Saturday, November 6, 2021

Gather & Game Review

I have no idea why it took me so long to get to this shop. Gather & Game is a real gamers' shop. I took my son, Nathan, and my daughter, Catherine. Nathan was more impressed with the shop than Catherine. She had been playing guitar while my wife was at an online class, which is less than optimal. 

Name: Gather & Game
Location: 205 Grant St., Buffalo, New York 14213
Phone: 716-342-2823

Gather & Game is located on Grant Street, a historic neighborhood with charm. Many of the shops have been there for decades and the game shop is no exception. The storefront is painted in vivid hues of purple and pink. From the outside, you'd have no idea that they crammed that much product into such a tiny space and left room for tables and gaming. 

There is no missing this place from the street, even when surrounded by equally colorful shops. 

Inside is cramped but comfortable. Shelves, displace cases, and gaming tables occupy most of the space. If you want to stroll along, you'll need to walk down Grant Street, which is always an adventure. 

I had to contain myself walking through the shelves. They have so many games. Everything from board games to Traveller5. I also had to remind myself that I had a budget to stick to, otherwise, I would have walked out with an armload of Warhammer, Battletech, and e5 products plus half a dozen board games that caught my eye. They had a few featured products but the shelves are crammed with perhaps 100 different types of games. 

They have something for everyone. 

Even better, the staff and owners are so knowledgeable about the wide array of products they have on hand. And it's not that salesman sort of knowledge, it's that warm and friendly passion about play and enjoyment that shines through. Even my heavy metal daughter smiled a bit when talking about products. 

They are already back to hosting game nights and I can't wait to go back. If you get a chance to visit Buffalo, make time to stop at our local shops for your gaming fix. 


Friday, November 5, 2021

Live Another Day Or Buy Mac A Drink (Computer Review)

I don't like to do computer reviews on as I already have a website for computers, software, and hardware called just for that purpose. However, since this is a website for Old Games, sometimes a post about computers comes naturally. 

And this is one of those rare computer-themed posts. To support These Old Games, I maintain a Blueberry Mac iBook released back on July 21st, 1999. This thing is 22 years old and still ticking despite some serious carnage done to it. Here are the specs as they stand today: 

Processor: 1, 300 MHz PowerPC 750 (G3)
FPU: Integrated
Bus Speed: 66 MHz
RAM Type: PC66 SDRAM, 144-pin PC66 SO-DIMM memory modules.
RAM Installed: 64 MB onboard plus one 512 MB module for a total of 576 MB.
RAM Slots: 1
Video Card: ATI Rage Mobility (2X AGP) with 4 MB of SDRAM.
Built-in Display: 12.1" TFT
Resolution: 800x600
Storage: 10 GB internal, 32 GB external plus a secondary 128 GB external drive
Optical: 24X CD-ROM
Modem: 56k v.90 Standard Ethernet: 10/100Base-T
AirPort: 802.11b
USB Ports: 1 (1.1)
Battery Type: 45 W h LiIon
Battery Life: 6 Hours (more with a  RAM disc, like 24 hrs+)
OSes Installed: 9.2.2 and 10.04 Kodiak.
Dimensions: 1.8 x 13.5 x 11.6
Weight: 6.7 lbs (3.04 kg)

I suppose the first question I should answer is, what is the boot time on 20+-year-old computer? About 2 minutes with all of the control panels and extensions turned on. See for yourself by watching the video below. 

With everything turned off, it boots much faster but I virtually never do that. 

So, what do I use this thing for? Gaming, writing, drawing, and CAD. A lot of what you see here and on my other websites is written on this machine. I also listen to music, podcasts, and audiobooks. 

By way of example, I wrote all of my Traveller posts using this computer, which included some wireframe designs. My first ideations for the Devil Fish freighter started on the Mac and were transferred to another, more modern machine for improvements. All of the writing was done in Word and the basic outline for the ship was done in RayDream Designer 3. 

Long before I used this machine for my websites, I was using a machine very much like it to create whole books. My father's games, like Knight Hack were written on a 512K Mac and then converted several times until they reached their modern form. 

The interesting thing is, when combined with a Linux computer and some PDF software, I can bring my whole DriveThruRPG library with me on the Mac. Yes, that's right. Your modern works can be opened (usually) on a 22-year-old computer. Sometimes it balks, but most of the time it just works. 

Surprisingly, I often don't need to tweak anything in the PDFs for Adobe 3, 4 or 5. I am running a lot of older Adobe software, so if I do encounter a glitch I can usually tweak it via the Mac itself. There are some rare cases where nothing can be done to "fix" or "convert" a file to something the Mac can read. I just deal with it.

