The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall

| June 26, 2014

So, I’ve been dark because I’ve been using my free time to play through this. Excellent scenario. Every time I thought I was about to be finished, there was another turn in the road. It had very much of a classic Shadowrun feel of not knowing whom to trust, and had a lot of ethical dilemmas.

I won’t go in to the spoilers, but it’s currently on sale on steam, and is well worth the $7.50 for the base game and $9 for Dragonfall expansion. This means you’d get to play through the base adventure Dead Man’s Switch (which felt short and left me wanting more) and Dragonfall was of a pleasant length and depth.

There is also a lot of fan created content, of varying quality. I played a bit of one, but then my brother got me X-Com: Enemy Unknown (which, BTW is now apparently available for Linux too), and that distracted me. So, it has a decent amount of new content to keep it playable. Oh, and it’s available for Linux as well. More games on Linux makes me a happy boy.

Anyway, despite getting the Wasteland 2 and Warmachine: Tactics betas, I’m likely going to work on non-videogame stuff for awhile (likely picking up my Showdown: 40K conversion project again, with perhaps a slight deviation into Firestorm Armada house rules for Star Trek ships), and will pick up the next video game (likely Wasteland 2) when I get tired of that.

On books

| June 10, 2014

So, it seems that the last book stack post of any substance was way back in 2010. I’m trying to remember all that I’ve read since then.

  • Liz and I both read The Hunger Games.
  • I finally read all of the Harry Potter books. I resolved to do that before the last movie came out and accomplished that.
  • Monster Hunter International, which I blogged about before, and enjoyed very much – so much, in fact, that I was taking notes for ideas for roleplaying game plots and miniature wargaming scenarios.
  • Pebble in the Sky (and I’ve started The Stars, Like Dust, which is the second one in that trilogy (though apparently takes place before..)). As is typical of Asimov, it is very classic, literate, highbrow science fiction, heavily influenced by the idea that everyone is well spoken and and gentlemanly and, if you are not, you are a rogue or ruffian of some stripe.
  • The Falcon Banner and Sigil of the Wolf, and I’m partway though The Lion’s Pride.
  • I’ve read all the Laundry Files books that are out so far. If you like James Bond + hackers + Lovecraftian horror, this is a series for you.
  • The Dystopian Wars Rules. So, I loathe age of sail games, and can generally take or leave later “battleship” games, but this Victorian SF naval (and, technically, land, because there are land ships) game appeals to me. I picked up 4 boxed sets, 2 each Prussian and French, 2 each land and sea, so we could try them all. I’m currently painting the ships. There are also “tiny flyers” – very effective fighters and bombers. The ships get AA to try and shoot them down as they come in, etc.
  • The Savage Worlds Showdown Rules. This is likely going to be my go-to generic miniatures rules set – provided Liz likes it. I need to run a demo and introduce her to the system. It has the potential to let me play with all the different minis I’ve accumulated over the years, even pitting them against each other.
  • The Athena project. This was a decent thriller with the interesting hook that it’s an all-female delta force team. Pretty girls make men do stupid things, etc., then they get shot.
  • Saturn’s Children. This was underwhelming. It claimed to be classic-style SF, but the plot was predictable and not very exciting. It wasn’t horrible, just underwhelming.
  • Kitchen Confidential. I like Bourdain’s snarky sense of humor in general, and this was an interesting look in to how a kitchen works. I’ve always respected cooks. Not just chefs, but the guys working the line. It’s a really tough job, one that I likely could not do. This book gives some insight into that world.
  • Jarhead. A gripping account of the first gulf war. Better than the movie.
  • Ghost in the Wires. If you ever wanted to know all about Kevin Mitnick, this is an interesting read. I knew, at the time, that the charges were trumped up, but I didn’t realize just how trumped up the charges were.

