Feb-April 2012 Books

I fell behind, so I’m going to try and catch up on posting my reading log:

#2: Hunger Games, book 1. It has its flaws, but I liked it well enough.

#3: Vampire Cheerleaders #1. Dear lord, this manga was full of weird. Read it in a Barnes & Noble on my Nook. Basically, they’re cheerleaders and vampires and very, very, very bad people.

#4: Rosario+Vampire #1. A *nice* vampire at a boarding school for monsters. Interesting.

#5: Vampire Knight #1. Another boarding school/vampire manga. Not sure I like this one, though it’s very popular.

#6: Pastwatch by Orson Scott Card. Reminded me quite a bit of Ursula Le Guin, in the “anthropological science fiction.” I have to be honest, though– I didn’t connect very deeply with any of his characters, and lacked emotional investment. Towards the end, it felt preachy. I would explain more, but that would require spoilers.

#7: Maid-Sama #7 – reread this manga in preparation for:

#8: Maid-Sama #8 – the last of this series that’s been published in the U.S. I have bought #9-12, but they’re in French, so reading them is a little slower.

In progress: Dance with Dragons (approx on page 500), The Physicke Book of Deliverance Dane, and Kushiel’s Dart (audiobook).

And, as long as I’m resurrecting my blog: what are you reading these days?

Cross-posted from Mortaine's Blog. You can read it or comment on it here or there.

January 2012 books

#1: Four and Twenty Blackbirds – Cherie Priest

Cross-posted from Mortaine's Blog. You can read it or comment on it here or there.


I’ve been painting miniatures again, now that I have my D&D stuff and new paints. I went to the “paint and take” workshop at Strategicon over Memorial Day weekend and learned a lot of great techniques.

As a result, I have a few dancing girls to show off. These are miniatures by Malifaux. I love the Malifaux minis because they’re a little dark and creepy, and they fit nicely into a “steampunk” vibe.

A lot of the techniques I learned are really specific to “painting tiny, tiny things” but can also be used in a larger artistic sense. There’s a lot of sophisticated technique in mini painting– color blending, getting the right highlights and shadows, and toning.

Anyway, here are the three minis I’m most proud of right now:

This one is my mini for Nindel, a slightly insane star-pact warlock (think Cthulhu) who… well, she’s a little crazy.
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I painted this second one intending her to be used for a character whose player has dropped our game. However, I really like her and think she turned out really well:

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Finally, this one came in the box set with the others, and I liked her and needed some painting practice:


Oh, and the fact that all of these are wearing stockings, some with garters? Yeah– that’s just a lovely bonus!

Cross-posted from Mortaine's Blog. You can read it or comment on it here or there.

The Viper Vixens – Las Vegas

(c) Stephen Thorburn

On Friday night, John and I went to the Viper Vixens show at O’Shea’s on the Strip. It’s billed as “burlesque ninjas” and I’d heard about it from a friend of mine the previous week. When we scored tickets, I was thrilled.

The short summary: beautiful women dancing with weapons and taking their clothes off. Also, one guy. Who is also quite built. Really, though, the women are the well-deserved focus of the show.

There are five female performers: Sidewinder, Cottonmouth, Black Mamba, Diamondback, Copperhead, and one male: King Cobra. Each woman performs solo (or featured) with her weapon of choice: Sidewinder’s is a cowgirl-with-a-whip show, Cottonmouth uses a bladed fan, Diamondback is a staff wielder (and pole dancer!), Copperhead uses sai, Black Mamba is a crossbow gal, and King Cobra mainly performs crossbow tricks with Black Mamba.

Cottonmouth is a phenomenal singer and performer– throughout the show, she sings the rock songs that the dancers perform to, and her voice and energy are top-notch. Cottonmouth is unusual in that she doesn’t show her bare chest in the show, though she certainly gives some nice, alluring half-peeks. I’m not as entranced by her weapon performance– I think if you’re going to use “steel fan” as your weapon trick, you might as well go big and turn it into a Vegas-style “big fan dance” with a twist. This also would have gone really well with her “peekaboo” style of performance.

Diamondback is the “staff expert.” There wasn’t much in her performance that any high school flag corps performer wouldn’t do…. until she gets to “the big staff.” As in: the pole. Oh, yes. Diamondback is a pole dancer, and a good one. I love pole dancing to begin with, and she did a marvelous job of showing off the strength and acrobatics needed to work in this particular medium (geek note: pole dancing originated in circuses, not strip clubs).

California girl Sidewinder is the only blonde in the troupe (not that it matters), but her lighter looks gave her the only costuming break from the black-and-red that the rest of the dancers use. For her solo performance, she used a whip with what sounded like cheesy amplified whip-crack sounds (I don’t know– it just sounded off). But, oh my– she did a cowgirl-esque performance that was just gorgeous. Tip: sit in the second row of seats. The front center seats have been blocked off for stage use, and the dancers use it! Nothing quite like having a whip-wielding blonde grind in front of you to get your attention on a Friday night!

