The Wolf, the Wizard and the Dice Bag

October 5, 2006

My great shame is that I honestly have never had much interest in actually playing in a gaming session. Mostly due to a lack of… compatible manpower in the islands of Hawaii. I mean, right off the bat, we’re split up into 4 main population centers (Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Big Island), so we have a disadvantage right there. Even counting that most people live on Oahu (including myself, fortunately), that’s only an isolated population of around 1 million. Most of those people are not weird; they enjoy normal pastimes of fishing, swimming, shopping, golf and many other things that involve visiting the beach and actually using our sea and sun. Why not? We do have excellent beaches here and unlike Florida, hurricanes visit only once a decade.

I only have two friends that are not co-workers and who I will actually hang out with. The third and fourth ones moved away some years ago. If I go to a meeting of other nerds of whatever persuasion, these strangers just don’t mesh with me. Either they are too nerdy and offend my normality (and/or my nose) or not nerdy enough to keep up with me. The true problem is probably that I’m the one not nerdy enough to fully assimilate. Or perhaps more accurately, that I spread my nerdiness thinly into too many fields that I give a (false?) reading of “normal” to the nerds around me, who are likely more specialized and committed.

All that said, I do find pen & paper systems to be very fascinating. Some go rules-heavy and try to spell out rules (and rolls) for everything. Then there are those that are rules-light and encourage participants to just go with the flow. And then there’s LARP. (We won’t go there.)

The first of my friends that moved away was into the World of Darkness. This was my first meaningful exposure to pen & paper. The rest of the roleplaying world I think just reacts with “VAMPIRE” when confronted with White Wolf. Which essentially guaranteed a split in the WoD community between Vampire players and everybody else. But that’s neither here nor there.

At the core of the World of Darkness is the Storyteller system. The version I learned was from the second editions so naturally my knowledge is out of date. As I later discovered, it’s considered rules-light. I thought (and still think) that it was a rather simple and flexible way of viewing character statistics. My favorite of all was Mage: The Ascension, separating schools of magic into broad “spheres” and encouraging free mixing of them to create custom-made spells for any situation. Training in equipment usage was totally unrelated from the state of being a mage (no character classes). Freeform and fast and loose. “Surely,” I thought, “this is why tabletop is superior to computer gaming.”

So imagine my surprise at being a D&D 3rd newbie some years later:
“Wow, that’s a lot of numbers on the character sheet.”
“Wait… we gotta depend on lucky dice rolls for our stats?”
“Only even-numbered attributes have meaning. Why have them at all if only the modifier matters anyway?”
“What the hell is all these types of AC?”
“Level means that much, huh?”
“Wizard spells are prepared how now?”
“God I hate rolling only one d20 to determine success. Just assume I failed already.”

The whole time I was reading the rules, I couldn’t help but think that while it is certainly a solid core game, it really would benefit tremendously from having a computer crunch all these numbers for you. I’ve gone through the dice-rolling combat-addicted newbie stage with White Wolf. Doing nothing but roll for combat maneuvers quickly gets old. It becomes like a Final Fantasy battle: just spam fight and keep your HP up. Yes, there are some tactical decisions here and there, but as a percentage most of the time is spent rolling die. Why not just use a computer for that?

Casuals generalize, professionals specialize. Not being such a pro, I was drawn to multiclass. Turned out that such a thing is not to be taken lightly, with pretty tight level planning and a whole lot of potential suck if you want to be a caster. Did I mention prestige classes? I eventually went through a micromanagement phase where I mapped out characters’ career path fairly extensively before I even started actually, you know, playing. Just to not suck.

The main offense to me was actually pretty simple: the order of levels matters. I mean, unless you are beelining for a prestige class, why the hell should it matter? A character’s capabilities in each field are roughly measured by level already. Why add this temporal issue that just slows planning down? Combined with the wizard class only sort-of-knowing their own freaking spells and all the necessary preparation and bookkkeeping, it seemed like the whole game was plotting to make me not play and just plan and plan and plan. Spells per day… gah, one good fight and I’m out for the rest of the day. The fighters just keep going, though I’m told fighters are weak in capability compared to other classes at high levels. Honestly, I don’t think I can stomach playing long enough to the point I have to worry about it.

As you can probably tell, I never really got into it. The most I’ve “done” in d20 are the 200+ hours I sank into KOTOR 1 and 2. Ah, those were much better: fewer classes to worry about, class level order is set, and the computer rolls all the damn dice for you. Inconsistent d20s are still there, but 3 out of 4 ain’t bad. Add a good plot and you have Good Times.