I’ve read parts of the following (mainly because I pick them up and then get distracted by the next shiny thing):

  • Fate Core. This is my go-to “story” system. It’s totally solid and flexible. (Of note: Savage Worlds is my go-to generic “classic” system, and I’ve stolen some bits from Fate as house rules. Both of them are quick to get going, though Fate wins as far as a “pick up” game, especially with Fate Accelerated Edition, a stripped to the bare metal build of Fate. I think I’ll likely have to write up a comparison of these.
  • Deadlands: Hell on Earth: Reloaded. So, back in the day, Hell on Earth was one of my favorite games that I only ran once (I think there’s a story there too..), and this is the reloaded version of that, so it’s totally revised with the updated Savage Wolds rules. Awesomeness.
  • Deadlands Noir. This is new – it’s Deadlands, in the 30’s, classical 30’s places like LA and New Orleans. (For those not in the know, Deadlands is an alternate history where there are more powerful sources of energy than there were a the time, magic has come to the front of the world, and all the badness that one can contemplate can come along with those two things has.)
  • Shadowrun 5th Edition. I love Shadowrun. Rather than the radical rewrite that 4th edition was, this polishes off the edges and makes it much smoother and easier to run. That said, I likely will never play this, and will likely stop buying the books. In reality, Savage Worlds settings which scratch that cyberpunk itch are really where its at, because, on the off chance I actually have time to play, the rules get out of the way of the story, combat flows more quickly, and it’s just all around an easier system to run. On the one hand, it makes me sad, because I have a nostalgia for Shadowrun. But, like your first car as a teenager, if you were to go back and drive that car now, and compare it to a modern car, you realize it’s underpowered, can’t corner for crap, and gets rotten fuel economy (and, if it was anything like mine, all the plastic bits feel off, the trunk leaked, and the headliner had fallen down on your head so it tickled your hair (back when I had hair)).
  • Numenera. This one is interesting. I’m not familiar with the “Science Fantasy” genre, but the basic idea is that it’s a billion years in the future and while there is no magic, but there’s so much fantastic leftover tech that there might as well be – but civilization has regressed back to a roughly medieval standard. Suggested reading were Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun which I picked up from Amazon and to which I plan to give a read.
  • Traveller 5. I actually bought this a long while ago (before Kickstarter really hit) to get access to the beta, and then I got a final PDF copy of the game. Traveller has been such an institution for so long, I figured I’d give it a read. I’m not sure that I would ever play it, for the same reason that Shadowrun doesn’t generally get played, but a lot of the techniques (world building, etc) are generally applicable. Plus, it still pings that nostalgia button of mine.
  • Firestorm Armada. This is a space miniatures game from the same guys who do Dystopian wars. The rules seem solid, I just haven’t painted up ships. My one criticism is that it’s not really generic (the way, say Full Thrust is) so I can’t use my existing ships unless I try to make up points values for them (and, lacking unit creation rules, you can imagine that this is a problem). Of course, one could as “why not just use Full Thrust” and the answer is “because Liz doesn’t like it very much”, though that’s mainly because of the vector movement system, and if I instead used the cinematic movement system (which is similar to the Firestorm Armada movement) that would likely make her happy. Still, even if the game stinks, the ships are awesome, so I could use them with Full Thrust rules..
  • Battletech Alpha Strike. So, I love Battletech, and have a ton of mechs, but, similarly to why Traveller 5 won’t get played, I doubt I’ll play much Battletech anymore – it just drags. This ruleset scales Battletech out so that instead of, say, 4 minis per side, you can run more and still have it be manageable. However, it also means that if you just use 4 minis per side, it will be quick. Of note: a game of this is still set up on the gaming table because Liz and I were going to play it one Thursday before Christmas. However, the boys decided to come that Monday. So, no game.
  • Pulp City. This is a supers game that Liz and I played a demo of at TempleCon. The dice pool mechanic was interesting, and there was a lot of fun and flexibility. I picked up some heroes and villans starter boxed sets and rules, but never got a chance to paint the minis. But, I did read the rules, and they seem decent.. I just need to paint up some minis and make up a cardstock downtown, and I can play!

Boosting the signal

| June 6, 2014

I haven’t read this book, but for less than the price of a cup of Starbucks, it was worth picking up, and the fact that it helps a sick author is worth it.

Make Ken’s Day

On ebooks

| June 3, 2014

So, |Adam Jury posted an insightful look at ebooks from a publisher’s perspective, which just happens to remind me of this old Jeff Atwood post on codinghorror.

