Book and game money

I’ve never really made a lot of money, but I’ve also never had to worry about living on the street or being unable to afford food or medicine. I’m blessed in that regard. Still, with my first kid due to make his entrance soon and my wife poised to quit her job, I worry about spending money now.

Luckily, there are plenty of games and books to be had on the cheap these days. If you’re willing to buy used or you can be content playing some indie titles instead of the latest and greatest AAA stuff, there’s a lot of entertainment to be had on a small budget.

Similarly, if you need to generate some pocket change to support such hobbies, there are ways. Some of you may be familiar with /r/Beermoney, a meeting place for all those netizens looking for ways to make a few spare bucks, mostly in their free time or as passive income.

There are services, such as, Perk, Swagbucks, and EarnHoney, that let you “watch” videos and ads to earn pennies, which add up over time and can be redeemed for cash or various gift cards (Amazon is my favorite). I run these from time to time, but they tend to be spotty and dependent on advertiser demand. They’ve also gotten fussier with their rules.

For example, many Swagbucks videos used to let you just keep a browser up on the side, unattended. Now most offers require you to either keep your mouse cursor over the browser (meaning you can’t be doing anything else with your computer) or else require periodic clicking to bring up new videos, which gets tedious fast if you’re trying to play a game or devote your attention to something else.

Lately, I’ve been leaning heavily on studies and surveys. Now, you’ve got to be careful if you decide to take this approach to Beermoneying. Services like Swagbucks will let you take surveys, but whether or not you actually get any payout is a crap shoot. Often the advertisers will trick you into answering 50 questions and then tell you that you didn’t qualify for the survey. “Sorry you spent 15 minutes answering our questions – why not try again?” F you.

My favorite service, at the moment, is (if you decide to sign up, feel free to use my referral link, or not!). Prolific lets you sign up and answer screening questions to see which studies you qualify for. There are several neat things about these studies:

1. They’re academic studies, so you’re helping students and researchers out.

2. If you’re a particularly benevolent soul, you can donate your reward money to charity.

3. The dashboard is useful and study descriptions are more adequate than others I’ve seen. You basically get the study name, the total amount of participant slots and how many are left, the max allowed time, the average time to complete, and payout information.

4. Because they’re designed by different people and systems, you’ll get a fair amount of variety between studies. Sometimes they’re kinda interesting, actually.

There aren’t always a lot of studies available, but I’ve found it really depends on the day. Sometimes you’ll hit the jackpot; this morning I banged out 3 surveys, about 10-15 minutes of my time total, for about $2.50. Not too bad!

Once you hit a certain threshold, you can cash out. Those $5 used books and $10 Steam games are within your grasp!







Suikoden, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, is a JRPG series inspired by one of China’s “Four Great Classical Novels,” Water Margin. From what I know of it, Water Margin tells the tale of 108 outlaw-heroes who form an army to fight against an oppressive government.

Suikoden, likewise, tells the tale of 108 “Stars of Destiny.” In the first installment (PS1), these heroes band together to rebel against a corrupt government and bring about a peaceful new order. As far as JRPGs go, it’s quite a standout. All of these 108 stars can be recruited. Some of them join you automatically as the story advances, but many of them have to be sought out and found, either by completing some task, satisfying some condition, or simply by virtue of having found them in a strange or hidden place. These characters then populate your base. Many of them can join your party and participate in regular battles, some of them will open shops or provide other services, and some will also take part in “army battles.” More on that later.

I’ve played through Suikoden several times, but I had never gotten the “good” ending. That is, there’s a tragedy that occurs at one point in the story, and it can only be rectified by collecting all 108 Stars of Destiny by a certain part of the game. If you miss any recruits, you miss this “good” ending. In addition, the Suikoden series allows you to carry over data from previous games to influence the proceeding installments. Yes, games were doing this before Bioware! If you get the good ending, so much the better for your playthrough of the next game.

Suikoden 2 (PS1, available through the PSN shop) has been sitting on my PS3’s hard drive for a while now, and so a few months ago I decided the time had finally come. I am a big fan of the original, and I’ve read that many people consider 2 to be the peak of the series.

So I played through the first Suikoden again, to get the good ending this time. I’ve actually gotten pretty quick at getting through it. I think I beat it in about a week, and I finally got the optimal outcome (following a recruitment guide very carefully, of course). It’s interesting how successive playthroughs can be fun in different ways. Now that I was very familiar with the story and characters, I found myself swapping more minor characters into my party to try them out in battle. And man – the main character + Kai is a sick combo! They’ve got a team attack that lets them damage all enemies!

