Monday, October 25, 2021

Life is a Test. Testing 1-2-3.

A little over a week ago, I posted some test images. I hadn't realized they were live on the blog until a friend called me wondering what was up. 

A lot and very little was "up". I had pneumonia and a lot of time on my hands. You see, having pneumonia and no fever indicates COVID. That is basically the kill mechanism for COVID. You have an infection that doesn't trigger a defense which leads to pneumonia, then you die. So, aside from getting tested for COVID weekly, I didn't have anything to do except go online. 

Coughing until you have a headache isn't conducive for reading or writing so the blog went on the back burner. I did some digital drawings, download a game to review and wanted to share them on one of my favorite websites: the Cosmoquest Forums. It's all about astronomy, but it's been around for 20 years or more and I have quite a few friends there. Right now they have an issue where you can't post images via an upload but you can via load an image via URL. Hence the images uploaded in that test file. 

After a while, I started having 3 or 4-hour stints where I felt fine. I began building models and uploading the images to the blog post I didn't realize was live. 

Then more bad news followed by some good news. My house... the one that burned... had asbestos in it. Yes, the irony. Now for the good news. Nothing in the garage was burned or contaminated with asbestos so it all needed to be packed up and moved to allow for cleanup of the interior house. Of course, this happened while I was sick so I had to pay someone do it. If you ever have the chance to not clean your garage and have someone else do it, I cannot recommend this enough. :)  

Dozens of really cool items were found in the garage. A headset with a microphone, a light ring, a second microphone, some models, dozens of painted... yes PAINTED! figurings, a set of drumsticks, some books, and a few Christmas gifts we had bought for the kids.  

Suddenly, I had something to do that didn't require too much energy. Play with toys! But not the ones I bought for the kids. My wife was admendent. 

When I started podcasting, I originally envisioned it as a video series, hence the light ring and extra microphone. Unfortunately, my face is not the stuff videos are made of and I stuffed all of it into a box in the garage. 

But you know what a light ring is great for? Taking pictures of models. And fortunately, all of my Star Wars models survived the fire and found hundreds of painted figures in the garage. So, my next series will be on figurines and models. 

I just need to finish this Review Series. My latest review is of a book found in the garage, How to Make War. This is week 43 and I am on review number 44, so I'm a week ahead. And I didn't even count my laptop review as one. I've got to finish this thing.  

So back to the models. The right ring is great for taking pictures. I can control so much more with the light ring.
X-Wing Poe's X-Wing T.I.E. and T.I.E. Advanced



If I want to show off some of my models and figures, this ring will come in handly. I dropped 9 bucks on it at Mashalls. I just need a good backdrop. I'll probably start with a basic black and a basic white and move on from there. 

I can't tell you about the Christmas gifts, I'm not ready to post about the figures and the models yet, so that leaves the microphone, headset, and drumsticks. 

A while ago, I abandoned my podcast. Before I got this pneumonia which makes speaking difficult, I decided to rebrand my podcast with the name Friday Night Death Slots. Back in September, I posted a short message on Anchor which included the new theme music for the show. I am not known for my musical abilities, but I do have some tiny interest, which explains the drumsticks, the microphone and headset.


So we have some good stuff happening. This is a test. 

Review - How to Make War By James F. Dunnigan

Title: How to Make War
Year: 1982, 1993, 2003
Author: James F. Dunnigan
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 257 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 Gold Stars

This review covers one of those things you know, but don't really know. How to Make War by Jim Dunnigan reads like an RPG. James Dunnigan is an author, a military-political analyst, a consultant, and a wargame designer. He designed games for Avalon Hill and founded Simulations Publications Inc.

Despite being both a gamer and historian myself, up until this review I believed that Jim and James Dunnigan were two different people. It explains a lot. 

How to Make War is not a gamebook but a guide to war. While the title is focused on current military affairs, each section is applicable to many different eras of warfare. The intent of the book is education, not practical military knowledge. A quick read-through will greatly enhance the reader's background knowledge of what it takes to produce a war, productive or otherwise. 

