niall_shapero: Fox Mask (Foxmask)
I have spent far too much time lately playing Diablo III – 22 ½ hours, in point of fact. 10 ½ hours running a Barbarian (now at level 19 in Act II), 5 hours running a Demon Hunter (now at level 13 in Act I), and 7 hours running a Wizard (now at level 15 in Act I). I’ve also started excavating our front room, trying to reduce the clutter to a somewhat manageable level before my new job starts (next Monday, 25 June).

It has been an interesting nine months on the beach, but my ship appears to have finally come in; my papers are all signed, and the voyage begins anew. We shall see what develops.
niall_shapero: Fox Mask (Default)
John Scalzi, in his WHATEVER blog, recently had an entry entitled "Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is". It was a well thought out, clearly written piece, and it used an analogy that I thought was wonderful (even if not perfect). Unfortunately, many readers seemed to be from clue-free environments, and did NOT get the point. I have included a link here, so that others may go directly to the source and read it.

Scalzi is a professional writer, with several published science fiction novels to his credit, including (but not limited to) the following:

Old Man's War (2005, Tor Books, ISBN 0-7653-0940-8)
The Ghost Brigades (February 2006, Tor Books, ISBN 0-7653-1502-5)
The Last Colony (April 2007, Tor Books, ISBN 0-7653-1697-8)
Zoe's Tale (August 2008, Tor Books, ISBN 0-7653-1698-6)
The Sagan Diary (February 2007, Subterranean Press, ISBN 978-1-59606-103-3; April 2008,
Questions for a Soldier (chapbook, Subterranean Press, December 2005, ISBN 1-59606-048-4)
After the Coup (eBook,, July 2008, ASIN B003V4B4PM)

Check them out.
niall_shapero: Fox Mask (Foxmask)
Ok, how many out there who are in to face-to-face paper and pencil role playing games (D&D, RuneQuest, GURPS, etc.) live in the Southern California area? (In particular, the greater Los Angeles area - including Orange County).

I've been pretty starved for games for some time (I run games, but haven't found enough local gamers ready to RUN games that I can run a character in). So, who is out there within a reasonable distance of West Los Angeles who is running a campaign of some sort?
niall_shapero: Fox Mask (Default)
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I'd pick an FTL starship from my SFRPG campaign (an old OTHER SUNS campaign). Something like an armored scout (crew of 12-20) along with complete maintenance and repair manuals (not to mention equipment to fabricate spare parts, and thousands of tons of extra carrying capacity). With such a vehicle, I wouldn't even have to leave the system in order to have a TON of fun (not to mention starting up my own business hauling satellites into orbit). Gravity control = the solar system is mine. FTL = the nearby stars are mine. Shields capable of deflecting uncharged particles = I can go visit PSR 1257+12 (a pulsar, ~950 light-years away ... that has PLANETS...)
niall_shapero: Fox Mask (Default)
On December 30th, my wife and I headed North to Menlo Park to visit some of our friends up in the San Francisco Bay Area. We were worried, just a bit, about the possibility of I-5 being closed (through the Grapevine), but after checking on the weather for the trip up we decided on going through the central valley rather than taking the coast route.

Ok, I decided that we should take the I-5 going up. More the fool, I. My reasoning? The coast route is longer (both in time and distance) and as we were planning on leaving a little later than usual (10 AM instead of my usual 6-7 AM departure time) I thought it would be nice to get in to our destination a bit before the sun went down and everything went pitch black. No battle plan survives five minutes contact with the enemy, though, and we left 45 minutes later than planned.

Now, normally, the run over the Grapevine takes about an hour and a half, and then things speed up (it's about 80 miles from our home to the far side of the pass). Traffic was a little heavier than usual getting out of LA, but I wasn't too worried. We were, after all, leaving a bit later than usual and it was just before New Years. We'd planned on stopping at Grapevine, and eating at the In & Out there (ok, we both have low tastes, some times). But Grapevine was full - of cars. Really full. There was no parking in the lot for the In & Out, and the McD's lot looked similarly full from where I sat, in our car, trying to maneuver around. It took us something like twenty minutes just to get in and out of Grapevine (not really stopping, just driving through). It was an omen of things to come.

Normally, a short distance past Grapevine, the I-5 splits off and goes up to a 70 mile per hour speed limit. It's two lanes each way, and the slower traffic (trucks, mostly) stays at the legal 55 limit for them, and the other lane runs an average of 70-75 (with a few speed demons running upwards of 100 mph). I try to stay in the fast lane, with my cruise control fixed at just about 70, switching to the slow lane to let lunatics pass me every now and then when it's safe.

This time, I didn't have a chance. Traffic was extremely heavy (much more so than I'd ever seen it in the central valley) and traffic speed fluctuated between 30 mph and 65 mph (I may have hit 70 mph once or twice, but never for more than a minute, and I wasn't able to use my cruise control due to traffic conditions).