Suikoden 2 was next. I beat it a few weeks ago. How did it hold up? I must say, my impressions were mixed. Let me try to break things down a bit.



Ok, Suikoden 2 wins handily here. We’ve still got late SNES/Playstation era sprites going on (which is actually a draw to some of us, but not beloved by everyone), and the CGI cutscenes are pretty terrible. But the character animations are a lot better than Suikoden’s.


I actually thought the original Suikoden’s soundtrack was a lot better than its sequel. This could be because I’ve played it so many times, for sure, but not only do its songs stick in my head, but I always enjoyed listening to them. There’s a good variety of music, and individual tracks fit a variety of moods as needed for any given scene.

Interestingly, some of Suikoden’s tracks struck me as kinda Eastern European-sounding. Not that this is an inherently good or bad thing, just kind of unusual and attractive to me.

Suikoden 2 reuses music from Suikoden, but its arrangements didn’t really impress me. Frankly I just didn’t find its soundtrack as catchy or stirring.


Both games are decent on story, setting up and exploiting conflicts and relationships fairly early on. In Suikoden, there are many smaller stories going on, but the main relational focus is on Tir McDohl (the protagonist) and his father, who is a general for the emperor. Tir’s friendships with the other members (servants? hirelings?) of his household also feature prominently. In Suikoden 2, the focus is on Riou’s relationships with his sister, Nanami, and his best friend, Jowy.

Let’s be honest, neither one of these games is Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. There is political intrigue, betrayal, and the like (not much romance, though, for what that’s worth). The stories move and engage. They are pretty good by JRPG standards, but there are weaknesses for sure. On plot, I favor Suikoden. The story just felt like it flowed better and more naturally. In Suikoden II, I had trouble understanding the motivations of some characters (including the ultimate antagonist). A lot of it seemed to boil down to stupidity, simplicity, or just being evil (which can be okay, but usually evil has some ultimate selfish motive such as power or wealth).


Both games feature three distinct battle systems. In normal fights, you’ve got your party of up to 6 characters. They can attack, use items, use runes to cast magic or employ special attacks, and perform team attacks. In duels, you basically play a rock-paper-scissors in which you can predict the enemy’s attacks based upon what he says between each round. Then there are army battles, which make use of your characters on a grander scale.


I must say I have a clear preference for Suikoden’s army battles. The graphics, music, and system itself (which is basically another rock-paper-scissors but with special units that can be employed to spice things up) were much more enjoyable than the tactics-style army battles of Suikoden II. Suikoden II’s system was close to being fun, but most of the battles don’t even matter – they’re prescripted and your decisions have little impact over whether you win or lose. The battles also drag on longer and feel less satisfying.



Again I prefer Suikoden here, but this isn’t by a huge margin. Both games have some fun characters (I’m sure favorites will vary from person to person). In Suikoden, Mathiu, Pahn, Viktor, Gremio, Valeria, Kasumi, and Krin are among my most liked (some of them are quite minor, but still). In Suikoden II, I was a fan of Eilie and Rina, Shu (who’s basically just Mathiu II), Nanami, Flik and Viktor, and Miklotov. Minus points for Freed – he sucks.

Ah Rina…
Fuck you Freed!

One of the strong points about both games is that of all the recruitable characters that can be placed in your immediate party, there are many viable choices. Sure, as you get toward the end you pick up a few OP individuals who are super strong, but there are plenty of solid choices if you have other preferences. Also the way experience works, it’s a pretty simple/quick matter to catch up characters who are severely under-leveled, if you haven’t used them in a while or ever but want to try them out or use them in a boss fight or something.


I don’t want to say Suikoden is flat-out better than its successor, but I do like it better in most ways. Another thing, neither here nor there, but worth pointing out, is that like many games from Japan, they’ve both got localization issues. And like many games from anywhere, they’ve got glitches. I’ve run into all this stuff. One thing that got to me in Suikoden II wasn’t a glitch but a design flaw. If you import Tir from Suikoden, you can use him, but he isn’t a recruitable Star of Destiny. This means that any time there’s a party shuffle (which is quite often), you lose him and have to go pick him up again. If you could teleport straight to Gregminster this wouldn’t be a big deal, but you have to trek through a long dungeon first. Pain in the ass!

