Saturday, July 21, 2012

How did James Holmes, a formerly quiet academic, drop out of life and assemble an arsenal that included an assault rifle, 6000 rounds of ammunition and an array of other explosives, without his family and greater community taking notice? The conditions that enabled this tragedy are present throughout the U.S., and the weapons themselves are only one part of the equation. As a nation, we aren't capable of having a reasonable discussion about gun control, so perhaps we can also start examining other factors.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Hey there, friends, most of my blogging energy is going into my newish gaming blog, Continuing Clockwise. You should go there and read!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reflections from 9/12/09 DnD Session

There’s a trend of rules interface glitches with the module and standard D&D rules. They aren’t 100% compatible. For some things, it’s minor, such as use of the term ‘bruised’ instead of ‘bloodied.’ For others, it’s potentially more troublesome, such as the rules surrounding pushing there was also a subtle monster design difference for a creature who swallows characters. In the module, swallowed characters could use only melee basic attacks; in similar monsters in the Monster Manual 2, they may also use close burst attacks.

Because that monster got lucky and quickly swallowed 1/3 of the party, the situation seemed potentially dire, especially since the swallowed PC endures ongoing damage, and the only way to escape is by killing the creature. With a larger party, this wouldn’t be so terrible, since the large majority of the fire power is outside of the restriction. In this case, it was a full third of the group’s firepower. When the players panicked a little (mostly the one who’d been swallowed), I panicked a little and quickly lowered the creature’s level by two. I also fudged a die roll when the same creature stunned the other two members of the group in the next round and let the striker off the hook. The players were none the wiser (yay DM screen!). Both were probably the right decisions, but I also think merely reducing the level by one would have been appropriate as well.

I actually like the creature, after the adjustment to allow bursts and will probably add in another next session. Anything with stun affects are risky with small parties, so I’m not certain yet how that encounter will look.

This session included lots of pounding at defenseless things by the party. There was one secret door that they couldn’t unlock (they didn’t find the key, and have no thieving skills), and there was a trapped gelatinous cube at the bottom of a ziggurat. While I wouldn’t want too much of that, it worked out okay. There’s no real reason why they couldn’t pound away at the door and cube, and it allowed the plot to move forward in a relatively realistic way.

Another odd twist about this session resulted from a combination of factors. We had a new player to the group – but probably the most experienced at the table playing a wizard. He appropriately tended to stay in the rear of the small party. There also happened to be several intelligent, sneaky times of monsters this session, so he got picked on more than a little. Now the wizard is out of surges (he was also the one who got swallowed). I really thought his character might die there for awhile, and I didn’t want that to happen; not to a new player.

I’m not entirely happy with the representation of the swamp; there’s something about natural settings that challenge me on the battle map.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Isoniazid, Day Three

I've decided not to worry too much about the food... I will be cautious, especially at the beginning, but this is a fundamental quality of life issue, and I'm a Superman. Right?

I am taking the liver / alcohol aspect seriously. So far, so good. Right now my plan is no more than 5 alcoholic drinks per week and no more than one per day. I'm good with structure like that, even when it's self imposed structure. I'm thinking, as a rule, a drink on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, then Tuesday and Wednesday (traditional date nights). I really enjoy my wind down after D&D drink, so I may swap around, or I may scale down further.

I drank the last good beers from the fridge on Wednesday, and started the medication on Thursday.

Friday, August 21, 2009


A few months ago I had my annual TB skin test from work, and it came up positive. It's not a big deal, but it does mean I have a 1 - 2% chance of contracting 'real' tuberculosis in my life time. If I were to contract the disease, it would be most likely to happen when I was immuno-suppressed for some other reason. If I should (heaven forbid) get cancer, or HIV or be on lots of steroids for some reason, that's when the TB would strike. While I have no reason to worry specifically about those illnesses, life is long, and one never knows. In the back of my head, I always expected cancer to be what gets me, probably because my grandfather died of lung cancer. Of course, he smoked and I don't, so, again, no specific reason to worry.

I decided to start the 9 month antibiotic treatment of Isoniazid, in order to wipe away that chance of getting TB later in life. With this drug comes a few shifts in life style until mid-May, when I conclude the course. First, my doctor suggested I have less than one alcoholic drink per day. This is to protect my liver.

There are also other food and beverages that contain Tyramine that might react badly and cause "very dangerous reactions such as sudden high blood pressure." Soy products are on that list, as are all beers (including non-alcoholic) and wine. Hrmph. My doc didn't seem that worried about the foods and whatnot, but my pharmacist did.

I think I need to do some more research, so I know what's what. I'll report my findings.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Notes from the Session

During the prep, I developed two primary paths the PCs could take; one would lead to Goodman Games’ Dragora’s Dungeon, the other, to some other, swampy content. I had one NPC advocate one choice, a second NPC wanted the other. While I thought the arguments were fairly balanced, it only took a moment for the decision to be made. On one hand, that’s good because there wasn’t frustration… on the other, there wasn’t the sense of genuine dilemma. These guys are heroes, after all. If there’s an option to solve something themselves, that’s what they’re going to choose.

