Friday, January 23, 2015

Not Quite Aquaman...

...but just trying to keep my head above water at the moment.

Back in Paraguay where our daycare is closed till February and where my nanny has recently got another job (as did her replacement) leaving me as the sole child care provider. The situation ain't a terrible one, just one that precludes me from spending much time on Ye Old Laptop. Sorry.

But, hey, how 'bout them Seahawks, huh?
: )

Had a good time in Seattle, and picked up a helluva' neat game called New Fire that I shall hopefully have a chance to discuss soon (especially seeing as how I bothered to bring it down to Paraguay with me). Oh, yeah...there's a couple other games I've got (PDF) for discussion, too. But all that's going to have wait for the nonce.

More later.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

I Am Sorely Tempted...

...to get a SubWay sandwich. But I think I can hold off.

Currently sitting in the Panama City airport (that's Tocumen International, I guess), waiting for my connecting flight to Dallas as I once again wing my way back to Seattle. That's right, folks: I'm on the road again. Just a short jaunt back to catch the NFC Championship game and then I return to Paraguay on Tuesday.

An extravagant splurge of resources? I suppose...but I did buy my tickets as soon as the 'Hawks got home field through the play-offs (I had no doubt they'd clean up in the division round). And my actual game tickets aren't expensive, seeing as how my family's been season ticket holders since 1978 (if you couldn't figure that out from my rampant homerism).

So, yeah...I stayed down in Paraguay through the playoffs last year, but the last time I caught a conference championship game was 2005 and I wasn't going to skip this one.

Of course, the nuts and bolts of flying (and packing and making sure the house was in order before I left) means I haven't had a chance to revisit my "Hey, Mike Mearls" post of the other day. Though, believe me I have been reading/keeping up with everyone's comments.

*sigh*

I'm not sure how the post amounts to any kind of personal attack on Mike Mearls (did I call him names or something?) or any kind of indictment/judgment of 5E at all. So please everyone: step back from that particular discussion.

NOW...at the moment I have about six minutes till I start boarding and despite the lack of sleep and yet another ticket snafu at the airport and blah-blah-blah...despite all that, I'm not feeling particularly irritable at the moment. So let me see if I can be a little less snarky and a lot less inflammatory.

You ever read that story The Emperor's New Clothes by old HCA? Well, sometimes I feel like there's a lot of "oo'ing" and "ah'ing" and not enough people pointing to the overall nakedness of what's on display. That's me folks...it perturbs me to no end, and I feel obliged (for whatever reason) to point out the ass that's mooning everyone.

In this particular case, there was a big rigamarole about WotC and their Basic Rules. A lot of praise for a lot of promises. And...yes, really...a big over-sell and under-deliver, even considering the what was being offered was a free product. I've never been one to buy into crowdfunding like KickStarter, but I know that some of my readers have and I imagine there have been folks who have experienced similar disappointments and can thus empathize.

Or maybe not. My own reaction went from curiosity to annoyance to skepticism to (somewhat) patience to huh, WTF. As in WTF happened to a project that just dropped off the face of the earth.

Now since my posting I have bothered to check Mearls's twitter feed and such and know that he and his wife just had their first baby in early December (congrats to them!) and have had two kids in the last four years I know how a newborn in the home can derail all sorts of plans and brainpower...both at home and work. So maybe I should cut Mike some slack for the dropped ball here.

But then who at WotC is picking up the slack? Or, as it kind of appears, has the idea of Basic being a "complete game" - the core game of the most recent version, according to (self-proclaimed insider) RPGPundit - been scrapped? Is this free thing that WotC was lauded for in their press releases just a clever ruse to drive customer interest and sales? Or is it temporarily on-hold?

People who tell me that I need to buy the 5E books are kind of missing the fucking point. The whole concept advertised by WotC was that the hardcover books were supplements to the core...the equivalent of Advanced game aids of an earlier edition. Those weren't supposed to be core...but yet you can't play Basic without them? If you think this was The Plan then you haven't been reading the press releases.

Okay, I've got to go board now. More on this later. Maybe.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Hey, Mike Mearls...

...what the fuck happened to Basic D&D?

