Browsing the blog archives for February, 2007

Link Roundup

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Miscellaneous

Middle Ages tech support… Hilarious and probably true. Via 2Blowhards.

Via the related videos on the classic Kitty Washing Machine, Cat Head Theater – Hamlet:

When Harry Met Sally Recut, via 2Blowhards

Occasionally I’ll come across a fun ultra-slow motion video of, say, a balloon being burst or a can of soda exploding. I recently came across this website that’s dedicated entirely to slow-motion and extreme closeup videos: Lucid Movement. Pretty cool stuff, although the pay scheme here makes them come off as snobbish.

I don’t tend to use Wikipedia all that much, but when I came across this list of unusual articles in Wikipedia I definitely spent a few hours perusing it. Who needs this information? Who cares? It’s all kind of fascinating in an eerie and esoteric way.

Via 2Blowhards I come across this interview with Scott Derrickson who is a big fan of Chesterton. I’ve never read any Chesterton myself, and I’ve never seen any of Derrickson’s films either, but this interview has me kind of wanting to seek out both. Particularly Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, since this man claims it changed his life — I’m certainly interested in reading a book which could do that.

In a kind of related note, I came across this article on ChicagoBoyz which is tough to describe, but generally speaking is about the fragility of culture and civilization. Thought-provoking stuff.

Steven Levitt talks about the economics of being in a gang. Not surprisingly, the pay doesn’t compensate for the high risk nature of the job…

Cate Blanchett

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Visual

I heard from a friend of a friend of a friend that there was some kind of big gathering or party recently, something relating to moving pictures if I recall correctly. There’s some completely hilarious commentary on the tragedies and travesties of this event over at GoFugYourself. I’ve been sitting on this post for awhile… How long is awhile? Well, since around, oh, this comic. Anyway, after being reminded by the screencaps of how attractive Cate Blanchett was in the Lord of the Rings movies I went to go look up some pictures of her…

She stood before Frodo seeming now tall beyond measurement and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall, and the light faded, and suddenly she laughed again, and lo! she was shrunken: a slender elf-woman clad in simple white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad. ‘I pass the test,’ she said, ‘I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.’
– J.R.R. Tolkien

Blanchett1

Blanchett2

She is so beautiful and elegant here… Perhaps it’s the movie magic, but in virtually every other picture I’ve seen of Cate she doesn’t look nearly as much so. Some examples of Cate elsewhere:

Blanchett4

Blanchett3

Now, let it be said that first and foremost Cate could stand to eat a few sandwiches. But her nigh-anorexic appearances aside, I don’t think either of these styles do much to flatter her. In the first of these she looks nice and attractive, but she’s nowhere near as beautiful as she is as Galadriel. The second of these is just plain scary, the squared off shoulders, the 70’s couch fabric jacket, too much exposure of her too-thin self and the mod-chic hairstyling pulled back in a way that accentuates her mouth in all the wrong ways…

Here are some slightly more flattering pictures with similar themes:

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Blanchett9

I don’t want to overload this post with too many images, but any Google image search on her can easily pull up a ton of pictures similar to the ones above. I found it kind of frustrating since a Google search on most celebrities will pull up plenty of really nice and stylish photographs, whether it be from photo shoots or awards shows or whatever, but almost all of Cate’s images are what I consider to be subpar. What’s wrong with this girl? Why can’t she choose styles that flatter her natural beauty instead of working against it?

Here are some relatively informal pictures of Cate taken and press Q&A events

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Blanchett6

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In all three of these pictures I think she looks far better than she does in the red-carpet or photoshoot situations shown above. It’s really puzzling to me that she seems to so consistently hit on these unflattering androgynous-modern styles with power suits and pulled back hair. I’m not a huge fan of the short hair since I consider that itself to be a pretty big concession towards modernity, but it can work if she goes for more classical styles:

Blanchett10

Blanchett11

Anyway, I guess the point I’m getting to is that she needs to fire her husband, because he’s clearly not providing enough constructive feedback on her outings, and hire me, or at least recommend me to a sister she may have stashed away somewhere.

Unreal Tournament 3 Gameplay Footage

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Games, Unreal Tournament

Posting up a video of some new Unreal Tournament 3 gameplay footage that was released recently. This shows off some Deathmatch / Capture the Flag and shows most of the weapons in action. Overall it looks pretty good, the level is clean and not cluttered with pipes and other crap like the maps were last time the game had an engine upgrade. The players are large and human in scale (in other words, they aren’t half as wide as they are tall). The scaling on the environment relative to the players looks good, visibility is pretty decent (for a low resolution video like this), and it generally reminds me of the original Unreal Tournament and not a circus.

