August 1, 2008

Is there ice on Mars? -- Water Ice on Mars Confirmed

While David Bowie may not be on Mars, and there might not be Martian Warriors, there is definitely water ice on the surface of the Red Planet.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:11 PM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2008


Not very amused by the turn of events which has caused the fall of the (now former) NY Governor. I was pleased, as an ex-patriate, when he was elected Governor of NY. After years of neglect under Pataki, I had high hopes Spitzer might get Albany to *work*.

And then he turns out to be a hypocrite. Decrying vice publically and loudly, and engaging it in it in private. What DOES several thousand dollars at a shot buy you in a prostitute, anyhow? Its too bad that Lady Sally's does not exist in this world. Then the money might have done some good, you know?

I recall reading recently an article which mentioned that the cost of a drug could be correlated with its effectiveness. Patients given the same pills, but told that the drug cost different amounts had different outcomes, with the people who took the "expensive" pill having better outcomes.

Is the sex from a $5000 prostitute quantiatively better...or you just think its better because its expensive and so it is?

Posted by Jvstin at 9:07 AM | Comments (0)

April 9, 2005

Shades of "The Core"!

Scientists digging to bottom of Earth - LiveScience -

Scientists have been digging at the bottom of the ocean floor near the Mid Atlantic Ridge, in an attempt to reach the Moho, the boundary between the crust of the planet, and the mantle. That boundary is far shallower at the bottom of the ocean than it is on land. (As seen in the Core, the reason why they begin in the ocean)

Very cool indeed. The knowledge about the mantle of the Earth that we could get in coming years as the drilling reaches and pierces the boundary could answer a lot of questions about the Earth's composition, oceanic crust formation and more.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:11 PM

September 15, 2003

Role Call 32: Licensed to Play

James asks:

When playing a licensed roleplaying game like Lord of the Rings, do you like to play characters from the setting, or original creations? Why or why not?

I prefer my own creations.

It's not a failure of characters...who wouldn't want to be in your favorite RPG setting--its just that I think that I do better with creations of my own, than with established characters.

Consider Amber (as always). I usually don't play Elders at all, or seek out Elder games. I much rather would create a new Amberite/Chaosians than play a pre-existing Elder.

And consider that although Delwin seems to break that rule--Delwin and Sand as Liz and I have envisioned them are very acanonical. It's really playing brand new characters, rather than anything gleaned from the books.

Heck, I even wrote a piece of erotica once that was set in the Stak Trek The Next Generation Universe. On the Enterprise, no less. But my two protagonists were NOT cast members, nor was their any, um, prurient action between them and the characters from the show. I just liked the setting.

So too, Amber, Star Wars, LOTR, etal. Give me the universe, but let me create someone of my own.

Posted by Jvstin at 4:26 PM

September 7, 2003

Role Call 31: Game Balance

Roll the Bones: Role Call 31: Game balance

James asks:
Is it the responsibility of game designers to prevent munchkinism through imposed balance? Why or why not?

Munchkins are an annoying sub-species of Homo Ludius to say the least. Fellow players don't want to deal with such people, and GMs find them a source of game friction and annoyance.

No matter what the system, they are going to come out of the woodwork. I suspect even a rather cerebral game like Nobilis is not immune to Munchkins.

The question is, should designs help alleviate Munchkins via game balance? I do think that game designers should do one of two things.

Either, a game designer *should* try for at least a reasonable balance between races, classes or whatever categories are used, or should be honest and upfront about such issues for the sake of the GM.

James mentions Rifts as an unbalanced game, one other that I've only seen, and wish I had, is Talislanta. In Talislanta, some races are clearly superior to others, sometimes overwhelmingly so. A GM, however, needs to recognize and plan for such inbalances.

I'm going to use a sports analogy and compare Baseball to NFL Football. In Baseball, at the beginning of a season, you pretty well know what half of the postseason is going to look like. Perennial teams that spend the extra money to load their rosters, and everyone else be damned, such as the Yankees and the Braves. And there are teams which have zero chance of a playoff spot, mainly because they don't even try to spend money for a team.

