Thursday, 20 February 2014

Timely Decisions

Recovering from my surgeries and following up on my VHL complications has given me much free time right now and for a foreseeable future. I am anxious to be fully healed and eventually back to work, but for now I've be trying to make the best of the freedom granted. Here's what I've been up to, working, and planning:

As far as my health goes, I've been steadily working to improve it, mostly by working on gaining the weight and muscle I lost in the hospital by eating and exercising. Slowly but surely I'm working toward an acceptable weight, and turning the weight I'm gaining (mostly in the middle gut region) into muscle in my extremities. My hope is to be able to make it through the busy convention at the end of this month.

The other week I purchased my ticket for GottaCon for the last weekend of February/beginning of March. I got myself all registered on their page and signed up for scheduled events. Because of recent events causing me to miss my chance to get a ticket and signup for stuff early, (let alone run my own events) some of the things I would've like to been in have filled up already.

Despite that, it's still a hard decision selecting signing up between the unfilled events that fill each timeslot; there are so many things this year that I want to see/do! In the end I've signed up for events, with secondary selections in my calender in case my whims change. Right now, here's my personal schedule for the con:

Not listed are my secondary choices, along with all the other events too large or spanning multiple slots to schedule.

One of those events is the Silent Gamer Auction, which I plan to submit several items.

Around half a year ago, when my friend Jason (who started our much beloved Dresden Files group) moved up north, I ended up with two boxes of RPG books he intentionally left behind. Since then I've kept some of them for my RPG collection, but now the remainder (having double-checked permission as I still partially consider them Jason's) I intend to put up for auction to clear shelf space and maybe make some money at the same time.

Time to clear some space.

I'm also putting up a few non-RPG games that I no longer play like a few boardgames and my old Magic cards. The hard part is choosing how group the items and how much the minimum bid for each should be; I wish to garner interest for gamers to bid on said item. Last year the two items I put up didn't sell; the minimum bid for each might have been too high and/or no one was interested in them (well interested enough to bid at least).

I could group most/all the books as one item, but that risks alienating bidders with books they don't want, so the price would have to be very low (probably near minimum $1) to garner any bids. I'm leaning towards a bunch of low priced lots grouped around theme/system on best chance they'll be taken; here's my tentative list:

I'm happy to see Numenera has representation (its session is all full) but no Fate Core or Edge of the Empire love (which were two systems I was likely going to run myself this year).

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Manhattan Project >Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles I

My best bud Mike came over to visit a last weekend; we took it easy watching shows and movies, I introduced him to Netrunner, and we played NES games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Manhattan Project and River City Ransom (which we beat; one of my favourite NES games: beatin' gang members up and buying food with their money!)

We also swung by a FLGS where I picked up a copy of The Heart of the Wild for The One Ring I had ordered in before I went to the hospital, and the recently released bestiary for Numenera.

Yesterday I also received my print copy of The Day After Ragnarok (Fate Core edition). That combined with two other books gives me plenty of material to digest. Expect a post containing my Impressions of each forthwith.

The other night I finally got back into the local Netrunner scene having missed it for about two months, and I was surprised how many additional players have joined our local meta. Many of them are planning on attending the two Netrunner tournaments Saturday and Sunday at GottaCon. I've considered playing in one or both of the tournaments, but I'm more interested in the RPGs being run around those slots.

Also the game cafe that hosts Netrunner on Tuesday nights is where a championship tournament is going to be held Sunday, March 16th. The winners receive a bye at the Regional Championships, which were just announced to also take place at IBGC, probably sometime in May-July. If I miss out on the tournaments at GottaCon, I'll at least play at this store tournament, if only for the practise and the door prizes, and possible the Regional Championship during the summer.

Finally, I've been spending my spare time working on completing a project before GottaCon so I can showcase it to a couple people at the convention. I'm not ready to post the details online just yet, but here's a teaser photo. Clever readers might know what I'm doing...

Once it's complete, expect a juicy post with all the mad details. :D

Cheers! ;{١

Saturday, 8 February 2014

2013 Retrospective

As per usual, my 2013 Retrospective is late again, with better reason this time I believe. I've spent a bit more time considering the past year as well, and have broadened out my choices. Hopefully it'll be less hodgepodge this year than the previous!

Now, without further ado I present...

Jerreth Esq's Choice Selections of 2013

System of the Year:

The Cypher System (Numenera)

Strikes the perfect balance between more traditional RPGs like d20 or Pathfinder and more indie freeform RPGs, making it easy for either player to grasp the simple concepts and mechanics; design, develop, and customise their characters how they'd like. The system really places the power in the hands of the players by making all the dice rolls player driven, never keeping the game bogged down in adding mods or in the dark with hidden DCs. Intrusions are used by the GM to guide the developing story by rewarding players. The Strange, also looks the utilise the Cypher System, making the two cross-compatible. This post further details my impressions.

