New Year, New Tricks

So, that was 2013.

For Worlds in a Handful of Dice, it was not a particularly remarkable year. I managed to pen a total of mere 15 posts, mostly convention reports. The year’s main event seems to have been in February, when I reported about Laborinthus, my peculiar find in a Zurich game shop. Reddit found it and showed up in great force.

The conventions were largely the reason it was so quiet over here. Between Ropecon, Tracon, and a third non-gaming event, I had way too much on my plate and came close to a burnout in the spring. I managed to muddle through Ropecon, had fortunately very few responsibilities for Tracon, and then had another annoying load of metaphorical bricks come down on me in the autumn, leading to me blowing a number of deadlines and generally not getting a whole lot done.

The year’s gaming was mostly Pathfinder Society, which has now reached sufficient autonomy that it barely needs my intervention to continue and grow. I also ran a game of Stalker late in the year, which I thought went rather well and drew my attention to an interesting fact about the system: it is possible for the GM to keep it entirely hidden from the players if they so wish. There was additionally a session of Paranoia XP, my first since the 90’s, which I shall not talk about any further. I played some Lamentations of the Flame Princess, too, and did some Myrrysmiehet playtesting. Alongside the Pathfinder Society campaign, a friend of mine started running Curse of the Crimson Throne, which is about one session away from wrapping up the first book.

I also larped for the first time in April. I am happy with both the experience and the blog post, partly because of the excellent photography of Tuomas Puikkonen.

The gaming world at large, then?

Well, Myrrysmiehet came out with the GM book for our game Vihan lapset. My contribution was primarily editorial, and I am very happy with the game. We also released Lännen maat, a role-playing game about the Egyptian afterlife, written by Risto J. Hieta, the Father of Finnish Role-Playing. The Glorantha Association of Finland released their translation of HeroQuest, which is also a very solid piece of work. There’s also Melidian, the spiritual successor of the elfgames Rapier and Elhendi. This is the only time you will ever see me use the term “elfgame”, by the way. I make an exception for games where you explicitly play only elven player characters. Tracon also saw the release of Lohikäärmeliitto, an OSR-like curio, and late in the year, Burger Games produced the free PDF of Crimson Rovers (scroll down a bit), a game about exploring and colonizing Mars. It’s in English, by the way. There was also the usual pile of Lamentations of the Flame Princess products, such as Vincent Baker’s The Seclusium of Orphone and his charmingly titled Ropecon scenario Fuck for Satan.

Paizo ran the open playtest for the Advanced Class Guide. While I am not strictly certain of the necessity of adding yet another pile of base classes to the already teetering tower, the hybrid class system seems to be a good way to do it. It limits multiclass dipping, and some of the ideas seem fairly clever. I am not fond of the hunter being married to their pet, though.

This year, I shall endeavour to have a higher rate of actual content-to-hamsters. Thanks to being involved with the Helsinki in 2017 Worldcon bid, I will also be digressing to that side of the fandom more frequently. These Hugo Awards are utterly fascinating…

Conan the Barbarian

It’s now May 14th, the 30th anniversary of the American release of Conan the Barbarian.

It’s not, unfortunately, the 30th anniversary of the world-premier. That was back in March. However, it’s the one I choose to observe because it coincides with my birthday. Fortunately, I’m a few years younger than the film.

I picked the day to rewatch the film. My friends can tell that this doesn’t exactly require a lot. It’s one of my favourites and moreover, one of the few films that I can watch over and over again without ever growing bored. Somehow, there’s very little in the film that does not work. The direction is good, Schwarzenegger has the physical presence and sense of timing to pull it off, the art design is sublime, and the Basil Poledouris soundtrack knits it all together into something that is more than the sum of its parts. Every fantasy movie between Conan the Barbarian and Fellowship of the Ring – and quite a few afterwards – owe it a great debt, and there’s nary a sentence in its dialogue that is not quotable.

It’s a classic for the ages.

Fittingly, this is also the 200th post of my blog.

ENnie Nominations for 2010

The ENnie nominations were actually announced last Friday, so I am ridiculously late with this, but the voting isn’t starting until the day after tomorrow, so I figure it’s not that bad.

Overall, it’s been a strong year for quality gaming material, and this is reflected in the nominations (translation: I bought a lot of this stuff). Here are some of thoughts on the categories where I could give reasonable commentary.

Best Cover Art

The category where judging a book by its cover is expected, and one where pretty much every nominee, the honourable mention, and probably great many books outside the shortlist would deserve to win. Personally, I am partial to the art in Eclipse Phase, though I think the interior illustrations are a fair bit more impressive. I’d give the gold to that and the silver probably to Paizo’s Pathfinder Bestiary, with its Wayne Reynolds piece.

Best Interior Art

I’m kinda surprised Eclipse Phase isn’t represented here, since this is a real strength for the book. I’m guessing this one is another category where you have more deserving winners than you have room on the shortlist, though. While it isn’t as easy to keep up the quality throughout an entire book (WotC’s 3.0 Deities and Demigods springs to mind – some absolutely stunning pieces of art side by side with positively hideous scrawlings), it’s still quite doable when the art director knows what he’s doing. I’ve got both Rogue Trader and Pathfinder RPG, and can verify that they are the prettiest ever, and will be probably voting for them. Then there’s this one that I’ve never even heard of, Willow Palecek’s Escape from Tentacle City. I know nothing about it except that it has won an award called Game Chef Golden Katana that Shoots Smaller Katanas Award for Game That Looks Like it Was the Most Fun to Write. This is awesome.

Best Cartography

Not much I can say about these, since I never even got the obligatory Paizo product, Pathfinder City Map Folio. I suppose it’s possible even WotC has a good claim on this award, since their maps at least have always looked good. I must say I’m a bit surprised to see Death Frost Doom here. I would’ve expected to see it vying for the title of Best Adventure.

Best Writing

Finally, we get to the meaty part of the awards. I’m only familiar with Eclipse Phase (that one seems to be popping up a lot, doesn’t it?) and The Kerberos Club, and both are books with such engaging prose that I read most of them off my computer screen. Aloud, as I recall, in the case of Kerberos Club. Also up for nomination is an interesting game called Colonial Gothic that I know very little about except that a sourcebook for it was part of the Haiti Relief bundle on DriveThruRPG some months ago. Notable about it is that it’s coauthored by James Maliszewski of Grognardia.

