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December 28, 2004

Home In One Piece

Yes, as the subject says...

Small hassle at airport as the luggage from from my flight was delayed (25 minute wait) and arrived snow-covered. We suspect a cart accident they didn't want to explain to us.

Good dinner with Julia and Lou, then a bit of time clearing snow from the car (Fall River, MA got a healthy snowfall). The drive home was easy and relatively quick, and Concord was all but spared in the snows. Less than 3 inches, I'd estimate. in fact, there were clear spots on my driveway and I expect a lot of clearing when the temperature cracks over 40 during daylight hours the rest of this week.

Lots of catching up on email and such to do tomorrow... Good thing I'm off work until the new year!

Posted by ghoul at 11:06 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Return Trip

Another holiday at home is a memory and I'm packed back in the Cincinnati airport waiting on my flight.

Of course, when I made allowances for the crowd, it wasn't there, so I ended up with 90 minutes to wait at the gate. The flight from Dallas just now pulled in, right on time (to the minute), so I have reasonable hope of a timely flight back to Providence, at which point I will put myself in the hands of Julia and Lou to pick a place for dinner.

Not much to report of the visit... mostly uneventful, with a few family matters I needn't talk about here. I managed to pick up a couple interesting game titles at my old comics/games shop and exclusively games store, which I'll probably talk more about in the future. I think I'll go get some overpriced airport food to fill the time.

I'm gonna go get some Gold Star Chili (unfortunately no Skyline in the airport... though I did get to Skyline last night). That's a taste I miss in NH (though there's a decent imitator near company HQ in Greensboro, NC). The "new" (since 2000) Chili Cheese Fries (a 3-way served on a bed of french fries rather than thin spaghetti) get an A+ from me (with Skyline's winning out, though much of that on quantity and the airport location may be the source of Gold Star's skimpy serving size).

Posted by ghoul at 02:38 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 26, 2004

Panera Stopoff

Brief access to wireless gained at Panera Bread in Ft. Mitchell, KY.

I've posted my rants on my flight here, and there may be more from the trip before I'm done... but likely it'll all wait until I'm home on Tuesday night.

Posted by ghoul at 12:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 24, 2004

Flying (Lucky Timing)

Okay, so it was pretty bad to be around 2 1/2 hours late... but at least I missed the airport's fire alarm, which currently has much of the terminal I was in evacuated (people standing in the sub-10 degree weather).

Icy, frozen snow is pretty much everywhere. It's bad enough that many of the local churches have canceled services! Of course, in New England, it was just wet and warm... Not at all the weather I was expecting!

Posted by ghoul at 12:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Flying (More Observations On...)

Ahhh, seems I typed too soon... Out of courtesy for the ~30 people who hadn't made it on time, we waited at the gate for 25 minutes. 3 of them actually showed up in that time. I suspect the others were consumed by the milling masses still gathering with no hint of direction.

And then, once we made it to Cincinnati (reasonably smooth flight, no issues of note), there was more fun to be had. Turns out that, because of the weather, no planes were leaving Cincinnati. Oh, planes could land there just fine, but none were leaving. So there were no available gates; they were all taken up with planes that weren't going anywhere. There was no place available for an arriving plane to let its passengers go. So we sat 25 minutes on the tarmac until they remembered there was a whole unused terminal off to the other side of us. We deplaned via the rear stairs (the reason that terminal, I suppose, being its lack of those retracting gate things to connect to the main door). Then a 15 minute wait for my bag (not bad at all, except that the carrousel it was being sent to changed twice while I waited and you had to watch the lists on the signs as no announcements were made).

Then I waited for my ride, which it turns out hadn't left home yet since they'd been plowed and iced in overnight. As I type this, I'm waiting in the airport for a call to tell me they've left.

The joys of traveling!

(Currently 120 minutes behind schedule, and counting... And, compared to last year, that's a glorious success.)

Posted by ghoul at 10:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Flying (Observations On...)

It's no secret that I dislike flying.

Or, rather, I quite like flying, but I dislike the accumulated junk that surrounds flying. Particularly flying on busy days like, say, Christmas Eve.

