Because It’s Never Too Early to Start Speculating

I think we’ll see 5th edition D&D; in 2013, or 2012 if sales decline faster than expected. 5th edition will be the next iteration of 4th edition, as tightly related to it as 3.5 was to 3.0. This new edition will have no OGL or GSL.

When 6th edition rolls around (in, I dunno, 2016 or 2017), it will abandon the 4E structure entirely and go back to something closer to 1E. This will be accompanied by a huge nostalgia-based marketing campaign. Vancian magic, a PC assassin class, and half-orcs and gnomes as core races will return with great fanfare. The marketing message won’t bag on the 4E/5E era specifically, but will use the phrase “returning D&D; to its roots” so often that fans of the then current game will feel alienated. To further reinforce the message, there will be rewrites of classic modules like the GDQ series, Dragon Magazine will be relaunched in print form, and Skip Williams will return to write Sage Advice.

What happens after that? Answer hazy, try again later.

A New Lost Cause?

The polls are not looking good for John McCain. It seems Obama may be able to win states like Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, Virginia and North Carolina, all of which voted Republican four years ago. To try to offset some of these losses, McCain has adopted a quixotic seeming strategy by doubling down on Pennsylvania. If he could turn the state from blue to red, it would gain him 21 electoral votes. However, polling has him losing by double digits and there are now over a million more registered Democrats in Pennsylvania than Republicans. Nonetheless, McCain is pumping money into the state and spending a lot of time campaigning there.

It reminds me of the last time that the hope of the south rested on an invasion of Pennsylvania. It was 1863 and General Robert E. Lee led the Army of Northern Virginia* on its second invasion of the North. Lee did not want a battle until he had concentrated all his forces but was drawn into one when his troops bumped into a Union cavalry division while reportedly in search of shoes. This began a three day slugging match on terrain that was not of Lee’s choosing and before he was ready to attack. Even so, on the first day and the second day he might have pulled it out if things had gone just a little differently. On the third day the smart play was to disengage and try to maneuver the Union army out of its strong defensive positions. Confounding the expectations of enemy generals and fighting a war of movement had been keys to Lee’s success to date. That day though, his blood was up. Against the advice of General Longstreet, Lee did exactly what Union General Meade expected: launch a frontal assault up the middle. It has gone down in history as Pickett’s Charge**. 12,500 Confederates attacked the entrenched Union troops. It was a valiant but doomed charge and men in the thousands were cut down by brutal cannister shot from Union artillery and withering musket fire. The units that made the charge suffered over 50% casualties. After the attack Lee is said to have ordered Pickett to prepare his division for defense. Pickett is reputed to have replied, “General Lee, I have no division.” Pickett’s Charge is often referred to as the high water mark of the Confederacy. Lee retreated back to the South and continued to fight, but after Gettysburg there was little chance of a Confederate victory.

Lee, of course, was in a much better position in 1863 than John McCain is today. Lee spent several years running circles around his opponents and honing the Army of Nothern Virginia into a potent fighting force. He had the initiative, he had a strong right hand in the form of General Longstreet, and he had the ability to inspire his troops. McCain’s move in Pennsylvania is but the latest in a string of desperate ploys. He has only been able to react to Obama’s more agile campaign, he is being dragged down by his manifestly incompetent running mate Sarah Palin, and his poor leadership and erratic behavior have caused many former comrades in arms to abandon him.

Next week we’ll see who is victorious on the battlefields of Pennsylvania and the nation at large. There is one thing John McCain ought to keep in mind as the days tick down to November 4 though. Robert E. Lee lost the war but won a reputation for honor and decency that has only grown since his death. John McCain may somehow pull out a victory, but he’s already squandered his honor in the war of politics. When the history books are written, John McCain’s story will not be that of the honorable man who tried put his country first, but the politician who was willing to stoop to any low to win.

* Amusingly enough, according to Republicans like McCain advisor Nancy Pfotenhauer, Northern Virginia is no longer considered part of “real Virginia.”

** Though it’s more accurate to call it the Pickett-Pettigrew-Trimble Assault (Pickett being but one of three division commanders in the attack).

Real Americans

“We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hardworking, very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation.”

That gem is from Sarah Palin, the disasta from Alaska. It typifies the views of a certain slice of the right wing. According to them, people from small towns are simple, godly Americans whose folksy wisdom is better than book learnin’. They are true patriots and stalwart in their Christian faith. It always goes without saying that they are also white. City-dwellers, on the other hand, are godless sodomites, either latte-sipping intellectual effetes or suspicious immigrants with dark skin here to take the jobs of the hardworking heroes of the heartland.

