The Daily Illuminator

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June 30, 1995

Is the month over already? Where did the time go?

Just a quick note -- got a long holiday weekend coming up (Monday's not an official SJ Games holiday, but a lot of us are planning vacation time to make it a long weekend), and Steve's off in Kansas at a con. I'm leaving in a few minutes, myself . . .

Last night's INWO playtest went well -- I got beat by several new, sneaky New World Order cards, despite having Manuel Noriega hooked up as a Celebrity Spokesman for the Semiconscious Liberation Army, declared the Messiah, and protected by the Flying Saucers . . . somedays you just can't catch a break. Have a nice holiday, y'all.
-- SDH

June 29, 1995

Normally, we don't wipe the slate clean and start a new version of The Daily Illuminator until the first of the month, but this month's file got bigger than our simple word-processing program could handle a couple of days early! (It's a long story, but the fancier word processing programs add a lot of hidden codes and garbage that are hell to deal with, so we do the Illuminator on the simplest program we could find. That has its drawbacks, too, but they're easier to deal with.)

But don't despair; you can always read past volumes by clicking on the past columns link either here or at the top of the page . . .

Today's special is on really cool Web sites. A Wisconsin college student who calls himself woodelf has set up the best roleplaying games index I've seen yet. It's extremely comprehensive, and a good-looking page, too, and . . . oh, just go check it out.

And I got a great little doodad in the mail the other day. It seems the folks at Gatorade have a Web page, and it's linked into the very comprehensive sports news information available at ESPNet Sports Zone (a great service I spend way too much time on). Anyway, they've got little billboard ads on nearly every page, which I usually ignore (like I do with most advertising everywhere). But early in the baseball season, they offered free prizes for people who visited the page and answered some baseball trivia questions correctly. So I gave it a shot . . .

And my prize came in the mail yesterday! It's a baseball, half white and half green, with the new Major League Baseball logo ("Welcome to The Show") on one side, and the Gatorade logo on the other. And printed below the Gatorade logo, right on the baseball, is the Web address for the Gatorade Home Page. Too cool . . .

One more thing . . . did you know that there is a Major League Baseball home page? All fans of the national pastime should check it out.
-- Scott Haring

June 28, 1995

Steve left today for Kansas, but not before he dropped off a bunch of new ideas for the Assassins supplement for INWO. Would you believe . . . Dittoheads? The Church of Violentology? Newt Gingrich? Get ready for some major weirdness.

The playtest calls. Catch you later.
-- SDH

June 27, 1995

Four days since an entry here? My, time flies when you're having fun. The usual tail-chasing. Jeff just finished layout on a truly cool INWO poster which you can't see yet . . . but maybe soon we can put a GIF online.

I'll be taking off tomorrow for a couple of days of working vacation (related to LARP, and no, you're not cleared for the details), followed by a weekend at KulCon, a gaming convention in Topeka. It's at the Ramada Inn -- the hotel info number is 913-234-5400. If you're in Kansas, come by and say hi . . .
-- Steve Jackson

June 23, 1995

The INWO playtesting continues. Some cards need some tweaking (good ideas, but the numbers have to be adjusted or the balance will be off), and some are just perfectly nasty right now. This'll be short, because we have no life . . . no life but INWO . . .

We put together Pyramid #15 today, and it looks pretty good. It'll go off to the printer Monday, and be back just in time to have all those giveaway cards shoveled in and put it on the table at GenCon.

GenCon is shaping up to be another monster of a show. For those of you from another space-time continuum, it's the industry's biggest convention, drawing well over 20,000. This year's is in Milwaukee, WI (the usual place) August 10-13. I'll write more about it some other time. For now, I've got another INWO deck to build . . .
-- SDH

June 22, 1995

We had an INWO Assassins playtest here last night. In a playtest, the idea is to bend and abuse rules. It doesn't really matter who won, or who lost, even though I did trounce them all ... though it would be gracious of me to note that the victory conditions of the Society of Assassins (the group I was playing and playtesting) was probably a hair too easy . . .

