Tobold's Blog
Sunday, September 17, 2017
 
Gardmore Abbey 5E rerun - Session 1

I ran the 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey back in 2013/2014 and consider it to be the best official 4E adventure. So now I am running it again in a 5E version with different players. I'm not going to write a blow-by-blow journal on this one, but I do want to write down an outline of what happened and my thoughts on it.

In the first session the players started in Winterhaven, where they learned that the card of the Deck of Many Things they had found was one of a set. Lord Padraig of Winterhaven has at least one other card, and is interested in the full deck in order to defend his town. So he told the group about Gardmore Abbey, where most of the cards apparently are scattered, and asks them at the same time to scout the layout and number of orcs there. The players manage to get more information about the abbey from the library of the mage Arris, from Lord Padraig's counselor Valthrun, and from a bard singing ballads about the place in the inn. Lord Padraig also provided the group with a squire and horses for faster travel between Winterhaven and the abbey.

At the abbey I gave the players a picture of a front view of Gardmore Abbey. And after the scouted the outside of the abbey a bit more, I gave them my player map of Gardmore Abbey. Now the principle of the adventure and the map is that the players can approach the abbey from any side they want: Frontal assault on the main gate, climbing the wall to the north of the gate, going through a hole in the wall to the south of the gate, or try to get up the hill from the un-walled back side. From all the groups I've read on the internet having played the adventure none ever choose the frontal assault on the main gate. In reality the main gate isn't all that heavily guarded, but a frontal assault on a large army of orcs just doesn't appear to be a good idea.

So this group went through the hole in the south wall. From there they could go to the watchtower, or straight up the hill through a fey forest, or north along the wall back towards the orc main keep. They first tried the watchtower as a probably vantage point, where they saw some weird scenes from back in time through the windows. They decided not to pursue that further, still didn't want to move towards the orcs, and thus went up the hill through the fey forest, in order to get a view from the top.

So they came across a magical fountain where a group of high elves was camped. The elves were mistrustful, but not hostile. Their leader Berrian Velfarren told the adventurers that he was here in search of traces of his father, who disappeared centuries ago. He also believed that there were documents somewhere giving the elves some claim on the fey forest. And his sister Analastra had gone missing. After receiving some visions from the magical spring, the group followed the path further up the hill. They came across the groundskeeper's cottage, where they fought the owlbears now inhabiting it and found the documents the elves were looking for. Then the came to the garden behind the main keep, where another group of rival adventurers were fighting spiders. Trying to help them resulted in the rival adventurers disengaging and leaving the heroes with the spiders. But they did found a sword they had heard about in a ballad about a lost paladin.

Further up the path the group came across some nymphs playing a game of telling each other secrets, and learned some of the secrets of the abbey, including the fact that the missing father had last been seen in the watchtower. Then they came to a bell tower, where Analastra was fighting two displacer beasts and a nest of stirges. The highlight of that fight was the druid keeping Analastra alive with healing words, while using a Call Lightning spell to damage the displacer beasts and eliminating the nest of stirges. Having rescued the sister, the group returned to the elves to rest there.

As they had already finished two of the three quests of the elves, and Berrian had promised them his card of the Deck of Many Things for finishing all three, the group headed to the watchtower next. The elves had said that they couldn't find an entrance to it. But after some experimentation it turned out that the group's card opened the door. But stepping inside the group was trapped in some extra-dimensional space connected to the Far Realm, a plane of chaos. In the first room they fought a black pudding (who destroyed the druid's armor) and two mimics, who had been disguised as cards forming a bridge. After that fight we stopped because it was getting late. But having finished encounters 13, 12, 9, 10, 11, and 14 of the adventure was good progress, 6 encounters out of 33.

