RPG a Day: Finding Reviews

10. Where do you go for RPG reviews?

I check out a lot of reviews from friends in my social media feed on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter. When I know I have a lot of tastes in common with the reviewer, I check their new write-ups as soon as they are posted. If it sounds like my cup of tea, I put the title on my list of games to try.

If I’m looking for reviews of a specific game, I usually start with the official website of the publisher, then big distributors like DriveThruRPG or even Amazon, then do a general search to see what the word is. If it’s an older title, I also check RPG.net’s Game Index; if it’s a small press/indie/non-traditional sort of game, I’ll search a bit on the Forge and Story Games forum archives.

#RPGaDay2017

 

 

 

 

Play Report and Review: Relicblade

On Thursday my husband Edmund, our friend S., and I got to try Relicblade, a miniatures game from local company Metal King Studio. This is a skirmish-level, 35mm-scale game pretty much conceived and executed by one person, Sean Sutter: he wrote the rules, drew the art, and sculpted the minis!

The Relicblade had been Edmund’s birthday present this spring, but we had not tried it yet because Edmund wanted to paint the minis first. The basic game set comes with two factions, the Heroes and the Pig Men. Edmund had immediately declared them to be social justice warriors and male chauvinist pigs, respectively. The colour scheme of the heroes was selected to reflect his official team name, the Rainbow Warriors.  Continue reading “Play Report and Review: Relicblade”

KublaCon and the Stately Pleasure Dome

We just spent a nice weekend at KublaCon. Yes, I managed to go to a game convention without any medical emergencies! In fact, I felt very good.

Since KublaCon takes place at a nearby hotel we can drive to in about ten minutes, it is affordable for us — we don’t have to rent a hotel room, we get to sleep in our own bed, no worries about feeding the cats… In many ways, that is the best feature of the convention for us.

Pluses about the organization and amenities: the senior staff seems to take problems reported very seriously, including safety and harassment; all volunteers and staff I talked to were cheerful, helpful, and friendly; there is open wifi service everywhere in the hotel; and the atrium area is pleasant to hang out in for open gaming.

Minuses: the hotel and events are not very accessible, I saw several people with canes, wheelchairs or scooters labouring to get around the maze of tables, stairways, and corridors; parking is discounted but still $10 a day, and difficult to get on Saturday and Sunday; and game registration uses the hated shuffler system (a post topic for another day.)

The game listings are not very oriented toward my type of play, but there is enormous choice for people who like the D&D Adventurers’ League, Pathfinder Society, or board games. Still, we managed to have four days of fun and see lots of friends.

The unfortunate registration desk layout

Friday afternoon: The Lost Age

On Friday afternoon, we had hoped to get into a game of Monster of the Week, but it was full. However, in the same room was a game of the soon-to-be-officially-released The Lost Age, and none of the players who had signed up showed up (Friday afternoons can be difficult to schedule for people who have to work or are traveling.) We heard GM and author Keith Leiker pitch his game to wandering players, so decided to jump in and make the game happen. I’m not going to describe it because I wrote a comprehensive review of it yesterday, but I liked it.

[Edit: We also managed to get our Sixth Gun RPG books signed by author Scott A. Woodard!]

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Friday night: Headspace

On Friday we managed to get into a game with GM Kasi Jammeh, who was running a game Powered by the Apocalypse, Headspace. You can think of Headspace as allowing you to play something like Sense8, a group of telepathically linked characters who can share skills.

I was very interested in this game. However, half the group of players were in the mood for wacky hijinks, while Edmund and I, at least, were looking for dark adventure and intense emotional turmoil. Don’t get me wrong, it was a congenial evening, but I didn’t really get the experience I was looking for.

Saturday: Hanging out

Yep, I’m old. Gaming until midnight got me really tired. I woke up at 11am, and only because Edmund brought me coffee. We moseyed on over to the convention and met with friends, hanging out in the atrium. Our friend A. brought her six-year-old daughter H. and I ran a freeform game of runaway fairies and bridge trolls. It was H.’s first RPG and she apparently really liked it.