I know I spent the last couple months doing a lot of holiday traveling and whatnot, but I distinctly remember this celebration of Wizards of the Coast because they were so awesome as to release the Basic Rules as a free PDF. Does anyone else remember that?

Remember how I said, 'hey people: this isn't a complete game?' To which everyone pointed me to the articles on WotC's web site stating that the game was going to be released in installments/updates (along with the hardcover "advanced" 5E volumes) until the end of the year? People around here remember that, yeah?

In fact, what I remember specifically is this quote:
For the D&D basic rules, our initial release will include character creation. It features the human, elf, dwarf, and halfling for races along with the cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard classes, all from 1st level to 20th level. As the Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide near completion, we'll add to the basic rules with more material to grow into a complete game. Our goal is to continue to make updates to the basic rules for D&D until the end of the year, at which point it will be feature complete.
- from Mike Mearls 6/30/2014 (emphasis added by me)

Yes, I remember also an earlier article (from May 27th) that said the Basic PDF would be expanded in August to include "the DM rules needed to run the game along with the rules for wilderness, dungeon, and urban adventuring." But I figure the June article's later "end o year" timeline was an update to a more realistic release date. That's why we like updates, yeah?

So WTF happened?

I can say this for sure: the last "Basic Rules" update occurred 11/3/2014 and added two new magic items to the "Basic DMG" (Keoughtom's ointment and cloak of elvenkind for those who are curious). We're now in 2015 and there's still no information on how to run a game or build adventures. 

At the beginning of December, Mearls announced the end of his Legends & Lore articles, stating that "the process is complete, for the time being," and that "the process of launching fifth edition is over." There is no mention of the Basic Rules or any future updates intended for the PDFs. Nor do I find any other articles or news items on the web site discussing forthcoming changes or new push backed timeframes for the Basic Rules to become a complete game. In fact, other than the additional two magic items added with the 3rd update of the DMG, the main difference I find is the removable of the sidebars that say "Works in Progress!" Apparently, these are no longer WIPs. They're not complete, but it doesn't appear any further progress is going to be made.

Hey! Remember when Mike Mearls wrote:

"With just the Basic Dungeons & Dragons rules, you can play D&D for years."

Fuck you, Mearls. No you can't.

It would appear that I was right when I said this whole thing was a bunch of bullshit, a PR move designed to get a bunch of positive press for a company that was on the ropes, and an enticement to the rubes to shell out yet more money for yet another edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The whole puffery of wanting to get the core game into the hands of as many people as possible...for free!...growing the hobby with a new generation of fans was simply a huge, steaming pile. You can't play Dungeons & Dragons with these PDFs; they have less information on creating and running a game then the original white box edition.

[that's information, by the way...not "word count." For all the lack of real info in the PDF, it's no slack in the extra wordiness department]

But, hey...I realize I may not be the demographic WotC is trying to win over here (the "sucker" demographic?). In fact, I know I'm not, judging by how much new D&D product I've purchased since 2002 ($0 unless you're counting the AD&D reprints which aren't actually "new" product)...if I am their target, then they are really shit at appealing to my wallet.

All right...well, it's good to see I'll be as irritable in 2015 as I was last year. Jeez, JB. I'm going to go take a nap (I'm still a bit under the weather). Hopefully cheerier posting later.
; )

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Interlude

Sorry, folks...I got sick Friday (the baby gave me her cold), and I'm only just getting over it. Just checking in to say: what a great weekend of football! Even though my team's already played,  I am super excited to see the games on today's schedule. Old Pro Manning versus Young Buck Luck? Rogers versus Romo in Ice Bowl 2? Just awesome. It's not about story lines...it's about watching some great football. I have no idea what will happen.

[my boy picked Colts and Packers, and he's 2-0 so far this weekend...but he was 2-2 last week and, you know, he's not quite four years old]

That's all I wanted to say. The baby and I are just hanging out while everyone else is sleeping in. Later, folks.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Craft Beers and Caballos

Welp, I'm back in Asuncion.

(*sigh*) It's hot.

