Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Harpoon Octoberfest Beer

It is well past time 'round these parts to put away the crisp, clean, refreshing beers of summer and head on into something with more character, flavor and body.  What better than an Octoberfest beer?

Red-brown in color, with a full creamy head, the Harpoon Octoberfest Beer makes my mouth water.  There is a hop aroma and a little bit of bitterness about this brew, but let me tell you it is the malt here that shines.  The bitterness is really at the end, and it is a soft finish just enough to balance out any residual malt sweetness.  What lingers is the rich malty tastes.  I do mean that in the plural.  If you take your time, there are a number of nuanced malty flavors wandering in and out of your taste buds.

I know it is an old joke, but this beer tastes like another one.  Many beers I like very much are good for one bottle/pint and you are ready to move on to another nice brew.  This study lad is ready to keep you entertained with its quality taste beer after beer.

So this so called Octoberfest probably has little to do with real Munich Octoberfest beer however it is a nice brew all the same. Harpoon is a local brew for me (local as in I am in New England and so are its two breweries) and I often forget how much I like their different brews.  It is usually an afterthought for me to pickup a box of Harpoon bottles, but I am nearly always glad I did.  Highly recommended.


Monday, June 11, 2012

D&D Next - First Encounter, First Impressions

I participated in my first play test of D&D Next last weekend.  I let my someone else have the DM duties as I was especially interested in seeing the player side.  As might be expected from folks who had played other editions previously, some folks immediately began dissecting the character sheets to understand how all the bonuses were generated.  I stressed we should just play it, after all it is a play test.  I will admit I will be there dissecting every rule with microscope and tweezers when the time comes.  However these first play tests should just be run as is, with an open mind, to get the feeling of how these rules would work in practice.

Let me set the scene.  There ended up being four of us, DM and three players.  I was the only long time player, the other folks were in their twenties.  I was also the only one who had every played/run the original Keep On The Borderland/Caves of Chaos.  (please note: there will be some spoilers below - that is if anyone interested in reading this could possibly not know what is in the Cave of Chaos)

First we set out as three characters: Dwarf Fighter, Human Cleric & Halfling Rogue.  After checking through some of the stands of trees in the center of the valley, we selected the goblin cave to explore (of course we did not know it was the goblin cave when we selected it).  The combining of the listen & spot skills into stealth was quicker, and it worked nicely without feeling like something was missing.  Skill mastery was powerful (minimum die result of 10 for skills where the rogue has training) and gave my rogue a minimum 16 for any stealth check.  I can see how the DM might preroll some opposed wisdom checks against stealth or just set some DCs and not bother with some rolls against the rogue to keep the game moving quickly.

Sneaking up on the cave month my rogue discovered 6 goblins just inside the opening.  He signaled to his companions (6 fingers), retreated to cover, and let fly with a sling stone from hiding; thanks to advantage and sneak attack damage there now were 5.  (Of course at this point I remembered about the ogre from the original running of the caves.  Since my character would not know, I played him blissfully unaware and careless: 8 wisdom).  We hoped they would come out and chase us.  It turns out they were smart and got the ogre to come out while they chased us.  We downed a few goblins.  Most from the rogue's sling and the cleric's radiant lance orison.  The fighter rolled abysmally and his crossbow did almost nothing.  As the goblins moved to cut us off from the mouth of the valley, we heard a large creature crashing through the trees behind us.  The others looked at me for confirmation we could take them (because all encounters are balanced, right?) and in response I did my best King Arthur imitation and yelled, "Run away!"  The goblins chased us into the forest where we managed to turn and pick off a few weak ones before the goblin archers went into hiding and we bolted before they could cut us down.  Hurt and embarrassed, we limped back to town.

I found it funny the other players looked to me to see if it was acceptable to run away.  I suppose the rules in third and fourth edition do not encourage that thinking.  I rather believe DMs need to encourage that thinking and spend less time blaming the rule set.

In this first encounter most of the combat was ranged, so the movement rule in melee did not get exercised much.  Combat did play pretty quick, and it was fun.  We learned quickly just how much disadvantage affects success in our long range missile attacks.  The crossbow should have been an effective weapon in the encounter but the dice would have none of that.  So far we have a favorable opinion of the advantage/disadvantage rule but we'll see if that holds up.

We went back to town to heal up and there was no time pressure, so we did not consider whether or not the long term rest rule was effective or lacked verisimilitude. 

I will share the last half of the evening and some overall thoughts in the next blog post but end this one with an observation from the ENworld boards.  Lots of folks there are already talking house rules for D&D Next, some were even talking house rules to be used in their first play test.  How in bloody Hades can you play test the rules if you do not use the rules?  I will gladly admit to using a generous amount of house rules in my games, however we did attempt to play them as written first and only after some reasonable amount of time not being able to get the game as we liked from them dove into house rules.  I guess my point is I feel that thinking is misguided and those folks are missing an opportunity to see the world from another side, and maybe get a better game from it.

The dice never lie.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Revisiting Classics: Alice In Wonderland

I had been vacillating over whether it was worth my purchasing a Kindle.  I tried my wife's Kindle on vacation and found it pleasant enough to use on a plane.  Not sure I really wanted to spend the money on it (being inclined towards frugality in some areas), I was, however, attracted by the Kindle convenience and the huge library of free books.  My lovely and talented wife put an end to my vacillation by giving me one.  Thanks Hon!

So on our most recent overseas trip I put a bunch of free books on my Kindle.  One of them was Alice In Wonderland.  Like many folks I have seen many characterizations of the Alice story, and seen a fair number of movie versions, both animated and populated with actors.  I figured I was long overdue in actually reading the story.

The free versions of classics in the Kindle library sometimes have editing errors and may be missing other elements.  In the case of Alice, it did not have the artwork.  I know many people would claim the book is not the same without the original pen and ink drawings.  I will not contest that view point, but say for my purposes I think I have probably seen all the original artwork over the years splattered here and there.  I did not notice many editing problems in the free Alice.

It was a quick read, and with very few surprises.  The differences between the book and the many characterizations and movies is subtle.  For example I think Alice comes across as less impertinent that in most characterizations, and more like a normal young girl who is not afraid to speak her mind.  One of the more interesting points is the assertion in the forward declaring Alice is just a fun story with no intent to have high morals; it is meant as purely entertainment.  Further the claim is there are plenty of other methods of providing moral teaching in this age (when the book was written) so there is no need to impart any morality training in this story, it is simply meant to be a fun imaginative romp.

The whole whether morality is useful or needed in a children's story like Alice could spawn some lengthy blog posts and much debate.  I'll pass on that.

If there are not morals within Alice, and I am not sure there are not and the Duchess would agree with me,

"Tut, tut, child!" said the Duchess. "Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it."

the book is certainly full of sage advice and lessons to ponder.  For example this famous exchange with the Cheshire Cat:

"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don’t much care where--" said Alice.
"Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"--so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you’re sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

 Or how about the almost Groucho Marx like follow on exchange with the Cheshire Cat:

"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."

 And what about the bit of philosophical dialog at the tea party:

"Then you should say what you mean," the March Hare went on.
"I do," Alice hastily replied; "at least--at least I mean what I say--that's the same thing, you know."
"Not the same thing a bit!" said the Hatter. "You might just as well say that 'I see what I eat' is the same thing as 'I eat what I see'!"
"You might just as well say," added the March Hare, "that 'I like what I get' is the same thing as 'I get what I like'!"

Even the befuddle King does have a modicum of  common sense:

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. "Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?" he asked.
"Begin at the beginning," the King said gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop."

The book is literally littered with poking fun at Victorian society and education, and instead favors common sense and imagination.  Just because the book does not take itself too serious does not mean there is not seriously good advice contained within.  Just ask the Libertarian minded Duchess who says:

If everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does.

Lastly the book ends on a different tone than most characterizations as well.  Alice's sister wakes Alice from her dream, and after sending Alice to her tea muses on Alice's wonderful adventure.  There is no suggestion that this was more than a dream, and no hint that Alice's lively imagination is anything but good.

....she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make THEIR eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days. 

Later this summer I'll have to read Through The Looking-Glass and see if my observations hold in that story as well.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Chronicles of the Black Company

I just finished ready the Chronicles of the Black Company, which is the first three books of an extended series by Glenn Cook.  It is a dark and grim tale of a mercenary company in a fantasy setting.  There is magic and strange creatures, but no elves, dwarves or other fantasy tropes borrowed from Tolkien or northern European lore.

On one hand the book is a refreshing read.  The 'heroes' are often gray at best, and sometimes no better than the villains.  The plot and story ideas are interesting and not the over cliched story elements found in many fantasy story lines.  There is a unique view of the story from the view of the company historian, which is something this mercenary group puts a high priority on.  From this aspect it was a compelling read.

The not so good was the actual writing.  I found at times the clipped style did not leave me with whatever impression the author had intended.  Some sentence structure was poor, and on many occasions I was forced to reread passages to understand who was speaking due to poorly deployed pronouns.  There were many story threads which simple dead ended with no satisfying conclusion, while other threads which appeared unimportant later arose to be the main story threads.

I have to give this one a neutral rating.  It has some great story ideas to steal for adventuring.  It has some memorable story elements for enjoyment.  Depending on how forgiving you are for the actual craft of writing will significantly alter whether you like or hate this series.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Requiem for a Campaign

Looks like one of our campaigns has expired.  It seems to have run out of gas.  The DM no longer feels like he wants to continue in that campaign for a number of reasons - the departure of one of our group (we hope it is more of a sabbatical), lack of passion for the campaign, and the additional overhead of medium high levels of 3.5.  Sadly, it did not end with a bang, more like a mid season cancellation.  It is sad when that happens.  It is disappointing to not have closure. 

In its place rises a Spelljammer campaign.  The players are approaching it cautiously, like one might an exotic snake which you are told is not poisonous but know in your heart it must be.  The first session was fun, and we are adventurers...

I regret the lack of posting.  I was traveling on business, we are very busy preparing our home for sale, and I spent the last week fighting off a nasty cold.  I may have also tripped on a rock, had a hole in my glove and most certainly had the sun in my eyes.  Posting will remain spotty for a bit, there is more traveling ahead.

I will be on the look out for spring beer to taste and write about.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Runaway Train

We seem to have a bit of a hiatus from our regular D&D game, so I have been filling the void with a few Victorian Shadows games, my D20 modern shadow chasers game.  You can see here & here

Last outing was fun and over the top.  Right at the start of the evening I opened the adventure with a shadow creature breaking into their flat and asking for the money they stole from his 'master'.  They chatted with the obnoxious little creature for a while, gaining some cryptic knowledge.  When it became clear the creature was not going to get the money, he simply replied, "You die then."  The party scoffed.  That is until streams of shadow creatures crashed through windows and the front door.  After a tense combat making quite a mess of their flat (broken windows, doors, furniture, loads of bullet holes and a nasty burn from a flare gun) the party used the clues and determined they needed to stop a train robbery.

Before getting on the train a humorous scene ensued.  While they waited to see if the bad guys were getting on the train, all but one of the tickets sold out.  They needed to convince some NPCs they didn't want to get on the train, and buy their tickets and still they were one short and needed to sneak a party member on the train.  It it the little things which amuse game masters.

Perhaps running an adventure on a moving train is too cliche.  Having been in so many movies might lead you to believe the adventure would be too predictable.  It was anything but.  There is something satisfying about having characters needing to sneak past conductors, hop on and off the moving train, run down the top of the train leaping the gaps, and giving perfunctory greetings to NPCs crouching under train furniture while they casually pass them armed to the teeth.  Sure the engineers were safe, a character leapt of the train only to see shadow creatures hiding under the coal car.  Shadow creatures were thrown from the top of the train.  A character attempting to leap onto the moving train missed.  Dynamite was used by the party madman to separate the last train car from the rest of the train, mistakenly believing all the shadow creatures where in that car.  Thinking they had the shadow creatures and their controller trapped in the car, they surrounded the openings; a party member peering in through a hole in the roof discovered dynamite just about to go off and the controller leaping from the train.  BOOM - party members go flying off the top as the car explodes.

It was an exciting evening, and I think everyone had fun.  They stopped the bad guys from getting the money, but did not stop the other half of the shadow creatures from slaying the engineers and driving the train full speed into the next station.  You win some, you lose some.

Although this game does not eliminate my desire to run/play in a D&D game, it is fun to play and I enjoy running D20 in the lower levels more than in the higher levels.  This group is operating at 3rd level at is very easy to run.  Now I just need to work on the next overused cliche for an upcoming adventure. 

The dice never lie.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Caribbean Forts

I just got back from a nice Caribbean vacation.  Looks like I missed posting in January altogether.  Ah, well, such is the busy life I lead some times.  During our trip to Puerto Rico and the subsequent cruise I got to visit a number of island forts.  Besides being intrigued by the ingenuity, and fascinated by the history, I always come away with some adventure ideas and a little better understanding of what it might really have been like.  This one was more food for thought for that Carib/Pirate game I keep threatening to run.

The forts in the islands were in their prime during the age of large cannons and muskets, so the architecture represents those features.  The walls are enormously thick, finished on the outsides but filled with rubble and dirt in between, and the cannon ports are narrow on the cannon side and wide in the direction they want to direct fire.  Forts are often multi-level and built to use or overcome local geographic features.  Another common feature in the region is to design the fort as a huge water collection system which routes water to massive cisterns underneath to handle long periods without rain, or long sieges.

In Old San Juan we visited El Morro, and Castillo de San Cristobal.  Neither one of the was impregnable, but both are quite impressive.  El Morro features six distinct levels with a surprising height difference between the lowest and highest levels.  Perched on the point protecting San Juan harbor, the stone behemoth must have been an imposing site when ships sailed past.  San Cristobal, on the other end of old San Juan, was not as impressive a sight from a distance, but was also formidable.  I especially liked the tunnels which were designed to have explosives placed along the inside to defend against possible breach; if an enemy broke through one side of the tunnel the explosives were meant to insure they never saw the other end of the tunnel.

On St. Kitts we visited the Fort on Brimstone Hill.  Even if this fort sitting on a 200 meter pimple of land along the coast did not have the great views and impressive fortifications that it does, how could you not visit a place with such a name!  And yes, the area around the base of the hill does smell of sulfur from the volcanic rocks, and I suspect some mild volcanic activity.  Again, the fort was not impregnable, but was impressive.  Apparently the powder magazine in this fort was struck by lightening and totally destroyed more than once.  Makes one think a bit before accepting guard duty during those violent tropical storms.  I really liked the caponiers which protruded from the centers of the forts polygonal walls.  They were designed to provide cover for close fire musket troops to defend against an enemy attempting to scale the walls.

I'd recommend all three to those even mildly interested in historic fortifications.  They were all in reasonably good repair and had numerous displays and associated materials to further explain what life was like in the time period.

Oh, and we did also find plenty of time to enjoy the beaches, snorkeling, and partake of island style food and drink.  But that doesn't usually give me adventure ideas.

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