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2015-05-05 Sagas of the Icelanders

We had another one-shot. Playbooks used: grandmother, shield maid, seiđkona, and child. I looked at fronts and decided to have the influence of Hel color the session. A grey winter day, visions of blood seeping up from the ground, dead friends calling you from beyond the fence, ghosts trying to lure people out into the snow storm… Sadly, the session wasn’t very good.

The player of the child felt he had ended up with a playbook unsuited to the situation. What use was there to hiding and sneaking? I guess it might have played like Newt in Aliens: Bonding, and spending those bonds to grant benefits to those braving the storm.

Also, the tension between violence being always available to solve problems but being basically the wrong tool because people will get hurt and die – the tension between men and women, where women goad men into action, where men are mute and violent – all of that was missing because of our all-female cast.

My takeaway:

  1. Don’t play a ghost story where you can’t use violence to solve a problem.
  2. Don’t have all player characters play the same gender.
  3. When presenting a problem such as a ghost story, have at least two or three “secrets” to “solve” the problem because that’s how it often goes at my table:
    1. People try to ask the ghost what they should do (something I didn’t know the answer to myself).
    2. People were looking for suitable exorcism moves and did not find them in their playbooks (something I had not considered when introducing the malign influence of spirits and curses).
    3. Be ready to introduce others people such as priests, neighbors, wanderers (to talk to, to have violent encounters with).

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2015-05-03 Domain Game Goals

I recently wrote about my current setup for a campaign wilderness map and the associated hexcrawling that goes along with it. The greater context is the promise of ever changing gameplay. This is true for characters with saving throws replacing armor class as your most important defense, this is true for spells that change how the game is run, and I want it to be true for the campaign itself where dungeon looting yields to wilderness exploration, and eventually to kingdom building.

Kingdom building is what the domain game is all about. Wilderness exploration is about travelling from here to there and the creatures you encounter. It’s about learning who your allies and enemies are, new towns with new leaders and their own economic goals, monster lairs, humanoid tribes, instigating war, brokering peace. Eventually, the players are going to lay claim on a lair or a town. Now what?

Let us consider existing options for the domain game. The simplest rules I know are the ones in the Expert set by Cook and Marsh. Fighters get a land grant, build a castle, clear the surrounding area of monsters, organize patrols, attract settlers, raise taxes. Any mercenaries hired cost money. Clerics do the same thing, but their castle is only half as expensive and they get fanatically loyal troops for free (5d6×10). A magic-user gets to build a tower and attracts apprentices (1d6). A thief gets to build a hideout and attracts more thieves (2d6). Demihumans are like fighters. They build a stronghold and attract settlers of their own kind. Elves are automatically friends with the local animals. As for the attraction of settlers, all it says is that spending money on improvements (“inns, mills, boatyards, etc.”) or advising will do it. The details are up to the referee.

If you want a bit more detail you can use An Echo Resounding. It’s what I have been using for a while. A while back, I wrote a summary of the rules. Apparently you can add a lot more details by using Adventure Conqueror King System. There is an interesting comparison of An Echo Resounding and Adventure Conqueror King a forum I read a few years ago.

Unfortunately it’s turning out to be too much work for me. When I look at the monthly campaign summaries—something I write every four sessions—I notice that there is some free form stuff in the Sages and Spies inspired by recent events, my players’ interests and adventure hooks, and there is some stuff generated by the rules of An Echo Resounding. For every lair I need to find out whether it spawns units. If it does, these units need to attack a nearby location. I need to resolve these fights and if the units win, they plunder the location they attacked. For every non-player domain I need to figure out what sort of move they make during their domain turn. This involves looking at the numbers and rolling a d20, but often it has been so long that I feel I need to double check those numbers or I find little mistakes. In the end, a lot of time gets spend for very little gain. Or, to look at it from another perspective, I spend some time looking at numbers and rolling dice to produce text that is boring compared to the free form stuff I write up for the Sages and Spies section.

The stuff players like about the system don’t involve that much maintenance. They like knowing about their units and they like going to war every now and then. They like to build things in their domain. In my game, gold spent yields experience points. Since I have a list suggested prices for buildings, this encourages them to build temples, hospitals, towers, bath houses, and so on.

