Randomness for 7/1

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1) Mars Rover takes a billion-pixel photo so you can click and zoom around in it to explore the red planet.

2) How To Use Math To Crush Your Friends At Monopoly Like You’ve Never Done Before.

3) A series of photographs showing various types of rounds cut in the cross-section. Way more interesting than it sounds.

4) Beautiful kinetic sculptures. Video.

5) An offer of free lodging always has some kind of catch to it, right? (People are weird)

6) The Ten Best Superhero RPGs ever. I’m not obsessed with them like the author of this article and I certainly haven’t played all the games on this list, but I agree with his top two.

7) If movies were reviewed like video games.

People say dumb things about Kickstarter

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So! As I mentioned earlier today, I backed the Kickstarter for the Veronica Mars movie, although I probably shouldn’t have. Not because I think there’s something wrong with a WB property being crowdfunded, but because money is tight and KS is a luxury item. I may cancel sometime in the next month.

Which should not be taken as condemnation of the project itself, of which there has been plenty.

This article by Richard Lawson in the Atlantic Wire seems like a good representative sample of the bullshit people are saying about who ought to crowdfund and when it should be seen as unseemly. Have a quote.

But here in the bourgie, comfy confines of wealthy Western society, we’re talking about people like the indie musician Amanda Palmer, who raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter to make and distribute a folk album. That’s all. Amanda Palmer, who is married to successful author Neil Gaiman and has been a prominent musician for a decade or so. Handed $1.2 million because she asked for it. People are free to spend their money however they want, but there’s something so unseemly about the asking, isn’t there? Maybe that reaction is owed to some overly reserved New England quality in me that I should fight against, but I can’t help but feel that Kickstarter campaigns for stuff like this, that is stuff people are having no trouble selling elsewhere, are a bit gauche. Plus it’s too easy.

Of course he has to take a nasty sexist dig at Amanda Palmer. Of course he has to mention that she has married comfortably (The article is obstensively about Rob Thomas’s project, so where’s a mention of his wife? The article fails to mention if he even has one.) Supposedly, Palmer is so successful that she has 100K laying around to fund her studio time and if she doesn’t, well, isn’t she a big enough name to get that money from record companies?

That money comes with strings attached, you say? Awful, debilitating strings? Apparently, that’s a bonus; we wouldn’t want things to be “too easy.”

Let’s consider the Veronica Mars movie: Maybe it will suck or be vaguely disappointing. That first season was so great while the second and third were a bit of a let down.

But the article writer above barely touches on that. His point is that this movie is a Warner property. They own the rights and will distribute the movie once it’s made. Since that’s the case, isn’t it kinda gross to be asking fans to front the money?

I’m going to step up here and say “Not at all.” Here’s why:

Warner does have control of the Veronica Mars IP, and they have no plans to a) do anything with it or b) surrender it to the original creator, Rob Thomas. It’s just gathering dust. After there was no interest in the season four promo video, the show was dead.

That’s why this Kickstarter makes sense: Fan support can make this happen. What’s more, fans want to be a part of it.

Would I be happy to see gross points in the reward levels? Shit yeah. Is having Rob Thomas and Kristin Bell follow me on Twitter for a year for $400 kinda tacky. Sure, I guess. Do I think they’re doing something really cool with this project? Absolutely.

Lawson doesn’t like the idea of seeing money talked about publicly. He wants artists to raise their money from “proper backers and investors” behind the scenes so he doesn’t have to see art mixed with commerce in such a public way. There’s a laundry list of why this is stupid, beginning with the fact that “proper” investors have already shown their disinterest, continuing through the idea that fans are “improper” backers, and finally ending with art and commerce have always been mixed who the fuck are you kidding?

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that making things is difficult, especially when they require a large capital outlay. I’m pleased to see a movie like this crowdfunded successfully (or it will be at this pace) and I hope to see more.

Brickcon was last weekend and here are the pics

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Brickcon, for those who don’t know, is a “con” that allows adult Lego enthusiasts to show off their ultra cool builds. This year I dragged my son, his buddy, and my camera off to the show.