System Runner-up:

Fate Core Edition

When it comes to being able to make a easy characters and setting truly customisable, you can't get much better than Fate Core. Just the Core book alone is more than enough for the GM and players to collaboratively develop the setting and characters they want to play, whilst the additional core line books provide additional extras to make characters and settings pop. Also the Fate rules are so balanced and modular, there's no worries about breaking the system via this customability. I have yet to write a proper post of my impressions of the Fate Core line as a whole, other than briefly touching upon it in this post.

System Honourable Mention:

Star Wars RPG (FFG)

I'm willing to admit (again), I'm a huge Star Wars Fanboy, so I was really able to get behind this system/setting pairing early in the year. But now I've cooled a bit seeing how FFG is handling their Star Wars RPG line: some decent adventures, but some of the same old mechanics with the Age of Rebellion Beta and career splat-books makes me wonder if the publisher aren't breaking much from the mould of WotC's Star Wars line. Less rules minutiae and more new general mechanics I think is the order. You can read more about what I had to say in impressions Part 1 & Part 2.

Setting of the Year:


I love the setting of Numenera, possibly more than the system itself; it's blend of far future science-fantasy is a setting that has been little explored in RPGs, and I truly instills a sense of wonder in me. It doesn't have to conform to either fantasy or sci-fi tropes to explain-away anything; and that is liberating to players and GM. The are very few RPGs I've heard of let alone seen that have such a unique setting as Numenera. Again, this post further details my impressions.

Setting Runner-up:

The One Ring: Adventures over the Edge of the Wild

I think represents the world and themes of Middle-Earth very well; though character creation and rules tend to be complex and at times confusing, the majority of all mechanics are based in the setting lore and not so generic as if you were trying to run The One Ring in a generic system like d20 or a basic Fate conversion. By far one of the nicest looking products I've come across this year, and have been gobbling up.

Setting Honourable Mention:

The Day After Ragnarok (FATE)

Kenneth Hite's pulpy, post-apocalyptic world is a mash-up that tickled my fancy so much when I was given a PDF with my Fate kickstarter bundle, I went I pre-ordered a print copy of it from Atomic Overmind Press (hopefully it'll arrive soon!). The setting itself is pretty unique, and the fact the team spent a bit of time making sure it can be inserted into a pre-existing Spirit of the Century game is also a huge plus in my book! The one thing worth mentioning aside from the broad but vague setting, is this book has random tables much more than any other Fate book I've seen. Finally, I'm still making slow progress on Strange Tales of the Century, but out of the two DAR seems a much better deal for perspective pulp GMs.

Adventure/Supplement of the Year:

The Devil's Spine (Numenera)

Whilst I may be beginning to sound like a broken record with my Numenera praise, The Devil's Spine is by far the best collection I had the fortune of reading over in 2013. Not only a collection of three adventures, each can be treated as treated as standalone or as part of a nonlinear mini-campaign, along with some additional material and setting that can easily be added to any existing campaign. The writing by Monte Cook is superb in every aspect, and it easily can be rated the top representation of the weird and wonderful world of Numenera.

Adventure/Supplement Runner-up:

Tales from the Wilderland (The One Ring)

If you're a fan on The One Ring RPG, and/or like stories set in Middle-Earth, then Tales from the Wilderland is worth checking out. A collection of seven adventures for ~$30 is an excellent deal I believe, especially if those stories can linked together to form a yearly campaign. Some might baulk at the linearity of some of the presented scenarios, but they all offer new themes and settings throughout the Wilderland that should keep your company interested and invested. If you're familiar with any other part of the line, you know Tales be nicely presented and art-filled.

Adventure/Supplement Honourable Mention:

Beyond the Rim (EotE)

Written by SWRPG legend Sterling Herhsey, I was totally into the hardcover mini-campaign that spans three episodes that touch upon a variety of planets, themes, etc. As to be expected it has a well-written, if a bit linear, overarching story. It would possibly be higher on my list if I hadn't come across something so jarring in the second act: (*Spoiler Alert*) I found the description of the "arboreal octopus" rather inconsistent with the image provided, not to mention this is Star Wars! Call it anything but what it is! Anything but would be better than "arboreal octopus", because I find that name so bad it is burned in my mind forever. It's early D&D monster bad!