Let me plug the addition of even more vacation pictures as part of my special vacation home page. I have gotten some questions about the pictures themselves. I shot standard 35mm film with my trusty Nikon FM, and had the film developed by mail by Seattle FilmWorks. They send you back prints (or slides, if you want them), fine quality and at reasonable prices. Then comes the kicker -- for an additional $6.00 a roll or so, they'll also send you a disk with all the photos off the roll digitized. You also get a simple viewing program with some basic editing functions, plus the ability to convert into several useful formats. I've just started using them, but they seem well worth checking out. Visit their home page if you want more information.

Another INWO playtest tonight . . . I gotta go set up the table.
-- SDH

June 21, 1995

Our inspirational message today comes from rec.humor.funny:

A person starts a story:
"It was a dark and stormy night."

An avid gamer starts a story:
"It was a (die roll)...lightless and (die roll)...rainy night."

An avid _wargamer_ starts a story:
"It was a dark (35% visibility) and stormy, 7/8 overcast night at 21:16. The wind was blowing from the southwest at 21 kilometers/hour. Occasional flashes of lightning provided a 20% visibility increase for the remainder of the combat round in which they occurred, at GM's discretion. The terrain caused a -3 modifier to be applied to all movement rolls."

June 20, 1995

Today's guest columnist, as promised, Becca Bross:

My turn! :)

For the many who don't know me, I'm Steve's assistant (read, professional indentured servant). I've been here four months now, and thought I'd try my hand at the Illuminator. Actually, I finally had something interesting to share . . . Not that the wonder that is Steve Jackson Games isn't excitement enough. I would have done this yesterday, but I wasn't sufficiently recovered enough to be completely coherent.

I was fortunate enough to participate in a live action role- playing game this past weekend in Maryland called Tales from the Floating Vagabond, run by Barking Mad Productions. For those of you who aren't familiar with LARPs, they are sort of a cross between murder mystery weekends and tabletop gaming. Lots of fun for those of us who don't embarrass easily . . .

Tales (which has been run several times by various groups), was set in an inter-dimensional nexus, allowing people to play pretty much any character that struck their fancy, either already established or created by the player. The personas in this particular run included Quark and his brother Rom (who ran the Floating Vagabond), two sets of Gomez and Morticia Addams (along with several other family members), Elliot Ness (who headed up one of the police forces) and several Kzin. Add to that Al Calavicci, who was visible and running around trying to keep up with Sam Beckett, who kept leaping from character to character. I played a character of my own design, a succubus . . . I think I'll not comment further than to say she was a credit to her family. ;->

The GM's did a great job keeping us entertained, and we were proud to occasionally cause them to retreat into Game Central to whimper and try to figure out what was going on. I was very impressed by Barking Mad's ability to keep track of what was happening (and I don't say that just because they are great people I've known for years). The ratio of GMs to players was about 1:10, and they kept in touch constantly via radio so that anything happening in one area of the game that affected another could be communicated quickly. They also kept game mechanics as simple as possible so the emphasis could stay on roleplaying.

And, as with many of the LARPs in the Washington DC/Baltimore area, it was videotaped for the greater amusement and embarrassment of the players. I can't wait to see the final edited version.
-- Becca Bross

June 19, 1995

Hope everybody had a nice Father's Day weekend. A quick personal note: The first of my vacation pictures came back, and they're up on the net. More to follow.

Big ship day today, as the INWO Blank Cards, Pyramid #14 and the GURPS Cyberpunk reprint went out to distributors. Look for them on your shelves next week sometime . . .

Steve's executive assistant, Becca Bross, went to Maryland over the weekend to play in one of the grandest Live-Action Role Playing (LARP) Games of them all, the legendary "Tales From The Floating Vagabond." Becca will make her first appearance on the Daily Illuminator later this week, recounting her experiences. I'd do it for her, but I can't type any of it without blushing . . .

And Derek Pearcy will weigh in with more stories from his European adventure this week. Honest.
-- SDH

June 17, 1995

Here's a quick and dirty beginning to the online catalog. This covers INWO stuff only. But notice ... we've now got the German edition for sale!

Speaking of which, Jim Cambias writes:

``I just picked up The INWO Book, and by accident acquired a package of the German edition cards. I have become quite enamored of the terms ``machtstruktur'' and ``komplottstapels'' and intend to use them from now on in casual conversation.''

