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Gary Astleford [userpic]

Hazards of Dark Sun

July 3rd, 2008 (07:54 am)
cranky

current location: Fairfax, VA
current mood: cranky

My Dragon article is up and available for you here.

I attended Origins over this past weekend with some co-workers from EA Mythic. We were there to demonstrate how far Warhammer: Age of Reckoning has come. It was a great show in that regard, and I enjoyed meeting the folks who will eventually be playing WAR.

Origins was a bit smaller than I expected it to be. There was some thought that the convention is on the decline; I'm not sure, honestly, having never been. I don't have any past experience with Origins, so I can't make a solid judgement in that regard. Compared to Gen Con Indy, any convention -- even Origins -- is small.

While there, I got to see Henry Lopez from Paradigm Concepts, as well as my pals Hal Mangold, Christopher McGlothlin, and Steve Kenson from Green Ronin.

As for today...

I am in a cranky, bitchy, and altogether bad mood this morning. I'm doing my absolute best not to take it out on the ones I love, which pretty much means I'm being very quiet and keeping to myself as much as possible.

Reasons?

Family tensions originating back home. Given we live in VA now, these occasional incidents are even more annoying than they used to be.

I had a series of horrible dreams last night.

The kids got me up at 6:30am.

I'm horribly behind on a freelance project that will likely see some sort of love this weekend, if I've got enough bandwidth to get to it.

I turned 35 on Tuesday.

I'm being loaned to another team at work for three weeks, starting next Tuesday.

I've played in one game session this year. ONE.

I have a doctor's appointment today that I need to reschedule. I tried to call them yesterday, just after 1pm, but they were closed for the day. What sort of doctor's office closes that early?

The cats are being especially bad lately. They jump onto the dinner table and the kitchen counter whenever they please. They attempt to snake food from our plates. They drink out of our cups and glasses. They are rude, rotten beasts.

I've got to write up a document for something special, and I think I've figured out how to handle the formatting. Only thing is, I don't know what in the hell I'm going to write about.

All in all, I'm feeling like I want to crawl into a hole and hide today. There is plenty to do at work today, though. PLENTY.

If the way I feel this morning is indicative of the way my day is going to pan out, maybe I should find a nice burrow to sleep in.

Gary Astleford [userpic]

Super Genius Games

June 22nd, 2008 (09:25 am)
current location: Fairfax, VA

By the way, here's a bit of news from my friends Stan! and Hyrum. I'm not usually one for putting ads on my blogs, but I want to see these fellows succeed. Keep your eyes on Super Genius Games!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Escondido, CA (June 14, 2008) – Super Genius Games (SGG) proudly announces the upcoming release of its first One Night Stand, a new line of adventures, standees, and full-scale map tiles suitable for use with any edition of the world’s most popular roleplaying game or other fantasy RPGs. Each product in the One Night Stand line will offer a complete package of everything a game group needs for an evening of adventure.

"This publication model fits squarely in the Super Genius philosophy of providing an entire evening's worth of gaming fun in a single, complete, reasonably-priced package," said Stan!, Creative Director for Super Genius Games and co-designer of the first two One Night Stand products.

Each One Night Stand will feature an original, fully rendered map in both a single-page GM version and full-scale map tiles that can be used as a battle mat at the gaming table.

"We’re working with some of the best cartographers in the business to create fun, exciting maps for use in any fantasy roleplaying game, especially those that focus on tactical play using miniatures and maps," said Hyrum Savage, President of Super Genius Games. "There will be traps, monsters, and lots of cool surprises for GMs to spring on their players."

One Night Stand adventures will also contain printable standee figures for all of the creatures and monsters encountered in the scenario. These standees are provided through a partnership with Interactive Design Adventures (IDA), who are the creators of the wildly popular Stand-Ins line of printable standees.

The first two One Night Stand products will be released in mid-June 2008 with one being available as a free download in honor of the upcoming Free RPG Day. The entire One Night Stand line will be published in PDF format at RPGNow.com and DriveThruRPG.com for the low price of $6.99 each. Additional products will be released on a regular basis so GM's will always have something available for their games.

About Super Genius Games
Super Genius Games is an imprint of OtherWorld Creations. Founded in fall 2007, SGG is dedicated to publishing quality print and PDF products for a wide range of games and game systems.

