Monday, November 21, 2022

New magic Items for D&D

A couple of weeks ago I ran "Don't say Vecna" for my player. When I was reading through the adventure in preparation for the game, I could not help but notice the keys to access the portal to Vecna's lair were the hand and eye of one of the inhabitants of the tower. Of course these were not magic items and the persons name was not Kevin, but I thought it would be hilarious if these items were watered down versions of the real thing. This is what I came up with;

The Eye of Kevin

  • You have Darkvision for 120 feet, if you already have Darkvision, the Eye doubles the distance of your Darkvision.
  • Any spell requiring an attack roll you make deals an extra 2d8 cold damage on a hit.

The Hand of Kevin

  • Your Strength score becomes 16, unless it is already 16 or higher, then you receive a +2 to your Strength score up to a maximum of 20.
  • Any melee weapon attack made with a weapon held by it, deals an extra 2d8 cold damage on a hit.

Both the Hand and Eye of Kevin

  • You gain proficiency in Intimidation, if you already have Intimidation, you gain Expertise in Intimidation.
  •  If you start your turn with at least 1 hit point, you may roll 1 Hit Die to regain hit points.
  The Hand and Eye of Kevin requires separate attunment. Attunment takes place upon touching the item and causes 2d6 psychic damage and 2d6 necrotic damage. The items integrate themselves into the characters body and retain the look of the item, which will disturb most people unless effort is made to cover them up with an eye patch, glove or illusion. The character can remove attunment at any time, in which case they once again take 2d6 psychic damage and 2d6 necrotic damage, but otherwise return to the state they were in prior to attunement.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Review: They Will Drown in Their Mothers’ Tears by Johannes Anyuru

They Will Drown in Their Mothers' TearsThey Will Drown in Their Mothers' Tears by Johannes Anyuru
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This was a rough read. It might be an artifact of the translation process, but transition between scenes was nothing less than horrifying. It felt like at times the author would move from one scene to another halfway through a paragraph. I get the author was telling two different stories, and they were attempting to give the reader a sense of confusion about the reality being created, however it did not work for me at all, it ended up feeling like bad writing compounded by bad translation work.

It did not help that this book was depressing and not just slightly depressing, the kind of depressing that makes you loose your will to live. The first of the two main characters Annika/Nour, is supposed to be a time traveler sent back in time to prevent a terrorist attack, she is supposed to be a sympathetic character. The problem is, she comes off as a terrorist who had a last minute change of heart and is now trying to get off on an insanity plea. I found her story to be completely unbelievable and about as compelling as your average Bruce Willis movie. I was not even slightly convinced she was a time traveler.

The second main character, an unnamed writer she asks to come visit her at the asylum she is locked up in. He gets caught up in her story and ends up visiting her several times. This casts a shadow over his own life and his relationship with his wife and daughter. No journalist outside of Info Wars would touch this story, let alone actually entertaining a person like Annika/Nour, who is either batshit crazy or a con artist.

Bad writing, bad story, bad characters. I highly recommend avoiding this one.

View all my reviews

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Setting up a Mastodon Server

I spent the better part of today setting up a Mastodon Server. For those who don't know what Mastodon is, it is a Twitter replacement. Getting an account on Mastodon is not quit as intuitive as Twitter, the hardest part being finding a server. Over the last week, I have been considering this move because of the Elon Musk/Twitter train wreck currently going on. I am not a huge Twitter user, but I know a few people who are and I was thinking they might need a place to land eventually and once you have a server it is very easy to sign in and start using.

For the last year or so, I have been getting into self hosting. I have my own ESXi server for virtual machines, I also have a machine dedicated to hosting Docker containers and I have gotten pretty good at building internet facing services. I am not going to go into any details about what I did to get everything running, there are plenty of good documents on the internet to help you do this, all I am going to do is provide an overview for those who are interested and think they might want to do this themselves.

My instance of Mastodon is hosted on a virtual machine on my ESXi server. I looked into doing it on Docker, which is my preference, but Docker seemed to make the process harder rather than easier. Besides that, backing up VM's is much easier than backing up Docker containers. I gave the VM 4 GB of RAM, 128 GB of hard drive space and 4 CPU cores. I suspect that will be more than enough to handle a small user base, assuming I decide to keep it going. Looking at the monitoring tools I use, the install is taking up about 5 GB of storage, it is using 1.25 GB of memory and CPU usage is staying comfortably under 10%. Please keep in mind this is with basically 1 user, ME! I am certain if I had say 10 regular users, this would change.