Black Mamba and King Cobra perform together using crossbow tricks, and their “solo” was a wedding recreation/balloon-popping deal. Quite fun and cute. These two performers had a lot of chemistry on stage that obviously stems from being newlyweds in real life. Although he’s well-built, King Cobra keeps the striptease focus on the women, and plays more comic relief in that part of his performance (stripping down at one point to reveal bullseye-printed boxer shorts!)

I have to say, my favorite performer was Copperhead because throughout her performance, her moves were precise and well-executed, and she had this kind of eternal smirk on her face that I just adored, and this was true not just in her solo, but also in every ensemble performance she did. Her solo performance was her sai, which was interesting… And her “shedding skin” part of her strip performance was so appropriate, I think I may have laughed out loud. But neither was as interesting as the second half of her solo, when she hopped up onto a suspended ring to do acrobatic tricks on the ring. Very beautiful work.

Tickets are $49.50 per person (a bit pricey for a burlesque in a non-headline casino, but worth it for a unique, highly geek-friendly show). Since they just opened, they’re doing a lot of promotions through their Facebook page and through Fillaseat.com. And if you’re in town and want to go, drop me a comment here. I have a discount coupon for $20 off two tickets and I’ll gladly pass it along to the first commenter who isn’t a spambot.

Photo: © Stephen Thorburn.

Cross-posted from Mortaine's Blog. You can read it or comment on it here or there.

Free RPG Day was a Hit

This year, I organized the 4th Edition D&D games for Free RPG Day at my local comic book shop, Avatar Comics and Games.FreeRPGDay

It was a huge hit. We decided to run the current season of D&D Encounters, through session #6 (the most recent session played until then). That meant about 6 hours of 4th edition, but I planned two “relief DMs” to come in and help out, and I figured it would be a lot like last year, when I showed up to help and wound up playing all day because we didn’t have enough players.

Well, not so this year. Apparently, the last year of studiously working my Summon Player ritual has paid off. I think we had about 20 gamers come play the encounters. Some are old friends– the gal waving hello in this picture is from my old game group in California– she and her husband (our DM) and daughter (future gamer!) happened to be in town and she stopped by to play.

Most of the gamers we had are new to the game or 4th edition. We had a few who already played in our Wednesday Encounters group, including some who were there to get the first sessions which they had missed. And some were brand new to the game or had only come for freebies and stayed for the fun.

I highly recommend, especially if you’re using Encounters as a way to get people to come play, to have a “catch up session” mid-season. This lets some of your walk-ins bring their new character and get the XP for playing the previous sessions. It also lets people who had a character they don’t really like try the campaign out with someone new.

For one of the encounters, we had just enough players that I decided to split the table in two. My friend Mike took one table, and I took the other– we had 3 players on Mike’s and 4 on mine. It was a minor disaster. Both parties ended in a TPK– whoops! It’s a tough encounter to begin with, probably the toughest in the campaign so far. When we played it in our regular encounters group, the DM had massively softballed the encounter in response to player lobbies (we were worried about one of the kid players losing her PC).

One of our Wednesday players who came to play also won a pack of 4th edition D&D stuff, all of which he can happily use in the Encounters games and beyond!

For the shop, it was a great day. In addition to our 4th edition table(s), they had Pathfinder, Dresden Files, Castle Ravenloft, and I even saw a miniatures game going on in the front corner. They did brisk sales all day, massively outpacing last year’s sales for the same event.

Oh, and I picked up a few fun games while I was there, including a D&D accessory and a quick-start for a zombie game! Overall, a massively fun game day, and well worth giving up my Saturday.

Cross-posted from Mortaine's Blog. You can read it or comment on it here or there.


The Para Sol took a blue ribbon at the county fair, and won 2nd Best in Class.

Presentation: 8/10

General Appearance: 18/20

Design: 29/30

Workmanship: 39/40

Rating Total: 96/100 (The math is wrong– this should be a 94)

Judge Recommendations: “Very pretty and creative.”


Here’s me with my pretty parasol and its pretty ribbons!

John says when he picked it up, the woman working there said “does she tat? She should enter tatting next year!”

The prospect of a tatted parasol…. I might just kill myself.

Cross-posted from Mortaine's Blog. You can read it or comment on it here or there.

Para Sol: Complete!


The parasol is complete! I had to buy a new umbrella frame, because the one I originally bought was too small. Then I had to paint the new frame’s handle and tip… because they were blue.

I added some lovely ribbons and bows, because why not?



And a classy tag, because the new umbrella frame had a luggage tag thing in the handle (it’s originally a gold umbrella, $5 at Goodwill):


And another ribbon as the tie:


Pretty umbrella:


I finished it last night, which just goes to show you: I can only finish something when I have a deadline!

Anyway, look for it at the Clark County Fair and Rodeo, April 7-10!

Cross-posted from Mortaine's Blog. You can read it or comment on it here or there.

D&D Basic

Over the weekend, I ran a short, nostalgia-laden D&D Basic edition adventure for some friends of mine. This was the second time I ran the adventure, and both times, the outcome was similar.

