Monday, December 19, 2011

D&D&Kids - Setting up

OK, it's been years since I've DM'd. Most of this is old hat, however. Now, keeping in mind that this will be in 2nd Edition, we are going to be treating this old-school...

DMG? Check!
PHB? Check!
Monstrous Manual? Check!

Good! Ready to start... OK, now... I have pencils and paper and a crapload of dice - a few being amongst my oldest possessions...

Now, I would want to start making copies of character sheets but I don't feel like using a pencil and paper for everything and I want to make sure that the computer will help out the best it can. Unfortunately, most of the various spreadsheet-based sheets or other software packages out there are for 3.0, 3.5, or 4.0. Most of the 2nd Edition Character generators have disappeared from the Web.

It's a good thing that I have a long memory for some things. Back in 1998, TSR came out with a software package called the Core Rules CD-ROM 2.0. Unfortunately, this has been out of print for over a decade... and copies on the open market (for a thirteen-year old piece of software designed for Windows 95!) run in the $70-$100 range...

It's also a good thing that the BitTorrent Protocol started started up since then! If you know what to look for, then you can find what you need floating around in the Pirate Bay. Normally, I'm not much for piracy, but in this case, I'll give it a shot!

The Core Rules CD-ROM includes a number of tools:
  • Two (count 'em, two!) map-making programs. One is simpler than the other, but both are essentially drag-and-drop, map tile, graphics programs. 
  • A bookshelf of almost all of the 2.0 books - in RTF format, but they are there.
  • A Dice Roller (I have always shaken my head at these)
  • An Encounter and Treasure generator
  • A Character Generator! PCs, NPCs, Dice rolling methods, save 'em, level 'em up... you name it!

Using this package, I can create characters for James of Riverfield and his friends (NPCs I can use to round out the party and save "James" from himself). I have also saved a version of Antha, James' mother (and my wife's character from long ago), in case they really get their fat in the fire. 

Next time: Creating a world a seven-year-old will enjoy!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

D&D&Kids - First in a series

OK, I'm a nerd. I think you may get that by now - especially if you check my Facebook profile. To clarify, I am a Star Wars watching, Lord of the Rings reading, D&D playing, computer programming, high school band marching nerd.

Anyway, I am now raising a pair of kids who are congenitally resigned to be nerds as well. My (almost) 7-year-old lives, eats, and breathes Star Wars, Harry Potter, and anything having to do with dragons. The great thing is that he not only wants to watch the movies and shows, he wants me to read them to him. So far, we are through Harry Potter to Goblet of Fire (waiting for him to get older til we read more). We are in the middle of Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain (one of my favorites from my youth). We are now safely in the realm of reading "grown-up books." He still likes looking at picture books, but he is definitely able to deal with the big books.

He has also been playing a few different Kids MMOs - Legos Universe (clunky and shutting down in January 2012), Free Realms (Sony Online, slick, but aimed at tweens), and Wizard 101. Wizard 101 is our overall favorite - especially since all of the NPC text is spoken to you and there are directional arrows for your quest objectives. 

So, one day when he was browsing through my old Monstrous Manual (he loves all of the art and reciting the monster names and alignments... I have NO idea), we started talking about D&D. We talked about me playing. We talked about his mom and I playing (and how our first big fight was because her character died while I was DMing...). One thing led to another and we decided we would play over Christmas break. Immediately, I started yearning for those halcyon days of my youth, hanging out at a certain Junior High teacher's home with about 15-20 other gamers while we beat up spiders, met gods, and made mischief with paper, pencil, and dice. My folks SO did not know what to make of me.

So, I start pulling out my old 2nd Edition books. I am going with 2nd Ed. simply because I don't have any later books except for the 3rd Edition Players Handbook. Besides, from everything I know of 3rd Edition and have heard of 4th Ed., they are all a bit too much for his age - "crunchy," if you will.

If nothing else, there is a HUGE volume of resource material for cheap online, if not on your bookshelf. I happen to have collected a pile (a couple of shelf feet) of 2nd Ed. stuff way back when, so I am set for background - not that a 7-year-old needs much more than to be given a simple hook and to be asked what he wants to do. I figured that much even before I began looking online for ideas from others.