Co-founders Hyrum Savage and Stan! between them have more than 22 years experience working professionally in the hobby games industry. They have done projects with and created products for Wizards of the Coast, Upper Deck Entertainment, TSR Inc., Paizo Publishing, Malhavoc Press, West End Games, Steve Jackson Games, The Game Mechanics, Guardians of Order, and many other industry-leading companies. Their work has been nominated for 10 major game industry awards.

Gary Astleford [userpic]

I'm Still Alive

June 22nd, 2008 (09:11 am)
tired

current location: Fairfax, VA
current mood: tired

I'm still breathing, though some days I feel like I'm on life support. It's hard to keep up with work (which is demanding in a lot of ways), my freelance projects (which are just as demanding as I've come to expect), and my family obligations (which make the day job and the freelance writing look like child's play by comparison).

So, yeah. I'm here, I'm just busy busy busy. There are never enough hours in the day.

In the news:

D&D 4E is in the house. I haven't had a chance to play it, and I don't know when I will. I've got the core books and I've breezed through them. Overall, I'm not sure how I feel about it. I'm sure the game plays well, but I'm not sure that it's got the sorts of character options I've come to expect.

To me, RPGs are about character options. In a class-based system, especially, character options are king. They are what differentiate Fighter A from Fighter B. This is why I enjoyed kits in AD&D 2nd Edition, and what made feats (and to some extent, Prestige Classes) so valuable in D&D 3.X.

On the surface, D&D 4th Edition looks to me like characters are even more codified. Multiclassing is out, for the most part. Abilities are chosen from a very limited pool (though I'm sure that, with enough time and enough expansions, this will change). This means that one character will be very much like the next of his class. And, of course, there's the 4E/MMO parallel that everyone seems to be drawing. I can see why, and I'm sure it's entirely intentional. As it is, I'm on the fence.

Will I run D&D 4E? Maybe. I need to try it out at least once to make a final determination. As it is, I still like 3.X quite a bit.

My first D&D 4E article will be up on D&D Insider pretty soon. Look for Hazards of Dark Sun to appear very soon in Dragon Magazine.

In other news, I'm probably going to miss GenCon this year. However, I will be at Origins (for the first time) this coming weekend. I'm going with EA Mythic, and we'll be showing our game off. Drop on by and say hello!

Gary Astleford [userpic]

Wanted Dead: Ewoks

April 3rd, 2008 (10:31 am)
discontent

current location: Fairfax, VA
current mood: discontent
current song: Cowboy Junkies

I had a dream last night. It was Star Wars-themed, and somewhat kooky.

Somehow, Ewoks had emigrated from Endor to Tatooine. The Ecological branch of the ISB (Imperial Security) had deemed them an invasive species, and granted hunters certain quotas for killing them. Thus, it was permissible for a certain number of Ewoks to be killed by each hunter each week, and bounties were offered for each one.

Hunters could only kill Ewoks of specific colors or fur patterns each week. Ewoks killed that didn't match these guidelines didn't count towards bounties. I guess this is my fevered brain's attempt at including some silly bureaucracy to the Imperial Ecological Agency's methods.

In the dream, I got to tag along with an Imperial Ecological warden as he inspected kills. We were walking around in some back-water desert town. There were large bins filled with dead (and, admittedly, half-dead) Ewoks.

One bin contained non-conforming kills, ie, Ewoks of the wrong color/fur pattern for the week. None of them counted for bounties, they were just there to be tallied.

There was another bin filled to bursting with dark brown Ewoks; I can only assume it was the week for dark brown Ewoks.

The last bin contained a motley assortment of Ewoks of all colors and in all states of decomposition. When I asked the warden about these, he told me they were road casualties: in other words, road kill; unlucky Ewoks who had wandered onto roads and fallen victim to landspeeders.

To make things more interesting, some Ewoks had gone to extreme lengths to maintain comfort in the extreme heat of Tatooine's twin suns. These Ewoks would shave their bodies bare, and had adopted robes similar to those used by Jawas. In effect, they even looked like pudgy Jawas, and had taken to infiltrating Jawa society (with varying degrees of success) in order to avoid the hunts.

That about covers the dream. Thanks for reading.

Gary Astleford [userpic]

A World of Warcraft Moment

March 31st, 2008 (07:51 am)
tired

current location: Fairfax, VA
current mood: tired


For a larger image, check here.

I call this particular screen cap "Beef Stew" for obvious reasons.

For some reason, a bunch of Tauren folks performed a sort of "Thunder Bluff Jonestown," and drowned themselves in the pond near the bank. They've been floating there for several days now.

