Review of Gaslands – Post-Apocalyptic Vehicular Combat Miniatures Game

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I am an old school gamer and played Car Wars back in the day.  Car Wars more or less faded into obscurity over the years, but the demand for a car combat game was still out there.  Osprey Publishing has answered this call with Gaslands, a Matchbox meets Mad Max cars shooting and crashing game.  (That’s not the official title, but humor me.)

A few things about the game.  One, the background is irrelevant and the book doesn’t bore us with a lot here.  Let’s be honest, we just want to drive and blow things up.  The things we can’t blow up, we want to drive into.  Fortunately, that is the core premise of Gaslands.

Gaslands, as a game, is what Wings of Glory is to WWI aviation combat.  If you are looking for a fast game that is easy to learn, without complex rules, then Gaslands is great.  What I really like is that the game is designed for you to take Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars and modify them for gameplay.  My grandson is eight and he enjoys this game – so the concepts are pretty simple to master.

I will say that the writing is not perfect with Gaslands.  There are some important concepts that are vague in how they are presented and require re-reading sometimes to make sure you fully get them.  On flipping, for example, I can’t tell for sure by the way it written if your vehicle is out of play if it flips or if it is pulling off some Dukes of Hazzard maneuver.  The lack of an index makes it tricky at times to find what you are looking for.

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My grandson’s performance car drifts in front of my heavily armed truck. 

Movement is done via templates.  You roll dice, optionally, when you perform maneuvers. The results can be that you skid, slide, or have the ability to up or downshift.  Weapons range from pistols to rocket launchers and oil slicks.  If you pick a particularly aggressive template, you can pick up hazard tokens.  The dice rolls are in your favor, you can shed hazard tokens.

Combat and collisions are straight forward resolved with dice rolling.  This isn’t about tracking each dent and scratch location on your car, this is about wrecking them.

The gameplay centers around hazard tokens.  When you gather six or more, you can lose control of your vehicle, even flip.  The more reckless and fast you drive, the more you accumulate. Driving recklessly, if done creatively, is the key to many games of Gaslands.  Skidding, for example, is a great way to shift your vehicle into a better positon.

The rules allow for big rigs, crews, and general chaos.  There is plenty of room here for adding in your own RPG elements and expanding the rules for driving and shooting skills.  Gaslands, as it stands is a good fast game that can be blown out any way you desire.

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Time to raid your kids toybox for minis.  

You don’t need the customer dice, tokens, or templates – but they do help (especially the dice).  Shapeways has the dice if you want them 3D printed, or you can order them from the Gaslands website – https://gaslands.com/   I got the whole kit and kaboodle for around $50 US, a tad pricy for what you get – but still a pretty low entry point for the game.  Not sure you want to jump in with both feet?  You can order the book alone (which has copy-able templates, tokens, etc.) for around $15.00.  YouTube has some videos which helped with my interpretation of some of the more challenging rules.

My rating on this is four and a half out of five stars.  Pick it out and raid your kids old cars to trick out some rides.

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Office Humor – Things to never put on your resume’, CV, or cover letter

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Thinking these things is okay.  Putting them in writing…not so much.  Enjoy!

