Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A totally geeky post: What kind of die are you?

I am a d4

Take the quiz at dicepool.com

Normally I wouldn't do this, but I'm in an odd mood. Feel free to share your results in comments.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Anatomy of a Game: Blue Moon

Anatomy of a Game: Blue Moon For both of you who care, a dissection of the Knizia game Blue Moon, including a discussion of strategy. Did you know that Blue Moon is actually an auction game? (Why yes, Gabrielle, I am looking at you.)

Public Service Announcement

For those who care, we are selling kefir grains on eBay. Buy early and buy often!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Polaris Actual Play--We Begin Anew!

(The previous report is here.) (This account was also posted on The Forge. You might find the responses from the folks there to be interesting.) Here we go again. We’ve shuffled the player roster a bit, but we’re back in the game. That’s right. We’re playing Polaris again! Indeed I have three sessions to summarize. So, let’s get to it, shall we? Long ago, the people were dying at the end of the world. Quotables: “You’re the one who possessed him in the first place.” “He’s far too cool to actually draw his sword.” “Because everyone knows you don’t look into a mirror around possessed people.” “Perhaps his miraculous healing threw him off.” Players Since we’ve started a new game, I figure that I’d introduce the players again, including our newest member. Seth—that’s me. I like mythic settings that are more poetic than “real”. I like stories with tragic endings. I am therefore squarely in the target audience for this game. Last game I played Na’ir al-Saif, a younger Knight stuck in the shadow of his older brother. This time I wanted to play a more extroverted character with more opportunities for action. Oh yeah, and I wanted a dragon. Gabrielle—my sister. She has similar tastes to mine in roleplaying, which made Polaris a no-brainer for her. Last game she played Mintaka, a brooding, self-absorbed Knight whose jealousy drove him to murder. This time, she wanted to play someone a bit grander, who perhaps wouldn’t be so internally oriented. Raquel—our friend. Raquel had tried roleplaying with us once before, when I ran Jailbreak from Unknown Armies. That session was mixed success at best; however, her interest in the activity was peaked enough that she had expressed an interest in trying again. Polaris was a much more successful endeavor with her. In our last game, Raquel played Bellatrix, the haughty Knight whose pride brought so much pain to so many. I’m not precisely sure what Raquel was angling for in this game, but I’m guessing from her comments that she was hoping to avoid being the chew-toy for the story. So far, I’m not sure that she’s actually getting her wish. Ralph—another friend. Yep, this is the Ralph Mazza of Universalis fame. He games with us on Friday nights and had expressed an interest in playing Polaris. Actually, it was closer to groveling; he really wanted to play. He is still getting the hang of the Key Phrases, but I think that he is quite enjoying himself. We set up the seating arrangement in the following order, going clockwise around the room: Seth, Gabrielle, Ralph, Raquel. So, for those of you keeping score at home, that means that Ralph and I are a Heart/Mistaken pair, as are Raquel and Gabrielle. Characters Last game, I think that we may have woven our characters a bit too tightly to each other, which kicked things off into a higher gear than may have been good. This time we created characters that were a bit further from each other, which has created a slower game pace. Ralph also discovered a rule that we had missed last game. During character creation, each player gets to add one item to every other player’s character sheet in the section of the Cosmos for which he is responsible. This means that I added one item to Ralph’s Mistaken section, Raquel’s New Moon section, and Gabrielle’s Full Moon section. This was an addition that I appreciated. In this way, each player could actually put his mark on each character before play actually began. As a result, there was a lot more discussion and cross-pollinating of ideas during character generation, which is always a good thing. In the end, we produced four characters. Altair, a reckless dragonrider for the remnant (Seth) Sadal Melick, Champion of Clan Draco, one of the greatest Knights of the remnant (Gabrielle) Rastaban, a Knight-assassin determined to avenge his father’s death (Ralph) Maia of the Order of Mesarthim, a healer-Knight (Raquel) In other words, we have Tom Cruise from Top Gun, Kronk from The Emperor’s New Groove, an elvish ninja, and a fairly well-adjusted, even-keeled Knight. So, of course, we start doing our best to dump all the trouble in the entire game on Raquel. It’s fun! Overview of Play I’m not going to go into any particular details about play. Suffice it to say that our first scene involved Maia accidentally getting one of the lords of the remnant possessed by a nasty demon, and things have gone badly since then. In addition, Altair brought a baby back to the remnant, which he found in the haunted ruins that he obsesses over. This child has already revealed herself to be more than an ordinary child. Indeed, she is the Spring Child. What exactly this means, we haven’t established, although we all have our theories. And, of course, Maia currently has the Spring Child and is about to be at the center of a political firestorm. Fun! On Being a Moon In retrospect, I think that we shortchanged the Moons in our last game. Any character that was in opposition to the Heart ended up being guided by the Mistaken, so frequently the Moons were in a secondary or passive role. Upon further review of the rules, though, I realized that we had been messing this up, so we resolved to change it this game. Hoo boy. What have we released? Bits of the game broke open even further for me. Here’s one example. The scene was centered on Sadal, which meant that Gabrielle was the Heart, Raquel was the Mistaken, and I was Full Moon. In this scene, Sadal is confronting Knight-Captain Megrez who was supposedly accused of being possessed. We all knew that he was not possessed, as the entire situation was the result of a communications mishap that we had seen earlier in the game. However, it seemed to me that it would be boring for Captain Megrez to simply roll over and submit to an exorcism “just in case”. So, instead, I started playing him as having an offended pride, eventually calling in several of his Knights to see this miscreant off. The funny thing about this is that I was heaping on all sorts of trouble, but I was not the Mistaken. According to the logic that we had assumed during our last game, I was “only” a Moon. But I learned an important fact to consider as a Moon. You want to align your interests with either the Heart or Mistaken in a given scene. In this case, I knew that I was giving Gabrielle all sorts of trouble and that, when she finally tried to veto with “But It Was No Matter”, Raquel would be waiting to take up my statements with “We Shall See What Comes Of It”. And she was. On Getting Started When we got together for our first session of actual play, we went over our characters so that we could remember them. Then we stared at each other. Someone needed to get things going, but no one had a good idea. So Gabrielle decided to kill someone. That’ll work. So she started a scene where the Demon in the Mirror killed one of Maia’s patients. Well, that wouldn’t do, of course, so instead the death was negotiated to a possession and then the patient turned out to be an important noble and you can’t let possessed nobles just run around, so Maia tried to chase him, but then she was stopped by someone else needing help…. And things were suddenly in motion. The moral of this story: sometimes you just need something to get things moving, and then everything will be fine. Random Thought Ralph hates elves. He thinks that elves are silly. Ralph hates ninja. He thinks that ninja are silly. Ralph is playing an elvish ninja. And liking it. This game rocks. But that was all long ago, and there are now none who remember it.

