This last week I've read Fate Core (the PDF), in preparation for my The Tower of the Serpents game at this weekend's upcoming Bookwyrm Con. It's still a solid system, mostly familiar; the new iteration strips out some of the less commonly used terminology (like tagging for effect) and generally reflects another few years of experience with the system. I look forward to my game--though Sunday, 8 am, is pretty cruel.
I also read a book I was gifted for Christmas this week, Brenda Cooper's The Creative Fire. I really like the setting, which is a well worn generation ship, several generations in. My lack of deep-seated emotional understanding of music led Ruby, the book's heroine, to not quite resonate correctly to me. I got that she was popular.... but it's hard for me to imagine folk singing having such power. Anyway, I enjoyed her characterization, along with Onor, the other predominant POV. The system that developed on the ship makes sense, and the diagnosis (that comes late in the book) seems reasonable too. It's clearly the beginning of a series--that, despite enjoying the characters, I hope is short.
This week's listens were fewer; I listened to a pair of TJ hours and enjoyed RoleplayDNA Episode 18. The episode was middling and wandered quite a bit, but was still interesting to listen to. The central question was about handling vampires and creatures of the night as central players--either PC or NPC.
The Jefferson Hour shows were both interesting. Episode 1012 - War in Virginia, was a very interesting discussion about the challenges of being a wartime governor in Virginia during the revolutionary war, when the war finally came south. It was interesting to hear Jefferson defend his skills as an administrator, while disavowing himself as a leader of men. The strangely crippled executive branch of this era was something I'd never heard about before. All in all, a fascinating hour.
Show 1013 - Boundaries of Authority was familiar, since it covered topics that the other guest hosts were also interested by, especially the Louisiana Purchase and how it comported with Jefferson's limited government stance. What made it work was the strong line of questioning from the guest host; since we talked about the purchase only two episodes ago (in 1011), the difference in questions and, particularly, Jefferson's contrast of his actions to Hamilton's made the episode distinct. But I can see the purchase coming up very frequently if each guest host indulges their curiosity about Jefferson's justification every two episodes.
It's been a while since I last updated, so here's what I've listened to over the last 3 weeks--about 18 hours of travel.
The Dice Tower: 291, 292, and 293
Ask Me Another: Fifty Shades Of Dr. Ruth and Once A Jersey Girl..., 1/18 and 1/25
This American Life: 188 [kid logic], 486
Wait Wait: 2/2/13, 2/9/13
TJ Hour: 1009 Quotable, about misattributions to TJ
1010 Church and State, about Virginia Statute of religious freedom, state of State churches in 1700s, etc.
1011 Of Historical Significance, about TJ reconciling himself to slavery and bending the rules for the Louisiana Purchase
I've also read a few books, in between bouts of being sick:
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making [by Catherynne M. Valente] was very interesting, told in an unusual style harkening back to omniscient narrators. I really enjoyed the struggles of our heroine, the curious logic of the faeries, and the nicely stitched together view of the world. The final reveals about the villainess are dramatic and worth the quest.
Thieftaker by D.B. Jackson. It turned out to be a good novel, set in an interesting time; I haven't read a lot of revolutionary era historical fiction. The magic system is interesting, but I do wonder about the lack of limitations... as the final battle revealed. Still, it was good, and I'm looking forward to the sequel, Thieves' Quarry, due in July.
Directive 51 by John Barnes. I'm about halfway through. It's very interesting so far; sympathetic to all sides. I do wonder about a department of the future and why it had to be introduced... though it sounds gimmicky enough that I can buy it. I like the idea of the mutually incompatible passions getting tied together into Daybreak.
The Dice Tower Episode 290: A solid episode.
TJ Hour: Episode 1007 - The Art of Power, part 2. I'm very much looking forward to reading the matching book; it sounds like a good generalist book with an interesting skew.
TJ Hour: Episode 1008 - Commonwealth: Mostly listener mail, with the first in a series of guest hosts. The first three minutes were rough adjusting to the new voice, but it went along fine.
Wait Wait: 1/12 and 1/19. They were fine, but didn't really stand out for good or bad. It's good to be past the repeats.
