A place wherein this Dwarven Cleric can share his love of maps, dice, miniatures, and all things involving gaming and general geekery--not to mention the occasional witty non-gaming observations--whilst escaping from the humdrum existence of his routine Terran existence.

Hail and Well Met, fellow traveler! May my Stronghold provide a place for enlightenment and amusement, and somewhere to keep your dice dry. Enter and rest awhile.

25 March 2016

Magnificent Desolation

Yesterday I crossed off a bucket list item that I didn't even know I had.

Salt Lake Comic Con's "FanX" (Fan Experience) began Thursday and runs through Saturday. I haven't been overly enthused about it, being a bit burned out on everything, based on what's been going on in my life the past 6 months.

OK, that's not entirely true. I would have loved to have met Gillian Anderson, but didn't want to pay THAT much for the privilege. And Peter Davison was my "second" Doctor. He would have made the fourth of the Doctors I've been able to meet. [Aside: I actually did get to meet him and was able to tell him that, while he was my second Doctor, his was my first regeneration. I also complimented him on a little-known role and he showed pleasant surprise at my knowledge. Even better: all four of the Doctors I've met are genuinely nice, kind men, the kind I wouldn't mind meeting in a pub over lunch. That warms my heart. End aside.]

But I was ready to skip this Con. Just didn't have the funds or the time (or the inclination) to go this time 'round. There also really weren't any celebrities that I wanted to meet (that I hadn't met before) that warranted laying out money and time that I didn't have. That is, until they announced a True American Hero.

That word gets thrown around a lot. Sports figures get called "heroes." I've even heard movie stars and various other celebrities called "heroes." I personally think people mean "role model" rather than "hero," although most of the time that shouldn't be correct either.

But this man... there's no other word to describe him.

Dr. "Buzz" Aldrin.

Yeah. "Second Man on the Moon" Buzz Aldrin. One of seven living men to have walked on another world. A man who rode one of the world's largest explosions into orbit not just once, but twice.

I missed the moon landing by about 14 months. But my brothers remember it. My parents remembered it. I heard about it all of my childhood. The stores were still filled with Mercury-, Gemini-, and Apollo Mission toys when I was young. I had an original cardboard poster of this image on my wall when I was growing up. I wish I knew where it was; probably long lost to the local dump. I chalk that one up to an ignorant, self-centered, uncaring, and callous series of teenage years. But he was always a hero. All three of these men were.

Once I knew he was coming, I couldn't help myself. I spent considerably more than I should have, more than I truthfully could afford, so that I could get a package deal for an autograph, photo op, and prime panel seating for me and my two youngest children (my older two were able to go at the last minute, but we weren't able to get the package deal for them...just seats in the panel. But still something that—I hope—they can relate to their kids someday: the day they got to meet and hear Buzz Aldrin speak in person. Heck, I'll admit that I even put my job at risk to do this.

I wanted to participate in this, not just because of the cool factor, but because it was intensely personal for me. As my long-time readers may remember, I lost my father to cancer almost five years ago. He was Air Force, like Buzz, and they were contemporaries, although I have no reason to believe they ever met or had any association other than the wings pinned to their chest. But tears fell as I thought about how much I would have liked my father to be there and listen to these stories. I nearly sobbed out loud when Buzz talked about being on "alert" with his F-100 squadron while "bombers loaded with nuclear weapons flew overhead"; my Dad was pilot-navigator on B-47s for SAC...flying around the world with live nuclear weapons on board. The idea that one of those planes could have been my Dad's? It hit close to home and brought my Dad a bit closer...for a time, at least.

Add to this the time spent with my family today, and the chance to chill for awhile with one of my oldest friends (and fellow grumpy curmudgeon)...it was a pretty dang good day.

We could all do worse, and our kids could do worse, than a man like this as a role model. He's 86+ years old, and still spry, still working as a self-proclaimed "global ambassador for space." His latest project is trying to rejuvenate the space program and to work to get manned missions to Mars.

If you're interested, you can follow his travels and work on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/buzzaldrin ),  on Twitter (@TheRealBuzz), on the web at (http://www.buzzaldrin.com/), or at www.sharespace.org.

For those of you who may not be aware, the title of this post comes from Buzz's first words as he set foot on another world. (About 1:10 in on the below video.)



Kudos to Dan Farr and Bryan Brandenburg for another—for me, at least—successful Salt Lake Comic Con. If you're ever so inclined to travel to Utah, I would highly recommend it.

12 February 2016

Need Some Time

Just when I thought I'd reached rock bottom, emotionally, my mother passed away yesterday. I'm going to need a little time.

