Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday Gunday Product Review: Trigger Shoes from RSI

Back in the spring, I ordered a Mosin Nagant Timney Trigger Shoe from Rock Solid Industries. I don't recall how I discovered it -- I routinely look for accessories by googling "Mosin Nagant accessories" or similar search terms, so this is probably how I stumbled onto them.

I thought it was a clever idea, because literally a few days before I found it (and I know this because my receipt is labeled February 18), I had gone shooting to test out Riflemods' Mosin-Nagant Magazine Extension. While "ow, my shoulder" was the reason I stopped at 65 rounds rather than 100, still fresh in my mind was the discomfort in my trigger finger caused by the rather sharp angle of the Timney Trigger. That edge isn't noticeable at first, but after enough shots through it my finger started to protest with "I am a delicate fingertip and you're mashing me against a 90 degree angle and that hurts so please stop."

The edge of the trigger is quite visible in this picture.
(Photo courtesy of The Bangswitch.)

So between the memory of that discomfort and the fact that the trigger shoe only cost $12, I ordered one to see how it worked.  (They also make a shoe for the stock Mosin trigger for exactly the same price.)

The trigger shoe is a friction-fit: you mate the notch to the trigger and then attach it through two set-screws (a properly-sized Allen wrench comes standard with the order). It's easy to put on and take off, which is a good thing because while mounted, it prevents you from separating the upper and lower receivers.

Photo courtesy of Oleg Volk. Rifle belongs to me. 

The shoe itself has a nice satiny feel to it, is approximately twice as wide as the trigger it attaches onto, and has a gentle left-to-right arch that feels fantastic against my finger. Having twice the surface area allows me to exert more control over how I pull the trigger, and it removes the pain from an extended shooting session. To say that it makes shooting my Mosin more comfortable is an understatement; at the risk of developing a serious case of purple prose, I am inclined to say that using the trigger shoe is a "luxurious experience".

And really, that's what it is: a luxury. But it's an inexpensive, easy-to-use luxury that makes shooting an old rifle that much more fun, so why not have one?

My Recommendation:
Purists will hate it (naturally), but modders will love it. If you like sticking things on your Mosin, I highly recommend getting one. Because it is a friction fit, adding it does not permanently alter your rifle, which means if you have several Mosins you can easily swap the shoe between them.

Rating: A+

Obligatory FTC disclaimer: I bought this product with my own money so neener. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

STHFriday: Oh, for the love of...

Yeah, I wrote Friday's article over at Blue Collar Prepping and then forgot to link to it here. While I imagine most of the folks who read this blog also read that one, I still feel silly about forgetting to post about it.  So if you haven't, head on over and read what is essentially a long-winded request for advice. 

Oh, and even though it's Monday I'm post-dating this article to using my blogging powers to bend time so that it says this post was published on Friday.  Because that's just how I roll.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Dammit, Ubisoft

  Ubisoft is both the developer and publisher of one of my favorite game series of all times. Since 2007, there have been seven primary-platform games in the series, each tied to the overall narrative of two secret societies at war with each other throughout history. Due to the subject matter of the first game, involving Crusades, early Islam, Saracens, etc, they launched the game with a disclaimer that has since accompanied every Assassins Creed title since.

“This game was developed by a multicultural team of various faiths and beliefs.”

     Basically, Ubi's way of saying "We're just telling a good story, and don't want to disrespect anyone in the process." And they've done fairly well with that. Assassins Creed has covered Crusades-era Middle East, Renaissance Italy, the American Revolution, the Constantinople/Istanbul strife, the Pirates of the and more. Throughout the series you've undergone trial by combat witnessed by Richard the Lionheart, freed slaves on plantation houses, and curb-stomped a Pope. You've played as a Syrian, an Italian, an American Indian, a half-African Woman, an escaped slave, and a drunkard Welshman. And through it all, the only culture to really get the piss taken out of them has been their own, as Ubisoft is a primarily French company.

     Recently, the internet's been very mad at Ubisoft. Their next game, Assassins Creed Unity, is set in the French Revolution, and stars Arno, a white guy. Specifically, the second white guy protagonist in the series (unless you count deeply Mediterranean Ezio Auditore de Firenze) out of now eight titles. Compounding this is the announcement that AC:Unity's cooperative multiplayer will be four male assassins and no playable female assassin. The internet has taken this as incontrovertible proof that Ubisoft hates women and hates diversity.

     This is complete bollocks. You're right to be mad at Ubisoft, but not for the reasons you think, internet. Ubisoft is lazy. Spitefully lazy. The reason that they didn't build female animations (their primary excuse, at least) is that the four male playable assassins are all clones of Arno. You'll play as Arno when you join someone's game, who is playing as Arno, with two other people also playing as Arnos. On top of all that, the well-received competitive multiplayer, which has been a staple of the AC series for the last four years and four releases, has been axed, so they can't even import female animations from that portion. So it's not out of some desire to show a lack of representation or anything underhanded, Ubisoft just seems to be looking for any semi-legitimate way to make less work for themselves. And don't get me wrong, while I'm all for the creative choice of the artist, I'd have liked to have seen a second female starring Assassin. AC:Liberation's Aveline de Granprie made a good impression on me.

     Those of us who game on PC have seen this sort of thing from Ubisoft for a while. Assassins Creed: Revelations, the last of the Ezio games, was the last time we had a (mostly) bug-free and (mostly) stable AC experience on PC. ACIII, ACIV Black Flag, and even AC:Liberation have had terrible problems with framerate, screen-tearing, and generally poor performance even on powerful systems. It really is hit-or-miss when it comes to Ubisoft and PC gaming, and the relationship has had its real ups and downs. From way back in the day with Assassins Creed II's always-on DRM and the development head of “I Am Alive” basically calling all of PC gamers thieves (hello, sir, that game is in my Steam Library, thanks) to the other side of the spectrum with Far Cry 3's fantastically lush and rather well-done port, we're really never sure what to expect from Ubi.

