As Christopher Walken Would Say, “Ouch!”

Several years ago, when I was still working at WotC, the latest copy of Dragon thumped onto my desk. I was paging through it when I saw an ad for Origins, the second biggest game con in North America. WotC was running this convention at the time. The ad showed a field of polyhedral dice and featured this tag line in big letters:

“No rest for your wrist!”

Now maybe I’m just a pervert (OK, so I’m definitely a pervert), but the first thing I thought of was NOT rolling dice. I just started laughing and showing it to my co-workers, who also busted up. I don’t know which PR genius came up with the line, but it was priceless. And ironically, the four days the attendees spent non-stop gaming was likely one of the few times of the year there was rest for their wrists.

Why do I bring this up today? Too much computer use has made my wrist sore, so I’m not going to do a big entry. Time for some rest!

If Clint Had a Potty Mouth

I had Tivo’d the first episode of the new HBO western series, Deadwood, and finally got around to watching it today. It was a little odd. This episode set up a lot of the characters and all the story stuff was fine. Lawless town, check. Hideous violence and exploitation, check. Famous wild west characters, check. What threw was the almost unbelievable amount of swearing in the dialog. Those of you who know me can vouch for the fact that I am not prude. I swear, I make jokes about fisting, etc, so it’s not like swearing itself puts me off. It just seems too over the top. I can almost see the writers at the pitch meeting: “This is the Old West like you’ve never seen it! It’s dark, it’s gritty—imagine Clint Eastwood with a potty mouth!”

The usage of the swears was very modern too. It actually made me curious. Do we know the popular cuss words of the Old West? Do we have examples of their use? Future generations will have movies to judge us from, but we have no such artifacts for the 19th century. See, if they researched what cussing on the frontier was actually like and then implemented it in the dialog, then they’d have had me. Of course, it’s no secret I like the history.

I think the second episode should record tonight, so I’m going to watch that one and see how the show unfolds. I certainly like the idea of a good, serialized western, so I hope the show pans out. Maybe I better rewrite that in a language HBO can understand.

“Tell your cocksucking scribblers to get their pens out of their asses and write some decent motherfucking stories. Those fucking whores had better be good for something or I’ll be selling their mothers for a nickel a pop until I pay off my claim. Now fuck off or I’ll be goddamned forced to satirize your limp dicks a second time.”

Game Night

Thursday night is usually game night at our place, but with Nik still sick and Bruce out of town at the GDC, we had to call it. Rick swung by though and the two of us went for dinner at the Columbia City Ale House, which is one of the few cool places to eat in our immediate area. The first time Nik and I went we dug it, but feared the place would go out of business because it never seemed to get crowded. Well, last night the joint was packed, which is pretty good for a Thursday. We like the place because it’s not pretentious, it has good food, and the employees often play decent music. Last night there was a good amount of punk and ska, for instance, and my ears really perked up when they started playing some classic stuff by the Fall. Nice.

After dinner we went back to my place and played Attika, a boardgame I’d heard quite a bit about but hadn’t played. I’ve seen several discussions about Attika, wondering if it’s going to be the next Settlers of Cataan. I don’t think so, as I don’t think it’s as easy for casual game players to pick up. Nonetheless, it’s a very good game. There are a couple of different ways to win, many strategies to choose from, and the mechanics offer you interesting choices. We played two games (Rick won the first, I the second) and afterwards I totally wanted a copy. What’s nice is that it seems to be a game that’s equally fun with 2 players or 3 or 4, which is rare. We were also able to play two games in just a couple of hours, another plus. I have three of the cool-looking Eagle games now and haven’t gotten to play any of them because I need 3 or 4 other players and at least 4 hours of free time. Makes me miss my college days, when I played games at least twice a week. Ah, nostalgia.


You can’t work all the time (says the guy who works seven days a week). In my “copious free time”, here’s how I’ve been amusing myself of late.