Building Price
a small statue for a well or a garden 50gp
a small, public altar made of stone with spirit gate und a small well (5ft.×5ft.)250gp
a small shop made of wood with a place to sleep in the back room (15ft.×15ft.)300gp
a simple wooden building with one floor such as a tavern, a gallery or a gambling den (50ft.×50ft.)700gp
a wooden building with two floors in a village (50ft.×50ft.)1500gp
a stone building with two floors in a village (50ft.×50ft.)3000gp
a manor house with two floors, marble columns and statues in a city (50ft.×50ft.)10,000gp
a provincial castle with six floors (60ft.×60ft.) and an inner courtyard (30ft.×60ft.) surrounded by a wall75,000gp

This leads to a strange effect: Build a large wooden Freya temple for 1500 gold and you’ve got a temple and 1500 experience points (gold spent = xp gained). Spend a few domain turns building a temple, however, and you will have a temple, it will give you Wealth -1 and Social +4, and a powerful 9th level cleric will come and settle here (using An Echo Resounding).

Having two very different ways of building a temple complicates things. It seems to me that paying for the temple using their own gold is a more visceral experience for players. They built it. This is what it cost. It’s easy to embellish it. It’s easy to list it on the campaign wiki. It doesn’t require anything on my part except determining a suitable price when they ask for a quote.

I also think they don’t mind getting a 9th level cleric, but there are still questions: why haven’t we met them before? Why aren’t they coming on adventures? In fact, why isn’t this a player character?

My game allows players to run multiple characters. In a particular session, players can bring up to three characters. The character with the highest level is the main character, the others act as secondary characters. Experience point gained for killing monsters is split on a per head basis. Treasure—and therefore experience points for gold—is split by shares. Every main character gets a full share, every secondary character gets half a share.

Sometimes, players will grow tired of characters. Sometimes, characters will break bones or loose limbs. These characters are perfect fits for these roles. Majordomos of castles, priests in temples, heads of guilds, captains of ships, regents of towns.

This is how I hope to achieve a greater identification with the setting. Over time, more and more important folks will be former player characters. It’s also ideal for a new campaign. At first, no high level priests exist. As soon as the first player character cleric reaches 9th level, however, raise dead is an option for all the player characters in the region—even if they’re playing in a different group! And raise dead will remain an option even if the player running the character abandons them or if the player leaves my table. The character has been established, backstory included.

My players also love their units. This is not a problem. We can keep the champion levels introduced by An Echo Resounding. The chapter introducing champion levels is Open Game Content. I’d go further than that, though. We could get rid of all the resource points and simply say that all other need to be equipped and hired.

The party could build an armory, buy equipment for four hundred heavy infantry (swords, chain and shield is 60 gold per person based on prices in Moldvay’s Basic D&D or 24000 gold total + 3000 gold for the armory itself based on my list of buildings above). Then, if the town is big enough to supply enough able bodied fighters, four units of heavy infantry militia will automatically be available whenever the town is attacked.

Hiring mercenaries will require less money. Human heavy foot guards in peace time will cost three gold per month (1200 gold per month for four units), twice as much in war time (2400 gold per month for four units).

I don’t think I need to use the War Machine rules introduced in the Rules Cyclopedia. I can keep using the unit combat rules in An Echo Resounding, the B/X Companion by Jonathan Becker, or the M20 Mass Combat Rules by Greywulf. I’m not sure what my favorite mass combat rules are, for the moment. I’m tending towards keeping the rules from An Echo Resounding because rolling for attack and damage is easy to remember. There is no scale factor and there is no /Unit Attack Matrix/. That makes it easier to understand.

What about the abilities your champion gets that aren’t tied to units? Sticky Fingers gives you +4 Wealth value. I don’t want to think about domain income, upkeep, taxes or tolls. When Chris Kutalik started rethinking domain-level play in his campaign, he suggested the use of domain skills and a skill check to go along with it. I don’t want to introduce skill checks and I don’t want minor and major skills in my game, however. Sticky Fingers does sound like a skill, though.

So, that’s where I’m at right now. What about abilities, or aspects?

Based on a recommendation on Google+ I took a look at Houses of the Blooded. There, you have domains consisting of provinces and each province consisting of ten regions. Each region produces something, and based on that you can have armies, goods, trade, and so on. I think it interesting, but I don’t think I’d want my D&D to be about it. Too much detail, it’s not really part of player characters, we wouldn’t want to spend time on it at the table, and so on.