Best Production Values

The “oooh, pretty book” category. I’d give the gold to Rogue Trader, because the binding on these books is something magical. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but a year or two ago, I dropped my Dark Heresy rulebook so that the entire binding was torn away from the spine and was only attached to the covers by the cover papers. Well, I pushed it back into place and tried to find a way to repair this, but then I found I could no longer separate the parts. It’s as if the book had regenerated. I can grab the book by the spine and shake it vigorously, and the pages stay in place.

Best Rules

A category where I have no first-hand experience with any of the works. However, Wild Talents 2nd Edition is based on Wild Talents 1st Edition, which is based on Godlike, and is therefore awesome. Likewise, Diaspora uses the FATE system, which is also used by Dresden Files, which is also awesome. I also like some of the things I’ve been hearing about Diaspora’s take on the ruleset.

Best Adventure

Also known as “the Award That Paizo Publishing Will Probably Get Anyway”. While I’ll be voting The Grinding Gear (the first ENnie nominee ever that was produced in Finland, by the way) for gold, I don’t expect it to have enough popular support for even the silver. Don’t get me wrong, I think Stolen Land is also an excellent module, and what Paizo is trying with the Kingmaker Adventure Path is commendable. I am not intimately familiar with the other works in this category, though a Trail of Cthulhu adventure that has the name “Kenneth Hite” or “Robin D. Laws” somewhere on the cover is pretty much guaranteed to rock, and here we have two.

Best Monster or Adversary

Of this bunch, I’ve only read Pathfinder Bestiary and Classic Horrors Revisited. Both are excellent books for what they do. I especially dig what the latter book did with ghouls. There’s a bit of John Romero, a bit of Wolfgang Baur, a bit of H.P. Lovecraft… a lovely book, overall. The Bestiary is more of a utilitarian work, made to be used at the table, which is a task it performs quite well. While it is pretty much a retread of the old Monster Manual, it lacks some of the more annoying monsters like the allip and the tendriculos, and there’s something to be said for the improvements on the ruleset as well.

Best Setting

In this category, I’m only familiar with The Kerberos Club, which, as I mentioned earlier, is made of win and awesome. It’s a Victorian take on superheroes, in the vein of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Somewhat amusingly, one of the NPCs in The Kerberos Club is Christina Rossetti, who is the real-world author of the poem “Goblin Market”, from which another nominee, Goblin Markets for Changeling: The Lost takes its name and, I assume, significant inspiration.

Well, I think it’s amusing. Good poem, too. (And there’s also an adventure inspired by it in The Great Pendragon Campaign.)

Best Supplement

I am not familiar with any of the products here, though I suppose the Rebellion Era Sourcebook for Star Wars Saga is probably pretty good. Also, this Lucha Libre Hero thing looks so insane that it has to be awesome. I am also just going to assume that Ascension for Dark Heresy came out too late to be nominated, because otherwise its absence is quite strange.

Best Aid or Accessory

Well, here we have the Pathfinder Game Master’s Screen, which is again one of those new, shiny and heavy affairs the thickness of rulebook covers. It deflects thrown dice, can be used to slap around unruly players, and also looks pretty good and has really handy tables on the GM’s side. The only complaint I have about it is that it didn’t come with a booklet of something, which seems to be the norm with GM screens. The Dark Heresy screen came with an adventure module, for instance, while WotC’s old DM screen for Forgotten Realms had random encounter charts for pretty much the whole Realms, and the Eberron screen had a big poster map of Khorvaire.

Best Miniature

This is an odd one. It seems that WotC and Alkemy Minis have entire product lines up for nomination, while the others have single products. Very strange. Even stranger is that WotC is here at all since at the present their miniature work can be outdone by a six-year-old with some play-doh and finger paints. The quality peaked around Blood War and Night Below and for some reason plummeted at Desert of Desolation and the subsequent releases. The Alkemy miniatures look very good, but I am irritated by the lack of information on their website. When I buy miniatures, I buy them for roleplaying games. This means they must be compatible with the rest of my collection, i.e. they have to be the same scale as what Games Workshop is releasing, and I can’t find any mention of scale on the Alkemy website. They look like they’d be around 35mm, though.

Best Electronic Book

Yet another category where I haven’t read any of the products, though amusingly some of our local Pathfinder Society players did play The Devil We Know Part I: Shipyard Rats and declared it mediocre.

Best Free Product

Ooh, free swag! I think the best one here is Wayfinder #1, for the sheer size of the thing. The one I have substantial practical experience with is the Advanced Player’s Guide Playtest Document, with the playtest versions of new base classes from the upcoming book. I’m playing a summoner, another guy I know is playing an alchemist and there’s a cavalier in my Rise of the Runelords campaign and thus far nothing has been broken.

Best Website

Interesting things here. The best is probably the Pathfinder Reference Document, but the ones that really catch my eye are Epic Words and Obsidian Portal, which are different takes on the concept of a campaign management website, much like the Finnish Mekanismi wiki that I’ve been using. I figure that if I ever need to do a campaign website in English, I might look at one of these, though they do seem terribly involved compared to the simplicity of Mekanismi.

Best Blog

Well, I like GnomeStew, and there’s something strangely compelling about One Geek to Another, even though I do not quite get the whole concept and feel it may be a subtle satire. The strength of Kobold Quarterly I feel lies in the magazine, not the blog, and the rest of the nominees seem to post little that I find interesting.

Best Game

Pathfinder RPG, obviously. Wild Talents also rocks on toast, as does the new Shadowrun. While I can understand that the clunkiness of Eclipse Phase’s system may keep it out of this category, the absence of Rogue Trader is noticeable. I am a great fan of its party generation rules, among other things.

Product of the Year

And here we get to the Big Kahuna. The list of nominees is certainly impressive, with heavyweights like Pathfinder and Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play, and innovative little works of art such as The Kerberos Club and Eclipse Phase. I figure this one goes to Pathfinder, though, and will be voting it for gold. I can’t really comment on the new WFRP, since I still haven’t had an opportunity to try it out. There’s something about the game that makes me deeply suspicious, though I am trying to keep an open mind. The new version of Shadowrun is also of interest, though I already have the third and fourth editions and I’m not sure if getting a third rulebook for a game I’ve yet to play is a good idea.

