Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Leaving Las Goblinworks, and perceptive mammoths

This week, some professional news: I have given my notice at Goblinworks, and am soon to be an ex-Goblin. I leave Goblinworks and Pathfinder Online with no small regret; it’s a good crew, and I’m very enthusiastic about the game they’re putting together. My only complaint is the fact that my commute up to Redmond averages about 80 minutes one-way. It’s a pretty drive, but I am finding it harder and harder to give away 2-1/2 hours a day that I could be spending on my writing or on Sasquatch games. I have several big, exciting writing projects that I haven’t been able to find the time to start, so I’m going to make the time and give it my best shot.

So, just to reiterate: It’s my idea, we’re parting amicably, and mostly it’s about the really inconvenient commute. I’ve agreed to make myself available to Ryan and the gang if they need any writing or design support I can offer in a remote contracting role.
(Oh, and I’ll add that I am leaving the Emerald Spire superadventure in decent shape. Coordinating fifteen other authors, writing my section, developing the levels as they come in, and making sure the levels talk to each other has been a big part of my time over the last few months. I finished up my Emerald Spire work, and it’s now moving into the capable hands of the Paizo development and editing teams. I wanted to make sure I was happy with it before I hit the road.)

It’s definitely a little scary to step out of a paying gig in the hope that I’m going to light a rocket under my writing career or Sasquatch is going to take off and do big things. (Well, we already have, kind of. More bigger things, I guess.) So, stay tuned, and I’ll see what I can do!

Gaming: I’ve been building a lot of Pathfinder monsters lately. In general, I’m pretty happy with 3.5 era monster creation, especially with the very helpful target numbers Pathfinder presents in its Bestiary monster-building appendices. But man, I wish I wasn’t assigning skill points to dumb monsters with lots of Hit Dice. It’s my fault, at least in part, since I worked on the 3.5 Monster Manual and I standardized the feat and skill point rules to work off HD like they do for characters. But just yesterday evening I was building a mammoth for Primeval Thule, and shaking my head over the +20 Perception score it has compared to the eagle with a +6 Perception score. Yeah, you can cheat that with a hefty racial modifier, but still… should a mammoth really have a great Perception?
I mean, I feel like a 1st-level ranger ought to be able to sneak up on a mammoth, because nothing about “mammoth” suggests that it should be any more perceptive than, say, a housecat. Or a flamingo. Or an alert iguana. The only reason a mammoth should have a high Perception score is because it’s a CR 10 monster, give or take, and to make the interaction with a PC of the appropriate level interesting, it needs a high score. But I guess I’m a simulationist at heart, because I’m OK with saying that a 10th-level ranger *shouldn’t* be tested by sneaking around without being noticed by a mammoth. It would be OK in my D&D world if you could sneak up on mammoths all you want.

I don’t really have a good patch to suggest for this, other than not putting all the mammoth’s skill points into Perception. Maybe D&D Next can finally fix this.

Politics/Current Events: One observation… my personal Obamacare experience is that my insurance is going to get about $210 more expensive every month. That’s how much the cost of my family’s insurance plan increases as of January 1st. Because I’m now a self-employed type, I have to buy individual insurance, and that’s where matters stand. Well, I guess I am keeping my doctor, and I guess I am keeping my insurance that I don’t actively dislike, so Obama got something right back when he was stumping for the ACA. But somehow my insurance got $2500 *more* expensive per year instead of *less* expensive.
Longtime readers will not be surprised to learn that I am, in fact, not surprised. Anybody out there experiencing even a tiny little bit of buyer’s regret yet? I didn't vote for this turkey, so somebody who did owes me $200 a month.

The Finer Things: The Pirates made it to the postseason!  And even though the Cardinals handled them pretty easily in today’s Game 5, I was still happy to see the Pirates playing October baseball. It was really something else to see that beautiful park in downtown Pittsburgh filled with fans in black and gold. That franchise wandered in the wilderness for a very long time indeed—twenty straight years of losing seasons, which is almost Phillies-esque in its organizational futility. (I’m referring to the Phillies’ generally horrible ancient history, as opposed to the great stretch they enjoyed from 2003 to 2011.) Anyway, this isn’t the Pirates’ year to play deep into October… but it’s awesome to see the Pirates back. They paid their dues, and they deserve it.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Feats, Syria, Phillies Trade Proposal

Howdy! I’ve been working hard on some behind-the-scenes heavy lifting for Primeval Thule, namely finishing up the outline, the storyboard, and the art allocation. Now, before you wonder how the heck we ran a Kickstarter without an outline, let me remind you that we didn’t know until the close of the Kickstarter exactly how many pages we’d have to work with, and which authors would be involved. We had a working breakdown of the book very early on, and now we’ve refined that to fit the final numbers. Over the next week or two I’ll be firing off art orders to our various contributing artists, which is pretty exciting—I’ll see heaps of new Primeval Thule art soon!

Gaming: I’ve been following the D&D Next playtest with a good deal of interest, and I have to admit I’m of mixed opinion about the latest D&D Next approach to feats. I like capturing whole feat trees in one selection, but I feel bad that you can’t begin to choose feats until you hit 4th level. That’s a long time before you can enjoy the character customization elements that feats provide. I don’t feel like the existing D&D audience has been anxious to reduce the number of decisions they have to make with a 1st level character, and I worry that players will really miss the ability to add that point of differentiation right from the start. I understand that it’s daunting for beginners to have to select something from a list of a hundred somethings when they first start playing the game, but I can think of a lot of other ways to skin that cat: Starting packages for beginners, for example.
(I’ve always felt a little bit proprietory toward feats; they’re one of my biggest contributions to the game. Back in the design of 3rd Edition, Monte, Skip, and I were looking at 2nd Edition’s nonweapon proficiencies, and figuring out what they did and didn’t do. I made the observation that some NWPs were innately more valuable than others, and realized that what we really had were two different systems that were being purchased with the same currency. So, I suggested breaking skills into Type-A skills and Type-B skills, and providing different currencies to purchase them with. Then I built a sample selection of Type-A skills that really let you do cool and amazing things. My initial list included ideas like Born a Mongol, which became Mounted Archery, and Sucks to Be You, which you now know as Spring Attack. Fifteen years and 5,000 feats later, here we are.)

Politics/Current Events: Feel free to skip this part if you don't want to get a little serious in your online browsing. I just spent a full hour discussing the whole Syria situation with my oldest daughter, who’s actually pretty interested in politics and history. Answering her questions about Syria helped me figure out what I think we ought to do: I think the least-bad option is to come down hard on Bashar al-Assad. With an extensive campaign of airstrikes we can neutralize the Syrian air force and knock out a lot of the Baathists’ advantage in heavy firepower. From there, we swallow our distaste and do what we can to steer the rebel factions in the least extremist course we can manage.
I hate the idea of siding with Islamic extremists, but at this point, Syria is a proxy war between Shi’a Iran and the Sunni Gulf states. Arranging the defeat of al-Assad would deal a serious setback to Iran’s expanding influence throughout the Middle East. More to the point, we might find it vitally important in a year or two that the world (and very specifically Iran) believes us when we issue an ultimatum and draw a red line. The reason to strike isn’t that it’s going to make things any better in Syria, because it won’t. The reason to strike is to deter the next al-Assad from testing our resolve. Crummy, but there it is.