June 16, 1995

Derek had to take off early, so he'll be wrapping up the accounts of his European adventure next week....

Got some neat stuff shipping out the doors on Monday, including Pyramid #14, whose fine cover is reproduced here in loving color. I love the Web....

[Pyramid #14 Front Cover] It's come to our attention that not everybody on the planet knows our Web address (well, obviously you do, or else you wouldn't be reading this ...). But I encourage all you true believers to spread the word. Plaster our address everywhere! Make sure all net-literates everywhere can find us! Install links to our home page <URL:/> everywhere! Only then can our world domination be complete.

I got to go myself. It is my birthday, after all....
-- SDH

Thursday, June 15, 1995

Europe is a thief who stole half a day from me. Going to England, I regained an hour of lost time -- not enough to make a difference, but just enough to screw up my dealings with people on the continent. Say, ``La Vie''.

Stop 3 of 4: England! (or, ``MIND ... THE GAP.'')

Leaving Alex in France, John and I left for England where we enjoyed the hospitality of James Wallis of Hogshead, the folks who put out the Interactive Fantasy digest and have just acquired the rights to Games Workshops' Warhammer Roleplay, which they're really excited about pushing. The other really interesting project coming out of Hogshead is FRUP, where the players take the roles of (mostly) normal people living in a fantasy land that runs itself by the rules of a fantasy role-playing game. It's very odd, check it out this Autumn when it ships.

John and James had a lot to talk about -- after all, James is one of the original authors of Atlas Games' Once Upon a Time and stands a chance to make out like a bandit if the new edition does as well as it deserves to. See Tuesday's note for details....

John went back to the States, and I spent a lot of time walking around London. Being a big Beatles fan, I managed to find Abbey Road, hummed the better parts of the album and wrote my friend Nancy's name on the wall outside the famous EMI studios, continuing the trail of defacement and destruction across Western Europe the likes of which the world hasn't seen since I was in Wisconsin last.

My one fragile piece of security that I clung to about going to England was that at least I'd be with people who spoke my language. Bzzzt! Wrong. Survey says? ``American'' is not ``English''. All across Europe, English teachers howl and pull out their collective hair while French and German and Dutch kids grow up learning American English from the media they're innundated with instead of the English English the British want to pretend is the real way to speak. I mean, come on, who wants to sound like some old fake actor-type-person? Many of the Brits I spoke with were horrified at what I was putting ``their'' language through by moving my mouth, even when I was just asking for directions or telling them what I thought of their lame clothes. (It's a well known fact that many people in England, beyond merely speaking English with really, really funny accents, also have congenital diseases that prevent them from dressing themselves with any sense of style. It's sad, really -- but they're to be pitied, not hated, so I did my best to set them straight when I could. But since the first step towards recovery is an admission of the problem, I felt obliged to extract an admission. It was for their own good.)

And games? Well, the only game I played while I was in England -- besides Run Away From Insulted Fashion Victims or Hide in the Shadows of the Underground While the People You Offended Run Past Screaming and Waving Torches -- was MicroMachines II for the Sega platform. James whupped my butt at it, continuing an unsettling trend of Europeans being very, very nice to me and smiling and nodding while I displayed my American-ness but trouncing me miserably at their game of choice. Neolithibum is a cool German board game James showed me, though we never got around to playing. It concerns the building of little ancient cærns with rocks -- real rocks -- that are provided with the game. As James was quick to point out, it's the first collectible rock game ever created. Hmm ... collectible rocks, trading rocks ... we might be on to something, here. (Note to myself: call Carta Mundi, can they do rocks? Don't we have a bunch of rocks in our driveway? Emergency Creative Staff Meeting, now!)

If you've noticed my euro notes are getting shorter -- Wednesday's being the shortest of the bunch since it never actually existed -- I've been a little lax in my responsibilities with the Illuminator because I've been making frantic plans to leave tomorrow for Seattle, where I'll visit a sick friend of mine, Karynne Griffin. Apologies for the studder in Daily Illumination but don't worry, I'm writing my Friday ahead of time so Scott can post it in my absence. Have a great weekend everyone!