On the combat side the encounters were tough, which was mostly because of two players missing from the group of five. Next session we should be up to 4 players, which will be easier. But I didn't have to cheat or remove monsters, the adventure was still doable with just 3 players of level 5. They earned about 40% of the xp needed towards level 6, so I think that by the end of the adventure they will be at least level 7, if not 8. However I don't really have a good follow-up adventure for level 8 characters in store, as all of the official 5E adventures start at low level. Except for the Rise of Tiamat, but that one is the second part of a story that starts with Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

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Friday, September 15, 2017
 
The return of third class travel

When railway travel was new in the 19th century, carriages came in three claases, 1st for the rich, 2nd for the middle class, and 3rd for the working class. That sort of class system went out of fashion in the 1950's, and since then most railways only have 2 classes. So do many airplanes, having business and economy as choices, with "1st class" only available on a few long-haul flights.

I am currently sitting in a train, 1st class carriage, from Brussels to Paris. And I'm reading an announcement that from December on this high-speed railway will have economy, comfort, and prestige instead of 1st and 2nd class. Which of course means that if you travel economy, you are effectively travelling in 3rd class, there being two better options on offer. That isn't an outlier, airlines have started to introduce "economy plus" between economy and business, also turning economy into 3rd class. We aren't quite back to wooden benches yet, but everybody knows how comfort has diminished in economy class over the last decade. Frequent travellers have many a horror story to tell.

Somehow I feel there is a vicious circle involved here. As the name "business" suggests, the target customer for a business seat is a traveller whose ticket has been bought by his company. But many companies have become less generous over the years, forcing their employees to travel economy, at least on shorter voyages. So the idea of railroads and airlines is to get companies to at least pay for an intermediate option. But of course the response of companies is going to be to never pay for business class again, the economy plus option being deemed sufficient.

Of course a 3 class system is also a symptom of a less egalitarian, more unequal society. And as a student of history and economy I know that unequal societies have a strong tendency to go horribly wrong. So 3rd class isn't something I think is a good idea.

Friday, September 08, 2017
 
Hascon

Today Hascon 2017 starts, the convention of Hasbro, one of the world's largest toy and board game makers. Obviously gamers have little interest in the latest news on My Little Pony or Monopoly, but as Hasbro bought Wizards of the Coast, who previously bought TSR, Hasbro controls two of the biggest names in tabletop gaming: Dungeons & Dragons and Magic the Gathering. But the one reason I am interested in Hascon is the promised reveal of "Magic Digital Next", the next generation platform for playing Magic the Gathering electronically.

Right now Magic Digital Next doesn't have a lot of goodwill from the community. Too much went wrong or was badly handled with the previous incarnations like Magic the Gathering Online or Magic Duels. Personally I am still quite angry that Hasbro dropped Magic Duels like a hot potato in June. They should have waited with that until Magic Digital Next is actually available, not 3 months before we get to see the first playable alpha version at a convention. I am also unhappy that they didn't even make the slightest effort to bring Magic Duels in a state where it would still be viable to play until Magic Digital Next is released. Instead they left it as it was after they added the Amonkhet expansion, so the computer is only ever playing decks around that expansion instead of using decks from all previous expansions. And more than half of the daily quests are still for online multiplayer only, which is a problem when players leave an abandoned game and the remaining players can't find matches any more.

Then there is of course the issue of "virtual property". Previous versions of electronic Magic sold you virtual boosters of cards. If you are forced to switch to a new product, you lose your virtual card collection of the previous versions and have to start over. Legally of course you never really owned those electronic Magic cards. But players don't feel like that, especially with platforms like MtGO where cards can be traded with other players for real money. I liked Magic Duels because it altered the rules of how many rare and legendary cards you can use, which made building up a full collection much more affordable. I doubt the next version will have that feature.

I am still on the fence about Magic Digital Next (I assume they'll announce another name for it this weekend). I left MtGO long ago because it was too PvP-centric for me, which resulted in an environment full of card sharks, scams, and toxic players. I mostly used the PvE part of Magic Duels, which for me was probably the best incarnation of Magic on a tablet. So my appreciation of Magic Digital Next will mostly depend on whether it supports more than a token AI and PvE play. These days far too many game developers have become extremely lazy, and beyond a tutorial make their games mostly PvP, basically using their customers as content for other customers. As they never solved even the basic problems of that approach for virtual cardgames, like stalling or quitting at the first sign of trouble, I wouldn't be interested in a PvP version of electronic Magic the Gathering.