Nathan Lowell's Talking on My Morning Walk 1-20: Vaguely interesting, but I don't know him, so his offhanded references to his books are mostly lost on me. I won't be downloading more.
This American Life #173: Three Kinds of Deception. Interesting stories, but not revelatory. It felt like a filler episode.
Just a quick list of things I've listened to of late.
Thomas Jefferson Hour shows 1002-1004:
Show 1002 was about a letter Jefferson wrote touching on his view of historical political rights, mentioned the Whig view of history, etc. A very interesting topic that the letter touched on were "Ward Republics"--a level of government within the county of about 100 families. The idea of extending democracy to such a local level is both inspiring and intimidating.
Show 1003 was a response to the Newtown massacre; emphasis was placed on pausing, empathizing, and not reaching for the stock talking points. Purely OOC.
Show 1004 It Came to Pass was a rebroadcast of the 2010 Christmas Special. This was the first time I heard it; interesting elements include a history of Christmas in early America, including its banning in puritan New England for 80 years, and differences in celebrating then and now.
This American Life
482: Lights, Camera, Christmas! 12.21.2012
Interesting stories about building extravagant Christmases, with a particularly interesting interview with a family that built personal myths about Santa, the north pole, elves, and so forth.
481: This Week 12.07.2012
A fascinating series of "day in the life" stories, covering the previous 7 days.
Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff Episodes 16-20
All four episodes were strong; each episode is basically four 15 minute mini-shows, often with one self-indulgent topic (that is still presented interestingly), while the other three are experts talking about their fields. Weird research for roleplaying, system design and play, history, and many other intriguing topics filled the hours.
Episode 15: Contract Negotiations inspired tomorrow's Gnome Stew post. I really enjoyed the show, will be sorry to see Ron and Vern depart, and enjoyed the stories and examples that surrounded the theme. I hope it keeps going strong when the crew drops to 3.
The Paulcast Episodes 6-8
Episode 6 was an interesting interview of Meghann Robern. I enjoyed it so much I shared it with Jennifer.
Episode 7 was a talk about not-gaming and the path he's been taking.
Episode 8 was a fun episode about buying experiences and trying out new things, hung on a trip to a brewery on 12-12-12. It was a great example of why I enjoy The Paulcast.
Exemplary DM Season 3, Episode 1
Good, not great. I'll keep an eye out for their efforts going forward (which will be erratic, given their relocation to separate cities), but am not at all compelled to go through their backlog.
The Dice Tower Episodes 284 and 285
284 was a solid episode; it's been long enough that I don't remember many specifics. I only listened to part of episode 285. (I was listening, then we skipped to something else, and there's no "fast forward" for podcasts in the car stereo system to skip the stuff I've already heard when it resumes.)
I'm not yet willing to listen to the stuff I heard once to get to the new stuff. In fact, I'll delete it, since I'm a few episodes behind, and this is a show whose use to me is very anchored in time.
We kept Sunday low key and drove around the suburbs of Perpignan to see what they looked like. Honestly, it reminded me strongly of our suburbs, with lots of housing and a bit less in the way of restaurants and patisseries open on Sunday. We eventually found somewhere to grab a bite to eat, then spotted the Decathalon store (also closed on Sunday), got a little lost, and returned to the room for some bread, cheese, and a movie, Amélie. Amélie was a neat movie, very much an exploration of the main character's life and quirks as she gets lured into stepping out of her shell more and more.
Then we drove to the big game: the Catalan Dragons against some foolish interloper. (The Wigan Warriors, according to Jennifer). Their mascot is on the "super cute" end of the cute/fierce scale.
Down on the field there was some Rugby. The first half, most of the action was on our end-- bad news for the Dragons, who were defending the goal on our end. Well, trying-- their opponents ran up a substantial lead early, despite the dragons being heavily favored.
Of course, I say "our end", but this was another of those confusing... things work sometimes, but not others. We must have been the first people to ever purchase our tickets on the internet, because three out of 4 "bouncers" directed us from one side to the other-- the only thing they knew was that the tickets wouldn't let us sit in their section. Even though the other bouncer had sent us there.
