Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that my posts have been less frequent in the past year. In lieu of my usual holiday “snailmail” letter, here’s an update.
Late 2014 turned out to be difficult. Janice and I traveled to Pennsylvania and New York City to visit an ailing uncle of hers and our college friend Steve A.L., respectively. Both of them died, so we drove back down to their funerals.
Mike H., the manager of the Compleat Strategist in Boston, also died, joining Robert A.S. and other role-playing friends whom we lost in the past few years.
After the usual holiday travel to see our families in Upstate New York and Virginia, Janice and I got sick in early January 2015, followed by a very snowy winter in the U.S. Northeast.
I then changed jobs in March 2015 (Janice had changed technical writer positions in September 2014). This has been the main thing keeping me from blogging.
After about six years as an editor managing a TT site about Windows enterprise desktops, I began working at EH/RBR as a writer covering robots. My former colleagues gave me a very nice going-away party, and a few have stayed in touch, joining former co-workers from BNA and IDG/CW.
In the coming months, I may also get to travel to Canada, Denmark, and Lithuania for work. While I don’t particularly enjoy spending time in airports or cramped airplane seats, any chance to see the world, meet new people, and eat new food is a good one!
We recently spent Christmas at my brother and his family’s new house in Northern Virginia, and we met some friends in Westchester, N.Y., on the way home. Some of us have started planning reunion gatherings to celebrate the 30 years since we graduated from high school and began college.
Fellow Game Master Jason E.R.’s “Star Wars: Dark Times” scenario (using Savage Worlds) just ended its latest chapter, and we’re about to start Bruce K.’s D&D5e “Kings and Pawns” space opera miniseries. The latest “episodes” of my D20/FATE “Star Trek: Restoration” game also went well.
Friends, I’m sorry to report the passing of Steven A.L. early this morning after a long illness. He was a good friend since we met at SUNY-Binghamton in the late 1980s. Steve was a committed political idealist, a fine teacher, and a great husband and father. He was 48.
I met Steve through student organizations as a freshman, and I soon joined him and the rest of the “Bellevue-Camelot” crew in many misadventures, both inside and outside our tabletop role-playing games. Those circles included our later wives Janice and Michele.
That cohort has many fond memories of Steve’s Halfling Thief “Branador the Bold,” Half-Elf Ranger “Mouse/Ereval” (who later became king of the Waletku kingdom in the “Vanished Lands”), and more.
Steve was also an avid cyclist, musician, world traveler, raconteur, sports fan, and all-around good guy. As others have noted, he was the most virtuous of all of us. He and Michele adopted a son Nathaniel, who is now 15. Our thoughts are with Michele and Nate.
Janice and I were fortunate to join our college friends in Brooklyn to see Steve one last time together two weeks ago. We watched the Monty Python final reunion DVD, and we expect to come together again for the funeral. I’ll pass along information on where you can send condolences once I hear more from Corbin.
Steve joins my high school Game Masters Bill B. and Ray C. and Boston-area alumnus Rob A.S. at that table in the sky. He will be missed.
I’ll write more about other recent cons soon, but back to Providence. Janice and I tried to get to the convention center early, and we had to wait outside for two hours in various lines before we finally got on the right one for our wristbands and admission. As with last year’s Boston Comic Con, it might have been easier to get in without advance tickets.
At least it was raining only lightly rather than snowing as in Massachusetts, and the cold I’ve been fighting was manageable. I felt particularly bad for the underdressed cosplayers shivering farther back in line. Extra layers or overcoats never hurt, at least until we get inside (Janice and I ran ours back to my car once we got in).
All of the events I’ve attended in the past few years have struggled with growing attendance. While I’m glad to see a new, more diverse generation of fans sharing some of my interests, organizers and venues have yet to catch up. Vendors can’t sell things if people can’t get to their tables or booths, and fans excited to meet artists or actors come away with negative feelings about communal experiences.
According to people I talked with, the Rhode Island Convention Center can hold up to about 10,000 people at a time, and the RICC had to turn people away by Saturday afternoon after 20,000 showed up. If a total of 17,000 people attended last year, it was a mistake to plan for 50,000 over the course of this weekend. Understandably, many people were very unhappy, but I hope that everyone can learn better logistics for the sake of safety and fun.
What should organizers do? I recommend planning for more frequent events, finding larger venues if possible, and making the events more specific — just pop-culture celebrities or graphic artists, for example. If nearly every state in the U.S. has a Renaissance festival or two, some of the pressure could be relieved with more numerous, local shows.