The Dawn of a New Year

In what is apparently forming into a tradition, I hereby post about the last year several days into the new one, after every other blogger has already done their recaps. Like last year, I also blame World of Warcraft, and also Steam for selling me Mass Effect for a little under four euros and a pack of LucasArts adventure games from the early 90’s for a bit under two.

My tauren druid is now level 80, finally. He’s totally awesome.

This is how you know it’s a gamer blog. The normal people would blame the delay on the hangover after New Year’s. Had that one, too, though. Several, actually.

Aaanyway, let’s take a look at what I wrote a year back about 2009.

Well, to start with, The Dresden Files RPG did not materialise. However, it’s not vapourware yet and Evil Hat is aiming for release at Origins 2010. I feel they’re being realistic and refreshingly honest about their chances of hitting a definite release date. Still looking forward to this one. I’m a huge fan of the novels – not so much the TV series – and I feel they will translate rather well into a roleplaying game. Indeed, they were strongly inspired by RPGs in the first place.

Adamant Entertainment’s and Cubicle 7’s Tales of New Crobuzon has also failed to appear. I do not know the status on this, though Adamant is still apparently up and running. Their site is going through a redesign and is inaccessible at the time of writing. Cubicle’s site contains no mention of the game, though they do seem to have announced the playtest of an unnamed licenced fantasy RPG back in September. I think we can definitely say that Tales of New Crobuzon may or may not be coming out at some point in the future. Then, in this industry, release dates often do have that Xeno’s Paradox effect going on. We’re still waiting for Sinister Adventures’ Razor Coast, too.

However, there’s one product that I can pretty confidently say is dead, and that’s Kahriptic Knights’ Deliverance. Their website hadn’t been updated for six months by the time I last posted about it, so it doesn’t come as a great surprise that they still haven’t updated it after that. Well, it wasn’t a game I was overly interested in, anyway.

But then there was the stuff that did come out, and boy, is it pretty. As predicted, we got Rogue Trader, from Fantasy Flight Games. I haven’t yet digested my copy wholly, but will probably be posting about it if I ever get around to reading the thing entirely. We also got another big, fat science fiction RPG, Catalyst’s Eclipse Phase. I’ve read the setting stuff in the book and it is awesome, easily worth the price of the PDF by itself, but have yet to start on the rather impenetrable thicket of the ruleset.

I’m pretty bad at reading rules, to be honest.

Eclipse Phase is also notable for being licenced under a Creative Commons licence, making the PDF freely distributable. It’s a bold thing they’re trying and I wish them luck with it. I bought both the PDF and the hardcopy.

There’s also that Starblazer Adventures thing, but I already bought two 400-page science fiction RPGs last month.

In addition to Rogue Trader, FFG released the third edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play. It seems to be dividing opinion, and looking at the components, it is certainly unlike any RPG I’ve seen before in its presentation. The price tag is too much for me, though.

And then we got Pathfinder RPG, which was pretty much everything I hoped it would be. I currently have two active campaigns, though both have been on a holiday break due to the players in Rise of the Runelords scattering to the four winds for December and the DM in Legacy of Fire being a lazy bum and not getting anything done about playing the game during the Christmas break. The bastard.

Pathfinder Society in Finland seems to have sorta dried up and whithered away, likely because it never attracted sufficient DMs to keep the game running on its own momentum. Also, were I to compile a Top Ten list of the weakest products released by Paizo, it’d include every dungeon crawl they’d released for PFS up to Drow of the Darklands Pyramid, which is the last module I am familiar with. I stopped keeping up after that. It seems the last PFS game in Finland was played back in October.

That said, there are some outstanding modules in there. I’d name Frozen Fingers of Midnight, Perils of the Pirate Pact, Tide of Morning and The Decline of Glory as the best of the bunch.

The most awesome thing last year, though, was the RPG course I took at the university. For those of you who missed it, here’s a link to the records.

This year, Ropecon is on the 23rd-25th of July, at Dipoli, in Espoo. It’s gonna be awesome. Tracon will be a two-day event in the summer, from 3rd to 4th of July, this time in Tampere-talo, where Finncon was back in 2008. It will also be awesome. Then there’s the con in Turku, Conklaavi, from April 10th to 11th.

I don’t see anything of magnificent, mind-blowing awesomeness in the future, but Paizo is coming out with the GameMastery Guide in May and the  Advanced Player’s Guide in August. The APG is in open playtest and the six new character classes can be downloaded from the Paizo website. I’ve been busy so I’ve yet to take an in-depth look at them, but hope to do so at some point, preferably before the end of the month when they stop taking playtest feedback.

I also remember hearing that indeed, Fantasy Flight Games will follow the original game plan laid out by Black Industries about releasing three Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying games. Two down, one to go, and that last one will be Deathwatch, about the finest of Mankind, the Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines. I can’t find a source for that, though, and don’t know if it’s slated for 2010 or 2011 release.

So, that’s what 2009 looked like and what can dimly be discerned in the mists of the future. Let’s see how it all works out in practice.

Pathfinder Bonus Bestiary

The Free RPG Day was last Saturday. I live in Finland, so I didn’t get any loot. This is not, technically, because the local stores didn’t take part in the event, though they did not. It’s mostly because the Free RPG Day fell on the Midsummer’s Day, a date when the sovereign state of Finland is closed and everyone buggers off to the deep woods to enact strange pagan rituals with bonfires and intoxicants, culminating in ritual human sacrifice to the lake spirits.

So, in short, no loot for me.

However, there was really only one free product I was really interested in anyway, and Paizo Publishing was considerate enough to make it available as a free PDF a couple of days after the event. It is the Pathfinder RPG Bonus Bestiary, a short booklet containing sixteen monster entries that didn’t make it into the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary coming out in a couple of months.

For some reason, there hasn’t been much noise made about this. While it is true that the offerings are an inherently second-string bunch of beasties, Paizo has time and again showed that they have the ability to breathe new life into the bestiary of D&D (cf. Classic Monsters Revisited, Dragons Revisited, Dungeon Denizens Revisited), and though the page count per monster is rather smaller this time, they’ve done good things.

