Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Day Of Firsts

— Matt Harris @ 3:44 pm

I have been playing role-playing games since I received the Basic Dungeons and Dragons blue boxed set for my birthday in the late 1970s. With over 30 years of RPGing behind me, I don’t get to do a lot of things for the first time anymore. Despite that, yesterday I managed to do three RPG firsts (for me). It was my:

  1. First time playing a tabletop role-playing game online. I have played online computer games and MUDs, but never a game designed for face-to-face tabletop roleplaying.
  2. First time playing Pathfinder. I bought the core rulebook in September, but hadn’t played a game.
  3. First time playing an “Organized Play” game. I have played some convention games using pre-generated characters, but was never part of the RPGA or other such organization, until I joined the Pathfinder Society.

Some general comments about all three “firsts” follow:

Online Gaming
I was a little leery about online play, as I didn’t think it could match up to the camaraderie and bonding of face-to-face gaming. I was very pleasantly surprised; I had an excellent time. The game was played using TTopRPG for the chat room and gametable, and Skype for audio chat. While I couldn’t see the other players, the combination of audio chat/visual gametable gave seemed to make up for the lack.

The Dungeon Master and other players were skilled gamers and the game went very smoothly. One of the things I found amazing is that this game would have been nearly impossible to do in the real world, due to the geographic dispersion of the attendees. I was in southern California while the DM was in Athens, Greece. The other three players were in Canada, Michigan and New York, respectively. The pre-game setup (getting & confirming players & times, etc.) was also done online, via the Pathfinder Society Online Collective, a new Google group set up for that purpose.

A quick note on the technical aspects. TTopRPG is a wonderful gametable, at least from a players perspective. It was very easy to use and made things very smooth. A nice laniape was that Pygon, the programmer of TTopRPG was one of the players. The only technical difficulty I noticed is that the Dungeon Masters audio occasionally broke up (like a bad cell call). I could hear everyone from North American very clearly, however.

Pathfinder RPG
As I mentioned earlier, this was my first time playing the Pathfinder RPG, a new role-playing game from Paizo. When Wizards of the Coast decided to abandon the 3.5 version of D&D in favor of the vastly reworked 4.0 edition ruleset, Paizo, which had been the publisher of Dungeon and Dragon magazine, decided to create a compatible game by forking the 3.5 rules (which had been released under the Open Game License).

The result was the Pathfinder RPG. I think they did a wonderful job on it as well. Pathfinder (rules free online in the Pathfinder Resource Document) is essentially compatible with 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons, but has had some of the rough edges smoothed away. One of the things I noticed when playing yesterday is that everybody always seemed to be able to be involved in the action; there were only a couple of times when anybody took a Delay action. In the past 3.0/3.5 games I had been in, there were a lot of Delay actions, when players couldn’t find anything for their characters to do. In the Pathfinder game I played yesterday, the action was continuous.

Pathfinder Society Organized Play
I had considered joining the Living Greyhawk campaign by Wizards of the Coast, but since I don’t attend conventions, it seemed kind of pointless – I would never get a chance to play. When I was that the Pathfinder Society would allow home games and online play, I decided to give it a chance.

Yesterday’s module was PFS #7 – Among the Living. It took about 5½ hours. Since the set run-time is supposed to be four hours, I am guessing it could be quite rushed in a convention setting. I found it very enjoyable although it was very combat heavy. There wasn’t any real need for role-playing, although the group did so anyway :-). The faction quest my character had was quite easy.

After the game was over, I bought the module to see what “behind the curtain”. We basically covered everything in the 21 page module. I did note that most of it seemed to be monster stats. As the module was designed to be scalable for parties between levels 1-7, each encounter had 3 different sets of monster stats. The net result is that there was one page of maps, a couple pages of background text, another page of player handouts, the cover and credits pages, and the open game license. The rest was statblocks.

After reviewing the module, the Pathfinder Society rules and my experience yesterday, I have come to a few conclusions. One, organized play ala Pathfinder is fun. Two, it won’t replace regular home gameplay. Character growth and development is a lot more rigid and constrained. The ability to affect the developement of the gameworld via character actions seems totally lacking. On the plus side, it allows a lot of different people/characters to share and interact in a continuously changing groups of PCs while still maintaining some sort of character continuity.

While I think I prefer “standard” gaming to “organized” play, I did have a blast yesterday and hope to play again in the near future.

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Daniel Hannan Talking To The Heritage Foundation

— Matt Harris @ 11:10 am

My current favorite European politician spoke to the Heritage Foundation on August 6, 2009, talking about the British National Health Service, warning us against following the same path. Definitely worth watching.

An mp3 version is downloadable here.

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Saturday, August 1, 2009

Anti-Drug Dog

— Matt Harris @ 12:40 pm

I don’t remember where I got this link, but this video cracks me up:

Excellent animation and very funny. Too bad there isn’t a sequel.