Next stop: Germany! (or, ``Fliegende Untertasse?'')
-- Derek Pearcy

Tuesday, June 13, 1995

After stopping off in Belguim for a day to visit famed card printer Carta Mundi -- whose favorite client, Wizards of the Coast, is giving them so much business that there'll be a Carta Mundi sales office in Cincinnati in just a few months -- we proceeded on to France. We, at this point, was myself, John Nephew of Atlas Games and Alex Klesen, a German freelancer living in France. If you didn't read yesterday's Daily Illuminator, go back and check it out so you won't feel too behind. And if you end up dropping out of my little story, this entire week-long rant will probably appear (slightly edited) in Pyramid #16.

Stop 2 of 4: France! (or, ``Voo-lay Louvrè Coo-shay Avec Mwah?'')

John's company does On the Edge, which you may have heard of, and is gearing up to do a high-production-value edition of their other card game, Once Upon a Time.

Alex was there representing Halloween Concepts, one of the up-and-coming small game companies in France. Translation-wise, they're best known for the incredible jobs they did on Toon for SJ Games, and Elfquest for Chaosium. They're also working on the French edition of Atlas' Once Upon a Time, and Alex and John are hoping to save money by printing card backs for both French and English editions at the same time. This is becoming a very popular idea; the German and Italian Once Upon a Time translators may get in on the action, too. In these days of eroding cultural identities, it's nice to see people working together.

As far as Halloween Concepts' own stuff goes, they have a really nifty trading-card game magazine called Lotus Noir and a popular trading-card game of their own called Intervention Divine based on the RPG In Nomine Satanis/Magna Veritas, that SJ Games licensed and abbreviated for the forthcoming In Nomine.

INS/MV was published in France by the largest of the small game companies, Siroz, who is also today's holder of the GURPS license in France. The online rep for Siroz, <>, is rapidly assembling web pages -- in French and English -- that provide lots of interesting info for interested gamers. If you flood his emailbox, maybe he'll translate the Intervention Divine cards so Americans can see what all the fuss is about....

The Net in France

But as I said before, Europe was wonderful for pointing out to me those aspects of my character that were gluttonous by-products of American culture, and never was that more painful than when I tried to use the phone, much less check my email.

Using the phone is not so much a strange and arcane ceremony as it is horrendously expensive. The phone company is owned by the government, who will squeeze you for every penny they can until the markets open in 1997. Every call is paid for, local or not; there is no such thing as a flat-rate phone bill. Calls are paid for in ``units'', which have a variable cost and duration depending on what area you're calling, ranging from $.30 for every 3 minutes of a local call, to astronomical amounts for even the briefest long-distance chat. And their phones ring funny. I thought Zlika's phone ringing was an alarm clock, and in my early-morning stupor set about trying find its damn snooze button. But the French use them anyway, because as odd as they may be, at least they're French.

And if you thought the phone calls themselves were horrendous, just try to shove data across a line. I felt like such a spoiled bastard. ``What do you mean I can't just hook a bunch of crap up and use it?'' First off, because the government runs the phone system, all telephony equipment has to be approved by the government. Don't even try to send a friend in France a fax modem, and phone phreaks are virtually non-existent there. Second, it's very difficult to get net access. It's very, very expensive, and on top of that, you have to pay for the phone call. Unlike in America, students have no net access unless they pay hundreds and hundreds of Francs a month for it; the last things the French government wants is the influence of a decentralized, international (read: English-speaking) net further breaking down the structure of their society. They don't even want us to send them our ``Mighty Ducks'' movies (which is a drag, because we don't want them, either). Illuminati Online user Stéphane Bura, who beat me mercilessly at a French card game called Kabal after I made some stupid aside about the Turks inventing the croissant, had to fight his university like a mad dog to keep what limited net access was available so he could finish research for his graduate studies. Thanks to his determination, you can send mail to <> and get a response from France. But it's just hardly an exaggeration to say that no one in France is on the net. The government does not want the net.