I was also looking at the King Arthur’s Pendragon and The Great Pendragon Campaign. My campaign fell apart because of many reasons, but the lousy winter season where you’re supposed to look after your family, your manor house, your lands, build fortifications and all that—this part of the game just was not exciting enough at the table. And that is a problem. As Chris says in one of his blog posts, there’s always the danger of these systems turning “boardgamey” or “beancounterly.” Or that all the decisions have no consequence after all.

I’m still chewing on this.

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Comments on 2015-05-03 Domain Game Goals


Alex Schroeder
On Google+, Andy wondered about moving some of the ‘beancountery’ aspects of domain play from the table to the downtime between session, to email, to G+ or to the referee playing ‘solitaire’. This is a good question. How much indeed? What I can say is that there is very little interaction between me and my players between sessions. Everything needs to happen at the table. Between sessions, people focus on work, family life, other hobbies, etc. In our Pendragon campaign, that meant running the winter phase at the table. This lead to some frustration. The winter phase was not seen as part of the game. It was something that happened before or after the game. It took away from the game itself. In our An Echoes Resounding campaign, that meant me rolling all the dice and writing up all the results between sessions and players making two domain turns every four sessions, and most of them wanting to do the right thing but having no idea of the options open to them and a winter phase effect if we talked about it for too long. In the end I feel it means a lot of work for me for very little gain at the table and for the players. I can only speak for myself, of course. As far as I am concerned, I don’t enjoy playing a solitaire domain game. That’s why I need a different solution.

– Alex Schroeder 2015-05-04 07:47 UTC

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2015-04-30 Hexcrawling

Chris Kutalik has been writing about his campaign: Small is Beautiful in the Sandbox and Rethinking Domain-Level Play in the Hill Cantons. Those two topics have been on my mind as well, lately.

Let’s talk about the sandbox, first. Chris has written about the problem before: The Unbearable Dullness of D&D Wilderness. The way I handle it is still the same hexcrawl procedure I used in 2012:

  1. When the players enter a new region, prepare a new random encounter table with eight to ten entries. See the Swiss Referee Style Manual for more information.
  2. Players tell me where they want to go. Roll 1d6 for a daylight encounter and 1d6 for a nighttime encounter for every hex traveled. Combine encounters if that spices things up.

I’ve recently started a new campaign. Here’s how I did it.

First, I got myself a hex map. I created this one using Text Mapper:

  1. visit https://alexschroeder.ch/text-mapper
  2. click Random
  3. click Submit

Repeat until you like what you’re seeing. The random terrain is generated using the Welsh Piper’s algorithm as described in Erin D. Smale’s Hex Based Campaign Design, Part 1; the icons are based on the Gnomeyland SVG Map Icons by Gregory B. MacKenzie.

This is the regional map I got:

https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7301/16271169809_9b96084a24_b.jpg

On this map, I placed a city, a few towns, a few lairs, a few resources – all according to the setup suggestions in An Echo Resounding. Unfortunately I can’t show them to you because they’re secret, but I did print out this map and use little stickers to help me picture it all, in the top right corner:

https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7332/16462903275_6761bd57b1_b.jpg

Then I picked the starting location for my adventures and added some details:

https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7371/16269720738_3ddf1b8507_b.jpg

I added some taverns, a ruler, a keep and some guilds to the starting town and wrote it up: Greyheim.

The city of Greyheim boasts of the following:

  • a river harbor
  • the keep where Lady Kyle resides; she will hear complaints and remonstrances on Mondays, hear cases and pronounce sentences on Tuesdays, and witness any executions on Wednesdays; she’ll be out hunting every afternoon
  • Singing Mermaid, the harbor inn, for dockers, rafters, knaves and gamblers
  • Trader’s Rest, the inn for merchants and successful dungeon delvers
  • Haversack, the run-down inn for peasants und luckless dungeon delvers
  • a temple of Freya, goddess of fertility, harvest, health, fighting, furs, winter, wolves, and many other things besides
  • the Porter’s Guild House where you can hire torchbearers and other hirelings
  • the Adventurer’s Guild House where you can find new companions and exchange news
  • the Halfling Help Harmony is a self-help organization for halflings; they meet for Sunday brunch at each other’s homesteads in the area around Greyheim, talk about politics, collect money for halflings in need

