Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Political Desk: A Taste of Kent

And here we start getting deeper into the weeds once we reach the borders of Kent, my home town. The big newspapers to the north think the world ends at the southern edge of Georgetown, and we are left with candidate statements and what forums the Kent Reporter covers. I would almost recommend grabbing some dice.

But that would be wrong, because the mayor and the council are facing some pretty dire challenges in the next few years. They did OK with the dangers of the Green  River flooding, but their budget is going to come under some strain soon. And part of it is my fault.

And by my fault, I mean my neighborhood up near Panther Lake. Almost a decade ago, we were unincorporated King County, but the county pressured the localities to adopt these ungoverned municipal islands, and offered Kent a tidy sum to annex us. This is the political equivalent of hanging a pork chop around our necks to get the dog to play with us, but it has in general been a good thing, and I am positively disposed to the local organization as a result. However, we're getting to the end of the ten year agreement, and that money is going to disappear from the budget. So they have to deal with that.

Furthermore, there's been a change on how state sales tax is collected, which reduces the share that communities with warehouses and factories get. And the valley floor is thick with warehouses and light industry. So the budget will take another hit, which means fewer services or higher taxes. And since they are grown-ups, they are talking about it now as opposed to after the election.

Now, by the same token, they've had great success with instituting a B&O tax, to the point that they are bringing in twice of what they anticipated? Good news? Not quite. When they sold that tax in, it was with the idea that it would be used to repair the local road systems (warehouse means a lot of trucks which means a lot of wear and tear). So while the money is there, there's some question about whether we can/should/be allowed to tap it. Business interests, which weren't too happy with it in the first place, say no now that they have it.

And then there's the idea of selling of city property. Last year, the city sold the land of Pine Tree Park to a developer. Problem was, the park was part of another anexation packet, and part of the agreement to annex was that if the city sold the park, they would have to provide land of equivalent value. That and the fact that the sale was a bit of a surprise to people in the neighborhood left the city to break the deal, at a cost of $800,000+.

And then there was the fate of the par3 golf course. Here the deal goes through (so far), but the developer is getting a major tax break to come play ball. As a result the larger golf club is still in the red.

All of the above sends me more in the direction of newcomers as opposed to old hands in facing the various challenges to the city. Elizabeth Albertson is running for mayor, and while a former councilmember, hasn't been part of the sheannagans of the past five years. So let's go for her.

Looking at the council iteself, I'm going with Satwinder Kaur (who is packing a buncha endorsements plus has experience with previous budgets) for position 2,. And Tye Whitfield (who is also heavily endorsed, but also had the most earnest robo-call I ever received) for position 4.

But to be honest, check out your own research on this one.

More later,

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Political Desk: Portal to Portal

Ah, the Port of Seattle. Come rain or shine, this agency, responsible both for the physical seaport and the airport, can always be relied upon to provide political entertainment and frustration.

A few years back, the port welcomed a Shell drilling rig into the Sound as its winter home-away-from-home when it gets too cold in the Arctic. This managed to cheese off environmental types (who, armed with kayaks, swarmed the rig) as well as other traditional democracy-fanciers by doing it in the political dead of night with little public input. But that's old news. The new news is that the CEO of the Port (chosen by the Port Commissioners) seized on a measure to give non-union port employees a raise to give HIMSELF a raise to the tune of $24k. Said Port CEO is no longer with us, and Shell has decided we're saving too much gas to make drilling in Arctic worthwhile for the moment, but we still have the Commissioners that make things like this all possible.

And incumbency and name recognition counts, so the incumbents will likely be back. So let's look at this with an eye towards who can handle them.

Commission Position No. 1 has John Creighton and the incumbent, who has been burdening my mailbox with fliers about how great things are going, if you only ignore the kayaks and CEOs. Oh, and trying to keep airport employees exempt from the new minimum wage law. There have been times when I've been on his side. Not this time. I see Claudia Kauffman is on the list. Claudia was my state senator, and didn't embarrass us (which is always a plus, in my opinion).  Bea Queida-Rico actually has experience working in the port, so I think she's be a good add as well. But for the primary I'm going for Claudia Kauffman.

