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Jeff's Gameblog
Saturday, 26 June 2004

Going over to my sister's place today. Our mom, my wife, my nephew and I all have out birthdays within a week of Father's Day, so we're are getting together for the joint birthday/father's day extravaganza that we do every year. It should be a busy day, but I'm taking along my copy of Carcassonne just in case.

Posted by jrients at 8:58 AM CDT
Friday, 25 June 2004
Brief Wraeththu Update
Topic: RPGs
In my Wraeththu overview and re-evalution I commented that the proposed rules for Wraeththu don't fit the source material but might make for a playable game. While scouring the official Wraeththu site for more info on the 'Storm' system, I came across this short thread in the official message board for the game. I can't be exactly certain, since Gabby2600 is being so damn circumspect, but it looks to me like the Storm system is derived from Gabby's vintage '92 rules. I don't think that bodes well for the success of the game as a simulation-of-setting endeavor. If the combat and magic rules are well implemented, the game might still be a relative success, assuming the audience for queer future fantasy is big enough to support an rpg. I doubt the audience is really as big as the Wraeththu team hope, but that's the way it always goes when people new to the rpg business try to make a breakout product. I'd like to get onto the board and ask some more question about the system, but when that happened on rpg.net Gabby was even less forthcoming than in the link above. Still, RPG.net forums are down today, so I have some online time to burn.

Posted by jrients at 12:17 PM CDT

Topic: Collecting Games
More struggles with overcoming my urges to bid on too many games over at eBay. I followed a link on a non-rpg related page that led to a fellows auctions and he had some Different Worlds issues going for cheap. And he was listing them in the general magazines section instead of the games/rpgs department. I had those DW issues on my watch list for about a day before deleting it. Harder was the bloke selling a copy of SenZar. Minimum bid was more than I had hoped and he was in Britain, so I eventually decided that if I wanted the game that bad I should just buy it at retail from the one store I can find that has a copy. I don't really want to pay retail for SenZar though, especially now that I have World of Synnibarr for my over-the-top rpg needs. I'd prefer to find a much cheaper than retail copy on the eBay, so I dumped this one from my watch list but kept the email search open. I backslid a bit by adding another email search to my list, but its one of those long-term searches that may go a year or more without returning any hits. The new automated search is looking for a particular pre-TSR Erol Otus product.

Posted by jrients at 10:08 AM CDT
Thursday, 24 June 2004

Topic: RPGs
Today I got another piece of fanmail for the Erol Otus Shrine, with a nice list of Otus illustrations appearing in non-D&D products! I think my bud Don has some of the products in question, so perhaps I can add those illos to the shrine at some point.

I've been thinking about adapting my ideas for the Six Islands campaign into a starting environ for World of Synnibarr play. The Six Islands setting is small enough I ought to be able to slide it onto the Synnibarr maps with ease and I should be able to retain the fundamental elf/human conflicts that form the political dynamic of the setting. I'd just convert the elves to Psielves, among other changes. I've also got some ideas for placing my Keep on the Borderlands homage on one of the Islands.

Posted by jrients at 9:19 PM CDT
Wednesday, 23 June 2004
Conversions of the Damned
Topic: RPGs
So I was thinking about doing a Synnibarr conversion of the classic dungeon crawl B2 The Keep on the Borderlands. Problem is, unlike most fantasy heartbreakers, the World of Synnibarr monsters have suprising little correlation to stock D&D critters. No trolls or orcs or minotaurs in WoS. The undead are under-represented as well. WoS has a race called gnolls that have very little to do with the D&D critter of that name. Looks like if I go ahead with this insane project I'll actually have to build an homage to Keep on the Borderlands pretty much from scratch. I'll need some sort of crude backstory to explain why a half-dozen fearsome humanoid races are taking up diggs in the same smallish cave complex.

Maybe I should go back to my earlier idea of doing a Savage Worlds conversions. The folks at Dragonsfoot seem plenty willing to help.

