Category Archives: Monday

A Cool Thing on Monday: Rollabind

I am a bit of a notebook nerd. I mean, yes, I’m a nerd of many stripes, but office supplies are one of my great weaknesses. I can cheerfully compare the virtues of a Moleskine vs. Miquelrius vs. Rhodia vs. Picadilly far beyond the interest of most folks. This is occasionally a problem (specifically a storage problem) but it dovetails well with a lot of my other interests.

One thing I’ve been using for over a decade is the Rollabind system, and it’s so incredibly useful that I keep coming back to it. It’s a binding system that makes for a nice alternative to three-hole punch. It uses a series of rings along the binding that makes it easy to add and remove pages, but also allows the whole document to open and close easily like a notebook without the weird angles that comes from putting things in a binder.

It’s a little difficult to visualize, but an illustration should clarify it. the paper is punched like so:

You then put a plastic ring in each groove, and the whole thing is bound up like so:

From the side, it closes up to look like this.

Bottom line, you get repositionable pages, like you have with a three ring binder, but with the slimmer, more utilitarian profile of a notebook. Plus, once you have a punch you can easily make notebooks of any size. I’m partial to punching stacks of index cards to bind them on one edge or the other, making little notebooks of them.

The benefits for RPGs are obvious. You can make quick notebooks for character sheets or for game sets. The ability to take notes up up front then move them to the back makes it easy to make for an all-purpose toolbox.

I realize this is a pretty unrestrained endorsement of rollabind, but as noted, I’ve been using these since the late nineties, and you have no idea how happy I am to not have to deal with shelving three ring binders.

Anyway, you can get this stuff via Rollabind on their website, though if you want to get it in stores, Staples carries it too. If you want the somewhat more swank version then you can get them via Levenger as the Circa System.[1] I should note that a lot of my enthusiasm is because I invested in a binding kit back in the day, which I probably would not have done if I hadn’t seen the notebooks first-hand (Waldenbooks had some as day planners) so if you’re curious, I would strongly suggest checking out a notebooks at Staples (or sometimes Target) and seeing how useful it looks to you.

1 – Myndology has a similar disc bound system but it’s much more expensive and offers no real benefits, but I mention out of a desire to be thorough.

Cool Stuff on Monday

Trying to get back into using Monday’s to point to things I’m excited about and remind me why I like the internet. And we’ll start with Strands of Fate, a new Fate based game that has just been released after a pretty robust beta. You can read more about it here, but the quick pitch is that it looks like a well-engineered version of Fate that makes a few different choices of emphasis (like removing the adjective ladder) and goes a little more crunchy. Someone describe it as a love child between GURPS and Fate 3.0 (and I think they meant that in a good way) but I’m not sure I’d even go that far. I think it’s still close to Fate at heart, keeping a lot of the fast and loose, but nailing down a few more quantitative things like equipment. I’m still reading my pdf, but it’s pretty cool so far.

I have been reading the hell out of Gray, Brown & Macunfo’s Gamestorming, and enjoying it enough that I’ve been taking my time going through it (and taking notes! Voluntarily!). I’d been following the blog and I enjoyed Gray’s previous writings on visualizing information (I have the initial copy of the unbook Marks & Meaning), so I was already ready for this to rock. See, Gamestorming is about games you can play in a business context to get things done in meetings, such as brainstorming, team building, problem solving and so on. There’s some fantastic analysis of games and creativity, but the bulk of the book is dedicated to the actual games themselves. In a weird bit of nerd recursion, I’ve been looking at a lot of these games he’s adapted to business and been thinking about them in terms of adapting them back into games, and it’s been quite useful. It especially offers some useful insight on shared creation, as in games like the DFRPG. Sometime after I finish, this one will probably merit a full review, but for now suffice it to say I’m very much enjoying it.