NFL Football, however, has a salary cap. Teams only have so much to spend, period. This does break up the threat of continued dynasties from teams, and its a lot more level playing field. I do think,however, that this is a virtue, since unless you have a truly inept owner (eg Cincinnati, Arizona), your team does have a shot, if not this year, then perhaps in a couple of years of work. After all--Tampa Bay, a doormat and a laughingstock back in the 80's and early 90's when Football was much like Baseball, last year won a Super Bowl.

This is not to say Munchkinism can be completely avoided by means of a system tweak, but a GM either needs guidelines to help avoid exaggerations of innate biases, or such biases should be minimized.

Gaming is about fun. Reducing Munchkinism is a part of that fun.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:37 AM

August 31, 2003

Role Call 30: Jerks

I am, sadly, going to abstain from this one. It cuts, sorry James, way too close to home, even if the question is valid.

Posted by Jvstin at 5:31 PM

August 30, 2003

Role Call 29: Weaklings

Roll the Bones: Role Call 29: Weaklings

Would you object to playing a markedly weaker character than that for which the game system/campaign generally allows?

It's not my usual modus operandi, but I've no problem with the concept.

Although he himself wouldn't characterize himself as "weak", Archard from Empire of the Gleaming Banner is an example of a character built to point totals in ADRPG much less than usual. So in a sense he could be considered weak, especially once he was interacting with Amberites with multiples of his point totals. But, as the Bard says, the play's the thing, and the points are much less of an issue if the roleplay is sweet and the character's voice comes forth.

And in Archard, it certainly does so.

Despite the imbroglio that I know little about, except seeing the cascading effects of same, I've decided to continue with the meme.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:45 PM

August 17, 2003

Role Call 28: Unusual Settings

Roll the Bones: Role Call 28: Unusual settings

James asks:
What's the most unusual setting in which your game has been set, and what makes it so unusual?

Update: Modified slightly to take James' comment into account. I guess I do reuse the same old phrases and disclaimers, no matter how shopworn. My bad, as usual.

Hmm, a tricky question.

Certainly the Empire of the Gleaming Banner is unusual in Amber terms--a fully realized and fleshed out region of shadow which is independent of Amber and Chaos and has mores, goals, thought-patterns and dreams all of its own. Archard is a scion of that Empire. He doesn't think his world is unusual...but any of my other Amber characters, dropped into the ATEC universe, might disagree. (one in particular, Scipio, I think would try and get an Ambassadorial posting to the Empire any way he could; he'd relish the diversity)

Posted by Jvstin at 7:56 PM

August 13, 2003

Nomenclature and Solar system bodies

Apparently the nomenclature of minor bodies in the outer solar system is really a jungle and alphabet soup of conflicting names.

This is to say nothing of the controversy over whether Pluto is or is not really a planet, but the article mentions that as well.

Posted by Jvstin at 10:26 AM

August 10, 2003

Role Call 27: Verboten

Roll the Bones: Role Call 27: Verboten!

James asks:
If you were somehow forbidden from playing with your favorite system, genre or setting, what would you substitute?

Well, I guess my favorite system, genre and setting would be the one I play almost all of my RP, and that's Amber.

So, no Amber, eh?

Well, a number of choices as to what I would game instead:

Nobilis. I'd just borrow the Olson's copy and run with it. Find myself a game or start a game of my own, and see how it goes.

Wait for Monte Cook's Arcana Unearthed. It looks rather interesting, his "alternate" D20 player's handbook. I am waiting for it to come out so that I can pick up a copy. I have some D20 stuff, so it wouldn't be hard for me to play, or again, run something.

Roll my own Space Opera:
Okay, the most ambitious idea would be to simply adapt a system (or use something like the Narrative System Jack and Jeanne created). I would do a Space Opera universe, inspired by the likes of Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton and the like. It would be Traveller-esque in the sense that the PCs could be anyone they wanted to be.

Funny, though, I guess I am more of a GM than a player. Notice how my three ideas immediately turned toward ideas for me to GM as well (or more likely to GM than) as play

Posted by Jvstin at 11:26 AM

August 4, 2003

Role Call: DIY

This week James asks:
Can you summarize two campaign concepts you'd create for player with identical tastes to your own?