If you’re a thief, you’ll know where to find the following:

  • the Thieves’ Guild House where you can report new targets, fence stolen goods and get new tools

I had also picked the location of our first dungeon and determined that travel to and fro would be safe, at first. Nevertheless, I could not resist writing an encounter table for the Elderberry Forest:

Roll 1d6 once per day and once per night. There’s an encounter on a 1. In that case, roll 1d6, add 3 during the day and consult the following list:

  1. a darkness of shadows (1-12), guarding an old ruin
  2. a horde of orcs (10-60), roaming the forest
  3. the black cat of night (1), hunting
  4. a pack of wolves (3-18), hunting
  5. a company of dwarves (5-40), travelling through
  6. a group of elves (2-12), on a spying mission
  7. an arse of bandits (10-40), out to rob some rich folk
  8. an aerie of harpies (2-8), hunting
  9. a sloth of bears (1-4, in summer, ⅙ of the time including the wandering druid) / shadows (1-12, in winter)

Remember to use reaction tables when encountering these. Remember to provide warning signs when approaching larger groups (sound, smoke, smell).

So what does that give us?

  • a regional map
  • places to go to (lairs, resources, towns)
  • non-player characters to visit and talk to
  • at least one dungeon
  • encounter tables appropriate to the lairs and dungeons nearby
  • the opportunity to go a monster hunting, hex clearing, keep building, domain establishing

What An Echo Resounding gives us on top of that:

  • a numerical basis for town resources and defenses
  • a numerical basis for units and their support
  • rules for domain management
  • rules for mass combat

But, as Chris says in one of his blog posts, there’s always the danger of these systems turning “boardgamey” or “beancounterly.” I recently mentioned on Google+ that I wasn’t happy with how An Echo Resounding was going:

How do you run your name level classic D&D campaigns?

I’ve been running An Echo Resounding for my group and they say they like it. I think they like it because they get monthly tales of what their neighbors are doing and maybe once a year there is a big battle. I’m sure they also like having champion levels and getting their own units. I run a domain turn every four sessions. Our sessions are short (about 3h) and we have a full table practically every time (6 players) and players will run multiple characters (2–3) and they’re all getting into champion levels. That’s why the player faction is huge, by now. That means I’ve been expanding the map and I’ve started thinking about adding more domains that can band together and pose a new challenge. At the same time, I fear the bookkeeping. So, what am I to do? I certainly won’t move into a more detailed system like Adventure Conqueror King. Are there alternatives to just winging it? Should I simply fall back to the Rules Cyclopedia, using the War Machine, hiring armies using gold, securing allies using boons and favors? Or should I buy Other Dust? I hear that it has a chapter that goes into Groups. Apocalypse World fronts? How much effort is it to run? I’ve heard speak about Other Dust. Anybody else?

To give you an idea of my game, here are some links to my German campaign wiki.

The first section lists the output of sages the players hired; the second section is monsters and the like from lairs as per An Echo Resounding; the third section is other domains taking their turns as per An Echo Resounding; the fourth section is the player domain taking their two turns; the last section is a list of open plots.

I’m starting to feel a little overwhelmed and now I need a way to reduce the work load.

+Andy Bartlett said:

If your PC domain is growing in power, is it time for some of the smaller NPC domains to fade into obscurity, at least as far as dicing out their actions is concerned?

+Kevin Crawford said:

When player domains start to become big fish in small ponds, you generally just want to increase the pond size. Are they the hegemon in their region? Okay—scale everything up, as given in the advice on page 43 of the book. Their multi-location domain becomes a single site on a now-larger mapboard, where their competitors are a relative handful of other equal-sized regional hegemons, with old rival domains turning into single locations with flavor text, an appropriate Obstacle, and no further existence under the domain rules. That’s what I’d do in your shoes.

I don’t know. That would allow me to drop the smaller domains, but the larger domains would continue with the endless lists of assets and units. I think this is the point where I’m starting to like Chris Kutalik’s approach he described in Rethinking Domain-Level Play in the Hill Cantons:

NPC advisers carrying and hiding most of the actual domain business (by being “clicked on”) and presenting decision points that gave players choice without swamping the site-based adventure that is D&D’s main thing.