I really only ended up with 2 major issues. The first was I had trouble getting HTTPS working properly, solving this issue was mostly about getting all the tricky little settings between the VM, my proxy server and Cloudflare talking properly, honestly I have no idea what I did that finally made it work. The second big issue I have is email verification does not work. I tried to follow the instructions for getting smtp working, but no matter what I did, it failed to send out emails correctly. Fortunately I can manually confirm users and since I do not really plan to have more than a handful of accounts, if any at all, this will not be a problem. All the other issues I had were with things like out dated documentation and variations with Linux commands, nothing that was not easily solved with a few minutes of thought.

I really have no intention at this point of actually allowing others to use this beyond myself and the wife. I doubt the twitter thing is going to result in Twitters implosion and in a couple of weeks it will all be over. I am going to leave it up and running for a while though just in case. Besides, who knows, I might actually decide I like Mastodon and use the server as my own beautiful virtual world.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Magic: The Gathering 30th Anniversary Edition

 Wizards of the Coast (WotC) has announced it will be releasing the Magic: The Gathering 30th Anniversary Edition. I am not going into specific detail about what it is, you can go read the announcement for yourself.

This announcement has become the latest Internet shit storm. Usually with Internet shit storms, I sit back and eat popcorn, these things never fail to entertain. Unfortunately for me, with this one, there seems to be very few people attempting to defend this product. 99.99% of what I seeing is against this product, even WotC has not spent anytime commenting on it or defending the decision to publish this product.

There seem to be two camps opposed to this product. First there are the common players who make up 90% of the people who play and collect Magic cards. These people range from the casual player who buys a couple hundred dollars of cards a year to to serious tournament players who spend a significant portion of their yearly income on cards. These folks want cards they can play the game with and the $999.99 price tag is too high, it effectively prices them out of the product. The second group is the top tier collectors, the people with a lot of money and invest some portion of that money into cards hoping that $15,000 Black Lotus will someday sell for $25,000. This group does not want this product because it will drive the prices of the cards they have down. The second group does not want the reserved list cards reprinted at all. The first group would love to see those cards reprinted, but they want them reprinted at an affordable price.

There is no doubt in my mind this will be a successful product and it will sell out. Anyone with any knowledge of Magic: The Gathering as a game will understand that this product will be selling on the secondary market for $3,000 this time next year and in five years it will be selling for $10,000, this is as close to easy money as you will ever get. If I have enough money come November to buy one or even two, I will do it, I would be crazy not to. I put it in a box and on a shelf and forget about it for a couple of years, it is a no brainer. Worst case scenario is ten years from now you sell it for $1200. This product is never going to be worth less than what you paid for it, assuming you paid the original $1,000 for it.

While I am probably not going to buy this product, just based on the price alone, I really don't think this is a bad idea, I just really wish it was cheaper. I don't care about the reserved list, I don't care about the secondary market, I don't care about collectors. All I really care about is playing the game, so I am in the first category of players. I really don't see why WotC doesn't reignite the Legacy and Vintage formats the same way they lit up Modern by providing support for it. If they reprinted the Unlimited set with the modern frame, for a reasonable price and said they could only be played in Commander, Legacy and Vintage, they would sell hundreds of millions of dollars of these packs. On top of that, I don't think it would affect the long term value of the old cards. Anyway, that is my opinion on this.

Monday, October 3, 2022

$100 Computer

Best Buy is selling ASUS E410M for $99.99. This is not a beefy system as you would expect, it has a Celeron processor, 4GB of Ram and a 64 GB solid state hard drive. In spite of the tepid specifications of this machine, I thought, just how bad can this be. The worst case scenario is it becomes a $100 paper weight or I give it away to someone child. For the sake of transparency, I also purchased a 512 GB M.2 card as well for around $80. This is not strictly necessary, but keep in mind Windows 11 is 30 GB by itself, so that 64 GB drive it comes with will not allow for many extra programs to be install or much in the way of music and videos, especially since a chunk of that 64 GB is taken up by a recovery partition.

