Almost There

I had fallen asleep thinking about what to do with a particular character in my Freeport setting and I guess my brain kept thinking about that while I was asleep. After I had coffee this morning and got the odd dream I had woken up to out of my head (why was I looking for pork while spies shot blowguns at me?), I got right to work on the Pirate’s Guide to Freeport. I cranked out 3,000 words, which is a good day for me these days, and finished two sections of the book. I now have only one chapter and some development work left to finish and I’ll be done. Schwalb, O’Duffy, and I made a good team on this book and I think it’s going to come out great. Next challenge: art and maps.

Tonight I feel like I have earned some Nazi killing in Call of Duty 2. Then perhaps I’ll find some time to glue and mount some minis. Kate got me some 15mm Panzer IVH’s for Xmas, which I can really use for my late war army. A couple of weeks ago when she was hunting for gift ideas for me, she came into my room one night and asked, “So Chris…do you still like tanks?” It was terribly cute.

The Owl Flies at Midnight

Christmas was quite nice this year. I was pleased that I was able to pull off an actual Xmas surprise in the form of an X-Box 360 for the family. At the beginning of the month I had set it up the purchase of a Microsoft store holiday bundle with my friend Tim. He picked up the goods and agreed to store them at his place until closer to the holiday. Through an exchange of e-mails with titles like “the Owl Flies at Midnight”, we arranged for him to drop the goods off while Nicole and Kate were off making Xmas cookies the weekend before the holiday. Mother Nature had a problem with that plan, sending the huge windstorm that knocked out our power that very weekend. Tim was stuck in Renton so the drop off had to be cancelled. With Kate out of school and Nik prepping for her visiting family, there was going to be no time that I was in the house alone leading up to Christmas.

Last Tuesday I had an idea. I’d be going out to Rick’s place on the East Side to play Blitzkrieg Commander on Thursday. I suggested that Tim, who works on MS’s Redmond campus, meet us for dinner before our game. This was accomplished and I received the goods in a shady-looking parking lot deal. While Rick and I played BK, his wife Sasha was nice enough to wrap the package. At the end of the night, Rick stopped at the back of my house, so I could secret it in the garage, and then dropped me off in front as normal. Nik and Kate were already upstairs, so no one heard anything. Success.

We had Nik’s family up from Portland over the weekend. She cooked a great dinner Saturday night and then we exchanged gifts, since they were heading back Sunday afternoon. I decided to hold the 360 back, since no one was expecting anything apart from stockings on Xmas day. Once Nik and Kate went to bed Sunday night, I did up their stockings and then snuck into the garage to recover the prize. I put it in the middle of the living room and then went to bed.

The next morning all the skulking paid off. Kate and Nik were totally surprised to find a big gift by the tree. Kate tore it open and beamed ear to ear. We spent most of Xmas day over at Ray and Christine’s place but yesterday we each had a chance to enjoy the new system. Kate is having a blast with Viva Piñata, Nik is enjoying the puzzle-type games like Bejeweled, and I am wiping out the fascist menace in Stalingrad in Call of Duty 2. Nothing expresses the spirit of Xmas more than sending Nazis to hell with sprays of submachinegun bullets. Right, Santa?

Dragon with an E

We went to see Eragon this afternoon with Nik’s family. Kate was supposed to see it last weekend as part of her birthday celebration but that had to be cancelled because of the wind storm and blackout. Eragon was the first adult book Kate read on her own so she’s been very excited to see the movie. I have not read the book, so I knew little about it. I guess I should have figured that a book about dragons with a main character whose name is dragon but with an “e” was going to be a bit suspect.

Some spoilers (sort of) follow.

I went into the film with an open mind. I mean hey, I like fantasy and the cast was decent enough. It didn’t take long for me to notice the uncanny resemblance between the plot of this movie and Star Wars. Wow, a movie where a farmboy who is more than he seems meets a wise old man who gives him training in mastering a mystical art so he can work to overthrow a tyrant because the special guardians who used to promote peace and justice were betrayed by one of their own and destroyed. And along the way the uncle who raised him is killed and he rescues a princess! It was so blatant I had a hard time taking the whole seriously.Really, it was like a movie producer showed up at my house when I was 13 and said he wanted to make a movie of my home campaign setting for D&D.; He then put a team of professionals together to make a film of my vision, except that when I was 13 my vision was a totally derivative mish mash of Tolkien, Moorcock, Howard, and Star Wars. The professionals do what they can but ultimately all their effort is undercut by a story so clichéd that only children have a hope of enjoying it.

But hey, Eragon was still better than either of the D&D; movies.