Youtube direct link.

The original on

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

XKCD’s Explanation Of The Voynich Manuscript

— Matt Harris @ 12:47 pm

This particular webcomic was mentioned on the CaerAzkaban Yahoo group. I am not a great fan of XKCD, but this appealed to my inner RPG geek. Not new, but funny. It certainly seems like a plausible explanation of the Voynich Manuscript.

Voynich Manuscript XKCD Comic

P.S. BTW, the yahoo group search feature sucks. I couldn’t find the message that linked this at all – I had to find it using my archived copy in Outlook.

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What Killed Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

— Matt Harris @ 12:12 pm

One show I am going to miss next season is Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

I don’t know why it lost so much of its initial audience, but this post makes a whole lot of sense to me. I certainly know that the characters I was most interested in were John Connor and Cameron. Watching their growth and development was what I watched for.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

The Box

— Matt Harris @ 7:44 pm

I just finished reading Mark Levinson’s The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library. Normally, I wouldn’t read a history of shipping containers. Actually, I didn’t think someone would write a history of the shipping container ;-), but Mark Levinson did. I heard it recommended on a talk show (I can’t recall which one) and I thought I’d check it out.

It was a pretty interesting read. What I found really surprising is the level of transportation regulation that used to exist in the United States. The book wasn’t about that regulation, but it just kept popping up – from goverment subsidies on shipbuilding to the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC).

I found it fascinating that after 1935, the ICC controlled practically all aspects of trucking. It determined what could be transported, the routes that could be used, the prices that would be charged and who could and could not compete. Much of the third chapter of the book was about how one major entrepeneur spent his time getting around ICC regulations. When reading that chapter, I kept having flashbacks to Atlas Shrugged

It is definitely worth reading. A sample chapter can be found here.

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek – To Boldy Reimagine A Franchise

— Matt Harris @ 2:06 pm

I went to see the new Star Trek film yesterday. I think it was a good, but not great film. For a long, detailed review, see Jonah Goldberg’s on National Review Online.

Spoiler Warning.

A few spoiler-filled comments of my own below:

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Joined Facebook

— Matt Harris @ 10:05 am

I finally got off my duff and joined Facebook in mid-April.
It just occured to me that I might want to mention that here. 😉

My facebook profile is

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game

— Matt Harris @ 12:23 pm

With the release of the 4.0 version of D&D and all of the tension that created in the D&D gaming community, it seems to me that there are a lot of new gaming systems that are being spun off the 3.5 SRD. While some are just trying to fix/improve the 3.5 rules (for example, Paizo’s Pathfinder RPG ), others are trying for a more retro feel, attempting to create versions of the rules that play and feel like older versions of D&D. While this has been going on prior to the 4.0, e.g. Castles & Crusades, I think the process has accelerated as all of the gamers who aren’t moving to 4.0 look for a new RPG homes.

My all-time favorite version of D&D was the D&D Cyclopedia set of rules and the associated game world of Mystara. The Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game looks to me like an attempt to recreate much of the ruleset of the D&D Cyclopedia version of the rules. I have only done a cursory review of the core rules, but here are things that jump out at me, including some differences from the D&D Cyclopedia ruleset:

Overall, the rules appear to be very, very compatible with the D&D Cyclopedia version of D&D. I certainly think that one could run any of the old Basic and Expert modules without any prework needed for conversion. The only thing that would need to be done when running is converting racial classes to standard classes and converting from the old THAC0/AC system, both of which should be very easy.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Prescience Of Atlas Shrugged

— Matt Harris @ 6:40 pm

In order to get my myself in the right mindset for the tea parties that I planned on attending, I checked out Atlas Shrugged from the library and started to reread it. Being as it was over 1100 pages long and I got distracted by Heinlein’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, I didn’t finish it until Sunday.

I was going to do a review, but Bruce Webster at And Still I Persist posted one last Friday, so I will just link to his and add a few comments of my own.

I pretty much agree with everything Mr. Webster says. The characters are very one-dimensional. The heroes are incredibly competent and focused and the villains are weak, whiny, and duplicitous. The book is full of speeches and could use a great deal of trimming. I admit, I skimmed through the huge John Galt speech at the end.

Despite the flaws, I still found the book very compelling… and very depressing. The way the economic situation is described seems eerily similar to what I see happening now. The book starts in an economic slump caused by government mismanagement. Each step taken by the government to fix the economy involves government seizing more and more control of said economy. Each step then results in driving more and more productive people out of the economy, making things progressively worse. By the end of the book, civilization has been destroyed by bureaucrats who kept saying they were fixing things.

Some things that struck me when I was reading the novel:

One last note – one of the best speeches in the book, Francisco d’Anconia’s exhortation on the benefits of money, has been posted in various places around the web and is worth reading.

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