What I’m Reading: I took Bernard Cornwell’s novel Harlequin to read on my Vegas trip. Ended up blowing through that, then reading the sequel, Vagabond, over the weekend. Now I’ve started the final book in the trilogy, Heretic. It’s good adventure fiction, set during the Hundred Years War. The main character is an English archer, with mysterious family roots that go back to the French Cathars. His family is also bound up somehow with the Holy Grail, whose existence Thomas doubts. The formula of the books is classic Cornwell, familiar if you’ve read the Sharpe’s novels. Still, nothing wrong with that. He’s done his research, which shows, and he does a very good job of evoking the period. The books are quite cynical about religion (for example, when a priest evinces surprise that he is being hacked to death with swords, one of the characters says, “We’ll just pay another priest to absolve us!”), so I’ll be curious to see how the third book deals with the grail.

What I’m Watching: I hadn’t thought about the show in at least six months. I nearly forgot there was a new season coming on. Now that there are new Sopranos episodes airing weekly though, I’m totally digging it. About halfway through the first episode of the new season, I thought to myself, “Man, I missed this show.” The premise that Mafioso that went to prison in the 80s are now getting out of jail is great, and both Robert Loggia and Steve Buscemi have been excellent. I am looking forward to Sunday.

What I’m Listening To: I had the CD player on shuffle this afternoon, so I listened to a weird mishmash of tunes from the Newtown Neurotics, the Queers, the Dropkick Murphys, and NWA. I listened to a lot of NWA during my last year at WotC. I think I found the vivid violence of their lyrics cathartic during all the corporate bullshit. I find the misogyny of some of the lyrics to be despicable though. Is it strange that I can listen to songs about killing cops all day and that doesn’t bother me in the slightest but the women hating stuff bugs me?

The Promised Food Roundup

Had to be bit more frugal this year at GTS, so we only outright splurged on Monday night. It was basically a GR dinner, but with special guest star Jeff Mackintosh of Guardians of Order. Jeff had heard us rave about Picasso last year, so he wanted in this time around. We couldn’t get reservations for Picasso, so we tried Aqua instead. Let me just say that there are no two words I like to hear more than “tasting menu” at a fine restaurant, except perhaps “it’s free.” All four of us got the seven course tasting menu and it was excellent. Only one of the dishes (the tuna tartar) was average, the rest were superb. The langoustine ravioli in a creamy tomato sauce was a treat, and the scallop topped with foie gras was so good it practically felt like I was cheating on my wife. The entrée was a butter-poached filet mignon with lobster claw on top, served with pureed potatoes and mushrooms. I was well and truly full after this, and then they brought out a dessert course with three different items. I hadn’t had that much sugar since going on the diet but with what we were paying I was going to eat everything they put in front of me. This was definitely not every day dining, but totally worth doing once in a while.

Our other meals didn’t, of course, compare to that one, but we did all right. Hal and I grabbed lunch at Stage Deli one day, and the matzoh ball soup and hot pastrami brought back fond NYC memories. Tuesday we hit the Bellagio buffet with Jeff again, plus the always-delightful John Kovalic, one name wonder Stan!, the superheroic Steve Kenson, and Steve’s better half, Christopher. That was pretty good, but they had no smoked sturgeon this year. Boo! I made time for two lunches with friends I don’t see all that often, Jim Crocker of Modern Myths (a game and comic store in MA) and David and Mandy of New Breed (the company behind the Dark Continent RPG, though they are also now opening a retail store too). Thursday night I didn’t get dinner until 3 am due to the Dropkick Murphys show, but the $1.99 steak and eggs did me right. The week ended with a whimper when I got home. That’s right, it was frozen waffles for dinner Friday night!

This time next year I think we’ll have even more reason to celebrate and there are always more places to explore in Vegas. As Nik and I like to say, to decadence!

Back in the U.R.R.S.

Nicole and I are back from the GAMA Trade Show. By the time we got home we were both exhausted and Nicole was sick as well. I had slept badly for the whole show, then Thursday night I stayed up talking and drinking until nearly 5 am and had to get up three hours later. I fell asleep last night at 9 pm, unable to stay awake for the conclusion of the Iron Chef, and then slept in my clothes for 12 solid hours. I guess I was tired.