[EDIT: The new name is Magic the Gathering Arena, more info here.]

Wednesday, September 06, 2017
 
XCOM 2: War of the Chosen

Steam sales are so frequent that I rarely buy games that aren't at least 50% off. Usually I just ignore the hype that surrounds new games, and just wait for the inevitable price decrease. More often than not the game a year later is not only half price, but also better than at release due to patches. Having said that, there are a few exceptions where I want to have a game on release day, at full price. The most recent example of that being XCOM 2: War of the Chosen for €39.99.

Now there are two main things to say about War of the Chosen. The first is that it is a very good expansion of the original XCOM 2 game, providing a lot of fresh fun with new maps, new aliens to fight, and new game mechanics. The second is that it is after all only an expansion, and to many people will not be worth 40 bucks. The expansion really improves the basic game with a wide range of options, but at two thirds of the price of a triple A game the thing appears rather expensive. Waiting for example for the Steam Christmas sale and hoping War of the Chosen will be cheaper then would be a completely rational decision.

One thing I liked about War of the Chosen was the advanced options menu, which now gives a wider range of choices than the original basic options menu. You can for example decide that you don't like to be rushed through the game, and double the timer of the avatar project and/or of individual missions. Of course that does make the game easier, but not everybody appreciates the sort of difficulty which arises only from being forced to rush through content.

From the new monsters I probably like the zombies the most. They appear in large groups, but have a special feature where you get an additional action if you kill one. That allows for very satisfying chain kills, but carries the risk of you missing your shot and being overrun by a horde of zombies. I am less a fan of the new "chosen" aliens, which can be even more annoying than the previously patched in "rulers".

The new factions which give you access to new soldier classes with a different system of talent tree are interesting. You probably appreciate them more if you always only used the 4 original classes. However I already used mods to have a wider choice of classes, and so that was less a drawback of the original game for me.

I started a new campaign because of War of the Chosen. However I can't say I'm very much hooked. I have a range of other projects in my life currently, and playing XCOM 2 isn't always on top of the list of my priorities. That is especially true on weekdays after work, as I find that the game requires some concentration. If I'm too tired I prefer more casual games, or even passive entertainment via Netflix. So I probably overpaid for the expansion, even if I don't really regret it.

Sunday, September 03, 2017
 
RonyaSoft Poster Printer

Just some unsolicited free advertising for a software I bought this weekend: Ronyasoft's Poster Printer costs $19.95 for a home license. It is a software that takes an image and prints it at any size you want over multiple pages of paper. You can crop the image to print just the part you want. And if you print over multiple pages, you can add helpful guides on how to glue the whole thing together to give a good-looking poster. The software is quite user-friendly and it was easy enough to figure out all the options. And I'm quite happy with the results.

Obviously I am using the software to print out battlemaps for my Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Specifically this weekend I am printing the battlemaps for Madness at Gardmore Abbey. I still had the images from the Cartographer's Guild from the last time I played. But at the time I thought I'd never play that adventure again, and threw away the printouts, so I had to print them again.

If you followed my posts about battlemaps you might notice that this is somewhere a step back in quality. For my last 4E campaign I didn't print the poster maps myself, but sent them out to a poster printing website. Great quality, no need to glue pages together, and better water-resistance of the final product makes those poster maps really nice. However they cost between $10 and $20 per map, depending on size. And for Gardmore Abbey I need 24 maps. That's a bit too expensive for my taste.

In a way there is a difference in the economics of this between 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons and 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons. My recent experience with playing 4E adventures in 5E shows that 5E is about three times faster than 4E. Madness at Gardmore Abbey in 4E took my group 18 sessions to play through over a whole year. In 5E I can probably do it in 6 sessions or so. So with a lot less time spent on any single battlemap, I am less willing to spend too much money on one. However I do plan to play the Zeitgeist campaign, which is the only one that I have a complete set of poster maps for, in 5th edition somewhere next year. I'm just waiting for the official conversion.

