Wednesday, July 31, 2013

New Project: Build a Mini Cabinet

As in a cabinet to house my minis, not that the cabinet itself will be particularly small...

I have long lusted after the furniture produced by Geek Chic, but lament the prohibitively high prices. Fortunately for me, however, my father is an incredible woodworker in his own right, and I have often found myself thinking, "I bet my dad could build something like that." Well, now that the wedding is over, I have decided to do that musing one better and see if my dad can teach me how to "build something like that."

I have often admired those who can make durable, high-quality goods like furniture, pottery, homemade clothes and other useful craft items, and I have wanted to improve my own skills in those areas. So, yesterday I emailed my dad and proposed a project: Would he help me to build a wall case for my gaming minis, and use the project to help teach me some of the basics of woodworking? He responded with an enthusiastic "yes", so as soon as I got home from work, I broke out the trusty ol' SketchUp to begin roughing out my ideas.

with doors shown

doors hidden

isometric view

The plan is to build a wall-mounted case with glass doors to keep the dust out, and interior lighting to set off the minis. I determined that it needs to be just over 3 inches deep in order to accommodate some of the larger figures, and that the shelving should be removable, with a minimum spacing of 2 inches for the medium-sized minis.

I would love to document this project as it progresses, so keep an eye out for updates here on the blog. Who knows, if the mini cabinet goes well, maybe I'll try and tackle one of those tables next!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Make-it Monday: On Inspiration

The restaurant, the rock and the lighthouse all fit into the doubloon!

The Wife and I just returned from a mini-honeymoon weekend. We drove down to the remote wilds of the Oregon coast in search of some alone time after two weeks of family and wedding madness. We rented out the Japanese Forest House on R-Evolution Gardens' farm near Nehalem. The house and farm are completely off the grid, drawing their power from solar panels on the premises. The forest house was built by one of the farmers from a single cedar tree. It is absolutely gorgeous and secluded. In a nutshell, the perfect way to disconnect after a hectic event like a wedding.
Japanese Forest House
Photo from Air B&B

I have to admit, I was a bit hesitant about the accommodations when we first arrived. Perhaps I was still wound up from a long drive and two weeks of social stress, but my initial impression was that the farm felt like a mix of the commune from the first episode of Portlandia, and the bed and breakfast from So I Married an Axe Murderer. After settling in, meeting the owners at the local farmer's market, and having some dinner, however, I finally began to relax and enjoy my surroundings.

I have always drawn a great deal of inspiration from the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. I think part of the reason fantasy literature resonated so well with me as a child was because much of it involved journeys through the wilderness, which I too experienced during my family's weekend getaways to the mountains or small towns around Washington. Even now, whenever I find myself wandering the wilds, my mind begins to to spin visions of fantastic beasts in the shaded woodlands, to reimagine small towns as medieval outposts, and even to hear the sound of footsteps on the forest floor as the heartbeat of the woods itself.

This weekend was no exception. I began planning for the resumption of my regular D&D game, jotting down adventure hooks and plot ideas in my trusty quad-ruled notebook. The Wife and I also discussed the fantasy ecology of rocky coastlines similar to those found along the Pacific edge of Oregon and Washington. We decided such environs would be the perfect haunts for a coast-dwelling griffon variant. The cliff-dwelling beasts could find safe haven in the rocky sea stacks, and food among the sea lion colonies, or perhaps they might hunt giant crabs along the beaches. Conversations like this are one of the many reasons I married the woman!

I also did a lot of reading. I finished the first book of Asimov's Foundation trilogy. I'm trying to decide whether to review that book on its own merit, or to wait until I finish the compendium. I also got through most of Culinary Reactions, a great little treatise on the chemistry of cooking. Finally, I perused a copy of New Treehouses of the World, which was lying around the Japanese Forest House. If you ever want inspiration, you'll find a bunch of fascinating stuff in that book!

Click here to see a photo for comparison
Between the reading, game planning and discussions on nerdly matters, the Wife and I drove around the small towns dotting that part of the coast. We visted Cannon Beach where the landmarks found on Chester Copperpot's map and doubloon point the way to One-eyed Willie's treasure. We also visited the Tillamook cheese factory, which is similar in a lot of ways to an Ikea... of cheese. Finally, I did a bit of sketching, including this doodle of the main room in the Japanese Forest House.

Tomorrow, we both head back to work and the stress of the "real" world. Fortunately, this weekend was just what I needed to face my responsibilities refreshed and ready to go, rather than in a frazzled post-wedding haze.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Review: Pacific Rim

Warning: Spoilers?... sort of... maybe?

