Author Archives: S.

Right now in pop culture

A few impressions from having too much time on my hands:

I am really looking forward to the Winter is Coming series on HBO.  The previews have been fantastic, and even though Sean Bean is a good 15 years older than the role he portrays…it’s Sean Bean.  If you want noble + troubled in fantasy, he is a go-to guy.  The rest of the cast as seen in the previews seems fine, if a little too clean and pretty for the grimdarkgrim world George R.R. Martin created.

Having now seen both The Adjustment Bureau and Source Code, I am reminded that the hardest thing a science fiction film can do is nail the ending.  Both of these decent science fiction movies fall short in that department, and though Source Code is a superior movie in acting, directing, pacing & all the rest, the second of its two supposed endings is SO weak that it cast a pall over the rest of the movie that I had previously enjoyed a great deal.  Boo!  I like a twist now and then, but really, stop writing kooky endings that invalidate the entire emotional premise of the rest of the movie.

I have read about a third of Patrick Rothfuss’s immediate bestseller The Wise Man’s Fear, and so far it’s enjoyable, if not as “squeeee” as the first book in his Kingkiller series.  The university bits have a sort of puckish Harry Potter vibe to go with the carousing and magical exposition, and while I’m enjoying it, it’s starting to feel more weighty and less downright entertaining than the last book.  That said, Rothfuss can actually write funny, and for epic, high-faluting fantasy, that’s fairly rare.

Something else I’ve been enjoying:  Michael Stackpole’s At the Queen’s Command, his fantasy retelling of The Last of the Mohicans and assorted other colonial novels and sources.  It’s an alternate French & Indian war with dragons and magick gunpowder, and while the characterization is SO broad (no old country person can do right, though at least a few new country people seem capable of doing wrong), it’s an entertaining treatment of a historical period I’ve always found fascinating.

The many faces of D&D

Friends and I were talking on Facebook recently about the types of characters we tend to play, and I can sum it up very easily (at least in 4th Ed. D&D):


Not “hey guys follow me come here do this!” but the very specific healer/buffer role in a party. My goal is to have one of every leader class, but oy. I only have so much time. Here are my current incarnations, both in LFR (Living Forgotten Realms) and a home game:

Faral – lvl 16 Valorous half-elf bard. Roleplay-wise, she desperately wants to be a trophy wife. She’s gorgeous, avaricious, neutral, urban. She has no interest in woodlands and wilderness; she just desperately wants to be a noble. I tend to play her more in home games / online than at cons, since I downplay her roleplay considerably in a con setting. One or two instances of “duh, what other sort of woman IS there” asshattery made me “meh” about setting free my inner farcical money-grubber.

Laela – lvl 11 healy mchealerbot elf cleric. She’s the emotional successor to Laelin, the elven cleric and Melora-worshiper I played in a home game for a couple of years. Laela is the LFR version, with a bow and a darker side, so she worships Sehanie, waxes rhapsodic about the moon, and shoots a silvery bow rather than diplomacize with everyone she meets.

Ensa – lvl 9 Inspiring tiefling warlock. I love tieflings. I love them so. Ensa is (due to an early module she played) an assistant professor of Tiefling Studies at a posh Cormyr boarding school. She teaches the young nobles of the land tiefling cultural awareness and basic “do not automatically kill X race because it is X race.” After the events of the Battle Interactive, she opened a Tiefling Cultural Center in Elturel.

Gurdis – lvl 5 healy mchealerson dwarf shaman. She’s loud and drunken and likes the more raucous spirits. She’s entered into courting negotiations with a much more upright/proper dwarf; who knows if they’ll EVER be married. Her spirit animal is the spirit of her deceased werebear uncle. They’re very close.

Mary – lvl 5 healy mchealberry changeling ardent. Ardent, I’ll admit, is boring the bejesus out of me, even though it’s effective. Mary grew up at the fringes of Aglarond, in a family of changelings who have appeared as elves for generations. Her fondest wish, and greatest hope, is to become a Real Elf someday.

