Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year in review - Allan

Alana suggested that we blog a "year in review". I have a sneaking suspicion that she this is just a way for her to coerce me into "writing content", but so be it. I labeled this post with my name in the hope that Alana ends up posting, too.

It's been an interesting year. I wouldn't say it was a great year, but it certainly was an interesting one.

The highlight was the publication of my book, This Favored Land. It was such a treat seeing something I'd written all laid out, and with cool art.

The lowlight was Alana's health at the beginning of the year. It took her a while to recover from last year's surgery. Fortunately, things turned a corner by the end of June. I haven't mentioned it much on here, but I was pretty worried about her. I get a special charge when she turns to me and smiles, now that she's feeling better (but is still not 100%). I'll leave it to Alana to add more on this subject if she wishes.

My own health has been okay, not wonderful but not awful. I hate New Year's resolutions so I'm not making one, but I really need to lose some weight. I'm hoping my new allergy meds will help with, well, my allergies (ah, d'uh), as my allergies have been almost debilitating recently. In truth, the allergies aren't the debilitating part, the Zyrtec that knocks me on my ass is the debilitating part. I lost three weekends of writing to illness back in November, one from allergies and two from some sort of virus. Oh, and on Monday I broke a tooth; waiting for dental insurance to kick in before I get that seen to. (And, I might need sedatives, too, but that's another story...)

I can't believe how much Logan has grown in the last year. There was one day he came back from his father's after a week long visit and I swear he was noticeably taller! He did great in school last year. We had an... incident, scholastically, earlier this school year, but we think we've nipped it.

Logan continues to be obsessed with football. Unfortunately, he's not really cut out to be a guard, the position he played on his team this year. He has it in his mind that he'd make a great quarterback. Let's just say that Alana and I are... skeptical. On the plus side, he's now reading for enjoyment. We've been encouraging this. It's great to see him with his face stuck in a book rather than playing yet another variation on American football on his Wii or Xbox.

Work has been busy, occasionally frustrating, but generally good. I pull long hours, which tends to affect my writing, as there are only so many after work hours in a day. Odd that my most rewarding job in my career has the longest hours, lowest pay and crappiest benefits.

On the gaming front, I ran games at three different conventions. The best one, overall, was GenCon because Alana and Logan attended. I think, though, that if I can only do one convention next year (and I'm hoping for two, but we'll see) I'd go to DragonCon. It's closer, and either that much bigger than GenCon or so much more cramped that there's a frenetic energy about it.

We have a local gaming group now! That's pretty cool. We've been playtesting The Black Devils Brigade and playing board games. We haven't played Delta Green since October, but we play to get back into it in January. I need to contact everyone and set up a time to play.

So, as I said at the top of the post, not a great year but not a terrible one either. Kind of a mixed bag, really. To paraphrase (i.e. butcher) Dickens, "It was the okay-ist of times, it was the meh-ist of times."

See y'all in "Twenty Ten".

History Magazine's "Life During the Civil War"

On the news stands right now is History Magazine's "Life During the Civil War" by David A. Norris. This is a perfect bound book the size of a softcover RPG supplement. I recommend it for This Favored Land players. It's also useful for games set in the Wild West period and mid-19th century Kerberos Club campaigns.

This book — it really does look more like an RPG supplement than a magazine — covers a lot of ground that I wanted to cover in This Favored Land, but which I couldn't for space reasons.

It begins with a two page dictionary of Civil War terms, most of which did not appear in TFL. Other topics are of particular interest to roleplayers: 19th century hotels; music (a blatant omission in TFL); humor and social commentary; army laundresses; army pets; fund raising; war artists; newspapers; telegraph; mail.

About half the book is information that wasn't touched on in TFL. The rest is in TFL but with more detail. The discussion on currency, for instance, breaks down army pay by rank. Railroad travel has a short explanation of "women's cars" and the food (or lack thereof) provided on rail cars. There's a wonderful single page full of common medicines and what they were used for.

The book has been on the stands for a couple of weeks. At 95 pages (with only 2 pages of ads) for $9.95, it's a bargain.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Canadian SF author beaten at U.S. border

I'm asked every now and again if I intend to become an American citizen.

Alana is cool with her "Canada boy". Logan asks occasionally, but it's more out of curiosity than anything. He knows I already say things "funny" anyway.

There are downsides to becoming an American. Yes, I'd get to vote, but I live in a monoculture where my vote simply would not make a difference, and it would make me eligible for serving on a jury (I wouldn't mind, but this is more an annoyance than a benefit). I could apply for federal jobs, though there really aren't that many around here. One big downside is that if we ever left the U.S., the IRS wants a chunk of my income in another country! (Yes, your taxes in that other country are deductible, but who really wants the hassle?)

What I'm missing is a sense of belonging. I'm a foreigner in this country, and will continue to be as long as I'm not a citizen. (I probably would be even after I became a citizen, but at least I could bitch with more "authoritah").

As a legal resident, I'm protected under the law. I've been here more than 5 years, so I could now apply for social assistance if I needed it (not that I plan to). Of course, I've been contributing with my taxes. As I like to point out to people — particularly those of a "Tea Party" persuasion — I have taxation without representation.

The main advantage I'd get being a U.S. citizen is in not having to renew my green card every 10 years. Not only does this require an out of city trip and a fair bit of money (over $250 last time), I discovered in a post on the other day that if I tried to cross the border after my green card expired, I could get kicked out of the country with no recourse for getting back in!

That revelation came in a topic about a particularly nasty incident at the U.S. border this week. Canadian science fiction author Dr. Peter Watts — who is a friend of friends I left back in Canada — was beaten, arrested, and charged with assaulting a border guard last week. Peter was going back home to Canada, after helping a friend move to Nebraska, when he was stopped by border guards. He got out of his car and asked why he was being stopped. The guards allege that he resisted arrest, while Peter denies this.

Here is the incident via Cory Doctrow at BoingBoing:

(Full disclosure, Cory's article quotes David Nickle, a friend of mine.)

Peter's original description of the incident is here:

An update is here:

And, of course, here's his web site, for ongoing news on this:

If you would like to donate to Peter's legal defence fund, you can do so by sending a contribution via Paypal to

It's incidents like these, and some wingnut things that have been happening post-millennial America, that have me seriously wondering, "do I want to be associated with this by citizenship"? On the flip side, citizenship would offer some (little) protection against this kind of insanity. I suspect they wouldn't be quite as likely to do this to a U.S. citizen, one who could maybe even wield some political power.

For now, my thoughts go out to Peter. Now if you'll excuse me, I want to make a note of the exact date my green card expires.

Friday, December 04, 2009


It's been snowing here most of the afternoon. I called Allan at work, as Logan and I and half our neighbors stood out in it like giant frozen idiots; he was not impressed.

It won't stick; it won't last...but it was really pretty for a while. And it snowed! Here! In December....

Maybe it will again on Christmas day.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Epic spam fail, or best scam e-mail ever?

I received this in my spam folder recently.

It's one of the more amusing scam e-mails I've read. I guess this is what people in third world countries write instead of really bad Star Trek slashfic. (The formatting, punctuation, etc. is from the original.)

From Sgt Herman Hansley
Camp MXP-512 Third Infantry Division
Abul Uruj, Baghdad, Iraq.

I am Herman R Hansley, a native of Iraq. I am a Military Contractor with the America troop currently serving in the third infantry division Unit in Iraq.

I am currently on duty break. My partner Darren D. Braswell,36, of Riverdale, Ga., died Jan. 7th near TalAfar, Iraq, when the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter in which he was a Passenger crashed. Braswell worked For the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, before his death We secretly moved some abandoned cash in a mansion belonging to the former president, Saddam Hussein and the total cash is US$20,200,000.00 Twenty Million two hundred thousand Dollars.

As I write this letter to you, these boxes are in Security Company as I secretly moved it out of Baghdad to safe place.

Sir I seek your consent to help me move this money to your country location.

You do not have to be afraid of anything as no one else knows about this and everything is safe. I would be pleased and grateful to you if you could assist me and my late partner Darren D. Braswel in receiving this boxes for us on your behalf as I will be heading back soon to camp in Iraq to join my colleagues. Of course, I shall compensate you with an attractive percent of the total funds for your role/efforts. We have limited time now as you know that our evacuation agreement is been negotiated by the USA and IRAQI government, kindly get back to me immediately.

Moving the funds out of the security company is not going to be much of a problem as arrangements are being made towards that. All I want from you is your trust,

Please get back to me with your full name
Contact phone number

Preferable without delay and let’s negotiate terms.

Your response will determine our subsequent correspondence.