I am with Ginger on this one, I tend to create games that I myself want to play in, as I have noted previously..

So, just about any of my unfinished game ideas would be perfect for a player with identical tastes to myself.

So, I will dig back to the old blog on mindspring, and present a couple of the ideas that I've mentioned in the past. I'll just post it here rather than linking to it.

Status Quo Ante Bellum

It's an alternate Amber, where the War turned out somewhat differently. During the attack on Chaos, when Amber's forces were at the Courts, a expeditionary force from one of the aquaphilic Chaosian Houses made a bold strike on Amber...specifically on Rebma. Moire was killed, LLewella has fled, and these Chaosians now rule Rebma.
The War has ended, and Amber has demanded, as part of the peace treaty, a status quo ante bellum...a return to the way things were, before the War. However, the Chaosians in Rebma refuse to leave. What's more, not everyone in Rebma is unhappy at the change in administration either, especially the males, since the new Chaosian overlords do not like the matriarchial system of Rebma and have begun making moves toward more egalitarianism. Plus, Rebma was very much the dependency of Amber before the War, and the new rulers want Rebma to be a free and independent power of its own.
So...Amber is unhappy at this state of affairs, LLewella herself hosting a "Rebman government in exile", Chaos is unhappy at these renegades, and Rebma itself is fractured between those who like the new Rebma and its promises of becoming an independent state, and those who want things to return to the way they were. A game heavy on intrigue, spying, and diplomacy, the player characters could be from one of any number of factions, or pretending to be with their own hidden agendas.

Borders of Eternity

Inspired at first by Arref's successful creation of the Empire of the Gleaming Banner, the opening image is what drew me to this and its stayed with me since. One of the player characters, on a private secluded beach in shadow, a shadow no one else in their family knows about, finds a set of footprints where none should be. Not Amberian, not Chaosian...someone else.
In its most epic and ambitious form, this would be a three sided game with characters from the three poles of the universe...Amber, Chaos and the third pole, hitherto unknown, in a direction perpendicular to Amber and Chaos both. My mental modeling of this third world is a quartet of shadows influenced heavily by Elizabeth Willey's books. They have a quartet of elemental powers, scions of them able to travel shadow, and an even match for Pattern and Logrus masters and mistresses. They are just as real.
What happens in the contacts between these worlds? Intrigue, adventure, conflict, and exploring new worlds and lands. Expanding one's vision of just how large the universe is. Finding the borders of Eternity.

And there are other ideas out there, too, that I have not detailed, in other genres as well. But I will hold here, today

Posted by Jvstin at 1:31 PM

July 20, 2003

Role Call 25: The Ideal Group

Roll the Bones: Role Call 25: The ideal group

What qualities would your ideal game group possess?

Well, I am not in a FTF game group, after all as I've lamented, my FTF gaming is limited...

...but here goes, the ideal gaming group. I'll distill it as much as possible.

1. Creativity. I like players who are more than binary agents "Do x or do y". Bring background to the game, give me hooks. Think outside of the box and challenge me when it comes to playing.

2. Flexibility. I might not always want to GM Amber (or whatever the primary game is). I'd like a group who, every so often, might be willing to try something else.

2b. Multi-task As a collorary, I don't always want to GM. I'm very likely to be pigeonholed as such, but sometimes I just want to play, too. So the ideal group would have people willing and able to GM occassionally--if its a different game and genre, so much the better.

3. An active, friendly group of people. It's almost inevitable, given my clannishness. The people I game with are going to, I hope, want to keep connected away from the biweekly (or whenever) sessions. I'd like to get email saying "Oh, yeah, Iolaus is really looking forward to breaking into the Prison next week"

Posted by Jvstin at 2:33 PM

July 8, 2003

Role Call 24: Hiatus?

Roll the Bones: Role Call 24

Considering RC has been on a bit of a hiatus, the question is very apropos:

Have you ever felt like it was time to take a break, short or long, from roleplaying?

Not really.

