8 March 2010: Art and food


Friends, I hope that you had a good weekend. Janice and I enjoyed the early spring warm spell by taking the commuter rail into Boston on Saturday, 6 March 2010. We went to the Museum of Fine Arts, specifically for the exhibits on the tomb of the Djehutynakhts, a prominent ancient Egyptian family, and Toulouse-Lautrec’s Paris.

That evening, I joined Thomas K.Y. and some of his friends for some anime and dinner at Khushboo Indian Restaurant. The food was good, but service was slow. Speaking of cuisine, on Sunday, Janice and I attended a cooking class/demonstration at Chiara Bistro in Dedham/Westwood, Massachusetts. The menu, which included leek and “sunchoke” soup, Coq au Vin, crème caramel, and coconut macaroons, was expertly prepared and introduced by Chef Steve LaCount, also the proprietor.

Janice and I had a humbler but still good early dinner at Wild Willy’s Burgers back in Needham. I missed most of the latest Academy Awards, but since I hadn’t seen many of the films nominated for Oscars, I would have been watching more for the celebrities than
their works.

Between a slightly longer commute to my employer’s modern new offices in Newton, some late-night karaoke from our next-door neighbors, and the Pathfinder: “Holy Steel” teleconferencing team and other role-playing games (I may be running the D20 “Gaslight Grimoire” steampunk/fantasy for the face-to-face group soon), I’ve fallen behind again in sleep, reading, and writing, but I’ll try to post more later this week.

4 March 2010: Doctor Who RPG review

Doctor Who and companions
Friends, I’ve taken a closer look at the new Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space role-playing game (RPG). Rising publisher Cubicle 7‘s version is a good entry point for people into the hobby, and as I noted earlier, the production values are on par with other recent reference books. The boxed set includes softcover books with numerous photos of the David Tennant incarnation, plus some card-punched counters and other handouts.

The new “Who” RPG isn’t as granular in terms of rules as its predecessors, but it does a decent job of modeling the storytelling style of the recent
television reboot
. FASA’s 1980s take worked better for Star Trek (which has its own history of adaptations), and the Time Lord game of the 1990s
caught the long-running franchise at a low point. Characters are created with the typical array of attributes, traits/flaws, and skills, resembling a
streamlined version of D20 or the point-buy system of GURPS.

The authors address the issue of anyone playing the good Gallifreyan or any Time Lord being more powerful than the typical human or alien by providing lots of alternatives and briefly discussing scale and balance with Story Points. This is similar to the problem of having Jedi in various Star Wars games or a Slayer in the “Buffy/Angel” universe. I could easily see a team with a UNIT member, a Time Agent, a few lucky (or unlucky) civilians, and no Doctor. I was pleased to see writeups of the Doctor and a few companions.

Unlike in many other RPGs, combat isn’t the point of Doctor Who, and
the face-to-face game rightly points out that fun, exploration, and team problem-solving are the primary challenges here. Although I haven’t yet played Adventures in Time and Space, I was inspired by the tone it tries to replicate.

The booklets could have used a better table of contents or index, and I
did miss some of the extensive setting and character-development material of previous editions (although, to be fair, Game Masters are pointed to the aforementioned reference books, which I have). For a $60 boxed set, this game did feel a bit incomplete, but books on aliens and organizations are coming.

Experienced gamers may want a more rules-heavy and customizable system, such as GURPS 4e Time Travel and Infinite Worlds, Temporality or Torg, or D20 Chronomancy. Thanks to my experiences with Steve M.R., Jim J.D’B., and Tim M.B. co-running GURPS 3e “Voyagers II: Adventures in the Dimensional Corps,” I know that a creative group can adapt nearly any set of characters and worlds to time/dimension-hopping!

Bottom line: If you liked the David Tennant portrayal of the Doctor, are
a casual tabletop gamer, or want to introduce people to role-playing, this is a good place to start. If you’re a hardcore “Whovian,” science-fiction gamer, or worldbuilding Game Master, you’ll probably want additional material.

I’m reposting this review to my blogs, since I’ve been writing
about other RPGs (and the “retro-clone” and “rules-light” movements) lately. I’ll also try to let you know my impressions of Starblazer Adventures soon, although it’s a hefty tome! Happy gaming, -Gene

>>Boston-area one-shots and miniseries of early 2010:

>>Already played:

-Greg D.C.: InSpectres (rules-light horror/humor scenario)
-Paul J.: D20 Mutants & Masterminds 2nd Ed.: “League of Vaguely
Interesting People — the Four” (superhero comedy)
-Brian W.: FATE 3.0: “Spirit of the Caribbean!” (swashbuckling pirates)
-Gene D.: D20 “Gaslight Grimoire” (steampunk/fantasy)
-Brian W.: Savage Worlds: Hellfrost (Nordic fantasy)

>>Coming soon:

-Greg D.C.: Dread (horror using Jenga)?
-Paul J.: Pathfinder: “Crossroads of Eternity” crossover with Gene D.’s “Vanished Lands” (fantasy)?
-Beruk A.: D20 “Rifts” (multidimensional homebrew)
-Beruk A.: Dragon Age (MMO-based fantasy)
-Brian W.: Spirit of the Century (pulp 1920s)?
-Brian W.: Dirty Secrets (G.M.-less noir storyteller)
-Brian W.: Polaris: Chivalric Tragedy at the Utmost North (“rules-lite” mythic)
-Gene D.: D20 Mutants & Masterminds 2e: “S.J.I.: Chrome City” (comic
book superheroes)
-Gene D.: “Vortex” (space opera using D20 Star Wars: Saga Edition,
Starblazer Adventures/Diaspora
, or GURPS 4e Lite/Space)

20 January 2010: The New York Times to charge for online content

Is this the march of progress, or is it the beginning of the end of good journalism?