     Even more recently, with Watch_Dogs and the un-released Far Cry 4, we're still seeing reasons to worry about Ubi's laziness. Watch_Dogs has such erratic and unstable performance that even identical systems are having different results. Modders have unlocked settings and graphical options that were locked away in the files of the game that improve both the look and the performance of the game within weeks of release that Ubisoft hasn't been able to patch in. Far Cry 4 will allegedly run at PC's “Ultra High” settings on X-Box One and PS4, a claim that has PC-focused developers like Crytek giggle-snorting in derision at them.

     It's fine to hate on a company. Just make sure you're hating on them for the right reason. In a perfect world, Ubisoft would have made additional characters for the co-op. Being angry at Ubisoft for a lack of diverse representation is laughable. In a perfect world, Ubisoft would have properly ported these games optimized for PC, after delaying most of them and claiming they were optimizing them for PC. Being angry at them for being lazy and sloppy with their coding? Well..

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

WNW: The Gunfighter

Sorry I've missed the last few days.  Suffice it to say that a combination of getting in late, the rigors of unpacking, and the general drama of my parents being in close proximity at home when they really should have divorced 20 years ago has made things tenuous here.

Enjoy this video as I try to keep the situation here from devolving into something similar.

[AFHOTWTTGS] Habits of the Pripyat Beast

Dr. Shiny gave me a buzz the other day and said:
Can I have some GM advice? I recently ran a Call of Cthulhu game set in Pripyat (with two Pripyat Beasts wandering around). The problem is, with such a large play area, there are too many places to run away and hide, and only so many times the creatures can randomly stumble over the player without it becoming ridiculous after a while. It was a really good game (and I really want to use Pripyat again), but how would you go about plausibly upping the risk of an encounter?
First things first: here's what he's on about.

-- art and text by Keith Robertson, Drawing and Painting the Undead. 
When the secondary nuclear reactor exploded, it spewed forth a torrent of radioactivity. The inhabitants of the surrounding towns survived just long enough to dig mass graves for their dead. The unprotected and ultimately doomed clean-up volunteer force sent a flurry of distress signals, reporting the emergence of jumbled beasts from underneath piles of bodies. These creatures, sickening amalgamations of people and livestock, varied in appearance.

So, basically, it's an eldritch horror spawned of radiation and Forces Unknown acting in terrible, unconscious concert to bring forth a shambling wossname that rends and devours the living.

So far, so good, and something I'd expect intelligent players to use the environment provided to avoid or defeat. It's a good monster. The problem, as I see it, Herr Doktor, is... well, in classical roleplaying terms, it's that you've built a city-sized dungeon and you've only put two encounters in it. You have a few choices.

First, and this is my least favourite one, you engineer the environment so that there are fewer ways to avoid your two Beasts. I always thought that part of the dungeon's popularity, as a setting for RPG events, was that it offered a way to keep things segregated and tidy and players moving along a general route between planned events - they could certainly move around them in a different order, revisit them, bypass them and generally subvert them, but they'd be interacting with the stuff you put in there because the space they're moving through doesn't really let them do much else. I don't like this sort of thing. Not letting people do things is not how I think RPG is formed. I also think it sits ill with the open-ness of the devastated cityscape; have you ever played through a computer game that won't let you go down side streets even though you can see them, right there?

Second, I suppose you could always just put more Beasts in. There were 50,000 people in Pripyat. How many of them died there? How many of them came back? In this case the horror of the game becomes much more conventional - "what happens if these things get out? look at the size of them! look at their claws!" Whether this one works or not is largely down to what you want your game to be About. If it's About managing, controlling, and otherwise limiting the actions of the Beasts, which pose a terrible threat to something-or-other, then having more than two Beasts seems sensible. But you only had two, which makes me wonder whether your game is About the Beasts at all...

Thirdly, and this is the one that I prefer, you refocus your expectations as a GM away from "the players encounter the Beast" and towards... something else. I usually go for "make players feel something" - not setting out with a specific something in mind, but always looking for ways that things can be turned up, so that whatever the players happen to be feeling can be intensified. I wouldn't set out with a theme and mood in mind for Pripyat - I'd set out thinking "what else can I put in this nuclear-blasted city besides the Beasts, and how can I make that into an encounter?" It does have to -be- an encounter - let's not have too many rooms containing a mysterious gewgaw that you either find or don't find and that's the end of it.

I think there have to be people - survivors. Survivalists, even. There are supposed to be 3,500 or so people still inside the irradiated area - those who couldn't or wouldn't leave. There's potential horror there. There could be living miners. Beast-hunters. Black marketeers, on the lookout for some tasty irradiated material. Tourists, if we're going to go a bit crazy - touring the scene, gravely assessing the devastation, and scooping up some decayed crystals to show Grandma when they get home. People who derive a certain illict thrill from being there. Perhaps someone like Elena, too, whether her story's true or not: a kind of adventurer, there for the same reason your PCs are there - whatever that is. Someone a bit more ambiguous - are they there because it's there, are they there because they want to feel all dangerous and free-spirited, are they there because someone has to see it and tell the world? They're not on the tour, that's for certain!