Lou and Julia were nice enough to let me come down last night, then Lou was up at 4 AM (thanks again, Lou!) to drive me to the Providence airport for my 6 AM flight. Inside it was... well, it was a perfect example of unthinking design. Upon entry, I met up with a mass of people, none of whom knew where to go (it is, after all, 4:30 in the AM, so most are also 3/4ths asleep). Pushing through them, I found the self-check-in kiosk (no line, no waiting, no one pointing people toward it) and printed my boarding pass. Then I had to go to the "self serve" baggage check-in, which meant waiting in line for the people checking their entire belongings (no, I'm not exaggerating by much... 4 huge bags apiece and 5 people in the party) with the two overwhelmed assistants (who were actually doing the check-in, belying the "self serve" label). Then came the clever part... I had to pick up my just-tagged bag, push back through the milling crowd by the entrance to get to the far side of them and the TSA bag scanner. There, I watched my bag clumsily tossed around by the TSA folk until they picked it up and pushed it through a door in the wall. No notice what to do next, but I asked and they told me once my bag was done, I was to head to my gate. Fortunately, I'd been watching so I knew it already was; several other folk were milling about wondering what they should be doing. Of course, because this was the worst designed flow of traffic possible, heading to my gate meant pushing through the ever-increasing mass of people by the entry door yet again, this time to emerge in the right place to join the line to the security check-in and the gates.

No, of course the flow of people hadn't been really considered... it was enter, figure out where to go on your own, go back through the mass of people still befuddled by the first challenge to get bags scanned, then once again back through the same crowd to get to the gates. Normally, the goal is to keep things flowing all in one direction and decidedly not to have the expected path cross itself several times. But apparently that sort of consideration was not given.

Well... at least the plane seems to be leaving on time.

Posted by ghoul at 05:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 23, 2004

Lunchtime Poll #6 - Novelization

"Why are people who are role-playing for the creativity of it not writing novels instead?"

There are several good answers, starting with Li's own, but I'd add this, which is something of a combination of points already made...

Many gamers (myself included) would be severely flawed writers. I, for example, am terrible at physical descriptions (I don't think visually; if I had to write for a living, maybe I should script radio dramas or something, though I bet that doesn't pay too well these days) and only moderately good at integrating episodes into a broader plot. As such, a novel I would write would be pretty sorry stuff.

But when I'm gaming, even heavily narrative-focused gaming such as most PBEM play, I get to ride on other people's work. They can do the parts of writing they do well, I can focus on the parts I do well, and if we don't mesh with any degree of smoothness or if it's painfully obvious who wrote each paragraph, who cares? It's writing for the fun of character/story creation/exploration, and not necessarily for anyone not part of it to ever see.

Which isn't to say I don't try to put some flourish in for the other players and lurkers... Just that I neither demand of myself nor expect of others an individual degree of the writer's skill set anywhere close to where I'd put the bar for serious novel-writing.

Posted by ghoul at 11:19 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 20, 2004

Definition Confusion

Ginger linked to this post last week, and I think the mis-conceptions could use some explanation and clarification.

First, the mistaken claim...

"Monte Cook, Steve Jackson, and the folks at White Wolf have never published a game. They have written rules for how to create and run your own game, but not one of them has ever published a complete role-playing game."

Of course, it all comes down to how you define a game and a role-playing game.

A few days back, we had the odd claim that it wasn't a game if it wasn't mechanical and random. Now we have the even odder claim that it isn't a game if it doesn't contain a complete and pre-defined story.

Nonsense, of course. We can see this by looking at the clear conclusion this leads to... How To Host A Murder and Pokemon Adventure Game are, by this claim, superior RPGs to nearly every other RPG title published because they're "complete". As this is patently false (as nice as I think some of what this question would call "complete RPGs", such as the overlooked Sandman, are), we have to review the assumption from which it derives and find its flaw.

And that flaw is the assumption that containing a single narrative is necessary or even desirable to a game.

Anyone can go read what Greg Costikyan has written on the topic (and you should read what Greg says, if you're interesting in game design and game structure, even if his primary focus is networked computer games these days). A narrative is not a prerequisite of a game. Chess, for example, has no preset narrative, just a structure from which you build a unique narrative each game. And this is the model all open-ended RPGs follow. They tell you how to set up the pieces and how the pieces move, but what you do with them is up to you.

An RPG gives you a structure in which to describe characters ("set up the pieces") and then resolve the conflicts those characters find themselves in ("how they move"). If you have those two aspects, you are a complete RPG. That's all an RPG needs, though most also come with setting details and story seeds (you could see these as "the board" on which the pieces are set... but as games like Icehouse or Cheapass's Diceland show us, boards aren't strictly necessary even for board games). But those can be stripped off (and are usually left off in the "generic" RPG systems), leaving the central structure (character description and conflict resolution). A well-designed game matches aspects of its structure to its default setting or style (or leaves levers for customization), while a poorly designed game (and there are far more of these than the former) just tosses out stuff and hopes the players will make it work anyway.

Story is something the players bring to the game. And yes, you must realize that the GM is a player (albeit on with a unique role). "Complete" RPGs try to pre-complete the story-shaping portion of the GM's role, which is all well and good, but not what most RPG players are looking for. In fact, many seem to want even more of that power to devolve to the whole playing group (see the Narrativist movement in recent RPGs, such as Hero Quest, Trollbabe, Dust Devils, and Dogs in the Vineyard, to name only a small sample).

