Posts

Showing posts from 2012

Thoughts on the Sandy Hook School Killings

Taking a break from geeky topics to reflect on the Sandy Hook School killings. Feel free to move on to more pleasant topics in my blog such as Cthulhu, Stephen King, Dungeons & Dragons, and the like.
Reflecting on the massacre in Connecticut... I'm a proud Massachusetts boy now and always consider myself to be "from" Brooklyn. But the fact is I spent most of my childhood in Connecticut, maybe half an hour or so from Sandy Hook. I'm married to a school teacher. My brother's wife is a teacher. My mother is one. And I find myself writing the words "massacre in Connecticut".

I know there's talk as to how we shouldn't politicize the issue. But all I can think of are nearly thirty dead people, the majority of them children. Children! I read of a teacher who saved her entire class with her own life. My own wife Patty tells me that she thinks as a teacher that'd be instinctive.

I don't want to read about another massacre of kids. I don't wa…

Fiction Review: "Hearts in Atlantis" by Stephen King (Part 1 - 1960:Low Men in Yellow Coats)

Image
1960:
It was his first real kiss, too, and Bobby never forgot the feel of her lips pressing on his his - dry and smooth and warmed by the sun. It was the kiss by which all the others of his life would be judged and found wanting.
1999:
"Sometimes a little of the magic sticks around," Bobby said. "That's what I think. We came because we still hear some of the right voices. Do you hear them? The voices?"


Hearts in Atlantis can be considered his writing on his own generation, the one that came of age in the 1960s. Being born in 1971 I have to confess to not having any personal connection to the 1960s. But, one of King's greatest strengths is in his characters - they are real people with real wants and needs. I think that is what makes his addition of the supernatural to his stories so effective - even in the face of the supernatural we are still dealing with real people.

Hearts in Atlantis is a collection of novellas and short stories. I'll be breaking this i…

Gaslight Musings on a New Campaign

Image
I'd done some soliciting recently for a Call of Cthulhu game. A little less than two weeks ago we kicked off our first session. I believe it went pretty well, especially considering some brand new faces at the virtual gaming table.

I'll confess to having mixed feelings about gaming on the internet. There is something really nice about having people around a physical table, the sound of rolling dice, the shared meals. That said I would have a difficult time pulling that off at this stage of my life. And there are some definite advantages to gaming online. The pool of players is greatly expanded - at our most recent game we had players from the American South and Southwest with my brother and I here in Massachusetts. It's allowed me to stay in touch with players who have moved away, whether they continue gaming with me or not.

The past few months have been abysmal as far as keeping to a regular schedule on this blog. Life happens. My wife is working again which is absolutel…

Settling Fantasy America

Image
Today is Thanksgiving here in the United States. Our Canadian neighbors celebrated it a month ago. Here in the United States the general story is the Pilgrims who settled at Plymouth and the Wampanoag tribe had a feast of thanksgiving.

Being the history geek that I am I've done some reading on what the European settlement of America was like. As a gamer, I'd often thought of doing a game along those lines and did run a brief one about a fantasy version of a Viking settlement in a fantasy analogue of Manhattan.

My own research has revealed an awful lot of myths about the European settlement of the Americas. The biggest one in my opinion is that the Americas were an untamed wilderness. The Native American method of using the land was definitely different from the European one but they most definitely made large changes to the land - one of the better known things they did was perform controlled forest burnings.

Where does such an idea originate? Here I'm not particularly au…

RPG Review: Call of Cthulhu 3rd Edition

Image
I've already done a review of Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu game. But given I've been a bit AWOL in my blog of late and part of the reason has been prep for a Cthulhu game it seemed reasonable to do a review of one of the older versions of the game.

For me, this was my first exposure to Call of Cthulhu. I received it as a Christmas gift from my parents back when I was in high school in the mid- to late-80s. (Now that I think of it I also once received a complete Edgar Allan Poe collection from my wife - I get some creepy gifts.) This was not my Chaosium RPG now that I think on it - I know I had Ringworld and had also played Elfquest by this point. (Elfquest is another property I'll need to discuss at some point - as I recall it was rather big back in the 80s.)

I really don't know how it was my parents came across this version of Call of Cthulhu - it is my understanding that the 3rd edition was the Games Workshop version and was a UK-based release (though I am pretty …

Children's Heroines

Image
I'm the father of two daughters, one aged seven and the other aged ten. They've both enjoyed a fair amount of traditional fantasy and science fiction tales - Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars, etc. However both of them have also indulged in a fair amount of what I'd considered to be "girl-centric" literature and videos.

As a caveat, I'm far from being an expert on women's issues and am not a wiz in the social sciences. With that caveat in mind, I have nevertheless tried, together with my wife, to make certain the girls have good female role models. I want them to be able to enjoy stories where a girl or woman protagonist is the hero - where she is not waiting for her prince to rescue her, nor just a "dude with boobs", nor some ultra-sexed object.

Another desire is the stories actually be entertaining. Preferably without sparkly vampires.

