Oh DM boy, the dice, the dice are calling…

Buckle up kiddies, we’re going deep into the weeds here. There’s a summary waaaay at the bottom.

Intro

The dice are indeed calling again. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd ed is the first game I played and ran back in college. The grand old game captured my imagination back in the day. It’s maintained it over the years and is still the edition I look most fondly on.

I have the black boarder books that came out near the end of the line. The art was not as good as earlier releases (the thief… oh gods the thief…), but it still stirs the imagination when I flip back through and reread the book. It brings me to a special state of mind.

Personal history

My interest in D&D started with advertising in comics and the animated series. Cheese and all, I love it and still rewatch episodes. They’re great background when grading papers.

In junior high school, one of the kids I looked up to turned me onto the Dragonlance novels. I was hooked. It’s still my favorite setting. I loved that my wife and I got to play through the War of the Lance campaign (though it was D&D 3.5).

Next I found the Ravenloft novels. I loved the Gothic horror and the classic monsters. Strahd was a compelling nemesis.

Around that time, I finally got to start playing (though only a handful of sessions). I quickly too the DM chair afterwards. I had no idea what I was doing nor did I understand all of the rules, but that seems like a rite of passage for a lot of players and Dungeon Masters.

Those were exciting days. I learned to improvise and think on my feet. I learned how to create stories and engage players. I learned how to come up with interesting set pieces and make up NPCs.

A year or two later, when 3rd ed D&D came out, we jumped to that setting, and the learning continued. I quickly learned the limitations of creating characters with multiple classes and not trying to optimize the build. I also learned that I didn’t like feats and having to master the system in order to keep up.

My preferences

You see, I’m more interested in the story than I am with mechanics. I prefer to come up with characters that interest me and characters I can explore their motivations and desires. I’m less interested in building characters for power.

I’m definitely not trying to say you can’t do BOTH. Not by a long shot. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve done it. It just doesn’t interest me. I either had to play along with learning the right chains of feats or I’d risk falling behind. I was more interested in developing my character through play than through mechanics.

The thing I loved about AD&D is that it felt like I had more freedom while playing. Feats didn’t exist then, so I didn’t have to worry about what special ability I needed to do something. If I wanted to charge an opponent and attack, I just did it.

Some differences between editions

In 3rd edition, there were feats that allowed you to do these things. It wasn’t obvious if you needed a particular feat or if that just made you better at doing it. It felt more limiting. You didn’t have to worry about spending skill points every level.

The fact that there were skills was nice though. There were fewer saves, and they were for very specific things. If you needed to avoid a hit, you rolled a reflex safe. If you took a hit, you might have to roll fortitude. If you need to shake something off, you would roll a willpower save. Older editions of D&D had a multitude of saves. Not that those didn’t make sense, there were just a lot to keep track of.

We’ve started playing 5th edition D&D. I like it well enough. They did a good job of streamlining a lot of the game. There are times it feels almost like AD&D.

I’ve started teaching a couple of new players 5e as their first edition. There is a lot for them to keep track of. It’s not as easy as I’d hoped. There’s also a lot of talks about builds and worrying about what archetype to take. For some reason, the word “build” makes my skin crawl a little when I think about D&D, because that’s the part I least like. I want a character to form organically, through play, not planning out levels in advance.

AD&D didn’t have any of that. If you were a non-human character, you couldn’t change your class (or classes!) that you started with. Humans could change, but only if their stats were high enough.

I find it somewhat difficult to teach some of my new players 5e. There is a lot to take in. Some things are easier though. Almost everything (except damage) is dealt with by rolling a 20 sided die (d20 in the parlance) and hoping to roll high. Otherwise, there are a lot of new ideas that you have to instill into players. There are a lot of features to each class, and it can be confusing to remember them all. I think we’ve used second wind once, maybe twice, because we usually don’t remember fighters have it, for example.

Classes in AD&D didn’t have all of the neat powers you find in 5e. You don’t have all the feats you had in 3e. You had a relatively sparse box with a new toys.

But that’s fine. I do some of my best work within the confines of boxes like these. Once I know the limitations, I can figure out what I can do within the box.