At last year’s RICC, I got to hang out with both Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon — Gil Gerard and Sam Jones! This year, Farscape‘s Gigi Edgley complimented Janice’s and my “positive energy,” and “Whedonverse” (and Agents of SHIELD) alumnus J. August Richards was much more pleasant than his tortured characters. I’m friends with Jacqui B., who runs his and others’ Web sites.
We browsed the vendor area and walked through Artist’s Alley, which included luminaries such as Neal Adams, Jim Steranko, and Bob Eggleton. I bought sketchbooks from Michael Dooney and Chrissie Zullo. As collectible card games and video games have displaced tabletop role-playing games, anime seems to be more popular among many younger consumers and cosplayers than traditional superhero comics.
After a quick lunch at Charley’s Grilled Subs, Janice and I attended Vic Mignogna’s panel on “Star Trek Continues,” fan-made movies set right after the original TV series with professional-grade production values and actors. Janice and I then watched his latest episode, “Fairest of Them All,” which returned to the popular alternate universe of “Mirror, Mirror.”
The acting was solid, with Mignogna as Capt. James T. Kirk, Mythbusters‘ Grant Imahara as Lt. Hikaru Sulu, and Chris Doohan a dead ringer for his late father James as chief engineer Scotty. Asia De Marcos is also a strong reflection (sorry, couldn’t help it) of BarBara Luna as Marlena Moreau, the “captain’s woman.” Michael Dorn provided the computer voice for the alternate universe’sEnterprise.
For any fan of classic Trek, this is more true to Gene Roddenberry’s idealistic space opera than many of its subsequent spin-offs and certainly more so than J.J. Abrams’ reboot. We missed Shatner’s panel, but we did catch a brief one with Nichols and Koenig in which they reminisced as the franchise approaches its 50th anniversary.
I picked up free fantasy supplements for Castles & Crusades, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and Pathfinder, as well as quickstarters for the superhero Valiant Universe and cyberpunk/fantasy Shadowrun. Clearly, I’m still in a retro-clone, old-school Renaissance (OSR) frame of mind.
As you may have seen by now, I ran four games in one week! After the latest Creation Star Trek conventionin Boston (more on that later), I ran my usual “Vanished Lands: A New Dawn” telecom team on Sunday, June 22. The Player Characters encountered monsters while scouting an army approaching the city of Sogewa.
On Monday, June 23, the “Vanished Lands: Vistel’s Expedition” face-to-face group continued its adventures. That adventuring party has traveled through time to free some slaves.
Byron V.O., an alumnus of the Boston-area groups who now lives in St. Louis and participates in “A New Dawn” via Skype, stayed with Janice and me after a business trip back east. On Friday, June 27, I ran an extra “Vistel’s Expedition” session, and Byron and I were pleased at the strong turnout.
On Saturday, June 28, I ran “Star Trek: Restoration,” and it was nice to host a smaller group for the first time since moving from Needham to Waltham, Mass. The crew of the U.S.S. Rotha was involved in a tense standoff with Romulan warbirds!
After that afternoon session, we met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. and Josh C. for a solid Italian dinner at Fiorella’s in Newton. Byron, who is always a good houseguest and fun gaming companion, left on Sunday, June 29.
On Monday, June 30, Josh ran a one-shot of Tianxia: Blood, Silk & Jade, using FATE Core (reminding me of what I like and what I’d tweak). That wuxia (Asian-style fantasy) scenario was among the one-shots and miniseries my groups have tried out each summer in between longer campaigns.
Pregenerated P.C.s for “Hammer, Don’t Touch This!” — Josh C.’s Tianxia one-shot at Brian W.’s home in Newton, Mass.:
“Ma Wei Sheng” [Gene D.]-male eastern human, wandering nobleman, taciturn warrior determined to get out from his family’s shadow and make a name for himself
“Smiling Ox” [Beruk A.]-male human, master of the Demon Hammer, boastful brute with large appetites and a heart of gold
“Sister Chuntao” [Brian W.]-female human, Bodhist nun and former thief, conscious of checkered past and seeking harmony, with monkey Sun
“Jasmina” [Sara F.]-female tiger, talking animal with scars and a strong sense of justice
“Han ‘Dragon Dog’ Ping” [Bruce K.]-male human, enthusiastic young adventurer and working-class hero
“Yee Wong” [Rich C.G.]-male human, old Daoist wizard, immortal but absent-minded and irascible alchemist
“Wolf-Eyed Yue” [Brian S.]-female human, wild woman and member of the secret White Widow sect devoted to helping women defend themselves
The Boston-area and telecom games took a break around the Independence Day weekend, during which Janice and I hosted one of our nieces. During the latest “JasonCon” on Monday, July 7, JasonE.R. (whose “Glassworks: the Devil’s Den” superhero scenario using Icons: Great Power recently ended) graciously hosted Rich’s School Daze, a narrative, rules-light game typically focusing on high school archetypes.