First up is the allip, a real fuck-you monster back in 3.5. A CR 3 incorporeal monster that inflicts Wisdom drain on a touch attack, no save? A DM had to be a sadist to pit this baby against a level-appropriate group – in fact, back in the Living Greyhawk days, the title of Real Man was bestowed upon those characters who’d started out in ESA3-08 Prisoners of the Calling Mines, a first-level module that started the characters unarmed and unequipped as prisoners in a deep mine,  and featured an allip end boss. That module claimed a great many characters.

Now, the allip is a much more bearable opponent, inflicting only Wisdom damage with its touch of insanity. A critical hit no longer doubles it, either, but does one additional point of Wisdom drain. Still dangerous and nobody you want to mess with, but no longer a floating, babbling TPK waiting to happen (okay, technically, an allip cannot actually kill anyone – a character with his Wisdom reduced to 0 is only comatose, not dead, but a comatose character in a dungeon isn’t going to end well).

For those not up on their D&D crunch, the difference between ability damage and ability drain is that ability damage heals normally at one point per day. Ability drain does not, and requires a restoration spell to be healed. Restoration would be available to the party cleric around level seven.

There’s another reason, too, to be happy that the allip is in the Bonus Bestiary – it’s not gonna be in the actual Bestiary, and that one page can be used for something else.

Then we get the giant ant lion, with its evolved form, the giant lacewing. The monster entry also includes stats for the ant lion’s sand trap, which is nice. I suppose it’s also to illustrate Pathfinder RPG’s way of presenting traps. It’s followed by the ascomoid, which is a bigass puffball fungus that will run you down and infect you with spores. It perhaps ought to be noted that the copyright notice in Bonus Bestiary’s Open Gaming Licence mentions Tome of Horrors Revised, a 3E book from Necromancer Games that brought many classic monsters from the olden days that WotC’s guys either didn’t want or hadn’t got around to including in the game yet. The ascomoid is one of the creatures where one is forced to concede that they may have had a point there.

Neither Tome of Horrors or WotC’s 3E offerings ever included the giant space hamster, though, which sorely disappointed me. Unforgivable.

But I digress. Ascomoid is followed by the caryatid column. It used to be a stone golem variant, which it still essentially is. The caryatid column is a support structure in the shape of a sword-wielding woman with an entablature on her head. It’s got a nasty habit of sundering weapons, too, which is rather more bearable in Pathfinder RPG, where a sundered weapon isn’t irrevocably destroyed. Also, the caryatid column is one of the few instances where having a load-bearing villain is justifiable.

After that, there’s the old favourite, faerie dragon. They’re cute and whimsical pranksters, and with the price of just one Improved Familiar feat, they can be yours. It’s followed by the dragonne, a sort of a lion-dragon hybrid with no breath weapon, which can become your mount if you take Leadership, or an animal companion. The monster entry includes animal companion progression for the monster as well.

Then there’s the annis hag, which I’d rather have in the Bestiary, to be honest. The greenhag, the sea hag and the annis belong together so they can form coveys. Sure, there’s always the night hag, but they’ve always had a different niche for me. Hell, in the 3E Monster Manual the night hag was even filed under Night Hag instead of Hag like the others were.

The Bonus Bestiary also features the huecuva, which is finally shedding the typographical error which has haunted it since its first publication (it’s been called “heucuva” for, well, a heucuva long time). Looking at the Bestiary preview, the other famous typo of the Monstrous Manual, the sahuagin, is still untouched.

The huecuva is an undead cleric who renounced his deity before death, but there are also rules for raising one with create undead. This seems to be a common theme throughout the Bonus Bestiary. For nearly every monster there’s an entry for its creation or use as familiar, cohort or animal companion.

Then there’s the  lammasu. Nothing really interesting here. Big lawful good winged lion man.

With the water naga, we get the first illustration of the creature that I’ve ever seen – and it looks good. It also has poison. If I’m reading this correctly, PFRPG’s approach to poison is very interesting. One round after you’re bitten, you roll ten Fort saves and take one point of Con damage per failed save. I think this is an example of a very potent venom and most other poisons would have fewer saves, but I can see how that might slow down the game unless the DM tells the DC beforehand.

Edit: and it turns out I wasn’t reading it correctly. Apparently, the way it works is you roll a save every round for the next ten rounds or until you succeed twice and fight it off, and take the listed damage for every failed save. Makes much more sense.

Then we come to the nixie, a water sprite. The creature itself isn’t very interesting, but it’s got a subheader for Nixies in Mythology, with a short description of how the nixie appeared in traditional mythology (a malevolent trickster) and a few modifications you can apply to its stat block to make if fit the mythological version. I like this concept, and hope they put it to good use in the Bestiary. While D&D’s visions of mythological creatures are often classics on their own right, it never harms to go to the source (except maybe with the bonnacon), and running a more mythological campaign might be cool.

The booklet closes with the shadow mastiff, with rules for summoning one.

It’s a nice preview into how things work in Pathfinder RPG, and includes some tantalising hints about the eventual content of the Bestiary. And, well, it’s really hard to argue with the price tag.

Legacy of Fire: Howl of the Carrion King, First Session

We played the first session of my Legacy of Fire summer campaign last Sunday.

On the whole, it went well. We were all pretty excited about the new campaign and though one of the players was a bit ill and had to lie down for most of the session, the game worked. We got a feel for the PCs, played through the first two parts of the module and had great fun.

The party met their employer, helped put out a burning wagon, solved the mystery of the fire, and cleared out an abandoned monastery of Sarenrae so the caravan they’re accompanying could camp there. Next session, they’ll start the attacks on Kelmarane, the old battle-market taken over by gnolls.

The combat encounter design in Howl of the Carrion King is excellent. The module introduces the pugwampis, tiny and mischievous gremlins that spread ill fortune. In game terms, anyone within a twenty-foot radius of a pugwampi must roll 2d20 whenever he makes a d20 roll and pick the lower score. Apart from that, they are nearly defenceless, with low AC, low hit rolls and low damage output. However, they can really bring the pain in the correct environment. The module features a thicket of cacti, a kitchen liberally strewn with improvised caltrops, and an abandoned chapel of the sun goddess, where a significant part of the battle takes place in the rafters, high above the ground.

The pugwampis make an excellent first-level enemy for PCs in the right environment. They provide a good challenge with a cool mechanic without the risk of sudden death through a critical hit (the reason I never put anything with a falchion or a scythe against a first-level party).

