wine I just finished. New Hampshire is not exactly known for its fine wines, but we do have a few wineries and distilleries. One such is Flag Hill in Lee, NH. There is a quaint farm that produces some grape and fruit wines, distills some kind of local vodka, and has some events where they are the provider of food as well. My wife and I did a tour in the Miata last year of a few local wineries. Flag Hill had some nice people in a nice location. I felt guilty and bought a bottle of blueberry port and a bottle of Marechal Foch. I had the port last fall. It was interesting in that it did taste somewhat like port. It was pleasant enough and came in a unique bottle, however much better 'real' port could be had for the same price Today I am finishing the bottle of Marechel Foch vintage 2006. The name of the grape is named after the famous French General from the first world war. Apparently it is a versatile grape which can be used to make port like wine, a light red apertif, and an inky dark wine like this one from Flag Hill. The Marechal Foch grape is grown here because they can; not much else grows very successfully in this wine unfriendly climate and rocky terrior. I honor their effort but the result is quite sub-par compared to the European, Australian, Californian and South American wines I am typically drinking. The wine tasted mildly fruity reminiscent of black fruits though very young tasting like it should have been laid down, though I doubt it was of the quality that would last long if done so. There was both some acidity and tannins but the overall balance was off. I should have just made sangria with it, or just had it slightly chilled. If you are local, try it if you are curious but don't expect it to compete with the wine royalty that you may be accustomed.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Endless quest for the perfect summer beer - part 1

Crisp, dry, with just enough body and a hint of flavor. Low cal light beers just do not do it for me anymore. Tried a six pack of Landshark Lager over the last week. It is produced (likely more accurately manufactured - it makes me shudder) by the Margaritaville Brewery of Jimmy Buffet fame. It claims to be an original island lager. I find it a bit too creamy to meet my somewhat vague perfect summer beer yardstick, and too creamy to be calling itself an island lager. Otherwise it was acceptable, better suited for a moderately warm island evening than a hot and humid island afternoon. I am suseptable to headaches from some beers even in small quantities (most Anheuser Busch products will give me a headache, 1/2 a bud is the equivalent of driving a rusty iron spike through the top of my skull). A couple of Landsharks at a sitting did not produce a beer reaction headache in me. I'll put this lager on my "I'll buy it again if I can't find anything better" listing. Which, in fact, is not a bad rating since I am quite particular. Cheers.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Baby's first battle axe

My wife convinced my to buy a foam battle axe for my grandson's first birthday. Not his only gift, but one that was funny and out of the box. We were not sure how it would be taken by the parents, but they laughed. At least outwardly. Apparently the indoctrination has begun. Toys R US was out of baby's first chainmail. She was right though, he would look cool in the horned viking helmet. There is always his second birthday for that.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

FRPG is like a rope

Fantasy Role Playing Games can be many different things to different people. Much like the fabled blind men who each examine a different part of an elephant, each player comes to identify some aspect of the game that they favor and believe that is what defines the game. Much like the blind men, FRPGers often argue their view vociferously and with righteous indignation. If you don't believe me, take a peek at Enworld. The history of the FRPGs are well documented elsewhere. For my purposes here I will just remind that the roots are in war gaming. Most FRPGs retain an element of war gaming in the combat and relative complexity of the rules. FRPGs usually are focused on a particular milieu: swords and sorcery, middle ages, pirates, Victorian horror, modern spy, and martial arts just to name a few. And of course the element of role playing; where you create and play a character in the game. There are dozens of relatively popular games and hundreds of relatively obscure games. Each has its strengths and weaknesses and each caters to a sub group of those vociferously righteous gamers depending on what they favor. There is a broad continuum of games that should be able to meet the desires of the gamers style and milieu. With that out of the way, I can now talk about me. My name is Barad the Gnome and I play fantasy role playing games. If you play, you will likely relate to this -it feels like coming out of the closet. Grown adults do this? Where is the game board? Do you dress up? How do you win? Then the strange looks. Part of the problem is the marketing. Who in their right mind would pick up a game when the back of the box describes it as a table top fantasy role playing game. Oh, right, those greasy haired kids with no social skills who are hanging around in the basement. What style do I like? I certainly like the blend of the war game with role playing and favor certain milieus, but I have a different take on the big picture of the game. You see, I like the story telling, and story building aspect of the game. The dungeon/game master paints the background and gets the story going, and the players act out the parts. The only scripts they have are the personality traits of the character they have created. Immerse yourself in the environment. Solve the problems with muscle or wit. Exalt over your victories, and plot revenge over your defeats. I prefer to think of it as a Story Telling Adventure Game. Is that a better marketing tactic than FRPG? Maybe not, but for me it is the heart of the fun. It is the stage from which the player will roll the die while their character yells, "I smite the demon with my sword". So for the evening, and in our imaginations, we are heroes who have come forth from the great novels to write a new epic. So sit down with your friends around the table and let the tale unfold. There will be tragedy and triumph, danger and delights, humor and horror, all while you and your comrades create legends the great bards of old would lust after for their turn in the telling. Let the blind men waste their time with the elephant, for you see, FRPG is like a great adventure novel.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Coming of age