Callie – lvl 3 shadowydeathdeath halfling assassin. My one striker! She’s a dance-hall girl on a riverboat; she wears nothing but pink and white, has blonde ringlets, and an infectious giggle. She also gave part of herself to Shadow in exchange for escaping from her powerful Amn-based halfling thief clan. She’s really not that unhappy about the Shadow thing. She carries a whip everywhere.


And in my home game! Lily, the lvl 11 longtooth shifter runepriest, is a feral, snuggly, Melora-worshiping, buff-granting, gorge-jumping, tree-climbing beast. I’m loving it.


Farewell, Frank Frazetta!  One of the coolest things I helped curate at the museum where I used to work was your Conan redrawn on the side of a B-52 (among many other excellent examples of post-World War II aircraft nose art).  I loved your art when I was young.


This recipe for sausage bread pudding is faaaar better than the last one Bryant and I tried. It’s chicken sausage rather than chorizo, so the texture is far more restrained. And I substituted like crazy: spicy andouille chicken sausage instead of quasi-Mediterranean, spinach instead of arugula, leftover brussels sprouts instead of artichoke hearts.  But the texture was right – crusty cheddar cheese over custardy vegetables and bread and meat, and we devoured the thing.  Muuuch better than the viscerally disturbing chorizo-bomb we tried a while back.

Also, I have now made lasanga, and it did not suck.  I’ve become a huge fan of recipes out of Eating Well magazine; they seem to really straddle the line between “sorta healthy” and “ugh it’s made entirely out of tempeh and will suck.”  I’ll never subscribe to the magazine; I don’t like constant constant diet articles.  But I recommend their recipes.  Yum.

Enchantment? Enchantment!

This is my obligatory Dragon Age post.

Summary:  I like it a lot.  I’m playing it on “easy” mode, which I’m so glad even exists, because in RPGs, especially well-written ones like this one, I concentrate on story, not gameplay.  And while gameplay here is fun, and fascinating, and I love the ability to take a tactical “time out” and queue actions for my whole party, the story is what keeps me hooked.

And, big spoilers ahead!  Be aware!

Life in Ferelden just sucks.  Up to thirty years ago, the country was subjugated under the rule of neighboring Orlais.  Before that, there was a demonic Blight that only the world’s special demon-hunters were able to take on:  the Grey Wardens, mythical warriors able to call on allies in time of need.  Now, due to a really interesting origin story (there are six possible), a pretty difficult test, and a pretty hairy ritual, you’re one of these mythical warriors.  Your mission remains the same as it has always been for Grey Wardens:  you rid the world of the Blight, through whatever means you consider palatable.  And life just keeps getting suckier.

A few criticisms.  A friend rightly snarked the game as being sort of “deliberately edgy” in its marketing, and boy, that’s true.  I saw a few commercials and hardly thought they went with the same game.  Don’t get me wrong, DA has a lot of pyrrhic victories and impossible choices you nevertheless have to make.  But the game itself doesn’t scream violence! sex! violence! sex!  Those are huge parts of the game, but not to the obnoxiously “hurrr, look, we have nookie cutscenes” the advertising seems to imply.

The blood and gore:  yeah, there’s a ton of it.  I’ve read (and made) a lot of snark about how if a character so much as looks at a bad thing, they’re suddenly drenched head to toe in blood, and then, by the next cutscene, it’s gone.  I hear there are ways to tone down the gore (my current character, a human rogue, seems to decapitate people a LOT), but I haven’t investigated them.

Moving on to what’s fun:  okay, my boyfriend keeps saying that after this, he’s going to start buying me dating sims.  The opportunities for “romance” in the game are numerous, and my character (and her player) are having an absolute ball trying to curry favor with various members of the party.  Yes, even to the extent that I started the game over when I realized one of my impossible decisions had blocked the way for a future relationship with one of the party members.  Oh Alastair, you befuddled Grey Warden, you.  And, props to Bioware for including romantic options that aren’t heterosexual-only.

I almost never say this in games (except for my beloved Lord of the Rings Online, and well:  duhh.), but I absolutely love DA’s lore.  It’s rich, it turns my particular crank about how religion is handled in fantasy, and it’s remarkably consistent throughout the game.  Since I’m a roleplay nut, my character is – as her status and background would indicate – a dutiful, if not especially pious, worshipper, and she makes decisions and accepts consequences based on that trait.  And it really does make a difference.