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Microtaur

Note to self: Check the size of a monster in the Monster Manual before printing it in 3D. I printed a group of minotaurs of medium size, a head taller than a human. That was basically the size I had in mind because of the tauren in World of Warcraft. But then I realized that in D&D a minotaur is of "large" size, which means that he takes up 2x2 spaces on a battlemap. So I need to print him with a 2" base, and make him at least 2" tall for that to look proportional. So I threw away my "microtaurs" and printed the group in large size instead.

The adventure I am preparing has a number of large or even bigger monsters: Minotaurs, a beholder, a hill giant, an oni, and a dragon. And I must say that I am quite pleased with how those came out from 3D printing. The larger models have less problems of thin parts being too thin to print right. The details come out a lot better. And as the software automatically fills the bulk with a mostly hollow support structure, I can print them to scale without spending a fortune. In the role-playing club I play in there is a cupboard with a collection of painted metal miniatures. But metal is expensive as a material, and heavy in bulk, so the large monsters in that collection are actually not bigger than the medium ones. The beholder in the collection is a sphere of less than 1" diameter, so my 2" sphere beholder looks impressive compared to it, even if mine is just plastic and unpainted. Not to mention my 4" tall hill giant and dragon, which I think will really impress my players.

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Friday, September 01, 2017
 
An alternative explanation for Harvey

As a scientist I do believe in man-made global warming. So do the governments and the majority of citizens of every country in the world, except for Syria, Nicaragua, and the USA. The science says that global warming is likely to increase the occurrence and effect of catastrophic weather events. In particular an increase in the power of hurricanes and the amount of rain they carry has been predicted by the models years ago. Nobody is saying that hurricane Harvey is man-made, as hurricanes already existed long before man burning fossil fuel. But the fact that Harvey brought more rain than ever before observed on the American continent (the National Weather Service needed to add new colors to an expanded rain scale to map it) fits rather well with the predictions. So of course the US climate change deniers, first and foremost the Trump administration, react somewhat miffed if asked about climate change right now.

So I was thinking that one should keep an open mind and respect the believes of those who do not trust science. And I came up with an alternative explanation for Harvey which doesn't rely on science or an assumption of man-made climate change: Hurricane Harvey was an act of God, or more precisely the wrath of God. God sent Harvey to express his displeasure with the vain and godless Trump administration. Which is why he sent the hurricane to deeply Republican Texas, and not to Democratic California. In his mercy, God intended Harvey as a stern warning. If the USA doesn't get rid of Trump he will send further punishment, like heavenly fire (in the form of North Korean nukes). Repent now and kick Trump out, before it is too late!

I hope this inclusive multi-cultural approach makes my less scientific and more religious readers happy. :)

Thursday, August 31, 2017
 
Player agency

I labeled this post Dungeons & Dragons, but actually the issue of player agency is as true for computer games as it is for pen & paper role-playing games. Every game in which a player controls a character and a DM or a computer controls the world around that character has the same problem: How do we make the player believe that he is playing the hero who is driving the story forward, while the world around him reacts to his actions? How do we prevent the player from thinking that the game is scripted, on rails, and that it is the DM or computer who acts by throwing obstacles in the way of the character, and the character who is limited to reacting to those events?

The problem is most often presented as a difference between a linear story game and a sandbox game. However that is a false dichotomy. There are a lot of sandbox games in which player choice is an illusion, or where the player has the choice between irrelevant options like where to go, while the actually relevant events are scripted. On the other side a game that tells a story can actually have branches in the story and provide quite a lot of meaningful choices and decisions.

I recently had a problem with lack of player agency in a D&D game in which I am a player. The adventure is a WotC published one, Out of the Abyss. And because sandbox gaming is so popular, many of the WotC published adventures are presented in sandbox format. You have chapters after chapters describing locations and NPCs, but there is no written storyline. The idea is for the DM and the players to create the story together, but it is clear how that is somewhat illusory: One way or another the players end up going through the various locations presented. From one group to another the details and order of the encounters might change, but at the end of the day different groups playing through the same sandbox adventure will have similar experiences. In this particular case the DM didn't have a lot of time to prepare, and thus ended up trying to present the encounters on the fly as we played. And somewhere in the process the story got lost, and we were just stumbling through the Underdark, getting hit by one unpleasant encounter after the other, while not knowing what actually our goal was or how to achieve it. So we really were in the situation of the world acting upon us, and us simply reacting. And with things not always going well, and the DM being fond of a gruesome narrative style of dark fantasy, at the end I felt more like a victim than like a hero.

