December

12/01/06: Hope this finds everyone well. I read in the news that there's some real winter weather sweeping across much of the country ... Here in Austin, we don't get anything that could honestly be called winter, but yesterday was for all intents and purposes our first day of autumn, with genuinely chilly winds and everything. And when we get anything like a real autumn day, it usually means that more northerly cities are being snowed under or frozen solid ...

It was overcast for a lot of yesterday, too, and those of you who know me personally know what that meant: I was energized, even jollier than normal, and facing a huge craving for fantasy gaming (something about cold weather always says dungeoneering and/or Talisman to me; I'm not sure why). Got a game come Monday, though (complete with an icy ruin), so that'll scratch the itch ...

And as it happened, switching from AC to heat didn't set off the alarm this year. A goodly omen, no doubt.

Frost, Film, and Mastery

11/29/06: The holiday season is underway and I'm really looking forward to the weekend, since we're expecting the season's first really frosty weather, and that always energizes me. On the other hand, if Sandra and I actually have to turn on the central heat instead of the AC, we'll probably set off the smoke detector again (traces of dust settle on the heating elements during the other 95% of the year).

The movies have been treating us very well lately - Casino Royale was a particular pleasure (easily the best Bond film since 1969, with or without SMERSH and baccarat), Happy Feet was groovy beyond my most hopeful expectations (though I keep waiting for the Bible Belt to start burning copies of it), and The Queen was entertaining and seriously thought-provoking (and makes me want to visit Scotland). Too many movies, too little time (and money) to see them all, but the ones we have seen, we've liked a lot.

Long-time Blue Room readers might remember Mastery; it's one of the oldest pages around here. Mastery will be featured in the new Uresia edition, but in the meantime it's also popped up over at Super Duper Games, a free game-playing website. SDG emailed me asking permission just a few days ago, and it's already implemented and available, so give it (or any of the other cool games they've got) a go. I play there as "Ghalev," but while I'm Mastery's biggest fan I'm also its worst player ...

Better Ham

11/16/06: As a brief update to the previous entry, I've let the "Ham House" adventure evolve slightly as I continue to learn more about programming with Inform 7, and the current version (available at the same place) is ... the same little waste of time, but now with a lot more functionality, smoother implementation of a few things, a hint menu, and more Easter eggs than one ham would ever need on the side. For those of you interested in this kind of thing, I'm already working on more substantive games, but those will go much more slowly given the pile of actual work I'm still digging myself from under (one of the games, a Uresia one, is even almost serious ... but serious won't happen quickly, natch).

World Domination for Ham

11/02/06: Acting on a desire I've had simmering in me for years, I finally got around to learning how to make a basic text-adventure game in the style of the old Infocom titles (well, with considerably less style to be honest, but I'm new). The result is a new item at the Free Stuff of the Moment page, and I'm both beaming with pride and ... beaming with shame, about it.

Crowns of Command

10/26/06: The other day, the regulars and I (plus one newcomer) had one of those sharp games of Talisman where you've got people gunning for the Crown of Command at the same time, and (unusually, for us) the contestants in question were taking the Strength route, daring to brave the random mire of Dicing With Death. What this means for the Blue Room is: I'll probably be posting a fresh version of my homebrew Talisman cards sometime soon ... We've done a lot of testing of some new Spell cards over the past few months, and it's time to start sharing (I'll also include tweaks to some of the existing cards, available as always in the Secret Library).

On more mundane matters: today was officially the easiest bit of voting I've ever done. This time around, the Travis County early-voter program put the cute little voting trailer in the parking lot of the grocery store I walk to five or six times a week anyway. So, I could wander over, pick up a few things for supper tonight, and vote on my way out. No long queue this time, either (brought my GameBoy for nothing)! For those issues where I had no strong stance, I employed the traditional method of simply voting against anyone who tried to bother me with automated telephone advertisements. However, I did agree with the fortune cookie, despite an almost primal urge to cast a contrary vote. Curse you, cookie-spam wisdom.

Confucius Say What?