You can read more on this website for more information and explanations:

Yours in Service.
Herman R Hansley

The link, by the way, is to an article on the BBC News web site about a stash of $200 million found in Baghdad in 2003. Evidently this is some of the money that turned up missing.

The writer missed his calling. Instead of sending this out as spam, he should have sent it to Michael Bay or Jerry Bruckheimer.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Black Friday update: aborted attempt at TRU

Alana and I went to Toys 'R Us this evening. Their Black Friday sale starts at midnight.

If you check the timestamp on this post, you'll see that we didn't stay...

The line up was up one side of the plaza, down the other, and around the corner. There were hundreds of people in line.

We only had one thing we were looking for, for Logan, and it wasn't a toy. TRU has a good price on it, but nothing we couldn't get elsewhere.

Alana was in shock when she saw the line up. I believe her words were, "Is that the line? That's not the line!"

So, with a "Hell, no!" shouted out by both of us, in unison, we came home.

This also means we're not going to bother getting up, as a friend of Alana put it, at the "butt crack of morning", as we didn't really see anything we couldn't live without.

We'll probably go out in the morning to see if some of the stuff we could use is still available, but we're not going to do the crazy this year.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Black Friday is getting earlier and earlier...

For folks not living in the United States, Black Friday is the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving. In spite of its name, it's considered a good thing. The day after Thanksgiving is the traditional start to the U.S. Christmas buying season. Stores started offering deep discounts on some items as loss leaders.

It's called Black Friday because for many stores it's the day, or the start of the period, where they make enough money to break even or make a profit.

(In recent years Black Friday is followed by Cyber Monday, the first day back at work when people had access to a good broadband connection and could order Christmas presents online.)

This is a uniquely American experience. Canada's Thanksgiving is a month and a half earlier (because Canadian harvests are brought in earlier) and so Canada doesn't have the same starter pistol-like start to Christmas buying. Canada makes up for it with Boxing Day sales, but that's another story.

Stores began opening their doors earlier and earlier. That's the point of this post.

When I first moved down here, I'd never actually participated in the craziness that is Black Friday. My first was in 2004. There was a bunch of good stuff to be had at Target. The night before I said something like, "So, we'll get up around 7 or so, get dressed, and go out to the store?" Alana just chuckled. "We have to be there for them opening. At 6 a.m."

I have to admit, it was fun. Tons of people in the early, early morning, after only a little bit of sleep, the air pretty chilly (at least for Louisiana). There was a charge in the air. We enjoyed it. I think Alana most enjoys the culture shock look on my face.

Now I get to the point of this post.

Monday night we were watching TV, and one store mentioned opening at 6 a.m. on Black Friday. That's, like, the traditional opening time. It's not the earliest. A bunch of stores open at 5 a.m. Then, Kohl's, the department store, ran an ad explaining that they are opening at 4 a.m. I turned to Alana with a WTF look on my face. "What's next, Black Friday on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving?"

I was joking. I shouldn't have.

K-Mart is opening on Thanksgiving Day. Black Friday on the Thursday of Thanksgiving.

And then today I received an e-mail from Borders. They are offering "early bird" access to their Black Friday sales to Borders Rewards members. Their sales start... today. Black Friday on the Wednesday.

I wonder how long it will take them until they take a page from Stupid Canadian Retailing and convert "Boxing Week" [sic] sales into "Black Friday Week". You heard it here, first!

Are we going to brave the elements, and the crazy people, Friday morning?

We're not sure. We haven't done it in a couple of years. Two years ago we were moving into the apartment. We went out shopping around 9. Last year there really wasn't anything worth getting.

This year's early ads don't really inspire much hope, either, though there are a couple of tempting items for Logan. One's at Wal-Mart, which we really don't want to go to on Black Friday. However, I understand that we might be able to get it at without having to rush out to that horrid place.

I didn't see much at Best Buy that grabbed me. Target had a couple of things, but nothing really "Wow!". Office Depot has a couple of things, but nothing that screams "5 a.m.".

I'll post an update later.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Comcast and repetitive music

I like having music on when I write. Unfortunately, we get horrible reception in the house (but okay reception in the car) for the only radio station worth listening to in Monroe/West Monroe, KXUL, the local college station.

So, I listen to Comcast's Alternative digital music station.

What's with Comcast and the small stable of artists they play on this channel? Are they getting payola?

Right now "Kings and Queens" by 30 Seconds to Mars is playing. I like the song, don't get me wrong. But I am guaranteed to hear it at least once in a two hour session. It never fails. And they'll play another 30 Seconds to Mars song within another couple of hours.

Earlier they played She Wants Revenge. No problem with the group, but, again, I'm guaranteed to hear them once every couple of hours or so, sometimes more often than that. Because it's on the television, they have graphics for the bands they play, and these graphics tend to stick in your memory.

I guess maybe they want me to jump to another channel, one that pays them more. If I'm going to do that, I'm going to turn off the TV and plug in my PSP (as an MP3 player) or put on some CDs, none of which lets me hear new music.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Searching for an HTML editor

This shouldn't be so hard...

I'm searching for a freeware HTML editor. I code almost all of my HTML by hand (for instance, my web site) so I'm looking for a text editor that can make my life a bit easier.

I mostly need it for work, where I'm writing help files in HTML Help format.

Back in the late 90s I used a program called Arachnophilia. It was a pretty good program, but it had some warts and needed some additional options. Unfortunately, the developer changed it from a Windows program to a Java cross-platform program. I say "unfortunately" because he mucked about with the interface and made it much slower. I saw, recently, that there was an update. I downloaded it, installed it, and uninstalled it within 15 minutes.

(The guy also has a screed against Microsoft on his web site. Now, I'm not exactly pro-Microsoft. I thought the U.S. Justice Department gave them a slap on the wrist when much more was necessary. But it doesn't exactly make one feel comfortable downloading software from a guy who apparently wrote his app in Java in part to get back at Redmond.)

As I'm po', I'm looking for a freeware program but I'd purchase a program if it fit my needs. Unfortunately, most of the straight text editor programs are written by small companies and are somewhat buggy, and I can't afford the full blown programs — like Dreamweaver — which are complete overkill for what I do, and way too expensive (hundreds of dollars).

Here's the wish list of features:
  • Colour coding of the text compatible with HTML or XML, and cascading style sheets.
  • Ability to easily add links and graphics. Specifically, if adding text or graphics from your own web site, the program allows you to select the file and it will insert the correct link and image tag.
  • A function for easily adding special characters, such as the cents sign, etc. Preferably, it would display a set of special characters that the user clicks on to add to the text.
  • Allow the creation of macros or snippets, etc. This allows the user to create functions for easily adding repeated text to the document.
  • A spell checker.
  • Allow search and replace across multiple documents.
  • HTML tag reference for ease of entering new tags.
  • Preview your web page from within the program itself.
  • Cold folding (where you can close part of the code to make it easier to read and debug your code)
For the last several years I've used a program called HTML-Kit. The build 292 version is the last freeware version. Technically, I guess, it was shareware. Anyone could run it, but the developer encouraged people to register (at a cost of US$65, or there abouts). Sometime a couple of years ago the developer stopped working on the free version (though it's still available) and announced the release of HTML-Kit Tools. This version is only available for registered users.

I registered HTML-Kit to get HTML-Kit Tools. I'm not very happy with this decision. HTML-Kit has all my wish list items except code folding and search and replace across all documents. The search and replace it does have is a little annoying. There are also some bugs in the software. If you span across paragraphs and hit the backspace key to delete text, the program deletes too much. I made it crash the other day by typing too fast. It doesn't have an auto-recover during a crash.

The bugs were annoying, but I figured these were fixed in HTML-Kit Tools. They were, but now there are different bugs. The developer actually created a new version due to a crash bug I found.

Worse, it's missing an important feature of HTML-Kit, the spell checker. The search and replace is much worse on the new version (I really dislike it), the macro/snippet function is far less intuitive than the old version (and the old function wasn't exactly intuitive), and when you preview a web page it leaves a preview copy hanging around (I have to check to see if there's a way to shut it off). The interface has been simplified to look more like the ribbon in Microsoft Office 2007 products. The interface is cleaner, but it doesn't look as professional.

So, overall, I'm not that happy with HTML-Kit Tools. In fact, I went back to the old program.

In the meantime, I tested a few other programs (roughly in order of testing):
  • Notepad++: This one gets lots of good reviews. It's a generic code editor, and works with multiple languages. It is well supported, with lots of add-on modules. But, it doesn't have a way to easily add links or graphics to HTML, it doesn't have a spell checker, you can't preview within the program (which I can live without, to be honest) and it doesn't have a special character preview.