So it isn't "Complete" that these RPGs are... it's "closed-ended". They tell one story (or, perhaps, one small set of variations within one story), and then they're done. You can play them multiple times if they're well created (say, some of the chapters of Robin Law's Pantheon), but usually they're over once their surprise is gone. And while a great closed-ended game can be very, very good (and can be a nice way to get non-RPGers to play an RPG, as the "Host a Murder" games do), most RPG players want the freedom open-ended games offer them to create their own stories rather than dabble within someone else's.

Rules for how to create and run your own game are a complete game. They're just a complete open-ended game rather than a complete closed-ended game.

(I'll come back later and turn all those underlined titles into links... filtering prevents me from accessing most just now.)

Posted by ghoul at 08:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


And, indeed, the 45.1 did not last out the year.

During my drive back from Fall River on Saturday, I noticed the milage had slipped to 45.0 (first noted around 35,515). Over the last leg of my trip home, which is on slower, hillier local roads rather than the interstate, that got back up to 45.1, but with 2 inches of snow and frigid temperatures this AM, it's back to 45.0, almost certainly to stay there (or lower) until the spring. So I didn't quite make it to winter (which starts tomorrow).

I'll record the point of slippage as 35,553. And, since that's the point where the bump up to 45.1 (crossed without a dip back below at around 34,040) faded, it's clear that the average milage over the last 1500 miles or so was almost exactly 45 MPG. Which isn't bad, except as a sign of the decidedly un-Prius-like gas thirst that will come over the next three months.

There is a small chance that, with the unseasonal warmth currently predicted for Thursday (45-50 degrees) and my drive back down to Fall River to catch my flight to Cincinnati for Christmas, I might get back to 45.1. But I'm not counting on it.

Posted by ghoul at 07:52 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 10, 2004

A Couple Trailers

Here's a couple new movie trailers worth giving a look...

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (No, I don't think I'm allergic to this. Not one little bit.)

War of the Worlds (Okay, I'm no Cruise fan, but you can't go to wrong running a trailer to that bit of HG Wells text.)

Posted by ghoul at 05:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

December 09, 2004

Lunchtime Poll #4 -- Diced or Chopped?

This question comes out of an absolutely fascinating discussion between longtime GMs and gamers. It was fun to watch.

Narrative Guy says, "Some of the best games I've ever played didn't involve a single die roll; we decided what our characters could do and the GM took us through a story."

System Mechanic says, "That's not gaming. If you don't have a mechanic, then the characters are subject to the capricious whims of the GM. And how can you make sure everyone is on the same page? Also, you lack the random element."

So... what do you think? Make your case!

I've spoken about this at length on other forums (like, say, here), but usually kind of glossed over the question of needing random factors at all.

Here's my opinion, ground down to its essence...

The role of dice (or any similar random factor, including spinners, cards, or quick rounds of "rock, paper, scissors") in an RPG is to provide (as random information) the details necessary to decide a contest which are not provided by the characters' abilities, the players' play, the GM's scene-setting, and the story's needs.

So, from that perspective, Narrative Guy is on reasonably firm footing (if you have enough info from character, player, GM, and story to decide, then just decide) and System Mechanic has, IMO, a misunderstanding of dice's role. Telling a story between multiple participants within a structure of rules is gaming (perhaps not Role-Playing Gaming, depending on how individualized and immersive the individual character roles are) no matter if it has dice or not. The role of dice isn't to make it a game, it is to fill in the spaces in the story no one wants to bother with.

As for the rest of SM's points...

Dice don't provide fairness, they provide randomness; random isn't fair because it doesn't care who it screwed last time, it'll happily screw them again.

Dice don't provide consistency, they provide randomness; random is inherently inconsistent (or else it isn't random).

Dice do not protect you from capriciousness, they provide randomness; random is inherently capricious in ways humans can't even approach.

All of which isn't to say dice are bad. Dice are great if there are numerous factors weighing on a situation that are not within the control of the character/player (usually true... even an Amberite has a finite degree of control of everything around them, and they're very, very high on the "control" scale), are not pre-decided by the GM (usually true... most GM's leave a ton of minor details undecided by simple necessity of time/attention budgeting), and are not of sufficient story impact to be clearly non-decisions (again, usually true... while the story would object to the endangered princess suddenly deciding the prince is a big jerk because he rolled a 1 and instead shacking up with the dragon, it has no problem with a random loose stone coming underfoot or a drip of sweat stinging the prince's eye at a critical moment to make for a flubbed attack and draw out the fight a bit longer). Which means they're usually great, because usually the undetermined factors in an action/contest are proportionally of significant weight next to the determined ones.

