Monday, July 29, 2013

Excitement In Zurich! or, Youngest Daughter On The Front Lines!

Youngest Daughter, supporting her favorite cause, this past  June.

Youngest Daughter, herself; did I mention how proud of her I am?

Hot off the Internet, I am delighted to have photos of my Youngest Daughter at the demonstrations in Zurich this past June, in support of Amnesty International's QueerAmnesty Project. It would seem that being on the front lines for what one believes in is a family tradition, from my dad and step-dad in the Pacific in the 1940s through to Youngest Daughter being a part of this.

I am very, very proud of her.

Update: Here's the URL for the website, where you can get all the photos from Zurich!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Weekly Update for Sunday, July 28th, 2013 - Underworlds, Anyone?

The Qol in action, reminding the player-characters just who's boss down in the basement.

The Qol on The Workbench, a while back. I love these figures, you know.

I am now one full week into my two-week vacation, and the IMac I'm now working on is getting all of the odds and ends of card readers and peripherals installed after the collapse of the poor old Mac Mini. I should be able to get photos back up later today; I'll try to get some photos of the 'new' terrain tiles when I can.

The excavations in the basement here at The Workbench have been entertaining, if that's the word we can use, and I've been finding all sorts of stuff I'd clean forgotten about both in the cellar and in the storage sheds out back of the old manse. I've been moving all the raw materials of model-building out to the shed, encased in new water-tight plastic tubs, and moving all the 'finished goods' of terrain and scenery into the game room - everything is now in tubs, the idea being to keep related items together and easy to pull for games and events - and organizing the piles of stuff so that I a) know what I have, and b) know where it is.

The basic problem is that I've been a miniatures gamer for thirty years, and - besides being stereotyped as such - I never seem to have tossed anything even remotely useful away over the years. So, we have a very well-equipped game room, and I'm trying to get it organized for the foreseeable future.

I'm also trying to see into the murky future of gaming, and make some guesses as to what sort of stuff I may need in the future. I'm being guided in this by the kind of gaming we used to do in the past, and the times where we'd moan a lot and say "Oh, if only we had [insert name here]!)

The one thing we never had, back in those far-off Dayes of Yore, was an actual Underworld to adventure in. Now, you'd think that with the number of times we'd be stuck in some dank shrine deep under some crummy city, we'd have something to put our little lead people into to show what we were doing; aside from the time I brought in a box of wooded blocks to build a portion of the palace of Bassa, king of the Black Ssu, for that horrible adventure (and thank you, Thomar, for that crummy afternoon! Stupid wizards.) we just didn't have anything. At best, we'd lay out some paper and draw lines, and you'd think with all the talent at the game table out at Phil's we'd be able to so something a little more advanced. It was basically what people do nowadays with the vinyl 'battle mats', but back in 1976.

So, I have been thinking about doing a set of 'terrain tiles' with an Underworld theme. Yes, I know that there are lots of products out there that would help me to do this, but we've found in the course of actual games that the modular systems out there on the market tend to need somebody just to set them up and take them down in the course of a game. The mechanics of using the model start to take over a game and tend to slow the game play way down; for the same reason, I don't build models with interiors, as we've found that the mechanics of taking the clever little models apart and using them during a gems just take too much time.

What I'm looking at is a system of pre-fabricated modules that one just pulls off the shelf and plops down on the game table to represent the tactical situation in the Underworlds. I'm looking at designing the 'modules' in the computer, building the models to match the plans, and then building the larger Underworld settings in the computer to indicate how the model 'tiles' fit together. I'm looking for quick, fast, and easy for the game sessions; I have quite a few 'build as you go' systems to hand, and I've never been happy with any of them. Generally, commercial 'dungeon' systems either cost a fortune for enough parts to build a reasonably-sized Underworld, or they have lots and lots of little bits that get lost and are a pain to assemble during games.

So, my thought is to build sections, have larger mega-dungeons drawn as plans, and have at it on the table. More on this, with photos, as I work on it...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Whirling Blades of Death Revisited, or, I Love My Table Saw!