However, new players coming from video games are used to more special abilities. Some of the powers available to classes are downright cool. They add mechanical complexity though, and that can make things more difficult for players new to the system.

Breakdown

For me, the mechanics can get in the way of the story. The less rules there are, the easier it is for me to get immersed into the setting. Complex fight scenes make me think more about rules than about strategy and picturing what my character is actually doing. Worrying too much about rules may make me miss an opportunity to do something cool over the easy use of a power or spell.

With more mechanical bits, I feel like the game is showing how to play. With fewer examples, fewer class powers, it felt more like imagination was king. There were no feats telling me that with this power I could do… X. I felt more creative for having to come up with whatever X was on my own. I didn’t need the game to tell me I could do X. Of course you could try X. You may never try X again, but if you did, there was a house rule or DM ruling created because of X.

In editions with feats and powers, I feel like the game tells you that you can do X. Of course you can do X. Now that you’ve got the ability to do X, you’re going to try and do it all the time, instead of looking for Y or Z. You’ll wait until you get Y and Z as class features.

Older editions seem less forgiving (although a lot of that was dependent on the person running the game). Low attributes didn’t mean the character was unplayable, it meant you had to be smart. Now there are so many bonuses associated with attributes that playing a character with a low attribute is mroe of a challenge. It’s all about the bonuses. In older editions, you didn’t even start getting penalties because of low attributes until 7 (out of 18). Now, a 9 or lower is bad.

Balance

5th edition attempts to maintain player balance at each level. Hit points are raised (which is cool by me!). Every class gets something relevant at every level, if memory serves. 4th edition D&D even more so!

3rd edition was closer to AD&D in that regard, however. You had the problem of fighters being higher powered at lower levels, and wizards became more powerful at higher levels. This was described as liner fighters and quadratic wizards. Fighters pretty much progressed at a steady pace, and needed to protect others until the point where wizards got powerful enough to do more damage. Then the wizards got to do cool stuff and warriors mopped up. This is very much how earlier D&D games did it. And I’m okay with that. It made fighters easier to play for new players and wizards were the challenging class.

AD&D had some other ways to balance classes that later editions got rid of. First off, not every class leveled up at the same rate. Thieves were relatively low powered compared to other classes. They could back stab (later sneak attack), but they were lucky if they got that once a fight. They had a lot of other out of combat abilities though, and they were really handy to have in a fight. They were just low hit point (d6 per level) and didn’t get great weapons or armor. They leveled quickly though, so it soon became less of an issue. Do thief-type things, get better at it quickly, survive longer.

Fighters leveled up more slowly, but got great access to weapons and armor, and could hit more frequently faster than other classes. They could also hit more lower-leveled enemies as they got better, so they could clean up a battlefield quickly. They had great hit points (the mighty d10) and possibly a constitution bonus, so they could give and take hits. They had to play smart though, because they could still die after some good hits.

Wizards leveled even more slowly. But, once they got high enough in level (and were smart enough), they got access to truly powerful spells. They just had to be protected until they got there. They only had d4 hit points, so they were very fragile. Power came later.

Another way AD&D maintained balance is by limiting what type of class you could be and how far you could advance, depending on your character’s race. Dwarves, for example, could never be wizards an could only advance so far in fighter, cleric, and thief classes. This was done because several races had special abilities to help them early on, be it night vision, the ability to move silently and sneak up on foes, or the ability to find secret doors, etc. Humans got none of that, so they could go farther in any class. The other races had the ability to take more than one class at a time (mage/thief or fighter/cleric, for example) which was called multi-classing. Humans could only take one class at a time, but they could dual-class. They could start as a figher, for example, and at a later date decide that thief was more appropriate. They’d lose their fighter abilities in exchange for new thief-related abilities. It was a little more complex than that, but it’s the basics.

In exchange for more power, characters leveled more slowly. Balance. Now, that balance doesn’t mean that everyone is the same power all the time, and I’m okay with that. It just means that when working together in a team, everyone would eventually have the chance to shine.

Intermission

This really got away from me in a hurry, and if you’re still reading, congratulations on making it this far. I did say at the top that I’d be getting deep into the weeds.