While eating a somewhat crappy meal at the local TGI Friday's last night (boy's choice for dinner...at least Wednesday is 3-for-1 drink night and they had a decent, if weak, mojito), my wife remarked "it feels like we never left." That's because this is our home...our second home, sure, but a place where we live and work and shop for groceries and take our kid to daycare. If our family or friends ever came to visit (a highly unlikely prospect) it would be us showing them around town, playing the role of tour guide...even though we are hardly "locals." But for whatever remains of our stint here, we have become a part of the fabric of Paraguay. Such is life.

Spent the last few days in Valle de Bravo in Mexico. Most of you probably haven't heard of it...there was an okay article on it in the NY Times the other day, comparing it to "the Hamptons" of Mexico City. Personally I find the comparison to be wildly inaccurate. Instead, I'd say it's a lot like Orcas Island (save that it is an inland lake community rather than an island), though the downtown area is bigger than East Sound. And the ongoing (residential) development is different from Orcas (where anyone building a house is doing it out in the woods, down a private road, away from prying eyes). Maybe more like Bend (Oregon) or Lake Chelan...but the climate and greenery was very much like the San Juan Islands. It had that "hippy islander" kind of feeling to it.

Except that the lake in Valle is man-made (from damming a river) rather than natural.

Our friends (who are currently renting a house there) are enjoying it immensely, and seem on the verge of a permanent move to "island life." This is not a weekend retreat for them...it is a complete retreat from the stress and urban life of Mexico City. Their teenage children are going to hippy-ish prep schools away from the sex, drugs, and trouble that occupies the lives of their City schools...though I'm sure there are plenty of Valle kids minoring in marijuana while taking courses in "paddle board" and "macrobiotic nutrition." But it's still an escape to a peaceful, natural setting...one where you can walk or bicycle without fear of...well, without fear.

Having even a small amount of wealth in Mexico is a double-edged sword. You become a target. Carlos at age 46 has achieved a degree of success over the years by owning and running a couple small store fronts that deal-in high end (i.e. American) electronics of a very recognizable brand. He studied computer systems in school, speaks English, and is equal parts sharp-witted and gregarious. Even though there the products he sells are expensive by Mexico standards, there are people in Mexico City that have the money to buy them and are willing to do so if it means getting top flight American goods (without flying to San Antonio). He provides a pretty good standard of living for his family of four.

But in addition to robbery, shake-downs and extortion rackets (not to mention needing to be on guard against internal employee theft), you face very real, physical danger. A few years ago, Carlos was kidnapped right in front of his house; forced into a car at gunpoint and driven away from his neighborhood within sight of his driveway. He escaped his kidnappers by diving out of the speeding vehicle, tearing up his arm pretty good in the process...but that's better than having pieces of your body cut off and mailed to your family so they'll drain your bank accounts.

You pay a premium price in Mexico if you want to enjoy the same type of security that folks in the United States enjoy. Sure, the uber-wealthy in all countries live in walled fortresses with private security and bodyguards...but average American Joe is usually pretty safe to walk the streets, even in "bad neighborhoods," so long as you look halfway alert and not like fresh meat. The same can't be said in Mexico...even in "good neighborhoods." It's sad because other than the crime (and the lack of respect/faith in law enforcement), there is a lot to recommend Mexico as a great place to live and raise a family.

ANYway...Carl has reached a point in his life where he doesn't need to be in the city anyway. He's renting out his businesses, and working on his new passion: craft beer. Well, that and writing (he writes short stories, most recently of the noir detective genre, though SciFi in the past), but that's something personal, for him. The beer thing...well, yes, he enjoys drinking beer but he doesn't like drinking alone. Beer is for sharing. And being good at what he does, and being of an entrepreneurial spirit the guy has already got his bottles in three restaurants in Valle. He's actually run out of beer and has to get a new batch brewed to fill his orders...but all his brewing stuff is still in Mexico City. He wants to move the equipment out to Valle, but first he needs a place to set up shop. Such are the challenges when you place well at a national craft beer festival.