Anyway, I’ve avoided spoilers in the hope that anyone who hasn’t played these games may decide to give them a shot. Suikoden shows its age, but if you’re a fan of SNES and early Playstation RPGs, chances are you’ll really enjoy it. There’s a lot of really cool stuff, like a magical rune that transforms itself into a sentient, vampire-killing sword!


If you do give it a play, feel free to drop a comment to let me know what you think!





Love and hate for Nintendo, plus Ultima pulp

My relationship with Nintendo is akin to that of a spurned lover, or a spiteful once-friend. Back in the days of NES and SNES, Nintendo was my jam. The latter system remains my favorite system of all time, by and large. It was around the time of the GameCube that the company started to lose me, and I was gone with the advent of the Wii. I suppose it was the multiplayification and criminal IP serialization of each successive console that really did it.

SNES has arguably one of the best RPG libraries (or at least boasts the highest quantity of iconic titles) of any console part or present. Plus a mess of cult classics and smash hits of other genres! And yet as generations progressed, Nintendo became mainly the home of Mario (Noun) and Zelda (XXX of YYY), plus random increments of Metroid and smatterings of winners like Boom Blox.

Now I can understand the move to corner the “casual” and “family” segments of the market. It’s been a long time since I had two or three nearby friends to rub together (trouble me not about inappropriate idioms!), so not for me, but I get it. Even then, I remained faithful to Nintendo handhelds. In spirit, the DS was really the successor to the SNES.

But then they started doing stupid shit like region-locking. Granted I’m probably in the minority of consumers who would want to play both English and Japanese games, but now I’d need to buy a separate Japan-region 3DS. Fuck that.

Their official line is some bull-hookey about region-locking making content release more efficient, but lo and behold they followed the pack and did away with the region lock for the Switch. And yet they still refuse to unlock the 3DS (which is software, not hardware locked).

Smoke you, Nintendo!!!

And then came the NES Classic Edition shortages and discontinuation…

My embitterment is well-documented at this point.


Still, we’ll always have SNES, I thought.

Alas, my fond, untainted memories were not to go unmolested. Someone on Twitter (which really ruins everything on so many levels) was waxing nostalgic about Ultima VII not too long ago. “Ultima VII?” I thought to myself. But Ultima VI was the awesome one! Indeed the False Prophet was an amazing game unlike any I’d played before at the time. Not only was the world open, but the main quest was ambiguous. You had to go figure out that crap for yourself.

Thinking back, Ultima was my Elder Scrolls at the time (before knowing of Elder Scrolls). That is, I’d just go wander around the woods killing gnomes and wisps and finding wizard towers to be looted. Sometimes I’d happen upon a cave or tomb with some random magical armor and some serpents or headless dudes to kill. Once in a while I’d run into those badass gargoyles and they’d murder my ass back to Lord British. He sure was swell for res’ing me all those times.

The turn-based combat, the ability to recruit all kinds of random NPCs, the looting and stealing of almost anything that wasn’t nailed down…man, what an awesome game. At the time I hadn’t yet gotten into the world of PC gaming, and the SNES port served me well.

I remember some years later I tried a ROM of the Black Gate and…everything was different. No turn-based combat; simplified inventory; the graphics looked almost worse, and I kept running into monsters in the starting town that would one-shot me. Man, what a bad game.

So I tried it again yesterday. I had a little more patience this time, but my experience went approximately like this — come through moongate and talk to my old buddy Iolo, explore and pick up some items, go into villager’s basement and get almost instantly killed by goblins shooting magic at me. I was then forced to repeat this process twice more, except I was killed by rats in a different basement, and something else on the ground floor of another house that killed me so quickly I was unable to identify it.

Brutal and unfun.

Still, this may partly be the fault of the SNES port!! Apparently the PC version was a bit different. At least it looked different. I can only hope it played differently, too.



Above is the starting spot in the SNES version (top) vs the PC version (below). What gives, right?!

Anyway, apparently this is available on GOG, so I may be buying more games that I don’t have time to play! Yes, “games” plural. I found this cool video about Ultima 7, and the dude mentions two expansion-type games that don’t seem at all like expansions.

He describes Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire and Martian Dreams as weird Ultima VI-engine (!!) installments where you explore strange pulpy worlds rather than Britannia. It’s hard to imagine an Ultima game without Lord British, but I think I could be persuaded to play one set on Mars or in “the savage world of Eodon.”



Lo! It looks like the Avatar has become John Carter of Mars!

So many undiscovered/unplayed gems. I was recently informed of my Sword of Aragon deficiency, too. Eventually, friends. Eventually.