  • Meet with me and prepare to be dazzled.
  • If you have read my resume’ to this point, clearly you recognize the talent I can bring to you and your team.
  • I am loyal to a fault.  Please feel free to contact me at my current work email or phone number.
  • I am available for interviews after 10:30am.
  • While my availability could be interpreted as having been fired or laid off; I want to assure you, my departure was completely voluntary and even if it wasn’t, I was not the only one affected.
  • When I leave my current position I am sure productivity and morale will drop dramatically, but I am willing to take that risk to join your organization.
  • On Resume’:  Career Goals – Work for a company not as screwed up as the one I currently work for.
  • I am willing to relocate, but only if you pay for it.
  • My current company promised rapid advancement, but never delivered, despite my protests on the subject.
  • I am in high demand so you may want to extend an offer based on my resume’ alone.
  • I feel bad about looking for a new role since the place will fall apart without my leadership.
  • My attorney and I look forward to your offer letter.
  • You may reach out to my current manager as a reference.  She is the one that encouraged me to pursue other opportunities.
  • My reason for desiring a new position is that my current employer refuses to recognize the brilliance I bring to the table.
  • I am content in my current role, but they refuse to promote me, despite my acts of personal heroism in the office.
  • I don’t come cheap.
  • I take teamwork seriously, even after hours.  I have played a pivotal role (cleric) in a Dungeons and Dragons party for the last six years of our current campaign.  If that isn’t teamwork, I don’t know what is.
  • On Resume’:  Accomplishments:  Earned over 450,000 Marriott points in the last year alone.
  • My reason for leaving my current role is that my employer is asking me to work unreasonable hours, such as starting at 8am.
  • This is your lucky day because today you have discovered me!
  • While I may lack all of the skills and experience you are looking for, I make it up with a can-do attitude!
  • The following are sample comments from my last performance review…
  • I am not bragging, but I could probably do your job more effectively than you do.
  • I am pursuing other career options at the time because my current company undervalues my contributions and have restricted our expense policy.
  • You are so fortunate to be reading this resume’.  I am sure you will be promoted based on the offer you are about to tender me!
  • I am pursuing a new company because I was not promoted when others, who were clearly inferior, were.  (Note:  If this was a good excuse I would be changing jobs annually.)
  • I am the kind of person that is always growing.  Last year I took over 195 hours of learning alone!
  • According to Google, your company would be a perfect fit for my personality and work style.
  • The hours I work are not nearly as important as what I bring to the table…something my current employer simply doesn’t understand.
  • After reading my attached resume’, you will realize that I have made your decision to fill this role easy and quick.  When should I start?
  • I am willing to travel as part of this position, but I won’t go to the following countries…
  • Once your meet me face-to-face, I’m sure you will wonder, “How did we get along before she got here?”
  • On Resume’:  Career Goals:  Work for an organization that compensates me for the brilliance I bring to the team, rather than silly things like profitability, billable hours, or delivering tangible work product.
  • I feel sad in looking for another job because my current employer is bound to go out of business without me.
  • I look forward to your call.  I have several questions about your company’s mission statement.
  • If this position doesn’t pay at least (insert dollar amount) then you do not need to read further.
  • I assume your company is pet-friendly.
  • On Resume’:  Career Goals – A salary consummate with the lifestyle I so richly deserve.
  • My involvement on a recent engagement persuaded the client to add three more staff to our team, just to assist on my deliverable!  Imagine what I could do for your firm.
  • Because of the demand for me, I will need a written commitment in advance regarding promotion
  • Before we proceed with your inevitable offer, I need to know the details on your medical benefits.
  • I see my applying for this position as a chance for you to live up to your company’s value statement.
  • My division lost less money last year than the other divisions because of my leadership.
  • Please use this phone number, not the one on the resume’.  That line has been disconnected.
  • On Resume’:  Hobbies include political protests that are against key social issues, macramé, visiting serial killer murder locations.
  • I am moving on in my career because my mother feels my current employer undervalues my contributions.
  • The gaps in my resume’ are no reflection on my work performance, a lot of people were laid off during those periods.
  • My staff often referred to me as “The Head Honcho” which tells you how influential I am.
  • I am pursuing a position with your organization because my mentor suggested that I am a solid fit for your company.
  • One of my strengths is I won’t compromise my values, unless you pay me enough.
  • On a Resume’:  Words used to describe me – “Dynamic, Innovative, Challenges Authority, and Undervalued by Leadership.”
  • Your days of searching for a perfect candidate are over!
  • Just to clarify, any images you find of my on the internet were NOT put there with my expressed permission.  I am seeking legal action against those who posted those photos and please do not hold those images against me during the hiring process.
  • My mother asked me to ask you the following question…
  • On a Resume’:  My low GPA reflects instructors that were sub-par and unreasonably early class start times.
  • If you don’t hire me, I encourage you to contribute to my favorite charity _______________.
  • You don’t want to look back five years from now and say to yourself, “I had a chance to hire that guy and didn’t.”
  • I don’t want to say I walk on water, but I can cross a lake without getting wet.
  • I am excited to see what your signing bonuses are and how they compare to the rest of the industry.
  • Because of legal reasons I cannot travel out of state or be available on weekends…but other than that, I’m your new go-to-guy.
  • While my title seems rather ordinary, I have been called, “the glue that holds this place together.”  So consider that in your decision making.
  • If you were to Google me you would see the phrase, “Anti-Authoritative Risk Taker,” which just about sums up what I can bring to your company.
  • In search of perfection?  I’d say you’d found it with this attached resume’.
  • I suggest you keep this introduction letter, because my autograph is bound to be worth a lot in years to come.
  • I am unavailable on weekends for work due to court-required community service.
  • I can save your company a lot of money in terms of recruitment – simply hire me right now based on the attached resume’!
  • Before we get too far, what is your company’s expense and travel spending limits?
  • Frankly I should be much further in my career, but my manager leaves a great deal to be desired.
  • It should be noted that several of my references are leaders in our industry.
  • My anger management instructor said I am the most improved in her class, which should count for something.
  • I am seeking a new career trajectory because I was falsely accused of telling the truth about the incompetence of my manager to her supervisor.
  • My ratings have been a three for the last few years, but in fairness, a three at our company is a five at other companies (per what we have been told by our leadership.)  So I’m basically a five…
  • I feel it is time for a move, and your company was the least objectionable option.
  • Resume’ Personal Information:  Weight, 197lbs, Height, 6 ft.  Able to bench press 230lbs, highest ranking team member of the Red Cobras Squad on Call of Duty 4.
  • I am currently pursuing a degree, so I will need to know your tuition reimbursement plan in advance of accepting an offer with your company.
  • Think of it this way, you are hiring someone who is likely going to be your boss someday.
  • I hope you can be flexible with interviewing schedules, my father wants to take part in those discussions and he is quite busy.

Like these?  Check out my book:  Business Rules: The Cynic’s Guidebook to the Corporate Overlords

My List of Gen Con Survival Tips – Updated for 2018

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Thursday morning, 9:50am, just so you get the idea about the whole crowd thing. 

Yes, it is that time of the year again – time for my unsolicited updated list of Gen Con tips survival.  These are to be treated as tongue and cheek – intended with a hint of a sense of humor.  If you’re offended, well, suck it up…this was intended to be useful and hopefully funny.

This year I am bringing my grandson Trenton and my wife.  For my wife, it will be a shock.  She attended Gen Con back in the day in Milwaukee.  I would try and prepare her for the sheer mass of people, but where would the fun be in that?

So, here’s my annual tips – updated where appropriate.

#1:  Plan in advance.  Go online, figure out what you want to do.  DO NOT try and figure all of this out while you are at the counter buying tickets.  This is like that person standing at line at Starbucks for 15 minutes, getting up there and going, “Hmm…I’m not sure what I want…”  Don’t be that guy.  Everybody hates that guy.

#2  Getting into the city.  Indianapolis is easy to navigate, but this year, I-65 (one of the main roads in) will be under construction.  Allow yourself some extra time.  It is hairiest to drive into the city on Thursday and Friday because of the locals who work there. The good news is that rush hour in Indianapolis is not horrible. The locals think it is, but it isn’t (I live outside of Washington DC.)

