Portland Getaway

Months ago, when I agreed to head down to Oakland on the weekend of our anniversary, Nicole and I had decided we’d have a slightly delayed celebration. Originally we had hoped to spend a nice weekend in the English countryside attending our friend James’s wedding but that did not work out. On Friday we took the train down to Portland for a weekend away and our belated celebration of 5 years of marriage. Amazingly, the entire trip went like clockwork. We didn’t have any delays on buses or trains and we got everywhere we wanted to go on time and in good spirits.

We stayed at the Avalon Hotel and Spa, which Nik had gotten a good price on via a travel site. It was a few minutes outside of the hustle and bustle of downtown, which was nice. We had considered trying out the spa side of things, but it was spendy ($105 for a massage) and the 48 hours we had for fun were easily eaten up by other things. Saturday was the big day. It started at 10 am with a culinary walking tour of the Pearl District, a former industrial neighborhood rezoned for businesses and residences. Over the course of three and a half hours we visited a bakery, a tea shop, a brewery, a pizza place, a dessert café, a deli, and a shop that sells various culinary goods and gadgets. There was a tasting at each location and along the way we got to see a lot of the Pearl District. This was totally fun. The real surprise for me was Hot Lips Pizza. I was a bit nonplussed when I heard part of the itinerary was a pizza place. Perhaps my NYC bias was showing a bit. Hot Lips was a real treat though. We sampled their daily veggie pie, which had broccoli, hazelnuts, cheese, and a squash puree. It doesn’t sound too good but man, it was delicious and their thin, crispy crust was outstanding.

After the tour we took the obligatory trip to Powell’s bookstore, which was conveniently nearby. This is the biggest bookstore in the nation and a must-visit on any Portland trip. As usual I spent two hours there and barely scratched the surface. I picked up a bunch of books and then we returned to the hotel for awhile. We chilled out for the rest of the afternoon and spent some time deciding where to have our big dinner out that night. We ultimately chose Wildwood and were able to get a reservation for 8:45. At 5 we headed over to the hotel’s attached restaurant, Rivers, for some drinks and happy hour snacks. With four mini martinis for $4, how could we say no? We drank and talked while munching on some olives and local hazelnuts, tuna tartar, and French fries and steamed mussels.

Later that night we set out for Wildwood for dinner proper. As I had gotten a new suit for the wedding, we decided to dress up for the night out. The restaurant was one of the first in Portland to work with Pacific NW ingredients and create a truly seasonal menu. The food was excellent all around. I had a steak and beet salad to start, which was tremendous, and then had the grilled Muscovy duck for dinner. Duck is hit or miss, often too greasy and heavy. This preparation was excellent, very light and flavorful. It was served with a chestnut puree, turnips, and a poached pear. A cheese plate and a pot of Earl Grey finished the meal. Very nice indeed.

Sunday we bid the hotel adieu and met up with some friends of Nicole’s for brunch at Wild Abandon (thus continuing the “wild” theme). Then we went back to JD and Chris’s place, a cool period home built in 1903. JD is a high school friend of Nicole’s that she’s seen once in the past 15 years or so. He and his wife were good folks and very hospitable. JD had recently gotten a wii and it didn’t take much convincing for me to have a go with it. I don’t know that I’d want to use the “wiimote” all the time, but I will say that it creates a very different experience than your average game console. Even something as mundane at bowling was more fun than it had a right to be with that controller.

Later in the afternoon JD was kind enough to drop us off at the train station. The trip back was uneventful, even with a car crammed full of co-eds returning to Seattle’s various universities. I read one of my Powell’s purchases (The Unknown Battle: Metz 1944, a book I’ve been seeking for a long time) and we hit town around 6:30. By then it was snowing, which is a strange occurrence in Seattle. We grabbed a bus and were home by 7:30. I had visions of a snow day for today, but it was not to be. When I woke up, there was some snow on the ground but the roads were clear and dry. Ah well. Still, no complaints here, as we had a very fun weekend and suitably celebrated our anniversary at last.

Game Stuff

This fall has been a bad time for our Tuesday game night. Lots of people have had business trips, work projects on fire, or family obligations, so we’ve had more off weeks than on the last couple of months. Last night Ray and I played Up Front, since everyone else had bailed. (I really need to track a copy of that down some time, but it’s long out of print and the Multi-man edition may never see the light of day.) Now leading into the holiday season, this will probably continue the rest of the year. Maybe after New Years everyone’s schedules will calm down. Minis gaming on Thursday has continued apace for the most part though. Rick was away at GenCon SoCal but overall we’ve been good about getting together. Next week we’re going to give Blitzkrieg Commander, another WWII ruleset, a try with our 15mm figs. The rules look good so we’ll see how that goes.

At Flying Lab meanwhile, I sent around an e-mail to see if anyone would be interested in playing a tabletop RPG at lunch once a week. I’ve heard various stories about how computer industry folks look down on such games. That doesn’t seem to be the case at Flying Lab. Fully one third of the company said they wanted to play, enough for two big groups. This gave me a bit of a dilemma, as it was way more people than I could handle in one session. I’ve been considering my options and I may use my co-workers for a bit of an experiment. I’m thinking of running two groups a week, one with AD&D; 1stt edition and one with D&D; 3.5 edition. Then I’ll compare the two groups and see how the experiences stack up. Which game was easier to set up, which ran more smoothly, and ultimately which one was more fun? I figure I’ll do this for a couple of months. By then the groups will naturally have whittled down to a more manageable number I’m sure and then I’ll try a different game with a consolidated group. If that doesn’t happen, well, I’ve got a lot of modules to choose from in my game library.