Commission Position No.3 has Stephanie Bowman and the incumbent, who has not been particularly bad, but asleep at the wheel things keep happening under her tenure. Opposing her are Lisa Espinoza and Ahmed Abdi. I'm going for Ahmed Abdi, but we'll have this discussion again.

Commission Position No. 4 is a jump ball, as there are no incumbents here. There are a couple regulars that show up on ballots every so often, one or two that have no visible signs of campaigns, and a couple good ones. Of the good ones, it boils down to Preeti Shridhar and John Persak for me, and if pressed, I will look at John Persak's union bonafides and give him the nod.

More later,

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Political Desk: County Executive

This one is going to be between experienced incumbent Dow Constantine and, well, a candidate with an axe to grind. Goodspaceguy (who refers to himself in the Voter's Pamphelt as GoodSpaceGuy - get with it, ballot people) is against the minimum wage. ANY minimum wage. Bill Hirt is anti-light rail and is running to gain attention to his anti-light rail blog. Stan Lippman starts with his anti-vaccine stance, then goes onto his plant for a solar farm east of the Cascades and turning the monorail into a maglev system.

I'm looking at the names on the ballot, and thinking of creating a contest: King County Candidate or Dude in the Star Wars Cantina Scene? Anyway one of these other guys we will see again. But for everyone else, Dow Constantine.

More later,

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Political Desk: Proposition

There is a single proposition on the ballot this time - King County Proposition No. 1 Sales Tax for Cultural Access Program. And its OK.

Here's the intent: a teeny-tiny sales tax increase, one tenth of one percent, going to cultural education in schools, tranportation to cultual venues for public school kids (read that as "bus fare to museums and zoos"), and make more funds about to expand such programs. It is a good cause, and something that I have a hard time opposing.

Still, there are some troubles with it. Liberals point out that it is an increase (though tiny) of the sales tax, which is a regressive tax (that is, hits people with lower incomes harder than those with higher incomes). Conservatives fear it like a holy symbol or garlic because it is a tax (though tiny), and therefore has tax cooties.

Me, I think the potential outweighs the price, and am going for Approved.

More later,

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Political Desk: A Little Primary

So, it is with some trepidation that I pull the dust cover off the Political Desk, having been so drastically, horribly wrong in my predictions from the previous big election.

Mind you, I wasn't alone, and even nine months afterwards there does not seem to be any sort of consensus about what exactly happened. Factionism is blamed, scapegoats are rounded up, and theories ranging from the conspiratorial to the divine are bandied about, but no one seems to get the CREDIT for the win. Weird.

In any event, it is a reminded that the Desk is not here to play pundit (for we have more than enough of them out there), but to survey the field, do the bare amount of research, and make recommendations. And in this, the primary for the off-est of off-off-year elections (Primary date is August 1st), it is a good place to practice.

There's not a lot. There is a huge field for the Seattle Mayor's race (21 Candidates, which means you HAVE to find something you like somewhere), but I only work here in Seattle, and live in Kent. There's a single proposition on the ballot. A County Executive race that might as well be uncontested. The Port looks interesting, but the Port is always my favorite hive of scum and villainy. And we have some really local stuff that will interest fives if not tens of people.

So I have stuff to look at. And I'm not alone on that either. Crosscut has done a good job summarizing the races and candidates, with additional links to endorsements and candidate sites. Here's the King County candidates' statements (always good reading).  And here's the Municipal League ratings. The Seattle Times rolls with the establishment/pro-business/politely conservative viewpoints, where they even-handedly examine all the candidates and issues, and then endorse Dave Reichart anyway. The Stranger is on the trailing edge of its journalistic golden age, as much of hot young talent from a decade ago has moved on to gigs that actually pay. Seattlish awakens from its slumber to wade into the discussion. But much to my surprise, the Seattle Weekly has emerged from its cocoon to actually do some local political coverage. Welcome back, Seattle Weekly!

So for the next week or so, I'll be strolling through the primary ballot. Oh, just so those outside the area know, we are running a top-two primary, which means the top two candidates, regardless of party, go through to the final.  For those who are waiting for more stories from the ancient past of TSR, hearing about my commute, or interested in collectable quarters, you will have to be patient. This too will pass.

