Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Hiatus Redux

I need to write. But I don't want to blog.

I was in Port Angeles over the weekend. So much I could say...much of it (probably) intensely personal. Saw the bulk of my relatives from that side of the family. It's been 30+ years. To see my cousins (mostly second cousins), who were kids (in their early teens...maybe) now as 40-something year olds. Some are nigh unrecognizable. Some are completely recognizable...but their lives are not. So much change.

The "celebration of life" for my uncle was about what I expected. A hell of a turnout. More food than I anticipated. A LOT of cheap beer (Rainier, or "Old Seattle Lager" as I think it's now called). Maybe. Who knows...it wasn't marked. Nothing too sloppy...decorum was observed (as much as it ever is). Respectful. Dancing was confined to the floor, rather than up on the bar.

Saw my aunts...both of them. Amazing. If you know the family history.

My kids were ogled over. My daughter played Elvis songs on the piano ("Suspicious Minds"). Diego got to shoot pool with his parents.

My wife and children had a blast. Made connections. Already making plans to go back.  

They remember the good. They didn't observe the six police car standoff/bullhorn negotiation outside my  hotel window that lasted between 3:30am and 8:30am. DV guy. With a dog. Didn't want his dog to get shot. Fortunately no shooting. I went back to bed around 6ish, figuring the cops would evacuate me if necessary. So Port Angeles. 

[for...reasons...the dog and I spent Friday night in a different room from the rest of my family. We were all together Saturday night]

The waitress at the hotel restaurant regaled us with the whole story while we waited for our breakfast order. Seems she hadn't seen that much action since a few months ago where a wedding party got a bit rowdy and started throwing furniture off the balcony, and an "active shooter" situation developed.


Sunday we drove out to Ediz Hook ("the Spit"). I stared at the ocean for a long time. My kids skipped rocks in the mirror calm Harbor side.  I could stand on those bluffs and look at the ocean and gray for days, with the Olympics at my back...gorgeous those mountains are, especially seen from Port Angeles Harbor on a clear day. Calm harbor and gorgeous mountains...grey ocean and crashing waves. Glorious, both ways.

I could live in Port Angeles. But I wouldn't raise my kids there.

In politics, Washington is considered a "blue" state. But really, the only blue part of the state is western King County, i.e. Seattle. We just outnumber the hicks and cowboys east of the cascades, the money-grubbing business tycoons in Issaquah and Bellevue, the military hawks in Snohomosh and Pierce county.  All those areas are red-red-red (maybe a little purplish recently since Trump is such an asshole). But the peninsula isn't red or blue. It's gray. Gray like the ocean. Gray like the sky. Politics? They just closed the pulp mill in 1997 after sixty years. Is my kid on meth? Pregnant? Both?

My wife at my uncle's (large) gathering: "I am the only non-caucasian here...I feel a bit intimidated." Me: "I am sorry you feel intimidated. It's Port Angeles...they don't care." True enough. By the end of the night she had decided she loves these people. I see why. They are lovable. Also heartbreaking. In much the same way as my Montanan side of the family is. But it's not the same...it's a different type of heartbreak, a different type of melancholy.

When (what we now called) Americans pushed west of the Mississippi, they were a certain type of folk. They were not "adventurers" in the D&D sense of the term. But they were an outcast of a particular sort. Well, of many particular sorts. And they settled those western areas as they could and as was convenient. Some were quicker than others. Some kept moving...all the way till they hit the ocean and couldn't go any farther. 

You see this in the Northwest...don't think of California in this regard. California was settled long before the "pioneers" ever got there (remember: it originally belonged to Spanish Mexico before being sold to the United States). Oregon and Washington were different. My father's father homesteaded in Oregon, he and his six brothers hunting and fishing to help the family survive. During WW2, they enlisted in the army where their skill with rifles earned them medals in Europe...quite a change from when they'd been bullied as youths for their German heritage. My grandfather, a staff sergeant, earned a Purple Heart in addition to his Silver Star...he joked (??) that he was shot by his own men for being a German.

I don't know why my grandfather, Ed, moved to Port Angeles. But he did, and he lived there the rest of his days. My grandmother...and her mother (my great grandmother) both left and returned and lived out the rest of their lives on that gray coastline. Of my father's generation, he is the only one to have moved away...his youngest brother just died there, and it's likely that his other siblings will as well...some day. Probably someday sooner than any of us would like.