Structurally, the book's 29 chapters are divided into 8 parts. Each part covers one major aspect of warfare. In order, they are: 

  1. Ground Combat, 
  2. Air Operations, 
  3. Naval Operations, 
  4. Human Factors, 
  5. Special Weapons, 
  6. Warfare by the Numbers, 
  7. Moving the Goods, 
  8. and Tools of the Trade.
A lot has changed over the years, and the effect of these changes has yet to percolate down to the battlefield level. Mr. Dunnigan takes a shot at predictions of how new technology will change the battlefield while presenting data from past conflicts. Everything is incremental. 

Since the Big One and The Second Big One, wars have become smaller and more politically complex affairs without losing any of their characteristic violence and horror. What changes are the speed and sophistication of the destruction along with the long-lasting effects of these conflicts on humanity. Sadly, Mr. Dunnigan points out that many humans feel that the aversion to war is a lost opportunity to right some sort of wrong. 

While much of the book deals with the hardware of warfare, the important bits are political drives and logistics of the attempt to meet those drives with real-world resources. To paraphrase Mr. Dunnigan, "amateurs think of tactics while professionals think of logistics." Nothing plays out worse than declaring a goal that cannot be obtained. Don't make threats, make promises. 

Mr. Dunnigam walks through the lives of those who will fight and why in addition to the hardware they will use. Starting with the infantry in Part 1, the readers follow the cans and can'ts of each resource available to the would-be warmonger. Aircraft are quick; quicker than a ship but not as quick as a satellite. They land someplace between the two when it comes to delivering hardware, information, and personnel to the front. 

Human factors address by the book covers the reasons people will fight, their leadership, and the intelligence resources available to both. When humans are involved, Murphy's Law rears its ugly head, and whoever considers that fact first has more control over who will be victorious. Additionally, since virtually all armed forces will find themselves at peace most of the time, what do you do with them? 

One of the biggest challenges on the battlefield is the application or refusal to use so-called "special weapons". The chemical, biological, and nuclear crowdpleasers. Yes, they are the big stick but taking out whole environments for weeks, months, or decades at a time might not be the victory one craves. On a more limited front, other special weapons are used to wage war in space. Special forces engage in brief, limited-purpose engagements. Circling back like the last chapter, militaries are able to engage in activities that are just as hostile as any conflict without using arms. Relief operations are a standout feature quelling or fueling the desires of war in an enemy, as is training foreign troops and waving the flag. 

Part Six covers logistics and attrition. Or the real reasons no one attacks without good reason. Part Seven pairs nicely with Part Six as it covers the costs and ability to transport to the tools of war. The final part in this section covers tried and true weapons and considers the untried technology against what the future may bring. It's interesting to see the reality of logistics weighed against the speculation of what may come. 

I've noticed two knocks against this book from other reviews that I completely disagree with: the lack of sources and the American-centric reality it presents. 

This is not a textbook, it is a reflection of the lifetime of study. It's all right in the title "How to Make War". It is a study of why wars happen and why they often fail to result in positive outcomes for both winners and losers. Sources over reflections would make this a textbook. The tact of this book is how costly war is in every term; a textbook on that topic would cause the reader to utterly miss the point of the book. 

The second point, the American-centric aspect is merely a reflection of the United States Budget placing warfare over all other things. Yes, we win wars due to insane spending which has many obvious costs. No, those wars often don't benefit anyone long-term and often have disastrous consequences. Or more humorously, America winning a conflict simply allows the losing side access to Red Dawn on Netflix, resulting in a lot of non-English speakers leaving to say the word: "Wolverines!". And if you think about it, war is about as cute and cuddly as a wolverine in your pants. A circumstance Mr. Dunnigan covers completely. Don't mistake the numbers for the reality of the situation. 

5 gold stars of 5 stars. This book is available on Amazon.com. Clicking the link supports me and this website with remuneration from Amazon. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Test images





 




Sunday, October 10, 2021

Review - Necrotic Gnome's Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy

Allelujah! I found a great title to start with, Necrotic Gnome's Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy. 

I lost my 1e books and wanted a replacement. I know Necrotic Gnome has been threatening me with a Kickstarter of physical books, but I couldn't wait for a printed copy. I ordered both the Player's Tome and Referee's Tome from DriveThruRPG. Previously, I had been making do with the short free edition which is pretty fine. 