On the fiction end, Harry Connolly’s Game of Cages is out. I mentioned this when it was released, but having finished it I need to mention it again because it rocks hard. As with its predecessor, it’s much more on the action-horror end of the Urban Fantasy spectrum, full of dark, painful stuff. But it rockets forward, once again underscoring how scary you can make something without ichor by illustrating it’s impact more than the thing itself. This is shaping up to be a great series, and since there are only two books, this is a great time to get on board. However, I would definitely remind any prospective reader that I do not lightly describe this as dark. Very bad things happen to people, and the usual protections of fiction are no place to be seen. I find it a breath of fresh air, but I also have warned my wife off the series.

I have to recommend reading What Batman Taught Me About Being A Good Dad. As a newish father, it kind of doubly struck home and got me thinking about what I will be watching with my son as he gets older.

These are too pretty to go without comment: Typographic Maps.

Linnaeus (Who has been doing some FANTASTIC daily game analysis) has offered a summary of why Race for the Galaxy works so well for him that I am in strong agreement with. Race is one of my absolute favorite games, but one I only get to play every so often because it’s got a bit of a learning curve.

Alex Epstein, one of my favorite writers about writing, breaks down the 6th element of story. John August, who is also in that category, provides the short answer for how to write a romance.

Gamefiend has started a kickstarter to fund his 4e villain book, Worldbreakers. If you haven’t seen the stuff he’s done so far, you should. With the Worldbreaker’s he’s basially creating boss fights where ther transitions, environment and flow of the fight are all baked into the monster. This is good stuff, and more it’s exactly the sort of stuff that D&D 4essentials could use more of. The fact that Gamefiend is probably one of the most insightful guys writing about D&D these days is just a bonus (and if At-Will isn’t on your 4essentials radar, it should be)

That should do for now. I already feel reminded that the Internet is full of awesome.

Monday – 5 Fun Stops

I am not yet used to this vacation thing, and I’m posting this late, so I’ll just go fro the cheesiest of copouts – the list post. To be a little fair, I’ll stay within the bounds of cool things for monday and use today to rattle off 5 sites that might be worth visiting. I might never have gotten around to doing a full post on any of them, but they rattle around in my mind, and I want to get them out there.

1. Knowledge Games – This is another one from Dave Gray, who writes a lot of really interesting stuff about the presentation of information and the nature of the book. This particular project is all about taking game thinking and applying it to business situations. Like all good experiments, the results are hit or miss, but it’s a fantastic perspective on the nature of games, and worth checking out.

2. Cool Tools and Holycool get treated as one topic. Both are basically just blogs of neat stuff. Banal, I know, but it’s really, really neat stuff, and I like stuff!

3. Tumblr – It’s a free microblogging site, which is a fancy way to say it’s ideally suited for posts that are longer than twitter but shorter than a full bore post. Thing is, the clean interface and the robust handling of media (it imbeds photos and clips and such very smoothly) have resulted in a lot of people starting to look at it as an option for full time, hassle free blogging. Even people with fulltime blogs often keep a tumblr blog as a place to dump things that don’t really merit a full post, but are still worth capturing.

4. Peter Bregman is a blogger for the Harvard Business Review, and most of what he does is pretty much summed up right there except, well, he’s actually really good. He doesn’t write a lot, but his hit rate for posts I save for later reading is very high.

5. Quest for Fun is the blog of the Black Diamond Game Store in Concord, CA. It’s interesting and informative, sure, but it’s especially noteworthy because the owner of the shop really goes out of his way to provide an eyes on the ground view of how things work in the game industry form his perspective. He recently did a series of graphs breaking down sales by brand in various categories (RPGs, games & minis) which were wuite informative.

Cool Monday: TV Tropes

I was listening to a theater review on the radio this weekend, and it made my brain feel squishy. It was kind of a reminder of everything I hate about review culture: for every enthusiastic or experienced voice out there willing to talk about the subject, there are two who want to use the subject as a launching point to tell the reader how awesome they are and how they would have done things. The ratio varies a bit from subject to subject, and a lot of what allows this is that the standards for how to talk about things like shows and books are fuzzy at best. There’s a certain amount of academic practice related to analysis and deconstruction, but even that’s hit or miss. It’s a mix of useful insights and self-referential hoo-haw, and good luck telling which is which.