Seven Songs for Seven Suckers

Things are busy here on Xmas weekend. Over the past couple of days we’ve had three 2-legged and one 4-legged houseguest arrive, so Nik and I had to do a lot of cleaning and rearranging to get things in order. I feel a great book and game purge coming on because right now I don’t think our house can take any more stuff. And man, I’ve got a LOT of d20 books that weren’t very good in the first place and are totally outdated anyway.

Not much else to write coherently about at the moment, so I’ll leave by self-tagging on a music meme from my pal Cecil. Here are seven songs that I’m really enjoying right now.

1. The Epoxies, “Beat My Guest”
2. Mission of Burma, “Youth of America”
3. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “Stagger Lee”
4. The Tossers, “D’Ampton Worm”
5. The Dicks, “Hate the Police”
6. Go Betty Go, “I’m from LA”
7. Bad Brains, “Big Takeover”

And hell, here are three runners-up to make it an even ten.
8. Regan Youth, “Degenerated”
9. Tiger Army, “Outlaw Heart”
10. Crux, “Keep on Running”

When Public Transit Goes Wrong

I was sitting on the bus on the way home from work last night trying to ignore the press of people around me and concentrate on a book. This guy sits down next the woman in front of me and he notices that she has just bought a George Foreman Grill. He then launches into a 15 minute monolog that stuns everyone on the bus senseless. This is what it was like, though I can only give an approximation. It was too surreal to describe accurately.

“Wow, George Foreman! I haven’t seen him in a few years. Man, I love George Foreman. He was a great boxer. He was the heavyweight champion. Did you know he fought Muhammad Ali? He lost though, but Muhammad Ali was the best. He was the best boxer of all time. There’ll never been a boxer greater than him. Well, unless God were to make one but I don’t think he will. Muhammad Ali is the best. Well, he was the best. Now he has Parkinson’s disease and he can barely talk. That’s sad. He took too many blow to the head, you see? Too many heavy, heavy blows. So today he doesn’t box but back in the day he was the best. He has a daughter too. She’s a great boxer like her father. She’s knocked out like 30 opponents. Muhammad Ali though, he was the best. I’m sorry, you don’t have to get up! I’ll try to be quiet.

“It’s just that I love Muhammad Ali. God put me on this earth to preach about the greatness of Muhammad Ali.

“George Foreman, he was great too, though he got beat by Muhammad Ali. That grill there, that’s a great piece of equipment. You’re going to enjoy that for years. You may even be able to pass it on to your children like an heirloom. Well, if you have children that is. And you have to take care of it. You can’t abuse it or you won’t be able to pass it on to your children. But if you keep it clean, you’ll get years of enjoyment out of it. It’s got George Foreman’s name on it. It’s the best. “Oh man, I guess I should stop talking or they’re going to kick off the bus. But Muhammad Ali was the greatest.”

It was a looong 15 minutes.

The RPG PDF Market

Many, many people have asked my opinion on the current state of the PDF market. I decided to write things down to better organize my thoughts and figured I might as well share my conclusions.

Green Ronin’s PDF strategy has evolved over the past two years. At first we only sold at RPGNow because that was the easiest way to get up and running and the site was the market leader. At a certain point it became clear that we were making enough money from PDFs that we should start selling them direct too. We added that functionality to Green Ronin’s online store and began selling PDFs there as well. And really, I was content with that arrangement. I preferred selling from our own online store because we got 100% of revenue, but we had enough installed users at RPGNow that I didn’t want to stop selling there either. I also noticed that certain categories (notably d20 books) sold strongly at RPGNow but not as well at Throughout this period I was approached by many other PDF sales sites but declined to spread out our wares. If I could get our fans buying direct from that’s what I wanted to do.

A couple of months ago RPGNow and DriveThruRPG announced a merger into a new company called OneBookShelf. Overnight all of GR’s PDFs were on DriveThruRPG. Many changes were announced but the biggest one for RPGNow clients was that OBS was going to be taking a bigger slice of sales (either 30% or 35% depending). If this merger was meant to unify the RPG PDF market, it seems to have had the opposite effect. Companies that never had their own PDF stores opened them and several new multi-company websites are now in the planning stages. All of them are courting Green Ronin and it falls upon me to decide what to do.

I have given this a great deal of thought and essentially there are three options. We could sell only through, we could sell through our store and the OneBookShelf sites, or we could sign up with a half dozen new sites and try to cast the widest possible net. For the time being I have decided to stick with my original plan. Regardless of what is going on with OBS, I would still rather make sales direct from It thus doesn’t seem like it’s in our best interest to spread our sales out over a bunch of sites. I would rather train our fans to come to our website to shop for PDFs. I also must consider my staff. Right now my Director of E-Publishing only has to worry about uploading files and sales text to two sites when we put up a new product. If we went wide, repeating this over multiple sites would eat into his work time and impact his ability to work on other projects. Meanwhile, my General Manager would have a bunch of new accounts to deal with and would inevitably end up chasing after money from some of them. RPGNow always paid out in full and on time every month and that is (sadly) a big deal in the game industry. With new ventures launching, who is to say how payments would go?