(Since SW EP 4-6 got re-released, I kinda want to play them again. I never did buy the last boxset–I was one of them purist holdouts that disowned Lucas’s old age corruption of his own work. I’m disappointed in the letterbox widescreening of the original theatrical versions but oh well. At least Han shoots first. And yes, that matters.)

So I am essentially back to where I started. I haven’t even gone back to White Wolf since flavorwise I didn’t like the reset they pulled on the WoD, especially the wholesale weakly-explained nerfing of mages. I am slowly getting interested again, especially since I saw that the current WoD character sheet has marked differences from what I was used to. Otherwise, my tabletop phase died before it even got out of the cradle. I still buy core rulebooks from time to time (Exalted was nice), but that’s really because I like to read the systems.

Why yes, I’m a rules lawyer. I passed the bar and would like to be a judge or maybe even a legislator someday. Why do you ask?

What’s old is new again… and Haruhi

September 7, 2006

Given that I started blogging “late” in the game. There’s been a kind of nagging in my head. Do I just post the new stuff I’ve been exposed to, or do I also post catch-up material for the stuff I’ve already seen.

Thing is, I actually am not exposed to all that much. What I know or see is just a drop in the ocean. (You really realize this when you have a Japanese friend.) My bubble of experience is as insignificant as the people in Haruhi’s baseball stadium.

That said, I am committed. (And I love phrases with multiple interpretations.) So in an effort to keep myself not bored, I am going to include the older stuff. Otherwise I just may end the world and make a new one. Ah, the sacrifices I make for you people.

To the moderately observant ones: yes, I just finished watching The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi. I plan to watch it again in the near future in chronological order. Initial impression from 1st viewing: my taste in women stands–I like my girls spunky and nuts. Am I weird?

Now if only she kept her long hair…

Ah… I get goose bumps just looking at Haruhi-sama.

Even in luddite mode I’m tech-friendly

September 1, 2006

About a month ago, through my own stupidity, I got bitten by some pretty nasty adware. Its ability to cripple my work has been off-and-on, kind of how I imagine outbreaks of various chronic STDs would be like. Back in high school & college, I would format/reinstall Windows roughly every 6 months. Basically, whenever enough crap slowed it down enough to piss me off. I held this pattern from my time using Windows 95 and 98. In comparison from the age of high performance, my current install is about 2.5 years old.

My student job in college was telephone tech support. Those in our office would bring in their own laptops. What I noticed is that those doing tech support will often tolerate problems in their own machines far beyond what we are called upon to fix.

I was no exception to the pattern, except this time I let it snowball a bit too much. I would have reinstalled XP but I seem to have misplaced my CD. Argh.

On an unrelated note, a Seagate 200GB hard drive I bought decided to die on me. It’s still well within its nice 5 year warranty (even a 1 year would have covered it actually…), but I haven’t gotten around to exchanging it. Mostly because I haven’t totally given up on the recoverability of my pr0n files.

On another unrelated note, the MP3 player I bought on clearance from CompUSA decided that its real calling was to be an oversized bug. I’m not quite sure why it thought this, but that’s what it showed me on its display after a few hours of use. Returning it was a one-hour pain.

And on yet another unrelated note, a rebate offer from CompUSA was having difficulty processing. “Transaction not found,” my eye! (I think it’s resolved now.)

All of these mishaps happened within a 2 week span of time. I was not a happy camper. So I rebelled. And by rebel I mean, “ceased to buy PC hardware and software.” I am still in luddite mode actually. It has pushed me into restarting my bishoujo figure collection, which is obvious to me now is a more expensive hobby than being a sometimes-PC-enthusiast/gamer.

Since I ought to include more images of actual bishoujo in here, I will include another widely-available-online picture of the last figure I bought before my hiatus from this type of fandom. Incidentally, I bought it during Kawaii Kon earlier this year. I believe Asuka needs no introduction.


Actually, it was part of a (closeout display) set of four: Asuka pink and white versions, Rei blue and white versions. I like my women spunky and a bit nuts. Oh, and long-haired… oooh yes. So I favor Asuka out of the two.

I’m beginning to want my digicam more and more with every post. It may be what breaks luddite mode. (As if starting a blog didn’t.)

Shipping to Hawaii

September 1, 2006

I would like to think that I have greater than normal access to the objects of my desire. After all, Hawaii is geographically and culturally more similar to Japan than the rest of the Union is. One of my economics professors (who specialized in tourism) once claimed that our economic performance tracked that of Japan about as much as we tracked CONUS (that’s CONtinental United States for you hippies). And we are in the middle of the Pacific, a “natural” gathering place for all people in the Pacific Rim.

