Really Feeling the Itch

I've been migrating most of the Cumberland library to itch.io, and while the migration isn't yet complete, the most crucial files are mostly in place, so it's a fair time to finally link to the Cumberland Games page.

While I'm making the move because of issues with DriveThru (those who know me personally know my dislike of the site extends back to its founding), I'm also discovering what it's like to be working with a more modern site. Advantages of itch.io include, but aren't limited to:

  • If you're downloading a free title and new to the site, there's no burdensome signing-up-for-an-account process. You just click the download button and go.
  • The site isn't grossly biased against free titles (free titles are kind of my jam).
  • Off-site hyperlinks are allowed within the adcopy, so when (for example) the Risus page mentions the Risus community, it's allowed to link to an appropriate site (forbidden on DriveThru),
  • The mobile site works, completely. It even has paragraph breaks. This should not be exciting in 2020, yet here we are.
  • The site isn't structured around presumptions about tabletop gaming that don't apply to Cumberland (because it's originally a site for indie videogames, it isn't structured around tabletop at all, which turns out to be a huge blessing).
  • They don't take 35%. Yeesh, even the Apple Store only takes thirty, guys, and only fifteen from small developers.
Some things are the same. Search is kind of hit-and-miss, and it's a jungle to browse. There's very little by way of curation, etc. But it's mostly gains, with few and trivial losses.

So, while the circumstances that brought me to itch were unfortunate, the move itself has been exciting. If you're reading this, you've probably already got a copy of Risus or the Big List of RPG Plots, or you're a family member who doesn't know what those things even are, so, just a bit of non-scary news in dark times. Here's hoping you're healthy and well. 'Til next.


Object of the Game

This one's a bit basic, but if we're going to get where we're headed with the Lexicon, we'll need it. I'll keep it quickish.

Every game has an object, or objective. If you're playing Chess, the object of the game is to put the opponent's king in checkmate. If you're playing Scrabble, the object of the game is to have the most points at the end. If you're playing Tic-Tac-toe, the object is to get three of your symbol (X or O) in a row, and so on.

The object of Chess, Scrabble, and Tic-Tac-Toe is the same, every time you play. That's a foundational or fixed object. In The Beginning, it was a given that a game's object was fixed, coded right into the game as a whole.

Then along came variants. Two Chess players could agree to play a Chess variant in which the object is to capture both of the opponent's Knights, for example, or variants where the object changes every 12th turn, or uncountable others. They're still playing Chess, but it's a different sort of Chess, which acknowledges the core version as the core version while exploring deviation from it (and some variants don't change the objective, but objectives are what we're here for today).

Tabletop wargames explored a variant on the variant: the scenario. Games with scenarios don't necessarily have a default, fixed object. Instead, the scenario frequently defines the object for each instance of the game. In a very important sense, each scenario in a game of Squad Leader (for instance) is a different game using the same core of rules, but with its own object, its own set of game-pieces (the units allotted each side) and its own game board (Squad Leader comes with several modular boards, miniatures games can be played on hand-crafted terrain and so on). So, instead of a foundational objective, we have one or more scenario objectives.

Variants and scenarios are in many ways a spectrum of the same thing. The most important difference is the concept of a default game (including one or more foundational objectives): if you play Chess without selecting a variant, you can still play Chess. But you can't play most wargames without first selecting, creating, or generating a scenario. In Squad Leader, the part that stays the same across scenarios is the system of rules and procedures. The combination of scenario system makes for a game you can play.

The traditional RPG sprouted from wargaming roots, so it's scenario-based, too, with a system of rules, mechanics and procedures which don't become a playable game until the Game Master selects, creates, or generates a scenario with one or more scenario objectives (sometimes with a lot of input from the Players), and until each Player selects, creates, or generates characters (sometimes with a lot of input from the GM or other Players).

But, RPGs bring a new set of wrinkles to the Object of the Game, since Player Characters can pursue their own objectives both individually and as a group, and both within the scope of a scenario and over the course of many. Importantly, these character objectives, group objectives, and campaign objectives can be entirely divorced from (or even contradict) the scenario objectives provided by an adventure, or the foundational objectives baked into the system (if any). They can also change and evolve from the inside, interacting, combining, growing and dying in unexpected ways, because of the central importance of characters.

Which brings us to the lexical point. Tactical Infinity is key to the whole shebang around here, and objectives are the standards against which tactics are measured. Without objectives, Tactical Infinity would cease to be tactical. It would just be plain old Infinity, the kind the universe leaves laying around. The kind they have in waiting rooms at the DMV.

Every game has at least one Object. RPGs tend to have several, in shifting and evolving number and arranged in shifting and evolving priority weight, where the objectives and priority weight vary from object to object and from character to character, all within the same game. That's magic, of a kind, and it'll be awfully important, as we continue with the Lexicon.