My Ryobi 10" table saw;
Note whirling blade of death and guard over it.

I am now five days into my sixteen day vacation, and having a grand time. I had a great weekend, pottering around the house and getting all sorts of things done, then had a wonderful family day with the kids and The Bouncing Baby on Monday. Yesterday was a delight - out came my table saw, and the sawdust flew!

The particular project in hand is the cutting down of my terrain 'tiles' that I had made for use on the giant game table at The Source Comics and Games; this table is actually the cover of their sand table, and measures something like 143" by 63". I had made a set of 'tiles' to cover this, and we used these in a number of the battles we did there to promote Tekumel. The problem was one of logistics; the tiles had to be about 20" by 40", to cover the vast expanse of table, and were a pain in the tush to transport and store.

I had been wanting to cut the tiles down for use on our 'standard' tables, here at The Workbench, as we don't run games at The Source anymore. (See the mess surrounding the recent 'Braunstein' game we had wanted to put on at the store, in posts from late May.) So, I got all the old tiles out of the garage yesterday, and made lots and lots of sawdust cutting the tiles down to a standard 9.5" by 9.5", and really enjoyed actually making something for once.

I love making things; models, terrain, scenery, stuff like that that will amuse and amaze. This was the first project that I've been able to get back to after about two years - Phil's last illness and other people's recondite affairs took up the time in between - and I am really enjoying getting stuff done. I'm actually accomplishing something, and it's been a great feeling.

The idea behind all this work is to kit out the game room in the way that Phil and I had always wanted to; in the grand manner of British miniatures and RPG gaming, where we would have more then The Tree and The Hill for scenery and terrain, and the ability to do events outside the basement if we had to. Now, I'm not saying that I'm rebuilding the old 'Tekumel Travelling Roadshow' that I had built back when I was "Jeff Berry dba Tekumel Journal"; 'commercial exploitation' of Tekumel isn't my issue anymore, as well as not being my business anymore, and for which I am truly grateful. (The last two years of other people's craziness fixed that, for all time.) What I'm doing is I'm rebuilding and reconfiguring The Workbench and the associated Game Room and Lava Lounge to make it possible for guests to come and game here in reasonable comfort, and with good support for their games.

Back a couple of years ago, we hosted a 'Tekumel Weekend' over the year-end holidays that was quite successful and well-received. (And well attended, if I may so immodest as to say so.) I'm going to be doing that every year, now, for as long as I can; I will also be supporting Brett Slocum's effort to set up and run a Tekumel-themed game room at the local Con of the North game convention, and possibly going to Joe Saul's Tekumel track at U-Con in Ann Arbor. I also plan on running the annual Dave Arneson / Phil Barker Memorial Game Day at Fantasy Flight Games' Event Center each spring. I'll also be doing a frequent video webcast with the Sony Bloggie that The Missus bought for the recent 'Braunstein', and which worked pretty dang well. There's going to be a lot of Web activity here at The Workbench from now on, as I think it would be a very easy way to reach out to people and tell them about Phil's creation.

So, what I'm doing is building what amounts to a modular and flexible terrain and scenery system that will allow me to run any game scenario from any portion of Phil's Tekumel; it works like this:

Terrain tile sets:  'Arid'; 'Temperate'; 'Maritime'

Scenery sets: 'Desert', 'Arid', 'Temperate', 'Jungle', 'Swamp'

Urban scenery sets: 'Swamp Village'; 'Pe Choi Village'; 'Rural Village'; 'Town'; 'City'

Sakbe Road sets: 'Standard'; 'Ruined/Decrepit'; 'Wooden/Penom'

The concept, the elements of which (I may modestly say) has already been largely built in model form, is to be able to combine any series of these elements to form any terrain or location type that Phil came up with n his writings. The astute reader will note that I haven't mentioned an Underworld set; I am dithering between building a set based on the now-standard tiles, and making it infinitely modular, or doing 'set-piece' models of Famous Tourist Attractions from various Underworlds. (Suggestions on thid subject from you, Dear Readers, would be very would be welcome.)

