Friday, July 11, 2014

Five Things: It’s Here!

Another hodgepodge this week.  It's stuff that I find interesting, but your mileage may vary.

1.  D&D’s New Edition
The new edition of Dungeons and Dragons is here, and for what it’s worth, I like it.  My favorite write-up on the subject came from Harbinger of Doom (it’s in two parts, here and here), but briefly, there were several things that I thought were noteworthy.

 -- The entire edition is built to bring in new Players.  The Basic Game, the thing that was released as a free online PDF on July 3rd, is specifically built as a stripped-down version of D&D.  It’s easy to learn, and it’s easy to play, and there are only so many up-front choices for novice Players to make before they get into actual gaming.  As a guy who’s been working to introduce his kids to the game, I really, really appreciate that aspect of the design.
  -- They did a nice job laying out Backgrounds and Personality Traits.  These may not have a huge impact on the game’s mechanics, but they help flesh out Players’ character concepts, and that’s important for novice players.  They also updated the Skills component of each Background to make them a lot more flexible.  It used to be that you had to have a Thief in the party just so you had someone who could pick locks inside a dungeon.  Now that’s no longer mandatory because you can have a Character of any class with the Criminal background, and that will give you access to the various skills you need to at least open locked doors and disarm traps.  That Character may not be a specialist, but so what?  With the current rules, everyone gets to be who they want to be.
 -- The game is imminently expandable.  What they released last week was the barest of the bare bones.  From here, they have worlds of content to release, including new campaign settings, a thousand, thousand different ways to update your characters, and volumes of new adventures for gaming groups to explore together.
The problem with this is that after a few years, they will have expanded the logical rules-structure of the game about as far as it will go.  We saw this with D&D’s Fourth Edition.  When 4e debuted, it was an exciting new world, and it had a lot of innovations, and that was great.  But it took Wizards of the Coast (WotC) less than five years to re-release all of their campaign settings and three separate versions of the various core rulebooks, and then the game was bloated.  
Don’t get me wrong; all of those various options were great, but they were also labyrinthine and overwhelming, and Players almost had to use WotC’s online database to keep all of their options straight.  From a business perspective, this is good if what you’re really trying to sell are subscriptions to online content.  However, I don’t think this is what WotC is really trying to do.
Last time around, I got the feeling that Paragon Paths were the part of the game that was meant to be infinitely expansible.  This was problematic, though, because the game’s combat engine bogged down in the Paragon Tier of play.  By that point, the Player-Characters (PCs) and monsters both had so many powers and means of affecting areas of terrain and each other that keeping all the effects straight was a nightmare.  WotC had to come up with a new infinitely expansible part of the game—this turned out to be Themes—and again that was great, but it was also kind of a radical design change that came some four-plus years into 4e’s existence.  
This time around, there are more infinitely-expansible parts of the game, and they come earlier on in a PC’s adventuring life.  For one thing, there are Backgrounds, which can pretty much encompass anything, and that leaves a lot of room for future published material.  On top of that, there are potentially infinite sub-classes of each primary class, and these too could go on and on and on.  One can imagine entire books with nothing but Backgrounds and new sub-classes, and I bet those’d be hot sellers.
Still, if this new edition is really and truly going to be the last, best edition of D&D, then the future of the game depends on WotC’s being able to sell adventures to its audience.  That’s not a bad way to go since it is essentially selling stories using existing content, but in the past, it’s been a hard sell.  To change that WotC has started making each discrete adventure supplement a fully self-contained game all on its own, and that’s probably a step in the right direction, but it’s still an untried experiment.  I’ll be interested to see how well it works.
2.  New Robert Galbraith novel
New book!
I realize that J.K. Rowling hardly needs more of my money, but I loved her last Robert Galbraith novel, and I can’t wait to read this one.  I’m definitely taking it with me to Maine next month.
3.  Extended trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy

My favorite thing by far about that trailer is the use of “Cherry Bomb” by The Runaways.  It gives the whole movie a kind of retro-Sci Fi space opera feel that’s really working for me.

