Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Failure of the Human Will, Thanks to Tom Petty.

In my quest to quit smoking, I was successful for about two weeks. But the day before yesterday, I bought a pack, and it's entirely Tom Petty's fault.

I had to pay a bill by a deadline and had forgotten to mail it. So I took a late-night drive to drop it off in the night deposit box. It was a gorgeous night. I rolled the windows down. Tom Petty's Refugee came on the radio, and this triggered a fit of nostalgia for a similar night, with the same music, in 1994 or so, when I was dating a really hot volleyball player who later moved to New York (since that is what all the cool people do, apparently), and this reverie somehow resulted in me buying a pack of Pall Malls.

So, as you can see, it is Tom Petty, and not my will, that is to blame. Now, that pack is almost gone, and when it is, I'll just quit all over again.

Except, of course, for the occasional cigar. :)

Feel like rooting out heretics and mutants? Gimme a call.

I've got a lot of homework to do.

By popular request (well, from two people anyway) I will soon begin a Dark Heresy campaign (that's the Warhammer 40,000 RPG). The core rules are more-or-less similar to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, but they've tweaked it a bit to account for things like powered armor, fully automatic heavy bolters, and the like.

The Warhammer 40K universe is really interesting, because it's essentially a science fiction setting with a medieval outlook and attitude. Technology is poorly understood; even those who have the skill to repair technological items don't know how to create them. Most warp-capable (that is, faster-than-light) ships are literally thousands of years old, and are considered to be alive by their crews. Regular maintenance on high-tech items is ritualized: when a tech-priest fixes something, he doesn't conceive of himself as diagnosing and fixing a problem, but as performing a rite or catechism to ensure that "the Machine Spirit is within."

Like fantasy Warhammer, the concept of mutations, Chaos, etc., is fully formed here. The "Warp" (hyperspace) is a great scapegoat for all of this (after all, even in the fantasy game "warpstone" is considered the raw stuff of chaos). Denizens of this universe follow the Imperial Creed - that is, they worship the Emperor, to whom 1,000 souls are sacrificed every day. The Emperor is 10,000 years old, and only his pyschic energy (manifesting throughout the universe as a "Astronomican" beacon used by Navigators) keeps the Warp, and the unspeakable creatures within it, at bay.

All in all, the Warhammer 40K universe has a lot more in common with Dune or the silly Riddick movies than it does, say, Star Wars.

Characters in this dark future are Acolytes, agents of the Inquisition. Their adventures basically consist of rooting out heretics, mutants and aliens (all of which are equally despised by all right-thinking Humans). The adventures that have come out for this game so far are really well-done - rich, detailed, ultraviolent and ironic - the way any Warhammer game should be.

Players of the Dawn of War real-time strategy game for the PC will know at least a bit about the Warhammer 40K universe but it's a huge place. So huge that it's going to take three separate, stand-alone games to account for it all (Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, and Deathwatch, only the first of which is out). I'm not sure how to even begin to introducing this huge universe to new players. Even the "house" setting for the game, the Calixis Sector, is way too big for any single group to explore. And the culture is so richly detailed, with some 30 years of tradition behind it, that I'm worried about overloading players with "too much detail."

Product-wise the books look very good and they're packed with info (too much, maybe). If I have any complaint, it's that the designers clearly take themselves and the 40K universe very seriously. There's not even a tiny bit of what I think of as the "trademark" black humor of Warhammer. That's OK. I think the players and I will end up adding that ourselves, whether we mean to or not.

Nevertheless, if I said I wasn't looking forward to this, I'd be lying. I got the old rules for the Warhammer 40K miniatures game for Christmas in 1986, and at the time I wondered why there was no RPG version.

Well, now there is, and I'm set to play it with my son, who is now the same age I was then. If I can create some good memories for him this campaign will be worth it.

Let's just hope Cole doesn't play the rules-lawyer too much. There are a lot of damn rules in this game. :)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Join Up and Fight!

A while back on the Star Chamber I posted about plans for a Gonen's World board game that would decide the fate of the war that began at the end of Gonen's World V.

The game was heavily based on Diplomacy, but with some weird randomness thrown in. I never finished it. I did, however, make some recruiting posters I don't think I ever shared.

I found a bunch of very cheap little Victorian/Civil War-era plastic miniatures recently, and they'd make great pieces for a game. So I've gotten excited about it again.

