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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in Sol's LiveJournal:

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    Sunday, November 14th, 2010
    10:10 am
    Swashbuckling Gaming
    So, I bought the Swashbuckler! game from mcroft along with the For the Love of Justice double adventure pack. The game system seems clever and interesting. But the two scenarios in For the Love of Justice? They feel like the games I might have written after I decided RPGing should be about more than running through dungeons, but before I'd ever actually GMed a group of proactive players.

    So, here's the setup: The PCs have rescued the princess, and been inducted into an ancient order that means they are considered her potential suitors. (Note there is no hint that a game might include a female swashbuckler. kit_kindred, stop laughing.) They are invited to a masked ball. Halfway through the ball, the princess decks the neighboring kingdom's ruling duke and storms off.

    Now, I can't predict exactly what my swashbuckling crew would do here. But I imagine it would be something like this: kit_kindred and zdashamber exchange looks across the room. One of them goes after the princess to make sure she is okay, the other goes after the duke as he leaves the ball. This leaves at least two other players at loose ends, and they get up to some sort of trouble on their own.

    What the game scenario expects: The players will do nothing, leaving the princess to be kidnapped in the castle on her way to her royal chambers. When everyone wakes up in the morning, she's missing, and the duke is a prime suspect. It doesn't just expect this -- it's the lynchpin of the entire remainder of the scenario!

    Seriously, I can't imagine this working with any reasonably savvy gamer. The princess' punch is clearly an indicating that we have plot happening. The idea that the characters respond by doing nothing is just crazy. And the scenario doesn't make any provision for the characters doing anything other than hanging out at the ball for another couple of hours. There is no indication of how the kidnappers' plan actually works; all we're told is that they're wearing the livery of a non-existent kingdom, and they're hiding in a hallway in the castle waiting to kidnap her. (It's not clear if the ones in the hallway are wearing those colors or just the ones loitering outside the castle.) So there's no indication of what the players will see if they leave the ball, or even if there might be any physical clues left to the kidnapping.

    And I'm pretty sure if somehow the princess is kidnapped right under everyone's noses, my players are going to spend half the remainder of the game trying to figure out who in the castle is responsible, because it's obviously an inside job...

    Current Mood: amused
    Tuesday, April 20th, 2010
    7:09 am
    A Small Amber Manifesto
    At a late night bull session at ACUS this year, John Lees asked (paraphrasing heavily) what we could do to give Shadow more weight in 'con games. (I believe his specific example was Corwin stopping to help Lance at the beginning of Guns of Avalon, whereas most PCs in a 'con game would just walk on to the next shadow.)

    One thing led to another, and soon Arref and I were talking about about how to make 'con games more sticky. For the uninitiated, the idea is that PCs bouncing off each other and tangling their legends together is much of what makes for a rich game; Arref calls this Stickiness.

    Back in 2002 we had bashed around a notion for a shared Ambercon universe to promote Stickiness, but the effort collapsed under its own weight. (I know I for one had extreme distractions in the rest of my life at the time.) I propose revising a much simpler version of the concept and seeing how it works. (Simpler if for no other reason than that I don't have the free time in my life to support a complex version!)

    1. Vanilla Amber universe: I'd suggest post-Patternfall, pre-Merlin series. We'll let the players provide the cool for the universe.

    2. A focus on "small" games. We want games that focus on character and non-Amber places, not more "ZOMG the mutliverse is going to end!" games, because we've all run and played in the latter over-and-over again.

    3. KISS. Look for simple answers to keeping the game world shared.

    4. Set up a player-driven wiki to help capture details of the universe to help GMs coordinate.

    5. Accept that there will be continuity errors between games and GMs. Maybe we can award no-prizes for explaining them.

    6. Trump politeness rule: Denizens of the Amber universe have busy, exciting lives. As such, people recognize that when someone doesn't answer your trump call, you shouldn't keep bothering them with repeated calls. (ie if a player is not available, presumption is her PC is off doing something cool, and the PCs who are available should forget about her for this session.)

    What do people think? I'd certainly be game for trying this, both as a GM and as a player.

    Current Mood: hopeful
    Tuesday, July 7th, 2009
    1:25 pm
    Percy Jackson and the Olympians
    So, while mandolinjen, Henry, and I drove to fromtheboonies's wedding and back, we listened to The Lightning Thief on the iPod. I was quite impressed, and I think Jen was as well.