I'd treat it like a dungeon, or like a WoD city, rather than a narrative, in the way Call of Cthulhu scenarios tend to be devised. There always seems to be a sense of linear flow to the pre-written Cthulhu stuff - this happens, then this happens, the PCs need to go here and do this and then that and then the other before that happens or they all get eaten/driven mad by grobble monsters. I think it's something to do with the literary source of the game; there's a tendency to think about it as a related narrative, a kind of ghost walk, something which has its shape before the players come to it and which they explore rather than devise. What I'd be tempted to do would be to draw up a bunch of factions and NPCs - people who are all there, for whatever reason they're there - and let them react to the Beast and let the players react to them. In other words, don't make the game about the Beast, and don't get hung up if the players only encounter the thing once.

It's a big place. Put more stuff in it. If necessary, include a Quantum Beast - no matter where the players go or what the players do, they will encounter a Beast at a dramatically appropriate point. The important thing here is making sure that the players' choices continue to have an impact after the Beast has turned up; that the places they've gone and the people they've interacted with are affected by and affecting because of the Beast's appearance. It's not really about the monsters, after all. It's about the people who run from them.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday Gunday: A Possibly Familiar Face

If you go over at Oleg's blog (which you might have seen already, because this post is days late), you might recognize a certain someone in one of his articles.

As it happened, I passed through Nashville on Sunday on my way home from a blogmeet, and he let me crash on his couch after having dinner with him and some friends. Since I had some of my guns with me, he said "I'd like to take some pictures of you, if I may."  Well, dang. Who's going to say no to an Oleg photoshoot? So he took several pictures of me before I left Monday morning -- many more than he posted.

I'm not going to post his first picture here.  It's a GOOD picture, don't get me wrong -- I just have a dissociative feeling whenever I look at it. The best way I can describe it is, "That is a very good picture of the person who isn't me but nevertheless who I see in the mirror every day. I am pleased that Oleg managed to make that person look good, which is something I did not think was possible. But I still have a sense of jamais vu when I look at it."

I am, however, dreadfully amused at my expression in that first photo. It's practically a cross between "redneck" and "derp". Sort of like "Did Ah jest heah banjos? Becaz Ah hates banjos."

I'm a lot better with the second picture, mostly because it obscures my (not-mine) face. I become a prop for showcasing the firearm, which looks appropriately badass.

Also, I totally sneaked a My Little Pony "Dash Am" t-shirt into the shot. When I pointed it out to him, Oleg just shrugged and said "Well of course", as if it were unthinkable to take a picture of me without ponies somehow being involved.  There's probably some truth to that.

Sorry for the glare off of my pale, pale skin. 

Anyway, since a lot of folks have been asking about all the stuff that I put on my Sub-2000, I figured I'd make a list of the add-ons with links to where I got them.
* I am pleased to report that the drum worked flawlessly when I shot it this weekend.  Sadly, I only got to shoot it once, what with that whole "5 seconds of shooting, 5 minutes of loading" thing going on, but I am pleased that it didn't jam once!  So I'm happy with having it. 

Oleg also wanted some more shots of me with the Mosin. Who am I to say no to that?

.. yeah, I have no ending for this.  Talk to y'all later. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

SHTFriday: Punching Pricks

Er, sorry, I meant that to say "Prick Punches."

No, that doesn't sound right either...

Anyway, this is a scheduled post, as I am currently out of town in [LOCATION REDACTED], communing with the Secret Masters.  However, I still managed to schedule a guest post for today over at Blue Collar Prepping -- it's another nifty blacksmithing post by our friend Firehand, where he talks about making center and prick punches.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Shut Up, Wesley (or Don't Apologize)

     Sometimes I feel like I'm one of the only modern nerdy types that doesn't like Wil Wheaton. The man just rubs me the wrong way, I can't explain it. Like most people, I first encountered Wheaton as the tragically out-of-place teenager Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, where he was saddled with the Audience Identification role for the younger crowd. This is a character part in most stories that I tend to automatically dislike to begin with, unless your name happens to be Kitty Pryde. I never understood why the Federation flagship had someone who hadn't even been accepted to Starfleet Academy not only on the bridge, but piloting the ship, and I feel the series would have been better had they just scrapped his character in the first place. Since then, any time Wheaton appears, his smug face has irritated me, and I really feel the only role that I've been able to appreciate him in has been (ironically, considering how much I hate the show) Big Bang Theory, where he plays a “fictionalized” version of himself, generally acting like an asshole to Sheldon Cooper. In addition to this, he tends to post a lot of dumb shit that he doesn't fact-check.

     The reason I'm bringing this up is that Mr Wheaton has recently run afoul of the Tumblr Social Justice crowd. Well, I say recently, but this incident somehow flew under my radar and happened back in February. Goes to show how well I usually manage to avoid him.

     Now, Cultural Appropriation is one of the more popular buzzwords that float around the Social Justice community. It can be a real problem in some cases, if someone's culture or heritage is played for laughs or disrespected, but there are people who believe eating Chipotle or watching anime is cultural appropriation. Those are the people we'll be looking at today.

     Recently, Mister Wheaton committed the heinous crime of referring to someone as his 'spirit animal.' Spirit animals, based on totemic beliefs, come from a number of different cultures throughout the world, but Tumblr seized on this and shredded Wheaton for appropriation of Native American culture. So of course, he did the smart thing by acknowledging people's concerns privately and moving on with his life.

     Nah, I'm kidding. He picked one of the less irate messages and replied to it with (and I hate using these words) copious amounts of White Guilt™, wallowing for forgiveness and cursing his ancestors. And of course, Tumblr saw how remorseful he was, and forgave him.