During the session, I used Pathfinder Paper Minis to represent some of the NPCs and especially the pugwampis. While I prefer three-dimensional miniatures, they came in handy, since the sets are tailored for the adventure paths. Nobody is going to release a set of metal pugwampis any time soon, and while one could always proxy them with Tiny-sized WotC miniatures, it’s a bit unsatisfying to have two Flameskulls, a Bat, an Imp and a Quasit standing in for a bunch of little dog-headed gremlins. The paper miniatures are cheap and quick to assemble, and I bought all available sets.

I also considered purchasing and assembling the Ruined Undercrypt of Kelmarane terrain set, but then I noticed that the file clocks in at 102 pages, with a 57-page manual. It would certainly be nifty but I don’t have that kind of skill, printer ink, or time.

The next session is on Friday.

My Appendix N

Zachary the First over at RPG Blog II asked the  blogosphere about our personal Appendix N’s.

Appendix N, of course, is the appendix of the original AD&D 1E Dungeon Master’s Guide that lists literature that directly influenced the game.

Since, as I described in my previous post, I am mostly a D&D guy, my personal list has quite a bit of overlap with the original Appendix N. However, there’s a lot of stuff that wasn’t published until afterwards – remember, this came out in the mid-1970’s – and television played a significant part in my formative years (where do you think I learned English?), so I have a separate section for films and TV series. It is interesting to observe that a number of works on the list have been directly influenced by and would probably not even exist without D&D.

All of the following have been direct influences on my games or gaming material I’ve written. There’s a lot more, since I tend to be allusion-happy, but here are the significant ones that I’ve ripped off most mercilessly, or tried to emulate in style or atmosphere, that shaped the way I look at certain genres, or that just keep popping up in my games no matter what the genre, system or style of play.

Literature

  • Butcher, Jim: The Dresden Files series.
  • Burroughs, Edgar Rice: The Tarzan series.
  • Chambers, Robert W.: The Yellow Sign.
  • Christie, Agatha: The ABC Murders, And Then There Were None, The Mousetrap.
  • Clavell, James: Shogun.
  • Flint, Eric: The 1632 series.
  • Gaiman, Neil: American Gods, Neverwhere.
  • Gibson, William: The Difference Engine, the Sprawl trilogy, the Bridge trilogy.
  • Heinlein, Robert A.: Podkayne of Mars, Starship Troopers.
  • Howard, Robert E.: Conan and Solomon Kane stories, “The Shadow of the Vulture”.
  • Hugo, Victor: Les Misérables.
  • Kipling, Rudyard: The Jungle Book.
  • Leiber, Fritz: Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories.
  • Leroux, Gaston: The Phantom of the Opera.
  • Lewis, C.S.: The Narnia series.
  • Lovecraft, H.P.: The Cthulhu Mythos, the Dream Cycle.
  • Miéville, China: The Bas-Lag series.
  • Moorcock, Michael: “Elric” and “Von Bek” stories.
  • Pratchett, Terry: The Discworld series.
  • Salvatore, R.A.: The Dark Elf Trilogy.
  • Shakespeare, William: Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello.
  • Stephenson, Neal: The Baroque Cycle.
  • Takami, Koushun: Battle Royale.
  • Tolkien, J.R.R.: The Lord of the Rings; The Hobbit; Silmarillion.
  • Vance, Jack: Tales of the Dying Earth.
  • Zelazny, Roger: The Chronicles of Amber.

Film

  • The 13th Warrior (John McTiernan, 1999).
  • Battle Royale (Kinji Fukasaku, 2000).
  • Conan the Barbarian (John Milius, 1982).
  • The Core (John Amiel, 2003).
  • The Indiana Jones series (Steven Spielberg, 1981-1989).
  • Kingdom of Heaven, Director’s Cut (Ridley Scott, 2005).
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Peter Jackson, 2001-2003).
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, 1975).
  • The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (Gore Verbinski, 2003-2007).
  • Porco Rosso (Hayao Miyazaki, 1992).
  • Raja 1918 (Lauri Törhönen, 2007).
  • Ronin (John Frankenheimer, 1998).
  • The Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954).
  • Star Wars (George Lucas, Irvin Kershner, Richard Marquand, 1977-1983).
  • Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning (Timo Vuorensola, 2006).
  • Straw Dogs (Sam Peckinpah, 1971).
  • Smokin’ Aces (Joe Carnahan, 2007).
  • This Is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984).

Television

  • 24
  • Babylon 5
  • Band of Brothers
  • Battlestar Galactica (the new one)
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Deadwood
  • Firefly
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex
  • Hobitit
  • Rome
  • The West Wing

Comics

  • 1602
  • Donald Duck
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  • Praedor
  • Preacher
  • Sandman
  • Teräslilja
  • Transmetropolitan

Having written that, portions of it strike me as insufferably pretentious. Then, I’ve run some games that must have felt that way, too. Especially that one Planescape campaign on IRC, with the NPCs from Hamlet…

My Gaming History

In the wake of posts from James Maliszewski and Sami Koponen, detailing their personal gaming histories, it was suggested that I write up a similar post.

Well, I can give it a shot.

The Early History – Third to Sixth Grade

I don’t actually remember when I started. It was sometime in 1994-1996. I’ve given this question a number of different answers on different forums. Roolipelikirja says 1996 (for the record, I turned eleven that year), so I guess that’s the official word. I know I started Warhammer Fantasy Battle that same year, when I got the new fifth edition of the game for Christmas and in the process started a small WHFB fad at school. I would later reap its benefits in cheap second-hand miniatures from my classmates who quickly got bored with it.

However, I started RPGs before that. I remember finding out about Ropecon around a week afterwards and being really bummed that I’d missed it. My first Ropecon was the last time the event was held at Paasitorni, in 1997. My first game was the Finnish translation of the Lord of the Rings Adventure Game (Taru sormusten herrasta -seikkailupeli) from ACE Pelit. A friend’s mother ran it for us. I have dim recollections of cardboard miniatures, and a plot that never really went anywhere. I don’t think she liked it very much. From there, though, the way was clear for my first real RPG – possibly the worst introductory mainstream RPG – Middle-Earth Roleplaying Game (Keski-Maa -roolipeli).