  • PSPad: I stumbled across this. It has most of what I want, including a spell checker, but it doesn't have a link/graphic function, it doesn't have a feature for adding special characters, and it doesn't do code-folding.

  • Notetab Light: This is the free version of a line of products, so it's possible that a "for pay" version has the features I'm after. The free version doesn't have colour code, nor does it have a spell checker, or code folding. It does have the other items on the list, and it's very good at search and replace (I keep it around for that reason).

  • Aptana Studio: This is the most professional looking of all the programs I tried. I really like the interface. I really want to use this. Again, though, it has some issues. I can't make the spell checker work, if it comes with one (it has a section under preferences that suggests it does have a spell checker, but I can't make it work). So far my question to their support forum has been unanswered. It has most of the other features. It does not have an easy way of inserting graphics and links, but if you find the file you want you can copy the link into the clipboard. So, we'll say that's about 1/3 what I'm after on that feature.

    As I said, I want to like this one, but I'm not getting the warm and fuzzies from their support.

  • CodeLobster: This is another freeware program. When I first ran it, it looked like it had everything I wanted. Digging a little deeper, it doesn't have a spell checker, it doesn't have a way to do macros, and it automatically saves your page when you go to preview it. They said today they are planning the macro feature and then, later, the spell checker. When this has a few more features it looks like it could replace HTML-Kit, but it's not there yet.

There were two other small programs I didn't keep around for long.

I'm also looking into Microsoft's Visual Web Developer Express tool, but I don't have much faith in it. It requires a whole web development environment. Then, it wanted to upgrade Visual Studio on my computer (it uses a version of Visual Studio) before it would proceed. Unfortunately, it took over an hour (!) to download the update and it's now taken more than half an hour to install it. All for something I think is going to end up being hideous overkill.

So, if you have any suggestions for HTML editors, I would appreciate hearing from you.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

A head for lyrics

Sorry for the absence of blog posts. I've been incredibly busy at work, writing our help file, and at home I've been writing The Black Devils Brigade for the Godlike RPG. It's been hard to fit in blogging.

Last night brought to mind something I wanted to mention. I was doing some writing with the TV on in the background. The channel was one of the VH1 channels, and they were running a concert with various alt-rock groups performing songs by The Who. I was a huge fan of The Who. I even stood in line for several hours 27 years ago to get tickets for their first farewell tour.

While watching, I started singing along to some of their songs (completely destroying the whole point of spending the time writing). Alana turned to me, smiled, and asked how I can fit in all those lyrics in my head.

This goes back to our trip home from GenCon in August. We forgot to bring music with us (other than what was on my PSP, and we don't have a way of hooking up the PSP/MP3 players to the car's stereo), so we had to rely on local radio. On the way home, we tuned in to some classic rock outside of Memphis.

Now, I'm not one to listen to classic rock stations at home. We generally listen to KXUL, the local college station, which plays commercial free alt-rock. I like classic rock. I was listening to it before it was classic (as a very small child my mother had to break a vinyl 45 rpm record of The Beatles' "She Loves You" because I was driving her mad wanting to hear it all the time). However, they aren't making any more classic rock. It's the same two decades worth of stuff they play all the time. And, this being the U.S., you hear very little of the Canadian classic rock I grew up with (April Wine or Chilliwack, anyone?). I like listening to classic rock every now and again for the great nostalgia factor, but it soon becomes tiring. I was training users in northwest Tennessee in August and they played classic rock in their offices. I didn't hear Emerson, Lake and Palmer, or The Guess Who, or even that much Rush, but they were sure to play Van Halen at least twice every single day. But I digress...

So, we listened to classic rock until we got into the depths of northern Mississippi where there's not much more than country and western, or gospel in the wee hours of the morning (until we could pick up more classic rock outside Jackson). Early on, while we were still in Arkansas, Alana made a comment that I knew a lot of song lyrics. In fact, she seemed to think I could sing along with a staggering number of songs.

The radio had just started in on a three song set of The Who.

Just as she said this, a song from the album Tommy came on.

I looked at her, smiled, and sang, "Welcome to the camp, I guess you all know why we're here. My name is Tommy, and I became aware this year."

It was obvious from the look on Alana's face that she'd never heard the song in her life, and here I was singing every word.

It just served to prove to her that, yes, I was insane.

I never really thought about it before, but it's haunted me since: I really do pick up a lot of song lyrics. In fact, when I like a song I have this deep seated need to learn the words.

I'm not as good at it as Alana thinks I am. There are still some old songs that I don't know all the lyrics to, even 30 years later, in spite of trying. I have trouble memorizing all the lyrics to songs by The Tragically Hip, but The Hip's lyrics tend to the poetic and don't repeat themselves much. They're often hard to learn, and maybe deliberately so.

But, yeah, looking at it objectively, I know the lyrics to a huge number of songs. Unfortunately, I also like to sing them even though I couldn't carry a tune if it was strapped to my back. I sing a lot when I'm alone in the car; I try not to inflict it much on the people around me, except maybe when we're on long car trips and I'm getting a bit punchy.

Now, if only I could wipe out some old Loverboy (*shudder*) lyrics and remember my security alarm number at work. I think it starts with a 5...

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

HyperBear redesigned

It's been a busy month, between work, writing projects and gaming. It was made busier by another project: a redesign of my web site.

The redesign was in the works for over a year, but it took me a while to finish the conversion.

My web site is at

While I was at it, I added new Delta Green adventure write-ups. Alana and Jason played in a Delta Green one-shot campaign — the scenario "A Night on Owlshead Mountain", from Delta Green: Eyes Only — earlier this year. Alana, Jason, and our new player, Dustin, played in two adventures last month in our main M Cell campaign.

My heartfelt thanks to Alana for doing the graphic logos for my web site! I did the graphics on couple of them (I found a cool Photoshop tutorial on how to do tentacles, which I utilized for the Cthulhu Pages logo; Google "photoshop tentacles"), but Alana did most of the images and put in the lettering.

I hope you like the new look of HyperBear. I'm pretty happy with the cleaner, more modern look.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

List of writing projects

One thing I forgot to add to my blog post last night are the projects I'm working on for Arc Dream. Some folks have asked me what's upcoming, so here they are:

  • The Black Devils Brigade – Full sized campaign for Godlike, based on the historical campaigns of the First Special Service Force, a unique American-Canadian commando unit.

    This has to be completed by January, 2010.

  • The Silver Pavilion – A Wild Talents supplement. Set during the Onin War, it treats the legends of feudal Japan as though they really happened. The creatures of Japanese mythology exist. The abilities of the samurai are as they are listed in legend. It does for samurai what This Favored Land did for the Civil War.

    No time frame on this yet. I'll be working on it after The Black Devils Brigade, but it might come after the next project.

  • Operation Torch – Full sized campaign for Godlike, based on the historical invasion of North Africa (Morocco) by American forces in 1942. Most of the campaign has been written. I'll be writing the first two chapters, the second part of the "Sink the Lutzow" scenario, and the final chapter.

    This book has been in development for quite a while. I'm not sure if it will come right on the heels of The Black Devils Brigade or after The Silver Pavilion.

  • This Wild Land (working title) – A sequel to This Favored Land, it brings Gifted superheroes into America's Reconstruction period and, more importantly, the Wild West. The Gifted have become The Forgotten, as their abilities — and memories of their abilities — fade away. The PCs will try to stop the forces destroying The Gift and help prevent the oncoming cataclysm.

    There is no planned due date at this point. I imagine I won't start to work on this until late next year or early 2011. I'm not sure about the others, but it will probably be released via a ransom model.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

My First DragonCon

My convention season is over for 2009. I just got back from DragonCon. For those of you who don't know, DragonCon is the largest science fiction/fantasy/speculative fiction convention in the U.S., held each year in Atlanta, Georgia over the Labor Day weekend. It gets about 40,000 attendees each year and a lot of big name (sci-fi/sf/syfy) celebrities. It's also a sizable convention for games, particularly roleplaying games.

This was the first science fiction convention for me since 1994. I used to go to the Ad Astra convention in Toronto fairly regularly. In 1994 I went to the World Science Fiction Convention, held that year in Winnipeg, Manitoba. That was an interesting convention. Not a good convention, but an interesting one. For various reasons (which could fill a post in its own) that convention drove out most of my interest in literary science fiction for almost a decade. (I still kept my interest in sci-fi movies and TV, and got into sci-fi miniatures gaming, but... well, as I said, it's a long story.) So, I really wasn't sure what to expect, especially since this was the first sci-fi convention where I would spend a considerable amount of time running games.