#3  Parking.  Okay, this is tricky.  Thursday and Friday, you have to compete with the locals for parking spaces.  Many lots fill up by 10:30am.  In other words, be prepared to walk some distance on those days.  I have a secret place or two for parking – which I won’t reveal.  The key is, get there early before the garages fill up.

#4:  Pack as if you are going to be at the convention center for 16 hours straight…because you are.  Slip in some snacks because let’s face it, convention food is expensive and sucks.  Bring pencils, pack your lucky dice (you know the ones!) graph paper, phone charger, a small tape measure (for miniatures games), aspirin, you know – typical geek gamer survival gear.  Think over seriously if you need to bring all of your rules books and game manuals.  Chances are the guys running the game are going to have a copy there.  Don’t over pack.  You don’t need to bring your PC with you, I’m almost positive.  Keep it simple, keep it light.  Pack what you need but remember, you’re not setting out to climb Mt. Everest (or Mt. Doom, your choice.)

#5:  Be prepared for the rush to the main hall when it opens.  Yes, when the balloon goes up and they open the doors to the sales floor, it is a geek equivalent to the running of the bulls in Spain (albeit a little safer).  Don’t fight the masses, ride it in.  Also – DON’T RUN.  The convention folks really hate people that run.  To answer your question now:  Yes, it’s that crowded every year.  You can’t get in without a badge, have it out and visible.  The Stormtrooper Door Guards will stop you dead in your tracks, meaning you are subject to being trampled by the crowd surge.  Also, nothing sucks more than being in a crowd of 2000 only to find out you have turn around and run back to the hotel room through a sea of angry and exited geeks.

#6:  Cosplay is part of the experience and is encouraged.  If you are going to do it, don’t design a costume that is going to injure passersby.  Think it over.  No one is more of a douche-bag than a guy that has designed a costume that is hard to get around or trips/blinds people when you pass.

#7:  If you’re going to be one of those people who stop in the middle of a crowd to take a picture of the booth-babe wearing a chain mail bikini, do it quickly and don’t clog up the corridor.  She’s not going to go back to your hotel room with her because you’re taking her photo and you don’t need a photo to prove to your buddies back at the office that there were indeed females at the convention.  Okay, that last point – I may be wrong.

#8:  Bathe and use deodorant.  This shouldn’t have to be a tip, it should be common sense.  Based on my own experience moving through the crowd, I had to include it.  Look, you paid for a hotel room right?  Go back at some point and at least use the shower.  Foot powder, toothpaste, and clean clothing (a fresh set for every day) shouldn’t require mentioning – yet here I am doing it.  Why?  Because people don’t do it!

#9:  While you have no adult supervision and can do what you want, be respectful of others.  In other words, bringing your leftover Taco Bell burrito from dinner to that 8am gaming session and eating it during the set-up is just wrong.  You do know that their meat isn’t real meat, right?

#10:  For your meals eat outside of the convention center.  First, convention food sucks and is expensive.  My memory is that a single, room-temperature, piece of convention cardboard pizza runs around $425.  I don’t blame the folks in Indianapolis for this, it sucked when the convention was in Milwaukee too.  It is something of a tradition to stand in line at the nearby Steak N Shake for 20 minutes at least once during the con for me, but that’s just me.  I also like the brisk walk to the attached mall.  They have a food court, variety, better prices, and it’s a hoot watching the locals interact with the convention attendees.

Go only five blocks away and there are a lot of eating places.  Gamers hate leaving the convention site, even for an hour for food, so if you are willing to walk, downtown has a LOT of eating options and the further you walk, the smaller the crowds.  I recommend taking the stroll.  Ten minutes of walking gives you a few minutes of peace and quiet.

The Food Trucks are your best friends.   I only discovered where these vendors parked five years ago and found their offers to be a much better alternative to eating on-site at the con.  Let’s face it, everything is better than the food in the convention center.  While we’re on it…

#11:  Don’t frighten the locals.  Look, Indianapolis really seems to like having Gen Con in town – well, at least they like our money.  Don’t try and frighten that family on the sidewalk with your Orc costume waving a sword and cursing in Orkish.  A lot of locals come down town to look at the cosplay folks – don’t add to their stereotype images of us.  Not cool dude.

#12:  While I totally appreciate Cosplayers, sometimes the costumes are confusing as all hell.  Don’t be insulted if people ask you, “who are you trying to be?”  Corollary:  Taking any other costume and tossing on a Deadpool mask is not as innovative as you like to think it is.  (We call these folks “Douce-pools”)  An unspoken rule at Gen Con is that you will see a lot of costumes based on whatever hit movie just released.  Always anticipate a lot of Joker’s and Harley Quinn’s.

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#13:  There is always someone that knows the rules better than you.  He’s arrogant, overweight, and wearing a black tee-shirt (then again, who isn’t?)  Nothing kills a game faster than two guys trying to prove who is smarter about the rules regarding the splatter effect of a Mark IV plasma rifle in zero-G.  We get it, you read and memorized the rule book.  Stop ruining game play for everyone just to demonstrate your incredible powers of memorization…please.   We refer to these individuals as Rules Douches, or the more French- La Rules Douchebag.

#14:  Don’t just sit around.  Go and check out the miniatures games, or some of the big events like the Live Dungeon.  You didn’t shell out all of that money to sit and read a catalog you picked up did you?  The convention won’t come to you – you need to move.

#15:  Do some prep work if you are planning on buying some specific products.  Some companies are bringing limited quantities of games to the con for each day, or a certain day.  If you aren’t in line at the right time, you’re hosed.  The short version of this:  Make up your mind on what you are going to purchase and do it.  If you wait too long that newly released product can/will sell out.  Check the web sites and Twitter feeds of your favorite companies to see if that new product will be available and when.