Posted by jrients at 4:56 PM CDT
Quote of the Day
Topic: Books
From What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response by Bernard Lewis
Westerners have become accustomed to think of good and bad government in terms of tyranny versus liberty. In Middle-Eastern usage, liberty or freedom was a legal not a political term. It meant one who was not a slave, and unlike the West, Muslims did not use slavery and freedom as political metaphors. For traditional Muslims, the converse of tyranny was not liberty but justice. Justice in this context meant essentially two things, that the ruler was there by right and not by usurpation, and that he governed according to God's law, or at least according to recognizable moral and legal principles.

Posted by jrients at 2:12 PM CDT
Tuesday, 22 June 2004
Happy Birfday on Me!
Topic: RPGs
I got my B-Day present from my wife this morning: a set of 2nd edition Gamma World rulebooks and module GW3 The Cleansing War of Garik Blackhand. Supercool! And I'm getting chocolate cake tonight!

My wife and daughter and I were watching some SpongeBob SquarePants on the TV this weekend. SpongeBob and his best friend Patrick are discussing the fact that Patrick never does anything. Patrick announces that he wanted to defeat the giant monkey men and save the ninth dimension. SpongeBob convinces him to set his goals a little lower, so they never visit the 9th dimension. I mentioned to my wife that I ought to write an adventure that involves going to the 9th dimension and fighting giant monkeymen. She pauses for a moment in deep thought and looks at me and says "It's like your an artist or something. You don't care if your ideas are popular or not, you just do what you want." She finally gets it! Yay! I'm not sure if I could go as far as to call myself an artist, since I'm basically a hack GM, but at least she understands what I am trying to do in my little hobby: my own thing. I'm not trying to convert anyone to my one true way or make a zillion dollars by writing the Next Big Thing (though if someone wants to give me money, I stand by ready to sell out), I just want to putter around with the games I like doing the things I think are cool.

Posted by jrients at 12:16 PM CDT
Monday, 21 June 2004

Topic: RPGs
So I'm going over my new copy of World of Synnibarr and I guess I can see why some people hate it. As far as I can tell the mechanics are basically adequate. Ginchy in some places, but fundamentally sound. In terms of taste, the game is a crime against nature for two types of simulationist players. For setting-intensive simulationists, the background info is ham-handed and incoherent. For character-immersive simulationists, the character generation probably leaves something to be desired too. Random char gen seems to be the norm, though build-your-own options exist. It looks like starting characters can vary wildly in power levels, leaving some PCs with the ability to hog the spotlight.

But for the kind of player who wants to put on an old heavy metal album, scarf some snacks, and roll some dice at dragons, Synnibarr looks like a pretty good fit. I can see myself playing this game much more than Cyborg Commando. McCracken may not be the best game designer or setting crafter out there, but he certainly isn't a loon as he is often portrayed. If you can imagine yourself in a game where a ninja, a cyborg, and an elf take a starship to travel to the stock dungeon setting where they slay a dragon simply to scarf up its loot, then Synnibarr might be the game for you.

Posted by jrients at 9:16 PM CDT
Sunday, 20 June 2004
Happy Father's Day to Me
Topic: RPGs


Got a copy of World of Synnibarr as my Father's Day present. No, my family doesn't hate me. I wanted a copy. I haven't had a chance to give it a complete readthru yet, but my first reaction is that the negative hype is way out of proportion with the actual game. Synnibarr's bad rep may be legendary, but I'm not yet convinced it's deserved. I see here a game I could play and enjoy. Heck, I'm mostly done with my first PC, an Archer.

Last week on a lark I bought a box of bilingual popsicles, labeled "Fruit Carnival" on one side and "Carnaval da Fruta" on the other. Today I reached into the box and pulled out the last one. It was a coconut popsicle. That was unexpected. I had never heard of such a thing. It was very good. It even had real coconut in it. Two thumbs up for coconut popsicles.

