I Guess the Artist Didn’t Get the Memo

I was reading Warren Ellis’ Crecy, which tells the story of the famed triumph of the English longbow over the chivalry of France in 1346. Early in the comic, Ellis tells us via his narrator, “We shoot or loose an arrow. We do not fire it. Firing is for cannon. Not cannons. Cannon is the plural of cannon.”

Later on there is a map of the battlefield that shows how the troops were deployed. The artillery is shown in two spots with the following label: cannons. Whoops. The map of Great Britain is pretty funny though. To the north there is “Fucking Scotland,” while to the west Wales is labeled simply “Sheep Shaggers.” Did I mention this comic is very English?

The Country Where I Quite Want to Be

Back in the dark days of the original Ronin Publishing (also known as the mid-90s), my business partner got invited to be a guest of honor at a convention in Switzerland. They offered to pay his way over and pick up his hotel. I told him he should go for it and he arranged to attend. I think many convention organizers outside the US don’t realize what a cheap date American designers are. Offer us a ticket to someplace more exotic than Columbus or Milwaukee and odds are we’ll come. Anyway, months go by and this Swiss show approaches. The night before the flight my partner has this dream in which his dead grandfather told him not to go. This freaks him out and he cancels at the last minute. I told him a free trip to Europe was probably the coolest thing he was ever going to get out of being in the game industry, but it was too late. He skipped the trip and a couple of years later he was out of the industry.

All of this is a long preamble to the fact that I’ve been invited to be a guest of honor at Ropecon in Finland and you can bet your ass I’m going. I was actually invited last year for the first time but it was on the same weekend as Recombination in Cambridge, England. This year I had no previous obligations so I was happy to accept. Nicole, being a proud Finnish-American, will be coming with me. We hope to arrive a few days early so we can see some of Helsinki and perhaps beyond. I, of course, am keenly interested in the Winter War and the Continuation War but I’ll try not to drag her to all war-related sites. Anyway, very much looking forward to it. The only downside is that it’s the weekend before GenCon. It seems likely that Nik and I will have a 15 hour flight home and then have to get on another plane the next day for GenCon. We may be quite zombiefied by the time we get there, but whatever: we’re going to Finland, baby.

I Wish I Could Remember Why I Wrote This

Jack Bain was born in Boston to a Scottish-American family. Jack’s grandfather had parlayed Civil War heroics into a successful business career, making the “Boston Bains” a respected family. Jack made his family proud with his acceptance to West Point in 1912 and bitterly disappointed them when he washed out in 1913. Jack, it seemed, was too much of an individualist to fit into the military lifestyle. He and his friend Liam Carmichael, another West Point washout, decided to head to Paris for a change of scenery. The two used their cadet uniforms to bluster their way into society parties and became well known in the pre-war social scene in Paris.

When the Great War started, the two friends at first kept out of it. They assumed the war would be over by Christmas and then the parties would start again. By early 1915 it was clear that the war was not ending. They returned to the United States, so they’d be on hand when American joined the fight. American isolationism was strong, however, and this did not come to pass. By the end of 1915 the two friends decided to return to France and fight under its colors.

They arrived early in 1916. Through their contacts, they heard about the imminent formation of an air squadron made up of American volunteers. The two applied for acceptance into what was then known as the Escadrille Américaine. Liam was accepted but Jack ran into an unexpected problem. The officer in charge of his interview was the father of a girl Jack had jilted in 1913 and he remembered Bain all too well. His application was denied. Jack convinced Liam to stay with the squadron, as flying was much more prestigious. Liam reluctantly agreed, joining the squadron that was soon known as the Lafayette Escadrille.

Jack meanwhile sought out the French Foreign Legion. If they wouldn’t let him fight in the air, he’d fight on the ground. The legion, starved for replacements, gladly accepted him. He received his baptism of fire at the Battle of the Somme and fought with the legion until the end of the war, when it assaulted the Hindenburg Line. After the war, he was sent to Africa to serve out the rest of his five year enlistment. He fought in the legion’s Moroccan campaigns and ended his time in the legion as a captain. The very traits that had made him unsuitable for the peacetime military had made Jack an outstanding combat officer.

Once he mustered out, he traveled to Cairo. He assembled a small group of ex-legionnaires and hired the group out to provide security for archeological digs. It was on one of these digs that he fell into a buried chamber and discovered the artifact known as the ankh of light. He should have turned it over to the archeological team. He should have, but for reasons he’s never been able to articulate, he didn’t. This has caused him no end of trouble.

Service Interruption!

Last week I was poking around the internet looking for ideas on places to eat in Sin City. I ran across Larry’s Las Vegas Restaurant Guide, which has reviews of many of the foodie favorites there. The reviews are generally useful but one of Larry’s quirks is that he’s a stickler for service. In many reviews he has notes like, “Service Interruption–15 minutes!” I was amused enough that I related this to Nicole on our plane ride down to Vegas. This must explain the poor service we got from several restaurants that I expected better from.