The last of the out-of-town family headed back home on Thursday, and the Wife and I finally had some time to ourselves. We used it to run some errands before heading out on our honeymoon tomorrow. We also used it to go to lunch, and then to go see Pacific Rim.

I must say, Pacific Rim was everything the wife and I were hoping it would be. Meaning, it was a whole lot of giant friggin' robots punching the crap out of giant friggin' monsters! The movie showed influences of Lovecraft, classic kaiju eiga (Japanese monster movies like Godzilla), mecha anime like the Evangelion series, and many of the beasts bore a striking resemblance to this guy:

D&D's Tarrasque
We both absolutely loved the movie. It has the gloomy but saturated high-contrast glow that I love about Guillermo del Toro's stuff. It also has the badass Ron Pearlman, whom I also love about Guillermo del Toro's stuff. I love that the movie begins with the Earth suffering from the scourge of the kaiju, rather than simply building up to it. This is very characteristic of Japanese storytelling (begin with a disaster and tell the story of after). I love seeing how the appearance of the creatures has affected society as a whole, not just the hero. del Toro did a good job setting up a world that was living with this threat.

The acting was decent. As in many action films, the supporting characters often stole the show. I particularly enjoyed the interplay between the scientists Gottlieb and Newton, played by Burn Gorman and Charlie (Rick Moranis is retired and too old for this) Day. And, of course, Ron Pearlman is brilliant, as always, as the black market kaiju parts dealer... Oh, and the choice to use GLaDOS as the voice of the robot suit interface was a stroke of genius.

Anyway, I only had a couple minor nitpicks, which did not take away from the fun, mostly related to the scene where the flying kaiju carries the mech, Gipsy Danger up into "space". Gripe a.) 50,000 feet is not high enough to see the curve of the Earth as dramatically as it appeared in that scene. There is a glider, hanging in the museum where I work that went higher than that. Heck, Felix Baumgartner made his parachute jump from twice that altitude. b.) that altitude is not high enough to cause reentry heating to a point that a falling body would be sheathed in plasma as it appears in the movie. And those are minor nitpicks that again did not detract from my enjoyment.

If you like robots and/or monsters, and/or a combination of those things beating the crap out of each other in the middle of cities and/or at the bottom of the ocean, go see Pacific Rim! I may see it a second time, and I will definitely buy the Blu-Ray when it comes out.

The wife and I are heading out to a mini-honeymoon on the Pacific Rim nearby this weekend. We'll be staying off the grid on the Oregon coast and enjoying some rest and alone time.

We're locked in the drift!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Make-it Monday: The Weddening

So, I don't have a game-related craft post for you today, because the Fiancee-now-Wife and I spent the past week scrambling to put the finishing touches on the wedding, which basically amounts to a year and a half-long craft project and fits into my goal of pulling myself away from the lazies.

The wedding happened this past Saturday, and it was awesome! We had about 150 friends and family in attendance, and some of us partied until almost 1 am.

The official photos aren't out yet, but many of our guests have started sharing their snapshots around, and I thought I would give y'all a glimpse of the day.

Butcher paper instead of tablecloths + crayons made for some awesome drawings!

Closeup of the head table setting

The couple leaves, victorious!

This guy is part of the venue's permanent decor!

The cake table with wed-bot and topper

Our program

We honestly are still running around with family for the rest of the week before taking off on a long-weekend honeymoon, but holy crap that was a great party and I hope to never have to do it again!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Make-it Monday: Bachelor Party, the RPG

Well, wedding week is here, and things are about to get cray-cray (to use the technical term). For this week's Make-it Monday, I am going to break with my standard format of posting about something that I made in order to post about something amazing that my best man made.

Are you not entertained!?
The BacheLOR at the Rat City bout

This past weekend was my bachelor party, and my best man concocted a scheme to turn the whole day into a giant RPG of sorts. I was issued a plastic breastplate and a novelty giant D20 and told that my character class was the BacheLOR. My class granted me certain powers, like the ability to summon fried snacks or tasty beverages. I could also bestow temporary tattoos on others. In order to do these things, I had to roll the D20. If I rolled poorly, there were consequences.

My friends at the party also had classes, and some even had costumes. There were rogues who could help me cheat at the rules, or issue "disguises", tanks who I could enlist to take on excess drinks or to smack poorly rolled dice, wizards equipped with potions, and paladins who helped ensure that everyone stayed safe and happy.