Posted by jrients at 6:00 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, 20 June 2004 6:10 PM CDT

Topic: Books
When I went to library yesterday I returned The Year 1000 without actually opening it. I do that sometimes. What seems like a good book to read in the library just doesn't excite me when I get it home. I checked out two books. Why I chose those particular books exemplifies how I wander into new subject matter to read.

The first one was Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History by Stephen Jay Gould. I'm sure I've read something by Gould before, but I can't quite put my finger on the title.

I first got interested in the Burgess Shale after reading an article by Ken Pick over at the excellent Traveller webzine Freelance Traveller. Here's part of Mr. Pick's explanation of what exactly the Burgess Shale is and why we should care about it:
The Burgess Shale is a geologic formation in the Canadian Rockies, incredibly rich in fossils from Earth's early Cambrian period -- the earliest known (except possibly for the Edicara) muticellular life on Earth. Over 90% of these fossils are unclassifiable except as "Problematica" (unclassifiable weird ones), matching no known phylum.
Pick uses the Burgess Shale as a metaphor for Traveller gaming prior to the publication of the 3rd Imperium setting. Until the 3I stuff started appearing, people made their own setting. Traveller was a set of rules for sci-fi adventuring with no hardwired setting, exactly the way D&D approached fantasy. Anyway, the fossilized lifeforms preserved in the Shale have very little in common with life as we know it today. I'm hoping Gould can tell me a little bit more about these weird creatures.

The other book I picked up was Bernard Lewis' What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response. How I arrived at the decision to track down this particular book is kinda interesting. My cow-orkers Laurie gave me a couple of back issues of Discover magazine. She mentioned that she thought I would like some of the articles in them. The April 2003 issue has an article entitled "Who Loves Ya, Baby?" by Steven Johnson in which he reports on the emergence of software dedicated mapping relationship networks. Software designer Valdiss Krebs is on the forefront of this stuff and he did an experiment using Amazon's database of purchases. Krebs wanted to see if he could map the political polarization of the US by looking at two relationship maps. Each map would be based upon one book and the books connected to it by purchases. So for example, if you started with book A and some people who bought book A also bought books B, C, and/or D, the first step in drawing the map would look something like this (the periods are just place holders):

D-A-C
..|
..B


Next Krebs's program looks at D, C, and B. If some people who bought D also bought A, B, E and/or F, then the map might next look like this:

..F
..|
E-D-A-C
...\|
....B


This process is repeated until all the purchase relationships for the entire database are mapped, at least those relationships that can lead back to A. It's sort of kinda like playing Twelve Million Steps to A Biography of Kevin Bacon.

In order to look at the political divide in the country, Krebs made two such maps with Amazon's database. One started with Michael Moore's Stupid White Men and the other with Ann Coulter's Slander. Krebs wanted to see which books appeared on both maps. Only Lewis's What Went Wrong connects the two relationship maps.

Admittedly, only looking at Amazon purchases isn't exactly the most ideal method of mapping the political spectrum, but the results still creep me out. Is the question "What Went Wrong?" the only thing the right and the left have in common anymore? Lewis's book is about the Middle East, but not about 9/11/2001. However, it was in the print process when the tragedies of 9/11 happened and made it into stores not too long thereafter. I can see why a lot of people at that time would have been drawn to Lewis's book. Everybody wanted to know what went wrong. Here's a guy who maybe has an answer.

So anyway, I decided if What Went Wrong? is the only meeting place for the left and the right, then I had better read it. If all that the folks in the US of A have in common anymore is a desire to understand what the hell is going on in the Middle East then maybe we need to all get together and find the answer.

The folks on the other half of the political spectrum seem as incomprehensible as Wellsian Martians to me some days. The fact that so many people on the right and the left have this question in common says something important. It gives me a glimpse into the essential humanity of everyone, no matter where they sit on the political spectrum.

Posted by jrients at 10:33 AM CDT
Updated: Sunday, 20 June 2004 10:52 AM CDT

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