I should note that I am getting away from specific terrain and scenery items that are dedicated/tied to specific games. I have made a few terrain sets like this in the past, and they have been a waste of time, materials, and energy; they are a pain to store, and they don't get used very much in games. I have tossed out most of the specific pieces, as being too decrepit from long storage, but I did keep the bulk of the hills I built for the 'Seige of Castle Tilketl' as I can recut that into the new modular format.

(Well, of course I kept the Castle; it lives in a custom-built crate, and is packed away for the next time we storm the place.)

And I am building to a 'two table standard'; the idea here is that one can have one scenic game table up and running at an event while the second scenic table is being set up for the next game. I'm also building to suit the logistics, too; everything will be stored in the containers it would be transported in, so all I have to do is 'throw and go' for events. Since the cargo van has fixed and known dimensions, I can do load plans for it and specify what containers go where and to what table at events. This is the same sort of thing I used to do for my production company, back when I used to do big events all over the Us and Canada, so I'm used to doing it.

Big changes, and more to come!!!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Weekly Update for Sunday, July 21st, 2001 - Dusting The Dead Birds, Among Other Things

The dead bird in the living room
(There's a dead pterodactyl there as well.,)

I am in the third day of my sixteen-day vacation, and I am a very happy camper indeed. I am getting lots of sleep, and getting stuff done around the workbench that's been hanging fire for the past decade - yes, it's been that long since I had a real vacation. Some of the jobs are simple domestic ones, like dusting the dead bird and lizard in the living room (see above; I have first generation casts from the originals) and getting the last of the furniture set out in the spare room. Unfortunately, I'll also have to patch the hole in the garage roof - we had a hole show up, last winter - and do some other intense tasks, but I will be careful, take it slowly, and take my pills faithfully.

I have gotten a lot done in the game room, I am happy to report, and am finally getting to many of the projects I started five years ago and never got the chance to finish. Photo will follow.

The poor old Mac Mini I used to use as a desktop computer seems to have taken a nasty hit during the bad weather we had here in the Twin Cities a few weeks ago, and has gone the way of all electronics. The Missus, Queen of the Internet, as usual saved the day by hooking the wreckage up to the huge IMac G-5 that I'm now using as my computer - Mercy! It's huge!!! - and used the Mini as an external hard drive to transfer all of the data over to the new computer. Everything has been saved, and the new machine is screaming fast.

I got another 2,500 words done in "To Serve The Petal Throne", last night; I'm in the midst of the battle against the SSu we fought at the Monastery of the Falling Leaves, near Hekellu. Chirine fights the Ssu, and Si N'te has twins; the usual for us, more or less...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Weekly Update for July 14th, 2013 - Storming the Bastille, but after lunch...

Gee - it sure looks like Fasiltum, doesn't it?

The beginning of  the week, and it was a pretty good one just past. We've finished all the really heavy lifting in the house, and we're down to shuffling the odds and ends - and there are some very odd ends, around here - into their new storage homes. I'm looking forward to some time off, and to the visit of Third Daughter and First Son-In-Law this week; he's here for a week, she's here for three, and I'm really looking forward to it.

I am back to work on "To Serve The Petal Throne"< and I will have updated chapters later this week. I am also slowly starting to get back into the second edition of my miniatures rules, "Qadardalikoi: Advance Standards!", and I hope to have a draft for people to look at later this fall.

Brett Slocum continues to work on the planing for on of the North, here in the Twin Cities in 2014, and I'll look forward to what he comes up with.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Corrupting the Youth of America, One at a Time

Eldest Daughter and First Grandchild during today's game session.

(Yes, that's a plush twenty-sider. I am equipped for all contingencies.
It's washable, which is a good thing as he drooled all over it in his delight.))

We're back to our twice-a-month RPG games, and Rob's campaign cooks merrily along with the marine recruits slowly starving to death on their little island near Penom and their ranks getting whittled down by the local wildlife and natives. Rations are so tight, I broke out my treasured copy of Karl Wurf's handy cookbook, "To Serve Man", to give the players some idea of what the art of the possible in field rations might include. It beats a steady diet of swamp frogs, anyway.