#16:  Wear comfortable shoes.  Preferably shoes that do not have a predetermined aroma (see Tip Six.)

#17:  Go back to your hotel at night and get some sleep.  The convention is not designed as an endurance test.  You’ll need the energy.  All night gaming is great, if you’re young, but even then you need some sleep.

#18:  Attend the auction.  You’ll be able to tell your wife/mother/cat/significant other than that shelves and containers of games you have ARE of value.  You’ll be surprised at what games people collect and what they will pay for one.  It’s also kind of fun to see last year’s hot products being sold for a pittance of what people paid for them a year ago.

#19:  Play the demo games.  Look, games cost money – a LOT of money.  I sit in on demos, watch tournaments, etc. to figure out where I’m going to spend my cash.  I recommend you do the same.  Try some things you’ve never played before.  Think of this as a chance to test-drive new games and systems.

#20:  Don’t insult your favorite writer or game designer intentionally.  These guys work hard to produce your fun.  Don’t be “that guy” that shows up to tell someone how horrible a product they wrote in 1992 was, or how they made a mistake in an out-of-print 1989 book.  We get it, you can read.  If you’ve traveled all of this way to show off your knowledge, you’re a decade or two off.  If you meet writers, authors, artists, designers – be cool and respectful.  As a writer in the industry, I welcome comments from fans…but there is a limit to critique that I will endure, and I am not alone.  As a corollary – there is a limit to the number of things you want autographed.

#21:  Go early to the con.  Get out of bed and get to the convention early.  There’s a lot going on and the lines are significantly shorter.  I hit the MechWarrior pods usually at 8-9am when the convention hall is empty-ish.  They are a tradition I am addicted to.

#22:  WIN.  Savor your victories.  Cherish the lament of your foes as they are crushed under the weight of your killer die rolls and strategy!  Don’t rub it in, but enjoy it.  Serious dude, don’t rub it in when you win.  You didn’t travel all of this way to lose did you?  Hell no!  In other words, have fun!

#23:  Don’t wear costumes that are designed to deliberately upset people.

#24:  Wear something other than a black tee shirt.  At Gen Con, black tee shirts are like camouflaged ghillie suit for snipers.  Everyone is wearing a black tee shirt.  Someone someday will earn a PhD studying why gamers are drawn to black tee shirts.  In the meantime, I recommend wearing something else (something clean), in a color other than black.  Corollary:  Reading the hilarious tee shirts is one of the more phone things about the Con.

#25:  Don’t abuse your demo time in any booth.  Okay, in the main showroom, the vendors often offer short demos on their products.  These are a major part of the experience.  Don’t abuse the privilege.  I saw one guy camped out a table last year for four hours.  There were a lot of people wanting to sit in, but this guy had decided to turn a demo into a full-fledged campaign.

#26:  Remember the Gen Con food groups.  Caffeine, Chocolate, Salty Snacks, Caffeine, Pointless Carbs.  Beef Jerky, while not a formal food group, is also permissible but please be discreet when eating it – no one looks cool tearing into a piece of jerky.  Yes, Caffeine is listed twice because it is that important.

#27:  If you want to do free events plan on a wait or get there early.  A good example of this is the Paint and Take event Reaper puts on.  It’s cool to get a free mini you paint there, but everyone wants to do it and there’s usually a line.  See #30 below.

#28:  If you want the Convention giveaways – go to those booths first thing when the doors open.  A lot of these vendors run out in the first 20 minutes.

#29:  Con-Crud – prepare for it.  Con Crud is not a new module release of Pandemic – it’s the social plague that hits thousands when they return from Gen Con on the following Monday.  Use hand sanitizer (you have to bring your own on this).  Load up on vitamins and other legal medications aimed at reducing colds, flu, or whatever it is that morphs into Con-Crud.

#30:  Meet the celebrities.  I’m not just talking about the “name” celebrities.  This is a chance for you to track down that favorite author or artist and shake their hand.  I make a point at every Gen Con to network and meet people (and re-meet people I met years before).  Mingle and be social.

#31:  “Language” I’m noticing more and more kids at the Con which is great.  If you feel the need to curse, make sure only the adults are around.

#32:  Take advantage of the crowds to do things you want to do.  Look, at 10am, everyone is lined up to get into the main hall.  That’s the perfect time to do things that otherwise have long lines.  For me, that is when I hit Paint and Take.  Understand the masses, don’t always be part of the masses.

#33:  If you are in a wheelchair, it is not a weapon to clear the crowds.  I got hit by someone in a wheelchair last year just standing still.  He just plowed into my ankle because he wanted to get through.  I’m understanding, but not that understanding.

#34:  You will get a book of freebie coupons.  If you plan on redeeming them, you need to do it first thing in the main hall.  Some of that stuff disappears in a matter of minutes.

#35:  Play some things you never have before.

There you have it guys – GAME ON!

#GenCon

Review of The Phantom Killer: Unlocking the Mystery of the Texarkana Serial Murders: The Story of a Town in Terror – by James Presley

Phantom Killer

I stumbled across this serial killing spree by a meme posted on Facebook that said that this was an unsolved series of cases in Texarkana.  I made note of it because I write about cold cases, with an emphasis now on serial killings.  I thought this might be worth looking into.

I did find a book on the case, The Phantom Killer, so I picked it up.  Wow.  I went from not knowing anything about these murders to being immersed not just in the cases, but in the culture and period of the crimes. The internet meme was wrong (I know, misinformation on the internet?  I was stunned too – NOT!)  The killer was known, but never fully brought to justice.

