Autumn 2012 update

Janice and I didn’t take any long vacations this past summer because of our move this past spring and her employer’s acquisition. We did manage to see our families in Upstate New York in July, and we went to the Marshfield Fair in August and Waltham’s fall festival in September. More recently, we enjoyed a weekend at the South Shire Inn, a nice bed and breakfast in Bennington, Vermont.

Autumn leaves
Fall foliage

Among other things, we visited the Bennington Center for the Arts, the Bennington Museum — which included art by Grandma Moses — and poet Robert Frost’s house. The art galleries, antique shops, and early fall foliage were all good, as were the pubs we tried.

On Saturday, 29 September 2012, Janice and I went into Boston for a Boston Classical Orchestra concert at Faneuil Hall. On the way, we stopped at the book shops in Harvard Square, Cambridge, and got dinner at Quincy Market.

The musical performance itself was very good, with a relatively small but tight group of mostly string instruments and a few winds but no percussion. Conductor and composer Steven Ledbetter was dynamic and friendly. The program consisted of folk dances as interpreted by Bela Bartok and Johannes Brahms, plus some concertos by Antonio Vivaldi and a sinfonia concertante possibly by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

On Sunday, 7 October 2012, Janice and I drove out to the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Mass., for “A Knight to Remember,” a dinner hosted by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. We hadn’t been to that museum in a few years, and now that I’ve been taking a historical weapons class, it was nice to see the arms and armor exhibits again.

This past weekend, Janice and I went to a quilt show in historic Lexington, Mass. While the town is a bit upscale for my tastes, it does have good restaurants and a different character from postindustrial Waltham.

I’ve still been busy with work and keeping up with various games, which have had some schedule interruptions because of difficulty getting quorum. In addition, I’ve been meaning to post reviews of the new genre television season, current comic books, and more, but they’ll have to wait. We don’t yet have any big Halloween plans.

November is looking even busier, with two genre entertainment conventions, a reunion of college friends in New York City, and Thanksgiving with my in-laws. My thoughts are with ailing relatives and friends, and I hope that the coming holidays aren’t too stressful.

Labor Day 2012 — restaurant weekend

On Saturday, 1 September 2012, I met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. and college chum Stuart C.G. and his family. Stu and his wife Zoe and their sons Sammy and Benji were in Boston for a wedding. On the way, I stopped by the Compleat Strategist and Pandemonium Books & Games. We went to Hei La Moon in Chinatown for a dim sum lunch.

After that, we took the “T” to the Museum of Science to let the boys “burn off some of their excess energy” (their own words). We headed back downtown for dinner at Oishii, the best sushi and sashimi restaurant in the area. The food, presentation, and service were all very good, if also very pricey. Janice didn’t join us because she doesn’t like seafood.

Sushi and sashimi
Sushi and sashimi at Oishii Boston

After dinner, we hiked back up to No. 9 Park on the Boston Common for dessert. Zoe took her kids back to their hotel, and Thomas and I shared several tasty cheese courses. Unfortunately, service was slow, and even with Thomas giving me a lift back to my car in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I didn’t get home until midnight.

After Janice’s usual shift at the animal shelter on Sunday morning, we went to historic Lexington, Mass., for American food at Lexx. Although most towns in New England have an ice cream parlor, I was pleased to find a few shops in Lexington that serve frozen yogurt because of my late-onset lactose intolerance. We even picked up a container at Rancatore’s to bring home.

On Labor Day 2012, Janice and I returned to Central Square, Cambridge, to meet Thomas & Kai-Yin, Stuart & Zoe, and rambunctious Sammy and Benji for an “Asian-style tapas” brunch at Moksa. Since Stuart and his family had gone to Harvard Square on Sunday, Janice and I headed to the bookshops there while Thomas, Stu, and company went to tony Back Bay.

In addition, I ran my “Vortextelecom space opera game on Sunday night, and I participated in Brian W.’s fun Fiasco scenario last night. I’ve still got some big projects coming due at work, so more role-playing updates and genre entertainment reviews will have to wait for now. Here comes autumn!

It’s a cruel, cruel summer

[Note: This is modified from posts to my gaming groups on Yahoo and Google.]

Battle in the tombs
The Necropolis

Fellow role-players, it was good to touch base with some of you last night. Since June has filled up so fast, I don’t know when and if we’ll get to playtest Dungeons & Dragons “Next” (5e), but I look forward to other upcoming games.

