Monday, December 31, 2012

Back to 4e, the wizard, 2nd amendment

Welcome back, and Happy New Year!

Hope your holidays have been enjoyable! We’ve had a very nice Christmas, even if it’s been a bit soggy—one of the hazards of living in the Seattle area, I suppose. On the bright side, the ski slopes have had plenty of snow.
Not much new to report this time around. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be helping the folks at Goblinworks with the Kickstarter for their Pathfinder Online game. Even if you’re not a MMO fan, you ought to check out what they’re giving away in tabletop game materials for participating in the Kickstarter—it’s a fantastic deal even if you never play a minute of the MMO.

Gaming: Well, my experiment in returning to 3e and running a 4e adventure in a 2e setting is wrapped up. There were many things I loved about 3e, but playing that rule set again after years in 4e was more challenging than I thought. It’s a much swingier version of D&D, and encounter building is tougher than I remembered.  For example, the druid in the party blew up two big encounters with a 1st-level spell (entangle); in 4e, that spell would be (save ends) and maybe a burst 3, as opposed to a burst 10. Anyway, I started working up some house rules and patches to 4e-ify my game a little bit around the edges—say, adding save-each-round versus status effects--and it wound up being a lot more involved than I would have thought.  And my group missed the Character Builder.
Anyway, I’m now thinking about just sticking to 4e. But now I’m thinking about what I might want to houserule in 4e. The two things that bug me the most: Grindy combat, and bland wizards.

By grindy combat, I’m referring to fights where everyone’s used all the encounter and daily powers they care to expend, but the monsters still have more hit points to go through. I’ve seen too many 4e combats stretch out 10 rounds after the fun was finished. A simple patch is to cut monster hit points in half, but that of course just reduces the danger to PCs since monsters drop before they achieve their expected threat against the PCs. If you halve monster hp but double monster damage, you’d get pretty close to balancing it out, but I worry that might actually be too swingy—the effect of a monster getting just a little lucky and rolling a hit three rounds in a row instead of miss-hit-miss or hit-miss-hit would be too severe, especially if it’s a high damage monster like a brute. I’m almost wondering if I could quietly apply something like a +4 attack bonus on my side of the screen to increase damage output without quite so much swinginess.
By bland wizards, I mean wizards that look too much like other classes. This is really an aesthetic issue for me, not a game balance issue: in 4e, wizards just aren’t “different” enough from other characters for my tastes. I feel like 4e wizards would be more true to the D&D idiom if, say, they had maybe 60 percent of the hit points they currently do, but their damage output or offensive power increased in some way. Wizards should be glass cannons, and protecting wizards from enemy attack is a classic D&D tactic that gets short shrift in 4e. IMO, it should be the case that the scariest thing that can happen to you in D&D is to get targeted by an enemy wizard’s highest-level spell… but in 4e, that’s generally not the case.  The striker is way more scary. So what kind of offensive benefit would I give wizards to make them more like glass cannons? Well, I’m not sure yet. I think it could be something like this:

Metamagic: Three times per day, you can use metamagic on a spell you’re casting. Choose one of the following effects: increase a burst or blast by 1; add 10/20/40 damage by tier; change “save ends” to “2 saves end.”
Making it a daily resource is interesting to me, because managing an important daily resource is what wizards have always been about. I want to find a happy medium between the 3e wizard’s ability to absolutely blow up an encounter, and the 4e wizard’s lack of ability to do so (in my experience, the 4e wizard doesn’t kill many foes, although there are certainly obnoxious orb builds that can stun lock foes).

I think I might also houserule a ritual bonus of some sort, like “you have 2/3/4 ritual slots in addition to your utility slots.” Tracking ritual components is no fun, but it’s a shame that rituals just don’t get used in play. I miss the occasional Knock spell.
Politics/Current Events: I’ve been thinking more about the question of gun control and the right to bear arms, and I got to someplace I didn’t expect. Many people don’t realize that the Second Amendment was created specifically to serve as a check on the government’s power. The Founding Fathers were revolutionaries who recognized that a people oppressed by their government had the right to take up arms and free themselves. They wanted to assure the people of the various states that, if the federal government became oppressive, the people would retain the means to protect themselves against tyranny. Of course, in the 18th century, it was possible for individuals to provide themselves with current, military-grade gear. A farmer’s musket was equal in firepower to a soldier’s musket.