     Nah, I'm kidding. His apology was dissected, and he was vilified even more with his own words. And so he got up and yelled back, and told people not to be a dick again, despite continuing on being a dick himself. This continued until a voice of reason, an actual Native woman herself, spoke up and politely asked all the White Saviours™ of Tumblr to stop telling her how to be offended, apologized to Wheaton for the kerfuffle, and explained that “Native Americans of all tribes pride themselves on being generous with our cultural iconography.”

     The object lesson to be learned here is that whether or not they are truly offended, the Social Justice Warrior is not after an apology. They don't want to educate, and they aren't interested in making the world a better place. They want to get angry, and they want to hurt somebody's feelings. And they want to look and feel righteous as all hell in the process. This is what an internet bully looks like. I swear, some of these people that claim to fight for social justice are all of two steps away from demanding segregated water fountains again.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

[AFHOTWTTGS] The Tilean Rat

So, last week, during my unfortunate complete and utter failure to produce a few hundred words on the topic of RPGs, our gracious and currently absent hostess told you all about the Curse of 7th Seas.

I don't have a repeat offender game, as such, but I do have a few little stories that I want to get out of my system. I'm bound to refer to them again at some stage, so let's get 'em on paper (proverbially speaking) here and now.

First up, the Curious Case of the Tilean Rat.

While I was doing my MA, I had the strange hankering to a) introduce my beloved and saintly life-partner Hark to roleplaying and b) run some Warhammer Fantasy Role Play for the first time since high school.

Warhammer Fantasy Role Play, hence WFRP, was my formative RPG; though I technically came in with Advanced Fighting Fantasy and though in later years I became a World of Darkness man to the core, WFRP was the first game that I actually sat down to run with other people in more or less the manner that the developers intended. That game has a certain style associated with it; a sense of blackly comedic futility which merged seamlessly with the part of my brain that chain-binges Terry Pratchett novels and the tendency I have, as a GM, to create complex social and political situations, set the plates spinning, know what would happen if there were no PC wildcards involved, and then just... let things resolve themselves. Society as puzzle and interpersonal conflict as combat, in other words.

The threat of actual in-character violence is very strong, there's an undercurrent of it, but weapons are seldom drawn, mostly 'cause I've made it quite clear that I don't fudge; once you draw, it's you and your brains against the dice and the environment, and I'm a referee - I'm not here to be kind. Combat in my games is scary precisely because it doesn't happen often and someone usually comes very close to death. The consequences are genuine; killing someone who didn't deserve it will have repercussions even if you don't get knobbled while doing it.

The WFRP campaign was wildly improvisational; I had a pretty detailed mental map of Marienburg, a letter containing a dark ritual, half a dozen groups wanting to get their hands on it and, by the end of the first session, at least three inaccurate copies floating around the city, courtesy of appropriately paranoid player characters. It was, I thought, gravy all the way.

I didn't realise that one of the players was growing steadily more frustrated with the whole 'Maltese Falcon gone Warhammer' style until he lost his patience with a scribe they'd hired to translate the ritual and produce yet another dud copy and simply stabbed the guy. I was mildly flabberghasted. "You're... just going to kill him? In his office, in the middle of town, in mid-morning? You don't... think you might, y'know... that might have... consequences?"

That was the first time I've ever run face-first into such a clash of styles. In the past, I'd either taught the entire group to play, or I'd included enough action sequences to keep the variety fresh for the players who just wanted to smack things with their axes. It was the first time I'd had cause to actually think that I might not be GMing 'properly' for a given value thereof. It was not, however, the last.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Packing for a Blogmeet

Yep, I'm about to go on another vacation.  This has been a busy year, though -- no sooner did mom get her spinal pain sorted out with an epidural than my father fell off a step stool and broke his hip.  That was about the last part of May, and since then mom and I have been cleaning out his room (basically non-stop) so he can navigate it with his walker.

So I'm about to get out of here, and I deserve the break. Especially since there's going to be friction around the house as Mr. Crankypants has to adjust to live with less mobility. I've leaving on Wednesday, he comes home on Thursday -- I couldn't have timed it better if I'd planned it that way.

However, I will not be attended Oddball's Second Annual Bidet Shoot this year.* Instead, I will be attending a gathering of the Inner Circle of a certain political blog at [LOCATION REDACTED].

Which is basically a longwinded way of saying "I'm leaving on Wednesday, so no blogging from me tomorrow. Von and Salem will update as usual, and I will have an automated SHTFriday post over at Blue Collar Prepping."

See y'all next week!

* This isn't because I no longer love Oddball.  It is because both blogmeets are over the same weekend in different states, and when I went to NRAAM in April I saw everyone who will be attending the Bidet Shoot. Therefore, I decided to go with meeting folks I haven't met before.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dear Orlando Sun-Sentinel...

... your agenda is showing.

I posted this 6 days ago on your article here, and my comment has still not been approved. I even flagged it to make sure your administrator saw it. 

And yet, newer comments have been approved.

You're not even trying to have an even-handed debate, are you?

SHTFriday: Another guest post

I had a nasty headache that lasted damn near 24 hours yesterday, and I'm still recovering from it today.

Enjoy this guest post about the aftermath of Hurricane Ike (part 3 in a series -- check out parts one and two first) this time dealing with lack of drinking water and too much wastewater.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Stargate: Chemistry, or a sequel too far?

     In the surprisingly vast family of science fiction franchises with the word “Star” in the title, far and away my favorite has to be Stargate. Sure, Star Wars is the media darling, Star Trek has something that appeals to everyone (Deep Space 9 represent!), but if I had to pick one, it'd be Stargate. Maybe it's because I grew up around and on military bases. Army brat. Specifically, though, its the Showtime-birthed spin-off Stargate SG-1 that I love. The feature film was a grim-faced SFX reel mish-mash of macho guns and Egyptian symbolism inexplicably helmed by Roland Emmerich, far more likely to be blowing up the White House with a volcano made of lightning than explaining Ancient Aliens. Speaking of, I'm very fond of the way the Stargate franchise tackles one of the more absurd historical conspiracy theories out there in a way that would make the “ALIENS” meme guy teem with jealousy.