As far as the giveaway, the dice horde spoke randomly and declare +Taylor Frank   as the winner of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bestiary Giveaway!

What did he win? A copy of Paizo Publishing's Occult Bestiary ! (See here for more detail.) It's a Campaign Setting/Bedtiary chock full of psychic and occult monster goodness!

Congratulations, good sir. Your new treasure will be winging its way to you shortly.

18 January 2016

Haggling Over Price--CONTEST

George Bernard Shaw: Madam, would you sleep with me for a million pounds?
Actress: My goodness, Well, I’d certainly think about it.
Shaw: Would you sleep with me for a pound?
Actress: Certainly not! What kind of woman do you think I am?!
Shaw: Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.

I've been hovering between 98 and 99 followers to the Stronghold Blog for quite a while now. My ego needs a bit of a stroking, so I'd like to see the triple digit boundary finally crossed.

So. Here's what I propose.

I have here a spare copy of a Pathfinder Campaign Setting Bestiary that's taking up 64 pages (and nearly 50 monsters) worth of shelf space. I'd like to give it away to a deserving—and desiring—home. I'm offering it up to followers of the blog only.
  • If you're a follower and would like a Pathfinder book, leave a comment. 
  • If you're a follower—and are strictly Old School—but know someone who would like a Pathfinder book, have them come on over and follow the blog.
  • If you're not a follower and would like a Pathfinder book, follow the blog and leave a comment.
  • If you're not a follower—and are strictly Old School—but know someone who would like a Pathfinder book, have them come on over and follow the blog. And follow it yourself, just for good measure.
I'll keep the contest open until midnight, January 31, 2016 (MST). Anyone who wants to participate and leaves a comment before that time will be considered. Winners will be determined by a random dice roll.

That's it. Let the commenting and following begin. I really want to get this book to a good home.

14 January 2016

[Found Items] Thrift Store Swords and Starships!

OK. I need to brag.

On a whim I stopped by the local thrift store on the way home tonight. Occasionally they'll have bags of Lego bricks (I've found a few bags of miscellaneous pieces; my son found an entire 10" tall Bionicle warrior once...and most recently an Imperial TIE Defender...missing only one piece and the pilot) or perfectly serviceable Nerf dart guns. I rarely look at the book section because it's dominated with either Stephen King titles that I already have or Harlequin romances.

Tonight? No Lego bricks, although there was a large bag of fake MegaBlok knock-offs that I passed over. Decided to wander through the books and videos, hoping to find a copy of Labyrinth somewhere. No luck on that, but the minuscule Sci-Fi/Fantasy section had a bit of a treasure.

Picked up all six of these titles for a total of $7.50, including tax. Books 1–3 of the Mageworld Saga by Debra Doyle & James D. McDonald and the three Books of the Sword by Fred Saberhagen.

Now, I've had the Mageworld Saga for years, and found copies of the first two Books of the Sword a couple years ago at a Convention. My Mageworld copies are pretty ragged, even with as careful as I am with books, they've been read and re-read—They're quite well-loved, actually. And my Saberhagens saw much better days years before I picked them up. They're pretty ragged; I only picked them up because I'd been looking for them for a couple years.

I wanted secondary copies of these, of course. But even better—aside from the price—was the fact that these 6 books are pristine. They don't look like they've ever been opened; admittedly, The First Book of Swords has a bit of a spine-crease and the front cover of The Second Book of Swords has some ink transfer on it. Apparently, a National Geographic Society membership card from 1990 (which was stuck to the cover) will adhere to—and the ink transfer to—a book cover if left pressed against it long enough.

If you've never read the Mageworld Saga, I'd highly recommend it. A ripping good space opera series, with a good bit of action and a nice helping of magic added in...good stuff. The Saberhagen also comes highly recommended; I enjoyed the first book and the others have been working their way to the top of my "To Read" pile.

This just five days after getting a neat little haul from a downtown used book store, the largest one in the state. Dropped in with my wife while walking to my office holiday party (yeah, a post-New Year's Christmas party). It's a dangerous place, because I could literally spend hundreds of dollars there if I was allowed to do so.

I've always wanted to read Asprin's "Myth" books and was pleasantly surprised to find a 2-in-1 copy. The Face of a Stranger is a great Victorian mystery (an English detective wakes up in the hospital with a bad case of amnesia, and must discover his own identity while solving an important case involving the nobility). And a neat-looking little mystery from Isaac Asimov that I'm looking forward to reading.