I can only imagine what it must smell like.

Gary Astleford [userpic]

Geek Chic

March 25th, 2008 (08:30 am)
geeky

current location: Fairfax, VA
current mood: geeky

A while back, I got some replica patches from Intergalactic Trading Company that emulate the insignia worn by the characters in the movie Aliens. I'd sat on them for a while, but one day I decided to put them to use.

Basically, I bought a flight jacket (an MA-1, to be exact) and put the patches on it. Seeing as it's a flight jacket, I decided to theme it after the drop ship crew in the movie; namely, the characters Ferro and Spunkmeyer. In the movie, the two of them only wear flight suits, not jackets, so it was all an extrapolation. I patterned the insignia lay-out based on how they had their flight suits laid out.



So, this is basically what I have. The only thing that's different is the red "Bug Stomper" patch on the right breast. It's a patch never portrayed in the movie, but it matches the name of the drop ship that the crew pilots down to the surface of LV-426. Everything else (the Colonial Marines rocker w/Regimental Patch, the US Flag, and the blue "Victory by Wings" patch) is positioned just like in the film.

I mentioned I got the patches from Intergalactic. Well, all except for the Victory by Wings patch. For some reason, that one isn't available there, and I ended up getting it on Ebay. According to the Aliens Colonial Marines Technical Manual, it's the "unofficial unit badge of the 3rd Marine Aerospace Wing."



The jacket isn't an official MA-1. It's a knock-off produced by Tru-Spec, a company in Korea. I bought it from US Cavalry. While the first jacket they sent was the wrong size, they replaced it with a jacket in the correct size that fits well. It's sturdy, warm, and very comfortable.

Problem is, it's going to be too warm come summer. I'd like to find a light all-weather field jacket to put the other patches on, and model it after something the ground troops were wearing. That's a project for another time.

I guess it's pretty geeky, eh? The average person won't know what they're looking at, I reckon; they'll figure it's just a flight jacket with patches on it. So much the better.

Gary Astleford [userpic]

The Creative Well

March 21st, 2008 (12:45 pm)
tired

current location: Fairfax, VA
current mood: tired
current song: Alice in Chains: Facelift

So I was playing WoW last night ...

Back up. Rewind. Let's start this over, give it a little bit of perspective.

My wife is a member of the Straight Dope Message Boards. The SDMB formed a guild in World of Warcraft on a new server named Cairne. Now, I'd been playing on a PvP server where my co-workers go, and I'd gotten a rogue to 40th there and was actually enjoying the PvP experience.

Thing is, Amy wasn't. Not really. Not with Tarren Mill being the gankfest it is; not with an inordinate amount of 70's running around killing anything ten levels or more below them. She'd been griefed and ganked and was fed up. I guess I can't blame her, since it's not what she's into. I'm not really into it, either, but sometimes it's nice to have a fair, one-on-one with one of those Alliance pansies.

I digress.

So she goes and creates a character on Cairne, and I figure I'll do it, too. Maybe we can quest together. Being on a new server is interesting in a number of ways. The economy is all wonky, so making gold in the usual fashion (farming for copper, leather, whatever) doesn't really pull in the same amount of coin I'm used to. It's a struggle just to have enough to train, much less keep your equipment current.

I'm chatty with the guildies, too. They're all pretty good folks. It's a good guild experience, folks helping folks and hanging out and chatting. They're all mature, too, so there's no l33t to speak of.

One of the guild folks I've spoken to logged on, and I greeted him in guild chat. He asked how I was, and I told him that work was "sucking my brains out of my nostrils." Which is just my way of saying, "I'm writing all damn day, and when I get home I feel empty and somewhat used."

He asked, "What do you do?"

Being a game developer, especially one that works for a competing company, I'm somewhat leery of admitting what I do. My wife chimes in from down the hall, "Just be honest!"

So I said, "I'm a content developer for a computer game company." End of story. But just to be on the safe side, I added, "And it isn't Blizzard, either."

I expected some more questions, but these folks are pretty savvy, and they don't pry, which is nice. Hell, I'm not all that private. I tend to let most of everything hang out here (though I don't like talking politics or religion on my blogs; there's a time and a place for that sort of thing, and this isn't it).

So, what's my point? Heck, I don't know anymore. I'm sure I had something lined up when I began this post, but it's been lost in the shuffle.