     For now, though, I want to look at why the initial series, Stargate SG-1, was so successful while the film and the other spin-off series, Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe were not. I want to look at the show's chemistry.

     Stargate SG-1's star is, arguably, Richard Dean Anderson. Prior to this (and in some circles), RDA was known primarily for MacGyver. Richard Dean Anderson's Captain Jack O'Neill, a vast improvement on the dour-faced grim Jack O'Neil (with one l) of the Emmerich film, portrayed by dour-faced grim go-to-guy Kurt Russell, has solid chemistry with every other member of the cast. The show may not have been good, per se, but it would still have been watchable with a weaker cast backing him up. He's the very definition of a Deadpan Snarker, an intelligent and experienced soldier with good instincts that works extremely hard to maintain the illusion of a befuddled grunt. And he reminds me a ton of my own father. Just much taller.

The rest of the main cast are no slouches, either. Michael Shanks was given the un-enviable job of taking over a role from James Spader, almost as big a name (and a much better actor) as Kurt Russell, and between his performance and the growth that the series allowed him, you can't even picture Spader in the role anymore. Amanda Tapping, who has since become an icon both on- and off-screen in science fiction, has one of the best characters in SF in “Captain Doctor” (later full-bird Colonel and Earth's first female starship captain) Samantha Carter. Carter's got possibly the most cringe-worthy 90s girl-power introduction I can think of, but went on to become the SF Television's answer to Ripley or Lara Croft. Rounding out the main cast is Christopher Judge's Teal'c, who remains one of the biggest badasses to date, whether he's dual-wielding P90s or walking to heaven after being shot in the back. Teal'c's stoicism and reserved nature could easily have had him written off as a one-note character in the hands of a lesser actor, but Judge does so much with so little that he ends up being amazingly expressive. 

Yes, she actually said that.
     Even when SG-1 lost parts of this brilliant family, they still managed to hold it together, setting aside that season when Daniel Jackson was replaced by yawn-inducing optimist smart-guy Jonas Quinn, at least. 8 years in, at a point when most shows would have been off the air, they promoted O'Neill to General and brought in half the cast of Farscape to replace him. Ben Browder's Mitchell perfectly captured a younger version of O'Neill, and Claudia Black is a joy to watch in pretty much anything she's in. That's where the problem with the spinoff series lie. Stargate: Atlantis had no strong main team. Weir was an interesting character, but she spent most of her time in the city. Sheppard was another attempt at a younger O'Neill-like character, but where Mitchell succeeded, Sheppard fell flat. Jason Momoa's Ronon Dex was pushed like a mark 2 Teal'c, but Momoa's complete lack of acting ability just made him a grunting tough-guy thatnobody could take seriously, and meant a far more interesting character, Teyla, was wasted. Rodney McKay, an SG-1 recurring character, had some good moments, and Carson Beckett (dubbed Doctor Scotland) was a fantastic character, but they weren't enough to save the show. As for Stargate Universe, Robert Carlyle's Doctor Rush was pretty much the only memorable character. You could have jettisoned the rest of the cast and I wouldn't have noticed.

     Good chemistry in the cast can make or break a show. It can mean the difference between running for 10 years and nabbing a Guinness record or being cancelled halfway through your second and never resolving your cliff-hanger ending. Stargate SG-1 had that chemistry, and for that reason alone I could rank it in the top of my favorite stories. And for that reason alone, I met the news of a Stargate reboot with a resounding “Meh.” It won't have Jack O'Neill. It won't have Samantha Carter. It won't have Teal'c or Daniel Jackson, and for that reason I can't possibly imagine it being worth my time. Instead, I'll watch this: 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Accursed Game

I've been watching Crossbones on NBC and enjoying it, because 1) I like pirates, B) the acting is good enough and the plot intriguing enough, and III) it's potential source material for 7th Sea, which is a game I dearly love but is, apparently, cursed.

I feel I should take a moment to explain that while I do not consider myself a superstitious person, I believe I have enough empirical evidence that I can convincingly explain that every time I play this game, bad things happen. Come, I shall conceal nothing from you.

First, a bit of history

7th Sea debuted in 1999 as an almost-but-not-really companion game to Legend of the Five Rings, but while the latter was based heavily on Kurosawa-style Samurai action, 7th Sea was a swashbuckling adventure based in what I like to call "fantasy Europe with the serial numbers filed off, using all the coolest parts of a nation's history" (Elizabethan/Arthurian England, Inquisition Spain, Borgia Italy, Viking Scandinavia etc).  While L5R was very lethal, 7S was of the "whenever possible, use a chandelier" school of heroic over-the-topness. In short, it's a fun game in which it's hard for your PCs to die stupid deaths and it has enough history porn to give Renaissance aficionados massive boners.

There was also a little movie that came out in 2003 that made pirates popular in the media. You may have heard of it.  Despite this, and despite the fact that 7th Sea is culturally accessible to pretty much everyone in the western world, the game went out of print in 2005.  (For the record, the second and third movies of the PotC trilogy came out in 2006 and 2007, so pirate fever was still raging at the time. And yes, you could play as pirates in 7S -- in fact, the first supplement for it was a pirate sourcebook.)

Contra Legend of the Five Rings, which features a culture foreign to most of the world, and is currently enjoying its fourth edition.

Still not convinced 7th Sea is a Jonah?  Fair enough. Read on.