Both girls started off with Dora the Explorer. I can still recite the theme song to Dora with ease. I suspect …

Recruiting for a Cthulhu Game

Image
In the summer time my gaming group had played some Dungeon Crawl Classics. The game was great fun but my attempts at using it to add new people to the group didn't pan out - with real life issues we actually seem to have lost a member.

With the group being rather small I'm attempting to switch its gears toward something which handles smaller groups better. I've mentioned previously one of my more successful campaigns has been with Call of Cthulhu and being an investigative game where firepower is of less importance that seems a natural match for where we are presently.

That said I'd still love the opportunity to add a few people to the virtual table (we play remotely using various communication tools). If you'd like to join us give me a shout - you can find links to my email on this blog and you can also reach me via Google+ or the comments.

Let me tell you a little about this campaign and the group in general. As far as the campaign goes it is set in the early 192…

First Thoughts on NBC's "Revolution"

Image
Including audiobooks and comic books, I read a lot more than I watch television and movies so I don't catch a lot of new shows. I was a fan of "Jericho" a few years back, a show about a small Kansas town trying to endure in the aftermath of a nuclear exchange and the collapse of the United States government.  When I first heard of "Revolution" I thought of "Jericho" and decided to check it out.

The premise of "Revolution" is that 15 years ago some event removed power from the entire globe. We're not talking all power plants failed or an EMP fried lots of devices, nothing electronic works. To be honest, this is something I have a hard time buying into - sometimes willing suspension of disbelief is hard. As someone who majored in Computer Science and Engineering I had to take a lot of Electrical Engineering classes and this selective suspension of the laws of physics is awfully hard to swallow. After all if you really suspended electricit…

Life After the Zombie Apocalypse

Image
My last blog post dealt with the decidedly uncheerful post-apocalyptic novel The Road. It's a difficult book to read. I couldn't imagine ever wanting to play an RPG in such a setting. Heck after posting that marked the longest gap between posts I've had on this blog so it must have drained my will to post...

Aside from a few brief Aftermath and Gamma World games I've not done much gaming in the post-apocalyptic genre. Probably a bit too depressing for my tastes. I like intact societies, not remnants of civilization sulking in ruined cities. With that in mind, one "sub-genre" I have given some thought to gaming in is the "Zombie Apocalypse" genre. The basic premise is pretty simple. The dead rise in the form of zombies. Usually they bite people and the people bitten become zombies. I'm far from an expert in the genre but you can find examples it pretty easily - The Walking Dead comic book and television series comes to mind most easily.

Quite a …

Fiction Review: "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy

Image
“She was gone and the coldness of it was her final gift.”
It is possible that I've experienced a more depressing novel than The Road but I tend to doubt it. The key word here is experienced. The Road is not really a book you read, it is one which you experience.
Just describing the setting itself is depressing. Some ten years ago something really bad happened. We don't quite know what it is. We know there was a lot of fire and a lot of heat. We know that all the power is gone. And the Earth's biosphere has pretty much failed. All the trees and grass are dead. They are still there but they're dead. Doesn't appear that any animals have survived. The beach is littered with the bones of dead fish. The book mentions some migratory birds last seen a few years ago. There seems to be an awful lot of earthquakes in the course of the book. Everything is covered by ash and dust. It's getting colder.
We don't know if the initial disaster killed a lot of people or not. I g…

Schedule Disruption of Doom!!!!

I'd originally hoped to be updating this blog on a 3-4 times per week basis. During the summer that was definitely doable but as we've entered the fall with back to school it's clear that I lack time for that.

It's not really that bad a thing though. I've got a challenging job but not one that has 16 hour days or backbreaking labor. The kids are back to school which is a good thing. In really good news my wife, after two years of unemployment and underemployment is back to teaching full-time - and at a better salary than her previous full-time job.

That's all pretty awesome. Hobbies have had to be shoved a bit to the backburner as we adjust to our new schedule. Gamings been on a little bit of a hiatus (hopefully kick it back off in two weeks) and I've been throttling the blog to 2-3 updates per week which seems a bit more manageable.

Fiction Review: "The Man Who Folded Himself" by David Gerrold

Image
If you have sex with yourself is that masturbation? Just to clarify, we're not talking about yourself by yourself but rather with you from another timeline.

I imagine that's a question few books outside of David Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself have had to consider.

I just reread this book on my Kindle. I first encountered it in the early 1990s, buying a copy of it from the UConn co-op as part of my early experience with "good" science fiction. I'd of course heard of David Gerrold as the author of the classic Star Trek episode The Trouble with Tribbles and I'd followed his monthly column in Starlog magazine in the 1980s as he introduced Star Trek: The Next Generation. Rereading a book about time travel twenty years after you read it for the first time, especially a time travel book where the protagonist meets future and past versions of himself, is a rather odd feeling.

The Man Who Folded Himself is a brief book - pulling out my old paperback copy whi…

RPG Review: Star Trek The Role Playing Game (FASA/1983)

Image
It really isn't my fault that I'm a Trekkie. When I was a preschooler in the suburbs of Syracuse back in the early 1970s my mother would put WPIX Star Trek reruns (all the way from NYC, there was cable tv awfully early in that area) on for me while she made dinner every weeknight at 6 PM. I liked the funny guy with the pointy ears.