If you are looking at doing something like this, I would recommend reading through the following: 

I'll let this go for now. As you can guess, I have much more to talk about - and I hope to get more in as I prep and we play!


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Did that guy just falsely claim to be a SEAL??? Really??? or: How to not be called a jackass...

Given all of the recent press regarding the Navy's Special Warfare Development Group (AKA Seal Team Six), I saw this coming and, as it is a subject near and dear to my heart, I felt I needed to post.

The early 1990s was an interesting period in America. After two decades of simmering anti-military sentiment following Viet Nam (with a Desert One chaser), America switched overnight to being overly (pseudo-)patriotic and very pro-military. Much of this was a result of the quick success of Desert Storm, as the US defeated a technically and tactically inept force... oh, and one that was outnumbered 2-to-1...

I have presented to gun collectors on the effects of Desert Storm regarding the arms industry and how brown, wood guns are being replaced by black, polymer guns. This was, in part, the result of America's newfound familiarity with the military after following the war on CNN. Reports of con artists claiming military association began to occur. Unfortunately, some of these con men were regular people - veterans who wanted to get a little more street cred, politicians who couldn't shut up, and grandpas who wanted their grandkids to think they were special. As an example, I offer Veteran's Phony War Stories...

Around this same time, several books and an atrocious film came out about Navy SEALs. Thankfully, after Navy Seals was released in 1990, Kevin Dockery's book Seals in Action came out. Fitting nicely into the history told by Kevin Dockery, Richard Marcinko's Rogue Warrior came out in 1992. However, the three together made for the trifecta of "How to pretend you are a SEAL." Madness and douchebaggery ensued...

Oddly enough, about this time, I spent most of a year at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Norfolk, Virginia. While I saw SEALs and some friends played hostage for some SEAL training, I was there to drink and play bass guitar...

Jump forward twenty years and it is again rearing its head. A preacher claiming to be a SEAL (and here and here) and those who are working to uncover folks like him are showing up in the news.

Unfortunately, it doesn't matter where you live. We have our own impersonator here. I heard about him from an acquaintance. He sounded nice enough, but the the stories got, well... odd... For one thing, he and his tales involved 5 of the 7 bullet points on this list

I did the right thing. I asked the folks at the POW Network (amateur webpage, professional service!) and I had my answer within 24 hours. The response described the source used to perform the research and succinctly stated that "no one by the name of CXXXX QXXXX graduated from the US Navy BUD/S course." Question asked, question answered.

I'd call him on it, but he is of little consequence. If he tries to get any public kudos or recognition out of it, however...

And, by the way, I giggle like a schoolgirl everytime I see Navy Seals on TV...

Monday, May 9, 2011

How to get the NRA to stop calling you...

As some of you know, I am a Life Member of the National Rifle Association. However, I am also a disgruntled Life Member of the NRA. Part of me dearly believes that it is a great organization. Much of this comes from the various training programs offered by the organization - many at little or no cost. The strengths of the organization outweigh the ills.

It has been my experience that many of the people who are opposed to firearms are either uneducated about the subject or unfamiliar with guns in a practical sense or both. During my time as the Curator of the Cody Firearms Museum, I often met people who were opposed to firearms of any type in private hands. After showing them the museum, talking with them, and helping them understand what firearms are, how they work, and what they are capable of, most changed their minds.

The viewpoint of the non-gun public is not helped by the number of ill-educated gun guys out there who do not aid our cause. Fortunately, the NRA has helped in the education of many hundreds of thousands of the nation's gun owners. Unfortunately, it is also one of the largest rabble-rousing organizations in the country.

An instance from my personal experience -
Just about a year ago, during the run-up to the 2010 elections, I got a phone call. The caller ID said "National Rifle Association." I thought, "OK. Another fund-raising call..." Knowing that our number would stay in the auto-dial rotation until I acknowledged the call, I picked up the phone. Little did I know, this was not a fund-raising call. This was a get-out-the-vote call...

