On The State Of The Union (Thoughts On The US Election)

After nearly two years, the majority of which I spent studying the US Political situation as an outsider, the 2008 election is over.

We now know that Barack Obama will be the 44th President of the United States of America, and the Democrats will control both House and Senate for the first time since 1994.

After 8 years of George W. Bush, who dragged not just America, but Britain and several other European countries into two wars and did massive damage to his country’s reputation, having a President-Elect who wants to end both the wars and not start any more is very good news.

Whatever happens, hopefully the next four years will be a lot better for America than the previous 8…

However, Americans, you have to remember to keep Obama on his toes.
He has fought a campaign where he placed more emphasis on the idea of change than on actual policy issues. Now it’s the job of the American public to make sure that that change happens.Remember, Politicians are there to serve the people – if they aren’t doing their job, then you make your voice heard about it.

Change is awesome, but you don’t want to end up with a Tony Blair, who promised Britain change and gave us ten more years of Thatcher with a few major changes.

Recipe: Chicken Pesto

This is a great dish, and one that I make quite a lot. It’s also very easy, very flexible, quick to make and tasty.
For about £10, you can get three or four meals out of it (or do what I normally do, which is feed myself and a friend with it and have the leftovers for lunch the next day).

Ingredients:
4 chicken breasts
1 jar of green pesto
1 green pepper
4-5 spring onions
5-6 medium sized mushrooms
1 onion
(optional: splash of white wine)

Method:

1. Carefully pour the excess oil from the pesto into a frying pan. Chop the onion finely, and fry in the pesto oil over a medium to high heat until soft.

2. Chop the chicken into bite size chunks and add to the pan with the onion. Fry until the chicken is cooked though, stirring frequently to prevent it from burning.

3. Add the entire jar of pesto to the chicken and onion. Roughly chop the other vegetables and add them to the pan along with a slash of white wine if you are using it.

4. Simmer over a medium heat for 10 minutes or so, then eat.

Serving Suggestions:

  • Serve immediately with pasta (for best visual effect I recommend Tagliatelle or Fettuccine)
  • Serve immediately with a salad with a bit of balsamic vinegar as dressing.
  • Get a French stick/subway roll, slice it open and fill.
  • Leave to cool, mix some pasta shapes though it and have it as a pasta salad.

Final Thoughts:
This is a ridiculously versatile meal, as well as one of those recipes that is easy to memorise.
I’d encourage experimentation with the recipe – I’ve been meaning to try a red pesto version as well as different vegetables such as courgette and aubergine in an effort to make a vegetarian friendly version.

Tropicana Americana

Topicana Americana

The Tropicana Hotel and Casino, on the Las Vegas Strip.
The image has been cropped, leveled and had the vibrancy and saturation tweaked. It still needs to have the lamppost in the top and possible the whispy cloud cloned out when I have the patience to do it.
The vibrant result and bold colours gives it a very American look to me, which I’m really happy with. Might try experiment with some of my Stirling photos and see what they turn out like when I use the same process.

Review: Dungeons & Dragons – Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide 4th Edition

Forgotten Realms CG SmallIt’s not really surprising that the first proper supplement for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition (D&D 4E) is a revision of Ed Greenwood’s long standing Forgotten Realms setting.

This is one of Wizards of the Coast’s most successful brands and the only campaign setting other than Eberron to feature AD&D, D&D V3 and D&D 4E versions. It also has a long history outside of the main D&D game, with a number of videogames and books being set on Toril.

The changes for 4E are numerous. Like the core game, a lot of rules have been simplified and a good deal of the setting has been simplified as well. There have also been ground-shaking changes to the Toril, which will allow players to explore a whole different world from that encountered in the V3 setting. However, the best place to start is probably with the physical book itself.

One of the most striking changes to book is that the logo and styles of artwork which once made Forgotten Realms stand out from the Core Rules are gone. They have been replaced with artwork and logos identical to that of the three Core Rulebooks. This is a sign that Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast are being much stricter with the design than in the past or that they are trying to make Forgotten Realms a bigger part of the core D&D experience (for reference, at least some of the pre-made campaigns which have been issued in the past few months are set in parts of the Forgotten Realms).

Physically, the book is slightly thinner than the previous edition, with around 280 pages compared to the V3’s 320 pages. The arrangement of chapters has also been improved and now bares a resemblance to the Monster Manual, with each country or major town receiving two (or occasionally four or six) pages to itself. Other short chapters cover new monsters, the history of Toril, the Gods, the Planes and a selection of sample adventures.

Unfortunately, the majority of these chapters appear to have had content cut since their V3 iteration. Much of what has been cut is of no great consequence and can easily be restored by the GM, or indeed, supplanted with homebrew ideas and rules, but it is clear that WOTC want you to purchase the forthcoming Forgotten Realms Player Guide as well, which will presumably contain cut content such as the additional character classes and races, further information about the deities and the rather useful information about running a FR campaign.

Having looked at the outside of Toril as it were, it is probably best to turn to the actual setting for a while.
The biggest plot change, and indeed the premise for much of the setting, is that roughly ten years after the information in the V3 setting was published (1375 DR in the in game calendar), a massive catastrophe known as the Spellplague destroyed The Weave, which was the main source for much of Toril’s magic. The consequences of this were far reaching, resulting in much death, destruction and the worlds of Toril and Abeir (or Earth) colliding in a massive inter-dimensional rift.

The year is now 1479 and while magic has been recovered, there are many scars left on the landscape and on the people of Toril and a large number of consequences in the world, such as the death of some of the Gods, realignment of some Gods (in line with the reduced number of alignments in the Core Rules), the destruction of some Planes and a redraw of much of the Southern portion of Faerûn.

I don’t have problems with the vast majority of these changes. In fact, I really like the idea of a campaign that runs through the Spellplague – something the book suggests as a way of updating older characters or allowing them to be replaced.

Overall, I do feel disappointed by the 4E setting so far. It seems less detailed and less comprehensive than the previous editions. On one hand, this is a blessing for GMs because they can just lift areas of Toril for use without using the rule changes that are forthcoming in FR Player Guide, but on the other hand, GMs may be asked to purchase (or indeed feel obliged to purchase) the extra book because players want the extra rule changes, races, classes and so on. I suspect that with the addition of the Player Guide, it will feel a lot more rounded and like a complete setting instead of just an empty world.

Other then that, my only real niggle is to do with the condition of the book. Unfortunately, I bought the last copy from the usually excellent Static Games in Glasgow, and it has a couple of very damaged pages which I didn’t notice until I got home. Not sure if they’d let me swap it, but I might mention it next time I’m buying from there and see if I can swing a discount.

Dungeons and Dragons – Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide is out now priced at £24.99 (±$50). It’s companion volume, the Forgotten Realms Player Guide is due out September 2008.