How it's affected me

I discovered 7th Sea back in '99 or 2000, but the first time I played was circa 2004. It was a fun game, and my players Got It, and we all had a blast. Shortly thereafter, though, I lost my job, was unable to find another, and due to deteriorating health from malnutrition (most of my savings were going toward rent, and so I was eating lots of fast food and Ramen noodles) I moved back to Florida. A friend of mine from college knocked up his girlfriend, and I basically said  "In exchange for a break in rent I'll help take care of the baby." They accepted my offer and helped me move. 

I stored my 7S books with said friend. They didn't have a room for me at the old place, so I slept in my old bedroom in my parents' house while they looked for a new one. During the pregnancy, his girlfriend increasingly froze me out, and this only got worse after the baby was born.  I just attributed this to hormones. and tried not to take it personally. However, when they DID find a house, I asked "Cool, when can I move in?"  and she said "Never. I don't trust you with my baby. In fact, I don't want you coming around at all." Needless to say, I had done NOTHING to deserve this, and when I pressured my friend about it he agreed that there was nothing in my behavior to warrant mistrust or suspicion. But she didn't want me around, and he was a pushover and didn't fight it. So I cut ties with them, because what else do you do when someone basically says "I think you might abuse my baby based on no facts whatsoever"?  That was in spring 2005. 
I didn't touch the game for a while. The next time I dug it up was in 2008, when a player in my then-running L5R game was getting tired of running her Star Wars game and wanted something new.  I said, "Hey, have you tried 7th Sea? It's great!" and promptly loaned her all my stuff.  I made a character (detailed here), we played exactly ONE half-assed game, and she never got around to running another. 

Not long after I came out to her about being genderqueer. I figured I could trust her and she would understand. On New Year's Eve, I gave her a kiss at midnight (chaste, on the cheek) because she looked lonely. I didn't ambush her, I just said "Hey, give me your cheek for a moment" and she did, so I figured it was okay.

It wasn't okay. This is odd, because she also drove me home that night, and could have said something about it then, or in any of the days thereafter. You know, like adults do. Instead, she went behind my back for the next few weeks, turning the rest of my gaming group -- who were easily-manipulable horny engineers in their 20s -- against me. I don't know what she said about me, and I couldn't get a straight answer out of anyone on the subject. They all looked sheepish and evaded my questions. Personally, I think she told them I was queer and it made them uncomfortable, and she knew it would make them uncomfortable, and she did it because she wanted to be the only girl in the group.

In 2010, I ran a game over Google Wave. It was a bit of a horrorshow, because these people failed to understand that 7S is a game of action, not a goddamn Shadowrun where everything must be planned to a fare-thee-well or else the GM will screw them over. No, I specifically told them "If you act appropriately heroic and dashing, I will give you villains that are equally egotistical and have classic Achilles' Heels," but for whatever reason they couldn't process that.

The game lasted a few months before I essentially said, "I give up. You are taking days to deliberate over things which should only require a few seconds of thought. It is not fun for me to constantly flog you into action. This game has become work, and so I'm ending it." The fallout from this was that someone with whom I was a good friend basically stopped talking to me -- we didn't have a fight, we just sort of fell out of each other's orbits, probably because we had a fundamental disagreement about How Games Should Be Run. Oh, and my girlfriend dumped me without any warning.

Another good friend who played in that game also "broke up" with me, but that was years later. I still attribute it to the Curse, though. 

In 2012, I attempted to run another online game with another batch of people. I will say that this group, at least, seemed to Get It in terms of playstyle, but the group fell apart pretty quickly: one player decided he didn't have time to play and therefore dropped out of the game after the first session; another basically had a bad attitude about it from the beginning (didn't make a character, and then complained that I "took away all his creativity" when I made a character for him, complained about the mechanics, etc) and was a drain on everyone else, so when he said "I don't like it but I'll give it one more session" I replied "You obviously don't want to be here, so don't bother." I think another player liked getting drunk and/or stoned during play, but he was actually the least of my worries.

The end result of this game was basically the same as before: someone who I thought was a good friend (Mister Bad Attitude), and with whom I had talked over IM for many hours over many months, basically stopped talking to me. Again, no fight, just drifting apart... when someone is constantly marked "Busy" on GChat I respect that and don't bother them, and after that game suddenly this person was busy all the time. The last time he spoke to me was on Christmas, where he asked me for money. Before that, I don't think we had more than 5 minutes of conversation in the previous year, usually me going "Hey, how are you" and he'd reply with "Alright" and then not say anything more.

I report, you decide

I am currently four for four in regards to not being able to sustain a 7th Sea campaign, and every time I play in one, it always results in relationships getting all twisted. Now, to be clear, I am not specifically saying that it is the fault of the game that I lost my job, or friendships went sour, or I was dumped by my girlfriend. Some of those might have happened anyway. Maybe the game brings out something unpleasant in me that drives wedges in friendships Or maybe the game just shows up whenever things are about to get really shitty for me. 

All I'm saying is that 7th Sea is basically a Jonah, a Foul Weather Jack, a Stormcrow, and that wherever it goes, misery seems to follow in its wake -- at least in regards to me. 

So, you tell me: Am I being ridiculous and freaking out over coincidence? Or have I established a pattern of repeatable bad luck through empirical evidence?

And that, dear players in my Traveller game, is why I will never, ever, play 7th Sea with you, either as a GM or as a player: I value my friendship with you too damn much to risk going 5 for 5.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Gunnies Helping Gunnies -- 2 for 1 special

This is one of those posts that I don't like writing, because I hate it when members of my tribe end up in terrible situations. On the other hand, this is another opportunity for us to come together as a community and help out our brethren and sistren in their time of need.