First Grandchild deigned to attend, and played with his own personal twenty-sider throughout. Get 'em young, I say, and they'll be gamers all their lives. He can't play with the miniatures until he finishes teething, however.


Speaking of miniatures, the Indiegogo I mentioned in the last update has reached the first milestone, and we'll be getting the first stretch figure in our shipment. There is also a photo of the harp player, and you may want to take a look:

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Weekly Update for Sunday, July 7th, 2013 - News From The Front!

Sitre, Menwe, and Ten'er in attendance on Si N'te
(from "To Serve The Petal Throne")

First off, this week, I am delighted to be able to announce that Mike Burns has posted his second Indiegogo fund-raising campaign; he's working on a line of 25 - 28mm miniatures, based on Ancient Egypt. These are 'harem' figures - not the sort of 'harem' we're used to from Orientalist literature of the fin de sicle or from those steamy pot-boilers in the less reputable pulp magazines one used to get for a dime, but the huge support organization that kept the Pharaoh in knit socks on campaign. (I know how that conversation went: "Look, I know you're a Libyan Princess, but I'm off to smite the Hittites later this week and I need those socks; it gets cold at night up near Meggido, and the chariot doesn't have a heater.") We bought into the first campaign, and the figures we got are really nice. When you have a moment, have a look at:

We will be contributing to the campaign at the Grand Vizier / Level Six position, and we're looking forward to the figures - they look great in the metal, and I've been very happy with them.

I've always wanted to run a game set at a fashionable party in a great clan-house in Bey Sy; it would be perfect for a game using the classic "Braunstein" format, and be a lot like the big parties we used to have to try and survive in Phil's games. He used to use such parties as a way to introduce new characters and adventures, and while we had a lot of fun I still don't know how my liver stood it all...

Also of interest on the Internet, that clever and wise Mr. Brett Slocum has opened a new Yahoo group for planning and preparation of the proposed Tekumel theme room at the local game convention, Con Of The North, in February of 2014. May I suggest you have look at:

We here at The Workbench plan on supporting this event, and we're looking forward to it. It's been a long time since I ran Minnesota's largest game convention, The Minnesota Campaign (1,500 attendees), and the idea of going to a convention and not having to run the dang thing is kinda attractive. Running games, on the other hand, is what we do best... :)

We have an immense amount of event support materials cached here at The workbench, and we'll be putting them all at the disposal of Mr. Slocum to give him and the other event organizers the widest possible array of options. we have everything from floor lamps (bought for Con of the North, actually) to badge holders for individual badges for player-characters. The Missus has been rebuilding our desktop publishing capacities here in the home office, with a roll printer and spare computers for the event's support.

The work in the game room and game lounge (AKA the Lava Lounge) is now down to sorting out all the loose bits from over a decade of gaming. I still have to move the mannequin that my armour lives on, but that's a quick project for some morning after I get home from work. The spare room is also in good shape; I've moved the multi-standards international television, VCR, and DVD player in there for the amusement of guests, and all I really have to do in there is move my boxes and plastic tubs of costuming materials into the new shelves in the storage shed to clear the room Likewise the basement - the storage shed is about to become a much more crowded place, but that is why we bought the thing.

Several hundred more figures from the shelves have migrated into the vats of Simple Green I use as a paint stripper; the various Reaper (and other) figures that I've bought over the past decade and a half as 'proxies' for various Tekumel subjects are all being 'decommissioned' in favor of the new figures that Howard Fielding is coming out with. My plan is to have as many 'proper' Tekumel figures on the shelves in the game room as possible, so as to give players that authentic 'original Thursday Night group' flavor of what gaming was like out at Phil's, and only rely on other figures when we need to.

Mind you, I am keeping the various Ral Partha figures form those far-off days in service; the heart of the Livyani army has always been the "Deep Elf with Halberd", and they have now been in service since 1980. Our Nonnie, the Priestess of Ksarul immortalized in lead by Howard Fielding (I swear, the new "Qol Palanquin with Priest and Priestess of Ksarul" - the figure looks just like her, even to the way she sits at the game table!), turned up a Secret Cache of these old figures, and they are going into service as soon as I have the time to base them up. (Thank you, Nonnie!!!)