Taking out the parts where Adam talks about what “should” happen, as should is relative, let’s simply talk about the market and, more specifically, my participation in the market, as it is the only part about all of this which I have perfect (or, nearly perfect) knowledge.

Let us also remove discussion of roleplaying game books for right now, because I’ll get to those later. For now, I’m just talking of fiction (essentially – “read once”).

So, let’s take a book I bought recently – Monster Hunter International. The paperback price is $7.19. The Kindle version is $6.83. This is a difference of $0.36. Since I have Amazon Prime, the shipping is free (or, more specifically, a sunk cost, but either way is not relevant here). So, the cost is functionally equivalent from where I sit. Hence, I decide solely based on merits of the medium.

Pro for print:

Pro for ebook:

  • Requires book light to read in bed

And that’s really the difference. Note that I didn’t mention weight – my tablet weighs as much as the book, and you can’t assume that I’ll always have my tablet with me. I always have my phone with me, for sure, but not always my tablet.

Now, I won’t understate the convenience of being able to have a self-illuminating read at night, but I can’t say that convenience trumps the ability to loan a good book to my mother, or let Liz read it without losing the use of my tablet, or stick it on my shelf to be pulled down by my children when they wish to read it. Now, Amazon does have a limited ability to do this without infringing on copyright (since they have permission to do so – if I were to loan someone a PDF, that would constitute copyright infringement), but in doing so, you accept their whole DRM scheme which has its own problems.

So, where does that leave us? Well, I bought the paper book, read it, and loaned it to my mother.

What cost reduction would make me willing to compromise and accept the ebook? From the back of the napkin, I’d say, maximally, 50% of the print book cost. Based on what? Well, Neat is $3, and I’d pay that for a non-loanable book. But, it’s also shorter (scaling it to MHI’s page count would make it a whopping $15), and there’s no print version, so it’s not a totally fair comparison, but I haven’t come across an example where the ebook was so much cheaper that it caused me to buy it instead of the print one (except RPGs, which we’ll get in to below).

Also of note – Neat is available from DriveThruFiction for the same price as Amazon, and is DRM free, so I’d buy that one.

So, now, RPGs.

My thoughts on RPG books (and, indeed, game books in general) are actually more thought out, although a bit more emotional. I typically do the following:

  1. I never just buy the print version. I might just buy the PDF.
  2. If it is interesting and I want to read it, I buy the PDF, typically from DriveThruRPG.
  3. If I’m going to definitely run a game with it, I’ll buy a copy of it, so as to have it for a tableside reference that can be passed around.
  4. If it is a heavily used system (Savage Worlds comes to mind), I’ll typically print a copy of the PDF to put in a binder with those quick tabs and notes in the margins – I call this the “GM’s edition” of the book.
  5. If it is some system or setting about which I’m really excited (and is likely to be played), I’ll often do a print + PDF preorder, because it is common for the bundle to be cheaper than the print version would be at release.

As far as pricing does, I typically expect:

  1. The PDF to cost less than half what the print version does.
  2. The print + PDF bundle to cost no more than $5 more than the print version.

I can’t tell you why these are my expectations – I think it’s mostly how the marketplace has evolved – at least where I buy. See?

Evil Hat does it a little differently, in that ALL print sales are a print + PDF bundle. (Buy the book, get the PDF for free, even if you buy the book in a bookshop). Their pricing is:

And, even though you have to go to two places to get it (and it’s not really a bundle), Shadowrun 5th ed tracks with the same trend:

So, whether or not it’s “fair” this pricing of a DRM-free PDF @ 50% off the print price is really common in that market segment… perhaps, at its root, that is the cause of my expectation that fiction books should be the same?

I guess, in the end, I’ve gotten spoiled by the RPG industry giving me the media that I want in exactly the way I want to consume it, and I want mainstream publishing to step to and do the same.

Liz says – well, duh Matty.

| June 2, 2014

So, it occurs to me that I’m sad that I subscribe to a pile of RSS feeds that I never read, because they’re on my laptop – and I used my laptop less and less during times when I read (generally, on the go, on my lunch break, at night before sleep, etc.). Why? Because I have a tablet.