But making a board game - even when you're stealing it, apparently - is a lot harder than making a roleplaying game. So for now, I'll just share these posters. The ones on the left are for Imperial Vlodasai (the forces of the Queen, who is really just a captive of the Regency). The ones on the right are forces loyal to the Claimant, Jared Orijiabi (the Restoration Army and the Gray Legion). There are some other armies, too, such as the Oranje Berets and mercenary army of the Black Queen (Umbugateesha) but I'll get to those eventually. In the meantime I hope this gets your imagination going. If you have any ideas please let me know.

Note that Squadron D is indeed a descendant of the old D-Squad that did black ops for Queen Farin. Unfortunately they're now fighting for the Regency.

Big Trouble: World on Fire

I have a modern game universe called "Big Trouble" in which I've set several adventures, including the Cape City games, my infamous "Air Force Base" alien game, and my short-lived racing game, Big Trouble on I-70. Now I've started a new one.

In addition to our main gaming group, I have a "junior" group consisting of my son and his cousins. While Connor was out of town last summer, I ran a game with the cousins using the Savage Worlds system. It was a re-vamp of my old "Big Trouble on I-70" game. Two brothers, Antoine and Stefonn Bondares, were hired by a U.S. Senator to drive a Cadillac from Baltimore to Hollywood. From the get-go people start chasing them: Nazi bikers, Men in Black, State Troopers, and so on. Eventually they realize they're carrying some valuable cargo (an odd briefcase in the trunk). After a cross-country ultra-violent crime spree (along with a hot Hispanic chick called El Camino) the brothers realize they've got some alien technology in the trunk. One thing leads to another and they learn that the CIA recovered a star map from the alien crash at Roswell. Now, the aliens have returned and want it back. But the government was blackmailing the aliens, withholding its return in exchange for high-tech secrets. The Bondares brothers make their way to Utah and return the star map to the aliens. Unfortunately they are betrayed by El Camino, who works for the Department of Homeland Security. For thwarting the government's plans to blackmail the aliens, the brothers are thrown into a top-secret prison in Alaska called the Freezer, where political prisoners are held without trial.

Now, in "Season Two," the brothers meet a new character, Dr. Ulysses Kane (Connor) in prison. Kane is a charismatic con man who once worked for MI6. Unfortunately, he embellished some intelligence reports that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction. This report made it back to the Americans, and...well, look what happened. Eventually Kane's lie was found out, and he was thrown into the Freezer.

Now, the Bondares brothers and Ulysses Kane will have to figure out a way to get out of prison. But that's just the beginning. They will soon stumble onto an ancient conspiracy that seeks to ensure the upcoming Apocalypse, and it will be up to them to save the world.

Drunk Aeronauts Feed Pig

I found this picture online the other day and was instantly reminded of Gonen's World. I don't know what it is supposed to show, exactly, but I really like the helmets and I think I'll steal the design. There's a funny caption in here somewhere, but I can't quite find it. Perhaps this is why Aeronauts do not have the Animal Care skill.

Damage Reduction, Revisited

After a good suggestion from Meanie (see comments on the GW Final Draft post), I've made a change. I had removed Power and Accuracy, changed the name of Might to Power, and instituted a system of "stat bonuses," whereby the Power Bonus is equal to the first digit of Power, Grace Bonus is equal to the first digit of Grace, Mind Bonus was equal to the first digit of Mind, and Spirit Bonus is equal to...well, you got it.

The original draft had no "damage reduction." In the new draft, Power Bonus is added to melee damage and also reduced from incoming damage. Meanie suggested that certain classes might use a different bonus for damage reduction. This makes total sense to me.

To that end, I propose the following breakdown:

Barbarian, Scout, Soldier (Power Bonus)
Aeronaut, Criminal, Monk (Grace Bonus)
Academic, Mathemagician, Mechanic (Mind Bonus)
Bravo, Dilettante, Priest (Spirit Bonus)

Arguments could be made various ways, I suppose, but I think these make pretty good sense, even though they don't necessarily follow the "primary stat" for each career.

Each character now has a "Damage Reduction" factor (DR) that is not really a stat, but is equal to the appropriate bonus for their career.

Nice suggestion!

GW "Designer's Notes" - De-Feat-ism, or "Why Careers?"

In designing the Gonen's World RPG, one of the things we've struggled with since Day One has been the inclusion - or exclusion - of "feats." Call 'em what you will (edges, advantages, etc.) along with the usual opposites (disadvantages, hindrances, what-have-you), most of the latest generation of games have them.

And Gonen's World does, too, in a way. They're there, but they're tied to the careers. The special abilities that come with each career fill this role. That means they're not presented in "buffet" format. That's just something people will either like or dislike about the game, and that's all there is to it.

However, within the broader context of Game Frame, the over-arching or "bedrock" system the Gonen's World RPG is based on, one could easily invent some more free-wheeling or "classless" abilities.

