Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Playing D&D Online

With COVID-19 sweeping the world and everyone wondering where all the damn toilet paper went, there is a mass migration from playing D&D in person to online. My group and I have been playing online now for 18 years. I doubt we are the longest lived online game in existence, but we were certainly pioneers in playing RPG's online. We have certainly had our ups and downs, players have come and gone and we have certainly almost broken up at least once, but somehow we just keep traipsing along, year in and year out.

In 2002, I had not played in a regular game since I was in the Army in 1995, we played D&D for about 6 months before before we deployed to Bosnia, which pretty much killed the game. Prior to that, I played 2 or 3 games of GURPS in 1992 and before that was 1990. So the 90's were pretty much an RPG wasteland for me, I wanted to play, but I just never found a group of people I was comfortable enough with to actually get down to playing.

I discovered two things in 2001 that changed all of this for me. First I discovered HackMaster, I came across the players handbook in Barns and Noble, the cover was designed after the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition cover, I was suddenly washed away by the nostalgia of it, I sat down on the floor and started reading it right then, right there. The wife found me an hour later still sitting there wondering what the hell I was doing. I bought the book and all the follow up books for the RPG and I WANTED to play again, I missed my old group from Montana. Sometime later, I discovered OpenRPG, a program for playing RPG's online. OpenRPG was definitely ahead of its time, providing the capability no one else was. It had built in chat, a drawing board, dice rollers, interactive character sheets, the whole nine yards. The big problem of course was, OpenRPG was not a very good program, but it was better than just about everything else out there, and for a long time, it was the only thing out there.

In early 2002, I decided I was going to run a game using HackMaster and OpenRPG. I started contacting all my old friends in the various groups I played with in the 8o's. I sent letters, I emailed and I called them. One by one over 2 or 3 months, I finally got 4 people to agree to try it. In April of 2002 on a Sunday afternoon, we all successfully installed the program and logged into the server and started rolling up characters. We played our final HackMaster game in December of 2015, when we switched over to playing D&D 5th Edition, around the same time, OpenRPG stopped being developed and we needed to switch to a new platform. We experimented with a couple of others Like Battle Grounds and Fantasy Grounds, before finally settling on Roll20, which we have been using ever since.

So to all of you new comers out there, just now starting to play your games online, welcome, pull up a chair, grab some dice, we have been waiting for you.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Character development in Dungeons & Dragons

Back when we were playing in the early days, I put very little thought to the way my characters would develop over the course of any given campaign. Back then there were not a ton of options anyway, a fighter was pretty much a fighter differentiated only by the attributes you rolled and the personality you provided him. The only time characters developed in weird ways was when an unusual magic item would popup. If I started the character using a Long Sword and a shield, and a +1 two handed sword came along, you bet your ass I would drop sword and board in a heart beat and still later, if a +4 Spear dropped, that two handed sword got sold off for scrape.

In the current version of D&D, there are a lot of options available. Even at first level, the background you choose or the skills you take can have a lot of affect on a character. As the character levels, he gets to choose his subclass, increase his attributes, and take feats. Two fighters starting out at 1st level together, will probably look very different by the time they are 4th or 5th level, depending on the choices the players make as the characters progress. Most players these days, when starting a new character, generally has a plan as to the type of character they want to play and how they are going to develop that character as the game moves along. I am no different in this respect.

My latest character, Haakon started out life as a pretty stock fighter. I like human fighters, while I certainly play other races and other classes, human fighter is more or less my preferred character type. When I started Haakon, my plan was to build him as a sword and shield type of fighter, concentrating on his ability to sustain large amounts of damage and or avoid damage altogether rather than how much damage he can deal out. The theory being that combination of a good armor class and better than average hit points, would ensure he could outlast his opponents and live to land the finishing blow. Needless to say, I multi classed into Barbarian to get some damage resistance and a few levels of that sweet d12 hit dice. The addition of a flaming sword, was just icing on that cake.

Two games ago, Haakon acquired an animated shield, a shield that dances around you, doing all the things shields are supposed to do, all on its own. This freed up a hand, this was unexpected. I had been developing Haakon as a single weapon fighter, I had taken the Duelist fighting style and I had never considered the possibility of becoming a two weapon fighter. Haakon was simply not optimized for this type of fighting. Now I could just give the shield to someone else and move on, and I may do that, depending on how things shake out in the next few games. In the mean time, this adds some interesting choices to Haakon's development. This would allow me to trade the +2 damage bonus Haakon gets for taking the Duelist fighting style, for an additional 1d8 damage attack. There are pros and cons to this choice, the +2 damage is guaranteed on any hit and could potentially lead to 4 extra damage per turn, as he has 2 attacks, which is more or less the average of a 1d8 die roll. Adding the extra attack could lead to extra damage, as the die roll could be a 5, 6, 7 or 8 and I will roll above a 4 at least half the time, (although I will roll less than 4 at least half the time as well). However, the extra attack also gives me addition chances to roll a critical hit.Going this route also forces me to take the Dual Weapon Fighting Feat, so I can use heavier weapons, and since I chose Battle Master as my subclass, I will not be able to gain the two weapon fighting style.

