Jul 25

Work-Proofing Your Game

One of the recurring themes as I’ve been preparing and running my
latest campaign is ‘work-proofing’. Since we play on weeknights, there
is always the chance that, since we all have very mentally-demanding
jobs, that the GM or the players will be brain-fizzled by game time.

So, you have to have an insurance-policy of sorts to keep the game
going if brains are fizzled. Since we only game every other week, no
one wants to give up the game, even if they are tired, so the game has
to have a structure that can stand up to the times when the players go
crazy with it, and the times that they just want to roll dice.

6-7 years ago, when I had a much less mentally-demanding job (and
was < 30) , I was able to run stuff out of my head almost exclusively…as my work responsibilities increased, and my brain
aged, I found that I had to take advantage of my moments of brilliance
when I had them, and not rely on them to be there on game night.

I love the indie games, and I’ve found that there definitely has to be an overall higher energy and brain-engagement level than with say, D&D.  Normally, this is awesome.  But there is a reason that a lot of the indie games are for one-shots, or for short campaigns – it’s hard to maintain that level of intensity week after week.  And, the best part of those games is the shared-world creation stuff, which usually peters out after the first game.

Not to overly-generalize, but indie games, and character-provided convention events are much more like films, whereas your typical ‘traditional’ RPG campaign, say D&D or the like, is much more like a TV show, where the intensity is spread out over a whole season of the show…

Jul 21

Pacesetter Games – Chill, TimeMaster, Star Ace, Still Available

FYI, all the Pacesetter games, including the
original Chill, and Star Ace (which was mentioned in a recent Fear the Boot episode) are
available for inexpensive PDF purchase via RPGNow.com these days. You
can purchase the box sets from http://orphyte.com .

They had another product called Time Master, which, like Chill, did a
really good job of capturing the particular genre it was aiming for.
(Time travel agency fighting bad guys who were trying to corrupt
history)

No one will disagree that Star Ace was by far their worst product…

Jul 20

Clearvue Cyclones Shop-Vac Dust Collector Review

The other day, I was again seriously looking at getting a full-on dust collection system for the shop, and realized that I was going to have to spend a minimum of $500 to get anything decent, and that it was going to take up a lot of room in my already-crowded shop.

In browsing around, I came across Bill Pentz’s site, on which he fanatically rages about the dangers of hobbyist dust collectors.  Bill’s definitely on a mission, but he has some interesting information on his site, and I recommend checking it out just to get another point of view if nothing else.

Anyway, there is a tiny company called Clearvue Cyclones that builds cyclonic dust collectors to the Bill Pentz designs.

The point of these dust collectors is the same point as those Dyson vacuums.  By setting up the wind in the vac the right way (like a cyclone), you blow the dirt/dust into the collection area directly, and not just blow it through a filter, relying on the filter to stop the dust from getting blown back into the room.

There are two advantages to this:

  1. You blow less dust back into the room, because most of the dust never even gets to the filter that’s blowing back into the room.
  2. Your vac retains it’s power longer between filter cleanings, because less material ever gets to it to clog it.  (Like the Dyson catchphrase “The first vacuum that doesn’t lose suction!”)

However, the Clear Vue designs, while they look extremely effective, and can be home-made or partially home made, are still around $1000.  As they say on their site, it’s still a good deal, and I’m inclined to agree, but I don’t have $1000 to spend on dust collection right now.

So then I spied their cute little shop vac conversion unit, pictured below.  As it turns out, I just happen to own a WD1665 RIDGID Shop-Vac, which is the one that this conversion unit works with.

Spoiler, this is a pic of my shopvac with the unit on it, so you can guess that I bought one. 🙂

Anyway, it works.

You take off the orange lid and detach the motor from your combo blower/vac, and replace it with this fairly massive lid, made from plastic.  This lid is not a polished made-in-vast-quantities-in-China product you’d buy from Home Depot, but an ingenious device hand made in someone’s garage.