My mother has cancer. Just confirmed that today. Rough.

Back in July of 2014, I announced a temporary "blog hiatus" in order to attend to my family. The hiatus ended up not lasting very long (less than two months before regular posting resumed) and had much to deal with the major changes going on in my life at the time...new baby, new country, new situation...and getting my head screwed on right. I've had far longer breaks from blogging since then...in 2018 I went more than four months (between July and November) without a post.

But I'm announcing another, purposeful blog hiatus. I want to focus my energies on something creative (i.e. a writing project). And my time is so limited. And that's GOOD that my time is limited (because I have an active life, attending to my family and whatnot). But it IS limited. And I really, really, want to create something.

Creation, not destruction. Joy, not melancholy.

SO...I'm putting the blog on hold for a while. I hope to be back by April. We'll see if I can stay away...the call of the blog-o-sphere is nearly as seductive as the call of the ocean.

Thursday, February 23, 2023


I need to write.

The trip to Orlando was a good one. Made it to the gate by the skin of our teeth (both ways!), but made it we did. The weather was lovely: cloudless, sunny days in the 70s-80s. Four days at the Universal parks and a couple days at Disney, and saw and rode on all the attractions we'd planned/intended. Very, very stress free for the most part, which is...frankly...amazing. No explosive arguments or catastrophes, and we even picked up a bunch of merch that we were (somehow) able to fit in our carry-ons without checking a single bag (we hate checking bags).

Lot of sickness, though. I picked up a sinus infection on the plane ride there, and it took me a couple days to get over it (but I managed). Then my daughter caught a cold the second to last day we were there and was able to pass it on to my wife and I just as we were pulling up stakes. Now back in Seattle, my daughter is on the mend, I'm, mm, pretty rough, and my wife is sick as a dog. However, tests show all four of us are negative for Covid, so there's that.

["masking" is not on the menu in Orlando. In six days at theme parks among thousands of people we saw exactly one mask on one employee (to be fair, we weren't wearing them either, outside the airport). But we saw a LOT of coughing and sneezing people, and plenty of snot-nosed children. I get it: you drop a load of cash on a Disney vacation and you're not going to skip it because you got a sniffle. Probably, I'm just germ-phobic in these post-pandemic times, but it's nice to be back in Seattle where no one bats an eye if you decide to wear a mask to the grocery store...hey, man, I'm protecting YOU, too]

Longest wait time for a ride was 2+ hours for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Second longest was about an hour plus for (tie between Jungle Cruise and Space Mountain). I do not like waiting in lines, but it is far easier to do with your family than solo (as I did with Space Mountain). But 2.5 hours definitely tries your patience, even with company. I mean, it really, really does. Probably a good idea to bring a cheap paperback novel. 

Most disappointing ride: Pirates of the Caribbean. I've been to Disney Land thrice in my life (once in Tokyo!) but never Disney World and not for 30+ years. Pirates has long been my favorite ride, and DW's version was: crap. I mean, it's obnoxious anyway that they've had to insert animatronic Johnny Depp into multiple scenes because of the stupid movies (at least I didn't have to see animatronic Orlando Bloom)...but the ride is SHORT...they cut out whole scenes from the DL ride, characters that were the basis for the original movie (like the bomb dude), all the undead/ghost stuff and...I don't know. It felt cheap and chintzy. And I just heard they're getting rid of the original ride at Disney Land, too, changing it for "Jake the Pirate" which is just...*sigh.*  I guess what counts as "adventure" for AdventureLand in the 21st century isn't the same as the 20th. Don't scare the kiddies with grim brutes and bloody cutlasses. Heavens!

The Magic Kingdom did seem geared to a younger audience. Asking for a beer in LibertyTown, the colonial-dressed cashier told me point blank "There will be no alcohol in the Magic Kingdom" in an ominous tone of voice. Like, none? Quite the contrast with Universal's theme parks, where the tourists are walking around with double-fisted pints from 9 in the morning. I mean, that's the way to wait in line (assuming it curls by a restroom). 