Mechanics

Newer editions did a better job of unifying die rolls. You rolled a d20 and wanted to get high results from 3rd edition on. Unlike AD&D, which had different rolls for different things. Attribute checks meant rolling low on a d20. Thief skills were percentages. Finding secret doors were d6 checks. Initiative was… I want to say low on a d10.

It was a bit of a mess, to say the least.

But it was our mess. And the chances of success weren’t that bad, when you looked at the actual probability. Thieves were pretty bad at thieving for quite a while though.

The Summary

TLDR; I like AD&D because it had less mechanical rules for everything (though there are A LOT of rules!). I liked that the books didn’t have a power for everything and that it made me feel like I had to be more creative. I’m okay with the race and class restrictions. It takes me back to my early days gaming. I miss that feel.

Edition wars… Edition wars never change

I’m not interested in starting another edition war. You’ll see them all over if you start reading up on D&D. I play and like several editions. I’m even looking to try 4th edition D&D at some point. I like what I’ve read.

This is all about my preferences. I will happily discuss D&D all day long. I didn’t say argue. You love 3e? Ditto. I have some issues with later levels, but I’ve played it the most and would play it again. 5e? It’s fun and has a lot of positives. 4e? Cool! What do you enjoy? BECMI or AD&D or Basic or Rulecyclopedia? Kick ass!

Gaming is gaming. If you’re rolling dice and have fun, that’s what’s important. Not how someone else plays. You want to compare notes? Let’s talk!

Arch-based de triumph!

Solid state drives (SSD) installed? Check. Operating systems engaged? Double check.

Windows 10 Pro was a simple affair. I made an install USB and loaded it onto the first SSD. There were a few minor hiccups (a couple of times, the install backtracked a step or two, but nothing major).

Linux, however, proved slightly more challenging.

I intended to start with Ubuntu. My reasoning was in Jason Evangelho’s article on Forbes; consider using a more mainstream, flagship edition of Linux.

I had issues (pun also intended).

When I ran the Ubuntu installer, the default setting was to overwrite Windows. So, I shut the machine down, switched the cables on my hard drives, and tried again.

It didn’t matter. If I was going to install Ubuntu, I had to do figure out how to manually set up the root partition on the secondary drive.

Okay, not ideal, and a little beyond me, so I tried Ubuntu MATE, not actually believing it would work as intended. It did not.

Only slightly deterred, I threw in my third choice, the one I used the longest and am most comfortable with; Manjaro. Xfce edition, if you’re curious.

Victory!

What Ubuntu’s Ubiquity installer couldn’t handle without manual configuration, Manjaro’s Calamares installer managed with ease. I was able to select which SSD I wanted to install the OS on and I let the automated installer handle the rest.

I know that a lot of more experienced users customize their installations. They decide how large to make their swap areas, which file system they want, etc. I don’t know much about all of that. I also wanted to see if I could install without having to make any changes. To that end, I succeeded and I’m happy with the results.

The truth about Arch cat & Debian dog

This may sound a little weird (and it did come to me under the influence of a sleeping pill), but hear me out.

Debian reminds me of my dog, Gurps (yes, I know I’m a nerd with a problem, but it really fits him). I understand Gurps’s behavior (for the most part). He’s loyal, predictable (even if his behavior is frustrating at times!), and I can more or less make him do what I want, when I want.

Apt/apt-get (and to an extent eopkg in Solus) makes sense to me. If I want to upgrade my system, it’s sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade (after waiting for the OS to finish checking things on it’s own). In Solus, it’s sudo eopkg upgrade. The commands make sense, I know what I’m typing and why I’m typing it into the terminal (some of the few terminal commands I know and use regularly).

Now, as I mentioned above, Ubuntu distributions have some weirdness about them where they run background commands where I have to wait several minutes after boot-up before I can make the terminal do it’s thing. It’s like when Gurps sees another dog outside. I know I can get him under control (eventually), but I’ll have to wait it out. It’s annoying, but it’s a foible I can live with.

By the by, if anyone knows how to bypass or fix this, I’m, like, 95% ears. The remaining 5% is for typing in the command(s).

