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Harmony Quest: A LARP About Relationships

June 26, 2010

Hello LARP fans!  In case you haven’t heard, my fiance Viktoriya and I are writing a LARP called “Harmony Quest.”  This is an experimental game set at a couples counseling retreat.  Most of the game will be spent in group therapy sessions, in which the characters will be trying to work out their relationship issues.

The game design candy here: we’re going to be using real past relationship issues from our players’ lives.  On the casting questionnaire, we ask you to tell us some stories about your past relationships, and we’ll be using them as the basis for characters.  You won’t get the character with your stories – someone else will.

Sound intriguing?  If so, we need players badly! We particularly need males, but we could use more people in general.

If you want to read the blurb, go see Vik’s original post about it on LiveJournal.  Or, to sign up, please fill out our casting questionnaire on Journey.  Thanks!

Wyrd Times

June 22, 2010

Being the First in a Series of Overdue Posts about LARP Events

The weekend before last, I attended Wyrd Con One, the first all-LARP convention on the West Coast.  Joining me in my travels was fellow Alleger Greer Hauptman.

Wyrd Con was at once familiar and strange.  It was a larger convention than any Intercon in history.  It was a more diverse LARP convention than any I’ve ever heard of.  It was fun, instructive, frustrating, and fascinating.  Above all, it was, well, weird. Read more…

LARPer Resume

May 5, 2010

Baaaaa, I’m a sheep.  All my friends are putting up LARP resumes.  I already have a LARP CV up on my web site, but that one’s about LARP running, conventioneering and stuff like that.  In this one, I’m going to list all the LARPs I’ve ever played (that I remember).

Following what seems to be the popular format amongst my friends, * means this was one of my favorite experiences playing a LARP.  % means I particularly disliked playing this game.  Breaking with tradition a bit, I’m going to separate out another mark: @ means I have a rant about this game (positive, negative, neither – this just denotes that I have a lot to say about this one).

Also note: I’ve redacted things that could be possible spoilers, but left them possible to see, by writing them in white-on-white with a black underline, so you can highlight it to see, like this: “Rosebud” was a sled.

2002

  • Mont-Saint-Michel (Brandeis) – the cook
  • Deep South by Daylight (Brandeis) – don’t remember
  • * 6×9: Peripheral Visionaries (Brandeis) – Sumadartson
  • @ The Final Voyage of the Mary Celeste (Brandeis) – Lord Thantor
  • %@ Broadway’s on the Rocks with a Twist (Brandeis) – The Phantom of the Opera

2003

  • Saturday Morning Massacre (Intercon C) – Inspector Gadget
  • @ An Evening With Clarence (Intercon C) – Detective Nick Carter
  • * Underdog’s Tavern (Intercon C) – Slicer
  • Panel: The LARP (Intercon C) – Horde
  • * Eye of the Storm (Intercon Gazebo) – a child whose name I don’t remember
  • Og: The LARP (Intercon Gazebo) – a caveman
  • * Col. Sebastian T. Rawhide’s Circus of the Spectacular (Intercon Gazebo) – Douglas Credenza aka John Bungling
  • %@ Star Wars: Only Time Never Stops (Intercon Gazebo) – Thel Shaki
  • Giggle (Brandeis) – Purple Tentacle

2004

  • * Grimm Tales (Intercon D) – Jack
  • * The School for Young Women Specializing in the Arts of Grace and Maidenly Submission (Intercon D) – The Puppet aka Guybrush Threepwood
  • City Council of Hound’s Teeth (Intercon D) – Horde

2005

  • Michael Clambino’s Poker Night (Intercon E) – the goon
  • League of Extraordinary Breakfast Cereals (Intercon E) – Snap (or maybe Crackle or Pop)
  • * TBA (Intercon E) – the pilot
  • Endgame (Intercon E) – a technician whose name I don’t remember
  • @ Etherlines: The Morning After (Brandeis) – I wish I could write down the character’s name, but there are people out there who would stop being my friend over that.
  • Perfectly Normal University (Brandeis) – Greg Nevski
  • A Night at the Dead Fern Bar (Intercon XX) – Dr. Maynard Weisel
  • * Tempus Frangit (Intercon XX) – Raventooth
  • An Iron GM Game by Deb and Del that I can’t remember the name of, sorry (Intercon XX) – an absolutely flaming man whose name I can’t remember