I built a pie

I’ve wanted to build something with Raspberry Pi for a while now. But I never really came across any projects that interested me, and/or I didn’t want to solder stuff. But then Nintendo flipped everyone off with NES Classic Edition, and word is that SNES Classic Edition is now in the works. I’m not holding my breath that supply will be able to meet demand this time.

So F it – I’ll make my own! But better!



I knew the Pi would be a relatively simple and straightforward little gadget to assemble, but dang. It was literally just a few pieces to fit and sometimes snap together.

Look at those cute little heat sinks.

I was surprised by how small this thing is. Fits in the palm of your hand.

So that was easy. Reformatting the microSD card (using the nifty little USB adapter provided in the kit) and loading up an image with the Retropie OS was really the hardest part of “building” it, mostly because there were several steps and a few little utilities to download.


The main hurdle was my display, actually. Damn Insignia TV was overscanning and cutting off the border of the Retropie’s display, and apparently this model has no fit-to-screen or overscan setting to toggle.

So I had to dig into the OS’s config file and play around with the overscan properties – lucky that’s an option! It was a little tricky when the text was cut off at the edge of the screen, but eventually got it sorted. Woot!

Now all that’s left is to load up some roms! Legally, I can only download and play games that I already own. But if I were to download the entire SNES, NES, and Sega libraries and do some sorting, and then select titles from other consoles like Dreamcast, PS, N64, and maybe some arcade games…well, I imagine that would be the most time-consuming piece of this project.

Anyway, it always feels nice to successfully build something. F you, Nintendo.





Mobs vs Monsters: Death of a PC Part 2

Earlier this week I wrote a little about player character death in pen and paper gaming, and how it impedes one from becoming the pulp hero master of all. If you are dead, you cannot be Conan.

Branching off a little, Alex of Cirsova and I exchanged a few thoughts on the nature of hero deaths and the primary mortal threats to iconic barbarians and the like.

Alex went on to expand upon his point here.

I agree with him on the danger of groups of enemies. Play enough games (of various types) and you’ll learn that mobs of low-powered foes can pose plenty threat.

What about for the characters in the kinds of stories we often model our own gaming characters after? Well, we find a mix. In the Cirsova post, there is talk of “economy of force.” That is to say, when there’s one big monster, it is usually fighting against multiple adventurers who get more attacks than it does, or do more damage or can take more punishment in aggregate. Thus it’s pretty much outgunned, even if it’s super strong.

Two things about this. First, in the kinds of stories we often read of heroes facing off against terrible horrors and fell beasts, the numbers are usually more even. Or at least they are more likely to be than in a game of D&D. Conan picks up occasional companions, it’s true, and he is a leader of men. But he also operates and fights alone quite often. Thus his eldritch encounters are usually pretty close to 1:1.

Second, I’d argue that game mechanics are limiting. A party of heroes facing off against a giant may have a pretty decent shot in a gaming context, but in a written setting…well, of course that in large part depends on the author. But a “written” giant is unbound by combat rules. D&D and other systems may do a decent job approximating battle mechanics with armor class and hit points and attacks of opportunity, but how likely is a DM-enthralled giant to just step on a PC or PCs and insta-smoosh them (though I’m sure this does happen)? And what are the odds that a party (if there are multiple adventurers) is capable of retaliating in kind?

Of course I haven’t read every fantasy book, nor am I an expert of man on monster combat. But it just seems to me that in such stories, even when in groups, heroes are often forced to rely on more than economy of force and the fairness of turn-based combat. They often need clever plans, strong magic, or favorable circumstances. It’s not to say that they can’t win otherwise, but usually the odds are stacked against the good guys in such cases.

(Warning: some spoilers ahead for Lord of the Rings, The Gods of Mars, various Conan stories, and Three Hearts and Three Lions)


Then again, in some settings, heroes have the advantage. In Dickson’s Dragon and the George, for instance, dragon vs knight is an uneven fight…in favor of the human! Fully armored men, with lance and steed, pose grave risk to dragons, as the protagonist quite painfully learns.

Looking at mobs, Alex is clearly correct. Our own Conan is frequently forced to run when outnumbered and able. In the Lord of the Rings, the party flees from orcs and trolls in Moria, and the mighty Boromir is taken down by an overwhelming pack of Saruman’s orcs. Early in the Gods of Mars, John Carter and his companion Tars Tarkas barely escape from a horde of plant men and great white apes.

So as Alex says, “The difference between your characters who died and Conan could be that Conan knew when to run and you didn’t.” Yes, very true.