Pacman, on the other hand, is more like my cat, Nickel. in the abstract, I know why it does what it does, even if I don’t understand it at the time. Overall it’s slick, smooth, but I don’t really understand why sudo pacman -Syu (or -Syyu) makes all that much sense. I know why it does what it does, but I’m not quite sure why or how it got there. My cat will, from time to time, lose his little kitty mind, tear around the house, then stop and act like normal. I know it’s going to happen, but I have to read more into it.

With me so far?

The dog will do something I understand, in a way I understand, but it can take some time to get him under control. The cat will do something that makes little sense, but will do it quickly then go back to behavior I understand.

With Linux, I’ve been trying to expose myself to different distributions, different ways of thinking, different ways of doing things. Debian is loyal, stable, and what you see is what you get. Arch is more exotic (to me!), unpredictable, but worth it in the long run (even if Nickel prefers my wife’s lap to mine, little traitor…).

Also, like cats and dogs, the Debian-based Mint and Ubuntu families have shorter set lifespans than Arch-based distros. Debian-based have LTS (that’s long term support for those trying to learn along with me) that are typically supported for 3-5 years, depending on the distribution. Some last longer. Arch can last you much longer (in the natural scheme of things), assuming no one does something foolish, like screw up an install or run into traffic.

Fedora is, I don’t know… a parakeet? Don’t dive too deep into this, I haven’t yet.

All of this comes back to that hard drive I have coming in the mail. Do I want a cat, or a dog on my new drive? Do I want to have to invest in a new dog in a few years, or do I want to see how long I can keep the cat alive? Do I want stability or try something with a little edge to it?

My gut says go safe. My heart says go sleek. Manjaro has a great community willing to help, but so does Ubuntu MATE and Linux Mint. I’ve got a few days to think on it.

A brave new world

The hard drive (HDD) in my desktop is dying by inches. We’ve had good times together. But like all good things, they must come to an end. There’s no telling how much longer the smaller drive will last. It’s probably over a decade old at this point. The large drive has housed Windows 10, while the smaller drive is for my Linux testing.

I find myself in an exciting position, however. Instead of one mega-sized HDD and one much smaller, much older laptop HHD, I’m going with two, smaller solid state drives (SSD).

Not only should I see a sizeable boost in speed, I can finally start using Linux as a more primary OS. I can try installing some of my favorite programs (read: games) in Linux first!

The question is, which distribution do I run? (I’m interested in running the same on my laptop and desktop, btw)

Ubuntu MATE has a certain appeal. The variety of themes means I can spice things up if I get bored. I liked Unity and Pantheon desktops, and my first computer (and smart phone!) was an Apple, so the Cupertino theme has some attraction. I also appreciate that updates focus more on stability.

Perhaps Linux Mint? The desktop can run Cinnamon without any problem, and the laptop can run Mate (substitute out the mint menu for brisk…) or Xfce. Again, there’s that level of stability and Mint is one of the prettiest distros I’ve ever used.

Manjaro was good to me on my laptop. The software repository is great, and it runs smoothly. There’s a little thrill at running on the bleeding edge and updates haven’t tanked my system yet. There’s also something nice about not having to reinstall the system when there’s a big update/new long term support (LTS) release. Vivaldi has been a little difficult to get all of the extras I want out of the AUR though, and I’ve had some installation issues with it.

Solus ran a little heavy on my laptop. I played with Fedora a little bit on a virtual machine

I’m not exactly a newbie, but I’ve still got a lot to learn. I’m not quite ready for something along the lines of Arch or Gentoo. But at least I have it somewhat narrowed down.

Wait a minute Mr. (email) Postman

I have an email problem.

I have way, way too many accounts. I should pare then down, but until then, I use a desktop email client to keep track of all of them. For that, I use Mozilla’s Thunderbird. It’s open source, connects with my Microsoft Exchange accounts, and is available cross platform. I can use it in Linux and in Windows (aside form an unfortunate theming issue with the Greybird theme in Linux) it does what I need.

My theme issue was in finding the button to turn off automatically marking emails as read. I prefer to leave some things unread, so they’re easier to find later. It’s a quirky thing, but it’s how my system/mind works.

But I’m not married to Thunderbird. I use it because it works, not because it’s my favorite.

Back in college, I used to use Eudora Pro (I want to say 3 or 4, but it’s been decades). I believe the software was available through my university’s software page. I loved that I could right click on the taskbar icon to check email whenever I wanted to.