In other words:  Yes, Erin is going to shake you down for money to help gunnies in need.

I'm a bit late in writing about this due to my own already-mentioned family medical issues, but hopefully I can help boost the signal to those who wouldn't ordinarily see it.

First off, Erik and Sabra (yes, THAT Sabra) Onstott are in a bad place right now.  Sabra is pregnant and their baby has been diagnosed with a truly awful disorder called Limb-Body Wall Complex. I'm not going to go into graphic detail, but yes, it's as horrible as you imagine it is; official medical literature describes the condition as "incompatible with life."  More information can be found in Erik's post here,  or if you really want your heart to break you can read their pregnancy blog, but the short version is that they're going to bring their child (whom they have given the gender-neutral name Psalm-Angel) to term so that, hopefully, they can hold their baby in their arms and say goodbye.

Sabra is due to deliver sometime between mid-August and September, and instead of getting ready to celebrate a birth, they're having to plan a funeral for a baby.

Is it suddenly dusty around your computer? Yeah, mine too.

But wait, it gets WORSE:  their landlord has given them 30 days notice and is kicking them out of their home, so now they have to find a new place to live by July 7.

Oh, and their car needs repairs as well. Erik has the parts, he just doesn't know how to install them so he can have a functioning car for this whole "moving and a funeral thing."

So here is how you can help:

  • If you live in or near San Antonio, or have contacts there, please help the Onstotts with 
    • finding a place to live,
    • repairing their car,
    • planning Psalm-Angel's funeral. 
  • If you have the skills to help them directly (such as by being a mechanic, a real estate agent, or a funeral director), so much the better. 
  • If possible, please donate at their YouCaring page. They have set a very modest goal of $3,500 (too modest, if you ask me) -- I call upon all gunnies to blow the fuck out of that total by giving at least twice that. Personally, I think we can give them an easy $10k. 
  • Boost this signal wherever you can:  On your blog, on Facebook, on Twitter.  Wherever you have social media presence, you talk about their situation and you link to their YouCaring page. 
  • Pray for them. I have specifically asked and, yes, non-Christian prayers are just as welcome. 
  • If you would like to contact Erik directly (to help out, offer moral support, etc), you can email him at Erik dot onstott at sbcglobal dot net.

Now that I've gotten you in the spirit of giving, will you also consider helping out Tin Can Assassin as well? Fortunately no one is dying, but his wife has taken his daughter and fled to another state.

TCA needs help with legal fees, as not only does he need to fight a TRO (no doubt filed as leverage), he also needs to hire a good divorce lawyer so that his daughter isn't removed from his life.  (For more details go here; I can also corroborate the fact that if you send him an email, he will answer any questions you have.)

TCA doesn't have a GoFundMe or YouCaring page because, in his own words, "I don't want to shame my wife the way she's shamed me."  So far he's managed to raise $558 for his legal fees, and will need somewhere between an estimated $1300 and $2900 to pay the legal fees.

How you can help:

  • If you have any money left over, please donate via PayPal to donovan_dion_oblsb AT yahoo DOT com, so that a wrongly accused man can get his life back in order and continue to see his daughter. 
  • Prayers and well-wishes are also welcome. 

I thank you all, in advance, for all the help you're going to give to these two deserving causes. And no, you don't have to be a gunnie to help (It's not my  intention to exclude anyone!) -- I just thought that "Gunnies Helping Gunnies" was catchy. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Mounds of Crap

In case y'all thought I was exaggerating about my dad's hoarding in Friday's BCP post:

This is the main pile.  (Mom calls them "Dad's Hemorrhoids," because piles.) And this is AFTER we cleared away boxes and boxes of stuff, some of them sitting on TWO CHAIRS.  After using a tape measure (and estimating for what we already removed), I reckon it was about 4 feet by seven feet by 2.5 feet... about 70 cubic feet of crap, all told.  For reference, that dresser top in the background  (rendered totally inaccessible by said pile)  is about 30.5 inches tall.

This is the left side of the bed. That particular hemorrhoid is 2x2x7 feet.  There was a matching pile on the right...

... but we cleared it away before I thought to take a picture of it. Basically, imagine a path about a foot wide between the bed and all the stuff.  From foreground to back:  Books to be gotten rid of, more books to be gotten rid of, and a box full of disorganized financial forms of dubious importance. They all need to be gone through and kept if recent, shredded if not.

And this is the bed. Admittedly, the bags and the boxes were moved onto the bed so we could have space to operate. But you see the roughly person-sized volume of stacks of books on the left? Yep, those "live" there. Dad sleeps on the right. He shares his bed with books.

And this is but one of the loads of trash we've thrown out after shifting through what will easily be 100 cubic feet of crap.  The trash bag on the right is completely filled with shredded documents.  The oldest was dad's 1998 tax return.

We've been at this for over a week and the end isn't even in sight.  Ugh. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

SHTFriday: The Slippery Slope of Prepping

Today at Blue Collar Prepping,  I try my best not to paint all preppers with the crazy brush.

Honestly, that's not my intention, not at all -- but I also recognize how easy it is to get carried away and discover that a hobby has become an obsession and is now running your life.

I'm certainly not one to talk. I played so much City of Heroes back in the day that, had I been a pilot, I would have qualified for combat pay.  So yes, I know all about turning something fun into a job.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

One Man's Dream is not necessarily Another Man's Cause

[this review may contain minor spoilers for X-Men: Days of Future Past]

     It's fortuitous and somewhat coincidental that X-Men: Days of Future Past has recently had runaway box office success. It's a story about a man with a dream, a man with a cause, people defending an old establishment, and extremists thinking they're doing the right thing. While it's definitely not the story the comics told us decades ago, I think it benefits for this. Shame about Kitty Pryde, though. Maybe if they'd spent a movie or two developing her as more than a background character instead of making five movies about Wolverine (not that I'm complaining. I love me some Hugh Jackman's Wolverine), the movie would have been able to stand on its own with her as the one going back instead of him.

