Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Time to run an alternate adventure: Victorian Shadows

We switched DM duties for the regular D&D game a few months back.  Between the summer vacation schedule conflict, lots of miscellaneous personal schedule conflict, and an apparent lack of enthusiasm for the campaign at its current place by players and DM alike, we have not been playing much.

I am not ready to take over the full time DM reigns again just now but in an effort to keep the creative juices going and the group connected I am going to run a one night, who ever shows up is good, d20 Past game.  A few years ago I developed an environment I called Victorian Shadows.  It is roughly based on the d20 Past Shadow Stalkers framework.  The time and place is the 1870s greater London.  The character level is low (currently 2nd level) using d20 modern character types with limitations of the time period.  The d20 Past is not a bad source book to help you along in a campaign like this, though I don't use it completely RAW.  There are some house rules for hit points which follow a wound/vitality point model, and a few other house rules as well but nothing earth shattering.  The campaign is very low magic, and at this time the players have almost no access to magic while the bad guys have greater access to ritualistic magic.  The good guys are part of a loose and secret alliance called the Legion of Light, and their only goal is to combat shadow which is being encouraged and used to gain power by a different secret alliance know as the New Vision Fellowship.

I have not run one of these games in a couple of years, but usually they are great fun.  There have been lots of dark London foggy nights, strange happenings tied to real historic events, players acting out Victorian era characters speech styles, and heroic low level risk taking to make the whole thing just a joy.

Since I don't know who and how many will show up for an outing I have to be flexible with my adventures.  I make a core adventure but adjust it around depending on the number of characters and their classes.  Monsters are no problem - I have plenty of monster manuals, just pick something out of appropriate level and change the description to fit.  Besides, the most dangerous monsters are the NPCs in the New Vision Fellowship.

The hardest part is fighting my urge to tie all these adventures together.  I love it when plot strings tie out, and bits of information in one adventure become useful in another.  To me that makes the world seem more alive.  However, I must be careful that no information from a previous adventure is needed to solve a problem in the current adventure.  The other challenge is completing each adventure in one evening.  I have to make sure there is just enough adventure, not too much or too little, so it can be solved in one night.  At the end, you just have to be tough with the party, if they have not solved the problem by the time to go home then allow the bad things to happen to the world.  Hopefully they know the DM will do so, and keep the urgency in the play which makes it so exciting. 

I miss running a character, but I also miss playing with my friends overall - so the DM job is not so much a chore, just my second favorite job in the game after running a character. 


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Murder, The Who, digital recordings of vinyl, and how one thing leads to another

It all started on a dark and stormy night....  well, not really.  We have hosted and attended Murder Mystery events for many years now and really enjoy doing so with our close friends.  Who doesn't enjoy solving a murder amidst various characters who themselves have committed murder, mayhem, deceit, and all manner of other heinous and despicable crimes.  We get to do so in the company of friends, eating and imbibing (in the reverse order), puns flying, dressed in character costumes, and house decorated.  This time around we played "The Tragical Mystery Tour".  Part of the ambiance for any good theater is appropriate music.  So I was compiling on the iPod a varied selection of sixties music to fit the theme.  What better music to include in an evening getting ready to climb onto a (imaginary) cross country party bus than The Who's The Magic Bus.  (Yes there is other good music that comes to mind and it was included - but that is not part of this story). 

I don't have the Live At Leeds album on my iTunes, which has my favorite version of The Magic Bus.  My copy of the album is on vinyl.  At this point most folks would have just gone to the iTunes store and bought it.  Oh, no, I'll have none of that.  Had I done so, you wouldn't be reading this overly long blog post.

If you are from my generation (ha - intentional song reference) you likely still have a stack of vinyl LPs still.  In my case I still have about 150 of them, of which about one third have been replaced with CD copies.  My turntable is no longer connected to my stereo receiver in the family room; it has fallen victim to it is 'unsightly and takes up too much space' syndrome.

So in the spare bedroom I setup a table, haul out the old turn table and plug it in to the laptop for a sound level test.  Except, I cannot find my adapter cable which has two RCA style female plugs on one side and a male 3.5mm on the other.  Insert trip to my friendly local Radio Shack and return successfully.  Attach the turntable, run some Windows recording software, and there you have it: nothing.  The recording software cannot handle input from the line in jack.

