23 January 2009

More about tube amps

I figure I’m going to be sticking with my digital processor → clean solid-state amp setup for a long time. It’s flexible and reliable. I’m thinking that I want to get another 15W, 1×12 combo so that I can run the two amps in stereo off my Digitech RP350. This one little 15W that I have—Crate GTD15R—has seemed plenty powerful enough for every gig. (Heck, I was worried that it was going to be underpowered, but instead I’ve been told a few times to turn it down. ^_^) In the bigger venues, it’s either gotten mic’d or they plugged the (balanced) direct out of the RP350 into the house PA.

It’s also quiet enough for practice, since the tone is coming from the RP350’s digital magic rather than a cranked power section. Although, it’s the tiniest twist of the volume knob between loud-enough and too-loud for practice.

But I’m hearing the siren call of the tube amp. The elegant simplicity of guitar → amp. Perhaps with just analog reverb and tremolo. With nothing to mask the character of the individual guitar. Or any weaknesses in my technique.

I may have mentioned this here before, but—oddly enough—one of the things making me interested in tube amps are the RP350’s digital recreations of them. Playing with the ’59 Bassman, ’65 Twin Reverb, and Vox AC30 simulations really make me want to have the real things.

Other culprits include...

Some of the things they’ve told me...

  • To get half the volume of a 50W amp, you’d need a 5W amp.
  • 100W amps are overkill. A 30W amp can handle small and medium venues. In a large venue, you should just mic the amp. Bigger amps just mean more dangerous sound pressure levels and more people complaining that you need to turn it down.
  • There’s little point in a separate, low-power practice amp. Even 5W is overkill for a practice amp anyway. Better to use a power attenuator to bring down the volume of your cranked regular amp.
  • BTW, the reason for using the power attenuator instead of a master volume is that you get “better” distortion when you overdrive the power amp rather than just the pre-amp.
  • When an amp starts to distort, the signal gets compressed. That is, when you get to a certain point on the volume knob you’re no longer increasing volume as much as increasing distortion. So you can change the tone on a cranked amp from clean to distorted through picking dynamics and the guitar’s volume knob rather than channel-switching. And since the volume knob isn’t giving you volume control anymore, that’s why they sell power attenuators.
  • The first thing to do if you want to improve your amp’s tone is to bracket the distortion stages with EQ.

So, I expect before I know it I’ll have picked out one of these beasties to wrestle with alongside my digital toys.

22 January 2009

Proof 4e devours souls

El Mahdi on ENWorld charted the 4e adventures on a PowerPoint slide. Since only the soulless are able to use PowerPoint, 4e must have devoured his soul. QED ^_^

(Of course, I only “keed”. For all I know, El Mahdi has never played 4e, and it was a management position that devoured his soul.)


The D&D “sweet spot”

One of the things that Wizards’ “fourth edition” of Dungeons & Dragons was meant to do is expand the “sweet spot”. It was felt that the experience of “third edition” in the middle of the characters’ careers was clearly superior to the experience at lower or higher levels. “Fourth edition” would reshape the lower and higher levels to play the same as this “sweet spot”.

I think, however, that one of the things that made D&D successful was the stages that the characters moved through. That the experience changed rather than staying the same. That’s exactly what kept many people playing D&D instead of many of the other later games.

And really, why bother with levels if you want this static experience game? For that matter, if you like the “sweet spot” of “third edition”, why not just play it and stay in that spot?

And if there were problems with the areas of “third edition” outside of the “sweet spot”, perhaps making them both unique and better would be a better fix than extending the “sweet spot”.

21 January 2009

Another online discussion tip

If your reply has to do with the way someone worded something rather than what they meant, don’t bother posting it.

Thank you.

20 January 2009

Dragon Warriors

I got my last Christmas present today. (It was bought with Amazon gift cards.) Dragon Warriors

I first learned about DW in 2005. I was pretty impressed then. So, I was happy to hear it was making a comeback. I was a little worried since it is being published by Mongoose. Turns out, though, that it is through Mongoose’s Flaming Cobra imprint, which apparently means that the real publisher, Magnum Opus Press, handled all the text.

So far, I’m really wishing I had discovered this game in 1986. That was when Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay came out. I guess it was my third RPG (behind Traveller and (A)D&D). Warhammer was a nice change from (A)D&D. There’s a lot I like about the game, but enough that I’m not crazy about. I think DW would’ve fit the bill better. In some ways, I could call DW a cross between classic D&D and WFRP.