Last Thursday I spent the morning finishing up a Godlike (World War II super heroes; think Saving Private Ryan meets Heroes) scenario for the convention. Then I printed some character sheets for the game and generally messed about when I should have been packing. I drove from West Monroe (with a stop in Jackson, MS) to Birmingham, AL where Shane Ivey, president of Arc Dream (publisher of Godlike) lives. My trip started inauspiciously, given that I forgot some stuff and had to find a grocery store on the way. I got there safe and sound on our car's new Firestone tires (recently purchased).

We left Birmingham Friday morning, getting on the road about 7:30 CDT, and arriving in Atlanta around 11:00 EDT. We had to unload the truck, meet up with Ben Baugh (Arc Dream and White Wolf writer) at our hotel, check in at the hotel, and register at the con by 1 p.m. for my first game. We didn't make it.

Part of this is because the convention shuttle didn't show up. Our hotel (the Renaissance) was about 10 blocks away (about a 15 to 20 minute walk to the Hyatt, or 25 minute romp to the Hilton, where the games were held). It was supposed to run regularly, but I didn't see it all convention. I did see a bus someone told me was the shuttle but I'm still not convinced this mythical beast existed.

DragonCon is a bit missing in the organization side, at least compared to GenCon. Now, GenCon has the advantage of centering around a large Indianapolis convention centre and adjoining hotels. DragonCon is spread among three or four main hotels in the city's downtown. Due to the hills, one hotel's first floor is another's second floor. It wasn't until Sunday that I could navigate the labyrinth of hotel floors and skywalks such that I could find any given event. So, part of the organizational difficulties were due to physical logistics.

We arrived at the central registration area (the furthest away hotel) and — when we asked where the game masters registered — we were told to follow a yellow line taped down on the floor. That took us to the VIP registration. There were 5 people total in line and 5 people behind the booth. It took them at least 15 minutes to get to us and another 5 to realize that game masters didn't register there. We then had to go to another hotel, the Hilton where the games were held. There was a table in the basement level there where they gave out the GM badges. Now, they were efficient once we got there, but why no one couldn't have told us this to being with, and why registration was not centralized is beyond me.

I missed running my game. As Murphy would have it, this is the game I spent a good chunk of last week writing and was finishing up on Thursday morning. It's not wasted, since it will end up in the Operation Torch book, but it was disappointing.

With my game missed, we hung out in the open gaming area in the basement of the Hilton. It was a pretty good place for spur-of-the moment games, and they had a good selection of games to "rent" (at $5 per game). I had hoped to get there again, but never made it. We set up for a "games on demand" session, where we would just run a game if people came up and asked. As we would find out, the times were marked wrong. Instead of us running this at 2:30 as we had told the con, we were scheduled for 1 p.m. Nonetheless, we met some gamers and talked about the games.

After the games on demand, Ben and I walked the dealers rooms. There were two exhibit halls in the Marriott, one of which held the Arc Dream booth, and a dealer's room. Not sure what constituted the difference, but the exhibit halls were easier to find and much, much brighter. I did get a present for Alana in the dealer's room, though: a pair of clip on handmade demon horns (she asked me to look for them).

After the exhibit hall closed we ate at the food court. All but one of my meals was there. I ate at the Farmer's Market. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but the catfish they served was barking back at me for hours. Some of the others ate at a Cajun place, which was good on Friday but made them ill when they ate there again on Saturday. I wonder about the J. Brenner's cheesesteak place. It never had more than one or two people at it while other places had long lines. What, exactly, was wrong with the place? I ended up eating two meals at Moe's Southwest Grill, one at Dairy Queen, and one at Chick-fil-A.

Next up was the Stump The Geeks panel. The people running it (friends of the Iveys) read out a description of a science fiction, fantasy, or horror movie with the spec fic elements taken out. You had to guess the movie or show, and got a prize if you were right. I got one of the first ones right: "A TV series that was not canceled this season, which could also be something you sewed on jeans." I shot my hand up. "Fringe?" I won a new D&D paperback. If the first page is anything to go by, it's horribly written but luckily bad enough to be funny.

We walked to the hotel and crashed for about an hour. I changed into my Invader Zim t-shirt, and we walked back to the convention for the first of our midnight games. I ran "Target: Planet Earth", a game for Wild Talents where the players played aliens invading the Earth. I had five players, which was great.

Their mission was to investigate human technology and watch out for other alien activity. They were deposited in their base — disguised as a regular family home — in fictional Placid Falls, Florida. I had them choose between long range sensors, a shuttle pod, or a biotech lab for their base; they chose the lab. The player characters (PCs) were met by the neighbors right away and invited to a party where they acted inappropriately, as they were aliens with only a vague idea of human culture. They did learn about the disappearance of some kids, which was an important clue. The base came with a machine that created money, so they spent the next morning buying a car (a minivan, though one of the aliens wanted a Corvette because it was fast). They also stole a neighbor's newspaper and learned about bright lights in the sky and crop circles in a soy bean field. The neighbors mentioned the return of the kids, which seemed to coincide with the UFO sighting. The PCs investigated the crop circles and learned they were made by another alien ship, they discovered synthetic rubber that, among other things, was used in bubble gum, and they detected that the kids had been there. At this point, some mysterious "persons in brown" showed up and the players/aliens disguised as humans had to evade them. The PCs determined they had to sneak into the local bubble gum factory, where they found the missing kids and their family, and found that other aliens were putting brain control larvae into bubble gum. To make a long, but exciting, story short, they escaped from the factory, captured an alien flying saucer, blew up the factory, saved the family, and let the persons in brown clean up the mess. Everyone had a ball and thanked me for a fun game. It wrapped up around 4:30 (we were about 1 a.m. getting started), and I got to sleep just after 6.

I was supposed to get to a panel on games the next day, but couldn't find it (I was looking in the wrong hotel), so I ended up spending a fair bit of time at the Arc Dream booth. When I wasn't doing that, I was people watching. People watching is great at DragonCon, as at least a third of the people wore costumes, a number that bumps up to at least 50% the night of the masquerade. Steampunk costumes were all the rage, and — quite frankly — an aesthetic that appealed to me. If I had money I'd be very tempted to make a steampunk costume for next year.

There were other costumes that were... unfortunate. Some people need to learn that spandex is not their friend. And what do you call a double-decker muffin top? I particularly liked the guy with the homemade samurai armour, a really awesome Star Wars emperor, and I have to give kudos to the guy in the Monarch (from the Venture Brothers) costume, but really wish I could block the vision of the 200 pound woman dressed as the Watchman's Silk Spectre. There were more inventive costumes than derivative. Oh, sure, there were tons of people as Rohrscach from The Watchmen, and just as many Jokers, and flocks of stormtroopers, but there were plenty of unique costumes, too. The steampunk Boba Fett was great, and the girls dressed up as waitresses from True Blood were cute. I was surprised at the number of general pop culture costumes, too. There were at least a couple of people dressed as Flo from the Progressive Insurance commercials. There are too many costumes to begin to mention in detail, good and bad. If you search the web you'll find a number of pics. The costumes were so prevalent that at one point in the food court I see this grey blob moving out of the corner of my eye, and I started to think about what it might be. A rock monster? A horta from Star Trek? It turned out to be a garbage bag in a bin pushed by a janitor...

My 6 pm game was another Godlike game, this one being the first adventure from the Black Devils Brigade book I'm writing for Arc Dream. It's based on an actual unit from World War II, but with superpowered "Talents" added. I had six players, and the game went very well. The players did an excellent job killing Nazis, and they took the mountain successfully. Everyone had a blast, and two players bought stuff. You can't beat flaming Nazis (as in "on fire") for good times.

I was beat after that, so I headed back to the hotel. A couple of us took a cab: $12 to go 10 blocks (if that). I'd never heard of cabs charging extra money for extra passengers... For supper, I ate at the Varsity, an Atlanta landmark. A friend visited the Varsity some 20 years ago. I didn't recognize the place until I walked in and heard the "What'll ya have?" chant from the cashiers. It was an experience, though I thought the burgers were just okay, nothing great. I wanted to check e-mail when I got back to the hotel, only to discover that the hotel wanted $12.95 a night for internet access. They might have had free internet in the lobby, but I was too tired to bother with that. What's with these big hotels charging an arm and a leg for internet access when I can get it for free from a Best Western in northwest Tennessee?

Up around 9 on Sunday and off to the con. I got there in time to see 90 minutes of their robot wars competition. The robots were small compared to those on TV (the "ant" class were only about 6 inches long, if that). That's okay, the camera and projection screen showed all the action. They fought it out in an enclosed arena. It was lots of fun, particularly in one of the last fights in the larger "beetle" class when the one robot chewed apart another. You don't get this sort of thing at GenCon.