My uncle and godfather was the family Trekkie. He took me to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979. Truth be told my 8-year old self found it a bit boring. However in 1982 I absolutely loved Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That was a movie an 10-year old (almost 11 that summer) could appreciate it. Though seeing ear-worms on a giant drive-in movie screen was incredibly gross.

By that time I had my first official D&D group. We used to meet in the Howard Whittemore Library in Naugatuck, CT. One winter I was hanging outside the library waiting for for my parents to pick me up after our game was complete when I ran into the GM of another gamin…

Thoughts on Historical Gaming

Image
I love history. Living in Massachusetts I enjoy taking opportunity of many of the historical sites available to visit - U.S.S. Constitution, Plimouth Plantation and Mayflower II, Boston's Freedom Trail, Old Sturbridge Village, etc. My family has paid multiple visits to Virginia's Colonial Williamsburg. My Kindle and physical library are full of history books and works of historical fiction.

With that in mind I'm surprised to see how little "historical gaming" I've done. It's not that I've done none - one of my more successful recent campaigns, and one I might go back to, was a 1920s Call of Cthulhu game. But aside from that most of my historical gaming has been more of dabbling than full-fledged campaigns.

I think for me at least a lot of this comes from the desire to "get everything right". On the surface that's a good desire but taken too far it can be crippling. I'm unlikely to run into players shouting at me "Omigod I can&#…

RPG Review: Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game (1987)

Image
Born in 1971, Star Wars cast a wide shadow on the culture of my youth. There's a joke on the internet along the lines you can tell you grew up in the 70s and 80s in that by the time of Return of the Jedi you thought Princess Leia or Han Solo were hot...

We had our action figures. Our bed sheets. Our narrated storybooks (on vinyl!)  I remember anxiously awaiting the release of the Star Wars Holiday Special in 1979 (note - even at the age of eight I managed to be disappointed).  After Empire Strikes Back there were massive debates as to whether Darth Vader was telling Luke the truth regarding being Luke's father.

After 1983 it kind of fizzled out. There were some odd Ewok tv-movies and the Droids and Ewoks television shows but neither lasted very long. The Marvel Star Wars comic book lasted until 1986.

In 1987 West End Games placed advertisements in Dragon magazine announcing their Star Wars RPG. I was an excited fan - I'd experimented with adapting Star Wars to AD&D wi…

The Advent of Player Control in RPGs

Image
When I first started gaming the DM was God. You rolled dice. The DM indicated what happened. When the DM rolled the dice it might be behind the screen and you took what you got and you didn't get upset. Now that I think back to it, in 1st edition of AD&D combat tables and saving throws weren't even in the Players Handbook - rather you had to go to the Dungeon Masters Guide.

I'm trying to remember what the first game I encountered that injected some narrative control into the players' hands. I believe it was Victory Games' 007 James Bond RPG, first published in 1983. This isn't to say it was the first such game - I'm willing to bet it wasn't, but I'm pretty certain it is the first that I encountered. In the 007 RPG your success was rated by a quality rating. The game gave each player a certain amount of Hero Points which could be used to shift quality ratings up or down, allowing a player to improve his or her own quality ratings and reduce those…

Fiction Review: "Nine Princes in Amber" by Roger Zelazny

Image
For whatever reason it's taken me forever to really begin reading Roger Zelazny's Amber series of novels. My primarily knowledge of it was from flipping through my brother's copies of Phage Press' Amber Diceless Roleplaying books. My brother raved about both the RPG and the novels. Back in 1999 I picked up The Great Book of Amber omnibus collection of all the Amber novels but I couldn't get into it.

While browsing Audible.com I noticed that all ten of Zelazny's Amber novels were available in unabridged audiobook form, the first five (the original books) narrated by Alessandro Juliani and the latter five by Wil Wheaton. Juliani, probably best known as the reimagined Battlestar Galactica's Felix Gaeta had previously narrated a short story in METAtropolis, a narration I enjoyed, so I decided to give Nine Princes in Amber another try.

I'm probably the last fantasy fan to have read Nine Princes in Amber but just in case I'm not I'll do my best not t…

Thoughts on Digital Hobby Products

Image
At GenCon a few days ago Wizards of the Coast indicated they would again be making the back-catalog of older edition products available in "electronic format".  This doesn't indicate what that digital format will be - i.e. will it be pdf, epub, mobi, require a live internet connection, etc. This got me thinking about the nature of digital gaming products in general.

First, a little about my gaming library. I've been gaming since the early 1980s. That's an opportunity for a lot of gaming products. Prior to having kids expanding shelf space wasn't that big an issue but with these little people in the house I began putting rarely used gaming products into basement storage crates. With the advent of tablets I've begun preferring digital products over physical ones. I still buy the occasional gaming book, particularly for core books of games that I play or plan to play. I initially tried using a Kindle DX to read gaming pdfs but the performance of the Kindle …