At that the I-5 North did better than the I-5 South; traffic there looked to be bumper to bumper, almost all the way through the valley (with the exception of one open stretch that turned out to be the result of the CHP running a brief traffic stop to allow a big tow truck to remove a wrecked car and likely to allow someone to remove accident debris). But, seven and a fraction hours after we started, we were at our destination (for only about forty-five minutes more than the usual length of trip). I should have read the omens more carefully... I was pretty tired when we reached a friends house (where we were going to stay for the weekend) but we both quickly unwound. Good friends, a VERY good scotch (thank you, George!), some langosh (a Hungarian garlic bread), salmon pizza, and good conversation later, I was feeling quite a bit better.

For once, thanks to the sanity of my friend George's wife (hi, Ellie!) George and I didn't stay up until midnight or one am talking - I think her hints got us off to rest about 10 or 10:30 PM. Just as well, considering that the next day we'd be staying up until ridiculous (well, past midnight) as is traditional.

We spent Friday doing "little" things (shopping, preparations for an RPG session Friday, and other silly things). Saturday, as had been planned, I ran another session of what we've been calling the Cyberfur campaign. A good time was had by all (George, Ellie, my wife, our friend Lisa - not the Khromat, another one, and me).

Sunday, Kay and I started back (again, rather late in the morning). We'd planned on going back down the I-5, and stopping at Harris Ranch for a late lunch. Our plans took a little detour - before we got to Harris Ranch, we saw the notices on the electronic roadsigns that the I-5 was closed at the Grapevine. We were just North of Kettleman City, so there wasn't much we could do, and we decided to follow our original plan just a little longer.

We ate at Harris Ranch, and MAN but the prime rib was good. We had the open house prime rib sandwiches. I picked that selection for me because it looked like the smallest amount of meat of anything on the menu - 8 ounces. Kay decided to have the same thing, I assume because she noticed the how much meat was on all the other menu items. Mine had a bit more fat and gristle than Kay's - perhaps as much as an ounce. But the remainder made up for it in taste (and even seven ounces of meat is a lot). We were both stuffed, after the meat and fixings that went with it. So, despite the pending detour, we were in a pretty good mood after lunch.

Things didn't stay good for long. We took what turned out to be the best of a very bad deal, and went West on the 41 to the 46 to Pasa Robles and to the 101, starting off the I-5 just South of Kettleman city. It's 53 miles, roughly, off the I-5 to the 101 on that route, but it took us over three hours. Traffic was stopped, mostly. At that, we were "lucky". Had we gone East and tried one of the alternates there, we'd have likely been trapped (most of the alternates ended up closing as well). The detour took us through nowhere to the coast, and with the rain, and the insane traffic, we were both pretty ragged by the time we reached familiar territory. I had to be back at work on Monday, so "the damn fool (me) yelled to push on" (even if we were waist deep at times, figuratively speaking). We made it back in one piece, barely, just a few minutes before midnight (after spending some thirteen hours in transit, with a one hour break for lunch at the Ranch).

I still do not know why the traffic was so heavy, unless people have decided to skip air travel altogether within the State. But, more on that subject another time.

It was fun, it had some bad moments, but it had more really good ones than bad, so we were happy we went. But we were also happy to get home again.
niall_shapero: Fox Mask (Default)

One problem I have with GURPS (as I have with any pure point-build system) is that they are inherently unrealistic and do not match the real world in some very important ways, or they fail to be generally applicable. What do I mean by this?

For real people in the real world, some indivduals have a "talent" for a given skill area and some don't. I spent a good six years trying to learn how to play the guitar and the clarinet. While I learned to play mechanically, there was no "soul" to my playing. I just wasn't any good at all at it, even though I worked hard for a long time. At the same time, I had what I regard as a "natural talent" for mathematics and working with computers - what other people found darn near impossible, I did with ease, and I did it over forty years ago (although I've gotten better with experience, I started at a higher level than most people reach after several years of experience). Some people find learning languages trivial, others remain steadfastly mono-lingual (sometimes despite making considerable efforts to change their skill set). Some people are what John Campbell called "chronosetting" and some are what he called "chronoplastic"; by this, he meant that some people could learn any one set of skills when young, but once learned, they could not continue learning, and some people could continue learning and changing their entire way of live and living well into old age, "reinventing" themselves several times over the decades. The pure point build systems do not accurately reflect any of these real world characteristics. (And before you point out that random-roll or hybrid skill systems don't really handle these problems well - or the problem of unused skills decaying with time - I'll point out that I agree with you). No system I've found yet (including OTHER SUNS) satisfies all my criteria for a "realistic", a "good", and a playable system simultaneously.

So, with points assigned on an "easy", "normal", "hard" basis for skills, we have a disconnect between reality and the game.