And it is with all that in mind that I realize I am all the more amazed by today’s cool thing in the internet,

If you’re familiar with the site, then you know it’s horrible power. It may be one of the most interesting things to read on the entire Internet, and once you start on it, you often find yourself 2 hours later with 20 tabs open as you go through the stuff. But if you’re not familiar with it, then you may both thank and hate me for opening this particular door.

See, TVtropes is the best analysis of television in the world, at least through a certain lens. It’s a wiki of, well, television tropes – elements and ideas that come up often enough to be recognizable. In addition to entries on these ideas like “The Eigen Plot”, “Applied Phlebotinum” or “Authority Equals Asskicking” they include extensive cross-references to where the idea appears (or is subverted) in TV, movies, anime, manga, comics, roleplaying games and very nearly anywhere else anyone can think of. I know it sounds dry when described, but the proof is in the reading. Just go poke around a bit. You’ll see.

I love this site on a few levels. First, it’s just tremendously fun to flip through, and that should not be underestimated. Second, it’s an example of crowdsourcing that actually works – a lot of wikis on other topics end up much less interesting for an array of issues, but while TVTropes has its warts, the whole is magnificent. Lastly, I love it in an academic sense – the site represents a level of thought and analysis of the topic that I have yet to see an equal of, and I have bugger all idea how that fits in the standard hierarchy of knowledge.

Awesomely disruptive change is, well, awesome.

Cool Monday: Angie’s List

This has been the kind of week that reminds me why I insist on writing about something good on the Internet every Monday. I’ve got a backlog of ideas – I played the new Warhammer this weekend, and I’ve been kicking around more dice ideas, but the simple ritual of stopping and thinking about the good things out there is too important to my sanity to stop.

Today I want to talk about Angie’s List. This has been on my mind as people on various vectors have been talking about buying or repairing their houses, and my thoughts go back to our own very mixed experiences. I only heard of Angie’s list because they’re an NPR sponsor, but that worked out better for them then buying a radio ad would have. It made me curious enough to check out their website, and I’m glad I did.

Angie’s List is one of those ideas that reflects the practical application of the things that technology promises us. It’s a review site, but what makes it noteworthy is that it’s a review site that focuses on local workers (contractors, repairmen and so on, though they’ve recently been branching out to things like doctors). The ‘local’ part means they don’t cover every area, but their definitions of metropolitan areas seem suitably flexible.

The model is very simple. You hire a plumber and, after he’s done, you can write up a review of your experience on Angie’s List. When someone else in your area needs a plumber, they can hit the web site and see all the reviews of local plumbers. Simple as that. It’s even a little crude, since user generated data can create weird redundancies or crossovers, but it works, and it works well.

It’s been going for a couple of years now, and the amount of information on the site has gained a nice level of depth. Yes, that also means its accrued some false reviews and otherwise been gamed, but it’s nothing that a little critical reading can’t get you past.

Now, the rub is that it’s a paid site. They were smart and had a long free period so they could accrue a lot f data before going paid, but eventually they needed to make money. On it’s own, the price is a little high ($60 for a year, $7.50 for a month, with a $15 signup fee to deal with the sane and reasonable folks who would just pay for a month when they need it) but given the cost of most home repairs, it’s very small as a percentage of total cost, and especially small compared to the cost of having a bad job done.

In many ways I consider an Angie’s List membership as something comparable to a subscription to Consumer Reports online. I don’t bother to remember it when I’m not using it, but when the time comes that I do need it, it’s a very cost-effective investment.

So, if you’re in a position where it will matter that the people who install your windows or fix your plumbing know what they’re doing, it’s definitely worth your while to check out Angie’s List.