For those of you who want to view it in all of its pixellated 640×360 glory, I’ve included a downloadable version here.

Iron Heroes Crunch

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Personal, RPGs

We started playing an Iron Heroes game this week. Had a bit of a rough start as far as getting everyone to get their characters rolled up and such, but eventually we got things rolling and had some fun. I’m pretty excited about this game and hope it turns out well.

I’ve been looking for a bit of art to try and represent my character. I’ve got in mind a sort of germanic looking Ranger — I was thinking of using a screencap of Aragorn from Lord of the Rings … But, well, there’s just too much other stuff surrounding Aragorn for me to want to play a character presented as him.

Right now I’m thinking I will photoshop this image into something I like…

IronHeroesCharacter1

As for crunch…

Human / Hunter 1
Traits:
Intelligence (Mental)
Forest Born – Ghost in the Green (Background)

28 point buy (Original array in parentheses)
Str: 12 (14)
Dex: 14 (14)
Con: 12 (12)
Int: 16 (14)
Wis: 12 (12)
Cha: 10 (10)

HP: 9 (4+1d4+1)
AC: 15 (Light Shield +2, Dex +2, BDB +1)
Studded Leather, 1d3 DR

Fort: 2 (Class +1, Con +1)
Ref: 3 (Class +1, Dex +2)
Will: 2 (Class +1, Wis +1)

Initiative +2 (Dex +2)
Speed 30′

Melee +4 (Class +1, Str +1, Int +3)
Ranged (Class +1, Dex +2, Int +3)
Grapple (Class +1, Str +1, Int +3)

Scimitar +4 attack, 1d6+1(Str) damage, 18-20×2
Dagger +4 attack, 1d4+1(Str) damage, 19x20x2, 10′ inc, Small
Longbow +4, 1d8 damage, 20×3, 100′ inc

Skills: 6+3(Int) = 9 ranks. 9×4 (1st level) = 36 ranks

Groups:
Athletics (Climb, Jump, Swim) 4 ranks. (+5/+5/+5)
Perception (Listen, Search, Sense Motive, Spot) 4 ranks. (+5/+7/+5/+5)
Stealth (Hide, Move Silently) 4 ranks. (+6/+6)
Wilderness Lore (Handle Animal, Ride, Survival, Use Rope) 4 ranks. (+4/+6/+5/+6)

Miscellaneous
Heal 4 ranks (+5)
Knowledge(Nature) 1 rank (+4)
Balance 2 ranks (+4)
Escape Artist 2 ranks (+4)
Tumble 2 ranks (+4)
Bluff 1 rank (+1)
Diplomacy 1 rank (+1)
Gather Information 1 rank (+1)
Intimidate 1 rank (+1)
Bluff 1 rank (+1)
Disguise 4 ranks (+4)

Feats:
1st: Tactics of the Mind (1)
Human Bonus: War Leader (1)

Class:
1st: Tactical Pool, Hunter’s Eye, Terrain Advantage

Are MMOs Sustainable?

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Games, RPGs, Technology

So I’ve been meaning to write a bit of a longer post on games recently. A couple of factors have been coming together kind of in this direction, so I figure I may as well try and tie them all together into something long and semi-coherent.

One of the guys in my D&D group has been passing off a class of his own creation to me for perusal over balance concerns. There was a time about a year and a half, maybe two years ago when I used to be deeply involved in D&D mechanics. I knew all of the major tricks for optimizing spellcasters in all of the books then released. I was at least passingly familiar with every prestige class and feat and could probably tell you whether it was a worthwhile investment to utilize for building your uber character of doom.

And then, for whatever reason, I stopped caring. And I’m not really sure when or why, but basically I decided it was all kind of pointless. I mean, there’s a degree of planning and procedure that’s appropriate in any game. But to sit down and pore through all of these D&D books (and, damn, there are a lot of D&D books being published lately) just seems … well, what’s the point? I’ve never played a D&D game that’s gone to twentieth level. I don’t ever want to play a D&D game that goes to twentieth level. I don’t even like playing D&D games that go up to tenth level. Not only do the mechanics begin to break down at that point, but it just becomes narratively implausible for me to imagine these homeless wanderers carrying around millions of GP in their pockets and having a wardrobe full of incredibly powerful magical items.