Oddly enough, I was actually surprised by how well this system actually performed. I was expecting to have to install Linux on it to make it actually usable, but that was not the case. Windows 11 performed well enough that I left it on the system. I am not going to pretend this system will replace anyone's desktop or even a laptop used for anything serious. Programs like GIMP ran extremely slow and choked quickly on the anemic 4 GB of RAM. However the Edge browser worked fine and played YouTube videos fairly well. I also did not have any trouble running VLC, Libre Office or Visual Studio Code. Compiling small programs with GCC went okay, I am sure though I would not be happy if I tried to compile a 10,000 line project.

Some things to note, uninstall Microsoft 365 unless you actually plan to use it. It is also worth while to disable all of the ASUS software that runs in the background, this frees up some hard drive space and some memory that can be used for more productive things. You will also do well to switch Windows out of S mode so you can install software outside of the Microsoft Store. You should also try to avoid big software packages that are known to be hogs, GIMP and Photoshop being the common ones, as well as almost all virus scanners, just be careful about what you are doing and you should be fine.

So what is this thing good for? Well I think if you have a kid who needs something slightly more useful than a Chromebook, but don't want to drop $500 on a machine for a child, this is a good choice. This is also good as a throw away computer to take traveling. Even if you buy the M.2 like I did, with tax, you are still under $200, so if you loose it, it is stolen or it gets damaged, you are really not out that much, as long as you make sure to back up your data in the cloud like a good and responsible computer user. For light use, this system boots reasonably fast and works just fine. I bought it thinking I might live to regret it, but instead came out thinking that it did not entirely suck.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

My Early Computer Experiences

My interest in computers started when I was in grade school, or more likely started when I was watching Star Trek in the late 60's and early 70's. The first time I actually got to use a computer was in High School, when i took a computer programming class. At the time a bank in town had a DECSYSTEM-2020, basically a PDP-10, which they did not not come even close to using all of its resources and so allowed Billings Senior High to access it and teach computer classes. It was on this system that I learned to program Basic for the first time. At this point I did not really get into computers, the instructor was pretty uninspiring, plus he and I disagreed on the utility of flow charting.

When I started college at Eastern Montana College (EMC), they actually had their own Dec system. It ran the same operating system as the one used by my High School, but I cannot tell you what model it was. Here is a picture of it in the early 80's, maybe someone can tell me what it is..

It was at EMC where I really took my first steps into learning how computers really worked. I learned not just how to program, but how the actual operating system, TOPS-10 or TOPS-20, worked. This was also where I learned how to hack, the security, or lack there of really makes me cringe today. I did get caught once, fortunately the Professor who caught me was the Father of a High School friend who knew me pretty well, he let me skate, but also let me know he was very unhappy with me. He also reminded me of the incident 12 years later when I was the best man at my friends wedding.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been building a Serial Terminal, not really for any real functional reason, but mostly because I could. Those early computer experiences I had were through serial terminals, so it kind of gave me a bit of a nostalgia rush. Like all good nerds, I started wondering if I could actually recreate those early experiences. Obviously buying an actual DECSYSTEM-2020 would not be an option, I doubt there are many left in existence, let alone in a functional state and even if there were, they would cost a fortune to ship and require me to dedicate a room in my house to it. However, after five minutes on Google, I discovered there is a very good emulator out there by the name of SIMH. I also discovered that copies of TOPS-10 and TOPS-20 are pretty widely available and a few very nice people have even made rebuilt packages like TOPS-10 in a Box and the TOPS-20 Panda Build. Both of these worked out of box on my Debian 11 machine with no messing around at all.

TOPS-10 in a Box was the easier of the two, however keep in mind it is a bit limited, the person who built its only goal was the play Will Crowther's Original “Adventure” as it was intended to be played, so while it does contain both FORTRAN and BASIC compilers, it does not have all the bells and whistles. The TOPS-20 Panda Build is far more complete and includes a bunch of extras like Emacs and has networking built in as well. Over the next couple of days I am going to marry these two packages to a Raspberry Pi 4, use my Serial Terminal to access it and see if I can get some of those old feeling I had back in the late 70's and early 80's of my early exploration of those systems.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Dell XPS 8940 Failures

 A couple of months ago I bought a new computer, my old one was 5+ years old and getting long in the tooth. My last couple of machines have been Alienware systems and I have been very happy with them. This time around I went with a Dell XPS 8940, it was a good deal with an Intel i7-11700 and an Nvidia 1660. Initially I was pretty happy with it, performance was good, it was noticeably faster than my previous system and was considerably quieter as well.