    At one point in the middle she described it as "American Gods meets Harry Potter", and that's a fair description. It's as if the author asked himself "How can I cash in on the Harry Potter craze?" and then came up with a brilliant idea: take the same rough setup, but map it to a modernized version of Greek mythology. Our twelve-year-old hero learns his long-missing dad was a Greek god, and now he must live up to that heritage.

    The book avoids a lot of the cruftier bits of Rowling's early books. Where the first two HP books are set almost exclusively at school, and putter along without a plot for most of their length, The Lightning Thief introduces mystery and action pretty quickly, then once the setting is fully introduced, embarks on a quest that takes young Percy all the way across the US, down into Hades, and up to Olympus. There is quite a lot more action, and the stakes are much higher. The take on the mythology felt right to me, with lots of nice appearances by classical characters.

    All in all, I'd say it was very noticeably better than the first couple Harry Potter books. While not as good as the best of that series, this book is only the warmup. If the author can match Rowling's feat of making each book bigger and more interesting than the previous, this could be a great series. I'm definitely looking forward to reading (or more likely, hearing) the next one.

    Current Mood: inedible
    Monday, June 29th, 2009
    12:13 pm
    Memo to DTE Energy:
    Any time I pick up the phone and a recorded voice says "Please hold for an important message from DTE Energy" and then I'm on hold, I'm going to hang up instantly.

    Current Mood: worried
    Monday, May 18th, 2009
    5:21 pm
    "And back at the house there's a grey sky a-tumbling
    Milk bottles piling on door steps a-crumbling
    Curtains all drawn and cold water plumbing
    Notepaper scribbles I read unbelieving
    Saying how sorry, how sad was the leaving
    ...one day too soon" -- Black Sunday, Ian Anderson
    5:07 pm
    Fail?
    Why did none of my minions inform me that the April/May 2009 issue of F&SF had a new Richard St. Vier from Ellen Kushner? Are they incompetent, or merely non-existent?

    Current Mood: surviving, albeit barely
    Thursday, May 7th, 2009
    1:26 pm
    Food
    Saturday I made spicy chicken broth from leftover bones from the feast with matociquala last Thursday. Today I combined them with a bunch of long, thick noodles (as I could only find a frozen five-pound bag of the kind I like at the Asian grocery yesterday, and so have far more than I need for dinner tonight), simmered it for an hour, then threw in some cut-up rotisserie chicken breast. Heavenly!

    Tonight I'm cooking vegetarian Chinese food. I'm planning on making shelled edamame fried rice and a tofu/asparagus stir-fry. Am I sane to think of treating the edamame and tofu like I would meat -- marinating them for a bit before cooking them?

    Current Mood: contemplative
    Friday, April 10th, 2009
    9:02 am
    Good News?
    Looks like the media box is still running -- it's just that its Ethernet connection keeps crashing, which makes it looks dead to the rest of our network.

    Current Mood: amused
    5:10 am
    State of the Machines
    So, after a wave of hardware purchases and struggling with AirPort Extreme, there was a brief day or two where all the computer hardware in the house (save the Time Machine drive) was working correctly as far as I can tell. And then the CPU fan on the media box started wailing. I mean, it was in the basement, but I could hear it from my office upstairs.

    Well, I didn't have a spare fan for that system on hand, and I couldn't see any way to get at it other than taking the motherboard out. But I did have a spare motherboard and CPU (with its own style fan) sitting around, so I tried installing that in the machine instead. Lo and behold, it came up working even using the old Linux install for the very different older motherboard. I installed a fresh copy of Linux on it, quickly modified fstab to get /home back, installed emacs, got webmin running, and turned on Samba. Everything went very smoothly, not least because I had just done most of it over the weekend when I installed the new hard drive on the machine.

    Then I opened the drive on my Mac, grabbed one of the MP3 directories ("Reavy"), and dragged it over to iTunes. It started sucking in the files... and then everything froze. Rebooted the system, tried again, same result. Rebooted a third time, tried rsyncing the files, same result.

    Anyone have any pointers to good resources for debugging hardware crashes on Linux boxes?

    Current Mood: frustrated
    Wednesday, April 8th, 2009
    9:02 am
    Funniest "Celtic" Album Ever?
    I saw this when Henry and I were hanging out at Borders last week, I've been meaning to post it ever since. It's the two volume CD set Celtic: The Essential 30 Collection.

    Now, it's hard enough to imagine an "Celtic Essential 30" collection that doesn't have even a single track from Planxty, the Bothy Band, the Chieftains, the Dubliners, Lunasa, Silly Wizard, Old Blind Dogs, or pretty much any Irish, Scottish or Welsh band you could name. Nor does it include any tunes at all, as far as I can tell from the track listing.