At 1 p.m. I ran my second Black Devils Brigade game. This used the same characters as the first game, but from a mission later in the timeline of the book. I had six players, and I again got a great response. In fact, of the six players, four of them bought something at our booth. They all thought it was a great game, with one player flipping through my rule book in anticipation of buying it. The reaction was phenomenal.

The rest of the evening was spent hanging at the booth, and wandering the con. We tried to get into the Mad Scientist's Ball (excerpts of which are on YouTube), but the line was way too long (a theme for the weekend). We consoled ourselves with checking out the costumes and just wandering around. It sounds boring, but I had a blast. I could have done without having a cherry pit hit me square on the bridge of my noes from umpteen stories up, though! (This was inside the hotel. All of the hotels are really, really tall with central atria.)

I was set to run a game of This Favored Land at midnight, but no one showed. I think this was partly because the description of the game didn't mention Wild Talents at all. This was a disappointment, particularly given that the Monsters and Other Childish Things game and the Delta Green game were overbooked. I would have offered to run my game for some of the "turn aways" if I hadn't been distracted helping Ross Payton's Delta Green game by creating a DG character on the fly without the rulebook (took me 15 minutes!). Instead, I got to play in a Monsters game. This was fun, but the player I was paired with (I was his monster, he played a child) wasn't very "active", which limited my actions. I still had fun, though, and it was the only roleplaying game I played (as opposed to run) in a year. We were back in the hotel by 5 am.

Next morning we rushed to check out. Shane shifted the truck to a closer parking lot, so I didn't have to walk to the con hotels. I ate a quick lunch then went to my last game. At GenCon, tables are numbered and assigned to games, and the table number is published in the event book. Players simply show up to their table at the right time. Not so at DragonCon. Instead, they have a dopey "mustering" process. Everyone gathers in a room. Each game is called out. Games are assigned a table at that time, and players march off to their games with the GM. This eats up 10 to 20 minutes of time for no real advantage. Okay, I guess it makes it easier to find players for games that are partially filled, but I didn't see that done successfully the whole time I was there. Each game also gets a $5 coin that you can give to a "winner" in the game, which they can spend in the dealers' rooms. I let the players vote for the winner. I've never been crazy about this idea. I don't like competitive roleplaying. In one of our Delta Green players Shane awarded one to the player who lost the most sanity, which I thought was pretty cool.

Once again, no one showed for my This Favored Land game. The last day of the con isn't a great time to hope for players for a relatively obscure game. I hung out in the muster room for about an hour, talking to the people there. There's a feeling among gamers that DragonCon could do a lot more to attract gamers. Regardless, there were more games this year than last year. This is particularly interesting as White Wolf was not present at the convention (and I had planned to buy a couple of things from them!), and the big Shadowrun group had 8 fewer games this year than last. I heard that the cheese grinder game, an annual D&D dungeon crawl, went from 242 players last year to about 150 this year. This was at least partially attributed to the game moving to 4th edition. I'm not sure if this says anything other than the fact that 4th edition has splintered the existing D&D fan base in its attempt to bring new players to the hobby.

I spent a little more time at the booth, then wandered the dealer's rooms again. There was definitely an anti-Twilight bias at the convention. Oh, sure, the books were for sale and there were t-shirts with the characters from the books and the movie. There just happened to be more t-shirts and posters against the series. My favorite t-shirt said, "... And Then Buffy Staked Edward. The End." Another said, "Real vampires don't sparkle!". I overheard some fans bemoaning the fact that Twilight was "written by a housewife who didn't even bother researching vampires". Between this and the debate between "steampunk" versus "gaslight", I was reminded that fandom wouldn't be fandom if it didn't splinter into mutually antipathetic sub groups.

And here's an open letter to folks at the Steve Jackson Games/Atlas Games/Chaosium booth. These three companies shared a booth here and at GenCon. At both conventions, they had a habit of yelling out and cheering whenever someone paid them in exact change. It's "a thing" that they're known for. Here's my suggestion: cut it out, already! I mean, jeez, guys, if you're going to scream every time you get exact change make sure you're not doing it in a potential customer's ear! I had a purchase in my hand when one of the booth monkeys cried out, "I have... exact change!" and another Pavloved a scream RIGHT IN MY EAR. I don't know how many, if any, sales your little stunt brings you, but it lost you one from me. My ear was ringing for a good five minutes. So knock it off!

I did get a free game from the Troll and Toad booth called Vapor's Gambit. It doesn't get great reviews, but we'll give it a shot. I bought a dungeon crawl card game I'd been hunting for several months. I bought a new book for Alana from one of her favorite authors and a book for myself called Discarded Science: Ideas That Seemed Good At The Time... by John Grant. I also bought a cool Edgar Allan Poe t-shirt (there's a connection between Poe and This Favored Land). I really liked the mix of stuff for sale. Even if most of it wasn't something I'd buy, all the booths were interesting. I found a great leather trench coat to replace the long oil skin coat I had to throw away a couple of years ago, if I can pony up $400.

At 5 pm the convention was over. We packed the booth, rolled the boxes out to the nearby parking lot, and loaded the truck. It's sad seeing a convention break down, particularly since this was the last of the season for me. Still, I was missing Alana and Logan badly and looking forward to getting home.

I'm a gamer. I love GenCon, with its huge dealer's room and focus on games. Still, I think I had more fun at DragonCon. There were far more costumes, and more to do in the evening. There were tons of panels I wanted to get to, while at GenCon you have to do a little work to get into something after 8 pm. This was seen by the great turnout we had for our 6 pm and midnight games. I wish the DragonCon event book was better laid out. I hate that it's split up by genre. It assumes that most con goers are only interested in one particular area. It makes it hard to just pick a time and find out what was available to do. By contrast, the GenCon book is split primarily by date and time first, and then subdivided (with a small icon indicator) by genre. It makes for a superior event planner.

In all, I had a blast. If I get to go next year, I'll make a better effort to attend more panels in my off time. I'll also do a better job of bringing my own food, not just to cut cost but to spend less time in line. As for a costume? I'm still thinking about it...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Disappointed: Hob Nob Restaurant, West Monroe

This is a quick restaurant review.

Alana and I have been to the Hob Nob in West Monroe a few times. It was one of our favorite steak places, even if it was too pricey to do very often. It was one of our favorites. I wonder if they've gone through new owners, or if they changed chefs, because tonight's dining experience was incredibly disappointing.

Alana ordered catfish and shrimp. She left more than half of it untouched. The batter on both had a weird taste. I couldn't place it, but it seemed to be acidic, almost a vinegar taste. It made the fish and shrimp unpalatable.

I ordered a rib eye. The steak was cooked properly, but it was covered in way too much pepper. The only taste on my first bite was an intense pepper taste. I could hardly taste the meat at all.

The salad was pretty sad. It was mostly lettuce with some croutons and shredded carrots, covered in dressing. I had two halves of a baby tomato, but I didn't eat them as they had dark (black?) bits on them and didn't look the least bit appetizing.

The Diet Coke was watered down, but it's bar soda, so you have to expect that. The baked potato was good.

The juke box blared a couple of times with country music, and the lighting was really, really dim where we sat. That's the Hob Nob, though, and nothing we didn't expect.

The waitress was efficient, though she didn't ask how our food was, nor did she notice Alana had only eaten half the meal (she didn't ask how it was or if we wanted a to go box).

So, not the least bit impressed. This was a place we really liked to go to, and now with this meal we're wondering if we'll ever be back; it's unlikely. Don't know what they did to it. Maybe this was just a bad night, but the place is too expensive to take that risk lightly. No, we didn't tell the manager, as there didn't seem to be one anywhere around, just a lot of young waitresses in black t-shirts and short jean shorts. Hob Nob was never "classy" but it seems to have gone way down hill since the renovation.

GenCon 2009

We've been back from GenCon for the better part of a week now, so I guess it's time to put up a review of sorts.

Our trip started inauspiciously. We took the car to get the tires rotated a few days earlier. That's when we discovered that there was a problem with the tires and they were wearing funny, coupled with an alignment issue. We need new tires, and an alignment, but couldn't afford them before we left. So, off we went on a 1600 mile trip with dodgy tires and a car that liked to pull to the right. We were fine, as it turned out, but the car was more tiring to drive than I had hoped.