Cool Monday: Instapaper

As excited as I am to get onto dice variants and Warhammer 3e, I need to maintain discipline. Monday posts exist primarily to remind myself that the internet has cool and wonderful things within its bounds. This offsets the other 6 days of the week when I face reminders of the cesspit parts.

There’s a lot of good stuff to read on the Internet, but the simple reality is that it’s a pain to keep track of it all. An RSS aggregator, like Google News or NetNewsWire goes a long way towards making the good stuff easier to keep track of, but it doesn’t give me any extra time to read. That becomes a problem on those occasions when something very long and very thoughtful merits reading.

Historically, my solution was to see if they had a print view (because nothing says fun like clicking through 6 times to get through a piece) and either bookmark that or print it out in hopes of getting back to it later. Sometimes it worked, but even when it did it tended to result in a pile of stuff. That’s not terrible, but it’s lossy.

I’ve been much happier about these things since I found Instapaper.

So, Instapaper is sort of a clipping service, a lightweight and smartly designed one. It works like this: I find an article I’d like to read later, and I click on the Instapaper bookmarklet.[1] I get a little popup, and that’s that. Later on, if I go to the Instapaper site, they’ve got the article archived for me, either in its original format or with much of the formatting stripped out (which makes it much easier for screen reading).

So far that’s nice and convenient, but where it really shines is in how it works with other technology. First and foremost, you can export bundles of the articles you’re reading into a variety of ebook formats. I have a fat batch of articles stores on my kindle to make for random reading anytime I need.[2]

Perhaps even better, there’s an iphone/ipod touch app (both a free and paid version) which syncs with your account and keeps the articles on your device. As a touch owner, this has been a godsend. Because it archives them locally, I can read my articles while I’m offline.

Instapaper is the brainchild of Marco Arment, a name that might be familiar to folks who pay attention to Tumblr development. He is my current nerd rockstar, because so far as I’m concerned, that’s a fantastic 1-2 punch.

Anyway, if you have a lot of stuff online you want to read, and you want to make you’re life easier, then check out Instapaper. You’ll know pretty quickly if it’s the thing for you or not.

1 – That’s nerdy term for a bookmark that does something. It’s nothing technical that calls for installation or anything weird. It’s just like any other bookmark in your browser.

2- It won’t mail directly to the kindle, but that’s more a function of Amazon’s policies than a technical limitation.

Writing Tools

I’ve got nothing against Microsoft Word. I use it almost every day, and it’s really good at doing what it’s supposed to do – make documents that look professional enough for a business context without needing all the overhead of a full-bore layout program. Sure, that wasn’t how it started: back in the days of wordstar (and CUTTING EDGE ascii art) the big deal was that we could write these things on a computer, and edit our writing rather than re-writing everything. I grew up as this transition was taking place, and it’s still pretty miraculous to me. As much as I enjoy writing things by hand, I can’t imagine going back to needing to do so for everything.

I mention all this because software has evolved with time. As we got used to this idea of writing on computers, the software came to reflect more than just the need to write. Writing was easy, after all, so why not start adding useful things like formatting, indexes, styles and so on. The actual writing is all well and good, but anyone can do that, right? The computer can make your writing look better (and in the case of things like spell-checkers, might actually make it better).

It’s a little cynical, sure, but it’s been a good thing overall. Yes, programs like Word allow for people to create layout abominations to raise up on the altar of Comic Sans, but it also means that Joe guy can make a layout that’s good enough with very little time, skill, or knowledge. The impact on layout is very like that of sophisticated photography software: the folks who could only do a few tricks get overshadowed by software, but the people with real talent end up really standing out.

The problem with this is that the actual writing tends to get lost in the wash. Not to say it’s impossible to write in something like Word, but there’s a lot of noise to deal with. All the options and buttons are there on the screen, begging to be used, and that’s bad enough, but the real danger is more sinister. When you write something and lay out out at the same time (which is what you can accidentally end up doing in word) then it tends to feel done, and that’s incredibly dangerous. Editing and rewriting are critical important to any kind of quality writing, but when you have something your brain thinks is a finished product, it’s easy to gloss over it, or hesitate to make a change because it will throw off the pagination.