Since the GW game at least partially aims to replicate a bit of that "old school," first edition AD&D feel, and owes a lot to WFRP, I don't think it can do without pretty rigid careers (although it should be noted switching between careers, and learning cross-career skills, is possible). But some other genre needn't use them. Players could simply choose for themselves which stats would be their primaries and secondaries, in terms of what goes up at what rate when they level. Combine that with a choice of relatively well-balanced abilities, and careers shouldn't be necessary.

But in Gonen's World they are, so given that, let's talk a bit about balance. I think "balance" in a game means that no one choice is obviously better or more advantageous than another. You could argue the particulars about this ad infinitum, however. So in the end these career abilities are balanced more on a "what seems right" basis than, say, mathematically.

So I don't know if these are truly "balanced" or not. I hope players of the game will let me know.

Academic Ability: The Academic gets automatic successes on Knowledge tests for his chosen specialty. Arcana is the knowledge of mathematical spells and arcane items, the history of mathemagics and miracles and their practitioners. Lore is familiarity with the history of Gonen’s World, great heroes of the past and their treasures, tombs and legacies, migrations and conquests, heraldry and legends of elder days. Monsters is a detailed understanding of the creatures of Gonen’s World, their habits, histories and dispositions.

Aeronaut Ability: All aeronauts gets a +10 to Climb tests. In addition, choose a type of aeronaut and associated ability. A Helmsman gets automatic successes on Pilot tests, barring adverse conditions. A Navigator gets automatic successes on Navigate tests (again, barring adverse conditions). A Daredevil can make Dodge tests for his ship and gets + 10 to Stunts.

Barbarian Ability: Choose a type of barbarian and associated ability. Mahidi Marshlanders get +10 to Will tests to resist magic. They also get +10 to Fight tests against magic users. Kufu Warriors get +10 to Sneak rolls. They also get +10 to Fight tests against Big or larger creatures. Jameriki Nomads get +10 to Power tests to avoid Exhaustion. They get +10 to Shoot tests if they do not move during the same round.

Bravo Ability: Choose a fencing style and associated ability. Followers of the Highseat Style may make one automatic Dodge test once per round. Adherents of the Natural Style may make one automatic Block test once per round. Followers of the Saltwash Style may use Luck on damage rolls.

Criminal Ability: Choose a specialty and associated ability. Assassins may make one automatic critical hit (either Fight or Shoot test) against an unaware opponent, and get +10 to Hide tests in shadowy environments. Burglars automatically succeed at Burgle rolls, baring adverse conditions, and get a +10 to Sleight of Hand tests. Charlatans get a +20 to Charm rolls at all times.

Dilettante Ability: Dilettantes start the game with 100 farins instead of normal starting funds. In addition, choose a type of dilettante and related ability. A Scion has noble blood. They get +10 to Charm, Intimidate, and Ride tests. A Financier may access d4x100 farins or its equivalent from any banking institution once per game season (see page x). A Connected dilettante may call on help or support from a member of the merchant or noble class once per adventure (the nature of the help is ultimately up to the Game Master).

Mathemagician Ability: The mathemagician has the ability to create and cast spells.

Mechanic Ability: Mechanics get +10 to Mechanics tests. More importantly, they invent complex machines from parts they find lying around.

Monk Ability: Choose a school of combat and associated ability. Adherents of the Cane and Bucket School get +10 to Fight rolls when using improvised or found objects, and get two Dodge attempts per round, rather than one. Members of the Red Herring School get +20 to Tricks, and their critical hits do triple damage. Followers of the Mog Ograth School get +10 to Fight rolls when unarmed, and get two Block attempts per round, rather than one.

Priest Ability: All priests may create one spell per level (see page x) and may give their own Luck to others. In addition, choose a type of priest and associated ability. A Crusader gets +20 to Fight and Shoot tests against followers of another specific religion or a certain race or type of creature (player’s choice). A Theophant may make a Will test to ask a single yes or no question of their deity once per game day, and has a 5 percent chance of having any prayer answered. A Healer is automatically successful at Heal tests, barring adverse conditions, and has a 5 percent chance of raising the dead (see page x). This chance increases by 5 percent per level.

Scout Ability: Choose a specialty and associated ability. A Runner never makes tests for Exhaustion under normal circumstances, and can move through difficult ground without penalty. On a regional map, runners move 1.5 squares per day on foot, instead of one. A Hunter gets automatic successes on Track tests, barring adverse conditions, and gets +20 to Shoot tests against unaware animals (or opponents!). A Vagabond gets a +10 to Gossip and Forage tests, and learns a free Knowledge skill or language each level.