The Finer Things: My wife and I took in a Mariners game on Friday night. Boy, I love Safeco Field. It’s crazy expensive to take in a big-league ballgame, but at least Safeco is a great place to blow $100. The Mariners are a very intriguing young team with a lot of high-ceiling prospects. It depresses me a little as a Phillies fan; I realized that there is not a single organization in baseball I wouldn’t do a complete roster exchange with. By that I mean, if you were the GM of the Phillies and you had the ability to require another team to completely exchange its major- and minor-league rosters with you, is there any team that you wouldn’t rather have? I’m assuming you’re still playing in Citizens Bank Ballpark and you’ve got the payroll and upcoming TV deal the Phillies can work with. Can you make a case that every other organization in baseball has better top-to-bottom talent than the Phillies do now? I think so. The major-league teams that are worse than the Phils generally have much better minor-league systems, and much better potential to improve. Might be easier to sort out the Syria mess than to rebuild the Phillies organization at this point. Good luck with that, Ruben.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Gen Con 2013

As you might guess, it’s been a very busy summer. Between the Primeval Thule Kickstarter campaign, a short vacation on the Oregon coast, preparations to send my oldest daughter off to college, and Gen Con, I’ve been on one deadline or another for months. Next up is the writing and design work for Thule, which is shaping up to 60,000 words or so over the next couple of months—but that’s the sort of deadline I have a lot of experience with, and I’m looking forward to snuggling up with this savage continent this fall.

(Speaking of Primeval Thule… you still have one last chance to get in on the Kickstarter if you haven’t already. We can take pledges at, and we’ll count those with the support we raised during the actual Kickstarter campaign. Your “late backer” pledge gets you the same books, packages, or PDFs that similar pledges during the actual campaign received.)
Anyway, for today’s blog, I thought I’d say a few words about things I saw at Gen Con. I didn’t go in 2012 or 2011, so it’s been a few years for me.

No Big Software Outfits
Throughout the late ‘90s and the early ‘00s, GenCon’s exhibit hall was increasingly taken over by big PC game and console game outfits. They brought in gigantic booths, deafening soundtracks, and huge screens showing off their games. This year, I didn’t see those guys in the dealer hall. I understand there were a couple who had rooms of their own elsewhere in the convention center. My guess is that most of these companies have decided to focus on other shows, like PAX. I’ll be honest: I don’t really miss them in the Gen Con exhibitor’s hall. I spent a lot of Gen Cons past shouting to make myself heard over super-loud digital games located in booths near the WotC or TSR booth where I was working.

With Wizards of the Coast holding off on D&D Next, it was a relatively quiet year for RPGs at the show. Paizo had a great show with a whole slew of great new Pathfinder material and a gigantic ballroom dedicated to Pathfinder gaming; pretty clearly Pathfinder is THE game people are playing these days. The new Shadowrun Fifth Edition book looks FANTASTIC, and I really can’t wait to roll up a gunslinger adept or a street samurai and play. Pelgrane was sporting their excellent new 13th Age book. Finally, Monte Cook brought his new game Numenera to the show, and that is also a fine-looking book. I haven’t had a chance to play yet, but I look forward to trying it out.

While WotC didn’t bother with a big booth in the exhibitor’s hall this year, they did draw plenty of people to their D&D Next Q&A sessions and special events like their Thursday night Forgotten Realms celebration in the Indiana Rooftop Ballroom. I think a lot of RPG fans are waiting to see what Wizards is going to do with D&D Next, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they do a huge relaunch of D&D at next year’s show.
Dave, Steve, and I ran game sessions of Primeval Thule at the show, so I had a chance to GM some Pathfinder Thule on Friday. I managed to kill one of our big-shot backers by tearing his ranger to pieces with a saber-tooth tiger. That's Sasquatch, service with a smile!

If I didn’t know better, I would say that Gen Con is a boardgame show these days, with RPGs something of an afterthought. The sprawling booths for Mayfair, Fantasy Flight, Asmodee, and Catalyst were really the most prominent landmarks in the dealers’ hall. I had a chance to demo Flying Frog’s Fortune and Glory boardgame, checked out the Cthulhu Wars demo (boy, those game pieces are awesomely cool), played Monolith and Dungeon Roll, and bought the new Spyrium game from Asmodee. Asmodee is quickly becoming my favorite board game publisher, by the way; a few years ago I bought the excellent Mission: Red Planet game at Gen Con, and it’s one of my favorites.

Other Gen Con Observations
Cosplay is bigger than ever at Gen Con; I guess it’s just part of the con-going experience these days. The coolest outfits I saw belonged to a group of folks dressed as Steampunk-era Ghostbusters, complete with a colossal StayPuft Marshmallow Man. An important safety tip to Future Rich: Wear better shoes next year, dummy. I walked out my shoes on the first day of the show, blistered my feet badly, and had to spend the next three days limping around in severe pain. Finally, I was reminded that Gen Con is the place to be if you’re in the gaming biz; I saw and talked to scores of old friends, professional colleagues, and other interesting people during the show. My fellow Sasquatches and I are already talking about what we’re going to do for next year’s show.

Finally, I got a chance to play some Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures on Friday night, when I dropped in on the Battle for the Mediterranean tournament. I failed to bring tournament-legal fleets (that's what I get for not reading the whole event description), but I did have a chance to play a side game with longtime Forumini personality Weeds. My air-heavy Italian fleet was not particularly effective thanks to a twilight scenario, but my cleverly placed heavy shore battery caused Weeds no end of trouble, and late in the game I managed to vital the Nelson with a point-blank attack from the battleship Roma. Weeds defeated me in a real squeaker that came down to my last gunnery attack from the shore battery--it was a ton of fun!

That’s all for this time—I’ll be back in a couple of weeks!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Kickstarter, GenCon, the Oregon Coast

Greetings, everybody!

My apologies for the long gap; most of my blog writing over the last couple of months has gone toward knocking out design and overview essays about the Primeval Thule Campaign Setting. I was working furiously throughout the Kickstarter campaign to keep delivering new and interesting glimpses of Thule, and naturally I didn’t spend as much time on my own personal reflections here. So, consider this a catch-up session!

Hey, Our Kickstarter Succeeded! In case you haven’t been keeping up, my Primeval Thule project successfully funded back on August 1st. In fact, we ended up reaching a total of $75k on a $60k target. Me and my fellow Sasquatches (Dave Noonan and Steve Schubert) took a couple of days to recuperate and evaluate, but we’re already hard at work revising our estimates and business model to reflect the actual amount of backing we received, designing our backer survey, and laying the groundwork to go into serious development and production mode. GenCon throws a week-long hitch in our plans, but we expect to come back from Indianapolis and hit the ground running.
(If you missed out on the Kickstarter, it’s not too late – we have a PayPal-based pledge system online at just for late backers. Most of the options available during the Kickstarter campaign are still available even if you’re coming in late.)

See Me at GenCon: As I mentioned above, I’ll be heading off to GenCon in just a couple of days with my partners Dave and Steve. We’re running Primeval Thule playtests each day of the show (sorry, they’re all sold out), and we’ll be hosting a seminar on Saturday to talk about all things Thule. In fact, let me run down a few things that are on my schedule so you can track me down if you’re so inclined.

·        Thursday, I plan to drop in at the “A Night of Dungeons & Dragons” event Wizards of the Coast is hosting.

·        Friday, I’m busy running my Primeval Thule session. But later on I intend to don a disguise and sneak into the War at Sea: Battle for the Mediterranean event at 7 pm. I designed the darned game, and I hardly ever get a chance to play it!

·        Saturday, I’ll be hosting the Primeval Thule seminar, at noon in the Westin Hotel Grand Ballroom III. I will then scurry over to join the Emerald Spire All-Stars panel in progress at 1 pm. You’ll also be able to find me at the Inside Pathfinder Online seminar at 5 pm in room 231.

