Castles & Crusades a no go at our table

I started running Castles & Crusades module U1: Shadows of the Halfling Hall last night for my group. They love RP and it took them a while to make it to Newbriar and longer still to hit the manor house. They managed to clear the main room of zombies and the spider lurking in the ceiling then discovered the Reeve’s body in the rafters. All in all, a great session.

Most of the group really enjoyed the system. It runs fast, the resolution mechanic is easy, and we can make adjustments to things we don’t like without messing up the system.

Unfortunately, my wife is not a huge fan. She prefers something heavier, with more options. She usually plays rogues and likes 3.x games like D&D or Pathfinder, with lots of fiddly bits. She also doesn’t like switching systems and gets confused about the rules and options. That’s fair, we have tried different games and even I have trouble with that at times.

Reluctantly, I’m pulling C&C from my list of games to run after I finish the current Pathfinder adventure path. I really liked only having to have one or two books ready, counting the adventure module. With Pathfinder, I need a ton of extra resources and monster stats aren’t listed in the modules. I have to rely on a message board post someone did on the Paizo forums to beef up the challenge for that game, which is yet one more reference I have to have available.

I’ll talk with her to see if I might be able to salvage things by bolting on some rule changes, but I think I may be running another Pathfinder 1e module or 13th Age 1e after this. Good options, and I like the systems well enough. But they both take more work. At least the 13th Age books are so much fun to read and run quickly with exciting combat at our table.

Becoming the Master of the Game

My wife and I are tabletop role playing gamers (TTRPG). We enjoy getting together with friends, telling stories, pretending to be new people for a while, and telling stories. It’s a good way for all of us to make the time to hang out and spend time with each other. Since a lot of us are more introverted or tend to be otherwise busy, it’s useful to have a reason to meet up.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately as our main group Game Master (GM). For those of you not in the know or aren’t familiar with the hobby, the Game Master is the person in charge of telling the story and moving the narrative along. Depending on the game, that title can vary; Dungeon Master, Story Teller, Director, Hollyhock God…. But Game Master is by far the most common.

Each other player takes on the role of an imaginary person, a Player Character (PC) or character. They design their character based on a set of rules. Most people who play TTRPGs start as a PC.

The GM is in charge of everything else in the game. They decide the actions for all of the Non-Player Characters (NPCs), decide the weather, the setting, tell the story and interpret/adjudicate the actions of the players.

When I started, I played one, maybe two sessions as a PC then moved behind the gaming screen and became a GM. Since then, I’ve gone back and forth and still enjoy being a player but I feel like I really know what I’m doing as a GM and I like that I get to be the group entertainer.

Sometimes I feel a little insecure and I’m constantly asking my groups if they had a good time or if they think I need to change or adjust anything but the fact that they keep coming back to my table really makes me happy. I get to make them feel like Big Damn Heroes. I love that feeling.

Early games often had the GM as a more neutral judge and some games felt like the GM was the opponent of the PCs. The GM was The Enemy. Some GMs actively looked for ways to “win” against the other players or the others saw the GM as the adversary. Or both.

Personally, I see myself as part of the team. I want my players to succeed but I want to challenge them. I don’t want to make it feel too easy. Individual gaming sessions or entire campaigns should feel satisfying, and that works best through mutual collaboration. And I love it!

Moving on to moving on

My wife and I are finally getting our own house. We’ve been married for ten and a half years, and we’ve been living in my parents home while my dad was working in different states (and once in Canada). We paid them rent and they got to keep the house while they rented. It all worked out.

We’re finally in a position where we have the savings and means to get our own house. We’ve selected a place, have a contract in place, a mortgage and insurer lined up… things are going well.

There are going to be a lot of changes on the way. All of the housework and expenses will be on us. We’ll finally be developing equity. We can decorate how we want (within our means). It’s exciting and terrifying and exciting again.

Life under COVID-19

A little context for people reading this in the future: right now, the COVID-19 virus is working its way around the globe. Many people have been asked/ ordered to stay at home and keep physically distant from each other in order to slow down progression of the virus.

This is a stressful time. I’m considered essential/critical personnel, so I go in to work mornings on campus. It’s nice to be able to get out of the house and it feels good to be needed at work. There is some concern about contracting the virus and taking it home, but there aren’t a lot of people on campus anymore.