Other projects, like the 14 foot long Sakbe Road (in modular sections; I'm not that stupid, I hope...) and the various urban buildings, are on hold until I finish the basement sorting and cleaning. It's been a decade, since the last time I really got down to it and cleaned the place up, and it shows. It's my goal to get back to the more gracious and 'courtly' style of gaming that we used to enjoy hereabouts, where we played host to the gentry for an afternoon of fun and excitement. Think H. G. Wells or Fletcher Pratt, with a healthy dose of Edwardian safari club, Victorian officers' mess, and Tiki lounge added to the mix; you get the idea, I hope. It's my conception of the atmosphere in the 'back room' of the clanhouse, where the clan members get together to socialize and pass along the Wisdom Of The Ages. Or at least have a good time, anyway!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Angry Rant, Indignant, One Each, +20 on Blood Pressure

I laud the initiative; I deplore the need.

If you continue reading this, may I suggest you break out the asbestos tea cozy for your computer? I am in an enraged state, tonight, and have been so for the past 36 hours; my rage may communicate itself down through the Internet and set your computer on fire. Let's begin with a simple 'Google' search; use the keywords:

"sexual harassment" elise

and have a look at, if you like:

Have a look at your screen, have a look at some of the websites cited, read what happened, and then come back here; I have a few things to say about this matter, and then I'll have a few more things to say in amplification. Thanks!

Welcome back! Let me state, here at the outset, my biases in these matters. First, I am the proud paternal parent of (currently) four daughters; I have been so for the better part of a decade, having been selected as the adoptive parent by said daughters at various points in their lives. We have chosen to be a family - we didn't just happen, as it were, to be one - so we're a little more close-knit then some folks might think. I am very proud of my kids; we've tried to give them what they need in the way of parenting, and they seemed to have liked what we do for them. I took them as they arrived, without judgement or qualm; they, and we, are all God's children.

Secondly, and more importantly, I know Elise. I've known her for some twenty-five years. She's smart, opinionated, funny, clever, and honest. We disagree on some things, agree on others; she's also one of the most open-minded and tolerant people I know, and while I may respectfully disagree with her on some matters, I respect her. Finding out what she'd been been through at the recent WisCon set me right off; for Elise to be visibly angry at something somebody said, it must have been something that, in an earlier age, would have gotten the speaker tossed out the nearest window onto the pikes and pitchforks of the mob. Elsie does not make this kind of crap up, nor does she get angry very easily; to see this happening simply makes me furious. I applaud her and support her, and I am also applauding WisCon for having a policy for dealing with this kind of thing in place.

I am appalled that it should be needed.

This incident comes in the midst of a spate of similar incidents at conventions; may I suggest the following web links?

The photo of the Convergence poster, above, is from one of these web sites. I applaud the Convergence committee for doing this; I am appalled that they have to do it.

What infuriates me even more about this is my own history; I have always had a very high number of women in my game groups, going back to the founding of the original Thursday Night game group at Prof. Barker's back in the late 1970s, and my technical support crew that I took to many conventions in the 1990s to sound / light / video was always over half women. So, what the hell?

What the hell ever happened to basic politeness?
What the hell ever happened to thinking before one engaged mouth?
What the hell ever happened to "You look great in that! May I take your picture?"

No. Just no. Not here, not on my watch. If I see this crap, I'll call the offender out on it. I've done it before, and I'll do it again. I do not tolerate this kind of harassment, I never have, and I never will. Consider this the one and only warning; it shouldn't be needed, but there seems to be a need to state the obvious.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Post 100, and I wish I wasn't writing this.

Flag's at half-staff, and an empty hat on a spade.

Prescott Fire Department, Prescott, Arizona

Nineteen firefighters down.

Take a minute, out of your busy lives, and think about the men and women who run into the flames.