More later,

Monday, July 03, 2017

Mystara Redux

So while I did not break the Internet, the last entry did give my social meeting (Facebook and Google+) a charlie horse.

First, I'd like to thank everyone who posted something along the lines "I loved the final Karameikos project that you guys did". We got knocked back more than a little from the demanded changes, but everyone rallied and produced a top flight boxed set in Karameikos: Kingdom of Adventure. Kudos to my colleagues at putting it all together!

Second, I'd like to point out that I'm not mad at the Marketing/Sales guy who put us through logo hell. Well, not much. I left months after this particular debacle, and it was primarily my own exhaustion with how things worked plus a new opportunity with friends. This was just the tipping point.

Lastly, there were suggestions of publishing this anyway. The document itself was in first draft state and then abandoned before it was completed, is awash in typos, sarcastic comments, and unfinished sections. It is unplaytested, unreviewed, unrevised, and untouched by human hands. Even with permission, it would need a lot of work. So I have doubts about its usefulness, other than as a historic artifact. But I am posting here a summary of what survived in the files I had printed out at the time.  I'll point out that most of them are just gatherings of previous information scattered about the various Gazetteers, updated and brought into 2nd edition. Here's how it all broke down:

Introduction was our statement of intent, and declared that Mystara as a very new and very old world, gave its history, and stated that this was intended as a useful tool to both fans of the Known World and newcomers who came over from their first Dungeons & Dragons game or Dragonstrike (yes, there are a lot of cross-product plugs in this manuscript). It gives a very short overview of the history of Mystara, including mentioning Blackmoor and Alphatia, which are otherwise absent. The intro notes that is will concentrate on the "Known World" section (from way back in the red box era), and ends in the seasons, months, and days of the Thyatian calendar, which I was using to bring together all the timelines.

Next chapter talks about  the Kits and Characters of  Mystara. These are the kits that are universal throughout the various nations of Mystara, the ones that everyone (mostly) could get. They include Warrior Kits (Rural Hero and Veteran), Rogue Kits (Highwayman and City Rogue), a single Wizard kit (The Mystaran Wizard which hews tighter to the D&D mage, giving them Read magic and 7 spells of their school) and Priest Kits (Priest to a particular Immortal, Alignment Priests, and Druids). It wraps up with the player character races (the standard group from AD&D, with the note that most have their own countries), and multi-classing (which looks like was restricted to non-human races.)

This is followed by the Standard Spell Listings (including some notes about the ones I left off the list, including unkind words for Charm Plants) for Wizards and Priests. Then a slew of proficiencies, incorporating a lot of the ones that showed up in the GAZes, including Groveling (also called Toadying), Bravery, Food Tasting, Hard-Ball, and Piloting (Airmanship). There's a sidebar about how to handle charisma-based proficiencies). And wraps up with a huge summary of all the languages in the Known World, identifying Thayatian as the "Common" of the world.

I broke the nation descriptions into three parts. The first part contains The Core Lands, the most "Standard-fantasy" of the lot - Karameikos, Darokin, Glanti, and Thyatis. Each section had an Overview, geographic desctipion, People/Languages, History (sidebar of imporant dates), Ruling class, how they feel about Magic, Faiths and Philosophies, Cities, Adventuring (what you DO there), and finally kits. Karameikos has the Karameikan College Mage and Karameikan Guild Rogue, and Priests to Halav, Zirchev, and Petra. Darokin has Merchant-Mages, Darokin Guild Rogues, and Diplomats.  Glantri has Glantrian Mages and a Glantrian Guild Rogue (No priests allowed),  Thyatia has Gladiators, Foresters (A wizard kit), and Rakes. The Karameikos section still refers to Specularum at this point, and details the Shearing ceremony.