·        Sunday, I may try to sneak into another game or two, but I’ll probably be roaming the dealer hall trying to decide which game or games I just have to bring home.

I hope to catch up with many rarely-seen friends at various lunch hours and dinners, but we’ll see how it goes. I have a number of Sasquatch-oriented business discussions I’m hoping to knock out over the course of the show, so I’m not exactly sure when and where I’m going to do my socializing. I will try to Facebook my whereabouts and plans as they come up!

The Finer Things: The Oregon Coast. I took my family down for a long weekend in Lincoln City over the past few days. The weather was not great—dense fog just about every day—so it wasn’t really a fun in the sun kind of beach vacation. But the scenery of the coast is just spectacular, and we had lots of fun beachcombing, looking at tidepools, and enjoying the views (when we could see them). The highlight of the trip for me was finally getting a chance to hike out onto Cascade Head, which is a 1200-foot tall headland jutting out into the ocean. I’ve wanted to do that hike for ten years, and we’ve driven by it three or four times without ever being able to make it work. This time it all came together. The fog parted long enough for us to enjoy a twenty-mile view south along the coastline, while being able to look out at shining blue ocean and, weirdly enough, the *top* of the impenetrable barrier of clouds that was then hovering about five miles out to sea. It was like being on an airplane that was flying over a dense cloud cover. Kim and I just love it down there; might be my favorite place on Earth.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Beastmen of Thule!

Hi all!

We're coming up on the halfway point of our Primeval Thule Campaign Setting Kickstarter, so as you can imagine, I have a lot of Thule on the brain these days. By the way, in case you're curious, it turns out it's supposed to be pronounced something like TOO-lay. Just about everybody I know just calls the place THOOL, and that sounds OK to me, so I'm not going to correct 'em!

If you've backed the Kickstarter already, then thanks! We're very excited to bring you this world and we think it's going to be a ton of fun. Please, please, please spread the word -- post our link on your social media, tell your friends, let folks know what we're doing! Fighting the awareness battle is harder than I thought it was going to be.

If you haven't backed the Kickstarter, then I invite you to go take a look at Rich's Secret Project of the last few months. Here's a link:

Anyway, here's a little bonus for you Pathfinder/3rd Edition fans out there: The beastman monster stats. I used these in my PaizoCon playtest/demo of the game. We don't have 4e or 13th Age versions of this stat block available yet, but this should be a nice taste of one of the more prevalent monsters you might encounter in the jungles of Thule.

Nasty, Brutish, and Hairy: Beastmen of Thule

Many dangerous beasts roam the forests and jungle of primeval Thule, but none are more dangerous than the sort that walk on two legs and possess the wickedness and cunning of a human—or nearly human—mind. Whether Thule’s beastmen are a degenerate branch of humanity slowly returning to the unthinking apes of their distant ancestry or a separate evolution of humankind altogether, only the wisest of sages could say. But anyone who runs across these violent and greedy creatures quickly discovers that they are the most monstrous and savage of Thule’s barbaric jungle tribes. The warriors of Lomar say that it would be better to kill oneself rather than to fall into the clutches of the beastmen alive—and they’re right.

Tall, hairy, and thickly built, this warrior appears to be more ape than human, and wears nothing but crude animal skins—but humanlike cunning glints in his dark eyes.
Beastman                         CR 1
XP 400
CE Medium humanoid (human)
Init +1; Senses scent; Perception +2
AC 13, touch 11, flat-footed 12 (+1 Dex, +2 shield)
hp 16 (2d8 + 7)
Fort +5, Ref +1, Will +0
Speed 30 ft.
Melee stone morningstar +4 (1d8+3) or slam +4 (1d4+3)
Ranged bolas +2 (1d4+3 and trip or entangle)
Special Attacks fury, bolas expertise
Str 16, Dex 13, Con 14, Int 7, Wis 10, Cha 7
Base Atk +1; CMB +4; CMD 15
Feats Toughness
Skills Climb +1+3+3, Perception +0+2, Stealth +1+1+3; Racial Modifiers +2 Perception
Language Common
Environment temperate forest
Organization band (2–4), hunting party (2–5 beastmen and 1–2 gray wolves), raiding party (7–16 beastmen, 2–4 dire wolves, and a subchief of 2nd–4th level), or tribe (20–120 adults plus 50% noncombatant children, 11–30 gray wolves, 2–12 dire wolves, one subchief of 2nd level per 10 adults, 1–2 warchiefs of 3rd to 5th level, and 1 chief of 5th–8th level.)
Treasure NPC gear (large wooden shield, morningstar, 2 javelins)

Fury (Ex) On the first round of an encounter, a beastman gains a +2 bonus to melee attack and damage rolls.
Bolas Expertise (Ex) Beastmen are experts with bolas and can choose whether to deal lethal or nonlethal damage with bolas attacks. Instead of making a ranged trip attack with bolas, a beastman can choose to entangle the target on a hit. An entangled target can escape with a DC 15 Escape Artist check (a full-round action), burst the bolas with a DC 25 Strength check, or attack the bolas cords with a type S weapon (5 hit points).

Beastmen are a primitive branch of humankind. Brutal, cruel, short-tempered, and contemptuous of anyone weaker than themselves, they are fierce warriors and raiders who pose a great threat to anyone traveling abroad in the wild lands of Thule. Beastmen are especially notorious for seizing captives and dragging them back to their lairs to be put to work as drudges, sacrificed to their bloodthirsty gods, or simply tortured to death in horrible ways for their amusement.

Beastmen hate humans (and most other intelligent races for that matter). They see all other peoples as enemies, and do not hesitate to kill any they cannot carry off into captivity. They have been known to engage in cannibalism, although this is considered a sacred ritual among their kind and requires the appropriate ritual preparations—eating their foes is an act of dominance, not sustenance.

Beastman leaders are usually barbarians, rangers, or druids. They fear divine and arcane magic, and usually put captive spellcasters to death in peculiar and horrible ritual murders to ensure that the “bad magic” dies with its users.

Beastman Characters

Beastmen are not normally PCs, but if the GM wishes to create unique beastman villains, then beastmen can be advanced by adding class levels. All beastmen have the following racial traits.
        +4 Strength, +2 Constitution, –4 Intelligence, –2 Charisma: Beastmen are strong and hardy, but tend to be cunning rather than bright.
        Scent: Beastmen posses the scent special ability.
        Bolas Expertise: Beastmen are proficient with bolas and gain the benefits described above.
        Language: Beastmen begin play speaking a debased form of Common.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Primeval Thule Kickstarter TOMORROW!

Hi, everybody! Welcome back. You may have noticed that I’ve been slow posting in the last few weeks, but  I can finally own up to the reason (drum roll please)…

The Primeval Thule Kickstarter launches Tuesday July 2nd !

I’ll add the direct link when our Kickstarter page goes live, but for now, here’s a link to some info on the Sasquatch site. We’ve got some great concept art and some blog posts by yours truly posted there, and we’ll be adding to them throughout the campaign.