The point is that the dust comes in at the top of the cyclone, and gets swirled down into the body of the vac, without the bulk of it ever getting to the filter or the motor.  (This is what they call a “two stage” dust collector – stage 1 is this cyclone, stage 2 is the filter for whatever was too fine to get caught by stage 1).

Normally, the shop vac sucks air through the motor and filter and then blows it into the body, and then out the side port of the motor.

I can vouch that normally it blows around almost as much dust as it sucks in.

With the cyclone attachment lid, I felt that it not only remained powerful even after 30 minutes of continuous use (normally it goes down to about 1/2 power after 15 minutes from filter clogging), but that the amount of dust being blown out the side of the motor was significantly reduced.

So, I’d say it was a successful product overall – it did what it claimed to do.  However, I did encounter one issue.  When I was cleaning out the enclosed base of my hybrid table saw, I sucked up a lot of fairly matted wood shavings – they had matted themselves into a pretty tight blob.

When this blob hit the little cyclonic chamber, it immediately blocked it.  Obviously, this wouldn’t happen with one of the full-size units, but with my little guy, it choked it right up.  And, I didn’t notice for several minutes.  The bad news was that because of the clog, it immediately started blowing through the filter again – the good news, is that I wasn’t any worse off than I was with the base shop vac at that point.

I had to pull the lid off and prod the clog with a piece of scrap wood to clear it, which wasn’t too hard.

However, the clog caused a bunch of dust to clog up the top part of the cyclone a bit, and I couldn’t get up in there to clean it…it’s all sealed up.  It didn’t seem to affect performance once I started it again, but you can see that it looks dirty still.

I tried to blow it out with my compressor, but no go.  I’m assume it’s just aesthetic, and not a big deal.

Also, the unit is heavy enough, and the shop-vac wheels small enough compared to the joints in my concrete floor that it did tip over once as I was pulling it around…but it did that with the old lid as well.  The topper seemed to survive the tip-over just fine.

OK. Time for the bottom line.  Was it worth the sale price of $200 to get a cyclonic adapter for the shop vac that I already owned, and is it better enough that I don’t need a full-on dust collector now?

I like it, and as it sits right now, I’d buy it again.  I do wish that for $200 the fit and finish was a bit nicer (for example, you can see the UPC sticker is still on the PVC elbow), but as a maker of a high-tech homemade product myself, I know how difficult and expensive it is to jump over that hurdle without massive volume of sales.

I don’t think it’s any more powerful than my shop-vac was to begin with, but it retains it power longer.  I do think that it blows a whole lot less dust into the air while it’s running, and that’s the major advantage you get with this product.  I think it’s an admirable competitor to the $300 dust collectors you get from Delta or Grizzly, and even though it’s probably less powerful, it’s a lot more safe for your lungs.

And of course if you already have this particular shop-vac, and can convert it to most-of-the-time dust collection, then it’s a pretty good deal. 🙂

Clear-Vue’s customer service was also great, they shipped my product extremely quickly, and with no fuss!

All that said, I am saving up for one of their full-size units – maybe come tax refund time next year. My little guy, even with a brain transplant, is just not powerful enough to really slurp live dust out of my table saw, and I never did like dragging it around 😀 I just have to find a place to put the thing.   I wonder if I can mount it horizontally some how – I have a lot of ceiling height, if I could put the whole thing up and ceiling level and not take up any floor space, that’d be perfect!  I’ll have to ponder that one!

Cheers,

Tim

p.s. here’s a youtube video of this thing in action (it’s not me, it’s from the vendor):

Jul 20

D&D Podcast with Bob Salvatore

I don’t know how many of you listen to the
official D&D podcast with Dave Noonan and Mike Mearls, but the
episode that was an interview with Bob Salvatore was pretty
interesting, especially if you are a writer.

The hosting is, um, “rough”, but Bob’s comments are insightful as
to how writing and novels have changed over the last 50 years and why.

Even if you aren’t particularly a fan of Bob’s work, it’s really interesting to hear his thoughts.