2006

  • A crossover game whose name escapes me (Arisia ’06) – Frobozz
  • A Question of Faith (Intercon F) – can’t remember
  • Divus Ex: Greece (Intercon F) – Dionysus
  • * Layover in Santa Calavera (Intercon Z at Intercon F) – horde
  • Bughunt (Intercon Z at Intercon F) – team leader
  • Succession! (Intercon Z at Intercon F) – can’t remember
  • Return to Wonderland (LARP Weekend 2006) – the King
  • Welcome to Sunnyvale (LARP Weekend 2006) – Jim Hoover aka God
  • League of Extraordinary Breakfast Cereals (Intercon Northeast at Dexcon 9) – can’t remember
  • Plan 8 from Outer Space (Intercon Northeast at Dexcon 9) – the QA engineer whose name I could look up if I weren’t a lazy ass
  • %@ Wizards (Intercon Northeast at Dexcon 9) – a troll whose name I can’t remember
  • Elanthia (Brandeis) – Sir Nathanial Dorian
  • 1955: Signals (Intercon XXI) – Charles Lambwright, military advisor
  • Smallgreens (Intercon XXI) – can’t remember
  • % Mahabharata (Intercon XXI) – Karna (should be noted that the % is for a “me” problem and not a game problem, IMO)

2007

  • Divus Ex: Convocation (Festival 2007) – THOR!!!
  • Miskatonic Class Reunion (Festival 2007) – Franklin Dark
  • In the Jungle (Playtest, Somerville MA) – can’t remember
  • * Grimmer Tales: Arabian Nights (Intercon XXII) – Jack
  • And They Were As Gods (Intercon XXII) – Alexander Carpathia aka Jesus
  • Masks (Brandeis) – Harry Stein aka Der Flamende Aedler aka Breakeven

2008

  • Clue Impaired (Arisia ’08) – Antonio
  • *@ 10 Bad Modules in 100 Bad Minutes (Intercon H) – a bunch of characters, including Repentant Sobbing Hitler
  • Miskatonic Archaeological Expedition (Festival 2008) – Dr. Armand Pabodie
  • Marin County New Age Society Cocktail Party (Festival 2008) – Inspector Mudd
  • *@ Torch of Freedom (RPI) – Col. Ignatius Evingast
  • Blue Archangel (Intercon XXIII) – Ken Robertson
  • * The Road Not Taken (Intercon XXIII) – can’t remember my number, but I had to decide whether to pull the plug on a dying parent
  • % Finals (Intercon XXIII) – the janitor

2009

  • GM Space (Playtest, Brandeis) – horde
  • % A Midsummer Night and the Living is Easy (FestEvil ’09) – Sam Archer
  • *@ Lifeline (FestEvil ’09) – Zonk
  • Shebopaleleigh (FestEvil ’09) – a troupe member
  • * ‘Tis No Deceit to Deceive the Deceiver (Brandeis) – Nathan Windswept
  • % Tales of Pendragon (RPI) – Otho
  • Martha Stewart’s Guide to Interdimensional Summoning and Basting a Turkey (Brandeis) – Mephisto
  • * Shebopaleleigh (SLAW) – an audience member, then a fill-in role for a missing player
  • * Bard of Avalon (SLAW) – Hollyhock
  • % Chateau Ennui (SLAW) – Sam Petrasewicz
  • Paranoia (SLAW) – Fea-R-Less
  • Lullaby of Broadway: Episode 2 – Gary Coleman

2010

  • 1897: The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (RPI) – Bram Stoker aka Van Hellsing
  • Blackout (Intercon J) – Dan Gallagher
  • Replaying a Classic: Final Voyages of the Mary Celeste (Intercon J) – Capt. Briggs
  • * The Sound of Drums (Intercon J) – Kasimir
  • * Oz (V for Vestival) – Jubilation Lott
  • % Carry On at Camp David (V for Vestival) – Elvis Priestly
  • * Two Hours in London (V for Vestival) – Daniel Alexander

Some Vital Statistics

Games played: 73
Games played at conventions I was helping run: 21
Favorites: 20
Disliked: 9
Strong opinions: 9

Games in which I played screwed characters: 23
Favorite games in which I played screwed characters: 6

Renewing my Passover resolution

April 4, 2010

Last year, during Passover, I resolved to diet.  And diet.  And keep dieting, until I was not overweight anymore.