Where I do want to diverge a bit is in the estimation of mobs as more of a threat than monsters. To be fair, I don’t think Alex is making this as a blanket claim. His post seems more limited to a gaming context. It’s unfortunate that so many games, through their mechanics, make this distinction important, though.


In the Conan stories, the barbarian runs from unwinnable battles presented by both man and monster. The very last paragraph from “The God in the Bowl”:

At last the movements ceased and Conan looked gingerly behind the screen. Then the full horror of it all rushed over the Cimmerian, and he fled, nor did he slacken his headlong flight until the spires of Numalia faded into the dawn behind him. The thought of Set was like a nightmare, and the children of Set who once ruled the earth and who now sleep in their nighted caverns far below the black pyramids. Behind that gilded screen there had been no human body—only the shimmering, headless coils of a gigantic serpent.

In “The Slithering Shadow” Conan runs from a mob of soldiers, trying to find his woman. He ends up encountering a terrible beast from which there is no escape. He barely survives:

A footstep roused her out of her apathy of horror, to see Conan emerging from the darkness. At the sight she found her voice in a shriek which echoed down the vaulted tunnel. The manhandling the Cimmerian had received was appalling to behold. At every step he dripped blood. His face was skinned and bruised as if he had been beaten with a bludgeon. His lips were pulped, and blood oozed down his face from a wound in his scalp. There were deep gashes in his thighs, calves and forearms, and great bruises showed on his limbs and body from impacts against the stone floor. But his shoulders, back and upper-breast muscles had suffered most. The flesh was bruised, swollen and lacerated, the skin hanging in loose strips, as if he had been lashed with wire whips.

Once again in the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf the Grey fights the terrible Durin’s Bane. While the wizard is able to slay the powerful Balrog, he gets as good as he gives.


In Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions, the party’s battle against the troll is a costly one. One of the party members is killed, and my memory is a bit fuzzy but I think the protagonist’s memorable steed, Papillon, may also be lost.

In our favorite stories, there are many dangers, both magical and mundane. A hero can be slain by a large group of foes or by one large foe. Discretion is indeed often the better part of valor, and living to fight another day is usually the best option. Once they’re dead, they don’t get another chance (unless Gandalf).

In game terms, the calculus may differ. When the most important thing is the survival of the party, you may not care about losing a member or two so long as you win the battle. If the dragon fries your fighter, you can just roll up a new one.

Returning to what I was talking about last time, though, I think many (most?) players come into a campaign with personal goals. Sure, sometimes they just want to be part of a cool story. Sometimes they want to amass a huge fortune or delve deeper into the dungeon than anyone before them. Sometimes a player wants to create a memorable hero – the most powerful wizard of the century, or the Conan or Solomon Kane clone (minus being a Puritan, probably), or the next Robin Hood. For those guys, losing their character to the lich king (even if the party wins) may be just as devastating as a TPK at the hands of a mob of bandits.

That’s not to say that a DM or a gaming system has to or even necessarily should consider the hurt feelings of such players. It’s just to say that on an individual basis, a monster may be just as threatening as a mob.






The death of a PC

There were a couple of interesting tabletop-game-related discussions over on Twitter the other day, branching into two related topics I want to talk about.

It all started with a tweet by JimFear138:

So, player death. That got me ruminating about my own (relatively limited) experience with D&D and other tabletops, and also about D&D in the context of the vintage SFF stuff I’ve been diving into.

I’m mostly just stirring the pot here to see what comes out of it, I think. I don’t really believe that the newer editions of D&D are closer in spirit to the pulps and classics of yore. However I do think there’s an argument to be made that for players and groups who are less interested in high stakes, high difficulty gaming, the newer editions offer a way for PCs to come close to playing as a Conan or Legolas or Merlin. Not all players, especially those you may be dragging in from non-gaming backgrounds, may be willing to invest hours into a character who can easily be mugged and deleted a couple sessions into a campaign. Some players have precious little time; some are sore losers; and some are “casuals” eyeing up that Fruit of Gaming that we as DMs are dangling seductively above our tables.


That is to say, don’t older school versions of D&D, where I’m told player (character [thanks for pointing out the error of omission here, friends]) death is a relatively common occurrence, make it a lot more difficult for characters to achieve that kind of kickass heroic status?