I've been busy with TT's annual company meetings, which went very well. It was my first time as an attendee, and my panel on writing effective summaries for online articles went well. I was also impressed by the other sessions, and I ate well at the lunch and dinner, which featured four food stations including Chinese, Italian, Mexican, and vegetarian cuisines!

Also at the belated holiday party were four tables of beer pong, Wii consoles with big-screen projectors, and lots of great opportunities to catch up and socialize with current and onetime co-workers!

26 October 2009: Halloween festivities begin

22 through 24 October 2009, Janice and I helped out with a fund-raiser for the
Animal Rescue League of Boston at the Dedham Animal Shelter, where Janice
volunteers on most Sunday mornings. The Halloween-themed event focused on historical
and ghost stories about pets buried at the Pine Ridge Cemetery, including those
of the infamous Lizzy Borden.

many visitors came on Thursday night, no doubt because most children had to
attend school on Friday. On Friday, several groups went on the tour, for which
we helped light numerous candles and directed drivers to parking. Janice also
baked brownies to accompany the complimentary cider and hot chocolate, and we
came in our tricorn hats and cloaks (see above). On Saturday, rain curtailed the tours, but I think they were a
success. We also put up our Halloween decorations.

We then had lots of recorded television to catch up on, including IFC's
documentary about Monty Python, the musical episode of Batman and the Brave and the Bold, Young Green Arrow — I mean Smallville,
and SyFy's Sanctuary. I've dropped Fast Forward, Iron Man: Armored Adventures, and Stargate: Universe, and I haven't missed them.
(I had already drifted away from Dollhouse and Fox's Sunday cartoons because of time constraints.) USA's latest sleuth/caper series, White Collar, was decent light entertainment from the same folks who've brought us Monk and Psych. I'll finish my
series of second takes on the new TV season later this week.

we ran errands in Dedham and Norwood. Thanks to new restaurants and stores in
and around
Legacy Place and the Walpole Mall, there is less need for us to
fight traffic to get to Framingham/Natick, Newton and Waltham, or downtown
Boston. Of course, I have some favorite eateries and book shops in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, and elsewhere, but for regular shopping, I'm glad to avoid the
expense and time of driving 10 miles or more.

22 October 2009: Superheroes on TV

already blogged about supernatural conspiracy series, among other recent shows.
I'm still enjoying Heroes, despite
its declining ratings and sophomore slump. Many critics and fans were turned
off by the inconsistent plotting ("Who's evil this week?") and
convoluted continuity (a hazard when a few characters can travel through time).
Although the ensemble effort doesn't excite me as it initially did, I think the
scripts have improved lately.

Heroes has suffered in comparison
other shows involving large casts and supernatural conspiracies, such as Lost and Flash Forward. All require a significant suspension of disbelief,
despite being set in our world — unlike most high fantasy or space operas. As
a longtime fan of comic book superheroes, I still enjoy seeing ordinary people
gaining extraordinary abilities and trying to figure out what to do with them.

Smallville has continued chugging along, pleasing fans of the DC
with more cameos by costumed vigilantes but still teasing us by not
having young Clark Kent don Superman's tights and cape. I like the acting on
this metahuman melodrama more than the sometimes shaky writing. If I'm feeling
nostalgic or purist, at least I can turn to the Superman and Batman
of the 1940s or the Timm/Dini animated versions of the 1990s.

argued that superheroes are more easily adapted from comics to cartoons than to
live action, as the latest wave of four-color shows demonstrates. I've mostly
dropped Iron Man: Armored Adventures
and Fantastic Four to make time for
other shows, such as Wolverine and the
and Marvel's Super Hero Squad
, which has grown on me despite its lowbrow humor and low-budget

Batman and the Brave and the
much-ballyhooed musical episode is this week, following the tradition of Hercules/Xena, Buffy: the Vampire Slayer,
and Dr. Horrible (and let us hope not
Cop Rock). Speaking of Silver Age
campiness, I need to catch up on Spectacular
because I've missed a few episodes.

of the shows I've just mentioned are adaptations of Marvel superheroes, with DC
Comics sticking with direct-to-video releases for older audiences. I'm looking
forward to Justice League: Crisis on Two
Superman/Batman 2, and
switching back to Marvel for a moment, a hopefully good Avengers team TV series.

are several characters I'd like to see on television that wouldn't require lots
expensive effects. If the writing was good, I'd happily tune into a show
focusing on Green Arrow, Daredevil, or the Shadow (but don't get me started
about SyFy's upcoming bastardization of the Phantom).
Which superheroes do you like, and who would you want to see in live-action or
animated TV shows?

Coming soon: Space opera on TV