All told, I'm pleased with my finds this past week; it's been a long time since I've been quite so lucky with great books for my library.

And just so I don't run afoul of the Joesky tax, here's a quick little random d20 table of books (and things stuck inside them) that you might find in that mage's dusty old library—hooks and idea germs for encounters, adventures, or campaigns:


d20 Roll
Title
1
The Everyday Application of Novel Divination
2
The Axe: A Tutorial
3
Heretics Opposing the Fire God
4
The Storm God's Invocations
5
The Minor Powers of the Great Traveling Gods
6
The Wonderful Stories of the Mysterious Plant God
7
An Expose of the Theocratic Earldom's Early Pirates
8
Sleeping Patterns of the Bugbear
9
The Trident: A Tutorial to Maintenance
10
The Subtle Truths of the Sky God
11
A Treatise of Thaumaturgy
12
Legendary Warlords
13
Virtues of the Revenge Gods
14
Hunting Habits of the Basilisk
15
A Magus' Text on Remedial Summoning
16
An Examination of the Kingdom's Cultural Annals
17
A Study of Basic Magical Arts
18
Essential Alchemy
19
Classic Evocations of the Journeyman
20
Theological Crimes in the Empire


Roll d4 times on the following table to find out "What's Inside."


d20 Roll
What's Inside
1-6
Nothing
7
Dog-eared pages marking pages with underlined passages
8
A shopping list written in code
9
Several love letters stuck haphazardly into the book
10
Hand-written notes in the margins totally unrelated to the subject of the book
11
Personal notes in the margins of several concurrent pages warning of a coming doomsday
12
A hand-written dedication in the front of the book
13
Bookmarks (d6) marking pages with errors
14
Triangular scraps of paper with notes in a foreign language
15
A document with a list of dates in the back of the book
16
A list of foreign locations in an archaic language
17
Three scraps of parchment in some kind of code that seem to have no connection
18
A list of birthdays in an archaic tongue secreted in the binding
19
A map of a local castle or keep, including secret doors and passageways
20
A map of a lost city tucked inside the binding

18 December 2015

A New Hope: Repeated History in the Making

Non-gaming post ahead.

Somewhere a little over 38 years ago, I sat in a theater watching Star Wars for the first of how-many-hundreds of times. I was the perfect age, the perfect demographic. I was a sucker for the toys, the comics, the books...everything.

OK. Not the Ewoks. Never the Ewoks. Those "movies" may be the only mass-market Star Wars product of which I've never participated. I hate those fuzzy little turds.

Seriously...they completely ruin Return of the Jedi for me.

But I digress.

I still remember—and feel—the awe as the docking hatch of the Tantive IV burns away and Darth Vader strides in. The same goes for the gut-wrenching anticipation of the trash compactor sequence and for the stomach-churning aerial acrobatics above and around the Death Star Trench.

I still remember the anticipation and dread and unbelievable angst of knowing it would be THREE! MORE! YEARS! for the next chapter in the lives of Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, and the droids. And I remember the lines—and standing in lines—for each of the three movies.

And then it was over.

Over the years we had the Expanded Universe as it developed and grew. I read the heck out of Splinter of the Mind's Eye, partly because it was a fun story, but partly because it was the only Star Wars we had for a long time after Jedi. We had the prequels; I don't hate them, but I'm not enamored of them, but they're still Star Wars.

But now we have The Force Awakens. I have heard a reviewer say that we, as a culture, will never experience this kind of entertainment event again in our lifetime. [Aside: Look, I realize that in the grand scheme of things, there are bigger things than Star Wars The Jedi and Sith mean nothing to my eternal salvation. But culturally, socially, it's huge. If I have to explain that to this audience, I'll lose hope. End aside.] I remember going to Star Wars with my father, Empire with my older cousin, and Jedi with my big brother. I have great and emotional memories of each of these.

Each of my children have seen at least one of the prequels in the theater with me, so it's really nothing new. But in one respect, it is. Look: I don't hate them, but the prequels don't seem like the same...storyline...to me. Yeah, they're still Star Wars, but they have a different feel. They were "new." The prequels felt more like backstory or explanation. We already knew what happened to Yoda, Vader, and Obi Wan; the prequels just showed us how they got there. This is..."new" but also "more." It feels like the continuation of beloved memories while also the start of something new.