In the 21st century, it’s no longer possible for individual or small-community effort to field a modern military force. Not many private citizens can afford to own tanks or jet fighters. However, our country does have militia organizations that do exactly that—the National Guard. While it’s true that we don’t really have town or county militias anymore, the Guard of today is what the Founding Fathers were protecting in the 18th century. So if the National Guard meets the need foreseen by the Framers when they created the Second Amendment, what does that mean for private gun ownership?
I find myself thinking that private gun ownership actually has very little to do with the Second Amendment—and I say this as a gun owner who would absolutely refuse to comply with any kind of confiscation program. Private gun ownership isn’t about the right to bear arms, it’s about the right of self-defense.  The principle of self-defense is enshrined in our legal system in many places; it’s one of those “natural rights” that form the philosophical foundation of our legal and political systems. In a world where you might be attacked with lethal force, you have the right to use lethal force to protect yourself (and your property, to some extent). And that means you can make sure the means of self-defense are close at hand.

So, I think it’s not unreasonable to tighten up gun regulations, but it’s important that people can arm themselves for self-defense if they want to. I don’t think there is a Constitutionally mandated right to own a Hellfire missile or a heavy machine gun—but I think there is a natural right to own a hunting rifle or a pistol, and that right shouldn’t be infringed or limited by government without very good reason.  Let’s just make sure that the regulations we create for gun control are logical and effective, and don’t wind up taking guns away from responsible people while leaving them in the hands of criminals.

The Finer Things: The Twilight Zone. There’s a marathon on the Sci Fi channel today. Man, these shows are great. Best part? My daughter is a real aficionado, too. Nice to know that I’m raising her right.



Saturday, December 22, 2012

More War at Sea, the NRA, Johnson's Popcorn


Thanks for dropping by. It’s been a busy Christmas season for me: I’m working on a short-term contract up in Redmond, which as it turns out is a 55-minute drive from my house in good conditions. The good news is that I’ve worked out a route that keeps me off our jammed freeways and moving for most of the time. It’s a scenic drive: I get a nice look at the Cascades on Route 18, I drive through a pretty valley with striking forested cliffs and picturesque homes along the Issaquah-Hobart Road, and then I drive by multi-million dollar lakefront homes along the East Lake Sammamish Parkway. But it’s two hours in the car each day, no two ways about it.
Anyway, this week: What I was thinking for the last set of War at Sea, the NRA, and Johnson’s Popcorn.

Gaming: As promised, this week I’m going to continue with my reflections on things I hoped to do with a final set of War at Sea. Last time I looked at the Axis side, so naturally this time I’ll share some thoughts about the Allied side.
Belleau Wood (reprint): The Independence-class CVLs are represented by only one unit in Set 1, so they’re long overdue for another unit. Belleau Wood had an excellent war record; her planes sank the Japanese carrier Hiyo at the Philippine Sea. Making a point of providing a different SA mix from Princeton was all I really had in mind.

Expert Dauntless (reprint): We took note of the fact that players wanted more of the early-set carrier aircraft just to fill out their fleet builds, so we were working on reprinting the really useful planes. I figured the US could use a dive bomber with a Search bonus for long-range scenarios—LCDR McCluskey certainly deserves an AANM flavor text mention!
USS Marblehead (reprint): We only had one representative of the Omaha class light cruisers. USS Marblehead had the good fortune to be badly damaged in the early part of the Dutch East Indies campaign and sent off for repairs, thus avoiding destruction at Java Sea. I was thinking about maybe giving this unit to the Russians as the Murmansk—the US Navy gave the Russians the cruiser USS Milwaukee in 1944.

