The Blue Room Journal
------------------------
An Archive of the "Blue Desk" Entries

From the birth of the Blue Room in 1997, through my time in Virginia and then Texas, I posted regularly on the Blue Room's front page, the Blue Desk.

A decade or so into that habit (the spring of 2007), Sandra and I moved to Denver, Colorado, and the Blue Desk became a much less frequent thing for me. I still updated, but only rarely. The rise of Facebook and then my beloved G+ contributed to this ... I never stopped posting stuff, I just stopped posting stuff here, and shifted more and more to social media. My very last Blue Desk post pondered that very thing. My Google+ page is still where to look for the latest (I make several public posts a week; hope to see you there)!

Here's nearly the entire history of the Blue Room's "Blue Desk," preserved for the ages (posts from the first seven weeks or so were never saved; the rest is here). I maintain this archive without much editing; the messages appear as they were when posted. As a result, some news will be outdated, and many hyperlinks will no longer function. I've divided the posts into manageable sections, for easy reading and rapid loading. The most recent entries (2007-2014) appear here on this page. The earlier, more frequent entries I've divided into half-year archive pages. Each reads in reverse chronological order.

1997 Entries
Part I (of I)

1998 Entries
Part I | Part II

1999 Entries
Part I | Part II

2000 Entries
Part I | Part II

2001 Entries
Part I | Part II

2002 Entries
Part I | Part II

2003 Entries
Part I | Part II

2004 Entries
Part I | Part II

2005 Entries
Part I | Part II

2006 Entries
Part I | Part II


From the Blue Desk . . . Social Media

2/6/14: I spend time each day using social media. In particular, my home online nowadays is basically Google+, though I'm also on Twitter (mainly in an effort to figure out what it's for) and Facebook (for family and friends, since I have a lot of relatives, in particular, for whom Facebook is the internet) and others.

I'm a writer. There are a lot of clichés about how social media is the writer's greatest time-sucking enemy: nature's most perfect writer-predator, slinking through our computers and consuming our productive time by distracting us with kittens and politics and recipes and match-three games. For my own part, I've concluded this isn't the case. For me, the danger of social media to my writing isn't that it distracts me. Honestly, it tends to just spackle in the quiet gaps where no productivity fits, decorating the moments where I wasn't going to be writing, anyway.

But the perfect predator has more than one way to hunt. For me, the danger of social media to my writing is that everything I write is, in part, commentary on something. Inevitably, this commentary is celebratory, frequently with a streak of satire.

An open secret: each of these celebrations begins as something more negative, as a rumination on something in the world I find sad, or frightening, or disappointing, or bland. My response to this kind of thinking then goes "Well, that does suck ... but I can celebrate the exceptions; I can celebrate the opposite; I can celebrate the awesome and at least do a little to shine the light on the good stuff in the face of the bad ... and flavor it with a streak of snark to make it cathartic and give it some bass to go with the treble." And when I settle in to write, that's exactly what I go in to do: to celebrate the stuff that rocks me in the good way, to provide an alternative the dismal noise of those things that make me Mr. Frowny Face. It helps that RPGs are just one of the best human activities ever devised and I love them with every ounce of my being. That makes the framework easy, even if the details can be grueling!

The danger of social media to me, then, is that on G+ or Twitter or wherever, commentary doesn't require the kind of work, consideration, development, testing, iteration and care that RPG work does (or, that RPG work ideally does, or at any rate that RPG work at Cumberland certainly does). On social media, I can just ... offer commentary. The problems are twofold:

First, as noted above, my need to comment typically begins someplace negative, and, through the design, development and writing process, is forged into something celebratory. On social media, it's more from-the-hip, so it's more likely to reflect that uncooked, fresh-from-the-curmudgeonly-garden vibe (the garden where I've been growing stuff since I was a grouchy old man at approximately age 9). So, I feel that I end up contributing negatively ... when my work is (by contrast, I hope) seen as a cheerful love-letter to all that's great about gaming.

Second, by scratching the need to comment, I've ... I've gone ahead and scratched it. Commentary offered. Commentary, commented. I've bled away a piece of my need to do so. And that need is what drives a large share of my writing.

So, the point is (well, the gelatin capsule containing the point is) social media isn't actually a time-suck for me.

So hey, there's that to celebrate.

Reminiscing

1/24/14: Reminiscing about old jobs. I worked at a pool hall for a while, mostly just cleaning the tables: brushing the lint from the felt, polishing the brass corner-pieces, stuff like that. It was one of the few regular-job-type-jobs I ever enjoyed. I was writing a book at the time, too; one that never got published (another writer picked up the same assignment years later). I was rooming with a couple of construction workers named Sonny and Newt. Newt had once been shot in the head by a former roomie, and survived (though he could barely speak; his throat and jaw had been torn up by it). He'd often get drunk and come into my room while I was writing, put his finger to my head and pretend to shoot me, re-playing the event. Pshew. He was also some kind of Chess genius, and didn't seem to like any band except Deep Purple. Sonny was just Newt's less-alchoholic, less-Chess-playing buddy who hadn't been shot by anyone that I could tell.

It was then that I first played text-adventure games, and Rogue, on my little amber-monitor 8088 I kept on a cardboard box in the corner of my room. The pool-hall was an easy walk from there. The local second-run theater was, too, and we had a convenience store a few yards from our door, complete with a tiny but workable selection of rentable videos. The only thing about that setup that was unbearable was, it was no place to bring a girl. Sonny and Newt were not really what you'd call ideal wingmen. But I got a lot of writing done and I polished those pool-tables really well. Years later, Sandra and I would get married just a few blocks from all of that, so even the girl-stuff worked out just fine in the long run.

The Anything RPG, Take Two!

12/25/13: A little Christmas present to all my gamer-friends out there; my huggy little free RPG, Risus, celebrates 20 years this year, and the new edition is now live. Go snag it, grab some friends, and play a game (plus, tell everyone; please tell everyone)!

Happy Godless Bus Day!

10/21/13: Five years ago today, the Atheist Bus Campaign began, which ... well, I didn't even know about it then. But in time, it would bring me a really groovy pen-pal, and one of the most interesting epistolary friendships of my life. Hats off, glasses raised, and gentle nods of friendship directed across the pond. Cheers.

Fan Fiction

8/21/13: Lots of spiffs and additions around the whole site lately, but the largest batch of new stuff is over in the Fan Archives on Blue Lamp Road, where there are eight new short stories, the result of a Summer Short-Fiction Contest held for Uresia enthusiasts. I was kind of blown away that it actually worked out ... I'm always floating random little contests on the Mailing List and so on, and I'm no good at predicting which ones will fire folks up. This one did the trick, and you can read the stories on the web, or snag PDF or ePub versions. If you're new to Uresia, well, there's a page for that, too!

Blumin' Fonts

2/4/13: It's strange to feel nostalgic about font piracy, but I got all kinds of warm-fuzzy-happy feelings this weekend when I spotted this set of Judy Blume books, still in their shrink-wrap, on the shelves of a local teacher's-store where my wife and I love browsing. These editions came out maybe five years ago, or thereabouts, and the title of each book (cover and interiors, plus a few other miscellaneous interior uses) are in my hand-drawn font, Apple Butter, which I created for fantasy mapping (most often in heaven's grave ... if you've seen the Uresia maps, it's on a few of them, and will always be on more).