In the introduction, Dave Morris (one of the co-authors) describes DW thusly...

Fantasy games like D&D—or, these days, World of Warcraft—belong to the George Lucas or Chris Columbus branch of role-playing. Dragon Warriors would be a movie by Guillermo del Toro or Tim Burton.

Incidentally, I think this book would make a good introduction to the hobby for the person doesn’t have a local group to join and must form their own.

So, member of my group, expect me to foist it on you at some point. ^_^

18 January 2009

NAMM on YouTube

Many of the YouTube channels I subscribe to are covering NAMM. It’s really cool. Almost as good as going.

Even—unfortunately—including moments of interminable boredness. ^_^ I mean, sure, I can’t complain, but I have a really hard time understanding why Fender bothers with videos like CustomShop booth 01.

As a customer, I’m watching these videos to find out what the new products are, to hear them, and to see them in action. Showing me products without even telling me what they are is just kind of annoying. Watching a four-and-a-half minute video assuming that there was a point and finding none gets annoying after the fourth or fifth time.

Like I said. I can’t really complain. I get to vicariously attend the event and see the new gear and some cool performances for free. I’m just a bit baffled.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I’ve been really impressed by Premier Guitar. Great magazine. Great web site. Great YouTube channel.

17 January 2009

Jobs his health

It’s Time for Apple to Come Clean—Executive Suite Blog—NYTimes.com

Jeesh! Let it go people. If you own Apple stock and you really think you need to know any more about the health of Steve Jobs and you don’t think he has been honest enough or forthcoming enough, just sell your stock.

14 January 2009


Sometimes I’m amazed by my capacity to forgive. Sometimes it seems like the bigger the wrong, the easier it is to forgive.

When it’s hard, however, it can seem impossible. It’s hard when they seem to be unrepentant.

10 January 2009

RPG drivers, take 2

Isn’t “sandbox” really “PC driven”?

“Plot driven” sounds like “railroading” to me. I think often, however, “plot-driven” is used to mean “DM driven”. “DM driven” can mean either “railroading” or “NPC driven”.

So, my list of alternatives is beginning to look like...

  • Railroading
  • Character-driven

About railroading: Although it is often considered a dirty word—especially among the grognards—I tend to think it is perfectly valid...in moderation.

So, now I’m thinking less in terms of alternatives and more of a continuum. A triangle with the vertices...

  • Railroading (DM predestination)
  • NPC driven (PCs reacting to NPCs)
  • PC driven (PCs being proactive)

I really should’ve drawn a diagram to emphasize that these are extremes rather than alternatives, but that’s too much work for “thinking out loud”. Well, today it is.

Does sitting on any of these vertices makes for a particularly good game? Don’t you really want a mix?

Perhaps being closer to the “PC driven” vertex is better and being closer to the “railroading” vertex is worse.

09 January 2009

Whither the OSR goeth? (part 2)

It seems like there is a broad consensus that the “old school renaissance” is about playing. Playing the old school games. Playing in the old school style. That is the first and primary (a little anglish & latinate redundancy for emphasis ^_^) goal of the OSR.
(IMHO, it doesn’t really matter that we can’t agree on a hard definition of “old school”. It’s enough that there is something recognizable enough going on that people have put words to it.)
So, does the OSR care if it “has legs”? Clearly it has been growing of its own accord. Certainly there’s going to be a limit to how far it can grow by those methods, though.
Does it want to grow beyond those limits? Does it need to grow beyond those limits? What are the consequences if it doesn’t? What are the consequences if it does?
Perhaps, beyond the goal, it is worth putting words to what are not the goals.

08 January 2009

RPG drivers

  • Plot-driven
  • Character-driven
  • Sandbox
Currently, I find myself preferring character-driven games. Note, however, that the NPCs are characters too.

06 January 2009

Web browser: lousy universal client

I think the iPhone is reïnforcing for me is that web browsers still aren’t a good universal client, despite how far they’ve come and despite their success in that area. I almost always prefer a stand-alone iPhone app to accessing the site itself via Mobile Safari. Even sites that are optimized for Mobile Safari. Heck, I sometimes prefer the iPhone app to the site on my desktop web browser.

While I haven’t tried my hand at writing an iPhone app, I suspect they’re often easier to write than the web app itself.

There’s also the observation that the optimized-for-Mobile-Safari version of a site is often better than the site itself. So how much of it is that web browsers make lousy universal clients and how much is it that they merely aren’t well used?