GTS went very well. The GAMA politics were a lot less bloody than I suspected they might be, so my fears of a pall hanging over the show were largely unfounded (though I have never seen so many people studiously ignoring each other at this show before either). Even more surprisingly, there was a punk rock show happening Thursday night, so I closed GTS by seeing the Dropkick Murphys. They played at the House of Blues in Mandalay Bay, which is a weird ass place to see a punk show. Nonetheless, they were excellent, and watching the casino patrons gawk as the punks spilled out amongst the slot machines was pretty entertaining.

Tuesday morning we co-hosted a breakfast with several other companies. They moved the event into a bigger venue this year, so while last year I talked to 400 people or so, this year it was nearly double that. While I went a bit overtime, it went off very well and several retailers told me it was the best presentation they saw at GTS, which was nice. We had lots of interest in the Red Star and Blue Rose too. The latter was somewhat surprising, since we haven’t done a great job of marketing it, but retailers were very interested in the game and that bodes well. We got a copy of the Nocturnals book flown over from China too, so we could show that off at the booth. It looks terrific and we got many compliments, which will hopefully lead to increased pre-orders.

Despite all the great feedback we got though, it was hard to escape the feeling that the industry as a whole is in a bit of a slump. The consensus seems to be that there are two major problems. First, the economy is weak, thanks to our Fearful Leader. Second, nothing has replaced Yu-Gi-Oh as the “the big thing.” Thus retailers don’t have as much discretionary income to spend on things like RPGs. If this is true, I fear what it means for the current game industry. What if there is no next new big thing? Are we institutionally reliant on the profits generated by games like Magic, Pokemon, and Yu-Gi-Oh? That doesn’t seem like a good foundation for our industry. You can’t predict hit games like that and you certainly can’t rely on them. All indications are that 2004 is going to be a lackluster year for the industry generally (though obviously there will be individual success stories) and there are certain to be casualties, especially amongst roleplaying publishers. It’s not a coincidence that Green Ronin did a card game last year and is doing some board games this year. Other companies have had the same idea. Fiery Dragon, for instance, who started as a d20 publisher, are doing some cool-looking wargames in small tins. They were nice enough to give me their Spanish Civil War game and I look forward to checking it out.

The game I’m most excited about getting is Memoir ’44 by Days of Wonder. It’s a WW2 game by Richard Borg that uses the same system as Avalon Hill’s Battle Cry, a Civil War game that came out a few years ago. Battle Cry is one of the few boardgames I’ve played extensively over the last few years and I really like its simplicity and robustness. A WW2 version sounds great to me.

I need to scrounge up some lunch now, but I’ll get the food part of the trip later. Oh, and if you aren’t a Red Star fan, don’t let the title of today’s entry confuse you. It stands for “United Republics of the Red Star.”

Food Whoring in Vegas

I’m leaving for Vegas in the morning to attend the GAMA Trade Show. You probably won’t see an update out of me until next weekend. We’ll see how much I can blow my diet in five days. I tell you, the problem with Vegas for us is that we already have a bunch of favorite places to eat, but we also like to try new ones. So we’ve had to decide which places to give a miss this year in order to expand our horizons. I think Samba and Red Square are out this year, as much as I enjoy Red Square’s steak tartar. Not sure if our traditional Osseum dinner at Nobu is going to happen either (Nobu having the distinction of serving me the Best Thing I’ve Ever Had in My Mouth; Kobe Beef topped with foie gras if you’re curious). Aqua sounds like a great place to celebrate another successful year for Green Ronin though. I’ll let you know how it stacks up to last year’s stand out meal at Picasso.

You all be good until I get back.

Non-Conformist Hamster

So Kate, my 8-year old stepdaughter, is just crazy about animals. She talks all the time about wanting to be a zookeeper when she grows up (which is ironic, as one of my ex-girlfriends from college is actually a zookeeper these days!). She’s wanted a pet for years, which I had resisted due to a combination of allergies and curmudgeonliness. As those of you who read Nik’s blog know, Kate finally got a pet a couple of months back. A hamster to be precise, which is supposed to be a relatively unobtrusive pet. Kate named him Silky.