I will grant you that images are not so smooth on the iBook due to the 800x600 display. They look like they're printed on canvas. Nothing can be done to fix it, but usually, it isn't a problem worth mentioning. 

So, what can't I do with this 22-year-old machine? I can't print. Using the internet is problematic. There is software that will get me on the web, but it doesn't handle .CSS well. Believe it or not, this machine shows up as a Nokia cellphone in Google Analytics due to the handling of the emulation of the browser. 

This particular iBook has an Airport card. Theoretically, I could connect wirelessly to the internet but I would have to use an old router. As in a router old enough to have security issues, so I don't do it. Part of the process of using this machine is it forces me to create backups. While I am not an insane security nut, I do love my backups. These occur naturally by moving files to my 32 GB USB drive or the 128 GB external drive. 

Ironically, I had been creating DVD backups as a part of this process but they did not survive the house fire which did not consume my Mac, the USB drive, or the external drive despite being dowsed with fire, water, and presumably a massive power surge as the fuse box and wiring burst into flames and failed. The DVDs incinerated, right next to the hardware that didn't. How does that happen?  

To be honest, using the internet on this machine is a poor experience so I try to avoid it. I do have a local copy of Wikipedia on the 128 GB hard drive. I can access it with Netscape Navigator which is totally crazy to see in 2021. My copy of Wikipedia is wildly out of date as it hasn't been updated in years, but it works well enough for basic research. I sometimes connect for games, which seems to be less problematic as they are old enough to not break. 

In my next post for, which will be written on this Mac, is about loading Linux via Crouton to a Chromebook. 

The great thing about writing on this machine is the intimacy. I don't have updates running, firewalls popping, no Facebook or Mewe starving for my attention. It's just me and the words, not the world. It's really nice to "unplug" without actually unplugging. My first cause for getting into computing decades ago was for problem-solving, speed, and automation. The superiority of a computer over a word processor or typewriter is amazing. The ability to make digital art is complementary to physical production and allows for techniques and ideas that can't be done on paper alone. Add in that an electronic product can be created for sharing or printing is really great. 

To me, this production is what computing is all about and this iBook still produces. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Cepheus Light - Bad*ssed Scholar Character

In my last post, I reviewed Stellagama's Cepheus Light Upgraded. One of the great things about the character generation process is you can take any rolls for characteristics and turn them into a pretty functional character, no matter how bad those rolls are. 

My Scholar has the following stats: 

STR: 7
DEX: 8
END: 8
INT: 9
EDU: 10
SOC: 8 

In the fifth term, I tallied a mark
for the three skills I
was thinking about. 
Those were some great rolls and I would think these stats would have been great for a Scout or some other military type. Since I was merely going in rolled order, this happened to be the Scholar character. I figured I could "save" this character by making them a skill hound, where they had stayed in the business until they had an insane number of skills.

That didn't happen. 

In rolling one of each character type, I came across a quirk where something bad happened to a Scholar character that from a storytelling point of view should not have happened. The Scholar was the only character to suffer a significant injury. He lost an arm. 

Hmm. How does it happen that a Scholar loses an arm but none of the military types have any significant injury? 

That story comes out in the skill generation portion. 

I imagined that all 6 characters would be a part of the same crew on a ship. So the Scholar needed some people skills and every other odd skill that a military guy wouldn't have. 

I lead with carousing as a homeworld skill. In his first term, I gave him Computers and Medicine and he ended up with +2 to benefits. In the next term, he received Medicine 2 and Animals plus a contact. So far so good. In the third term and subsequent rolls, things got rough. He received another rank of Medicine and Science plus the Liaison 1 skill which was great, but then he was kidnapped and escaped. In the process, he lost an arm.  

Then he was kidnapped again. And he gained an enemy, in addition to Investigation. In his fifth term, he picked up a rank in Leadership. 

At this point, he got out of the business. Obviously, he was pushing his luck. 

So, here is where the storytelling merges with the character generation. What does this guy have in common with a merchant and a bunch of ex-military people? That third term spells it out. 

He was researching poisonous animals, breeding them for military purposes when he was kidnapped. The Scholar wanted out, so he allowed himself to be bitten by a poisonous lab animal and played dead. Once all eyes were off him, he shot his own arm off to stop the poison from reaching his brain and heart. When the government agents got to him, he was nearly dead but thanks to their quick actions, he survived and picked a government agent contact. 

