The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

On gaming authors

| November 29, 2013

Unlike fiction, there are few gaming authors where I even care who wrote the book. In general, you pick the game and buy the books for that game, and you trust that the line developers do their jobs and pick good authors.

There are two exceptions to this:

  • Monte Cook (and not just for D&D. He also did D20 Call of Cthulhu and a D20 World of Darkness)
  • Fred Hicks

This post is not about Monte.

I first learned of Fred’s work through a podcast – which one, I cannot say, as I don’t remember. They were talking about Spirit of the Century, which led me to his livejournal, and then his podcast.

I’ve also found his transparency over the years to be very interesting. He’s very forthcoming and seems to subscribe to the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats, and that more people in the industry, making more products, makes more good products for people to buy.

As if to drive this point home, he talks about Diaspora and Starblazer Adventures where he comes down (slightly) preferring Diaspora, despite the fact that he did the layout for Starblazer Adventures. (He talks about it here as well).

I bought Diaspoa, BTW – it’s as awesome as he says. I hope to play it sometime. It takes Fate (though based on a previous version, Fate hasn’t changed that much between the two editions, and it doesn’t require the older core rules – it’s self contained) and mixes it with a hard SF edge that feels very much like Traveller (which, as an aside, if you liked the original Traveller, Marc Miller (the original author) has done a Traveller 5. I likely will never play it, since it’s very complicated and I don’t know of many players willing to stand for that much crunch, but that’s what’s great about Diaspora – it feels like that, but being so FATE-ish, it’s actually likely to be played).

But, anyway, back to Fred – I don’t mean to imply here that everything he touches turns to gold. However, if he is involved with or recommending a project, it’s definitely worth a look.

Oh, and the other thing is that he does layout as well as game design, and his layouts are really good. I haven’t paid a lot of attention to layout in the past but, more and more, I realize that it evokes a certain feeling when reading. Notable examples here are the 4th and 5th editions of Shadowrun and the revised Battletech core set (Total Warfare and its friends). The layout is both functional and aesthetic, and getting that right is quite a skill. Adam Jury‘s work is also excellent in this regard, and he did a lot of work on the aforementioned former-FASA properties, as well as Eclipse Phase, about which I will likely write in the future.

Anyway, for fans of the Hero system, Fred also did the layout on the Hero System 6th Edition.

Adding a new category

| November 27, 2013

One of the topics I mentioned yesterday that I wanted to write about more was gaming. Further, in response to that post, a friend said that he looked forward to more gaming posts. To that end, I’ve added a new category of metagaming, which will be devoted to discussing anything “above” the level of a specific game – game mastering, different rulesets, player dynamics, etc. The usage of the term is a bit atypical, but I think it fits.

Random snippets…

| November 26, 2013

So, for years I’ve sent myself emails saying “blog about this” and a link. I’m trying to get through them and actually do that, so here are a collection of links in that vein. Some of them are quite old, but I don’t think that they are particularly time-critical – the world hasn’t changed that much since they were published, so they are still interesting to me.

  • Dirty Harry Potter – Not dirty in the not safe for work sense, dirty in the Clint Eastwood sense. It’s a surprisingly interesting examination of the distribution of force in the Harry Potter universe (and, realistically, how their world would have been different had more folks carried guns, not wands)

  • Bufferbloat – This is a very interesting series of articles which, if you deal at all with networks, you should really read. Essentially, what it comes down to is this: internet protocols are designed to compensate for unreliable networks, lossy links, etc. When you add large buffers along the chain, it masks underlying transport problems and can actually lead to worse performance than if you just let the end-devices set their data rate “naturally”. Once again, KISS triumphs.

  • Is the bandwidth hog a myth? – The interesting part from this article is here:

The fact is that what most telcos call hogs are simply people who overall and on average download more than others. Blaming them for network congestion is actually an admission that telcos are uncomfortable with the ‘all you can eat’ broadband schemes that they themselves introduced on the market to get people to subscribe. In other words, the marketing push to get people to subscribe to broadband worked, but now the telcos see a missed opportunity at price discrimination

  • Not only are they uncomfortable with it, but the reason that they may be so is that they’re so overprovisioned that if everyone started using their capacity, they might gasp have to upgrade to a proper level of provisioning, which would cut into profit margins. Think about how many people in urban areas subscribe to cable internet and get surprisingly slow speeds because everyone is on it. If you couldn’t get phone service because “all circuits were busy”, you’d raise all manner of a ruckus, and when was the last time we had rolling blackouts in the US in major metropolitan areas as a matter of course? However, it’s perfectly normal to pay for 25Mbps and get 5Mbps, and when you complain, the cable company says that they have no guarantee of service. Now, in rural areas, it’s much better, because, assuming you have access, it’s NOT generally overprovisioned. Indeed, I typically get better network speed than everyone in my engineering group at work, except, perhaps, the guy with FIOS.

A new direction.. sortof…

| November 26, 2013

This has actually been the case for awhile, but I’m now explicitly stating it – I’m changing the direction of this blog. I’m not going to talk about politics much anymore. There are enough people doing that. If you want to hear about the decline and fall of the great American experiment, I suggest reading Drudge. I have enough conversations during the day that I don’t generally feel like talking about it more on my blog.

Instead, I’m going to talk about things that make me happy – gaming, cats, kids, guns, hunting, fishing, gardening, cooking, computers, things like that, generally focusing on the positive and attempting to not be so cynical and jaded.

Back in the saddle

| November 23, 2013

So, I’ve been away for a bit, at first because I’ve been legitimately busy with harvest activities:

  • Making applesauce from a pile of apples we got from my father-in-law’s apple trees (up to 21 qts so far).
  • It’s deer season! I’m about finished processing the first one, but there are two more in the fridge.

However, I also ended up having to change hosting providers. I moved from, where I’d been a customer for somewhere along the lines of 10 years, because the mailing list portion of their hosting had been down for three weeks, and their tech support was not being very responsive.

In the end, I decided it was better to just run the whole thing myself, and then I could set it up exactly as I wanted (I’m picky), so I ended up just singing up for a Virtual Private Server at Linode, which came recommended by one of my gaming buddies. Their base package, at $20/month, is $5/month cheaper than what I was paying before. On top of that, I get more flexibility and (hopefully) more stability (once I get everything set up the way that I want). I’ve already had to contact Linode’s tech support once, and found their ticket system to be excellent and their customer service to be prompt and helpful.

One of the things that came out of this is that I’ve finally sanitized all my system install notes, which actually go all the way back to my Red Hat 7.3 install notes from 2002. I’ve kept all of those for posterity. However, for those who are likely to be configuring their own mail/web/etc. server, the Linode server install instructions are likely of the most used to you. It is actually comprised of a pile of different bits and pieces borrowed from work server projects, my house Amahi install, and my standard system install. Then there was some interesting bits that I set up for the first time on the Linode install, and then fed back to work. So, it’s all a big feedback loop.

I also been playing around with a light box and, once I get it right, I hope to be posting some more pictures of minis. I also have a pile of things in the back of my brain that I want to write about, I just need to have time to do it.

Anyway, in the meantime, here’s a picture of a couple of critters on the back porch, on a warm October day.

Diesel and Heidi on the back porch

Diesel and Heidi on the back porch