We started by handing out Players Handbooks and character sheets so everyone could make their characters. Although I had planned to just give everyone a stat array so they could shift numbers around, everyone wanted to roll dice instead. In fact, my house rule of “roll 4d6, drop the lowest die, and arrange to suit” was not wanted by about half the players, who wanted to roll 3d6 and put them in order. I gave everyone max hit points at 1st level instead of requiring them to roll. I think if they’d known that before picking their character classes, we might have had a mage in the party. As it was, we had two elves, one halfling, one dwarf, and one fighter.

To save time, I had created equipment lists which included some gold for everyone except the elves (who had equipment, but only 1 gp each– elves are apparently unthrifty beings). So they went shopping in the PHB.

After the shopping, I opened with “you meet in an inn!” And they sit around awkwardly saying things like “Oh, my– you look like adventurers! Mind if I sit with you!” And so forth.

After they do the introductions and decide they really need to go find some Adventure, I introduce the plot– the halfling has heard of a dungeon not to far away, along the Western Road, with vast amounts of treasure and only a single guardian. Surely this is no problem for hardy adventurers like themselves!

They’re ready to set out, but I tell them it’s about midnight. They go to sleep at the inn.


Read the rest of this entry »

Cross-posted from Mortaine's Blog. You can read it or comment on it here or there.

American Idol Fail

I want to get something off my chest about American Idol.

First, my disclaimer: I don’t like the show. I watch it, because John watches it. But I don’t find it very entertaining. I enjoyed Seasons 3 and 4, but after that, I’ve just had a really hard time connecting to any kind of story in the show. I mostly now watch it as a kind of side-show with votefortheworst.

Now, my rant.

I think in almost every one of the past few seasons of Idol, there’s been some guy who comes to the audition and says something like “my wife just gave birth to our first child– an hour ago!!!” And then the judges all listen and hope he has a voice worth putting through, because otherwise, they’re going to pay plane fare to Hollywood for yet another tearjerker story that doesn’t have a chance of making it.

To my mind, these guys who do this are scum. Total scum. Not for manipulating the judges/audience, because that may have more to do with the producers than with the guys themselves. No. They are scum because they chose to attend a singing audition instead of their child’s birth.

Now, think about this purely from the point of view of the guy, ok? There are several possible outcomes of an American Idol audition. 1) You don”t make it through to Hollywood. You missed your kid’s birth for a rejection. 2) You make it to Hollywood, but are cut or voted out before the final 10 or 12 or however many they let into the tour. You missed your kid’s birth for a little bit of TV exposure, but no job or singing contract. 3) You make it to the finalists, so you get on the tour, but you don’t win the show. You missed your kid’s birth to become a c-list celebrity. 4) You win. You missed your kid’s birth for a some money and fame, and entry into an extremely unstable job in the toughest, least sympathetic industry on the planet.

There are other outcomes, like “you are so bad, you become the next William Hung.” In which case, you missed your kid’s birth to become a punchline.

My rant is thus: If you miss your kid’s birth in order to go on American Idol, the very best outcome is that you have traded an irreplaceable life’s moment for money, fame, and an unstable job. You are the worst dad ever. Your kid is never going to be born again (even if they become Christian!) but opportunities to break into singing will recur. Your priorities are totally wrong. Even if you aren’t with your kid’s mother, you have just put your job, your career, and your money ahead of your child.

Your kid is going to notice that, because I assure you, if you think auditioning for American Idol is more important that being there for the birth of your child, then you’re going to put that kid last after a lot of other things in life.

The kicker of this is that American Idol auditions happen in cities all over the country, so you could conceivably travel to and catch an audition in another city, if your wife/girlfriend went into labor the morning of the Idol auditions. This audition: it is not your last chance to stand in front of the judges and sing.

This day is, however, your only chance to see your child take his or her first breath. This is your only chance to capture those first seconds of life and really understand what the words “love at first sight” mean. This is your only moment to actually, deeply, completely understand what the lyrics of “Isn’t She Lovely” mean. You want to be a singer? Then man up and get your ass to the hospital, live life the way other people live, so you can connect with your audience’s experiences. I do not ever want to hear you sing about how much you love your kid if you ditched out on that kid’s birth to go to a singing audition. Disingenuous doesn’t even begin to describe it, buddy.

American Idol will also be there next year– it’s highly unlikely that Fox is going to pull the plug on this little money-maker for the next 3-5 years. If you had waited in line for three days and then walked away from the audition so you could be at the birth of your child, when you audition next year, you better believe they’re going to put your story on camera. Ryan Seacrest: “Oh, this is your daughter? How old is she?” You: “She’s a year old– I left the audition last year at this time because my wife was in labor. I’d choose her over anything, any time, but I’m doing this to give her everything I can.” *sniff sniff* And the crowd goes wild.

Please note that my rant hasn’t even addressed the problem of leaving your baby’s mother to go through childbirth without your support. That is such a jerk move, I can’t even form the words.

Cross-posted from Mortaine's Blog. You can read it or comment on it here or there.

Para sol near completion

I finished crocheting the parasol last night. I am now on washing, blocking, and installing it on the umbrella frame.

It’s absolutely larger than the frame, even before blocking (which I expect will add about 30% to the overall size). But I may be able to make it work…. or get a larger golf umbrella insted.

Cross-posted from Mortaine's Blog. You can read it or comment on it here or there.


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