Here’s a link to the podcast:

http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/pod/20061215a

Particularly, I thought that his comments that people like Tolkien
and Eco and Melville (who’s writing styles drive me crazy) had to be
very explicit in their descriptions, because they were writing for
readers who had no shared context – no one had see TV shows on dragons
and monks and whales, so they had to describe them in great detail.

Today, detailed description falls away and pacing and characters
become king. Which I think is an interesting reflection of the FtB
host’s frustration with the “Tour de Realms” type game.

We can see a tour of Ireland or Scotland on TV now, whereas in Tolkien’s day, his words were that tour.

Anyway, just thought people might be interested…

Jul 20

Torchwood Comments + Countrycide Rant

Well, I’ve seen the first five, and have the
next two to watch tonight. “Cyberwoman” was simply brilliant. The rest
are pretty good – “Small Worlds” reminded me a lot of the best
“monster” eps of “the X-Files”.

I am very impressed with the Jack Harkness character – far more than I ever thought I would be.

The sound on the show is mind-blowing – compared to even Doctor
Who, it’s simply a wall of sound that attacks your senses in all the
right places.

I agree, Eve’s teeth are, um, “British”, and unless you have a
Madonna/David Letterman fetish, they can definitely be distracting.

Also, even though I watch a fair share of British programming,
there is at least one time per episode when I have to roll back the
video to try and parse out what Eve is saying in her Welsh accent.

I will give Torchwood massive credit for one very very important
thing – their stories, while episodic, have gone out of their way to
involve these characters specifically.
Meaning it would be a different episode if there were a different set
of protagonists, because many of the plots infringe on the PCs personal
lives.

This is one of my Holy Grails of storytelling. If you could swap
out the PCs for a different group with no noticeable changes in plot,
then you are telling a plot, and not a story (again back to the Fantasy
vs. Sci-Fi thing – much Sci-Fi is focused on the plot ideas, and no so
much on the characters – Torchwood sidesteps that trend nicely).

OK. I must now rant upon the episode
“Countrycide”
. Having seen 80% of the X-Files episodes, I can say that
this one reminded me a lot of some of the best. Up until one specific
point.

*&*^SPOILERS(*&*(&

There is a part where Tosh is being chased by the main bad guy, and
is eventually being choked by him. Gwen and Owen show up, guns drawn to
save her. And then they get stood down! They have every chance in the
world to shoot the guy who is choking their close friend, and they
don’t take it. No protestations of innocence that convince them it’s
all a mistake, nothing. I screamed at the TV for 20 minutes. Nothing
from Tosh telling them that this is the main bad guy, or anything. For
pete’s sake, they could have just shot him and his accomplice in the
leg! They submit to being frog-marched back to where they are going to
be surely eaten. WTF!?

In the end, it’s the American alien, Captain Jack that has to break
down the door with a tractor and shoot everyone! And he just wounds
them!

There is a lot of good going for this episode, but it’s amazing to
me (good or bad, I’m not sure), that on British TV, they can show
snogging all day long, but to have a Brit use a gun to shoot a
non-monster just goes too far. Is this really how Brits are? Would
rather be eaten by cannibalistic villagers than shoot someone (even to
wound?). Shocked

And then the ending just made me ill on the character development front. Just Eww.

Argh!

Tim

Jul 20

Favorite “B” Movies

1) “Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter”. Starring Horst Janson and the
delicious Caroline Munro. An enjoyable “medieval” “B” vampire
adventure.

2) “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad”. Starring Tom Baker and the delicious Carline Munro. Yes, Doctor Who as an evil Arab Prince.

3) “The Gamers”, by “The Dead Gentlemen” – if nothing else, for the “I steal his pants!” scene.

4) “Kull the Conqueror” with Kevin Sorbo. Not a good film if you
treat it as mainstream cinema, but lots of fun as a “B” movie, for
Harvey Firestein if nothing else.

5) Flash Gordon (1980).  I’m a sucker for a Queen soundtrack.