``But without the net'', you exclaim, your face quickly losing its color, ``without and MUDs and the web, what do the poor French computer people do with their lives?'' Well the French governmental agencies, which have made an art out of being Jacques and Jills of all trades but masters of none, have constructed an elaborate network called MiniTel. MiniTel is a box that sits in your house, like a cable set-top box, which allows you to talk with the myriad other French -- just like you! -- with computers and spare time and lots of money to spend on phone calls, type flying across the line only marginally faster than the spoken word. Service is free, the phone call isn't. It's like Prodigy running in CGA, it's like an Atari 2600 without the speed, it's like trying to drive nails with wood blocks or drawing with a bar of soap. It's bad. No, it's really bad. And they use it, because at least it's French.

But don't get the impression I didn't like France, or the French. France was beautiful, even the urban sprawl. Unlike America, they have buildings there that are even older than my grandfather. And the French were wonderful people, especially the ones that didn't beat or strip-search me. So I went to France, I experienced the Louvrè, shook my fist at MiniTel, played a few games and made some great new friends. Then, I went to that island.

Next stop: England! (or, ``You Eat What?'')
-- Derek Pearcy

Monday, June 12, 1995

Touring Europe has done two things for me.

First, and most important to my co-workers, it's forced me to relax a great deal. You can only get so upset about something when you're relying on everyone else to speak your language.

Second, it's thrown my American-ness -- that in my character which I never realized is uniquely a product of my culture, for better or worse -- into sharp relief. For example, until my friends in Europe told me, I never realized that all Americans talk loud and fast, gesturing wildly with unholstered pistols. It just seemed like a given. So from my new, relaxed perspective, heightened by a sense of American clarity, let's talk about the state of gaming on the other side of the Atlantic. I'll try to keep my pistol holstered.

Stop 1 of 4: The Netherlands

I attended a gaming convention in Eindhoven, Holland. It was a general gaming con, but Magic was the most popular thing there. Two points for craftiness, penalty for pettiness: the con staff organized an Iron Man Magic event, where discarded cards are torn up, much to the delight of the anti-Magic crowd -- and reportedly, the same staffers conveniently happened to have a bunch of Magic on hand to sell at the end of the contest, to replace player's lost cards.

Americans seen at the show were John Nephew, Robin Jenkins, Brent Ferguson and Bob Brynildson from Atlas Games, eagerly pushing On the Edge; Charlie Crank of Chaosium, working on their Call of Cthulhu Card Game, tentatively due out next spring; the boys from R. Talsorian, without a card game but busily psyching people up about Mekton Zeta; various guys from Flying Buffalo, Chameleon Eclectic, FGP and plenty of other people I don't remember right off hand or are purposefully ignoring who will beat me senseless at GenCon for not mentioning them here.

Gaming in the Netherlands doesn't seem to be a huge thing. Most of the people who showed up at the convention -- about 2,000 -- were just card enthusiasts from outlying areas. Few real locals seemed to be in attendance. Some blame the con staff, others blame the fact that it was not only a beautiful weekend outside, but also the 50th anniversary of VE-Day -- don't let it ever be said that Europeans ever overlooked an excuse to party. We Americans found it particularly ego-satisfying to be there, as the Dutch roundly thanked us for helping them throw off the bitter yoke of German tyranny.

Most of the Dutch speak (and, of course, read) English with a greater precision than most American fast-food drive-through cashiers. This is good for us Americans because we don't have to deal with local game companies who want to translate our work into the local language, and the headaches that come from that. We just ship our product as is, and further erode the cultural base of the Dutch language. Hooray! We win again!

The Dutch that I gamed with, though, were throughly vicious. More often than not, they won. And they spoke good English, so it was more difficult to think of them as damn foriegners. I tried anyway. Lots of loud and fast talking, lots of unholstered pistol brandishing. But apparently the Dutch have no idiomatic equivalent to, "Let the wookie win." They also refused to listen to reason. "Come on," went a usual American argument, "don't attack my Vibe Valiant, weren't you guys just thanking us for helping you throw off the bitter yoke of German tyranny?" This line of reasoning is a special sort of failure at a table full of Germans. We did, however, discover an intriguing new playing variant, similar to Iron Man Magic, where all discarded cards must be torn up and eaten by the American at the table.