Baked Tofu

Sandra and I incorporate tofu into our diet pretty regularly. We're not vegan or vegetarian or anything like that, but as people who need to watch the stats of what we eat, we really like tofu's stats, and as people who like yummy things, we sometimes find tofu super-yummy.

But we do prefer it firm, and maybe a bit crispy. When it's nice and solid, tofu is something we dig and genuinely crave. When it's soft and smooshy, it's something we eat with vegetables and go "Yum, these are delicious veggies. And also there is tofu."

When we lived in Colorado we had steady access to an excellent convenience product: the tofu "cutlet" by House Foods. This is a fried block of tofu, just under 7 ounces, and it's what tofu is like once you cook much of the excess water out, so it's already yummy and gets even yummier when you slice it thick and cook it even more, grilled or pan-fried or what-have-you.

And this was the best thing that happened to our tofu consumption. We were already fine with consuming the stuff regularly, but this tipped the scale from "tofu we're okay with" to "tofu we look forward to," which is a big deal when you're trying to stick to any kind of regimen. We started doing tofu dishes twice as often if not more.

We also found other brands (and House Foods makes other styles) of fully-cooked tofu, but every one of them was flavored in some way: garlic or teriyaki or ginger or whatnot, and all of those had extra salt and other additions, and we do stretches of trying to be extra-careful with sodium. We're bad at that, but that's not tofu's fault, Mainly it's the fault of salt being delicious, and included in everything.

So the other styles of cooked tofu were not ideal, but that was okay. We had the House Foods cutlet, with no added salt. It wasn't even a specialty-market item; we could get it at our neighborhood grocery stores (King Soopers, a ridiculously-named local part of the Kroger chain).

Every time I cooked with the cutlets, I thought to myself "I bet I could just bake some regular tofu and get a result much like this." The House Foods cutlet is fried, but it doesn't taste fried and it's lean and non-oily, so I assumed I could get there with baking.

But I never bothered because it was easy to buy the cutlets and they weren't too expensive.

And then we moved to Pennsylvania, which has been good, but ... our regular supermarkets don't have the House Foods cutlet. There's probably somewhere in the valley we can find them, but if they're not in our regular markets, they won't be part of our regular fare. Our regular market (a Wegman's, which is a very groovy store) does have the salty flavored kind, for about $4 per 7-ounce chunk, and we've had those and enjoyed them ... but we tend to use two chunks per meal and we'd still rather flavor them as we choose, and $8 for a single meal's protein should be a nice frickin' piece of steak, frankly. Like I said: we're not vegetarians, so we can't be had over that particular barrel.

And I always meant to try baking the tofu myself.

And I always wondered: how much weight would the tofu lose to that kind of hyper-firm cooking? Tofu, as you already know if you cook with it, starts out as a sponge full of water, even the Extra Firm stuff is just a slightly less floofy sponge.*

So the answer is half. A 14-ounce chunk of tofu, baked down into the nice firm stuff we love, becomes a 7-ounce chunk (more like 7.2, but near enough).

And it's as easy as I supposed. I feel silly for not doing it sooner, but such is the sexy lure of convenience tofu. The "recipe," such as it is:

S. John's Super Groovy Baked Tofu

Prep Time:
 5 minutes if you're moving in cartoonish slow-motion to amuse a toddler. Otherwise, less.

Cooking Time: 2 hours

Ingredients: Two 14-ounce packages of fresh Extra Firm tofu.

Equipment: Knife, nonstick cookie sheet or pizza pan, tongs.

Preheat oven to 325°F (163°C). Press the excess fluid from the tofu (on a stack of clean cloth towels or paper towels; don't be shy about gently squeezing the fluid out). Carve each of the chunks into four thick rectangular slabs. Arrange on the nonstick baking sheet. Bake for two hours, turning the chunks over with the tongs twice during the course of baking.

The finished chunks should be dry-looking and gently golden. If they're pale or a bit damp-looking, turn them again and give them another 30 minutes. This happens when the initial squeeze of excess fluid wasn't quite squeezy enough, but it's an easy fix.

Yield: around 14.4 ounces of baked, super-firm, extra-good tofu which you can later pan-fry or do other delicious things to.

(Version 1.1, Revised 10-7-2020)

There are, of course, a lot of baked tofu recipes on the Web, and I read a ton of them before this undertaking, but most of them were fixated on making the tofu crispy out of the oven, and so usually involve shorter baking times at higher temperatures. My goal with this is something I can bake in advance and then fridge for pan-frying at some later time, so I opted for lower, slower baking for a nice even, gentle browned thing. They do still come out crispy-ish, but ... they won't stay that way once you fridge them.

More important, they have exactly the density and texture I was hoping they'd have. And a finished serving (our version of a serving) costs $1.79 instead of $4, plus whatever it takes the run the gas oven for two hours but don't trouble me with details.

