Monday, June 30, 2008

New Verve album!

Eric just forwarded this article to me:

The Verve have revealed that their first new album since 1997's Urban Hymns will be called Forth.

The band, who reformed in 2007,will release their new record in the UK on 18 August.

The Wigan four-piece are also currently streaming the first single from the album, Love Is Noise, through their MySpace page.

The track will be available to dowload digitally on 3 August and released physically the following day.

The Verve are set to headline the main stage at Glastonbury this weekend alongside Kings Of Leon and Jay-Z.

The band will also be appearing at T In The Park and the V Festival later this summer.

The full track listing for Forth is:

  • Sit And Wonder
  • Love Is Noise
  • Rather Be
  • Judas
  • Numbness
  • I See Houses
  • Noise Epic
  • Valium Skies
  • Columbo
  • Appalachian Springs

Woo hoo!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"That felt like a very well put together board game"

I'm surprised to say that the above title pretty much sums up the reaction of my players to our 4E playtests. While I wouldn't go as far as he did and call it a boardgame, I have to say I found the new edition to be a mixed bag and (given the rest of the games on my shelves) ultimately disappointing.

First some background: I loved 3E when it came out because (IMO) it was far better than previous editions. Heck, adding skills to D&D made 3e worth the price of admission. :) time went on the various flaws of 3e became more and more apparent, and running it for several years ultimately led my group to break with the system and turn to some really high quality third party d20 systems.

From the moment WotC announced 4e, we did our best to be as neutral as possible towards it. My players don't pay attention to RPG company websites or discussion groups, so they stepped into 4th edition with a fresh perspective. As for me, I've done my best to avoid most of the vitriolic 4E threads and have tried to keep a balanced perspective while reminding myself to only judge the books after I had a chance to read them and play a few sessions.

Well, we finished two six hour sessions and boy did we find 4E underwhelming. When the sessions were over, one of my players said that he felt like he just got finished playing the HeroQuest boardgame with some roleplaying for flavor. (We had fun roleplaying, but frankly very little of that came from the system.)

IMO, the game is really well built and succeeds at what it aims to achieve. Combat was nicely streamlined, skill challenges are a step in the right direction (despite wacky DCs), and every PC being effective with balanced classes was really great... however it feels like a lot of the flavor that resonated with my group was absent. That, and we couldn't shake the feeling like we aren't part of WotC's core demographic anymore. Perhaps we are just getting old, but 4E went over with us like a lead balloon. My players noted that (just like with the nWoD) the new system appears significantly improved from the original... but the overall execution left us cold.

We were surprised that there weren't any non-combat powers. Heck, the powers section might as well be renamed "class-related combat shticks". Rituals are a nice addition to the game, but there are hardly any of them, and there are a lot of interesting spells from days gone by that are simply gone. (My players pointed out that there are no Charm Person or other subtle mind influencing powers amongst the rituals, and those powers with the "charm" keyword seem to involve dishing out psychic damage or influencing the immediate combat actions of others. Only a 29th level Warlock power comes close to Charm Person, and even that lasts just one turn. So much for mind influencing magic...

Another thing that left me scratching my head was that the vast majority of the available feats involved combat abilities. The only non-combat related ones seemed to be the few skill-oriented feats (Skill Focus, Jack of All Trades, etc.), and Linguist. That's about it. This is similar to the problem I had with feats in the last edition, although I warmed up to it after third party games came out with a variety of useful non-combat related feats. Some products added a wealth of non-combat feats which really added to my d20 games. (Dynasties and Demagogues really stands out here, but there are plenty more out there.) I was hoping 4e would have built off of this, but alas it wasn't to be.

When it comes to social interaction, it's pretty much the same as 3e. We have Bluff, Diplomacy and Insight (ie, Sense Motive). I was hoping that in the eight years since 3e was released, and with the huge number of third party d20 supplements out there, that there was enough good ideas to significantly improve D&D's social rules. Apparently not. :(

Oh well. I hope I don't come off as disparaging other people's fun with 4e, as I'm well aware that my taste in games change and that my opinion of 4e is very subjective. I'm positive there are a ton of people out there having fun with it, and I hope they have a great time playing it! Regardless, it's just apparently not for my group. :(

So it goes!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Home alone!