I feel like I’m writing the opening paragraphs of a dystopian short story.

There are some positive signs. Several countries mortality rates are dropping or have remained constant for the last few days. Things where I live seem to be going well. Stay at home orders seem to be helping as they were intended to.

Stores are going to start limiting the number of people allowed inside to 10% of the maximum allowed by the fire code. It’s recommended that we start utilizing the internet to order supplies for pickup or delivery to reduce wait times at stores.

We will make it through all of this, though it can be difficult to see it from where we are. There are going to be a lot of scared, stressed people looking for help from scared, stressed therapists and other medical professionals. We’ll all need to learn to be patient and more compassionate towards others.

I’ve been trying to keep things lighter and funny on my Facebook page, not that I wasn’t doing that before. People need to be able to smile now.

I’m not really going anywhere in particular with this. I just thought it was important to document what’s going on, for posterity.

Stay the course, be patient with people, be kind where you can, and be safe.

What free time?

My quest to improve myself has an unexpected side effect. My free time is disappearing. I’ve begun taking classes towards a certificate in Web Programming so I can expand my skill set at work. I’ve taken programming courses before, but I didn’t use what I learned, so I’ve forgotten a lot of it. Taking this course on Python has help sharpen my problem solving skills, but taken up a lot of my evenings with studying. I want to do well in this class.

Thonny has become an invaluable tool for class. I like that I can slide it onto a flash drive and use it in class and that it runs on both Windows and Linux. I’d definitely recommend it if you’re trying to learn Python.

I’ll pop back in when I have more time. My analysis paralysis on web browsers alone should be good for a page or two. Don’t get me started on the sad state of email clients.

Life is dynamic

I haven’t forgotten about this blog. Life has gotten busier, and I’ve had a lot of different things clamoring for my attention.

A lot of things haven’t changed.

I’ve managed to stick with a single Linux install, without distro hopping. I’ve had a few sidelong glances at Solus and I’ve been tempted to try different desktop environments, but so far I’ve kept those to virtual machine installs. I still have Manjaro’s Xfce edition installed on two of my machines, and I’ve been incredibly happy with it.

I’m still plugging along at learning Spanish, though I’ve also added Swedish to the mix. I’ve always wanted to be poly-lingual, and it’s a better diversion than just mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Twitter. I feel like I’m learning something and not wasting time. Spanish is so common in the US that it makes sense to have some level of proficiency with it, even if I can’t yet carry on a conversation. I added Swedish because that’s one of the countries my family comes from, and I’d like to learn more about my heritage.

I’m still constantly on the search for the perfect web browsers and music players for daily use. I still use Vivaldi, Brave, and Firefox, but I’m pulling back on Opera after reading this article. Vivaldi has now released a mobile browser beta that has the same speed as the desktop browser. I keep hoping that we’ll eventually see some more advertising blocking on mobile, but it’s early yet. I certainly don’t want to keep pages from receiving advertising money, but it does take up my mobile data, so I’ll be using Vivaldi more on Wi-Fi than on the road. Audacious has made it to my music player rotation, and I do like it.

Some things have changed though.

My father has retired. My wife and I have been renting their house. They’re moving back in with us, so we’re currently working on blending two household’s worth of possessions and pets down to one house. This is taking up the bulk of my time outside of work. My cat and dog have long made peace, but the new dog isn’t quite there with the cat. It will all work out in the end, but right now, we’re still in the thick of it.

As a result, I’ve had less time for tabletop gaming. Our D&D Ravenloft game and Trinity sessions have been put on hold. I think we’ve had a grand total of two sessions over the past two or three months. This too, won’t last, and we’ll be back to our usual sessions soon, I hope.

I’m enrolling to take classes again. Since I work at a university, I’m able to take classes for free, not counting books and other materials. I’m interested in learning some new skills and getting myself into a better position down the road.

Life is happening. Some things change, some things stay the same. I’m ready either way.