The bile spewed at “coastal elites,” particularly people from New York City and San Francisco, is beyond hateful. The rhetoric is so over the top you’d think urban liberals and lefties were traitors and terrorists. And indeed we’ve seen some frothing McCain supporters yell just those things at Obama recently.

These tactics are nothing new. It’s just the Red Scare for the next generation. Something about it was really bugging me though and I’ve finally put my finger on it. These same “patriots” who have nothing but contempt for urban Americans have been using the bodies of 2603 dead New Yorkers (and 125 dead Washingtonians) as a political prop since 2001. Oh yeah, when the victims of 9/11 were alive they were traitors, but murdered they suddenly became heroes. Nice to know what it takes for us urban types to be considered real Americans.

So go ahead, call me a commie because I think the rich shouldn’t get fatter at the expense of the poor. Call me a traitor because I marched against both Gulf Wars. Call me whatever you want, but come November 4th this American will be exercising his rights and my vote has just as much weight as yours.

Future War Commander

Rick and I tried out a new minis game called Future War Commander last night. It’s the next iteration of the Blitzkrieg Commander/ Cold War Commander rules, so the basics were already familiar to us. This takes the game system into the future though, adding rules for things like giant robots, missile attacks, and teleportation deployment.

What’s interesting about Future War Commander is that designer and publisher Pete Jones worked with nearly every manufacturer of small scale scifi minis. This means not only that pictures of many ranges are showcased throughout the book, but also that there are specific army lists for those minis. He also provides lists for Games Workshop’s old Epic minis, though the unit names had to be changed for legal reasons (the Eldar are the Eldritch Caste, for example, and the Squats are the MacGregor Clan). The game supports the ranges of over a dozen companies with minis from 6mm to 28mm in size. Future War Commander is basically a godsend to Rick, who has been collecting stuff like Ground Zero Games’ 15mm grav tanks for years without using them. One cool addition from my POV is an army list based around Eagles from Space 1999. Apparently Konami did some small scale Eagle models a few years ago and they are pictured in the book. Unfortunately, a quick Google search seemed to indicate they were offered for a limited time in a semi-collectible format, so the odds of me getting enough to use at a reasonable price are slim. (That sound you just heard is Nicole’s sigh of relief.)

The downside of basing a rulebook on the existing minis ranges of other companies is that the army lists are often overlong and redundant (though the Ogrethulhu list has just five entries!). Some of these ranges are quite large and stats are provided for every different model of tank or vehicle. This is great if you have a collection already, but can be daunting if you don’t. The GZG Dirtside list is two and a half pages, for instance, and telling the difference between the many similar troop types can be pain if you aren’t familiar with the minis. I think it’d really help if these lists could be imported into the Army Builder program, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen.

So last night Rick and I did a small warm up battle to get to know the rules. This let us brush up on the basics and see how FWC differed from Blitzkrieg Commander, which we’ve played a fair bit of. Rick debuted a new 8′ x 5′ battle board he had constructed, which was very nice. I was defending a ruined down from grav tank assault. Since I had some fortified positions, he had an army twice the size of mine. I did a fair job of holding him off for a few turns, but when his string of successful command rolls was followed by me totally blowing mine I knew it was over.

Future War Commander played well, preserving the things we like about Blitzkrieg Commander while adding things like useful recon rules and opportunity fire. I found my circa 1993 Epic Eldar army in the mess that is my office and I’m going to try to get that in fighting shape for a future battle. If you dig scifi minis and have been looking for a solid ruleset, you may want to check out FWC.

Feeling Political

Remember a couple of years back when the firings of US attorneys was a big news story? This was part of the politicization of the Justice Department that put Alberto Gonzales in the spotlight. While much was made of the attorney general, considerably less ink was spilled discussing the root cause of the firings. What started it all was a favorite Republican issue: voter fraud. These attorneys were instructed to prosecute cases of voter fraud the Republican leadership was sure had occurred in 2004. The trouble was that the investigations went nowhere. The attorneys found little evidence of real voter fraud and what they could find was not worth prosecuting. Most of these attorneys were Republican appointees described as “loyal Bushies.” That did not stop 9 of them from being fired because they failed to provide the outcome the Republican leadership desired.

Now McCain is behind in the polls and again the spectre of voter fraud appears. This time an organization called ACORN, which tries to get low-income Americans to vote, is being vilified by the right. If the howlings of maddened Drudge-readers were to be believed, vicious gangs of ACORN thugs are roaming the ghettos forcing people to register to vote over and over again. And it’s all part of a huge conspiracy to defraud (great white hope) John McCain and install (black Muslim terrorist) Barack Obama as president.