New Orleans (reprint): A reprint of USS San Francisco. That was a big class of cruisers, and we only had the one so far.
USS Patterson (reprint): This was basically a reprint of USS Bagley, which hadn’t been reprinted yet. USS Patterson had a very active war career—Pearl Harbor, Savo Island, subhunting, kamikaze defense, everything. I was thinking of taking off the Defective Torpedoes SA that Bagley has, and maybe giving her Close Escort, which the US doesn’t have very much of.

PV-1 Ventura (new sculpt): The US had a number of good patrol planes that we hadn’t gotten to yet. The Ventura could have provided the US with a torpedo- or rocket-capable patrol bomber. Sure, we could have done the B-26 or B-17, but they already had similar units in play. The Ventura would have been more different in the US inventory, and it was pretty important historically.
USS South Dakota (reprint): The Massachusetts has been looking for a reprint since set 2. And South Dakota would have provided us with an excuse to print a major US combatant with a nasty negative SA, just to show all those “RB is a US fanboy” guys that yes, I really would do that.

USS Texas (new sculpt): We were waffling between Texas and New Mexico, and Texas was going to win out because she’s a monument that you can go visit today. She was going to get some shore bombardment specials or shore battery suppression, to commemorate her role in the Battle of Cherbourg.
HMS Implacable (new sculpt): The British have several early- and mid-war carriers to choose from; this would have provided a late-war option, with performance and capacity close to the major American fleet carriers. Her planes attacked Tirpitz in Norway, and she saw action in the British Pacific Fleet.

HMS Lion (new sculpt): The British still had lots of old battleships to do, but we wanted to provide a sexier late-war option if possible. We were really torn between Vanguard, which appeared too late to see any action, and a hypothetical battleship. Since we indulged in fantasy battleships for the US and the Germans, we figured we could give the British one of their speculative ships.
HMS Upholder (new sculpt): This has been on my list for a long time. The U-class submarines were smaller than the T-class boats, which are the only other British submarine we have in print. It would be comparable in basic stats to the Type VII U-boats--the Allies don't have a defense 4 submarine yet. Upholder had an amazing war record, too.

Seafire (new sculpt): This one, too. The Seafires saw a lot of action in the Pacific, specializing in fleet defense against kamikaze attacks. The Sea Hurricane is a second-rate carrier fighter, so the Seafire would give the Brits a good late-war carrier fighter with the Combat Air Patrol special. I’m not sure exactly where it would have measured up vs. the Hellcat, Fw 190, Corsair, or George; I bet there’s a great debate to be had about where exactly it would fall in that mix.
HMS Valiant (reprint): I mentioned this one a little while back. It was close enough to HMS Warspite that we could use it as a reprint. She saw action at the Battle of Cape Matapan, beating the tar out of some Italian heavy cruisers. I was thinking about giving her a Night Fighter special ability—the Brits were probably the second-best night fighters after the Japanese, and the Italians did NOT want to engage the British in night actions. I wanted to sprinkle some more night fighting into the Royal Navy.  

HMS Berwick (reprint): Through Set VI, the Australians had two County-class heavy cruisers, while the British only had one. In fact, the British hadn’t seen a modern heavy cruiser since Set II. The County-class ships had a bunch of different configurations, so it’s tricky to find one that’s a reasonably close match to the existing model. Berwick dueled the Hipper while defending a convoy, and also worked the Murmansk Run, so she might have received a Bad Weather Fighter special ability.
HMS Naiad (reprint): We only had one Dido-class model out there (the Euryalus in Set V), and we felt that the British could use more light cruisers. The Dido sculpt is a decent looking model, and these ships were very active in the war. I also considered HMS Edinburgh as a pick-up in this slot. I would have loved to do more new models of the old cruisers still in service, but as I observed before, the budget just wasn’t going to allow it.

