D&D: Testing Out A New Way to Roll Stats - TicTacToe

I have never been a fan of point buy system for D&D stats. I feel it lends itself a bit too much leeway for those people who are obsessed with building the "perfect" character build. I am not saying it is wrong, just I like the idea of D&D having a bit of randomness in everything it does to make the outcomes exciting and unpredictable. Typically I use the Standard Array system, but that admittingly gets pretty boring. There is of course the standard roll and drop method too, where you roll 4d6 dice, and drop the lowest number. You do that six times and add up your scores to get your character's scores. That works fairly well, but it can really skew someone's stats if they end up with even two very high or very poor scores. 

I have seen this "TicTacToe" method online which I sort of like, which should give people an option to not feel "locked in" if their roll and drop doesn't go their way. 

Here is how I understand to do it. Do your standard 4d6 roll and drop the lowest. You do it 9 times instead of 6 and place it into a 3x3 grid in the order you rolled it, left to right, top to bottom. You can then select one row and one column of numbers. They can overlap, but you cannot have your row and column overlap your highest number. This should give you a bit more options for choice and compromise and not have to feel so locked into to just choosing six numbers. It might even have you weighing some options or compromise. Do you take a row that has on really high stat with two low ones, or do you take the other row with all three numbers more balanced? 

So in this example attached I chose the 2nd column and last row, resulting in 16, 15, 15, 12,  9, 8.

I could not choose the 1st column and law row, because that would result in two 16's, which are the highest numbers in this case. Thoughts on this system? 


Videogaming: Spiritfarer

Every once in a while I come across a game, a book, a movie, or whatever that absolutely hits me emotionally. More often than not, it hits me in such as way that I had no idea that it was coming. Deadhouse Gates did that to me for books and Blade Runner did that to me for film. Off the time of my head I cannot say that I have been hit so emotionally before by a video game, at least in the sort of emotion that conveys sadness, melancholy, and resolution. 

Spiritfarer is that game for me. An incredibly gorgeous 2D side scroller that has you playings as a Spiritfarer, an entity that guides lost sprits to the Everdoor and to whatever lies beyond. I want to make sure that I convey this game to everyone and its impact without spoiling it, because part of the charm and part of the impact that to conveys to you is the story that unfold as you shepherd souls to the Everdoor. 

The Everdoor is a gate, and quite literally the gate to the afterlife, which lends one to ask, where does the game take place? It doesn't take place in the "living world", as it is made clear to you from the outset that not only are the inhabitants, but you too are in fact deceased. I would guess then that the world is a sort of purgatory or waiting room for the next life. Your job is to help the individuals you come across put closure to their lives and help them pass on.

It all sounds rather dark, but it is wrapped up into a beautiful Animal Crossing style package that presents to you whimsical and loving characters who are all represented as various animals. Keeping on the Animal Crossing theme a bit, there is a community building aspect to the game where you have to gather resources and build your residents homes. 

Where the game really gets to me though is in the story moments, the small snippets of dialog that occur between the Spiritfarer and the various inhabitants. You get a touch into all of the character's lives as they reflect upon their successes and failures when they were alive. It is very touching and each time when you finally shepherd your inhabitants to the Evertdoor to say their final farewell, the moment is bittersweet each time. What makes the game so good though, is that they are able to make each characters goodbye mean something. Some of these characters are easily lovable, while others were no necessarily good people during their life. They were mean, perhaps criminals and sometimes dishonest and failures. In the end though, the characters all seem real based upon how they approach their final moments at the Everdoor based upon all of their past life experiences. Some of them are grateful, some are relieved. Others view the experience with resolve or even outright indifference. It seems true either way and in the end the game tells you in no uncertain terms that the time will come for all of us to eventually say goodbye. It is sad, sometimes tragically so, but it is a lesson that we all need to confront eventually in our lives. 

I came out of this game really reflecting upon the experiences and time you get to have with everyone around you and there were times as I played this game, watching the Spiritrarer say goodbye to a companion, and I had to pause in the reflective and quiet moment. It makes you want to hug that loved one you have nearby because sometimes you never quite know when goodbye comes. 

I Finally Decided To Pay For A Music Streaming Service

So I finally did it. I have been resisting for years to get into the reoccurring music payment services that are out there like Spotify and Apple Music. I just don't really want to get int oa $10 a month for eternity system that means I would lose all of my music if I decided to stop paying. For the $10 a month, I would much rather just purchase something to add to my music collection. 

I do pay for iTunes Match, which is $24 a year and absolutely fine for the price to add my existing music library to the cloud for streaming. I am actually surprised there aren't more services that do this. All that being said, I didn't actually pay for the service that everyone may have thought I would. So instead of purchasing Spotify or Apple Music, I instead went with a subscription to DI.FM. What the heck is that you might ask? 