Title: Advanced Fantasy Player's Tome
Rule Set: Old-School Essentials
Year: 2021
Author: Gavin Norman
Publisher: Necrotic Gnome
Pages: 257 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 Gold Stars

Advanced Fantasy
Player's Tome

SM06 The Warren
Advanced Fantasy
Player's Tome

Title: Advanced Fantasy Referee's Tome
Rule Set: Old-School Essentials
Year: 2021
Author: Gavin Norman
Publisher: Necrotic Gnome
Pages: 257 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 Gold Stars

Advanced Fantasy
Referee's Tome

Advanced Fantasy<br />Referee's Tome
Advanced Fantasy
Referee's Tome


What I was expecting was an updated rendition of the 1e D&D books. I was wrong. 

These books have more in common with the B/X sets or perhaps the Rules Cyclopedia. But wait! That's not all. The author, Gavin Norman set out to refine B/X by remove some warts and flaws. Not only was he successful, but he also went on to fix all of the Unearthed Arcana classes and the accursed Bard class of e1. Somehow, he has three different editions fused in one. Impressive. 

What fascinates me the most is how there is a basic and advanced method of character generation. The basic method uses race as a class while the advanced method allows all races to engage in a class. With a tiny modification, this is exactly how I play. The rules do not say is if you can mix basic and advanced methods of characters, but why the hell not. I allow for Basic Elves and AD&D Elven Clerics. 

The books are well-paced for teaching new players from a single set of books, which is right in line with what the original B/X books did. Timely information is presented when it's needed and not before. Mr. Norman has also rolled in some welcome updates, such as THAC0 and ascending AC. I hate them both because they are too user-friendly, but this set competently explains all three methods to suit the taste of all three player bases. 

Both books are 257 pages long a-piece. The Player's Tome is really the shining star of the set as it contains the most varied information. The Referee's Tome approximates the DMG and Monster Manual of e1 all in one book. B/X didn't have a DMG until the Red Box if I remember correctly and this format avoids getting all murky like the e1 DMG. 

So, where are the flaws? Well, there aren't any or many that I could find. More like chatter from the peanut gallery. 

The one thing that amused me was the author named a spell "Pass-Wall". Back in the Moldvay version of B/X, it was spelled "Passwall" and was completely omitted from the books except for the Staff of Wizardry description, which doesn't explain the spell. See, real peanut gallery stuff. 

I am not a fan of the short monster stat blocks like a module synopsis but have to admit it allows for the presentation of far more critters than a full quarter page stat block of the e1 Monster Manual. I always got warm fuzzies when I found a module that included an appendix with full stat blocks for new monsters. If Necrotic Gnome changed its mind and created a Monster Manual with full stat blocks, I'd totally buy that. 

The last item, I don't even know how to quantify. There is too much art. WTF? Did I say that? I love all of the art, but the format is meant for the beautiful full-color, hardback version of the book. I have a printable pdf. If I print this thing, it's going to have qualities similar to a '79 era xerox. That makes me sad and I can't wait to purchase a hard copy. 

There you have it, I found three flaws and two of them make me want to purchase a physical copy of something I already have. 

So, I guess this is another 5 gold star review. But you don't have to take my word for it, check out what some other reviewers said about this set: 

RPG.net Review: "The bullet-point presentation hits the sweet spot when it comes to saving space (and thus cramming more material between the books' pages) as well as creating concise texts with zero ambiguity."

Reviews from R'lyeh: "What is notable with all of these Classes is that the designer has tried to keep them unique, to keep their abilities from encroaching on those of Classes, and to keep them from being too powerful."

Mr. Tim Brannan gives the physical set a glorious, jealously inducing review on The Other Side Blog.  I can't wait for these to become available again. 

Again, if you haven't followed these bloggers, now is the time. Or you could cut to the chase and follow Campaign Wiki's OSR feed. It is amazing. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Introduction: How to...

If I've said it once, I've said it 100 times. The 1981 Basic Edition of D&D is my edition of Dungeons and Dragons. Before that, I had the 1979 AD&D books which seemed a little opaque to 7 and 8 year old me. But by 9, I could grasp all of the ins and outs of the Moldvay set. 

D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)

D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
D&D Expert Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
D&D Expert Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
D&D Expert Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)

At 49, I set a challenge of reviewing 52 gaming culture significant titles. I've done novels, movies, game modules, supplements but only a handful of rule sets. The reason is pretty clear, how does one review old or new products which emulate old games? Everyone should know everything about them already. 