And the answer is: not really. Or perhaps I should say, it depends more on the DM than which game or edition you’re playing. Here’s a great thought from Cirsova:

Jeffro and Alex and others have pointed out that older versions of D&D make it much easier to roll new characters. In the newer editions, creating a character is a process. All kinds of points to distribute, feats to take, skills to research, racials traits to read about. This was the case in the games I played, all 3.5 edition. Character creation can literally take hours. So when your guy dies, you may not feel like going through all that again. These logistical concerns may be one reason why many DMs lose their willingness to readily kill off their players, even when the PCs deserve it.

Incidentally, the first campaign I DMed ended when PC death became unavoidable. There was an impending goblinoid attack on a town that the PCs had granted protection. Instead of digging in and waiting, they decided to do some recon as a group. Unfortunately they were discovered sneaking around the goblin camp and pursued. One of the players rightly decided to hightail it out of there. I’m still not sure if it was a case of unwarranted bravado or if their motivation was just petering out, but the others decided to turn on the goblins and make a stand. They were overtaken, and that wound up being our last session.


Returning to the topic at hand, the earlier versions of D&D do alleviate this concern. There are less numbers and abilities to keep track of (which can be a positive or negative depending on what kind of player you are), and so it’s much easier to discard spent characters and move on to new ones. Thus we can say that while older versions of D&D don’t limit a group to this type of roll-die-reroll style of play, they certainly make it a lot easier.

Without having actually played anything other than 3.5, I can only speculate and conjecture. And so I conject this – that earlier iterations of the game are much more friendly to minimalists, those who relish oodles of quick and dirty battles, folk who enjoy playing multiple characters per game, and those fans of roguelikes and Iron Man modes in games.

They are also probably the proper vehicles for DMs who act as antagonists to their PCs.

PA what!

Following along with Cirsova’s tweet, then, I put forward that newer versions of D&D, including 3.5, are more suited for people who enjoy spreadsheets, those who dervive enjoyment from incessant rolling of dice, fans of Story modes or Normal difficulty modes in games, or else players and DMs who want to reach that Conan or John Carter level of heroics with minimal risk of death and ruin. For if the Conans and other pulp heroes are the ones who survive, then newer versions (contingent upon the DM once again, of course, but by and large) are much more conducive to allowing the players to survive and gain that coveted status. Whether that reduced difficulty is a good thing will largely depend upon the group. After all, some people are more into the storytelling aspects of the game rather than the struggle.

Next time I’ll talk about how players and pulp heroes die.

Update: Part 2





Heroes, witchcraft, and more Amber

As I go into a busy couple of work weeks before the holiday lull, I’ve been focusing most of my “game time” recently on Heroes of the Storm (with a little Dominions IV on weekends). For a long stretch I’d been sticking to Quick Match (casual play), but now something inside me has reawakened and I’ve been jumping back into ranked. Perhaps it’s the changing meta or watching pro and semi-pro games online that have whetted my appetite.


Side note: it’s a little off-putting that so many people don’t know how to properly pronounce “aegis.” With the last few hero releases, the meta (that is, the popular play style and character picks) have definitely come to revolve more around mobility and lockdown. Varian, for example, may not have a super high win rate right now (mysteriously), but he’s incredibly difficult to fight against. That short cooldown stun and dash plus his solid damage mitigation make him a high threat in both solo lane dueling and team fights. Keep your distance or you’re likely to get chunked or erased.


Luckily I haven’t seen a whole lot of Varian in Team League. Unluckily, this is because there are a bunch of other characters who are dominating the scene at the moment and can be incredibly frustrating to play against.

Chen is not one of these, and yet strangely the only two games my team won last night were games in which I went with the Pandaran asshole.

At any rate, I hear the ranked system will undergo an overhaul for season 3, and I’m looking forward to it. Should make Team League a lot more accessible once again.

In other news, I finished up with the Hand of Oberon last night. Onto the Courts of Chaos. I won’t include any spoilers here, but the Amber books do a very nice job of ladling out the intrigue and reveals in never-quite-satiating portions, leaving you always wanting to know more about the setting or the family or who’s plotting to kill who.

I do not picture Benedict as Fabio with a robo arm.

I’ve also stuffed Fritz Leiber’s Gather, Darkness! into my bag as train reading material. I’m about 40 pages in and so far it’s not really up my alley. Major, organized religions as the bad guys and bad guys as the actual good guys are not usually tropes I enjoy, and we seem to have both going on here. Still, it’s a short book so I’ll power through it and see if something changes my mind.


Closing thought: I wonder if the scarlet priests were an inspiration for the Forgotten Realms red wizards, visually at the very least.