My next quest will be finding out what alternative I can achieve in the microwave, because right now, baking something for two hours is no big deal. There's snow on the ground outside and the heat feels good. But come summertime I might really not want to have the oven on. If I have any luck with nuking or slow-cookering or anything else, I'll let you know. And now, here's a photo, because I don't like doing a blog-post without a photo. Even if it's a photo of brown chunks in a brown bowl.

Hope this finds you well. My inbox, as always, is open.

You've heard of food porn? This tofu hasn't.
*  The idea that the fresh stuff can (for example) substitute for chicken breast only makes sense if your idea of the density of "chicken" comes from Marshmallow Peeps.


Writing Light

I’m writing this post on my phone.

As I mentioned last entry, we moved to Pennsylvania recently, which means a lot of changes, large and small, including in the way I structure my work time.

Back in our Denver days (2007-2015), and before that in Austin (1998-2007), I was a wandering writer: I’d take my spiral notebooks and/or laptop out into the wilds of town and, by bus and shoe-leather, I’d write everywhere.

In Fort Collins that wasn’t really possible; we were stuck out in the ‘burbs with nothing but manicured hellscapes within walking distance: not a single café, diner, bar or fast-food joint within an easy hike of home. On the other hand, Sandra was working from her home office by then, so we started going out together by car, which means I started getting heavier laptops (in Denver, I’d been leaning toward the smallest, lightest devices I could find for maximum walkabout portability, because “portability” means something very different on foot than it means when you can chuck a laptop bag in the back seat of a vehicle).

That horrific suburban isolation is nearly half the reason we had to leave Fort Collins, and here in PA, I’m happy to say I’m back in town: I’m within 5-20 minutes' walk of pizzerias, bars, other pizzerias, a seafood market, some places that sell hoagies and also pizza, some restaurants, a bowling alley with pretty good pizza, and a couple of libraries. I cannot promise in good faith that the libraries don’t also have pizza.

Dangers to my cholesterol aside, it’s excellent to once again live near human life (suburbia, emphatically, does not qualify).

But that means my 950-ton laptop bag is suddenly a problem, and removing the 945-ton laptop is not the answer (it’s totally portable … if you’re traveling by car).

In our last years in Denver, little keyboards suitable for my phone were popping up on store shelves for pretty low prices, and I was tempted, but I had a netbook that fit in my camera bag (I did the Cumberland edition of Uresia: Grave of Heaven almost entirely on a tiny eeePC), so it wasn’t a priority.

But here I am now, writing this post on a tiny portable Bluetooth keyboard, using a word processor on my phone. And it’s not too bad!

The device itself was pretty cheap (less than $25 for a backlit model, under $20 if you don’t need it backlit), and it connected easily, and it’s responsive. It’s chiclet, which I hate (most laptops have gone chiclet, too), and it’s miniature, which takes getting used to (but no moreso than my old eeePC). So, no snags on hardware.

There was, I’m sorry to say, a brief snag on software. I was assuming I’d just use Google Docs; I’ve been using it a lot for campaign documents and such and it’s comfortable, convenient and powerful enough. Usually. But … Google Docs doesn’t support text reflow when zooming in Android (or if it does, I couldn’t find out how to switch the setting on), nor do several other word processors and office suites I tried (including a couple I've been using for years, but before today I didn't need that function).

Ironically, the app I had the least hope for, Microsoft Frickin’ Word, supports text reflow, and that’s what I’m writing in right now. WPS Office (formerly Kingsoft) does as well (with a handy easy-to-spot on-screen reflow button) and, while it’s deliberately light on features, the markup-oriented Writer Plus does a version of zoomy reflow, too.

I was shocked that so many “full-featured” office suite apps had no apparent concept of text reflow, but here I am with my old nemesis, Microsoft Office, and it’s doing everything I need it to, and I love it and I resent it and that’s my lifelong relationship with Microsoft in a nutshell.

There’s still a lot to learn, but this far into the blogpost, the notion that I’m writing on my phone has pretty much vanished as I type. Word (Microsoft Frickin’ Word; I can’t believe I’m in you again, and away from Windows, no less) is behaving well; the correction features work seamlessly with touch-screen interaction replacing the mouse, and … yeah, It’s good.

In a few months it's going to look a lot dirtier, so I want to remember it this way.

I’ve always done a lot of visual work on my phone. I do preliminary sketches and layout thumbnails here, plus map-development drafts, Risus LCB drafts (and a few final LCB drawings), and recently, I drew two entire fonts on my phone. So, it’s a great device for doodles, and fortunately for me, my work gets pretty doodly.

This right here, though, is the longest bit of writing I’ve ever done on my phone. I’ve used fingerswipes and dictation to do the occasional sidebar or addition, and I’ve done that with increasing frequency, but it’s always for tiny stuff: 300 words or so and I’m tired of swiping, or of trying to get dictation apps to parse phrases like Sindran attitudes toward Raansa veneration among the Mourfa.

But this … this, I can write a blog post on. And if I can write a blog post this way, I can write my books this way, too. Hello from my phone!