Soldier Ability: Choose a specialty and associated ability. A Dragoon gets +10 to Ride tests, and +10 to Fight tests when using a saber. An Officer may rally his allies with a successful Will roll, giving his side +10 to Fight and Shoot tests for a number of rounds equal to the officer’s Will bonus. A Gunner may reload a ranged weapon as a free action, and gets +10 to Shoot tests when using a Rifle.

More designer's notes to come later. For now, any feedback is appreciated.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Gonen's World RPG "final draft" underway

This won't be of interest to anyone who is not familiar with Gonen's World. But I'm fairly certain the only person who ever reads this is intimately familiar with it. So here goes.

The rules at the heart of Gonen's World: The Roleplaying Game, developed by Ryan Ashmore (aka Meanie) and myself, has been playtested twice in two genres. The first was Gonen's World itself and the other was Arnegax, Ryan's space opera setting, which used basically the same rules with some name-changes and other twists.

Having gone through two campaigns with this basic ruleset, both as player and Game Master, it's now time for me to go back through the rules and create that "final" draft. In doing that, I've made a sort of executive decision as "line editor" about a few things.

First, I have reworked the classes and given them updated and/or new class abilities. I also started calling classes "careers," pretty much just because I like Warhammer, and that's what these "classes" really are anyway. Some of the "old" careers offered choices, while some didn't. For example, a follower of the Monk career could specialize in one of three different "schools" of combat (Cane & Bucket, Red Herring, Mog Ograth). But the Bravo, another fighter type, had no similar specialization when he just as easily could have followed Saltwash Style, Natural Style, etc. Similarly, the Soldier can now specialize as a Dragoon, Officer, or Gunner. Each career except Mathemagician offers these choices. I also seriously scaled back Priest, giving that career fewer spells but abilities that recognize different priestly types (such as Crusader, Healer, etc.).

The other major change was to eliminate Power and Accuracy. Instead, each of the four primary stats has a "bonus" which is equal to its first digit (just like WFRP handles Strength and Toughness bonuses). I also changed the name of Might to Power, while I was at it. So instead of Power and Accuracy there is a Power Bonus, Grace Bonus, Mind Bonus and Spirit Bonus (I changed the name of Will to Spirit). These basically work the same way, only with a bit more to do. For example, the Power Bonus is added to your damage from melee attacks but it also is subtracted from damage you take - sort of the WFRP SB/TB all in one. Grace Bonus is still added to ranged damage, just like Accuracy was, but it's also added to initiative rolls. Mind Bonus and Spirit Bonus come in handy for spell damage, number of languages/spells known, and so on and so forth (which is a simple way to limit things and also gives the game a taste of "old-school" AD&D).

Finally, I eliminated damage types. We formerly had four damage types but I found this cumbersome during playtesting. As a Game Master I ended up ignoring it all the time and as a player it was just a pain in the ass. It was a good idea but damage differences can also be handled in a narrative way, so now all damage is just "damage." That of course made it necessary to rework weapons and armor a bit. I think it will turn out to be a lot smoother this way.

Everything else seemed to work really well during playtesting, so those are the only major changes I made. But the whole thing needs a thorough edit, and that will take some time. Of course, I will keep all Children of Gonen informed.

The previous incarnation of the rules is up at the Pharaoh's Tomb, which is soon to be removed...

Cigars, News Feeds, Dark Heresy

Three short blurbs for you today.

First of all, my quest to quit smoking has hit a snag. I started smoking those yummy little Black & Mild cigars as a crutch here and there. Now I'm pretty much smoking one a day, which may well be just as bad as a whole pack of cigarettes. I don't know how to find out, scientifically, whether I have basically made no progress whatever. I'll have to cut back, no doubt about it. I did pretty good last night, so we'll see. This will be an uphill struggle and I'm likely to slide part of the way back down that hill a few times before I make it to the top.

Second, I added a news feed from GamingReport.com, which is where I get a lot of my gaming industry news. I hope it is useful to someone (I just kinda like the way it looks). I wonder how one became an RPG journalist? Probably by going to conventions and getting to know people. I have sent exploratory e-mails about this sort of thing before and never got a reply. You'd think someone with my love of gaming and journalistic background would be useful to someone. Unfortunately, most of the RPG "news" sites I have seen simply reprint press releases from the game companies (i.e., Free Advertising), or are simply review sites. Some readers might like to know about the financing, the distribution deals, all that other good stuff that any legitimate reporter should hit first when covering a "business beat."