Which brings me to my last rave about the game.  Choices have consequences.  I made one choice, early on, on the first character I tried.  It was the right decision given the situation, her fear, her resources.  But as I kept playing and playing, I the player was just so bound up in having made an awful decision that I had a hard time even playing anymore.  It totally haunted my character in-game, affected everyone’s feelings toward her, and had undeniable consequence.  I ended up dumping that char for the aforementioned reasons, but man.  I was in KNOTS about my choices.  The storytelling is really absorbing.

I haven’t tried the downloadable content yet.  Not sure I will on this character.  But I’m excited to see what the scenario builder-type tools are, and I can’t wait to start the game yet AGAIN as a different gender/class/origin mix.  Highly recommended, as long as you don’t mind looking like a vat of ketchup has been upended on your character for 90% of the game.

Hit me again!

I play a lot of 4th Edition D&D, and while I don’t haunt boards or rp sites at all, I do think about all the topics my very forum-happy DM of a boyfriend brings up.  Lately, he’s been doing a lot of 4E defense – saying yes, you can roleplay using that ruleset, yes, you can have involved stories, no, it’s not “just like an MMO” because someone might say “tank” instead of “defender” at the table once in a while.  I’m paraphrasing here, and maybe making some stuff up.

It took me a few sessions in one of my ongoing games to realize how I had to approach roleplay in 4E to make it worthwhile.  This is heavily informed by the aforementioned boyfriend’s brilliant “Roleplaying with Miniatures” article, especially this:  “Step four: make your character do whatever your character would do. Fuck tactics.”  Provocative, yes.  Something to discuss with your other players so you don’t end up with two people in Super ZOMG Tactics Mode and two others running around hitting evil statues on the nose because their characters are “fun.”  There’s a balance to be struck.

I started thinking about mechanical ways to make this part of the game itself, as opposed to a potential social contract that may not work in play.  What I came up with, for lack of a better term, is “chosen limitations.”  Detriments, challenges, etc.  Everyone in the party chooses something – some facet of tactical play – to be a limitation in combat.

Choose it right at the beginning.  Make it an explicit part of character creation.  Have a pretty strong vision of what these limitations might be.  You don’t want it to be like a Secret Santa exchange at the office, where everyone spends $5 and That One Guy spends $30.  In the same vein, you don’t want lots of little limitations and then the guy who says “I wear an eyepatch on my left eye, so if a bad guy hits me from the left, I’m automatically dazed!”  Too big.

I’ve only used this in practice once, and I don’t even know if it was noticeable to the other players.  It’s a 4E game in a rich, fascinating setting (a shout out to Metrocalypse here), and our characters are folks who were in Oxford, England in 1605 who woke up to a radically changed world.  My character is a fairly young woman who went from her father’s care to her husband’s.  She’s all of 19, the world is a wreck, and now she’s fighting giant ants and explaining religion to bullywugs.  Neat rp!  But how to reflect that in combat to keep my interest going?  I decided:  she will cling to the strong men in her company, as she’s always clung to father and husband.  Cecily will never be further than two squares away from one of the male characters.  Ever.  If pushed to a square further away, her first action will be to return to that range.

It’s just a tiny little consideration that I can set alongside all the other tactical decisions I make in play, but this one ties into who she is as character, not who she is as class.  And how about a halfling who can’t swim?  A half-elf who was a captive as a youth, and who will automatically react violently if shoved into small spaces?  A character who has fallen in love with another character, and will always see to that character’s health before anything else?  Make it a tactical challenge, decided upon with the DM.  Choose to share it with the other players, or keep it a cool secret to figure out in play.

Really, this is what I love about 4E.  I don’t see it as limiting; I see it as an incredibly easy and expansive framework.  And making your character’s life harder is fun!

Smoke alarm, my one nemesis.

Autumn makes me want to cook.  It’s my favorite season, even though it now coincides with the most awful event of my life, and those things combined are making me want to spend hours and hours cooking up comfort food for the masses.  And I do mean for the masses.  My happiest cooking experience of the last few months was making ropa vieja for a gaming group, and the minute more gamers come to the house, I’m cooking for them TOO.