One problems with them, though, (and why Narrative Guy is so put off by them) is that Dice (and most system mechanics) don't know how to scale their impact up or down based on how much freedom for uncertainty there is in a scene. The prince in the above story example is just as likely to roll a 1 on his "first impression" social scene with the princess as when he swings his sword at the dragon, but one scene had a lot more "wiggle room" than the other.

Which is one reason why we need a GM-as-referee (as opposed to the other roles of the GM) to override the dice when they go too far.

Posted by ghoul at 08:03 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 06, 2004

No Tourbots!

Kinda, sorta, a little making up for the Firefly movie delay is this news.

I mean, I'd really love to see the last chapter of the GrimJim story (the series was canceled with just one or two issues to go in its current story) and maybe even progress to some of the future incarnations, but Cynosure and John Gaunt (particularly as rendered by Tim Truman) are welcome indeed.

But... still weeks away!

Thanks for the link, Julia!

Posted by ghoul at 08:19 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 02, 2004

On the Way Home

And the near-week at company HQ is done, so I'm on my way back to New England (this is typed as I sit in the Greensboro airport awaiting my boarding call, with plans to post it if I can sniff out a wireless connection during the DC layover, at Julia and Lou's if I linger there long enough, or at home if neither). Note added in DC: Pros and Cons of flying back via DC rather than Philadelphia are (Pro) flight leaves DC pretty much on time vs. (Con) small planes, crowded bus to and from plane/terminal, no wireless 'net in terminal, 30 minute "no getting out of your seat" rule on the way in and out of DC. I'm almost sure actually being on time (which I've never been flying thru Philly) outweighs all those negatives, though. Of course, the "no wireless 'net in terminal" means this was not posted from DC.

I'm flying to Providence, from where I'll be driven (after a yummy Legal Seafood dinner) to Fall River, MA, where I'll pick up my car where I left it almost two weeks back, drive to Concord, NH. Then I'll work a full day tomorrow, drive BACK to Fall River for Julia's bi-weekly D&D game, and then drive back home on Saturday morning. That's around 400-450 miles for the car and 7-8 hours in the driver's seat (depending on Traffic, for which only tomorrow afternoon's drive is likely to be significant) over a 36 hour period! Good thing I really love my Prius!

Here's hoping the cats aren't too upset that I come home just long enough to sleep and leave again!

Various work/personal ramblings after the fold for anyone who cares.

The week wasn't as productive as I'd hoped, as the descent into Chaos that was beginning when I left for my week off had deepened a fair bit, significantly undermining my main project and collapsing a big old sink-hole in the middle of my co-worker's. I think we've halted the bleeding and even started on the path toward more order, but over half the meetings I'd come down to attend were not even held and those that were held were simplified, reduced, or under-prepared-for (including the one I was facilitating... I hadn't even managed time to review the topic prior to the meeting!). I finally came out of the last meeting a minimal 5 minutes left before my shuttle to the airport, scrambling to have something to hand in for an expense report (I will need to mail one receipt, which will add 2-3 days lag before I get my check <sigh>), wrap up the "drop everything" project I was given late yesterday (but which no one I asked to provide inputs for considered of nearly so high a priority), finding that the computer run I'd done to support that had produced an unacceptable result (with no time to revise and retry), and I'd managed to spill (just a little, praise be!) my drinking water into my tote bag of papers and books. ARGH! On the plus side, that last meeting that ran somewhat later than I'd like was a quite positive (if vague on specifics) annual review (my first such in three years due to management shuffling and other similar excuses). It's nice to know I'm appreciated (which my boss has always been good about sharing regularly, actually), but it would be nicer to see what numbers get put behind the words. We'll see if those show up before the end of the month, as they're supposed to.

And the whole of my work output for the last three years remains threatened by a group of zealous but (IMO) misdirected state regulators who, in response to complaints from some companies who don't sell the type of products I specialize in designing, are attempting to change the law to massively increase the costs associated with such products, not just for future sales but retroactively to all such sales over the last two years (that is, since the last time they re-wrote the law in this area). Which means all the time we've spent planning the next generation(s) of products are cast into doubt, and I may well have far, far more work to do to try to repair/refit/revitalize pretty much everything in response to the new rules over a very short timeframe. I don't see much free time in the near future if the vote on the new regs passes.

Meanwhile, on the plus side, I was finally able to coordinate times with my step-brother, for the first time of my nearly a dozen trips to NC. We were able to do dinner and conversation, which is always a welcome change for another night in the hotel.

Posted by ghoul at 10:41 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack