Archive for January, 2013

Hints of Things to Come

So if not playing D&D, what the heck have I been spending all my time doing?  Well, I’m not quite ready to get into specifics, but I can relate a few interesting facts:

First of all, I will be attending PAX East this year, and not for the D&D.  In fact, I’ve never been to PAX East before as I favor gaming-centric conventions, and while PAX does have some PRGs that’s not the thrust of that convention.  This year though, I’m going for a specific purpose: I’m going to be talking on a panel.  The schedule hasn’t officially been posted yet, but here’s what a friend (and coordinator of this panel) posted on their forums:

After the Endgame: Indie Studios Founded by 38 Studios Alumni

38 Studios closed in May 2012, almost a year ago. We’ve gathered seven former 38 devs who decided to make indie games, possibly due to a deep-seated love of ramen. Board games, mobile games, and PC games are all represented, and it’s guaranteed to be much more interesting than my forum post!

Secondly, I will not be representing Subatomic Studios at this panel.  I will be there on behalf of a different development group, a very small one that began late last May before I was even hired on at Subatomic, and one that much to the detriment of my D&D playing and many other leisure activities has been consume evenings and weekends ever since.

Finally, there’s a reason I’m writing about all this to this blog.  Let’s just say for now that it’s likely that readers of this blog will find what I talk about at that panel of interest.  So for those that will be at PAX East this year, I recommend you swing by the Naga room at 4:00 PM on Saturday the 23rd.  For those that won’t be there, I heard a rumor there may actually be a live streaming webcast.  I will certainly post info on the latter as soon as I have solid information.

And honestly, as soon as I can post anything more solid here I promise to do so.  Hopefully that will actually be before the event itself, but certainly no later than that.  Sorry to have to be so cagey about it now.  Hopefully you will enjoy the antici…

TotalCon: Last Minute

I finally found a few minutes to seriously make plans for TotalCon this year.  I missed the event registration long ago, and with the new job I’m pretty short on vacation days for this sort of thing anyway.  I knew I at least wanted to attend Saturday, and then when a friend also mentioned interest in going, we decided to share a room and toss in Friday night as well.

Well, our registration was done barely in the nick of time.  I managed to get some tickets for a couple games, and snag one of the few remaining rooms at the hotel.  I signed up for Tim’s game both Friday and Saturday night, which by the schedule is actually the same game.  I know in the past he hasn’t been exactly rigorous in running exactly what the schedule says, and there weren’t tickets left to anything else good in those times.  It’s possible too that once on site I’ll be able to swap into a different game or play a pick-up game on the fly.

Just in case, I’ll be bringing something with me to run myself as a pick-up game.  If there are enough people milling about the old school room that it warrants an extra game, I’ll be happy to throw something down.  In the past the problem has more frequently been not enough players, but you never know.

So if you’re going to TotalCon and you like old school games and you don’t have anything solid planned for Saturday night, come find me.  I’ll be in the old school room and will need very little persuading to run something.

A Little D&D News

Two interesting pieces of news crossed my desk this morning:

First, from Delta, it appears that WotC is officially selling old out of print material in digital format again.  True, it looks like the catalog  is not quite as expansive as the old one at Paizo was, but given how vocal I was about what a bad idea it was to take them down, I can only see this as a very good thing.  Well done WotC, you guys really seem to be turning a corner.  The only major downside is that the old PDFs I bought back in the day from Paizo are long gone and I seriously doubt anyone will ever bother to transfer any data from Paizo’s old system to this new one (backed by DriveThruRPG).  Oh well, at least I have all those files backed up.

Second bit of news comes from GenCon.  It appears that Paizo Publishing has entered in an agreement to sponser GenCon for the next three years (press release here).  Part of that agreement includes Paizo increasing their booth presence by 30%, as well as increasing their number of hosted events by an unspecified amount in the Sagamore Ballroom.  That’s particularly interesting because for as long as I’ve been going to GenCon the Sagamore Ballroom was the official D&D room for WotC and RPGA hosted events.  This might suggest that Paizo has eclipsed WotC as the gatekeepers of “official D&D tournaments”, at least in the eye of your average D&D player.

Is there a link between these two tidbits?  Perhaps we might read into this that Paizo is shifting into the new giant gorilla of the D&D world, while WotC is trying to appeal to the old-schoolers to retain their market share.  This seems like a good strategy on WotC’s part to me — certainly the old school market is growing, and it leverages one of their strongest and truly unique assets: access to the old out of print material.

Of course this is all wild speculation on my part, and ultimately doesn’t amount to very much for my personal gaming habits.  I could happily keep a D&D campaign going at this point without purchasing a single extra piece of published material, be it old and out of print or glossy and new.  Still, I’ll be very interested to see how the battle between these two corporations plays out.  Hopefully they can each find their niche and play nice, or perhaps one will grow to dominate the other.  So long as attendance at the conventions keeps up I’ll be happy no matter who is running them.

401, k?

Let me start with this disclaimer: I am not an accountant, lawyer, or other financial expert.  Please do not interpret anything that follows as direct financial advice.  When in doubt, please seek professional advice.

So, I have a penchant for working for small or risky companies, which means I’ve had to change jobs fairly regularly.  In the past 13 years I’ve worked for six different companies, three of which collapsed while I was working there and two of which had the decency to remain in business for at least another year or two after I left.  Actually, one of those latter two existed for several more years and then was bought by a larger company, but was basically absorbed to the point of not really existing as an entity any more.

Pretty much every job I’ve had offered a 401k, of which I partook to the advice of my father, and well, pretty much the rest of the world.  In some job changes I thought to roll my old 401k into the new one, in others I did not.  By the time I reached 38 Studios I had a few different accounts trailing along.  I decided this was the time to be responsible and get my financial house in order.  I rolled everything into 38’s 401k.  Perhaps you can see where this horror story is going…

38 Studios went out of business in May.  It is now January, and our accounts are still frozen due to being audited as part of the bankruptcy proceedings.  The good news is that it appears all the money 38 was supposed to put in there is actually there.  The bad news is, I can’t touch it in any way, including all the money from previous jobs I rolled forward.

This has been a hot topic of debate on the Facebook ex-38 group.  And it’s on my mind because we’re actually starting to finally see some motion, though frankly until I can get access to my account I’m not holding my breath.  For me, it’s not too terrible given that I found another job, I don’t need access to that money right this very minute.  I know that for some who are still looking, access to that money would be a real life line.

What have I learned from this?  Well, if future companies offer a 401k with some form of matching, I’ll still partake, but there’s no way I’ll be rolling anything forward ever again.  Once I have access to the old account I’ll be looking into an IRA or other such personal account to move my money into.  Should I find myself switching jobs again the future, I’ll be sure to roll any old 401k into that personal account, not whatever it is the new company offers.

Here’s an amusing addendum.  That one company that lasted the longest and got bought rather than going out of business, which by the way I was sure would be the one to collapse in utter failure, they didn’t offer a 401k.  They had some weird “Simple IRA” thing instead.  When I rolled forward everything into 38 that one was somehow different to the point that it couldn’t be rolled forward.  There wasn’t very much money in it, and it was being charged annual fees, so I basically forgot about it.  I assumed it would eventually cannibalize itself from those fees, or I would bother to sit down and figure out how to cash out and just pay the awful taxes out of what little was left.  It just wasn’t enough money though for me to really give it much thought.  Turns out, it’s been a champ for the past five years, earning enough interest to actually go slightly up in value.  Now it’s my consolation prize — a few hundred dollars I can actually get access to if need be, or perhaps the seed to my future savings.  I’m going to let it sit until the 38 401k unfreezes, and then, well, then I’ll be looking for a financial adviser, because clearly I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.