Now the challenge for me is to run the D&D campaigns in which I am the DM in a way that this doesn't happen. I do want the players to be the agents of the story, it should be them who drive the story forward and make the choices. However although both campaigns are presented as sandboxes, a lot of events that will happen are rather predictable. There are a lot of dungeons with rooms that contain monsters which aren't likely to be open to negotiation. Open door, kill monster, loot treasure is the most likely sequence of events. It is hard to imagine Dungeons & Dragons without the dungeons that make up half of the name, but dungeons by their very nature aren't all that much "sandbox". They might not be linear, but the walls generally limit where adventurers can go. So dungeons are easily perceived as being "on rails".

On the positive side players tend to enjoy a good dungeon romp more than they enjoy being in the middle of a sandbox without a goal. Too much guidance by a DM can be a problem, but not enough guidance can be a far more serious problem. Even in an old school hex crawl it is better if the players know towards what destination they are heading, and why.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2017
 
Elemental Evil: Sessions 5 and 6

It appears I forgot to chronicle the previous session of my D&D home campaign. The last report was from early July, after which we had a summer break, and then resumed mid-August, and then continued yesterday. Both of these sessions were action-centric, with the group clearing out first the abandoned village of Thundertree and then the goblin stronghold of Cragmaw Castle from monsters. A "door-monster-treasure" type of gameplay can be a lot of fun, but the details aren't always all that interesting in a journal of events. So I will summarize and concentrate on the highlights in this post.

Thundertree is an abandoned village a day's travel from Neverwinter. The eruption of Mount Hotenow, which caused quite a catastrophe for Neverwinter half a century ago, destroyed the village of Thundertree. Erdan, the druid of the group who is prone to visions and nightmares, dreamed that the eruption of Hotenow was caused by a group of chanting fire cultists, but probably didn't go as planned, as the cultists were killed in the event. What remained in Thundertree was mostly abandoned houses, with a population of ash zombies and twig blights. The group had gone to Thundertree to meet the druid Reidoth, who was supposed to know the location of Cragmaw Castle. Their "pet goblin" Droop also claimed to be able to find the way from Thundertree to Cragmaw Castle. They met Reidoth, who was able to provide a safe haven in the village, as well as the directions needed.

After clearing out most of the village from monsters, the group came across another group which likewise was engaged in fighting twig blights. That group was wearing blue armor and white robes, beset with feathers. They explained that they were from a club of aerial enthusiasts, and were in Thundertree to try to tame a griffon nesting here, or get eggs from his nest to raise as aerial mounts. The heroes agreed to accompany them to the griffon's lair in the highest tower of Thundertree. But once there the air cultists tried to becalm the griffon by offering the adventurers up as sacrifice, so the group ended up killing both the cultists and the griffon. They were able to make the link between a symbol the cultists carried and the same symbol they had seen on a letter to Glasstaff in Phandalin.

On the way to Cragmaw Castle the group tried to question Droop for information about the castle. That was somewhat complicated by the fact that Droop could only count to 3, and used "3" as an answer to any question about numbers in which the answer exceeded 2. Not trusting the goblin's offer to negotiate safe entry into the castle, they knocked him out and attached him to a tree, guarded by the paladin (the player was absent that session). Instead they built a camouflage out of branches and approached the less guarded south side of the castle at night. From there they could see into the banquet hall, but the goblins there didn't look out the arrow slits. So they managed after a few attempts to unlock the side door. But they didn't like the idea of advancing with the goblins in the hall behind them, so they decided to attack there.

