Friday, March 27, 2020

How Things End: Two Rereadables

I don't reread books often. When I do, there's something special going on. Here are two books I've reread and will soon reread again.

For the Time Being by [Dillard, Annie]
For the Time Being, by Annie Dillard
Earlier in life, I was so inspired by passages in Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek that I started seriously attempting to write. One of my college-professors slammed me for giving her "belle-lettristic" essays and after she explained the meaning of the term I had to admit that writing pretty letters sounded like a plan.

For the Time Being is the philosophy of being and mortality by a writer capable of beautiful letters who can also strip subjects down to startling fundamentals. The metaphors for the differences between single tragic deaths and mass catastrophes will stick with you forever. I reread the book after the Japanese tsunamis and I suspect I'll look at it again soon. Not my original copy: that I left on a plane after I'd started writing poetry in it, so someone out there has a copy that's plus/minus my interstitial poems.

The summary of For the Time Being on Amazon is excellent, and will tell you if you're interested if my words have not.

The Hydrogen Sonata (A Culture Novel Book 9) by [Banks, Iain M.]
The Hydrogen Sonata, by Iain M. Banks
Banks' last Culture book is about a civilization figuring out how and if it's going to transcend. It's also about a musician and the instrument she carries that's devoted to attempts to perform a single impossible piece. I've had other Banks fans tell me they didn't like this book that much, but I love it, and some of its observations are right up there with Dillard, not to be forgotten.

If you can order from your local bookstore, do it.

And if you read on Kindle, The Hydrogen Sonata is on sale today as a Kindle deal.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Guest Post: Tweet's Projects

Since Jonathan Tweet is temporarily between blogs, he occasionally posts on game design here. He's something of a minimalist so I added italics and boldface.

Jonathan says. . . .

Here’s a list of my current projects, from a game that’s done and in the publisher’s hands to games that are just in the beginning stages of design. I always have several projects “live” at a time, although sometimes a single project takes over most of my schedule. Over the next months and years, here’s what you might see from me. 

Design complete: A science-oriented kids’ game with a new publisher. 

Largely complete: Sourcebook for a new publisher, offering a new take on a well-loved setting. 

Design underway: A new edition of Everway, where I can apply what the free-form roleplaying game design community has learned and invented over the last 25 years. Working with the Everway Company, comprising people I’ve known since Everway’s debut. 

Underway: Monthly 1,000-word essays about my history in RPG design, posted on EN World. 

Underway: Sourcebook for another new publisher, also offering a new take on a well-loved setting.  

Underway: In the tradition of Grandmother Fish, another lovable picture book that teaches evolution science to pre-schoolers. 

Maintenance: Every year, I update the content of the game-design course I teach each fall through the University of Washington. 

Beginning stages: Head-to-head card game. Latest brain storm. 

Beginning stages: A story-oriented supplement for 5E with a new publisher. 

Beginning stages: Possible relaunch of a quirky trading card game from the 90s. 

Back-burnered: Non-fiction book, Jesus for atheists

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Alphabet Prime Music: Numbers

My Alphabet Prime playlist contains 224 (and counting) songs that at one point or another have been my favorite. Everything that comes up is worth hearing again. I can press repeat or just let it roll, knowing that I’ll like the next song just as much, though perhaps in an entirely different way.

I’m going to run the playlist in my blog, serialized a few songs at a time. If there’s a story that goes with a song, I’ll tell it.

I originally created the list working alphabetically by band, but it’s more interesting to move through alphabetically by song. I'm using links to videos, but in nearly all cases, my affection came from the music.  

Image result for saturday knights mingle album
The Saturday Knights; Mingle

Best to say nothing and let this song’s lyrics rumble for themselves! They’re a Seattle/Tacoma group and haven’t released anything recently. The entire Mingle album is great.

100 Years
Vagabon; Infinite Worlds

So new to me I haven't gotten around to checking out her second album. 

Image result for cornershop woman's gotta have it
Cornershop, Woman's Gotta Have It

The prototype of a song I listen to on endless repeat as I work or do most anything else. In fact I listened to it, and to its slightly longer variation, 7:20 A.M. Jullander Shere, for months while working on QA for King of Dragon Pass, and for weeks before that while designing a flawed-but-interesting Magic: the Gathering miniatures game. That was several years before getting hired at WotC. My design used the five mana symbols as die results that gave different commands to units (Red: charge, White: Defend) as well as activating powers. It was hugely baroque. At the time I didn’t know that simply baroque was too much. But it was the second game system I’d designed and the first from scratch, so the song has many powerful associations . . . .  

