Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Book Review - Demon Princes

Been out of socket most of this month, between a cruise in the warm and a convention in Lost Wages, which wraps up tomorrow. In my travels, I've read through all five volumes of Jack Vance's Demon Princes.  These are tales of revenge set in the far future, Vance gives us tantalizing glimpses his future. The 26 planets of the Tiger Concourse, and the humorous back story on how they were named.  The workings of the ICC and the Institute, private organizations of vast influence. The Star Kings, a mysterious race of ultra competitive reptilian who may or may not have uplifted mankind.
   Yet in the end, we have hundreds of pages of vignettes, the first of the villainous Demon Princes, criminals of shocking callousness and depravity, is a Star King. After its demise, the Star Kings are erased from the universe, never to appear again.  So too the hero's love interest du jour. End of book, end of story arc, even when the hero has taken financial responsibility for them. Poof, gone, lost in the vast cosmos.
  By my count, only two characters appear on more than one story, other than the hero.  And little is done to develop any of them, including the hero. Who ticks away tracking down and assassinating these criminals one by one.  His deeds unnoticed by the galaxy and unnoticed by the remaining criminals.
It's a great, fertile setting for a space opera, read the books. Discover Smade's Planet, the Oikumene and the lawless beyond.  Have the characters s each for ore among the Darshan on Dar Sai, and let them determine if the climate is more pitiless than the people. Let them journey to far, forgotten Thamber at the edge of the galaxy or take their old Model 9B located ship to search for new worlds.
  But the stories themselves, meh.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Deep Ones in Puerto Rico

These native drawings provide pictorial evidence of Deep One presence and inter-breeding around Punta Escambron, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Je Suis Charlie

A first hand account from someone who happened on the scene after the massacre. Freedom of expression is everyone's fight, there was a minor movement to suppress D&D in the 80's on religious grounds. That was a picayune argument with groups who played by civilized rules; this is an act of war between cultures.  Because of the cultural divide, both sides will claim deceit and treachery in course the fight, as the cultures do not share norms of behavior.

That does not make them equal nor equivalent.

Western civilization, with all of it's faults, has a history of self criticism and increasing freedoms that Islam only approached in it's Spanish rump states.  Such criticism can be counted on to offend those being criticized, but curtailing the right to criticize must lead to the curtailment of those freedoms.

So if you're offended, sucks to be you.  Go ahead and offend me back, being offended is the price of maintaining and expanding freedom.  Freedom is cheap at that price.  The staff of Charlie Hebro just paid for it in blood.

Honor them,do not let their voices be silenced. Your freedoms depend on it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Encounter Balance

Balanced scale of Justice     Yet another thought provoking post over on Gnome Stew, this time on Encounter Balance in the game.  As my players will tell you, I stopped worrying about it.  I stopped worrying about it in reaction to their behavior several years ago in a 3.x campaign that lasted three or four years.  I was originally excited by the Challenge Rating concept and wasted much time calculating CRs for encounters; which isn't straight forward when the numbers of players showing up varies from three to fourteen.  I noticed occasionally players seemed to get frustrated when their character approached single digit hit points.  From their reaction I realized that the concept of Encounter Balance had morphed into meaning the characters must always 'win' and that killing a character had become seen as a sign that the game had degenerated into a contest between the DM and the Players.  So I pulled a few punches and the game sucked to run. I ended the campaign and took a break.
     When I came back with a new campaign I explicitly stated that character death is an option, advising them to have a couple of characters handy.  Sure enough, a character died in the very first (random) encounter. In my current campaign, one player has had characters die not once, but twice.       Usually character death is the result of the player's and party's actions, like being the first in the room with the troll and having the next person fall and cause a pile up outside the door.  Or being 15 feet behind the thief when they blow the disarm check and the portcullis drops. And once, unfortunately, I goofed and forgot to provide the right clues that this is was encounter to run from.(Feel bad about that one.)
    Instead of worrying about Encounter Balance and calculating CRs for every encounter, I just  try come up with encounters that challenge the players to think and role play, providing clues for them to misinterpret or ignore.  As long as we're having fun, encounter balance isn't important.

Friday, December 12, 2014

in media res

Gnome Stew has a post by screenwriter and DM Patrick Regan about starting an adventure. He begins with an example of starting with the action, in media res, a delightful latin phrase I first encountered in Forester's Hornblower book, Flying Colours .
  No build up, don't even worry hown the characters got there, just go.  That's even more radical than Nine Virtues of Magnus the Pious, which at least gave the characters a mission before the action started.
   This technique would play very well in an episodic campaign where continuity is not strictly enforced.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Building Campaign Maps with Google & GIMP 7 - Scodra takes shape, but doesn't gel

I've been playing around with GIMP again, wanting to start mapping the local area, especially the town of Scodra and the location of the Castle of the Mad Archmage (Gentius' Palace in the campaign).  While the techniques I documented in the previous posts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) on the subject work, I find myself scraping the bottom in terms of granularity of the image.

The technique I used was to drill Google Maps down to the highest magnification, remove modern features and replace them with features and names for the setting. I made extensive use of the Smudge tool to soften the edges of the areas I masked. So far so good,

The hexes are approximately 1 mile center to center, I've added the walls of the town roads and a latifundium centered on the twenty year old remains of the legionary camp (Castra Appius).  The black dot on the hilltop is the location of the Castle of the Mad Archmage, just outside of town.

I then selected the center of the image, moved it into a new xcf file and scaled it up by a factor of three.  I immediately noticed that the line I had added pixelated badly when they were blown up, but a little editing and running the Smudge tool over them helped with the appearance.

I then started laying out the interior of Scodra, starting with the king's palace and garden at the east end.  So far so good.  Then the street grid, and because the area is not aligned with the screen pixels, I ended up with jagged edges and blobs.  Not great, but reasonable.  Then I tried placing the 'Old Fish' by the gate - and even at the scale of this image it's visibly not parallel to the street grid.
Perhaps if I can increase the pixel density in the image or go back and blow up the image further, I can improve the quality.  Otherwise I'll leave off buildings and just note the contents of the block.
Not everything succeeds at the first try, the trick is not to be afraid to take the second try.