So far OneBookShelf has continued RPGNow’s record of payment and that is one of the reasons I’ve decided to keep selling on those sites as well. Now after the merger of RPGNow and DriveThruRPG, we did see in a dip in our sales. However, we also didn’t have any major new releases in that period so I had to take that into consideration. With the release of Time of Vengeance and Agents of Freedom for Mutants & Masterminds, we’ve seen sales on both OBS sites combine to match what we typically made on RPGNow before the merger. While an actual sales bump would have been nice, maintaining our previous sales isn’t a bad outcome either.

All my analysis has ultimately led me back to where I started, so it’s business as usual for the time being. I will be monitoring sales on all sites over the next few months to see if my strategy remains the right choice. Hopefully, the PDF market will stabilize in that time period and we can all get back to running our businesses.

Fun With the Lights Out

Man, Seattle has been storm central this fall and winter. First, we had those crazy snowstorms a few weeks, which was quite out of character for the Pacific Northwest. Then Thursday and Friday it was a wild ass windstorm, the worst since 1993. Our power went out just after midnight on Thursday. I got up at my normal time Friday morning, unsure of how widespread the outages were and whether or not I should try to get to work. Getting home Thursday night had taken me over two hours as it was and I wasn’t so keen to try to make my way back to Queen Anne. It turned out that that whole area was powerless as well. Tynes called to say the office was closed and that he’d be holding an X-Box controller in his dark living room and weeping. Schools, of course, were also closed the whole family was home.

The first half of the day was actually pretty fun, excepting the lack of coffee (because we couldn’t grind the beans). While computer gamers gnashed their teeth, we just turned to the countless boardgames we have in the house. Nicole reached back to her childhood for Trionimoes, and then Kate pulled out Mag Blast. At this point we hoped the power would come on quickly. By the mid-afternoon it became clear that wasn’t going to be the case, so Nicole got a Flexcar and went out to forage and look for C batteries. We had many other kinds of batteries, but not the Cs we needed for the radio/CD player. She brought home some food but other folks had cleaned out the batteries already.

By 5 pm it was dark and cold outside and inside. Thankfully, we have a gas stove so Nik was able to make dinner and we could have hot drinks like tea and cocoa. Layered up with sweaters and shirts, it wasn’t so bad. After dinner I busted out Betrayal at the House in the Hill, a latter day Avalon Hill game. I figured a game about exploring a dark and spooky house would be fun to play by candlelight. It didn’t kill as much time as I had hoped because when the haunt was revealed, it so happened that Nicole was one move from fulfilling all the victory conditions. Still, a fun game.

Nicole and Kate fell asleep early. I stayed up until about midnight, reading The Unknown Battle: Metz 1944 by flashlight. I woke up at 7 and found the power still out. Boo. Nicole had gotten some ground coffee when she was out, so I made some and read until the girls got up. To this point we had been keep the refrigerator closed in the hopes of keeping in the cool and saving our perishables. With the power company saying it could be up to three days until all outages were repaired, we figured we better start using it. Nicole took chicken bones out of the freezer and starter making a big pot of soup. I started prepping to make breakfast.

At this point the phone rang. I figured it was friends calling to see if we were OK, but no. It was a guy calling us from a game store on his cell phone. He was shopping and wanted to ask some questions about Green Ronin’s line of d20 books. I ended up spending 15 minutes explaining our various lines and books. I guess I could have told him that it was 9:45 on a Saturday and we were without power, but the customer comes first, right? He must have been in a very well stocked store, as he asked me about a lot of our titles and books as old as Book of the Righteous.

Once I was off the phone, I returned to making breakfast. I made cheddar cheese eggs, bacon, and soy sausage. The latter was overkill but I figured better to cook it than throw it away. As I was frying up the bacon and the soy sausage in the same pan, I realized that was taking Home Simpson’s advice to “bacon up that sausage.” Hot food and coffee hit the spot.

After breakfast I began to make plans to take my laptop downtown. I really need to work on the Pirate’s Guide to Freeport this weekend and I couldn’t lose the whole day. As our water is also gas-heated, I was able to shower and man did that feel good. Just as I was starting to pack up my stuff, the phone rang again. It was Jess, asking about Kate’s birthday party. As he was telling about his nightmare trip back from LA last night, the house filled with beeps, screeches, and whirring. The power was back, baby! The house had been blacked out for 34 hours.

Now I can stay home and work instead of fighting crowds. Our cable is out, so internet is dial-in only for the time being. But whatever, we’ve got power, heat, music, and Tivo. The weekend just got a whole lot better.

Road to Ruin

Here’s my internal thought process at the record store the other day.