This was a big problem for me, and I tried a bunch of tricks to try to deal with it. My Word interface is incredibly minimal, and I prepared equally minimalistic stylesheets to keep the text looking raw. It worked ok, but it was occasionally a pain, especially when Word decided to explode in helpfulness all over whatever I was writing.

I found relief in the form of writing software. Not Word Processing or Text Editing, but honest-to-God writing software, programs designed with the actual act of writing in mind. The first I came across was Writeroom, and it changed a lot of how I do things. See, Writeroom and a number of programs like it are fullscreen text editors – they were designed to remove all the distractions that come from working on a computer, like pop up windows, chat and mail notifications and so on. You fire it up and your whole screen goes black, except for your little green cursor. Yes, you are effectively using software to make your too-expensive computer look and feel like an old CRT Apple IIe, but as counter-intuitive as that is, it works REALLY well. Those distractions (and the temptations that come with them, to just check a website or the like) are absolute killers, and being able to shut them out let me really focus.

Since then, a number of similar programs have come out, including Darkroom (which may have predated Writeroom, I don’t recall), Writemonkey and Q10. These had their own small gimmicks, and they all had the advantage of working on Windows, so I tended to view them as roughly interchangeable. But my poking around also revealed that there was a whole category of programs dedicated to writing novels or other long-form works.

This is a weird category because there are a number of really robust and interesting options available for apple, but there are almost no comparable programs available for windows. The closest I’ve seen is people who have adapted Microsoft OneNote to writing, and while they do so to good effect, it’s definitely a case of making use of the tools available.

On the OSX side there were programs like Ulysses, Copywrite, Storymill and my favorite, Scrivener[1]. There are fine distinctions between the features of these programs, but the basics are the same. You create a collection of documents (which might be documents or media or whatever) which you can organize and edit as you see fit. Sounds simple enough, but it means that you can do things like keep your research notes, character thoughts, random ideas and your actual writing together in the same place, where it’s easy to edit, hide or shift around whatever parts you need in a way that suits your writing style. There’s very little in the way of formatting – headers, bold and italic, though footnotes tend to get good support – and the bells and whistles are much more about things that make writing easier, like offering a fullscreen mode.

All these functions sit on top of a database, rather than a collection of documents, which offers a lot of benefits. Most notably, you just don’t worry about saving your work – it just happens. The database architecture means that you can also do robust version control, and while that may sound unnecessarily technical, it’s incredibly handy to realize you can save your work like you would a video game and, if you end up with the writer’s equivalent of a TPK, you can revert to the save without disrupting your current ‘game’.

The upshot of this is that I started writing on the mac unless I absolutely had no choice. Now, “no choice” comes up more often than you’d think, especially if you’re collaborating with others, since you need to use the software that everyone has. This got exacerbated when I picked up a netbook – I love it, but it runs windows, so Scrivener was not an option. So I went back to where I started and grabbed a full screen editor (as it turns out, they’re very well-suited to netbook use).

I started using Writemonkey for the most frivolous of reasons: One of its options turns on typing sounds as you write. Actual typing sounds – you can choose between an old style typewriter, an old IBM keyboard or a bunch of other options. I’m an absolute sucker for that sort of thing, but it turns out to have been a good decision. WM was rock solid. It supports markdown for minimal formatting, it exported without problems, and it did everything I asked of it, but it was still a choice I went to out of necessity rather than any real desire.