DI.FM is an electronic music streaming radio network. It is a radio network, so there is no music that you download. It is a combination of live radio shows and programed radio shows/playlists with a huge variety of electronic music genres, I think there is something like 50 sub-genre stations to choose form. 

Why would I have done this you ask? Well, it really boils down to the way that I like to listen to my music, The vast majority of my time I am listening to music as a background ritual, either while I am working or doing other hobbies. Of that time while listening, I more often than not want to listen to music that doesn't have any lyrics to it or isn't intrusive. I listen to quite a bit of classical and jazz music in addition to electronic because of that. The thing is, is I don't really need to keep that on my person in almost any scenario, except one, which I will get to in a bit. 

My actual music library is mostly a collection of a few selected albums with lyrics that I really like, with the rest being a goto selection of albums and tracks that fit my original "background playing" intent. The Skyrim soundtrack is always on my playlist by the way. 

The one scenario where I may want to listen to something more comes into play with my motorcycle. Those who know me know that I wasn't a huge fan of having a radio on my motorcycle and up until last year I didn't have one. I didn't even have a bluetooth headset to listen to music to while I rode. That changed a bit when I got my new bike past year and it came with one year of SiriusXM on it. Now, I actually liked SiriusXM quite a bit. Having commercial free radio accessible anywhere in the country was really nice and I was very close  to paying for SiriusXM up until a few months ago, after my subscription expired. The thing is that SiriusXM is kinda expensive. It costs $17 a month, and sure you can find some deals online that take it down to $60 for the year, but that involved haggling and in some cases playing the phone game with them much like you would with Comcast for your cable subscription price. I just have zero interest in doing that. I really only listen to 4-5 stations on SirusXM in any real way, so I couldn't justify that price and hassle. 

Now if I could get it in both my car, my motorcycle and online streaming for $15 a month, I might consider that, but the pricing just doesn't compete against even Spotfy or Apple Music. What SiriusXM did though was solidify how I like to listen to music and that is when I began the rabbit whole of looking for some online streaming services. TuneIn, Pandora, etc. all had a good look. I kept coming back to DI.FM though and what is nice about them is I could stream the entire service for free with commercials. I finally gave in here this past week and decided to go ahead and get a subscription, which only cost me $4 a month, which is more than reasonable for the what they offer. They even offer integration to other services and hardware like Sonos or receivers that have vTuners in them, so that may be worth exploring a bit more. 


Year in Books - 2020

It has been a light year of reading for me. I am not quite sure if it is because of the COVID quarantine or not, but I struggled quite a bit this year to really settle into a book that really captured me. A large portion of the books I read this year were through audiobook and I read a surprising about of Sci-Fi. I honestly probably got the most amount of enjoyment from the handful of comics I have read this year, and Hoopla through my local library has been great for that. I think it would definitely be my worthwhile to dig a little bit deeper in a few more of those and find some series that I need to complete. 

Speaking of completing series, I think it is about time that I finally dive into the last book int the Malayan series, the Crippled God. While browsing through my Goodreads list, it occurred to me that I have been working on that series since 2012. I can't believe it has been so long since I read that first book. It is such a good series, but definitely not a light read, which is perhaps why it has taken me so long to get through them. Reading one book a year (they are like 700+ pages each) has been very methodical process. 

I also want to put on my 2021 goals to read through the Lord of the Rings again. I read those books when I was in middle schoo, so it has been 20+ years since I have read those at this point. I would like to go back and revisit them to see if they capture me like they did when I was younger. I re-read the Hobbit a few years ago and actually enjoyed it more as an adult than when I read it as a kid. 


D&D Map: Adventures in the Borderland Provinces - The Mountain that Moved - Village of Yandek, Yandek Mines and Blood Boys Ranch

Village of Yandek


Yandek Mines


Blood Boys Range


Additional maps for everyone's enjoyment. These are maps from the third adventure from the "Adventures in the Borderland Provinces" book. These map sets include the Village of Yandek, the Yandek Mines and the Blood Boys ranch. 

Book Review: Ancillary Mercy


Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very fitting conclusion to one of my favorite sci-fi series. I know some readers of this series were expecting something more of a grand space opera, with Breq perhaps flying across Radch space to end the wrongs of Anaander Mianaai.

That isn't going to happen here and scope and scale of something so large is unfeasible. Instead the story backs off, and focuses more on the specifics. It is telling Breq's story after all, not the story of the Radch. Through that story we get to see the growth and development of Breq becoming the person that she her self cannot admit that she is. It is that point that the rest of the story hinges upon, and really what so many good sci fi stories do hinge upon. They take a character's personal instances and struggles and extrapolate them out to the broader society in question. In this case that question is, is an AI a "person"? The culmination of this trilogy leads us to that point and question and ends not with the answer, but the posing of the question. Some may find that unsatisfying and to an extent, it is. But we are left with the satisfaction of Breq and her position in the world and that her crew and everyone she comes across does care about her.

