Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ice Elemental Blizzard

When my players reached 13th level, I gave them a choice: drow or giants.  They chose giants and headed up into the Spine of the World looking for some.  So I set up a couple of encounters built around giant raiders and then needed to come up with a raider chief.  My first cut was a frost giant, surrounded by ice elementals, but lo and behold!  There aren't any ice elementals in 4e.

So I built one, and here it is.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Weekend Update: Last Weekend in January

I had a pretty nice weekend if you’re wondering. 

It rained Friday, but I ended up riding into the office anyway because I’d read that it was supposed to clear up.  And while that’s true, and it did, that didn’t happen until late morning.  So I got drenched and muddy on my way in, which was okay from the standpoint that my office has a shower—I don’t ever wear my work clothes when I’m commuting on the bike—but it sucked because when I was leaving on Friday afternoon, I ended up having to put on my wet and muddy clothes again just so I could ride back up to the train station and catch my ride home.  Still, since it was warm Friday afternoon, and I was already soaked to the bone and filthy, there wasn’t any reason not to ride aggressively from the office back up to 125th Street.  It wasn’t like I was gonna get sweaty and somehow start smelling worse.  And anyway, I’ve been doing some spinning classes lately, and they’ve featured a lot of out-of-the-saddle attacks.  I was curious to see if I’d feel any stronger out-of-the-saddle on a real bike with that work behind me.  My being wet-and-muddy state made Friday the perfect chance to test out my new fitness.  There’s a long hill from 96th Street up to about 106th, so I attacked and fairly flew upwards.  As weekend openings go that was a good one.

Friday's Ride Route
 I got home Friday night and found that the Girl Scout meeting was canceled, and that Sally had decided to order pizza.  I was supposed to go to the gym during Girl Scouts, but with the change, I cancelled my plans and cracked a beer.  Truth be told, I was happy enough to have an excuse to skip my workout, not least because it had not only been an aggressive ride home, it had also been windy as Hell.  Between that and a full work week—my first of the new year—I was tired as all-get-out.  In fact, I couldn’t even muster the energy to watch TV after dinner on Friday night.  Once the kids were in bed, I promptly fell asleep on the couch.

It was a good thing, too.  Our crazy dog woke me up at 3 am on Saturday morning, and as you might’ve read in my Insomnia post, I never made it back to sleep.


But, y’know, Saturday wasn’t a bad day or anything.  With the early start, I got a heck of a lot done, all of it geeky.  I wrote that blog post, planned out the next month or so of Sellswords of Luskan, designed a few monsters for that same game, redesigned and simplified the look of this blog, got breakfast ready for the girls and then cleaned up the kitchen while Sally took the dog for a (much needed) walk, and basically puttered around drinking coffee until I felt half-way human.  By 11:15, Sally was back, and I was going a little stir-crazy.

Sally encouraged me to go to yoga class.

I’ll tell you, I love yoga.  Sometimes it seems like my mind races non-stop, all the time, but nothing in this world clears it like yoga does.  Anyway, I wasn’t expecting too much out of this particular class, but it turned out to be a good one.  Intense.  The instructor was a maybe 55-year-old dude, wearing a pair of dirty old grey sweat pants and a cut-off tank top.  Long stringy hair that looked like it came off a used mop.  He warmed us up slowly, focusing mostly on the lower back and hamstrings—two serious problem areas for me.  I enjoyed that part of it.  But then he uncorked a LOOOOOONG series of quad exercises—Warrior IWarrior 2, straight-up squats to a standing Mountain with arms raised, etc—that, along with the burn from Friday afternoon’s climbing, left me quivering like jello.  Somewhere in there he started adding twists, until we got all the way up to the Bird of Paradise, which, trust me, was a Hell of a lot more intimidating in person than it looks in a picture.  I mean, you expect something like Bird of Paradise out of a 92-pound Chinese acrobat.  Seeing it from a 55-year-old dude with stringy hair and dirty sweats is a whole ‘nother thing entirely.  Needless to say, after that I started taking the class a little more seriously. 

Heh.  My right oblique is so sore right now it feels like somebody punched me in the kidney. 

We finished class, and I headed into the gym to lift weights.  Did chest, shoulders, and tri’s and pushed a little harder than I have the past few weeks.  I took the last year or so off from weights to focus on swimming and on endurance racing in general, but then Sally decided that my arms had gotten too skinny.  So this is maybe my fourth week back, and I’m only just starting to get back to something like full-speed in the weight room.  Still, it’s been tough to find motivation.  Weight-lifting is a great fit with yoga, but it doesn’t help my running any, and any extra weight I gain actively hurts my riding.