A month or so ago, a reader whom I shall call Blackrazor gave me dozens of books to replace the ones I lost. Additionally, he threw in a bunch of things I have never seen. By way of thanks to my readers, I want to review them. 

This loops me back to my original observation that everyone who plays these games should know them. So true. 

Back in February of this year, I reviewed The White Box by Atlas Games. This product isn't a game, it's a developer's tool to create games. In that review, I mentioned that the vast majority of essays written for this title explore the pedagogy of games. Pedagogy is the method and practice of teaching. 

This nicely brings me around to this little piece of artwork: 


The Moldvay version of D&D was meant to teach from the book, as opposed to the methods used in the prior editions. It's a fine distinction, in intent, scope, and for my purposes, a perfect distinction.  

OD&D, Holmes, and AD&D e1 are very fine games, but they were not designed and developed as the Moldvay books were which is very evident in terms of play and players. These three sets were designed with the intention that one person would own the books and that one person would teach the rules. Moldvay on the other hand, explains the rules with an almost boardgame approach so that players pick a role and act on it rather than the exploration of roles (and rules) that older editions supposed. 

It's the method of teaching that changes between editions. Players were always cautioned against reading the DM's material. But in a generic sense, meaning they shouldn't metagame. Knowing the rules was always encouraged, but defining which rules were in play was the purview of the DM. So, when players hit those OD&D type games, they often knew how to run a game even when in action as a player character, but they learned directly from the person hosting the game. In B/X the rules themselves teach. 

Going forward, I hope to review several B/X sets from the point of view of how the rules convey the pedagogy of the game. 

I have 10 more entries for my 2021 review series, if I could make whole rulesets half of those, I think I will have succeded in this adventure.  

HP-14dk1000 Laptop Review

Normally I would place hardware reviews over on Unpwnd.com but this one is special. It makes my website and games go. 

This particular HP is only available from Best Buy. At the $299 price point, you know this isn't a gaming machine. 

Here are the stats: 

  • Screen Size: 14 inches
  • Screen Resolution: 1366 x 768 (HD)
  • Processor Model: AMD Athlon Silver 3000 Series
  • Processor Model Number: AMD Athlon Silver 3050U
  • Processor Speed (Base): 2.3 gigahertz
  • Solid State Drive Capacity: 128 gigabytes
  • System Memory (RAM):  4 gigabytes
  • Graphics: AMD Radeon
  • Operating System: Windows 10 Home in S Mode
  • Battery Life: (up to) 8 hours
This laptop isn't a powerhouse but is adequate for webwork, minor photo editing, and lightweight games. 

For some buggy reason, Best Buy's spec sheet proactively shoots this laptop in the foot. It is not a 2-in-1, does not have a touch screen, a keyboard backlight, or a voice assistant. In my mind, these missing features actually define a functional laptop, so they aren't really lacking. I expect a phone or a Chromebook to talk back. I expect a drawing surface on a tabby. Not so much on a laptop. Not having these features is a-okay. 

The one stat that jumps out at me is the screen resolution. 1366x768. That is the finest screen of 2002, it's a weak point. In the image below, the desktop looks sharp due to the vibrant colors of the photo. When you go text on white, the weakness of 1366x768 is pretty apparent. 


It does have three other flaws, all of which revolve around the keyboard. The layout is "creative", placing the question mark on the bottom row, arranges the navigation keys vertically down the right-hand side of the keyboard and the trackpad doesn't have much in the way of palm rejection. It's really annoying, like $300 dollars annoying. 


On the plus side, the keyboard is responsive. The boot time is very nice and storage space is more than adequate at 128GB. Four GB of memory is kind of on the low end, but it's enough to run multiple tabs, GIMP, or Inkscape. The trackpad has actual buttons which are nice.  

The port arrangement and loadout is really great. It has 2 USB, 1 USB-C, HDMI, a card slot, and an ethernet port. While these are all pretty standard, but having all of them on a budget frame is surprising. 

A handful of items I missed. This laptop has great speakers for a subpar machine. Steamed movies actually look good on this machine. Neither is "brilliant" but this is more than what $300 should get you. The battery life is a quandary to me. I've had sessions where it pooped out in 3 hours and others that lasted all day long. I suspect that A/V software stresses the poor thing too much and text-only operations don't tax it at all. 

All in all, I give it 2.5 of 5 stars.