Unfortunately that last bit illustrates the simple problem with this “island paradise”: freaking everything must be imported. We don’t grow our own food (most of it anyway; taro is good though), we don’t manufacture our own clothes and, most important, we don’t produce any entertainment or merchandise worth a damn. Unless you count tourist goods. Us locals don’t. By definition, that stuff is for the tourists. (Please come! We need your money! I’m only half-joking.)

Basically if ocean shipping died tomorrow I’d have to start planning cannibal hunts, if only to get the jump on my prey before the 3rd world famine arrives.

I hear that commercial shipping rates leaving Hawaii are actually pretty cheap, since most of the ships/planes involved in hauling stuff in are leaving essentially empty. That’s just what I hear though.

Anyway, a personal consequence of this everything-must-be-imported reality is that I really really pay attention to shipping charges. Being an otaku on the mainland is fairly simple, you order from anywhere else in CONUS and they UPS ground it or something to you on the cheap. Because neither ships nor airplanes are involved, it is fairly fast and inexpensive. Not so here! Many companies (Dell, I’m lookin’ at you!) that offer “free shipping” promotions simply do not respect it for Hawaii; they won’t even extend a consolation discount. Of course, a few even decide to screw us over one extra step and count Hawaii as outside the US. (How insulting!) Don’t even start me on eBay, where some will simply refuse to ship here at all.

These discriminatory policies are not as common as I might imply. If anything, the situation has improved substantially over the years. (Thank you, USPS. I love you.) Still, shipping rates can differ substantially from one seller to another, being anything from free to $20 for one item. This obviously affects the way I shop.

Eventually it stops being about logic and starts being about principle. I generally refuse to buy from anyone who clearly discriminates against Hawaii…

Them: FedEx to Hawaii is expensive.
Me: USPS it then.
Them: Homey don’t play dat, foo’.
Me: Dammit!

Thus, I heavily favor anybody with free shipping to Hawaii. RightStuf, Deep Discount DVD, YesAsia and Amazon are all on my “favored” list; if I’m in the market for something, they get first crack at it (in roughly that order).

Yes, I’m aware RightStuf is slow as hell and, yes, they require paid membership (which I have) for their best prices, but they offer free shipping! Like I said, eventually it stops being about logic.

To compensate, I have pretty much stopped caring about time. They arrive when they arrive. It’s just as well anyway; I’m in a state of perpetual backlog (electronic games and anime):

  • I have over 5 games (RPGs no less) I haven’t even started since I bought them 6 months ago.
  • I still have at least 3 boxsets where I have not even watched the first DVD.
  • I am dreadfully behind in training up my Guild Wars characters; I haven’t even cleared the Factions campaign with any character yet.

As an aside, you can roll a mesmer in GW that really looks like a gothic lolita. So naturally, I rolled one, but she doesn’t have the right armor to get the proper look. So if anything, I will have her progress to the end of the campaign first. At that time, I will post a screenshot.

All I really have to say is that I love USPS. USPS >>> all (at least to a Hawaii local)

Lack of camera and Driving Miss Saber

September 1, 2006

Being somewhat behind in the technology curve, I lack a digital camera. Nay, I lack any camera. The last time I needed a camera, I bought a disposable model. I didn’t even use up all of the film.

Then one day I saw Wal-Mart selling really low end digital cameras in those annoying blister packs. You know, the ones that are completely thermal sealed at the edges such that it forces you to destroy the packaging to gain access to the goodies inside.

I still don’t have a digital camera since I don’t buy obvious crap. (Accidental crap is different.) But it opened my eyes; they could actually be quite affordable. Eventually I shall buy one… just not now. (Otaku-ness is expensive, you know.) Ah, but what does this mean?

Absolutely nothing. (You should know that if you watched a certain offbeat western.)

In any case, I will be unable to post pictures of the actual product I acquire. Which is a shame. But! As a cop out, I shall post my most favorite recent acquisition (now in widely-available-online version!), the beautiful Saber from Fate/Stay Night.


Admire her splendor. Admire it, dammit!


September 1, 2006

I am the bone of my [censored].
Cash is my flesh, and moe is my blood.
I have admired over a thousand girls.
Unknown to hate.
Nor known to love.
Have withstood loss to purchase many figures.
Yet, those thoughts will never hold meaning.
So as I pray, “Unlimited Bishoujo Works.”