Music to my ears

I suppose I should check back in. It’s been a few weeks since I put finger to keyboard to type one of these up. I’ve been a bit distracted lately with new pursuits. A friend has been teaching me how to crochet, and I’ve been working on a pair of gloves for when the weather cools down. I’ve also been trying to learn Spanish through Duolingo on my phone ( I’m interested partly out of personal growth, envy of people who can speak multiple languages, and the desire to be able to watch “Jane the Virgin” without having to look up at the screen to read the subtitles. I doubt I’ll ever be fluent, but it’s a fun diversion.

This is unrelated to what I want to talk about today. No, this morning, as I was about to queue up some music, I had to stop and think about which of the numerous music players I wanted to use.

If you haven’t read anything I’ve written before, you’ll start to realize that I’m a little undecisive about what programs I use. Some days, I’m gung-ho about open source software. Other days, I’m nostalgic for software I used to use, back in the day. Other days, I’m interested in what software uses the least amount of system resources or which is the most secure.

I’m this way about music players.

Note that I am not a music player power user. I tend to stick to the basic settings, so I can’t go into any length about audio quality or equalizer settings. I make playlists, I run them, and I want the program to remember what I had loaded up last time I used it. With that…

The Players

When using Windows, I frequently use Media Player Classic (, which, according to the web site, was last developed in 2017. This software can run a large variety of files, from video to music, and has a simple, easy to use interface. It remembers what song I was on when I shut down the program and remembers the playlist, which is a plus for me. It’s easy to add and remove music and can save playlists in various file types. Back in my undergrad days, I used to use Windows Media Player a lot, and this hits the nostalgia points, with the familiar appearance.

Another Windows media player that I keep around because of the old days is Winamp ( This was the first media player I used when I first found out about .mp3 files. Last updated in 2018, the web page says that it is still actively being developed, though development is slow. This is definitely a product of an earlier age. Menus are crowded and not always easy to navigate, but it works well. I tend to stick with the main window and the playlist window and I like the classic interface because that’s what I used in the 90s.

I own a Microsoft Zune, and I love it. I also really like the Zune media player ( for ripping albums and managing some of my playlists. I also use it to transfer music between my Windows machines. Last release was back in 2011. The player is no longer supported by Microsoft, but the layout of the software was much easier to use than iTunes ever was. This handles a large library of music/albums smoothly. You can sort by group, album title, release date, etc. You can drag and drop music between devices. It’s a nice little piece of software.

VLC ( is a very commonly used media player that handles audio and video files. VLC is available on most operating systems and comes as the default player for several Linux distributions. This is still actively developed as of 2019. There are a lot of settings available to tweak. This software is known for handling just about any kind of file type out there, though there may be some it can’t load. I’m not overly adventurous with my music files. It will allow you to create and save playlists. However, the one thing it doesn’t seem to do well, and if someone knows how to do so please let me know, is remembering playlists after closing the program. There are, apparently, ways to save as bookmarks, but that’s one extra step I don’t need to do on other programs. This is the software I use if I can’t get other programs to work, if I want to play DVDs on Linux, or if I don’t care about losing my carefully selected playlist. This is the one thing that keeps it from being my default player.

I’ve dabbled with Aimp ( It seems like it’s going for a Winamp aesthetic. The last Windows release was early 2018. It’s functional, if a bit busy, but I didn’t have any major complaints. It also didn’t wow me, so I have probably the least experience with it.

Clementine Player ( was last updated in 2016. It’s available on multiple operating systems, which is nice. It’s very busy, with multiple tabs for your music library, main player screen, multiple playlists, etc. This one took the most time for me to get used to the workflow. In some ways it’s great; I love being able to have several playlists saved and ready, with each remembering where I was the last time I booted up. You can even set the program to immediately start playing where you left off. The bad is that there is just too much going on in the interface. I like it and use it, especially when I’m trying to remember which episode of my radio drama I heard last, but it’s not the first program I load up.