Tonight I'm taking four of my five kids to see The Force Awakens. I can't express how excited I am. Anyone who grew up with Star Wars knows what it means for myself. But I'm also excited to experience this with my kids. It is a phenomenon. But I think it's a bonding experience too. My boys are about the same age I was for Empire and Jedi. My youngest just turned 8 yesterday, and so is a bit older than I was for Star Wars. [Aside 2: I think I may be more excited for her, just because I remember that feeling of wonder, awe, and imagination at that age. End aside 2.] She already loves Star Wars; I'm excited to see that, by every indication, there are some strong female roles she can look up to.

I hope it won't be "perfect." I want my kids to have their own version of the stormtrooper banging his head, their own version of (arguably the greatest line in the movie) "Look, sir! Droids!" (I'm also a bit afraid they'll have their own version of Obi-Wan being cut down, and that it will hurt.) But I hope it'll have all these things; the movies diminished a bit with all the polishing that Lucas did over the years. I'm honestly surprised that the head-bang wasn't edited out, or that there wasn't more exposition included regarding the droid's exact make and model suggested by the bit of desert detritus.

I'm tearing up just thinking about sitting there with my kids, watching them experience this for themselves. It won't be quite the same. After all, none of us—or our parents—could have foreseen what would have grown from those first scrolling yellow words. But I hope that these mean to my kids something close to what the originals meant to me because of how much my kids mean to me.

They mean the galaxy to me.

29 November 2015

[found items] Foliage Template

A few months ago, my wife decided to go back to school in order to get a few more credits required for her teaching certificate. This has had a couple of side benefits for me, as well. For example, aside from being able to sleep with a smoking hot college co-ed again, I've discovered a new college bookstore.

I love college bookstores.

I don't know what it is about them, specifically. Way back when, when I was young and my brothers were going to school, I loved going with them to buy stuff at the University Bookstore. It's not just the books; it's the "other stuff." School supplies, art supplies, random crap...it's all good.

There it is...it's the art supplies. I love books, don't get me wrong. But most of the non-esoteric books can be found elsewhere, cheaper. The cool art supplies, however, and school supplies, these aren't things you can find at your local Michael's or Office Max.

One example: I love writing with pencils. There's just something basic and visceral about using a good, old-fashioned lead pencil. And the best pencil sharpener I've ever owned?  A handheld sharpener that I found at the University Bookstore. Since finding the first one 20+ years ago, I've bought several more. Glass-bodied, they're made to resemble an old-fashioned inkwell. And they sharpen pencils like nobody's business.

It's not just pencil sharpeners; pencils, pens, all sorts of supplies. I found a sweet, solid metal mechanical pencil that's got sufficient heft to make it great to write and sketch with. Perhaps my favorite thing, however, is to raid the architecture aisles for templates.

Not just circles, squares, and ovals, although I have plenty of those. I've got some that are 40+ years old that I inherited (read: sneaked out of his desk because he no longer used them) from my father. I'm always on the lookout for a new one.

This brings us back to my wife going back to school. She made the mistake of allowing me to find the college bookstore. Yep: new pens, a new mechanical pencil, and my eyes on a couple more things. I also struck the Holy Grail: a new template.

That's right: a Landscape Template. Oddly, just a few months ago I was complaining to myself about my inability to draw a tree on a map. They all looked like clouds. Puffy clouds. With dots in the center.

This, I think, is going to help. Look: three different sizes, plus a palm tree. Some shrubs and bushes that will serve as some smaller trees too. French curves built in. and I think there are some pond/pool stencils there too, although those aren't as difficult for me to draw.

I couldn't wait to get the plastic off and start playing sketching. Of course, as soon as I got the plastic off all of my ideas dried up. Ah, well. I've got it with my sketching/mapping supplies and as soon as the muse strikes, I'm all set.

28 September 2015

Shamless Plea for Help

OK, dear readers. I realize that I've dropped off the face of the planet. I barely have the energy to make this post, but I really need some help. Here comes the "shameless plea."

Well, actually, it comes as part of a great big "thank you" to you all in the gaming community. A great big "thank you" because of what you all mean to me, and how your unspoken--and possibly unrealized--support has gotten me through some bad times.

I've had a bad couple of years. After a dozen-plus years slaving for a modern day Ebenezer Scrooge, I bought him out and hung out my shingle. Then I slowly realized, more and more, that he'd taken advantage of me, and had incurred a lot of secret debt that now had my name stuck to it. In the past couple years I've sunk everything I have into this firm and have finally come to the conclusion that my desire to help people has not been outweighed and overcome by my inability to bring in business. I haven't made a mortgage payment in a year; heck, I've not taken a paycheck home in a year. There's been game-related spending, but it's been driven by extreme depression.

