The Neverending Story

This is a reread; one I enjoy but don’t get to very often. Michael Ende has written a beautiful book about adventure and dreams. As a kid I remember empathizing with Bastian, but also feeling somewhat superior– while weak and unathletic, at least I wasn’t fat and hated. Looking at it now, he picked a great constellation of attributes for Sebastian– a few positive and a enough poor that it’s easy to imagine that you (for essentially every value of you) feel that you could do as well. Even his hesitation at coming to Fantastica is something I could “easily beat”.

The first and second halves are fascinating. I’m currently reading a paperback version, which is good, but I miss the red and green text of the hardback. (They make the difference italic versus standard print, which is good, but feels less otherworldly. I suspect House of Leaves is similar; while I read a paperback version with house highlighted blue, I bet the art version would have been fascinating as an object.)

Travels with Charley

Hey, a Steinbeck novel I liked! It’s a sketchy snapshot of the people and countryside of the 1960s as he travels around the country. It does a good job by admitting his biases and limitations up front; despite wanting to strike up conversations around the nation, we see very few interactions. There’s a lot more time and space devoted to musing about masculinity, his dog Charlie’s thoughts and motivations, and so on.

The book turns out to be a look inside Steinbeck’s head as he drives around, with random things sparking off trains of thought and detailed observation. As he mentions several times, a different person driving the same route and stopping in the same places would record entirely different experiences. And that’s just fine.

The Cinderella Pact

This book was written before The Sleeping Beauty Proposal and doesn’t link to it at all. There are familiar elements, but there’s a different hunky guy to fall for this time.

I enjoyed it– it was another quick read. It wasn’t as compelling, likely because the formula was more apparent (probably because this was the second book I’d read). Noticing the formula derailed unconscious reading a bit. Still, the friends who struggle together against their bodies and society work very well and feel like three real people, as do their relationships. Nola’s little shadings of truth (and bigger lies) are interesting… though it does feel like a strange theme in both books. I guess I’ll read the third when it comes out and see if its lead is honest and gets ahead despite it, or if she also cooks up some crazy deception.

Psi-run

There’s a cool game out there called Psi-run. I understand it was at the Ashcan Front last year (2007) and I’m curious about its current status.

Its die system is a derivative of Vincent Baker’s Otherkind System… but that’s about all I know. Does anyone know if they’re trying to make GenCon this year?

Here are a few of the links that I think will be useful if I find/run the game: Vasco’s wiki, Char sheet (PDF), an Actual Play thread, and a quick play example.

Next Game: Friday August First

the last weekend in July didn’t work for us, so let’s look at the first weekend in August. Does Friday August 1st work for everyone? Kev confirms that he has the night off.

UPDATE: Jennifer has a work commitment but encourages us to start without her. Can everyone else still make it?

UPDATE 2: Ben misremembered the week and was committed to something tonight, so we’ll cancel. What’s the rest of the weekend look like to you?

Superpowers by David J. Schwartz

A quick and interesting read, with characters I liked. The situation is set up well… what do Superheroes do without when they’re the only super people in the world?

The ambivalence of everyone toward the heroes (and their struggle for anonymity) is tough. The ending is just as hard as the rest of the book; one hero is dead, another jailed, and their initial high hopes are laid low.

I can’t explain why it didn’t strike a spark with me. I suspect it has to do with the 9/11 twist at the end– it didn’t match my expectation (despite telegraphing).

Infoquake by David Louis Edelman

Infoquake tells the tale of an interesting future. Edelman does a good job of providing a futuristic book that’s heavy on the intrigue and relies heavily on corporate rivalries and political maneuvering for its conflict. That’s cool (low key subtle conflict is hard), but it also feels like warmup. That’s reinforced by the fact that this is book one of a trilogy… but it reads like this is the first third of one large book, without a decisive conclusion at the book’s end.

The novel’s protagonist is Natch, a guy I wouldn’t want to have drinks with. He’s a ruthless, somewhat shallow souled leader of a feifcorp. The secondary characters are good; Jara’s particularly complex, while Horvil is a pretty stock background, self-effacing engineer. The minor characters are typically solid, with enough depth for their role. Several are cloaked in mystery, which helps keep them intriguing.

The worldbuilding is excellent and feels like a valid future; it suffered disasters and has twitches as a result. Government is a quirky evolution from today’s– I suspect the second novel with deal with those interactions more closely. The technology is far enough ahead (and the path twisted enough) that I accepted it with the handwaving the author had done.

The edition wars (and a good 4e review series)

The Tyranny of Fun is baloney post over at Chatty DM was good at dealing with his frustrations. (The main post was about his frustration with people labeling the other D&D editions of “fun” as wrong. Deep in the comments, though, there was some well presented discussion. It was a little sharp at first, but looking closer it highlighted a fundamental difference between the editions and gives a good guide to predicting which players will like which editions.