From there they moved clockwise room by room. That enabled them to eliminate most guards in small groups. However it did move them more towards the entrance of the castle, instead towards the throne room. The toughest fight was against a group of hobgoblins. Popée the sorceress used a web spell on them, but between succeeded saving throws initially and later the web wasn't all that effective. Then they tried to burn the web, but in 5E that deals only 2d4 damage, and the player rolled double 1s, so the spell wasn't really a big success. The hobgoblins however had an ability with which they dealt an extra 2d6 damage if next to an ally. And two of them rolled critical hits, which doubles the number of dice on all damage, knocking the druid out of his bear form. After another fight in the central chapel of the castle the group had enough and decided to go back into the woods to take a long rest.

Returning to the castle they found that the bugbear King Grol had obviously noticed that the group had raided his castle and killed most of the goblinoids in there. So King Grol has gathered all the remaining defenders in the chapel, including a priest from the air cult. That ended up being a tough fight, with Theren being knocked down to zero health, but then rescued. The air cultist priest was a real menace, with a dust devil spell that prevented the archers and casters from sniping from the back. But Popée used a scroll of lightning bolt on King Grol and his pet wolf, killing the wolf and seriously damaging the bugbear. Soon after all the bugbears were dead. The priest tried to transform into gaseous form and flee, but didn't make it out of the arrow slit in one round and concentrated fire killed him before his next round. At this point it had gotten rather late, and we ended the session.

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Friday, August 25, 2017
 
Albatross

There must be a rational way to manage buying and playing PC games. There must be an optimum of getting a maximum amount of fun out of a minimum amount of money spent, and getting the best out of each individual purchase. Unfortunately I must say that I am very far away from that optimum.

I have a large library of unplayed Steam games, which isn't unusual. The rational thing to do would be whenever I have the time to install an unplayed game and play it to find out whether I want to spend more time with it or not. But somehow that second part causes me a problem. For example I recently installed Wolfenstein: The New Order, because I was in the mood to play a shooter game. I played the game for an hour or two, but didn't really warm up to it. And now the game sits on my desktop and for psychological reasons I don't really understand feels like an albatross around my neck. When I turn on my computer, seeing the icon of the game doesn't make me want to play it. But somehow I feel that I *should* play it some more before uninstalling it and moving on. And I don't want to install the next game before having done that decision. So in the end I end up not playing any PC game at all, but play something casual on my iPad or watch Netflix or do something D&D related.

The rational me realizes that this is pretty idiotic. If I don't really like this game, I should just ditch it and try the next one. But the not-so-rational part of me has its doubts: Maybe I just wasn't in a good mood when I tried the game. Maybe it gets better after a while. Maybe the $25 investment in the game necessitates a second try (which my rational self recognizes as a typical sunk cost fallacy).

I believe that a lot about our enjoyment of games isn't really rational. We are perfectly capable of loving a game, then hating it, then loving it again. I always chuckle when I see Steam reviews of some player who has spend several hundred hours with a game and now tells you that the game sucks. The simple task of playing a game and deciding whether I like it or not turns out to be not simple at all. And then the default mode becomes procrastination until the game lingered so long on my computer that I finally uninstall it. Maybe I should try a service like Steam Advisor to find games I already own which I actually want to play.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017
 
Doublethink

And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth. "Who controls the past," ran the Party slogan, "controls the future: who controls the present controls the past." And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. "Reality control," they called it: in Newspeak, "doublethink."
I have a memory problem. My memory is too good. When a few years ago I became interested in the history of the American Civil War and read a lot of books, saw a lot of documentary films and the like, the culture wars hadn't reached that area of history yet. And so my memory tells me that in those unpolitical history books Robert E. Lee was depicted as a decent person. Yeah, sure, he was fighting for the losing side, and the losing side was obviously pro-slavery and thus on the wrong side of history. But history, before it got redacted by "the Party", said that Lee wasn't a political firebrand. He only entered the war reluctantly, out of a sense of duty to his state. He was a slaveholder in a state where everybody who had any social status was a slaveholder. At the time history still judged him on his actions as a general in the war. And on that count he wasn't doing all that badly, being both competent and humane. If you took history documents from a decade ago and judged by them who the more decent human being was, Robert E. Lee would probably win over William T. Sherman, who was fighting on the winning side, but with far more brutal methods.