And, since I haven’t posted here for a month, I get to talk about all the food at once.

1. Ropa vieja in a crockpot.  It’s not hard.

It’s flank steak, and peppers, and tomatoes and aromatics, a few spices, some vinegar, and a whole lot of time.  I let it cook on high for about six hours.  I’d post a definitive recipe, but I cooked it like I usually cook new things:  look up about five different recipes, check the pantry, check the fridge, figure out a few adjustments when we invariably don’t have something, and make.  Here’s one recipe, and another, and another.  I used sherry vinegar instead of red wine vinegar/Worchestershire, and a ton of red peppers because I loathe green ones.

Were I to make it again, I’d serve it over rice, but we put it in tortillas for the gaming group, and they ate a LOT.  Success!

2. Roasted vegetable soup.  Also not hard.

I had a ton of root vegetables sitting around:  acorn squash, delicata squash, sweet potatoes, carrots.  Plus some red peppers.  And I find most mashed starchy things way too heavy and bleh, and I love the roasted vegetables served in the Whole Foods salad bar (nom nom nom), so I channeled my inner Barefoot Contessa and roasted up the whole pile.  Two realllly laden pans of chopped up vegetables, some oil, some salt, some pepper.  Really high heat, 20 minutes.  Two trips to the smoke alarm to take out the battery.

I took the whole mass of roasted stuff out, pureed it in the blender with a bunch of good boxed chicken stock, and shoved it in a bowl in the fridge for two days while we instead went out for crabcakes.  Then!  I heated it up with more stock, a crapton of garlic, some thyme.  Simple, really, and by far the best soup I’ve ever made.

When I served it, I topped it with diced Canadian turkey bacon and a bit of fresh spinach sauteed with onion and garlic.  Seriously.  This was good food.  Rave reviews.

3.  Chorizo bread pudding.  Eh.

Bryant had this at work.  He liked it!  He found this blog post and thought we should give it a whirl.  I love it when we cook together, so yay, fun!

Issue #1:  dried chorizo (as the recipe calls for) is not the same as chorizo in the casing that you split open.  The chorizo in the casing is, as Bryant put it, “wow, that’s PRIMAL.”  I left the room.  He cooked the sausage.  I returned eventually.

Issue #2:  We have a REALLY sensitive smoke alarm.

Issue #3:  He forgot the eggs.

Issue #4:  I forgot the tomatoes.

So we pulled the thing out of the oven about 2 seconds after we’d shoved it in, added eggs and tomatoes to the casserole dish, stirred like crazy, shrugged, shoved it back in the oven, and waited.

It came out…rich.  Very rich.  Too rich for me, really.  I could do this again – with chopped up slices of dried sausage, perhaps – for a breakfast side dish.  As an entree?  No.  The consistency was good, the spices were dead-on, and even the PRIMAL chorizo was delicious.  But the overall thing was just too heavy for me to handle.  Then again, Bryant loved it and ate it not only that night, but for breakfast for the next two days.  So:  semi-success!

A few pop culture notes.

FlashForward, you have exactly one night – tonight – in which to not suck.  We’re giving you this chance because we like Jack Davenport.  If you blow it tonight, if you spend half the show rehashing the last two shows, we’re done.

So You Think You Can Dance Season 6, you had it against Ryan from the start.  Yes, he danced stiffly.  Ding him on that.  Get rid of him, sure.  But the snarky “Maybe you spent too much time in the studio and not enough time practicing” (I paraphrase) was just egregious.  Yes, he helped get Evan a ton of votes.  But jeez.  Otherwise, I have to say I’m looking forward to the season – lotta great dancers out there!

Top Chef, I have stopped buying you on iTunes because the last three times I watched it were just the snarkiest things ever.  If I wanted to listen to an hour of guys giving opinions of themselves and other guys, I’d…you know, talk radio.  Something like that.  I’m in it for the cooking.

Fringe, you are smart to give me more Spock tonight.  Yay!

Criminal Minds, I haven’t watched last night’s episode yet.  But wow, I heard it was good.