That changed with the latest release of Writemonkey, as it added “Focus”. It’s a little rough to explain, but the idea is this: imagine you’re writing a very long doc, and you are looking through it and realize you need to expand on one section. In WM, you can highlight that section, hit f6, and the rest of the document vanishes while you work on that one section. When you’re done, just hit f6 and you swap back to seeing everything, but with your new writing now tidily in place.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but I find it very easy to get a little bit overwhelmed by very long documents. This ability to just zero in on a specific section and work on it without giving any thought to the rest of the document is an absolute godsend. There are some other nice implicit uses for it – it helps with writing off an outline for example – but the bottom line is that it offers the same sort of advantage that the full screen editor does, the ability to focus on the writing without distraction.

Now, hold my hand in the fire, and I’ll acknowledge that Scrivener is still my first love. I paid money for it, and it’s got many more features, but it’s not entirely without warts. I’ve heard of problems syncing the DB with dropbox, and that makes me kind of nervous. Plus, the one downside of the whole database model is that I need to export anything if I want to share it. But despite these small things, Scrivener is still the single best program I’ve used for organizing and writing a project, but when it comes to just writing, Writemonkey may actually be my favorite. The simplicity of it (it’s just editing a text file) makes it much easier to just jump into writing something.

The good news is I never really need to choose. Circumstance tends to dictate whether I’m going to be on a Mac or Windows box at at given moment, and I now have a tool for each one which I am absolutely delighted to use to write.

1 – For the absolute best list of writing programs for both windows and mac, check out the link page at (the guys behind Scrivener).

A Truly Random Cool Thing for Monday

I had a good round of character creation on Saturday, and we’re going to run a prologue this coming Saturday, so much of my brain is in that space now. I’ll probably be using that for fodder for this week’s posts so you all get to see how I turn this stack of notes into something to play because, well, we did chargen in the absence of system, and I will hack the system to match the characters in time for play. That’s going to be fun, but challenging. But that’s a topic for tomorrow.

Today I want to talk about Abulafia, which thankfully has the now easier to remember url of It is basically a giant wiki of random generators, so if you need to create a B-Movie Title, a Superhero Name, a Secret Society (or go a step further and make your own Splats) , or possibly every In a Wicked Age Oracle you can think of, this is your one stop shop.

As useful a resource as this is, it’s worth noting that because it’s built on wiki guts, it allows for people to constantly create new and interesting lists. There’s a bit of a performance hit that comes from this – because there’s a lot of referencing various text tables in different places, the page loads can be a bit slow – but the sheer depth of content is more than worth the lag.

I’m a huge fan of these sorts of randomizers, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. It is a rare game that I don’t dip into some sort of rich randomizer (like Tarot, I-Ching, Oblique Strategies or the like) to see what it shakes loose. Abulafia has the advantage of being more diverse and outright wacky than any other option, so it’s a good tool for a GM to keep in her back pocket.

Monday Randomness: Dragon Age

Like most of the rest of the world, I am totally freaking hooked on Dragon Age: Origins. My one line summary is that it feels like a campaign GM’d by Fred Hicks. Fred is a mean bastard of a GM, so this is high praise indeed. That sense of a GM’d game is one of the hallmarks of a Bioware game, creating a world that responds to the actions of play, and Dragon Age really turns this up to 11 – the technology for the graphics and stuff is nice, but the real benefit of the tech can be seen in just how many choices the game can now support.

So, with about 40-50 hours of play under my belt, split between a few characters, I feel like it’s time for a list of 10 things to know about Dragon Age:Origins.

1. Fighter’s are the simplest class to play, and there’s a lot to be said for starting with a fighter to try out a starting background and to get familiar with the rules and controls (especially if you’re on X-Box because the manual pretty much exists to convince you to buy a strat guide). Once you have that familiarity, you can try a rogue or mage. So far my sense is that Mage is probably the most interesting to play.

2. This is a Bioware game, so get the intimidation/persuasion skill. Lacking it will greatly diminish your options in play. Also, as a Bioware game, do not buy into the idea that there is some “right” decision the game is expecting you to make. There isn’t. There are rails, certainly, but they are very wide, and your leeway within them is much more than you might expect.