Taking place in 1946, the Phantom Killer killed five people and wounded three.  The victims were in pairs, which resonated with me after writing about the Colonial Parkway Murders.  The author, James Presley, is a master-historian, taking you back in time to Texarkana in 1946, putting you on the streets of his hometown in that era.

This was a ruthless killer in an age long before DNA testing and modern police investigatory techniques.  Today, this killer would have gone to jail much earlier.  Instead, the murderer hid in the folds of history, concealed by police incompetence or lack of skills we now take for granted.  The stories of the victims are recreated in painstaking detail.  Kudos to the author for what had to be difficult research after all of these years.

The books brings you a cast of characters that are right out of central casting – including a wily Texas Ranger that is bigger than life.

This is not a true cold case though.  The police caught Youell Swinney, a car thief, whose wife implicated him in the murders.  While the case was largely circumstantial, I feel confident that Swinney was indeed the killer.

What follows though is the legal twists and turns as to how Swinney dodged ever being tried as the Phantom Killer.  This is a book that leaves you wondering at the very end if the decisions by the authorities was the right course of action.  Yes, the killer spent years in jail, but never for his most heinous crimes.

James Presley is a great writer.  I found the book compelling and written with the care needed to take us back to the crime scenes.  He weaves a stirring tale of a serial killer in an era far before that label existed.  I devoured the book on a business trip, unable to put it down.

Well worth picking up – I recommend highly The Phantom Killer.

What Everyone is Thinking (but not saying) About Your PowerPoint Presentation…

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And we all know how things turned out for Ned Stark…

I make no small qualms that I loathe PowerPoint almost as much as I hate attending mindless meetings.  PowerPoint has reprogrammed generations of people in business to think in poorly written, vague bullet points.  While some might argue that it makes us be concise, it reality it is a crutch for people that perform crappy presentations.  Some teams actually use PowerPoint decks as reading material…I guess Word was too complex for them.  Morons.  PowerPoint is to documentation what an abacus is to a computer.

I had a manager once, (She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named) who was so obsessed over PowerPoint, she was concerned about people reading them.  “What if this gets forwarded to the wrong person and they read it?”  So we had to create slide decks for this harpy-from-hell that could be understood if you knew nothing about the subject of the deck.  Seriously.  It wasn’t as if we had plans for making an atomic bomb in your basement in the decks we produced.  I have long suspected that she stupidly fretted over someone reading her material without her being in the room to bask in their praise over what she had produced.

I spend a lot of my corporate life in mind-numbing PowerPoint presentations under the guise of being productive meetings.  The majority of PowerPoint decks are mediocre at best, and at worst, they blow chucks.  I have actually started to shift to doing meetings without PowerPoint.  What I have found is that people are so conditioned to seeing the tool in a meeting that it confuses them when you don’t put up slides.  They get nervous and visibly uncomfortable – which I love.  “Aren’t you going to put your slides up?”  “Fu*k no.”  People have actually frowned at me when I tell them that I don’t want to use slides to make my point.  Presentation is an art form that has been corrupted by the evil programming elves at Microsoft.  This PowerPoint/mind-control is so sinister it could be a plot in a James Bond film.

Having vested much of my day-job in meetings under the dull glow of PowerPoint, it is time for me to impart some knowledge.  Let me share with you what people are likely to be thinking, but not saying, during your next sucky PowerPoint presentation:

  • Really?  Forty-six slides to make your point?   That many slides makes me wonder what you are really up to.   What are you hiding?  I’ll bet I can find it.  Game on!
  • Clearly what you define as important has no bearing in reality, as evidenced by your presentation.
  • You can stop reading me your slides.  If you were going to read them to me you should have just sent them to me in an email.  This may shock you but I learned to read years ago.
  • You said, “I’ll keep this short…”  and that was an hour ago. We all want to kill you and some are taking notes on how to do it.
  • We should make prisoners at GITMO sit through your presentation.
  • Pointing out that your slide is hard to read tells me you don’t care.
  • Based on your slides, you clearly worship Satan given that the devil is in the details — which is where you are taking us.
  • Your bullet points read like a drunken teenager’s text messages.  You seem to be a vowel or two short here.
  • A six-point font?  What is this, an eye exam?  Can’t you see we are all squinting?
  • If you are going to use clip art, at least don’t use 1992 quality clip art.
  • No, your graphic does NOT make your point clearer.  In fact, it achieves quite the opposite.
  • Making something bold and red insults me a little.  I know what is important.
  • When I read that slide I keep asking myself, “What is he/she trying to say?”  Even re-reading it leaves me confused.  A bit of my soul is dying inside me as a result.  I hate you.
  • I am not paying attention to what you are saying because your font choice is distracting me.
  • All of your arguments are invalid because of your spelling and grammatical mistakes on one slide.
  • Your use of graphics is making me cry on the inside.
  • Incorporating meaningless buzzwords and phrases does not help your presentation.  You’re not fooling anyone.
  • This all sounds peachy-keen – what does it cost?
  • Don’t blame the projector for your failure to organize your thoughts.
  • If I had wanted to read a book, I would have brought my Kindle.
  • It is hard to believe that we paid you to produce such a hideous slide deck.
  • This presentation is so dull, I am imagining innovative and creative excuses to leave the room.
  • I have done the math.  It is impossible to cover the number of slides you have left in the time we have allotted.
  • My four year old could have produced a better graph, and she’s limited to crayons.
  • Presentations like this is why I am on anti-depressants.
  • I wonder how much it cost us in your time and effort to put together this travesty of a slide deck?
  • Rarely has so much effort gone into presenting such a lie.  You should be congratulated – or shot.
  • I am waiting for the right moment to destroy your entire premise so that the audience will see me as the genius I believe myself to be.
  • It’s probably a bad time to let you know your fly is open.
  • If your graphic can’t fit on a slide, it’s not worth us looking at.
  • I love your material but your abuse of transitions between slides qualifies as a war crime.
  • We’re about due for someone to raise a meaningless point or analogy in an attempt to ruin the hard work you put in on this presentation.
  • If they had told me in business school that I would be doing this for a living (watching your PowerPoint) I would have pursued a liberal arts degree instead.
  • We are all silently curious…are you going to make a point sometime in the next hour or so?  Seriously, any point will do.  Just pick one…please!
  • Oh, I see you Bob – checking your watch.  We both want this to end.  Who in the hell still owns a watch? More importantly, what time is it?
  • If I could take a nap right now, I would. The fact that I am not asleep is worthy of a spot-bonus.
  • There are at least three people watching this presentation that will tear it apart just to be assholes.
  • Your illegal and unethical use of several copywrittten images only makes us hate you a little bit more.
  • Oh joy, you’re using an acronym that no one in the room knows.  You should know, it doesn’t make you any smarter.
  • Because you didn’t follow the company standard template for PowerPoint, I am ignoring everything you are presenting on.
  • It is only a matter of moments before someone questions the validity of your data.
  • My only concern with your presentation is that I wonder if I can muffle my fart – and if I do, can I muffle its smell?
  • Out of your 26 slides, there is only one that matters.  Why didn’t we just start there?
  • Do you realize that you have the wrong audience in the room (on the call) for the material you are presenting?  Do you care?
  • This presentation is all that is between me and a much-needed trip to the bathroom.  Please hurry…
  • As I watch you flip through these slides I cannot help but think that we need to improve our recruitment and hiring standards.
  • I should have had a friend send me a text so I had an excuse to leave this meeting.  Lesson learned…
  • This is an hour of my life I will never get back and will completely forget by the end of the day.
  • I can, and will, derail your entire presentation with a single question – just to prove I can.
  • My phone is vibrating in my pocket and that is much more exciting than this slide show.
  • It would be nice if you told us at some point what the purpose of this meeting is.
  • Please God, don’t let someone say that we need to have another meeting on this subject.
  • Nothing makes me more nauseous than someone saying, “I’ve run out of time, let me go through the last eight slides in two minutes.”
  • You didn’t build in time for questions?  You really thought your material would answer every stupid thing we could come up with?  Really?
  • Why are the boring presentations always scheduled for late in the day on a Friday?  Why are you always the one presenting them?
  • The colors you have chosen are making my eyes bleed on the inside.
  • It’s bad enough your slides are dull, but your droning makes me want to start cutting myself again.
  • The person you rehearsed this with lied to you…it sucks.
  • I am smiling at you only because it makes you think I care.
  • An appendix to your horrible presentation?  And it’s longer than the presentation?  This just became a homework assignment you douchebag.
  • If you’re going to deflect questions to the end – you’d better leave time to answer them.
  • Stop saying things like, “As you clearly can see…” or “This slide points out…”  Let me be the judge of what your slides say or don’t say.  Otherwise, why have me here in the first place?
  • Having our graphics team make a pretty graphic of your material is akin to polishing a turd.

 

Review of Netflix’s Evil Genius: The True Story of America’s Most Diabolical Bank Heist

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I still remember when it happened…when someone attached a collar bomb on a pizza delivery man in Erie Pennsylvania and sent him on a bank robbery. When I watched the footage of him it didn’t make sense.  His behavior was odd, not really concerned until a few moments before the bomb went off and killed him.  There was a lot of media coverage and then it died off.  It took years before someone was brought to trial on the case.  I admit, I didn’t follow it closely.  It seemed like a bizarre plot out of a bad Zach Galifianakis film.

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Netflix has recently aired Evil Genius – a four-part true crime series on the case.  It does what the media struggled to do, bring clarity to the strange characters and twisted plot that led to the death of pizza deliveryman Brian Wells. I went into this series hoping to learn what happened, filling that curiosity that the internet couldn’t satisfy.  This is a carefully crafted story of a group of idiots and geniuses that are intertwined with each other in a sick and deadly plot to rob a bank to fund a murder.

The producers have done a great job with each episode, almost leaving you on a cliff-hanger each time with a new tid-bit of information.  This is the kind of case that when you think you have a handle on it, there’s something new that is introduced.   Mistake were made between the local authorities and the federal agents.

To say this band of cutthroats is bizarre is putting it lightly.  You have the prostitute that lured in the victim in this plot, the man that built the bomb and turned in a co-conspirtor for killing her former boyfriend…and storing him in a freezer.  You have the child molester and fugitive.  The drug dealer.  And the queen of this macabre plot, the batshit-crazy Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong – a strange bipolar genius that makes your skin crawl. How these people came together and concocted such a strange plot is the crux of this story.  Why they devised using a collar-bomb and a scavenger hunt to rob a bank and kill a man; is all masterfully pulled together.

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She is right out of central casting…

What is disturbing about all of this is that it oddly makes sense when you hit episode four, in a weird kind of way. You are repulsed and disgusted by what they did, but it all seems to come together.

Word is that Netflix has approved another season. I’m on board.  This is a short little series and a great binge option for your true crime summer.

The Chronicling of our D&D Campaign: Tempora – Part 24

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Welcome to the novelization of my current D&D campaign, told through the perspective of the characters. Parts 1-19 charted the first part of the campaign, part 20 began the next phase of the saga: Tempora. For me, it lets me do a little creative writing between more serious projects. Links to the previous posts are at the bottom of this one. Enjoy!