 Primeval Thule is the debut offering from Sasquatch Game Studio, my new company. Me and my fellow WotC expatriates Dave Noonan and Steve Schubert are teaming up to produce top-notch new game products for the D&D game under the aegis of the Pathfinder OGL and the 4th Edition GSL. In addition, we’ve also received permission to produce a version compatible with the new 13th Age RPG system. We’ve been working up to this day for almost three months, and it’s finally here!
So, why Primeval Thule, and why now? The answer is simple: I feel like the big shots in the RPG industry have gotten out of the business of world-building, and that strikes me as a damned shame. TSR published astonishingly creative worlds such as Spelljammer, Dark Sun, Planescape, Birthright, and Al-Qadim back when I was just beginning my career. Those wonderful flights of imagination inspired thousands of gamers and remain well-loved twenty years later… but the hard math of the contracting hobby game industry over the last ten years drove the big companies to turn to safe bets, such as rules-intensive sourcebooks aimed at a player-focused audience instead of the GM-focused setting material. There are four to five player for every GM, after all, and building worlds is an expensive gamble. The last comprehensive new world published by Wizards of the Coast was Eberron, and that was introduced ten years ago. If you started playing in the 4th Edition era, you’ve never seen the debut of a new D&D world.

I spent years urging a return to world-building at Wizards of the Coast, but unfortunately, it just never came around again. But now that I’m my own man, I can finally do something about it—put my money where my mouth is, so to speak. Fortunately, my gaming buddies and former colleagues Dave and Steve share my belief that the D&D multiverse is just about ready for a new world or two. The Primeval Thule Campaign Setting is our offering, a sword-and-sandals lost-world setting of barbarians, thieves, scheming wizards, and Great Old Ones. It’s Conan vs. Cthulhu. It’s Hyperborea. It’s Pellucidar. It’s Dark Sun with jungles and glaciers. It’s every Frank Frazetta painting that graced the cover of a pulp fantasy adventure novel with a brawny swordsman, a fearsome monster, and a half-naked woman. (We’ll empower women a little more than that, of course—it’s the 21st century and women are perfectly capable of saving themselves. But you know the kind of book covers I’m referring to!)
We mix up the standard tropes and expectations of the implied D&D world of elves, dwarves, demons, and dragons, blend it with barbarians and unspeakable Things from Beyond… and set the whole thing in a young, uncivilized world lost in the mists of prehistory. This is the world of Primeval Thule—and we think it’s long overdue in the family of D&D worlds.

So, that’s my pitch for what the world is and why it’s awesome. I don’t often say this to those of you who keep up with my blog, but… I’d sure appreciate it if you helped to spread the word. Tell the D&D players you know to pay a visit to sometime in the next few weeks, watch the video, check out the concept art and decide if they’d like to back us. We’re going to deliver a great setting full of ready-to-use adventure, savage new monsters, new character building tech, and the first really new world to come along in a long time. Check us out, and tell all the gamers you know!
Oh, and one more thing before I forget—you might want to get to Kickstarter early on Tuesday. We’ve got a couple of limited early-bird specials, and I think they might go fast!

See you in Thule!



Monday, June 10, 2013

Primeval Thule Concept Art

Hi, everybody!

This week I wanted to share some pretty pictures. First of all, you may have noticed the hairy fellow in the image on this page. (I’m talking about the logo, not my portrait.) That’s the Sasquatch Game Studio logo, and I’m hoping you’ll see some more of this guy in the near future. As soon as we get the chance, we’ll switch him in to our website and our social media. The Sasquatch logo and the Primeval Thule logo are by Mackenzie Schubert of Strip Search fame, so if you followed that show, you know the guy behind these great logos!

We also have a small selection of concept art for our upcoming Primeval Thule Campaign Setting posted on our website at this link:

Klaus Pillon put together a great action scene of a barbarian warrior encountering a shoggoth in the Temple of the Black Beast. As you can see, the barbarian’s wisely executing a minor tactical withdrawal to give himself a little space to fight. The other pieces include character sketches by Justin Mayhew (the thief of Quodeth, the Thulean dwarf, and the Dwari hunter), and some landscapes by Klaus. We’ll have some more art to show off soon—in fact, it’s already in my inbox!

I love all of these pieces, but I’m going to wax eloquent about just a couple of them, since it’s late and I need to get to bed soon.

First, the dwarf of Thule: I love this guy. As you can probably tell by now, Thule has a strong ancient world theme going along with savagery and barbarism. Justin picked up elements of Assyrian beards and garb to give the Thulean dwarf a unique new feel in costume and culture. We’ve all seen dwarves as short Vikings a hundred times in mainstream D&D settings, but in Thule, some of the common cultural tropes get turned a little sideways. Like dwarves in many settings, Thule’s dwarves are fierce warriors and master smiths. They’re city-builders and civilized, after a fashion, but they don’t welcome visitors and they jealously guard the secret of ironworking.

The thief of Quodeth is a look at a civilized human hero in this savage setting. She’s a great example of the classic sword-and-sandal fantasy character. In a lot of recent 3e and 4e art, D&D has been moving toward showing characters who are armed and armored with quite a lot of pragmatic and practical gear choices. That’s sensible, I suppose, but it’s sort of a shame to lose the Frazetta-esque artistic influence that we used to see on the covers of old Dragon magazines or modules. The world of Thule is a place where you’ll find a brawny shirtless barbarian or an agile thief in a short skirt. Our female thief is an athletic burglar and cutpurse from the alleyways of Quodeth, City of Merchants, which is Thule’s richest and most corrupt city—an Ice Age Lankhmar, if you will.

Finally, the Land of the Long Shadow is another striking piece from Klaus Pillon. This shows the desolate region in the shadow of the relentless glaciers slowly encroaching on the jungles and city-states of Thule. A century ago, this was a rich and prosperous land, but with every winter the ice drew a little nearer, slowly killing the boreal forest and turning the lush plains into windswept tundra. Few people live here now—only the hardiest of nomadic hunters follow the musk-oxen and giant elk into these trackless plains, for it is said around the campfires of the tribes that evil spirits dwell within the ice, and they sometimes roam the lands in the glacier’s shadow in search of human prey.
OK, that's all for this week. I'll be back in a few days to share some more about what us Sasquatches are up to!




Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Look, a Sasquatch! And Primeval Thule!

Hi, everybody! For a couple of months now I’ve been hinting about a big announcement coming up, and today I can finally make it: Together with my partners Dave Noonan and Steve Schubert, I have formed a new small-press game publishing company called Sasquatch Game Studio. Sasquatch grew out of my long and deep ponderings as I commuted back and forth to Redmond over the winter and early spring. I had time to think seriously about what I would do if I could do anything I wanted to… and I started thinking about the sort of fantasy worlds you just don’t see these days, and asking myself what it would take to build and publish it.

Not being entirely crazy, I realized I needed allies to do it right. So I invited my longtime colleagues, friends, and Thursday night gaming buddies Dave Noonan and Steve Schubert to meet me at a dive-like brew pub close by my house. Together we decided to form Dark Cabal Games... except none of our wives liked the name, so we ditched that and went with something a little more Northwesty and lighthearted. Hence Sasquatch Game Studio was born!
Between the three of us, Dave, Steve, and I have something like 48 years of experience in game design and publishing. We’re building our business model around creating high-quality games with top industry talent—we aim to deliver great games for discerning and experienced gamers. Here’s a link to our site:

The site’s a little plain at the moment, but check back over the next day or two—we have a lot of great concept art and interesting new information about our first product on the way.
Speaking of our first product, I can now say a word or two about my mystery project that’s been simmering away on the creative stove for the last couple of months: the Primeval Thule Campaign Setting. Here’s another link:

Thule is a mythical age of the Earth, before the last ice age erased the legendary realms of the northern world. It’s a sword-and-sandal setting firmly rooted in the traditions of pulp fantasy adventure and fantastic horror: Conan, Tarzan, Atlantis, Hyperborea, and elder gods from the stars. But this is a D&D setting, and we use that as a springboard to brew up a particularly savage and intense brand of D&D adventure. I think it’s fun and compelling, and I hope you do too!
This is a setting I’ve wanted to write for twenty years, but the age of new D&D worlds ground to a halt early in the 3rd Edition era. I argued many times that creating new worlds was something that we ought to be doing more of, but Wizards of the Coast (and many other publishers) became ever more focused on selling to players instead of DMs, and we stopped building worlds. As a small company, me and my fellow Sasquatches can do things that big companies can’t. For the first time in years, I’m back in the world-building trade!