When I contacted the publisher, they confessed their error and were pretty nice about the whole thing, and promised to pay up for the license. They ... never actually did, but I think they meant to. Just a workaday bureaucratic bungle, I assume, so it left no hard feelings. Instead, I got to just stare at them happily, because the Peter/Fudge/Sheila books were pretty much the best thing in the world to me when I was a kid (and I can still quote chunks of them to this day), and I must have owned a half-dozen copies of Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing over the course of my childhood (because [A] I'm hard on books and [B] I loan them out a lot). So seeing my own alphabetical doodles decorating an edition? Yeah, okay :)

Back to Heaven's Grave

9/24/12: It's been a long time coming, but Uresia: Grave of Heaven is available in its all-new All-Systems Library edition, and it's already gotten a few kind words across the net in the form of G+ and Facebook posts, tweets, forum discussions and so on. Uresia, in its original edition, was my farewell to the gaming industry (the last book contract I ever took, something I knew when I took it) and it's kind of strange and lovely to have it "home" at Cumberland, now. This book is very much a compact, crystallized example of everything I set out to do when I make gamestuff. I love it bunches.

Toy Stories

9/14/12: I spend my days making two things: toys, and the alphabet. It's difficult to imagine a clearer example of arrested development.

This weekend at the movies, though, I look forward to seeing the kind of alphabets I do make hobnob with the kind of toys I don't. Partysaurus Rex, the new short featured in front of Finding Nemo 3D, includes both some standard Cumberland fonts and a commissioned custom font made just for Pixar. This pleases me greatly, in large part because I dig Wallace Shawn, but just in general.

I see my fonts at the movies pretty regularly, but exclusive Pixar custom-work is a special occasion, so if you do end up seeing the movie (because: Dory), be sure and cheer the titlecards on the short, because it'll make other people look at you funny.

Less Kicking Now

4/6/12: And the Kickstarter went really really well (see link, last update) and now I know what I'll be doing for a while!

Starting, And Also Kicking

3/7/12: For those of you who like Risus (and for those of you who just like RPG modules, Risus or not) there's a Kickstarter Project you might be interested in. I for one am pretty stoked :)

Another Good Year

11/22/11: Sandra and I celebrate our fourteenth anniversay today, in our usual, quiet, don't-make-a-fuss way ... but if we were the fuss-making sort, this would be the very best day to make one for. But there'll be lots of nose-rubbing and nibbling, I'm sure, and that's really the important thing.

Into the Columns and Layers

11/7/11: It's been a year since playtest and revisions, more or less, and it was a long time coming to get to that, even, but it's all paying off at last. I finalized the text last night for the All-Systems Library edition of Uresia: Grave of Heaven, and today I begin layout and production. It's a good time.

Soup de Jour

11/2/11: I had the pleasure of chatting on Facebook, briefly, with Brooke Magnanti back when she was still the secret identity of Belle de Jour. We talked about American politics, sadly, but still. Anyway, I'm a fan of her writing, a fan of the show based on it, and now a fan of the fact that she now has a food blog. Because while I don't "get" blogs, I certainly likes me some food.

In addition to her usual pleasant writing style, she shows some promise when it comes to photographing food. Anyone who fancies themselves a shutterbug, and who has attempted food photography, knows what a very specialized skill it really is ...

Preacher, Folding Pesher

11/2/11: Here's one for the Discordians. Some time ago, I did a "pamphlet version" of The Gospel of St. Pesher, the Gardener, which I've been distributing in hardcopy since. And I really thought I uploaded it (adding it to the archive with the Novus Ordo PDFs), but I had not. But now I have. Click on the most likely link, then click on the next most likely.

What do we learn? Five tons of flax, friends. Love to the Occasionally Bitchy Goddess, and may the flowers rain. Hail Eris.

Alimentary, My Dear Watson

10/30/11: Sandra and I haven’t owned a car in many years, and don’t miss it. Denver has nice public transport, and we use that. We're also members of a carshare program, so whenever we really want a car (for a jaunt into the Rockies, for example) it’s five bucks an hour, gas included (there’s a gas card provided in the glove box), which is pretty sweet.

Today we used the carshare to do some errands and ended up (as we often do) at our favorite Asian supermarket. This means bizarre food labeling by companies who don’t really speak English. My two favorites today were Pudding Jelly (yes, it’s a snack called Pudding Jelly, and even having eaten it I’m not sure which one it more closely resembles), and some noodles.

But the noodles aren’t just noodles. The label tells us that they’re “Alimentary Paste.” Alimentary Paste. It’s like - someone held a contest to come up with the least appetizing literal description of what these noodles are made of (see the hyperlink for the real story). This beats my previous favorite product at the market, Sliming Tea (or literally Sliming Herb ... I'm sure they meant "slimming," but this tea guarantees that it will help you with your sliming).

My favorite part about the Pudding Jelly isn’t even the name, it’s the extensive warnings on the labels which tell of dire consequences if the Pudding Jelly is not thoroughly chewed before swallowing. It warns that children and the elderly should never be allowed to eat Pudding Jelly unsupervised, and that it should be cut into smaller pieces for their benefit.

It tastes kind of like a gelatinous custard swimming in thin pancake syrup.

I haven’t yet tried the Alimentary Paste. But oh my, I will.

Thirty-Something

7/14/11: It's my last night on earth as a thirty-something, so I'm feeling a bit reflective, looking back, looking forward, stuff like that.

Overall, my 30's have been much better than my 20's, and my 20's were much better than my teens, and my teens were pretty fucking awesome, frankly. Heck, on the micro scale, the last five years of my life have been the best five years, and (despite a few little blips, like the mugging, or some stress that came down on a close friend of ours a couple of months back) the past year has been the best year. I think my simplest metric for describing how good things have been comes in two parts, and goes like this:

The good stuff in my life ... the stuff that makes me feel valued, productive and fulfilled ... is roughly 100% to the credit of those people who honor me with their time, affection, sympathies and encouragement. This is most especially Sandra, of course, who loves me like I'm going out of style (possibly because I am), but also folks like Sara, Unity, Oneness, Maja, Other Sandra, Shy, Veronica, Legion, Reese, Liz, Tony, Judy, Shawn, Chris [both King and Reid], Josh, Nitor, Rayne, Tim, Jhada, Heidi, Dan, Justine, Lisa, Mike [both Cain and Sherwood], Kevin, Lauren and dozens I'm too lazy to list or keep in proper touch with (I still love you though) - to some new friends I'm just now starting to know (hi, you!), some old friends I've reconnected with (ditto!), some colleagues who treat me like a brother (mostly in the good way), and some fans and supporters who treat me like a Real Game Writer. That's where the good stuff comes from. Approximately all of it. And I guess that means, if people are giving me so much, I must be doing something right. That, or they're all in cahoots and plotting against me, but honestly I doubt my kidneys would sell for much.

The bad stuff in my life - the stuff that makes me feel worthless, aimless, or lacking (kidneys?) - is roughly 100% my own damn fault. I cannot think of a single stress in my life right now where I'm not the one and only person to blame for it, and maybe that sounds bad on the surface, but it means that I have no one in my life who rates even the tiniest drop of resentment or hate or jealousy or rancor - and that is not something I could have said in my 20's or teens. So that means, while I'm doing some things wrong (because I do have some stresses, my bad) it means I'm still doing something right. So, life = good.