Then the freezes began. It did not happen often, maybe once a week. Unfortunately it was a hard lock, so the BIOS error logs showed nothing and neither did the Linux logs. I ran diagnostics on the machine multiple times and everything checked out fine every single time. My tech intuition started to buzz that this was not a typical hardware failure. So I did what every good Tech does, I went out on the internet and Googled it. Sure enough, this was a known issue with these machines. The issue started with BIOS version 2.4 when Dell implemented vulnerability patches to the BIOS, since then they have released 4 BIOS updates and none of them fixed the issue.

I implemented every suggested fix and then waited to see if the system locked up again and sure enough, it did. By this time I was outside of 30 days, so no money back guarantee for me. Other owners had went through the process of having hardware replaced with no good results, so I figured this was a non starter. The lockups happen rarely enough that it did not bother me too much, it was more of an annoyance than anything else, so I lived with it. However eventually I decided I had paid good money for this system and I should have something that works, so I decided to replace the motherboard so I could get on with my life.

I needed to replace the motherboard, but along with that comes a new case and power supply. for the motherboard I choose the ASUS TUF Gaming B560M-Plus, this supported the CPU and had some nice BIOS options and reviewed on Amazon pretty well. For my case I picked the Zalman T6 ATX Mid Tower, frankly the case is the least important part of a computer, so at less than $50, I was in. It is not a great case, but it has good air flow with nice fan placement and plenty of room on the cable side to hide all my bad cable management. I decided to replace the memory as well, the Dell stock memory was running at  an anemic 2333 Mhz and I figured I might as well bump that up to 3200. So I grabbed a Corsair Vengeance LPX 32GB (2X16GB) DDR4 3200 memory kit. Finally, for the power supply, I went with a Thermaltake Smart 500W 80+ White Certified PSU, again, not the greatest PSU ever made, but Thernaltake makes a decent product, and it was a massive upgrade from the Dell 360 Watt PSU I had. I took the free shipping on all of these item, in spite of that, I had everything within a week of ordering.

On Thursday night after work, I gutted the 8940 and transferred all of its hardware to the new case and motherboard. The process took me about 2 hours and the system booted on the first try. The only mistake I made was I connected the hard drive LED backwards, fortunately I had not put on the side panel yet, so that was a quick fix. Otherwise this was a pretty nearly flawless process. I am a bit unhappy that I had to spend another $320 to get this thing going the way I wanted, but I expect over the next 5 years this new and improved system will serve me well. When it comes time to replace it, someone please remind me to just buy the fucking Alienware.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Trash Talking Generations

I see a lot of trash talking between generations online. Listening to these conversations, it amazes me that we forget who is responsible for what. Boomers who are complaining about entitled Millennial's need to remember that it was Boomer's who raised the Millennial's. likewise Generation X complaining about the work ethics of Millennial's, need to remember it was Generation X who were supposed to be mentoring them early in their careers. In case you are not sure how this works, here is a breakdown for you.

At any given time, there is a generation that is both raising children and mentoring young adults. Yes, those very same Boomer's who hurl the participation trophy insults at Millennial's, were the one who actually gave them all those participation trophies. So, before anyone goes off complaining about the younger generations, consider who it was that was responsible for influencing these young people during their formative years. 

Sunday, July 24, 2022

The Ages of RPG’s: The Bronze Age, Maybe II

 The previous five posts, were originally posted in an earlier iteration of this blog. I believe I wrote them over a 6 month period around 2010-2011. I have reposted them here with no editing at all for context. A lot has changed in the last 12 years, these were written when we were 2 years into 4th Edition D&D and 4 years prior to 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons (D&D5E). At that point D&D5E was not even being considered let alone talked about anywhere. D&D5E hit the game industry like a cement truck. After the tepid failure of 4th Edition, I don;t think anyone was expecting much from D&D5E . Boy, were we wrong.

D&D5E went through a very long public playtest process, where Wizard of the Coast (WotC) made the draft versions of the game available to anyone who wanted them and actively asked for feedback and they got it. The end product was really really good, it was streamlined and the learning curve was very shallow at its beginning staged and became more complicated only as the individual groups needed it to be. The game lent itself well to scale and allowed for interesting customization. The game also gave plenty of choices for both role players and power gamers. You can easily play a combat monster of a fighter that does massive amounts of damage every turn or you can play the Cheese Makers Son turned Artificer, both can exist in the same game and neither be overshadowed by the other.