You see, I've been suffering from depression for nearly 5 years. I will confess, I was always one who kinda scoffed at depression. I was raised by parents who were nearly a generation older than most of my friends' parents, and were of the "pull up your boots and get back to work" mentality of the Nineteen Forties generation. I'll tell you, that mentality lasts only until the moment you realize that it's all true: depression has a definite mental, emotional, and physical effect on your life.

Then add to that the food allergies that hit about the time I bought out the old man, "Grampa Asshat" as my staff calls him. Severe food allergies. To the point that I have maybe a dozen things I can eat...at most.

I'm not saying this because I'm craving sympathy or pity. I'm getting to my point here soon.

Putting together The Stronghold has helped, putting out this blog has helped, proven a distraction, at least.

Fast forward to about 6 weeks ago. Due to circumstances beyond my control, someone close to me--professionally--screwed me over. I felt like I was the victim in a bad prison movie. I dropped emotionally, mentally, and physically lower than I had ever before experienced. I determined that I was closing my doors. I felt like a failure, even though I knew (and everyone around me knew) that I had been set up for failure by Grampa Asshat. Since that day, I have been nearly incapable of producing any gaming material. Heck, it's been tough to even get up the gumption to game. A few of you've provided some little goodies in the mail that have acted as defib paddles. A month ago, a colleague offered me a job in his firm, providing me an open window to the door I'd just closed. This past 3 weeks I've worked harder than I have in several years; my depression and medical issues have severely inhibited my thinking and processing abilities. All of this? It's exhausted me. Severely. Exhausted. It certainly hasn't helped my desire or ability to produce, game, or think straight. In addition to client deadlines from my new firm and my old firm I also have self-imposed deadlines: editing deadlines for a couple of OSR projects, writing deadlines for several anthologies, and, of course (potentially) Issue #3 of The Stronghold. None of this takes into consideration family stuff, of course.

Now the plea: I'm relying on you all. I've relied on all your support (see above) for the past several years to get me through the past several years.

Do I keep going with this? do I keep going with the blog? with The Stronghold 'Zine? with gaming? I need some reasons. I need your support. Call it prayers, karma, or positive vibes. Yeah, it's selfish, it's self-serving, it's shameless. I think of you all as my friends, and I wanted you--as my friends--to know what's been going on and what you all mean. And yeah, to beg for some positive support as well.

Maybe this is overly dramatic. I certainly don't want to give all this up. I really don't. It's probably all emotional and mental burn-out. I'm sure I'll get past it.

Thanks for listening.

And I certainly can't conceive of WHAT I can use as a Joesky tax for this post. Hope y'all will forgive the intentional oversight.

20 August 2015

Dwarven Happiness--Sometimes it's the Little Things

Some of you may have already seen this.

I'm just going to leave this here, because it makes me happy.


19 August 2015

[From the Mailbag] Post-Vacation Embarassment of Riches

Well, I went away for a week--far away from cell service, land line service, internet service. It was restful. Utterly restful. Gamed a bit with my family (game report in process). Read a bit. Slept a bit. All in all a very, very restful week.

It made coming back to the office dreadfully miserable.

But, oh! What was waiting for me when I got home. The neighbor collecting our mail commented on the number of packages and hand-addressed envelopes I received. I guess all they ever get is bills and shopping mailers.

Here's what made last weekend terrific. Sorry for the bad photo, but I wanted to get everything in one shot.