Next stop: France! (or, ``All You Need is Louvrè!'')
-- Derek Pearcy

June 9, 1995

Been selling ads today for Pyramid #15, our Sept./Oct. issue. We're trying like mad to have this issue out at GenCon, though, so all the deadlines have been moved up ... what fun. It hasn't been hard to sell the ads, though, not after the folks have heard what we have planned. Issue #15 will have a massive 8-card trading card giveaway, absolutely free! Check out this lineup:

Be sure to reserve your copy with your retailer. Or to make sure you don't miss out, check out how to subscribe.
-- SDH

June 8, 1995

Boy, it sure feels like summer around here. I can't wait for Illuminati Online to move into their new digs; their current quarters feature an extra-heavy-duty air conditioning system installed to keep all those computers and modems cool. I do believe the new Managing Editor Chamber has been found....

We received the final draft of a new GURPS book today, GURPS Greece. Also recently arrived: GURPS Places of Mystery and GURPS Dinosaurs. They're not officially on the schedule or anything, but look for them in the late fall and winter.

We've officially gone into panic mode over the INWO expansion set, Assassins. The graphics guys are coloring like mad, Steve is writing like mad and the rest of us ... well, we're trying to keep everything else going while those guys go mad. Big playtest planned this weekend -- I'll keep you informed....
-- SDH

June 7, 1995

Well, I've got a lot of good Brazil and Montana stories to tell, but I don't know if I've got the hit points to do it tonight. Besides, I've got something else to pass along right now. Something truly awful. in wrote:

Well I got to see a good INWO play at a tournament here in Indy. One play said `I will give you $20 to throw the game' the judge said that was fine. The player threw the match and the other played the `I Lied' card. :)
-- Steve Jackson

June 6, 1995

OK, I'll go first . . .

My two-week holiday was an automotive odyssey across the Southeast. The raw data: 16 days, 4,160 miles, 8 states, 12 baseball games, 2 rounds of golf, 1 National Monument, 1 Aircraft Carrier, 1 Beach, 1 Alabama Benedictine Abbey, 9 rolls of film, 1 Riverboat Casino, 1 car battery and about a dozen listenings of Warren Zevon's new album, ``Mutineer'', on the car tape deck. Highly recommended, by the way.

I saw mostly minor league baseball games, in places like Jackson, MS and Charleston, SC and Nashville, TN and Jacksonville, FL. I was part of small crowds (only a couple of hundred on a rainy night in Birmingham, AL) and big ones (over 7,000 for ``Jersey Night'' on a Friday night in Jacksonville). I saw thrilling finishes -- Richard Hidalgo's 3-run homer in the bottom of the 9th wins it for Jackson, 6-5 -- and real snoozers (The Birmingham Barons were crushed 10-0 by Huntsville in a nearly empty stadium). I was having trouble getting excited about this year's major league season, what with the strike and all, and I wanted to know if I still loved baseball. I do.

I did more than just drive and go to baseball games, of course. And I've got the pictures to prove it, though they haven't gone to the developers yet. I had set up a vacation home page with my itinerary on it before I left, and in the next few days, I hope to add things to it that will better describe my adventures. When I have the time, whenever that will be . . .

Tomorrow: Somebody else tells about their great adventure!
-- Scott Haring

June 5, 1995

We're ba-a-ack . . .

It was a wonderful two weeks on the road, thanks. I'll tell you all about it sometime soon. Meanwhile, Steve is back from Brazil, Montana and points in between, Derek got back last night from Europe, Lillian is back from Mississippi, Susan is back from Yellowstone and Jeff is back from New Orleans. And here we are, rested and refreshed -- and in my case, facing two weeks' worth of mail, both electronic and physical.

Work is beginning in earnest on the final push for the INWO expansion set, Assassins, due out in August. And I have another issue of Pyramid magazine to get to the printer, plus we're expecting final drafts on several GURPS books in the next few days, including Greece and Goblins. It's a good thing we're all so rested and refreshed, right?

I will try to convince Steve, Derek and the others to regale us with tales of their adventures here in the Daily Illuminator in the very near future. For now, has anyone seen my desk? It was somewhere under this pile of mail . . .
-- SDH

[JUMP] -- To return here, [JUMP] ``sjgames-ill''.
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