Oh, in some depressive, down moods, I might have feelings which resemble this sort of thing, but that more stems from "I can't GM well, my PCs are boring sort of self-loathing. But giving up RPing? No, its one of my major recreative hobbies.

After all, SB wouldn't be as large as it would be, otherwise. If I had the temerity, I would try and run a FTF game in Minnesota. Not yet, though, not until I get a place of my own (and be assured I won't interfere with the games already in progress, such as Jeff's)

Posted by Jvstin at 8:52 PM

June 23, 2003

Role Call 23

A nice simple question for this week's Role Call, or so you might think...

What was the best character you came up with that you never had a chance to play?

My problem is my penchant for recycling. I reuse and readapt characters, settings and concepts avidly. Sometimes they are more or less intact, other times its more of a genetic recombination, with sometimes unexpected results. And I have few characters who really never got any chance to play, because much of my roleplay is email and the like, and usually there would be at least *one* turn before things went poof. And do things like letter games count?

For example, I created Laertes for a game run by Brian Blalock which never got off the ground, but, then, remolded him for Karen's TKC.

Tynan MacCarter would have been an obvious choice, he was created for an email game which never officially started...but, then, I put him into Bete Noire. (And he has had many NPC appearances in games)

Really, the only one I can think of off the top of my head is Lucien, a gambling Trump Artist that I created for a defunct game called From the Ashes. I never really had a chance to fully flesh him out, but he was much like his father, Random, with the same sort of irresponsibility...and a streak of sometimes wanting to do the right thing. And he was a TA, which sometimes got him (as I imagined him) into more trouble than it got him out of.

Posted by Jvstin at 3:39 PM

June 16, 2003

Role Call 22

Can you name a game or two where the setting was completely mismatched with its system?

The original Traveller, or more specifically, its character creation rules.

Traveller is an interesting and diverse game universe with a lot of background history, a large canvas, and the room for a party of characters from a phethora of backgrounds to meet and barnstorm the sector together.

Sure, this came out in the 80's, and character creation rules have evolved considerably since then. But even then in, say, AD&D, most GMs (like myself) would allow a player to "rearrange" his stats, changing the 12 strength for the 17 intelligence so that the PC could be a Fighter.

Traveller's rules, however, were a lockstep sort of flowchart. Stats were preordained by die rolls, character history (military service, education, age) was set by dice rolls. You were restricted, narrowed down to choices mandated by what you rolled.

Thus, I once wound up with a grunt Marine, a character I did not have much fun playing, because I felt it was a character fosted upon me, rather than one that I created and developed. I don't know if the Traveller "T20" rules address this, or not, but I should think that they would.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:38 AM

May 25, 2003

Role Call 20: Homegrown Settings

Roll the Bones: Role Call 20

In what homegrown setting have you had the most fun, and why?

I've missed a few Role Calls recently, not having much to say about them, but this one I will get back into the swing of things.

The most fun I've had in a homegrown setting as a player has to be the Empire of the Gleaming Banner, as developed by Arref Mak. A setting developed for the Amber universe, but featuring PCs who were (primarily) not Amberites at all, it extended and developed my roleplaying skills to be in such a rich and diverse world. It's not the usual "place" for Amber games to be set in, but it is richer for that.

Archard, my scion of the Empire's royal family, is still one of my most memorable characters, and the backstories and character development done resonate with me today. As good and detailed as the website is for information, it itself pales to the actual experience of playing in the world. Arref's imagination in developing a shadow (and its satellites) as fully realized as, say, Amber, is outstanding.

If he were to visit the Empire again at Ambercon, I would have no hesitation in signing up.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:21 AM

May 6, 2003

Role Call 17

Roll the Bones: Role Call 17: The forbidden zone.

In what genre do you absolutely refuse to play?

Refuse is a strong word. I am pretty flexible and adaptable as far as genre. I do admit a proclivity and predilection for a few favorites over all other comers.

But actual outright refusal? Ginger's answer of "hack n slash" is probably a good one and maybe that counts as something I really have no interest in playing.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:53 AM

April 26, 2003

Role Call 15

Roll the Bones: Role Call 15

What is your opinion of roleplaying game awards?