I’ll have to think of something.

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Comments on 2015-04-30 Hexcrawling


Vincent Frey
Nice work! I’ve been really getting into hexcrawls lately and been working on a starting area for an upcoming campaign so this is right up my alley.

Vincent Frey 2015-05-01 04:15 UTC



Alex Schroeder
Cool. And good luck with the new blog. :)

– Alex Schroeder 2015-05-01 14:52 UTC



Vincent Frey
Thanks!

Vincent Frey 2015-05-02 03:24 UTC

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2015-04-28 Über das Neuland

Als #neuland bezeichnen so Leute wie +Kristian Köhntopp ein Deutschland, wo die Politiker keine Ahnung vom Internet haben. In den Kommentaren zu einem seiner Posts auf Google+ schrieb ich das Folgende, zum Thema deutsche Regierung und ihre Einstellung zum Thema Internet – insbesondere nach dem aktuellen Fiasko (NSA-Skandal: BND im großen Stil von NSA unterwandert). Einer meinte dort, “Deutschland kann, die Politik nicht…” Das konnte ich so nicht stehen lassen und meinte, leicht editiert:

Jedes Land hat die Regierung, die es verdient. Die Regierung, das sind ja nicht einfach “die Anderen” sondern die von uns gewählten. Und auch wer nur für das kleinere Übel gewählt hat, hat doch ein Übel gewählt.

Ich habe mich für den UNO Weltgipfel zur Informationsgesellschaft engagiert und bin an der Position des Bundesamtes für Kommunikation gescheitert. Im Wesentlichen wollten sie keine Position vertreten, welche die Schweiz im Inneren nicht schon implementiert hat. Mein Argument, dass es an diesem Gipfel ja um die Zukunft gehe und nicht um aktuellen Zustand, stiess auf taube Ohren. Insofern glaube ich dir gerne, dass man in der Politik nichts bewirken kann. Aus diesem Erlebnis habe ich allerdings gelernt, dass es sich für mich nicht lohnt, mich dort zu engagieren, wenn das Volk nachher doch Leute ins Amt wählt, die anderer Meinung sind. Und je mehr Jahre vergehen, und ich auch im Freundeskreis und Arbeitsumfeld merke, wie alleine ich da stehe, um so mehr tröste ich mich damit, dass diese Leute offensichtlich die Regierung haben, die sie wirklich wollen. Nur ich selber wünschte mir, es wäre eine andere Regierung. Doch das Volk kann ich nicht austauschen. Damit will ich sagen, dass diese unsägliche Merkel Politik, diese grosse Koalition, dieses Neuland Denken – aus meiner schweizer Perspektive – genau dem deutschen Durchschnitt entspricht. Wer hier was ändern will, muss entweder anti-demokratische Mittel ergreifen oder an der Aufklärung der Bürger arbeiten.

“Deutschland kann, die Politik nicht…” Das bezweifle ich halt.

Was konkrete Vorschläge angeht: Das muss halt jeder im Rahmen seiner Möglichkeit machen. Ich bin typischer Online Bürger und deswegen probiere ich dort ein Gleichgewicht aus Unterhaltung, Freundschaftsbekundung und politischer Aktivität hin zu bekommen. Und in der Kaffeepause scheue ich die politischen Themen nicht. Und im Freundeskreis gibt es auch wieder Diskussionsgelegenheit. Man könnte auch Leserbriefe schreiben. An politischen Veranstaltung teilnehmen. Journalist werden. Reden halten. Politisch aktiv sein. Und das machen ja viele auch. Das heisst aber leider noch lange nicht, “Deutschland kann, die Politik nicht…“

Vielleicht wenn man umformulieren würde: “Mindestens einer in Deutschland kann, die Politik nicht..” wäre ich vielleicht einverstanden. Aber dann haben wir das anti-demokratische Problem: wie bestimmen wir nun denjenigen, der es wirklich kann? Die Wahl des Führers… Brrr! Das haben wir ja schon mal probiert.

Ich denke in letzter Zeit viel über Basisarbeit nach. Wenn ich an den Aufstieg der rechten SVP in der Schweiz denke, sehe ich immer ihr “Bauernfrühstück” auf dem Land, gratis Bratwürste und Semmeln, einfache Sprache, eine unglaubliche Bildsprache in der Werbung, krasse Mengen an Geld für die Werbung. So was braucht man halt auch. In der Schweiz haben die anderen Parteien sowas irgendwie verschlafen.