The second chunk of nation information is the Lands of Adventure, which is much the rest of the Known World with human cultures similar to other parts ofEearth - Atuaghin, Ethengar, Ylaruam, Minrothad, Ierendi, The Reaches, Sind, and the Heldannic Territories. They get the same outline as the Core Lands and their own tailored kits developed from their classes.. Minrothad has Marines, Minrothad Guild Rogues (not a lot of variety in guild rogue names, it seems), and Pirate/Privateers.  Ierendi has Naval Cadets and Marines for warriors, Ierendi Pirates/Privateers for rogues.  Ylaruam (does anyone know where this name comes from?) has Desert Warriors, Ylari Wizards and Battle Mages, and Scholars and Dervishes for priests (Yaruam spell-caster kits have their own spell listings, as they avoid necromantic and fire-based spells). The Reaches (Ostland, Vestland, and Soderfjord). wizard kit is the Norse Wise Woman (also known as the Soul Weaver), rogues get Skalds, and priests get Godi (Thor, Odin, Freya, Loki).

Take a deep breath before we continue on with: Ethengar has Horse Warrior as the only fighter kit available, Hakomon as the wizard kit, Bratak for the rogues, and Priests of Ethengar Immortals and Shamans as the Priest options. Heldannic territories have Heldannic Knights, and Warrior-Priests of Vanya. Atruaghin has Tribal Warrios (broken down into the various Clans), Hallilans (Scouts) for rogues, and Priest of Atruaghin's Servants, Druids, and Shamani for priests. Sind separates classes and kits by caste, and have Rihshyas for its priest kit.

Then we do the same for the Nonhuman Nations - Five Shires, Alfheim/Aengmore, Rockhome, and the Broken Lands. Alfheim is wrapped up with Elf/Shadowelf conflict, Its warriors are Clan Warriors, wizards have Treekeepers, and priests have their Immortals. (Elves only - no Shadowelf PCs). Rockhome rogues can be Undersiders ("Mad" outcasts), and priests are Dwarven Priests of Kagyar.  The hin of Five Shires have a grab-bag of other peoples' kits, and the Broken Lands don't have PC races, so no kits (Though there is a plug for the Complete Book of Humanoids).

Then there was to be a second book in the set, the Spellbook of Mystara, where I was dumping all the unique spells that came out the Gazeteers. It looks like I reformatted them for AD&D, and included the Glantri Secret Crafts. This volume was supposed to include transforming you D&D characters from previous campaigns to AD&D. But it looks like this was the point where the change occurred, or at least there are no other pages in the manuscript. So ends the tale of the Big Campaign Setting of Mystara.

As I said, it was pretty much a grand tour of the Known World (no Savage Coast, no Hollow World), with a lot of kits that are centered on the flavor of the surrounding area. Looking at it, the plethora of kits would probably drive most DMs mad trying to figure out the NPCs, but it was a big attempt. And re-reading it (and ignoring the typos), it is not bad at all.

More later,

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Why I left TSR

A couple years back I talked about Stormfront, the TSR world that I never ended up creating. And in the initial entry I said:
" Stormfront was pretty much my swan song at TSR. I was sad about the decision, though this was not what eventually convinced me it was time to leave the company (that would be Mystara ...)."
And I left it there until someone asked about. Well, someone finally did ask about it, I wrote up a response to them, and now I'm putting it in the blog as well. Here's the story of Mystara, why it was the way it was, why it was as good as it was, and why it sent me out the door.

The initial idea was "Bring the Known World of D&D into AD&D Second Edition". D&D had an excellent life apart from the AD&D line, through the BECMI line of boxed set rules (That's Basic, Expert, Companion, Masters, Immortals) and the Gazetteer series of source books. But D&D as a competing game system to AD&D was going to be curtailed. The Known World (as it was called at the time) would be converted to AD&D.
I was dubious. The Known World already had a long and successful life over in the D&D (mostly due to the work of Bruce Heard, who was its champion). The Known World had a unique look and feel and should it be made an AD&D world would be in direct competition with FR. But D&D was going to end as a set of game rules, and it would be AD&D going forward. And because I brought the Realms into TSR, I was a good candidate to help translate the Known World into AD&D.