It started the morning we arrived. We had a 6 am flight on Saturday so we were at our hotel by 9:30 and our room was not ready. We decided to head over to the Venetian and have brunch at Bouchon. I had been to the Napa Valley original last year and looked forward to checking this one out. Everything went great through the beignets and then the wait began. About 20 minutes later they brought out my food but not Nicole’s. I started eating so it wouldn’t get cold and hers came maybe 10 minutes later. Pretty odd for a place of Bouchon’s caliber, though I will add that the chicken and waffles Nicole got was truly awesome. My eggs with boudin blanc was good, but not in the same league.

Sunday night Hal joined us for a trip to Seablue, one of Michael Mina’s places. The restaurant wasn’t all that busy but seemed understaffed. Our waitress was very nice when she was around, but she routinely went MIA for 15 minutes at a time. We had told her we were in no hurry (“This is our show,” we said), but that didn’t mean we intended to spend the whole night there either. When the food arrived though, it was excellent. The lobster corndogs were not as great as they sounded (the batter overwhelms the lobster a bit), but the paella was hands down the best that I’ve had anywhere. It was just stuffed with high quality seafood of all sorts, as well as quail and rabbit. So no problem with the kitchen; only the service needed help.

I must therefore give meal of the trip to Wing Lei at the Wynn. The service was excellent all around. Our waiter was attentive but not obsequious and he had ample assistance. Nicole and I had the Imperial Peking Duck tasting menu, which was five courses of heaven. It started with a whole Peking Duck brought tableside. Choice bits were carved out and rolled into delicious crepes. They then took the rest of the duck back to the kitchen and used it to create the rest of our dishes. Fantastic and no service interruptions!

You can see why I don’t gamble when I’m in Vegas. I save up my money to eat above my means, not to lose it shooting craps.

Work and Props

Somehow, a whole pile of work seems to have snuck up on me. I’ve got a new assignment at FLS, I have lots to do for GR leading into convention season, and for the first time in a while I have freeelance work as well. I’m writing and reading proposals while assigning and being assigned work. It’s good that I was able to relax for a couple of days in Vegas.

Green Ronin is participating in the Origins Awards for the first time in years and we got four nods in the semi-finals. This is a relatively new stage of the process that provides a field of 10 in each category. The retailers at GAMA Trade Show are voting on those, which will winnow it down to 5 and those are the actual nominess. I was pleased to see the Pirate’s Guide to Freeport, Hobby Games: The 100 Best, Walk the Plank, and Faery’s Tale Deluxe make the short list. I still don’t like the super condensed categories. I also really think the non-fiction category needs to be re-thought or re-named. This includes magazines, art books, and other oddball stuff. Somehow, the Grand History of the Realms (for the Forgotten Realms) is also in this category. Wacky.

I probably should skip gaming tonight but I won’t. More Combat Commander awaits.

Back from Vegas

Although GAMA Trade Show goes on for three more days, I am back from Las Vegas. Kate is mature for her age, but not so much so that we’d leave her to fend for herself all week. I had three days in Vegas. Two were spent relaxing with Nicole, who I’ve barely seen this month. Yesterday, as GTS got going, I had a couple of business meetings, helped set up the Green Ronin booth, and caught up with some friends and colleagues. I also got in on Mike Webb’s yearly GTS game of Kremlin and that was good fun, even if my best politburo stooges ended up dead or in Siberia.

I’ll post more later on what Nik and I got up to (short version: eating well). I wish I had been able to stay longer at GTS, as the industry seems to be a strange place at the moment and I’d like to have had more of a chance to catch up with folks and talk things over. We are still awaiting clarity on the whole GSL issue and I’ll be surprised if we hear anything concrete by week’s end. I can tell you that was topic #1 for most RPG publishers I talked to. Interesting times.

You’re With Us or Against Us?

More information has emerged about the new Game System License and for Green Ronin it is looking more ominous. It seems–and I’ve asked WotC to clarify–that if you want to use the GSL you must cease using the Open Game License as a company. Scott Rouse of WotC posted this on EN World (http://www.enworld.org/showpost.php?p=4173113&postcount;=99):

“It won’t surprise me if the GSL is not for everyone. If M&M;, C&C;, Conan, or other OGL stand-alones are successful enough for those publishers to sustain their business more power to them. You’ll get to buy their books in the future. If not, then they can jump on our license and take advantage of some pretty good perks including getting to use the most valuable trademark in PnP RPGs on their products and gain access to our IP/PI.”