10/18/06: Sandra and I had a strange experience with fortune cookies this past weekend. The restaurant was one we hadn't tried before, and it was a winner, overall: the food was inexpensive, well-made from fresh stuff, and unpretentious (and the service was nice). But the fortunes had political advertisements on the back. Our "lucky numbers" are apparently specific to a proposition in the forthcoming elections. It left a taste in my mouth that had nothing to do with the grilled charcoal pork and rice noodles. Reliably, however, adding "in bed" to the end of the voting instructions did make it funnier.

Whale of a Christmas?

10/02/06: Sandra and I went to see Open Season yesterday, and that was a good popcorny time. The trailers, though, also perked me up. First, the new Happy Feet trailer is encouraging ... but most important, Keisha Castle-Hughes finally has a new starring role. Whale Rider is one of our favorite movies from the last several years, a film in which young Castle-Hughes bears most of the emotional weight of a film that can knock a hole right through your heart. She wandered into the role with no real intentions - as far as I can tell - to become a professional actress, let alone a star, so I've always wondered if she'd just wander back into a saner, regular life after all that (George Lucas gave her a bit part in the SW prequels as a classy nod to the power of Whale Rider, but that was nothing to hang any long-term hopes on). But there in the theater, to warm us up for Boog and company serving up CGI shenanigans, was Keisha Castle-Hughes playing the virgin Mary in the forthcoming Nativity Story. Okay, so it's messianic again ? sort of a combination typecasting/demotion, in a way. But it's got me instantly hopeful about a movie that would otherwise be nowhere near my radar. And even if the flick isn't great, I hope the kid knocks 'em dead again. More power to you, Paikea.

Round Maps

9/27/06: I've added a second item to the Free Stuff of the Moment page - some tiling map-sets of the Uresia island maps. Since the previous Stuff hasn't had very long in the spotlight, I'm letting them co-reside on the page for a little while before shuffling them off to their respective archives. I may even make multiple items the default for the page as it develops; not sure yet. Anyway, grab some scissors and make a really big Uresia map today (or, more reasonably, make the smaller one - there are two diferent sizes in the set).

John M. Ford

9/25/06: I got an email this afternoon letting me know that John M. Ford has passed away yesterday, at age 49 (a ripe old age for a science fiction writer in relatively poor health, but too early for anyone, really).

I never new Mike Ford personally - just traded a few posts here and there - but his writing struck me early on and made a lasting imprint. His short story, "Scrabble With God," was one of the things I remember most about the IASFM subscription my Dad bought me in high school. His Star Trek novel, "How Much For Just the Planet?" was one of only a handful of tie-in novels I found fun and irreverent enough to hold my attention (and, in fact, it helped define "irreverent" as part of the criteria I'd be using for life for the kind of SF I'll actually plow through).

A later memory is when I first hooked up with RAGA, the gaming club in Virginia that would define the hobby for me for a decade ... I recall a conversation with Greg Henle and Ron Wiltshire in which they spoke happily of how Autoduel Quarterly was so cool it even made Dire Straits references in its short stories. It wasn't ADQ that was that cool, of course - it was just John M. Ford, who wrote the story ("Alkahest: The Deathtoll Solution") that had impressed them so.

So, rest in peace, Mike Ford, and condolences to those who knew him, and those like me who didn't, but will miss him anyway.

Maps, TV, Receipts

9/24/06: I guess it's good news that there's nothing more pressing to write about than the weather, right now, and the weather is finally beginning to tease us with hints of autumn (or at least, with hints of milder summer). It was hot again today, but we've had a few mild days now, and after some rains mugged the air up, a breeze came in tonight and carried the humidity away with it, leaving the night air pretty refreshing. I write this now in the wee hours, taking a break from some city-mapping for Uresia's new edition and some overland mapping for Lisa Steele's Medieval France sourcebook.

Life's been nice, lately, but not newsworthy. The regular Uresius campaign is trucking along amusingly (at our current session break, one of the PCs is about to send a cloth-yard shaft through the noggin of a reclining cat-girl, I think - or at least he's considering it), Sandra is well-settled into her new job, now (and it turns out, one of her co-workers is a member of the International Order of Risus), and our snuggle-show of late has been Doctor Who, in the Peter Davison years (while we wait for the BBC to give us some new ones to watch), and Angel (we're finally catching up with it after losing the thread during the original airings). We polished off The Prisoner not too long ago, just in time to start hearing rumors about a revival.