We lost about an hour on the trip due to damage to the car from my trip to Imagicon. On the way back in March, a piece of a truck tire from the other side of the highway hit the car. It knocked out a plastic shield over the holes where fog lamps are mounted on the Corolla. It also, apparently, popped the plastic fasteners that hold the plastic lining in front of the wheel well in place. When I got home from that trip I thought the lining was bent. It wasn't just bent, but loose. Last Tuesday, when we got into Mississippi we started to hear scraping sounds (this was our first long trip in the car since Imagicon). Just north of Jackson we pulled over to eat and I saw that a plastic skirt underneath the car had popped a fastener. I fixed that with a quick trip to Lowes for nuts, bolts, and a wrench, but the scraping still occurred. At the next stop I found out about the lining. Any time we hit a bump, the lining rubbed on the tire. We now had a hole worn away in the lining. I cut away most of the lining and the scraping sound went away. I should point out that the scraping sound also sounded quite a bit like the rasping sound of air, and since it came from one side of the car (the side that took the hit in March) I thought it was air going through the hole where the shield was lost, or it was a seal problem on that door. Turns out, not so.

We stayed for the night at the Quality Inn at Blytheville. It was okay, but nothing to write home about. The positive reviews online were too positive, but the room was clean enough and we were only in it for about 9 hours.

The next day we drove into Indianapolis in time to help set up the Arc Dream booth. We were so early, that the cheaper parking lot I used last year was still full with people working downtown. I'll have to time a later arrival next year. Shane and the Birmingham Arc Dream guys were late, so there would be no booth set up that night. Instead, Logan, Alana and I went out to dinner with Greg Stolze, Ross Payton, and a friend of Ross' at P. F. Chang's, where Logan discovered he liked sesame chicken. They went to the Diana Jones Awards in a local bar, and we crashed for the night.

The next day we got to the booth early (thank you exhibitor badges!). Our games were all running in Union Station, a great venue (an old railroad station, the motif of which has been preserved for the Crowne Plaza's conference areas) but the furthest from the convention center. I got my exercise, anyway, as all our events were there. I was to run a scenario from the Black Devils Brigade book I'm working on. No one showed. The line up for registration was around the side of the convention center, so even if people wanted in my game they would likely have missed the start time. Next year we won't bother running a game that early on day 1.

The rest of the day was spent hanging at the Arc Dream booth and prowling the dealer's room. Logan bought a wrestling mask. I bought the RPG 3:16 - Carnage Among the Stars (and later got to talk to the creator, and fellow Scotsman, John Hutton!), a game I missed last year. That was my sole purchase of the day. I saw a few things of interest, but nothing that really reached out and grabbed me.

That night we got stuck in the elevator at the Westin with 9 other people (total of 12). This is nasty because Logan was worried such a thing would happen. Several times on the way up he asked us if people could get stuck in elevators, and how did we get out, etc. He was really worried about it... so of course it happened. What's more, there were 11 of us in the elevator as the doors were closing, but there was still room and a guy named "Bob" jumped in at the last second. One of the other elevatorites said, "So help me, Bob, if you get us stuck..." You couldn't have scripted it better. We were in the elevator for about 45 minutes, with Logan freaking out the whole time. The people we were stuck with were all gamers, and they were great. One guy lent Logan his hat. Everyone tried to make him feel better. We ended up having to climb out the top of the elevator with the help of local firefighters and a really cool ladder of theirs (it came in looking like a metal bar, and then unfolded lengthwise into a ladder!). We climbed out of the access hatch and onto onto the third floor.

Westin hotel comment #1: The hotel brought water and Perrier for us. They called us the next day to see if we were okay. That was it. They didn't try to offer us anything in spite of the fact we missed eating out with the other Arc Dream guys, Logan was all traumatized (he went down the stairs for the rest of the con, and would have gone up the stairs except you can't get to the stairs from the first two floors), and we got grease on our clothes. They didn't offer us laundry facilities or offer anything but an apology. I complained about this when we got home. The woman who wrote back offered platitudes, like "An overloaded elevator is certainly no fun, and we hope your son has recovered completely." I wrote back, pointing out that there was plenty of room left on the elevator, and there were no signs indicating what the limit was on the elevator. It sounded like she was blaming the group of us for overloading the elevator, when we couldn't know if it was overloaded or not and there was plenty of room. And how does one just get over a trauma "completely"? Come to find out that they had 9 people stuck in an elevator a month earlier. They didn't offer them any laundry service or anything else, either, according to the review I read. In the e-mail I received from them, they did say they'd look into offering laundry in the future. I'm not holding my breath, given that they didn't offer anything this time (or back in July), except for the over-priced water no one took.

Westin hotel comment #2: One of the online web sites mentioned that each room came with a refrigerator. You can't use it, though. All the drinks and snacks in it are on a weight sensor, and if you so much as move them they charge you for them. The front desk people were good to mention this (though they didn't mention it to Shane and his group). This might be from the complaints they were getting, as per the comments I saw on Trip Advisor at least one person was charged quite a bit of money for food they didn't eat simply because they shifted it around. Real dumb.

We didn't do much more on the Thursday, so we went to bed early. Friday I ran two games, a Black Devils Brigade game for Godlike at 10 a.m. and This Favored Land: Horror At Spangler's Spring at 6 p.m. Both games were well attended, and the players had a good time. The Black Devils Brigade game was the first time running it, so the fact that it went so well was pretty cool. There was a great moment when one player — who was kicking butt by bouncing projectiles back at German troops — ended up face-to-face with a German in a fog bank. They got into a horrendous knife fight in a scene that was remarkably close to the bayonet scene in Saving Private Ryan. The players got a really good idea that while super powered, Godlike characters can still die fairly easily! The character didn't die, though he was bleeding a bit (another character did die, which just goes to show you that you shouldn't materialize your head within easy grabbing distance of a super-powered enemy). The rest of the scenario went very well.

So, too, did the This Favored Land scenario, which was set during the battle of Gettysburg. I can't say too much about it, as I'm running it again at DragonCon in a midnight gaming session. The players enjoyed it, which is the important part.

I didn't know when my game would end, so I couldn't commit to playing a Call of Cthulhu game run by Adam Scott Glancy. By the time I called to find out what was up, all the seats at the game were taken. I had to run our inflatable bed over to Ross, so I figured I'd drop it off and then wander into the Embassy Suites to see if I could get into any open gaming. That was the plan. Instead, I ended up hanging around until almost 3 a.m. watching the Cthulhu game. And even then, the game was only half over (so it's just as well I didn't join, as I couldn't have stayed up until 3 Sunday morning and still drive home that day). Ross will have a podcast of the game. I'm looking forward to listening to the second half, the half I missed. I'm sure you'll be able to hear me make the occasional smartass comment on the podcast in the 1st half.

Saturday I ran two games. I ran a Wild Talents game in the morning using a setting I made up for Logan. The game was Target: Planet Earth. The players are aliens invading the Earth, and thwarting the plans of other invading aliens. I can't say too much about this, either, as I'm running it at DragonCon, too, during the midnight gaming sessions. I had two players, one of whom I think I ran a game for last year. They had fun, and thought it was cool that ORE could be adopted this way. They asked if it would be a supplement for Wild Talents at some point.

At 4 p.m. I ran This Favored Land: Crescent City Crescendo. This is a New Orleans Civil War adventure, using the same characters from a scenario last year. I had four players, and they all enjoyed the game thoroughly. One of the players took the character with the ultra-charm ability. She told me later that she wasn't expecting to be all that powerful; she was pleasantly surprised to discover that she could really kick some butt. (This is another game I'm doing at DragonCon.)

That evening I crashed hard from the night before. Need to pace myself better for next year. I did manage to walk around the board game areas, though. Rio Grande, Fantasy Flight, and Mayfair all had games running. You had to pay to get in like any other event, so I couldn't just sit in on a game. I need to do that next year. There were a few that looked really good, and I could try before I buy.

Westin hotel comment #3: The hotel really tries to nickel-and-dime you. Alana ordered a pizza, and the phone call was $1.50. There's the aforementioned fridge. Parking is $25 a day with no in-out privileges, and $28 a day for valet (similar to the Conrad a couple of blocks over, a much more expensive but swankier hotel). They also want $10 a night for internet service, which is ludicrous when you're only checking e-mail. You can get free internet down in the lobby, which adds to the insult. "Yeah, you can use our internet for free, as long as you don't want privacy and do it in the lobby. If you want to check e-mail in your room, it's going to cost you." Seriously, they charged $159 a night for the room (when in off peak times they've sold the room for $73), you'd think they could build in the internet usage into their pay structure. I went downstairs and got it for free. They didn't get a cent more out of me, they just inconvenienced me. If I had to do it again, I'd be tempted to go down there in a bathrobe.