3. There is no way I won’t be trying all the backgrounds, and I expect this game will probably get 2 or 3 playthroughs out of me at a minimum. I’ve tried 3 so far (Male-Human-Fighter-Noble, Male-Human-Mage-Circle and Male-Elf-Rogue-City, my primary) and every now and again something from one of the other backgrounds shows up in play, and it really makes the world feel more organic

4. Oh, God, Backpacks. I have bought every backpack I could afford and I am still short on inventory space. This gets really annoying because I tend to be deep in a dungeon when I’m running out of space. The soldier’s peak expansion helps with this, but it’s still pretty maddening.

5. The resolution of one of the big plot knots involved a lot of watching two NPCs talk to each other. As it turns out, this is not much more fun on the console than it is on the tabletop. It’s well written and interesting, but it comes off as a bit of a sour note. I don’t mind watching cut scenes of events taking place elsewhere in the game – that’s part of the genre – but watching my character watch a scene makes me wonder why I’m there.

6. It’s the small choices that kill you. I have yet to have any huge, sweeping choices that were particularly hard (or even terribly moving), but I have had innumerable small choices that left me staring at the screen, paralyzed, totally invested in the result. Bioware’s always been good at this, but this takes it to a whole new level.

7. The game combines of a lot of voice acting talent, quality writing, and an engine that allows them quickly generate visually distinctive characters. That’s all well and good for the heroes, but it’s much more important for the support characters. It is far harder to play “Spot the named character” by looking for the one with better graphics or voice acting, and that’s fantastic, because it really drives home the sense that things can change at the drop of a hat.

8. The downloadable content has been worth the price (though I got some of it free for pre-ordering). Soldier’s Peak adds an extra dungeon that has a solid story to it, which also serves as a base once you’ve cleared it out. Sadly, I have not been able to recruit people to come work there, so my dreams of this being Dark Suikoden have not yet come to fruit. The more expensive pack, which adds the golem, Shale, is possibly even more worth it. First and foremost, it’s not a Bioware game until you throw in a killing machine with a dry wit. He’s fun to have in the party, and he’s incredibly useful. I have so far had at least two boss fights that I’m pretty sure I would have lost if he had not been tanking for me.

9. I am pretty sure I’m missing a lot by not reading every codex update, but honestly there’s just too much, and the console is not ideal for it, especially since when I get a codex update I need to go track it down deep in the menus. In theory, this is helped by new things being highlighted, but the way navigation works, if I have to scroll down to something new, I un-highlight it without realizing it. This is a pain, and while I recognize that there are limitations to the interface that come from playing on the console, this (and some inventory management) are close to genuine frustrations. This is exacerbated by the gameplay being so fun that I already resent needing to drop out into the land of menus, so having that be a kind of rough experience is unfun.

10. I’m pretty happy with the graphics. I can niggle about things like the palette or compare it to other games that do this or that better, but the simple truth is that the graphics are good enough to convey a strong sense of place without impeding on the gameplay, and they are capable of generating the occasional moment of wow from a surprising vista or a unique animation. Sound is similarly impressive, though I find I greatly miss hearing my hero speak, a la Mass Effect.

I’ve been sick for days, so I’ve had plenty of opportunity to marathon this game and I am hooked enough that my wife has started developing a deep loathing for it. Likely I’ll have to drop to less frequent play now that I’m starting to recover, but I look forward to working through it. So far I’m really excited – I’m a console RPG nut, and so far this has blown a lot of previous contenders out of the water in terms of play experience. But I am also well aware that I’m not done yet, and it’s entirely possible that it could all come crashing down, or end with a whimper rather than a bang, but for the time being I will hold out hope.

This Monday is Storytime

So, back in 1998 a multi-millionaire from Massachusetts realized that buying a congressional seat in Massachusetts was really expensive, but it would be much cheaper if he went someplace more rural, so his money could go much further. Heck, if he went to a small enough state, he could even afford a senate seat. he looked around and decided to claim his summer home in Vermont as a residence and put his name in the hat for the as the Republican candiate for the U.S. Senate.