Going from left to right:
  • A buddy of mine came across some duplicate 3.x titles from "his source" and passed along his extras to me: A Pathfinder module named Guardians of Dragonfall. Also a Pathfinder sourcebook entitled Tombs of Golarion--because one can never have too many tombs or ill-meaning NPCs. A CD, released with Dungeon #87 that includes the first issue of Dungeon as well as some bonus adventures and other stuff. Then there's a Paizo-produced map of the Sleeping Dragon Inn. You may recall I already have a copy of this, but it's gone missing, so I welcomed the new copy.
  • Then there's the latest two creature postcards from +Jim Magnusson. As usual, these are gorgeous and creepy. If you aren't already a patron of his, you should be. Rectify that. Soon.
  • Up top were some duplicate WotC miniatures, also from that great friend of mine. These are the Blackroot Treant from the Against the Giants set (my collection's first treant) and the Flesh Golem from the Night Below set.
  • The July Mythoard arrived as well: no dice or miniature this time, but almost as good--some fire counters from Advanced Deployment and a stack of coaster-dungeonmorphs, and a d12 table of NPC names on a business card (thanks, +Jarrod Shaw, et al.). Also included is a copy of Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits! (an introductory RPG), a copy of Issue #5 of the Undercroft 'zine (thanks +Daniel Sell), another binder-ready locale/NPC, a copy of The Red Mausoleum module from Expeditious Press, and a copy of a Judges Guild adventure, Rat on a Stick. 
  • Next to the miniatures are the latest Patreon rewards from the great and incomparable +Tim Shorts. Again, he fails to disappoint. A medieval crypt and a futuristic sci-fi patrol scenario. Great maps, great substance, and laminated for dry-erase or Mountain Dew repellant qualities. If you have ever enjoyed an issue of The Manor 'zine and haven't yet signed up for his Patreon account, get over there and do it now.
  • And the gifts continued after the weekend. When Monday's mail arrived, I found another great postcard map from +Simon Forster. This time a two-room main floor building surrounded by idyllic trees. The basement of the building is filed with surprises, including an attached cavern room. I always love getting these postcards; they are, to be honest, the main inspiration behind my own mail-maps that I've been sending out to Stronghold 'zine customers. These are great little locales just crying out for some dungeon-stocking, awaiting a drop-in into your campaign as a side-quest or random encounter. If you haven't signed up on Patreon to support Simon, well...see the above-pro-Patreon-support exhortations and feel a bit guilty, OK? Then go to Patreon and start clicking to support these fine gentleman artists!
Speaking of mail-maps, I suppose I'm well overdue to pay a Joesky tax. So, I present to you the following mail-map that went out to +Jason Zavoda. As I imagined it, it's a shrine built into the side of a cliff. The shrine has an attached chapel area, with a passageway down to an altar/contemplation pool. Then a little trapped hallway (see the inset for the pit trap side-view) leading into the cult's treasure room. But use it how you will; it's free for your use. As always, if you use it, drop me a line to tell me where and how it went.


The Shrine of Adovaz!

06 August 2015

Pazio Greatness

I know that many of you have a hard-spot in your heart against Paizo. Say what you will about the complexities in their game system, the gunpowder, the power creep...all of that. I understand the issues that many of you have, even if I don't necessarily share all your concerns.

But their customer service is incredible. Over the years, I've been NOTHING but impressed by the speed, efficiency, and caring about their customers that they exhibit.

Well, I have another example for you today. I placed an order last night at 5:15 p.m., Mountain Time. By this morning at 11:00 a.m. Mountain Time, I had confirmation that the package had already left the warehouse. I should have my loot by the first of the week.

That's impressive. I mean, really impressive. Kudos to Paizo.

04 August 2015

Twisted

I love me some horror. Movies, books, comics...you name it (unless it's a gore-vehicle, torture porn, satanic worship or possession, or voodoo) and i like it.

I have fond memories of watching the local Nightmare theater when I was...oh, let's say pre-school age. I remember sneaking into the basement to watch snippets of Alien that my brother and his date were watching on an early VCR. I read just about anything by King or Koontz that I could get my hands on. Same with Poe. The book fairs in elementary school supplied me with lots of "ghost story" books.

I'm still convinced that there's something in my parents' basement that will grab my hand between the time that I turn off the lights and start up the stairs. (That belief far predates Alien, by the way.) There's also a room in that house in which I will not sleep. Don't ask me why, I won't tell you.

As I mentioned above, I have my limits...again, for reasons I won't go into here. But largely, I love horror. There's only a couple movies that I can say have truly creeped me out. I've only read a few books that have truly scared me. One of those is King's The Shining. I first read it one night with a vicious winter storm raging outside my bedroom window. That lead to a couple of sleepless nights.

Yesterday morning I finished a book that hit that spot. It's being added to the list. That book is Twisted, by Michaelbrent Collings. [Aside & Disclaimer: I consider Michaelbrent to be a friend. However, I've received nothing for my review of this novel except a buttload of goosebumps and some long overnight hours. In fact, now that I think about it, I owe Michaelbrent a good-natured punch in the nose next time I see him. You see, last night I'd just finished my shower and headed downstairs to do some writing. We live in a split-level entry house, with a big picture window overlooking the entry way. As I walked downstairs I could swear--and will swear--that I saw, just for a moment, a white figure--a child--standing outside about 3 feet from the porch, staring up at me through the window. Now, you may say it was a reflection in the glass and a mixture of the stairway light and the porch light and the trees out in the front yard. But I know what I saw; my heart skipped a beat or two and I gasped out loud...and I'm pretty sure it's all Michaelbrent's fault. My wife and kids laughed, but the hair is standing up on my arms and neck just remembering it a few hours later. Not many books or movies have done that to me. End aside.]

