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Month: May 2003

Stained record

I’m really hoping this one is wrong. Certainly the term “death camp” is overblown rhetoric. The reality is bad enough. We can’t be executing prisoners without very open due process, and Guantanamo Bay is a closed system. No appeals, no juries. No spectators.

This is not an accusation. I do not say that the proceedings would be unfair; I can’t say that, because I don’t know who the men on the tribunals would be. What I’m saying is this: our system is an open one precisely because our Founding Fathers knew that it was necessary; it is an open system because we are expected not to trust the government’s unsupported word.

Proof of fairness is a burden that lies on the shoulders of the court. They must not refuse to take up that burden.

It's a moral thing

Yao Ming is suing Coca-Cola China. One might well assume that he’s out for big money, etc., etc. One would be wrong; he’s suing for 1 yuan, which is about 12 cents, for “spiritual and economic losses.” I.e., he feels he has to sue to protect his rights but he’s not interested in punishing Coca-Cola.

Gotta admire that, even if it’s a bit unAmerican.


We played some Trollbabe the other night, and had a tonload of fun. I was kind of expecting it to be a bit turgid, since it’s a highly experimental sort of game, but it moved really quickly and provided as much drama as I could ask for.

Without going into heavy detail, it’s a game in which you play trollbabes — half human, half troll, stuck between two worlds. All PCs are trollbabes, and every trollbabe in the world is a PC. The isolation from both the human and the troll worlds is an important part of the game.

Play is divided into formalized Scenes. At any time, any PC who isn’t in a Scene can show up if there’s no reason why she couldn’t. Scenes contain Conflicts, which are either Social, Combat, or Magic. The player gets to decide if they’ll be resolved with one die roll, two out of three die rolls, or three out of five die rolls; the player also gets to decide what the victory conditions are. (“I win if I convince the bloodthirsty troll to go away.”) Finally, the player gets to narrate failures and the GM narrates successes.

All those elements combine to give a lot of power to the players, and that power means players can really relax and get what they want out of a session. For example, that old RPG cliche about splitting the party goes away when you can pretty much always go where the action is. Another example: it’s not very scary to fail when you get to narrate the exact shape of the failure.

There’s a lot more experimentalism in Trollbabe, mostly oriented towards making it a story-oriented game, but what really interested me were the aspects above. They seemed to be the keys that permit a real sense of dramatic tension in a game in which the players almost completely drive the story.

WISH 48: Money Money Money

WISH 48 is all about loot. Real life loot, not the stuff you roll on the treasure table.

The price and availability of miniatures goes up as more companies leave the market. Wood costs lead to extended paper costs, and supplements and gaming systems are becoming a serious financial investment. Is this affecting your gaming any?

I’m pretty much with Ginger on this one. I’m pretty solvent, through a mixture of luck and brains, and I don’t really blink much at costs. Right now my threshold is about 25 bucks for a 128 page book (hardcover or not), and around 40 bucks for a longer book; I’ll buy those if I’m sure I want them, but I won’t buy ‘em as a casual purchase. On the other hand, a $20 128 page softcover? Sure, that’s in my budget.

I don’t buy minis often, but if I did I’d probably feel similarly unless I was collecting a Warhammer army or something. I buy a lot of cards for the one CCG I play, Shadowfist, and I could certainly get by very well buying fewer. So yeah, money issues don’t concern me often.

I also think that higher prices are a good thing for the industry. John Nephew of Atlas Games really pioneered the current pricing structure, based on his analysis which showed he couldn’t make any money with the $15 paperbacks. WotC priced the initial run of D&D core books at an insanely low price, which probably slowed the adoption of realistic pricing, but we’re getting there nonetheless.

The gaming industry needs to keep a niche open for the guys doing games as a labor of love in their basements, but it also needs real businessmen. It needs to be able to support a professional freelancer. If higher prices get us that, I’m all for ‘em.

The Russian judge

I finally got around to breaking down the IOC members by coalition/non-coalition. Of the main Committee, 79 members come from non-coalition countries, not counting Mohamad Hasan from Indonesia, because he’s been suspended. Hm, make that 74 — there are five Swiss members and we’ll count them as neutral. 45 come from coalition countries, counting Taiwan as a coalition country even though the US didn’t list ‘em as part of the coalition. I kind of suspect that had more to do with mainland China than anything else.