Joffre (new sculpt): If the Germans get the Graf Zeppelin, the French can certainly have the Joffre. It was a much better design than Bearn, if not quite up to the standards of the modern carrier designs in other fleets. With a capacity of 40 aircraft, she would have had a capacity of 2 squadrons.
Late.299 (new sculpt): If the French had continued to develop their carrier aviation, they were considering a new carrier-borne torpedo bomber based on the Late.298 seaplane. While this plane is a bit hypothetical, we thought it was important for each country to eventually receive at least one unit in each unit category. The French could in good conscience embark the D.520 or Wildcat as a fighter and the Vindicator as a dive bomber; the Late.299 would have served as their torpedo bomber option.

Bezeviers (reprint): The French only had one submarine in the game, Casabianca, and we neglected to give her the ability to engage other submarines. I’d been meaning to fix that for a while, and Bezeviers is the most noteworthy sister ship of the existing French submarine.
Java (new sculpt): This is another one that we’d wanted to get to for several sets now, just so you could get closer to a Battle of the Java Sea scenario. The Dutch cruisers Sumatra and Java were roughly comparable to the Omaha-class cruisers in the US Navy.

ORP Krakowiak (new sculpt): A British Hunt-class destroyer escort manned by the Polish Navy. The Hunt class was one of the largest and most important ship classes not yet represented in the game, so we were anxious to get to them. Krakowiak would have provided many proxies for us. The Hunt-class DE’s were very active in the Channel skirmishing.
K21 (new sculpt): I was waffling between giving the US another submarine class, or giving the Russians a large submarine option. The existing Russian sub, S13, is quite small; K21 was a large seagoing fleet submarine. She attacked Tirpitz during the 1942 convoy battles; the Soviets claimed two hits, the Germans noticed none. But I might have given her a Battleship Hunter SA for trying.

So, there you go—the Allied units I hoped to get to in a Set VII of the game. Sorry we didn’t get there, I think there were some very interesting units in this mix.

Politics/Current Events: The Newtown shooting is too terrible for words; I have actively avoided watching the coverage, because I can’t bear to see it. With good reason, this horrible event is prompting a renewed debate about guns in America, and it’s pretty clear that lawmakers are going to be wrangling over the issue in the next few months, so it’s unfortunately a political issue as well as a terrible tragedy.
I will say this much: The NRA’s “armed guards” proposal doesn’t strike me as ludicrous. Would any law short of universal gun confiscation have stopped the Newtown massacre? Probably not. But a trained person with a gun in the right place might have. Many liberal commentators (and quite a few of my liberal friends) have reacted to this as if it is the most insane idea they’ve ever heard, right up there with “let’s not have schools anymore” or “perhaps we should shoot the students beforehand to deny the killer targets.” I’m not sure that providing schools with armed guards is a *good* idea, but it’s pretty clear to me that people entrusted with protecting other people against threats of horrible violence are usually armed. Maybe an armed guard would have been victim number one, and nothing would have been different—or maybe that attack would have been deterred, or stopped before it ran its terrible course. It seems to me that the idea is worth discussing, in conjunction with measures to control access to firearms, restrict high-capacity magazines, or improve public mental-health services. What’s wrong with an “all of the above” approach?

I have some more to say on the right to bear arms, what it meant historically, and perhaps what it ought to be construed as in the modern world… but I’m already running long on this post, so I’ll save them for now.

The Finer Things: Johnson’s Popcorn caramel corn. This is a staple of the Ocean City boardwalk, and is perhaps the finest caramel-covered popcorn in the world. Each year around Christmastime we usually receive a tin or two as gifts from family back home, and man, is it good. You can actually order the stuff online these days, and you know what? It’s so awesome I’m going to share the link.

To me, it tastes like summer. What more can I say?




Monday, December 10, 2012

Finishing War at Sea, the Hot Stove

Welcome back!