So, anyway, to try and get back on track, I’ve been looking at this particular class. It started off as a wish-fulfillment player class and was thus, as would be expected, “too good.” A bit of nudging and finessing here and there got it more in line with other D&D classes — And then recently its power level spiked through the roof. Though I’m trying to be firm in insisting that the power level as-is is too high, I find myself kind of caught up in diplomacy and vacillation. That is to say, understanding that “balance” can only be evaluated based on one’s objectives, the “balance” of a class is a notoriously ephemeral thing. As a wish-fulfillment class it’s certainly intended to satiate some craving for power inaccessible through other D&D means, but simultaneously the search for feedback from other people indicates at least a passing desire to situate the class within the existing conception of “balance” in D&D. (And even though I consider D&D’s existing balance to be a joke, you’re not really going to get anywhere by just refusing to play by its rules.)

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Guild Wars Chinese New Years

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Games, Guild Wars

As usual, pretty busy trying to take care of everything I need to do. Last night I managed to set aside a few hours to log in to Guild Wars. I had intended to continue along in Elona, where I’ve been spending pretty much all my time in Guild Wars lately (hence no mapping updates, though eventually I’ll get back to that), but I was pretty surprised when I logged into Kamadan and saw the whole place redecorated in Chinese/Canthan lanterns.

A couple of new NPCs showed up that could take me to a new area …

GWBeetles1

GWBeetles2

GWBeetles3

This is a new area where instead of controlling your normal character you control a beetle. You can participate in races with your beetle to win prizes. Pretty cool stuff.

Hopefully I’ll have a chance to write something more substantial a bit later, just wanted to make a little post about this thing.

Missing Shows

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Personal, Visual

What the heck has been going on with the Sci-Fi channel lately?

I don’t know if they’ve changed their lineup/scheduling or what but it’s got me pretty irritated with them. All I want to be able to do is queue up Heroes and Battlestar Galactica on a Friday night and have them available to watch late Friday night or Saturday. I’ve been fortunate enough lately with my mixed up schedule to not miss any episodes: Ever since Heroes’ half-season cliffhanger I started watching it on Mondays on NBC, simply because after a few weeks of not seeing the show I wanted to get back into it without waiting the whole week to watch it. I also remember looking for Battlestar on Fridays and not seeing it, but then having it show up on my Tivo rather mysteriously.

So today I sat down to queue up Heroes and Battlestar. Not there. What the heck? Now I’m a bit irritated since I purposefully didn’t watch Heroes on Monday with the intention of getting back into my regular TV watching schedule, which means I’ll have to get caught up on the show some other way. I could probably check Sci Fi’s page to see when they moved the shows to — but doesn’t it kind of make sense to announce that sort of thing before people end up in the lurch and miss episodes of the shows they are making a commitment to watch?

I guess they’re still better than G4 Spike TV Wannabe.

Cityscape

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RPGs

So I’ve borrowed a copy of the Cityscape D&D book from one of the other guys in the group to look it over with an eye towards using it in developing the urban areas of my campaign world. I’ve got a few more books of this nature that I’ve been meaning to give a thorough reading so I can get some good ideas and plan out cities for my campaign settings. As I was looking through it I took some time to write down some notes on bits of the book that I found notable.

The book starts off with some basic notes on who it’s geared towards — Mostly it seems to be saying that it’s geared towards DMs but has the usual D&D book feats, spells, and Prestige Classes so that munchkins can grab something from it. The Amazon reviews I read on the book expressed a similar sort of disappointment that the book would split its attention in this way: What I really want is a guidebook for constructing unique but realistic cities and villages for a campaign setting, not a bunch of munchkin mechanics.

The first bit of the book is sample cities — Nothing spectacular, but with nice looking maps and some NPCs and descriptions of the city. Probably good for [plotwise] small cities which the PCs may pass through and only see one or two locations within.

After that the book moves on to city-based subjects that gave me a few ideas to think about: Sanitation conditions for various areas of a city, use of sewers, aqueducts, canals, wells, and so on. The book also got me thinking about news distribution channels, public transportation (if any), and law enforcement / laws. The next couple of sections brought up environmental hazards, and there were a few useful ones, such as acid rain/fog, and deadly molds. The book seems to posit the later ones as problems for the PCs in and of themselves, although personally I think getting killed by mold would be a bit anti-climactic. Still they’re the kinds of things that would bother people who live in a location and might need outside expertise to solve.