The very nice woman on the line dutifully read from the script in front of her, trying to convince me I should be terrified that President Obama, et al, was going to sign a treaty to restrict our gun rights. I told her to stop right there. I proceeded to tell her several facts:
  1. I am a life member of the NRA
  2. I am a gun owner.
  3. I support the right to own firearms. 
  4. I voted for Barack Obama for President.
  5. I am a registered Democrat.
  6. The treaty to which she refers had not been presented to the US Senate, the body of which has to approve said treaty by a 2/3 vote.
I also told her that while I support the educational activities of the NRA, I have become greatly concerned with the lengths the organization has gone to in order to push their agenda and the compensation amount of their officers (see page 5). She very politely thanked me for my time and disconnected the call.

Apparently, I'm not the only one...

Since then, I have not heard a WORD from the NRA. Well, the National, that is. The local chapter gives me a call once a year for their banquet. I also have some occasional communications with the National Firearms Museum as I know the Curators.

As I was saying, I have not received a phone call from the NRA in almost a year. They appear to have removed me from their mailing list, as well. I still look forward to my American Rifleman. Granted, I skip past the bits by Wayne LaPierre and Chris Cox... and the ads for gold... and the ads for "Commemorative Firearms"...

Amazing. I got through all of this and didn't mention Glenn Beck...

EDIT (1/26/2012): Noticed in my page stats that someone got here by searching for the term "national rifle association stop the calls". #winning

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A +1 Magic Gun Scope? and some recalls...

Saw this blog post elsewhere and wanted to cross-post it. This is one of those things that is a double-edged sword.

Yes, such a scope will greatly aid military and law enforcement shooters who have to get 100% accuracy regardless of any issues.

For competition, I think this will allow some folks to have a little bit of an edge. Granted, most folks aren't as accurate as their guns. But at the level of national (and some regional) shoots, the difference between first and third may be less than 1/8th MOA. This type of device could be the decider.

More concerning to me is that this scope could also aid what I have seen as a disturbing development within the rifle-shooting community as a whole. The belief that it is not only OK, but completely ethical, to take overly-long shots on game has been an issue to me for a few years as the level of gun technology has increased while the dedication of many hunters to their sport has declined.

Back when I was young and ignorant (as opposed to being old and ignorant now), I took shots I should have let go. My lack of ethical behavior at the time still bothers me. I have seen and heard of other, more experienced shooters taking these shots. I can only guess they have been spurred on by articles and advertisements pushing that some new gun and ammunition can make them a modern equivalent of Carlos Hathcock or the fictional Matthew Quigley. I say, "nay, nay..."

  • Practice, Practice, Practice... three zeroing rounds at the start of the season won't cut it. If nothing else, dryfire at a spot in the garage to practice - maybe even use the old dime/washer on the barrel trick to practice your trigger pull...
  • Know your limits... How fit are you to fire offhand at a deer 200 yards away after running 50 yards? try this at the range sometime...
  • Know your rifle... Do you have a range card? Is the ammo in your gun from the same lot? or did you just buy a different load from Wal-Mart?
  • Know the range... Use a rangefinder or practice known range estimation. Do you stand hunt? try using ranging stakes set every 50 yards.

OK, that's enough on that...

Friday, April 29, 2011

Musical Instrument Museum - Phoenix

Last week, we took a trip to Phoenix.

While trying to figure out what we wanted to do, a friend of my mom told us some great things about the Musical Instrument Museum.

Having already heard about the MIM through articles in the LA Times, the NY Times (a review I both agree with and would argue against in parts), and having spent much of my life as a musician (from piano to sax to electric bass to some percussion) and the last decade or so as a museum professional, I thought this would be a great idea! I'm always looking for good exhibit, signage, mounting, and other ideas to steal.

All-in-all, it was a great visit. I enjoyed it, my wife (another museum nerd), my mom, and (most importantly) my kids enjoyed it. Well, the kids did for awhile. Although the novelty wore off for them after about 30 minutes, they did enjoy the Experience Gallery (you'll see later).

The exhibits are laid out similar to some art museums or the various ethno-historical/anthropological museums. Each national/ethnological area has a selection of instruments from the area's peoples and musical styles. There is also a video screen in each section. The video screen plays a selection of performances utilizing these instruments.