On top of this we saw the advent of game groups streaming their games on YouTube and Twitch. Critical Role, Acquisitions inc, D&D NPC Man and a host of others have become extremely popular. These streaming groups have brought in hundreds of thousands of new players. For many of these players, this is their first real exposure to the game. Throw in the websites like Roll20 that allow groups to play online and the COVID epidemic, that kept everyone at home for 2 years, you get a critical mass of players. D&D5E  is without a doubt the most popular iteration of the game. WotC has sold millions of copies and has become the primary profit center for HasBro games, the owners of WotC and D&D.

So where does that leave us now? Are we now in the Iron Age of RPG's or are we in a 2nd Golden Age? As I said in a previous post, the problem with setting “Ages” is you really rarely know where you are until long after its over. So I guess the answer is, we don't know and probably won't for a few more years. The next Edition of D&D has been announced, it is being worked on and will be released in 2024, 10 years after D&D5E  was introduced. WotC has said it will be mostly a revision of current edition, more of a 5.5E than anything else, I am pretty okay with that. I like D&D5E  and I can see us playing it for many years to come.

The Ages of RPG’s: The Bronze Age, Maybe

 I have written about the Golden Age (1974-1989) and the Silver Age (1991-2000), this begs the question of where are we now. The problem with setting “Ages” is you really rarely know where you are until long after its over and it is not unusual for the genre you are speaking about to go in to a long decline before the new emergence occurs. It is definitely possible we moved from the Silver Age directly into the Bronze Age. Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition (D&D3E ) certainly caused a large influx of new players and brought a large number of players back to the table who had not gamed in a decade or more. It is also very true the history of the RPG hobby is the history of D&D. Even the Silver Age was characterized by D&D’s decline as much as by the rise of the World of Darkness.

There are other things which point to the serious probability we have already seen the Bronze Age. For instance the Old School Renaissance, which is a niche within the RPG hobby of players and publishers returning to the old games. This renaissance started with the publication of HackMaster in 2001 and was followed by Castles & Crusades, New Editions of Traveller, RuneQuest and Tunnels & Trolls. It also gave birth to the Simulacrum Games which are games that attempt to emulate the old games without treading on copyrights and allow for the publication of new material for the old games. Simulacrum Games include, but not limited to, Labyrinth Lords, Spells and Wizardry, OSRIC, Lamentation of the Flame Princess to name just a few. This movement is characterized mostly by people who have fond memories playing the game back in the early 80′s, have now reached middle age and want to recapture that feeling of wonder and exploration we all felt when our first characters took their first tentative steps into the Caves of Chaos.

The Open Game License opened up the possibility of 3rd party game companies to write material for D&D3E and they did. In the years following the release of D&D3E there was a huge expansion in the number of companies writing game material. The Internet also gave rise to electronic distribution, companies no longer had to print actual books, but instead release their work as a PDF. The majority of this content was crap, but there was some really good stuff put out as well, material that would have never seen the light of day in previous decades.

If in fact the Bronze Age started in 2000/2001, it is also a good possibility it ended in 2008. In that year two things occurred, first the U.S. had entered into recession in late 2007 (known among my conservative friends as the Carter/Clinton recession) and recessions are never good for business, but also tends to hit niche hobbies harder than other business types. The second thing which occurred was the release of Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition (D&D4E). First, when D&D3E was released, I think the hobby was ready for a serious change to the game, second players had no where else to go, Wizards of the Coast simply stopped selling Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition (AD&D2E) and if you wanted support, you transitioned to D&D3E. When D&D4E came out, people were not ready for a complete over haul of the game and Paizo Publishing took advantage of the Open Game License and published the PathFinder RPG, which is 99% compatible with D&D3E, so players had a place to go for new material, they did not even have to buy new books if they didn’t want to. Although D&D4E was not a failure, it also did not live up to expectations, initial sales were far below what D&D3E produced and players who did adopt the new game, did so very slowly. In effect, the hobby has been in contraction for at least 2 years and it looks like this trend will continue.

At this point, I am not sure I want to say with any authority that the Bronze Age has come and went, but it does appear as though it has. However, it is just as likely it was the Silver Age getting its second wind. Most Comic Book historians place the end of the Silver Age at 1970, however between 1970 and 1975 there was a mini resurgence marked by the Death of Gwen Stacy, the Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories and Mike Grell’s work on the Warlord and the Legion of Superheroes. It is well within the realm of possibility that the Bronze Age is yet to come. Either way, I can’t wait to see what happens next.