Rainy Sunday

Yesterday we had a small bit of relief from the rain. Today it’s back with a vengeance. Apparently, we’ve already broken Seattle’s record for the wettest November on record and the month is barely half over. It has just been dumping here lately. I remember a few years ago there was worry of a summer drought because the reservoirs hadn’t filled up enough during the rainy season. Guess there’s no danger of that in 2007 because those things must surely be ready to burst.

I suppose it’s good that it’s crappy out because I have a bunch of GR work to do today. I need to catch up on a bunch of e-mails, review various materials, make a few phone calls, and do some writing for the Pirate’s Guide to Freeport. I also need to do some serious thinking about where the PDF market is heading and GR’s place therein. That may be a topic for a post another day.

Last night the family went out to see Casino Royale. Overall, damn good movie and the best Bond in a long time. As a fan of the film Layer Cake, I knew Daniel Craig would be great for the role and he really nailed it. For decades James Bond has been a caricature; Craig made him feel like a character. And Eva Green was the delicious French icing on the cake. Of course, if you saw Bertolucci’s the Dreamers, you knew that already.

Before I had back into the RPG salt mines, I just wanted to thank everyone for the well wishes on my new gig. I really appreciated it.

A Pirate’s Life for Me

I know I’ve been fairly quiet recently so here’s a bit of news: I recently took a job at Flying Lab Software, a computer game company in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood. I’m working as a Content Designer on Pirates of the Burning Sea, a MMOG that’s been under development for the past several years. You can learn more about the game at www.burningsea.com. If you like swashbuckling pirate action, booming broadsides, and sunken treasure (and really, who doesn’t?), you will dig this game. It goes live in June, 2007, just in time to take advantage of the hype around Pirates of the Caribbean 3.

Crossing over to the computer gaming field is something I’ve considered off and on for years, but it never seemed like the right time. When Flying Lab approached me about working there though, it all seemed to fall into place. The question for me was how would I like to make a whole lot more money and get a nice benefits package working for a small, independent company with people like John Tynes (Producer) and Jess Lebow (Content Lead) on a game about pirates? It didn’t take me long to decide that there was really only one answer.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, this is not a “screw you, game industry, I’ve leaving” maneuver. I’m still the President of Green Ronin Publishing, I’ll just be going back the old ways and doing it nights and weekends. Everyone else at GR remains in place and things are moving ahead as planned. Really, the only difference you’ll see is a little less material designed by me. I’m going to be concentrating on running the company and only doing a bit of design work, at least in the short term. At the moment that means working on the Pirate’s Guide to Freeport, which is coming out in March. After that I’ll probably start work in earnest on a Secret Project.

I started at Flying Lab about a month ago and things are going really well. It was a bit of an adjustment to start commuting and doing regular office hours again after working from home for four years, but I’ve gotten into a good rhythm and now it’s going smoothly. It’s about an hour each way by bus, which isn’t great, but it is better than commuting to Bellevue or Redmond where most computer industry jobs in Seattle are located. Flying Lab is the nerd nexus point of Queen Anne. I’m still getting to know a lot of my co-workers, but they seem like good folk and we all seem to have a lot in common. I try not to dwell on the fact I’m probably the oldest guy in my department.

So yar, it’s a pirate life for me, mateys.

Check Me Out on 2d6 Feet in a Random Direction

When I was in Oakland a few weeks ago, I was a guest on the always entertaining gaming podcast 2d6 Feet in a Random Direction. The interview was cut into two episodes, both of which are now available at www.2d6feet.com. If you’d like to hear me talk about the state of the game industry, historical roleplaying, games I’m excited about, the history of Mutants & Masterminds, what’s up with WFRP, and other topics, check it out.

Friday Night at Pike’s Place

Last night we had the first of several nights out to celebrate Nik’s impending birthday. Joined by John, Jenny, Jess, and Shelby, we went to dinner at Il Bistro, a nice Italian place right in Pike’s Place Market. I hadn’t been there before but I’d certainly go back. Other than being a bit loud, Il Bistro proved to be a nice little place. I started with a beef carpaccio (or as we call it, meat butter) and then had pear and gorgonzola ravioli as my main course. Very nice.

After dinner we walked all of 100 feet to the Can Can, which has become one of our favorite hangouts over the past year. We toasted Nik’s b-day with some bubbly and then sat back to enjoy the “I See London, I See France” variety show. We’ve seen previous incarnations of this show before but it changes depending on which performers are participating. The best new part of the show was Fuchsia FoXXX, who’s best described as a Goth belly dancer. She won me over with her first act, which she performed with an unsheathed saber balanced on her head. If she became a regular act at the Can Can, I surely would not complain. I was less enthused by Sam Squared, an emo-ish two piece that did several short sets to break up the other acts. It’s not that they were bad; they were just out of place in the cabaret. The Can Can shows tend to be campy, irreverent, and light-hearted, while Sam Squared came off as earnest and serious. Overall though, it was another fun night at the Can Can and good way to start celebrating Nik’s birthday.