As you’ve all seen, on Sundays, Josh’s FATE 3e “Spelljammerspace fantasy miniseries is set to resume via Google+ and Tabletop Forge. We may skip Father’s Day, and Josh’s upcoming job change and move may affect this telecom group. We should eventually return to my “Vanished Lands” fantasy campaign.

On Mondays, Jason’s “Glassworks” face-to-face superhero scenario, using Cortex: Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, will continue at Brian’s place next Monday, 4 June 2012. It will alternate for the next few months with various short-term games, starting with Rich’s Pathfinder: Way of the Wicked evil module on June 11.

It now looks like we’ll get to Bruce’s Pathfinder adaptation of the sword-and-sorcery D20/OGL Conan sometime in July. While Brian, Josh, and I have additional ideas, we can wait. Thanks, James, for your patience regarding your D20 Call of Cthulhu and Pathfinder nautical one-shots. I’ve also been thinking about continuing the adventures of the Blackbird‘s crew in my FATE 3e “Vortex” space opera….

Saturdays in June will be just as busy, with seasonal festivals, movies (Snow White and the Huntman this coming Saturday), and potential houseguests. Note that Free RPG Day is June 16, and I hope to get to the Compleat Strategist in Boston and Pandemonium Books & Games in Cambridge for it. Depending on if we meet, that might also be a good date for a D&D5e/Next playtest.

Do you have any questions? Please remember to to stay in touch between sessions, so that we don’t eat too much into valuable role-playing time.

>>Boston-area campaigns, as of summer 2012:

>Gene D. 

-“Vortex” (space opera) using FATE 3e Starblazer Adventures/Mindjammer and Bulldogs

-“The Vanished Lands: the Uncommon Companions” (heroic fantasy) using Pathfinder, Skype, and an online dice roller 

-“The Vanished Lands: the Broken Chains” (Arabian-style fantasy) using FATE 3e Legends of Anglerre, Skype, and an online dice roller 

>Josh C. 

-“Spelljammer: the Show Must Go On” (space fantasy) using FATE 3e Legends of Anglerre, Google+ and Tabletop Forge 

>Jason E.R.

Glassworks” (street-level, Bronze Age superheroes, originally for DarkPages) using Cortex: Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

>James B.:

-D20 Call of Cthulhu (horror one-shot)

Pathfinder (nautical fantasy one-shot)

>Bruce K.: Pathfinder/D20 Conan (sword and sorcery)?

>Rich C.G.:

Way of the Wicked adventure path for Pathfinder

Arkham Horror (board game), Cthulhu Invictus (alternate history/horror)?

>Paul J. and Greg D.C.: FATE 3e Dresden Files (modern supernatural)

Relocation reflections

Eastern Massachusetts
Boston's suburbs

Yesterday, Janice and I picked up the keys to our new apartment. The previous evening, more boxes were delivered for our move, and we enjoyed a Valentine’s Day dinner at Acropolis, our favorite Greek restaurant in Needham, Mass.

As we continue packing and trying to sell excess items — with breaks for the annual Westminster dog show — here’s a quick look back at the places I’ve lived.

Childhood in New York City

1968 to 1970: Lower West Side of Manhattan

1970 to 1978: Kingsbridge Heights, the Bronx

I have hazy but fond memories of growing up in New York. The cosmopolitan mix of cultures and cuisines, including immigrants like my parents, made me who I am. I also recall the eventual spread of urban blight as pleasant parks filled with refuse and noisy gangs, especially around the summer of 1977.

Adolescence in Westchester County

1978 to 1986: Dunwoodie, Yonkers; Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains

Although my brother spent more of his formative years here than I did, I recall hours spent biking around, hanging out with other kids on Westerly Street, and discovering my lifelong hobbies with high school friends. Most of the people I knew then were of Irish, Italian, or Central European descent. My “Vanished Lands” fantasy campaign setting and “Vortex” space opera date back to this period.

College in Upstate New York, post-grad year back downstate

1986 to 1990: State University of New York at Binghamton

1990 to 1991: NYPIRG at Queens College-CUNY; Yonkers

Not only did I meet Janice and other friends during this exciting period, but my most rewarding (if least paying) job was teaching urban studies as a community organizer in Flushing. I recall walking through rain, my then-lightning metabolism helping digest dining hall fare, and late-night conversations about life, the universe, and everything.

Grad school, first adult jobs, and marriage around Washington, D.C.

1991 to 1992: Arlington, Virginia; the George Washington University

1992 to 1999: Park Towers in Falls Church, Virginia; BNA

The Clinton years were prosperous. After getting my master’s in international affairs, I spent a few years working my way up from being a file clerk to a copy editor. Our apartment was small, but we were within walking distance of restaurants, Metro rail, and comic book and game shops. Several college friends and my family also moved south.