Without giving too much away, let me start by saying the book involves the supernatural, the macabre, family relations, deep emotional issues, and complex characters. Oh, and twists. Every time you get comfortably sure you know what's going on, Michaelbrent cranks the steering wheel and yanks up on the emergency break, sending the story--and your suppositions--into a wild spin.

From the back of the book: "The Douglas family just wants to live their lives, and maybe find a bit of happiness. But when the ghost in their home breaks out of a centuries-long sleep, all hope for happiness will die. Because the thing that haunts them is not just evil... It is something much, much worse. Watching them from the shadows. Hungry to start killing once more. And thirsty for the blood of the children, the blood he has so long been denied. The thing that haunts them is not just evil. It is twisted."

I cannot recommend this book strongly enough. Grab a copy. It's available in Kindle e-format, in softcover, and from Audible. 

The book is Twisted. And it certainly is.

03 August 2015

Sick and Tired

I am so freaking sick and tired of being sick and tired.

Backstory (and I’ll try and keep it brief): as some of you know, for the past two years I’ve been suffering from some strange sort of food allergies/sensitivities.  We’ve narrowed it down to where I can basically eat grass and water, but we’re not too sure about grass. Or water. Now, it’s done wonders for my waistline: I’m wearing t-shirts and jeans I last wore nearly 30 years ago. After all, when you’re not eating--and if you do eat it’s immediately and forcefully eliminated for the following 36 hours--your weight can drop fairly quickly. But painfully. Whatever it is has affected my body in other ways: I’m constantly tired, and suddenly so, as if someone had simply “unplugged” me; my depression is aggravated; I have difficulty thinking at all let alone clearly and/or creatively; painful bloating and uncontrollable, vile gassiness.

Short statblock: All this makes me the life of the party and I’m tired of it. I’m tired of the pain, the fatigue, the emotional and mental issues. I’m tired of watching my family eat burgers and pizza, milkshakes and cookies while I’m eating carrots and celery, simple unseasoned ground beef (assuming it has no filler) and the occasional kosher hot dog.

So, sitting here tonight in the midst of an allergy attack and--ahem--“marinating” in my office, it got me thinking. When I game--and I know the rest of my group thinks the same way, so I can only assume we’re not unique--I don’t give much thought to my character’s illness, fatigue, and the like.

In other words, being sick and tired.

You and I get up at 5:00 a.m., maybe work out for an hour sometime during the day, put in a long day at the office or the assembly line with its accordant stress, anxiety, frustration, and back- or mind-breaking labor (physical or mental, respectively). Add in rush hour traffic both ways--or the stress and discomfort (again, physical and mental) of public transit--then you crawl your way in the front door and your toddler climbs up on your lap and either knees you (dad) in the wobblies or head-butts (mom) your sweater puppies. Then there’s the familial stresses and duties expected of you now that you’re home. And it all starts again tomorrow. Five days a week, if we’re lucky. If not, then six or even seven.

Now, I know that the above paragraph is perhaps the biggest reason many of us game. We want to get away from our normal lives. I understand this, I really do. And in this fantasy escape of ours, whatever the flavor or system, why on earth do we want to worry about mundane things. There's a reason we don't play "Houses and Humans." (There's probably several reasons why we don't play it, but that's another story.)  But face it: whether it’s through ability score modifiers, “conditions,” or some other form of RPG abstract health-tracking, characters should feel--and are, by rules as written at least, expected to feel--sick and tired. And this goes beyond simple encumbrance tracking.

Look, like it or not, it makes sense, at least from a ROLE playing standpoint. No matter what any of us do during the day, it’s not likely that we commit deeds on par with the basic tasks of our characters. When was the last time you killed a band of roving kobolds, defended a village from marauding orcs, suffered the slings and arrows of outraged towns guardsmen, or simply ran screaming from the biggest fire-breathing lizard you ever saw? All while wearing armor. And weapons. And adventuring gear. After spending the night on hard ground, half-frozen, and with a rock in your back Right. There. Oh, and you have the runs from a bad tavern meal; you’ve also been saved from near-death a half-dozen times by magic--you have to believe that that puts a little bit of stress on a body. And this is every day of the tenday. Yet we all--and I realize I might be generalizing--we all assume that a healing potion and a good night’s sleep in the woods is going to take care of all those aches and pains.

I mean, if I go camping, I’m on an air mattress and in a nice, cozy tent (if not a trailer). I’m in sweats or pajamas, not armor. And I still get up in the morning with a crick in my neck, a screwed-up back, and the legs of a 90-year-old near-invalid. Forget running from kobolds, I can hardly make it to the breakfast table.