6) The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (2001). It’s a homage to the B movie genre, and deliciously done. Extremely entertaining, as are the rest of the films from Larry Blamire.

What else do people like?

Tim

P.S. Captain Kronos quotes:

Carla: “I’m staying… if you’ll have me.”

Kronos: “Oh, I’ll have you.”

Dr. Marcus: “I know you’ve got guts, Kronos. I’ve seen them.”

Jul 20

Tim’s Theory of Inverse Preparation

Tim’s Theory of Inverse Preparation

1) The more you prepare ahead of time for a non-dungeon-crawl-style
game session, the more the players will diverge from your predicted
path.

2) The one night you just chuck it and don’t prepare anything at all is the night that for once, the players don’t want to sit around an B.S. the whole time.

Theory Explanation

1) In any game where the players get to remotely choose their own
path, you must make assumptions about their actions in order to prepare
for them.

The more you prepare, the more assumptions you need to make. Layering
assumptions on top of assumptions is like averaging averages – it’s
guaranteed to make an Ass out of U and Me.

2) Players can sense weakness, and will go for the jugular.

Well, OK, there is more to it than that. People, especially geeky
people, appreciate having a skeleton on which to hang their
conversation.

Whether that be a recently seen film or sporting event, or your desperate attempt to get somewhere in your game, having something in common to talk about gives people jumping off points for their own discussions.

No game=no skeleton, and conversation peters out after a while, leaving
everyone looking at you wondering why they drove 2 hours to get here if
you are such a slacker….

Jul 20

On Role-Playing in D&D

Roleplaying
in D&D will be there just like it always has been, but the rules
have ALWAYS been about the dungeon crawling, monster killing fiesta,
with story as an after thought IN THE BOOKS. At your table, you play
the game however the heck you want.

D&D 3.x didn’t remove any
rules for role-playing from 2.x. But it DID make the combat section of
rules more rigid and interesting, so people spent more time with that
part of the game.

Bottom line, as many people have said, is that you don’t NEED rules
for role-playing. That said, I believe that certain games, such as
these story games, FOCUS THEIR RULES ON FACILITATING role-playing. This
is good for some people, bad for others.

So bottom line is that the game is still what you make of it, get a grip.

Jul 20

“Best of” D&D Tropes?

So, if you were going to write a 1st-3rd level
adventure for D&D, and you could pack it full of all your favorite
tropes from games past, what would you be sure to include?

Here are some thoughts:

1) A home base to call your group’s own, with people that know them and pester them for stories upon their return. (a la the Village of Hommlet)

2) A syndicate of villains – where you work up defeating the lower
level thugs until you eventually take on the head of the syndicate. (a
la the Slavers series)

3) An ancient temple to a forgotten god, with evidence of prior attempts at raiding it (a la the intro to Raiders of the Lost Ark or Temple of Elemental Evil)

4) Off the charts crazy traps (a la White Plume Mountain)

What tropes or moments in your favorite low-level D&D games do you
wish that people starting out with the game could get to experience?

Jul 20

Gamer Stink

This was in response to the Fear the Boot episode on stinky gamers…

The worst gamer stank I can recall was from a mini-con we had at a friend’s house back in ’94 or so.

One guy was so bad that by the end of the con, people had maneuvered chairs and such around so his back was to the open screen door, and there was a large fan blowing directly at him at all times.

All that maneuvering, and no one said a word to him, because he was a
farmer, and had driven for 6 hours to come, and was sleeping in the
camper shell in the back of his pickup during the three days of the
mini-con.

Conversely, the same friend who hosted that event used to collect
money from everyone who played at his house to have his carpets
cleaned. Which makes perfect sense…except that he had his carpets
cleaned…monthly. A little OCD going on there, I thought.

On the subject of chairs, when I was in high school, my mom would come down to the dining room from her sewing room, and hear “thump! thump! thump!” as all of us stopped leaning back in our chairs. Many of those chairs died my senior year of high school…