[the Mexican craft beer movement is a few years behind the USA...Carlos reckons about eight, but I think it's more like double, especially compared to places like Seattle. Part of the problem is the monopoly on hops possessed by the giant beer corporations of Mexico...all ingredients need to be brought in from outside the country, unless you want to buy some farmland and figure out how to grow your own...of course, there's the additional problem of hops only growing in particular climates of northern latitude. But like I said, the area around Valle is very similar to the Pac NW...even getting under 50 degrees (positively cool) while we were there]

Monday, I spent the day riding a horse through wooded mountains in order to see the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary just outside of Valle de Bravo (you can hike there if you like, but it takes a lot longer...vehicles aren't allowed up the mountain). I'm not much of a horseman...the last time I sat a horse I was probably 10 or 12 years old...and trotting up the side of a mountain on a crumbling dirt trail made for a harrowing excursion. Especially with a baby strapped to my chest, as I had to use one hand to cradle her head the whole time (she did not appreciate the bouncing on the way up, but managed to fall asleep on the way down). Still, it was a neat experience...even if butterflies (to me) are just big bugs (thus "icky"), seeing the thousands of them fluttering around the treetops was worth the hike. A couple of Monarchs landed on Carlos, which is considered lucky...but then Carlos has always been a lucky guy. I'm glad we had the chance to see it.

But now we're back in PY...had to fly to north to Miami in order to get here since there's no direct flights from Mexico. After a day to recover (more or less), I'm back on my laptop and...well, I find myself thinking a bit about my conversations with Carlos (over his craft beer). Discussions about Paraguay...what it's like, what I've learned, what I'm likely to "take with me" when I move back to Seattle. About maybe blogging about my time here and my (American) perspective on this part of the world. I'm definitely going to be in Paraguay for awhile...at least another six months and maybe longer. Some folks might find my experiences interesting reading...if not particularly "insightful." For me, it would be easier to start a blog on the subject than keep a journal. I've always been shitty at journal writing.

Let's just say I'm considering the idea.

My migrations cover more ground than THIS bug.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Tis the Season

NFL playoff season, that is!

The year is shaping up to be a good one...at least a good one from my perspective as a Seattle fan. But before we get to any discussion of post-season play, let's take a look at how the regular season shook out (non-football fans...um, this will probably be less-than-interesting). As is my usual M.O., we'll go division by division; a "*" indicates a playoff-bound team:

[oh, just by the way, when I write "predicted finish" I'm talking about the predictions of ESPN experts, not my own predictions...see this pre-season post for reference]

AFC East (2014 Standings)
*New England Patriots 12-4 (predicted finish: 12-4)
Buffalo Bills 9-7 (predicted finish: 7-9)
Miami Dolphins 8-8 (predicted finish: 8-8)
NY Jets 4-12 (predicted finish: 9-7)

Um, yeah...this one shook out (more or less) as I figured it would. The guy who though Geno Smith would carry the Jets to a winning season? Totally on crack. I have to say, it's sad to see Rex Ryan go, 'cause it just means the Jets are going to swirl deeper down the toilet. If he can get a job in an outfit that has a decent quarterback and a GM that won't work against him, I'd expect Ryan to see success. Now that he and Marrone are both gone (and the mediocre Philbin has been retained by Miami)...well, is anyone ever going to challenge the Patriots in this division?

AFC North (2014 Standings)
*Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5 (predicted finish: 10-6)
*Cincinnati Bengals 10-5-1 (predicted finish:10-6)
*Baltimore Ravens 10-6 (predicted finish: 9-7)
Cleveland Browns 7-9 (predicted finish: 6-10)

As I said midway through the season, I was wrong about the Steelers...I didn't reckon with the fact that their divisional games would be against the pathetic AFC South and NFC South teams. The ability to play Tennessee, Jacksonville, and "crap-sandwich division" allowed all the teams in the North to puff up their records, and send three teams through to the post-season. Cleveland is just plain stupid...they had as good a chance as any of these teams to pass if they'd stuck with their QB and dumped Josh Gordon. In retrospect, probably the worst thing that happened to the Browns was the reduction of Gordon's suspension (he was supposed to be out for the year) as his return can be linked directly to Hoyer's "poor play." Hey, Browns fans, here's a fast fun fact: after week 11 the Cleveland Browns had the exact same record as the Seattle Seahawks (6-4). The difference is Cleveland's final six opponents were against teams with a combined win percentage of .544 instead of .600 (that was their percentage before being played by the Browns and 'Hawks).