P.C.s for Rich C.G.’s third School Daze session, held in Reading, Mass.:
“Emo Wallach” [Gene D.]-male human goth, junior at Trowbridge High School specializing in art and comfortable in dank spaces; discovered a dead dog and classmate during a stormy night at Camp Crystal Lake; later a friend of “Reasonable Squid” reporter Cynthia Hoskins
“Chuck Taylor” [Jason E.R.]-male human jock, Trowbridge senior and friend of “Fighting Krakens” water polo Coach Bronkowski and his bullying son Murphy, helped defeat a homicidal alien with surprise tire-iron attacks; after a change of heart, became a nerd defender
“Brandon Shaw” [Bruce K.]-male human, shop yank and Trowbridge junior, prone to bad humor; fancies himself a ladies’ man and good with an axe in a scrap
“Alan Morris” [Brian S.]-male human Trowbridge senior and budding filmmaker; friend of Henry Lee Jackson, an old hermit with a hook hand; recorded attack by assistant camp leader “Ms. Bellum,” who was actually a mantis-like alien; dating Chuck’s younger sister Tracy
“Feskilado ‘Fesky’ Mepeselph” [Erik R.]-male human Trowbridge senior, science and clank/electronics expert; snuck pet dogs and cat into camp; later found beheaded, and cat Severus was revealed as an alien guardian
I expect “A New Dawn” to resume this coming Sunday, July 13, and Bruce K. will begin his “Eberron/Pathfinder: Reign of Winter” miniseries next Monday. So many games, so little time!
In related news, the Dungeons & Dragons (5e/”Next”) Basic Rules have been released. While there are no earth-shattering revelations, especially after a lengthy playtest period, I’m pleased that Wizards of the Coast released this as a free PDF.
As I’ve noted elsewhere, this looks closer to what I would have preferred for D&D4e, with a mix of AD&D2 style and D&D3.5/D20/4e rules. We’ll still have to wait and see whether D&D5ewill tempt role-players away from Pathfinder, OSR, and various indie systems.
Fellow role-players, here are my notes for “Vanished Lands” Session 39.43, which Rich C.G. hosted in Waltham, Mass., on Friday, 27 June 2014:
In one ancient world, there was a region where strange majicks and demihuman races thrived. The “Vanished Lands” were blessed by the gods and cursed by prophecy. Travelers became adventurers, and adventurers strove to be heroes in the face of many perils and wonders.
Various groups of mercenaries and diplomats have fought humanoids in the northwestern borderlands, encountered pirates on the Sea of Nagendwa, and wandered the hostile Halmed Desert and the wide Plains of Sathendo….
“Giacomo ‘the Mysterious’ Du Vane” [Beruk A.]-male Hifalendorin human Mage (Gypsy Wizard) and stage seer, embittered by experiences in Hesolin’s Magisterium; with homunculus familiar Gerald; NGc, Lvl. 9
“Hamfast Hammerfist” [Brian W.]-male Zeda (proto-Germanic) human Fighter, mountaineer, “barbarian” strongman, and laborer; TNg, Lvl. 9
“Scully Strongbow” [Sara F.]-female albino Gnoll (Flind) Ranger, archer, knife thrower, and scout, with owl “Owlicious”; NGl, Lvl. 9
“Tempestade” [Josh C.]-male Barbari human Monk (Battledancer/capoeirista from outside the “Vanished Lands”), former roustabout, now a follower of Otih; CGl, Lvl. 9
“Corwin Windsong” [Bruce K.]-male Half-Elf Bard, runaway aristocrat, ladies’ man, and former ringmaster with a mandolin; CNg, Lvl. 9
“Elsa Fairbottom” [Rich C.G.]-female Hill Dwarf Druid outcast, cook/brewer, and animal handler with Banuq (winged cat) Penryn; NGc, Lvl. 9
(See previous notes for Paladins “Radius” [Jason E.R.] and “Sir Torrel” [Alex W.].)