What I’m saying is this: maybe tracking encumbrance or noting conditions, fatigue--or whatever the system equivalent is--maybe it’s a pain in the neck. Maybe it’s that “one more thing” with which you don’t want to hassle. All this might be true. But if you’re in the mood to do a little ROLE playing--or in the mood to force your players to do a little ROLE playing--consider the fact that even semi-super-human demi-demi-gods might get a little muscle-stiff or brain-sore once in a while.

Now, I don’t know the right answer here, I’m just brainstorming. Thinking aloud, as it were. Throw a couple extra conditions on ‘em. Drop an ability score or two. Give ‘em a little extra something to think about when they’re tracking down the big bad. Or running from the big bad. Whichever the case may be. Of course, you’ll have to be judicious: what would be a discomfort to high-level characters obviously could incapacitate low-level characters. Conversely, what would be a discomfort to low-level characters may be nothing more than a mosquito bite (or less) to a high-level character. Scaling the discomfort may not be the right move, as logic dictates the longer you adventure, the more accustomed you become to the rough conditions. On the other hand, the longer you adventure, the older you get, the stiffer your muscles get, and the more fragile your bones get. Then you get into the “aging” rules--something else that a lot of us tend to ignore in our adventures/campaigns.

Just something to think about. Please: let me know where I’m mis-thinking this or what your ideas on the topic might be. Until then, I’m just going to keep muddling along as best I can.

26 July 2015

[The Stronghold 'Zine] Worst Fears Confirmed....

So, a little while ago, I heard from one of my Stronghold readers/customers. It's been two weeks since Issue #2 was mailed out to him and ... nothing.

Sigh.

I sent out a mass e-mail to my Issue #2 customers. I've already heard back from at least one: Another failed mailing.

So I started doing some research. Turns out that the stack of mailing labels I had in my label drawer--sans packaging--appears to be 3.5" diskette labels, not mailing labels. They're apparently the removable diskette labels as well.

Double sigh.

So...my guess is there's a stack of Stronghold #2s out there in the void. There may even be a couple issues of #1 out there as well. If you're one of my customers and you may be affected by this, you should have an e-mail in your in-box (PayPal-related in-box, at least). Let me know and I'll see what I can do to rectify the situation.

My sincerest apologies to all of you who are still waiting. Let's get you taken care of.

25 July 2015

Hello?

Hello? Is this thing on?

Testing.... 1...2...3....

23 July 2015

Eleven Again and Blowin' Up Stuff

 I got a wild hair last night.... But I'm getting ahead of myself....

We've been doing a lot of day-trip stuff this year, add we really can't afford an extended vacation. We just got back from a two-day trip to Dinosaur National Monument, which was an annual trip when I was a kid. Faced with some hours in the hotel, I got thinking about what to do instead of TV.

When I was 11, my buddy and I pooled  our money and bought some Car Wars stuff. He bought the books, I bought some maps and counters. I photocopied the book. When we went on vacations, I'd usually spend downtime in the hotel designing cats and running scenarios by myself.

I still have all my maps and counters. The photocopies are long gone. My buddy's books? Burned up in a fire.

This weekend, memories ensued. I picked up a dozen Hot Wheels with the idea of fiddling something together with the  PDFrules I have on my laptop.

That didn't happen.

But my wife and I decided to try a "gamecation" late this year. We have some timeshare access...in a place with terrible TV reception, no phones, no distractions...other than what we take there ourselves. So we're taking games.

Scrabble. Boggle. Sojourner Tales. D&D. May even try some X-Wing Miniatures. A couple others.

So, the wild hair. Tonight I grabbed my wife and headed 45 minutes south to a FLGS in a city down south from here. I knew they had a copy, at least they had one back in February. (Of course I'm this obsessive to remember that.) Sure enough, they had a copy.

Car Wars Classic.

And I bought it. Opened it up as soon as I got home. And I was transported back thirty-some-odd years. I was like a little kid, looking at the counters, the blank vehicle sheets. I started giggling at some point, reading the rules. Yeah, they're not elegant, they're complex, and they're not QUITE the rules u remember...but, yeah.

I think my giggling scared my wife a little.

I know what else we're going to play on our our gamecation. And once my kids know the ropes, I know where I can download a turning key for Hot Wheels.

And my youngest son is nearly the age I was when I first played....My kids are gonna blow stuff up. And I'm going to get to do it with them.

  Warm up the side-mounted flamethrowers and the front-mounted linked twin Vulcans. We're goin' auto-duelin'.
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