Using his fourth term talent of Investigation, he arranged to be kidnapped from the government agents and vanished off the radar of his prior employers, picking up an enemy. 

It's nice when a plan comes together in character generation. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Review - Cepheus Light Upgraded

Of late, I have been ordering books instead of PDFs from DriveThruRPG. Someday, I'll have something worthy of a shelfie. In the meantime, I need to complete this series of 52 reviews in 52 weeks. This title, Cepheus Light Upgraded tallies in at 7 from the end. 

My apologies, there is no significance to the numbers or order of reviews. I have nothing planned for "the last review" because while the series will end, the reviews will not. I've enjoyed this series very much and wish to keep the idea alive in 2022. I'll probably slow down a bit, but we'll see. 

(No really, I'll slow down. 52 reviews in 52 weeks is like drinking from a firehose.) 

This isn't lucky #7, I just happened to get lucky with topic selection when significant numbers came up. 

I suppose I could do a review of DriveThruRPG's print option, but right now we're dealing with a supply chain jam. I'd be crapping on some hard-working people. I'll just leave it at every title I've ordered has been great. If you are seeing dings, scuffs, or creases, it's because I'll take my books anywhere. I'm rather abusive with my copies and these print-on-demand titles are tough enough to take it.
Title: Cepheus Light Upgraded
Rule Set: Cepheus Engine
Year: 2021
Author: Omer Golan-Joel, Richard Hazelwood,
Josh Peters, Robert L. S. Weaver
Publisher: Stellagama Publishing
Pages: 118 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 Gold Stars

Cepheus Light Upgraded
Cepheus Light Upgraded
Cepheus Light Upgraded

I'm a sucker for great art and while this book doesn't disappoint, the "gold" rating was locked in by the excellent "About the Authors" section. All four authors get a paragraph each which was very informative and descriptive. While it's impossible to tell which author contributed to which portion of the rules, this section conveys the pedigree of this edition of the ruleset and the writers. I love it.  

I'll start with the nit-picky stuff and of course, being 5 stars, there isn't much. 

First, this is a PDF in print format. The empty front page is a giveaway. Next, the "Usability" section comes too soon. It needs to appear after the About the Authors section and the Stellagama Publishing paragraph. Those sections are just as distinct from the rules as the Introduction and would serve little purpose anywhere but the front matter of this edition. The third nitpick is the word "traits" which appears in random places. Obviously, there is a high-level concept here, which is only handled tangentially and it's up to the reader to decipher the meaning. Looking around, it's a character ability in line with skills as opposed to the more fundamental characteristics. It's not much of a "problem", it is more of an observation of personal confusion. I don't grok Traveller or its variants easily so I got a tiny bit confused. 

Like D&D, there are 6 stats. They deviate from the D&D model as they pass down to the "skill" level in different ways. Yes, they can create a modifier, but sometimes they do more. For example, your character cannot have more skills than their combined Education and Intelligence score. Characters also have a Social Standing stat which controls the number of contacts they can have. 

Were it not for these "combos of ideas" there would be three obvious dump stats. The beauty of these stats is the idea tends to reward rather than punish. Contacts are a great example. These people aren't retainers or companions, they are resources that feed adventures and adventurers alike. They are far more flexible as a resource than any retainer. 

Character generation isn't much of a hurdle. Roll 2d6 six times and you are good to go. But not really. This ruleset brings back memories of MUDDing, where once you have your characteristics, you build your character's skill sets. You can't have everything as each skill takes time to develop. Initially, your character learns skills at a rate of 1 skill every 2 years then shifts to 1 skill every four. As you increase your "rank" or more correctly prestige and competence, you gain bonus skills. The downside of this is, you run the risk of injury, loss of characteristic scores, or even death as you age. As a fifty-year-old, that seems very right. 

In preparing for this review, I rolled 7 characters. The first one, I botched some things and abandoned him or her. The next six characters were generated much more smoothly. There is an "unlearning curve" if you play other games. You need to forget all of that other stuff. D&D, this is not. 

In generating 6 characters, one of each type, I found there was very little need to fiddle with the dice. It is just unlikely that you'd roll a 2-4 as you'd roll a 10, 11 or 12. No characteristic score really hampers character creation, you can be what you want to be despite poor rolls. In fact, some poor rolls create great characters. Each character has 18 different skills to choose from plus random events which modify each character. Every character feels handcrafted and unique while remaining plausible. 