“Hey, it’s “Red Roses for Me” by the Pogues. Man, that’s a great album. Since I have the vinyl though, it’s probably not worth getting on CD. This sticker says it’s re-mastered though and the production was a bit flat. Still, probably not worth it. Oh wait, there are six bonus tracks. Let’s look at those. Hmmm, one Irish standard and a shorter version of “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” from “Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash.” That’s still four songs I haven’t heard before. I dunno, there are so many newer records I could get instead. What’s that? It’s on sale for $8.99? Damn you Shane McGowan, you go straight to hell!”

So yeah, I got the CD and it was totally worth it.

Blitzkrieg Commander

Last week I had a chance to try the miniatures game Blitzkrieg Commander and I really enjoyed it. The game is basically a WWII variant of the GW’s Warmaster rules, though it’s published by an independent company (Wargames Directory). It has a dedicated website,, where you can learn more about it, read reviews, and download support material.

The heart of the game, as with its parent, is the command system. This clever set of rules is designed to reflect the fog of war and the difficulty of command and control. A problem that endless miniatures and board games have had is that players have a god-like view of the battlefield and complete control over the units under their command. The reality of battle is, of course, quite different. Blitzkrieg Commander simulates this with the use of command units. Only they can issue orders to other units and this is the primary way that units activate. Each command unit has a command value (typically 7-10). To successfully give an order, that number or less must be rolled on 2d6. A single command unit can issue multiple orders in a turn, and even multiple orders to the same unit, but no more orders can be given once a roll is failed. Command units can give orders to as many or as few units as they want, but there are various modifiers to keep this from getting to wacky (there are penalties to command units that are far away, for example). The upshot of all this is that you cannot be certain that you’ll be able to activate every unit in your army. You may blow your first command roll and have a whole section of the battlefield freeze up. What prevents this from getting out of hand is the initiative system. Basically, if there’s a visible enemy within 20 cm of a unit, it doesn’t need orders to attack or evade. That represents the local leaders on the spot using their own initiative to counteract an obvious threat. The interplay between the command and initiative systems creates a dynamic play experience quite different than that of most miniatures games. You no longer know exactly how many turns it’ll take those enemy tanks to close with you. It could be three or it could be one with lucky command rolls.

Physically, the rulebook is well presented. It’s printed in color and uses photos of painted miniatures on well-rendered terrain to illustrate rules throughout. Since the army lists can be covered in one or two pages, the book includes info on all the major and many of the minor nations from 1936-1945, broken up by theater of war and time period. This means you can do anything from the Spanish Civil War to the surrender of Japan. A new version of the game, Cold War Commander, has just been released that covers 1946-1990. Both games can be used with minis from 6 mm to 20mm, making it quite easy to use what you’ve already invested in for other games.

I’ll be playing again tomorrow, so we’ll see if any of the little things I noticed on the first game turn out to be real problems (mortars, for example, seemed a little too effective against tanks). Overall though I found the game to be easy to play, tactically interesting, and fun. The fact that Rick and I can use Blitzkrieg Commander to do Pacific Theater battles now when Flames of War is going to doing Europe exclusively for the next 4-5 years is also a plus.

Now That’d Be a MMO

I was sitting around at lunchtime today discussing the news of the Firefly MMO. Reactions were decidedly mixed, my own opinion being that the things that make the show good — the characters and dialog — are very difficult to replicate in a game and instead you are left with exploring what is a rather shallow setting (seriously, I could come up with a better realized setting in less than a week). The discussion drifted to what sorts of properties are well-suited for MMO adaptation. People were suggesting various TV shows and movies when I suddenly realized what scifi property would make a killer MMO: Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld novels. Think about these plusses:

* You have every character that ever lived in history to use in the game. You can have plots that revolve around Attila the Hun, Richard Nixon, Julius Caesar, Jeffrey Dahmer, Che Guevara — you name it. Obviously you’d need to keep certain people as NPCs only, both for story purposes and to prevent guys running around pretending they are Hitler.

* Respawning is built into the setting. In the books, if you die you are reborn and we know from the character of Sir Richard Francis Burton that this can be done hundreds and hundreds of times.

* The building of an economy is again built into the setting. In the books people organize to start mining, building, and manufacturing. This would allow the players in the MMO to literally build their economy from scratch.

* With all of human history to play with, you can have nearly unlimited customization of clothing and costume. This allows characters to be highly individualized.

* If the game starts the day of rebirth, that gives you a great launch event that’ll encourage people to sign up early. Imagine 100,000+ people all starting to play at the same time.

Now the downside is that Riverworld is no Lord of the Rings as far as popularity and gamer-on-the-street awareness, but I think that could be overcome with the right marketing plan. The property is probably too obscure for any MMO company to consider it, but it could be quite cool if handled correctly.