Robin and the kids are up in Oregon visiting the inlaws until Sunday night. As such, I decided to take Friday off of work. On one hand, this gives me the first chance to have a day to myself in over ... ten years? On the other hand, I sure as heck miss them. I'll have friends over to game tonight and tomorrow, but I can't get over the fact that I'm really looking forward to them returning.

In the meantime, I'm up to no good...

Friday, June 13, 2008

More good news

CNN has a new poll with interesting numbers. More bad news for Republicans, and an interesting bit on race. Democrats are more concerned about electing a black man than Republicans are. Most likely because the Democrats have a hell of a lot riding on Obama and are probably fearful of losing what could be the easiest presidential election in memory simply due to his race...

In the battle for Congress, 54 percent of those questioned say they would vote for the Democrat in their congressional district, with 44 percent saying they'd vote for the Republican candidate.

"Democrats lead Republicans by 10 points in the congressional vote. At this point in 2006, the Democratic lead was seven points. Democrats went on to win a landslide in 2006," Schneider said.

Another question hovering over this year's campaign: Race. Forty-two percent say Obama's race will make it more difficult for him to get elected, with 57 percent disagreeing.

"That concern is higher among Democrats, at 48 percent, than Republicans, at 36 percent," Schneider said.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Interesting quote on CNNMoney

According to the Tax Policy Center's findings, the common assumptions most people make about the plans of McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, and Obama, the Democrats' pick, are not wildly off-base.

McCain: The average taxpayer in every income group would see a lower tax bill, but high-income taxpayers would benefit more than everyone else.

Obama: High-income taxpayers would pay more in taxes, while everyone else's tax bill would be reduced. Those who benefit the most - in terms of reducing their taxes as a percentage of after-tax income - are in the lowest income groups.

Under both plans, all American taxpayers could pay a price for their tax cuts: a bigger deficit. The Tax Policy Center estimates that over 10 years, McCain's tax proposals could increase the national debt by as much as $4.5 trillion with interest, while Obama's could add as much as $3.3 trillion.

The reason: neither plan would raise the amount of revenue expected under current tax policy - which assumes all the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts expire by 2011. And neither plan would raise enough to cover expected government costs during those 10 years.

"Distributionally, they're markedly different. But in terms of their impact on revenue, the two plans are not terribly different," said Roberton Williams, principal research associate at the Tax Policy Center and the former deputy assistant director for tax analysis at the Congressional Budget Office.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Reading the handwriting on the wall

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Hillary Clinton will officially suspend her campaign for the presidency by the end of the week, multiple sources told CNN on Wednesday.

The Clinton campaign said she "will be hosting an event in Washington, D.C. on Saturday to thank her supporters and express her support for Senator Obama and party unity."

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Yes we can!


Barrack Obama is the Democratic nominee for the President of the United States.

(Newsflash: Hillary doesn't concede. The song remains the same...)

The primary ends tonight

As of this post, Obama is twelve delegates away from the nomination and should have it in the bag by the end of the night.

Hillary was 202 delegates behind Obama before the DNC rules committee added in Florida and Michigan three days ago. That and Puerto Rico gave her a whopping 28 delegates and placed her 174 delegates behind. Now on the eve of the Montana and South Dakota primaries (where 31 delegates are up for grabs), Obama has grabbed at least 19 more superdelegates, including some who switched from Clinton to Obama.

Obama now has 2106 delegates (1749 pledged & 357 super delegates) and has twelve to go.

Assuming no more superdelegates declare for Obama today, polls show him gaining eight delegates from Montana and five from South Dakota. That would put him one delegate past the finish line... assuming the polls remain accurate (ha!) and superdelegates stop endorsing him.