Ah… the things we do for love.

Got home Saturday afternoon and made some lunch.  Sally and the girls had gone to see Pinkalicious at the local cabaret, so I had the place to myself.  I ate, showered, and started ironing.  ‘Course the girls got home as soon as I actually got the ironing board set up and put Camelot on the TV via Netflix, but I’m not convinced that that was some great loss.  I wound up watching The Finder.

Saturday night was dull.  We had dinner, and then Sally went out with some of her friends.  I gave the girls a bath and put them to bed and then finished watching my episode of Camelot.  Then I went to bed—at 9pm.  And slept like a baby.

Spider-Man 677: Quite a cool read.
Sunday was the better day.  Sally’s mom came over in the morning to watch the girls while Sally and I went for a run-date.  Personally, I would’ve preferred to do a simple Long Slow Distance run, but since we’re doing the YMCA Sweetheart Race in Stratford in two weeks, and the course is really hilly, Sally talked me into previewing it Sunday morning.  I ended up working the hills, so that it became a kind of intense tempo run instead of the easy, breezy affair we’d planned.  Afterwards, we came home and made brunch, and then I threw the kids out for awhile.  Sunday was beautiful but a little windy, and the girls were badly in need of some fresh air.  And having them out of the house offered some other benefits.  Anyway, after that, I cleaned up the kitchen, collected the kids, and the three of us went to the comic book store and the local library.  I picked up the latest two issues of the Amazing Spider-Man, the new Batman, the last issue of Conan: Road of Kings and the first issue of King Conan, and a couple of others.  Meanwhile, my girls got Scooby DooYoung JusticeStrawberry Shortcake, and the new Super Dinosaur.  Of those, my recommendations are Amazing Spider-Man and Super Dinosaur.  On Spider-Man, writer Dan Slott put out my absolute favorite single-issue of 2011 in issue 676, and he’s been running hot ever since.  Super Dinosaur, meanwhile, is written by Robert Kirkman, the guy who created The Walking Dead, which is now a hit series with rave reviews on cable TV.  It’s awesomely wacky stuff.

Sunday afternoon, the girls and I caught up on the Thundercats via IO On-Demand, and I started ironing again.  Yeah, it was a lot of ironing, but now the girls and I have clothes for the next week or so, and I have a few extra shirts and whatnot in case next weekend is actually busy.  Still, once the Thundercats finished, TV was an utter wasteland.  I tried to get into the Winter X Games but found it unwatchable.  Eventually I settled on the Lingerie Football League’s playoffs, but even that was only interesting by comparison.  I found myself wondering how those poor girls avoided getting rug burn from the Astroturf.

Sunday night we had salmon and brown rice, and for dessert, we had the last of the pink cupcakes Sally made for Pinkalicious.  And they were.  Pinkalicious, I mean.  Then we sent the girls to bed and sat down together for awhile before heading up ourselves.  All told, it was a nice day, and I really enjoyed it.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bronx Angel: Born Leader (Cover)

This is the cover to Bronx Angel: Born Leader, the 14-page #0 issue I wrote as a prequel to the original graphic novel Politics By Another Method.

My friend Joel Klampert, owner of Rood Graphics, put this together for me, and at the time it came out, it was a little controversial among my circle of small-press friends.  At that time, most of those guys had only read the script for Born Leader, and they (understandably) thought the larger book was going to be a war story.  So why is there a guy in a ski mask on the cover?  Joel, on the other hand, had read the full 135-page script and had then drawn a cover that was appropriate to the story as a whole.  Much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued.

Anyway, I like this cover because all that chrome is just a little ghetto-fabulous, and that's very much the motif I was looking for here.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure the whole book came out that way, but we can talk about that a little more next week.

Saturday, January 28, 2012


It's four o'clock in the morning on a fucking Saturday, and I can't fucking sleep.  My wife woke me up, and then my dog started going crazy downstairs--turns out she had to pee--so, I let her out, and an hour later, there I was, still rolling around in bed, letting my thoughts chase each other through the empty spaces of my mind.  The NAACP had it right: "The mind is a terrible thing."  So after an hour or so, I decided I ought to get up and set pen to paper--metaphorically speaking--and see if maybe that won't help the situation.

So here's what I was thinking.  I started thinking that I should get an ISBN number for Bronx Angel and put it up as like a $3 e-book on Amazon.com.  Granted, that doesn't seem revolutionary or anything now, but at the time I wrote the book, there was no such thing as e-readers, and even afterwards when I really wanted to do digital distribution, the information infrastructure just wasn't built out yet.  I mean, I always thought Proletariat Comics would succeed mostly via electronic media, but at the time, the world wasn't ready.  Amazon was still something like four years from putting out the Kindle.  We published an online-only magazine back in like 2006, but we did it via PDF because that was pretty much the only way to do it, and folks complained (endlessly) that they didn't want to read it off their computer screens.  Couldn't we put it out via print-on-demand or something?