So over the next couple of games, I am going try it out and see how dual wielding works out, if it is meh!, then I will give the shield away and go back to being a Duelist.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Review: The Zero Blessing (The Zero Enigma, #1)

The Zero Blessing (The Zero Enigma, #1)The Zero Blessing by Christopher G. Nuttall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This books was better than I thought it was going to be. Usually young adult fiction is is not my thing, although there are some really good ones out there. The Scythe series for instance is a really good series and the fact that it is YA is a side note. I came into this series with some low expectations, I was thinking "Okay, yet another Harry Potter clone", but I was pleasantly surprised. While it is standard fare The Chosen One goes to wizard school, there are some interesting twists in the story. I am usually pretty good and figuring out plots twists before the characters in the book do, but in this case, the author fooled me completely until the main character figured it out herself, which pleased me, I enjoy it when an author gets one over on me. Good book, well worth the read, especially if you like YA stories.

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Thursday, March 19, 2020

Review: Once an Eagle

Once an EagleOnce an Eagle by Anton Myrer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a long damn book, probably a lot longer than it needed to be. I am pretty sure this book could have been done in 500 pages, there was a lot of unnecessary sections to the book, chapters that did not move the plot forward or contribute to character development. The authors writing style was often rambling and one too many times changed the scene mid paragraph. While the characters, specifically Sam Damon and his wife Tommy, were well developed, the author clung too hard too stereotypes, especially with the secondary characters.

Having said that, this was actually a good book, following the career of General Damon from a farm boy through being an enlisted man, and through to becoming a General. Sam Damon lived a good life, one that many of us only wish we could have had. He was strong, proud and never wavered, except for once, in a moment of weakness, which he regretted the rest of his life. His character was obviously based on every character John Wayne ever played and his wife was Maureen O'Hara, red hair, green eyes and a fury personality. Don't let all of this fool you though, this is very much an anti war story, war is not glorified in this book in any way. Even World War II is portrayed as it actually was, bloody, messy and corrupt. While reading the story, I was often reminded of Catch-22, where the villains are not the Japanese or Nazi Germany, but rather the upper echelons of the military, horrible people who mismanaged the war and made questionable decisions that cost more American soldiers lives than was needed.

I can see why this book is on every 2nd Lieutenants reading list, the book portrays Sam Damon as a man's man and leader among leaders. A leader who is willing to go out on a limb for his men and even crippled his own career at times to do the right thing. The sad thing is, I think a soldier like this would be washed out of service before he ever made Major. Sam Damon is how every officer in the military views himself, but in reality an officer like him would be branded a wild out of control renegade and no one would except him into their command.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Re: Donald Trump vs COVID-19

I am cross linking this from Leigh's Nurseferatu blog, it is a very nice follow up to the Sunday podcast and my own blog post from a few days ago. I share this not just because I agree with everything he say says (I Do), but because it is important that we know where we are and how we got here. People are scared and I don't blame them, I am scared too. Its not a hoax, its not fake news, this shit is real. Every presidency is faced with its moment of tragedy, and the difference between the great presidents, the simply good presidents and the terrible presidents, is how they handle this moment. The leadership of this country has failed us and we need to never forget this.


Sunday, March 15, 2020

Donald Trump vs COVID-19

Here is a link to today's Nurseferatu Podcast, as promised we discussed the Corona Virus for nearly 2 hours, specifically the political incompetency we have witnessed for the last 3 months. Enjoy!


COVID-19 aka The Corona Virus

I suspect Leigh and I will discuss this ad nauseam today on the Nurseferatu Podcast. I am not going to tell you to wash your fucking hands, I am not going to tell you too stay the hell home. If you are not doing these things, you are screwed anyway. What I want to discuss is the political leadership or lack there of we have had around this outbreak.

Lets touch on the last major outbreak of a highly contagious virus, H1N1. 61 Million People contracted this virus in 2009, something close to 12,500 people died of it here in the United States. The first case of H1N1 was reported on April 15, 2009, and the government declared H1N1 a public health emergency on the April 26. The first test to detect the new virus was approved by the FDA two days later. Shipments of the new CDC test began May 1, just 15 days.

Now lets look at the Trump administration's reaction to COVID-19. The first reported case of COVID-19 in the U.S. occurred on January 19th, it is now March 15th and this administration was still claiming Corona Virus was a hoax up until last week, and just got around to declaring an emergency two days ago. The CDC does have a test for it, however the first batch was error prone caused more than few false positives. The new tests are still being developed and the CDC is saying the new tests will not become available for 3-4 weeks.

When H1N1 was spreading, there was no wide spread panic, in fact it barely registered on my person radar at the time. Today, we are seeing panic buying, people are buying out the stores of toilet paper and hand sanitizer. The news is full of "WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!" segments. If you want know why this is happening and why the stark differences between the two events, the answer is very easy, Leadership.