We went home around dinner time, since we didn’t have any games lined up for the evening.

Sunday: Gateway to Hell!

On Sunday there was more hanging out with friends, then we played a Fudge/Fate hack in a setting inspired by Call of Cthulhu. GM Dennison Milenkaya did an excellent job of leading us through character creation, setting development, then through the investigation of a haunted house in New England.

We had a grand old time and the game only ended because most of us needed to go to bed. (We did get to a satisfying stopping point first.)

Monday: Live the Revolution!

Finally, today — my birthday — we played in GM Brian Williams’ DramaSystem game, where the group created an entire setting and cast from the sole premise that we were associated with a revolution that had just succeeded.

From this we spun a group of mismatched aliens working along a space elevator, and the push and pull of alliances as they struggled to secure their factions’ future.

After the game we left the convention for the last time and went to have some delicious Mediterranean food with friends for a late lunch.

Swag

As a coda, Edmund and I got each other birthday presents. We got some fantastic-looking games from local designers.

I got Edmund Relicblade, a miniatures game from Metal King Studio, along with The Seeker’s Handbook, a scenario book for the game.

He got me the board game Leaving Earth from Lumenaris, along with expansions.

When we finally got home we napped, then we called for pizza and watched a little television. I call it a weekend well spent.

Listen to the Return of Castle Falkenstein!

I’ve been a fan of Castle Falkenstein since 1994 when I grabbed a copy of the newly released role-playing game. I have run it straight at the table and online, I’ve adapted it for alternate systems such as Theatrix, PDQ, and Fate Core (though I’m still unenthusiastic about the spellcasting rules in the latter, need to think more about them). For many old gamers like me, R. Talsorian Games‘ Castle Falkenstein represented a sea change at the time, no longer concentrating on dice rolling and stat values as much as the fiction created around the player characters.

Although the original Castle Falkenstein books are long out of print, they were eventually scanned and released as PDF versions on DriveThruRPG. But until recently, the latest supplement released by RTG had been, if memory serves, The Memoirs of Auberon of Faerie in 1998; and a GURPS Castle Falkenstein supplement, The Ottoman Empire, had been released by Steve Jackson Games under license circa 2000.

This changed last year, when RTG allowed up-and-coming Fat Goblin Games to create and publish additional materials. Since last October, writer J Gray — long-time Falkenstein fan — has authored four supplements: Curious Creatures, a bestiary; The Tarot Variation, an alternate rule system for sorcery that uses a tarot deck instead of a regular playing cards; The Second Tarot Variation, which extends the use of tarot cards to all action; and Firearms and Margarine, an adventure.

J Gray is also a great person — and a great GM. Along with my husband, I’ve had the chance to play in J’s current online game. We’re alpha-playtesting a series of new alternate mechanic options that will allow customization of the Castle Falkenstein system for GMs who like to tinker. J has been recording the the episodes so far and releasing them as a podcast. You can see the campaign site on Obsidian Portal, and listen to the episodes on Fat Goblin GamesPresents. That will give you a preview of some of the rules we’re testing so you can try them too!

Emerging from the fog

One thing I was not really aware of when I was diagnosed with breast cancer a little over thirteen months ago was the phenomenon patients call “chemo brain.” Even if I had been, I probably would not have put it very high on the list to worry about, compared to other symptoms and side effects. But it turned out to be a protracted, annoyingly lingering effect even after the end of chemotherapy.

It was, of course, at its peak during that treatment. The strangest thing was that I completely lost my sense of elapsed time. I am normally pretty good at estimating how much time has passed in a given subjective period, whether it’s on the scale of minutes or months. But during chemotherapy, I completely lost this ability; the feeling of time simply vanished. Everything was compressed into yesterday, today, tomorrow.

Things gradually returned to normal on this front in the months after I was done with chemo, but other symptoms continued: poor concentration, memory lapses, short attention span, inability to accomplish more than one task at a time, and this only by focusing hard. Given that I normally revel in efficiency and method, this was quite frustrating.