Next I go out to the Interwebs to get an update to my favorite recording and editing software: Audacity.  It is open source goodness, and way more technical than I will ever be but has enough default settings and help on the web site to get me through.  Audicity is more than a competent substitute (ha - another intentional song reference) for the pitiful default recording software Microsoft provides and is easily able to select the line in port and record the music from my turntable.  Drop the needle on the LP and there you have it: a high bias recording with incredible clipping.  The turntable does not provide computer friendly output.  (sorry - if you don't know what those terms mean I'll have to explain in the comments below - this is already too long)

I figure I need a pre-amp to fix the problem.  I haul out my old receiving and set it up on the table in the spare bedroom next to the turntable.  Hook the turntable to the receiver, receiver tape out to the laptop, drop the need on the LP and there you have it: almost evenly biased input that is clipping on both sides.  The sound level input control on the software does not seem to work on the line input.  Now I am so mad I am nearly shakin' all over (ha - another gratuitous song reference).

If I cannot control the volume in on the laptop side, I must do it on the receiver side.  The head phone jack looks like a viable candidate.  I rummage through my box of old adapters and locate a male 1/4" to female 3.5mm adapter.  Connect the head phone out on the receiver to the line in on the laptop, drop the needle, adjust the volume control on the receiver and there you have it: I am able to get the recording unclipped and only slightly high bias at a low volume.  I am finally making progress.

Without going into a lot of detail on each step I will highlight the process.  First you record a side of the album.  You use the tools in Audicity one at a time to removed the bias (DC offset), remove the noise, remove the clicks, normalize (amplify), remove leading and trailing excess, and cut the side into tracks when you export them into WAV files.  Rinse, repeat.  Lastly import the WAV files into your iTunes, and burn a CD for play/archive.

Is it worth following this process as compared to buying the CD or downloading an MP3?  The answer to the question is it depends.  Some of my vinyl is not available as CDs - so if I want those selections digitally, this is the only path.  Some of my vinyl is live or otherwise poor quality recordings - these are good candidates for MP3s because you are not going to lose any fidelity.  If you have an album which was considered a studio masterpiece, (say Dark Side of the Moon) you will be disappointed in your version as compared to what you can get in buying the commercially produced CD.  On the other hand, if you have a large collection, and have the time to invest (or are basically cheap) and are not so concerned about the slightly substandard recording as compared to the commercial CD release this could be the way to go.  Once you get good at the process, it takes about a half hour to forty-five minutes of your time to follow this process above the actual play time of the vinyl.  If you have the money to simply replace them, and available time is a challenge then I suggest Amazon is your friend.

Lastly, what about the Live at Leeds album?  If you are fan of The Who it is a must have.  The recording quality is poor, but the energy and versions of the songs are just amazing.  Daltry's voice is a bit off in places, but Entwistle's bass and Townsend's guitar work is quite good even given the poor recording quality.  Some of the verbal back and forth during the singing is quite entertaining with my favorites being during The Magic Bus.  "You can buy the Magic Bus for 100 English pounds."  "No, too much!"

Thanks for reading - cheers.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Blue Moon Winter Abbey Ale

The winter offering from the Coors Blue Moon brand.

Pours out reddish/brown, or I guess coppery colored with a light tan head.  Has some aromas of spice and maybe some vanilla.  The mouth feel is very thin, which seems to be in common with the other Blue Moon products.  Flavors include dark caramel, hint of vanilla, hardly any hops taste, sweetness and maybe prunes, which fades to a dry crispness and yet leaves your tongue feeling a little thick. 

It is an odd mix of flavors which on one hand feel unbalanced, but on the other hand seem to work together in a little bit of disharmony.  I am trying to place the after taste here... and it may be the alcohol.

Overall I'll give this one a slightly recommended.  As a mass market beer it is not bad, and the additional spicy notes help it stand up to the colder weather.  I skipped the Blue Moon standard Belgian White at the market, it was just not the taste I was looking for in this suddenly cold autumn weather.  If you are expecting it to be a fine example of a Belgian beer, look elsewhere.  This is a good one to buy on sale when the choices are limited, and your goal is to sit by the fire.

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