Tonight and tomorrow are likely to be a little rough on me as I face down the milestone - but by Saturday, well, I have stuff to look forward to. If I can't make my 40's even better than my 30's, it'll be my own damn fault.

Blue Shift

6/11/11: For the third time in its life, the Blue Room has moved, this time due to the sudden impending demise (sale to "unknown parties") of the old io.com domain (a storied domain if there ever was one, especially for gamers). Since you're reading this, you've already found the new digs, so hi there, and thanks for following me here. If you make any noise on the Web about such things, let them know I'm still out here gaming, writing, mapping and fonting!

Following up on my previous entry, I've fleshed out the Gelio Greek family quite a bit (and given it some new non-Greekoid friends) with the latest addition to the Free Stuff of the Moment page. For those paying really close attention, I've added a new stock vehicle to the HASTUR list, and for the rest of the week's efforts, I've been doing lots and lots of search-and-replace to start updating the contact information in the many hundreds of files (fonts, PDFs, etc) I've posted for download over the years ... yikes! Wish me luck, and hope your summer is getting into high gear about now (but still make time for gaming ... somewhere on a sunlit deck with lots of paperweights in case of a breeze)!

Greek Below 7200 Points

1/13/11: I know of a dozen or more Greek-style "simulation fonts" out there (in font-ese, a simulation font is a Roman-alphabet font mimicking a style associated with other alphabets), some of them (most of them!) entirely excellent ... but when it came time to choose a header style for a certain RPG worldbook I'm editing right now, none of them quite fit the tone I wanted. This is the way a good many Cumberland fonts are born. So I hit ye olde virtuale drawinge boarde, and I liked the design so much I just kept going. I've already designed a half-dozen in a rowdy, silly Greekoid family. Gelio Retsina is the destined worldbook header-face, but the first style to be ready for free-font primetime is Gelio Greek Diner, now available on the Free Stuff of the Moment page.

In tangentially-related news, this has been a really good week, filled with more than the usual number of reconnections with friends who mean a lot to me. Plus, I got to run some Paranoia the other night, so now I'm fighting the urge to spend work-hours designing new fanmade forms and documents for Alpha Complex ... gah! But ... the good gah.

Treasures for Christmas

12/24/10: The strange and groovy Encounter Critical text adventure, Treasures of a Slaver's Kingdom, goes freeware today, completing its planned three-year commercial period, with a lot of surprises along the way. When I was making it, I knew I had something good for EC enthusiasts who could make the jump to the parser-game groove, but I really didn't imagine actual text-adventure types would like it in the same way an EC fan would ... and that's mostly true, but they did find their own ways to like it. Now there's even an academic article in the works that includes it as a subject (turns out it confounds expectations of hyperdiegesis, but in a good way ... I had to look it up). And yesterday, on the last day of its commercial run, I had one more customer show up, who'd just discovered it that day, insisting on supporting it while there was still a chance. So, good on you, little game. I love you lots, but it's nice when you can also find an audience. Now that ToaSK is free, here's hoping it finds an even bigger one. Snag it and play if you haven't yet! It's - it's odd.

Sundry Updatery

9/04/10: There have been a number of updates to the Blue Room and Cumberland this summer, many too trivial to list, but notable ones include a new recipe for Gourmand Bleu, some more info in the FAQ, yet more stuff at the Free Stuff of the Moment page (the latest is a font called Rugged Ride), updates to the submission guidelines for Uresia and Risus, and a long-overdue fan-links section added to the Encounter Critical homepage. I've also been reformatting some of the pages to better survive this age of widescreen monitors, with mixed success. If you spot a page that really needs more attention, let me know ...

Let's Go To Town!

6/02/10: After what must seem like the obligatory forever wait, I'm very happy to announce that Lisa Steele's most excellent sourcebook, Town: A City-Dweller's Look at Thirteenth to Fifteenth Century Europe, is finally finished to the very finicky satisfaction of myself, Lisa and her cohorts, and a large squad of proofreaders. If you're already familiar with Fief, then you know this territory well; the difference is that we've moved from the rural lanholding to within the walls of real medieval cities! If you have no idea what I'm talking with, time to catch up; it's good news.

Gone Dancing

1/29/10: Sandra and I are working on our thirteenth year of happy marriage now, and we're just as playful and affectionate and silly as we ever have been (if not sillier), but we'd never actually been out dancing together, not once in all that time. Until yesterday. And man o man is Sandra even more beautiful when she dances!

So, a very heartfelt thank you to our friends for pulling us out the door and into another language we can share together (and for those who follow the font releases, you just might be able to guess the identity of one of the friends involved). Thank you for making January 28th a day worth remembering, again.

20-Sided Planets

1/18/10: While fiddling around with some space-gaming stuff, I had need of a nice clean old-school icosahedral blank map, and couldn't find one that exactly suited my needs, so I hashed one together and here it is, just in case you might need one, too.

Godless Bus Font v2.0

9/28/09: New at the Free Stuff of the Moment page is the long-overdue version 2.0 of Dirty Headline, the most experienced world-wanderer from the stress-font stable at the Cumberland Fontworks.

New in bookstores nowish (to the extent that October 1st is "nowish") is one of my favorite new uses of Dirty Headline, which decorates the cover of The Atheist's Guide to Christmas, edited by the lovely-and-talented Ariane Sherine and written by a roundtable of well-regarded rational-thinker types. If I know Ariane (and happily, these days, I do a bit) her editorial hand will have guided it to be warm, friendly, funny and insightful.

Not Quite A Mountain

9/9/09: Just out of curiosity I took stock of the Cumberland master archives this afternoon. This isn't my production archives (which are vast and scary), but the archive of every finished file I've published in some way - to the Web (mostly) - or on things like the Phasic Cyaborg CD.

I've been building this archive without really paying much attention to its growth over the years. But, here goes: the archive currently contains about 160 PDF files and 250 fonts (in addition to hundreds of ReadMe files, JPEGs, MP3 files, ZIPs, z-code and other oddities ... nearly 1,500 files in all). There is some redundancy (I archive the original version of a font and its most current revision, for instance) but even with that: holy crap.

Approximately 50 of the files are less than a year old. Most of them are freebies because I have this problem - some folks say, anyway - where I give away too much and sell too little. Ah well.

And the latest one: submission guidelines for Risus, as promised last entry (see the Risus page). And less than an hour after posting it I already have a proposal from someone interested in making the archive a little bigger. Man o man.

Not quite a mountain (yet), but we're way past molehill.

Submit to Uresia! Mwahaha!

8/31/09: Mainly of interest to Uresia fans: Cumberland Games is now accepting freelance proposal submissions for new Grave of Heaven material. Click here to download the guidelines. Of interest to other kinds of fans: Risus: The Anything RPG will be opening up to proposals soon; Uresia gets the "shakedown cruise" to see how things go.