The day started with six hours of gaming, drinking and snacks at Café Mox. It then proceeded to "sexy lady time" which really meant watching a Rat City Rollergirls bout from the VIP section, because, let's be honest, Rollergirls are far superior to the more tawdry forms of "sexy lady" entertainment. The Rat City All-stars kicked the crap out of Baltimore, and our group garnered a bit of attention from the emcee. After the roller derby, we closed out the night with more drinking at a pub near my house. I ended up stumbling up the front walk of my house around midnight, covered in temp tattoos, wearing a plastic breastplate and monster hat with a pair of balloons tied around one wrist (mostly the result of poor rolls). I can't imagine what my neighbor who was out for a smoke thought of the sight.

My best man has agreed to let me post the rules for the bachelor party RPG here, but he wants to  do a couple things to secure his rights as the creator first. I'll update this post with the details as soon as he sends them. UPDATED BELOW!

In other news, if you are in the Seattle area, I will be giving a talk tonight at Lucid Lounge as part of Nerd Nite Seattle. The talk is about space, not gaming, but it should be cool. Come check it out!


You can check out the full rules for the Bachelor Party RPG here. All rules documents are the original creation of Douglas Willott. If anyone else is interested in having a custom-built party adventure made for them, Doug is eager to help. You can email him at He can do any kind of event that begs for adventure, not just bachelor parties.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Make-it Monday: First Bones Painted!

Finished candelabra. For those wondering about scale, the hash-marks on the ground are 1 inch apart.

It finally cooled off enough around Seattle this weekend that I felt like I could take a stab at my first Bones mini without wasting a bunch of paint due to rapid drying in the heat. I decided to finish up the candelabra that I had begun as my test paint for the Bones line. This paint project marked a couple firsts for me. It was the first time I had ever painted a mini over a white base. I had primed all of my previous minis in black. It was also the first time I ever attempted a mini paint scheme that required lighting effects (i.e. painting flames to look like flames.)

Reminder of where we left off last week
I feel like the end result turned out pretty well, and I learned a couple of things about painting Bones that make them different from other minis. First, they don't need to be primed. This is awesome for someone like me, who lives in a rainy area and does not have a suitable space for using spray cans indoors. With Bones, I no longer need to wait for a sunny day when I can prime a bunch of figures in my driveway. However, because they don't need primer, the techniques used for laying down a base coat on Bones are a little different. I confirmed a lot of what I had read about these minis being a little water repellent. It's necessary to lay down an undiluted base coat to avoid poor coverage effects. This is normally not a huge change for me, but it makes painting flames a bit more challenging.

See, the technique I stumbled on for painting flames involves many layers of very thinned paint. In order to make this work on the Bones, it was necessary to first lay down a base coat of undiluted white paint on the candle flames. Painting white on white felt a bit ridiculous, and I had to just trust that I had covered everything before moving on, but having that base coat down let me proceed with the layers of thinned yellows and oranges according to plan.

I also engaged in some non-gaming crafts this weekend. The Fiancee and I sat down with a button maker and churned out almost 500 custom buttons, which will be one of the wedding favors at our reception in less than two weeks!

Just the first batch of buttons we put together this weekend.

I'm feeling a bit more confident with my new firsthand experience with how Bones perform under the brush, and I'm hoping to pick up the painting pace once the wedding is finished. I'm going to have to. I did the math, and if I paint one a week, it will take me about five years to get through the lot of them!

Friday, July 5, 2013

It is Finished: Reflections on my First Campaign Completed

Battlefield Picture by Alex Powell Inca

What did you do for the Fourth of July? Oh, I spent eight hours playing D&D with a bunch of my friends before going to watch fireworks. We completed the final session of my campaign arc yesterday as my players assaulted a ruined city where cultists were attempting to tear the very fabric of reality in order to permanently join the material world with the third circle of the nine hells. Fortunately, my players stepped in to stop that nonsense.

We started the day at 10 am with everyone meeting at my place for brunch. We made waffles, eggs and bacon before settling in to start play at about 11:30.

Yesterday's game was the culmination of nearly five years of play, and I felt like it was a sufficiently epic conclusion to the whole ordeal. The session included:

  • An adapted version of this speech 
  • The PCs airdropping in on the back of griffons to take out an enemy defensive emplacement (while Ride of the Valkyries played, natch)
  • A battle against the resurrected corpse of the NPC whose name the players most like to get wrong.
  • A fight against a similarly reincarnated red dragon flanked by two other end bosses who had previously escaped the heroes on multiple occasions.
  • LOTS of dead NPCs
  • A battle against a former player character, now driven insane and bent to the will of the cultists (also happened to be the in-game boyfriend of one of the heroes)
  • That same hero effectively nuking one of the end bosses while screaming, "YOU KILLED MY BOYFRIEND!"
  • The whole party surviving a blast of dragonfire to the face (though just barely and with later consequences)
  • The paladin withstanding a full attack by the dragon after his fiery assault
  • The deaths of the party's paladin and cleric at the hands of one of the end bosses
  • The dragon and the other boss riding on his back finally being brought down by a volley of arrows from the group's ranger, falling from 120 feet into the courtyard of a ruined cathedral.
  • The group's rogue agonizing over whether to spend her one wish granted by the magic jewel she was carrying to revive one of her dead friends, or to halt the runaway reaction tearing the very fabric of the planes. In the end, she chose to save the world over bringing back her friends.
It feels really weird wrapping up this arc and I feel much more emotional about it than I expected. Not in the sense that I'm blubbering into my pillow or anything, but just in the sheer number of often contradictory thoughts and feelings whirling around inside. I feel both lighter and a little bit empty. Makes sense on some level I guess. I feel accomplished at having fully completed the first campaign I ever set out to run, amazed that it held together as long as it did and that I was able to wrap in several items of the players' own devising back into the finale. I feel a little guilty at killing off two player characters, but know I would have regretted it more if I had played the final battle with anything less than my full potential lethality. Besides, the players' status as heroes and the army with high-level clerics at their backs pretty much guarantee that the deceased characters could be brought back. I feel relieved at having wrapped such a long arc, which was born of a naive desire to be "the most epic." Though I vowed never to run any single arc that long again, I also don't want any new campaign with the same characters to feel less incredible.

I'll probably do more on the specific gameplay at a later date. I incorporated a couple custom elements that I think helped keep the battle manageable while adding to the players' sense of influence over the situation. But for now, I wanted to get some of my reflections down while they're still fresh.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Upon the Eve of Battle

This is what I'm aiming for.
This is it. The day before the (hopefully) grand finale session of my current D&D campaign. We decided to change things up from our usual short evening sessions and take advantage of the Fourth of July holiday to run a longer daytime game.

If planning is any indication, this last session is shaping up to be pretty epic. I'll be running my first ever battlefield adventure using the "think big, play small" rules described in Heroes of Battle. I've run large scale combats in my game before, but it usually involves my players and a limited number of allies against large collections of enemies. This is the first time where the battle will become more setting than action, and the dynamism implied in a spiky, armor clad dungeon of humanity and carnage has me a bit anxious. There are so many moving parts, I fear that they could just as easily go flying off into oblivion as lock up entirely in a giant, stagnant brick.

This game has been going since February of 2009! That's four and a half years! Seven players, lots of adventures, but one adventure arc! I bit off more than I anticipated when dreaming up the story for this campaign, and I'm honestly amazed that it has held together as well as this. But tomorrow I will need to earn the ending. It needs to be exciting and epic. A deserving climax to almost half a decade and 10 levels of play. For most sessions, I plan for the best, but if they fall flat, it's okay. Not this time. This time has to go well. It has to be exciting, and challenging, and memorable because there is no next time for this particular story.

Now, don't get me wrong, I have discussed the "what's next" with my players and most of them would like to continue with their characters in this world, tying up loose ends, moving on to bigger and better adventures. But the battle against the blight that has torn the Kingdom of Cydon asunder ends tomorrow. It needs to end well.

My brain is full of one of my favorite descriptions of the eve of battle. The calm before the storm. I leave you with the words of the Chorus from Shakespeare's Henry V IV i.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Make-it Monday: Aborted Painting Project and an Alternate Video

This past week was a whirlwind for me, between a work conference and business trip to Ohio. I immediately followed that up with a weekend of backpacking in the mountains outside Seattle. Before the camping trip I attempted to start painting the first of my Bones minis, but we are in the middle of a heat wave here in Seattle. With no AC in the house, The 90 degree temps in my craft space made it difficult to even get past a base coat. The paints for the minis were drying almost as soon as they hit the pallette.

Working towards a wrought iron candelabra with a rather sloppy base coat.
Don't worry, once the heat subsides, I'll tackle this again and it'll clean up nicely.

With the painting project unfinishable for the moment, I decided to change plans for my Make-it Monday project this week and instead worked up a contraption demonstration video for Minecraft. The video demonstrates a red stone device I worked up that can detect when an item dropper is full or empty and automatically turn on or off accordingly.

If you're not a Minecraft player, the video likely wont make any sense, so here's a picture of some deer we ran across during the hike to our campsite.

If you look close, you can see two of at least four juveniles accompanying the doe.
They're on the hill to the left.
Oh, and here are a couple views from our campsite. I love where I live!

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