My apologies for a bit of a gap between posts; it’s the holiday season, and things are getting busy around the household. Professionally, I’m also up to my eyeballs in exciting new projects. Most of them are still a little too far out for me to get into specifics, but in case you’re wondering what I’ve been up to lately, here are a few things I can hint at:
First, I’ve agreed to pitch in and help out the gang at Paizo/Goblinworks with some design work on The Emerald Spire, a megadungeon that’s planned as a Kickstarter reward for Pathfinder Online. If you’ve been following the Pathfinder Online Kickstarters, you’ve seen something about this book. (And if you think you’d like to stomp around the streets of Thornkeep yourself sometime soon, well, I encourage you to check out )

Second, I just finished designing an adventure for an upcoming D&D Encounters Season for Wizards of the Coast. I’m also engaged in revising a 20,000-word “faux history” essay tied to the upcoming Sundering storyline for the Forgotten Realms setting. You should see both of those sometime in 2013.
Third, I’m outlining and writing a comic book series. The series should kick off in 2013. Working on a comic book is a new medium for me, but I’ve always been a very “visual” writer; I look forward to seeing what I can do with a little bit of dialogue and a whole lot of artwork. Not sure how much more I can say about this right at the moment, so I’ll stop there.

Finally, I’m working on a modern-day military thriller. I wrote the first draft over the last six months or so, and now I’m discovering all the ins and outs of breaking into mainstream publishing. I’m pretty excited about this, as you might imagine, and I hope to be able to provide some more information on this front soon.     
Exciting times! We’ll see how it all works out.

Gaming: Back in May, I posted about a few Axis & Allies Naval Miniatures pieces I would have wanted for a Set 7 if it ever came around. Well, it’s been more than a year since Set 6, and I’m pretty sure Wizards has no plans for a Set 7. So, at the risk of rubbing some salt in the wounds of you AANM fans out there, I’m just going to go ahead and tell you about what I was planning before WotC told me to call it a day.
I had figured that Set 7, if we actually did it, was probably going to be the last set, and was going to be pinched for new sculpts. Reprints would have to be selected from the most efficient combination of existing tools (think mold groups) available—for example, if the molds for ship A and ship B were in the same tool, they’d be a better reprint than ship A and ship C or ship B and ship C. Under those constraints, I built a set list that would cover the most important missing pieces that were still absent after the first six sets, and pushed hard to convince the Powers That Be to let us do just one last War at Sea set to wrap things up. Alas, it didn’t pan out.

This week I’ll talk about my last-set notions for the Axis; next time I’ll talk about the Allies.
Shinano (new sculpt): Of the Japanese carriers we didn’t get to through six sets, Shinano was probably the most interesting. It would have had a low basing capacity (no more than 2 or 3 squadrons) but some sort of plane replenishment special ability, since it was intended to carry a lot of replacement aircraft. Of course, it would also have had a ton of hull points and high armor. That makes for interesting game play—Shinano would have played very differently from any other carrier available.

Kinugasa (reprint):  The Aoba was a nice-looking sculpt. Kinugasa would have been an Aoba with less flag rating, and maybe a shore bombardment or anti-airfield special ability.
Mutsu (reprint): Just about the last operational Japanese battleship left to do. I was thinking of giving her a landing special ability, since she was used to transport troops in China operations before the war. 

P1Y Francis (new sculpt): The P1Y Francis was a Japanese land-based patrol bomber like the Mitsubishi Betty; I figured the Japanese hadn’t seen an uncommon plane in several sets, and they were due for a new land-based patrol bomber.
Expert Val (reprint): Like the B5N2 Kate we did in Set 6, this was essentially a reprint of the Val dive bomber. Players needed more copies of common attack aircraft, so I was trying to get more of ‘em in circulation. I was thinking of giving this Val a search bonus for long-range engagements.

RO-41 (reprint): A reprint of the set 5 RO-51, a decent medium submarine. Less expensive than the big Japanese I-boats.
Takanami (new): This would have been a new sculpt of a Yugumo class destroyer. The Yugumos were very close to the Kageros, but the profiles were off by just enough that we would have needed a new sculpt. Takanami torpedoed a couple of US cruisers at Tassafaronga before sinking under heavy gunfire.

P-class Battlecruiser (new sculpt): The P-class was a German battlecruiser or pocket battleship design that was a lot like an enlarged Deutschland. It was one of the collection of Plan Z designs that never were built, but might have been.  
Peter Strasser (reprint): This was the hypothetical sister ship to the never-completed German Graf Zeppelin. Like the GZ, it would have been a fairly robust 2-cap carrier. Really, the point of this was to give folks more Graf Zeppelins.