I ran several games of MERP in those days to my classmates. Well, “ran MERP” is probably a suspect description, since I never figured out anything beyond a general idea of the rules. I did get a number of sourcebooks and adventures for the game, such as Creatures of Middle-Earth (Keski-Maan olennot), Bree and the Barrow-Downs (Brii ja hautakerot), Dark Mage of Rhudaur (Rhudaurin musta maagi) and Lost Realm of Cardolan (Cardolan: kadonnut valtakunta). I only retain the rulebook and Creatures of Middle-Earth. I remember liking Dark Mage of Rhudaur, though. The siege setup of the adventure was nifty.

In the fourth, fifth and sixth grades of elementary school, I read fantasy literature voraciously. David Eddings was a big one, as were Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance. I also read Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy and tried both Shannara and Wheel of Time, but even then recognised them for the drek they were. I also played the fantasy board games HeroQuest and Dragonfire (of which nobody has ever heard). I never owned HeroQuest, but Dragonfire I did have, though the miniatures have since mostly been lost. I think there are parts of the orcs in my old, old Warhammer army and one of the trolls, the only miniature from the game to remain intact, was many years later painted blue as a PC mini for one of my many short D&D games.

Our local libraries carried fairly good selections of RPGs for the time. I’d missed Finland’s big RPG boom of the late eighties and early nineties, but its fruit was still there for the picking. I became acquainted with Shadowrun, RuneQuest, Rolemaster, Twilight: 2000, Paranoia, Macho Women with Guns, Rapier and Elhendi, Astra, Stormbringer, Call of Cthulhu, BattleTech, Traveller: 2300 AD and Cyberpunk 2020. Shadowrun I played, Paranoia I ran (unsuccessfully – turns out twelve-year-olds don’t do Cold War satire too well), and Twilight: 2000 I tried to get my father to run. He studied the game, concluded it was too complicated and designed us a very simple strategy game instead. It may still be somewhere, though I don’t think the actual rules were ever written down. Paranoia (2nd edition, for those keeping track at home) was the first game that I ran with the full ruleset. Curiously enough, I never ran into the Red Box. I started reading Magus, too.

It was also around this time that I “designed” a roleplaying game of my own. It was called Wonderania (I was twelve, okay?) and I am quite certain I have since managed to eradicate all physical traces of its existence. These were mainly character sheets, as I don’t think I actually ever wrote down any concrete rules or mechanics. It was a very rules-light game, I suppose. Everything was resolved with a roll of a ten-sider, which I, as the GM, then interpreted one way or another.

Around this time I also played what would now likely be called storytelling games with a few friends. I think the usual theme was a crime story of some sort, where our characters were criminals who engaged in all sorts of juvenile activities, such as conquering an amusement park. Drawing of base and hideout maps and listing of equipment was a significant part of this.

Learning the Rules – Seventh to Ninth Grade

When I started seventh grade, I moved to a new school. This one had an afternoon club for roleplaying games, run by the arts teacher. In there, I played RuneQuest 3rd edition – leading to the first PC death that I remember, when my warrior woman (he made us all play characters of the opposite sex) fell into a freezing river and drowned.

I also ran Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1st Edition, Hogshead), which led to my first confirmed TPK in the early encounters of “The Oldenhaller Contract”. This taught me that when running a prewritten module, it was a good idea to check how many characters it was meant for, and if the number of players at the table differed from this, adjust the amount or power of enemies in the combat encounters.

Well, you live and learn.

Shortly afterwards, I changed schools again, and found Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It was a purchase largely motivated by stuff like Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms novels and especially Baldur’s Gate. I loved the settings and then fell in love with the crunchy bits – not the rules as such, only new rules items, like spells, character classes and monsters. Especially monsters. I think it was the spring of 1999 when I ran my first game of AD&D. It was a Forgotten Realms adventure that I’d written myself, set in Selgaunt, Sembia. It was a riff on the Phantom of the Opera, and had the players ever got that far, would’ve featured catacombs under the Selgaunt Opera House and so forth. They didn’t. I think they started a tavern brawl and one fell through the staircase, and stuff.

In the summer of the same year, I kicked off a Forgotten Realms campaign with the module The Accursed Tower, written by R.A. Salvatore. It’s not a very good module, in hindsight. It featured Drizzt, of course, and in the eponymous tower, a trio of undead housecats. The housecats’ statblock was directly lifted from Skeleton, Animal, in the Monstrous Manual. So? Well, those stats are meant for things like skeletal horses and bears and stuff. The housecats were among the more dangerous denizens of the dungeon. I realised the writer’s error around midway through the fight.

(This happened occasionally with AD&D and D&D. Another time, many years later, I was running 3E, and the party was wading through a river of blood that came up to their knees, on one of the Nine Hells. Then, they were attacked by some beast hiding underwater! It was a giant carrion worm, with a grapple modifier of… wait, that can’t be right, this is marked as a Small creature… except it’s got a -2 size modifier on AC and a double-digit grapple bonus… okay, it’s actually Huge. You’re being attacked by a carrion worm the size of a Volkswagen. Nevermind how it snuck up to you underwater when the river only comes up to your knees. Just roll to escape grapple, willya?)

I still have all the character sheets from that campaign, except for one. There was a priest of the god of sailing played by my then-girlfriend, an overweight paladin named Sir Zolton who was eventually crushed by a wagon in Silverymoon, a priestess of Sharess, and a pair of fighters, a woman named Gwyneth and an elf male I think was called Turian. Gwyneth died in The Accursed Tower, killed by a ghoul, and later came to plague the party as an undead. She was replaced in the party by a carbon copy, which was just as well, considering the time it took to create characters.

Turian was played by a rather annoying guy. We didn’t have to throw him out of the group, fortunately, since when his character was killed by sahuagin attacking the city of Luskan, he left on his own accord. And there was much rejoicing.

The campaign went on for something like 18 months and is still one of the longest if not the longest campaign I’ve run. Also, since I started that campaign, I’ve always had a game of some description going on. In addition to The Accursed Tower, it featured one of the most dangerous low-level modules I know, “Beneath the Twisted Tower” from Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting (2E). It’s for levels 1-3, and the BBEG is a 9th-level drow wizard. I had fun roleplaying the gibberlings, though.

The campaign was eventually terminated by the release of Dungeons & Dragons Third Edition. I ran some short games for the same group, but then contact with them dwindled and ceased in the summer of 2001. Never met any of them since.