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I was listening to some Steppenwolf on my ipod while exercising and it really struck me how much of the music was still relevant. Teens and young adults coming of age in the late sixties struggled with how they felt about an unpopular president advocating an unpopular war, friends with drug problems, changing the work culture, equality, relationships and uncertainty about the meaning of life. Ok, so not much has changed. I suppose most of this generation would rather have their music about life's questions be rap/hiphop or country. They could do a lot worse than good old Steppenwolf if they would have a listen. Its easy for me to say because I am a fan of the late sixties early seventies rock sound. Steppenwolf is a classic example of the genre with the distorted electric guitar, hard driving bass and drums, Hammond organ played through Leslie speakers, and John Kay's gravelly growling lead vocals. The musicians were good, the recordings were tight, and John sang like he meant it. Most everyone knows their big two: Born To Be Wild and Magic Carpet Ride. They both became anthems for the time and show up in movie sound tracks numerous times. Some people believe the genre was named Heavy Metal after the lyrics in Born To Be Wild. There is not much I desire to add to the volumes that have been written about those songs already. Instead I will call your attention to songs like:
  • Snowblind Friend - lamenting a friends cocaine addiction.
  • The Pusher - suggesting casual drug use is harmless but heroin dealers should have total war declared on them. John Kay exclaims, "I'd kill him with my bible with my razor and my gun"
  • Monster - strongly questioning our right to bring war upon other countries and beseech the older generation to help them make things right again because "We can't fight alone against the monster"
  • Rock Me - wondering about the meaning of life and dealing with it in a decidedly sixties free love way
  • Its Never Too Late - proselytizing that you can still change your ways and redeem you life, using some well written phrases in doing so

Listening to the words to Monster I was surprised how remarkably similar many of the sentiments were to the arguments being made about occupying Iraq last year. That was catalyst enough to rediscover other songs. Not that I agree with all their views but I found current relevance, nostalgia and some fine Rock and Roll while I suffered on the exercise machine.

If you used to be a Steppenwolf fan, go back for a treat. If you have never listened beyond the big two, give it a try. If you don't want to be bothered, well, as John Kay growls, "Who needs ya!"

Friday, June 19, 2009

Imperial Russian Stout

I had a milestone birthday not too long ago and many (most?!) of my friends bestowed upon me gifts of fine drink. What does that say about me? Never mind. One such gift was a 1 liter bottle of Pozharnik, Espresso Russian Imperial Stout brewed and bottled by the Pennichuck Brewing Company. If I read the label correctly the name of the stout means fireman: a person who works at the fire brigade. I am not sure what the name has to do with the stout. The label indicates it was brewed with coffee & vanilla beans and aged in whiskey barrels. It also proudly proclaims it was a 2007 Great International Beer Festival Silver Medal Winner. The web site says this brew is 10.0% ABV. There is something about the old style flip top that makes me smile. It does not guarantee the brew will be top notch any more than a real cork does for a bottle of wine, but it is nice presentation. I would say that it is a feature that you can break this open and put it away to finish it the next day but... we know better. In my home, an open bottle is an empty bottle. This stout had a nice aroma, generous and long lasting head, and a rich dark color. After admiring it for all of 27 seconds, it was time to drink. There were plenty of subtle flavors with bold chocolate taste leading the way and only a moderate bitter aftertaste. A high alcohol content brew has a different taste than your run of the mill mass produced beer. Done poorly the brew tastes, well, strange and imbalanced. My bottle of Pozharnik was well balanced; a finely executed recipe where the alcohol, the full bodied texture, and the balance of flavors melded quite well. It was not until my second glass of stout that I realized this was a higher alcohol brew. The night I had the stout I was alone and had some time to kill. In retrospect this stout is better saved to share with a friend along with a good food pairing. I did enjoy it, but by the time I had the last glass the taste was a little overwhelming. This is not a brew to have regularly but rather as a special treat. Enjoy this rich brew with a big juicy burger hot off the Weber with a comrade who appreciates a hearty stout. It would also stand up nicely to a ribeye or prime rib. Prepare your palate with a mild pale ale while grilling and then be ready for a nice surprise when you flip the top. The Czar's master brewer had this one right.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

If its broke, fix it

One of my favorite euphemisms is 'percussive maintenance'. Go forth and use it today. Break something if you must. I guarrantee it will give you a good feeling.
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