Of course that was a decade ago, and I really need to reformat my memory. Today the party line is that the statue of William T. Sherman in New York Central Park is honoring a hero, while the statues of Robert E. Lee are being torn down everywhere for being too offensive. An Asian American ESPN sports commentator, who unfortunately has the name Robert Lee, was pulled from a game because his name was considered too toxic to be on TV.

Now statues of the losers being torn down is quite a usual occurrence after a war, don't we all remember the pictures of people tearing down statues of Saddam Hussein? What is somewhat weird is doing it 150 years after the war ended. Hey guys, we just discovered that Robert E. Lee was fighting for the slave-holding South, so we need to remove his statues now! Sorry we didn't notice that earlier! What on earth has Robert E. Lee done in the past years to deserve such a fate now that he didn't deserve a decade ago?

Although blaming "both sides" apparently isn't politically correct any more either (or maybe it is if the other side is the "right" one?), I would say that the extreme right rallying around confederate symbols is of course a major trigger to those symbols suddenly becoming politically incorrect. That makes Robert E. Lee a victim, being caught in the middle of a culture war. It might have some rather hilarious results if the extreme right would chose symbols that more difficult to tear down, like the American flag. To some extent the Constitution of the United States of America is already a symbol of the extreme right, if you find somebody with a copy of it in his pocket he probably is a Trump voter. Or an immigrant in the process of learning it by heart as part of the naturalization process. Or a supreme court judge. So fortunately we don't have to burn it yet in order to be politically correct.

Nevertheless, as a student of history I find the efforts to change or re-interpret history 150 years later somewhat worrying. Imagine we would tear down the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, because Napoleon lost his wars 200 years ago, and for some reason we now find his symbols offensive. When the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan, we lamented the loss of history. Isn't the preservation of history a bigger value for humanity than the need to remove anything that could be deemed offensive? If the culture wars rage back and forth, with both sides being in power at some point, aren't we in danger of losing all our history, because it doesn't fit with some party line? If history is offensive, which it certainly sometimes is, aren't we still losing more by erasing it than by preserving it as a reminder to do better next time around?

 
The 7th Continent

I received a parcel yesterday which contained the board game The 7th Continent. I had backed the production of that game on Kickstarter. I don't often do that, it is only the 5th Kickstarter project I backed. But I am happy to report that with that parcel I am now at 100% success rate, every single Kickstarter project I backed actually delivered. Of course they all delivered late, The 7th Continent had an "expected" delivery in October 2016, and so is nearly a year late. I think a year late is about average of the projects I backed.

Kickstarter claims that only 9% of Kickstarter projects fail to deliver if successfully backed. But curiously they don't back up that claim with hard data to which they should have access, but rather cite an opinion survey. Other sources claim much higher failure rates. And if you follow games media, stories about Kickstarter failures like this one aren't all that uncommon. Furthermore as long as the developers deliver *anything*, that isn't counted as a failure. That doesn't mean that every delivered product lives up to the hype.

I think that only a very small part of Kickstarter failures are actual scams. I always apply Hanlon's razor and easily explain failures with incompetence without having to imply malice. Some people are simply good at having bright ideas and marketing those ideas in an enthusiastic way, but are just plain bad at project management. Which both explains many of the total failures as well as the 75% to 84% late delivery rate of Kickstarter.

Of course I don't back Kickstarter projects that are predictable failures, like people promising a large MMORPG for under $1 million. In general I would also advise to stay away from all Kickstarter projects for computer games: If the project is an actual success, you will be able to buy it later. So I rather back projects like The 7th Continent, which is so niche that it isn't obvious that one can get the product outside of a Kickstarter campaign. If you want a copy of that board game, you'd actually have to back the Kickstarter for the second print run, it won't be available in your neighborhood games store. I also sometimes back Kickstarter projects that are basically donations for a good cause, like rebuilding EN World.

In short, as long as you are aware of likelihood of failure, and the near certainty of late delivery, backing a Kickstarter project can be a good idea. Just don't fall for the hype and get overly enthusiastic. Or you might still be waiting for Star Citizen 3 years later.

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