Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Uncle Sam + Ronnie James Dio

We have a federal auditor coming to work today - a random check, they say - and my bosses are annoyed by the intrusion. They decided to come on the one day we have a ton of things to do, they're rude, they're bossy, and totally inflexible. Personally, I think one of our major daily competitors is well-connected and that's how this happened. Anyway, my boss asked me to play some annoying music during the process. So, ladies and gentlemen of the federal government, I give you, at volume level 8 on my computer, an afternoon of Ronnie James Dio. Other than that, I plan on answering every question with, "You'll have to ask my boss."
Update: I took one look at the guy and turned off the Dio. :)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Duck and Cover!

...so there's a giant satellite falling to Earth today. Watch out. Read about it here. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be a good enough reason to go home early from work. :)

Do you ever stop to think about how much junk is floating around up there? To an alien visitor, we must seem like the interstellar equivalent of a trailer with old appliances and cars on blocks in the lawn.

Makes you proud to be human. I'm reminded of the short-lived 1978 TV show Quark, in which the hero operates a space-garbage scow.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

One of These Days is Here (on R.E.M.)

I heard on NPR this morning that R.E.M. broke up. For years, I've been saying "one of these days I'm going to go through that band's catalog." Now seems like the right time.

I never would have called myself a fan of R.E.M. back in the day, because I was too interested in slab-guitar work, first in hair metal and later in the alt-rock explosion of the early Nineties. But R.E.M. songs, when I heard them, always got caught inside my head. They always reminded me of U2 a little bit - not that they sound similar, but they both have very distinctive guitarists, interesting vocalists, a touch of politics, and a certain vibe that they're to be taken seriously. I once called them "the American U2" and I still think it's a fair enough comparison.

Somehow I ended up with a copy of Green in the very late Eighties. This was about the time I discovered the Pixies' Doolittle and began to suspect that, just maybe, the commercial hair metal I'd been listening to (lacking any hip elder siblings) didn't speak to me on an emotional level (it's pretty hard to take songs about "cherry pie" seriously, after all). Anyway, I know I didn't buy Green, but I had it, possibly from a punk-rock girl I was friends with and later dated. I don't even remember listening to it that much, but when I encountered the album again a few months ago I listened to it and found I remembered every single song on it. It's one of those big influences that I needed retrospective context to appreciate.

I certainly admire the way R.E.M. managed their career. If they were a little too artsy or political from time to time, well...that's their right. That sort of thing doesn't bother me at all these days, and I recall with horror making fun of Amnesty International kids in high school (all of whom virtually worshiped the band).

Anyway, for what it's worth, here's a nod of approval and a heartfelt salute to a band that, at the very least, has conducted its art and business with integrity over the last 31 years. Those guys have a lot to be proud of. Wikepedia has a really thorough article about them here, and here is the band's web site with their official announcement.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

In the Court of the Crimson King

When I told my buddy Scott I'd been listening to a lot of Jethro Tull (so sue me, hipsters), he suggested an album by King Crimson. I obtained that band's discography and haven't listened to anything else in about two weeks.

King Crimson is a band I had definitely heard of - but unlike many other bands of their ilk (that is, art-rock bands that had their heyday in the 1970s), they don't have any radio hits. I can't think of a single one, anyway. So while I knew this band's reputation (primarily because one of their many bass players went on to be a founding member of mediocre British blues-rock band Bad Company, and Greg Lake went on to form Emmerson, Lake and Palmer, who I have never particularly enjoyed), I was unfamiliar with their music.

But it's pretty awesome, and definitely breaks the mold of 1970s art rock, jumps across genre boundaries and goes back-and-forth between what one member once angrily called "airy-fairy shit" (which I enjoy) and bombastic but cerebral heavy-riffing (which I also like).

The band has more lineups than Spinal Tap, apparently, all dominated by Robert Fripp, who, despite not having that many songwriting credits, is said to have pretty much controlled the band. The group disbanded in 1974 (having already been through a few lineups) and regrouped in the 1980s, and continues to record to this day, apparently always staying one step ahead of the curve and evolving with the times (I haven't heard it but it's reported they are deep into the drum-and-bass thing nowadays). Anyway, so far I've only delved into their 1970s catalog.

In short, I like it. A lot. My first impression was that the band sounds like a slightly happier Pink Floyd or a somewhat more pissed off Jethro Tull (interestingly, when I searched for a picture after writing this, I found this article that compares them to the same two bands). In places ("Pictures of a City") they sound like nothing so much as a very jazzy Black Sabbath. The guitar work is interesting and off-the-wall, the vocals are diverse (because of so many lead singers), and there's a improvisational jazz-fusion thing happening here that I don't quite get and don't need to. Lyrically they seem to have made strong efforts to have good lyrics (as opposed to the "I'm gonna be yer back do' man" stuff so typical of British rock in those days). The album Islands seems to be about The Odyssey, of all things.

Here's a thorough study of the band on Wikipedia.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Holy Roman Empire, Batman!

Probably because I play a lot of Warhammer, I find myself in an inordinately high number of discussions about the Holy Roman Empire (which, as history teachers are fond of saying, was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire...it was in fact what Germany was called for much of post-ancient recorded history).