One Sheet to the Wind

8/16/09: And sometimes, strange things from my gaming table just fall into the Blue Room where they can be prodded, sniffed, and carried off into the recesses of your own collection of miscellaneous gaming files. This new GURPS character sheet (I know; I didn't see that coming, either!) is such a file. The good news is, it'll make more sense to Blue Room readers than anyone else, 'cause it's an odd duck.

Marking Up Temphis

7/27/09: For those keeping track of the Temphis Runes, I've got a new one available for members of the Uresia Mailing List, listed over at the Free Stuff of the Moment page, and is this really my fifth update this month? Yikes! Knock on wood; don't want to jinx it!

It's Easy If You Try

7/23/09: I like to keep an eye on the world around me to see how my fonts are getting used (sometimes legitimately, with a license, sometimes in a more piratey way) and every day there's more to see. Hand-drawn Cumberland fonts like Apple Butter, Yank and Arvigo can be found, respectively, on Judy Blume book-covers, the Beatles Bar in Las Vegas, and carved into blades by a swordmaker. Stressed-type fonts like Dirty Headline and Nicotine Stains and Struck Dead can be found on posters and movie-trailers and Twix and Outback Steakhouse commercials. I can also see my fonts on wine labels, Barbie-doll boxes, state lottery tickets for at least two states, and packaging for schlocky horror movies. Being a fontmaker means putting a big, gentle, anonymous fingerprint on the world, and that's - a strangely peaceful feeling.

Last night I learned of a new and interesting use of Dirty Headline. It is the "Atheist Bus" font, being plastered on buses throughout the United Kingdom. There are now followup versions popping up globally, so I can easily Google up pictures of buses labeled in German or Finnish, for example. I can also find parodies and political cartoons about it, or news stories about bus drivers refusing to drive one, and there in the background is my font. Huh.

Plus, it's nice to see Dirty Headline used in light colors; that's uncommon.

Me, I'm not exactly an atheist. I'm more of a no-harm-no-foul Semi-Agnostic Discordian Humanist, at least on most days. I believe love and empathy are the most important things, followed by a second-place stew of expression, eroticism, playfulness and the perfect hamburger (hot dogs on Friday). But the thing about the atheists is that they tend to be moral and humanistic, and that makes them close enough for me to consider them family. So: drive on, controversial buses. Proud to be there.

Whither Erthe?

7/14/09: Back in my AD&D hardcore days, we never had much use for the official character sheets. We used homebrew sheets made on typewriters, or plain notebook paper, or whatever oddball third-party sheets were laying around. Round about '85 or '86, one of those third-party sheets captured my permanent affections, and it became "my" AD&D sheet from that day forward, and has remained so. Whenever I'm paging through my old campaign archives, every sheet for every PC is on that sheet: the Erthe Gaming Systems sheet, an unlicensed AD&D product from the days when Open Gaming License was spelled "For Use With any Fantasy Role-Playing Game."

It recently occurred to me to look Erthe up, to see what scraps of their memory have survived into the modern hobby consciousness. Given that there's apparently an old-school movement growing right now, it seemed a sure bet that, at the very least, I'd find a thread or two on message-boards praising the old Erthe sheet and it's eye-friendly curves, unusually-large Experience Point box (a session-by-session record) and general audacity ... the Erthe sheet, you see, wasn't sold in tablets or booklets, but individually, printed on parchment-style paper and three-hole-punched, for the modest sum of 25 cents apiece. We sold them at the little comic shop where I worked in Havelock, North Carolina. They came to us from Diamond Distributors, and we had a small stack of them right next to the Armory paints and supplies, right near the front door.

Of course, very few gamers bought more than one ... we practically shared a parking lot with the tiny public library, and they had a photocopier where copies (strange, overly-slick copies) cost a nickel, so everyone bought a single Erthe sheet, and copied it (anyone who thinks gaming piracy was invented by the Internet is too young to be reading the Blue Room). This preserved some quarters for our regular jaunts to the convenience store at the end of the strip mall, where we'd pour change into the Gauntlet machine whenever we needed to stretch our legs for a few minutes. I don't even have my original sheets anymore; just dozens and dozens of second and third-generation photocopies, filled with characters (both mine, and those of my campaign players through the years).

My online search for Erthe Gaming Systems did, indeed, find a couple of message-board comments ... both of them by me, at RPGnet. It also netted a single reference to Loren/Lorin P. Martens of Jackson County, Oregon, who (maybe) is or was the alpha-omega of Erthe. Did they publish anything other than this one character sheet? I've always assumed so, but I've no idea. Did they even still exist in 1985, or were we just picking from leftover stock (the sheet is dated 1981)?

The thing is, it's still one of my favorite character sheet designs, for all its quirks and limitations (it's pre-Unearthed Arcana, so we had to pencil in our own "Comeliness" box in the gap to the right of the Dexterity stats, and it has no space for encumbrance at all). To amuse myself, I've been digitally reconstructing it, creating a "perfect" vector version which preserves, as closely as I can manage, every oddity of line-spacing, every curious case of kerning, and every friendly curve. I've got the front mostly done; I'm working on the back right now.

[A Digital Re-Creation of the Erthe Gaming Systems Unofficial Knockoff AD&D Sheet]

Which is, really, just the latest iteration of a lifetime of re-pirating that same 25 cent purchases I made years ago (I actually bought four, but since I worked for store credit, it wasn't even really a purchase). These days I can call it "preservation," and really mean it. But I'd love to learn more about them (or him, or her), find out what happened, if there were any more products, if the sheet did well for the time, or just (really, especially) if anyone else remembers their design as fondly as I do. You out there, Erthe? I remember you. Drop me a line, anyone, who knows anything.

And no, this is not another Battle Star Games. I did that gag already.

There Is No Fudge

7/10/09: Because a number of folks have asked: yes, I did get around to watching Warehouse 13, the new show on SyFy. I found it basically fun (once it got going) and harmless. Unchallenging, frothy, formulaic ... typical for the network, really. I liked the ferret thing and I especially liked the "fudge, where there is no fudge" bit. Will I watch more? Maybe, yeah. With the Doctor taking a year off, the pickings are a bit slim right now. Not "it's time to finally watch more Voyager" slim, but slim. Technically, I already have one "Moonlighting formula" show in my to-watch list, but it's between seasons right now, so.

Of course, few people care if I like the show. They're angling for my response to this and the many spots around the Web where you can find discussion about it. Having finally seen the show, I can only echo my initial responses, which amount, simply, to this: the idea is a thin one, a threadbare, cliché one.

The Stirling Westrup Usenet thing was awesome because the people involved made it awesome. GURPS Warehouse 23 was a good book because I, personally, made it one (even SJ, who was originally disappointed that the book failed to be the one he imagined, came around and accepted it as the one I had). If Warehouse 13 becomes a good show, it'll be because the showrunner and the screenwriters and directors make it so. At no point in any of these equations is there an idea with any value. It's all cliché, done a hundred times over, and the trick with cliché is that it's a powerful language ... you just have to use it as language (to communicate something else substantial) and never try to pawn it off as substance on its own. Warehouse 13 shows a faint glimmer of understanding along these lines, so in future episodes we may well see it rise above its premise. If that happens, it sure won't have anything to do with one of my old RPG supplements or any of the dozens of other things fans are accusing SyFy of riffing too closely on.