Force X Stuka (reprint): The 10th Fliegerkorps was a Luftwaffe formation that was ordered to Sicily to break the Allied lines of communication through the Med in 1941, and later proved decisive in the German victory in the Dodecanese campaign of 1943. But really this was intended to provide more Stukas—common attack planes were a little constrained in the game. 
Uj202 (reprint): This was an Italian Gabbiano-class corvette that the Germans seized after the Italian surrender and recommissioned as a Kriegsmarine vessel. The Germans operated a number of small Italian escorts and subchasers in the last months of the Mediterranean war. It would be interesting as the cheapest and smallest German ship.

Pola (reprint): The Italians hadn’t gotten a front-line heavy cruiser since Set 4. And, well, we were running out of other options for the Italian rares.
Abruzzi (reprint): This repeats the Set 3 Garibaldi. Far and away the best Italian light cruiser.

Ramb I (new sculpt): The Ramb I was an Italian auxiliary cruiser that was intended for a commerce raiding cruise in the Indian Ocean, but was sunk before it could take any prizes. I wanted to do the piece because it would provide something that could pass as an Italian transport or freighter in scenario play, and have a game function similar to the German commerce raider Atlantis.
Ciclone (reprint): Close enough to the set 3 Pegaso in profile, but with a smidgen more AA.

Vesihiisi (reprint): This was a Finnish submarine that was essentially a look-alike prototype to the Type VII U-boat.  The Versailles treaty banned the Germans from building submarines, so their naval designers stayed in practice by designing subs for other countries. The Vetehinen class boats were submarine minelayers, so she would have had a mine SA, and maybe a sub-killer SA too (Vesihiisi got a Soviet sub).

I sure wish I’d gotten the chance to “finish” the War at Sea game out with just one more set. There were a couple more Axis pieces I wanted to see done—a U-boat tender, some Japanese planes, an Italian tanker or troop transport, a couple of stray Z-plan designs—but we were definitely scraping the bottom of the barrel on the Axis navies. Maybe the Team Poseidon guys at Forumini will be inspired to cook up some stats for my “almost” list.

Politics/Current Events: Eh, nothing this time. I could tell you a heck of a story about local politics and our idiotic mayor… maybe next time.

The Finer Things: Baseball’s Hot Stove season. I’m a baseball junkie, as many of you know. This time of year, I’m checking a dozen different sports news sites ten times a day to see who the Phillies and Mariners are chasing. In the spirit of armchair GMs everywhere, I’ll share a couple of thoughts about the Phillies offseason so far…

1)      Trading for Minnesota’s Ben Revere. I like this move. Ben Revere essentially brings everything to the table that Michael Bourn brings, but he’s only 24 and costs only half a million a year. It’s a clever solution to the Phillies’ centerfield vacancy, and the Phillies fixed it without overpaying. Getting a free agent CF was going to cost 15 million a year or more. The cost wasn’t cheap—Worley is a tough kid as a pitcher, and May has a great upside. But it’s sure looking easier to sign a #4 starter than a good centerfielder in this market, so it’s reasonable.

2)      Trading for Michael Young. Maybe Young is done at 36, but the guy is only one year removed from a .338 season with over 200 hits, and more importantly, the Phils didn't pay much to get him. He’s going to be rough to watch at the hot corner, and he doesn’t bring a lot of patience to a lineup that already doesn’t work enough walks out of opposing pitchers, but there weren’t many third base choices out there. Myself, I would have tried to sign Eric Chavez and set up a 3b platoon, but Chavez went off the board fast. If the Phillies are smart, they’ll put Young in between Utley and Howard in the batting order, and make it a little harder for a lefty specialist to shut down the lineup.

The Phils could still use a corner outfielder power bat, a setup man, and now a #4 pitcher. There are still options for those out there. Myself, I’d like to see Nick Swisher in Philly… but we’ll see. It turns out that GM Ruben Amaro doesn’t call me up to run his moves by me.