Brandon…

“We don’t know for sure that the trap is disarmed,” Theren said. “Just because it went ‘click’ does not mean that you shut it off.

“I’ll check it out,” I said.  I stepped out ten-heads distance and nothing happened.  I went further, even bouncing up and down slightly, but the floor did not drop, nor did the flames come down.  The stones were still hot from the inferno that had nearly consumed Theren.

When I got to the other side of the hot stones, the band of heroes that I found myself attached to had assembled.

“You know,” Arius said.  “We have not been making a map as we go.”

“It is a straight line – we are on a road,” I offered.

“We might need to know our way out at some point,” the paladin pressed.  I didn’t like the use of the word, “might.” He was hinting what we were all thinking.  If we found the missing paladins, we had to overpower whoever had captured them, and find our way out.  This was not going to be easy.

“It is okay,” I assured my new friends.  “I have some skills in keeping a mental map.”  I tapped my head with my finger but it did not seem to instill the confidence I had hoped for.

Arius cast a twisted grin.  “Great.  Make sure we keep the ranger alive then or we’re trapped here.”  I like to think I was bringing more to the party than that…but I was content with the nods of agreement from the others.

We trudged on downward into the mountain.  Hundreds of feet passed.  Bor, the hulking fighter at the front of our party, his warhammer shimmering blue, stopped after a half-mile or so.  “Hold here.  There are some arrow slits on either side of the roadway with a door to each just past them.”

“They have to be abandoned,” I offered.

“The slits are low, probably for dwarves,” Bor said.

“I wonder if this is a trap of some sort.” Theren said. “They might fire arrows if we walk in front of them.”  That was a thought that was unappealing.  The last trap had almost roasted our druid.  He still smelled of smoke with a hint of bacon.

The druid had us all halt.  “I’ll crawl up under the slit.  You all hold back.”  Oddly we were all quite comfortable with that approach.

On his hands and knees he slithered under the arrow slit on the right side of the tunnel then made his way to the door just beyond it.  The knob turned with a squeal of rusted and protesting metal as he twisted it around.  The creaking of the hinges seemed to echo far too distant for my take.  Bor seemed like he wanted to join Theren, but did not want to further split the party.  Inevitably, he stayed behind with us.

Theren shuffled in the small antechamber for a few minutes, then emerged and returned to us with something in his arms, something black and almost shimmering.  It was a skull, black, almost polished to a reflective glare.  It was shaped like no creature I had ever seen wandering the woods or vales of the land.  In the skull were ebbed three crossbow bolts, silver tipped and stuck deep into the glossy surface.

Althalus, our warlock and resident expert on skulls immediately began to look it over with keen interest.  Whatever it was, it made me nervous.  The silver tipped bolts told me that it had belonged to an unnatural creature, a spawn of the nethervoid.  That usually meant powerful magic and danger to those near it.

“I’m keeping it,” the warlock said greedily. After dusting it off, Althalus put it on top of his quarterstaff.  It looked menacing – possibly even to us. I have to admit, it worried me, but I too carried a skull in my pack.  Mine was white and bleached with age.  His…his was something eerie, like out of a nightmare.

I turned my attention to the other opposing arrow slit.  I went over and duplicated the crawl under it that Theren had made.  The handle on the door past the slit on my side had rusted over and did not turn at first.  It took a surge of strength to get it to pop open.  Unlike Theren’s door, mine suddenly swung open and a Dwarven skeleton lurched out at me, wielding an axe!

The axe hit across my chest, severing my armor and slicing my skin enough to make me recoil.

Theren’s voice called me, “Get out of the way Brandon!” I swung at the skeleton but his rusted plate only rattled from my attack.  The skeletons seemed to grin at me under its helmet.  I stepped to the side.

Bor jumped beside me, swinging down with Skullringer.  The blue-blur of the warhammer hit the stout skeleton, doing no real damage other than scoring his old plate armor.  An arrow whizzed past my ear, missing both me and the skeleton.  A burst of brilliant emerald magic energy, no doubt from Althalus, hit the undead monstrosity.  The force of the hit was so hard that he was knocked back into his tiny alcove.   The hole in his armor glowed where the magic had punched through, but the angry dead-Dwarf only lunged back towards Bor and myself.

Arius lunched past Bor with his sword, hitting the skeleton square and true. There was a sickening metallic grinding sound as the sword punctured the once proud plate mail.  The undead creature staggered a half-step back.

Arius swung again, hitting him, driving him back further into the room.  There was a crash of armor and bone in the room, then his skeletal head came rolling out of the door.  I picked it up.  “The deed is done,” our paladin said proudly, sheathing his blade.

Before the other could join us, I moved in on top of the skeleton to see if there was anything of value on his remains.  I found a sliver necklace around its broken neck, one of exceptional value from what I could tell.  There was an old rather unremarkable battle axe as well.   In a small pouch on his belt, I found a small green glass vial with a tattered piece of paper attached to it.  I scanned the letters but they were gibberish to me.

“What do you make of this?” I held it in front of Arius.

“Chanel perhaps?” he then chuckled.

“I don’t get it.”

“An old joke.  It is a wizard that makes oils and balms that could make a pile of manure smell like roses,” the paladin said, still amused with his comment.

“Why would anyone want to make manure smell like roses?”

“It is just a legend,” was all I got in response.

“Let me look at it,” our warlock said.  He studied the writing for a moment.  “It is written in the old tongue, archaic.  It says, ‘remove curse.’”  As if to make his point, he took out his quill and wrote on it in common tongue, “remove curse.” “Just so we don’t forget.”