Andreas Katsulas dies of lung cancer

Andreas Katsulas dies of lung cancer. He played the One Armed Man in the movie version of The Fugitive and, more importantly, played G'Kar on Babylon 5.


fair flower blown on Heaven's breeze far from my outstretched hand

God's Presents

A couple of years ago, my wife suffered from chronic chest pain. It would strike at different times but especially in the evening. She would be reduced to soaking in a hot tub, trying to get the pain under control. It was hard on her and on the rest of us, too. We ruled out heart trouble fairly quickly, although that seemed like a reasonable idea. We didn't know quite what to do. And then Crystal's birthday rolled around. I don't recall exactly what we did for a birthday party, but I do remember what I bought as a present for Crystal. It was a cast-iron tea kettle, complete with cast-iron trivet and infuser. It was a beautiful item, and I knew that Crystal would absolutely love it. So, after the party, Crystal had to run an errand. While she was out of the house, I arranged the tea ceremony that I had planned, brewing tea in the new kettle, getting everything ready. I was right. She loved it. She was so very excited. And then the pain set in. In fact, it was the worst that she had ever experienced. The romantic evening was lost beyond recovery. But, there was something about her description of the pain that rang a bell. It was located in her back, not her front. How very odd. A couple of Internet searches, and I had it nailed. Crystal was undergoing a gallbladder attack. We returned to the doctor, and he confirmed the diagnosis. A month later, and Crystal went into the hospital to have her gallbladder removed. She hasn't experienced any pain since. At the time, Crystal's gallbladder attack was a hard providence to accept. But, in retrospect, it was one of the best things that happened to her. Now, we both see it as God's birthday present to her: a diagnosis of an ailment that was plaguing her for months. Why do I write all this now? As I was driving into work this morning, I received word that a co-worker's daughter had died last night. She was sick, but still no one had expected that this would happen so soon. She was only three years old. Just barely three, in fact. Her birthday was last Friday. The family was going to celebrate her birthday, but she was struggling with respiratory issues, so they postponed the party. Now, they will never celebrate it. We gathered together at work to pray for this family. I was in tears, as were many of my co-workers. A common prayer was, "Lord, You know why, even though we don't." And it's hard. It's really hard. Bryan said it best, "Parents aren't supposed to bury their children." And yet, I think back to Crystal's birthday present from God. It was not a pleasant one, but it was really what she needed. And now we can give thanks to God for it. This little girl suffered greatly from her sickness. Now she is free. Her spirit is perfected, and her body awaits the Resurrection, when she will receive a new body which will be perfect in every way. Her sorrow is over. Her suffering is over. Her pain is ended. How is this not a beautiful present from God? I find myself remembering something that I said to my father when my mother died:
When we returned home, I served wine. Everyone gathered in the living room, where I held aloft a goblet of red Fredonia wine and read from Isaiah 25. I explained what we were doing and why. “Mom loved wine,” I said, “and the next wine that she will drink will be in the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And then I turned to my father. “For you, this is a cup of bitterness,” I said, “but remember that for your wife, it is a cup of joy. So drink.” And I gave him the goblet. With tears in his eyes, he drank.
For all of us, most especially her parents, this is a cup of bitterness that we must drink. Yet for this little one, this day is a day of joy. For the first time, she awakens to an endless day of glory. Happy birthday, Hannah. Enjoy your present. We will all be with you soon.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Blue Moon