I had privately resolved at New Year’s to get more exercise, but joining a gym hadn’t really helped much.  I felt healthier, but I didn’t get to the gym as much as I would have liked to, and I hated doing it.  I had recently read The Hacker’s Diet by John Walker, which had given me hope that really transformative dieting – the kind where you go on it until you’re not overweight anymore – was even possible, and some ideas about how to do it.  I downloaded a calorie-tracking iPhone application and started counting everything I ate.

Much to my surprise, calorie counting actually worked.  It worked so well that since last Passover, I have lost 45 pounds.

Unfortunately, February-April is convention season.  My diet has gone somewhat by the wayside and I’ve gained back 5 of those.  That’s why I’m announcing here publicly: I am renewing my Passover resolution. Over the last year I did pretty well, but the work is not yet done.

nanoc3 + vlad = awesome web site deployment

March 11, 2010

I’m almost ready to take the wraps off a new web site I’ve been working on.  But while I can’t yet show you the site, I can show you the cool software I used to develop it and get it online.

This is a static site, meaning it’s pretty much just an informational set of pages.  Previously, I’d been using Radiant CMS for such things, and MediaWiki before that.  But both of those solutions (along with WordPress, Drupal, and other CMS-like things) mean having to deploy a whole web application, complete with a database onto your server.  That takes manpower, RAM, and is a pain whenever you migrate to a different server.

You never really need the complexity of a CMS except when the content changes.  So instead of a CMS, how about software that just regenerates all of your HTML files whenever you change something on the site?

Turns out there’s a really good piece of software called nanoc that does just that.  Using nanoc, I was able to build the web site I wanted without a hassle, and compile it to static HTML files in under a second.  (There are already pretty good tutorials, including one on nanoc’s web site, for using it.)  I do recommend using nanoc version 3.1 or greater, since it has some very major usability improvements.  3.1 is in beta right now, but should be released really soon.

But what about when you want to deploy the site to your web server?  Well, you could just copy the entire contents of the output folder over there.  That would work, but:

  • It gets to be a pain when you do updates (copy it again!  now copy it again!).
  • It can be hard to back out a change (oops, I accidentally deleted a page).

Well, in the Rails world, there are a couple of good tools to do this kind of thing: the venerable Capistrano and the young, awesomely-named Vlad the Deployer.  There are some big differences between these two tools, but essentially, what they both do is:

  • Build a set of folders on your web server called releases and shared.
  • Check out the latest version of your site from your version control repository, under a new timestamped folder in releases.
  • Copy or link any server-specific stuff you’ve put in shared into the new copy of your site.
  • Run some tests to make sure the new copy is good.
  • Create a symlink (or change the existing one) called current, pointing to the new copy of the site.

So with this setup, all you need to do is point your web server’s root for this site at the current location, and your deployment tool will set up new versions of it with no downtime.  Plus, it’s easy to roll back to an older version if you need to – just change the symlink back to the older copy.

I chose Vlad the Deployer for this site, partly because I like the name, and partly because it’s smaller and less Rails-specific.

Here’s how I did it:

Step 1: Install Vlad

If you’ve already got nanoc installed, you’ve already got Ruby and RubyGems.  So installing vlad is easy:

sudo gem install vlad

If you’re not using Subversion as your version control system (I’m using git), then you’ll also need to do one of the following:

sudo gem install vlad-git
sudo gem install vlad-perforce
sudo gem install vlad-hg

Step 2: Edit your Rakefile to enable Vlad

nanoc already put a Rakefile at the top of your project folder.  To enable Vlad deployment, just add the following lines to the bottom of that file:

require 'hoe'

begin
  require "vlad"
  Vlad.load :scm => "git"
rescue LoadError
  # do nothing
end

(If you’re not using git, change “git” to the name of the version control system you’re using.  Vlad supports “subversion”, “hg”, and “perforce” as well.)

Step 3: Write a config/deploy.rb file

Create a folder called config in your project folder.  In there, you’ll need a file called “deploy.rb”.  A basic Vlad deployment script is as simple as this:

set :application, "my_web_site"
set :domain, "root@my-web-server.com"
set :deploy_to, "/srv/my_web_site"
set :repository, "git://my-git-server.com/myproject"

(If you want to run the deployment as a different user besides root, just change that on the “domain” line.)