This makes it sound like we’ll be forced to choose. We could continue to support Mutants & Masterminds and True20 Adventure Roleplaying or support 4th Edition D&D;, but not both.

It has also come out that the original d20 logo will be going away come June. Not only can you not put the logo on new products, which was expected, but it’ll apparently have to be stripped off old ones if you want to keep selling them. That’s possible with PDF products but it’ll mean you can’t sell printed products after a certain date. In the short tem this means that a lot of 3E product is likely to be dumped on the market for pennies on the dollar. That will make it harder on companies that have decided to keep supporting 3E, most notably Paizo. It also means huge swathes of backstock for many companies will be wiped out.

In short, it looks like it’s more stick than carrot. Now I will point out yet again that we haven’t seen the GSL yet, and we really must before making it a final assessment. If WotC is seriously asking me to give up the #1 superhero game on the market for a chance to support a new edition that has yet to prove itself, that’s really not much of a choice.

Last night when I couldn’t sleep I spent some time pondering what Green Ronin could bring to the table for 4E that would be fresh and cool. Tonight I’ll be thinking about something else entirely.

Ah well, I’m off to Vegas in six hours. Better finish packing and try to get some shuteye.

A Bit of News

Well, we finally got some news out of WotC yesterday about third party publishing for 4th edition D&D.; The things I most want to comment on I can’t at the moment because of a NDA. Guess I’ll have to wait until WotC itself makes more details public. What I can say is this:

Good news: There will be no $5,000 fee.

Bad News: There also won’t be any “phase 1” publishers, so in October absolutely everyone can pile into the pool at once. That’s going to be a rough month, and it’s also when we have the Song of Ice and Fire Campaign Guide scheduled. Ugh.

Good news: GR is one of a small group of companies that are getting early access to the rules.

Bad news: We still haven’t seen the new license. However, they claim we’ll see it very soon now.

So basically WotC are keeping the 4E marketplace to themselves from May to October, which makes sense from their POV. This does mean that there will be no third party material at GenCon. On the one hand this is a missed opportunity because GenCon sales are always great, but on the other hand product rushed out for GenCon likely would have been sub-par so maybe it’s for the best.

That’s all I have to say about it for the moment. When we get a chance to look at the license and the rules, we’ll be able to assess what we might want to do.

Picking the Right Weapon

I’ve noticed that some folks are now saying that I’m “anti-OGL” because of my commentary on the Open Game License. This is pretty funny when you consider that I created one of the most successful open gaming programs in the industry, M&M; Superlink, and just announced a royalty free trademark license for True20 Adventure Roleplaying as well. I think the key difference between me and some other folks is that I don’t see open gaming as a movement per se. To me the OGL is one weapon in my publisher’s arsenal. Sometimes it’s the right one and I will happily deploy it, but I don’t believe that the OGL is always the right answer for every book. Our upcoming Song of Ice and Fire RPG, for example, has a new system and will not be released under the OGL. I think such things need to be assessed on a case by case basis, and that can change over time. True20 is a case in point. In its early days I wanted more control so we could develop our publishing strategy for the game; hence a nominal fee to use our trademark. After a couple of years I decided that True20 was a mature enough game that a royalty free license now had more benefits than drawbacks. So things change.

The challenge, given the paucity of data that I’ve already discussed, is making an assessment based on more than gut feeling. I do not accept many of the Danceyisms just because they’ve been repeated endlessly. I try to use GR’s experiences as a publisher who has been using the OGL longer than anyone, and what I can gleen from other sources. It is sometimes tough though and you have to be careful lest you bring a knife to a gun fight.

Combat Commander

I’ve finally had a chance to get back to playing some Combat Commander, GMT’s boardgame of WWII infantry tactics. I played a game with Rob Heinsoo maybe a year and a half ago and liked it. (He was really tight lipped about what he was working on at WotC; in August I found out why.) I’ve wanted to give it another go ever since and lately I’ve gotten to play twice. Ray and I played the first scenario a couple of weeks ago and last Tuesday Rick and I tried one from the Paratroopers pack. I enjoyed both and am starting to get a sense for the rhythm of the game and what you can and cannot expect troops to achieve. I really like the card-based system. It allows the game to nest a lot of info on each card, but you only need to use a small section of it for any given action. It’s also a nice way to represent the fog of war, since you do not have the godlike control over your troops featured in many wargames.

I decided to drop the money to get my own copy of the first game in the series, Combat Commander: Europe, only to discover it’s currently out of print (though a reprint is on the way). The Pacific version is also coming soon, and that looks interesting. Rick and I have decided to make this our game of choice for the next month, so we can get better acquainted with the rules through weekly play. Luckily, he has both CC: Europe and CC: Mediterranean already. After that we should probably go back to minis for our next game. I haven’t pushed around enough lead in 2008 and must rectify that.