Boston, Massachusetts

1999 to 2000: Somerville

2000 to 2003: Windsor Gardens, Norwood; CW/IDG

2003 to 2012: Bobsled Drive and Dale Street, Needham Heights

2012: Windsor Village, Waltham; TT

Janice and I first visited Boston during our honeymoon in November 1995. We liked the compact, historic neighborhoods and then-plentiful bookshops, and the information technology boom later provided both of us jobs. While I’ve gone through career and health ups and downs since then, we like living back in the U.S. Northeast, and we hope to continue exploring New England!

Swashbuckling cinema

The late Bob Anderson
Sword master Bob Anderson

Over the holidays, I caught up a bit on movies on DVD, in theaters, and on cable television. While spending Christmas with my in-laws, I saw the 1934 version of The Scarlet Pimpernel and 2011’s Cars 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean [4]: On Stranger Tides.

I’ve seen other adaptations of the Orczy stories, but the black-and-white Scarlet Pimpernel is noteworthy because of its reflection of Anglo-American concerns about dictatorship and war in Europe and as a forerunner to characters such as Zorro and Batman. Speaking of swashbuckling, fellow fans of everything from Errol Flynn’s films to Star Wars, Highlander, The Princess Bride, and The Lord of the Rings should note the passing of sword master Bob Anderson.

Cars 2 was reasonably entertaining, with nicely rendered international backgrounds (not unlike Kung-Fu Panda 2) and an espionage-flavored plot. The character development and pathos weren’t at Pixar’s usual level, but I’d still give the computer-animated flick a B+, three stars, or a 7.5 out of 10. My favorite animated movies of the past year or so include The Illusionist, Rango, and Winnie the Pooh, and I look forward to The Secret World of Arrietty, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, and Pixar’s next, Brave, in 2012.

Pirates 4 was better than its muddled predecessor At World’s End, with a more linear plot involving the Fountain of Youth, less pointless backstabbing and visual effects, and somewhat less mugging by star Johnny Depp. The romantic subplots were still extraneous but less annoying, and Penelope Cruz as pirate Angelica and Ian McShane as the notorious Blackbeard were worthy foils to Depp’s Capt. Jack Sparrow and Geoffrey Rush’s Capt. Barbossa. Not surprisingly, Disney’s On Stranger Tides leaves the door open for yet more sequels. I’d give it a B, 7 out of 10, or three stars.

I have yet to watch other recent swashbucklers, including Sinbad: the Fifth Voyage, the reboot of Conan the Barbarian, and the latest Three Musketeers. On TV, I enjoyed the latest Star Wars marathon and rewatching David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune for the umpteenth time. As David I.S. and I have noted, it’s OK for fans to turn to the visual equivalent of “comfort food” from time to time.

As previously mentioned, Janice and I also screened The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn at the Showcase Cinemas de Lux at Legacy Place in Dedham, Massachusetts, and we met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. and Beruk A. for The Artist at the Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge.

I’m somewhat familiar with the young hero of Belgian artist Herge’s comic books, and Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s adaptation is fairly faithful. I liked Tintin‘s globe-trotting, 1930s adventures (similar to those of Indiana Jones), and the “uncanny valley” of realistically animated humans didn’t bother me as it does with Zemeckis’ works, partly because they were slightly caricaturized. I’d give Secret of the Unicorn a solid B, three stars, or 7.5 out of 10.

The apparent theme of many of the movies I’ve mentioned here is that retro films, especially swashbucklers, never truly go out of style. The Artist is no exception, both following and paying homage to the tropes of the silent era. The French film is set in Hollywood of the late 1920s and early 1930s and follows the charismatic George Valentin (Jean Dujardin as an analogue for Rudoph Valentino) and young actress Peppy Miller (played by Berenice Bejo) as their industry deals with changing technology and audience tastes. Valentin’s dog steals the show. I definitely recommend The Artist, which I’d give an A-, or four out of five stars, or 8.5 out of 10.

What were your favorite movies of the past year? I didn’t get to theaters quite as often as in previous years. In addition to those mentioned above, I liked The Mighty Thor, Captain America: the First Avenger, The Muppets, and Sherlock Holmes [2]: A Game of Shadows. In the next few months, I hope to catch Hugo (another retro film that Janice saw), the remake of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and the actioner Haywire.

Looking further ahead, there’s planetary romance John Carter, superheroes Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, dueling fairy tales Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman, James Bond in Skyfall, and of course, The Hobbit [1]: An Unexpected Journey!