Finally, my son is at the age (16) where he could benefit from gaming with grown-ups. He's been asking me to start a Dark Heresy (Warhammer 40,000 RPG) campaign, but it's tough to get my friends to commit to another game. Most already have very busy schedules. But I have at least three people on board for an every-other-Monday game (strictly speaking, I guess it's a "first and third Monday" game). I'm currently trying to decide if that's enough people. Dark Heresy is probably deserving of its own post, so I'll drop that for now, other than to say if you're reading this and can spare two Mondays a month for some grim science fantasy adventure, let me know.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I Stink, Therefore I Am

Andy Hopp, you're a genius.

I say this because I once made fun of Low Life, a setting for Savage Worlds, on a message board. I hadn't really seeen it. I was just sounding off. Anyway, I was roundly blasted by everyone who has ever had anything to do with Pinnacle Entertainment Group and even earned a personal rebuke from Shane Hensley for calling Low Life "silly." I think I also called Cheyenne Wright a lousy artist, which he isn't. I was just in a bad mood that day, having just been soundly blown off in an e-mail from a former PEG staffer, and in one ill-considered post burned all my bridges with that crew.

Well, Low Life is silly. But it's awesomely, brilliantly silly. In fact, it may be the most creative and original (and certainly the funniest) of all the so-called "savage" worlds.

Our game group played it as a fill-in game when one of us was sick. We didn't want to play our "main game" (WFRP, incidentally) without him, so I grabbed Low Life. It was a good read, but I hadn't actually played it. I figured it was not serious enough for our group. Once again, I was wrong. We all really had a good time, and Mr. Hopp kept us giggling.

The players rose to the occasion with some great names: Flatus Bumpudding (a pile), Fluffy Muff Puff (a cremefilian), Gertrudius With Much Spirt (a bodul), and Pi'ik (a croach, whose mother coughed when she named him).

Low Life may be the official "filler" game for the forseeable future. When one of our group was in the bathroom, we actually discussed making it a "rolling" campaign, where each time we play it a new person runs the next chapter. We'll see how that goes.

Anyway, on the off chance that Andy Hopp googles himself (he would come up with a good joke there, I'm sure) and he sees this, let me just say thanks. You've proven a comedy campaign can be playable and compelling, in addition to being side-splittingly funny.

More from the weird world of Andy Hopp, and a link to order the book, can be found at his website.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Accidental Genius

Check out Old Skull. It speaks for itself. "It makes me feel dumb and pissed off. I hate you Ronald Reagan!" Reminds me of Pussy Galore. I like it. This seems pure and not contrived like so much other kid music. This aired on Headbanger's Ball back in the day. I wonder what ever happened to these guys?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

William Tecumseh Sherman: Witch Hunter

I recently purchased Ken Burns' landmark PBS documentary on the American Civil War. It was expensive (especially since I've been unemployed recently) but worth it. I've always been interested in the Civil War - my grandfather's farm was near the Shiloh battlefield in western Tennessee, and we visited there almost every year. But it wasn't until recently that I became almost obsessed with it. The Burns documentary features frequent interviews with Shelby Foote, who I found eloquent and charming in his descriptions of the war. He was very charismatic and told interesting anecdotes that gave the participants a human quality I could relate to. So when I learned Foote wrote a massive three-volume history of the Civil War I had to read it. I'm halfway through the first volume right now and it's among the best books I've ever read, fiction or non-fiction.

Anyway, I'm simultaneously deep into a WFRP campaign and I recently purchased the new Career Compendium. So many of those careers could easily fit into a non-medieval/Renaissance context, even without tweaking. And since Games Workshop now has a "Warhammer Historical" line for its miniatures games, it seems only a small extrapolation to do a "historical" version of the RGP.

In fact, I had just toyed with (but pushed to the back burner) a long-term campaign set in the Elizabethan Age called Swords Against Satan. This was originally inspired by the Savage World of Solomon Kane game from Pinnacle, but I very quickly realized there's probably no set of rules better suited to the "real" Old World than WFRP. All you have to do is take out (or tweak) the magic. A Kislevite Kossar becomes a Russian Cossack. An Estalian Diestro becomes a Spanish Bravo. With just a few omissions and name changes, WFRP is perfect for the Elizabethan Age, and with a bit more tweaking, it's good for hundreds of years in either direction.

These thoughts quickly led me to consider a Civil War one-shot using WFRP. But as soon as this thought formed, the possibility of taking it further, turning it into an alternate history, perhaps one where supernatural things or monsters do exist, overwhelmed me. I'm not saying I'd go so far as to posit Rebel cavalry on dragons (but wyverns? Maybe!). But it's not too hard to imagine that weird, backwoods voodoo practices in Louisiana might not translate into some sort of battlefield advantage. At the very least, I can imagine a magical adviser to General Beauregard, for example. From there, I began to imagine Union Witch-Hunters. The more I thought about it, the more I liked it.

Of course, this is not entirely original. I believe Harry Turtledove has written some alternate history about the Civil War, and Orson Scott Card's Alvin Maker books have some similar ideas. PEG's Deadlands line is similar, too (but not as subtle as what I imagine). Nevertheless, it's something I've been contemplating.

As a "proof of concept" I took a picture of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman and grafted him with an early photo of the new Solomon Kane movie. The guy looks like a witch-hunter to me.

I'll share more about this as it develops.

A Triumph of the Human Will (Cheating Allowed)

I haven't had a cigarette since Monday night, but I can't claim to have quit smoking. About once a day I've been smoking half of a Black & Mild (call me a sissy, I like the "Wine" flavor). The rest of the time, I'm chewing the nicotine gum but I find myself wanting that less and less for some reason. For the most part, I do not constantly think about smoking anymore. And when I do, the gum always takes the craving away instantly, and leaves me feeling satisfied.

I don't know if I'd feel as satisfied without knowing I'm going to sit outside in the cool night air before bed and inhale some smoke. So I don't mean to give myself undue credit by saying this next bit: I'm damn proud of myself. I smoked a pack and a half a day, easy. Now I'm down to half a cigar. Even if that's no statistical improvement of my chances to avoid some nasty disease, for me it's nothing less than a monumental triumph of the human will. Discipline is not among my many virtues. So I'm allowing myself a hardy pat on the back for NOT smoking the 140 some-odd cigarettes I would have normally smoked since Tuesday morning, and I'll conveniently ignore for now the four and half little cigars I have smoked.

I've had to adjust my behavior a bit, and I have yet to hit some big challenges. Rocket to Saturn is playing a show tonight. We're playing last at Davey's (again), which means if I show up at 9 p.m. (the traditional time bands show up) I'll be sitting there until at least 12:30 a.m. waiting to go on. That's a lot of time to get tipsy. I haven't been drunk since I "quit smoking" and I don't want to take any chances yet. So I'm going to get there late - as late as I possibly can - and then just hit the set and get the hell out of there.

Normally I'd be excited about this show. Rocket to Saturn hasn't done a full set in a while, and this will probably be the last time we play the set we've been playing for the past year or so, as we're set to take the next stage and start writing some new material. So I will play this show professionally, as opposed to "partying" and keep my focus clear until this demon has left me completely. He's still hanging on with at least one claw, and it would only take a few beers to obliterate a week's worth of good behavior.

And with that, I think I'll have a refreshing piece of Wal-Mart brand nicotine gum.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hundreds of New Ways to Explore the Old World

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay fans were worried when Black Industries dumped its RPG line (WFRP and Dark Heresy, the W40K RPG) off on Fantasy Flight Games (well, at least I was worried). Known mostly for their large format, expensive, time-consuming board games, FFG has only one other RPG I'm aware of: Grimm, a simple, dark RPG in which child PCs adventure in a world that resembles the fairy tales of youth, only more twisted, bizarre and dangerous. I thought it was a good game, though it had some minor layout problems, those were cosmetic. Overall, the Grimm book looks nice. Still, since I like the way my Black Industries WH books all match up when they're lined up on the bookcase, I was worried FFG might mess with the "traditional" WFRP book design, or worse yet, come out with bad products.

I was worried for no reason. FFG's first product for WFRP, Career Compendium, is useful, attractive, and durable, and will appeal to both players and Game Masters alike.

Since BI released the core rulebook several years ago, there have been well over a dozen sourcebooks, adventure books, and whatnot, and all of them featured new careers. Now, all of them are collected here in one volume. If you're bored with the 100 some-odd careers in the main book, there are a total of 220 here. Fancy becoming an Abbot? How about a Whaler? Questing Knight? Black Guard? Agent of the Shroud? Bear Tamer? There are also some brand-new careers, like Rapscallion and Farmer.

Yes, Farmer. Finally.

The book offers more than just re-printing old stuff in a new place. Each career gets its own page, with the top half devoted to stats and the bottom half dedicated to more detailed background information about how the career really works in the Warhammer World, adventure seeds, and lots of other "crunchy bits."

Most books, beyond the core rulebook and maybe something like Realms of Sorcery, are mostly just purchased by Game Masters. The Career Compendium is going to be something players can really sink their teeth into.

Finally, I'm happy to say that the only real design change from the BI books is a logo swap. If anything, the art quality is getting a bit better. The cover features a slightly more comic-inspired look than the BI stuff, but it's still very Warhammer and leaps off a shelf. And trust me, if you're a Warhammer geek, there's tons of stuff here to sink your teeth into.

So there it is. I thought I'd cap my Warhammer collection at the end of the BI line, but if this is any indication of WFRP's future with FFG, it's going to be a bright one. In a grim way, of course.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My Second Day as a Non-Smoker

I was going to say it "sucks," but it's not as bad as all that, I guess.

I keep telling myself that it's OK if I want to have "just one" cigarette, but I know in my heart that's just rationalization. Some people can take or leave cigarettes. I can't. Some of my friends who have quit will occasionally smoke a little cigar, Black & Mild or something. I might be able to do that too, someday, but I think it's much too soon for that now.

All of the literature I've read says not to beat myself up if I slip. All that did was open the door to thinking I can just go buy a pack, say I've "slipped" and quit again. And I'm honestly thinking very hard about that today.

If I do that, I'm certainly not going to buy a pack. I'm probably not above bumming one from a smoker, but once I go out and purchase that pack, it's over.

I'm particularly concerned about Saturday night - Valentine's Day - because Rocket to Saturn is playing at Davey's Uptown. Since we always seem to end up playing last when we play there (which is not a "headlining" slot, incidentally, it's where the clubowner puts the band she thinks least likely to bring a crowd), that means I'll be sitting around for hours and hours. You can't smoke indoors in Kansas City anymore, but it's still going to be a serious struggle. I'm not looking forward to it.

Something tells me that by the end of the day, I purchase a pack of Black & Milds. We'll see. I am not a very strong person.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

My First Day as a Non-Smoker

...doesn't exactly flat-out suck, but it's not fun either.

As I write this, I'm enjoying my first piece of nicotine gum. There is a certain way you have to chew it. There's a tingling, peppery sensation in my mouth. And, truth be told, the intense craving I had for a cigarette about 10-20 minutes ago seems to have gone away, or at least subsided.

I can tell already this is going to be a huge challenge. Luckily the book that came with the gum is pretty helpful.

Some say people shouldn't use nicotine gum to quit smoking. They say you're still addicted to nicotine, you're just getting it from gum, not cigarettes. But hey - I know myself. I need something. Smoking is a physical and mental addiction. So while I'm quitting, I need to know that my body has what it thinks it needs (the nicotine) and I can concentrate on the mental aspect of not wanting to feel smoke in my lungs. I once tried chewing tobacco for a few days. Even though I was clearly getting all the poison I needed, I still wanted to smoke. So I know it won't be easy even with the gum (which, incidentally, gives the inside of your mouth that same tingly feeling that chewing tobacco does).

But the gum is encouraging so far. I don't really feel like I want to smoke right now. In fact, what I really want to do is NOT DIE.

So wish me luck. I'm about to have a cup of coffee (my first of the day) and for me, coffee and cigarettes are very closely related. I'm going to take my coffee break, walk around the building, and not smoke. My body feels satisfied at the moment. That's encouraging.

Keep your fingers crossed for me, will ya? Thanks.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Lung Cancer, or Just Gas?

I think I just quit.

...Smoking, that is. And I say I "think" I quit because I'm just not sure how it's going to go. I didn't psych myself up for it or anything. I was at Wal-Mart tonight and saw the Equate brand of nicotine gum. It was expensive, but not any more expensive than a carton of cigarettes. I bought it. It could be I was daring myself into it, or that I knew I'd never quit unless I took that final leap.

I know it's going to suck. There can be no doubt about that. But I'll try to be positive, and hope that it won't be as bad as I think it will. We'll see how tomorrow goes.

About forty-five minutes ago, I smoked what I told myself was my last cigarette. I didn't enjoy it. I haven't enjoyed a cigarette in what seems like years. But I sucked in deep, standing in the cool night air feeling nostalgic about all those other cigarettes I've smoked in the cool night air.

Smoking and I go way back. It's like we're old buddies. And I'm sure I'm going to miss it. I only hope that with the gum, my brain will get that nicotine so my body won't suffer to badly. What I won't get is that feeling of sucking harsh smoke down into my lungs. Hurts so good. But hopefully, that's a feeling I'll never have again.

As nice as it would be to charge forward with total confidence, I'm afraid I just don't have that much faith in my sense of discipline. So maybe I smoked my last one tonight, and maybe I didn't. But I hope so. Because for the last several months, I have felt consistent chest pain in two places. One is just to the left of my sternum. The other is lower down on the right. Maybe that's muscle pain. Maybe it's just gas. Either way, I lay there the other night picturing myself coughing up blood, hooked up to machines in a hospital room. There are a thousand ways I could end up there without smoking - why stack the deck against myself?