So, if not thinking about and playing D&D, what am I doing with my free time these days?  Well, for starters, I spend a lot of time in the car.  On a good day, my commute is a little over an hour.  Actually in the middle of the night or a holiday that I don’t have off, it can be done in 50 minutes.  More typically it takes about 1:15, though much of it is on the Massachusetts Turnpike on which there are an alarming number of accidents, which in turn can bump my commute time up to an hour and a half.  Once it took me two hours.

One thing I’ve found that makes it endurable is audio books.  I ended up getting myself a subscription to Audible, despite my anti-DRM tendencies it seems they are the only really good source of audio books.  (Side note: a pretty good free alternative is Librivox, though it does take a bit more time to navigate and research to find stuff there you like.)  I listened to all the Game of Thrones books this way.  I’ve also listened to Tolkien, and several other one-off works of historical fiction.  Recently I’ve been listening to Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles.

The funny thing about listening to books rather than reading them is hearing character names spoken aloud.  I had no idea for a long time that George R. R. Martin used so many y’s and other odd spellings in his names.  In fact, I didn’t find out until in one of the books the reader started pronouncing one of the names differently: Petyr.  In the earlier books the reader pronounced it “Puh-tire”, then later reverted to the more traditional pronunciation of “Peter”.  Actually this highlights a personal pet peeve of mine — why on earth do so many fantasy writers feel the need to be overly clever with their names, and worse still choose names that are visually appealing without bothering to think about how people will say them out loud?  I understand that Robert E. Howard used to speak a lot of his work out loud while writing.  I think more writers could do with a dose of that.

So the same thing happened in the Rothfuss books I’ve been listening to.  A character in the first book named Devi was pronounced “Deh-vee” and in the second book is pronounced “Day-vee”.  Part of me really rebels against the latter due to it sounding like a guy’s name, specifically a common youthful shortening of the name David.  Ultimately though, I think that after listening to name spoken aloud for tens of hours, I simply get attached to it, and changing that just rubs me the wrong way.

I wouldn’t be surprised if in both cases it was a matter of the author not taking the time to review the audio work himself and being told by someone in the know afterwards that one of the names was pronounced incorrectly, and then that author correcting the recording company in future work.  I guess I understand where the author is coming from, but I kind of feel like once the mistake is made it’s better to just push forward and live with it than bull-headedly fix it.  Consider it this way — if you were watching a play or a TV show and one of the actors suddenly started pronouncing his name differently, wouldn’t that totally throw you?

Also, the better audio book readers make up voices and accents for particular characters.  I’ve never encountered a case where that changed.  I assume most authors simply chalk that up to the right of an actor to add interpretation to the part.  Can’t we simply allow that some readers might pronounce a name one way and others another and be OK with that?

Well, that’s what was spinning through my head on the way into work this morning.  Also, despite my best intentions to return to this blog regularly it’s been almost two weeks since my last post.  Hopefully though once I get back into the knack of posting regularly I will find something of more substance to write about.

Happy New Year

New year’s resolution #1 — stop ignoring this blog.

OK, so, it’s been a long while.  Let’s catch up:  Things got pretty bumpy in the wake of the collapse of 38 Studios.  My weekly game limped along for a little while.  Actually, it was fairly strong initially as we were all laid off and had a surplus of free time.  Nobody seemed to mind schlepping on out to my house for our weekly game.  Slowly though jobs were obtained and moves started happening.  Several members were lost to the lure of the west coast, and others simply couldn’t make the drive out to my place happen week after week.

I myself got a new job at Subatomic Studios, which has been great, though the only downside being that it’s a significant commute.  Over an hour on a good day, thank goodness for flexible hours or it would much worse.  Still, some days I stay a bit later than I expect and can face an hour and a half to two hours to get home.  It’s not fun.  The new job is closer to my wife’s job though, so there’s no reason not to move.  We put the house up for sale in early September, and took it back off at the end of November.  We’re waiting now for the spring, hoping a re-listing after the winter will get us out of here.