05 January 2009

RPG: Generic modules

My gaming group during the 1990s mixed-&-matched modules & games on-the-fly. It was easy enough. Ignore the stats in the module. Grab stats for anything described out of the books for the game we’re actually playing. When in doubt, make something up that seems about right. Worked beautifully. Most of the AD&D modules I’ve played were played under GURPS, Rolemaster, Hârnmaster, Fantasy Hero, & al.

Likewise, I’ve read so many stories of people making great use of GURPS world-books though they never played GURPS.

Yet, for some reason, I’ve never liked the idea of generic modules. (i.e. Modules without stats.) My own experience, however, argues for them. It’s probably good for every game to have a few modules that give some better idea of how that game’s mechanics are meant to actually play out. Beyond that, however, why bother?

Maybe more importantly, we should just discredit the notion that modules need careful conversions. Just ignore the system specific stuff and handle things however fits the game you’re playing.

04 January 2009

Project Apollo

Jake wore out my VHS tapes of HBO’s From the Earth to the Moon. He got DVD versions for Christmas.

Reading JFK’s speech—included on the bonus disc—and watching the episodes again, it really is hard to believe that it happened at all.

As much as I’ve always loved the idea of human space travel, I have to admit that I find it very hard to justify. The risk:reward really favors robotic probes beyond Earth orbit. We’ve done LEO long enough that I think the risk:reward really doesn’t justify continually sending humans there either. Even if it did, I still think the SSC would’ve been a better investment in science than the ISS.

(I’m really only talking about NASA here. I’m very glad to see the development of commercial human space flight.)

I’m beginning to think that winding things down once the political goal was made wasn’t really such a tragedy.

Still. It’s so hard to believe that the country actually came together enough to even achieve that goal. I can’t imagine it happening today. Even Obama’s call for us to actually see some progress in alternative energy technologies after all the decades they’ve been talked about. Imagine if we could actually see Project Apollo-like resolve behind that.

03 January 2009

Whither the old school RPG renaissance goeth?

James Maliszewski says “By my lights, at least one of two things must happen in 2009 for the old school renaissance to have legs outside the thousand or so people who read [Grognardia]”

  1. New Product
  2. Big Name Adoption

I’m uncomfortable with the idea that the old school renaissance needs products or companies. That’s not to say that products or companies are bad for the OSR. Just that I don’t feel they are essential.

Perhaps it has something to do with what James says in another post: “One of the fascinating things about the Silver Age -- indeed of many Silver Ages -- is that it was heavily focused on commenting upon and embellishing the works of the Golden Age.” Isn’t the OSR is about rediscovering the Golden Age rather commenting or embellishing it. Aren’t new products almost...almost...guaranteed to do the latter?


Maybe that more fundamental question needs an answer first. What is the OSR about?

02 January 2009

Resolution 2009

The impending divorce is not my choice. I have to recognize, however, how I contributed to the problems in my marriage. I have to own my parts without beating myself up over them. This time, I’m thinking out loud about them. I guess working on these things is my New Years Resolution.

Andrea and I were a good match because many of my weaknesses were her strengths and many of her weaknesses were my strengths. I realize now that in many ways I leaned too heavily upon her strengths. That put her under tremendous pressure.

I never (not really never, but close enough) took initiative. This is true of all my relationships. I am horribly insecure and shy. I have an inferiority complex. The indecision plays a part here too.

I never appreciated the needs of an extrovert. Extroverts need external stimulus.

My defense mechanism is to withdraw. Too often this is hurtful to others, because they don’t see the fear or hurt or indecision.

Several times I seemed to recognize that I was doing a poor job of communicating, but I didn’t know how to change. The really odd thing was how easily I did change once she said she was unhappy. I made a 180° turn and—if possible—started communicating too much.

I’ve always had a natural tendency to raise my voice. People perceive me as screaming when—as far as I’m concerned—I’m not. I guess I never considered that this was something I needed to work on. I did know that it bothered Andrea. I did know that sometimes she took me venting frustration personally. Again, I thought this was something she needed to get over instead of something I needed to work on.

There are times when my emotions and frustrations get the best of me. Times when I do yell. Even lash out. I can’t deny knowing it, because there were times when I’d write something instead of saying it in an attempt to avoid that. I think there’s much here for me to understand.

I realize now that this was a problem during my entire marriage. I’ve been pretty sure that letting my fear and frustration get the best of me drove her away last year. I don’t know if things would have been different, but I wasn’t helping the situation.

I wonder: Is everything here a general problem or only a problem in the context of my marriage to Andrea?