[DW's other parks...like Disney Hollywood...were a bit looser than Magic Kingdom in this regard. Though I heard from an Uber driver that a flight of beers at the SW Cantina costs $85!  Holy-moly! Most of the booze cost $12 from what I saw, but I'm not sure the additional $6 shot of rum would save that blue milk. Not my taste]

ANYway, all bitchin-moaning aside, we had a splendid time. Not sure if I'm a fan of the whole 3D/4D rides, as THOSE things made me far more queasy than ANY of the roller-coasters (especially that Escape From Hogwarts thing that the kids made me go on...twice! Nearly tossed my cookies every time we zoomed onto the Quidditch field). But those were mostly at Universal, where you could always grab a beer or a Bloody Mary to settle your stomach afterwards. And beautiful, sunny weather to stand around and drink it in (he says as he looks at the wind and hail...hail!...outside)...the fam had me cooking asado last night for Fat Tuesday and I was grilling in the pouring rain!

By the way, shout out to our hotel, the Cabana Bay (part of Universal) with its 1960s retro-modern vibe. Wow. Loved it...every bit of it. It was like a theme park unto itself (that theme being "1965"). But an extremely relaxing one. 

The one thing I didn't do much of, however, was writing. Oh, I had the chance to do some writing...mostly on the six hour plane rides. But a lot of it was just...mm...not "mean-spirited," so much as just negative. I find, more-and-more, that a lot of what I'm inclined to write about (at least, with regard to commentary) is poking holes in things that others praise...or bringing a hammer to things that others are "okay" with. 

I know, I know...I've blogged before about wanting to be constructive and positive, rather than destructive and negative. I don't really want to start singing that song again.

But it occurs to me that maybe there's a purpose for my negativity. Maybe.

Still, it's Lent and I want to practice a little restraint. Yes, I have one or two half-cocked (well, half-penned) rants waiting to be fired off, but I think I want to get a little more above the weather before I post 'em to Ye Old Blog. Just to make sure my heart's in the right place, I want to make sure my head is clear and non-stuffed.

[okay, now it's freaking snowing. Jeez]

This weekend...well, tomorrow, actually...the fam is headed out west to Port Angeles. My uncle recently passed away, and while there's no formal funeral or memorial (as my father told me long ago, folks in Port Angeles "never really took much to religion") there's a "get together" of friends and family at a (kid friendly) tavern. Very Port Angeles. 

[yes, in Port Angeles they're called "taverns," not bars or pubs, at least by the locals. Most places tend to have a nautical theme to it as well...restaurants have names like The Hook & Line or Smuggler's Landing or 48 Degrees North. My grandfather...and late uncle...ran a tavern called The Wreck for decades...]

SO, I'll be gone this weekend (again) starting tomorrow, and I've got a bunch of packing and whatnot to do before then, as well as a D&D session to prep/run. So...maybe regular blogging to resume again on Monday? I'm hoping. 

Hey...at least I didn't give up blogging for Lent this year.
; )

Later, ya' land-lubbers!

Thursday, February 9, 2023

In The Time Of Covid

So...the boy was back at school Tuesday, per the CDC guidelines. By the end of the day, however, the middle school had been shutdown due to Covid outbreak (apparently, he wasn't the only one whose been sick with the 'rona...nearly a third of the kids in his class, plus several teachers). Since yesterday we have been back to Zoom learning, and here we'll stay for the remainder of the week.

Remarkably (*knock on wood*) no one else in our home has contracted the virus. Sofia continues to attend school (I'm waking her up in about 15 minutes).

The fam is leaving town anyway for a few days: heading to Orlando to visit Disney World. The kids are at a point where they're both tall enough to ride everything, but they're still young enough to appreciate and enjoy such things. Heck, I'm excited myself...though my enthusiasm can't help being damped by the costs and stresses involved in such an excursion. Just finding a place for the beagle for the week has been a major chore. 

Anyway. I hate these little nothing updates, but I don't know when I'll get a chance to scribe another gaming post anytime soon. Apologies.

Friday, February 3, 2023


My boy has COVID. That sucks. Three years of avoiding the virus and here it is. 

Yesterday, he was a bit of a wreck. He's much better today...eating a big ol' pile of food and watching TV (in the other room) as I type this. I'm guessing he'll be ready for soccer again by tomorrow, but protocol requires he not participate till Wednesday. School he can go back to on Tuesday.

Fortunately, Diego's the stoutest of the family as far as general health and immune system, I am REALLY hoping we can keep it from passing around the household as we're supposed to travel in...mm...nine days.