That said, it's fun to squint and play the let's-look-for-patterns and make-them-fit-the-theory game, because that's exactly the kind of thinking that actual tinfoil-hatted conspiracy nuts really engage in. Is Mrs. Frederick an echo of Dora Wolf? Is dunking an artifact in purple goo to neutralize it comparable to dunking the Crystal Skull in benzyl alchohol to neutralize it? Are those warning plaques too much like my warning plaques? Hey, isn't that Micgrogramma in the title credits, and a mix of bold and medium on the same line, no less?

But I really do think that, in the end, this is all a case of smelling fudge, where there is no fudge.

Hop, Clap, Kweepa

7/1/09: On a lark the other night, I spent a few hours hashing together a new PDF for fans of the old Infocom game, Leather Goddesses of Phobos. It's called "Lane Mastodon Alternates" and it's probably of no interest to folks who don't know what LGoP is, but on the other hand trying to make heads or tails of it might be entertaining, too. You can find it on this page, over at the IF Archive. And while we're on the subject of new files I've posted, I don't think I remembered to mention the latest font, "Unity Dances," that I posted awhile ago over at the Cumberland site. Snag it! It's a work dedicated to someone who has become a profoundly positive influence in our lives around here. Plus, cool font.

A-Kon Revisited!

3/18/09: I'm confirmed as a guest at A-Kon in Dallas, Texas this year, which should be a huge event as A-Kon are celebrating their 20th year this time around. I'll be there signing books, speaking on panels, running games and all that good stuff ... And those of you who know me from my other convention appearances know that I'm a very hands-on, let's-chat-the-night-away and get-those-dice-bouncing kind of guest, so head on out and say hi. This'll also mark my return to Texas soil, so I'll be in desperate need of a trip to Half-Price Books (we don't have those in Colorado)!

Dear 2009

1/1/09: You're going to have to work pretty hard to beat your predecessor, which, as years went, was ... let's just leave it at "notable." You know what I'm talking about. Well, you and Sandra. Nobody else knows all of it, but many of you out there know fragments of it (especially those of you who are fragments of it). And many thanks for all that.

Cryptic musings aside, it's nice to take a moment to remember I have a homepage. Hiya, folks. I hope your New Years Eve was a festive one. For my part, I was kind of shuffling back and forth between two groups of friends, comedy-of-errors fashion. Nothing went as planned but everything went well, and in the end I could tally up a half-dozen happy-new-year hugs from cute, inebriated strangers, two very kind (but politely refused) offers of free booze, some pretty dramatic scenery (of all kinds, but mostly the fireworks) up on the roof of our building, easily a hundred well-wishes on the streets (up on Colfax they were especially gregarious), a rousing tale of a ten-minute dash across town to make a party after being released by the police at 11:50 (I was just enjoying the tale; not telling it), yummy New Year's kisses from Sandra, of course (a few minutes late, but near enough), some very tired feet from walking the same mile and change four different times, and (last but not least) a very fine plate of eggs, over easy, with rye toast.

So, Happy New Year, indeed. Bet it's gonna be a hoot.

Autumn Creeps In

10/14/08: Autumn inches into play here in Denver, and it's busy inching right now, treating us to the freshness of cold rain, the calm of grey skies, and the invigorating smells of icy air and woodsmoke. Real autumn isn't quite here yet, but summer is dying.

So, on my annual burst of cool-weather energy, I'm putting things back together after an unorthodox few weeks. My laptop died some time ago, sending work into a bit of a slump pending the arrival of a replacement. The replacement arrived packed with corrupt RAM, keeping work in the slump pending the arrival of the replacement RAM module (sent several days after I requested it ... by the slowest ground shipping they could find).

The laptop wasn't the only unusual thing in the time since my last update; there was also a Uresia campaign that spun some new things into our lives around here, but that is a long story for another time. Some kind of deathbed confession, perhaps.

The short version is that the new laptop is up to speed, now; life is good and different in a nice way, and Sandra and I are as cheery as ever. Right now I'm a bit sleepy, but that's okay ... when I'm too tired to do other stuff, I remember to update the Blue Room!

Got An Adventure In You?

7/02/08: If so, July is the month to get it out. We're now in the second annual World Adventure Writing Month, and if you're not sure what that means there's a blog and a forum and an archive of last year's adventures you should know about.

The concept is pretty straightforward, founded on the basic notion that there aren't enough RPG adventures in the world, and that if we set aside a specific time each year for mutual encouragement and celebration, maybe we can bring a few more into the light where they can be played and enjoyed. There are no real rules to follow, just: write an RPG adventure, any kind of RPG adventure, for whatever game you enjoy or for no game in particular or multi-statted or self contained or ... whatever smacks your buzzer. I intend to get one in myself this year, as time permits. Stuck for notions? I've got a page for that.

Overnight Flurries in Hell

6/19/08: Fifteen years ago, I rambled out a thing, and over time mostly forgot it until I'd dig it out of old files and read about it again. Then I'd talk about it and then forget it again. And then someone would ask me about it again, and then I'd forget it again. And for a decade and change, I've promised I'd never (ever) publish it, but here it is. And when you read it, you'll see ... that I really can worry too much. But we knew that. Hi there! Oh, and here are two spiffy new reviews for ToaSK and Uresia!

Spiffing

5/29/08: We're nearly done with the move ... we have some housecleaning to finish up at the old place this week, but that's not too bad; it's a different sort of way to pass the time (tonight Sandra will be doing the floors while I scrub out the fridge). It's a bit icky, and I think I've ingested a half-pound of dust so far, but with Sandra around anything's a lot more fun. At the new place, our stuff is still packed into a mountain of cardboard boxes; that'll change a lot more gradually, knowing us ...

Over at Cumberland, the Fontworks pages have beefed up dramatically overnight, going from twenty-something free fonts to nearly fifty, collecting some more of my favorites from the last nine years (including all of the most recent ones from the Free Stuff of the Moment page). I've also posted some signifigant changes to the Playtest page.

To follow up on the last post, about summer movies: I liked Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a lot more than I was worried I was going to. I think it's roughly on par with (and here I go damning it with faint praise) the other two Indiana Jones sequels: forgettable, disposable, muddled ... but decidedly well-meaning. Well-meaning goes a long way with me. So does putting Cate Blanchett in flared jodhpurs.

Moving Things

5/02/08: My celebratory work of text-adventure tomfoolery has enjoyed a few surprises in its first few months of existence, including an very kind review by Emily Short (a celebrated champion of exactly the kind of intelligent, sensitive work that ToaSK isn't) and even an IF-community award nomination (on the scale of these things, this would have required only two ToaSK customers to vote for the nomination, but that's two more than I would have expected). Groovy!

On the personal front, Sandra and I are moving again ... but nothing interstate this time. We love Capitol Hill so much we were determined to stay in the neighborhood, so we're moving just one block south, to get a place with better air-conditioning (our current apartment is great, but the drawback of a 15-foot mountain-facing window is a devastating afternoon greenhouse effect, and 1942 tenement buildings don't have the best AC). Our new apartment was built a whole decade later and (more importantly) has windows almost entirely shielded from direct sun ...