Storytelling of the Year:

Fate Accelerated Edition (with Fortune Cookie Fate variant)

Although my variant was detailed in this first post of 2014, I got to actually ran it in late December, so I consider it a worthy contender for my retrospective. FAE showed its extreme flexibility that I was able to quickly and loosely throw together a theme (Benevolent Zodiac Delivery Force), my players were rapidly able to create characters within it, and we were quickly off enjoying ourselves in the fast-paced roleplaying that that group is wont to do, a while testing out my "Fortune Cookie" houserule idea. The fact that FAE was able easily support all of these without getting in the way cements it as a go-to system for those who want to focus on telling a good story above all else.

Storytelling Runner-up: 


I had the opportunity to play the innovative storytelling game Dread a few more times in 2013 and I absolutely love it. Dread has a amazing visceral resolution mechanic that you won't find in any other RPG, and the focus on character and the story are paramount in play. The one downside that might be seen is that Dread only really works for one-off sessions given its lethality, but this can be an oversight: who cares about growing characters when single sessions can be this intense! I'm willing to go far enough to suggest if you're a fan of the themes and setting of a horror scenario but not so much the system and mechanics, run it Dread and you will not be disappointed.

Storytelling Honourable Mention:

Hillfolk: DramaSystem 

First off, I want it known I placed Hillfolk in my third place Honourable Mention only because I have yet to actually run it. I read it and wrote my thoughts and impressions on this unique game back in November last year, so one can easily read my of it review if they wonder what it's all about, I highly recommend Hillfolk to players and GMs alike who place emphasis in their games on long-term narrative.

PDF of Year:

Vortex (Numenera)

Again with the Numenera praise! If The Devil's Spine is the must-have physical book, then Vortex is the must-have PDF. Around 18 pages Vortex is two-part sandbox adventure that showcases the truly weird and bizarre that the Ninth World has to offer players. The first in Monte Cook Games 'Glimers' PDF line and the GenCon 2013 launch scenario, I've had the chance to run Vortex a few times locally and at a convention, and always had a great time. The price of $5.99 might seem steep at first, but I think its worth every penny.

PDF Runner-up:

Dead Light (Call of Cthulhu)

Having backed the kickstarter for the upcoming revised 7th edition of Call of Cthulhu, I was pleasantly surprised when I recently received a download code for a free PDF copy of this scenario. Dead Light is a short adventure that can be easily inserted into an ongoing campaign puts the investigators in a survival-horror situation for a single night. The art and layout are good, if in the usual monochromatic pallet. Although written specifically for 7th edition, the scenario also contains a few pages dedicated to converting it for older editions, and allows Keepers who are on the fence on picking up the latest edition to see the changes made before they commit any money. This 36-page PDF is available to non-backers at $6.95 at the Chaosium webstore.

PDF Honourable Mention: 

In Strange Aeons - Lovecraftian Numenera

$2.99 at DriveThruRPG nets you 12 pages of Lovecraftian horribleness for Numenera: Monte talks a bit about the nature of cosmic horror and how it relates to the setting and themes of the Ninth World, and further supports this with a slew of new descriptors, NPC "skins", and several mind-bending mythos creatures of the known variety.

One possible oversight on behalf of the author was the yithians physically described are the commonly depicted of the "rugose cone" variety, with no mention of the Coleopterous race to be inhabited by them in the far future after mankind is gone. The far future and posthuman are subjective of course in the billion year history leading to the Ninth World, but it begs questions that further relate to the setting; did humankind die/leave Earth at one point for the Great Race to project themselves through time and space into the bodies of the "beetle folk" inhabiting one of the prior Eight Worlds, only for humankind to return; or is the possibility still yet in even farther into future that the doomed humans are finally extinct? Given the amount of consideration and writing I've given this already, we'll forgive Mr. Cook for keeping the page count lower by not opening that can of brainworms. GMs of course are welcome to take my musings for use in their games. :)

Nevertheless, I believe In Strange Aeons is a large boon for Numenera GMs that want to inject a little lovecraftian horror into their games.

Non-RPG Game of the Year:

Android: Netrunner

After playing Magic: The Gathering for many years, I eventually folded having growing tired of the various criticisms I had with it (like essentially paying to win). I was ready to swear off competitive card games, even after briefly dabbling in FFG's Star Wars LCG, when I was taken by Android: Netrunner. The details of such can be read here. Since then I've been collecting every Data Pack and Deluxe Expansion that has been released, and playing as much possible (which originally had been few a far between, but has been more frequent lately since a local meta meets every Tuesday at the boardgame cafe). I'm by far neither the best or worst player, but I enjoy the playing Netrunner without the frustration I felt in the past, because of the card format I know makes an equal playing field for everyone.