Car's in the shop again...need to go pick that up today. Later, gators.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Tiers Of Play

Man, it's been a rough week or two. Or four. January...rough this year. Been pretty stressed; if I made a salty response or comment (here or on your blog) in the last few days...my apologies.

Okay. On with the show!

[oh, wait...yeah, I changed Ye Old Blog's layout a bit. Blogger is "easy" to use, but it's a bitch to adjust when you can't access the code and the options for manipulation are limited. Hopefully, people aren't having a hard time with the new look...more apologies for any inconvenience]

Over at Prince's, there was an announcement that the "goal" for this year's NAP III contest would be to explore the concept of play/adventures for high level characters, a woefully underdeveloped area of D&D gaming. This prompted much discussion amongst the commenters...both excitement and not-a-little trepidation.

There is...and has been for a long time...a dearth of D&D game play in the upper echelons of level range, at least amongst MANY of the folks 'round this neck of the woods (old edition D&D players). Which is a tad silly, considering how many YEARS this OSR ball has been a-rolling. Why silly? Because, with regular, committed game play, getting to a "high" level in D&D doesn't take that long...assuming, of course:

A) players are getting better at playing, and
B) DMs are providing adequate, regular opportunities for x.p. (i.e. treasure)

There are two AD&D campaigns currently going on in my household: one run by me, one run by my son. For a variety of reasons (mainly sheer busy-ness) we don't get as much time to play as anyone would like...maybe a couple/three times pre month?...the boy hasn't even run us since, I think, December or November.  Today, he'll be our DM.

[ah, jeez. Just found out Diego is sick with something...has a fever. Well, that throws a monkey-wrench in everything. Add more stress to the pile!]

Hmm. Well, today he was supposed to be our DM. *sigh*  

Anyway, despite that game playing infrequently, I've still managed to get my "main" PC to 5th level and a secondary PC to 4th. In MY campaign, the players started new 1st level characters, and the party ranger (a notoriously difficult class to level up) just hit 2nd level after three-ish sessions? That's withOUT an earned x.p. bonus (his ability scores don't meet the threshold for the +10%).

If we were to play regularly (which I'd consider four to six hours per week), I'd expect all players to be hitting mid-level in two to three months. By the end of the year (always assuming decent play and participation) I'd expect most...if not all!...of the players' main PCs to be starting to see the lofty heights of "high-level."

But what does that mean, exactly: High level? Mid level? There seems to be some confusion/consternation floating around in Ye Old Inter-Webs. Some folks consider anything above 7th level to be "high level;" I saw one commenter who considered 5th level to be "high." 5th? Not much room for a mid-tier there!

I think, perhaps, some definitions could help.

AD&D is the most robust of the old school systems, and (of the older editions) is best able to accommodate ALL scales of D&D play. In fact, I would argue it is DESIGNED to do so (compared to the Basic sets which were written to introduce new players to the game, or the OD&D rules which were a "first pass" at the creation of this new hobby). Plenty of monster, magic items, powerful spells and hostile environments (planar travel, anyone?) to challenge the highest tiers of character power.  However, there are (for me) clear delineations, or TIERS, of play.

Low-level play: 1st through 5th
Mid-level play: 6th through 11th
High-level player: 12th+

These are approximations. To measure in experience points, I'd tag a good breakpoint for "mid-level" at 50,000 x.p. and "high-level" at either 500,000 or 1,000,000 x.p. (depending on the individual campaign).

My measure for this is in terms of PC power/effectiveness which (in AD&D) can generally be equated to which magical spells are readily and easily accessed by an adventuring party with a good variety of character types. 

The mark of mid-level play is the ability to access 3rd level spells...easily and readily. 3rd level spells is the category when the troubles of low-level (beginning) adventurers start to lose their sting. In the cleric section we see spells like continual light (who needs torches?), create food & water (ditto rations!), cure disease (removing rot grub, green slime, giant rats), dispel magic (handy), glyph of warding (protect your safe room in the dungeon!), locate object (where was that stairway up?), and remove curse (obviously good). For the necromantically inclined, animate dead can turn those dead orcs into meat shields and/or treasure porters, and speak with dead gives PCs good intel on the dungeon.  Dungeon crawling, the meat and drink of low-level adventurers becomes far easier with a handful of these babies every day.