I have one new item to announce: a fresh font over on the Free Stuff of the Moment page. I finally had a good excuse (read: a commission) to make a dot-matrix type font, and it's a spiffy set of three, in fact.

Wotta Rube

8/02/06: Here's a random memory that recently surfaced in a moment of ... dice nostalgia. While I became aware of RPGs in 1983 and active in them in 1984, I owned my first set of polyhedral dice in 1982. I bought them at a chain bookstore at the mall ... either a Waldenbook's or a Cole's. It was a square box displaying the dice (multicolored clear plastic, but not high-impact) in a clear bubble. It promised on the wrapper that it was several games in one, all using these unusual-looking dice. Cool!

I know now that this was a way for the bookstore to carry sets of dice for D&D gamers and to - by the by - snag the occasional luckless rube by slipping in a rules sheet for some hastily assembled dice games. I was one of the luckless rubes.

The great part is, when I actually did discover gaming in the following year and change, I had dice already. The better part is, I still have most of those dice in my dice bag right next to me. I have no idea who the manufacturer was or what they called the "game" I bought ... Crystal something or gem something, I think ... If anyone out there has a clue to spare, I could use one ... And in the meantime, hope this random memory finds you well.

Things to Smile About

7/13/06: After a fun but exhausting stretch of air-travel (complete with the wonders of lost luggage, customs queues, vague signage and "beef" sandwiches made of gluey brown paste) Sandra and I came home and engaged in a series of ritual appreciations of our everyday stuff: smiling and sighing at the happy sights of our very own couch, our very own dishes, our very own pencils, etc. We snagged some quick chow at our very own supermarket, and then collapsed into the toe-wiggling, yawning, stretching state of satisfied-to-be-home-at-last. We love you, Austin, and we missed you.

I'll once again spare you from longwinded travelogues (but I'm tempted). Suffice it to say that if you're ever near Bay Bulls, it would be a terrible injustice to yourself not to take advantage of O'Brien's Whale and Bird Tours and the groovy fun they provide. And if you're ever in St. John's and wandering down Duckworth Street, pause sadly where Wordplay once stood, but be sure and visit the Bagel Café for some memorable chowing-down (if you go at night, ask for a copy of the daytime menu).

And as long as I'm plugging businesses that make me happy, here's one for Peter Schweighofer's new eBook, the meaty and satisfying Pulp Egypt. I'm not deep enough into it, yet, to provide any kind of substantive review (plus, I don't write those anymore) but I'm far enough to say with confidence that this is one of those rarities in modern RPG publishing - the kind of book that makes me smile, nod, and occasionally jump around in my seat in childlike delight. I spend most days feeling alone in Cumberland's dedication to a few nearly-extinct game-design ideals ... but Pulp Egypt replaces that loneliness with a pleasant flush of comradeship - and some genuine envy. Go check it out, and I bet you'll see what I mean.

Back on the Rock

7/05/06: Just an update from the not-at-all-frozen North ... Sandra and I are in St. John's, Newfoundland visiting family for a few days (we arrived this past Thursday), and this afternoon I'm taking some time to catch up on a few work projects, including some website spiffing and the usual lineup of Cumberland projects (and some of the unusual lineup, as well, including a forthcoming issue of the free Encounter Critical Gazette). Out of all the lineup of the moment, though, Elegy in Ice benefits most from this trip, since it's about Yem and Yem has a lot in common with Newfoundland. Yesterday, Sandra and I were poking around downtown and she had to put up with me suddenly turning up old stairways and dodging into alleyways to photograph rock walls, that kind of thing.

We were sad to see that Wordplay - one of my favorite bookstores in the whole world - has closed its doors, but fortunately the others are still doing fine (St. John's has some top-notched used bookshops; I like to stock up on the British editions of old fantasy gamebooks). Overall, though, St. John's seems to be doing very nicely for itself, and there was a cruise ship in the harbor yesterday, spilling out very cheerful travelers into some excellent walking-around-town weather. Midsummer here is a lot like early winter back in Texas.

I won't bore you with accounts of family gatherings or pages of holiday snapshots; just wanted to check in and say hi. We have daily email access, so Cumberland has been ticking along without a hitch (in fact, the Risus Companion has been red-hot lately; I need to leave the country more often to benefit sales)! Hopefully I'll remember to post again soon ...


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