Some ridiculous rules:
-In areas lit by lanterns, the book recommends the possibility of lantern smoke as an environmental hazard. The lantern smoke gives something like a -2 penalty to rolls and requires a fortitude save against coughing. Pretty extreme for lantern smoke considering the number of magical/supernatural effects that only give you a -1 or -2 on rolls. (Though that does give me an idea about penalizing spot checks and so forth in a smoke-filled barroom or similar situations).
-The book gives the example of potholes as an environmental hazard. A pothole 2-3 feet in diameter is listed as having a DC10 check to spot and a DC15 Reflex save to avoid. So you’ve got roughly a 50-50 chance of seeing a 2-3 foot hole in the ground and a 75% chance to fall in. Falling in gives you -2 to your Dexterity and reduces your speed by 5ft. That is one deadly pothole.
-As usual, the D20 wealth stuff seems pretty ridiculous. Your average meal is running around a silver, yet an expensive bottle of Elven wine can cost as much as a low-moderate quality house. Maybe this is an appropriate distinction between wealth and poverty, but D&D really ought to run in a more moderate zone for average wealth levels of the PCs.

The book then goes through a list of potential “districts” that one can plop down in a city. This is one of the better sections of the book, as it gives types of districts and descriptions of each district type, as well as a plot hook that could be used if the PCs are just looking for something to do. The main problem I have with this section is that it gives no real guidance on how to create a city from these districts. The introductory part of this section says that a district comprises roughly 300-600 people and that a small city will have twenty districts, whereas a large city will have fourty and a metropolis will have eighty. Maybe it’s just me but I consider this approach a bit too freeform. What districts should pretty much every city have? What proportion of residential and commercial districts should there be? Even a little more in the way of guidelines here would have really improved my opinion of this section.

I have to say that probably my favorite “section” in the book are the little asides in the text boxes. These aren’t sections per-se but little half-page or so boxes that describe situations and give some pretty useful ideas or rules or descriptions to handle them. For example, page 42 has the “City Sights” interlude with 20 descriptions of things that would be happening in the city that you could use for spontaneous flavor. Page 44 has an interlude on how to make trips to the tavern interesting, going over things you can do in the tavern like drinking, armwrestling and other games, performing, and so on.

At this point we’re only 50 pages into the book. Unfortunately, the next 50 pages … I didn’t really find much that I liked there. It seems to be a big mishmash, with some canned text about various races and how they might fit into a city mixed in with new feats/spells. Around page 70 we get into some fairly generic descriptions of city governments and organizations intermixed with prestige classes. What’s pretty strange to me is that the chapter treats noble houses, guilds, and “organizations” as separate entities — there’s even a subsection specifically for churches even though there were already subsections for “religious guild” and “religious organization” previously. Either way, this chapter was a loss for me, the only useful bits being the sample NPCs provided to represent the organizations.

The next chapter is decently useful, going briefly over the types of events that might occur in the city and providing lots of sample NPCs for fights. I’m not so interested in “monsters” within cities, so that bit wasn’t useful to me.

All in all I was kind of underwhelmed with the book. Even though it comes in at about 150 pages it could have easily been boiled down to 50 or so. It’s pretty short on mechanics and the mechanics it does have are those that I specifically don’t want — I don’t care about having special doodad powers or statblocks for monsters, I want mechanics for generating cities, city components, special features, figuring out organizations and politics and all that. Naturally all of the things I want are treated in a paragraph of vague text. So I’m pretty glad I didn’t purchase the book, though some bits are nice enough that I may want to borrow the book again in the future.

Update: I uploaded an archive containing all of the art from the Cityscape book that I downloaded from Wizards’ website. Download here.

Minor Update

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RPGs

I finally broke down and bought my own copy of Iron Heroes and took another step towards actually starting up my campaign again in the foreseeable future. I’d been looking for it locally, but since it’s kind of a niche item, even for D&D books, I wasn’t really expecting to find it. Regardless, I asked one of the other guys to bring it in, the book got passed around a few times and most everyone seemed interested in running out of that book primarily.

Now, knowing the players I expect a tad bit of trouble when it actually comes time to play, with them wanting to play their typical (unusual) archetypes of say, Elven Samurai and Half-Everything/Half-Spellcaster/Half-Rogue. I’m hoping that, generally speaking, the background traits of Iron Heroes (basically allowing +2 to any attribute with a corresponding -2 elsewhere) will assuage any misgivings they have over playing an all-human group of characters.

My main concern is how much additional work picking up Iron Heroes will add to the NPC creation process — I suppose it’s not all that important since I can always use base D&D classes in lieu of Iron Heroes classes, but for major characters I will want to give them some of the nice features that Iron Heroes gives, like token pools and whatnot. Major bugs on my mind still? D&D’s skill system and the wacky-beyond-belief economy.

I wonder if Iron Heroes has alternate treasure rules, can’t recall…