(Oh, and in case anyone is curious: Yes, I still hold a day job as a writer/designer for Goblinworks, working on the Pathfinder Online game. Paizo and Goblinworks are pretty enlightened about how folks use their evenings and weekends, so I’m free to doodle around on maps of Thule or brainstorm up interesting Thulishness on my time. Helps pass the time on my looong commutes!)
About this Blog: While I hope to still keep up with Atomic Dragon Battleship as time permits, over the next couple of months a lot of my blogging (and, well, self-promotion) will be happening over on the News page of the Sasquatch site. I’m working up a whole stack of design discussions and sneak peeks for Primeval Thule, so that’s where you’re likely to find me through midsummer.

So, one more time: Come on over and visit us at!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Campaign Setting Toolbox, the IRS

Hi, folks! Welcome back. Sorry about the slow pace, it’s been a very busy few weeks. I just finished a significant rewrite to the novel my agent is shopping around, knocking almost 10,000 words out of the early chapters to pick up the pacing. I’m working up in Redmond three days a week (and at home the other two) on Pathfinder Online. And I’ve got another secret project that has been absorbing whatever attention I have left. It’s all good stuff, but it’s a little crazy!

One more thing: I’ve got a big announcement coming soon, and I think I may be relocating my blogging efforts to a new venue. So, keep your eyes peeled!

Gaming: I’ve been thinking about campaign setting books lately, specifically what they do right and what they do wrong. I’ve been involved with several over my career, including 2nd Edition Birthright, Alternity Star*Drive, 3rd Edition Forgotten Realms, and 4th Edition Dark Sun. And I’m starting to wonder about the conventional wisdom behind the “classic” campaign setting organization.
The conventional wisdom is that the best settings lay out vast narratives of history and lovingly detail dozens of important kingdoms. They include large chapters dedicated to rules sets that customize your characters to the setting, and hundreds of named NPCs arranged carefully in relational webs, with scores of stories waiting to unfold as the DM picks a few dominoes and knocks them over. Settings such as the Forgotten Realms or Golarion are great examples: There’s enough material in either of those books to run your next fifty D&D campaigns without playing in the same locale twice. But here’s the problem: Most campaigns really run 4-8 months before the group hits a switching point and moves on to something else. We professionals build these settings as if we expect everyone who buys them to spend the rest of their natural lives exploring one particular world, but few groups really do that.

In my opinion, a good setting book shouldn’t be an atlas or a “frozen snapshot” of a living world. A campaign setting should instead be a *toolkit*, a set of things that make it possible for a DM to easily create great adventures in an interesting, memorable world. Ten thousand years of history doesn’t make a setting inherently more suitable for gaming: What you really need are a short set of fallen empires and ruined kingdoms to explain where dungeons in your game come from. Unique NPCs with compelling narratives are great, but what’s even better are ready-to-use monsters and villains the DM can use to populate a dungeon. New character classes or feats are great, but how about information on how existing characters fit in the world?
With that in mind, here are the components I think I’d want to include in the next setting I work on…

-          A BIG chapter devoted to world-specific monsters and villains. One of the most important ways you define a setting is by the baddies you fight there, but many setting books skimp on providing ready-to-use libraries of bad guys (usually because those are reserved for a separate monster book). They ought to be included in the setting book from the start.

-          A long list of “known dungeons,” like the one in the 3rd Edition FRCS. That 2-page spread does more to inspire DM adventure-creation than 100 pages of atlas/gazetteer about all the countries in the setting.

-          Scads of dungeon and site maps. The old Iron Crown sourcebooks used to be great at providing these. Drawing interesting dungeon maps is tough for a lot of DMs, and there’s no reason the setting book can’t help out with that.

-          Player material that anchors the PCs in the setting, but doesn’t make you throw out the Player’s Handbook. If you’re running a 3e or a 4e campaign you have a hundred races and thirty classes to choose from already; settings should focus on fitting those pieces together instead of adding to the clutter. Dark Sun’s themes were pretty good, but I think it could be done with a little less new crunch.

What do you wish your campaign setting books included? Where are the publishers letting you down?

Politics/Current Events: Well, there’s certainly a lot going on this week with the Benghazi whistleblower testimony, the IRS scandal, and the AP record search. I’m just going to poke at the IRS story for a moment. Either the IRS was directed to bias itself against conservative groups, or its bias is institutional. The former would be bad enough—Nixonian, really—but the latter troubles me even more. Unfortunately, it makes all too much sense. When one party has represented itself as the party of government for decades, it follows logically that people *in* the government voting their own self-interest would naturally come to support that party with their own votes. Anybody in the federal government (well, outside the military) could reasonably conclude that their odds of seeing pay raises, more generous benefits, more opportunities for promotion, etc., would be improved by electing politicians who want to increase the federal budget. That’s why public-sector unions such as AFSCME or AFGE are such strident supporters of Democrat politicians and positions.
I’ve griped more than once about the conflicts of interest inherent in public sector unions. However, most public sector employees don’t have the power to directly suppress opposition. The IRS does. It has a special responsibility to be absolutely impartial. If the bias at the IRS is institutional, that is a gigantic mess, especially when you consider that the IRS is about to become the primary enforcement arm for Obamacare. Bad enough if the IRS has its thumb on the scales to suppress opposition speech. What happens if they start putting their thumbs on the scale to penalize individuals or businesses with opposing viewpoints once they’re wielding the powers they gain under the ACA?

This isn’t a matter of “We don’t like the Tea Party, so of course they should face extra scrutiny for tax exemption.” Equal treatment under the law is the very foundation of the American social compact, and if that principle is called into question, bad things can follow. We need to get the politics out of the IRS, and pronto.

The Finer Things: I ran into a nice amber the other day: Scuttlebutt Amber Ale, brewed by Scuttlebutt up in Everett, Washington. Quite good! A little hoppier than most other ambers, but not remotely into bitter or IPA land. I’m not a big hops fan, I guess.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Gold as XP, Boston, Munich

Hi there! Welcome back to my every-couple-three-week blog! I’m Rich Baker, author and game designer, and this is where I like to chew on topics that catch my interest. Usually it’s a mix of D&D-type gaming, wargaming, politics, culture, and some of the finer things in life.

If you’re a newcomer and you’re wondering who the heck I am, here’s a very brief bio. I’m a former US Navy officer (surface warfare specialist), which is where I get my interest in naval history and affairs. After my stint of active duty, I went to work as a game designer. I put in twenty years with TSR, Inc. and Wizards of the Coast, during which time I worked on over a hundred game titles. (Some of my credits include the Birthright Campaign Setting, the Alternity Science Fiction Roleplaying Game, 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons, and the Axis & Allies Miniatures games.) I’m also an author with fourteen novels and a handful of short stories under my belt; my novels include The Last Mythal trilogy and the best-seller Condemnation.
I’m now helping the folks at Goblinworks to build their Pathfinder Online game, and working on a variety of new projects! (Speaking of which, stay tuned: I have a Big Announcement coming in just a couple of weeks!)

OK, enough about me… this time around, it’s Gold as XP, Boston, and Munich on the Columbia.