99.9F° - Wikipedia
Suzanne Vega; 99.9 F

An older tune, back from the years just after college, in my case. I got sick the night a friend had a ticket for me to one of her shows and if you're going to carry regrets, let them be about missed concerts. 

Friday, January 24, 2020

Gaming this week: Book of the Underworld, Wingspan, Cypher System

The wonderful car-web photo above was taken by Lisa Eschenbach, and I'm using it to acknowledge that I finished the development phase on Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan's Book of the Underworld earlier this week. Yeah, it took a few weeks longer than I expected. The book is now with the editor. All the art is coming in on schedule so it won't be too long before it's in layout.

Also this week, I made huge progress on two new designs. The secret card/boardgame I've been designing for my own personal satisfaction has achieved harmony. Players have been enjoying it for awhile, and now I'm also simply having fun rather than seeing things that need fixing. Notably, I'm no longer winning every game. There's a specific type of imbalance when the designer's advantage in knowing what might be unbalanced pays off too often. Happily, I'm losing now, so that development phase is over.  I'll be looking for a publisher soon.

Meanwhile on a different unannounced boardgame project that has a publisher already, I solved the last of the design problems that was bugging me and am making a pass through the cardset and other components to live up to the new solutions. I'm looking forward to playtesting next week.

I also enjoyed a couple first-plays this week. I've only been able to find the European supplement for Wingspan, but friends Brittany and Miguel brought over the core game. We all loved it. Lisa used the Audubon app on her phone to accompany turns with the calls of the newly played birds. Brittany arranged a ridiculous combo and stuffed what she called a 'Christmas goose' with 20 VP, so curses accompanied the bird calls.

I also got to play my first game of the Cypher system, in a highly diverting fantasy genre session run by Bruce Cordell. I had fun as a Resilient Speaker Who Keeps a Magic Ally. Specifically, I'm playing a priest of a war god that died in apocalyptic fashion (the god I mean), and now I get my spells from random deities, changing every day, who are using me as an experiment, or a bet, or something. More or less a One Unique Thing that will definitely make for fun prayers. Also: I'm a kite-fighting and bocce ball aficionado. My comrades are considerably doughtier (more on them next time), so all shall be well.

And though we didn't play The Gods War this week, it launched a Kickstarter with Gloranthan gods of War, Secrets, and Magic, and I'm pretty sure I never shared this method-acting photo from our Gods War game. From right to left, Sean pulled faces as Chaos, Jonathan was a stickler-for-rules Solar, and I was a Storm player who never rolled a 6 after mistakenly using a wargaming plan in an area control universe. The sword was an attempt to compensate for 6-less-ness. Paul, the Darkness troll photographer, ate us all.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Wingspan: Vote of Confidence

For about 36 hours, I owned a copy of Wingspan. I taught the game to a nine-year old who coincidentally shares his name with a bird. That's his younger sister on the left, she realized the game was too much for her and instead she gleefully punched out birdfoods. When the nine-year old loved the game as much as I did, he took it home to his nest.

Friday, December 6, 2019

13th Age Update

Here's an update on the first wave of 13th Age books that are in production. And if you haven't picked up earlier books, now could be a good time at the Bundle of Holding, which has the core 13th Age books as a bundle here, and more recent sourcebooks and adventures here.

Book of the Underworld
We're nearly finished developing Gareth Ryder Hanrahan's Book of the Underworld. John-Matthew DeFoggi finished his development pass and I'm midway through my own devpass. Today I'm designing some new fungaloids and troglodytes. I think the book will be headed to the editor by the middle of December, and we have more art to commission as it's being edited. Artists' timelines will influence the publication date, but my guess is that editing and art will be wrapped up close to the same time.  Pelgrane likes to put books on pre-order when editing is complete, so look for the pre-order sometime early next year. 

If you missed the origin story for the cover of the book, painted by Lee Moyer using some pencils from Rich Longmore, look here

Gar's work is endlessly inventive. I laughed out loud several times reading through the book and what Gareth doesn't know yet is that other people are looking to follow up his book by writing a full adventure based on something he tossed off in a couple paragraphs. The except that follows is not that specific inspirational paragraph, but it is another chunk that got me thinking. It's the first of the thirteen Secret Ways into the Underworld. 