One of the few players to release the newest edition in 2019, SMPlayer ( is the player I have the most mixed feelings about. It’s able to run just about everything I’ve thrown at it and it is cross platform, which is great. But DVDs don’t always run as smoothly in it. I can’t just drag and drop files into the playlist screen, like I can with other programs. I have to go through the playlist window menus to add and remove files, which is less convenient. It will show album art, but it can drastically change window size, depending on what album I use, which probably has to do with the picture file used, but that can be distracting. I like using newer software, because I believe that means bugs are being fixed (even if new ones are replacing them). It can also fix security issues. Since SMPlayer and VLC are the only two media players that are actively in development, I feel like I need to use them, but they both have issues.  This is a program I use, but mostly to make sure it’s updated and to see if updates fix my relatively minor issues with it, but it’s not my first choice in programs.

In Conclusion

These are just the programs I use. There are dozens more out there that I’ve only heard about and dozens more that are completely foreign to me. I’m not as worried about jumping between different media players, like I am with web browsers. I prefer more up-to-date software, for security purposes, but I’m not aware of many attacks through media players. Might be worth researching.

Anyone have a favorite player I should look at? Maybe something I didn’t mention, or a killer feature of one that I do use?

The price we pay for “free” food

There’s a line that exists as a border between convenience and privacy. I’m not quite sure how thin that line is (I imagine it varies for each person), but it’s something I’ve had to start thinking about. It seems like every month, there’s a new story about a data breach at a major company. Want to see a disturbing long list of breaches? ought to sober you up a little bit.

Our personal information is a major currency. Companies vacuum up details about our lives from our browser histories, forms we fill out, items we purchase from their stores, sites we visit after visiting theirs, sites we visit where their trackers are embedded, and sometimes, from our phones after just walking into their stores.

They want to know what brands we buy, where we look at their merchandise, what paths we use to walk through their stores, whether we comparison shop with other companies. Looking for flights online? Airlines will use the cookies on your browser to see where you’ve been looking and use that information to manipulate the cost of flights. Use a store’s free Wi-Fi? They see what sites and apps you use and where you are in their building. Sign up for a perk card or other membership program? They’ll send you coupons (good) so that you spend more of your money there (bad?).

If you’re anything like me, your time, money, and attention are limited resources. I know going in that the sandwich place is using points to get me to go into their store more often and spend more money. I get more food for less money.

But, I understand that they may be selling that information to other companies so they can hone their advertising. Those companies may pass my information on. At any one of those companies, there could be a data breach, taking identifiable information about me and giving it to “bad actors”, whoever that may be. I have to make a choice. Is that “free” sandwich every other month (or so) worth the possibility of having my info get out into the world?

For me, the answer is yes. I need to make my money go as far as it can. For other people, that answer may be no, they don’t want any more of their info getting out than has to, and that’s cool too. We have made conscious decisions about our data.

The group that we need to reach is everyone else. The ones who don’t understand that they just made a choice about their data. People act surprised when they hear about a data breach at a company and don’t understand a) how that company got their information and b) what that may mean for them. They also don’t c) know how that could impact them. The problem is complex.

Not everyone wants to or can break that down for themselves (or explain it to loved ones!). We need to learn how explain this to people in a way that makes sense and doesn’t cause a panic. People need to be able to understand for themselves the potential risk involved with coupons.

Ultimately, it’s up to the companies to better police themselves or the government to create an actual police force for these (often international) companies. I have low hopes of that happening, no hope of that happening well, and no illusion that it’ll happen anytime soon, without something catastrophic happening first.

Therefore, I propose that we create a grassroots movement to teach people about data safety and personal information (and responsibility!). Companies like Vivaldi and Brave, and organizations like the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) and Mozilla are good places to start. However, we need to be able to teach this information to those we care about in a way that they’ll understand… and care about. That’s the trick. Then we can start making choices intelligently for ourselves and families.

The hope, then, will be that companies will see the choices we are making and become more responsible in accordance with our actions. That they will become better stewards of our information. Because a lot of them aren’t doing it now…

I’m getting hungry. Time for a “free” sandwich.

The composer, the musical, and the fox

The Vivaldi browser is an interesting project. It hearkens back to the early days of Opera Browser, when they still used the Presto rendering engine. Opera used to pack in a lot of features, like RSS reader, email, chat, and the first browser to use tabs instead of having to open a new window for each page opened.

My college roommate turned me on to Opera. Back then, you had a limited amount of uses before you had to pay to unlock the full version of the software.