For the last six weeks or so, however, my powers of concentration, my mental acuity and energy have improved dramatically. I’m not back to peak performance yet, but it’s a sharp contrast with the mental sluggishness of previous months. Today I had jotted down twenty tasks on my to-do list and I have accomplished sixteen of them! Just a couple of months ago, it was a big deal to get one thing done in a day. This feels so much better, so encouraging!

 

 

Talkin’ ’bout Big Bad Con, yeah…

I spent my discretionary time this weekend working on prep for this year’s edition of Big Bad Con. We had our official launch a few says ago, and we’re very excited!

It will be our second year at the new venue, the Marriott Walnut Creek, and we are planning to make better use of the excellent space. (I was bold and already booked a room.) We received a lot of useful (and mostly heart-warming) feedback on last year’s event, which prompted some changes. Notable items include:

  • A new board game track with a game library
  • An expanded program of panels and workshops
  • More games for teens
  • Better access to parking and food at the hotel
  • Quieter space for Games On Demand
  • An all-digital system for on-site game signups

And probably more stuff I’m forgetting. The con have fantastic staff handling all these projects.

Immediately after Thursday’s announcement, we received many game submissions. I spent much time this weekend approving games and communicating with game-masters. And thinking about what games I want to run…

We also received submissions for panels, seminars, and workshops but we’re holding those in draft form until we have our official guest list finalized. This must wait until after the Kickstarter campaign that will run through May. Still, if you have ideas of panel topics you would like to see on the program, send them in!

 

The Lung Con

Oh great, another illness post…

Although we had planned to spend Presidents Day weekend at DunDraCon, I was concerned about a cold that was leaving me severely short of breath and occasionally dizzy last week. I saw my general practitioner because I had been told to watch out for symptoms like shortness of breath. She gave me antibiotics to avoid the cold turning into bronchopneumonia. But although the cough rapidly got better, the breathing and dizziness didn’t — I was panting from merely getting up and walking to another room. So on Friday morning when my doctor called to check back, she said I should go directly to the Emergency Room.

A proof-of-life photo for my friends.
A proof-of-life photo for my The friends.

A few hours later I had had an electrocardiogram, a CAT scan, an echocardiogram, ultrasound of the legs, and multiple examinations, as well as being hooked up with an intravenous heparin drip for blood thinning, electrodes to monitor my heart, a pulse oxymeter, three catheters in my arms, a sphygnomanometer cuff for frequent blood pressure monitoring, and a nasal cannula for oxygen.

Doctors said the CAT scan showed “multiple, extensive” pulmonary embolisms, and the echocardiogram indicated that my heart was enlarged on the right side from overwork to pump blood through the obstructed alveoli. On the plus side, my physical strength, blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate, and even oxygenation were generally good, no clots were found in my legs, and I had no chest pains at any point.

pulmonary_embolismI was at one of these tipping points when the benefits and risks of two different treatments seem to exactly even out.

  • In a moderate case, the treatment would consist of administering heparin to prevent further clots, then allow the clots to dissolve gradually, transitioning me to another blood thinner like warfarin for long-term maintenance. The risks in this are primarily associated with clots starting to move before they’re small enough and causing cardiac problems.
  • In a severe case (i.e., when things are dire and you can’t really f– them up much more), the treatment would be the administration of a tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), often referred to as a clot-buster. The risk then is to cause catastrophic internal bleeding, particularly in the brain — such as a stroke.

In the end the primary doctor, a pulmonologist, was very cautious. She sent me to the Intensive Care Unit instead of a regular room because clot-buster treatment can only be administered in the ICU due to the risks. I was monitored at all times with a heparin drip, but the tBA treatment was not immediately administered. It was crazy busy in the ICU with some acute cases (fortunately, I was in the quieter wing) so it was only in the evening that the doctor was able to come back and talk to me. Since my vital signs were strong and I had even eaten dinner (I was SO hungry by then, having left home without even breakfast), she decided to keep me on heparin but supervised in the ICU for the moment.

In ICU with my pussy hat for warmth.
In ICU with my pussy hat for warmth.

