Archive for August, 2012

Post Gencon (NSFW)

Upon my less-than-triumphal return from Gencon I was greeted with a badly damaged car (sideswiped while parked for the weekend), a house turned upside down (ripped up floors and walls, a friend crashing on my couch while he’s in between apartments) and chaos at work (I apparently did not note my vacation on the work calendar correctly, thus screwing up the department schedule; mea culpa). It’s kind of almost back to normal, though my house is in a bit of an uproar and I’m trying to find time to finish my novel rewrite before proposing some pulpy sword and sorcery adventures to a couple of other publishers. I’m also feeling kind of worn out and icky, possibly a side effect of overexertion and a bad diet over the weekend. We’re none of us as young and resilient as we used to be.

So that’s what SniperWolf looks like without the uniform…

But still in all I’m feeling pretty good. Though we never once caught a glimpse of Wil Wheaton, I didn’t get to any of the writing seminars that dotted Gencon, and there was more line-standing than I like, I still had a very good time and actually did a couple of useful businessey things, such as contacting some editors and old friends looking for more freelance writing opportunities.

Like Gencon ’06 (at least I think it was ’06; maybe ’07), the focus this year was definitely on Dungeons and Dragons and its various spinoffs. The opportunity to play the game (or at least the engine) in three different and distinct incarnations — 4E, D&D Next (aka 5E), and Pathfinder (aka 3.75E) — gave me some enormous perspective on where the hobby has gone, as well as where some have wanted to take it.

My previous discussion of the 4E game laid out a lot of my concerns — the powers-based system, the lack of roleplaying, the frequently-argued “skirmish wargame” aspect and so on. Our D&D Next playtest, however, suggested the route of a wayward train that missed an important crossing, heading north instead of west. Upon realizing that it was going in the wrong direction, the train is forced to slow, to divert to a switching yard, all the cars are uncoupled, the engine is put on a turntable and aimed back south, reattached, and sent on its way, where it reaches the missed crossing and heads due west, the direction that it intended to travel in the first place.

Yes, I’m afraid it’s Pedobear.

The 4E train is taking a very long time to slow down, to the extent that WotC is still promoting it and releasing some cool, very lushly-illustrated drow-based products for it, along with its Dungeon Command skirmish game, which Beth and I played and enjoyed considerably (I found the price tag a bit steep, but hey, it’s an expensive hobby). However, the railroad employees are busy preparing the crossing so that the train will smoothly transition, bearing back toward its original destination, on tracks parallel to the sleek and speedy Pathfinder express.

WotC and my old colleague Mike Mearls are definitely listening to the playtesters, adding some cool mechanics to the fighter class and streamlining other aspects of the new/old game to suit their players. Once more, I’m seeing a more flexible and variable system that has the potential to be as loose and unstructured as original white-box D&D or as complex, combat-heavy and locked-down as 4E, if that’s your thing.

Bronies have no shame. Nor should they.

Pathfinder continues to cruise, and the question is whether the new edition of D&D will eventually supersede it (the brand is still very valuable and recognizable despite recent missteps), or whether there’s room in the world for two major d20-based frps. My ideal world is one in which they’re both at least broadly compatible, so that D&D products can be used with Pathfinder and vice versa. I’m not sure whether that will happen, or whether the corporate mindset that wanted to squash the OGL and d20-based products in favor of the cool hip-hop bling awesomeness of 4E, which of course all the kids and their cool friends would want to play.  I’m hoping that everyone maintains a live and let live attitude that not only helps the hobby, but allows me to continue using the $5,000 or so worth of old 3.5E books that still grace my shelves.

I think I can safely guarantee that no one like this attended Gencon I back in 1967.

I’m both amused and bemused at the reaction of many fans to the open playtest of 5E. While I think the consensus is that what we’re doing is exactly what it’s been sold as — a playtest of a relatively new game system that is based upon familiar mechanics, there are those who have been exploding with outrage at various aspects of the game, rather than responding in a calm and methodical manner and letting the test proceed. One commenter over at described the playtest as a “trainwreck” primarily because he didn’t like the new sorcerer character class, for example, and the outrage at how WotC had “nerfed” the fighter in the first playtest was almost palpable. I’d remind the folks who are unhappy with the current state of 5E that they’re just trying out mechanics that may or may not make their way intact into the new edition. But then I suppose not everyone is familiar with the playtesting process.

So what did I learn at Gencon? Besides the fact that Bronies are pretty much everywhere, not much really, though I did come home with a lot of swag and did indeed make a couple of contacts with people who might actually give me some work. That aside, I had a blast and did what one is supposed to do at a gaming convention — gamed. And yeah, I also took pictures of cute cosplayers and watched women take most of their clothes off. Sorry for the less-than-stellar photos — this simply points up why I want to eventually buy a nice new SLR and some decent lenses.