At the same time, if the intent is "play balance", then the points assigned to skills are dependent upon the individual campaign and its style. In the simplist case, suppose we have two different campaigns using a simple build-point skill system: there are only two skills available, "killing things and not being killed", and "figuring out things". If the campaign is a set of war/combat scenarios, the former skill has greater campaign value than the latter, if the campaign is a set of police/detective scenarios, then the latter is by far more important. So a set of point-to-skill listings that work for one campaign may well not work for another, if the two have wildly different "game objectives" for the players.

Even if the games are, in theory, identical (two "out of the box" CHAMPIONS campaigns, for example) the "real" value of given skills and powers (and, more importantly, disadvantages) can vary dramatically - especially over time. For the CHAMPIONS example, consider the situation of someone taking a disadvantage of a 1.5 x damage (stun) from a "common" attack. As I learned and played it, up through 4th edition rules, this meant that a villain would show up about every other session that that character was in, with the "common" attack that he took extra damage from. But unless I kept making new villains (or having the old ones break out of jail repeatedly), the hero would quickly run out of villains opposing him with the "common" attack. And if I kept making new villains to replace the ones defeated, using precisely the same power-mixes, they would start looking like they came out of a cookie-cutter-villain-factory (something that I always disliked seeing - both in my own campaigns and in those of other referees).

Now OTHER SUNS has some distinct problems in that people don't lose unused skills (every skill is "like learning to ride a bicycle, you never forget") and the weapons are far too ineffective compared to real world equivalents (particularly in the area of artillery and explosives - they're WAY downsized as to killing power, despite the murderous effects that they do have). Also, like GURPS and the point-build systems, OS doesn't handle the differences in raw talent (although the use of skill modifiers and INT for improvement ameliorates this problem A LITTLE BIT). As I recall, AFTERMATH handled the talent/no-talent problem a bit better than OS in this regard, but it had its own problems.

I'm not happy with any system, but I've long since recognized that a good system will not help a lousy referee, nor a lousy system will not hold back a good referee. And is a reason I am always interested in seeing how other referees handle games (especially in systems, like GURPS, where I haven't as much experience). Even if I don't approach things the same as they do, I might be able to steal some of their techniques, "only, please, to call it research".

(And before anyone out there thinks I'm down on all systems except my own, think again: I loved CHAMPS, and I enjoyed the few SHADOWRUN games I've played in, and I'd love to try someone ELSE'S GURPS campaigns - I just wish that there were a "perfect" system out there somewhere. And yes, I know what I'm asking for, but "a man's reach must exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?"
niall_shapero: Fox Mask (Default)
I was told, once upon a time, that I was too inexperienced a referee to be permitted to run a game for a particular group that had multiple referees and campaigns ("You don't have enough experience with OTHER SUNS to run a game for us" was what I was told, as I recall). Really quite interesting, you see, because I ruddy well WROTE the OTHER SUNS rules, and had (at the time) been running an OTHER SUNS campaign for some several years. [sarcasm mode on] There couldn't have been anything political involved, could there have been? [sarcasm mode off]. The responsible party for the "experience" comment had been running an OS campaign for a while that I had run in, and it was experiencing roughly a 1 in 3 casualty rate. This was nothing unusual for the person in question's campaigns - very "old school D&D" in the death rates. To be fair, the death rate (or rate of permanent disablement) was fairly consistent across his campaigns (he ran more than one type game).

Now, in my OTHER SUNS campaign, over the 31 years that it has been running, there have only been a handful of character deaths. Since character creation can take as much as half an hour, and combat and weaponry in OTHER SUNS are quick and deadly, and deadly respectively, I have always tended to keep the quantity and quality of combat down, for metagaming reasons. This was, I will freely admit, quite a sea change from my old D&D Campaign, where I regularly wiped out whole parties of characters (since characters in 1st edition D&D took perhaps 30-60 seconds to roll up and equip, worst case).

Why bring this up? Because I recently ran across someone's blog who had run (briefly) in my OTHER SUNS campaign and who claimed that what he hated about the game was that ~"combats always took at least 45 minutes per melee round"~. An interesting bit of memory-trick on his part since, going back over my notes from the part of the campaign that he participated in, I never had any combat at all. Where came the notes, you ask? Well, as a bit of an anal retentive type, I formed a habit some years back of bringing my laptop to sessions (before then, I had a set of notebooks for the campaign) and I took voluminous notes covering all the actions taken and by whom in the session (I still have a reel-to-reel tape recording of one game session played over twenty-six years ago). These notes have permitted me to keep my campaign organized and more importantly CONSISTENT over the years. So I know that the individual in question who complained was "misremembering" events (to be charitable - it was at least some ten years ago, and I rather doubt that he has as good a memory as the pen, writing at the time, and "immortalized" on paper and stored in a three ring binder).

Some incidents in a recent campaign that I was trying to join (trying is the operative term, here, I think) made me think back to these incidents and to group dynamics in role playing gaming and in small groups in general. I was about to write an essay on the subject, when I remembered that my wife had already done so - and done a far better job than I could do right now. Her essay can be found at:


niall_shapero: Fox Mask (Default)

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