One of my pet peeves in museums is the use of exhibit-related headphones. Partially, this is a result of not knowing who had the headphones last and if the museum staff is diligent in following their sanitization policy. The other reason - more directly tied in to the visitor experience - is that headphones can prevent groups from having a shared experience. Knowing this, imagine how thrilled I was when we were handed headsets after paying our admission.

I'll admit - in this case, I was wrong.

The headsets are tied into a wireless transmission that broadcasts immediately in front of the screens. This signal carries the audio for the video on the screens. This allows the visitor to listen to the audio without it being distracting or continuing after leaving the area of the exhibit.

For an example of this in action, watch the video. The back half of the video is the Exploration Gallery.

My main (and only real) complaint about the museum is the same complaint I had about a place where I used to work (and the main issue held by the NY Times reviewer). It's set up like a music store. There are all of the instruments, footage of them being played, and a place to try them out. However, there is little in the way of discussion of the development of the instruments, the musical styles, and the importance of the instruments in the various cultures. In many ways, it is an example of the museum version of "Here's all of our stuff!"

Now I know that this is more than a bit simplistic, but it does point out the one big issue. I am guessing that the big takeaway a lot of folks will have is along the lines of, "I didn't know there were this many instruments in the world." I doubt that this is what the Curators, much less the Director or the Chairman, former Target CEO Robert J. Ulrich, really want as an outcome. However, given the folks involved in the museum's curation and design, I would expect that there is something going on to improve this.

Jordan exploring his inner Babaloo! (I know - these drums aren't Cuban)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Can we just get over it??? He's American - even if he isn't an American like you...

I've been letting this stew for awhile, but then I go to Gawker and see Tea Party members being douchebags AND Donald Trump being a douchebag AND Birthers being douchebags... (Hey! A Trifecta!)

You may think he is some sort of Kenyan Socio-nationalist anti-imperialist muslim, but he is a Christian (maybe not your kind of Christian...) born in Hawaii! Regardless - even if he was born in Kenya, His mom was an American citizen, ipso facto, he is a Natural Born Citizen...

He may be doing stuff that people don't like, but he WON THE ELECTION! (by the biggest margin since Clinton '96)

As for Trump, I keep waiting for someone to pull a Joe Wilson... "You Lie!"

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Driving while stupid...

During a traffic stop in Birmingham, Alabama, police made a disturbing discovery.
Appears someone thought it was a good idea to use a World War II Japanese "Knee Mortar" round as a paperweight... and yes, he was driving around with it in his car...

To top it off, the woman with the owner of the round was "shouting racial slurs" at the officers while they searched the car... nice.

This guy was one wreck away from a Darwin Award nomination.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Guns, Museums, and Security

I have a presentation I give to museum professionals about firearms. It is a full-day seminar and it covers all aspects of guns and museums. I cover safety and identification, exhibition, legal aspects (I bring in the local ATF Industry Operations folks for this), and security.

My security discussion includes background checks for staff AND volunteers, key control, vault/case access, record keeping, and other topics.

Unfortunately, most folks only think of security in terms of this robbery in Roswell, New Mexico. Short of bars on the door or thick plexiglass or safety glass instead of regular plate glass, nothing would have stopped this crime.

However, the crooks are IDIOTS. The reasons?

  • Most museums have many things on exhibit that are more valuable than the guns. Most "Old West" guns are worth very little and the stories associated with them are usually just that - stories.  The resale value on these guns (Granted, I don't know what they took - although I can guess) is probably less than $500 each. This is based on the condition, quality, and type of most guns I have seen in Western Museums.
  • Most guns made before the turn of the century may have, ahem, issues with modern ammunition.Try using some hot modern .45 Colt in your 1870s wheel gun. Good luck with that.
  • Many guns made before the turn of the century use ammunition that is no longer available - well, at least at Wal-Mart... .45 Schofield, .44 S&W, .32 Short. or various .38s that aren't 'Special'. 
The most useful aspect of these guns to the criminals would be if all of them were manufactured before 1899, making them non-firearms. Possession by felons is then legal and these then fall outside of firearms law.

Have fun fencing them guys!