The President of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, is from Belgium — non-coalition. Of the four Vice Presidents, two are from coalition countries and two are not. The other ten members of the Executive Board are mostly non-coalition: 6 non-coalition, 3 coalition, and 1 Swiss.

Conclusion: in the unlikely event that all the members agree with the politics of their countries, and assuming people still care a lot about this when the final selection is made, New York, London, and Madrid are not gonna be getting the Olympics. Paris is the probable victor, since Moscow is rather a troubled city. (This doesn’t take into account any additional negative effect from the USOC corruption issue.)

This kind of sucks as a possibility. New York could really use the estimated $11.3 billion, after all.

Bruce and Jessica

Bruce R. is just destroying the initial responses to the Jessica Lynch story over on Flit. It’s the kind of impressively completist work that makes blogs look good. Start at the top and work down. Best quote so far, from Rumsfeld:

“We are certainly grateful for the brilliant and courageous rescue of Sergeant, correction PFC Jessica Lynch who was being held by Iraqi forces in, in what they called a ‘hospital.’”

Odd that they’d call it that, considering that’s what it was. Again: when conservatives say “You’re only against this because Bush/Rumsfeld/Ashcroft is doing it,” the appropriate response is often “Exactly.” The trust level is not exactly high here.

Bruce also demolishes various anti-Bush claims about the Lynch rescue, most notably the claim that the entire thing was staged and that the soldiers carried blanks.

Walking man

I now own two walking sticks. They have sharp metal spikes at the bottom, and nice curved handles. One of them — the one my great-grandfather used as he hiked across Germany — has “Interlochen” carved into the shaft. I don’t know if he did that, during sunsets and sunrises, or if it came that way when he purchased it.

Both of them, both my great-grandfather’s walking stick and my grandmother’s walking stick, have little metal badges attached to the shaft every inch or so. He apparently hiked more places than my grandmother, because he has more badges. Each badge is a new town, or a new sight on the horizon. If I took the time, which I will, I could trace their paths from the top of the stick to the bottom through the mountains of Europe.

As my parents age, I receive more and more of such memorabilia — the diaper pins, Jarvis Wood’s yearly Special Delivery, and so on. I have a lot of objects in my life, but I’ve had very few that I felt protective of until now. Now I own objects that I couldn’t just let go of if need be. Not a bad feeling. But different.

The round table

The UN Security Council will approve a resolution lifting sanctions on Iraq today. This resolution is the result of a fair bit of negotiation and back and forth; it’s not the resolution the US wanted, and it’s not the resolution France, Germany, and Russia want. But everyone’s fairly happy with it. Lo, the art of compromise.

It gives the UN more of a voice in the post-war reconstruction, and extends the food for oil program for six months. Probably most importantly, from a practical standpoint, it doesn’t give Iraq permanent immunity from claims by creditors, which means that Russia and France have some leverage to encourage Iraq to enforce the pre-war contracts.

In other diplomatic news, NATO will be helping Poland run part of Iraq. The agreement was unanimous; a lot of symbolism there. I’m glad Poland was able to bridge the gap between the coalition and the Franco/German group.

Read his lips


“I don?t think there is any role for the U.N. in the short term in searching for, or identifying, or securing weapons of mass destruction, but we do not necessarily rule out some kind of U.N. role down the road.” That’d be U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton.

Today, things are different:

“The United States has started discussions with the International Atomic Energy Agency to make arrangements for IAEA teams to return to Iraq to determine what may have been stolen from nuclear sites, a State Department official said yesterday.”

I note this not so much because I don’t think it’s OK to change your mind. I do that all the time. It’s more because I keep seeing people talking about how this Presidency is a straight-shooting Presidency that means what it says. Also because when I point out that a political stance is untenable, and then that political stance changes, I like to crow about how I’m right.

Warning signs

Explosion at Yale. It was in a mail room at the law school; Bush was in Connecticut today to speak at the US Coast Guard Academy graduation, but that’s a fair ways away.

This has been your alarmist news post of the day. I’m just edgy because the DPS says Boston’s a target over the weekend.