“14 to 15 March 1884 A.D./C.E.:” The would-be heroes rested in the chambers of a vampire and a banshee beneath Gisar’s ruined Magisterium (magic school/library). They fought cultists of Krakas, a spectre, and a gargoyle. The group also encountered four golems, a gelatinous cube, and Draconian priests of Tiamat before activating an obelisk and traveling to Tempestade’s time….
Giacomo checks to make sure that he is in control rather than his cursed tattoo of the “Mad Mage” Ezra. Scully notices that someone other than Gregor Kratakis, a fellow member of the Order of the Golden Lion, has traveled with “Vistel’s Expedition.”
The man falls into the Brazilian jungle and defensively casts Darkness and Detect Curse before talking. “Melchior” [guest Byron V.O.] has been summoned from Thadenis, capital of the (proto-Celtic) human kingdom of Saganim. Corwin explains the situation to his countryman.
Tempestade climbs a tree to get his bearings and recognizes the trading post of Rio de Cidade. Elsa Wild Shapes into a toucan, while Rhys verifies that his clockwork devices still work. Back in barbaric Gisar, Hamfast continuescarousing.
“Vistel’s Expedition” debates on how to rescue slaves from Tempestade’s former plantation and get them back to the “Vanished Lands.” Capoeirista Tempestade recommends talking to people in the village before going to Pais Doce.
Cleric Melchior, who has traveled through time before, warns Wizard Giacomo and Bard Corwin that their arcane spells may not work reliably. Ranger Scully and Druid Elsa sense their patron Mekkil (Gaia), but not as strongly as they expect.
Tinker Gnome Rhys, however, is excited at the prospect of encountering more technology. Hifalendorin human Giacomo Polymorphs his homunculus familiar Gerald into a monkey. Gnoll Scully dons a Hat of Disguise to appear as an attractive woman, since Tempestade says most of the locals are human.
Saganim human Melchior notes that the team should have a plan and that it would be better to bring the escapees somewhere other than vampire-ruled Gisar. Half-Elf Corwin wants to spend as little time in the future as possible.
Scully suggests entering Rio de Cidade as “Vistel’s Circus,” since most of the group has experience as performers. Hill Dwarf Elsa, whose winged cat Penryn is back in Gisar with Hamfast, agrees. Tempestade leads the way toward the river port.
Giacomo casts Comprehend Languages, and Corwin casts Know the Words. Melchior uses a scroll of Tongues to speak Portuguese. They buy clothing to blend in. Tempestade, Scully, and Corwin go to the local church, where they talk with Padre Franco, a Jesuit sympathetic to the peasants’ plight.
The Roman Catholic priest says that Armadeiras Fonseca, the leader of Tempestade’s mocambo (rebel band), recently visited Rio de Cidade for supplies. Taciturn Tempestade is glad to learn that his onetime allies are still alive, because he remembers them being slaughtered as he was sent thousands of years back in time to find help.
Meanwhile, the rest of the company goes to the town hall. On the way, wary Giacomo and burly Scully restrain curious Rhys from running to a steamboat at the docks. They promise to let him look at it later. Foppishly disguised Melchior and intrepid Elsa Detect Undead and ask a clerk about maps and records.
They see Lord Yves d’Agneau, owner of the Pais Doce estate, giving orders to servant Brizida Magalhaes. After some introductions, Lord d’Agneau insists that the carnival folk come for dinner and stay the night before arranging a performance for his restive slaves. Giacomo proffers a lace handkerchief gift (so he can magically track the man later).
Nimble Tempestade runs out into the jungle to find Armadeiras, followed by Scully, who Wild Shapes into a falcon, and her owl “Owlicious.” Prince Corwin rejoins the others with a planned rendezvous at the church.
But first, they follow a red-headed man matching Tempestade’s description of the nature spirit who sent him through time. The short sorcerer boards the steamboat, much to Rhys’ delight.
Rogerio Ribeiro says he knows why they have come and proves his power by emptying the cargo hold of sugarcane and lumber with the snap of his fingers. He and Lord d’Agneau have already been in the state of Mina Gerais for centuries and are longtime trading partners.
Still, Corwin and Elsa ask for help evacuating about 100 slaves, and the imp says he can take them “upriver,” meaning back to their home time, if not necessarily back to Gisar.
In return, Ribeiro wants them to take a message — “I sacrifice a rook” — back to the Pit Fiend they encounteredin the Zarendo Islands. Giacomo and Melchior are reluctant to make such a deal, but they agree that securing the slaves’ freedom is a top priority. Rhys is just happy to examine the boat’s steam engine.