In Warhammer, "The Empire" is a clear pastiche of the Holy Roman Empire, and has, I think, 11 provinces. I recently came across this image that is a copy of a chart that lists the various principalities, baronies, free cities, and so on that made up the actual Holy Roman Empire, and, well...there are a lot more than 11. One or two people I know will think this was worth seeing, so here it is.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Gods 'n' Monsters

In doing some research on Michael Moorcock for this article, I stumbled across a piece on Something Awful about the original version of the Deities & Demigods book for first edition AD&D. And I don't mean "original" as in "first edition," I mean "original" as in "they got sued and stopped making this version."

The book aimed to provide game masters with ready-made pantheons of gods and goddesses, complete with stats. The original idea was to include both real-world mythologies and those of several popular fantasy authors, but in the end the only one of the latter to stay in was the Nehwon Mythos of Fritz Leiber. Gygax & Co. also included, apparently illegally, the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft and the Melnibonean Mythos of Michael Moorcock, both of which were removed from subsequent printings. Interestingly, it was NOT because they printed the Lovecraft and Moorcock stuff without authorization that these were removed; in fact, an agreement was reached that would have allowed them to do it. But by that time, both Lovecraft and Moorcock's work were the subjects of games by non-TSR companies, and TSR didn't want to popularize anything done by one of their competitors.

This article is overlong for anyone who isn't truly interested, but I thought it was funny. Unfortunately, when it comes to the missing material, they only touch on the H.P. Lovecraft stuff.

For what it's worth, I have always searched for a copy of that original Deities & Demigods. The first one I bought, in 5th Grade or so, was already neutered. I'm pretty sure the only person I've ever met in real life (as opposed to online) who had that book was this badass drummer, and he would not part with it for $50 even when he was flat broke once back in the day...

I also always wondered why, since all of the world's non-Western major religions were included in the book, why they didn't include major Western religions. I'm sure this was a political choice. Then again, I'm not sure how to incorporate Jesus into an RPG. I can see the text of the "Jesus Christ" entry now...."Christ will NOT strike with his fists for 3-30 points of damage." Heh.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Obscure Gygaxiana

The following post is one I stumbled on over at the Axe & Hammer blog, an interesting spot for gamers. Grendelwulf has done a whole series called Gygax Legendarium. I have been working on ship-to-ship combat rules lately and thought this post was interesting. I copied it directly from Grendelwulf's site and hope he doesn't mind...

Don't Give Up The Ship!

GG WM105 Don't Give Up The Ship! (1972) /
TSR 6006 Don't Give Up The Ship! (1975)

Don't Give Up the Ship! is a set of rules for conducting Napoleonic era naval wargames. The game was published by Guidon Games in 1972 and republished by TSR, Inc. in 1975. It was the first collaboration between Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax, the co-creators of Dungeons & Dragons. D&D fans may also recognize the name of contributor Mike Carr, who edited the rules and researched the historical single ship actions that are included as game scenarios.


The name comes from the dying words of James Lawrence to the crew of his USS Chesapeake, later stitched into an ensign raised by Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry in the Battle of Lake Erie, during the War of 1812.

In the foreword, Gygax writes about the genesis of the rules:

"During 1968 I began to gather material in an attempt to devise some sort of rules to encompass the single-ship actions of the War of 1812, but it soon became apparent that the task was going to require more than an offhand effort [...] it wasn't until next year at the Lake Geneva wargames convention that things began moving again. There Dave Arneson displayed some of his 1:1200 sailing ship models, and in a subsequent discussion of my attempt he mentioned that his group [the MMSA] in Minneapolis-St. Paul were currently developing just such a set of rules. Thereafter began a long correspondence wherein we exchanged rules and ideas [...] while Mike Carr eventually joined us in order to devise much of the optional rules and arrange the mass of material Dave and I had put together."

The rules Gygax and Arneson developed call for pencil and paper, six-sided dice, rulers and protractors, and model ships, ideally of 1:1200 scale. Single ship engagements can be played on a tabletop, but fleet battles require more space.

Wind speed and direction are determined by a roll of the dice; sail ships can only make slow progress against the wind by tacking. A protractor is used to measure the angle between the wind direction and the ship direction and hence determine ship speed.

The protractor is also called into use to determine which cannons can fire on an enemy ship. Cannons can aim at the masts or at the hull, and the chance of hitting is 5 in 6 at short range (4") and 1 in 6 at long range (16"). The amount of damage from a hit is determined by the weight of the cannonball.

The rules are elaborate and cover morale, sinking, fires, broken masts, and boarding. The conclusion of the book provides the statistics necessary to re-enact historical encounters such as took place between the USS Constitution and the HMS Guerriere on August 19, 1812. The second edition adds 4 pages of simplified rules for battles between fleets, as well as a map for the Battle of Trafalgar. However detailed scenario information is not included to reproduce the battle.

  • 1st edition, 1972, Guidon Games, 50 pages, blue & black cover
  • 2nd edition, 1975, TSR, Inc., 58 pages, blue, white & black cover