The Obama administration lead from the front, The President was worried about people and livelihoods, he did exactly what he was supposed to do, he gathered his people together, built a plan and executed it, mind you, he had been president for 3 months at this point. Mistakes were made, there were things that did not go as planned, some of the things planned did not work out as well as was hoped for, and President Obama owned those mistakes, he took responsibility for it, he owned the bad as well as the good.  President Trump on the other hand did not even acknowledge COVID-19 existed until February and that was just to call it a hoax and no big deal. When it came time for him to own up to it and was asked said and I quote, "I don't take responsibility at all.". This is not what a good leader does.

All the leadership in this crisis has come form House Speaker Pelosi. When it became obvious the White House was not going to act, Speaker Pelosi put together a bill appropriating money for the things that needed it, giving money to the CDC, whose budget was cut earlier in the year, specifically for research and development of a new testing kit, money to States for handling the crisis and many other projects, totaling 8 billion dollars. Speaker Pelosi then followed up with another bill guaranteeing free testing to those without insurance, paid sick leave and tax credits to help small businesses survive the labor shortage. Without Speaker Pelosi's leadership, the Trump administration would still be fumbling around in the dark trying to figure out what to do and how.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Hacker Files

From August 1992 to July 1993 DC Comics published a comic book entitled The Hacker Files. The story was about a computer hacker named Jack Marshall who exists in the DC Universe. The 12 issue mini series contained 4 story arcs touching on different real world historical events of the time; the spread of computer virus's, FBI cracking down on computer crime, the Tiananmen Square protests and the rise of artificial intelligence. The series was not well received at the time and pretty much dropped off virtually everyone's radar even before the end of the series. The series has never been reprinted or even discussed much.

The reason I am bringing up this little known comic book from the early 90's, is DC is about to publish a new graphic novel The Oracle Code, a book about Barbra Gordon's (Batgirl) time as the computer hacker Oracle. For those of you not in the know, In the aftermath of Batman: The Killing Joke, Barbra Gordon was left paralyzed from the waist down when she was shot by the Joker. She would later regain her mobility, but while she was in a wheelchair, she acted as an intelligence collector and an operational overwatch for many heroes and was the leader of The Birds of Prey. Barbra Gordon was one of the hackers picked up by the FBI when they began cracking down on cybercrime, and appeared in The Hacker Files briefly and the two have encountered each other.

I realize The Oracle Code has already been written and the art is probably all but done at this point, however I think this would have been a great opportunity to revisit Jack Marshall in the modern post New 52 DC Universe. While he failed a lead in his own book, I think Jack would make a great backup character or perhaps as a replacement for Barbra as Oracle, though I have to admit, I am not terribly warm to that idea. I think he would be better suited as one of those normal people that superheroes goto to get things done. He is a middle aged, balding, overly serious and grumpy man, a great foil to the young, pretty and energetic Batgirl. I would love to see a scene where no one is taking him seriously, until he starts using everyone's first names, showing that none of their secret identities is safe from his skill.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

I wsh I were a better man

Okay so, I try not to slut shame and what I mean by that is I try not to denigrate women for expressing their sexuality. In fact I will be the first person in line celebrating women's sexuality. I like it when women fearlessly show themselves as sexual beings and I appreciate the feminine form. Of course the problem for me and all men really is where to draw the line, because we also do not want to objectify women, women are more than just a set of boobs. I of course fail at this more than I like to admit. This is a good example of one of my failures. When this picture appeared in my FaceBook feed, my first reaction was, "Really, so we are going for Artist are we?".

That was really not a fair reaction to her, it is really none of my business what she considers her profession and my response to the picture she uses for her page is not her fault, but rather my own.

For those of you who want to know, I did not click on the link for her page, nor did I follow her.
Shannon bought me a gift, a new dice bag. Dice bags, like dice them selves, are something one can never have too many of. This particular on is a very clever design. I currently have 7 sets of dice in there and I am certain I can get 10 more. There is some controversy about what should go in the center; 100 sided dice, a bottle of beer, but I say it is obviously there to hold your favorite set of dice.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Review: Angels' Blood by Nalini Singh

Angels' Blood (Guild Hunter, #1)Angels' Blood by Nalini Singh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As an action adventure story it is pretty good, there is not a lot of deep character development, but the story is fairly interesting, with a couple of good fight scenes. I like the book enough that I may read some of the later books, but I did not like it enough to move anything down my reading list to make room for it. I did like the setup for the next book, although the author did telegraph the plot of the next book.

My biggest issue with the book was the setting, the inclusion of vampires was out of place and the idea that angels make vampires felt like an editor told the author "Vampires are cool and popular, so add vampires.". I understand this is supposed to be an alternate earth with different cultures and histories, but it just did not make a lot of sense to me. This setting was too much like our earth, I am pretty sure if humanity were ruled by immortal arch angels, society would look nothing like it does today.

Over all, a decent book, but up front I would like to say, I do not care for Urban Fantasy or Modern Fantasy, depending on who you ask. I like it better than Steampunk though, so there is that. However, I would suggest this book to anyone who does like the genre, you will probably not love it, but it is a good time sink and a mildly enjoyable read.

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