So, here I go -

You know what? Fuck it. I've got one more cigarette in that pack. There's no sense leaving it there by itself. I knew I should have thrown it away earlier.

So let's try this again: It's 1 :05 a.m., Tuesday February 10, 2009, and I'm about to smoke my last cigarette.

If I wake up first thing in the morning and smoke one, I'm not going to like myself very much.

I'll keep you informed.

TV, Time Travel, and Rock'n'Roll

Thanks to the wonderul, quasi-legal world of torrent downloads, I've started to catch up with ABC's "Life on Mars," and I have high hopes for it. So far I've only watched one episode, but if it's reflective of the series as a whole, I may have a new favorite.

Time travel (a big part of that show) has always fascinated me, probably ever since I saw the movie "Time After Time" in the early Eighties. That's a classic, and if you haven't seen it, I recommend it without reservation. The premise: H.G. Wells (Malcolm McDowell) doesn't just write about a time machine, he actually invents one. Unfortunately, he unveils his secret to his dinner guests and one of them happens to be Jack the Ripper (the vastly underrated David Warner). When Scotland Yard comes calling, Jack sneaks down to the basement and escapes in the time machine. The machine reappears, because only Wells has a special key that calls it back. But Wells is horrified that he has unleashed the greatest monster of his age upon "Utopia" (his optimistic vision of the future), so he does the obvious - he chases Jack the Ripper to the year 1979, hoping to hunt him down and stop him. But when Wells gets to our era, he finds it is not the utopia he envisioned. Indeed, it's a world where Jack the Ripper feels utterly at home. Out of his element, confused by newfound love, and constantly stymied by bad ideas (looking for a good alias, he tells modern police his name is Sherlock Holmes), Wells must track down the Ripper and put an end to him once and for all.

So yeah, H.G. Wells uses a time machine to chase Jack the Ripper into modern San Fransisco. How can you go wrong with that?

In other news, Rocket to Saturn has had our first "proper" rehearsal in about two months. We've been distracted by a battle of the bands and a reunion of the Electrophonic Foundation, so we had not "run the set" since before Christmas. I'm pleased to say we ripped through it quite well. We'll play at Davey's Uptown on Feb. 14 (my least favorite holiday, incidentally), and after that hope to take some time to write some new material and finish Black Hole Blues, our deput concept album. It deals with space-time mishaps, so it seems time travel has been a theme in my life lately.

Finally, I started writing a short story about some Confederate soldiers who fight a werewolf. We'll see how that goes.

That's it for now.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Building another beast

My friends are mostly IT types. They understand computers and know how to diagnose and fix 'em.

Not me. I can follow instructions in help files (sometimes) but that's about it. Nevertheless, I am deeply in love with the personal computer as a tool - I don't remember how I ever got by without one.

That being said, my desktop machines have always been Frankenstein-like affairs, patched together by friends who did not want their Game Master to be without a computer. After the close of the last place I worked, I ended up with about three laptops over the years. Two "don't work," as far as I know, but they could be salvaged. The other is decent enough but simply doesn't have the power for what I need - and that's music recording and LAN gaming.

After I was hit by a car a few years ago and got some insurance money, I got my son a pretty badass machine. My friend Ryan ordered all the parts and set it up for me. It was about $1200 in the end, but it was worth it. Ultimately, it turned my son into a criminal, as he's figured out the shady world of torrent downloads.

But now Dad needs a machine.

I'm not much into gaming of the computer sort (although I'm a fiend for tabletop RPGs) but I have been messing around with Sonar, recording some demos and whatnot. The sound card on my laptop won't handle it, so I tried to install all that stuff on my son's machine. Apparently Vista doesn't like my software very much - especially GearBox software for the Line 6 TonePort. But I'm managing by recording on one machine, e-mailing files to myself and mixing on another.

It's kind of a pain in the ass.

So as soon as my tax refund comes, I'm going to build another beast. I'm going to network it to my son's machine and (finally) play some multi-player games. I'm a little far behind - I'm still excited about the FIRST Dungeon Seige and I've never quite gotten around to Freelancer. And, of course, I will finally have the tools I need to record music without impediment, and that should make the cost worthwhile.

Now, aren't you glad you know all this?

I will, of course, keep you updated and post some pics of the new bad boy when it comes alive.

Until then, I should probably get back to work, seeing as they're going to all the trouble to pay me and everything.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What the World Needs Now is Not Another Blog

...but I'll do it anyway. Check back here for all the latest from my world.