I’ve run a few games for folks at the new office, which were much better received than I expected.  In fact, I regularly get asked when I’ll do it again.  Unfortunately due to the horrible commute a regular office game just isn’t in the cards for me right now.  Yet another reason to eagerly look forward to a move.  Honestly, it feels like a whole lot of things are on hold until that move happens, which in turn makes it difficult to motivate myself to start up anything new.

I did try a grand experiment of playing online.  For the last campaign I started a google group to organize play time, and as players left and new ones joined, nobody ever left the email list.  I would think if you weren’t playing you’d want to stop getting annoying emails about who is coming or who wants to order pizza, and yet whenever I asked a former member they always claimed to want to remain on the list.  I guess it made them feel like they were still connected in some small way to the game.  As such, when the home campaign finally halted completely, I was left with an online group of almost 20 former players.  This seemed to me like a great potential for forming a west marches style game.  We could play entirely online using G+, which I’ve had success with in the past, and I though the players would have the extra motivation of scheduling games simply to catch up with old friends that moved away if not to also play some D&D.

That game limped along for a few weeks, but it seemed we always had trouble gathering enough players.  There were one or two highly motivated players, but it just never seemed to gather up the required steam.  I think we were missing one major element from Ben’s post, the idea of a shared experience via game summaries and chatter.  Here’s a quote from his original article:

What started off as humble anecdotes evolved into elaborate game summaries, detailed stories written by the players recounting each adventure (or misadventure). Instead of just sharing information and documenting discoveries (“we found ancient standing stones north of the Golden Hills”), game summaries turned into tributes to really great (and some really tragic) game sessions, and eventually became a creative outlet in their own right. Players enjoyed writing them and players enjoyed reading them, which kept players thinking about the game even when they weren’t playing.

Ultimately, I’ve now seen several failed attempts at west marches style play.  I suspect it’s simply a case of requiring the right people at the right time.  I think it’s similar to the experience I had participating in a round-robin GM game back in the day.  It was such a successful game that I tried to reproduce the magic with several other groups, and yet it never managed to catch like that first game.  Again, I suspect our success was just a case of the right group of people at the right time.

Finally, let’s talk about conventions.  My last posts before this one was GenCon.  Unfortunately that trip happened very soon after getting hired by Subatomic, which meant that my vacation time was quickly in the negatives.  So much so that when going over plans on what to do with my vacation time this coming year I realized very quickly I’d have to make a cut, and that cut ended up being TotalCon.  It took a while for me to come to that conclusion, enough such that I missed the deadline for registering any games.  It’s a close enough convention that I could still do a day-trip or even two when it comes around, but I’ve done so little preparing for it that there’s no way it won’t feel like a shadow of the experience from past years.  Still, I expect by the time it comes around I’ll convince myself to drive down at least for the day on Saturday.

HelgaCon, however, I refuse to sacrifice.  January is usually the time I start preparing for that, so I guess I better get on that pretty soon.  January is also the time GenCon badge registration opens, and my darling wife seems pretty adamant that we go again.  Honestly, after that one year we decided not to go and then regretted it horribly come the summer, I think it would be pretty hard to intentionally skip it again.

So what will 2013 hold for me gaming wise?  Honestly, the outlook is a little muddy right now.  A lot may depend on how this whole house selling thing goes.  It’s possible the online game will manage to pull itself back together (I suspect there’s at least one player that won’t let it go down without a fight).  Two former players from 38 actually both work with me here at Subatomic, so I’m pretty sure once the move happens a new weekly game will come together.  It’s just the waiting that’s so painful.

I do have some other upcoming news that’s quazi-game related to share, but this post is getting long so it’ll have to wait.  I know, terrible to tease you like that, but I’m hoping if I leave some threads dangling it’ll force me to remember to come back and post more often.  I suppose with my weekly games in the shambles they are right now you should probably prepare for more posts that aren’t exactly D&D related.  Hopefully we’ll get things back on track soon though, and next year I can look back and say that yes, 2013 really was the come-back year.