     But that's not what I want to focus on right now. X-Men has always served as a sometimes subtle, sometimes not-so allegory for minority struggle, and DOFP, in the day of hashtag slacktivism, media bias on both sides, call-out culture, and tumblr-style gender wars, has updated the formula. Xavier and Magneto are there still, but the context has changed.

     Xavier's Dream, which I would like to say that I do, and always have, strongly believed in, is that humans and mutants can peacefully coexist with each other. On top of that, realizing that there would be humans that violently feared mutants and mutants that could justify that fear, he formed his X-Men to defend innocent mutants against the formerly mentioned humans, and innocent humans against the latter mutants. The Dream is fueled by hope, and that Dream cannot survive if fearful and bigoted humans or violent, misguided mutants harm innocents on either side.

     Magneto's Cause, on the other hand, is something that scares me as bad as the aforementioned bigoted and fearful humans. It's much simpler, because it's a cause that's fueled by anger. It's completely black and white. Humans are history, are a threat, should be removed from the equation. Mutants are the future, innocent and blameless, and acting only in defense of their people. Any human that doesn't fit with that equation is simply a tool to be exploited and discarded, and any mutant that doesn't fit is a traitor to their biology.

     The main plot of DOFP revolves around how the act of a single extremist caused the entire world to fall apart, and how those with a Dream and those with a Cause must set aside differences to stop those that would go too far from hurting everyone with their actions. One extremist, Mystique, must be stopped from taking an action that would paint all like her a criminal and a threat, and another extremist must be stopped from using her actions (and her very biology) as a weapon against innocents. It's an effective allegory for the all-too-common people who think they're fighting the good fight, but just aren't helping

     I'll close out this thought with a semi-angry statement made a few weeks ago. I think it's still relevant.

“Too many assholes out there thinking they believe in Xavier's Dream but fighting for Magneto's Cause.”

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

[AFHOTWTTGS] Somwhat Overcast Sunday Teatime of the Soul

I'm flitting a lot, at the moment.

I can't seem to settle on a Project - by which I mean Game to Play, but you know how it is - if it isn't taken seriously and treated like work it feels like a waste of time, and if I'm just running something out of the box I generally feel bored and unfulfilled; I haven't really had to engage my mind and grapple with anything... but isn't that what a hobby is supposed to be? An opportunity to not do that? But don't I have an obligation to engage my mind and grapple with things if I'm not having cause to do that anywhere else in life? But doesn't that in turn mean that I should be doing something important and challenging and improving my life instead of faffing around playing wizard games?

You see what I mean? I'm asking too many questions instead of just doing things and having fun with them. Overanalysing. Fretting. Flitting. Doubting. Not actually doing things. Blogging about why I'm not actually doing things.

Not a good head-space to be in, especially over games - which, while they are part of 'real life' and don't let anyone tell you otherwise - are not ultimately going to put roofs over heads and potatoes in tummies, and are consequently Not Worth The Fuss in the first place.

Last week it was the IKRPG, this week it's D&D, next week it's Mage (although Mage is something actual people have expressed an interest in, so maybe I'll actually see that through - who knows?). All the verb-ing described above means there's not a lot of actual gaming going on in Von-town at the moment, and that's bad - but trying to get a game on the go results in more verb-ing.

It's probably a sign of underlying dissatisfaction with my life, manifesting itself in the harmless, consequence-less space of gaming (except it's not consequence-less, because real time and real money and real effort are invested in games and real fun is not a guaranteed output... you see?)

This is the sort of thinking that prompted me into Cognitive Behavioural Therapy so I could try to avoid it.

This is the sort of thing that prompts friends and guildmates and colleagues to say "just be spontaneous."

This is the sort of thing that leaves me out of pocket and out of time when I've been spontaneous and been disappointed.

This is the sort of thing that leads to whiny, self-indulgent blog posts like this one.

Maybe I need to browbeat someone else into GMing for me? Seeing other people do a crap job (by which I generally mean "running their game the way they want to and not the way I would") generally makes me want to outdo them.

Either way, talking about doing ain't the same as doing.

I'll be back when I have my head sorted out and my priorities straightened and some actual gaming on the go.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Monday Gunday: Things that make me giggle, photo edition

How much a friend of mine looks like 

Miniguns in VW buses!

Miniguns in VW buses!

Miniguns in VW buses!!!

In fact, I like this one so much that I got one for myself.  Sure, on a Glock pistol it looks ridiculous... but how about on a pistol-caliber carbine that accepts Glock magazines?

It's not unwieldy at all, actually. I'm already supporting my Sub-2000 with two hands and a shoulder weld, and the extra 17 rounds don't increase the weight all that much.  I am running out of things to put on it, though...

Plus, it makes my S2K feel even MORE like a submachinegun. 

It's not even difficult to load with the built-in ratchety-thing. It just takes a while.

I don't care if it's silly, or if it's ugly, or if it jams like a mofo.  It makes me laugh, dammit. 

(Full review will come once I've tested it)

Sunday, June 1, 2014


From Imgur:

Hodor, in the Millennium Falcon, wearing a Nightmare Moon t-shirt. Your argument is invalid Hodor.

UPDATE:  Someone on Facebook suggested the name "Hoofdor."  I'm ashamed I didn't think of that.

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