AFC South (2014 Standings)
*Indianapolis Colts 11-5 (predicted finish: 11-5)
Houston Texans 9-7 (predicted finish: 8-8)
Jacksonville Jaguars 3-13 (predicted finish: 6-10)
Tennessee Titans 2-14 (predicted finish: 7-9)

I've got to hand it to J.J. Watt (hand him the MVP trophy, too)...I really didn't think the Texans were going to even finish .500 this year. He was even more supreme than usual. For much of the season, the Colts looked as bad as I thought they would, but they beat a whole slew of pathetic teams on their schedule (6-0 in division play! 3-0 against Washington, the Giants, and Johnny Manziel!). Paper tigers.

AFC West (2014 Standings)
*Denver Broncos 12-4 (predicted finish: 12-4)
Kansas City 9-7 (predicted finish: 8-8)
San Diego Chargers 9-7 (predicted finish: 10-6)
Oakland Raiders 3-13 (predicted finish: 6-10)

Wow...all these teams had a drop-off from last year...but then they all got beat up by the NFC West. I still think KC and San Diego are as good of play-off teams as any of those cats in the AFC North, they just didn't get the same easy pickings to fatten their records. Maybe next year.

NFC East (2014 Standings)
*Dallas Cowboys 12-4 (predicted finish: 8-8)
Philadelphia Eagles 10-6 (predicted finish: 11-5)
NY Giants 6-10 (predicted finish: 8-8)
Washington Redskins 4-12 (predicted finish: 7-9)

Welp, I called this one, though I certainly didn't see the Cowboys being so dominant. The more interesting questions for the future are: will the Giants and Eagles switch places in the standings next year, AND will Washington dump RGIII (hard to see the latter happening without someone better waiting in the wings).

NFC North (2014 Standings)
*Green Bay Packers 12-4 (predicted finish: 12-4)
*Detroit Lions 11-5 (predicted finish: 8-8)
Minnesota Vikings 7-9 (predicted finish: 7-9)
Chicago Bears 5-11 (predicted finish: 10-6)

Hey, look at that! Green Bay is on top and Chicago is pathetic! And Golden Tate's not a bad addition to a team already full of weapons on both sides of the ball.

NFC South (2014 Standings)
*Carolina Panthers 7-8-1 (predicted finish: 10-6)
New Orleans Saints 7-9 (predicted finish: 11-5)
Atlanta Falcons 6-10 (predicted finish: 9-7)
Tampa Bay Bucs 2-14 (predicted finish: 8-8)

Crap sandwich. There are probably folks in Chicago wishing Lovie Smith was still there...and I'll bet he's wishing the same.

NFC West (2014 Standings)
*Seattle Seahawks 12-4 (predicted finish: 13-3)
*Arizona Cardinals 11-5 (predicted finish: 9-7)
Santa Clara 49ers 8-8 (predicted finish: 11-5)
St. Louis Rams 6-10 (predicted finish: 6-10)

Well, just as I predicted (and unlike the pundits), Arizona leap-frogged Frisco for a wild card and the Niners are out. What's worse for our friends in Santa Clara is that Harbaugh's been kicked to the curb and the team looks poised on the brink of dumpster fire-like immolation. Ah...how fast the mighty can fall when front office politics muck things up. You'd think there'd be a learning from history or something.

ANYway...

Most playoff predictions are "chalk;" the team that's picked to win is based on record or power ranking or past performance or whatever. There's no fun in making fun of that (unlike pre-season predictions when everyone is optimistic about their fantastic draft class and free agent acquisitions).  Things like injuries and off-field issues (arrests, car crashes, etc.) can throw all sorts of monkey wrenches into teams' seasons...and sometimes you really can't tell how the loss of a single player might bring down a whole (precariously balanced) team. 