    What does it have then? Four tracks from the Albion Band, three from Pentagle, two from Magna Carta, one from Fairport Convention. What do those bands have in common? They are all English bands.

    Wow, I think someone was really unclear on the concept....

    Current Mood: chipper
    Tuesday, March 24th, 2009
    7:40 pm
    Technology Out To Get Me
    First the Vista box's monitor is refusing to work again. Without its keyboard and mouse and Synergy for comfortable typing at my desk, I dug out a out a USB keyboard to plug directly into the MacBook Pro -- and of course, I had to manually program the meta keys, and the function keys didn't work at all. Then my Mac lost its wireless connection to my network again. Then (after I went and plugged it into the wired portion of our LAN), the house's Internet connection went out.

    But none of that was disastrous. Disastrous was my faithful old rice cooker completely failing to cook the rice for dinner, a fact I only discovered when I went to serve said dinner. Sigh.

    Current Mood: frustrated
    Tuesday, March 17th, 2009
    12:27 pm
    Subtitling Weirdness
    Watching Neil Gaiman's interview with Stephen Colbert, the word "masochistic" has been inserted repeatedly (like 5+ times) in the subtitles, yet is never actually said. ???

    PS Did Colbert tell Gaiman his questions ahead of time, or is Gaiman just that much better at being interviewed than everyone else I've ever seen on that show?

    Current Mood: apathetic
    Monday, February 23rd, 2009
    5:58 pm
    MacBook question
    Do the more Apply-savvy people out there have a clue why my MacBook Pro looses its wireless connection every once in a while? (Like once a month, maybe.) Even weirder, if I then try to click on our house's wireless network to get reconnected, it asks me for the password (which I don't have memorized and so never give it in these circumstances), even though the rest of the time it knows the password.

    Current Mood: amused
    Friday, February 13th, 2009
    12:38 pm
    Strangely Specific


    I mean, sure, sometimes you need a card that says "Sympathy Graduation New Home Thank You Hello." But I wouldn't expect there to be enough call for them to justify an entire bin...

    Current Mood: broken
    Monday, February 9th, 2009
    11:53 am
    Dashing Blades of Amber
    Just had the much-needed basic structure of the slot 6 Dashing Blades of Amber game fall into my head. That is to say, I knew roughly what events in Amber history the game had to cover. But I didn't really have a solid idea how to fit the PCs into those events. Now I do.

    Only remaining major problem is that there will still need to be a bit of NPCs talking to other NPCs at the height of the action, and I hate GMing that.

    Woah. Just had more nice details fall into my head as I was typing this!

    Current Mood: bouncy
    Wednesday, February 4th, 2009
    3:03 pm
    ACUS
    Still trying to figure out how to manage ACUS this year. I think I'm definitely skipping the first and last slots, and I may be looking for a Saturday day game that would be compatible with keeping an eye on a six month old.

    Current Mood: drained
    Wednesday, January 14th, 2009
    12:51 pm
    Green Fields of America
    So mandolinjen and I stumbled across a review of the new (technically speaking, not even released yet) Green Fields of America album over the weekend. Our initial reaction was puzzlement, because the newspaper was talking about this band we'd barely ever heard of as if it was some long established ITM supergroup. (Research shows a previous lineup released an album in 1988...) But I was pretty excited at the prospect of a new group with John Doyle and Billy McComisky, so I checked Amazon MP3 and discovered they already had the album on sale (they thought it came out on Jan 27 2008, when actually it is coming out Jan 27 2009) and went ahead and downloaded it.

    And they quickly established themselves as my new favorite ITM band. I can't remember the last time I was this excited about a batch of songs on an ITM album -- probably six or seven years, anyway. They are interesting, fun songs, and they are all-new to me (except one has the same tune as "Leave Her Johnny, Leave Her"). And the tune sets are plentiful and tasty.

    Highly recommended.

    Current Mood: cheerful
    Saturday, January 10th, 2009
    8:19 pm
    7:14 pm
    Wednesday, January 7th, 2009
    9:45 am
    Morning Frustrations
    I seem to be missing several notes towards the end of the B part of the Bonawe Highlanders.

    I'm having the worst time getting Mono to work with an up-to-date NUnit. As far as I can tell, it should work, but something is misconfigured somewhere.

    And my mainstream work seems to require a completely new lightweight system for parsing IGES data. Ugh!

    Current Mood: frustrated
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