Thus ended Friday night, with me sleeping in the ICU, nurses watching me and blood samples being drawn every few hours. Despite the severity of the case, I was by far the “healthiest” looking patient in ICU. Two things that made the nurses chuckle: I asked for a sleeping mask, and I was the only one well enough to eat an actual breakfast on Saturday morning. By Saturday afternoon I was allowed to get up, take a few steps around the room, sit up in a chair for a couple of hours. I spoke to the doctor a few times throughout the day. In the evening I was well enough that she transferred me to the Transitional Care Unit (TCU); she just wasn’t willing to risk a stroke if she gave me the tBA.

So I got to TCU in time for the night shift. Because the ratio of nurse to patients is much lower there, the doctor told me with some insistence that I was not to wait at all if I needed even the slightest help, but immediately use the call button to summon a nurse. So I did. In fact, I try to be the most obedient and courteous patient around, but when I need help, I ask firmly. I had to, because there were a lot of distractions during my stay in TCU!

When I was wheeled there, the room across the corridor from mine was already the site of a commotion. The patient there was a woman who appeared to be suffering from dementia, along with whatever other problems were being treated. She was having hallucinations at times, she would not comply with the personnel’s instructions, she would not let them take her stool-stained garments, she yelled, etc. Several nurses and aides were tied up with her case at all times. Their patience and gentleness was truly amazing, but they were clearly very tired.

In addition to the noisy neighbour, other rooms had multiple visitors, and I could hear everyone’s televisions. Possibly because of the number of elderly patients, the wing was kept much warmer than the ICU so I was sweating like a pig. Nevertheless, I was grateful that the nurses told me they would trust me to call for any help I needed and allowed me to keep the door to my room closed for the night. And yes, I could hear the agitated patient and her cohort of personnel throughout the entire night. I was grateful I had my iPhone and earbuds to have some soothing sounds covering most of this. After my 3AM blood draw, instead of going back to sleep immediately, I spent a couple of hours making a music mix on Spotify!

No cannula anymore!
No cannula anymore!

I finally slept again for a few hours, until I was awakened on Sunday morning for more monitoring, sampling, and the sounds of Jesus TV coming from neighbours’ rooms (soon to be replaced by super-violent-movie sounds!) But happily, once the lab results came back I was switched from the heparin drip to Lovenox injections every 12 hours and warfarin tablets in the evenings, much less cumbersome. I was also allowed to do without the oxygen cannula for most of the day, so I had fewer pieces of equipment interfering with comfort.

Edmund was actually with me for much of the time, unexciting as it is to sit in a hospital chair. Since we live only a few minutes away, he was able to come and go for meals, errands, and checking on the cats. He brought me dark chocolate-covered pretzels and raisins, fresh blueberries, and flowers. Throughout the weekend he kept up this shtick with live reports from the “game convention” which made me laugh.

Since I could hear everyone’s televisions, I played music and sang along when I was alone — as confirmed by the pulse oxymeter readings, this actually helped me get nice, long, regular breaths. The nurses chuckled again and encouraged me to continue (I told you they’re dedicated!)

On Sunday afternoon I was allowed to take a couple of closely supervised walks up and down the corridor; it was nice to stretch my legs. I spent a second night in TCU, a little quieter noise-wise though the agitated patient started again on Monday morning.

But after breakfast and a couple more walks, the doctor came to talk to me. Because I had someone at home with me and because I showed good comprehension of, and compliance with, medical instructions, she said she would let me go home but sternly admonished me to treat this as if I was still in the hospital: bed rest or sitting quiet, no activity until my blood prothrombin time (coagulation rate) is in the right range and the clots are dissolved. And by early afternoon on Monday, I was home. Hurray!

Valentine and me, minutes after I got home.
Valentine and me, minutes after I got home.

It was so nice to be home, without wires and catheters, and buried instead under a pile of purring cats! Valentine, in particular, has been keeping a close eye on me. It’s been a luxury to sleep in my own bed and be able to take a shower at last!