On matters of general geekery, it's that time again, when the summer blockbusters start rolling out. We're heading out to see Iron Man tonight, which I look forward to with high hopes. I'm still a little uneasy about the new Indiana Jones flick, though. On the one hand, Raiders of the Lost Ark remains one of my favorite films of all time ... and readers of Warehouse 23 already know that I loves me some Crystal Skull ... but on the other hand, Indiana Jones sequels were dodgy affairs even in the 80s, and George Lucas' recent record of franchise revival hasn't been a good trip overall. I'll be there (probably six or seven times, again), ready to hear the old music and very very ready to see Harrison Ford back under a wool-felt fedora, but, for the record, I have an uneasy feeling. Still, we've got Wall-E on the way, too, to provide consolation if things don't go well.

On other work matters: everything's trucking along, though slower than I (and probably anyone else) would prefer. Such is the way, but things are starting to shape up into final states a few at a time, now, and I daresay, the wait will be worth it ...

Very Happy Holidays

12/27/07: Sandra and I have enjoyed a decade of great Christmases together, but this was the first time we got to enjoy a white Christmas as a couple. The snow (falling again as I write this) is proper Christmas snow, too ... white and fluffy and twirling gently. Just enough to cover the ground with a softly-crunching blanket of white, not so much that we couldn't head out on Christmas day to enjoy it. And we did ... and we also stayed snug inside to enjoy good food and each other's company. Caught Walk Hard later in the day. Goofy and clever.

Christmas was also a special day-of-rest for me. On Christmas Eve, I released the latest Cumberland title, which is (in many ways) the most ambitious (and risky) release I've ever had (ToaSK beats out GURPS Russia for wordcount, making it my largest published work, never to be trumped until Fly From Evil finally sees the light of day). Like all my Encounter Critical material, this new text-adventure is all heart and precious few brains, at least on the surface. Beneath that, there's a whole lot more ... but I'll leave that to those with the funky barbarian groove to discover it.

And that's most of the news, lately. Our friend Tim Driscoll was out to visit not too long ago, so it was nice showing Denver off (again, under some snow), and the new Doctor Who Christmas Special is the greatest thing since sliced fun, but apart from that it's just: snuggles continue. Hope the same is true for you.

Winner, Best Chase Scene

10/8/07: Another breath of cold air hit Denver today, inspiring Sandra and I to venture out a bit and get back over to the Denver Zoo (for our third visit). We got there a little late in the day, so it wasn't a long trip this time, but the highlight was watching a kangaroo chase an emu. The two animals move so very differently, it was like every radiant wave of physical comedy on the planet suddenly converged on the Denver Zoo at that moment. It helped, too, that the kangaroo (accidentally?) switched emu in mid-stride at one point, refreshing the chase with better-rested quarry.

If I were a kangaroo, I'd totally chase emu all day, now that I know how much it rocks.

Noticing the Internet

9/15/07: My life centers on two things: (A) snuggling, city-wandering and otherwise enjoying wedded bliss with Sandra and (B) getting bleary-eyed in front of my dusty old ThinkPad working on Cumberland Games stuff. It's fair to say that I feel a little rusty, some days, when it comes to the full depth of the Internet. I spend a couple of hours online a day, mind you - checking up on Google News and using the IMDb and dropping into DeviantArt and whatnot - but I don't read a single webcomic. I'm barely aware of the blogosphere. I don't Facebook or MySpace. Most of my attempts to listen to podcasts have resulted in something approaching tedium-induced coma. There are whole chunks of Net culture I take little advantage of, or find flat-out confusing or dull. Many of them would probably thrill me if I gave them the time, but see above about the (A) and the (B). Those two things keep me busy and very, very happy.

So I'm pleased to report on two recent things that have turned my head. One is a net-distributed fan film and the other is a nerdcore hip-hop music video. These things may be old news to you, but just in case ...

Sandra and I first heard about Star Trek: New Voyages from Walter Koenig, while we were chatting with him at a fan-swagfest in Dallas not long ago. He and many other Trek alumni, he explained, were pitching in on these fan-films. I took note, bookmarked the site when I got home, and then, due mostly to the Colorado move, forgot about it for a while.

This morning, Sandra and I watched the most recent episode, and ... it's really good. I mean, the acting is often fannish and uneven, and at first (of course) it's awkward accepting these new people as Kirk and company. And the introductory crisis could, for my tastes, rush through the technobabble a few minutes faster to get the story started. But once George Takei beams into shot, the story is started, and the story is good. It's a screenplay dusted off from the aborted Trek II TV series of the 1970s, and it's one well worth brushing off. Takei is marvelous and I had tears streaming by the end, but I'm a sap, so that happens. I've cried for McDonald's commercials. But only the Christmas ones.

Special notice goes to actress Christina Moses. I assumed that, like a handful of folks on the show, she was one of the experienced actors pitching in to help the fans. She's heartbreakingly sweet and grabs your attention like a pro. But it turns out she isn't a pro just yet ... This is her first thing (the IMDb credits her for a bit part in a TV movie 15 years ago, but I suspect it's a different actress with the same name). Christina Moses. Remember the name and wish her luck, because she rocks and she's a total sweetheart.

Okay, but as an established Trek fan it's not a huge stretch that I might watch a fan-film when Chekov tells me to. Right. But "nerdcore hip-hop?"

As friends know I'm a big admirer of the text-adventure games of the 1980s. I'm also busy writing one of my own - a fairly huge Uresia adventure to be released through Cumberland. I'm especially fond of the Infocom titles, and extra-especially fond of the works of Brian Moriarty (Beyond Zork, Wishbringer), Steve Meretsky (Leather Goddesses of Phobos, Planetfall) and Douglas Adams (Bureacracy, Hitchhiker's Guide). I never owned a computer in the 80s, so by the time I got truly hooked on them Infocom was dead and gone and I was already worshipping at the altar of Doom II, but genius is genius and they hooked me hard (as a teen, I'd "played" only a couple of them, by way of sitting behind friends, watching them type, and helping with the puzzles as a second pair of eyes).

So when I see notice that there's a new documentary in the works about them, and that there's a new hip-hop video attached to it ("It is Pitch Dark"), I download both. I'm already reasonably confident I'll be praising the documentary when the time comes. In the meantime I've been watching the video over and over, impressed and only mildly annoyed that I can't get the song unstuck from my head. But I'll cope. It's worth it. For both files (the Trek thing and the nerdcore) it might be easiest on everyone's bandwidth to crank up your favorite torrent client. And if you don't have one of those, you're even further out of the Internet loop than I am ...

Amusement and Meat

8/13/07: In regular enjoying-Denver news, Sandra and I finally gave Elitch Gardens a try, since it's just wrong to live within walking distance of roller coasters and never drop in to visit them! Pricey, as such places tend to be ($3.00 for a bottled water? gakkk), but as good a time as I've ever had at an amusement park. They've got the same rides as everyone, of course (Sandra and I had fun getting drenched on the raft ride, hooting on the big tilting boat thingy, etc) and some fun shows and food that - while not remarkably good food by any means - seems to have been formulated not to upset the tummy, which is a wise tactical move in the rollercoaster business. Made for a nice Saturday (and since my sleep is tilting again, drenching me on a raft-ride served as a handy way to keep me awake).