I got a picture of this young woman in the dealer’s room. Her tat, like so many other things that I like, is both sexy and creepy at the same time.

In other news I actually got about 8,000 words on paper for my rewrite yesterday. At that rate I could write a novel in 12 days and I’m sure there are folks out there who can. However, it’s not really a pace I could maintain for long, especially while working 40 hours a week. Besides, a couple K were recycled from the previous version of the book.

The final word count is around 97k, which is about 9k shorter than the last draft. I hope I haven’t stripped the book of any deeper meaning or significance, damaged character or plot development, etc., but I guess the final judgment will be with the publishers and agents I send it to.

On a purely mundane level, repairs to my sideswiped car are covered (after a $250 deductible of course) and come to about $2300 or so. Sheesh.

Home repairs continue and I think we’ll be back to normal in another week or so. Tev, my buddy and drummer crashed with me for a few days while the apartment he’s getting with his gf is being prepped for occupancy. I didn’t mind — not even when he brought the hyperactive little corgi-chihuahua mix dog who felt that every lap in the room was her personal property.

My daughter is off to sample the Burning Man festival, which I’ve come to the conclusion is a modern-day rite of passage for the alt-culture set. I cautioned her not to do anything that I wouldn’t, though I’m not sure whether that’s going to help at all.

And here is a picture of actual gamers, gaming, to prove that I didn’t spend the whole weekend photographing motorcycles and pretty women. Truthfully, wouldn’t you rather look at cosplayers?

Work is kind of a drag, but I’m persevering. If it was up to me I’d live in a timewarp where it was always Saturday, but that may have to wait until retirement.

I’m heading off for an isolated island well away from civilization to do my final polish on my book next weekend. No, really — it’s supposed to be a very nice place. It’s called Bloodslaughter Island. I’m not sure why.

I close my eyes, it ends too soon.

Heavy Metal Thunder (NSFW)

One of the many awesome machines that thundered in the streets of Indianapolis while we played Pathfinder.

What a difference a day makes. My flash drive has been recovered intact, I have a full set of D&D commemorative dice, I have played all of the last three iterations of D&D/OGL/D20, watched women dressed as Mario, Sniper Wolf and Cthulhu take their clothes off, and witnessed a thundering parade of heavy iron that would take away the breath of even the most jaded motorcycle skeptic.

D20 Burlesque from an old show. Don’t worry. I’ll post more.

Yeah, I’m feeling lots better. We started the day playing an introductory 4E scenario in which a bunch of drow were recruited to go clear out a temple that had been occupied by the despised dwarves. We did pretty well, and had a decent group of people including a tatooed heavy metal dude and his equally-metal significant other, who were just there to get the commemorative collectible d10 that WotC was giving to players. Once more I was struck by how very tactical 4E is and how driven by its powers system it was. Characters are defined by their individual powers (at-will, encounter and rarely daily) rather than their race, class, skills or abilities. Roles are rigid and narrowly-defined. Rangers specialize in the bow. There is no point in a fighter using a bow, nor in a ranger using a sword. Players aren’t as interested in roleplaying as they are in using their cool powers, and the quicker the DM gets to the big tactical miniatures battle the better. I know that the comparison sets some people’s teeth on edge, but I cannot help but honestly believe that 4E is a skirmish wargame disguised as a roleplaying game.

Later today we earned our d8 (and completed our set) by playing WotC’s Dungeon Command miniature skirmish game, which is a nice combat only variant on D20 that was fun to play and regrettably points up some of the flaws in the 4E system. This was a skirmish game that doesn’t pretend to be an rpg — it’s just miniatures on a board, doing fantasy stuff. At $40 for a couple of map pieces and a handful of plastic miniatures I think it’s a bit steep, but it’s a very enjoyable and well-designed game.

Compare these experiences with the other rpgs we played — D&D Next playtest, which harkens heavily back to 3.5E tradition, while keeping things open and flexible with lots of DM input and off-the-cuff playing. It felt SO much less restricted and straightjacketed than 4E, and SO much more like the kind of D&D I used to play. Not everyone is happy with the playtest, and that’s not surprising, but as for me I am delighted to see the light of reason and adaptability finally shining into the darkness of the D&D license.

My gf didn’t want me to post this picture of her and Miss La Maia from D20 Burlesque, so I excised her from the photo like Leon Trotsky.

Pathfinder, however really takes the 3.5 engine and fine-tunes it, making it the tightest and best-tested system around. Our Pathfinder Society scenario went quickly and efficiently, and everyone who wanted to play got to. There’s an easy familiarity to the system — D20 with many of the rough edges filed off, and lots of new rules and options added. I feel most at home and comfortable with Pathfinder because, well, it’s the same game I’ve been playing for the past decade — not “re-imagined” or corporatized like 4E, but streamlined, tested and tinkered with to make a more efficient and effective game, much like a custom motorcycle engine.

See how I tied everything together, there?