I used Window’s native email clients in 95 and 98. There was something charming about the way the mail window looked like a little envelope, and I liked that it created a new, smaller window for writing emails. It made it so it didn’t take up so much screen real estate, back when that was an issue.

I played around with Netscape and later Mozilla and Seamonkey’s email client and used that for some accounts. I remember having some issues with Hotmail, but I think I eventually figured it out. I know that’s part of why I feel so comfortable using Thunderbird.

I liked the MSN Explorer browser, with it’s built-in Hotmail access. I ended up moving away when the program was discontinued.

Opera’s old Presto browser, with their built-in email client was awesome. It did everything I needed and I only had to have one program opened. I was a little sad when Opera shut down Presto, in favor of Webkit/Blink/Chromium. I understand the hassle of trying to maintain their own system though, and I appreciated Opera being compatible with more web sites. Their independent email program, Opera Mail, worked nice, but they stopped supporting it, which is such a pity.

Outlook Express and Windows Live mail where probably my favorite clients. Seamless Hotmail connectivity, RSS readers for my feeds (read “extensive web comic list”), fast, could handle a large list of email accounts… It had all the features I needed and did what I wanted the way I wanted it to work. I miss those programs.

Outlook took some getting used to, but with work, it’s one of my most used tools. I appreciate the calendar features, ability to create meetings, and connectivity with Microsoft Office. Unfortunately, every time Microsoft updates Office, I have to get used to old features in new places. It drives me a little nuts.

Windows 10 Mail is flakier than a layered breakfast biscuit. It’s feature light almost to the extreme, and it tends to shut down at the drop of a hat. It’s slow to load, doesn’t do everything I want it to, and is frustrating to use. I don’t know how they got it so wrong.

Pegasus email is one I’ve try every now and then. It’s tricky to set up, doesn’t have all the things I need, and is retro in the less fun way. It hasn’t aged as well as some programs.

I’ve tried a number of Linux-native clients. Evolution is feature rich, but it just doesn’t quite work for me. It’s not as snappy as Thunderbird, a bit of a hassle to set up, and I usually don’t stick with it for more than a couple of days. Geary is too light and if I have to manually set up an email account, I can’t figure out how to resize the window. Sylpheed and Claws don’t fare any better than Pegasus. I’m not sure I trust Nylas/Mailspring/whatever they’re calling themselves. I still can’t get rid of the folders N1 set up in my email folders.

Wow. I have used a ton of these programs over the years. It’s amazing how little has changed. Some things have gotten easier (Thunderbird will try and find your account settings), but aside from some interface changes, little has improved.

I’ve more or less found a forever email client until when (if?) Vivaldi ever releases their email client in their browser.

Did I miss any that anyone would recommend?

What I’ve learned about myself so far

I started blogging for a number of reasons; I wanted a way to record and collect my thoughts, I wanted to see if I could get input from others, I wanted to find out if other people had some of the same issues I did, and I just wanted to give blogging a try.

I have gotten some excellent responses. Several people seem to resonate with my ramblings on web browsers and on Linux. I’ve even found a fellow Castles & Crusades fan out there!

What have I learned about myself? I already knew I had problems with my attention span (a deficit disorder, one might say).  But I’ve always learned to work with or around it.

I know I have to pace myself when I have a task to get done. I know I’ll stop for frequent breaks (just a quick game of sudoku, maybe read a webcomic…). I know I’ll have to work to reign myself in. I know I can’t go too hard on myself when my attention strays. I know it’s harder for me and I accept that.

I know it can make me better at parts of my job. I take in a lot about my environment and it helps when I do inspections. I can see other sides of issues. I can relate when other people have attention problems. I can take a step back and I can compartmentalize things.

I also know that my interests change quickly. I get interested and focused on things quickly (a rolling release is JUST what I need for my computer, no more reinstalling my operating system! I know what game I want to play next!). I know I dive deep on subjects for a week or so.

I know the temptation I feel when I have the need for change. Everything is working SO WELL on my computer… but I know I’ll like this new distribution more… until I don’t. I NEED to change my RPG campaign… instead of focusing on the game I have and putting effort into it.