In Cumberland Games news, there's a new freebie in town, and it's a pretty odd one. Spider Meat (now available at the Free Stuff of the Moment page) was originally prepared for a Hurricane Katrina charity anthology, and now it's free for everyone, complete with a few updates and a new made-for-the-home-printer look. It's probably the most substantive Uresia freebie to date, so if you're curious about Uresia and the stuff on Blue Lamp Road didn't settle the matter, Spider Meat may ... Well, read it and see. I dare not suppose, honestly; 'cause Spider Meat is odd.

Murphy's Totally Rules

7/13/07: One of the fun parts about living in a new city has been exploring the game shops. So far, I’ve found four stores with enough RPGs and/or RPG-focus to qualify as gen-u-wine gamer meccas, and part of the fun of that is poking through the used/consignment shelves to find stuff I wanted to buy 20 years ago but didn’t have enough allowance saved up for.

In that process, I’ve discovered something both wonderful and embarrassing.

Long-time gamers will remember Space Gamer/Fantasy Gamer, arguably the gaming magazine with the most complicated history of changes in its schizoid multiple runs across multiple publishers’ desks. It was a good magazine, though, in all its incarnations, and of course in the original Steve Jackson Games run it was the home of Murphy’s Rules, one of the coolest concepts in RPG cartooning, ever-ever.

When I was compiling the 2nd Edition of the Murphy’s Rules collection for SJ Games lo these many years ago, I was pleased with myself for being the one guy in the building who remembered that Autoduel Quarterly had (exactly once) ran a page of original Murphy’s (Steve’s own memory is notoriously dodgy, and the other folks on staff at that time weren’t very hip to Car Wars, since this was during one of those times when Scott Haring had been let go). By including that page in the collection, I gave it one thing that no other editor on staff would have, so there I was, patty-pat-patting my own back for that ...

Like the kind of idiot who had no idea, no idea until right now, that Murphy’s Rules continued in the issues of Space Gamer/Fantasy Gamer after the Steve Jackson Games run of the magazine.

Granted, it’s probably a moot point because those cartoons are owned by other people (and given the potential for legal confusions in securing the necessary permissions, it’s probably just not something that could reasonably work into one of the SJ Games collections without some serious phone-tag and elbow-grease). And for all I know there's even personal drama hidden somewhere in the mix (the issues don't acknowledge "Murphy's Rules" as an SJ Games trademark) ... So, one way or another, it wouldn’t have made much difference had I known (the 2nd Edition enjoyed a position as “something fun we can get out there quick on virtually no new editorial budget”) but ... It’s like suddenly discovering that there’s one more book in your favorite old novel series, or like a really intensified version of realizing that yes, there actually is one more slice of pizza in the box you believed to be empty.

And, as noted above, it's embarassing! 'Cause I should know stuff like that. Sooner than now, I mean.

Some of these Murphy’s cartoons are excellent, too. Every bit as good as the classics I’ve already memorized from the books, and with cartoonists I didn’t know existed. Cartoonists that, perhaps, can never appear in a collection, but who deserve to be remembered (Tim Callender, and ... some guy with initials that may or may not be V.G., and possibly others) among the ranks of Murphy’s Rules dudes. So now it’s time for me to start hunting for those issues. Anyone got some they want to swap?

Kwik-E-Mart

7/4/07: Monday, while catching the bus down toward Englewood to GM a Risus session, I noticed that the 7-11 a few blocks south of here had completely re-done its exterior as a "Kwik-E-Mart," ala the Simpsons, complete with character statues and a wall mural and such. I did a double-take and chuckled over it - figuring it (rightly) as a promotion for the Simpsons Movie, but didn't think much about it, and rode past, focusing on one more pass through my scenario prep. I figured if one 7-11 did, all of them probably had - or all of them in the region or something.

But now I read in the news that there are only a dozen such store-conversions across all of North America (11 here in the States; one in Canada), and one of them just happens to be a few blocks away. Cool.

But then I read that they're also stocking the shelves with Krusty-O's and other edible replicas of Simpson's-universe junk-food. Ooo. Now I'm very tempted to go back and actually go in, this time!

Home Again

6/10/07: Sandra and I arrived in Denver safely, and the trip was a pretty good time all by itself. We skipped the interstates for much of the trip, choosing instead to cut northwest across the Texas Hill Country, and from there up past Lubbock and Amarillo. We finally met up with I-25 north, for the final leg of the trip, at Raton, New Mexico. The road was a different kind of beautiful every few miles.

The new place is pretty great - an old 1940s tenement along a quiet tree-lined street that wears its pulp-era history on its sleeve with art deco entryways and the odd historical-landmark plaque. We’ve got a living-room window that must be fifteen feet wide, giving us a nice westward view toward the Rockies, with just enough Denver in the way to make it ideal.

We’ve been on a mad day-to-day rush to get all the settling-in errands done, and also to explore our surroundings. We’ve got our library cards, a season pass to the zoo, and a growing list of local dining and hanging-out spots we’ve tagged as favorites. I’ve been emailing back and forth with a dozen or so local gamers, too, getting my toes wet and preparing to dive in (and in an unexpected last-chapter twist, the core players in my as-regular-as-we-can-manage Uresius campaign are also moving to Denver).

Right now I’m settled into a neighborhood bar that may well become my regular Sunday-night writing spot on those Sunday nights when I need one. It’s dark and loud, and the music is decent (okay, at the moment they’re playing the very worst Elvis Presley song in history, but Elvis is like pizza - even when he’s bad, he’s still pretty good).

Denver already feels like home.

Mile High

5/25/07: As of tonight (or tomorrow morning; I’m not sure which) our Internet connection here in Austin is toast, and as of Monday morning we’re on the road for Denver, Colorado, where our new apartment awaits.

We’ll miss this place. Nine years in groovy South Austin really makes a positive impact on a person, and - culturally, at least - I don’t think I’ll ever again encounter a place to equal it. Sandra and I have explored this city pretty well, though (on foot, you get to know the whole city), and we’re excited about having a new place to wander, snuggle, and do that stuff we do. Strange but true: with nearly nine years here, I’ve officially lived in Austin for longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my life, at least in a straight stretch.

Anyway, with the Net connection gone until we get re-settled in Denver, my email and Web access will be irregular, limited to whatever hot-spots we pause in on the road (and/or the dodgy fortunes of hotel-provided service). Cumberland Games remains open all hours, of course, served ably by Terry over at HyperBooks (and, if you’re in a hardcopy mood, the toner gurus at Lulu). I may be a little slow responding to customer inquiries and whatnot, but I’ll respond as fast as I can get to my email, and I’ll be back to speed 100% sometime early in June.

Guide, Be Pricey

5/21/07: Yesterday's post (in which I linked to my picture of the miniature Dungeon Master's Guide), got me re-reading the old review attached to the picture. I joked in the review about paying $10 to avoid having to pay $80 on eBay a year later ... But I didn't really think the dinky little books would ever be priced quite so high. Of course, it's been more than a year, but sure enough, at least some people are pricing them in exactly that range. Yikes.

Guide, Begone! No, Wait.

5/20/07: One of the more notable casualties of the recent book purge was my old Dungeon Master’s Guide, which I finally let go just because it was in terrible shape, with the front cover gone and the pages barely clinging to the remainder of the spine. By the time you read this, it will have been incinerated somewhere. This manual - my very first and (with one exception) only copy - served me in heavy gameplay back in the day (and several times since the day), but it was always doomed, since it was a cheaply-made orange-spine edition. The orange-spines had pretty Jeff Easley paintings on them, but they were never built to survive the kind of marathon dungeoneering I put mine through. It’s a miracle it held together as long as it did, really.