Or how the inclusion of one player might wreck a well-oiled machine. Look at the Seahawks. Last year, Percy Harvin spent nearly the entire season sidelined as he recovered from hip surgery, only showing up in spectacular fashion for the Super Bowl. This year, fully healthy, the team spent the off-season devising game plans to use this troublesome player, and when things didn't go well it led to serious problems, on and off the field. A team that had been dominant in the previous year was 3-2 and teetering on the edge of dumpster fire territory. And so they cut ties and moved on, having to retool everything they'd expected and planned before the season began. It's a testament to the team that they were able to get it turned around and back on track.

But playoffs...well, the playoffs are a shorter stretch, and while injuries DO play a part, the other issues usually get sidelined for the length of a team's run. It's only three (or four) games, max, right? Even when players/coaches/staff aren't getting along they can make it work for a couple weeks. They can put their partying and craziness on-hold till they're finally kicked from the tournament.

I'd think so, anyway. Playoffs are more about match-ups, field conditions (including home crowds), and coaching. Talent can help with match-ups, but coaching can trump individual talent. Weather and noise plays a part, but so does previous playoff experience. Teams with a history of winning in the post-season tend to continue winning and "newbies" need to find that championship mentality to compete with the vets of the scene.

That's why Arizona may ultimately fall in Carolina. That's why Dallas and Detroit may find it hard to advance more than one round. That's why my money's on the Seahawks in the NFC and on either the Patriots or Pittsburgh in the AFC. Good coaching, playoff experience. 

But, of course, we've got to play the games to see what happens. I know I'll be watching.
: )

I love this time of year!



Happy New Year!

[somewhere in Orizaba, Mexico]

Hope everyone had (and is continuing to have, if possible) a great holiday! Sorry, I dropped off the face of the earth. I actually started writing a post about how my blogging would be slim as I'm heading out to Mexico to celebrate Christmas with the in-laws...but then I had to hop a plane before I finished writing it. And I've been extremely busy since I got into town, round about the 23rd.

Busy, but busy in a "fun, vacation-y" type way, of course. Lots of good food and family, and for a change I can hold some conversations with folks (seeing as how my Spanish has improved immensely the last couple years) which makes life here a lot less nerve-wracking, let me tell you...the inability to communicate has been a major source of stress in past years.

But just being back in a developed country is relaxing. Look: paved streets! Look: highways! Look: Starbucks!

[actually, they don't yet have Starbucks in Orizaba, but they've got two or three in Xalapa, and I got a giant frappucino at the Mexico City airport, just for the helluvit. And you can't seem to throw a rock in this town without hitting three Subway sandwich franchises]

And, of course, delicious, spicy food. I've been trying not to over-do it, but I'm going to be back to starch and red meat soon enough...my stomach lining can take a week or so of pounding. And my son's been stuffing himself with tortillas.

Anyway: busy-busy-busy. No time for writing, I'm afraid. I dragged my ass out of bed semi-early today (it's 9ish) to write this, but my baby will probably be up pretty soon, and then I will be on daddy duty while the wife grabs an extra hour or two. I'm hopeful my son will sleep a little longer as well, but we'll see. Ugh...need some coffee.

[just a minute...ahh, mucho mejor]

Santa was especially kind this year, bringing me the only thing I really wanted: home field advantage for the Seahawks throughout the play-offs. It just doesn't get much merrier than that for my money. I'm going to try to get up to Seattle for the conference championship (assuming they win their division in the next couple weeks, of course)...yes, I already have tickets to the game, I just need to book my flight.

[mmm...I should probably do my post-seasons reflections and analysis, huh? Before the play-offs start? Yeah...but in a separate post]

Okay...so now you know what I've been up to. Regular posting will commence...um...probably sometime after I get back to Paraguay (next week). I've got "stuffs" to talk about: superheroes (of course), Maleficent, zombies, some RPGs I picked up (PDF-wise) over the holiday, my thoughts on the Oakland Raiders and Disney (um...separate topics). There's also a couple-four other game-related topics that are not coming to mind at the moment, but they're in the ol' noggin somewhere.

One thing about 2015: I have some intentions (game-wise, writing-wise) that I wouldn't mind hammering into hardcore resolutions. I'm just finding it a little tough to focus at the moment, being in the middle of all this holiday cheer. But as the cheer fades away, some more practical thoughts should be emerging from my addled brain, and I'll be sure to share 'em with folks. Ho-ho-ho!

: )