While I’m pleased with the real option, I’d like to improve my dilemma level.

During the prep, the PCs did some minor bullying of court employees in order to provide themselves with a financial tip. Two of the three succeeded, the last did not, and the transaction ended. This ‘encounter’ was completely unexpected and I think I did a good job of inventing an NPC on the spot and running the interaction which included some skill rolls. The group gained solid advantage, but didn’t succeed completely – it even made sense that the character with the low charisma is the one who failed.

To provide some context, the PCs recently arrived in a small pocked dimension and found themselves in the court of Elwind the Matriarch. In the night, powerful magic hit the castle, sending everyone asleep, except for the two PCs who made their saving throws. Everyone was able to wake except for the highest leaders – the Matriarch, her cabinet members (including Mr. Fromell, the Tiefling minister introduced to the earlier) and the captain of the Zain-kin guard pledged to protect the land.

The Zain-kin are a species of large, military monkey-men; the last known clan of them lives in one of the town’s neighborhoods. As a whole, they are allied with Elwind.

As they prepared to seek out the caster of the spell, I wanted to spare them from another tracking skill challenge, so I offered to send a guide along. Only then they researched the magic as provided for in the module, and the guide became superfluous. The PCs still insisted on having their guide, so I went along with it. I planned to send him home when they reached the mouth of the dungeon, no biggie, I thought.

I didn’t put together, however, that I had planned an encounter of raiding Gnolls from the nearby demon controlled region. I quickly downgraded “Scotch” the Zain-kin guide to minion, added an extra gnoll minion, and made sure that poor Scotch didn’t survive the battle. Problem solved, with only minor complaints that they were issued a defective ape-man.

I also didn’t really expect them to fight the Gnolls. One of the PCs has a fairly high passive perception, so they were able to hear the monsters coming. Since the gnolls had nothing to do with their mission (I included them in order to set up future conflict with that region), I thought they might hide from sight.

One nuts and bolts lesson from this encounter: when I drew the (impromptu) battlemap, I should have positioned the characters better, from a practical standpoint. They started at the bottom center, and the gnolls started in the left edge (all relative to me). This had the affect of making much of my terrain irrelevant and made the outside battlefield seem artificially small. All in all it didn’t matter much, but could have been better. My balance of bushy ‘obscuring’ terrain and 5 and 10 foot rocks worked really well. There was cover, and climbing, and hiding and all that good stuff.

I probably should have accelerated the damage at the end of the fight: the toughest mob, with the most hp was saved until last (wisely on all sides); yet there was no doubt how the battle would end. Gnolls don’t run (as a rule) and the PCs had plenty of firepower; not to mention it was the last encounter of their day. I could have easily increased damage by .5 on all sides when the outcome became assured…

The last big takeaway came when they got to the first encounter area of the module. Even though the book is divided into sections, very often the different sections are encountered simultaneously. For example, in our session, as the PCs rappel down to a ledge, the ropes are cut and rocks are hurled at their heads. No problem, however, in the next section of text, you learn that the ground they have just reached is trapped. The lesson here is that good DMs, like good facilitators, good writers, good managers etc… really need to understand how the parts interact and affect one another. This requires some forward thinking and some time spent paying attention to the details.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Steve McNair's BAC

Steve McNair, the retired NFL quarterback who was shot in his sleep last week, had a blood alcohol content of .16 at the time of his death. Almost every story I've read describes it as 'twice the legal limit.' While it's twice the legal limit to drive, HE WASN'T DRIVING. He was sleeping. While .16 is in the feel-good range of consumption, it isn't remarkable, and doesn't imply any inappropriate behavior.

By phrasing his BAC as 'twice the legal limit' the AP is manufacturing a false connection between Mr. McNair's murder and his ability to drive.

Link Light Rail

Seattle's new Link light rail system opened over the weekend, and I made my first commute with it this morning.

I don't live quite close enough to a station to make it simple. Instead, I have to take a bus for about .75 of a mile to connect with a train. I discovered that I can take a normal, non-express bus to the station, get on the Link, transfer in the bus tunnel (no walking required) and arrive in about the same amount of time it would have taken on an express bus.

This isn't all that helpful for the daily, normal commute. I do think this will be very helpful on weekends and times when express buses either don't run or when I've missed the window for them. In a sense, but transferring the the Link, I can convert any normal bus into an express trip, with some relatively minor adjustments.

I'm particularly interested in seeing how the Link will help me get home after sporting events and during snowy weather.

An unexpected benefit is that I feel like I'm in the Warriors movie when I ride the train. I suppose that's a benefit, since it's a good movie. It's not a world I'd like to live in though...