How do I deal? Ride it out. Learn something new. Relearn something old. Let myself get focused, it’s how I enjoy spending my time. Learn, adapt, become versed in a variety of subjects and systems. Enjoy the journey, not just the destination.

I have a hunger/thirst for knowledge. That’s okay. It’s not wrong, it is what is. I like that I know a little about a lot of things. I thrive on little changes and can adapt to new situations. I’m not set in all of my ways. It’s the way. It makes me unique.

I’m me.

My gaming habit, part 2

I miss playing West End Game’s classic d6 Star Wars. Back when there was an expanded universe but fewer movies, we were left wondering what the Clone Wars actually were, before Knights of the Old Republic, hell, before Shadows of the Empire, we had a lot more empty space to fill. I only got to play a few sessions here and there, but I enjoyed making characters and rolling fistfuls of dice. I’d like to play that again, or possibly run a campaign myself. It would be good for doing something like Firefly.

I think what I miss most is the feeling of the early sessions. I only played a session or two before I agreed to run my own game. I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t really know the system all that well, but I could tell a yarn and I played off of the players well. I’m good at thinking on my feet and rolling with things.

Growing up means I have the ability to afford books and supplies I didn’t used to be able to get (though the majority of my collection I bought back in college, used).

I miss the adventure of exploring something new. I think that’s why I’m constantly reading through RPG books. I get sparks of ideas as I read through the texts, inspirations and thoughts of what I’d like to do with a game.

My problem is I lack focus. I dive deep into something over a short period of time, until I feel that I know it so well… then it becomes old hat, and I start looking for that next hit of creativity.

That’s why I keep leaping to new experiences. I distro hop in Linux, trying out new programs and systems. I keep looking for the next big thing in web browsers. I read everything I can over gaming systems, trying to find the one that fits perfectly, right now.

But my tastes invariably change after a few weeks. A few things have kept my interest. White Wolf books are entertaining reads, as they’re less reference book and more purple prose. GURPS lets me model the real world and has tons (probably literally) of material available. D&D has become a cultural experience as it becomes more popular and wide spread. I like sharing war stories with other players and DMs.

I know what I crave too. I like things that are not too rules heavy (crunchy). I like having the freedom to play off of my players’ crazy ideas and say, “That sounds cool! Let’s see what happens,” and letting the dice fall where they may. I like lighter, story-driven systems. I like letting my imagination fly. I like it when players talk after the campaign about what happened during the game. I like building memories.

I just wish my mind was built for the long haul, instead of looking for the next hit of something new.

My gaming habit, part 1

I’m going to switch gears a little bit this time, and focus on rambling about tabletop gaming, mostly the noble RPG.

I won’t be diving into mechanics or resources. This is a 1000 ft overview (about 305 m for the rest of the world) of how the games make me feel. If you want to discuss mechanics or the like, leave a comment! I do enjoy getting into that kind of thing too.

Though I’ve had some dry spells, I’ve been gaming for a couple of decades now. I started with the second edition of AD&D. Looking back on it, it’s got a number of different die rolling mechanics all mixed together. Sometimes you want to roll high, some you want to roll low. Sometimes you roll a d6, a d10, a d20, or d%. Balance is done by making some classes advance more slowly or by limiting what some fantasy races can become. No dwarven mages or half-orc paladins in this game.

It’s weird, it’s not as streamlined as I remember, it can be a little punishing. …but I love it. It’s still one of my favorite games, because I didn’t know it all when I ran. I just ran it and made up rules on the fly.

Castles & Crusades is close to how that game played, but a little more streamlined. You want to roll high most of (all of? I can’t remember initiative rules) the time. They tried to unify how things work. Any fantasy race can be any class, but classes still advance at different speeds. Wizards require more experience to level up than rogues (or is it thieves?). It still has the old school feel, from what I understand anyway. I’ve never been able to get a group together to play.

I want to remedy that. I’d love to play, but I’d be happy to run.

We’ve been playing a lot more 5th edition D&D lately. It…. is okay. I like how simple it is to make up rulings as we go, and there are some interesting character options for classes and races. But it doesn’t excite me as much as older editions. I got to really dislike the complexity of 3.5 D&D. There was too much focus on character builds (even bringing up the world “build” in 5e gives me the shivers) and mastery of system mechanics in 3.5. I personally prefer characters to form more organically than worrying about what I can or will do 3, 4, 5 levels down the road.