I came away incredibly satisfied with Breq as a character and would put her right up there as one of the best written sci fi captains. She is cold, calculating and often times hard on those around her, but incredibly fair. That doesn't mean she isn't emotional. We see quite a bit of emotion internally and it is seen in her actions and care for the citizens of the Radch. She is undoubtedly exactly the type of captain you would want on a military ship and one to lead you into an impossible situation.

I also am completely enamored with the writing of the crew and the Left Lieutenants. It is remarkable to me how much the crew truly cares for their obviously flawed Left Lieutenants. They want to see them succeed in almost every situation. They stand up when need and care for them when it is required. In turn, we see the Lieutenants also reciprocate in their own way. And as always, the propriety of the Radch has captured me to no end. This is a series I would love to see some costume and art designers take a crack at. The gender neutral pronouns used in the culture lend me to believe that this is a society that itself has a gender neutral outward appearance. The descriptions of Radch citizens wearing gloves and jewelry stirs my imagination. Ann Leckie herself has a Q/A post over on Goodreads.com that I will quote.

"...I don't think I've ever said that Radchaai are gender neutral--just that they really don't care about anyone's gender, and don't mark it socially or linguistically... it's not really a thing they care much about. They care about it, maybe, as much as we care about hair color.

[I] think it's worth considering...how much of what we consider to be "obvious" about someone's gender when we look at them is actually a set of social cues. Hairstyle, kinds of clothes, even certain colors of clothing. Ways of standing or moving. These can change from culture to culture, or even from decade to decade (just a couple hundred years ago, high heels and hose were a guy thing. Less than a hundred years ago, pink was a "boy" color.)... And consider that while quite a lot of people will say that one's genitals are the defining element of one's gender, we very rarely see the genitals of the people we quite automatically assign gender to. We're not actually gendering the people around us based on their genitals. We're making assumptions about their genitals based on a complicated mass of social cues."

With that, I will say that I hope we get more from this series and this world and could you please prepare some tea.

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Book Review: The Monsters Know What They Are Doing

The Monsters Know What They're Doing: Combat Tactics for Dungeon Masters by Keith Ammann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a really hard book to rate. It isn't a book of stories or any narrative really. It is a collection of blog posts that provide a description/recommendation on how to run each monster in D&D. On that front this book is very successful. The insight and writing is very well put together and I really learned quite a bit on how to approach encounters.

The real complaint I have with this book is the formatting and layout. This is really a reference book. Unfortunately, the layout and formatting doesn't lend it to be used as a reference book. The book is laid out in "chapters" and a narrative style. I think if the book was formatted more in a dictionary format, two columns per page and with an in-depth index, this could be infinitely more useful for Dungeon Masters to utilize.

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Book Review: Finder

Finder by Suzanne Palmer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a really fun read. A fun, light sci-fi adventure following Fergus Ferguson as he finds himself caught up in adventure too large for the likes of him while at the same time only solvable by him.

There is nothing heavy or overly sciencey about this book. It is almost like a pulp fiction novel, putting the sense of fun ahead of any sort of realism. The cast of characters is just as enjoyable as the main character, with people who inevitably end up loving and hating Fergus at the same time. Think of a Han Solo or Rick O'Donnell and everything around that notion. Humor mixed with dumb luck.

If I had any critique of this book, it would be the almost innumerable amount of Deux Ex Machina situations with Fergus and his endless bank account somehow always pulling out ahead. It could have very easily made the book an "eye roller", but somehow Suzanne Palmer is able to make it work and still have the reader rooting for our self deprecating hero through each misadventure. If you can let that go and let the story take you for a ride, you almost have to enjoy this book.

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One Year with the 1250RT

It has been just over a year since I have now had the 1250RT. Just over 11,000 miles now that I have had this bike and I have to say that I have absolutely loved the bike so far. I used to think that My 1200R was going to be the bike that I kept forever, but as you know from my posts last summer, it was just getting to be a bit too uncomfortable with the riding position. I have come to realize that more and more of my riding is long weekend rides and I unfortunately fo not have much opportunity for community on the bike due to my job. 

The amenities that the touring bike has brought have been a surprising and welcome addition that I didn't think I really needed prior to this point. Cruise control alone is worth is the worth the price of entry. It is one of those added additions that I never really thought I would have needed. I am also really enamored with the quick shifting mechanism on the bike. 

Like I said, I have a 11,000 miles on it since I got it last August, which is probably the most miles I have put on a bike in a single year. The most recent 5500 mile certainly helped, but I would not have been able to complete that trip riding the 1200R unfortunately. 

My only real complaint at this point about the bike is that it actually has too much wind protection and I am absolutely roasting on those hot July and August days in the heat.