Finally, the fourth guy let us wander right by and claim our seats a few minutes before the match started. No clue what he saw that the others didn't... but it was amusing, and made me think of their phone and net struggles. Anyway, below are random pictures from the game. There's really no story to them- just random shots throughout the game.
I liked rugby, though I'd have liked to watch a couple more games so I could start to learn through repetition. It doesn't supplant American football (or soccer) yet-- but I've only been exposed once. I did like the pace and points-- it scores like football, but the pace is constant like soccer. Really, it's a great hybrid.
We had a lazy start, slept in, and hit the morning market for picnic lunch components. Then we saddled up and hit the road for Queribus, one of the Cathar Castles stretching along the old boundary between France and Aragon. Approaching the castle was impressive; from the town of Maury where we turned off of the highway, it sits up in the sky. After wandering through the narrow city streets, we followed the roundabout signs and were soon headed toward the town of Cucugnan. The road was two pretty good lanes as we started twisting up the mountain. Soon we turned off of the main road and climbed the narrow track to Queribus. The car did a good job, though the lack of guardrails continued to amaze Jennifer as we threaded the winding road.
From the valley floor, Queribus looks the a finger on the mountain. (I wish we'd take a good picture from the valley floor.) From the top of the track, where you park, it's still impressive. And unsquishable, as Jennifer found out. We wandered from the small parking lot to the wooden buildings at the foot of the trail, where we bought tickets and an audioguide. (The castle docents and shop owners were from the village of Cucugnan.)
After we climbed just a few feet and passed the first bend, I took this picture. They were big fans of capitalizing on what nature provided: a lot of the bare stone is the mountain itself, often barely shaped.
At the first landing, where the stable used to be, we were confronted with a sturdy wall and daunting arrow and musket slits. From the landing where I was standing, it's the last clear spot before climbing the narrow stairs. It's also right at the end of a straight away, so you're forced to slow here-- right in the kill zone. You already have a good field of view downhill from here-- you can easily see the winding track we drove up to reach mighty Queribus.
Eventually you make it past the outlook points (they had a map labeling all of the things you could see from there: you could easily see significant cities and towns on both sides of the border), and finally turn into the castle proper. The first room (where the picture was taken from) was a three story wood barracks (tied into the rock and stone walls)-- now we can look straight from the bottom floor up at the keep looming over everything. When you take an immediate left on entering, you come into a common area with a huge lookout window overlooking the sheer southeastern face.
A few steps up the stairs and we got out on a half level-- it turns out that the room we entered had originally been two stories (you could see the sockets for the wood beams), with a great column sprouting from the middle of the room. At the top of the column four arches sprang, a beautiful effect. (Practical too, reminded our audioguide: 4 arches are stronger than one, so this was a powerful way to span the large space.)
From here, we made our way back down to the car, grabbed our lunch fixings, and settled on a nearby bench where we had bread, fruit, and tasty cheeses. We were pretty wiped out after clambering around all those stairs and slopes, but wanted to check out Peyrepertuse, another Cathar castle visible from Queribus. We drove to the foot of the castle and looked up at the imposing sight.
We decided that too many castles in a day would be overkill, returned to the car, and drove down through an Aude gorge. It was impressive, cutting deep into the rock below among mountains, so you could look up and down both at once from the road threading its way along a path in the middle. The view was breathtaking.
As we wandered around the lookout spot on the south end of the gorge, the weather decided to stop threatening and start raining. We hopped in our little Ka and drove back, thankful that we hadn't explored and gotten stuck on top of Peyrepertuse in the rain. The rain was heavy-- fat drops that the windshield wipers struggled to clear.
We wandered back to the room and I tried my hand at cooking up Catalan sausage. It's a tasty mild sausage that cooks up quite similarly to Keelbasa... and is good with potato too.
As Jennifer's work week spun up, I did some exploration on my own. (I'm skipping a few days of slower time; I hope to fill them in later. Thumbnail summary: Monday cooked lunch for Jennifer, Rachelle and her family, then created characters with the kids; Tuesday low key exploration and did laundry; Wednesday played D&D with the kids.)
Thursday morning I headed inside the cathedral of Saint-Jean-Baptiste.