It’s a fine game, it runs well, and it’s fun. It just doesn’t feel quite right to me. It’s probably my second favorite edition, but considering I’ve only played three different editions…

I’d like to give 4th edition D&D a shot. I listened to a lot of the complaints gamers had when it came out and worried it “wasn’t D&D” enough. I started to get into it more after reading 13th Age. I like the strategy involved with combat (I’ve considered getting into war gaming), I like the changes to lore, and I like the ease of building balanced encounters. I just haven’t tried it yet. Again, most folk aren’t super enthusiastic about it. Still, I collect some of the books. I love the artistic choices in the books I have.

Speaking of 13th Age, I love what they’re trying to do with the game. It’s made by former D&D designers (from both 3rd and 4th editions of D&D) and it’s the game that they play, using mechanics from their creations. But they made it into something lighter than either version of D&D and focus more on story.

Damage and hit points do get amazingly high, but they increased damage as well, to balance things. Characters only go up to 10th level in the core book, but the players have much more say in the setting, with the One Unique Thing that makes their character different and the creation of backgrounds instead of skills.

There is a free System Reference Document if you’re interested. The core book is one of the easiest reads I’ve ever had with an RPG product. It’s more conversational tone with the creators even bouncing ideas back and forth and at the readers.

GURPS holds a special place in my cold, black heart. We even named our dog Gurps. I have a slight preference for the 3rd edition over the newer 4th edition, but that’s partly because I have a LOT of books for the older edition. They’re nearly the same, with a few tweaks for playability sake in the 4e book.

GURPS lets you design characters at a much more granular level than D&D. You spent points on attributes instead of rolling for them (by default! I know there are other ways of making characters in D&D). There are no classes (though you can add templates!), so you can pick and choose skills as you want (with GM oversight into what is an isn’t allowed in that particular game). You can get a good feel for who you are playing with Advantages (which cost points) and Disadvantages (which give you points), though a clever player can attempt to game the system. There is one primary mechanic for the game, which is nice.

GURPS is, however, more of a toolkit for making your own game than a complete game. This means that there is no defined world, lore, or the like. The Game Master (that GM again) is expected to decide what extra books they’re using (if any), which skills are relevant, which Ads and Disads are okay, etc. It’s work on the front end, but easier on the back end.

Character creation can be more complex, but once you’re done, the character sheet has most of the info you need. Combat can be complex or simple, depending on what rules the GM is allowing and which they’re ignoring.

It definitely isn’t a game for everyone, but it does try to be any game for those who enjoy it. It also lets you organically grow your characters. The books are dense and read more like a textbook, but the splat books (extra books with additional material) are great for just about any game, if you ignore the GURPS-specific material. They’re well researched.

That leaves White Wolf and their catalog of games. My personal favorite is Vampire: the Masquerade. I love the lore. I’ve been reading the books for fun, because they’re written more like fiction with some mechanics hidden inside. Like GURPS, it’s a point buy system with an easy (though different) mechanic.

There are less options than in GURPS (which can be a good thing). It doesn’t try to model everything (like GURPS does). I think I prefer the tone of earlier editions of the book, where you focus on taking a human, turning them into a monster, then watching them try to deal with the downward spiral as they fight their nature (with nature almost ALWAYS winning in the end!) than the world-spanning plots in later editions. Not that those can’t be fun!

I find myself reading White Wolf game books more frequently because they’re meant to be read, not necessarily studied. All of the games use the same basic mechanics, though the themes, powers, abilities, etc. can vary from game-to-game.

I’m pushing over 1,200 words already and there are other games I’d like to talk about (I’m looking at you, West End’s D6 system!). I’ll save those for later.

If you’ve gotten this far and aren’t completely board off your chair, you’re a personal hero of mine!

Linux, my gateway to freedom and indecision

My first thought is, “People are actually reading and responding to my posts? Wild!”. I mostly started putting these up for my own benefit and only distantly believing that someone else might read these, let along leave some thoughtful comments.