During these years, I also dabbled in Vampire: the Masquerade with some other friends, but nothing much came out of it. I couldn’t really disassociate my playstyle from AD&D, and I once did, in fact, play a Ventrue with a trenchcoat and a katana. Another character of mine was a morbidly obese Nosferatu computer whiz.

Around this time I also started really collecting RPGs. It started with AD&D stuff, but once the D20 boom hit, I  branched out, and later got a lot of different games.

In addition, during these years, a friend of mine introduced me to FaerunMUD. I’ve spoken of it previously, and it remains a significant influence on my development as a player. On FaerunMUD, roleplaying was enforced with an iron fist, and it was there that I really learned to roleplay instead of just killing orcs with a complicated ruleset.

Dungeons and Stuff – High School

When I started my first D&D 3E campaign, I was unsure if I could find players. Thus, I asked everyone I knew, and asked a friend to ask everyone he knew.

The first session of The Sunless Citadel had twelve players. It was slow going, but somehow we managed to get all the characters created and start in on the module in the same session. The second session had, I think, five players, and that’s how we rolled from there, for about a year. We did The Sunless Citadel, “Gorgoldand’s Gauntlet”, The Forge of Fury, and started on Pool of Radiance: Attack on Myth Drannor. I’ve always been a module-oriented GM, I suppose.

During high school, I ran a number of mid-length campaigns. There were a couple set in the Warhammer world, one of which featured the awakening of Cthulhu as a lead-up to a heavily modified Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. Another I wrote up in story hour form on the EN World forums. I also collected a number of D20 games. We tried Star Wars. We tried Spycraft. We tried Babylon 5. We tried Call of Cthulhu D20. Swashbuckling Adventures. Sláine. Conan. Rokugan D20. Afghanistan D20, of all things. And we ran Dungeons & Dragons. Man, did we run it. All told, during those three years we must’ve had something like thirty campaigns (defining campaign as a game that was run for at least two consecutive sessions before folding). Some of them were played straight, others ran into really weird directions. Games were almost weekly, especially when school was in session.

I was still the primary GM of the group, but by no means the only one. I think all of us tried the screen at least once, with varying levels of success and enthusiasm.

We also occasionally broke from D20. There was some Vampire: the Dark Ages, and in 2002 came out the superhero RPG that I still love, Godlike, which saw a couple of campaigns with the group. Shadowrun was dabbled with, and I think someone was running Cyberpunk 2020. A friend sold his Legend of the Five Rings collection to me, but I never got around to running it. There was a Feng Shui one-shot or two.

“The group”, at this point in time, is actually a player pool of ten people, mostly from my high school, who formed pretty much all the games I participated in during my high school years. We were never all in the same game, though, and not all of us could stand each other.

I supplemented my gaming by a lot of IRC games played on the Otherworlders network (then PsionicsNET). It was mostly Scarred Lands, mostly with Americans, and mostly in the middle of the night. There was one short period when, counting all my regular IRC and real-life games, I had five weekly sessions of D&D – most of them at night.

Hereabouts is also set my one abortive foray into the world of LARP. I was supposed to participate in a game named Faerun IV: Baron of the Stonelands, which ended up getting cancelled a week before the event itself.

Focus and Diversification – After High School

I eventually graduated, as people are wont to do. This time, the group stuck together and D&D campaigns continued. However, at Ropecon 2004, I ran into Living Greyhawk. It was on Saturday, I think. It was actually the first ever RPG session that I played at Ropecon. The module was called The Living and the Dead, and it was written by J-P Saarinen. I created myself a wizard I called Xaylen Ambedor, and found myself playing a first-level character in a fourth-level adventure. Xaylen was just quickly thrown together with survival in mind, and I neglected to fill out some roleplaying content on his character sheet, such as his deity.

Well, the adventure progressed. We faced ettercaps and ghosts, and prevailed over them as we delved deeper into a strange cave complex. In there, we came upon a door with strange writing upon it. None of us could read it, so we tried to open it.

Wrong move – it was a trap. The door didn’t open, and we heard rumbling from behind us. It was Indiana Jones’ big rolling boulder, merrily bouncing at us along the corridor – except that unlike Indy, we had nowhere to run. It was a dead end. Very dead, it looked like. The DM announced that the boulder had a hit bonus of +13. Xaylen’s Armor Class was 11. He had three hit points left.

Some members of the party braced for impact, taking full defence actions. A few healed themselves, that they might survive the impact. Me, I had no spells left, nothing. So, the DM asked me for my action. I looked at my character sheet, and noticed the empty “Deity” space.

“I find religion,” I declared, and scribbled down “Boccob” in the empty space.

The boulder hit the party. Xaylen was first up, and the boulder’s attack roll came up “1”. Critical miss, the only result that could save his bacon. The rest of the party went down like tenpins.

When the campaign ended in 2008, Xaylen was a wizard 7/divine oracle of Boccob 4. I’d written two modules for the campaign and played or run around 150 sessions of it.

Living Greyhawk had a huge impact on my gaming. Though I’d always had an affinity for adventure modules, LG honed it to a fine edge. I learned a great deal about designing adventures, what works and what doesn’t. My regular player pool expanded to some 30 people, and I played with dozens of new people. I still have several file folders full of LG material in my bookshelf.

My gaming wasn’t reduced to LG, though. The new edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play came out in 2005, and we had to play that. There was some more Godlike. I played in a short World of Darkness campaign that I think was supposed to turn into Mage: the Awakening. There was a Delta Green campaign that never continued past the first session because of scheduling difficulties. Another friend ran Heavy Gear. Dark Heresy came out in early 2008, and was gleefully run. Zombeja! Ovella! was proven to be a nice, short party game and good for introducing people to gaming. There was also that short stint of D&D 4E (three sessions, something like 21 hours) that ended with my misspelled name in the back of the PHB. I dabbled in Exalted and GURPS.

But always there remained the discipline of stee… sorry. There was still D&D. In 2007 I started in Keskiviikkopeli, a game group that’s played since 1988, mostly AD&D 1E, but nowadays 3E. The campaign I started in was Paizo’s Shackled City adventure path, as run by Sampo, but I also participated in their 1E campaign and was present as it converted to 3.5. Unfortunately, I had to drop that game when I moved to Tampere.