I’m in contact with the anti-coagulation clinic pharmacist for dosage adjustments. I must report any unusual symptoms, of course, and come in to the lab for blood sampling every couple of days. The best guess right now is that the tamoxifen I started taking in late January to prevent cancer recurrence is what precipitated the problem (pun intended). I have follow-up appointments scheduled with my general practitioner and my oncologist.

I want to say thank you to all my friends for their encouragements and kindness. I know some of you wanted to come visit me in the hospital, but I just wanted to rest most of the time. The care I received was stellar, but I still wouldn’t call it a fun place to hang out at! And thank you to all the ER, ICU, and TCU nurses and doctors, who were so kind, respectful, and competent (and in some cases, funny!)

Waiting in line at the pharmacy

Today I had a follow-up appointment with the surgeon to check on progress as I heal. Edmund kindly accompanied me, though it’s tedious for him. It was slow-going because the entire computer system was affected with unusual lag, and every appointment was running late.

The doctor blessed my progress, warning me that healing would continue to be slower than normal as long as I was on some of my post-cancer medications. She also gave me a prescription that had to be compounded at the hospital pharmacy, and the necessary paperwork to extend my disability leave.

I decided to take care of the paperwork first, hoping this would give plenty of time for the pharmacists to prepare my prescription. When we got to the Release of Medical Information Counter, there were a LOT of people waiting; the number being served was 11, and I was assigned No. 25. We sat down to wait but a quarter of an hour, we were still on No. 11. Edmund suggested that he stay to provide my paperwork, and I go check in at the pharmacy to make sure the order was in.

So I got to the pharmacy, checked in, and was told it would take about 45 minutes. Edmund and I started a turtle race for who would get done first, and I decided to keep him entertained with tales of my adventures.

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If you’re wondering, it took me a total of just over 90 minutes from the moment I checked in at the pharmacy to walk out of there. Edmund finished first with 15 minutes to spare, but since he’d already waited waited at least that long before I got the the pharmacy, it’s probably a draw. That said, the personnel was very nice and diligent, they checked on me a few times, it’s not their fault the place was packed and the computers were sluggish. Yes, we could have decided to come back later, but I didn’t want to restart the clock…

Citizen Pain is in da house

A production 24 years in the making… Citizen Pain! Yes, that’s how long I lived in the U.S. under work visas, then under spouse visas as a resident immigrant. Becoming American has never been something that appealed to me on an emotional level (I’m Canadian, I don’t have to fake it!)

But in recent years I have come to realize just how many rights which I thought applied to residents do in fact apply only to citizens: the right to legal representation, for example. And immigrants can get in trouble for a lot of legal activities, such as supporting civil rights groups, marching and protesting, or using certain privacy software like Tor or Signal. As my attorney and friend said, you can be right about the issue but you’ll still get in a mountain of trouble.

So this year I decided to bite the bullet, particularly since I was hoping to vote after over two decades of paying taxes. Unfortunately, a lot of immigrants had the same idea and my application, though sent in April, was not processed in time. But in the weeks since the horrible November 8 election, the Obama administration worked hard to child-proof the country, including processing as much of the immigration backlog as possible. It was my privilege to be sworn in today as a citizen, on the last tenure day of the president I admired so much.

The oath ceremony took place at the historic Paramount Theatre in Oakland, California, and 1,240 new citizens from 91 countries were sworn in. (I understand that throughout the country, this week was a marathon of such events, thematically linked to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.) We were also able to apply for a U.S. passport and voter registration, so I took care of these items.

To be honest, the ceremony was a little odd, because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services personnel are trying to be nice, joyful, congratulatory — and until this moment, none of us applicants have seen them be anything but suspicious, stern, and disengaged. As my friend Sean Nittner put it, it’s like having the Department of Motor Vehicles throw you a party! Also, when they were listing the 91 countries of origin, they forgot Canada. Dudes!

After the ceremony and various paperwork, we moved next door to Tiera Mia Coffee for our first caffeine of the day. We took a table in a corner and were having a nice conversation between my husband Edmund, my friends Sean and Dorene, and me, waiting for another friend, Marc, to join us. But then a weird incident happened.