For the magic-user, the spell book really begins to open up with 3rd level spells. Certainly fireball and lightning bolt become wonderful crowd clearers and monster killers, but utility spells like fly, invisibility 10' radius, Leomund's tiny hut, tongues, and water breathing allow exploration possibilities that weren't previously available. Scouting becomes easier with spells like clairvoyance and clairaudience, and protection from normal missiles makes the party's wizard much more durable. Of course, spells like haste, slow, and hold person can provide huge advantages in fights...especially against numerous lesser opponents. 

However, it's not enough that the party cleric or wizard has only ONE of these spells. To be a true mid-level party, you need ready access...enough to sustain a significant delve or session. Four to six applications of 3rd level power is what you're looking for, with six to eight being even better. Once your players have access to that level of magical resource (and are smart enough to not simply stock "fireball x3") then you can look at the group as "mid-level."

In similar vein, I peg "high level" player to approximately 12th level. In truth, with decent players (and excellent magical equipment) 10th or 11th would be a fine breakpoint, as it is the ready access to 5th level spells that denotes high level play. 

But at 12th level, the kid gloves can finally come off.

5th level magic is the kind of stuff that breaks a lot of DMs poor little noggins. For clerics, we get spells like commune, dispel evil, plane shift, raise dead, and true seeing...spells that allow intel/recon without fear, spells that remove the sting of death, and spells that can banish even pit fiends back to their own planes (woe betide the player who feels cure critical wounds and flamestrike are the cleric's best spells of this magnitude). For magic-users, we gain access to cloudkill, conjure elemental. contact other plane, hold monster, magic jar, passwall, and teleport...some of the most powerful spells in the entirety of the game. Whole dungeons levels can be cleared by means of these spells...dungeon levels readily mapped with the use of the 4th level wizard eye spell. 

But 6th level magic (obtained at 11th level by clerics, and 12th level by magic-users) puts even these to shame. Clerics gain the ability to cast heal, which not only enable the curing of insanity and the instant recovery of hit points, but can also bring a raised character back to full adventuring strength (no waiting a week for recovery!). Find the path makes the objective of any dungeon quest far more easily accessible, and word of recall gives the character an instant "get out of jail free" card to return to his/her fortress (and EVERY cleric, by 11th level should have a stronghold staffed by loyal followers).  For magic-users, stone to flesh enables a party to recover from petrifaction, while reincarnate allows the wizard to act as an "emergency cleric" if the group's patriarch has been killed. Anti-magic shell, legend lore, death and disintegrate are all incredibly useful, and no wizard should be caught at sea without control weather in the repertoire.  Just having access to two or three of these 6th level spells can greatly extend the operational range of a high level party. 

Of course, any party that has a 12th level magic-user should (assuming equitable distribution of x.p.) include a 13th level thief (or 11th level in the case of a multi-classed demihuman).  13th level sees thieves with a 99% of moving silently, and 85%-99% chance of hiding in shadows (depending on race), and quintuple damage from a successful backstab. For a thief with a +3 short sword and an (off-hand) +2 dagger...not an unheard of combo...that's an average of 55 damage, enough to bring down a 12 HD monster (say, a fire giant) in a single go.

Fighter types of 10th and 11th level will generally have AC well below zero and hit points in the 60+ range (70+ for rangers) in addition to multiple attacks, and bonus spells (paladins and rangers). An 11th level paladin turns undead on the same column as a 13th level cleric, auto-turning wights, wraiths, ghouls, and ghasts and having a decent (better than 50%) chance against anything up through vampires. And rangers at high level gain IMMENSE damage bonuses versus evil humanoids, like giants. 

All of which is Good & Necessary. As I said, DMs need pull no punches when it comes to high level adventuring parties: greater demons and devils, giants, gorgons, mind flayers, purple worms and (duh) dragons all should be available as challenges for high level parties. Monsters that would result in TPKs if placed in adventures can finally hit the table without resentment; fiendish traps and magical curses can abound. Deep forays into the bowels of the earth...or the unknown of extra-planar realms...can occur. And the DM need not fear reprisal and hostility from the players. After all, this is what they've been working towards, over dozens of play sessions. It is the very reason to play the extended Dungeons & Dragons campaign.

Okay...that's enough to chew on for now. I hope to have a follow-up post that provides some helpful hints on transitioning players from one tier to the next. I feel like THAT is (yet another) subject solely lacking intelligent discourse and explanation.
; )

A typical LOW-level party.