Unfortunately, this year’s pictures aren’t what you call fabulous. For one thing, the camera wasn’t the best. Depth of field was needed for quite a few of these dioramas, but you don’t get depth of field from a point-n-click.

For another, I had a terrible time checking the screen to see if they were really in focus. My vision is getting pretty bad in these old, old prescriptions, and it was only that night that I could see just how off some of them were. So, quite a few didn’t come out at all, and several are not as crisp as I would like.

Before I go on: Here are the posts for Brickcon 2010 and 2009 (we skipped last year).

Now the pictures: As in previous years, the fantasy builds were arranged in massive contiguous dioramas, while the science fiction was mostly isolated ships and gadgets… except for this: Continue reading

People love when I review stuff.

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Except when they don’t.

Yesterday I posted about my disappointment with the Pathfinder Beginner Box and it prompted quite a bit of conversation online.

First was over on my LiveJournal account. (Because of their spam filters, I’m happy to leave comments open there.)

Second was on Twitter. Game designer Rob Donoghue kicked off a discussion about bringing new people into gaming. I tried to use Storify (for the first time) to preserve that conversation here, but that looked like a pain in the ass so here’s a couple of screen caps. Of course they’re behind the cut. Continue reading

Pathfinder Beginner Box

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So, my 10yo wanted to play some fantasy rpg, and after looking around a bit, I found this video

Looks pretty terrific, if you asked me. Best of all, it has an introductory adventure using simplified rules and pre-generated characters to teach you the game. This is a good thing, because we can not be coming to this cold. My wife has zero interest in rpgs and will only play as a family activity. My son is still learning the rules, and I just don’t have time to read through a huge game rulebook. I wanted something quick and fun.

So we open the box, the materials are beautiful, we pass out character sheets, and we start the introductory campaign.

And it’s a fucking dungeon crawl.

Okay, it’s a cave crawl, where you go from one chamber to the next, fight goblins here, defuse a trap there, fight this fight that. Sure, each room has something a little different: the spider shows how to do poisons and saving throws. The “goblin king” and the cliff you’re supposed to climb do skill rolls.

But there’s no story. No hook. Four generic characters on a generic crawl. You start by reading the situation aloud from the book (as is traditional) and then they drop you right at the entrance to the cavern.

Now, look, if this was 1981, that shit would be fine. No one expected better. But at this point, when you’re trying to reach new players, you need to pique their interest. You need a little narrative.

Why not start the adventure in the town? Role-play a neighbor complaining about some lost sheep, and a crowd bullying the mayor into arranging a tournament. Use a bit of the contest to teach the game. Maybe the PCs win, or maybe someone else wins and they go off in the wrong direction looking for the Big Bad.

How about establishing the stakes? What if the fighter (described on his sheet as having a liking for pretty women) is trying to impress a farmer’s daughter, the most beautiful milk maid in the valley? What if the cleric is frustrated that none of the locals come to his teacher’s temple, and decides to make a big show to draw in worshippers? What if the rogue needs to get some information from the local goblin bandits but they just drive her away? Give each character something to do besides kick down doors and fight random crap.

What if the local crowds blame a disreputable family at the lower end of the valley, and the heroes are sent there first. Yeah, they’re all bad guys, but their innocent of this particular crime. If the PCs drive them out, they end up killed in the dragon’s cave. If they spare them, they anger the locals who sent them there.

What if the quest is not to find the monster, but to find the sword that will destroy the monster? Then, mid-way through the adventure, something goes wrong and they discover they’ve been in the dragon’s lair the whole time.

What if? It’s the most important part of the game. Do you want to hook new players? Give them actual dilemmas to deal with, not just monsters to stab.

Look, it’s not as though I need yet another creative endeavor to fill up my days. DM-ing for my wife and son would be exhausting, and might even slow down my new book. But this was armor classes, dragons, magic missiles, the whole deal! It could have been fun as hell.