From his perspective, it was pretty perfect. Vermont was a very Republican state on paper, and the standing Senator was a long-standing democratic incumbent, and democratic incumbents had not been doing great for the past few years. Plus, this senator had given up chairmanship of the agriculture committee [1], which the hicks from Vermont might have seen some use in, in favor of the Judiciary committee. The Senator had done silly things like appear in all the Batman movies[2]. Clearly, they needed a professional, and by happenstance there was no strong local Republican contender for the Senate seat, so the writing was on the wall, so to speak.

Now, it’s not that Vermont lacked in contentious Republicans, but rather that everyone was pretty happy with the sitting Senator, or at least smart enough to know that running against him was basically suicide. But the Carpetbagger failed to grasp this, no doubt confused by the rural ways of these strange mountain people.

So a little bit after he threw his hat in the ring, the Republicans in the state kind of looked at each other. This was embarrassing – all politics aside, no one likes a carpetbagger. But running against him for the nomination was suicide, since whoever took the nomination would definitely get trounced in the popular election. So what to do?

Into the gap stepped Fred Tuttle. Fred was an 89 year old dairy farmer from Tunbridge (which is, yes, the ass end of nowhere) with an accent so thick as to be nearly unintelligible and a tiny sliver of local fame for his starring role in the independent movie “A Man With a Plan”. The campaign that followed was magnificent to behold, with the high point revolving around the televised debate where the carpetbagger demonstrated that he did not know how to pronounce the names of many Vermont towns.[3]

Tuttle crushed the carpetbagger[4] and the campaign that followed continued to be a blast, as he and the incumbent would go to events together to talk to kids and stuff, and Tuttle made it clear he didn’t want to win because he didn’t want to have to move to DC.

Fred Tuttle, rest his soul, passed away in 2003, buried in his overalls with a can of moxie. I only got to meet him in passing, but I give him credit for being the engine behind one of the events in my life that really makes me believe in democracy, right down to my toes.

Anyway, this was on my mind as I watch events unfold in New York’s 23rd[5] district. I know most people think they know New York, but the 23rd is not what they think it is. Upstate New York is wild country, and it shares a border (and a lake) with Vermont, so there is something of the same character to it. Of course, when both areas were founded, the rich lived on the New York side of the lake and the troublemakers lived on Vermont’s side. I’m always curious at how much of a divide that lake really makes for.

A long time ago, one of those troublemakers, a gent named Ethan Allen (who is today most known as some sort of purveyor of furniture) was dealing with folks from out of state coming in and asserting that they were in charge. He told them “The gods of the hills are not the gods of the valleys” and ran them out of town. I can hear Fred Tuttle saying it, and in my heart I hope I can heard the 23rd saying it too.[6]

1 – Where he’d done a lot of hippie things like pushing through WIC. The years when the agriculture committee was not under the control of a Senator from an agribusiness state were really interesting in a really nerdy way.

2 – You know that bit in the Dark Knight where the one old guy at the party stands up to the Joke, and the joker puts his knife in his mouth? That’s him.

3 – He also did not know how many teats there are on a Holstein.

4 – This was helped in part by Vermont having open primaries, but that detail detracts from the greatness of the story.

5 – Short form: NY-23 is a republican district, and always will be, but like a lot of that part of the country, the republicans are not necessarily social conservatives. That meant that when the republican nominee ended up being someone who favors abortion rights and gay marriage, the GOP machine reacted by backing a “conservative” party candidate *cough*carpetbagger*cough* and throwing national support behind him. It got bad enough that the republican candidate stepped down days before the election (pretty clearly forced) but her name’s still on the ballot, and there’s no telling how it will all settle out.

6 – And lest you think this is partisan, I would like nothing more than to see the Republican candidate win. That’s who would have won if the latest incarnation of CREEP hadn’t gotten involved.