Anyway, I tried:

  • Fleedly, which is apparently all cloudy or some stuff. So, I uninstalled this one.
  • RSS Reader, which I liked reasonably well, except I couldn’t find out how to add a single podcast. I can import my existing OPML list; that worked fine, but couldn’t add just one.
  • RSS Reader (yeah, same name, but a different app) did all these things, but has the annoying property of redrawing the whole screen when the advertisement changes. So, I’m currently looking for a better one. If someone has a suggestion, feel free to leave in the comments. Searching around a bit, several people seem to be fond of FeedEx News Reader, so I think I’m going to play with that next.

Update: FeedEx is way awesomer. It is currently what I’m using. I’ll update this if it annoys me.

Reading rainbow

| June 2, 2014

For those that are interested in such things, there is a Reading Rainbow Kickstarter trying to bring it up to date to the modern age (apps, web content, virtual library, etc.). They already have the basics of this, they just want to expand it to more people.

Catching up….

| June 2, 2014

So, yeah, we had company up for the weekend of May 3rd, and then Liz and I did our Mothers’ day brunch on the weekend of the 10th (and my folks were able to come up for that, and to visit with the boys) and the following weekend (May 17th) we were in Newburyport, MA for a baby shower. (As an aside, if you’re ever looking for a cute New England town to hang out in, the Essex Street Inn is a nice accommodation right in the center of town, and they serve a continental breakfast. Plus, there’s plenty to see, walking around, seeing the shops, walking up the coast, etc. Also of note, Not Your Average Joes has a pretty extensive gluten free menu.

The next weekend back (the 24th) was memorial day, and we had to do a big grocery shopping on Saturday. Sunday, we hung out with Liz’s cousin, as they were having a cookout. Monday, I needed to get out and mow the lawn before it got even longer (I likely should have done it the weekend of Mothers’ day, but.. well, it was Mothers’ day, and we had company). Anyway, it still took me about 8 hours to mow it all, the main reason for that was that I weeded the strawberries so that I could put the grass clippings down as weed control. The strawberries did well over the winter, and did not all get over grown (which is what happened when I tried to plant some strawberries in that spot a couple of years ago).

Of course, by the time we finished with that list of activities, the weather had warmed up sufficiently that we aren’t really concerned with planting things in the garden. Peas go in early, and my father in law was generous enough to help with that, but everything else we need to be careful when we put in, as we often get frost up until the second week of June. So, Liz and her Dad put in the lettuce and corn last week, and Liz worked on weeding and mulching about the front garden, completing about half. This weekend, I got her more mulch and played with the boys in the grass out front as she finished the rest of it. I also got the last of the fields tilled, so now they’re all ready for the seedlings which will be planted in roughly the following order:

  • Pumpkins
  • Squash
  • Cucumbers
  • Hot peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • All the other random herbs. (This order is determined by a combination of how large the seedlings currently are, and how frost resistant that plant is – the Pumpkins, Squash and Cukes are pretty hardy, and are currently huge).

We also need to plant the carrots, as I prepped the bed for them this weekend as well. Since carrots take so long to germinate, we use a raised bed (to keep seed infiltration to a minimum) and I fill it with about 2/3rds compost and top dress that with some sterile growing medium or potting soil. It worked well last year, and by virtue of the compost being freshly turned, it is well aerated and easily pushed out of the way by the carrots.

I also upgraded my laptop to Xubuntu 14.04; as always, my install procedure can be found on my GitHub.

On the video game front, I finished X-Com: Enemy Unknown, and am playing a bit of the highly addictive Civilization V. I wasn’t playing on a super easy difficulty (I think I went with “normal”), and, as a result, my civilization is essentially comprised of a few cities surrounded by large empires.

This version is slightly different – happiness can’t be bought off with structures as easily as with previous versions, and trade is immensely more important. It’s different than I’m used to, but that’s not to say that it’s bad – it just took some time for me to learn the new rules. I suppose if I restarted, I would do better, but I’m getting a little bored with it and want to get back to coming up with Savage Worlds Showdown stats for a pile of the miniatures I own.

So, that gets everyone up to speed with what is going on in my world right now. I very much want to blog about other topics (continuing my gaming stories, talking about eBooks and some other topics), but have not yet had the time. Hopefully, by putting down Civ V, I will.