As we rested for a few minutes, I was surprised to see Althalus take out the ebony black skull with the arrows.  He fidgeted with the silver tipped crossbow bolts in it, removing the shafts but leaving the silver tips in the skull.  Each time he pried one loose we all gasped a little bit, wondering what would happen if he dislodged it.  I for one did not want to know.

“Why are you doing that?” our paladin asked.

“It makes it easier to carry – less risk,” the warlock replied.

The paladin closed his eyes and held his hand over the skull and concentrated. “This is evil, dark evil.  It is the skull of a devil.  What kind, I cannot say.”

“Excellent!” Althalus squealed. “I’ll bring it with us.  It makes up for that demon skull I was forced to give up.”

“Your obsession with demonic skulls is a bit disturbing,” Arius said, eyeing our comrade carefully as he put the skull in his pack as opposed to the staff he had put it on.  “I am not comfortable at all with that thing coming with us.”

“It’s just as skull,” I said.

“I wasn’t referring to the skull,” Arius said grimly, glaring momentarily at Althalus.

We continued on, downward into the long tunnel.  We walked for many minutes and came across a trench-like pit carved into the floor, crossing the entire tunnel.  Bor leaned over slightly.  “It’s deep, I cannot see the bottom.  There’s a mechanism on the other side.  This must be for drainage or defense of some kind.”

Looking upward as we closed on the pit I could see that the ceiling above it was cracked – thick openings and deep over the trench.  On the far side, some seven heads across, we could see a heavy oak plank.  Someone had used it to make a bridge, and had taken it with them.  From the footsteps I saw in the dust, I knew it must have been where the missing paladins had been taken.

Dimitrious stepped forward and dropped his torch into the pit, it disappeared entirely after a fall of only 20 heads.  I watched it disappear.  “That is odd.  It just disappeared.”

“Perhaps someone should jump across,” Arius said.  Clearly he was not volunteering. “Perhaps we could construct something, perhaps a rudimentary lathe?”  Everyone looked at the paladin and he grinned.

I saw the gap more as a challenge than an obstacle as did Bor.  He took his armor off and with a running start, jumped across, landing on bended knee as the others squabbled over the best way across.  He slid the board across forming a bridge.  I crossed it next with no issue whatsoever.  Theren joined us on the other side.

Althalus did not walk across, but came on all fours, slowly, which proved to be his downfall.  Halfway across I heard a slurping sound from the massive crack over the pit. A massive semi-transparent cube of a creature dropped down on him, taking him and the bridge and engulfing him entirely. The green oozing creature had things in it but it barely fit in the narrow trench. It oozed down slowly, with our warlock in the middle of it, his cheeks puffed out as he held his breath.

Arius was in pain, but his arcane spell made it so that if he took damage, he caused fire damage. There was a flash of flames everywhere, the tiny pockets of air feeding the flames.  The gelatinous creature was apparently flammable and it ignited on its own.  At this point we all move in and looked over at the scene unfolding…our friend, on fire, in a thick oozing mass, sliding into a pit.

The only good news was that the pit was treated with some sort of illusionary spell to make it seem much deeper.  It was only twenty-heads deep and the warlock and his flaming friend were only slowly sliding down.  The smell of the burning gelatinous creature rose, stinging our nostrils with a smell I have never heard before.

We were stunned, but not Bor.  He swung his deadly glowing warhammer at it, gouging a deep furrow in the oozing beast.  Dimitrious did the same with his staff, with a similar affect.  It was hard for us to know if we were doing any real damage…but the flames erupted up the sides as it burned and somewhere in the middle of this was our warlock.

I jabbed my staff into the goo and it sank deep, almost reaching Althalus.  As my staff emerged it caught the flames and came out on fire.  Theren swung his enchanted staff sending a spray of the greenish substance flying into the air.  Flames lapped up along the side of pit.

Althalus started to swim in the green goo, getting close to the edge, but not getting free.  Dimitrious sliced a big piece of the cube out with his staff.  The warlock stopped moving entirely and we realized that he may be near death. I couldn’t help but wonder what might happen to that devil’s skull that he had on him.  This has the potential to become much worse.

Our party, realizing that Althalus was about to die, leaned over the edge and swung wildly as the cube slid down.  Theren kill it finally with his staff.  Suddenly the creature lost all of its form, turning to a green flaming goo twenty heads down, burning.

“I feel so funky,” the warlock said as he gained his senses.

“I’ll jump down,” Arius said.

“Hold it,” Theren said, lowering a rope.  “Let him climb out.”

The ooze covered warlock grabbed the rope and got up about half-way out of the pit, then lost his grip and fell, letting out a low moan. Finally, after several minutes, he climbed out.  We were exhausted and the air still stung from the acidic smell of the burning creature.  I looked over the edge of the pit once the fires died down and saw a shield with a reflective surface of some sort and a suit of chainmail. Arius did as well.  “That shield looks interesting.  Hold the rope, I’m going down,” the paladin said.  He got halfway down the rope but lost his grip on the goo that Althalus had left on the rope, falling down.

“What is it?” I called down.

“This chainmail is light, good quality,” he said, putting it in his pack. The shield that he held was domed with a reflective surface almost like that of a mirror, but this one had a razor-like edge around its rounded edge.  The paladin tried to climb out, but once more slipped and fell back down.  “Damn this accursed pit!” he spat as he slowly made his way to the surface.

We were all winded and watched as our warlock tried to scrape off the bits of goo, charred and otherwise, from him.  “Perhaps,” I suggested, “This would be a good time for us to get some rest.”

The following are the previous installments. I hope you enjoy the campaign so far. Be sure to follow my blog if you do. 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Character Background Material

My New Campaign

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