A Part of the Scene – 2007 and Onwards

In January 2007, I woke up and found a strange e-mail from my inbox, from a fellow who said he’d read my LiveJournal and forum posts at Majatalo.org and concluded that I know my stuff and can write. Therefore, he’d like me to write him a book on RPGs.

The result of that was Roolipelikirja, which came out at Ropecon of the same year, with mixed reviews. The one in Roolipelaaja was particularly brutal. Other opinions I’ve encountered have been rather more balanced. I would welcome a chance to revise and the book, though – especially seeing as about a quarter of it is now obsolete thanks to a glut of new editions hitting the shelves in the last two years.

My first Living Greyhawk module, Unyielding, came out a couple of months later, with the second, the regional campaign finale I wrote with Sampo Haarlaa, released in June 2008. Additionally, feeling a certain dissatisfaction with the content of Roolipelaaja, I offered the magazine a few articles. The last issue saw my seventh.

Additionally, for reasons beyond my understanding, it was recommended that I apply for tabletop RPG admin for Ropecon 2009. I’m now doing the job to the best of my ability, which I hope will be sufficient.

Now and Next

I’m currently running Pathfinder Society, under D&D 3.5 rules in Tampere. I’ve been swamped with work for the past two months, though, and not much has happened on that front – except that during one of my visits to Espoo, where I go to play new modules so I don’t have to eat them all, my second character died.

The good thing about PFS, like LG, is that it’s an nice popcorn game. Sessions are self-contained adventures, so it’s not crucial to remember what’s happened before, and you don’t need to immerse yourself deeply in character. It’s mostly about having fun and maybe offing a couple of orcs.

I’ve also started to run the Pathfinder adventure path Rise of the Runelords. We’ve played one session, and haven’t been able to make time for a second. It’ll be hard to do that in the summer when people buzz off to Anjalankoski, Pori, Espoo, or wherever.

Additionally, I’ve promised to run another adventure path, Legacy of Fire, in Espoo during the summer. I figure I’ll start with 3.5 and convert to Pathfinder RPG once it comes out. Might be a good idea to do that with the Rise of the Runelords game, too.

There have also been rumblings of a Cyberpunk 2020 game, but nothing has materialised, beyond a temptation to play a bald media named Scorpion Mecca. I love the translation of that game. It’s not all that hot on a technical level, but it just oozes attitude – and as we know, attitude is everything.

Savage Worlds looks interesting, and I would welcome a chance to play it. Then, there are a lot of games I want to play. I own most of them – my collection has over 400 titles, and counting.

Ropecon is in a couple of months. It’ll be my 13th, and my first as one of the organisers. Good thing I’m not superstitious.

Looking Back at 2008

It was quite a year, in both good and bad.

Many greats passed away. Gary Gygax, N. Robin Crossby, Erick Wujcik, Bob Bledsaw, people who built and created this hobby. Living Greyhawk ended, Dark Heresy, Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play and Talisman only narrowly avoided the axe, and the era of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 came to an end.

On the other hand, we got Pathfinder, Dark Heresy and all the rest are still around, and the Chinese Democracy of the Finnish RPG scene, Stalker, came out, and was good. Tracon rocked. Finncon rocked. Ropecon rocked. I started this blog, which has occasionally divided opinion, but I think it’s a good thing.

I realise that I’m a bit late with this post. I blame World of Warcraft (my tauren druid is at level 68!), a New Year’s celebration that we maybe tackled with a smidgeon too much enthusiasm, and my little bother’s move.

I prefer not to dwell on the past year. There was good stuff, there was bad stuff, and we’ve all seen it already. It is time to look forward, into the future, at what looks like it’s gonna be an awesome gaming year.

There will be new games!

Towards the end of the year we’ll be getting The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game (hopefully), and Tales of New Crobuzon, of which I’ve blogged before. At GenCon 2009, we should be getting from Fantasy Flight Games the second part of the Warhammer 40,000 RPG triptych, the rogue trader game (and this month, Creatures Anathema, a monster sourcebook for Dark Heresy).

There also may or may not be a game called Deliverance in the pipeline from Kahriptic Knights Publishing. Allegedly, it will feature characters from the monster rock band Lordi. For those of you who don’t know or rememeber Lordi, let’s watch it again… The company’s website doesn’t really inspire confidence, though.

However, the big thing I am waiting for, which, if properly executed, eclipses all these in sheer awesome, is, of course, Pathfinder RPG, from Paizo Publishing.

There will be conventions!

The con year starts with the one-day anime and RPG convention Tracon in Tampere, on February 7th. I’ll be there, running Pathfinder Society.

There may or may not be a Conklaavi this year, too. It’s in Turku, in the spring, I’m not a part of the scene over there and I don’t think I even know anyone working on it anymore. They eventually do get the event off, but its existence is usually poorly advertised and two years ago  I didn’t even find out about the convention until after the fact.

Finally, there’s the most important con of the year, Ropecon, in Espoo, which is the one all you foreigners should come to. It’s in the summer, I think a week before GenCon Indy, and tends to generate staggering amounts of praise from our American guests of honour, most recently Chris Pramas. John Kovalic’s Dork Tower strip from a few years back was also great.

At Ropecon, there are RPGs! There are miniature games! There are card games! There are monks beating themselves on the head with 4E PHBs, and ninjas, and kilted Game Masters! There are explosions! (Well, not usually, but I’ll see what we can come up with.) And every Ropecon I’ve been to has been better than the one before it!

There will also be Finncon, on July 10th-12th in Helsinki. It’s the big science fiction con in Finland, and this year the guests of honour are George R.R. Martin and Alastair Reynolds. Finncon is also awesome, especially now that there will be special segregation of the anime fandom into their own designated area.

Ah, this year is a good year to game!

RIP N. Robin Crossby

Yesterday, the game designer N. Robin Crossby passed away.

Crossby is remembered for creating Hârn, a fantasy setting second to none in its attention to realism, and for keeping the setting and the game going for 25 years. Hârn has also inspired a devoted, creative and amazingly productive fandom.

I must admit that I have only a passing familiarity with Crossby’s work, but what little I have read managed to be realistic while retaining a certain sense of wonder about it. It was good.

Rest in peace, Robin Crossby.

The year is getting grimmer by the month.