Gaming: I miss gold as experience points in D&D. Back in 1st Edition, you used to earn XP for killing monsters, and then you also earned XP for finding treasure. In 2nd Edition, that shifted toward more class-specific experience bonuses, most of which weren’t ever computed or applied. During our design discussions for 3rd Edition, we dropped the idea altogether, since we had a very strong push from many of the D&D fans around WotC to finally toe the line on letting people buy and sell magic items. When 3rd Edition came out and said that was OK, then the treasure you found very quickly became your credit card to shop at the Magic Mart for the gear you’d carry.
Now, I don’t object to that—ever since magic items included a GP sale value, many DMs in the audience allowed players to do some amount of buying and selling of items. In the 3rd Edition and 4th Edition environments, it works well to convert treasure to gear. After all, we remember how silly it was back in 1st Edition when a high-level character might have wealth counted in the millions of GP, and absolutely nothing to spend it on. But I think it’s important to take a step back and think about what sort of play the 3e and 4e systems incentivized. I think the more recent approach to treasure, experience, and magic item purchase actually slices out a little piece of D&D’s roots and moves the game away from its sources of inspiration (rousing tales of fiction) toward a pragmatic, less evocative, gaming system.

In 3e and 4e, treasure *only* has value when converted into gear that makes your character better; it has no intrinsic worth. When the NPC merchant whispers of “a ruby as big as a man’s fist!” you couldn’t care less about an astonishing gemstone of unparalleled beauty; it’s just 5,000 gp toward making your sword +3 instead of +2. The unappreciated wisdom of the 1st Edition rules, in which you earned XP for treasure and couldn’t buy magic items, is that the ruby is its own reward: Finding epic treasures is the sort of things mighty heroes do, and the XP system reflected that.
I also feel that the 3e and 4e model of treasure > gear conversion makes treasure a necessary component of leveling. When you know that you need to have a certain quality level of gear to “live up to” your character level, then the treasure no longer is *why* you go on adventures, it’s *how* you go on adventures. DMs have to offer a social compact of sorts in which they implicitly promise to make sure you get the means to get your +3 sword “on schedule” and players are incentivized to treat magic item descriptions as shopping lists. I think the D&D game is more strongly “sandboxed” and self-directed when players learn of opportunities to find great treasures and then think of ways to go get them, instead of trusting the DM to provide appropriate treasure on schedule.

Anyway, the next time I run a D&D game, I’m going to reinstate the rule that you earn XP for finding treasure, and I’m going to pull the plug on the Magic Marts. I want to see how the game feels when a ruby the size of your fist—or a legendary magic sword—is often the *object* of your quest, not the *means* by which you do something else.

Politics/Current Affairs: I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Boston Marathon bombing was actually the first successful bombing in the US since 9/11. While it’s terrible that it happened and it seems that our counterterror forces had plenty of warning flags about the Tsarnaev brothers, the really remarkable thing is that it’s been almost 12 years since a successful Islamic extremist attack on a civilian target in the US. Overall, Presidents Bush and Obama have done a pretty good job in keeping the homeland safe. However, I feel compelled to comment on two aspects of this attack.
First, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be treated as a criminal suspect, not an unlawful combatant. I am not at all opposed to treating people we capture overseas with our military as hostis humani generis: To my mind, terrorists who fight under no flag and should be treated as enemies to all humankind, like pirates or slavers or bandits in earlier centuries. However, if we’re talking about an act perpetrated on US soil by a US citizen, then full Constitutional protections have to be observed. That said, there’s no reason to allow the guy to clam up under Miranda rights—first of all, he may very well have information about pending attacks, which is a specific exception to Miranda protections, and second, no prosecutor is going to need his statements to convict the guy when there’s video of him setting down the backpack bomb and walking away. Interrogate him, allow his statements to be excluded, and then try him with everything else we’ve already got, but make it a trial, not a military commission.

Second, I find the “weapon of mass destruction” charge strange. Only a few years ago, WMD was understood to mean only three types of weapons: nuclear, biological, or chemical. The idea is that “mass destruction” is indiscriminate and does not distinguish between civilian and military targets. Most civilized nations understood that *none* of these forms of attack were acceptable without like provocation. A backpack bomb is not different in any significant way from, say, a Claymore mine or a Hellfire missile, so are those WMDs now too? I wonder whether the term “WMD” now stands for “anything we don’t like when someone does it to us,” which cheapens and confuses the purpose of the term.
In any event, I am grateful that the authorities found the guy and that justice will be done. The people hurt or killed in Boston deserve no less.

The Finer Things: On Wednesday the 24th I joined a whole posse of Boeing engineers for an excursion to Munich on the Columbia, better known as Portland, Oregon. My friend Chris Zabriskie puts this noble expedition together twice a year; we take the train from Seattle to Portland, buy a one-day transit pass in Oregon, and navigate our way to various brew pubs and microbreweries to sample their wares. This time around, our stops included Prost, the Amnesia Brewing Company, and the Lucky Labrador. Prost doesn’t brew their own, but they import dozens of excellent German beers: I greatly enjoyed the Bayreuther Landbier Dunkel Lager, an excellent dark lager, and a glass of the Paulaner Oktoberfest, an old friend I’ve missed from time to time. Amnesia does brew their own, and it’s really excellent: I sampled their Kolsch, and then had a pint of their “Alt”—a deep amber with just a hint of sweetness in the taste. We ended up at the Lucky Lab, where we had sandwiches and pizza. I tried their Wheat Stout, which was pretty good, but I’m not usually a big stout fan. Then I finished with the Widmer Dunkel Stark Lager, but at that point discretion got the better part of my valor, and I left most of that pint unfinished. Overall, a highly successful day!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Opening Day, real-world D&D sites, phad thai


It’s been a busy few weeks for me, so I am tardy as usual in my blog post. I’m working on Pathfinder Online these days as a writer/developer, but in all honesty most of my Goblinworks tenure so far has been tied up in organizing and managing the Emerald Spire super-adventure, then writing my slice of this epic sixteen-level all-star dungeon delve. Ironically, this is a tabletop RPG product very much like the sort of game products I spent years and years working on for Wizards of the Coast—so my baptism in the game software biz so far looks a whole lot like what I’ve been doing since 1991. I’m just now starting to dive into working on some of the game’s dynamic story elements. Lots to learn!
In other news… baseball’s back! I’m a huge baseball fan, and man, I love Opening Day. I cheer for the Phillies and the Mariners. The M’s have had a rough patch over the last few seasons, but I think they’re going to be a much better club this year. The addition of Michael Morse and Kendry Morales added some excellent veteran power and presence to a young lineup with a lot of potential: Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Jesus Montero might blossom into some great hitters now that they have a little protection around them. As for the Phillies, well, I like what I’ve seen of Ben Revere so far, and I’m delighted to see that Chase Utley seems healthy. Michael Young made a couple of ugly plays at third base in the opener, but he also made a couple of excellent throws. We’ll have to see!

Gaming: I have always found real-world ruins and lost cities to be an excellent source of inspiration for D&D adventure locales—for example, my Dungeon magazine adventure Rana Mor is inspired by Angkor Wat. Basing a fantastic location on a real place lends your adventure locale a certain verisimilitude that you can’t easily create out of a wholly imaginary place. Even if your players don’t recognize the place they’re exploring, a strong real-world example helps provide detail and idiosyncratic features you’d never think to include otherwise. Consequently, I’m always keeping my eyes open for really interesting places, especially ones I think the players haven’t seen before. Here are three fascinating real-world locales that I’ve run across in recent online browsing that absolutely deserve to have great D&D adventures built around them. None of these are very well known in the West, for whatever reason—somehow or another Ancient Aliens and similar shows just haven’t gotten around to them yet.
Nan Madol ( ) is a city of stone built on a coral reef on the island of Pohnpei (formerly known as Ponape). It might be the most interesting ancient site that no one’s ever heard of. It’s very unusual, because massive stone cities aren’t something you normally associate with the history of the equatorial Pacific islands. The author A. Merritt used Nan Madol (or a version of it) as the setting for his novel The Moon Pool, but other references in fiction are pretty rare. Anyway, as a D&D setting, Nan Madol would be interesting because it’s a ruined city best explored by small boat, and the small artificial islands would make for really interesting dungeon “rooms.”