I heard a story on NPR on Tuesday that all but convinced me that we’re in for a long, bubblicious ride up in the financial markets, followed by another 2008-style crash-type crisis immediately thereafter.  To be clear, the commentators didn’t necessarily think another bubble/crash was inevitable, but people being what they are, that’s what I’m expecting.
The markets are up something like 30% over the last year, but growth last quarter was actually negative, and annually speaking, the economy has grown at something like 2.5%—at best—over that same time period.  Now maybe some of that asset price growth is down to stocks being undervalued since 2008, but 30% is still a much bigger number than 2.5%, even year-on-year since 2008 when we consider that some of those quarters saw negative growth.
So what’s happening?
Asset price growth is being driven by the global money supply.  Central banks around the world have been printing money as fast as they can run the presses in order to stimulate growth, but because of the global financial system’s current market structure, much of that printed paper has wound up in the hands of the investor classes.  This has kept day-to-day price inflation in check for consumers, but it’s driven up the costs of assets, i.e. stocks and bonds, and reduced interest rates.  Investors are doing whatever they can to get something out of their money, and it’s driving returns down and cheapening the cost of risk.  This is how bubbles start.
Cooler heads could prevail.  The economy is growing again, at least in the U.S., and it’s possible that we’ll “grow into these valuations” as the commentator on Marketplace said.  That could happen.  I don’t know that I think it’s likely, and even that best-case scenario assumes current prices are over-valued right now, but the doomsday scenario is not a foregone conclusion.  Still, it looks like the real economy is only starting to pick up, and with most price inflation stuck in capital assets, it’s liable to be five full years before the masses realize how expensive houses and the like have become.  That’s kind of what we had in 2008, and if you ask me, that’s where we’re headed once again.
5.  Arthritis
I’ve known for years that there would come a day when I could no longer run.  I’ve struggled with knee and ankle problems since I was a first lieutenant, but I’ve always been able to work through them with rest and lots of stretching.  But I think the end is finally in sight.  I ran Wednesday for the first time in weeks, and while the run itself went okay, I woke up Thursday morning, and my ankle was so sore that I could hardly put weight on it.  I had to work my way down the stairs mostly using my arms, and even after that, it took a good quarter of an hour before I could walk normally.
Wednesday’s run wasn’t a killer.  I ran 3.7 miles at an 8:20 average pace.  My first mile was a little faster than I meant for it to be, but after that, I forced myself to slow down and ran comfortably.  Thursday morning’s pain was so intense, though, that it made me fear for the future.  If I really have damaged the cartilage in my right ankle, continuing to run on it is only going to make my supposed “golden” years that much more painful.
I’m trying to tell myself that it’s not the end of the world, that I’m swimming well and I’m riding well, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  However, I like running, and more to the point, you can’t finish a triathlon without running that third leg.  Granted, I could do aqua-bike competitions, but that doesn’t quite command the same level of prestige, y’know?
I can accept that I will never run a marathon, but I would like to run a few more halfs.  The half-marathon is a good distance for me, and that level of training—averaging between an hour and an hour-and-a-half per long workout—is right in my wheelhouse.  It won’t be worth it if it leaves me walking with a cane before I’m sixty, though.
That’s all I’ve got.  I’d planned to do a swim/run brick for tomorrow’s Tri Club workout, and I still might, but if that one leaves me so sore that I can’t walk—again—that’ll be the end of my running work for the season.  I may do one more tri, but I won’t be training for the run; I’ll just gut it out when race day comes.
I’ve always wanted to do the Gran Fondo New York, and now I suppose I have a reason to train for it.  I’d prefer to run the Hartford Half-Marathon, but what can you do?


  1. Here's hoping you find a way to work around the ankle pain... not that I have any suggestions.

  2. Thanks Axel. We're gonna run today, and God willing, it'll go okay. If there's damage, though, I don't plan to keep pushing it.