I called it Proletariat Comics because I wanted it to be revolutionary.  "Experimental Creators, Revolutionary Comics."  That was me.  We had an official No Superheroes Policy.

I wanted to publish different kinds of stories by different kinds of artists, and I wanted to take submissions, and I wanted to take them seriously.  I wanted to stretch the conversation, to change it, to make it bigger.  After a while, it became clear that Horizons Magazine (our quarterly) was the best way to do that, but although we managed to put the thing together and even to find some advertisers for it, the distribution system simply wasn't there.  Apple hadn't even put out the iPod with the wheel yet.  Comixology was still YEARS off into the future.  A pad was something women bought when they were menstruating.

In any event, Sally and I ended up having a terrible house flood back in 2007, and suddenly the money that we were pumping into Proletariat Comics needed to go into repairing and restoring our basement.  I talked to my partner Jerry and then closed the company unilaterally, and now, well, these are the thoughts that keep me awake at night.  Digital comics distribution and the fact that my book has now been languishing on WOWIO for something like four years.

At the time, WOWIO was a good deal.  It was free and completely ad-supported, and they paid you a royalty based on the number of downloads you got each month.  I made several hundred dollars that way my first year and was more than happy with it.  Anybody who was interested in it could read my book, and I got paid a little each time.  Who could want more?

Sadly that system came to an end, and here we are.  I should really put my book on Amazon.  Or something.  Not necessarily because I think so many folks are gonna go buy it--I know that they aren't--but because it should at least be available.

Or, you know, I could just put it up here.  I could run it as a webcomic right here on the blog.  That way it might get read, right?  By folks who're interested.  Isn't that the point?

So I spun that around in my mind, started thinking about how I could run a little commentary on each page as I ran it, and gradually... well, you can see where this is going, right?

I'm going to call it the Sunday Comics.  I'll run a page every week with a little commentary, starting tomorrow.

And now maybe I can get some sleep.  What'd'ya say?

Friday, January 27, 2012

A New Hope

It’s been awhile, right?

Yeah, I know.  I got kind of bored with the old blog, which started out as an idea about DMing for online Play-by-Post (PbP) role-playing games but then gradually segued into a continual running commentary about my career as an amateur triathlete.  No real harm there, save that the name, Storyteller’s Playbook, was a little misleading.  Having already been through that with Proletariat Comics, I decided to do what I should have done the first time with PC LLC—just let the old idea go and re-brand myself. 

Yeah, I know.  You hate to give up that hard-earned branding, for whatever it’s worth.  I know I do.  I certainly did with PC LLC.  And at a certain point, Storyteller’s Playbook did actually have a few readers.  I can only imagine that some few of them—not the smarter few, certainly, but some—are still checking in over there every day, wondering what in the Hell ever happened to me. 

That image makes me smile.

But seriously.  Nobody’s reading this thing, right?  I mean, come on, there are stats.  I know that that’s true.  This is basically just my online diary.  And that works.  I mean, if anything, it’s better.  God knows that half of what I write tends to convince people that I’m a Communist, and the other half seems to make them wonder if I’m somehow coming unglued.  Like, whatever happened to that guy?  Didn’t his parents die?  Losing his faith, too?  Is he okay?  I mean, he used to be, y’know, sort’a normal.  Right?  Didn’t he?

And if that’s the way it’s gonna be, then maybe fewer readers is actually BETTER.  Right?

Eh.  Fuck that.  Who wants fewer readers?

Still, if you don’t know me personally—or maybe even if you do—I can see why it might seem like I’m the hardest guy in the world to understand.  I get it.  Sometimes I feel like I’m completely out of step witheveryone.  And I don’t know what to do about it.  I don’t particularly like it like that, but I also don’t particularly want to change.  For the most part, despite everything, life is good.  I’m mostly happy.  Why does it have to be me that’s out of step?  Why can’t the rest of the world just realize that they’re the ones who’re wrong?


Look, I don’t just think, I actually KNOW that John Huntsman was the best fucking candidate for the Republican nomination.  And if that doesn’t explain the problem, then I don’t know what else will.