Donny’s comment kicked off the good discussion:

What is the biggest change in 4E? It’s not really the rules per se, its that there is no longer any place for a lone wolf character anymore. You see a little of that in the default party becoming one larger (it was 4 from 2nd – 3.5) now it is 5. The tactical aspect HEAVILY encourages teamwork and balance above all other considerations. Unfortunately, this means no parties of say, three strikers, one defender, and another defender…it probably wont workout too well, it is too over specialized. In 3E, as long as one of the defenders was a cleric No problem!

This was 3.x’s strength. It not only allowed, but encouraged any character to really have a shot at filling any role. Barbarian trapspringer, Rogue diplomat, Battle bard, War priest, all tropes that defy the “box” the class begins in. Multiclassing just adds more flavor. I’m digressing again dammit! […]

John Lewis continues the discussion:

I think Donny makes a great point that has just shed some light on what is polarizing my group. My “lone wolf” players don’t like 4E, my team players do. One of my players who thinks everything 4E is totally screwed up and evil is a player that is only truly happy (having fun I guess) when the spotlight is on him. That’s why in previous editions he always played the wizard, once he was higher level he did most the damage and executed the big flashy effects. I’m not saying he has ever been a spotlight hog, just that when it’s on him that’s when he’s happy.

As I write this it dawns on me that this is what I think is part of the underlying “divide” in this edition and why it seems a little more heated then previous change-overs (besides the fact that there are a lot more forums and message boards to rant on).

I think about the hundreds of people I’ve gamed with over the years and I analyze what seemed to make them happy (have fun) and I realize that I could probably easily divide them into 3E or 4E people based on said happiness. On the same note I could pick out the 1E and 2E people.

Mike Mearls chimes in:

Donny – no offense taken. I think you’ve done a good job of outlining why people might prefer 3e to 4e. The lone wolf issue in particular is a big one. In 3e, I tend to play casters in a lone wolf mode, loading up on spells like fly and expeditious retreat that let me get out of trouble.

There are a ton of changes between 4e and 3e, and that leads to reasons to prefer one over the other. I’d never be so arrogant as to claim that 4e is perfect, or that everyone who dislikes it is wrong.

Ninetail’s comment at the (current) end of the thread is a great conclusion.

Donny: Your point about lone-wolf vs. team-player types of characters is well-made. Even though one of my favorite parts of 4e is that the fighter is no longer useless after level 7 or 9 or so, and another is that the power framework and the tactical nature of combat encourage teamwork, I hadn’t managed to formulate it in quite that way.

You’re on to something here: 4e puts the emphasis on the characters as a party of adventurers, rather than as adventurers who happen to have formed a party.

My groups have always played with an eye to the former, so perhaps that’s why I managed to miss the comparison. Thanks for pointing it out.

I thought the discussion was interesting… and unlikely to be seen by many since it started at the end of a comment thread. Though ChattyDM proved me wrong with Moderates have fun too, where he mentions the splinter posts (including this one) that came from his rant.

Meanwhile, over on A Butterfly Dreaming, Ninetails(Scott) writes a good review of the 4e books, starting by reviewing the PHB chapter by chapter.
PHB: Overview, Making Characters, Races, Classes, Skills and Feats, Equipment and Adventuring, Combat and Rituals, DMG and Monster Manual.

I found his blog due to his trackback to the ChattyDM about The Absurdity of “The Tyranny of Fun”. Rodrick the White looks like an interesting character to play.

SotC advice from the Combat Tips for New GM thread

Late Addition: Action Scenery (pdf) from Amagi Games perfectly complements the original article below.

From the Fate RPG group recent posts from the post Combat Tips for New GM and its responses.

Work in Maneuvers, Aspects, and use Blocks for more engaging conflicts. Examples:
Combat Maneuvers: Blinding and Choking gas grenades, villains with disarming whip attacks, etc.
Temporary Aspects: Off-Balance. Reeling. Blinded. Distracted. Screaming! On Fire (good one to compel), Distracted (Good use of Deceit to boost a combat action), Buried under rubble (who says you have to limit attacks to people).
Blocks: For example, you have a mobster and some goons stealing a treasure from the museum opening, maybe the goons use machine gun fire to lay down a block to keep anyone in the crowd from interfering. Also remember that non combat skills can certainly be used IN COMBAT. (Intimidate is an obvious one. If a player can get to a phone, I’d see contacting as being just as valid)

From the wiki: Combat and Tactics and Faster Conflicts.

Use Zones and write aspects on the map directly.

Goals: The trick to more interesting combat is to have the goal of the antagonists not to beat the players into submission. Their goal should be to steal something. Or to take someone hostage. Or to distract them while the doomsday device is activated. Etc. etc.

The key to making the fight less static and swing/miss, swing/hit is to have something at stake outside of who can take more abuse. If the goons are trying to get away with the U.S. constitution, you can set up situations where the characters could use overkill force to stop them, but ONLY at risk
of the parchment itself. (What a conundrum) You can have clever shell game tactics. You can have traps. Vehicle chases. etc, etc. In general just beating the players shouldn’t be an NPC goal, just because it’s not so exciting.

Reducing Fate points can also increase tension.

Off Topic: Starblazer Adventures, using the same FATE 3 engine as Spirit of the Century, is off to press. There’s a long preview at the link.