In short, the primary is ending and now all eyes are on Clinton to see how she reacts to the defeat of her "inevitable" nomination.

Great father son D&D story from

Below is a great little story about a dad buying the new introductary adventure kit for fourth edition D&D.

I wanted to buy Shadowfell. I wanted to give my wife a bit of a break in her day. So I took my seven-year-old son with me to buy Shadowfell.

"Can I play this game, daddy?" he asks.

It don't get much better than this.

He peered at the outside of the packaging all the way home, then gleefully opened the package once we were at a table. We flipped past the rules summary, and he fixated on the character sheets. "Are these all mine?" "Yep, they're all yours." "There's nothing written where it says Name. Do I get to name them myself?" "You get to name them yourself." "AWESOME!"

He named the Fighter Pieter (pronounced "Pighter"), the Cleric Eric, the Rogue Mogue, the Wizard Mizard and the Paladin Morn. Because, really, the Paladin is DragonBORN, and my son (no dummy) immediately shyed away from trying to find something to rhyme with "Paladin."

We don't have any authorized D&D miniatures, but we have boxes full of Lego mini-figs. I color-copied the sheets from the quickstart book and handed them over to my son (hereinafter, "D") who pored through all of the legos on-hand in order to mimic the character portraits as closely as possible. He's got a little human wizard with an occult-book-tile in one hand, and a burst of flame in the other. He's got a rogue halfling with stylish hair and a jauntily held crossbow. He spent, maybe, an hour all told getting these guys right. I have pictures.

Then we went through the first encounter. D immediately grasped the use of the abilities, got the distinction between At-Will, Encounter and Daily, and was fairly careful about hoarding his resources. As he started running low on enemies, he started looking around for places to usefully apply his Encounter powers, if only to get some bang for the buck. For those who worry that there's too many powers, and that it will flood people and take them out of their enjoyment: A seven year old can run five characters simultaneously, without breaking even a light sweat of exertion.

After one Attack of Opportunity upon him, he grasped the consequences of AoO. He got Mizard the heck back from the combat, and put Eric in a choke-point between oncoming forces and any access to Mizard. He started moving his characters around the edges of any enemy contact-zone, then came in from a diagonal, often to the back corner, in order to leave more room to give other guys access to move straight up if the occasion warranted. I mention these things because I was quite surprised to see them cropping up with no explicit instruction. But, then, he's played Memoir '44, so he may well be importing knowledge. There's also the kobold shifting ability, which makes it all but impossible for the PCs to take advantage of AoOs ... dunno whether I'd consider that a bug or a feature, in an introductory adventure.

D was very pleased with Minions. I am very pleased with Minions. The first minion to come in contact with the group got smacked with a magic missile in no time flat. I tipped the little mini-fig over, then for good measure I pulled off the legs and head, leaving the dismembered little legos in the middle of the road. "YAY!" D cried.

D didn't really seem to think that the kobold shifting ability was all that deadly ... which may very well be because I didn't know how to use it to best advantage. In retrospect, I look at it and say to myself "Ah! I see what I needed to do there ... I needed Minions combining their movement-shift and their ability-driven free shift in order to flank right the heck around someone without suffering AoO, in a way that would force PCs to shift back from the Dragon-shield warriors ... that would let them use their Dragonshield training to shift in response, and I could either (a) maintain the flank or (b) get huge mob bonusses on an unexpected target nearby in the battle." So ... fodder for the poor, foolish adults who dare try to take me on :-)

But in this run-through, the shifting was mostly "Oh man, give me a chance to get the heck away from these guys," only there was no central group of kobolds left for anyone to run to. The delight D expressed as each minion was summarily dispatched made it really hard for me to conserve them. And that's without D ever getting a good to-hit roll when he tried to use Cleave, which (with its potential to take out two minions in a single shot) I'm convinced would have become his favorite attack if it had ever happened to land. The lack of minions meant that even once the dragonshield warriors got some open field to maneuver in, there was no way for them to make anything happen. Don't even talk to me about the poor kobold slinger. It's not happy to be outranged (by, specifically, magic missile) and driven out of cover.