Non-RPG Game Runner-up:

Shadows Over Camelot

I really like this boardgame; I've stated before it has to be one of my top favourites. I've played it a few times now and it's still pretty fresh; last time we actually had a traitor in our midst, but still managed to win the day! I've also mentioned to my buddy who owns Shadows Over Camelot that there's an expansion called Merlin's Company that gives additional 7 knights and the wizard himself that now up to eight players can choose from, along with various additional cards and rules to add more depth to the game. I'm sure we'll be trying it out in in the future.

Non-RPG Game Honourable Mention:

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game

X-Wing is another one of those games (of the miniatures variety this time) that I currently collect more of than get the chance to play. Like Netrunner, none of my close friends really own it or play, but I do have a friend who really enjoy playing it as much as I do, so we meet and play every few months. I hope play will be more frequent as our FLGS now has a league on Saturdays that I plan on regularly attending next week, because I sorely need practise. Plus all the future expansions FFG is teasing makes the fanboy part of me drool.

Notable Events of 2013

Here's a brief overview of some of the notable events I attended the past year, and how they're looking in 2014. Feel free to skip it.

Wow, its a lot to think that almost a year ago was GottaCon V, where I ran my first convention RPG session. The next GottaCon (Feb 28th to Mar 2nd) is coming up fast and though I plan on attending and need to sort that out soon, because of recent events I probably will not have the opportunity to run any RPG events as much as I'd like to. (I'd like to run my Fortune Cookie FAE at a public forum to really test it out, plus I think it'd be heaps fun. And I still have my idea for an updated Spirit of the Century or Cosmic Patrol game that has some props/swag made using the Pulp-O-Mizer! I'd also like to run Numenera and/or Star Wars: Edge of the Empire with prizes as little Star Wars Lego things.)

The beginning of June 2013 was the fourth Victoria Steam Exposition for us local steampunks, which me and the Missus' had loads of fun volunteering at. We're eager at this time when and where the next VSE will be held; perhaps I'll actually run a game-related event or two this year, steampunk-themed of course.

Later in the month was Free RPG Day, you can read my account of it here if you missed it, and don't forget the Free RPG Day of 2014 is on June 21st! We all await to see what's available for grabs this year!

Mid-July of last year I got the honour of attending the 13th Annual Froth Barrel Tourney held in Nanaimo. I really hope to attend this year, and am curious the theme and system they'll be using.

August was the Day of Gaming at UVic, I ran a session of Escape from Mos Shuuta from the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game for a full group that went well. I missed my chance to try out Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, but I got played a bit of Netrunner instead and met some people. Hope this event gets run again in this year.

October I took some time off and visited old friends on a gaming holiday, after the Missus and I participated in the fun but wet 3rd annual Tweed Ride Victoria. On the holiday I got the chance to really put Numenera through its paces, along with the chance to run the EotE Free RPG Day adventure Shadows of a Black Sun/Under a Black Sun for the first time. It's also worth note that around this time believe I started fully developing symptoms pertaining to my VHL complications that gradually increased over the next few months. I was planning on attending the No Hunger Games event the following weekend, but I not feeling well and work prevented me from doing so.

Mid-November was Concentric at UVic, where I ran Numenera (I still intend on getting together with my players and finishing the second part of the Vortex) and played a few RPGs like Dungeon World and my friend's Call of Cthulhu/Dread hack, and leaving with a couple door prizes. I attended the Day of Boardgamers IV at Interactivity Board Game Cafe the following weekend and much fun was had. Tentatively rumours have begun to circulate of another Day of Boardgamers.

And that's my recap of 2013! Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

Cheers to 2014! ;{١

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

My VHL disease

I haven't brought it up before on my blog; it's mostly been a thing I've kept private. The last time it was of major concern was really before the days of full social media (facebook, google+, etc); before I developed my online presence, as much as it is.

I'm just going to say it for those interested: back on 17th of January I checked myself into the emergency room because I've been suffering a variety symptoms since September that were increasing in severity. I have now just been discharged back home the other day after a complicated pair of surgeries a week prior.

It's probably best to start from the beginning:

  • I have Von Hipple-Lindau disease. I was tested and diagnosed with it at fairly early age. Every three of so years since about 1997, I've had four operations, until recently when I broke I seven year stretch that was a combination of blind luck and not caring about my condition as much I should've been.
  • I recently had my third cerebellar tumour removed from the right side of my brain; the day before I had my left adrenal gland removed via laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery.
  • I am now without adrenal glands at all, and have to take steroids daily for the remainder of my life to prevent an adrenal crisis from developing.