Instead, it’s just going to be another box on the shelf. Disappointing.

Randomness for 7/13

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1) The Avengers in 15 minutes. <-- FUNNY

2) The best Google search term ever.

3) To celebrate their 50th anniversary, Lego has created a life-size forest. via bedii

4) Superhero Economics: The Batman v Spider-man

5) Non-Euclidean Legos! Very cool.

6) Are you a booksnob? In convenient flowchart form.

7) I was a A-list writer of B-list productions.

Last Day for Book Giveaway (plus video games)

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Today is the last day to eligible-ize yourself to win a free book–all you have to do is sign up for my I-have-a-new-thing-out newsletter. Details here.

For those of you concerned about being spammed with my newsletter, let me mention that later tonight, when I send out the message about the new book giveaway, it will be the first ever issue of this newsletter.

In other non-news, since my wife has to work on Sunday and my son has a tournament on Saturday, today is my Father’s Day. We’re celebrating by having breakfast at a restaurant (I love restaurant breakfast, for serious) and having burgers for dinner. With buns. I know, crazy, right?

I’ve asked to have the Chris McGrath prints of my Twenty Palaces cover art either framed or matted as my Dad’s Day gift–like most people, I don’t need more stuff. However, my wife and son have been eyeballing a flat screen TV for our Netflixing. Nevermind that I think our 19″ CRT still works just fine; they have the temptation and I may be the excuse.

Anyway, I’m going to do a bit of work in the Star$$ until they get here, then they’ll leave and I’ll work some more. Work! It’s what’s for dinner.

Also, having finished, sent off, and celebrated Epic Fantasy With No Dull Parts, I finally felt as though I had permission to play a bit of computer game.

Now, I’m not exactly Mr. Moderation, so I don’t play all that much. I tend to get stuck in games, trying to do one more thing one more thing. Of course, the games are designed to make you do exactly that, which sort of sucks. As a result, I have to keep away from them for the most part if I want to create books, stay married, pay rent, move my body, and/or feed myself.

But sometimes, I say what the hell. Last night after I did the dishes, I turned on Neverwinter Nights. (It was an Oppressmas gift.) I turned it off at 4 am.

It’s possible that my wife is correct when she points out that these games aren’t good for me. And that I’m a boring husband when I play. Worse, I still couldn’t find that third werewolf. And why am I carrying around this troll head? I know someone wants it, but…

Anyway, I will now get back to formatting my son’s 10K comic fantasy for publishing on the blog while I wait for the fam. Have a great day, everyone.

Read a short Ray Lilly scene at the Suvudu Cage Match

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The poll is up. Head over there to read the fight scene featuring Ray Lilly, and see him take damage like never before (and of course he has no idea he’s in a cage match).

If he wins I get to write another one, so why not drop a vote for him?

added later: Hey, be aware that this one gets a little… intense. Don’t click through if you don’t want to read a scene that’s very physical and a little over-the-top.

Ray Lilly kills wizards

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The Suvudu Cage Match starts tomorrow and Ray Lilly is in it. What’s more, in the first round he faces Anasûrimbor Kellhus, the super-powerful wizard/monk in R. Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing series (first book here).

Yeah, as characters go, Kellhus is way up there on the power scale–so powerful, in fact, that every time I want to type his name I have to copy and paste it from Wikipedia because I don’t know how to make that mark above the “u”. But here’s the thing: Ray Lilly kills wizards. That’s his whole thing, and what’s more the sort of magic he has (and the cage match format lets him pull together spells from the different books) make him a very well-protected tank.

That’s how I’ve written the scene between them, anyway.

Anyway, the whole thing comes down to a popularity vote contest, which means I expect Tyrion Lannister to win the whole thing, and good on him for it. However! If Ray wins this first round of voting (which is iffy) and Tyrion wins his (much less iffy) then I have something special in mind for the write up between the two of them.

Vote for Ray if you want to see it.

I’ll post a link to the match when it goes live. Hey, it’s up to you guys if Ray lives or dies.