Tempestade and Scully find Armadeiras at a mocambo camp deep in the Amazon rain forest. They warn him that a planned rebellion is doomed without their help. Armadeiras agrees to accompany them back to the village and to tell his forces to wait.
The voyagers regroup at the church before going to Pais Doce for dinner. Giacomo once again presents himself as “the Mysterious,” and Melchior casts Heroes’ Feast to refresh his friends. Scully poses as a “warrior princess” circus act, and Tempestade gets help dressing as a Suthern/Arabian prince.
Corwin regains lost spells through Restoration and wears a white linen suit, while Elsa remains in bird form and perches on his shoulder. Rhys studies the steamboat, which he learns can turn into an airship!
The adventuring party goes to Tempestade’s former plantation, passing guards in mechanized walkers. Lord d’Agneau is a gracious host, offering many delicacies and suspicious red beverages. Giacomo covertly casts Detect Magic and finds wards above the windows and doors.
Melchior senses Undead and declines the wine. Scully smells blood, and Tempestade silently swears vengeance against his former master. Corwin recognizes servant Brizida, and Elsa nudges him to keep the conversation light by talking about art.
Diminuitive Rhys jumps onto the table to eat, and he later excuses himself to find out how the servants are bringing food so quickly from the distant kitchen. The Tinker Gnome finds a wheeled robot with metal arms and a hotplate, and he quickly stuffs it into his Bag of Holding. Pleased with himself, Rhys returns to dinner.
After the meal, Melchior and Corwin create a diversion by offering to entertain Lord d’Agneau and his household. Melchior plays his mandolin “Jolene” and casts Charm and Obscuring Mist.
Scully follows Brizida to a lavatory, where the woman draws daggers from her corset! Giacomo, Elsa, and Rhys go to aid Scully, while Tempestade prepares to fight in the foggy hall. Lord d’Agneau reveals his true form, with no hair, sharp teeth and claws, and a long, tentacle-like tongue.
Melchior cast Web, slowing the slave owner. In return, Lord d’Agneau tries to drain his memories but can’t because of the Cleric’s ring of Mind Shield. Corwin’s Symbol of Death has no effect on the Outsider. Tempestade lights the drapes with a candle.
Brizida slashes at Scully, who draws her sword in close quarters. Elsa casts Silence and heads back to the lounge, while Rhys shoots his repeating crossbow. Giacomo smacks the would-be assassin with his staff.
In the misty main hall, Melchior casts Sound Lance and Shadow Bolt, and Lord d’Agneau summons two vampires. Corwin casts Storm Bolts and Ice Storm, and quick-thinking Tempestade throws the burning curtains on d’Agneau. Elsa joins that battle by Wild Shaping into a dire bear.
Brizida cuts Scully with a poisoned dagger, but the Ranger and Rhys hit her as well. Giacomo finishes her, and Rhys goes to prepare the steamboat for passengers.
The vampires claw at Melchior and Corwin, who casts Magic Missiles. Melchior calls upon Ulandt, lady of the night, and Channels Positive Energy. Violet light heals his allies and harms the Undead.
Similarly, Elsa invokes Mekkil, goddess of nature, for a green glow. Tempestade calls upon Otih, lord of the sun and justice (similar to the Christ), for a yellow burst, which destroys Lord d’Agneau. Corwin finishes off the vampires, and Melchior casts Consecrate.
Elsa recommends that Tempestade hold off on burning down the manor house until all the slaves have left, and Melchior and Corwin search the area. They find the following items:
Deck of Illusions (claimed by Melchior, who gave masterwork mandolin “Jolene” to Corwin)
Ring of Resistance (+ 2; claimed by Elsa)
Ring of Water Walking (claimed by Tempestade)
Vial of poison (from Brizida; claimed by Scully)
Tempestade readies to rally the slaves to escape from Pais Doce, as Giacomo readies his Robe of Blending to impersonate the late Lord d’Agneau and delay raising an alarm….
I hope that everyone enjoyed our extra games and Byron’s visit! I’ll try to post my notes for our second “Star Trek: Restoration” session later this week.
Congrats again to Drew on your wedding, and good luck to Thomas & Kai-Yin and Sara & Josh with your upcoming nuptials! Our thoughts are also with ailing Stuart in New York. I look forward to seeing most of you at our next one-shot.