First, this tall guy approached our table and just loomed over us, staring at Sean who asked if everything was okay. The guy said yes, still glaring; Sean gave a few polite words (something like “Good, I’m glad. You have a good day, now.”) It was said in his typical courteous way, didn’t sound snarky in the least. The guy went back to his table and we forgot about the incident.

Then maybe 30 minutes later, he got up, marched to our table and shoved his sandwich (and knuckles) in Sean’s face, then flipped our table in Sean’s lap! Cups and plates went flying, we were splashed and so were our table neighbours, and we all jumped to our feet yelling “What the hell! Why did you do that?” Without answering, the guy spat in Sean’s face, twice! Then he grabbed his skateboard and stomped off, never explaining himself.

The cafe manager called the police and a couple of officers showed up a few minutes later, took down the stories, and viewed the cafe’s surveillance camera footage. The best we can guess is that it was a case of mistaken identity; the guy did not give the vibe of someone looking to pick a fight with anyone, just with Sean.

After some cleaning up and new drinks, and telling the whole story to our friend Marc, we moved a couple of blocks up the street to Agave Uptown, an Oaxacan restaurant where I had made a lunch reservation. Happily, we encountered no further weirdness, and all felt like we had had enough for a while.

As a newly minted registered voter, I plan to keep the phone red-hot with calls to political representatives. Until now my opinion has never mattered; if you’re not a registered voter, your signatures and calls don’t count. But I do plan on being counted now. And I know calls are much more effective than form letters and Internet petitions. So I will use my new citizenship, oh yes I will.

My 2016 in gaming

Time for data analysis, because I’m a nerd!

Unsurprisingly, my gaming in 2016 was affected by my health issues. I had medical appointments, minimal energy, and because of a suppressed auto-immune system, I avoided large gatherings like conventions and in-store game days. The only convention I attended was my beloved Big Bad Con in October, and I still had to have regular naps in my hotel room! The games I did play, I tended to play repeatedly at home, online, or with a small group of close friends. The length and complexity of games I could play was often reduced — even the size, since we played games with a small footprint on a surgical tray in the infusion room during chemotherapy!

By December 31, I still ended up with 47 different games in my list, down from 62 in 2015.  Let’s start with some summary numbers:

2016_in_gamingMy game types were divided between about 55% tactical and strategic play (2 miniatures games, 13 board games, 11 card games for a total of 26 different titles) and 45% narrative play (19 role-playing games, 2 storytelling games, and no live-action role-playing game this year, for a total of 21 titles). This does not reflect the respective amount of time or number of instances I played each; I have not been tracking this level of detail.

  • Games I labelled “storytelling” rather than “role-playing” included Fiasco and Downfall.
  • The distinctions between board games and miniatures games or board games and card games can be blurry, such as in games like Yggdrasil or  The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game.

Some 28 of these 47 different games (60%) were new to me: I had never played them before 2016. And of these new games, 5 were playtests (18% of the new games or 11% of the year’s total.)

To my chagrin, only 6 (13%) included at least one woman among the designers (Megan Bennett-Burks, Emily Care Boss, Peggy Chassenet, Caroline Hobbs, Anna Kreider, and Emma Larkins.) I’m unable to track persons of colour among designers, though I believe there are a few (e.g., Christopher Badell, I think?) I want to do better in supporting diversity.

I also rated each game subjectively, from 1 to 5 stars:

  • Among the 19 games I had played before, the average rating was 4.0 — no surprise there — with my favourites being Night Witches and Sentinels of the Multiverse, each scoring 5 stars.
  • Among the 28 new games, the average was of course a little lower, 3.4; my favourite new games were Masks and Venture City, each rating 4.5 stars, and my least favourite were Exploding Kittens and Haiku Warrior, each earning only 1 star.

I played with a total of 46 different people, 21 of which were new to me (46%.)

Here is what my list of games looked like (after the cut): Continue reading “My 2016 in gaming”