Fittingly enough, our hamster is a non-conformist. He has this elaborate cage with a sleeping area and then a spiral slide that leads up to a wheel. Nicole is always cleaning out his cage and making him a nice little bed of tissue in the sleeping area and then leaving treats in the food dish. It’s all very orderly…and Silky is having none of it. He has decided that the best place to sleep and store food is his wheel. He stuffs his cheeks full of food and then climbs up the slide and deposits his stores in the wheel. Mere hours after making up his bed, Nicole will find that Silky has carried all the tissue up the wheel and then snuggled down to nap up there. Silky doesn’t care how the Man designed the cage. The center of his crib is the wheel.

Now generally I find this pretty amusing. Fight the power, Silky! However, last week Kate smuggled Silky to school and got caught. As part of her punishment, Silky has gone to live in our bathroom and Kate can’t play with him for two weeks. Here’s the problem: hamsters are nocturnal. Once Silky has put a bunch of seeds and crap in his wheel, it sounds like a maraca when he runs in it. Now imagine me trying to sleep when Silky starts running at 3 am. I’ve begun to wonder who is being punished now, me or Kate. Silky, he doesn’t care. He’s howling at the moon.

Subhumans and Fluffy Bunnies

GAMA Trade Show is bearing down on us and I’ve got a million things to do. Not sure I’m going to get to a review of the Subhuman’s show before I leave. Suffice to say it was very excellent and had real surprises, like the performance of the entirety of From the Cradle to the Grave, by far their longest song. Sadly, they did not play Ex-Teenage Rebel, or some of the other excellent songs from the Worlds Apart LP like Pigman and Businessman. Just too many good songs to play them all, unfortunately! Hard to complain about the likes of Subvert City, Religious Wars, and Human Error though.

While doing a lot of niggling administrative work, I’ve been mulling over what to do about a particular reviewer that has been pissing me off for months. Now usually we don’t argue with reviewers, or even reply to them at all unless they state things that are factually incorrect. This guy writes a lot of reviews and they are generally favorable for our stuff, but he has a few patented tricks that drive me nuts. Top of the list is his penchant for inventing some criteria out of thin air and then grading us down because we don’t live up to it. For example, say we put out a book about Mutant Plants. The reviewer would say, “I really wish this book had info on Fluffy Bunnies. Fluffy Bunnies and Mutant Plants would work really well together. They should have cut some of this info on Tentacled Beanstalks and included a section on Fluffy Bunnies.” It doesn’t matter that the book isn’t about Fluffy Bunnies. It doesn’t matter that we never promised Fluffy Bunnies. He has decided that the book should have had Fluffy Bunnies, so we must be graded down. Basically, he seems incapable of reviewing the book that’s actually in front of him. He’s got some idea in his mind and if we don’t live up to his imaginary standards, it’s a problem. Of course, he also has different standards for different publishers. We routinely see him give books with far bigger problems than ours (missing material, poor editing, poor design, broken mechanics, etc) the same numeric grade as books of ours that he has nitpicked to death. It’s…frustrating.

So on the one hand, I want to say something about it. On the other hand, I don’t want to look like a whiny publisher who is upset his books don’t all get perfect scores. The day I conduct myself in public like Jim Ward is the day you can shoot me. I just think that we, like everyone else, deserve a fair shake. I’d like the reviews to evaluate the book on its own terms. What did this book set out to do and how successful was it? How does in compare in terms of quality and value to other books on the market? That’s all I’m looking for.

In the end, I expect I won’t say anything. It likely wouldn’t be worth it. There are days when I have seriously considered writing an open letter to this guy though. Like, oh, today.

Punk Rock Goodness

I just got back from the Subhumans’ (the UK one, not BC one) show at Graceland. I will write a fuller report tomorrow when I’m not sweaty, tired, and listening to the ringing in my ears. Suffice to say that seeing one of my favorite bands of all time deliver a mind-numbingly awesome set on the last date of their US tour has filled me with punk rock goodness. I don’t get to shows that often but it was worth going alone, worth taking the bus, and worth risking a relapse of my flu. I only wish I had gone to last night’s show as well, as singer Dick Lucas noted that tonight they played a different set. Aarrrgggh, what did I miss? How come I didn’t get the memo saying they were doing different sets on the two nights?

Anyway, more tomrrow. If I’m feeling industrious, I may also relate the Saga of Drunk Girl.