The short answer is that I don't have much of an opinion on them at all. They don't really affect me too much. I am not really more or less likely to get a game based on such an award or nomination. And there are a phethora of awards, knowing which ones actually have significance is a bit of a challenge.

I am on much firmer ground when it comes to things like Hugos, Nebulas, Pulitizers and Oscars.

Posted by Jvstin at 7:59 AM

Role Call 14

Roll the Bones: Role Call 14

What's the first thing you look at when picking up a new roleplaying game?

Setting. I use and steal from games mercilessly. I have not played Changeling, or Exalted, or a bunch of the other games I have...but I've taken ideas from the games and put them into other milieus. Its almost a trademark.

So if a game has a great setting, I am going to be attracted to it. I picked up a used copy of the out of print game Nexus for that reason. That game is set in a Cynosure-like city which is made up of patchwork realities and has connections to many worlds. I've not figured out yet what I am going to do with it, but I will.

In Nomine's Marches book is helping me flesh out the Dreamlands of SB...not the core which most of the PCs have visited, but the wilder, outer lands...where the Gods still slumber, and sometimes walk.

That also explains my fascination with a lot of GURPS products, and why I am eagerly anticipating things like GURPS Planet of Adventure (set on Vance's Tschai).

Posted by Jvstin at 7:55 AM

April 7, 2003

Role Call 12

Roll the Bones: Role Call 12: In the beginning.

(Going backward yet again, but I think I will be caught up now)

How did you first get involved with roleplaying?

For that, blame my older brother, Greg, the soi disant Black sheep of the family. As somewhat eccentric and quixotic as I am, I am practically in its bosom by comparison...

My older brother is responsible for getting me into roleplaying as well as science fiction/fantasy. The latter I have talked about before, however, the former is the subject of this Role Call.

The exact year eludes me, but it was late Junor High and early High School that my brother began to teach me Dungeons and Dragons. I was hooked and things went well. Although my brother was a slave to the dice roll (the infamous T Rex wandering monster roll that I have mentioned before), I derive my complex world building and puzzle-mystery taste for games from him. We didn't just play D&D, we also played a bit of Traveller as well. My younger brother, with whom we gamed a little bit, found roleplaying not to his taste, however.

After my brother left for the Army, I found myself Gming a couple of friends in D&D myself, doing things I still do today...worlds with backstories and histories, taking old characters and turning them into NPCs and the like. And I didn't look back since.

I guess my taste for collecting rulebooks, too, goes back to Greg, and playing good old basic D&D.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:17 AM

Role Call 13

Roll the Bones: Role Call 13

What's your least favorite thing about roleplaying?

Hmm, this is a tough one. I don't mind the work, the preparation, because building a world is fun, to me. It might be the lack of opportunity that I actually get to roleplay, the time and ground breaking needed to have such a session come together is what is the most pain in the butt about it. Roleplaying takes work, as does getting a time and a place for it. Heck, when time is a premium, finding the time and space to do your email turns can sometimes be a challenge, and I resent somewhat that I have to portion out things so that I can do so.

Posted by Jvstin at 8:52 AM

March 23, 2003

Role Call 11

Roll the Bones: Role Call 11

This one has a deceptively simple question:

What's the best roleplaying game you've never played?

I could spend the entry talking about what makes the "best" RPG, so I won't. I'll take a broad view of the word best and take it to mean the RPG that most interests and intrigues me.

It's a good question. So I will pick a few games and talk about them.

Nobilis is a good answer, since I've been intrigued by it for quite some time, and do want to get a copy (of the new edition) and try it out. I think I could play the game and enjoy it...and GM it as well.

Exalted also looks very very intriguing. I have the original book, and the Dragon-blooded, and the world presented therein feels a lot less...stifling than World of Darkness can be.
A lot more "four color action and adventure", either as rebels against a corrupt empire, or the heroes of that empire trying to stamp out the dangerous Solars.