One day, I was going to buy it for my own use. I loved the program. It was fast and I liked the idea of having one program that did so many things well. Right about that time, Opera went fully free to use, and I was ecstatic.

It wasn’t all puppies and rainbows though. I remember how not every page was optimized for Opera. I had to keep other browsers around, in case pages didn’t render properly (I remember something called Mozilla… I wonder whatever happened to them…).

I remember how tabs and the address bar were at the bottom of the screen and how it felt cool and a little elite to have such a different interface than most people used.

But, like all good things, this came to an end. Opera evolved, got a new rendering engine, dropped features, add some new ones, and changed hands. I still use it, I still like it, though I keep my eyes open for signs of data misuse. Manjaro, my current Linux distribution of choice, still has it in it’s software repo, so I trust it isn’t too insecure. I boost it with privacy extensions and avoid their VPN/proxy servers.

Their mobile browser is hard to beat though, for speed, ad blocking, and ability to connect to Facebook’s messenger site (he said in the same breath, after talking about privacy extensions, aware of the irony…).

Vivaldi tries to bring back some of the same magic that Opera once had. It adds a lot of features to the browser that are usually only duplicated with extensions. Many browsers have a reader mode (get with the program Opera!), but this also has tab stacking (combining several tabs into one group), the ability to dive deep into your browsing history, side panels for opening web pages, tab tiling for viewing multiple pages at once, etc…

Vivaldi has a strong social media and blog presence, providing a lot of information and insight about how the program is developed, showcasing interesting new features (want to change the color of your browser tabs or lights in your room or on your keyboard or mouse?..), and providing frequent snapshots of new versions. This is all cool and keeps the community energized.

Is it, then, the perfect browser for me? Well… not quiet.

If have mixed feelings about the Chromium engine that Vivaldi is built on. I remember the old days of the web, when Internet Explorer (IE) was king, and web standards didn’t feel like the standard. I remember when sites were built around IE and not the other way around. I’ve read about the security of IE and how it didn’t always keep up with holes and flaws (though there were less people trying and the stakes weren’t quite as high with personal data as they are today, I believe).

I’m concerned with one engine having too much sway over how the internet is viewed and accessed. I’m concerned with the sheer clout that Google has over the web and that they are more interested in our data instead of our privacy. I’m worried that Google has so much control over Chromium that they can dictate how the web will work. A few months ago, they said they’d change APIs and that would alter how ad blockers work. Is this a swipe at ad blockers themselves, which can reduce how much data is absorbed, or is there valid security concerns with how things run now? I’m not well-versed enough in computer and internet security and software to know for sure, but it is curious.

I also notice that Chromium-based browsers don’t render fonts nearly as well as Firefox does. Text looks fuzzier in Vivaldi. It’s harder to read, so I find myself using Firefox more. Firefox also has the ability to keep sites like Facebook in a container, so it can’t interact with other sites and suck up even more information about my browsing habits and interests. This is a nice feature, one that is important to me, that other browsers don’t currently have.

This brings me to mobile browsing. As I said earlier, Opera does the basics well. It runs fast on my Android phone (I wish there were more mobile operating system alternatives available…), blocks ads, and lets me utilize features on Facebook’s site that other browsers can’t or won’t. Firefox Focus works well if I don’t care about saving my results, but it’s really bare bones. Firefox Mobile lets me add extensions to protect my privacy, but it’s slow and not as responsive as other browsers. Vivaldi…

We’ve been waiting a while for Vivaldi’s mobile offering. I’d have loved to see some screen shots posted to see how the project is progressing. I understand wanting to do the project right before releasing it to the public, especially a piece of software as important security-wise as a browser, but it’s been in development and been promised for years now. It’ll be nice when it’s finally released. I’m a little disappointed to hear that it won’t be able to block advertising. I don’t have a lot of mobile data when I’m away from my home’s Wi-Fi and I know there are ads out there that are less scrupulous about skimming data. I hope there are some decent privacy options embedded in Vivaldi Mobile. I also hope I’ll be able to access FB messenger via the website, otherwise I might be sticking with Opera.