I've been a fan of the Known World. I loved the maps and I loved the ever-increasing number of character sub-classes that showed up in the Gazetteers. Kits had worked very well in Al-Qadim, and I brought that concept over to revised setting. The initial idea was to do a massive overview on the world laid out by the Gazetteers, with a lot of crunchy bits in transfering all the regional subclasses to kits/. Unlike the Realms, which had empty space where Ed hadn't any stories/games in (Sembia, for example), there was a very complete world to start with here I wanted to embrace the complexity.

And I set to work - renaming the world Mystara (Known World felt too close to Forgotten Realms), and poking at all the nooks and crannies. And then everything went to hell over the logo. Yeah, the LOGO.
The Sales VP (perhaps it was the Marketing VP - TSR seemed to always have one but not the other) wanted to be deeply involved in creating the logo. And since fantasy meant knights, dragons, castles, and wizards, he wanted all of these things. On the logo. It was a dog's breakfast of a design. A couple of the artists threw up their hands trying to put it together, and no one in design liked the proposal much. Any attempt to minimize any one element was rejected. Finally there was a come-to-Jesus moment where a multi-discipline group confronted the Sales/Marketing guy and said this was a bad idea. (We eventually ended up with the logo shown here).
And he backed down. That was Thursday.

And by next Monday the entire nature of the project had changed, by order of management (including the Sales/Marketing guy). Instead of doing all of Mystara, the project would concentrate on Karameikos only. Oh, and since it would now tie in with our First Quest line, we would put Audio CDs into it. And the deadlines would not change.

All the material I had put together was pretty much wiped off the board (I found a manuscript of part of it the other day, while looking for other things). Fellow creatives came to my aid - Thomas Reid took up the adventure and the CD. Andria Hayday did a championship job with the editing and influenced the graphic presentation (as she had previously done on Al-Qadim). We got good artists. Jennell Jacquays did a triptic art piece we chopped up for three different covers. Walter Velez did some interiors. The fact that Karameikos had a indigenous population and a group of conquerors made it an interesting setting, and reflected in such things as we did the art as if it were in the world - so we had the same event drawn with different styles.

One of the challenges to Karameikos, though, was that Aaron Alston did a great job in creating a complete fantasy kingdom, but as a result, it was very difficult to add the Player Characters to the mix. What would they do in a kingdom where all the political forces were so evenly balanced? I referred to this as "trying to bite a billiard ball" and was pleased to have come up with some things for the PCs to do. I managed to do that without destabilizing the kingdom too much. I liked that.
And I renamed the Known Worlds as Mystara (or at least I'll take the blame for it). I also take the blame for renaming Specularum to Mirros - at the request of several co-workers who were squidged out by the similarity of the original name to "speculum" - explanations that both words came from the same core availed me nothing, so I changed it.

I stayed away from the CD side of the project for this and for Mark of Amber - I let Thomas carry that forward, and any stories on that I leave for him to tell. The books were also problematic - DJ Hienrich and Thorrin Gunnarsson were both pen names, and I had little influence on their efforts. I completed my part of the revision, wished Monte the best of luck on Glantri and walked away (well, there were Poor Wizards/Joshuan's Almanacs but I was pretty much done with the world).

Looking back through the 'net, most of the response to Karameikos, Kingdom of Adventure was very positive, which is nice. What we ended up with worked well. Whatever challenges we faced getting it across the finish line didn't reflect on the quality of the final project. However, getting there involved some scrambling to account for managerial decisions, and kinda burned me out. I was pretty much done.

After Karameikos, I just sort of moved on. Mark of Amber was a smooth design, but there was little to do beyond adapting Aaron's work to the new CD-based reality (I actually growled at my boss about my getting billing on that). Neither Man nor Beast for Ravenloft would be my last original project. But by that time I was disappointed with the atmosphere at the company. I would love to say that I was prescient about the bad financial times to come, but actually I had no real clue, and just felt it was time to go. Most of my cadre of designers and editors had moved on. When Margaret Weis offered me the chance to join Mag Force 7 in 1994, I took it, and left the operation. I loaded up all my personal stuff in a couple boxes, and everyone came down to wish me well as I left the building.

Then they went back up and looted all the stuff I left back in my cube.

More later,