Sunday I was supposed to run a game of This Favored Land. Only one player showed up. Luckily he played in a couple of my other games and saw this as an opportunity to visit the dealer's room for the first time. It allowed me to get lunch, visit the booth again, meet a couple of people who really loved This Favored Land, shop one last time through the dealer's room, and then leave by 2 p.m. That got us home by about 2:30 a.m., saving us money on another hotel room in Blytheville.

Westin hotel comment #4: Shane, Arc Dream prez, booked our rooms. The hotel charged his valet parking to our room. We told the people at the desk about this as we were checking out, and they removed the charge. They put it back on later, and since we paid by debit card it came out of our bank account. It took a flurry of e-mails between Alana, Shane, and the hotel to get it sorted out. The accountant was pretty snooty about it, too, insisting that their documentation proved it all. Except that the charge for valet parking was for four nights, and Shane stayed five. So if it was his parking, and not just some stupid error, they didn't charge him properly. It wasn't so much the fact that they goofed that bothered me. It was the attitude that seemed to say we should be thankful that we stayed with them, and that we're obviously trying to pull something over on them. Sure, our room was in Shane's name (and mine). We told them this at the desk on Sunday morning. They couldn't have sorted this out before we left? Their customer service e-mails leave a lot to be desired. We won't be staying there next year if we can help it.

Overall, hotel not withstanding, I had a good convention. I got to run lots of games, and got some ego stroking from my book. Arc Dream had problems with their printer and so we didn't have a lot of books at the con. We did sell out the copies of This Favored Land that were there, we sold out Ben Baugh's Kerberos Club, and sold most of the copies of Greg Stolze's and Ken Hite's Grim War. Sales were down from last year, but from what I heard they were down for everyone. Blame the economy.

I picked up less loot this year, again a function of the economy with Alana out of work. I bought 3:16, as mentioned. I bought the campaign book for Memoir '44, as it was only slightly more expensive than getting it online before shipping costs. I was looking for a dungeon crawling game for Logan, but the only one I really saw was Fantasy Flight's Descent, which is huge in mass and in price (and $20 cheaper online). Instead, I saw a demo of Dwarven Dig, a cool game of dwarves digging through earth to get to a hidden treasure trove. Logan will like it, because it has a lot of possibilities for beating on Dad. The components are nice, and it was nominated for an Origins award. Other than that, the only other thing I bought was Mythos poker chips from Dagon Industries, one of our boothmates. I picked up two sets, which can be used as poker chips or as sanity tokens for Call of Cthulhu and Delta Green. I have some other ideas for them, too. For helping with the editing, Alana and I received a copy of The Kerberos Club and Grim War. I didn't even buy any dice this year (though both Alana and Logan did).

I didn't get a lot of time to look at other stuff and try demos and such. One of the things on my to get list was the new transhuman sci-fi game Eclipse Phase. Two of the players in my Spangler's Spring scenario had a bad experience in a demo and warned me off it. They thought the game was very crunchy. I liked crunchy games in the past (I've played both Living Steel and Harnmaster), but I'm shying away from that in my current groups. There are times when Chaosium's BRP comes across as a little too time consuming (I'm looking at you, automatic weapons fire rules!). This is probably a non-starter for our group. I might pick it up in the future to mine for ideas.

Another book on my to-get list was Realms of Cthulhu, the Cthulhu Mythos game for Savage Worlds. The book is very pretty and hard cover, but it's a bit short at 150-odd pages for $40. The main reason I didn't get it was that it's yet another 1920s Cthulhu game, when I can already run Cthulhu in a couple of different game systems. I want to try Savage Worlds, but our group has a lot of other games already. Alana isn't crazy about the 1920s setting for Cthulhu. If this had 21st century stats (and I'm not saying it doesn't, only from my perusal it didn't look like it did), I'd get it to give it a try. I could also run a game on Skype using it for a 1920s game. So, this is going on my Christmas list, but I didn't get it at GenCon.

Logan had a lot of fun at his first game convention. He bought a fair bit of stuff, but still came back with $50 of his own money. Next year we'll work on getting him into some games. He also said he wants to play my game, meaning he wants to play in a This Favored Land adventure. I'll have to do something about that! Alana enjoyed herself, but I'll let her comment herself.

Tomorrow, I'm off to northwest Tennessee to train some clients, then I'm back for a three day work week, then it's off to DragonCon by way of Birmingham.

Friday, August 07, 2009

It's almost that time....

Gencon. Everything possible seems to be happening to keep us from Indianapolis, or me, at any rate. Is it a sign? Or maybe it's a sign I should get the hell out of Louisiana....

In June, I went into the hospital a couple of times, and yesterday my doctor sent me to the ER again, this time for a heart scare. (I tried to explain that I don't have one, but they never listen.) When we finally got home, I promptly fell down the steps. More accurately, Sabine yanked me down, but that leads into a whole other story about the dog and I and the steps, so we won't go there.

Anyway, now i have more pills, and a nasty scrape on my shin that's
shaped vaguely like Chile. Allan has threatened to have me a suit made of bubble wrap lined with pain meds, and I'm starting to think that's a dandy idea.

Off to think of more things to pack....

Monday, July 06, 2009

I need a hobby...

Again...obviously...this is not Allan posting.

Allan has hobbies up the wazoo. Since I haven't been working, most of my time has been spent in the hospital, recovering, or limping around the apartment wishing I felt like doing something. With the exceptions of the times that Allan and Logan are here, I feel like a lump, and I'm bored with a giant capital B. I've read until my eye sockets are bleeding, and I can no longer think about anything about which I want to read. This will sound odd coming from a resident of a miniature Library of Congress, but there's nothing here to read. War in whatever period of history is simply not my thing. And I like gaming, but browsing the minutiae turns my brain to mush (not that it has far to go these days).

So. Today I vacuumed and made a pot of soup...and now I'm exhausted. Sad, because as I told Allan, it's not as though I went out and harvested ingredients. I opened a box, a bag, and a few cans, then I went and laid on the couch like I'd conquered a small peak.

Any ideas? Correction--ideas for something to do that don't involve housework. I love to cook, but the rest of And yes, I can hear the dustbunnies snickering at me from beneath the desk, but they can just bite me.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The BEST Michael Jackson eulogy yet!

This is the best encapsulation of (the late) Michael Jackson's life that I've yet seen in print:
Weird guy. Odd duck. Seemed to like chimps, if I recall. Wasn't he friends with Eddie Murphy or something?
This is from an article on Something Awful. The article is about the tribute to Michael Jackson in the August edition of Roofers' World magazine.

Do I really have to mention that this is a satire?

The article is a must read. You can find it here:

Word of warning, my eyes are still watering after reading it...

Saturday, July 04, 2009

FireFox 3.5 and new add-ons

I'm writing this blog post using an add-on for Firefox called ScribeFire. I loaded it to write not only to Designated Import, but to the Arc Dream LiveJournal. While Blogger's online editor isn't too bad, LiveJournal's sucks. I was using Semagic to write to LiveJournal, but I couldn't figure out how to use it for both blogs. ScribeFire solves that problem.

I downloaded Firefox 3.5. It's a cool update of Firefox. It's still not as fast as Google Chrome, but it has way cool add-ons and it's much faster than Internet Explorer (and I really dislike IE8).

I thought I'd list the add-ons I'm using in Firefox, as they're the reason I haven't moved to Chrome.
  • Adblock Plus: Blocks ads to your browser. I don't use it that much, but has these incredibly annoying in-line links that are automatically added to forum posts. Adblock blocks them.
  • Better Gmail 2: I do all my home e-mailing through Gmail. This add-on adds some features to Gmail, including a coloured bar that shows the e-mail you're hovering over.
  • Canadian English Dictionary: Because I still haven't gotten away from spelling things correctly!
  • Cooliris: Cool image preview software. Alana really likes this, though I'm still unsure about it. It's flashy, but I haven't really used it for much and a couple of times it annoyed me by starting when I didn't want it to.
  • Download Status Bar: When downloading files, the status of the download shows on your status bar. When finished, it shows the file, which you can then double-click to launch.
  • DownThemAll!: Lets you download all the files on one web page. It's of limited usage, admittedly, but if you ever have a web site where you need to download a lot of files, this helps out a lot.
  • Duplicate Tab: Duplicate any tab, including history!, to a new tab. Technically this still shows up as "not available for Firefox 3.5" but if you go to the comments section, there's a link to a pre-release version for Firefox 3.5 that works quite well.
  • Greasemonkey: Runs scripts to do a wide range of things in Firefox. I haven't explored this yet, but it's needed for Better Gmail 2.
  • IE Tab: There are some sites (okay, Microsoft's and a few badly written ones) that require IE to work. IE Tab launches these sites in IE within Firefox. You get all the benefits of Firefox while rendering the site in IE (and it looks to the site like it's running IE). I don't have to run IE at all with this add-on.
  • It's All Text!: Instead of editing a text box in the browser, this add-on launches your favourite text editor for editing in it. When you close or save the document in the text editor, it updates the text box.
  • Long URL Please: Converts shrunken links, like those produced by TinyURL and other sites, into the full-sized link, so you can see just exactly where the link will take you.
  • PDF Download: One of the most useful add-ons I have, when you click on a link to a PDF file instead of automatically opening the PDF inside the browser, you have a number of options, including saving the PDF to your computer.
  • Read It Later: New add-on for me, and I haven't really tried it much. It lets you bookmark sites on a separate set of "pages to read when you have time" list, and downloads it for offline reading.
  • ScribeFire: mentioned above, for posting entries to blogs.
  • Shareaholic: Easily share links using several applications, including blogging the page, sending it through Twitter, or sending an e-mail (even through Gmail)
If you have any cool Firefox add-ons of your own, feel free to list them in a comment.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Another example of synchronicity