The D20 Burlesque show was everything it should have been, with funny gamer gals getting down to basics with call-outs to Cthulhu, Metal Gear’s Sniper Wolf, Mario, zombies, anime and more. As I was using my companion’s camera I don’t have photos yet, but I’ll take care of that on the next post, so you can see the very, very exotic woman who did the Mario routine — and who until recently danced with the local gamer burlesque back in good old Portland.

So there’s more to be said I’m sure, and tomorrow night I’m heading back home to flooded houses and busy contractors, but right now I’m definitely in a better mood, and looking forward to doing weird ass shit like playing my guitar, composing more songs, recording music, finishing the rewrite on my novel and maybe even getting a literary agent. I’ll see you soon.


Indiana Wants Me

I feel as if once the Gencon attendees — the various gamers, geeks, cosplayers, steampunks, LARPers, Bronies, Whovians, ninjas and pirates — are gone, this town is going to simply return to business as usual, being a large midwestern metropolis where most conversation revolves around how the local sports teams are doing, and how the hell that socialist Obama ever got elected. The amount of bling and Indianapolis Colts logos on the local inhabitants can’t really be measured by any rational scale.

The suspiciously canine-looking balloon dragon.

Meanwhile I’m  back at the con, still footsore and still nursing an aching back. Truth be told today’s events were a little on the frustrating side, though I did manage to score a few decent photos. I stood in line twice for events that I couldn’t get into, and when we finally did get to the event that we had registered for — a Pathfinder Society game GM’d by one of those gruff-but-companionable Australian gentlemen you see in movies and on TV (to his eternal credit he did not once utter the term “g’day”). It was fun, but unfortunately my character was in total fifth wheel mode — most of the other characters made skill checks and performed various tasks well before I did, I was not able to actually get into combat, and by the time I had lined up my various buffs for the party, the combat was over. So consequently my poor half-elven inquisitor just kind of sat there and twiddled his thumbs for three hours and didn’t do much.

The same dragon menacing a scantily-clad young woman. Not sure what the guy in the red shirt thinks of all this.

I did get all the appropriate XP and material rewards, and we did succeed in our primary mission, the rescue of a renowned eastern scholar who was going to help unlock the secrets of the Stargate — I mean Cyphergate — and was ended up kidnapped by a shapeshifting, acid-spitting pirate babe and her motley crew.

The pirate queen escaped, but we didn’t especially care, since we had our scholar and all went well. As I said, everyone else did stuff while my inquisitor sat patiently on the back burner, feeling like a cat at the dog show.

This was followed by more standing in line for an event we couldn’t get into (the new D&D skirmish game, for which we would receive a unique d8, a prize I couldn’t pass up), then a rather long hike to a drug store where we planned to purchase food for the rest of the weekend, only to find that not only had we gone a couple of blocks too far, the store was closed, leaving us to trudge back to the hotel, slightly worse for the wear.

Not my best work, I admit, but here she is anyway.

As always there were compensations, for the motorcycle races are still going on and several streets were lined by hundreds of gleaming machines, while dozens more thundered along beside us, carrying a variety of passengers from well-groomed yuppie bikers to grizzled old hands. Passing by a photoshoot by the 501st Imperial Legion I found myself wondering how hard it would be to come up with a stormtrooper motorcycle riding rig, only to realize that those effing helmets have simply no visibility or peripheral vision.

So I’ve added up my purchases and hopefully I’ll have enough to get home without going completely bankrupt. There’s one more book at Paizo that I want to pick up (though I’ve already given them about $180 of my hard-earned cash), and hopefully I’ll pick it up tomorrow and avoid the temptations of the dealer’s room for the remainder of the weekend.

I missed the Catwoman-Slave Leia photoshoot, so here’s Catwoman with Poison Ivy instead.

I hope I can get into the final D&D event so we can get our precious d10s, and maybe one more Pathfinder game so I can get enough tokens to get my character a boon, but I think I’ve managed to make peace with my wallet and won’t be spending too much more before winging my way back to rainy, hipster-ridden, liberal Portland.

I admit to being slightly gloomier this evening than I’d wanted to be. This is something I’ve been looking forward to all year, and given the situation at home (drainage overflow, floor and walls ripped out, my mother displaced to a hotel for two weeks) and work (dealing with cutbacks and other odd stresses) I really do need to knuckle down and enjoy my time away. I think that the long walks and time in line with no apparent result are kind of adding to the stress I was already feeling and I’m not quite as jolly and carefree as I usually am on such ventures. And oh yes, I appear to have lost a 16GB flash drive with a lot of personal information on it (fortunately not my novel draft). I hope to find it tomorrow, unless some intrepid young congoer picked it up and now has a free flash drive with lots of Anthony’s private data on it. We’ll see how it goes. I’m sure I’ll perk up tomorrow and the weekend will be a success. More anon. And maybe even some more cosplay people. Hang in there.