The other thing I’ve been waiting on is Vivaldi’s email client. I miss having Opera with a built-in client, like the old days. It was convenient to have one program running, and I liked how I could check all of my inboxes with one window. I hope it has RSS capabilities as well, as I find those handy for reading web comics and blogs. I also wish we could have seen some screenshots during development, to get an idea of how it has evolved.

It’s hard not to be a little disappointed with how long it has taken Vivaldi to develop and release these features. I know we’re essentially getting these for free and really have no right to complain. It’s more like that feeling you got, as a kid, of waiting for Christmas to come. There will be presents in the future, but it’s just so far off… At least with Christmas, you knew the date it would get here.

Do I believe that Vivaldi is interested in protecting user security and privacy? Absolutely. Is it 100% perfect? No browser is. Will I still also use Firefox and Opera? Yup. I like Opera because it’s fast and seems to be interested in privacy and security (though I’m keeping one eye open for news otherwise). Mozilla’s focus seems to be on privacy, despite some boneheaded mistakes (just look up their Mr. Robot kerfuffle and the recent security certificate issue, part two).

I would like it if Vivaldi could improve their font rendering to be crisper, less smudgy. I would like it if pages remembered where they were when I closed the browser (this seems to be a somewhat unique problem for me). I wish it wasn’t based on Chromium. But I still really like it and will continue to use it. But I’ll keep using other browsers two. I just have to accept that about myself.

TLDR (I’m half tempted to put this at the top from now on…)

I really like Vivaldi. I love the old school Opera feel. BUT, I’m getting antsy waiting for the rest of the toys (mobile browsing and email client) to finally get here. I’m still going to spend a lot of time with Firefox (for that font crispness I don’t get from Chromium and for the privacy settings).

Roaming the open (source) plains

I’m looking forward to getting my hands on Vivaldi’s mobile browser and email client. If you haven’t guessed already, I like to have alternatives to tinker with.

I like to support Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) like Mozilla’s Firefox and Thunderbird programs. I think it’s important to have access to programs base code, so that people (far more knowledgeable than me about programming) can look through the code and look for security holes and to make sure companies aren’t exploiting user data.

The fact that they’re free doesn’t hurt any either. I’m not made of money, after all…

It’s nice to know that there are alternatives to mainstream software out there and that people love the projects enough that they’re willing to spend time and effort into making them better. I think it also helps keep proprietary software in check somewhat. If a free alternative can do the same or similar job as an expensive piece of technology, it makes it easier for more users to create and distribute their own work. It may also help keep prices for proprietary works lower (though I’m no sure how effective that is as a whole).

That’s not to say that I won’t use proprietary software. I love me some video games. I also understand that companies want to be compensated for their hard work and time spent in research and development.

What does this have to do with my original statement?

Well, Vivaldi seems to live in both worlds a little. Source code for much of the browser is based on Chromium (which is open source) and is available online (older versions, it loks like, are available here

I’m okay with not every scrap of code being available to look through. I wouldn’t know what to do with it all if I had access to it anyway. I was trained as a chemist and educator, not a computer scientist.

Firefox runs really well on desktop and… it runs on Android. I installed an extension that will allow me to fake my user agent to see if that speeds things up any. So I’m definitely excited about a new candidate as my primary mobile browser. I’m a little concerned that I’ll be bombarded with advertising though, as it’s been reported that there will not be an ad-blocker available (

On mobile, it’s not just about tracking, but page loading speed and not using so much mobile data. I’d also love to be able to log into Facebook Messenger through their mobile site. Right now, the only browser that lets me do that is Opera Mobile. The only work arounds I’ve found are to load the desktop page (the text is too small to be useful) or to log into their really basic mobile page, designed for feature phones ( if you’re curious).

I’m trying to stay clear of downloading a ton of apps.

For the email client, I’ve been happy enough with Thunderbird, but I’d love to see an email client built into the browser, like Opera’s earlier browsers (version 12 and earlier) or Seamonkey (which doesn’t update all that frequently anymore). It would be really nice if all of my login information and accounts were synced up. That would save me a ton of time when I distrohop.

Do I wish that Vivaldi was open source?… Maybe a little bit. Is that going to stop me from using it?… No, not really. But I will continue to bounce back and forth between Vivaldi and Firefox for the time being.

Especially until Vivaldi is still working on their mobile browser and email clients.