What is Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease?

Briefly put VHL is a rare, autosomal dominant (50% it'd be passed to offspring) genetic condition that predisposes individuals to benign and malignant tumours. It results from a mutation in the von Hippel–Lindau tumor suppressor gene that we all carry.

More depth-information on VHL can be found on wikipedia, and the worldwide community VHL Alliance, which has been a terrific resource for me and my family in understanding this condition.

What happened exactly?

Although originally I checked myself into emergency because the symptoms I believed were suffering were very similar to those I had in the past due to a cyst forming around a brain tumour in right side of my cerebellum, turns out I was partially correct; we soon all learned that the situation was much more complex, based on old scan data and recent testing on the 25th of January:

My doctors helped explain the complex nature of my cerebellar hemangioblastoma and the lesion on my adrenal gland: my neurosurgeon, liked have my brain surgery ASAP because I really needed it, but some members of the community question this decision, along with my prodising anaesthesiology. The complication the lesion on my left adrenal may cause on my brain surgery (chiefly high blood pressure concerns) may make such procedure more risky than needed.

The alternative suggested had been to have my adrenal removed first (following day, laparoscopically) and then following up with brain surgery once I have a bit of recovery time, about a week originally. This would a) remove any complications the lesion might cause on the brain surgery, b) along with any symptoms compounding everything, which hopefully in turn may give me additional time to deal with the brain symptoms, as well as make the procedure easier when I have it.

In retrospect I may have been attributing some if not all of my symptoms by the cyst/tumour pushing in the brain, but given time to consider it wasn't not entirely consistent with what I was experiencing: mainly night sweats, short rest periods, having frequently to go to the bathroom; along with the knowledge that despite being given meds to lower my blood pressure prior to surgery, I have seen from vital tests it wasn't really working as well as was hoped.

I gave my decision the following day; essentially nothing had really changed, just the last minute order of operations: the following day I'd had an adrenalectomy, followed by brain surgery soon to remove the hemangioblastoma on the day after that.

A photo of my icky head scar about 5 days post-surgery, complete with oily hair and unkempt beard.
My left side laprascopic scars, about nine days post-op. The only parts of me that feel fat and bloated are my head and belly, the rest is too skinny even more me. I aim to move the weight ASAP.

Needless to say the back to back operations were a success, though my body is dealing with both the double surgeries, hospital stay, and getting used to my medication; all whilst trying to heal is going to take some time.

So wait, you have no adrenal glands at all any more? Isn't that bad?

In response to an insightful inquiry and for those interested, here's the skinny: Normally everyone has two adrenal glands, they sit above your kidneys. Removal of one isn't a major concern mainly because the other can provide the necessary steroids for regular function. Unfortunately certain individuals with VHL like myself can develop tumours in these glands (known as pheocromacytomas) that may eventually become active; and even dormant ones cause complications on any surgery/accident by becoming active and causing a "pheo crisis", ie major blood pressure concerns.

Unfortunately my first surgery back around 1997 for VHL was a full adrenalectomy of the right side. So the options were pretty limited: I needed both surgeries ASAP, and the way the lesion was placed ruled out a partial removal/resection. We decided that a laparoscopic removal of my left gland was to be performed before my brain surgery to lessen complications. It was super convenient they we able to pair each operation back to back on Monday and Tuesday.

Now, to the crux of the question: what I have now, because I no longer have adrenals, is similar to Addison's Disease, if not fundamentally that (I presumed incorrectly. it's know as Adrenal Insufficiency). I have accepted that I'll have to take steroid replacements daily for the rest of my life. But also knew when I was younger I'd deal with VHL for the rest of my life too, so I figure I'm up to the challenge. :)

What does this have to do with gaming?

Everything and nothing. My time in the hospital made me realize more how much games, predominately RPGs and the social aspects of them do I rely on as a hobby, stress management, escapism, etc. I couldn't leave hospital, connect with fellow gamers socially via face-to-face or electronically; I had no way of dealing with my 'fix', thus I was forced to confront it head on.

Having spent some time attempting to rectify this problem I was reminded of good work the Child's Play Charity has done since 2003 by helping get games to kids in the hospital. Although I consider myself a child no longer physically, I'm still one at heart. The network and means are in-place for the younger generation, but what of adults?

I am still unable to provide a clear answer to this question at this time, but it has given me something to think about. :) Perhaps I'll add my two cents again in the future.

I would love to hear your experiences with gaming with a disease and/or being in the hospital. :D

Thank you again for all your support! ;{١