It reminds me a bit of the contrast between the Technocracy and the Traditions, although I think that Mage IS overbiased to be played more by the Trads. Exalted seems to be much "fairer"

The third game I would like to play/GM but haven't is Continuum. Like Exalted, I have a copy of it, but no one to play it. I should do a review of the full game sometime, since I don't think its that well-known...and it should be. The idea of the game is to play time travelers, and the focus is on the societies and interactions of these time travelers with each other, their environments and those who would shake the foundations of time--the Narcissists.

Posted by Jvstin at 4:18 PM

March 15, 2003

Role Call Ten: Dream On Part II

Roll the Bones

What licensed property would you really like to see make the jump to roleplaying games?

Well, excepting Dune as already taken, I will have to go for another choice, and I will stick into the space genre.

Peter F. Hamilton's Confederation universe.

Like Dune's universe, its a big canvas. Several star-spanning powers, high technology, interesting could even eliminate the "dysfunction" storyline, and still have an intriguing milieu to explore. Hamilton has written several stories in the universe that take place before the dysfunction, and they are every bit as good as the novels.

The range of characters to play could range from a trader like Joshua Calvert, to a Marine in the service of New Kong to alien characters.

The closest thing there is thus far is a paperback guidebook to the series but a real RPG, even if it was D20, would be most welcome.

Posted by Jvstin at 9:09 PM

February 3, 2003

Roll Call 5: The Dice

Roll Call 5: The Dice of Death

Should dice really have a life-or-death authority over the fate of the heroes in a roleplaying game?

As a decision-maker, NO. As a confirmer of Karma, they can.

Let me explain and give a couple of examples. My older brother, who've I discovered actually reads this blog, believed in the "tyranny of the dice". Or, at least that's what I felt he did. One time during a game session he ran, the characters, trapped in a Lost World sort of alternate world, were caught out in the open by the dreaded "wandering monster". My brother rolled the dice to see what sort of monster it was.

It was a T-rex. The characters were in absolutely no shape to take on something like that, and if it wasn't for my magic-user having a light spell to temporarily blind the beast, it would have caught us and likely killed us. I never told him at the time, but I thought that was taking the dice too far. Sure, a wandering monster in this alternate world, fine. But something that our characters not only could not stand up against but had little chance of running away from and escaping? That was too far. I recall a completely different incident, where the characters were beset upon by wraiths, poor little 2nd and 3rd level characters. My Ranger managed to incapacitate one by an unlikely series of rolls involving a thrown chair. Again, though, it was a situation unbalanced for the characters, and only that luck saved them from certain death.

So, when I started Gming, I decided I could not be so...Darwinian. Not that I encouraged player stupidity, mind you, but unlikely and rare catastrophe were not things I liked. As an example, as a GM, the players were searching through some Kobold caverns for a lost evil temple. A kobold archer targeted the cleric, and scored a critical hit by the dice roll I made, but I didn't let that happen. Why? Because the PCs were doing as right as they can, and without the cleric to heal herself, the characters would likely have been ground up like hamburger getting to the evil temple (it was a bit of a railroad, the only way out was through). So, I let the archer hit the cleric, but didn't make it as fatal. The cleric survived, albeit with few hit points, and it made the fight at the temple more exciting, but not a death sentence.

To use a last counter example, once, a character decided to slip away from the party during the night they camped in some mountains, and try and find a rumored Blue dragon lair. This character was not a thief, and this was long before the skills system that would have even given him some hiding ability. (he was a plain Fighter). Even so, he made it to the cavern Razamatazz (sue me for not being creative on the Dragon's name) was sleeping. Did Hazzard go for the obvious choices I pointed out as subtle hints? No, he decided to take an entire trunk of gold and jewels.

Needless to say, this woke up the dragon, and needless to say, after Hazzard got electrocuted, his friends paid heavily for a Raise Dead spell. When the dragon breathed lightning, I did not shirk from the damage results, even though it was something like 40 points of damage, and Hazzard failed his saving throw. His own stupidity bought him the farm, and in that case, I didn't feel bad about the situation. He had made his own bed by his actions.

So I don't let the dice undercut my decisions or the player choices, it reinforces them. I think that blindly following the dice's tyranny, to the point of character death, makes a fetish of the things, and it is less fun.

Posted by Jvstin at 11:05 AM