1.      The Unraveled Dungeon: A few feet to the left, and this living dungeon might have been one of the infamous horrors of the age, a fiendish labyrinth of monsters and traps sprawling out beneath the skin of the world. Unfortunately for the dungeon, something snagged it in the depths of the underworld as it climbed towards the surface. As it rose, the dungeon unraveled, leaving a thread of corridors and chambers behind it, a long linear path stretching down behind it. When it finally broke through to the surface, there was almost nothing left of it—it now looks like a small dungeon of a few rooms, only one door leads to stairs that goes down and down and down forever . . . . 

Elven Towers
We don't have the cover art for Cal Moore's new adventure yet, but given that Cal turned over the manuscript yesterday and John-Matthew started development today, I'll be working on the cover art assignment this weekend. 

Shards of the Broken Sky is the story of how the Archmage fumbles protecting his secrets. Elven Towers is the story of how the Elf Queen tries to avoid a similar disaster. The campaign-tier adventure's usual assumption is that the PCs are more or less on the Queen's side, but there are options for working against her. 

Depending on how your campaign paces itself, there's material for at least 1.5 or two levels of play, and with a bit more attention paid to the Court of Stars (possibly borrowing ideas from Robin D. Law's writing in 13 True Ways), the adventure easily handles three levels of play, all of champion-tier. 

Crown of Axis
The impetus for this experiment is that The Strangling Sea, a first-level adventure, is finally out of print. Crown of Axis is an entirely different approach to a first-level adventure. Instead of being published as a print-product, it's going to appear as PDF-only. We gave Wade Rockett free rein to create an introductory adventure and he's chosen to take us into the arenas of the capital city. Further plot details would count as spoilers, so let's just leave it at this: Crown of Axis isn't just a reference to the Emperor, it's also the name of the venerable-but-fallen-on-hard-times arena that's the main setting for the adventure. It's in this list of first-wave products because Wade will finish the first draft quite soon and the fact that's it's PDF-only means it may zip past other products into publication.

Monday, November 18, 2019

New 3DA ability and archetypes for tournament play

WizKids is running Three-Dragon Ante tournaments on Friday and Saturday of PAX Unplugged in Pennsylvania, December 6th and 7th. They had the fun idea of having people play in-character using the roleplaying rules for meshing 3DA with D&E 5e!

I thought a bit about how the current roleplaying rules would work in a casual-but-still-competitive tournament. My feeling is that the Ante Manipulation abilities (page 26 of the rulebook) aren't right for tournament play. They're OK in a home setting where players are accustomed to picking on each other week after week, but they're both vindictive and distinct from the way the game usually takes players' money, so no Ante Manipulation abilities in this tournament.

To help the fighter/barbarian types who are most likely to have the Threats & Promises ability we just ruled out of the tournament, here's a new Card Draw ability that's for characters with muscles. Like the other Card Draw abilities, Getting Angry Now lets you draw two cards when it triggers.

Getting Angry Now
Pre-requisite: Strength 16+
Trigger: You just lost a gambit with the second-strongest flight, or tied for second.

I'd say it makes perfect sense to let it be used if you're the second weakest when the Druid has awarded the gambit to the weakest. You're gonna be angry. 

If you bring your own character, the folks running the tournament will help you you select abilities that are right for the tournament. If you're showing up to play and you don't have a character ready, here's the short list of possible character archetypes I put together for WizKids to work from. These archetypes use the abilities as printed in the rulebook, with one exception: the Desperation ability is fine, but could get irritating if used too many times in a game, so for tournament play I'm suggesting that each player with the ability can only use Desperation once per game. Since it's therefore one of the weaker abilities, characters with Desperation will also have another ability that's on the weaker side, so they'll never be entirely out of options. 

3DA Archetypes

Drow Rogue
Card Draw: Versatile Trickster

Dragonborn Fighter
(Player chooses their color!)
Card Draw: Draconic Ancestry
Card Draw: Desperation [[but only usable once per game]]

Gnome Bard
Card Denial: Cutting Words
Card Draw: Fast Hands

Half-elf Paladin
Card Draw: Inspiring Leader

Half-Orc Barbarian
Card Draw: Getting Angry Now
Card Draw: Desperation [[but only usable once per game]]

Halfling Rogue
Card Draw: Gambling Background

Human Cleric
Card Draw: Blessing of the Trickster

High Elf Wizard
Card Denial: Mystic Discouragement
Card Draw: Practice Counts

Wood Elf Ranger
Card Draw: Desperation
Card Draw: Practice Counts

Other heroes…

The halfling rogue’s ability is fine for any player character who has a lot of experience gambling.

The half-orc barbarian’s abilities work for any strong fighter-type.

The wood elf ranger’s abilities work for any character who otherwise doesn’t belong at these tables!