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2015-04-17 Gate

Do you use creatures that gate in more creatures like the demons and devils of AD&D? Did you like the effect at the table? Would the new arrivals also gate in more creatures?

The reason I’m asking is because I just stumbled upon the following: “Even though the Abyss is a deadly plane where a single misstep can lead to disaster, In the Abyss isn’t intended to be a PC death trap. To keep the adventure challenging without making it too deadly, use the following guidelines when employing the tanar’ri gate ability: If the number of character levels in the party totals 48 or less, ignore gating (figuring that the creatures the PCs encounter are unwilling to become indebted to other creatures by gating in reinforcements). If the party’s levels total 49 to 60, roll for gating only when the text in an encounter calls for it. If the party’s levels total 61 or more, most tanar’ri the PCs meet should try to gate in reinforcements immediately, and gate attempts called for in the text should automatically succeed. However, fiends that have been gated into an encounter shouldn’t use their own gate abilities unless the PCs are making quick work of it all.” (In the Abyss, p. 3)

I’m also curious regarding your thoughts on this encounter difficulty fuzzing by the referee. It’s something I dislike intensely. At the same time, however, monsters with gate abilities are super swingy: a push over, or a great challenge, but as soon as you gate something in and suddenly: total party kill material. To me, this basically implies a strategy similar to fighting dragons: you essentially need to gain surprise, initiative, make sure to buy extra time using spells, and kill it before it gets to use its special abilities. When I was younger, I hated this. “I didn’t even get to use all it’s awesome abilities!” was a common complaint I had. Now I’ve finally determined what this is all about: some special abilities are there for role-playing encounters: telepathy and friends, basically. The shock and awe powers, however, basically just describe the kind of total defeat you’ll experience if you make the wrong choices, if you don’t prepare for your battles. That works for me.

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2015-04-14 A Poem for a Setting

Zak says on his blog, that “[…] a poem should be more than sufficient to describe a setting.”

Turn!
The rusting earth is warm and breathes
The earth churns and in the depths we breed
Lick water from stone
Suck marrow from bone.

Mourn!
We burned down every hall of gold
Melted down every statue, broke everything we got
Now all we have is mold
We work the earth and rot.

I am not happy.

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2015-04-12 Hayfever Season

Spring is here. The temperature has reached 20°C last week and I had an occasional sneeze. Today though, my nose started running. Bah! I usually suffer twice, once in April and once in August.

I’m guessing that means I’m allergic to Birch pollen?

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2015-04-12 Bhutan

https://farm9.staticflickr.com/8718/16502282964_267edc5d31_b.jpg

Claudia ist zurück gekommen und hat fast tausend Bilder mitgebracht. Nach und nach werden wir ein paar davon auf Flickr veröffentlichen.

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2015-04-11 Buying CDs

Today I was in a real, physical CD shop, browsing CDs. I looked at the albums with works by Arvo Pärt. I looked at recordings of historical organs. I wondered about ancient music by Jordi Savall. About liturgical music. And then I didn’t want to ask the sales people for advice and decided I’d look stuff up online, when I’m back home. That’s how far removed from I already am from the act of buying physical CDs in a real shop. I can’t even take advantage of the one thing that sets it apart from the experience of shopping online. Talking to a real human being.

My father in law, on the other hand, seemed to browse the new sections for Jazz, added a new CD by András Schiff, did not listen into anything. Had he heard of new releases on the radio? Was he looking for familiar names? Did he trust the shop owner’s taste?

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Comments on 2015-04-11 Buying CDs


Sean
Did you ask him?

– Sean 2015-04-11 15:15 UTC



Alex Schroeder
No, I started thinking about this on my way home. Something I definitely need to do!

– Alex Schroeder 2015-04-11 16:46 UTC



Alex Schroeder
Note to self: “Silencio is a meditative collection of 20th-century works for string orchestra, including works by Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, and Vladimir Martynov.”

– Alex Schroeder 2015-04-11 20:35 UTC

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2015-04-08 Notwist

Albums I’m currently listening to:

Any recommendations for sad music?

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