A couple of posts ago I mentioned synchronicity, the weird little coincidences that pop out at you. Here's another one.

Today, on I read a review of Wraeththu, a thoroughly awful roleplaying game by all accounts. The author of the review used this phrase: "He looks like a gamer version of a Keene painting."

At the same time as I was reading that, I opened a TV review article on Salon. I'm just now reading it. The phrase that pops out at me? "The studly, flawless good guy saves an adorable foreign child with eyes straight out of a Keane painting..."

The darnedest thing. And I don't think I'd ever seen a Keane painting, not until I Googled it just now. The eyes on some of the pictures look remarkably like the aliens I'd been looking at on a clipart web site earlier today.

Weird, indeed.

Arc Dream GenCon events posted to Live Journal

I noticed last night that the Arc Dream events were now in the GenCon calendar. I posted a complete list of these events — all 24 of them, including the 6 that I'm running — to the Arc Dream Live Journal.

You can view our GenCon 2009 events here:

You can also download the event calendar from the GenCon web site at:

If you want to pre-register for any of these events, you have to sign into the GenCon web site. Also, while I tried hard to make sure I copied the event ID codes correctly, if you're signing up for any of these codes I suggest you double check the code number.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


I'm fascinated by weird little rancom coincidences. For instance, the other night there I watched a rerun of The Family Guy, which was immediately followed by a rerun of The Office, both of which featured the song "Camptown Races".

This is just one of several that hit me this week. Which brings up another one today. Earlier this week I read a chapter in the upcoming Delta Green book and sent in my comments. Without giving much away, one part of the text mentioned the slave revolt on the island of Saint Dominique in 1789. Today, I happened to catch up on some reading on the Civil War Memory web site, and it, too, mentions that slave revolt (in yesterday's posting). I read about the revolt years ago, and here it pops up twice in a couple of days.

I recommend the Civil War Memory blog, found at It's written by a teacher and Civil War historian, whose mission is to educate about the wary while cutting through many of the myths surrounding it. I've had a link to the site on my blog for a while, but the link was to the old site (I've now updated it).

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Update on Alana

Alana was in the hospital, from Thursday to Monday. She started throwing up for no good reason on Thursday and couldn't stop. Her white blood cell count was up, indicating gastroenteritis, apparently.

She got to come home on Monday, but has been queasy ever since. She felt good earlier today but took a turn back to feeling queasy. Hopefully she'll be feeling better tomorrow.

Oddly enough, her back and leg pain — which has been her big problem recently — hasn't been an issue. It's like parts of her rotate through making her miserable.

Anyway, some folks have been asking about her, so I thought I'd post something on the blog.

Monday, May 25, 2009

This Favored Land at IPR, and other stuff that's happened

I've still been uber busy, yada yada yada, but this being the long weekend I have some time for blogging.

Arc Dream sent copies of This Favored Land to Indie Press Revolution, the chief place for purchasing it online. They're now sold out! Some 28 copies made their way to Leisure Games in Britain, for sale in the U.K. and Europe. Pre-orders are being/have been sent out. You can buy the PDF version of the book at IPR, but for now they are waiting for a new shipment of the actual hard copy.

I ran games at ImagiCon in Birmingham, AL two months ago. I will be running six adventures at GenCon in Indianapolis in August, and a similar number at DragonCon in Atlanta in September. Half the games are for This Favored Land. Two are playtest games for The Black Devils Brigade: Daring To Die, a supplement I'm almost finished writing for Godlike (superheroes in World War II). The last game is for a game idea I have for Wild Talents. Two of the This Favored Land adventures and one of the Black Devils Brigade adventures have already been tested and run well at previous events.

Here are the events I'm running. I'll post an entry when the full slate of Arc Dream games are listed.

  • This Favored Land - Crescent City Crescendo: In Yankee occupied New Orleans, the players must stop a bomb plot that threatens to shatter the fragile peace. Superhero roleplaying during the War Between the States.

  • This Favored Land - Deserters: Early spring, 1863. A unique band of superpowered soldiers -- half Yankee, half Rebel -- desert from their units to hunt a dangerous common enemy in Tennessee's Smokey Mountains. Not long ago they were enemies, but now they must unite in pursuit of justice and vengeance. Superhero roleplaying during the War Between the States.

  • This Favored Land - Horror at Spangler's Spring: The Battle of Gettysburg is into its second day, and something terrible is happening to the wounded men near Spangler's Spring. It's up to the PCs to investigate, and stop, the horror. Superhero roleplaying during the War Between the States.

  • The Black Devils Brigade - Daring To Die: December, 1943: Elements of two divisions failed to wrest Hill 960 from the Germans. In their first real combat mission, the job of taking Monte la Difensa now falls to the joint American-Canadian First Special Service Force. Can this elite unit -- spearheaded by the men of the Talent Section -- do the impossible and succeed where so many others have failed?

  • The Black Devils Brigade - Repeat Performance: January, 1944: The American-Canadian First Special Service Force are relieved from their successful attack on Monte Majo, only to learn that their relief force has lost the mountain. The Force must, again, take the last hill blocking the Allies from Liri Valley and a drive on Rome.

  • Wild Talents - Target: Planet Earth! - As an alien invader, you must observe the hairless apes and analyze their weaknesses. But it's not easy avoiding nosey neighbors, snooping reporters, and the ominious Persons in Brown. And what's with the weird lights coming from the abandoned bubblegum factory at the edge of town? Target: Planet Earth! A Wild Talents game of alien invasion and futile resistance.

For the record, here's the stuff I'm working on:

  • Finishing up The Black Devils Brigade - Daring To Die. I want to get this done in the next couple of weeks so that it will be ready for playtesting soon, and so I can begin work on...

  • Operation Torch. This is a large campaign for Godlike. Most of it has been completed by other writers, but I've been asked to add a couple of adventures and tie the whole package together. I'm hoping to have this finished by the end of October.

  • The Silver Pavilion. An historical/fantasy game set in medieval Japan at the time of the Onin War. I've already started researching this.

  • Playtesting Delta Green: Targets of Opportunity. Alana and Jason are now caught up in testing the new Delta Green book with me (I haven't written anything for it, just testing it). I'm also looking at other groups to help with the playtesting.

  • Work on Target: Planet Earth, a humorous alien invasion supplement for Wild Talents. I'm running a game of this at GenCon. So far it's just a loose collection of notes, but it should be a fun game to rope Logan into.

  • Prepare a Vampire: The Requiem game for Alana. This will be a one-on-one game, once I get the time to work on it!

That's a lot of stuff to do. We'll see, as the year progresses, how far I get with each of these projects.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Yeah. So this is not Allan; it's Alana. He's been so busy for so many months that I've finally stormed in to update his blog. (Call it a very minor coup.)

First and foremost, his book has finally been published! Yay!!! After waiting many, many, many months, then proofreading until we were cross-eyed...This Favored Land was officially born. (Printed. Whatever. We're just excited it's here.) He went to ImagiCon in Birmingham, AL to begin promoting it, and will be at GenCon in Indianapolis this summer as well. There are a couple of other conventions he might manage to get to if things work out (Origins, DragonCon).

Otherwise, he's been working too hard; both at (real) work and writing the next book(s), and also at taking care of his klutz of a wife (that would be yours truly). To be honest, I think I'm more work than the rest of it combined.

Did I mention This Favored Land yet?

I'm kind of excited for him. ;-)