Bagan ( ) is a vast, sprawling metropolis of ruins in the middle of Burma—er, Myanmar. It was the ancient capital of the early Burmese state, and is home to literally thousands of ruined temples and stupas. While some of the temples are very large and complex, a huge number are very simple structures—basically, stone pagodas with no interior spaces, or “hollow temples” that only contain a single room. The D&D designer in me cringes at the idea of mapping an ancient city with hundreds of complex structures and interior spaces, but a city composed of one-room temples or elevated pagodas is a much more manageable task—and still quite epic in mood and feel.
Finally, Sigiriya ( ) is an ancient palace in Sri Lanka built atop a huge stone massif. It’s known as the “Lion Rock,” and apparently it’s the most visited ancient site in Sri Lanka. Stairs climb around and through the rock to the palace on top of the flat 200-meter summit. Apparently the huge cliff walls were covered in murals in the distant past. Sigiriya strikes me as interesting because I like the idea of a site where you’d fight your way up a long stairway and through tunnels to emerge on top of a plateau in the ruins of a palace. There’s a pretty substantial city surrounding the Lion Rock itself, too. You can just see that dungeon map coming together, can’t you?

Anyway, there you go: Three great settings just waiting to be turned into epic D&D adventures!
Politics/Current Events: Seems like the news cycle has been slow the last couple of weeks, although the North Korea situation is starting to command some attention. Over the last fifteen or twenty years, the North Koreans have used provocations to win good-behavior bribes in the form of food and energy aid. I expect the current situation to simmer along until the North Koreans step it up by shooting some South Koreans via cross-border shelling or an incident at sea. Trouble is, the South Koreans are in no mood to pay the North Koreans for punching them. The real risk is that one side or the other miscalculates, and they lose control of the escalation. A couple of days ago I was thinking this was just “more of the same” from North Korea, but now I’m watching with more concern—accidents or misunderstandings might take the whole situation off-script in a hurry. I hate the idea of rewarding the Norks for misbehaving, but maybe that’s the most pragmatic way to deal with things.

The Finer Things: Phad thai. I confess it’s the only thing I ever order off a Thai menu. I used to make fun of my wife for ignoring an entire national cuisine and going with sweet and sour chicken every time we got Chinese food, but you know, I do the same thing with Thai food. I used to have a favorite Thai place just a few minutes from the Wizards office where I’d get a great phad thai a couple of times a month. Good news is I found a Thai place in Redmond that fixes a phad thai I like, so that long commute up to Goblinworks just got a little more bearable.


Friday, March 15, 2013

The Last 10 Planes, Wealth Inequality

Hi there! Thanks for dropping by, and welcome back if you’re a return customer. Every couple of weeks I sit down and bang out a thousand words or so on things that interest me in the gaming world, politics and current events, and the finer things in life. If you’re enjoying my blog, don’t be afraid to share! I enjoy my little soapbox, and as Oscar Wilde once remarked, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

This week’s topics: The planes still to be done for Axis & Allies Air Force Miniatures, some thoughts about Wealth Inequality in America (the video!), and cherry trees.

Gaming: A post or two back I mentioned that, after the second set of Axis & Allies Air Force Miniatures, I felt that the game needed about ten or so miniatures before it would represent a reasonably complete survey of the warplanes of WW2. Well, in this post, I’m going to take a shot at nailing down ten pieces that would “finish” the game for me. I have no idea if Wizards of the Coast will ever produce a third set for the game, but if they do, these are the new models I’d want to see.
First: I’d like each major power to have its own dedicated dive bomber or ground attack plane. The Germans have their Stuka and the Russians have their Il-2; ideally the US, British, Japanese, and Italians would get attack planes too. That’s a big commitment of my 10 hypothetical models, so let me see what economies I can come up with right up front. I sort of feel that the Typhoon is pretty iconic as a British ground attack plane, and the Italians can fall back on the Ju-87 Stuka since they don’t really have a better choice. For the Japanese and Americans, I’m inclined to look for naval attack aircraft. It might be fun to look at torpedo bombers and invent a new SA for them, although most torpedo bombers could double as level bombers for land attack. However, I think I’d rather go with the Douglas SBD Dauntless and the Aichi D3A “Val.” They’re a little smaller than the torpedo bombers, and probably a little more feasible in production. Plus, you can play out the big carrier battles of 1942 with these planes, and that’s pretty awesome. Two down, eight to go.

Okay, on to Allied fighters. Let’s assume we’ve got four slots left. I’d love to start with a mid- or late-model P-40, say a P-40E, since so many P-40s were produced and Lend-Leased to a variety of different Allied powers… but there are two major US fighters we haven’t seen in any version yet, the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt and the Grumman F6F Hellcat. The game simply wouldn’t complete without the Hellcat or the Jug. The P-47 comes in two different-looking versions, the earlier razorback and the later bubble bubble canopy, but for my money, the bubble canopy is the more iconic version. So the Jug comes out in its late-war P-47D configuration.
Two slots left for the British, French, and Russians—not enough, not enough! The Russians absolutely need another plane, and there are three good candidates: LaGG 3, MiG 3, and Yak 3. I really want to give the Russians a MiG because its performance in 1941 is really interesting, but the Yak 3 was the best Russian fighter of the war, so the Yakovlev Yak-3 gets the nod. For my last Allied pick, I’ll reluctantly leave the French as a two-plane power, and go back for the best British plane we haven’t done. This has to be one of later Spitfire models. I could see going with the Seafire (and giving the Brits a naval fighter) or the Spitfire XIV, maybe one of the cut-down models with the clear-around canopy. I’ll give the nod to the Supermarine Spitfire F Mk XIV, since the British might eventually borrow a Martlet or Corsair from the US models for their carrier planes.

Now for the Axis fighters. With regrets, I inform the Regia Aeronautica that they’re done—I need all those slots for Germans and Japanese planes. To start with, the Germans absolutely need a late-model Bf109, possibly a late G or a K. The G-6 is visibly different from the early G models represented in the game already, and has significantly better armament. Since the Germans produced something like 12,000 of them, I’ll go with the Messerschmitt Bf109G-6. For the last German, I think it’s time for the big gun, the game-breaker, the most advanced fighter of the war: the Me 262. Yes, jets are challenging in this game engine, but I think they’re do-able. My basic approach to the 262 would be simple: It always flies at High Speed, and its speed range is say, 5-9. In an AAAFM game it’ll go like hell in straight lines and climb great, but if you play on a big map, it should work okay.
Two slots left! The Japanese have a half-dozen fighters that *could* appear, but first, I think you have to make sure the Japanese Navy is equipped with the fighters that were on its aircraft carriers in the big battles of 1944, and that means the Mitsubishi A6M5 Zero. Unfortunately, that’s just different enough from the A6M2 and A6M3 in preceding sets to require a new sculpt. I hate to give up a slot for the third iteration of a Zero, but the A6M5 was produced in huge numbers, and the Imperial Navy never found another plane to fly off their carriers. Fortunately, the A6M5 is significantly different from the earlier models in performance, so there’s a reason to make that plane. For the last slot, the Japanese have three very good advanced fighters all jostling for space: the George, the Frank, and the Raiden. Since we gave the Navy their last Zero, I think we go with the Army fighter here, and give our last slot to the Nakajima Ki-84 “Frank.” The Japanese built 3500 of these (a lot more than the George or the Jack), and they saw a lot of service in 1944 and 1945.