About halfway through the battle, we turned over Mogue the rogue's character sheet. "Sneak Attack" should NOT be on the second page of the sheet. It is the rogue's primary ability, and the major factor that should inform his strategic use in the game. I'm just sayin'. D heard the phrase "Plus two d-eight" and his eyes got a misty, far-away look of delight on them. "Two d-EIGHT," he said, with a mix between avarice and reverence. Once that incentive was clearly in place, D immediately started using Mogue as more of a skirmisher than a line fighter. He kept clear of unattached foes, keeping his mobility (and staying out of range of AoO zones) until he could trap some poor kobold between Pieter and Morn, at which point Mogue would drop down into a flanking box, and butcher his target.

D was very into healing abilities. I told him how to use Surges, and he popped one on Mogue (who had taken some early ambush hits), but he was much more entranced at the idea of Eric making an attack that both damaged the enemy and healed his friends. That ability is a winner, I think, on purely emotional grounds.

D definitely noticed the impact that AC makes. Those Dragon-shield guys earned his respect. Mind you, I was deliberately describing that they were using these giant scales from some sort of lizard to turn aside swords and spears, and I think that visual image caught in his brain. Partway through the battle, he said "Oh! Oh! Daddy! Those scales come from a DRAGON! You know how I know? Because, daddy, the name of this game is Dungeons and DRAGONS, see? That's why they're so hard!"

All in all, we had a terrific time with it as a tactical war-game. There was plenty of roleplaying, in the form of us bending the little lego-figs arms in order to swing swords and axes, and to bop opponents over the head. There was some dialogue, in the form of "Gah! Get away from me you little lizard thing! I'll kill you!" on D's part and "GGRRHRHRR! SSSSSS! Glibble-glaggle ffft! AAARGH!" on mine. Naturally, with one person playing all five PCs, there wasn't very much in-team banter ... D isn't that schizophrenic.

D was extremely interested to get to Winterhaven (which we had to put off in order to do dinner). He was very insistent ... "Daddy, we have to go there! We have to! I don't even know what those things were, and if I find out what they are then maybe I can talk to them. And what about my guys teacher? He went to Winterhaven, and we have to find out what happened to him. Daddy, can we do it now, pleeeeeeeasssssse?"

That said, when I sat down with him to play Winterhaven, he immediately said "Hey? Where's the map?" I explained that some parts you just imagine. "There's a little walled village," (I set up a shoe-box) "With some guards on the walls" (lego mini-figs) "and farmhouses here and there in the valley below the hill."

This did not satisfy him. "But daddy, WHERE are the farmhouses? I have to know. How do I know if I can move to them, if I don't even know where they are?"

"Sweetheart, this is just a village. You probably won't have to fight here, and if we do then I'll make up a map on the spot."

"No. I need to know now. It could be a monster village, daddy. You. Never. Know."

Monday, June 2, 2008

Kira Dance Recital Video

Kira Dance Recital Photos

Getting ready for the Sunday finale

Posing with her flower after the sunday show

Happy Grandmother and Mother.

The kids with Uncle Eric

Kira in the dressing room on Saturday

Kira's dance teacher gave her a flower before the Saturday show

Right before the Saturday finale

Another pre-Saturday finale shot - hamming it up...

Content Kira in the waiting room on Saturday

Long time no see

I've been either working crazy late hours, working in Los Angeles on a company presentation, gaming, or spending time with the family. Maintaining a blog hasn't been anywhere near my priority list.

So with that in mind, here are photos taken from Kira's dance recital. Most of the shots are her backstage or after the show with family. While Robin taped the entire show as an audience member, I was in the back watching Kira (and a bunch of other kids) in the waiting room, making sure they didn't explode.

Anyway, next are a few photos and a video I took...