By the way, thanks to everyone who has responded (and isn’t a scammer or spammer!)! For better or worse, I’m encouraged to write more (so you only have yourselves to blame!).

Last time, I talked about Manjaro being my forever distro. I’m still leaning heavily that way. I like the community. I like the variety of packages available in the repositories (I pull a scant handful from the AUR, mostly Vivaldi and Dropbox). It runs well and I won’t have to reinstall when there’s a new release, like I might in Debian world (Ubuntu, Mint, and the like).

Maybe I’m getting a little paranoid though, reading through the Manjaro forums. I’m not really living the Arch lifestyle. If there’s an update, I usually just update it. The laptop is just for web browsing, email, solitaire, and experimenting with distros, after all. I’m not worried about keeping my information. I’ve reinstalled dozens of time.

BUT… I mostly learn by reading forum posts and tinkering. I’ve managed not to break things. I can figure out how to get Linux to print to our home printer. I can do just about anything I want on that computer (except get Artemis to play, for some reason). I’m not one to spend hours perusing the manuals until I break something.

So I ask myself, is this the right place for me? Should I be on a Debian-based distro and just deal with reinstalling every two years (or so)? Should I spend some time on Fedora, which seems to be rolling but stable? I dabbled with Solus, but Budgie runs a little slow on that machine and I’m not totally sold on MATE (if they ever did an Xfce release though…).

Or am I just over-analyzing everything again? I’m really, really good at that.

At some point, I think I may move away from Windows. I know Windows, I understand where files are, I understand the tools, it’s been my computer home since… 1996? I worked through Win 95, 98, XP, 8, 8.1, now 10… It’s the devil I know. Linux is starting to make more sense to me. I can do little things. I’m learning slowly, but the data is being absorbed.

When I switch to Linux, I want to set things and not worry about it. Mint and Ubuntu usually have methods for upgrading their distros when a new release comes out and the software I care about (web browsers, email, security) are all updated regularly. Maybe Debian-based is best for me. Manjaro seems solid though, and I don’t think Arch is going anywhere, but there seem like there are risks there.

I know I’m not stuck in one place. I can get a second drive, make that home, and call it good. Then I can experiment with the distros all I want. A lot of Linux users seem to wander a bit, and that’s one of the things that’s cool about it.

Enough ranting. If anyone has any thoughts, I’d love to hear them! The TLDR summary is Manjaro good, Mint a possibility, I can’t make a decision to save my life.

There and back again, a distrohopper’s story

For those who have read any of these rantings, I’m a bit indecisive (read: I can’t make up my damn mind).

I seem to have found a forever distribution (Manjaro Linux in Xfce) despite all of my attempts. This seems to be one decision that has stuck, even though I have wandering eyes.

My latest dalliance was a whole day with Solus on the laptop.  I like the simplicity, the overall appearance, and the concept. It… was… just… a… little… sluggish on that machine. Which, considering the age, is not too surprising.

Manjaro does what I want, I understand the bare basics of the commands (I am NOT a terminal jockey, I just like to update and install programs from the command line).

It looks… fine, I guess without much change. I have seen people gush about the overall aesthetics of Manjaro, and I can’t begrudge anyone their opinion about what does or doesn’t look nice. I’m a bit older school with my preferences, and I won’t tell anyone they’re wrong for liking what they like. I’m sure a lot of people don’t agree with my opinions on the flat icons and interfaces and color choices.

I just keep looking for something that might work better for me. the Arch frame of mind is a little daunting to a self-taught Linux rookie (I’m definitely not newbie, but not overly skilled either). On the other hand, I try to pay attention to the forums and practice good installation habits. I try to be selective about what I pull from the AUR, I don’t quit installations before they’re done, and I try to use the terminal when possible.

Linux is a little intimidating. I’m sure if I grew up with it instead of Windows (or the Apple IIGS I used until 1996), I’d be more confident. Mostly I’ve been learning things as I go, often in concert with copious mistakes, though I’ve certainly gotten better. I play with desktop environments, windows managers, infrastructure (mostly Debian- or Arch-based)… It’s been fun. It’s my hobby.

I’m starting to feel like I’m tightening down on some of my fluctuating tastes. Now it’s a matter of realizing that I’ve made a decision and to stop trying to talk myself out of my choices.