I kept “my” Player’s Handbook, because my PHB is from the earlier, made-of-steel D.C.S. era. In truth, there is no “my” PHB and never was ... I hoarded them. By the time I’d been a DM for a couple of years I had eight or nine copies of the PHB, because I liked to have loaners on hand for the games. I had a job (working for store credit only, but the owner would slip me some cash now and then) at a Havelock, North Carolina game & comic shop, and I’d pick up extras on the cheap from Marines who were shipping out, or from gamers who’d had a cherished character die and decided to swear off gaming “forever” (often a whole month). Ditto the Monster Manual, but for whatever reason I never wanted a second DMG. I had just the one, and now it’s gone, and I don’t miss it.

At least, that’s the official story. Today, only about a week after my DMG met the dumpster, Sandra and I took a break from packing and cleaning to poke in at Half-Price Books, and there was a beautiful DMG (pre-orange-spine) in made-of-steel condition. The edges of the cover had some rounding to indicate use, but the spine-strength was like new and the interior was fresh and clear and flawless, except for one page with some ugly crimps in it from an accidental folding some year in the misty past. Five bucks.

I held it for a long time, and I'm grateful for that crimped page. It was on that tiny and really inconsequential flaw that, by my fingernails, I pried myself away from temptation and put the book back down. It’s not like it’s a hard book to find a good copy of.

But it does feel awfully strange that, for the first time in more than twenty years, I don’t (with one exception) have a copy anymore.

A Glance Back, A Move Forward

5/04/07: Sandra and I are getting ready to change apartments, so we've been packing stuff and tossing stuff out - And there's no time like moving-time for nostalgia. There's a special breed of book, for example: the books I only read when I'm deciding whether to keep them or not. I've had some of these for decades, having never actually read them, but being so impressed in these quick inspections that I've kept them again and again. This time around, even some of those get the boot. It's liberating.

We've also taken this move as an opportunity to discard two entire media: videotapes and audiocassettes. So, in addition to hundreds of pounds of RPG material (a floor-to-ceiling stack and then some, I kid you not) the local dumpster has also feasted on quite a lot of movies and music and old TV shows. Also, on the last of my collection of audio-taped gaming sessions from Virginia in the 90s ... But those, before they went to the dumpster, fed my computer to preserve their contents in a more portable digital form. I don't want to post any long excerpts without permission from everyone involved (and I don't even know everyone's address anymore), but this brief clip (with me behind the GM screen, and the excellent Marty Franklin doing the double-take) should serve to demonstrate why I love keeping audio of game sessions, even from more than a decade ago. They were a lot like my sessions now: pretty much constant laughs at the table, no matter how "serious" things get for the characters. Ah, ambrosia.

Vacation (Plus 3-D!)

3/21/07: This past weekend, Sandra and I took a few days off, rented a car, and went up to Dallas for a fun little fannish event called Fan Days (it wasn’t anything I’d call a convention - more of a dealer-room swagfest with bonus celebs). There were four folks appearing of particular interest to us: Morena Baccarin and Clare Kramer (two of “Whedon’s Angels,” from Firefly and Buffy, respectively), Ernie Hudson (the human heart of the Ghostbusters), and Walter Koenig (who - and I say this as a lifelong fan of original Star Trek - I’ll always think of as “Bester” from Babylon 5). And some other folks.

I had originally considered doing a full-on writeup of the trip, praising this person and that for groovy service in the face of crowds and baby-spew and so on ... But then I decided: Nah. I’ve got a ton of work to do today, so I’ll just say that we had a really, really good time and mark the occasion as our first actual vacation - ever. We’ve traveled together (and, sadly, we’ve occasionally traveled without one another) but it’s always been for work, or for family, or just for a day. This “vacation” thing kind of rocks. Thumbs-up on vacations.

I prepared some JPEGs to illustrate the writeup I decided not to write up. Seems a shame to let ‘em go to waste, so I’ll let them speak for themselves. Got any 3-D glasses lying around?

The Convention Center (Looking Up, in the Artist's Row Corridor) A 3-D picture of Morena Baccarin or Clare Kramer would be very sweet, I agree, but I think it might be impolite to ask them to 'freeze solid while I double-expose you for an anaglyph.' Not that I wasn't tempted.
Half-Price Books (The Really Really BIG One) To be fair, it's some kind of candy-and-cakes sugarfest happy hour, but that's why cropping is an art-form.

Old Acrobats

2/22/07: A conundrum I'm facing at the moment involves some current Cumberland projects, two of which might require Acrobat 6 (PDF 1.5) when they're released. I've been resisting this for a long time; it's my desire (in fact, Cumberland's avowed policy) for all my titles to be backwards-compatible to a minimum of 3 revisions of Reader. Currently, I keep features rooted in Acrobat 4 generally, Acrobat 3 when possible, and leave open the possibility of Acrobat 5 just in case I need to do something funky with transparencies (haven't yet).

From a gamer's standpoint, I like to get a PDF open fast, print it as fast as my printer can manage, and then game with it. So I prefer to open a PDF in Foxit or Reader 4. From a designer's standpoint, it's hard for Adobe to tempt me forward since I approach my work as a writer, and because Cumberland titles are aimed at the gaming table (by way of the injket or laser), not the screen. So, pointy-clicky bells and whistles don't impress me unless I'm being silly. Content remains king.

But Acrobat 6 supports layers the user can switch on and off. This means (to use one feature already popular with some gamers) that a map's grid can vanish if you'd rather print it gridless. Or ... a starship's cargo hold can be cargo-packed or empty, as you like. Or a parchment map-backdrop can vanish if your printer prints it too dark. Or a "player's version" and "GM's Secrets" version of a map can occupy the same space in the document, and so on and so on. Hell yes. That's a gen-u-wine function; neither a bell nor whistle be ... and so, I ponder.

My love of maps, in particular, aims this conundrum at a very tender area in my gamerly passions. So I may end up making two versions of each new PDF release for a while ... (and by "for a while" I guess I mean "until Acrobat 9 comes out"). But producing two versions could multiply labor in at least one of the projects to the point where the price would change, and I'd rather not allow that. So I ponder and ponder and ponder some more. If you have a stake in this pondering, drop me a line and let me know how you feel about it.

January

2/01/07: Nah; missed it by a day! Of course, real winter did finally visit us for a couple of days, not long ago. It's been many years since I've seen that much ice (barely any snowflakes to speak of - just thick slabs of ice all over everything). It was scary wandering out during the thaw; yard-long columns of ice were falling from the power lines, smashing into the ground right beside me (at which point I stopped walking under power lines). But now, it's all melted and Austin is back to its usual mild-autumn/late-summer groove for this time of year (with rumors of another, drier freeze tomorrow). And as usual, I've been updating the website constantly, but letting any sort of Blue Desk announcements slide. I'll catch up sometime ... For starters, I'll mention that I went briefly anaglyph crazy and posted a couple (this one and this other one) at DeviantArt. Trippy!


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