Additionally, the rules assume teamwork. There is a tiny, tiny section on collaboration which is a simple and powerful tool. If a character has a matching skill set, they can turn a single project into a cooperative event. Even if the characters don't have exactly matching skills, they can still participate.  Even if it's an "Of course, you can help! Hold this flashlight," moment. While not every character can mechanically participate, the referee can break tasks and parties down into manageable cooperative events which build up the group as a team. Or creates opportunities for sabatage. It depends on how your gang rolls. 

Even though this is a sci-fi ruleset, there is the opportunity to add a touch of magic to your character in the form of cybernetics and psionics. With the exception of one character that lost an arm in the creation process, I didn't touch on cybernetics. The guy has one prosthetic arm which is not very special. It does lead to some unique character background which I will touch on in another post. Let me close this topic by restating that I generated 7 characters and only one had a significant injury. No one died or experienced a serious age crisis. And yes, to prevent "superpowerism", the rules impose harsh penalties for getting too old for the sake of more skills. 

The rules contain an adequate selection of vehicles, spaceships, weapons, and equipment. While no setting information is included, understand that this is not a good fit for Star Wars or Star Trek. It's more "hard" science fiction than Trek and nothing like the fantasy of Star Wars, while not tapping the diamond hardness of Orion's Arm. It's a great compromise as I suppose you could touch on ideas of all three without jumping the shark. 

The combat section is efficient and realistic, to a degree. These characters are far more likely to be completely unarmed and unarmored than typical science fiction types. Depending on your setting, combat might not be the thing that does in your characters. Guns are pretty lethal, without going into crazy gun tropes. Apparently, there are no disintegrations. Weapons are probably not a good tool in this ruleset and as a consequence, probably won't be the driving feature of your adventures. Cepheus Light is more the 1960s or 1970s Stainless Steel Rat type stories where death by weapons fire is more a consequence of poor planning than any planning. 

I have decided to pull out the Spaceship generation section for a later time. It's great but not something I could digest in a couple of days. I understand some of it, so we can leave it as the pregenerated ships are easy to use and mirror the combat characters to a degree. If you are thinking of having a space battle wargame, this probably isn't the ruleset for you. You could, but maybe you shouldn't. 

Building a ship from scratch is an option, but it is a pricey and time-consuming effort. This could use a few hundred to a few thousand words all on its own. I can't wait to do that, but maybe later this month. One of the better ways to break a game is to include shipbuilding rules. Cepheus Light like Traveller tends to avoid that possibility by cranking up the "science" in the "science fiction". I find it amusing that both Traveller and Cepheus Engine handwaves problems by invoking science and math. That is perfectly awesome.  

To recap, character generation is a unique minigame that sparks creativity while not being particularly murderous or time-consuming as many events can be modified away with cybernetics and luck. All and all, these rules are simple and easy to use which can provoke further expansion and complexity, if one wishes, without requiring more and more. Reviewing Cepheus Light was informative, charming, thought-provoking, and fun. I can't wait to run a session. 

Expect to see some follow-up posts to tag off of this review. 

Mythic Beast Found - Dragon Dice at the Dollar Store

Hardly worth an update, but I found the Mythic Dollar Store Dragon Dice set at my local Dollar Tree. See the image below. (Campaign Wiki Readers, you can move along unless you want to see the picture.) 

They are puke brown, but they have clearly labeled d10's for digit and tens place. They have a good bounce and lack any obvious flaws. While not as pretty as most dice, they do have promise. 

Goblin Clan Games - Great Deal

A while ago, I picked up some Goblin Clan Skeletons and Lizard Men. They are 3d printed figures at a good price. I am a sucker for Lizardmen and Skeletons.

This batch of Skeletons shows off 6 poses without duplication. 

The same for the melee/swordmen Skeletons, except these show off the detail of weapons and armor. They are great for 3d prints. 

The final image is of the Lizardmen, with slightly less detail than the Skeletons only because they wear less armor. Cold-blooded creatures wear less armor because they need to sun frequently. Or so I tell myself. 

These figures are advertised as 28 to 32 mm. I personally use 25 and 15mm, but these make excellent tokens and showpieces. I am sure none of my players will object to a slightly large piece on the table. They also have a nice range of figures suitable for player characters, which match these perfectly. Maybe I need to upscale and upgrade? 

Anyway, right now Goblin Clan Games is running two different promos, 30% off and free shipping on orders over $35.00. No code or link is required. Now is the time to check them out. 

For me, now is the time to get paint. I really should have painted them a while ago. These look like fun and I the larger scale will help me practice my pitiful painting skills. That skill has wildly atrophied over the years and I want it back. Time to rank up.