As usual this is not the real story. What the Republicans are on about is voter registration fraud and it does indeed happen sometimes. However, it has little to no effect on the actual elections; bogus registrations mean nothing if no one shows up to cast the fraudulent votes. The real story is voter suppression, which is an organized attempt to prevent people from voting. This kind of chicanery has been going on for a long time and historically speaking both parties have practiced it. For the last couple of decades though it has been the shadow component of the Republican voter fraud strategy. They shout accusations of voter fraud at the Democrats while working to suppress the vote in areas likely to vote for their opponents. Urban areas full of minorities, for example.

There’s a good article on Slate on the topic here.

And there’s a good post on ACORN here.

Stuff and Things

Just haven’t found time to blog lately. Things I’ve wanted to talk about have either been too short, in which case I use Twitter, or too long, so I defer them until the mythical time when I can sit down and write a few essays. For now a smattering of stuff and things will have to do:

1) My NYC trip was quite fun. I caught up with old friends, played a lot of games, and had four days away from work and the internet. Manhattan has changed in a lot of ways, but walking around town still makes me smile. One excellent addition to the Lower East Side is authentic Japanese noodle shops. I had some outstanding ramen on Friday with my friend Chesley.

2) The Green Ronin summit is this weekend. This is an annual get-together that brings together all of our staff from various parts of the country. We talk about the previous year and plan for the coming one. Should be productive and enjoyable.

3) It’s been pretty amazing to watch John McCain so effectively destroy his own brand in just a couple of months. His reputation as an honorable politician and a maverick were mostly bullshit to begin with, the product of a media so in love with his image that they never dwelled on his record or challenged his claims. That he is now reduced to aping the tactics of Karl Rove, who destroyed McCain’s campaign in 2000, is a testimony to his desperation. I would almost feel bad for the guy if not for his tacit encouragement of the right’s lunatic fringe that may yet end in tragedy.

4) I picked up Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying core rulebook recently and have been enjoying it. It’s basically the distillation of 30 years of classic RPGs, from Runequest to Call of Cthulhu to Elric. It takes a toolkit approach, offering many options that let you customize the rules for the campaign you want to run. I wouldn’t hand this book to a newb, as it requires you to make a lot of choices when setting up a game, but it’s really nice for experienced gamers because it gives you a wealth of options in one source. I am now pondering a Basic Roleplaying Freeport Companion, but I’m not certain if there’s enough of an audience for such a book.

5) Green Ronin is doing another d20 Apocalypse Sale this month, blowing out titles before the WotC-mandated deadline makes selling d20 logo products a license violation for publishers. If you are still playing D&D; 3.X, there are many fine books to choose from for $2 to $5. You can find them at participating stores or get them online from Paizo:

Fun World

It’s been a busy week here in Seattle and there’s more to come. Last night Nicole and I caught Mission of Burma at Neumo’s. Long time readers may remember that Burma is one of my favorite bands and I never miss a chance to see them (since for many years I thought I’d never have the chance). This time they were playing the entirety of their classic Vs. album in order and it was a treat. I remember buying Vs. from Rockit Records in MA when I was 16 years old. I remember my dad coming in my room one day and asking me what they were singing on “New Nails.” I said, “The Roman Empire never died; just turned into the Catholic Church.” This seemed to amuse him. Vs. was recently reissued on CD and I may need to replace my long suffering vinyl (there’s been a skip on “Mica” since the day I got it). Last night they did it all, from “Secrets” to “That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate.” They rounded out the set with a half dozen other songs, including “This Is Not a Photograph” and the rare B-side “OK/No Way”. Considering that I was in a shit mood in the afternoon, the show was most welcome and put a smile on my face.

Tonight I’m having dinner with former Ronin Rob Schwalb, who is town for some meetings at WotC. Then I’m off to see the HorrorPops, a psychobilly band I’ve been trying to see for years now. Well, tonight it is finally happening and I’m looking forward to it. From there it’s right to the airport and then a redeye to NYC, where I’m spending the weekend. My college game group is having a reunion of sorts and we’re getting together at my friend Bill’s place to play RPGs, minis games, and boardgames for three days. I’ll probably be a wreck as a I stumble around Manhattan tomorrow, but I did it this way so I won’t waste all of Friday traveling. Nicole calls NYC my mistress and it’s time for a booty call.