In our case, we need to do a little bit extra.  First of all, we need to override Vlad’s default “update_symlinks” task so that it doesn’t try to link in some Rails-specific folders from shared.  We can do that like this:

namespace :vlad do
  # clear out everything currently in update_symlinks
  Rake.clear_tasks('vlad:update_symlinks')

  task :update_symlinks do
    # nothing
  end
end

The Rake.clear_tasks line deletes the “vlad:update_symlinks” task.  We then redefine it (so that other tasks that try to run it won’t fail), but our new version does nothing.

Finally, we need to do an extra step: once our site is checked out onto the server, we need to use nanoc to compile it.  To do that, add this inside the “namespace :vlad” block:

task :update do
  run "cd #{release_path} && mkdir -p output && nanoc3 compile"
end

This will add an extra step to the “vlad:update” task.  It goes into our timestamped folder under releases, makes an “output” folder, and runs “nanoc3 compile” (which will compile our nanoc site into the “output” folder).

OK!  The final version of the deploy.rb file looks like this:

set :application, "my_web_site"
set :domain, "root@example.com"
set :deploy_to, "/srv/my_web_site"
set :repository, "git://my-git-server.com/myproject"</pre>
<pre>namespace :vlad do
  # clear out everything currently in update_symlinks
  Rake.clear_tasks('vlad:update_symlinks')

  task :update do
    run "cd #{release_path} && mkdir -p output && nanoc3 compile"
  end

  task :update_symlinks do
    # nothing
  end
end

 

Step 4: Run Vlad!

OK, we’re all set to run.  In your project folder, run:

rake vlad:setup

 

Vlad will SSH into your web server and create all its folders in the location you told it to.  (It will probably ask you for your server password, possibly multiple times.  If you want to avoid this, you can set up SSH public key authentication.)

Now we’re ready to deploy the site:

rake vlad:update

 

If you go check in the web server, you’ll see that your site has been deployed to the folder you chose, under “current/output”.

Step 5: Set up your web server

You need to tell your web server where to find the files for your new site.  I’m using nginx as my web server, so here is the configuration for that:

server {
    server_name my-new-site.com www.my-new-site.com;
    listen 80;

    location / {
       root /srv/my_web_site/current/output;
    }
}

Or for Apache, do something like:

<VirtualHost *:80>
      ServerName my-new-site.com
      ServerAlias www.my-new-site.com
      DocumentRoot /srv/my_web_site/current/output
</VirtualHost>

Restart your server, and boom, you’re done.

Afterwards

Now to update your site, you just check your changes into version control, and run:

rake vlad:update

Vlad will automatically update your server and change over the symlink.  If you want to roll back to the previous version:

rake vlad:rollback

New header image, too.

March 6, 2010

Thanks to the inimitable Miss Viktoriya for pointing out the obvious thing I totally missed: the previous header image doesn’t look like pudding, it looks like something else soft, warm, and brown.

She was kind enough to find me a new one, so enjoy.

New digs

March 4, 2010

When John Gruber is right, he’s right.  And he’s right about hosting your own WordPress.

Briefly – WordPress has a gigantic attack surface.  It’s far and away the most popular web application as far as installed instances, and although the developers do a fairly good job with security, the sheer popularity means that as soon as new exploits are discovered, blogs get compromised almost immediately.

It’s not that WordPress isn’t good software – I think it is – but that running it yourself means having to constantly stay on top of security issues.  What if I go on vacation for 5 days and don’t have computer access?  Am I going to get hacked?  More importantly, are the other applications also running on my server – including Journey, which is a commercial software offering – going to get hacked?

It’s just plain not worth it.  Let someone else host my blog.

So I’ve done something I’ve been thinking about for awhile: I’ve moved this blog off my own servers and onto WordPress.com.  For anyone currently hosting your own WordPress installation, I highly encourage you to seriously consider it too.  It’s easy to do, it migrates all your comments, and it’s free-to-extremely-cheap.

Unfortunately, they don’t let you use just any WordPress theme, so I’ve set up a new one from their (fairly good) library.  I actually think this one is an improvement on my old theme.

Anyway, enjoy, and please do let me know if you see any issues with the new blog.

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