So, there you go: Ten planes to finish the Axis & Allies Air Force Miniatures game. There are a dozen more I wish I could include—the late-model P-40, a P-36, a MiG-3, a Mosquito, the Gloster Gladiator, and so on—but that’s what happens when you make a list. Have some fun, and see if you can come up with a better list than mine!
Politics/Current Events: There’s a short, thought-provoking video making the Internet rounds these days called Wealth Inequality in America. It takes a hard look at just how much wealth is in the hands of the top 1 percent. Here’s a link, if you care to watch it:

Now, here’s the thing: There is a crucial piece of the puzzle you aren’t seeing when you watch this video. I don’t argue with the numbers, but it’s not an accurate picture. “So what?” you might ask. “This is terrible! What could possibly dilute the sheer injustice of this situation?”

The answers, dear reader, are TIME and INDIVIDUAL PERSPECTIVE. While the video presents an excellent snapshot of conditions as they exist this at very moment, or really at any given moment, it doesn’t tell the story of what happens to the typical individual over the course of a lifetime. A great number of people begin their working careers dirt poor; they struggle to get ahead; over time they succeed in paying off houses and accumulating 401k’s or IRAs; and by the time they’re in their 60s and 70s, they’ve accumulated hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets. This is income mobility--you might not ever reach the 1 percent, but a LOT of us join the top 20 percent or so by the time we retire.
It’s true that a lot of people don’t progress very far out of the left-hand side of that chart, and could use help. It’s true that we hit bumps along the way and experience setbacks. And it is certainly true that a CEO earning 380 times their average employee’s salary is simply sickening. But hammering folks making, say, $250,000 with punitive income taxes because they’re in the top X percent of wage-earners won’t fix those problems. The CEOs we want to chastise make tens of millions, not a couple hundred k. More importantly, we want to ENCOURAGE income mobility over time for as many people as possible. That’s how people get rich.

The Finer Things: Spring. The cherry trees are beginning to blossom out here in Western Washington, our surest harbinger of the end of winter. As it turns out, cherry trees are all over the place in the Seattle area, seemingly everywhere you look. We have spectacular displays of pink trees coming up in just another couple of weeks, and let me tell you, it’s a show everybody should see.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Civ 5 Faerun, elementalists, Michelle 2016

Thanks for dropping by!

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big Civilization fan. Well, I’ve been dipping my toe into the world of game mods lately, and I found a really fun one: A huge, sprawling Faerûn mod for Civ 5: Gods and Kings. The social policies have been replaced with Schools of Magic, and culture is now “Weave points,” so you advance in areas like Conjuration, Necromancy, or Evocation. There’s a separate Underdark map, and some powers like Menzoberranzan are naturally located there. You can build heroes like rangers, paladins, or specialist wizards. And many of the independent cities like Westgate, Iriaebor, or Luskan are naturally city-states. Oh, and the physical map is a spot-on rendition of most of Faerûn. It’s a ton of fun for a Realms fan. I’ve been playing as King Lhao of Tethyr. First thing I did, I turned on Calimshan and drove them off the planet. That seemed to go well, so I went after Amn next. The Tethyrian Empire now stretches from Baldur’s Gate to the Lake of Steam, and I have to say, I’m wondering if Waterdeep would be better off under my administration.
In the “What have I done for you lately” category, I’d like to announce that Axis & Allies Air Force Miniatures set 2, Bandits High, is now on sale. This is about the last thing I did for Wizards while I was on staff there. I managed to slip a few unexpected planes into the set list like the IAR-80 or the Ki-44 Tojo, and I came up with a fun tactical bombing option that adds a ton of new gameplay and flight construction strategies to the game. I really hope the game gets a third set, though—there are about ten more planes I think just *have* to be done to get to a reasonably complete set of WW2 fighters.

Gaming: I reluctantly stepped down from the DM chair in my Thursday night group after only a couple of months of running the game, simply because my current work schedule and after-hours writing schedule are making it hard to find a couple of hours a week for game prep. On some reflection, the group decided to return to a D&D 4th Edition game, this time set in Eberron. My character is an elementalist sorcerer—one of the Essentials-style character options introduced in Player’s Option: Heroes of Elemental Chaos. Basically, my fire sorcerer Halamar works a lot like a 3e-era warlock (or a firebender, if you prefer) throwing flame bolt after flame bolt. It’s the slayer-build for a spellcaster.
I became a big fan of the slayer and similar Essentials classes shortly after those books came out. While it’s true that you can’t easily amp up to meet a single intense challenge by, say, using all your daily powers in one encounter, you get pretty reliable damage downrange every round. One of the things I don’t like about the 4e game pre-Essentials is the fact that you have to design your turn each time your turn comes up, building it up out of your available mix of actions. The slayer, the hunter, the elementalist—they minimize the choices you make about the minute details of your action, and encourage you to spend more time concentrating on the “bigger picture” of a battle: Who am I attacking, and who’s attacking me. Building my turn out of actions and powers draws me out of immersion, but the Essentials-type classes mean I spend less time fiddling with the interface and more time enjoying the experience… or so I think, anyway.

Politics/Current Events: I think Michelle Obama is going to be the Democrat nominee for President in 2016. Things like the Ellen show appearance, the Jimmy Fallon appearance, the Academy Awards presentation… it’s starting to look a *lot* like a pre-campaign to me. Now consider the fact that Barack Obama’s presidential campaign organization has continued raising money nonstop even though the man presumably won the last election of his life back in November. (The campaign is now known as “Organizing for Action,” a 501 (c)(4) organization.) Who else are the Democrats going to run? Biden is a joke. John Kerry is apparently making some noise about trying it again. Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee, is facing an age question (she’ll be 69 on Election Day in 2016), and Benghazi might resurface as a difficult issue for her. Michelle Obama would slaughter the rest of that field in a Democrat primary.
She is, of course, largely unqualified for the position, having never held elective office. But I think that Barack Obama’s presidency illustrates the fact that America in the 21st century worships celebrity for its own sake. Her lack of a record would be a tremendous asset; like Obama did in 2008 and 2012, she could campaign on nothing but a slogan, revealing nothing about her intentions for governing. And that might be all she’d need to crush any Republican opponent. Who do the Republicans have that could beat her?

I’m kinda depressed by the prospect, because I am not an Obama fan. I think that the prospect of a 16-year Obama presidency is just awful, although I’m cheered a little by the thought that the Obama kids won’t be 35 by 2024 so we won’t make it 24 or 32 years in a row. Ultimately, I think it depends on what happens over the next 3-1/2 years. If the economy tanks, if the Mideast explodes, it will be tough to dissociate a Michelle Obama candidacy from the current administration’s part in those disasters. But in that case the Obamas might hand their wreckage to a hapless Republican in 2016, then have Michelle step in to save the day in 2020.
The Finer Things: Crooners. I don’t know how we acquired the taste, but when I sit down for dinner with the wife and our daughters, the IPod shuffle goes to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, Nat King Cole, Michael Buble, Etta James, etc., etc. Dinnertime in the Baker household sounds like you’re eating in a classy steakhouse. I never would have been caught dead listening to that sort of stuff when I was a teenager. Life is funny.