Gone Gaming: Blue Moon Blue Moon has risen quickly in the ranks to become one of my favorite games. So, I was happy to see this excellent description of the game posted. So, geek that I am, I thought that I would share it with all of you.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

I'm learning to play the guitar!

I decided that I need to talk less about the arts and practice them more. So, recently, I started to learn how to play the guitar. My friend Bryan is teaching me. His counsel was to pick a song that I knew, find the guitar tabs, and then work through playing it. So, I've finally located my first song: "Hard to Get" by Rich Mullins. It looks fairly straightforward to play, plus it's a song that has personal meaning to me. That all works for me. I hate doing drills to learn something. I want to be able to work on something that I'll be able to use when I'm done learning the skill. This is a song that I'd want to be able to play, so why not start with it? I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Groundhog Day!

That's right! It's Groundhog Day! I have a special affinity for this holiday because of some personal history. For most of my tenure at my current job, I've been working on the design, development, deployment, and maintenance of our custom software package. Originally, it was scheduled to be deployed in February 2004. As a result, it earned the name "Groundhog". (In fact, it deployed on May 20, 2004, a date which remains branded in my memory.) I have a hard time understanding how people can make a career out of deploying new software. My one experience was absolutely nerve-wracking. After putting it 12-14 hour days for about a month, I went into work on May 19. I didn't leave until end of business on May 20. I didn't even sleep. All that night was dedicated to data conversion and last-minute testing. We went live at 8:00 a.m. on May 20. My programmer and I then proceeded to try to be everywhere at once, making sure that bugs were getting squashed and users were being cared for. At last, around 3:00 p.m., my exhaustion caught up with me. I went into our single conference room, put my feet up on a chair, and fell into a deep sleep. My family came to pick me up, and my wife drove home. As we left the building and began to head home, I happened to glance out the window. There, by the side of the road, was a groundhog. I closed my eyes and slept. Happy Groundhog Day, everyone!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Tolkien on history

Well, here's the followup to this post that I promised.
In the "Foreword to the Second Edition" to The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien writes the following: Other arrangements could be devised according to the tastes or views of those who like allegory or topical reference. But I cordially dislike allegeroy in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the though and expereince of readers. I think that many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.
(emphasis mine) One of the things that I like about The Lord of the Rings is that it isn't an allegory. Instead, it provides plenty of material for consideration that can be applied to one's own life and experience. According to Tolkien, this is a result of its being a history (of imaginary events), rather than its being written to convey a certain point. The reader absorbs the patterns and principles on display in the history and then must take the next step of figuring out what they mean in his own life. In this way, the reader is shaped by grappling with the narrative. I wonder if this is why so much of the Bible is historical narrative. There's not one point. Instead, the reader is faced with the patterns and principles on display in the text and then must take the next step of figuring out what they mean in his own life. Thus, the reader's life is shaped by grappling with the narrative. This has implications for teaching and preaching through the narratives. Rather than trying to figure out "the point" of this text in the Bible, perhaps Bible teachers need to draw out some of the patterns and principles that are on display and make application in this fashion. Of course, this means that teaching the Bible becomes more like teaching a good literature class, which may not be a bad thing, either.