I suppose it had to do with writing in general, and in making a buck or two off of my desire to use my talents. How many people get that chance? Here I am, mid-30's, and I'm writing in my day job, writing on freelance projects (for the Star Wars RPG, no less), and getting paid for it.

It's not easy. I guess it's easier for me than for most people, but what I'm saying is that it's work, what I do. I don't mind doing it, but it tires me out just as much as any other job I've had. Maybe more, because I'm really pouring myself out, tapping the creative well. I hope it doesn't dry up, because now (more than ever) is when it really matters the most.

Back to work now. I'll be in this weekend for a few hours, too, so I can get a head start on Monday's chores.

Gary Astleford [userpic]

Warhammer: Age of Reckoning

March 14th, 2008 (05:05 pm)
cheerful

current location: Fairfax, VA
current mood: cheerful
current song: The Wall (Pink Floyd)

So I work at EA Mythic, and I create content for the up-coming MMO Warhammer: Age of Reckoning (or simply "WAR" as we call it around here). Back in January, I was asked to write a zone overview for the High Elf land of Saphery, which would appear in the February Warhammer Online Newsletter.

The guy who normally writes the overviews was swamped with other tasks, and he felt that I might be interested in taking a stab at it. I figured, yeah, what the heck? I've got a little bit of spare time, and I don't mind hammering out a few hundred words. Plus, something like 500,000 people read the newsletter. How's that for exposure?

Well, exposure wasn't really in the cards, as the zone overviews are printed without a by-line. As it is, those of you who frequent this blog will probably be the only folks who know that I was the one who penned the following prose. Now that the February Newsletter is in the Warhammer Online archives, I feel safe in posting the link so that interested parties may take a gander at it.

Go here and check it out. You can peruse the rest of the February newsletter here, and if you're really interested, you can check the entire archive by following this link.

Gary Astleford [userpic]

Influential Game Designers

March 12th, 2008 (04:26 am)
groggy
Tags:

current location: Fairfax, VA
current mood: groggy

JD Wiker (jediwiker ) has gone and made a list of the top ten folks in the industry who influenced him. I'm not sure I can reel off a list of ten names, but I can always try. It's tough to put them in any kind of order, but here goes.

#10 - Kevin Dockery: One of the first games I ever played, back in 8th grade, was The Morrow Project. Now, as I understood it, The Morrow Project was written by Kevin Dockery (a real-life "civilian contractor," or mercenary) as a college thesis. It was a game of the post-apocalypse, firmly rooted in movies like Damnation Alley. The combat system was deadly (to put it mildly), which only added an edge to the game that hadn't existed anywhere else for me up until that point.

#’s 8 & 9 - Troy Denning & Timothy B. Brown: I gotta give these guys equal time because they're the minds behind the campaign setting that taught me that fantasy gaming wasn't all about elves singing in the trees. Give me cannibalistic halflings any day of the week, I say. I'm talking about Dark Sun, of course. I can only describe my initial attraction to Dark Sun as a disease, because once I picked up the boxed set, I couldn't stop. This was a first, for I was a constant critic of AD&D, of level- and class-based game play, and of anything even remotely related to fantasy and magic. Dark Sun was gritty, it was mean, it was nasty, and it ultimately changed my perception of gaming in a number of ways. Lucky for you, I don't have time to go into them all right now.

#7 - Jeff Barber: For Blue Planet and Midnight. I tend to doubt that Jeff remembers me, but back in '97, I stopped by the Biohazard Games booth on the last day of Gen Con and picked up the only copy they had left of Blue Planet 1st Edition. I joked, "Can I get it signed?" and Jeff was nice enough to do so for me. Reading that game on the flight home gave me the desire to write for it, and I made a couple of attempts to get my foot in that door (esp. in regards to Undercurrents, which was an ezine that Biohazard was posting on their site). I never made any progress, but Jeff was always very encouraging. Plus, he's one of the minds behind the Midnight campaign setting, which is probably one of the top three products that made me want to write for RPGs.

#6 - Mark Rein-Hagen: I'll admit, when Vampire: The Masquerade came out, I had some reservations. I played it initially, but I quickly grew tired of it. Besides the real-life politics within the gaming group I was a part of, there were plot issues; the campaign we played was very much tied into Anne Rice's books, and it seemed like everyone had read them, lived them, loved them, and applied them to their characters. I quickly grew tired of the drama, and left for a time, but I did end up coming back to Vampire (and its many off-shoots) eventually. Despite the apparent pretentiousness of the line, it was one of the best products out there, with an elegant rules set, innovative layout and graphic design, and a lot of very interesting background material. It also taught me that game books didn't have to be stuffy and chock full of rules, nor did said rules have to be written like a physics thesis.