Still, I get it.  Extroverted people think that introverted people lack self-esteem.  Partiers think that dedicated triathletes are insane prudes who don’t know how to have a good time.  And everyone thinks that dudes who play D&D are total nerds.  But. Y’know, sometimes being introverted means that when someone else has a problem with you, it’s their problem.  That can be off-putting to the outgoing but insecure, but it doesn’t change the essential fact that it’s still true.  And sometimes—most times—a triathlete is just a guy who happens to get off more on exercise than alcohol.  And, well, sometimes an arch-Dungeon Master is just a guy who used to write comic books but got frustrated with it, who then decided to take his writing itch out on the captive audience of his online gaming group.  ‘Course that doesn’t mean that I’m not still a big geek, but you know, I think it’s just all about context.

So anyway, here we are.  I’m winding up one of my games—it just wasn’t working for me—and looking for something new.  And somewhere along the way, I realized that, hey, I’m still getting between three and five requests for comic reviews every week.   So I thought about taking that and either going back to Paperback Reader or looking for some new review site and writing for them, but as a proud graduate Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business, I just can’t bring myself to give it away.  I just can’t write for somebody else’s site without getting paid at least something.  I can’t help thinking that at the end of the day, you’re better off working in total obscurity than you are writing for something like HuffPo, where Ariana Huffington makes millions but all the contributors who actually generated content for her site get left completely out in the cold.  That’s not at all what I want.  I mean, yeah, I know that sites like Paperback Reader and Major Spoilers don’t really generate much in the way of revenues after costs, but I don’t care.  I’m not a charity.  I’d still rather waste my time on a blog that’s totally obscure but wholly mine than get more readership but work towards an end in which I have no vested interest whatsoever.

I don’t know what else to say about it. 

This is my blog.  Welcome.  I hope you’ll come back.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 New Year's Letter

Dear Friends,
     Happy New Year!  I hope this note finds you happy and healthy this holiday season, and I hope you don’t mind that our card’s are a little late.  A lot happened in 2011, and I’ve struggled for the past two weeks or more in trying to figure out how to frame it all.  But I guess there’s no way to say it besides just saying it, so here goes…
     More than ever, 2011 was a year of love and loss for our family.  My mother passed in April this year, and my grandfather followed her in August, leaving me alone save for Sally and the girls.  It’s been a disorienting experience.  These last few years had been tough for my mother, and though I know she’d overcome a lot, I also know that the last year especially was worse than ever.  I miss my mother, but I can honestly say that I’m glad that she’s finally found the peace that she craved so desperately these past few years.  My grandfather’s passing was more sudden, especially given that I’d spent so much time at his house lately because of my mother’s long illnesses and frequent hospitalizations.  But Pa Pa Dan lived a tremendously full life in his 87 years, and I know that he would be the first to say it.  Still, I miss him.  He was oftentimes the touchstone in my life, the only constant thing in a world that for me was constantly changing.  If you’ve ever been in a military family, you’ll know what that’s worth.
     Still, I wouldn’t call 2011 a bad year.  Not at all.  True, we grieved.  But we also lived, and I think we lived well.  Sally and I ran a 10K, a pair of triathlons, and a half-marathon together.  We took the kids on vacation to Maine’s Acadia National Park and bought season passes to Six Flags.  We watched Hannah sing in front of an audience for the first time at her school’s talent show—and watched as she brought the house down!  We did swimming lessons and school assignments, work-stuff and play-stuff… all the things that go into making a life.  For me, I lost myself in triathlon when I had to and let myself grow as a father and as an engineer when I had the opportunity.  It helps to have a wife who’s an athlete in her own right, who understands that sometimes there’s no better therapy than a few hours spent on a bicycle.
     Of course, Sally and the kids had plenty going on, too.  Sally worked at our church, worked with developmentally delayed children in inner-city Bridgeport and New Haven, and taught art through Stratford’s recreation department and our town’s library.  She also continued on as the leader of Hannah’s Girl Scout troop, served on the town’s literacy council and with the PTA, and volunteered occasionally at the school.  Heck, Sally got so busy that at times I’m not sure if she knew whether she was coming or going.  Hannah and Emma, meanwhile, took swimming lessons and gymnastics, read dozens of books apiece, and sang and danced their hearts out.  For Hannah, 3rd Grade has meant a move to a new school, a lot of new friends, and some exciting new opportunities.  For Emma, being in 1st Grade has meant her first year of full-day school, continuing in Daisy Girl Scouts, and a real awakening to her own interests and friendships outside of our immediate family.
     As 2011 comes to a close, I find myself looking back to remember the family that I’ve lost but also looking forward in anticipation of what comes next.  2012 is going to be a great year, and I look forward to spending it with my family and with you.
                                                Dan, Sally, Hannah, & Emma