#5 - Rose Estes: Though I guess she's not technically a game designer, she did write the Dungeon of Doom Endless Quest book. Dungeon of Doom was the first taste I had of what gaming was. I bought it at an elementary school book fair, probably in the 4th or 5th grade. I wasn't terribly intellectual at the time, though I was incredibly imaginative. Reading about the monsters and encounters in Dungeon of Doom (as well as the other Endless Quest books I ended up buying) got me interested enough to buy the first edition of the Monster Manual just so I could learn more about the critters that kept leading me to such famous endings as, "...your life, and your quest, end here."

#4 Greg Costikyan: After I got the gaming bug, back in those sweaty, adolescent days, I came across a title in the Waldenbooks at the local mall that combined gaming with one of my all-time favorite films: Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. There was little question that I had to have it, and shortly thereafter it was mine. I think I begged my mother for the money, and ended up with both the first edition rules as well as the Star Wars Sourcebook. Even at that age, my knowledge of Star Wars was pretty vast (at least compared to my player base), and I ran countless Star Wars games (many of them via email). Now, I don't know Greg, but I do know that, because of the Star Wars RPG, his contribution to my life as a GM, a player, and a writer has been astronomical.

#3 - Lynn Abbey: I consider Lynn Abbey a good friend, and I made her acquaintance in a relatively innocuous manner: by sending in a fan letter. I don't remember the details, but I don't think the email gushed praise. It was more along the lines of, "I love what you did with The Brazen Gambit! Can you give me some clues on what the city-state of Urik is like?" From there, we ended up emailing back and forth for a number of years, until we finally got to meet in person when I was asked to write for Green Ronin's adaptation of the Thieves' World setting. If Lynn taught me anything, it was about world and character design, and that you need to consider the minute details that make up the larger whole.

#2 - Mike Pondsmith: For Cyberpunk. I've known Mike for many years, but I can't say I know him very well. If I didn't give him props for Cyberpunk, I'd be a liar of the worst sort. Cyberpunk was one of the first games I played (and eventually bought) that got me running and playing on a regular basis. After a time, it was the first game I really made an effort to tinker with, rules-wise, and it was also the first game I tried very hard to write for professionally (I wasn't successful, but I did learn a lot).

#1 JD Wiker: Yeah, yeah. Blame JD. When Alternity was at its height (which is a somewhat relative indication of altitude, given that I was the only person in Southern California who was buying its products on a regular basis), I made a couple of submissions to Dragon Magazine in support of Alternity. Somehow, I managed to open up a dialog with JD, which eventually led to a long-lasting friendship. JD taught me what Wizards of the Coast expected of freelancers, sure, but he also gave me an insight into the fact that what you write has to be more than just cool; it has to be balanced and it has to make sense. I'm not sure I would've gotten anywhere in publishing if it hadn't been for JD's insight and encouragement.

There are a number of runners-up, and it's a tough stretch to say I can list them all. There's Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax (for forging the way), Ray Winninger (for his work on the Chill Companion), Steve Jackson (for GURPS, gods bless him), Charles Ryan (for Millennium's End), Erick Wujcik (for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG), Ken St. Andre (for the original Stormbringer RPG), Kevin Siembieda (for the Robotech RPG), and Rob Schwalb (for being evil incarnate, and for teaching what dedication really means).

There are more, far too many to include for every contribution that they've made to me in regards to the hobby, but I'll try to be graceful and leave it like this. It's four am, after all, and I've got to be at work in five hours.

Gary Astleford [userpic]

Today I Work

March 9th, 2008 (09:23 am)
numb
Tags: ,

current location: Fairfax, VA
current mood: numb

Today, I work.

I've got writing to finish up today. It'll probably run over into tomorrow, too. And then there's another little thing that's due late in the week. Oi, these things seem to get bunched up like a pair of sweaty underwear.

I may even go in to the office tonight to get some other things done, but  you know what? I'm sort of partial to spending two days away from the place, as opposed to the one that has typically been required lately. I spent all night dreaming about the day job, anyway, so it feels like I've been there, anyway.

I hate it when that happens.

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